Don’t Be Troubled

“Don’t Be Troubled”    

John 14-27 don't be afraid, words

John 14:1-4, 25-27 (14:27) – August 26, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Have you ever felt the pain and loss of an upcoming separation, even before it actually happened? Perhaps a good friend or relative is moving far away, soon Or, maybe a loved one is seriously ill in the hospital, in fact, terminally ill. You deeply feel the upcoming, approaching loss even when your loved one is still right there, with you.

Those two situations, those two instances are similar to what actually happened to the disciples. For all they knew, their Rabbi Jesus was going away, permanently. Jesus knew He was going to be parted from His friends for a while. Jesus gave His farewell speech in the Upper Room. What could any of the disciples do or say?

Let us back up a bit. The disciples did not anticipate exactly what events were going to happen. It is not that He kept quiet about His leaving and going away. It was others, the disciples, who said, “Where are you going, Lord?”  What could some possibly hear that Jesus said would happen?

Here in the Gospel of John, the writer John wanted everyone to know that Jesus was in His final efforts to convince His disciples. Jesus knew very well what was going to happen. This discourse is one of utmost significance. Jesus gave the fullest explanation in answering these questions, and in expressing His longing, His care in this Upper Room discourse.

I realize that we here in suburban Chicago are not quite as familiar with the extent of the separation, heightened fear, and anxiety the disciples were facing during that Passion Week before Jesus’s crucifixion. But, many people today do face separation, and anxiety, too. In some cases, their feelings and emotions might border on severe fear, even terror. And, in some cases, these feelings and emotions are diagnosed as mental health challenges.

“According to U.S.A. Today (11/16/11), ‘More than 20 percent of American adults took at least one drug for conditions like anxiety and depression in 2010 … including more than one in four women.’ The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports (adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics, bold type theirs), ‘Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population).’” [1]

Thank God, we do have ways of managing that anxiety, even severe fear, today. Let me say that the various types of therapy and group support and medication we have available to us are all valid. These are all ways to manage anxiety and fear. Jesus gives us another way of managing our anxiety and fear, too.

Listen to the words that Jesus had for us in the reading today, from the new, modern translation “The Message.” From John 14: 1-4 “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”

The words that we are more familiar with, “Do not be troubled,” Eugene Peterson translates “Don’t let this throw you.” The disciples had good reason to be troubled and afraid! They knew that the Jewish leaders were out to get their leader, their Rabbi. And yet—Jesus had walked straight into the trap the leaders were setting for Him. Talk about anxiety! The disciples had every right to be scared to death!

Yes, separation can be triggered by fear and anxiety; in certain of the disciples’ cases, the fear and anxiety of just not knowing. Not knowing anything. That can be a scary prospect, indeed. The disciples enjoyed a deep intimacy with their Rabbi Jesus. Thus, “the disciples were full of fearful questions when Jesus announced His departure. Yet Jesus understood their troubled hearts and assured them of a continued home together.[2]

That was in the case of the disciples, two thousand years ago. But, what about us, today? We can see from Jesus’s words that He means a relational dimension to our interaction with Him. Yes, we can enjoy intimacy with each other, and intimacy with God. At the same time, we can be fearful and anxious at the prospect of separation—even that most permanent of separation, death itself.

How can we sort out these deep-seated feelings? Yes, fear and anxiety are part and parcel of all of us human beings. These feelings are part of our emotional make-up. Jesus goes right to the heart of our fear of separation and loss of intimacy with His words that tell us “I’m getting a room ready for you!” This image describes “the mutuality and reciprocity of the relationship of God and Jesus… [In fact,] Jesus uses the domestic image to say ‘My return to God will make it possible for you the join in the relationship that the Father and I share.’” [3]

How awesome is that? We all can join in on that relationship. Jesus lovingly invites us into that family relationship with God our heavenly Father.

But, that is not all, especially at this stressful, anxious, fear-producing time right before Jesus knows He is going to be arrested and crucified.  Listen to our Lord’s assurance to us, from Peterson’s modern translation of John 14:25-27: “I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.”

As if a close relationship with Jesus is not enough, He even promises us the gift of a dear Friend, the indwelling Holy Spirit. Even more amazing!

We are encouraged to think carefully about whether or not we have truly laid hold of the cure for troubled hearts that Jesus promises in our scripture reading today. “Faith in Christ’s person and hope in Christ’s promise will comfort your troubled heart. You may think, ‘That’s overly simplistic! That’s a nice thought, but it’s impractical and out of touch with reality!’ But these are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ to troubled hearts. Either His words are true or they’re not.” [4]

Do you hear? Jesus did not leave His disciples abandoned and bereft, all alone, fearful with separation anxiety. What is more, Jesus does not leave us alone today, either. Sure, we may go through difficult times, but Jesus promises to walk with us.

We will have challenges and difficulty in this world, true, yet we have an intimate relationship with God freely offered to us. So, that is our Lord’s parting gift to us all. His peace. Don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. Be not afraid. We have Jesus’s word on it.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] bible.org/seriespage/lesson-75-comfort-troubled…

https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-75-comfort-troubled-hearts-john-141-11

[2] Ivaska, David, Be Not Afraid (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 110.

[3] O’Day,Gail R., The Gospel of John, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. 9 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 741.

[4] bible.org/seriespage/lesson-75-comfort-troubled…

https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-75-comfort-troubled-hearts-john-141-11

@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!)

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Peace Be with All of Us

“Peace Be with All of Us”

peace be with you, formal

Luke 24:36-49 (24:36) – April 15, 2018

Sometimes I just feel like pulling the covers over my head and not getting up in the morning. Wars, rumors of wars, bombings, fires, gas attacks, and these were just in the past week. Seriously, with all of the scary and shocking things going on in the world, the world can be a downright scary place.

No matter whether we live today in the United States or two thousand years ago in occupied Israel, there can be a lot of scary and confusing stuff going on.

In the case of our Gospel reading today, the scary and confusing stuff was going on right in Jerusalem. It was the time of the Passover, during what we today call the Passion Week. As we have been considering for the past few weeks, the occupying Roman forces in Jerusalem are watching the festival and worship situation very closely.

Sure, there are a great number of visitors from all over the known world, in Jerusalem for that great festival, Passover. But, the Roman forces must have doubled down on the populace in the city. And, even more, since the Rabbi Jesus had just entered the city only a few days before. He made a huge commotion, too, what with riding in on a donkey (like King David) on Palm Sunday, debating in the Temple during the week with the scribes, Pharisees and Sanhedrin, and getting arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane late on Thursday night and accused being Messiah. And, the crucifixion on Friday? Quite a week, for the occupying Roman forces.

Yes, we know some things in general about the disciples. They scattered, running away. Hiding, afraid that since their leader and Rabbi was just executed by the Romans on Friday, they might be arrested and executed next. In fact, Peter even denied knowing Jesus while in the high priest’s courtyard. He must have been scared to death, too.

The upper room, a larger room on the second floor of a building in Jerusalem, was one place where the disciples felt at least half-way safe. They were huddled up there, in hiding, trying to keep a low profile. Luke tells us the male disciples had already dismissed what the women disciples had told them about their Rabbi, early that morning. Something about an empty tomb, and their dead Rabbi gone. Even though Peter and John had run to the tomb and checked things out for themselves, they still did not have a clear idea what was going on.

This year, the lectionary does not have us look at the post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus when He walks with the two disciples from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus. In brief, our commentator Dr. Mark Vitalis Hoffman summarizes this section of Luke 24: “Two from the group of followers of Jesus were going to Emmaus when they encounter, but do not recognize, Jesus. They express their disappointed hope that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel, but Jesus explains how everything that happened was necessary according to Scripture. The two invite Jesus to spend the night with them. During the meal, when Jesus blessed and broke the bread, their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus, but he vanished from their sight. They rush back to Jerusalem and report to the gathered believers what had happened.” [1]

It is later that day that our Gospel reading picks up. Later in the evening, many disciples (I am assuming both male and female) are in hiding in the upper room. Luke specifically has the two disciples from Emmaus telling the rest about their encounter with Jesus.

Yet, the rest of the disciples are having difficulty believing, understanding. Even though several of these same disciples had angels and Jesus Himself telling them of the Resurrection, what gives? I suspect many of them are still paralyzed with fear. Scared to death. Afraid of the Roman soldiers coming around and knocking on the door at any moment, ready to carry off some of the disciples to be crucified, too.

How often have we been really afraid? Almost scared to death? Terror can paralyze a person. Fear can cause us to disbelieve, to run away, to get angry and fly off the handle. Don’t you think the disciples needed Jesus right then? When He appeared miraculously in their midst, many of them were still unbelieving. Still scared to death.

I think the first thing out of Jesus’s mouth was the most needed of all: “Peace be with you!” Do you hear? Jesus went straight to the heart of the disciples’ fear, their anxiety, their unbelief, and said “Peace be with you!”

Yes, we could talk about what happened after that, when some disciples thought Jesus was a ghost, so He ate a piece of fish to show His friends that He really, actually, had come back to life. Yes, we could talk about Jesus opening the disciples’ minds to the truth of the Scriptures, and how they were to be witnesses of the Good News and the forgiveness of sins.

I would like to go back to the first thing Jesus said: “Peace be with you!” During the Children’s Time, I talked about peace. There are many greetings in different languages that mean “Peace.” “Aloha in Hawaiian means affection, peace, compassion and mercy. Shalom (Hebrew) and Salaam (Arabic) mean peace, complete-ness, and prosperity. Aloha, Shalom, and Salaam can be used on meeting or departing.” [2]

Jesus wished the disciples His peace several times, recorded in the Gospels, including right here. This word is not only wishing a person peace, but “peace, shalom, and salaam” can also be wishing a person God’s presence. The disciples really needed that, too!

In the New Testament reading today from 1 John chapter 3, the aged disciple John tells us that we are the children of God. I remember when I was a mom of young children, sometimes then would get afraid. Sometimes I would comfort them, and hold them on my lap or give them hugs. Don’t you think it’s the same way with God? When we get afraid, even scared to death, we can run into God’s everlasting arms of care and concern. Our Lord Jesus can send us His peace.

The disciples really needed peace, first of all! Perhaps, they needed it most of all. God can send peace into the world today, too. Including peace into conflict in the Middle East, peace in warring regions in Africa and Asia, peace into difficult places in Central and South America. God can send peace to the streets of the cities of our country.

Jesus offers us comfort and peace, just the same way that parents (and grandparents) do. Jesus sends closeness, caring and loving, in addition to His peace.

Can you and I reach out in peace, in shalom, in wholeness and with God’s love? That is the message on my heart from the Gospel reading today. Reach out with God’s peace. Offer God’s peace to those around you today, and every day.

We can praise God for God’s peace and wholeness. God’s peace is a sure antidote to fear, today, and every day.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3627

Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman Associate Professor of Biblical Studies Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/03/year-b-third-sunday-of-easter-april-19.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 3, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015

With Thanksgiving

“With Thanksgiving”

phil-4-6-dont-be-anxious-pray-instead

Philippians 4:4-7 (4:6) – November 20, 2016

It’s that thankful time of the year, and this service is where we all gather to say “thank You” to God. We say thanks for all sorts of good things. Wonderful gifts. Exciting opportunities. We gladly come before God and mention how thankful each of us is—to God.

One of my favorite biblical websites (and, I fully consider her a bible commentator) is “Worshiping with Children,” written by Carolyn C. Brown. This is what she had to say about Thanksgiving: “One of my favourite times with the children was the year we learned how to say “Thank you” in many languages from our congregation, and ended by using those words for our prayer together.” [1]

Saying “thank you.” I know I taught my children how to say “thank you” when they received gifts, and compliments, and lots of other things. It’s a common thing, for grown-ups, parents, and grandparents to instruct children in these considerate, valuable, and grateful words.

Our scripture passage for the morning comes from the letter of the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi, in the last chapter. Paul previously said what he wanted to say in the body of the letter, and this is the final few paragraphs. What we have here are closing remarks. And, what remarks! Reading verse 4:6 again: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

This letter Paul wrote to the Philippian church was, in part, a thank you letter. We can see how Paul weaves thankfulness and gratitude in several parts of this letter, including right here. Except—he throws in a number of last-minute recommendations and commands, too. Paul mentions worry, right up front. “Do not worry about anything.”

How can worry affect us? True, it can be so difficult to follow Paul’s advice! Everyone has something to worry about. Some people have lots of things to worry about, it seems. Let’s take a closer look, and see what the background to this advice is.

When Paul wrote this letter, he wrote it from prison in Rome. He had been sent to the emperor’s court on a capital charge. He was on trial for his life. And yet—the apostle Paul writes this joyful, thankful, gratitude-filled letter.

Let us count off difficulties and challenges that Paul faced: not only the upcoming trial—for his life, but on top of that, Paul considered himself to be responsible for many of the churches he had planted on his missionary trips in Asia Minor and throughout Greece. Such heavy burdens on Paul. Yet, here in chapter 4 we see him writing almost blithely to the Philippian believers.

When we look at the people who were on the receiving end of this correspondence, few of them were living comfortable lives. One of the commentaries I consulted said, “Many were poor, many were slaves and few of them would have known the meaning of security. In marked contrast, those of us who live in comparative wealth and luxury today are frequently those who are most worried and anxious.” [2]

Isn’t that a true description of us, today?

Sometimes there IS stuff to worry about! A lot of times, people (yes, even Christians) worry about all kinds of stuff! Aren’t we tempted to be worried and anxious when finances are a challenge or the car is giving big problems? Or, how about when we or one of our loved ones is unemployed? Or, in the hospital or dealing with a chronic illness? What about in an accident, or even in jail? Some would say it is natural, even part of the human condition to be worried.

Something to think about, certainly. Especially at this grateful, thankful time of the year when we are encouraged to count our blessings.

Let’s look at the next part of this verse, the part that comes after Paul tells us not to worry: “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Sometimes it can be extremely difficult to pray and request with thanksgiving. Sometimes exterior circumstances can make things such a challenge for us to be thankful. There are even worse things: sometimes people can be absolutely at the end of themselves, spiritually and emotionally. Look at people like Paul, when we consider him in prison, on trial for his life.

From a commentator comes this challenging illustration about Corrie ten Boom, a devout Christian who hid and saved dozens of Jews from the Nazis: “Imagine how difficult it was to pray and worship with thanksgiving in a concentration camp in Germany. ‘Corrie ten Boon’s memory of leading forbidden worship in a World War II concentration camp might shed some light for us. Almost crushed by the effort of offering praise amidst wretched, flea-infested, frigid surroundings, they worshiped God.  Always fearful of discovery and punishment, they lifted whispered prayers of thanksgiving not only for the beloved community in that unholy place but also for the hardships they helped each other bear.

‘Months passed as their cherished worship continued uninterrupted by the usually brutal guards, offering encouragement to their battered spirits. Decades later, Corrie encountered a former prison guard who admitted he had never ventured into her barrack because he feared the overwhelming flea infestation. God was indeed in that place, utilizing every means to bless those worshipers.’” [3]

If we “don’t worry,” and do the “requesting with thanksgiving” part, what happens then?

God’s peace will then guard our hearts and minds.

Yes, it can be a challenge to make our requests, and to pray with thanksgiving. Especially when we give thanks “while staring down hatred, injustice, poverty or sadness. It may strain our faithfulness. Discerning God’s love while receiving cancer treatments, caring for a critically ill loved one or agonizing over a wayward child may challenge our belief.” [4]

Yet, we have Paul’s testimony that—even though he was locked away in prison for a capital offence—he could still write this joy-filled, thankful letter to the Philippian believers. And, Paul reminds his listeners that there is a wonderful result of laying out our cares to God. “God’s peace, which is more wonderful than anyone can imagine, will stand guard over our hearts and minds. While we are still vulnerable, we are also assured of God’s concern and protection.” [5]

What a promise. God personally grants us peace. God has promised to stand like a sentinel over our hearts and minds. Yes, things can be difficult, and challenging, even heart-wrenching,  yet Paul reminds us: be thankful.

These thankful words came from Paul, and they are for believers all over the world. It does not matter who we are; we all are encouraged to say “thank you.” It doesn’t matter where on earth people are from, or what language they speak. We all can use these words for our prayer together: Dear God, thank you for Your good gifts. Merci. Danke. Sheh-sheh. Molte grazie! In Jesus’ precious, powerful name we give thanks, amen.

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/09/year-c-thanksgiving-day-october-14-2013.html

[2] Hooker, Morna D., The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 12,The Letter to the Philippians), (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 547-48.

[3] https://fosteringyourfaith.wordpress.com/author/econgregtnl/

[4] https://fosteringyourfaith.wordpress.com/author/econgregtnl/

[5] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=470  Commentary, Philippians 4:4-7, Michael Joseph Brown, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

@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!)