When Adam Was Afraid

“When Adam Was Afraid”

Genesis 3:8-10 (3:10) – June 3, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

do-not-be-afraid

How often have we seen children, after they have misbehaved? Oftentimes, they know very well they have done something wrong. Their little lips may tremble, sorrowful eyes fill with tears. They may duck their heads because they fear being punished, and not meet the adult’s appraising look. Or even, run and hide so the person in charge needs to go find them.

These traits can occasionally be true for not-so-little people, too. Can you remember people you knew who acted like this, at work, or school, or among the circles of friends you know? The feeling of embarrassment and guilt, even of wrongdoing, can be very strong.

We look today at Genesis chapter 3, and at the very first instance of being afraid recorded in the Bible. But before we take a closer look at the book of Genesis, I’ll give you a preview of our summer sermon series. We will focus on a phrase that appears dozens of times in the Bible, both in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament. “Be Not Afraid!”

Fear and anxiety—and their companion, worry—haunt many people, on a regular basis. God keeps reminding us in the Scriptures to be not afraid! We can find this command many times throughout the Bible books, in many different situations.

As I said in this month’s newsletter article, I attended both undergraduate classwork at Moody Bible Institute as well as seminary study at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. I learned in my bible study and interpretation classes that if anything is mentioned with frequency in the Scriptures, it is really important. “Be Not Afraid” certainly is one of those statements.

But, what is the first time fear is mentioned in the Bible? For that, we need to look at Genesis 3, the account of the time sin entered the world. This narrative is about permission, prohibition, temptation, and most of all, about relationship. Free, loving relationship between God and humans.

To recap, in the beginning, God created humans. We look at two representative humans, Adam and Eve, who figure prominently in Genesis 3. The crafty serpent asks Eve a leading question about God and what God has forbidden them access to. The serpent puts doubt in her mind, and tells Eve that this forbidden fruit will cause her to become wise, like God. She sees the attractive fruit on the only tree God has forbidden, plucks it and eats it. She then gives some to Adam, and he eats some, too.

I could tell you lots more about the serpent, and how crafty and manipulative it was. I could mention about thoughtful Eve, and how she drew her own conclusions from what the serpent presented to her. I might add that she saw the tree as good for food and pleasant to the eyes. Moreover, when she brought some of the forbidden fruit to her husband, he “puts up no resistance, raises no questions, and considers no theological issues….The woman does not act as a temptress in this scene; they both have succumbed to the same source of temptation.” [1]

To say this in a different way, God has given the man and woman considerable freedom and latitude in their lives in paradise. The serpent slithers in and plants doubt in Eve’s mind. She eats the fruit, her husband also eats, and they have both transgressed the only hard and fast rule that God has given them.

Adam and Eve’s eyes are opened, and they realize they both are naked. Guilt, shame, and embarrassment are all featured prominently here. What are they to do? They both sew coverings out of leaves to cover their nakedness. Cover up their shame and embarrassment. However, their human resources are just plain inadequate.

Except—their guilt and sin are now compounded. When God—in some kind of human-like form, so humans could see and relate to God—came into the garden later that day, fear strikes deep into the hearts of both Adam and Eve.

Fear! What must that have been like? To feel fear for the very first time?

All of us have had that experience. All of us have experienced fear for the very first time, and I suspect you cannot remember the situation, or exactly when it happened. It probably happened when you were very young. We are told this is the exact situation with Adam, here in Genesis chapter 3.

Why are Adam and Eve afraid? If you had disobeyed a dear parent or other beloved family member, how would you feel? If you—as a child or teen—had purposefully gone against something that was forbidden, what would be the result? Wouldn’t you be afraid? At least a little bit? Afraid of being punished?

Fear of punishment is very real, even in areas where physical or verbal punishment is frowned on. Let’s look at how punishment is defined. ”The purpose of punishment is to stop a child from doing what you don’t want—and using a painful or unpleasant method to stop him [or her].” [2] That certainly seems like what Adam and Eve might be expecting. It seems like they expect God to be full of anger, wrath, even vengeance.  

God does not act in the expected way. “The Creator of the universe and all creatures chooses not to relate to the world at a distance, but takes on human form, goes for a walk among the creatures, and personally engages them regarding recent events.” [3]

What is that? Did the commentator on the book of Genesis say that God was seeking out a relationship with Adam and Eve? Doesn’t God go out of God’s way to look for the humans? Such a striking and unusual response for God to make. Instead of punishment and retaliation, the Lord comes looking for humans with open arms, even though God knew very well what they had done, and what was necessary to set it right.

Fear causes us to hide, too, when we sin. Fear of disappointment, yes, but also fear of shame, and embarrassment, too. Plus, there is fear of punishment: punishment on a horizontal plane, from other people as well as a vertical plane, from God.

Each of us—every worshiper here today—sins. Every day. It doesn’t matter who we are, or how good we are trying to be. Each of us makes mistakes. It is like someone using a pencil; there are sometimes mistakes we would like to erase. We all have sins, or mistakes, or errors in our lives. And what’s more, we can admit them to God and receive forgiveness.

We can see the loving response right here in Genesis 3, when the Lord was walking in the evening, and how God called and called. God took the initiative. Who was it who sought out humans openly and in love and compassion? God. Simply God.

What do we think when we see the Creator of the universe coming toward us in love, compassion, and relationship? Is that Someone we can trust? Is that Someone we can ask forgiveness from? Is that Someone who cares deeply about us even though God may know every single fact about our sin and disobedience?

God wants a free and loving relationship with each of us, just like trusting children and a loving, caring parent. We celebrate that relationship today with communion, remembering what the incarnate God, Jesus Christ, did for us 2000 years ago. God wants to restore us to the peace, joy and love intended for us from the day of creation. Praise God! Alleluia, amen.

[1] Frentheim, Terence E., Book of Genesis, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. 1 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999), 361.

[2] https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/350/350-111/350-111_pdf.pdf, accessed 5/31/18.

[3] Frentheim, Terence E., Book of Genesis, 362.

@chaplaineliza

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

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Follow Jesus in Service

“Follow Jesus in Service”

John 12-26 serves, follow me

John 12:20-33 (12:26) – March 18, 2018

Following a leader can be a challenge. People follow all kinds of leaders, leaders in serious and not-so serious areas. People flock after leaders and trend-setters in fashion, certainly, purchasing the latest styles or shoes, or the newest fabrics and colors of the season. People follow charismatic leaders who convince their followers to diet or exercise or vote or meditate or do some other worthy cause.

But, what about here? What about now, in today’s Gospel reading from John? Our Lord Jesus says some pretty amazing things. Jesus wants us to follow Him with our actions. (Just as He said in weeks past. We are to follow Jesus.)

Let us take a step back. Where are we in the Gospel of John? The chapter before, chapter 11, concerns the raising of Lazarus in the town of Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem. Immediately after that comes the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. We know that well from our celebration next week, on Palm Sunday. This reading from John 12 comes right after that.

Remember, Jerusalem is jam-packed with observant Jews from all over the known world, coming to worship at this special time of Passover. Not only from all over Palestine, but from Egypt, parts of Asia, and Europe. Maybe even further away than that. Some Greek-speaking Jews who must have heard about this Rabbi Jesus want to see Jesus and talk with Him. Perhaps, they even would like to consider following Him.

This is exactly what Jesus has wanted from people all along. At the very beginning of His preaching and teaching ministry, Jesus said, “Follow Me!” At various times throughout His journey up and down the country, and as He turned His face toward Jerusalem, Jesus repeated His call to follow. “Follow Me!” And, during this final week, this Passion week, just days before He went to the Cross, Jesus again says “Follow Me!” But, follow, how? In what way?

John calls these people “Greeks,” but he is not specific. They could be Greek proselytes, or they could be Greek-speaking Jews from far away. Whichever it was, they were more comfortable speaking Greek, which was the international language of trade and commerce, and the dominant international culture of the time. As one of my commentators said, “These foreigners wanted to investigate the possibility of becoming disciples. They had heard about Jesus (i.e., His reputation or ‘glory’) and wanted to ‘see’ if they could follow Him.” [1]

When the disciples bring these Greeks to Jesus, He responds with what seems to be an analogy, only sort of connected to becoming disciples. Listen to Jesus’s words: “23 Jesus answered the disciples, “The hour has now come for the Son of Man to receive great glory. 24 I am telling you the truth: a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains. 25 Those who love their own life will lose it; those who hate their own life in this world will keep it for life eternal.”

Come on now, Jesus! How did Jesus get from becoming disciples to talking about grains of wheat? And then, wheat being planted and dying in the ground? Okay, I can see what Jesus meant about a single grain growing into one stalk of wheat which can produce many grains of wheat. But, does that really connect to becoming disciples?

My commentator Larry Broding is helpful here. “Those who gave their lives to others would die, but see others live and would enjoy eternal life. They would bear ‘much fruit.’ Notice those who gave up their lives unselfishly followed Jesus to his death.” [2] That is one way of seeing discipleship. Following Jesus, in a challenging, unselfish and giving way.

What a way to demonstrate becoming disciples of Jesus!

Sometimes you and I have a problem. Sometimes, we cannot accept what Jesus sets in front of us. Sometimes, we are unwilling to follow the guidelines and rules God places before us. On occasion, some of us are too stubborn to do what God wants us to do. Even though we might know what God wants, and how to follow, sometimes—we do not.

The Rev. Janet Hunt relates something that happened about a month ago at her Lutheran church in De Kalb. Let’s see whether this helps us to understand Jesus’s words better.

“A few weeks back [in February], 93-year-old Vivian suffered a brain bleed. The damage was great and irreparable and her family opted to bring her home on hospice care. For the next almost two weeks, her 94-year-old husband sat by her bed, held her hand, and prayed and prayed and prayed. He was utterly heartbroken. From the start, I knew that they were just shy of their 70th wedding anniversary. Over the course of the last few weeks, I learned that they had been together much longer than that. For Bob actually held Vivian’s hand as he walked her to kindergarten 88 years ago.

“As the vigil neared its end, Bob became ill as well and was taken to the hospital with a severe case of pneumonia. A day later, his family talked his doctor into letting him go home, for they knew he had to be there when she died. And so he was. A day later he was back in the hospital once more. And a day after that, with a full heart and clear eyes, he declined all invasive treatment. He told me he was tired. He told me he only wanted to go to Vivian. I will not ever forget standing with him and with his family, praying for their hope and trust in God. His eyes were open and comprehending the whole time. Moments later, his nurse turned down the oxygen. After saying good-bye to his children, a few hours later he died, three days after his wife had breathed her last.

“Yes, he was 94. And yes, his health had been poor for some time. And no, he could not imagine a life without his beloved Vivian. And so, in a world where our medical system is set up to sustain ‘life’ at all costs, Bob faced it down and chose something other, something more. I cannot help but believe that while he surely did it for himself, he also did it for her. For while there was nothing more he could do for her, nor nothing more he needed to do for her, Bob was imagining heaven as a place where he could still be and do for his beloved. Even as he had always done. And he was willing to die to be able to do just that.” [3]

Do you understand? Do you see? Jesus was willing to serve and to die, for each of us. He wants us to be ready to serve and to die, for each other.

That is where our reading from Jeremiah comes in. God doesn’t have the rule book on stone tablets any more, like the Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from the mountain top. No, the prophet Jeremiah tells us that the Lord will write God’s laws upon our hearts. We do not have to blindly follow rules, but instead enter into a relationship. A real, loving relationship with Someone who loves us more than anyone on earth possibly could. God writes guidelines of love, service and relationship inside each of us, on our hearts.

God loves us so much that God sent the man Jesus into this world, to communicate that wondrous love to humanity. Jesus is communicating that wondrous love and generous service to each of us, today.

Are you ready to follow Jesus? Let us follow Jesus in love, and follow Jesus in service. Who can you serve today?

[1] http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/b/5Lent-b/A-5Lent-b.html   “The Glory of the Cross,” Lent 5B, Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Catholic Resource for This Sunday’s Gospel.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://dancingwiththeword.com/a-single-grain-dying-for-the-sake-of-life/ Rev. Janet Hunt, Dancing with the Word

@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 Doubt—Believe!

John 20:19-31 (20:27) – April 23, 2017

Jesus and Thomas John 20-24

“Don’t Doubt—Believe!”

Being skeptical can be a positive thing. Just think of ice in winter, covering a lake. Am I right in being skeptical that the ice is hard enough to hold me (and my weight)? And, think about engineers and scientists. They are often naturally, honestly skeptical and analytical; they hold things at arms’ length and consider all sides of a situation. That can be positive and helpful, in many situations. Even necessary, at times.

Consider Thomas. He missed the big event, the first time that the resurrected Lord Jesus came back to the rest of the disciples. Let’s look at this event from Thomas’s side. For some reason (we are not told the reason), Thomas missed the weekend gathering of the eleven disciples, plus some others who also were traveling with Jesus. Perhaps they were gathering for regular prayer, or for a worship service. Maybe to have a meal together. Maybe all of the above.

The gathering was secretive. Remember, the Roman and Jewish authorities were disgruntled and angry. The body of Jesus had disappeared completely, even though the tomb had been guarded by Roman soldiers. Therefore, the authorities were looking for a really high-profile body, and it was unbelievable to them that there was no trace of the Rabbi Jesus’s remains, anywhere. Of course the authorities would seek out this upstart Rabbi’s close companions, and keep them under surveillance, just in case any of them knew where the body was.

Whatever the reason, Thomas was not there the previous week. And, he—and the other disciples—had good reason to be jumpy, and cautious. Even, skeptical, as we will see.

Reading from our Gospel passage, “So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

This passage comes to us from the Gospel of John. Throughout John’s Gospel, this writer has an understanding of believing that is active. To John, believing in Jesus is not just an intellectual exercise. No! Belief to John is very much an action verb.

Believing in Jesus is having a relationship with Jesus. As Jesus Himself said earlier in the Gospel of John, “I abide in you and you abide in Me.”  So, for this Gospel writer to say that skeptical Thomas was having trouble believing is not quite the same thing as making light of Thomas for doubting. Thomas had just seen his Rabbi and leader die on the cross, be executed by an extreme and cruel form of suffering and agony. I suspect Thomas’s relationship with his Rabbi was pretty close to being extinguished. Sure, Thomas was skeptical.

Are there times when you or I are skeptical, too? I mean, times of sincere questioning of our faith? When we might think, with Elijah, that the heavens are all closed up, and nothing can penetrate, not even a desperate prayer? If we were honest with ourselves, I suspect in almost every person’s life there are difficult times, challenging times, times when we  come to the end of ourselves and have no more hope, no more tears, no more swear words to say.

Desperate times, indeed. Who can blame Thomas for being skeptical? As Father Rick mentioned on a sermon preparation site I follow, how crushed Thomas must have been. Perhaps, to keep his heart safe, he refuses to believe… it hurts too much to believe. [1] Can you hear pain, and fear, and maybe stubbornness in his response?

Here is a slightly different translation of Thomas’s dramatic statement: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and shove my finger into the mark of the nails, and shove my hand into his side, I absolutely will not believe” (20:25, translation by Jaime Clark-Soles). Here, we look at the verb from a slightly different angle. The Greek verb ‘believe’ is a forceful one (ballo), as is the emphatic negative (ou me). “I absolutely will not believe.” Not a simple, “I’ll believe it when I see it” —Thomas has a lot of conditions;” [2] conditions that he speaks out of a dark place of anger and grief and anxiety, and conditions that will only be met by the resurrected Jesus.

But, what happens next?

Now, this is not resolved right away. Thomas is left doubting—rather, being skeptical, for a week. Reading from our Gospel passage: “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

What would that do to your faith? If your faith were wavering, and you were faint of heart, perhaps doubting, maybe even skeptical—what would we do if Jesus were to come among us today—right there—and say, “Peace be with you!” Would that cause people to believe in Jesus? Let’s find out.

“Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

If Jesus appeared among us and said those things to us, would that cause you and me to have the kind of belief that John is talking about here—where we start or cement a deep, true relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus, and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead? What did those words do for Thomas?

28 Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

Did you hear? Thomas just made an earthshaking confession of faith as well as a crystal clear statement of belief.

(And, remember, we are using John’s definition of belief. A deep, true relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus!) Praise God, this is a confession that Jesus is our Lord, He is our God. As John tells us in the beginning of his Gospel, He is the Word made flesh, come into this world to make His dwelling among us. To abide in us as we abide in Him. All this Thomas confesses in this statement of faith. This confession is made all the more powerful because skeptical, discouraged, frightened Thomas has made it.

I ask all of us, again. What would we do if Jesus were to come among us today—right there—and say, “Peace be with you!” What would we do if Jesus showed us the nail scars and where the spear went into His side? Oh, no! some might say. Jesus would never do that. Not here, not now. Perhaps in bible times, but not today.

Here we have a clear invitation to the skeptics, to the doubters, to those who are not sure about their faith any longer. This Gospel reading is also for those who have been hurt by the church, and perhaps are not sure there is Anyone up there listening to them any longer. This passage is for you, too.

Praise God, Jesus has conquered death, and He will be with us when we walk through fiery trials and dark places in our lives. Using John’s definition of belief, we all can have a true, deep relationship with Jesus as our Lord and our God, just like Thomas.

Have you heard? Do you know that Jesus has risen from the dead? This is not only Good News, it’s the best news ever shared, in the history of ever. It is much more than just the dry words from the Apostles Creed, written on a page. Jesus holds out His hands, shows us His side. Christ is risen, indeed!

[1] http://desperatepreacher.com//bodyii.htm Posted by Rick+ in Reno, March 31, 2016.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3222  Jaime Clark-Soles

@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!)

Preach the Word!

“Preach the Word!”

2-tim-4-2-preach-the-word-water

2 Timothy 4:2 – October 16, 2016

For those who have had a mentor relationship—either as a mentor or a ment-ee—this kind of relationship can be so rewarding. This is the kind of relationship I had with Pastor Gordon, when we worked together years ago for almost a year at another UCC church. He was the mentor, I was the ment-ee. Paul and Timothy had this kind of relationship. Close, nurturing, and a blessing to both parties. In their case, this relationship was especially close. Paul even called Timothy “my true son in the faith.”

We get glimpses of the deep, nurturing relationship between Paul and Timothy in several of the New Testament letters. However, perhaps the deepest, most personal window into their relationship comes from this letter, the second letter to Timothy recorded in the New Testament.

Some backstory. Paul is in prison in Rome. This is nothing new for Paul. He had been imprisoned multiple times throughout his time as a follower of Jesus Christ. What is the most urgent thing on Paul’s mind? His direct command, his charge to his son in the faith: “Preach the Word! In season and out of season.” (In other words, all the time.)

Yes, Timothy was a pastor, and a preacher. We can take this command as something that Paul only meant for Timothy. Or, expand it a little further, and consider it a command for any pastor, for any preacher.

I would like to let everyone here know that I always—always—start with the Word of God. When I start preparing my sermons, I pray over the text. I ask God what the message is that God wants me to deliver to the congregation. I research the pertinent passage, and sometimes other, related passages from the Bible. Sometimes I take a closer look at the original languages, and at the nuances and the shades of meaning in the translations. Then, after all that, I write the sermon. And, I hope and pray I may faithfully proclaim God’s Word to the congregation. Always.

That is what I—personally—do as I bring the Word of God to you, each week. But, I believe Paul is talking to more than just his son in the faith. I believe Paul’s message can be taken to heart by all believers. Not only by me, or Pastor Gordon, or Pastor Kevin from Epiphany UCC, or Pastor Vertie Powers from the Chicago Metropolitan Association. But, Paul’s message is for all of us. Each of us, individually. At this church, and any every church.

As is so often the case with the Apostle Paul, he crammed a ton of ideas into a very small space. Let’s read his directions to Timothy, again, starting at 3:14: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.” Paul had already praised Timothy for his careful learning from his grandmother and mother, Lois and Eunice, at the beginning of this letter. Here, he expands this idea.

Here, Paul ”refers to the people from whom Timothy has learned. (And it is ’people,’ more than Paul alone, but a collection of people, since the ‘whom’ in 3:14 is plural.)” [1] We know that Timothy learned from his mother and grandmother, because Paul said so. Perhaps Timothy also went to Hebrew school, or Torah classes, or studied with some rabbinic scholar as a teen. But, Paul said Timothy learned from a number of people. Mentors. Teachers. Coaches. Elders in the faith, people who had thorough, lived-or-demonstrated faith. Their faithfulness, which made Timothy who he was as an adult.

Go back in your mind and memory. Can you remember one or two special people who instructed you in the faith? People who lived out their Christian faith each day, every day?

I can remember one dear woman when I was in elementary school on the northwest side of Chicago at the Lutheran church. I vividly remember a senior, Mrs. Pabst (who died many years ago). She was faithful. She was kind. She had the spiritual gifts of helps and mercy and service to others in abundance. She was unfailingly loving and giving to others. Each day. Every day. She lived out the Christian life in front of me. I learned practical theology from Mrs. Pabst: how to make theology part of everyday life and apply it to the nuts and bolts of everyday living. She demonstrated the Christian faith as part of who she was.

That’s what Paul is talking about here. He praises Timothy for having absorbed practical theology from mentors, teachers, coaches. The Christian faith was part of who Timothy was.

Who have we learned from? Who showed us how to make practical theology part of our everyday lives? Great question! I’ll let us all ponder that for today.

Let’s get back to talking about the Word. Yes, Paul commanded Timothy to preach the Word. What else does Paul say about the Word? About Scripture? These verses are rich with meaning. Paul says that Timothy learned Scripture from the time he was very small. From his infancy Timothy had been exposed to God’s Word, which was—which is able to make all of us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

How about for us, today? Does that mean learning about Scripture in Sunday school? Memorizing verses in Confirmation classes? Sharing at bible study or at prayer time? Yes, yes, and yes. All of those, and so much more. What about decorating the sanctuary for Christmas? What about getting the fellowship hall ready for the Spaghetti Dinner or the Not-So-Lent Fish Fry? What about working at the Car Wash? Or praying for others with the email Prayer Chain?

Can those be times when we learn from each other how to be of service, and how to live Godly lives in a cheerful, faithful way? How to DO practical theology?

Just letting you all know: this final letter is bittersweet. More than sad. Paul is coming to the end of the road; he knows it. This time, he knew he had very little time left before he was executed. Beheaded. He has lost the final appeal, before the Emperor in Rome. Time is short—Paul desperately needs to give Timothy a final charge: “Preach the Word!”

We can all point to preachers on street corners or on television, or on the Internet. Preachers who give us lessons in how NOT to preach the Word. Preachers who use a boom box or a bullhorn, using guilt and shame as weapons to browbeat passersby into their “churches.” False preachers like these have no regard for those hearing the message. They do not deliver the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. God’s Word that transforms the life of every person who truly believes.

Communicating the transforming Word of God is the ministry of the Church. The main job of each and every believer. Just as Paul praised Timothy for having absorbed practical theology from mentors, teachers, coaches, just as Paul recognized that the Christian faith was part of who Timothy was, so each of us can live out the Christian faith each day. Every day. We can make theology part of our everyday lives, too.

We can have confidence and faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord, our Savior. We all can live lives that let everyone know we are Christians because we have love for one another. We can strive to be unfailingly loving and giving to others. Many others. Each day. Every day. And when we finally stand before Jesus Christ in glory, we will hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

St. Francis of Assisi made theology part of his everyday life, making the Christian faith part of who he was. He reminded us, “Preach the Gospel at all times. And when necessary, use words.” Let those with ears to hear, let them hear. Amen.

 

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1836 ; Commentary, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Matt Skinner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

@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!)

Yes, And … (Not ‘No, But’)

“Yes, And … (Not ‘No, But’)”

holy trinity stained glass

John 16:12-15 – May 22, 2016

Just about everyone has been involved with play-acting at one time or another. Either as a child in a school play, in church at a Christmas pageant, or in a high school musical or other production. Or, if you weren’t in the play, one of your best friends was. Remember? Acting. Playing a part. Pretending you are someone else.

What about Jesus? He does not act fake or play a part or put on a false face (or voice). He is genuine, real. Jesus meant what He said when He was talking about the Holy Spirit, and about God His heavenly Father. His interaction with the other two Persons of the Trinity is completely natural, real, and genuine. Just as it was from before the foundation of the earth. The interaction between the Three Persons of the Trinity? Completely natural and perfectly genuine.

Let’s look at this passage of Scripture. From the Gospel of John, where our Lord Jesus spoke to His friends on that last night of His earthly existence. I suspect He had so much on His heart, so much that He wanted to say. Concerning His passion, death, resurrection, and all of the ramifications and consequences that would unfold. Jesus wanted to share all these things, but He tells us specifically that we cannot bear them now.

I don’t know whether anyone here has been in the position of understanding the full ramifications of a difficult situation. I am more familiar with healthcare, since I served as a chaplain for some years. In certain cases, I would be told about a patient’s diagnosis and prognosis, but then be hesitant to share that information fully. Because, the patient just couldn’t bear the full brunt of all the heavy, sometimes catastrophic news at that time.

It was sort of that way with our Lord Jesus, at that Last Supper table. He knew His friends could not bear the full brunt of the awful news Jesus knew so well. As the Amplified version of the Bible renders John 16:12, “I have still many things to say to you, but you are not able to bear them or to take them upon you or to grasp them now.” In other words, in our 21st century understanding, the words and sentences Jesus could have told them would not compute. Would not penetrate into their brains.

The disciples must have been confused—anxious—maybe even downright fearful. And, who wouldn’t be? I’ve mentioned several times before about the tense situation in Jerusalem on that Passion Week, that last week of Jesus’s life. Our Lord Jesus delivered these words of our Scripture lesson today on the night of that Passover dinner, the night in which He was betrayed.

He knew He was going away—out of the disciples’ sight and daily experience. Jesus was preparing His friends for His departure. He wanted to remain with His friends, in fellowship and community. Letting them know He would be sending the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to be with them, always. Yet, in this situation—in absolutely every situation—our Lord Jesus was absolutely truthful. Real, and genuine.

A number of years ago, I wanted to use my voice for radio, and for commercials. I was coached by a professional. A professional voice-over artist. She had superb skills in using her voice, and was an excellent coach, besides. Since I was not as fluid and sometimes stumbled in interaction with others, she recommended that I try improv. Comedy improvisation classes. That led to two of the most enjoyable years of my life.

I went to small group improv classes at IO (formerly Improv Olympic) and attended comedy shows on a weekly basis for two years. In this improvisational work, I acted a multitude of parts. I wore different personas. That part of my story is important. Yes! I did play any number of roles. Yes, these roles were play-acting. However, improv brought my acting to a whole new level. Not only were my roles seem more real and genuine, my close-knit relationship with the rest of the improv team was cemented more firmly. For that little while, it was as if I were really embodying whatever role I was playing.

My parts and roles? Seem almost incidental compared to my most foundational learning from that time of doing improv. That lesson? “Yes, and … !” (As opposed to, “No, but … “)

If I say “No, but … “ it stops a scene right in its tracks. Difficult to keep going with that kind of negativity. “No, but … “ shuts people down, and cuts off possibilities. It’s like letting the air out of a balloon, and sometimes forces a scene to a full stop.

However—“Yes, and…!” is just the beginning! It’s a jumping off point. You have a multiplicity of possibilities.

In improv I learned—so well—about collegiality, cooperation, welcome, and helping people out. Being together in community, and fellowship. Yes, I knew about all these things, before, but not in quite the same way. I had learned about all those things in the abstract. More like book-learning, in school. But, how was it all different when I was on an improv team?

Instead, “Yes, and … !” was very much experiential learning. Where people depended on me, and I depended on everyone else. Where people grew very close, very quickly. Where there was mutual interdependence. Friendship. Fellowship And, extravagant welcome.

Sort of like the doctrine of the Trinity, which discusses the relationship and communion of the Three persons. The Trinity affirms “the total equality and complete uniqueness and diversity of the divine persons.” [1] Just so: opening up possibilities for us to see in the Divine Trinity, that Divine community from before the foundation of the earth. Mutual interdependence, friendship, fellowship, and—extravagant welcome.

Remember, Jesus told His disciples, “13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”
This is the Holy Spirit Jesus is talking about! The Third Person of the Trinity who Jesus, God the Son, knew from before the foundation of the earth! Of course Jesus wanted to let His friends know that they would not be alone after His resurrection and ascension. That friendship fellowship and community that Jesus shared with them would continue. And, of course the Holy Spirit would remind believers of the things Jesus had taught them while He was on the earth. Guiding into all the truth—the Spirit of truth.

Three in One. One in Three. Father, Son and Holy Spirit (as traditionally identified for us in the Gospels and other places in the New Testament). All three Persons are included here, in this passage today. This holy mystery is about relationship and indwelling. It is about community and the self-communication of God. The Trinity is about the mutuality of God within the God-head, about our invitation into relationship by Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. “And it is about our mutuality with each other, guiding, speaking, and declaring to one another the glory of God, Father/Creator, Jesus/Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is our way of life made possible by God.” [2]

Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the three Persons of the Trinity—had and continue to have a real, genuine relationship. I have seen something like this among the congregation here at St. Luke’s Church. Our church members are real, genuine, concerned for each other.

I would like to invite us all to think “yes, and!” Yes, we at St. Luke’s Church are loving, genuine and real to others in the congregation. Praise God! That is not all. We can go further. Do more. Be genuine and real to as many people as we can.

Is this sometimes … difficult? Sometimes … a challenge? Yes, to both. However, it is a God-given challenge.

A few years ago, it was a popular thing in churches to ask “What Would Jesus Do?” I am not absolutely sure, but I suspect Jesus would live in community. Be real and genuine in all His interactions. Embody friendship, fellowship, and—extravagant welcome.        Jesus would not say “No, but …” “No, but—that won’t be possible.“ “No, but—that looks too difficult.” “No, but—that is just too much work.” “No, but—that person seems scary. And different.”

Instead, I am sure He would enthusiastically say “Yes, and … !” “Yes, and, I’ll be glad to help!” “Yes, and, we can be welcoming to those newcomers!”   Yes, and—friendship. Yes, and—community. Yes, and—genuineness. Yes, and—countless other exciting opportunities.

We all can practice this foundational learning I absorbed in my comedy improv training. Yes, it prepared me to be a better improv player and a better member of an intimate team. And, it also helps me navigate life, today. Be a friend in community—any community. Be as real and genuine to as many people as possible. Just like the deep, intimate relationship between the Persons of the Trinity.

Are you ready? Can you say “Yes, and … !” Not just here, in this community of believers, but outside in the world? In other places, other communities? I encourage you—I challenge you—I challenge all of us not to shut down conversations and opportunities by saying “No, but … “ Instead, be open. Be encouraging. Be positive. Say “Yes, and … !”

What would Jesus do?

[1] Lacuogna, Catherine Mowry, “God in Communion with Us,” from Freeing Theology: the Essentials of Theology in Feminist Perspective, 92.

[2] Hogan, Lucy Lind,  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1697

Friends, Not Servants.

John 15:9-15 – May 10, 2015

handshake drawing

“Friends, Not Servants”

How would you like to have no friends? None, at all? According to several recent surveys, a significant number of American adults say that they have no friends. Today, in this fast-paced world with so many people rushing to and fro, and so many things filling our lives, who has the time for real friendship? Who has the commitment? How do we meet friendly people? How do we make room in our lives for genuine, honest relationships?

Another name for having no friends is being disconnected, or cut off. This idea of being cut off, with no friendships or relationships, to my mind, is like living without love. It is exactly what condition I am in without God.

Without God in my life, without a vertical relationship with my loving Heavenly Parent, I am lost. I am hard-pressed to find any joy in my life. This makes it very difficult for me to connect with other people in a horizontal way, in any meaningful way.

Let’s turn to our gospel reading for today. One of the important points He makes when He is talking to His disciples, our Lord Jesus mentions servants. As the Greek word doulos is translated, slave. Jesus describes His disciples being called servants, or slaves.

That image struck me. I know something about slavery at the time of the 1st century of this common era, when our Lord Jesus was here on this earth. I know about the imagery that the Apostle John brings up here in chapter 15 of his gospel: the image of slavery. Bondage. This image was very familiar to the people of the first century; ancient society was built on slavery. This image is less familiar, even distasteful for us, here in 21st century America, but John uses it several times in his gospel, including here.

If I consider a similar passage about believers being servants—slaves in Romans 6, where the Apostle Paul also talks about being a servant, a slave, I find out some interesting things. Slaves became slaves through a number of different ways: through economic hardship, by becoming prisoners of war, or by being children of slaves. Slaves were utterly dependent on their masters, and were looked upon with scorn in the world of the first century. Slaves have no rights, no voice, nothing at all except to do the will of their master. The Apostle Paul says sin is our master. So sin claims our allegiance and service.

Except—Jesus through His death on the cross has transferred us from being slaves, or servants of sin to servants of God. To me, that is good news indeed!

But wait, there’s more. Much, much more.

Jesus talks with His disciples for the last time here in the room where they ate the Passover dinner, just a few hours before He is arrested and tried. He tells them all kinds of really important things, like how to be close to Him, how to treat each other, and even commands them to love each other. Here, in this reading today, our Lord Jesus makes a tremendous statement: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends.” That’s friends! Of our Lord Jesus!

When I was doing some study last week and preparing this sermon, I happened upon a biblical reflection about this particular passage from John 15. A pastor named Melissa Bane Sevier made the following observation.

A few months ago this pastor was eating pizza with some of her church’s youth on a Sunday night at youth group. She asked them what it means to be a friend. She wrote down all the definitions, because they were better than any she could come up with. “A friend is someone who is herself.” “A friend cares about you, listens to your problems, and helps you.” “A friend thinks about you before he thinks about himself.” “A friend cares about other people’s opinions and beliefs, and respects them.” Astute descriptions coming from these teenagers. They are showing wisdom beyond their years.

Just imagine: that’s what these teens thought were the attributes of a good friend. Here, in this passage from John 15, Jesus is offering us friendship, a relationship, intimacy with God! I repeat Jesus’ words: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends.”

The Greek verb in this verse is significant, too. The Greek word for “called” is the verb “ereo.” This verb means “to declare,” or “to promise.” So, our Lord Jesus is not only calling or mentioning we are friends, He is declaring, or promising that we are now friends. This change in our status did not happen because of anything that we did or said. No. This change in status was totally up to Jesus. It’s all Him. He decided, He declared that we are now the friends of God!

This was rare in the Hebrew Scriptures. “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to a friend,” the book of Exodus says (33:11). Absolutely, the Lord extends His friendship and favor to Moses. In the book of Isaiah it is God and God only who says the same thing of Abraham. “Abraham, my friend,” God says of him (41:8). It is a staggering thought. Think about it! The friendship of God?

During the time of the first century, there was a special designation for certain, very special people. They were called Friends of the Emperor, or Friends of the King. They had the privilege to have access to him at any time, day or night. The Friends of the King had the closest and most intimate connection with him of anyone.

I have news for you—we are friends of the King. The King of Kings. We have the ability to talk to our Lord Jesus at any time, night or day. That is a tremendous opportunity, a wonderful privilege. You and I no longer have to stand afar off like servants, with our eyes lowered and faces to the ground, like servants who have no right to enter into the presence of the master. No! Jesus gave us this intimacy with God, so that God can be our best friend, our heavenly Friend!

We can see from our Lord’s words that God wishes to reveal Godself to us. Jesus tells us that He has revealed the things of God to us. That is what a friend does. How many people can you go to, can you reveal deep troubles to, or share wonderful joys?

Jesus wants to be friends with us! Good friends, the best there is!

And Jesus not only is friends with us, but He wants us to be friends with each other, to love one another. We know from experience what kind of friend Jesus is to us.  His command to us is to be that kind of friend to others. “Love one another,” He says.

And friendship is a two way street. Relationships go both ways, otherwise they are not much of a relationship. I urge you to think about yourself, about your friendship with Jesus. What kind of a friend are you to Jesus? And consider: what kind of friend is Jesus to you?

What an opportunity to have the relationship of our lives!

Praise God that God has sought us out, and offers us the opportunity to be friends with God. Good friends, the best friends there is. We can tell the Lord anything—absolutely anything at all, and we will receive understanding, help and encouragement from a loving, caring God.

What a tremendous gift! And what a tremendous God.

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

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