Love, Under His Wings

“Love, Under His Wings”

Luke 13-34 under His wings, mosaic

Luke 13:31-35 – February 21, 2016

During this season of Lent, our focus is on love.

When we think of the animal kingdom—and let’s broaden that to all birds and beasts, all creatures great and small—how does love fit into the picture? Picture this. A mama cat or dog, licking and cleaning her little ones. A mama horse or elephant or dolphin, feeding her baby. A mother hen on her nest, spreading out her feathers, her wings, to keep her chicks warm and safe at night. All loving and caring pictures. All maternal. Motherly.

When we think about God and God’s actions, maternal and motherly images are not necessarily the first things that pop into a person’s mind. `

Let’s turn to Jesus. The Rabbi Jesus has His disciples and other followers around Him. They are in Jerusalem—as they periodically are, since Jesus is an itinerant rabbi. Traveling round about Judea, Galilee, and all places in between. Jesus is speaking to and teaching a group of people. What does today’s reading from Luke tell us? Some Pharisees actually warn Jesus!

This might seem odd, or out of character. Imagine, Jesus is almost always fighting with the Pharisees! And here, we find several of them going out of their way to warn Rabbi Jesus: “Go somewhere else—far away! Herod wants to kill you!”

Oh, my! This is the puppet king that the Roman Empire installed as supposed king of Judea. Plus, Herod was the king who executed John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin. Jesus may even have been knowledgeable about Herod and his plots. No surprise here. What else is new?

It doesn’t particularly matter whether the Pharisees who hurried up and visited Jesus were doing this in all seriousness, or whether they were just kidding around. After all, Pharisees were among the foremost Jewish teachers of the Law. As one of the commentaries I consulted said, Pharisees were “community leaders, [who] actively opposed the ministry of Jesus. They were scared of His miracles. Perplexed at His teachings. Most of all, they were angry – angry and shocked – that so many people were drawn to this carpenter turned Rabbi.” [1]

Jesus had a fascinating response to that warning from the Pharisees: “’Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!’”

This is important stuff! Yes, Jesus identifies Himself as a rabbi. But, there is more. Much more! Jesus also embraces His role as a prophet. It says so, right here!

There are so many fascinating directions to go. I could write several sermons from this one short passage, each on a different topic. However—our topic for this morning is love. Remember? This whole service this morning is brought to you by the word “love!”

True, Jesus wants Herod to know that He is not afraid of Herod’s threats and muscle. True, Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem. He is going forward to reach that goal, that journey to the Cross. Eugene Peterson has a marvelous translation of Jesus’s response: “Tell that fox that I’ve no time for him right now…I’m busy clearing out the demons and healing the sick.”
Question: why did Jesus call Herod a fox? I return to my commentator, Drew McIntyre, who says, “Did Herod have red fur and a bushy tail? No. A fox had a reputation for cunning, for sneakiness, and trickery. Today, we might say, ‘a weasel.’ Throughout most of human history foxes have been regarded as clever creatures – animals that the wise farmer would not turn their back on for an instant.” [2]
The next moment, Jesus compares Himself to a hen. A hen!

I am not aware of exact practices of the keeping of chickens in Israel. I know there must have been some chicken coops in the area. Just think of Peter denying his Lord three times before the rooster crowed. But, let’s assume chicken coops were fairly common.

Jesus says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.” Using His vivid skill in drawing pictures with words, Jesus continues: “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Jesus just got done telling people He was a prophet, and He was going to continue doing His work of healing people, body and soul. The next words out of His mouth contain this warm, nurturing word picture. Can you think of anything more caring and comforting than to be drawn under the wings of a mother hen? To rest amid that soft, feathery embrace? I can’t.
Let’s transfer this situation fraught with tension to the modern day. We all know how wonderful it is to be wanted, to be welcomed and loved. This is exactly what Jesus offers us. This is what He wishes to do for us; to welcome us, and love us. Just like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings.

Yet, there is the tension of Herod, looking to kill Jesus. Jesus is in danger, and we are following Him. What kinds of images come to our minds, in that case?

Yes, we hear about the mother hen who gathers her chicks under her protective wings in dangerous situations. It can be at the eruption of the volcano at Mt. Saint Helens, or at a sudden fire in the barnyard. Yet, the hen is sacrificed to save her chicks. Stories are repeated that tell of a hen dying, showing sacrificial love towards her chicks. Her live chicks are found unharmed, safely beneath her protective wings.

Jesus is telling us exactly that. He is the protective mother hen. We are the defenseless, helpless chicks that need protection.

Here we have a feminine image of God! This is so rarely seen in the Bible, in either the Old or the New Testaments. One commentator I consulted talks about the theological rationale of women’s gender and their bodies. I remind you that women are made in the image of God just as much as men!

Speaking of her talk at a women’s retreat, Karoline Lewis says, “If [we] rarely, if ever, hear about God’s femininity, female images for God, or female characteristics of God, then even that biblical truth will be hard to believe. And, if God is mostly assumed to be male, referred to with male pronouns, and described as male, then it will be more difficult and take more energy to imagine God in female categories — and to believe that you have a place in the kingdom of God.” [3]

Yes, of course God has male attributes and characteristics. God also has female attributes and characteristics. As we can see from this motherly image or word picture that Jesus uses!

Jesus welcomes us into His embrace, into His community of love and caring. Just as a lost little chick who finally finds the way home into the nest, into his or her mother hen’s warm feathery embrace, so we can find our way into a community of caring, love, nourishing and belonging. I hope our church community extends that caring and loving welcome to everyone. Jesus wants us to know that we are welcome with Him, always.

Are you still searching for that community of belonging? That warm, caring place? I pray that we all may find it. Not only here, in this community, but especially in the embrace of Jesus.

Amen.

[1] http://drewbmcintyre.com/2010/03/01/luke-1331-35-the-fox-and-the-hen-lent-2/

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4530 “Love and Belonging,” Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher, 2016.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

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PEACE is Helping Keep My Spouse Happy

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Saturday, February 20, 2016

IMG_0157.JPG

PEACE is Helping Keep My Spouse Happy

When I considered today’s definition, the first thing I thought of was the old saying, “Happy wife, happy life.”

Today’s definition of PEACE comes from Carl Hanson, who said “PEACE is helping keep my spouse happy.”

Carl and his spouse Irene are members of St. Luke’s Christian Community Church in Morton Grove. They are a loving, caring couple, deeply devoted to one another and to their two dogs (both from rescue).

One telling comment Carl made to me? “If my spouse is happy, our home is happy.” To cap that off, he wrote it out on a piece of paper, and added a smiley face at the bottom of the sheet.

I reflected deeply on both the definition that Carl gave, as well as his comment, above. How do I apply that in my life? My life with my husband? What do I do for my husband, anyhow? Do I make him happy? How? Can I make certain he is content and serene? All good questions.

What I can do each day? Since I am not the most diligent housekeeper, I can make sure I pick up several items in the apartment, each day. I can try to be certain that the kitchen sink is clear of dishes at the end of the day…

Dear Lord, thank You for Carl’s reminder to me, and to many, about the benefits of keeping our spouses happy. I ask You to draw Carl and Irene closer together, and give them peace, happiness, and contentment. Thank You for loving us and wishing to make a big difference in each life You touch. Amen.

@chaplaineliza

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my sister blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.   @chaplaineliza And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

An Instrument of Peace

“An Instrument of Peace”

instrument of Your peace, round

John 14:27 – February 17, 2016

This evening, we are going to consider pursuing peace within ourselves. Tonight we consider two things: a verse and a prayer. Both have a great deal to say about peace. And both are examples for us and our daily lives.

First, the verse. Giving you some context, this verse comes from the final night our Lord Jesus spent on earth. Jesus was at a Passover dinner, or seder, with His friends. The Gospel of John gives us an extended look at this evening, and devotes several chapters to this time. Jesus discusses some things and gives His disciples some last instructions.

Now, the verse, John 14:27. “27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

These familiar words of Jesus we’ve just read can sound far away and distant. Perhaps we remember this verse from a funeral, or quoted by a chaplain at a hospital or care center. It seems that almost every week we are surrounded by evidence of upset, catastrophe, and trauma. Many people today are searching for peace in an anxious, unpeaceful world.

Remember the political situation Jesus was operating under! Israel was an occupied country. Politically, the situation was not good. Personally, in the life of Jesus, this was not a peaceful time, either. Remember where Jesus was, here in John 14. This was the Passion Week of our Lord, hours before His arrest. Imagine what Jesus was preparing Himself to go through, in the next hours. Yet, we hear Jesus talk about peace. His peace. He wants to share His peace with all those who are listening. Amazing. Astounding. Almost inconceivable.

Suppose we catch on, and suppose a light bulb goes off in our heads, and we say to ourselves, “Maybe what I’ve been hearing in church on Sundays and in services on Wednesdays is worthwhile, after all! Maybe God really does want to give me peace. Maybe God wants me to focus on peace on the inside. Internally.”

So, some people turn around and concentrate on the inside! To be more specific, on their insides. The internal person. But there’s a danger here, too. If we’re not careful, worry and anxiety can sneak into the picture. Worry and anxiety can push away peace. Worry and anxiety can gnaw away on the insides, as well as our relationships with God and with others around us.

Has anyone here had any experience with termites? I never have, thank God, but I understand that termites can go through large amounts wood over an extended period of time. If we allow worry and anxiety to eat away at our peace with God and with others, it’s like termites eating away at a wooden front porch. After a period of time, even though the porch looks stable, and seems like it can hold weight, it collapses.

It’s the same way with us, when we lose peace. When we allow worry and anxiety to get the better of us and take control of our insides. This refers to the second part of verse 14:27, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” This is Jesus giving advice to us! He is helping us hang onto the peace He’s just given us, just as He told the disciples so long ago. This is an exhortation, not a suggestion.

The second half of this meditation tonight lifts up a prayer. It is a really good prayer: arguably the most famous prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. There is no direct link to St. Francis, but one of his companions, the Blessed Giles of Assisi, wrote a short synopsis of this prayer. The prayer could very well have been enlarged and written from those words.

The first line of this prayer runs as follows: “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.” I am assuming we all want the peace that Jesus so freely gives away. Jesus gives it away to anyone. I mean, anyone. Step right up, and Jesus will lovingly give you peace. His peace.

This wonderful prayer lets us know some of the outgrowths of the peace of Christ. For example, using God’s peace, we can sow love, pardon, faith, hope, light, and joy.

St. Francis and St. Giles knew very well that they were both imperfect people. Yet, this meaningful prayer was an expression of everything they strove to do and everything they tried to live by. We, too, are imperfect people. Anxious, fearful, sometimes even angry and sinful people. Yet, we can be instruments of God’s peace, too.

This night was the most event-filled night of our Lord Jesus’ life. He knew what was coming. Yet—He makes the statement, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you.” He gave His disciples the gift of His peace.

Jesus gives us the same gift, today, too. His peace. It isn’t peace like the world would expect. It isn’t always external peace (although it can very well be that, too!), but it is peace on the inside. Peace where it counts, as far as Jesus is concerned. We have His word on it. He promises to give us peace in our interior selves. So that, imperfect as we all are, we can be instruments of God’s peace to our brothers and sisters, and to the world.

Amen.

Love and Testing, in the Wilderness

“Love and Testing, in the Wilderness”

heart - conversation, be mine

Luke 4:1-13 – February 14, 2016

Today is Valentine’s Day. Hearts, flowers, cards, chocolates, romantic meals, all the things! Almost anywhere you go this weekend, many stores, restaurants, and other public places are full of reminders that love is in the air. My husband and I went out for lunch yesterday at a small diner, and had a wonderful time. Good food, and excellent company. I also received a dozen pink roses from my sweetheart. Sound familiar? The giving and receiving of gifts, of hearts, and of love.

At first glance, we might consider today’s Gospel reading to be considerably off-topic. No mention of hearts and love at all. Luke 4 opens with our Lord Jesus, fresh from His baptism at the very beginning of His public ministry. We are told that the Holy Spirit leads Him into the wilderness, where Jesus fasts and prays for forty days.

We will come back to the topic of love, and how it ties into Jesus and the temptation. But first, Luke says Jesus went into the wilderness. Willingly! He was led there, and chose to go there. Not dragged unwillingly or half-heartedly.

The Gospels don’t tell us so, but other religious leaders went away to prepare themselves, to get ready for leadership. I suggest that that is exactly why Jesus withdrew to a private, far-away place. Just like several other situations, and other people in the Bible. I am thinking especially of Moses, on the mountain, when he received the tablets of the Ten Commandments. He, too, fasted. And, prepared himself for leadership of the people of Israel. I suggest that Jesus is doing the same.

This period of preparation involved fasting. Luke does not mention prayer here, but I cannot imagine Jesus going for days, much less weeks, without praying to His Heavenly Father. I’ve fasted a number of times, and fasting often sharpens the spiritual ears and sensitivities.

At the end of the fasting time, Jesus was hungry. The Gospel account says so! And, who shows up at that precise time? The Devil.

A pertinent illustration from a pastor? “In confirmation classes … at Grace Lutheran Church, [the pastor] teaches the students to take the letter, d, off the word, “devil,” and you get the word, “evil.” Evil is part of our lives and we face evil every day.” [1]

You might ask whether this really is a physical Devil, or whether it was a spiritual manifestation of evil. My answer? I do not know for sure.

However, I tend to stick with the actual physical Devil. The word used here, diabolos, implies the chief of the fallen angels. According to a well-respected commentary, “Luke consistently uses diabolos while Matthew mingles “Satan” and “devil” in his version of the story. Evil was conceived as a personal will actively hostile to God. (see Luke 13:16). The devil was in conflict with God’s purpose of salvation; he is the concern of Jesus’ saving activity.” [2]

I am going to go with the actual, physical Devil, the ruler of this fallen world. At the time that Jesus is physically very weak, the Devil shows up. And, he tempts Jesus, big time!

What on earth does this Gospel reading have to do with Valentine’s Day? What does it have to do with hearts, and with love? Stay tuned.

Here in my hands is a heart. A Valentine’s Day heart. I mentioned that my husband gave me a dozen lovely pink roses yesterday. I gave him a Valentine card that mentioned my heart. It said my heart belonged to my husband, my sweetheart.

Let’s go back to Jesus, and the Devil. The Devil was tempting Jesus in several important ways! First, he mentions Jesus’s hunger. How much more obvious could you get? “Come on, Son of God. You’re so hungry. You can do it. No one will ever see—You can turn these stones to bread. With just a snap of Your fingers or a wave of Your hand. You know You want to…”

What did the Devil want Jesus to do? To put His stomach first! Not God first, but Jesus’s own needs, wants and desires. The Devil was tempting Jesus with hunger.

What was Jesus’s response? He did not even waver: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” Jesus was in the wilderness to prepare for leadership, and to do the will of God—not to be selfish and self-centered.

I suspect the Devil did not leave Jesus alone for a minute. Immediately after tempting Him with bread (or the possibility of bread), the Devil turns to another seductive temptation. Reading, starting at verse 5: “The devil led Jesus up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to Jesus, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.”

Wow! Such a temptation! Jesus could take a big, huge short-cut. He could be king of the world immediately! He didn’t have to go through any unpleasant, uncomfortable pain and anguish. No unpleasantness, for years. No tramping through Israel, followed by a rag-tag bunch of disciples. Plus, Jesus knew He would make an absolutely wonderful King. How tempting!

But, no. No! Jesus knew that He would be forcing people to do things against their will. Jesus knew that many, many people would either be slaves or robots to Him. “I – love – you – because – I – am – programmed – to say – I – love – you.” No! Jesus didn’t want us to be slaves. He wanted our love – freely!

And, more, besides. How did Jesus answer the Devil? “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”

The last temptation? “The devil led Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.” (With the understanding that God’s angels would save Jesus at the last second.)

Whoa! What a spectacle! What a publicity stunt that would be! Can you imagine? Except with Jesus, it would be for real. His answer to the Devil? Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

This Valentine I’m holding represents Jesus’s heart. What did the Devil want Him to do, in all three of these temptations? The Devil wanted Jesus to put His heart somewhere else. Wanted Jesus to give His heart not to God the Father, but instead to stuff. To the cheers of the crowd. To food and satisfying His stomach. But, Jesus knew where His heart belonged. Jesus knew that His heart was given to His Heavenly Father, just like His love. .

As for us today, the Devil and the power of evil still keeps trying to pull us away from God. Evil wants to destroy us! Destroy our faith in God, our love for each other, and the goodness of God living in our hearts. But, if evil can cause us to be miserable and unhappy, if evil can make us forget God, that is the next best thing.

The Devil wants us to take our hearts away from God, and instead just give them to him. Or his minions. Or, to power, or money, or things. Just as long as our hearts and love are not directed to God! That is the Devil’s worst nightmare.

While He was here on earth, Jesus made sure His heart was given to His Heavenly Father, And, He advised us on where our hearts ought to be, too. Loving God.

This giant Valentine heart I’m holding is a conversation heart. Can we think of it as a Valentine from Jesus? On one side, it says “Be mine.” On the other, it says “I’m yours.”

Who—or what—do we give our hearts to?

 

[1] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_the_tempation_GA.htm Rev. Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church Des Moines, Washington 98198

[2] Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Study Hardback edition. London: Geoffrey Chapman 1995

I’d like to give a big thank you to Carolyn C. Brown for her wonderful worship ideas from Worshiping with Children, Lent 1, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey. Pursuing PEACE. And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

Whiter Than Snow

“Whiter Than Snow”

Psa 51-7 whiter than snow

Psalm 51:1-3, 7 – February 10, 2016

Have you ever made a mistake? I mean, not just like an ordinary mistake, like in addition or subtraction. I know we all made those while we were in grade school. That’s what erasers on pencils are for! I mean, a whopper! A mistake that is so bad, so huge, you wanted the earth to open up and swallow you? The kind that when you remember and look back on it, you want it to be permanently erased off the face of the planet? A mistake that big. That horrible.

Maybe you and I have never made that huge of a mistake. Maybe we have. But, I suspect all of us can relate to that kind of negative feeling. That horrible, gut-wrenching, sinking feeling. That “I wish I had never, ever been born!” feeling.

The psalm we consider tonight is all about this kind of negative, sinking, yucky feeling. This psalm is written by King David after his affair with an attractive married woman, Bathsheba, and his subsequent murder of Bathsheba’s husband (David’s general), Uriah.

Adultery! Attempted cover-up! Plotting and murder! And, another cover-up! Sounds like it’s right out of a soap opera script. Except, it really happened. And, it happened to a man after God’s own heart. A man with a close, personal, even intimate relationship with God. This all happened to King David, some years into his reign over Israel.

So, David has sinned. I mean, really sinned! I can see people shaking their heads, even now. David had a close relationship with God. God called him “a man after God’s own heart.” And some people might say, “David should’ve known better!”

Looking at us, today, we sin, too. We are often in a similar situation. We say we have a close relationship with God. We know the commandments, God’s rules, we have Jesus Christ and His example for us. Some people might say of us, “they should’ve known better!”

And what is David’s response? Verse 3, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” He does not pull punches. David comes right out and says it. He sinned. He knows it. He knows very well that God knows it, too.

We know we make mistakes, too. We know we mess up. We say mean things. We don’t tell the truth. We cut off people in traffic. We slam doors in anger. Who hasn’t bitten their tongue the second after saying something unfeeling? Or nasty? Or stupid? And, there are larger mistakes, too. Mistakes like, breaking the law. Theft. Embezzlement. Various felonies. Or like King David, with adultery, cover-ups and murder.

The psalm writer freely acknowledges his sins. Not even using euphemistic phrases like “wrong was done,” or “mistakes were made.” David is amazingly clear in stating “my transgressions,” “all my iniquity” and “my sin.”

Listen again to the verbs David uses – “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,” “cleanse me from my sin,” purge me with hyssop.” To “wash” in verses 2 and 7 could better be translated “scrub,” as one scrubs dirty clothes. (I wonder whether David was remembering his mother, scrubbing the family’s dirty clothes when he wrote that verse?) “Cleanse” in verse 2 and “be clean” in verse 7 is the same word used for washing clothes in a river (Leviticus 13:6, 34, 58). (Perhaps when David was a shepherd for his family’s sheep, he would go by the river and watch the women from his village washing—cleaning or cleansing—their families’ clothes.)

One commentary I read mentions “sin as a kind of figurative stain on her life and conscience that she needs God to scrub away. After all, [we] beg God to ‘blot out,’ ‘wash away’ and ‘cleanse me.’ It’s the image of ancient people washing dishes or clothing and modern people using various detergents and stain removers on stubborn stains.”[1]

In other words, my sins are washed away, and though I may still be in the (figurative) spin cycle, yet shall I dry. I can freely confess my sins, too. Here, tonight, we all can acknowledge the wrongs we do.

At the beginning of each regular service, we gather together and have a corporate time of confession. This Ash Wednesday service is a special time to gather together, confess our sins to each other, and to understand we are sinners. This understanding of our sin—of the mistakes we have made and are continuing to make—prepares us to receive the forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ. And the cross of ashes on each forehead is a reminder of that forgiveness in each one of our lives.

Yes, there IS good news! We can ask God to take away our iniquity. God’s abundant mercy will forgive. We can be sure of God’s unfailing love towards all of us.

Believe the Good News of the Gospel. In Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, our sins are forgiven. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-5b-2/?type=the_lectionary_psalms

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey. Pursuing PEACE. And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

Listen to Jesus

“Listen to Jesus”

Jesus Transfiguration icon Luke 9

Luke 9:28-36 – February 7, 2016 (9:34-35)

We do many things on a regular basis or schedule. We eat at regular times. Some people take medication on a daily schedule. Some have habits of regular prayer or weekly bible study. And what about what we are doing right now? Regular Sunday morning worship? In our Protestant tradition, worship is generally on a weekly schedule. We gather together to worship, pray and sing to God, regularly.

Our Gospel reading today comes from Luke 9. As is often the case, Luke brings us in to the story in the middle of things. So often, the Gospel writers go from one event to another to still another, hardly stopping to take a breath. I suspect that’s what the Rabbi Jesus felt like most of the time. Going from one situation to another; one healing, then a teaching, and then the next and the next, and the next after that.

The Gospel writers give their readers some specific clues about Jesus. How He would not neglect the regular worship and prayer in the synagogue or the Temple, on the Sabbath days and holidays. And, how He would intentionally retreat to private places on a regular basis, separate Himself to meditate and pray.

Let’s remind ourselves about this reading. Jesus withdraws from the larger group of disciples and from His ministry. He goes to the top of a mountain to pray with His inner circle of disciples—Peter, James and John. What happens next is nothing short of absolutely amazing.

Reading from Eugene Peterson’s translation “The Message,” “While [Jesus] was in prayer, the appearance of His face changed and His clothes became blinding white. At once two men were there talking with Him. They turned out to be Moses and Elijah—and what a glorious appearance they made! They talked over His exodus, the one Jesus was about to complete in Jerusalem.” What a marvelous, mind-blowing scene that must have been, too!

I invite us to step back a moment. This Gospel reading we consider this morning is full of significance. I could go off in a number of directions, and preach any one of a vast array of sermons, with various themes and topics. The passion of Jesus? The death and resurrection of Jesus? The triumphant ascension of Jesus? The appearance of Moses and Elijah? The significance of the light? The road to the cross?

I choose to highlight the worship aspect of this Gospel reading today. Jesus chose to withdraw to the mountain to pray and meditate before God. By the time this reading ends, we end up with a rousing worship service, there on the mountain top! Amen! Glory, hallelujah!

Who was Luke, the author of our Gospel reading? Christian tradition tells us Luke was a doctor—and a Gentile, a Greek. The only non-Jewish writer of a book of the Bible. One of the commentators I consulted, David Lose, thinks Luke might even have been a pastor. “A pastor keenly interested in and attentive to the life and worship of his community.” [1] If we study the Gospel more closely, Luke outlines a basic pattern of worship several times in his Gospel. This is one of those times.

Three of the Gospels show us the Transfiguration. But, Luke is the only one who adds the description of Jesus leading the other three disciples up on the mountain to pray. Instructing us in the pattern and nature of worship!

And, what is the reaction of the three disciples? Where do we find our faithful friends, Peter, James and John? Fast asleep. Again. We do not know why or how they wake up, but they did. They wake to the sight of Jesus looking dazzling bright, whiter than snow, brighter than anything they had ever seen. This is truly a situation where I can say: Oh. My. God!

I do think our friends the disciples have a bit of a problem. Here they have their Rabbi Jesus, the best example of Godly living the world has ever seen. The best example of living with a close and deep relationship with God, with prayer and meditation front and center in His life. And where are they at this significant time in the life of Jesus? Asleep at the switch. Not paying attention, not getting involved or participating.

Participating in what, we ask? In prayer. In worship of God.

Let’s take a quick look at the steps of worship Luke illustrates for us in this passage. First, prayer. Jesus led His three friends and disciples to a quiet, lonely place to pray. We’ve already touched on this. Jesus had a regular pattern of prayer. He had a deep and intimate relationship with His Father in heaven. He wants that for us, too!

Second, discussion focused on the cross. (In this case, we see a foretaste of the glory of Jesus after the Resurrection!) Reading again from Luke 9, “At once two men were there talking with [Jesus]. They turned out to be Moses and Elijah—and what a glorious appearance they made! They talked over his exodus, the one Jesus was about to complete in Jerusalem.”

Looking at our worship service today, that’s what we do. Every Sunday, we talk about Jesus dying on the cross—as Moses and Elijah talked about with Jesus, His exodus, His departure. His crucifixion and resurrection. And, His ascension into glory. We sing about it, and pray about it, too.

Then, third, comes the time to listen to the Word. Listen to Jesus, the Word Incarnate!

Continuing with the reading from Luke 9, “When Moses and Elijah had left, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, this is a great moment! Let’s build three memorials: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He blurted this out without thinking. 34-35 While he was babbling on like this, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them. As they found themselves buried in the cloud, they became deeply aware of God. Then there was a voice out of the cloud: ‘This is my Son, the Chosen! Listen to him.’”

Note well the command from God! Quoting David Lose again, “the voice from heaven is directed not to Jesus but to the disciples with the injunction, ‘Listen to Him.’ … this combination of prayer, discussion focused on the cross, and the command to listen … at least kindle our liturgical imagination, reminding us of what Sunday can be like.”

Remember, Jesus took the disciples away to have an intimate worship service with them, there on the mountain top. What happened, again? They didn’t pay attention. They fell asleep.

How often do we do the same thing? How often do we just go through the motions? How often do we want the same old worship styles and are hesitant to accept any change in worship or new part of the service? How often are we more concerned with what our fellow worshippers are wearing than the condition of their hearts? Their souls? Their emotional lives? Their physical well-being? Wouldn’t Jesus concern Himself with gathering, with prayer and word and praise? Or would Jesus get sidetracked like the disciples? Going through the motions?

Hard to imagine Jesus doing anything of the kind.

As we gather in this place for communion today, we remember. Jesus said, “Do this to remember Me.” Do what? Participate in worship. More specifically, all of us are to participate in the communion meal, where Jesus is revealed in the breaking of the bread.

Worship is a time to gather, to open the Scripture, the Word of God, and to celebrate the Word Incarnate. Break bread. Remember Jesus. And afterwards, we are sent forth to bring Jesus into the world. Jesus, God’s Chosen! Jesus, the hope of the nations! Jesus, the Prince of peace.

Alleluia! Amen.

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/02/transfiguration-c-worship-transfigured/

Thanks to Eugene Peterson for his wonderful translation The Message. I quoted several verses from Luke chapter 9 in this sermon.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey. Pursuing PEACE. And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

 

What the World Needs Now

“What the World Needs Now”

1 Cor 13 love, ring

1 Corinthians 13:1-8 – January 31, 2016

One of the most popular themes for songs is that of love. Songs that describe love of one person for another, or songs that tell about how awful it is to have unrequited love. Also, songs that tell about the emotions and feelings that come with being “in love.”

One song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David talks about love in a basic and simple way. Saying, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.”

What is the state of the world, anyway? Judging from a quick view of the local news, the city of Chicago, the state of Illinois, the federal government, unemployment, the drug and substance abuse problem, not to mention abuse of different kinds—against women, children, and seniors. That is not even mentioning the various armed conflicts throughout the world—fights over territory, disputes over resources, differences between people of different religious beliefs.

What can possibly bring harmony, hope and wholeness into the world today?

This brings us to our scripture reading for the day, from 1 Corinthians 13. This chapter is called the Love Chapter. So often used as a scripture text for weddings! Perhaps you or a friend or relative had this chapter read at a wedding. But, did you know that the apostle Paul did not write this chapter to glorify romantic love?

I appreciate Brian Peterson’s words. “What is often missed, and perhaps actively ignored, is that this text was first written to a community that was having a very difficult time staying together. Perhaps preached with that in mind, it makes a surprisingly helpful text for a wedding! It is in the difficult realities of relationships and communities that the love described by Paul needs to be lived out in costly ways.” [1] We can see how much discord and infighting is happening in the church at Corinth. Maybe because of that dynamic, this bible passage is exactly what that group of believers needed to hear.

Yes, verses 4 through 8 give a good deal of information about love. Not eros love, the romantic type of love, or phileo love, brotherly love or the love between friends. Instead, the Apostle Paul talks of agape love, the love that comes from God, which is a higher and purer form of love. Agape is the Greek word for love that Paul uses throughout 1 Corinthians 13.

“All of the lovely poetry in verses 4-7 is designed to show a divided church how agape love looks and acts. I emphasize ‘show,’ as opposed to ‘tell.’ Paul doesn’t give a definition with a few words; he paints a picture with a full pallet of words (16 in all). It is a verbal picture, that is, a picture that focuses on verbs. That is, Paul tells us what love does, not how it feels.” [2]

Yes, Paul shows us in these verses what love does. However—he also mentions some things that love is not; what love does not do.

Starting with verse 4, love does not envy. Envy: if I envy some other pastor because of their huge church, that means I’m actively jealous of them. But, love does not work that way.

Moving on, love does not boast. Boasting? There is a fine line here. It is beneficial to have a good opinion of yourself! But, not to go overboard. I suspect we all know of someone who is boastful. That would be like me, speaking of my church administration skills with excessive pride and vanity. (False! Church administration is one area where I can learn a great deal! I am learning so much from Pastor Gordon. He is marvelous at church administration!)

Next, love does not dishonor others. This made me think for a bit. I checked out the original Greek word. I found that Paul was talking about being arrogant and conceited. You know, walking around with my nose stuck in the air. That would be like a minister who climbed so high up on a pedestal that there wouldn’t be a way of getting him or her down. Without a great big fall, or a huge crash, when the minister finally came tumbling down.

Love is not self-seeking. It doesn’t insist on its own way! I’m reminded of the character Veruca Salt from the children’s story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Veruca is rude and has absolutely no manners, and always insists on her own way! Enough said.

What is more, love is not easily angered. I love the way the Amplified Bible has this phrase: “[love] is not touchy or fretful or resentful.” We all know what those emotions are like. Anyone who is showing those qualities is not showing love.

Love does not delight in evil. That means that love does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness. When I watch television or read articles in the newspaper or online, sometimes I see horrible injustices. For example, I just read an article in the BBC World Service of a province in India where the birth of every girl child is met with mourning and great laments. That’s right—for every girl child born. One doctor, Dr. Ganesh Rakh, runs a hospital in that province. He thought that was not right. So, he has decided that every girl baby he delivers with be delivered for free. But the boy babies—for those he still charges.

In the four years since he started this campaign, he has delivered 464 baby girls. What a way to change the closeminded injustice of a group’s mindset. He now gets praise from many Indian ministers and government officials. All because he shows love to girl babies. [3]

Here, in this sermon, I have given several examples of what not to do. How not to love.

This is a penetrating way to teach people. Show them by example—examples of how not to love. Examples of jealousy or boasting, arrogance or rudeness. And especially, an example of a horrible injustice, where people are openly bigoted against females. (This can also be true of people who are bigoted about other differences, too, like about slavery, or people of color, or of a different class of people, or of other nationalities or countries of origin.)

Those bad examples? Paul shows us clearly in this passage—don’t do those things! Don’t be that way! Sometimes, a bad example is the quickest way to our hearts and minds.

We can clearly see that Paul’s ministry of love, harmony and wholeness is for the whole world. Not just about taking care of those in our family, although that’s important. It’s more than “taking care of our own,” although that is certainly laudable. It’s about showing love for everyone. For those affected by loneliness, or despair, disaster or disease wherever they are, without exclusion of those not like us or even of those we fear.

What did the Apostle Paul tell us about love? Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (That is, always. Always.)

Love never fails.

Ending as I began, we look at the Bacharach and David song, “What the World Needs Now.” The chorus of the song tells us the world needs love, sweet love. Badly.

“No, not just for some, but for every, every, everyone.”

Amen, Lord. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2734, Commentary, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Brian Peterson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

[2] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/epiphany-4c/?type=lectionary_epistle

[3] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-35379231

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!