Embody God’s Love

“Embody God’s Love”

John 13-34 love one another, swirls

John 13:34-35 – July 3, 2016

Have you ever seen the following scenario playing out? In a friend’s life, in a relative’s life, or perhaps on television or the movies? Two teens or young people bicker or argue, sometimes even coming to blows. A teacher or a supervisor or a coach steps in, and urges the two people to face each other, say they are sorry, and then shake hands. Then, sometimes, the relationship is repaired, even better than it was before. (At least, that is the hope.)

How often do we see the disciples of Jesus bickering? Arguing? I would not be surprised if—every once in a while—one or two of them even came to blows. Then, Jesus would have to take that adult or parental role. Encouraging His disciples to come together in relationship, in friendship, in His gentle yet firm way.

Here’s the situation. Here we are again in that Passion Week, the last week our Lord Jesus spent here on earth as a human. Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and went to a number of places with His friends that were particularly public. Out in the open. Jesus made no secret of being in Jerusalem for the Passover holiday.

Our scripture reading for today is set on this last evening. The last supper, that Passover dinner Jesus shared with His disciples. And here, in the Gospel of John, Jesus gives them some final instructions, as we can tell from this reading today. I’ll start in John 13:33. “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.”

Jesus is preparing the disciples—as best as He can—for the horrors and agony of the next twenty-four hours, and beyond. It’s true. There is a lot going on in this Passion Week, and Jesus and His disciples are still in the Upper Room. (The events of later that Thursday night and on Friday still have not happened yet.) Our Lord has some extremely important information to communicate in John 13:34. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

This is that Passover dinner where Jesus just got done washing His disciples’ feet. “As I have loved you—served you—wholeheartedly—so you must love one another.”

Problem: Jesus’s disciples must have been distracted. Fearful, anxious, forgetful. Perhaps their nerves were frayed. Tempers flared. Some might not have been able to concentrate fully on Jesus and His words, with all the tumultuous events swirling around. It’s true, many factors contributed to a fearful, anxious time. The possibility of hostile soldiers knocking at the door at any time of the day or night must have been only one of these fear-producing factors.

Jesus had a huge amount of things to contend with, too. However, here in John 13, we see Jesus once again demonstrating His never-ending love.

He shows huge love to these same guys who will fail Him, and fail miserably! Commentator Elisabeth Johnson said, “Jesus washes and feeds Judas who will betray him, Peter who will deny him, and all the rest who will fail to stand by him in his hour of greatest distress. The love that Jesus demonstrates is certainly not based on the merit of the recipients, and Jesus commands his disciples to love others in the same way.” [1]

Jesus is not referring to showing love to strangers outside of the church here. (Jesus talks about that in several other places.) He’s meaning our fellow church members! Brothers and sisters in the faith. Showing love, friendship, fellowship to those we worship with.

I am certain we all can tell horror stories about a church torn apart by arguments, or jealousy, or friction, or hurt feelings.

What about disagreements about church meetings or the color of the church carpet or Sunday service or the new pastor or the old pastor or the church music? Pro or con, big or little, one way or the other. Such disagreements and arguments are not the way to carry out this important command of Jesus.

Let’s change gears and take a look at the topic for our Summer Sermon Series, the UCC Statement of Mission. What is the section for this week? As I turn to it, I find: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called and commit ourselves: To embody God’s Love for all people.” I will repeat that last part: “To embody God’s Love for all people.”

I chose these verses from the Gospel of John to illustrate this important part of the Statement of Mission. We are not only to show God’s Love to others, but we are to strive to embody God’s Love. Go above and beyond.

My first thought was, What on earth does “embody” mean? A great place to start is close to home, and this—St. Luke’s Church, our local church—is our church family. Our church home. We are able to show others God’s Love through genuine, earnest, wholehearted, servant-love towards each other in the church.

Now is a good time to look at verse 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” Did everyone hear? Jesus is telling us to love one another. That means to get along with one another, not bicker and argue and fuss with each other. What better way to let everyone outside of the church know that we love one another—to be genuine and pleasant to each other, to care for each other, to go out of our way for each other.

This is for real. Not pretending, not putting on a false face. For real.

How many of us know someone who gossips about other people in their church? I am not talking about anyone in this church, mind you. But I know we all know people in other churches. What about someone who is mean to other people in their church? Or, someone who ignores others, or is openly disrespectful, or even goes around trying to stir up trouble for others in their church? I know these awful things go on at churches all across the country, every day.

Would it be different if we tried things the way Jesus wanted us to do? What if we loved others? Could we strive to embody the love of Jesus? Show His love to everyone we meet, and especially in the church? What kind of witness would that be to people outside of our church? Wouldn’t they be curious about St. Luke’s Church?

“I wonder what is happening at that church? What gives? What kind of preaching is going on there? Those people really show each other that they love and care for each other. I’d like to find out more about that church!”
One of the commentators I respect has an article on just this subject. I quote from John Pavlovitz: “As a Christian, Love is the only acceptable legacy I care to leave the world; not Love covered in doctrine, not Love couched in religion, not Love loaded down with caveats and conditions; just the beautifully potent thing itself, distilled down to its essence and delivered directly to people as honestly and purely as I can.

“And let’s not kid ourselves, most people know when they’re really being loved and when they been handed a lousy imitation with the same name—especially when it comes to religious people. I’ve come to believe that if someone’s color, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation keeps you from fully loving them, you’re probably doing Love wrong.” [2]

Thank you, John. Loving others in Jesus’s way is what we are commanded to do, what we have been called to do. Yes, we can celebrate Jesus and His love for us! And, we can take the next step—the step He commands.

Love one another. No fooling. For real.

Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Commentary, John 13:31-35, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2016. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2830

[2] http://johnpavlovitz.com/2015/09/18/i-want-to-do-love-right/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=johnpavlovitz

@chaplaineliza

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

Mother Love, Parent Love

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

LOVE hear word cloud

John 17:20-26 (17:23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

Love, Despite Bad Choices

“Love, Despite Bad Choices”

Luke 15-20 prodigal, father, brother

March 6, 2016 – Luke 15:20

Most of us—maybe even all of us—have some experience with a prodigal child. Either one of ours, or one of our close friends’ or relatives’ children. Are you familiar with the parents, loving their child enough to let him or her go away? Go far away, cross country, or even into a foreign place? This might be familiar. It can be very sad. Heart-breaking, in fact.

We have the familiar parable of the Prodigal as our Gospel reading today. What is the setting for this parable? In verse 1 of chapter 15 we see Jesus sitting down to dinner with a bunch of social outcasts. As far as the scribes and Pharisees were concerned, that is—they were outright offended! How could Rabbi Jesus, a self-respecting, reputable rabbi, be associating with riff-raff, with undesirables, with people like that?

Tax collectors and sinners. The upright Pharisees even had rules about associating with those people. They just didn’t. They were forbidden to have any dealings with them at all. But—Rabbi Jesus welcomed the tax collectors and sinners. Get this—He even ate dinner with them!

The Pharisees and scribes (teachers of the Law of Moses) were judging Jesus for some bad choices they saw Him making, according to them and their strict rules.

You know what Jesus’s response was, before I even tell you. Jesus said, “Let me tell you all a story. A parable.” Except, He didn’t just tell one parable, He told three of them, all about similar things. Luke chapter 15 is called the chapter of lost things. Jesus tells three interconnected stories about the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. Today, we are focusing on the lost son. Our Sunday school gave us a wonderful retelling of the gist of this story!

The parable of the lost son is a parable about bad choices. As the story continues, we see that the younger brother made a series of bad choices. Wanting to leave home. Asking his father for his inheritance. Going to the far country and blowing all the money in fast living. All of these decisions were bad choices.

Let me expand on just one of these bad choices. According to the inheritance rules of the time, the younger son was to receive one third of the total assets of the father, after his death. (The oldest son would get two thirds, just because he was the eldest son.) But—this shouldn’t have happened until after the father died. The younger son was so uncaring, so disrespectful to his father, that he essentially said, “Dad, I wish you were dead already, so I could have all of my inheritance now. In fact, I want you to cash in all your assets and give me one third, right now. I can’t stand around waiting for you to die for me to get my hands on your money!”

The amazing part, the unbelievable part of all this? That’s exactly what the father did.

We all know what happened. The younger son goes to the far country. (A Gentile country.) Is estranged from his father and family. He mismanages and squanders his inheritance with debauchery and fast living. The far country has a famine descend upon it, which makes the younger son lose his money even more quickly. Finally, he becomes completely poverty-stricken. Runs out of funds, and is forced to hire himself out as a pig herder. (A surprising occupation for a good Jewish boy.)

If you ask me, these all sound like pretty bad choices.

I posed the question at the beginning of this sermon: do you know some young person who has been making bad choices? I want you to keep that person in mind.

Then, the good choices start happening. The younger son “came to himself.” This phrase means so much! It could mean that the young man had taken leave of his senses, at one point. Yet, now, he makes a good choice. A sensible choice. He remembers that his father’s servants—even the most lowly servant, on the bottom rung of the ladder—had enough to eat. That lowest servant was not starving, even though he was a servant.

If you or I were in that desperate situation—practically starving in a famine-torn land—I would suspect that thought would sound pretty good to us, too! Moreover, the younger son makes the decision to ‘fess up to his father. He realizes that he has acted in a really bad way towards his father. Plus, he acted in a really bad way … towards God, too. He returns to his father, and in so doing, returns to God, too.

We all know very well that the younger son made some really bad choices. Yes! And, isn’t there just a little bit of self-satisfaction at how bad things got for the younger son? “I told you so!” “I could have predicted that!” and even, “Just what you deserve!”

Yet, how many of us make bad choices from time to time, too? Once in a while, or even a little more often than that? How many of us come to our senses, and realize we have acted badly? We return to our heavenly Father, hat in hand, tail between our legs, and ask for forgiveness. We repent, just as much as the younger son did.

Yes, the younger son finally made a good choice! He gets up, leaves the far country, and returns to his father. His faithful, loving, compassionate father.

The absolutely joyful part of this is the father’s reaction. The father sees his son coming from a long way off. All the time the son was gone, the father kept looking for the far-away son. The father kept hoping that the son would return! And when he finally sees his son in the distance, the father throws away all concern for propriety and loss of dignity. He runs down the road in the middle of town to meet his son! Embracing his son, showering him with kisses! So relieved and overjoyed at having his beloved son with him again!

But, wait! That’s not all! The father restores the son to his place, puts shoes on his feet, a ring on his finger (showing his status in the household), and gives him the best robe (a restoration of position). Reconciled! Restored! On top of that, he throws a big party!

If we celebrate the recovery of a lost sheep or a lost coin, how much more should the father celebrate the recovery of a lost son!

I don’t have time to go into the bad choices of the elder brother. That would take a whole other sermon. Suffice it to say that the disgruntled older brother made a bad choice or two, himself, even though he stayed at home. Remind you of anyone? The Pharisees and scribes, perhaps, keeping all their strict rules to the letter, but not having compassion, love and forgiveness?

So, Jesus hits the Pharisees and scribes where they live, with their own disgruntled remarks and attitudes. And, Jesus gives hope to all those who make bad choices. Including us.

God the heavenly Father—the heavenly Parent—is actively looking for us when we make bad choices. When we come to our senses and return to God for forgiveness, God comes running to meet us, from a long way off.

If that isn’t love, what is?

 

[I am indebted to R. Alan Culpepper’s commentary on Luke, chapter 15, found in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series (United States of America: Abingdon Press, 1996). Thanks for several insights interwoven into this sermon.]

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

Thread of Covenant Love

“Thread of Covenant Love”

covenant love heart

February 28, 2016 – Isaiah 55:3-7

King David. Remember him? There’s lots to remember! Youngest of his family, anointed king by the prophet Samuel, killed the Philistine giant Goliath, ran away from King Saul, hid out in the wilderness for years, developed into a guerilla leader of men, finally became king after years of running in the desert. That King David. The David who became one of the greatest leaders of the nation of Israel ever in biblical history. That King David.

Throughout history, there have been many great kings, many decisive leaders of their nations. However, few have had the explicit blessing of God. What’s more, King David is called “a man after God’s own heart.” Pretty high praise for some petty king of a medium-sized tribe, somewhere in the Middle East. God even makes a covenant with David, showing him covenant love and promise.

God loved humanity. From the very beginning, when God created heaven and earth, we can see how much God cared about the creation, everything that was made. Especially humans. As the book of Genesis narrows its focus, God chooses one person in particular to bless. Abraham. God even makes a covenant with Abraham! Showing him covenant love.

We can follow God’s covenant promise. God’s covenant love through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Keep following the thread of covenant love through Joseph and the descendants of Abraham to Moses. God makes another covenant at Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments! And, we still follow that thread of covenant love, all the way through the next generations.

Follow that love to David. Remember King David? The youngest of his family. The most unlikely to succeed, if you asked his older brothers. But God saw something there. Something inside of David. God was aware of what—of who David was, on the inside.

Let’s read the verse we’re highlighting today again, to refresh our memories. The prophet says, “Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”

What is a covenant? That is one of those bible words tossed around by ministers who do not always take the time to make certain their congregations know what they are talking about.ent

Here I’ve been talking about “covenant” for the past couple of minutes. For those who know what a covenant is, wonderful! So glad you do! For the rest of us who are not sure, I’ll tell us. To reassure all of us, and remind us again of what the topic for the morning is.

Webster’s Dictionary says a covenant is “an agreement between persons.” This is amplified by the theological definition: “the promises of God as revealed in the Scriptures.” I hope that was helpful for all of us. Helpful for our understanding of “covenant love.”

God loved David very much. God even said to David (through the prophet Nathan, recorded in 2 Samuel 7), “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” Here is one of the statements that we can trace through the Old Testament. This promise of covenant love is passed down through the prophets, in the book of Psalms, even in several places in the New Testament. And—we can draw a picture of God’s love towards us from the image of God’s love to David.

Take God’s love: a voluntary impulse, for sure! God did not have to love David at all. But—God did! God was kind, merciful, and loving toward David.

Question: is God’s love toward us today a voluntary impulse? I think, yes. God did not have to love any of us, at all. But—God did! In the same way, God is kind, merciful and loving toward us, as well!

            As we follow the thread of covenant love through King David’s life, we see that David does some bad stuff. God said that covenant love would not be taken away from David, true. Despite the sins David had committed, God’s good pleasure continued to rest on David. Moreover, God’s everlasting covenant continued to rest on David, undeserving as he was. Simply because God said so.

How does that compare to us, to the situation we are in? Do we deserve God’s covenant love? Do we earn God’s good pleasure? Sure, we sin, too. (Just like King David.) Yet, God embraces us, just as God embraced David.

Just as David sinned, so did David’s descendants. For instance, the later kings of Israel started to worship other gods—in addition to the God who gave them the land of Israel to dwell in. The later kings and many of the people of Israel started to cheat and defraud their neighbors—which goes against the Law of Moses. The later kings stopped following the Lord who made heaven and earth, and started to promote sacrifices to other gods. The Lord tries to get the people of Israel to return to the worship of the Lord God alone, but the people end up scattered far and wide over the next centuries. Until—until the birth of Jesus, fulfilling prophecy. Jesus fulfilled the promise of covenant love.

Again, from Psalm 89:35-36. “Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness—and I will not lie to David—36 that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun;”

This reminds me of the promise received in the New Testament. As we trace this thread of God’s covenant love through the centuries and through the pages of the Bible, listen again to Isaiah 55:3—“Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”
I want to show everyone these several passages of Scripture to let all of us know that God extends covenant love to Jesus, God’s incarnate Son.

We see that same self-sacrificing love in Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross that our sins might be forgiven.

Just as David did not deserve the abundant, abiding, covenant love of God, so neither do we deserve that love. That kindness, grace and mercy. God is so loving and patient.

We know that before David ruled as king, he ran away from King Saul, hiding in the wilderness for years. I am sure he refined his loving relationship with God then. However, what about us, today? How can we develop our relationship with the Lord? Often times it seems that we turn to the Lord when there is nowhere else to go. God could turn God’s back upon us. That is true. But, no! God extends God’s covenant love towards us, too!

It is not for us, to stand idly by on the sidelines. No!

Are we sharing God’s covenant love with those who need to hear? Many are hiding in loneliness and desperation thinking that no one loves them. We can introduce them to our Lord Jesus. We can tell them of the love of God that we have received through Christ. With our Lord Jesus we can find acceptance and security, and most importantly, love. The thread of covenant love, traced down to today.

God is offering that love to us, today. Can you feel it?

May it be so! Amen.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

Without Hesitation

“Without Hesitation”

Heb 10-23 He who promised is faithful words

Hebrews 10:19 – November 15, 2015

Who here knows the words of the Apostles Creed? Who studied the Apostles Creed before they were confirmed? I know I did. I studied Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, and went over every part of the Lord’s Prayer as well as the Apostles Creed.

Today, we are going to take a closer look at the whys and wherefores of two phrases from the Apostles Creed: “He—Jesus—ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” You—I—all of us have been saying these words for years and years. It’s a part of our church culture. But, what do these words really mean? “Where is Jesus now?

We are departing from the Gospel of Mark. I’ve been preaching from Mark for the last two months. We have been following Jesus through His discussions with the Jewish leaders about all kinds of aspects of the proper religious life. Today, we make a big jump forward, to the New Testament passage from the letter to the Hebrews. This is after the Resurrection, after the book of Acts, and the Apostles have now been sent out into the world to tell all people about the risen Jesus, and about God’s love and forgiveness of their sins.

This letter to the Hebrews is a circulating letter. That means it and other circulating letters were sent from place to place in Asia Minor, so the small, struggling churches could receive encouragement and teaching in writing from the Apostles and other new church leaders. This particular letter was sent to Jews who lived a long way from Jerusalem. In essence, ex-pat Jews.

To give us some further background into this week’s reading, “This week’s text [from Hebrews] draws together the argument the author of this letter began six chapters ago, namely that Jesus is God’s final and ultimate High Priest. The author can point to the model of Israel’s priests to explain what Jesus does, but His priesthood differs in several fundamental respects. Beginning in verse 11 the author reiterates those differences once again.” [1]

What about those Old Testament priests in the Temple in Jerusalem, anyhow? They needed to keep on sacrificing animals over and over and over again. Why? The people of Israel had a Sin Problem. The priests had to keep sacrificing to cover the Sin Problem, to make it better. To atone for the sins of the whole people. And no matter how hard they worked, or how many animals they sacrificed, or how much they prayed to God, it was never enough. There was always more sin. The nation of Israel and all the individuals in Israel had a Sin Problem.

I know when my mother had a houseful of guests (usually several of her grown children all at once), she would try and try to keep the kitchen clean, the kitchen sink empty of dishes, and the bathroom ready and clean for anyone who needed to use it. Except—there were always so many people in the house. There was always more dirt. More mess. More dirty dishes. It seemed like it would never end! (Except, it periodically did when everyone went to their own homes, in the case of my mom’s house.)

How many people can relate to this example? Dirt, mess, dirty dishes and black marks in a crowded house never end. Just so, in the case of the priests and the sacrifices for sins that everyone commits, the Sin Problem never ends. For real! Never, ever! People are sinful. They keep doing and saying and thinking things that go against God’s laws, and sin never goes away. All the sacrifices ever brought before God could never make one dent in the Sin Problem.

When we look at our passage from Hebrews again, what do we read? Quoting from our scripture today, “As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it!

What was that again?

Jesus Christ was the perfect High Priest. He was a better High Priest than any other of the priests throughout history who ever offered animal sacrifices to God at the Temple. What Jesus did for us on the cross (and I’m quoting again) “… was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people. By that single offering, He did everything that needed to be done for everyone who takes part in the purifying process.”

The whole repetitive process of endless animal sacrifice? Jesus came and broke that process. He ended it. He made that process obsolete, not necessary any more. Instead, Jesus and His death for us on the cross reaches way beyond animal sacrifice.

What’s more, Jesus our High Priest makes the perfect sacrifice once for all time. And then, He sits down. What about those other priests, the ones who continually stand and keep offering the imperfect animal sacrifices for all those centuries? From the Message, again: “As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! Then [Jesus] sat down right beside God and waited for His enemies to cave in.”

At first glance, some people might think that Jesus did not finish His work as High Priest. But, that is just the point! He did finish the work. The other priests had to continue to stand, because they had to continue to offer sacrifice after sacrifice on a daily basis. Because of the Sin Problem that just wouldn’t go away. Jesus did complete the perfect sacrifice. His sacrifice brought perfect, complete forgiveness of sins. Jesus was all done, and He sat down. The Sin Problem went away, once and for all.

But, wait! There’s more! Jesus doesn’t just sit down any old place. On any old bench, or in somebody’s creaky rocking chair. No. He takes a seat at the right hand of God. A place of great power and great authority. Jesus—the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, incarnated by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary—Jesus takes the number one seat in all of the universe, next to God the Father. The resurrected Lord Jesus is God the Father’s right hand man. It says so, right in our scripture text from Hebrews today.

To finish our passage from verses 19 and 20, “So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of His sacrifice, acting as our priest before God.”

I want everyone to notice that all the pronouns here are plural. That means we—all of us together—can have confidence. We—all of us—can walk right up to God. We can come into God’s presence and boldly bring our requests to God. As I say in our weekly pastoral prayers, we—all of us have free access to God. Not like the Jewish people before the time of Jesus, who were still dealing with the Sin Problem and still needed an intermediary between them and God. But because Jesus, our perfect High Priest, has cleared the way. Jesus has invited us to come. We are very welcome to enter into God’s presence!

Do you have a better understanding now of those two phrases from the Apostles Creed? “He—Jesus—ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”

This section from the letter to the Hebrews answers our questions about “where is Jesus now?”  The risen Jesus is with God and is Lord!

Do you have the confidence that your Sin Problem is taken care of? Do you dare accept the invitation that Jesus extends to us? Can we grasp that assurance that God welcomes us? This scripture passage clearly lets us know about that boldness. That “free confidence,” grounded on the consciousness that our sins have been forgiven.

As I say every week after the Confession of Sins and the Assurance of Pardon, believe the Good News of the Gospel. In Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=142 Commentary on Hebrews 10:11-25 by Amy L. B. Peeler.

(Thanks to Amy for several ideas I wove into this sermon!)

@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!

 

Reconciled to God

“Reconciled to God”

2 Cor 5-19 God reconciles the world

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 –September 13, 2015

Last Friday was a typical day, in many ways. People had a normal day of work. Since it was the second Friday in September, for most school children it was a normal day of school. Except—it wasn’t quite a normal day here in the United States after all. Friday was September 11th. 9/11. A day that will remain in the forefront of many people’s memories.

I wanted to depart from the Sermon Series on Acts I’ve been preaching to bring a message about this serious and sobering day of remembrance. Yes, we remember the fateful day, fourteen years ago. The horrific happenings in Manhattan, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. And, we will remember the bravery of so many who served so selflessly, and gave so willingly.

As I prayed about this service and what bible passage I ought to preach on, I thought of several Scripture verses. Yes, I could focus on the past, and preach for those thousands of people who died on September 11, and who since have died as a result of injuries or challenges they experienced on that day and in the aftermath. We can remember. We ought to remember.

However, I also want to hold up a vision of hope. I try to keep my personal outlook on life and living firmly on hope and hopefulness. Even when looking at terribly sad events, even horrible situations, I earnestly try to see where God might have a place. Even in the worst situations, God is there. Hope is there. Somewhere.

That’s the situation we all find ourselves in. We all sin. Some sins are worse than others, and more visible. Some people sin a lot! Some people have particularly hard hearts, and they walk all over others. Hurt them, and do even more callous things to them. Did you know that Jesus came into the world for them, too? Jesus died on the cross for the people in and out of jail who have committed three, four, five and more felonies, just as much as Jesus died on the cross for the people who have not been to jail.

I’m getting ahead of myself. We need to take a closer look at this paragraph from the second letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the town of Corinth. In verse 18 of chapter 5, Paul tells us that God was reconciling us to Himself. Wait a minute! That sounds like making peace and harmony. Reconcile? That is not a term for a mean, angry God, one who just wants to smite anyone who gets in the way!

Do you know a bookkeeper? Has anyone here ever reconciled accounts, or financial statements? I mean, taken two separate and different lists of numbers, and make them compatible? See that both are in agreement? That’s another way of thinking about reconciliation. Our accounts, the deeds that we’ve done, the words spoken, the thoughts that go through our heads? The long lists of those things on our accounts are reconciled to God’s accounts.

I want to be up front and clear. I am a sinner. I freely admit that. I am stained with the dark stain of sin. But God—but God removes that stain. Through the provision of God’s love, through the coming of Christ into the world, through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, the stain of sin has been taken away. And, I am reconciled to God. Do you hear? The sins, the awful things I have done, have been cleansed, and taken away.

That’s not only me, but it’s you, too. All of you. All of us!

I am going to talk now about some disturbing things. If anyone wishes to leave, I will not be offended at all. I wanted to let you all know before I spoke about it. It is terribly upsetting.

I’d like to take a detour, and tell you about a woman. Eva Mozes Kor. Eva and her twin sister Miriam—born in 1934, and their family were from a small village in Romania. They were the only Jewish family in their village. Shortly after the Nazis took over that area of the country, Eva, Miriam and the rest of their family were taken to a Jewish ghetto in a larger town and they lived there several years.

In 1944, their family was shipped to the Auschwitz death camp. The twins’ parents and older sisters were immediately killed. Since Eva and Miriam were identical twins, Dr. Josef Mengele wanted them as human guinea pigs for horrific medical and genetic experiments. He and his team abused approximately 1500 twins; that’s 3000 children and young people.

Eva and Miriam were among about 200 children liberated from the camp by the Soviet Army in January 1945. Almost all of these were twins abused by Mengele.[1]

Eva spent years working through her deep-seated feelings and emotions about being in the death camp. She finally came to the place where she made a decision to forgive those who had harmed her, because she needed to take this critical step for her own, personal mental health and well-being.

It did not happen overnight. It took a long while. But now, she has forgiven those who harmed her, her family, and those she loved.

What I am wondering: does God need to do deep thinking before God forgives people? When I sin against God, and knowingly do things displeasing to Him, how does God feel? Now let’s multiply that times all of the people in the state of Illinois. Make that all the people in the United States. No, let’s up that to all of the people alive today. Does God need to do deep thinking, working through deep-seated feelings and emotions, before God forgives the world?

Consider verse 19: “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” God satisfies God’s anger, enmity and displeasure through Jesus Christ. Jesus and His mediation—He steps in between and takes the burden of sin for us. Jesus restores the world—that’s all of us—to God’s love, nurture, caring, and favor.

In the original language of Greek, the word “reconcile” has the meaning “obtain the good favor of” or “lay aside enmity.” That is exactly what God does for us. But God justly ought to be filled with righteous anger at us. At all of us! We sin. We go against the things we know very well that God wants us to do or to think or to say. Or, we go out of our way to do or say or think things that out and out displease God very much! But God forgives us. God reconciles us to Himself through Jesus and His death on the Cross.

Eva Kor and her forgiveness of those who hurt her and her sister as well as those who killed her family and others she knew is one way for us to begin to understand the huge amount of forgiveness and reconciliation that God has accomplished on our behalf. That’s all of us! On all of our behalfs.

Eva Kor not only is “a Holocaust survivor and a forgiveness advocate, and public speaker. Powered by a never-give-up attitude, Eva has emerged from a trauma-filled childhood as a brilliant example of the human spirit’s power to overcome. She is a community leader, champion of human rights, and tireless educator.” [2] She has founded a Holocaust museum in Terra Haute, Indiana, and my friend Josh Thomas who started and maintains the Episcopal website www.dailyoffice.org had Eva as their Daily Office retreat speaker several weeks ago. She has a brilliant and straight-forward definition of forgiveness. “Forgiveness is a way of healing oneself from pain, trauma and/or tragedy.” I’m including her further explanation on the hand-out in your bulletins.

But what does Eva and her words about forgiveness have to do with me? Or with you? Great question! I’ll read verse 19 one more time: “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And God has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” Did you hear? Paul says this in a little different way in verse 18: “God reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

So, God’s forgiven me! Amen! God’s forgiven you, too! Amen, again! But wait—there’s more! God has also given us—that’s you and me, and all of us—the message of reconciliation. The ministry of reconciliation.

What a wonderful way to show people the power of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. We can show people love, caring, nurture, and forgiveness. Each of us can reconcile ourselves to one another whenever we go astray. Or whenever anyone says a mean word, or does something unkind. Is there any way more powerful to show God’s love and care? I don’t think so.

Yes, this is really hard, sometimes almost impossible. It is so difficult to show love and caring for those who have hurt us, and have been mean to us. And have been uncaring, unkind, even cruel and heartless. Like Eva forgiving those in the death camps. Or, for those who have been enemies in war. Or even for murderers or terrorists. That’s why we can go to God. We can ask for help to show God’s love. God’s forgiveness. God’s reconciliation.

So, help us, God. Amen.

[1] From the website http://www.candlesholocaustmuseum.org/about/eva-kor.htm

[2] From the website http://www.candlesholocaustmuseum.org/about/eva-kor.htm

@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!)