What Are You Expecting?

“What Are You Expecting?”

Jesus teaching

Luke 6:17-23 (6:18-19) – February 17, 2019

Have you ever been expecting something, with all your heart? Perhaps, getting to a stadium early, and expecting a great ball game? Or, arriving at the church, expecting a wedding of two people who are dear to you? Maybe, finally going to a concert you’ve been waiting for, for many months. You are there with many other people. And, all of you have such expectations!

Expectations—of what?

We see something so similar with the scripture reading Eileen just read to us, from Luke chapter 6. Yes, this was early in the Rabbi Jesus’s ministry, but there already was talk about this promising young Rabbi. He not only teaches with authority, but this Jesus heals people’s diseases, too! And, He even casts demons out of people!

Wouldn’t that be something to travel a long distance for? Just imagine—a Rabbi, a high-profile teacher who spoke with authority. On top of that, He’s a healer and miracle-worker, too! That is something to see, indeed!

We need to step back a bit, and look at the bigger picture. Did you know that Luke chapter 6 contains much of the same information that Jesus preached in Matthew, chapters 5, 6 and 7? Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount—leading off with the Beatitudes—is summarized in about one third of the space, right here. In Luke’s Sermon on the Plain.

Both sermons contain much of the same information, except sometimes in different phrases and from a slightly differing point of view. Matthew was one of Jesus’s disciples, he was Jewish, and an eye witness. Dr. Luke was a Greek, he was writing his Gospel some years later, and relied on the testimony of a number of first-person accounts. Just so you can see these two sermons side by side.

Instead of diving into the sermon right away, I want us to look at the people who were hearing it. Dr. Luke is quite particular in his wording: he wants us to know that people from all over are listening, from down south in Judea and Jerusalem (good, God-fearing Jews), as well as people from the coast in the north, from the cities Tyre and Sidon. This second group of people was more mixed, some Jews, but secular, pagan Gentiles as well.

Luke mentioned the disciples, specifically. These were the twelve disciples, recently hand-chosen by Jesus. Moreover, “there are the larger crowds of disciples who are followers of Jesus, who have responded to His ministry, but who have not received a special call from Jesus.”[1] Quite a diverse group, indeed. And, Jesus preached to them all.

Have you ever been in a crowd of all different kinds of people? At a ball game, or, in a crowd at a concert, perhaps. I’ve been there, and I have felt the camaraderie, the fellowship and general good nature of certain kinds of crowds.

Reading again from Luke 6: “Jesus went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of His disciples was there and a great number of people who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured.”

Expectant? I suspect that is exactly how this crowd was feeling. Even before Jesus can start preaching, people surged around Him. Listen, again from Luke: “and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.”

People not only wanted to see Jesus, they wanted a word of comfort or encouragement from Jesus. And, people wanted to be healed by Jesus most of all! Did you notice that Jesus did not just heal people from their physical problems, but also their spiritual and psychological difficulties, too? Such miracle-working activity must have brought people many miles to see the Rabbi Jesus.

As the Rev. Ernest Lyght mentions, “Perhaps there are some similarities between the crowd on the plain and the crowds that come to our churches. When you look out into your congregation, whom do you see? What are their needs? Who are the people who come to our churches? Do they reflect the neighborhoods around the church? Surely, they are folks who want to hear a Word from the Lord, and they want to be healed. They come with certain expectations.”[2]

Which leads to the next question: what are your expectations for the worship service, this morning? Were you expecting a warm, familiar service, with nice, familiar hymns, and a warm, comforting sermon? Or, were you surprised and even taken aback when we heard the testimony about a lovely ten-year-old boy with autism who wrote that wonderful poem for his English assignment? (I had tears in my eyes when I first finished reading that poem. God bless that boy, and God bless that teacher, too.)

Does Jesus challenge you – challenge me – in our daily walk with Him, or are you just looking for a nice, easy, quiet stroll with Jesus? What are your expectations?

Let’s look at some of Luke’s version of the Beatitudes: “’Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.’”

Whoa, wait a minute, Jesus! I thought You were warm and cuddly, like a teddy bear. At least, that’s what I heard. From Sunday school, or somewhere. Where did Jesus come up with all this about hungering, and weeping, with people hating me, excluding me, insulting me, even rejecting me. What gives, Jesus? What happened to that warm, fuzzy Christianity I thought I knew?

Christianity is not a religion, being a Christian is a relationship. It’s a series of relationships. Jesus and me, vertically. Sure! But, it’s Jesus and all of us too. Plus, it’s the horizontal relationship between you, and me, and you, and you—and all of us, with each other. That is what Jesus came to offer all of us. A radical change in relationships between God and humanity. And, in how we all relate to each other. No matter who.

Have you told anyone about this radical, out-of-this-world friendship between you and God? Have you been changed in how you relate to everyone you meet?

Bishop Lyght is now retired from the United Methodist Church. The UMC has for its advertising catch phrase “open hearts, open minds, and open doors.” Great images! Wonderful things to strive for, too. We can take that phrase to heart, and ask ourselves: do we have open hearts? Are our hearts open to everyone who may walk in to our church? Do we have open minds? Are our minds open and accepting of everyone, no matter what ethnicity, mental challenge, sexual orientation, or other kind of differences they might have?

Finally, do we have open doors? Who are the people who do not come to our church, on this corner? Do we truly welcome all people? In our church? On the street or at work or at line in the grocery store? In our neighborhoods?

What are your expectations? Check with Jesus, and see who He would welcome.

 

(Many thanks to the Rev. Ernest Lyght and http://www.umcdiscipleship.org for ideas and assistance for this series on discipleship.)

[1] http://www.crivoice.org/lectionary/YearC/Cepiphany6nt.html

Lectionary Commentary and Preaching Paths (Epiphany C6), by Dennis Bratcher, at The Christian Resource Institute.

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-2-worship-planning-series/february-17-sixth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/sixth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2019-year-c-preaching-notes  

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Searching for Jesus

“Searching for Jesus”

Luke 2-48 boy-jesus-in-the-temple-with-rabbis

Luke 2:41-52 (2:51) – December 30, 2018

Have you ever lost a child? Or a grandchild? I have, briefly. What a nightmare for a parent or grandparent. I remember how worried I was, and how I called and called for my oldest daughter. That is the situation we see in our Gospel reading this morning from Luke 2. Can you imagine Mary and Joseph’s panic and fear when they suddenly realize their son had disappeared from their large group of relatives and friends from Nazareth?

I remember how frightened I was when I searched for my child, and I just searched for my four-year old daughter for five minutes in a department store. I cannot even imagine how shocked and terrified Mary and Joseph were, when they finally figured out that Jesus had not even started out with His family in the morning, leaving Jerusalem.

Let us consider what we know from the Gospels. We know a lot about the time right before and after Jesus was born. Luke tells us a lot, in the first and second chapters of his Gospel record. We can assume he interviewed Jesus’s mother Mary herself. (Otherwise, how on earth would he know certain intimate details about Mary’s pregnancy and birth?)

Also, the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew lets us in on Joseph’s side of the birth narrative. We find out that Joseph also had a visit from an angel, to let him know the particulars about the Child his fiancée was carrying. Matthew’s Gospel also tells us of the visit from the wise men, or Magi, that we will hear about next week. But, what else do the Gospels tell about the child Jesus, or the teenager Jesus? Other than this narrative from Luke 2, absolutely nothing.

In such an age of constant, 24/7 news and endless information through the computer and other media such as we live in right now, this lack of biblical information might amaze us. However we might feel about it, this Gospel reading today is the only snapshot we get of Jesus between the time He was a toddler and the time of His baptism, at 30 years old. What can we learn from this narrative? Can we search out some message, some meaning for us today?

We begin with Mary and Joseph. As Luke relates, after searching throughout their caravan of relatives and friends on the way back from Jerusalem, after the Passover celebration, Mary and Joseph cannot find their son. So, they quickly return to the capital city, to Jerusalem, to do more searching.

The Gospel tells us they spent three days looking for Jesus. Not three hours, but three whole days. What a predicament! What an emotional impact this must have had on His parents. Jesus was twelve years old. I realize that we are talking about a different time and a different culture, but, still. Mary and Joseph must have been beyond frantic.

Have you ever been frustrated, or frantic beyond belief, and really wanted to have God step in and take charge? And, it seemed that God just did not show up? I remember searching for God several times in my twenties and thirties, when I was in several continuing predicaments. I couldn’t seem to find God, when I needed God the most. Several times, I distinctly remember searching for Jesus, even crying out to Him for help. And, I had difficulty finding Him.

Have you ever searched for Jesus, and He just could not be found? That was what happened to Mary and Joseph when they searched Jerusalem diligently for three whole days. No sign of Jesus.

Let us continue with today’s reading from Luke, starting at verse 46: “46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” After searching in all different places, Mary and Joseph finally track Jesus down. They find Him at the Temple, talking with the most knowledgeable teachers of the Bible, and asking them questions. I suspect Jesus also was trained well in the traditions and understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, so He probably was involved in high-level discussion, too.

When Mary and Joseph finally find their son, Mary takes the lead: “48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” As we can see, Mary and Joseph love Jesus very much, and are very concerned and fearful about Him. “Yes, it’s great that he is alive, and yes, it’s good to see him sitting with teachers and discussing religious matters, but why should they reward disobedience to their parental authority?” [1]

Let’s look at this situation from Jesus’s point of view. He was obviously learning and stretching his quickly-maturing mind. Some theologians and bible teachers do not care for this, because they want Jesus to have all the answers—even at twelve years old. “For some, the question is, “Didn’t he understand his own divinity?” For others, the question is, “If he understands his divinity, how authentic was his experience as a human being?” The text reads, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor’” Dr. Irving Cotto says about Jesus: “so, we find him learning the ropes of his faith, and perhaps deepening his understanding of who is and what he is called to do as the Messiah.” [2]

As we puzzle through this Gospel reading this morning, I wonder. Was the young Jesus searching out parts of His own overarching story? We can see Him having unusual depth and insight for one just on the brink of teenager-hood. Were we—from our vantage point and viewpoint of almost 2000 years, also searching for Jesus? Wondering where and when He would show up? When Jesus is found in the Temple, are we surprised, too?

Jesus has the last word in today’s reading. “49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[a] 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them. 51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.”

Perhaps Mary, to her credit, treasures the story because she does not yet understand. From Gabriel’s initial message through the shepherds tracking her down in Bethle­hem, astounding events have been buffeting her world. Now she has a rebuke from her son to wrestle with. She’s honest enough to know she’s got some further thinking to do.” [3]

Are we honest enough to wrestle with this reading? Yes, there are things of historical and cultural interest here, but if we focus on that, we miss the point. Jesus looks at us and asks us, “What are you searching for?” When believers get too comfortable with Jesus, He goes beyond what is our comfort level. Jesus reorders expectations and society’s norms. Jesus turns everything upside down and surprises everyone—in the first century as well as the twenty-first.

What kind of message does He have for us? This reading is a reminder that like Jesus, “we also must be about our heavenly parent’s business. As a mother and a father, God wants us to give an account of our whereabouts, but at the same time wants us to explore, discern, ask questions, and search for answers.” [4]

Please God, we are searching for Jesus, too. Will we find Him, today?

[1] https://www.christiancentury.org/article/living-word/december-30-christmas-1c-luke-241-52

Living by the Word, David Keck, The Christian Century, 2018.

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/advent-christmas-epiphany-2018-19-worship-planning-series/december-30-first-sunday-after-christmas-year-c/first-sunday-after-christmas-day-2018-year-c-preaching-notes

[3] https://www.christiancentury.org/article/living-word/december-30-christmas-1c-luke-241-52

Living by the Word, David Keck, The Christian Century, 2018.

[4] Ibid.

@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!

What Christmas Is All About

“What Christmas Is All About”

Chilean nativity scene, 1955.

John 1:1-4, 9-14 (1:14) – December 24, 2018

Christmas expectations can be wonderful. When we think of small—even middle-sized—children, they can be all wide-eyed and filled with amazement at the sense of wonder found in Christmas. That sense of wonder goes away somewhat as children get older, but then their expectations change, too. As people shift into adulthood, parenthood, and even grandparenthood, their Christmas expectations can shift even more.

What are your expectations of Christmas, this year?

I noted in one of my Advent sermons several weeks ago that December 9th was the 53rd anniversary of the first showing of the “Charlie Brown Christmas Special.” Over fifty years of this Christmas special has certainly affected how people in the United States view Christmas.

I wonder—how do we view Christmas? How are our expectations affected?

If we consider the people in and around Bethlehem on that first Christmas eve, there was a lot of hustle and bustle, a good deal of coming and going. The little town of Bethlehem was certainly a popular place, especially since the Roman law had been in effect for a while. Many descendants of King David needed to return to Bethlehem and register with the Roman government. We all know that Joseph was of the house and lineage of David, and that was why he was there.

We have heard about the shepherds, who were the first to receive God’s super-special birth announcement. They not only came to see the newborn King in a manger themselves, but they also alerted the whole town to the new birth, too. I suspect a goodly number of the people in Bethlehem had at least heard about the birth of a possible Messiah, by the time the shepherds were finished.

I wonder—what were their expectations, that first Christmas Eve?

We have the main players, Joseph himself, and Mary, his fiancée. The Holy Family. When the baby Jesus was born and the shepherds—and some others—showed up, I suspect Mary and Joseph were a bit perplexed at all the attention their Child was getting. What’s more, Dr. Luke records Mary treasuring up all these events in her heart, and reflecting upon them from time to time in the years to come.

I wonder—what were Joseph’s and Mary’s expectations from that first Christmas eve?

We shift from the common, ordinary smell of farm animals and the baby Jesus lying in a manger bed that Dr. Luke relates in the second chapter of his Gospel, to quite another scene. We shift to the first chapter of the Gospel of John. We shift from the warm, homey scene of a blessed Mother rocking her Baby to the time eternal before the heavens and earth began.

What kinds of expectations do we have from this particular retelling of the Gospel story, found in John, chapter 1? These verses, this retelling of the entrance into this world of the Messiah, goes like this: “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God. The Word was God. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. To all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God.”

Expectations of such cosmic significance! We go from the intimate, everyday retelling of Luke to the universal, cosmic retelling of John. Mind-blowing, to be sure. Most of the time, I cannot even begin to get my head around this eternal perspective.

The Apostle John was a mystic, a contemplative, and probably the least worldly of any of the disciples. It shows, in his writings. Yet, the beginning of John’s Gospel is a necessary part of the Nativity story. This cosmic retelling lets us know that Jesus broke into this world not only as a helpless Baby born in Bethlehem, but also as the pre-Incarnate Son, eternal from the time before the universe began, and eternal, to the time after the heavens and the worlds in the universe have all passed away.

One of my favorite expressions is “both/and.” I am uncomfortable with “either/or.” I do not like “black/white.” I much prefer “both/and.” Not either this, or that. Not either the Luke 2 Nativity, or the John 1 Prologue. But, both/and. Luke tells us of the very relate-able pregnant teenage mother, having her baby at a very inconvenient time. And at the same time, John tells us of the cosmic Christ, the Word, the One who spoke the universe into being at the beginning of all things. We have both. Often, too much for our puny human brains to grasp, but true, all the same.

What kind of expectations do we have from John’s cosmic retelling of the Nativity, in John chapter 1?

Let us draw closer in to the familiar Christmas story. Charlie Brown’s Christmas story. As with any cartoon, we need a villain. The villain in this cartoon special is no personification, no Abominable Snowman or Grinch, but instead the commercialization of Christmas. This is what is causing such angst and despair to Charlie Brown.

What does make Christmas? What kinds of expectations does Charlie Brown have?

Sometimes I feel like Charlie Brown at the Christmas pageant rehearsal. “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” I know Linus responds, “Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” He then recounts the Nativity narrative from Luke 2. Except—the blessed truth doesn’t penetrate into Charlie Brown’s head. Yet.

These whole four weeks of Advent we have been retelling the Nativity narrative from Luke, in anticipation of this very night. We have been singing the songs, and lighting the candles on the Advent wreath, all in preparation for this main event.

An Episcopal minister, the Rev. John Holton from Connecticut, uses this same Christmas special to relate the Nativity narrative. He says, “The good feeling, that warm fuzzy feeling I get watching A Charlie Brown Christmas is, at its core, a feeling of hope that even I could be loved.  The hope—the knowledge—that God who sees even our unloveliness loves us fully.  Loves us so much that God comes to be among us.  As one of us.  That God won’t let us go.” [1] Isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas? Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

This is a gift that cuts through the commercialization of Christmas. Caring, compassion, and love for one another.

We can thank the Lord for God’s greatest gift, the gift to each of us of God’s Son, of God’s Love. And, we have the opportunity to bring glad tidings to all people right now, to people aching to hear of God’s love for them, for us, for all the world.

Won’t you share your expectation of Christmas with someone, tonight? Won’t you share God’s love with someone, today?

[1] http://www.christchurchnh.org/sermon/2017/12/28/thats-what-christmas-is-all-about-charlie-brown

@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!

Your King Comes to You

Matthew 21:1-11 – April 9, 2017

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

“Your King Comes to You”

Has anyone here ever been at a really big “welcome home” celebration? I am thinking really, really big! Like, after the Cubs won the World Series last fall, and they returned to Chicago in triumphant victory. Or, after the Black Hawks, the White Sox or the Bulls won their championships. Has anyone experienced the joyful, expectant feeling of the crowd? The wild cheering and celebration as the focal point of the parade came into view?

Imagine that level of celebration, and then add an additional layer. The country of Israel had been under the heel of various world powers for several centuries. The Roman government was the current dominating overlords, and an ever-present occupying force. By Jesus entering Jerusalem in the way He did, He fulfilled a well-known prophecy from the Hebrew Scriptures. In addition, by doing this He was claiming the mantle of Messiah, the Anointed One of God. As Zechariah said, “Tell the city of Zion, ‘Look, your king is coming to you! He is humble and rides on a donkey.”

What about the crowd gathered there in Jerusalem, for the Passover holiday? Emotions run high when you are in the midst of a crowd. Higher highs, lower lows, all kinds of extremes. As Rev. Adam Copeland said, “Whether they are for sport, political protest, or public worship, gathering with thousands inevitably changes our mood and actions. I have never felt as alone as in a rival team’s stadium filled with thousands of home-team fans. I rarely feel as important as when I’ve gathered with others to protest unjust laws or call for social action. I get Goose bumps when I’m able to recite the Lord’s Prayer with a few thousand other worshipers.” [1]

What was the crowd looking for from Rabbi Jesus? This Messiah, Anointed One?    

A companion question: what were the disciples looking for from Jesus? From their Rabbi and leader, whom they had been following for months, even years? I remind everyone that there were more than just twelve men following after Jesus. There were more. Maybe Peter’s wife, maybe others’ wives or sisters. Women, other men, maybe even some children and youths. Many of these had been faithful in following Jesus for some time, and they were true believers. Faithful followers.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was a man of deep prayer. He instructed many in the way of deep, significant prayer. He had a special way of praying, which can also be used for reading the Bible. Ignatian spirituality, prayer and bible reading have been adapted from his instructions.

St. Ignatius would have us put ourselves into the biblical scene. Imagine yourself right there, on that Palm Sunday morning. I invite you to choose a place to stand: either among the crowd, observing, cheering; or among the disciples, close in to Jesus and the donkey. Perhaps even take the donkey’s point of view! Let us all immerse ourselves into the narrative. Hear the raucous noises and roar of the crowd. Feel the jostling shoulders as we jockey for position, to get the best view of the parade. Because, that is what it is! A procession! A joyful entrance into Jerusalem, the historic capital city of King David!

Can you feel the energy of that immense crowd? Jerusalem was full to bursting! People of Jewish ancestry had come to Jerusalem from all over the known world, to commemorate the Passover holiday. And, here were people welcoming this Messiah, this Anointed One, into the city like a king.

Can you feel the emotions of your fellow crowd members? What expectations are rising to the fore? Some desperate to throw off the heavy yoke of the Roman occupation, and so are delighted to see someone, at last, taking up the mantle of the Messiah! To call together the men of Israel and lead the Jewish army to victory! Some, I am sure, leery of this upstart Rabbi, and wondering how far He is going to get before the Romans scare Him off. And others, simply caught up in all the excitement of the moment, welcoming this Holy Man, this Miracle Worker, into the city of Jerusalem.

What were the expectations of those there, on that Palm Sunday morning? Sure, as our Gospel reading tells us, there was a large crowd around the city gate, ready to cheer and wave and make noise. The noise and celebration put the whole city into an uproar, turning things inside out and upside down.  In fact, the Greek verb in that phrase, “uproar,” is the same word used for an earthquake. Jesus shook up the people of Jerusalem, and He certainly stirred up the religious leaders and priests.

Let us fast forward, to the present. What are our expectations, right here, right now? What are we to do with this Jesus, riding in on a donkey?

Sure, there are many people in churches across the world today who are excited to celebrate another Palm Sunday. A highlight of the liturgical year, the beginning of Holy Week. Some are caught up in the pageantry and celebration. Others are content to wave their palms and observe things from the sidelines. Many, even, feel the solemn beginning of that sorrowful Holiest Week of the liturgical year. But, is there more?

The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem was so typical of Jesus. He did not blindly accept these short-sighted expectations that were foisted upon Him. Instead, Jesus knew who He was, and did not need to clutch any lofty or power-hungry or mean and angry persona to Himself. No, Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing exactly who He was. God’s much beloved Son, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. He had all that kingly authority already.

Let us remind ourselves exactly why Jesus had come into the world, exactly why He began His preaching, teaching and healing ministry. He came preaching forgiveness and mercy. He came teaching love and reconciliation. He came healing people from physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual diseases. Jesus came to give us life, and life abundantly!

But, today, Jesus’s voice gets drowned out by countless distractions. “Choked as we are by all of our distractions and tranquilizers—our cars, our houses, our 60-inch televisions and 6-inch computers, our smartphones and gizmos and gadgets, all of our conveniences and drugs and entertainment—we are likely to lose sight of the gate into heaven.” [2]

So often today, many people’s attention gets pulled away from things of God. Some are too busy to see Jesus. Some are too worried to listen to His voice. Some today couldn’t even care if Jesus lived or died.

Let’s focus on people within the church, worldwide. Some celebrate and wave palms on Palm Sunday and are content to let the whole rest of Holy Week slide right by without it registering on their hearts, then slide right into the following week’s celebration on Easter Sunday without a second thought. [3]

Jesus rides into our midst today, humble and seated on a donkey. He asks us the pointed question: what is it we seek in Jesus? Have we lost sight of the forgiveness, mercy, love and reconciliation He offers? He offers it to us, freely.

We can ask our Lord Jesus to enter our hearts, and to help us to lay at His feet all that we have and are today.

God willing, may we say “blessed are You who comes in the name of the Lord.”

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-adam-j-copeland/palm-powered-protest_b_5106331.html

“Palm Powered Protest,” Adam Copeland, ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks, 2014

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/palm-passion-sunday1; The Preaching Notes are written by Dawn Chesser, Director of Preaching Ministries, Discipleship Ministries, dchesser@UMCdiscipleship.org

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1546 ; “To Be Continued…” David Lose, WorkingPreacher, 2011.

A Time for Everything

“A Time for Everything”

eccl-3-1-everything-cursive

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 – January 1, 2017

Expectations. Excitement! A fresh, new start. With eyes wide open, we all have the opportunity to make a new beginning, this New Year’s Day of 2017. New brooms sweep clean. New, fresh, sparkling clean, not a spot or speck to be seen. At least, not yet.

 As our scripture lesson from Ecclesiastes 3 says today, there is a time for everything. God has given each one of us a sense of the passage of time. God has implanted that within us, and we are placed in this construct of time, of past, present and future.

What are we to do with this concept of time? And, the idea that time is a never-ending stream? That, somehow, each of us is intricately bound up in this bubble called history, and together or separately, each of us has specific things to do. Or, not do. To look behind at 2016 with longing or regret, missing opportunities lost, or gazing ahead with expectancy, looking forward to what 2017 has to bring into each life?

What new, fresh excitement, and expectations!

Let’s take a common example. A door. We can either be on one side or the other of a doorway. One side—inside—and the other—outside. One side—in the past—and the other—in the future. It’s difficult to straddle both parts of a world, and at the same time to strive to do both of these either/or activities stated in our passage from Ecclesiastes, today.

Thinking further, Doors are good images for New Year’s Day. We have closed the door on last year, on 2016. We’ve opened the door to a new, sparkling clean year.

When each of us walks through a door, things can change—either a lot or just a little. As one bible commentator says, “When you go from outside to inside, you use a quieter voice, you wipe off (sometimes even take off) your shoes, you expect to do different things.  Walking through doors tells us where we are and who we are. “ [1]

Janus is the Roman god of endings and beginnings. A two-headed god, with one head looking backwards into the past, and the other looking forward, into the future. This god presided over gates and doors, and was sometimes shown with a gatekeeper’s keys and staff. There can be a great deal of change and transition from one place to another, as one year changes into the next.

Some people have a great deal of baggage left over from last year. Lots of stuff to carry with them into the new year. What does our scripture passage say? “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” There are several ways to view this poetic look at life and death, and everything that comes in between, but one way is to acknowledge this overarching structure as a foundational basis for understanding the cosmos, life itself.

Sure, some can go too far, and have a totally fatalistic point of view, saying that everything is absolutely fated and predetermined. Nothing is worth doing, no innovation, no creativity; no one can change anything ever. What a hopeless, helpless point of view. This view takes away free will, human decision, and the possibility of change. Why do anything, ever again?

However, we can leave our baggage and stuff, old and tattered, tired and worn, just drop it, even brand-new stuff with price tags still attached. We can look forward to a new year, a new chance to walk into the future with head held high, and eyes open to new possibilities.

I have an opportunity to realize and remember the many blessings that God provides in each of our lives, on a regular basis. Do you remember each of those blessings that God provided in your life, in 2016? Can you name each one, and thank God for it? Nope, me, neither. But, here is a concrete way to help you remember each one in 2017. Here is a real action step to take.

It’s called The Jar Project, and features jars with the following label attached: “The Jar Project. Starting New Year’s Day, I will fill this empty jar with notes about good things that happen. On next New Year’s Eve, I will empty it and remember that awesome things did happen this year.”

There are various other ways people think of this activity. Some people call it a Gratitude Jar, or a Blessing Jar. Put in strips of paper with things or people you are grateful for, or that you have been blessed by, in 2017. Then at the end of the year, each of us will have a whole year of wonderful, awesome blessings to truly thank God for.

Come with me, back to the doors of our sanctuary. We can offer prayer, asking that these doors welcome many visitors during the coming year and that all who come through the doorway be blessed.  I am going to write on our church doors with prayers for all who will come through the doors this year (worshipers, visitors, brides and grooms, parents bringing babies to be baptized, families and friends coming to bury their dead, members of community groups which will use the facilities).

Please, I encourage each of you, each household, to repeat this in your own homes. God’s richest blessings on you and your family in 2017.

 

God of doors and homes, bless this home this year and every year.

Bless all who come and go through this door, both those who live here and those who visit.

May all who enter through this door come in peace and bring joy.

May all who come to this door find welcome and love.

May the love and joy in this home overflow and spread into the community and the world. [2]

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/11/new-years-day-years-b-c.html New Year’s Day, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2013

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/11/new-years-day-years-b-c.html New Year’s Day, adapted from Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2013

Sought by God

“Sought by God”

luke-15-lost-word-cloud

Luke 15:1-10 – September 11, 2016

Many people have expectations of leaders and important people. I am not sure whether these expectations are realistic or not, but regardless—many people do have them. Think of teachers or professors. Executive directors, or CEOs. Partners in executive firms, or coaches of athletic teams. And—what about pastors and ministers? Leaders of houses of faith? Do people have expectations of them? Sometimes, unrealistic or disapproving expectations? Of course they do.

Here in Luke 15 we have a crowd of tax collectors and “sinners” gathered around the Rabbi Jesus. But, the Pharisees and teachers of the Mosaic Law Code—the righteous religious people—were disapproving. These self-righteous folk had misconceptions. They had the wrong kind of expectations about how the Rabbi Jesus was “supposed to” minister. Imagine that!

Let’s take a step back, and look at the setting of this passage for today. Luke 15:1-2 tells us that the Rabbi Jesus ”welcomes sinners and eats with them.” It seems to be the case that Jesus was the host at dinner—at least, part of the time. But that isn’t the main thing, for the self-righteous folks. What about those tax collectors and “sinners?” What was the matter with them?

Yes, it was all about those evil, disreputable “sinners.” The people who did not keep the Mosaic Law Code were considered “sinners,” by the orthodox, observant Jews. A Pharisee and any of his family were forbidden to have anything to do with “those people.” No business dealings, and certainly no meals together.  According to the Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus was mixing in really bad company, especially for a decent, self-respecting Rabbi. At least—that was an unrealistic expectation a lot of people had about Him.

Luke chapter 15 is all about Jesus telling three stories. The first two stories—the two parables we had read to us in our Gospel passage today—could be about anyone, anyone at all. Not necessarily about Pharisees, observant people who were extremely strict about keeping the Mosaic Law, but about anyone. Anyone at all.

Do you remember high school groups and cliques? The popular kids, the cool kids. The math nerds, the science geeks. The jocks, the honors students. The Pharisees and teachers of the Mosaic Law considered themselves to be the ultra-cool kids. The kids who wouldn’t hang out with anyone else. They were the only kids who were going to make it into the presence of God. Everyone else? Tough luck. No way. Maybe—just maybe if the other people followed the Mosaic Law especially closely, dotting every “I” and crossing every “t”. Maybe, just maybe, God would allow the other groups and cliques into heaven, too.

What does Jesus say to these ultra-cool kids, these Pharisees and teachers of the Law, He tells some stories. The first story is about a shepherd and his hundred sheep. It was hard work being a shepherd. There was not a lot of arable pasture land in Palestine. Being a shepherd took a great deal of grit, persistence, and self-sacrifice. In this story, the shepherd lost one of his sheep—one out of one hundred.

To today’s loss prevention and quality assurance mindset, one sheep lost out of one hundred was an acceptable loss. Think of the rough and rocky terrain. Expecting a shepherd to keep track of all hundred sheep? To some people, that could be an unrealistic expectation. Shrinkage happens. It isn’t a huge deal. Except—to that one little lost sheep. What’s more, shepherds were excellent at tracking. They were personally responsible for each sheep under their care.

Let’s take a look at the second story. The Rabbi Jesus tells a parable about a woman. (Unusual for the Bible! Out of the ordinary for Jesus, too.) Reading from Luke 15:8-9, “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ “

This second parable is a similar story about a lost thing. The typical Palestinian home was not huge. One room, two at most. Can you imagine this woman, losing a precious silver coin? The interior of the house probably did not have many windows. So even in the daytime the interior was dark, necessitating the lighting of a lamp. Can you see her sweeping carefully, methodically, listening for the clink of a metal coin?

The woman’s coin was lost. It didn’t grow legs and run away. All the same, the coin was lost. The sheep may have strayed away, but it still got lost. Both parables have lost things. What is to be done?        

Let’s go back to the ultra-cool kids, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. If you can imagine such a thing, they avoided all contact with anyone—anyone at all—who did not keep the Mosaic Law Code to the absolute maximum degree. If you can go a further step in your imagination, these ultra-cool, ultra-strict Jews looked forward to the destruction of the “sinners.” Not, as Jesus said in 15:7, ”I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” And in 15:10,  10 ”In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

This is something radically different. Jesus sends a message of lost and found. Jesus sends the welcoming message to everyone, to anyone, a message of radical welcome. At least, as far as the Pharisees and teachers of the law are concerned.

Both of these parables are about God seeking the lost. How dare God forgive sinners! This is about false expectations about God, just as much as Pharisees had false expectations about Jesus.

Do we have false expectations about God? Is there someone who we don’t think God should look for? The woman in the parable was diligent in finding that lost coin. The shepherd was determined to seek out that lost sheep.

As one of the commentators on this passage said, “Many of the flocks were communal flocks, belonging, not to individuals, but to villages. There would be two or three shepherds in charge. Those whose [sheep] were safe would arrive home on time and bring news that one shepherd was still out on the mountain side searching for a sheep which was lost. The whole village would be upon the watch. When, in the distance, they saw the shepherd striding home with the lost sheep across his shoulders, there would rise from the whole community a shout of joy and of thanksgiving.” [1]

Do we have faulty expectations about God? Or, is the woman from the parable diligent to search and search, turn her whole house topsy turvy until she finds that lost coin? Is the Great Shepherd of the sheep concerned about absolutely every sheep that wanders away—no matter what? That is the picture Jesus paints for us in these two parables. God knows the joy of finding someone who was lost. No Pharisee ever dreamed of a God like that, a God with extravagant welcome, a God who would seek and save the lost, no matter what.

And both parables? They end with a grand celebration. “Then the shepherd calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” God does not want sinners—or anyone else—to be lost. These stories from Jesus illustrate that the goodness and mercy of God is for everyone, especially the most neglected and despised. Truly, good news for us all. Alleluia, amen!

 

[1] Barclay, William, The Gospel of Luke (The Daily Study Bible Series), (Westminster Press: Philadelphia, 1975).

@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!)

What I Have I Give You

“What I Have I Give You”

Peter healing lame man - Acts 3-6

Acts 3:1-10 – June 14, 2015

Expectations! When people expect some situation to turn out a particular way, anything else is a big upset, or even a huge disappointment. Perhaps the expectation is negative; sometimes, a different outcome is not expected. Expectations about work, or about family. Did we expect the Blackhawks to win another game in the Stanley Cup series last night?

Let’s not go off on a tangent—though discussing hockey is tempting. Back to the book of Acts. We continue this summer sermon series with a miracle recorded for us in Chapter 3 of the book of Acts. Dr. Luke—a medical man—gives us lots of detail and description. This healing miracle comes right out of the Acts photo album. Showing memorable photos, distinctive times to remember. Or, if not the most wonderful times, at least the most significant times.

Not long after Pentecost and its immediate aftermath, right after the great big revival meeting in the city of Jerusalem, Dr. Luke focuses on Peter and John going to daily prayers at the Temple. He even mentions the time: it’s 3:00 in the afternoon.

But Dr. Luke’s attention doesn’t stay on Peter and John. Instead, he wants us to change our focus and take a closer look at the lame man they encountered. Again, Dr. Luke gets specific and gives us some detailed information about this man. Verse 2 tells us “A man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple.” Important information. We get a snapshot of what this lame man’s life must have been like. Even though the term is not politically correct now, he was crippled. And, he begged. Day after day, every single day.

I have a question for all of us, today. How many here have had physical therapy? Or, if not you specifically, has anyone in your family had physical or occupational therapy? The therapists today are just wonderful. They know how to instruct patients in specific exercises to improve movement, and increase range of motion. And, after patients have completed their physical therapy, they almost always experience fantastic rehabilitation!

How different would this man’s life have been, if he had been born in America, in the 20th century! With all of the medical advances in the past few decades, I suspect he would have had a much more mobile, worthwhile life than just being a beggar.

I’d like us to think hard about this man with a congenital defect in his feet and ankles. Either lying on a mat, or perhaps sitting by one of the gates of the Temple in Jerusalem. He is called “a beggar” by Dr. Luke. What do you think were his expectations in life? Pretty low, I suspect. Perhaps all he hoped for was a good take, a sizable number of donations. Maybe a decent meal when he got home to his mother or sister. But not a lot else. He couldn’t even stand up, not even for a second.

Imagine his perspective. Ignored by almost everyone. Always close to the ground physically, not to mention his sense of low self-esteem. Not able to look people in the eye, or carry on a relatively normal conversation. I feel extremely sad about his situation, just thinking about it for this short time! And, we are told this lame man was not quite in position yet, next to the gate. His friends were still in the process of positioning him for his daily task of begging.

In most places in the world today, I am sorry to say, this is a common sight. My friend Cody, another mission connector like my other friend Dan, served overseas in Asia for some years. He speaks of beggars on the streets as a common, sad, depressing matter of course.

On a sermon preparation website, I recently found this heartbreaking description of present-day beggars: “On my two trips to India, I saw a large number of beggars. There were so many beggars there was no way one could respond to all of them. The solution was often not to “see” any of them. But the beggars made this difficult. Those who were mobile would press themselves on you. They would approach your taxi at an intersection, tugging at your sleeve and pleading for help. Those not mobile would call out for charity. The beggars would be aggressive, something like the salesmen as you try to walk through the appliance section at Sears. You would concentrate on not seeing them as they converged on you, and you hurried to get through the section before you were trapped.”

Feeling uncomfortable yet? Feeling like hurrying, rushing by, not even noticing the beggars pulling at your sleeves?

Let’s go back to our beggar, to the man mentioned in Acts 3, starting at verse 4: “When the man saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.”

What was this man’s expectation? Was it optimistic and positive? Or, pessimistic and downhearted? What did he expect from Peter and John? Alms? Money? A blessing?

How does Peter respond? “Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”

This wasn’t what this lame man was expecting, at all!

I dare say the beggar was disappointed at the initial response. “Sorry, guy. I don’t have any silver or gold.” Money was what the beggar asked for, day in and day out. Begging was the only thing he knew. Peter and John didn’t have a single cent, by Peter’s own admission.

But let’s hurry up and get to the second half of Peter’s statement: “but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” Peter suits the words to his action. He leans forward, grasps the lame man’s right hand, and raises him to his feet.

What happens next? “Immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.”  (I suspect the man felt strength and health flowing into his withered muscles, joints and tendons.) “Jumping up, the man stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.

I don’t know what kind of congenital defect this ex-lame-beggar had in his feet and ankles, but it was suddenly and immediately gone. The next thing you know, this ex-beggar went into the Temple with Peter and John. Not just entering, but walking, leaping, and praising God! A miracle! Praise God!

Again, this wasn’t what this ex-beggar was expecting, at all! Peter’s miraculous healing went far above and beyond anything this man could imagine! Far beyond anything the man could possibly have expected, too.

A follow-up question is directed toward each of us: what do we expect today? What is our expectation from this sermon? From this worship service? From God, on a daily basis?

God is a God who goes way above and beyond expectation! We can praise God with this ex-beggar because his feet and ankles were miraculously made strong, so long ago. But there are miracles that happen on a regular basis, today. Look at Levi, our growing, developing miracle boy. He is a testament to God’s mighty acts today. Look at my tracheotomy scar. Remind me to tell you the miraculous story behind that. And I am sure each of you can relate similar stories in your lives, or your loved ones’ lives. Expect wonderful things from God!

Yes, we can expect God’s gracious hand in our lives, every day. God reaches down to touch us, to provide for our needs, our lives, and our expectations, too. Praise God! 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!)