Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit!

“Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit!”

holy trinity mosaic

John 16:13, Psalm 8 – June 16, 2019

In our everyday lives, all kinds of things come in threes. The rule of threes tells us that when things are presented to us in threes, they are easier to remember. Comedy tells us that when jokes come in three parts, they are somehow more satisfying and funnier.

Commentator Alyce McKenzie reminds us, “We read The Three Little Pigs, Three Billy Goats Gruff, Goldilocks and the Three Bears before we eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a knife, fork, and spoon. We hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil despite the fact that we are threatened by lions, tigers, and bears. We play rock, paper, scissors. Our goals are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and we count on the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government to assist us in this pursuit, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, because we cherish our government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We live a hop, skip, and a jump from snap, crackle, and pop. Our journey of life has a beginning, a middle, and an end. On the journey we encounter lights that may be red, yellow, or green. Our motto, for the past, the present, and the future is Ready, Set, Go!” [1]

The rule of threes does have relevance in our Christian life; we know the Trinity with the traditional expression Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the Triune God. One in Three, and Three in One. Yet, how can we wrap our heads around such a huge concept as the Trinity?

We might consider God in this way: God was, God is and God will be. God past, God present and God future. Our psalm reading for today, Psalm 8, talks about the majesty and power of God the Creator, God the Father. That is what our opening hymn of praise lifted up: “How Majestic is Your Name.” God created the whole universe, everything we see when we look up in the sky, times 1000. Times 100,000! It is truly mind-blowing to consider how enormous the universe is. I cannot even comprehend a tiny sliver of how immense the cosmos is!

And yet, God still thinks about each of us, and loves each one of us as very special people. As our psalmist King David said, “What is man – humanity – that You are mindful of them?” In other words, how can the amazingly huge God who called the whole universe into being ages ago with a word even think about such tiny, insignificant beings such as humans? Yet, God does exactly that.

God the Father, God-not-only-in-the-past is part of this incomprehensible God, One in Three, Three in One, the Trinity.

Yet, there is God the Son. God the Son was eternal, too. He was in the beginning with God, as John chapter 1 tells us. The eternal Son was incarnate, was made flesh. That is fancy wording for Jesus becoming a baby. What’s more, He emptied Himself of all Godhood, all God-ness. Jesus became a baby just like any other newborn baby you might meet.

Jesus grew to adulthood, and lived life as a human being, like you and like me. Jesus got hungry, tired, slept, worked, laughed and cried. Yet, at the same time, Jesus was God. I can’t understand it, yet that is what our Gospels and many other places in the New Testament tell us. Here, in John 14 through 16, Jesus tells His disciples some very important things. This is God the Son talking, who would very shortly die on the Cross and very soon transition into His Resurrected form.

We see God-in-the-present here in John 16, telling His friends about the not-so-distant future. Jesus is talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Oh, what kind of wondrous happening was this, Jesus the Eternal God the Son, talking about a Spirit of truth? Even though the disciples probably had some kind of idea about the wisdom that came from God – Proverbs and several Psalms serving as great examples – when their Rabbi Jesus started talking about a Holy Spirit, I have no idea what must have been going through the disciples’ heads!

When Jesus talked with His disciples in the Upper Room on that Thursday, that Passover night before His crucifixion, He knew everything was going to change for His friends. Jesus would no longer be with them, in a human body. Jesus was promising them something for the future. God-in-the-future, as well as in the present and in the past. Jesus promised the coming of the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to live with them and remain with them as long as they were on this earth. The Holy Spirit was—is indwelling every believer in Jesus Christ. And, that is still the case, today.

Another—very imperfect—way to think about the Trinity is in the family context. All of us are members of a family. All of us came from a mother and a father. I will take myself for an example. I am a daughter to my parents. (Now deceased.) I am a mother to my children. I am a wife to my husband. Those are three distinct roles. Very different roles, too! Yet, I am one person. Not wanting to compare myself to the eternal, ineffable, transcendent Holy Trinity (much), I hope this family example might be able to give another example, some idea of the complexities in considering the Trinity.

Which brings me to the question I passed out to everyone in your bulletin: “When I—when you—thought about God, I used to think…” What did we used to think about God? How has it changed? What do we think about God, now? Has the blessed coming of the Holy Spirit into each of our lives changed those thoughts?

When we come at this theological doctrine of the Trinity head on, yes. It is important. It is part of our Creeds, and a foundational aspect of the Christian faith this church proclaims. Yet, a perfect understanding of Christian theology is not at all necessary for us to be saved, for us to enter into a close, deep relationship with God.

Throughout the Easter season, for the past weeks, I have been preaching on testimonies. When various people were confronted by the claims of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, and what happened after that. Mary Magdalene was the first evangelist when she ran to the other followers of Jesus on that first Easter morning and cried, “I have seen the Lord!” Mary did not have a full understanding of Christian doctrine and of the three Persons of the Trinity, But, she knew that Jesus had risen, and was alive again.

I hope and pray that our understanding of God keeps growing, deepening, and maturing.  I hope that each of us keeps that excitement, that exuberance in our lives and our testimonies as we proclaim Jesus, as we tell all that the Trinity has done for each of us.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] https://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Power-Three-Alyce-McKenzie-05-21-2013.html

“The Power of Three,” Alyce M. McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

All Things New

“All Things New” – November 4, 2018

Revelation 21:1-6a

Rev 21 making new creation

  “ . . . and they all lived happily ever after.” The end.

Doesn’t that sound familiar? Isn’t that the way that fairy tales are supposed to end?

Thinking of the scripture reading we just read, the new heaven and new earth haven’t shown up yet. News flash! We are still living in the same old heaven, same old earth.

Life here on this earth is okay, I guess, but it is sure no fairy tale. Fairy tale endings are few and far between. Once in a while it happens that someone inherits a huge amount of money, or wins the lottery, or signs a big sports contract, but that isn’t the way it works for the vast majority of people here.

What happened? Doesn’t somewhere it say that “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good?” As the book of Genesis, chapter one, tells us, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and God created everything good.

God gave humanity the world and everything in it for us to enjoy. It is all a gift, everything, for us to enjoy together with God. God wants to be in relationship with us. Can you imagine, daily strolls through beautiful gardens, in the cool of the evening? That’s just the picture that is painted for us by Genesis chapter 3.

You all know the plot line. God did have a close relationship with Adam. Then, one day, God came looking for Adam, but what happened? Sin happened. That relationship was fractured. Humanity was separated from God by sin. Now, today too, I am separated from God by my sin.

Another word for sin is separation. I know I sin. I displease God. And when I sin, I am separated from God. I feel it. I know I am alienated from God.

How many people here have seen a mime? I bet you are familiar with the wordless actors, who use gestures and movements to communicate. Can you see a mime coming up against a wall, trying to get through?   ((pantomime a wall))   Sin is like that wall. So high. So wide. Impenetrable. We are separated from God! That’s what sin does. Sin builds walls in our lives between us and God. And what’s more, sin builds walls between each of us, as well. Between me and you. Shutting us out, shutting us apart from each other.

The picture I’ve painted is pretty grim. If we were left in this horrible situation with no way out, the outlook would be pretty hopeless. I know that I am helpless to get myself out of this mess. I cannot overcome this separation from God, no matter how hard I try in my own strength.

I’m reminded of my children. When they were small, I can remember taking them to the playground, where I’d push them in the big swings. Then when they got a little older, they would always want to pump higher and higher themselves, so high that they would touch the sky. I remember my daughter Rachel (she’s in graduate school now, so this was some years ago) asked me if she could get as high as God. I laughed, and then told her that was a good question. But I said that she couldn’t reach God like that on a swing, no matter how hard she pumped.

But isn’t that just like us? To want to get to God on our own, on our own terms, in our own way? I want to do things my way! But, wait! I can’t get to God! There’s something in the way! ((pantomime a wall))  A wall, a barrier, a separation . . . I can’t get through!

But . . . thanks be to God. God has provided a way. God sent His Son, His only begotten Son, as a gift God sent His Son into this world, to reconcile this world to Himself, to bring us back into that relationship God wanted to have with us at the beginning. Remember God, walking in the garden? Giving humanity all of creation to enjoy? God has broken down the walls of separation and reconciled us to Himself. Praise God! We can now have that relationship with Him!

Let’s read again from Revelation 21, verses 3 and 4. “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be His peoples, and God Himself will be with them; He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Did you hear that? What did these verses say? The home of God will be with us!

The One Who is Faithful and True has written this. Sure, we’re living right now in an imperfect world. Sure, there are many problems here and now. Sure, we all can think of things that ought to be changed. And, we can strive to make it the very best world that we can. I’m wondering . . . how can you make a difference in this world, here and now? In big ways, little ways, any way you can? How can I make a difference, right where I am? This is not only a God-given challenge to us, to you, to me. This is a God-given opportunity!

But . . . there’s more! We can also look forward to the new heaven and the new earth. Right here in Revelation 21, the One seated on the Throne has promised to wipe away every tear from every eye. Death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more.

No matter what, we can look forward to a close relationship with God! No more separation, no more alienation. No more walls or barriers. Instead, the home of God will be with us! We will dwell with God forever and ever, no matter what.

What a great expectation to have. What a future. What a promise. What a celebration. Remember, the One seated on the Throne is trustworthy and true. The Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End has promised these things. And our God is One Who keeps His promises.

Alleluia, amen.

@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!

Don’t Be Troubled

“Don’t Be Troubled”    

John 14-27 don't be afraid, words

John 14:1-4, 25-27 (14:27) – August 26, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Have you ever felt the pain and loss of an upcoming separation, even before it actually happened? Perhaps a good friend or relative is moving far away, soon Or, maybe a loved one is seriously ill in the hospital, in fact, terminally ill. You deeply feel the upcoming, approaching loss even when your loved one is still right there, with you.

Those two situations, those two instances are similar to what actually happened to the disciples. For all they knew, their Rabbi Jesus was going away, permanently. Jesus knew He was going to be parted from His friends for a while. Jesus gave His farewell speech in the Upper Room. What could any of the disciples do or say?

Let us back up a bit. The disciples did not anticipate exactly what events were going to happen. It is not that He kept quiet about His leaving and going away. It was others, the disciples, who said, “Where are you going, Lord?”  What could some possibly hear that Jesus said would happen?

Here in the Gospel of John, the writer John wanted everyone to know that Jesus was in His final efforts to convince His disciples. Jesus knew very well what was going to happen. This discourse is one of utmost significance. Jesus gave the fullest explanation in answering these questions, and in expressing His longing, His care in this Upper Room discourse.

I realize that we here in suburban Chicago are not quite as familiar with the extent of the separation, heightened fear, and anxiety the disciples were facing during that Passion Week before Jesus’s crucifixion. But, many people today do face separation, and anxiety, too. In some cases, their feelings and emotions might border on severe fear, even terror. And, in some cases, these feelings and emotions are diagnosed as mental health challenges.

“According to U.S.A. Today (11/16/11), ‘More than 20 percent of American adults took at least one drug for conditions like anxiety and depression in 2010 … including more than one in four women.’ The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports (adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics, bold type theirs), ‘Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population).’” [1]

Thank God, we do have ways of managing that anxiety, even severe fear, today. Let me say that the various types of therapy and group support and medication we have available to us are all valid. These are all ways to manage anxiety and fear. Jesus gives us another way of managing our anxiety and fear, too.

Listen to the words that Jesus had for us in the reading today, from the new, modern translation “The Message.” From John 14: 1-4 “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”

The words that we are more familiar with, “Do not be troubled,” Eugene Peterson translates “Don’t let this throw you.” The disciples had good reason to be troubled and afraid! They knew that the Jewish leaders were out to get their leader, their Rabbi. And yet—Jesus had walked straight into the trap the leaders were setting for Him. Talk about anxiety! The disciples had every right to be scared to death!

Yes, separation can be triggered by fear and anxiety; in certain of the disciples’ cases, the fear and anxiety of just not knowing. Not knowing anything. That can be a scary prospect, indeed. The disciples enjoyed a deep intimacy with their Rabbi Jesus. Thus, “the disciples were full of fearful questions when Jesus announced His departure. Yet Jesus understood their troubled hearts and assured them of a continued home together.[2]

That was in the case of the disciples, two thousand years ago. But, what about us, today? We can see from Jesus’s words that He means a relational dimension to our interaction with Him. Yes, we can enjoy intimacy with each other, and intimacy with God. At the same time, we can be fearful and anxious at the prospect of separation—even that most permanent of separation, death itself.

How can we sort out these deep-seated feelings? Yes, fear and anxiety are part and parcel of all of us human beings. These feelings are part of our emotional make-up. Jesus goes right to the heart of our fear of separation and loss of intimacy with His words that tell us “I’m getting a room ready for you!” This image describes “the mutuality and reciprocity of the relationship of God and Jesus… [In fact,] Jesus uses the domestic image to say ‘My return to God will make it possible for you the join in the relationship that the Father and I share.’” [3]

How awesome is that? We all can join in on that relationship. Jesus lovingly invites us into that family relationship with God our heavenly Father.

But, that is not all, especially at this stressful, anxious, fear-producing time right before Jesus knows He is going to be arrested and crucified.  Listen to our Lord’s assurance to us, from Peterson’s modern translation of John 14:25-27: “I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.”

As if a close relationship with Jesus is not enough, He even promises us the gift of a dear Friend, the indwelling Holy Spirit. Even more amazing!

We are encouraged to think carefully about whether or not we have truly laid hold of the cure for troubled hearts that Jesus promises in our scripture reading today. “Faith in Christ’s person and hope in Christ’s promise will comfort your troubled heart. You may think, ‘That’s overly simplistic! That’s a nice thought, but it’s impractical and out of touch with reality!’ But these are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ to troubled hearts. Either His words are true or they’re not.” [4]

Do you hear? Jesus did not leave His disciples abandoned and bereft, all alone, fearful with separation anxiety. What is more, Jesus does not leave us alone today, either. Sure, we may go through difficult times, but Jesus promises to walk with us.

We will have challenges and difficulty in this world, true, yet we have an intimate relationship with God freely offered to us. So, that is our Lord’s parting gift to us all. His peace. Don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. Be not afraid. We have Jesus’s word on it.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] bible.org/seriespage/lesson-75-comfort-troubled…

https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-75-comfort-troubled-hearts-john-141-11

[2] Ivaska, David, Be Not Afraid (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 110.

[3] O’Day,Gail R., The Gospel of John, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. 9 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 741.

[4] bible.org/seriespage/lesson-75-comfort-troubled…

https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-75-comfort-troubled-hearts-john-141-11

@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!)

Transfigured? Frightened!

“Transfigured? Frightened!”

Mark 9:6 (9:6-7) – February 11, 2018

Jesus Transfiguration Georgian relief Luke 9

Transformations can be quite a surprise. For example, when a run-down house gets a top-to-bottom rehab job over weeks or months, the house can be really transformed. Or, when someone is diligent over time with diet and exercise, and loses a lot of weight, they can be really transformed, as well. People can be surprised and impressed when they see the stunning changes that happen, gradually. These kinds of transformative changes can take a while.

The type of stunning change that happened in our Gospel reading today did not take weeks or months. Instead, our Gospel writer Mark talks about the transformation happening suddenly. Or, to use one of Mark’s favorite words: immediately.

We need to set the scene. Just previous to this reading, in Mark chapter 8 Jesus asks His disciples who others say that He is, followed by who the disciples think He is. Peter makes the great statement “You are the Messiah.” It is then that Jesus predicts His death. He starts to tell His disciples that He will have to suffer, be rejected and die, and then rise after three days. All of which must have been difficult to understand for the disciples.

I can relate to the followers of Jesus. Jesus was a charismatic leader, and many people listened to Him, and even followed Him. However, some of the things Jesus said were clear out of their experience. Even with all of the biblical revelation, evidence and commentary that we have nowadays, some of the statements of Jesus are still a challenge for us to understand, today. I can relate to the disciples’ confusion and puzzlement!  

A few days after the confession of Peter and all this big stuff happening, Jesus decides to go for a day trip, up on the top of a mountain. He asks only three of His disciples to come with him: Peter, James and John. After they reach the mountaintop, Jesus suddenly is changed. Transformed. Or, as the Gospels tell us, Jesus is transfigured. This is a state of God’s heavenly glory, suddenly appearing all around Jesus, making His clothing whiter than anyone has ever seen. If that is not enough, the glorified Jesus is seen talking with Moses and Elijah.

Can you see the picture? Imagine a huge, bright spotlight shining on Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Plus, there are more small spotlights all around, and the background surrounding them is all backlit. Except—the people of Jesus’s time have never even heard of electricity. All of this super-white light and super-white clothing is supernatural. Of heavenly origin.

I am reminded of the heavenly glory that surrounded Moses on top of Mount Sinai. Moses was no stranger to heavenly whiteness and brightness. He was in the presence of the Lord God Almighty for many days. And, Elijah—going up to heaven in a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses? That must have been a heavenly experience of light and glory, too. Much less being in heaven, in God’s presence for centuries at that point.

Moses and Elijah were the premier representatives of the Jewish people, of the Jewish law code and the voice of the prophets. Revered by millions of Jews since their time. And, on top of that, they were in the presence of the suddenly-glorified Lord Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder that mere humans Peter, James and John were all shaking in their shoes?

I discovered a fictionalized conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah, from that mountaintop that Mark tells us about. This conversation comes from Pastor Joyce, written in 2003, from a commentary website I visit on occasion. Listen to this conversation:

Elijah: Look at these stubborn and fearful people. How do you get these children to honor God?

“Moses: And how do you teach them to love each other? God knows I tried. I brought God’s law down from the mountain top. It is very clear. The simple commandments tell them how to love and honor God and how to live together in mutual love and respect.

But right after I told them how to live, they began complaining about God and began to worship false idols. The law told them not to betray or disrespect others. Yet, the powerful continued to grasp for more wealth and power. Foolish people they thought that would give them security. But for these things they have to oppress the weak. Then the fighting starts. It can lead to killing.

“Elijah: Well, I warned them. I told King Ahab and the people not to worship false idols. I challenged 450 prophets of Baal and they died on the mountain top. But today, people still worship the idols they create: power, material possessions, and the comfort they bring. But they do not receive satisfaction from them. NO! How do we teach people to find the real thing — joy in relationships with God and with each other?

“Jesus: God sent you, Moses, to give the law.  God sent you, Elijah, and other prophets to warn the people of how they are harming themselves. Now God has sent ME… I will live among these rebellious people for a while. I will love them and I will die for them. These men you see before you, and those who follow them, will carry on my work of reconciliation to God and humankind.

“Moses: These men? Look, they are dumbstruck. They are frail. They are confused.

“Elijah: Good joke, Jesus. Now… tell us your real plan.

“Jesus: I have no other plan.

“Elijah: But how will they find the wisdom and the strength?

“Jesus: Ahhh… I will be with them.” [1]

Did everyone hear? Jesus promised to be with the disciples, a number of times. Not only with the disciples, but with all of His friends and followers.

It’s true that Peter—good, old foot-in-mouth Peter—made some sort of confused and excited offer to build three little booths or mini-altars there, on top of the mountain. Yes, with our 20/20 retrospect, we can laugh at Peter’s fumbling and falling all over himself. But, wouldn’t we be in the same boat? What if there were a heavenly visitation right here, right now? Boom! Cue the bright lights! The glorified Jesus, here in our midst, here at St. Luke’s Church!

The thing is, Jesus could have stayed there, on that mountaintop, with Peter, James and John. Relatively safe, and the mountaintop could have become a pilgrimage site, renowned throughout the world. But, no. Jesus knew He had to walk the way of the Cross. He knew we, His followers and friends, had to come down from that mountaintop, too.

The disciples did not just slink away and hide. No, they went out after the Resurrection and Ascension and after Pentecost, and they turned the world upside down with the Good News of the risen Lord Jesus. It was not all sweetness and light for the disciples, or for the other followers of Jesus. No, many of them had a very difficult time. Yet, Jesus was with them.

Today, we don’t permanently live on the mountaintop, either. Yes, we often walk through the dark valleys. Yes, there is sorrow and pain in our lives. As David Lose says, the nitty-gritty details of misunderstanding, squabbling, disbelieving disciples. Religious and political quarrels of the day. Jealousies and rivalries both petty and gigantic. Into the poverty and pain that are part and parcel of all of our lives. [2] Yet—Jesus is right by our sides, too. Yes, in the good times, and yes, in the not-so-good, even sorrowful times, too.

Do you hear? Jesus will be with us, in good times and bad. We can take comfort in that. We can celebrate. Praise God. We are not left alone and friendless. What a friend we have in Jesus, indeed. Amen, alleluia.

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

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1563

“He Came Down,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 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!)

All in the Family!

john-8-36-freedom-in-christ

“All in the Family!”

 

John 8:36 – October 30, 2016

Happy Reformation Day! Today is Reformation Sunday. When I say Reformation Sunday, what do you think of? “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God!” Or, Martin Luther, beginning the separation from the Catholic faith on October 31, 1517. What about a day to remember and lift up the Protestant Reformation? Or even all the faithful man and women of integrity through the centuries, who suffered and died for being true to their faith?

The Gospel reading for our sermon has a fascinating connection to Reformation Sunday. Jesus is teaching. And as often happens, His listeners do not understand what Jesus says.

All of this chapter of John—the eighth chapter—takes place in Jerusalem during the Festival of Booths. That is a yearly harvest-time celebration where the Jewish people commemorate God’s protection and accompaniment of the Jews on their wilderness wanderings; when they flee from bondage in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land.

I think Jesus said it clearly enough, but I wasn’t there. I didn’t hear His words, with first-century ears. And we all know about hindsight. Looking back on things past, hindsight is so often 20/20. Rewinding the tape, living life forwards, the Jewish audience in the Temple in Jerusalem wrangle over what Jesus means by His words. Some agree, some disagree, with contention back and forth.

What are the exact words Jesus says, again? “31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The listening Jews—who include the disciples—do misunderstand. Therein lies the source of a great deal of bickering back and forth.

The Jews listening to the Rabbi Jesus are—for the most part—really sincere. They really want to live righteous lives, pleasing to God. But—HOW to do this? That is the problem. And, competing teachers or rabbis had different plans, or step-by-step procedures to help people get closer to God. (It sounds pretty similar to today, doesn’t it?)

Let’s dig deeper, and look at the first phrase Jesus said: “If you hold to My teaching.” This is a phrase that can be translated in several different ways. A more literal way of translating it is “If you abide-dwell in My word.” Remember, we are talking about people who sincerely, legitimately want to get closer to God; see God more clearly, and follow God more nearly.

I suspect people have had difficulty in this area for centuries. Not connecting with God, I mean. Merely “teaching” sounds like it might be possible to get away with just having a nodding acquaintance with God. A kind of distant relationship where we might once in a while attend services, and think about God just a bit, and maybe drop a little money in the basket. But, not much more. Not get really involved.

What about the more literal translation? What was that Jesus said? “If you abide-dwell in My word—” Abide, or dwell. That sounds permanent. Moving in, and putting down roots! And, “in My word.” That is, digging deep! Learning more, and exploring the riches of God’s word. No surface stuff here. Not a nodding acquaintance only, as far as Jesus is concerned. He wants us to move in, lock, stock and barrel. Get to know God, really well, and get to know God’s word. That’s how to show we are really Jesus’s disciples!

Now, the second part of this if-then statement. Because, that’s just what it is. If we abide-dwell in Jesus’s words, then we are really Jesus’s disciples. If we know the truth, then the truth will make us free.

What on earth? Who is free? Who is a slave? What is Jesus saying here?

Can you see the scene in the Temple, here? The Rabbi Jesus makes an incredible statement, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Let’s quote the exact words, the comeback these people gave to Jesus: “They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

A Reformation Day paraphrase could be: “We are the theological descendants of Martin Luther, and have never been slaves to anyone!”

In other words, “What gives? Who are you calling slaves? Slaves to what? We are free-born people, not slaves!”  Jesus has a ready answer. Verse 34: “ Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”

Did everyone here listen? Did you all hear what Jesus said? Sounds a lot like Romans 3. Paul quotes from Psalms: “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; … there is no one who does good, not even one.’” And further on in chapter 3: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

That does not sound like good news. But—does the Apostle Paul tell us that we are permanently worthless, and there is absolutely no way to reconcile to God? Does Jesus stop right there, and leave us enmeshed in sin? Certainly not!

Jesus “is not talking about physical slavery but a spiritual, even existential state of being enslaved to sin.” [1] The Jewish listeners in the audience around the Rabbi Jesus just did not understand. They could not wrap their heads around the concept of “slaves to sin.”

Quoting again from a commentator: “Further, one is not delivered from such slavery by either history or birth right, but rather by a present and ongoing relationship — relationship to the Son, the one who is in the bosom of the Father and makes the Father known (1:18). Only those who abide with, dwell in, and are in intimate relationship with the Son, the living Word, the logos of God, are free indeed.” [2]

This is exactly what Martin Luther was preaching, from the moment he posted those 95 Theses on the chapel door at the University of Wittenberg. We are not hopeless slaves to sin. We are not people with merely a nodding acquaintance with God. Instead, we have an intimate relationship with the Son, with Jesus. Moreover, we are freed through our belief in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross for our sins. That’s yours and mine. All done! All gone. Our every sin is covered, taken away, is no longer separating us from God.

That is not only good news, that is great news! Tremendous news! And the best news of all? If we abide in His word, Jesus says we are now in God’s family. Listen to what He says in our Scripture passage today: “35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Jesus lets us know that a relationship with God is not only a possibility, but a reality. And, the closest relationship of all! All in the family. We can call ourselves the children of God; sons and daughters of the Almighty. We can enter into intimacy with God. We have the right, the privilege to crawl up into our Heavenly Parent’s lap, and call out, “Abba!”

That freedom was what Martin Luther got excited about. That intimacy is the foundation of the Protestant Reformation. That relationship is what we are heirs to today.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=827 , Commentary on John 8:31-36, October 31, 2010, David Lose.

[2] Ibid.

@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!)

Justice, Healing, Wholeness

“Justice, Healing, Wholeness”

Eph 2-14 word cloud

Ephesians 2:14-17 – August 21, 2016

The Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro have been going on for two weeks. The Olympics has been a marvelous time of both competition and camaraderie, crossing international borders. I have not spent as much time as in years past watching the different competitions, but there have been some exciting and nail-biting times in these past weeks. Swimming and diving, gymnastics, track and field: the United States has won medals in these and many more. And yes, there have also been some scandalous things that happened, both on and off the field of play.

Scandals, quarreling, fighting, bombing. Attacks, sniping, terrorism, and even warfare. So often those are common events in the world today. Sadly, common, and sadly, robbing countries of their best and brightest young people.

From the time that I was little, I was drawn to the Olympic competitions not only for the sake of sport, but also for the sake of the Olympic values and traditions. The Olympic values strive to counteract those negative traits and actions I just mentioned. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, wanted the Olympics to lift up the ideals of respect, fair balance, pursuit of excellence, joy in effort, and balance between mind, body and will. He held up these as the essential Olympic values. What wonderful ideals to reach for!

However, as faulty, error-filled people in this mixed-up world, we have a big problem. Sin gets in the way of these lofty ideals. Negative feelings like hatred, xenophobia, classism, separation of all kinds get in the way. Sin also includes the haves versus the have-nots, all over again, in a myriad of ways.

I would like us to switch gears and look at the Scripture passage for this morning from Ephesians 2. The Apostle Paul is in the middle of a very long paragraph about Jesus Christ and why He came to earth: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who … has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility; His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross..”

As is typical with the Apostle Paul, he makes a complex argument and brings a whole bunch of ideas into play. But I want to highlight this central fact from Ephesians chapter 2. Humanity was once far away from God, made far away by our separation and sin. There was—and is still—a dividing wall of hostility. Hostility between us and God, and hostility between human beings. Hostility between individuals, neighborhoods, groups, nations, races, classes, and a whole host of other separations.

The Olympic ideals, values and tradition help in counteracting this hostility and separation between humanity. The United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission helps to counteract this, too. I have been preaching through the Statement of Mission this summer. The sentence for this week states: Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called: to work for justice, healing, and wholeness of life.” Wonderful things to strive for! And, worthy ideals to shoot for, from the point of view of the Olympic ideals, or from a Christian framework.

Jesus Christ came to earth to reconcile us to God, to destroy that dividing wall of hostility, so that each of us could have healing and wholeness of life. Praise God! Alleluia! That involves our relationship with God. Our vertical relationship, which is so important. Jesus has done that for us. No longer separated and far away, we now have a relationship with God.

But, that is not the end of the story. No! God wants us to take the next step. God calls us to work for justice, healing and wholeness of life, not only for us individually, but for others as well. That is our mission, from the UCC Statement of Mission.

I spoke about this several weeks ago, when several moms from Morton Grove went to the south side of Chicago, into the Englewood neighborhood. Two of us went again this past Wednesday, to help serve at a dinner outreach to that community. We took this opportunity to reconnect with the good people in the Englewood neighborhood and show them that friends outside of their community care, and are concerned. Friends want to help them strengthen relationships, and bring peace into their streets. Their neighborhood. Their community.

By several of us going to the Englewood neighborhood, this was a concrete way of showing our love and caring for others. As a follower of Christ, it was and is my responsibility to work for justice, healing and wholeness of life. Not because I am a pastor, not because I am a leader of this congregation, but because I follow Christ and strive to do the things He did and to say the words He said. And most especially, I strive to love the way Jesus loves.

All of us are called to do that same thing. To follow Christ to the best of our ability.

Let me switch gears and talk about the Olympics again. I did have the opportunity to watch a bunch of races last week. My son and daughter got really excited about the men’s and women’s swimming. We were awestruck to watch Michael Phelps add to his haul of Olympic medals, plus all of the other American swimmers doing an outstanding job in the pool.

I also made note of Simone Manuel, who won two gold medals, one for the 100 meter freestyle and the other as a member of the 4 by 400 relay team. Ms. Manuel is one of the fastest swimmers on the planet today. She also happens to be African-American, the first black woman to medal for the United States in swimming. Ever.

Articles and news stories immediately proliferated on the Internet, television, newspaper and other forms of media. Yes, they all praised Ms. Manuel for her grand achievement. Yet, some of the longer articles told a different story. About how the history of swimming pools and racism are closely tied together in this country. About how “according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, in the United States, a black 11-year-old is 10 times as likely to drown in a swimming pool as a white 11-year-old. And as of 2010, around 70 percent of African-Americans said they couldn’t swim, compared with some 40 percent of white folks.” [1]

I quote from an article in Rolling Stone, “the fraught dynamics of segregation were fought within swimming pools as well. Often whites would shut down or avoid pools rather than have to intermingle with black people. There were legal battles fought throughout the 1950s over the access black people had to swimming pools and beaches that continued even after Brown v. the Board of Education and the idea that “separate but equal” facilities were deemed unconstitutional.” [2] A large percentage of American children having a likelihood of drowning. It doesn’t matter who, or what, or where. They are our country’s children. All of our children. And, this is a matter of justice—or, injustice.

This racist attitude is changing. Praise God! Plus, I am so happy for Simone Manuel and her two gold medals in swimming! This aspect of justice is something we all can do something about. And healing, and wholeness. Can you hear God calling? Calling to each of us? As the book of Isaiah says, “God will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in God’s paths.”

We can all look forward to God’s shalom, healing, peace, and wholeness, and verdant life. God wants us to try to communicate this Good News, work for justice, and do our best to spread healing and wholeness. To our friends, our neighbors, those we work with. Let us strive to live healing-filled lives, with God’s help. Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/08/12/484841513/simone-manuel-wins-olympic-gold-thats-a-really-big-deal

[2] http://www.rollingstone.com/sports/simone-biles-and-simone-manuel-wins-impact-on-race-w434453

@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!)

Listen to Jesus

“Listen to Jesus”

Jesus Transfiguration icon Luke 9

Luke 9:28-36 – February 7, 2016 (9:34-35)

We do many things on a regular basis or schedule. We eat at regular times. Some people take medication on a daily schedule. Some have habits of regular prayer or weekly bible study. And what about what we are doing right now? Regular Sunday morning worship? In our Protestant tradition, worship is generally on a weekly schedule. We gather together to worship, pray and sing to God, regularly.

Our Gospel reading today comes from Luke 9. As is often the case, Luke brings us in to the story in the middle of things. So often, the Gospel writers go from one event to another to still another, hardly stopping to take a breath. I suspect that’s what the Rabbi Jesus felt like most of the time. Going from one situation to another; one healing, then a teaching, and then the next and the next, and the next after that.

The Gospel writers give their readers some specific clues about Jesus. How He would not neglect the regular worship and prayer in the synagogue or the Temple, on the Sabbath days and holidays. And, how He would intentionally retreat to private places on a regular basis, separate Himself to meditate and pray.

Let’s remind ourselves about this reading. Jesus withdraws from the larger group of disciples and from His ministry. He goes to the top of a mountain to pray with His inner circle of disciples—Peter, James and John. What happens next is nothing short of absolutely amazing.

Reading from Eugene Peterson’s translation “The Message,” “While [Jesus] was in prayer, the appearance of His face changed and His clothes became blinding white. At once two men were there talking with Him. They turned out to be Moses and Elijah—and what a glorious appearance they made! They talked over His exodus, the one Jesus was about to complete in Jerusalem.” What a marvelous, mind-blowing scene that must have been, too!

I invite us to step back a moment. This Gospel reading we consider this morning is full of significance. I could go off in a number of directions, and preach any one of a vast array of sermons, with various themes and topics. The passion of Jesus? The death and resurrection of Jesus? The triumphant ascension of Jesus? The appearance of Moses and Elijah? The significance of the light? The road to the cross?

I choose to highlight the worship aspect of this Gospel reading today. Jesus chose to withdraw to the mountain to pray and meditate before God. By the time this reading ends, we end up with a rousing worship service, there on the mountain top! Amen! Glory, hallelujah!

Who was Luke, the author of our Gospel reading? Christian tradition tells us Luke was a doctor—and a Gentile, a Greek. The only non-Jewish writer of a book of the Bible. One of the commentators I consulted, David Lose, thinks Luke might even have been a pastor. “A pastor keenly interested in and attentive to the life and worship of his community.” [1] If we study the Gospel more closely, Luke outlines a basic pattern of worship several times in his Gospel. This is one of those times.

Three of the Gospels show us the Transfiguration. But, Luke is the only one who adds the description of Jesus leading the other three disciples up on the mountain to pray. Instructing us in the pattern and nature of worship!

And, what is the reaction of the three disciples? Where do we find our faithful friends, Peter, James and John? Fast asleep. Again. We do not know why or how they wake up, but they did. They wake to the sight of Jesus looking dazzling bright, whiter than snow, brighter than anything they had ever seen. This is truly a situation where I can say: Oh. My. God!

I do think our friends the disciples have a bit of a problem. Here they have their Rabbi Jesus, the best example of Godly living the world has ever seen. The best example of living with a close and deep relationship with God, with prayer and meditation front and center in His life. And where are they at this significant time in the life of Jesus? Asleep at the switch. Not paying attention, not getting involved or participating.

Participating in what, we ask? In prayer. In worship of God.

Let’s take a quick look at the steps of worship Luke illustrates for us in this passage. First, prayer. Jesus led His three friends and disciples to a quiet, lonely place to pray. We’ve already touched on this. Jesus had a regular pattern of prayer. He had a deep and intimate relationship with His Father in heaven. He wants that for us, too!

Second, discussion focused on the cross. (In this case, we see a foretaste of the glory of Jesus after the Resurrection!) Reading again from Luke 9, “At once two men were there talking with [Jesus]. They turned out to be Moses and Elijah—and what a glorious appearance they made! They talked over his exodus, the one Jesus was about to complete in Jerusalem.”

Looking at our worship service today, that’s what we do. Every Sunday, we talk about Jesus dying on the cross—as Moses and Elijah talked about with Jesus, His exodus, His departure. His crucifixion and resurrection. And, His ascension into glory. We sing about it, and pray about it, too.

Then, third, comes the time to listen to the Word. Listen to Jesus, the Word Incarnate!

Continuing with the reading from Luke 9, “When Moses and Elijah had left, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, this is a great moment! Let’s build three memorials: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He blurted this out without thinking. 34-35 While he was babbling on like this, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them. As they found themselves buried in the cloud, they became deeply aware of God. Then there was a voice out of the cloud: ‘This is my Son, the Chosen! Listen to him.’”

Note well the command from God! Quoting David Lose again, “the voice from heaven is directed not to Jesus but to the disciples with the injunction, ‘Listen to Him.’ … this combination of prayer, discussion focused on the cross, and the command to listen … at least kindle our liturgical imagination, reminding us of what Sunday can be like.”

Remember, Jesus took the disciples away to have an intimate worship service with them, there on the mountain top. What happened, again? They didn’t pay attention. They fell asleep.

How often do we do the same thing? How often do we just go through the motions? How often do we want the same old worship styles and are hesitant to accept any change in worship or new part of the service? How often are we more concerned with what our fellow worshippers are wearing than the condition of their hearts? Their souls? Their emotional lives? Their physical well-being? Wouldn’t Jesus concern Himself with gathering, with prayer and word and praise? Or would Jesus get sidetracked like the disciples? Going through the motions?

Hard to imagine Jesus doing anything of the kind.

As we gather in this place for communion today, we remember. Jesus said, “Do this to remember Me.” Do what? Participate in worship. More specifically, all of us are to participate in the communion meal, where Jesus is revealed in the breaking of the bread.

Worship is a time to gather, to open the Scripture, the Word of God, and to celebrate the Word Incarnate. Break bread. Remember Jesus. And afterwards, we are sent forth to bring Jesus into the world. Jesus, God’s Chosen! Jesus, the hope of the nations! Jesus, the Prince of peace.

Alleluia! Amen.

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/02/transfiguration-c-worship-transfigured/

Thanks to Eugene Peterson for his wonderful translation The Message. I quoted several verses from Luke chapter 9 in this sermon.

@chaplaineliza

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