Suit Yourselves

(I would like to post this sermon from October 2004. It seems applicable today. Sadly.)

“Suit Yourselves”

2 tim 4-3 ears tickled

2 Timothy 4:1-5  –  October 17, 2004

Have you seen the comics lately? I’m sure everyone here is familiar with the comics section of the newspapers–the daily comics in black and white, and the Sunday comics in full color–even if you don’t read them regularly.

Can you picture this scene from the comics? A single panel, showing two business men by an office water cooler. One looks like a boss, and he says to the other, “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a yes-man. Isn’t that right, Baxter?”

We chuckle, because we all are familiar with that kind of attitude. I’m sure we can recognize that tendency in other guises, other forms. Getting some yes-man to tell us what we want to hear . . . not what’s good for us to hear, not what we need to hear, but instead what we want to hear.

Many people have a yearning to hear good news today. With all the worry and anxiety, trouble and danger in this modern world, people are actively searching for good news. Many don’t know where to start. Many are searching in all the wrong places. Commercialism and consumerism are rampant, with many people accumulating more and more stuff and always needing to get something else, something more, something new. Oftentimes, these people are trying to fill a hole deep inside.

Sometimes, some people search for thrills, for that adrenaline rush, for some kind of excitement in life. It doesn’t matter if thrills come from drag racing, gambling, or risky behavior, like a wild bender at the local bar. Regardless of how hard people try or how much they want a good time, something is lacking.

Other people turn inward, searching for spiritual fulfillment. There are many ways of experiencing some kind of spirituality, like through the martial arts, or through meditative practices. Fung shui, the Chinese method of arranging furniture (and other things in this material world) is an attempt to try to find balance and proper order in this life. Sure, doing an inside job, concentrating on the inside of ourselves is a great place to start, but . . . searching for inward, spiritual fulfillment on our own just won’t work. Anyway, not without God.

We have the assurance, from our scripture passage today, that Timothy had the opportunity to know God. He had the opportunity to read some of the same texts we have to read today! Timothy was instructed, from the time he was very young, in the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. His mother and grandmother were both women of faith, and Timothy grew up in a believing household, a household that put God first.

As we read further in our passage today, we find there are people who will not put up with sound doctrine. They will not even want to listen to the truth! Even when the truth is as clear as day, and presented to them in a straight-forward manner, still, some will turn away and disregard the truth.

You probably are all familiar with that modern phenomenon–tele-evangelists, some of whom are worthy people of God. However, there are those who are frauds. Charlatans. Fakes. Preaching not of sound doctrine or biblical teaching, but instead telling their listeners exactly what they –the listenerswant to hear.

Are you familiar with the health, wealth and happiness gospel, which focuses on only a few isolated passages from scripture? Most renditions of this false gospel tell the listeners that God wants us all to be healthy, wealthy and happy! All the time! And even shows us the example of Job–why, didn’t God give back to Job everything that was taken away? And in good measure, overflowing, in superabundance? But . . . and this is a big but here . . . we must have faith! And if anything is wrong in our lives, or if our house burns down, or if we get sick, or if someone we love loses a job, or if our child gets in trouble, or . . . or . . . or . . . you get the picture. Well, then, we just didn’t have enough faith, that’s our problem. Oh, and we didn’t send enough money to the tele-evangelist, either. So, God apparently must be withholding His blessing because of our lack of faith and our stinginess.

Not so!! No way!! This is a perverse, yet skillful, twisting of the truth! I bet you can see parts of the true Gospel here in what I’ve just described, but the rest is so skillfully bent and twisted!! It sounds so similar to the Good News of God we have come to know and to understand and to love. Like, and yet unlike. The true Gospel tells us that God does indeed want to bless us abundantly! And, it is an inside job! God wants to change us, to help us change ourselves, to make us new creations from the inside out, through faith in Jesus Christ.

This twisted health, wealth and happiness gospel is just one of the horrible perversions that is out there, on television, on the radio, on the Internet, just waiting to snare unsuspecting folks, and especially people who want to turn away from the truth in God’s Word.

What did our scripture passage today say about this sort of people? It mentions that they have “itching ears.” This is a Greek phrase that can be translated several ways–another way is “having their ears tickled.” In other words, having the preacher tell you exactly what you want to hear! These people with the itching ears, who wanted nice, warm, soft, fuzzy things, nonthreatening, reassuring things preached to them from the pulpit, these people turned their backs on the truth of God’s Word and of sound doctrine.

These rebellious people with the itching ears had an agenda–and that was to hear only what they wanted to hear, at all times. None of the challenging words, none of the admonishing words, none of the emotional words of Scripture. This is another form of idolatry–putting themselves first, putting God aside as an afterthought. You know the attitude–me, me, me! I’m the most important person around here! Everything needs to go my way! Nobody else counts!

As I was thinking and praying about this text over these past days, it came to me–what would Calvin say? John Calvin was one of the foremost theologians in the Reformed tradition, the tradition we as Presbyterians follow and adhere to. What would Calvin say about these false teachers, preaching a “health, wealth and happiness” gospel, or any other sort of false gospel, for that matter?

I would like to give you some background about me, since I am still new around here. In my early 20’s, I had a strong sense of God’s power and presence in my life. I read all kinds of books on bible and theology. One summer, I especially remember reading Calvin’s Institutes, his great systematic presentation of the Christian faith. I said an internal “yes!” to the biblical and theological concepts as presented by Calvin, and since that time, my personal theology began travelling down a Reformed path in earnest.

Since that time, I have always had a great appreciation for the great number of writings that John Calvin left to us. And so, it is natural for me to wonder, what would Calvin say? How would he deal with these false teachers, leading people astray? Checking the Institutes, I find that Calvin spoke strong words against these false teachers, saying that they, in fact, pose the greatest danger to the church! These false teachers take the lead! They lead people away from true scripture and sound doctrine, and are responsible for bringing in destructive heresies!

But . . . that’s not what we learned. That’s not what Timothy learned. We have the “sacred writings that are able to instruct us for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” We have the opportunity to come into a relationship with Jesus Christ. We have the Good News, in and through Jesus Christ our Lord. How wonderful, how awesome, and how sobering that Jesus entrusted us with the message of His Good News.

 

Now what? I’ve been teaching the adult Sunday school class here for several weeks, and I’ve said this phrase–now what?–each week as I’ve taught. The different New Testament letters do indeed tell us definite things about doctrine, about theology . . . but then . . . what do we do with all of this information? How do we put it into practice? How do we live the Christian life? Now what, in other words?

I consider the commands in this passage to be good advice to anyone wanting to follow Christ more nearly. We are to proclaim the message. Communicate the Good News! In whatever way we can.

This command may give some people pause. How can  I  preach the Good News? Am I supposed to go to some cable television station and get on the air as yet another tele-evangelist? Or how about standing out on a street corner, preaching with a megaphone? Both of these are perfectly valid ways of proclaiming God’s Good News, but I don’t think most of us here in this church could ever see ourselves doing either of these things. But there are other ways to proclaim the message.

Preach the Gospel. Proclaim the message. Every believer in Jesus Christ is told this! Another way of thinking about it is . . . telling what God has done in your life. What has God done for you? How has God made a difference in your life? How has God made a difference in mine? What new things have you and I learned from the Lord lately? What an opportunity it is to share these things with others, with our friends, with those who might not know God in a personal way.

Do we need advanced degrees in divinity or theology to do this? To share what God has done for us? No!! Oftentimes, we are excited to tell people about other things, like who won the latest ball game, or about the neighbor next door spraining her ankle, or what exciting story we just heard on the news. Why can’t I tell people about Jesus, and what He’s done for me?

 I  can tell about answers to prayer I’ve gotten recently–and I have gotten some exciting ones! And if anyone wants to hear about them, I’d be happy to tell you after the service. I can tell about God’s faithfulness in my busy, hectic life. I can praise God for helping me to walk the Christian walk, one day at a time.

Thank God we have been given this Good News! What a opportunity! What a thing to celebrate! Praise God, we have been granted salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. That’s truly something to celebrate. That’s truly Good News to share.

Alleluia, Amen.

@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!

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All Who Call on God’s Name

All Who Call on God’s Name

Acts 2-3 pentecost

Acts 2:1-21 (2:21) – May 20, 2018

Reporting to you live, down the street from Temple Square, scattered reports are streaming in to our news desk. The reports are all about the huge commotion affecting almost everyone: the local people in downtown Jerusalem as well as the yearly visitors in town for the Passover festival.

What facts we have been able to piece together give an incomplete picture. But, most reports agree that something significant happened today, involving several violent gusts of wind, some flames that appeared out of nowhere, and just as quickly disappeared, and a veritable Babel of tongues from the gathering crowd, as a result. We will keep you updated on this developing story as more information comes in.

What would the modern-day media have to say about the happenings on that first day of Pentecost? Might their stories have sounded a bit like this?

Of course, you and I have heard about this account from the first day of Pentecost over and over again. But—what if this news from the streets of Jerusalem was indeed new to us?

If reported by today’s news outlets, these accounts of strong wind, tongues of fire, and unfamiliar languages sound out of control. Wild, raging, unsettling, untamed. What kind of occurrence is happening in Jerusalem—and beyond? Something definitely out of control. Out of human control, at least.

Let’s go to the end of today’s scripture reading, and listen to what Peter preached: “all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” That is surely beyond human control, too.  Plus, this reading can have a great deal to say to us on this Mental Health Awareness Sunday, too.

 

“Let’s begin with the last part – all who call on the Lord are saved. Did you hear this? It says “all.” There’s no comment on who has “right” theology, “right” behavior, “right” thinking, or the “right way” of living. It also doesn’t say that those who struggle with physical or mental illness have no place in the Body of Christ. This strange story of the first Pentecost says clearly that salvation, the Love of God shown in Christ, is for all people.” [1]

Do you hear? Salvation is not only for some people, or even for most people. What about  salvation only for people with sight or with hearing? Or, only for those who are left-handed, or for those who are right-handed. What of those people who only can speak one language, instead of those who can speak several? Or, is salvation only for those who grow up on “the right side of the tracks?” What about the rest of the people who grew up elsewhere?

I have spoken from the pulpit and from the front of the church about God’s ideas of equality, any number of times. The kind of equality that the apostle Paul talks about in Galatians chapter 3: “28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

But, what about people with mental health challenges? Is salvation also for these people? Are those with mental health challenges—and their families and loved ones—beloved children of God, too? The account of Pentecost in Acts indicates a whole different kind of truth.

“Imagine what we would say if somebody told us this story today. If someone came into our worship and said that they saw flames of fire above our heads, we might dismiss it as a hallucination. If they told us that they heard a sound of mighty and rushing wind, we might say the same thing. Then if they added that they heard us speaking in languages not our own, we would just shake our heads and turn away, if not back away in fear. How wrong we would be!

 

Maybe we can consider the Pentecost narrative as invitation to welcome, include, support, and engage persons who live with mental illness, and their loved ones. Let’s face it, those disciples don’t sound particularly well in this story. Yet, God did not abandon them. God didn’t turn them away. God included them in the building of the early church. They might have had some unusual experiences and some unique ways of being in the world, but God used them to create the Body of Christ that we are all a part of.

What if this story isn’t only a story about the mysteries of the Holy Spirit, but also a story of extravagant welcome? And if we add to this Paul’s account from Romans of the Holy Spirit’s care, concern and love for each of us, we get such a powerful promise of inclusion and new life.

No brokenness, no illness is beyond the reach of our loving God. The breath of the Holy Spirit gives all of us life. God transforms our bony, broken, despairing lives by knitting us all together into the Body of Christ. We can all find wholeness and hope when we come together in the name of the One who Loves us all…” [2]

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!)

[1] http://www.ucc.org/worship_worship-ways  Mental Health Sunday, Pentecost, May 20, 2018

[2] I have borrowed freely for my sermon today from the Sermon Starters in the Worship Ways of the United Church of Christ. Yes, today is Mental Health Awareness Sunday as well as Pentecost Sunday. May we all help to become more aware, more caring, and more welcoming of all people, including those with mental health challenges and their loved ones. #EraseTheStigma

http://www.ucc.org/worship_worship-ways  Mental Health Sunday, Pentecost, May 20, 2018

Believe the Message!

“Believe the Message!”

Mark 1-17 fishers of people

Mark 1:14-20 (1:15) – January 21, 2018

What is news? There are lots of different kinds of news. National news, local news. Partisan news, news that is slanted one way or another. What’s more, we hear so much about “fake news” today. News fit to scare the pants off of some people, and news meant to get some people really upset. News brings about all kinds of reactions. What kind of news can we possibly trust? How do we know which kind of news to believe?   

If we take a closer look at our Gospel reading for today, the Gospel writer Mark talks about news, too. Good News. God’s news—God’s wonderful message of Good News, brought by the greatest newsman, the greatest news announcer of all time, our Lord Jesus Himself.

Mark doesn’t waste any time with genealogies (like Matthew) or with long backstories of how Jesus came into the world (like Luke and John). No, Mark starts right off with a bang, with the baptism of Jesus. Then, shortly after He is baptized, Jesus starts to travel about saying, “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”

I love the relevance, the immediacy of Eugene Peterson’s modern translation. How appropriate that this translation of the Bible is called “The Message.” The whole Bible is God’s Good News to humanity, and most especially right here, in the Gospel of Mark.

Here we are, right at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. John the Baptist (the cousin of Jesus) was already on the scene. A sort of a warm-up act for the main event, for some time John had already been proclaiming “Repent! And, believe God’s Good News!” First Jesus came to John to be baptized, and now was the time for Him to begin His own ministry, His own preaching of God’s Good News.

What do we hear first thing in our Gospel reading today? John the Baptist has been arrested. Next thing, Jesus begins to gather a group of disciples around Himself. Mark tells us that the way Jesus does this is by proclaiming God’s Good News. The Kingdom of God has come to us. Or, as Eugene Peterson translates it, “Believe God’s Message!”

One sure way to know when the writers of the Bible really want readers to pay attention is when a word or phrase is repeated. “The emphasis of Mark’s gospel is that Jesus’ coming is the gospel, the “good news,” a term that in the first fifteen verses of the gospel occurs three times.” [1]  Today’s text continues the story from last Sunday, that is, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as He tells God’s Good News to His first disciples. In today’s reading Jesus calls four fishermen at the Sea of Galilee — Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John.

Our Gospel reading last week was from John chapter 1, and there are some differences between John’s account and Mark’s account from today’s scripture reading. In that sermon, I also mentioned how Jesus called several of His first disciples—this time it was John and James first, and then Simon Peter and Andrew. Some people have said, “I don’t understand. Which story is true, the Gospel of John or the Gospel of Mark?” Great question.

When a car accident happens in the middle of a busy intersection, that is a real tragedy. I understand when the accident is serious enough, the police sometimes get involved to find out exactly what happened. Imagine the surprise and even consternation when eyewitnesses on different street corners have different perspectives and impressions of the same event!

In the case of the car accident, the different people all saw the same vehicles collide, but from opposite angles and varying positions. Different things may have made a strong impression on one witness, more than another.

It’s no wonder that their eyewitness accounts are somewhat different from each other. And, in the case of the four different Gospel accounts, that adds to the richness and depth of the separate narratives. Each Gospel writer had a separate emphasis and perspective, and different things he wanted to highlight and point out.

However, we need to drill down to what is common between these readings. Jesus calls His first disciples, and Jesus tells them all, “God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.” What is the definition of God’s Good News, anyway? In Greek, the word is euaggelion, or Gospel. God’s Message of Good News to all humanity.

As we trace this Good News through the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, we get some more information. God’s Good News is truth. With the coming of the man Jesus here on the earth, humanity has the opportunity to see and touch and experience what God is like. A key feature of this Good News is hope. The fallen world is pretty hopeless and dark, but Jesus brings hope to the hopeless heart. And, last, God’s Good News means salvation. Salvation is not just being saved from the negative aspects of escape from sin and death. No! Salvation is eternal life, and the power to live life victoriously. [2]

God’s Good News is something new to many; something different, even radical. Why on earth should anyone want to adopt this strange, new life from Jesus? Maybe, this way of being and living is even a bit frightening? Many people may well be afraid of taking such a big step.

As Dallas Willard writes, “when he was a boy, rural electrification was just happening and power lines were being strung throughout the countryside.  But suppose even after the lines were up and running you ran across a house where the weary family still used only candles and kerosene lanterns for light, used scrub boards, ice chests, and rug beaters.  A better life was waiting for them right outside their door if only they would let themselves be hooked into the power lines.  “My friends,” you could proclaim, “electricity is at hand!”  But suppose they just didn’t trust it, thought it was too much of a hassle, and anyway didn’t believe the promises that things might be easier with this newfangled juice running into their house.  “If it’s all the same to you, we’ll stick with the old ways.” [3]

You see the difficulty? How some people are afraid of change? Or, prefer not to change their lives? How some don’t want to accept this Good News from God because it’s different, or new, or out of their experience? Can you hear Jesus saying, “My friends, God’s Kingdom is at hand! God’s Good News of eternal life is right here, waiting for you!”

Jesus still offers this gift of God in our world today, proclaiming His Message of God’s Good News, His Message of God’s truth, hope and salvation.

God’s Good News actually makes our job simple. We need to widely and clearly communicate the Message of God. “What mustn’t be lost on us is the urgency of its communication, for the day of judgement is at hand. We point to the hope of eternal life in Christ and call on everyone everywhere to turn and put their trust in Jesus.” [4]

Have you responded as the disciples did, by dropping everything and embracing the Good News? Jesus is calling, waiting for you and for me. Jesus says, “Believe the Message! Come, follow Me.”

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2315

Commentary, Mark 1:14-20, Michael Rogness, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

[2] Barkley, William, The Gospel of Mark (Westminster Press: Philadelphia, 1975), 25-26.

[3] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/epiphany-3b-2/?type=the_lectionary_gospel

Commentary and illustration idea, Mark 1:14-20, Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, 2015.

[4] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/studyg/sunday3bg.html   “Repent and Believe in the Good News,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.  

@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!)

We See Your Salvation

“We See Your Salvation”

Luke 2-30 Simeon words

Luke 2:22-40 (2:30) – December 31, 2017

Many of us had a marvelous celebration last week for the Christmas holidays. Gatherings with extended family and friends, special parties and programs, holiday concerts and pageants, often ending with the caroling around the fireplace. And the stockings hung with care, and mounds of gaily wrapped presents around the Christmas tree.

But, too soon after the grand holiday, the main event, and the wonderful days of celebrations, everything is ended. The crumpled wrapping paper is in the trash, the many leftovers packed in the refrigerator. The unexpected visitors have gone home, and we have returned back to the plain old mundane, ordinary routine. What happens now? What next?

Mary and Joseph might have been wondering a similar thing. After the marvelous birth announcement given to the shepherds by the chorus of the heavenly hosts, and after the impromptu visit by the shepherds and others to the newborn Baby in Bethlehem, what happens now? What next? Great question! What does happen?

Reading from the second chapter of Luke: “22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took the child to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

We are told that Mary recuperates and takes the time prescribed for mothers of a first-born son from Leviticus chapter 12. Then, she and Joseph bring Jesus up to the Temple for the Child’s dedication. The Mosaic Law Code is very specific about what needs to be done for a first-born son: forty days after the birth, the parents of the newborn son take their Child to present Him before the Lord.

Now that the grand celebration of the birth is over, Mary and Joseph get down to the ordinary, everyday matter of living. The main way they do that is to follow the laws and rules prescribed for them in the Mosaic Law Code. The laws and rituals of the Jewish people were ancestral traditions. It’s pointed out that these “are a reminder to [the parents] that Jesus is born in the context of the covenant established between God and the people Israel.” [1]

The Jewish people were supposed to be sensitive to the Holy God, and this rite of purification in the Temple is a reminder of that relationship to God. “One way a woman encounters the holy is through the miracle of giving birth. It is a holiness which belongs to and describes the natural rhythm of life.” [2]

Our Gospel writer Luke breaks in right here with a new figure in his narrative. A cameo appearance by a guest star, if you think of things in terms of television or movies, in the birth narrative of Luke chapter 2. We meet the older man Simeon, and we find out about his backstory.

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for Him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took Him in his arms and praised God.”

It is similar to what we covered in the weeks of Advent this year. In the midweek bible study during December, we studied the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew chapter 1. Pretty dry stuff, all of those names, and all of those “begats.” So-and-so the son of the other guy, the grandson of such-and-such. Genealogies were extremely important to the Jewish people, because keeping an orderly and exact account of who was related to whom helped cement the lines of ancestry and inheritance.

Except—the genealogy of Jesus had some surprises. Four women were mentioned in Matthew’s account. We studied the backstory of each of those four women, and found out exactly why each one was included in the genealogy of Jesus. In Luke’s birth narrative, he tells us some backstory, so we can find out exactly what the godly man Simeon is doing here.

Luke tells us that Simeon is called “just and devout,” and was waiting for the dawning of the kingdom of God – “the consolation of Israel”. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. He now sees the fulfillment of this promise. In the power of the Spirit, he sings a song of praise and utters a prophecy concerning Jesus. [3]

What a marvelous expression of faith and trust in God comes from Simeon. He sings to God: “29 “Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You may now dismiss Your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 which You have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” 33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about Him.”

Sizeable words spoken about someone so small. Here we have the baby Jesus, and His mother and adoptive father did marvel at such weighty words!

However, Simeon is not finished yet. He prophecies after this wonderful expression of song. “34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Serious, solemn words, indeed. Simeon has waited for his whole life for this very moment. After years and decades of expectation and longing, the Messiah has finally arrived. What is more, Simeon spontaneously blesses Mary and Joseph, too, along with Jesus.

Simeon was right there, at the beginning, with Jesus as a baby. He gave witness that Jesus was as foretold, by many prophets throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus had the greatest future, here at the beginning of the Greatest Story Ever Told. “We are left in anticipation to watch as the Child grows strong, filled with wisdom and blessed with the favor of God.” [4]

Where are each of us in our understanding of Emmanuel, God being with us? Is this narrative from Luke just a fairy story, suitable only to be shared with children every December at the holidays? Or, is it more than that? Have we heard the Good News from the angels and are waiting for more assurance, more evidence that the Messiah has come to earth?

The faithful servant of God, Simeon, was waiting at the Temple for years.  He was waiting and hoping for the Messiah, the chosen One of Israel. When we come to church today, do we expect to have an encounter with the Messiah? We fall on our knees with those who came to worship. Jesus has his arms open wide to welcome all who would come to Him. Come to Jesus, today. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=207

Commentary, Luke 2:22-40, Holly Hearon, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008. 

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/studyg/christmas1bg.html

“Jesus Grew in Wisdom and Stature,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.  

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=207

Commentary, Luke 2:22-40, Holly Hearon, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008

The Christmas Story

“The Christmas Story”

zp_ethiopian-nativity-scene-painted-in-a-traditional-style

John 1:1-18 (1:14) – Christmas Eve night, December 24, 2017

The holiday season is coming to a grand crescendo. Tonight is Christmas Eve. Tonight is a wonderful service at our church, and lots of warm and fuzzy feelings. Christmas carols sung, special music at the service, candles lit, closing with “Silent Night.” Remembering the Light that has come into the world at Christmas. Glory, hallelujah!

Yes, all of those things, and more, are wonderful. Special. One of a kind, even.

But, Father Henri Nouwen’s words bring me up short. “Somehow I realized that songs, music, good feelings, beautiful liturgies, nice presents, big dinners, and many sweet words do not make Christmas.” [1]

So, what does make Christmas?

I feel like Charlie Brown at the Christmas pageant rehearsal. “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” I know Linus responds, “Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” He then recounts the Nativity narrative from Luke 2. Except—it doesn’t penetrate into Charlie Brown’s head. Yet.

The Light of all the world—of all the universe—born as a Baby in Bethlehem? The cosmic Word, the divine Logos, made human flesh as a Baby? That just doesn’t make sense to me, either, sometimes. Sometimes, it can’t penetrate into my head, either.

There is a disconnect here. I know I have difficulty believing in the miracle of the Incarnation—sometimes! But, God wanted to bridge that cosmic chasm between divinity and humanity. That is one huge reason why God became human, why God divested Godself of all divinity and became a tiny baby named Jesus.

Can we possibly listen to Linus reading the Nativity narrative from Luke chapter 2, and not feel the specialness of this heavenly visitation? As the lights come down on the stage and the spotlight shines on the narrator, is there anyone here who cannot be moved by the marvelous cry of the shepherds, telling everyone around Bethlehem about this super special Baby they found that night?

How unimaginable—that the God who created heaven and earth, who holds the universe between the span of the fingers on one hand, could empty Godself of all God-ness. How amazing. How miraculous. Jesus came to earth to journey with us, to walk and talk and sit by our sides. So we wouldn’t ever be separated from God. Never be alone again.

I realize that “Christmas is believing that the salvation of the world is God’s work and not mine….it is into this broken world that a child is born who is called Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, Savior.” [2] Human feelings and sentiment only partly come into the equation. It is, in fact, something far beyond all feeling and emotion, as Fr. Nouwen says.

Yet, God wants all of me. God wants all of us. God wants to save all parts of us. Not just emotions and feelings. Not just our intellect and brain. Intellect, physicality, emotions, and feelings, and all. The salvation of the world is, indeed, God’s doing.

As Christmas comes again, we can say “Thank God.” Or is it, “Thank You, God.” Thank God for the birth of Jesus. Thank God for loving us so much that You sent Your Son.

Thank You, God, for sending Jesus, the Word made flesh. Sometimes, a quiet “Thank You” speaks volumes.

 

[1] Advent and Christmas: Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen (Linguori, Missouri: Redemptorist Pastoral Publications, 2004), 50.

[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!)

All the Saints

“All the Saints”

Rev 7 multitude white-robes

Revelation 9:7-28 (9:7) – November 5, 2017

Today, we commemorate All Saints Sunday. The first Sunday of November, that day we remember all the saints who are now in heaven, worshiping God in that great cloud of witnesses. We also remember familiar people, relatives and friends known to us, dear to us, who died since last All Saints Day last year. What is it about these formal occasions of remembrance? Often, we remember those who have sacrificed much, displayed tremendous bravery, or were persecuted—even died—at tremendous risk to themselves.

What is it that causes you and me to be listed in among a great multitude of saints like these? Or, aren’t we even to be worthy to be listed on the same page as these rarefied superstar saints? These women and men who followed after God, no matter what?

One of our Scripture readings today comes from the book of Revelation, starting at verse 9: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

We break into the narrative as the elderly John has another vision, this time a scene of heaven. And, instead of seeing a predominance of Jews and only a sprinkling of other tribes and people groups, John sees a great multitude of all colors, all ethnicities, all languages and dialects, from every place on the globe.

I am blown away by that vision, the more I think about it. I am in awe, because the great multitude is of every possible description, every possible people group under the sun. Not just me and my family, not just me and the people from the neighborhood where I grew up. Not just people from one region, or one country, or one ethnicity. But, people from everywhere.       These people of the vision are called “saints,” and many people today have only one specific idea of what a “saint” is. St. Francis of Assisi, or St. John of the Cross, or St. Martha—the patron saint of our neighbor Catholic church, or the newly beatified saint, Mother Teresa.

Robert Louis Stevenson, writer of Kidnapped and Treasure Island, has a different definition of “saints.” “The saints are the sinners who keep on going.” And, both apostles Paul and Peter call their friends “saints” in the greetings, to all of the people who receive their letters.

But, we know very well that life often does not go smoothly. Not for us, not for our friends and families, and certainly not for the multitudes who lived in centuries past. Interesting, that “because we sinners are made holy by God’s grace, and not by our own actions, we are able to keep on going as Stevenson says.  Our keeping on in life often involves suffering.” [1] And, if we know anything about history, we know that believers in Christ often had to deal with grief, pain, suffering, and even persecution.

When John received this grand series of visions that he wrote down in the book of Revelation, he was often puzzled. He had to ask the people or elders or angels around him what it was he was seeing. As is the case here: “Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

Leading question, you may say! John persuades the elder to answer the question himself. ““they are before the throne of God and serve God day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. 16 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat.”

It sounds like to me that these people in heaven, who are identified as “saints” in other places in the book, no longer have to go through that valley of the shadow here on the earth, where God walks right by their side as they are in difficulty. They no longer need to face challenges of health reversals or job loss or crushing poverty or horrible accidents, or various calamities of one sort or another. They are at God’s side in heaven, and never have to experience those trials, losses, hunger and anguish any more.

But we are still left on this side of the veil. On this side, on a troubled world where suffering and loss and fear and anxiety rear their heads all too often. Especially grief, where we mourn the loss of loved ones, friends and relatives who left us too soon.

Rev. Janet Hunt talks about a sad situation like this: “And yet, for all of those for whom I light a candle and remember each All Saints Sunday, there is still really just the one I carry closest of all. One whose dying has me yearning most deeply for the promises of this day.

“It came to me again last week when a beloved cousin came to visit. He had stopped to see his folks the night before he flew out and as he sat with them he told his dad he was going to see Kathleen. “You remember Kathleen, don’t you dad? She was Tommy’s wife.” (Kathleen is my mother.)

“Now in these recent years my dad’s brother does not remember as he once did. For a moment last week, though, there was clarity as he remembered his only brother and as he registered all over again the fact that he had died and with that remembering, his face fell along with his tears. And mine did, too, to hear of his remembering.” [2]

Grief, sorrow and loss are like that, sometimes. We can be fine, content, living our lives. Then, out of nowhere it seems, the thought of that special loved one, that dear friend who is no longer with us in this world, comes to mind.

And then, Janet Hunt reminds us, “nothing makes us more grateful than the gift of that time and place so vividly described in today’s words from Revelation. A time and place:

  • where the whole world will gather and join together in song and where we will be washed clean,
  • where hunger and thirst will no longer hold sway,
  • where there will be shelter from all that would harm,
  • where the very water of life will sustain us,
  • and where God Himself will bend low to wipe away our tears.” [3]

Is such a place even possible? In those times when you or I are grieving anew, remembering with sorrow or longing in our hearts, the apostle John assures us that “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And, ““Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

In plainer words, from his first letter to the scattered believers in Christ, John gives us further assurance: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

Today, we have a foretaste of heaven from both Scripture readings. Revelation tells us of the wonderful worship service in heaven, where everyone is praising God. And 1 John lets us know that when our Lord Jesus appears to each of us, we shall be like Him in glory.

“So with all of you, I will light the candles this All Saints Day. In memory and in powerful hope we will light the candles. Standing confident in the very promises of God we will light them.[4]

Amen. May it be so. Amen.

[1] https://preachingtip.com/archives-year-a/pentecost-year-a/all-saints-day-all-saints-sunday/

[2] http://dancingwiththeword.com/all-saints-day-in-memory-and-in-hope/

[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!)

In Christ Alone

“In Christ Alone”

Acts 4-12 salvation, sun

Acts 4:1-17 (4:12) – October 15, 2017

“How many of you remember a time when you were so excited about something that you could barely wait to share that news with another person? Maybe it was getting accepted to the university you dreamed of attending? Or maybe it was that you are finally pregnant after years of waiting? Or maybe it was that you have now been confirmed to be cancer free after lengthy treatment? Or maybe it was when your special someone asked you to marry him? Or maybe you got the job you so desperately hoped for? This exciting news is changing your life, and you want to shout it from the mountaintop!” [1]

With exciting news of that magnitude of importance, who wouldn’t want to share something so earthshaking that is turning your life upside down?

That’s the case here in Acts chapters 3 and 4, where Peter and John are in Jerusalem, telling people about the Messiah Yeshua, the risen Jesus, risen from the dead. Do you know? Have you heard? This news is so exciting that it’s changing my life! Anyway, that is the story that Peter, John, and the rest of the disciples are sharing in downtown Jerusalem at the beginning of Acts 4.

But then, there’s a hitch. A problem, a complication.  Reading from Acts 4:1-2, “The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” In fact, these religious leaders are so upset, they toss Peter and John in prison.

Peter and John—and countless others throughout the centuries—were thrown into prison because of their beliefs, and because of their witness. It doesn’t matter whether it’s during the persecutions of the Roman emperors, the upheavals and persecutions of the religious wars of the 1500’s and 1600’s, or more modern persecutions and executions of the 20th and 21st centuries, people are still imprisoned for their beliefs. People are still persecuted for naming the name of Jesus Christ in a public forum.

This good news is an extremely important thing to proclaim. In many places in the world today and throughout history, this message of Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead is an extremely dangerous one to proclaim, too.

There must be something behind this God-sent boldness that energizes so many people!

“Solus Christus,” or “By Christ Alone” is another one of the foundational principles that sets Protestants apart. Another of the rallying cries of the Reformation, this important principle means Jesus Christ alone is the mediator between God and humanity. Not the priests as mediator between us and God, and not the sacrifices in the Temple as a necessary covering to allow us to come to God, but salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone.

Certain other faith traditions put extra emphasis on the saints, or the Virgin Mary, or on the church hierarchy. Yes, these ought to be honored. Absolutely we have the saints and Mary the mother of Jesus as our blessed examples and those we hold up as special before God. Plus, as the apostle Paul and Doctor Luke tell us repeatedly in the New Testament, we are all called saints of God, so we are all examples for one another.

Back to our passage from Acts 4. What happened to Peter and John? “The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

The religious leaders of Israel had thought they had gotten rid of their problem some weeks ago when they had a rabble-rousing rabbi called Jesus crucified. But, no! More and more problems kept cropping up, ever since they had “misplaced” this rabbi’s body, and then there were some scattered reports of Him being raised from the dead, being alive again.

The religious leaders brought Peter and John before them, and asked point blank: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
What is the foundational principle for Peter and John? Just as Acts 4:12 tells us, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

What is another way of saying this great Good News? “The message of Jesus entails “salvation” (soteria) — a divine reality that generates wholeness, restoration, and reversal of societal norms (“healed” in Acts 4:9 is literally “saved,” sesotai)” [2]

We can say for sure that Peter, John and the other disciples would absolutely agree with the Reformers: “Solus Christus,” or “By Christ Alone” are we saved.

That was one principle that Protestants were willing to die for, and did.

What about you? What about me? Are we willing to proclaim Christ? Why does Peter say it so clearly? Because he has been with Jesus. So, too, we are with Jesus. “By Christ Alone” we are saved, we are restored, and we are walking by His side.

Praise God, alleluia, amen.

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/fourth-sunday-of-easter7#preaching

Preaching Helps and Worship Resources, Rev. Dawn Chesser, Prayers, Lectionary Hymns, United Methodist Church General Board of Discipleship, 2015.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2388  Commentary, Acts 4:5-12, Troy Troftgruben, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

@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!)