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!