Unless…

“Unless…”

Jesus and Thomas illustration John 20-24

John 20:19-31 (20:25) – April 8, 2018

Imagine a city under martial law. Soldiers prowling the streets, night and day—and especially at night. The occupying army and the city authorities come down hard on the civilian population. Sure, the army of invaders polices the city efficiently, but the civilians have very little freedom of movement, very little freedom of expression. This kind of oppressive living would be very difficult. I am thinking of various cities and regions in Asia, Africa, Central and South America. Also within recent memory, we can add places in Europe that were under martial law and forces of occupation. Scary stuff.

We enter the scene in the Gospel of John right after the Crucifixion and Resurrection, late that Sunday evening. We find the disciples cowering behind locked doors, as John tells us.  They were very much afraid!

Jerusalem in the first century of the Common Era was not quite as bad as some places we can imagine from our modern day. Israel was not under strict martial law, but there were many rules and regulations concerning freedom of movement and about public gatherings. I suspect the capital city Jerusalem was a big headache to the Roman soldiers in charge of maintaining the peace, especially at the times of year of big festivals. Including Passover.

As we eavesdrop on the small group gathered there in the Upper Room, we can tell most of them (if not all of them) are scared to death. Perhaps, they thought of what had happened on that awful Good Friday. Perhaps, they considered where each of them had disappeared to. We are not told, and we can just imagine their sad and frightened conversation.

When, suddenly—suddenly—Jesus appears. The Gospel record tells us, “Then Jesus came and stood among them.”  He does not even come in through the door, but just walks right through the wall. Or, the closed door. Locks do not matter to Him. Can you imagine how shocked and scared the disciples were at this sudden appearance? Of someone they had seen die and get buried only three days before?

This must have been a terrifying, mystifying, and joy-filled experience for those disciples in that Upper Room. We can hardly imagine the deep outpouring of all kinds of emotions when they saw their Rabbi Jesus, risen from the dead. Alive once more.

Notice that Jesus did not say “What happened? Where were you? What do you mean, running away and leaving Me all alone? You screwed up! You guys are losers!” No, Jesus did not say anything angry or shaming like that. Instead, He said, “Peace.” Can you imagine? Jesus wished all of His friends “Peace.” In other words, “It is okay. I understand. I forgive you.” Can you imagine how the disciples felt when they heard this marvelous expression from Jesus? [1]

Except…not all of the disciples were there to witness this visit, this post-Resurrection appearance of our Lord. One disciple was missing. Thomas. We do not know why, or where he was, or what he was doing, only that he was indeed missing.

Let us turn to the account from John 20, and listen to what happened: “24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (called the Twin), was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

He did not believe. Cut Thomas some slack. Perhaps some of us might have been in the same situation as Thomas, if we had not been there either, immediately following the Resurrection. Thomas is called “Doubting Thomas,” and sometimes he is even scoffed at. But, I prefer to think of him as “Skeptical Thomas.” He did not want to believe in mere hear-say, or in false reports, or in wishful or magical thinking. No, he wanted to have firm evidence of something so serious and earth-shaking as his Rabbi coming back to life. And, can we really blame him?

I love what one of my favorite commentators says about Thomas. Carolyn Brown says that “no amount of explaining can make ‘doubter’ into a positive adjective – especially in this story.” She wants to describe Thomas as a curious person who wanted to see for himself what his friends had already seen. [2]

Did something similar ever happen to you? Did you ever miss a big event (for whatever reason), and then had to listen to your friends and acquaintances excitedly go on and on about that big event? So much so, you wished they would just cut it out, and stop chattering about the big event that happened? Do you suspect Thomas might have felt that way?

At least Thomas is honest! If we look further at the Gospel of John, we see that Thomas was the disciples “who cared enough to interrupt Jesus when he did not understand what Jesus was saying (in John 14:5). He really wanted to understand Jesus.” [3]

How many of us today can say that same thing? Can you relate to Thomas? How many of us really are trying to understand what Jesus said, and what He meant? Thomas certainly is straight-forward. He is skeptical, but he also wants to find out exactly what happened. Put his hand in the spear wound in His side, and his fingers in the holes in Jesus’s wrists.

This sounds so much like many journalists today. They want to find out, first-hand, and get all the straight information. Get the whole story. Perhaps Thomas might have made a great reporter, if they had had newspapers in the first century.

We can ask questions, too. It takes courage to ask questions. We can be skeptical of God, too. God knows we all have questions. There is no honest question Jesus cannot handle.

Children have wonderful questions for Jesus. Carolyn Brown is now retired, but before she retired, she was a Director of Children’s Ministry at a Presbyterian church. Children ask God some serious, penetrating questions, like: “Why didn’t you make me taller or prettier or smarter or…..?“ “How can God pay attention to everyone in the world at every minute?” “Why can’t I see you or at least hear your actual voice like people in the Bible did?”  [4]

There were some confused disciples and puzzled followers of Jesus after His Resurrection, too. But, Jesus does not answer us in long, drawn-out explanations. Instead, He shows us Himself. He showed Himself to Thomas, and showed his fresh wounds. He said, “Stop doubting, and believe!”

What was Thomas’s response? “My Lord, and my God!”

Thomas saw Jesus’s wounds with his own eyes, A skeptic like Thomas could work his way through honest uncertainty and come to a ringing statement of faith.  What is more, Jesus then said ““Do you believe because you see me? How happy are those who believe without seeing me!” And that includes all of us, today.

Can you and I make a rock-solid statement of faith like Thomas, too? Please God, we can, and we will.

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/02/year-b-second-sunday-of-easter-april-12.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 2, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015. 

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

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Follow Jesus on Palm Sunday

“Follow Jesus on Palm Sunday”

Jesus Palm Sunday - Giotto di Bonde, Entry into Jerusalem 1304-06, Fresco, Cappella Scrovegni Arena Chapel, Padua

Mark 11:1-11 (11:9) – March 25, 2018

            Have you ever been at a really big celebration? I mean a public celebration—like a ticker-tape parade, a celebration of a world championship, or the visit of an A-list celebrity? Something really, really big?

            From all the descriptions of the Palm Sunday Triumphal Entry in all four Gospels, that’s kind of what we are looking at today in our scripture passage. The celebration is really big, the Rabbi Jesus was a big-name celebrity, and this special entry into Jerusalem was a first-century type of a ticker-tape parade. Except with palms!

            Let’s take a closer look. Here’s the situation: It’s almost Passover, the most important religious observance of the religious year. A great number of faithful Jews from near and far come to Jerusalem, in pilgrimage, in commemoration of the Exodus event.

Jesus comes, too. He publicly, intentionally enters Jerusalem, even though the religious leaders are not pleased with Him or what He has been doing for the past few years. Jesus’s disciples must have known about the prophecy of an entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. This was clearly a scene with “Messiah” written all over it.

And, Jesus does not sneak into the city, all hush-hush. No! He comes in with a parade! With crowds of people waving palms and shouting “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Jesus had been planning this entry in to Jerusalem for some time. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 9, we can already see that He intended to do this thing. But here in our reading today from Mark, we see a concise account, relating what happened. Little additional information. We can see that from the other Gospels. This way of telling the account reminds me that Mark did not waste much time. He wrote mostly for a Roman audience, who had little time or inclination to wade through genealogies (like Matthew) or background information (like Luke). I think of Mark as the journalist of the four Gospel writers: “just the facts, ma’am.” And, Mark’s use of “immediately!” carries us right along from one situation to the next.

Except, our Gospel reading today is a culmination. We follow Jesus right into Jerusalem at this most holy time of the year—either the Jewish Year or the Christian calendar. With the entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, Jesus was certainly reminding everyone of a prophecy from Psalm 118.

What is the meaning of those cries of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord?” If we look at Psalm 118, we’ll find these words written by the psalmist. This was the usual Passover greeting one person would give another, except with the addition of the word “King.” And just to let you all know, the majority of the crowd in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday morning understood what they were quoting—they were intentionally welcoming someone they hoped would be their Messiah, their King! Someone who would save them from the awful situation they were in.

            There was a disconnect between the people and their limited understanding, and what Jesus actually was going to do. But I’m getting ahead of myself by rushing on to later in Holy Week. We are still here on Palm Sunday. And everyone is still excited to welcome the Rabbi Jesus—their hoped-for Messiah—into the city. They are hoping He will save them from the Romans and maybe, possibly, become their King. Except they had an earthly King in mind.

In Mark’s Gospel, we hear no mention of children. As one of my commentators says, this was an adult-inspired and led event. She suspects children did get into the act, but they were joining the adults. [1]  Remember the palm processions featuring children, on Palm Sunday? Either at this church, or at other services you may have attended over the years? This is not strictly biblical. We ought to make the palm procession intergenerational! That is truly what the impromptu parade was like. And then, when children participate with their parents, grandparents, other adults and leaders of the church, children can understand that this is a very important parade. And, a very important thing in the life of Jesus.

When Jesus enters Jerusalem, the rambunctious crowd calls out for the coming kingdom of their ancestor David. Messiah was supposed to be related to David, and Messiah’s coming was a time of peace on earth. But, the coming of Jesus causes a division. It causes anything but peace on earth.

The theologian Tom Mullen makes this statement about his denomination (Society of Friends or Quakers): “They work for peace — and if you really want to cause conflict, you work for peace.” [2] So it was for the Rabbi Jesus—the Messiah Jesus riding into Jerusalem. Even though we want to follow Jesus in peaceful ways, Jesus and His message created division, tension, and crisis—as seen by the violent reaction of the religious leaders.

But thank God, Jesus is more powerful than any division, any tension, any crisis. Jesus entered the city not as an earthly King, not as a conqueror, not to set up a nationalistic empire, but as the True Redeemer of Israel. And not of just Israel, but also of the whole world. This Holy Week is where all of the prophecies focus to a fine point, and reveal the Rabbi Jesus as not only the Messiah and King, but also as the Suffering Servant. The Lamb of God, sent to take away the sins of the world.

As we remember this Passover time, this Holy Week, we can thank God that our Lord Jesus did enter Jerusalem. As a King, as a Messiah, yes! But also as our Redeemer and Savior. Praise God, Jesus is our Redeemer and Savior, just as much as He was Redeemer and Savior for that crowd in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday. In the first century, Jesus came to save His people from their sins. Praise God, He came to save us, today, too! Amen! And amen!

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/01/year-b-palm-passion-sunday-march-29-2015.html

Worshiping with Children, Palm/Passion Sunday, 2015. Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2012.

[2] Mullen, Thomas, Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences (Waco, TX: Word Publishers, 1983), 50.

The Light of the Lord

“The Light of the Lord”

isa-2-5-teach-me-to-walk-in-the-light

Isaiah 2:1-5 (2:5) – November 27, 2016

At this holiday and homecoming time of the year, some people’s thoughts turn to those who are traveling. Those who will be coming to a gathering, a party, a meal. Have you been waiting for someone to arrive at a gathering? A meal, perhaps? At this time of year, the sun sets early. People often put the porch light on to welcome the traveler, in hope and expectation. That is the situation we have here, in our scripture passage from the prophet Isaiah.

And, what a grand porch light it is! Let’s read from Isaiah 2, verse 2: “In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.”
But, what of Isaiah’s audience? What about them? Times in the nation of Judah were uncertain, to say the least. Spirits were low. The Israelites were in fear for their lives. The Assyrian armies were closing in. The nation of Assyria was a major world power in that time, conquering nations, kings, and vast areas of land right and left. (This was several centuries before Jesus Christ was even born in Bethlehem.) What about today? We can look at our times, too. A great deal of uncertainty, everywhere we look. Uncertain times here, locally, in the immediate community. On a nation-wide scale, as well. What about internationally? However—Isaiah brings a word of hope to people of his day, and hope to people of ours, too.

The prophet gives a prophetic announcement in these verses. It isn’t a hymn of praise, but instead words to let people know that God is not absent or unable to help, but instead a very present help. A hope, in times of uncertainty and need. The very promise of salvation, to not only the people of Israel, but to anyone who hears these words. We can see that from the mention of “all nations” streaming to the mountain of the Lord.

Many people in Isaiah’s time frankly doubted God’s power and faithfulness, with the Assyrians breathing down their necks. These were uncertain times, indeed. Can you imagine, a huge army right on our border, and not very much in between? Imagine the fear, anxiety, and conflict for those people of Judah! Even though, today, we here in the United States are not in such dire straits as little, puny Israel, we face uncertainty and times of conflict, too.

What does the prophet have to say about that fear, that anxiety? He brings words of hope and expectation to his listeners. Listen to verse 3: “Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that God may teach us His ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.” So, God will begin a time of learning, a time of pilgrimage! “A purposeful journey to a holy place.” [1]

Again, we see that the prophet tells us many, many people will come to God’s house! Remember, this proclamation refers to all nations, all peoples, and addresses all who have open ears to hear.

All this will occur “in days to come.” Sure, the prophet is not specific; this is an indefinite time, but there also will be a radical transformation! Listen to verse 4: “[God] shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Can anyone read these verses and not long for peace? And not have keen hope and expectation for this coming time of peace and concord? The Lord God will sit as a judge or arbiter for many, many people. And—this is fascinating—the nations, themselves, shall willingly lay down their weapons. Many nations shall cause their weapons—their swords—to be turned into something radically different. To rephrase, “God promises that there will be a time when everyone gets along.  It will be so peaceful that people won’t need swords and other weapons anymore.  So, they will turn them into garden tools.” [2]

It does not take a brilliant student of current events to tell us that this prophecy is not here, yet. We regularly hear about wars and rumors of war today. We see for ourselves that nations are at each others’ throats, bickering, sometimes fighting, and even committing acts of mass destruction and death. What is to be done?

The prophet brings these words of hope and expectation to a fearful and anxious people, at an uncertain time centuries ago. Is the situation much different, today? Our time is filled with conflict. Fearful, anxious, and uncertain, too.

The prophet’s message holds out hope and expectation, true. But hope would be empty if we did not have a situation where we needed God’s help. We have to see our desperate need first, in order for us to realize that we are sunk without God. This whole mindset of conflict, fighting and resistance to any kind of peace certainly registers as a time of great need. The prophet was calling to the nation of Israelites just as much as he is calling to us.

“God is taking us somewhere we cannot go on our own, not because of our righteousness, but because of God’s goodness. The coming peace is God’s, but it is promised to us. And thus, like Israel, Isaiah calls us to act in the meantime as though the promise is ours.” [3]

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. We have the reminder of our hope set before us, in this Advent wreath. Today, Carl and Irene lit our first candle, the candle of hope. Yes, both scripture readings this morning spoke of expectation in the Lord’s working, in different ways. Yet, how does this work show itself?

Practically everyone here is familiar with the need for light. If we have a dark closet or a dark basement corner, bright light is so useful and needful to shine in and reveal our needs.  What about dark news? Dark times need light, too. The prophet talks about hope and expectation of nations turning tools of destruction and war into tools that will help us to grow food, and to provide nurture and healthfulness. Isn’t this a promise of light? And wonderful things to come?

Can we “compare lighting the Advent candles to putting a candle in the window?  [This is a way] of saying we are ready, you are welcome, come in. Often we turn these lights on while we are setting the table, sweeping the floor, and cooking dinner.” [4] Isn’t this a way to use common, everyday things to work with God to bring God’s light into the world?

In Christ’s kingdom, we have the opportunity to tend with everyday garden tools to cultivate and grow the peaceful, loving ways of God rather than using swords and spears—and bombs, tanks and guns—to cultivate wayward humanity’s own ways of conflict, fighting and war. Truly, may we all be faithful, anticipate God’s light and expect it in God’s peaceful ways, and not our own. Come, Lord Jesus!

 

[Thanks for several ideas to Gene M. Tucker and the The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 6, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39), (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000)]

[1] Gene M. Tucker and the The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 6, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39), (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000).

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-first-sunday-of-advent-also-sunday.html ; Carolyn C. Brown, Year A – First Sunday of Advent, Also the Sunday after Thanksgiving in the USA.

[3]  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=7

[4] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-first-sunday-of-advent-also-sunday.html ; Carolyn C. Brown, Year A – First Sunday of Advent, Also the Sunday after Thanksgiving in the USA.

 

Peaceful and Quiet Lives

“Peaceful and Quiet Lives”

1-tim-2-2-pray-message

1 Timothy 2:1-8 – September 18, 2016

It’s good to be in the habit of doing certain things. Say, going to the gym. Exercise is a beneficial thing, and if I go to the gym on a regular basis, like three times a week, I will be healthier for it. Same for other things—like practicing the piano, or practicing football or baseball—it’s beneficial to get into the habit of regular repetition, week in, and week out.

Worship and prayer are regular, comfortable things, things many churches do the same way, week in and week out. Here in our scripture passage today, Paul gives his younger friend Timothy some words of wisdom. Recommendations, if you will, of some things Timothy’s church can do in worship and prayer that will be beneficial to them all.

Reading again from 1 Timothy 2, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior.”

I’ll stop right there. Not because the rest of the reading is unimportant. No! But, because Paul has so many ideas that are bursting out of him one on top of the other, I am afraid we might be overloaded if I read them all.

Paul begins the chapter by encouraging Timothy to offer prayers for all members of the human family during church services. He mentions prayer in the terms of: petitions (humble, general requests to God), intercessions (requests, pleading for those in need), supplications (requests for ourselves, especially when faced with a crisis) and thanksgivings (expressing gratitude for blessings we receive). [1] All people need to be held up to God in prayer. All. That is, everyone. Not just one particular neighborhood, not just one particular ethnicity, not just one particular denomination. Paul tells Timothy—Paul tells us—pray for all people.

Yes, this is a wonderful passage that gives us the basics of prayer and worship, and lets us know more about Paul’s ideas concerning this important aspect of our lives. However, I was drawn to one particular phrase in this passage that went beyond the basics of worship: that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” I pursued it all week.

I was fascinated to dig into this passage of scripture. I have not read the Pastoral Letters as often as the rest of the New Testament. So, this week was a good excuse for me to dust off those seldom-opened commentaries and brush up on what was going on in this highly charged situation. For, highly charged it certainly was!

There was a complication, in the case of these house churches. Let’s take a look at the historical context. In the first century, small house churches like the ones where Timothy and Paul worshipped were in a precarious situation. They were constantly involved in “the struggle to secure and maintain a foothold within a hostile environment, where political authorities would always tend to be suspicious of the little house groups whose legal status was at best ambiguous and be ready to act against them at short notice with little excuse.” [2] Many of these small groups of emerging Christians desperately wanted to gain basic respect. Not even respectability, but hoping for just a bit of respect from the authorities.

These groups, or house churches, are identical to house churches meeting all over the world today, in fear for their leaders, if not the group members’ very lives. House churches in parts of Vietnam and Thailand, China, Pakistan, Nepal, and large parts of the Middle East. These groups are—today, here and now—struggling to survive in precarious political situations.

Is it any wonder that these small house churches wanted to pray for those in authority over them, so that they might have some peace and quiet? Quiet and tranquil lives?

Good habits—beneficial, certainly! Habits like prayer and worship are something that Paul would tell Timothy that his house church ought to follow, each time they gather.

How does this prayer and worship counteract the complication of overbearing and even unjust authorities that hold sway over these little groups of believers?

Both Paul and Peter tell their friends that the Godly thing to do is to pray for the authorities. I read from Romans 13:1: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” And 1 Peter 2:17: “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” The New Testament tells us so, in several places, including this letter from Paul to Timothy.

We can see Timothy and his church are prompted to pray for the government. As Rev. Findlayson comments, “We are encouraged to pray for the political process such that it provides an environment where ‘we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness’ (verse 2:2). This verse actually contains a clue to the content of our prayer for government. We are to pray for “peace”, but what kind of peace? Is it peace in the sense of freedom from war, social and industrial strife and revolution?” [3]

Ah. We have arrived at the topic of the day. The theme of our service today. What kind of peace do we pray for, indeed?

I have been talking about peace ever since February, the beginning of Lent. Remember, I went to a number of different churches, church groups, and schools to ask individuals what their personal definition of peace was. What is peace to you?                I got many fascinating definitions and expressions. Everything ranging from “Peace is serenity” to “Peace is Jesus Christ in my heart” to “Peace is quiet and calm” and “Peace is no war and no fighting.” And, a whole lot of other things, besides.

This kind of peace Paul describes is not just personal peace, and individual peace. This kind of peace Paul talks about is peace in the larger sense. Peace among regions, between people groups, and even between countries. We can see the progression in Paul’s thought. The spread of truth and of the Good News of Jesus Christ is facilitated when peace exists among the nations. In Paul’s day, the Roman Empire, the Roman transportation system and the Pax Romana made the spread of the Gospel easier. Then as today, peaceful interaction between countries and regions opens doors for the Good News.

See what Paul says in verse 4. God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” So then, when we pray for government and for the authorities, we can confidently pray that there be peace for the maximizing of the spread of the Good News.

Paul gives us the basics of prayer and worship. Remember what I often say? Prayer time is one of my favorite times in the worship service. Paul tells us we are to pray for all people; and we are to follow Paul’s lead in supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings. The intention of such prayers is so that we Christians in society will be able to live tranquil and quiet lives. This isn’t me saying it. It’s the apostle Paul!

Regardless of whether there is peace in our church, peace in our neighborhood, or peace in our country, prayer is always a good idea. A close relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the reason we are here. Praise God! Thank You, Jesus. Alleluia, amen.

If anyone would like to know more about how to come to know God in a closer, more intimate way, I would be glad to tell you.

[1]  http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday25ce.html Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

[2] New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on 1 Timothy, James D.G. Dunn, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994)

[3] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday25ce.html Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

@chaplaineliza

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

 

 

A Great Multitude

“A Great Multitude”

Rev 7 multitude white-robes

Revelation 7:9-17 – April 17, 2016

This past Friday, April 15, 2016, I convened a Peace Breakfast at Kappy’s Restaurant, here in Morton Grove. We had a diverse group assembled! Not quite as diverse as this great multitude that John talked about in Revelation 7, but still, diverse. Culturally, ethnically, and religiously different from one another.

Let’s step back, and think about the book of Revelation. This is not your typical bible passage to read on a Sunday morning. Not your usual sermon text, either. The book of Revelation is a series of interconnected visions alerting believers to the last days of the church.

Chapter 7 comes towards the beginning of John’s visions.

I’d like everyone to think of an old-fashioned radio or television serial, in multiple parts, or episodes. Here we have yet another fantastic episode of this amazing book.

For centuries, many preachers, teachers, and bible interpreters have read Revelation, and completely pick it apart. Find all types of supposed references to actual people, places and things. Use it as a guidebook for the End Times. It sounds like the political hype we lament but can’t quite seem to escape. (Let me say—bible interpreters have been “identifying” people, places and things in Revelation for centuries. Different anti-Christs, different identifications for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and all the rest—every century, every era, every place.)

If John wrote this book to bring hope to his readers, how in the world can this passage of Revelation provide a different, more life-giving vision to us, today?

Our bible passage today opens with a great multitude. It’s like John has a huge video screen in front of him. He’s watching this fantastic vision play out in front of him.

I encourage you all to get into the spirit of this passage. Shut your eyes, and imagine yourself seated in a heavenly theater (an iMax theater, if that helps you). John is seated right next to you, and suddenly, you see a great multitude on this massive screen in front of you. Every racial group, every ethnicity, every language spoken. All of them! All the things, as the young people say today.

Yes, in the larger picture, all of these people in the great multitude are going to go through a time of great trial. However—I would like to focus on this multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual multitude of people.

We are all aware of other separations and designations for groups of people. Upper class, working class. City folk, country folk, North side, South side. With all of this fantastic stuff going on in the book of Revelation, on that huge theater screen in front of us, who has time to think about these divisions? Who would be concerned—in heaven? Standing before the throne of God Almighty, in the full sight of God.

Yet—here in this world, here in the United States, in the Chicago area, those things do matter. As a pastor, I talk to a number of people many times in a week. Some of these people share about their fears and hopes for the future. More and more, I notice a shift in the mindsets of people—a shift towards deeper feelings of uncertainty and general anxiety.

I am distressed and dismayed at the overt anger, undisguised racism, and blatant xenophobia that is increasingly happening in this country. The shouting, yelling, name-calling, and general mud-slinging in this political primary process, just for an example. Note: I am not taking sides, but I am truly dismayed by the marked increase in such attitudes due to people’s ethnicity, culture, or religion. That is what I see as a big problem today.

Perhaps I am an idealist, but I would like to believe that we as a nation are truly a melting pot. This country is one of the most like this image, this part of the vision that John saw. That is such a strength of the United States! Yay! Go, us!!

We are going to switch gears. Let us look at the beginnings of the church.

In Acts, shortly after the day of Pentecost, a disagreement came up in the church. As Rev. Findlayson mentions, “The Jewish world was divided between Aramaic-speaking Jews from Palestine [Hebrews—home grown], and Greek-speaking Jews from the dispersion [or Hellenists—who had grown up outside Palestine]. Racial tension, often focused on religious purity, existed in the wider Jewish community and found its way into the New Testament church. [The tension] revealed itself in a dispute over the care of widows. The [Greek-speaking Jews] claimed that their widows were not getting a fair share of the church’s welfare budget.”

Do you hear the problem? Two separate groups of people in the early Church—all Jews, and one group—a minority group, no less—claimed they were being overlooked. Discriminated against. Now, multiply that 100 times. No, 1000 times. And, you begin to see the problems we all have today with rampant, widespread hatred, racism, fear, and xenophobia.

I guess I was one of those people who wanted to believe that we as a country and maybe even as a human race were becoming more open, integrated, and generous. I wanted to believe that humans were moving past this kind of hatred, fear, and violence. I thought we were on the way towards making it as difficult as possible for anyone to intimidate or harm others simply because they are of a certain religion, or racial background, or culture.

What can conquer such deep set feelings?

John 3:16 is a wonderful verse. So much promise, so much love, so much grace. And—so much power!

Let us consider John 3:16. I suspect many of you can say it with me. We are just going to quote the beginning of the verse: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” I wondered: let’s unpack this verse. God loves? With a God-sized love. We all agree. God gave His Son—God’s ultimate Gift. Again, we all agree.  

The last phrase of this sentence? God so loved—the world.

Who is not part of the world that God loved? Let us consider racist feelings. Does God love the racist person? Yes. How about the person who is racially profiled? Yes.

Let’s consider xenophobic fears. Does God love the person who is so afraid of people who look different from them, or speak another language, or come from another part of the world? Yes, God does. God loves everyone. No matter what.

That is the hope we can gather from this passage in Revelation 7 today. God loves you. God loves me. Even though we may be flawed, and make mistakes, and do or say bad things. God still loves us.

The Peace Breakfast was a beginning, a chance to continue the conversation. We all live and work together, in community. Let’s promote positivity and friendship, not distrust and alienation. Here, in Niles and Morton Grove—and in Des Plaines, Glenview, Skokie—all over the Chicago area—we have such a multitude of diverse people! And it’s an opportunity to shine forth as a light of the Gospel, right here on this corner of Shermer and Harlem.

Finally, we can all praise God along with the great multitude from Revelation, and say, “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. 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!)

As Far As Possible—Peace

“As Far As Possible—Peace”

 

March 2, 2016 – Romans 12:18

Living at peace with others can be difficult sometimes.

Peace in families. Peace between friends and in relationships. Peace between groups of people, whether in terms of sports teams, religions, music preference, the racial context, food choices, even thinking about the pets some people choose to have!

People have disagreements about all of these areas—and then some!

What does the Bible say about disagreements? Conflict?

Let’s take a closer look at the Apostle Paul’s book of Romans, 12:16-21. This is two paragraphs in a larger section. There is a lot here, in terms of pointers for conflict resolution!

These are a series of good pieces of advice from Paul. A laundry list of valuable ways of acting. Plus, these are pieces of advice that Paul gives to the whole congregation. We can tell from the verbs—all plural, for the group of believers. A group pep talk!

How does Paul recommend the Roman congregation to act? “By living in such a way that fosters peace.” Commentator Elizabeth Shively says, “Verses 17 and 21 act like bookends, ‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil … Do not be overcome by evil’” As she tells us, these ideas are connected. We are truly overcome by evil when we allow spite to infect us. [1]

Aren’t evil, spite and resentment like a disease? Like a particularly nasty, insidious virus, that sneaks into our bloodstream. Gets under our skin, and burrows down deep inside. Evil, spite and resentment are particularly difficult to get out of our hearts and lives.

Yes, we can think about different people in a congregation. Our church, or any church. Yes, there are serious matters that come up. Divisive issues, and sometimes matters that are particularly difficult to resolve. The Apostle Paul was no stranger to this kind of serious conflict! He gives us some words of advice that may be useful in just such a contentious situation. More than that, he gives words of advice that are useful in many situations—squabbles between friends or family, and arguments between church folk and those outside the church.

This can be a complication! Paul comes right out and tells the believers in Rome that they are not to repay evil for evil. Instead, show love. Paul does not say so here, in this paragraph, but he does several times in other places, in this letter.

It is the Christian’s job to show love! Paul tells us expressly how we are to show love, too.

How are we to show love? Verse 17: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” And further, verse 20 quotes from Proverbs 21, “’If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’”
Let me give an illustration. Corrie Ten Boom in the book, Reflections of God’s Glory (page 69), wrote, “In Africa a man came to a meeting with bandaged hands. I asked him how he had been injured. He said, “My neighbor’s straw roof was on fire; I helped him to put it out and that’s how my hands were burned.

“Later I heard the whole story. The neighbor hated him and had set his roof on fire while his wife and children were asleep in the hut. They were in great danger. Fortunately, he was able to put out the fire in his house on time. But sparks flew over to the roof of the man who had set the house on fire and his house started to burn. There was no hate in the heart of this Christian; there was love for his enemy and he did everything he could to put out the fire in his neighbor’s house. That is how his own hands were burned.”

This African man showed love to his enemy. He did everything he could to put out that fire in his neighbor’s house. He lived out God’s love towards his enemy, just as Paul urges us to do, here.

God shows us abundant love! God shows us plentiful mercy! And, we do not deserve it. That’s why Paul urges us to do the same for those who do evil to us, and for those who are our enemies.

Since the believers in Rome were shown God’s love and mercy, Paul recommends tending to enemies in the same way they—we—would tend to the material needs of families, and friends. As our commentator Elizabeth Shively says, Paul’s audience “are to do more than refrain from repaying evil; they are to initiate doing good to opponents. This is much harder. But in doing so, Christians overcome evil with good, showing that they “cling to what is good,” expressing the definition of true love.” [2]

How difficult is that? Really difficult! How hard to express true love. How hard to live at peace with everyone. Yet, that is what we are called to do as followers of Christ.

Yes, the idea of living at peace with everyone is a wonderful thing. Living it out is a challenging thing. Sometimes, even an almost impossible thing. Remember, it’s the Christ-like way to live.

What would Jesus do? How would Jesus act?

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

We are called to act in practical and physical ways. Show love. Express mercy.

That, I think, is how Jesus would act.

[1] Commentary, Romans 12:9-21, Elizabeth Shively, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

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

 

PEACE is Helping Keep My Spouse Happy

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Saturday, February 20, 2016

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PEACE is Helping Keep My Spouse Happy

When I considered today’s definition, the first thing I thought of was the old saying, “Happy wife, happy life.”

Today’s definition of PEACE comes from Carl Hanson, who said “PEACE is helping keep my spouse happy.”

Carl and his spouse Irene are members of St. Luke’s Christian Community Church in Morton Grove. They are a loving, caring couple, deeply devoted to one another and to their two dogs (both from rescue).

One telling comment Carl made to me? “If my spouse is happy, our home is happy.” To cap that off, he wrote it out on a piece of paper, and added a smiley face at the bottom of the sheet.

I reflected deeply on both the definition that Carl gave, as well as his comment, above. How do I apply that in my life? My life with my husband? What do I do for my husband, anyhow? Do I make him happy? How? Can I make certain he is content and serene? All good questions.

What I can do each day? Since I am not the most diligent housekeeper, I can make sure I pick up several items in the apartment, each day. I can try to be certain that the kitchen sink is clear of dishes at the end of the day…

Dear Lord, thank You for Carl’s reminder to me, and to many, about the benefits of keeping our spouses happy. I ask You to draw Carl and Irene closer together, and give them peace, happiness, and contentment. Thank You for loving us and wishing to make a big difference in each life You touch. Amen.

@chaplaineliza

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Why not visit my sister blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.   @chaplaineliza And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er