Follow Jesus in Love

“Follow Jesus in Love”

John 3-16 so loved, bible

John 3:14-21 (3:16) – March 11, 2018

Many people like sports. They watch football, baseball, basketball and hockey games on a regular basis. One thing that repeats on occasion at these sports matches, whether college ball or professional matches, is people who hold up signs featuring some important message. One message that keeps getting shown and broadcast on national television is the simple Bible reference of John 3:16. That is all. Held up to the camera on t-shirts, posters, and even more.

Lots of people are familiar with that Bible reference from the repeated broadcasts, but how many can quote the verse, word for word? Even if people can quote it, how many can go the next step and explain it? Talking about the context, the biblical situation, and the reason why the verse appears?

For that, we need to go back to the beginning of John chapter 3, where Nicodemus the Pharisee teacher and member of the Sanhedrin sneaks away to meet the Rabbi Jesus under the cover of darkness. To get a feel for how secretive Nicodemus is, imagine a secret agent or spy going for an undercover meeting. Imagine the caution and care that Nicodemus would be taking.          If other members of the ruling Sanhedrin found out about Nicodemus and his hush-hush visit to Jesus, I suspect Nicodemus would be in big trouble. The Pharisees were not exactly best friends with the Rabbi Jesus, and some of them were extremely antagonistic to Him.

After some talk between Jesus and Nicodemus about being born from above, the Gospel reading for today picks up in the middle of the conversation. Jesus brings up an event that happened back in the book of Numbers. Eileen read this passage from the Hebrew Scriptures for us this morning, too. Jesus breaks off talking about baptism and being born from above, and starts talking about Moses, of all things! Why change the subject to Moses in the wilderness?

The Biblical scholar Nicodemus understood immediately what Jesus was talking about. Of course he did! I bet he knew the Torah, the Books of Moses, backwards and forwards, and could even recite large portions of it, too.

However, the majority of us today do not have a clear understanding of this section of the Bible. Moses? A bronze serpent? Wilderness wandering? And of course, constant griping and complaining. It seemed like the people of Israel were forever complaining and griping. If it wasn’t one thing, it was the other. Gripe, gripe, gripe, gripe!

Listen to John 3:14-15. “14 As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. “ That is what Jesus had to say to Nicodemus.

Remember how I talked to the children today about healing, and how Jesus heals people? That was the situation Jesus referred to. Moses and the people of Israel, wandering in the wilderness for a long time. The reading from the book of Numbers tells us that the people kept up their griping and complaining so long, and at such a volume, that finally God said “Enough!” (I’m paraphrasing here, but it is pretty close to what Numbers records.)

I am sure all of us know somebody who complains all the time. I don’t mean some of the time, or even most of the time, but all the time. Complain, gripe, moan. Everything is wrong. Nothing is right. The food stinks. The leaders are constantly wrong, and the people surrounding them can’t do anything right, either.

Wouldn’t that be annoying? Troublesome? Irksome? Even extremely frustrating? How would you feel if everything you always did and said was wrong? According to this really negative person, that is? Take that negativity, and multiply it by a lot. By thousands, even hundreds of thousands. Practically all the people of Israel were thinking, talking and acting like this. Negative thinking and acting. Some people refer to it as “stinking thinking.”

Reading from the book of Numbers: “But on the way the people lost their patience and spoke against God and Moses. They complained, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We can’t stand any more of this miserable food!” Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many Israelites were bitten and died.” What an extreme reaction to griping and complaining!

But, don’t you and I act like that sometimes? Don’t you and I talk against leaders, and friends and families? Moan about the food and the accommodations, and complain about God and how we always get the short end of the stick? Gripe about how “It just isn’t fair! Why does that always happen to me? What’s the use?” You know what I mean. People who complain, gripe and moan. Maybe they even look a little bit like you and me?

Jesus reminded Nicodemus that God sent poisonous snakes into the camp. After the people repented and asked God to save them, Moses held up the bronze serpent high on a pole, and everyone who looked at the serpent was healed.

The truth about God and God’s purposes is confusing. Some people just do not get it (like Nicodemus, and like us, too). “Nicodemus finds this Good News confusing (John 3:10) because it demands that he let go of all that he has accomplished and understood — let go and become like a newborn, ready to receive the world on completely new terms.” [1] Nicodemus just did not understand the spiritual healing that God was holding out to him—and to us, too!

Sometimes, the world says “no.” Sometimes, God’s message of Good News just makes no sense to us at all. Sometimes, we are in the same situation as the people of Israel, where they got stuck in their complains and negativity.  One of the commentators I consulted believes “the reason for this is because we are to understand that God has manifested His love for the world in a particular way. Godloved” the world through His Son, Jesus Christ. God “loved” the world by sending His son into the world, so that He might be “lifted up” as a sin-bearer.[2]

We all are familiar with the picture or representation of Jesus on the Cross. Artists in Central America turn this picture around, and paint crosses with pictures or faces of lots of people on them. What a cosmic understanding that our Gospel writer had when he insisted that Jesus was raised up on the Cross, and He drew all the people of the world to Him! [3]

If we look at this from Nicodemus’s point of view, “for Jesus (or John) to say that God loved the world was revolutionary, shocking, and very distressing for a strict Jew. “ [4]

Jesus did not draw not just you and your friends to Himself. No, Jesus did not draw just one particular region or country to Himself. Jesus also drew people of other races, other ethnicities, and other faith traditions to Himself. Think about that. Really think.

God so loved the world. That means everyone, in every part of the world. As the apostle Paul might say, God loves everyone: Jew, Gentile. Slave, free. Rich, poor. No exceptions. Including you. Including me.

For God so loved you. For God so loved me. Praise God.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2394  Lance Pape

[2] https://bible.org/seriespage/8-jesus-and-nicodemus-john-31-21

“Jesus and Nicodemus (John 3:1-21),” by Robert Deffinbaugh at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

[3] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/02/year-b-fourth-sunday-in-lent-march-15.html

Worshiping with Children, Lent 4B, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015

[4] https://bible.org/seriespage/8-jesus-and-nicodemus-john-31-21

“Jesus and Nicodemus (John 3:1-21),” by Robert Deffinbaugh at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

@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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Mother Love, Parent Love

“Mother Love, Parent Love” – May 8, 2016

LOVE hear word cloud

John 17:20-26 (17:23)

This is a weekend to celebrate mothers. Yes, and mothers-in-law, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and nieces and other relatives and friends who are mothers. It is a special weekend, with special meals, gifts, flowers, and cards. Significant trips to the cemetery perhaps.  Happy Mother’s Day. What a wonderful sentiment. Hallmark card holiday, some might say. Particularly meaningful day to many. A day of pain and grief, of sorrow and longing, to others. An emotional day, for sure, with a whole range of emotions.

Reminds me of the particularly emotional night that we have in our Gospel reading for today. It comes from the last night our Lord spent on earth. From John 17:20-26, when Jesus prays for His friends after the Passover dinner.

Here is the beginning of that passage, the words of Jesus to His Heavenly Parent, in prayer. 20 “My prayer is not for them [the disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You.”

I wanted to highlight this section, as a prelude to the topic of this sermon. This sermon goes straight to the heart of why Jesus was here on earth. He was communicating that message to His friends and followers. This prayer lets us know Jesus is not just praying for His disciples. He is also praying for all those who come to believe as a result of the disciples’ spreading the Good News. That means, Jesus is praying for all Christians, throughout all time. He is praying here for us, too! Did you realize that? Jesus prays for us.

What does He pray, some might wonder? I’m glad you asked!

I continue reading from John 17: “22 I have given them [all believers] the glory that You gave me, that they may be one as We are one.” Here Jesus is talking about the unity of all believers. The family of God.

Did you know we are in God’s family? Children of God, that’s what we are. Knowing that living together, living in community is not easy, Jesus prays for His disciples and for us.  That prayer is for household families, the church family, and God’s world-wide family. [1]

All of us—no matter who—are included in Jesus’s description of family. All of us—no matter who—are included in the unity of believers.

But, I did not want to preach on the unity—fellowship—of the family of God today. I know that is a huge concept, and I’ve touched on it in recent sermons. No, today I wanted to describe God’s love.

Let’s let Jesus tell us more. From John’s Gospel reading, verse 23. “Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them [all believers] even as You have loved Me.”

I love what the commentator Barbara Lundblad said about this section of Jesus’s prayer. She talks about the surprising twists and turns of the Gospel of John. About the protective nature of this talk Jesus gave in the Upper Room, where Jesus proclaims God’s love. God’s love for—the world. God’s beloved children! [2]

But, Jesus does not just describe us all as children. He speaks of Himself as the Good Shepherd. We as children—as sheep—hear His voice. But, wait! There’s more! Just as we are ready to shut the gate, Jesus mentions other sheep. Different sheep, not of our sheepfold.

The disciples must have been really confused by this time. Not only have these past few days been really emotional, but the band of disciples know they are in a tough spot. A dangerous situation. They all know that their Rabbi Jesus is high on the Enemies of the Jewish Leaders list. Who knows if there will be an official knock at the door, summoning some if not all of them to meet with the Jewish authorities? Jesus had some daring, walking right into Jerusalem on that Passover week.

Yet, what does Jesus do? He prays for His disciples, and for all of those who will believe. He prays a prayer of protection. He prays that these beloved ones of God will be protected from the world. That sounds like a prayer from a mother’s heart. We see a word picture of our Lord Jesus, seeming very much like a mother.

That’s the thing about mothers. (Most mothers, I mean.) It doesn’t matter whether their children are small, or whether they’re grown. It doesn’t matter whether the child is near or far, employed or out of work, healthy or sick. A mother still thinks of her son, her daughter. A mother still prays for her child, no matter where, no matter what.

We are all children of God. God is our Heavenly Father, our Heavenly Parent. We are much beloved by God, and chosen and precious to God. That’s all of us, right here. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, or what we’ve left undone. It doesn’t matter what we look like, or whether we are in poor health, or whether we’re right- or left-handed. God loves us.

But—what about people who haven’t had an ideal relationship with their mothers? I know these things are difficult to think about, and difficult to talk about. However, sometimes they do need to be voiced. These words and experiences are truths for many. Maybe not many here, but for many across the country, and throughout the world. For some children, and for some adults, that is a real and painful reality in their lives.

Every Mother’s Day card or gift, every reminder of Mother’s Day, whether on commercials, in shop windows, or from friends or relatives, is accompanied by a sinking heart, feeling of regret or grief, or perhaps a flash of anger. For all those for whom this is your reality, I grieve with you today. I have several friends for whom this is true. I do feel great compassion and sorrow in my heart, for them and for those who still suffer.

I turn back to Barbara Lundblad. She says, “we hear Jesus praying as a mother worried for her children. “I will not leave you orphaned,” Jesus said. You are my own and I will be with you forever.” Jesus, who will not let us down, who will walk right by our sides.

I hear echoes of the most comforting of Psalms here. Psalm 23, which Jesus must certainly have been familiar with. True, this was King David talking to God, but David’s words have transcended the centuries. His words have been true for oh, so many. “Yea, though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I will fear no evil.” Why? Because God is walking right at our sides.

Finally, David says, “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Do you hear? That is what Jesus wants for us. God’s transformative love for us will shine through. We, as God’s beloved children, are going to dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.
That’s the long view. Now, how can we use these words in our lives, today?

This is the wondrous mystery revealed to theologian Julian of Norwich in the 14th century. This well-educated Christian woman devoted her life to God through study and contemplation of scripture. She wrote a theological treatise in a day when not many people were well-educated, much less women. Her words have now become a hymn that we could sing today: “Mothering God, you gave me birth. Mothering Christ, you took my form. Mothering Spirit, nurturing One.” [3] God is so much more than we ever could imagine.

Alleluia to God, heavenly Parent of us all. Amen.

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/04/year-c-seventh-sunday-of-easter-may-8.html

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2851

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2851

(Thanks to Barbara Lundblad and Carolyn Brown for their words and ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

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

God Sends Us Out!

“God Sends Us Out!”

Acts 8-5-8 Philip preaching in Samaria

July 26, 2015 – Acts 8:4-8, 12, 14-17

Did you ever have something unexpected happen? Let’s say, you’re going about your everyday business, everything perfectly normal. When, something out of the ordinary happens. Comes out of left field. Knocks your socks off! Could be called a miracle, even!

That’s what happened in our Scripture passage from Acts chapter 8 today. Something certainly out of the ordinary happened to the Samaritans!

I’m continuing with my Summer Sermon Series from the book of Acts, Postcards from the Early Church. But before I continue, I’d like to thank everyone for the opportunity to take a week to go to a church conference, the New Wilmington Mission Conference in western Pennsylvania. I hope everyone enjoyed Pastor Gordon as he preached and led the service last week in my absence. The mission conference was a marvelous opportunity to see what God is doing around the world in mission and outreach. Reaching out to people with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Surprise! It’s just what the apostle Philip was doing, in our Scripture reading today.

It’s only a number of months after that first Pentecost. The apostles have been preaching and teaching up a storm. The fellowship of new believers in the risen Messiah has been growing by leaps and bounds! When—we have the super-deacon Stephen get hauled up before the authorities. You remember, just like a radio serial. “When last we left our intrepid heroes . . . !” Only, things went from bad to worse for Stephen. Some things he said about God really got the authorities mad. They thought he was saying blasphemous words, so they stoned him to death. And, God rest his soul. Stephen was the first martyr of the Church.

You might have guessed that Jerusalem was no longer a safe place to stay for many early believers in the risen Jesus. The apostles and other church leaders left town in a hurry!

The early believers in the risen Messiah were ALL Jewish. Everyone in the first church in Jerusalem was Jewish! The first few months were like a greenhouse; this growing church was spreading like a wild fire! But the sudden death of Stephen brought the rapidly growing situation in Jerusalem to an abrupt end.

Which brings us to Philip, one of the apostles. His task is a continuation of sending. The Greek—the original language definition for apostle is ‘one sent on a mission.’ So, Philip is doing his job! Doing what Jesus told him to do.

One problem: Philip was not preaching to Jews. This is unheard of, at this point.

Preaching to Jews? Acts 8 says clearly that Philip—one of the Jewish apostles—went to Samaria, an area some ways north of Jerusalem. There’s a problem: no self-respecting, kosher-keeping Jew would willingly go to Samaria!

Let me tell you a little about the Samaritans, a tribe of people forcibly brought to Israel several centuries before. As John Petty says in his Lectionary blog, “Samaritans and Jews were all-but-enemies.  Centuries of insults and provocations had made each group so disgusted with the other that Jews travelling to Galilee or Judea would usually opt to take the longer route through the area across the Jordan River rather than set foot in Samaria.

“The Samaritans shared some aspects of faith with the Judeans.  Their sacred book was the Pentateuch, and, in their minds, they worshipped Yahweh.  They rejected, however, the focus on Jerusalem that was integral to the Judeans’ Jewish faith. As far as the [Jewish people] were concerned, the Samaritans were some form of ‘half-breed’ and their theology was heretical.”

I think you all can see where the problem lies. Jews hated Samaritans! Samaritans hated Jews! A racial issue! A huge barrier in relationship stood between them!

Just a minute. Let’s step back. Barriers between people? Misunderstood and marginalized people? Differences in religion, even heretical viewpoints? Sounds like a mission field to me!

This past week at the mission conference, I heard about mission outreaches that crossed all kinds of barriers. Differences in language, religion, culture, and viewpoint. Differences in urban people going to rural places, Christian worldview meeting Buddhist or Hindu or Moslem worldview. Wide differences in cultural views and assumptions. And—that’s just on the missionaries’ side.

So, when we consider the apostle Philip crossing a barrier of hatred and disdain and religious difference to reach the Samaritan people with the knowledge and understanding of the risen Messiah, we know for sure this was missionary activity. Listen to verses 5 and 6:

“5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said.” This verse mentions “signs.” I think I know what those signs were. In the very next verse, Dr. Luke explains: “For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.”

I don’t have time to go into the topic of evil, or impure, spirits at this time. I’ve been preaching a midweek bible study for the past few weeks on Angels: Elect and Evil. I’m going to do a “coming attractions spiel.” If you’re available this coming Wednesday at 11:00 am, step on down to this very room! If the weather is hot and toasty outside, come on in. We have air conditioning. This week will be the final session, on demons. Or as they are sometimes referred to, evil spirits.

Let’s move on—to Philip and his effective evangelism. He reached out with the Good News, to this despised and disdained group of people. Guess what? Many believed! Continuing with Acts 8: “12 When they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”

But, wait! There’s more! Apostles Peter and John show up, wondering what is going on.

What did Peter and John think of the Samaritans? Dr. Luke doesn’t tell us, but I suspect they had similar feelings to their fellow countrymen.

I have another question for you: What do you think about crossing barriers today? What about outreach right here, right now? What about an Indian church, culturally different from St. Luke’s ? Oh, wait! The dancing classes St. Luke’s Church hosts during the week come from a Catholic Indian church. What about a language barrier, where a different group of people uses a completely different alphabet? Oh, wait! What about Love Sharing Disciple Church? Our Korean friends who worship in the sanctuary here at 12:30 pm.

Do you think Jesus included everyone in His invitation to come to Him? Or, did He say, “Oh, everyone is invited, except for people with physical problems.” That would put my friend and church elder Bob out of the picture, because he has a withered arm, withered from birth. Or, did Jesus say, “Everyone is invited, except for people with disabilities.” No! Remember my friend Pastor Joe, who was at my commissioning service? He’s blind.

Jesus loved Samaritans just as much as Jews. Remember the woman at the well from John 4? Yup, she was Samaritan. And a woman of loose morals. No self-respecting Jewish man would even talk to her. The Rabbi Jesus crossed lots of barriers to bring her to faith! What about the Good Samaritan? Jesus made a Samaritan the star of one of His best-loved parables! And, here’s the kicker. Jesus’ last words, just before He was taken up into heaven, Acts 1:8b. “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Did you all hear? It doesn’t matter whether the Jews despised the Samaritans. God would help the Jews to love the Samaritans. They still needed to introduce Samaritans to Jesus.

Did you all hear? The apostles needed to go to the ends of the earth. Praise God! That’s just what they did. Did you all hear? It doesn’t matter what kind of barrier you and I are need to cross, God is there to help. We can overcome language differences, culture or worldview problems, religious differences. Remember John 3:16? For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.” For you, for me. For everyone.

God loves the whole world. What part of “whole world” do we not understand?

Peter and John were finally convinced. God does not divide or isolate persons one from another. Instead, Peter and John prayed and laid hands on the Samaritan believers. What happened? The Holy Spirit came upon the Samaritans. The Holy Spirit came with power to the Samaritan believers as well as the Jewish believers.

God is all about mission. Outreach. God is a sending God. It doesn’t matter if we are moved to reach out to our neighbor across the alley, to our community with the Maine Township Food Pantry, to the poor and marginalized of Chicago with Bundled Blessings diaper pantry, or to a mission outreach halfway around the world with Dana and Carolyn Belton, with SIM Ministries in Zambia.

In this way, we are following the command of Jesus—to go to our Jerusalem, our Judea, our Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth. We have that opportunity, too. We can reach out, say ‘hello’ to someone who looks different—sounds different—worships differently. I have accepted this challenge! This opportunity. This challenge. God would like you to accept it, 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!