Solemn Warnings!

“Solemn Warnings!”

Luke 16:19-31 (16:28) – September 25, 2022

Have you seen homeless people begging for money? Every so often I encounter them, along busy street corners, next to off ramps from expressways, along bustling downtown sidewalks. Often, they hold hand-printed signs with heartbreaking requests for money. So often, the passersby rush right past. I must confess that I often drive or walk right past them, too.

Today’s Gospel reading about the poor man Lazarus and the uncaring rich man is meant to make us a little uncomfortable. Even, a lot uncomfortable. Jesus spoke more about money than about faith and prayer combined! Jesus was so concerned with people’s attitude toward money, possessions and finances – and we ought to be, too!

I also want to point out the close connection today’s reading has with a reading we associate with Christmastime. Or, more correctly, Advent. This second reading from Luke chapter 1 is Mary’s song, the Magnificat. This reading also makes us feel uncomfortable.  

Both of these Scripture readings reference rich and poor, reversed. Both of these powerful readings turn things upside down. Talk about Topsy-Turvy Teachings!

Let’s look first at the rich man and Lazarus. This parable of Jesus is different, because it names one of the major characters. Plus, this parable makes the rich man anonymous. He, or, in today’s egalitarian view, she, could be anyone. “He could be the one Jesus was accusing of loving money. He could be those who have when they are surrounded by those who have not.” [1] One of the big points Jesus makes in this parable concerns the gulf that exists between the haves and the have-nots. This parable shows us how huge that gulf can be!

Let’s think more about that name: naming the character with a real name, not just “such-and-such” or even “John Doe.” Does giving him a name cause us to relate to the poor man better? Just think about the concept of knowing and using a person’s name. Names can communicate respect. Not just some faceless, nameless, anonymous one.

Doesn’t using their name also show we recognize their worth as a person? What’s more, their name shows that we give them dignity! And, doesn’t every human creation of God deserve some dignity? [2]

In my work, I often go into skilled nursing facilities. Some of the patients in the facilities are very sick, very sad, and have very little in the way of money. We can view these dear human beings as being extensions of the poor man mentioned here in this parable. Sometimes these poor and indigent patients receive very little in the way of visitation and attention, too.

I am friends with someone who is on Social Security disability. He lived in a studio apartment in Rogers Park. Yes, he had a mental illness diagnosis, and yes, it was controlled with medication, so he was able to live a somewhat normal life. But, he was on the edge of poverty, and was almost like the poor man Lazarus from today’s parable. I lost track of him around last Christmas. He just stopped answering his cell phone, and I did not know where he had gone.

Imagine my surprise when I just happened to come across my friend several months ago in one of the skilled nursing facilities I regularly visit, in Rogers Park. I was really relieved to find him, but really sad to see him there, an indigent patient with no money and no resources. And recently, he has disappeared again. I hope and pray his sister in Crystal Lake brought him to live in a skilled nursing facility out near her house. I can hope and pray for him and his situation.

Let’s switch gears, and turn to Mary’s song from Luke chapter 1, the Magnificat. Talk about reversals! Listen to several verses from this song that Mary sang after the angel came to her and told her that she would be the mother of the long-foretold Messiah: 50 God’s mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

Mary tells us through her song that “The poor are filled with good things, and the rich are sent away hungry;[she clearly states that] brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. Here it is acted out in the parable Jesus told to those who were ridiculing him because they loved money more than God’s kingdom.” [3]

I suspect you all can understand that this message did not go over too well. The Rabbi Jesus was not popular at all with the rich people and religious leaders of His day And, I doubt that Mary would have been very popular either, given the reactionary nature of most of the Magnificat. Talk about topsy-turvy!

One of the main problems in both of these readings from Luke is the gulf between rich and poor. This gulf is not only an actual one, in terms of money. (which is serious enough!) “the gulf doesn’t seem fixable in that life. This means that it can only be crossed or closed in this one. Jesus is calling all his listeners to pay attention to the gulfs that exist in our world. How do we close the gulfs between the haves and the have nots? How do we close the gulfs between those who hold power and those who live on the margins? How do we close the gulfs . . . or how do we cross them?” [4]

Does this church build bridges to cross that gulf? Not only with the financially poor, but what about those with mental illnesses? (which sometimes can be in similar situations!) Does our church include both the folks with financial stability as well as those who are not, and who go to the Niles or Maine Township food pantries? Does our church include the people with mental health diagnoses, who often are also on the edge of poverty? Do we have ministries at our church for those who are struggling? These are serious questions, and ones we all need to grapple with.

Where are you in this parable today? Where am I? This is a serious question, and one that I am seriously considering.

Thank God our Lord Jesus is willing to help us! Willing to give us a hand when we ask, willing to assist when we start new ministries. God bless all those we encounter in our daily journeys, wherever they may be on the financial spectrum or the mental health spectrum. God be with us, every one!

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to umcdiscipleship.org for their excellent notes and commentary on this week’s Gospel reading. Another reading in the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/having-words-with-jesus/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/having-words-with-jesus/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-youth-lessons

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/having-words-with-jesus/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes

[4] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/having-words-with-jesus/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-preaching-notes

Serving Two Masters

“Serving Two Masters”

Luke 16:1-13 (16:13) – September 18, 2022

Lots of people in this modern day know the rules of money in this world today. Money tells us to get all we can, no matter who gets hurt. Money tells us to measure people’s value by how much money they have or how much they make. Money always wants “more, more, more!” And of course, “those with all the money make the rules.”

Isn’t that the way things so often work, in our world today? How about in your neighborhood? How about in your group of acquaintances? What about in your workplace or with the politicians in your town? Aren’t the rules of money the most important thing in the world, for so many people?  

How different are the practices of the Kingdom of God! This is another in the series of sermons we have about the Topsy Turvy Teachings of Jesus! Here again, the Rabbi Jesus tells a parable that absolutely turns the worldly teachings about money upside down. And of course, the ideas of how justice works in God’s Kingdom are very different from the way things work in this fallen world. Talk about Topsy Turvy Teachings of Jesus!

When Jesus talks about money, people often feel weird. I mean, everyone has a close relationship with money, don’t we? At some time or other, who hasn’t worried about how much money we have, or where the money is coming from, where money is going, or how much money we will need for the future? Seriously, all those questions have crossed my mind, and I am sure they have crossed the minds of many people listening to these words!

            I reflected about the parables of Jesus where He refers to money. Overwhelmingly, it is the attitude people have towards money that concerns Jesus! This reminds me of a children’s Christian video series called “Veggie Tales,” with anthropomorphized vegetables and fruits. Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber were two of the stars of this series. One particular video showed Madame Blueberry who loved buying things. Sure, she bought lots of lovely things, and lots of clothes, and lots of furniture; everything of every kind that made a home an attractive place to be. But, her crammed-full home had a whole lot of stuff in it.

            And then, one day, a brand-new super store opened just blocks from her house. The super store was called “Stuff-Mart.” Madame Blueberry couldn’t wait to go shopping, yet again! I suspect we all can guess what happened. Madame Blueberry bought so much more stuff at “Stuff-Mart” that her cartoon house finally blew up because she brought so many more bags and more boxes and more furniture into it.

            What kind of relationship do you and I have with more money? What kind of relationship do you and I have with more stuff? You know, the stuff money can buy, whether it is smart phones, or the latest style of shoes or clothing, or the fancy cars or up-to-the-minute laptops or video screens. Or swank houses, or fancy vacations, or the prettiest, shiniest jewelry.

            It’s not that any of this stuff is bad, in and of itself. Some of it is pretty, and functional, and sometimes really cool. But, as Bible commentator Carolyn Brown says, “Jesus tells us is that how we use our stuff is important. We can be selfish with our stuff, [and with our money] not sharing with others. We can spend all our time thinking about and messing with our stuff [and with our money], never taking time to see what people around us may want and need from us. We can forget that who we are is more important than what we wear and what we have.” [1]

            I realize that in this society we live in today, we need at least some money to survive. Money is the means by which we purchase food, clothing, housing, and transportation. We cannot exist – at least here, in the suburbs of Chicago – without some way of getting money.

            Two thousand years ago, in Palestine, society was not too much different. Money can do a lot of good, and money can do a lot of harm. Our Lord Jesus spends a large percentage of His time in the Gospels talking about money, preaching parables about money, and discussing how His followers are to relate to money, finances and possessions.   

            Jesus closes today’s parable with some sobering words: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

“Money is something we think we need, and most of our lives revolve around money. We have built systems where we rely on money (and our ability to earn it) as opposed to relying on other people and bartering for goods and services. So how can we, as Christians, have a healthy relationship with money?” [2]

Two thousand years later, this parable is still challenging us. We are still faced with important questions about the place of money – and stuff – and finances – in our lives today. Like the manager in the parable today, our relationship with wealth is complicated.

            Jesus’s parables explain how things work in the Kingdom of God. Carolyn Brown says “The child’s version of Jesus saying is “who you are and what you do are more important than what you have.” [3] That is our Lord’s way of ending this particular parable.

We want to have our cake and eat it, too. As our Prayer of Confession today reminds us, we so often want to be a friend of the world, and still be friends of God, too.

Perhaps this parable is calling us to self-examination and repentance? We can see Jesus clearly tells us: “No one can serve two masters.”

We strive to seek God’s blessed, topsy-turvy kingdom! And remember: the best relationship we can possibly have is the one with God – not with money, and not of this world. Not with stuff. Jesus wants each of us to have a closer relationship with God, our heavenly Parent! And, that will set our feet toward God’s Kingdom, for sure.

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-c-proper-20-25th-sunday-in.html

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/having-words-with-jesus/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-youth-lessons

[3] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-c-proper-20-25th-sunday-in.html

Rejoice with Me!

“Rejoice with Me!”

Luke 15:1-10 (15:6-7) – September 11, 2022

Lost and found—this concept is very real and meaningful to my children. I have four children, and at various times, they have had to go looking for various possessions of theirs. You know, small items, things that were very precious to them somehow got lost. And oftentimes, they were persistent in looking for those precious things.

            I can remember when my son was younger, probably in first grade. He had a favorite stocking cap he wore almost every day in the winter. He wore it to school, out to play, on the weekends, almost everywhere. And then one day it got lost. My son could not find it anywhere. He was heartbroken at the loss of this precious stocking cap—precious to my son, at least. We searched everywhere—and I mean everywhere—in the house, in the car, in his classroom, in his locker. He even looked in the lost and found at his school. Sadly, we never could find it.

            Can you relate? Have you ever lost anything that was precious to you? Maybe not valuable in a monetary sense, but precious to you, your very favorite. Losing something precious can be quite a blow.

            This is exactly what our Lord Jesus talked about in our scripture passage today. He tells the parables of the lost things. In fact, one nickname for this chapter, Luke 15, is the chapter of the lost things—the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son.

Our scripture reading today tells us about the lost sheep. We will leave the parable of the lost son, or the Prodigal, for another time and another sermon.

            How precious was that sheep the shepherd lost? Let’s back up, and think about the parable our Lord told. He mentioned one hundred sheep belonging to this shepherd. One hundred sheep. A good-sized flock for one shepherd. And out of those one hundred sheep, one gets lost. We aren’t told how the sheep gets lost. The sheep could have done any number of typical things sheep do—sheep cannot just take care of themselves. This particular sheep could have wandered off, or lallygagged behind, or stubbornly gone its own way. We don’t know.

            What we do know, from what Jesus said, is that the sheep is lost. Gone. Missing.

If a statistical analysis is done of this flock of one hundred sheep, what are some possible extenuating factors? Certainly, the rocky hills of much of the area and the subsistence-level terrain have a bearing on the well-being of the flock. And the difficulty of finding water can also be a factor. Statistically speaking, losing only one sheep out of one hundred is not much at all, not when the shepherd is dealing with such unfavorable conditions. From a loss prevention point of view, this percentage – one percent – of loss may very well be acceptable.

            But this is not taking into consideration the plight of that one lost sheep. This individual sheep matters. This sheep is a creation of God.  How does the lost sheep feel? Is the sheep scared? Lonely? Hungry? Injured?

This reminds me of my oldest daughter years ago, when she was just a preschooler. I was at a department store in Chicago with my two children (at that time), my older daughter just turned three, and my second daughter a baby in a stroller. I was looking at clothing on the round metal racks that are common to many department stores. And as I looked at clothing and tried to keep track of my toddler at the same time, she got lost. I could not find her, and she was much too small to see me over the clothing racks.

            It only took me about four or five minutes of searching to discover where she had gone, but that time was anxious for me. And that time was traumatic for my daughter—I suspect those four or five minutes seemed to go on forever. She was lost. She did not know where she was, or where I was. And she was all alone, far from her home and familiar things, until I found her and reassured her that everything was all right.

            Isn’t this similar to us? Isn’t this our situation, from time to time? You or I lose our way, get off track, slip and fall, or even stubbornly go our own way.

Periodically, I try to put myself into the scripture passage I’m considering. So, where am I in this scripture passage? Where are you? How do we fit in? Is this just a nice little story, or is there something more?

Theologian Howard Thurman reflects in his sermon on this passage, “Now, Jesus says that God is like the shepherd, seeking always to find those who are out of community with their fellows, and when they have found it, when they have found their community with their fellows, then all the world seems to fit back into place, and life takes on a new meaning. . . . The lost sheep. The searching shepherd. And the cry of anguish of the sheep was the voice of identification that the shepherd heard. That is how God is, if we let him.” [1]

But, how did Jesus see this parable? “Most often readers assume that they are the lost ones sought out by God and celebrate God’s persistence in finding them.  But, Jesus told these stories to the Pharisees who were unhappy that Jesus was eating with known lost sinners.” (Remember, the Pharisees and other religious leaders were all part of the ‘in-crowd,’ the people who were really trying to follow God and God’s rules.)  “Jesus’s message to them is that God is more interested in the lost than in them – and they should be too.” [2]

Jesus doesn’t just throw up His hands and forget about the lost ones. No! He goes after me, and you, searches for us, and makes sure that we are back with Him, in the place of security and protection, and says, “Rejoice with me! For I have found my sheep that was lost!”

            Isn’t that good news? And the best part is, the Lord Jesus, the good Shepherd, is our good Shepherd, too. He cares about me, and He cares about each of you, as well. To me, the news about our good Shepherd is the best news in the world.

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] Howard Thurman, Sermons on the Parables, ed. David B. Gowler and Kipton E. Jensen (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018), 22–24, 25.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-c-proper-19-24th-sunday-in.html

Rejoice and Be Blessed!

“Rejoice and Be Blessed!”

Matthew 5:1-12 (5:11-12) – September 4, 2022

We are at the last of the Beatitudes, and another challenging two verses to consider this week. When people talk about the sayings of Jesus and how “nice” or how “sweet” are the words of Jesus, I wonder, are they aware that most of the words Jesus spoke were divisive? Even arresting? Many of His words are not to provide encouragement and comfort, but instead are to be counter-cultural and challenging to the status quo!

As we come to an end of an extended Gospel reading of the words of our Lord Jesus, I am reminded again and again that Jesus was often counter-cultural and provocative. He wanted to mix it up with the comfortable, settled leaders of His day.

            Let us consider this last Topsy-Turvy Teaching: Jesus said “‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’” Challenging words, indeed!

            Just think about it. Looking at His whole ministry over three years throughout Palestine in the first century, the Rabbi Jesus said and did some pretty audacious things! He upset the status quo and the Roman military leaders. Jesus very much disturbed the settled, privileged religious elite of His day. And, the common people, the voiceless and powerless and helpless of His day, flocked to hear what the Rabbi Jesus preached. They were hungry for His counter-cultural message of peace and love and caring for all people, no matter what.

            As we listen to this final Beatitude, we find it is the only Beatitude that Jesus explains in a little more detail. All of the other Beatitudes are a single sentence. Some of them have challenging words, true, but this last Beatitude is particularly difficult to swallow.

            Sure, you and I can TALK about people being persecuted for righteousness’ sake, but to actually experience being persecuted because we are doing the right – and difficult – thing? Persecuted and ridiculed and sometimes even thrown in jail for following Jesus can be an extremely difficult thing to hear. Jesus does not make it any easier by telling us that this kind of persecution was common for the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, too. And, we are to “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.“ Challenging words. indeed!

            We know that people can ordinarily be mean and nasty to one another. That is part and parcel of being human, I am sad to say. Humans make mistakes, step on other peoples’ toes, and sometimes fight and persecute other people simply because of our fallen, fallible, human nature.

            But, in following Jesus Christ, we Christians are fundamentally changed from the inside out. As the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, we Christians are a new creation! The old has passed away, and behold! We are new from the inside out!

            We can think of a lowly caterpillar. Caterpillars are perfectly functional insects, crawling around, crawling, eating and existing in their environment. Except, have you ever seen a caterpillar spin a chrysalis around itself? After some time, the caterpillar goes through an amazing transformation, and becomes a beautiful butterfly!   

            We Christians have gone through this butterfly process! We are no longer caterpillars, like some other people surrounding us. Butterfly Christians are essentially different, with a completely different nature from the inside out! And, that is a huge reason why following Jesus is such a huge deal. We are as different from people who do not follow Christ as butterflies are different from caterpillars. Non-Christian people recognize this fundamental difference, and thereby revile, speak all kinds of evil falsely, and even persecute Christians, just as the Hebrew prophets were reviled, had all kinds of evil and insults thrown at them, and were even persecuted and jailed for standing up for God and God’s ways.

            But why, Jesus? Why do we have to go through this persecution? That’s a great question, and Jesus gives us an answer right here. He says, “Rejoice and be glad! For great is your reward in heaven!” We know that non-Christian people sometimes behave in a nasty and even devilish manner! We butterfly Christians feel our hearts breaking “at the effect of sin in others that makes them do this. So, [Christians] never rejoice in the fact of persecution.” [1]

            How often do you think of heaven and rejoice as you think of it? I am sorry to say that I do not think of heaven as often as I ought to. Yet, this is exactly what our Lord Jesus tells us to do. Because, when you and I are persecuted, we receive the proof positive that we belong to Christ, that we are going to be with Him in heaven and share in all the joy that heaven can hold!

As we come to the end of these Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus, it is good to consider what Jesus taught in the Beatitudes, these few short but important verses. Let’s summarize: “We are poor in spirit and recognize our need for a savior. We mourn over our sins and meekly submit to the Lord. When we do these things, we begin to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. God gives us the kingdom of heaven, he comforts us and tells us we’ll inherit the earth, and he fills us with his righteousness. After all the brokenness, we begin to grow in our ability to love others. We become merciful and pure in heart and peacemakers. When we begin to do those things, we will be persecuted. And that’s okay, because we gain the kingdom of heaven!” [2]

As we “work to bring God’s kingdom on earth, you can expect there to be people who react harshly. Even though this is really hard to face and experience, Jesus tells his followers persecution is a normal part of living out God’s love. You are actually blessed as a result of people persecuting you.” [3]

If there is one thing I want you all to remember from the past weeks we have considered the Beatitudes, it’s this: God blesses us abundantly when we follow God. So, we do not need to be afraid to stand up for Jesus. I ask again, as I have in most weeks: what would Jesus do? Or, how would Jesus act? What would Jesus say? Go, do that. Speak like Jesus. Walk like Jesus. Go, do that. And be richly blessed, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.   

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I have been using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Wm. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids MI, 1971), 141.

[2] https://ministry-to-children.com/beatitudes-lesson-nine/

[3] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

Blessed Persecuted Ones

“Blessed Persecuted Ones”

Matthew 5:1-10 (5:10) – August 28, 2022

Have you ever stood up for what is right? Even when everyone else was voting against you? That’s a difficult stance to take, for sure. Many prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures stood up and told the people of Israel that they were going the wrong way, or that God was angry with them. And what did the people of Israel do, more often than not? They chased the prophets out of town, or jailed those unpopular prophets. And sometimes, they even killed the prophets of God.

I know the Rabbi Jesus was thinking about some of these same prophets described in the Hebrew Scriptures when He gave the eighth Beatitude: “10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

This is a difficult position to take. A difficult position to be in, too! Followers of Christ are persecuted because they are a certain type of person and because they behave in a certain type of manner. Isn’t that what our Lord Jesus is saying?

Our summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus is almost at an end. But, that doesn’t mean that we stop listening to Jesus after next week.

Looking at His whole ministry over three years throughout Palestine in the first century, the Rabbi Jesus said and did some pretty audacious things! He upset the status quo and the settled, privileged religious elite of His day. And, the common people, the voiceless and powerless and helpless of His day, flocked to hear what the Rabbi Jesus preached. They were hungry for His message of peace and love and caring for all people, no matter what.

In today’s world, not much has changed. Powerful, power-hungry people are still just that – powerful, privileged, usually uncaring about the plight of those less fortunate than themselves. We see it every day in the news, splashed across social media. Who are the downtrodden of today? Those without jobs, without opportunities, without money, without a voice to speak out about injustice and inequality. And, overwhelmingly, these are people below the poverty line, disabled people, persons of color, LGBTQ people, persons who are marginalized in any number of ways. These are often the people who now flock to hear what the Rabbi Jesus (now our Lord Jesus Christ, after the resurrection and ascension) preached to one and all.  

But sometimes, the powerful people of today’s world are not only powerful. They are also satisfied with how things are. After all, they have got theirs! Many people today do not want the world turned topsy-turvy. They want the status quo to continue, very much. Sometimes they will do anything in their power to cause everything to remain exactly the same.

Things were exactly the same in Jesus’ day. The Roman rulers wanted to kill Jesus because they did not want change in their government or their power. They liked making all the decisions, getting richer and more powerful, and did not care what happened to everyone else. [1]

In this eighth Beatitude, Jesus gives His followers fair warning. “Jesus foreshadowed the problems his followers would face if they lived out this upside-down kingdom where the powerless are blessed. Sometimes when we make courageous choices, we will endure criticism, scrutiny, mockery, and sometimes even retaliation from people who do not desire change.” [2]

            Let’s look at this topsy-turvy topic another way. One of the most impactful ways that Jesus taught was through parables. Out of 39 parables in the Gospels, 11 of those parables are about money. In fact, Jesus talked about money in the Gospels more than He discussed faith and prayer combined! Our Lord Jesus really considered money and people’s relationship to money to be of high importance.

            So, why am I pointing out this focus on money? Because talking about money is certainly one way to disturb many, many people today! And I am sure this was true in Jesus’ day, as well. I am sure many people here can remember the FBI or CIA having files or dossiers on “radicals” or “rabble-rousers” who were publicly known for raising a ruckus, for disturbing the peace with their wacky, or way-out speech. Some people even are reminded of the Red Scare of the 1950’s, with the McCarthy hearings in Congress, blacklisting so many people in this country.

            Is the fear and disturbance of the powerful ones today much different from the fear and disturbance of the powerful people of Jesus’ day? I think not. And, what is one way to disturb people today? Start talking about money. How it’s used, how it’s saved, and how it’s spent.  That is sure to get many, many people riled up! Just like Jesus did.

            Talking of money is just one striking example of how Jesus upset the status quo in the first century. But, if we consider the wider picture today, around the world, countless followers of Christ are being actively and bitterly persecuted. It’s happening right now, in dozens of countries, usually sanctioned by their governments. “But will we stand with and pray for those who do [face life-threatening persecution]? Will we choose to stand firm in our faith when we face any form of persecution in our own lives?” [3]

            It does not matter whether we are talking about the first century or the twenty-first. When people challenge powerful people and worldly systems, they face a fight. “Sometimes Jesus’ followers were put in jail, made to leave their country, or shamed by their communities. This is persecution. It’s when people are treated badly and unfairly, especially because of their race, identity, or beliefs.” [4]

            Jesus is very blunt. These are stringent words. He says His followers will face persecution for righteousness’ sake. And, we can thank God for this persecution. This is proof positive that we are indeed Christians, followers of God. Jesus Himself tells us to rejoice! “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” We are indeed citizens of heaven. We are looking forward to our heavenly home!

I ask again, as I have in weeks past: what would Jesus do? How would Jesus bring about righteousness in a tangible way? Go. Do that. And, be blessed, for yours is indeed the kingdom of heaven.

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://ministry-to-children.com/beatitudes-lesson-nine/

[4] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

Blessed Peacemakers

“Blessed Peacemakers”

Matthew 5:1-9 (5:9) – August 21, 2022

We are drawing near to the end of summer. For some of us, summer is already over! I remind all of us that we just blessed the backpacks for the children and young people going back to school. And, I can remember my children going back to school – they missed those days of summer vacation, even though there was excitement in being in a new grade, with new classes, new teachers, and new books. We are drawing near to the end of our summer sermon series, too. Only two more Beatitudes, and our weekly examination of these Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus will come to an end, as well.  

With our focus on the children and young people today, with our blessing of backpacks, I am reminded of one of my favorite bible commentators. Carolyn Brown, retired Children’s Ministry Director from the Presbyterian Church (USA), has tremendous insights in her weekly lectionary series Worshiping with Children. Listen to her version of the Beatitudes: first what the world considers great and powerful, and then what Jesus says is important to God.

“In today’s world…

It’s good for the rich, they can buy whatever they want.

It’s good for the strong, they can take whatever they want.  They will also make the team.

It’s good for the winners, they get all the prizes.

It’s good for the smart.  They get straight A’s, get to go to college, and get good jobs.

It’s good for the beautiful.  They will get their pictures in magazines and get to be in movies.

It’s good for the grownups.  They get to make all the plans.

Jesus says that in his kingdom…

It’s good for those who know they do not know everything.  They belong in God’s world.

It’s good for those who are terribly sad.  They will be comforted.

It’s good for those who obey.  They will be in charge.

It’s good for those who don’t get justice now.  They WILL get it.

It’s good for those who forgive and care about others.  God forgives and cares about them.

It’s good for those who are pure in heart.  They will see God. 

It’s good for the peacemakers.  They will be praised as God’s own children.

It’s good for those who are hurt because they stand up for God’s ways. They will be called heroes and heroines. [1]

What kind of topsy-turvy teachings are these? We are looking at Jesus’s blessing for the peacemakers this week. Certainly, most of the world today does not promote peace. Looking at the military and armed forces all over the world, I don’t think most of the national governments worldwide promote peace, either. Oh, they might SAY they are for peace, but what would happen to the big corporations and all the bombs and tanks and fighter jets and military equipment that keeps getting produced and sold, all over the world?

If we go back to Matthew chapter 5 and double check today’s verse, we find “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” How marvelous is that?  

Many people use the word peace to mean stopping conflict, or being free from disruption. Those things are very desirable! But, the Hebrew word for peace is shalom: much more than calm, quiet, or a lack of conflict. “True peace is what Jesus and his followers called “shalom,” which means wholeness and wellness. All of your needs—physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.—are met and lovingly cared for. Have you ever felt that kind of peace?” [2]

Sadly, large, powerful countries have taken over smaller, weaker provinces and states, for thousands of years. We can see it right now with Russia trying very hard to take over the Ukraine. (And, the Ukrainian people are putting up one huge fight!) Many countries are holding their collective breath, watching the worldwide wars, conflicts, and rumors of wars.

Look at peacemaking from another direction. When you and I are willing to make peace and to be peaceful, that way of thinking is alien to the world. Worldly people think, “How will that affect me? I want mine! To heck with anybody else!” This sounds exactly like the worldly system, not God’s way! Exactly what Carolyn Brown said: “In today’s [crooked, self-centered] world, it’s good for the strong; they can do whatever they want.” This selfish, self-centered way of thinking and acting is so negative. That is exactly the starting point of all quarrelling, fighting, arguing, and when it gets big enough, going to war. Not God’s way, at all!

Sometimes, governments say they will bring peace to a neighboring province or country, but they end up as conquerors, imposing harsh laws that hurt and oppress. But, how can you and I bring about peace, when we face such overwhelming forces? We can create peace with one kind and loving act at a time. We need to use our voices “and what power we have to bring justice, not just say we want peace. People have been chanting “No Justice, No Peace” during protests since at least the 1970s. It means there won’t be wholeness or peace until there is justice among us.” [3]

God is not pleased with warfare, that is for sure! Instead, God wishes peace! Shalom! Peace is not only the stopping of warfare and conflict, but wholeness and wellness in all ways. Shalom is to be among all people: “young and old, disabled and non-disabled, among all genders, between nations, and among all expressions of faith. Remember, God’s peace is not fake peace.” [4] This peace, this shalom is a deep and abiding wholeness that can sometimes be surprising, even disruptive. This is why Jesus blessed the peacemakers. This is why Jesus blesses each of us.

I ask again: what would Jesus do? Go. Do that. Go and be a peacemaker, like Jesus.

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/01/year-fourth-sunday-after-epiphany.html

[2] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

“Heart-Pure Blessings”

“Heart-Pure Blessings”

Matthew 5:1-8 (5:8) – August 14, 2022

Our modern society today is noisy, that’s for sure! So many noisy people, so many competing advertisements, all kinds of sound and visual media vying for our attention. How can we manage if we want to step away from all of this clutter and clatter and cacophony filling our ears? And what about the overwhelming smorgasbord of visual media overloading our eyes?

I want to do as Jesus suggests in this Beatitude and strive to be pure of heart. You may want to do this, too! I know that seeing God is something that many Christians really desire. But, how can we be pure of heart when we have all of these competing audio and visual noises, sounds and media constantly in our faces?

When Jesus mentions those who are pure in heart, I think of those who have integrity. Can you think of someone you know who is truly a person of integrity? How do they live their lives? Do they watch eight, ten, twelve hours of television or other kinds of media each day? Do they have their ears and eyes filled with all kinds of extraneous noise and clutter and cacophony? Do they bicker and argue with family and friends, ignoring what God finds important?

Jesus spent time regularly being quiet, peaceful, allowing Himself to listen to God as well as to His inner thoughts and feelings. Do you take the time to listen to your own heart, as well as listen to others expressing their deep thoughts and feelings?   

If we look at Jesus and His message throughout the Gospels, it’s all about the heart, and the inner person. As preacher and theologian D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, says, the observant Jews of Jesus’s day were so concerned about external behavior. It was the Rabbi Jesus’s “great charge against them always that they were interested in the outside of the pots and platters and ignored the inside. Looked at externally, they were without spot…they were most concerned about the external injunctions of religion; but they forgot the weightier matters of the law.” [1]

Instead of the outside of a person, again and again throughout the Gospels our Lord Jesus reminds His disciples (and us!) that all along He is talking about the heart. Those weighty matters of God’s Law include love to God and the love of one’s neighbor. Again and again, the commands of Jesus to love God and to love neighbor trump any other command.

I am reminded about the prophet Samuel in the Hebrew Scriptures. When God sent the prophet Samuel to Jesse and his sons, Samuel looked at the outward appearance of Jesse’s sons. “Surely the Lord wants to choose one of these fine, upstanding young men!”

How do people today judge leaders, or kings, politicians, or CEOs? Most people “tend to judge others on how they look, what they do, how they act, and what they say.” In other words, all of the external stuff, all the stuff on the outside. But, what about the Lord? “God goes much deeper in relationship than that; God goes right into our hearts. God knows the secrets that we don’t tell anyone, and knows our greatest fears and what embarrasses us the most…God knows us better than we know ourselves.” [2]

Think about it. Seven of Jesse’s sons were considered by the prophet Samuel, and none of them were chosen by God. I can’t help but remember 1 Samuel 16:7 – “Do not look on his appearance or the height of his stature. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” God encouraged Samuel to find David, Jesse’s youngest son, the one with the least amount of honor and standing in his family, who was indeed anointed king of Israel.

God wanted to find someone after God’s own heart!

“We have to remind ourselves again that the Christian faith is ultimately not only a matter of doctrine or understanding or of intellect, it is a condition of the heart.” [3] It does not matter whether we are considering the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament. Here in this Beatitude is the concentration on the heart. Your heart, and mine, too!

 If we take the time to read through these Topsy-Turvy Teachings from Matthew 5, and read them slowly, savoring each one, this collection of traits of followers of God honestly makes me take a step back. I am serious. This list is daunting. And, this week, the idea that if someone is pure in heart then they will see God? That makes me hold my breath and hesitate again.

I guess I am still tentative, agreeing with many people in the Hebrew Scriptures who are hesitant at actually seeing God. If God is making Godself available so that the run of the mill pew-sitting Christian can have a deep friendship and an intimate relationship with God, that is something very serious indeed! Am I really ready to see God? Are you?

“Jesus reminded us that when our actions align with our thoughts and feelings, we can see God around us and in our world. But it is difficult to see God around us if we do not quiet ourselves and listen to our hearts.” [4]

The thoughts and ideas we carry in our hearts have a big impact on the actions we take and the choices we make. Our insides – our hearts – guide and direct the words we speak and the actions we take. This is why the heart – the inside of us – is so important to Jesus.

One big way to be pure in heart is to show love for God, your neighbor, and yourself in how you act, speak, and think. God wants to find someone after God’s own heart!

What a way to be a blessing to others! Remember, this is how Jesus said the “pure in heart” will be blessed. Amen, alleluia!

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Wm. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids MI, 1971), 108.

[2] https://ministry-to-children.com/beatitudes-lesson-7/

[3] https://ministry-to-children.com/beatitudes-lesson-7/

[4] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

Blessed Merciful People

“Blessed Merciful People”

Matthew 5:1-8 (5:7) – August 7, 2022

Have you ever snapped at a family member or a friend? Flown off the handle? Gotten really upset, and even yelled? That’s one thing about family and friends who are close to us – emotions can run deep, and arguments can flare up. Things can get tense, too. When these kinds of emotions and feelings happen to you, how do you handle these feelings? What about thinking of Jesus’ words “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.” 

            Showing mercy must have been important to our Lord Jesus. It was so important that Jesus even included it in His Topsy-Turvy Teachings! Here in Matthew 5 in the Beatitudes, Jesus mentioned some extremely significant ways of thinking, acting and general behavior.

            In previous Beatitudes, Jesus’s thinking has a definite progression, a logical sequence. This idea of mercy follows the others, and especially the one in the previous verse: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Jesus follows this with “Blessed are the merciful.” What a description of the follower of God! But – what if we do not understand what Jesus means by mercy? What is mercy, anyhow?

            One definition: “Mercy is feeling what someone else feels, acting on their behalf, and then dedicating yourself to continue to work for their well-being. Sometimes it is easier to show mercy to a stranger than to show mercy to a family member.” [1]

Let’s look at these Topsy-Turvy Teachings another way. As you and I start to hunger for God, Jesus gives blessings for those who hunger (and thirst) for a righteous life. What does God freely give when people desire to be right with God? You’ve got it. God’s mercy. “We can’t earn God’s mercy, though. It isn’t something we can buy by being good or going to church or saying the right things. Mercy is a gift from God.” [2]

            So often with family or friends, those old, ingrained ways of thinking and acting can kick in automatically. Do you recognize yourself when you snap and snarl at family, or fly off the handle with friends, and not even know where those deep emotions and reactions came from?

Those ingrained habits and reactions go back decades sometimes, often back to childhood. They might have helped you deal with situations and people once, in the past. But what about now? Would Jesus fly off the handle? What if you and I were to react in a different kind of a way? What if instead of getting mad or irritated, we were to speak with mercy and grace? How would our tense or awkward situations be transformed?

            But, wait a minute, Lord! I don’t want to be a doormat! I don’t want people to walk all over me!  I don’t want to get beaten up by all the bullies who come by and cross my path! I can just see a group of kids on a school playground, with several bullies picking on one particular kid. Teasing him or her mercilessly.

            And, what about when we get to be adults? Aren’t there bullies in many workplaces? At some senior centers? People can be hateful and bitter and angry. How are we to act towards them? Are we supposed to be mean and hateful, right back? Again, what would Jesus do?

            Jesus explained mercy another way, in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10. “Let’s talk about a story most of you are familiar with: The Good Samaritan. Instead of just reading through it, let’s see if we can remember the story on our own. Someone who knew the law of God really well once asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him what the law had to say. The lawyer correctly answered with the greatest commandment. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer wanted to make excuses for not following this commandment perfectly, so he asked Jesus who his neighbor was. Jesus answered with the story of the Good Samaritan.

“How does it start? With a guy walking along the road getting robbed and beaten half to death. Who walked by first? A priest, who was like the pastor of the time. He ignored the poor guy. Who walked by next? A Levite, who was like a worship leader of the time. He totally ignored the injured man too. Who came by next? A Samaritan. Samaritans were the worst enemies to the Jews back then. [Jews and Samaritans] got along about as well as cats and water, fire and gasoline, peanut butter and pickles. A Samaritan was the last person you would expect to help a Jew. But this guy went above and beyond to do everything he could to help take care of the hurt Jew. After telling this story, Jesus asked the lawyer who he thought was neighbor to the man who was robbed. The law expert said, “The one who had mercy on him.” [3]

How do you respond when you are in arguments or tense situations? Pay close attention to how you respond this coming week. If you feel yourself starting to snarl, or beginning to argue, or have harsh words with a family member or friend, stop yourself right there.

            God can help us, you realize. If someone is particularly difficult to show mercy to, ask God. And, our God will assist us! Those situations can be transformed! Take a moment (or two, or three!), breathe, remember Jesus’s words about mercy, and start over again.

            “And when we try to feel how others might be feeling and show mercy by acting on their behalf and dedicating ourselves to their well-being, we are following God’s example. This is why Jesus said those who are merciful are blessed.” [4] A Beatitude, indeed!

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent Summer 2022 family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

[2] https://ministry-to-children.com/beatitudes-lesson-six/

[3] https://ministry-to-children.com/beatitudes-lesson-six/

[4] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

Hungry and Thirsty Blessings

“Hungry and Thirsty Blessings”

Matthew 5:1-7 (5:6) – July 31, 2022

Have you ever been really hungry? I mean, have you ever gone without food for more than a day? Longer than that? Hunger can be an ache inside, an actual pain inside your abdomen. Being physically hungry and thirsty can be dangerous for people’s health. Yet, food is not all that people hunger for.

Our Lord Jesus wanted to specifically mention those who were hungry and thirsty. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Yes, we can think of people who are actually, physically hungry and thirsty. That is a real need, and it’s a need for individuals and families all over the world.

Let us take a step back, and consider actual, physical hunger. What is that like? I have had the blessing of steady employment at a decent rate of income for several decades now. I do not recently have the first-hand experience of going to bed hungry, with nothing to eat in my kitchen. Not a can of vegetables in the cupboard, not a package of food in the pantry.  

My friend Rev. Dr. Marilyn Pagán-Banks is the director of A Just Harvest, located right next to the Howard Street El station, in that congested and now gentrifying area on the far north side of Chicago. A Just Harvest is a nonprofit organization. Their summary statement is “Breaking bread, restoring community – every day. One meal at a time. One job at a time. One change towards wellness, peace, and justice at a time.”

After the Covid shut-down in March 2020, St. Luke’s Church was still receiving baked goods on Saturdays from Meier’s Bakery. Except, the men’s residence at the McGaw YMCA in Evanston – where I donated the baked goods – shut down, too. That meant NO more deliveries or donations, for many months. I had to quickly pivot, and so I gave a quick call to my friend’s organization, A Just Harvest. Part of their outreach is a food pantry; an industrial-service kitchen that provides a complete hot meal for free, between noon and 2 pm, 365 days a year. That is every day, even on bank holidays and major holidays, when other service centers are closed.

The Community Kitchen was overjoyed to hear about all the baked goods! So, for each weekend for over a year, I would take the baked goods from Meier’s on Waukegan to the Community Kitchen after church on Sundays. Until, Meier’s sadly closed for good in April 2021.

It is a marvelous thing to share our resources with others who do not have enough. That is part of what our Lord Jesus was getting at!

Yet, Jesus also mentioned “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” That adds a whole deeper layer to being hungry and thirsty. (as if regular “hunger and thirst” were not significant enough!) Yes, many people who followed Jesus were very hungry. They needed a secure food source. But, many people in Jesus’ day were also hungry for justice.

“One understanding of “righteousness” is justice. God’s justice means we make sure everyone has what they need. When we partner with God to bring justice to the earth, we are working toward a world where living things live in right and healthy relationships.” [1]

I know that sometimes, people get really caught up in their own lives, their family challenges, their health problems, and yes, financial difficulties. It’s really hard to focus on other people and their deep needs when you or I have some very deep needs of our own.

The same was very true in Jesus’s day, as well as all the times in between the first century and the 21st. We have talked about this before, how a huge crowd gathered around the Rabbi Jesus, and He saw their hurts and pains and cared for them in all kinds of ways. Yes, Jesus physically healed many! And yes, Jesus also saw each and every individual as worthwhile, as blessed, and as created by God.  That is a big reason why He preached about God’s kingdom, where there is abundance for all. More than enough honor, food, money, love, power and resources for everyone to thrive.

“A lot of things were not right for the people listening to Jesus. In that time, some people had a lot of money and power. They used what they had to dominate other people. Some people were poor and felt powerless. Jesus speaks here to the people who feel that ache for a better world—God’s kind of world. Jesus knows their hearts are hungering more and more for relationships and systems to be fair and right. Just like we need food to live, we need love, hope, and healthy connections with others. Jesus understands and cares about all these needs.” [2]

Bringing in God’s kingdom is not just a task for our Lord Jesus. No! He has given that task to each of us, to each of His followers. That is what the Beatitudes are all about. It’s a commission, a charge for all of us, to go out into our own communities and put these tasks to work. Each idea from our Lord Jesus, each and every day.

We can even call the Beatitudes directives from God. Yes, each Beatitude holds a personal blessing, and each Beatitude holds a direct charge or task for each of us to complete. When we look at this list of blessings from God in this way, it can be incredibly daunting! Yet, with God’s help, all things are possible.

We all have the opportunity to fight for justice in many different ways. Are there particular issues that you and your family engage in? Do you hunger for environmental righteousness? Racial and gender equality righteousness? Food security righteousness? Senior care righteousness? Employment righteousness?

If every person in this world knew what it was to truly “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” there would be no danger of fighting or war, no need to fear bombs or muggings or name-calling or any other destructive behavior. Herein lies the way to true peace and justice on a horizontal plane, with our fellow humans, and true fellowship with God, on a vertical plane.  

I ask again: what would Jesus do? How would Jesus bring about justice in a tangible way? Go. Do that. And, be blessed, for yours is indeed the kingdom of heaven.

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent Summer 2022 family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

[2] Ibid.

Blessings to the Meek?

“Blessings to the Meek?”

Matthew 5:1-7 (5:5) – July 23, 2022

I love puppies and kittens. Don’t you? Who doesn’t love small animals, so adorable and so tiny? One thing about small puppies and kittens – and other baby animals, like little rabbits, and baby chicks and ducklings and piglets – you need to be gentle with them! If anyone caring for small animals is not gentle and caring, the baby animals will probably be mistreated.

Along comes the Rabbi Jesus, and what is the next Beatitude that He proposes? “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Now, wait a minute, Jesus! This is completely the opposite of everything that earthly society and worldly people say to us all the time. If we want to dominate the world, we need to show everyone who is boss! We need to show off our strength and power and domination! Don’t we?

Or, what does Jesus say? “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Those words don’t sound very dominating or power-hungry to me! Here again, Jesus tells us explicitly that followers of Christ are not like the world. We are following the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus, here! Not going along with the world, at all!

The large crowd listening to the Rabbi Jesus was probably puzzled, too. What was this unknown Rabbi talking about?

Meekness is a synonym of gentleness. In Jesus’ day, land was meaningful and important and many people had their land taken away by people who used force and violence. Jesus promises the gentle, kind, and humble people (“the meek”) will receive not just land, but the whole earth.” [1] People of that day were used to hearing about the land grabs that the people in charge did, almost always without any consequences. Land was a source of wealth, and to be stripped of your family’s land was to have a great deal of wealth stolen right from under your noses. This was the situation with the oppressing, conquering nation of the Romans. They took a great deal of land and wealth from the Jewish people as an occupying nation.

When Jesus said that the meek will inherit the earth, how do you think that sounded to the crowds listening to Jesus? What would that do to the occupying forces of Rome if meek, gentle people from Israel inherited the earth, right from under their occupying noses?

The worldly point of view – both in the 1st century and in modern-day popular society – is that fighting, conquest, and gaining material power is the key to getting to the top of the heap. Dominating other strong people, bulldozing your way to the front of the line is the way that worldly people get ahead. That’s the way people inherit the earth – isn’t it? Think about it another way. How are we to act as followers of Christ? Cut-throat, or Christ-following?

When you think of being meek and gentle, what do you think of? I mentioned caring for small animals a few minutes ago. Can you think of someone who cares for tiny puppies or kittens, and imagine them steamrolling over smaller, weaker people? These two pictures are not compatible. Which do you think Jesus would do? Which would Jesus want us to do?

I realize being meek and gentle gets a bad rap today. Someone who is meek and gentle is not the kind of person I’d imagine as a poster child for military organizations. Someone who is meek and gentle often comes across as a Casper Milquetoast, a person who is shy, retiring, and inoffensive. But, have you ever thought of someone who is meek and gentle as being a strong individual? Someone who is so strong and confident themselves that they do not care what other people think? I think that is exactly the kind of person our Lord Jesus was lifting up.

This promise – this Beatitude – this blessing towards gentle, kind and meek people is the wonderful blessing that these unlikely people will be the ones who become inheritors of the earth. The ones who will receive land, and therefore will receive riches and wealth, as perceived by the world. Not the worldly people who use power, force and control. Yes, these are indeed the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!

Jesus is not just talking about the physical land of Israel, but the whole earth. “This also holds a powerful message for us about caring for the earth. Meek, or humble, people live with an awareness of others’ needs—the planet, animals, and other people. They remember that the whole earth—everything they have and receive, including land—belongs to God. And they care for it with that in mind, using what they have with respect and love.” [2]

Are you uncaring, oblivious to the needs of others? Have you been conscious of others’ needs today? Or, do you walk along, without a care in the world? I know there are people who are preoccupied with their own challenging problems and difficulties. The Rabbi Jesus is calling us to be outwardly focused, to come alongside of those who are struggling, becoming aware of others’ difficult journeys. There is much suffering and sadness in the world. We need to be strong – in meekness and gentleness.

Which would you rather be? Would you rather think and act on the side of the world, and steamroll and punch down any little pipsqueak who asks you for a hand or a cup of cold water? Again, what would Jesus do?

Or, would Jesus continue to be courageous and strong – strong enough to be gentle, meek and kind? It’s a clear decision that is open to us all. We are to follow Jesus. Be meek. Be gentle. Be kind, like our Lord. And especially, we are commanded to show love. Not picking and choosing, but instead being meek and gentle to all. No matter what, no matter who. Blessings from God to the meek, indeed!  Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

[2] Ibid.

Mourning Blessings

“Mourning Blessings”

Matthew 5:1-5 (5:4) – July 10, 2022

Is it safe to cry? Are you comfortable being sad? What about mourning? Showing grief? For many, many people in this society here in North America, mourning and grief is something to be hidden away, even to be embarrassed about. Do you feel free to mourn? Or, is this raw emotion one to be hidden, not allowed out in public except at funerals?

Our nation was horrified to hear that instead of a Fourth of July parade enjoyed by families and participants alike, someone shot over 60 bullets from a rooftop with a high-powered rifle on Monday. In nearby Highland Park, scene after scene of horror and tragedy played out. So many mourning and grieving! This is yet another tragedy local to the Chicago area, and yet another in a series of mass shootings nationwide in recent weeks.

Let us look again at our Scripture reading for today. For these past weeks, in fact. Our Lord Jesus gives us the Beatitudes from a mountain in the north of Galilee to the largest of His crowds to date, near the beginning of His public ministry.

We have discussed how our Lord Jesus already had a budding reputation as a miracle worker, healing dozens and dozens of individuals from their physical diseases and afflictions. Jesus not only displayed power in casting out demons, but was gaining a reputation as a brilliant teacher. He was also quite able at dialoging with the Jewish legal scholars and other rabbis.

It’s all very nice to think about this historical person, the Rabbi Jesus, and about a historical event that happened 2000 years ago, the Sermon on the Mount. But, what does this have to do with the shooting that happened so near to us just a week ago? How do you and I wrap our heads around such evil and horror and go forward without trauma and pain and continuing sadness? Can you remember a time you cried? Did you cry on Monday, hearing about this extreme tragedy that happened only a few suburbs to the north? Yet, our Lord Jesus states “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

What a time of tragedy! And, what a time of mourning! Lord Jesus, do you hear countless people crying? Grieving? Mourning? Not only for those shot, wounded or murdered in Highland Park, but for the dozens shot, wounded or murdered across the Chicago area over the past week. And, those in Uvalde, Texas. And those in Buffalo, New York, before that.  

Similar to the first Beatitude about the poor in spirit that we examined last week, this serious statement of our Lord stands out and marks someone as different, as quite unlike worldly people. Yet, how, Lord?? What we do know is that the world system today tries its hardest to avoid mourning and grieving. The whole world system with its concentration on pleasure, on entertainment and money – tawdry “bling” and frivolity – are constantly diverting attention from mourning. Grieving is the last thing that the world system, today’s society wants us to focus on.

In the first century just as today, many people were taught that crying was shameful, that grown-ups didn’t cry, that mourning and grieving showed weakness and made people too vulnerable. Do you know people who try their darnedest not to show emotion, and not to cry or mourn? Oftentimes, these are rich and powerful people who gather money and control. That way, they do their best to feel strong, unshakeable, in control of people and events [1]

And, what does our Lord Jesus do right at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount? He speaks to people who mourn and cry and grieve, and praises them! Jesus highlights them in all their grief. One large reason Jesus does this is because God gave all humans emotions. Mourning, grief and crying show we all are alive and aware. Instead of being ashamed of crying, crying shows we are brave. “Crying shows we are willing to feel pain—our own and someone else’s pain. You [and I] are not trying to block the pain around us or keep our distance from it. Tears and crying are important.” [2]

Instead of being superficial and seeking only pleasure and surface entertainment, Jesus lets us know that God honors us when we mourn. God embraces us wholeheartedly when any of us grieve. You and I do not need to block pain or pretend nothing has happened, show a stiff upper lip or keep our distance from crying, because supposedly “grown-ups don’t cry.” No, tears and crying are important. When a loved one cries or grieves, it is a privilege to come alongside and to mourn with them. To sit with them as they cry, especially in times of pain or difficulty. Especially when it is so hard to hold that grief, so difficult that it almost makes a person fall to pieces.

This blessing of Jesus, blessing those who mourn for they shall be comforted, shows that we connect with God. This Beatitude shows that God actively comes alongside those who are actively mourning and comforts them.

I follow a Mister Rogers Twitter account. Yesterday morning, there was such an apropos tweet posted, a quote from Fred Rogers! “People have said, “Don’t cry” to other people for years and years, and all it has ever meant is “I’m too uncomfortable when you show your feelings: Don’t cry.” I’d rather have them say, “Go ahead and cry. I’m here to be with you.”

Perhaps God comforts those dear grieving ones through others. Perhaps God sends relatives, or friends, or strangers to come alongside of those who are deeply mourning, and sits with them in silence, or gets them a cup of water or coffee, or brings over a casserole or does a load of laundry. Whatever we do, whatever it takes to show God’s presence and our caring, Most important, this is a way to show we share in God’s heart, in God’s caring and love.

“Jesus promised God would bring comfort and make things right for all the people listening who faced injustice, shame, trauma and poverty which caused them to cry and grieve. One way God brings comfort is through us. (Hold your hands out with palms up.) When we offer our hand or loving words—especially to someone who is sad—we are God’s comfort to that person.” [3]

What a blessing to others! And, what a blessing when each of us mourn. And to that, we can all say alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

[2] Illustrated Ministries, ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Blessed Poor People?

“Blessed Poor People?”

Matthew 5:1-5 (5:3) – July 3, 2022

What do you do when a friend or loved one has big feelings? I mean, when someone you love is super sad, or super upset, or super angry?

So many of us feel overwhelmed sometimes. Feelings can be oversized, huge, bigger than big! Overwhelming emotions and feelings can make a person feel like a ton of bricks has just fallen on them. What is a person to do? Does your family have a special remedy for this kind of huge, overwhelming emotional impact? What do you do if your child – or grandchild – is feeling really down and has huge feelings they don’t know what to do with?

Our Lord Jesus talks about just this kind of feeling when He gives us His first Beatitude. You remember the Beatitudes, the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, early in the Gospel of Matthew. The Rabbi Jesus has just been getting a lot of press about being a miracle worker and a marvelous teacher, and people have been flocking to hear Him and see Him from miles around.

When the Lord Jesus has the big opportunity to teach a large crowd, what does He lead off with but “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Now, wait a minute, Jesus! I kind of know what blessed means, and I understand that there are poor people in the world, but what kind of a topic sentence is that? What do you mean, leading off Your big sermon with a confusing idea like this? What gives, Jesus?

Our summer sermon series is called “Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus.” That title certainly applies to this first Beatitude! How on earth are poor people blessed? But, wait. Jesus didn’t say “poor people.” He said people who were (are) “poor in spirit.”

Have you ever had a time when you were down and just wanted things to feel better, for just a little while? I suspect we all feel poor in spirit sometimes.

Our Lord Jesus was well aware of the hurts and pains of the people listening to Him. Not only their physical hurts and pains, because Jesus was a marvelous, miraculous healer! But, also their mental, emotional and psychological hurts and pains, too.

Our Lord Jesus did not place these Beatitudes in a random, haphazard manner. He was very deliberate in the order, in His placement of the different blessings God bestows. We may say there is a logical order in these Beatitudes. Jesus tells us about the kingdom of heaven, and this first blessing is a key to all that follows.

We can think of a “kingdom” as the way the world (or the country) works or is set up. In God’s kingdom, there is abundance! Everyone has more than enough honor, and food, love, power and resources for everyone – that means every single person – to live and thrive.[1] What’s more, according to our Lord, all who enter into the kingdom of heaven are poor in spirit. That means an emptying of sorts.

As the wonderful theologian and preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells us, being poor in spirit “is a fundamental characteristic of the Christian and of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven.” [2] In the Beatitudes, Jesus shows His listeners how to be filled with the manifestation of heaven – of God. But, how are we to be filled with heavenly things if we are not first emptied of worldly things? The worldly, self-centered, all-for-myself attitude?

Jesus and the other citizens of Palestine of the first century were definitely oppressed. The Roman empire was ruling over them, and the people in charge of the local and regional government demanded a lot of taxes. This was not only the money the common folk earned, but also the crops the Jewish people grew and a share of the animals they raised. People were already struggling to provide for themselves and their family. Plus, when they could not pay the taxes the Roman government expected, the Jewish people lost most of what they owned. [3] They were an oppressed nation under an oppressive regime.

Have you ever felt trapped, sad, worried things might never get better? Worried that tomorrow would be just like today, or maybe even worse? That sounds so much like what the people in first-century Palestine were dealing with, every day! Little wonder so many people flocked to hear the message of hope, healing and blessing from the Rabbi Jesus!

This Topsy Turvy Teaching of Jesus is just the beginning of the Beatitudes. Sure, Jesus tells us that the poor in spirit are truly happy, the ones who are truly blessed by God. Not the people who in this world seem to have it all, know it all, or have all the power. Those worldly, puffed up, self-centered, power-hungry people are going to be skipped over by God.

Try clenching your hands to make fists. A fist is a sign of power and strength, isn’t it? But, when our fists are closed tight, we cannot receive anything new, anything of positive value, anything to nurture and to help grow. However, let us open our hands on our lap with palms facing up. This is a physical way to remind us all that we are open to God. [4] We depend on God, and need to be open to learning, growing and changing. We need to empty ourselves of worldly, puffed up, self-centered and power-hungry attitudes that are so common in the world today.

What would Jesus do? Would Jesus be selfish, self-centered and grasping for power and attention? How would Jesus treat the people on the edges of society, the single moms, the elderly without children, the outcast ones, and the friendless? How does Jesus treat you and me? Jesus welcomes the poor in spirit. Jesus welcomes you, and He welcomes me, too.

For ours is the kingdom of heaven. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

[2] Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Wm. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids MI, 1971), 42-43.

[3] Illustrated Ministries.

[4] Ibid.

Healing and Hope

“Healing and Hope”

Matthew 5:1-12 (5:1-2) – June 19, 2022

Have you ever been particularly in need of hope? I know that hope is usually an internal thing. Hope is often quiet and even smooths challenging emotions and buoys people up when they are going through difficult times. Healing is something that many folks are in need of! The healing that many people immediately think of is physical healing. Have you ever thought about the other ways we can need to be healed? Emotionally, psychologically. Spiritually, as well. The need for healing of any kind is truly great in this world!

The Beatitudes from Matthew 5 are a wonderful description of hope and healing, from our Lord Jesus Christ. The Rabbi Jesus preached this sermon of hope and healing very early in His ministry. People flocked to hear Him, and to see the miracles He did.

Who was He preaching to, we might ask? Answer: lots of people! People not only local from Nazareth and the rest of Galilee, but from further south in Palestine, from the area north of the sea of Galilee, and from the area east of the Jordan River, too.

Except – how did the people who heard these Beatitudes feel? Did they have hope? Did they need healing? Our Lord Jesus had been spending a lot of time healing people. Remember, He was getting quite the reputation already as a miracle-worker. So, yes. He was ministering to many, many people’s physical needs.

Jesus had been spending a lot of time healing people. I don’t know about you, but when I reflect on the Rabbi Jesus’ public ministry, I can’t help but see His first disciples as not only His students in the way of God’s kingdom, but they needed to be good at crowd control. Seriously, any person who had the reputation that Jesus did would have been mobbed wherever He went! It would only make sense in today’s world that such an important, high-profile person – healer – an in-demand preacher and teacher – would have staff, and assistants, and handlers, and be really difficult for common folks to reach and talk to.

Have you ever tried to talk to someone really important and high-profile? Or, get a few minutes of their time? Imagine going through a secretary or administrative assistant. I’ve met with administrators and presidents on college or seminary campuses, and that was difficult enough! I cannot imagine how difficult it probably is to meet with someone really big, like the CEO of a multi-national corporation or the owner of a major league sports team or a high-profile media personality.

Except, Jesus wasn’t like that. Our Lord Jesus when He was here on the earth was accessible to anyone. He recognized that the people surrounding Him had broken hearts and unsteady hope. They needed healing in so many ways. One important way for these dear people to receive care from Jesus was to hear His teaching about healing and hope. That is why the Rabbi Jesus led them to a mountain in order to preach and teach. (And, I suspect the mountain had an area similar to a natural amphitheater, where Jesus’s voice was naturally amplified.) Plus, mountains are traditionally places that remind people of God’s presence ith them.

We know that sermons are talks meant to teach and to help people grow in their love for and relationship with God. People were so committed to Jesus and His ministry and message that they followed right along to listen to Him and as the expression goes, to sit at His feet.

The Beatitudes are the opening segment in this Sermon on the Mount that Jesus delivers. I’d like to point out that Jesus meant the Beatitudes for different groups of people from this wide crowd He was preaching to! Unexpected individuals, not typical, on the borders or off to one side in the typical congregation. And, Jesus was deliberate in His teaching and preaching. He knew He was being reactionary and unconventional, and that was okay. Our Lord Jesus never shied away from doing and saying reactionary and unconventional things!    

Jesus knew very well that many people in His day had an unclear or incorrect understanding of how to live their lives. Jesus knew they were living with the wrong goal in mind. So, the Rabbi Jesus purposely said unconventional things to shake up the establishment and to show them God’s way of living. Lo and behold, it was the opposite of the way many people understood it to be! [1]

The highlights of the Beatitudes were (and are) granting blessing, hope and healing for those who did not normally receive hope and healing. Jesus purposely turned the spotlight on groups that were dismissed, or glossed over, or ignored, or slighted. We have groups like “the poor in spirit,” “the mourners,” “the meek,” “the merciful,” and “the pure in heart.”  

In raising these disparate, separated people to prominence and granting each one His blessing, our Lord Jesus shows He cares for each and every one listening. No matter what, no matter who. What an inclusive sermon! Leaving no one out! Including many different groups and individuals from all over, from all segments of society, and beyond!

What is more, that wasn’t only just two thousand years ago. Our Lord Jesus is still raising disparate, separated people to prominence. He still proclaims His care and grants His blessing to all, in an inclusive embrace that leaves no one out. Sure, Jesus welcomes faithful, church-going folk! And Christmas-and-Easter church attenders, too! And people who would never darken the door of a house of worship, as well!

Don’t you think Jesus can heal people from the inside out? Don’t you think Jesus can give hope to the hopeless, sight to the spiritually-blind and unstop the ears of those who are stubbornly hearing just their own opinions?

            May our Lord open all of our eyes and ears to the all-inclusive message of the Beatitudes today. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/2-kingdom-life-matthew-5

Prologue to the Beatitudes

“Prologue to the Beatitudes”

Matthew 4:23-25 (4:23) – June 12, 2022

We are starting a new summer sermon series this week. We will be looking at the Beatitudes from Matthew chapter 5, all summer long. The Beatitudes, blessings of God, and blessings from our Lord Jesus. Plus, blessings to a number of unlikely groups of people, too!  

We toss around the word “blessed” here, but we ought to define this word. What is “blessed,” anyhow? Is “blessed” a secret code word for Christians or churches? Or a word that only people on the inside “in-crowd” know about? Well, of course not! I just got done telling you that Jesus blesses a lot of unlikely people and groups! “Blessed” in the first century meant “happy” or “content.” A deep down happiness, and not just on the surface!

Can you remember a time when you were really deep down happy? That’s what our Lord Jesus is talking about, Jesus can bless individuals, and He can bless groups of people.

When I say less-than, downtrodden, overlooked, or excluded, what do you think of? Poor people? People who don’t have enough? People on the sidelines or borders of society? How about people who are definitely not in the inner circle, not having preferred places or special treatment? Our Lord Jesus went around Palestine and Galilee preaching and teaching to just these kinds of people. The unimportant. Excluded. What some might call “the little people.” The Rabbi Jesus was always hanging out with people the “in-crowd” wouldn’t possibly recognize!

I do not have much of a problem considering myself an outsider, on the sidelines, or overlooked. That’s the attitude and the outlook we all are going to take this summer, as we take a closer look at the Beatitudes. Another title for this series is the Topsy Turvy Teachings of Jesus! Where Jesus blesses unexpected and unlikely groups of people!

First, we need to set the scene, and take a look at the backdrop where the Rabbi Jesus is teaching and preaching. Matthew chapter 4 is right at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. He is just starting to travel around the northern region of Galilee. Right off the bat, Jesus preaches and teaches to everyone. He heals all who come to Him. He does not discriminate.

Jesus had only just started His ministry, and I am sure that many, many people were moved and touched by His words. Imagine – “News about Jesus spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.”

Pay close attention: Jesus was not just another traveling dog and pony show. A number of these itinerant preachers traveled in Palestine, at any one time.  Jesus did more. Much more! He healed anyone who came to Him, and healed really serious diseases. Do you have any serious disease in your life or body that you would like to have totally gone? That’s what Jesus did. And, the word spread! How could it not? Word about amazing miracles, especially!

Plus, Jesus taught these crowds, wherever Jesus set up shop. People flocked to hear Jesus, from the next country of Syria, from north of Palestine, and from way south around Jerusalem and beyond the Red Sea. Wouldn’t you, if you had the opportunity to travel to see a proven miracle worker? But, wait! There is so much more! The Rabbi Jesus also taught about hope! God’s kingdom. God coming close to each person.

 At its most basic, God’s kingdom is a reality in the nuts-and-bolts living of life. Our Lord Jesus told everyone about the kingdom of God coming near to each one. This is the good news that comes near to all, that forgiveness of God’s love, that seeking of healing from all. Not only looking for actual physical healing, but also spiritual and mental healing. Who wouldn’t want to know about the healing forgiveness of God’s love? Available to everyone!

Just imagine that good news preached here and now, today! In the kingdom of God, there is enough for everyone – not only in terms of spiritual things, but in physical resources, too. Not so in the imperfect, worldly world. Imperfect, fallible people hoard money and resources, prestige and honor. This keeps them from the weaker, poorer, less fortunate parts of society. Let’s not forget that the few, the favored, the people on top of the world exclude anyone they think is unworthy. That almost always means the weaker, poorer, less fortunate parts of society.    

Can you even imagine our Lord Jesus discriminating or excluding people?

No, I can’t, either. Never, ever. Simply impossible. Jesus would never do such a thing, especially in uncertain, topsy-turvy times. The Rabbi Jesus brought healing to their physical selves, and also to their hearts, souls and minds. He wanted everyone to know that they are blessed and favored by God, no matter who, no matter what. Everything Jesus taught and did was about breaking down hurtful expectations and separations in society and among individuals.

Even though we all live in this very imperfect world, we are all blessed by God. Even though our modern times are uncertain, Jesus wants everyone to know that followers of Jesus will have what they need. Even though times are hard and questionable, there is always more than enough love to go around! Jesus makes sure we all know that. When God provides abundance and love, no one needs to bicker or fight or exclude or oppress any more.

Jesus and His topsy-turvy teaching shows us all that we are loved. Each of us is special to God, and we are never alone. That is a marvelous truth, available to each and every one.

That is good news for all of us! Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)

Promises Kept

 “Promises Kept”

John 14:8-17 (14:17) – June 5, 2022

When you think of our Lord Jesus when He was here on earth, what kinds of things come to your mind? Was the Rabbi Jesus an extraordinary preacher and teacher? I believe He was. How about a miracle worker? Certainly, by countless accounts! Did He always tell the truth? I think so. And, how about keeping the promises He made? Absolutely.  

Very often in the Bible, people predict what is going to happen in the future. The prophets of God were very good at this. Sometimes these predictions are warnings and negative things; sometimes the predictions are good things and events to be eagerly awaited!

After the Ascension, the group of disciples were all in Jerusalem, awaiting some really big predictions to come to pass. Predictions by angels, and by the Hebrew Scriptures, and some plain-spoken words by the risen Lord Jesus Himself. It was on Pentecost morning that a large number of predictions came to pass – in a huge way!

You remember the scene? A little over one hundred followers of the risen Lord Jesus had gathered together in Jerusalem, in that very same second story of a building. The place that was the same Upper Room where the disciples had their Last Supper with their Rabbi, the night before His crucifixion.

You remember the train of events? A big holiday and Jewish festival was celebrated: the festival of Shavuot, or First Fruits. Lo and behold, the group of disciples was having a prayer meeting, when suddenly “there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.”

The disciples were as surprised as anyone! Yet, Peter realized what was going on and as one of the spokesmen for the disciples, he stood up and proclaimed that this was indeed an earthshaking sign from God! He even quoted from the prophet Joel, about the descending of the Spirit of God.

You remember what happened? Peter said, ““People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. 23 But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed.”

I am certain that as Peter spoke he remembered that last night in the Upper Room; their leader and Rabbi Jesus gave the disciples a firm promise, saying “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will bein you.”

This cataclysmic happening on Pentecost morning was that exact thing! The pouring out of the Spirit of truth, God’s Holy Spirit! It was not a gentle, even passive pouring out, but instead a mighty rush of wind! Flames appearing over each believer’s head! And, the gift of tongues or speaking in languages that the disciples had never learned! God displayed awesome power and might on that Pentecost morning!

Let’s go back a few weeks, to that Upper Room, to that Passover dinner just before Jesus was betrayed. All during the past few weeks Jesus had been predicting His death. Fulfillment of prophecy often seems distant and impersonal…like it is not warm or intimate. By some standards, Jesus gave a prophecy, it’s true. But more than that, Jesus gave a firm promise. He promised that His Heavenly Father would send the Spirit of truth upon the disciples.

 “For he lives with you and will be in you.” Such a positive way of seeing this marvelous event! Jesus recognized that His promise would become a lifeline for the disciples, a promise made, and a promise He certainly kept! Isn’t keeping a promise warm, positive and genuine? That describes our Lord Jesus to a “T”

Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus supplied deep needs. Wants and desires, too. He supplied a whole description on new life to Nicodemus. Jesus supplied living water, spiritual hydration to the woman at the well. He supplied healing to the man by the pool of Bethesda. Jesus supplied guidance into an unknown and frightening future to Thomas, and for knowledge that God’s promises are definitely true, in Philip’s case.

And here, in the Upper Room, to all of us here today and throughout the centuries, Jesus elaborated on the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our Gospel reading today points to “an intimate Pentecost, to the Holy Spirit at work in our inner lives and in our world drawing us into intimate relationship with God who delivers on all God’s promises.” [1]

The Pentecost event two thousand years ago was indeed a huge cataclysm of sound and wind and flame and excitement! Yes, and our individual Pentecosts today can also be quiet, introspective and just as full of the Holy Spirit. Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting Lord, the God of all creation is sending the Holy Spirit into each of our lives.

This is not a mere prophecy, an impersonal declaration of the might and power of some distant Higher Power. Our risen and ascended Lord Jesus has given us a personal promise, a warm, genuine affirmation of God-With-Us, Emmanuel. A genuine promise given, and a promise bountifully kept – in your life and mine. Amen, alleluia!    

@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.patheos.com/progressive-christian/intimate-pentecost-alyce-mckenzie-05-10-2013

Ascended into Heaven

“Ascended into Heaven”

Acts 1:1-11 (1:11) – May 29, 2022

            When I was young, I attended a Lutheran church on the northwest side of Chicago. That church had many traditions, including everyone in the church reciting the Apostles Creed after the sermon each Sunday. This church does not have this tradition, at least, it hasn’t for a long time. Many words from the Apostles Creed are familiar, of course, but it is not quite like the Lord’s Prayer. We do not recite it here as often as every single Sunday.  

            What about the section of the Apostles Creed that highlights our Lord Jesus Christ? I invite you to say it along with me: I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

            Today we are celebrating “On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven,” How amazing this must have been for Jesus’ followers! I know we have been over the same ground during this Easter season, as we consider Jesus and the time line after His resurrection. This whole string of events must have been absolutely out of the disciples’ experience.

            Imagine, your Rabbi and leader gets arrested, tried, and killed in a most horrible way. You are devastated. Then, on the third day, some of your women companions come back with a wild story – absolutely amazing! And, it’s true. You see the risen Jesus, too!

            Fast forward several weeks, The risen Lord Jesus appears to you and your companions a number of times, and continues to teach and prepare you – for what? If we go back to the Apostles Creed, this creed is a quick synopsis and theological summary of Jesus, His life, death, resurrection and ascension. Except, we are going to stay on the ascension part. The resurrected Jesus was around for some weeks, long enough for the disciples to kind of accustom themselves to His presence.

What do you know? The disciples (at least most of them!) were more interested in what was going to happen politically! Look at what Dr. Luke highlights for us here in Acts 1: “Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

“The disciples were still interested in the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. [Except,] the days and seasons of coming events were not something the disciples needed to worry about. Matters of churchmanship, denominational doctrines, church growth, church/state relations…… and the like, all pale before a far greater purpose” [1] that the risen Lord Jesus tried to communicate just before He ascended into heaven.

We can see this clearly from our Lord’s response: “Jesus 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.”

Jesus used stories to communicate great truths all during the three years He was an itinerant Rabbi, journeying all around Palestine. Is it any wonder that one of the most effective ways of “witnessing” to our Lord Jesus is by telling our personal stories?

            The Apostles Creed states that Jesus “ascended to heaven” and “he sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” We can see God sitting on a heavenly throne (perhaps in the temple from Isaiah 6!), and Jesus sits right beside God on God’s right hand. This was a very important place in historic accounts about kings. “The most important person other than the king always sat on the kings’ right hand.  What we are saying about Jesus is that he is right with God and that he is more important than any angel or any person who has ever lived.” [2]

            Yes, this account from Acts 1 is one of our most treasured stories about Jesus, along with the story of the Passion, the trials, and the Crucifixion. And then, we have the greatest story ever told in the account of the Resurrection and its aftermath! Can’t these stories about Jesus be paired with our own personal stories?

            In track and field, when the runners run a relay race, they pass a baton from one to another as each begins to run their leg of the race. Another way to think about the risen Lord Jesus ascending into heaven is Jesus passing the baton to His disciples. They have been in training for these past three years, and now our Lord Jesus is about to leave. “Jesus did tell them very clearly that they were to take up his ministry on earth.  His earthly part of the race was complete, but theirs was just starting.” [3] 

            We are witnesses to Jesus and His power and transformation in our lives today. Jesus “comes to you and me, he comes to his Church, lifts us up, loves us without limit, and invites us to tell the story of love over and over again. Remember His words: ”You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and in Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world.” [4]  How has Jesus been active in our lives, today? How is He telling the story of love to each of us? Jesus invites us to go and tell – tell others, today! Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/studyot/ascensionot.html

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/04/year-c-ascension-of-lord-thursday-may-5.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] “‘Why do you stand looking up into heaven?’ (Acts 1:11),” William Loader, Being the Church Then and Now: Issues from the Acts of the Apostles.

Peace of Mind and Heart

“Peace of Mind and Heart”

John 14:23-27 (14:27) – May 22, 2022

            The world is in powerful need of peace right now! Isn’t it? Just think of the many places in the world today, right now, where there is strife, conflict, fighting, and even outright warfare. The gift of Jesus that He speaks of here in today’s reading, peace of mind and heart, is something truly to wish for! Even, to clasp tightly to our minds and hearts!

            Here in John, chapters 14 through 17, is His Farewell Discourse. These are the last words that Jesus gave to His friends before His arrest and crucifixion. Important words, indeed!

            Even at this point, on the night before Jesus was betrayed, His disciples needed some further explanation of what Jesus was saying to them. First Peter (John 13:36), then Thomas (14:5), then Phillip (14:8), and then Judas (not Iscariot) (14:22) ask for clarification about exactly what Jesus is telling them. Jesus packs a whole lot into just a few short verses.

            I would like to highlight one particular verse: John 14:27. Jesus said, 27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” There is so much conflict, fighting, mass shootings, and attacks of one kind or another happening in this world right now. We need peace badly!

            David Lose, one of my favorite commentators, wants us to think more deeply about this word “peace.” I hear Jesus say this word. But why? How do we understand peace? What do we imagine Jesus means? “Too often, I think, we think of peace as simply the cessation of conflict. And clearly an end to violence is a good thing. Many of us have prayed for peace in the Middle East, [peace in the Ukraine,] peace in our community, perhaps even peace in our homes. But I think the peace Jesus offers is more than the absence of something negative.” [1]

            But, wait a minute, some people say! I know the world needs peace in the Middle East, and peace in Ukraine, and peace in lots of other places worldwide. But, what about me? What about my house, my neighborhood? I am not experiencing much peace in my personal life!

            Rev. Janet Hunt agrees just this past week that peace is regularly shattered in her neighborhood in the town of Dekalb, in the community where she lives and serves. She mourns the fact that “peace of mind, heart and body are too hard to find; so many needs, physical and otherwise, go unmet. And even if all else seems to be going well, still we struggle through our personal, sometimes private heartaches which threaten our peace, our sense of wellbeing.” [2]

            Looking at Chicago, I was just on the spot of a mass shooting on Friday, just a few blocks west of the Water Tower, off of Michigan Avenue. The police activity was still very present as they investigated that evening shooting and the aftermath. I needed to be in the area for my job, to visit a patient for the hospice I work for. Yet, I saw firsthand the very real conflict and disruption in the city center, in one of the most affluent parts of the city.

When someone reports feeling calm and “at peace,” so often people scoff, or are jealous, or disbelieve. That is, at first. Why is this? Is peace so rare or so unusual?

            I want us to go back to the Upper Room, back to the Farewell Discourse. “Think, again, of the timing of Jesus’ promise: it is the night of his betrayal, the evening when he will be handed over to those who hate him and who will take him away to be executed. And yet in that moment, he not only senses peace but gives it to others.[3]

            Yes, Jesus knows He doesn’t live in a peaceful world, and Jesus knows very well that His personal life is going to be rocked to the core in just a few hours. Yet, Jesus tells His disciples that He gives them His peace. And, guess what? We can access that same peace! That peace which the world does not understand, that the world cannot give.

              When someone reports feeling “at peace,” that person “instead testifies to a sense of wholeness, even rightness, of and in one’s very being It’s a sense of harmony with those persons and things around us. Peace connotes a sense of contentment, but even more fulfillment, a sense that in this moment one is basking in God’s pleasure.” [4]

            Even when you and I are in the midst of hardship, struggle, even conflict or disruption, we can access Jesus and His peace! Countless believers have clung to this blessed promise, even through great difficulty, horrific tragedy, and deadly conflict. Through personal tragedies or nationwide devastation, it does not matter. Jesus still offers His peace, freely! That peace is not only to be embraced in some far distant future, but it is already ours!

            God’s promise of peace is not maybe, or perhaps, or just in case. God loves us with an everlasting love! God has already gifted us with that peace that passes all understanding. God has already laid claim to us! With that claim comes peace that is truly beyond our understanding, peace that is always ours for the receiving.

            With Rev. Janet, I can affirm that in the hardest of times, in the hugest of challenges, when my heart is most tender, God’s peace is right there for me, and for you, too. Both when faith runs deep, and when it’s hard to believe, too. And when it’s a challenge for you to have faith alone, that is what the church is for – to believe together, in community.

            Jesus said, “the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” This gift of peace is truly for us all.  Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to Rev. Janet Hunt and her excellent commentary on this Gospel reading for the 6th week of Easter, https://dancingwiththeword.com/when-peace-like-a-river/. I have used several ideas and quotes from this post in this sermon. And, thanks to Rev. David Lose as well. I owe much to him, from http://www.davidlose.net/2016/04/easter-6-c-peace-the-world-cannot-give/)   


[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/04/easter-6-c-peace-the-world-cannot-give/

[2] https://dancingwiththeword.com/when-peace-like-a-river/

[3] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/04/easter-6-c-peace-the-world-cannot-give/

[4] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/04/easter-6-c-peace-the-world-cannot-give/

The Love Command

“The Love Command”

John 13:31-35 (13:34) – May 15, 2022

When I mention the word “love,” what do you think of? For me, it’s different things at different times. When I thought of the modern conception of love this time, what came to mind were the hearts and flowers of romantic love. You know the kinds of expressions I mean. Hearts, flowers, Valentine’s Day, frilly lace, and all the rest. This is not the kind of love our Lord had in mind.  Our modern ideas of love hardly scratch the surface of Jesus’ expression of love.

John shows us the extended conversation Jesus had with His friends on that last Thursday night, the night before He died on the Cross. Jesus said many poignant, important things to His disciples. Some of them were even commands! Like this one here, from John chapter 13.

            The disciples followed their Rabbi around Palestine for three years. Living together, rubbing shoulders and elbows together, those itinerant people got particularly close. That can happen when people travel and live in close quarters with one another! Now, at the culmination of all things, Jesus gives His disciples a new command. He even highlights it! “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Jesus made sure all of His friends knew it was a command!

            Shallow people comment, thinking about valentines, candy and chocolates, and champagne toasts of romantic love. Can’t you hear them already? “Oh, how wonderful of Jesus! I love everybody already. I’m a good Christian.”

Let’s take a closer look at what exactly Jesus was asking.

            Sure, the Gospel of John mentions the disciples loving one another. But – John’s Gospel also has passages about other kinds of people, too. Nicodemus was a respected member of the Jewish religious rulers, the Sanhedrin. By and large, the Jewish rulers were no friends of the Rabbi Jesus. What about the half-Jew, the Samaritan woman of chapter 4? She was also an outcast in her own town.  

Did Jesus show any hesitation in His interaction with either one? Wasn’t He caring, loving and honest with each of them, just as He was with everyone else?

            Jesus was the ultimate in being open, loving and honest to everyone. No matter who, no matter where, no matter what faith tradition, social strata, ethnicity, or any other designation.  Jesus is commanding us to love in the same way. Not only towards strangers, but towards friends, as well. That can be even more difficult sometimes.

            “Here in John chapter 13, Jesus demonstrates his love for the same disciples who will fail him miserably. Jesus washes and feeds Judas who will betray him, Peter who will deny him, and all the rest who will fail to stand by him in his hour of greatest distress. The love that Jesus demonstrates is certainly not based on the merit of the recipients, and Jesus commands his disciples to love others in the same way.” [1]

            I get set back quite a lot when I realize the full ramifications of that Jesus-kind-of-love. Whoa, Lord! You don’t really expect me to be that way with people who insult me, or are mean to me, or disrespect me, do You? Umm. I kind of think that is exactly what Jesus means. Love them. No “but, what if…?” Love them.

I post on social media regularly, both for my personal media accounts as well as for St. Luke’s Church. This was a post I made for yesterday, Saturday, exactly mirroring this command of our Lord’s. “Confused about the Christian response to social issues? Here’s a handy reference: Male? Love them. Female? Love them. Unsure? Love them. Gay? Love them. Straight? Love them. Unsure? Love them. Addict? Love them. Sober? Love them. Unsure? Love them. Believer? Love them. Unbeliever? Love them. Unsure? Love them.”

And, this is not just a suggestion. Jesus makes it a command. If you and I want to follow Jesus, this is one of the requirements. Some well-meaning believers say that other people may not merit Jesus’ love, for whatever reason. Gosh, I don’t merit Jesus’ love a lot of the time! But, that makes no difference. Jesus still loves us, Unconditionally. No matter what. Plus, Jesus commands us to love others in the same way. The same ultimate, above-and-beyond, bottomless way.

“Jesus goes to the cross to demonstrate that, in fact, “God so loved the world.” Jesus went to the cross to show in word and deed that God is love and that we, as God’s children, are loved. So whether we succeed or fail in our attempts to love one another this week, yet God in Jesus loves us more than we can possibly imagine. And hearing of this love we are set free and sent forth, once again, to love another.[2]

Alleluia, 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/fifth-sunday-of-easter-3/commentary-on-john-1331-35

Commentary, John 13:31-35, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2016.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/on-loving-and-not-loving-one-another

“On Loving – and Not Loving – One Another,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.

Surely Goodness and Mercy

“Surely Goodness and Mercy”

Psalm 23 (23:6) – May 8, 2022

            Words matter. The words you and I choose to use really do matter. How do you speak about God? Do you – do I – speak of God as being a strict, even punitive taskmaster? Perhaps we speak of God as distant, and really far away, not to be bothered with our petty little affairs here on earth. Do the words you and I use about God show others God’s marvelous love and care? Or do those words show how scary and intimidating God is, instead?

            Our Scripture reading today comes from the book of Psalms, and is one of the most familiar and beloved readings in the whole Bible, in either the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament. Countless people have turned to Psalm 23 for peace, for reassurance, in times of anxiety or struggle, and even in times of great joy. This psalm is a psalm for the ages, and has been read for centuries by believers, skeptics and atheists alike.

            What words does King David have to say about the Lord? We can see those words of trust and encouragement throughout this psalm. For, this is indeed a song of praise to God and comfort to one another!

            Except, what if David’s trusting expressions for the Lord are not what you and I might say to God? Or, about God? What if we think of the Lord as something other than a loving Shepherd? What other words do you and I have to describe our Shepherd? Strict? Angry? Distant? What about disapproving? Even, unforgiving? This is not the way that I came to know the Lord Jesus, as a child in Sunday school. I came to know Him as a loving Shepherd!

            One of my favorite commentators Carolyn Brown reminds us that “it is important to recognize that the Good Shepherd is a metaphor and children have a hard time with metaphors.  Studies show that most children do not develop the brain skill of transference that is necessary to understand metaphors until they are into adolescence.  But, the Bible and our worship is filled with metaphors.  I suspect that we help the children claim them when we carefully explore the details of a few key ones, expecting them to become familiar with the concrete part of the metaphor and some of the spiritual realities it embodies, but not fully making the connection until later.  The Good Shepherd is definitely one of those key metaphors. 

“Dr. Maria Montessori reports that while working in a children’s hospital she found that when she told sick children stories about the Good Shepherd using small wooden figures, they almost all grabbed the [shepherd] figure and held onto it “for keeps.”  So the Good Shepherd made sense to them in some way.” [1]

That is all very well, to talk about the Shepherd psalm as literature and as a metaphor. But, can I personalize this scripture reading, and get some meaning out of it for me? Where am I in this psalm? Where are you? Can we see ourselves in this scripture passage?

            Yes, I certainly can, and I hope you can, too. I can recognize myself throughout. David compares himself to a sheep, here, and the Lord God is the Good Shepherd. So, when I look at this psalm, I find I have no problem seeing myself as a sheep, too. If you imagine with me here, we can all identify as sheep in the flock that Jesus our Good Shepherd herds.

I want us to focus on one particular idea from verse 4 of this very personal psalm. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley . . . “  King David had some scary experiences, and downright dangerous ones, as well. Even though he had already been anointed as king by the prophet Samuel, there was a problem . . . in the person of King Saul. King Saul was still claiming to be king, and he sent his soldiers after David for a whole bunch of years. So, David was seriously on the run for his life, for a long time. He got into some really tight situations after being acknowledged as king by the people of Israel, too. He lost friends and family to illness and death. And I am sure he was scared over the years, much more than once or twice.

In the same way, it does not matter how strong of a believer you or I happen to be, it can be terrifying to walk in the darkest valley, whatever that dark valley of our life may be. Believers, whatever their personal or inner strength may be, cannot help but be frightened.

It is scary to walk through the dark valleys of life. I see people who are walking through some of life’s darkest valleys on a weekly basis, even on a daily basis. In my chaplain’s work at Unity Hospice, I meet with patients and their loved ones who at times are in denial, fearful, or angry. Sometimes, they even may be serene and accepting of that valley of shadow.

            Phillip Keller, a pastor who had also been a sheep farmer, or shepherd, for about eight years, wrote a book called A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. Rev. Keller was brought up in East Africa, surrounded by native herders. Their manner of herding sheep was very similar to the way their counterparts in the Middle East herded sheep.

            In talking about this verse from the psalm, Rev. Keller mentions that a good shepherd knows every step of the rough terrain his sheep are likely to tread upon. The good shepherd knows the difficulties and the dangers of the land, as well as the easy places, the pleasant, sheltered places. That’s true, in our case, too. God knows where each of us has been, and where each of us is going. God knows our every step, and our every misstep, too. God goes ahead of us, to look over the terrain, and check out any adverse conditions. There are no surprises to God.

            So, is it any wonder that this psalm ends with the marvelous words “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” God knows where we have been, and God knows where each of us is going. And, God is right by our sides all the way. God will lead us home, no matter what. That is good news for all of us! Alleluia, amen.


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/03/year-b-fourth-sunday-of-easter-april-26.html

@chaplaineliza

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

Get Up and Go!

“Get Up and Go!”

Acts 9:1-9 (9:6) – May 1, 2022

            Wouldn’t it be marvelous to live back in Bible times? I mean, during the times when God actually demonstrated God’s power to us common folks? I suspect many people would really like to see heavenly light, hear Jesus’s voice, perhaps even be blinded – but only for three days. Are you – am I – kind of jealous of people back in the Bible, like the Apostle Paul? [1] He really and truly saw the risen Jesus face to face, and experienced His power, first-hand! What must that have been like? Absolutely marvelous!

            We can see people experience the power of God all over the Bible. This week, we take a close look at the Apostle Paul, when he came to know the Lord Jesus, up close and personal. The Rabbi Saul, as he was known, was faithful to his Lord Jehovah to an amazing degree. A Pharisee of the Pharisees by his own account, the Rabbi Saul had zeal to spare against the people he saw as upstart enemies of what he saw as the true faith – the Jewish faith.

The Church today knows the Apostle Paul as a pillar of the early church! How did this sudden change, this 180-degree turnaround, come about?

            What was the set-up of this narrative? “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”

While he traveled around the country hauling these religious upstarts into custody, something absolutely extraordinary happened to Saul. We get a second-hand account from Dr. Luke here in Acts chapter 9. “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

This Greek word, an imperative verb in verse 3, is often omitted in translations. Literally, egeneto! One of Dr. Luke’s favorite words: “Then, it happens!” Another way of saying, “Wham!” This word signals the surprising entry of God into ordinary, every-day events! We see a heavenly light flash around Saul. [2]

Wow! Can you imagine? Just think, the risen Lord Jesus stopping you – me – in our tracks and throwing us to the ground. I would imagine that the Rabbi Saul is totally flummoxed by this astonishing train of events. I ask again. Are you jealous of people in the Bible – maybe even of the apostle Paul – for having such a dramatic confrontation with Jesus?

Let’s get back to the narrative. What happens next? “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

Wow! We can see that the command of the risen Jesus quickly cuts to the chase (9:6). “Get up and go into the city.” There is no argument or explanation, and one gets the sense that Saul’s objectives in the city of Damascus will be changed. The exact words of Jesus are “And you will be told what it is necessary for you to do” (translated from the original Greek).[3]

            As we examine this story more closely, first, we can be shocked and astounded with the Rabbi Saul. Thrown onto the ground by a bolt of lightning! Jesus enters into Saul’s life in a surprising new way. Jesus can enter into our lives in a very real and very sudden way, too.

            We are NOT living in Bible times today. You and I do NOT routinely have a Damascus road experience, like the Rabbi Saul. (Or, should I say the Apostle Paul?) Yes, we can see that Paul had a life-changing experience with the risen Jesus, just as we have been examining with others, in these weeks following Easter.

            Paul reminds his friends in Corinth, in 1 Corinthians 15 “Jesus was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles.”

            We are not living in Bible times, but we can hear the words of Jesus, too. All we need to do is to open the Gospels. Jesus is speaking to us today just as much and just as clearly as He spoke to the disciples and the others hearing Him, 2000 years ago. What’s more, anyone can hear Jesus. What makes the difference is when we truly hear and respond to Jesus.

And, we can take Jesus’s words to heart. His command to Saul to “Get up and go!” gave Saul (now Paul) direction for the rest of his life. Can we take direction from that command? Be willing to go to new or unexpected places. Even down the street. Even across town. Even across the country.

            We see the Apostle Paul, who had a sudden 180-degree transformation in his life because of his encounter with the risen Lord Jesus. His life was never the same. What about you and me? Can our lives be transformed by Jesus, too? Perhaps not as radically altered, as when He sent the followers of Jesus as missionaries into far-flung places in the world. But maybe, our lives can be renewed. Perhaps we can see with new eyes. You and I are welcomed into renewed relationships because of our encounter with the risen Christ – today!

•We are called to get up and go – in the name of Jesus.

Alleluia, amen!


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/03/year-c-third-sunday-of-easter-april-14.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 3C, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2013.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/third-sunday-of-easter-3/commentary-on-acts-91-6-7-20-2

[3] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

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

That You May Believe

“That You May Believe”

John 20:19-20, 24-31 (20:30-31) – April 24, 2022

            Have you ever missed a really exciting event? Perhaps a big game or sports playoff? You had tickets, but at the last minute you got sick – or couldn’t go? And then, something really exciting happened at the game? Just recall what it felt like to miss out on something big like that! Frustrating, perhaps sad-making? Maybe you were even upset and angry? How do you think the disciple Thomas felt, missing out on the risen Jesus and His surprise first appearance?

            Let’s consider today’s narrative. John tells us in his Gospel: “Now Thomas (also known as Didymus, or “the Twin”), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” I suspect Thomas was gently ridiculed by his friends for not believing. But, Jesus did not return to His disciples for a full week, either.

            I don’t blame Thomas one bit for wanting some verifiable evidence, evidence he could see with his own eyes. I mean, this story the other disciples told him – it was a wild story, to be sure! Wouldn’t you want to see proof of such a thing for yourself before you swallowed the story, hook, line and sinker?   

            Thomas has gotten a bad rap for centuries. Imagine, having the nickname “Doubting Thomas” hung around your neck! Whenever anyone brings up your name, everyone always goes back to that single instance in your life. We can change that up, and look at Thomas as someone who really wonders. Someone who is curious and honest! What else can we say about Thomas?

            If we remember, Thomas was the disciple who cared enough – who was passionate enough about what Jesus was saying – to interrupt Jesus! In John chapter 14, Thomas did not understand, and he stopped Jesus in the middle of a statement. Jesus welcomed Thomas’s question! And, I am certain that that was not the only time Thomas asked his Rabbi a question. Thomas was a sincere seeker, and he truly wanted to know. To understand. And, to have proof. This is a good reminder for all of us: There is no honest question God cannot handle.

            It is important for everyone to keep wondering, and to continue to ask honest, sincere questions! Do you remember how your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews went through a time in their lives when they asked constant questions? “Why is the sky blue?” “How does the grass grow?” and “What kind of music does God like?”

Do you have questions for God? Is there a burning question you wish to ask Jesus, that you very much want to have answered? Perhaps a question about the whole Easter narrative, what we have been looking at during this Easter season? Remember, God has given us good minds and sensibilities, to help us figure things out in life. Even Godly things. God wants us to use our brains and celebrate our intelligence! Just like Thomas.

In the Upper Room, it’s like Jesus said, “Thomas, I know you don’t understand what is happening, But, whatever happens, I will be with you. You’ve got me.” It isn’t necessary to have a reasoned argument in every case – but we do need a faithful, loving presence, all the time. In Jesus, we have that!

            But, sometimes, people are scared to approach Jesus. Shy of pestering God. Are we straight forward? I mean, in terms of God? Thomas was! By the time Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the Jewish authorities very much wanted to arrest the Rabbi Jesus. Thomas actually voiced the statement that going to Jerusalem was now a reckless, even foolish act. Thomas was a realist, and was not afraid to say what he meant, even when Jesus insisted He was going to Jerusalem anyway. Thomas finished that interaction with the bold, faithful statement, “Let us go and die with him.” Whatever else we say about Thomas, we can see how brave and loyal he was.

            Which brings us back to today’s reading from the Gospel of John. 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas needed to see for himself. He needed concrete evidence. (as some people do!) After Jesus returned and invited Thomas to place his fingers in the scars, Thomas made the most stirring confession of faith in the New Testament: “My Lord and my God!” His skepticism – his realistic questioning – was turned to certain, true belief. That was Thomas’s statement of faith! Thomas the realist. Loyal, bold, brave Thomas.

            Let’s move from Thomas, who has been known as a doubter. (Even though he probably was not, as we can see from the Gospel record!) Let’s think about doubting, in general. Which of us has never, ever doubted in our lives? I suspect all of us have had a whole wilderness of doubts and uncertainties in our lives! What do we doubt? Are we ever unsure about Jesus and His claims? About Jesus and His presence right next to us? About God’s faithful love for us?  

            Perhaps Thomas’s confession cancels out his previous question in the Upper Room, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Perhaps that is why John finishes chapter 20 with the words “30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

            We can rejoice in the Resurrection! And, we can rejoice by believing in Jesus, the Resurrected One, and have life in His name – eternal life! Alleluia, amen!            

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to Carolyn C. Brown and her excellent article Worshiping with Children, Easter 2C, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016. For this sermon, I took a number of ideas from her suggestions for the Gospel reading. Wonderful commentary, too!)

He Is Risen, Indeed!

“He Is Risen, Indeed!”

Luke 24:1-12 (24:7-8) – April 17, 2022

            Have you ever experienced an awful happening? The worst day of your life? Crying until you feel you have no more tears to shed? The women who followed the Rabbi Jesus for several years just had that happen, on Good Friday.

            Let us try to see things through their eyes – the women who had faithfully followed Jesus for several years.  The women probably shared many of the burdens, the tasks, the logistics of getting a large group of people from place to place, with enough food supplies, and places to stay in the various towns throughout Palestine. Sure, they had heard the Rabbi Jesus say at various times that He would die. Perhaps even that He might be killed by the Roman authorities.

But, not like this! Not so soon! Everything ended in a way for which none of them were prepared. The women were brokenhearted and confused. Wouldn’t you be, too?  

I am now working as a hospice chaplain. I journey with families and loved ones through the most awful days and nights of their lives; this is part and parcel of what hospice chaplains do, on a regular basis. I talk with patients and families as they deal with very difficult situations, regularly. Sometimes I simply hold their hands, providing comforting ministry of presence. And, often times, that is enough. I wonder whether the women at the Cross had someone to do that for them? I wonder who came alongside of the women in their time of great grief?

Dr. Luke tells us “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.” He even lists some of the women who went: it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them.

“The women who followed Jesus buried him so quickly, they could not put spices on his body. The next day was the Sabbath, so they rested as God commanded in his Law…. The women who followed Jesus performed a charitable work. Burying the dead was a social expectation.” So, part of what the women customarily would do at the grave or tomb of a loved one or relative is to prepare and anoint the body. This was a social custom and practice of the day. But, “what they saw stretched them far beyond their comfort zone and thrust them into a completely new realm.” [1]

What happened at that tomb on Easter Sunday was so miraculous, I cannot blame anyone for being filled with unbelief! Would you or I have immediately believed that God raised our teacher Jesus from the dead, after all of the pain and trauma of the previous 48 hours? Not to mention the tension and fear of the past week since Palm Sunday, with the Jewish and Roman authorities suspicious of any sign of sedition and disruption in Jerusalem?

Countless people throughout the centuries have contemplated this series of events of the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus, and have walked the Via Dolorosa, the path of the Cross with Him. Truly, this time of grieving and pain is where many people find themselves right now. As a chaplain, I feel great compassion for these dear people. I wish to let them know that Jesus comes alongside of them in their grief, in their loneliness, in their depression, and especially in the dark times – because Jesus Himself traveled through incredibly dark times.

Two thousand years after the fact, ministers around the world are preaching on this Easter morning. Many of these preachers work hard on their sermons, knowing that they will have the opportunity to speak to people who do not usually attend worship services on a regular basis. And truly, today’s Easter celebration holds the Greatest Story Ever Told. Except, I am reminded that some may say “Alleluia!” quietly, even through grief, loss and very personal sadness.

Sometimes, it is enough for us to open our hearts and our hands gently, in praise, in our pews or in our homes. Other times, the glory and majesty of an Easter celebration service is exactly what people need. Neither way of worship is “wrong,” and any praise and gratitude to God is always welcome!

Dr. Luke tells us that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them had a simple message, a profound statement about this miracle they reported to the men disciples. “I have seen the Lord!” “It’s hard to imagine a better sermon than Mary Magdalene’s on that first Easter morning. Short and memorable and to the point. Easily fits on the church sign for all to see. Sure, [preachers] may need to flesh it out a little because people expect an Easter sermon to be longer than one sentence, but not that much.” [2]

And, the best thing about this simple statement is that we can praise God, wherever we are at the moment. We can come before the Lord with loud acclimation, or with quiet meditation. We can thank our Lord Jesus for all that He did and all that He is.

The great Good News of the risen Christ is simple and straightforward And, yes! We can all proclaim that He is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! Our Lord Jesus conquered death, once for all. The best news in the universe is this: Jesus Christ still lives! He reigns forever and ever.

A church I attended years ago closed every Easter service with the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah.” Whether we proclaim it loudly or meditate on it quietly in our hearts, Jesus now reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Hallelujah! Amen!

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/Seasonal/EasterVigil/A-EasterVigil-c.html

“Life on the Edge,” Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Catholic Resource for This Sunday’s Gospel.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/true-resurrection

“True Resurrection,” Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2016.

All We Have Gone Astray

“All We Have Gone Astray”

Isaiah 53:1-7 (53:6) – April 15, 2022

            On this day – this night – of Good Friday, we finish our Lenten journey. We walk the way of Jesus, to the Cross. This bitter, grievous Biblical event and the other heartbreaking parts of the Passion are widely depicted in art and music. Music is so important to me, and I relate to much of the musical settings of the Passion and of Good Friday.

            This Passion Week can be overwhelming. Today’s story is the big story to which all the rest of the week has been leading us. As we walk (or listen) through these stories, I encourage you to take them one at a time. I invite all of us to focus on that one part; pray and meditate on the event depicted.

            What songs, what hymns, what pieces of music come to your mind as you think of this bitter event in our Lord Jesus’s time here on earth? Musical settings of Scripture come to my mind right now. I am especially remembering George Frederic Handel and the second section of his oratorio “Messiah.” All have words of Scripture, and all are gorgeous musical settings.

            Nancy read a portion of Isaiah 53 just now, and this Scripture is found in three choruses, which follow each other in quick succession in Part II of the “Messiah.” I sang in the chorus of music majors at the undergrad college I attended. Each year we sang “Messiah,” and singing this masterpiece was one of the highlights of my school years there.

            The lyrics of the first chorus? “Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities.” I invite you to enter into the profound grief of this Scripture reading. As He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, we can receive and attempt to understand what our Lord Jesus bore. He bore it all for our sakes.   

            The second chorus is somber and incredibly moving. “And with His stripes we are healed.” I am led to consider my own unrighteousness. Jesus took the sins of the world upon Himself. Through the events of that arrest and trials on Thursday night and Friday morning, Jesus was beaten. Somehow, a healing comes from the stripes, the bitter lashes in some way. It is so difficult to contemplate, but the book of Isaiah tells us it was for our corporate healing.

            The third chorus from Part II: “All we like sheep have gone astray.” The lightness of the opening of the chorus is fitting for sheep, gamboling about in green pastures. Musically, they go every which way, as the bright lines of polyphony lead us in separate directions. Yet, the homophonic finish brings us all to a sharp realization. The Lord has indeed laid on Jesus Christ the iniquity of us all.

            As a result of our Lord taking upon Himself our iniquity, “we are no longer defined by our sin, our iniquities, our sorrows, our transgressions. All are defined by Christ’s death. God’s mercy revealed in the ugliness of Christ’s crucifixion defines us all.” [1]

            We have a postscript, a coda on the life of George Frederic Handel. A few days before Handel died, he expressed his desire to die on Good Friday, “in the hopes of meeting his good God, his sweet Lord and Savior, on the day of his Resurrection.” He lived until the morning of Good Saturday, April 14, 1759. His death came only eight days after his final performance, at which he had conducted his masterpiece, “Messiah.” Handel was buried in Westminster Abbey, with over three thousand in attendance at his funeral. A statue erected there shows him holding the manuscript for the solo that opens part III of “Messiah,” “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” [2]

            Yes, the events of Good Friday are bitter and overwhelming. Yet, we can remember Christ bears all our iniquities. Christ gives us His righteousness freely. As the statue standing watch by Handel’s grave testifies, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

Through Jesus Christ, His Passion, and death, and Resurrection, we are forgiven! Believe the Good News of the Gospel! Amen, and amen.


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/good-friday/commentary-on-isaiah-5213-5312-8

[2] https://revelationcentral.com/the-story-of-handels-messiah/

@chaplaineliza

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

In Remembrance

“In Remembrance”

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (11:24) – April 14, 2022

          Many people wonder about Maundy Thursday. Some know it is a part of Holy Week, the final week when Jesus was on earth. It’s also called Holy Thursday, the day that Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. But, many people are not even sure about what “Maundy” means, anyway? “Maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum (or commandment). It’s used for our Lord Jesus’ words “I give you a new commandment,” spoken at that Passover dinner on the night before the Crucifixion. In other words, commemorated tonight.            

This service tonight is not just for adults – by no means! One of my favorite biblical commentators is Carolyn Brown, a retired Presbyterian Children’s Ministry Director. She notes that, sadly, many congregations do not encourage children or even young people to attend these Holy Week services. “The fact that it is on a school night makes it easy to decide that children will not be able to come and therefore to neither plan for their presence nor encourage them and their families to come.  After a few years of such expectations it takes more than one or two “children are welcome” notes to reverse the trend.” [1]

We are going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper tonight, as is celebrated at many churches. Many congregations and churches do not include children in observing Communion! Why on earth did this happen? Paul reminded his readers that our Lord Jesus commanded His disciples – His followers – to partake or participate in the Lord’s Supper. And, whenever we partake, we do this in remembrance of Jesus! Meals and memory do get all tied up together, don’t they?

Paul wrote to his friends and former church members when he wrote the letters to the Corinthian church. This was a church that was fighting. The congregation members had some serious issues! Looking at Paul’s letter as a whole, people were bickering, arguing, and sometimes even bringing lawsuits against each other. And in the middle of all of Paul’s advice to the church members, he puts this marvelous assurance of the presence of the risen Lord Jesus! Paul also corrects some other practices, like eating in joint congregational meals.

“The supper of unity has become one of disunity. As Paul says, “When the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk . . . do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (11: 21-22) The major conflict is between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the rich and the poor, revealing the socioeconomic tension at the Corinthian table.” [2] 
          Talk about problems in the church today! Differences between the “haves” and “have-nots,” conflict between believers of different languages, leaving out the children and the young people, plus fighting between people who have differing (even conflicting) beliefs about the meaning of the Lord’s Supper! What sort of joining together, or unifying demonstration of followers of Jesus Christ is this?

Stories are important on this night. The key story we highlight is the bread and cup of the Last Supper.  But, the failure of the church in Corinth to gather as a loving community to celebrate communion is also important! And, we all need to remember the commemoration of the Passover dinner is also part of this special night. Meals and memory are important!

In the letter to the Corinthian church, “Paul is not talking about the Lord’s Supper as a liturgical rite in a church building. At this point in history, there were no separate buildings for Christian worship. The Lord’s Supper was a meal eaten by a community in private homes, pot-luck style. The Lord’s Supper happened as part of the common meal.” [3]

In fact, some churches do celebrate Communion on special occasions in this way – commonly called a Love Feast, congregations gather around a table for a meal. They break bread with one another, with the Lord’s Supper as a highlight of this meal.

Paul had a concern for the proper eating and drinking of the Eucharist at this first-century common meal: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Equally important, Paul wants us to recognize the body of Christ in our brothers and sisters. “To properly discern the body at the table means that we cannot come while leaving others uninvited and unwelcomed, or without mourning their absence. We cannot leave the table and be content to leave anyone hungry. To discern the body in the Supper will send us into the world with new eyes and new hearts, to encounter Christ there.” [4]

We come to the Communion table for a whole host of reasons, then! We give a clear invitation to families to join all God’s people! Everyone hears the stories of the most important days of the year and celebrates this holy sacrament that was introduced on that night.  Remember, “the Eucharist has added power on Maundy Thursday.  Just to be there participating in the sacrament on this night says that I am one of God’s people.”  All of us are God’s people!  Because each of us are welcomed at this table, I belong. You belong. God extends a welcome to each one of us.

Who would Jesus welcome to His table? Each one. Every one. Even you, even me. Amen! 


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/02/year-holy-or-maundy-thursday-april-17.html

[2] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=67

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/maundy-thursday/commentary-on-1-corinthians-1123-26-12

@chaplaineliza

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

Blessed Is the One Who Comes!

“Blessed Is the One Who Comes!”

Luke 19:28-40 (19:38) – April 10, 2022

            The Palm Sunday procession is a much-loved tradition in many churches. Some churches get the whole congregation involved! Have you ever been in a Palm Sunday procession? I have, when my older children were small. Families were encouraged to march together that year. The whole congregation was invited to participate!

            Have you ever thought of what Jesus might do if He were making a Palm Sunday procession today? If Jesus were to ride into our town today, what would be His means of transportation? How would Jesus enter the city? Perhaps a big, shiny black SUV, surrounded by His security personnel? (I mean, His disciples?) I leave that to you to think about.

            From all the descriptions of the Palm Sunday Triumphant Entry in all four Gospels, this big procession is what we are looking at today in our scripture passage. Except, Jesus did not ride a big white horse when He rode into town. That is exactly what a powerful king would have done, in Jesus’s day! What, a donkey-riding king? How ridiculous!

Let’s take a closer look. Here’s the situation: It’s almost Passover, the most important religious observance of the year. A great number of faithful Jews from near and far come to Jerusalem, in pilgrimage, in commemoration of the exodus event.  

Jesus comes, too. He publicly, intentionally enters Jerusalem, even though the religious leaders are not very pleased with Him or what He has been doing for the past few years. Even though Luke does not mention the prophecy in the book of Zechariah (which the other Gospels do), Jesus’s disciples must have known about the prophecy of an entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. This was clearly a scene with “Messiah” written all over it.  

This Sunday is the last Sunday in Lent, and the last petition in the Lord’s Prayer we examine. This Sunday, we highlight “for Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever!” What more appropriate day to highlight this petition? Today is the day that many people in Jerusalem welcome their King, their Messiah. And Jesus does not sneak into the city, all hush-hush. No! He comes in with a procession. With crowds of people waving palms and shouting “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”

What is the meaning of those cries of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is the King?” If we look at Psalm 118, we’ll find these words written by the psalmist. This was the usual Passover greeting one person would give another, except with the addition of the word “King.” And just to let you all know, the majority of the crowd in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday morning understood what they were quoting—they were intentionally welcoming someone they hoped would be their Messiah, their King! Someone who would save them from the awful situation they were in.

            There was a disconnect between the people and their limited understanding, and what Jesus actually was going to do. But I’m getting ahead of myself by rushing on to later in Holy Week. We are still here on Palm Sunday. And many people are still excited to welcome the Rabbi Jesus—their hoped-for Messiah—into the city. They are hoping He will save them from the Romans and maybe, possibly, become their King. Except they had an earthly King in mind, an earthly, powerful Messiah!

Let’s read on in our scripture passage for today. Dr. Luke makes another striking statement. He starts to mention “peace.” “Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest!” What on earth is Luke mentioning “peace” for?

This sentence is an echo of the Gloria in excelsis Deo that the angels—the heavenly host—sang at the birth of the baby Jesus, several decades before. I know the heavenly host gave the shepherds good news of great joy, but wouldn’t that be good news for anybody? I know that was good news at the time Jesus was born, but isn’t that good news for today, as well? Peace? Glory in the highest? The difference is that at Jesus’s birth, it was peace on earth. Now, the crowd is saying “Peace in heaven.”

            When Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowd prays for peace in heaven. But, the coming of Jesus causes a division. It causes anything but peace on earth. The theologian Tom Mullen in his book Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences makes this statement about his denomination the Society of Friends: “They work for peace — and if you really want to cause conflict, you work for peace” So it was for the Rabbi Jesus—the Messiah Jesus riding into Jerusalem. For all that Jesus wanted to bring peace, His message created division, tension, and crisis—as seen by the violent reaction of the religious leaders.

            Thank God, Jesus is more powerful than any division, any tension, any crisis. He entered the city not as an earthly King, not as a conqueror, not to set up a nationalistic empire, but as the True Redeemer of Israel. And not of just Israel, but also of the whole world. This Holy Week is where all of the prophecies focus to a fine point, and reveal the Rabbi Jesus as not only the Messiah and King, but also as the Suffering Servant. The Lamb of God, sent to take away the sins of the world.

            As we remember this Passover time, this Holy Week, we can thank God that our Lord Jesus did enter Jerusalem. As a King, as a Messiah, yes! But, also as our Redeemer and Savior. Praise God, Jesus is our Redeemer and Savior, just as much as He was Redeemer and Savior for that crowd at the procession in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday. In the first century, Jesus came to save His people from their sins. Even today, Jesus wants us to know He came to save people from their sins. Praise God, He came to save you and me, too! Amen! And amen!

@chaplaineliza

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

Hallowed Is Christ Jesus

“Hallowed Is Christ Jesus”

Philippians 3:4b-14 (3:8-9) – April 3, 2022

            Lots of words are old-fashioned. To say it another way, lots of words in the dictionary are words not much used today. Many people don’t know quite what they really mean. Have you ever thought about the word “hallowed?” I know, we say the word regularly when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. But, what does that word truly mean?

            In our Scripture reading today from Philippians chapter 3, Paul makes some audacious, over-the-top statements about himself. But more than that, Paul makes some extraordinary statements about Jesus. Paul’s total commitment is to Jesus Christ. Paul gives and lives as he does because he knows God (Jesus Christ) is hallowed. Sadly, many people do not have a clear idea about the word hallowed.  Before we can pray the Lord’s Prayer with understanding, we all need to learn that hallowed is another word for holy. Separated. Set apart[1]

            Think about it: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”

            Let’s back up, and take a closer look at this reading. Paul starts out by clearly boasting about himself. Writing to fellow believers in Philippi, Paul admits that his heritage and reputation could give him more reason than most people to place confidence in his spiritual pedigree. [2] This is one place where we can learn a great deal about the Apostle Paul! He goes over his resume, essentially, ticking off his wonderful credentials one by one. This is a surefire way to lift himself up, certainly. Talk about being a show-off!

            Do you recognize anyone you know in these words of Paul? I am reminded of people who are obsessed with important credentials, boastful and really full of themselves. This could be people trying awfully hard to get ahead, to claw their way to the top, by making sure their resume is top notch. Only having the best of the best listed on that piece of paper!

            Was this kind of activity putting God first? And, what about these boastful, obsessed people – do they have any sort of relationship with God? Do they consider God holy, or hallowed? Or do they ever think of God at all, except for paying God lip service on those occasional times when they recited the Lord’s Prayer?

            But, those are only the first three verses of our reading. Paul does an abrupt about-face in verses 7 and 8. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” See how the Apostle Paul makes another extraordinary statement? The overwhelming grace of God – the surpassing worth of knowing Christ – calls Paul to a new, heavenly set of values.

            We will shortly be celebrating Communion, after this sermon. Here at this church, we do not usually say the Sanctus as a part of the Communion liturgy, since we use a shorter form of that section of the service. This part of the Communion liturgy is quite ancient. Here is the Sanctus: “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord, God of Hosts! Heaven and earth are full of your glory!”  

            See how this statement fits into that Godly set of values from the Apostle Paul! “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”

I invite you to consider the Sanctus when saying the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer. Imagine joining everyone who ever lived, lives now, and is already in heaven saying together that God’s name is hallowed. Because – God truly is holy!

What does Paul say next? “I consider [my worldly gains] garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith inChrist—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” Paul describes the value of all these worldly gains – all his marvelous resume – comparing it to the value system of the kingdom of Christ Jesus his Lord — complete rubbish! Absolute trash! That is where his outstanding resume belongs, compared to Christ Jesus our Lord!

               The Gospel reading for today comes from John 12, where Mary anoints Jesus’ feet while He is at dinner, in preparation for His death. “Like Mary pouring out her love by pouring expensive perfume, Paul shows his love and desire to know Christ by pouring out his credentials and achievements, his life, and considering them all rubbish (the Greek word also means “dung” and “excrement”) in comparison to the life to be gained in Christ.” [3]

            How much more can we consider our Lord to be holy? How much more meaningful can it be to say “Our Father, who are in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name,” compared to worldly credentials, or mere human achievements – compared to Christ Jesus our Lord.

            Paul’s goal, and our goal, is to know Christ! That holy, hallowed, set-apart Son of God, the one who reconciled us to God and bestowed upon all of us God’s gift of His righteousness. Praise God, Christ has redeemed us and we now walk in the newness of life.

            One last call to action, from the Apostle Paul: we are to straighten our priorities. Follow God’s priorities, God’s values, and follow Jesus. Make it your priority – my priority – our calling to know Christ intimately, and the power of His resurrection. Then, we surely can pray “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name,” not only understand it, but mean it, too! Thanks be to God.

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/02/year-c-fifth-sunday-in-lent-march-13.html

[2] https://desperatepreacher.com//texts/phil3_4/phil3_4.htm

[3] https://desperatepreacher.com//texts/phil3_4/phil3_4.htm

The Parable of the Forgiving Father

“The Parable of the Forgiving Father”

Luke 15:11-32 (15:21) – March 27, 2022

            This week we come to a story from Jesus that is beloved by many. One of the best known of the parables, one that resonates with the heart and soul of many. It’s the story of two brothers and a father, the story of discontent and disgruntlement, the story of wandering in a far country, the story of return, and most of all, the story of forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption.

Eileen began this parable with the first half of the Scripture reading this morning. We set the stage with the Rabbi Jesus teaching amongst a large crowd. The tax collectors and sinners crowded close to hear Him, but some prim and proper townsfolk objected. (Objected both to the “dregs of society” and to the Rabbi Jesus welcoming and teaching them.)

            When prim and proper folk gripe and complain about you or your friends showing a loving, caring welcome to others, what is your response? We know what Jesus’ response was: this parable of two brothers and a father.

            We know what happened. The younger brother became discontented with his lot, his place in life and in the family. I am not sure whether you know, but upon their father’s death, the older son would receive twice as much as the younger son. That was the culture and custom of the Jewish tradition at that time. The younger son would only receive one third of the father’s assets – after the father died. But – the father in this parable was still alive, and well, and able to walk, talk and reason.

            Can you believe the audacity of this son, asking right now for what he would receive after his father’s death…before the death actually happened? This was unheard of! What kind of disrespect was this? The height of disrespect from this discontented, disgruntled son!

            One title this parable could have is “The Story of the Lost Son,” because the younger brother goes to a far country, spends all his money in riotous, profligate living, eventually doesn’t have a penny to his name, and is forced to herd pigs for a farmer just to scrape by and earn a pittance. After feeling sorry for himself, the younger brother finally wakes up.

            Let’s hear what Dr. Luke says about this younger brother: “17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.”

            Did you hear? This son came to his senses! He realized how good he had it in his father’s house! At least this younger brother had the sense to return to his father.

            Meanwhile, we have the older brother, back at home. This brother is doing his duty, working in the fields, obedient to his father’s wishes. Except, what was his attitude? Was he sour? Resentful? Feeling locked in and in a boxed-in place? Could this parable featuring the older brother also be called “the Story of the Lost Son?” Can we see some discontent and disgruntlement coming from the older son?

            Let’s move to the father, and hear the next part of the story. ““But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

            Hold it! Now we are going to get further information about the discontented older brother. On the surface, he’s the perfect son. Always obedient, always compliant. Except, listen to this:25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

            We focus again on the father. If we had a title of this parable from the father’s point of view, it could very well be “The Story of the Forgiving Father.” Yes, he freely forgave the younger son for his extreme disrespect, for spending all his father’s hard-earned money, and for crawling back home in such a disreputable condition. Plus, the father was loving and welcoming to his older son, the one who seemed to be permanently disgruntled, with a huge chip on his shoulder.

            Sometimes, this totally loving, caring, welcoming father seems like a dream, a fantasy, something we could only hope for and never see in real life. Can anyone possibly be that fantastic and marvelous parent to their children? Or, am I – are we – just too jaded and cynical? Has life just beaten us down too much?

            I have news for all of us. With this parable, Jesus lifts up the father as an example, as an image of God our Heavenly Parent. Jesus wants us to see how much God loves each one of us, and how willing our loving, caring God is to welcome us home. Even going so far as to run down the road to embrace us when we return in penitence and tears, or when we stay at home doing our duty in self-righteous disgruntlement and discontent.

            Yes, God forgives! And yes, we are to do the same. As the petition of the Lord’s Prayer says, “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” We need to continue to strive to forgive others, exactly in the same way and with the same loving, forgiving heart that God our Heavenly Parent had. Remember, the father ran down the road to forgive the prodigal – God offers forgiveness to both prodigal sons, all wayward children, no matter what.

            Remember, what a loving, caring God we have. Always loving, caring and welcoming toward each one of us. Amen.

@chaplaineliza

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

Not Your Thoughts

“Not Your Thoughts”

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, says the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:3-11 (55:8) – March 20, 2022

            Have you ever listened to children or young people talking amongst themselves? It can be fascinating, to be sure. I am thinking of listening in on a conversation where the young people talked about wishes. “Oh, I wish I had…!” or, “I wish I was…!” Wishing for things we don’t have or can’t ever do. Like, wishing for ten million dollars, or for a unicorn or a flying car. Or young people wishing they could go to a special camp, or make the travel team or do really well in school. I can almost hear the rest of that wish: “if only, if only, THEN I’d be happy!” 

            In our reading today, the prophet tells us “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on God while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” How many people here have thought their own thoughts, not God’s thoughts? How many have gone their own way, and not concerned themselves with God and what God wants, at all? (And I include myself in that number, too! I am guilty, too.)

            Let’s face it. Haven’t we all – at one time or another – wanted stuff that was really outrageous? And, wasn’t at all what God wanted in our lives? “But, if only I could have that cool car – or fancy house – or prestigious job – if only, if only, THEN I’d be happy!”

            But, what about God? What does the Lord want for us? I know I have asked God to show me – periodically. But, not all the time, and not even most of the time. Face it, I am pretty selfish most of the time, saying “I want what I want when I want it!” I have a feeling that you might be in the same boat, wanting the same sorts of things. Not what God wants.

            There’s a problem here in the scripture passage, in Isaiah 55:7. The prophet mentions the wicked, who are pursuing their own wicked ways. They are not following after the Lord. They are not even close to doing what the Lord wants them to do. These wicked people don’t even know about what they’re missing. “Let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts.” So, these wicked people, these unrighteous guys are even thinking bad thoughts, thoughts that are not pleasing to the Lord.

            We’re talking about some pretty negative people, and some pretty negative actions, where some people actively go out of their way to be disobedient and disruptive. Some people are like that. The Bible often talks about those kinds of actions and that particular kind of people. Except – don’t you and I act like that (and even think like that) every once in a while? And maybe more often than that?

            To remind everyone, our sermon series this Lent is on the Lord’s Prayer. This week, we are highlighting “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” With as often as we pray the Lord’s Prayer, I suspect God would be really pleased if we took this part of the prayer seriously. In other words, God would be so pleased if we did – and said – and thought things that were pleasing to God, and that would give God glory!

            We know what many of the things that please God look like. We can even make a list! In God’s kingdom, there is enough for everyone: enough food, enough shelter, enough healthcare. In God’s kingdom, everyone feels loved and loves others. In God’s kingdom, people find ways of settling problems other than war and conflict and fighting. In God’s kingdom, when there are hurting people and abusive problems, people forgive each other and reconcile.

            The Bible tells us, again and again, in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, that ”what is now true every day in heaven will one day be true on earth – especially if we all work to make that happen.” [1]

Sure, we can be disappointed when we finally get the things we have wanted for a long time, those things we think we wanted, and find out after all that they do not make us happy after all. Remember what I said: “I want what I want when I want it!” Except, sometimes it can really be difficult for me – for you – for us to figure out what we truly need, in God’s eyes, and what we selfishly or willfully want, where God is not even in the picture.

This reading from Isaiah 55 as well as the petition of the Lord’s Prayer highlight putting God and God’s will first and foremost in our lives. How can we do that? By putting God’s Word first and foremost in our lives, too. God is a God who works in the lives of people – in your life and mine. Even when we are down, depressed, sick, lonely, or feeling far away from the Lord, we can remember who our God is. The Lord will give us hope even in the most dire, the most sad, the most far-away times. Why? Because our God is a God who keeps promises and works in our lives. [2]

Our reading today urges us all to turn to the Lord. “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon God while he is near;”

The Lord is closer than I thought! God is right here, johnny-on-the-spot! And I have a sneaking suspicion the Lord is right next to ME, right next to you, whenever we earnestly look. And, I know God’ll be right there, immediately, whenever I call.

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-c-third-sunday-in-lent-february-28.html

[2] http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/a/15-a/FR-15-a.html

“God Works!” (Sunday 15A) Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Lectionary Resource for Catholics.

God, Our Light

“God, Our Light”

Psalm 27:1-10 (27:1) – March 13, 2022

            When I set the theme for the Second Sunday in Lent about three weeks ago, I had no idea that there would be an actual war being waged, right now. The Russian army is attacking Ukraine as we speak, and all the horrors of modern-day warfare are a reality, all across the country of Ukraine. Psalm 27 means so much to many of the Ukrainian people right now.

            As this congregation highlights another petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Deliver us from evil,” we are brought up sharply by the traumatic situation in our own world. We can turn on war news, from both national as well as international media. Videos and photos are – sadly – readily accessible, and the news is heart-rending. No matter which side you are on.

            Wasn’t this the case when King David wrote this psalm, so many centuries before?

            Wars, rumors of wars, battles, skirmishes, fighting – and King David writes this song of praise to the Lord, to thank the Lord for deliverance from evil.

            King David was certainly no stranger to fighting and to war. After King Saul ran David off into the Judean wilderness (a harsh and unhospitable place, the same place where Jesus went after His baptism), David stayed away from Jerusalem for years. Even though David was rightfully anointed by the prophet Samuel as king of Israel, David would not lift his hand against King Saul. At the same time, David was essentially a guerilla leader of 600 battle-hardened fighters, for years. They also would do mercenary fighting, while on the run from King Saul and the troops of Israel. And, that was just the beginning of David being a fighter.

            As we see from both 1 and 2 Samuel, David knew what he was talking about when he wrote these psalms about the Lord delivering him and his men from evil – from war, and from fighting. David was on the run from King Saul for over ten years. And, he was no coward! However, he thanked God that God watched over him and kept him from evil – kept him from being overtaken by the troops of King Saul, as well as foreign troops he was fighting against.

            You and I are not fighting battles against opposing armies, but we still can come to God, praying this psalm for our safety. You and I might consider evil to be bad stuff. Bullies who intimidate and harass. Robbers who steal purses or take cell phones or wallets. Car-jackings, vindictive anger, abusive behavior, vandals who destroy property. All of these are evil, and we can pray for God to protect us from all of these, plus many more.

            As our commentator Beth Tanner says, “With all of the violence in our world, Christians are faced almost daily with a decision to live in fear, or despite their fear, to trust in God and God’s promises.“ [1] “Deliver us from evil” is a powerful prayer! A prayer of trust and assurance in God’s provision, in God’s ability to keep us safe, whatever our situation.

            Yet, the world has had many, many wars through the centuries. Many, many periods of fighting, ethnic strife, border conflicts, and even genocides. Horrific atrocities committed, and whole societies, entire countries stricken by death and destruction. How can anyone lift up their hearts to God in such catastrophic times?

We know, too, God wants us to be hospitable, even in such times. “To choose to remain true to God’s principles of hospitality feels frightening as well. Terrorists and Refugees come from the same places. Gun violence comes out of nowhere and even those places we considered safe are safe no longer. Fear threatens to defeat the gifts of trust and hospitality.” [2]

            It is so interesting that King David seems to waver back and forth, from the sure certainty of God’s saving power to fear of some kind of situation where David’s enemies are trying to “devour his flesh,” as Psalm 27:2 tells us. Whatever the specific problems or fighting happens to be, we suspect God may turn away. Don’t you, sometimes? Even if you are usually firm in faith and fervent in prayer, sometimes…stuff happens. People fail us. Situations baffle us. How can we cope? What is there to do? God, help us!  Sometimes we need to step back, take a deep breath, and think of difficult things as a child might. The best child’s translation of this part of the prayer is “Lord, save us from all the bad stuff that happens.” [3]

And yet,” right in the middle of his expressions of fear, the Psalmist also declares his confident faith that God’s presence is like a light that keeps him safe.” [4] Our Scripture reading today, Psalm 27, remains as a beacon. This encourages us to come to God even as we find ourselves afraid. Even, afraid out of our wits.

We might find ourselves praying the Lord’s Prayer, and saying it by rote, without even concentrating on the words as they come out of our mouths. Yet – “Lent is a time to ask the deep questions of our faith. We can repeat the fears of the past, or trust a new ending to God. It is never easy, but it is the call of God on our lives. This psalm invites us to believe again that our faith in God will never desert us, no matter what happens. Life without fear is not possible, but faith can call us to live into God’s will for our life instead of reducing our lives because of our fears and insecurities.” [5]

Yes, “deliver us from evil” is a powerful prayer, indeed. Yes, we can be afraid, and yes, God can alleviate our fears. If we want to dispel the darkness of fear, we can affirm that God is indeed our light and our salvation. We can all say amen to that!

@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-3/commentary-on-psalm-27-3

[2]   Ibid.

[3]  http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-c-second-sunday-in-lent-february.html

[4]   https://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com/2014/01/what-do-we-have-to-fear.html

“What Do We Have To Fear?” Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer, 2016.

[5]   https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-in-lent-3/commentary-on-psalm-27-3

An Opportune Time

“An Opportune Time”

Luke 4:1-13 (4:13) – March 6, 2022

            Have you ever been tempted? For little (and sometimes, bigger) people, these do not need to be big temptations. Smaller, everyday temptations can be troublesome enough. Like, a plate of delicious cookies left on the counter. Or, a cool item – like a late-model smart phone, or a fancy set of ear pods – left unattended in a very public place. Or even, some test answers in such plain view that you can hardly help but see them on the desk nearby. [1]

            What do we do, with such delicious temptations practically begging us to give in?

            This is the first Sunday of Lent, and our Scripture reading today is from Luke’s Gospel: the narrative of the temptation of Jesus. Each week in Lent we will look at one of the phrases of the Lord’s Prayer. They will not be in order, but they all are there. Today’s connection is to “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

            We all know what temptation is. (Don’t we?) I gave several examples just now. Sometimes people can see temptation a mile away, and do the right thing right away. Other times, the temptation can sneak up on us. Or, be overwhelming, or even seductive and alluring. And then, you all know what happens. We give in to temptation.

            As we followed the Gospel reading this morning, the reading from Luke started with Jesus being led into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil for 40 days.    A verse from Hebrews gives us additional insight into the “why” of it. Jesus was “tempted in every way as we are,” and yet He did not sin. He had no sin. Even thought the Devil tried his best (or, worst) to tempt away at Jesus, Jesus did not succumb. Jesus did not fall prey to any of the presentations, any of the temptations.

This first Sunday in Lent we are reminded of just several days ago, when so many people around the world had ash crosses put on their foreheads. Yes, that was the visible symbol. Ash Wednesday also means self-examination, and confession, and admitting that each of us is limited, imperfect, and each of us needs to face our own mortality. Our sinfulness, too. [2]

            Face it, each of us is only here on earth for a brief time. Psalm 103 tells us that “14 for God knows how we are formed, God remembers that we are dust. 15 The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; 16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.”

That is the reminder of the Ash Wednesday cross, and the liturgical words said at the beginning of Lent each year: “dust you are, to dust you shall return” is what we hear as the ashes are applied to our foreheads. We are marked with mortality for this Lenten journey, and that is sobering enough for anyone. And on top of that, we are called to be self-reflective and to contemplate where we fall short. By extension, we come to the first Sunday of Lent, and are encouraged to do the same thing because we are all marked with mortality,

Our Lord Jesus was led into the wilderness, because that is where you and I commonly live. Wasn’t He a human being just as we are? Jesus was out there hungry and hurting just as we are hungry and hurting, too. Jesus was tempted in all things, just as we are, too.

Most of all, we may be tempted by shortcuts. Wasn’t Jesus tempted by the Devil by that very thing – shortcuts? Sure, all the kingdoms of the world will eventually belong to Jesus, except not just yet. But, the Devil tempts Jesus with those exact things. “All of these kingdoms will be yours right now, if you bow and worship me!” The same with the temptation of loaves of bread. “Turn these stones into bread. You know how easy it will be! Come on, you can do it!” And again, the Devil brought Jesus to the highest place on the Temple and said, “see, if you jump off, God will for sure save you. Angels will come and lift you up! You know they will – come on, I bet you won’t do it. I double dog dare you!

Each of these temptations are shortcuts to power, glory and majesty, which are the Son of God’s by right. Except, the Devil twists them, and tries to convince us all that it’s okay. It’s what God would want…isn’t it? Just as the Devil tried to convince our Lord Jesus, tried of offer Him to claim these glorious things without suffering, without dying, the easy way. Take a shortcut. We may be tempted to take that shortcut, too! [3]   

Our reading ends with an ominous note that the Adversary went away until an opportune time. We could spend some time speculating on when that opportune time might have been for Jesus. But it might be better for us to realize that opportune times come all too often in our lives, and that the Devil can sneak up on us unaware, too.

We all need help to stay on God’s path. We all need someone who will help us to stay focused on God, and especially not to take shortcuts, as tempting as they may be. We can “find someone who can help keep us on track. Find someone who will help us think about the choices we make. Find someone who will fill us out. Better yet, find a group of someones – a community of faith that will help make sure we think with a full mind.” [4]

Won’t you continue walking with Jesus? I pray that we all can stick together and keep on the journey to the Cross. That is the best way to avoid temptation that I’ve found yet: stick close to Jesus. Amen!

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-c-first-sunday-in-lent-february-14.html

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/gathered-up-in-jesus/first-sunday-in-lent-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/gathered-up-in-jesus/first-sunday-in-lent-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes

[4] Ibid.

Reconciled to God

“Reconciled to God”

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2 (5:20-21) – March 2, 2022

            I am part of a local pastors’ group. We have periodic Zoom calls, and we support each other and encourage each other. This group has been gathering together for almost two years, since shortly after the pandemic shut down happened in March 2020. Some jokester in the group was talking about the difficulties and challenges of this whole long pandemic and COVID experience. He said that this had been the longest, Lent-iest Lent he had ever experienced.

            Isn’t it the truth? Hasn’t this whole long period of time been similar to an especially challenging Lenten journey? A huge, overlong Lent-iest Lenten expedition? Except, here we are again, at the beginning of another Lent, in 2022.

            Except, we have already been through such a challenging time. Months and months of separation, of Zoom calls and meetings, of fear and anxiety and disgruntlement. And for many among us, months of worry and grieving so many losses. Losses of normalcy. Losses of expected events, holidays, weddings, graduations, and other gatherings. On top of which is the loss of many loved ones who may have died of COVID, or of something else. But, the weariness and mourning of so much continuing loss, separation and grief can be overwhelming.

            And now, we add Lent to the mix. Yes, we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, as Paul reminds us in Romans 3. This is a clear truth. We know where we fall short, and we sorely feel our grief and losses. Yet, this is not a time to wallow too much in our sinfulness.

               That is why these words from the Apostle Paul seem especially moving to me on this Ash Wednesday. As Paul says, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

            We are far enough past the beginning of January to look back and see where New Year’s resolutions have failed and promises made to ourselves often lie broken. When Paul quotes from Isaiah 49 in verse 6:2, this is a prophetic wake-up call from the Apostle Paul. We reorient our lives before God in just this way: Be reconciled to God! As Paul shouts (in the imperative verb form!), “Hey, you! Be reconciled!” It’s not just a polite suggestion.

            Digging deeper, our commentator Karoline Lewis says, “Reorienting life before God often necessitates a radical call outside of oneself to be reconciled to others. Being reconciled to God is not just another individualistic resolution or self-improvement step. Instead, it means being messengers of reconciliation, working together in a cooperative grace, and participating in God’s reconciling activity to win back the world.” [1]

            Paul calls himself Christ’s ambassador, official representative, or political emissary. By extension, we are all Christ’s ambassadors; we are all sent with His message of reconciliation to the world. That’s not only to the world, but individually, too. We are ambassadors to our neighbor next door, to the friend down the street, to the relative we call on the phone or those we send a Facebook or Instagram message to.

            Yes, we can see the ambassador part, and the message of reconciliation part, but what do we do with our sin? Paul tells us right here. God reconciles all of us (to Godself!) by making Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the righteous one who knew no sin (!!) to be sin for us. Jesus shouldered all that huge burden of sin so that you and I might become the righteousness of God, as Paul says in verse 21. [2]

            This action of God is a liturgical or symbolic action, as well. Through this reality, God enacts the transfer of sin. God trades Christ’s righteousness for our sinfulness: something of immeasurable worth for something completely worthless. Or, as I learned in a straight-forward anagram decades ago, it’s all God’s grace. God’s riches at Christ’s expense. Praise God!

            I turn to some suggestions from Karoline Lewis. Now that we are embarking upon another Lenten journey, what will you – will I – do for Lent to be meaningful to you?

            Instead of giving up something for Lent this season, instead, why don’t we choose something to embrace? “Not something “to do” but something “to be.” Something that gives you joy, that nurtures you. It’s okay to have joy during Lent. It’s okay to think about how you will take care of yourself during Lent. It’s okay to imagine a Lent that does not have to have as its primary mood that of sacrifice. Your starting point for Lent matters. You can suffer through Lent. Or, you can choose to move through Lent from a place of wonder and gratitude: wondering where God might show up, what God might reveal in this dormant time, this time set aside so as to anticipate life, a time that looks forward to glimpses of new creation [and resurrection].” [3]  

            What a good suggestion! I encourage you to do something that gives you joy in the Lord, and leads you back to that place of wonder, that place of nurture where you can feel God’s presence with you. Suggestions? Walk in nature. Sing in the shower. Listen to soothing music. Read and journal. Play with your children (or grandchildren). Garden. All of these involve God’s creation, and all of these can be stress-relievers. Be creative! Find joy, wonder and gratitude this Lent, and you will find yourself closer to God.

            Amen, and 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/ash-wednesday/commentary-on-2-corinthians-520b-610-5

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ash-wednesday/commentary-on-2-corinthians-520b-610-10

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/choose-your-lent

Are We Speechless?

“Are We Speechless?”

Luke 9:28-36 (9:36) – February 27, 2022

            Have you ever been totally in awe? Awe can be a jaw-dropping experience, when you and I are so filled with amazement that words totally escape us. I consider myself fairly good with words (what my husband calls a wordsmith). I must admit that from time to time, I have been filled with shock and awe so much that I find myself without words. I wonder whether that has ever happened to you?

Remember, Jesus took His inner circle of disciples with Him to the top of that mountain, Mount Tabor. Dr. Luke mentions the three disciples speechless and filled with awe. Can you imagine how the disciples looked, by reading the last verse of our Scripture reading?

            We return to the Bible to read the narrative of the Transfiguration this morning. We see Jesus high and lifted up. Two thousand years ago, and yet, immediate and present right here with us. Despite all of the horrible and heartbreaking things that are happening all around us, we still can find ourselves speechless. At Jesus, transfigured before our eyes.  

Yes, Dr. Luke talks of Peter, James and John being awestruck by Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop. But, what exactly does “transfigured” mean? Is that just a churchy word that gets thrown around sometimes in worship services and bible studies? And, nobody really ever defines what it means!

This word only appears here, in the narratives of this event from Matthew, Mark and Luke – and those are the only times it appears. This word is made up of two parts or roots. (Remember back to grammar class in school?) These two key parts “Trans” (change) and “figure” (shape or form) define what happened in this event. 

First, I’d like for us to consider the hymn “Fairest Lord Jesus.” This was the hymn we sang in church at the opening of worship today. The final line links to the transfiguration saying “Jesus shines brighter; Jesus shines purer than all the angels heaven can boast.” Here we see a tangible image of brightness, of visible glory.

Another well-known hymn pictures this event on the mountaintop. “Holy, Holy, Holy” has a familiar tune; have you ever really thought about the words? Let me lift up the 3rd verse. “Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee, Thought the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see; Only Thou are holy—there is none beside Thee, Perfect in pow’r, in love and purity.”

We sing praises to the Messiah, our Lord Jesus, the Lord God Almighty, at whose feet every knee will bow. Yes, we all are sinful, and our eyes cannot be lifted to see the glorified Lord Jesus Christ. Yet God has this glory-filled event recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke for us to read. 2000 years later. And, it still renders those who read the account speechless.

            Remember, God the Heavenly Father (for that is what Jesus calls God) did not do this for Jesus. Jesus knew who and what He was, and He was secure in His own Personhood and being.  God did this for the disciples. The disciples had been living with Jesus every day for several years. They went everywhere with Him, ate with Him, even bunked down by Him at night. [1] You get to know a person very well if you do that for long enough. The disciples knew that Jesus was something special, even though they were not quite sure what that meant. Yet – Peter, James and John were amazed, speechless by the incredible events that happened on the mountain.

            Perhaps you have known a special person in your own life, someone you knew when you were young, or someone you met along life’s journey. Pastor Sharron Blezard said, “Some folks just seem vividly alive, almost glowing, and full of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Maybe you know someone like this, a person whose life is so well grounded in Christ’s grace and love that she or he appears unfazed by the storms of life, radiant in the face of adversity, eyes and heart always fixed on God. Surely this person has dwelt in the presence of the Divine.” [2] These special folks are a blessing to all they encounter. I have been blessed to know a few of these exceptional people. But, they were people, God’s creations, just like you and me.

By wrapping Jesus in a glorious, shining cloud and incredible clothes, God was telling the disciples something all-important. God is telling all of us the exact same thing. “Jesus is much more than a special person. Jesus is Emmanuel, God-with-you.”  

“Peter, James, and John were awestruck by Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop. Their lives were forever altered by the experience; they were changed. We can be changed, too, by encountering God deeply and regularly. In fact, I believe that it is impossible to be in deep relationship with God through prayer, worship, study, service, fellowship, and sharing and not be transfigured.”

Dr. Luke doesn’t stop with that mountaintop experience. “Jesus and the disciples got right back down to the work of ministry–in this case healing a possessed boy. We may plan and vision and dream, and that is all well and good, but our vision must have hands and feet to carry it forward. How is your congregation doing that now? What might it do in the future?” [3]

Do you hear? We don’t stay parked on that mountain. God has too much for us to do! Yes, proclaim God’s Good News! And, yes, get involved in ministry, in whatever way you can. That’s what we are all called to do. And, the awe-inspiring image of Jesus, high and lifted up, will continue to give us encouragement as we minister – one day at a time. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-c-transfiguration-of-lord-february.html

[2] https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2013/02/changed/

“Changed,” Sharron R. Blezard, Stewardship of Life, 2013.

[3] Ibid.

We Ought to Love WHO?

“We Ought to Love WHO?”

Luke 6:27-36 (6:35) – February 20, 2022

            Who has ever grumbled at people? Who has ever been frustrated with people? Who has ever been downright angry with people? Are these people you know, your friends? Perhaps you felt that way about your loved ones, your family? We have all had that happen, from time to time. And sometimes, more often than that. But – that is when we are angry with our friends or family. Jesus says something quite different about our enemies. What would Jesus do?

            Our Lord Jesus talks Godly behavior in our Scripture reading today from Luke 6. Here are just a couple of verses: 27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

            As we listen to Jesus’ words, we might think to ourselves, “We ought to love WHO? That’s a tall order, Lord! Pretty near impossible!”

            Let’s back up, and see where these words come from. One of my favorite commentators Karoline Lewis tells us to take the long view, to consider where Jesus is coming from in this section of the Gospel of Luke. Our Scripture reading today comes from Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. What came just before this sermon, before Luke’s version of the Beatitudes? “Jesus has just named apostles from the crowd of his disciples and these blessings and woes on the plain are his first words to the newly commissioned. ‘Whoa! Stop right there! Before we go any further, here’s what you need to know.’[1] Jesus uses some interjections, a grammatical term for the typical exclamation words “Hey!” “Whoa!” and “Watch out!”

            This reminds me of certain times when my children (now in their 20’s and 30’s) were small. They would bicker and fight back and forth, and the last thing they would want to do would be listen to me, their mother. Sometimes, one or the other would be so frustrated or angry they would burst out, “You’re not the boss of me!” Too often, we don’t like to have people boss us around, either. However, Jesus is trying to get the disciples’ attention. And, He is trying to get our attention, too. Jesus says, “Listen up, people!”

Many people think of the Gospel of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount as one of the high points of Jesus’s preaching ministry. In case you did not know, the material covered in the Sermon on the Mount is summarized in Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, in about one third of the space. Jesus did say a lot of controversial things, a lot of which got Him into serious hot water with religious leaders. But, “love your enemies” is a particularly troublesome statement. 

            Hating your enemies is only natural. Hating people who do bad things to you, who speak mean words to us – and about us! – who actively go out of their way to be mean and nasty – that would be only natural. That is, according to the wisdom of the world. Except – Jesus tells us we are not of the world any longer. In multiple places in Scripture, in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, followers of God are called to another way of living.

In this Sermon on the Plain (as well as the Sermon of the Mount), Jesus reminds us of a different way, a Godly way. A way that is God-honoring. Except, Jesus uses expressive and arresting words to get us to listen! “Whoa! Here’s what’s important, disciples of mine. Whoa! Here’s what you need to hold on to.”

When many people hate others, revenge is a natural outgrowth of that hatred. Our Lord Jesus and His teaching go in the opposite direction of hatred and revenge. ”Don’t be quick to revenge but try to find a way of reconciliation. Jesus wants to change the spirit of irritation, anger and hatred inside of us. Irritation, anger, hatred and retaliation only seem to heap gasoline on the fire of conflict. Jesus is teaching his disciples another way of dealing with revenge.” [2] Yes, and another, God-honoring way to deal with hatred, too.

That’s all very well, but how can I change how I feel inside? My toes were stepped on! My feelings were really bruised! I was badly hurt! I was injured, even abused!! What do I do with all of that?”

Let me tell you: I may not be able to change the way I feel (or you feel), deep down. But, God can. At times, it happens right away. More often, the process is gradual. The important part is to get to the point that you are willing. Willing to be willing. Willing to let God help you. Help you to be forgiving, to let go of the hurt, the pain, the desire for revenge. And, God will come alongside of you and help.

There are certain situations that are very damaging. Damaging to people’s psyche, sometimes their physical bodies, and not least, their souls. I am thinking of horrible situations of abuse, of pain and degradation. I would not demand anyone to do anything that would cause even more pain and suffering, in the case of trauma and intense hurt. I would suggest that God might gently come alongside and help begin the healing process. Little by little. And, there are reputable counselors, medical professionals, therapists and social workers who are especially  trained to help in those cases, too.

Still, Jesus’ words have great effect. We are to listen up! And, follow Jesus.

Carolyn Brown, retired Director of Children’s Ministries, has a great way to summarize this section of Luke. “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.  Pray for those who are mean to you. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Love and do good to all without expecting anything in return.” [3]

I come back to the question of the day: What Would Jesus Do? He calls us to go. Do that. And if you need help? Ask Jesus. He will help us to love everyone, and help us to follow Him.

@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/dear-working-preacher/woes-and-whoas

[2] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_c_loving_your_enemies_and_people_you_dont_like_GA.htm

[3] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2019/01/

Blessings in Difficult Times

“Blessings in Difficult Times”

Luke 6:17-23 (6:23) – February 13, 2022

            Have you ever gotten down on the same level as a small child? I mean, physically gotten down on the floor, or on the grass, and seen what they see? Experienced what they experienced, from their point of view? From where they are at?

            That is what I want to suggest for this week’s Scripture reading, from Luke chapter 6. But before we go there, what does this reading remind you of? It sounds like another well-known Scripture passage, from Matthew chapter 5: the Beatitudes. Except, the Beatitudes come from the Sermon on the Mount, which has a slightly different focus, another point of view.

            Let us take a look at this reading from Dr. Luke’s point of view. I’ll read from the modern translation The Message: “Jesus stood on a plain surrounded by disciples, and was soon joined by a huge congregation from all over Judea and Jerusalem, even from the seaside towns of Tyre and Sidon. They had come both to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. Those disturbed by evil spirits were healed. Everyone was trying to touch him—so much energy surging from him, so many people healed!”

            What an awe-inspiring image from Luke! Just imagine, Jesus – surrounded by huge crowds who came to hear Him preach. And also, to be cured of their diseases. A totally different angle from that of Matthew, from the Sermon on the Mount. Can you imagine this huge congregation gathering together for an extended healing ministry from the Rabbi Jesus? Plus, hearing a marvelous sermon, on top of everything? That is the setting of this Sermon on the Plain. A different retelling of the Beatitudes in our reading today. Let’s continue with the reading: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

When some people read the next few verses from Luke 6, some might nod their heads. Or, say nice things, like “such wonderful words!” or “meaningful sentiments, surely!” But, are these opinions simply surface platitudes? Do people who praise this reading from Luke understand its full implications?  

The corresponding verse from Matthew 5 says “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Not as Luke says, simply “Blessed are the poor.” Blessing those who are poor is more stark, more real. Less spiritual. Face it, less comfortable for those listening to Jesus.

Do any of us here in this church know what it is like to have real food insecurity? To only have enough for one meal a day? And that meal being canned vegetables from a food pantry? Do any of us here in this church know what it is like to live in a cheap motel room – for weeks, even months, on end? Perhaps with several school-age children who never get enough to eat, and who keep growing out of their clothes and shoes from Goodwill or the Salvation Army store? That is the sad reality for countless numbers of people across our country today – and for many people who get their food and groceries from the Maine Township Food Pantry, which we support and contribute to.

               I’ve spoken before about the Rev. Janet Hunt, who leads a Lutheran church in DeKalb, Illinois. She writes about a desperate woman who recently called their church, looking for assistance. She did not have enough for the February rent, after paying her many other bills. Rev. Hunt goes on to say, “Chances are great that the precious one who called this week would now be living in her car, if she had one, which she does not. Or she has moved in with a friend. Or maybe she found her way to our local homeless shelter. Where hopefully they had room for her.

“But with all of my imagining, I cannot presume to know what this has been for her, even if I did know the details.  And while I do not know how this is a ‘blessed’ state of being, truly I do not, I do know that she is close to the heart of God today, as is anyone, anywhere who find themselves where she is. As for the rest of us who know ourselves to be more ‘blessed’ by the world’s standards now, we would surely do well to get ourselves close to one such as her. For there, apparently is where God’s kingdom already is.

“And yet, I don’t always. Truth is, most of the time I am glad enough to let someone else take the call, listen to the pain, sort through the details.” [1]

The hard truth is that Jesus calls these dear ones, these people with very limited resources to be especially blessed. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. These are the words that face us today. Personally, I struggle with these words of Jesus. Perhaps you do, too.   

I think of the setting once more. Jesus – surrounded by huge crowds who came to hear Him preach. And also, to be cured of their diseases. This huge congregation gathers together for an extended healing ministry from the Rabbi Jesus. Is this healing in a multitude of ways?

We just heard two sermons, for two weeks, focusing on love, which the Apostle Paul names as the number one spiritual gifts. We can look at this Sermon on the Plain from a different point of view, again highlighting love. “Love makes us economically poor but enriches our lives; ambition makes us economically secure but leaves us selfish and shallow. Our lives reveal our priorities. May God give us the power to choose love over ambition, his Kingdom over present riches.” [2]

As the body of Christ, as followers of Jesus, Jesus calls each of us to reach out to others and be His loving hands, His willing feet, His caring heart.

These are challenging words from our Lord Jesus, difficult to hear, and even more difficult to put into action. Jesus calls each of us to make the blessings of the kingdom of heaven a reality in this world today. I pray that when Jesus calls us, we listen and do. We listen and go. Jesus tells us, go, and do likewise.

Amen, alleluia.

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] https://dancingwiththeword.com/blessed-are-the-poor-2/

[2] http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/c/6-c/A-6-c.html

“O Brother (or Sister), Who Art Thou?” Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Catholic Resource for This Sunday’s Gospel.

It’s All About Love

“It’s All About Love”

1 Corinthians 13:6-13 (13:13) – February 6, 2022

            Weddings are wonderful events. Brides and grooms try to make them meaningful and personalized, as much as they can. Except – I have strong feelings about certain songs that are featured at weddings. I won’t name any specific song, but I think you can recognize them when you hear them. I’m thinking of songs that highlight love as a warm and fuzzy emotion, and that is about it. Where will the newly-married couple be when the rose-colored glasses come off? What happens when that warm and fuzzy feeling called “love” goes away?

            This is the last sermon in our series on spiritual gifts, and we look more closely at the last part of Paul’s discussion on the greatest spiritual gift – love. After Paul spends all of 1 Corinthians 12 talking about the great variety of spiritual gifts that God gladly gives to believers in Christ, he turns to the greatest of all gifts, that of love.

            But, what is love all about, anyway? Last week, we talked about all the things that love is not, as listed right here in this chapter. According to 1 Corinthians 13, love is not just an emotion, not just a feeling. The description I read last week definitely had more about aspects of what love is not; these can be greatly helpful as we hammer out the biblical definition of love.  

            As I reflect more on popular culture today, and how sentimental and sappy modern love songs can be, I can see how we – as an American culture – might have different ideas about love than those we read here in 1 Corinthians 13.  

            Some church folk today might have different ideas about the Corinthian church, too. Corinth was a diverse, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic city in Greece, at the crossroads of several major roads through the region. The church was founded by Paul, an ethnic Jew, but certainly was not all one ethnicity. No, this was a diverse, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic group of believers!

            As we read further in 1 Corinthians, we can see how much discord really was in action in that dysfunctional group of believers, too. As our commentator Doug Bratt says, “challenges and controversies dogged their church. They disagreed theologically. They struggled with persistent sin, lawsuits among themselves, sexual immorality, and marriage. Corinth’s Christians disagreed on how to deal with food that had been sacrificed to idols and religious freedom.” [1]

            With that large amount of discord and disagreement among the church members in Corinth, is there any wonder why their former pastor Paul wrote them a letter detailing spiritual gifts which God gives to benefit the whole church? And further, why Paul lifts up love as the best and greatest spiritual gift of all?

            We return to the question “what is the biblical definition of love?” I know we discussed this last week, and I mentioned a number of things love was NOT. Let’s turn around and see what Paul says that love IS. “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

            I sometimes read an online sermon chat board, where preachers share their reflections on the week’s scripture passages before Sunday comes. I thought Rev. L’Anni from the Netherlands had some very pertinent reflections on this reading.

“When I do premarital counseling I often will read I Cor. 13:4-7 with the couple and note that in this definition of love there is not one single verse that refers to a feeling. No warm fuzzies. No Hallmark honey and sweetness. It refers to ACTION. Being patient—when you FEEL im-patient. Being kind—when you feel like being un-kind. Keeping no score of wrongs—when you feel like holding a grudge. This is how Christian marriage can not only survive but thrive. But not just marriage but any relationship where both are willing to love each other as defined by this passage.” [2]

These are things that love DOES, actions that people can take that are loving, caring and compassionate. When I think of the number one example of love, I think of our Lord Jesus, while He was here on this earth. I think of how Jesus lived, how He acted, and how He carried out His ministry. Jesus showed us how to love, by displaying love in action. Jesus truly showed His friends (as well as all the world) a life of love – and caring and compassion.

            What better thing to do than to think of our Lord Jesus, when He was here on this earth, and ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?” How would Jesus act?  How would Jesus love?

            In recovery circles, a common saying is “do the next right thing.” I had a friend of blessed memory, who is now with the Lord, who always tried his very best to be loving, caring and giving. He knew that common recovery saying very well, except he would change one word. He would often say “do the next loving thing.” That’s how to fulfill Paul’s definition of love from 1 Corinthians 13.

            So – what would Jesus do? Do the next loving thing. Go. Do that.

            Alleluia, 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://cepreaching.org/commentary/2022-01-24/1-corinthians-131-13-3/

[2] https://www.desperatepreacher.com/texts/1cor13_1/1cor13_1.htm

Love – No Matter What

“Love – No Matter What”

1 Corinthians 13:1-10 (13:7) – January 30, 2022

            With February right around the corner, many people start thinking about hearts and flowers. Thinking about chocolates and candy. Sweets for the sweet, as the old saying goes! Yes, Valentine’s Day is just two weeks away, and stores and card shops are full of red and pink displays and hearts and roses.

            As many hear this chapter on love from 1 Corinthians 13, some people wax sentimental. This chapter is a favorite to read at many wedding services in the church. “Everyone will nod along with a smile on their face. They’ll be remembering a wedding somewhere where these words were used to somehow capture the essence of this wild and crazy promise being made before the gathered overdressed assembly, this human enterprise that escapes human capabilities on a regular basis. [Or,] they’ll be remembering the Pinterest or Instagram post in fancy calligraphy, or the needlepoint in Grandma’s sitting room.” [1]

What if I were to tell you that love – the Bible’s definition of love – does not have anything to do with red and pink store displays, or hearts and flowers for Valentine’s Day?

            As we reflect on the biblical definition of love, let’s see what Paul says love does NOT do. I’m turning again to the wonderful modern translation of Eugene Peterson, The Message. “Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others.”

            That doesn’t sound much like lace and chocolates, hearts and big red bows, does it? No romanticized consumer version of love here! Do you recognize this honest, genuine kind of a feeling in the people you are close to, in the people you call family? Loved ones, and ones you cherish? This description is more of a love that is right down to earth, an honest, genuine feeling that is real and isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty.

            Let’s see a little more of what Paul says love does NOT do: “Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel.” When I read all of these things love does NOT do, sometimes I get discouraged. It’s like I can’t measure up. I could never be that kind of person or be described that way; could you?

This enlarged, continued description of the biblical definition of love sounds too good to be true. For real people, I mean. To me, it sounds a lot like Mother Teresa, or Fred Rogers, two people who are considered to be the pinnacle of loving, caring people.

Wait a minute! Have we talked to God about this? Paul has been telling us for almost two chapters in 1 Corinthians that God freely gives believers spiritual gifts. What is more, Paul says that love is the absolute best of these different, diverse spiritual gifts. That means that God gives out love freely! With both hands! Right here, Paul is describing the gift of love that comes through people from the Lord. Isn’t that some of the best news ever?

I don’t need to scramble and strive to love, trying really, really hard. It’s not all me, putting together my own faulty kind of caring. No! God freely gives gifts of love to God’s children. God helps us to show love and caring, kindness and unselfishness. That is such a relief for me, and such a blessing to others!

We believers here on this earth may stumble on our way of walking the Christian journey, and that is okay. We do not need to fulfill each and every part of this long, involved definition that Paul given to us, either. And, it is not just up to our fallible striving or hard work to be the most loving and caring Christian believers possible. No! God will help!

When I think of God’s love, I think of certain people who modern society might not consider. Two individuals come to mind, who I knew years ago. Both are with the Lord now, and both had the diagnosis of Down syndrome. Both people were as loving and caring as anyone I have ever met. Both were selfless, totally concerned for others, and unfailingly kind, loving and giving. Isn’t this another example of love, according to the Bible? Isn’t it what love is all about?

Let’s take a final look at the last section of Paul’s definition of love, according to God. The previous entries or parts of the description were couched in the language of what love was NOT. At last, Paul describes what love IS. “Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.” These are positive, affirming, uplifting traits, indeed.

We may not be able to walk the walk or talk the talk as perfectly as Paul describes here. “But we can stand in Paul’s certainty that there is a new way of being alive in the world, a new way of seeing the world and everyone in it. Must we simply accept everything going on in our messed-up world with a smile and nod? Of course not; evil exists. But we aren’t always the best at identifying where the real evil resides. Paul argues that it would better to lead with love.”[2] Again, you and I cannot generate this kind of spiritual gift in and of our own imperfect humanity, or of our own good works. We are welcome to ask the Lord for help and lead with God’s love.

This transformation is truly a gift – a gift of love! This gift comes from God, and is freely    offered to all believers! Let us thank God for this gift of love we all can display, and we all may give to others, just as freely. Alleluia, amen!


Thanks so much to Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries for www.umcdiscipleship.com and his excellent preaching notes for this week’s worship service and sermon. I used several ideas from these notes for the sermon today

@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.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/love-never-ends-being-the-body-of-christ/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/love-never-ends-being-the-body-of-christ/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-preaching-notes

Useful Gifts

“Useful Gifts”

1 Corinthians 12:10-17 (12:13) – January 23, 2022

            Who remembers Mr. Potato Head? That wonderful children’s toy provided hours of pleasure and play for my children, to be sure! They would laugh when they put the feet where the eyes ought to be, or the ears where the arms fit in the potato body. And, how much laughter and silliness would happen when my children made a Potato Head person with all eyes, or all ears, or all hands – and nothing else!  

            That is exactly what comes to mind when I read these verses from 1 Corinthians 12. A Mr. or Mrs. Potato Head, and all of their representative plastic parts. The Apostle Paul reminds the Corinthian believers “All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. [The Spirit] decides who gets what, and when.”

As we heard last week, God continues to give gifts to each believer. How generous of God! Our scripture reading says “God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit.”

We never can hear this enough! All of us as believers in Jesus Christ have been given some very special gifts from God! It’s possible you were not aware, or once knew and had forgotten, but it is true. Each Christian has a unique, God-given gift (or unique bundle of gifts!).

            Today’s sermon is the second part of a sermon series on spiritual gifts. Last week, we focused on the whole Church and the God-honoring service we could give to each other, individually. This week, we will highlight our service to the whole Body of Christ. Paul gives us such great examples! Each of us matters. It’s not only a current, popular message of today – Paul wrote it right here two thousand years ago in this letter to the Corinthians, too!

            Let’s take a closer look at what exactly Paul did say. I am using Eugene Peterson’s marvelous modern translation The Message. “A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, transparent and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body?”

            Paul’s emphasis here: “you matter because the body [of Christ] won’t be the body without you, without the gift that you bring, without the person that you are.” [1] I realize that some church members and some believers in Christ feel inferior, regarding their spiritual gifts. They might throw up their hands and say something like this: “My contribution doesn’t mean much. It isn’t worth much at all. I can’t measure up to what important Christians are able to do.”

            Some years ago, I happened to know an elderly Christian woman who felt exactly this way. She had tremendous spiritual gifts of helps and mercy, but because she had been taken advantage of numerous times by a church (long since closed) in Chicago, she was so sad and dispirited that she had given up. Her amazing spiritual gifts were simply lying unused. She even had given up going to church. Her once-abundant gifts of helping and showing mercy were sitting on a shelf, sadly gathering dust.

            Isn’t it so true that God directs different gifts to go to different people? Each one is given something fashioned exactly for that particular individual, but ALL these various gifts and people (or, parts of the Body) come together to make one Body of Christ, one Church. The Church would be pretty silly if everyone was an eye, or everyone was an ear, wouldn’t it?

That is why the Church has all different members – or limbs – or parts to do lots of different functions. And, some of these functions in the Body of Christ are unseen from the outside. It’s like with an ordinary human body. Lots of a body’s functioning is – necessarily – sight unseen. Yet, we would look silly if we saw all of our arteries and veins on the exterior, or our digestive system on the outside of our skin.

This is where our responsibility comes in. God challenges us to recognize which of these spiritual gifts have been given to the service of our local family of faith. We are called to use these gifts for the larger Body of Christ, the Church Universal. As Paul says, it is the same God that causes these gifts to work in and through us. “God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits.”       

One of my favorite commentators is Carolyn Brown, retired director of Children’s Ministries in the Presbyterian Church. She gave an excellent example of the whole local church contributing to ministry: “Since my church is hosting the community winter overnight shelter for men for whom there is no space in the permanent shelters, I’d [like to talk about] people who are cooking meals, playing games during the evening, decorating the room and tables to welcome our guests, etc.  Together we are like a body taking care of our guests.” [2]  What a wonderful way to work together as a healthy Body of Christ! A great reminder to the rest of us, for sure.

Some good questions to ask: “What staff people are often neglected in the thank-you moments in the life of the church? Which volunteers are plugging away unremarked sometimes for years without proper recognition?” [3] Helping people find their worth is a valuable and necessary effort. And, it’s blessed by God! Whatever you do, in thought, word, or deed, do it all to the glory of God – and for the benefit of your family of faith, too! Amen!


Thanks so much to Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries for www.umcdiscipleship.com and his excellent preaching notes for this week’s worship service and sermon. I used several ideas from these notes for the sermon today

@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.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/love-never-ends-being-the-body-of-christ/third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/12/year-c-third-sunday-after-epiphany.html

[3] Ibid, www.umc.discipleship.org  

Gifts for Service

“Gifts for Service”

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (12:4) – January 16, 2022

            Christmas was not that long ago. Less than a month ago! Remember the gift-giving? And, how much you wanted to see whether a close family member really liked your gift? Sometimes gift-giving can be stressful, especially when we exchange gifts with people who do not have a generous spirit. You know the kind, people who are so focused on themselves that they – or perhaps, we forget what Christmas is all about – receiving God’s greatest gift of all.

In this after-Christmas, post-gift-giving season, is there any wonder that many people are still up to their ears in the after-holiday bustle of gift returns or gift acknowledgements, and some even disappointment from all the gift-giving?

            God did not finish giving gifts when the Baby in Bethlehem was born in a manger two thousand years ago. By no means! God continues to give gifts to each believer, just as Eileen read to us. How generous of God! Our scripture reading says “God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit.”

Perhaps, we might paraphrase Paul: “Since you have already received gifts from God, what are you doing with them – lately?” But, perhaps I am getting too far ahead of myself. All of us as believers in Jesus Christ have been given some very special gifts from God! Perhaps you were not aware, or once knew and had forgotten, but it is true. Every Christian has a unique, God-given gift (or unique bundle of gifts!).

Oh, no, some say. I can just hear them. “Not me! I don’t have any special gifts from God! How could that be? I can’t do anything super special. I’m just a run-of-the-mill person.” Our commentator Karoline Lewis would strongly object! Lewis says we all need to recognize “that the gifts we receive are the very grace-acts of God. The term that Paul uses for “gift” has the same root as the word for “grace.” [1] These grace-filled gifts are charismaton in Greek, which is where we get the word “charismatic.” And, each believer receives these gifts!

            What a marvelous thought: each of us is a charismatic Christian, in other words! That is exactly what the apostle Paul says, right here.

Here in 1 Corinthians is not the only place where the New Testament gives a list of spiritual gifts. It talks about them in Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4, and Romans 12, too. Plus, modern lists of spiritual gifts draw from all over the Bible. We can see that each believer has a unique, God-given gift (or unique bundle of gifts!). Individualized, and personalized!

So, what do we do, now that we know we all have spiritual gifts? Good question!

Just knowing about our spiritual gifts is only a small portion of actually having them and acknowledging them. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are an excellent way for each of us to serve God, in our own individual way. Do you know someone in the church who is a really helpful person? I can think of several. I think God may have given them the spiritual gift of helps. How about someone who is particularly encouraging to others? That person might indeed have the gift of encouragement.

What about the gift of administration, to organize and figure out what goes where? The gift of healing is seen physically, true, but it’s also used for mental, emotional or spiritual sickness or distress. And, the gift of leadership, of delegating tasks and gathering people together is another important spiritual gift.

            This is where our responsibility comes in. We don’t just sit on our hands and do nothing, now that we know about our personal spiritual gifts. God challenges us to recognize which of these spiritual gifts have been given to us individually and then to use them to the glory of God in our lives at home, at school, at work, and in the community. [2] As Paul says, it is the same God that causes these gifts to work in and through us. “God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits.”

            Now, what about service to others? Specifically, I am thinking about the federal holiday that will be celebrated tomorrow. Yes, it is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday anniversary. Moreover, this holiday has been recognized as a Day of Service, nationwide.    

            The whole idea behind this service fits hand in glove with the United Church of Christ’s concept of the Beloved Community. Service is a hallmark for certain churches, especially in the UCC. The Rev. John Mingus describes the many-year journey of renewal his church took, Pilgrim UCC in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in a recent article on church renewal.

Rev. Mingus finishes his story with this moving summary: “the word is out about this church. Visitors come and stay. New folks go out and invite others. All kinds of folk see us as a safe place. We care for the homeless. We feed the hungry. We work for peace and public education. We have children and programming. We are a church in mission and when we gather it is as a beloved community. We are black and white, gay and straight, young and old, and much more. In our radical hospitality and at prayer people know that they are loved.” [3]

            Serving with spiritual gifts? Or providing a Day of Service? Or is it showing our neighbors we are indeed a Beloved Community? However you explain it, God will be so pleased that God’s people are given something to do that shows all people who God is.

God is indeed behind these marvelous expressions of Beloved Community, in exercising our spiritual gifts. Alleluia, 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-after-epiphany-3/commentary-on-1-corinthians-121-11-2

[2] http://www.sundayschoollessons.com/gift.htm

[3] http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/unitedchurchofchrist/legacy_url/11073/10JourneyTowardBelovedCommunity.pdf?1418436796

Jesus Was Baptized, Too

“Jesus Was Baptized, Too”

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 (3:21) – January 9, 2022

            Imagine standing in a line for a COVID test. The lines right now are very long, depending on where you can get tested! A pastor associate in a nearby town was recently exposed, and she needed to stand in a similar line, waiting her turn. I suspect the people around her had all kinds of emotions while standing there. Some felt fear, some felt expectation, some were disgruntled that they needed to be there. Some were anxious, and I bet some were hoping, and some hesitant. All kinds of emotions!

            Now, imagine a similar line, next to the Jordan River, about two thousand years ago. People waited in line to be baptized by John the Baptist. John was preaching some really challenging truths! Calling the people listening to him a brood of vipers, and calling everyone to repentance from their sins. Those were just two of the many difficult things he preached!

            Before Jesus began His public ministry, He stood in that line, too. Jesus asked His cousin John to baptize Him, too.

            I wonder how many of us can remember our baptisms? In this particular church’s tradition, I know the pastors almost always baptize babies and small children. That is a particular theological view of baptism, and one where we affirm that God extends heavenly blessing and grace to all, regardless of when they come before God in baptism.

            Two thousand years ago, John the Baptist wanted adults to confess their own sinfulness, to realize that each one had sinned and fallen short before God. As a result of that confession, John would then baptize each one. This is a slightly different view of baptism, and one that was (and is) just as valid. And, we come back to Jesus, waiting in that line. Jesus wanted John to baptize Him, too – even though Jesus never sinned.

            Imagine what it would have been like to be an eye-witness! I know I have preached about Ignatian prayer from time to time over the past years. Using Ignatian prayer, we imagine ourselves right into the picture. What does it feel like to be right there, in line on the banks of the Jordan? It’s a dusty, dry day. There’s some greenery, some growth along the river, but not much further away. Muted colors of browns and grays further inland. The sun is bright, and the sky a bright blue. Can you hear the wind? Feel the sandy ground under your feet?

            What is it like, to see that man called Jesus in line to be baptized? Did you hear any whispers about Him, being someone special? Then, some commotion down by the water. It’s that prophet who is doing the baptizing, the one named John! He and Jesus are having an extended conversation. John is protesting something – he shakes his head. But Jesus seems like He’s talking John into something. There they go, into the water. And, John baptizes Jesus.

            In centuries to come, many differing views arise about John’s simple, straight-forward act of baptism. “We don’t know if Jesus was immersed or sprinkled. We don’t know which liturgy John prefers, or if the vows that Jesus made were the same as the ones we make or not. We don’t know if John was properly credentialed or if Jesus followed the rules. We don’t know who signed the certificate. We need to know these things, don’t we?”[1]  

            Let’s continue to come forward in time, into the present day. I know it is so meaningful for relatives and loved ones to gather around a baby, a child, a young person getting baptized. What do you remember about the day you were baptized? Or, if you cannot remember your baptism, what do you remember about the day your children were baptized? Grandchildren? Godchildren? Perhaps a younger brother or sister? This is one of the sacraments of the church, one of those times when a common element, water, is used for a holy and marvelous purpose.

            Just a short time ago we celebrated the birth of the Baby born in Bethlehem. We remember in the fullness of time, Jesus was nurtured in the water of Mary’s uterus. We remember Jesus was baptized by John in the water of the Jordan. We remember that Jesus became living water to a woman at a Samaritan well. We remember Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. And, we remember Jesus sent His friends forth to baptize all peoples, all nations, by water and the Holy Spirit.

            As we enter into our imagining one last time, we see John and Jesus in the water, and the heavens open up. I have never seen anything like this before! There is a bird – it’s a dove, flying down from the opening in the sky! And then – it’s a voice! It is coming from that same opening in the sky, in the heavens. That must be God’s voice, isn’t it? “You are my Son, the Beloved; with You I am well pleased.”

            What a marvelous thing for God to say about Jesus. Remember, this is before Jesus has taught anybody, healed anyone, or died on the cross. At the beginning of a new year, this especially reminds all of us “that God loved Jesus and loves us not because of anything we do but just because God loves us. Period.” [2]
            What a marvelous thing to remember when we remember our baptism. Remember, we were baptized, too. And, God calls each of us beloved. With each one of us God is pleased.

            Alleluia, 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.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/love-never-ends-being-the-body-of-christ/epiphany-baptism-of-the-lord-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/epiphany-baptism-of-the-lord-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2012/11/year-c-baptism-of-lord-january-13-2013.html

Moved Into the Neighborhood

“Moved Into the Neighborhood”

John 1:14-18 (1:14) – January 2, 2022

            Sometimes, before a book really gets started, or before the action starts in a play or a movie, the author needs to say some important things. Things that we as readers (or watchers) need to see and absorb, in order to truly understand the rest of the book – or play, or movie. This is often called the prologue, and it can hold some pretty important stuff!

            Our Scripture reading today, the first Sunday of the New Year, comes from the first chapter of the Gospel of John, verses 14-18. This reading is from John’s prologue to his long narrative about our Lord Jesus and His life and ministry. Before the action gets going, John writes some really important stuff about the Eternal Second Person of the Trinity in this beginning, including verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

            Before the action begins in our lives, in our next chapter, we can sit down and think. Is there any kind of important stuff you would like to mention? Any special instructions or information for your potential readers? Let’s think about these opening verses from the Gospel of John. What do they say to us? “How do they function? [These words of the prologue] provide perspective a default position, a direction. They set the tone, set out themes so we know what to expect – a lens through which to view what comes next.” [1]

            These words remind me that you and I can take the opportunity to write prologues for our own stories, for the next chapter of our own lives.

We recognize this prologue of John’s from every Christmas, for years. Every year, we sing “O, Come, All Ye Faithful,” and every year we sing these tremendous words “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.” Those words are lifted right from this very chapter, right here! But, what does it mean, for the eternal Second Person of the Trinity, God from before the foundation of the universe, to become flesh, a fragile human Baby born in Bethlehem? 

This is the central, foundational promise of this Gospel – God became human, capable of being experienced and known by other humans. A simple yet profound message and promise.

Face it. We as weak, limited human beings have limited capacity to understand things. Things like God and God’s revelation. God understands our limitations, our fragility, and our hesitations. God the Eternal Second Person of the Trinity, Creator of the universe, emptied Himself of all that was God and came down from heaven. Jesus became a tiny, helpless human Baby born in Bethlehem, and then grew and experienced humanity from the inside out, to better be able to communicate to us limited humans down on earth.

How awesome, how unbelievable, how indescribably kind was that? Let’s go back to John’s Prologue. The last verse we read today says a whole lot: “the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made [the Father] known.”

As our commentator Karoline Lewis points out, verse 18 seeks to describe what the Word made flesh came here to do. John uses the Greek verb exago, “combining the prefix ex, which means “out” with the verb ago which means “to bring or to lead.” In other words, the principal purpose of the Word made flesh is to bring God out, to lead God out, so that an experience of God is possible. It makes no sense for the Word to become flesh if God is not able to be experienced, and on every level of what it means to be human.” [2]

So, here we are, as limited, fragile human beings, faced with a loving, caring God-made-flesh, Emmanuel, God-with-us. How have you experienced Emmanuel, God-with-you, in your life? Has Jesus been especially real to you at any point? Have you been going through difficulties and problems in your life, or in the lives of your families, and our Lord Jesus came alongside you and was very present in your life and experience? That is the very thing He came down from heaven to do and to be. To come alongside of us as we muddle our way through our messy lives.

As Lewis suggests, “I wonder if perhaps we all need a prologue — a prologue for our lives, even our believing, our discipleship, our relationship with God…. What themes will orient your life this year? Maybe we could call this a reorientation of New Year’s resolutions.

“This might be an especially helpful exercise at the beginning of a new year — what resolutions you want to make but also what God resolutions you need to make. In other words, resolutions not just for the sake of your life, but for the sake of God in your life, and for the sake of helping your congregation orient their lives to God’s Christmas, God’s present, and God’s future.” [3] What a marvelous idea! Make new year’s resolutions centered around God – God in the flesh, God’s present, and God’s future.

God is not someone far away, or someone who doesn’t care about us or our families, or our problems. God in very present with us. We as fragile, fallible humans CAN experience our Lord Jesus Christ, who did the ultimate. God the Father gave us all the most marvelous Christmas gift: the gift of God’s own Eternal Son, born as a Baby in Bethlehem.

I love how Eugene Peterson translated verse 14: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Moved down the street, maybe even right next door. What a gift for all of us to experience. The Eternal God, right here, right now – Jesus moved into our neighborhood, and, God willing, into our very hearts and lives. Alleluia, 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/dear-working-preacher/a-prologue-for-the-new-year

[2]  https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-christmas-2/commentary-on-john-11-9-10-18-5

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/a-prologue-for-the-new-year

“In My Father’s House”

“In My Father’s House”

Luke 2:41-52 – December 26, 2021

            Have you ever been concerned about someone’s whereabouts? Not knowing where they are, or when they might return? Maybe it was a teenage son or a daughter, out after curfew, forgetful of the time. Maybe it was a brother or sister, late coming back home. We are worried, true. Concern and care are there, too. Normal, human reactions connect with such a happening. But here in our scripture passage today, the care and concern that Mary and Joseph are dealing with are a bit more serious than just the concern over a teenager coming home a little late one night.          

            Let’s look at this passage a bit more closely. The Holy Family worships in Jerusalem for the Passover festival when Jesus is twelve years old, This snapshot of Jesus’ life is the only picture shown to us by the Gospels in between the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke, and the time when Jesus begins His public ministry when He’s an adult.

            His parents start to go back to Nazareth with the group of people they had come to Jerusalem with. One problem: Jesus isn’t there. The group Mary and Joseph were traveling with must have been pretty big, since Jesus’ parents were not aware that Jesus wasn’t with them when they started off for Nazareth.

            This must have been a really unusual happening. I mean, seriously . . . can you imagine Jesus ditching His earthly parents? Can anyone here imagine Jesus being mean, or teasing weaker kids, or being disobedient to Mary and Joseph? I suspect Mary and Joseph had a hard time believing it themselves, since the book of Luke tells us that they checked the group of travelers thoroughly before heading back to Jerusalem.

            It takes Mary and Joseph several days to find Jesus, once they get to Jerusalem. And where do they find Him? In the Temple. And what is Jesus doing there? He is amazing everyone with His understanding and precocious answers, at such a young age.

            I am reminded of my older brother John, a number of years older than I am. I wasn’t even alive when the following happened, but I was told many times by my other siblings about my brother’s abilities. When he was in kindergarten, my brother John was quite advanced in his school work. In fact, he could read fluently. When the kindergarten teacher found out about this, she tried having John read a number of things, including the daily newspaper. So, when I read this passage in Luke, it sometimes reminds me of my kindergarten-aged brother John, reading the newspaper aloud to a group of admiring teachers in the teachers’ lounge.

            The Gospel of Luke tells us the priests, Pharisees and other teachers of the Law of Moses were also an admiring group, gathered around Jesus, listening to His answers and understanding concerning matters in Hebrew Scriptures. The boy Jesus had a clear, deep understanding of the Scriptures, and this came from His understanding of God the Father. 

            And how does Jesus respond when Mary and Joseph finally catch up with Him? “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” What a response. Could Jesus go wrong, being in His Father’s house? And, thinking about it, what more natural, obvious place for Jesus to be than in the Temple? Even though today’s preaching passage doesn’t tell us so, numerous other places in the Gospel records do tell us that Jesus was regular in prayer. He did have a close relationship with His heavenly Father. We can follow Jesus’ example, and be close friends with God.

            We see at the end of this narrative that Mary had a close relationship with God, too, except that she was more reflective. She meditated, reflected, pondered upon these things. She communicated to God in that way. Another way for people to be close to God.

            When I consider this snapshot of Jesus in the Temple, I desire a better understanding of Scripture, too. I not only wish to have a more thorough grasp of the Bible, I want to become better able to understand what God desires of me. For example, Dr. Luke says that Mary continued to treasure up all these things in her heart. Pondered, meditated on and considered all of these wondrous, miraculous happenings, and thus understood God better.

            But how am I to better understand God? Two good ways of becoming better acquainted with God and God’s desires for me are through reading the Scripture and through prayer and meditation – pondering what God says, what I read in the Bible. And this has the dual benefit of helping me to develop a closer relationship, a closer walk with the Lord. I see Jesus, having a close relationship with God, and therefore having a clearer understanding of what God’s Word says. I have the opportunity to have that, too!

            Prayer, talking to God, even thinking to God in the privacy of our own rooms, while in bed at night, or while taking a walk—all are good ways that we can keep up that relationship with God. We can praise God that God wants us to have a closer walk with the Lord, and provides all of us the means to do it.

            Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

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

Christmas Caroling – Uncertainly

“Christmas Caroling – Uncertainly”

John 1:1-5, 10-14 (1:10) – December 24, 2021

            Who here has gone Christmas caroling? With other friends or with fellow church members, going from house to house, standing outside singing carols in the chilly weather. That is quite a memorable experience! I have done it, a number of times. It is fun and cold and full of laughter and false starts and wrong notes. And then, next holiday season, we do it all over again.

            Except – what about this year? This is the second holiday season taking place during the pandemic. Holiday gatherings are again in short supply – except at a prudent distance. What about singing Christmas carols? Maybe, but with a good deal of uncertainty in our hearts.

            When John wrote the beginning of his Gospel, he was thinking of the cosmic Christ, the Word of God that existed from eternity past. Not the little Baby born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Except, that was there, too. We have the Word, the True Light, the Second Person of the Trinity putting aside all His God-ness to become a tiny little baby. Can you believe it? If you ask most people, it is pretty hard to believe. But, it’s true!

            This year of anxious, fearful living has been difficult on a lot of people, for a number of different reasons. With so many things all through 2021 that are and have been so challenging in all of our lives, can you – or I – really and truly believe the Second Person of the Trinity became a little baby, born in Bethlehem? It can be difficult to have faith, but believe me, it’s true.

            Then, if we add on top of this miracle, the miracle of the birth of the Christ child, the other miracles concerning the birth of Jesus related to us in both the gospels of Luke and Matthew, it becomes more and more of a challenge. How could someone fulfill all of those miracles? Finally, we add the global and cosmic miracles from before the beginning of time from the Gospel of John. Could it be? Really and truly? Especially at such a mixed-up, uncertain time?  

            I can just imagine the uncertainty in the hearts of Mary and Joseph, as they count down the months and weeks of pregnancy, waiting for the birth of their blessed baby. Can you feel the discomfort of the other people in Bethlehem, at having the lowly shepherds, shunted aside, receive an extra special birth announcement?

Yet, I also feel the shepherds’ uncertain hearts, as they come into the unusual premises of a town to seek out a Baby. And, such a Baby! With such a stellar birth announcement, too.

Finally, such a roller coaster of emotions for Mary and Joseph. Enforced travel at such an uncertain time of the year. And then, Bethlehem is full, packed. Not a room to be had. Such uncertainty for this couple! And, to make things even more complicated, Mary goes into labor and bears her firstborn son.

Yes, she and Joseph name this blessed baby Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. (much later, after He grows up). However, we can see the cosmic, eternal element in this homey, rustic birth, with the baby laid in a feeding trough. The Light of the World, the Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Wonderful Counselor, Eternal Father becomes a helpless, tiny babe.  

Even though you and I may be filled with uncertainty, fear, loss and anxiety at times, I still find myself face to face with this miraculous birth. How unbelievable! How wondrous, and how beyond words this miraculous birth is.

            I turn to my friend Pastor April Fiet’s words: “What I have re-learned more than anything is that my uncertain heart cannot stop the all-embracing love of God. It cannot quench the peace that passes understanding, nor can it stifle the hope that springs eternal. There is joy in this journey, even if there is also sorrow and heartache. And the day will come when joy is born anew in our hearts in a way that can never be silenced. We will cry out “Joy to the World the Lord is come,” and we will receive the one who is, and who was, and who is to come.” [1]

            We have counted off the weeks of Advent with Pastor April, as she has considered this season through the lens of an uncertain heart. We have welcomed hope into our hearts. Peace has returned into the world. Joy blooms amid the grief and loss. And, the overarching, undergirding love of the Christ child born in Bethlehem remains with us, no matter what.

It is good news indeed that a Savior was born. Each year, we who call ourselves Christ followers get to consider anew what it all means. May the candle of the Christ child shine in your heart this Christmas, and all year long.

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] https://aprilfiet.com/my-thoughts/advent-for-uncertain-hearts-christmas-eve?fbclid=IwAR1gNtTG127hJ98yt8G1PUmLoZ7r4LGLL40GDiJJmR0l_xhAxA6FQ3wAKz4

Challenged to Love

“Challenged to Love”

Luke 2:15-20 (2:19) – December 19, 2021

            The coming birth of a baby today is surely a time for rejoicing! In this country today we have such events as baby showers, regular prenatal visits, ultrasounds, and lots of other preparations made as the time for the birth gets closer and closer.

            But, what about in centuries past? How would the typical baby’s parents and family prepare for the birth of a baby? Was the baby still expected and waited for with love? What about after the baby arrived? Would uncertain and even dangerous situations cause that love from the parents and family to cool, dry up and perhaps even go away?

This Baby I have in mind was not your usual baby. No, this Baby was special. In fact, super-special. This Baby’s parents Mary and Joseph were living in an uncertain time, too. It’s not only us, today, with the uncertain health situations around the country, extreme weather, financial worries of all kinds, close friends or relatives in a jam, and much more.

Mary and Joseph’s country was under military occupation. I suspect the distance Joseph had to travel was only made more complicated by the question marks caused by the season of the year, the weather, and by the possible hassle caused by meeting Roman soldiers on the road.

A far cry from the love expressed by many people today, especially when a baby is born.

Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent, the Sunday where we focus on Love. It is such a challenge to highlight love, when we are also dealing with such uncertainty. Uncertainty in our work lives, in our personal lives, and in our corporate lives, as a congregation, a family, and in your friend groups. The minute our Savior, Christ the Lord is born, in that same uncertain minute the rug seems to be pulled out from under everyone’s feet.

How can we focus on love at an uncertain time like this?

I appreciate different people and their different blog posts and articles incorporating the coming Christ child in Bethlehem. One of the readings most true to my heart this year: “It is easy to feel disappointed when things don’t happen the way you have planned them. You can get lost in your expectations, feel frustrated, and even close your heart to what is happening unexpectedly, instead of noticing the wonderful experiences around you.” [1]

What unexpected and wonderful things were happening in Bethlehem, for sure!

But, have you ever felt that so much has gone wrong, so many things have misfired or gotten off to a rotten start that nothing that’s positive could ever happen again? It’s true that the world at the end of 2021 has had terrible, awful and downright frightening things happen for so many months. This uncertainty can manifest itself into being so anxious and unwelcoming to the Christmas angels with their “good news of great joy.” Where is love when we need it most?

Sometimes things just don’t go the way we planned. Sometimes some of us feel nervous, afraid, or even disgruntled most of the time! And then, what happens to our hearts? Are our hearts open to new things, or fresh experiences, or unexpected opportunities? Chances are, no.

“Sometimes people lock their hearts because they think it will protect them. They lock out strangers who might become friends; they lock out different places that might become places where they belong. The problem with locking your heart is that it doesn’t actually protect you; it keeps out all the love you didn’t think to imagine.” [2]

            In such an uncertain time as December 2021, many people have extra armor protecting their insides, guarding against fear and hurt, almost like pulling up the covers over our heads and wishing that all of this uproar and sadness and anxiety gripping our insides would just go away. But – God has sent love into the world. God’s love, lovely love.

            Even though her world was uncertain, Mary the mother of the infant Jesus had a whole succession of wondrous events happen to her. The coming of the angel Gabriel, confirmation of the angel’s message to her fiancé Joseph. The welcome by Elizabeth followed by Mary singing the Magnificat. The journey to Bethlehem followed by a wondrous birth. And, to cap it off, a group of dusty, dirty shepherds trooping in to see her newborn Baby with an equally wondrous story to tell. More angels! More glory! More opportunities for God to be praised!

            This world certainly was weary then, and it certainly continues to be weary – and fearful and anxious – today. Nevertheless, Dr. Luke says that Mary treasured up all these things in her heart. Pondered, meditated on and considered all of these wondrous, miraculous happenings. God’s Love had indeed broken into this weary world.

            My friend Rev. April Fiet ponders these things, too, as we all celebrate the incarnate Son of God born as the infant Jesus. “The first Christmas, Love came down and got its hands dirty. Love grew and experienced pain, was overlooked, rejected, and mocked. Love embraced others with otherworldly love and was scorned for loving the wrong people. Love didn’t just take on flesh in the holiest of senses; Love took on the struggle of being human. Love encountered us, looked us in the eyes and said, “Me, too.” [3]

            Christina Rossetti wrote a poem in the 1800’s, set to music and found in many hymnals today. “Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine.”  Praise God, we, too, can stop by that manger in Bethlehem, and be caught up in the wonder of what happened that night, so long ago. We, too can welcome this lovely, Godly Love that has come into this uncertain, weary world, today.

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] Illustrated Ministry – Do Not Be Afraid, Advent 2021

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://aprilfiet.com/my-thoughts/advent-for-uncertain-hearts-week-4-love-in-the-struggle?fbclid=IwAR2yzfOdmvPxceuJF0JvE01JKHOrtrTeKkGvUq2BRr1peCcvBDjXeLmOtNM

Joy at Arm’s Length

“Joy at Arm’s Length”

 Luke 2:1-14 (2:9-10) – December 12, 2021

            Have you felt recently like there are lots of feelings coming your way? It seems like 2021 is a year of deep feelings. Yes, the feelings of fear, anxiety, worry, and grief (over many different kinds of losses!). At the same time, there are occasions of happiness, comfort, and once in a while, excitement! Can you recognize joy in that bundle of feelings?

Let’s look at what Dr. Luke has to say about the shepherds. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”

            As we read this familiar Christmas story, was there much in the shepherds’ daily life and experience to fill them with joy? I do not think they were particularly joy-filled, with their ordinary, workaday life and their low, social status.

Remember the difficult situation the shepherds were in. The shepherds’ position on the social ladder in Palestine was pretty near the bottom. Working as a shepherd was something that vagrants might pick up, or a job for ne’er-do-wells, or others who were very much down on their luck. Similar to the current day, where the angels might come and give a heavenly announcement to homeless people.

            Today, you and I do not need to be down and out like the shepherds to have difficulty finding joy. Goodness knows, there is a lot going on in the world today, much less in each individual life. Look at the extreme weather! Look at the political situation, both local and national! Look at finances all over! Look at health situations! Need I say more? Actually, I do.

            My friend Rev. April Fiet reflects about our focus on joy, too. She says, “I was already struggling with joy because I feel guilty delighting in things when others are suffering. It feels inappropriate. How can I rejoice when someone else is experiencing the pain of a loved one in the hospital and being unable to be with them? How can I feel delight when business owners are forced to close their doors? How can I justify smiling at the sound of the birds in the trees or the scent of fresh baked bread when neighbors are sick, families are separated, and such brokenness exists in the world?” [1]

Oh, my. I can relate to Pastor April’s reflections. Are you and I uncertain about joy? Is it difficult for us to feel joy, even a challenge to think about experiencing joy?

I know what it is like to work a hum-drum, workaday job. Yes, I have had some jobs like that, years ago. I wonder whether the shepherds felt like that, right before the angel chorus broke into this hum-drum, workaday world and appeared to them?

Dr. Luke says that the shepherds were doing their job in the fields by taking care of the sheep. It is what they did every day. “Maybe their job had become a routine. Perhaps they were used to living in the fields, and they had forgotten to notice the green grass or look up at the glittering stars. Suddenly, the angels came to the shepherds to share, “the good news of great joy for all the people.” They said, “Jesus has been born. It is a blessing for you. It is a blessing for everyone!”[2] Imagine, a bunch of extraterrestrial beings lighting up the whole night sky! Imagine, what would that have been like if you had been there?

Years back, many people remember cute Christmas pageants, with children dressed in bathrobes as shepherds, and angels with aluminum papered wings and tinsel halos singing “Gloria!” Yet, the real angels’ joyous announcement was contagious! They surrounded the shepherds with that great joy, for all people! The ultimate birth announcement for all time!

I am sure you remember getting filled with joy just because your friend or relative was so joy-filled. We just celebrated the birth of a grandbaby in this congregation a few days ago, and the grandparents were so joy-filled it surely was contagious for the rest of us! And how much more to have a glorious angel chorus filled with joy, singing their Glorias to God in the highest!

But, sometimes – it can be difficult to be filled with joy, even if angels are telling us to be. Sometimes, uncertain hearts can still lean away from joy, for all kinds of reasons. Some remember birth stories of sadness, either in their own lives, or in the life of someone close to them. And some people are just not feeling particularly holly-jolly, merry and bright at this time of the year. Again, for a whole host of reasons. And, that is okay. God understands and God is right here with us, through it all.

Even if we have the angel chorus turned down low, like on a car radio, we can still hear the good news of great joy. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” We can listen to the joyous chorus – softly: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”

Yes, the angels brought something extraordinary to the shepherds, and to all of us. Even when we are uncertain to receive it, the angels bring us good tidings of great joy, for all the people! And even when some of us do not have the strength or wherewithal to reach out for joy, a loving, gentle God continues to beckon to us. God’s gift of joy still remains.

I encourage us all – look for God’s joy in our lives today. And, God-with-us, Emmanuel, will stay at our sides in an uncertain Advent, through the Christmas season, and for the rest of our lives. Alleluia, 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://aprilfiet.com/my-thoughts/advent-for-uncertain-hearts-week-3-joy-at-arms-length?fbclid=IwAR27woV9I-D9ZOu6-QnqwTF_Md7hE8MDmhpkjxdJ9JivtCJY-Nqmscm5aG8

[2] Illustrated Ministry – Week 3, Do Not Be Afraid, Advent 2021

When There Is No Peace

“When There Is No Peace”

Luke 1:46-55 (1:52) – December 5, 2021

            What do you remember most from Christmas celebrations? Holiday laughter? The joy of giving? The family gatherings? What about Christmas carols? Hearing and singing of Christmas music is so memorable, and so meaningful for so many people.

            Our Scripture reading this morning contains the lyrics to a song. Shortly after the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her the news that she was going to be the mother of the Messiah, the Son of God, Mary burst into song. She had to express her emotion in some way – and what a way to express these deep-down, amazingly rich feelings. Amazement, yes! We find abundant joy, awareness, questioning, curiosity, and excitement here, too.   

            But, let’s take a step back. Perhaps several steps back. When many people today consider Mary, the mother of Jesus, some probably see her through the lenses of the modern-day. Some perhaps see Mary dressed in rich robes of blue, with fair skin and blond hair, as many paintings and depictions through the centuries show. What do we know about Mary?

            Mary was a teenager, and we know she came from a Jewish family of the lineage of King David. Her family was probably not well-to-do. Yet, Mary was biblically literate. I suspect she could read and write. She certainly was familiar with Hannah’s song from 1 Samuel. And, she had maturity beyond her years – certainly, beyond most teens of today.  

            How many teenagers do you know who could sing such a revolutionary song? Because, that is exactly what Mary did, about the moral, social, and economic turning upside down of the world with the coming of the baby she would bear.

            What kinds of songs do we sing today about the Baby born in Bethlehem? So often, these gentle songs, hymns and carols talk about the coming of peace. Just think of these lyrics: “Peace on earth and mercy mild,” “All is calm, all is bright,” “Peace on earth, good will to all.” Listening to these modern carols, we might think that the coming of the Christ Child was neat and tidy, picture perfect, like a lovely Christmas card. Can’t you see the shiny glitter glued on the outside to make it extra pretty?

            This is the second Sunday of Advent. The second candle of the Advent wreath is the candle of peace. So many people look at the birth of the Christ Child as so peaceful – and it was. So many people gathered together, as they hold hands and sing to praise God.

            However, I believe Mary had the right idea, when she talked about the overturning of everything the greater society held dear. She lived in a time of foreign occupation. Israel was occupied by a foreign power, the Roman army, with Roman governors and administrators in charge. I think Mary was on to something profound when she saw with unusual maturity that God can bring peace when there is no peace.    

            Sure, the first century had little peace, and Mary sang a revolutionary song about the coming of peace, crashing through, into the weary world. What about today? What does it look like to explore the idea of peace in a chaotic and uncertain time, like right now?

My friend Rev. April Fiet reminds us that “both the Greek and Hebrew words for peace (eirene and shalom) have more to do with wholeness than with quiet or rest. Eirene comes from the verb that means “to join together” or “to tie into a whole.” Shalom is about wholeness and goodness in the relationship between things.” [1]

Oh, to have wholeness in this world, right now! Everything seems so fragile, so broken, so disjointed, disrupted, and just plain falling apart. Things are so divided, in terms of the fragmented relationships between individuals, groups, nations, and the uncertain state of humanity and the world. Mary certainly had to deal with a great deal of grit and difficulty in her personal life, as an unwed teenaged mother. Her social situation was not easy, by any means, even with the support of Joseph, her betrothed. Yet, she was able to sing a revolutionary song telling of the turning of the world.

Are things today much different than they were for Mary, so long ago? She was able to sing joyously, and look forward with clear eyes, wide open – even though her world was anything but peaceful and peaceable, Mary still had an inner sense of peace within her very being that was a wellspring of God’s peace for her. Yes, and God-given hope and joy, too!  

In modern-day terms, “Perhaps, our calling in a world without peace isn’t to strive for days off, or quiet hours, or interruption-free days (though those things are blessings, too), but to participate in the work of tying things back together. In peace-less days, we are called to be peacemakers, with all of the grit and difficulty that will entail.” [2]

In the words of a modern retelling of Mary’s song: “Though the nations rage from age to age, we remember who holds us fast: God’s mercy must deliver us from the conqueror’s crushing grasp. This saving word that our forebears heard is the promise which holds us bound, ‘til the spear and rod can be crushed by God, who is turning the world around.” [3]

            No matter what storms and distress rock each of us or batter our lives, our hearts can still sing to God. Even when we are too weary or too uncertain, God does indeed hold us fast. We can see, as Mary joyfully saw so long ago, that God brings wondrous things to those who wait. We can all take refuge in God. Yes, we can find God’s peace where there is seemingly no peace, because we have faith in our mighty, powerful God, who can turn the world upside down.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: www.pastorpreacherprayer.com, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://aprilfiet.com/my-thoughts/advent-for-uncertain-hearts-week-2-when-there-is-no-peace?fbclid=IwAR3xUZFElo2UtTUuD5qYh_cPIEQ7Txbrvcq28sDZCmTHAmQYQJme1eYn_0w

[2] Ibid.

[3] Cooney, Rory, “Canticle of the Turning,” (GIA Pulications, Inc. Chicago, IL: 1990)

Hope for Uncertain Hearts

“Hope for Uncertain Hearts”

Luke 1:26-45 (1:30) – November 28, 2021

            I want to ask a simple question. Do you believe God is active in the world today? I know we can read about Bible times, thousands of years ago. The Bible says that God was active, mighty and powerful, back then. God did amazing things in people’s lives – long, long ago. But, what about today? Is God active in your life – in my life – today?

            “Few of our people imagine God to be an active character in the story of their lives.” And I suspect commentator Walter Brueggemann is right. It’s not that people today don’t believe in God. It’s more that, day in and day out, God seems to most of them (and perhaps to us, too) as fairly passive. If God is doing anything, it’s pretty much hanging out in the background, watching, waiting, merely being supportive. Not vital, and not active. [1]

Here we are, on the first Sunday in Advent. God may seem far away right now. Merely watching and waiting. Not playing a vital, active role in the story of our lives today. Perhaps it is difficult to think of the Lord as a mighty, powerful actor in our lives right now. But, wasn’t that exactly what God was, in our Scripture reading today?  

            I suspect Mary was shocked down to her sandals when the angel came to her that day, two thousand years ago. The angel said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” We can read that “29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.” If that isn’t God taking an active role in Mary’s life, I don’t know what is.

            Is it possible that you and I might have that same kind of expectation today, that hopeful looking-forward-to God acting in our lives, too?

            I am afraid that I am not very hopeful right now. Neither is my friend, Rev. April Fiet. The fear, the anxiety, the uncertainty of the past eighteen months of pandemic have taken their toll on many, many people across our country. Across our world. Is it even possible to hope? Or, is that feeling a big uncertainty, too?

            Pastor April says “I have tried to hope even when better days seemed impossible. I tried to take things one day at a time, not get too far ahead of myself, and look at the good things I had rather than the things I was losing out on.” [2] I can relate to this honesty. Like Pastor April, I became afraid to hope, too. Every time I got a little bit of hope in my heart, some positivity inside, something would happen. COVID cases would spike, or hospitals and morgues would be overwhelmed, or more recently, the supply chain would have severe interruptions. Not to mention interruptions or disasters in my work life here, or my personal life at home.

            Yet, as we mark the first Sunday in Advent, the first candle on the Advent wreath is called the candle of Hope. Can you and I possibly find hope in such an atmosphere of anxiety? Of uncertainty? Overwhelmed by pervasive negativity?

            Pastor April’s words ring so true in my heart. She says, “I’m uncertain about Advent. I’m uncertain I can hope. I’m uncertain about what’s possible for me. The only thing I’m certain about is that I don’t want to go through Advent with this heaviness on my heart. I want to find a way to release [this feeling] so that healing can begin to happen. I want to exchange uncertainty for hope.” [3] Oh, that would be such a blessing to my heart, to even begin to hope!

            I suspect if you and I had an encounter with a heavenly messenger, like Mary did in our Scripture reading, things might be very different for us. I’m asking, again: what about today? Is God active in your life – in my life – today? Can God actively encourage our hearts to hope?

            Sometime after Mary and the angel had their encounter and Mary became pregnant with the infant Jesus, Mary went to her older cousin Elizabeth’s house. Elizabeth had had a wonderful intervention happen in her life, too. Mary and Elizabeth both had a most joyous reason to hope. Yes, I suspect both women were anxious and fearful sometimes, especially as this was the first pregnancy for both women.

I’m wondering: isn’t it possible to feel afraid and to hope at the same time? The Holy Spirit helped Mary and Elizabeth to hold great hope in their hearts. They held on to hope even in all the uncertainty and caution of their lives.

Sometimes, we may feel overwhelmed, even afraid to hold on to hope. But, we do not need to face challenges all alone. God has promised to be with us. Plus, you and I can join together. We can come alongside of each other, too, if someone is feeling especially down and hopeless. [4] We can thank God for each other! Thank God for God’s mighty power, too.

So, what do you think? We know about Bible times long ago, and what the biblical record has to say. What about today? Is God active in your life – in my life – today? Can God actively encourage our hearts to hope? We can trust that God is still active, and is still doing all kinds of things in the world today – even in each of our lives! Look around at the people around you, in your family, in your congregation. God actively encourages each one of them, and each of us, too. [5]

God can do marvelous things through all our lives, too. Think how many marvelous things God wants to accomplish through each of us, today. On our insides and on our outsides. God IS mighty, active, and inspiring hope for sure, even through these uncertain times.

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

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

And, thanks to Rev. April Fiet for her excellent series “An Advent for Uncertain Hearts.” I appreciate Illustrated Ministry’s Do Not Be Afraid selections for Advent, too.


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/favored-ones

[2] https://aprilfiet.com/my-thoughts/advent-for-uncertain-hearts-week-1-when-it-is-hard-to-hope

[3] Ibid.

[4] Illustrated Ministry – Do Not Be Afraid, Advent 2021

[5] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/favored-ones

Give Thanks? For What?

“Give Thanks? For What?”

Psalm 100:1-5 (100:4) – November 24, 2021 (preached at the Morton Grove Interfaith Thanksgiving Eve service, held at St. Martha of Bethany Catholic Church campus)

            What are you thankful for? I don’t know whether you or your family come up with a “gratitude” before you eat your Thanksgiving feast tomorrow. Except, it is becoming more and more common that as families and friends gather around the festive table that they go around the table and say what each one is grateful for. Sometimes, even before they begin to eat. The religious writer Diana Butler Bass calls this “the Turkey Hostage Situation.” No food until everyone comes up with a gratitude!   

            Some years we are more grateful and thankful than others. The psalm we read tonight features thankfulness as a highlight of worship. When we come into our houses of worship, we are supposed to be thankful. Grateful. Especially now, at this Thanksgiving time of the year.

I want to dig more deeply into Psalm 100, and see what else we can discover.

I love language. I loved English classes when I was in middle school and high school. Of course, I loved literature! I was – and still am – fascinated with the way language functions and is put together. This great interest in languages helped me when I went to seminary and studied biblical Hebrew and Greek, the original languages our Bible was written in.   

One helpful tip I remember when looking at the nuts and bolts of a Bible verse or paragraph is to break it down. Look at the different parts of speech: nouns, adjectives, and especially verbs. The verbs in Psalm 100 give us a great deal of insight into this psalm, or song.

Speaking of songs, this reading IS a song. This song gives us instruction of how to come into God’s presence – the how-to’s of worship. The African-American Lectionary commentary says, “The psalmist uses seven different verbs to call to the community to worship: make, serve, come, know, enter, give thanks, and bless. Although there are moments when we need to be still and quiet in the presence of the LORD, this is not one of them.” [1]

I really appreciate and enjoy those times when I worshiped in African-American congregations. Since I lead a congregation now myself, I miss those other opportunities to go, and see other congregations, and enjoy different praise structures and faith traditions in worship.

Yet, I wonder – what is it about this psalm that makes it so marvelous as a template for worship? If we go back to the verbs used in this song, this hymn of praise and worship takes on a more wonderful meaning. And institutional meaning.

True, I have attended worship in a number of different settings, over the years. In many of these, the basic outline of worship remains the same. The worshipers come together, and they know, they understand (as best as they are able) that God is the reason they gather. Then – and this is important to any worship service – they give thanks.

I remember a small, intimate worship service some years ago while I was on a retreat. About 15 people were gathered together. We did not have any of the outside trappings of a building, no special glass, no carved woodwork or stone, no music or musicians. Yet, that was a meaningful worship experience for me, and for many others in that group.

That retreat was not at Thanksgiving-time, yet we were all thankful and grateful the group of us had gathered together. Can you relate? Have you had a feeling like that, a similar experience where you and the other members of your group felt thankful about this holy experience? This worship opportunity where you felt thankful and grateful you and the other people in your group (any group – family, friends, congregation, retreat group) felt the same way? Indescribable, worshipful, beyond words, even divine.  

This psalm talks about experiences like that in worship, and says that giving thanks is an integral part of worshiping God. We can give thanks that God is our God. And, we can give thanks for all that God has given to us.

            I agree with commentator Larry Broding that thanksgiving is one of our primary attitudes of worship. “We are to be happy when we present ourselves to God. We are to be thankful when we are in [God’s] presence. Other attitudes are possible (sorrow, need, intercession, surrender, peace, etc.) but joy and thanksgiving should be our primary focus.” [2] And, this isn’t just at Thanksgiving. It’s at any time of the year.

For those among us who do not feel like gathering with family or friends at a dinner table tomorrow, I relate. Thanksgiving can be a difficult occasion, a complicated time. Know that there are friends who stand with you, or sit beside you, in your discomfort, grief or longing.

            Specifically, what about the upcoming feast tomorrow? Similar to writer Diana Butler Bass, are you and I familiar with the Turkey Hostage Situation? Are we going to hold our turkey – or whatever other kind of main course – hostage while each one around the table scrambles to come up with something they are grateful for? We are grateful for the stuff, the things of our lives! That is turning our annual day of thanks into a commodity-based occasion. [3] It is not helpful for us to twist or force “thankful” feelings and behavior in this way

            Going back to my great interest in language, I found Butler Bass’s alternative for this round-robin of “gratitude” to be a fascinating option. Instead, an alternative suggestion: Perhaps this Thanksgiving is a good time to ask some different questions regarding gratitude:

To whom or what are you grateful?
What challenges have you been grateful through?
Have you been grateful with others?
Where have you discovered gratitude within?
Has something in your life been changed by being grateful?
In
what circumstances have you experienced thankfulness?

            Any or all of these are marvelous ideas to ponder. Situations to consider. Again, this may or may not work for the group gathered around your Thanksgiving table. But, it certainly takes our minds off of the tangible, material things, the clutter of forced gratitude at Thanksgiving, and the myriad of stuff we might have randomly filling up our lives, like the stuffing inside of a turkey.

            Tonight, I hope and pray we all can “Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;” may we all “give thanks to God and praise his name.”

             I pray a blessed and thankful holiday upon us all. Amen.

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=98

Commentary, Psalm 100, Alfie Wines, The African American Lectionary, 2009

[2] http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/Psalms/100.html

·  “How To Prepare for Worship,”Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Lectionary Resource for Catholics.

[3] https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/about

No Need to Worry!

“No Need to Worry!”

Matthew 6:25-34 (6:27, 34) – November 21, 2021

            There is no need to worry!

            What? You have GOT to be kidding. If your everyday life is anything like mine, there is A LOT to worry about. Worries at work (look at the church office roof!), worries at home (with family members sick), worries about everything under the sun, like a friend’s daughter, another’s brother, several people going through physical therapy. That’s not mentioning making ends meet, supply chain issues, and worries about healthcare. What isn’t there to worry about?    

            Our Lord Jesus was very serious here. He’s in the middle of one of His great sermons from the Gospel of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount. This is early in His ministry; the Rabbi Jesus teaches about the Law of Moses to a Jewish audience. Lots of rabbis did exactly that! Giving their own understanding about the Hebrew Scriptures and the Law of Moses.

            Jesus spends the first half of Matthew 6 talking about prayer. He even gives us that prayer template we say every week! The Lord’s Prayer. After that, Jesus talks about the attitude we are supposed to have. How we ought to think – and act.

            Let’s think more deeply about our Scripture reading for today. Wonderful Scripture! But, not quite our usual Scripture reading for Thanksgiving Sunday. Or, is it? Commentator Rev. Janet Hunt said “these words which come to us this Thanksgiving aren’t first about giving thanks, are they?  No, they seem to get at gratitude’s opposite – or at least that which keeps us from being grateful, namely worry.” [1] Especially during a pandemic. What is Jesus thinking of? How can He say “don’t be anxious!” “Don’t worry!” and really mean it?

            Worry is invasive, like a nasty, invasive plant. Those of you who garden are very much aware of these weeds, these choking, creeping plants that wind around the healthy flowers and vegetables we plant in our gardens. That worry weed can choke the life out of the good plants, if we give them half a chance. What can we possibly do about worry?

            Janet Hunt makes a confession: “In all truth, I am a worrier.  This is nothing new.  I carried my anxiety so deep that at the age of six I had nearly developed an ulcer and my folks had me going to a therapist (in a time when that was still pretty unusual) — with whom I never did honestly share the fears that troubled my little girl’s heart.” [2] 

            I have several friends with severe anxiety, too. They worry about a lot of stuff, all the time. This anxiety can be very real, and very debilitating.

One of my favorite commentators, David Lose, notices something important about this reading. He said it hit him like a two by four! How hard is it to hear Jesus say “Do not worry about your life.” David Lose does not think it is just about him! He thinks “we live in an incredibly anxious culture. The evening news certainly depends upon worries at home and abroad to attract viewers. Commercials are constantly inviting us to worry about one more thing — usually about ourselves! — the sponsored product should supposedly solve.” [3]

David Lose wrote these words about ten years ago. Since we are eighteen months into the pandemic, with all of its attendant fear, anxiety, distress and upset, how much more is worry an everyday companion for all of us! Plus, so many people – not only across the United States, but also across the world are seeking some way out, some way to alleviate that worry. Usually by waving some commercially sponsored magic wand or using some sponsored product.

Isn’t it simpler than that? I mean, simpler, in a straightforward kind of way? Not necessarily easier, but some way that Jesus can help us not to worry?

You remember that I said the Rabbi Jesus talks about the attitudes we are supposed to have. How we ought to think – and act. What does He say here in Matthew 6, just before telling us not to worry? He gives us a choice. We can’t serve two masters: we can’t serve both God and money. Serving money is another name for looking out for security. Giving our allegiance to money and security. Making money our lord – running after security at all costs.

If we make money and security our lord – our God, in fact – what does that do to the real God, the God of the Bible? As David Lose says, “Once we believe that money can satisfy our deepest needs, then we suddenly discover that we never have enough. Money, after all, is finite. No wonder we worry – in a world of scarcity, there is simply never enough.” [4]

So, how on earth are we supposed to NOT worry? The alternative Jesus invites us to consider is entering into a real, authentic relationship with God. Live in this relationship of real, true love and trust. Is there an end to love? I think you know the answer. You have love for all your families, for other close loved ones. When one is added – a niece, nephew, grandchild, in-law – your capacity to love extends, even doubles. We love to overflowing! Even more, as God is infinite, and whose love for us and all creation infinitely overflows, as well.

Jesus’s words “do not worry!” are a command! When we live in this relationship with God, this possible life of abundance, this life of love, caring and trust, all things become possible! Even the possibility of NOT worrying, even through a pandemic.

“Suddenly, in this world — Jesus calls it the “kingdom of God” — not worrying actually becomes an option.” [5] With a loving, authentic relationship with God.

Thank You, Jesus! Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to Rev. David Lose and his commentary article from Working Preacher, “Picture This,”

I took a number of ideas and several quotes from that article on Matthew 6:25-34.)


[1] http://words.dancingwiththeword.com/2012/11/no-more-worries.html

“No More Worries,” the Rev. Dr. Janet H. Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2012.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/picture-this

“Picture This,” David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

Concern For One Another

“Concern For One Another”

Hebrews 10:19-25 (10:24-25) – November 14, 2021

            Have you worshiped at another church – perhaps when you went out of town, or on a trip to see relatives – and found the worship at that other church was quite different from our worship here at St. Luke’s Church? I can relate! I have worshiped at churches in a number of different faith traditions, in all different kinds of church buildings, although they all proclaimed the same Lord, our Lord Jesus Christ. The same God receives all the glory! Some churches in a more rambunctious manner than we do here.

            Our writer to the Hebrew believers in the Messiah is writing to small groups of believers scattered all around the area of Asia Minor. Our Preacher writes to people very familiar with the Temple and Jewish sacrificial system.

            The scattered Hebrew believers worshiped in houses, sometimes synagogues. A far different place and space than the great, big Temple in Jerusalem. Think of that huge building! The High Priest was only able to go into the Most Holy Place of the Temple once a year, on Yom Kippur, with the most holy of sacrifices, to atone for the sins of the nation of Israel.

            This was at a time when there still was a Temple standing in Jerusalem. Yet, not for long. In just a few years, the Roman armies are going to totally destroy the Temple. But – what on earth are the faithful devout Jews going to do when that happens, to be certain sure that their God forgives them their sins? The Preacher to the Hebrew believers told them – yet again, in different ways – that there is a better way to God. That way is the Messiah Jesus.  

            I have worshiped in larger churches. A few times I’ve gone to cathedrals, like here in downtown Chicago. Not only to be surrounded by all of that beautiful stonework, artwork, and stained glass, but also to be surrounded by the glory of God. It is an amazing experience to worship in a place like one of those large, magnificent churches.  Some Christians have a problem, though. It doesn’t matter if they lived in the first century or the twenty-first century. Some believers try really hard to reach God on their own through doing good deeds. Going overboard helping people. Giving so much it seriously hurts.

.           “You’re never done because you can never do enough. After all, it’s not a way for God’s adopted children to establish a right relationship with God.  Of course, God’s people sometimes treat Christianity as a way to make God “happy.”  We sometimes assume you have to think, do or say just the right things to connect to God.” [1]

These beloved people, these God-followers just do not get it. God does not want people to be forced to do anything out of fear, with people scared to pieces, so afraid that they won’t worship God in the proper way. It happens throughout the centuries, not just long ago. It still goes on today – people think they have to worship the “correct” way to connect to God.

I’ve attended some African-American worship services. They are often quite different from the more quiet, sedate way we worship here at St. Luke’s Church. I had the privilege to preach in one service some years ago, at a Baptist church on the west side of Chicago. In a converted building, three storefronts put together. The building did not look like much from the outside. But, inside? A whole different thing. The spirit of God came down and transformed that worship space – and the worshipers. Marvelous to experience.

The worshipers truly encouraged one another, cared for one another, and helped one another show good to others. In their own context, familiar to them, on the west side of Chicago.

I know that we are supposed to encourage each other and care for each other, in our local assembly, in our congregation. But, some churches make it more difficult to do that. Some church buildings are large and impersonal. Like, for example, the church my husband’s sister attended years and years ago, in a nearby Chicago suburb. So cold and gloomy and impersonal! My husband did not want to go back there after he attended two or three times.

Other churches communicate an immediate feeling of warmth, welcome and fellowship. Is your church one of those? The Writer to the Hebrew believers instructs his scattered readers to not only encourage each other, in the assembly, but to be helpful to others outside of your congregation! Be kind! Reach out! And, that will honor God!

One great way to be an encouragement to our fellow congregation members AND to reach out to others out side of the church walls is by being faithful to our local assembly. As we are faithful in offering our time, talent and treasure to our local congregation, we can honor God.  Some might think that I am confused; I just got done with saying some believers try hard to reach God on their own through doing calculated “good deeds. Giving so much it hurts.

That is NOT the case. We don’t have to think, do or say just the right things to connect to God. It isn’t the good works we do. It isn’t the obligations we accomplish. Do you hear? It’s all about the relationship we have with our loving heavenly Parent! God wants relationship, not fear, not obligation. Not shoulds and arm-twisting and guilt, guilt, guilt!

God wants beloved children coming into the Heavenly Presence out of love, out of love and gratitude. That’s the vertical direction. Plus, God is so pleased when we extend that loving, caring relationship in a horizontal direction! To our fellow church member, yes! In reaching out to help others, outside the church walls, too.

We are encouraged to give – in response to God, in love and thankfulness – of our time, talents and treasure. (That means money.) God will be so pleased when we do! You and I will be amazed when we see how far our treasure goes, when we put it to work to help, strengthen, and encourage others. Let’s do this!

And, to God be the glory.  Alleluia, 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://cepreaching.org/commentary/2018-11-12/hebrews-1011-14-15-18-19-25/

See How Jesus Loves!

“See How Jesus Loves!”

John 11:32-44 (11:36) – November 7, 2021

            What happens when you and I get discouraged? Disheartened? Anxious, upset, and grieving? I know, in my life, it is difficult for me to get up and get going when I feel this way. It’s so hard to continue doing the normal, everyday things that need to get done in my life.

            Have you ever experienced this kind of an invisible wall? Or, has someone close to you ever come up against something like this? These kinds of deep feelings happen with sad regularity among people who have just lost a loved one, a dear relative.

            We take a close look, up close and personal, on an encounter our Lord Jesus had with some dear friends. His friends Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus often extended their hospitality to Jesus when He came through Bethany. Lazarus has become very ill. His sisters are very much concerned for their brother! Plus, they all know that their good friend Rabbi Jesus is not far away. Can’t they send a message to the nearby town? Where is Jesus? Can’t He come?

            So many people let us down, here in this world. Either on purpose, or accidentally. Even unconsciously, sometimes. I know, it still happens. We get let down, time and again. It feels like a punch in the gut, sometimes! It hurts! Oh, the disappointment, the discouragement, even the despair, as good friends have a family member in intensive care. Or, a relative gets a serious diagnosis. Or, another close loved one is involved in an accident. Whatever happens, it is not good! Where is Jesus? Can’t He be here, right next to us?

`           “We are invited to find our own story within these pages of Scripture, for who has not become personally acquainted with sickness and despair or known of someone who has. The hard facts are laid out in earlier verses of this chapter.” [1] Martha and Mary send a message – an SOS, distress call! – to their good friend the Rabbi Jesus, in a town nearby. “Lord, the one You love is sick.” Jesus’s response? “This sickness will not end in death.” As the messenger dashes back to Bethany to relay the response, can you hear the collective sigh of relief? “Ahh! Jesus knows that Lazarus will not die. Even though he is very sick, at least we have the assurance from our friend that Lazarus will stay here with us.”

            We all know what ends up happening. Sadly, Lazarus does die. Oh, the despair and devastation of Mary and Martha! Didn’t Jesus promise us that Lazarus wouldn’t die? Where, oh, where is Jesus just when Mary, Martha and especially Lazarus need Him most?

            Can you remember sitting through the darkest part of the night, with darkness and despair closing in around your heart? A vigil in a hospital, or in a care center. Or with a loved one at home, next to the bed. Crying until you don’t have any tears left to cry. Where is Jesus?

            That is how it was with Martha and Mary. Except, their brother died. They buried him, several days before. And now, days too late, the Rabbi Jesus finally arrives.

            We read Martha’s resounding testimony of belief in Jesus, just before the reading Eileen did for us today.. Martha met Jesus on the road near their house, and she confirmed what may people of that time were thinking. When Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again,” she responded “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.“

            Amen! Martha, you’ve got it exactly right! Yes, we all shall rise at that last day! That is our blessed hope. That is consistent with what is preached in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Plus, Jesus is not done with this conversation. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will never die.” And, Jesus presses His point! He asks Martha a follow-up question, “Do you believe this?”

            What a roller coaster of strong emotions and deep feelings Martha and Mary have been riding, for the past week! What can they possibly be experiencing right now? We know Martha makes the ringing statement to Jesus: “Yes, Lord. I believe You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” Oh, glory be! What a testimony, Martha!

            And then, wonder of wonders! We see Jesus openly weep. Weeping, letting deeply held feelings out is something that anyone, that all of us can do. It’s okay! It is permissible to weep, we realize – because – our Lord Jesus did. Even though Jesus knew the rest of the story.

            Where is Jesus? Ah, the gateway to hope! Jesus takes charge, and commands Lazarus to come out of the tomb. Just as the risen and ascended Jesus Christ will call every person to rise on that last day, from all four corners of the earth and under the sea, so Jesus did with authority and power. “Lazarus, come forth!” And, wonder of wonders, Lazarus does exactly that! This miracle is a preview, promo, coming attraction of what the returning Jesus will do at the end of all time.

             In today’s sin-sick world of anxiety, grieving and despair, we need more than feel-good remedies and cheery “spirituality-lite” can offer. In the end, these surface remedies are no substitute for deep believing faith and relationship with God. God’s wellness “can come to help us to participate in God’s healing agenda in the word. In our poverty, a gracious hand is working out even the smallest details of our lives.” [2]

            As we depend on our relationship and faith in God, we find that much in this world is redeemed. As we lean on relationship with each other in this life, even when faced with death itself, we see with eyes of hope that new life can spring up, through faith in Jesus Christ.

Yes, there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul, to make the wounded whole, and His name is Jesus. Amen, alleluia!  


(Thank you to Kenyatta R. Gilbert and her commentary on John 11L28-44. I took several expanded ideas from this excellent commentary for this sermon.)

[1] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=64

Commentary, John 11:28-44, Kenyatta R. Gilbert, The African American Lectionary, 2009.  

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

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