Unity of Christ’s Church

“Unity of Christ’s Church”

Gal 3-28 all one in Christ

Galatians 3:26-29 – August 28, 2016

One of my sisters lives in the New York City area, on Long Island. She has lived there for more than twenty-five years. She is a wonderful, generous hostess, and often takes her family and friends to various places around New York, site-seeing. We love to visit my sister. When my children were younger, we went with my sister to the top of the Statue of Liberty—on two different occasions!

The Statue of Liberty. A beacon of light for generations. When my grandfather was a boy in the early 1900’s, he and his family emigrated to the United States from a shtetl in western Ukraine. He remembered standing on the deck of a steam ship from Europe, coming into New York harbor.  He gazed over the rail at the welcoming sight, along with everyone else on that ship. The Statue of Liberty was etched vividly into his memory. I know, because he told me so.

This country has been called a melting pot, containing different nationalities, cultures, and ethnicities. Some call this country a mosaic or a kaleidoscope of people. Whatever you call it, the United States is truly an amazing nation made up of a multitude of individuals (or, their ancestors) who came from all over the world.

Unity. Unity amidst diversity. That is what this country is all about.

Let’s take a second look at our Scripture passage for today from Galatians 3. The Apostle Paul writes to the believers in the region (or area) called Galatia in Asia Minor. He makes an all-important point at the end of chapter 3: our text for today. “26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I think you all might suspect what the theme for today’s service is. Unity!

Just as our nation incorporates strong unity amidst wonderful diversity, so does the Church. Not only this congregation, this fellowship of believers, but I am talking about the Church Universal. The Church around the world.

Taking a closer look at verse 3:28, at first glance, we might focus on the differences. Wow! There are some pretty big differences here. Paul mentions some significant separations and divisions. Different categories. What does this diversity look like?

First, “there is no longer Jew nor Gentile.” That is a serious thing for the Apostle Paul to say. Before his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul was a Hebrew of the Hebrews; a member of the Sanhedrin (that is, the ruling religious council of Jerusalem). A top-notch Pharisee who probably prided himself on his meticulous keeping of the Mosaic Law code, down to the smallest detail. Good, law-keeping, observant Jews of that time would not allow themselves to associate with, or even talk to a Gentile. So—after he became a Christian, we can see how serious Paul was about this unity of everyone, in Christ Jesus.

The second difference? “There is neither slave nor free.” Jesus Christ takes away all distinctions of social class and standing!

Wait a minute! That is not strictly true. In this troubled world, there are lots of differences, lots of separations in social hierarchy. In Morton Grove, we see many people who are solidly middle class. Different from wealthy people living on the Gold Coast, just off Michigan Avenue near the Water Tower. Go just a few miles further south, to the Englewood area of Chicago. I saw some of areas of extreme poverty when I visited there, earlier this month.

However, when people come to believe in Jesus Christ, social class and power can be dissolved, and go away. The unity of all believers is emphasized in this verse, again.

The third difference we notice? Paul mentions “nor is there male and female.”

Subtle difference! Yes, God created people male and female. Yet, when people come to faith in Christ Jesus, there is a new creation. All things are become new, as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5. Even gender is given a back seat. Each person’s belief in Christ is emphasized in this new creation, differences are dissolved, and the unity of all believers is lifted up. We are all one big family.

Earlier in this letter, Paul mentions circumcision. That’s something that is very Jewish. And, very male. In the time before the common era, women and girls could not be considered full children of Abraham because they could not be circumcised. (For obvious reasons.) That was fully half of all religious people who could not fully participate in religious functions. Yet now, in this new creation in Christ Jesus, the old differences and distinctions no longer separate male and female. All things have become new.

Let me remind everyone of how earthshaking this all must have been for the Apostle Paul. Talk about having his entire worldview and frame of reference turned upside down! A good, observant Jew who studied with one of the leading rabbis of that day, now associating and eating with Gentiles. Staying in their homes. What a huge change of Paul’s way of thinking.

One big theme of the letter to the Galatians is that of identity. Who are we? What are our identity markers? How do we tell who others are, in our group? Paul says so, right here. Those who are baptized in Christ are children of God. Everyone who is baptized is our brother, our sister. That’s a whole lot of people, when we consider all the people who are believers, not only in the United States, but in the whole world!

I don’t know how many of you remember your own baptism, as infants and children. However, Paul is talking to people who were baptized as adults. The weeks beforehand must have been significant, too, in which these new believers were fully instructed and immersed in the understanding of Christ as their Messiah, their Lord and Savior. Then, often on Easter Sunday, the new believers were baptized. When possible, they were fully immersed, or at least had water poured over them in a large tub. Sometimes, naked, because they often would remove their clothing before the ceremony. After the baptism, they put on a new, white garment, signifying their new life in Christ. They were truly “clothed in Christ,” just as Paul says here.

As diverse and different as we are, considering world-wide Christianity, we all have become one humongous family of God. We are all God’s children.

How many of us, today, can say that? Yes, when babies and children are baptized today, we make a big fuss. We buy them special outfits for the occasion. But, do we truly take the new reality—this new identity—to heart? We have all been transformed, through Christ.

What a transformation! What an identity shift. We here at St. Luke’s Church are just as much God’s children as the Catholics worshipping at St. Martha’s Catholic Church south of Dempster. And, both groups of believers are just as much God’s children as those baptized at St. Haralambos Greek Orthodox Church on Caldwell. And, what about our friends at Love Sharing Disciple Church here, who will be worshipping in this sanctuary later today? This is duplicated at churches and auditoriums all over the Chicago area, with diverse ethnic and cultural groups of believers. We can enlarge that to a wide variation of church practices, all over the world. Wow! Double wow!

What a mosaic of identity in Christ. What a kaleidoscope of difference, made one huge family of God. Remember our sentence for the week, from the United Church of Christ Statement of Mission? Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to embrace the unity of Christ’s church.”

The unity of Christ’s church, in such beautiful, rich, worldwide diversity. This is truly something to celebrate! Alleluia, amen.

[Thanks to Dr. Richard B. Hays for concepts and ideas from his commentary on Galatians 3, from The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996).]

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

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Justice, Healing, Wholeness

“Justice, Healing, Wholeness”

Eph 2-14 word cloud

Ephesians 2:14-17 – August 21, 2016

The Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro have been going on for two weeks. The Olympics has been a marvelous time of both competition and camaraderie, crossing international borders. I have not spent as much time as in years past watching the different competitions, but there have been some exciting and nail-biting times in these past weeks. Swimming and diving, gymnastics, track and field: the United States has won medals in these and many more. And yes, there have also been some scandalous things that happened, both on and off the field of play.

Scandals, quarreling, fighting, bombing. Attacks, sniping, terrorism, and even warfare. So often those are common events in the world today. Sadly, common, and sadly, robbing countries of their best and brightest young people.

From the time that I was little, I was drawn to the Olympic competitions not only for the sake of sport, but also for the sake of the Olympic values and traditions. The Olympic values strive to counteract those negative traits and actions I just mentioned. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, wanted the Olympics to lift up the ideals of respect, fair balance, pursuit of excellence, joy in effort, and balance between mind, body and will. He held up these as the essential Olympic values. What wonderful ideals to reach for!

However, as faulty, error-filled people in this mixed-up world, we have a big problem. Sin gets in the way of these lofty ideals. Negative feelings like hatred, xenophobia, classism, separation of all kinds get in the way. Sin also includes the haves versus the have-nots, all over again, in a myriad of ways.

I would like us to switch gears and look at the Scripture passage for this morning from Ephesians 2. The Apostle Paul is in the middle of a very long paragraph about Jesus Christ and why He came to earth: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who … has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility; His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross..”

As is typical with the Apostle Paul, he makes a complex argument and brings a whole bunch of ideas into play. But I want to highlight this central fact from Ephesians chapter 2. Humanity was once far away from God, made far away by our separation and sin. There was—and is still—a dividing wall of hostility. Hostility between us and God, and hostility between human beings. Hostility between individuals, neighborhoods, groups, nations, races, classes, and a whole host of other separations.

The Olympic ideals, values and tradition help in counteracting this hostility and separation between humanity. The United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission helps to counteract this, too. I have been preaching through the Statement of Mission this summer. The sentence for this week states: Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called: to work for justice, healing, and wholeness of life.” Wonderful things to strive for! And, worthy ideals to shoot for, from the point of view of the Olympic ideals, or from a Christian framework.

Jesus Christ came to earth to reconcile us to God, to destroy that dividing wall of hostility, so that each of us could have healing and wholeness of life. Praise God! Alleluia! That involves our relationship with God. Our vertical relationship, which is so important. Jesus has done that for us. No longer separated and far away, we now have a relationship with God.

But, that is not the end of the story. No! God wants us to take the next step. God calls us to work for justice, healing and wholeness of life, not only for us individually, but for others as well. That is our mission, from the UCC Statement of Mission.

I spoke about this several weeks ago, when several moms from Morton Grove went to the south side of Chicago, into the Englewood neighborhood. Two of us went again this past Wednesday, to help serve at a dinner outreach to that community. We took this opportunity to reconnect with the good people in the Englewood neighborhood and show them that friends outside of their community care, and are concerned. Friends want to help them strengthen relationships, and bring peace into their streets. Their neighborhood. Their community.

By several of us going to the Englewood neighborhood, this was a concrete way of showing our love and caring for others. As a follower of Christ, it was and is my responsibility to work for justice, healing and wholeness of life. Not because I am a pastor, not because I am a leader of this congregation, but because I follow Christ and strive to do the things He did and to say the words He said. And most especially, I strive to love the way Jesus loves.

All of us are called to do that same thing. To follow Christ to the best of our ability.

Let me switch gears and talk about the Olympics again. I did have the opportunity to watch a bunch of races last week. My son and daughter got really excited about the men’s and women’s swimming. We were awestruck to watch Michael Phelps add to his haul of Olympic medals, plus all of the other American swimmers doing an outstanding job in the pool.

I also made note of Simone Manuel, who won two gold medals, one for the 100 meter freestyle and the other as a member of the 4 by 400 relay team. Ms. Manuel is one of the fastest swimmers on the planet today. She also happens to be African-American, the first black woman to medal for the United States in swimming. Ever.

Articles and news stories immediately proliferated on the Internet, television, newspaper and other forms of media. Yes, they all praised Ms. Manuel for her grand achievement. Yet, some of the longer articles told a different story. About how the history of swimming pools and racism are closely tied together in this country. About how “according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, in the United States, a black 11-year-old is 10 times as likely to drown in a swimming pool as a white 11-year-old. And as of 2010, around 70 percent of African-Americans said they couldn’t swim, compared with some 40 percent of white folks.” [1]

I quote from an article in Rolling Stone, “the fraught dynamics of segregation were fought within swimming pools as well. Often whites would shut down or avoid pools rather than have to intermingle with black people. There were legal battles fought throughout the 1950s over the access black people had to swimming pools and beaches that continued even after Brown v. the Board of Education and the idea that “separate but equal” facilities were deemed unconstitutional.” [2] A large percentage of American children having a likelihood of drowning. It doesn’t matter who, or what, or where. They are our country’s children. All of our children. And, this is a matter of justice—or, injustice.

This racist attitude is changing. Praise God! Plus, I am so happy for Simone Manuel and her two gold medals in swimming! This aspect of justice is something we all can do something about. And healing, and wholeness. Can you hear God calling? Calling to each of us? As the book of Isaiah says, “God will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in God’s paths.”

We can all look forward to God’s shalom, healing, peace, and wholeness, and verdant life. God wants us to try to communicate this Good News, work for justice, and do our best to spread healing and wholeness. To our friends, our neighbors, those we work with. Let us strive to live healing-filled lives, with God’s help. Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/08/12/484841513/simone-manuel-wins-olympic-gold-thats-a-really-big-deal

[2] http://www.rollingstone.com/sports/simone-biles-and-simone-manuel-wins-impact-on-race-w434453

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Struggle for Liberation

“Struggle for Liberation”

Isa 61-1 freedom, liberty word cloud

Isaiah 61:1-3 – August 14, 2016

Has anyone listened to the news? Or, read the newspaper lately? Or, checked out the headlines on their computer news sites? Other than the Olympics—which is some positive, uplifting news, indeed, and a much needed boost in this mixed-up world—there is very little positive going on in the world right now.

Bombings in Thailand, and wide-spread flooding in the Gulf Coast. Not to mention the violence in Milwaukee, poor economic forecast and drought-stricken areas covering large sections worldwide. Add to that, the rise in the prison population in the United States, complicated by the surge in unemployment in many urban areas across the country. Problem upon problem. What can we do about all of this? It makes me feel helpless, and hopeless.

Our Scripture passage from the Hebrew Bible comes from the book of Isaiah, chapter 61. As we read through the first two verses, we might just as well be reading the headlines from the daily paper or from a news site online, or listening to the news on the radio or television. Chapter 61 talks about the poor, those who are captive, brokenhearted, and those in prison. With one huge exception: the prophet has been chosen and anointed by the Lord to bring help and hope to those very people.

Reading from Isaiah 61 again: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. God has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, margto proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Praise God! The Lord is listening to the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives and the prisoners!

The prophet knows very well he has been sent and deputized to go to these people who are down and out. On the outskirts, on the margins of society. In this world today, so many people are poor, and captive, and prisoners. Outside of this country, certainly. But, even within this country. I am certain there are many people on the outskirts and margins of society very near this church, in a two mile-radius all the way around St. Luke’s Church.

I am preaching through the United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission for my summer sermon series. This week, our sentence from the mission statement says: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called: to join oppressed and troubled people in the struggle for liberation.”

This call from the statement of mission certainly echoes Isaiah 61. The prophet is clearly joining oppressed and troubled people. On the outskirts, on the margins of society.

Our Lord Jesus read this very passage from the prophet Isaiah when He started His ministry. Right after Jesus was baptized, He went to Nazareth. While in the synagogue, He was given the opportunity to read from Scripture. This was the passage Jesus read. After reading these verses, “20 Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him. 21 He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”

We have the prophet in the time of Isaiah sent to the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. We have our Lord Jesus saying—at the beginning of His ministry—that He has been sent to the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. And, we have the United Church of Christ’s Mission Statement saying that we—all of us—have been sent to the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized.

Jesus chose to hang out with these “down and out” type people, deliberately.

In fact, Jesus was soundly criticized. In the Gospel of Mark, the religious leaders get all righteous on Jesus for hanging out and eating with tax collectors and other “sinners.” The super-righteous Pharisees would not even allow themselves to come near these second-class citizens! That’s how much better they considered themselves. But, our Lord Jesus willingly associated with these “sinners,” these people who according to religious law were ritually unclean.

Jesus came to earth to reach out to all people, to bring the good news of the Gospel to everyone. Jesus came to the tax collectors just as much as the Pharisees, to free all people from their spiritual bondage. To liberate all people, so that we could be free, indeed!

Isn’t that just what God has been doing, all along? All throughout biblical history, and throughout the history of the church? We can follow that thread of liberation through the Hebrew Scriptures, highlighted by the Exodus, where the Jewish people were freed from slavery in Egypt. A huge liberation, to be sure!

We can follow the additional freedoms from oppression and liberations from captivity stated in the Bible. The book of Judges has one after another. The books of the Kings of Judah and Israel, more periodic liberation. The return from captivity of both Judah and Israel. Then, the ultimate liberation from captivity—humanity’s freedom from the bondage to sin and death, paid for us by Jesus Christ and His death on the cross.

Praise God! We have been set free from this bondage of sin and death. The physical, mental, emotional and psychological shackles that kept us all bound as prisoners have been loosened. Thank You, Jesus! I am so very, very happy and grateful and thankful.

Jesus encourages us—each of us—to reach out in the same way. We are to reach out to the poor, the brokenhearted, the oppressed. That is our part, to offer this freedom from bondage to those we meet.

I know what some people might say. “I am just one person. The task is much, much too big. Plus, I haven’t been trained in mission, or evangelism, or chaplaincy, or how to preach.”

Let me tell you a story. A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement. She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!” [1]

Remember, our sentence from the mission statement says: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called: to join oppressed and troubled people in the struggle for liberation.” Exactly so. You and I can do what we are able. No matter how small or how big it might be.

What can I do? This task of freeing the starfish—I mean, people from the penalty of bondage and death? What can we do to join oppressed and troubled people, and sit with them in their time of need? Walk with them through their difficulties?

I know it seems like a small thing, but I go regularly to play for a hymn sing at a nursing home in Chicago. I know the seniors appreciate my playing. What about donating to the Maine Township food pantry? I know it seems small, but there are hungry people throughout the community who will thank us.

Let us follow the prophet, and follow our Lord Jesus in this worthy effort. Engage with others. Find something to do, or say, and do it!

Please God, help us all in this endeavor. Amen!

[1] Adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

 

Powerful, Living Word

“Powerful, Living Word”

Heb 4-12 alive and active

Hebrews 4:12-13 – August 7, 2016

Words have power. Well-written words paint pictures in our brains, lift our spirits, or tug at our heartstrings.

Think of the vivid quote from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest: “We are such stuff/As dreams are made on; and our little life/Is rounded with a sleep.” And, the stirring words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Or, the heartstring tugs from A.A. Milne’s book Winnie the Pooh: “How do you spell ‘love’?” – Piglet “You don’t spell it…you feel it.” – Pooh”

This service today is all about words. Some very special words. Powerful words. God’s words. The Word of God, the Bible.

Our passage for this morning comes from the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 4. Reading verse 4:12 again: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Those words are pretty powerful! Sharp, penetrating, dividing, judging. The Word of God has great penetrating power, piercing incisively. This is an everyday picture: imagine a butcher with a very large, very sharp knife, cutting down to the bone.

“The word of God is not just sharp, but sharper than the sharpest doubled edged sword. In that sense the word of God can cut either way—in judgement or blessing.” [1] Plus, God’s Word, the Bible, is filled with God’s Spirit. That is important, too!

We are taking a closer look at the United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission. Today’s sentence is: Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to preach and teach with the power of the living Word.

God’s words have been powerful since the beginning of time. And, even before. Think of the preincarnate Jesus, the eternal God the Son. The first chapter of the Gospel of John tells us “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” Jesus, the Logos, which is a Greek expression meaning “the Word.” He spoke, and the entire universe came into being. Jesus is equated with this powerful, living and active Word of God!

As a minister of the Gospel, it is my responsibility and joy to preach and teach the Word of God. To preach and teach the amazing, mighty, powerful, living Word. Yet, the Statement of Mission tells us plainly that we all—that is, everyone here—have that same responsibility.

Last Wednesday afternoon, I went with several people from Morton Grove to the south side of Chicago. My friend had been in touch with a mothers’ group called Mothers Against Senseless Killing (MASK). This group has a free meal outreach called Give Them a Meal.

The four of us went to the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. What a wonderful opportunity for people to come together, to share, to have fellowship and make community. We set up everything so the free meal could be offered to anyone who came up to the street corner.

We were there for several hours. Yes, it was a marvelous afternoon. We were of service to that community. However, I wanted to let you know that just before I left, I had a wonderful conversation with the senior pastor of a Missionary Baptist church that set up an outdoor worship service on that same street corner.

Complete with sound system and moveable pulpit, that church has a regular outreach to their community each Wednesday evening. Pastor Matthew told me of the burden on his heart to disciple the members of his church. He strives to teach them to share their faith. Just as the UCC Statement of Mission says, “be ready to teach and preach with the power of the living Word.”

That’s what Pastor Matthew and his congregation strive to do, week in and week out! I am not particularly skilled in evangelism. That is one area where I fall short. I can learn lots from him and the members of his church. Plus, this sentence from our Statement of Mission tells us that teaching and preaching with the power of the living Word is something that every believer in Christ ought to be doing, on a regular basis.

There is a problem, though. We humans have shortcomings. We miss the mark in so many ways. As I was preaching last week, natural humans have deceitful hearts. We hide and run away. Our thoughts, words and actions are cloaked in darkness and sin.

Does this word picture sound sadly familiar? Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, and then repeatedly in the New Testament, we see over and over again how natural humans keep tripping up. How we sin “in thought, word, and deed,” The second part of Hebrews 4:12 lets us know that God’s word “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” I think that all of us here today acknowledge that we humans do sin. Miss the mark. Make mistakes. Say stupid things.

There is a famous picture, or icon, of Jesus.  Jesus the Judge. We are all familiar with pictures of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, or Jesus with the little children. But here in these verses, we have a serious word-picture of the risen, exalted Jesus, Jesus the Judge. Yes, this is a very real part of our Lord Jesus, whom we know and love.

The other half of this pair of verses lets us know that “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Words of caution! Words telling us to take care. As one commentator mentions, “the Word of God can probe the innermost motives of the real self and bring them out into the open, and then, with the self exposed to the light, prompt repentance and forgiveness.” [2]

Serious stuff, the Word of God! The Bible.

Still, we need to look at the words of the statement from the UCC Statement of Mission. “be ready to teach and preach with the power of the living Word.”

When it comes to everyone—all of us being ready to preach and teach, God offers us help. Isn’t that wonderful? God lets us know that we have God coming alongside of us. Helping, coaching, cheering us on as we tell others about the tremendous God we serve.

I have mentioned Miss Rose before. Miss Rose was a loving, caring senior from a church I attended some thirty years ago. Imagine my surprise and pleasure to find her one of the residents at the senior citizen home I worked at while I attended seminary! Miss Rose had the gift of evangelism. She would ask practically everyone, “Do you know the Lord?” Then, she would tell about the wonderful things God was doing in her life.

Miss Rose did not have an easy time at the retirement home. She was in constant pain, among other health issues. However, she did not let that stop her. Practically every person knew that God was Miss Rose’s Helper, Refuge, Strength. Shepherd. Healer.

Just in case anyone is wondering how to be “ready to teach and preach with the power of the living Word,” We can follow Miss Rose’s excellent example. Tell others what God is doing for you, right now. Tell others about the Holy Spirit’s power in your life. And, tell others about the amazing Word of God, the Logos, God the Son, Jesus!

What an opportunity! Tell others, like Miss Rose. Tell others about God’s power in your life, today. Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday28be.html “The Word of God,”  Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.  

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday28be.html “The Word of God,”  Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.  

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Repenting Hearts

“Repenting Hearts”

Jer 17-9 heart deceitful, script

Jeremiah 17:5-10 – July 31, 2016

I just came back from my study leave at the New Wilmington Mission Conference. Wonderful conference, again. (It always is!) I sat in bible class, and mission hour, and morning and evening meetings all week, learning about the marvelous ways believers are reaching out, locally and all over the world.

However, I also learned about many, many places in the world where believers are persecuted and in danger. Where the government has tight control, or where different groups are fighting. Where believers, especially church leaders, have been imprisoned, even killed. Countries like Syria, Egypt, South Sudan, Iraq; parts of Nepal, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. One of our bible passages for the morning is from Jeremiah 17. It tells us: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

Humans can be particularly inhuman, sometimes. Human hearts can be deceitful above all things, sometimes.

We are continuing with our summer sermon series from the United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission. I am sad to say that the sentence of the week is: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called and commit ourselves: To repent our silence and complicity with the forces of chaos and death.”

Natural humans without God can be inhuman. They can treat each other abominably. Not only through evil deeds like fighting, destruction and war, but also through general chaos and death—just as our sentence of the week from the Statement of Mission says. Many people want power and control. Many people strive to maintain power and control at all costs. They trust in humans’ own strength, and Jeremiah says their hearts turn away from the Lord.

What an awful thing! To have people in control—police, mayor, other government officials—whose hearts are completely separated from God. These people are controlled by the forces of evil, of chaos and death, according to the prophet.

Yes, these verses contain poetic language about humanity. As one commentator says, “To ancient peoples, the heart was not only the center of emotions, feelings, moods and passions, but also of will and motive power for the limbs. The heart discerned good from evil; it was also the center of decision-making. Conversion to God’s ways took place in the heart. In verse 9, it is said to be where evil begins.” [1]

At the mission conference this week, we had a chance to put our words into action.  Interested people had the opportunity to sign a petition to request Secretary of State John Kerry to intercede on behalf of the people of South Sudan, and to allow humanitarian aid to come in to the regions of the country under conflict and war. That is a concrete way to come up against the forces of evil, of chaos and death, and to show the love of God in a tangible way.

Evil. Chaos. Death. Just what the sentence from the Statement of Mission for today says. Natural humans—humans without God—have deceitful hearts, hearts that turn from the Lord. Our scripture passage for today tells us: “That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.”

Well, I am not a deceitful person, an evil person. I know God. In fact, God lives in my heart! Where can I go wrong?

One problem there: according to our Statement of Mission, we are to “repent our silence and complicity with the forces of chaos and death.”

You mean, being silent can be a problem? Maybe, even a sin? The statement tells all of us to repent. That certainly sounds like sin language. What is more, the statement mentions “all of us.” Not “some,” not “most,” but “all.”

            Albert Einstein said, ““If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” Can anyone relate? Horrible things happen every day. People who live next door, or down the street, or other places nearby find themselves in a difficult situation. They can be seen as vulnerable. Observers can turn out to be ostriches, hiding their heads in the sand. Hoping against hope that the problems of domestic abuse and its connected trauma might just go away.  Or, when there is racial tension in your side of town, to do nothing. In fact, to say nothing, to look the other way, and to stand on the sidelines with your mouth shut.

            What is wrong with that picture? That kind of behavior telling us what the sentence from the Statement of Mission tells us. The deceitful people who actively do terrible things to others? Are they at all like the quiet people who shut their eyes to injustice, or pretend that violence, bitterness and inequity never happen…at least, not in my world. Not on my block. Not in my part of town. Something to think about.

            This past week, I had the joy of learning about mission aspects of the Lord’s Prayer from a coworker for the World Mission Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Rev. Jen Haddox. Yes, the Lord’s Prayer is prayed all over the world. In a multitude of languages, and numerous settings. This prayer can cross boundaries—just like believers. Believers can, with God’s help, cross the boundaries of unbelief and of chaos. Believers can bring the love of God into an evil and traumatic situation.

            Jen Haddox spoke about areas of Vietnam, where the government has tight control over everything—both everyday life in the villages and towns, and over the house churches and Christian leaders. And, some believers live in fear of government oppression and even prison. Yet, as Jen said, believers in Vietnam have a joy and a freedom that overcomes the forces of chaos and death.

            In both bible passages this morning, both passages give us the good news from God. Both passages have a compare and contrast section: natural humans, without God, and humans who strive to follow God. We can see what can happen when God intervenes.

Yes, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, just as the Statement of Mission says. And, yes, we can pray for believers throughout the world, as well as in our backyard. We can pray for South Sudan, for Vietnam, for other areas of war and conflict. Remember, conflict and trauma can be anywhere. Not only physical conflict, but psychological and emotional, too. Here in the Morton Grove area, and in Chicago, as well as far away in large parts of Africa and Asia.

The prophet says: “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.” We can bring that blessing to those under the forces of chaos and death. Yes, we need to repent our silence in the face of evil. We can tell God we are sorry for our silence, and strive to bring words of blessing and peace into situations of trauma and chaos.

What an opportunity to strive to become believers who transcend boundaries! Praise God for the chance to spread the love of God into lives of people near and far. Through prayer for faraway places, and through tangible means like food from the Maine Township food pantry for those who are nearby.

Won’t you join in the mission of God? Let’s all strive to pray, go, and do, in the name above all names, the name of Jesus. Alleluia, amen!

[1] Chris Haslam, Anglican Diocese of Montreal. http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/cpr06m.shtml