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!)

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A Time for Everything

“A Time for Everything”

eccl-3-1-everything-cursive

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 – January 1, 2017

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

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

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

What new, fresh excitement, and expectations!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope of God’s Good Promises

“Hope of God’s Good Promises”

Jer 33-14 God fulfills the gracious promise

Jeremiah 33:14 – November 29, 2015

“It just isn’t fair!”

How many of us can remember children saying that? Either when we were in school, on the playground, or when our children or grandchildren were bickering or fighting together. “It just isn’t fair!”

Lots of things are unfair. One child gets a bigger helping of pie or ice cream at Thanksgiving dinner. One child gets more Christmas presents than another, under the Christmas tree. Let’s go one step further. One child gets a bigger treat than the others. Or even, one child gets punished more times than all the rest.

“It just isn’t fair!”

I will be preaching through the Old Testament scriptures this Advent. Yes, this is the first Sunday in Advent, the time of preparation, when we pray and get ready for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. But—we are not there yet! We need to prepare for four Sundays.

Our Scripture passage today comes from the book of Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah lived about 350 to 400 years after King David and King Solomon. About 600 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Just to give you some idea of the time line. The situation Jeremiah and the other people in the kingdom of Israel found themselves in was not good! Israel had been conquered. Again. (Yes, they had been disobedient to God, again. And, that was a large part of why they were in exile, far from their homes.)

I can see why the people of Israel might think they were being treated unfairly. “It’s just not fair!” Because, God had repeatedly said the nation of Israel is God’s special possession. God’s much beloved children. Just imagine a list of all the things that were not fair for Jeremiah’s listeners and their children – forced to live in a foreign land as servants, not enough food, no chance to go to school, soldiers who told you where to go and what to do, and then some! How on earth did the nation of Israel get into this mess?

Jeremiah was a prophet to the kingdom of Israel during the sixth century before the birth of Christ. The time in which he wrote, the place where he wrote, was conquered—again! Not very safe or very peaceful. There were wars and rumors of wars, as well as a lot of military oppression, from all sides.

Some context helps me out, when I read the Bible. This explanation comes from an Australian online commentary. “The context of Jeremiah 33 is important. In terms of the story in Jeremiah, the city of Jerusalem is under siege by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and the people will shortly go into exile (Jer 32:1-6). Jeremiah is in prison (Jer 32:2; 33:1). The people are about to lose everything that has given meaning to their lives – the temple, the city, king, priesthood, their homes, family, etcetera. God seems to be silent, absent, and preoccupied with judging the people for past wrongs.” [1]

Time jump! I can see how the people of the first century, when the Gospels were written, felt a lot the same way! The Jewish people were a conquered people. Again! The Roman empire kept very close watch on the Jews in Israel. They knew the Jews to be a stiff-necked, stubborn, rebellious lot, so the Roman government was quick to stamp out the least little sign of outbreak or rebellion among the Jewish people. And, the Roman occupation had gone on for decades.

Is this very different from today? Wars and rumors of wars, conflict, destruction, despair and darkness. Just turn on the evening news or check the morning newspaper, or read the news online, and these are common headlines. A sad commentary on our times. Or any time, when this is the situation.

Here we are, on the first Sunday of the new church year, the first Sunday in Advent. Our Scripture lessons from the Old Testament and from the Gospel of Luke serve two purposes: they are a combination peek ahead, and also a reality check. Jeremiah’s prophecies are often of doom and gloom. Real downers. But sometimes, God gives the prophet some positive message for the people in exile. This paragraph today is just one such message.

Jeremiah knows his people in exile feel worthless and useless, like an old stump. But he tells the Jews that God is not finished yet! God is going to raise up a Leader from the line of King David. Imagine a fair, just leader who was one of them, a Jew, rather than a foreigner. This righteous Leader will bring about justice and restoration! These are words of hope! Good news! Glad tidings for the future!

Then, we have the passage from Luke, where Jesus tells us exactly how bad it is going to get. We know! The world is truly in an awful state! Sometimes, it seems like nothing is going to bail us out of the awful mess we are in. Bad leaders, awful people, horrible plans happening all over the place. But—there is hope. God gives us good news! Glad tidings for the future!

God promises that in the end they will not win.  God will.

Jeremiah’s promise—God’s promise is that a righteous Leader will sprout. Will arise. Even though things look black and hope is almost gone, God gives us good news! In the reading from Jeremiah today, the last word is “Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’”

Yes, we have hope! Yes, hope for the present, and hope for the future! God’s own words and actions, and God’s challenge to present us with visions of what is to come.

We know Advent is not just about sitting, twiddling our thumbs, passively waiting for God to fulfill God’s promises. It is also about our being transformed through waiting. Expectant! Eagerly looking for God to show up!

Yes, God gives us good news! Glad tidings for the future! Yes, we have hope! Hope for the present, and hope for the future!

Yes. Hope of God’s Good Promises.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://hwallace.unitingchurch.org.au/WebOTcomments/AdventC/Advent1Jer33.html

@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!

 

What I Have I Give You

“What I Have I Give You”

Peter healing lame man - Acts 3-6

Acts 3:1-10 – June 14, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

@chaplaineliza

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

Born of the Spirit

“Born of the Spirit” – May 31, 2015

Trinity - Holy Spirit

John 3:8

The wind can be really powerful. Has anyone here experienced a really strong wind? I remember the wind blowing so strong that I almost got blown off the highway while I was driving in Michigan. And when walking, I had to really lean into the wind to make any headway at all. We can watch the wind rush the clouds along and whip the trees and leaves. And what about devastating windstorms? Think of the tremendous power of hurricanes and tornados! We see the strong power of wind at work, regularly.

Wind is also a symbol from the Bible—a symbol of the Holy Spirit, in both the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament. The Holy Spirit is all over our Scripture passage today. We’ll hear our Lord Jesus mention the Holy Spirit in a few minutes, but first let’s set the stage.

Here it is, early in Jesus’ ministry. He had already made a name for Himself, with the marvelous teaching He had done and the wonderful miracles He had performed. A lot of people were talking about Jesus, this itinerant rabbi from Galilee. Even the most important leaders among the Jews, the Pharisees, were talking about Rabbi Jesus. One of the Jewish leaders, a man named Nicodemus, summoned up enough courage one night to sneak over to where Jesus was staying.

Nicodemus wanted to know more about Jesus.

Isn’t that just like some people? Some people know a little bit about Jesus, but they don’t know much. There is a veil across their understanding. This state is not godly; the Bible calls it the natural state of man, or of people. In their natural state, people often do not even consider God at all. They cannot come close to God. So, we often see people in their natural state feeling defeated and frustrated because they have a hole in their lives. There is something missing.

St. Augustine wrote a book centuries ago, an autobiography called The Confessions. He speaks of this emptiness, this void, this God-shaped hole inside of people. Augustine also talked about how it was impossible for anyone to fill up that hole with anything else but God.

People do try. They try to fill that hole with all kinds of things: work, money, education, status, alcohol, drugs, computers, family, exercise, shopping. All these things are ways to fill our lives, and to keep us busy. But—we cannot fill that God-shaped hole all by ourselves. No matter how hard we try.

Let’s go back to Nicodemus, coming to see this itinerant Rabbi Jesus in the middle of the night. Nicodemus is worried, or frightened, or a bit of both. But he does come to Jesus.

Did Nicodemus—a leader and prominent teacher among the Jews—come to have an intellectual, theological discussion with Jesus? Or, was it something else that convinced him to seek out this upstart Rabbi?

We discover he is drawn to Jesus by the wise words Jesus has said, as well as the witness of the mighty signs He has done. In other words, the word and the works of God draw Nicodemus to Jesus. Let me say that again: the word of God and the works of God draw Nicodemus to Jesus.

Early on in the interview—for that is what Nicodemus came to do, have an in depth interview with Rabbi Jesus—Jesus makes a surprising comment—surprising to Nicodemus, anyway. “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus begins to stutter and stammer, and complains that he cannot crawl back inside of his mother to be reborn, can he?

Again and again, the prophets in the Old Testament mention the new birth and the new life from God. This was nothing surprising. As a teacher of the Jews, Nicodemus should have known this teaching. Jesus is patient and answers again in the same vein. He even jokes with Nicodemus—as one of the premier teachers and scholars in Israel, Nicodemus needed some itinerant rabbi to fill him in on the hope of Israel??

Here we are, almost two thousand years after this conversation. Are you and I any further along in belief? Do we understand everything about the Holy Spirit’s work in the typical believer’s life? Or, are we still trying to painstakingly piece together the activity of God? I know I am. I don’t have all the answers, and that’s okay by God.

Many deep, theological books have been written over the centuries to explain the theology of this third chapter of the Gospel of John. But—I don’t want to give you just a hodgepodge of theology. Instead, I want to tell you about Jesus and His response to Nicodemus’ questions. I want to lift up to you the One who was sent to earth by God, His Heavenly Father. I want to point to the One who gave testimony of the power of God through the Holy Spirit.

Just as no one can actually see electricity or the wind in operation, no one can tell us exactly how they work. But, we all can see their effects. In the same way, God works in our lives today in much the same way. God’s hand is not visible. The power of the Holy Spirit is very often invisible—it is sort of like the wind, similar to electricity. We can see the Holy Spirit’s effects. And we can definitely tell how God works in our lives and hearts. We can see people’s lives changed by the mighty power of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Jesus here is mentioning powerHoly Spirit power. Do you believe it? Can you feel it? Like a gentle breeze, or even a strong wind, blowing through our lives?

Jesus forgives us our sins and wipes out the past. God cleanses us, and strengthens us. The Holy Spirit provides a way for us to be reborn, born from above. The Holy Spirit allows us to enter eternal life as children of God. Do you believe it? Can you feel it? What a wonderful opportunity! Praise God for His everlasting love.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Believe the good news of the Gospel!

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!)

Jesus Sends Us Forth!

John 17:11-19 – May 17, 2015

Sent into the world - John 17-18

“Jesus Sends Us Forth!”

Most everyone I know like to receive packages. Have you ever received something extremely fragile in the U.S. mail, or from Federal Express or UPS? Can you just visualize the package? Unpacking something like this is a multi-step process! Opening the box, taking out the protective foam pellets, unwrapping the layers of encasing bubble wrap, taking off the newspaper cushioning the fragile piece. And, then—there it is. Finally, unwrapped.

We didn’t want to allow the fragile piece of glassware—or pottery—to get chipped or broken. Heavens, no! So, we take extra-special care. We wrap it, protect it, and swathe it, even immobilize it, in order to make extra sure that it’s safe and won’t get hurt or broken.

Except—as we consider our gospel passage today, we aren’t talking about fragile glassware or delicate pottery. Here, our Lord Jesus is praying to His Heavenly Father about the disciples. Asking some things for them, specifically.

Let’s set the scene. It’s a familiar scene. The Upper Room, after the Passover dinner with His disciples. Jesus has just finished His last words to His friends, and now in John 17, He prays. It’s an intimate time, with Jesus addressing God His Father in the most intimate way.

God sent His Son into the world—special delivery. Into a battered, fallen, sinful, hate-filled world. Did you know that? Did you realize that? From time to time we may say that, in an Affirmation of Faith, or some such statement of belief. I try to make it a central point in my sermons, when the Scripture passage mentions it.

Yes! Jesus, the Son, was sent into the world in order to proclaim the gospel, as well as to give everyone a picture, an actual physical representation of God in heaven. Here, on earth. One of the names of Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.

Question: when God sent Jesus into the world—special delivery, what was the situation?

Where was He sent, in the first place, according to the Christmas narrative in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2? We remember! Jesus—the eternal Son, laid down all of His heavenly Godly-ness, all of His awesome power and might, and was born as a helpless infant to an unmarried girl. In an occupied state, from a marginalized people. Here on this earth in amongst fallen, messy, dirty people who often make mistakes. Lose their tempers. Are unkind and rude—and even worse—to others. Where sin and disease and unemployment and accidents happen, on a regular basis. Imagine that!

God the Heavenly Father could have wrapped the man Jesus securely in bubble wrap. Or, in case Jesus even moved, God could have made sure He was packed in protective foam pellets, so Jesus wouldn’t get injured or harmed. But—that sounds silly! Maybe that idea works for shipping fragile items or glasswear, but not for people!

Let’s take a closer look at verse 18 of this intimate prayer. Jesus says, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” So—Jesus is talking about sending the disciples out into the world. Do you get the picture? The past three years were a training program. An internship, if you will, to get the disciples prepared for ministry.

Being sent out. Getting down to the business of letting others know about God. The disciples are getting ready to be launched into the world. In order to proclaim the gospel, the Good News, as well as to give everyone a picture, a representation of God in heaven. Here, on earth.

Wait a second, Jesus. That’s scary!

The thought of the disciples going forth, being sent out. Who knows where they might end up? Here on this earth in amongst fallen, messy, dirty people who often make mistakes. Lose their tempers. Are unkind and rude—and even worse—to others. Where sin and disease and unemployment and accidents happen, on a regular basis. Imagine that!

These words in this intimate prayer to God are words that entrust the future to God. These words do not leave the disciples as orphans (as Jesus said), nor do they set the disciples adrift, completely on their own. These words do prepare the disciples for His departure, and for their work and lives in ministry after His death and resurrection.

In short, Jesus is asking God to take care of His friends, after He leaves. How caring! How considerate! How awesome! But, Jesus did not ask for God to pack the disciples in protective foam pellets or encase them in bubble wrap.

In preparing this message, one of the resources I used is one I occasionally turn to. An online website where clergy discuss the lectionary passages of the week. In one of the discussions on this gospel passage, a pastor from North Dakota gave the following reflection and then, illustration.

“The thing that strikes me this year about this text – this prayer – is that Jesus prays for protection. He doesn’t pray for removal – removal from the world – removal from evil. It seems to me that we are expected to be in the world (not of it) and with that comes dealing with sin and evil. And Jesus prays for protection. I also think there is a difference between protection and shielding.

“Here in North Dakota (not in May, mind you!) an image that works for me is that we dress our kids in snowsuits and hats and mittens and boots and then we send them out into the cold. We don’t just hide out in the house with the nice warm furnace and hot chocolate and we don’t shield our children from the weather. We protect them, yes, but, still, they are sent out into the wind and cold. I think God is like that with us as well. God doesn’t help us to hide from the world and all its ‘stuff.’ God gives us what we need as protection … the Word, faith, a conscience … you get the idea.”

You get the idea—God protected our Lord Jesus while Jesus was here on the earth, even though I’m sure Jesus and His friends had to put up with being itinerant and homeless all the time they were traveling around Israel, with all the accompanying discomforts and getting dirty and sometimes going hungry. God protected the disciples, the followers of Jesus—and they were still sent out into the wind and the cold. Into the world where sin and disease and unemployment and accidents happen, on a regular basis.

The part of this passage that hits home the most, for me, is that Jesus prays for His friends. Not only the disciples, but we can also see His prayer broadened to include all those who follow Him. That includes you and me! Us. All those who receive Jesus’ good news, His Gospel of the revelation of God.

Just as Jesus prays for us in this prayer in John 17, so we share in this mission. We, too, are being sent! We, too, have the awesome direction from our Lord Jesus to go forth, let others know about God. We are launched into the world. In order to proclaim the gospel, the Good News, as well as to give everyone a picture, a representation of God in heaven. Here, on earth.

The best part is that Jesus has prayed for us, already! He has covered us with prayer, with protection, so that we are suited up to go out into the world. Just as we don’t shield our children from the weather; we protect them, yes, but, still, they are sent out into the wind and the weather and cold. I think God is like that with us as well.

We are sent out into the world, to spread the Good News about Jesus. God is right by our sides, too. God gives us what we need, too. We can have that assurance. For sure, and certain. 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!)

Generous with Our Forgiveness

“Generous with Our Forgiveness” – April 3, 2015

Jesus Christ crown of thorns and nail

Luke 23:33-34 and John 19:28-37

Have you ever had someone say something or do something to you that was really unkind? I mean, downright awful? I can think of other descriptive words, too. Mean, nasty, despicable, evil. There are people like that in the world. In the world today, as well as throughout history. People who act and speak in a thoughtless manner, yes, but also people who act and speak in a deliberate way intended to hurt and to cause all manner of evil.

Tonight, we remember the events of that Passion Week, Thursday night through Friday afternoon, two thousand years ago. We will consider how unkind many people were to Jesus, our Lord. People who acted and spoke to Him in a deliberate way intended to hurt, and to cause all manner of evil. Imagine!

But first, let’s back up. Go back to the Upper Room, where the Rabbi Jesus and His disciples gathered together. They ate a Passover dinner, a Seder. Remembering that night so long ago when the Passover lamb was slain for the redemption of each Jewish household in Egypt. Remembering so long ago, as the head of each house smeared the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of each house so that the Angel of Death would pass over that house in the final plague on the people of Egypt. Remembering as the Jewish people fled from Egypt in such a hurry they were unable to allow their bread to rise. So they ate matzoh, or unleavened bread.

This Passover dinner in the Upper Room celebrated and commemorated the deliverance of the Jewish people from their slavery in Egypt. Jesus and His disciples remembered all of that. They came together to eat, to remember why that time, that night was different from all other nights. But Jesus added a whole new dimension to why that night was different. He instituted the Lord’s Supper. The Eucharist. We will remember this after the sermon, tonight.

The Passion narrative does not stop there. After dinner, after the bread and cup were shared by everyone present, Jesus went out to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed so earnestly and with such agonizing intensity! Yet, His friends, His disciples could not keep watch with Him. They were too exhausted. Imagine.

Judas, one of Jesus’ disciples, slipped out during the Seder dinner. He went to the house of the Chief Priest and told them he would betray Jesus. With a kiss, a common greeting between two friends at the time. Imagine.

As we follow Jesus through the events of that night and on into early Friday morning, Jesus is led through several trials. He is scorned, mocked, tortured, and ultimately stands before Pilate. Jesus is sentenced to death. Death by crucifixion.

This kind of death is particularly horrible. A criminal’s death.

I am going to pause here, and take a moment to tell you what this service is not. It is not a service where we consider Jesus’ Seven Last Words on the cross. I have attended such services. Where there are a series of recitations of each Word, followed by a short message interpreting each one. Some churches commemorate Good Friday with the observance of the last day of our Lord’s life. They retrace the scenes, or the Stations of the Cross. These show that final journey of Jesus, to the cross. Emotionally moving, graphically illustrating the sights, sounds and feelings of those surrounding the cross, as well as Jesus, on that horrific day.

All over the world, today, people are remembering that awful journey. There are some who, just a few hours ago, walked that journey. Along the same roads where Jesus walked, through the old city of Jerusalem. Yes, it is incredibly sad to remember that our Lord was condemned to death, even death on a cross. A criminal’s death. People beat their breasts, and commemorate that agonizing journey. The stations of the Cross.

Instead, we will zero in on one particular word that Jesus spoke from the cross. We come to the end of our Lenten series of generosity. By looking at this word spoken by Jesus, I would like us to reflect on the magnitude of the generosity of our Lord. “Father, forgive them. For they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus is so generous that He forgives those who kill Him. Torture Him. Despise Him. Imagine what a kind, generous, God-sized heart Jesus had! Imagine.

I suggest to you tonight that you—that I—that we all consider how wide and deep Jesus’ forgiveness must be! Consider, with our friends at #40acts, who have given me these wonderful Lenten sermon ideas.

It is not easy to forgive! God knows, I have been wronged, I have had some awful things done to me. I’ve been wounded and in pain, and I bet you have, too! Others might mistreat us, even abuse us in a myriad of ways. Do you think it’s easy to put aside bitterness and resentment? Let me tell you. I know from experience. It is not easy.

Yet, that is exactly what Jesus does here. On the cross, no less! That diabolical device of torture, devised by the Romans to be a horrific instrument of death. If Jesus could forgive His killers and those responsible for His death, what does that mean for us, today?

I know what it means for me. I know that I have been moved to forgive those who have hurt me. God has urged me to forgive those who I have resented deeply, for years.

We can look at this tremendous act of forgiveness—all forgiveness begins at the cross. Jesus models for us what forgiveness ought to be like. What forgiveness can be. We are only able to forgive each other if we know what God’s forgiveness is like. Imagine.

Thank God that God has given us the promise that is faithful and true. Each Sunday, we proclaim God’s forgiveness of our sins. Each Sunday after our confession of sins, I make the statement, “Believe the good news of the Gospel—in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven!”

Can you believe the good news that Jesus proclaims to us from the cross? He proclaims forgiveness. Jesus, struggling for breath on the cross, uses the last of His remaining breath and strength to speak. What does He say? He speaks forgiveness. Can we do any less?

Praise God. Jesus loves us this much. What love. What generosity. What forgiveness. Amen.

@chaplaineliza

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

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