Our Debt? Love One Another

“Our Debt? Love One Another”

Rom 13-8 love one another, script

Romans 13:8-11 (13:8) – September 24, 2017

I am very pleased to announce that a big anniversary is coming up at the end of October. It is not just a big anniversary, it is a huge anniversary. October 31, 1517. This year, on All Hallow’s Eve, we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther and his posting of the 95 Theses, or grievances against the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, on the chapel door at Wittenberg University, in Germany.

Many people do not even know anything about this event. Some people really could not care less. However, I care very much. I was baptized and confirmed a Lutheran and spent two years studying Luther’s Small Catechism in confirmation preparation. I was a history and theology nerd throughout high school, learning as much as I could about the Reformation of the 1500’s, and Martin Luther in particular. I was not your typical teenager.

Today, I want to finish up our short series on the book of Romans, our Epistle readings from the Revised Common Lectionary that we have focused on for the past weeks. The Apostle Paul was also one of Martin Luther’s favorite biblical authors.

The Apostle Paul gets a bad rap from some people. True, he was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He came from impeccable bloodlines, from the tribe of Benjamin, trained at the secular college in the city of Tarsus in Asia Minor, and mentored by the renowned rabbi Gamaliel. He was puffed up about his ancestry and about his superior schooling.

Can you imagine the high-and-mighty Pharisee Saul-that-was, suddenly transformed into lowly Paul, a follower of the Messiah Jesus? Losing all that prestige, losing his position on the Sanhedrin, and also his position as an up-and-coming leader of the religious Jews. After all that, after such a come-down, Paul is not only following Jesus, but he is using his substantial rhetorical skills at persuading anyone who comes by that they ought to follow Jesus, too! That’s the situation right here, in the letter to the Roman church. We are in the middle of the practical section of the letter, where Paul gives advice and commands for his readers to listen to, and heed.

When it comes to the Hebrew Scriptures and the commands listed there, we recall the Big Ten, the Commandments given by God on Mount Sinai to Moses. The Ten Commandments were the ultimate in the commands given to the people of Israel. Even though there were more than six hundred various laws in the Law Code of Moses as written down by various biblical scholars and religious lawyers in centuries following, the Big Ten commands led the list.

Here, in our reading today, Paul lists four of these commandments, the chief commands that refer to our relationships with each other. Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, and do not covet. As a former Pharisee, I suspect Paul had learned them when very young. Repeating them was something the devout followers of the Law of Moses did on a regular basis.

Paul could have given us a repetition of the Commandments and left it at that.

But, no. Paul wanted to go beyond just a rote repetition of the Law of Moses, of the Commandments—even the Ten Commandments that the Lord God gave on Mount Sinai. What he says in this reading today is nothing short of amazing, especially coming from a former Pharisee. Listen again to verse 8: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Full stop. Period.

And, again in verse 10, just in case anyone was not clear about what Paul was saying: “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Going back to our discussion about the Reformation of the 1500’s, one of the great confessions of the Protestant Church is the Heidelberg Catechism, completed in 1562. Perhaps some of you are familiar with the first question at the beginning: “What is your only comfort, in life and in death?” The response: “That I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of His own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that He protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head.”

This Catechism was written in uncertain times, when religious wars were causing upheaval over large parts of Europe. Yet, the writers of this document have the sure certainty that Jesus Christ is, indeed, our faithful Savior, protecting us from ultimate, eternal separation from God our Heavenly Father.

Look more closely at this Catechism, which talks of human redemption, God the Father, Son and Spirit, the sacraments, prayer, and the Ten Commandments.

The section on the eighth commandment, “You shall not steal,” went right to my heart. Question 111 says: “What does God require of you in this commandment?” The response: “That I work for the good of my neighbor wherever I can and may, deal with him/her as I would have others deal with me, and do my work well so that I may be able to help the poor in their need.” What was it that Paul just said in Romans 13:10? ““Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Okay, love one another. But, what does that look like? How do we go about loving each other? The Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm preached on this reading from Romans, several years ago. He said, “loving your neighbor means, “if your neighbor is hungry, feed him.” It means “if your neighbor is thirsty, give her something to drink.” If there are people who are sick or hurting or suffering or alone in the world, visit them. It’s not rocket science! But it’s not easy.” [1]

The problem is, with us fallible people who sin from time to time, we forget. We fall back into old patterns, familiar but not-so-good habits. It’s all very well for Paul and the other Apostles to tell us, “love one another.” Martin Luther would be the first to tell us of his struggles with this very thing! How do we go against the grain and “love one another?” I mean, love all others? No matter who they are? I think we just heard from Dr. Brehm.

As Dr. Brehm tells us, our sinful, fallible selves are “always in the mode of “what’s in it for me?” But that’s not the kind of love the Bible teaches us. The kind of love that Jesus modeled for us and that the Apostles taught us to practice is a kind of love that simply gives to another person—without any wish to get anything in return.” [2]

The Apostle Paul gives us a big challenge today, and also a big blessing. God wants us to love one another! The Lord is so pleased when we try to love each other. As we try to love more and more, we draw closer and closer to God, and to each other. No matter who they are.

I know—from experience!—how difficult this can be. Some of us are stubborn. Some of us are afraid. Loving one another can be a really, really hard challenge. I want all of us to help each other. We can all think of one or two people we encounter on a regular basis who are difficult for us to love. I invite you all to write their names on a piece of paper. We will collect the names and the ushers will bring them forward for us all to pray over. We can ask God’s forgiveness for not loving them, and ask Jesus for His help to love one another as He loved us.

The last question in the Heidelberg Catechism is, “What is the meaning of the little word ‘Amen?’” The answer: “Amen means: this shall truly and certainly be. For my prayer is much more certainly heard by God than I am persuaded in my heart that I desire such things from Him.” We can all say, “Alleluia, amen” to that earnest, heartfelt prayer to God.

[1] http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com/2011/09/charity-never-fails-rom.html

A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/4/11 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2]  Ibid.

@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!)

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Where Jesus Is

John 14:3 – May 14, 2017

John 14-3 prepare a place, words

“Where Jesus Is”

Home. There’s no place like home.

I know this feeling is not true for all people, but it’s very true for many, many people, around the world. Many of us have a deep craving to go home, to be comfortable, with familiar people we know and love. Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever been away from home for a long time, and returned at last? Perhaps felt the satisfaction, the relief, the deep-down joy at being in your own hometown again? In your own neighborhood, on those familiar streets once more? And especially, in your own bed?

That is one of the deep emotions our Lord Jesus taps into in today’s passage from the Gospel of John, chapter 14. It is the evening of the Passover Dinner, the Last Supper. He knows His time on this earth is almost over. Jesus gives His disciples as much reassurance as possible. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”

A place, especially for you. That heartfelt feeling of “home” is something that goes deep, indeed. Sure, many people grow up at home. Families are at home. Beloved pets are at home. Even all of our stuff is oftentimes at home.

Remember the movie “The Wizard of Oz”? That MGM mega-blockbuster made in 1939 had Dorothy, played by Judy Garland, singing a song early in the movie about what she imagined about a special place for her. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was almost cut from the finished movie by MGM, because they thought that it slowed down the pace of the movie.

This longing, this yearning for a home somewhere far away, somewhere over the rainbow, is deep within the human psyche. As commentator Chris Lohrstorfer says, ““Somewhere over the Rainbow” encapsulates our own wandering heart’s desire for a promised land of rest and restoration. It speaks to our hope – our need for somewhere else.” [1]

The disciples, Jesus’s friends, often did not understand what He was about. They did not get it. Again and again we see how much they did not understand what He said. How often do we misunderstand the words of Jesus, too?

In retrospect, we can look at certain passages in the Bible and say to ourselves, “Oh, of course Jesus meant that when He preached to the people!” Or, “Naturally, Jesus was saying thus and so when He spoke to the disciples in that way!” Remember our Gospel passage for today: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”

Also remember, the Rabbi Jesus had been an itinerant Rabbi for three years. That meant that Jesus had no permanent residence. He had no home! In Matthew 8 and the parallel passage in Luke 9, “Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’”

Is anyone here familiar with that feeling? Not having a permanent place of residence?

One of my daughters is recently without a permanent residence. Earlier this year, she moved from her small apartment out east back here to Chicago—for some of the time. She sold the bulk of her furniture and put the small remainder in her father’s basement. She has a great job! But, she does not have a regular office to go into, and not even a place to stay permanently.

My daughter’s arrangement is a whole different concept for me! Imagine, being a temporary visitor in a place. Several people I know are resident aliens. Citizens of another country, they live here in the United States for an extended time. With school visas or work visas, they often cannot live here permanently. True, they can learn, go to school, go to work and provide for their families and loved ones, and go about all the other activities involved with living a full life, but they cannot have a full, deep sense of “home.” There’s no place like home, as Dorothy said.

Here in John 14, we hear Jesus letting the disciples know He understood them, deeply, intimately, completely. We know Jesus can understand us and our problems, too. He knows every tear that falls, even those silent and sorrowful tears that redden our eyes late at night. He knows all the pains and suffering that can come into our lives day by day (even out of the clear blue sky, like what happened to Lill).

One of my blogging friends, Marilyn, is a registered nurse who grew up as the daughter of missionaries to Asia. Marilyn has lived in a number of countries overseas and can speak several languages. She sometimes blogs about that elusive feeling of “home” that Third Culture Kids (like her) feel strongly. Some Third Culture Kids (now TCK adults) never have a permanent place of residence for very long, because they and their expatriate parents are so often on the move.

Yes, it is good to get comfy, take off your shoes, and have a cup of hot chocolate or steaming coffee or a cool iced tea. For others, finding “home” can be more difficult. So often, we look diligently for that elusive “home.” And, it is not always obvious or nearby. There is a yearning for it deep in the heart, so much like that yearning Dorothy had for a place somewhere over the rainbow.

Certain people do not associate warm, loving, caring things with their concept of “home.” With serious things in some lives like desperately hurt feelings, challenging people, awkward situations, and less than optimal living conditions, some people would rather not think of a specific place called “home.” I can see how they might feel really conflicted. Painful, even agonizing situations, unkind and uncaring people, places and things: sad and sorry, indeed.

However, Jesus shows us that finding that place called “home” is often not a place, but a relationship.  The next verse, from John 14: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

See? Jesus is not leaving His disciples all alone. Jesus understood about “home.” He understands our deep need for rest and restoration. He promised to get a place ready for us!

Jesus shares with us – His home, His inheritance, His position. We now are “children of God.” Can you imagine the great love that speaks to us? [2]

This is not only good news, this is great news! The absolutely best news that anyone could ever have delivered to them. We do know for sure, because Jesus tells us in these verses, that God will be with us and take care of us after we die.  So, we and every person we love who dies are okay. [3]

Today, on this Mother’s Day, we all can look forward to finally going home, where Jesus is. Where Jesus has gotten everything ready for us. Where there will be no more crying, no more tears, no more fighting or wars or conflict of any kind. Jesus has promised! Such Good News.

Alleluia! Amen.

[1] http://wbs.edu/2016/06/theres-no-place-like-home/, Dr. Chris Lohrstorfer

[2] http://wbs.edu/2016/06/theres-no-place-like-home/, Dr. Chris Lohrstorfer

[3] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/03/year-the-fifth-sunday-of-easter-may-18.html 

Worshiping with Children, Easter 5A, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

@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!)

If anyone would like to check out my blogging friend Marilyn’s blog, here is one of my all-time-favorite posts of hers: https://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2015/09/28/stupid-phrases-for-people-in-crisis/

Anger and Insults

Matthew 5:21-26 – February 12, 2017

matt-5-22-words

“Anger and Insults”

Have you ever met someone who flew off the handle about the least little thing? I mean, got angry at the drop of a hat? People get angry about all kinds of things. Big things, little things, serious things, even funny things. Like, getting cut off in traffic, or getting passed over for that promotion. Or what about when your shoelace snaps as you’re late for an appointment? What about other people, like when they spill juice all over the kitchen floor? Or when someone does something stupid and thoughtless at work? Doesn’t that just make your blood boil? Sometimes?

Anger happens to all of us, to all different kinds of people. Adults, teenagers, and children, not just once, or twice, but many more times than that. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus has some pointed words for anger and insults. Serious, too.

Let’s start where Jesus starts: the Law of Moses, and specifically, the big ten, or the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20. That is one place Jesus refers to here in Matthew 5:21. “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’”

I am certain the people Jesus was talking to knew what the Law of Moses had to say about murder. Except—the Law of Moses did not say anything about getting angry. (Not in any of the 613 laws found in the Hebrew Scriptures.) What does Jesus say about getting angry?

Matthew 5:22—”But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Whoa! Those words are extremely serious! Jesus takes murder, on one hand, and compares it with anger. What is more, He says they are just as bad as each other!

If we take Jesus’s words as Gospel truth, we are in a sorry state. Everyone gets angry, sometimes. What are we to do?

Dr. Scott Hoezee has a paraphrase that packs a punch: “You haven’t stabbed anyone through the chest or shoved someone to his death off a cliff?  Good for you, but when in your anger you told Harold last week to go take a flying leap, in God’s eyes the ‘Do not murder’ command snapped quite cleanly in two in your life.” [1]

Jesus took the Law of Moses, from the Ten Commandments, and went beyond it. Far beyond it! He did not merely repeat the Law, like any of the scribes and teachers of that day did. Jesus transcended the Law of Moses.

How radical is that? I’ve said it before, and will say it again. Jesus was indeed a radical. He was subversive, never saying or doing what the established religious folks expected. Here, in this passage, Jesus was talking about the inside job, about how people felt on the inside—and how that translated to their outward actions.  

How did we start our service today? After the opening hymn, we had our children’s time, and I started talking about anger. Then—we had a prayer of confession. We confessed our anger, and asked God to forgive us when we get angry.

Let’s go one step further, and turn to another of the commentators, Karen Georgia Thompson: “The comparison is clear. Murder is serious and so is anger. There is a need in this first-century church to look at relationships and how individuals treat each other. There is a value to life and how we value the lives of others.” [2] Over and over again, Jesus talks about relationships, and how we are to act and speak in relationships. Here, Jesus goes one step further and even tells us how we are to think, in a way that will be pleasing to God.

Remember, relationships are more than one-dimensional. Sure, there are relationships on a horizontal level, between individuals, and even between groups of people. But Jesus is talking about the vertical relationship, too. The relationship between me and God, each individual and God. And, our joint relationship between all of us as a congregation and God. It’s quite a sobering thing, when we consider Jesus’s words in this light.

Eugene Peterson translates verse 22 as “Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire.” So, our angry words and thoughts towards others do great harm to our insides.

Jesus is serious when He refers to calling someone “stupid.” “He uses a term that calls into question the other person’s morality–it might be the equivalent of calling someone “a dirty rat,” someone you don’t trust for a second.” Another way of looking at it? Jesus is decrying our belittling of people’s mental powers and our belittling of their moral status. “Let your anger get the best of you in simmering grudge-bearing,” Jesus says, “and sooner or later you’ll start to denounce the people around you as stupid and immoral–as not worthy of your time.” [3]

That is not the kind of relationship Jesus wants us to have! Not with our neighbors, not with those in the church. Not with those in our community, and not with those on the other side of the state line, or the country’s border, or the ocean. What did Jesus say? Quoting from the Message again: “If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.”

We have been shocked, and warned. We are all scared down to our shoes by the words of Jesus. What is our next step? What does Jesus say? Jesus gives us some really valuable advice. Action steps, if you will. Jesus does say not to wait too long to do this! We can name the problem that makes us angry and figure out something to do about it.  The Gospel of Matthew says, “be reconciled” with the person who made you angry. That means work it out with them. Figure out how to solve the problem, or the quarrel, or the bad feelings between you. That is not easy. Frequently it helps to get advice or help from other people. [4]

I have known people who hold grudges for years, even decades. On the block where I grew up, two neighbors had a huge fight with each other. One of the neighbors was a sour old man who lived alone. He built a grudge fence, eight feet high, so he would not have to see his neighbor’s yard—less than six feet from his house. The grudge fence stood until he died.

This Gospel reading reaches right out of the Bible and shakes us up. We can even be interrupted in church. If we remember a grudge in the middle of a worship service, Jesus tells us to go, and make it right. Apologize, if we need to. (And, Jesus will help us.)

Right relationships come from the heart. Jesus doesn’t say this until later in the Gospel, but now is a great time to remember: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Which neighbor? The neighbor we are angry at. The family member we called “idiot.” Say we are sorry. Apologize. Then, God will truly be pleased with us, and with our worship.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/epiphany-6a/?type=the_lectionary_gospel February 06, 2017 The Lectionary Gospel —  Matthew 5:21-37, Author: Scott Hoezee

 

[2] http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_february_12_2017  “Heartfelt,” Karen Georgia Thompson, Sermon Seeds, 2017.

 

[3] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/epiphany-6a/?type=the_lectionary_gospel February 06, 2017 The Lectionary Gospel —  Matthew 5:21-37, Author: Scott Hoezee

[4] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/01/year-sixth-sunday-after-epiphany-sixth.html Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 6, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014. 2011.

@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!)

 

What the Lord Requires

Micah 6:6-8 – January 29, 2017

micah-6-8-word-cloud

“What the Lord Requires”

Many people have very particular ideas about how to do things. Ask the editors at Vogue or GQ, or other high fashion magazines, and they will tell you precisely how a well-dressed person ought to look. What about Emily Post, Miss Manners, and Ann Landers? Don’t they let everyone know how to act and how to behave in polite society, in just about any situation?

What about the police and lawyers, and what is legal or not? Aren’t there basic rules and requirements for behavior and actions in this community? You and I have a right to wave our arms as much as we like. Except—my right ends where your nose begins. And what about public intoxication? Drunk and disorderly? There are many examples I could mention about recommended behavior.

Welcome to our mainline American culture, here in the 21st century. I’m not even going to go into the multitude of different cultures and the differences of practice and of culture, world-wide. Yet, many people have quite particular ideas about how to do things, and what types of activity are recommended, even required.

One of our Scripture passages today gives us a short list of what the Lord recommends for each of us. A summary statement, if you will. Let’s read Micah 6:8: “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Let’s unpack that summary statement, and take a look at the two verses that come before. Verse 6: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?” This is a sincere question, I believe. It’s sincere for the prophet, and sincere for all of us here today. What is the best way to come before God? How can we come to the sanctuary, to the holy place? Who may approach God? What kinds of things do we all need to do (and say, and think) to be acceptable and worthy in the sight of the Most High God?

These verses do not concentrate on what we ought to wear. Different people wear different things, depending on their culture, their context, and their preferences. At some churches, the minister wears super-fancy robes (like at my priest friends’ Episcopal churches in Maryland and Virginia). I have several friends who attend church in Chicago at a very youth-oriented congregation. Their minister wears blue jeans and an open-collared shirt for a Sunday morning service. Clothing choice is NOT what this sermon is about. The choices of what we do with our lives, how we treat each other and live together—this IS what the prophet is talking about here.

What does the Lord require of us, anyway?

Some people and some churches think God wants a showy service, and spectacular offerings. As one of the commentators said, “Perhaps our worship is wrong; perhaps we have not been serious enough in our acts of praise? “What do you want, Lord? Burnt offerings, year-old calves, thousands of rams, tens of thousands of rivers of oil?” (6:6b-7a) [1]

In the time the prophet Micah wrote, a small portion of people did not stop there. They went even further. Listen: “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Yes, sometimes, in the Old Testament times, when people from other tribes and nations thought they had sinned so severely—so grievously that their god could never, ever forgive them, they would actually turn over their firstborn to the temple. In some cases, their firstborn would even be killed by the priests. (This was NOT in Israel. The Lord considered this practice an abomination!) However, in certain places, at certain kinds of temples with horrible blood sacrifices (for example, at the temples of the horrible, bloodthirsty god Moloch), this was true.

Again, NOT the case in Israel. And, NOT the case here, today, either.

The people were too preoccupied about what they could do to please God through their religious ceremonies, only on what happened in the sanctuary. They did not care about the rest of their lives, and how they behaved the other six days a week. How could these people live their lives during the week any old way they wanted to, but just wanted God to put a stamp of approval on their foreheads when they came to Temple (or church) on the weekend? Because, that was what they were trying to get away with.

Which leads us to the general summary in Micah 6:8. What is it that God requires of us? First, to do justice. Justice is dynamic! Not just written down in some dusty book. Justice means that we “work for fairness and equality for all, particularly the weak and the powerless who are exploited by others.” [2]

Who speaks out for those who have little or no power or influence? Throughout history, Christians have felt strongly that they ought to speak for those who have no voice. Like, children, the elderly, and the mentally disabled. People in asylums, prisons, and orphanages. All of these need fairness, equality, and help against exploitation.

Second, the Lord requires us to love kindness. Yes, one meaning of the Hebrew word chesed is kindness, but the full meaning can hardly be conveyed by one single English word. It means a whole lot more than simple kindness! Chesed “has to do with love, loyalty, and faithfulness. It can be used to describe the key element in relationships, whether in marriage or between human friends or between God and humanity.” [3]

This is more than just “being nice” to each other. Much, much more! It all comes down to relationships.

Third, the prophet says to walk humbly with our God. The key word here is “walk.” Not to do things pleasing to God every once in a while, but be “careful to put God first and to live in conformity with God’s will.” [4] Our life’s journey—our continued walk with God—is a journey with our loving, giving, embracing God as our constant companion.

Again, this verse, Micah 6:8—is NOT about worship practices on Sunday mornings, and that’s all there is. This verse is NOT about how to dress for church, or other kinds of exterior behavior, just for show. This verse is about our inside attitude.

This is one verse where the expression “What Would Jesus Do?” has pertinent meaning. What would Jesus do, with that homeless veteran on the street, begging for money? What would Jesus do, with the elderly woman in subsidized housing, trying to make ends meet on only her Social Security check each month? What would Jesus do, with the pregnant teenager kicked out of her home because of an unwise choice?

Is this requirement from God easy? No. Not easy. Is it simple and straightforward? Yes. In plain language, the prophet tells us what God expects of all followers of God.

Let’s close with Micah 6:8, again: “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Let those with ears to hear, let them hear. And do, and love, and walk with God.

[1] http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Justice-Not-Worship-John-C-Holbert-1-20-2011 Justice, Not Worship, Reflections on Micah 6:1-8, John C. Holbert, Patheos, 2011.

[2]  Daniel J. Simundson and the The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 7, The Book of Micah), (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

@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!)

Fishers of People

Matthew 4:18-23 – January 22, 2017

matt-4-19-fishers

“Fishers of People”

Is everyone here familiar with regular, ordinary work? Some people might call it common or mundane. The ordinary, everyday kinds of things that ordinary, everyday people do on a regular basis. That is what countless numbers of people do, every day, at work and at home.

That is what Peter, Andrew, James and John were doing, as fishermen. As the Gospel lesson today mentions, these men and their co-workers worked on their boat, doing hard work. Doing what they were used to doing every day. Probably, for some among them, doing the same ordinary, everyday things they had done on their boats for decades.

I suspect this day started out for Peter, Andrew, James and John like so many others. But, this day turned out differently, because Jesus showed up. Let’s see what happened from Matthew’s account: “As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen.”

As one of the commentaries said, “Fishing was a popular trade on the Sea of Galilee. Fishing was the most common occupation for people residing in the small villages located on the lakeshore. Living on the shores of Lake Galilee with its abundant supply of fish, people understood fishing perhaps more than they did farming. Living on the shores of a fishing lake, the whole town was ‘into fishing.’” [1]

Typical for many people in the town of Capernaum, Peter and his brother Andrew were regular, ordinary working men, doing their regular, ordinary job, with others in their family’s boat. Casting their nets into the sea.

That troublemaking rabbi Jesus walks by the shore and calls out to them. He says, “19 Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” What on earth does Jesus mean by that?

Some people consider their work to be simply that: work. But, a portion of workers think work is something more than just a way to earn a paycheck. They consider their work to be much more: something from which they receive significant satisfaction, purpose, and meaning.

One of the writers I consulted, Dr. David Lose, helped to formulate a survey describing “work,” “vocation,” and “calling.” The survey asked respondents various questions about their work, how they viewed it, and how important work was in their lives.

“Where do [these] people find the greatest sense of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose (terms to which these survey respondents resonated far more strongly than “vocation” or “calling,” by the way)? Relationships. Even those who identified their work as a source of meaning and fulfillment usually cited their relationships at work as the places of particular significance.” [2]

Peter and Andrew were interrupted in the middle of their regular, ordinary day by Jesus. When Jesus called out to Peter and Andrew and said He would make them fish for people, He called to them, to build relationship with Him, first and foremost. Then, to build relationships with others.  

These two guys in the boat? It’s their response that is really extraordinary. Our Gospel reading says: ” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” Immediately! They don’t pause and think about it. Immediately, they go!

So now we have the rabbi Jesus, and Peter, and Andrew, walking along the shore. What happens next? “21 As Jesus went from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and He called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.”

The same thing. These two are sitting in their father’s fishing boat, and the rabbi Jesus calls to them. They get up in the middle of things, leaving the nets half-mended, and they leave.

What on earth is going on here? This reading is difficult to believe. It’s really a stretch of the imagination to think of getting up and leaving everyone and everything these guys know to follow Jesus. I don’t know whether I could do it! Don’t most people figure the disciples were extraordinary, first-century super heroes of the faith? You know. People that we can admire from afar but certainly not identify with.

Dr. Lose refers to some biblical scholars who suggest that “Jesus had been living in Capernaum for a while and had known Peter, Andrew, James, and John for some time, and so this call was neither sudden nor abrupt but was the natural outcome of their friendship. Maybe that was the case (huge emphasis on “maybe”), but given that Matthew reports that when Jesus comes and calls they immediately follow, I think we are meant to take notice.” [3]

Whether Jesus knew these four guys for a long time or for just a little while, Matthew tells us—he stresses they followed Jesus immediately. They didn’t think about it, they didn’t dither, or pause, or tell Him to come back tomorrow. No! They immediately followed and entered into a relationship with Jesus.

And, Jesus? He didn’t call them to come and work for Him. He didn’t just want to be their supervisor or manager. No! He called them into a close, genuine relationship with Him: the best kind of relationship there is! Jesus continues to encourage His disciples, His friends, to bring others into a close, genuine relationship with Him, too. BFFs, best friends forever.

What were some things the New Testament tells us about this relationship with God? To bear each other’s burdens, care for each other (especially the vulnerable), and hold onto each other, through thick and thin. Striving to do this, we will always be upheld by God’s grace. [4]

Some people still don’t think they are worthwhile, or good enough to be real disciples. After all, I suspect we don’t have any super duper saints here in this church. No super heroes of the faith! Can God use me? Can God use you?  I know I am imperfect. I’m just a regular, ordinary person, going about my business, doing regular, ordinary things. I suspect that describes everyone here.

I have good news for us all, however. Jesus is still looking for people to come, to answer His call. He is calling to regular, ordinary people in regular, ordinary situations to rise up and become extraordinary.

Jesus is calling to you and to me, holding out His hand to each of us. Jesus wants us to be in a close, genuine relationship with Him, too. Jesus wants us to go the next step and have concern and love for others: to be in a close, genuine relationship with them, too. Not in a mission, or a ministry, or a movement, but in genuine love and caring for one another.

Here’s an action step for you: find one person with whom you are in significant relationship. Perhaps it’s a relationship that brings you particular joy, or sorrow, or frustration, or hope. It doesn’t really matter, just so long as it’s significant. Once you have that person in mind, please take a moment to pray for that person every day for a week … and to believe that God is using you to make a difference in the life of the person for whom you are praying. [5]

Come back next week and let me know what happened. Did you feel closer to God? Did anything change for that person? We all can rejoice, for all of us strive to be faithful. Alleluia! Amen!

 

(A great big thanks to Dr. David Lose for his excellent words and thoughts on Matthew 4 and his bible study “Fishers of People.”)

@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!)

[1] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_fishing_for_christGA.htm “Fishing for Christ,” Gospel Analysis, Sermons from Seattle, Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3018  “Fishers of People,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

[3] Ibid. (emphasis mine)

[4] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3018  “Fishers of People,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

[5] Ibid.