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!)

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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!)

Transforming Creation

“Transforming Creation”

isa-35-word-cloud

Isaiah 35:1-6, 10 – December 11, 2016

Expectation. Anticipation. Sitting on the edge of one’s seat in excitement. That sounds like we just hardly can wait another minute for a long-expected, awaited event! Can you think of events which were so exciting for you? A long-awaited trip to a far-away place, a well-deserved promotion at work, or finally celebrating a wonderful wedding or a significant anniversary. Can you remember being so excited about these things that you were sitting on the edge of your seat in preparation and anticipation?

“O come, O come, Emmanuel.” This is a familiar hymn we sing in the month of December, in the weeks leading up to Christmas. It is an Advent hymn, full of hope, preparation, and expectation about the Messiah’s coming. Are you sitting on the edge of your seat, waiting for the arrival of Christmas, of the Baby born in Bethlehem? Or, is this just another ho-hum, not-so-exciting occurrence for you?

We all know the Messiah is long-expected. Time and again in the Hebrew scriptures, we hear the prophets declaring their marvelous news, that the Savior and Redeemer of Israel is coming. The heir to King David’s throne is coming to reign over Israel. But, this week, this passage from the prophet is a little different. We turn to the prophecy from Isaiah 35, starting at verse 1: “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.” Here, the prophet is talking about what will happen in the future.

Here, the prophet talks about all creation: the wilderness, the dry land, and the desert. Large parts of the land of Israel was parched, inhospitable to both humans and animals. Here, in these verses, we hear about what is going to happen to the land, to creation itself.

As Dr. Michael Chan, one of my commentators, said, “The general theme is that desolate, dry places will be transformed into paradise. Those who live in desert environs can appreciate the transformative power of water on the desert. Overnight, even a small amount of rain can change a dry desert into a vibrant landscape. But Isaiah’s poem moves far beyond the natural consequences of water on the desert. Creation itself will “be glad,” “rejoice,” and sing (verses 1-2). Creation’s praise joins human praise, in recognition of God’s marvelous work.” [1]

Death Valley, a large desert area in southern California, has wildflower blooms every year. Once every ten (or so) years, Death Valley receives an unusual amount of rain from storms that are way out of the ordinary. This causes what is known as a “super bloom,” as happened in spring of 2016. For a number of days, the valley was covered in an unusually huge amount of wildflowers. [2] Talk about anticipation for the coming of the Messiah! Thinking of the super-bloom in Death Valley gives us a foretaste of what we read here in Isaiah, certainly.

Looking at verses 3 and 4: “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.” The prophecy not only refers to creation, it also is talking to the people of this world, the people of our God. According to commentator Dr. Chan, “Like so many other texts in Isaiah, Isaiah 35 confronts fear with promise: “Here is your God … He will come with vengeance … He will come and save you.” In switching to the second person, the prophet leaves nothing to chance, making sure that his audience knows that this message is ‘for you.’[3]

But, what was the situation of these people of Israel? A huge group of them were in exile. Israel was occupied territory, and the occupying forces had been the strong, conquering forces. They took a large number of the people as prisoners back with them to Babylon, to force the good behavior of the whole nation of Israel.

So, the prophet encourages his listeners “to be strong and not be afraid no matter how bad things look at the moment because God will come to their rescue.” [4]  Just think of how so many of them felt, being prisoners of war in a foreign country.  As you can imagine, life for them was lousy. The prophet urged the Israelites to be strong because God will always have the last word. It does not matter, not for the people of Israel, not for us, either. God is in the process of overcoming, and the end result will be a wonderful thing.

May I point out that though we are not prisoners of war like the people of Israel, we face lots of really hard situations in our lives. Personally, in my extended family, we are facing a difficult and sad situation right now. Especially hard on my husband and his sisters. Their elderly father is gradually dying; slipping away. Yes, it is particularly tough for me and my whole family right now. And yes, God is a refuge and strength for our family, a very present help in times of our trouble and difficulty.

This is a challenging time of the year for many people. Carolyn Brown so helpfully reminds us that “many congregations have become sensitive to people for whom it is hard to rejoice at this time of year.” [5] Since her ministry focus is on children, she mentions that this group includes children as well as adults. Imagine how difficult, how confusing, even overwhelming the holidays can be for children, sometimes. (And for adults, too.)

“Children face the same problems that daunt the adults, but do so with different twists.  For one thing, they lack the experience of many Christmases that the adults can draw on to keep a sense of balance.  For another, they feel that as a child they should be totally into the season.  It feels even more unfair to them than to the adults that they are not going to have special gifts or fun family gatherings or decorations.” [6]

I am going to our sister church, Epiphany United Church of Christ, to assist for their Blue Christmas service this coming Wednesday. And, Pastor Kevin will assist me here at St. Luke’s Church for our Blue Christmas service a week from tomorrow, on Monday, Dec. 19th. Often- times, people get overwhelmed by the holidays. Perhaps they have lost a loved one during the past year, and this is the first Christmas with that empty chair. Perhaps there has been some other significant change or major move in their lives. No matter what the event or grief or situation, sometimes people need a refuge, they need a quiet gathering for support in this very busy time.

May I say that Isaiah’s promise is for us—all of us. No matter how hard things seem at the moment, we know that God will eventually win and God’s peace will come to the whole world. God will send joy to us all, despite the difficulties we all go through, on a daily basis. Knowing that, we can be strong and patient.

We can praise God for the witness of the prophet: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;” Do you hear? Creation will be transformed, both the world and the people therein.

We can look forward to that, when Christ comes again in His glory. Soon and very soon, we will see Him face to face. We can sit on the edge of our seats as we await this wonderful, marvelous event. Praise God! The Messiah, the King is coming. We all can sing, “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” and really mean it, truly wait with anticipation and excitement.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] Michael J. Chan, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3118 

[2] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/03/160302-death-valley-super-bloom-wildflowers-weather/

[3] hael J. Chan, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3118 

[4] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-third-sunday-of-advent-december-15.html

[5] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-third-sunday-of-advent-december-15.html

[6] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-third-sunday-o

f-advent-december-15.html 

@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!)

 

 

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!)