Everyone Is Called!

“Everyone Is Called!!”

Matthew 4:17-23 (4:17) – January 22, 2023

            I have had a calling from God since I was is undergraduate school. For forty years, if not more! I have felt the Holy Spirit nudging me all those years, and for many of those years I followed the Spirit’s nudging. Sometimes, over those forty years, God would directly point me towards something I knew I ought to do or get involved in. Ministry as a layperson in music, art, Sunday school and youth, mission, bible study. Yes, I was a layperson for thirty of those years, and God called me for all that time.  (And, I was not officially ordained until 2015, almost eight years ago, right here in this sanctuary.)

            Let’s take a closer look at this reading from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. “17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”

            Our Lord Jesus makes a statement at the very beginning of His public life. A summary statement. A headline, to encapsulate why He was there, why He came into the world. All of history is on a continuum, and the earthly Jesus was a part of that. All earthly events “move in tune with God’s redemptive activity. And, indeed, Jesus proclaims the coming kingdom of God and invites those listening to turn around (repent) to receive this kingdom.[1]

            Jesus’s words are compelling. For years, even still now, I wanted to hear and understand! I dearly desired to hearken to Jesus’ own call to the crowds, to perceive and become a part of God’s in-breaking kingdom.

Let us see what Jesus did next, the absolute next thing, after He made this proclamation. “18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him. 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”

Jesus calls each of us! He calls the clergy among believers, and Jesus calls lay people as well. In other words, Jesus calls everyone – each and every one of us – to follow Him. Do you feel called? Has Jesus picked you out from the crowd, given you a purpose, and given you a new name? (like Peter?) Some churchgoers do feel called by Jesus! However, some do not.

One bible commentator I respect, Dr. David Lose, has this to say: “Some years ago, as part of a Lilly Endowment sponsored grant on vocation, the research team I worked with discovered that while most of the graduates of our seminaries identified “vocation” and “calling” as important theological concepts that were at the center of their preaching and teaching, very few of their parishioners actually felt called. Very few of them, that is, believed that what they did with most of their time mattered to God and the church or made a particular difference in the world.” [2]

            I wonder why? God calls everyone! Taps everyone on the shoulder! Each believer!

Dear Lord, why is this? There are people who attend churches all over the country, even all over the world. Where are all of the people who believe in Jesus, and who claim the name of Jesus, and call themselves believers, even Christians?  Yet, I do not see many church folk who consider themselves called of God in this particular way.

            Let us consider Peter, Andrew, James and John. The first four disciples. What did the new Rabbi Jesus do? He called these four people to follow Him, the first ones to take part in the kingdom of God that starts our Scripture reading today!

            What were Peter, Andrew, James and John doing when Jesus called them to follow Him? They were fishing. Actual fishermen. You remember: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.” These people had nets, boats, and all other equipment used for fishing. They walked away from all that.

We can see how Jesus made His proclamation that “the kingdom of God is near!” And He called helpers, people to come alongside and do the work of fishing for people. Maybe we are coming at this sideways? What if – what if Jesus calling of the disciples was something unexpected? What if – what if the disciples’ calling and our calling is exactly the same?

            What kinds of equipment might we use for “fishing for people?” What kinds of equipment might Jesus have had in mind? The world today is a bit different from the first century, but some equipment people might use today include a Meals On Wheels cooler (to reach people by bringing them food), or extra clothes, coats or shoes (to give out to people in need), or even musical instruments or art supplies (to reach people with the arts). Plus, it’s always appropriate to reach out to others with friendly visits, caring cards, or phone calls or texts. Plus, as our Pastoral Prayer said today, we can also be readers to little children, bandagers of bruised hears, lovers of the forsaken, and pilgrims who show the way to others – with God’s help.

            What if – what if God’s calling is actually plain and simple? “Think about it for a moment: God’s call isn’t simply to do something, but rather to be something, a child of God…. if we can first focus on being – just being – God’s beloved children, and let that grace-filled identify seep into the deepest parts of ourselves.” [3]

            Yes, our call is to follow Jesus!  Our call is to offer God’s words of mercy, grace, hope and love, because we are God’s beloved children. I know I often say “Go and do that. Follow God” at the end of my sermons. I’ll add today, “Go and be that. Be that beloved child of 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!


[1]  https://www.davidlose.net/2017/01/epiphany-3-a-being-before-doing/

[2]  https://www.davidlose.net/2017/01/epiphany-3-a-being-before-doing/

[3]  https://www.davidlose.net/2017/01/epiphany-3-a-being-before-doing/   

Introductions!

“Introductions!”

John 1:29-42 (1:36) – January 15, 2023

            Have you ever looked in a Where’s Waldo? book? The character we know as Waldo was first drawn in England in 1986 by illustrator Martin Handford, and the first book with the character published in September 1987. “Wally” was his name originally in the UK, although the worldwide popularity of this character often gave him different name changes. Although, he always looked the same, no matter where the books were published, regardless of his name.

            In our Scripture reading today, we have several distinctive names for the brand new teacher and preacher, Jesus of Nazareth. We can see several different people with different ideas about this preacher, too!

            We cannot go to a book and look up an exact photograph or definitive portrait of Jesus of Nazareth, though. Sure, different artists throughout the years have drawn what they think Jesus might have looked like. Or, their impressions of what Jesus might have resembled. But, no one can be exactly sure how Jesus looked.

            This Scripture reading today helps us to understand quite a number of things about Jesus, though. Not exactly how he looked, like a digital photograph, but more importantly, about His character. We have three instances where people introduce others to Jesus. Each one talks about Jesus in a slightly different way.  

            When you introduce someone, do you lead off with an important aspect of their character? Or, telling people what you find most endearing about them?

            Let’s see what John the Baptist said about Jesus: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” and “I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” John says some very significant things.

            John the Baptist not only had this calling to baptize people, but he also understood that he was the Messiah’s forerunner. Every day in the Temple in Jerusalem, a lamb was sacrificed for the sins of the people of Israel. John was fully acknowledging that Jesus was the Messiah, born to take away the sins of the world.

            John knew Jesus well. (They were cousins!) What is more than that, John also stated that he saw the Holy Spirit come down and remain on Jesus at His baptism. The Person who had that happen was a special Person, indeed! John names Jesus “God’s Chosen One.” John was the one who pointed people to Jesus the Messiah.

            Do you need an introduction to Jesus? Perhaps, a re-introduction? Maybe you haven’t been following Him much any more. Maybe you have left Jesus behind, and are going your own way. Don’t you think – don’t I think – that we can walk more closely with Jesus from now on?

            The next day, John again goes walking with two of his disciples and identifies Jesus as “the Lamb of God.” We can see that John fully expects God’s chosen Messiah. John’s disciples do, too, because they immediately leave John and start following Jesus.

            Have you – have I – recently thought about ways we learn about Jesus? I know this church and especially this sanctuary is very familiar to many here. But, is there anything here in the sanctuary that tells us more about Jesus? Let’s look around. First and foremost, there is the large cross up above. This reminds us all of Jesus and the whole purpose of Him coming into the world. Jesus willingly became the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

            But, that is not all! Look at the altar. We see the chalice or cup, and the plate for communion. I know our Scripture reading today comes from the first chapter of John, and this example of communion is the end of the story. This is one of the concrete, tangible ways that Jesus has given us to remember Him. And, it is definitely a way to introduce people to Jesus.

            We also have visual reminders in our church banners, and audible reminders in the church hymns and other music. Everywhere we look and listen we have introductions to Jesus.

            Our Scripture today gives us just a glimpse about Andrew, one of John’s disciples who turns to follow Jesus. It was Andrew who was so excited about meeting God’s chosen Messiah, Jesus, that he immediately got his brother Simon Peter and introduced the two of them. Plus, Andrew was so enthusiastic that he was eager to introduce everyone he could to Jesus.           

Today’s Scripture reading from John’s Gospel “is a story about people who told others what they knew and introduced their friends to important people. They teach about Jesus in everyday situations to people they knew.” [1] I give you a challenge, to be like John the Baptist and Jesus’ disciples! Speak up to our friends, and siblings at home, or neighbors or coworkers, or wherever you are during the week. Even if people have some understanding about God, there is always more to learn, to know and understand! 

            Do we need an introduction to Jesus? Perhaps, a re-introduction? Do we hear the call to follow this Chosen One of God who restores not just a nation but all of creation to right relationship with God?  Do we hear a call to join with Andrew to introduce Jesus to our neighbors and families? I’ve found the one we’ve been looking for, the one in whom our restless hearts will find their rest!   

            Let us take these words to heart, and go and do them. Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/12/year-second-sunday-after-epiphany.html

Joyful, We Adore Thee

“Joyful, We Adore Thee”

Matthew 2:1-12 (2:10) – January 8, 2023            

I love my Christmas tree ornaments. I have many that are very special to me! Quite a number came from my mother, and hung for years on her Christmas tree. A few came from both of my grandmothers. My ornaments are special to me for where and when I got them.            

One ornament I got a few years ago was made by my son Peter. He is skilled at the art of paper folding called origami; he folded this exquisite three-dimensional star. I think of this as my Epiphany star; it is very precious to me. I wonder whether the marvelous star the Magi followed was anything like this star? Bright, multi-colored, shiny from a long distance?             The 2nd chapter of Matthew tells us about these Magi, or wise men from the East. They traveled a long way, following this bright and shining star to Jerusalem. These Magi asked King Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”           

The wise men dearly want to find the child born King of the Jews! But, where are they going? They themselves are not sure! They follow the star towards Jerusalem, but that town is where their books and ancient writings leave them all puzzled. “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?”            

We might think of three foreign kings, traveling around Palestine. But, this is most probably a misguided way of thinking. The whole mythology of “We Three Kings of Orient Are” embroidered the simple words found in Matthew chapter 2 into a fanciful tapestry involving three noble kings in rich robes, knocking at the door of the palace in Jerusalem.             

They were not kings, but instead “magi” from Persia. Wise people who studied the stars. Plus, these Persian astronomers (or, astrologers, since they put a great deal of stock in the movements of the stars, planets and other heavenly bodies) included both men and women. There may have been women in the group who followed the special star to Palestine!            

So, these wise men – or, wise people – were not quite sure where they were going. Simply that they were following a sign, a portent in the heavens. A special star that seemed to lead them onward, westward leading, still proceeding.            

Are you – am I – sure of where we are going? We have a good deal more revelation from God, more information from the Bible to guide us. But, do we know where we are being led? What is our path? Where does the Christmas star direct each of us to go, today?            

When the Magi arrived at the palace in Jerusalem, King Herod immediately asked the chief priests and Temple scribes to search the Scriptures and find some direction he could give to these foreign visitors. Herod “asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written.’”           

I find it fascinating that the chief priests and scribes (who wer  e also avidly studying the Scriptures themselves) did not “see” that special star. They did not “get” the message that this brilliant sign in the heavens was a particularly marvelous star. Whatever that brilliant star was had to be huge and visible from a long way away! But, only these foreigners saw something different in the sky and decided to follow it!            

The shining star that the Magi followed is surely a sign from God showing the birth of the Messiah, the newborn King of the Jews, as the Magi said.            

We know one often-repeated symbol for God is light. Since we can’t make a picture of light, we use things that make light like a star, sun, candle, or lamp. I have a lovely origami star ornament here. We can reflect upon the many reasons, the many signs of light that are talked about in the Bible, including the Star of wonder, Star of light. Just think of the Advent wreath and Christmas candle lighting services and note that we light those candles to remind ourselves that God the light is with us.  What’s more, think of the candles here on the chancel. We light the candles every week to remind us of the Light of the World, the Light that shines in the darkness, the magnificent Star in the sky the Magi followed.            

Turning back to our Scripture reading, “After the Magi had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”            

The wise people who followed that star found what they were searching for. And, they worshiped, and were overjoyed. Are you – am I – sure of where we are going? Are we following that star, too? We have a good deal more revelation from God, more information to guide us. But, do we know where we are being led? What is our path? What does the Christmas star direct each of us to do, today?            

I ask all of us to consider these words from Howard Thurman, progressive theologian who wrote this poem: The Work of Christmas.

When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock,  The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among others, To make music in the heart. 

            Let us take these words to heart, and go and do them. Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

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

A Time for New Things

“A Time for New Things”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-14 (3:11) – January 1, 2023

            Today is a fresh new year, a brand new calendar, new experiences each and every day. What bright opportunities are ahead of each of us! Just imagine – today is a time for new things, just as our Scripture reading this morning states.

            Today’s Scripture reading from Ecclesiastes talks a great deal about time. All different kinds of time, and lots of ways of marking time, too. “Time feels different to children who have known so little of it. For them years last forever. They are just beginning to sort out the difference between how long a time period feels and the fact that an hour is always 60 minutes long no matter how it feels.” [1]  

            Yet, many of us here have seen the passage of time, and many years go by on the calendar. Many people know that days, months and years can slip by oh, so quickly. When a child is 5 or 6 years old, it can seem like forever before the Christmas holiday finally arrives! But, when someone turns 75 or 86 years of age, the Christmases and the holidays seem to come faster and faster. Time surrounds each of us, here in this world, in this place and time.

            As we reflect upon this Scripture reading for today, we can also reflect upon what exactly the author of Ecclesiastes meant. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” That can mean we ought to be serious and anxious about each little factor, or each tiny decision each of us makes.

Sure, some can go too far, and have a totally fatalistic point of view of life. That is the way some Bible scholars view the author of Ecclesiastes, who often says that everything is absolutely fated and predetermined. Many scholars view the author of Ecclesiastes as the aged King Solomon, and the writing in Ecclesiastes is mostly jaded, disheartened and questioning. Nothing is worth doing, no innovation, no creativity; no one can change anything ever. What a hopeless, helpless point of view. This view takes away free will, human decision, and the possibility of change. Why do anything, ever again?

            But, that way of serious, somber thinking can be really negative. Seconds turn into minutes, hours, days and months. Before we know it, sometimes we can look back at the passage of many days, many existences with sadness and regret.

            As we look through this clear choice each of us has on the New Year’s Day, we can certainly wonder about our personal choices. And, these choices sound like this Scripture reading, too. “A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”  

            We can add “a time to be positive, and a time to be negative, a time to look forward, and a time to look back over our shoulders.” These additions are fully in keeping with the author’s intent, I think. Yet, each of us must think about what each of us is going to do with these words, choices and intentions. Each individual needs to weigh this decision in their own mind. And, what is the Godly decision?

            Another way to reflect upon this fresh, new decision is to consider what has happened to each of us in the past twelve months, and find within an eagerness, looking forward to the future. Again, we can view this new year as a new path in the pristine snow, ready for each of us to walk upon. We can track a fresh path where none has been before!

            Bible commentator Christine Valters Painter tells us that “the human desire [is] for renewal and new beginnings. St. Benedict in his Rule for monasteries writes ‘always we begin again.’  This impulse is the heart of what makes anticipation of the New Year kindle all of our longings for a richer way of being in the world.  There is something so very hopeful to me in this fundamental impulse.” [2]

            Remember, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells us repeatedly, we are Christians, together. A congregation is a group of believers gathered together for friendship, fellowship, and most of all, to worship together. We all come together to worship as a group of believers. We all come together to find commonality in this renewal and new beginning each January 1st. And, we all can find comfort, camaraderie and fellowship in the common coming-together as a family of faith.

             Yes, this new calendar page is an opportunity to begin again as individuals. Plus, January 1st is another opportunity to come together as a congregation and find a more hopeful, a richer way of being in the world.

            Just as the concept of time is foundational to each one of us, with this concentration of time so central, so this Scripture reading tells us that God has set eternity in humanity’s heart. Verses 11 and 12: “yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.”

            What a sentiment! And, what a wonderful way to decide to look at life. As we all begin again this first day of 2023, let us listen to the writer of Ecclesiastes. God has set a foundational sense of time in our human hearts, and God has set for us a task. There is nothing better for us than to be happy and to do good while we live. God has given us this precious gift: a God-given gift of time, and a God-given gift of being happy.

So go – do that. Be well, and be happy.

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/11/new-years-day-years-b-c.html

[2] http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/New-Year-New-Beginnings