Elisha Shows Mercy

2 Kings 6:8-23 (6:22) – June 25, 2017

 

 

mercy

“Elisha Shows Mercy”

Compassion. Being kind. Showing mercy. Showing love. All of these are actions God calls us to do.

During the past few weeks in June, these are actions we saw carried out by people in the Old Testament, in the Hebrew Scriptures. We saw Abraham showing hospitality, the midwives for the Hebrew women displaying compassion, and King David being kind and merciful. This week’s scripture lesson is a little different. Here, we take a closer look at the prophet Elisha and see how he displayed mercy and compassion.

We need to step back and remind ourselves about our summer sermon series on Compassion. In keeping with my continuing effort to provide for activities for everyone—adults and children—I chose this series on Compassion because of its excellent, detailed children’s teaching and activities. This series also had some thought-provoking sermon ideas on how God’s people went out of their way to provide compassion, mercy and kindness for those around them.

Compassion is a big word. One thing it means is being especially kind to others. Except, the prophet Elisha and the people of Israel had a difficult time being kind because of what was going on with the political situation of the country of Israel. Is it easy to be compassionate to an opposing army that is marching against you? Even with up-to-date, fancy chariots and horses—which was the equivalent of the best tanks and armored vehicles they had at that time.

We need to see why the king of Syria was so angry at the nation of Israel. But before that, we also need a refresher on the nation of Israel. After King David died and his son King Solomon died, the nation had a short civil war. One of Solomon’s sons took over the northern part of the kingdom, and another of Solomon’s sons became king over Jerusalem and the southern part of the kingdom. A couple of hundred years go by, and here we are at the time of the prophet Elisha. Elisha served as prophet to the northern kingdom, which was called Israel.

The prophet Elisha was powerful, a miracle worker who had the spirit of the Lord resting upon him. This is exactly the reason behind the first part of our reading from the book of 2 Kings. There was conflict between the nation of Israel and the nearby country of Syria. Yes, the armies of both Israel and Syria were actively engaged in outright war.

Our biblical writer says: “The king of Syria consulted his officers and chose a place to set up his camp. But Elisha sent word to the king of Israel, warning him not to go near that place, because the Syrians were waiting in ambush there. 10 So the king of Israel warned the people who lived in that place, and they were on guard. This happened several times.”

The Syrian king must have been puzzled, and scared, and especially angry! The first thing he thought was that he had a traitor and spy on his hands. But, no. All his soldiers were faithful and true. However, to continue with our reading: “The prophet Elisha tells the king of Israel what you say even in the privacy of your own room.” 13 “Find out where he is,” the king ordered, “and I will capture him.”

Not good! The Syrian army wanted to conquer Israel and take the prophet Elisha as prisoner. Under cover of night, the army sneaks up on the city where Elisha is staying. In the morning, what do you think happens? What would you think if you woke up one morning and your town were surrounded by hostile forces?

I do not know what my reaction would be for sure, but I bet I might be able to relate to Elisha’s servant. He was scared half to death, just looking at all of these Syrian troops and chariots and horses! Again, the Syrian army had the latest in military gear, weapons and armaments. It must have been an impressive—and frightening—sight.

“The servant cried out, “What shall we do?!” Elisha reassured him, “Don’t be afraid. More are with us than with them.” Elisha prayed for his attendant’s eyes to be opened, and suddenly the young man saw the surrounding mountains filled with heavenly horses and chariots of fire.”

Elisha reassured his servant not to be afraid, and said “We have more on our side than they have on theirs.”  What is more, Elisha prays that the Lord will send blindness upon all of the Syrian army. And—God does!

What happens next is both humorous and ironic. Elisha himself goes out to the newly-blinded Syrian army. He tells them, “This is not the way you’re trying to go; this is not the city you want to get to; follow me, I’ll bring you to the man you want.

Remember, the Lord has struck all of the Syrian army blind. “Here Elisha told a technical truth but certainly intended to deceive. He did in fact bring them to the man they sought (when their eyes were opened, Elisha was there with them). However, he led them back to Samaria – the capital city of the Kingdom of Israel and an unfriendly place for [an army] of Syrian soldiers.” [1]

Let’s pause for a moment, and imagine we are with the king of Israel and Elisha. How would you have felt if you were them, facing the Syrian army? Remember, this army is at war with our country. Elisha does something unprecedented. After leading the blind army into enemy hands—Jewish hands, Elisha suggests mercy, kindness, and compassion! He tells the king to give the Syrians food and drink. In other words, serve them a feast!

One of the most surprising and beautiful parts of this story is how the Syrian army is blown away by the compassion they are shown. When they expected revenge and fighting, they receive a feast and love instead. Compassion! Kindness!

The Syrians get it. They understand. The king of Syria stops sending raiding troops into Israel because of this act of compassion and mercy. Can you think of a time when you were expecting more fighting, and there was peace and kindness instead? I realize it may not happen often, but sometimes—praise God!—sometimes it does happen.

It is not only by our own power that we act in kind, loving and merciful ways. God helps us to show compassion, even to those who persecute us. Just as Jesus said in our Gospel lesson today, 44 But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven.” Challenging words, to be sure! We can take the prophet Elisha for our example, as well as our Lord Jesus. Truly.

Showing compassion and kindness to those who hurt us is not the same as being passive, giving up, or letting them do whatever they want to us. When we show compassion or mercy we act in love. How can we find the strength to take these kinds of actions? Through prayer! Through doing the next loving, compassionate thing, with the Lord’s help.

God willing, God can help us act in a loving way.

Let us all follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus. We can all show compassion, kindness, mercy and love to those around us; to our friends as well as our enemies.

Amen, alleluia!

[1] https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_2Ki/2Ki_6.cfm

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

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.

We Are Called

“We Are Called”

call of God 1 Cor 1

I Corinthians 1:1-3 – June 12, 2016

Remember the baptism we celebrated here in this sanctuary a few weeks ago? What a wonderful opportunity to welcome a new child to God’s forever family! When we baptized baby Christine, we celebrated a sacrament of the church. And, baptism is a great expression of God calling people to God’s heart. Embracing all God’s children, no matter how young or how old they might be.

Our New Testament scripture reading comes from the beginning of the letter to the believers in the city of Corinth. The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to address some problems and answer some questions for the Christians in Corinth, a city not too far from Athens, Greece.

Paul only stayed in some towns and cities for a short time. A few towns—as we saw when we took our postcard trip through Acts last summer—he only was able to stay in for a very short time. But, the city of Corinth? When he was on his second missionary journey, Paul spent eighteen months there. That’s a good long time, in any century.

Imagine a town with loose morals. Think Las Vegas, pretty much any time of the year, and New Orleans, especially during Mardi Gras. Combine them into one city, and you have an idea of what the city of Corinth was like. Corinth was known throughout the Roman empire—and beyond—for being a loose-living, rough-and-tumble city. Lacking moral character. Yet, God tapped the prim and proper Apostle Paul on the shoulder and had him spend a year and a half here in this town. And, what a town it was!

We are taking a close look at the greeting in Paul’s letter. “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,” It’s like the address label or identifying mark, telling the recipients who is sending the letter.

Yes, this letter is from Paul and “our brother Sosthenes.” Except, I want us to look more closely at one particular phrase: “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.”

This word “called?” A fascinating word. Paul is identifying himself as an apostle. Not just because he said so, or because he’s calling himself that, but because God said so! “Called” is the Greek verb kaleo, used dozens of times in the New Testament. It means “to call, invite or summon.” (Depending on who is doing the action. Friends invite, whereas kings summon!) This word can also be translated “to name.” (As in this case.) God has named Paul an Apostle. [1]

Paul is called as an Apostle, and given a specific job or task. We are probably familiar with the term “pulpit committee,” for filling the pulpit when a church is looking for a new pastor. When the church decides on a prospective pastor, they “call” that pastor. The church is choosing her or him to come and work for them. The church “invites” or “calls” the pastor. Kaleo.  A very biblical term!

The next verse of the greeting is in several parts. First, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be His holy people.”

There is that word again! “Called.” Kaleo. The believers in Corinth have been called to be God’s holy people! Wait, I thought Corinth was Sin City! I thought the city was a cross between Las Vegas and New Orleans in the middle of Mardi Gras! Well, yes. You would be correct. Except—this is God who is doing the calling!

God can call people out of all kinds of places. God can name individuals to be whatever God wants them to be. To do. To act. To love. To show mercy. To give. Whatever we are called to do, God summons us to fill that task, or calling. Even though many of us may never be a minister like Pastor Gordon, or a church musician like Angela, or a chaplain like I used to be, in the hospital, but God still calls.

All believers are still invited to follow God. And, that is not all. Let’s listen to this verse again. “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be His holy people.”

The believers in Corinth were sanctified. There are other places in the New Testament where believers are described in just this way: “sanctified.” Which is a fancy word for “set apart,” or “separated.”

Believers are called as hagiois – saints, separated or set apart. Now, who wants to be “set apart” or “separated?” To the typical non-Christian Corinthian, that does not sound like very much fun. I do not think many of these non-Christian friends had much patience for that. However, Paul and his Christian friends did not withdraw from society and isolate. Instead, Paul and his friends lived together with the others in Corinth. They had a special quality that marked them and made them special. “Set apart” or “separated.” That is how Paul describes us as believers.

This is a difficult concept to some, but not in all contexts. Athletes set themselves apart often. They train hard, eat healthy, have particular foods and drink. A commentator mentions, “I wonder if that isn’t just another way of saying that [they’re] set apart or dedicated. That kind of language might work better for us. People are quite ready to talk in that way in our culture. Athletes set themselves aside. They dedicate themselves toward particular ends. There is a sense in which Paul is saying, ‘You are a dedicated people; you have been set apart.’” [2]

So, not only Paul is called—or named—as an Apostle of God. The believers at Corinth are called—or named—as a set apart, dedicated people of God. By extension, we—that is, all of us!—are named as a separated people of God. Not dedicated to loose living, or of low moral character; instead, set apart. Called, invited to be God’s people.

I am turning to the United Church of Christ Statement of Mission. You all have it as an insert in your bulletins. We are on the second part of the preamble today. Please read along: “we seek within the Church Universal to participate in God’s mission (John 20:21) and to follow the way of the crucified and risen Christ. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called (1 Cor 1:1-3) and commit ourselves.”

This second part of the preamble, “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called,” is an identification. We are not only finding out about the believers in the church at Corinth, we find out about us. About you and me, today.

We all are called! We have been invited by God, named as Christians by God. Just as baby Christine was loved by God and welcomed into God’s forever family through baptism, so God loves us and names us as part of God’s forever family, too.

This is important. The United Church of Christ is awfully particular about who receives this Statement of Mission. We all do! We all are called. We all are named as believers. And, we all are encouraged to follow this statement of mission, to carry it out.

Last, to return to our greeting from this letter, Paul has all believers everywhere calling on God. Another verb “kaleo,” another instance of us naming Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Their Lord and ours. You can look at it as an identifying mark or label. We call Jesus Christ our Lord.

If we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord, we are certainly ready for anything. In the weeks ahead, we will find out in more detail what the UCC Statement of Mission has for us to do. God willing, I will be ready. Will you?

[1] https://billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/kaleo. (Thank you, Dr. Mounce.)

[2] http://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/content/pdfs/15-4_Nations/15-4_Dinovo.pdf, Dinovo, Terrence L., “Jesus Christ and Him Crucified,” Word & World, Volume XV, Number 4, Fall 1995.

@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!)