“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

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.)

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!

Cheerful Givers

“Cheerful Givers”

2 Corinthians 9:7-12 (9:7) – November 15, 2020

            Have you started thinking about Thanksgiving yet? Thoughts of Thanksgiving turkeys full of seasoned stuffing, mashed potatoes heaped high, creamy green bean casserole and tangy cranberry sauce bring sure-fire memories to many, many people at this generous, giving-time of the year. Except – will anything like an ordinary Thanksgiving celebration be possible this year? Can anything save this beloved holiday from the ravages of this pandemic and the stress and anxiety that seem to accompany it at every turn?

            Yet – with all the personal trials and tribulations that were continuing to happen to the apostle Paul, how could he even focus on generosity? Just two short chapters after today’s reading, in chapter 11, Paul talks about the dozens of times he was beaten, stoned, jailed, shipwrecked, and repeatedly denied freedom of religion. Yes, I suspect Paul had a close acquaintance with stress, fear and anxiety. Perhaps he did not allow them to take root and settle down in his head and heart, but I suspect Paul knew these deep feelings pretty well.

What did the apostle Paul write just before our reading for today? In the paragraphs before today’s reading, Paul asks for a collection to be gathered together. This collection of money is to be given to the persecuted, needy church in Jerusalem. The Christian friends in Jerusalem certainly knew what it was like to be in distress, too! It’s then Paul tells more about giving. How to give, and why. How not to give, too.  

            Of course we are preoccupied. Many things are on people’s minds. Not only the coronavirus, and public health, but stress, uncertainty and political upheaval. Is there any reason stress, fear and anxiety would NOT be running rampant in the United States today?

            Who can possibly turn our minds to giving and generosity, with so much going on in our lives? How can each of us follow this command from God to give generously? Paul would remind us that many, many Christians in his day had lots of things going on in their personal lives, too. Many were truly persecuted in a way that would make our skin crawl; many were in trouble with the imperial forces and government, too. Yet – Paul praised his former church members for remembering the faithful believers in Jerusalem – sending them a much needed financial gift.

            There is a clear difference between certain people who give freely and generously, and other people who give like their arms are twisted behind their backs – out of a matter of grudging obligation. And oh! Can we tell the difference!  

            We have a proverb of Paul’s day included here, in verse 6: “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Here Paul uses a common saying of the day to illustrate his point. Talking about bounty, about being generous, and about grudging giving out of obligation—being stingy.

            Do you know someone who is really stingy? Someone who is really pained to spend even one dollar of his or her own money? When I was young, there was an older man in our neighborhood who was exactly like this. So stingy he would creak when he walked. So stingy he couldn’t think of putting a penny in a Salvation Army kettle at the holidays.

            I suspect all of us know a tight-fisted person like this. Not at all the generous, open-handed way of giving that the Lord Jesus models for us. God never gives out of an attitude of grudging obligation, and neither should we.

            As each person purposes – or decides in their own heart, that is why we are to give. Did you ever think of giving because you want to give and because God has put it in your heart to give? To give out of the pure joy of giving? Paul had churchgoers remember the church – by sending a much needed financial gift.

One of my acquaintances knew a stingy old woman. So stingy, she would cut coupons and live on the bare minimum in her tiny house. But, she surprised us all after she died. Her will left $50 million dollars to Monmouth College. She never experienced the joy of giving away that money. She never experienced Thanks-GIVING. Don’t miss the joy of giving.
            Our giving “reveals the purposes in our own heart. “If we say we love the Lord more than surfing, but spend all our money on surfboards and do not give as we should to the Lord’s work, then the way we spend our money shows the purposes of our own heart more accurately than our words do. Jesus said it simply: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’” [1]

But, wait! If we have this generous attitude towards giving, being open-handed, positive and cheerful, then God will bless us abundantly with every blessing. Isn’t a warm heart and abundant blessings what we all really want?

What a marvelous promise. What wonderful words. And, this is not “maybe,” or “I hope so,” but it is a blessed promise from God! This is not only for our gifts of treasure, for our gifts of money. This blessing is for our gifts of time and of talents, as well.

For the person who comes and volunteers on Sunday mornings to start the coffee, sets out the bulletins, does the pandemic safety checks, or turns on the lights in the sanctuary—thank you. For the person who bakes a cake or makes a table decoration or repairs the church building—thank you. These are the gifts of time and of talent, and God is so pleased with that, too. God is pleased with whatever gifts you sincerely, truly offer with all your heart.

Alleluia, amen!


[1] https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide2017-2Cr/2Cr-9.cfm

@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!

Through God’s Strength!

“Through God’s Strength!” – September 19, 2020

Philippians 4:12-20 (4:12-14)

When people have food, shelter, employment, and money, it’s easy to be content and happy. Isn’t it? Or, is it easy to be poor, hungry, unemployed and homeless? What would the apostle Paul’s answer to that question be?

This is our last sermon from Philippians. We are looking again at the apostle Paul, in prison, in a really awful situation. Shackled to a Roman soldier, 24 hours a day, with no privacy, in a cold, dank, drafty stone cell.

For the past eight weeks, we have considered Paul and his words to his friends from Philippi. He wrote this thank-you letter to the Philippians congregation, and it was one of the most joy-filled letters we have, included in the New Testament.

Do you know how much it means for a friend to send a message, an email, a card or letter, especially when you are downhearted and close to giving up hope? That is what Paul’s former congregation in Philippi did. They showed “a love and concern that led them to help Paul. The most significant gifts often cost us very little—sometimes nothing, except a few moments to say a friendly word or the make a telephone call or send an email, the stamp to post a letter or a card. What matters is that someone has been remembered with affection and concern.” [1]

Paul says he knows what it’s like to be poor, and he knows what it’s like to have abundance, in verse 12. I know there are many in the United States who may consider themselves to be poor, but I wonder whether you realize quite what Paul was talking about here.

We could drill down to find out more about economic, educational and societal poverty worldwide. For example, according to the United Nations latest report on poverty in 2019, 23 percent of the world population – that’s 1.3 billion people – lived in abject poverty worldwide. Just to give you an idea of how little money we are talking about, that is living on approximately $1 a day, or less.

Paul did not mean just economic poverty. He also was talking about poverty of spirit, poverty of emotional wherewithal, poverty of humility and ability to persevere.

We all know something about that. Who has not felt the pinch of poverty of spirit in the past six months? In the past six months, who has not had their emotions shredded raw, like raw vegetables on a kitchen grater? Never mind about humility, who has felt their ability to persevere stretched very, very thin? I know I have. And, I suspect I am not the only one, by far.

 Paul could have been in despair, being in prison, charged with a capital crime. He was facing possible death. Yet, he wrote one of the most joy-filled letters in the New Testament. What was his secret? How did Paul keep his chin up?

He tells us, right here. In today’s Scripture reading, Paul says, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Yeah, right, Paul! Easy for you to say!

As one of my favorite commentators J. Vernon McGee says, “Many of us think that if things are going right and if we are in the right place, then we will be contented. That means that we depend on the circumstances of life for our contentment….But Paul had learned to be content regardless of his state. There were times when he had nothing, and he was content. There were times when God had given him an abundance, and he had learned how to abound.” [2]

Paul “is able to meet the circumstances of life head-on in the strength of Christ. Paul does not depend on his own strength or ability, rather he relies on the sustaining help of Jesus.” [3] Our Lord Jesus will sustain us with his strength. Alleluia!

Paul does not share his dire circumstances in order to twist the arms of his friends to send him more money. No! He thanks his Philippian friends for both their financial gift as well as their messenger, Epaphroditus, and this letter is so, so much more than just a simple thank-you card. Paul also communicates the fact that – over his years of serving the Lord – he has learned to be content, no matter what. Either contentment with hunger, as Jesus did in the wilderness, or “contentment with abundance, without being caught up with the desire for more. He has learned to rejoice in the lean times and does not feel compelled to change his circumstances. He leaves that to God.” [4]

This sounds like it flies in the face of everything we might hear from those television evangelists who preach the health, wealth and prosperity Gospel. But, isn’t it consistent with what many people in the Bible – both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament – experience on a daily basis? Paul tells us right here that it is not the outer trappings of wealth and plenty, or the circumstances of life that count to God. No, it is the internal attitude, the Godly mindset, the inside job that truly counts.

Praise God that our internal attitude is what God finds truly valuable. May we all, like Paul, be filled to overflowing, well-supplied with the strength of Christ Jesus our Lord.   


[1] Hooker, Morna D., “The Letter to the Philippians,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. XI (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 2000), 548.

[2] McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible, Vol. V (Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, 1983), 326.

[3]  “The Power that Christ Gives,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources   http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday28aee.html

[4] From the series: To Live Is Christ: A Study of the Book of Philippians

https://bible.org/seriespage/13-give-and-take-phil-410-20

@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!

Don’t Worry—Rejoice!

“Don’t Worry—Rejoice!”

Philippians 4:4-7 (4:6) – September 13, 2020

            I love Bobby McFerrin. His way of recording acapella music is absolutely brilliant. No instruments, but just him, as he sings, whistles, and makes other kinds of sounds.

In 1988, a song was released that went straight to the top of the billboard charts. Not only in the United States, but worldwide. That quirky song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” had no instruments, but just Bobby McFerrin singing, whistling and making other sounds with his body.  

            Today’s Scripture reading has almost exactly the same message. The apostle Paul tells his friends from Philippi, “Don’t worry—rejoice!”

            These verses from chapter 4 are where Paul gives his personal remarks and admonitions to a very special community of believers. Stand firm! Be of the same mind! Help each other! Rejoice! Be gentle! Don’t worry! And, pray!

            Of Pal’s words, what particularly strikes me at this time is “Don’t Worry—Rejoice!”  That is a tall order for anyone at any time. But, now? With all that is going on in the United States right now? Not only the COVID pandemic, but also the uncertainty, fear and anxiety with our country’s general condition. Plus, the racial tension, the problems with the weather and the wildfires, and the political uncertainty all add to the general anxiety of many in this country.

            Seriously, where does Paul get off, telling me NOT to worry? He doesn’t know what I am going through! Or, does he?

We have talked about Paul in prison, throughout this sermon series in Philippians. Imagine, awaiting his trial for a serious offence. Shackled at the wrist to a Roman soldier night and day, Paul had absolutely no privacy. What a miserable situation! Or, was it?  

            Let’s look more closely at Paul’s admonition. Or, if you like to think about it in this way, a part of Paul’s home improvement description.

Plus, some of these seem so difficult to accomplish. I can’t do this stuff that Paul tells me to! As Alyce McKenzie comments, “I would read [this admonition] and try to psyche myself up. “Let’s do this! No anxiety! Who needs it? I am a competent adult. I just need to breathe deeper, summon more faith, and I can achieve this anxiety-free life Paul talks about. Let’s do this!” [1]

            But, anxiety and fear continue to rise up and threaten to swallow us alive. Especially with so much uncertainty swirling around so many, few of us find it easy to do what Paul advises. So often, our attitude can be the exact opposite of that rejoicing and trust in God that Paul commands of us.

            Let’s think about the people Paul was writing to, in Philippi. Many of those people were probably unlikely to have comfortable lives. Most were poor, many were slaves or indentured servants. Few would have had any idea of what we know today as peace, joy and security. Yet, Paul encouraged all of them to rejoice in the Lord. [2]

            Let me tell you, Paul was hardly in the prime place to be a quality motivational speaker. From a worldly point of view, that is. Face it, we who live in comparative security, wealth and luxury today are so much more likely to be the most worried and anxious – especially with the sizeable fear and anxiety swirling around us for the past number of months.

            So, how on earth do we do it? How do we rejoice in the Lord always? And again, Paul says, rejoice!

A few years ago, commentator Alyce McKenzie went to a fitness class twice a week taught by an excellent instructor. As she says, “She is both fit and motivating. She is so pleasant that we don’t even hate her when she is making us do the tenth round of squats that are the reason getting up and down from my writing chair today is so painful.

“When we are flagging in energy in the middle of a round of chest presses or push-ups, she’ll call out “C’mon, people! You’ve got this!” I can’t deny that it has an energizing effect. Class members will call out things like “Yeah!” and “Woo-hoo!” I don’t call out anything. I’m busy trying to keep breathing, but I do feel a surge of internal confidence. “I’ve got this! I can do this!”

            Here is camaraderie, teamwork, and togetherness at work. And, the togetherness, the teamwork of the Christian life is what Paul recommends to us in verses 2 and 3. Remember? Be of the same mind! And, help each other!

            All of Paul’s commands dovetail into his urging to pray—with thanksgiving. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”   

            All too often, our prayers are just a ‘shopping list’ we bring to God, without thanksgiving and seasoned with anxiety and fear. We are urged to be grateful, to count our blessings. While the apostle Paul would express himself differently, I think Paul would appreciate the laid back, trusting attitude of Bobby McFerrin and his song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”   

Rejoice! Pray! Stand together in the faith!                                                                        Alleluia, amen.       


[1] https://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/lets-do-this-alyce-mckenzie-10-06-2014.html

“Let’s Do This!” Alyce M McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2014.

[2] Hooker, Morna D., “The Letter to the Philippians,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. XI (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 2000), 540-41, 547.

@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!

Toward the Goal!

“Toward the Goal!” – September 5, 2020

Philippians 3:12 – 4:1 (3:12-14)

I love going to sporting events. Don’t you miss the camaraderie, the togetherness at the Cubs game? Don’t you miss the shoulder-to-shoulder swaying and singing during seventh inning stretch? I know I do.

Baseball, football, hockey, soccer, or basketball. Sure, these sports involve going for the goal, or the basket. Hitting one out of the ballpark. And, fans are certainly involved in the games. Many have greatly missed sports recently, and missed rooting for our favorite teams, too.

The apostle Paul has been isolated and kept away from the church and the friends in Christ that he loves. His social isolation is not due to a pandemic, but due to being thrown into a Roman prison.

The sports image of the athlete is an image the apostle Paul uses several times in his letters to churches. Paul uses exactly that language, in Philippians chapter 3. “12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  

You and I may not be very coordinated, or in top physical condition. I don’t think Paul meant for all of us to be Olympic athletes. Of course, he was making a comparison. Just as top athletes press on and keep going as they train and as they compete, Paul wants us to press on and keep going as believers, too!  

Paul was benched for preaching the Word of God. I suspect he misses being in church with his church family. I suspect he misses welcoming strangers, newcomers into the Christian life. Last week, we learned that he trusted his friends – his teammates to hold the line, when he wrote about Timothy and Epaphroditus as they helped him and came alongside of him.

However, problems can come up. As you know, even the best athletes sprain joints and break bones. If they habitually train outside, a spate of bad weather can mess up their training schedule. But, if they have a great coach, they press on. They keep going, keep training.

We can get turned aside, too. Not only physical difficulties like sprained joints and broken bones can get in the way – other, serious diseases and problems can happen. Difficulties sideline many people. But, our coach Jesus is right next to us, in these challenging times.

When you and I get discouraged and find it difficult to keep on, to continue to run the race, that can be a big obstacle for us. It is such a temptation to look over our shoulders, to long for what used to be. What is behind us? You and I may want to go back to familiar things, or at least things that we know how to deal with. But, we are reminded right here that looking backwards – living in the past – is not the way to reach forward to the goal of the upward calling.

Do you hear the sports analogies that Paul uses? Paul wants us to be like athletes and “press on.” He acknowledges that he has not “already obtained his goal.” Even though he is knocked down and benched, he shakes it off and tells us that he is still in the game.

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize.” While sports achievements can be short lived, Paul wants us to focus on the long run, “heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

During this pandemic, have you kept in training, in the Christian life? Do you press on, continuing to reach for the goal, the heavenward goal? Do you keep on working, striving, training – like a dependable, steady athlete for Christ? Or, are you a fair-weather fan, only rooting for Team Jesus when it’s easy and doesn’t cost anything?  

Paul is our Team Captain, reminding us to “forget what is behind and strain towards what is ahead.” Paul’s image of the Christian life as a race is not the kind of race where just one single person wins the prize, where only one elite athlete can succeed. No! It is possible for everyone who takes part to win and for everyone to receive the prize of the upward calling.

We are reminded: none of us have already arrived at the goal. None of us can rest on our laurels and get lazy. The laurel wreath was one of the great prizes of Paul’s day. The wreaths would be awarded to only the swiftest, the strongest, the one who threw the javelin or the discus the furthest. But, in the Christian life, all of us can win the prize of the upward calling, where our Lord and Savior waits. Christ Jesus is cheering us on!  

As believers in training, we are called to communicate, to demonstrate the love of God to the world. “St. Teresa of Avila described this task well when she said: ‘Christ has no body on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.’” [1]

Christ is calling us, today. Go into the world, and be Christ’s eyes, hands and feet. Amen!


[1] Hooker, Morna D., “The Letter to the Philippians,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. XI (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 2000), 537.

@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!

Know Joy – Know Jesus!

“Know Joy – Know Jesus!” – August 30, 2020

Phil 3-10 That-I-may-know-Him

Philippians 3:1, 4-11 (3:8)

What is really important to you? Some people value family or friends. Others think material possessions are important. Some consider a marvelous resume to be valued above all else. Each of these can make some people satisfied, and that’s only the start of the list of important things. Many things hold value to many people, and cause them to be satisfied in life.

Is being a rule-follower important? When we dot every “I” and cross every “T” – carefully making absolutely sure that we are obeying every law; is that the thing some people value the most in their lives?

The apostle Paul said that this description described him exactly – a rule-follower who dotted every “I” and crossed every “T.” He gives us his marvelous resume, in some detail. We find out that Paul was born to a well-respected Jewish clan in the tribe of Benjamin. He was properly brought up in the Jewish faith, and even chose to live as a Pharisee, as one of the strictest followers of the Jewish Law that it was possible to be. The old Saul went overboard in his devotion to God, too – so devoted that he even persecuted the early Church.

Do you know anyone like that? Anyone who is so strict at following the rules that they even frown and get angry at their friends and family – regularly? What would the old Paul, the Pharisee Saul, have been like as a friend? Always trying to be super-righteous, always working hard at being perfect – Paul tells us straight out that he used to be a miserable person while he tried as hard as he could to be super-righteous.

I wonder what kinds of bullet points Paul – or as he was in his Pharisee days, Saul – would have on his letters of recommendation? “Pharisee Saul is one of the most righteous people I know.” Or, “The highest praise I can give to Pharisee Saul is he never, ever makes a mistake.” If anybody could possibly save himself through his own super-strict efforts at living according to the Mosaic Laws, I bet it would have been Paul, or as he was before, Pharisee Saul.

But – Paul found his own self-righteous actions and trying to make himself righteous enough for God just did not work. There was no way he could earn enough “brownie points” to be acceptable to God.

In other places in the New Testament, Paul describes what an awful mess he was in when he realized this! The Pharisee Saul had lived his whole life acting self-righteous, putting on a show. But here, in Philippians, Paul cuts straight to the chase. He tells us that he no longer trusts in himself or his qualifications. Instead he trusts in Christ! Absolutely, one hundred percent.

I am not sure whether you get excited about accounting. You know, the language of numbers, statements of profit and loss. But, that is exactly what Paul uses here. He uses accounting terms! “The end of a profit and loss statement shows the net loss or net income, indicating the extent to which a business, craft or household is profitable.” [1]

Paul is saying here that all his trying to be super-righteous, in his own power, got him absolutely nowhere! As far as the profit and loss statement of his life before God, he was absolutely bankrupt! There was no way he could possibly even approach God – except through trusting Jesus Christ as Lord.

And then – and then! Paul uses accounting language again. Paul counts knowing Christ as “gain.” When Paul wrote down the profit and loss statement for his life before God, ALL the gain, ALL the profit was credited to Jesus! As Paul came to understand what a miracle happened when he put his trust and hope in Christ Jesus, he became more and more excited.

Paul willingly, eagerly left behind all of his marvelous religious resume. Marvelous as far as the world is concerned. Paul actually uses a swear word here, in verse 8. “I consider everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” – meaning, putting aside all his training, and superior resume, and everything else – “I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” We might think of a four-letter word to use here, and that is exactly what Paul uses in the original Greek.

“Paul regards ‘everything’ of little value in comparison with the far greater worth, the supreme advantage, of knowing Christ.” [2] To gain Christ – to have Jesus one hundred percent on the profit side of our profit and loss statement before God – is the most marvelous thing in the world to Paul. He is so, so joy-filled about this, he almost bursts with joy!

Paul told the friends in Philippi about his boundless joy at knowing Christ Jesus so closely, and so well, even though he was in prison, chained to a Roman soldier 24/7! He still overflowed with joy! Is that true for us? Are we in the same joyful position as the apostle Paul? Are we overflowing with joy because we know Jesus? Or, is our joy being blocked or diverted?

Life was certainly no walk in the park for Paul, especially now. Yet, we can almost feel his joy right through the printed page. Even though, hardship – yet, there was joy! Even though, trials – yet, Paul felt joy! Even though, sickness – yet, Paul and his friends were joyful!

I realize you and I are probably not in the happiest of places right now, with uncertainty and anxiety all around us. Yet, Paul reminds us, we can have joy! If we place our trust and hope in Jesus Christ, His joy is available to us, any time! What a marvelous promise. Be joyful in Christ Jesus. No matter what.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1592

Commentary, Philippians 3:4b-14 (Lent 5C), Elizabeth Shively, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/lent5ce.html

“The Prize,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

@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!

We Can Be Friends, Too!

(This week, we are celebrating in Sunday Worship with a Children’s Service: a service oriented toward children and young people. We pray for them as they begin a new school year, whether online, in-person, or something in between. This sermon from Philippians 2:19-30 is geared toward all ages, especially for our younger friends.)

“We Can Be Friends, Too!” – August 23, 2020

Phil 2-20 work of the Gospel

Philippians 2:19-30 (2:28-30)

Paul wrote a letter to the Philippian church, when he was in prison. Paul tells about his two close friends who are with him, supporting him while he is in prison.

What if your friend was in real big trouble? Would you be there to help your friend who was in a desperate situation? Or, would you want to hide and stay away? Would your fear keep you from helping? I bet you would be like Timothy and Epaphroditus and would be there to help your friend!

So many church members just stay out of the way. Can you – can I be a friend of Jesus if we hide and stay out of the way?

As Paul wrote this letter to the Philippian church, he was in prison. You and I might think that Paul wasn’t able to do anything in prison, but just hide and keep out of the way. He couldn’t go where he pleased. He was locked up!

Here Paul talks further about being a good friend. Paul tells about his two close friends who are with him, willingly supporting him while he is in prison.

Would you – or I – be there to help our friend who was in a desperate situation, even in prison? Or, would you want to run to hide and stay out of the way? Could our anxiety and fear make us super scared? Or, would we continue to be there for our friend?

The friends in Philippi knew Paul’s friend Timothy from when Timothy was one of Paul’s companions. Paul had the highest praise for his young friend, saying that Timothy was genuine, faithful and could certainly be depended on, no matter what. Especially when he was telling other people about God’s Good News.

Isn’t this the best kind of friend to have with you, if you are in a difficult spot?

I know that going back to school is usually not such a challenging time. However, we haven’t had Coronavirus around before. Having Coronavirus is almost like being in jail! It is keeping us locked away from our friends. It is very stressful for all of us. But, none or us are alone. God is always with us, is always fighting for us, and has great plans for each of us.

Are you willing to be genuine, faithful and dependable for your friends? How about for your fellow classmates or co-workers? Paul reminds us, we can all be like Timothy, willing to be friends for others, no matter what.

Paul’s other friend, Epaphroditus, was a church leader in Philippi. He hand-carried an important financial gift to Paul.

Epaphroditus also was very, very ill while traveling, and after he reached Rome where Paul was in prison. However, he overcame those difficult times. Paul praises his friend Epaphroditus for working just as hard as Paul did himself! Plus, while Paul was stuck in prison, his Philippian friend took excellent care of Paul. I suspect he was Paul’s hands and feet, and really helped the ministry while Paul was in jail.

For all of those reasons, Paul really praises Epaphroditus. But, at the same time, Paul needed to send him back to Philippi with this very letter. (The one we are reading.)

Do we understand how much it cost Epaphroditus to go visit Paul? Weeks, perhaps even months on the road. He was deathly ill while traveling, and after he reached his destination, too. Of course Paul was grateful and thankful for both his good friends!

Do you know anyone who has had the Coronavirus? You cannot go and see them. They are alone. Yet you can be a good friend and send them messages, right? And, if you were sick, you know that God is your good friend. No matter how things are going, how unhappy you are or how troubled your life seems, God will be right next to you. We have God’s promise on that! God is true to those who believe.

Are we supposed to be friends to others in a similar way? I think Paul would say, “Yes!”

Our hearts can be filled with gentle words, kind deeds, forgiving hearts and peacemaking. Jesus is depending on all of us! Did you ever think Jesus was depending on you? You might be the only way God could show love to some of the kids, families, co-workers, and neighbors you meet every day – in class, or in the office, or at the grocery store, or at the park. [1]

Just as much as Paul was thankful for Timothy and Epaphroditus being his good friends, you and I can be thankful that God is our good friend. No matter how things are going, how happy we are – or not, or how bumpy or steep the way is ahead, God will be right next to us. We have God’s promise on that!

Paul encourages each of us to come alongside of all our friends, and be there, just in case. That is truly something we all can be thankful for. Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/07/back-to-school-2013.html

@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!