For the Least of These

“For the Least of These”

Matt 25-35 for whatever, words

Matthew 25:31-46 (25:40) – November 26, 2017

This Sunday—today—is the last Sunday in the liturgical year. This Sunday is also called Christ the King Sunday. We celebrate and lift up the might of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ today! Dominion, honor, power, authority, glory, majesty! Crown Him with many crowns! Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!

We have many marvelous hymns we can choose from for today. I love many of the words and tunes of the hymns that refer to our Lord Jesus having all power and authority in heaven and on earth, being King and ruler of the universe, and all creation.

I think all of us are familiar with the stories Jesus tells in His ministry, featuring real life situations. The Rabbi Jesus tries to get His listeners to understand some deeper truths through these stories, or parables. Jesus Himself talks about an all-powerful King at the end of the world, in this final parable from Matthew 25. The all-powerful King from this parable is the exalted Lord Jesus, ascended to heaven, as we declare every time we say the Apostle’s Creed.

As we did two weeks ago, let’s pull back from this particular parable, and look at the larger situation where the Rabbi Jesus tells it. This is midway through Holy Week in Jerusalem, where Jesus is being asked when the end times will come. That’s why He gives this long discourse called the Olivet Discourse, several chapters long in Matthew’s Gospel. Similar to now, people all through the centuries have been aware that the Bible has certain mysterious, even unclear prophecies concerning the end times, just before when the Messiah will come.

However, something does not fit. Something is very puzzling about this parable.

Here in Matthew 25, we have the exalted Lord Jesus, the almighty King eternal, sitting in judgment over all the peoples of the earth.

At first reading, even at second, third, tenth or twentieth reading, this final parable from Matthew can be really scary. Just like in the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, from the prophet Ezekiel, all sheep and goats are separated, just as all the people from every nation in the world are separated. All people are divided into two groups: those who the King is pleased with, and those who the King is not pleased with.

The people listening to Jesus in Jerusalem that day were extremely puzzled. Scratching their heads, they might have said, “Rabbi, you just don’t make any sense.” Especially the people who had followed Jesus for months might have been particularly lost. Things just don’t add up!

On one hand, we have Jesus, the caring, nurturing Shepherd. This is what the prophet Ezekiel starts off with in our reading today. In many parables, in many situations throughout His ministry for three years, Jesus has shown Himself to be loving, caring, gentle, and welcoming to everyone—no matter who, no matter what.

But, wait. Let’s go back to this final parable from Matthew, where the King at the end of all time is talking to the vast assembly of people from every nation, tribe and tongue. Let’s remind ourselves of the words of the Son of Man: “Then the King will say to the people on his right, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world.  I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.”

I am certain that many people listening to Jesus and His parables were absolutely floored by these words. What on earth are You talking about, Jesus?

Dr. David Lose said, “When we think of God, we typically think in terms of power and might and glory and all the rest. And, indeed, the [final] parable begins by describing the coming of the Son of Man in glory to sit on his throne attended by angels, seemingly only reinforcing our preconceptions.” [1] This word picture is absolutely the picture we associate with Christ the King Sunday, with dominion, honor, power, authority, glory, and majesty!

Yet, we also see a loving, caring, nurturing Shepherd, as expressed by our Lord Jesus Himself any number of times during His ministry. And, there are glimpses of that Shepherd here in the parable, too. We have two different, disparate, even disconcerting pictures of Jesus here. What gives? Which is the real Jesus? What is going on here?

The people in the parable are puzzled, too. Let’s listen to their reaction: “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink?  When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you?  When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?”

As if the two very different pictures of Jesus are not enough, the King in the parable adds a third. I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these members of my family, you did it for me!”

Here, Jesus tells us He is right with the chronically hungry and thirsty. He is among the strangers and refugees. He is among the indigent poor and sick, and is right there with the many hundreds of thousands all across the world who are in jail. Jesus, the Son of Man, would rather hang out with the bums on Skid Row rather than with the fancy people in their religious country clubs or with the fine Pharisees in their first-rate houses of worship.

Does anyone else feel challenged when they hear these serious words of Jesus?

As Dr. Lose tells us, “No one expects to see Jesus in the face of the disadvantaged, the poor, the imprisoned, and all those who are in manifest need.” [2]

Jesus gives us a judgment scene in this final parable. This is a cautionary scene described here, at the end of all time. Here, in this parable from Matthew, we have three separate pictures of Jesus. Yes, He is the King! All honor, power, majesty and glory be given to Him! Amen! Yes, Jesus is the Gentle Shepherd, the loving, caring, nurturing one who gathers the lost lambs into the fold. And, third, our Lord Jesus is seen in the faces of those who are difficult to love, and a challenge to care for.

Jesus shows up in those unexpected places, in the concrete and real needs of our neighbors next door, and around the world. But, you and I are not at the end times, yet. We can take action, and see the face of Jesus in others around us. The disadvantaged, the poor, the imprisoned, and in need.

Jesus calls us to serve others. By serving others, we will be serving—loving—caring for Jesus. How can we serve Jesus, today? How can we help others? How can we extend our hands and hearts to be loving, caring and giving, today? The best part? God will be right by our sides as we extend our hands to serve and care for others. And, God promises to change us from the inside out as we extend our hands—our hearts—ourselves—to others.

Here, in this final parable, Jesus the King tells us He is right with the vulnerable, the unlovely, the indigent, those difficult to love and those who are such a challenge to care for.

Next week, we will begin the liturgical year with the season of Advent, those weeks when we await the coming of the Baby in Bethlehem at Christmas. We await the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Eternal Almighty God the Son emptying Himself and becoming a baby. Becoming vulnerable, becoming human. Just like us.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.

 

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2014/11/christ-the-king-a/ “The Unexpected God,” David Lose, …In The Meantime, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

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

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Compassion with Our Welcome

“Compassion with Our Welcome”

Deut 10-19 words

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – August 20, 2017

The world today is a divided place, even here in the United States. There are so any divisions in society happening recently. Arguments, inflamed rhetoric, serious disagreements—and this is just between family members and acquaintances. Then, to escalate matters even further, many people of sincere beliefs and good conscience are finding themselves on opposite sides of serious matters, like immigration, the movement of people groups, and the safe passage of refugees and migrants.

What are we to make of such things?  More importantly, what does the Lord tell us in the Bible that we are to do about immigrants, refugees and migrants? More on this important topic, a little later in the sermon.

I also want to tell you all about the Family Peace Fest yesterday outside of the Civic Center. Frankly, I was nervous and anxious about this event. Or, more specifically, about the potential weather on the day of the Family Peace Fest.

However, God took care of all of my fears and anxiety. Yesterday was a gorgeous day, the weather couldn’t have been better, and this turned out to be a wonderful event at the Civic Center at Harrer Park on Dempster! We not only raised up peace, hope and harmony in Morton Grove and the surrounding neighborhoods, but we showed everyone who attended that our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural community could gather together, laugh, learn, and enjoy each other’s company. We also showed the Chicago area and the world that this diverse community lifts up peace as one of our most prized values.

We continue with our summer sermon series on compassion. This week, we are considering a reading from Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Hebrew scriptures. Here we are looking closely at some words of Moses to the large number of Jewish people, at the end of forty years of wandering in the Sinai desert and wilderness.

Moses also said a great many things that make a great deal of sense, especially from our Hebrew scripture reading today. From Deuteronomy 10: “Hey, people, what is it God wants from you? Just this: your reverence, your faithfulness, your love, your dedication, and for you to obey the commandments. They’re for your own good.”

Moses gave the Jewish tribes a whole lot of instructions, rules, and commands. Let’s take a close look at his commands for this people. They had strict duties and responsibilities to God and to other people. What was it Moses said again? Just this: God wants our reverence, our faithfulness, our love, our dedication, and for us to obey the commandments.

Right here is a summary statement of all of the laws, rules and commands Moses gave in Deuteronomy, the second giving of the Law. We’ve talked a few months ago about summary statements Jesus gave in the Gospels for what God wants from us, above all. Well, here is a brief summary from Moses about the exact same thing. What God wants, above all.

Going on, in our Scripture: “All the sky and all the stars belong to God, the earth and everything in it, and listen: God chose you—your people, your ancestors and your children—you! Do not cut yourself off from God; soften your heart. God is above all, but concerned for those who have nothing, caring for those who are stranded and alone, providing for them.”

What is this? Moses is now departing from a simple summary statement of what God wants from us into specific waters: Moses says God is concerned for “those who have nothing, caring for those who are stranded and alone, providing for them.”

Can you imagine some of the situations that may cause people to leave their homeland and go to a new place? We can just imagine some of the positive things. Economic opportunities, or better living conditions. Then, there are negative situations. Wars and conflict, perhaps famine or drought, earthquakes, fires, and other catastrophic events. These situations might come out of nowhere and knock people off their feet and destroy their homes.

Sometimes little is left except to migrate, to become refugees or immigrants, sometimes traveling a long, long way.

I saw a meme on the computer a few days ago. It said: “Your car is German, your vodka is Russian, your pizza is Italian. Your kebab is Turkish, your democracy is Greek, your coffee is Brazilian. Your tea is Tamil, your shirt is Indian, your oil is from Saudi Arabia. Your electronics are Chinese, your numbers are Arabic, your letters are Latin. And you complain that your neighbor is an immigrant?” [1]

As many memes do, this one uses ironic statements to get the point across. My blogging friend (and Registered Nurse) Marilyn Gardiner wrote a post just a few days ago about this very thing. Let’s hear what she has to say about this meme in her own words.

“While the meme is about things, I began to think about all the people in my life who are immigrants. As I made the list, I started to laugh. It’s unlikely I could function without them.

My doctor is from Jamaica, my surgeon is from Greece, my hairdresser is from Albania.

“I occasionally get my nails done by a woman from Vietnam; I buy fruit from a man from Albania. The advisory board members on a project that I am responsible for at work are from Syria, Iran, Algeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, and the Azores. A consultant who also works with the project is from Somalia. “My colleagues are from Portugal, the Azores, Brazil, Haiti, and Malawi – and that’s only a few of them.

“Daily I say hello to hotel employees from Guatemala, Haiti, and Egypt. The restaurant next to my work that sells excellent falafel and shwarma is owned by Iraqis. My friends at church are from Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Lebanon. Other regular friends in my life are from Pakistan, Israel, and Iran.

“What’s more, my maternal grandfather who died many years ago is from Poland….

“Every one of these people contribute positively to their communities and to the workforce, a fact that validates what studies have shown – that immigration has a positive effect on both economic growth and productivity.” [2]

Marilyn was a missionary kid, now living in Boston. She grew up in Pakistan, going to boarding school for years in the mountains away from her parents. So, she knows well the feelings of displacement, of not being home (wherever “home” is).

Turning back to our Scripture for the morning: “God is above all, but concerned for those who have nothing, caring for those who are stranded and alone, providing for them. You, too, remember when you were immigrants, strangers in Egypt—let that memory stir compassion in you for the strangers among you.”

All of us (even Native Americans, way far back) come from somewhere else. Even if you or I were born locally, our parents, grandparents, or ancestors further back hailed from somewhere else. At some point, we or our parents or our ancestors were alone, lonely, stranded, displaced, and missing “home,” wherever their “home” was.

Here in Deuteronomy, God gives a direct command: love the immigrant, the stranger, the migrant, the refugee. Have compassion for them. Love them. Care for them. (We were once immigrants, too.) Can it be any more direct?

Let us finish this reading: “Worship only God; hang on tightly to God; praise God; know that everything wonderful you have seen, God has done.”

What wonderful words from our God. Everything wonderful that we see every day? God is the author of it. God deserves our worship and praise, every day. We are urged here to hang on tightly to God!

God hangs on tightly to all people God has created. What is more, we know the Lord cares deeply for people who are the least powerful—especially women, children, and immigrants, as our Bible reading says. Can you imagine some reasons God shows extra care for them? Who are some immigrants and refugees you know of today? People in your life, or people you’ve heard of? What are some ways we can show compassion to immigrants in our lives and our community? What comes to your mind?

We showed love, caring and compassion for all people in our community yesterday, raising up peace at Harrer Park outside of the Civic Center, at the Family Peace Fest.

How can we show compassion? Be creative! Take an action step. One genuine smile, one kind word, one loving action. These actions, taken together, can change the world, one smile at a time.

Our friendship and compassion to immigrants, strangers, refugees and migrants is such a gift. Best of all? We will be doing what God commands. Hear what God is saying to the church.

[1] https://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2017/08/07/who-are-the-immigrants-in-your-life/

[2] https://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2017/08/07/who-are-the-immigrants-in-your-life/

(A heartfelt thank you to Marilyn Gardiner and her wonderful blog “Communicating Across the Boundaries of Faith & Culture.” Thanks for your permission to make an extended quote from your blog in this week’s sermon.

Another heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

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

The Light on This Corner

Matthew 5:14-16 – February 5, 2017

matt-5-14-light-city-at-night

“The Light on This Corner”

Remember the holiday we celebrated here in this church, just a few weeks ago? The birth of the baby in Bethlehem. Foretold by prophets, welcomed by angels. I mean Christmas, the coming of God’s light into a dark world.

Just think about light, for a moment. When you walk into a dark house late at night, what is first thing you do? Turn on the lights. When the electricity shuts off during a power outage one dark and stormy night, what is the first thing you do? Find a flashlight or a candle and light it. Light is not only comforting, but useful. Light helps us in any number of ways. Helps us to see, allows us to work and read and go about our activities in what would otherwise be a dark and scary situation.

Jesus talked about light here in today’s Gospel reading, too. But before we get into His words about light, where does this reading coming from? These words are from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount at the beginning of His public ministry. Another way of looking at this long address is a long lecture on God’s view of a lot of things. Important things, with a lot of real-life illustrations.

Our bible study on Wednesday mornings has just started a study on the first verses of Matthew 5, the Beatitudes, what comes just before these verses today. I won’t talk about the Beatitudes, since each sentence, each blessing of those deserves a whole sermon all by itself. We go on to these verses about salt and light, which the Rabbi Jesus places here, after the Beatitudes.       We could say more about salt (which is important, and tells us a lot about what Jesus thinks about the part we take in our world). However, I wanted to focus on Jesus’s words about Light. He says, You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.

What did we sing right before the sermon started? “This Little Light of Mine.” When we held our lights up, do you know what that reminded me of? Remember back to Christmas Eve? For the closing hymn of that service, we sang “Silent Night.” We all held candles and sang. We held those candles as a symbol or sign of God’s light within each of us, God’s light that shines among us.

Jesus had a definite point to His words. We are light. Right now.

However, there is a definite temptation for many followers of Jesus. Some are tempted to make these words of Jesus a rigid requirement, as if Jesus were a stern, mean drill sergeant. Communicating with sarcasm, shaming. Shaking His finger at us and shouting, “You’d better be light!” Or a little less severe: “If you want to be light, do this!” Or even, “Before I call you light, I’ll need to see this from you.” [1]

Does that sound like Jesus? Truly? Would He ever use shame, guilt, and sarcasm?

That is most certainly not the way Jesus communicates here. As commentator David Lose says, “Rather, He says both simply and directly, “You are the light of the world.” It is, as with last week’s Beatitudes, sheer blessing, commendation, affirmation, and commissioning.” [2]

Dr. Lose reminds us of the statistics about a child’s self-esteem compared to what kind of messages they hear. When elementary-aged children hear one single negative message about themselves—like, “you’re mean!” “how stupid!” “you can’t do anything right!”—psychologists suggest that the children need to hear ten positive messages to restore their sense of self-esteem to where it had been previously. [3] That is, to correct the internal emotional and psychological balance of the children, and cause them to have a positive, healthy self-image.

“Children, to put it another way, become what they are named. Call a child bad long enough, and he or she will believe you and act bad. Call a child (or teen or adult for that matter) worthless or unlovable or shameful, and eventually he or she — all of us! — will live into the name we’ve been assigned. In the same way, call us good or useful, dependable, helpful, or worthwhile, and we will grow into that identity and behavior as well.” [4]

That is exactly what Jesus is doing here! He is calling us—naming us—light. We are—all of us—light of the world. The light of a city on a hill, shedding light to the whole community. Yes, Jesus wants us to be that light. He is calling us to grow into that identity and behavior! That same light of God we held up on Christmas Eve? The light of God that came into the world as a Baby born in Bethlehem? This is the same light that Jesus is talking about here. It’s the light of a city on a hill, and the light for the nations, that the prophet Isaiah talks about.

We aren’t required to do ten impossible things before breakfast to just break even with God, and try to get in line for a chance to reach for the light. It isn’t hoping that someday, maybe, we might finally become that light. We aren’t hiding our lights under a bushel, either.

We are that light! Now! And, we are holding it high! Why? Because, Jesus says so!

Janet Hunt, a Lutheran pastor from DeKalb, about an hour west of here in Morton Grove, has this real-life illustration about letting the light of God shine.

About two weeks ago, she met with the director of Hope Haven, the homeless shelter in DeKalb. The director told Pastor Hunt that the homeless shelter is the second largest housing facility in the county for the mentally ill (after the county jail for DeKalb County). Pastor Hunt was cut to the heart when the director told her the homeless shelter had to ration toilet paper, because of severe funding cuts. (Imagine, rationing even toilet paper.)

This is what Pastor Janet Hunt’s Lutheran congregation is going to do for the month of February. She said, “we will be collecting toilet paper and giving it to some of the most vulnerable among us. And maybe this will give us a way to begin a conversation about why it is so that the jail and the homeless shelter appear to be the only options in our neighborhood for people who are so fragile. Maybe we can start to shine light on this and them even in a time when too much of the world seems to care so little for such as these. And maybe that shining light will serve as both beacon and promise to our neighbors — both those who are so vulnerable and those who have extra toilet paper to share.” [5]

This might just be a little thing her church can do. Little to them, but huge to the people at the homeless shelter. This is surely a way to let the residents and the employees at Hope Haven know that someone cares. Someone is listening, and caring, and doing something.

Dr. Hunt’s illustration is a tremendous tie-in with Micah 6:8 from last week’s sermon! Do justice and love mercy/kindness/chesed for these homeless people in DeKalb, and shine the light of God. In the same way, we can let our lights (or, the Light of God) shine here in Morton Grove so that others will see it and rejoice. A city build on a hill shines its light for all to see. This church on this corner shines its light for all to see in this community, as well.

Where have you seen the light of God, lately? How can you let your light shine, today? How can you make a difference in someone’s life, even if it is small? I have a list of some kind, loving things you and I can do, each and every day. We can BE what Jesus calls us: light to the world. Light to our community. We can all live into God’s affirmation, trust, and love and BE God’s light to everyone we meet. Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&rp=blog53&post=1543 “Salt and Light,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011. (Italics mine.)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&rp=blog53&post=1543 “Salt and Light,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011

[5] http://dancingwiththeword.com/you-are-the-light-of-the-world/  “You Are the Light of the World,” Janet H Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2017.

@chaplaineliza

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

Love, Under His Wings

“Love, Under His Wings”

Luke 13-34 under His wings, mosaic

Luke 13:31-35 – February 21, 2016

During this season of Lent, our focus is on love.

When we think of the animal kingdom—and let’s broaden that to all birds and beasts, all creatures great and small—how does love fit into the picture? Picture this. A mama cat or dog, licking and cleaning her little ones. A mama horse or elephant or dolphin, feeding her baby. A mother hen on her nest, spreading out her feathers, her wings, to keep her chicks warm and safe at night. All loving and caring pictures. All maternal. Motherly.

When we think about God and God’s actions, maternal and motherly images are not necessarily the first things that pop into a person’s mind. `

Let’s turn to Jesus. The Rabbi Jesus has His disciples and other followers around Him. They are in Jerusalem—as they periodically are, since Jesus is an itinerant rabbi. Traveling round about Judea, Galilee, and all places in between. Jesus is speaking to and teaching a group of people. What does today’s reading from Luke tell us? Some Pharisees actually warn Jesus!

This might seem odd, or out of character. Imagine, Jesus is almost always fighting with the Pharisees! And here, we find several of them going out of their way to warn Rabbi Jesus: “Go somewhere else—far away! Herod wants to kill you!”

Oh, my! This is the puppet king that the Roman Empire installed as supposed king of Judea. Plus, Herod was the king who executed John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin. Jesus may even have been knowledgeable about Herod and his plots. No surprise here. What else is new?

It doesn’t particularly matter whether the Pharisees who hurried up and visited Jesus were doing this in all seriousness, or whether they were just kidding around. After all, Pharisees were among the foremost Jewish teachers of the Law. As one of the commentaries I consulted said, Pharisees were “community leaders, [who] actively opposed the ministry of Jesus. They were scared of His miracles. Perplexed at His teachings. Most of all, they were angry – angry and shocked – that so many people were drawn to this carpenter turned Rabbi.” [1]

Jesus had a fascinating response to that warning from the Pharisees: “’Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!’”

This is important stuff! Yes, Jesus identifies Himself as a rabbi. But, there is more. Much more! Jesus also embraces His role as a prophet. It says so, right here!

There are so many fascinating directions to go. I could write several sermons from this one short passage, each on a different topic. However—our topic for this morning is love. Remember? This whole service this morning is brought to you by the word “love!”

True, Jesus wants Herod to know that He is not afraid of Herod’s threats and muscle. True, Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem. He is going forward to reach that goal, that journey to the Cross. Eugene Peterson has a marvelous translation of Jesus’s response: “Tell that fox that I’ve no time for him right now…I’m busy clearing out the demons and healing the sick.”
Question: why did Jesus call Herod a fox? I return to my commentator, Drew McIntyre, who says, “Did Herod have red fur and a bushy tail? No. A fox had a reputation for cunning, for sneakiness, and trickery. Today, we might say, ‘a weasel.’ Throughout most of human history foxes have been regarded as clever creatures – animals that the wise farmer would not turn their back on for an instant.” [2]
The next moment, Jesus compares Himself to a hen. A hen!

I am not aware of exact practices of the keeping of chickens in Israel. I know there must have been some chicken coops in the area. Just think of Peter denying his Lord three times before the rooster crowed. But, let’s assume chicken coops were fairly common.

Jesus says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.” Using His vivid skill in drawing pictures with words, Jesus continues: “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Jesus just got done telling people He was a prophet, and He was going to continue doing His work of healing people, body and soul. The next words out of His mouth contain this warm, nurturing word picture. Can you think of anything more caring and comforting than to be drawn under the wings of a mother hen? To rest amid that soft, feathery embrace? I can’t.
Let’s transfer this situation fraught with tension to the modern day. We all know how wonderful it is to be wanted, to be welcomed and loved. This is exactly what Jesus offers us. This is what He wishes to do for us; to welcome us, and love us. Just like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings.

Yet, there is the tension of Herod, looking to kill Jesus. Jesus is in danger, and we are following Him. What kinds of images come to our minds, in that case?

Yes, we hear about the mother hen who gathers her chicks under her protective wings in dangerous situations. It can be at the eruption of the volcano at Mt. Saint Helens, or at a sudden fire in the barnyard. Yet, the hen is sacrificed to save her chicks. Stories are repeated that tell of a hen dying, showing sacrificial love towards her chicks. Her live chicks are found unharmed, safely beneath her protective wings.

Jesus is telling us exactly that. He is the protective mother hen. We are the defenseless, helpless chicks that need protection.

Here we have a feminine image of God! This is so rarely seen in the Bible, in either the Old or the New Testaments. One commentator I consulted talks about the theological rationale of women’s gender and their bodies. I remind you that women are made in the image of God just as much as men!

Speaking of her talk at a women’s retreat, Karoline Lewis says, “If [we] rarely, if ever, hear about God’s femininity, female images for God, or female characteristics of God, then even that biblical truth will be hard to believe. And, if God is mostly assumed to be male, referred to with male pronouns, and described as male, then it will be more difficult and take more energy to imagine God in female categories — and to believe that you have a place in the kingdom of God.” [3]

Yes, of course God has male attributes and characteristics. God also has female attributes and characteristics. As we can see from this motherly image or word picture that Jesus uses!

Jesus welcomes us into His embrace, into His community of love and caring. Just as a lost little chick who finally finds the way home into the nest, into his or her mother hen’s warm feathery embrace, so we can find our way into a community of caring, love, nourishing and belonging. I hope our church community extends that caring and loving welcome to everyone. Jesus wants us to know that we are welcome with Him, always.

Are you still searching for that community of belonging? That warm, caring place? I pray that we all may find it. Not only here, in this community, but especially in the embrace of Jesus.

Amen.

[1] http://drewbmcintyre.com/2010/03/01/luke-1331-35-the-fox-and-the-hen-lent-2/

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4530 “Love and Belonging,” Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher, 2016.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

Friends, Not Servants.

John 15:9-15 – May 10, 2015

handshake drawing

“Friends, Not Servants”

How would you like to have no friends? None, at all? According to several recent surveys, a significant number of American adults say that they have no friends. Today, in this fast-paced world with so many people rushing to and fro, and so many things filling our lives, who has the time for real friendship? Who has the commitment? How do we meet friendly people? How do we make room in our lives for genuine, honest relationships?

Another name for having no friends is being disconnected, or cut off. This idea of being cut off, with no friendships or relationships, to my mind, is like living without love. It is exactly what condition I am in without God.

Without God in my life, without a vertical relationship with my loving Heavenly Parent, I am lost. I am hard-pressed to find any joy in my life. This makes it very difficult for me to connect with other people in a horizontal way, in any meaningful way.

Let’s turn to our gospel reading for today. One of the important points He makes when He is talking to His disciples, our Lord Jesus mentions servants. As the Greek word doulos is translated, slave. Jesus describes His disciples being called servants, or slaves.

That image struck me. I know something about slavery at the time of the 1st century of this common era, when our Lord Jesus was here on this earth. I know about the imagery that the Apostle John brings up here in chapter 15 of his gospel: the image of slavery. Bondage. This image was very familiar to the people of the first century; ancient society was built on slavery. This image is less familiar, even distasteful for us, here in 21st century America, but John uses it several times in his gospel, including here.

If I consider a similar passage about believers being servants—slaves in Romans 6, where the Apostle Paul also talks about being a servant, a slave, I find out some interesting things. Slaves became slaves through a number of different ways: through economic hardship, by becoming prisoners of war, or by being children of slaves. Slaves were utterly dependent on their masters, and were looked upon with scorn in the world of the first century. Slaves have no rights, no voice, nothing at all except to do the will of their master. The Apostle Paul says sin is our master. So sin claims our allegiance and service.

Except—Jesus through His death on the cross has transferred us from being slaves, or servants of sin to servants of God. To me, that is good news indeed!

But wait, there’s more. Much, much more.

Jesus talks with His disciples for the last time here in the room where they ate the Passover dinner, just a few hours before He is arrested and tried. He tells them all kinds of really important things, like how to be close to Him, how to treat each other, and even commands them to love each other. Here, in this reading today, our Lord Jesus makes a tremendous statement: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends.” That’s friends! Of our Lord Jesus!

When I was doing some study last week and preparing this sermon, I happened upon a biblical reflection about this particular passage from John 15. A pastor named Melissa Bane Sevier made the following observation.

A few months ago this pastor was eating pizza with some of her church’s youth on a Sunday night at youth group. She asked them what it means to be a friend. She wrote down all the definitions, because they were better than any she could come up with. “A friend is someone who is herself.” “A friend cares about you, listens to your problems, and helps you.” “A friend thinks about you before he thinks about himself.” “A friend cares about other people’s opinions and beliefs, and respects them.” Astute descriptions coming from these teenagers. They are showing wisdom beyond their years.

Just imagine: that’s what these teens thought were the attributes of a good friend. Here, in this passage from John 15, Jesus is offering us friendship, a relationship, intimacy with God! I repeat Jesus’ words: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends.”

The Greek verb in this verse is significant, too. The Greek word for “called” is the verb “ereo.” This verb means “to declare,” or “to promise.” So, our Lord Jesus is not only calling or mentioning we are friends, He is declaring, or promising that we are now friends. This change in our status did not happen because of anything that we did or said. No. This change in status was totally up to Jesus. It’s all Him. He decided, He declared that we are now the friends of God!

This was rare in the Hebrew Scriptures. “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to a friend,” the book of Exodus says (33:11). Absolutely, the Lord extends His friendship and favor to Moses. In the book of Isaiah it is God and God only who says the same thing of Abraham. “Abraham, my friend,” God says of him (41:8). It is a staggering thought. Think about it! The friendship of God?

During the time of the first century, there was a special designation for certain, very special people. They were called Friends of the Emperor, or Friends of the King. They had the privilege to have access to him at any time, day or night. The Friends of the King had the closest and most intimate connection with him of anyone.

I have news for you—we are friends of the King. The King of Kings. We have the ability to talk to our Lord Jesus at any time, night or day. That is a tremendous opportunity, a wonderful privilege. You and I no longer have to stand afar off like servants, with our eyes lowered and faces to the ground, like servants who have no right to enter into the presence of the master. No! Jesus gave us this intimacy with God, so that God can be our best friend, our heavenly Friend!

We can see from our Lord’s words that God wishes to reveal Godself to us. Jesus tells us that He has revealed the things of God to us. That is what a friend does. How many people can you go to, can you reveal deep troubles to, or share wonderful joys?

Jesus wants to be friends with us! Good friends, the best there is!

And Jesus not only is friends with us, but He wants us to be friends with each other, to love one another. We know from experience what kind of friend Jesus is to us.  His command to us is to be that kind of friend to others. “Love one another,” He says.

And friendship is a two way street. Relationships go both ways, otherwise they are not much of a relationship. I urge you to think about yourself, about your friendship with Jesus. What kind of a friend are you to Jesus? And consider: what kind of friend is Jesus to you?

What an opportunity to have the relationship of our lives!

Praise God that God has sought us out, and offers us the opportunity to be friends with God. Good friends, the best friends there is. We can tell the Lord anything—absolutely anything at all, and we will receive understanding, help and encouragement from a loving, caring God.

What a tremendous gift! And what a tremendous God.

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!)