Peace Be with All of Us

“Peace Be with All of Us”

peace be with you, formal

Luke 24:36-49 (24:36) – April 15, 2018

Sometimes I just feel like pulling the covers over my head and not getting up in the morning. Wars, rumors of wars, bombings, fires, gas attacks, and these were just in the past week. Seriously, with all of the scary and shocking things going on in the world, the world can be a downright scary place.

No matter whether we live today in the United States or two thousand years ago in occupied Israel, there can be a lot of scary and confusing stuff going on.

In the case of our Gospel reading today, the scary and confusing stuff was going on right in Jerusalem. It was the time of the Passover, during what we today call the Passion Week. As we have been considering for the past few weeks, the occupying Roman forces in Jerusalem are watching the festival and worship situation very closely.

Sure, there are a great number of visitors from all over the known world, in Jerusalem for that great festival, Passover. But, the Roman forces must have doubled down on the populace in the city. And, even more, since the Rabbi Jesus had just entered the city only a few days before. He made a huge commotion, too, what with riding in on a donkey (like King David) on Palm Sunday, debating in the Temple during the week with the scribes, Pharisees and Sanhedrin, and getting arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane late on Thursday night and accused being Messiah. And, the crucifixion on Friday? Quite a week, for the occupying Roman forces.

Yes, we know some things in general about the disciples. They scattered, running away. Hiding, afraid that since their leader and Rabbi was just executed by the Romans on Friday, they might be arrested and executed next. In fact, Peter even denied knowing Jesus while in the high priest’s courtyard. He must have been scared to death, too.

The upper room, a larger room on the second floor of a building in Jerusalem, was one place where the disciples felt at least half-way safe. They were huddled up there, in hiding, trying to keep a low profile. Luke tells us the male disciples had already dismissed what the women disciples had told them about their Rabbi, early that morning. Something about an empty tomb, and their dead Rabbi gone. Even though Peter and John had run to the tomb and checked things out for themselves, they still did not have a clear idea what was going on.

This year, the lectionary does not have us look at the post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus when He walks with the two disciples from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus. In brief, our commentator Dr. Mark Vitalis Hoffman summarizes this section of Luke 24: “Two from the group of followers of Jesus were going to Emmaus when they encounter, but do not recognize, Jesus. They express their disappointed hope that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel, but Jesus explains how everything that happened was necessary according to Scripture. The two invite Jesus to spend the night with them. During the meal, when Jesus blessed and broke the bread, their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus, but he vanished from their sight. They rush back to Jerusalem and report to the gathered believers what had happened.” [1]

It is later that day that our Gospel reading picks up. Later in the evening, many disciples (I am assuming both male and female) are in hiding in the upper room. Luke specifically has the two disciples from Emmaus telling the rest about their encounter with Jesus.

Yet, the rest of the disciples are having difficulty believing, understanding. Even though several of these same disciples had angels and Jesus Himself telling them of the Resurrection, what gives? I suspect many of them are still paralyzed with fear. Scared to death. Afraid of the Roman soldiers coming around and knocking on the door at any moment, ready to carry off some of the disciples to be crucified, too.

How often have we been really afraid? Almost scared to death? Terror can paralyze a person. Fear can cause us to disbelieve, to run away, to get angry and fly off the handle. Don’t you think the disciples needed Jesus right then? When He appeared miraculously in their midst, many of them were still unbelieving. Still scared to death.

I think the first thing out of Jesus’s mouth was the most needed of all: “Peace be with you!” Do you hear? Jesus went straight to the heart of the disciples’ fear, their anxiety, their unbelief, and said “Peace be with you!”

Yes, we could talk about what happened after that, when some disciples thought Jesus was a ghost, so He ate a piece of fish to show His friends that He really, actually, had come back to life. Yes, we could talk about Jesus opening the disciples’ minds to the truth of the Scriptures, and how they were to be witnesses of the Good News and the forgiveness of sins.

I would like to go back to the first thing Jesus said: “Peace be with you!” During the Children’s Time, I talked about peace. There are many greetings in different languages that mean “Peace.” “Aloha in Hawaiian means affection, peace, compassion and mercy. Shalom (Hebrew) and Salaam (Arabic) mean peace, complete-ness, and prosperity. Aloha, Shalom, and Salaam can be used on meeting or departing.” [2]

Jesus wished the disciples His peace several times, recorded in the Gospels, including right here. This word is not only wishing a person peace, but “peace, shalom, and salaam” can also be wishing a person God’s presence. The disciples really needed that, too!

In the New Testament reading today from 1 John chapter 3, the aged disciple John tells us that we are the children of God. I remember when I was a mom of young children, sometimes then would get afraid. Sometimes I would comfort them, and hold them on my lap or give them hugs. Don’t you think it’s the same way with God? When we get afraid, even scared to death, we can run into God’s everlasting arms of care and concern. Our Lord Jesus can send us His peace.

The disciples really needed peace, first of all! Perhaps, they needed it most of all. God can send peace into the world today, too. Including peace into conflict in the Middle East, peace in warring regions in Africa and Asia, peace into difficult places in Central and South America. God can send peace to the streets of the cities of our country.

Jesus offers us comfort and peace, just the same way that parents (and grandparents) do. Jesus sends closeness, caring and loving, in addition to His peace.

Can you and I reach out in peace, in shalom, in wholeness and with God’s love? That is the message on my heart from the Gospel reading today. Reach out with God’s peace. Offer God’s peace to those around you today, and every day.

We can praise God for God’s peace and wholeness. God’s peace is a sure antidote to fear, today, and every day.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3627

Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman Associate Professor of Biblical Studies Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/03/year-b-third-sunday-of-easter-april-19.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 3, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015

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Follow, Carry the Cross

“Follow, Carry the Cross”

Mark 8-34 take up your cross, print

Mark 8:31-38 (8:34) – February 25, 2018

When you imagine children at play, what do you think of? Children in a schoolyard, out at recess or out at lunch break? I am not sure what children play now, but when I was in school, school children played all kinds of games. Besides hopscotch and jumping rope, there were games of Red Rover Red Rover, Mother May I?, Duck Duck Goose, and Simon Says. And, Follow the Leader in the playground among the play equipment.

When we compare children’s games today with the words of Jesus from Mark’s Gospel reading, we are looking at two very different things. When Jesus said, “Follow Me!” He was not talking about a fun thing like a children’s game. He spoke about something quite serious.

The background of these words is critically important for us to understand exactly what Jesus was getting at. What was the history, the backstory? Here we are at the center of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus had healed, taught, cast out demons, and performed other signs of power, but often in secret. And, people had questioned who this upstart Rabbi was, but with little answer.  Up until this time, Mark had only mentioned the term “the Christ” once, in the opening verse at the very beginning of the book, until here in today’s reading, in Chapter 8.

Just before this scripture reading today, the Rabbi Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do other people say I am?” Great question! We are familiar with the responses. Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah or another prophet, but you and I know better. We know different. We know the end of the story. The thing is, these disciples do not.

Jesus has been asking the disciples to follow Him ever since the first chapter of Mark. When He called James and John, Simon and Andrew, Levi and all the rest, Jesus said simply, “Follow Me!” And, they did! They left everything, in fact. Commentator Matt Skinner said “Jesus isn’t so much about gathering pupils or making sure everyone understands him. He calls followers. Want to see who he really is? Join him.” [1] Which is exactly what many people did.

Today, we are following Jesus step by step on His journey to Jerusalem and the Cross during the next weeks, throughout Lent. Similar to these early followers of the Rabbi Jesus, we are taking this following thing one step at a time. We focus on one facet of the journey each Sunday. This Sunday we look at what Jesus said about taking up the cross when we follow Him. What on earth does that mean?

Here we can see that Jesus knew where He was going, and what He was going to do. Others probably did not, and even would call Jesus crazy or somehow deluded. “What do You mean, Jesus? How can You say that?”

Didn’t Peter just say that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the chosen One of God? I suspect the disciples were thinking, what kind of mixed messages are coming from Jesus now?

Jesus not only mentioned that the disciples ought to follow Him, but He also wanted them to take up their cross. Jesus even made some mention of a person being willing to give up their life. The only comparison I can figure is that of police officers and firefighters. They “make the decision to put themselves in danger, risking their lives to save another person.  They measure their lives not by length, but by depth and quality.” [2] That sounds very similar to the sort of thing Jesus said in our reading today.

There is a problem. I can hear some people today saying, “Wait a minute, Jesus! I didn’t know that following You meant the possibility of giving up my life! I didn’t know that there was such danger and risk involved in being a Christian.”

Except, giving up one’s life was what the apostle Paul talked about over and over again in his letters to the churches in the New Testament. And, that’s what Jesus starts telling His disciples quite plainly, starting in today’s Gospel reading. Listen to Jesus: “If any of you want to come with Me,” He told them, “you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow Me. 35 For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for Me and for the gospel, you will save it. 36 Do you gain anything if you win the whole world but lose your life? Of course not!”

What is more, Jesus rebuked Peter for telling Him He—Jesus—was wrong, and for trying to keep Jesus from walking the journey to Jerusalem and the Cross. Preventing Jesus from facing the Passion and sure death. At this point, Peter did not understand the full meaning of Jesus being the Messiah, the Christ. Plus, I suspect Peter and the other disciples were not clear on what taking up their own cross and following Jesus meant, either. But, they would find out, in the months and years to come.

Yes, sometimes it is difficult to follow Jesus. And, who in their right mind would want to shoulder the difficult burden of carrying a cross?

When we consider police officers or firefighters and what challenges they face on a regular basis, sometimes we call them heroes. Yet, Jesus calls all of His followers to face any number of difficulties and challenges, too. Except, not quite like running into a burning building or running down perpetrators, but still just as challenging.

Imagine someone you know, or someone you’re related to, bearing different crosses during their life. Crosses can be burdens we carry, difficulties we face. Some crosses involve physical pain and suffering. Other crosses can be financial, relational, or mental. What are the problems you or your family are dealing with today? Last month? Next year?

This might be the cross Jesus calls for us to bear, whether dealing with a devastating disease, accident, handicap, or disability. (Seen or unseen.) On the positive side, taking up our cross might assist us as we journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem. Lutheran pastor Edward Markquart reminds us:

-To take up our cross daily means to be open and flexible to God’s plan.

-To take up our cross daily means to focus on God daily.

-To take up our cross daily means that we can fail. That is, we do not do it.

-To take up our cross daily means to try to be loving every day.

-To take up our cross daily means to go the extra mile to do our jobs in life well.

-To take up our cross daily means to work on my relationship with my relatives and with people I do not like. [3]

Like I told the children earlier, we need to live like Jesus. We have to love God every day and love the people around us even when it gets hard. Yes, Jesus tells us clearly what it is like to follow Him. It is simple, yes. But easy, not necessarily so. May we pray for the grace, strength and perseverance to continue to follow Jesus, and to take up our own crosses.

And at the end of our lives, when we stand before Christ, what does the apostle Paul say? In Romans 8, “If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 Certainly not God, who did not even keep back his own Son, but offered him for us all! He gave us his Son—will he not also freely give us all things?” Praise God, we are indeed accepted by the Messiah Jesus. We are loved by our Beloved, Jesus Christ. Amen, and amen!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1383  Matt Skinner

[2] https://sacredstory.org/2012/02/29/jesus-faces-death-taking-up-the-cross/

“Jesus Faces Death: Taking Up the Cross,” Mother Anne Emry, Sacred Story, 2012.

[3] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_a_peter_the_stumbling_blockGA.htm

“Peter: The Stumbling Block and the Way of the Cross,” Gospel Analysis, Sermons from Seattle, Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington.

@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!)

Compassion and a Rich Man

Mark 10:17-27 (10:21) – July 16, 2017

Mark 10-21 Jesus-Christ and-the-rich-man

“Compassion and a Rich Man”

If we turn on the television, read a book, or listen to a podcast or talk radio, sometimes we might hear experts giving advice. These knowledgeable experts are often from well-known places.  This week I am thinking about advice on how to live the “right” way. That’s sometimes thought to be a fruitful life, or a healthy life, or a spiritual life. Wouldn’t you be interested if you heard a radio program with a noted author or well-known expert in just this subject?

That’s the case with Rabbi Jesus, today. In today’s scripture lesson, we get just a hint of what our Lord Jesus had to deal with much of the time. Can you see this situation? I love St. Ignatius and his suggestion to put ourselves into the narrative. Let us imagine ourselves being there, right with our Lord Jesus the itinerant Rabbi, and His disciples.

Mark tells us that Rabbi Jesus (and some others) are about to leave on a journey. Can you see the hustle and the bustle as they get ready to leave? Maybe several of Jesus’s friends are concerned about last-minute details. Perhaps they have already contacted someone in the town they plan to go to, to find some kind of lodging, some kind of food and board.

I would imagine Jesus being calm and self-possessed, amidst all of this rushing around. Just like our scripture reading today says, someone runs up to the Rabbi and asks Him a parting question. After all, you don’t get an expert in religion and spiritual life coming to your town just any old day. The Rabbi Jesus was a widely acknowledged wise person, an expert in the interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Law of Moses and in lots of things associated with religious and spiritual life.

Looking at it from that angle, of course this young man would rush up and try to get the ear of the wise Rabbi just before He and His followers left their town.

The Gospel writer tells us: Jesus was beginning a journey when a man ran up and knelt in front of Him and asked, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?’”

Do we hear what this man says? He wants to know how he can get God’s approval. What is more, we can watch this man kneel humbly before the wise Teacher and Rabbi when he asks.

Let’s continue with St. Ignatius and his suggestion to imagine ourselves there with Jesus. Perhaps as one of the disciples, maybe as one of the crowd, watching and waiting to hear what the Rabbi was going to say. And, we are packed into a small area. A good amount of people usually gather around when Jesus is talking in public.

The Rabbi Jesus makes an unexpected response to the young man: “Jesus asked him, “You’re calling me good? Only God is good. You know the commandments: Don’t kill, don’t betray, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”

This is a straightforward, traditionally Jewish response that many Rabbis would give, in answer to such a question. This is the way you gain favor with God: keep the commandments. In fact, Jesus even gives a little recap of them, a “highlights” list, just in case anyone forgot.

We look to the young man, who says. “‘Teacher, I’ve always obeyed all of these, ever since I was a kid.’”

I am sure we all know someone like this. Some goody-two-shoes who always follows the rules, straight as an arrow. Pious and earnest. Always trying his hardest to win God’s approval, as well as the approval of his parents and other grown-ups.

We return to our Lord Jesus, and listen to what He said. “Jesus looked at the man and loved him. Then Jesus said to the man, ‘There’s one more thing: Go sell all your stuff. Whatever money you make, give it to the poor. Then you’ll be rich in the things of heaven. And then, come follow me.’ The man was really surprised by what Jesus said, and really sad. He had a lot of stuff, and he really loved some of it. He walked away, still upset by what he’d heard.”

Now, we are learning additional information. This is not just any young man. No, this is a rich young man. I wonder whether the rich young man was aware that all of his stuff could act as a barrier between him and God? That’s why Jesus tells him to sell all of his stuff.

Dr. David Lose said about this point in the reading, “what Jesus really meant was that we needed to unburden ourselves of whatever might be keeping us from relying on God.” [1] Yes, the rich man had a great deal of difficulty hearing these words of Jesus.

Let’s face it: these are difficult words for many people to hear. We love our stuff, don’t we? Or, if not most of our stuff, at least some of our stuff. I would really have difficulty giving up my computer and my car. I think I am not the only one in this room today for whom that is true. Others might have difficulty unburdening themselves of whatever might be keeping each one from God.

This is a huge lesson for all of us from this Scripture reading today. And yet, it is not the only lesson. Remember our sermon series? Our sermon series on compassion is continuing with Jesus having compassion on this rich young man. What does our Gospel writer say? “Jesus looked at the man and loved him.” Jesus loved this young man—this rich young man.

Dr. Lose wonders: “whatever [the young man’s] appearance on the outside, whatever his faithful and pious life, he’s still missing something, something important, something that matters, something that’s a matter of life and death.”[2]

What about us? What is our reaction to Jesus and the rich young man?

Turn it around. Imagine we are friends of the rich young man, standing right next to him, meeting Jesus. We have a lot of stuff, too. Jesus is asking us to give it all away. We may want so badly to follow Jesus! We want to travel around with Him everywhere He goes. But, since we have so much clutter, so many things, we just can’t uproot ourselves and follow Jesus.

Can you relate? “The man was really surprised by what Jesus said, and really sad. He had a lot of stuff, and he really loved some of it. He walked away, still upset by what he’d heard.”

Just as much as Jesus loved this young man, that’s how much He loves each of us. Jesus loves you, me, and every person on the face of this earth. Even when we don’t do what God has asked us to do, God still loves us. Does everyone feel God’s love for us? And, not only us as a group, everyone in this sanctuary, but also for each one, for every individual.

And, the capper for this interaction between Jesus and the young man? “The disciples were amazed at his words. Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, ‘It is so hard—can you even imagine how hard?—for someone who has so much to come to God’s kingdom.

It’d be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.’”

In other words, really, really hard. All of our stuff gets in the way between us and God’s kingdom. All of this clutter and distraction in our lives keeps us at a distance from God. We know what Jesus has asked us to do, just like this young man did. When you don’t do what God has asked you to do, how do you picture God responding to you? Do you imagine God looks at you—at us—with loving compassion like Jesus did in this story?

We might not be able to follow Jesus completely, all at once, but we can make steps in that direction. We can make small steps toward doing what pleases God. I encourage all of us to choose someone or something and be kind. Be compassionate towards them What’s more, we all will see how all of our “small steps” in loving and giving combine to create a beautiful impact of compassion in God’s world.

And, maybe, just maybe “God’s gift of salvation can actually free us to do something: to love each other, to care for God’s people and world, to share the good news…right here, right now, wherever it may be that God has placed us.” [3]

God willing, we can all show love and compassion, every day. Amen.

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/10/pentecost-20-b-curing-our-heartsickness/

[2] Ibid.

[3] 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!)

They Recognized Jesus!

Luke 24:19-35 (24:31) – April 30, 2017

Luke 24 Supper at Emmaus, Rembrandt

“They Recognized Jesus!”

In centuries past, people did not have many options when it came to traveling places over land. Sometimes, when they had a little more money, they would ride horses, or donkeys—or, use wagons or carriages. However, most people did not have that luxury. So, people would walk.

We are going to consider our Gospel lesson this morning. It is a lengthy reading, most of Luke 24. Luke talks about two disciples who are walking to a nearby village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. Does anyone here know how far seven miles is? I wanted to give you all a real-life example. If you left St. Luke’s Church here in Morton Grove and walked seven miles east down Dempster, you would end up in Evanston. Right about at Dempster and Ridge, at the Jewish synagogue Beth Emet. It would take me between two and a half to three hours to walk that far, at a moderate pace. (Just so we all know how far the two disciples walked.)

From Luke 24, this is a reading about two people on the road. (start walking from the front of the church)  “13-16 That same day two of them were walking to the village Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who He was.

17-18 He asked, “What’s this you’re discussing so intently as you walk along?’ (full stop)

Ah. We can see that they were busy talking, pouring over the information, and trying to understand what had happened.  These disciples were people who both knew the need for and had hope for the coming of a Messiah who could redeem God’s people. [1]

“They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend.”

How often have we been hoping against hope for something wonderful? Something dynamic, that will knock everyone back on their backsides? And then—and then—hope fizzles. Hope is gone. The Messiah, their leader is put to death on Good Friday (what a misnomer!), and nothing more is possible.

“Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, ‘Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what’s happened during the last few days?’

Cleopas is not mentioned in any other biblical reference. He and his unnamed companion had been followers of Jesus. There must have been a number of these lesser-known people, disciples who knew Jesus as a prophet mighty in deed and word. A Miracle Worker whom they had hoped would be the Messiah, the one to redeem Israel. [2]

(Then, Jesus asked a leading question.) ”19-24 Jesus said, “What has happened?”

(Continue walking and reading.) “They said, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed Him, got Him sentenced to death, and crucified Him. We had our hopes up that He was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find His body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.”

(Be at the back of the church by now.) Did everyone hear? Jesus chose to appear to some women, first thing. And now, Jesus appears to two unimportant, minor followers. Not even the big three disciples, Peter, James, and John. How Jesus cares for and is concerned for those who are unimportant, and sometimes shunted aside. The risen Jesus comes to them, especially! (Continue walking.) The seeming unimportant, the ones behind the scenes, the forgotten ones.

25-27 Then He said to them, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into His glory?” Then Jesus started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to Him.”

Wouldn’t you like to be on that trip, with Jesus and the two lesser-known disciples? Imagine, Jesus Himself, explaining how the scarlet thread of salvation is found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. What insights! What glory! (Walk up to the front.)

Now, we arrive at the village of Emmaus: “28-31 They came to the edge of the village where they were headed. He acted as if He were going on but they pressed Him: “Stay and have supper with us. It’s nearly evening; the day is done.”

These two caring disciples were people who were concerned for others—or at least for this traveling companion of theirs who thought He’d continue on in the evening.  “Cleopas and his friend knew how unsafe the roads were.  Surely the man who had spent so much time with them talking about Scripture would be better served by a simple meal and safe accommodations for the night.” [3]

“So Jesus went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, He blessed and broke and gave it to them. At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized Him. And then—He disappeared.”

What was that all about? Were these two men dreaming? All the talking, all the pondering of what-ifs, suppositions, different theological opinions, pro and con. There is a kind of resignation in all this, both in Luke’s story and often in our own lives.  Can’t you hear the cynical, long-suffering comments? “Get real.”  “Grow up.”  “Back to work.”  We can only imagine how the families and friends of Cleopas would offer snippy, unsolicited advice and opinions when the two got home to long untended work and family obligations. [4]

And then—and then—Jesus makes Himself known to them. Something nebulous, some intellectual and theoretical story changes in the twinkling of an eye to something real, wonderful, and concrete. Something these two men are eyewitnesses of, and can testify to.

32 Back and forth they talked. “Didn’t we feel on fire as He conversed with us on the road, as He opened up the Scriptures for us?” 33-34 They didn’t waste a minute. They were up and on their way back to Jerusalem. They found the Eleven and their friends gathered together, talking away: “It’s really happened! The Master has been raised up—Simon Peter saw him!” 35 Then the two went over everything that happened on the road and how they recognized Him when He broke the bread.”

As we look back on the movement of this narrative from Luke: 1) the two travelers are met on the road, 2) have the Scriptures opened, 3) and share in a meal that reveals the identity and presence of Christ. Then, 4) the travelers are sent out to share and live the Good News. [5] Isn’t that what happens as the two lesser-known disciples waste no time in going back to Jerusalem to share their story?

Remember, these two disciples had been on the road. Aren’t we all traveling? All on the road through life? Doesn’t Jesus come alongside of each of us, as He opens the Scriptures and explains how He has come into the world to reconcile us to God? And then, Jesus enters the house (or, church) with us, and we recognize Him when He breaks the bread of life, for us, too?

The last, and most important part, is sharing the Good News. We can tell others how Jesus has risen from the dead. We can tell others how He has changed our lives through His Word, the Bible. We can tell others how He comes to be with us each time we break bread, too. Just like Cleopas and his friend, just like Peter and the other disciples, we can turn the world upside down, too.

I close with the words of a special prayer—the Collect for today, the third Sunday of Easter, from the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer. “O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to His disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold Him in all His redeeming work; who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

 

(The Gospel reading is from the modern translation The Message, by Eugene Peterson. With gratitude, I appreciate Rev. Peterson’s translation and use his words in my sermon today.)

(I thank Carolyn Brown for her wonderful idea of traveling, of walking around the congregation in my sermon today. From Worshiping with Children, Easter 3, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/03/year-the-third-sunday-of-easter-may-4.html )

[1]  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=933  Commentary, Luke 24:13-35, (Easter3A), Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

[2] Ibid, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

[3] Ibid, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

[4] Ibid, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

[5] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3188 David Lose President, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia

 

Cup of Cold Water

(I preached this sermon last September at St. Luke’s Christian Community Church. I delivered it again yesterday, as part of the Big Soul series on Jesus in the Gospels at Epiphany UCC.)

“Cup of Cold Water”

mark-9-41-cup-of-cold-water-word-cloud

Mark 9:39-41 – (from a sermon of September 27, 2015) September 25, 2016, preached to Epiphany UCC, Chicago

This weekend is the first weekend of autumn, here in the Northern Hemisphere. The baseball playoffs are around the corner. Football season is with us again. And who isn’t interested in team rankings? The Chicago Cubs have made it to the playoffs! And whether you enjoy college football or pro ball, rankings are certainly something much discussed, in news columns, on television, and in personal conversation.

What if you do not care for sports? Have you or one of your relatives looked at Yelp lately, to check out that new restaurant down the street, and see how many stars the restaurant gets? What about U.S. News and World Report’s rankings of the top colleges in the country?

Face it, this mentality has transferred to the church, too. Who’s the top ranked preacher in the country? Does the church down the road make it on to the list of best churches in Illinois? Or what about the top ten children’s ministries in the Chicago area?

In our Gospel reading today, we see that the disciples were not immune to this kind of thinking. Even though they didn’t have the Internet, or Yelp, football, or even the printing press, we can still tell that the disciples were jockeying for position. Arguing and trying to figure out which one of them was the “best.” Who was the “greatest,” anyway?

I think Jesus made them sad, even ashamed of themselves. We can see they got very quiet when He asked them what they were arguing about on the road, just before they reached their destination for the evening. They didn’t want to admit they were arguing over superficial or unimportant things like rankings! Who was the “best,” or the “greatest.” Striving for superficial, unimportant things.  I suspect they already knew what Jesus would say about that kind of thinking and striving.

To make His point with the disciples, Jesus brought a small child into the middle of their group. Mark tells us that Jesus took the child into His arms. And then said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me but the One who sent Me.”

Wow! Pretty pointed remarks, let me tell you! In other words, Jesus said that being kind to the least of society (for that was what children were, in the first century) was far better than seeking status or striving to be the “best” or the “greatest.” The disciples were right to quiet down in embarrassment when Jesus asked them why they were arguing on the road.

But, all of that is preamble. Setting the stage for what I really wanted to talk about today. And yet, this sermon topic is a continuation of Jesus speaking about being kind, thinking about, and being of service to the least of society.

The disciples just didn’t get it. Jesus makes His point clearly, repeatedly. Being kind to those who are overlooked or ignored? Helping out those who have little or nothing, with no thought for a “return on your investment?” The disciples misunderstand or get confused, over and over and over again. Like right here.

A year ago, the people of the United States had a rare opportunity to see the head of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, in the flesh. For real. Pope Francis was here, in this country. He arrived in Washington D.C. The President, Vice President, their families, and many other members of Congress and other people in Washington were among those who had the opportunity to hear his Holiness speak to a joint session of Congress. Oh, and the Pope ate lunch with the homeless, instead of with the bigwigs at the White House.

Pope Francis then went to New York City, celebrated Mass at Madison Square Garden, drove along Central Park, and visited a Catholic grammar school in a poor, Latino and Black area of the Bronx. Then, he flew to Philadelphia. And, he celebrated a huge open-air Mass in the middle of downtown Philly. Plus, he visited a prison, as well.

I don’t know how much anyone here follows news of Pope Francis, but he is a very unusual man for someone holding one of the highest religious positions in the world. A man of humility, who does not care for the spotlight. Who loves and engages with children and goes out of his way to take “selfies” with young people. He makes a special effort to visit disabled people wherever he goes. Pope Francis is fervent about being pro-life—that’s for all life, including ending abortion as well as capital punishment. He is fervent about protecting the environment—worldwide. He does not wish to be elevated or made much of. So, of course people recognize his humility, good humor, engaging behavior, and respond to him all the more!

(I am not advocating for or against his deeply felt convictions. I’m trying to give a snapshot of Pope Francis, so that we might see how real, genuine and compassionate he is.)

I think Pope Francis would understand immediately what Jesus was saying here. Jesus wanted His disciples to think about others, first and foremost. Not jockey for position, seek high status, or try to be the “best” or “greatest.” Not to go out of our way for standing or high rank.

Jesus goes on to say, “41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.” Wait a minute. What’s this? First he’s talking about considering those on the bottom rung in society as fully human, too. Not second-class citizens! Children certainly qualify for that, as do women, the elderly, the disabled, and handicapped. As do immigrants, migrants and refugees.

Let me tell you about a college student bible fellowship in Europe, to give an example of what Jesus was telling His disciples. This comes from the prayer email sent out last September from the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, IFES Global Communications.
            “Students with SXEF Greece are mobilising to help throughout the country. Grigoris, a staff worker in Thessaloniki, writes: ‘Greece has been one of the places on the global map where a lot of quite painful changes have taken place. Little did we realize that, in our own “neighborhood”, there was place for more suffering, until we saw the caravans of refugees and migrants crossing the borders holding their babies in their arms.

We saw this situation as an opportunity to show that the Christianity we preach is practical. So we went to the northern borders where migrants are gathering, to help in any way we can.’

Sophia, a student, helping there, agreed with Grigoris. ‘Our daily missions gave us the opportunity not to just speak for God but to do something for him. Many times I felt that our actions had the biggest impact, whether with the migrants, the local authorities or humanitarian organizations.’

‘Just with a smile, a bottle of water or some food, I realized better why God wants to serve him with our actions. I think it is because that is also [God’s] own heart for us, to take away our fears and minister to our needs.’
Quite literally, we are sometimes called to give a cup of cold water to people in need. Like these college students did, in northern Greece. Giving a smile, and an encouraging touch. A handshake. Holding a cranky baby or a fretful toddler, so a tired mother can have a short break.

Are these big actions, or expensive things? Often times, no. But, they are human things. We can each do the small things we are able to do. And with a little help from everyone, we can do a whole lot!

I think of what Pope Francis said to the joint session of Congress last September: “Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. . . . On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.”

Isn’t this exactly the same thing that Jesus said to His disciples, in our Gospel reading today? Isn’t this what the college student bible fellowship found when they ministered to the hungry, thirsty and tired refugees crossing through their country? Giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name has a huge impact. The action is not a huge deed. But the smile and handshake that accompany the water, or the food, or the supplies? Priceless. And welcoming.

Showing the least of these that someone cares. Someone is concerned. They are not all alone. Each of them is made in the image of God. Just like me. Just like you.

Remember, for God so loved the world. That is, the whole world. Not just part of it. Not two thirds of it. Not just people in the Northern Hemisphere, or people who are right handed. Not just people born to married parents, or the people who are sighted and can hear. But, everyone.

What’s more, Jesus is calling for each of us, all of us, to look at each other and see God’s image in each person’s heart. For God so loved you. For God so loved me. For God so loved . . . each person. In Chicago. In Illinois. In the United States. Yes, even the whole world.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

 

Embody God’s Love

“Embody God’s Love”

John 13-34 love one another, swirls

John 13:34-35 – July 3, 2016

Have you ever seen the following scenario playing out? In a friend’s life, in a relative’s life, or perhaps on television or the movies? Two teens or young people bicker or argue, sometimes even coming to blows. A teacher or a supervisor or a coach steps in, and urges the two people to face each other, say they are sorry, and then shake hands. Then, sometimes, the relationship is repaired, even better than it was before. (At least, that is the hope.)

How often do we see the disciples of Jesus bickering? Arguing? I would not be surprised if—every once in a while—one or two of them even came to blows. Then, Jesus would have to take that adult or parental role. Encouraging His disciples to come together in relationship, in friendship, in His gentle yet firm way.

Here’s the situation. Here we are again in that Passion Week, the last week our Lord Jesus spent here on earth as a human. Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and went to a number of places with His friends that were particularly public. Out in the open. Jesus made no secret of being in Jerusalem for the Passover holiday.

Our scripture reading for today is set on this last evening. The last supper, that Passover dinner Jesus shared with His disciples. And here, in the Gospel of John, Jesus gives them some final instructions, as we can tell from this reading today. I’ll start in John 13:33. “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.”

Jesus is preparing the disciples—as best as He can—for the horrors and agony of the next twenty-four hours, and beyond. It’s true. There is a lot going on in this Passion Week, and Jesus and His disciples are still in the Upper Room. (The events of later that Thursday night and on Friday still have not happened yet.) Our Lord has some extremely important information to communicate in John 13:34. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

This is that Passover dinner where Jesus just got done washing His disciples’ feet. “As I have loved you—served you—wholeheartedly—so you must love one another.”

Problem: Jesus’s disciples must have been distracted. Fearful, anxious, forgetful. Perhaps their nerves were frayed. Tempers flared. Some might not have been able to concentrate fully on Jesus and His words, with all the tumultuous events swirling around. It’s true, many factors contributed to a fearful, anxious time. The possibility of hostile soldiers knocking at the door at any time of the day or night must have been only one of these fear-producing factors.

Jesus had a huge amount of things to contend with, too. However, here in John 13, we see Jesus once again demonstrating His never-ending love.

He shows huge love to these same guys who will fail Him, and fail miserably! Commentator Elisabeth Johnson said, “Jesus washes and feeds Judas who will betray him, Peter who will deny him, and all the rest who will fail to stand by him in his hour of greatest distress. The love that Jesus demonstrates is certainly not based on the merit of the recipients, and Jesus commands his disciples to love others in the same way.” [1]

Jesus is not referring to showing love to strangers outside of the church here. (Jesus talks about that in several other places.) He’s meaning our fellow church members! Brothers and sisters in the faith. Showing love, friendship, fellowship to those we worship with.

I am certain we all can tell horror stories about a church torn apart by arguments, or jealousy, or friction, or hurt feelings.

What about disagreements about church meetings or the color of the church carpet or Sunday service or the new pastor or the old pastor or the church music? Pro or con, big or little, one way or the other. Such disagreements and arguments are not the way to carry out this important command of Jesus.

Let’s change gears and take a look at the topic for our Summer Sermon Series, the UCC Statement of Mission. What is the section for this week? As I turn to it, I find: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called and commit ourselves: To embody God’s Love for all people.” I will repeat that last part: “To embody God’s Love for all people.”

I chose these verses from the Gospel of John to illustrate this important part of the Statement of Mission. We are not only to show God’s Love to others, but we are to strive to embody God’s Love. Go above and beyond.

My first thought was, What on earth does “embody” mean? A great place to start is close to home, and this—St. Luke’s Church, our local church—is our church family. Our church home. We are able to show others God’s Love through genuine, earnest, wholehearted, servant-love towards each other in the church.

Now is a good time to look at verse 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” Did everyone hear? Jesus is telling us to love one another. That means to get along with one another, not bicker and argue and fuss with each other. What better way to let everyone outside of the church know that we love one another—to be genuine and pleasant to each other, to care for each other, to go out of our way for each other.

This is for real. Not pretending, not putting on a false face. For real.

How many of us know someone who gossips about other people in their church? I am not talking about anyone in this church, mind you. But I know we all know people in other churches. What about someone who is mean to other people in their church? Or, someone who ignores others, or is openly disrespectful, or even goes around trying to stir up trouble for others in their church? I know these awful things go on at churches all across the country, every day.

Would it be different if we tried things the way Jesus wanted us to do? What if we loved others? Could we strive to embody the love of Jesus? Show His love to everyone we meet, and especially in the church? What kind of witness would that be to people outside of our church? Wouldn’t they be curious about St. Luke’s Church?

“I wonder what is happening at that church? What gives? What kind of preaching is going on there? Those people really show each other that they love and care for each other. I’d like to find out more about that church!”
One of the commentators I respect has an article on just this subject. I quote from John Pavlovitz: “As a Christian, Love is the only acceptable legacy I care to leave the world; not Love covered in doctrine, not Love couched in religion, not Love loaded down with caveats and conditions; just the beautifully potent thing itself, distilled down to its essence and delivered directly to people as honestly and purely as I can.

“And let’s not kid ourselves, most people know when they’re really being loved and when they been handed a lousy imitation with the same name—especially when it comes to religious people. I’ve come to believe that if someone’s color, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation keeps you from fully loving them, you’re probably doing Love wrong.” [2]

Thank you, John. Loving others in Jesus’s way is what we are commanded to do, what we have been called to do. Yes, we can celebrate Jesus and His love for us! And, we can take the next step—the step He commands.

Love one another. No fooling. For real.

Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Commentary, John 13:31-35, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2016. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2830

[2] http://johnpavlovitz.com/2015/09/18/i-want-to-do-love-right/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=johnpavlovitz

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

A Blessing from Jesus

“A Blessing from Jesus”

Mark 10 Jesus blesses the children

Mark 10:13-16 – October 4, 2015

Who doesn’t love babies and small children? A small minority of people do not care for them, but by and large, babies and toddlers bring a smile to many people’s faces. Take social media, for example. Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter. Do you want a lot of “likes” or “retweets?” Put up a photo or a picture of a darling baby or toddler, and watch how many people share or retweet your post.

We see, today, pictures of Jesus welcoming small children, even babies. Wonderful scenes! Darling, adorable, even touching pictures. However, I caution you—modern ideas of the innocence of children and the freedom we in 21st century America associate with young ones is not consistent with the first century understanding of children. But I’ll get back to that, later on.

This week’s sermon is a continuation of last week’s sermon. Last week—I’m reminded of my summer sermon series, which I compared to a radio serial. “When last we left Jesus, our intrepid hero—!” As I was saying, last week we talked about how much the disciples just didn’t understand the point Jesus was talking about.

In last week’s sermon, to make His point with the disciples, Jesus brought a small child into the middle of their group. Mark tells us that Jesus took the child into His arms. Then said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me but the One who sent Me.” Here, again, same story. The disciples are really dense. Very similar situation in this case, and they just don’t seem to understand what Jesus is saying.

Let me set the scene for today’s reading The Rabbi Jesus is teaching, as He so often does. He does not discriminate! He doesn’t only teach to men, but also to women. And the women, often being moms, grandmothers, aunts or older sisters, sometimes bring their children with them to the open-air teaching sessions.

I suspect that Jesus was one of those people who loved and cared about children. Was good with little ones. Can’t you imagine Jesus as being welcoming towards babies, toddlers, children, adolescents? All the kids! Just from His brief interactions with children in the Gospels, I get that feeling. And, I bet moms and grandmas could tell that about the Rabbi Jesus, too.

So, when women try to bring their children to the Rabbi Jesus for a blessing, what happens? Our reading from the Gospel of Mark says that the disciples rebuke those who are bringing the children to Jesus. As I looked at alternate translations, one had the disciples censuring the adults for trying to pester their Rabbi! That’s a strong expression of disapproval!

Hadn’t these guys learned anything from their recent discussion with Jesus? When Jesus brings a small child into the middle of the circle, lifts the child in His arms, and says, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me.” Are these men that dense? I guess they are, because in today’s reading Jesus gets really upset with them when He finds out that the disciples are turning parents and children away.

Now, I want everyone to think of our 21st century kind of warm, fuzzy, frolicking idea of childhood, the concept where every child is lifted up as an individual, special, unique and loved. Is everyone thinking of that idea? That idea is absolutely true. However, I have news for you: the first century had no such idea.

I’ll give you a snapshot of two competing but similar ideas from the first century. One, the Roman view. The father—and by that I mean the oldest brother in a family—was the top dog. He ruled the roost. He was the head of the whole extended family. That means younger brothers, and their wives, sisters, and any other dependents. Like elderly relatives, or babies, children, or young adolescents. He was the head of the family, or in Latin, the pater familias.

Children were on the very bottom of the ladder, socially and in terms of that culture. The pater familias could decide whether a baby or small child would be accepted into the family group! So, a baby, a child, did not have any standing in society. At all.

But Jesus and the disciples lived in Palestine. On top of the Greco-Roman culture, they also had Jewish culture to deal with. The Jewish concept of the patriarch was somewhat similar, but not exactly the same. Children were seen as a blessing from the Lord. But, again—the position of children was vulnerable. In both cases—the Greco-Roman culture as well as the Jewish culture, children were dependent, even disregarded. Children were very much counted among “the least of these,” that expression Jesus used in Matthew 25. The ignored of society, overlooked, left out, less than.

All very interesting, you might be thinking. But what has that to do with you and me, in the here and now?

What about these children? These little ones, the downtrodden of society, the overlooked? Jesus rebukes His disciples for their poor treatment of children! In essence, He tells them off! And then, Jesus welcomes the children to Him. I bet He even took them into His lap. Mark tells us He held them in His arms, certainly. And blessed them.

What about last week, when Pope Francis was here in the United States? What do you think parents and grandparents thought when the Pope—personally—blessed their children? I understand that Pope Francis has a special place in his heart for children and young people. I think Jesus did, too!

I have a further question. Does Jesus love only Jewish children? That’s who He was blessing, here in Mark. Do you think Jesus also loved Samaritan children? What about Greek children? Roman children? What about children from all over Africa? Or, from India? Or China or Mongolia? Or children from Gaul (now parts of France and Germany)? Or, across the ocean, indigenous American children? Or indigenous Australian children?

You remember the song “Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” It does not matter what a person’s culture is, or social standing, or any other ranking system. Jesus still wants to embrace them, bless them, and welcome them. That goes for children as well as for adults. Multi-ethnic? Jesus welcomes you! Multi-cultural? Jesus welcomes you, too! No matter what, no matter where, no matter who.

A minister, who used to post to a sermon discussion group I sometimes look at, put up this entry a few years ago. “One of the greatest joys of my ministry is that I serve a church which welcomes children of all ages to the Table. It is so meaningful to serve children as their parents help them break off the bread and dip it in the cup. True communion, true welcoming. … As I invited people to come to the Table, I realized that no one had told me they would be helping me serve, so asked, “Who will help me serve today.” An 8 year old boy who was already up and ready to receive to communion, said, “I will” “Oh dear,” I thought, “what will people think if I have him serve?” I was sure most would be okay, but I thought some may take exception. But I realized there was no way I could refuse such an eager heartfelt offer. So he stood beside me and offered the bread. … I’m certain it was a meaningful experience for him— it certainly was for me. I realize that the “legalities” of some would have said no to his serving, but I know that our Lord said, “Let the little children come to me…”

Here’s a final thought. Jesus transforms children from their lowly, insignificant, disregarded state into wonderful examples for the disciples to follow. Jesus here tells us we all ought to approach Him in the same way as little children do. Wonderful examples for us adults to follow today, too.

When we come to worship, and when we come to communion, we are to come as little children. Trusting, dependent, vulnerable. We do not give ourselves grace and mercy. Instead, Jesus freely offers grace and mercy to all who come to Him. We can praise God for the boundless love and the radical grace extended to each of us, each day.

@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!