God Answers When We Cry

“God Answers When We Cry”

Psalm 22:23-31 (22:24) – March 3, 2021 (Midweek Lenten Service, Week 2)

            How often do you cry out to God in prayer? Whether it’s sadness, grief, despair, or anger for yourself, or in pleading prayer for a loved one, this is an agonizing feeling that so many people have in common.

            This psalm, Psalm 22, may be familiar to many people from Jesus’ last words on the Cross. The first line of this psalm are those words of lament, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” These are words many suffering people have echoed throughout the centuries. And, some will more closely examine these words from the beginning of Psalm 22 in just a few weeks, when we enter into the Passion of our Lord, in Holy Week.

            However, there is so much more to this psalm! The reading for today is from the end of the psalm, verses 23 through 31. Yes, it comes from a psalm of lament. And, who has not complained to God at some time or other? Sometimes, more often than any of us wish to?

            These cries of lament and complaint have a specific pattern to them.

  1. the invocation, in which the psalmist cries out to God to hear and listen
  2. the complaint, in which the psalmist tells God what is wrong
  3. the petition, in which the psalmist tells God what the psalmist wants God to do
  4. the expression of trust, in which the psalmist tells God why she or he knows that God can do what the psalmist asks
  5. the expression of praise and adoration, in which the psalmist celebrates the goodness and sovereignty of God [1]

This psalm reading, from verse 23 on, is wholly in the last part of this pattern: the expression of praise and adoration. We are in the praise territory of this hymn, and this last portion of the psalm is tied closely to the beginning, which seems so dark and hopeless. The psalmist makes a journey from darkness and despair to light and hope.

Is that our journey, sometimes? Can we be in the depths of misery or sadness or grief or despair? And then, gradually, the light of God’s presence comes into our experience. God extends hope and encouragement into our hopeless or sorrowful situation.

As I learned from Dr. Ken Bailey in one of his excellent Bible seminars, centuries ago there were no titles or numbers for the psalms. Bible students and scholars would refer to psalms by the first line. So, when our Lord Jesus referred to “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Yes – I am sure He was speaking forth this great lament from Psalm 22. However, I believe Jesus may also have been thinking of this portion of the psalm, especially verse 24: “God does not neglect the poor or ignore their suffering; God does not turn away from them, but answers when they call for help.”

            We do not have a distant, uncaring God! Yes, there is pain and suffering and sadness in the world. Yes, we will have sorrow and grief and even despair in our lives. Yet, God is present even amidst all that negative stuff. God will sit with us, or walk by our sides, as we go through all of that. And if we have a loved one who is going through the valley of the shadow, we can come alongside of that family member, or friend, and let them know that we are there, too.

            As Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1, the Lord helps us in all our troubles – vertically – so that each of us may be able to help others – horizontally – when they go through their troubles and difficulties. Praise God for God’s faithfulness to all generations.

Remember, this psalm assures us that all peoples will worship the Lord; from every part of the world they will turn to God. This is a promise from God, and it is faithful and true. Amen.  

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-psalm-2223-31-4  

Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages, McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, GA


Reminders from God

“Reminders from God”

Mark 8:31-39 (8:34) – February 28, 2021

When my teenage children reminded me about something, I certainly heard about it. They were never shy. They came right out and told me. This brings to my mind our scripture reading this morning. We hear Someone who reminded His disciples about something important, and wasn’t afraid to talk about it.

            Here is our Lord Jesus, acting as He often did in those years He traveled through Palestine, teaching His disciples, preaching, and healing. He was an itinerant Rabbi and teacher, traveling from place to place, setting up open-air classrooms, and doing theological seminars. Arguing scriptural points with other religious leaders. His followers tried to learn as much as they could from Jesus. They had an opportunity to observe Him closely, for three years.

            Just before today’s passage in the Gospel of Mark, our Lord Jesus asked the disciples “Who do people say that I am?” We can see from their responses that the disciples were starting to have some idea of their Rabbi’s purpose here on this earth.

            But now, our Lord Jesus began to systematically teach His followers that He was going to suffer, be rejected and killed, and then rise again. Moreover, Jesus did not just say this in private, but He said it openly, repeatedly.

            But, just a minute . . . the disciple Peter just made the declaration that Jesus was God’s Anointed. The Messiah. Then—immediately afterwards—Jesus reminds His followers of His passion and purpose here on earth.

            Whose priorities come first? What was Peter’s idea of the Messiah, God’s Anointed? Was Peter even ready to listen to Jesus? What is our idea of the Messiah, God’s Anointed? Do we listen to Jesus when He tells us who He is?

            A common, first-century idea of the Messiah, God’s Anointed, was that of a powerful, earthly Savior of His people, who leads them to worldly victory, and sets up a mighty earthly kingdom. Peter may very well have absorbed some of this idea of a worldly Messiah. The concept of Jesus being rejected and killed may have been completely out of the question for Peter. It was out of the question for many other people, too—in Jesus’s time, and our time today.

            Intellectually, we are familiar with the idea of Jesus being a suffering Savior. But how often, deep down, do we prefer a safe, comfortable idea of Jesus as a cheerful, safe, sensible fellow? A meek and mild Heavenly Friend? In other words, can you—can I—accept the idea of Jesus undergoing great suffering, being rejected, killed, and after three days rising again?

            I suspect Peter was unwilling to accept Jesus’s explanation of His passion and purpose. I think he refused to believe that Jesus was proclaiming Himself a meek, mild, Suffering Servant, ready to endure the Cross. From Mark’s description, Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him! I suspect Peter was putting his own priorities first!

            Do we put our own priorities first, as well? After all, in this modern day and age, the idea of dying on a cross is an extreme thing. Radical, in fact. It’s so much easier for us to believe in a moderate, neat, tidy, sensible religion.    

            Jesus does not mince words with Peter. Let’s read from Mark 8:33: “He rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan? For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Those are harsh words! Especially since Peter made such a marvelous declaration a short time before, that Jesus was God’s Anointed, the Messiah!

            But, isn’t it so typical of Peter, wanting things his own way, and not God’s way? Did he even listen to Jesus, and hear what his Lord was saying?

            Isn’t it so typical of us, to want things to be easy, cheerful, and sensible? Isn’t it simpler for us to shut out any concept of suffering and sacrifice? Or the pain of overcoming evil and temptation? We can see how Jesus reminds us, again, of God’s priorities. Jesus talks about how His followers need to think and act.

            Taking up His cross—for Jesus—was showing God’s love in the ultimate way. Jesus says that His followers are invited to take up their crosses, too. This isn’t shouldering a calamity, or enduring pain like a Stoic for your whole life. Taking up our cross is putting ourselves at the service of Christ, preparing a way for the Kingdom of God, whatever the cost.

            How can we follow Jesus’s example? The first thing I think of is putting God first. My insistent ego is a pesky thing, with its preoccupation with “me first!” and “I want some!” and “where’s mine?” A good suggestion is to think of God first, others second, and myself last. It’s a simple as wishing someone a good morning, and meaning it, or asking how someone is doing, and actually being interested in the answer. Thinking of others, and thinking of God – first.

            Being all focused on my own thoughts and activities can be one sure way to get my priorities messed up. Then, I lose sight of God’s priorities, and lose sight of Jesus and what He would encourage me to do, and to think.

            Thank God that Jesus gives us a clear idea of how we are to follow God’s priorities. Thank God for His reminders. We don’t need to forget the Cross, or avoid the Cross, but take up the Cross. We are encouraged to put ourselves at the service of our Lord Jesus. To think of others, and especially to think of God. That’s how to follow God’s priorities.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

God’s Constant Love and Goodness

“God’s Constant Love and Goodness”

Psalm 25:4-10 (25:7) – February 24, 2021 (Midweek Lenten Service, Week 1)

            I fondly remember a dear older pastor who died several years ago. Pastor Lou often used to spread his arms wide and say at the beginning of worship, “God is good, all the time!” And the congregation in his church would respond, “All the time, God is good!”

            Sometimes, the goodness of God can be difficult to experience. Isn’t that the truth? Sometimes, with all the falls and missteps, the sins and shortcomings that people commit, the goodness and faithfulness of God can be so distant. It even seems like that goodness and faithfulness is never to be reached, never to be felt, disappearing like smoke.

            Do you sometimes feel the lack of relationship in your life, just disappearing like smoke, too? Many of us feel lonely, closed in, even isolated. The missteps, sins and shortcomings can amplify those feelings, and cause further separation from God.  

            As we read this psalm over again, we can see the view “of the landscape of the soul that experiences pain and difficulty, even at times a sense of abandonment, yet which longs wholeheartedly for God. Waiting for God to draw near, for God to be felt and discovered is in the cry of the faithful who wish only to be remembered by God.” [1]

            Feeling especially lonely and isolated yet? I think that abandonment is what our psalm writer is reaching for here. Yet – all is not lost! This psalm is a deeply personal psalm about relationship – the relationship between the psalm writer and God. Even though our writer does talk about the sins and errors of his youth (and some of us are guilty of sins and errors when we get older, too), hope is certainly not lost!

            Yet, there is a bedrock of truth in what my friend Pastor Lou said: “God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!” We can see that repeated several times in this psalm. Our writer repeats the fabulous Hebrew word chesed, here translated steadfast or constant love. It has an even richer and fuller meaning than that, but that translation is a huge concept on its own!

“Remember, O Lord, your kindness and constant love which you have shown from long ago. Forgive the sins and errors of my youth. In your constant love and goodness, remember me, Lord!” This wonderful petition, “Remember me!” is coupled with the Lord remembering all the kindness and constant/steadfast love which has been abundantly shown, already!

The request is for relationship. And, we know God is in relationship with us, already! It does not matter that we do sin, for we know a forgiving, merciful God. The capper is the constant, steadfast love extended not once in a while, not sometimes, but all the time. For – that is exactly what “constant and steadfast” mean.

             Dr. Nancy Koestr has a superb illustration of this idea: “My dog has the right idea. She takes the leash in her mouth when I take her for a walk, so that she can lead me. It is an endearing gesture and always makes me laugh. If this give and take happens between animals and humans, surely it happens between us and God. And as we live in that relationship, we wait, and receive, and lift our souls.” [2]

            Praise God, we are offered a deep relationship with God. We are loved by God! And, this is a good God. Not sometimes, not most of the time, but all the time. I can indeed say with Pastor Lou, God is good, all the time! And, all the time, God is good. Amen, amen.


[1] https://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/73719/21-February-1-of-Lent.pdf

Thanks to Rev. Marjorie McPherson, Edinburgh Presbytery Clerk, for her thoughts about the 1st week of Lent.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-26/commentary-on-psalm-251-9-4

Commentary, Psalm 25:1-9, Nancy Koestr, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Meeting Jesus In-Between

“Meeting Jesus In-Between”

Temptation of Jesus – Jesus MAFA

Mark 1:9-13 (1:13) – February 21, 2021

            How often do we experience several significant happenings in our lives, and yet feel very much in between things? On the virtual road through life, yet not arriving at any settled place and not staying there for a good long time? When young people pass between one grade and the next, or graduation from one school or course of study to another, that is a time of being in-between.

            This whole past year – 2020 – might be seen as an in-between time. Certainly not a normal year, by anyone’s understanding. Whether it’s a busy time for our families, a hectic time at work, or a stressful time in terms of health, we might be in-between things in one or more areas of our lives. This seems like a time that is especially full of a lonely, uninhabited wilderness for so many.

As we look at Mark’s Gospel reading today, we see big changes for Jesus. His baptism – a big event! Jesus driven into the wilderness – another significant event! And then, Satan coming to Jesus – a third, powerful event! All in the space of five short verses. These three significant events all come crashing into Jesus’s life in a very short time, and with Mark’s typical economy of language.

We talked more about the Baptism of Jesus several weeks ago. This was certainly a highlight in our Lord’s life, and sure sign of His Heavenly Father’s approval. Then, immediately (one of Mark’s favorite words!), Jesus was driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus must have had major feelings concerning this sudden ushering away from all human habitation. To cap the wilderness experience, the devil and Jesus interacted, face to face. That must have been a sight to see! Imagine, Jesus on one side, and Satan on the other.   

            Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days, all alone in that deserted region. In-between times, in a time that is not a big, wonderful event, but is separated at a distance both physically and in terms of thought and experience. An in-between time, a wilderness time of loneliness and quiet.

            I understand a number of nurses serving in hospitals and care centers are so weary of seeing patients so very sick. This time of pandemic is stressful for everyone, but especially for those who care for seriously ill patients. Since the pandemic has caused patients to be so lonely and isolated, seldom receiving even one relative as a visitor, some nurses have taken it upon themselves to come alongside of very sick patients. To sit with them, give an extra squeeze of the hand or a sentence or two of encouragement or comfort before going to the next room.

            Is there a possibility that hospitals and care centers might be another place of the wilderness in the present day? Perhaps not the actual semi-arid wilderness of Palestine, but certainly an isolated experience, away from other humans except for brief times during the day.

            All the same, this in-between time can also be a time that is hallowed by God’s presence. Sure, God can meet us in this space, this liminal place in between the big things that happen in our lives – in yours and mine.  

            Even though big events can happen in our lives, so much of the daily activities of our lives are not big. Not earthshaking. Are you in the wilderness in some way today? In between events, and wondering how everything is going to right itself, or even somehow manage to continue?

            Let me tell you some good news! It is a comfort and encouragement to know that God seeks us out when we are in those in-between times. True, those wilderness times in our lives can be discouraging and disorienting for each of us. When we are lost or wandering or angry or grieving, God finds us again and again. This is the bedrock of our Reformed faith, that God takes the initiative and comes to seek us out, no matter what

            Just as the Lord God proclaimed Jesus to be God’s Son at His baptism, just as the Lord God sent angels to attend Jesus in the wilderness after Satan left, the common thread in each of these significant events is the Lord God’s closeness to Jesus. We hear the heavenly voice meet Jesus at the threshold of something new and different, and proclaim Jesus as God’s beloved!

            Not only the big places and events are holy, but also the in-between places. All places become holy as our God comes into all of them, breathing new life and encouragement and comfort into every space and place.

Are you at the threshold of something new or different? Still in the wilderness? Or, just continuing to walk that road of day-to-day existence? We can all take heart! God names us all God’s beloved. Did you hear? Each of us is God’s beloved child, no matter what.

As commentator Denise Anderson says, God meets us where each one is. God approaches each of us to claim us, equip us, and send us to do God’s will – as God’s beloved children. Amen!       

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

I would like to thank the Rev. T. Denise Anderson, Coordinator for Racial and Intercultural Justice with the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and former Co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), for her contributions to the Lenten sermon guide Again & Again, from Sanctified Art. These Lenten sermons are based on that sermon guide.

Make Us Clean!

“Make Us Clean!”

Psalm 51:1-12 (51:2) – February 17, 2021

            The marvel and puzzle of adults with smudges on their foreheads – on purpose! – is a wonder to many children. Why would adults have dirt or ash crosses put on their foreheads? And why wouldn’t they wash it off to make it all clean?

            It takes a while for young people to learn, “yes, I am a sinner, too.” Doesn’t it? Sometimes it is difficult for grown-ups to state plainly that they sin, too. They fall short of what God would have for them in this life. They mess up the clean sheet of paper. Isn’t that what sin is? Falling short, missing the mark, washing away the guilt and stains of sin. However we describe it, we know very well when sin happens. King David knew when he was dirty on the inside from sin, too.

            It does not matter whether King David was remembering the women of the village where he grew up, washing, scrubbing and wringing out their families’ clothing in tubs outside their homes, or whether we think of the agitator on those automatic wringer washers of yesterday, we all need to be cleansed from the wrongs we commit, on a regular basis.

            Today is the first day of Lent, that penitential period of forty days before Easter when the Church all across the world begins to journey with Jesus towards the Cross. Many people use external things like food or drink or certain practices to show their observance of Lent. This is a good thing, and I do not want to cause anyone to rethink their Lenten practices. However, King David here in Psalm 51 had something far more radical in mind. He wanted more than just his exterior cleaned. He wanted his insides cleaned up, too. Cleaned, and renewed!

            Ash Wednesday is the day in the liturgical year when we concentrate on renewal—the messing-up we have done, on the inside as well as the outside. Whether large or small, we can all be cleansed and renewed deep down on our insides. The psalmist uses that most intimate of all things, first-person pronouns. “Have mercy upon me,” “blot out my transgressions,” “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,” “I know my transgressions,” and “my sin is ever before me.”

“We are all first marked with the cross using water (and sometimes oil) at our baptisms.  At that time to be marked with the cross is a wonderful thing.  We are identified as the beloved children of God.  On Ash Wednesday we are marked with the cross using ashes and the words, “remember you are dust.”  The ashes and words remind us that we are not so wonderful.  In fact, we are all sinners.  The sign is not an X, marking us as [mistakes or] hopeless rejects, but a cross reminding us that God loves and forgives us, sinners though we be.” [1]  

We are not perfect believers in God. But, God says that is okay. God loves us just the same. This Ash Wednesday service is a special time to gather together, and to become aware of our turning-away from God. This understanding of the messing-up we have done and are continuing to do—prepares us to receive the forgiveness and joy of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. And the cross of ashes on each forehead is a reminder of that blessed forgiveness in each one of our lives. Praise God, we can be restored to a close relationship with God.

Hear the Good News! In Jesus Christ, we all are forgiven! Amen.


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/01/years-abc-ash-wednesday-february-18-2015.html

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Listen Up!

“Listen Up!”

Mark 9:2-9 – February 14, 2021

            When I was in elementary school, on rainy days we would play games in our classroom instead of going outside for recess. One of these games was “Telephone.” The whole class would line up single file, in a big circle around the classroom. The teacher would quietly whisper a sentence into the first child’s ear. By turns, one by one, each child would communicate the sentence exactly as they heard it to the next person. And—imagine the giggles when the sentence got to the end of the line and ended up all garbled!

            We can imagine the way the disciples sometimes received information from Jesus. We can just tell from listening to this reading from Mark. Let’s set the scene. We have Jesus with His disciples, and some other followers. Women, too! Usually unnamed, but also there. In several important instances, Jesus had an inner circle. Three special, or key disciples, who would be the ones he wanted to tell special things. Important things, as in the Gospel reading for today.

            Jesus had been preaching God’s word, healing people and doing other miracles for some time. If we think about it, by this time the Rabbi Jesus was really in demand. Think of any popular person, or famous celebrity. Often mobbed by people when He stopped to preach in a synagogue, or if He stayed overnight at someone’s home.

            A week before the happenings in our passage today, Jesus fed more than four thousand men, plus women and children. Immediately afterwards, He heals another blind man. Jesus was even more in demand than ever, after that display of power and might! Remember, that’s one of the main emphases for Mark. Showing the power and might of the Son of God!  

            As much as Jesus taught and preached and performed miracles, He needed time to Himself, too. He withdrew to have time with his Heavenly Father, all alone, in prayer. Here at the beginning of today’s reading, Jesus took three of his disciples with Him to pray. I suspect they took off early in the morning to go up to a high mountain, nearby.

            I want you all to take note! Jesus actively looked for time to get alone with His Father. To pray as well as to listen and concentrate on what the Lord was saying to Him. Sure, Jesus said amazing things and did astounding miracles, on a regular basis. He rubbed shoulders with crowds and taught large groups of people. But He also knew He needed to separate and recharge. To have down time, personal time, family time with His Heavenly Father.

            Sure, it’s great to be in crowds, fun to be with people sometimes! But it’s also good to be alone. Restful to take some time away, time to pray and take stock. Recharging time! As one of my daughters says, alone-time can be wonderful, too.

            But this time is a little different. Jesus brings Peter, James and John with Him to the top of the mountain. And then, He prays—as it says in the parallel Transfiguration account in Luke. While all four of them are there, lifted up, apart from the ordinary everyday life down at the bottom of the mountain, something happens. Something completely unexpected, and marvelous.

            Or, was it? The disciples had already seen their Rabbi and leader Jesus do miraculous things on a regular basis! Feeding thousands of people, performing a number of miraculous healings, and ejecting unclean spirits—and we’re just talking about during the past few weeks!

            While Jesus is in prayer at the top of the mountain, His clothes become dazzling white. Whiter than any laundry could possibly make them. Plus, Moses and Elijah show up in the same bright white clothes, and start talking with Jesus. (I am not sure exactly how Peter, James and John could tell the other two were Moses and Elijah, but somehow, they knew.) Mark even tells us what the reaction of the three disciples was to all of this—they were scared to death!

            Let me ask—do you know someone who tends to dither? When they are scared, or nervous, or excited, do they just start talking? Just a reflex action? I think that’s exactly what Peter is doing here. And Mark tells us Peter didn’t even know what he was saying.

            Can you just see these three grown men, clutching at each other? Scared to death at these miraculous, out-of-this-world happenings? “Um—Lord! Um—let’s build three altars here! One for You, and—um—one for the other two guys, too!” Or, something like that. Do you think Peter and the other two disciples were receptive to what God was saying at this point? I suspect not.     

But wait—there’s more! As if that wasn’t enough, with Jesus, Moses and Elijah showing up in dazzling white, a cloud covered them all. And a voice came out of the cloud.

            Can you remember when a supernatural cloud appeared before? Remember, the LORD appeared as a cloud to the nation of Israel, in Exodus 13. Again, in Exodus 19, the LORD’s voice came out of the cloud in thunder. And so it is, again. God’s voice came out of this cloud that surrounded the disciples and Jesus, Moses and Elijah. The voice said, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!”

            It isn’t every day that the Lord God Almighty talks to you! The Lord even gave specific instructions to the three disciples. “Listen to Jesus!” This is a command, NOT a suggestion! The verb tense is present imperative! Here God not only commands the disciples to listen, but by extension, God commands the whole world to listen—to Jesus!

            Jesus healed deaf people, so they could really hear. What’s more, Jesus came to heal the spiritually deaf to His words! Jesus opens all our ears so we can hear the truth in His words!

Just as we closely listen to a doctor when he or she is talking to us about our cancer, or heart attack, or broken leg, just as we ask our spouses or family members to accompany us so that we have another set of ears to listen accurately to the doctor, so also you and I are to listen carefully and attentively to the words of Jesus. The voice from the cloud, from heaven declared Jesus to be none other than the Son of God. Then, the voice commanded us to listen to Him.

The message of this Gospel reading today is clear. To hear, we need to listen carefully. To experience, we need to open our minds and hearts to the possibility of God’s voice. Look at the Son. Listen to His words. Open your mind and heart to His presence. We don’t need to be on the top of a mountain to experience God’s presence and fullness. Just shake off the routine, the same-old same-old. And, God will be there. We can celebrate the fullness of the Lord’s presence! The possibility of God’s power and grace! Alleluia, amen.

Take a few moments to reread the gospel. Imagine you’re before the Lord Jesus as He speaks to you in His glory. What is His word to you? We start the journey of Lent this week with Ash Wednesday. How will that word of Jesus help you this week as you begin your Lenten journey?

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

St. Luke’s Church – Part of Christ’s Body

“St. Luke’s Church – Part of Christ’s Body”

1 Corinthians 12:12-26 (12:26) – February 7, 2021

            So many activities needed to stop with the shut-down and shelter-in-place last March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing I have missed very much is the wonderful time I spent reading to the preschool children here at St. Luke’s Church. Every Tuesday morning for years, I read picture books of all kinds to the children.

            I was reminded of this sad experience as I considered today’s Scripture reading. Paul’s discussion about the Church compared to an actual, human body reminded me of a delightful children’s picture book, one I’d love to read to the preschool children. This book is a retelling of a Liberian creation story about a human head, two arms, a body, and two legs, and how they all decide to come together and work as a team, creating a complete human body.

I believe the apostle Paul would greatly approve this story and message! A human body does need its various parts to work together. Just imagine the commotion, the disruption that would happen if parts of the body went on strike, or refused to work with other parts of the body!

As Paul said, “15 If the foot were to say, “Because I am not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” that would not keep it from being a part of the body. 16 And if the ear were to say, “Because I am not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,” that would not keep it from being a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were just an eye, how could it hear? And if it were only an ear, how could it smell? 18 God put every different part in the body just as God wanted it to be.”

No matter how many parts of the body we name, each part is important, and each part is needed. We can tell right away if a part of the body is hurt, or broken, or not working normally. And, what if certain parts are missing altogether? The functionality of the body – or, as Paul would remind us, of the Church – would be very much diminished.

I know most people are associated with a local church, and many people are active members. What a wonderful way to honor and please the Lord when God’s children are active and vital parts of God’s body – the Church.

The local church has members who are active in many roles. There are those who are the mouth of the congregation – the pastor and teachers in the church. The arms of a local church are often seen as the deacons, in the food pantries and serving ministries. And, the feet of a congregation can be those who transport people, or participate in Meals on Wheels. The heart of the local church can be those vital members who are well-beloved among the church folk.

As I describe various tasks and ministries, I suspect you can think of individuals who fit these to a “T.” And, all of these parts of the body, of the Church, are needed.

From time to time, churches need to take stock, and see where they are going as a congregation. Group reflection and consideration is useful, even exciting. We here at St. Luke’s Church are going to put together a timeline of the past 20 years this coming weekend! As Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” said, “Who we are in the present includes who we were in the past.”

I need to present this church timeline as the final project in a clinical internship I am taking right now. Plus, I see this marvelous opportunity for our congregation to find out more about some important history that this church shares together. Both the ups as well as the downs, the celebrations as well as the difficulties are all so important and valuable to reflect upon and consider. The best part is that we will have a marvelous church coach to assist us this weekend.

The Rev. Brandyn Simmons has a great deal of experience in working with congregations on the historical background of a congregation as well as the assessment and understanding piece. I am very grateful to Pastor Brandyn, and I ask each of you for your prayers as we take this exciting journey of memory and discovery.

Some of you may have long experience with your local church, or you may be a more recent member. Regardless of how long you have been at your church, what has kept you coming to worship services? What aspects of fellowship and togetherness at your church are important to you? What is the single most positive thing you would like to tell me about your church? Now, take that thing – whatever it is – and write it down. Send it to your pastor in an email, or in a phone call, text, or note by mail. This is such a blessing for your pastor and your congregation!  

For many churches, the first Sunday of the month is Communion Sunday. In the Lord’s Supper, the local congregation has another reason to come together as the Body of Christ. We are invited to come together around the table and share the bread and the cup together. Even in the socially-distant time of the pandemic, we can still be together in spirit and in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.    

Yes, we are all individuals, and yes, each of us is beloved by God to be whatever part of the Church Body God has meant for us to be! And yes, we can be the best hand or eye or foot or whatever Church Body-part we are able. Can you do that? I know I will try. Let’s all strive to be God’s Body as we pull together, work together, and celebrate together. The apostle Paul would certainly approve!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Mighty Name of Jesus!

“Mighty Name of Jesus!”

Mark 1:21-28 (1:24) – January 31, 2021

            When many people think of superheroes, they cannot help but think of mighty people of valor or power. For many children (and, for some grown-up people, too!) thoughts of the most powerful superhero or mighty person in the region can be absolutely intimidating.

            Can you imagine our Gospel writer Mark wanting to kick off his narrative of Jesus with a bang? Why not start off with a really big event, displaying mighty power? Soon after the baptism in the opening scene, what does Mark present in the first chapter? An exorcism! That’s right, the unconventional Rabbi Jesus has a power encounter with a demonized man.

            The Rabbi Jesus started his itinerant travels throughout the northern region of Palestine, soon after He was baptized. Mark tells us how Jesus meets a certain man in Capernaum, while He was teaching and preaching in the town.

            But, before we zoom in and look at this encounter, can we talk about the various people the Rabbi Jesus met, each and every day? People from all walks of life, from all different levels and places and spaces in society. These folks could be broken, hurting, angry, ill, tired, frustrated, or despairing. Even perhaps cynical, miserable, in pain, or grief-stricken. Does a word or two of that description strike a chord within you? Can you see yourself in the crowd listening to Jesus? I hope you do. I know I can.

Jesus opened Himself up to all of that, all of those feelings, all that heartache and pain when He started His ministry. Do you have some deep feelings, some heartache or pain or grief or despair that you are dealing with today? See whether you can find something in common with the people listening to Jesus in Capernaum.

The Rabbi Jesus and His disciples came to the town and set up shop. Not only teaching and preaching, but I suspect talking and debating with the townspeople and leaders in Capernaum’s society and synagogue. Speaking and teaching with Godly authority, too!

Imagine everyone’s surprise when Jesus taught in the synagogue and a man stormed into the building. He screamed, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Are you here to destroy us? I know who you are—you are God’s holy messenger!” That must have made everyone’s jaw drop. Mark identifies the man as someone with an evil spirit. I know what Mark is talking about, because I have had several similar experiences, too.

In today’s 21st century setting, especially in the urban United States, many people deny the possibility of evil spirits. This could be severe mental illness, or a complicated medical diagnosis that affects mood and stability. And, I absolutely agree. However, the Bible also is an accurate source for spiritual, emotional and psychological information. Many people in many places in the world today take this power encounter of Jesus and the demoniac very seriously.

Yes, this instance could be involving someone with a mental illness. Yes, the man in this instance could have severe behavioral problems. And, yes, Jesus could well be involved in a situation with something in the spiritual realm. Any way you look at it, our Lord Jesus is exerting mighty power and authority.  

The man (or the evil spirit within the man) definitively stated, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Are you here to destroy us? I know who you are—you are God’s holy messenger!” Jesus had just started His ministry, and this declaration certainly describes Jesus well and accurately.

Jesus had (and has) mighty power and authority. He did (and still does) miracles. I do not know how our Lord can tell who to do a miracle for, and who not, but there is no denying that miracles happen. However, this power encounter definitely got Jesus and His ministry started with a bang! With a great deal of fanfare and great press, too.

Just imagine the talk that spread like wildfire: “Have you heard about that itinerant Rabbi in Capernaum? He healed a demoniac! It was amazing! In an instant, this Rabbi Jesus cast the evil spirit out of the man, in the synagogue, and everything! That Rabbi – a real man of God!”

Commentator Karoline Lewis says, “Who is Jesus? A boundary breaker, which an exorcism confirms exponentially. Jesus reveals a boundary breaking God. We see this all over Mark. Each and every boundary we try to put in place, we think is in place, even that which we perceive as impenetrable, God bursts through. Political, social, religious, ethnic, racial, sexual, gendered, cosmic,” [1] it does not matter. Jesus breaks through whatever boundary we set up.

Yes, Jesus can break through boundaries, and emotional barriers, and spiritual problems, too. In our own lives, we might have barriers or boundaries set up. With such sadness, upset and distraction going on, who wouldn’t have some difficulties and problems in their lives right now? Whether you have deep feelings, some heartache or pain or grief or despair that you are dealing with today, Jesus can work wonders in your life and spirit, too. Jesus is mighty and powerful. He can overcome, and can come into our lives and hearts in ways that transcend human understanding. In ways that not only amaze us, but comfort and encourage us, as well.

Jesus loves each of us so much, so much that He will banish negative emotions, fearful feelings, and yes, evil spirits, too. Praise the Lord we have such a mighty and powerful God on our side. No matter what, for the rest of our lives. Alleluia, amen.  


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/exorcisms-for-our-day

“Exorcisms for Our Day,” Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2015

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Jesus Calling!

“Jesus Calling!”

Mark 1:14-20 (1:17) – January 24, 2021

            Have you ever heard someone calling, and responded right away? I am sure you have. Whether it is a call out to the back yard or the garage to come in for dinner, or a call to join in on a project or job, have you felt eager to respond? Excited? Like you can’t wait to begin?

            I wonder whether the disciples felt that way when they responded to Jesus?

            Last week, we took a closer look in the Hebrew Scriptures at the Lord’s call of the young Samuel when he was serving along with the high priest Eli in the Tabernacle. Today, our Scripture reading talks about Jesus calling four of His disciples.

            But, wait a moment. The four fishermen were actively involved in their secular jobs when Jesus came up to them and called. Simon and Andrew owned one boat at least, perhaps more than one. James and John were the sons of Zebedee, and we do know that Zebedee had a fishing business with at least several boats on the Sea of Galilee. So, we are talking about some serious fishermen seriously involved up to their elbows in fishy business.  

            I am sure our Lord Jesus talked with loads of people each week. Except – I don’t think He called all of those people to be His disciples, His followers. Do you wonder about these four fishermen, in particular? Does something about this reading today bother you? How could Simon, Andrew, James and John up and leave everything right away? How could they walk away from their nets and respond to Jesus’s call – immediately?  

            Let’s consider a different translation of this reading, from The Message. Verses 16-18: “Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you.” I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.”

“They didn’t ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.”

            Perhaps you might not believe this narrative. Does anyone actually DO that anymore? I mean, dropping everything and just following Jesus when He calls. Maybe, in Bible times, people did things like that. But, today? Does anyone answer God’s call like that anymore?

            Let’s be honest. I cannot imagine doing what these four fishermen did. True, we do not have many professional fishermen in the Chicago area. But, can you imagine leaving your full-time job – or, if you don’t work full-time, leaving whatever takes much of your time and attention each day. “Most of us, truth be told, would find it very hard to leave work and family and friends and all the rest to venture into such an uncertain future. Does that mean we’re more or less failures as Christians? Or at least that we are less faithful than Andrew and Peter, James and John?” [1]

            I started off looking at Jesus calling four disciples. He chose them and called them, knowing them better than they knew themselves. Why don’t we flip this around and look at this scenario from the fishermen’s point of view. These four guys had Jesus call, to follow Him.

We read that they got up without hesitation, leaving their nets and boats and catches of fish behind. Immediately! Did they feel eager to respond? Excited? Like they couldn’t wait to begin to follow this unconventional Rabbi?

“We are called, perhaps not so much to follow, but to take Mark’s ‘immediately’ seriously. This is not, “wait a few minutes. Let me pack my bag. I have a few more arrangements to make.” No preparation. No packing list. No recommendations of what to take, what to do.” [2]

When I first felt a call to serve God, I was in high school. I did not listen for a long time. At least, I don’t think I heard clearly. Sure, I heard something of a message from God for some time, but it was muffled, or garbled. I did work as an eager church leader, as a faithful church worker for years and years before I had the opportunity to go to seminary when I was forty years old. But – isn’t being a faithful church worker following the call of God, too?

As commentator David Lose says, “We follow [Jesus] in particular and distinct ways that may or may not be like the first disciples. And that, I think, is the point. Perhaps we follow by becoming a teacher. Perhaps we follow by volunteering at the senior center. Perhaps we follow by looking out for those in our schools who always seem on the outside and invite them in.

“Perhaps we follow by doing a job we love as best we can to help others. Perhaps we follow by doing a job we hate but contributes to supporting our family and helping others. Perhaps we follow by being generous with our wealth and with our time. Perhaps we follow by listening to those around us and responding with encouragement and care. Perhaps we follow by caring for an aging parent, or special needs child, or someone else who needs our care. Perhaps we follow by….” [3] Well, you get the idea.

Jesus calls us all to follow Him, in any number of ways. That means us knowing that Jesus is for real – He is the real thing, the real deal, the genuine article.  

 When we are called to follow Him, that means He calls us to turn our backs on something else in our lives. Is it possible that sometimes we get altogether too comfortable, too unwilling to risk, too unable to step out in faith? My challenge to all of us: be willing to step out, and follow the calling of Jesus, whenever and wherever He wishes us to go.

Please God, I’ll go.


[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/01/epiphany-3-b-following-jesus-today/

“Following Jesus Today,” David Lose, …in the meantime… 2015.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/the-immediately-of-epiphany

“The Immediately of Epiphany,” Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher, 2015.

[3] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/01/epiphany-3-b-following-jesus-today/

“Following Jesus Today,” David Lose, …in the meantime… 2015.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Listen Up!

“Listen Up!”

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (3:9) – January 17, 2021

            Have you ever been on the other end of a conversation over the phone or over a two-way radio or walkie-talkie, and had problems hearing the other person? Exactly that happened to me the other day. I was on the cell phone with a UCC pastor colleague, and we had a whole lot of muffle-muffle, crackle-crackle on the line. We could hardly hear one another – that is, until we hung up and reconnected with a new phone call.

             Our scripture reading today comes from 1 Samuel 3, and we can tell the boy Samuel wasn’t quite sure what – or who – he was listening to. But, we are getting ahead of ourselves!

            Let’s set the scene. Chapter 3 begins with the boy Samuel, who lives and serves in the Tabernacle, a special tent where the altar to the Lord God is housed. The elderly Eli is currently the high priest, except Eli had difficulty with his eyes and could not see much any longer.  I can relate to Eli, since several members of my extended family had or currently have problems with their eyes and vision. I wear very strong contact lenses myself, and I thank God that I live in a time and place where I can get corrective lenses to help me to see!

            This Bible reading mentions both seeing and hearing – two senses so important for people to navigate through life! Not that people cannot live, and live well, without these senses of eyes or ears, but in Bible times, people had real, acknowledged difficulty without them.

            I suspect that Samuel was a real helper for Eli, helping with the everyday duties of caring for the Tabernacle. Just so, the elderly Eli had problems seeing. Verse 1 of our reading makes a fascinating editorial comment: “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.” In those days, rare was the person who heard from or saw God: an uncertain, precarious time, indeed.

Certainly, a person might think serving in the Tabernacle – or Temple, or church – would give someone a pipeline to God! But, maybe not.  

Samuel helped Eli on a regular basis, and slept in the same part of the Tabernacle where the ark of the Covenant was kept. In this narrative, the Lord speaks to Samuel in an audible voice. That means, a voice just the same as yours and mine. Or, perhaps a bit more special. Think of voices like James Earl Jones, or Charlton Heston, or Morgan Freeman.

We hear about Samuel running through the dark Tabernacle to wake Eli, saying, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

Perhaps Samuel did not understand the voice. Perhaps he hadn’t quite tuned in. Maybe there was some static, or maybe the voice was muffled at first. Let’s listen to what happens next: “A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” Samuel got up, went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Does a special voice get your attention? Or, can your attention wander? Once your attention is captured, is the message conveyed by that special voice easily received?  

            As commentator Carolyn Brown mentions, “God speaks in other ways, too.  Sometimes we read something in the Bible and know it is meant for us.  Sometimes when we are scared or sad, we feel God very close to us helping us be brave.  Sometimes when we are outside, we see something God has made and feel God loving us.  Sometimes we have a feeling deep inside that God wants us to do something to take care of another person.” [1]  The Lord can communicate in a great variety of ways! God’s word and God’s instructions come to a great variety of people, too. And, not just to “religious people,” either!

            God’s words and instructions come to people for their own encouragement, sometimes. But, God can also mean for us to take action. Sure, we ought to listen up! It is truly an awesome thing to hear from the Lord. Plus, God sometimes wants us to go – do – speak – take action!

            Two days ago was the 91st birthday anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. January 15, 1929. This day has been declared a Federal holiday, and also been commemorated as a national day of service. This day “is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities. This day of service helps to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, address social problems, and move us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a ‘Beloved Community.’” [2]

            This vision, this phrase “Beloved Community” is a great part of the United Church of Christ’s vision for our world, as well. Just as the Lord called Samuel to act and to speak, just as God calls many people to go, to do, to speak for God, perhaps God is calling you to step out for others? As Americans, as believers in God, we are all encouraged to serve others on this day. This day, and every day.

            Listen up! Listen to God, and see where God would have you serve today.

And, serve with joy and love in your heart as you do your part to bring about the “Beloved Community” of God. Alleluia, amen!


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2011/12/year-b-2nd-sunday-after-epiphany-2nd.html

Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 2B, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2012.

[2] https://americorps.gov/newsroom/events/mlk-day

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

The Waters of Baptism

“The Waters of Baptism”

John the Baptist – Jesus MAFA

Mark 1:4-11 (1:9) – January 10, 2021

            When you or I think of baptism today, what comes to mind? A family with a precious infant or young child, the little one dressed in a special outfit. The congregation rejoicing as the minister performs the sacrament. Such a special and meaningful way of extending God’s grace.  

            But, let’s go back to our Gospel reading, when John the Baptist preached repentance. Certainly quite a different scene comes to mind. We see John as an outsider, some say a preacher of doom and gloom, and others a mighty prophet of God.

Reading from the Gospel for today, “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”

            You may remember bracelets and t-shirts with the initials “WWJD” imprinted on them. The words “What Would Jesus Do?” were a Christian, and even pop-culture, trend some years ago. Remembering this trend brings up a valid question. Let’s reframe it into a question about baptism. Who would Jesus exclude? For that matter, who would John turn away from baptism?

            I’d like to develop that question. St. Luke’s Church, our church, is a member church of the United Churches of Christ. This denomination has taken the radical stand of radical welcome. UCC churches are supposed to welcome everyone. That means a radical, open-hearted, open-handed welcome to all people, no matter what. No matter who.

No matter if someone is grumpy, or mean, or stingy. You are welcome here at St. Luke’s Church. No matter if someone is painfully shy, or has some physical or mental infirmity, or has a really strong personality. No matter what your gender or sexual orientation is, either. All are welcome here, in this particular church, too.  

            As we ask “Who Would Jesus Exclude?” from membership in this church, this brings to mind what the Rev. Dr. David Handley often proclaimed from the pulpit in his long tenure at First Presbyterian Church of Evanston. I remember hearing when I was a member there some 15 and 20 years ago. Dr. Handley would often insist in his sermons that the church is not a private club for the righteous, but instead a hospital for sinners.

I mean to say that our church is not to have arbitrary, unspoken rules for who to include and who to exclude from membership. God does not discriminate. God does not blackball prospective members. The UCC has taken the stand of radical welcome to everyone. That means that as a member church of the UCC, St. Luke’s Church takes that stand, too.  

I would like to return to our Gospel reading for this morning. Can you imagine John the Baptist saying, “I’m not baptizing that person!” because John didn’t like him or her? Sure, John had a strong personality. John was headstrong, and determined, and definitely spoke his mind. Many of the Jewish leaders and bigwigs in the Sanhedrin were upset with John the Baptist.

However, I suspect many of the ordinary members of synagogues throughout the region heard John’s message. Some people who had been turned away from synagogues, too. John the Baptist extended that radical welcome – telling all to repent of their sins, get right with God, and come and be baptized as an outward expression of an inward change.

Even some Jewish leaders and synagogue bigwigs heard John’s preaching, and were convicted of their small-minded and biased point of view. Even people John knew who had bad-mouthed and shunned him. I am sure John did not turn them away, but baptized them, too.  

Do you think God was surprised about the conflict in synagogues, and at the Temple? How about the conflict in the early churches? What do you think Paul and Peter, James and John were addressing when they wrote their letters that are included in the New Testament? Sins like hatred, conflict, bitterness and envy do not somehow “scare” God.

Just as in this past week here in the United States, the heightened rhetoric and the storming of the Capitol building did not shock God. God was not surprised or scared of the massive conflict and disruption. God recognizes that people are human. People sin – that is what they do. That is why John the Baptist came, to make people aware of their sin, and to call people to repentance. Baptism lets everyone know about people’s individual, internal change.

This church baptizes infants and small children. As commentator Carolyn Brown says, Infants and children “didn’t even know what was going on; [and] God, their parents, and the congregation loved them and claimed them as their own for all time.” [1] That can be extended to ALL of us. We all have been loved and claimed by God for all time. We are all God’s beloved.

The waters of baptism are here to wash away our sin, in this day and age. And not only that, but to extend God’s grace to those who have gone through the baptismal waters. Yes, we continue to sin, and yes, God does extend grace. We do not become suddenly sin-less, but as we walk with God, we will sin less and less. (At least, that is the hope.)

            I say to you, in the spirit of John the Baptist, Repent, and remember your baptism! Determine to journey with Jesus from this point onwards. Alleluia, amen. 


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/12/year-b-baptism-of-lord-first-sunday.html

Worshiping with Children, Baptism of the Lord, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Seeing the Star

“Seeing the Star”

Matthew 2:1-12 (2:9) – January 3, 2021

            Have you ever been far away from the city, far enough that you could see countless stars when you went outside on a clear night? When I was far north in Wisconsin some years ago, I was amazed at how crystal clear the night sky appeared, with all the stars laid out overhead.

            That must have been how it was for the Magi so long ago. Imagine, having a job where your job description said you were required to examine the amazing night skies closely, night after night. These people were not “kings of the Orient,” but instead people skilled in any number of sacred arts of the time: philosophy, natural sciences, and especially astronomy.

            Did you see the conjunction of two planets some days ago? Just before Christmas? On December 21, a special astronomical event occurred: the closest great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 397 years! Sadly, the skies were overcast when I tried to take a look on the 21st, but according to some of my friends, it was truly a sight to see. The planets appeared to almost touch each other, high above. Some huge astronomical event very much like this was what the learned astronomers saw in the night skies two thousand years ago.

            These wise ones became important among the Medes and later among the Persians including interpretating of dreams or other divine messages, magic and divination. Our Gospel writer Matthew calls them “Magi.”

The Babylonians and Persians probably learned of the promise of the “Messiah” from Jews who had been brought to Babylon centuries before. These Magi – likely nobles or scholars from the East – determined to find the King their books of divination told them had just been born. That was why the Magi from the East appeared in Judea in the first place, and why they are in the narrative of the Nativity, in the gospel of Matthew.

            These Magi started off in a westward direction, following yonder Star, just like the Christmas (or, Epiphany) carol tells us. Except – they got lost along the way. Is that at all like us? Do we try to follow the Star, to follow Jesus, and get distracted, and detour along the way?

            One of my commentators tells about distractions, when he was visiting some good friends up in New Hampshire. “They took us on a long hike up a mountain and at the very top of it we stopped and had a picnic overlooking the valley down below. We were awestruck and silenced by the majesty and beauty of the face of God all around us. All the while that we were up there, on this beautiful mountain, there was another person down off to the side of us who spent all of his time trying to get his smart phone to work so he could check his emails while they ate.” [1]

Is it easy for us to get so distracted that we cannot even see the majesty of God? Do we get turned around? Do we get comments from an unlikely source? Because, that is exactly what King Herod was: an unlikely source of directions.

            Oh, sure. At first glance, the local king seems to be a good choice to ask where the newborn King of Israel is to be found. Except, Herod had no idea that anything of the sort was going on. Moreover, Herod was particularly bloodthirsty. Not a good choice at all.  

Significantly, the Magi were foreigners. Gentiles. Non-Jews. “These Wise Ones from the East were scientists and practiced other religions, and God used their faith and knowledge to bring them to the Christ. More ironic, God used scientists who practiced other religions to let King Herod and the chief priests and scribes of the people [of Israel] in on the news that their Messiah had been born.” [2]

Do we get lost as we try to follow Jesus? Or, have you even found Him in the first place?

The amazing thing about the Magi was that they saw a star that was so bright, so meaningful, that they had to follow. After consulting their learned books and discovering which direction they needed to go, these foreign dignitaries “felt the prodding of one particular star to take this incredible journey; [and when] they came to the place to which the star led them, they were met there by God.“ [3]

What an amazing journey’s end, meeting God in the Babe born in Bethlehem.

As we approach the house the Holy Family lives in, with the Magi, are we hesitant to enter in? Do we hold back from the presence of the young Jesus, with Mary His mother? Is there something especially holy and precious about Jesus that causes us to bow our heads in worship? God in the flesh, Emmanuel, God-with-us. The Gospel of John calls Him the Light of the World, and the Bright Morning Star is one of Jesus’ names in Revelation.

We celebrate Epiphany, Twelfth Night, Three Kings Day, January 6th. We mark this celebration several days early, since the 6th falls on Wednesday this year. Today is also our celebration of Communion. Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi as told to us by Matthew. As we consider the Star the Magi followed, we fix our eyes on Jesus, the Light of the World, the Bright Morning Star.

As we celebrate the One who the Magi worshipped. Jesus holds out His arms to us – O, come, let us adore Him! Christ the Lord.


[1] https://homebynow.blogspot.com/2013/01/who-were-those-guys.html

“Who Were Those Guys?” Stan Duncan, Home by Now, 2013.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/epiphany-of-our-lord/commentary-on-matthew-21-12

Craig A. Satterlee Bishop, North/West Lower Michigan Synod, Lansing, Mich.

[3] http://words.dancingwiththeword.com/2012/12/on-magi-and-journeys.html

“On Magi and Journeys,” the Rev. Dr. Janet H. Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2013.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

The Word Became Flesh

“The Word Became Flesh”

John 1:14 – December 27, 2020

            We all use language. Every day. In conversation at home, on the cellphone, or at work. Reading a news site or writing e-mail. Words communicate meaning, ideas, stories. Each one of us has a personal story. Each story is individual and unique. Our stories are communicated using words and language, and each individual has a creative, unique way to tell his or her story.

The story of a personal life makes sense because it is part of a larger story, the Story that has the story of Jesus Christ at its center. This story of God’s initiative calls for my gratitude and response, a Story some theologians have called ‘the history of salvation.’ It is the Story set forth in the Word of God that crosses boundaries and transcends lines of race, class, culture and age.

Our Scripture text for tonight, the first 14 verses of John’s Gospel, is a restatement of an old theme. Remember Genesis 1:1? “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Scholars believe the apostle John was thinking of that introduction to the Greatest Story ever told. John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word.” John reframed that Story, and gave it a new look from a different perspective.

            The almighty God wanted to communicate with us puny, limited human beings. But how was God supposed to communicate God’s Story? What with the stress, anxiety, isolation and depression running rampant, all across our country? For that matter, what about communicating God’s Story in the time of COVID?

            The Gospel of John tells us how, no matter what the earthly situation holds. In the beginning was the Word. The Word was God. The Word is God. Jesus is the Word. John 1:14 says that the Word, Jesus, became flesh,  and . . . the Word dwelt among us.

            Think about it: the whole idea of God becoming a helpless baby, able to feel cold and heat, to be hungry and thirsty, with blood and bones, a nervous system and a digestive system. So staggering was this idea that some of the people in John’s day could not believe it. God? the creative God who made heaven and earth? Coming to earth as a helpless, human baby? No way!!

            And, not only did this Creator God appear in creation so that our eyes could see Him, this almighty God has the crazy idea of dwelling among people. Becoming one of us limited human beings, sharing our food and living in our midst. Jesus became fully man. He didn’t just seem to be a man, and pretend to be human. He really and truly became man, living with us as one of us.

            What a way for the almighty, eternal, creative God to communicate to us in a way that we limited human beings might possibly understand. God also wanted humanity to understand His Word made flesh, the one called Jesus of Nazareth.

            A good many years ago, a bible translator went to a remote, mountainous region in the interior of Africa. He worked hard at turning an obscure oral language into a written language, which involved decoding the language, writing a grammar, learning extensive vocabulary, and finally translating a portion of the Bible into the heart language of that particular people-group.

            After years of intense work and language preparation, when he felt he was ready, the missionary made his presentation of the Story of Jesus to a group of headmen from the tribe. He was surprised at their response, which was unlike any he had ever had before in all his years of telling people the Story of Jesus. The men just sat there in silence. Then, the chief came forward.

            The chief grasped the missionary’s hands and, with tears in his eyes, thanked him for coming to tell them the Story of Jesus. “This Story of good news is the one my people have waited for, all their lives long!!” And then came the clincher: the chief asked, “Your tribe has had this Story for many, many years. What took you so long to tell us?”

            This is a Story that can change people’s lives for eternity. Telling the God’s story in someone’s heart language is one of the best ways to communicate how much God loves us.

            Praise the Lord that God sent Jesus into this world, the Word incarnate, the Word that became a helpless baby in Bethlehem. Praise God that God has repaired that broken relationship with us, and to be called the children of God. The Lord loved us so much that God gave His only begotten Son on our behalf, to reconcile us to God for eternity.

            Gloria in excelsis Deo.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Good News of Great Joy!

Stained Glass Nativity

“Good News of Great Joy!”

Luke 2:8-16 (2:10) – December 20, 2020

            Do you need Good News? So many are discouraged. Disconnected. Downhearted. This disconnected year of 2020 makes us all feel isolated and separated, even with the computer and social media. Especially at holiday time.

            The shepherds needed some Good News, too. On those hilltops around Bethlehem, they were not exactly welcome in the general society of the town, either. Focusing on today’s Scripture reading, Dr. Luke tells us about the shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. But, he does not mention anything about the low position they held in society.

            Did you ever think you had something in common with those shepherds? This year of the pandemic, we certainly do. We all experience a real disconnect and isolation in society—and so did the shepherds.

            Throughout the centuries, in many situations, Christians have found themselves set at a distance from society at large. As you are feeling a similar kind of discombobulation, it may be that there is some solidarity in our worldwide disconnection.

            Differences in language can be a real barrier between people, too. It does not matter whether a family comes to a new land or a different area in times of conflict, or famine, or some other upheaval. If you are unfamiliar with the common language spoken in the area in which you are now living, that can be a huge disconnect, too. That is a large reason why ethnic groups of people gather together in towns and cities—for solidarity, social purposes, and for ease in communication.  

            I worked as a chaplain at Swedish Covenant Hospital for a number of years. I can remember how particularly touched an elderly woman was when I spoke to her with the few words of Polish I knew. This woman from Poland had dementia, and there was no one working in the hospital that evening who spoke Polish. I heard about this very sick woman when I went to the nurses’ station. I told them I just knew a very few Polish words. However, a few nurses encouraged me to come to her bedside and say those few words—which I did. It calmed the woman immediately, and the nurse and CNA were so grateful to me.

            Even a few words in a familiar language can bridge that disconnect and barrier, and make a stranger feel more at home, more connected.

            But, the disconnect for the shepherds was even more than that. “By the time of Jesus, shepherding had become a profession most likely to be filled from the bottom rung of the social ladder, by persons who could not find what was regarded as decent work. Society stereotyped shepherds as liars, degenerates, and thieves. The testimony of shepherds was not admissible in court, and many towns had ordinances barring shepherds from their city limits.” [1]

Imagine the difference in class between the shepherds and the bulk of the townspeople of Bethlehem. Certain people live “on the wrong side of the tracks,” or “on the other side of town.” Or, perhaps they come from the hill country, or down by the river.   

            For that matter, can you believe the disconnect between all people on earth and the angels? When the angels came to communicate their Good News to humanity, who were they sent to, first thing? Not the wealthy, in their expensive houses. Not the leaders of the community, or the rabbis or ministers of the houses of worship. No, the angels came to the lowly shepherds in the hill country, who did not even rate a home or a welcome among the “decent folk” in the middle of town.  

            I know this is not quite the same as the shepherds’ loneliness, but have you been feeling the isolation of COVID-19? Not being able to connect, or go out for coffee, or sit down with a friend or relative for a meal? Isn’t this similar to the shepherds’ isolation and loneliness?

            The angels did not observe the class consciousness of society, or the language barriers or color barriers of so much of our world. No! The angels sent from God brought glad tidings of great joy to ALL the people. Not just some select few, not even to most of the earth’s population. No! This Good News came to ALL the people. To all with a spiritual disconnect, too!          

            The angels came to the “fields of the isolated, the disenfranchised and the forgotten, or in our own painful places of spiritual wilderness, because God speaks the good news of Christ’s coming there. God brings great joy to those who need it most there.” [2]

            Whether we are isolated spiritually, or disconnected in real life, God wishes to draw ALL of us in to the Good News of the birth of God’s Son. Regardless of where we come from, or where we are right now, we are welcome.

            Do you hear? Each of us is special—each one of us has the angel of the Lord bringing Good News to us—personally. Glad tidings of great joy, no matter what!

            Wonderful news for Christmas, for sure. Wonderful news, any time we need it!

Alleluia, amen!


[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1522

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1522

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

God’s Birth Announcement

Luke 2:1-7 – December 13, 2020

Welcoming babies into the world is such a joyous occasion. One of the first things most people do is spread the news about the new baby. When and where the baby was born, how big it was, whether it was a girl or a boy, and what the parents decided to name the baby are all details that are joyously spread, as soon as possible.

             I wonder . . . what would God’s birth announcement look like?

            In the fullness of time, God’s Son came into the world. Prophesied in many passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, foretold for centuries before His coming. Looking at the Hebrew Scripture passage for today, Isaiah 9, the prophet tells his readers about the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace, who is the coming Messiah.

            Throughout the Advent season, we prepare for the coming of this Messiah. Soon we will celebrate the earthly birthday of the Babe of Bethlehem, the Savior of the World, the only begotten Son. Our Lord Jesus Christ, our savior and redeemer came into this fallen world as a baby. Emptying Himself of all His vast, eternal God-ness, and being born as a human baby.

            I wonder: what would God’s birth announcement look like?

            I think we have a pretty good idea, if we take a look at the second chapter of Luke. Doctor Luke gives a full accounting of what went on in those days. What an unexpected sort of announcement!

            Let’s look at the parents of the Baby, first of all. The mother, Mary of Nazareth, is not even married yet. Sure, she’s engaged to this carpenter, Joseph, but they haven’t yet been fully joined in marriage. Marriage in those days, in the Jewish culture, was a several-step process.

            We read in chapter 1 of Luke that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, and she conceived. Is Joseph the father of this Baby? No. Joseph could not believe this part, until assisted by some heavenly help. An angel came and reassured Joseph that Mary was on the up and up, and that the baby inside of Mary was really the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

            The circumstances of the birth are not quite the typical birth scenario, either. Imagine the birth of a baby today. Chances are that the baby would be born in a hospital, with the latest medical technology available, just in case. Not so for Mary, the mother of Jesus. Not only did she have the baby Jesus in less than optimum circumstances, in terms of hygiene and medical needs, but she was also far from her home as well.

            Mary and Joseph were both far away from familiar people, places and things. They were travelers, like many people in the town of Bethlehem at that time. Luke 2 tells us that there wasn’t any place for them to stay—anywhere. Because of the census ordered by Caesar Augustus, the town of Bethlehem was mobbed.

            Since Bethlehem was the ancestral home of King David, that meant there were quite a lot of people who had to be counted who were descended from David. We can see, from the offering that Mary and Joseph offered to the Lord shortly after the birth of the baby Jesus, that they did not have very much money.            

            Bethlehem must have been very crowded indeed, if a woman about to give birth couldn’t find even a room to have her baby in. We could even take it a step further, and draw some definite similarities between Mary and Joseph and some other young, homeless couple going to have a new baby, searching for a place to spend the night.

            I remember a suburban church I attended a number of years ago. One of the smaller trees near the front door to the sanctuary was practically covered with blue ribbons. A sign was posted next to the tree, saying “While celebrating One homeless Family, these ribbons ask us to remember the homeless with us today.” I had never thought about the Holy Family in that way before. Again, it’s God’s unexpected way of announcing the birth of God’s Son.

            While we’re thinking about where Mary had her baby, what about that manger, anyway? Jesus was a descendant of King David, through both His mother Mary and His adopted father, Joseph. A manger is an unexpected place to find a king. I don’t know about you, but I’d expect royalty to be born in a palace, or at least in a nice house.

            And who are the people who first receive this birth announcement? Are they influential members of the community? Leaders of the local synagogues and teachers of the Law of Moses? Those would be the kinds of people who I might expect to have a birth announcement sent to them. But God doesn’t work that way. God does the unexpected, and chooses the most unlikely people to receive a hand-delivered message from the Lord of Hosts.

            God sends a birth announcement in unexpected ways to unexpected people, in many situations, all over the world. When and where the Baby was born, the news that it was a boy, and that the parents decided to name this Baby Jesus—for He would save people from their sins—are all details that the shepherds joyously spread, as soon as possible.

            Again, it’s God’s unexpected way of announcing the birth of His Son. Can you think of someone who hasn’t heard about this birth announcement? We today have the opportunity to spread the news about this Baby born in Bethlehem. And, we can joyously praise God, for Jesus is the savior and redeemer of the world, as was proclaimed so long ago.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Magnify the Lord with Me!

“Magnify the Lord with Me!”

Luke 1:38-56 (1:46) – December 6, 2020

            Do you know any teenage girls? Any girls with the maturity and balance that teenaged Mary shows to us here? This kind of maturity and balance in one so young is not very plentiful among teens, believe me.

            Socially and culturally, Mary was in an awkward situation. Even, a tight spot. A young woman (for, that was what Mary was considered, in the culture of her day), pledged to be married, who turns up pregnant. Scandalous! I am sure the old biddies in Nazareth were clucking about Mary’s situation—and character—and a whole lot more.

            While we, today, may read this narrative and think, “what a nice bible story!” this reading today is much more than that. Mary decides to go and visit her older cousin Elizabeth, in the hills of Judah. Elizabeth has miraculously gotten pregnant several months earlier. (The angel Gabriel told Mary so!) Two miraculous pregnancies, two women blessed by God. Plus, Elizabeth was an older, wiser woman, able to be a companion and mentor to the teenage Mary.  

            Yes, Mary’s extended visit to Elizabeth probably was comforting and encouraging to Mary. However, my attention is drawn to Mary’s song. The Magnificat is a tremendous counter-cultural song, turning everything in the political and cultural order upside down and topsy-turvy.

            Do you have any experience with an extended situation turning our world today upside down and topsy-turvy? Any disease or pandemic that is causing nationwide—even worldwide disruption and confusion? These two instances do not have a direct one-to-one correspondence, but there are many similarities here! The political and cultural upheaval Mary sings about in the Magnificat will greatly upend the established order of things. And, in many ways today, so will the COVID pandemic and its surrounding upheaval.

            I am reminded of a fellow professor friend of one of my Bible commentators. She grew up as a missionary kid in a poverty-stricken area in the Philippines. “Growing up among that nation’s poor, Professor Malcolm has reported that when they heard Mary’s Psalm, it was the first time that anyone had told them the good news that God cares about them — the poor, the oppressed.” [1] Some people in poverty have never heard this Good News! “Christ has come to challenge the structures of sin, death, the devil, and oppression. Christ has come in the strength of the Lord to do what the Lord has always done: lift up the lowly, free the enslaved, feed the hungry, give justice to the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner.” [2]

            Imagine Mary, having the maturity and the balance to sing such a radical, counter-cultural song! Is there some secret that Mary knew about, helping her to stay balanced and level-headed during all the upset and disruption of her unexpected pregnancy and the surrounding gossip and backbiting and sometimes outright nastiness of her fellow townspeople? Did Elizabeth aid her in finding this hope and balance, this calmness and serenity?

            Knowing what we do about the marvelous words of the Magnificat, and its similarity to Hannah’s song from 1 Samuel 2, we can learn from Mary. Her strength was in her trust in the Lord. Her faith was in God’s mighty power to overthrow society’s structures and the cultural norms of her day. Although our continuing situation is not exactly similar to Mary’s, we can still rely on God, too. Our strength can be our trust in the Lord. Our faith can be in God’s mighty power to overcome society and cultural norms.

            I’d like to think that Mary had a pleasant voice. Not operatic quality, although I do enjoy the voices of people who have studied and trained their voices into wonderful instruments! I can see how Mary knowingly turned for help to the One who would never leave her nor forsake her. Singing is one deep-seated way to come to God in prayer, in sadness, in hope and in joy.

            As commentator David Lose says, “songs are powerful. Laments express our grief and fear so as to honor these deep and difficult emotions and simultaneously strip them of their power to incapacitate us. Songs of praise and thanksgiving unite us with the One to whom we lift our voices. And canticles of courage and promise not only name our hopes but also contribute to bringing them into being.” [3]

            As we come before God in these next days and weeks ahead, perhaps we may come with trust and faith. Trust and faith in the God who is always with us, even through dark valleys, even through sickness, depression, despair and death.

            And may we, like Mary, lift up Mary’s radical song of resistance. Even though there is so much oppression and evil, and so much disease and despair in the world, God has brought light and hope into the world with the birth of God’s Messiah.

            I pray that you, like Mary, find joy even in the darkness of this particular Advent season of 2020. I also pray that the songs of Advent and Christmas bring light and hope to you as you draw closer to God each day. Alleluia, amen!


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fourth-sunday-of-advent-2/commentary-on-luke-146b-55

Commentary, Luke 1:39-45, (46-55), Rolf Jacobson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/a-promise-that-changes-the-world

“A Promise That Changes the World,” David Lose, WorkingPreacher, 2012.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Do Not Be Afraid!”

“Do Not Be Afraid!”

Rembrandt, sketch of the Virgin Mary and the angel Gabriel

Luke 1:26-38 (1:30) – November 29, 2020

            This week, we read one of the most familiar of the narratives in the New Testament. From the first chapter of Luke:  “In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

            Imagine yourself as Mary, a teenage girl. Perhaps doing housework, cooking in the kitchen, or folding laundry. When, out of nowhere, an angel appears. Out of the clear blue sky, something completely supernatural happens! She is wondering at the angel’s words. What kind of a greeting is this, anyway? Here she was, probably in the middle of an ordinary day, with the angel Gabriel paying a surprise visit to her!

            I would like to compare Mary’s surprise situation to many people, in the current day. Specifically, to my friend, several years ago. Out of the clear blue sky, she found out that she needed surgery. Before the beginning of October, she was traveling along, blithely, no serious cares or concerns. After the first week in October? Her life was turned upside down, with a serious medical situation, followed by major surgery.

            How often does something like that happen? Perhaps not a medical emergency in your life, or a loved one’s life, but some other situation out of a clear blue sky.

            But let’s return to Mary. Or, more directly, to the angel Gabriel and what the next words out of his mouth are: “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.”

            I should think, if I had the opportunity to see an angel, I probably would be afraid, too! Practically every time an angel visits someone in the Bible, “Do not be afraid!” is one of the first things out of their mouths! Gabriel continues: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

            Understandably, Mary’s response—quite sensible, under the circumstances—“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?”

            I can see Mary’s point. Truth to tell, it’s hard to beat a virgin birth! We can look at other places in the Scriptures, and see other miracles. We can look at the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus when He was an adult, and acknowledge the fact that He did miracles, regularly. But—here we have Mary, herself, wondering how on earth this miracle is going to happen to her?

            The angel has an answer for Mary, sure enough. “The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” In brief, here we have the angel describing the divine plan for a miraculous conception. Mary expresses doubt, Gabriel explains God’s plan in greater detail, Mary consents, and the angel departs.

This whole narrative makes me want to ask Mary so many questions.

How soon did you tell your parents you were pregnant? Did you tell Joseph about the pregnancy yourself, or did the gossipmongers of Nazareth take care of that for you? Was there anyone in the village who believed your story? For that matter, after the angel Gabriel left, did you doubt his visitation to you? Did you think it was a dream? What about the townspeople’s response—did you fear for your life, since people could have thought you were an adulteress?

The Gospel of Luke is silent on this matter. It leaves us with so many unanswered questions! All we know is what Mary said to the angel. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled,” was her response.

An unmarried girl who was pregnant was not just looked down on but actively persecuted. She knows that she takes the risk of being rejected as a slut, as a tramp, as unworthy of polite company, as a result of this new openness to God’s surprise activity in her life.

            Yet, we can see that Mary exemplifies the kind of response to God’s surprises that I would like in my own life.

Though—out of a clear blue sky—God completely spun Mary’s life around, though Mary knew that her life would never be what she expected it to be before, she nevertheless said “yes” to God in faith. Yes, she worshiped God (especially in her prayer, which comes after our Scripture reading for today.) She models the heart of worship, the giving of ourselves to the one who has given everything to us.

Mary’s example challenges and encourages us to have the courage to say to the Lord: “Be it to me according to Your word!” Remember, Mary realizes there is something special about to happen, that God’s plan must take precedence over her own. She accepts the challenge with hope and faith as she realizes she will be carrying the Messiah her people have longed for.

            I’d like to remind all of us here today that Mary—a normal, ordinary teenager—was visited by an angel out of a clear blue sky. She was an ordinary person who was willing to say “yes” to God, to respond to God’s call willingly and with courage, and go forward in faith.

            It doesn’t matter what our situations are, today. God can come into any of our lives out of the clear blue sky. God can rush right in, abruptly, with no warning. We all—each one of us—are encouraged to respond to God in the same way as Mary did. To agree with God willingly, with hope, and go forward in faith. Are you ready to say “yes” to God, when God calls? Say yes, in faith!  

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

The Least of These

“The Least of These”

Matthew 25:37-40 (25:37) – November 22, 2020

            As you and I have been living through these past months of upheaval, uncertainty and pandemic, it might seem like the end of the world is quickly approaching. Does it seem like that to you? Perhaps our Lord Jesus will come very soon, as a king on His throne. (If He does, amen!)

This parable is from the last sermon that Jesus preaches, in the middle of the Passion Week. Jesus knows His time is very short. I suspect He is really impatient with His followers. So, Jesus talks straight – as straight to His friends as ever He could. Many people think these words of Jesus are harsh. God is going to judge humanity like a mean taskmaster or stern overlord. At least, that is what we might think if we look at a surface view.

Let’s set the stage. In this parable, we have a king on his throne, at the end of all things. At the end of ages. Many people are powerfully fearful of the mighty king on his throne, and consider this the eternal judgement at the end of all things.

These words of Jesus do not tell us that the biggest thing in the world is to give away tens of thousands of dollars. Or, to make sure each of us writes our important name in the pages of history. No! Jesus tells us no such thing! What does Jesus really want us to do, anyhow?

Amazingly enough, Jesus does not demand His followers to do anything especially mighty, or courageous, or daring. No! Instead, Jesus mentions simple things. Helpful, straightforward things. Things just about anyone can do. Can you give a hungry person a meal, or a thirsty person a drink? Can you welcome the stranger – any stranger, no matter who? What about cheering the sick or visiting the prisoner in jail?

Jesus talks about giving simple help to the people we might meet every day. People on street corners, or shaking a cup downtown. Neighbors hiding in their cold, dark apartments or weary from searching for work. Friends suffering from food insecurity, living in food or medical deserts in the inner city, or a new refugee family settling here, from a war-torn country far away.

About 20 years ago, I attended a larger church in a nearby suburb. This church had a ministry to take children of incarcerated women to visit their moms in prison, downstate. Since I have a commercial driver’s license, I started driving the church bus to transport the children and their adult relatives. Grandmas, aunties, sometimes grandpas. These extended families had very little money, and it was almost impossible for these children to see their moms unless they had some help – like from this church, sending the church bus downstate nine or ten times a year.

I drove these children for many hours on Saturdays to see their moms. I considered it one of the most worthwhile ministries that I have ever been involved with. Ever.     

            Commentator David Lose asks the penetrating question: “in this time of isolation and division and unrest and wondering how we’re going to get by and whether there’s anything we can do… might we during all this remind our people of the promise – and it is a promise – that Jesus is really and truly available to us in the real and concrete needs of those around us and that God takes all of this so very seriously, blessing our efforts and meeting our deepest needs when we reach out to those who are struggling.[1]

“What our Gospel writer is proposing here should not be understood as some kind of works righteousness. These are works of neighbourly love done – or not done – not with the intention of putting oneself right with God, or earning God’s favour, but done – or not done – because of the person’s fundamental attitude towards the world. They are, in the language of Reformation theology, not works intended to earn justification, but the fruits of justification, the outpouring of the believer’s love of God.” [2]

            This is Jesus, telling us to do acts of neighborly love – often! And, reminding us that it is our internal attitude, the inside part, that is truly important before God.

To those with ears to hear, let them hear!

            May we join in the prayer of Teresa of Avila (1515-82):“Christ has no body on earth now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on the world; yours are the feet with which he walks to do good; yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.”

            No matter where they were born, no matter what faith tradition they follow, no matter what side of the tracks these friends happened to be born on, these diverse, multi-racial, multi-ethnic brothers and sisters have already been welcomed by God. Can we do any less?

            May we find joy in offering a cup of cold water to anyone who is thirsty, visiting those in prison, extending a hand to those who need it, always doing what we can for “the least of these,” our true brothers and sisters in Christ. Alleluia, amen!


[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2020/11/christ-the-king-a-the-third-sacrament/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+davidlose%2FIsqE+%28…In+the+Meantime%29

[2] https://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0012/71202/22-November_Christ-the-King-V2.pdf

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Cheerful Givers

“Cheerful Givers”

2 Corinthians 9:7-12 (9:7) – November 15, 2020

            Have you started thinking about Thanksgiving yet? Thoughts of Thanksgiving turkeys full of seasoned stuffing, mashed potatoes heaped high, creamy green bean casserole and tangy cranberry sauce bring sure-fire memories to many, many people at this generous, giving-time of the year. Except – will anything like an ordinary Thanksgiving celebration be possible this year? Can anything save this beloved holiday from the ravages of this pandemic and the stress and anxiety that seem to accompany it at every turn?

            Yet – with all the personal trials and tribulations that were continuing to happen to the apostle Paul, how could he even focus on generosity? Just two short chapters after today’s reading, in chapter 11, Paul talks about the dozens of times he was beaten, stoned, jailed, shipwrecked, and repeatedly denied freedom of religion. Yes, I suspect Paul had a close acquaintance with stress, fear and anxiety. Perhaps he did not allow them to take root and settle down in his head and heart, but I suspect Paul knew these deep feelings pretty well.

What did the apostle Paul write just before our reading for today? In the paragraphs before today’s reading, Paul asks for a collection to be gathered together. This collection of money is to be given to the persecuted, needy church in Jerusalem. The Christian friends in Jerusalem certainly knew what it was like to be in distress, too! It’s then Paul tells more about giving. How to give, and why. How not to give, too.  

            Of course we are preoccupied. Many things are on people’s minds. Not only the coronavirus, and public health, but stress, uncertainty and political upheaval. Is there any reason stress, fear and anxiety would NOT be running rampant in the United States today?

            Who can possibly turn our minds to giving and generosity, with so much going on in our lives? How can each of us follow this command from God to give generously? Paul would remind us that many, many Christians in his day had lots of things going on in their personal lives, too. Many were truly persecuted in a way that would make our skin crawl; many were in trouble with the imperial forces and government, too. Yet – Paul praised his former church members for remembering the faithful believers in Jerusalem – sending them a much needed financial gift.

            There is a clear difference between certain people who give freely and generously, and other people who give like their arms are twisted behind their backs – out of a matter of grudging obligation. And oh! Can we tell the difference!  

            We have a proverb of Paul’s day included here, in verse 6: “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Here Paul uses a common saying of the day to illustrate his point. Talking about bounty, about being generous, and about grudging giving out of obligation—being stingy.

            Do you know someone who is really stingy? Someone who is really pained to spend even one dollar of his or her own money? When I was young, there was an older man in our neighborhood who was exactly like this. So stingy he would creak when he walked. So stingy he couldn’t think of putting a penny in a Salvation Army kettle at the holidays.

            I suspect all of us know a tight-fisted person like this. Not at all the generous, open-handed way of giving that the Lord Jesus models for us. God never gives out of an attitude of grudging obligation, and neither should we.

            As each person purposes – or decides in their own heart, that is why we are to give. Did you ever think of giving because you want to give and because God has put it in your heart to give? To give out of the pure joy of giving? Paul had churchgoers remember the church – by sending a much needed financial gift.

One of my acquaintances knew a stingy old woman. So stingy, she would cut coupons and live on the bare minimum in her tiny house. But, she surprised us all after she died. Her will left $50 million dollars to Monmouth College. She never experienced the joy of giving away that money. She never experienced Thanks-GIVING. Don’t miss the joy of giving.
            Our giving “reveals the purposes in our own heart. “If we say we love the Lord more than surfing, but spend all our money on surfboards and do not give as we should to the Lord’s work, then the way we spend our money shows the purposes of our own heart more accurately than our words do. Jesus said it simply: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’” [1]

But, wait! If we have this generous attitude towards giving, being open-handed, positive and cheerful, then God will bless us abundantly with every blessing. Isn’t a warm heart and abundant blessings what we all really want?

What a marvelous promise. What wonderful words. And, this is not “maybe,” or “I hope so,” but it is a blessed promise from God! This is not only for our gifts of treasure, for our gifts of money. This blessing is for our gifts of time and of talents, as well.

For the person who comes and volunteers on Sunday mornings to start the coffee, sets out the bulletins, does the pandemic safety checks, or turns on the lights in the sanctuary—thank you. For the person who bakes a cake or makes a table decoration or repairs the church building—thank you. These are the gifts of time and of talent, and God is so pleased with that, too. God is pleased with whatever gifts you sincerely, truly offer with all your heart.

Alleluia, amen!


[1] https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide2017-2Cr/2Cr-9.cfm

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Encourage Each Other

“Encourage Each Other” – November 8, 2020

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18

            Today’s lectionary Scripture readings show us more about the times to come. Or, some say, the end times. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we hurried up and got to the end of days and met the Lord in the air? That is exactly what our Scripture reading describes today.

            Here the apostle Paul calms the fears of his Thessalonian church. His former church members are mourning the deaths of some of their congregation, and they wrote to Paul to ask what happened to their friends and loved ones. Where did they go after they died?

            That is a great question! As a hospital chaplain, I was sometimes asked that very question. What happens after we die? Sometimes I’d be asked by a loved one, sitting by the bed of a dying patient. But, sometimes the patient – who had just received the worst news you can possibly receive – would ask me that question, in all sincerity. With all their heart.

            When we are talking about life and death matters, many other things pale in comparison. I have walked the halls in the intensive care unit, or cardiac care, late at night or early in the morning. I have seen loved ones keeping vigil next to patients’ beds. I have hesitated, not wanting to disturb their intimate time with their precious family member. Yet, Paul’s words go straight to the heart of this vital question. What happens when we die?

            Considering our Bible reading today, commentator Scott Hoezee says, “Probably the Thessalonians did not know Jesus’ words from John 11, but if they could hear Jesus telling Martha that ’anyone who believes in me will never die,’ they may have heard that as confirming this idea that being a Christian meant not dying.  Ever.

“And then members of their church started dying.  Funerals were being held after all.  A cloud of painful questions arose: were these people not Christians after all?  Had they had inadequate faith?  If so, how can any of us be sure we are good and faithful enough?  Paul had said it was all faith, all grace, all Jesus.  But is it?  Or, far more darkly, was Paul just wrong?  Is the Gospel a hoax?  Is there no true victory of life over death?[1]

            Again, Paul reminds us: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of humankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

            As I write this sermon, the nation is still on tenterhooks, wondering who the next President of the United States will be. This nation is more divided now than in any time I can remember in recent history. Whoever “wins” will have an extremely difficult next four years in office, with all of the upheaval and dissention in this country. How will we manage to bridge such a cavernous gap? “Regardless of what we read in the headlines, whether or not it goes the way we hoped, how it brings discord, how can there be a place of peace in us, even in the midst of upheaval?” [2] How can we continue to live Godly lives in such a turbulent time?

            Are these not similar to the serious questions that the Thessalonian congregation brought to their pastor Paul? Paul brought words of encouragement and comfort to his former church. Yes, and words of great hope, too! “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

            I am not minimizing the turbulent times we are living through, right now. This past week. These next weeks and months ahead. Yet, I am taking Paul at his word. He tells us to encourage each other with these supremely hopeful words to the Thessalonians.

Yes, we are living through times of great distress and tumult. Yes, many may feel like the mountains are crumbling and falling into the sea, as Psalm 46 tells us. I preached on Psalm 46 just two weeks ago, and we found hope and encouragement through that sermon. This precious psalm also grounds us, always giving space to both feel the turmoil and to have a center of peace, unshaken by the headlines and the prevailing news of the day.

This center of peace is not a forced peace brought on by force of arms or oppression, but a peace that grows from the very nature of the One who rules with justice and joy, our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the peace that passes all understanding, God’s peace that knows no boundaries, no divisions, no human separation or dissention.

Let us visualize, for just a moment, God’s peace that passes all understanding. Now, God’s hope that fills our hopeless and helpless lives and hearts. And now, God’s love that is so all encompassing, it can fill the whole universe. That is one mighty and powerful God.

Yes, Paul tells us to encourage each other with these words.

Alleluia. Amen.


[1] https://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-27a-2/?type=lectionary_epistle

The Center for Excellence in Preaching, resources from Calvin Theological Seminary: Comments & Observations, Textual Points, Illustration Ideas, 2017.

[2] https://www.missioalliance.org/a-nation-waits-seeking-a-center-of-peace/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+missioalliance%2FEQtW+%28Missio+Alliance%29

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Becoming—Like Christ

“Becoming—Like Christ” – November 1, 2020

1 John 3:1-3 – All Saints Sunday

            Simple words go straight to the heart. Words can echo and re-echo deep within. Have you experienced that? The elderly apostle John uses simple, straightforward words to communicate deep, eternal truths. Like, right here, in our Scripture reading today.

In today’s reading, John urges the Christian community to hold fast to what we have been taught, persevere in leading a moral life, and love one another.

You do know that you are God’s beloved child? Yes! Each of us has been chosen by God. We are the Saints of God! Not only in the eyes of this church on this corner, but in the eyes of all churches that observe All Saints Day or All Saints Sunday.

Today is All Saints Day. It is a special day in the life of the Church. A day to remember those who were persecuted, and those who died to keep the faith. And, a day to celebrate the living saints: you and me.

Sometimes, you and I may not feel especially saint-like. Yes, the age-old problem of sin does creep into our lives, and cause some disruption. Sin can make us feel far away from God, and like everything is turning topsy-turvy.

            Can other things happen in our lives, other kinds of disruptions make us feel like we are unworthy of God? Absolutely. All kinds of circumstances, trouble, losses of various kinds, calamities, and all manner of tumult can strain our nerves, our bodies and our souls to the very breaking point.

            The pandemic is also a perfect opportunity for Satan to turn our lives topsy-turvy. Churches closing, isolation from our communities; with fear and anxiety, we become afraid of the stranger. We end up not setting aside time for regular worship and prayer.

            Perhaps the apostle John did not have a pandemic to worry about. However, John would have seen the passing of many believers. John wrote this letter of encouragement because Dissenters wanted to lead astray the community of faith. Maybe these troublemakers were even trying to convince John’s followers to forsake Jesus Christ and throw their lot in with someone or something else. He was witness to many people leaving the faith, because their own beliefs had changed.

As believers in Christ, we know who we can depend on. The Lord has called us children of God. We can always turn to our heavenly Parent – or, heavenly Father, as John says.

Yet—today is All Saints Day, a day for us to remember our loved ones, who we miss and mourn. Yes, the Lord is our heavenly Parent. But, everything here on this earth seems to be turned upside down.

The Rev Janet Hunt reflects on her church’s traditions of All Saints Day. At her church, this has long been a day for gathering together. This is a day “which begins with the resounding strains of ‘For All the Saints’ and ends with the dancing percussion of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In…’  And in the middle, we read the names, sound the bells, light the candles one by one by countless one until the whole place is alight with palpable memory and almost tangible hope. And it, along with so many precious rituals which help to tie us to all who we have been and all we will one day be, will simply not be ours this year. At least not here where the COVID-19 numbers are rising.” [1]

             Do as John tells you: turn to our trustworthy God. What marvelous love our God has extended to us! John reminds us that God has already called us children! We have already been adopted into God’s family, [2] We can be hesitant, or disbelieving, or fearful. The Lord still loves us, and has already called us God’s children, without any pleading or whining, without special offerings or mystical midnight services on our part. This gift is already ours. John affirms so, right here.

            This is the extravagant welcome that God provides. God so loves the world. Period.

            We all have places where we fall short, where we sin in thought, word and deed. Places where we are not Christ-like—yet.

            John says, “What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him.” Each of us should strive to become more and more Christ-like. Do not surrender to the evil world of the pandemic. Seek help if you are struggling. God is here. I am here. Call, write, e-mail, pray.

            What a glorious gift. What a marvelous hope. We may not see our Lord Jesus now, but that glorious day that is quickly coming. We shall see Jesus in glory – just as our loved ones, saints in Christ who have died, are seeing Him right now. And, that is a promise that is faithful and true. Alleluia, amen!


[1] https://dancingwiththeword.com/all-saints-day-2020-blessed-are-those-w-ho-mourn/

[2] https://wordpress.com/posts/pastorpreacherprayer.wordpress.com 

Commentary, 1 John 3:1-7, Nijay Gupta, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015. 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Be Like Martin Luther

“Be Like Martin Luther” – October 25, 2020

Psalm 46:1-3 – Reformation Sunday

Here we are at Reformation Sunday, the week of the year when we remember Martin Luther posting his list of grievances against the church establishment of the Catholic Church, more than 500 years ago in 1517. These 95 grievances against the Church sparked a movement of protest that was felt around the world. And thus, the Protestant Church was born.

Father Martin Luther – for he was a Catholic priest – was a sincere, devout follower of Jesus Christ. He thought long and hard about sin and confession, faith and grace. He also thought a lot about God’s Word, and eventually translated the whole Bible – both Old and New Testaments – into German, the common tongue of his day and area of Germany.

The Catholic Church establishment certainly had it in for Martin Luther! After defending himself against strident criticism from scholars and theologians, and legal challenges for years, the official verdict was not in Luther’s favor. Because he would not recant his views on God, salvation by faith, and the Bible, Luther was officially on the run from the establishment.

Which brings us to our Scripture reading for today. Psalm 46. Martin had a very difficult time of it for a number of years, running in fear for his life. Is it any wonder that this marvelous psalm recounting God’s strength and refuge was Luther’s favorite psalm?

This is Reformation Sunday, after all. What could be more appropriate than to read Luther’s favorite psalm? Except – this was not only a favorite Scripture reading of Martin Luther. He also was a composer and poet. /Luther wrote the words and music for our opening hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” He used this psalm of comfort and refuge as a basis for this marvelous hymn.

In German, this hymn is called “Ein Feste Burg,” “a fortification that holds fast against any assault, a castle that can withstand every onslaught, a citadel that keeps those on the inside safe and secure from all attacks.” [1] Is anyone surprised that Martin Luther considered this comforting psalm his favorite? Even though everything is falling apart on all sides, he can stand safe and secure in his Lord.

I know Luther regularly prayed to God for protection and care, both internally as well as externally. Is that similar to us, today? In this year of the pandemic, with all the extreme weather events, the political disruption, and the wildfires of the past several months – the present situation resembles Psalm 46. “though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

Sure, with everything going on in the world today, we have reason to be scared half to death! Yet, we have “a God who has been time-tested and, over and over again, can be trusted upon to keep you secure in your time of trouble. Either way – and in all times and circumstances – you have a God who has got you covered. That is what Psalm 46 declares. And that is what Luther wanted to proclaim in “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”” [2]

This precious hymn written by Luther was not only a refuge from earthly disasters, but is also personal in nature. Rev. Janet Hunt, a Lutheran minister, mentions that she hears it “as much more personal now, knowing as we do that ‘the old satanic foe’ threatened him with the sorts of ‘woes’ one could only begin to understand if one has been there. The heart-wrenching, life altering death of a child, to name but one. The days and nights of struggling to hold on to faith when the Church which had borne the faith to him no longer lived up to its promises. The fear which must have possessed Luther as his very life was threatened.” [3]

Thinking back to last week’s sermon, where Moses and the Lord were hanging out on top of the mountain, Moses wanted to see the Lord. God told Moses straight out that Moses would die if he beheld the Lord face to face. Isn’t that the God we have right here, in Psalm 46? Even though the all-powerful God could make the earth melt, and destroy us if we simply look at Him.

That is one mighty, all-powerful God! And to think, that is also the God who has chosen us, called us by name, and named us God’s beloved children. The Lord is a God who is Lord Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Plus, the Lord is also a safe refuge, a comfort, one we can run to in times of great need. Praise God, I do not need to control everything.

Can we – you and I – loosen our tight grip on all we are clutching to our chests, knowing that God indeed holds everything? Including us?

This Reformation Sunday, I am not focused on God as our Mighty Fortress. Instead, Psalm 46 talks of a refuge, and a help in our great need.

Yes, God is indeed our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. That’s something to truly celebrate. Alleluia, amen.


[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=754

Commentary, Psalm 46, Hans Weirsma, Reformation Day, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

[2] “A Mighty Fortress is our God” is not the only English translation of Luther’s “Ein Feste Burg.” Thomas Carlyle, the nineteenth century Scottish commentator, offered this version: “A safe stronghold our God is still, a trusty shield and weapon.” Carlyle’s contemporary, George MacDonald, rendered stanza one, verse one, in this way: “Our God he is a castle strong, a good mailcoat and weapon.”

[3] https://dancingwiththeword.com/being-still-letting-go/

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

When God Shields Us

“When God Shields Us” – October 18, 2020

Exodus 33:12-23 (33:19-22)

Have you ever known someone who was really important? I mean, really, really a V.I.P.?

Moses was personally acquainted with the biggest V.I.P. in the whole world. Even, in the whole universe. Eileen just read today’s Scripture lesson from Exodus 33, and we heard what an awesome experience Moses had on top of that mountain. Just him and the Lord, they had personal one-on-one time.

Let’s take a closer look at this reading. An overview, so we can understand exactly what is at stake. We can simply take Exodus 33 as a striking word-picture of how awesome, mighty and all-powerful God is, and we would be absolutely correct. Our God is indeed an Awesome God. But, there is so much more involved here.   

Moses and the Lord talk about the presence of God. This is huge! The presence of God is a continuing theme in the book of Exodus, and right here is a particularly important exchange between our two protagonists.  

We could simply watch Moses and the Lord, almost like we are in the audience, or viewing on a television screen. Reading this story from Exodus, we might say “What does this story have to do with me?”  But, we can relate this to our personal situation – each one of us.

To come before the physical presence of God is truly rare – but it was something Moses greatly desired! What is more, he also wanted to be able to reassure the people of Israel with the reality of God’s presence. Is that something that reassures you, today?

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, again and again, we hear about how dangerous it is to approach the Lord. God’s presence is so fearsome that a number of people are immediately struck dead for daring to come in contact with the Lord. For much of Exodus, the Lord is not even sure whether Israel is even worthy enough to sit by and receive that Godly presence. Yet, Moses sees God’s presence and blessing as a beneficial thing, a good and necessary thing.

Have you ever been given the silent treatment? This could be by a parent or other grown-up when you were younger, or perhaps by a sibling or a friend? The silent treatment is particularly sad and jarring, especially when you really respect, even love the person giving you the silent treatment.

That is pretty close to what the Lord wanted to do to the whole nation of Israel by removing God’s presence and blessing from Israel. That would be horrible! Like, drinking water, and finding it was dry water. Or, going outside in the middle of the day, and finding there was an eclipse of the sun – permanently. What a traumatic, even cataclysmic event, having the Lord discuss permanently removing God’s presence and blessing from Israel. [1]

Yet – God said to Moses, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ And, even further, “the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” That must be so heartwarming, hearing God say, “I know you by name and you have found favor with me.”

I remind you, looking on the face of God was fatal, for a number of those in the Hebrew Scriptures. I wonder: is it a fatal act to think that we see God’s glory, that we fully comprehend God, today? The hazard of thinking you’ve got it all figured out becomes a sign of our self-centered, self-involved problem. The idea that we’ve got it figured out, because once we figure that, WE become God to ourselves – our self-centered delusion is that WE are greater than God. This was certainly part of what was going on with the self-involved people of Israel, periodically thinking they were much more important than the presence of God.

If we step back from being self-centered and self-involved, we realize we are invited into a relationship – a relationship with the Lord. Moses knew that to become more aware of the presence of God, he needed to spend time with God. That is exactly what he and God were doing on top of that mountain. And, God and Moses had a number of one-on-one encounters that helped Moses get through his life’s journey.

Knowing that we are always in the presence of God will help us get through many difficult things. Though complicated questions and weighty issues overwhelm us on a regular basis, we can be certain that God walks beside each of us on our journey through life, too. [2]

Are you ready to have a relationship with the Lord? To have one-on-one conversations with God? Sure, our God IS a powerful, mighty, Awesome God. We are also freely invited into the generous, merciful presence of God.

Let us celebrate the presence of God, today. Amen, alleluia.


[1] Brueggemann, Walter, “Exodus,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. I (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 1994), 938-39.

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/pressing-on/twentieth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a-lectionary-planning-notes/twentieth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a-preaching-notes

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Do We Have Golden Calves?

“Do We Have Golden Calves?” – October 11, 2020

Exodus 32:1-14 (32:2-4)

We are living through great uncertainty. Look at the volatile weather during the past few months! Hurricanes, floods, wildfires, extremes in temperature. What about the COVID-19 pandemic? More than 210,000 people have died in the United States in the last six months, as many as died in all four years of the American Civil War. Added to those anxious statistics, we can name the recent racial tensions and the national political upheaval.

 When you or I are fearful or anxious or uncertain, what do we do? Where do we go for stability or comfort? What is all-important to each one, in such a tumultuous time?

As we consider the people of Israel, we might think of all of them being fearful and anxious, too. After all, they had just left Egypt not many weeks before. They were no longer slaves! Yet – they were also wandering in the wilderness of the Sinai peninsula. A foreign land, with strangeness and uncertainty at every turn!

Their trusted leader Moses had gone on top of the mountain to talk to this God that he said was the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. An invisible God they could not see, touch or understand, unlike the Egyptian gods.

“Get up and make gods,” they shout, because this Moses has obviously left us alone to die, and we cannot last another day, another minute, without some sort of God or gods to lead us. As for that guy Moses, well, “we do not know what it is to him,” which I take to mean that they have completely forgotten that he told them he was going up the mountain to chat with YHWH and would return to bring them the divine news of the day. As far as they know, Moses and YHWH are engaged in a handball tournament or a solo beach volleyball game.” [1]

Could you understand the fear, uncertainty and anxiety of the people of Israel? No wonder they begged Moses’ brother Aaron for some tangible god, a god they could see, touch and understand, like the Egyptian gods they knew from their time of slavery in Egypt.  

Aaron knew just what to do. He gathered all the golden rings, earrings and ornaments, melted them into malleable metal, and formed a golden calf. An idol the Israelites could see, touch and understand. Something to give them comfort and stability.

When you or I are fearful or anxious or uncertain, what do we do? Where do we go for stability or comfort? What is all-important to each of us, in such a tumultuous time?

We might scoff at the people of Israel sacrificing to the golden calf. But –is there anything we would sacrifice our time for? How about our money or our health? Anything that is so important in our lives that we might make it an idol? Our own personal golden calf?

Our golden calves might take many forms. I have an acquaintance who I’ve known for a long time. She considers her house to be so important. Of course, it is beautiful, but she has poured money into that house and the large garden—and the coach house out back—for many, many years. I suspect that house might be a golden calf in her life.

Another acquaintance I have owns seven cars. Seven! He is so proud of them! He washes them, waxes them, and considers them to be very valuable possessions. I think we all know someone who has idolized something – or someone – or some substance so much that it has become a golden calf to them. Perhaps each of us may consider something all-important. Something we sacrifice for. More important than God, even?

When you and I think deeply about it, the idea of an invisible God can be scary! Can we blame the people of Israel for wanting a tangible god, one they could see and touch and understand? Of course they wanted Aaron to construct a physical idol. “It is easy to mistake our own creations for our God. It is tempting to shape our plundered riches, our wages, and even the reparations for our losses into an image that pleases our senses, mollifies our anxiety, and invites admiration from our neighbors. But that thing we have made from Egypt’s gold is not our god.” [2]

We heard what happened between Moses and God at the ruckus with the idol. God got angry at the people of Israel, but Moses convinced God to allow God’s anger to subside.

Golden calves or “idols lure us with powerful illusions and misplaced hopes. They make seductive promises. These false gods come in all sizes and shapes. They promise much but deliver little. We can idolize almost anything — career, race, gender, sex, wealth, age, and especially nation. Our personal gods are so petty and pathetic that they would be laughable if they weren’t so insidious and corrosive.” [3]

We can take this example as a warning to us. We need to ask God to forgive us for constructing idols in our lives, too.

However, we also have promises from the Lord. God is always with us, even though we may not see God. Like the sun behind dark clouds, the sun is always present. Even in times of stress, fear and anxiety – such as right now! Even at times when we cannot see the invisible God, God is right there, by our sides. Surely, it is God who saves all of us. Alleluia, amen.  


[1] https://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/2014/10/you-cant-have-it-both-ways-john-holbert-10-06-2014 

“You Can’t Have It Both Ways,” John C. Holbert, 2014.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3442

Commentary, Exodus 32:1-14, Anathea Portier-Young, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.

[3] https://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/2014/10/you-cant-have-it-both-ways-john-holbert-10-06-2014 

“You Can’t Have It Both Ways,” John C. Holbert, 2014.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Sweeter than Honey

“Sweeter than Honey”

Psalm 19 (19:10) – October 4, 2020

            Happy New Year! L’Shana Tovah! We are starting the Jewish year 5781.

            The new year’s greeting that one person says to another, “A sweet new year to you!”  “L’Shana Tovah!” reminds me of this verse from Psalm 19: The Laws of the Lord “are more precious than gold; they are sweeter than honey.”

Psalm 19 has been a beloved reading of mine for years. Not only does King David get all excited about the heavens communicating the glories of God, but he also expressed his awe and praise about Scripture doing the same thing.

            Certainly, the law of the Lord, the statutes, the ordinances, the decrees of the Lord are not exactly warm bedtime stories. However, these words of the Lord are guideposts for us. How else are we to know and to understand how we are supposed to treat each other?

            David made it his life’s work to try to follow God, as best as he could. Psalm 19 definitely shows us how highly he thought of Scripture. What do you treasure most? Would you think of something valuable as “sweet?” King David obviously did.

            Like David, we stand in awe of God’s glory, whether we marvel at the vast heavens or the countless stars, or are amazed at the order and trustworthiness of God’s Word. 

As we consider the Bible, God’s Word, more closely, these words and ideas give us more specifics for what it means to love God and to love others. On several occasions during His ministry, our Lord Jesus talks about God’s Law. He gives a response to a devout Jew who wanted to know the most important command of any of those given in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus’ response? Love God, and love others. The rest of the Bible is commentary.

As David praises God’s Word in this psalm, I am also reminded of the Ten Commandments, another Lectionary Scripture reading for this morning. Talk about the law of God, the commands of God, the statutes of God, and the decrees of God! The Ten Commandments encapsulate the high points. These special commands list how people are supposed to love God and to treat each other.

Thinking about the whole Bible – the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament – as guideposts or directions for living God’s way, the way set out for us gets very clear. It is not just a mental exercise, or an intellectual game we play in our heads. No! I like Eugene Peterson’s translation of our Psalm reading for today in The Message: “The revelation of God is whole and pulls our lives together. The signposts of God are clear and point out the right road. The life-maps of God are right, showing the way to joy.”

“The directions for living we find in the commandments and in Jesus’ teaching are intended to be put into practice in real life. And they are intended to make that life more whole, more peaceful, more joyful.” [1]

Best of all, when we live in this way, we are allowing the life and love of God to flow through us. Each of us does our part to heal the broken and wounded world around us.

If so, then you allow the life and love of God to flow through you. If so, our living in God’s way and walking God’s road surely is sweet. Sweeter than honey from the honeycomb!

Alleluia, amen.


[1] http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com/2012/03/non-virtual-faith-exod.html

“Non-Virtual Faith,” Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer, 2015.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

God Our Pathfinder!

“God Our Pathfinder!” – September 27, 2020

Psalm 25:1-9 (25:4-5)

Do you know people who do things or say things that are really hurtful, but never acknowledge the hurt at all? These oblivious people can make others uncomfortable, or downright angry. Even if they are shown clear evidence of their bad behavior or wrongdoing, they will not own up to it, at all.

Our Scripture reading today mostly talks about the flip side of this bad behavior – or living in God’s way, according to God’s paths. King David reflected on his life, and gives his readers an overview of his journey with God in this psalm. However, we are also given a few fascinating glimpses of David’s own stumbles – the sins and rebellion of his youth.

Which of us has not been foolish in our youth? Or, sometimes downright rebellious? Going our own way? Not listening to anyone or anything? Some people – even, many people stubbornly insist on doing things their way, over and over. And, they do not care or are oblivious of what happens to others who express caution or prudence. Knowing what King David was like in his youth, I can well see why David remembered certain situations (without giving us the painful details) right here in this overview.  

As I just mentioned, certain people are foolish and rebellious into middle age, and even beyond. I suspect David knew a number of oblivious or malicious people. He must have experienced them in his life, too. In verse 2, he asks God not to allow mean, malicious people to shame him.

Do you and I have rebellious or malicious people in our lives? That is the wonderful thing about poetry, like in the book of Psalms. When you and I read one of these songs to God, it is so simple to put ourselves in the place of the psalm writer and with him, ask God to protect us from rebellious or malicious words, acts, and deeds – and people.  

Today, we begin every worship service with a confession of sin. Just in case you or I have some sin or transgression in our hearts, thoughts or lives, this confession of sin helps us to clean our slate before God.

Before paper was common and cheap, and way before computer laptops and tablets, schoolchildren often used slates to do schoolwork. This was like a little chalkboard, and students could write their lessons out. Except – what would happen if you made mistakes? What if the math problem you worked was wrong? Then, you would need to clean or erase the marks on the slate. Just as we need to clean the slates of our lives each Sunday as we come before God in worship, we confess our sins, and we promise to repent.

To repent is to change your ways or turn from one thing to another.  Based on what they hear in church, most people simply assume that ‘repent’ means to be sorry for something you have done.  Today’s psalm reading implies that while being sorry is a good starting point, the real repenting doesn’t start until we start making changes. [1]

God’s rule book (the Bible) is a great guide and compass. David’s wise words help us know where to find God’s ways and paths. We can read Scripture, as we do together in church, we can study it and examine it more closely, and we can pray and ask God to help us continue to walk in a Godly manner, leaving behind the rebellious and malicious ways of the world.  

However, I wonder about those who are really hurting. Those who are in great pain, or those who are actively grieving a great loss, or the death of a dear loved one. Yes, these words of King David are fine for most of us, most of the time. But, for those who are intensely mourning, these words to study and follow and hearken to God’s Word seem to ring hollow.

There are psalms that reach right down inside of a person and speak to raw, grieving, mournful feelings. Psalm 4, 32, 54, 116, and 139 are good examples of God reaching out to hurting people. And, of course, we all can think of Psalm 23 and how God walks with us through the valley of the shadow.  

Scripture memory verses can help people when they are floundering through life. Many people remember memorizing verses of Scripture in Sunday school, and beyond. Some remember their children and grandchildren memorizing the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and even parts of different catechisms.   

In this psalm, David reminds us “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me.” This psalm calls us to look to the past to see how God has provided both growth and forgiveness. It also calls on us to be honest about our past. [2]

So different from today’s “Gospel” of a secular culture that promotes self-actualization, self-sufficiency, and instant gratification, David reminds us all that we can follow God’s ways. [3] We all can journey with God on the upward path, and receive fullness of life from God, not from online merchandise or take-out food delivered to our door.

Have you gone off the path that God has set before each of us? It is not too late to change your heart and mind. Not only say “sorry” to God, but change our ways. Get on God’s path.

David calls each of us to follow God’s way! May it be so, dear Lord.


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/09/year-proper-21-26th-sunday-in-ordinary.html

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

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3905

Commentary, Psalm 25:1-10, Beth L. Tanner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2018

[3] McCann, Jr., J. Clinton, “Psalm 25,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. IV (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 1996), 779.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Through God’s Strength!

“Through God’s Strength!” – September 19, 2020

Philippians 4:12-20 (4:12-14)

When people have food, shelter, employment, and money, it’s easy to be content and happy. Isn’t it? Or, is it easy to be poor, hungry, unemployed and homeless? What would the apostle Paul’s answer to that question be?

This is our last sermon from Philippians. We are looking again at the apostle Paul, in prison, in a really awful situation. Shackled to a Roman soldier, 24 hours a day, with no privacy, in a cold, dank, drafty stone cell.

For the past eight weeks, we have considered Paul and his words to his friends from Philippi. He wrote this thank-you letter to the Philippians congregation, and it was one of the most joy-filled letters we have, included in the New Testament.

Do you know how much it means for a friend to send a message, an email, a card or letter, especially when you are downhearted and close to giving up hope? That is what Paul’s former congregation in Philippi did. They showed “a love and concern that led them to help Paul. The most significant gifts often cost us very little—sometimes nothing, except a few moments to say a friendly word or the make a telephone call or send an email, the stamp to post a letter or a card. What matters is that someone has been remembered with affection and concern.” [1]

Paul says he knows what it’s like to be poor, and he knows what it’s like to have abundance, in verse 12. I know there are many in the United States who may consider themselves to be poor, but I wonder whether you realize quite what Paul was talking about here.

We could drill down to find out more about economic, educational and societal poverty worldwide. For example, according to the United Nations latest report on poverty in 2019, 23 percent of the world population – that’s 1.3 billion people – lived in abject poverty worldwide. Just to give you an idea of how little money we are talking about, that is living on approximately $1 a day, or less.

Paul did not mean just economic poverty. He also was talking about poverty of spirit, poverty of emotional wherewithal, poverty of humility and ability to persevere.

We all know something about that. Who has not felt the pinch of poverty of spirit in the past six months? In the past six months, who has not had their emotions shredded raw, like raw vegetables on a kitchen grater? Never mind about humility, who has felt their ability to persevere stretched very, very thin? I know I have. And, I suspect I am not the only one, by far.

 Paul could have been in despair, being in prison, charged with a capital crime. He was facing possible death. Yet, he wrote one of the most joy-filled letters in the New Testament. What was his secret? How did Paul keep his chin up?

He tells us, right here. In today’s Scripture reading, Paul says, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Yeah, right, Paul! Easy for you to say!

As one of my favorite commentators J. Vernon McGee says, “Many of us think that if things are going right and if we are in the right place, then we will be contented. That means that we depend on the circumstances of life for our contentment….But Paul had learned to be content regardless of his state. There were times when he had nothing, and he was content. There were times when God had given him an abundance, and he had learned how to abound.” [2]

Paul “is able to meet the circumstances of life head-on in the strength of Christ. Paul does not depend on his own strength or ability, rather he relies on the sustaining help of Jesus.” [3] Our Lord Jesus will sustain us with his strength. Alleluia!

Paul does not share his dire circumstances in order to twist the arms of his friends to send him more money. No! He thanks his Philippian friends for both their financial gift as well as their messenger, Epaphroditus, and this letter is so, so much more than just a simple thank-you card. Paul also communicates the fact that – over his years of serving the Lord – he has learned to be content, no matter what. Either contentment with hunger, as Jesus did in the wilderness, or “contentment with abundance, without being caught up with the desire for more. He has learned to rejoice in the lean times and does not feel compelled to change his circumstances. He leaves that to God.” [4]

This sounds like it flies in the face of everything we might hear from those television evangelists who preach the health, wealth and prosperity Gospel. But, isn’t it consistent with what many people in the Bible – both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament – experience on a daily basis? Paul tells us right here that it is not the outer trappings of wealth and plenty, or the circumstances of life that count to God. No, it is the internal attitude, the Godly mindset, the inside job that truly counts.

Praise God that our internal attitude is what God finds truly valuable. May we all, like Paul, be filled to overflowing, well-supplied with the strength of Christ Jesus our Lord.   


[1] Hooker, Morna D., “The Letter to the Philippians,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. XI (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 2000), 548.

[2] McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible, Vol. V (Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, 1983), 326.

[3]  “The Power that Christ Gives,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources   http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday28aee.html

[4] From the series: To Live Is Christ: A Study of the Book of Philippians

https://bible.org/seriespage/13-give-and-take-phil-410-20

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Don’t Worry—Rejoice!

“Don’t Worry—Rejoice!”

Philippians 4:4-7 (4:6) – September 13, 2020

            I love Bobby McFerrin. His way of recording acapella music is absolutely brilliant. No instruments, but just him, as he sings, whistles, and makes other kinds of sounds.

In 1988, a song was released that went straight to the top of the billboard charts. Not only in the United States, but worldwide. That quirky song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” had no instruments, but just Bobby McFerrin singing, whistling and making other sounds with his body.  

            Today’s Scripture reading has almost exactly the same message. The apostle Paul tells his friends from Philippi, “Don’t worry—rejoice!”

            These verses from chapter 4 are where Paul gives his personal remarks and admonitions to a very special community of believers. Stand firm! Be of the same mind! Help each other! Rejoice! Be gentle! Don’t worry! And, pray!

            Of Pal’s words, what particularly strikes me at this time is “Don’t Worry—Rejoice!”  That is a tall order for anyone at any time. But, now? With all that is going on in the United States right now? Not only the COVID pandemic, but also the uncertainty, fear and anxiety with our country’s general condition. Plus, the racial tension, the problems with the weather and the wildfires, and the political uncertainty all add to the general anxiety of many in this country.

            Seriously, where does Paul get off, telling me NOT to worry? He doesn’t know what I am going through! Or, does he?

We have talked about Paul in prison, throughout this sermon series in Philippians. Imagine, awaiting his trial for a serious offence. Shackled at the wrist to a Roman soldier night and day, Paul had absolutely no privacy. What a miserable situation! Or, was it?  

            Let’s look more closely at Paul’s admonition. Or, if you like to think about it in this way, a part of Paul’s home improvement description.

Plus, some of these seem so difficult to accomplish. I can’t do this stuff that Paul tells me to! As Alyce McKenzie comments, “I would read [this admonition] and try to psyche myself up. “Let’s do this! No anxiety! Who needs it? I am a competent adult. I just need to breathe deeper, summon more faith, and I can achieve this anxiety-free life Paul talks about. Let’s do this!” [1]

            But, anxiety and fear continue to rise up and threaten to swallow us alive. Especially with so much uncertainty swirling around so many, few of us find it easy to do what Paul advises. So often, our attitude can be the exact opposite of that rejoicing and trust in God that Paul commands of us.

            Let’s think about the people Paul was writing to, in Philippi. Many of those people were probably unlikely to have comfortable lives. Most were poor, many were slaves or indentured servants. Few would have had any idea of what we know today as peace, joy and security. Yet, Paul encouraged all of them to rejoice in the Lord. [2]

            Let me tell you, Paul was hardly in the prime place to be a quality motivational speaker. From a worldly point of view, that is. Face it, we who live in comparative security, wealth and luxury today are so much more likely to be the most worried and anxious – especially with the sizeable fear and anxiety swirling around us for the past number of months.

            So, how on earth do we do it? How do we rejoice in the Lord always? And again, Paul says, rejoice!

A few years ago, commentator Alyce McKenzie went to a fitness class twice a week taught by an excellent instructor. As she says, “She is both fit and motivating. She is so pleasant that we don’t even hate her when she is making us do the tenth round of squats that are the reason getting up and down from my writing chair today is so painful.

“When we are flagging in energy in the middle of a round of chest presses or push-ups, she’ll call out “C’mon, people! You’ve got this!” I can’t deny that it has an energizing effect. Class members will call out things like “Yeah!” and “Woo-hoo!” I don’t call out anything. I’m busy trying to keep breathing, but I do feel a surge of internal confidence. “I’ve got this! I can do this!”

            Here is camaraderie, teamwork, and togetherness at work. And, the togetherness, the teamwork of the Christian life is what Paul recommends to us in verses 2 and 3. Remember? Be of the same mind! And, help each other!

            All of Paul’s commands dovetail into his urging to pray—with thanksgiving. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”   

            All too often, our prayers are just a ‘shopping list’ we bring to God, without thanksgiving and seasoned with anxiety and fear. We are urged to be grateful, to count our blessings. While the apostle Paul would express himself differently, I think Paul would appreciate the laid back, trusting attitude of Bobby McFerrin and his song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”   

Rejoice! Pray! Stand together in the faith!                                                                        Alleluia, amen.       


[1] https://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/lets-do-this-alyce-mckenzie-10-06-2014.html

“Let’s Do This!” Alyce M McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2014.

[2] Hooker, Morna D., “The Letter to the Philippians,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. XI (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 2000), 540-41, 547.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Toward the Goal!

“Toward the Goal!” – September 5, 2020

Philippians 3:12 – 4:1 (3:12-14)

I love going to sporting events. Don’t you miss the camaraderie, the togetherness at the Cubs game? Don’t you miss the shoulder-to-shoulder swaying and singing during seventh inning stretch? I know I do.

Baseball, football, hockey, soccer, or basketball. Sure, these sports involve going for the goal, or the basket. Hitting one out of the ballpark. And, fans are certainly involved in the games. Many have greatly missed sports recently, and missed rooting for our favorite teams, too.

The apostle Paul has been isolated and kept away from the church and the friends in Christ that he loves. His social isolation is not due to a pandemic, but due to being thrown into a Roman prison.

The sports image of the athlete is an image the apostle Paul uses several times in his letters to churches. Paul uses exactly that language, in Philippians chapter 3. “12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  

You and I may not be very coordinated, or in top physical condition. I don’t think Paul meant for all of us to be Olympic athletes. Of course, he was making a comparison. Just as top athletes press on and keep going as they train and as they compete, Paul wants us to press on and keep going as believers, too!  

Paul was benched for preaching the Word of God. I suspect he misses being in church with his church family. I suspect he misses welcoming strangers, newcomers into the Christian life. Last week, we learned that he trusted his friends – his teammates to hold the line, when he wrote about Timothy and Epaphroditus as they helped him and came alongside of him.

However, problems can come up. As you know, even the best athletes sprain joints and break bones. If they habitually train outside, a spate of bad weather can mess up their training schedule. But, if they have a great coach, they press on. They keep going, keep training.

We can get turned aside, too. Not only physical difficulties like sprained joints and broken bones can get in the way – other, serious diseases and problems can happen. Difficulties sideline many people. But, our coach Jesus is right next to us, in these challenging times.

When you and I get discouraged and find it difficult to keep on, to continue to run the race, that can be a big obstacle for us. It is such a temptation to look over our shoulders, to long for what used to be. What is behind us? You and I may want to go back to familiar things, or at least things that we know how to deal with. But, we are reminded right here that looking backwards – living in the past – is not the way to reach forward to the goal of the upward calling.

Do you hear the sports analogies that Paul uses? Paul wants us to be like athletes and “press on.” He acknowledges that he has not “already obtained his goal.” Even though he is knocked down and benched, he shakes it off and tells us that he is still in the game.

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize.” While sports achievements can be short lived, Paul wants us to focus on the long run, “heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

During this pandemic, have you kept in training, in the Christian life? Do you press on, continuing to reach for the goal, the heavenward goal? Do you keep on working, striving, training – like a dependable, steady athlete for Christ? Or, are you a fair-weather fan, only rooting for Team Jesus when it’s easy and doesn’t cost anything?  

Paul is our Team Captain, reminding us to “forget what is behind and strain towards what is ahead.” Paul’s image of the Christian life as a race is not the kind of race where just one single person wins the prize, where only one elite athlete can succeed. No! It is possible for everyone who takes part to win and for everyone to receive the prize of the upward calling.

We are reminded: none of us have already arrived at the goal. None of us can rest on our laurels and get lazy. The laurel wreath was one of the great prizes of Paul’s day. The wreaths would be awarded to only the swiftest, the strongest, the one who threw the javelin or the discus the furthest. But, in the Christian life, all of us can win the prize of the upward calling, where our Lord and Savior waits. Christ Jesus is cheering us on!  

As believers in training, we are called to communicate, to demonstrate the love of God to the world. “St. Teresa of Avila described this task well when she said: ‘Christ has no body on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.’” [1]

Christ is calling us, today. Go into the world, and be Christ’s eyes, hands and feet. Amen!


[1] Hooker, Morna D., “The Letter to the Philippians,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. XI (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 2000), 537.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Know Joy – Know Jesus!

“Know Joy – Know Jesus!” – August 30, 2020

Phil 3-10 That-I-may-know-Him

Philippians 3:1, 4-11 (3:8)

What is really important to you? Some people value family or friends. Others think material possessions are important. Some consider a marvelous resume to be valued above all else. Each of these can make some people satisfied, and that’s only the start of the list of important things. Many things hold value to many people, and cause them to be satisfied in life.

Is being a rule-follower important? When we dot every “I” and cross every “T” – carefully making absolutely sure that we are obeying every law; is that the thing some people value the most in their lives?

The apostle Paul said that this description described him exactly – a rule-follower who dotted every “I” and crossed every “T.” He gives us his marvelous resume, in some detail. We find out that Paul was born to a well-respected Jewish clan in the tribe of Benjamin. He was properly brought up in the Jewish faith, and even chose to live as a Pharisee, as one of the strictest followers of the Jewish Law that it was possible to be. The old Saul went overboard in his devotion to God, too – so devoted that he even persecuted the early Church.

Do you know anyone like that? Anyone who is so strict at following the rules that they even frown and get angry at their friends and family – regularly? What would the old Paul, the Pharisee Saul, have been like as a friend? Always trying to be super-righteous, always working hard at being perfect – Paul tells us straight out that he used to be a miserable person while he tried as hard as he could to be super-righteous.

I wonder what kinds of bullet points Paul – or as he was in his Pharisee days, Saul – would have on his letters of recommendation? “Pharisee Saul is one of the most righteous people I know.” Or, “The highest praise I can give to Pharisee Saul is he never, ever makes a mistake.” If anybody could possibly save himself through his own super-strict efforts at living according to the Mosaic Laws, I bet it would have been Paul, or as he was before, Pharisee Saul.

But – Paul found his own self-righteous actions and trying to make himself righteous enough for God just did not work. There was no way he could earn enough “brownie points” to be acceptable to God.

In other places in the New Testament, Paul describes what an awful mess he was in when he realized this! The Pharisee Saul had lived his whole life acting self-righteous, putting on a show. But here, in Philippians, Paul cuts straight to the chase. He tells us that he no longer trusts in himself or his qualifications. Instead he trusts in Christ! Absolutely, one hundred percent.

I am not sure whether you get excited about accounting. You know, the language of numbers, statements of profit and loss. But, that is exactly what Paul uses here. He uses accounting terms! “The end of a profit and loss statement shows the net loss or net income, indicating the extent to which a business, craft or household is profitable.” [1]

Paul is saying here that all his trying to be super-righteous, in his own power, got him absolutely nowhere! As far as the profit and loss statement of his life before God, he was absolutely bankrupt! There was no way he could possibly even approach God – except through trusting Jesus Christ as Lord.

And then – and then! Paul uses accounting language again. Paul counts knowing Christ as “gain.” When Paul wrote down the profit and loss statement for his life before God, ALL the gain, ALL the profit was credited to Jesus! As Paul came to understand what a miracle happened when he put his trust and hope in Christ Jesus, he became more and more excited.

Paul willingly, eagerly left behind all of his marvelous religious resume. Marvelous as far as the world is concerned. Paul actually uses a swear word here, in verse 8. “I consider everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” – meaning, putting aside all his training, and superior resume, and everything else – “I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” We might think of a four-letter word to use here, and that is exactly what Paul uses in the original Greek.

“Paul regards ‘everything’ of little value in comparison with the far greater worth, the supreme advantage, of knowing Christ.” [2] To gain Christ – to have Jesus one hundred percent on the profit side of our profit and loss statement before God – is the most marvelous thing in the world to Paul. He is so, so joy-filled about this, he almost bursts with joy!

Paul told the friends in Philippi about his boundless joy at knowing Christ Jesus so closely, and so well, even though he was in prison, chained to a Roman soldier 24/7! He still overflowed with joy! Is that true for us? Are we in the same joyful position as the apostle Paul? Are we overflowing with joy because we know Jesus? Or, is our joy being blocked or diverted?

Life was certainly no walk in the park for Paul, especially now. Yet, we can almost feel his joy right through the printed page. Even though, hardship – yet, there was joy! Even though, trials – yet, Paul felt joy! Even though, sickness – yet, Paul and his friends were joyful!

I realize you and I are probably not in the happiest of places right now, with uncertainty and anxiety all around us. Yet, Paul reminds us, we can have joy! If we place our trust and hope in Jesus Christ, His joy is available to us, any time! What a marvelous promise. Be joyful in Christ Jesus. No matter what.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1592

Commentary, Philippians 3:4b-14 (Lent 5C), Elizabeth Shively, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/lent5ce.html

“The Prize,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

We Can Be Friends, Too!

(This week, we are celebrating in Sunday Worship with a Children’s Service: a service oriented toward children and young people. We pray for them as they begin a new school year, whether online, in-person, or something in between. This sermon from Philippians 2:19-30 is geared toward all ages, especially for our younger friends.)

“We Can Be Friends, Too!” – August 23, 2020

Phil 2-20 work of the Gospel

Philippians 2:19-30 (2:28-30)

Paul wrote a letter to the Philippian church, when he was in prison. Paul tells about his two close friends who are with him, supporting him while he is in prison.

What if your friend was in real big trouble? Would you be there to help your friend who was in a desperate situation? Or, would you want to hide and stay away? Would your fear keep you from helping? I bet you would be like Timothy and Epaphroditus and would be there to help your friend!

So many church members just stay out of the way. Can you – can I be a friend of Jesus if we hide and stay out of the way?

As Paul wrote this letter to the Philippian church, he was in prison. You and I might think that Paul wasn’t able to do anything in prison, but just hide and keep out of the way. He couldn’t go where he pleased. He was locked up!

Here Paul talks further about being a good friend. Paul tells about his two close friends who are with him, willingly supporting him while he is in prison.

Would you – or I – be there to help our friend who was in a desperate situation, even in prison? Or, would you want to run to hide and stay out of the way? Could our anxiety and fear make us super scared? Or, would we continue to be there for our friend?

The friends in Philippi knew Paul’s friend Timothy from when Timothy was one of Paul’s companions. Paul had the highest praise for his young friend, saying that Timothy was genuine, faithful and could certainly be depended on, no matter what. Especially when he was telling other people about God’s Good News.

Isn’t this the best kind of friend to have with you, if you are in a difficult spot?

I know that going back to school is usually not such a challenging time. However, we haven’t had Coronavirus around before. Having Coronavirus is almost like being in jail! It is keeping us locked away from our friends. It is very stressful for all of us. But, none or us are alone. God is always with us, is always fighting for us, and has great plans for each of us.

Are you willing to be genuine, faithful and dependable for your friends? How about for your fellow classmates or co-workers? Paul reminds us, we can all be like Timothy, willing to be friends for others, no matter what.

Paul’s other friend, Epaphroditus, was a church leader in Philippi. He hand-carried an important financial gift to Paul.

Epaphroditus also was very, very ill while traveling, and after he reached Rome where Paul was in prison. However, he overcame those difficult times. Paul praises his friend Epaphroditus for working just as hard as Paul did himself! Plus, while Paul was stuck in prison, his Philippian friend took excellent care of Paul. I suspect he was Paul’s hands and feet, and really helped the ministry while Paul was in jail.

For all of those reasons, Paul really praises Epaphroditus. But, at the same time, Paul needed to send him back to Philippi with this very letter. (The one we are reading.)

Do we understand how much it cost Epaphroditus to go visit Paul? Weeks, perhaps even months on the road. He was deathly ill while traveling, and after he reached his destination, too. Of course Paul was grateful and thankful for both his good friends!

Do you know anyone who has had the Coronavirus? You cannot go and see them. They are alone. Yet you can be a good friend and send them messages, right? And, if you were sick, you know that God is your good friend. No matter how things are going, how unhappy you are or how troubled your life seems, God will be right next to you. We have God’s promise on that! God is true to those who believe.

Are we supposed to be friends to others in a similar way? I think Paul would say, “Yes!”

Our hearts can be filled with gentle words, kind deeds, forgiving hearts and peacemaking. Jesus is depending on all of us! Did you ever think Jesus was depending on you? You might be the only way God could show love to some of the kids, families, co-workers, and neighbors you meet every day – in class, or in the office, or at the grocery store, or at the park. [1]

Just as much as Paul was thankful for Timothy and Epaphroditus being his good friends, you and I can be thankful that God is our good friend. No matter how things are going, how happy we are – or not, or how bumpy or steep the way is ahead, God will be right next to us. We have God’s promise on that!

Paul encourages each of us to come alongside of all our friends, and be there, just in case. That is truly something we all can be thankful for. Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/07/back-to-school-2013.html

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Joy in Humility

“Joy in Humility” – August 16, 2020

Phil 2-5 same mind

Philippians 2:3-11 (2:3-5)

When you see a child dressing up like their mom, dad, older brother or sister, or other trusted adult, what immediately pops into your mind? What I immediately think of is that this dear child is dressing up as a beloved older person because they really want to be that person! It’s not just wearing Mom’s or Grandma’s high heeled shoes. Whether it’s dressing up in a nurse’s scrubs, a mechanic’s coveralls or a scientist’s lab coat, that child is trying their hardest to be just like that grown-up.

As we consider the Scripture reading read to us today, we might think of something like this – imitating our beloved grown-ups. But, can you and I actually do what Paul suggests here? Paul, you are making a huge leap, expecting us little, insignificant humans to be like – have a mindset like – think the same way as our Lord Jesus! That is asking for the moon! Isn’t it?

That is what Paul says in verse 5, yes. Let’s go back further. He says a similar thing in verses 3 and 4: our attitude – on the inside! – is supposed to change. Radically!

We are not just to play dress-up, we are not supposed to simply put on a nurse’s uniform or a firefighter’s coat. Paul calls each of us to be humble. Paul wants us to pay attention to our insides! It’s an internal job, where each of us changes our attitude to one of humility.

What is humility, anyhow? If we examine the cultural backdrop of Paul’s words more closely, humility had a very different connotation in the first century. Humility – the act of being humble was not considered in a positive light, at all! The widespread, worldly view of being humble went along with being a menial, a servant, even a slave.

However … that was not the way the Bible looked at this way of thinking. No, some religious groups viewed being humble as “the appropriate attitude both toward God and toward other members of the community.” [1] Plus, the apostle Paul here reminds the Philippian believers to consider others before we think about ourselves; to recognize the abilities, rights and achievements of others! This is exactly how Paul describes Jesus Christ several verses later.

Paul tells his friends – and by extension, us! – that we are to have the same attitude and same mindset as our Lord! That completely blows me away. Wow. Double wow!

Lots of situations, differences and conflicts can pull people away from the Lord. We can see these happening all around us, on a regular basis. Some of these feelings, emotions and situations are so powerful! Not only pulling us away from each other, but also away from the Lord. It is so difficult to focus, to have our mindset and attitude the same as our Lord Jesus!

Paul’s words “seem carefully chosen, no doubt to make a lasting impression on his readers. He then evokes by contrast some of the root causes of division and finally returns to the image of having a ‘same mind’. Only now, this mind is not theirs but Christ’s.” [2]

Paul was not just speaking to an individual here. The word “you” Paul uses (every time!) is a plural “you!” This attitude, this mindset is for the whole group of the Philippian believers. Paul did not mean for his friends, the believers in Philippi, to be solo Christians. No Lone Rangers! It’s possible to lean on each other when some get tired. We all depend on each other. We seek to be Christians together, and to have a mindset like Christ, together!

One of my favorite expressions is “What would Jesus do?” What would our Lord do in a situation like this? How would He react? How would He treat others? Would Jesus be selfish? Would Jesus be mean? Would Jesus snub people or be disrespectful to others? I think we all know the answer: certainly not!

Paul does not stop here. These next verses are among the most significant and moving descriptions of our Lord Jesus Christ in the whole New Testament. Paul goes back in time, to the time before the human Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and he talks about the pre-incarnate, eternal Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. The Eternal Son, the Word that was in the beginning, voluntarily gave up all Godhood. Jesus became the Word made flesh, setting aside the form of God. Jesus emptied Himself and became a helpless human baby.

Jesus humbled Himself! Just as Paul tells us to do! We are to strive to have the attitude, the mindset of our Lord Jesus Christ!

But, wait! That is not all. Not by a long shot! After Jesus became obedient to God, even to the point of death on a cross for our sins, God highly exalted Him! Jesus was—is given the name that is above every name! At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God!

Do we believe that? What does that mean to you? To me? What does it really mean? Are you – am I ready to bow the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord? Are we to strive to have the mindset and attitude of Jesus? Conventional, worldly attitudes scoff at this humility. What, be a servant? Where does this guy Paul get off, telling me to act like a slave, a menial, and not do anything for myself? That’s plain silly! That’s stupid, even!

Except, that is EXACTLY what Paul is saying here. We are not to act selfishly, have out-of-line ambition, or act in a conceited way. Again, “what would Jesus do?” Jesus would have concern for all people! Jesus would serve and love and care for all people, whether He is humble or exalted. No matter who, no matter where, no matter what!  

Let us strive to have the mindset and attitude of our Lord Jesus. Remember to check: “What would Jesus do?” And then, go! Have an attitude like Jesus, to the glory of God.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

[I would like to express deep appreciation for Dr. Hooker’s invaluable commentary on chapter 2 of “The Letter to the Philippians.” (Hooker, Morna D., “The Letter to the Philippians,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. XI (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 2000). I have used several concepts she wrote about in sections 2:1-4 and 2:5-11. Thanks so much for contributing to my personal understanding of this foundational passage for the study of the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.]

[1] Hooker, Morna D., “The Letter to the Philippians,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. XI (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 2000), 499.

[2] https://www.taize.fr/en_article167.html?date=2009-10-01

“Living As Friends,” Commented Bible Passages from Taize, 2009.

Joy Through Difficulty

“Joy Through Difficulty” – August 9, 2020

Phil 1-12 advance Gospel

1:21-27 (1:21, 27)

When bad things happen to you, how do you react? What about when really unpleasant things continue to go wrong – what then? Do you feel down in the dumps? Depressed and anxious? What about your general attitude towards life – is that affected, too? Who am I kidding? Of course our whole lives are affected.

What about the apostle Paul and his attitude? The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the believers in Philippi as a thank you note, and a whole lot more. But, let’s take a look at Paul’s immediate situation? Where was he as he wrote this letter?

Let’s look more closely at verses 12 and 13: “12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” Wow! We can see, right here, that Paul was locked up, in prison.

That would be an awful situation for most people – in fact, for just about anybody! However, I know that Paul was repeatedly locked up, thrown in prison, put into stocks, beaten on a number of occasions with rods or with a whip – and I could go on. Paul himself tells us about many of these difficult situations that happened to him in 2 Corinthians, too.

During this sermon series, we will highlight Paul’s focus on joy! Again and again, Paul mentions either “joy” or “rejoice.” We know that Paul was considered a saint, and he traveled a great distance as a missionary. Plus, he certainly had perseverance. Even what some call stubbornness. And, he let his abundant joy shine through.

If we try to compare ourselves to Paul, some might say, “I’m no saint! At least, not like St. Paul! He was a real saint, and extraordinary missionary, and powerful pastor.”

Scripture – the Holy Spirit – couldn’t be talking to me through this verse…or, could it?

Sure, we see Paul in these verses, in prison, locked up. He is in chains, chained to a Roman soldier, and still, he’s joyful with the joy of Christ! What on earth…?

You and I may not be in as dire circumstances as Paul’s, but, surely there are some lessons to be learned from Paul. How can we imitate him, today? What can we do to show God’s joy to everyone, despite difficulties and big challenges in our own lives? I’m glad you asked.

Sometimes life does get particularly rough. You and I know that. Maybe really difficult times have hit my family or yours. Maybe we know friends or acquaintances who have dealt with similar challenging situations. You know these things as soon as I mention them. Serious accidents or horrifying diseases? What about when death hits close to home – repeatedly? What about natural disasters, fires, floods? Or, God forbid, armed conflict? And, what if our family has a member in the same place as the apostle Paul, in prison? What do we do then? How do we keep the joy of God front and center in our lives?

In case we haven’t noticed before, Christ is a big deal to the apostle Paul. Jesus Christ is the reason that Paul is now imprisoned. Christ is not just a sideline or an afterthought. Paul has not stopped talking about the claims of Christ even in prison. He has that deep of a relationship with Jesus Christ that he wants everyone to be similarly related to Him.

Do we – you and I – have that kind of deep, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ? And if not, why not?

I’d like everyone to imagine. And as I said last week, you can close your eyes here if it helps you to imagine. Think of your best friend. I mean, your best, best friend, whether you two are still in touch, or whether you haven’t seen each other for years and years. Is everyone thinking of that special relationship? That relationship is as close as the one with our Lord Jesus.

At least, Jesus dearly wants that very special relationship with each of us.

We know Paul already praised his friends for being partners in preaching the Good News of God. Moreover, “Paul writes from prison (Phil 1:7, 13-14, 17), uncertain whether he will die (verses 19-20), hoping only that “Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death” (verse 20). The circumstances have not dampened Paul’s joy (see 1:18; 3:1a; 4:4, 10). Perhaps [the circumstances] have even clarified his focus.” [1]

How can we have that dearly close relationship with our Lord Jesus, too? What can clarify our focus?

Paul tells us again and again that we are not to be focused inwardly, not to be focused on ourselves. Our call is to be focused in an outward direction. Think of others. Do things for others. Tell others about Christ, and how much a relationship with God can change their lives. Has that relationship changed your life? As we live out the Gospel – the Good News – in our lives, that is the absolute best invitation we could possibly have for others who have not heard about the close relationship our Lord Jesus wants to have with them.

There is an added bonus, too. “The Lord’s people who are discouraged will see our faith in God in the midst of trials and be encouraged to trust God and bear witness for Him.” [2]

Let’s all pray that we can have this incredibly close friendship with Jesus Christ, not only for the sake of others, but especially for us! As we are drawn closer to God, vertically, others around us see our lives shining like a bright light. Then, we can tell many about the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord. Is there anything better than that? Paul doesn’t think so. God will be pleased, too! Go! Do! Think of others more than of yourselves, in the name of Christ. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3431

Commentary, Philippians 1:21-30, Troy Toftgruben, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.  

[2] https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-6-happiness-through-circumstances-or-christ-philippians-112-18

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Encourage Like Paul!

“Encourage Like Paul!” – August 2, 2020

Phil 1-3 thank God words

Philippians 1:3-11 (1:3-6)

Do you remember a time when someone encouraged you? I mean, when you were feeling downhearted or down in the dumps, and a friend or relative gave you a real, sincere word of encouragement? I am afraid to say that my words of encouragement often do not measure up when compared to this encouraging letter Paul wrote to his Philippian friends. Paul really meant what he said in this letter to Philippi – every word!

We are starting a sermon series on the letter to the church in Philippi this week. This letter is one of the most heartwarming and personal letters written in the New Testament. Philippians is one of my favorite Bible books, too.

Just to remind us all, the apostle Paul traveled around for years. As an itinerant preacher and missionary, he was often on the move. Although, Paul did settle down from time to time, and stay in particular towns for a number of months. Like, right here, in Philippi.

`           I know today we might be encouraged by a family member over the telephone, or by a co-worker in a Zoom meeting, or by a friend through email or Instagram. But in the apostle Paul’s day, there were only two choices: either face to face, in a personal encounter, or in written form. Paul was far away from his friends and former parishioners, so he used a letter.  

Paul’s affection and care for his Philippian friends went much deeper than a nodding acquaintance, such as we might see in casual, continued encounters like in line at a grocery store, walking in the neighborhood, or in a polite exchange at the office.

Let’s look at exactly what Paul said here. This was a thank-you letter for a financial gift sent by the Philippian church. Since Paul was in prison, he was doubly thankful for the gift! I suspect it provided for his food, clothing and other needs while he was locked up. Let me remind people that if a prisoner’s friends or relatives did not supply these necessities, the prisoner was sadly out of luck. The prison did not supply anything. At least, not for free.

So, you and I might think this was a sad time and puzzling situation for Paul to have positive words to say about anything – much less to send such a positive, uplifting letter to his faraway friends in thanks for their financial gift.

Paul is fairly bubbling over with gratitude and thankfulness as he begins this letter. I wanted us to especially notice the 3rd verse. Paul thanks God every time he remembers his friends in Philippi. Do you have friends you can say that about? Do you or I have even one or two friends who are so special to us that we remember them to God with such warmth and excitement? What a marvelous thing to say about a friend. A good friend. Even, a best friend.

Verse 4 tells us that Paul always – always prays with joy when he prays for these special friends from Philippi. This is the first of many times Paul uses to word “joy” in this letter. He uses either the noun “joy” or the verb “rejoice” fourteen times! When I first took the course Bible Study Methods decades ago in bible college, we were told that if a passage or a book of the Bible repeated something, there was a really good reason for it. I believe, and commentators and Bible scholars agree, the apostle Paul means joy to be an overarching theme in this letter.

And, verse 5 tells what fills Paul with such joy: the Philippians not only were supporting Paul in prayer, but they also supported him in the partnership of the Gospel. They shared the Good News of Christ, too! That really filled the apostle Paul with joy.

How do you feel when you are especially encouraged and affirmed? What if that someone who encourages you is someone very special? Someone who means a whole lot to you? Doesn’t that make that encouragement and appreciation even more meaningful?

Let’s imagine. Close your eyes, if that helps you imagine. You and I are among this group of believers in Philippi, and we have just received this letter from our Pastor Paul in prison. Let’s listen again to these three verses: “I thank my God for you every time I think of you; and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now.”

Paul is thankful for the money his friends sent. But, I hear these words saying how incredibly thankful and grateful Paul is for the caring and love of these people, friends from far away. Have you ever been encouraged and affirmed, with these amazing words?

I am reminded of when I taught piano lessons, some years ago, before I started seminary and several years into it. I taught for about ten years. I remember one student in particular. Her parents were going through a nasty divorce that lasted for many months. I taught this girl for a whole year. Her mother wanted her to continue with lessons until the end of the school year, as a stabilizing factor, because she saw how encouraging I was to her daughter in each lesson. And, I really tried to be a caring encourager for a troubled time in this girl’s life.

We all have had teachers, coaches or mentors in our past. Who has taught you about the Christian faith? Who has mentored you along the way, and encouraged you to become a more faithful believer? Do you have an apostle Paul in your life? Or, perhaps an encouraging and faithful Barnabas, one of Paul’s companions? Or, maybe an excited and eager John Mark, another companion of Paul? [1]

Whatever kind of teacher, coach or mentor in faith you have had, praise God for this beloved person. Thank the Lord for the impact this dear one has made on your life, and on mine. And, perhaps you can be that person who has a lasting impact on someone else. Please God, may it be today!

[1] http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/c/2Advent-c/SR-2Advent-c.html

“A Letter from a Mentor,” Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Catholic Resource for This Sunday’s Gospel. Adult Study, Children’s Story, Family Activity, Support Materials.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

We Are Convinced

“We Are Convinced” – July 26, 2020

Rom 8-37 conquerors, water

Romans 8:33-39 (8:37-39)

Shel Silverstein wrote some wonderful poetry for children. (His poetry is enjoyed by all ages, in fact!) You may be familiar with two of his books of poetry called “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “A Light in the Attic.” This poem is called “Whatif.” I will read most of it:

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!
[1]

 

Whatif? Many people are haunted by all kinds of fears that a school-age child might have. We can relate to some of them, perhaps even most of them! The commonality of these fears crosses borders, and connects us all in a powerful way. Does this remind you of our Scripture reading at all? Whatif? Whatif God is against us? Whatif God condemns us? Whatif the devil stands in front of us, telling God all the sins we have ever thought, said or done? And, then – Whatif God tells us we can’t get into heaven?

You need to understand something about the apostle Paul’s writing style. He wrote some really long sentences. Some of his sentences went on for a whole paragraph! Plus, it is typical of Paul to interrupt himself in the middle of a point he’s making, add some more details, and then pick up where he left off in the first place. What is more, every phrase in this 8th chapter of the letter to the Romans has marvelous information for our salvation!

We can watch as Paul assembles his argument. In verses 31 and 32, he asks, “who can be against us?” Paul’s answer: no one, not even God, who did not spare His own Son from death. In verse 33, who will bring a charge against us? Again, the answer is no one. God justifies – or makes it just-as-if we had not sinned. Then, in verse 34, Paul asks, “who will condemn?” The ringing answer is: no one! We are looking around for more accusers, but no one steps forward. Christ Jesus died for us, was raised for us, and intercedes for us. [2]

Did you hear? Jesus intercedes for us, too! Not just once or twice, but Jesus is continuing to intercede on our behalf! That is amazing. I almost cannot believe it, but Paul says so. In verse 35, Paul describes many physical hindrances that may separate us from the love of Jesus Christ. This rhetorical statement continues, piling up more and more bricks. You and I really need to listen to the apostle Paul when he tells us something so important, point blank.

I do need to remind us that Paul does describe here the kinds of sufferings that he and his fellow believers did go through. These were (and are today, too!) very real sufferings – danger, threat and struggle – of countless people throughout the world.

However, our salvation is NOT our doing. Bryan Findlayson tells us exactly what Paul is building here. Paul knows full well that “our standing before God is not dependent upon our love, obedience, perseverance or faithfulness, rather it rests on what Christ has done for us. At this moment we stand perfected before the throne of the Almighty God. We are eternally secure.” Do you hear that? Do we have any idea what fantastic news that is? You, I, all of us “are being daily renewed into the image we already possess in Christ. This is not our doing, but rather it is a gift of grace from a loving and merciful God.” [3]

As if all that is not enough, Paul adds the marvelous icing to the top of our salvation. It is almost as if he gets more and more outrageous with each pair of things he references. Sure, these strenuous pressures are powerful, sure to cause many people to stumble and fall. But – let us listen to them again: Paul says, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation.” He continues to mention all of these threats, elements, and all of space and time spread out before us – and yet, nothing – NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!

The love of God transcends all things. The love of God reaches into the depths of human despair, embraces those who live in the shadow of death, or the overbright light of present life. The love of God proclaims to the world that Jesus the Messiah is the world’s true Lord, and in Him and through Him, love has won the ultimate victory! [4]

Paul started out this chapter by telling us that “therefore there is no condemnation for those who are “in Christ” Jesus. He ends by telling us that therefore there can be no separation from the love of God for those who are “in Christ” Jesus.” [5] All this is Good News indeed.

Amen, alleluia!

[1] Silverstein, Shel, “Whatif,” from A Light in the Attic (Harper & Row: San Francisco, 1981), edited.

[2] Wright, N.T., “Romans,” The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. X (Abingdon: Nashville, TN, 2002), 613.

[3] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday18aee.html  “The Love of God,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources. Includes detailed textual notes.

[4] Wright, N.T., 619.

[5] Findlayson, “The Love of God,”

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Life on God’s Terms

“Life on God’s Terms” – July 12, 2020

Rom 8_11 Spirit of God

Romans 8:1-11 (8:10)

Does anyone know what this is? [motioning towards the garbage can] You’re right. This is a garbage can. Good for being a container for all the garbage – refuse – junk – from our homes, workplaces, and communities. All kinds of worthless garbage that is not needed or wanted goes right in here. The apostle Paul talks about all kinds of garbage in our lives, on our insides, here in the letter to the church in Rome.

Imagine, if you will, all the internal junk in a person’s life, and mind, and heart. All of that meanness, and selfishness, gossip and swearing, bullying and arguing. And, what about the times people cheat? Or, blow off assignments or obligations? Or, stretch the truth just a little – or, perhaps a lot? Oh, it’s not much. But, do you think God keeps track of each and every time?

Just think of a person’s life. Perhaps, your life, or mine. If all the years and decades of those junky, selfish, stubborn, or mean thoughts, words or deeds were piled in this garbage can, I’d imagine it would be pretty full. Even, perhaps, full to overflowing.

Life on the inside, our internal selves without God can be pretty hopeless. Worthless. Just like garbage – refuse – junk that goes into this garbage can. Another word that Paul uses for all the stuff in these garbage cans is sin. I suspect many of us here can quote Romans 3:23, where Paul says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Paul does not say, “For some have sinned,” or even “For many have sinned.” No, we all have our internal selves filled up with meanness, selfishness, gossip, swearing, bullying, arguing. And, then some.

God does have laws. Many of these laws are common sense, and others are in keeping with moral codes that many civilizations have held for millenia. We know the big 10, the Ten Commandments, and many of the other laws of Moses that are found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Right before Paul writes these marvelous words in Romans 8, he talks about the huge problem with law and sin. We know about that. Sin and the law of God do not get along.

What do I do now? I know a lot of these laws of God, sure. But I still fall into sin, even though I know the rules. Another way of looking at sin is separation from God. When you—I—when all of us sin, we are separated from God. What’s more than that, sometimes people don’t even think of the Lord. God does not even enter their minds. Can you imagine? Ignoring God? Yet, so many people do just that.

So many people today are running on that treadmill of self will run riot, of selfish, mean, resentful living. I have seen a number of these kinds of persons, and they keep running, running, running on that treadmill of separation from God.

I have one particular person in mind. An acquaintance, from some years ago. To all outward appearances, she was very successful. She had designer clothes, a successful job, a luxury car, a fancy house. But, on the inside? All kinds of resentment, anger, greed, envy, gossiping and backbiting. She cut corners on her integrity and honesty, and just did not have a moral compass. Do you know someone like that? I have a feeling we all might have more in common with this unhappy lady than any of us might like to admit.

I’d like all of you to think of a sin in your life. I suspect you have thought of a sin that is really obvious to you, right now. the one thing you feel worst about. The one regret or misdeed or misfortune that you wear like a snail does its shell. The one part of your life that forever threatens sin and condemnation. Could you write it down? Or, if you don’t have a pen and paper, could you think really hard of that particular sin right now?

Paul does not leave us in that horrible place. Yes, all of Romans chapter 7 is talking about sin, and separation from God, and how much difficulty all of us have with these sinful thoughts, words and deeds. We might think that we are stuck at the bottom of one of these smelly, stinky, filthy garbage cans, with no way out. Who will rescue me from this body of sin and death? How can I – can we – get in a place where we can possibly have access to God?

Paul has good news for us. In fact, it’s great news! We do not have to stay in this garbage dump for the rest of our lives. No, Jesus reaches down from heaven and rescues us from sin and death. Jesus takes each of us out of that separated, filthy garbage can and brings us into the glorious presence of God!

Here is the best part of all. God’s Holy Spirit helps us to stay free from the power of sin and death. We no longer need to reflect on what we have done – or said – or thought that was wrong. No! Jesus Christ delivers us from sin and the Law.

I want to invite all of us to—virtually—toss that sin we wrote down into the garbage can right here. Jesus can clean us up from the inside, and help us to sin less and less. Amen!

One last thing. I invite each of you to take another piece of paper, and write what you are free to do now that you do not have that condemnation in your life and inside your very self. What challenge will God bring into your life, now that you know you are beloved by God and filled with God’s Spirit? What kindness or generosity will you attempt? What will you do with all the love and grace God can give you? [1]

God promises to be with us, yes! And, even more, God promises to use each of us for the sake of the people and the world God loves so much. Go out into the world for God, today.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1571

“What Willl You Do…?” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

Rest for the Weary

(I am on vacation this weekend. Thanks to the Rev. John Lewis of The Presbyterian Church of Hamilton, Ohio for preaching for me at St. Luke’s Church!

This is a sermon from 2008 on the Lectionary passage from Matthew 11:28-30.)

“Rest for the Weary” – July 6, 2008

Matt 11-28 rest, bench

Matthew 11:28-30

I was born here in the city. My parents were born here, too, in Chicago. I have only a vague idea of what goes on in the country, on a farm. My information about farming activity comes chiefly from material I have read, and a bit from stories I have been told. By my father-in-law, for example, who grew up on a small farm in southeastern Iowa during the 1930’s.

So, when I read a scripture passage like the one we have before us today, I have to take a really close look at it, and work hard at fully understanding it, because I am not that familiar with oxen, or yokes. But burdens—I am familiar with burdens. And our Lord Jesus talks about burdens here in this reading from the Gospel of Matthew.

Burdens come in all assorted shapes and sizes. Burdens can be solitary things, with each of us, on our own, struggling with our separate burdens. It is difficult indeed for me to carry a burden on my own. And I am heavily laden. Let’s face it. We are all burdened with something. Perhaps several things. A few of us carry a lot of heavy difficulties, whether psychological, emotional, or physical. These all can be heavy burdens, to be sure.

If I thought I was having problems before, I did not even consider this next complication: I am naturally separated from other people here in this world. Just as much, if not more, I am also separated from God above. I not only have a wall of isolation separating me from other people, I also have that same isolating wall separating me from God.

The Bible has a name for this horrible wall of isolation, and this name is sin. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 3:23, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The verse is not that a few have sinned. It does not say that some have sinned. The letter to the Romans says that all have sinned. So that wall of isolation has been erected between me and God, and me and other individuals. And that wall is there for you, too.

Think of different kinds of loads: burdens of pain and suffering, burdens of loneliness and isolation, burdens of other kinds of losses. If we think about it, on top of the other burdens that each of us is carrying is the burden of sin.

So, not only is each one of us separated from God and from our fellow human beings, but each of us is heavily burdened by countless other things. And I could imagine lots of people getting virtual hernias, because they are carrying their burdens all by themselves.

The truly good news is that we do not have to bear these burdens all alone, any more. Our Lord Jesus has reconciled us to God. Each of us is no longer separated, isolated. But Jesus brings us back into a proper, friendly relationship with God. Each of us has the opportunity to be called a child of God.

And Jesus not only reconciles each of us back to God, this is where He mentions the yoke. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

What is a yoke, anyway? How does it work? What does it do?

You all remember that I am a city girl. From my reading, I have found out that a yoke is used by a farmer to harness two animals—often oxen—to a piece of farm equipment, usually a plow. Yokes were made of wood. When the yoke was made, it was adjusted, so that it would not chafe. And the significant thing about this is that a yoke was custom-fitted to the particular ox that pulled with it.

Jesus mentions a yoke here. Remember, all of these people Jesus was talking to understood about farm life, and oxen, and especially about a good fit on a yoke. So when or Lord Jesus mentions “My yoke is easy,” He means that His yoke for each one of us fits us very well—it’s tailor-made, in other words. And even more important, one ox alone does not pull in a yoke. The load would be unbalanced if there were only one ox. Instead, each of us is in a team . . . in a yoked team with Jesus. If our Lord is right with us, pulling at our burden—whatever it is—at our side, then each of us is on a winning team.

Just imagine. I no longer need to pull at my burdens all by myself, isolated and alone. Jesus is right there next to me, helping me, pulling by my side. Praise God! Jesus comes alongside each one of us. Jesus is there to encourage us. And He will bring rest for our souls. Is there any better news than this best of all Good News?

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Cup of Cold Water

“Cup of Cold Water”

Matt 10-42 water, words

Matthew 10:40-42 (10:42) – June 28, 2020

I have several friends who are wonderful hosts and hostesses. They love to have friends and relatives come to their homes, and provide such excellent hospitality. In fact, I had the great good fortune to be the recipient of such fine hospitality a few months ago, at the home of my niece Josie’s uncles (on her mom’s side), in Washington state. Jeff was a marvelous host!

What does hospitality have to do with this bible reading from Matthew 10? At first glance, this reading talks about prophets, or God’s messengers. Jesus tells us how it’s important to accept, or to welcome the messengers of God.

Hospitality was huge in the Middle East. It still is, today. If someone comes to your home, you go all out for them, making them comfortable, feeding them, and otherwise supplying their needs. That hospitality has been a hallmark and a highlight of visiting this region of the world, for centuries.

When the Rabbi Jesus made this statement about receiving the prophets, God’s messengers, what do you immediately think of? What is the first thing that comes to mind? The first thing I thought of was an old-fashioned Sunday dinner after church, where one of the prominent families at the church invites the minister over for a fine meal following the morning services. Well, that cannot happen now, because of COVID-19. Not the socializing at each other’s houses, and not the in-person worship services.

But – can this reading mean more than that?

Somehow, I don’t think the Rabbi Jesus was thinking about the chief rabbi from the most prosperous synagogue in town. I don’t think Jesus had the hot-shot leading elders of the largest congregation in mind, either.

I suspect you can immediately think of someone—maybe a couple of someones—who is absolutely marvelous at hospitality. Putting on parties and get-togethers, gathering friends, relatives, acquaintances. I know, I have been at a few of these gatherings. They are almost always wonderful times to connect. Wonderful times for eating and drinking, too.

What about you? Are you grateful to friends or relatives who have the spiritual gift of hospitality? This absolutely is a spiritual gift, listed among the other more acknowledged or appreciated biblical gifts. Some have that gift of hospitality in abundance.

Except, the words of Jesus do not excuse some of us who are not so hospitality-gifted. No, Jesus’s words are intended for all of us. That means every believer has the responsibility to extend hospitality, whether they have that spiritual gift or not.

I could expound upon the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are given to each believer when they come to believe in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul has written several lists where he runs down a good number of these gifts: in chapters Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4, among others. Gifts like teaching, discernment, helps, and administration.

I can hear some people say, “Oh, I just don’t have a hospitable bone in my body. I can’t welcome people into my tiny apartment. I’m all thumbs when it comes to spreading a wonderful table, and I don’t know the first thing about throwing a big party.” Well, guess what? Jesus did not say, “This command is just for the people among you who really like Martha Stewart.” Or, “This command only applies to the people who can throw the best parties.”

Jesus wants ALL of us to be hospitable. He wants ALL of us to extend a welcome. But, to whom? Who is it Jesus wants us to welcome in such a way? It’s just our friends and relatives, right? It’s just the people from my church, or from my side of town. It’s just the people who look like me. Isn’t that who You mean, Jesus?

Let’s read verse 10:42 again. ”And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.” Acts of mercy and deeds of compassion, no matter how small. My goodness. Is Jesus talking about being kind to – anyone? Everyone? No matter what? No matter who? No matter what they look like? Or, where they were born?

Yes, mercy and compassion are two of those spiritual gifts the apostle Paul talks about. Except, Jesus commands all of us to show compassion and mercy, right here. By doing these compassionate things for anyone and to everyone, we give witness to the unconditional love of our Lord Jesus. Jesus does not make this expression of compassion and mercy something exclusive to “only our kind.” No, He specifically says that we are commanded to show mercy and compassion to “the least of these.” Some translations use the words “these little ones.”

Okay, Jesus. I guess I get the idea. You want me to show mercy and compassion to just about everyone who needs help. But, I need some ideas.

Dr. David Lose, one of my favorite commentators, gives us some excellent suggestions. He says: “at other times, Jesus seems to say, it’s nothing more than giving a cup of cold water to one in need. Or offering a hug to someone who is grieving. Or a listening ear to someone in need of a friend. Or offering a ride to someone without a car. Or volunteering at the local foodbank. Or making a donation to an agency like Luther World Relief. Or…you get the idea.” [1]

Jesus does not simply make a suggestion. This cup of cold water, this mercy and compassion is something He is really serious about. Let us take our Lord’s words to heart, and put them into action. Now. Go, do, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3265

“No Small Gestures,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Live a New Life

“Live a New Life”

Rom 6-4 nwness of life

Romans 6:1-5 (6:4) – June 21, 2020

I have a friend who should have been on the debate team in high school. On occasion, he loves to discuss and debate points of history, or whether this or that point of politics has merit. He is quite good at expressing himself, and often enjoys a good, rousing discussion.

My friend reminds me of the apostle Paul. Paul talks at great length in his letters about such wonderful doctrines like sin, death, grace, baptism and salvation. He discussed several of them in chapter 5 of his letter to the Romans.

Paul argued and debated a lot with his fellow Christians. We are familiar with that, today, too. Theologians, church leaders and ministers debating back and forth, this way and that.

Different denominations have different “rules and regulations” about living the Christian life. One group tells believers that all true Christian people have to abstain from eating meat on Fridays. Another group tells all believing women that they have to wear skirts and are never permitted to wear pants. A third group says that musical instruments in worship services are evil, and only the human voice is fit to be used to praise the Lord.

Some of these rules and regulations might seem petty, or over the top, but they make sense to the people who follow them. The apostle Paul had to deal with some of these well-meaning but legalistic followers of Christ, too.

Paul used to be one of these super-legalistic followers of the Lord. He says it himself: he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, as to the law, a Pharisee. A strict follower of God, blameless and righteous according to his observance of the Mosaic Law Code. (according to Philippians 3)

I am sure many believers are familiar with Romans 3:23, and can quote it word for word: “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” Yes, that is in the middle of Paul’s discussion about sin. Then, Paul brings the theological concept of grace into the continuing argument, and adds additional layers to the ideas of sin, grace and forgiveness.

But, what does he say here in Romans, in the follow-up to his discussion of sin and grace in Chapter 5? I love the translation of Eugene Peterson, from the Message. This is his version of what Paul said: “So what do we do now? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving us? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good?”

Oh, Pastor Peterson, you make these complex ideas of sin and grace from the apostle Paul so clear and plain.

Our old house on Transgression Avenue, in the Country of Sin, was a rattletrap of a building. Sin lurked in every part of that house—under the stairs, in the closets, and especially in the bedroom, basement and attic. That was before we met Jesus, and before He became the general contractor on that old sinful house. Jesus didn’t do just a cosmetic paint job. No, He started major work, inside and out. The work on some houses—some people—went more slowly, some more quickly, but sooner or later we moved out of the old neighborhood. That old, sin-filled neighborhood on Transgression Avenue.

Can you see how this analogy of an old house fits in to our new life in Jesus Christ? Sure, our old life—when we were still filled with sin—is like that old sin-filled house. But, after we met Jesus, He became the general contractor. Jesus started to tear down sagging walls, replace the plumbing and electrical systems. Jesus came alongside each of us. Jesus wants us to see that He can help us out with all kinds of components in our spiritual houses—in our lives.

How does Jesus go to work on our sinful selves? With His righteousness, that He freely gives us when we believe in Him. Jesus’ “righteousness, his faithfulness is ours as a gift of divine grace through faith, and this apart from obedience to the law. There is nothing that we can add to what Christ has done for us.[1]

Did you hear? Nothing. We add nothing. It’s all a gift, that Jesus freely gives to us. Some people still think they need to earn brownie-points with God for being good, before they can reach God’s heaven. Some people argued with Paul, saying they opposed his teaching about grace—God’s free gift of grace, because they still wanted to earn brownie-points.

Paul’s comeback? Yes, we have died to sin. Yes, we are buried with Jesus Christ in baptism. And, yes, we have been resurrected with Jesus to new life! Eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Plus, it’s all from Jesus, and nothing from us!

I repeat the wonderful translation of Eugene Peterson, of our Scripture today: If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!”

Praise God, we have a new life. We—each one of us—is a new creation in Christ Jesus. We no longer live in that tumbledown, sin-filled house on Transgression Avenue, in Sin Country. Even though we get pulled back sometimes, and turned around by temptation, we have moved into a new house for good. Jesus laid the sure foundation! A new life in a new, forgiven, redeemed country: Grace Country!

Remember who you are. Remember who you belong to; we have died to sin and now we live a new life in Jesus Christ. Remember! Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday13ae.html   “Buried and Raised with Christ,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Lost Sheep

“Lost Sheep”

Matt 9-36 sheep, shepherd people

Matthew 9:35-10:1 (9:36) – June 14, 2020

In college, I can remember times when I heard fiery sermons about missionaries, and about how God provided the world as a harvest field for the followers of Jesus. I can remember how the preacher would thunder “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few! Pray that the Lord will send out many into God’s harvest fields!”

I attended a Christian college, and I did hear a number of sermons like that. Yes, that Bible reading is from Matthew 9:37. Perfectly appropriate for preachers to take this verse and highlight it in a sermon meant to urge people to go out to the mission field. The very next verse is where our Lord Jesus chooses the 12 disciples, and commissions them to go out into the villages and towns and heal, preach and do just what Jesus had been doing.

However, when I read these verses from Matthew to prepare a sermon for today, I was drawn to the previous verse, verse 36. When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

I am NOT going to focus on the harvest being plentiful, and the workers being few – in that case, this would be a very mission-oriented sermon. I do preach mission-oriented sermons when I feel God leading me that way, but for this Scripture reading at this particular time, I see a different picture. Instead of God sending followers out into the world, I see Jesus full of compassion and caring. I see Jesus as a loving Shepherd, caring for His lost sheep who don’t even know they are without a shepherd.

Many, many people around the country have not been in physical contact with anyone else for a long, long time. In some cases, for months. People are still suffering from social isolation, from limited and limiting conversation from behind a mask, at a socially-acceptable distance of six feet—or more. Have you felt isolated and alone? Have any of your extended family, or loved ones, or friends been in that situation? Jesus would be able to give you a hug, for sure. As a Shepherd, Jesus would certainly lift up and carry little lambs in His arms.

Can you imagine how comforting that would feel, to be held in the arms of our Lord Jesus? What a wonderful feeling, to be protected and made secure by our Heavenly Shepherd.

For those who did not know, I am in the middle of a 4-part community video series involving the recent months, the pandemic and the shelter-in-place order in Illinois. This series is in collaboration with the Morton Grove Chamber of Commerce. I am the host and narrator for the project, and we are very grateful to the Village of Morton Grove and associated departments for all their help in making this series a reality.

As I think back a month, to the beginnings of this idea for a video series, it all started with a conversation. Or rather, two conversations, with Father Dennis and with Mark, the Director of the Chamber of Commerce. In both, we talked about how disconnected and discouraged many people felt. All three of us – Father Dennis, Mark, and I – had many people sharing with us how disheartened they were, for a number of reasons, all stemming from the pandemic, the shelter-in-place, and the social isolation that gripped so many across our nation.

Which leads me back again to this verse from Matthew 9:36, where the Rabbi Jesus spoke of compassion, and nurture, and how Jesus cares for each of us as His sheep. Jesus did not just preach from a pulpit, or up front on a raised platform, separated from all the other sheep—I mean, people. No, Jesus had compassion on these lost sheep.

Jesus felt such love and compassion towards these members of the house of Israel, He felt it deep down to his “splachna,” down to His guts, or bowels. According to the original Greek, in the first century, to be moved right down to one’s bowels was to be moved with compassion, or to have compassion inside. The bowels – or guts – were thought to be the seat of love and pity at that time. This expression denotes the very heart of Jesus’ understanding and personhood.

With Jesus, His compassion was not impersonal or disembodied. He did not simply see abstract problems that could be explained away. Instead, Jesus had compassion on real people. He saw each individual, the real self inside, and considered each one worthy of compassion and care. To know that someone has seen the real self, hidden underneath and still manages to love and accept us. What a profound difference that makes in our lives, in our hearts, in our self-image. Can we do less when we seek to engage the community around us?” [1]

What an earth-shattering thing, for Jesus to see us, to know us deeply, down to our hearts. We can praise God for this wonderful certainty, even as we are in the midst of such anxiety and fear. As a community, we can gather together to name our stresses and losses, and to grieve and mourn. Yet, Jesus shows us how to have compassion on ourselves and on others.

Morton Grove and the surrounding neighborhoods are finding resilience, togetherness, hope and even joy. Praise God for the example of our Lord Jesus. We can join (virtual) hands in community. Is there any better, more holy calling than to make friends with everyone we meet?

Remember, God loves everyone, no matter who. And, we might be surprised at who becomes our new friend in the Lord as we show compassion, too.

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/open-our-eyes/second-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a-lectionary-planning-notes/second-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a-preaching-notes

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Live in Peace

“Live in Peace”

 

2 Cor 13-11 God of love peace words

2 Corinthians 13:11-14 (13:11) – June 7, 2020

Did you ever try to grab the fog? I did, when I was a youngster. I’m sure all of us remember foggy mornings, when the fog was so thick you couldn’t even see fifty feet ahead of you. But—did you ever try to grab hold of that fog in your hands? Well, it can’t be done. For regular human beings trying to lay hold of that fog is almost the same as us trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. People may try. Yes, it is a difficult concept for Christians to grasp.

However, God’s comforting, welcoming presence is not difficult to hold on to, especially in complicated, troubled times like these. We turn to our Scripture passage for this morning. 2 Corinthians 13:11-14 is the close of a letter Paul wrote to a church very much conflicted, very much in pain. Yet, these final words are words of encouragement, comfort and blessing.

Did the multi-layered situation in First Church Corinth have any similarity to the tumultuous situation in the United States today? In a way and on a smaller scale, yes. The two situations do not have a one-to-one correspondence, true. But, can we find some insight, encouragement and comfort for today in Paul’s final words to his fellow believers in Corinth?

I have two sisters. Before they retired, both worked as managers for a number of years in two different corporations. Over the years, I heard from them both about difficult situations both had to deal with. I am sure everyone here knows of a complex situation that blew up in your face, or your friend’s face, or at your workplace. This kind of uproar can raise tensions, too.

Does this sound familiar? This complex group of situations was the uproar in First Church Corinth. Paul needed to address these situations in this second letter to the church.

I felt God nudging me to speak to this current great racial divide in our nation. It is bubbling over, even while many sit in our homes, sleep in our beds, and go about our daily business. Yes, this inequity has been present for a long, long time. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are simply the most visible among those horrific deaths that have been sad, desperate realities for countless numbers of families, for centuries.

We are not going to look through a magnifying glass at the complex situation in Corinth. It is enough to say that there was considerable strife among church members, including factions inside the church. I suspect this strife had spilled over into relations with others in the city. Perhaps, even, into relationships in the area of greater Corinth.

Paul did end up speaking sharply to the whole congregation, as well as to several specific people. Yet, in this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul also gives us tremendous understanding about the reconciliation we receive from Christ that we are also commanded to go out and share with others. What a command, after quite a rebuke and commentary!

Referring to factions in the church, Paul stated in verse 1:10 of his first letter, “that you be united (katertismenoi) in the same mind and the same purpose.” And Paul comes back to this concept in his closing words in 2 Corinthians 13:11: “’mend (katartizesthe) your ways,’ ‘agree with one another,’ and ‘live in peace.’” [1]

Paul expresses the wish, the desire that his fellow believers might live in unity, mending their ways, finding agreement even in disagreement, and above all living in peace.

This earnest desire of the apostle Paul’s heart seems more and more evasive ad elusive in this turbulent time, indeed. Like the fog I referred to, a few minutes ago, so difficult to grasp hold of. I see the demonstrations, the rallies, the protests and yes, the looting of these past days, the bubbling over of widespread racial inequities that have existed for a long, long time.

My friend, Presbyterian pastor Russell Smith wrote, “by our society’s actions, it’s clear that we as a culture treat Black lives as mattering less. This devaluing of life is a devaluing of the image of God that every human being carries. It is sinful and wrong.” [2] Friends, I agree with Russell. Every person created on earth is an image-bearer. All deserve to be lifted up. All deserve to live in peace. No matter who. Period.

How, then, can we as followers of Jesus live in peace? As Professor Works reminds us, “the appeal to peace is also a marker of the Spirit’s work. In short, the presence of joy and peace are the indicators of the Spirit’s transformative work to reveal God’s kingdom: Paul’s closing in 2 Corinthians is not simply an appeal for the church to get along, it is an exhortation for the Corinthians to be the new creation that the Spirit is equipping them to be.” [3]

What a wonderful follow-up to our Pentecost celebration last Sunday. Paul is indeed calling every believer to be all that God through the Holy Spirit is helping us to be. No matter what, no matter who. No matter whether we live in city, suburb, rural, or any other community. No matter what our skin color happens to be.

God willing, we can all strive to become more and more like Jesus. Who would Jesus love? Every one. Every single person in all creation. No matter who.

Paul ends this letter with a benediction. It is called a “Trinitarian benediction,” because it refers to God the Creator, Forgiver and Comforter. Receive these words of the apostle Paul:

May Jesus Christ who forgives us,

God who created us and loves us always,

and the Holy Spirit who is with us helping us and caring for the world through us

be with you all today and every day. [4]

[1] Commentary, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13 (Trinity A), Carla Works, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2081

[2] https://russellbsmith.com/2020/06/05/black-lives-matter/

[3] Commentary, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13 (Trinity A), Carla Works, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2081

[4] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/05/year-trinity-sunday-first-sunday-after.html

Worshiping with Children, Trinity Sunday, 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 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Come, Holy Spirit!

“Come, Holy Spirit!”

Acts 2-3 pentecost

Acts 2:1-4 (2:4) – May 31, 2020

My parents grew up in the 1920’s and 1930’s. That was the golden age of radio. When I was young, my mother used to tell me about radio serials she used to follow. Serials like the Lone Ranger, Little Orphan Annie, Buck Rogers, and the Cinnamon Bear. I know many people all across the country followed these programs closely every week, and listened to even more.

I think of our friends, the followers of Jesus on that hilltop. Like in the radio serials, when last we left our intrepid heroes, we saw them with heads toward the sky. They watched the risen Lord Jesus ascend into heaven. Fast forward to this week. Thank you, Levi, for reading our Scripture from chapter 2 of Acts.

Only a few days have passed since that miraculous happening. Jesus disappeared into heaven. Yes, Jesus gave His followers their orders. Marching orders! But—where are the disciples now? What are they doing? Are they fearlessly marching out into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the world? Come on, guys! What gives? What’s the matter? The followers of Jesus—both men and women—are waiting for something; something that Jesus foretold, something big that had not happened yet. Everyone was together in one place—waiting.

At least they all were in Jerusalem. After all, another religious festival was right around the corner. Fifty days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread (or Passover) the Festival of First Fruits, or First Harvest was celebrated. This festive day was also a glad ceremony in the Temple, and many Jews from hundreds of miles around were in Jerusalem to celebrate.

At least the Jews did not have a pandemic to worry about. No, Jerusalem and the surrounding area were packed with visitors ready to celebrate at the special worship services at the Temple, ex-pat Jews from all across the known world at that time.

And, where were the followers of Jesus? Up in that upper room, presumedly the same room where Jesus and the disciples had celebrated that Passover dinner the night before Jesus was crucified. They were there, but yes, they were shut away. Presumedly behind locked doors, for fear of what the authorities might do to them, even weeks after the crucifixion of their leader, the Rabbi Jesus. Or, is that the Messiah Jesus? Or, the risen, ascended Jesus?

The disciples of Jesus were all gathered together in one place. When, on that Harvest Festival morning, a noise like the rush of a mighty wind blew through that upper room. Apparently, it was loud enough—surprising enough—so that people on the street heard it, too!

The Holy Spirit came with full sound effects, with heavenly flames over each head and I suspect with some kind of noise, music or something that caught everyone’s attention for some distance. After the energizing of the Holy Spirit, the followers of Jesus couldn’t help themselves. They spilled out into the street, and started speaking other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them knowledge and utterance. Surprising? Amazing? Miraculous? Yes to all three!

I think the Holy Spirit moved mightily upon the disciples, and the very breath of the risen Jesus was felt by many—on that day of Pentecost, through the centuries, and to the present day.

The disciples of Jesus were all gathered together in one place. I envy them.

Because of the pandemic and the shelter-in-place order I have not been able to gather together with a number of other believers for almost three months. And, neither have you.

Sure, we have had online worship, Zoom bible studies and prayer meetings, and telephone conversations. Perhaps individual Christians have met each other in the neighborhood, taking their dogs for a walk or running into each other at the grocery store. We remain socially-distant, to be safe and caring for others who are elderly or in fragile health—but it is not the same as in-person worship, IRL. Not the same, at all.

However—do we depend on a structure, a building, a tall steeple to witness to the Resurrection? Or, is the Church something more, something much bigger than this building?

The COVID-19 pandemic did not surprise God. I am not here to tell you this is a judgement of God upon the earth, or upon one group of people or another. I do not believe a good, gracious, loving God works that way. But—I want to suggest something else. Is it possible that we, as followers of Jesus, can also serve God by being separate, socially-distant, apart and still caring for one another? Can we follow the final instructions of our Lord that He gave just before He ascended, to go to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth?

The newly-energized disciples spread the Good News of Jesus and His Resurrection, and of God’s reconciliation. Boy, did the Good News travel! The authorities in and around Jerusalem got seriously worried, so upset that they eventually started to crack down on anyone who called themselves a follower of the risen Jesus. The disciples needed to move out from Jerusalem, and started taking the message of the Good News out to the ends of the earth.

God did a new thing at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came with power! I wonder if God is doing a new thing now, today? It’s possible that “God will use such a time as this to blow new life through and among and into and upon us. For our own sakes, yes. But even more so for the sake of those to whom we are sent.” [1]

We, the Church, are on assignment—out among the people God wants us to minister to. Feeding the hungry, comforting the afflicted, welcoming the stranger, taking care of the least of these. We can all tell people about the Good News—the wonderful news of God’s reconciliation and healing. Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://dancingwiththeword.com/all-together-in-one-place/

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Coming Attractions

“Coming Attractions”

Acts 1 ascension_of_jesus

Acts 1:6-11 (1:11) – May 24, 2020

When I used to go to the movie theater, I would be excited about the feature film. Of course! That is why many of us buy tickets and go to a theater, to see the big feature! What’s more, the feature film is usually billed as something special, indeed! Except – what about what happens before the feature film is shown? My children used to call them “commercials,” short teasers of movies coming soon. Another word for these? Coming attractions.

As we turn to the beginning of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, we find our resurrected Lord Jesus with a group of His disciples. He rose from the dead some weeks before, and I suspect this special time has been a time of intense learning. Similar to a condensed intensive course of study, if you will.

To be sure, the weeks after the Resurrection have been a time of training for the disciples. I am sure our Lord went over passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, pointing out how He fulfilled the promises given so long ago. I also suspect Jesus went over some practical things, too. What seminarians and professors refer to as practical theology – the every-day life and practice of being a follower of Jesus.

Now, Jesus is about to say good-bye. But, before He does, the disciples can’t wait to ask one more burning question. I get the feeling that this question just bursts out of them! “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

I imagine our Lord stifling a big sign, and almost saying to His followers, “You’re asking Me this again? Haven’t I explained it thoroughly to you guys and girls before? I mean, many times before?” I can just see a meme of Jesus doing a facepalm, on social media. The disciples still haven’t gotten it. They still just don’t get the full picture.

Before we come down too hard on the disciples, we need to remember that they did understand a great deal of what was said in the Hebrew Scriptures. Yes, after the Resurrection, everyone certainly expects God to do something.

Some of Jesus’s disciples must have expected to be clothed with power, and deputized as Jesus’s right-hand men and women. They understood that their leader was in fact the Messiah! In large part, “their question to Jesus about the restoration of Israel is perfectly reasonable. The Messiah is expected to purify the land and rule over the nations. Is this finally the time?” [1]

“Listen, Rabbi, we know a huge miracle happened, and God raised You from the dead. But now, aren’t You going to become the greatest King of the whole world? That’s what we remember from our Torah study as kids, and from the preaching and teaching You did, too. So, when is that going to happen? Soon? Right now? When, Lord?

Jesus doesn’t go into a long discourse the way He did in the Gospels, to explain His position more thoroughly. No, instead, He gives the disciples an outline of what they are to do. A short how-to statement, after the weeks of intensive learning.

Isn’t that what practical theology is all about? I loved my practical theology classes in seminary. In those classes, I learned how to put the theological learning I got in my other studies to work. Classes like preaching, or what I’m doing right now; like pastoral care—what I use in talking with church members or as a chaplain in the hospital. And, I learned more practical things, picking up great tools for my pastoral tool belt in those practical classes. I learned the every-day life and practice of being a follower of Jesus—in the classroom.

The disciples must have learned things about the every-day life and practice of following their Lord Jesus, too. Except, there is a big difference between the classroom and real life.

As Jesus responds, “He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This is the real thing, Jesus! No being just an apprentice. Not practice, not any more.

After these words come out of Jesus’s mouth, He ascends to heaven. Another miracle, accompanied by angels, even!

This to-do list from Jesus Himself ought to be a highlight for all of His followers. First, look at where we start. Jerusalem, or home. Where we stand, right here and now. Next, Judea—or our neighborhood. Is there anyone next door or down the block who needs to hear the Good News about Jesus? Maybe it’s kinda difficult. Maybe we hesitate. Really, Lord? Invite my neighbors to worship with me? Why not? Remember, Jesus said so. And then, to Samaria. What, Lord? That’s where those different people live—different from me, I mean. Sure, I know it’s nearby, but I’m just not comfortable!

Now, wait a second. The ends of the earth? Seriously? Some days I have enough problems getting out of bed in the morning, much less going to the ends of the earth. Yet, this is what our Lord Jesus commands all of us to do.

There is no “end of the earth.” “The world is my parish” John Wesley said.

The work of proclaiming that Good News, that salvation to all people is still going on today. The exciting thing to realize is that the ascension of our Lord meant that the promised Holy Spirit would come to the disciples, soon.

Coming attractions, indeed! Stay tuned for the next installment: Pentecost! The coming of the Holy Spirit. Get ready!

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=884

Commentary, Acts 1:6-14 (Easter 7A), Matt Skinner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011. 

No Longer Orphans

“No Longer Orphans”

John 14-18 not leave you

John 14:15-21 (14:18) – May 17, 2020

When I used to read lots of fiction novels, especially when I was young, a favorite theme was making the protagonist an orphan. Sometimes abandoned, sometimes ignored, sometimes desolate, this setting provided a rich background for the author’s writing.

Today’s Gospel reading from John 14 seems especially pertinent in these uncertain times of pandemic. Here Jesus promises the Holy Spirit’s coming to be with us. The Holy Spirit now is present with believers, both with them and in them. Jesus says He will not leave us all alone, the way orphans are left all alone.

When some people think of orphans, they think of children, huddled in orphanages, housed in drafty attics, or in poky little rooms. Imagine Orphan Annie at the beginning of the musical “Annie,” or Harry Potter in the first few chapters of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Just thinking about orphans in that way feels desolate.

Except—most of us are orphans, too. We lose parents to many things: to cancer, strokes, diabetes, or accidents, among others. Most people are at least half-orphans. I was—my dad died when I was in college. In July, it will have been forty years since I lost my dad, and became a half-orphan. At least I had my mom until the early 2000’s. But, that loss of my father to cancer was a sad blow. I missed my dad very much, and now I miss both of my parents.

When Jesus said to His disciples “I will not leave you as orphans,” I would imagine that Jesus’s words were comforting to many if not all of His disciples.

Death and sickness were everyday facts of life 2000 years ago. I don’t read very much about the individual disciples in commentaries and other reference books, for the main reason we are not told very much in the Biblical record. But, I do know the human condition, for people in the present day, and other common situations many people are familiar with.

Thinking again about the human condition, and people we encounter every day—whether in person, on social media, or in the news—what is their situation? What are they dealing with?

We are all sadly familiar with people dealing with financial trauma, job loss, physical illness, spiritual desperation, emotional isolation, instability, want, disrupted relationships, abandonment, violence … the list goes on and on. These elements of the human condition are bad enough. But, when we add our current emotional and psychological climate, especially in this unprecedented time of pandemic, individuals can feel overwhelmed. Whole communities can be disheartened and desolated, particularly in hot spots affected by the coronavirus. Interesting that Jesus uses the word “orphaned” in this week’s text, as it is such a potent metaphor for what he was about to do, which was to leave his beloved disciples and go and die. [1]

Jesus just got finished promising the coming of the Holy Spirit. Many people love this promise, and grab onto it with both hands. Yes, it is a marvelous reality in believers’ lives.

But—sometimes—especially in uncertain times like right now—individuals can feel like orphans! Isolated, alone, disheartened, even desolated. I am particularly thinking of seniors I know who are in fragile health, confined to their homes or apartments. I shop for two households of seniors right now, in this time of shelter-in-place in Illinois. A senior couple, and a widower. Two of my relatives are both seniors, both living alone in Chicago. I’ve heard expressions like squirrelly, stir-crazy, isolated, even though we live in a time of computer access and social media connections.

Is this what Jesus was thinking of?

Jesus, I want to be able to communicate to people some hope, some feeling of togetherness, some kind of kindness, compassion and coming-alongside.

I know, the promise of the Holy Spirit may sound like an empty promise if you’re locked down and in quarantine. But, perhaps one way the coming of the Holy Spirit can be expressed is when we look at the words and actions of Jesus’s followers. Maybe another way to look at the work of the Holy Spirit is a way that animates and encourages people to reach out to one another.

Before I came to St. Luke’ Church, when I was a hospital chaplain, I was a listening ear to patients or loved ones or staff. I came alongside of these people in difficult situations – like a Paraclete, in a similar way to the Holy Spirit coming alongside each of us in difficult times.

In a practical sense, the way the Holy Spirit sometimes works may be the kindness we extend to each other. Yes, the Holy Spirit is with us and in us. And, yes, in these times when many people find themselves desperately alone or lonely, the Holy Spirit moves or sends others to be God’s hands and feet, God’s listening ear, the person who shows up at your door delivering groceries, or the volunteers who drop off baked goods or canned goods at a food pantry.

I am blessed with a pleasant smile – it just happens. I was told a number of times by patients and loved ones that my smile lit up a hospital room. Could your smile, your kind words, your compassion and helpfulness be the Holy Spirit’s working in all of our lives?

Listen to Jesus—God will give us another advocate to help us and be with us forever— the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit indwelling each believer. The Holy Spirit works through each of us, through all of us, sometimes at the most unexpected times.

Are we called to be the hands and feet of Jesus? Is God pleased when we spread kindness and help others? As we show love to each other, we show love to Jesus. And, the Holy Spirit bears witness within. What a wonderful promise from Jesus. What a wonderful opportunity to do God’s work. Go, and do likewise.

[1] https://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/orphaned-anna-hosemann-butler-05-20-2014.html

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Together with Christ

“Together with Christ”

John 14-3 prepare a place, words

John 14:1-7 (14:3-4) – May 10, 2020

When I was in middle school and high school, I attended a Girl Scout camp in Wisconsin for several years. I vividly remember the girls who got so homesick while they were there. Several really missed home, and needed lots of TLC, tender loving care, for a few days. Have you ever been homesick? Can you relate to the frightened, heartsore feelings of these girls?

I don’t remember being homesick, but I can remember feeling scared at camp. I can remember being really scared on other occasions, too. I wonder if the disciples got scared while they traveled with the Rabbi Jesus from place to place? From what we know about Him, Jesus was an itinerant Rabbi, with no real home, no place to call home base.

What must that have been like, not having anywhere to call home? The Rabbi Jesus and His followers, His disciples kept moving from place to place. Different people react to being on the road a lot in different ways. It can be stressful and cause people considerable anxiety.

Added to that, all of the disciples knew very well that their Rabbi was not viewed positively by many Jewish leaders. Repeatedly, prominent Jewish teachers and lawyers had argued with Jesus. A group of leaders actively opposed this upstart Rabbi with the radical ideas and preaching, even if Jesus was a miracle worker.

The situation when the band of disciples entered Jerusalem must have been tense, to be sure. That Passover dinner on that Thursday night was not the most comfortable, I imagine. Yet, what does our Lord Jesus say to His disciples at that meal? How does He deal with this tense situation? Jesus says, “Don’t be worried! Have faith in Me!”

Have faith? Don’t worry? Listen, Jesus, Your friends have been on the road with You for many months. They are tired, they are tense, they have no home base to go back to. What do You mean, saying to them, Have faith and don’t worry!? Isn’t that expecting a lot from these guys? Isn’t that expecting a lot from us, Your followers today?

The next words are nothing but reassurance, comfort. He says, “There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this unless it was true. I’m going to prepare a place for you. And if I go, I will come back and take you with Me. And then, we will be together.” Total reassurance and comfort. Jesus encourages His disciples just as much as He encourages us.

However—Jesus’s disciples just don’t understand. They can’t get their minds around the metaphor Jesus is using. They mistake His reference to a heavenly house to a real, geographical space. Thomas—who likes concrete explanations, remember—asks for exact directions to plug into his GPS. [1]        How often are we like Thomas?

How often do we need (or want) exact directions, or latitude and longitude, or a detailed list of bullet-pointed things to do? And how often are we told by Jesus that we already know the way? We know Jesus, who is the Way. Precisely because Thomas knows Jesus—precisely because we know Jesus—we cannot become irrevocably lost.

Last week was Good Shepherd Sunday. We talked about the psalm for that week, Psalm 23. I can see definite tie-ins for that beloved psalm with this week’s Gospel reading, as well. Who does not relate to the idea of God shepherding us when we are lost? Who yearns for God to spread a feast in front of us, and to welcome us to the Good Shepherd’s heavenly home?

This week is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Today is also Mother’s Day, traditionally celebrated on the second Sunday of May. This heartwarming adaptation of Psalm 23 is not only a reminder of that beloved psalm, but also a celebration of mothers.

It was written by Laurie Hays Coffman, and is called A Child Learns to Trust. [2] It says:

“My Mom is my shepherd; I shall not want. She makes me lie down under cool, downy comforters. She watches me play beside still waters. She restores my soul. She leads me in paths of respect, responsibility, and goodness, for I am her namesake! Yea, even though I walk past monsters in the dark, I will not be scared, because my mom is always near me. Her hands and her voice, they comfort me. Mama sets the table and cheerfully calls me to dinner even in front of big, mean bullies. She anoints my skinned knees and broken heart with kisses. She smiles and throws me a towel when my cup runneth over. Surely God’s peace, power, and mercy shall uphold me all the days of my life, for my Mother taught me to dwell in the house of God forever.

Yes, this is an imaginative way to think of Psalm 23. And, this adaptation gets across several of the same ideas that Jesus communicated to His disciples at that Passover dinner, too.

Do we take Jesus’s word as true? Even though it’s an anxious time right now, do we trust Jesus to carry us and remain with us—walk with us, even through the dark valleys?

We are in uncharted territory right now, quarantined, apart from each other. Can we hold on to Jesus’s promise that between now and whenever we are all together again, Jesus is showing us the way? His way! Yes, we may walk through dark places and shadowy spaces now, but Jesus our Good Shepherd stays right by our side.

Jesus also said He’d prepare a place for us—a room for us in His Heavenly Father’s house. Jesus assured us we would be reunited with Him at that heavenly banquet. What a celebration that will be! Jesus said so. We can count on it. Praise the name of Jesus!

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3218

David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

[2] https://www.desperatepreacher.com/mothersday.htm

Calling by Name

“Calling by Name”

John 10 parable-of-the-good-shepherd_lg

John 10:1-10 (10:3-4) – May 3, 2020

Have you ever felt lost? Lonely? Like everything was dark and stormy? I know I have, from time to time. Especially right now in this time of the coronavirus pandemic, that is the big difficulty with being separated from our friends and from one another: we run the risk of feeling lost and alone.

On a number of occasions, our Lord Jesus talked about being lost and alone—or rather, about being found, about living in community, in a group. Several times in the different Gospels, Jesus compares Himself to a Shepherd. Our Scripture reading today from John chapter 10 is one of those situations.

This is familiar territory, a common metaphor in the Bible. God is the Shepherd, and the nation of Israel is the flock of sheep. Though most of us today in suburban Chicago don’t know much about farm animals, this topic was an everyday subject to the people listening to Jesus. In villages and small towns, most families had a few sheep or goats. There were a few shepherds who would take all the animals from the different townspeople’s houses out of town to pasture.

As Jesus taught the people, He made sure to give a detailed account of the bad things that could threaten the sheep. Thieves and robbers sometimes waited to grab a lamb. They might even lie in wait to come over the wall of a sheepfold at night, and steal a couple of sheep away. That was one important reason for the shepherd to guard the sheep and sleep across the entrance to the sheep’s pen at night. In other words, to serve as the door for the sheep.

I know many today are fearful and anxious at such an uncertain time. Some people do not even want to hear another word about the topics of coronavirus and COVID-19. Radio, television and other social media have broadcast every variation of news about the pandemic for many weeks. Are coronavirus and COVID-19 robbers and thieves of our peace and security? Do these fearful and very real threats seek to heighten danger to all the people? All the sheep? These are things for all of us to think about and ponder in our hearts.

I attended a number of intensive summer seminars taught by the retired professor and Presbyterian pastor the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Bailey. Sadly, he died four years ago, but he greatly enriched the general understanding of Christianity and the Bible. He drew upon his many decades of familiarity with the culture and practices of the Middle East, and strongly encouraged his readers to view the Biblical texts through a Middle Eastern cultural lens.

In his book The Good Shepherd, John chapter 10 is one of the chapters in the Bible Ken Bailey tells us about. As he so often does, Dr. Bailey gives example after example of Middle Eastern accounts, described in the reading. A Syriac bishop from the 12th century discusses the thieves and robbers coming after his sheep—his parishioners—so realistically. [1] I almost was persuaded that he was describing evil and greedy fake ministers of today, out to “fleece” the unsuspecting sheep who were shepherded by the Syrian bishop Ibn-al-Salibi.

As this book describes the voice of the Shepherd, we come to see how the sheep quickly learn to recognize their own Shepherd’s voice. Even though there are other shepherds in the same area, the Good Shepherd’s sheep hear that distinctive voice and follow the one they know.

“But, wait!” you say. “Other voices might be just as loud,” or “Other noise can drown the Good Shepherd out.” Perhaps, even, the sheep get confused or anxious or downright lost, and wander away from their Shepherd. What then? What about a situation like right now, in a pandemic, where lots of fear, anxiety, emotional and economic uncertainty, worry, grieving and mourning distract us from the voice of our Good Shepherd? What about loss of jobs, loss of homes, loss of loved ones, loss of all kinds of things people hold dear?

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, knows about every situation. Nothing surprises Him. Jesus will stay by our sides and walk with us through each scary situation, each grief-filled event, and each dark valley we cross.

I know—from experience—the malicious, nagging murmur in my ear that says, “Why should the Shepherd want to call me? I’m not important. He probably does not even have a name for me, let alone know who I am.” The Syriac bishop has an answer for that. Reaching across the centuries to reach us today, Bishop Ibn-al-Salibi tells us “The shepherd expresses his true knowledge of [the sheep] by calling their names. For the one who calls another by name makes clear that he knows him.” [2]

Just think. Our Lord Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd. Jesus knows the name of each of His sheep. It isn’t just a “Hey, you!” or “What’s your name?” No! Jesus calls each of us, His sheep, by personal name. Jesus knows each of us so well, He knows everything about us. And, what’s more, He still loves us!

Praise God, just as the risen Christ called Mary by name in the garden that Easter morning, so Jesus calls each of us by name. I rejoice in the knowledge that I am a much beloved sheep of our Good Shepherd. We all have a beloved relationship with Jesus! Each one of us is His dear sheep—we can trust Jesus’s word on it. Praise God! Alleluia, amen.

 

[1] Bailey, Kenneth E., The Good Shepherd (InterVarsity Academic: United States of America, 2014), 216-17.

[2] Bailey, Kenneth E., 218.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Recognizing Jesus

“Recognizing Jesus”

Luke 24 road-to-emmaus-rembrandt

Luke 24:13-35 (24:16, 26) – April 26, 2020

Have you ever run into a good friend you haven’t seen for a while, and not recognized him or her? That is, at first? Exactly that happened to my son earlier this week, at a store near our house as he picked up a few things. He wore a mask—as is appropriate. About six or eight feet down the aisle was another young man, wearing a mask, too. The other man bumped something off the shelf and said, “Oh, no!” My son recognized his friend’s voice! But, the masks they were wearing kept them from recognizing each other—at first.

Something similar happened after the Resurrection, to two disciples. The two even heard the witness brought to them by the women disciples, that their Rabbi Jesus’s body was gone from the tomb! But, these two disciples couldn’t quite accept the women’s witness. (Apparently, the other men disciples had a hard time believing the women, too.) We don’t know why they decided to leave Jerusalem a few days after the crucifixion, but they did.

Perhaps the two disciples were nervous, or anxious. Their leader had just been arrested by the authorities and condemned to death! What if the authorities started rounding up the friends and associates of this radical, rabble-rousing Rabbi? Why else might they have left? All of the disciples were grieving. The loss of such a wise, strong, loving person like the Rabbi Jesus must have been devastating! And, different people have different reactions to grief—reactions all over the board, from anger to depression to desperate tears.

I think everyone is grieving right now. Who is not missing things from their life before the lockdown? What about school? School children miss their classmates, teachers miss their students, and parents miss the structured, ordered classes. What about adults who cannot go to work? What about closed businesses, blocked services, rules against close proximity, and—most of all—the lost income? The economic impact? What about the desperate isolation and loneliness some people experience now, with the widespread lockdown? Not to mention the grief of having loved ones in hospital and care centers, much less dying from serious illness?

These are just some of the losses and griefs countless people are experiencing right now!

Wasting no time, the two disciples hit the road early in the day, and who did they happen to meet? We know, since our Gospel writer Dr. Luke tells us: the resurrected Jesus Christ. The risen Stranger begins to walk with them, and they fall into deep conversation on the way about all that had happened in the past week or so in Jerusalem.

What about us, today? How much would you give to have Jesus take a walk with you and tell you all about Himself? What would it be like to hear about the witness of Scripture from the author of all that is holy, the Living Word, Himself?

Dr. Luke tells us that the two disciples were kept from recognizing Jesus during that whole journey from Jerusalem to the nearby town of Emmaus, about nine miles down that dusty road. Their eyes may have been closed through fear and anxiety, which certainly can cause a great deal of upset and disturbance inside. Trauma, too, which we now see as a very serious thing, indeed. The disciples might have been confused and off kilter. Death of a dear friend or loved one can do that to you! I know. I’ve experienced it. I suspect you have, too.

What about us? Is there anything keeping us from recognizing Jesus? We have already talked about grief, which is a huge thing in some people’s lives—especially now in this time of pandemic. But, other strong emotions can keep us in a fog. Living in a constant state of fear can disturb our thoughts and even our brain function. People who study the effects of trauma tell us so. What about confusion and bewilderment? Anger and frustration? All very valid reactions, and all very human feelings, too.

Any one of these can keep us from recognizing Jesus, and if two or three are going on at once, our distress is that much greater. Our distancing grows, and some even start walking away from Jesus. Believe me, it happens much more often than we realize.

I see Jesus being gentle and straightforward as He walks and talks with these two disciples. He lays out all the truths from the Hebrew Scriptures for these two men. We don’t know for sure, but they might have been like Thomas; we looked at him last week. These two disciples may have needed to hear the Truth from the ultimate Source of Truth, Himself.

At the end of our narrative, Jesus is finally revealed to the two friends at dinner. When Jesus takes and breaks the bread, the disciples see, recognize, and realize that it is indeed their Rabbi come back from the dead, the risen Christ sitting with them at the table.

And then—Jesus disappears! The two friends look at one another, saying, “What just happened?” “Was that truly Him? Really and truly?” They finally recognize Jesus for what He was. The encounter changed their lives. I wonder—when we recognize Jesus, does that encounter change our lives, too?

When we recognize Jesus—I mean, truly realize what He means in our lives—it cannot be just a casual greeting, a mild how-do-you-do and then we merrily continue on our way, without a thought more about Jesus and His Resurrection. Jesus means much more! We need to recognize all that He is, all that He means, and all that He offers freely. Resurrection! Life everlasting! And, Himself as our brother and best friend.

Praise God, Jesus can walk by our sides even now, through trouble, grief, pain, fear and anger. He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us, wherever we may journey in life. And, that is a sure and faithful promise from our resurrected Lord and Savior. Amen! Alleluia.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Are We Fearful?

“Are We Fearful?”

John 20-28 st-thomas

John 20:19-29 (20:19, 26) – April 19, 2020

Have you ever been afraid? I mean, really scared? I am talking about so scared that you wanted to hide away from the people in charge, permanently? Maybe it was you, maybe it was some acquaintance or friend, but some people have really been scared so much that they stay holed up in some hiding place, some attic or some upper room—just like the disciples, after they watched their Rabbi Jesus get arrested, beaten and then crucified.

Two thousand years later, we all know the rest of the story. Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, that first Easter morning. What was it like for the disciples? I mean, the men disciples? Sure, they had heard from the women disciples that the tomb was empty. Peter and John had even checked things out at the tomb for themselves. It was true! The tomb was empty! I am sure that news caused a great deal of excitement, discussion, and wonder!

But, what about other feelings? What kinds of other emotions were happening to the disciples? How did they feel on the insides? Were their stomachs doing flips? Were their hearts in their mouths? Were they filled with amazement? Fear? Doubt? Or all of these emotions, all at once, or in stages? Could the disciples be hiding out behind locked doors because they were afraid, embarrassed and ashamed? What were they doing as Jesus died? They certainly were not with Jesus at the cross—except for John. Were they afraid of what Jesus would say to them about all their desertions if He really were alive again? [1]

John’s Gospel tells us, plainly, that the disciples were afraid. Fear is a legitimate emotion and reaction to a dangerous, scary experience.  Sure, the disciples knew that the tomb was empty, but that did not stop them from being afraid. I also suspect that they feared that the Roman authorities might come after them, as known associates of the Rabbi Jesus. The disciples did have good reason to be afraid and anxious of the people in charge.

And right into the middle of all this fear and anxiety—even though the disciples knew about the empty tomb—Jesus walked through a locked door into the upper room, greeted the disciples, and they were suddenly overjoyed! As if a modern switch were flipped, the disciples’ emotional expression flipped, too.

Except—for some reason, the disciple Thomas was not present in the upper room on that occasion. We don’t know why. The Gospel of John does not say. The other disciples told him, excitedly, “We have seen the Lord Jesus!”  But, Thomas was skeptical. He responded, “I need proof for myself. Unless I see the nail marks and put my hand in the wound in His side, I will not believe.” I can just see Thomas crossing his arms across his chest and turning his back to his friends. “Nope. No way. That is too big a whopper for me to swallow.”

Do you know someone who needs concrete proof in order to believe something? Different people’s minds work in different ways. Certain types of people need concrete evidence in order to convince them of the truth, or of the facts, or of someone’s honesty. Thomas was that sort of a person: a “show me” sort of guy. He needed that kind of proof in order to truly believe.

Whether we are talking about two thousand years ago, or about today, people have not changed. One type—one size does not fit all. Some people hear about the Gospel and believe right away. Other people hear about heavenly coincidences, or “God-incidences,” and then come to believe. We can compare Thomas’s skepticism before belief to Paul’s Road to Damascus experience, where the apostle Paul had a sudden “come to Jesus” moment. (Literally.) The New Testament holds up both of these very different experiences as valid.

I have heard sermons about “doubting Thomas.” As if there is something shameful or wrong with being skeptical! I suspect Thomas didn’t know whether to believe or not to believe; there is no shame in being skeptical! We can see that different people come to their own sense of belief in their own individual way, because God has created each of us as unique individuals. Is it any wonder that each of us comes to God in our own personal way?

When you and I think about this Gospel narrative in light of today’s events, there is indeed a great deal of fear and anxiety. Just as there was with the disciples, so it is right now. All over the nation, all over the world the virus COVID-19 makes all of us afraid and anxious. This virus is even more dangerous than the Roman authorities, forcing vast groups of people all over the world to curtail their travel, their interaction, even to the point of quarantine.

Yet, just as our risen Lord Jesus spoke to the disciples and declared, “Peace be with you!” He says the same thing to us. “Peace be with you!” Jesus has declared His peace to fearful people and to dreadful situations over and over again, throughout history. In times of serious illness, in times of conflict and war, in times of natural disaster—Jesus has these hopeful, heartening words for us: “Peace be with you!”

Jesus can come alongside of each of us, through fear, through anger, through desperation, and through grief. And if Jesus is at our sides, walking next to us even though we walk through dark valleys, that is peace, indeed. Jesus gives us His peace, no matter what.

Amen, alleluia!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/03/year-the-second-sunday-of-easter-april_13.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 2A, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

Who Are We Looking For?

“Who Are We Looking For?”

Jesus and empty tomb

Matthew 28:1-10 (28:5-7) – April 12, 2020

Are you living in the midst of uncertainty? Not sure of what is happening from day to day? Sometimes, not even sure of which day it is? I talked with my sister yesterday, and she admitted she lost track of the days of the week a few days ago. I know for many, the “right-now-time” throws many people into a tailspin, and knocks them down. The “right-now-time” of quarantine is an uncertain, uncomfortable time. A time of not-knowing!

That is what it was like for the followers for the Rabbi Jesus, immediately after the crucifixion. They were in a tailspin, knocked down and uncertain what was coming next.

Their Rabbi, their leader and guide had just been killed in a particularly gruesome fashion on Friday afternoon. Joseph of Arimathea had gotten the body of Jesus released to him late Friday, and they quickly put Him in the tomb before night fell. It was the Sabbath night, too, so they had great reason for the big hurry. Friday night and Saturday day were—and are—the Jewish day of rest, especially made holy because of the Passover observance.

At such an uncertain, uncomfortable time, what do you think the disciples did on that Saturday, on that Sabbath day? Some may have cowered in fear, afraid that the Roman soldiers would come after Jesus’s close associates, too. Some may have been too grief-stricken even to move, to eat. Some may have gotten angry—angry at the Roman overlords, and angry at the Jewish authorities, but felt impotent to do anything about their anger.

What about us? What are we doing in the midst of this quarantine period, this “right-now-time” of the pandemic? Some today may also be afraid, fearful, anxious about ourselves and our loved ones. Some—whose lives have already been intimately touched by this virus—are grieving and mourning because of loved ones who are very sick or have already died. And then, there are those who are downright angry! Angry with an invisible virus, angry at the various responses to the pandemic, but feel personally impotent to do much about their anger.

Our Gospel writer, Matthew, tells us of the two women disciples who come to the tomb early Sunday morning. They come where they laid Jesus’s body on that desperate Friday afternoon. They grieve and mourn, and have spices to anoint the body properly, since on Friday there hadn’t been enough time for a proper burial. Except—Jesus is not in the tomb!

Can you see the two women, thunderstruck, as they stand in front of the empty tomb? The stone has been rolled away, showing the hole in the rock. Plus, on top of the stone sits a miraculous sight in its own right. An angel, dressed in bright, shining white, waits to speak with the women. Can you imagine their surprise, shock, even fear at the angel’s appearance? The angel says, “Don’t be afraid!” I can just see the shining figure, hand outstretched, comforting words calming their fears and anxiety.

Here we are in 2020, in the midst of the “right-now-time” of the pandemic, and we need an angel to come and reassure us! Some today have even forgotten what the presence of God feels like. We badly need comforting words to calm our fears, anxiety, anger and confusion.

The angel did exactly that. The angel tells the women disciples not to be afraid, and repeats the words of Jesus—“He is not here, just as He said!” And then, “Quickly, go tell the other disciples Jesus is risen!”

Those women had their fear, grieving and uncertainty disappear in a moment! Alas, it won’t be quite that miraculous or quite that sudden for a recovery from this pandemic.

My journalist husband makes memes from time to time, and they sometimes have biting social commentary. He recently made a meme with a grandfatherly-type man reading to two young children, with a snarky comment about “the before-time.” But, what about the “right-now-time?” That tense time between the diagnosis and the treatment? Or that worried time when others have lost the job that provides income for their household? Or, that anxious time when we fear for loved ones who are essential workers? Or, that waiting time when some cannot even sit next to an ICU bed in the hospital because of COVID-19?

We are living through tumultuous times, indeed. I suspect, when people look back on the year 2020, there will be a clear line of demarcation between the “before-time,” the “right-now-time” in the midst of the pandemic, and whatever comes after. We hope, we pray that this next time may be known as the “recovery-time.”

As the angel told the women and men disciples, Jesus is no longer in the tomb! Jesus is risen! Yes, those were desperate, anxious times for the disciples, and yet Jesus said He would be with them. There have been fearful, anxious times throughout history, yet Jesus has conquered death. Disasters, famines, floods, and yes, pandemics have come upon great numbers of people at times—yet Jesus tells us, urges us “Don’t be afraid!”

Yes, the women were afraid, yet full of joy! We can take heart that Jesus gives us the assurance that He is alive!

“God is not finished yet. We might recall that, indeed, God’s favorite thing to do is to show up where we least expect God to be and to surprise those who have given up on God.” [1] Jesus has promised; He will be with us! And, His peace can never be taken away from us, no matter what. That is Good News, indeed. Amen, alleluia!

 

(I would like to thank Rev. Dr. David Lose. For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas from his commentary on Holy Saturday, from his online article http://www.davidlose.net/2020/04/the-forgotten-day/ )

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2020/04/the-forgotten-day/

Remember Through Generations

“Remember Through Generations”

 

Exodus 12:1-14, I Corinthians 11:23-26  – April 9, 2020

Jesus Last Supper, 2

Do you look at social media much? Maybe, Facebook? Instagram? Or perhaps, Twitter? In case you are not as familiar with these social media sites, there is a popular Internet trend that has been circulating for about ten years. It’s called (Hashtag) Throwback Thursday, or #TBT.“ This hashtag is used by people all over the world to share and relive their past experiences with anyone they want—both positive and negative experiences.

As I considered the Bible readings for this solemn evening, I could not help but think of #ThrowbackThursday. Perhaps the main reason is because when our Lord Jesus was at dinner with His disciples on that Thursday night 2000 years ago, it was Passover they commemorated with that special dinner.

That event was when Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt, out of slavery, into freedom. But before Pharaoh was convinced to let the Jews leave, the Lord sent plagues upon Egypt. It is at this point we take up the narrative. The Lord is going to send a horrible last plague; the firstborn son in each household across Egypt would die. In order to escape that plague, Jews were instructed to smear blood from a lamb on the lintel of each house. Then, the angel of death would know not to kill any in that household. The angel would pass over that house.

Have you had Bible experiences duplicated in your life? Like, right here, here and now? Not necessarily a Passover dinner with a roast lamb—although some modern-day Jews are kind enough to invite non-Jews to their homes for a Passover dinner, or seder. But, have Bible experiences happened to you?

We are going to remember the dinner that Jesus shared with His disciples that Thursday night, 2000 years ago. Why? Because Jesus told us to remember Him.

Morgan read about the details of the Passover lamb from Exodus as our Scripture reading tonight. Holy Week and Easter as two springtime festivals, but they do not always coincide. This year, as sometimes happens, they do. As Christians mark some of the holiest days of their religious year, so do Jews. Remember #ThrowbackThursday? #TBT has special significance this year. Not only for our Lord Jesus as He remembered the Passover with His disciples, along with Jews in that time and place, but Jews today still remember, still look back to that Exodus event.

This spring is also a very different season because of the coronavirus pandemic. This health emergency has made everything more difficult for everyone. With these shelter-in-place orders for everyone’s safety and well-being, people are more anxious and fearful than usual. For some people, of whatever faith, even their faith wears thin sometimes.

How are you holding up, with Easter on hold this year? Doing things differently? Perhaps some of your friends or acquaintances are celebrating Passover in a very different way this year, too. How are they doing? People snap at each other, especially when they are forced into close quarters together. What is more, with so many restrictions on our movement—at least, here in suburban Chicago, as well as other major cities—life feels closed-in, and claustrophobic. Have you or your family felt that way? This is a great concern during this quarantine, especially for people who track spousal abuse, child and elder abuse, and violence in households. Help is available. If you or someone you love can use the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the toll-free number is 1-800-799-7233. In such tense times, I am glad caring, helpful people are at the other end of the phone.

Where else can we turn, but to God? As the Bible describes to us time and again, God has been there for others, in Bible times, throughout history, throughout similar crises of war and strife, of deadly illness and pandemic, of natural disaster, and of famine and starvation. Yes, all these things have happened, and yes, Jesus has been here through it all, right by our sides.

We come to this night. We come to the table, this table. Jesus gathered with His friends around another table, in that Upper Room. He said the words that Paul gave to us in a letter to the Corinthian church, those words we know today as the Words of Institution. Yes, Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread. He took the cup. He blessed them, and passed the bread and cup to His disciples. He said about that event, “Remember Me.”

There is such a deep connection. The command in Exodus tells the Jews to remember. The words of Jesus tell His followers to remember. And each time we gather around a table like this, we repeat the Words of Institution, urging us to remember. We remember the gracious promises of God, throughout the generations. We remember the mighty power of God, the comforting presence of God, and the saving grace of God, throughout the generations.

I know that my faith falters, at such a difficult time as this. Some of my friends and acquaintances shyly admit the same. That is why it is so important to come together—virtually, if need be. We can perform the centuries-old practice of Communion on Maundy Thursday, where we remember those words Jesus spoke to a room of friends around a table. We can be strengthened spiritually by the Body and Blood of our Lord. Even though separated physically, we can pray for God’s holy presence to be with each of us in a special way tonight.

As we come to the table, let us also come to God with our hearts open wide. Let us come to the feast with Him who died for us, giving praise and thanksgiving for this great gift, as we all remember. Amen.  

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!