Thanksgiving for All

“Thanksgiving for All”

1 Tim 2-2 pray, words

1 Timothy 2:1-4 – November 18, 2018

Have you ever had a community leader in the local news—perhaps even someone you know—who annoyed you? Got you so mad, you wanted to hang them up by their toes? Something they said, or did, or some stand they were taking. How could they do such a thing? What cockamamie words to come out of their mouth! We mutter, “Good grief!” or “I cannot believe it!” and roll our eyes, again.

Why did Paul even write to Timothy? True, Paul and Timothy had a close relationship. Just think of someone older, who showed you how to do some work, or perhaps had some good advice for you. A mentor, someone who was wiser than you, back when you were first learning how to do things, or first were an apprentice. Or, perhaps you were a mentor for some young protégé, and had the joy and satisfaction of teaching them the ropes.

The Apostle Paul had some wise words for his young protégé Timothy about just such a situation. What does Paul say again? We are to pray. Listen: “I urge, then, above all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.”

Great advice! But, all of these describing words are kinds of prayer. Paul is being quite specific about prayer. Each of these four terms has a different meaning or nuance. The four Greek words used here have different applications, too. First, petitions, or deesis. This is an appeal for a particular need. Then, prayer, proseuche, a general word for prayer that often occurs in petitions. Third, intercession—exteuxis, which captures an urgent and bold request. Last, eucharistia, or thanksgiving, which means an expression of gratitude. [1]

Isn’t that what we celebrate today, on Thanksgiving Sunday? Isn’t that what we concentrate on at this time of the year? There is a problem. Paul mentions that we are supposed to pray for rulers and those in authority over us. Which brings me back to where I started.

I say again, have you ever had a community leader in the local news—perhaps even someone you know—who annoyed you? Got you so mad? Something they said, or did, or some stand they were taking. How could they do or say such a thing?

If ever there was a time that would test our willingness to pray for those in authority, now would be the time. Am I the only one who is aggravated by politicians? Not to mention the contentiousness of the recent election season! This bible passage could well be a real test of our willingness to follow God’s word.

Except, in Paul’s day, the local politicians—rulers—those in authority—had a lot more control over their constituents than those here in the United States. This is the second time Paul advises his readers to pray for those in authority. (He does so in Romans 13, too.) The emperor at this time was Nero, who was quite antagonistic towards the brand-new sect called Christians.

The commentator J. Vernon McGee says we are to pray even if we have a corrupt administration. If we transpose Paul’s words to today, McGee says the Democrats ought to pray for the Republicans, and the Republicans ought to pray for the Democrats. In a polarized nation and world this is a call to pray for people with whom we agree and for people with whom we disagree.  “We are to pray for whoever is in power. Remember that the man who was in power in Rome when Paul wrote was bloody Nero, yet he says we are to pray for kings and those in authority, whoever they are.” [2] Some of the leaders Timothy and his friends were to pray for were Romans who were trying to imprison and even kill as many Christians as possible.

God willing, we need to pray for all those in authority over us, no matter what, no matter who or where they may be. Paul’s words remind us that our leaders and those in authority depend on God’s guidance, grace and mercy.

Timothy is not only encouraged by his mentor Paul to pray for leaders—above all—but also to pray for all people. Not only to pray, but to intercede for, and give thanks for all people. That is every single person. All. All means all.

That is really difficult! Pray for ALL people? Pray for the funny looking guy at the drug store? Pray for the lady who talks to herself at the supermarket? Pray for that couple across the street with the weird looking clothes? What about the homeless person sitting on the sidewalk? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. We are to pray for, intercede for, and give thanks for ALL people. Especially these people who seem strange, or weird, or don’t speak like we do, or who walk funny, or a hundred other differences. All means all. Paul tells us to pray for everybody.

This is the thankful season of the year, when we express our gratitude to God for all the gifts we receive throughout the year. Gifts of family, friends, food, shelter, and many other blessings. Things that make us happy to be alive! But, where did this modern idea of Thanksgiving come from? Frances Woodruff has a brief history of the origin of our holiday.

“This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. On Thursday, everyone in our country will stop and give thanks for all their blessings. In the early days of our country, families picked their own day of thanksgiving. People celebrated on different days whenever it fit their schedule. Then 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln received a letter from Sarah Hale. Mrs. Hale suggested that there be a National holiday of Thanksgiving—that everyone in the country stop on the same day and give thanks. But at that time, our country was at war. The fighting made times sad, food scarce, and money tight. It was hard for people to feel thankful. People thought, We can’t have a holiday now! We don’t have time for a party! There are too many problems to be solved! But President Lincoln and the people soon realized that gathering together was just what they needed to do, especially in those tough times.” [3]

Whether the times are tough, or not-so-tough, whether fraught with danger or filled with peace, Paul tells us to be thankful. He tells us to have an expression of gratitude in our hearts, which will help us to stay positive and keep our eyes on God. Just as people through the years found that gathering together and being thankful together was a wonderful corporate celebration, so, too, with today. So it was in Paul’s day, as well.

Prayer, intercession, and being thankful are surely attitudes and practices that draw us together. Just as at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Eve service this coming Wednesday, where diverse friends from all over the Morton Grove, Niles, Skokie and Glenview neighborhoods come together, we all can be thankful. We all can praise God for another harvest safely gathered in. We all can praise God for warm families, good friends, and another year coming to a close.

All this thanksgiving is good, and it pleases God our Savior,” who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” That is, all people, from all over the world.

God willing, amen. May it be so.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1769

Commentary, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Christian A. Eberhart, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

[2] McGee, J. Vernon, Through the Bible, Vol. V., (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983), 436.

[3] https://onthechancelsteps.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/gather/

“We Gather Together,” Frances Woodruff, On the Chancel Steps, 2012.

@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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Jesus Loved Him

“Jesus Loved Him”

Jesus and The-Rich-Young-Man, Harold Copping

Mark 10:17-27 (10:21,24) – October 14, 2018

One of my favorite movie series made recently is “The Lord of the Rings.” Huge, sweeping fantasy epic, made for the wide-screen. I realize that fantasy is not everyone’s favorite kind of movie (or book), but I absolutely loved it. The ultimate battle of Good versus Evil, with the clash of armies fighting for supremacy in the world called Middle Earth.

One supporting character in this fantasy is an ancient, twisted creature named Gollum, who had the Ring in his keeping for many years, but lost it. The Ring was magic, you see, and the Ring exerted a magical pull or craving on anyone who came near to it. Gollum spent years and years trying to get close to the Ring, and perhaps possibly steal it back. Gollum not only craved the Ring, he thought about it almost all the time, and talked to it. Called it “my Precious.”

In our Gospel reading from Mark today, we have something similar to the situation with Gollum and the Ring. But, I’ll get to that in a few minutes.

What is the centerpiece in this picture from the Gospel of Mark? A rich young man? Is this about a wealthy young person, who had everything in life he could possibly want or desire? Some preachers make use of this bible reading to criticize wealthy people for being stingy. Even more preachers use this as an example of good stewardship, and how Christians are to be generous with the money they have. This sermon is not going to focus on either of those things. Let’s take a closer look at what is actually happening here.

A rich young man comes to Jesus, and asks how he might go to heaven—that is, inherit eternal life. This is not an odd question, for a rabbi. Not out of left field, at all. Rabbis got this and similar questions tossed to them on a regular basis.

Jesus took the young man directly back to his religious training in the synagogue. Jesus mentioned several of the Ten Commandments—all commandments that refer to a person’s relationship with others.19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

The young man seems to be very earnest and sincere.20 ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ’all these I have kept since I was a boy.’”

“We have this rich man (Matthew describes him also as young) coming to Jesus, actually, kneeling in front of him, asking “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” How often do you get rich people asking you that kind of question? Not much, I suspect. But here’s a live one.” [1]

All of these commands—all of these rules and prescriptions and social morés for behavior this young man has followed since he was a boy. Reading between the lines, I suspect this young man felt empty on the inside. He felt there was something missing in his relationship with God. Thus, prompting the question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

The response of Jesus? 21 “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

It is at this point some preachers say, “Aha!” This young man had too much wealth! Shaking their fingers at their congregations, some advise their congregations to divest themselves of their wealth, and a few preachers even mention how blessed it is to give it all away to others.

Well, yes. At first glance, we all can see that is kind of what Jesus is saying. But as with many things Jesus says in the Gospels, we can read deeper than the surface communication, and get so much more.

It may be that Jesus saw that this man was trapped in his riches, that it had become an idol that needed to be cast away. On top of that, as many have pointed out, what is the man supposed to do after he impoverishes himself?” [2]

Yes, riches and wealth can be a huge obstacle in anyone’s relationship with God. A rich person’s money might be on their mind too much. How are they investing the money? What kind of money manager do they have? How much are they paying in taxes? What if the stock market takes a big hit? And what about making more money? What then?

All of these persistent questions and random thoughts—and many more besides—can preoccupy someone’s mind. They can get in the way when you or I are thinking about having a close relationship with God. Why? Because, our skewed relationship with money or wealth is more important than a relationship with God.

To expand on what Dr. Vander Zee just said was that the relationship with riches had become an idol. It was getting in between the rich young man and God. Isn’t that what idols do? But, let’s go one step further. We are talking idols, what might be all-important to many people. Do you know people who have a real focus on their house? I mean, take care of their home impeccably, even are constantly boasting about it? Is their house an idol to them, maybe?

What about people who put their job first? Work extra-long hours, neglect their spouse and family, but are always available for work-related activities? We can say their job is their idol, even what they would sacrifice much of their life for.

Remember Gollum? I mentioned him a few minutes ago. A sad, twisted creature, so set on the magic Ring. He even called it “my Precious!” Is there anything extra-special in your life, so special you might be tempted to call it “my Precious?” Anything that consumes your mind and heart?

I believe that is something Jesus was so concerned about, with this rich young man. “We all have something ‘precious’ to which we cling. It’s the thing that separates us from God, from our full potential as faithful disciples. In order to see and experience the truth found in Jesus that leads to real life, the rich man has, to turn from his “precious” thing (money/possessions).” [3]

It does not matter what we lift up, what consumes almost every waking moment. Possessions, or physical fitness, or money, family, friends, or education. Any aspect of life can become too-important. Anything can become an idol, and get in between us and God.

What strikes me so much in this reading? Jesus loved this young man. He loved him. So earnest, such questions, really wanting to find out more about how to have a close, sincere relationship with God. Yet, the young man went away sorrowful, because he was not willing to set aside that idol or riches, of comfort. He was too comfortable, too complacent. Or, perhaps it was because the young man was too set in his ways, and that amount of change may be too disruptive. For whatever reason,

Jesus is calling. Jesus beckons to you, to me, to all of us. Leave behind whatever idol, whatever separates you from God. Embrace a loving, abundant relationship with Jesus, today. Jesus loved this young man, despite his faults and flaws. He loves each of us in exactly the same way, without strings, without conditions. Praise God! His arms are open to welcome each of us.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-23b/?type=the_lectionary_gospel

The Center for Excellence in Preaching, resources from Calvin Theological Seminary: Comments & Observations, Textual Points, illustration ideas, 2015. Author: Leonard Vander Zee

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2015/10/who-can-be-saved/

“Who Can Be Saved?” Sharron R. Blezard, Stewardship of Life, 2015.

@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!

Gideon: Fearful and Uncertain

“Gideon: Fearful and Uncertain”

Judges 6:1, 7-24 (6:22-23) – June 24, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Judg 6_19-24-Gideon-Sees-the-Angel-of-the-Lord

Occupied territory. An oppressive military force. Just the very words conjure frightening images in a person’s mind. Thinking of different wars and conflicts, throughout the centuries. It doesn’t have to be a conflict we actually remember. There are—sadly—plenty to draw from, from many centuries in the past.

The tribes of Israel had settled in the land of Canaan after wandering for forty years in the wilderness. But, what happened to the new country of Israel in just a few decades? How did they lose control of their country so quickly? How did Israel become a conquered region so easily?  

For a quick explanation, we need to look at the beginning of Judges chapter 6. “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years God gave them into the hands of the Midianites.” Throughout the Old Testament book of Judges, that is the way it was. The people of Israel stopped doing the things God told them to do, and stopped worshiping the Lord. Then, God would allow a foreign nation to take over and oppress Israel for a time. When the people couldn’t stand it any longer, they would cry out to the Lord. Then, the Lord would raise up a mighty warrior and judge. The judge would throw out the invading armies and then rule over the people of Israel for a time, and all would be prosperous and happy again.

You would think the people of Israel would learn, but, no. They would keep doing the same flawed thing; they would stop worshiping God, and get conquered by a foreign nation.

At the beginning of Judges chapter 6, we are in one of the parts of the cycle where a foreign nation is occupying the country of Israel. The Midianites are a particularly savage nation. Their armies steal all the flocks and crops from all the farmers, wherever the occupying forces go. This is a particularly fearful and uncertain time for the tribes of Israel, to be sure!

Back to the land of Israel. Occupied territory! As the scene in Judges 6 opens, the narrator lets us know that the Midian army is so greedy and grasping that they will confiscate any animals or produce from any Israelite farmer. How do we know that? Because, Gideon is threshing wheat inside of a winepress, in secret. He’s in hiding from the Midianites, so the occupying army won’t find out and take the wheat by force.

I also get the idea that Gideon is timid. Uncertain. Perhaps even fearful. Do you blame him? With the marauding Midian army prowling around, confiscating any crops from any farmer, wouldn’t you be afraid, too?

Thank God we do not have to deal with occupying armies or marauding bands of thieves today in the United States, unlike Gideon, unlike countless farmers in areas of conflict even now. But, are there big, challenging things in our lives today that cause us to be timid? Uncertain? Perhaps even fearful? Chronic sickness, unemployment, a serious accident, or a fire? Have any of these happened to you, or to your loved ones?

The next thing he knew, Gideon was shocked down to his shoes. (Or, sandals.) Wonder of wonders, an angel appeared to him. The angel spoke, saying, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”

“Wait a minute! What? The Lord God said that to me? Is there some mistake? Has the angel got the wrong person? Or, made the wrong connection?  Believe me when I say I am not mighty. And, I am certainly not a warrior.”

If we paid attention in Sunday school class and read the Bible carefully, we would be familiar with several people telling God that they were not cut out to do the things God told them to. But, Gideon really means it. His clan is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh, and he thinks he is the weakest (which probably meant he was the youngest) in his family.

But, the Lord has not made a mistake. God surely wants Gideon, believe it or not. For sure.

Imagine today, with God telling us that we are exactly what God wants, exactly what God expects from others. I wonder what else God is saying that we forget to notice. Or, maybe even outright refuse to hear?

Back to Gideon. Uncertain, fearful Gideon. I suspect he might have been a bit of a cynic and a pessimist, too. What’s the next thing out of Gideon’s mouth, in his conversation with the angel of the Lord? 13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all God’s wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

Whoa, Gideon! Did you really mean to say that? It sounds a little like you are scolding the Lord for not helping out Israel, and leaving the nation in this awful situation. Or—did you really mean to say exactly that?

I’ve got to say, I have felt like telling the Lord something like this, when I’ve been in several seemingly hopeless situations. When my former husband and I both pounded the pavement, we fruitlessly looked for work for several years. We both went to several job placement agencies over those years, and we were not able to find anything other than short-term, low-paying, temporary jobs. Between us we had thirteen years of college and graduate school education, and—no solid, permanent job offers. None. For years.

It was infuriating, and unbelievable, and incredibly frustrating. For years, I spent countless hours in prayer, raging at God, begging, pleading. Plus, we had two preschoolers, and neither of us had health insurance coverage. A frightening time, for years. I suspect Gideon might have felt the same way, except his situation was even worse. But, back to Gideon.

The angel of the Lord was patient and understanding with Gideon “when Gideon needed proof that it was an angel of God. The Lord then led Gideon on a series of events that helped Gideon gain courage to do as God had told him.” [1] We see the Lord encouraging Gideon with several statements, such as this:  14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

Gideon wants to make sure that this is God talking to him. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” 23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” 24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace.”

This is not the end of Gideon’s uncertainty and questioning. Not by a long shot! Gideon continues to check and double check with God, just to make sure God is really and truly going to use him to deliver Israel.

Doesn’t the example of Gideon show us how patient and understanding God is, even when we have fears and uncertainty? God patiently answers so many of Gideon’s questions. God was right there with Gideon, just as God was with me and my former husband, through all those years of unemployment and under-employment. Just as God was with Joshua, and Moses, and Abraham before him.

Moreover, Gideon shows us how God looks at our potential, and not just the person we are right now. Instead, God helps us to believe in what we can be, and what God knows we can be, for God’s sake.

Gideon finally got God’s lesson into his head. I’m afraid it takes a great deal to get things into my thick head, too. But, praise God! The Lord had great patience with Gideon. I know God has great patience with so many of us, today, even when we are fearful and uncertain. Let us see what God sees, looking at one another.

Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://childrensermons.com/gideon/ August 4, 2013 Jim Kerlin People in Old Testament Hiding from the Enemy (Gideon)

@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!)

Holy, Holy, Holy!

“Holy, Holy, Holy!”

Isa 6-3 sanctus-holy-holy-holy

Isaiah 6:1-8 (6:3) – May 27, 2018

Today is Trinity Sunday. In the children’s message, we talked about a straightforward way of understanding the Trinity. The theological concept of the Trinity is an idea that has been and still is misunderstood—for centuries. Christians and non-Christians alike just plain do not understand it. Even knowledgeable ministers and bible scholars have problems talking about it clearly. That is one reason the children’s message about the concept of the Trinity was stated the way it was.

The simple idea behind the children’s message is an idea that can work for us adults, too.

Jesus said to approach Him as little children. He was talking to adults at that particular time. He meant that piece of advice to go for His disciples, His followers, and anyone else who was thinking about following Him. This can work in terms of the theological idea of the Trinity, as well. What’s a good way to talk or think about the Trinity?

One of my favorite commentators, Carolyn Brown, observes Trinity Sunday as one of her favorite Sundays of the year. She says: “It is God Sunday. The call is not to explain God but to celebrate God’s mysterious, more-than-we-can-ever-explain presence.  What could be better!” [1]

As we consider God’s unsearchable mystery and God’s awe-inspiring power and might, we all can look at God from a child’s point of view. We might even think about “the unanswerable questions people of all ages ask about God, such as but definitely not limited to:

  • What was God doing before God created the world?
  • How can there never be a time before or after God?
  • How can God pay attention to each person in the world all the time?” [2]
  • Why did God create rattlesnakes and mosquitoes? Along with spiders, sharks, viruses, earthquakes, and volcanos?

 

Let’s look at the Hebrew Scriptures. There have been hints of the Trinity from the very beginning. Think of the first chapter of Genesis. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And, the beginning of the Gospel of John that starts “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God.”

Imagine a universe still and dark. Imagine a solar system just before it was going to spring into being, with nothing hung in space—yet. Imagine a place where the earth will orbit, but nothing there, yet. Except—the spirit of God—the Holy Spirit hovering, ready to hold the newly-born earth in loving embrace. Imagine the Word, the Logos, the creative force of God, speaking forth the whole of creation with astronomical power and might. Not only the earth, but also our solar system. Not only our solar system, but all other solar systems. And stars. And meteor showers. And quasars, and black holes, and everything else that is in the universe.

Traditionally speaking, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit had differently described roles in different expressions of the creation of the universe.   

As we look more closely at both of these passages, Genesis 1 and John 1, we see God created the universe in the beginning. Genesis tells us that God spoke, and the world came into being. The Word, the Logos, the pre-Incarnate Son was the powerful Word spoken at the beginning of all things. And then, the Holy Spirit—or the spirit of God—described as moving over the surface of the waters, holding the earth secure. Can you begin to understand what a mind-blowing image that was?

We continue to get glimpses of this Triune God in our sermon passage for this morning, where the prophet Isaiah has a sweeping, magnificent vision of the heavenly Temple of God.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.

                    As Isaiah describes it with vivid word pictures, I think his vision sounds fearsome, and glorious, and terrifying. But, that’s not all! “And the angels were calling to one another:

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.”

This passage from Isaiah 6 contains important liturgical language:. Did you recognize that language? “Holy, Holy, Holy!” This is called “the Sanctus. The song is an acclamation from the congregation honoring the presence of the Lord. The minister celebrating communion has just said, “The Lord be with you… lift up your hearts… let us give thanks…” and then prayed a prayer of acknowledgment (the Preface) for what God has done in language that calls up the time of the church year.”

We find out more—in another way—about how great and mighty and powerful this God is, by looking at the Psalm passage from today’s lectionary.

Psalm 29 deals with the mighty powers of God in nature and in the crashing sounds, stunning displays and fearsome descriptions Eileen read to us.  “For the psalmist, the storm is a symbol not of the power of nature, but rather of the power and sovereignty of Israel’s God. Seven, the number of completeness, is significant [in this psalm]. Israel’s God is completely powerful and ultimately sovereign. There can be no competing claims.” [3] Just in case anyone was wondering, that is. God is the ultimate in power, majesty and glory.

In the New Testament, God the Word, God the Logos becomes incarnate; He is born and grows to adulthood as the son of Mary, Jesus the Messiah. Jesus the Anointed One, the Lamb of God chosen before the foundations of the earth, the Prince of Peace revealed to us in the Gospels of the New Testament.

Remember last week, when we celebrated Pentecost, the birthday of the Church? That was the expected coming of the Holy Spirit in each believer’s life, in great power and might. The Holy Spirit blew powerfully into the lives of the assembled persons praying. The Holy Spirit ignited their hearts and minds to go forth and tell others about the might and power of God, in raising Jesus from the dead with resurrection power, and saving us from our sins.   

Is there any wonder that we are likely to fall on our knees as we sing the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy?” As we consider the word holy the most special and important, set-apart, and awesome aspect of God. We reflect on the Trinity as we sing this hymn:

First, we praise God. Second, everyone in heaven praises God. Third, even though we do not fully understand God, we praise God anyway!.And last, everyone and everything on earth praises God. [4]

There are not enough superlatives to even begin to describe God. We do not have enough glorious, magnificent words fit to praise God. Our vocabulary falls far short.

Why don’t we consider the words of the heavenly beings in Isaiah 6, and close today with the words of the angels from Isaiah 6: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of God’s glory.”

Amen. Alleluia. Praise be to the Trinity, Eternal One in Three, Three in One.

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/04/year-b-trinity-sunday-may-31-2015.html

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

[2] Ibid, Worshiping with Children.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2453   Commentary, Psalm 29, J. Clinton McCann, Trinity Sunday, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

[4] Ibid, Worshiping with Children.

 

@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!)

Follow, Carry the Cross

“Follow, Carry the Cross”

Mark 8-34 take up your cross, print

Mark 8:31-38 (8:34) – February 25, 2018

When you imagine children at play, what do you think of? Children in a schoolyard, out at recess or out at lunch break? I am not sure what children play now, but when I was in school, school children played all kinds of games. Besides hopscotch and jumping rope, there were games of Red Rover Red Rover, Mother May I?, Duck Duck Goose, and Simon Says. And, Follow the Leader in the playground among the play equipment.

When we compare children’s games today with the words of Jesus from Mark’s Gospel reading, we are looking at two very different things. When Jesus said, “Follow Me!” He was not talking about a fun thing like a children’s game. He spoke about something quite serious.

The background of these words is critically important for us to understand exactly what Jesus was getting at. What was the history, the backstory? Here we are at the center of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus had healed, taught, cast out demons, and performed other signs of power, but often in secret. And, people had questioned who this upstart Rabbi was, but with little answer.  Up until this time, Mark had only mentioned the term “the Christ” once, in the opening verse at the very beginning of the book, until here in today’s reading, in Chapter 8.

Just before this scripture reading today, the Rabbi Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do other people say I am?” Great question! We are familiar with the responses. Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah or another prophet, but you and I know better. We know different. We know the end of the story. The thing is, these disciples do not.

Jesus has been asking the disciples to follow Him ever since the first chapter of Mark. When He called James and John, Simon and Andrew, Levi and all the rest, Jesus said simply, “Follow Me!” And, they did! They left everything, in fact. Commentator Matt Skinner said “Jesus isn’t so much about gathering pupils or making sure everyone understands him. He calls followers. Want to see who he really is? Join him.” [1] Which is exactly what many people did.

Today, we are following Jesus step by step on His journey to Jerusalem and the Cross during the next weeks, throughout Lent. Similar to these early followers of the Rabbi Jesus, we are taking this following thing one step at a time. We focus on one facet of the journey each Sunday. This Sunday we look at what Jesus said about taking up the cross when we follow Him. What on earth does that mean?

Here we can see that Jesus knew where He was going, and what He was going to do. Others probably did not, and even would call Jesus crazy or somehow deluded. “What do You mean, Jesus? How can You say that?”

Didn’t Peter just say that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the chosen One of God? I suspect the disciples were thinking, what kind of mixed messages are coming from Jesus now?

Jesus not only mentioned that the disciples ought to follow Him, but He also wanted them to take up their cross. Jesus even made some mention of a person being willing to give up their life. The only comparison I can figure is that of police officers and firefighters. They “make the decision to put themselves in danger, risking their lives to save another person.  They measure their lives not by length, but by depth and quality.” [2] That sounds very similar to the sort of thing Jesus said in our reading today.

There is a problem. I can hear some people today saying, “Wait a minute, Jesus! I didn’t know that following You meant the possibility of giving up my life! I didn’t know that there was such danger and risk involved in being a Christian.”

Except, giving up one’s life was what the apostle Paul talked about over and over again in his letters to the churches in the New Testament. And, that’s what Jesus starts telling His disciples quite plainly, starting in today’s Gospel reading. Listen to Jesus: “If any of you want to come with Me,” He told them, “you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow Me. 35 For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for Me and for the gospel, you will save it. 36 Do you gain anything if you win the whole world but lose your life? Of course not!”

What is more, Jesus rebuked Peter for telling Him He—Jesus—was wrong, and for trying to keep Jesus from walking the journey to Jerusalem and the Cross. Preventing Jesus from facing the Passion and sure death. At this point, Peter did not understand the full meaning of Jesus being the Messiah, the Christ. Plus, I suspect Peter and the other disciples were not clear on what taking up their own cross and following Jesus meant, either. But, they would find out, in the months and years to come.

Yes, sometimes it is difficult to follow Jesus. And, who in their right mind would want to shoulder the difficult burden of carrying a cross?

When we consider police officers or firefighters and what challenges they face on a regular basis, sometimes we call them heroes. Yet, Jesus calls all of His followers to face any number of difficulties and challenges, too. Except, not quite like running into a burning building or running down perpetrators, but still just as challenging.

Imagine someone you know, or someone you’re related to, bearing different crosses during their life. Crosses can be burdens we carry, difficulties we face. Some crosses involve physical pain and suffering. Other crosses can be financial, relational, or mental. What are the problems you or your family are dealing with today? Last month? Next year?

This might be the cross Jesus calls for us to bear, whether dealing with a devastating disease, accident, handicap, or disability. (Seen or unseen.) On the positive side, taking up our cross might assist us as we journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem. Lutheran pastor Edward Markquart reminds us:

-To take up our cross daily means to be open and flexible to God’s plan.

-To take up our cross daily means to focus on God daily.

-To take up our cross daily means that we can fail. That is, we do not do it.

-To take up our cross daily means to try to be loving every day.

-To take up our cross daily means to go the extra mile to do our jobs in life well.

-To take up our cross daily means to work on my relationship with my relatives and with people I do not like. [3]

Like I told the children earlier, we need to live like Jesus. We have to love God every day and love the people around us even when it gets hard. Yes, Jesus tells us clearly what it is like to follow Him. It is simple, yes. But easy, not necessarily so. May we pray for the grace, strength and perseverance to continue to follow Jesus, and to take up our own crosses.

And at the end of our lives, when we stand before Christ, what does the apostle Paul say? In Romans 8, “If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 Certainly not God, who did not even keep back his own Son, but offered him for us all! He gave us his Son—will he not also freely give us all things?” Praise God, we are indeed accepted by the Messiah Jesus. We are loved by our Beloved, Jesus Christ. Amen, and amen!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1383  Matt Skinner

[2] https://sacredstory.org/2012/02/29/jesus-faces-death-taking-up-the-cross/

“Jesus Faces Death: Taking Up the Cross,” Mother Anne Emry, Sacred Story, 2012.

[3] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_a_peter_the_stumbling_blockGA.htm

“Peter: The Stumbling Block and the Way of the Cross,” Gospel Analysis, Sermons from Seattle, Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington.

@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!)

God Wants Me to Change?

“God Wants Me to Change?”

Rom 12-2 be transformed, words

Romans 12:1-2 (12:2) – September 10, 2017

The date of September 11th is a significant date to remember. Just as many people remember where they were on November 22, 1963, the date John F. Kennedy was assassinated, so, too, many people remember where they were on September 11, 2001, when planes flew into buildings, and horror upon horror was seen on televisions and video monitors around the world..

When we think of the inhumanity that people display—people who assassinate a national leader, or who cold-bloodedly kill dozens, or even hundreds of their fellow human beings—man’s inhumanity to man can leave our jaws hanging open, shaking our heads in disbelief.

We are horrified when we think about such things. I am sorry to bring this up, but Romans, the book of the New Testament from which our Scripture reading comes, has some very bad news in it. All of us fall short of what God wants for us. All of us miss the mark, as far as God is concerned. As Romans 3:11 tells us, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one seeks after God.” We are all self-centered, not God-centered.

However, the book of Romans also has some very good news! The Apostle Paul says we are not deserted in such a hopeless situation. No! “The message of [the book of] Romans is that sin’s mastery over humankind has been broken in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” [1] We all know that the wages of sin is death—death, meaning separation from God forever. But the free gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ! Those are the blessed words of Romans 6:23!

I wanted to remind everyone about this difference, this separation that the Apostle Paul tells us about, us and the Roman believers. Here, on this side, is the BEFORE side. Life without God. Life is really bad news! Eternal darkness, and separation from God, forever. Here, on the other side, is the AFTER side. Life with Christ, and life eternally in God’s presence and light.

Just in case anyone is wondering exactly how we develop a relationship with Christ, we tell our Lord Jesus that we have sinned. We are truly sorry, we confess our sins to Him, and ask Him to forgive us. The best part? He will forgive us, freely! No strings attached. And then, we will enter into the best relationship we will ever have in our lives—true friendship with God.

Thanks be to God that we are accepted through our Lord Jesus Christ, and as Romans 8 tells us, nothing—in the whole universe—can separate us from the love of God!

That, in a nutshell, is the message of the first half of the letter to the Romans. But, now that we are in Christ, now what? What do we do now? How shall we then live? These first two verses of Romans chapter 12 hit home. Paul gives us several strong commands.

Let’s read Romans 12:1 again from that wonderful modern translation by Eugene Peterson, “The Message.” “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”

We were just asking, now that I—you—all of us believe in Jesus, confess our sins, and are welcomed by God into the family of God, what next? Right here, Paul tells us. Paul wants us to place our whole lives before God as our offering.

Did you know the Jewish people in Israel (before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that is) sacrificed all kinds of things at the Temple, often? That was a requirement for being obedient to God, for being a fine, upstanding Jew. There were thank offerings, and guilt offerings, offerings for forgiveness and for harvest time, wave offerings, drink offerings, and animal offerings. Offerings on special occasions, and everyday offerings. There were enough animal, grain, wine, and other offerings to keep the many priests at the Temple in Jerusalem very busy, indeed! I’m not talking about only the Pharisees, but all of Israel. God expected offerings from everyone.

That was then—during the time of Jesus, and before. But, what about now? What kinds of offerings is Paul talking about? How do we bring offerings to God? I’ll say it again. Or rather, Paul will tell us, from Romans 12:1: “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”

A number of years ago, my children, my husband and I went to Michigan to see my in-laws. They decided we all should go to a really nice public garden, some distance away from their home. The public garden included a butterfly house. I don’t know whether anyone here has ever been to a butterfly house, but all different kinds and colors of butterflies fly around. Plus, there is a special section where the caterpillars make their cocoons and become a chrysalis. It takes some time, but finally they transform into a butterfly. My children just loved watching the butterflies flit around from flower to flower. I decided to sit still, and several butterflies came and landed on my arms. One even landed on my head.

Is there a difference between a caterpillar and a butterfly? I think we all would say, yes! Certainly! Is there a difference between the sinful us, and the forgiven us? I think so. That is what the Apostle Paul is getting at.

God is so pleased when we bring our whole selves to God. Before, our old selves were sinful, self-centered, and not doing or thinking or saying the things that pleased God. That sinful self is what the Apostle Paul talks about in the first half of this letter to the Romans! But now we have a relationship with God, we are being changed from the inside out. A complete change of our inner, spiritual selves, from being self-centered to God-centered!

A caterpillar changes or transforms into a butterfly. In the same way, “Paul speaks of radical inward change. The mind is key in the renewal process. The renewed mind is able to think, discern, and test what will please God instead of being deceived by sin.” [2]

Now, I need to let everyone know: this change is still happening. We are not completely sin-less. With God’s help, we sin less and less.

Sadly, the world we inhabit is still very much affected by sin. We can see that from natural disasters, like hurricanes, wild fires and earthquakes (to mention some catastrophic things happening in our world right now). Our fellow human beings are also very much affected by sin and self-involvement, self-centered fear and self-important egotism, focusing on their own issues to the neglect of any one or any thing else.

Which brings us full circle to what we started this sermon with: man’s inhumanity to man. It is not difficult to tick off on both hands the horrible things people do to other people. We can feel sadness for the sin we still have in our own lives, too. We can shake our heads, in sorrow and grief. And, yes, we can praise God that God is not finished with us yet!

As the Apostle Paul reminds us in our Scripture reading in Romans 12:2, “fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what God wants from you, and quickly respond to it.”

Does God want all of us to change? You bet! Each day we are becoming more and more changed into the likeness of our Lord Jesus. We can all say “amen!” to that.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1038

Commentary, Romans 12:1-8, Mary Hinkle Shore,, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

[2] Chesser, Dawn  – Director of Preaching Ministries, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/book-of-romans-sermon-starters-week-13

@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!)

Elisha Shows Mercy

2 Kings 6:8-23 (6:22) – June 25, 2017

 

 

mercy

“Elisha Shows Mercy”

Compassion. Being kind. Showing mercy. Showing love. All of these are actions God calls us to do.

During the past few weeks in June, these are actions we saw carried out by people in the Old Testament, in the Hebrew Scriptures. We saw Abraham showing hospitality, the midwives for the Hebrew women displaying compassion, and King David being kind and merciful. This week’s scripture lesson is a little different. Here, we take a closer look at the prophet Elisha and see how he displayed mercy and compassion.

We need to step back and remind ourselves about our summer sermon series on Compassion. In keeping with my continuing effort to provide for activities for everyone—adults and children—I chose this series on Compassion because of its excellent, detailed children’s teaching and activities. This series also had some thought-provoking sermon ideas on how God’s people went out of their way to provide compassion, mercy and kindness for those around them.

Compassion is a big word. One thing it means is being especially kind to others. Except, the prophet Elisha and the people of Israel had a difficult time being kind because of what was going on with the political situation of the country of Israel. Is it easy to be compassionate to an opposing army that is marching against you? Even with up-to-date, fancy chariots and horses—which was the equivalent of the best tanks and armored vehicles they had at that time.

We need to see why the king of Syria was so angry at the nation of Israel. But before that, we also need a refresher on the nation of Israel. After King David died and his son King Solomon died, the nation had a short civil war. One of Solomon’s sons took over the northern part of the kingdom, and another of Solomon’s sons became king over Jerusalem and the southern part of the kingdom. A couple of hundred years go by, and here we are at the time of the prophet Elisha. Elisha served as prophet to the northern kingdom, which was called Israel.

The prophet Elisha was powerful, a miracle worker who had the spirit of the Lord resting upon him. This is exactly the reason behind the first part of our reading from the book of 2 Kings. There was conflict between the nation of Israel and the nearby country of Syria. Yes, the armies of both Israel and Syria were actively engaged in outright war.

Our biblical writer says: “The king of Syria consulted his officers and chose a place to set up his camp. But Elisha sent word to the king of Israel, warning him not to go near that place, because the Syrians were waiting in ambush there. 10 So the king of Israel warned the people who lived in that place, and they were on guard. This happened several times.”

The Syrian king must have been puzzled, and scared, and especially angry! The first thing he thought was that he had a traitor and spy on his hands. But, no. All his soldiers were faithful and true. However, to continue with our reading: “The prophet Elisha tells the king of Israel what you say even in the privacy of your own room.” 13 “Find out where he is,” the king ordered, “and I will capture him.”

Not good! The Syrian army wanted to conquer Israel and take the prophet Elisha as prisoner. Under cover of night, the army sneaks up on the city where Elisha is staying. In the morning, what do you think happens? What would you think if you woke up one morning and your town were surrounded by hostile forces?

I do not know what my reaction would be for sure, but I bet I might be able to relate to Elisha’s servant. He was scared half to death, just looking at all of these Syrian troops and chariots and horses! Again, the Syrian army had the latest in military gear, weapons and armaments. It must have been an impressive—and frightening—sight.

“The servant cried out, “What shall we do?!” Elisha reassured him, “Don’t be afraid. More are with us than with them.” Elisha prayed for his attendant’s eyes to be opened, and suddenly the young man saw the surrounding mountains filled with heavenly horses and chariots of fire.”

Elisha reassured his servant not to be afraid, and said “We have more on our side than they have on theirs.”  What is more, Elisha prays that the Lord will send blindness upon all of the Syrian army. And—God does!

What happens next is both humorous and ironic. Elisha himself goes out to the newly-blinded Syrian army. He tells them, “This is not the way you’re trying to go; this is not the city you want to get to; follow me, I’ll bring you to the man you want.

Remember, the Lord has struck all of the Syrian army blind. “Here Elisha told a technical truth but certainly intended to deceive. He did in fact bring them to the man they sought (when their eyes were opened, Elisha was there with them). However, he led them back to Samaria – the capital city of the Kingdom of Israel and an unfriendly place for [an army] of Syrian soldiers.” [1]

Let’s pause for a moment, and imagine we are with the king of Israel and Elisha. How would you have felt if you were them, facing the Syrian army? Remember, this army is at war with our country. Elisha does something unprecedented. After leading the blind army into enemy hands—Jewish hands, Elisha suggests mercy, kindness, and compassion! He tells the king to give the Syrians food and drink. In other words, serve them a feast!

One of the most surprising and beautiful parts of this story is how the Syrian army is blown away by the compassion they are shown. When they expected revenge and fighting, they receive a feast and love instead. Compassion! Kindness!

The Syrians get it. They understand. The king of Syria stops sending raiding troops into Israel because of this act of compassion and mercy. Can you think of a time when you were expecting more fighting, and there was peace and kindness instead? I realize it may not happen often, but sometimes—praise God!—sometimes it does happen.

It is not only by our own power that we act in kind, loving and merciful ways. God helps us to show compassion, even to those who persecute us. Just as Jesus said in our Gospel lesson today, 44 But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven.” Challenging words, to be sure! We can take the prophet Elisha for our example, as well as our Lord Jesus. Truly.

Showing compassion and kindness to those who hurt us is not the same as being passive, giving up, or letting them do whatever they want to us. When we show compassion or mercy we act in love. How can we find the strength to take these kinds of actions? Through prayer! Through doing the next loving, compassionate thing, with the Lord’s help.

God willing, God can help us act in a loving way.

Let us all follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus. We can all show compassion, kindness, mercy and love to those around us; to our friends as well as our enemies.

Amen, alleluia!

[1] https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_2Ki/2Ki_6.cfm

(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!)