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

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

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!

Reviving the Soul

“Reviving the Soul”

Psalm 19:7-10 (19:7) – March 10, 2021 (Midweek Lenten Service, Week 3)

            When I think back to elementary school and the playground, a lot of memories come back. Isn’t it that way with you, too? Many children really want to know the rules for specific things, whether it’s games, or the class schedule, or riding the bus. How many of us recognize the plaintive cries, “It’s not fair!” and “You’re breaking the rules!”

            Here in Psalm 19, we see a number of statements about the rules of God. The Lord loves the people of Israel so much that God has set boundaries, and has shown us standards to live by. Although many people don’t give a care about God’s rule book or God’s law codes, Psalm 19 lets us know that God cares, very much.

            Psalm 19 uses several synonyms for the rule book of God, including laws, decrees, statutes and ordinances. Setting boundaries or parameters around behavior and speech, giving God’s people standards to live by are totally in keeping with God’s loving care for God’s people.  

            Let’s take a closer look at verses 7 through 9. Each verse begins with a synonym for God’s rule book – the Torah, or Law of the Lord. Law, decrees, precepts, commandment, fear and ordinances. All of these refer to the Scriptures as a whole. Plus, this psalm does not mean “law” in the legal sense. According to commentator Rolf Jacobson, God’s rule book refers to “’instruction’ in a more holistic sense. This section of the poem celebrates what God has done and continues to do through the Scriptures. God revives the soul, makes wise the simple, enlightens the eye, endures forever, and is altogether righteous.” [1]

            Psalm 19 is chief among these hymns of praise and thanksgiving, specifically for lifting up the Word of God. Or, as we can see, the instruction book or rule book of God.

            In this past year of the pandemic, all of us, everywhere, have had to adapt and react to new and ever-changing rules, regulations and laws. This has been a tumultuous and upsetting year for most everyone, especially those who have had their personal lives turned upside down by COVID. The majority of society has conformed to these rules, regulations and laws, out of loving concern and respect for those around them – regardless of whether it is family, friends, neighbors or strangers. As with God’s rule book – for example, the Ten Commandments – these rules were not given out of a desire to control, oppress, or crush expression. No! Right here in Psalm 19 we can see such rules given by God in love and concern, and as a means of promoting revival, wisdom, joy and light. [2]

            We do not have a distant, uncaring God! Not one who is mean or nasty or punitive, either! Instead, by following God’s rule book, we can be caring and loving to all those around us. Plus, we will show our love for God, too! As if that wasn’t enough, our Psalmist then declares that God will abundantly pardon our missteps, when we do break God’s rules.

            The prayer at the end of this psalm is a prayer frequently used by preachers at the start of their sermons. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” I am certain that God is unhappy from time to time with my sermons, no matter how hard I try to rightly discern and handle the Word of God.

Thank God that the Lord is gracious and forgiving, full of compassion for preachers and for all those who have hidden faults – that is everyone, you know! God is forgiving, as well, for everyone in God’s vast creation. God, our Rock and our Redeemer, fully redeems us, too. And for that, we all can thank and praise God. Amen!

[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-26-2/commentary-on-psalm-197-14-3

Commentary, Psalm 19, Rolf Jacobson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

[2] https://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/74507/7-March-3-Sunday-in-Lent.pdf

The Faith Nurture Forum would like to thank Rev Jonathan Fleming, Minister of Cumbrae with Largs St John’s, for his thoughts on the third Sunday in Lent.

@chaplaineliza

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


Letter of the Law?

“Letter of the Law?”

Exodus 20:1-17 – March 7, 2021

            I enjoy driving very much. My husband is happy to let me be the primary driver in our house. I used to be a commercial driver some years ago, and I still hold a commercial driver’s license. So, I do know a good deal about the rules of the road.

            What would it be like if drivers did not obey these rules of the road? Just think of stop lights. We all know what happens when cars or trucks run a red light. Accidents happen, and sometimes, people get very badly hurt. All this happens because people just plain break the rules of the road.

            Our Scripture reading today comes from Exodus 20, and is a listing of God’s rules for living – the Ten Commandments. What would happen if people just plain broke God’s rules for living, any time they felt like it?

            One of my favorite Bible commentators is Carolyn Brown. She is now retired, but she was a longtime Children’s Ministry Director in the Presbyterian church. She wondered what would happen if we turned the Ten Commandments on their head, and made them the complete opposite of what God intended? Here are Ten Ways to Break God’s Rules.

1.    You are your own boss.  Do whatever you want to do whenever you feel like it. 

2.    Decide who and what is important to you.  Pay attention only to those people and things. Everyone else can drop dead.

3.    It does not matter when or how you say God’s name.  You can use it to swear or cuss or to get what you want (as in “God is on my side so you better do things my way, or else!”).

4.    It doesn’t matter if you never worship with God’s people on Sunday, or regularly.  If there are other things you’d rather do, go do them.

5.    Parents don’t get it.  Ignore them whenever you can.

6.    Kill whatever or whoever gets in your way.  The strongest live longest.

7.    Don’t worry about your family.  Think only about yourself and what you want.

8.    Finders keepers!  Toddler’s Rule of possession:  I see it, I want it, it’s mine! 
If you want it, figure out how to get it; cheat if you need to.

9.    Lie if you have to get out of trouble. Lie to get what you want.
Lie to make yourself look good – even if it makes someone else look bad.

10. The one who dies with most toys wins.  The world is full of awesome things.  Get your share, no matter what! [1]

            What was all that? Those Ways to Break God’s Rules sound totally selfish, absolutely self-centered, and completely against any kind of moral code or rulebook.

Why did God give God’s people the Ten Commandments, anyway?

“We suppose it is for our own good. Right? Well, you have to wonder. Is God one to bring the whole nation of Israel out into the wilderness for a time out? Is this conversation started with a wag of the divine finger and slow shake of the holy head, displaying disappointment and the prelude to punishment? Are these ten [commandments]given because the people of God have proved unworthy, have fallen short of who they were intended to be? Are they being grounded by these words” like a big bunch of misbehaving teenagers? [2]

            Let’s look at the beginning of the commandments. ”I am God.  I brought you out of slavery in Egypt.  I opened the sea for your escape.  I am the one and only God.  Don’t worship or pray to anything or anyone else.” The Lord tells the people of Israel exactly why God gave them these rules: to help them know how to live together as God’s free people. Not as slaves anymore! No, the Lord brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt: Exodus 20 tells us so!

            God is also warning the people of Israel about the different idols and gods of Egypt. People in Egypt worshiped many different gods. So, to ask the people of Israel who had just left Egypt to worship the Lord – and only the Lord – was a big stretch. A huge challenge! We might think we are only worshiping one God – but, are we? What are our modern-day idols? Do we worship money? Possessions? A job? What about how many “likes” we get on social media? What keeps us from making God the center of our lives? What distracts you and me? [3]

            These rules are not super-strict laws for people to follow reluctantly, or with their arms twisted behind their backs. Instead, as we read them, we can see descriptions of the kind of people God wants us to be. Not because God is a mean or nasty Heavenly Parent, but because we can strive to be that kind of people, the Lord’s relatives, in close relationship with our God.

            Remember, God will not say, “Jump through these hoops, or over these hurdles, and only then will I love you!” No! Instead, God says, “My love for you will shape you into these kinds of people, this kind of loving, beloved community.”    

            Let us strive to live together as a people of faith, as a community loved by God. Amen!


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/02/year-b-third-sunday-in-lent-march-8-2015_7.html

Worshiping with Children, Lent 3B, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/rend-your-hearts-claiming-the-promise/third-sunday-in-lent-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/third-sunday-in-lent-year-b-preaching-notes

[3] https://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/74507/7-March-3-Sunday-in-Lent.pdf

Third Sunday in Lent – 7 March 2021 The Faith Nurture Forum would like to thank Rev Jonathan Fleming, Minister of Cumbrae with Largs St John’s.

@chaplaineliza

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

God Answers When We Cry

“God Answers When We Cry”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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


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

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


Reminders from God

“Reminders from God”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

God’s Constant Love and Goodness

“God’s Constant Love and Goodness”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

Meeting Jesus In-Between

“Meeting Jesus In-Between”

Temptation of Jesus – Jesus MAFA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

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

Make Us Clean!

“Make Us Clean!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

@chaplaineliza

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

Listen Up!

“Listen Up!”

Mark 9:2-9 – February 14, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

Mighty Name of Jesus!

“Mighty Name of Jesus!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

Jesus Calling!

“Jesus Calling!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please God, I’ll go.


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

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

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

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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

Listen Up!

“Listen Up!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

The Waters of Baptism

“The Waters of Baptism”

John the Baptist – Jesus MAFA

Mark 1:4-11 (1:9) – January 10, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

Seeing the Star

“Seeing the Star”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

The Word Became Flesh

“The Word Became Flesh”

John 1:14 – December 27, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Gloria in excelsis Deo.

@chaplaineliza

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

Good News of Great Joy!

Stained Glass Nativity

“Good News of Great Joy!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alleluia, amen!


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

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

@chaplaineliza

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