For God So Loved

“For God So Loved”

John 3-16 so loved, bible

John 3:16-17 – September 7, 2019

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one-and-only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

That verse is from the Gospel of John, verse 3:16. It is also one of the most familiar and beloved Scripture verses of all time, and that is no exaggeration.

When I asked Gladys what verse or Bible passage was one of her father’s favorites, she immediately spoke up and said: John 3:16. What is more, Bart had his three daughters memorize this verse when they were young. What a beautiful and precious Bible verse, and also a beautiful and precious memory of their father.

This verse has been called the Gospel in a nutshell, or a simple way to view the Good News of God come to earth to save sinners. A vast number of people throughout the world love John 3:16 and can quote it word for word. Yes, it is a valid way to be introduced of the God of the Bible, and to be introduced to the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. But, don’t stop there. Bart and Rosevelita did not stop with just that verse. They taught their children not to stop there, either.

What kinds of problems do people discover if they just stop with that one verse and ignore the rest of the Bible? They might have an incomplete understanding of salvation.

After centuries of the Christian church and church history, humanity has ended up with hundreds of different denominations, and even more different ways of understanding how to worship God and to give God honor and glory. This kind of diversity in thinking about God is a reflection of the awesome and magnificent diversity and difference in God’s creation. But, there is still—or should I say, even more—of a sharp disagreement and discord between believers and denominations that say they follow Christ.

What about Jesus Himself? What do you think Jesus would do? Or, WWJD, as the trendy bracelets and bumper stickers of some years back might say? But, I am serious, asking a serious question. What do you think Jesus would do—or say—about all the division in His church?

I suspect our Lord Jesus would cry, grieve, and be very downhearted about all the division, dissention and disharmony among people who say that they follow Christ.

But what if some don’t follow Jesus Christ, or aren’t sure about belief in God? What if some people are not in the same place as others on their journey of faith? We forget that statements like John 3:16 can portray a kind of God I suspect, if pushed, many people would rather not have. “We forget that our certainties about salvation lead to or come from claims about God that might not even reflect the God we know, the God we want.” [1]

If we say that God loves the world, this is not just a pie-in-the-sky theory for salvation. John 3:16 is not like doing advanced mathematics on a chalkboard or a biology experiment in a lab. It is specific and real-life. Particular. As particular as the God coming to earth and becoming human, just as human as you and me. But, can we measure God’s particular, tangible love, in a concrete way?

Sure, we can say “God so loved the world.” But, that means God loves a hated Samaritan woman—from John chapter 4. Does God love people who look and act and worship in a different way than we do? Do we love them, too? God loves a man paralyzed his entire life—from Mark chapter 2. Does God love handicapped and disabled people today? Do we love them, too?  God loves a man blind from birth. God loves Jesus’ friend Lazarus dead in the tomb for four days. God loves Peter who will deny his discipleship and deny being a friend of Jesus. [2]

Great calamities and difficult situations had happened to each of these people. God still loves them. God still loves you and me, and every other person, too. We may not be able to love all people, every person in the world. But, God does. John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the world. That means everyone. Every. Single. One.

Sometimes we use a measuring cup to measure things. When I made cookies a few days ago, I used a measuring cup and spoons to measure out the ingredients for cookies. Can we use a measuring cup to measure God’s love? If you or I were building something, we might use a measuring tape to measure the length and width of the wood properly. I wonder—could we use a tape measure to measure God’s love? Finally, we use a clock to measure the passage of time. Could we measure God’s love and find out how long it would last? Psalm 103 tells us that God’s love is from everlasting to everlasting, and that is pretty long, longer than we can humanly imagine. [3]

Do we have a better understanding of John 3:16 now?

We turn to another gracious promise from Scripture, from Romans 8, where the Apostle Paul tells us that he is convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Bart knows the blessed truth of this verse. He is in heaven with the risen Christ right now, looking down on us. I pray that we all might think of Bart Garcia with blessing, honor his memory, and celebrate his new life in Christ Jesus our Lord..

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4835

“John 3:16,” Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2017.

[2] https://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlgregg/2012/03/lectionary-commentary-john-316-the-rest-of-the-story-for-sunday-march-18-2012/  “John 3:16 – The Rest of the Story,” Carl Gregg, Patheos, 2012.

[3] https://sermons4kids.com/measuring_gods_love.htm

“Measuring God’s Love,”  Charles Kirkpatrick, Sermons4kids.com.

@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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Proclaim Good News!

“Proclaim Good News!”

Luke 4:14-21 (4:18) and Romans 12:1-13 – January 20, 2019 – Ecumenical Prayer Service for Christian Unity, St. Martha’s Catholic Church, Morton Grove, Illinois

luke 4-18 proclaim good news

[The (Ecumenical) John 17 Fellowship is an informal group of Catholic and Protestant churches in the northwest Chicago suburbs. We celebrated the Week of Ecumenical Christian Unity with a prayer service for unity this afternoon, on Sunday, January 20. I was asked to preach. Here is my sermon.]

What do you want to be when you grow up? That is a familiar question to many children and young people. I dare say lots of people wonder what they will be as adults, today.

I wonder whether Jesus was asked that question while He was growing up? In our Gospel reading today from St. Luke, our Lord Jesus makes some bold statements while at worship with His fellow townsfolk in Nazareth. But first, we ought to set the scene.

Sure, this was the very beginning. Jesus was just starting to make a name for Himself as an itinerant rabbi. And, He came to His hometown, the place where He grew up. Maybe where the butcher and baker down the street were good friends with His parents from way back. Maybe the real estate agent across the square sold His parents their house some years before, the house where His mother Mary still lives. In other words—I suspect everyone in that town was there in the synagogue that day to hear what the Rabbi Jesus—their hometown boy!—had to say.

Jesus already had generated some buzz in the greater Nazareth area. “Have you heard the latest about that Jesus? The one who says He is a Rabbi? The one who was baptized in the River Jordan by that Baptizer fellow? And, there was something about the heavens cracking open, a dove flying out of a clear blue sky—and a voice from heaven! I’m not saying all this was for real or not, but that is what people are saying about this Jesus. You know, the guy from our town.”

Our Lord Jesus had hardly started to do His public ministry, and people were already talking about Him and what had happened in His life. Especially in Nazareth, the town where He had grown up.

In this scene from the synagogue in Luke chapter 4, the townsfolk did what they habitually did every week in worship. In addition to the prayers, the townsfolk read from the Bible, and then someone made an interpretation of the reading. Biblical exegesis, or midrash.

Isn’t that what we do in worship each week? In addition to the prayers, we also read from the Bible, and then someone (usually the priest or pastor or minister, but not always) makes an interpretation of the reading.

The Bible is so important, to all of us. Here in our Gospel reading today, the Rabbi Jesus reads from the book of the prophet Isaiah. Ecumenically, all of us here from different church traditions and even various places across the globe can agree that the Bible—the Word of God—is one important way that God communicates with us all.

When I was younger, a teenager and in my twenties, I memorized a number of verses from the Bible, from both the Hebrew Scriptures and from the New Testament. I have not kept up with my bible memorization, but I still remember a good deal. Like, for example, two verses from Psalm 119. Verse 11, “Your Word have I hid in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” And Verse 105, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

These verses are just two of the many places in the Bible that remind us of the importance of God’s Word, and what a central role the Bible ought to have in our lives. Our Lord Jesus tells us so. What’s more, He shows us what we are to do.

Our Lord Jesus was attending worship services—as was His custom. He was reading the Bible. What’s more, Jesus always lived out what the Bible said to do. Always.

Listen again to what our Lord Jesus read: “He found the place where it is written:  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because God has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In another sermon two and a half years ago, I preached on this same Gospel reading. I told my congregation that this was where our Lord Jesus preaches His first recorded sermon. It is quite a bit like political campaigns. The various candidates all have their position distilled down to a simple message. What they stand for. What they will strive to do. Just so, with Jesus. Jesus is here to proclaim the Gospel. Share the Good News, indeed!

The Apostle Paul was so moved and energized by the risen Jesus that he made it his life’s work to share that Good News. Paul went to endless places and preached the Gospel to just about everyone he met. What is more, he used his organizational skills to help the growing gatherings of believers, as we can see from our second reading from the book of Romans today.

These words from St. Paul not only tell his fellow believers about their gifts and how much God has blessed each of them, individually, but also to let them know how they ought to live together, and bless each other as a church community. We can take that one step further, and see how Paul’s fellow believers—that is all of us, as Christians—ought to live in love and justice in our neighborhoods, and with our fellow citizens.

Let’s go back to Luke chapter 4. My first thought is, I’m not poor! Or, a prisoner, or blind, or oppressed, either. I am not any of those things. Seriously, what is the Rabbi Jesus saying here? Does He have some kind of secret message? If these are the types of people Jesus says He is going to preach and minister to, I am not sure I would be comfortable with it.

All that talk about the poor and blind, grief-stricken and oppressed, that is giving me some hesitation about following this new Rabbi Jesus.

But, let’s take a closer, deeper look. Here Jesus is addressing the poor. Could that be the poor in spirit, as well as poor, materially-speaking? Next up, He addresses the prisoners. Perhaps, prisoners of sin? Then, speaking to the blind; blind to the love and gifts of God in their lives? And, our Lord Jesus came for the oppressed. Oppressed by anxiety, doubt, fear, anger, self-loathing, self-pity, self-righteousness. (I could go on, but I think you all have the idea.)

That is why Jesus has come to earth. That is His message. Our Lord gives His purpose statement, distilled down to the pure essence.  

Our Lord Jesus speaks to each one of us, as individuals. The Apostle Paul speaks to us as a group, to the church.

So—what do you want to be when you grow up? Do the words of Paul or the purpose statement of Jesus make a difference to you? Do these words change your life or your path? Following God’s Word can make all the difference in the world. It did for our Lord. It did for Paul. Will following God’s Word make a difference for you and me today?

            God willing, may it be so.

Alleluia, amen.

 

The Poor Widow’s Gift

“The Poor Widow’s Gift”

Mark 12-42 widow, mite mosaic

Mark 12:38-44 – November 11, 2018

You know celebrities? Many of us follow their activities. Look at popular tabloids, magazines, television, and computer screens. It seems like the richer the celebrity, the better. So many celebrities give away a lot of money, or a lot of stuff, and they get a lot of applause. Look at Oprah Winfrey, Taylor Swift, Bono, and Angelina Jolie. All of them are very open in their giving, and they are to be commended, even applauded.

Many people watch celebrities, to see what they do, and even how they give. This is not a new activity. People have been doing it for centuries. In our Gospel reading today, people were watching, too. The offering box for the Temple was in the back, by the exit door. In the first century, apparently it was common for people to sit or stand near the offering box and watch as the faithful put in their offerings.

In the first century, all money clinked. All money was in coins. That means, no paper money. When anyone threw money in the offering box, the money made a metallic sound. I suspect there even were some who knew what kinds of noises different coins made. They possibly could keep “score,” regarding what kinds of coins were given by which people.

In the first part of our Gospel reading, our Lord Jesus calls out the temple leaders. Jesuse tells His disciples that the teachers of the Law of Moses are hypocrites. “They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

Whoa! This is judging! And, judging pretty severely, too. Notice, please, where Jesus mentions “devouring widows’ houses.”

Does everyone here understand what happened to a widow, after her husband died? She had no way to earn money, and very quickly she would become poor, sometimes even losing the house she lived in. That’s a direct condemnation of the group Jesus was talking about in the first verses. He’s weighing one group of people against another.

These religious leaders had special clothing that actually was very different from the clothing of the other, “blue-collar” workers around them. The leaders had fancy long sleeves and elaborate cloaks that came down to the ground, which would just get in the way for the blue-collar workers. What is more, the synagogue leaders just loved to sit at the head table for public events or at synagogue functions.

“While those actions may have seemed spiritual, Jesus warns they’re signs that the religious leaders especially enjoy the attention they receive from people. However, Jesus also points out that the religious leaders of his day don’t just crave attention.  They’re also hungry for material things.  Jesus grieves, for example, how they “devour widow’s houses,” exploiting these defenseless people.” [1]

So, these religious leaders are two-faced and hypocrites. What else is new? The way the scribes/Pharisees treat the widows. That is, the poor, the indigent. Horrible example for others. They were throwing their pocket change (jingle, jingle) in the giving box in the back of the synagogue, so everyone could see AND hear how MUCH they gave, all the while neglecting and even robbing the widows of what the Temple offering would have given the poor.

This sermon is about so much more than the poor widow and her tiny gift. But, now that I’m referring to that, what about her gift, anyway?

If they were lucky, some widows had a small next egg saved up for a rainy day. And when that was gone, they had nothing. Zero. Talk about living on a fixed income! With no life insurance, Social Security or other government safety nets, these widows were often sunk, Out of luck, unless the synagogue chipped in or helped out, that is.

Jesus pointed out that ““Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

What a contrast! On one hand, the show-off religious leaders, with their ostentatious gifts of money they can easily afford. On the other hand, we have people like this widow, giving her all.

But, what about the attitude of giving we see here?  One of the commentators says, “Some of the happiest, most fulfilled people on the face of this planet have the fewest resources and choice. These same people are also some of the most generous. They don’t seem convinced that hoarding their meager resources is the best use of them, and they appear to find more joy and possibility in sharing with others and in building relationship capital.” [2]

Another way of saying a similar thing? In the archives on a pastor’s chat-board, a Pastor JD from Washington DC gave the following example. “The widow gave from her “poverty” it says. Think about people who have given from their vulnerable experiences, from their “poverty” and, in so doing, have helped others beyond measure. An alcoholic revealing to a problem drinker his or her life’s story; A woman who has survived breast cancer shares her struggle with someone newly diagnosed; A Christian shares his faith doubts and journey revealing a realistic and growing faith.” [3]

Think about it. Those who knowingly share in their poverty are truly the most giving and trusting individuals of the world. God doesn’t want 10%, God wants 100%, regardless of whether we have less than others or more than others. God wants it all.

Each week we sing “We give thee but thine own, what-e’er the gift may be; All that we have is thine alone, a trust O Lord, from thee.” All we have is from God and we are to use all for the Glory of God. Giving our all, and trusting in God to take care of us.

May we all strive to follow this Godly example. So help us, God. Amen.

[1] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-27b/?type=the_lectionary_gospel

The Center for Excellence in Preaching commentary and sermon illustrations, Scott Hoezee, 2015.

[2] http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2015/11/the-abundant-life/

“The Abundant Life,” Sharron R. Blezard, Stewardship of Life, 2015.

[3] http://desperatepreacher.com//bodyii.htm 

@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!

How Not to Be Terrified

How Not to Be Terrified” 

Jesus Transfiguration Georgian relief Luke 9

Matthew 17:1-9 (17:7) – August 19, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Have you ever seen a true transformation? I know we are familiar with tadpoles swimming in water changing to frogs as amphibians, comfortable in water or on land. I know we all are familiar with caterpillars, living their earthbound, wormlike existence…and after a time of preparation in the cocoon, out comes a butterfly! Two transformations. We will look at another marvelous transformation today: what we know as the Transfiguration.

Let us set the scene. Our Lord Jesus has been on the road with His disciples for a long time now. I am certain they are accustomed to His teaching, preaching and healing. To His separating Himself for times of prayer, and of Him worshiping with groups of people in the synagogue. So, when Jesus taps the three disciples—Peter, James and John—on the shoulder and asks them to come apart with Him for a time of private prayer and worship, I suspect it comes as little surprise to the three men.

I remember two years ago I preached on Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, and I brought out the worship aspects of this marvelous account. Yes, Jesus withdrew to the mountain for a time of private prayer and worship with His three friends. But, there was more to this time than prayer. Much more!

The account from the gospel of Matthew doesn’t waste any time, because the marvelous thing happens as soon as Jesus and His disciples are on top of the mountain. Listen: “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.”

What on earth is “transfigured,” anyway? What does it mean?

In Greek, the word used in this passage is metamorphomai, or transform. So, from the three disciples’ point of view, it is a total transformation not only of appearance, but also of bodily form.

Again, I am bringing up the fact that first-century Palestine did not have electricity. The people of that time were completely unaware of the fancy special effects that we have today in stage shows, much less in the movies. When their leader and Rabbi suddenly became shining bright and His clothing as dazzling white as snow, well…that must have totally frightened these disciples. So much so, that they began to cower and hide their eyes.

What is more, Jesus wasn’t the only person to be transformed, shining bright in front of them. This Scripture passage also mentions Moses and Elijah, bright as the sun, talking to Jesus.

It is true, the three disciples had been traveling with Jesus for some time. They had observed Him preaching, teaching, and healing. They knew their Rabbi was a great teacher, perhaps a mighty prophet, and even a miracle worker, But, this unbelievable metamorphosis was something completely outside of their experience.

Of course, Peter tries to make sense of this amazing situation. He stutters and stammers, and wants to put up three tents or places of worship.  “On top of the mountain, Peter recognizes that Jesus’ dazzling appearance in the presence of Moses and Elijah is significant–‘Lord, it is good for us to be here!’–but he does not fully understand what he is seeing. One might imagine Peter, jumping up and down with his hand in the air, like an elementary student who is desperate to give the right answer, but who cannot quite get it right because he does not fully understand the question.” [1]

I might be scared to death, too. Imagine, seeing our almighty Lord Jesus, coming down to earth in glorified form. Seeing His majesty, this spectacular view of our Lord. I don’t blame these guys for cowering and hiding their eyes, not one bit.

One commentator has a fascinating insight into this instance of “Be Not Afraid,” happening at this momentous time in our Lord’s life. “Did this glorious ‘vision’ produce faith in [the disciples]? No, it caused extreme fear. Being in direct relationship to God, hearing the voice from the cloud did not produce faith, but fear — so much fear that the disciples literally ‘fell on their faces.’” [2]

Jesus recognizes that fact immediately. He encourages the disciples with the words “Don’t be afraid!”

We might wonder: how could the disciples possibly relate to Jesus again with any sort of naturalness? Any kind of normalcy, after this clearly supernatural experience?

The answer? Jesus transformed back into human form, and touched His friends. He encourages them with the words “Don’t be afraid!” By touching them and reassuring them that it was really and truly Him, just as He was before? It wasn’t the glorified, “glowing” Jesus who touched them, but the all-too-human, relatable Jesus.

How many of us are frightened or anxious, and need to hear those words today? How many of our friends or family members find themselves in difficult places, or walking through scary situations, and could be encouraged by those words today? Listen to Jesus! Hear His words to the disciples. Hear His words to us, too.

How much do we need this healing, life-giving, transforming touch from Jesus? The words of Jesus—“Be not afraid!” are surely for each of us. Yet, there is more. “In addition to our need for this divine touch, I think that we are also called to offer it to the world. For our congregations and our people, rather than seeking to appear ‘glorious’ as God’s people, perhaps it is more helpful to be simply human beings who offer a healing and life-giving touch to the scared, worried, anxious people with whom we come in contact.” [3]

We can have a view of Jesus as more than just an untouchable, glorified, majestic being. He is also a relatable, human being. The incarnate Son of God. Jesus reaches out to you and to me. He reaches out to everyone we meet, too.

Listen to Jesus! Hear His words to the disciples. Hear His words to us, too.

Be not afraid. Jesus is with us always. Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=27

Commentary, Matthew 17:1-9, Audrey West, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

[2] http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt17x1.htm    Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.

[3] http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt17x1.htm    Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.

@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!)

Believe the Message!

“Believe the Message!”

Mark 1-17 fishers of people

Mark 1:14-20 (1:15) – January 21, 2018

What is news? There are lots of different kinds of news. National news, local news. Partisan news, news that is slanted one way or another. What’s more, we hear so much about “fake news” today. News fit to scare the pants off of some people, and news meant to get some people really upset. News brings about all kinds of reactions. What kind of news can we possibly trust? How do we know which kind of news to believe?   

If we take a closer look at our Gospel reading for today, the Gospel writer Mark talks about news, too. Good News. God’s news—God’s wonderful message of Good News, brought by the greatest newsman, the greatest news announcer of all time, our Lord Jesus Himself.

Mark doesn’t waste any time with genealogies (like Matthew) or with long backstories of how Jesus came into the world (like Luke and John). No, Mark starts right off with a bang, with the baptism of Jesus. Then, shortly after He is baptized, Jesus starts to travel about saying, “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”

I love the relevance, the immediacy of Eugene Peterson’s modern translation. How appropriate that this translation of the Bible is called “The Message.” The whole Bible is God’s Good News to humanity, and most especially right here, in the Gospel of Mark.

Here we are, right at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. John the Baptist (the cousin of Jesus) was already on the scene. A sort of a warm-up act for the main event, for some time John had already been proclaiming “Repent! And, believe God’s Good News!” First Jesus came to John to be baptized, and now was the time for Him to begin His own ministry, His own preaching of God’s Good News.

What do we hear first thing in our Gospel reading today? John the Baptist has been arrested. Next thing, Jesus begins to gather a group of disciples around Himself. Mark tells us that the way Jesus does this is by proclaiming God’s Good News. The Kingdom of God has come to us. Or, as Eugene Peterson translates it, “Believe God’s Message!”

One sure way to know when the writers of the Bible really want readers to pay attention is when a word or phrase is repeated. “The emphasis of Mark’s gospel is that Jesus’ coming is the gospel, the “good news,” a term that in the first fifteen verses of the gospel occurs three times.” [1]  Today’s text continues the story from last Sunday, that is, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as He tells God’s Good News to His first disciples. In today’s reading Jesus calls four fishermen at the Sea of Galilee — Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John.

Our Gospel reading last week was from John chapter 1, and there are some differences between John’s account and Mark’s account from today’s scripture reading. In that sermon, I also mentioned how Jesus called several of His first disciples—this time it was John and James first, and then Simon Peter and Andrew. Some people have said, “I don’t understand. Which story is true, the Gospel of John or the Gospel of Mark?” Great question.

When a car accident happens in the middle of a busy intersection, that is a real tragedy. I understand when the accident is serious enough, the police sometimes get involved to find out exactly what happened. Imagine the surprise and even consternation when eyewitnesses on different street corners have different perspectives and impressions of the same event!

In the case of the car accident, the different people all saw the same vehicles collide, but from opposite angles and varying positions. Different things may have made a strong impression on one witness, more than another.

It’s no wonder that their eyewitness accounts are somewhat different from each other. And, in the case of the four different Gospel accounts, that adds to the richness and depth of the separate narratives. Each Gospel writer had a separate emphasis and perspective, and different things he wanted to highlight and point out.

However, we need to drill down to what is common between these readings. Jesus calls His first disciples, and Jesus tells them all, “God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.” What is the definition of God’s Good News, anyway? In Greek, the word is euaggelion, or Gospel. God’s Message of Good News to all humanity.

As we trace this Good News through the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, we get some more information. God’s Good News is truth. With the coming of the man Jesus here on the earth, humanity has the opportunity to see and touch and experience what God is like. A key feature of this Good News is hope. The fallen world is pretty hopeless and dark, but Jesus brings hope to the hopeless heart. And, last, God’s Good News means salvation. Salvation is not just being saved from the negative aspects of escape from sin and death. No! Salvation is eternal life, and the power to live life victoriously. [2]

God’s Good News is something new to many; something different, even radical. Why on earth should anyone want to adopt this strange, new life from Jesus? Maybe, this way of being and living is even a bit frightening? Many people may well be afraid of taking such a big step.

As Dallas Willard writes, “when he was a boy, rural electrification was just happening and power lines were being strung throughout the countryside.  But suppose even after the lines were up and running you ran across a house where the weary family still used only candles and kerosene lanterns for light, used scrub boards, ice chests, and rug beaters.  A better life was waiting for them right outside their door if only they would let themselves be hooked into the power lines.  “My friends,” you could proclaim, “electricity is at hand!”  But suppose they just didn’t trust it, thought it was too much of a hassle, and anyway didn’t believe the promises that things might be easier with this newfangled juice running into their house.  “If it’s all the same to you, we’ll stick with the old ways.” [3]

You see the difficulty? How some people are afraid of change? Or, prefer not to change their lives? How some don’t want to accept this Good News from God because it’s different, or new, or out of their experience? Can you hear Jesus saying, “My friends, God’s Kingdom is at hand! God’s Good News of eternal life is right here, waiting for you!”

Jesus still offers this gift of God in our world today, proclaiming His Message of God’s Good News, His Message of God’s truth, hope and salvation.

God’s Good News actually makes our job simple. We need to widely and clearly communicate the Message of God. “What mustn’t be lost on us is the urgency of its communication, for the day of judgement is at hand. We point to the hope of eternal life in Christ and call on everyone everywhere to turn and put their trust in Jesus.” [4]

Have you responded as the disciples did, by dropping everything and embracing the Good News? Jesus is calling, waiting for you and for me. Jesus says, “Believe the Message! Come, follow Me.”

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2315

Commentary, Mark 1:14-20, Michael Rogness, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

[2] Barkley, William, The Gospel of Mark (Westminster Press: Philadelphia, 1975), 25-26.

[3] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/epiphany-3b-2/?type=the_lectionary_gospel

Commentary and illustration idea, Mark 1:14-20, Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, 2015.

[4] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/studyg/sunday3bg.html   “Repent and Believe in the Good News,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.  

@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!)

Compassion for a Widow

Luke 7:11-17 (7:13) – July 30, 2017

Luke 7-10 widow's son Ottheinrich_Folio081v_Lc7B

“Compassion for a Widow”

I do not often make generalizations, but I suspect everyone will agree with this one. Pretty much everyone knows the grief, pain and anguish of having a close relative or loved one die. I’ve dealt with anxiety and fear, grief, anger and mourning plenty in the hospital when I worked as a chaplain, and afterwards, as pastor of this church.

This Gospel reading features a funeral procession, mourning and grieving, on the way to bury a dead loved one. This Gospel reading also features the widow of Nain (the town). One of the Gospel of Luke’s guest stars in a cameo appearance, the widow is in deep grief.

Naturally in dismay and trauma, I suspect all the widow wants is to be able to see her son again, alive.

But, I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s concentrate on Jesus.

Hear, again, today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, plus some commentary. “Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd came with Him.”  The Rabbi Jesus and close friends are traveling around Israel. (Remember, Jesus was an itinerant Rabbi, like a circuit-riding teacher and preacher.) The Rabbi Jesus did not live in one, stationary place, and His followers took on the same, nomadic lifestyle.

“As Jesus came to the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out.”  

I would like everyone to put your imagining cap on. You might be familiar with what I mentioned several weeks ago, introduced by St. Ignatius. Among other matters, Ignatius was a spiritual director. He wanted all people to get closer to God. What is more, there are things we can see, touch and feel about this reading—in our minds. This vivid use of imagination is one amazing way for that experience to happen.

So, Jesus was on the way, traveling all up and down the country. Right in the middle of things, as usual. What should Jesus and His friends run into but a funeral procession?

Imagine the traffic jam, right at the gates of the city of Nain. All the hustle and bustle of people coming and going. Animals, wagons and carts, shopkeepers, drivers making deliveries, people in close quarters, shuffling, passing through the city gates. Perhaps it’s a dry, dusty day. Add the dust, dirt and grit to the scene.

Can you see the people gawking at the funeral procession? One thing about this funeral procession: it’s for a younger person. We don’t know how much younger he was, but I know today that when a young person dies, they have lots of people at the funeral service. Can you hear the crying and wailing of the people who are mourning. Perhaps they are also squeezing through the busy city gate with everyone else. Luke says, “A large crowd came alongside his mother; she was a widow, and he was her only son.”

Her only son. Can you hear the sorrow and anguish packed into that small statement? Can you see the shock at the death of a young person, the loss of years not lived, of length of life not experienced?

When, suddenly, the Rabbi Jesus approaches the procession. He not only views that procession from among the many people grieving that day, but Jesus also goes beyond. He enters into the procession itself. Jesus interrupts, in a very large way. Listen to Luke’s words: “When Jesus saw her, he had compassion for her. He told her, “Do not weep.”

I would like to remind people about a quick word study I did a few weeks ago. I wanted to see what a proper, in-depth study on the word “compassion” had to say. According to one word study, “Com-passio literally means to “suffer with.”  In Latin, com means “with” and passio means “to suffer.” [1]

            As we consider what St. Ignatius wants us to do with our imagination as we think more deeply about this Scripture passage, we can add to it the intense emotions of grief, sorrow, longing, worry, anger, and suffering. On top of all of these deep, intense emotions, we can now add compassion. That’s not only compassion on a human level, but Jesus’s compassion. Godly compassion and caring. Wow! Can you say, “Wow!” with me?

In our children’s message today, I spoke about our scripture reading. I said Jesus recognized that a woman he met was extremely sad. This widow was left all alone, with no relatives at all! And, Jesus had empathy for her. the word “empathy” means to recognize another person’s emotion and then feel what that person feels; if someone feels sad, we recognize she feels sad and we feel sad with her, for example.

What the Gospel writer Luke does not say (because everyone in his time would understand it very well), is “Luke’s inclusion of the detail that this was her only son highlights her difficult situation. Without a husband and now without any son to support her, it is very likely that the widow is now or will soon be financially destitute.[2]

Do you see now why it is such a big deal that Jesus felt for this widow? He showed empathy for her and her extreme distress. Emotional, psychological and financial distress, as well as the spiritual upset, grief and trauma.

Jesus not only feels empathy and compassion for this widow, He goes that important step further. Continuing with Luke chapter 7: “Jesus told her, “Do not weep.” Then He came forward and touched the coffin. The people carrying it stopped moving. And Jesus said, “Young man, listen: get up!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him  to his mother.

            Our Lord Jesus does a miracle! Not only a healing, but raising the dead.

Jesus not only felt empathy, He did a miracle. He gave this woman back her much beloved son, and He stabilized her financial position, too. Jesus did a significant healing on several different levels.

That miracle is wonderful. In bible times, that is. I can just hear people stating that we couldn’t do anything even remotely resembling that marvelous miracle. Not today. Not us little, insignificant folks. That’s for big, important people, like Jesus, or the Apostles.

Our Lord Jesus is so awesome, and a wonder-worker, too. He showed empathy, yes, and also the incredibly personal touch: he cared deeply for that widow. It is so important to know Jesus first felt compassion and empathy for the widow before He healed her son.

Empathy is an important way for us to begin caring for others, which we learn through Jesus in this week’s example of compassion. It’s easiest for us to show empathy and compassion to people who are a lot like us, and harder to show this toward people who are very different from us. Who is different from you, and how can you be loving and caring to them?

This presents an opportunity to all of us. Find someone who is different from you and reach out to them, today. Be kind and compassionate.

How can you—we—practice empathy and caring, today? We can become more aware of how we can be loving, kind and helpful to those around us, like Jesus was with the mother in our Scripture passage today. A loving challenge from our Lord Jesus, today. Go, and do likewise.

Amen.

[1] Compassion in the New Testament (Part 1) http://www.jmarklawson.com/traveling-in-place/2012/03/compassion-in-the-new-testament-part-1.html

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1679 Commentary, Luke 7:11-17, Jeannine K. Brown, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013

 

Compassion and a Rich Man

Mark 10:17-27 (10:21) – July 16, 2017

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

“Compassion and a Rich Man”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)