Be a Do-er!

“Be a Do-er!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, James gives us a how-to manual. How to live the Christian life! Listen to James: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says!” However we are gifted or moved by the Spirit to carry them out, we all have our marching orders. Do what the Word of God says! Love, care, encourage, help, serve. And love some more. Amen, alleluia!   

@chaplaineliza

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


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

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

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

[4] Ibid.

David Triumphs over a Bully

“David Triumphs over a Bully “

1 Sam 17 david-goliath, Peter Boon

1 Samuel 17:1, 4, 8-11, 20-24, 31-32, 41-51 – July 28, 2019

Who has experience dealing with a bully? It could be on the playground, or in your neighborhood, or at work, or even in a local church. It does not matter where you or your siblings or children or grandchildren or parents happen to be, chances are that bullies can be found all over.

Our scripture reading features a big bully. Saul is king of Israel, and the perennial enemy of Israel, the Philistines, come to attack Israel yet again. Instead of fighting with the two armies coming up against each other, the Philistines send out their acknowledged champion, a huge man called Goliath, to challenge someone from Israel to fight. Did I mention he was a big bully?

Children often encounter bullies at school or on the playground. As adults, we often have thicker skins and are able to deal with the physical, psychological and verbal abuse bullies so often heap on the smaller and weaker ones around them. Bullies can and do seek out their victims, intimidate, and prey upon them, even if teachers, coaches, administrators and other adults are on the lookout for bullying behavior.

When my husband was growing up on the west side of Winnetka, a neighborhood bully named Adam lived just a couple of blocks away, to the east. You may even have seen him on television or on the big screen after he grew up.

According to common knowledge around the neighborhood, Adam had an unhappy home life, and I feel badly about that. That probably contributed to his negative attitude. Adam was antagonistic to other boys in his neighborhood. He was a sizeable kid, and would intimidate and beat up many other boys. My husband was fortunate, since he never tangled with Adam. I suspect Adam was well known at the local school, and not for a good reason.

Is this similar to Goliath’s backstory? A great question, and one we cannot answer.

1st Samuel 17 tells us for forty days the army of the Philistines were in attack formation, drawn up in battle gear across the valley from the army of Israel. For forty days the large man (some would call him a giant) Goliath would stride in front of the Philistine battle lines to challenge the army of Israel to send out a champion of theirs, to fight. As Ralph Klein, retired professor of Old Testament at Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago tells us, “The idea that a combat between two champions could decide a battle is well known in ancient sources. Goliath was 9′ 9″ tall and extremely well armed. His armor would have weighed about 125 pounds.” [1]

Just think—a huge guy with impressive armor and weapons. Goliath was massive!  That alone would be disheartening. But, wait. When we add physical and verbal intimidation to what the Philistine army would be guilty of, we see what a horrible impression they made on the army of Israel. And not only the army of Israel, but for the whole nation of Israel by extension.

Does this sound familiar? Do we have bullies in our neighborhoods? Our schools or workplaces? When we examine and break down how Goliath used intimidation and fear, we can see that Goliath was a master intimidator. (Or, at least, how antagonistic and intimidating were the people who wrote the words for Goliath to say. He might have had great writers.)

What about the other side of this lopsided-looking match-up? We do know what David looked like, from this and other descriptions in 1 and 2 Samuel. At this point, while David is only a teenager, he has not become tall and broad-shouldered yet. He is described as ruddy and good looking. We can also see how full-grown warriors of Israel are afraid and intimidated by the insults and trash talk of Goliath and the Philistine army, and the teenaged David has a very different response. He is horrified at the blasphemies and trash talk Goliath spouts.

Let’s examine what Goliath said, more closely: “Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me.  If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.”  And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.”

Goliath was a soldier by profession, and very good at what he did. He had probably honed and fine-tuned his scare tactics. We see classic manipulation and intimidation patterns.

I would like to highlight one type of person from our modern context. This can be an office manipulator, a neighborhood busybody, or an overbearing and mocking know-it-all. This type of person is not necessarily a huge menacing presence. They might not be physically intimidating, but their verbal browbeating and coercion can be just as terrorizing. This poisonous activity can induce just as much fear and demoralization in the attitudes and behavior of those surrounding this toxic person. This toxic person can be a virtual Goliath, and might come in many shapes or sizes. We need to be aware and on the lookout for mean bullies like this.

Let’s go back to David. He comes to the army camp with supplies for his older brothers, but the whole camp is away at the battle lines for Goliath’s daily intimidation. “There, David finds his brothers, and as he talks with them, Goliath steps forward to repeat his challenge for the 81st time (see 1 Samuel 17:16). Goliath says what he always does, but this is the first time David has heard him. David listens to this giant’s challenge and his cursing of Israel and her God. He watches the frightened Israelites (including his brothers) draw back, their courage shattered by this man’s words and appearance.” [2]

Wait, says David! Who is this Philistine, and why is the army of Israel cowering in fear?

Great question! We all know the rest of the story. David volunteers to challenge Goliath, comes at him with only a slingshot and smooth stones, and nails Goliath between the eyes with an Olympic-worthy shot from his sling. As the huge man falls to the ground, dead, David hews off Goliath’s head with his own sword, and thus becomes the darling of all of Israel for defeating Goliath. The original David vs. Goliath match-up.

The point of this bible story often displayed for children in Sunday school is that God is with us even when we are afraid, just like God was with David when he faced Goliath. However, from an adult understanding, we can go further. Yes, absolutely, God will be with us in all kinds of unequal, David-versus-Goliath battles. What is more, using God’s perspective can be lifechanging. From God’s point of view, David was the winner even before he used his slingshot. David was a teenager after God’s own heart. He kept his eyes on God and prevailed against a bully, against all human odds.

Are you facing a continuing battle today? Is there a mean bully in your workplace or neighborhood? Finding God’s perspective on the toxic problem is a great help. Continue doing what you know is right, in a winsome and positive way. And, God will continue to be with us, against all the Goliaths that come into our lives.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=331

Commentary, 1 Samuel 17:[1a, 4-11, 19-23] 32-49, Ralph W. Klein, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

[2] https://bible.org/seriespage/14-david-and-goliath-1-samuel-171-58

“David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17:1-58),” by Robert Deffinbaugh at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Everything We Need?

“Everything We Need?”

Psalm 23 KJV

Psalm 23:1 – May 12, 2019

Advertising lets us know how much stuff we really “need.” Madison Avenue certainly knows how to plant the thoughts of desire and dissatisfaction in our hearts, prompting us to go out and buy, buy, buy! Consume, consume, consume!

Aren’t we supposed to be dissatisfied with what we have? I thought I was supposed to buy lots of things at shoe stores, department stores, sporting goods stores, computer stores, car dealerships, even garden supply stores at this green and growing time of the year.

What does King David tell us, in the very first verse of our psalm reading today? From the Good News Translation, “The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.”

The first verse of Psalm 23 many people are familiar with? “the Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” The other translation has a bit different words for the second phrase; ‘I have everything I want.” But, doesn’t this fly in the face of advertising and popular culture today?

One pastor expanded on this thought in his comments on this psalm: “We live in a consumerist society that thrives on teaching us to want. Wanting more and more and more: I want a new car. I want a flat screen TV and a Blue Ray player. I want more apps for my iPhone. I want to win Lotto. I want a bigger house. I want it all… “ [1]

Anyone who knows more than one language knows what a challenge it is to exactly translate certain words and phrases from one language to another. Sometimes there are no exact translations. The Good News Translation is one of those versions of the Bible that instead of words, it translates thoughts and phrases from the original Hebrew and Greek into English. Like, right here, where we have the phrase “I have everything I want.”

If I look at life from a sheep’s perspective—which is one perspective of Psalm 23—we do have everything we want. Fields of green grass to eat, quiet pools of fresh water to drink, and a quiet place to rest, all provided for us by this Good Shepherd.

The problem is, we are not sheep. We are human beings, with the complexities and challenges of living in the real world. Life continues to happen. Friends get sick, relatives lose their jobs, loved ones die. Wildfires burn many acres of land, hurricanes devastate towns, floods wash away livelihoods.

We come back to the opening words of this psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.”

Another word for a psalm is a poem. King David begins with a simple metaphor. This first line is concise, simple, and expresses the message of the entire psalm. The Lord supplies—or satisfies—every need. [2] This idea of King David’s definitely goes against everything that Madison Avenue and popular American culture tells us today. But, most of us want to have our emotional and spiritual needs met, too.

Rev. Lockhart lists these needs: “I want a happy life. I want to live in safety and security. I want to be left alone. I want someone to show that they care about me. I want someone to visit me. I want the best for my children and my grandchildren. I want my husband to be more considerate. I want my wife to understand me. I want worship to be more fun. I want to know God loves me. And I want to die peacefully in my bed. I want and I want and I want.” [3]

What’s the use? Life is just not fair. I want so much. I’m never going to get what I want. I may as well quit trying to get what I need.

Except—that attitude of defeat is not what God wants for us.

I can tell us all right now that God never promised us a huge flat-screen television, or a fifteen-room mansion, or the latest iPhone, or winning numbers in next week’s Lotto drawing. However, God did promise us the Good Shepherd’s presence at our sides, all along our journey.

This psalm is so familiar, and well-loved. The pastoral images leap right off the page, they are so vivid. We sheep do have a Good Shepherd. We sheep are led into green pastures full of grass. We even have nice, quiet pools of water to drink from, and can lie down to rest, free from all danger.

Except—we are not supposed to flop down and stay in those green, verdant pastures forever. King David describes a journey. We—that is, all of us—are on a journey. A journey through life that the Lord oversees and guides. Sure, sometimes we do get to rest in those green pastures, but it’s just temporary. Our psalmist is on the go, walking beside the water, along paths, and through valleys. Some of those valleys are really deep and dark, too! [4]

What does verse 4 say? “Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for You are with me.” It does not matter what the darkness is—devastating disaster, mental illness, shattering disease, emotional trauma, sexual abuse, grinding poverty, constant warfare. God has promised to be with us all the way, and all the time, too.

Verse 6 says “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” The Hebrew word “follow” can also be translated “pursue.” You know, the same word used when enemies pursue us when we are trying to run away. Except, it’s not enemies pursuing us. Instead, goodness and love will be pursuing us and chasing us down! [5]

We can thank God for such a wonderful image.

The last line of our psalm finishes up our journey. We are to dwell in the house of the Lord all our lives long. Except—the Hebrew word is not exactly “dwell.” Instead, our verb means “to return.” Again, we were—we are—on a journey with God. Our lives are sometimes peaceful, and sometimes difficult. Sometimes quiet, and sometimes traumatic. This psalm enables us to shoulder difficult burdens, and aids us as we sometimes walk sad paths, as well as those times when we rest in beautiful green pastures—or comfortable, joyful places.

No matter where we are on this journey with the Good Shepherd, Jesus has promised to be right by our sides. Yes, we will end up with God when we finish our journey! I do not know exactly what that will be like. I can’t give you a blow-by-blow description. However, as King David tells us, we can continually return to God’s presence all the days of our lives. And, no matter what, if God is there, for sure we will have no more worries or concerns.

What a Good Shepherd. What a wonderful promise. Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://revplockhart.blogspot.com/2012/04/psalm-23.html

Psalm 23, Peter Lockhart, A Different Heresy, 2012.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2372

Commentary, Psalm 23, Joel LeMon, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher, 2015.

[3] http://revplockhart.blogspot.com/2012/04/psalm-23.html

Psalm 23, Peter Lockhart, A Different Heresy, 2012.

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2372

Commentary, Psalm 23, Joel LeMon, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher, 2015.

[5] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Courage, Not Fear

“Courage, Not Fear

Mark 6-50 jesuswalkingonthewater

Mark 6:46-52 (6:50) – August 12, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

“O God, thy sea is so great, and my boat is so small.” So says the Breton’s fisherman’s prayer on a small brass-inscribed plaque. The plaque was given to John F. Kennedy by Admiral Rickover, and President Kennedy kept this plaque on his desk in the Oval Office.

When I started to think about this Scripture passage from Mark, the narrative where Jesus walks on the Sea of Galilee by night, this plaque came to mind. I suspect the disciples did feel afraid on that small boat as they faced the choppy waves, strong currents, gusty winds, and other weather conditions. Similar to that Breton fisherman.

I have never been to Israel, but I have read that the weather around the Sea of Galilee is particularly changeable. There are hills and even small mountains surrounding a portion of the inland sea. Sometimes, the weather patterns can cause rough weather to flare up with next to no warning. According to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 6, the weather that night on the Sea of Galilee was windswept and the water was churning and choppy. The disciples were out on the water after dark. Some of them were fishermen, but not all. So, some of them were used to being out in an open boat in the middle of open water. Others of the disciples were not fisherman at all, and were probably extremely uncomfortable.

What was the general morale of the disciples? Jesus was notably absent—not with them in the boat. I suspect some of the disciples were fearful and anxious. Maybe even complaining about their sorry situation, out in the middle of the lake and with no Jesus. Just think about their desperate situation, and compare it to your own. From time to time, I am sure all of us have felt like we are adrift in choppy water, all alone, someplace like the Sea of Galilee. Heavy weather is on the horizon. Who can help us deal with our fear and uncertainty?

We need Jesus, that’s who. Just as much as the disciples did.

This scary situation on the Sea of Galilee did not just happen all by itself. This nighttime situation followed after a very busy day for Jesus. This was the day that Jesus miraculously fed several thousand people with a few loaves and fishes. When this all happened, they all were in a lonely place far away from any village or town, near the Sea of Galilee.

I want to be sure all of us understand. This feeding was not just a little miracle. Instead, Jesus did a huge miracle! Feeding well over five thousand people with just a boy’s sack lunch of a few little loaves and fishes? How astounding is that? The disciples were right there with Jesus, serving and distributing all the loaves and fish to all the crowds who attended Jesus’s after-lecture luncheon. Except, Jesus provided all of the food! Miraculously.

Listen again to the beginning of today’s Scripture reading from Mark, which follows the paragraph on the feeding miracle: “ 45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.”

At the end of a really busy day with a lot of public ministry, I can see why Jesus wanted to be all by Himself, not only to pray and rest and recoup, but also to spend some down time rejuvenating with His loving, caring Heavenly Parent. Wouldn’t you, if you were in a similar position? Resting and recouping after a long, challenging day of ministry, just about anyone would want to be reassured by the loving embrace of their Heavenly Parent. I know I would!

After Jesus withdraws to be with His Heavenly Father for some hours, it’s time for Him to rejoin the disciples. Let’s continue with the reading from Mark: “ 47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake.”  I would have loved to be with the disciples in that boat!

Just imagine all the exciting information we would hear about leadership and discipleship, serving and helping others, and getting closer to God!

Or, even more, I would love to have a film camera and crew on their boat that night! What a bunch of reaction shots! Shots showing fear, anger, uncertainty, anxiety—the whole range of emotions and reactions to the unexpected and miraculous appearance of Jesus, supernaturally walking on the Sea. Considering what huge miracle had just happened only a few hours ago, “what confidence did the disciples would have had to believe that Jesus would now help them in this terrifying situation?“ [1]

We’ve talked about this before, how the disciples sometimes had a problem believing what Jesus plainly said. Or, a problem seeing what Jesus had just clearly shown them. Or, a problem understanding an illustration or object lesson Jesus had just brought to them. This was one of those situations.

The disciples were a bit thick-headed. They just did not get the full ramifications of the huge miracle of the loaves and fishes. They just did not understand how Jesus—who was God’s son, fully God, and creator of the heavens and the earth—could possibly walk on water.

Jonah had this problem, too. He was a prophet of God, he heard the word of God regularly, but he just didn’t get the message clearly. It took getting swallowed by a fish in the middle of the ocean to get the cotton out of Jonah’s ears.

Listen to a part of Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the huge fish, from the 2nd chapter of Jonah: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and God answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit. “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.”

It took a miracle of a huge fish to get Jonah to see clearly. It takes a miracle of Jesus walking on the water, on top of the feeding-and-provision-of-food miracle, to get the disciples to see clearly. Yet, God is with them all, even through the darkness and the storm, even through being swallowed by the big fish or being buffeted by choppy seas.

“What does this story reveal about Christ’s involvement in our own trials? He is both aware of and concerned about our struggles and acts on our behalf. In addition to helping us in our plight, His deliverance reveals to us His supernatural power.” [2] another way of says it is that Jesus is God’s son. Fully God, and fully man. Of course, Jesus can walk on water! And, of course, Jesus can be with us, in and through and beyond our trials and problems. Having God incarnate as my—as our personal Friend and Savior is very reassuring, believe me.

Sometimes we do go through the storm, and even repeated storms. Sometimes we do have serious illness happen to us or to a loved one. Sometimes we travel through the valley of the shadow, and we need that reassurance that God is with us. Jesus can say to us just as much as He said to the disciples, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

These are the words of Jesus. We can take them to heart. These reassuring words are for the disciples, and for us, too. Alleluia, amen.

[1] Ivaska, David, Be Not Afraid (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 101.

[2] https://intervarsity.org/bible-studies/mark-6c

Mark 6:45-56: Confounded by Christ | InterVarsity

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Transfigured? Frightened!

“Transfigured? Frightened!”

Mark 9:6 (9:6-7) – February 11, 2018

Jesus Transfiguration Georgian relief Luke 9

Transformations can be quite a surprise. For example, when a run-down house gets a top-to-bottom rehab job over weeks or months, the house can be really transformed. Or, when someone is diligent over time with diet and exercise, and loses a lot of weight, they can be really transformed, as well. People can be surprised and impressed when they see the stunning changes that happen, gradually. These kinds of transformative changes can take a while.

The type of stunning change that happened in our Gospel reading today did not take weeks or months. Instead, our Gospel writer Mark talks about the transformation happening suddenly. Or, to use one of Mark’s favorite words: immediately.

We need to set the scene. Just previous to this reading, in Mark chapter 8 Jesus asks His disciples who others say that He is, followed by who the disciples think He is. Peter makes the great statement “You are the Messiah.” It is then that Jesus predicts His death. He starts to tell His disciples that He will have to suffer, be rejected and die, and then rise after three days. All of which must have been difficult to understand for the disciples.

I can relate to the followers of Jesus. Jesus was a charismatic leader, and many people listened to Him, and even followed Him. However, some of the things Jesus said were clear out of their experience. Even with all of the biblical revelation, evidence and commentary that we have nowadays, some of the statements of Jesus are still a challenge for us to understand, today. I can relate to the disciples’ confusion and puzzlement!  

A few days after the confession of Peter and all this big stuff happening, Jesus decides to go for a day trip, up on the top of a mountain. He asks only three of His disciples to come with him: Peter, James and John. After they reach the mountaintop, Jesus suddenly is changed. Transformed. Or, as the Gospels tell us, Jesus is transfigured. This is a state of God’s heavenly glory, suddenly appearing all around Jesus, making His clothing whiter than anyone has ever seen. If that is not enough, the glorified Jesus is seen talking with Moses and Elijah.

Can you see the picture? Imagine a huge, bright spotlight shining on Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Plus, there are more small spotlights all around, and the background surrounding them is all backlit. Except—the people of Jesus’s time have never even heard of electricity. All of this super-white light and super-white clothing is supernatural. Of heavenly origin.

I am reminded of the heavenly glory that surrounded Moses on top of Mount Sinai. Moses was no stranger to heavenly whiteness and brightness. He was in the presence of the Lord God Almighty for many days. And, Elijah—going up to heaven in a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses? That must have been a heavenly experience of light and glory, too. Much less being in heaven, in God’s presence for centuries at that point.

Moses and Elijah were the premier representatives of the Jewish people, of the Jewish law code and the voice of the prophets. Revered by millions of Jews since their time. And, on top of that, they were in the presence of the suddenly-glorified Lord Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder that mere humans Peter, James and John were all shaking in their shoes?

I discovered a fictionalized conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah, from that mountaintop that Mark tells us about. This conversation comes from Pastor Joyce, written in 2003, from a commentary website I visit on occasion. Listen to this conversation:

Elijah: Look at these stubborn and fearful people. How do you get these children to honor God?

“Moses: And how do you teach them to love each other? God knows I tried. I brought God’s law down from the mountain top. It is very clear. The simple commandments tell them how to love and honor God and how to live together in mutual love and respect.

But right after I told them how to live, they began complaining about God and began to worship false idols. The law told them not to betray or disrespect others. Yet, the powerful continued to grasp for more wealth and power. Foolish people they thought that would give them security. But for these things they have to oppress the weak. Then the fighting starts. It can lead to killing.

“Elijah: Well, I warned them. I told King Ahab and the people not to worship false idols. I challenged 450 prophets of Baal and they died on the mountain top. But today, people still worship the idols they create: power, material possessions, and the comfort they bring. But they do not receive satisfaction from them. NO! How do we teach people to find the real thing — joy in relationships with God and with each other?

“Jesus: God sent you, Moses, to give the law.  God sent you, Elijah, and other prophets to warn the people of how they are harming themselves. Now God has sent ME… I will live among these rebellious people for a while. I will love them and I will die for them. These men you see before you, and those who follow them, will carry on my work of reconciliation to God and humankind.

“Moses: These men? Look, they are dumbstruck. They are frail. They are confused.

“Elijah: Good joke, Jesus. Now… tell us your real plan.

“Jesus: I have no other plan.

“Elijah: But how will they find the wisdom and the strength?

“Jesus: Ahhh… I will be with them.” [1]

Did everyone hear? Jesus promised to be with the disciples, a number of times. Not only with the disciples, but with all of His friends and followers.

It’s true that Peter—good, old foot-in-mouth Peter—made some sort of confused and excited offer to build three little booths or mini-altars there, on top of the mountain. Yes, with our 20/20 retrospect, we can laugh at Peter’s fumbling and falling all over himself. But, wouldn’t we be in the same boat? What if there were a heavenly visitation right here, right now? Boom! Cue the bright lights! The glorified Jesus, here in our midst, here at St. Luke’s Church!

The thing is, Jesus could have stayed there, on that mountaintop, with Peter, James and John. Relatively safe, and the mountaintop could have become a pilgrimage site, renowned throughout the world. But, no. Jesus knew He had to walk the way of the Cross. He knew we, His followers and friends, had to come down from that mountaintop, too.

The disciples did not just slink away and hide. No, they went out after the Resurrection and Ascension and after Pentecost, and they turned the world upside down with the Good News of the risen Lord Jesus. It was not all sweetness and light for the disciples, or for the other followers of Jesus. No, many of them had a very difficult time. Yet, Jesus was with them.

Today, we don’t permanently live on the mountaintop, either. Yes, we often walk through the dark valleys. Yes, there is sorrow and pain in our lives. As David Lose says, the nitty-gritty details of misunderstanding, squabbling, disbelieving disciples. Religious and political quarrels of the day. Jealousies and rivalries both petty and gigantic. Into the poverty and pain that are part and parcel of all of our lives. [2] Yet—Jesus is right by our sides, too. Yes, in the good times, and yes, in the not-so-good, even sorrowful times, too.

Do you hear? Jesus will be with us, in good times and bad. We can take comfort in that. We can celebrate. Praise God. We are not left alone and friendless. What a friend we have in Jesus, indeed. Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://desperatepreacher.com//bodyii.htm

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1563

“He Came Down,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

For the Least of These

“For the Least of These”

Matt 25-35 for whatever, words

Matthew 25:31-46 (25:40) – November 26, 2017

This Sunday—today—is the last Sunday in the liturgical year. This Sunday is also called Christ the King Sunday. We celebrate and lift up the might of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ today! Dominion, honor, power, authority, glory, majesty! Crown Him with many crowns! Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!

We have many marvelous hymns we can choose from for today. I love many of the words and tunes of the hymns that refer to our Lord Jesus having all power and authority in heaven and on earth, being King and ruler of the universe, and all creation.

I think all of us are familiar with the stories Jesus tells in His ministry, featuring real life situations. The Rabbi Jesus tries to get His listeners to understand some deeper truths through these stories, or parables. Jesus Himself talks about an all-powerful King at the end of the world, in this final parable from Matthew 25. The all-powerful King from this parable is the exalted Lord Jesus, ascended to heaven, as we declare every time we say the Apostle’s Creed.

As we did two weeks ago, let’s pull back from this particular parable, and look at the larger situation where the Rabbi Jesus tells it. This is midway through Holy Week in Jerusalem, where Jesus is being asked when the end times will come. That’s why He gives this long discourse called the Olivet Discourse, several chapters long in Matthew’s Gospel. Similar to now, people all through the centuries have been aware that the Bible has certain mysterious, even unclear prophecies concerning the end times, just before when the Messiah will come.

However, something does not fit. Something is very puzzling about this parable.

Here in Matthew 25, we have the exalted Lord Jesus, the almighty King eternal, sitting in judgment over all the peoples of the earth.

At first reading, even at second, third, tenth or twentieth reading, this final parable from Matthew can be really scary. Just like in the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, from the prophet Ezekiel, all sheep and goats are separated, just as all the people from every nation in the world are separated. All people are divided into two groups: those who the King is pleased with, and those who the King is not pleased with.

The people listening to Jesus in Jerusalem that day were extremely puzzled. Scratching their heads, they might have said, “Rabbi, you just don’t make any sense.” Especially the people who had followed Jesus for months might have been particularly lost. Things just don’t add up!

On one hand, we have Jesus, the caring, nurturing Shepherd. This is what the prophet Ezekiel starts off with in our reading today. In many parables, in many situations throughout His ministry for three years, Jesus has shown Himself to be loving, caring, gentle, and welcoming to everyone—no matter who, no matter what.

But, wait. Let’s go back to this final parable from Matthew, where the King at the end of all time is talking to the vast assembly of people from every nation, tribe and tongue. Let’s remind ourselves of the words of the Son of Man: “Then the King will say to the people on his right, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world.  I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.”

I am certain that many people listening to Jesus and His parables were absolutely floored by these words. What on earth are You talking about, Jesus?

Dr. David Lose said, “When we think of God, we typically think in terms of power and might and glory and all the rest. And, indeed, the [final] parable begins by describing the coming of the Son of Man in glory to sit on his throne attended by angels, seemingly only reinforcing our preconceptions.” [1] This word picture is absolutely the picture we associate with Christ the King Sunday, with dominion, honor, power, authority, glory, and majesty!

Yet, we also see a loving, caring, nurturing Shepherd, as expressed by our Lord Jesus Himself any number of times during His ministry. And, there are glimpses of that Shepherd here in the parable, too. We have two different, disparate, even disconcerting pictures of Jesus here. What gives? Which is the real Jesus? What is going on here?

The people in the parable are puzzled, too. Let’s listen to their reaction: “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink?  When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you?  When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?”

As if the two very different pictures of Jesus are not enough, the King in the parable adds a third. I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these members of my family, you did it for me!”

Here, Jesus tells us He is right with the chronically hungry and thirsty. He is among the strangers and refugees. He is among the indigent poor and sick, and is right there with the many hundreds of thousands all across the world who are in jail. Jesus, the Son of Man, would rather hang out with the bums on Skid Row rather than with the fancy people in their religious country clubs or with the fine Pharisees in their first-rate houses of worship.

Does anyone else feel challenged when they hear these serious words of Jesus?

As Dr. Lose tells us, “No one expects to see Jesus in the face of the disadvantaged, the poor, the imprisoned, and all those who are in manifest need.” [2]

Jesus gives us a judgment scene in this final parable. This is a cautionary scene described here, at the end of all time. Here, in this parable from Matthew, we have three separate pictures of Jesus. Yes, He is the King! All honor, power, majesty and glory be given to Him! Amen! Yes, Jesus is the Gentle Shepherd, the loving, caring, nurturing one who gathers the lost lambs into the fold. And, third, our Lord Jesus is seen in the faces of those who are difficult to love, and a challenge to care for.

Jesus shows up in those unexpected places, in the concrete and real needs of our neighbors next door, and around the world. But, you and I are not at the end times, yet. We can take action, and see the face of Jesus in others around us. The disadvantaged, the poor, the imprisoned, and in need.

Jesus calls us to serve others. By serving others, we will be serving—loving—caring for Jesus. How can we serve Jesus, today? How can we help others? How can we extend our hands and hearts to be loving, caring and giving, today? The best part? God will be right by our sides as we extend our hands to serve and care for others. And, God promises to change us from the inside out as we extend our hands—our hearts—ourselves—to others.

Here, in this final parable, Jesus the King tells us He is right with the vulnerable, the unlovely, the indigent, those difficult to love and those who are such a challenge to care for.

Next week, we will begin the liturgical year with the season of Advent, those weeks when we await the coming of the Baby in Bethlehem at Christmas. We await the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Eternal Almighty God the Son emptying Himself and becoming a baby. Becoming vulnerable, becoming human. Just like us.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.

 

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2014/11/christ-the-king-a/ “The Unexpected God,” David Lose, …In The Meantime, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

When He Appears

“When He Appears”

Malachi

Malachi 3:1-4 – December 6, 2015

Today is a challenging time in which to live. Wars, and rumors of wars. An increase in natural disasters. And, people around the world falling away from religion. Not going to their traditional place of worship, and not honoring God’s name. It doesn’t matter which nationality or which country we are talking about, in almost every country, area or region around the world we will see the faithlessness of people. Turning away from God.

This is exactly what our Old Testament prophet Malachi talks about, in our reading today! People in his time—400 years before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem—did not follow the God of Israel. Their priests were disrespectful and made improper sacrifices. Many of the Jews turned toward foreign gods because they married foreigners who did not worship the God Jehovah. The people fell away from the Lord! They were faithless and disobedient to God.

As one online commentary [1] had to say, the situation in Malachi’s day echoes that in our own day, too. “The charges against the people [of Israel] pertain everywhere and in every century. We can say of ourselves, as well, that false prophets and priests among us do not uphold the righteousness of the temple, and that we fail to adhere to God’s commands, [fail] to fulfill our duty, and [fail] to build up our neighbors.”

Malachi does not pull any punches. He tells the people of Israel exactly what they are doing that is wrong, and bad, and displeasing to the Lord. “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.”

Does anyone here remember doing laundry with particularly harsh soap? I’m talking about when people have stains that are really difficult to wash out. When I was a little girl, I can remember my mother using a special soap that came in a can, like a gel. She would scoop a little soap out, and put it on the clothing. I would see her rubbing the soap into the stain. Like on the grass stains in my older brother’s pants, I remember particularly. My mom would tell me to be very careful around that powerful soap.

There is some soap that is more powerful than that! It takes the color right out of cloth. Some people even need to wear rubber gloves when they use it, since the soap would blister or hurt their bare skin. For certain kinds of really deep stains or special kinds of material, that is the kind of soap that is needed to get things clean.

Malachi talks about when God comes. And when God does come, God is going to be very, very angry. God will not pull punches, either.

It’s like everyone has a horribly stained outfit. It’s laundry day, and God has a special, really harsh kind of soap that is guaranteed to get out the stains. Except, the soap is so strong that sometimes it takes the color out of our favorite shirt, or fades our new dark pants.

Laundry soap is the first comparison Malachi uses. Laundry soap! Not very glamorous, is it? Sinfulness is the awful condition everyone is in, and has been in for a very long time. And, God needs to put everyone through the laundry. Using a wringer washer, too. It gets the job done, even though it doesn’t have a ‘delicate cycle’ like an automatic washer.

I just heard that the retired pastor (who married me and my husband) is extremely ill. He has cancer in both his lungs and a brain tumor. He had the first of his radiation treatment and chemotherapy this past week. When people are seriously ill, they require serious medicine. Moreover, medicine like that often doesn’t taste very appealing or feel that good.

What about people who have broken several bones or gotten a severe muscle strain, and need physical rehabilitation? Has anyone here ever gone through rehab, or had a loved one that completed rehab? Not always an easy thing. Rehab hurts, sometimes, because of the really difficult, even awful situations people find themselves in.

This message, this reading is not very hopeful, is it? Yet, Malachi is telling the truth about the vast majority of the people in his country. He speaks the word of the Lord to a bunch of people who are not pleased with his message. Not pleased at all!

This reminds me a lot of our Gospel reading this morning. About the birth of John the Baptist, and the miraculous happenings that occurred just before and after his birth. Zachariah, John’s father, sang a song that was also a prophecy about his infant son John. Zachariah gives hints about what John’s purpose and message is ultimately going to be.

What is similar between Malachi’s message and John the Baptist’s message? “The Lord is not pleased with your lives! Or your intentions, either!” Sounds awfully familiar. God is trying to get across the message of repentance once more. And again. And again, after that.

God makes another comparison. The first was laundry soap. God is going to put us dirty, sinful people through the wash. And, a wringer washer, at that! The second is a refiner’s fire. Ouch! That hurts!

“What is important for us to know from Malachi is that the coming one is a refiner who is will purify and refine the people ‘like gold and silver.’” [2] This reminded me of an anecdote about this very verse from Malachi. “This verse puzzled the women having the bible study, and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God.

“One of the women offered to find out about the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible study. That week the woman called up a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest in silver beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that, in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest so as to burn away all the impurities.

“The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot – then she thought again about the verse, that God sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire.

“The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?”  He smiled at her and answered, “Oh, that’s the easy part — when I see my image reflected in it.”

As God refines each of us, when God purifies our hearts and minds, we reflect God’s image more and more. Just as the silver becomes more pure the longer it is held in the fire, so we reflect God’s image better and better. Sure, it hurts sometimes. Sure, it is unpleasant and awkward and sometimes downright painful. We can celebrate because we know our God loves us enough to refine and purify us.

Malachi’s message is that sometimes we must make hard changes and work hard with God’s help to be the people God made us to be.  Challenge? Yes! Opportunity? Yes!

“Only in the Coming One is there the power to refine us, to make clean what is unclean, and to ready us to offer what will be ‘pleasing to the Lord.’” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

[1] Commentary, Malachi 3:1-4, Melinda Quivik, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!