Our Redeemer Lives

“Our Redeemer Lives”

Job and his friends - Ilya Repin, 1869

Job 19:23-27 – November 10, 2019

Have you ever thought that God is just not fair? Look at the world today. With natural disasters, wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, torrential downpours, and flooding, some insurance policies still today list “acts of God” as a factor in their settlements.

Many people throughout the world live with debilitating illness or long-term disabilities. We may know several of them, personally. We may even be some of them, with illnesses like multiple dystrophy, polio, lupus, fibromyalgia, ALS, and complications from AIDS; not to mention the disabilities we see Jesus healing on a regular basis—people who are blind, lame and mute, to mention just a few.

Yes, there is a whole lot of bad and awful going on in the world. Many, many people think—and outright say—that God is just not fair. Do you ever feel that way? I know I have.

Job definitely felt that way; he expressed his feelings openly in the book named after him, in his discussions with his friends as well as his discussions with God. This book squarely brings up the question: is God fair? I ask again: is God fair? Job wanted to know. I think, so do we.

If people want comfort, they turn to the Psalms, or the Gospel of John, maybe parts of Isaiah, or the encouraging sections from the letters in the New Testament. Not the book of Job.

Perhaps you only know Job as a character in the Hebrew Scriptures who was very rich, and then through a horrific series of circumstances and through no fault of his own, had everything taken away. How many here know the basics about Job? And…that is about it? Oh, there is a sort of postscript to this book, where Job gets all of his wealth returned to him, plus additional children are born to him and his wife, but that does not come until the very ending of the story—a real happily-ever-after ending.

In the middle of Job’s disputing and arguing with his friends, the middle of his traumatic loss, paralyzing grief, and horrid debilitating physical condition, Job is really hard-pressed by his circumstances.

Plus, Job’s so-called friends are ostensibly there to try to comfort and help Job out. Talk about kicking a man when he’s down! Essentially, his friends wag their fingers in Job’s face and tell him to confess his secret sins. He is repeatedly, verbally beaten up by these three.

Poor Job slogs through his desperate life, one day at a time, one hour at a time. He goes through all manner of crap, from his circumstances, his health, and the people around him. Can we blame for saying, “God is not fair!”

Coming closer to home, we might consider the holiday tomorrow, Veteran’s Day. This day is set aside to remember veterans, and honor all veterans everywhere for their duty and sacrifice for our freedom. As we remember the horrors and deprivations of armed conflict throughout the world, what can you and I do about it? I feel powerless, puny and insignificant in the face of such things as conflicts and wars. Maybe you do, too. We also might say, “God is not fair!”

Seriously, I know I have thought God isn’t fair, sometimes. I suspect you have, too. Or, one of your loved ones has, or one of your close friends. If we assess the world today, it is enough to make even a sensible person throw up their hands and walk away, shaking their head.

Earlier in chapter 19, Job says that he repeatedly cries out to God, but God just doesn’t answer! The commentator James Limburg has the heartrending paragraph: “Job’s further complaints: and it is all God’s fault! Job says his life is miserable. He finds no support from family or friends (verses 13, 14, 19, 21). Even little children do not like him (18) and his wife finds him repulsive (17). Job is certain that God is behind all of this (13, 21, 22).” [1]

If we are looking for a poster child for miserable, suffering humanity, Job is definitely a finalist. But, wait. In the midst of all of Job’s cries for help and his complaints to his friends and to God, we have this shining jewel of verses in 19:25-26. What does Job say? I will read it again, so we can all savor the words: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. 26 And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;“ I’m amazed at Job, having the gumption and the perseverance to make this proclamation. What a statement! James Limburg says about these words that this is “Job’s declaration of faith: I know that I have one who will rescue me from this mess!” [2]

We all agree that Job complains! He kvetches and complains to his friends and to God. Yet—Job does not quit. Some people we know may very well feel like quitting, and Job certainly was a candidate for throwing in the towel, yet—Job makes this shining declaration of faith.

In this unexpected verse he talks about a Redeemer. In Jewish usage, this term might be used for buying back a field or a person sold into slavery. Perhaps in modern terms we might “redeem” a musical instrument or piece of jewelry from a pawnshop. This same Hebrew word (go’el) is used in Exodus for God redeeming God’s people from slavery in Egypt, or in Psalms for God delivering an individual from death. God is the Redeemer! God will save Job! [3]

We might feel captive to our debilitating illness, or our desperate continuing situation, or shattering emotional state. It might seem like no one could ever reach down and help us out of the deep, dark pit we are in. Just like Job. Yet—God can reach down. God can save us. God is our Redeemer, just as God was Job’s Go’el, Job’s Redeemer.  

I would like to quickly add: Job was a realist. Job came right out and said he might die first, because he said his skin—his body—could very well be destroyed first before he was redeemed. Nevertheless, Job had the confidence to say “yet in my flesh I will see God.“ As James Limburg says, “Job expresses his conviction that there is One living who will eventually rescue him from the suffering and mess his life has become. As that One once rescued Israel, or the exiles, so the Redeemer will one day put Job’s life back together.” [4]

Does anyone doubt that this Redeemer can put our lives back together, too? In part three of the well-loved oratorio Messiah, the soprano soloist begins with Job’s words “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” I fully agree that the other Scripture passages Handel used in this part of the Messiah explain Job’s words so well.

For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep.  
(I Corinthians 15: 20)  
Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.  
(I Corinthians 15: 21-22)  
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  
(I Corinthians 15: 51-52)  
The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality.  
(I Corinthians 15: 52-53)
But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  
(I Corinthians 15: 57)  
If God be for us, who can be against us?  
(Romans 8: 31)  
Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us.  
(Romans 8: 33-34)  

Where part three of the Messiah began with Job’s words “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” is there any way more fitting and more glorious to close this meditation on Job’s shining declaration of faith than the way Handel finished his oratorio? The words of Revelation 5:12-14:

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom,
and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.
Amen.
 
(Revelation 5: 12-14)  

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=735

Commentary, Job 19:23-27a, James Limburg, Pentecost 24C Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid.

(Many thanks to James Limburg, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, MN, for the use of his excellent commentary article on this passage from Job 19.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Searching for Jesus

“Searching for Jesus”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

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!)

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!)