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!

Wipe Away Every Tear

“Wipe Away Every Tear”

Revelation 21:1-6 (21:4) – November 1, 2021

            Do you remember the ending to fairy tales? “…and they lived happily ever after.” After life in this world, a life lived in an imperfect world of sadness, fear, sickness, anxiety, evil, trauma and death, I think “they lived happily ever after” sounds pretty good!

            Our Scripture reading for All Saints Day comes from Revelation, the last book of the Bible. Chapter 21 is all about the new heavens and the new earth, after God remakes everything; the heavens, the earth, and every creature living on the earth, including the New Jerusalem, the Holy City. The imperfect, fallen creation has passed away, and everything has become new!

            I want us to focus on one verse in particular: “God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Wow! That must be something! Something other-worldly, indeed!   

            But, as I’ve said to my children a number of times before, we aren’t there yet.

            We still live in this imperfect world. Sure, it’s still a world of marvelous beauty. I have just finished a month of posting October nature photos on social media, on Facebook and Twitter. I have taken some remarkable photos in the past few weeks, and it is a joy to be able to show many people the natural wonders I have seen and experienced in the Chicago area.

            Let’s take a look way back – far, far back, to the beginning of the world. The creation of the heavens and the earth, back in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. Those first two chapters are filled with wonders, with marvelous word pictures. And when God finished the whole creation, God called it all very good. A stamp of divine approval, indeed!

In the fantasy book The Magician’s Nephew, one of the Chronicles of Narnia, we see the great Lion, Aslan, creating the brand new world where the land of Narnia is going to be. As Aslan sings His powerful, magnificent song of creation, the newly created stars sing for joy, simply because they can! C.S. Lewis did a vibrantly imaginative job in his novel, bringing Narnia to life at its beginning. I can just image the almighty God who created our heavens and earth doing something very much similar – singing the universe into being!    

            Sadly, things did not stay that way. Sin entered into the world. Adam, Eve, a serpent, and fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil were all mixed up together, and from that time, the earth has been imperfect. A fallen planet, with imperfect, fallen creatures living on it.

            With sin, death entered into our reality, into our fallen creation. Yes, there is a remarkable amount of beauty in this world, but a great deal of suffering and trauma exists as well; a lot of death and mourning and crying and pain. We here in this imperfect world miss our relatives and loved ones who have died, who have transitioned to be with the Lord.

            When some people think and talk about going to heaven, they might speak of people in long white robes singing in heavenly choirs. Or, playing harps while sitting on clouds. Sure, our hymn setting of the Doxology tells us the heavenly angels praise God a lot – “praise God above, ye heavenly host.” I want everyone to notice that we are among “all creatures here below.” 

Everyone who loved God and has died is one of “the heavenly host.” All the saints we talk about in worship today praised God when they were creatures here below. These saints praise God now among the heavenly host, even before God remakes the world anew! [1] Praising God, especially in song, is one way people in this world and the heavenly realm connect.

However, let us jump forward to the new heavens and new earth again. I am not sure, but I suspect there will be a whole lot more to do in heaven than just play harps. These first few verses of Revelation chapter 21 hint at the vast new possibilities we will have, with a whole new heaven and earth laid out before us. Our God will be with us forever, and God has promised to eliminate grieving and mourning, to wipe away every tear from every eye.

            You and I may mourn here in this world. We may bend and bow and be pressed by the stresses and strains of life here, with all the difficulties and sorrows. “Honestly facing the pressures of life is the essential first step toward dealing with them, but it is viewing them in the light of eternity that gives them their true place in the scheme of things. The troubles of this age seem beyond solution, but Christ has broken the seals and confounded the darkness with light. “The old order of things” is passing away, “now the dwelling of God is with people, and he will live with them” and “God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” [2]

            That is not only comforting news, comforting to our hearts and minds, but it is marvelous news for all eternity. What we experience in this life is not the final chapter. We get a promo, like a movie trailer in the theater, letting us know about coming events, coming attractions.

            Revelation 21 and 22 are only a little glimpse into the new heaven and new earth, but I want to see more. Don’t you? How wonderful that there will no longer be any reason to shed tears or mourn or have pain.

No matter what you and I are going through right now, our Lord Jesus has promised to stay right by our sides. Plus, God has promised us a future more wonderful than anyone can possibly imagine. And, that is a divine promise.

@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/2015/09/year-b-all-saints-day-november-1-2015.html

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/easter4ce.html

“God Will Wipe Away All Our Tears,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

Welcome Through Faith

“Welcome Through Faith”

Romans 3:10-12,19-24 (3:22-24) – October 31, 2021

            Do you know someone who is a stickler for the rules? I mean, really picky about following every rule in the book? Dotting every “I” and crossing every “t”? Some people are just made that way. It’s part and parcel of their character.

            The Apostle Paul was used to dealing with people like this. In fact, he WAS a person like this. Someone who was very particular about following all the rules – all the laws in the Mosaic Law Code, in the Hebrew Scriptures. No one kept the Law of Moses like Paul! I mean, Rabbi Saul, before he had the sudden meeting with the risen Lord Jesus on the Damascus Road.

            It’s been years since then, and Paul has been a devoted follower of Jesus Christ ever since. In fact, he’s known as the Apostle, or missionary, to the Gentiles, which is a wonderfully ironic thing for such a former Rabbi and law-abiding Jew of the highest caliber.

            Paul had been all over Asia Minor, and lots of places in Greece, but never to Rome. He had several friends who had moved there, since it was the capital city of the Roman empire. Someone must have asked Paul for a teaching letter, similar to ones he had written before, sent to cities where he had established churches. Which brings us to this letter to the Roman church.

            In this carefully written letter of dense theological language, Paul hits home several important truths: in chapter 3, he describes faith and righteousness. (Also, unrighteousness.) Similar to many churches, the Roman church had two sides, or factions. Jew and non-Jew (or Gentile), or an “us” side and a “them” side.

            My goodness. This sounds really familiar. Have you experienced splitting up into two sides, in some organization you are part of? Or, some group, even some workplace? Where there are two distinct sides, and a divided understanding of how everything worked? That was how it was in the Roman church. The Jewish believers tended to follow the rules, the Law of Moses, as was their culture and habit. The Gentiles…did not.

Rome was a multi-ethnic, multicultural melting pot! Not the place for a strict, rule-following, faithful Jew! Or, is it? The Gentile believers were, by and large, not familiar with these rules about eating, the clothes you wear, the everyday practices of living – from a Jewish perspective. Did that make these Gentile believers somehow lesser, inferior believers?

            Paul started out in the first chapters of Romans by telling ALL the Roman believers that everyone is in deep trouble, in God’s eyes. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. That does not sound like very good news! (News flash: it isn’t! And, Paul does this on purpose!) “Things were not well with the house churches in Rome, and today’s churches find themselves, once again, in polarizing times.” [1] 

Is it any surprise that Paul “argues against those believers who think that law-obedience is the way toward the full attainment of God’s promised blessings? Up to this point in his letter, Paul has explained that all humanity stands under the righteous judgment of God, irrespective of whether they are a highly moral person or not. Paul now explains that attaining the fullness of new life in Christ is “apart from the law.” [2]

It doesn’t matter where or when we find ourselves in history. Martin Luther had huge problems in the 1500’s with opposing factions, with bloodthirsty people on polar opposite sides of an issue, and both sides called themselves committed Christians, too.

“The reality [Paul] presents is, itself, a profound polarity: the unrighteousness of all humanity (all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God), contrasted with the righteousness of God (the righteousness of God has been manifested via God’s work in Christ).” [3]  

In the first century, in Rome, Paul did not have quite the same in-fighting problem as Luther. But, Paul needed to let everyone know that ALL people had fallen short of God’s glory – God’s righteousness – whether they followed the rules or not.

            That is good news! Good news for ALL the people! Jews and Gentiles, both. Sure, ALL of us are unrighteous, and not fit to come into God’s presence. But, GOD! God through Jesus Christ has bridged that gap. We ALL are now offered relationship with God. Thank GOD!

            Paul reminds all these believers that they are in Christ. Each of them has belief, faith in Christ. He describes and defines faith. Faith is not the things we do, not the good works, the obligations we have got to fulfill to placate a mean, vengeful God. Instead, faith is based on our relationship with God. Faith is a free, loving, intimate relationship with a kind and good God. A loving and just Parent.

            However, this relationship is not just vertical – not just “Jesus and me.” This relationship is also horizontal, with other diverse Christians from all over the world, through faith! “The brothers and sisters in Rome believe, that is they entrust themselves to Christ Jesus’ patterns of life, including the call to welcome one another courageously across the Gentile-Jewish divide.” [4]

Paul’s practical counsel from chapter 15 of Romans is addressed to both factions, both Jews and Gentiles: that means EVERYONE. His counsel? “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Has Christ welcomed you? Then welcome others in Christ’s name!

What would Jesus do? Would He love everyone? Would He welcome everyone? Who would Jesus exclude? No one! We are all invited into a relationship with our Lord Jesus. Plus, we all are offered this simple, profound counsel: “Welcome one another.”


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/reformation-day/commentary-on-romans-319-28-13

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday9ae.html

“Justification by Faith,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

[3]  https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/reformation-day/commentary-on-romans-319-28-13

[4] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/reformation-day/commentary-on-romans-319-28-8

@chaplaineliza

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

What Do We Want?

“What Do We Want?”

Mark 10:46-52 (10:51) – October 24, 2021

            What would it be like to have a blind person as a next-door neighbor, as a co-worker, or in your class at school, every day? What kinds of experiences would we have, as close friends? I have known several people who have limited vision, and have been friends with two people who are blind, who have since moved away. But, I never thought about such a personal question before – what might our blind friend want more than anything else?       

All those thoughts and more were going through my head as I read this Bible reading from Mark chapter 10 this week.

The Rabbi Jesus and His disciples were traveling through Palestine, as they had been for months and months. They arrived at the town of Jericho, on the way for Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem. The townspeople were really excited! They had heard great things about Jesus! They had heard about the miracles He performed, as well as the marvelous teaching and preaching He had done. It was almost like a parade, with Jesus and His friends entering the city.

Have you ever been at a similar function, or activity? Where there is someone really famous or important, and a whole crowd is gathering to meet and greet Him? Say hello? Get a moment of His time? It can be a really hectic and crowded situation for the crowd, even if someone is in good health and has the free use of their arms and legs.

But, what about for someone who is disabled? Deaf? Or, blind? What would a loud, noisy, chaotic commotion like an impromptu parade welcoming Jesus be like for a person who is disabled? What do you think it was like for this blind man, Bartimaeus?

Today, of course, there are lots of jobs available to blind people and persons with limited eyesight, thanks to advances in modern technology. What about in that time? Not very much, according to the society of that day. Our Gospel writer Mark tells us that Bartimaeus was in his usual place, begging for money. That was something many disabled people did at that time – as well as today, in third world countries, anyway. It did not matter to Bartimaeus. As soon as he heard than the famous, itinerant Rabbi Jesus was coming by the place where he usually sat as a beggar, he started yelling. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”  

            I really appreciate what our commentator Karoline Lewis says about this whole scene: ““Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly.” Thank God. Literally. Bartimaeus won’t be told to shut up. Good for him. I like this guy.

“Because, how often do we feel like we are required to keep silent? How often are we asked to keep our voices down, lest there is some offense that would cause a disruption in our very controlled and contrived world? Lest there be an utterance that might tear apart that which we’ve constructed to keep out what, or who, we don’t want to see, or hear, or acknowledge? Or, how often do we silence others, convinced that their cries for mercy are not worthy of God’s attention?[1]     

What does Bartimaeus cry, even louder? Not only “have mercy on me!” which is a common appeal to God for help (used in the Psalms, for example), but he also cried “Jesus, son of David!” No matter what other people at that time thought about this itinerant Rabbi, Bartimaeus knew that Jesus was the Messiah. Bartimaeus was using a title that meant this Rabbi Jesus had messianic credentials![2] That was huge!

            We are not told this, but I wonder whether people ever paid attention to Bartimaeus in the past, and made him feel like a real person, someone’s friend. I wonder whether Bartimaeus was habitually told he wasn’t worth much. Perhaps as a pesky beggar, members of the crowd just wanted to shut him up, and even make him go away.

            But, our Lord Jesus heard Bartimaeus. Jesus came over to where the blind man sat! Perhaps Jesus knew Bartimaeus down to his very soul, and so Jesus asked: “What do you want Me to do for you?”

            What would you respond if Jesus asked you that same question? What do you – what do I – want Jesus to do for us? Our Lord Jesus can see deep within each of us, and He knows the deepest wishes and desires of each of our hearts. I felt this question deep in my soul, as I prayed. I used Ignatian prayer, and Jesus asked me directly, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Do you feel it, too? Is Jesus asking you, too?

            Perhaps Bartimaeus was born seeing and lost his sight, or maybe he was born blind. We do not know. What we do know is his response to Jesus’ question: “The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” 52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.” Praise God! the man who had been blind not only was granted eyesight, but he became a follower of Jesus!

            Maybe that is what you and I need – to become true followers of Jesus. Maybe you and I cannot see very well, and are caught between seeing, and not seeing, and realizing we never really saw Jesus at all. Perhaps that is exactly what Jesus wants us to do – wants all people to do. Follow Jesus. Yes, some places where Jesus leads us can be frightening and confusing. Or, dark and scary. But, Jesus is right by our sides.

Some places do have scary things and mean people in them. Again, Jesus is right by our sides. [3] Jesus was preparing to walk the darkest road of His life on that road to Jerusalem, and Bartimaeus walked it with Him, following Jesus. Could it be that following Jesus is exactly what we, like Bartimaeus, are given what sight we have for?  

            With Jesus close by our sides, what a tremendous journey we have. We can follow Bartimaeus. Follow Jesus. And, live the life God intends for us. Truly. 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/no-more-silence

“No More Silence,” Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2015.

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/studyg/sunday30bg.html

“Jesus Heals Blind Bartimaeus,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

[3] https://dancingwiththeword.com/my-teacher-let-me-see-again/

Do We Listen to God?

“Do We Listen to God?” (preached at Epiphany UCC, Chicago)

1 Samuel 3:1-21 (3:8-10) – October 17, 2021

            Are you a good listener? Listening well is a real challenge. Many people are not particularly attentive listeners; they might get distracted, or they are preoccupied, or any one of a dozen other reasons. It is difficult sometimes to listen, especially when we are straining to listen to a crackle-y voice, like on an old-fashioned radio, or over a cell phone’s poor connection.

            If we consider our Scripture reading this morning, we are told something right up front: The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known.” People couldn’t simply check out their Bibles, or look up a reading on their cell phone or laptop. No!

The word of the Lord was mostly verbal, chiefly an oral tradition passed down, passed around by priests and temple workers. There wasn’t a written set of Scriptures, except for probably a collection of the laws of Moses, an early account of the Patriarchs, and early history of the children of Abraham, probably kept in the Tabernacle, God’s special tent where God was pleased to dwell.

All of these factors are a challenge, when it comes to listening to God – in the time of Samuel, anyway. The Lord’s word was rare at this time. So, when God did speak to a person, that must have been a huge event!

The Hebrew word for “rare” also means precious. That would go for both the voice of God as much as for visions from God. As precious as precious metals or precious stones!

Even Samuel’s upright mother Hannah was not one of these favored people, to hear the voice of God. What we know from 1 Samuel 1 was that she was a barren woman for years and years; she could not conceive a child. Eli the priest finally saw Hannah in her need, praying in great distress. He promised she would receive what she prayed for so earnestly: a son.

Hannah was so thankful that she returned the precious gift of a son: she gave Samuel to the Lord when he was very young, to serve in God’s Tabernacle from that time forward. That leaves us at the point where we re-enter the narrative – here.

. And, what does this reading say about the boy Samuel? “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” A few years have gone by since his mother Hannah entrusted him to the priest Eli. Samuel works in the special tent where God’s special presence is located, where the intricate Ark of the Covenant is stored, with the Ten Commandments tablets inside.

Do we begin to have some sort of idea how valuable—how rare it was for anyone to hear from God, the Lord Almighty, who made heaven and earth? If you and I are abandoned to total silence from God, that must be a very sad time, indeed.

Is it difficult to listen to God? I know we have a lot of competing sounds and voices in our world today. Just think of the insistent voices of business and school, assignments and responsibility that call to us. Remind us that we have more work to do. Something important to handle, an urgent message or an impatient person to get back to.

What about the seductive sounds of social media? All kinds of eye-popping entertainment? You and I can be entertained 24/7, 365 days a year, if we so desire. Talk about drowning out the voices of our friends and family! Much less the voice of God!

I know Samuel was still a boy. Children can have serious concerns and other important stuff going on, too. But, let us take a closer look at this passage: “Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So Samuel went and lay down.”

I do need to go back in our reading, and emphasize one point in particular. In verse 2, we are told the priest Eli had lost his eyesight. “With failing vision, he cannot see God as clearly as he might have during the height of his ministry. Although Eli could not see it, God had already called his student, Samuel, to lead Israel.” [1] The Lord was already calling to young Samuel, but Eli and Samuel are both missing that call. Misunderstanding that voice.

How often do you and I miss an important voice? Mis-hear or misunderstand? And, sometimes our attention is not the best. I know I can get distracted, and not hear. I’m sure you are aware of that, too. I suspect it’s happened to you when you’ve been worried or frustrated or distracted, Or, what about your kids, or grandkids? “How many times do I have to tell you? In one ear and out the other – could you stop, pay attention, and listen to me, for cryin’ out loud?”

The priest Eli may have been losing his eyesight, but he had not lost touch with his position. He was the priest of Israel, serving the Lord God Almighty. He had the internal insight to tell that the Lord was calling to Samuel. Our commentator Herbert Marbury tells us “Thankfully, it took Eli only three attempts to recognize God’s voice. The omniscient narrator heightens the reader’s frustration by clueing the reader in to the identity of the voice before Eli identifies its source. Finally, Eli realizes the gift that God had given to Samuel.” [2]

And, it is indeed a gift that God gives to Samuel! God calls to Samuel, and Samuel responds. He answers, as Eli prompts, “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.”

I know it is not the easiest thing to focus closely and to listen to God, especially when God’s voice is half drowned out by the cacophony of competing voices, sounds, buzzes and beeps of modern technology. Not to mention the internal worries, concerns and anxieties of this heightened pandemic, this COVID-time – worries not only for us, but for our loved ones, too.  

Sometimes it is good to slow down, to rest, to make oneself quiet within and without. And then, you and I may be more likely to hear God speak. “God persisted in the darkness of Samuel’s room until Samuel recognized God’s voice. Just as Samuel finally recognized God’s voice, God persists until we listen.” [3] Amen! Speak, Lord!

Can you slow down and listen? Listen to the voice of God? So often, you and I can be distracted or dismayed, preoccupied or anxious. Can we take a deep breath and unplug? Listen for that calm voice of love and welcome. Can we be as open to God as the boy Samuel?

            When we quiet, slow down and become available to God, we can see ourselves in the image of our Creator, not in the images developed by market-driven mass media. On that day, when each one has what she needs to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” then the blessings of the Lord will truly be revealed among us. [4]

            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.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=94

Lectionary Commentary, 1 Samuel 3:1-10, Herbert R. Marbury, The African American Lectionary, 2009.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Come, Follow Jesus!

“Come, Follow Jesus!”

Mark 10:17-27 (10:21) – October 10, 2021

            From time to time, I have worked alongside of people who were big talkers, but that was all there was. Only talk. No follow through. I’m thinking of someone who was a fellow church member several decades ago, when I was in my twenties. She talked a great game, when it came to volunteering for the church. But, what about the follow through? Showing up? Getting things done? It just wouldn’t happen. She just could not show up to complete any project or task.

            I cannot tell whether this rich young man from Mark chapter 10 was all talk or not. Let’s listen again to the words from Mark 10: “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Sure, he engages with the Rabbi Jesus at the moment. I’m guessing he thought he was an upright, upstanding guy. The rich young man might even had had the best intentions!

            Jesus goes on to say: “19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” This guy apparently was honest and sincere. In fact, the young man was so earnest, that our Gospel writer Mark even said that the Rabbi Jesus dearly loved this young man!

            Many people would not be willing to say that they loved their acquaintances, today. Do you know anyone who could easily say that, today? Jesus and the rich young man had just met. It was amazing that these two people connected in such a significant way.

A friend of mine, Rev. Maria, is reminded of the lyrics from the old Elton John tune. She says, “The words from “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” pop into my head when I think of this reading… “What have I got to do to make you love me? What have I got to do to make you care?” It seems like the rich young man had this kind of tit-for-tat mindset. Quid pro quo. He would perform X, Y and Z, work really hard, be diligent all his days, and then, at his death he would get rewarded with eternal life. Both Maria and I are amazed by Jesus’s words of ultimate caring to the rich young man he just met – Jesus loved him!

 Can you and I say the same thing about someone we have just met? Our Lord Jesus did! Jesus connected with this young man in a significant way – a way that nevertheless had Jesus seeing this young man with clear, divine insight. Jesus really knew what was going on inside this man’s heart and mind.

My grandfather had keen insight. He was able to understand and interpret a person’s actions and thoughts with remarkable accuracy. I heard stories about how his marvelous instincts and intellect allowed him to excel in his chosen profession, which was being a skilled salesman. However, I am sure that the stories I heard about my grandfather did not even hold a candle to these stories in the Gospels about the Rabbi Jesus and His perceptive understanding of people.

But, wait! There’s more! Jesus had a ready response for the young man. He said, ““One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” Jesus wanted the rich young man to change, to move, to transform. The problem with the young man? There was a barrier between him and Jesus: the very solid, very real barrier of money. Wealth. Power. Status. Material possessions.

Jesus invited the young man to follow Him. Become His disciple. What is more, this wasn’t just lip-service. I suspect if it was only a matter of words, the rich young man would have done it! Except, Jesus asked too much. He asked for the ultimate follow-through. Not just talk.

What I am going to do in my sermon right now is a bit different from what I usually do.

Settle into your seat, and get comfortable. I have a hand mirror here. Or, you can use the mirror feature on your cell phone. For those of you at home, you can look in a bathroom or bedroom mirror. I would like us to focus on transformation; and transformation begins within each person’s heart and soul. Often, we cannot experience transformation until we look honestly – and deeply – at ourselves in the mirror. Question to the congregation: “What is the one thing that prevents you from fully following Jesus?”

As you look at yourself in the mirror, ask yourself: “How can I do what Jesus does? What have I been meaning to start in my devotional life? How can I stay accountable to a friend or partner? What about my life of service to God? What might God be calling me to that I have thought out of the question?

Another way of phrasing this question comes from our commentator Karoline Lewis. She asks, “What is the one thing that is at the core of who you are, what keeps you from being the follower, the disciple, the believer, the witness God wants and needs you to be? This is a terribly hard question to answer, I know.” [1]

Please, do not be in a rush when you do this. When you have some time, undistracted and thoughtful time, take a long look at yourself in the mirror. Reflect on your reflection, and sincerely pray. Ask God what God would have you do. Afterwards, I invite you to conclude with Jesus’ words: “Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow Me.”

The rich young man turned away from Jesus, sad and sorrowful, because he had great wealth. But, we don’t have to. Again, hear the invitation of our Lord Jesus: “Come, follow Me!” May we truly follow. 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 so much to the website www.umcdiscipleship.org and Rev. Lindsey Baynham, an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church currently serving as the Director of Clergy Excellence in the Virginia Annual Conference. I appreciate her guided time of prayer for this reading from Mark 10.)


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/the-thing-you-lack

“The Thing You Lack,” Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2015.

Finding God’s Majestic Name!

“Finding God’s Majestic Name!”

Psalm 8:1-9 (8:1) – October 3, 2021

            Have you ever been far from the city lights, at night? Have you ever looked up into the sky, and seen countless stars spread out, twinkling high above? I have. When I went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and again in rural central Indiana, the starry skies were absolutely breathtaking. Amazing. Majestic, as the psalmist King David said in our Psalm reading today.

            Listen again: “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.” I can just imagine King David sitting far away from the lights of the city of Jerusalem, perhaps contemplating the stars as he saw them in his youth, when he looked after his father’s sheep, or as a younger adult, a leader of men in the wilderness of Judah,. David certainly had many opportunities to gaze up into the night skies and see the breathtaking stars.

            I needed to take two science classes in college, for my undergraduate degree. I was happy to take a biology course, and I enjoyed it! But, I wanted to take something different for my second science course. A quirky but popular teacher also taught science – he taught astronomy! I don’t remember many facts from that class, but I remember him. I remember how excited he was about his subject, and how much he tried to make the course material interesting and accessible to his students. I have always had a warm spot inside for stars, for star-gazing and the moon and other planets, both before and ever since.

            When King David wrote this psalm, he used words like “majestic” and “awesome.” Can you remember when everything was “awesome?” “In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the word “awesome” was overused and abused. Everything was “awesome.” Events and people were awesome. God was awesome.” [1] Now, some years later, I am relieved to find this word is not so misused. However, God has not changed. God certainly is still truly awesome. Majestic, too.

            We can see King David had great awe and godly fear for the Lord his God. Just look at the language he uses! The opening verses of Psalm 8 has royal language all over the place. The very words “Lord” and “Sovereign” are used in conversation with a king in other places in Scripture, too. We can see that usage from both 1 and 2 Kings. These books of the Hebrew Scriptures use these expressions interchangeably for the king of Judah and the king of Israel.  

            When King David praises the majesty of God’s name, this also points to a royal understanding of God. The territory over which God reigns is not a small, limited region, but instead “all the earth.” [2] Yet, Dr. Elizabeth Webb makes a point of saying that even though David leads off this psalm with such huge, overarching thoughts, he then turns to humanity. Yes, God is Sovereign! Majestic! Awesome! The ultimate Godly authority! But, then, the earth is full of mere people. Frail humanity. Here one minute, and gone the next.

            “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is humankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” When we consider limited humans on a scale like that, with a cosmic Sovereign as vast as the heavens, how miniscule are we? How frail and short-lasting?

“Psalm 144:3-4, for example, begins with a similar question: “O Lord, what are human beings that you regard them, or mortals that you think of them?” In Psalm 144 it is human frailty that makes God’s interest in us almost incomprehensible: “They are like a breath; their days are like a passing shadow.” What concern could God possibly have with frail beings that are here one moment, gone the next?” [3] Truly something to wonder about. I have thought about it, from time to time. How can God concern Godself with me? With my trials or troubles, with God being so huge?

In Psalm 8, what the writer finds so wondrous is that the very God who established the order of the heavens actually cares for human beings, for us, for you and me. Listen to verse 4 again: “what is humankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”

If I did not believe that God was loving and caring, full of chesed, full of magnificent lovingkindness, I might really give up. Why should I even try to communicate with a faraway, distant, uncaring God, who would just as soon squash me like a bug? That’s even considering whether that cold and distant God even saw me crawling around on the earth?

Except, we know that God is not that way! Instead, our Lord is full of the attributes grace, mercy, love and chesed, shown in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We are here in church today to celebrate World Communion Sunday, a day when the Church worldwide celebrates the unity of the blessed Eucharist, that Lord’s Supper that believers all over the world celebrate in a variety of different languages, but proclaiming the same Lord. Thank God our Lord is a loving and caring God. Thank God our Lord is full of that magnificent, majestic attribute chesed, full of lovingkindness.

Here we are: frail, earthly human beings. Our God truly welcomes all of us as God’s children. Our God welcomes us at the Lord’s Table, especially on this World Communion Sunday. Can you praise the name of the Lord? Can you bless God for the profound, awesome gifts you have been given?   

“O LORD, our LORD, your majestic name fills the earth. Your glory is higher than
the heavens…!
We are blessed to be able to offer God our worship and praise!
In speechless and awed worship, we marvel at God’s holy presence with us,
as we contemplate all that God has given to us! We are all so very blessed! Amen. [4]

@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/Psalms/8.html

“Our God Is Awesome!” Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Lectionary Resource for Catholics.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/the-holy-trinity/commentary-on-psalm-8-10

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://www.thetimelesspsalms.net/w_resources/pentecost1a_2017.htm

The Timeless Psalms: Psalm 8, Joan Stott, prayers and meditations based on lectionary Psalms, 2017.

Prescription for Prayer!

“Prescription for Prayer!”

James 5:13-5:18 (5:16) – September 26, 2021

            Do you remember back to when you were a child? Or, perhaps, when you had small children? Do you remember when you felt really sick? Perhaps, your small (or, not-so-small) children were sick? Sometimes their fever or sore throat got better with some medicine from the medicine cabinet. But, sometimes, a visit to the doctor was necessary. The doctor would prescribe some medicine that would help that infection or sore throat get better soon.  

            What do we do when our spiritual lives are not in the best of health? Where do you go when your faith life seems shaky and insecure? Could a doctor or hospital help you and me in a situation like this? I don’t think so. Doctors and hospitals are not the best places to go for most spiritual afflictions like this. Where can we go for help? James has some practical suggestions for us in Chapter 5 of his letter.

            James says, “13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.”  

            James gives us practical ways to pray. Some people – even, a lot of people – struggle when they pray. What about those who do want to pray, but don’t think they can come before God? That it is only for the “super-spiritual,” or only for pastors, priests, rabbis, leaders of congregations? They are not sure about the how-to of prayer, and therefore, don’t often try.

            This is our fifth week looking into the letter of James, and we have seen over the past few weeks that James is a very practical man. He displays a great deal of common sense, and does not pull punches when it comes to talking straight to his friends scattered around Asia Minor. (The area to the north and west of present-day Palestine.) What kinds of things does James say?  

            Are any of you in trouble? The King James version uses the word “afflicted.” In other words, burdened! Lots of people today are burdened with heavy things! Worries, cares, concerns of the world. James does not deny this. However, he does have a practical thing to do for it: pray! Come to God, confide in God, and your cares, troubles and burdens will be lessened. What is more, you do not even have to pray out loud, or even pray in words. God can understand the deep groanings of your heart, too deep for words.

            An old saying – I do not know where it comes from – says that if you share a sorrow (or a burden), you cut it in half. If you share a joy, you double it! That is God’s kind of mathematics!

            Which leads us to the next practical suggestion: if anyone is happy, sing! Not only does God have an amazing rule of doubling joys shared, but God also stirs hearts when we sing and make music to the Lord! I personally love music. It is one of my main ways to praise the Lord! By singing, playing, or listening to music. It is truly amazing to participate in musical praise and glory to God, and then see God at work among those very same people involved in the praise.  

            James also recommends “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.” When I served as a hospital chaplain, I would occasionally be asked to anoint a patient in the name of the Lord. I was always honored and even awed by the trust and faith of those doing the asking. Sometimes family members of the patient, sometimes the patients themselves.

Are you familiar with the expression “God works in mysterious ways?” (From a poem by William Cowper, and taken from thoughts from Isaiah 55.) This is so true in the cases of people anointed by oil. God’s encouragement and power surrounds those dear people, and their loved ones. God’s blessed, mysterious, loving medicine can fill a hospital room with love, care and comfort, too. I can attest to that.

We have just spoken about individual believers, and how to pray practically in an effective manner. But, what about the church – our local church, and the whole community of churches in our neighborhoods, regions, even in our country? Can practical James give us advice for churches all across our land? I think so.

We also can encourage spiritual wellness – along with physical wellness! We can actively invite people into caring relationships! Sadly, the traditional way of worship seems to have devolved into a pre-packaged, processed food product. Like the gooey, gummy or crispy snack foods that come out of a fast-food vending machine. Pre-packaged, processed and fake. “Instead of an easily-digestible [but not-so-healthy] dose of Jesus-lite, perhaps we need to return to an organic mix of spiritual practices in [our faith] community.” [1] Let’s consider structural – foundational, even! – changes to all of our faith communities.

            James calls us all to put our faith to work in the world, of living out salvation in ways that impact the world (or our neighborhoods) around each of us. Suggestion: find the prayer servants in our congregation or in your group of friends. Ask them what happens when they pray!  And, get ready to be amazed at God’s working in mysterious ways!

            As Rev. Sharon Blezard says, “The “great physician” offers hope and healing of body, mind, and spirit, but we must be active participants in the process. Whether it is the healing touch of the laying on of hands or a simple hug from a sister or brother in Christ or the potent power of prayer or the relief of corporate confession, active participation in the Body of Christ is preventative medicine at its best. What are you waiting for? There’s no co-pay, third-party billing, or lifetime limits on God’s grace and love.” [2] Prayer is our prescription from God. 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.stewardshipoflife.org/2012/09/rx-for-broken-lives-and-faltering-faith/

“Rx for Broken Lives and Faltering Faith,” Sharron R Blezard, Stewardship of Life, 2012.

[2] Ibid.

Draw Near to God!

“Draw Near to God!”

James 3:13-4:8 (4:8) – September 19, 2021

            Do you know people who quarrel a lot? I mean, a lot? Some people are not satisfied with anything. I am sure you recognize these people. They regularly moan and kvetch and sometimes outright quarrel about what they have or about what they don’t have. James tells us about these dissatisfied, disgruntled people in our Scripture reading today, among other things.

            We see two kinds of attitudes in our reading today. Two kinds of wisdom, and two kinds of people. One comes from earth, and is grasping, envious, with selfish ambition. The other comes from God, and is peace-loving, full of mercy, and considerate above all things! How do we come to terms with such a stark, black-and-white difference in wisdom? And in people?

            It might be repetitious to read these words from the end of chapter 3 again, but we really need to listen. Again. “if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” I know how seductive the features, things and practices of the world can be. God forgive us for being so distracted and fooled by the world’s wisdom!

            Who is brave enough to admit that they have envy in their hearts, sometimes? Again, who is forthright enough to admit they have selfishness in their character, sometimes? These worldly traits or features are sadly prevalent in this world. Every person alive feels these worldly emotions from time to time. I have, and I suspect you have, too. The problems these negative emotions can cause! They bring a lot of misery in the lives of many, many people, too.

            Let’s consider the worldly, flawed way of thinking and being, for a moment. (Actually, we all fall into this way of thinking and being, more often than not.) Carolyn Brown, retired Children’s Ministry Director, has written a prayer for this reading. Listen, if you would, and see whether these words from Ms. Brown do not resonate in our hearts.

Dear God, we want to look amazing.  

We want great clothes, cool shoes, a great haircut. We want our homes filled with our stuff.

We want all the best people to be our friends. We want to be the first, the best, the most, the greatest. So we grab and hold and demand. We even kick and punch to get what we want.

Forgive us.

Teach us to let go, to open our hands and hearts to others. Teach us to be content with what we have and to share it.

Teach us to think as much about what OTHERS want as what WE want. Teach us to be as loving as Jesus. Amen. [1]

In this reading, James also presents us a much more positive way of wisdom: Godly wisdom. We hear James describe this attitude, this way of acting and thinking, with God’s help. Let’s read the attributes James lists: “the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” Who would not want to display these kinds of positive, caring, loving attributes? Living God’s way is a sure-fire way to show these kinds of character traits! At least, according to James.

What are the operative words that James tells us are essential? Even, imperative? Peace, mercy and gentleness. That’s what this short list of positive, caring, Godly attributes come down to. I know in this letter, this basic manual of how to live the Christian life, James talks a great deal about doing. How to do, what to do, and why we ought to do it, please God! Except – here James concentrates on the inner person. How do we live this way? What motivates us? What is the fuel that keeps us going? Peace. God’s peace. James says, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” An internal reservoir of peace within each one of us that translates to an external harvest of righteousness. (THAT sounds like practical James!)

In the Gospel of John, in the Upper Room discourse on that last night before He was betrayed, Jesus gives us a great gift. He says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, but as I give it to you.” Maybe, just maybe, you and I just don’t understand the concept of peace. At least, the kind of peace Jesus – and James – talk about here.

“Maybe we’ve defined peace as the absence of something, of conflict, or worry, of trouble, of doubt; but Jesus wants us to define peace as a presence. Peace is not what we’ve emptied from ourselves, but what we’ve filled ourselves with. And what we’ve not filled ourselves with is ourselves – at least according to James.” [2]

            What – practically – can we take away from this reading today? Peace is the way OF God. Peace is the how-to of living a life pleasing to God. Peace is being filled with the presence of God.

            In this practical letter, this how-to manual, James advises his friends on how to live in a way pleasing to God. “Peace is possible, even while [you and I] are works in process. This isn’t about completion and the satisfaction of a job well done; it is about a journey of discovery and transformation. But peace can be our companion in the journey to keep our feet on the path.” [3]

            Practical James would wholeheartedly agree! Keep on keeping on. Live in God’s peaceful presence. It’s a sure-fire way to have God draw near to each one of us.  

Alleluia, amen!  


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2012/08/year-b-proper-20-25th-sunday-in_30.html

Worshiping with Children, Proper 20B, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2012.

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/seventeenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes

[3] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

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

Taming the Tongue

“Taming the Tongue”

James 3:1-12 (3:8) – September 12, 2021

            Who remembers the schoolyard saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” There’s a problem with that saying. We all know that words can hurt. And sometimes, people remember mean words, nasty words or harsh words years after they heard them. Sometimes even decades later. Words can come back to haunt us – either words we have said, or words we have heard. Internalized. Taken to heart.

            Our letter-writer James would whole-heartedly agree. Remember, in this letter the apostle James writes a manual of Christian living. A how-to book on how to live a life pleasing to God. This is the point in the letter where he talks about the tongue, and how powerful it is. James begins by comparing the small tongue to other small but powerful items. “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.” James does want to help us behave in a way pleasing to God. However, the tongue gets in the way of that, big time!      

            I am sure you and I know this, from long experience. Who hasn’t been on the receiving end of a nasty argument, or angry words? We can use our tongues for positive words and kind comments, or for negative, hurtful sniping. This use of the tongue causes all kinds of bitter feelings and sometimes can escalate arguments and even cause fighting.   

            Who hasn’t experienced this negative use of the tongue? It’s no wonder that many people hesitate to jump in the middle of quarreling, arguing people. And, bullies? Gossips? Those who misdirect or misrepresent themselves or others? People who use particularly nasty or hurtful speech? Not positive ways to win friends or influence people.

Our commentator Dr. Derek Weber tells us that James wants to help us tame the tongue. It’s true that many Christians don’t take this recommendation of James all that seriously. However, “we’ve all experienced the sting of the tongue as we were growing up, and even as adults. We all know what it is to bear the brunt of rumors or misrepresentations or words spoken in anger. And just as likely we know what it is to watch our words bring pain to another, intentional or not. How can we get worshipers to take this text seriously?” [1]

I remember when I went to the circus with my children, when they were small. Watching the wild animals and their circus acts was truly amazing! Lions, tigers, other large animals – the oohs and ahhs coming from the audience were real, let me tell you! As often is said in YouTube videos and on reality television, “do not try this at home!” Wild animals are dangerous! It is so similar with the tongue! Trying to tame the tongue is often as difficult as trying to tame wild animals! (That’s why James uses this example in verse 7.)

We have talked about how dangerous the tongue is. Yet – is gossip THAT bad? Surely, a little gossip can’t hurt. Just letting people know the whole story. Just filling in the gaps. Surely, gossip isn’t as bad as murder, or stealing, or lying, is it? Is it? But, what would James say?

Instead of spreading gossip about people, how could we turn that around? How can you and I spread a good report about people? Sometimes, about the same people we gossiped about? Instead of saying something cutting or annoying, how can we say positive things? Have good, helpful words come out of our mouths? That would be kind, be caring, and even be forgiving!

I know it takes some time to correct bad habits. Perhaps our sometimes-bad, sometimes-mean, sometimes-thoughtless words are habits that many people need lots of help with.

Let’s face it, some do not want to start correcting negative words, malicious gossip, and rude comments. I can just hear some say, “Pastor, don’t we have bigger fish to fry? More serious sins to be concerned with?” Ahh, yes. But, a little thing like the tongue can be poisonous, hurtful, even mistakenly cruel and thoughtlessly punishing.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

I do not want this sermon to be all negative! So, “let’s talk about the good we can do with our words. Let’s talk about what it means to bless. The internet is full of lists of ways to praise a child [or young person], for example – the words we can use for encouragement and for building up.”[2]  How did you feel, deep down inside, when you recall how you felt when someone said good, positive things to you or about you? Just think hard about the impact of these words! What kind of words were they? How were the words said to you? A compliment, a kind, caring word, an encouraging comment – all these are positive uses of the tongue! We then understand how powerful words are!

Speak positive, kind, encouraging words. (Think those caring, kind thoughts about others, too!) Just like with toothpaste, after you squeeze it out, it is impossible to put all the toothpaste back in the tube. Just like our hurtful or thoughtless words. Once they’ve come out of our mouths, they’re so hard to take back. That is why we need to be super careful about how we use our words.[3]

With God’s help, we can tame our tongues. With God’s help, we can speak kind, helpful, encouraging words. Words that build up, rather than tear down. Positive words, instead of negative snipes or hurtful jabs. What would James say? More important, what would Jesus do?

Remember, in this letter the apostle James writes a manual of Christian living. A how-to book on how to live a life pleasing to God.

How would Jesus speak? Would Jesus speak kind, helpful, encouraging, positive words? Do that. And, God will be so pleased!

@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/doers-of-the-word/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-preaching-notes

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-youth-lessons

Faith in Action!

“Faith in Action!”

James 2:1-10, 14-17 (2:14) – September 5, 2021

            I watched a lot of movies and television series in the past – usually with my children, when they were children and teenagers. A lot of these shows were about young people on a high school campus, complete with all the groups and cliques, exclusion and favoritism. All the “popular” kids were beautiful people, and all the “nerds” and “dorks” were unpopular. Heaven help you if you were really poor and came from the wrong side of the tracks!

            Does this sound familiar? Is this favoritism similar to what James talks about here, in our reading today? James mentions one person coming to worship in fancy clothes, with expensive jewelry. He follows that up with a description of a poor person, in ragged, threadbare clothes, coming to that same worship service. You and I need to ask: who would James exclude from worship service? Who would James exclude from fellowship in the church?

            When we consider the typical high school campus and the typical high school kids, we may give them a pass. Some say they don’t fully understand how damaging and how hurtful their actions are, to many people. Others say that only weak, socially-awkward people get hurt from the rough-and-tumble world of high school…that is just something everyone has to put up with, and to live with. Suck it up, people! Get on with life!

            Except, this rough-and-tumble, catty, mean way of carrying on is not the way that Christians are supposed to be! Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are supposed to be better than that! Believers are not supposed to play favorites! Aren’t they? James says so! Doesn’t he?

Who would James exclude? “If we’re honest, we have to squirm a little bit as he describes the scene. Of course, we’ve all done this; we’ve all shown partiality in this. We hope we’re overcoming it; we hope we’re countering it; we hope we’re better than that. But our society has drilled into us to value people on outward appearances more than essential being.”[1]

            This letter from James is so practical! Yes, he does refer to theological concepts now and then, but he wants to give us a manual of Christian living: living the way we as believers are called to live! The description in this reading today is a pertinent, hard-hitting example.  

            The Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary today also has some difficult, hard-hitting points. Jesus and the disciples are in the racially-mixed area of the Decapolis, near the Sea of Galilee in the far north of Israel. A Gentile woman approaches the Rabbi Jesus while He is at dinner, and asks Him to please heal her daughter. Jesus says some challenging words to her about being a Gentile. She convinces Jesus to help her and heal her daughter, which He does.

            This Gospel reading deals with favoritism and being partial to one group while excluding another group. Who would Jesus exclude? Would He exclude me and my family? Would favoritism include you? How about your children, or grandchildren?  

            These are difficult issues raised by both the apostle James and the Gospel-writer Mark.

            Perhaps the world does things like this, almost all the time. Perhaps the common, sinful people in the world act and speak and think like this, almost all the time. But, we as believers are not to act like the world!

            As commentator Dr. Derek Weber says, “James points out the economic distinctions that we are all too likely to make in our hospitality ministry. But it wouldn’t be too big a leap to talk about racial and immigrant and gender and orientation distinctions at the same time. This is not, however, a recommendation to avoid the issues We are called to speak up, to follow the boldness of James and talk about the lines of respectability that we too often draw, consciously or unconsciously. It is better to enter into these delicate subjects knowingly than to be surprised.”[2]

            Today, we often use the word “believe” to mean intellectual assent, or understanding. The New Testament agrees – except the full understanding of the word “believe” is deeper and richer than simply the intellect. “When John 3:16 declares that “whosoever believes,” it is asking for a life that reflects that core belief. It isn’t really asking “do you believe” but “are you willing to put your life on it?”

“Does your life and your witness, do your actions and your words tell us that you believe that Jesus Christ is Lord of your life?” That’s what it means to believe in New Testament terms. For James, then, at the heart of believing is how we view and then treat others.” [3] Listen again to the hard-hitting words of James: “My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith if your actions do not prove it? Can that faith save you?”

            Who would you exclude? Who would I? Do we act like we prefer someone who wears fancy clothes and expensive jewelry to someone who wears ripped, patched blue jeans and shoes with holes? But, it’s more than that. No one deserves favoritism, or a fancier place to sit, or more attention, or more service. Does God choose favorites? What if you are one of those excluded high school kids, sitting at the heavenly loser lunch table, with no way to even get close to God? Shut out from God’s loving, caring, nurturing presence?

            Thank God we are always God’s beloved children! We are always the favorites – all of us! Here is a quote by Max Lucado. See if it resonates with you. “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If God had a wallet, your photo would be in it. God sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning Face it, friend – God is crazy about you!“

            Does God choose favorites? No! That is the way God feels about each one of us! Please, remember that as you go into the world. Treat every single person you meet as a very beloved child of God – because, they are! No matter what, no matter who!

@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/doers-of-the-word/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-preaching-notes

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-preaching-notes

Be a Do-er!

“Be a Do-er!”

James 1:16-25 (1:22) – August 29, 2021

            When my children were small, they sometimes used to bicker and argue. And not only with each other, but with me and my husband, too. We would correct them about certain common-sense things, and a typical response would be, “I know that!” It didn’t matter whether it was “Don’t touch that hot stove!” or “Don’t run out into the middle of the street!” Their response would often be, “I know that!” Complete with an eye roll and an ornery attitude.

            So often, parents, grandparents, teachers and other adults are put in an awkward situation. We may question if our children really know what they just did! Time after time, we adults agree with this chapter from James that our actions need to match what we know and say. And, face it. This is not only true of children. It can be true of adults, as well. I suspect we are all familiar with the phrase “Don’t just talk the talk – walk the walk!”

            James wrote this letter to a bunch of believers scattered all over a large area of what is now the Middle East. They were living in small groups, and the letter was copied and passed around from group to group, sent or mailed for encouragement and instruction. In other words, James sent out a manual for Christian living! A how-to book: how to LIVE the Word.

            The great theologian Martin Luther did not like the letter James wrote. “Martin Luther thought James was dangerous stuff. He thought that James was an “epistle of straw” because of all this hearing and doing stuff. See, Luther was afraid that we would read the Letter of James and come away with the feeling that it was all about doing.”[1] I understand where Luther was coming from, because he came out of a Christian tradition where people had to earn their salvation. People in his time and place had little certainty of their salvation, and constantly needed to be doing more and more just to placate some mean, vengeful God in heaven, as well as some judgmental, nasty-spirited church leadership here on earth.

            Thank God, we know the grace and mercy of God! And, so did Martin Luther! Yet, we are faced with this challenging letter from the apostle James! What ARE we going to do with these hard-hitting verses of his? How are we to respond to that talk about doing the Word? Walking the walk? Living a life of Christian action?

            Some people love to get into discussions about the Bible. About what exactly the words “salvation” or “justification” or “sanctification” mean. We love to dive deep into the Bible, “but find it a lot more difficult to do what it says. Of course, our problem is even more complex than that. Theological knowledge can easily become a good work in itself. We can easily make theology our religion.”[2]

Such philosophical, esoteric discussions can go on and on and on. I love theological discussion, don’t get me wrong! However, several hundred years ago, some Christian writers put their finger on these endless, almost frivolous discussions: they called those involved in them theologians arguing about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.

            Again, I greatly enjoy discussing theology! Yet, something within me wants to be up and doing, too. What about the Bible, anyway? Is there any application here? Anything for me to do? Any way for us to honor God through action, through doing what these verses say?

             James does give us some excellent examples in his how-to manual of Christian living. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” Plain-speaking from James, and hard-hitting, too! He does not sugarcoat his words. And sometimes, these words are hard for us to hear, and even harder to put into practice, like James is telling us to.

            And yet, as our commentator David Lose says, “All of these things are within our reach. What parent doesn’t want to be slower to anger with his or her children? What friend doesn’t want to be a better listener? Aren’t all of us in a position to offer help and support to those in need? James encourages us not just to think the faith, but to do it.” [3]

            Now, is James only talking to pastors? To church leaders? No, he is not. James is addressing the whole congregation. That means all of us – all of you. Everyone in the pew, no matter what, no matter who. James considers each one of us as believers. Each one of us is important, with our daily lives and activities and responsibilities. It does not matter if we serve in a large arena or a small circle: we all have the opportunity to serve, to be doers of the Word.  

As David Lose suggests, I invite you all to write down one place you will be in the coming week where God could use you to listen, to be patient, or to care for those in need. Or maybe we could have folks stand and actually commission them as God’s co-workers and partners in making this world a more trustworthy, safe, and healthy place.[4]

Remember, James gives us a how-to manual. How to live the Christian life! Listen to James: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says!” However we are gifted or moved by the Spirit to carry them out, we all have our marching orders. Do what the Word of God says! Love, care, encourage, help, serve. And love some more. 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.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/fourteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/fourteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-preaching-notes

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday22be.html   “Be Doers of the Word,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.  

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/ordinary-saints David Lose

[4] Ibid.

“Be Ready!”

“Be Ready!”

Ephesians 6:10-20 (6:14) – August 22, 2021

            When I was a girl and a teenager, I was a Girl Scout. I still remember the Girl Scout motto: “Be prepared.” In the 1947 Girl Scout Handbook, the motto was explained like this: “A Girl Scout is ready to help out wherever she is needed.” The Boy Scouts had the same motto, and my former-Boy-Scout husband occasionally reminds me of that, usually when we are packing to go on a trip. Be prepared! In other words, always be ready, for whatever comes your way.

            The apostle Paul had some important things – and encouraging words to say in this letter to his former congregation. Paul finishes up with a few practical, direct words for his long-time congregation. (I say long-time, because he spent about three years with this church, longer than with any other church he planted.)

            Many of these words involve being prepared. Being ready! The apostle Paul is very serious, and actually describes the kit of a Roman soldier. He knows what he is talking about here, too! Paul was in prison, in Rome, while writing this letter to the Ephesians. Paul was shackled to a Roman soldier inside of his cell, to make double sure he was going to stay put. And, Paul had the opportunity to become sadly familiar with the Roman soldier’s armor.  

            We had a prayer today, a Blessing of the Backpacks, before the sermon. We might think of the Scripture reading from Ephesians in terms of going back to school. We prayed for the school children in this congregation, as well as for all of those related to our church members. Children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, godchildren.

And, it does not matter whether we are remembering preschoolers or high schoolers or those in graduate school. We pray for them all to have a good year of study, an enjoyable year with their friends and classmates, and especially a safe year from anything they might come in contact with, whether an illness, an accident, or some other form of danger. We pray for all of the children, wherever they are, whichever school they attend.

I love the commentator Carolyn Brown. She was a Children’s Ministry Director for years and years at a Presbyterian church, now retired. She draws the innovative comparison between the list of pieces of God’s armor Paul talks about, and the list of new school supplies our children and their families have just assembled over the past weeks, to carry to school. Here is her list.

We had a Blessing of the Backpacks just today. Think of the backpack of truth our children and young people carry with them, each day at school. They can carry either good or bad things with them. Our young people need to be secure in God’s love, with God’s help.

Many students have a locker. Smaller children have cubbies, for storage. I can imagine the apostle Paul thinking of a locker of righteousness for our young people. Young people need to be prudent and even cautious about their lockers, what they post in them, and what kind of messages are passed to and fro, using the lockers.                                                                                                                                                                                                       

            Carolyn Brown makes a point of talking about “pencils, pens, markers to communicate God’s word – make every word you write with them a word you would say to God.”[1] And, our young people are now carrying computer tablets and laptops to school. I could imagine the apostle Paul cautioning our young people to not only be prepared, but be wise in what they say.

            Finally, our children almost always have new shoes! New school year, new shoes to wear. Yes, these new shoes might be cool. But, do our young people bring the message of peace while wearing them? That’s what the apostle Paul intended. He wanted believers to wear the shoes of peace, and communicate that sorely needed message to everyone they met.

            We might think that these are instructive words for our children and grandchildren to hear. However, as Paul describes these pieces of Godly armor, I am reminded of the dangers of the world this armor protects us from. In the book series (and movie series) about Harry Potter, one of the most chilling bad guys in the books are the dementors, “huge dark creatures that fly through the air, capture you, wrap you in cold darkness and suck all the happiness out of you.”[2]

The recent, horrible take-over of the country by the Taliban in Afghanistan is so much like the dementors, wrapping everyone in cold darkness and sucking all the happiness out of people. Especially women and girls! This horrendous military action is not only against feelings and emotions of people, like the dementors, but it involves machine guns, bombs and assassination squads. It means life or death for countless numbers of people across Afghanistan.

I receive a great deal of email weekly, including letters and articles about community and humanitarian concerns. I want to bring this excerpt to you. It comes from an email letter dated August 18th by Sheila Katz, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Council of Jewish Women. This paragraph shows us a different way, an open-hearted way for all of us to be ready.

“Welcoming the stranger — the immigrant, the refugee, the asylum-seeker — is one of Judaism’s most core values. The Torah commands us no fewer than 36 times to care for those whose homeland, language, social network, and resources may be elsewhere.  We hear this more than any other commandment in our most sacred of texts, perhaps because it’s all too tempting, when things are going well for us — when we, ourselves are comfortable, when we, ourselves are safe, to turn our backs on those who have come to us for shelter, for protection — because their own home has become untenable. It is so easy to forget. So the Torah has to remind us, again and again, until we remember.” 

Whether inside or outside the church, however and wherever we serve our Lord, God intends for us to be ready. That means being prepared by these words of caution. Paul used these words in Ephesians to advise all of us to be ready to deal with challenging, even dangerous situations. We all need this prudent caution of God’s armor, in our everyday walk as believers. Plus, we all need the reminder of our interfaith Jewish friend, about the 36 commands – that’s 36 commands! – in the Hebrew Scriptures, to be prepared to take in those who come to us for shelter, for protection, for refuge. We all need to be ready for the challenges of living, inside and out.

Final words, quoting Paul? Be strong in the Lord! Stand ready, inside and out. And, do all this in prayer, always asking for God’s help. 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 so much to Carolyn Brown and her marvelous insights from Ephesians 6 for children and young people – and older people, too! – from “Worshiping with Children,” a lectionary resource I often quote from.)


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/08/year-b-proper-16-21st-sunday-in_7.html

Worshiping with Children, Proper 16B, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

Always Giving Thanks!

“Always Giving Thanks!”

Ephesians 5:15-20 (5:20) – August 15, 2021

            When I mention “Thanksgiving,” what do you think of? The turn of the seasons? The coming of cold weather? Harvest time, pumpkins and spiced apple cider, turkey and dressing? Some people think of football and eating too much Thanksgiving feast, too.

Thanksgiving isn’t just for November, just for harvest time. But, before we get to the thankful part of this Scripture reading from Ephesians, we have to consider several commands and recommendations about how to truly live life as a believer in Jesus Christ.

Paul’s first command is to be wise people. Wise! Not foolish.

Most anyone can describe a foolish person, even pick them out of a group of people, because of their foolish, short-sighted thoughts, words and especially deeds. Who has seen someone being foolish? Either in real life or on television or movies? Often, it’s played up as a comic thing. But, when we see people doing foolish things or saying foolish words, we often can tell right away how foolish they are.

It’s more of a challenge to know the wise thing to do, the wise words to say. When my older two children were little, years ago, I attended church with another couple who also had children around the same age. I vividly remember my friend Mike saying – repeatedly – be wise. He would regularly advise his children to be wise, and cautioned them that it was more of a challenge to be wise. He would say that anyone could be good, without thinking very hard. Except, being wise takes a lot more thinking and discernment. Paul advises all of us to be wise!

Paul’s second command? Be filled with the Spirit. That’s a nice sentiment. But, how?

My husband Kevin was a cub scout and a boy scout. He often went camping with his troop, and they were carefully instructed by their scout leaders to clean up after themselves! No leaving trash around the campsite! They made sure the place looked even better when they left than when they first came. My husband still remembers one of his leaders would say, “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints.”

Yes, this is how to be a responsible citizen. Commendable to be a caring human being. However, this alone is not the way Paul intends the Ephesian believers to live out their faith. Paul reminds us that we Christians do more than that! We believers in Jesus Christ live out the Good News of Jesus Christ by transforming the world! In whatever way we can.

Sure, we can make certain that we keep things tidy, and clean up our mess. But, transforming the world into the image of God? That we cannot do alone. We need God’s help! We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit – and by God’s grace, the Spirit will partner with us! The Spirit will come alongside of us and help us to do God’s work – transforming the world![1]

And, it’s not only the apostle Paul who advises us to transform the world. One of my favorite Jewish expressions used by some of my Jewish friends is tikkun olam. “In Jewish teachings, any activity that improves the world, bringing it closer to the harmonious state for which it was created. Tikkun olam implies that while the world is innately good, its Creator purposely left room for us to improve upon His work.” [2]  

The third command of the apostle Paul? Sing and make music in your heart to God. That is one thing the Protestant church excels at! Certain denominations are just superb at singing and praising God in four-part harmony. My husband grew up in the Methodist church, and he remembers the church he attended as a boy. The whole congregation sang many hymns with gusto every Sunday. His family is musical anyway, but Kevin is really appreciative of sung music in four-part harmony. What a marvelous way to praise our God!

I do need to make a caution. With the rise of the Delta variant of COVID, please be cautious about singing in public, currently. I know that the apostle Paul tells us it’s a great idea! However, be prudent, be caring, and be wise in your dealings with others, for right now.

We are approaching Paul’s recommendation to give thanks. It seems as if Paul is winding up, getting ready to explode with words of praise in “psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” We’ve seen Paul get all excited before! Remember, at the end of chapter 3, where Paul burst into a glorious benediction proclaiming the glory and majesty of our God.

We are looking to make a difference in the world, correct? That is what we as believers in Jesus Christ are called to do, correct? It’s not just an exterior thing. It is not just give, give, give, constantly doing things for others all the time. Yes, doing that is a way to please God, to be sure! But, we all need to nurture and restore ourselves, too. And, how might we do that? By praising God! By singing in psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit! This is not only a way for me to nurture myself, singly, but it is as way for all of us to restore and uplift each other, too!

Music is a marvelous way for all of us to give thanks, to express praise and thanksgiving to our God. I was trained as a church musician, originally. Music is very close to my heart, and has been, ever since I was a little girl. Paul’s admonition here in Ephesians 5? Like second nature to me! I love to sing and play and make music, and these words tell us that it’s a great idea for mutual nurture and uplifting, too! In whatever way, style or manner fits you and your culture, or how or where you grew up, God is so pleased when God’s people lift praises in music!

Which brings us, finally, to giving thanks. Thanksgiving is not just for a Thursday in November. It’s an everyday thing. A joyous thing! Something that we are all called to do, each day of our lives. We can always find something to give thanks for, “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 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/geared-up-for-life/twelfth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/twelfth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-preaching-notes

[2] www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3700275/jewish/What-Is-TikkunOlam.htm

Jesus: Living Bread!

“Jesus: Living Bread!”

John 6:35, 41-51 (6:51) – August 8, 2021

            Bread is commonplace – isn’t it? Bread – the staff of life, putting bread on the table, knowing which side your bread is buttered on, the greatest thing since sliced bread, bread and water (the bare minimum food a person needs), and of course, our daily bread.   

 Bread, in some form or other, is found in just about every kitchen, every pantry, around the world. Whether raised dough, sourdough, or flatbread – made of wheat, rye, corn, or rice, or any one of a dozen other grains found around the world – bread is the universal food among the worldwide human race.

            The Rabbi Jesus had been preaching and teaching for a great number of months. Jesus is an itinerant rabbi, but He is preaching in the local area of His hometown. Are we surprised at Jesus’s reception, among the crowd listening to Him? Frankly, I’m not. I might have been skeptical of Jesus, too, if I were in the position of many of these local townsfolk.

             The Rabbi Jesus had already become known for His miracles of healing, plus the deep nature of His sayings and teachings. Here, Jesus makes the bold statement, “I am the Bread of Life.” Jesus compares Himself to something that everyone could relate to. He’s not saying He actually is a loaf of bread! However, Jesus talks about an absolutely everyday necessity that everyone is quite familiar with. That way, people might be able to learn more about Him.

            But, there is a problem with Jesus’s statement. He was preaching to a local crowd, and the crowd wasn’t altogether on board with what Jesus was saying. John’s commentary about the crowd’s complaints: “At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

Commentator David Lose said “they knew his parents and his brothers and sisters, they watched him play and learn his trade, grow up and eventually leave home. In other words, they know him, just like they know all the kids from their old neighborhood. And for this reason, you see – because he is just like them, because he is common – he can’t be all that special, and he certainly can’t be the one God sent for redemption.” [1] They knew where His parents lived. How can someone with a known name and address be considered God? From heaven?

Let’s take a deeper dive, and try to get below the surface gripes of the crowd. Sure, these hometown folks knew Jesus, but what is it that really bothers the crowd about the claims of Jesus? Could it be that Jesus’s words about bread are just a bit too ordinary? When this group of people heard the hometown boy preach, was that a little too close to home, and a bit too much like looking in the mirror?

 Sure, the Rabbi Jesus uses a common, ordinary object – bread – to let everyone see how universal their need was. Who doesn’t eat bread, every day? (Unless you are allergic to wheat or other grains, which a small percentage of the population are.) Nevertheless, Jesus wants to show how important His role is in life, and how much Jesus can supply people’s greatest wants and inner needs.

Many of this crowd has been following Jesus for some time. Many follow Him because of His wise teaching, and many more because of His miracles! Prophets of God were reliable at preaching, teaching, even doing miracles. But, this statement crosses some kind of a line.

            David Lose describes the words of Jesus as hitting a deep down nerve. He says, “when I am in need or distress, when I am hurt or afraid, I want to see a God who shows in strength and through miracle, I want to call upon a God who answers clearly and quickly, and I want to rely on a God who is there, really there, when you need him.” [2]

            Isn’t that the case? When you and I are in need or distress, in whatever way, we want to be sure of a God who is responsive, who is there for us. Not some rinky-dink fourth-string quarterback whose parents we know, whose mother and brothers and sisters still live in town, or down the road. No wonder the crowd is grumbling and griping!

            I know very well how much I trip up. I know where I fall down and miss the mark God wants me to hit. I suspect you do, too. We all know our own doubts, fears, broken promises, petty grudges, foolish betrayals. If Jesus is really like one of us – that is, a plain, ordinary, sinful human being! – then we are sunk. We all are in big trouble.

            Jesus makes a comparison between the manna of Exodus and the current bread from heaven. He says “49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Jesus is saying that He is much better than the temporary manna that lasted for just a day and no more – which makes me think of the letter to the Hebrews, which repeatedly describes Jesus as “better” than so many biblical high points.

“Jesus was common, ordinary, mortal like you and me, and yet was also uncommon, divine, the very Son of God. For where we expect God to come in might, God comes in weakness; where we look for God to come in power, God comes in vulnerability; and when we seek God in justice and righteousness – which is, after all, what we all expect form a God – we find God (or rather are found by God!) in forgiveness and mercy.” [3]

            What kind of bread are we being offered, right now? The temporary manna which passes away after a day, or the living bread that comes down from heaven? Jesus calls to each of us, offering to fill our deep hunger with the Living Bread from heaven, for eternity. You and I can say “thank you!” for this gift of love. Jesus offered bread to His friends a long time ago, in the Upper Room. And we still offer bread to one another in our church to remember and participate in Jesus’ love. Truly, a gift from God, however we slice 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!

(Many ideas from this sermon come from this lesson from Illustrated Ministries. Thanks to Illustrated Ministries for the use of their lesson for the 11h Sunday after Pentecost from John 6, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series. Also, thanks so much to Rev. David Lose, for ideas and quotes from http://www.davidlose.net/2015/08/pentecost-11-b/  “Ordinary Things,” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2015.)


[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/08/pentecost-11-b/  “Ordinary Things,” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

The Bond of God’s Peace!

“The Bond of God’s Peace!”

Ephesians 4:1-6 (4:5) – August 1, 2021

            The Summer Olympics are going on right now – different athletes from countries all over the world coming together. Each country’s team competes for medals, yes; but they also compete individually in accord with the Olympic motto: faster, higher, stronger.

            The apostle Paul refers to sports several times in his letters to the churches. Not a new thing, at all! Many of the people of his day were great fans of different sports, too. We can compare the local church to a sports team – members have different abilities, different strengths. Each individual member provides their different God-given gifts in unique ways to make up the multi-faceted, multi-colored, multi-gifted congregations many of us know.

            The letter to the Ephesian church is divided into two parts. Paul ended the first section with Ephesians 3, with a prayer for an outpouring of Christ’s love. Paul wished the Lord might grant strength and power to the Ephesian believers, prayed they might experience the full-ness of God, and closed with a spontaneous doxology to the immeasurable praise and glory of God.

            Here at the beginning of the second section of his letter, Paul gets practical. He starts Chapter 4 with a description of the Christian walk – walking together, helping one another, and supporting one another. And, walking with our Lord Jesus Christ, as called believers.  

             Paul says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” It doesn’t sound to me as if the church Paul had pastored for many months (he did, you know – Paul was the pastor for what probably was over a year) was in pure brother- and sisterhood, and harmony. No, Pastor Paul uses the imperative tense. That means he is using commands.

            I don’t know if you know anyone this way, but when I hear about someone who barks orders, I sometimes pause, and take a step back to consider and evaluate. I want to know who is giving the orders, and why. But, when it’s the apostle Paul? Let’s take the example of a sports team, again. What if the sports teams you watch had minor, petty disagreements amongst themselves, on a regular basis? Even, all the time? There wouldn’t be much togetherness, or teamwork. Sometimes, disagreements do happen. On sports teams, between friends, in families, and in church congregations.  

            Let’s remind ourselves of what Paul says: we are “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Put another way, we are to put in the effort to maintain our relationships with each other. That doesn’t refer to just one area, like our family, and I don’t need to care about anything or anyone else. No! We need to strive to mend hurt feelings and negative vibes in all our relationships. It is then that you and I are stronger in our life together – our lives in our families, with our friends, and in our congregations. [1]

            Take this congregation. If we wanted to see a good trustee, someone who takes excellent care of the physical plant of this church, we look to Bob. For an excellent usher and caretaker for the morning services each Sunday, we would consider Al, for years and years. Now that Al has moved in with his son in Lake County, David has ably stepped up and is continuing the excellent usher duties. What about caring for hospitality in our congregation? I know we have not met together for coffee and fellowship after the morning services for over a year, but all our congregation thinks highly of Carol and Lois. And David, Bill and Pete? Assisting Bob with trustee business. What about Sunny? If there is anything creative to be done around the church, look to Sunny to head that up. Jieun heads up our music leadership for each Sunday service. I could go on and on. We have many facets of our congregational life together, ably represented.

            Paul goes on to say that “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” In this shorter version of the gifts and graces God provides (expanded in other lists in other New Testament letters), Paul sets forth a number of different jobs, duties and gifts God freely gives to all God’s people.

            Yes, God has gifted each of us with unique gifts and abilities – those are separate and individual. Except, we are all called to be Christ-followers – each one of us, individually, and all of us, collectively, in a body. We are all called to be worthy of this higher calling, this Godly adoption, to live as God would have us to live.                

            I can just hear the objections now: “What, no disagreements, ever? What are we supposed to do, hold hands together and stand around singing ‘Kum-by-yah’ all the time?” Not in this imperfect world, no. Paul doesn’t expect us to always get along with one another, and he’d be the first to say so. God has also gifted us – that is, each one of us! – with the ability to repair and heal hurt, broken relationships, as we work through things about which we disagree.  

            Two simple, powerful tools for this? First, a genuine “I’m sorry,” from the heart. Second, a sincere, caring “How can I help?” These two phrases are caring ways to maintain unity and practice peace with our families, friends, and our congregations, too.[2] I leave us all with the exhortation of Paul: “Maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  God’s peace passes all understanding, and it is God’s gift to us all. As I say at the end of each worship service, go in God’s peace – and, God’s peace is truly a gift for all of us to treasure!

(Many ideas from this sermon come from this lesson from Illustrated Ministries. Thanks to Illustrated Ministries for the use of their lesson for the 11h Sunday after Pentecost from Ephesians 4, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)

@chaplaineliza

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


[1]Illustrated Ministries, lesson for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost from Ephesians 4, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.

[2] Ibid.

Rooted in God’s Love!

“Rooted in God’s Love!”

Ephesians 3:14-21 (3:17) – July 25, 2021

            Some summers are particularly dry. Thankfully, we here in Illinois are receiving a fair amount of rainfall this growing season. However, I can remember dry, hot summers where the whole landscape seemed to be turning brown and all parched for lack of water. Gardeners here around Chicago need to keep track of their garden plots, to make sure their flowers, fruits and vegetables are receiving all the water they need, even now, in a season of fair rainfall.

            Imagine, having the apostle Paul pray for you and the fellow members of your congregation! And not only that, imagine those words being recorded in the Bible, for countless numbers of people to read, centuries later!

            In our reading today, Paul focuses on love – the love of Christ! And, he does connect it to gardening and growing crops. The apostle Paul wrote the letter from our Bible to the Ephesian believers to answer some pressing questions they had about the Christian life. Paul also wanted to encourage the Ephesians in their continued walk with God.

            Paul prays “that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18 so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love.”

            Just think: Paul’s recommendation to us as believers is to have our roots and foundation in Christ’s love! What comes to mind for you when you hear these words? What comes to mind for me is that Paul prays that I – and all other believers – have strong roots that go deep down, to support me and give me energy and nurture from the soil where I am planted. Imagine, we are reminded that we are all planted – grounded in the good soil of God’s love!

Some towns have tornados or hurricanes blow through, and blow havoc into many people’s lives. Remember the tornado that actually touched down last year within the Chicago city limits? In August 2020, a tornado blew through the Rogers Park neighborhood – not very far from my house! My husband and I went the next day to see some of the damage done. A large tree had been uprooted. We saw the tall tree lying on its side, all of its root system exposed. A wild sight!

            What happened to that tall tree can happen to us if you and I are not firmly grounded or planted in Christ’s love. We can be cut off from support and nurture from God and from God’s family of faith – and from our extended families, too.

            We know how important it is for our children (and grandchildren) to have the strong roots to give them the energy and the resources to grow big and strong. We can easily list them on our fingers: healthy food to eat, fresh water to drink, a good night’s sleep, on a regular basis. And, sadly, we can see what happens when children do not get these things. Food insecurity is a sad reality for many, many families across our country, as well as in the Chicago area. Schooling is particularly difficult if there is no fuel for the growing body in children’s stomachs.

            Another important aspect for our young people is when people surround and support them with love. Yes, God’s love is so important! Plus, the love and caring and support of people who love who you are and love the things you do is also an amazing thing. [1]

            Take, for example, the concept of “Gotcha Day.” This is where families who adopt celebrate the day when they became a family with the new adoptee. Oftentimes they celebrate the overflowing nature of the new love that happens in this new family. Perhaps you know a family who celebrates “Gotcha Day” themselves. This celebration is not only a day to celebrate the precious one who was adopted, but also the whole family – the new family that was made or transformed by the wonderful addition of this new family member.[2]     

            Listen to this memory of someone’s “Gotcha Day.” This is about a United Methodist minister and his wife, and their new son. He says, “It was on August 5, 1994 that my wife and I drove to Chicago O’Hare Airport to pick up an orphan named Kim Myung Hoon, a nine-month-old with bright eyes and a ready smile, and as if by magic turned him into our son Rhys, who is now a young adult and somewhat embarrassed to be the center of such attention. Gotcha Day. Every August 5, it’s Gotcha Day. It’s not a birthday, but then it sort of is; it’s a rebirth day, a day of becoming a family. That little life from halfway around the planet changed our lives in an instant. He filled a gap we didn’t even know we had. That moment turned us upside down or right side up with a simple smile and a reach from the hands that held him on that long flight from South Korea to our hands. To our hearts.” [3]

An absolutely amazing facet of love is how abundant and overflowing and bottomless it can be. God’s wondrous love for us amazes me every time I think of it. That is the marvelous nature of this love the apostle Paul talks about in our Scripture reading today. The apostle’s deepest desire is that we “together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love.”

I know we cannot fully comprehend God’s love for each of us. I hope and pray we can get a little glimpse of it, though. “Gotcha Day!” What a tangible way of experiencing how we all are brought into the family of God. Can you express your thanks to God for Christ’s love for you? Please God, I want to. Please God, help me. Please God, God can help you, too.


[1] Illustrated Ministries; lesson for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost from Ephesians 3, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.

[2]  https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/geared-up-for-life/ninth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/geared-up-for-life/ninth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/ninth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-preaching-notes

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to Illustrated Ministries for their lesson for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost from Ephesians 3, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)

See as Jesus Sees

“See as Jesus Sees”

Mark 6:53-56 – July 18, 2021

            Have you ever had a really busy day? Or, even worse, a really busy week? I know I have. Sometimes, so much can crowd into an already full schedule that I might feel overwhelmed!

            That’s how busy it was for the Rabbi Jesus, all too often. The Gospel of Mark particularly points this out. Mark always tells his readers what Jesus did, where He went, and what happened next. “And immediately—” is one of Mark’s favorite connecting phrases. Jesus immediately went somewhere else, did something, or spoke to someone—”and, immediately!”

            Any busy person knows that you can not continue at this breakneck speed forever. Or, for even a long time. All of us need to take breaks, periodically! Time to slow down, and rest.

            That was what I suspect Jesus and His disciples had plans to do. Listen to what Mark reports: “31 Jesus said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.”

            Perhaps our Lord Jesus was better at self-care, periodic resting, and at pacing Himself. But, the hurry-hurry, rush-rush disciples are another matter! “The time soon comes to get away, to refresh the body and soul. As with us, so too did the apostles need a quiet time and place to renew their spirits and their relationship with Jesus.” [1] Time to take stock, step back, and size up a continuing situation, perhaps.

            And then, in the middle of Jesus and the disciples going to a deserted, out-of-the-way place to rest, what happens? “33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.” Imagine, Jesus and His disciples plan a brief time away to recharge and renew, and all of a sudden, they are surprised by all of these unexpected (and possibly, unwelcome!) visitors! 

            But, just a minute. I am looking at this situation from a 21st century point of view. How would the people of 1st century Palestine see Jesus and the disciples, in a deserted place?

            One of my commentators, Larry Broding, gave me some useful insight into this: “For moderns, scenic visas and vacant areas for relief represent relaxation. But, the contemporaries of Jesus saw “deserted” places as the home of evil and danger. Moderns seek personal space. Jews in the times of Jesus had no such concept. They banded together in a few Palestinian cities (like Jerusalem) or in small hamlets (50-150 population) for survival. Moderns seek privacy. Ancients sought social connection to the extent that personal identity almost solely depended upon one’s place in family (and, hence, society).” [2]

            Mark tells us in verse 34 “34 As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

It did not matter to Jesus whether He was dealing with 1st century Jews or 21st century Americans. He still understood (and understands, right now!) how people operate. He saw with compassion how much they needed His touch, His presence, His healing.

            I wonder – can you see others with the eyes of Jesus? Can you reach out with caring and kindness, in the way Jesus did? Sure, we all can request a touch from our Lord Jesus. It’s so wonderful to receive His caring, His presence, and His blessing! However, we are not to simply receive, and say, “Gimme, gimme, gimme!” Such a selfish, self-centered point of view!

            No, our Lord Jesus means for us to respond, after we have received. He makes a point of it! Just as He taught His disciples repeatedly, nothing pleases God more than for God’s children to respond to others with caring, with kindness, and with compassion.

            Except—sometimes you and I are stretched too thin. Sometimes we are too burdened with our personal troubles and concerns. Sometimes it all seems like we might be on that never-ending merry-go-round, except it is not at all a good time on that carnival ride. Jesus understands when life gets tough and feels too heavy. That is all right.

            As commentator Janet Hunt says, “Perhaps we are simply too wounded, some of us.  Or just too uncertain about what is next. So more and more I am reminded that there is nowhere else to begin but to at least try to see myself and those among whom I live and serve, with the very eyes of Jesus which with deep compassion recognize what I otherwise too often fail to see.” [3]

            Yes, Jesus is there for us, just as much as He was there for the crowd that so unexpectedly came upon Him and His disciples. Jesus shows caring, kindness and compassion to us, just as much as He did in first-century Palestine. He acts as a gentle Shepherd to His sheep who are wandering in the wilderness with no one to guide them, especially in this brave new world, post-pandemic.  

            Can you see the world through the eyes of Jesus? He calls all of us to be kind, gentle, caring and compassionate to others. And yes, we can also lean on our gentle Shepherd for ourselves, the one who brings rest and restoration, comfort and protection, whose goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives.                  

            Do you see with the compassionate eyes of Jesus? God willing, we all can.


[1] “Times of Refreshment,” Ordinary 16B, Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Catholic Resource for This Sunday’s Gospel

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://dancingwiththeword.com/seeing-with-the-eyes-of-jesus-like-sheep-without-a-shepherd/

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to Illustrated Ministries for their lesson for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost from Mark 6, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)

Dance Before the Lord!

“Dance Before the Lord!”

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 14-19 (6:14) – July 11, 2021

            Have you ever been to a worship service where people praised the Lord in all kinds of ways? More than singing hymns and worship songs. I mean, playing all kinds of instruments, dancing before God, and other kinds of artistic expressions. I know some churches regularly have multiple expressions of praise to God, in lots of different ways!

            This full reading from 2 Samuel chapter 6 is a long, extended one. I left out some of the material in the middle, not because it isn’t important. Following God’s explicit instructions and God’s subsequent punishment certainly is important! However, I wanted us to focus on the second part of today’s reading: King David and his joyous dancing before the Lord.

            Have you ever attended a church that had a dance ministry? Where members of that church performed sacred dance before the Lord? I have been a guest in such churches and worship services. This can be a beautiful and expressive way of praising God, and offering up the best of what creative people can give to God. Just as much as singing a worship song as solo or duet can be, or playing an instrument for special music in church.

            Let’s take a closer look at this narrative from 2 Samuel 6. The Ark of the Covenant – or, as our reading says, God’s Covenant Box – had been taken hostage by the Philistine army. That did not go well for them. If you happen to remember the movie made some years ago where the fictional archaeologist Indiana Jones found the Ark of the Covenant hidden away in Egypt, things did not go well for the Nazis who appropriated the Ark from Indy and his friends.  

Meanwhile, the Philistines decided God’s special Covenant Box was too much for them to hold hostage any longer. God convinced them to return the Ark by sending plagues on the Philistines. So, they shipped it back into the land of Israel on an ox-drawn cart with no driver.

King David was so excited to have the Ark of the Covenant back in Israel’s hands. He organized a big procession to bring it back into Jerusalem, his capitol city.

Sadly, I will not have time to take a close look at the sudden death of one of the men entrusted to walk beside the special Covenant Box. Following God’s specific instructions could be a sermon topic all on its own! We are going to continue on to look at the next episode of this narrative: where King David and a whole bunch of priests and Levites – the leaders in charge of all Israel! – dance and praise before the Lord as they march on the way to the Tabernacle.    

I remember several leaders of some churches where I belonged, years ago. I cannot imagine any of these leaders dancing and leaping before the Lord. Either because of embarrassment or pride, anxiety or impatience, or some other emotions altogether, these church leaders probably would never, ever dance in joy before the Lord. Never, ever.

But, our writer tells us that not only David and some priests and Levites dance, but says that eventually almost everyone in Israel joins in! They all join in worship and praise to the Lord. Celebrating God’s special Presence in the Ark of the Covenant, God’s special Box.

  Many people could see the Ark as it was brought into the city. They could sing and march and dance because it had returned from the Philistines. And, the people of Israel could be greatly blessed because now the Ark of the Covenant was back where it belonged, among God’s special people. And, God’s special Covenant Box signaled God’s Presence to all of Israel.

            Today, no one knows where the Ark of the Covenant is, if it even still exists. Nevertheless, God’s Presence is still very much in evidence among God’s people, right now. As one of my commentators mentions, “What symbols, objects or stories help us ‘have eyes to see and ears to hear’ God’s Presence among us? Stories from scripture, such as the exodus from Egypt, can make God present now.” [1]

            What special objects or stories mean a great deal to you? What special objects or stories are all-important to you, so important that you cannot imagine a worship service without them? Some imagine a large cross in the front of the church. Others think of the big Bible on the altar or lectern. Christian worship services often hold special things as quite valuable.

            “The danger, of course, is that the special objects or rituals will become idols in themselves, rather than signs pointing to God-with-us. So we must cultivate dynamic awareness that allows our rituals and objects to act as a sort of hyperlink, moving us beyond them to the larger Presence there.” [2] Just so, today we can connect to God’s Presence in ways that are significant and touch the heart and soul, that are meaningful to each of us – and celebrate others for connecting in ways that are meaningful and soulful to each of them! Whether dancing and leaping, praising in loud voices, praying quietly, singing hymns and songs, drawing and painting, making banners or wall hangings. We humans have a multitude of ways to praise our God!

            What ways are especially meaningful for you to connect to God’s presence?

            Just as David and the other leaders of Israel danced and praised God, we can dance and sing and march. Make some noise, too! Immanuel, God-with-us, the Lord’s Holy Presence is always with us – not just in church. Not just when we open the Bible. We can praise through spiritual practices, through the Lord’s Supper, through God’s beautiful creation, too.

We can all be attentive to God at any time, and at all times. And, the Lord is so pleased when God’s people bring a sacrifice of praise! Praise the Lord!

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to Illustrated Ministries for their lesson for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost from 2 Samuel 6, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-15-2/commentary-on-2-samuel-61-5-12b-19

[2] Ibid.

Hometown Prophet!

“Hometown Prophet!”

Mark 6:1-6 (6:4) – July 4, 2021

            I suspect you have heard of the saying “local boy makes good.” This is an old-fashioned newspaper type of story that used to be common in print journalism. And not only print! It’s a common trope or plot line in movies and television shows, too.

            I am sure you know kids from the neighborhood who moved away after high school or college, who have become quite successful in whatever craft or trade they may have taken up. Their parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles can’t wait to boast about their young person, all grown up and doing wonderful things in the world of adults.

The Gospel reading from Mark today talks about a “local boy makes good,” too. The Rabbi Jesus and His group of disciples come into the town where Jesus grew up. And, what a complicated home-coming this is for Jesus!

Let’s imagine how a small town of today might approach this situation. “The town sign maker is yawning; he stayed up late last night finishing the banner that is now draped across the entry gate to town that says “Welcome to Nazareth, home of Jesus.” The City Council members on the front row [of the synagogue] are all abuzz. They can’t wait to show Jesus the drawings for his Ministry Center to be built on some prime real estate just south of town. They’ve made him a website and set up a blog and a twitter account for him.”[1]

But, wait a minute. That is not quite right. Mark’s Gospel reading doesn’t work that way. Sure, some of the people in Nazareth might be looking forward to having their hometown boy come back to preach in their hometown synagogue, but that is by no means the majority opinion.

            Can’t you hear the grumbling and mumbling going on? Is Jesus getting too big for His britches, putting on airs?  “Isn’t this the son of Mary sitting over there?  And aren’t those his brothers standing there, Judas, Joses, and Simon?  Aren’t those his sisters?  He is just that common kid from Nazareth.  You know, the kid who grazed our donkeys; who watered our animals, who drew water from the well for us to drink. There is nothing too special about him.” [2]

            Can you remember learning to do something you were not able to do when you were younger? I can remember teaching my children to tie their shoes, in kindergarten. One day they were struggling with that skill, and the next day, no problem! Other skills, too – like riding a bike, or driving a car, or learning to knit, or how to hit a baseball. These are things that take some time. We need to learn and grow in order to be able to accomplish these skills and abilities.

            Perhaps the townspeople in Nazareth weren’t used to that idea – the concept of learning and growing, and taking time to accomplish different skills and abilities. Mark’s Gospel clearly says that a number of townsfolk took offense at Jesus. Some commentaries particularly mention this word. In Greek, it is “skandalon,” from which we get the word “scandal.” Can you imagine being scandalized by a young man from your hometown or neighborhood actually preaching, teaching, and even doing miracles? I cannot imagine it – it’s  a little beyond me, but Mark says it’s so, right here in chapter 6.     

            Some people very much want to go home. After traveling, sometimes wandering, the concept of “home” – wherever or whatever that is – becomes  a yearning deep within the heart. One of my commentators said, “Jesus went home, but home didn’t take him in. My inclination in such a scenario would be to feel sorry for myself. Poor me, they don’t understand me, the real me, the me I have become. They still see the goofy kid I was instead of the man I have become. Because there is within us the desire to go home. Or maybe better, there is within us the desire to be home, to be welcomed home, to feel at home.”[3]

            Isn’t that a deep, heartfelt need within each of us? Don’t we all – in some sense – desire to be at home? Think of home, talk about home, wish for home, even when far, far away?

            A pastor acquaintance of mine was remembering about her family’s high school exchange student from Kenya, a number of years back. At the high school talent show, the student did not tell anyone what she was going to sing. Lo and behold, she sang “This Land Is Your Land,” using all descriptions of Kenya – far away though she was. She picked that song and believed that song was written especially for Kenya! [4]

            There are hometowns all over this country, in fact, all over this world. People sometimes have an incredible connection to their hometown. True, some people in Jesus’ hometown didn’t believe He could do all of the preaching, teaching and miracles! Instead, they remembered Jesus when he was a young child— when he hadn’t yet learned how to teach, preach, and heal people. They couldn’t believe God had given Jesus the power to speak and to heal others.

            This neighborhood, where this church sits, is diverse, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. People around here have hometowns all over this world! Not just from Chicago, or Illinois, or even the United States. We all want a country that feels like home, which means we need people, all the people – of the people, by the people, and for the people – to show us the way to go home. Show us the way to be home, a heavenly home for all God’s children. No matter where they were born. [5]

Please God, we can all have eyes open and hearts ready to receive all God has to offer us, today, including a deep, true sense of home – a heavenly home with God. 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 Illustrated Ministries for their lesson for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost from Mark 6, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)


[1] “Following a Hometown Boy,” Alyce M. McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, Patheos, 2012.

[2] “Offended by the Nice Little Kid from Nazareth,” Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington.

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/your-bone-flesh/sixth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/sixth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-preaching-notes

[4] Thanks to Rev. Elizabeth Mae Magill for this wonderful story!

[5] Ibid, www.umcdiscipleship.org

Tell God All About It

Psalm 130:1-8 (130:1) – June 27, 2021

            Have you ever felt alone? I don’t mean alone in your house or apartment, where you can putter about, checking on things as you wish, sequestered from the hustle and bustle of daily life. No – I mean really alone. Desperately lonely. Do you feel so sad and abandoned that it seems like no one could ever come alongside of you – or me – ever again?

            I sincerely hope you have rarely felt such raw loneliness deep in your heart. However, many people have. The unknown author of our psalm has. Psalm 130 is a heartbreaking cry of loneliness and desperation. “Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord!”

            Whatever type or category of deep emotion we may be feeling, chances are one of our psalm writers has already documented it. The Psalms talk about emotions and feelings all over the interior human map, and Psalm 130 certainly hits one of those deep, emotional troughs of loneliness and despair. Can you relate? Have you – or one of your family – ever felt this way?

            This past year and a half has been a roller-coaster ride all over the track of emotions. Frequently for many, many people across this country, a great percentage of these emotions have been negative. Loneliness, anxiety, fear, grief, despair. With the isolation the pandemic has brought into so many lives, these are sadly familiar emotions and feelings.           

            Isn’t it ironic that this particular psalm should be a Psalm of Ascent? A special psalm that pilgrims to the big Temple in Jerusalem would sing as they approached that holy place. At first glance, how odd that this special psalm would start off with a heartfelt cry of loneliness and pain! However, this Psalm of Ascent is a true, authentic cry from the depths of the heart!

            Yet, haven’t we experienced people often doing something inauthentic and false, today? I can remember friends and acquaintances from my church-going past who would slap on a “happy face” for show, on Sunday morning. Yet, they wouldn’t breathe a word about how sad or frightened or miserable they were truly feeling. I suspect you remember the same kind of people, who would wallpaper over their deep, internal emotions and simply put on a “happy face.” I sometimes think of that as people’s “church face.” Totally a false face.

            Instead, we could ask God, “Pay attention to my suffering, and for heaven’s sake, have mercy on me!” “Often such a demand issues from a sense of God’s absence in the depths. Pain, whether physical, psychological, spiritual, or some combination, can be so isolating that we feel abandoned to our misery, even by God.” [1]

Except, Psalm 130 is not just about loneliness and abandonment. As the psalm writer continues in this Psalm of Ascent, he moves to forgiveness. Our psalm writer today might say, “Gracious God, please. I’m so tired, and I really need You to listen to me. If You, Lord, kept track of all my sins, all of everyone’s sins – Lord, could anyone stand before You?” (That’s a rhetorical question, you understand.) Thank God, my sins are covered, and so are yours!

I have known a few people who never, ever ask for forgiveness. We might call that kind of emotion arrogance! Imagine, never seeking forgiveness! “The arrogant person thinks he or she is above it all. Seeking forgiveness is the way we step back from the arrogance of our self-centered universe and see ourselves as we truly are.” [2]

            How do we approach God on Sunday morning? Do we wallpaper over our true emotions and put on a nice, happy “church face,” or are we true and authentic? Showing our deep emotions as they are? God knows us better than we know ourselves, even if we might try to fool others at church, in our community, even our home.

            For that matter, how do we approach God the rest of the week? God isn’t just for Sunday mornings. The psalms over and over let us know that instead of hiding deep sadness from God, the psalm writers choose to tell God the truth about their feelings.

            Let’s consider at certain people who feel so rotten and so horrible that they think God could never forgive them. I met a patient years ago, when I was a chaplain. This dear senior was so fearful that she was never going to be good enough for God. She had thought for decades that God was going to consign her to the depths of hell itself. Thank God I was able to reassure her that God did, indeed, love her. And no, a divorce because of an abusive marriage almost 50 years before would not mean the difference between heaven and hell for her.

            The key to this loving understanding about God’s character is found in verses 3 and 4. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.” “Forgiveness, in other words, is who God is. This Psalm is about the very character of God, which remains steadfast even in the abyss. God is revered because “with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem” (v. 7). God’s unchanging love is the essence of who God is, and God’s power is precisely the power to redeem.” [3]

            Psalm 130 is gentle balm for battered and bruised souls. Yes, we can say with the psalm writer, thank You, O God, for forgiveness and mercy! Thank You, O God, for steadfast love and redemption!  

And most of all, as we pray to God about how we feel, honest, authentic prayer can help us remember God’s promises to love us and to be with us always—no matter how much in the depths we are feeling at any moment. For that, we can all say alleluia, amen!

(Thanks to Elizabeth Webb and her commentary from Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014. I took several extended ideas from that article. And thanks to Illustrated Ministries for their lesson for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost from Psalm 130, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] [1][1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-in-lent/commentary-on-psalm-130-4

Commentary, Psalm 130 (Lent 5A), Elizabeth Webb, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

[2][2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Frightened? Have Faith!

“Frightened? Have Faith!”

Jesus calming the storm – icon

Mark 4:35-41 (4:40) – June 20, 2021

            Have you ever slept in a tent while a huge thunderstorm crackled and poured overhead? The blustery wind, rain and loud thunder seem right next to you. I know firsthand; I spent several summers in high school at a Girl Scout camp, sleeping in a platform tent every night.

            Except, in our Gospel reading, Jesus and the disciples did not even have the cover of a tent. They were out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, in the middle of a fierce storm.

            Our Gospel writer Mark tells us “Suddenly a strong wind blew up, and the waves began to spill over into the boat, so that it was about to fill with water.”

            This storm on the Sea of Galilee blew in, all of a sudden. How many of us can relate? How many of us have had real storms suddenly come upon us? Without warning? We can be thinking of a real storm, where the skies turn black, and the heavens open up with pelting rain. Or, it may be a figurative storm, where something catastrophic suddenly comes upon you or some member of your family. Perhaps a car accident, or house fire, or sudden hospitalization, out of the blue. These are serious storms, too, and they can overwhelm us with their intense effects.

            I spent the last three months of 2020 and first three months of 2021 enrolled in a unit of chaplain internship. This was a community-based internship, and I had the opportunity to have this church, St. Luke’s Church, as my clinical site. I needed to do a final project. My chaplain supervisor asked me to make up a church timeline for our church. This fascinating project that took me a long time! And, it provided many rich and valuable insights into our church life.    

            This 20-year timeline informed me that this church has been through some real storms, and repeated choppy water. And, not just one little storm, either. Repeated cloudbursts, in fact.

            Have you encountered churches that have weathered big storms? Either a church you attended, or that one of your family or friends went to? This kind of tumultuous happening can be utterly paralyzing! Plus, this stormy weather in the congregation can give an absolute chill to any viable ministry or church work going on, inside or outside the church walls.   

            I hold an Illinois certificate in Alcohol and Drug Counseling. I know from experience that a tried and true saying from the program of recovery is “you are as sick as your secrets.” St. Luke’s Church had some big secrets, indeed. Not completely hidden, but certainly wallpapered over so that I needed to dig further to find out about some of them.

            Stories about storms from your local church history can be damaging, to be sure. However, stories about storms from church history can be helpful, and empowering, too. Take, for example, the true story about Anna B. About 100 years ago, Anna B. was a faithful member of a dying church. The building was run-down, the congregation could not afford to pay a minister. Without a minister, people stopped attending Sunday services. Except – Anna B. kept coming to the church. She opened the doors on Sunday morning, week after week. She lit the candles and provided a place for prayer. She filed the necessary papers to maintain the church as a legal entity. These simple acts of faithfulness and diligence kept the congregation going for several years. Eventually, rebirth happened, and it was in great part because of Anna B. [1]

            That is the basic story of Anna B., who was instrumental in faith and revitalization when that church was going through a series of storms in the life of that struggling congregation.         Yet, what does Mark’s Gospel reading have to say? “Jesus was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. The disciples woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?” With all of the strong tumult, wild waves and whistling wind, we can be tempted to shake our Lord Jesus awake, too. We can say, “Don’t you care that we are about to die?” Can you relate to the disciples? They knew what to do – they asked Jesus for help!  

Each church, each denomination here in the United States has been dealing with significant storms over the past year and a half. With the pandemic and all of the related shutdown, isolation, sickness, deaths, and general tumult of all kinds, this COVID-time certainly has been a whole series of storms we have all had to weather.

39 Jesus stood up and commanded the wind, “Be quiet!” and he said to the waves, “Be still!” The wind died down, and there was a great calm. 40 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Why are you frightened? Do you still have no faith?”

Jesus calls on us to have faith, even in the midst of the raging storm. We can believe, we can have faith that Jesus will be right by our sides. Even through the darkest storm, though the wild waves and choppy water threatens to flood our little boat, Jesus will be with us. Through the storm, and even calming the wind and waves.

A good way for us to weather storms that come through our churches is to remember the faithful and trusting stories from our own congregations. Just as Susan’s former congregation lifted up the true story of Anna B. to encourage their corporate faith, so we can find stories in our own churches. Where were people faithful to God? Where did God’s grace break through?

We can tell stories about this past year of COVID-tide, too! Where has God been faithful to us? Where has God’s grace shown through, like the sun behind the dark clouds? Let us be expectant, persistent, on the look-out for these true stories of faith. We all can tell how this church made a difference for each of us, in this past year, and write our own hopeful, faithful stories. Are you ready? Write your own story of faith! And, Jesus will be right by your side, all your life long. Alleluia, amen.

(Thanks to Illustrated Ministries for their lesson for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost from Mark 4, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] Beaumont, Susan, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), 99.

“God Changes Things!”

Mark 4:26-34 (4:30-32) – June 13, 2021

            When my children were small, they loved reading time, every night before bedtime! I read them all kinds of stories. I remember reading some lovely illustrated versions of Aesop’s Fables. These taught children (and adults) some moral or practical lesson, wrapped up in engaging storytelling. Who doesn’t remember the lessons of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” (slow and steady wins the race) and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” (honesty is the best policy)?

            The Rabbi Jesus also was a master storyteller, like Aesop.  Jesus used a different method. He regularly told parables. Parables are not quite the same as fables. Jesus told many parables to help people learn what God is like and how God wants us to live. “Parables are useful when the truth you want to share is difficult, whether difficult to hear, comprehend, or believe.” [1]

            In today’s Scripture reading from Mark chapter 4, Jesus tells two parables, both about seeds. Parables can be seen from a number of different viewpoints. Children can view a parable as a simple retelling of people planting seeds. As we age and grow, our understanding ages and grows, too. As I would sometimes tell my children, these Bible stories – or parables – are thinking-about stories. We think about them, ponder them, and ruminate over them.

            Parables, as pastor and writer Eugene Peterson has said, are in this sense like narrative time bombs. “You hear them – tick – wonder about them – tick – think maybe you’ve got it – tick – and then as you walk away – tick – or over the course of the next day or so – tick – and all of a sudden the truth Jesus meant to convey strikes home – boom! – almost overwhelming you with its implications or … blinding you with its vision.[2]

            Both parables Jesus relates talk about sowers and seeds. I was drawn to the second one in my study for this sermon, the parable of the mustard seed. How many people here today have ever seen a mustard seed? You can often see them at a produce market or ethnic food market, in the spice section. A fairly large tree will grow from that tiny seed, half as small as an apple seed!

            Children especially really like the idea of a tiny mustard seed growing into something big. Children are small, much smaller than adults. Yet, they can see a tiny little thing like a mustard seed growing big and bigger, and indeed taking over the garden, if we don’t watch out. Small children intuitively appreciate this story about something small having great influence. And perhaps, grown people who feel as if they don’t ordinarily have much influence also appreciate this parable about tiny things becoming big, grand, and having influence after all.                

            Aren’t we amazed that such a tiny seed can turn into a small tree? What is more, seeds germinate and grow when hidden under ground – hidden from everyone’s sight. As Jesus said, every small thing we do can make such a big difference. 

But it does not stop there! One little mustard seed doesn’t just produce one bush. Mustard bushes are what many people consider weeds. One quickly becomes several and several soon take over the whole field. Understanding that about mustard trees tells us something else about God’s Kingdom – it is unstoppable. It is going to fill the whole world.

Here in suburban Chicago, we are now into the beginning of June. Many gardens are starting to grow, producing flowers, and the beginnings of fruits and vegetables. Our Lord Jesus relates a number of parables about sowing seeds, and these parables have multiple meanings, and can be viewed from different points of view.

When the sower first sows seed, the plant has not started growing yet. But, there is potential for it to grow! As we sow good seeds in this congregation, these seeds have the potential to grow, too. Are we going to tend these tender young plants carefully? With love? Or, are these plants going to be left alone, and allow the weeds take over the plot of ground?

As we prayerfully consider this beloved congregation, a change seems to have come upon St. Luke’s Church, accelerated by this past year of Covid-tide. (as some church folk are now calling it) It is true that St. Luke’s Church is no longer the church it used to be, 20, 30, 40 years ago. St. Luke’s Church has changed, and the world has changed, too.

Do we – faithful believers in Christ – know what is coming next? Frankly, I do not. Our church leaders do not, either! Do you? This is a waiting time, an expectant time. A time when seeds can be sown, and nurtured, and a time when God may bring forth unexpected growth and exciting events! Are you eager to see what happens next? I know I am!

We know what happens when a caterpillar goes into a cocoon. The caterpillar gradually turns into a chrysalis, and after a time, a beautiful butterfly emerges. But – that is from the point of view of a human, watching over the chrysalis. What about the caterpillar? Did you ever think about the caterpillar’s point of view? I suspect the caterpillar has no idea of what is happening to it all the while it is in the chrysalis, transforming into that butterfly. That is where we are, now!

Can you see it? Feel it? St. Luke’s Church is on the threshold of a new thing! The sower sows the seed, and it goes into the ground, where the growth happens unseen. Something new is coming. “The Kingdom Jesus proclaims has room for everyone. It creates a new and open – and for this reason perhaps a tad frightening – future.” [3] Maybe Jesus is telling us God’s best dream for us – for St. Luke’s Church – is like that. Once God’s love gets planted in us and starts to grow, it changes everything around us forever. Sure, the next thing might be a bit frightening, from the caterpillar’s point of view, but I’m excited to see what is coming next! Aren’t you? I know God will be right by our sides, no matter what. And, it will be all right. Truly.

(Thank you to David Lose for his commentary “Preach the Truth Slant,” from “In the Meantime” in 2015. I took several extended ideas from that article. And thanks to Illustrated Ministries for their lesson for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost from Mark 4, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)

@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.davidlose.net/2015/06/pentecost-3-b-preach-the-truth-slant/

“Preach the Truth Slant,” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

We Want What We Want!

“We Want What We Want!”

1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20 (8:5) – June 6, 2021

            Is there anything you ever really wanted? I mean, really, really wanted? So much that you could taste it? Were you absolutely certain – after you got it – that this thing would make you really happy, so happy you never would wish for anything else ever again?

I know my children wanted things like bicycles, and iPods, roller skates and cell phones, during their growing-up time. I know that occasionally they even said if they just were to get that much desired thing, then they never would ask for anything else, ever again.

            We see that deep wish, that urgent desire expressed here in our Scripture reading today, from 1 Samuel chapter 8. The people of Israel really, really wanted a king. An earthly king, like all the other tribes and nations around them had.

            Just to orient ourselves to time and place, the time period of 1 Samuel was after the people of Israel came to the promised land of Canaan, conquered it, and lived in it for several hundred years. Samuel is known as the last Judge, and a prophet of God. The prophets helped the people of Israel understand messages from God, and helped lead and guide the people, too.

            The people of Israel wanted a king. But, what is the matter with this sentiment? Samuel, knowing God a little better than many of the people of Israel, understood God had tried to be a heavenly King for Israel for several centuries, with the Judges being God’s right-hand guys. The Judges had been the Lord’s representatives on earth, judging, leading and governing the people of Israel for God.

            Except, this did not work out too well. We can see that from the fact that the people of Israel kept falling away from the worship of the Lord, and started to sin – to worship idols and other, false gods. This would happen again and again. Everything would be okay for a while. The Judge would govern the people, things would prosper, the people would become complacent, and then fall away from the Lord. The people would be conquered by a neighboring tribe, repent and call out to the Lord. Another Judge would rise to chase the tribes out of Israel and bring the people back to the worship of the one, true God. Again and again this familiar pattern happened.

Does it sound familiar to you? Have your friends or family members fallen away from the Lord and had problems or difficulties, and needed to get right with God? This sadly familiar situation happens again and again, throughout the centuries. Not just in the time of the Judges.

 The elderly Samuel knew better. He had walked with the Lord for a number of years, and he understood exactly what the people of Israel were asking for. Perhaps the people thought the earthly king would protect them, or make them strong, or even have great wisdom. Perhaps a king would make the other tribes and nations respect the people of Israel! After all, the nation Israel was a little like a football, getting tossed around from tribe to tribe for the past few centuries. Perhaps Samuel’s feelings were hurt by the people’s demand! After all, he was the Judge appointed by the Lord, and he was the one who was God’s representative. But, no. The people wanted what they wanted when they wanted it. They really, really wanted a king!

Does this sound familiar? Someone wants what they want, and no one can tell them any different. They stubbornly decide they really, really want it, and that is that.

Samuel tries to reason with the people. He knew how kings acted in other nations. Samuel told the people of Israel that a king would not treat them well. He tried to spell out exactly how much a king would cost the nation of Israel. A king would take a lot of their crops and animals as taxes, and recruit their sons to fight wars and daughters to work for him, and the people would eventually complain bitterly to the Lord about the king.

Predictably, the people refused to listen. They demanded a king from Samuel.

So, Samuel went before the Lord. The Lord told Samuel to give the people what they wanted. You know the proverb “Be careful what you wish for – you may get it.” That is exactly what happened to the people of Israel. God added a postscript: someday, the king would indeed treat the people of Israel poorly, even enslaving them.

When the people of Israel finally got their king, did it really, really make them happy? Was it the best, most prudent thing for the nation? I don’t know for sure, but I think not.

            Of course, looking back at the book of 1 Samuel, we now have 20/20 hindsight. We can see clearly the kinds of things the new King of Israel will require the nation to do for him. Sometimes, “we want what we want when we want it!” is definitely not the best decision for us.

            While we are talking about leaders, and leadership, some of our current leaders today are battered and bone-tired of serving in their agency or government structure. In the past 15 or 16 months, everything has been turned topsy-turvy and inside out. Even if they might not be the most effective or the “best” leaders, we can pray for them. We can ask God to help them govern and make decisions. We can support them, even if we did not vote for them or hire them. And, God bless our leaders, even if they lead differently than the way we think they ought to.

            Do you think we ought to demand things from God? Demand what we want when we want it? Or, is it a better idea to trust the Lord to know what we need? “In giving us what we so desperately want, God disciplines us so that we learn to leave these things in God’s hands. In biblical terms, we must focus on seeking God first, and trust Him to add all those things He deems best for us. Let us be cautious that our requests to God are not demands. Let us learn from the Israelites of old so that we need not walk the path they had to walk.” [1]

God truly wants a receptive, open heart. Don’t be like the people of Israel! Instead, have an open heart and a willing spirit. Hear the word of the Lord!

  • Alleluia, amen.

(I would like to thank Illustrated Worship for their summer Worship Bundle for 2021. I appreciate the thoughts and insights found for this Lectionary reading for June 6, 2021, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, which I used in the creation of this sermon.)

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/6-give-us-king-1-samuel-81-22

“Give Us a King! (1 Samuel 8:1-22),” by Robert Deffinbaugh at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

Choose Someone Else!

“Choose Someone Else!”

Isaiah 6:1-8 (6:8) – May 30, 2021

            Have you ever had a really vivid dream? Colorful, psychedelic, surreal, even? Sort of like what we just heard in the Scripture reading this morning. I suspect that people first hearing about Isaiah’s vision from chapter 6 may have thought the prophet was going way overboard with such vivid, descriptive language!  

Let’s take a few giant steps back, and gaze upon the big picture of this vision. We see the immense Holy One, and we see little, tiny Isaiah. “God’s presence is so large, the hem of the Lord’s robe alone fills the temple space. This is vastness. Strange but faithful creatures envelop the throne. Smoke obscures the whole scene. We are used to the images of fire and smoke, cloud and height being associated with God. It is all here.” [1]

            Some might think that Isaiah was exaggerating a lot when he described the Almighty God, seated on a throne in the heavenly temple. Yet, that vivid, glorious scene from the heavenly temple is the template of what goes on in many worship services today.

            The first hymn many people think of when they consider Trinity Sunday is “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.” This hymn’s verses either refer to or directly quote this Scripture reading from Isaiah 6 – the first line, “Holy, holy, holy,” “Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee” and “all Thy works shall praise Thy name in earth and sky and sea.” This Scripture reading from Isaiah does not give us any information at all about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, but has been used effectively as a backdrop and assist in helping Christians get some understanding of this mystical, almost ethereal doctrine that is so difficult to understand.

            What’s this about comparing Isaiah chapter 6 and worship services? Most worship services begin with a hymn of praise. Look at Isaiah 6:3 – “And [the seraphim] were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’” If that isn’t a hymn of praise, I don’t know what is. What’s more, some contemporary churches have several hymns or an extended praise time at the beginning of their services.

Many worship services then move to a confession (or admission) of sin. Let’s check out Isaiah 6:5 – Isaiah cried, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” We here at St. Luke’s Church have a confession of sin at the beginning of every worship service. I consider this vitally important! Just as Isaiah realized his sinfulness in the light of everything happening in that heavenly Temple, so we ought to confess our sins, too. We need to make ourselves clean on the insides before we can possibly come near to God.

After the confession and admission of sin comes an assurance or forgiveness of that sin, in Isaiah 6:6-7 – “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’” Just as we follow the prayer of confession in our worship with the assurance of pardon – Believe the Good News of the Gospel! In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven!

This template for the worship service from Isaiah does not have a reading of Scripture, but many other instances in the Hebrew Scriptures do, where the minister gives further instruction and exhortation using the Scripture. (This is exactly what I am doing right now! Exhorting the congregation, based on the Word of God.) What follows is all-important, the whole point and reason for it all! Isaiah 6:8 holds a call to service extended from the Lord God Almighty. This call is the focal point of the retelling of this vision. “I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

When I first felt that call from God, I was in my early 20’s, attending an evangelical Christian college as a music major. Women were definitely frowned upon as ordained clergy. I heard that call, and I even reflected upon it, turned it over in my head and heart, and talked about it with some other students at my school. However, not much came of it – then – yet.

As we take a look at another call narrative, the one from Exodus 3 involving Moses and the burning bush, we get a whole different response to the question “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Moses certainly does not want to lead the people of Israel! “Choose somebody else!” is his response. And, even after God says God will empower Aaron as Moses’ right-hand man, Moses still drags his feet.

Isn’t that like us, sometimes? Don’t we often drag our feet when God calls? Aren’t we more likely to say, “Choose somebody else!” when God taps us on the shoulder?

When you and I hear the Word of God rightly divided and expounded, when we breathe in the Holy Spirit-inspired Word, that divine response and possibility is there, for all members of the congregation, for each believer in the Good News. The heavenly touch of the Holy Spirit may well come upon each of us, bursting forth into fiery life! That Trinity, that Triune God can empower you and me, and help us to do things, to say words, to dream dreams that go far beyond what we could even think or imagine – like Isaiah.   

Yes, worship is wonderful, and the Lord has great joy in the worship of God’s people! Yet, what is the focal point of worship? Responding to the call of God. When God calls, can you respond, “Here am I, send me!” That is what God truly wants, an open heart, and a willing spirit.

Say with me, with Isaiah, “Here am I, send me!”

(Thank you to John Holbert for his Patheos commentary from 2015. I took several extended ideas from that article. https://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/choose-somebody-else-john-c-holbert-05-28-2015

 “Choose Somebody Else!” John C. Holbert, Opening the Old Testament, 2015. )

@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/the-holy-trinity-2/commentary-on-isaiah-61-8-3

Commentary, Isaiah 6:1-8, Melinda Quivik, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

The Voice Within!

“The Voice Within!”

Romans 8:22-27 (8:26) – May 23, 2021

            Happy Pentecost! Praise God! Rejoice! Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. We see the promises of the risen Jesus being fulfilled as the Holy Spirit blows into the hearts and lives of all believers, there in Jerusalem, and to this very day.

            The Scripture reading from Acts chapter 2 paints a vivid picture. The Holy Spirit blows through that upper room like a violent wind. We have first-hand accounts as the Ruach ha Kodesh – the Holy Spirit – appears as flames of fire above each believer’s head. And then, the followers of the risen Rabbi Jesus run out into the street, on fire with the message that Jesus is alive! He is risen! Praise God! Alleluia!

            Today’s Gospel reading comes from the Upper Room Discourse, chapters 15 and 16 of the Gospel of John. It includes where Jesus mentions the Holy Spirit, “the Advocate who speaks from God in order to guide us into the truth.” But, I was especially drawn to the third Scripture reading today – where the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf with wordless, inexpressible groans. So, the Holy Spirit is as close to us as Word, and words, and no words – as wordless Intercessor. [1]   

It is true that the Pentecost event from Acts chapter 2 is about diverse people suddenly understanding each other; but it is not JUST about people understanding different languages – it is also a heavenly revelation, a Divine visitation,

The coming of the Spirit is a breaking-through of God, coming into individual lives. The Holy does not act only through dramatic events, like in Acts 2, but just as much in the everyday, in the mundane, workaday, ordinary circumstances of life – as the apostle Paul shows us in Romans chapter 8. As preacher and pastor, I strive to assist the congregation to experience – to see, hear and feel – this powerfully intimate work of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, we can see the powerful working of the Holy Spirit on that day of Pentecost, when tongues were loosened, God’s mighty power was made manifest, and thousands of souls came to believe in the message of our risen Lord Jesus Christ. And, yes, each of us can witness to the intimate power of the Holy Spirit, as Comforter and Advocate, who comes alongside of each of us at incredibly personal moments, when we do not even have the words to frame a prayer. The Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf, advocating for us before the heavenly throne of grace.

In Romans 8, we see the Holy Spirit acting in several different ways. In 8:17, we can see that we have been adopted. We are the children of God – our adoption papers have been served. We have a place in the family of God! Amen! With the whole rest of creation, we are now – right now! – joint heirs with our Lord Jesus. When we get to glory, we all – each one of us – will have that position, not as lowly servants, but as sisters and brothers of our Lord Jesus.

The Pentecost event of 2000 years ago is still happening today. The Holy Spirit energizes each person who comes to Christ. “Already we have tasted the fruits of the Spirit, the life-giving, life altering reality of living within God’s embrace.” This blessed truth is made known to us each day, in the Monday through Saturday realities of our lives. [2]

Sure, each one of us goes through hills and valleys in our individual lives. And, God is right by our sides, through every valley, and atop each hill.

Paul reminds us, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for.” As a child of God, I freely admit sometimes I act like a small child, in God’s eyes. I don’t know what to pray for, or even how to pray. I blunder and bluster my way through life, sometimes even forgetting to pray. My intimate relationship with God seems to be a distant thing, indeed. Is it that way with you, sometimes?

            Thank God for the Holy Spirit, indwelling our hearts! We experience a personal Pentecost each day, when the Holy Spirit communicates with us deep within, being our Advocate, coming alongside of us when we are unsure, afraid, grieving or deeply in prayer – praying those deep prayers within our hearts that are without words, praying on our behalf. Thank God for that Advocate, Intercessor, Comforter, Counselor, and Spirit of Life and Truth.       

            As we look at these separate Scripture readings, we see different views of the work of the Holy Spirit. Each talks about the Spirit in a distinct way. But, each is in harmony on one point: when the Holy Spirit comes, things change! [3]         

            This change stuff is difficult. Sure, it makes people nervous! But, the Holy Spirit has a way of not only shaking things up, but also granting the courage and confidence to see things through. And maybe, see things in a new way.

            God gives each of us power – power that enables each one to do God’s work on earth. In our families, in our neighborhoods, and perhaps to the uttermost ends of the earth. With the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, God does have work for us to do.

Look for the fruit of the Spirit in your heart, in your life. See where others have stepped out for God, to act as Christ’s ambassadors. Get involved! And, look forward to see where God empowers you to go, and serve – to diverse people, even in our neighborhood. We all carry God’s Good News, like the followers of Jesus on that first Pentecost morning. We can be on fire, too! And our lives will never be the same. 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.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/day-of-pentecost-2/commentary-on-romans-822-27

Commentary, Romans 8:22-27 (Pentecost B), Audrey West, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/pentecost-change

We All Are Witnesses!

“We All Are Witnesses!”

Acts 1:1-11 (1:8) – May 16, 2021

            I have a confession to make. I do not say the Apostles Creed very often any longer. I used to say it almost every week, especially in the liturgical Lutheran church where I grew up. However, we here in this church do not regularly say the Apostles Creed. I wonder whether you remember a line from that Creed: “He (meaning, Jesus) rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”

            Those are just words from a Creed, aren’t they? Those words don’t really mean what they say, do they? Or, are those words instead blessed Gospel truth?

Commentator Carolyn Brown tells us that “during his life on earth, his disciples knew Jesus as a very special person, but after Easter Jesus was different.  He appeared and disappeared sometimes in locked rooms but still ate fish and bread.  Thomas could touch him.  Since the Ascension, people have seen Jesus only in visions and dreams. [The ascended] Jesus is still alive and is not just with God, but part of God.” [1] 

We just read about the last appearance of our Lord Jesus from Acts chapter 1. Jesus lived His life on earth witnessing to people around Him, teaching, healing, telling people about the Good News that He was sent to earth to share. Except – Jesus was about to ascend into heaven.

            What was going to happen to His mission after He left? How were more people going to hear about the Good News that Jesus was sent to earth to share?

            For that, we need to step back and look at the Gospel narratives. In fact, Dr. Luke gives us an excellent summary at the beginning of Acts chapter 1. He says in his first book, the Gospel of Luke, he “wrote about all the things that Jesus did and taught from the time he began his work until the day he was taken up to heaven.”

            Yes, the Rabbi Jesus did send out the disciples, two by two, during His life and three-year ministry on earth. Jesus did empower them to go forth and share about the coming kingdom of God – except it was not quite the same, was it? There could not be a clearer distinction between the sending of the two groups of people – before and after the coming of the Holy Spirit.

            True, the itinerant Rabbi Jesus did travel throughout Palestine, up and down the River Jordan, around the Sea of Galilee, and through the Decapolis in the north, teaching, preaching, and performing miracles for three years. Jesus performed His mission, which was communicating the Good News He was heaven-sent to share. His faithful, intrepid band of followers were with Jesus as interns of sorts, learning, doing on-the-job training.

But, there was a big difference between playing on the second or third string with the Rabbi Jesus there as coach, as opposed to going out on the field with the varsity team, sharing about the coming kingdom of God, to the uttermost ends of the world!

            Isn’t that sort of the distinction between before and after the resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ? Except, we haven’t gotten there yet! Pentecost is coming next Sunday. Not quite there yet!     

            Have you ever watched high school or college sports? I have. My two older daughters participated in a lot of them, especially my oldest. She lettered in three sports in high school: swimming, basketball and softball. Janet was especially wonderful at relay races, in the pool, where one swimmer would swim her laps and then tag the wall for the next swimmer to begin.

            Can you see the similarity? Just as my daughter was really skilled at relay racing and tagging the wall so that another swimmer could start, that is what our Lord Jesus did at His ascension. Jesus told His disciples – both men and women followers – that He was tagging the wall and expected them to carry on with the race. Jesus plainly told the disciples to carry on with the God-given mission to be His witnesses.  

            The Ascension was NOT an end, in and of itself. At least, it did not put a period to the life of the disciples of Jesus. By no means! Sure, when we repeat the words from the Apostles Creed “He (meaning, Jesus) rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,” that is not an ending point!

            Remember back to school days? Near the end of school many elementary schools have field days featuring, among other events, relay races.  Though Jesus did not actually pass a baton to his disciples, he did tell them very clearly that they were to take up his ministry on earth.  Jesus’s earthly part of the race was complete, but theirs was just starting. [2]     

            Yes, with His last words, Jesus commanded His disciples to be witnesses, to tell forth God’s Good News. And, what does that look like? One way is to tell how our Lord Jesus has acted in our lives. What has Jesus done for you lately? I want to know your personal experience! Can you tell someone about that? That’s being a witness!

            I’m getting ahead of myself, but after Pentecost, everywhere the disciples went, they were accused of turning the world upside down. That’s what they did, and that’s what our Lord Jesus is commanding us to do, as followers of Jesus. Sharing God’s Good News is not just a suggestion – it’s a command from our Lord.

            What has Jesus done for you lately? Be a witness! Go and tell!

@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/2016/04/year-c-ascension-of-lord-thursday-may-5.html

Worshiping with Children, Ascension C, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

Love As Transformation!

“Love As Transformation!”

John 15:9-17 (15:17) – May 9, 2021

            What do you think of when I mention the word “command?” Commands given in the military? Commands from a dog’s obedience training, a service dog or police dog? Or what about the commands given in the Law of Moses – most famously, the Ten Commandments?

            Here in the Gospel of John, our Lord Jesus gives us a big command. Perhaps, even the greatest command of all: love one another. That sounds awfully familiar! Last week’s sermon was also on last week’s lectionary passage, from the New Testament letter of 1 John chapter 4.

This week the sermon comes from the Gospel of John chapter 15. Both sections of Scripture talk about similar things: love, and loving one another. I showed last week that love is an action word. This week, I want to show that love is a transformational word.

It’s helpful for me to know where Scripture is coming from. Where in the Bible, and in the case of this reading, where in the life of Jesus it comes from. The passage Eileen just read for us is a short section from a long discourse – the Upper Room discourse, given by Jesus on the same night He celebrated the Passover remembrance with His disciples. The night He instituted Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper. Also, the night before His arrest and crucifixion on that Good Friday.

As a Rabbi, Jesus knew the Hebrew Scriptures, and specifically the Law of Moses, in depth. In great detail. He was often called upon to discuss and debate specific Scriptures and points of the Mosaic Law. We see that again and again throughout the Gospels. Here, in His final discourse or sermon, our Lord Jesus comes back to the commands once more. Jesus gives His disciples one last command: love one another.

            How can we love one another? Is that another “do this” or “don’t do that” command?

            The Law of Moses, found in the Hebrew Scriptures, has over 600 specific commands. It’s quite detailed in how to live a life pleasing to God. For an individual, in a family, and in society. Instead of getting into the minutiae of exactly how to cook and wash, and how to dress and to behave, our Lord Jesus talks about transformation: He says, “Love one another.”

            Such a challenging concept! Yes, we are supposed to love one another. But, how? What does that kind of love look like?

            Jesus gives us an example, right here. “12 My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you. 13 The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.”  In case anyone has any questions about how they are to love, here’s an earth-shaking explanation. Be prepared to show your love at any time. In fact, be prepared for anyone and any time to require you – and me – to give our lives for one another. Jesus is not kidding. That is exactly the way that this command and commentary is phrased in John 15.

            What is another visible way for this kind of love to be shown? Our commentator, the Rev. Dr. Derek Weber says “What does a life of sacrificial love look like? That’s the image that you are casting this week. For many, it looks like a mother’s love. “ [1] A mother’s love – or, to some people, mothering love, coming from someone very close to you – can be amazing. Loving, yes. Caring, yes. Seemingly without bottom and without end.

            When many people think of mothers and Mother’s Day, what goes through their heads? What does Dr. Weber have to say? “For many. It is a time to say thank you to the one who often holds the family together and who often carries the heartache bound up in hope when no one else sees beyond their own personal pain. Today offers a chance to say thank you to the one who brings order out of chaos, who can find the missing sock and the lost homework, the one who remembers how much laundry detergent you need per load and the reason why some plastics won’t work in the microwave and some will. This is a chance to say thank you to the one who rarely gets thanked for all that she does day in and day out.” [2]

            But, for some in our world, mothers do not often act in a caring, loving way. Some memories of mothers are more painful than joyous. Mothers may be a difficult topic, challenging to even think about. Hurts, difficulties, losses, estrangement, even separation – any of these can make Mother’s Day a time of heartsore grief.

            However, most everyone can remember those certain people who stepped in, stepped up, and cared for us in the special way that a loving, caring parent is supposed to. Caring human beings can indeed be mothering influences and demonstrations.

            How do you and I consider others who love us the way Jesus told us to? “For others, [Mother’s Day] might need to be more personal, more individual. A part of our worship together might be a time of thankfulness for those who have loved us like that.” [3]

            This is sacrificial love, transforming a person right down to their inmost being. And, this kind of transforming love is exactly what our Lord Jesus is calling us to. Yes, we are here to thank all those who have given of themselves, lovingly, with great caring, even going to great lengths to sacrifice for their loved ones. And, we can all strive to be that person for others.

            Yes, love for our children, grandchildren, and other relatives. And yes, love for other loved ones, for those special people we meet in our journey through life. How can you best show that love for another person today? Be that person who shows amazing, wondrous love and care. Be kind. Be caring. Be loving. Be like Jesus.

            Alleluia, amen.


[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/living-the-resurrection/sixth-sunday-of-easter-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

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

This Is Love!

“This Is Love!”

1 John 4:7-13 (4:10) – May 2, 2021

            Have you ever wondered what love looks like? If you asked ten different people that question, I suspect you would get ten different answers. What does love look like, anyway?

            The apostle John talks about love a great deal, both in his Gospel as well as his letters. We just read a portion of 1 John chapter 4, where John gives us a straight-forward definition of love. Love is an action word, and the definition comes from God’s point of view. The Lord God almighty, who made heaven and earth and all that is in it, shows humanity what love is.

            Repeatedly, in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, the Bible testifies to the loving, living nature of God. Yes, the Lord God is the almighty Creator of all things, the Source of all light and love. And yes, the Lord God is also shown in the person of Jesus, the God made flesh, the One humans have touched and laughed with and eaten with.

            We come back to the question: what does love look like? For a more intellectual answer, we can read from 1 John chapters 3 and 4. Or, we can take a closer look at the Gospel account of Jesus, at His words and actions, and how He lived His life, and that will show us a lot about what love looks like.  

            1 John 4:7 says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God.”

            In Matthew 14, our Lord Jesus showed compassion – He showed love for the multitudes gathered around Him, and healed the sick. This was just one of a repeated number of times He did this. With a lack of medicines and a high prevalence of incurable diseases (especially at that time), Jesus regularly showed His love and compassion for many people in the most fundamental of ways: He healed them.

            How often are we called to be healers? How often are you and I requested or moved to show love for one another through our healing actions, words and prayers? Is this not a way you and I can carry out the commands of Jesus?

            1 John 4:9 says, “And God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him.” We know that Jesus came into the world to show humanity what love is. 

            In Mark chapter 6, Jesus showed compassion – He shared love to the crowds. He truly saw their hearts, realized they were sheep without a shepherd, and taught them many things. Jesus gave them – taught them the Word of God, the words of eternal life. What’s more, Jesus was the Word of God incarnate, life-giving to all who would come to Him.

            1 John 4:10 says, “This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.”

            In the Gospel of John chapter 3, Jesus and the Jewish leader Nicodemus had a long conversation. In that conversation, John makes the editorial statement “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” This is why Jesus came into the world: so that you and I will not be separated from God for eternity, but instead be reconciled to God, and be with God in eternity.

            Jesus showed this love through His in-depth conversations with a large number of people. He not only talked with the academics and religious elites, like Nicodemus and the other Jewish leaders, but Jesus also talked with people on the outskirts of society, like the woman at the well in John chapter 4 and the tax collector Zacchaeus in Luke 19.

            How about us? Do we show love by our conversations with a large number of people, from a diverse group of backgrounds? Or, are our friends and acquaintances all people “like us?” Would Jesus just come and hang out with good, upstanding church folk – and no one else? People from our little group or clique or neighborhood? What about our nationality group or political party – and no one else? Or what about this particular church, and not the church down the street? Much less the temple or mosque across town? Would Jesus show love to everyone?

            God so loved the world. Does that exclude anyone? Perhaps you and I might like to exclude some folks – but would God exclude them? Who would God exclude? God so loved the world. That’s everyone. That’s what John 3:16 says.

So, what does God’s love look like? It looks like Jesus, as He shows His life, love and death for us. And, we have the ability to love because God first loved us.        

            “God’s love does not depend on our initiative or on our worthiness. We don’t have to reach out to God or even believe in God in order to be loved. We don’t have to clean up our act before God can love us. We don’t have to measure up to some standard in order to be lovable. No, God showers love on us whether we deserve it or not. And honestly, who could ever deserve such amazing, immeasurable love?” [1]

            Everything begins and ends with God’s love. God showers us with love, whether we deserve it or not. What amazing, immeasurable, wondrous love is this.

            Alleluia, amen.


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-of-easter-2/commentary-on-1-john-47-21-4

Commentary, 1 John 4:7-21, Judith Jones, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

@chaplaineliza

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

On the Road!

“On the Road!”

Luke 24:13-35 (24:31) – April 18, 2021

            We are all on this journey called life. Putting one foot ahead of the other, step by step, one day at a time. Each of us – whether on an easy, smooth road or a more difficult, twisty-turny path – is proceeding along, steadily, through life.

            The Gospel lesson today comes from the Gospel of Luke. It’s about two of the disciples of Jesus on the road. Isn’t that a metaphor for all of us?

            Luke chapter 24 says: 13 On that same day two of Jesus’ followers were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking to each other about all the things that had happened. 15 Jesus himself drew near and walked along with them; 16 they saw him, but somehow did not recognize him. 17 Jesus said to them, “What are you talking about to each other, as you walk along?”

            Walking and talking often seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly. I know my husband and I love to go on walks, and we have wonderful talks while we are traveling. These two disciples of Jesus certainly had a lot to talk through, and to process – intellectually, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Notice that Jesus – the risen Lord Jesus! – comes alongside of His two friends, and initiates conversation. To continue from Luke: 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have been happening there these last few days?” 19 “What things?” he asked.” So, Jesus asks a leading question, too!

You and I very well know their response; and Dr. Luke provides an excellent synopsis for us. “The things that happened to Jesus of Nazareth,” they answered. “This man was a prophet and was considered by God and by all the people to be powerful in everything he said and did. 20 Our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and he was crucified. 21 And we had hoped that he would be the one who was going to set Israel free! Besides all that, this is now the third day since it happened. 22 Some of the women of our group surprised us; they went at dawn to the tomb, 23 but could not find his body. They came back saying they had seen a vision of angels who told them that he is alive. 24 Some of our group went to the tomb and found it exactly as the women had said, but they did not see him.”

Some commentators say that these two disciples were running away, compounding their problems by heading away from Jerusalem. I don’t know about that. Perhaps they very much needed to walk, to talk, to process all that had gone on in the past week. And, Jesus was there with them, walking at their sides.

“Walks like this restore balance to the soul.  Lives are shared, complaints are released into the winds, concealed fears become revealed insight.  Burdens are shared, questions asked, reality checked, evasions give way to revelations.  Then hearts heal, ideas flow, plans are made, compassion is rekindled, harmony is restored and change is possible.  That is how it goes on a long walk with a good friend.” [1] 

To continue with Dr. Luke: 25 Then Jesus said to them, 26 “Was it not necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and then to enter his glory?” 27 And Jesus explained to them what was said about himself in all the Scriptures, beginning with the books of Moses and the writings of all the prophets.

            I don’t know about you, but I would have loved to be along for that walk! I would love to have Jesus tell me all about mentions about Himself in the Hebrew Scriptures!

That would be such a boost to my understanding about Jesus! But, wait – there is more to come.  28 As they came near the village of Emmaus, Jesus acted as if he were going farther; 29 but they held him back, saying, “Stay with us; the day is almost over and it is getting dark.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 He sat down to eat with them, took the bread, and said the blessing; then Jesus broke the bread and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Wasn’t it like a fire burning in us when he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?”

Don’t our hearts burn within us, from time to time? When the risen Jesus comes close, when we have an especially cherished encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ, doesn’t that cause our hearts to burn especially bright? It’s not my faith tradition to have regular ecstatic experiences with my God, but this reading today makes me wish for one, certainly!

It is sort of like that devotional reading “Footprints.” I know many, many people receive much encouragement and comfort from that reading. When I was a chaplain in the hospital, patients and their loved ones would regularly ask me for copies of that reading. Walking and talking on our journey, whether difficult, easy, or somewhere in between. Our Lord Jesus may very well be carrying us some of the way, too.

Jesus is walking by our sides, no matter where we are in our walk. We may be resting on the side of the road, off on a long detour, or altogether in the wilderness, a long way from the road, but Jesus is still right by our sides.

Dr. Luke ends his Gospel with the end of chapter 24, but he will go on to write the Acts of the Apostles. Many of the great events in that book are going to happen out on the road. A disciple named Phillip meets a eunuch from the Queen of Sheba while traveling, and that official is among the first to be baptized.  Saul is on the road to Damascus, has a vision of the Risen Christ, and becomes a world traveler and itinerant missionary.  Faith emerges as we walk the road together. [2]

The earliest covenant of the Congregationalists in New England 400 years ago goes like this, “We doe bynd our selves in the presence of God, to walke together in all his waies.”

I invite you, the hearers of this word, to walk the road to Emmaus with me and with the disciples of Jesus. Come along with us – on the road. We’ll be in for the adventure 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://withallmysoul.com/2018/04/09/walking-and-hoping-with-jesus/

“Walking and Hoping with Jesus,” Todd Weir, With All My Soul, 2018.

[2] Ibid.

Do We Doubt?

“Do We Doubt?”

John 20:24-31 (20:27) – April 11, 2021

            As a trained chaplain, I am sadly familiar with deep shocks and devastating emotions. Yes, I have come alongside of many in the hospital, in care centers, and at funeral homes, and sat with them as they experienced all kinds of massive trauma and shock.

            I can hardly imagine what it was like for the disciples, for the followers of the Rabbi Jesus, immediately after the Crucifixion. But, knowing what I know about strong, sudden grief, the disciples probably had terrible trauma and horrible experiences of that last week, and especially that twenty-four hours of Jesus’ life.

            When the women disciples burst in, early on Easter Sunday morning, with amazing, great good news, that must have been yet another shock. What was that, again? The empty tomb? Did someone move the Rabbi’s body? But – wait – the women said angels testified that Jesus was no longer dead. He is alive! He has risen from the dead!

            But, what does that all mean, exactly?  

            When people go through significant trauma and massive shocks to their brains, nervous systems, and emotional and spiritual regulation, it takes a period of time before things register. Even when it is positive, good news, after so much, so many horrible experiences. Different people take in this kind of news at different speeds, too.

            Just between you and me, if I had been one of the women disciples, I am not sure how I would have reacted. Would I have doubted, like the other disciples? I honestly do not know.

            What about Thomas, anyhow? What was the deal with him? Let’s go back in the Gospel of John, and find out a few things about Thomas. Remember, he was the disciple who cared enough to interrupt Jesus when he did not understand what Jesus was saying (in John 14:5). I see Thomas as straightforward and up front. He really wanted to understand his Rabbi. Thomas was also the one who told Jesus – plainly – that He was foolish to go to Jerusalem where His enemies were out to get Him, and even wanted to kill Him. However, when Jesus insisted on going anyhow, Thomas insisted on going with Jesus – “Let us go and die with Him!” (John 11:7-16) Thomas was that loyal, and that earnest. [1]

            How many of us, today, could say the same? Would we be willing to walk into a sure trap, with our eyes open, showing our loyalty to our leader? Thomas was.

            Let’s fast forward to that Easter Sunday, after what we know is the Resurrection. But, most of the disciples don’t know that yet. Not until the women disciples return from the tomb. The large group of followers of Jesus are huddled in the large upper room. They are hiding out, hidden away, laying low. Plus, they have locked the doors because they are all afraid.

            Can you relate? I know during wars and uprisings, groups of believers have hidden themselves away, very much afraid. I cannot blame this group of disciples. That great fear is exactly why they were hiding in the locked room. Except – they were in for the biggest shock of their lives. Jesus showed up, and came right in the upper room, even though the door was locked.

I would like to point out that Jesus did not say, “What happened?  Where were you?  You screwed up!” No, instead He said, “Peace.”  In other words, “It’s okay. I understand. I forgive you.” Imagine how the rag-tag group of disciples felt when they heard that. [2]

Except, Thomas was not there, for some reason. Perhaps he was not even in Jerusalem. Thomas has gotten bad press over the years. In fact, over the centuries. But, he totally missed the first appearance of the risen Lord Jesus. Thomas was extremely hesitant to swallow a huge story, especially when he was not an eye-witness. Do you know people like that? They won’t believe a hard-to-believe thing until they can see it for themselves.

Thomas had honest questions. He really wanted to see for himself what the others had already seen. We want to encourage people to ask questions, and come and see! That is what Jesus offered to Thomas: come and see! Jesus held out His pierced wrists and showed Thomas the wound in His side. Jesus is not afraid of honest questions!

One reason I am hesitant to label Thomas a doubter is because of the negative connotations doubting can have. Remember, Jesus welcomed Thomas’ questions! [3] Jesus welcomes skeptics, agnostics, just plain curious people, and people who really want to know things, even if they need to be convinced.   

            Do you have questions for Jesus? Thomas was honest and straightforward – he realized this was the real deal when he was face to face with the risen Jesus. With each person – with each of us – coming to faith is an individual experience. Thomas saw, believed, and made the statement, “My Lord and my God!” That’s his testimony to us.

 I sense the disciple John, our Gospel writer, had his own path to belief. He came to believe in the risen Jesus immediately. Will we believe in the risen Jesus just as easily as John? Or, will we need some time, like Thomas?

            The bottom line? It’s different for different people. Everyone has questions, too. Each of us is a unique individual, and each of us has a unique encounter with Jesus. “Be a believing Thomas. Push as hard as you need to until you are awestruck and moved to proclaim with Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God!’” [4]


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/02/year-b-second-sunday-of-easter-april-12.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 2, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015. 

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-easter/commentary-on-john-2019-31-12

Commentary, Jaime Clark-Soles, John 20:19-31, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.

@chaplaineliza

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

Go and Tell!

“Go and Tell!”

Mark 16:1-8 (16:7) – April 4, 2021

            After a terrible, horrible week like the disciples have just had, anyone would be distressed, dispirited and downhearted. The last few days were horrible, indeed. The most horrible thing about the last few days was when the disciples’ Rabbi Jesus died on the Cross.

            .  Friday evening Joseph bravely claimed Jesus’ dead body and laid it in a cave tomb. He and a few of the women quickly wrapped the body in a sheet, since it was so late in the day.  There was a law that you couldn’t tend or even touch a dead body on the Sabbath.  So, everyone went home to hide and cry and try to figure out what happened.  The women gathered supplies to wash Jesus’ body and some good smelling spices to wrap into the sheet when they rewrapped it. [1]

            But, let’s back up. Back up to early Friday morning. Where were the men disciples? Except for Peter, who followed Jesus and the mob at a safe distance, the Gospel accounts make sure to tell us that all the men ran away. And, Peter denied Jesus three times in the High Priest’s front yard. We know John showed up at the foot of the Cross that Friday, because Jesus mentioned him specifically in the Last Words on the Cross. However, the men disciples must have been scared to pieces, fearing that they might be picked up by the Roman soldiers, too.

            Admittedly, it must have been a very scary time. Imagine, a bunch of Roman soldiers carrying off the leader of a rag-tag group of disciples, in the middle of the night. I probably would have run away, too. Terrifying times, indeed.

            Except, the Gospel writers – including Mark – tell us that a number of the women disciples remained at the Cross. And, watched Jesus die. And, helped Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus’ body to the fancy tomb, wrap it hurriedly in a linen sheet, and make sure things were decently done before the Sabbath time began at nightfall. What is more, nothing could be done during the Sabbath – especially this Sabbath, during the holy time of Passover.

            The angel (who Mark calls a “young man,” but the other Gospels identify as an angel) tells the first witnesses – the women disciples – to go and tell the others.

“The earliest and most reliable manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark conclude with a description of the women as “trembling and bewildered.” Mark tells us that they “fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).” [2]

At first, they don’t! Would you? If you had something that horrified and grieved you to the depths of your soul happen on Friday, and then something else to shock you out of your sandals on Sunday, would you be all that eager to go and tell? Tell even your good friends about what the angel said?

            The men disciples themselves did not have a very good track record at this “go and tell” command, either. “Those who are closest to Jesus and should tell others about him often don’t. So the disciples hear Jesus predict his passion three times and regularly end up dazed, confused, and arguing about who is the greatest. Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah but completely misunderstands what that means and actually rebukes Jesus when he explains. Again and again those who should understand just don’t understand what is going on and so fail to share the good news.” [3] So, who are the faithful ones, the ones given the great Good News of the Risen Lord at the tomb? The women disciples, and they are told by the angel to go and tell. At first, they are afraid. But then, they gain courage – again – and do go and tell the men disciples.

            I wonder – where would we find Jesus today? The women disciples are told to go to Galilee, because Jesus is planning to go there and meet with all of the disciples, after His resurrection. But, where can Jesus be found today? Is He here, in church? Well, yes. I think He is, but not only here. Isn’t Jesus found outside of the church, too? What about in the hospital, at the bedside of those we are praying for? Isn’t Jesus there? What about right next to people who are newly unemployed? Or, homeless for a long time? Does Jesus sit by their sides? What about people who are not sure Jesus is even God, maybe not even sure God exists. Doesn’t Jesus wait patiently for them, ready to embrace them in His time?

            Jesus is right by the side of all of these people. Yet, we are also told to go and tell. It is not an either/or proposition! Yes, our Risen Lord Jesus is walking beside each of us! And yes, we are to witness to Him! To go and tell everyone that Jesus Christ is risen today! We serve a risen Savior, who’s in the world today. I know – we know that our Redeemer lives!  

            We are emerging from the tomb of pandemic quarantine into a world that desperately needs the healing touch of our risen Lord Jesus Christ. And, since we are His followers, Jesus has given us the direct order to go and tell, too!

We are to tell the world there is hope in the name of Jesus. We are to tell the world there is joy in traveling with the risen Savior. We are to tell each person we encounter that they have the opportunity to know the one who brings compassion and forgiveness and a just society. And then, we are to go out into the world and do our best to bring that about – in the name of Jesus.

Go and tell – in the name of Jesus. Alleluia, amen!

(I would like to express grateful appreciation to Dr. Esau McCaulley and his opinion column featured in the New York Times on Friday, April 2, 2021. I have taken several ideas from this column for this sermon.)

@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/2012/01/year-b-easter-sunday-april-8-2012.html

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

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/02/opinion/easter-celebration.html?referringSource=articleShare

[3] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/03/easter-b-only-the-beginning/

“Only the Beginning,” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2015.

A New Command

“A New Command”

https://pastorpreacherprayer.com/2021/04/02/a-new-command/(opens in a new tab)

John 13:31-35 (13:34) – April 1, 2021

            When I mention the word “love,” what do you think of? For me, it’s different things at different times. When I first read through this reading from John 13, what came to me was the Lennon/McCartney song “All You Need Is Love.” This may bring back memories of the late 1960’s, with love-ins, and peace movements, and psychedelic color schemes. But, 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 love-ins, peace movements, and psychedelic color schemes. 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 a bit when I realize the full ramifications of that Jesus-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.

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. Other people may not merit Jesus’ love. Gosh, I don’t merit Jesus’ love a lot of the time! But, that makes no difference. Jesus still loves us, No matter what. Plus, Jesus commands us to love others in the same way. The same ultimate, above-and-beyond, bottomless way.

This Thursday night we observe Communion, on the night in Holy Week when Jesus observed it for the first time. He was leading a Passover seder, and shared the bread and the cup on that table to be an expression of the New Covenant. This sacrament is a visual expression and reminder of our Lord Jesus and His love poured out for each of us.

“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 possible imagine. And hearing of this love we are set free and sent forth, once again, to love another.[2]

@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.

A Topsy-Turvy Palm Sunday

“A Topsy-Turvy Palm Sunday”

Mark 11:1-11 (11:9) – March 28, 2021

            When my children were little – preschoolers and kindergarteners – I attended a larger church. I can remember seeing my children, with many others, marching around the sanctuary, waving their palms. Something many people fondly remember, and greatly miss. We cannot celebrate a Palm Sunday procession right now, due to pandemic concerns. Some churches are starting to return to in-person worship, but with lots of changes and adaptations! But – was there a formal, planned Palm Sunday procession, all those centuries ago?

Let’s look at today’s reading from Mark 11. “They brought the colt to Jesus, threw their cloaks over the animal, and Jesus got on. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches in the field and spread them on the road. The people who were in front and those who followed behind began to shout, “Praise God! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 God bless the coming kingdom of King David, our father! Praise be to God!”

            That description does sound like a procession, doesn’t it? But, a spontaneous one. An impromptu one. No one expected Jesus to march into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday. It took everyone off guard.

Except – remember Holy Week, last year? Remember the sudden shock and heightened anxiety that surrounded the encroaching pandemic? No one was really ready for that, either. It took everyone off guard, too.

Jesus prepared to ride into Jerusalem on that unbroken colt, on a donkey that no one had ever ridden before. Sure, His disciples made preparations and fetched the colt, but Jesus rode this humble beast into the city. “There was a tradition from the book of Maccabees of a triumphal and victorious entry of a king (1 Maccabees 4:19-25; 5:45-54; 13:43-51) into Jerusalem; instead, Jesus comes in peace and relatively quietly. Jesus would have known the verse from Zechariah about the Messiah coming into Jerusalem riding on an unbroken colt (Zechariah 9:9). The colt had never been ridden before, which seems a significant fact.” [1]

We can see Jesus entered Jerusalem as a King! What a King – not parading in a fancy chariot or riding on a white stallion. None of the fine trappings or fancy costumes of a King. No royal robes for the humble Rabbi Jesus. Sure, Jesus displayed power as He took part in this procession. “Something unusual occurs: Jesus has power, power over nature, again not the kind of power that is normally associated with kingship or political leadership. He is demonstrating a different kind of power, that in time people will recognise as evidence of His divinity.” [2]

Have you experienced something unusual in this Holy Week? What about last year’s Holy Week, and all the weeks in between? Sure, the world has been turned topsy-turvy. Everything has shifted, and nothing – it seems – is the same. But, hasn’t Jesus displayed His power in this modern Palm Sunday procession in the middle of the pandemic? Just as He displayed unusual power and authority in that Palm Sunday procession so long ago?

No, there were no kingly trumpets blaring as Jesus made the procession. But, people raised their voices when they saw the impromptu parade. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna! Praise God!” We might not be able to raise our actual, physical voices, but we can lift our hearts. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

As we reflect further on power – the kind of power Jesus displayed, which was definitely not worldly, raw, overbearing power! As we think about the gentle, spiritual, yet foundational power that Jesus embodies, what other memories come to mind from this past year of pandemic? Many in our country have a sharpened awareness of power – and the absence of it. Who has power, and who is using it.

As we think about essential workers, so many of them are low-wage workers. Workers who must go into a facility to do their jobs, or who punch a time-clock. Plus, workers put their health and even their lives on the line every time they go into work. “Those often paid least in our society are crucial to maintaining and caring; delivery, stocking and serving in shops. The majority of people who have lost jobs are people earning less than £10 an hour, while the rich have got richer.” [3] What would Jesus say about the increasing inequities of this past year?

Jesus and His Palm Sunday procession is a continuation of the topsy-turvy way He presented Himself to Israel as their King, as their Messiah. If we follow Jesus, we are certainly not called to be of this world. Jesus commands us not to get too comfortable or self-satisfied. That self-satisfied, self-righteous lifestyle was what many of the leaders and teachers of Jesus’ time tried to maintain. Is that what we try to maintain, too? Are we too comfortable to follow Jesus, to take up our Cross and follow Him down that difficult road of discipleship?

This week, I invite you to walk with Jesus, in that topsy-turvy way of discipleship. Not the self-satisfied, self-righteous strut, but the humble, kind walk with our Lord. Jesus walked through this Holy Week with eyes wide open. He knew what lay at the end of it – crucifixion and the Cross. As we travel with Jesus through this particular Holy Week, “are you more aware of what comes at the end of it? Because we know what comes next in a way we maybe never did before. But even more than that, perhaps because we also know our need of God in ways we maybe never did before.” [4]

Yes, we can say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” I invite all of us to travel with Jesus through these topsy-turvy times, because He is the one who will keep our steps safe and help us even when we stumble. Even on the way of the Cross. Amen, 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.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/74513/28-March-6-Sunday-in-Lent.pdf

The Faith Nurture Forum would like to thank Rev Jenny Williams, Minister of Drylaw Parish Church, for her thoughts on Palm/Passion Sunday, sixth in Lent.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://dancingwiththeword.com/whispering-hosanna/

Delight in God’s Word!

“Delight in God’s Word!”

Psalm 119:9-16 (119:11) – March 24, 2021 (Midweek Lenten Service, Week 5)

            I have been fascinated by Psalm 119 for decades. Since I was a teenager, in fact. These many verses describe what so many seek – a close relationship with God through God’s Word. Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in our Bible book of Psalms, and an acrostic psalm. That means that each group of eight verses begins with the same Hebrew letter. In verses 9-16, each verse begins with the second letter “B” or “bet” in Hebrew.  

What’s more, this psalm is all about God’s Word – the Bible. This psalm uses many instructive and innovative descriptions of speaking, meditating, pondering and just plain reading the Bible. One of the first verses I ever memorized as a teen is found here, in Psalm 119:11 – “Thy Word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” (King James version)

A helpful way for me to consider these verses is to focus on the verbs: how does the psalmist ask us to think about the Word of God? Bible commentator Joan Stott broke the verbs down into three sections, the past tense, present tense and future tense. (Such wise assistance.) First, the present tense: verse 12. “I praise You, Lord.” That is a continuous song of praise! Hebrew has a continuous action for the present tense, and this is it! I’ve been trained as a musician, and Nancy is a professional musician, too. Praising God with music can be amazing!

The church musician Johann Sebastian Bach inscribed almost every piece of music he ever wrote with the initials “SDG,” or Soli Deo Gloria. To God alone be the glory. That is what Bach intended for all of his glorious music – that it glorify God alone. And then, the second half of verse 12 is “teach me Your laws.” Again, “teach” is in the present tense. Continuous action! We need to be taught (or, reminded) about God’s Word, regularly.

            Then, the past tense. As Stott says, “The past tense section of these verses can also teach us more about reflecting on and confessing our sin; and praying for God’s help to overcome these temptations. “…I have tried hard to find you – don’t let me wander from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”  [1]

            We need to keep trying, keep striving to find God. One of my all-time favorite hymns has the lines “prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, / Prone to leave the God I love.” “Come, Thou Fount of Ev’ry Blessing” is a gentle reminder that we do need to keep following, and to ask God for help when you and I are prone to wander.

             “The future tense section of verses is about the various commitments we make to God—but do we keep them? “…I will study your commandments and reflect on your ways. I will delight in your decrees and not forget your word…” [2] Ahh. I find myself reflected in this section, more than I would like. I do not study God’s Word much now. (I confess.) Yes, I do reflect on it, but I don’t dig in and truly study hard. I used to! But now, not as often.

            However, there is the verb “delight.” This is a word we all can choose to do. And, God will be so pleased when we delight in God’s Word! We have such wonderful verses to reflect upon. Not only in Psalms, but in Isaiah, and sprinkled in the historical books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Large parts of the New Testament are a delight and comfort for us to read, too. This is what God wants us to do, you understand! Psalm 119 is a wonderful place to start, too.

            Delight is joy, satisfaction, enchantment, or even glee. We are invited to love God, and sing praises to God’s name! Have you delighted in the Lord lately? And if not, why not start now? Plus, perhaps we can memorize a verse or two, and hide God’s Word in our hearts, too. That will please God so much, too. Amen!


[1] http://www.thetimelesspsalms.net/w_resources/lent5b_2018.htm

The Timeless Psalms: Psalm 119:9-16, Joan Stott, prayers and meditations based on lectionary Psalms, 2018.

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

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

God’s Selective Memory

“God’s Selective Memory”

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (31:34) – March 21, 2021

            One of my favorite Bible commentators – David Lose – attended a large family reunion about ten years ago. One of his cousins brought greetings from her father, David’s favorite uncle. Except – David’s uncle had dementia and was unable to attend the reunion. So, the elder man sent poignant, moving greetings to the gathered relatives: “Tell my family that, although I do not remember them, I still love them.” [1]

            This reminds me strongly of verse 34 from our Bible reading from Jeremiah: “I will forgive Israel’s sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs. I, the Lord, have spoken.” But, just a moment! The Lord – God Almighty, creator of the universe – says God will no longer remember Israel’s sins. Hold it! Does that mean that the Lord gets a huge case of amnesia?  

            We need to go further into the background of our Bible reading for today. The prophet reaches back into the past, into the time of the Covenant made at Mount Sinai – the covenant of the Ten Commandments, and the covenant inscribed by circumcision. That covenant was more of a transaction, intentional and holding by a sense of obligation.

            Do you know anyone who has a relationship built on obligation? Where things are built on transactions? I am thinking of someone I’ve known for a long time. Our relationship is very much a transaction. Quid pro quo. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours – and that’s all.

            There is no real joy in any relationship like this because of the give-and-take nature of the association. You don’t have friends, but simply contacts. If everything is based on dollars and cents, or on what an interaction is worth, or what you can squeeze out of the connection, the resulting relationship is not very joy-filled or full of life. Can you imagine a relationship with God being like that? Where a sober-faced angel in charge of Heavenly Accounts sits at a celestial desk, a number 2 pencil behind one ear, adding up the personal debits and credits each person accrued on some heavenly adding machine? Where would the joy be in that kind of life, where you constantly had to watch your p’s and q’s, lest you might be zapped by God’s lightning bolts?

            Many considered this the life based on the Mosaic Covenant, headed up by the Ten Commandments and continuing with 600 some laws in the Mosaic rule book. That “covenant was conditional and transactional, as stated bluntly in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. Both texts promise protection and blessing as the consequence of obedience, but judgment and ultimately exile as the consequence of disobedience.” [2] For some, this can be a particularly joy-less and somber transaction-filled life.

            We can see the main reason the people of Israel were taken out of the land and sent into exile: because the people broke the Covenant and the Mosaic laws time after time. That’s the big reason for the exile to Babylon. The book of Jeremiah prophecies to the returning Jews, coming back to the land of the Promise. The prophet mentions another Covenant – the New Covenant. The Mosaic and the Abrahamic Covenants did not work as well as everyone hoped.

            The prophet specifically says this new one is not like the old Covenant made at Mount Sinai, with Moses. But, different HOW?

            I can just imagine the prophet writing about the Lord, who gets frustrated and upset about the people of Israel forgetting about God’s mercy and lovingkindness yet again! And then, Israel ignoring God’s positive commands to come before God’s presence with offerings and singing, on a regular basis. Can you just imagine the Lord, doing a heavenly facepalm? “Oh, no! Good grief, I can’t believe you all are doing this over and over again?”

            Yet, just as David Lose reflected, this reading clearly describes the New Covenant, and “God’s intention to take the matter of Israel’s relationship with God fully into God’s own hands.” [3] The Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth put it this way: “‘I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts’ (Jeremiah 31:33). It is the very heart of us, the seat of each of us as emotional beings that God wants to be near! Not the part that is obligated, or the part of us that grudgingly follows the rules.

Yes, David Lose has bittersweet memories; he can remember a beloved uncle with a quick wit, and deep and generous wisdom, slowly sliding into dementia – which is very scary. But, right here in this reading from chapter 34, God says that God forgets. Could it be that God has forgotten our sins? Your sins and mine? Or, is that too much to hope for?

The nation of Israel can’t forget what it’s like to NOT trust God. They can’t forget running to other gods and idols and customs their more powerful neighbors held. And most of all, Israel can’t forget their inexcusable pattern of faithlessness. Is it any wonder that Israel seems hopeless and helpless in the face of forgetting? Or, perhaps, not forgetting?  

            “And so God does what Israel cannot: God forgets. In response to their failure, God refuses to recognize it. In response to their infidelity, God calls them faithful. In response to their sin and brokenness and very real wretchedness, God’s memory has to be pushed and prodded to find any recollection. God forgets.” [4]

            That is truly a blessing for those of us who sin on a regular basis – that is, ALL of us. Thanks be to God that God lovingly chooses to forget our sins. And as Psalm 103 tells us, as far as the east is from the west, so far does the Lord remove our sins from us. Praise God! Thank You, Jesus. Amen, amen.


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/love-and-memory

“Love and Memory,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-jeremiah-3131-34-17

[3] Lose, David, ibid.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

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

Give Thanks to the Lord!

“Give Thanks to the Lord!”

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 (107:7) – March 17, 2021 (Midweek Lenten Service, Week 4)

            One thing that I’ve heard many people miss in this time of the pandemic is congregational singing. Sure, there is piano and organ music in worship services, sometimes guitar, violin or cello, even wind instruments on taped services, when no church members are present in the congregation. But, many people really miss singing hymns together in worship services, and can’t wait until it’s safe to sing in a group once more.  

            That’s exactly what we have here today. A congregational hymn, in Psalm 107, one many people would sing together in worship as they marched up the hill to the great Temple in Jerusalem. Or, they also could possibly sing this psalm in praise to God as the worship in the Temple started to get under way.

            Just as modern worship services often begin with praise music, this psalm opens with instructions to the congregation to give thanks to God. We can think of many hymns and praise songs that do this exact thing. In this particular psalm, God, in goodness and steadfast love – or chesed – has redeemed the people from the hand of the oppressor. What is more, God’s people have been gathered “from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south” (verse 3), or from all points of the compass. [1]

            This is a longer psalm, speaking to travelers lost in the desert, prisoners, the sick, and sailors on the sea. God reaches out to all of these groups, to all of these travelers through life. I don’t know about you, but I sure feel lost and alone sometimes – especially after the year of the pandemic. We are now at the one-year point, thinking about all kinds of loss so many have gone through this past 12-month period of time. How have you navigated through these difficult times? What has been your anchor in this time of storm and distress?

            This psalm was written after the exile to Babylon, so I am certain that many of the people who had returned to the land of Palestine had difficult memories of the 50-year period of time just passed. However, this psalm urges us to remember the wonderful things God has done and continues to do for each of us, every day. The Lord is good, and displays steadfast love, or chesed, to all. God’s wonderful words to all the children of humanity completely overwhelm me – looking at the world, the beauty of each day, and the marvels of creation that God freely gives.

Commentator Nancy deClaissé-Walford does remind us, “What about those who in the wilderness and are sick to the point of death through no fault of their own? What about those who are battered by the storms of life? Yes, we can cry out to God; yes, we can hope in God’s good provisions.”

I know this is a difficult thing for some, especially when going through serious illness, extended challenges, or the loss of a close loved one. Yet, God’s mercies are faithful. They are sure every morning. “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” is not just a pretty hymn we sing in church sometimes. No, we can remember those mercies, that steadfast love God displays to all, and take comfort and encouragement from those very gifts. Free gifts, given to all, the just and the unjust.

  “We must never forget that those of us who have ample resources and strength are called to be the arms and legs, the hands and feet, the voice of God in this world. God will redeem from the east and the west, from the north and from the south; but the redemption of God often takes human form. And isn’t that what Lent is all about?” [2]


[1]  Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages

McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, GAhttps://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fourth-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-psalm-1071-3-17-22-4

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

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Believe, Trust, and Love

“Believe, Trust, and Love”

John 3:14-21 – March 14, 2021

            Have you seen the televised sporting events where people in the crowd hold up big signs? These signs have all kinds of messages on them – from super fans supporting their teams to political messages. Sometimes, someone will show a large sign with “John 3:16” printed on it.

John 3:16 – this is one of the dearest and most memorized Bible verses of all time. “For God so loved the world that God gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not die, but have eternal life.”

            Have you thought about what that beloved Bible verse means? I mean, really means?

            Many people have a romanticized idea of love in their minds. With Valentine’s Day so recently celebrated, a month ago, when some think of “love” they think of Cupids and flowers and hearts. Valentine’s Day cards and chocolates in heart-shaped boxes for your sweetheart. This idealized, Hallmark-card conception of “love” is not what the Apostle John mentions here. Not by a long shot!  

            The idea of taking a single Bible verse and displaying it for everyone to see is a tricky proposition. People can run into all kinds of problems and misunderstandings that way. It’s like taking John 3:16 and saying that God’s love is all hearts and flowers, lace and Valentine’s Day wishes – and that is all. This superficial way is not the way to interpret individual Bible verses.

            The most important thing when we consider a single verse from the Bible is to look at the context. Where does it come from? What was happening in the Bible chapter? Was it part of a conversation or discussion? An extended statement or argument?

            John chapter 3 is early in the Rabbi Jesus’s ministry, and He was already gaining wide popularity and even stature for His great Biblical knowledge and understanding. An older man named Nicodemus, a learned teacher and member of the national Jewish ruling council, was so intrigued with Jesus that he snuck away to meet Jesus one night, under cover of darkness.

            During that extended conversation, Nicodemus and Jesus cover several important topics: Moses in the wilderness, how Moses saved the people of Israel, Nicodemus as a leading teacher of Israel, and how to be born from above. It is then that Jesus makes this extraordinary statement: God so loved the world.

            Several of these topics in John 3 have the foundation of belief. We need to believe in order to live. In order to be born from above. In order to have eternal life. Except – belief can be strictly intellectual. It can be cold-hearted and clinical. We can believe in the law of gravity. We can believe in the rules of cleanliness and hygiene for good health. We can believe in the invisible electric current that flows through our walls, enabling us to have electric lights, power for appliances, and power for our computers and cell phones.

            But, this pure, clinical statement of belief – even belief in Jesus’s statement “God so loved the world” – is not necessarily earth-shaking, not deeply emotional, never even reaching down into our very souls.

            If we consider the word “believe” – as used in this verse 3:16, and verse 3:18, too – I do believe in gravity, or electricity. But, is this intellectual belief enough? Will this kind of belief get me through the difficult times, or the painful situations, or those times when you or I cry out in despair to God? Sometimes, cold, pure belief is not enough.

            Another, alternate word that can be used to translate this Greek word for belief, pisteuo, is “trust.” Trust is more immediate, more intimate. Commentator Mark Skinner suggests that we use “trust” instead as we read this verse:  “For God so loved the world that God gave His one and only Son, that whoever trusts in Him shall not die, but have eternal life.”

            “Jesus is asking his hearers to trust that, in him, God has given a gift of love. Jesus urges them to commit themselves to that reality and all it entails. Trust will change a person. God’s love has consequences. How does one merely believe in love, anyway? Trust is riskier. Trusting in another’s love entails surrender.” [1] Trusting God is riskier, too.

            When my children were younger and went to church youth group, several times they had an activity called “trust falls.” This activity is called different things in different youth groups, but it has “trust” as the primary ingredient. The youth group would get in a tight circle, one member would stand in the middle, and then they would fall backwards, trusting the other members of the group to catch them as they fell. Trust taps emotions. Trust takes risks.

            It is difficult to trust that God can see us through, sometimes. More than intellectual belief, do we trust God to be there for us? To walk with us, or sit with us, right by our sides?  

            Some people cannot get past the words “God so loved the world.” If they trust that God loves them, they think God can’t possibly love their awful neighbor. Or the guy who cussed them out in traffic. Or the lady who is always really mean at the store. God can’t possibly love them? God loves the world – except for those people from a certain country overseas. Or, except for those homeless people. Or, except for those people who believe something really weird. Or, well, you get the idea.

            God’s love is extended to each of us. To all of us. “The love of God means blessing and belonging, even when the world around us chooses the way of death and self-interest.” [2] Even when we as fallible humans slip and slide in our trust of God, the Lord will never waver in persistent, caring love for each of us. And, that is a promise that is faithful and true – we have the words of Jesus on it.

For God so loved the world. Even you and even me. Amen.


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/love-among-the-ruins

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

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