All in the Family!

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“All in the Family!”

 

John 8:36 – October 30, 2016

Happy Reformation Day! Today is Reformation Sunday. When I say Reformation Sunday, what do you think of? “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God!” Or, Martin Luther, beginning the separation from the Catholic faith on October 31, 1517. What about a day to remember and lift up the Protestant Reformation? Or even all the faithful man and women of integrity through the centuries, who suffered and died for being true to their faith?

The Gospel reading for our sermon has a fascinating connection to Reformation Sunday. Jesus is teaching. And as often happens, His listeners do not understand what Jesus says.

All of this chapter of John—the eighth chapter—takes place in Jerusalem during the Festival of Booths. That is a yearly harvest-time celebration where the Jewish people commemorate God’s protection and accompaniment of the Jews on their wilderness wanderings; when they flee from bondage in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land.

I think Jesus said it clearly enough, but I wasn’t there. I didn’t hear His words, with first-century ears. And we all know about hindsight. Looking back on things past, hindsight is so often 20/20. Rewinding the tape, living life forwards, the Jewish audience in the Temple in Jerusalem wrangle over what Jesus means by His words. Some agree, some disagree, with contention back and forth.

What are the exact words Jesus says, again? “31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The listening Jews—who include the disciples—do misunderstand. Therein lies the source of a great deal of bickering back and forth.

The Jews listening to the Rabbi Jesus are—for the most part—really sincere. They really want to live righteous lives, pleasing to God. But—HOW to do this? That is the problem. And, competing teachers or rabbis had different plans, or step-by-step procedures to help people get closer to God. (It sounds pretty similar to today, doesn’t it?)

Let’s dig deeper, and look at the first phrase Jesus said: “If you hold to My teaching.” This is a phrase that can be translated in several different ways. A more literal way of translating it is “If you abide-dwell in My word.” Remember, we are talking about people who sincerely, legitimately want to get closer to God; see God more clearly, and follow God more nearly.

I suspect people have had difficulty in this area for centuries. Not connecting with God, I mean. Merely “teaching” sounds like it might be possible to get away with just having a nodding acquaintance with God. A kind of distant relationship where we might once in a while attend services, and think about God just a bit, and maybe drop a little money in the basket. But, not much more. Not get really involved.

What about the more literal translation? What was that Jesus said? “If you abide-dwell in My word—” Abide, or dwell. That sounds permanent. Moving in, and putting down roots! And, “in My word.” That is, digging deep! Learning more, and exploring the riches of God’s word. No surface stuff here. Not a nodding acquaintance only, as far as Jesus is concerned. He wants us to move in, lock, stock and barrel. Get to know God, really well, and get to know God’s word. That’s how to show we are really Jesus’s disciples!

Now, the second part of this if-then statement. Because, that’s just what it is. If we abide-dwell in Jesus’s words, then we are really Jesus’s disciples. If we know the truth, then the truth will make us free.

What on earth? Who is free? Who is a slave? What is Jesus saying here?

Can you see the scene in the Temple, here? The Rabbi Jesus makes an incredible statement, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Let’s quote the exact words, the comeback these people gave to Jesus: “They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

A Reformation Day paraphrase could be: “We are the theological descendants of Martin Luther, and have never been slaves to anyone!”

In other words, “What gives? Who are you calling slaves? Slaves to what? We are free-born people, not slaves!”  Jesus has a ready answer. Verse 34: “ Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”

Did everyone here listen? Did you all hear what Jesus said? Sounds a lot like Romans 3. Paul quotes from Psalms: “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; … there is no one who does good, not even one.’” And further on in chapter 3: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

That does not sound like good news. But—does the Apostle Paul tell us that we are permanently worthless, and there is absolutely no way to reconcile to God? Does Jesus stop right there, and leave us enmeshed in sin? Certainly not!

Jesus “is not talking about physical slavery but a spiritual, even existential state of being enslaved to sin.” [1] The Jewish listeners in the audience around the Rabbi Jesus just did not understand. They could not wrap their heads around the concept of “slaves to sin.”

Quoting again from a commentator: “Further, one is not delivered from such slavery by either history or birth right, but rather by a present and ongoing relationship — relationship to the Son, the one who is in the bosom of the Father and makes the Father known (1:18). Only those who abide with, dwell in, and are in intimate relationship with the Son, the living Word, the logos of God, are free indeed.” [2]

This is exactly what Martin Luther was preaching, from the moment he posted those 95 Theses on the chapel door at the University of Wittenberg. We are not hopeless slaves to sin. We are not people with merely a nodding acquaintance with God. Instead, we have an intimate relationship with the Son, with Jesus. Moreover, we are freed through our belief in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross for our sins. That’s yours and mine. All done! All gone. Our every sin is covered, taken away, is no longer separating us from God.

That is not only good news, that is great news! Tremendous news! And the best news of all? If we abide in His word, Jesus says we are now in God’s family. Listen to what He says in our Scripture passage today: “35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Jesus lets us know that a relationship with God is not only a possibility, but a reality. And, the closest relationship of all! All in the family. We can call ourselves the children of God; sons and daughters of the Almighty. We can enter into intimacy with God. We have the right, the privilege to crawl up into our Heavenly Parent’s lap, and call out, “Abba!”

That freedom was what Martin Luther got excited about. That intimacy is the foundation of the Protestant Reformation. That relationship is what we are heirs to today.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=827 , Commentary on John 8:31-36, October 31, 2010, David Lose.

[2] Ibid.

@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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Have You Met a Pharisee?

“Have You Met a Pharisee?”

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Luke 18:13 – October 23, 2016

I’d like to start with a question: has anyone here ever met a Pharisee?

The Pharisees were professional “religious folks.” They were the moral bookkeepers of Jesus’ day, keeping track of right activity and wrong activity. The Pharisees kept an exact mental ledger, and were meticulous about having as little in the “wrong activity” column as possible. They were not only meticulous about their own activity, and went over their own business with a fine-tooth comb, but they gave recommendations to the rest of Israel on how to live, as well.

As this passage mentions in verse 9, righteousness was VERY important to the Pharisees; so much so that “certain ones” even went so far as to trust in themselves that they were righteous, and looked at others with contempt.

I ask again—has anyone here ever met a Pharisee?

Jesus mentions one Pharisee in particular in this parable. From my study and reflection on this text, I see this particular Pharisee being acutely concerned with external activity—wrong activity that was obvious to anyone. Let’s look at verse 11: ”God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people—swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector .” What can we see? EXTERNAL activity, where this Pharisee looks judgmentally with his lip curled at other people’s external actions. May I suggest that this Pharisee had his eyes focused on the external, visible part, on the wrong-activity part of people’s lives?

If we take a look at the Bible, at both the Old and New Testaments, we can see wrong-headed, external actions being committed time and time again. Over and over and over again. People at the time of the Bible just did not learn. I have a feeling that people today are in a similar situation, making mistakes and wrong decisions on a regular basis.

Certainly, our actions are important to God. Wrong-activity goes against everything we have ever been taught in Sunday school, from the pulpit, in seminary, about sanctified living, and how to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God. But, a subtext I see here in this passage concerns INTERNAL attitudes and activities: the inside job.

When we talk about the inside job, the internal attitudes and activities, it does not matter whether we consider Bible times or today. People mess up. They have messed up for thousands of years. People not only do bad things, they say and think bad things. They miss the mark.

The Pharisee from this passage in Luke 18 looks at externals, and says to himself, “Gee, I’m not so bad. Matter of fact, I’m pretty good. Come to think of it, I’m doing all right!” See what his thought-process is here? He’s making himself out to be better, superior to other people. Verse 9: “Trusting in himself that he was righteous!”

This “super-righteous guy” was—in reality—anything but. So busy looking at other people’s outsides that he never did a reality check of his own life. Such a self-serving, prideful prayer! He was blind to his own shortcomings, and his own not-so-wonderful position before God. As long as he considered himself to be pretty good, more-righteous-than-thou, that was good enough for him. So much better than the sneer of contempt he expressed for all of the “sinful people.”

What about the contempt and scorn that Pharisees today express for others? Let’s take a similar situation: the one of a high-and-mighty bully on the playground. “You’re not as (good, fast, smart, pretty….)  as me!” Or, “You’re just a (jerk, baby, loser, …) And what about names that belittle – “shorty, four eyes, tubby, pipsqueak, etcetera.” [1]

You get the idea. Let your mind wander to add labels used in your workplace, school, community center, or neighborhood.

We all can feel what is hurtful about these names and labels, even if we cannot rationally identify it. And, these are not the only kinds of phrases Pharisees—those snide, blustering bullies—use. Just reminding us: we need to think ahead about how to handle similar belittling terms, and even worse terms with racial or sexual connotations.

I ask again, has anyone here ever met a Pharisee?

I am not sure whether you all know this, but at seminary, almost everyone who attends classes for a Master of Divinity degree takes at least one preaching class. We learn how to preach, how to bring a sermon to a congregation.

While I was in the Preaching class at seminary, I ran into one of my professors in the cafeteria. He and I periodically talked about my theological background and where I came from, theologically speaking. As we put our trays on the conveyor belt, I mentioned to him that I was working on a sermon for Preaching class. He asked me which text I was working on. I told him, “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector, from Luke 18.” His question—”which are you?” My response—”Oh, the tax collector, of course . . . I’m a reformed theologian.” The professor roared with laughter; he really appreciated that. (That’s theological humor for you.)

But it’s true. I do identify with the tax collector. The tax collector here KNEW he was a sinner. He didn’t have any illusions about himself! He knew what the Hebrew Bible had to say about external activity, and how to approach God. He KNEW that he missed the mark. He was conscious—oh, so conscious–of his sin. As Paul says in Romans 3:23, we ALL have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God. We have turned, EVERY ONE, to his, or her, own way.

But, the tax collector does not stop at just wallowing in sin. Neither should we!!! No–he falls at the feet of God and claims God’s mercy. As Jesus says in this parable, “I tell you, this man went to his house justified.” The Pharisee in this parable couldn’t even see where he had missed the mark. The tax collector recognized his sin, and he knew where to go. He knew he was powerless over sin. He knew his life was unmanageable. He knew where to flee for help and mercy!

Could the contrast between the two men possibly be more clear? Could the difference between the two prayers possibly be more extreme? What about you and me? Are there places where we have not done what God wants us to do? Are there impatient or unkind words that we have said? What about nasty, mean thoughts that have gone through our minds?

The Pharisee trusted in his own flawed and erroneous righteousness; we can certainly learn from his mistakes. The tax collector knew his own sinfulness very well! He threw himself on God’s mercy and forgiveness, wholeheartedly.

“Mercy there was great, and grace was free, Pardon there was multiplied to me. There my burdened soul found liberty—at Calvary!” We can thank God that God does not use a balance sheet for our accounts.

As I say each Sunday, we are forgiven! If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness. We can go to our houses justified, through the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. What better news can we possibly receive than that? Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/09/year-c-proper-25-30th-sunday-of.html ; Worshiping with Children, Proper 25, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2013.

@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!)

Preach the Word!

“Preach the Word!”

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2 Timothy 4:2 – October 16, 2016

For those who have had a mentor relationship—either as a mentor or a ment-ee—this kind of relationship can be so rewarding. This is the kind of relationship I had with Pastor Gordon, when we worked together years ago for almost a year at another UCC church. He was the mentor, I was the ment-ee. Paul and Timothy had this kind of relationship. Close, nurturing, and a blessing to both parties. In their case, this relationship was especially close. Paul even called Timothy “my true son in the faith.”

We get glimpses of the deep, nurturing relationship between Paul and Timothy in several of the New Testament letters. However, perhaps the deepest, most personal window into their relationship comes from this letter, the second letter to Timothy recorded in the New Testament.

Some backstory. Paul is in prison in Rome. This is nothing new for Paul. He had been imprisoned multiple times throughout his time as a follower of Jesus Christ. What is the most urgent thing on Paul’s mind? His direct command, his charge to his son in the faith: “Preach the Word! In season and out of season.” (In other words, all the time.)

Yes, Timothy was a pastor, and a preacher. We can take this command as something that Paul only meant for Timothy. Or, expand it a little further, and consider it a command for any pastor, for any preacher.

I would like to let everyone here know that I always—always—start with the Word of God. When I start preparing my sermons, I pray over the text. I ask God what the message is that God wants me to deliver to the congregation. I research the pertinent passage, and sometimes other, related passages from the Bible. Sometimes I take a closer look at the original languages, and at the nuances and the shades of meaning in the translations. Then, after all that, I write the sermon. And, I hope and pray I may faithfully proclaim God’s Word to the congregation. Always.

That is what I—personally—do as I bring the Word of God to you, each week. But, I believe Paul is talking to more than just his son in the faith. I believe Paul’s message can be taken to heart by all believers. Not only by me, or Pastor Gordon, or Pastor Kevin from Epiphany UCC, or Pastor Vertie Powers from the Chicago Metropolitan Association. But, Paul’s message is for all of us. Each of us, individually. At this church, and any every church.

As is so often the case with the Apostle Paul, he crammed a ton of ideas into a very small space. Let’s read his directions to Timothy, again, starting at 3:14: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.” Paul had already praised Timothy for his careful learning from his grandmother and mother, Lois and Eunice, at the beginning of this letter. Here, he expands this idea.

Here, Paul ”refers to the people from whom Timothy has learned. (And it is ’people,’ more than Paul alone, but a collection of people, since the ‘whom’ in 3:14 is plural.)” [1] We know that Timothy learned from his mother and grandmother, because Paul said so. Perhaps Timothy also went to Hebrew school, or Torah classes, or studied with some rabbinic scholar as a teen. But, Paul said Timothy learned from a number of people. Mentors. Teachers. Coaches. Elders in the faith, people who had thorough, lived-or-demonstrated faith. Their faithfulness, which made Timothy who he was as an adult.

Go back in your mind and memory. Can you remember one or two special people who instructed you in the faith? People who lived out their Christian faith each day, every day?

I can remember one dear woman when I was in elementary school on the northwest side of Chicago at the Lutheran church. I vividly remember a senior, Mrs. Pabst (who died many years ago). She was faithful. She was kind. She had the spiritual gifts of helps and mercy and service to others in abundance. She was unfailingly loving and giving to others. Each day. Every day. She lived out the Christian life in front of me. I learned practical theology from Mrs. Pabst: how to make theology part of everyday life and apply it to the nuts and bolts of everyday living. She demonstrated the Christian faith as part of who she was.

That’s what Paul is talking about here. He praises Timothy for having absorbed practical theology from mentors, teachers, coaches. The Christian faith was part of who Timothy was.

Who have we learned from? Who showed us how to make practical theology part of our everyday lives? Great question! I’ll let us all ponder that for today.

Let’s get back to talking about the Word. Yes, Paul commanded Timothy to preach the Word. What else does Paul say about the Word? About Scripture? These verses are rich with meaning. Paul says that Timothy learned Scripture from the time he was very small. From his infancy Timothy had been exposed to God’s Word, which was—which is able to make all of us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

How about for us, today? Does that mean learning about Scripture in Sunday school? Memorizing verses in Confirmation classes? Sharing at bible study or at prayer time? Yes, yes, and yes. All of those, and so much more. What about decorating the sanctuary for Christmas? What about getting the fellowship hall ready for the Spaghetti Dinner or the Not-So-Lent Fish Fry? What about working at the Car Wash? Or praying for others with the email Prayer Chain?

Can those be times when we learn from each other how to be of service, and how to live Godly lives in a cheerful, faithful way? How to DO practical theology?

Just letting you all know: this final letter is bittersweet. More than sad. Paul is coming to the end of the road; he knows it. This time, he knew he had very little time left before he was executed. Beheaded. He has lost the final appeal, before the Emperor in Rome. Time is short—Paul desperately needs to give Timothy a final charge: “Preach the Word!”

We can all point to preachers on street corners or on television, or on the Internet. Preachers who give us lessons in how NOT to preach the Word. Preachers who use a boom box or a bullhorn, using guilt and shame as weapons to browbeat passersby into their “churches.” False preachers like these have no regard for those hearing the message. They do not deliver the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. God’s Word that transforms the life of every person who truly believes.

Communicating the transforming Word of God is the ministry of the Church. The main job of each and every believer. Just as Paul praised Timothy for having absorbed practical theology from mentors, teachers, coaches, just as Paul recognized that the Christian faith was part of who Timothy was, so each of us can live out the Christian faith each day. Every day. We can make theology part of our everyday lives, too.

We can have confidence and faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord, our Savior. We all can live lives that let everyone know we are Christians because we have love for one another. We can strive to be unfailingly loving and giving to others. Many others. Each day. Every day. And when we finally stand before Jesus Christ in glory, we will hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

St. Francis of Assisi made theology part of his everyday life, making the Christian faith part of who he was. He reminded us, “Preach the Gospel at all times. And when necessary, use words.” Let those with ears to hear, let them hear. Amen.

 

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1836 ; Commentary, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Matt Skinner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

@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!)

Mental Illness, Mental Wholeness

“Mental Illness, Mental Wholeness”

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Luke 8:35 – October 9, 2016

The focus of our service today is mental illness. The National Alliance for Mental Illness has designated this past week—the first week of October—as Mental Illness Awareness Week. On the back table in the narthex is a handout with some facts about mental illness and how to be understanding, how to be an advocate for those who suffer, and to their families and loved ones.

The Gospel reading for today is an extended one. We are going to look at it piece by piece during the sermon time today. Reading from the Gospel of Luke chapter 8, starting at verse 26: “Then [Jesus and the disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As[Jesus] stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met Him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.”

Let’s talk about the setting for this encounter—for it is a significant encounter in the life and ministry of Rabbi Jesus. Jesus and the disciples have crossed the sea of Galilee to the other side: the Gentile side. This is a non-Jewish town, in a non-Jewish area, the territory of the Decapolis. On top of that, the first person Jesus meets when He steps on land is a man with demons, unclean spirits, who lived in one of the most unclean places—among the tombs.

Continuing reading from Luke: “28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before Him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”—“ Abrupt, confrontational, in your face.

Can you see it, in your mind’s eye? Or on a screen inside your head? The man, with wild eyes, disheveled hair, tattered beard. No clothes, falling on his face in front of Jesus. He doesn’t go to anyone else, but he singles out Jesus—whom he names “Son of the Most High God.” Isn’t it interesting, amazing, that the demonized people can always recognize Jesus—the Son of the Most High God—and infallibly identify the Messiah for who and what He is, long before the other people surrounding Jesus can.

These encounters where Jesus deals with demons have been discussed for centuries. Many modern day interpreters and commentators think that these people who were “demonized” (a direct transliteration of the Greek term) suffered from mental illness. Regardless of what we think about these narratives, we know that these demons are often “forces that take hold of us and prevent us from becoming what God intends us to be.” [1] And yes, demons can be represented by self-loathing and self-destructive words, actions, habits and thoughts.

The Reverend Jean Hite had some fascinating insights into this Gospel reading. She notes that “All the demons that Jesus confronts in the Gospel stories have three things in common:

  • First:  Demons cause self-destructive behavior in their victim.
  • Second:  The victim feels like he’s trapped – trapped in his life situation.
  • And third:  The demons keep the victim from living a normal, happy life in his family or community – the demons separate the victim from family and community.” [2]

Dr. Luke gives us some back story. “Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)” Superhuman strength this man displayed! A demon, or mental illness—whatever it was in the first century, whatever it is today, Jesus faces down the situation and the affliction fearlessly.

Dr. Luke continues with the encounter: “30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged [Jesus] not to order them to go back into the abyss.” A Roman legion had anywhere from 3000 to 6000 soldiers in it. Even if this was a great exaggeration, we are still talking about a whole lot of demons.

I want to interrupt to say that there could well be demons inhabiting this man. I am not denying the existence of demons and other spiritual forces. Not at all! However—I want to highlight the fact that throughout the centuries, people with any sort of mental challenge or mental illness have been incredibly misunderstood. Shunned. Excluded. Banished.

But, Jesus would not shun, would not exclude, would not banish anyone.

There is so much misinformation about mental illness, even today. It is amazing how many affected people are excluded. Astonishing how many live with the daily stigma of shunning, being ignored, or viciously teased.  Population studies tell us that people who are affected by mental illness are between 20 and 25 percent of the population. Not only schizophrenia and paranoia, but chronic depression, the autism spectrum, anxiety disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorders. One in four or one in five of the people in line with you at the grocery store, or at the bank, or filling the tank at the gas station. Everyone knows someone.

Back to Luke chapter 8: “32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So He gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.”

Remember, this was a non-Jewish area, so herds of pigs were common. Whatever expression or definition we give to the demons, they ask Jesus whether they can enter the pigs. He agrees, and immediately the whole herd drowns in the lake. This scares the living daylights out of the pig herders! “34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.”

I suspect that people had written off this scary, unbalanced man as a totally lost cause. Today, we know that many, many people with mental illness can be helped a great deal. It is a physical challenge, just like diabetes and the imbalance involving the pancreas.

Moreover, illnesses and challenges do not need to be visible. For example, I am very nearsighted. I correct that with contact lenses. There are any number of different therapies, as well as medication that can control mental illness and outbreaks. But, such a drastic healing in the first century? No wonder everyone was scared to death of Jesus!

36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So [Jesus] got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.”

Notice that Jesus wanted this healed man to stay where he was and tell his fellow townspeople about the marvelous things God has done! He was to tell his story. Be an evangelist.

Whether we are talking the first or the twenty-first century, we can all praise God—Jesus has come to heal our diseases, to free us from our bondage. Whether from sin, from demons, from mental illnesses. Jesus knows our sorrows and carries our griefs. Jesus comes alongside of us—all of us—and helps us to bear our heavy loads.

Whether the load is physical or mental, psychological or spiritual, Jesus gives a helping hand. Jesus shows up. All of which tells us that God is willing to go absolutely anywhere to come alongside, to free, sustain and heal those who are broken and despairing.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] https://jeanhite.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/a-power-greater-than-ourselves/

[2] Ibid.

@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!)

Faith Begins at Home

“Faith Begins at Home”

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2 Timothy 1:1-5 – October 2, 2016

Today is the day we celebrate our children’s first communion. What a happy day! We all join together in praise for Claire, Edward and Noah. They learned more about the why of it, the beginnings of Communion yesterday, in the choir room.

We went through the events of that Passion Week two thousand years ago, and concentrated on that Maundy Thursday evening, that Passover seder our Lord Jesus and His friends celebrated. We talked about the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Jesus. Then, we talked about how Jesus ascended into heaven and is in heaven right now. And, that Jesus gave us the practice of communion—of the Lord’s Supper—for us to remember Him and to join together as a congregation of believers in Jesus and what He did for us on the cross.

Another really important thing we talked about was how Jesus forgives us for the bad and angry words we say, and the bad and wrong things we do. That is another important part of communion, too. We need to confess our sins before we come to the Lord’s Table. Then, just as I remind us all in the Assurance of Pardon each week, God will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Believe the good news! In Jesus Christ we are forgiven.

These are central foundations of our faith. The Christian faith. That’s the same faith the Apostle Paul talked about in our Scripture lesson today, from 2 Timothy. Paul says to his protégé Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”

This same faith, in these same things. Except, everything was very recent. There were still a number of people living who had actually seen Jesus and the events in Israel. (Can you imagine that?) So much more immediate.

Timothy was one of the first Christians brought up in a believing family; he received sound teaching about God from his mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois. Yes, Paul was very close to Timothy, a young man whom he took under his wing. But we see here that Paul gave credit where credit was due: Paul raised up Timothy’s careful teaching from a believing family, and the sincere faith of both his grandmother and mother.

Eunice, Lois and Timothy were Jewish. As in any careful Jewish home, the mother and grandmother had a good deal to do with teaching the children. The Hebrew Scriptures are careful to tell faithful people to share about the ways of God within the home. Deuteronomy 4:9 reminds us, “Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” Worship services in the Temple were not sectioned off, with a separate place for babies and toddlers, and a junior Temple, and then Temple for adults. No, there were multiple generations present at all worship services. What a great way to celebrate the family of faith, the larger faith community.

Praise God for families that strive to live for God, and to raise children in the nurture and fear of the Lord. Wonderful opportunities to learn more and more about God in a familiar setting, and how to walk in God’s ways and will.

But—what if a person does not grow up in a believing family? What then? Can someone be raised in a secular family, or a non-Christian family, and still come to know God?

I did. I grew up in a home where there was no mention of God at all. When I was a preschooler and into my primary grades, I don’t believe I ever when to church at all. Maybe, once. (A vague memory.)

I’m the youngest of six children, and I grew up on the northwest side of Chicago. My parents were both raised in Catholic parishes in Chicago, but they stopped attending the Catholic church while they were in college. And, they never renewed their acquaintance with the church.

It was a combination of things that started me attending Christ Lutheran Church in Chicago when I was in elementary school. My older sisters sometimes went to the youth group of that church because their friends attended there. The church also had a volleyball team, and one of my sisters loved to play. They would occasionally go to church, and my mother pushed me out the door to go to Sunday school with my sisters. I found I liked it. I really liked it, more than anyone ever expected.

That congregation became my family of faith. I not only attended Sunday school and youth group, but I learned all about the Christian faith while at that church. The pastor, Pastor Wold, was a faithful and conscientious teacher in confirmation classes. I remember attending confirmation every Wednesday afternoon for almost two years after school, and we carefully went through Luther’s Small Catechism.

Just like Timothy, with a sincere faith living in him passed down from his blood family, so I had a sincere faith living in me. It was passed down to me through faithful Sunday school teachers and youth leaders. I remember with gratitude people like Pastor Wold, Mrs. Pabst and Mrs. Smallman. People who carefully taught me how much God loved me.

Here, at St. Luke’s Church, we have the opportunity to teach our children about the Christian faith. Not only Miss Karen teaches our young people, in Sunday School, but all of us do as we gather together in worship, sing, pray, repeat the stories of our faith. Even sit together in silence. All of these are ways we come together as a family of faith, before God. We all have the opportunity to learn from each other on a regular basis, when we gather for worship.

Today is a special day. Yes, it is the first communion of Claire, Edward and Noah. Praise God! We do rejoice with them! But, it is more than that. Much, much more.

Please take out your bulletins. Look at the front page. What does it say on the bulletin? World Communion Sunday. “World Communion Sunday (originally called World Wide Communion Sunday) is a gift of the Presbyterian Church to the larger ecumenical church.  The first celebration occurred at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1933 where Dr. Hugh Thompson Kerr served as pastor.”

“World Communion Sunday grew out of the Division of Stewardship at Shadyside. It was their attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.” [1]

So, not only are families interconnected by blood ties. Not only are congregations connected as families of faith. But, a multitude of congregations, of churches, are interconnected with each other. All over the world.

This celebration of the Lord’s Supper—called in different places Communion—or the Eucharist—is as different as are the many varied cultures where the Lord’s Supper is commemorated today. Some people today will meet out of doors, under a tree. Others will meet in a plain structure with only a roof over their heads. Some will meet in a fancy, ornate sanctuary, while still others will creep away by ones or twos to a hidden place for fear of being arrested, or worse. All of these are remembering our Lord Jesus as He instituted this holy meal, this sacrament.

We meet each Sunday as a family of faith. And, we meet today as fellow members of the family of Jesus Christ. Praise God for friendship, for fellowship, and praise God for the marvelous diversity of the families of faith throughout the world, in cities, small towns, rural churches, across denominations, transcending barriers and dividing lines, all through the power of the love of Christ. Truly, our sisters and brothers, all around the world.

 

[1] http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/special-days-and-emphases/world-communion-sunday/  John A. Dalles, a PCUSA pastor who has researched the history of World Communion Sunday notes this in his blog entry, reprinted from the October 7, 2002 Presbyterian Outlook.

@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!)