The Coming King

“The Coming King”

Jesus Palm Sunday - Giotto di Bonde, Entry into Jerusalem 1304-06, Fresco, Cappella Scrovegni Arena Chapel, Padua

Luke 19:35-40 – April 14, 2019

The most powerful person in the world. Ever hear that expression? I suspect it is familiar to most of us from movies, from comic books, from historical fiction. With the release of super hero blockbusters every few months, we certainly have the opportunity to see the clash of titans on the big screen, and the super hero of the movie conquering the huge threat or the big bad guy—or big bad girl. The thing is…can we imagine Jesus as the most powerful person in the world?

Our Gospel reading today from Luke 19 tells us that a huge crowd of people thought the Rabbi Jesus was a really important person, a really powerful person. He was a Miracle Worker, He preached with authority, and just to be in His presence—wow! The crowd was hailing Him as the long-awaited King, the Anointed One of God, the Messiah.  

Jesus, Himself, had been telling His disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem for some time now. Even though His friends kept telling Him that the Jewish leaders and the Sanhedrin had it in for Him and wanted to kill Him, Jesus still “determined to go to Jerusalem,” as Luke tells us back in chapter 9.

Today’s story has all the makings of a great drama. (And, the narrative of the Passion Week has been recorded a number of times in motion pictures.) As commentator Alyce McKenzie tells us, “Good stories, screenwriters tell us, have a compelling protagonist, a believable supporting cast, a series of vivid scenes, and plenty of dramatic tension.” [1] Dr. Luke’s telling of the Palm Sunday story has all that, and more.

Here we are on Palm Sunday, and the weeks of Lent are almost over. That means that our series on the Lord’s Prayer is almost over, too. What sentence are we going to look at today, with our Scripture readings of Luke’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, and the Apostle Paul’s hymn of Christ’s humility? We take a closer look at “for Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever, amen.”  What more glorious Scripture readings to examine!

As we think of our great Divine drama, Jesus not only is a marvelous protagonist, but we can see He displays Divine foreknowledge. “Jesus knows ahead of time where the colt will be and what the response of the owner will be to being told, “The Lord needs it.” Luke shares with the other evangelists a portrait of Jesus as a true prophet whose prophecies are fulfilled and who has access to the secret knowledge of human hearts.” [2]

The second necessary feature of a great drama is a believable supporting cast. Look at the disciples—human, and distinctive. Listen again to Luke’s story: “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it “

We notice the rest of the supporting cast here, in the next verses. “As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. 37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

From time to time we have talked about putting ourselves into a Scripture reading, and viewing it from the inside. Where would you be, in our Gospel reading from Luke? Are you an excited disciple or crowd member, waving your arms and picking up a palm to welcome the Messiah Jesus into the city of Jerusalem? Or, are you one of the skeptical ones on the road, holding back, with a wait-and-see attitude?

“The people were obviously weary of the Roman occupation. They had been hearing rumors of a great teacher from Nazareth who healed the sick, fed the hungry, and made the scriptures come alive. Some of them had seen miracles first hand and had heard parables straight from Jesus’ mouth. Now, they had a deliverer; their long-awaited Messiah and Savior, King Jesus, was with them.” [3]

The third necessary element in any great drama is dramatic tension. Boy, does the Triumphal Entry have that! Even down to the antagonistic Jewish leaders who come up against the Messiah Jesus, this has drama all over the place.

It is almost too difficult for me to put myself into the narrative, I know this story all too well. Yes, I am tempted to rush right through the Palm Sunday celebration, go once-over-lightly through the several events recorded in the other Gospels during Holy Week, and cry again because of the Crucifixion this Friday night. Or, was it two thousand years ago?

Switching to the New Testament reading from Philippians, the apostle Paul has a slightly different point of view. Paul is writing from the other side of the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and Jesus’ ascension into heaven—as we know from the Apostles Creed, Jesus has taken His seat at God’s right hand in heaven.

As we start this reading to the church in Philippi, Paul tells us of Jesus, before His incarnation and birth in Bethlehem. The eternal Christ humbled Himself, emptied Himself of all Godhood, all Godly prerogatives, and became a helpless human baby. Imagine the most powerful person in the whole world, in the whole universe, even. The eternal Christ put aside the kingdom of the universe, the ultimate power and the infinite glory, to become human.

Another way of looking at this is that Jesus put aside all of that kingdom, power and glory so He could communicate better with us, so He could come along side of us and be Emmanuel, God-with-us, as we have talked about at Christmas. But, that is not the end. Oh, no! Certainly not!

We see this progression: the preincarnate Christ, in all His kingdom, power and glory. Amen! “Christ emptied himself of inherent divinity, and for his supreme obedience unto crucified death, he was exalted by God for unending glory. Philippians 2:5-11 keeps the focus Christologically and theologically tight. On Passion Sunday [today, this Sunday], Paul keeps us grounded in what God, through Christ Jesus, is doing.” [4]

We do not look at the institution of Communion on Maundy Thursday and the Crucifixion of Good Friday. We are skipping the additional drama, trauma, anguish and grief today. Paul does mention those things briefly, but he looks to the amazing ending. “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

If that is not a proclamation of the last line of the Lord’s Prayer, I don’t know what is. “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, amen.” Have you bowed the knee to our ascended and exalted Jesus the Messiah? Is your tongue acknowledging Him as Lord and Savior? Yes, Jesus was crucified on our account. It was for our sins He was crucified. His arms are open. His pierced hands are extended. Come to Jesus, today.

[1] https://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Palm-Sunday-Alyce-McKenzie-03-18-2013.html

Rewriting the Palm Sunday Story: Reflections on Luke 19:28-40, Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

[2] https://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Palm-Sunday-Alyce-McKenzie-03-18-2013.html

Rewriting the Palm Sunday Story: Reflections on Luke 19:28-40, Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

[3] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=15           

Commentary, Zechariah 9:9-13 / Luke 19:28-40, Rodney S. Sadler, Jr., The African American Lectionary, 2008.

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=284

Commentary, Philippians 2:5-11 (Passion Sunday), C. Clifton Black, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

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Hallowed is Christ Jesus

“Hallowed is Christ Jesus”

Phil 3-7 consider things loss, circle

Phil 3:4b-14 – April 7, 2019

            “Holy:  adjective, ho·li·er, ho·li·est. 1. specially recognized as or declared sacred by religious use or authority; consecrated. (holy ground)  2. dedicated or devoted to the service of God, the church, or religion. (a holy person)  3. saintly; godly; pious; devout. (a holy life)  [1]

            Holy, or “hallowed” is what we say about God and God’s name every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Perhaps some people think of God as some huge guy with a long white beard, sitting in some glorious heavenly Temple, the Holy-of-Holies in the sky. “Holy is Your name!” Maybe some people think of God as a massive earthquake, and the whole countryside shakes, rumbles and crumbles. Then, perhaps some folks see God in the vast quiet of nature, the quiet rustle of a green meadow, or the gentle quiet of the waves lapping on an ocean beach.

We have two Bible readings today. Each of them gives a different perspective on Jesus and His magnificent, awesome holiness.

            Let’s look at them chronologically. First, Jesus is at a fancy dinner in Bethany, not long before His arrest, trial and crucifixion. His friend Martha made Him dinner, Mary and Martha’s brother (newly raised from the dead) Lazarus probably was hosting, and everyone is having a wonderful time. When—Mary takes an incredibly expensive jar of sweet-smelling ointment and pours it on Jesus’s feet. What is more, she unbinds her hair and starts wiping His feet with her hair. The whole house is filled with the marvelous scent of that ointment. I am sure that was a scent (and a sight) that everyone there remembered for the rest of their lives.

            The next Bible reading is from the letter to the church at Philippi. The apostle Paul (who often uses run-on sentences) goes on and on about himself, how much of a super Pharisee and righteous Jew he is, and even filled with great zeal for God. He is single-minded for the Lord! All God, all the time! But then—Paul comes to a complete stop. He says all of his marvelous resume is completely worthless, compared to the mega-awesome, super-special magnificence of knowing his Savior Christ Jesus his Lord.

             The commentator Carolyn Brown says “The petition “hallowed be thy name” in the Lord’s Prayer underlies both Mary’s lavish gift and Paul’s total commitment to Jesus.  Both give and live as they do because they know God/Jesus is hallowed.” [2] So, both Mary and Paul know that Jesus is the Holiest-of-Holies.

            In Mary’s case, this anointing of her Rabbi, teacher and friend with ointment was a coming attraction. In essence, a preview of the human Jesus’s death and resurrection. Mary gives her incredibly costly gift because she knows that Jesus is so holy and set apart. Not only pious, devoted and dedicated to God, but something even more special.

            Paul went about this in a slightly different way. Paul gave his readers a brief snapshot of his impressive resume, before Jesus Christ made such a difference in his life. Admittedly, this rundown of who and what Paul was makes him sound like one of the entries in the first-century’s version of Who’s Who, a mover-and-shaker of the Ancient Near East.

            In verses 4, 5 and 6, “His credentials, Paul tells us, were impeccable. Both through inheritance and attainment he has more reason than others to boast of his status. Paul’s loyalty to Israel’s God was unsurpassed. Paul’s very persecution of the followers of Jesus bore witness to his deep desire to please God.” [3] Yet—Paul makes a sudden shift in his bragging. Listen: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.”

            Remember, Paul writes from the perspective of one who has made a commitment to Jesus; and not just the human Jesus, either.  When our resurrected Lord and Savior appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road, that was a huge earthquake of an experience. The apostle Paul gives fascinating autobiographical details about himself, but then says all of that is worthless compared to the ultimate joy of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord.

Or, is that Christ Jesus our Lord?

            I think most of us—if not all of us—are familiar with well-meaning but worldly-driven parents, who seek out such stellar activities for their children’s resumes. We can see that Paul had it all, from a worldly point of view: until he had that divine, life-changing encounter on the road to Damascus.

            Sure, only a portion of Christians have a sudden, thunder clap of a Damascus Road encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, we all name Him holy. Don’t we? We all pray the Lord’s Prayer, don’t we?

            In the original language of this letter, Greek, Paul uses what some might say is a nasty, word, even perhaps a swear word. This word is found in verse 8: from the Good News Translation: “For his sake I have thrown everything away; I consider it all as mere garbage, so that I may gain Christ.” Or, one of my favorite translations, the Message: “everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him.”

            Comparing himself to Jesus, the ultimate Holy-of-Holies, is it any wonder that Paul considers everything that he thought he had going for himself as dog dung? Flushing his impeccable resume and outstanding pedigree down the toilet?

Beforehand, before he met Jesus on that road to Damascus, Paul’s total, single-minded commitment to his Lord, the Jewish understanding of God, puts us all to shame. But, afterwards? He transferred that single-minded commitment to his Lord and Savior. As Paul himself says in verses 12-14, “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”

            Carolyn Brown compared holy and hallowed to the words awesome, special and wonderful. This is the very, very, very best. When we say “hallowed be Thy name,” those are words that can be applied only to God. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, just like the apostle Paul, just like Mary of Bethany, we are saying “God, You are holy, You are the very, very, very best there is in the whole universe.”

We are well on our way, reaching out for Christ, who so wondrously reached out for all of us. For each one of us. Thank You, God! In Jesus’ precious, redeeming name, amen!

[1] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/holy

Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/02/year-c-fifth-sunday-in-lent-march-13.html

Worshiping with Children, Lent 5C. Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

[3] http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/55769/7_April_Angus_Morrison_5_in_Lent.pdf

The Mission and Discipleship Council would like to thank the Very Rev Dr Angus Morrison, Minister of Orwell and Portmoak, for his thoughts on the fifth Sunday in Lent.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Patient, Forgiving and Welcoming

“Patient, Forgiving and Welcoming”

Luke 15 prodigal son sketch, Rembrandt

Luke 15:20 – March 31, 2019

What do you think of when I mention the black sheep of the family? The kid who went astray? A really rough customer? A person you would not trust an inch with any amount of money? Someone who you wouldn’t want any children hanging around?

This is the kind of person we are going to meet today in the parable of Jesus we read from Luke 15. Some people call the parable “The Prodigal Son.” Remember the Rabbi Jesus was having dinner with some people the good, righteous synagogue-going people did not approve of? They were sniffing and clucking and making a big stink about Jesus and His dinner companions. So, as a response, Jesus tells three parables in Luke chapter 15, the last of which is the parable of the Prodigal—or the Lost Son.

The parable begins: “Then Jesus said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’ So the father divided the property between them.”

This younger son was a brat. Or, worse, he was an ungrateful wretch. Do you know what he asked for? In that day, the son essentially told his father he wanted him to drop dead. That was the only way the younger son would have gotten his inheritance, in the normal order of things. What an ungrateful, selfish so-and-so! The father—amazingly—liquidates a third of his assets, giving the younger son his share of the father’s property. Perhaps you haven’t been as crass or unfeeling enough to walk up to one of your relatives and shout, “I wish you would drop dead!” and really mean it. But, that is exactly what Jesus begins this parable with.

Back to the parable: “It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.”

Going to a faraway, distant country. Sounds sort of romantic, doesn’t it? However, it does not take too long for this black sheep to run through all his money, lose all his fair-weather friends and end up on the streets as a homeless person. Plus, a famine struck the country he was living in. Consequences! What should he do now?

Let me step back from our parable for a moment—away from the younger son in the pigsty. I invite us to reflect on the church season we are presently in, Lent. Lent is a season where we are invited to reflect on our personal brokenness, and the need for God’s redemption.

This Lenten season we are also considering the different sentences of the Lord’s Prayer. This week, our sentence is “forgive us our debts (or, sins) as we forgive our debtors (or, those who sin against us).” I have a question: have you ever been so angry with someone that you have said (or thought) “I could never forgive him/her!” What is even worse is if you—or I—turn our backs, fold our arms across our chests and stubbornly insist, “I will never forgive her/him!”

What kind of unforgiving attitude is that? If we expect to be forgiven by God for all of the sins we commit daily, isn’t that unforgiving attitude a bit hypocritical? Rather a lot, really? What would God say about that ungodly attitude? What would you say about that attitude, now?

Back to the parable. “That brought him to his senses. The son said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.”

“The son’s repentance is implied, even if it is not clearly named by the ambiguous expression he came to himself (verse 17). After all, he hits rock bottom, longing to eat what unclean animals eat, once he is done in by a trio of calamities… As signs of contrition, he confesses sin and plans to ask his father to welcome him home as a slave instead of a son.” [1]

Now our parable shifts its point of view. We see the father: “When the son was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, the father ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

Remember, we are in the middle of Lent, a season when we are thinking of how much each of us sins against God and against others. We journey with Jesus towards the cross in Lent, but we also take the time to think about how much each of us need God’s forgiveness, grace and redeeming love.  What is more, “Lent helps us see when and how and where we think only of ourselves. Lent helps us see our true motivations for our actions and our true motivations for apology or repentance. Lent helps us see when we truly are in the depths of despair. Lent helps us see our deep longing for love.” [2]

Let’s look at the father’s response: “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.”

Almost any parent knows the feeling that if your kid really screws up, no matter what, the father (or mother) has the same love towards him, regardless of sin and unforgiveness. One might say any parent knows the feeling that even if the child goes off the rails and repeatedly misses the mark, the father is especially joyous to see the son who returns. But—the parable does not end there. Oh, no! We see the further unforgiving attitude of the elder son.

“All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done, he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the servants, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’”

The elder son says “It’s not fair!” Well, guess what? The ways of God’s kingdom are NOT fair. True fairness leaves NO room for grace. Yes, God’s redeeming love for us is not fair. Would we really want it to be absolutely fair, all cold, legal rules with no grace and love at all?

The elder son is just as much as lost as his younger brother, isn’t he? Lost in his resentment, anger and alienation. “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

Whoa! “No one bothered to call [the elder son] in to join the party! Accordingly, he does not enter the house. He does not address his father as “Father” and speaks to him about “this son of yours” instead of “my brother.” His refusal to celebrate stems from his deep resentment. Why is he resentful? He is taken for granted. No extravagance celebrates his reliable service. He accuses his father of showing preferential treatment.” [3] But, I ask again—do we really want God to be absolutely fair, in a cold, legalistic manner? With no grace or love at all?

Yes, “forgive as we wish to be forgiven” is a great lesson. But, I think the parable of the two Lost Sons has much more for us this week. Jesus told this parable to illustrate the boundless love of a parent for their children—the love of God the Father for His wayward sons and daughters. If you have really messed up, and you don’t think God could ever, ever forgive you, isn’t it wonderful to hear that the Prodigal’s father welcomed both His sons back home?

In this parable, Jesus tells us that God is patient, welcoming, and forgiving. God loves each one of us, forever and ever. Talk about good news! Isn’t this the best news in the world?

(Thanks to Eugene Peterson’s wonderful modern translation “The Message” for the use of this scripture reading. The parable of the two Lost Sons is from Luke 15:11-32.)

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=533

Matt Skinner  Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4553

“Perspective Matters,” Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2016.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=533

Matt Skinner  Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

God Is Working Things Out

“God Is Working Things Out”

Luke13-6 fig tree, medieval

Luke 13:1-9 – March 24, 2019

Mother Teresa is sometimes quoted as saying, “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.” Oh, I am often pleased and proud that God gives me such weighty things to be in charge of! But, I sometimes wish God would let someone else be so responsible!

Can you relate to Mother Teresa’s wry comment? I know I can, sometimes. Sometimes, life sneaks up on us and tackles us. Life can overwhelm us. Work gets beyond hectic; family problems can pile up. And, what about health? A friend of mine is in college, and her father had a sudden catastrophic health reversal earlier this week, and was rushed to ICU. As Katya Ouchakof said in her recent blog post, “The underlying idea is that life gets hard sometimes – almost to the point of being unbearable.” [1]

If we turn to our Gospel reading for today from Dr. Luke, we might scratch our heads, at first reading. We seem to have come into the conversation in the middle of things, and there is seemingly no continuity. Jesus bounces around from topic to topic. From the suffering Galileans, to the eighteen victims of a tower collapse, to a rather stern parable.

Wait a gosh darned minute, Jesus! I know our Lord’s sayings and parables can be deep and sometimes difficult to understand, but this section today is just plain random. Isn’t it? Is there anything that can tie these disparate segments together?

These topics Jesus brings up may seem random, it’s true. Just as random as life catching us unaware, and biting us on the tail. Say, a random downpour flooding your basement and ruining all the boxes—decades of photos and papers you have stored down there. Or, worse, a loved one falling on cement and seriously breaking a dozen bones. Or, worst of all, your favorite relative getting a terminal cancer diagnosis when they were previously the healthiest one in the whole family.

What gives? What on earth is going on? Why me? Why them? Why not someone else?  

Let’s look at the reading from Isaiah 55, verses 8 and 9. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

At first glance, if we add these verses from Isaiah to the random stuff we read from Luke, we may come up with absolutely nothing. “Hey, God! You don’t make any sense! I can’t figure You out, no matter how hard I try!”

Jesus Himself said it. “Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no!” Again, later in this reading: “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!”

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: Jesus Himself said it. God does not work in a quid pro quo fashion. It is absolutely not “if I do good stuff in my life, God simply has to give me good health, good family, lots of money, and long life.” Isn’t that the “Health, Wealth, and Happiness Gospel?” That is unscriptural, plain and simple. If we think and act this way, we make God a vending machine in the sky. God does not want to be expected to perform like some performing seal or dolphin! An immature understanding like that just will not work. When we do seven, or seventy-times-seven good deeds, God does not “have to” give us anything.

Compare the eighteen people killed by the collapsing tower in Jerusalem and the verses from Isaiah 55. At first glance, this does not seem like a very reassuring message. But, both of the passages are communicating to us that God’s ways are incomprehensible to us. God’s ways are so far beyond our ways, we cannot even comprehend the workings of the mind of God. Sometimes, we just do not understand why, or why not, and that is okay.

The sentence from the Lord’s Prayer we are highlighting this week is “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Or, as Eugene Peterson says in his modern translation The Message, “Do what’s best—as You do above, so do here below.”

We are to ask God for God’s kingdom to come—as Eugene Peterson puts it so well, we ask God to “do what’s best.” This is important! We don’t have to have our fingers in every little aspect of every little situation. We do not need to micromanage. I am not God, and I am very glad of that!

Reminder: the next thing we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.” In Peterson’s modern translation: “as You do above, so do here below.”

If you look at it another way, we do not HAVE to figure out why eighteen people were killed by the tower of Siloam falling on them. I love how commentator David Lose explains this: “in case they miss his meaning, [Jesus] adds his own story of recent calamity and repeats his point: tragedy is not a punishment for sin. Good news. Sort of.

“Because some calamity is a result of sin. What if the wall Jesus references was built by a fraudulent contractor (my guess is they had those back in the first century too)? There are all kinds of bad behaviors, in fact, that contribute to much of the misery in the world.”

“But notice that Jesus doesn’t sever the connection between sin and calamity. He severs the connection between calamity and punishment. “Do you think they were worse sinners than all the others? No. No worse than you.” [2]

Yes, some tragedies are intensely sad, sometimes incomprehensible. I think of things like shuddering earthquakes, massive floods, raging wildfires, and blinding blizzards. People are perpetually caught in the cycle of poverty. Children get terminal cancer. My friend Pastor Joe had a congenital eye disease, and now is completely blind. Jesus reminds us that people are not “punished” through these catastrophes. However, countless people mourn their losses and lament the passing of loved ones and strangers, alike.

Figuring out those catastrophic things is just not in our job description. It’s beyond our pay grade. We don’t need to worry about that kind of stuff. Worry and concern applies to many situations and problems in our lives. Or, rather, NOT being worried or concerned. Maybe it’s us recognizing what is beyond our control, and that is ultimately a beneficial thing.  

Remember the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Perhaps it is best for us to return to the sentence of the day from the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Or, to be more understandable, from Eugene Peterson: “Do what’s best—as You do above, so do here below.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Ultimately, even if we do not understand stuff, God has it handled. God is working everything out. Everything is in God’s hands, and that is the very best place to be—in this world, and the next.

[1] https://revgalblogpals.org/2019/03/19/revised-common-lectionary-beyond-understanding/

by Katya Ouchakof, March 19, 2019

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2461

“When Bad Things Happen,” David Lose, Working Preacher, 2013.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

God Delivers Us from Evil

“God Delivers Us from Evil”

Psa 27 1-3 afraid, fear

Psalm 27:1-3 – March 17, 2019

I often stay up late at night. My light is often burning way past midnight. (If you don’t believe me, ask Sunny. She can attest to the time stamp on many of my emails being past midnight, and some 1:00, even 2:00 am.) Imagine my huge shock and horror in the wee hours of Friday morning when I saw coming across the computer news feed that there had been a mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. I was absolutely devastated. Talk about shocking me out of my security and complacency!

That is the portion of the Lord’s Prayer we are focusing on this week: deliver us from evil. Please, Lord! Right now!

So many faced such evil, such horror, and such sorrow in the town of Christchurch, and all New Zealand just two days ago. Imagine, if you will, two peaceful congregations, coming together for their midday time of prayer, abruptly torn apart by semi-automatic weapon fire. Is it any wonder many people around the world cannot even visualize such an attack? What on earth? Dear Lord! Deliver us from evil!

As soon as news of this horrific shooting started to come across my computer screen, you’d better believe I checked out my various favorite go-to news sites, including the BBC News. Yes, the news was even worse than I had heard or feared. And, the death toll was rising. So were my shock, dismay and horror at the rapidly developing story.

As we consider our Scripture reading from the Psalms this morning, we can flee to the assurance and strength of the first verse of Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one. The Lord protects me from all danger; I will never be afraid.”  I read these words and take heart. God is the source of my—our strength. God is our light, and we need no other light source. God is our protection and our protector. I—we—all of us need no one else.

But, wait, Lord! You didn’t mean that You would protect me from a domestic terrorist with a semi-automatic rifle!  Did You?

Even though the conception of a semi-automatic rifle was not even thought of at the time the psalm writer put pen to paper and wrote this psalm, that is the gist of verses 2 and 3: When evil people attack me and try to kill me, they stumble and fall. Even if a whole army surrounds me, I will not be afraid; even if enemies attack me, I will still trust God.”

King David is said to be the author of this Psalm, and I can believe it. David certainly knew quite a bit about having evil people try to attack him. Not only when he was young, before he even met Goliath on the field of battle, he was shepherd for his family’s flocks. He knew the many dangers a sheep or goat could face in the rocky, semi-arid pastures in the country of Israel. He was their shepherd, and he would need to rescue them when they got into trouble.

Then, when David was secretly anointed king and needed to run from the previous-but-still-on-the-throne King Saul, his fear and anxiety had the opportunity to shift into high gear. King Saul wanted to kill David. Literally. Seriously. Saul sent regular armed parties into the wilderness of Israel specifically to kill David. I am amazed that David could even write these words: “even if enemies attack me, I will still trust God.”

Dr. Beth Tanner, commentator on Psalm 27, writes “With all of the violence in our world, Christians are faced almost daily with a decision to live in fear, or despite their fear, to trust in God and God’s promises. To choose to remain true to God’s principles of hospitality feels frightening as well. Terrorists and Refugees come from the same places.” [1]

Gangs of fierce, armed men hunting you down, repeatedly? Frightening, indeed.

If we consider our problems today, whatever the specific problem is, we can draw some insight from this psalm. It’s clear that the person composing this prayer—King David—is afraid. “And yet, right in the middle of his expressions of fear, the Psalmist also declares his confident faith that God’s presence is like a light that keeps him safe.  So, he seeks God’s presence in the place where the people of Israel of his day believed God could be found: in the Temple.” [2] In the same way, we can seek the Lord where we know God is to be found: in the sanctuary, with other believers, and in meditation and prayer.

A number of these peaceful people at prayer on Friday were refugees from war-torn countries. They had fled their home countries of Somalia, Syria and Iraq—just to name a few—and had finally found sanctuary in the peaceful, beautiful town of Christchurch. New Zealand has truly gorgeous scenery, and a wonderful, equitable society of friendly people.

Not the kind of place one would expect for a domestic terror attack, certainly.

Yet, to run away, to leave almost everything you found dear and loved with all your heart, to come to a foreign land, no matter how pretty, Such heartache, and such desperation. And finally, to be getting back on your feet and finding a new home, just to have your place of worship abruptly, shockingly invaded. Get all shot up.

Dear God, deliver us from Evil, personified.

Dr. Tanner goes on to say: “Gun violence comes out of nowhere and even those places we considered safe are safe no longer. Fear threatens to defeat the gifts of trust and hospitality. The feeling of the psalm is the same.” [3]  It does not matter whether we ask to be delivered from evil things or evil people, from evil personified or evil within our own hearts. This psalm gives the message that we can depend on God as our light, our safety, our security, our salvation. And, if we depend on God, what more sure defender and protector do we need?

Jesus speaks to the city of Jerusalem rhetorically in the Gospel reading from Luke today: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets, you stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!” Jesus speaks of the image of a mother hen fluffing up her feathers and gathering her chicks to safety, under her wings. Such a wonderful maternal image! And, such an encouragement and comfort in times of trouble.

It doesn’t matter what evil approaches, what danger comes quickly. If we are gathered under the wings of Jesus as our mother hen, we will be safe and cared for—now, and wherever we go with our Lord.

May it be so, Lord. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2777

Commentary, Psalm 27 (Lent 2C), Beth L. Tanner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2016

[2] http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com/2014/01/what-do-we-have-to-fear.html

“What Do We Have To Fear?” Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer, 2016.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2777

Commentary, Psalm 27 (Lent 2C), Beth L. Tanner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2016

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

Tempted by the Evil One

“Tempted by the Evil One”

Luke 4-2 devil tempted

Luke 4:1-13 (4:1-2) – March 10, 2019

Have you ever heard of H.A.L.T.? Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. These four factors in life are abbreviated to the acronym H.A.L.T. and has been used to great effect by recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and other, similar self-care and mindfulness methods.

Whenever you or I find ourselves hungry, angry, lonely or tired, we are that much more susceptible to negative thoughts, behaviors, or both. “It seems simple enough, but when these basic needs are not met, we are susceptible to self-destructive behaviors including relapse. Fortunately, hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness are easy to address and serve as a warning system before things reach a breaking point.” [1]

In our Gospel reading today, we find our Lord Jesus in the wilderness for quite a long time. The Gospel of Luke mentions He was there for forty days, and had little to eat. Yes, Jesus was fasting and observing an extended time of prayer and spiritual preparation before God. However, I want us to focus on one specific facet of this Gospel reading today: our Lord Jesus was tempted by the devil. Luke says so, right in verse 2.

What is temptation, anyhow? We know that our Gospel writer Luke said the devil came to Jesus and tempted Him. But—we were not there. We don’t know if the temptation was internal, in Jesus’s head, or external, where the figure of Satan in a red suit with horns and a pointy tail appeared to Jesus. It could be either, both, or something we cannot even imagine, in our limited, earthly minds. But—this we do know. Jesus was tempted—tried—tested exceedingly—by the power of absolute evil, personified. As the devil tried to get Jesus to go his way, away from God and God’s way, we need to pay close attention.

This is serious business indeed, and we ought to sit up and take notice of what Jesus said and did. But first, I would like for us to consider the Lord’s Prayer. Yes, we will be looking at a line from the Lord’s Prayer each week in Lent. What line is more appropriate to this Gospel reading today than “Lead us not into temptation?”

Let us return to Jesus, at the end of His forty-day period of prayer and spiritual preparation for His time of public ministry. He is definitely hungry and tired, and most probably lonely, as well. Definitely two of these strong physical, psychological and spiritual triggers that serve as a warning system for us humans, and probably all three of these triggers. We would expect Jesus to be very hungry, lonely and tired.

At such a physical, psychological and spiritual low point for Jesus, the devil suspected He might be susceptible to temptation. Wouldn’t you suspect it, if you were totally evil?

What were Jesus’s responses to these tests or trials? First, the devil tempted Jesus physically, with food. This bread was a perfectly reasonable thing for Jesus to desire! Except—not in the way the devil was presenting it. Hear, again, the first temptation: “The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’”

Ah, the devil keeps using the old tried-and-true deception. “IF you are the Son of God…then…” Trying to plant doubt in people’s minds, and put them on the defensive! “IF this is so…then…” But, Jesus does not take the bait. He answers with the Word of God from Deuteronomy: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” No discussion, no wiggle-room, just the Word of God.

The devil tries another tack, and tempts Jesus psychologically. The devil tests Jesus with ultimate power and authority even before the very beginning of His ministry, instead of waiting three years until after Jesus’s death on the Cross and Resurrection from the dead. (Again, I have no idea whether the devil actually took Jesus to a high place, like a real mountain, or whether this was a projection in their heads, sort of like virtual reality.) The culmination for this second test was if Jesus considered all the kingdoms of the world, then He needed to bow down and worship the devil. Which, was not happening! Jesus responds again from Deuteronomy, and says ““It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The third temptation was a spiritual one, where the devil dared—even, double-dog-dared—Jesus to throw Himself down from the roof of the Temple. (Which was the first-century equivalent of a high-rise.) For the third time, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy, and says, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

This is an excellent reason to memorize Scripture, by the way. Just so we can respond to the devil when we are confronted by a temptation that seems overpowering! God’s Word is truly “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,” as Hebrews 4:12 tells us. We can see that Jesus used this two-edged sword freely, to defend against temptation of the devil. We can always turn to the Lord’s Prayer, too, where we ask God to please keep us away from situations where we might be tempted by the devil.

The Lord’s Prayer is direct quoting of Scripture, too, from Matthew 6. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount gives us the template of a great prayer we can always pray to God, in countless varieties of situations. Like, in this one, where we ask God to “lead us not into temptation.”

That quoting-Scripture-stuff is all very well, but how do Jesus and the devil being on top of the Temple connect with my life and experience? Well, we can go back to some temptations we are able to relate to. Temptations that are almost irresistible for many people, temptations the children and I talked about today. Remember? What about a plate of cookies left on the kitchen counter—with no one else around? What about an extra-cool smart phone left unattended in a very public place, like an empty table in the food court at the mall? Or, what about a set of test answers in such plain view that you can hardly help but see them on the desk of the student next to you? Or, next to your kid, or your grandchild?

All of those things are SO tempting! And, for most of us, we will see the situation, and automatically do the right thing. But, sometimes—maybe even with you or someone you know—the temptation is SO real to do the wrong thing, to steal a cookie or three, or to pocket the smart phone, or to take a quick photo of the test answers with your phone.

It is in those pesky situations where any of us can feel weak and susceptible that we can pray “lead us not into temptation” and really mean it, with all our hearts! Or, even better, we can put those Bible words into our own words, and internalize this concept into our hearts. “Something like ‘God, help me know what is right and wrong and be able to do what is right without even thinking about it.’” [2]

Let us pray to God so that we all may follow God more nearly, and love God more dearly, each day more and more, throughout Lent and beyond. Please God, may it be so.

[1] https://bradfordhealth.com/halt-hunger-anger-loneliness-tiredness/ Accessed March 9, 2019.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-c-first-sunday-in-lent-february-14.html

Worshiping with Children, Lent 1, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

Clean on the Inside!

“Clean on the Inside!”

Psa 51-2 wash me, cleanse me

Psalm 51:1-3 – March 6, 2019

I remember the wringer washer my mother had in the basement of our small brick house on the northwest side of Chicago. I remember it well! We did not have an automatic washer, like all of my classmates at school. This was in the 1960’s and 1970’s. No, my mom insisted that the wringer washer did a perfectly good job cleaning our clothes—and even though I protested, she would say that a few broken buttons from the wringer were easily repaired with a trip to the fabric store for more buttons, and some needle and thread.

King David had no idea of a washing machine when he wrote this psalm—not even an old-style wringer washer. But, his filthy insides certainly needed cleaning up. This psalm, Psalm 51, was a lament to God. David felt so dirty on the inside! Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever made a really, really, really big mistake? What can be called a huge sin before God? A transgression so big you did not even want to think about it, but you—we just wanted the earth to open up and swallow us whole, because we felt so rotten? That is how rotten David was feeling.

Admittedly, David’s sin before God was indeed huge.

In short, he had seen an attractive young woman named Bathsheba from the roof of his huge palace in Jerusalem. He was king, after all, so he had his private guard of soldiers bring her to him, and he slept with her. (This was despite having a number of wives and concubines of his own, already.) After a few weeks, Bathsheba sent to King David to let him know that she had become pregnant. Big problem! Bathsheba’s husband was a general in King David’s army. He was away from home. so she would become known as an adulterer, and possibly be stoned.

King David summoned General Uriah home from the battlefront, but Uriah would not go home to sleep with his attractive wife Bathsheba—he was too filled with integrity to do that, since the men under his command did not have access to their wives because they were on the battlefield. So, David ends up unjustly ordering Uriah to go back to the front and die a valiant yet horrible death on the field of battle. Essentially, murdering him, but using the enemy army to do the wicked deed. So—the pregnant Bathsheba was free to marry David.

Except, this chain of events went so much against God’s laws, and David had broken so many of God’s commands. This series of sins was so huge that when David faced up to the immenseness of the horrible deed, he fell on his face before the Lord and confessed his transgressions in the words of Psalm 51. After all, this psalm has the superscription attributing the psalm to David “after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”

Perhaps you and I have not committed such a huge wrongdoing as King David. But whether our sins are huge or not-so-huge, they still have that dirty, grimy patina that discolors our souls. “Psalm 51 was spoken, sung, and later penned by someone who understood the cleaning industry [of that day]. Look at the verbs: wash, cleanse, wipe, purge, blot. They all speak to something that is very dirty or really deep, or both.” [1]

It does not matter whether David was remembering the women of the village where he grew up, washing, scrubbing and wringing out their families’ clothing in tubs outside their homes, or whether we think of the agitator on those automatic wringer washers of yesterday, we all need to be cleansed from the wrongs we commit, on a regular basis.

Today is the first day of Lent, that penitential period of forty days before Easter when the Church all across the world begins to journey with Jesus towards the Cross. Yet, many people use external things like food or drink or certain practices to show their observance of Lent. This is a good thing, and I do not want to cause anyone to rethink their Lenten practices. However, King David here in Psalm 51 had something far more radical in mind. He wanted more than just his exterior cleaned. He wanted his insides cleaned up, too. Cleaned, and renewed!

Ash Wednesday is the day in the liturgical year when we concentrate on renewal—the messing-up we have done, on the inside as well as the outside. Whether large or small, we can all be cleansed and renewed deep down on our insides. The psalmist uses that most intimate of all things, first-person pronouns. “Have mercy upon me,” “blot out my transgressions,” “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,” “I know my transgressions,” and “my sin is ever before me.”

At the beginning of each regular service each Sunday, we at St. Luke’s Church have a corporate time of confession. This Ash Wednesday service is a special time to gather together, and to become aware of our turning-away from God. This understanding of our sin—of the messing-up we have done and are continuing to do—prepares us to receive the forgiveness and joy of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. And the cross of ashes on each forehead is a reminder of that blessed forgiveness in each one of our lives.

Praise God, we can be restored to a close relationship with God. Ash Wednesday and its intimate reflection can deepen our trust in God and thankfulness for God’s faithfulness. And best of all, when we are restored to a close relationship with our Lord—vertically, we are freed to enter into a closer relationship with everyone else—horizontally.

What a wonderful thing to look forward to. Praise God, indeed.

[1] Marty, Peter M., Homiletical Perspective on Psalm 51, Ash Wednesday, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Vol. 2 (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 9.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!