Are We Fearful?

“Are We Fearful?”

John 20-28 st-thomas

John 20:19-29 (20:19, 26) – April 19, 2020

Have you ever been afraid? I mean, really scared? I am talking about so scared that you wanted to hide away from the people in charge, permanently? Maybe it was you, maybe it was some acquaintance or friend, but some people have really been scared so much that they stay holed up in some hiding place, some attic or some upper room—just like the disciples, after they watched their Rabbi Jesus get arrested, beaten and then crucified.

Two thousand years later, we all know the rest of the story. Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, that first Easter morning. What was it like for the disciples? I mean, the men disciples? Sure, they had heard from the women disciples that the tomb was empty. Peter and John had even checked things out at the tomb for themselves. It was true! The tomb was empty! I am sure that news caused a great deal of excitement, discussion, and wonder!

But, what about other feelings? What kinds of other emotions were happening to the disciples? How did they feel on the insides? Were their stomachs doing flips? Were their hearts in their mouths? Were they filled with amazement? Fear? Doubt? Or all of these emotions, all at once, or in stages? Could the disciples be hiding out behind locked doors because they were afraid, embarrassed and ashamed? What were they doing as Jesus died? They certainly were not with Jesus at the cross—except for John. Were they afraid of what Jesus would say to them about all their desertions if He really were alive again? [1]

John’s Gospel tells us, plainly, that the disciples were afraid. Fear is a legitimate emotion and reaction to a dangerous, scary experience.  Sure, the disciples knew that the tomb was empty, but that did not stop them from being afraid. I also suspect that they feared that the Roman authorities might come after them, as known associates of the Rabbi Jesus. The disciples did have good reason to be afraid and anxious of the people in charge.

And right into the middle of all this fear and anxiety—even though the disciples knew about the empty tomb—Jesus walked through a locked door into the upper room, greeted the disciples, and they were suddenly overjoyed! As if a modern switch were flipped, the disciples’ emotional expression flipped, too.

Except—for some reason, the disciple Thomas was not present in the upper room on that occasion. We don’t know why. The Gospel of John does not say. The other disciples told him, excitedly, “We have seen the Lord Jesus!”  But, Thomas was skeptical. He responded, “I need proof for myself. Unless I see the nail marks and put my hand in the wound in His side, I will not believe.” I can just see Thomas crossing his arms across his chest and turning his back to his friends. “Nope. No way. That is too big a whopper for me to swallow.”

Do you know someone who needs concrete proof in order to believe something? Different people’s minds work in different ways. Certain types of people need concrete evidence in order to convince them of the truth, or of the facts, or of someone’s honesty. Thomas was that sort of a person: a “show me” sort of guy. He needed that kind of proof in order to truly believe.

Whether we are talking about two thousand years ago, or about today, people have not changed. One type—one size does not fit all. Some people hear about the Gospel and believe right away. Other people hear about heavenly coincidences, or “God-incidences,” and then come to believe. We can compare Thomas’s skepticism before belief to Paul’s Road to Damascus experience, where the apostle Paul had a sudden “come to Jesus” moment. (Literally.) The New Testament holds up both of these very different experiences as valid.

I have heard sermons about “doubting Thomas.” As if there is something shameful or wrong with being skeptical! I suspect Thomas didn’t know whether to believe or not to believe; there is no shame in being skeptical! We can see that different people come to their own sense of belief in their own individual way, because God has created each of us as unique individuals. Is it any wonder that each of us comes to God in our own personal way?

When you and I think about this Gospel narrative in light of today’s events, there is indeed a great deal of fear and anxiety. Just as there was with the disciples, so it is right now. All over the nation, all over the world the virus COVID-19 makes all of us afraid and anxious. This virus is even more dangerous than the Roman authorities, forcing vast groups of people all over the world to curtail their travel, their interaction, even to the point of quarantine.

Yet, just as our risen Lord Jesus spoke to the disciples and declared, “Peace be with you!” He says the same thing to us. “Peace be with you!” Jesus has declared His peace to fearful people and to dreadful situations over and over again, throughout history. In times of serious illness, in times of conflict and war, in times of natural disaster—Jesus has these hopeful, heartening words for us: “Peace be with you!”

Jesus can come alongside of each of us, through fear, through anger, through desperation, and through grief. And if Jesus is at our sides, walking next to us even though we walk through dark valleys, that is peace, indeed. Jesus gives us His peace, no matter what.

Amen, alleluia!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/03/year-the-second-sunday-of-easter-april_13.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 2A, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

Jesus Says Don’t Be Afraid!

“Jesus Says Don’t Be Afraid!”

imandoa001p4

Matthew 17:1-9 (17:7) – February 23, 2020

Have you ever been really scared? I know I have. Most of us can relate when we hear about people being terrified. I mean, shocked, totally frightened out of your shoes!

What is it that terrifies you? Is it gunfire? Perhaps a gang shootout, on the street? Thankfully, most of us are fortunate to live in safer neighborhoods. What else could scare you to death? A huge fire in your house or work building? Or, what about a natural disaster here in Illinois, like a tornado, or in the Philippines, like a volcanic eruption?

Any of those events could terrify people. We heard about an event today that terrified the onlookers, too: the Transfiguration of Jesus. Peter, James and John were scared out of their sandals! Our Gospel reading from Matthew 17 tells us so.

Let us step back from this reading, and take a long view on the situation in Matthew 17. Jesus is not too far from the end of His ministry, His final trip to Judea and to Jerusalem. It’s only a matter of months before the culmination of Jesus’s time on earth. For the past three years, the itinerant Rabbi Jesus has been preaching, healing, performing miracles, telling parables, and generally doing the things we are used to Jesus doing.

I know Jesus’s typical daily schedule might seem different to us, today, but Jesus had been doing the same thing for quite a number of months.

Yes, He might be an itinerant Rabbi, traveling from place to place, but Jesus had a number of back-up people, ready to take care of His itinerary and check out possible places to stay and eat, not to mention travel. Did you ever think about that? There must have been at least a few people in Jesus’s traveling group of disciples who must have had some expertise in travel arrangements, and setting up food and lodgings.

And, that isn’t all. We understand from references in the Gospels that Jesus regularly took time out for prayer and meditation. At the beginning of our Scripture reading this morning, we see Jesus taking His inner circle of disciples away with Him to the top of a mountain. Did the three disciples have any idea of what would happen later that day? Do we? Do we really know what happened, there on that mountain?

Whatever the event in Matthew 17 was, it was absolutely amazing to see. Our other reading this morning from Exodus 24 also took place on a mountain. Try to see this scene in your imagination. If you will, picture it on the video screen in your head.

In Exodus, the Lord invited Moses up to the mountaintop, to get the tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments inscribed on them. Also, Moses was supposed to be on the Mountain with God for some time. Both events took place on top of a mountain, in the presence of the glory of God. As the face of Moses shone with that glorious light, so also shone the face of Jesus. Matthew tells us so!

But, it isn’t only the face of Jesus that gets all lit up. No, His clothing becomes brighter than bright, too! A Transfiguration is how the Gospel writer translates the word. In Greek, this word is actually “metamorphed.” We might recognize that word from metamorphosis, the changing of a caterpillar into a butterfly, from an earth-bound creature into something totally and radically different. That is how much Jesus transformed.

For us, today, this sort of transforming effect is not too uncommon. With modern stage lighting, and special effects in the movies, and fancy costuming, we here in the United States in the 21st century might be surprised, but not scared. Certainly not terrified. But, Peter, James and John knew nothing of elaborate lighting or fancy costumes, or even electricity. Imagine, if you can, what an absolutely unbelievable – preposterous – sight Jesus showed to His three disciples. Plus, Moses and Elijah showed up next to the transfigured Jesus, on top of that mountain. Far, far beyond the disciples’ experience. No wonder they were terrified!

If you remember, we had a wonderful Summer Sermon Series in 2018 where we focused on many times in the Bible where people were told, “Be not afraid!” Here is another instance of those powerful words. Powerful, because they almost always come as a result of people seeing the glory of God or the presence of an angel. Memorable, because our Lord Jesus said them to His friends, to Peter, James and John.

We might wonder: how could the disciples possibly relate to Jesus again with any sort of naturalness? Any kind of normalcy, after this clearly supernatural experience?

The answer? Jesus transformed back into regular, human form, and touched His friends. He encourages them with the words “Don’t be afraid!” By touching them and reassuring them that it was really and truly Him, just as He was before? It wasn’t the glorified, “glowing” Jesus who touched them, but the all-too-human, relatable Jesus.

The Rev. Janet Hunt tells us that, as she understands it, “when Jesus tells them to ‘get up’ he is using the same words he also used in raising the dead.  No, Jesus does not leave them there ‘dead’ in their terror and their confusion.  For while they may find themselves in the midst of something unlike anything they have ever seen before.  They may be so afraid that they are as paralyzed as though they were in fact, dead. And yet, Jesus does not leave them there.  He tells them to get up and to leave their fear behind.” [1]

Fear of what, I wonder?

  •   Fear of the unknown?
  •   Fear of the incomprehensible power of God?
  •   Fear of their own inadequacy in the glare of that overpowering bright light?

How many of us are frightened or anxious, and need to hear those words today? How many of our friends or family members find themselves in difficult places, or walking through scary situations, and could be encouraged by those words today? Listen to Jesus! Hear His words to the disciples. Hear His words to us, too.

Sure, we, today, can be dazzled and awestruck as we see the marvelous, miraculous event unfold on the Mountain of the Transfiguration.

How much more do we need this healing, life-giving, transforming touch from our Lord Jesus? The words of Jesus—“Be not afraid!” are surely for each of us, too.      

Alleluia, amen.

 

[1] http://dancingwiththeword.com/get-up-and-dont-be-afraid-revisited/

(janet@dancingwiththeword.com)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Light and Salvation

“Light and Salvation”

Psa 27-1 fear, afraid, words

Psalm 27:1, 4-8 – January 26, 2020

How many times have you been somewhere when the lights flickered off? When the electricity stopped working at night, and everything went dark? I have vivid memories of times like that. When I was a little girl in Chicago, sometimes the wind and the rainstorm were raging outside, and the lights suddenly went away. I wasn’t too afraid, even though I was small, but some of my friends and classmates at school were. Light is so needed in our homes and our lives. You could even say light is a foundation, a fundamental to our existence.

Our psalm today shines a light on that very thing: light. King David wrote this psalm, and the very first statement he writes down is “The Lord is my light, and my salvation.” A commentator says “The opening verse describes the Lord with language that suggests God’s presence is life-giving and protective. The Lord is called ‘light’ because light drives darkness away. Light is a basic category of order and stability that recalls the first act of creation (see Gen 1:3; and Exodus 10:21).” [1]

This summary statement echoes so many other verses in other parts of the Bible, but I wanted to focus next on the Gospel of John, chapter one. The Word—the Messiah—is called the Light. Referring to God as Light makes this psalm particularly appropriate for the season of Epiphany. This is the time we especially celebrate God’s presence, and the Light of the world coming to earth.

Our Gospel reading from Matthew 4 has much the same idea. Matthew even quotes from the prophet Isaiah: “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; those living in the land of the shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” Again, the divine Light breaks into the world and allows us, for all time, to come to be close friends, even sisters and brothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When you or I come home at night during a storm and the lights suddenly flicker off, what is the first thing we do? Almost always, we light a flashlight, or a candle. We restore some light to that dark room we are standing in. With light comes safety and salvation.

When I was a young child, I knew I was safe in my house at night with our big dog, even if the lights could not go on. But, what about children who are afraid of the dark, and a big storm shuts off all their lights? Shuts down all the electricity. And, the nightlights can’t go on for those frightened girls and boys. There might be dangerous monsters creeping around the bedroom, or in the attic or basement. What happens then? Wouldn’t the children need the reassurance of a loving parent in the scary darkness of night?

What about King David? What does he say about the dark spaces and dangerous places? He comes right out and tells it to us like it is. Verse 2: “When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.” Sure, David had a lot of enemies, and sure, the bad guys were actively pursuing David, for years.

Reading about parts of the life of David is like being on a roller coaster—so many ups and downs, and terribly exciting, most of the time. David was on the run from King Saul in the wilderness, for years. I bet you anything that as David wrote this psalm, he was thinking about those times, those years that he was pursued by the finest soldiers in Israel, the best in the business of being a soldier.

Even though we are not pursued by a whole bunch of military personnel, I suspect from time to time you and I feel pursued by a bunch of other evil circumstances, or horrible people. Perhaps it is someone at work who makes your life miserable? Or, maybe it is a continuing health situation for yourself or a loved one that just won’t go away? Or, like several of my friends, underemployment, where they just cannot make ends meet, no matter what? When we are in predicaments like these, God can seem really far away. God might never even hear us when we call! At least, that is what we might feel in our hearts—sometimes.

I suspect King David had his moments of fear and trembling, moments when he doubted that God would come through for him. Such moments are only human. Throughout the centuries, countless people have cried out to God in distress and despair. We today have a lot of those moments, too. I don’t think anyone could manage to live life in this world and not have those kinds of doubts.

Thank God that David thought of this, too. David not only called the Lord his “light,” but he named the Lord his “salvation,” too. Again and again in the Hebrew Scriptures, the various writers refer to and remember that part of God’s identity as they remember the Exodus from Egypt. God delivered Israel numerous times with a mighty hand. And, David knows very well that God has delivered him, personally, from King Saul’s soldiers—again and again.

As David celebrates the presence of the Lord with the words of this psalm, he asks to “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” What a joy, what a privilege to be able to come to the house of the Lord on a regular basis.

We have the assurance—as David tells us—that we will be in God’s presence, hidden in the sacred shelter of God’s tabernacle. What a promise! What a God. How can we help but praise the Lord? Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4358

Jerome Creach |

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

When Adam Was Afraid

“When Adam Was Afraid”

Genesis 3:8-10 (3:10) – June 3, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

do-not-be-afraid

How often have we seen children, after they have misbehaved? Oftentimes, they know very well they have done something wrong. Their little lips may tremble, sorrowful eyes fill with tears. They may duck their heads because they fear being punished, and not meet the adult’s appraising look. Or even, run and hide so the person in charge needs to go find them.

These traits can occasionally be true for not-so-little people, too. Can you remember people you knew who acted like this, at work, or school, or among the circles of friends you know? The feeling of embarrassment and guilt, even of wrongdoing, can be very strong.

We look today at Genesis chapter 3, and at the very first instance of being afraid recorded in the Bible. But before we take a closer look at the book of Genesis, I’ll give you a preview of our summer sermon series. We will focus on a phrase that appears dozens of times in the Bible, both in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament. “Be Not Afraid!”

Fear and anxiety—and their companion, worry—haunt many people, on a regular basis. God keeps reminding us in the Scriptures to be not afraid! We can find this command many times throughout the Bible books, in many different situations.

As I said in this month’s newsletter article, I attended both undergraduate classwork at Moody Bible Institute as well as seminary study at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. I learned in my bible study and interpretation classes that if anything is mentioned with frequency in the Scriptures, it is really important. “Be Not Afraid” certainly is one of those statements.

But, what is the first time fear is mentioned in the Bible? For that, we need to look at Genesis 3, the account of the time sin entered the world. This narrative is about permission, prohibition, temptation, and most of all, about relationship. Free, loving relationship between God and humans.

To recap, in the beginning, God created humans. We look at two representative humans, Adam and Eve, who figure prominently in Genesis 3. The crafty serpent asks Eve a leading question about God and what God has forbidden them access to. The serpent puts doubt in her mind, and tells Eve that this forbidden fruit will cause her to become wise, like God. She sees the attractive fruit on the only tree God has forbidden, plucks it and eats it. She then gives some to Adam, and he eats some, too.

I could tell you lots more about the serpent, and how crafty and manipulative it was. I could mention about thoughtful Eve, and how she drew her own conclusions from what the serpent presented to her. I might add that she saw the tree as good for food and pleasant to the eyes. Moreover, when she brought some of the forbidden fruit to her husband, he “puts up no resistance, raises no questions, and considers no theological issues….The woman does not act as a temptress in this scene; they both have succumbed to the same source of temptation.” [1]

To say this in a different way, God has given the man and woman considerable freedom and latitude in their lives in paradise. The serpent slithers in and plants doubt in Eve’s mind. She eats the fruit, her husband also eats, and they have both transgressed the only hard and fast rule that God has given them.

Adam and Eve’s eyes are opened, and they realize they both are naked. Guilt, shame, and embarrassment are all featured prominently here. What are they to do? They both sew coverings out of leaves to cover their nakedness. Cover up their shame and embarrassment. However, their human resources are just plain inadequate.

Except—their guilt and sin are now compounded. When God—in some kind of human-like form, so humans could see and relate to God—came into the garden later that day, fear strikes deep into the hearts of both Adam and Eve.

Fear! What must that have been like? To feel fear for the very first time?

All of us have had that experience. All of us have experienced fear for the very first time, and I suspect you cannot remember the situation, or exactly when it happened. It probably happened when you were very young. We are told this is the exact situation with Adam, here in Genesis chapter 3.

Why are Adam and Eve afraid? If you had disobeyed a dear parent or other beloved family member, how would you feel? If you—as a child or teen—had purposefully gone against something that was forbidden, what would be the result? Wouldn’t you be afraid? At least a little bit? Afraid of being punished?

Fear of punishment is very real, even in areas where physical or verbal punishment is frowned on. Let’s look at how punishment is defined. ”The purpose of punishment is to stop a child from doing what you don’t want—and using a painful or unpleasant method to stop him [or her].” [2] That certainly seems like what Adam and Eve might be expecting. It seems like they expect God to be full of anger, wrath, even vengeance.  

God does not act in the expected way. “The Creator of the universe and all creatures chooses not to relate to the world at a distance, but takes on human form, goes for a walk among the creatures, and personally engages them regarding recent events.” [3]

What is that? Did the commentator on the book of Genesis say that God was seeking out a relationship with Adam and Eve? Doesn’t God go out of God’s way to look for the humans? Such a striking and unusual response for God to make. Instead of punishment and retaliation, the Lord comes looking for humans with open arms, even though God knew very well what they had done, and what was necessary to set it right.

Fear causes us to hide, too, when we sin. Fear of disappointment, yes, but also fear of shame, and embarrassment, too. Plus, there is fear of punishment: punishment on a horizontal plane, from other people as well as a vertical plane, from God.

Each of us—every worshiper here today—sins. Every day. It doesn’t matter who we are, or how good we are trying to be. Each of us makes mistakes. It is like someone using a pencil; there are sometimes mistakes we would like to erase. We all have sins, or mistakes, or errors in our lives. And what’s more, we can admit them to God and receive forgiveness.

We can see the loving response right here in Genesis 3, when the Lord was walking in the evening, and how God called and called. God took the initiative. Who was it who sought out humans openly and in love and compassion? God. Simply God.

What do we think when we see the Creator of the universe coming toward us in love, compassion, and relationship? Is that Someone we can trust? Is that Someone we can ask forgiveness from? Is that Someone who cares deeply about us even though God may know every single fact about our sin and disobedience?

God wants a free and loving relationship with each of us, just like trusting children and a loving, caring parent. We celebrate that relationship today with communion, remembering what the incarnate God, Jesus Christ, did for us 2000 years ago. God wants to restore us to the peace, joy and love intended for us from the day of creation. Praise God! Alleluia, amen.

[1] Frentheim, Terence E., Book of Genesis, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. 1 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999), 361.

[2] https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/350/350-111/350-111_pdf.pdf, accessed 5/31/18.

[3] Frentheim, Terence E., Book of Genesis, 362.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Risen Indeed!

“Risen Indeed!”

Easter word cloud

Mark 16:1-8 (16:6) – April 1, 2018

            Have you ever had something completely unexpected happen to you? I mean, something so unexpected and unusual it is disorienting? Perhaps it leaves you with your jaw hanging open. I might say that the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series reminds us of that, but, no. I am talking much bigger than that—of cosmic significance! And, much more disorienting. Astounding.

            It wasn’t as if the Rabbi Jesus had kept it a secret. No, He had spoken of it to His followers, a number of times before His crucifixion. But, really, it is a bit farfetched.. Jesus, being raised from the dead? Come on, Jesus. You must be joking. Seriously?

            We know more about what happened on that Easter Sunday from the other Gospel accounts. But, Mark? Not so much. Mark writes in his usual concise, blunt manner. Short on details and description, heavy on action. Let’s take a closer look at our Gospel reading.

            “After the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices to go and anoint the body of Jesus. Very early on Sunday morning, at sunrise, they went to the tomb.”

            We already know the men disciples of Jesus scattered as soon as Jesus was arrested. This was for very good reason! The men were very much afraid that they would be arrested, too! But, this left just the women disciples of Jesus at the foot of the cross, and at the tomb.

            How often is it that women take care of the body of their loved one after death? In many cultures and all around the world, for millenia, washing and dressing the dead body, anointing the body with spices and with perfumes, holding a vigil or mourning or sitting shiva. How often is this the responsibility and privilege of women?

To continue, from Mark 16: “On the way they said to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” (It was a very large stone.) Then they looked up and saw that the stone had already been rolled back.”  The big stone rolled over the entrance to the tomb must have been worrying the women. Mark even mentions it. I suspect they already were discussing how their combined strength was probably not enough to even budge the stone. But—what is this? The stone is already rolled away! It’s the first inkling that things at the tomb are not as these women first thought.

            “So they entered the tomb, where they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe—and they were alarmed.“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here—he has been raised!”

I can’t help but smile as I read my commentator’s view on this verse: “seems to be on Jesus not being present because he has better things to do than wait around at a tomb. The “young man dressed in a white robe” (angelic messenger) delivers the good tidings of Easter morning like an administrative assistant explaining why you can’t have a quick word with the boss: “You’re looking for Jesus? Sorry, you just missed him.” [1]

Wait a minute—did I hear that right? Jesus just stepped away? These women are left holding the spices, and they only have a vague idea of where their Rabbi Jesus might have gone.

I realize this whole situation is astounding, but can we put ourselves in the shoes of these women? They had absolutely no idea where Jesus was. Plus, they are faced with an angelic messenger. How often the first words out of any angel’s mouth are “Don’t be afraid!” Angels must be frightening, and awe-inspiring, and enough to make these women shake in their sandals.

Is anything clouding the sight of these women as the angel speaks to them? Is anything clouding their hearts from discerning what it is the angel has to say? We all know the grief and cares of this world, some more than others. What else did the angel say? “Look, here is the place where he was placed. Now go and give this message to his disciples, including Peter: ‘He is going to Galilee ahead of you; there you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Again, these women were flabbergasted. Amazed, half in disbelief. As our commentator Dr. Pape tells us, the angel’s instructions to the women “is to tell the disciples, and especially Peter who had denied him, that they had better get on the move (Mark 16:7). Jesus had explained already that after he was raised up, he would go ahead of them to Galilee (Mark 14:28). Now the “young man” reminds them of this scheduled rendezvous. If it’s Jesus they want, they will need to head back to Galilee.” [2]

This is a tall order. The angel orders the women to tell the disciples that they are to go clear across the country, to Galilee, and there they will meet the risen Jesus. I suspect the women already knew how skeptical the men disciples would be of their claim that Jesus was alive. And then, on top of that, the whole group of disciples were told to remove to Galilee to go and meet with the risen Jesus? Kind of far-fetched, if you ask me. Looking at this passage, we read of the women’s response: “So they went out and ran from the tomb, distressed and terrified. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

I wonder how much of the women’s response was fear and anxiety? How much was unbelief? And, how much was other emotion, and distress, getting in the way of them hearing the message of the angel clearly?

Yet, along with the Rev. Janet Hunt, “I find myself wondering about those women now… those who were looking on from a distance: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome.  And I wonder then if it was force of will that kept them there at the foot of the cross for as long as they stayed or if time stood still for them and all other responsibilities just faded away.

“And I wonder about the people who will gather in all of our places of worship this Easter morning to hear again a story many of them have heard over and over again.  I wonder what grief, what loss, what worry, what fear will be clouding their hearts as they step into a place bathed in lilies and the sounds of trumpeted Alleluias.  I wonder if for them this hour shared will be a distraction to be gotten through before they get back to other matters pressing on their minds and hearts or if they will hear in the ancient story retold a promise that will then somehow come alive right before their eyes as they return to their lives in a world.  A world which all too often seems to hold a whole lot more despair than hope, more cynicism than trust, more death than life.  I wonder if some among us, like those women on that first Easter morning, I wonder if we will see God’s promises kept in unexpected ways and places on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning or Wednesday night.”  [3]

We know now, from the other Gospel accounts, that this was just the beginning of the story, the beginning of that Good News, that Jesus has risen, indeed! Despite worry, anxiety, despair, loss, and cynicism, we know the tomb is empty. We know that with the risen Jesus, hope, love, mercy and forgiveness have come into the world again. We can say with the angel in the tomb, “Jesus is not here—He is risen!” Jesus Christ is risen, indeed. Amen, alleluia!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2406

Commentary, Mark 16:1-8, Lance Pape, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://dancingwiththeword.com/a-gap-in-the-story-easter-thoughts/

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

From Fearful to Fearless

“From Fearful to Fearless”

Pentecost stained glass - Boone Tabernacle Church of God in Christ

Pentecost stained glass – Boone Tabernacle Church of God in Christ

Acts 2:1-18 – May 24, 2015

Everyone feels afraid, some time. I know I usually do not make sweeping statements like that, but I feel safe in making that particular one: everyone is afraid, sometime. Being fearful; it goes with being human.

If we look at the disciples, gathered in that upper room—the same upper room where their leader and Rabbi Jesus had them gather together to eat the Passover dinner on Thursday in Holy Week—we can see several good, valid reasons for them to be afraid.

Confusing events happening in short succession. This was compounded by the followers of Jesus scattering, running away, frightened by the very real, very legal, very official things happening to Jesus just before His crucifixion.

     Let’s fast-forward past Easter Sunday, past the weeks when the risen Jesus was occasionally present with the disciples. Past the time of the Ascension. The disciples still must have been frightened to death of the authorities. But, I suspect they needed to talk about the happenings of the past few weeks, too. Debriefed. Tried to figure things out, as best as they could. We go to the day of Pentecost, another major feast day for the people of Israel. And where are the disciples? Back in Jerusalem, in the upper room, hidden away from the authorities.

Let’s begin to read our scripture passage for today, starting at Acts chapter 2, verse 1: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues/languages as the Spirit enabled them.”

If we were watching this scene as it happened on television, or in a movie, the special effects would be awe-inspiring! Can you see it now? Except, this was long centuries before the time of anything approaching motion pictures, even electricity. Imagine what it was like for these few dozen people, gathered together to pray in the upper room.

The biblical record refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit as being similar to the blowing of a violent wind. I’m sure this was an eye witness report. That must have been what it really felt like! Buffeted about by the sheer power of a strong wind—except—they were all inside the house, with all the doors shut tight! Let’s continue with the next verses:

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues/languages!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Here in these verses, we take a tour of Asia Minor, and parts of Africa and some of Europe. That’s how far the Jewish people had dispersed, in the past few hundred years. Observant, practicing Jews had settled in these far-flung places many years before. Their present-day descendants were fully enculturated, and spoke the local languages and dialects as their own. However, some still came back to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage, to worship at the Temple. As I mentioned, Pentecost was a big festival in the Jewish religious calendar.

Moreover, these dispersed Jews from far-flung provinces were amazed that home-grown Jews from Galilee, the boondocks of Israel, were able to speak many regional languages and dialects so fluently! Wonder upon wonder!

These Galilean Jews had gone out on the street, rubbing shoulders with all and sundry outside. They all had gotten a big shot of courage from somewhere, and were communicating the good news—to everyone. To all of these visitors to Jerusalem, who in turn could take the good news of the Gospel with them, to all parts of the Roman Empire when they returned home.

True, I could preach about the erasing of the Tower of Babel’s barrier, the division of separate languages, and the ease of communication that took place here on Pentecost. I could talk about the birthday of the church, and how the church began its great mission of spreading the good news. But—I wanted to focus on the disciples. How they went from fearful to fearless.

Let’s turn back to our scripture passage: “13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”

Did you hear what Peter said? It’s because of the Holy Spirit. Everything is because of the Holy Spirit! That is exactly why the disciples poured out into the street after their fiery experience in the upper room! After the wind of the Holy Spirit swept through that room, their hearts, and their very lives. It didn’t matter—men, women, whoever was there. Each one in that room had the Spirit energize their hearts and their minds. The Spirit came with fire!

What is more, we see from the prophet Joel that the Spirit was prophesied to be poured upon all people. Sons, daughters, young men, old men, even men and women servants. I think that is everyone. We are all going to get power from the Spirit of God. The ruach ha kodesh, the Holy Spirit. What’s more all of us have the possibility of going from fearful to fearless!

Here is the last of today’s reading from Acts: “20 The sun will be turned to darkness  and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

Pentecost was not just a one-time-only event. Sure, Dr. Luke put this account down on paper so we all could remember, so we all could see the power of God as it happened so long ago, in Jerusalem. But—we can see the power of the Spirit of God now, each and every day. We can tell others about what the Lord has done and is doing in our lives—how the Spirit of the Lord blows through our lives on a regular basis–today.

The important thing about the arrival of the Spirit of God was not the wind or the flames. That’s just the exterior way we all knew that the Holy Spirit had arrived! But the disciples knew, from experience, that God was now with them in power and in might. The same way the Spirit is with us, today. That knowledge changed the disciples from fearful to fearless, and that knowledge can do the same thing for each of us, today.

Is there a Pentecost in our lives today? Is the Holy Spirit living, breathing, active in our lives, today? Please God, yes. God can enable us to go forth from here in the Spirit’s power, to share what God has done for each of us. And the response? As Peter quoted from the prophet Joel, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Amen, and amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)

We All Are Witnesses!

“We All Are Witnesses!”

Jesus laid down His life for us 1 John 3-16

Luke 24:48 – April 19, 2015

Have you ever been confused by the number of hurried, jumbled nature of things happening at once? And the speed at which these things happen? This experience is more common than we might think. Just think of this past week, preparing for the Not-So-Lent fish fry at our church, and everything that had to be done by yesterday afternoon!

However hurried and jumbled this past week has been around here, it pales in comparison with our Gospel reading today. The end of the Passion Week must have been momentous and confusing for the followers of the Rabbi Jesus. Some confusing and jumbled things were happening very quickly. From the big festival entrance on Palm Sunday to the Passover Dinner of Maundy Thursday evening, to the arrest, trial and Crucifixion on Good Friday. Events happening in short succession from morning until night. Everything happening one thing after another. This was compounded by the followers of Jesus scattering, running away, frightened by the very real, very legal, very official things happening to Jesus on Thursday night and Friday during the day.

Let’s fast-forward to that Sunday morning, the first day of the week. The disciples still must have been frightened to death of the authorities. But, I suspect they needed to talk about the happenings of the past few days, too. We can see that from our scripture passage.

We pick up the narrative right after the events of the Road to Emmaus. To fill everyone in, two followers of Jesus got on the road to Emmaus that Sunday. As they walked, they talked. Debriefed. Tried to figure things out, as best as they could. And what circumstances they needed to figure out! A Stranger began to walk with them on the way, and unbeknownst to them, it was the risen Jesus, incognito. He shared with them a summary of all that He had come to earth to do. Of His ministry, His message, and His purpose. And still, they did not know it was Jesus.

Not until dinner that evening in Emmaus, when the risen Jesus was revealed when He blessed and broke the bread. And then—Jesus disappeared! The other two at the dinner table didn’t waste any time! They ran back to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room, to tell what they had seen. Yes, they were witnesses. Eye witnesses, verifying everything that had happened that day.

Our Gospel reading for today picks up the story at this point. All of the followers of Jesus are gathered together in the Upper Room, and are talking about the story of the road to Emmaus. Do they believe? Or, don’t they? Are a few skeptical? Or doubtful? Are some still frightened?

Let’s transition to today. Here and now. I can hear some people today, scoffing at the idea of some guy rising from the dead. And then, miraculously traveling alongside of two other guys? Good as new—in fact, even better? No way! Not a chance. The other two must have been hallucinating. Or dreaming. Or maybe, seeing a ghost. They can’t believe. Or, won’t believe.

As we start the Gospel reading today, the risen Jesus suddenly appears to the group in the locked Upper Room. What does He say? “Peace be with you.” A common greeting of the time, yes. However, Jesus is also calming their hearts, their spirits, their anxieties, their emotions. “Peace be with you.”

How does the risen Jesus immediately respond to the disciples? “Don’t be frightened! It is I, myself.” He emphasizes His identification. “I, myself!” It’s not anyone else, but Jesus! He lets them know that He is solid and corporeal, not a ghost. Not a spirit. And, Jesus doesn’t criticize His followers for being afraid! For feeling uncertain, doubtful and anxious!

I wonder whether you have ever had a kind and patient teacher, or instructor, or coach. When you were afraid, uncertain, or anxious, did this kind and patient person get angry with you? Or, upset? Or, did this person continue to be open and willing to help you? Generous with time and welcoming to your attempts? That is Jesus, all over. To a T.

Jesus even volunteers to eat a piece of fish, just to show everyone that He was, indeed, for real! An actual, physical person. (A ghost or spirit couldn’t eat or drink!)

What’s the big deal?

Jesus tells us. Wait—He tells the disciples, first. They are to proclaim what they have seen and heard. They are to be witnesses to the power of the resurrection. They are to tell how the risen Jesus has made a difference in their lives! And boy, that was a big difference!

When we read the book of Acts, that is exactly what we see. The disciples are witnesses of what they have seen and heard, witnesses of the power of the resurrection. Time after time, no matter what, the disciples tell others about how Jesus lived, preached, did miracles, and rose from the dead. Then, how all that has made an earth-shaking difference in their lives.

Our second Scripture reading today is from the first letter of the Apostle John, chapter 3. This passage also tells about the power of the resurrection. The aged apostle John mentions this in verse 16. John was giving his friends some instructions, even some admonitions. We are told to love one another. Why? Because of the One who laid down His life for us. That’s why. And following His example, we ought to be willing to lay down our lives for each other.

This is the message that Jesus told the disciples to start to carry, when John was a very young man. Looking at 1 John 3 and 4, some decades later, we see the aged John still carrying the message Jesus told him to, the message of sacrifice, hope, and resurrection. Let me read two verses: 4:13-14. “We know that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.” John is still being a witness, all those decades later, at the close of the first century!

Dear friends, our Lord Jesus gave specific instructions to His friends, to go and be witnesses. He gives those same instructions to us. We are to be witnesses of the power of the resurrection. The aged apostle John continued to do that, all of his life.

Can you think of someone who was a witness to the power of God, in your life? Someone who immediately comes to mind for me is Miss Rose. I met her almost thirty years ago, when my older two children were very small. She was a witness to the power of God, and to God’s love. She communicated God’s love to everyone she ever met, just about! A little lady, a dynamo for God, she would tell everyone about God and how much God loved them.

I met her again, ten years ago when I was a chaplain intern at the Presbyterian Homes. She was a resident there. I was so happy to see her. Miss Rose and her joy in the Lord bubbled over and communicated to everyone she met there, too. Even though she was in severe, chronic pain, she witnessed to the power of the resurrection. She asked people she met, “Do you know Jesus? Can I tell you about Him, and what He’s done in my life? Can I tell you my story?”

Each of us has an opportunity to be a witness, to communicate the Good News about the risen Jesus and the power of the resurrection. We can communicate by words, by a smile, by being kind, through our actions, through our generosity.

Think about someone who impacted your life, who communicated the Good News to you. There’s a great example for you! Just like Miss Rose is a marvelous example for me, to be a witness despite pain and suffering, even through difficulty in my life. I can still communicate God’s love, just like the aged Apostle John did, too. He was even in prison when he wrote his first letter, on a little island in the Mediterranean Sea. That didn’t make any difference. John still told his story, how the risen Jesus made a difference to him.

What is important is that we get out there and start being a witness, telling people about the power of God, and about how much the risen Jesus has changed our lives. Can you be a witness? It’s as simple as telling your story. Can you tell the story of Jesus and His love? Jesus loves you. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves all of us.

Be witnesses to God’s love and power.

Alleluia, Amen.

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)