Joshua Called Courageous!

“Joshua Called Courageous!”

Josh 1-9 be strong, poster

Joshua 1:1-2, 5-9 (1:9) – June 17, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Do you know what it’s like to be a second fiddle? Someone’s assistant? Someone to back up the real leader, or director, or president? Always there, just in case, always ready to step in, in case of emergency, but never really, fully in charge? I do. I’ve been in that faithful, dependable assistant position a lot, for a number of years.

It can be a relief, not having to be the top person in charge. Remember, President Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here.” With the second fiddle, the buck definitely would not stop at the assistant’s desk. He or she would be able to pass it on.

All the same, imagine Joshua, the newly designated leader of the nation of Israel. His predecessor, the strong and dynamic leader—or, director, or head of the Israelite nation—Moses, had been in charge of the nation for over forty years. Israel had been wandering in the wilderness all that time. Joshua had been Moses’s right-hand man all of that time, too. By all accounts, Joshua was a faithful, dependable assistant and second-in-command to Moses, for decades.

What kinds of things must have been going through Joshua’s head, after the death of his leader, probably even his mentor, Moses? I cannot imagine the shock and grief at his leader’s death, plus all the huge weight of the responsibility for the whole nation of Israel, now resting squarely on Joshua’s shoulders. What on earth does he do now?

As the book of Joshua begins, we hear the words read to us today, where the Lord God meets with Joshua. Not with Moses, as had happened a number of times in years past, but with Joshua, instead! Joshua is the one having an up-close-and-personal encounter with the Lord!

This is a first-hand encounter with the God who led Israel through the wilderness for forty years. Pillar of cloud by day, pillar of fire by night, manna every morning, for forty years. We’re talking an extraordinary God, here! Power beyond understanding, magnificent glory, works miracles on a daily basis. That’s the God who meets with Joshua.

Joshua probably did not feel at all up to the daunting task of primary, solo leadership. However, God knew better than Joshua. “Joshua was prepared by faithful service in small things, in being Moses’ assistant. Dr. Alan Redpath tells of a motto over a kitchen sink: “Divine service is conducted here three times daily.” [in the washing of dishes] The motto is true, and great men and women are prepared by faithfulness to the small things.” [1]

We see that God has encouraging words for Joshua: “Be strong and courageous!” And, “Be not afraid!” That is why many biblical scholars think that Joshua had an inferiority complex. The Lord needed to give him a leadership pep talk!

When Pastor Gordon and I began an interim, emergency pastorate in 2014 here at St. Luke’s Church for three months, this was a familiar job for me. Gordon and I had done it before, in an interim position at another UCC church in 2007. I was Gordon’s assistant. I was playing second fiddle to a seasoned, self-assured pastor who had many years of experience under his belt. When Pastor Gordon left St. Luke’s Church in June 2014 and left me as solo pastor, I was experiencing some of the same feelings that Joshua probably felt. How on earth am I going to lead these people? Yet, with God’s help and the help of several seasoned professional pastors and clergy, I weathered that storm of low self-confidence and low self-esteem.

Joshua faced a huge, new, daunting task, to be sure!

What is one of the most important things the Lord says to Joshua, when giving him the heavenly pep talk? “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.“ Reading and meditating on the Word of God on a regular basis is of primary importance to God. Moses did these things. Joshua must have seen Moses read and meditate on the Word of God, countless times, and I suspect he joined in, as well.

Let’s break down God’s words to Joshua in these verses, and take a closer look at what God is telling him to do. “Joshua must take great care to observe the law. God’s Word and Joshua’s commitment to it would be the pillars supporting his success. Joshua did not only need to read God’s word. It had to be on his lips (“shall not depart from your mouth”), in his mind (“meditate in it day and night”), and he had to do it (“observe to do according to all that is written”).” [2] Regular, even daily insights into God’s Word, the Bible, can help us think the way God does, behave in the way God does, and have compassion on the people God does.

Even though you and I are not facing such a huge task as Joshua, today, what we face can be daunting to us. Sometimes, we can be anxious, fearful, afraid, even stressed out, angry or confused. We might need encouragement and support from God, too. What is a daunting task, to you? How can God’s words to Joshua be helpful and encouraging to any of us, today?  

Pray, seek the Lord, and talk to other, trusted Christian friends. The helpful, encouraging answer will be there. The Lord can—and does—inspire and encourage each of us as we face new and daunting tasks in our lives, day by day. What a tremendous promise to celebrate!

Remember God’s words to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous!” And, repeated again and again throughout Scripture? “Be not afraid!” Be that way. God said so!

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/joshua-1/   David Guzik Bible commentary on Joshua 1

[2] 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!)

 

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His Followers—Including Us, Too

“His Followers—Including Us, Too”

John 17-9 Jesus prays for us

John 17:6-19 (17:9) – May 13, 2018

Throughout the centuries since Jesus’s death and resurrection, believers have followed their Lord Jesus and prayed for others. I suspect we all can picture Jesus and His friends during that last week before His crucifixion. And, Jesus was a person of deep prayer. This profound image is quite precious to me, and I suspect for you, too.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus prays for His followers. Not just any old prayer, but a significant prayer, at a profound time of Jesus’s life. The night before His crucifixion, when He must have had a thousand and one things on His mind, Jesus takes the time to think of and to pray for His followers; His friends and disciples.

Today is Mother’s Day. Today is a day to take the time to think of beloved mothers (and, those who have acted as mothers). Some more devout people even pray for their mothers. And grandmothers, and daughters and sisters. All those who act as mothers, too.

In many, many cases throughout this country—and beyond, around the world—many caring, loving and nurturing women have mothered those under their care. In cases of religious nurture, caring mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters—and others who have stood in the place of these maternal figures—have prayed for their friends, relatives and loved ones, too.

Whether nearby or far away, prayer makes that intimate connection, that bond between friends, relatives, and loved ones. It does not matter whether the pray-er and the ones prayed for are next door, in the next town, or separated by miles, mountains or oceans.

Jesus was making that connection, too, through His prayer.

As we have noted before in weeks past, the disciples were anxious, worried, even scared to death. And, Jesus knew that very well. Remember His words of comfort from just a short while before this? In John 14:27, where Jesus says “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.”

Of course, Jesus knew how serious this all was! He knew He was going to be beaten, jeered at, crucified, and die. He knew it was all going to happen in less than twenty-four hours. Yet, Jesus still had the amazing love, nurture and caring for His friends and disciples that He would say such things as these. Jesus did not allow the horror and anguish of what was to come take away from the love, caring and connection He had with His friends.

In today’s passage from John 17, Jesus expresses His deepest yearning for His closest followers. But, there is much more. Commentator Janet Hunt says “[Jesus] speaks to them all together at length ‘one last time’ as he sits with his disciples at table that Thursday night. … For instance, we get a sense of Jesus’ profound connection to the one to Whom he prays. And we are told that those who followed Jesus had learned of the truth of this as well.” [1]

How often do we hear of a faithful, devout mother or grandmother or auntie or dear friend praying for her loved one, asking God to take care of this dear one, whether nearby or far away? And, even when things become depressingly sad, or that diagnosis turns into a hospice admit, or the divorce finally happens, God is still able to be there and be present with the one prayed for. And their family.

As we can see from today’s scripture reading, Jesus prayed for His closest followers and friends. I love the way Dr. David Lose puts it: Jesus “senses their anxiety, confusion, and fear, and so he prays for them. He knows they can bear no more, and so he prays for them. He knows he will soon leave them, and so he prays for them. And as he does, and whether or not they understand everything he says, he tells them that they do not have to do everything or even understand everything.” [2]

Jesus was a master at making connections, just as relatives do in a close family, just as dear friends make intimate connections with each other. Sure, this climactic point in the Passion Week, this night in which Jesus was betrayed, had all the disciples’ emotions and feelings at a breaking point. Sadness, anxiety, fear, anger, horror. And, we know Jesus was there with His friends in the middle of all of those tumultuous feelings.

What about those in countless congregations today, and those who did not go to a house of worship this weekend, who had (or are still having) difficulty with the relationship with their mom? What about those whose mothers are somehow unwilling or unable to care for their children? What about those who have given children up for adoption? Mother’s Day is certainly difficult for these hurting people.

What about the mothers who have had miscarriages, or stillbirths, or abortions? What about those mothers who have lost a young—or not-so-young child? What about those who have never been mothers—for a whole host of different reasons? Yet, these women often care for and nurture others, whether theirs by natural means, or through choice. And even more important, Jesus is certainly able to love, nurture and care for all of these loved caregivers, all of these called children of God.

As we look at John 17, we can be sure that Jesus used His masterful way of connecting to show love, care and nurture. Pastor Tim Yee had the following illustration: “Jedd Medefind and Erik Lokkesmoe’s book, The Revolutionary Communicator, stresses seeking connection as an important communication tool that Jesus modeled, as he engaged people… This story [the authors] share of a little boy visiting a grieving elderly widower illustrates the power of seeking connection: The mother noticed the little boy crossing into the neighbor’s yard and climbing up into the old man’s lap. He remained there for some time, sitting quietly. When the boy returned home, his mother met him with her hands on her hips. “I told you not to bother him!” she scolded. “What were you doing?” “I wasn’t doing anything,” the little fellow answered. “I was just helping him cry.” (p. 23) [3]

Yes, Jesus prayed for the disciples, and “not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word…” That includes us! Just as a devout mother or grandma prays for her loved ones, just as Jesus seeks a intimate and loving connection with His friends and followers, so we can seek to have that deep connection with one another.

Dr. David Lose invites all of us to hear these words of Jesus addressed to each of us today. To imagine – really, to know – that Jesus was praying for us all those years ago and continues to care for us, support us, and love and connect with us today. Please take a moment to think about where we need to be more whole, to have more peace in our lives. And then, imagine that Jesus is actively, intimately praying for each of you. And, indeed, for all of us. [4]

Jesus is caring for us, you know. Jesus loves each of us that much.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://dancingwiththeword.com/last-words/  “Last Words,” Janet H Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2018.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2566  David Lose The Power of Being Prayed For

[3] Revolutionary Communicator: Seeking Connection

https://lifeforleaders.depree.org/revolutionary-communicator-seeking-connection/?utm_source=Life%20for%20Leaders&utm_campaign=6da0a06843-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_05_12&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_daeb77a376-6da0a06843-85700765&mc_cid=6da0a06843&mc_eid=6effffadbb

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2566  David Lose The Power of Being Prayed For

@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!)

Riches of God’s Inheritance

“Riches of God’s Inheritance”

eph-1-18-riches-of-heart-paul

Ephesians 1:1-2, 15-19 (1:18) – November 6, 2016

It’s All Saints’ Sunday! The day set apart to commemorate all the saints. Not only the living saints of today, but all the saints, all those who have ever believed in God, for all time.

Who is a saint, anyhow? We have the Apostle Paul. He is called a saint by many streams of Christian faith and tradition, and has been known as one for hundreds and hundreds of years. A powerhouse of a believer, that’s to be sure! What about St. Luke, who our church is named after? The only Gentile to author books in our Bible, and a learned man. A doctor. He certainly is lifted up as a prime example of faith in our Lord.

But that was centuries ago. Who do we lift up as saints today? Mother Theresa was just declared a saint by Pope Francis several months ago. Her example as the founder of the order the Missionaries of Charity, and her piety and good works are definitely something for all of us to emulate. What about on the Protestant side of the aisle? Some would say people like Martin Luther King Jr. ought to be lifted up, who did so much to promote the worth and position of people of color, of women and of downtrodden individuals all over the world. What about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who steadfastly stood against the rise of the Nazi party in Germany in the 1930’s and into the 1940’s, and trained pastors secretly in a forbidden seminary. He wrote extensively about not only the Christian faith, but the fearsome menace of the Fascists in Germany against not only Christians, but against all people of conscience, all over the world.

Yes, we commemorate all of these, and many more. The Apostle Paul surely would nod his head in agreement. But, what does our scripture lesson for today have to do with all of these big names, all of these rock stars of the Christian faith? Good question! For the answer, let’s turn to the passage from Ephesians, the beginning of Paul’s letter.

Starting at verse one, chapter one: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Do you hear? Saints! Paul calls everyone who belongs to the church in Ephesus a saint. A believer, one who is faithful to Jesus.

One of the commentators I consulted says “In Paul’s understanding the title “saint” belongs to those who have been united with Christ. He routinely calls the members of his churches “saints” (Ephesians 1:1 and 1:15) because of who they are in Christ and not because of what they have accomplished. [1] (italics mine)

We take these writings in the New Testament to heart. We believe the biblical writers not only to have addressed these letters to the stated churches and people, but we consider these writings to be addressed to us, too. So—Paul is calling us saints. In Greek, it is hagioi, or holy ones, set-apart-ones. That is us, too!

Our scripture lesson today lifts up Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian believers, or saints. These are Paul’s friends. He had been pastor in Ephesus in the past for many months, and he had developed some deep, intimate relationships with some of the people there. Now far away, he writes this letter to his friends, his former congregation.

When you have deep, intimate relationships with people, and then move far away, how do you keep in touch? Today, of course, with the telephone, computer and social media, there are many ways to stay connected. But, in Paul’s day? Not so much. Besides returning to see the friend for a visit, the options were personal letters, and visits from emissaries, who might deliver a personal message to a friend or relative.

Paul really wanted to communicate some specific things. He does this in a prayer; the prayer in the passage we read today. Paul prays for the Ephesians…but, how does he pray? For what? He mentions faith! Love! Hope! Riches!

Let’s break that down. He leads off with the two most significant, and in a compliment to his friends, too! Verse 15: “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints;” that is, for all of their fellow believers in Christ. And, I think Paul is talking about the Ephesians’ love for all saints, everywhere!. That’s huge! Could someone say that about us? About this group of believers, right here at St. Luke’s Church?

I want us to pay particular attention. That compliment of Paul’s is a great example for us. To love not only believers nearby, who look like us and worship like we do on Sunday morning, but also have love for believers far away, who look and act and speak in very different ways, and may not worship in ways that are familiar, or even comfortable to our way of thinking. Certainly, something to think about.

Let’s get to the heart of this prayer (and the heart of this sermon); look at Paul’s mention of hope and riches. This is his earnest request of God: “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ…may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation…so that, you may know what is the hope to which God has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.”

Here is Paul’s earnest prayer for his friends in Ephesus, and by extension, earnest prayer for all of us, too! That we may be fully aware of 1) the hope of our Calling by God, and 2) the riches of God’s glorious inheritance.

Let me double check. Then, if we understand Paul correctly, we can tell that we are saints—holy people—set apart—solely because of who we are in Christ, not because of anything we have done, or how good we have been, or any other striving or good works on our part. And that is consistent with exactly what we have heard last week, in our Reformation Day sermon. We are set free—we are made holy people, hagioi, saints of God—by Jesus Christ. Not because of anything we have done, or by our puny striving, or our paltry good works. (What a marvelous tie-in to last week’s sermon!)

You may be wondering why I asked everyone to bring in photos of their loved one who have died. I wanted a visible reminder of these beloved saints, these loved ones who have gone before us, into God’s blessed presence. Paul prays that the Ephesian saints may know the riches of our glorious inheritance—which is salvation! Redemption! Adoption as God’s beloved children. Our loved ones who are now in God’s presence know those glorious riches firsthand.

In a few minutes, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It is not only us gathered here who celebrate, but it is that great cloud of witnesses we spoke of, at the beginning of the service. We have our own cloud of witnesses, too, who are gathered here around the altar. Who we remember and miss and think of with fondness, and who are with us each time we gather together as a congregation in worship.

Each time we gather together at this table, we join the communion of saints—and our own cloud of witnesses to God’s glory and unbounded love. Just as they are feasting in heaven right now, around God’s own banquet table, so we feast here today. A foretaste of that banquet in heaven, and the blessed hope of the reunion to come.

Let us not forget: as the Apostle Paul reminds us, we can also celebrate the riches of our inheritance! That is, our forgiveness by Jesus Christ, our salvation and redemption in His name, and our adoption as children of God. Saints of God! That title of “saints” isn’t just for the superstars of faith, but it’s for you and me, too. To all who believe. Praise God! Amen!

 

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1634  Ephesians 1:11-23, Mark Tranvik, All Saints C, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

Preach the Word!

“Preach the Word!”

2-tim-4-2-preach-the-word-water

2 Timothy 4:2 – October 16, 2016

For those who have had a mentor relationship—either as a mentor or a ment-ee—this kind of relationship can be so rewarding. This is the kind of relationship I had with Pastor Gordon, when we worked together years ago for almost a year at another UCC church. He was the mentor, I was the ment-ee. Paul and Timothy had this kind of relationship. Close, nurturing, and a blessing to both parties. In their case, this relationship was especially close. Paul even called Timothy “my true son in the faith.”

We get glimpses of the deep, nurturing relationship between Paul and Timothy in several of the New Testament letters. However, perhaps the deepest, most personal window into their relationship comes from this letter, the second letter to Timothy recorded in the New Testament.

Some backstory. Paul is in prison in Rome. This is nothing new for Paul. He had been imprisoned multiple times throughout his time as a follower of Jesus Christ. What is the most urgent thing on Paul’s mind? His direct command, his charge to his son in the faith: “Preach the Word! In season and out of season.” (In other words, all the time.)

Yes, Timothy was a pastor, and a preacher. We can take this command as something that Paul only meant for Timothy. Or, expand it a little further, and consider it a command for any pastor, for any preacher.

I would like to let everyone here know that I always—always—start with the Word of God. When I start preparing my sermons, I pray over the text. I ask God what the message is that God wants me to deliver to the congregation. I research the pertinent passage, and sometimes other, related passages from the Bible. Sometimes I take a closer look at the original languages, and at the nuances and the shades of meaning in the translations. Then, after all that, I write the sermon. And, I hope and pray I may faithfully proclaim God’s Word to the congregation. Always.

That is what I—personally—do as I bring the Word of God to you, each week. But, I believe Paul is talking to more than just his son in the faith. I believe Paul’s message can be taken to heart by all believers. Not only by me, or Pastor Gordon, or Pastor Kevin from Epiphany UCC, or Pastor Vertie Powers from the Chicago Metropolitan Association. But, Paul’s message is for all of us. Each of us, individually. At this church, and any every church.

As is so often the case with the Apostle Paul, he crammed a ton of ideas into a very small space. Let’s read his directions to Timothy, again, starting at 3:14: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.” Paul had already praised Timothy for his careful learning from his grandmother and mother, Lois and Eunice, at the beginning of this letter. Here, he expands this idea.

Here, Paul ”refers to the people from whom Timothy has learned. (And it is ’people,’ more than Paul alone, but a collection of people, since the ‘whom’ in 3:14 is plural.)” [1] We know that Timothy learned from his mother and grandmother, because Paul said so. Perhaps Timothy also went to Hebrew school, or Torah classes, or studied with some rabbinic scholar as a teen. But, Paul said Timothy learned from a number of people. Mentors. Teachers. Coaches. Elders in the faith, people who had thorough, lived-or-demonstrated faith. Their faithfulness, which made Timothy who he was as an adult.

Go back in your mind and memory. Can you remember one or two special people who instructed you in the faith? People who lived out their Christian faith each day, every day?

I can remember one dear woman when I was in elementary school on the northwest side of Chicago at the Lutheran church. I vividly remember a senior, Mrs. Pabst (who died many years ago). She was faithful. She was kind. She had the spiritual gifts of helps and mercy and service to others in abundance. She was unfailingly loving and giving to others. Each day. Every day. She lived out the Christian life in front of me. I learned practical theology from Mrs. Pabst: how to make theology part of everyday life and apply it to the nuts and bolts of everyday living. She demonstrated the Christian faith as part of who she was.

That’s what Paul is talking about here. He praises Timothy for having absorbed practical theology from mentors, teachers, coaches. The Christian faith was part of who Timothy was.

Who have we learned from? Who showed us how to make practical theology part of our everyday lives? Great question! I’ll let us all ponder that for today.

Let’s get back to talking about the Word. Yes, Paul commanded Timothy to preach the Word. What else does Paul say about the Word? About Scripture? These verses are rich with meaning. Paul says that Timothy learned Scripture from the time he was very small. From his infancy Timothy had been exposed to God’s Word, which was—which is able to make all of us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

How about for us, today? Does that mean learning about Scripture in Sunday school? Memorizing verses in Confirmation classes? Sharing at bible study or at prayer time? Yes, yes, and yes. All of those, and so much more. What about decorating the sanctuary for Christmas? What about getting the fellowship hall ready for the Spaghetti Dinner or the Not-So-Lent Fish Fry? What about working at the Car Wash? Or praying for others with the email Prayer Chain?

Can those be times when we learn from each other how to be of service, and how to live Godly lives in a cheerful, faithful way? How to DO practical theology?

Just letting you all know: this final letter is bittersweet. More than sad. Paul is coming to the end of the road; he knows it. This time, he knew he had very little time left before he was executed. Beheaded. He has lost the final appeal, before the Emperor in Rome. Time is short—Paul desperately needs to give Timothy a final charge: “Preach the Word!”

We can all point to preachers on street corners or on television, or on the Internet. Preachers who give us lessons in how NOT to preach the Word. Preachers who use a boom box or a bullhorn, using guilt and shame as weapons to browbeat passersby into their “churches.” False preachers like these have no regard for those hearing the message. They do not deliver the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. God’s Word that transforms the life of every person who truly believes.

Communicating the transforming Word of God is the ministry of the Church. The main job of each and every believer. Just as Paul praised Timothy for having absorbed practical theology from mentors, teachers, coaches, just as Paul recognized that the Christian faith was part of who Timothy was, so each of us can live out the Christian faith each day. Every day. We can make theology part of our everyday lives, too.

We can have confidence and faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord, our Savior. We all can live lives that let everyone know we are Christians because we have love for one another. We can strive to be unfailingly loving and giving to others. Many others. Each day. Every day. And when we finally stand before Jesus Christ in glory, we will hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

St. Francis of Assisi made theology part of his everyday life, making the Christian faith part of who he was. He reminded us, “Preach the Gospel at all times. And when necessary, use words.” Let those with ears to hear, let them hear. Amen.

 

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1836 ; Commentary, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Matt Skinner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

@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!)

The Widow’s Contribution

“The Widow’s Contribution”

Mark 12-42 widow, mite mosaic

Mark 12:43 – November 8, 2015

I have a friend who is recently retired. He goes around town, quietly, and does good. He was raised in the church, but that was a good many years ago. Yes, he does have a belief in God, and he expresses that faith by doing good for others and being faithful.

Sometimes that means driving people to a doctor’s appointment. Or volunteering at a local not-for-profit organization. Sometimes that means picking up the left-over baked goods from a business at the end of the day, at closing time. And then, delivering the baked goods to a homeless shelter. He does all of this without thanks, with little or no fanfare. He is faithful. He is dependable. He contributes, in any way he can. And, I am so glad he is my friend.

We turn to the Gospel reading for today, from Mark 12. Jesus and His disciples are in Jerusalem, and Jesus is having another in those continuing discussions with the chief leaders and teachers of the Jewish Law. They happen to be in the rear of the Temple. Large sanctuary, lots of coming and going, to and fro.

These are several verses from Eugene Peterson’s excellent translation, The Message. Mark sets the scene in verse 41: “Sitting across from the offering box, Jesus was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection.”

Wait, didn’t the congregation at the Temple in the first century pass an offering plate? How did they collect money to keep the doors of the Temple open? And, was there any outreach, any charitable giving being done?

For this, we turn to Matthew Henry’s commentary on this chapter from Mark. “There was a public fund for charity, into which contributions were brought, and out of which distributions were made; a poor’s-box, and this in the Temple; for works of charity and works of piety very fitly go together; where God is honoured by our worship, it is proper He should be honoured by the relief of His poor.”;

So, different cultures and different places of worship, not to mention different centuries. We are looking at a slightly different practice of collecting money. Just to make sure everyone is on the same page. The principles of giving and generosity are the same, and those principles span the cultures and the centuries.

Apparently, people used to hang out at the back of the Temple and talk, have discussions, and sometimes debate. Oh—and they would also check out how much other people were contributing to the Temple and to the charitable fund. (I’m quite serious.)

Remember how open, how blatantly obvious the religious leaders were, about their religious observance? Their ostentatious prayer practice, their ritual observance of washing and cleanliness, their attention to the least little bits of the Jewish Law Code, and their finger-wagging and complaining about other people who weren’t quite as observant? So, of course the prideful extra-observant people among the religious crowd would be extreme in their giving practices. Talk about being a show-off!

Jesus has dealt with this kind of prideful observant attitude before. Here in our reading, we see Him dealing with this kind of show-offy attitude again, only in the matter of giving to the needy. What is the next thing He notices? From Mark 12: “Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents.”

What is this? Jesus does a compare/contrast sort of thing. He compares the large contributions of the rich people with the measly two small coins that the widow contributed. Large amount compared to a small amount.

We will take a short detour and look at our reading from the Old Testament for today. This passage from 1 Kings is a fascinating reading, about how God provided for the prophet Elijah in the time of an extended drought.

I could have preached my sermon to you from this reading! But pairing this passage with the reading from Mark makes a more powerful story.

Elijah was one of the most prominent prophets in the Old Testament. He was God’s spokesman in a time when the nation of Israel was not following God very well at all. King Ahab was married to a foreign Queen named Jezebel, who led Ahab and much of the rest of Israel into idolatry and worship of false idols. That is one of the reasons why God sent an extended drought onto the whole region of the Middle East.

Elijah listened to God, and God communicated to Elijah to head up north, near Damascus, to the home of a non-Jewish widow in the town of Zarephath. Ordinarily, widows were not very well off, with no husband and little means of support. This widow was really, really poor. By the time Elijah arrived at her house, she only had one bag of flour and one jar of oil left in her pantry, and that is all. Hard for us here in the Chicago suburbs to believe that she had so little. Remember, it was a time of extended drought,food prices must have been going through the roof.

Elijah worked a miracle. God provided for the widow, her son, and the prophet. The widow made food for her, her son, and for their tenant the prophet Elijah, every day. The bag of flour and the jar of oil did not run out for months, until the Lord allowed the rains to return and the crops to grow again. Did you hear? God provided for them, out of God’s abundance.

This is what I suspect Jesus was thinking of when He pointed out the widow who put the two coins into the collection box. What did Jesus say? “Jesus called His disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”

Did everyone hear what Jesus points out?

All of these show-off rich people gave a portion out of their abundance. But the poor widow? The widow gave extravagantly. She gave over and above. She gave, trusting in God’s abundance. She gave, hope-filled, looking to God to provide for her needs. Like the widow in Zarephath, centuries before, this widow in Jerusalem trusts God to provide. This widow decides that everything she is and has belongs to God.

But, the treasurer and trustees at the Temple might have had a problem with this kind of thinking, and this kind of giving. Guess what? Too bad! What is valued and lifted up by Jesus, what is important to the Kingdom of God is not what is valued in this world. God does not have a dollars-and-cents kind of perspective!

This vignette is just a slice of the widow’s life. But, I’d like to follow the widow home. See how she treats her neighbors. Does she bring over a pot of soup to a sick friend? Does she clean the apartment of someone who has fallen and broken their leg? And what about her listening skills? Is she someone people come to, to talk about their troubles? Giving to God is so much more than just dollars and cents. So much more than just the coins the show-offy rich people put into the collection box in the Temple.

What about us, today? How can we take this scripture lesson today, and apply it to our lives? Is it just a nice story about what happened to people in Jesus’s day? Or, is it much more?

Today, we all can be like the widow in Jerusalem. This widow gave extravagantly. She gave over and above. She gave, trusting in God’s abundance. And, this widow decides that everything she is and has belongs to God. Like my friend I told you about, who does lots of things without thanks, with little or no fanfare. We all can be faithful. We all can be dependable. We all can contribute, in any way we can, to God and to God’s kingdom.

God willing, I’ll contribute to God’s kingdom. Will you contribute, too? Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

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

We Cannot Keep from Speaking!

“We Cannot Keep from Speaking!”

Peter - cannot stop Acts-4-20_2

Acts 4:1-20 – June 21, 2015

Ever had this situation happen to you? Just when you thought you had taken care of some pesky problem, here it comes, all over again! Sort of like the carnival game Whack-a-Mole. Just when you whack at all the moles, and think that they are all gone—that your problems are all solved—here they come again! Popping up all over the place.

I suspect the ruling council in Jerusalem felt this way just about now. Here they had rid themselves of that troublesome Rabbi Yeshua, or Jesus, some weeks ago. They had even gone to their Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to get his permission to put this upstart Rabbi to death. They got some people to accuse Jesus of insurrection and treason, so He would be killed by crucifixion. That was it! Done! One great, big, pesky problem taken care of!

True, there were some rumors about Jesus coming back to life a few days later, but that was just a rumor. Resurrection? Hah! Sounds pretty far-fetched to me. It was far-fetched to the ruling council, to the Sanhedrin, too.

They didn’t figure on Peter, John, and the rest of the disciples. They didn’t figure on the blowing of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, or the energy of the new believers in the Risen Jesus.

Our summer sermon series, Postcards from the Early Church, reminds me a bit of a radio serial. You might remember those! “When last we left our intrepid heroes . . . “ Last week, we saw Peter and John about to enter the Temple in Jerusalem for daily afternoon prayers. A long-time beggar, lame from birth, asked Peter and John for alms—for money. Peter made that extraordinary statement to the lame beggar: “Silver and gold I have none, but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, stand up and walk!”

As I mentioned in my sermon last week, 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.” Whatever congenital defect there was in his feet and ankles was immediately, miraculously healed. The ex-lame-beggar could walk. And not only totter around, but leap in the air! He praised God right there inside the Temple, giving immediate public testimony to God’s mighty power!

This was a big problem for the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, believe me! Just when they thought that pesky Rabbi Jesus was all gone, permanently taken care of, they have even more miracle-workers on their hands. The disciples, the friends who had been with Jesus.

The Sanhedrin—the Jewish leaders—quickly grabbed Peter and John, and threw them into prison. Right after this marvelous miracle! I am sure the bystanders were asking, “What gives? These men did a miracle! Why are you arresting them?”

But—are we surprised? Looking at the Hebrew Scriptures, many of the miracle-working prophets were misunderstood, mistreated, imprisoned. Exiled, and even put to death, sometimes.

The Jewish leaders needed to get on this miracle stuff right away. Try to hush it up. See whether they could sweep the whole business under the rug. But—there was a problem. This was a very public miracle, done in downtown Jerusalem, at the height of rush hour. Or, the equivalent. Afternoon prayer time at the Temple in the city center.

We see from this reading today that the leaders had Peter and John thrown into prison overnight. For working a miracle! For doing what God had called them to do!

This makes me think of the Civil Rights movement and marches of the 1950’s and 1960’s. A friend of mine, Ken, (a recently retired seminary professor) marched alongside of African-American activists. A good friend of this church, Pastor Gordon, attended several marches in the South during the 1960’s. It was a tense, even dangerous time. Both my friends were jailed in the aftermath of the marches. Both are proud to say that they were imprisoned for standing up for a Godly cause.

Back in Jerusalem, the day after the miracle occurred, Peter and John were hauled out of prison and brought in front of the Sanhedrin. The ex-lame-beggar was there, too! The Jewish leaders could not deny that this man—who everyone knew as lame from birth—now had full use of his fully-restored feet and ankles. The news of the miracle was traveling around Jerusalem like wildfire! The leaders knew they had to let Peter and John go free.

But Peter wasn’t done yet! Just like the carnival game Whack-a-Mole, where the Sanhedrin desperately wanted to make all those pesky miracle-working moles go away, Peter kept on popping up. And, he spoke to the learned Jewish leaders and teachers, too.

Peter quoted from Psalm 118 in his defense of the miracle he and John had done. He said to the Sanhedrin, “by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Talk about in your face! Peter had a lot of guts, speaking to the ruling leaders of his country like that!

As commentator Scott Hoezee brings out, “the Spirit led them to a lowly little textual nugget embedded deep inside one of the lesser known of all the psalms and prompted Peter to use that little verse as the perfect summary of what God’s ways are all about.” This idea is something that Peter repeats again and again. The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone of the building. The most important part of the whole structure. “That’s my Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. Oh, and by the way? You Jewish leaders crucified Him!” (That’s guts.)

By Peter quoting this psalm, he reminded these leaders of an unpleasant confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, shortly before His death. I appreciate another commentator’s words: “It was to say, in effect, “Jesus told you so.” How this citation must have stung in the ears of the Sanhedrin. The One they thought they had rid themselves of was still speaking to them, through the apostles.” The Jewish leaders didn’t have just one pesky problem any longer. The problem had multiplied.

Oh, my goodness. The Sanhedrin tries to tell Peter and John and the rest to shut up. To keep quiet about this Jesus person!

But it does just as much good as attempting to hold back the wild waves of the ocean. In other words, it doesn’t work at all. There is far too much power, far too much momentum behind that crashing ocean wave of testimony.

Despite the stern orders to “pipe down! Sit down and shut up!” Peter and John refuse. Their response? “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

What about us? Are we eager to tell people about what we have seen or heard? What about the mighty deeds we have experienced? Or, perhaps you haven’t had God do anything extraordinary in your life lately. Can you tell people about how God has been faithful? God has continued to walk with you, each and every day. I encourage you to tell someone! Amen!

Praise God, each of us can talk about something God has done—for each of us. God has given each of us a new day, each and every day. Praise God! That is truly something to praise and thank God about. Can we all say Amen? Amen! And again! 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!)