Encourage, Nurture and Communicate

Luke 18:15-17 (18:16), Mark 10:13-16 – August 6, 2017

Luke 18-16 Jesus, children, stained glass

“Compassion: Encourage, Nurture and Communicate”

Encourage, nurture and communicate. These are three strong action words! Why on earth do I have these three verbs, or action words, as the title of my sermon today? Especially in the middle of a summer sermon series on compassion?

Our gospel reading is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 18. This is a situation where the disciples are being really thick-headed. By forbidding young children and babies to get close to “their” Rabbi Jesus, the disciples are definitely not being compassionate. In fact, this is an unkind and unfeeling act. Sadly, we know this kind of unkind, unfeeling behavior is typical of the disciples on much more than one occasion. It might even be typical of followers of Jesus today—this behavior may be even typical of people we know in our own neighborhoods.

Encourage, nurture and communicate. Those are action words that sound like Jesus. What’s more, I suspect the disciples might chase us away from Jesus if we act in that way, too. Encouraging others; nurturing and communicating to others, in love and friendship, showing others the love of Jesus. Are the disciples really so thick-headed and dense that Jesus has to rebuke them? I am afraid so.

We are going to go back two months, to the middle of June. In the Wednesday midweek bible study, we took the opportunity to begin crafting a revised mission statement for St. Luke’s Church. Using the excellent book The Path by Laurie Beth Jones, the bible study members and I went through a series of exercises and steps to winnow through the different types of words and phrases which might often be listed in mission statements.

Our first puzzle piece in the revised mission statement was to find some action words, or strong verbs, that describe what we as a church have been doing among ourselves in the past, and what we wish to do in the present for those inside and outside the church, for outreach.

In other words, we focused on our church’s unique gifts and background, on our passion. What are we passionate about, as a church? If our mission holds no passion, we won’t go much of anywhere. The word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek words “en” and “theos,” which mean “in God.” What are we enthusiastic or “in God” about? [1]

Let us take another look at our Gospel reading for today. What were the people in our Gospel text for today excited about? Reading from Luke 18: “15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them.” The parallel passage in Mark also mentions people bringing “young children” to Jesus.

Do you hear? Parents and even grandparents were excited to have the Rabbi Jesus place His hands on their children. They wanted Jesus to bless their children! That’s what they were passionate about! That’s what they were enthusiastic about!

How can we—as a family of faith—take what most excites us and use it to change things in our neighborhood—in the nation—in the world?

Every mission requires action. Action words are verbs. The bible study looked at a long list of action verbs. We kept our church and what we are good at in mind, and, what we wanted to see our church do in this neighborhood, too. We figured out the three most meaningful, purposeful and exciting verbs out of over 200 action words that referred specially to our particular church and what we are good at. That is puzzle piece number one.

And, yes. That is where encourage, nurture and communicate fit in. These action words are the words we chose as meaningful, purposeful and exciting words for St. Luke’s mission.

Turning back to our Gospel reading for today, we need to examine the thick-headed disciples and their hasty halt to the babies and children who wanted to come to Jesus. What were the mistakes the disciples made? How can we do better, today?

Let’s take our three action words. I would like to ask you: can we as a congregation encourage people to come to Jesus? Can we encourage children, young people, adults and seniors to come to Jesus? Our second action word is nurture. Can we nurture each other in the love of God within this church building? How about nurturing others who are not in this family of faith? And third, we can all communicate God’s love, every day. Not only within the church, but outside. On the street. In our homes. To everyone we meet.

To continue with the story of how we built the mission statement piece by piece, the bible study examined what we stand for, as a congregation—as a family of faith. What principle, cause, value or purpose would we be willing to defend…devote our lives to? For example, some people’s key phrase or value might be “joy” or “service” or “justice” or “family” or “creativity” or “freedom” or “equality” or “faith” or “excellence.” What is St. Luke’s Church’s CORE? What is the most fundamental value/purpose for St. Luke’s Church?

Again, we went through a whole list of meaningful and worthwhile phrases and values. The bible study talked about a few of the ones we found most important, and came up with three finalists: integrity, faith and welcome. This is puzzle piece number two in our mission statement.

What exciting possibilities are open to us, as a congregation?  Someone asked Laurie Beth “What if I come up with the wrong mission statement?” When she asked him what his current mission statement was, he didn’t have one. She told him, “Well, whatever you come up with will be 100 % more accurate than the one you have right now.” A good mission statement will be inspiring, exciting, clear, and engaging. It will be specific to our congregation and our particular enthusiasms, gifts, and talents. [2]

Let’s go back to the thick-headed disciples, who just did not get what Jesus was trying to get across to them. As Luke mentions, “15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.” Can you imagine a follower of Jesus kicking someone out of the youth group? Or telling someone they are not welcome in a bible study or a men’s breakfast? Or, at service on Sunday morning? Can you imagine someone at our church doing something like that?

This is one big reason why integrity, faith and welcome were so important to our mission statement. We considered integrity, faith and welcome to be St. Luke’s Church’s CORE, or the most fundamental value or purpose for St. Luke’s Church.

Which brings us to puzzle piece number three. Who is important to us, as a family of faith? Which group or cause excites us? Who do we want to come alongside? We in the bible study chose three groups that we most want to reach, or feel the most empathy for. We can impact these in a positive, meaningful way: children, families and individuals.

What was our Lord Jesus’s response to the disciples? “Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Jesus valued children and young people. Society as a whole did not think very much of children at all. Certainly not in His time, and not so much in ours, either. Worldwide, the position of children and young people is not high—especially of pre-teen and teenage girls, and women, too.

It is imperative that St. Luke’s Church reaches out with the Love of God to children, families and women, too.

How can we reach out in love, to those inside the church, and out?  Reach out with God’s Love, that overarching, undergirding base, the end-all and be-all to everything? We can reach out through loving words and actions, good works, food pantries and other service projects.

Jesus had a compassionate, one-sentence mission statement, which He states in Luke 19:10. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” That is what He gave His entire life to. St. Luke’s Church’s compassionate mission statement is: to ENCOURAGE, NURTURE and COMMUNICATE in INTEGRITY, FAITH and WELCOME to children, families and individuals through loving words/actions, good works, food pantries and other service projects.

Are we serious about our mission? God willing, we shall be. Now, go and do likewise. Encourage, nurture and communicate God’s love in integrity, faith and welcome. To everyone we meet.

 

[1] The Path, Laurie Beth Jones, (New York, NY: Hachette Books), 49.

[2] The Path, Laurie Beth Jones, (New York, NY: Hachette Books), 64.

@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!)

Generous With Our Hearts

“Generous With Our Hearts”

Jesus heals son of royal official John 4

John 4:50 – March 22, 2015

Important people are just that—important! Ever try to see one, face to face? Sometimes we go through a receptionist, or an administrative assistant. Make several telephone calls, or emails, and confirm the appointment? It can be really difficult, just getting the attention, being squeezed into the schedule of a very important person.

That’s the situation we are faced with in our scripture reading today. The two main characters are a royal official, a very important person. He was reputed to be important—a big man, regionally known. And, the Rabbi Jesus. Let me remind everyone again: this was the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the area around Galilee, so Jesus was not very widely known, yet.

Can we compare this VIP situation to any parallels today? Do we know any very important people, in our workplaces, neighborhoods or schools? How about a school principal? A very busy person! What about our town’s mayor, or the local state representative? Again, really important people. What about your company’s president, or CEO? These all are people who pull a lot of weight, who have a great deal of responsibility.

Let’s go back to this reading from the Gospel of John. The royal official here in Chapter 4 has a big problem. He has a sick son. A really sick son. No matter how important the official was, he was a father, at the same time. And his son was really sick.

How about important people, today? A school principal, a town mayor or local state representative? A company’s president? Sure, each of them might pull a lot of weight and shoulder a great deal of responsibility. But—each of them has loved ones. Any of the loved ones may very well get sick. And sometimes, get really sick. What the Gospel writer tells us about this royal official is that he was a very concerned parent. A good, loving parent.

Those of us who are parents or grandparents or uncles or aunts know about the anguish and pain of having a sick relative. Especially, a sick child. This congregation knows the concern and the time and the many, earnest prayers that have been offered for loved ones from our church. In the year that I have been here, I can think of several, including our miracle big boy, L! And, Sunny’s friend B. These children’s parents and other loved ones went all out to get help for their dear children.

This royal official in our reading today is no different. He was so concerned about his son! The Gospel reading states that the ailing son was close to death. The father dropped everything! Everything in his very busy, very important schedule! The official took the time to seek out Jesus, and travel for a whole day, way out of his way, to beg for this man’s help.

Let’s focus on Jesus, for a moment. A miracle-worker, Jesus is called. Here He is, back in His home town. Still in the area where there were people who knew Jesus’ family. I would like to remind everyone—in verse 44, “Jesus Himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in His own country.” Jesus had been welcomed back into the area after He turned the water into wine, but many people remembered Him as the boy and young man He once had been, before He became a Rabbi.

Plus, I suspect certain people merely wanted more miracles. Many just wanted to see a dog-and-pony show, and ooh and ahh over the flash and dazzle, the miracles, the signs from God.

What about this royal official? This very important man from Capernaum? Even though he may have—initially—scoffed at the reports of Jesus doing miracles, especially turning water to wine, by this point he is desperate. He dropped everything and traveled for a whole day to come and see Jesus! He had a genuine need—that is, his son was close to death. He begs and pleads for Jesus to accompany him back to Capernaum.

Today, so many of us have friends who are sick, or loved ones in the hospital or rehab centers, or at home. Sure, our world is broken. As our friends from the website #40acts mention, no one is exempt from pain and sorrow. Many, many people become ill, some chronically, even permanently ill. Death is an integral part of the human experience. We all are born. We all die. As my acquaintance Rabbi Joe said, “We all have an expiration date.”

Yet, this royal official had hope! This royal official came rushing up to Jesus. Can you just see their encounter? Perhaps in the middle of the street, or in the town marketplace.

We might think Jesus’ response is out of left field. What? What is He talking about? “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told the official, “you will never believe.” One of the most interesting parts about this response is how Jesus says it. In Greek, the word “you” is plural. Let me say it again, a bit more colloquially. “Unless y’all-people see signs and wonders, y’all will never believe.” Now, I think Jesus made this statement in a public place, with a bunch of people around. He wasn’t just talking to the official. No! Jesus was addressing a group. Y’all.

We see the official begging. He pleads with Jesus to come with him, to heal his sick son. “Sir, come with me before my child dies.” This very important person is a father with a genuine need, a father whose heart is breaking with worry and anxiety about his son. And Jesus? His internal compass always turns toward those whose hearts are breaking. Jesus’ response to the official? “Go. Your son will live.”

The official was able—through the veil of great worry and anxiety over his son—to really hear Jesus’ words. Moreover, this father was able to take Jesus at His word and go home. He may have been wondering exactly who Jesus was. A prophet? “Did Jesus hear a message from God that my son would be healed?” Or, perhaps, even, the Messiah? “Did this Rabbi Jesus cause my son to become well through a miracle?” Regardless, the official started back to Capernaum.

Let’s hear verses 51 to 53 again. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.” 53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.

Wow! And again I say, wow! We can see that this official did not come to Jesus with false motives, or just wanting to see a miracle-worker. On top of this, the official willingly left when Jesus told him the boy had been healed—long distance, no less! Then, when his servants confirmed the healing sometime later, this father—this official knew for sure. Jesus performed a miracle. A sign from God. The official believed Jesus, and so did the rest of his household.

Is Jesus ready to meet us in our distress? In the middle of our pain and sorrow? I think you know the answer to that. Jesus is ready to meet us, to walk with us, in all these situations. Does anyone have sick loved ones? Jesus is there, at your side. How about pain and sorrow in life? Jesus will walk next to you, keeping you company. Does the world seem broken, and as if it will never be fixed? Jesus is ready to meet us, to help us pick up the broken pieces. To encourage, support, and heal in any one of a number of ways.

Just as this official did something right–he came to Jesus when he was in genuine need! So, we are invited to come to Jesus when we have needs, too. Jesus can heal our broken hearts, just as much as He can heal our broken world. Plus, we can reach out and allow Jesus to use our hands, our feet, our voices to come alongside of others, too! We can be partners with Jesus, to help others. Just like Jesus, we can see needs around us and respond from our hearts. Respond with generosity and kindness. May it be so! Praise God, amen!

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions for Lent 2015. Do Lent generously!

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

Generous With Our Actions

“Generous With Our Actions”  (delivered at St. Luke’s Church, Morton Grove, Illinois)

John 5:8-9 – March 1, 2015

Ever know someone who is a pessimist? A sad sack? Always down in the mouth? Things constantly seem to go wrong for this poor guy! (Or, girl, depending.) Our Gospel reading has someone who seems to typify this type of person. I am talking about a starring character in this passage from John Chapter 5.

Let’s set the scene. Here we are, in Jerusalem. The Rabbi Jesus came to the city periodically. He was an itinerant rabbi, after all, traveling through Galilee, Judea, even Samaria. Jesus and His followers came to the capital city to worship at the Temple on a regular basis. While Jesus and His friends were walking by a famous healing pool called Bethesda, Jesus must have seen a great number of people who were sick, lame, and otherwise disabled.

According to one of my commentaries, the famous pool was placed right over a stream which still flowed underneath the city of Jerusalem. That reminds me of something we have in abundance here—water! Little streams and waterways flow right through this whole area of Morton Grove, a former wetlands area. Our trustee Bob tells me we have a small section of the church parking lot where there is a source of water underneath. Last summer, when the parking lot was stripped and repaved, the water started bubbling up.

So, I can relate, in part, to this reading. Apparently, the underground stream beneath the pool of Bethesda made the waters of the pool bubble up periodically. And, the folklore of that area had a tale to explain the bubbling. An angel came and stirred the water around. Made it bubble up. The first person in the water after the bubbling was healed! Or so the local tale of healing went. So, many blind, lame, or paralyzed people used to sit or lie on the sides of the pool, just waiting for the next time the waters were stirred up.

It’s not uncommon for people who have various illnesses to gather around mineral springs. Think of the springs around Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. Or, in our own country, of the waters of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Long before the Spaniards arrived on our shores, the waters already had a name for healing and being curative.

Let’s go back to the pool of Bethesda. There was a complication here. A snag. I am not sure exactly how Jesus found out about this particular man—out of all the poor people lying and waiting around the pool. Perhaps He was told about a particularly sad tale about a paralyzed man who had been lying there next to the pool for thirty-eight years. Imagine! Thirty-eight years!

This is the man I was thinking about when I started my sermon. The sad sack. Nothing ever went right for this poor guy! I wouldn’t blame him for being depressed and disappointed with his life. Things certainly hadn’t been particularly rosy for this man. Not for a long time.

Let me ask again. Do you know anyone who often is pessimistic? Sad? Disappointed in life? Has life continued to give him—or youor me—only lemons? I know two people like this. One, in particular, always has problems with his house. He isn’t handy, so he regularly needs to call handymen. Or contractors. Or the plumber. If it isn’t one thing, it’s the other. And if it isn’t the house, it’s his car. Almost as if he was walking around underneath a portable raincloud. Raining on his head all the time. Or so it seems.

With a life full of sadness and disappointments, this paralyzed man who had been by the pool for thirty-eight years must have had huge barriers and blocks built up! Built up, at least, in his mind. In his expectations. In his whole demeanor. It’s how he lives. It’s his—sad—lot in life.

What does the Rabbi Jesus ask this man? John tells us Jesus knew the man had been lying there for a long time. But, listen closely to Jesus’ question: “Do you want to be made whole?”

Here’s one possible response, borrowed from a sermon by a fellow minister.

“No thanks, I think I’ll just stay here on my pallet and wait for the waters to ripple. I’ve been here 38 years and I know what to expect and I know all of the other people nearby. True, I’m probably not going to get better, but – you know – I’ve gotten used to being here. So, thanks all the same, Jesus, but I’ll just continue to lie here.” This kind of response from the man can be understandable.

Let’s go one step further and listen again to this middle-aged, perhaps even older paralyzed man grumbling to Jesus. “These young whippersnappers, lying next to the pool! Can you imagine, these young punks can get to the water before me! Then, they get healed! So, I’m always too late!” As we listen, we can hear this man’s chronic complaining, his excuses, his inability to get to the healing waters in time.

We come back to Jesus, again. Remember, He asked this man whether he wanted to be made whole. Essentially, whether he wanted to change. Change can be scary! Change can be different, even difficult—something this man has probably never experienced before! Lying by the pool? Waiting for the waters to bubble up? That’s what that paralyzed man knew, and knew well. Getting up, and being made whole?? That could be really scary for this man!

Jesus knew this man was scared. Tentative. Possibly, downright disbelieving. But—Jesus, being Jesus, knew exactly what this paralyzed man needed. He needed to get actively involved in his own healing! Not simply to be a passive recipient of Jesus’ gift of healing, His gift of generosity. So Jesus said, “Stand up. Take up your mat, and walk.” This man was to take an active part in his own healing process!

We don’t have a blow-by-blow report of exactly what happened as this man tottered to his feet, or how his muscles and ligaments were miraculously healed and renewed, so he could stand and walk again. All we do know is that what Jesus commanded, happened! Praise God!

Just as Jesus did not want this man to passively receive healing, in the same way, Jesus doesn’t want passive people today, people who just lie on the couch, or sit in the pew. He wants us—that’s all of us—to be active! Actively involved in responding in joy, meaning and purpose.

Just as the paralyzed man found his legs were strong, so we can start being active, and finding our legs are strong enough for us to walk—or even sit—beside others who are in pain and need help. Our arms are actively empowered to embrace our enemies and the outcasts. And remember the paralyzed man and his excuses? When we are actively involved in showing people the love and generosity of God, we no longer make excuses.

At this church, we have many ways for members and friends to be active! Actively involved in showing the generosity of Jesus. The Maine Township Food Pantry. By bringing a few cans or jars or boxes for the pantry and putting them in with the rest of the collection out in the narthex, that’s getting involved! What about the Diaper Pantry, our mission agency of the week? We can buy some diapers and drop them off in the collection barrel in the hallway. And, volunteering at the Kids Academy, the preschool here at the church during the week. Come ask me after the service, and I’ll be happy to give you further information. Those are just three of many excellent ways to actively get involved, and to show the love and generosity of God.

God encourages each of us to get up off our mats—off our pews, too. We can go out into the community, and serve others. Just as Jesus did for this paralyzed man, so we are encouraged to be actively generous to others. Like this formerly-paralyzed man, we, too, can walk forward to new life in Jesus Christ.

Praise God! Amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions for Lent 2015. Do Lent generously!

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