Compassion and a Rich Man

Mark 10:17-27 (10:21) – July 16, 2017

Mark 10-21 Jesus-Christ and-the-rich-man

“Compassion and a Rich Man”

If we turn on the television, read a book, or listen to a podcast or talk radio, sometimes we might hear experts giving advice. These knowledgeable experts are often from well-known places.  This week I am thinking about advice on how to live the “right” way. That’s sometimes thought to be a fruitful life, or a healthy life, or a spiritual life. Wouldn’t you be interested if you heard a radio program with a noted author or well-known expert in just this subject?

That’s the case with Rabbi Jesus, today. In today’s scripture lesson, we get just a hint of what our Lord Jesus had to deal with much of the time. Can you see this situation? I love St. Ignatius and his suggestion to put ourselves into the narrative. Let us imagine ourselves being there, right with our Lord Jesus the itinerant Rabbi, and His disciples.

Mark tells us that Rabbi Jesus (and some others) are about to leave on a journey. Can you see the hustle and the bustle as they get ready to leave? Maybe several of Jesus’s friends are concerned about last-minute details. Perhaps they have already contacted someone in the town they plan to go to, to find some kind of lodging, some kind of food and board.

I would imagine Jesus being calm and self-possessed, amidst all of this rushing around. Just like our scripture reading today says, someone runs up to the Rabbi and asks Him a parting question. After all, you don’t get an expert in religion and spiritual life coming to your town just any old day. The Rabbi Jesus was a widely acknowledged wise person, an expert in the interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Law of Moses and in lots of things associated with religious and spiritual life.

Looking at it from that angle, of course this young man would rush up and try to get the ear of the wise Rabbi just before He and His followers left their town.

The Gospel writer tells us: Jesus was beginning a journey when a man ran up and knelt in front of Him and asked, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?’”

Do we hear what this man says? He wants to know how he can get God’s approval. What is more, we can watch this man kneel humbly before the wise Teacher and Rabbi when he asks.

Let’s continue with St. Ignatius and his suggestion to imagine ourselves there with Jesus. Perhaps as one of the disciples, maybe as one of the crowd, watching and waiting to hear what the Rabbi was going to say. And, we are packed into a small area. A good amount of people usually gather around when Jesus is talking in public.

The Rabbi Jesus makes an unexpected response to the young man: “Jesus asked him, “You’re calling me good? Only God is good. You know the commandments: Don’t kill, don’t betray, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”

This is a straightforward, traditionally Jewish response that many Rabbis would give, in answer to such a question. This is the way you gain favor with God: keep the commandments. In fact, Jesus even gives a little recap of them, a “highlights” list, just in case anyone forgot.

We look to the young man, who says. “‘Teacher, I’ve always obeyed all of these, ever since I was a kid.’”

I am sure we all know someone like this. Some goody-two-shoes who always follows the rules, straight as an arrow. Pious and earnest. Always trying his hardest to win God’s approval, as well as the approval of his parents and other grown-ups.

We return to our Lord Jesus, and listen to what He said. “Jesus looked at the man and loved him. Then Jesus said to the man, ‘There’s one more thing: Go sell all your stuff. Whatever money you make, give it to the poor. Then you’ll be rich in the things of heaven. And then, come follow me.’ The man was really surprised by what Jesus said, and really sad. He had a lot of stuff, and he really loved some of it. He walked away, still upset by what he’d heard.”

Now, we are learning additional information. This is not just any young man. No, this is a rich young man. I wonder whether the rich young man was aware that all of his stuff could act as a barrier between him and God? That’s why Jesus tells him to sell all of his stuff.

Dr. David Lose said about this point in the reading, “what Jesus really meant was that we needed to unburden ourselves of whatever might be keeping us from relying on God.” [1] Yes, the rich man had a great deal of difficulty hearing these words of Jesus.

Let’s face it: these are difficult words for many people to hear. We love our stuff, don’t we? Or, if not most of our stuff, at least some of our stuff. I would really have difficulty giving up my computer and my car. I think I am not the only one in this room today for whom that is true. Others might have difficulty unburdening themselves of whatever might be keeping each one from God.

This is a huge lesson for all of us from this Scripture reading today. And yet, it is not the only lesson. Remember our sermon series? Our sermon series on compassion is continuing with Jesus having compassion on this rich young man. What does our Gospel writer say? “Jesus looked at the man and loved him.” Jesus loved this young man—this rich young man.

Dr. Lose wonders: “whatever [the young man’s] appearance on the outside, whatever his faithful and pious life, he’s still missing something, something important, something that matters, something that’s a matter of life and death.”[2]

What about us? What is our reaction to Jesus and the rich young man?

Turn it around. Imagine we are friends of the rich young man, standing right next to him, meeting Jesus. We have a lot of stuff, too. Jesus is asking us to give it all away. We may want so badly to follow Jesus! We want to travel around with Him everywhere He goes. But, since we have so much clutter, so many things, we just can’t uproot ourselves and follow Jesus.

Can you relate? “The man was really surprised by what Jesus said, and really sad. He had a lot of stuff, and he really loved some of it. He walked away, still upset by what he’d heard.”

Just as much as Jesus loved this young man, that’s how much He loves each of us. Jesus loves you, me, and every person on the face of this earth. Even when we don’t do what God has asked us to do, God still loves us. Does everyone feel God’s love for us? And, not only us as a group, everyone in this sanctuary, but also for each one, for every individual.

And, the capper for this interaction between Jesus and the young man? “The disciples were amazed at his words. Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, ‘It is so hard—can you even imagine how hard?—for someone who has so much to come to God’s kingdom.

It’d be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.’”

In other words, really, really hard. All of our stuff gets in the way between us and God’s kingdom. All of this clutter and distraction in our lives keeps us at a distance from God. We know what Jesus has asked us to do, just like this young man did. When you don’t do what God has asked you to do, how do you picture God responding to you? Do you imagine God looks at you—at us—with loving compassion like Jesus did in this story?

We might not be able to follow Jesus completely, all at once, but we can make steps in that direction. We can make small steps toward doing what pleases God. I encourage all of us to choose someone or something and be kind. Be compassionate towards them What’s more, we all will see how all of our “small steps” in loving and giving combine to create a beautiful impact of compassion in God’s world.

And, maybe, just maybe “God’s gift of salvation can actually free us to do something: to love each other, to care for God’s people and world, to share the good news…right here, right now, wherever it may be that God has placed us.” [3]

God willing, we can all show love and compassion, every day. Amen.

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/10/pentecost-20-b-curing-our-heartsickness/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

(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!)

Terrified!

Matthew 17:1-9 – February 26, 2017

imandoa001p4

“Terrified!”

When my children were young, I would always read them a bedtime story, every night. That was part of our process of going to bed. Sometimes I’d read chapters from books like Winnie the Pooh or the Wizard of Oz, and sometimes storybooks or fairy tales from the library. Some of the stories would have some really scary things in them! A little like the Gospel reading from Matthew, today, where the three disciples were terrified on top of the mountain! There are certain things that scare us almost to death. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

In many of the stories we know, some people often like to find a character they can relate to. A sympathetic character, or one who displays some qualities each of us might have. Who hasn’t been frightened, like Piglet, or puzzled, like Pooh Bear, or excited, like Tigger? In today’s Gospel reading, we have several characters. Is it possible to find some similarity in one of these characters, some characteristic that each of us might share, or be able to relate to?

In today’s Gospel reading, we have Jesus, and we have Peter, James, and his brother John. Jesus takes them up a trail on a mountain, up to the top. There, they have a stunning, supernatural encounter.

That day does not start that way. That day was probably like many other days among Jesus and His group of followers. Hectic, a bit crowded, perhaps even some people already waiting in line to see the Rabbi, have some prayer, even hoping for a healing. Unknown to everyone else, Jesus slips away with the three disciples.

Remember how we often choose a character from a story and try to relate to them, or find some similarity with a characteristic of theirs? I thought one of the commentators on this Gospel passage had some excellent points. Alyce McKenzie said: “If you know what it is like to be tired, to have people seeking you out for what you can do for them, and other people criticizing you and working against you, if you have ever been filled with dread at what lies ahead, you have a little something in common with Jesus. If you know what it’s like to feel those things as a direct result of serving God, then you have even more in common with Jesus.” [1]

While this little group is climbing the mountain, I suspect these three disciples are a bit proud that their Rabbi Jesus has singled them out, amidst all of the other disciples and followers. Wouldn’t you be proud? Perhaps, even congratulating yourself that you are a confidant of Jesus?

After the four people reach the mountaintop, something happens. Now, remember, Peter, James and John are not used to watching television or movies. They do not know anything about fancy costumes that look like they come from outer space, or special effects with light and fireworks, or super sound systems like we have in the United States, today.

Just imagine people like Peter, James and John, having no concept of any of these modern things. Next, I invite you to close your eyes. Try to put yourself in the company of the three disciples, on top of the mountain, in your mind. Are you there? “There was Jesus, transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.”

I can think of at least a dozen supernatural encounters—right off the top of my head—in both the Old and the New Testaments. You know, where people come face to face with angels, or hear the voice of God, or see the burning bush. Here on top of the mountain, these three disciples already knew that Jesus was a man from God. Only a few days before, Peter had even testified to that fact that Jesus was the Messiah, the promised One of God.

In all of these supernatural encounters throughout the Bible, angels always say “Don’t be afraid!” to whomever they meet. I bet when the angels break in to the everyday, ordinary world, that must be the scariest thing those people have ever seen! Even though Peter, James and John had walked with Jesus, learned from Jesus, and lived with Jesus for many months, by this time, I suspect they are scared at the events that are happening!

We have Jesus—transfigured, or literally translated from Greek, metamorphoomai, the verb “to undergo a metamorphosis.” We are not quite sure exactly how Jesus looked, except that we are told He glowed with a glory reserved for angels, for things from heaven. It’s as if a switch were flipped, and Jesus was lit from the inside with bright, white super-sunshine.

Is it any wonder that Peter started babbling, and said the first thing that came into his head? “Um, Lord, it is good that we are here. Look, look, I’ll put up three booths, or tents, so we can worship You and Moses and Elijah right here!” Good old foot-in-mouth Peter. Sure to speak before he thinks, letting his mouth run away with him. (Does that sound like anyone you know? Is that a situation in this story that you especially relate to?)

The bright and shining Jesus was talking to Elijah and Moses. Remember Moses, and how he had led the people of Israel for forty years around the wilderness? Yes, “Moses, who had seen God face to face on Mt. Sinai, the Mount of Revelation, and whose face had shone.” Dr. Alyce McKenzie tells us “that Moses hadn’t wanted to be a prophet in the first place and had made excuses to God to get out of it. (If you know what it’s like to make excuses to God, you have a little something in common with Moses.)“ [2]

But, wait! There’s even more! “While Peter was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” If you thought the appearance of Jesus in radiant form wasn’t enough, imagine the stentorian voice of God booming all around! This is it. Right here.

Can you imagine Peter, James and John even more afraid than they were before? Absolutely terrified? They fall on their faces at this heavenly voice. It isn’t even a sound system, with squawking speakers all around, but instead the resounding voice of God from heaven.

And then—everything supernatural goes away. It’s all over. Only Jesus remains, in His normal, everyday clothes.

I can tell you how Peter remembered this awesome, terrifying experience, several decades later. He writes to his fellow believers in a letter, “18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” But then, Peter couldn’t stay on the mountaintop forever, worshiping the Lord. Peter—and James, and John—needed to come down into the real world, into the mundane, every day. And, do the real, sometimes difficult, work of God’s kingdom.

Remember what I said about characters in a story, and about us finding some similarity in one of these characters, some characteristic that each of us might share, or be able to relate to?

Whether we are up on the mountain today, with the bright shining, heavenly Jesus, or down on the earth in a sad or difficult place, the love of Jesus shines in our hearts. Jesus remains.

He is with us, just as He promised. Not “maybe,” not “I wish so, or “I hope so.” But, Jesus promises to be right by our sides, always, through thick and thin, through good times and bad. “In Him we behold what we want to become. In us Jesus lives as a presence that empowers us to become what God would have us become.” [3]

And for that, we can surely say “alleluia, amen!”

[1] http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Finding-Ourselves-in-the-Story-Alyce-McKenzie-02-25-2011

[2] http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Finding-Ourselves-in-the-Story-Alyce-McKenzie-02-25-2011

[3] http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Finding-Ourselves-in-the-Story-Alyce-McKenzie-02-25-2011

@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!)

Thy Kingdom Come

“Thy Kingdom Come”

matt-6-10-thy-kingdom-come-illustrated

September 4, 2016 – Matthew 6:10

Here in the United States, most advertisers on Madison Avenue tell us every little girl wants to be a princess. We can see this in many cartoon movies made by Walt Disney. Princes, princesses, kings, queens. Living in a kingdom, with happily ever after figuring significantly in the ending of the stories.

When you mention “kingdom” to people, that is often the first thing they think of. But—what did Jesus mean when He talked about the term “kingdom?”

We have for our Scripture passage this morning a portion of the Lord’s Prayer from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6.  This is one of the most familiar portions of the Bible. A huge multitude of Christians of a vast number of denominations and faith traditions know these words by heart. I ask again: what did our Lord Jesus mean when He said these words, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

To be frank, this subject of the kingdom of God is something I have struggled with for decades. Yes, I now have some understanding of what Jesus meant here in the Gospel of Matthew. And yes, I will try to help us all to understand better what it was that Jesus was saying. And, why He wanted us to say—or pray—these words.

Jesus was considered a Rabbi, a teacher, by all who knew Him. He was learned in the Hebrew Scriptures, and must have been quite skilled in rabbinic discussion and debate. That’s why I think He knew all aspects of the Old Testament understandings of the Kingdom of God.

There are several aspects of the Kingdom of God. But, important: God created the world, and everything in it. (I think God took great joy in creation, too!) By default, everything and everyone is under God’s authority and power. So, yes. Everything is part of God’s kingdom.

However, something happened after God created everything. Sin happened. A cosmic rejection, rebellion and separation from God happened. As the Apostle Paul mentions in Romans 8, the whole creation has been groaning in agony ever since.

Let’s return to Madison Avenue, and advertising. Television commercials. I can see several young, smiling people, outside. Having fun. Maybe skiing, or hiking, or sailing. “Go for all the gusto you can!” says the voiceover, on a beer commercial. These young people are on the top of their game, not a care in the world. They are not even thinking of sin, rejection, rebellion and separation from God.

I want to tell you a secret. Well, not really a secret. The fallen world and the fallen people in this world do not want to acknowledge God at all. They are separated from any idea of following God’s life, light and love. From being a part of God’s kingdom.

This is a sad reality. Jesus knows it is. That is why Jesus tells us to pray this way. “Thy kingdom come.”  Yes, the whole world is separated from God. When we pray this prayer, Jesus wants us to commit to opening ourselves to God’s kingdom. We can help fulfill God’s kingdom in this world.

I found a fascinating bible study on the Lord’s Prayer online, released by the Salvation Army in Great Britain. When I examined this part of the study, it concentrated on another scripture passage from Luke 4. This section of Luke does not mention the Kingdom of God, but it might as well. This passage is where Jesus tells the people in the synagogue in His home town of Nazareth what His message is, in chapter 4. Jesus “found the place where it is written: 18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”

This is Jesus’s Kingdom announcement! Remember, a few weeks ago, I spoke of where Jesus preaches His first sermon. It is quite a bit like political campaigns. The various candidates all try to have their position distilled down to a simple message. What they stand for. What they will strive to do. And, in both the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke, Jesus talks a lot about the Kingdom of God. What it means, and how Jesus expects to bring it. How Jesus wants His followers to bring the Kingdom themselves. Proclaim the Gospel. Share the Good News.

There are many, many commentaries, theological books, and bible studies written on this portion of Matthew, the Lord’s Prayer. The phrase we are looking at this week, “Thy kingdom come,” is considered to be a central phrase in this prayer. Some say the most important phrase. That would mean “the Kingdom announcement … is the focal point of Jesus’ entire ministry. This prayer, then, can only be understood in the light of how Jesus ‘lived the Kingdom’ while He was here on earth. Bringing the Kingdom of God to earth was Jesus’ great task.” [1]

Here is this message, this announcement of the Kingdom, again. Jesus teaches His followers to pray with a model prayer. The Lord’s Prayer. Just like Jesus does repeatedly in the Gospels when He preaches, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom in this model prayer—except He wants us to proclaim it, too! And, to do it. To bring the Kingdom in.

One thing I love about the Salvation Army: their emphasis on service, on proclaiming the Kingdom of God through concrete, hands-on means. Following their lead, we can “look at how Jesus lived His life, get involved in the things that He thought were important, and understand what Jesus meant by the term ‘Kingdom of God.’” [2] Bring relief to the poor. Visit those in jail. Heal those who are sick. Alleviate the suffering of those who are oppressed. That is what Jesus was saying in Luke 4.

With this week, we come to the end of our Summer Sermon Series from the United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission. The last sentence of the statement: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to discern and celebrate the present and coming reign of God.” (Or, the present and coming kingdom of God.)

God’s kingdom is here and now, and God’s kingdom is future tense. Like Jesus preached, God’s kingdom is among us, within us. We can share that kingdom with others, today. Plus, God’s kingdom is a future thing. At the end of all time, the fullness of God’s kingdom and glory will burst upon the whole world, the whole creation, in awesome majesty and glory.

What a series it has been! Each week, we have delved more deeply into each sentence of this mission statement. St. Luke’s Church was founded by this vital, missionary association of churches almost 70 years ago. Each week this summer, I hope we have discovered more about this wonderful denomination. It is my hope that we now see many connections where we can fit, and serve, and grow—as a local congregation, a fellowship of believers, and as a sister church in association with the great variety of churches in the Chicago Metropolitan Association.

God’s kingdom is here and now, and God’s kingdom is future tense, too. This is something to celebrate, like the Statement of Mission says! God is building God’s kingdom within each one of us now. It is our joy and privilege to share the Good News, to tell other people about Jesus and His love for each of us.

But, that is not all. By no means! The future part of God’s Kingdom is even better. I think most people here are familiar with George Frederick Handel and his oratorio Messiah.

The text for this chorus comes from our second reading today, from Revelation chapter 11. The Hallelujah Chorus from the end of the second part of the Handel’s oratorio Messiah says, “and He shall reign forever and ever. King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.” This is a joyous proclamation of the coming kingdom of our Lord.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

[1]http://www.usc.salvationarmy.org/usc/prayer/24-7/24-7_UK_Bible_Studies..pdf

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

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