Compassion with Our Welcome

“Compassion with Our Welcome”

Deut 10-19 words

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – August 20, 2017

The world today is a divided place, even here in the United States. There are so any divisions in society happening recently. Arguments, inflamed rhetoric, serious disagreements—and this is just between family members and acquaintances. Then, to escalate matters even further, many people of sincere beliefs and good conscience are finding themselves on opposite sides of serious matters, like immigration, the movement of people groups, and the safe passage of refugees and migrants.

What are we to make of such things?  More importantly, what does the Lord tell us in the Bible that we are to do about immigrants, refugees and migrants? More on this important topic, a little later in the sermon.

I also want to tell you all about the Family Peace Fest yesterday outside of the Civic Center. Frankly, I was nervous and anxious about this event. Or, more specifically, about the potential weather on the day of the Family Peace Fest.

However, God took care of all of my fears and anxiety. Yesterday was a gorgeous day, the weather couldn’t have been better, and this turned out to be a wonderful event at the Civic Center at Harrer Park on Dempster! We not only raised up peace, hope and harmony in Morton Grove and the surrounding neighborhoods, but we showed everyone who attended that our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural community could gather together, laugh, learn, and enjoy each other’s company. We also showed the Chicago area and the world that this diverse community lifts up peace as one of our most prized values.

We continue with our summer sermon series on compassion. This week, we are considering a reading from Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Hebrew scriptures. Here we are looking closely at some words of Moses to the large number of Jewish people, at the end of forty years of wandering in the Sinai desert and wilderness.

Moses also said a great many things that make a great deal of sense, especially from our Hebrew scripture reading today. From Deuteronomy 10: “Hey, people, what is it God wants from you? Just this: your reverence, your faithfulness, your love, your dedication, and for you to obey the commandments. They’re for your own good.”

Moses gave the Jewish tribes a whole lot of instructions, rules, and commands. Let’s take a close look at his commands for this people. They had strict duties and responsibilities to God and to other people. What was it Moses said again? Just this: God wants our reverence, our faithfulness, our love, our dedication, and for us to obey the commandments.

Right here is a summary statement of all of the laws, rules and commands Moses gave in Deuteronomy, the second giving of the Law. We’ve talked a few months ago about summary statements Jesus gave in the Gospels for what God wants from us, above all. Well, here is a brief summary from Moses about the exact same thing. What God wants, above all.

Going on, in our Scripture: “All the sky and all the stars belong to God, the earth and everything in it, and listen: God chose you—your people, your ancestors and your children—you! Do not cut yourself off from God; soften your heart. God is above all, but concerned for those who have nothing, caring for those who are stranded and alone, providing for them.”

What is this? Moses is now departing from a simple summary statement of what God wants from us into specific waters: Moses says God is concerned for “those who have nothing, caring for those who are stranded and alone, providing for them.”

Can you imagine some of the situations that may cause people to leave their homeland and go to a new place? We can just imagine some of the positive things. Economic opportunities, or better living conditions. Then, there are negative situations. Wars and conflict, perhaps famine or drought, earthquakes, fires, and other catastrophic events. These situations might come out of nowhere and knock people off their feet and destroy their homes.

Sometimes little is left except to migrate, to become refugees or immigrants, sometimes traveling a long, long way.

I saw a meme on the computer a few days ago. It said: “Your car is German, your vodka is Russian, your pizza is Italian. Your kebab is Turkish, your democracy is Greek, your coffee is Brazilian. Your tea is Tamil, your shirt is Indian, your oil is from Saudi Arabia. Your electronics are Chinese, your numbers are Arabic, your letters are Latin. And you complain that your neighbor is an immigrant?” [1]

As many memes do, this one uses ironic statements to get the point across. My blogging friend (and Registered Nurse) Marilyn Gardiner wrote a post just a few days ago about this very thing. Let’s hear what she has to say about this meme in her own words.

“While the meme is about things, I began to think about all the people in my life who are immigrants. As I made the list, I started to laugh. It’s unlikely I could function without them.

My doctor is from Jamaica, my surgeon is from Greece, my hairdresser is from Albania.

“I occasionally get my nails done by a woman from Vietnam; I buy fruit from a man from Albania. The advisory board members on a project that I am responsible for at work are from Syria, Iran, Algeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, and the Azores. A consultant who also works with the project is from Somalia. “My colleagues are from Portugal, the Azores, Brazil, Haiti, and Malawi – and that’s only a few of them.

“Daily I say hello to hotel employees from Guatemala, Haiti, and Egypt. The restaurant next to my work that sells excellent falafel and shwarma is owned by Iraqis. My friends at church are from Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Lebanon. Other regular friends in my life are from Pakistan, Israel, and Iran.

“What’s more, my maternal grandfather who died many years ago is from Poland….

“Every one of these people contribute positively to their communities and to the workforce, a fact that validates what studies have shown – that immigration has a positive effect on both economic growth and productivity.” [2]

Marilyn was a missionary kid, now living in Boston. She grew up in Pakistan, going to boarding school for years in the mountains away from her parents. So, she knows well the feelings of displacement, of not being home (wherever “home” is).

Turning back to our Scripture for the morning: “God is above all, but concerned for those who have nothing, caring for those who are stranded and alone, providing for them. You, too, remember when you were immigrants, strangers in Egypt—let that memory stir compassion in you for the strangers among you.”

All of us (even Native Americans, way far back) come from somewhere else. Even if you or I were born locally, our parents, grandparents, or ancestors further back hailed from somewhere else. At some point, we or our parents or our ancestors were alone, lonely, stranded, displaced, and missing “home,” wherever their “home” was.

Here in Deuteronomy, God gives a direct command: love the immigrant, the stranger, the migrant, the refugee. Have compassion for them. Love them. Care for them. (We were once immigrants, too.) Can it be any more direct?

Let us finish this reading: “Worship only God; hang on tightly to God; praise God; know that everything wonderful you have seen, God has done.”

What wonderful words from our God. Everything wonderful that we see every day? God is the author of it. God deserves our worship and praise, every day. We are urged here to hang on tightly to God!

God hangs on tightly to all people God has created. What is more, we know the Lord cares deeply for people who are the least powerful—especially women, children, and immigrants, as our Bible reading says. Can you imagine some reasons God shows extra care for them? Who are some immigrants and refugees you know of today? People in your life, or people you’ve heard of? What are some ways we can show compassion to immigrants in our lives and our community? What comes to your mind?

We showed love, caring and compassion for all people in our community yesterday, raising up peace at Harrer Park outside of the Civic Center, at the Family Peace Fest.

How can we show compassion? Be creative! Take an action step. One genuine smile, one kind word, one loving action. These actions, taken together, can change the world, one smile at a time.

Our friendship and compassion to immigrants, strangers, refugees and migrants is such a gift. Best of all? We will be doing what God commands. Hear what God is saying to the church.

[1] https://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2017/08/07/who-are-the-immigrants-in-your-life/

[2] https://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2017/08/07/who-are-the-immigrants-in-your-life/

(A heartfelt thank you to Marilyn Gardiner and her wonderful blog “Communicating Across the Boundaries of Faith & Culture.” Thanks for your permission to make an extended quote from your blog in this week’s sermon.

Another 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!)

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!)

Jesus is Lord of All!

Jesus is Lord of All!

Acts 10 Peter's Vision bas relief

Acts 10:45 – August 9, 2015

Here in the church, we sometimes talk about missionaries going to far-flung places in distant parts of the earth. They navigate visible and invisible borders and boundaries. But not me! I’ve always lived here in the Chicago area. One big similarity? I served in three multi-cultural hospitals. For almost ten years, in several hospitals and extended care centers around Chicago, I worked as a chaplain. I dealt with patients, their loved ones, and health care staff—on a regular basis. Instead of going to the world, I had the world come to me, in the hospital.

What in the world does this have to do with our sermon today? I’ll tell you, in a story-telling kind of way. We start off in Caesarea, a Roman city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the Roman capital of the Roman province of Judaea. Thoroughly Roman in every way, from its pagan temples, amphitheater and other architecture to the brand new deep harbor, thanks to superior Roman engineering skills.

Here we meet Cornelius, a Roman centurion, in charge of one hundred soldiers. (He’s a Gentile, by the way.) Let me tell you what Dr. Luke has to say in Acts chapter 10. I’m reading again from the excellent version translated by J.B. Phillips. “1-3 There was a man in Caesarea by the name of Cornelius, a centurion in what was called the Italian Regiment. He was a deeply religious man who reverenced God, as did all his household. He made many charitable gifts to the people and was a real man of prayer.”

Did you all catch that? Cornelius reverenced/revered God! The God who made heaven and earth. The God of the Jews. But, he was a . . . Gentile! Not a drop of Jewish blood in him.

What happens next? “About three o’clock one afternoon he saw perfectly clearly in a dream an angel of God coming into his room, saying, “Cornelius!” 4a He stared at the angel in terror, and said, “What is it, Lord?” 4b-6 The angel replied, “Your prayers and your deeds of charity have gone up to Heaven and are remembered before God. Now send men to Joppa for a man called Simon, who is also known as Peter.”

The town of Joppa was not just a mile or two down the road. No, the soldier Cornelius needed to send his servants between thirty and forty miles away in order to fetch this Simon Peter guy. Which, Cornelius did, right then and there.

Meanwhile, in Joppa—I imagine a split-screen sort of a deal here. On this side, here is the city of Caesarea. A large, Roman-style house. The camera zooms in on the centurion Cornelius, just having dispatched his men to go fetch Peter. And—on the other side of the screen, we have the camera: starting out in a long shot. We see the street scene on an afternoon in Joppa. The camera pans in, coming closer and closer to a particular building. A smaller house. Simon Peter is sitting up on the flat roof, catching some breeze off the ocean in that coastal town.

Dr. Luke continues: “9-13 Next day, while these men were still on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up about mid-day on to the flat roof of the house to pray. He became very hungry and longed for something to eat. But while the meal was being prepared he fell into a trance and saw the heavens open and something like a great sheet descending upon the earth, let down by its four corners. In it were all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds. Then came a voice which said to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” “

In the Mosaic Law, recorded in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the Law code has definite restrictions on what any good, kosher-keeping Jew is and is not allowed to eat. A few well-known forbidden foods are no pigs—no pork. No shrimp or other shellfish. Also, no rabbits or snakes, and no owls or birds of prey. These are just a few of the kinds of animals, fish and birds that are forbidden, for various reasons. So, let’s see what happens next!

14 Peter said, “Never, Lord! For not once in my life have I ever eaten anything common or unclean.” 15 Then the voice spoke to him a second time, “You must not call what God has cleansed common.” 16 This happened three times, and then the thing was gone, taken back into heaven.”

Wow! Amazing vision that Peter had! Talk about totally blowing Peter away. Peter had always—all of his life—kept kosher. Eaten only the things that the Mosaic Law code said he could eat. Now, out of a clear blue sky, this vision is telling him that God calls all things clean!

I want to take a little detour. Tell you a bit about my two chaplain internships, after graduating seminary. I dug right into learning about various faith traditions. I learned about widely different cultural traditions, too. This was a natural progression for me, learning more of how to accompany diverse people in crisis, critical care, trauma and end of life. It sounds rather odd, talking about my years of intensive learning and stressful internship in this way, but I very much appreciated every intense, multicultural experience I had: both in the classroom, as well as on the floors and units of the hospitals and care centers.

Let’s come back to Acts, chapter 10. “17-20 While Peter was still puzzling about the meaning of the vision which he had just seen, the men sent by Cornelius had arrived asking for the house of Simon. They were standing at the very doorway of the house calling out to enquire if Simon, surnamed Peter, were lodging there. Peter was still thinking deeply about the vision when the Spirit said to him, “Three men are here looking for you. Get up and go downstairs. Go with them without any misgivings, for I myself have sent them.”

“23b-26 On the next day Peter got up and set out with them, accompanied by some of the believers from Joppa, arriving at Caesarea on the day after that. Cornelius was expecting them and had invited together all his relations and intimate friends. As Peter entered the house Cornelius met him by falling on his knees before him and worshiping him. But Peter roused him with the words, “Stand up, I am a human being too!”

I need to interrupt, to let you know—Peter and his Jewish friends from Joppa, being good observant Jews, were forbidden by the Jewish Law code to enter the house of a Gentile. Yet—that is exactly what Peter intended to do! Let’s continue.

27-29 Then Peter went right into the house in deep conversation with Cornelius and found that a large number of people had assembled. Then he spoke to them, “You all know that it is forbidden for a man who is a Jew to associate with, or even visit, a man of another nation. But God has shown me plainly that no man must be called ‘common’ or ‘unclean’. That is why I came here when I was sent for without raising any objection.”

As for me? All three of the hospitals where I served were in the middle of multicultural areas, a crossroad of the multicultural communities of Chicago and the surrounding area. One of these hospitals has the distinction of sitting in one of the most diverse ZIP codes in the country. (The U.S. Census Bureau says so.) I never knew who was going to be in that next room I entered, or what situation I was going to encounter next.

34-43 Then Peter began to speak, “In solemn truth I can see now that God is no respecter of persons, but that in every nation the one who reverences Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him! God has sent His message to the children of Israel by giving us the good news of peace through Jesus Christ—He is the Lord of us all.” Ahh. We can see that slowly, very slowly, Peter is taking baby steps towards being open to more than just Jews.

When I served as a chaplain, I didn’t just serve Protestant Christians. I remember a Buddhist Asian family in critical care, as their loved one died just as I came in—complete silence and intense sadness greeted me as I joined them in the room. Another time, I entered the packed ICU cubicle—wall to wall with a Pentecostal Latino family, who wanted me to pray their brother (and uncle) across the River Jordan. (The crashing, palpable waves of grief struck me again and again…I vividly remember.) It wasn’t all end of life. I remember being asked to pray the Rosary with a Filipino family around their ill auntie, lying in the hospital bed. There was the situation with an older Muslim patient, and the 20-something relative wearing black hijab and very conservative dress, sitting next to the bed; she earnestly asked me to pray. Of course I did!

In fact, Peter goes on to say: “We are those witnesses, we who ate and drank with Him after he had risen from the dead! Moreover, we are the people whom He commanded to preach and bear fearless witness to the fact that He is the one appointed by God to be the judge of both the living and the dead.”

This sermon Peter preached—for it was a sermon!—had its effect. The Gentile audience heard Peter, and what happened? “44-46a While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to his message. The Jewish believers who had come with Peter were absolutely amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit was being poured out on Gentiles also; for they heard them speaking in foreign tongues and glorifying God.”

Did you hear what happened? Praise God! These Gentiles believed, and the same thing happened to them that had happened to the Jewish believers in Acts chapter 2! The gift of the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles, too.

Remember what Peter told his Jewish audience, at Pentecost? Acts chapter 2? Joel’s prophecy regarding the outpouring of the Holy Spirit had been fulfilled. All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Joel 2:32a). At first, Peter and the rest of Jesus’ followers thought that all only meant Jews. And then, Samaritans were added.

I have Good News for you. I have Good News for us all. Jesus is the Lord of all (10:36b). All Jews and all Gentiles who believe in Him receive forgiveness of sins through His name (10:43). As the commentator Richard Carlson said, the Apostle Paul had it exactly right, “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). In Christ, there is neither Republican nor Democrat, citizen nor undocumented visitor, gay nor straight, for all are one in Christ Jesus.

In God’s salvation plan, all now really means all.

Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!