Dynamic Spirit Power!

“Dynamic Spirit Power!”

Acts 2 Pentecost mural

Acts 2:2-4 – June 9, 2019

Have you ever been outside in hurricane-force winds? Either you, or a loved one you know and who is very dear to you? How about a massive storm that has huge bolts of lightning, and loud cracks of thunder? Can you imagine God’s mighty power displayed, for everyone to see and hear and feel? Anyone who has ever been caught in such a powerful storm can tell you, such a dynamic panorama can be earthshaking, literally. That mighty God-sent power is just what I’ll be preaching about today.

Most of us, perhaps even all of us are familiar with the disciples’ fearful reaction after our Lord Jesus ascended into heaven. And, for good reason! The Roman authorities were still hunting for the body of the Rabbi Jesus that disappeared from the tomb, some weeks before. Remember what happened on Easter morning? Not only the Roman authorities but also Jewish leaders were still demanding to see the body of this itinerant rabbi that they said was stolen from the tomb! Of course, we know better.

God’s mighty, miraculous power intervened, by way of the Resurrection and Ascension. Our Lord rose from the dead, walked and taught on this earth in His resurrected body for seven weeks, followed by His bodily ascension into heaven. What is more, the last instructions of Jesus to wait for power, to stay put in Jerusalem, were still fresh in people’s ears.

But—still, God left the disciples very much afraid, and very much in hiding. At least, after the risen Jesus went away for good. That’s what humans thought, anyhow.

Here we are, on Pentecost morning, waiting with the disciples. As was their custom, they were gathered for prayer in the Upper Room. Can you imagine a large group of disciples, with Jesus’ mother Mary in the midst of them? Talk about a prayer meeting! Still, they were huddled, in hiding. These disciples were being faithful, as best as they could. When, on Pentecost morning, a God-sent happening occurred. But, you don’t need to take my word for it!

Listen to what Dr. Luke says at the beginning of Acts 2: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

Now, today, if something like that happened, we might look around for the fancy special effects team in the background. We might wonder where the cameras were placed when those tongues of fire wondrously appeared above each person—marking them, letting everyone know that God was director, and God wrote the script.

Getting back to a description of a display of God’s mighty power, that other-worldly power was certainly on display in the sound like the blowing of a violent wind from heaven. In keeping with my analogy, God was also producer and certainly handled all special effects.

The Koine Greek word for “power” is dunamis, which the Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament defines as: able to produce a strong effect power, might, strength” and “as supernatural manifestations of power, miracle, wonder, powerful deed.” This is the same word that is used ten times in the book of Acts to refer to God’s mighty power or acts. Plus, dunamis is the root word for dynamite: the mighty, powerful dynamite of God!

This dynamic power was on display to the disciples, in the upper room. Dr. Luke mentions that “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” On display only among the disciples—at first. But, soon, other people started to get in on the action!

Let’s hear from Dr. Luke: “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?”

Once the dynamic Holy Spirit blows in on the disciples with tongues of fire, and their physical tongues are loosened in many other languages, what an awesome display of power! Passersby from other countries off the street gathered around. They heard the violent wind of the Spirit and the expression of many languages that quickly followed. All of the disciples were telling the Good News, that Jesus our Messiah is risen from the dead—in many different languages. And, probably because of the regional pronunciation, the expat onlookers were able to tell that many of those who were speaking different languages were Galileans. Is it any wonder that these onlookers were totally amazed?

I am reminded of a flash mob in some public place, like a mall or in a downtown square. Just as passersby are engrossed in the performance the flash mob does, in a similar way, the onlookers are fascinated by the whole God-sent operation that happened in Jerusalem on Pentecost morning, especially by the sharing of the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ in their own heart-language, their own mother tongue. And, since the Holy Spirit was present in mighty power on that Pentecost morning, many came to believe in Jesus as their Messiah that day.

But, Pentecost was not just a one-time event. You know, an event that happened just in the distant past, in Bible times, never to be repeated. No! Whenever anyone believes on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, a Pentecost happens! The Holy Spirit blows through that person, that beloved one of God. The Holy Spirit blows into each of our lives, and the power and possibility of God acting with and through each one of us is an amazing and awesome truth!

Commentator Rev. Gary Simpson brings out the fact “I am more aware of the numerous ways the Holy Spirit comes into people’s lives and affects positive change. No longer is my understanding of Pentecost simply wrapped around the phonetic languages we speak out of our mouths. Rather, I am aware of the many ways the Holy Spirit speaks through us and to us through sounds, pictures, ideas and even hope.” [1]

I am reminded that some people think Pentecost was just a day, an event that happened two thousand years ago. But, no! Wait a minute! Are these well-meaning people putting limits on the mighty power of God? What about that violent wind of the Holy Spirit that blew through the house on that first Pentecost? Are these well-meaning people trying to put God in a little box of their own devising and understanding?

As the Rev. Simpson reminds us, Pentecost is not simply a day to remember the birth of the Church, but it is also a day to celebrate the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, the dynamite of God, active and present in each believer’s life and heart. It is God’s power working in us and through us, so we can be witnesses to what the risen Lord Jesus has done for us. Yes, we are changed, too! And we have the opportunity to change the world, just as much as the first-century disciples of Christ—by the power of the God-sent dynamite of the Holy Spirit.

Alleluia! Amen.

[1] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=88

Lectionary Commentary, Acts 2:1-8, Gary V. Simpson, The African American Lectionary, 2009.

@chaplaineliza

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

 

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Interconnected Gifts

“Interconnected Gifts”

1 cor 12-27 part of the body

1 Corinthians 12:11-31 (12:20) – January 27, 2019

Have you ever seen a Mr. Potato Head? A children’s toy, with a plastic potato body, and different holes you could stick different parts in. Eyes, ears, hat, nose, mouth, hands and feet. Can you imagine a Mr. Potato Head with all hands and no eyes, nose or ears? Or, how about a Mr. Potato Head with several mouths and no feet? I suspect some people would laugh at that children’s toy. Can you hear children saying, “Look at that silly Mr. Potato Head!”

Let’s take a closer look at our Scripture reading for today from 1 Corinthians chapter 12. We have been talking about gifts for the past few weeks. Not only in the weekly sermons, but also in other parts of our worship service, too. Here the Apostle Paul is continuing his discussion on gifts that God gives to every believer. Willingly, generously, God blesses each person with at least one spiritual gifts, and sometimes many gifts. And, as Paul tells us, the Holy Spirit decides who gets what, and when.

Let’s go back to our Mr. Potato Head. We can all see how the different parts fit into the toy. Any child could tell us that we need diverse parts. Eyes, nose, ears, mouth, hands and feet. Eyebrows, too. And mustache, and hat. All different parts, with all different functions.

Reading Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 12 from Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message, “You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ.”

So many parts, many pieces, many functions. And, one body, or one church.  Let’s let the Apostle Paul elaborate: “Each of us is now a part of Christ’s resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.”

Sounds like the Apostle Paul has already heard about a church or two that has had arguments or disagreements about their spiritual gifts. You would think these individual Christians would be thankful they have been given one special way to identify themselves!

In the past, and even in the present, Christians might identify themselves differently. They could concentrate on separate differences. For example, some of us here were born in the United States, and some were born overseas. There’s one difference. Some of us identify as male, and some as female. Some of us are right-handed. Some of us have brown eyes.

There are lots of ways to identify the people in this room. We could line up under these different signs, Or—and this is the important part—we could all identify as Christians.

What does the Apostle Paul have to say about this very question? Paul approaches differences from a functional point of view. “I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, lovely and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.”

When Paul often talks about church to his friends in Corinth, he means them—the local church. That’s what Paul means right here. He is talking to the local churches. He is talking to me and you. He means St. Luke’s Church, right here on this corner in Morton Grove. Rev. Jeff Campbell, United Methodist minister, says “In the body of Christ, all of us and the gifts that we bring to the church are indeed interrelated. We cannot succeed in our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, unless we are working together, truly valuing and depending on the gifts that each disciple offers for the good of the whole.” [1]

Some parts of the Bible are confusing or troubling; they don’t make much sense. Strange and mysterious passages! This Scripture reading from Paul is not. It talks common sense. Understandable and clear. But, these instructions are not always simple and easy to follow. Sometimes, something inside does not want us to work together.  Something inside might not want to ask for help, or be willing to be a Good Samaritan, and give help to whoever needs it.

The Rev. Campbell suggests taking a not-so-very official poll, to let us understand a little better what he is talking about here. For the following statements, rate how much you agree or disagree. Be honest! You may keep the answers to yourself. But, try to be truthful, in your heart.

  • It is okay to need another person’s help.
  • All that I need I can provide.
  • Don’t ask me for help. I’ll offer help when I can.
  • I would come close to death before I would consider asking for help.
  • It makes me uncomfortable to ask for help.

This thoroughly unscientific poll reveals a few possibilities:

  • We are uncomfortable being vulnerable.
  • We are uncomfortable asking for help.
  • We don’t have extra time to help. [2]

Asking for help, even in the church, can be a challenge! Accepting help can be difficult, too. All kinds of things can get in the way. As Rev. Campbell says, “When it comes to recognizing the interrelated nature of our gifts, we must come to terms with our own vulnerability and dependency; and we must declare that it is okay to need one another!

“The reality is there are many parts of the body that aren’t always functioning, and those parts often don’t realize how it hurts the whole. This is not about guilt or telling you to do more. No, this is to say — with honesty and love — that we need you and we need one another. God has gifted you in ways that God has not gifted me. I need you to show up and share your gifts, because without your gifts, this body will not function the way it was meant to function.” [3]

Remember that Mr. Potato Head, with all hands, and no eyes, ears or nose? The apostle Paul tells us that everyone—each person in a local congregation has their role, and their gift. It may not be a prominent gift, it may be a humble gift, but every gift has its place. Each Christian has their place in the body of Christ, too.

We all need each other to show up, and to be here as a community, to use our gifts for the glory of God. There is no such thing as a solo, Lone Ranger Christian. We are a community of Christ! Paul reminds us of that blessed fact: mutual care, concern and encouragement of each other, and ministry to those who need to know about the Lord. Let’s get going, and do the work God has intended for us to do!

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-1-worship-planning-series/january-27-third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

(Many thanks to the Rev. Jeff Campbell and http://www.umcdiscipleship.org for ideas and assistance for this January series on spiritual gifts.)

@chaplaineliza

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

All Who Call on God’s Name

All Who Call on God’s Name

Acts 2-3 pentecost

Acts 2:1-21 (2:21) – May 20, 2018

Reporting to you live, down the street from Temple Square, scattered reports are streaming in to our news desk. The reports are all about the huge commotion affecting almost everyone: the local people in downtown Jerusalem as well as the yearly visitors in town for the Passover festival.

What facts we have been able to piece together give an incomplete picture. But, most reports agree that something significant happened today, involving several violent gusts of wind, some flames that appeared out of nowhere, and just as quickly disappeared, and a veritable Babel of tongues from the gathering crowd, as a result. We will keep you updated on this developing story as more information comes in.

What would the modern-day media have to say about the happenings on that first day of Pentecost? Might their stories have sounded a bit like this?

Of course, you and I have heard about this account from the first day of Pentecost over and over again. But—what if this news from the streets of Jerusalem was indeed new to us?

If reported by today’s news outlets, these accounts of strong wind, tongues of fire, and unfamiliar languages sound out of control. Wild, raging, unsettling, untamed. What kind of occurrence is happening in Jerusalem—and beyond? Something definitely out of control. Out of human control, at least.

Let’s go to the end of today’s scripture reading, and listen to what Peter preached: “all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” That is surely beyond human control, too.  Plus, this reading can have a great deal to say to us on this Mental Health Awareness Sunday, too.

 

“Let’s begin with the last part – all who call on the Lord are saved. Did you hear this? It says “all.” There’s no comment on who has “right” theology, “right” behavior, “right” thinking, or the “right way” of living. It also doesn’t say that those who struggle with physical or mental illness have no place in the Body of Christ. This strange story of the first Pentecost says clearly that salvation, the Love of God shown in Christ, is for all people.” [1]

Do you hear? Salvation is not only for some people, or even for most people. What about  salvation only for people with sight or with hearing? Or, only for those who are left-handed, or for those who are right-handed. What of those people who only can speak one language, instead of those who can speak several? Or, is salvation only for those who grow up on “the right side of the tracks?” What about the rest of the people who grew up elsewhere?

I have spoken from the pulpit and from the front of the church about God’s ideas of equality, any number of times. The kind of equality that the apostle Paul talks about in Galatians chapter 3: “28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

But, what about people with mental health challenges? Is salvation also for these people? Are those with mental health challenges—and their families and loved ones—beloved children of God, too? The account of Pentecost in Acts indicates a whole different kind of truth.

“Imagine what we would say if somebody told us this story today. If someone came into our worship and said that they saw flames of fire above our heads, we might dismiss it as a hallucination. If they told us that they heard a sound of mighty and rushing wind, we might say the same thing. Then if they added that they heard us speaking in languages not our own, we would just shake our heads and turn away, if not back away in fear. How wrong we would be!

 

Maybe we can consider the Pentecost narrative as invitation to welcome, include, support, and engage persons who live with mental illness, and their loved ones. Let’s face it, those disciples don’t sound particularly well in this story. Yet, God did not abandon them. God didn’t turn them away. God included them in the building of the early church. They might have had some unusual experiences and some unique ways of being in the world, but God used them to create the Body of Christ that we are all a part of.

What if this story isn’t only a story about the mysteries of the Holy Spirit, but also a story of extravagant welcome? And if we add to this Paul’s account from Romans of the Holy Spirit’s care, concern and love for each of us, we get such a powerful promise of inclusion and new life.

No brokenness, no illness is beyond the reach of our loving God. The breath of the Holy Spirit gives all of us life. God transforms our bony, broken, despairing lives by knitting us all together into the Body of Christ. We can all find wholeness and hope when we come together in the name of the One who Loves us all…” [2]

Alleluia, amen.

 

@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!)

[1] http://www.ucc.org/worship_worship-ways  Mental Health Sunday, Pentecost, May 20, 2018

[2] I have borrowed freely for my sermon today from the Sermon Starters in the Worship Ways of the United Church of Christ. Yes, today is Mental Health Awareness Sunday as well as Pentecost Sunday. May we all help to become more aware, more caring, and more welcoming of all people, including those with mental health challenges and their loved ones. #EraseTheStigma

http://www.ucc.org/worship_worship-ways  Mental Health Sunday, Pentecost, May 20, 2018

Pour Out the Spirit

Acts 2:17-18 – June 4, 2017

 

Acts 2-3 pentecost

“Pour Out the Spirit”

Waiting can be difficult. We wait for buses and trains. We wait for school to let out and for work to end for the day. Waiting in a doctor’s or dentist’s office can sometimes be long and painful, too. In fact, time seems to pass much more slowly as we wait, with caution, questioning, or with fear and trembling.

Let’s consider the followers of Jesus as they waited. Were they eager? Were they fearful? How did they feel, not knowing what was going to happen? What was their situation, after the ascension of their leader, Rabbi, our Lord Jesus Christ?

Remember our service last Sunday, how we celebrated the Ascension of Jesus? After several weeks of post-Resurrection appearances, Jesus went to the top of a hill and addressed His friends for the final time. Jesus gave the followers specific instructions to go to Jerusalem and…wait. Wait for power. Wait for some Spirit to come from somewhere. Then, He rose from the earth, and ascended bodily into heaven.

Shortly after the ascension, the followers of the risen Jesus do go back to Jerusalem, in obedience to the final words of Jesus. These followers include Mary, the mother of Jesus and His brothers, plus the disciples and the women who followed Jesus faithfully, as well. And—they all wait. They wait for several days.

The followers of Jesus stayed in hiding, keeping a low profile, not wanting to attract the attention of the religious leaders or the Roman soldiers in Jerusalem. Remember, these leaders were still really angry that someone “stole” the body of the Rabbi Jesus several weeks before. Of course the friends of Jesus wanted to lie low, in case any of these religious leaders wanted to drag any of them in for questioning.

Then—something happened, all right! It was another important feast of the Jewish calendar. Let’s listen to what Dr. Luke says in Acts 2: “When the day of Pentecost came, all the believers were gathered together in one place. Suddenly there was a noise from the sky which sounded like a strong wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.”

The followers’ time of waiting suddenly was interrupted! Can you imagine a strong wind blowing, so strong you could feel it almost blow you over? Except, they were all locked in that closed upper room, inside, and they actually felt the strong wind inside the building.

But, that wasn’t the end—by no means! “Then, they saw what looked like tongues of fire which spread out and touched each person there. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages, as the Spirit enabled them to speak. There were Jews living in Jerusalem, religious people who had come from every country in the world. When they heard this noise, a large crowd gathered. They were all excited, because all of them heard the believers talking in their own languages.”

We are not going to describe the differences in speaking foreign languages, or speaking in ecstatic utterances. No, I will leave that for specialists in biblical interpretation. I am more of a general biblical interpreter, as a pastor and preacher. What I see from this scripture passage is that God sent the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus in a powerful way. What is more, a huge audience gathered when this Holy Spirit phenomenon happened in Jerusalem that day—a multicultural audience who had traveled from all over the known world to worship God.

We are all aware of the multicultural, multi-ethnic community we live in, here in Morton Grove, Niles, Des Plaines, Glenview, and Skokie. Such wonderful, diverse neighborhoods we all share! That was very much what the disciples and other followers of Jesus were dealing with, in Jerusalem on that grand feast day.

Sure, the followers of Jesus had the mighty power of the Holy Spirit poured out upon them, as they spilled out into the street and started talking what God had done in their lives, crying out, excited and overjoyed. The awesome power of God filled them, energized them, so much so they could not hold it in.

The audience—the gathered crowd in Jerusalem had a few reactions to this action. Surprise, certainly! “In amazement and wonder they exclaimed, ‘These people who are talking like this are Galileans! How is it, then, that all of us hear them speaking in our own native languages?’” However, some in the audience scoffed: “But others made fun of the believers, saying, ‘These people are drunk!’”

As commentator Mitzi Smith says, “Confounded, the men do not agree about how to interpret the event that they have all witnessed together at the same time. Some translate what they hear as babble resulting from a midday drinking binge (2:13).” [1] Many of these people were confused—confounded, as Mitzi Smith says.

How often did the disciples have problems understanding what was going on, while Jesus was with them? How often do we misunderstand the words and acts of God? Didn’t the people of Israel need to be reminded again and again and again of the lessons and works and words of God? Is it any wonder that these multicultural Jews had difficulty comprehending the mighty works of God through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit?

Then Peter stood up with the other eleven apostles and in a loud voice began to speak to the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, listen to me and let me tell you what this means. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose; it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 Instead, this is what the prophet Joel spoke about: 17 ‘This is what I will do in the last days, God says: ‘I will pour out my Spirit on everyone.’”

Can you picture this scene? More than a hundred excited believers in Christ, newly energized by the Holy Spirit, spilling out into the streets of Jerusalem. They are not like robots, emitting a canned message, like a cookie cutter, exactly the same as everyone else. No! The pouring out of the Holy Spirit is truly an amazing event.

As Mitzi Smith says, “the first act of God’s Spirit at Pentecost honors the diversity and individuality of the believers.” [2] Each person who believes is still an individual, and each one who hears is celebrated in their diversity! Each one hears God’s mighty acts in the heart language they grew up with. Listen: “Devout males, Jews and proselytes, from every nation, and who had traveled from Africa, Rome, and Asia hear this group of disciples speaking to them about the mighty acts of God in their own languages (2:8-11).” Plus, here is the kicker, the most important part: “God’s acts remain God’s acts in every language and culture.” [3]

God pours out Holy Spirit power that enables us to do God’s work on earth.  God inspires us, gives us gifts (talents), and works through us.  God expects us to “do something in God’s name.”  This is a powerful self-image.  We are powerful and God has work for us to do. [4]

The followers of Jesus told others about what God had just done in their lives! It doesn’t matter when or where we talk about God. We are still witnessing. (Just like the disciples.) We can still talk about God’s mighty acts in our lives, today.

Can you name something that God has done in your life, recently? You, or someone in your family? Are you excited about what God has done in your lives? I encourage you to tell someone about it, today! What is more, we can look forward to what God will do in our lives, tomorrow. We can all celebrate the mighty acts of God with joy, with praise, and with adoration.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=823 Mitzi J. Smith

[2] Ibid, Mitzi J. Smith.

[3] Ibid, Mitzi J. Smith.

[4] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/05/year-pentecost-june-8-2014.html Worshiping with Children, Pentecost, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown

@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!)

He Was Taken Up

Acts 1:9, Luke 24:51 – May 28, 2017

Acts 1-9 Ascension ENLUMINURES HILDERSHEIM

“He Was Taken Up”

Mentors often teach and assist their followers through conversations. Whether it’s a one-on-one relationship or a small group mentorship, many respected, learned teachers often are in a position where their followers are hanging on every word that comes out of their mouths. Imagine how much more closely our risen Lord Jesus’s followers listened to His words in the weeks following His resurrection!

This whole situation after Easter was totally unprecedented. The Rabbi Jesus, God’s Anointed, the Messiah, come back from the dead? Being resurrected, and brought back to life?  How can such a thing be? It was a blessed miracle of God, that’s how!

Jesus walked and talked for forty days with His disciples. We do not know for sure, but I suspect He gave them further information about why He had come down from heaven, setting aside His divinity, being born of the Virgin Mary as a human baby. From our Gospel passage this morning: “44 Jesus said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

Wouldn’t that be absolutely fantastic, to have Jesus, the Word made flesh, interpreting Scripture so that we could more fully understand it? Talk about an in-depth bible study! Those would be some awesome conversations. I know I would be sitting at Jesus’s feet, like Mary of Bethany, hanging on His every word.

I also suspect our Lord Jesus significantly affected and touched His followers while He realized His time was becoming shorter and shorter. Don’t you think Jesus must have told them He would be going away—soon? We know how upset the disciples became when Jesus told them such things before His crucifixion. In John 16, at that Last Supper the night Jesus was betrayed, He spoke plainly about His departure. But, that was the last thing His followers wanted to hear about, or think about, either!

If we reflect more deeply on that thought—the thought of Jesus going away—it’s similar to the idea of our loved ones dying and going away. Many people become deeply distressed at even the thought of it, much less the actuality. Even if we know our loved ones have died and gone to heaven, and we will eventually be reunited with them, it still can be distressing, even traumatizing for us to contemplate their departure.

This common feeling may well be similar to the feeling of the disciples as the time of Jesus’ departure got closer and closer. One of the commentators on the passage, Bob Deffinbaugh, wrote, “While we know that God’s will has been done and that those who have died in Christ are with the Lord…We do not find great comfort or joy in reminiscing over the departure of our loved ones. So, too, I believe the gospel writers did not have any predisposition to write of our Lord’s departure to return to His Father.” [1] That may be part of the reason why there was not much mention of the Ascension in the biblical record.

Taking a look at our companion reading from Acts 1, we can see that the disciples still do not quite understand. Even though Jesus opened their minds to the Scriptures that they might have fuller comprehension of the purpose and coming of the Messiah, as foretold by the biblical writers, they still had some misconceptions.

Reading from Acts 1: “Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

We can tell that the followers of Jesus are still thinking “of the day when the nation of Israel will be reestablished as it was in the days of Solomon. They dream of themselves as the chief executives in the new kingdom.” [2] They are having a glorified view of a powerful earthly kingdom.  I cannot imagine our Lord Jesus being unclear about this, so I think the problem is on the disciples’ end. They have faulty presuppositions that just do not match up with the clear things Jesus is telling them. The followers of Jesus need to have their vision clarified. The kingdom Jesus is preparing is not of this world, but instead of the spiritual world.  

How often are we like the disciples? So often, we focus on unimportant issues. Things like denominational differences, whether to baptize by sprinkling or by immersion, how often to offer the Lord’s Supper, social justice, church growth, choice of church music: all of these pale in comparison with the foundational purpose of Jesus and His coming to earth.

As we can see, the followers of Jesus were narrowly focused on the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. They were completely missing the larger picture of our Lord Jesus reconciling the entire world to God, His heavenly Father.

For Jesus, His followers have one overarching assignment—a far greater purpose than these unimportant things. “For Jesus, that purpose is witnessing. His disciples are witnesses of His life, death, resurrection, and now, His ascension.” [3]

We all are familiar with the words of the Apostles Creed. I quote a portion: Jesus Christ, “born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” These words are the very words I am preaching about here, today. They are not just the dusty old words found in some theological tome or some stilted book of creeds of the church. No! These words of the Creed are faithful, true, and powerful.

While the disciples were being distracted by their pie-in-the-sky view of the restoration of the kingdom of Israel to home rule, Jesus had the cosmic view in mind. In other words, it is like Jesus is telling His followers, “Forget that other stuff. Look, I am going now. I will send you all a Helper, an Advocate, to help you in the important work of being My witnesses. So, BE my witnesses!”

Acts 1:8 tells us where the followers are to be witnesses: “you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Then, in verse 9, Jesus rises and is taken up into heaven.

Do we understand yet? The ascension of Jesus was glorious! He rose up into a cloud, most probably the Shekinah glory that surrounded Him at the Transfiguration, earlier in the Gospels. He ascended into heaven, just as we confess in the Apostles Creed. And, in Acts 1:11, we are reminded that the return of our Lord Jesus will be like His ascension.

“The ascension was a display of the splendor and glory of the coming Kingdom. As such it was a reassurance to the disciples that this Kingdom was the same as they had previously been instructed.” [4] A glorious, heavenly reassurance!

Remember, the followers of Jesus were not left to undertake this purpose, this task in their own power. Jesus tells us, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” And then, “you will be my witnesses.”

The followers of Jesus did not know what to expect. But, we know.  This ascension may be the end of Jesus’s time on earth. He may be going away for a time, but no fear!

We are going to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit next week, on Pentecost Sunday. Talk about coming attractions! Praise God, today we have the power and help of the Holy Spirit assisting us as we share the Good News of Jesus, reconciling us to God. Jesus assured us of the help of the Holy Spirit, whenever we witness to Him. What a promise! Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/41-ascension-luke-2431-acts-11-11  “The Ascension,” by Robert Deffinbaugh at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/studyot/ascensionot.html  “The Ascension,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://bible.org/seriespage/41-ascension-luke-2431-acts-11-11  “The Ascension,” by Robert Deffinbaugh at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

@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!)

 

Jesus Knows Our Needs

John 14:18 – May 21, 2017

John 14-18 not leave you, coin

“Jesus Knows Our Needs”

Today in our service, we focus on Mental Health and Mental Illness. All across the United States, one in four people are affected by mental health issues each year. Whether the health difficulty is mild, moderate or serious, still—one in four people have challenges or difficulties that affect their daily lives. And if you add the families and loved ones of those who are affected, you are talking about a lot of people! Often times, people with mental health challenges do not have much to look forward to, and not much hope at all.

In our Gospel reading from John 14, Jesus gives us all some hope and comfort.

This reading is from Thursday night in the Passion week, the night before Jesus was crucified. Jesus knew He was going away. He told His disciples so. However, Jesus tells His friends about a Helper He is going to send when He is gone: “16 And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you.”

Jesus promised us to leave us another Advocate—another Helper. We will explore Jesus’s message to all of us for those times when we are feeling alone, afraid, separate and isolated. Just like people who are dealing with mental illness. Just like their loved ones, too.

The disciples still don’t understand a lot of what Jesus was telling them. Even though He had been with them for many months, even years, they still do not get it. Of course, we have better understanding of what Jesus told them in that Upper Room, looking back on it from our fuller point of view, today. But even now, many people have a challenging time figuring out exactly what Jesus was saying. Helper? Advocate? Spirit from God? What is that all about?

In a magazine, Vision New England’s Ministries with the Disabled, a minister writes “How many families in your [acquaintance] have a loved one who struggles with a serious, acute or chronic mental health issue?” Carlene Hill Byron says that “Someone is probably hurting and they’re afraid to tell you.” [1]

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. NAMI teaches us that “Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.” [2]

Do you think Jesus understands how we feel? How about everyone, absolutely every person—does Jesus know how each one of us feels? What about individuals who are suffering from major depression? What about schizophrenia? Bipolar disorder? Obsessive compulsive disorder? How about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Are all of these afflictions diseases that Jesus understands? Can He come alongside of each of us, in whatever mental state we happen to be in? Or, will Jesus desert us, like so many people do who just do not understand us?

The next verses in John 14: “18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see Me anymore, but you will see Me.”

Where Jesus mentions “I will not leave you as orphans,” that is exactly what He said, and exactly what He meant. “Orphan” (orphanos) “was a common metaphor to describe disciples left without their masters.” [3] Dr. O’Day mentions a special poignancy in Jesus’s words here, where He talks about a special family relationship He has with His friends and disciples. Especially here in the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to His friends as “little children.”

“I will not leave you as orphans.” Sometimes, in this imperfect life, things happen. Loved ones die. Listen to this personal recollection from the Rev. Dr. Anna Hosemann-Butler: “Orphaned. Alone. Without guidance. Without support. Without parents. Without anyone. Mostly, “orphaned” means being so isolated in this world that it feels like no one cares whether or not we live or die. Orphaned. Really depressing. At least, it can be—and terrifying, too.

“Although an image of children first comes to mind when we use that word, any of us can be orphaned at any age. In fact, on any given day, a lot of us are orphaned, at least in spirit.

I lost my father to cancer when I was eight years old, and so became a “half-orphan,” and thus appropriately half-terrified.

“I became a child who on the surface was fine, but inside was frantic in my love for my mother, always on the edge of panic where her well-being was concerned, desperately afraid that something would happen to her and I would be completely alone in the world. Anxious fear was a constant childhood companion. There was no way around it, it seemed.” [4]

Imagine fear and anxiety like that, every single day. Dr. Hosemann-Butler describes her childhood feelings so vividly here as she relates how filled with panic and anxiety she was at the sense of being orphaned. I suspect many, many people with mental illness go through similar feelings of panic, fear, anxiety, and loneliness. It is not just fear and desperation at being left alone for people with mental illnesses, but it’s also a dark cloud of stigma that surrounds them. Many times, they can be unfairly labeled, bullied at school or work, excluded or shunned in social situations, and marginalized in many different ways.

But, Jesus never does any of those things. Can anyone imagine our Lord Jesus bullying someone? Or, shunning anyone? Certainly not! He would be likely to go out to the parking lot or in back by the alley, where the shunned and excluded ones are hanging out. Just as Jesus thought of His friends and disciples as His children, that is the same way He thinks of any of His modern-day friends and followers, too.

Remember what Jesus reminds us: “16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth.” Even though Jesus might have known He was ascending to heaven in just a few weeks, He knew the Holy Spirit would come to be with the disciples. Just as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit is with us today as well, indwelling us and coming alongside of us.

I would like to encourage all of us, today—be friends for someone who is hurting, today. Come alongside of someone who struggles with mental illness, or one of their family members, today. Provide a warm welcome for these friends, so they don’t feel alone any more.

I want to reiterate: Jesus will not leave anyone as orphans—not grown ups, not children, not seniors, not people who are blind or deaf or with speech impediments, not people who are developmentally disabled, and not people with mental illnesses. No one. No one.

Remember Psalm 23, where King David talks of walking through the valley of the shadow? Sure, the road ahead may be dark sometimes, and take unexpected twists and turns, but the Holy Spirit will be right by our sides. Always. Jesus has promised, and we can take His word for it. Alleluia, amen.

@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!)

[1] A quotation from Carlene Hill Byron, from Vision New England Ministries with the Disabled, http://mhn-ucc.blogspot.com/p/mental-health-sunday.html   https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1-I-16TIdciVlprWldQOTEtdUE/edit , page 11.

[2]. http://mhn-ucc.blogspot.com/p/mental-health-sunday.html   https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1-I-16TIdciVlprWldQOTEtdUE/edit

[3] O’Day, Gail, The Gospel of John, The new Interpreter’s Bible: general articles & introduction, commentary, & reflections for each book of the Bible, Vol. 9 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 748.

[4]  http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Orphaned-Anna-Hosemann-Butler-05-20-2014 , “Orphaned?” Anna Hosemann-Butler, Edgy Exegesis, 2014.

@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!)

Gift of the Holy Spirit

“Gift of the Holy Spirit” – May 15, 2016

Acts 2-38 repent, be baptized

Acts 2:38

What does it mean to know someone?  Can you know a sports star? Know all of his or her stats, his earned run average, how many sacks he got last season, how many assists she had to her credit in the last game?

We can know a lot about some really famous people, and yet not know them personally. I suspect you’re all familiar with the movie star Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones, Han Solo in the Star Wars movies, Jack Ryan in a couple of Tom Clancy movies). I know just a few things about him. He is a very private person, and a licensed helicopter pilot; he started in Hollywood years ago as a carpenter until he got his first movie role. I know things about Harrison Ford, But I have no illusions about being close to Harrison Ford.

What about Jesus? Do we know things about Jesus? Can we describe things about His life, His ministry, or the things He said? What about the last week He was alive? His passion?  His trials, crucifixion, and death on the cross? Do we know about all that?

Peter did. Peter knew all those things intimately. Peter was also one of the disciples who had a very close relationship with the Rabbi Jesus throughout the three years of His ministry. We know that, through the Gospel accounts. But now, now is the morning of the Pentecost festival. A whole host of Jews from all over the region have gathered together in Jerusalem for one of the important feasts, one of the celebrations on the Jewish calendar. Peter had quite a crowd for his impromptu sermon. For—that was what he delivered. A sermon.

But, a sermon on what? Why did he feel like he had to speak out?

For that, we need to go back to our Scripture passage for the morning. I am reading from Acts chapter 2: “When the day of Pentecost came, they [the disciples and followers of Jesus] were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.”

What happened to the disciples? The Holy Spirit happened, that’s what! The Holy Spirit blew into that house, buffeting all inside with a violent wind. Then, on top of that, tongues of fire appeared over each one’s head. The Holy Spirit came and dwelt within each one of them—with each believer in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. These tangible and visible signs of the Holy Spirit were genuine proof that the Holy Spirit was real. This coming was huge. And, this arrival was life-changing.

After such a momentous event inside the house, the newly-filled, newly-energized believers spilled out into the street. Can you see their excited faces? Can you hear them as they share about this amazing experience that had just happened?

I can just imagine a roving reporter, reporting on the noisy crowd in the streets of Jerusalem that day. “Here on the streets of Jerusalem are God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. I understand that a strange sound was just heard. You all can see the crowd coming together in bewilderment. Each person is hearing their own language spoken. Everyone here is utterly amazed! “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in many different tongues! I keep hearing again and again from these eye-witnesses, “What does this mean?” The minority opinion is, however, less flattering. Some are making fun of theses Galileans and saying, “They have had too much wine.”

You can see how brash, outspoken Peter couldn’t help himself. Energized by the Holy Spirit, he began to tell people what happened. Why all of the disciples were so energized, so filled with the Holy Spirit. And—about Jesus Christ, Jesus the Jewish Messiah, crucified, died and resurrected from the dead.

Listen to the words of Peter: “But God raised Jesus from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.”

Does everyone here understand? Peter finally gets it! So many times previously, Peter and the other disciples just didn’t understand the words of Jesus. They miss His message completely, and Jesus needed to patiently backtrack, go over the same information again and again. Except—not now. The disciples—and Peter—finally understand! The Holy Spirit is now indwelling them, and Peter lets everyone in the crowd know that this Jesus, this Messiah, has come for them, too.

This Jesus, this Messiah, is the long-promised Messiah, foretold by Moses and the prophets.

Many people in the crowd had heard something about the Rabbi Jesus, who had been put to death just a few short weeks ago. Yes, and some even knew a lot about this Jesus, this supposed Messiah, long-promised and foretold by the Hebrew Scriptures. But, the words of Peter, energized by the Holy Spirit, went straight to the hearts of those who listened that day.

Listen to the words of our scripture passage today: “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Wait a second. What is Peter talking about? Believing, and immediately getting baptized?

That is exactly what he means. Baptism was an established practice in the first century. Not done by everyone, but practiced by a number of people. To show cleansing, and repentance, and renewal of life. Jesus elevates this Jewish practice to what we call a sacrament.

As in the rest of believers’ lives, so also in the receiving of the sacraments, it is God who takes the initiative in approaching the believer. It is then the believers’ turn to respond joyfully to God, as a result of God’s sovereign gift of grace. Baptism is our response to God’s gracious gift of salvation, grace, and forgiveness of sins.

Let me explain in another way. Out on the cattle ranches of the West the unbranded calves that roam at large are known as “mavericks.” Theses calves are claimed by the rancher who is first to get his brand on them at the annual round up. A little girl from a Western state had been baptized one Sunday by the Methodist minister of the town. Her friends at school questioned her the next day as to the meaning of the ceremony. “Well,” she said, “I will just tell you. I was a little maverick out on the prairie. That pastor put the Jesus mark on my forehead so that when He sees me He will know that I am one of His children.”

That Jesus mark was what so many new believers received, that morning of Pentecost. That Holy Spirit gift was what we received when each of us was baptized. Before we knew the Lord, each of us was a maverick calf, wandering on the prairie. Whether we are baptized as adults, young people, or babies like Christine, baptism is a joyful, outward expression of God’s love toward us. And, we know that Jesus will know that each one is His child.

Do you know things intellectually about Jesus? Or, do you have a close relationship with Jesus? Like the other believers on that Pentecost morning, has the Holy Spirit blown through your life and heart? I invite you all into a close relationship with Jesus, today.

@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!)