But Now I See

John 9:1-41 (9:25) – March 26, 2017

John 9 word cloud

“But Now I See”

In the first century, when Jesus walked the earth, people commonly believed a number of things that have since been proven mistaken, including something mentioned here in our Gospel passage today. When babies were born with a handicap or impediment—like born with a club foot, born with a cleft palate, or born blind—many, many people thought this was a punishment from God.

The parents were at fault. Sin was the reason the child was born that way!

In the encounter we have today in our Gospel lesson from John, Jesus deals with that kind of thinking. Let’s set the scene. “9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been born blind. His disciples asked him, “Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parents’ sin?”

In certain parts of the world today, people still think like that. Sad state of events, but that is the way it is. Some people mistakenly assign the “blame” for a “disability” or “illness.” Let’s see how Jesus responds.

Jesus answered, “His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents’ sins. He is blind so that God’s power might be seen at work in him. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light for the world.”

Jesus rejects this blaming kind of talk! He “suggests that this man’s blindness offers the opportunity for God’s power to be revealed…. There is, in this case, physical blindness, but it’s not the only kind of blindness.  There are those who can see just fine, but live in spiritual darkness.” [1] More on that, later.

Plus, Jesus goes from talking about blindness, to God’s power, to Jesus being the light for the world. Can you follow Him in the progression of His thought? Actual, physical blindness, leading to God’s power made manifest by our Lord Jesus, who is God’s Light for the world, enlightening everyone. Back to the story.

After he said this, Jesus spat on the ground and made some mud with the spittle; he rubbed the mud on the man’s eyes and told him, “Go and wash your face in the Pool of Siloam.” (This name means “Sent.”) So the man went, washed his face, and came back seeing.

A man, born blind, made to see? This is a miracle, by anyone’s estimation! But, this is not quite a happily-ever-after story. By no means the end of our story.

13 Then they took to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 The day that Jesus made the mud and cured him of his blindness was a Sabbath. 15 The Pharisees, then, asked the man again how he had received his sight. He told them, “He put some mud on my eyes; I washed my face, and now I can see.” Here is a clear statement of facts, as reported by the man who formerly was born blind.

We can tell the Pharisees believed the commonly held theological position of the day: illness and disability were God’s punishment for sin. What is more, people disagreed about whose sin was responsible for this former baby’s (now grown man’s) blindness. Most thought it was the parents. However, some thought that the newborn baby had somehow sinned! (Hard to believe, but true.)

On top of that, the Pharisees had some unkind words for this upstart Rabbi Jesus. Imagine, healing on a Sabbath! Who does He think He is?

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “The man who did this cannot be from God, for he does not obey the Sabbath law.” Others, however, said, “How could a man who is a sinner perform such miracles as these?” And there was a division among them. 17 So the Pharisees asked the man once more, “You say he cured you of your blindness—well, what do you say about him?” “He is a prophet,” the man answered. 18 The Jewish authorities, however, were not willing to believe that he had been blind and could now see, until they called his parents 19 and asked them, “Is this your son? You say that he was born blind; how is it, then, that he can now see?”

The Pharisees could not see past the noses on their faces. All they could see was healing, or work being done on the Sabbath, which was forbidden in their strict interpretation of the Law of Moses. That was huge, in their eyes. Hugely wrong!

Looking for additional people to cast blame on, the Pharisees just did not believe this guy who was formerly blind—so they called his parents!

20 His parents answered, “We know that he is our son, and we know that he was born blind. 21 But we do not know how it is that he is now able to see, nor do we know who cured him of his blindness. Ask him; he is old enough, and he can answer for himself!” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, who had already agreed that anyone who said he believed that Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue. 23 That is why his parents said, “He is old enough; ask him!”

24 A second time they called back the man who had been born blind, and said to him, “Promise before God that you will tell the truth! We know that this man who cured you is a sinner.” 25 “I do not know if he is a sinner or not,” the man replied. “One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I see.”

One of the most familiar and beloved traditional hymns is “Amazing Grace.” This hymn talks about several important things, including salvation. The hymn also talks about blindness, and the change that comes into a person’s life when they receive sight—spiritual sight. “Was blind, but now I see.” What a theological truth. What a profound insight. Jesus wasn’t blinded at all to seeing this man born blind.

It is the Pharisees who have been blind—spiritually blind—and they don’t even know it. “The religious leaders remain spiritually blind, still contending that the work of Jesus is demonic.  In their resistance to [Jesus,] their blindness – their sin – is revealed.” [2]

Is this just some nice bible story, or could it apply to us, today? Similar to the Pharisees, are we so preoccupied with our own holiness and righteousness that we are blinded? I mean, spiritually blinded to seeing signs of God’s work right here in our midst? [3]

“How does Jesus open our eyes to the things of God?  How does he reveal our blind spots so that we can let go of them and give glory to God? The good news is that there is amazing grace available to us.” [4] We can testify, along with this formerly blind man, “One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I see.”

This is something to celebrate! Jesus can open our eyes to those around us. We can be healed of our spiritual blindness and come into the light of God’s presence, and be able to testify to others of God’s light-giving and grace-giving. Praise God! Amen.

[1] http://www.bobcornwall.com/2014/03/who-is-really-blind-lectionary.html

[2] http://www.bobcornwall.com/2014/03/who-is-really-blind-lectionary.html

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/fourth-sunday-in-lent-one-great-hour-of-sharing#preaching

[4] http://www.bobcornwall.com/2014/03/who-is-really-blind-lectionary.html

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

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The First Missionary

John 4:5-42 (4:29) – March 19, 2017

Jesus and woman at well icon

“The First Missionary”

When I say these words: “rotten half-breeds!” what comes to mind? Arguments, animosity, maybe even blood feuds. Fighting going on for years, decades, perhaps even centuries. Certainly, nothing good or positive.

That’s the situation we have here in John chapter 4, with the Jews and their hated half-brothers, the Samaritans. The Samaritans were, indeed, half-breeds who had been settled in the middle of modern-day Israel by the Assyrian occupation, about 700 BCE. The fighting and the hatred between these two closely-related tribes of people had been going on for several centuries.

That’s the backdrop we have as we consider this extended conversation between the Rabbi Jesus and an unnamed Samaritan woman, right smack in the middle of the Samaritan region of the country. Typical Jews would not often cross through Samaria to get from the south part of the country—around Jerusalem, to the north part of the country—around Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. For the Jews, this encounter was in the middle of enemy territory.

Let’s listen in on Jesus and this woman.

In Samaria Jesus came to a town named Sychar. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by the trip, sat down by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw some water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink of water.” (His disciples had gone into town to buy food.)

Here is the situation. Jesus has been walking all morning, wants water, and asks for a drink. I am not going to give a long explanation concerning why this woman came to the well when everyone else had gotten their water for the day. No, and I am not going to ask what kinds of behavior might be scaring the other Samaritan townspeople away. I will let you all imagine what kinds of things they might be.

Continuing with John 4: “The woman answered, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan—so how can you ask me for a drink?” 10 Jesus answered, “If you only knew what God gives and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would ask him, and he would give you life-giving water.” 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you don’t have a bucket, and the well is deep. Where would you get that life-giving water? 12 It was our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well; he and his children and his flocks all drank from it. You don’t claim to be greater than Jacob, do you?”

According to common Jewish thought at that time, this was a “rotten, half-breed Samaritan woman.” Yet, she goes right to the heart of it, and unerringly puts her finger on the complication in this extended conversation. “Life-giving water:” what kind of water is that? Where does it come from?

Stagnant water sits in a cistern or barrel and harbors deadly bacteria. “Life-giving water” or “living water” means running water, like in a stream or river. “Living water, rushing over rocks, cleans us more thoroughly and is much safer to drink. We build settlements where living water flows at the surface, or where wells can be dug reaching to underground streams or springs of water.” [1]

The woman’s rhetorical question, “You’re not greater than Jacob, are you?” can also imply she is rather skeptical of this Jewish guy sitting by the well. 13 Jesus answered, “Those who drink this water will get thirsty again, 14 but those who drink the water that I will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give them will become in them a spring with life-giving water and give them eternal life.”

15 “Sir,” the woman said, “give me that water! Then I will never be thirsty again, nor will I have to come here to draw water.” Ah. Jesus is upping the stakes, offering this woman living water, and even life-giving water that becomes a spring inside of each person. See how eagerly the woman responds?

16 “Go and call your husband,” Jesus told her, “and come back.” 17 “I don’t have a husband,” she answered. Jesus goes to the heart of the woman (and, the heart of the interaction) by broaching the highly personal subject of the woman’s husband. Some might say it was a sore spot. However, Jesus is revealing Himself further to this woman through this statement. Back to the story.

“Jesus replied, “You are right when you say you don’t have a husband. 18 You have been married to five men, and the man you live with now is not really your husband. You have told me the truth.” 19 “I see you are a prophet, sir,” the woman said.

20 “My Samaritan ancestors worshiped God on this mountain, but you Jews say that Jerusalem is the place where we should worship God.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time will come when people will not worship the Father either on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans do not really know whom you worship; but we Jews know whom we worship, because it is from the Jews that salvation comes.

25 The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah will come, and when he comes, he will tell us everything.” 26 Jesus answered, “I am he, I who am talking with you.”

Do you see the natural steps of interaction Jesus took with this woman? Her surprise at his asking for a drink of water changed to curiosity at the offer of living water. This further changed to wonder and amazement at Jesus knowing all about her past, and her several marriages. Finally, they reach the topic of religion, and Jesus tells her—in plain words—that He is, indeed, the Messiah. All in a short interchange.

In fact, when Jesus reveals Himself to this woman, He speaks the words “I am.” These words make explicit connections with the divine name in Exodus 3:14, which also confirm the words of the first chapter of the Gospel of John: “the Word was God.” In this way, Jesus fulfills this woman’s expectations of the Messiah and transcends them, at the same time. [2]

27 At that moment Jesus’ disciples returned, and they were greatly surprised to find him talking with a woman.” (Jesus, as a Jewish religious leader, was not supposed to talk with a woman in public, much less a Samaritan woman.) “But none of them said to her, “What do you want?” or asked him, “Why are you talking with her?”

28 Then the woman left her water jar, went back to the town, and said to the people there, 29 “Come and see the man who told me everything I have ever done. Could he be the Messiah?” 30 So they left the town and went to Jesus.

Here we have an evangelist. The first Christian missionary! She was so struck by what Jesus had just said to her that she had to go and tell others about it. What is more, she invited all her fellow townspeople to come and see! Come and see this man who told her everything she had done in her life.

Because of this woman’s witness, the number of people who believed in Jesus grows—and not just Jews! The “hated, rotten, half-breed” Samaritans believe, too! Jesus and His words challenge each of us, today.

How do you and I come to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord, our Savior, our Messiah? Was there some life-changing moment in your life that softened your heart and changed your mind? What was it—what is it that causes us to want to go and tell everyone the Good News? Are we eager to tell others to “Come and see?” [3]

Are we so excited that we forget our water jars—or smart phones—or briefcases—or tool belts? It is important to share our witness and to tell our own story. Jesus encourages us to tell others to “come and see!” Come on, come closer. Come, see the One who knows everything about me, and loves me anyway!

Come and see!  

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/planning-for-worship-during-lent-year-a-living-our-baptismal-calling

[2] Gail R. O’Day and The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 10, The Gospel of John), (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 568.

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/planning-for-worship-during-lent-year-a-living-our-baptismal-calling

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Faith, Birth from Above

John 3:1-17 – March 12, 2017

Jesus and Nicodemus, JesusMAFA

“Faith, Birth from Above”

Got faith? Really, do you have faith in anything? Perhaps, faith in electricity, to keep the lights and appliances working in our houses. What about faith in our doctors, or in the medical profession in general? Some people would say “yes” and others “not so much.” How about faith in the Chicago sports teams? That kind of faith is getting more and more difficult to keep up.

What about in our Scripture readings today? We have already heard about Abraham, and how he had faith in his God. In each reading, we have a person in our list of faith recipients. A person who tried to have faith and trust in someone or something outside of themselves.

Let’s take a closer look at Abraham’s situation. Reading from Genesis 12: “Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Everything the Lord was saying sounded strange and unfamiliar. God did not even name the country where Abram was supposed to go.

Turning to John 3, Eileen and I acted out the encounter Nicodemus had with the Rabbi Jesus; let’s remind ourselves of that situation. “Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Nicodemus was trying to have faith in someone or something, but faltering. That sounds a lot like us. Don’t we hesitate and falter sometimes, when trying to have faith?

“Jesus answered Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

This is a real puzzle for Nicodemus.  Added to that, Nicodemus had heard Jesus a number of times, thought He was right about a lot of things, but still was cautious.  Put yourself in Nicodemus’s situation. How would you like to be a big-shot teacher of Israel, well known not only among the common people, but also with his colleagues among the Pharisees? He brought his questions to Jesus at night when no one would see him and maybe make fun of him. [1]

Perhaps we are in a similar position, too, where some of us here are cautious or hesitant about finding out more about Jesus. For sure we are in the same boat as Abram: we don’t know quite where we are going, or where this new land really is.

This whole trusting-Jesus-business requires some faith.

Another way of looking at this is that we need to find a new perspective, too, like the Apostle Paul said about Abram in Romans, our New Testament reading today.

Leaving everything familiar to begin a new life? Going to an unknown land, you don’t even know where it is, or how far away? Look, Abram is not coming back. This is certainly no there-and-back-again journey. This is no pilgrimage, either.

I was fascinated to learn some things from one of the commentators. “On a pilgrimage, one sets out to a new place or a holy place to learn something and return where one came from with some new insight for living back home. Abram’s is to be a permanent relocation, something far more like the experience of the millions since Abram who have immigrated to other countries, including the vast majority of the population of the current United States or at least their ancestors.” [2]

I know some of you here are familiar with computers. You might even know how to “reset” or “restart” your computer with a CTRL-ALT-DEL move on a Microsoft Windows®-based computer. Maybe that was what Nicodemus really wanted to do. (It does get frustrating, being uncertain and unsure, not knowing where on earth we are going!) Let’s look at the situation from Jesus’s point of view. Jesus wanted to bring Nicodemus into a whole new world. He started talking about a new birth, or birth from above.

A sermon website I go to from time to time had a superb illustration. (I’m sorry, but I don’t know the name of the anonymous pastor.) “When I was a country pastor trying to get directions to a farm that I had never been to before, if the directions were complicated, the directions sometimes began with “you can’t get there from here.” It was their way of saying that starting from a different place would make the trip easier. Sometimes the best spiritual advice is like that — in order to get to life in the kingdom/reign of God, we have to start from a new place, a reborn place in our lives; and that we can’t get there (to the kingdom) from here (our life of sin apart from God). Nicodemus has trouble thinking that you can start from a new place, that you can’t take along all the history and baggage of the past — “how can these things be?” (vs. 9)” [3]

In computer terms, it is almost as if Jesus tells Nicodemus that he has to “reboot” — that he can’t run his program any more because there are too many error messages flashing in his life. We need, and God is ready to supply, an entirely different operating system.

Too true! Jesus offered the cautious Nicodemus more than a new perspective. It’s a new birth, and whole new world. And, how is he able to reach it? By faith, that’s how.

When God called Abraham, Abraham left everything he knew to move to a place that had not been named.  That is brave and bold.  That takes faith.

All that faith business is centuries in the past. Nicodemus lived when Jesus lived, and Abram lived a lot of centuries before that. What does all that have to do with today? With modern life, and with us here at St. Luke’s Church? Don’t we hesitate and falter sometimes, when trying to have faith? Today, Jesus would tell us the exact same thing.

Some people treat our relationship with God as something we earn by what we do, by “being good” or at least “not being bad” on the basis of some checklist of good or bad behavior. Have we reduced a life of discipleship to Jesus to morality and status instead of actual faithfulness to trust Him and follow where he leads every day? [4]

When we gather together our courage and go to see Jesus under the cover of darkness—like Nicodemus—He welcomes us. He enters into a relationship with us. We are in the same boat as Abram: we don’t know quite where we are going, or where this new land really is.

What about when we get to the end of that lifelong journey, and cross the River Jordan? There will be a welcoming party when we arrive in the Promised Land, for sure!

My original question at the beginning of the sermon: got faith? This whole trusting-Jesus-business requires some faith. The best part is that Jesus will help us. He understands our difficulties. He is patient, and will walk with us as we journey towards that new land. He’ll be right by our side in the valley of the shadow. Step by step, we strive to have faith in God.

What a Savior. What a Friend we have in Jesus. Amen.

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/02/year-second-sunday-in-lent-march-16-2014.html 

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/second-sunday-in-lent4#bow

[3] http://desperatepreacher.com//bodyii.htmhttp://javacasa.com/resources/dps_form_results/jon3_1.htm

[4] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/second-sunday-in-lent4#bow

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

(Thanks so much to the good folks at UMC Discipleship.org! I am following their Lenten series. Their online Lenten sermon notes and worship helps are invaluable.)

Into the Wilderness

Matthew 4:1-11 – March 5, 2017

jesus-temptation-wilderness

“Into the Wilderness”

Have you ever overheard a conversation at a restaurant where someone was absolutely raving about the food served? About how delicious it was, how well seasoned, or well prepared? The magnificent desserts, or the fantastic dishes? “Out of this world!” or, “It’s to die for!” I’ve even heard a few people say, “That was positively sinful!”

Enjoying our creature comforts so much, we are not able to focus on anything else. Not able to focus on each other, and reaching out to the needy, sick and hungry. Not able to focus on God, either, much less worship God’s name regularly.

Let’s go back to the beginning. Yes, back to the very beginning, the book of Genesis. Eileen just read for us several verses from chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis, where Adam and Eve are tempted by the Devil.

We find out that the garden from Genesis has everything a person could want—except for one thing. There is one prohibition: a tree in the middle of the garden. Adam and Eve already have been told never to eat from that tree. Never, ever, ever eat from that specific tree. (Or they—we—shall surely die.)

We all know the story. The Tempter comes to Eve in the form of a snake, plants doubt in her mind, and convinces her to eat the fruit of the tree. What’s more, she gives some to Adam and he eats. And because of this sin, this disobedience, Adam and Eve have to leave the Garden of Eden.

What got in the way between Adam and Eve, and God? Adam and Eve said “Yes” to the serpent. In saying “Yes” to the snake, they found themselves saying “No” to God. They renounced the God who created them, who loved them, and who gave them all things. And, they were sent into the wilderness.

In our Gospel reading this morning, we find Jesus led out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. For forty days Jesus fasts and prays, away by Himself, in the wilderness. Jesus was preparing Himself for His time of ministry ahead, as well. At the end of this time, the tempter comes to a weakened, depleted Jesus, and tempts Him. The devil tempts Jesus with food, with control, and with power. The devil very much wanted to get Jesus to say “Yes” to him, to say “Yes” to at least one of the temptations he brought to Jesus.

At the beginning of each Lenten season, each year, the lectionary readings begin with the Gospel reading of Jesus and the temptation. The devil tries very hard to get Jesus to say “Yes” to him and the phony, flashy, fake things he offers. And by saying “Yes” to the devil, Jesus would end up saying “No” to God. The devil wanted to get Jesus to renounce His heavenly Father.

The period of Lent as a time of fasting, penitence and self-examination was followed early on, in the church’s history. The Church Council of Nicaea in 325 discussed a 40-day period of Lent, but did not get that period codified at that point.

What was a common practice by that time was an extended period for people intending to prepare themselves for baptism on Easter Day. Yes, this did include fasting, penitence and self-examination, along with learning the catechism of the Church.

The rest of the congregation did not take it easy during this 40-day period. They had to fast, be penitent, and examine themselves, too. We still do this today, remembering Jesus and His time of fasting and penitence in the wilderness just before He began His ministry. A time when He renounced the devil and all his works and all his ways.

Renounce. Renounce what? This is a confusing term, for some. But—what gets in the way between us and God? What tempts us to turn from God and the good things God wants for each of us?  What does it mean for us to follow after Jesus, and to renounce the devil?

The first temptation was that of hunger. The devil tempted Jesus with bread. (And, not just physical hunger.) “It is about all of those things that we use in an attempt to fill ourselves up, to satisfy our many hungers. We have a problem with excess.  We eat too much.  We drink too much.  We buy too much.  We spend too much.  We have too much.” [1]

Augustine, that great saint of the Church, said there was a God-shaped hole inside of each of us. We try to fill that empty hole, that void, with all kinds of things. Both physical as well as spiritual.  “And the food and clothes and jewels, all the drugs and alcohol and sex and movies and vacations and entertainment and money and toys in the world, aren’t going to be enough to fill up that empty space inside us.” [2]

The second and third temptations are all about control and power. And, putting God to the test. Do we try to take control of our own lives? Or, how about micro-managing everyone around us? Do you know anyone who willfully, stubbornly goes off on their own, whose theme song is “My Way” by Frank Sinatra? Not following God, not putting themselves into God’s caring, loving hands. Perhaps making bargains with God?

The commentator says this week, “Do we worship our lifestyle? The (fill in your nationality) way? Military power? Economic domination? The rich and the famous? Football or [baseball or hockey or] other sports? The almighty dollar?” [3] What do we need to renounce in order to come back into a close, loving relationship with God?

We can take for our example how Jesus responded to the devil. Three different temptations, and three times Jesus responded with the Word of God.  

Do we remember baptism? Not necessarily our own baptisms, but the more recent baptisms that have happened here. Several months ago, I baptized Claire. Part of the liturgy for that service includes several questions. The pastor says the words “Will you encourage this child to renounce the powers of the devil, his works and ways, and to receive the power of new life in Christ?” The parents and the sponsors respond, “We will, with the help of God.”

It doesn’t matter where we are, we have promised, on our behalf or on our children’s, to encourage ourselves or our loved ones to renounce the devil. With the help of God, we will say “No” to the devil. It says so, right here in the service of baptism. That is exactly what Jesus did, at His temptation, and we’re encouraged to say “No,” too!

It can be as simple and straightforward as saying “No” to the tempter, to his works and ways, and saying “Yes” to God. Turning our backs on the tempting things that beckon to us, lure us in, and instead, following after Jesus.

Whether having to do with our bodies, desires, excess, addiction, power, control; in deserts, gardens, the country, cities, mountains—wherever we find ourselves, we need to consider renouncing the devil. Refusing to follow after the devil’s pied piper flute.  Lent is not just giving up chocolate or sweets, or meat on Fridays, but this is a special time to follow Jesus, to examine ourselves, and to learn and practice the works and ways of God.

Whether we are in the wilderness or not, I encourage all of us to follow after Jesus. Say “Yes” to God, and “No” to the devil and the seductive power of evil. And, God will be with us, in the wilderness, on the mountain, in the cities, wherever we are. Thank God! Amen.
[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/first-sunday-in-lent7#preaching

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

(Thanks so much to the good folks at UMC Discipleship.org! I am following their Lenten series. Their online Lenten sermon notes and worship helps are invaluable.)

Be Reconciled to God

2 Corinthians 5:20b – March 1, 2017

2-cor-5-20-reconciled-words

“Be Reconciled to God”

Saying “I’m sorry.” People can say “I’m sorry” for all kinds of things, from stepping on the back of your shoe on accident, to crashing into your car and totally destroying it. Sometimes, people think it is okay to accept an apology, and other times, it isn’t.

Did you ever think what God’s thoughts are? On us, saying “I’m sorry” so often, for almost everything, it seems? How does God feel when people ignore God’s rules for days, weeks, even years—and then, once one of God’s big rules—the Ten Commandments—get broken, people sometimes say, “I’m sorry.” And then, expect everything to be all right with God!

It was kind of that way with King David. He was a powerful king later on in his reign, commanding great armies that conquered large areas surrounding Israel. As with many really powerful people, David felt more and more like he was an absolute ruler, and nobody could give him counsel, or tell him “No, you can’t do that,” or “That’s a bad idea.”

Remember how King David saw the young, beautiful Bathsheba, wife of one of his generals, Uriah? Uriah and the rest of the army were away fighting a war, and King David had Bathsheba brought to him. King David slept with the beautiful Bathsheba, she became pregnant, and David ultimately had his general Uriah killed because he wanted to cover up his sin.

But, God knew what happened. Eventually, God told the prophet Nathan, and then everyone in Israel found out what happened, too. And, the baby died shortly after he was born.

King David was devastated. As a result of his grief and shame and guilt, he wrote Psalm 51. This is most of that psalm. I want everyone to listen for the grief David feels, as well as his guilt, and sadness at disappointing God, and how he says “I’m sorry” to God.

51 Be merciful to me, O God, because of your constant love.
Because of your great mercy wipe away my sins!
Wash away all my evil and make me clean from my sin!

I recognize my faults; I am always conscious of my sins.
I have sinned against you—only against you—and done what you consider evil.
So you are right in judging me; you are justified in condemning me.
I have been evil from the day I was born; from the time I was conceived, I have been sinful.

Sincerity and truth are what you require; fill my mind with your wisdom.
Remove my sin, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear the sounds of joy and gladness;
and though you have crushed me and broken me, I will be happy once again.
Close your eyes to my sins and wipe out all my evil.

10 Create a pure heart in me, O God, and put a new and loyal spirit in me.
11 Do not banish me from your presence; do not take your holy spirit away from me.
12 Give me again the joy that comes from your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.
13 Then I will teach sinners your commands, and they will turn back to you.

For millennia, the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament traditions have highlighted  this penitential attitude. King David’s eloquent request for God to hear him and forgive him stands as one of the most moving expressions of “I’m sorry” ever penned.

But, what if people can’t quite relate to rich and powerful King David? What then? What if David seems too high and mighty, or a bit too distant, too removed? I was just a mom and a housewife for years, before I went to graduate school in my forties. I didn’t think I had much at all in common with David.

Or, did I? You and I all know that people have a tendency of being self-sufficient, self-involved, going their own way, pushing others away, and often not particularly caring about others. God has a name for this kind of attitude, and it is sin. I bet you can recognize it.

“I don’t need any help! I can do it on my own! I’ll do it my way! I don’t need God. I don’t need anybody else meddling in my business, either.”

You and I—we may not have openly been involved in adultery, or murder, or a cover-up on the scale of a congressional investigation, like King David. But, that does not matter to God. Sin is sin. We have been talking about sin for the past few weeks, in our services centered around Jesus and His messages from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus always wanted us to focus on our inside attitude and reception to God.

It is that sinful, selfish attitude that separates people from God. And what’s more, it separates people from one another. It is a barrier that separates each individual from every other individual. However, let’s look at this verse from 2 Corinthians 5. “God is making His appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Did you hear? God wants to overcome that barrier of our sin, of self-involvement and self-sufficiency. Paul says that God took all our sin and put it on Christ, so that we could be clothed with His sinless righteousness.

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” So, God is not counting trespasses! God is merciful and forgiving! God wants to be reconciled to us! God’s arms are indeed open wide! Our Lord wants us to come close.

Paul says, “Now is the acceptable time. Today is the day of salvation.”

God is waiting with open arms. We can’t receive God’s forgiveness if we aren’t familiar with God ourselves. Do you know Jesus? Are you close to Him?

Now is the acceptable time. Now is a good time. God is waiting.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)