Coming Attractions

“Coming Attractions”

Acts 1 ascension_of_jesus

Acts 1:6-11 (1:11) – May 24, 2020

When I used to go to the movie theater, I would be excited about the feature film. Of course! That is why many of us buy tickets and go to a theater, to see the big feature! What’s more, the feature film is usually billed as something special, indeed! Except – what about what happens before the feature film is shown? My children used to call them “commercials,” short teasers of movies coming soon. Another word for these? Coming attractions.

As we turn to the beginning of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, we find our resurrected Lord Jesus with a group of His disciples. He rose from the dead some weeks before, and I suspect this special time has been a time of intense learning. Similar to a condensed intensive course of study, if you will.

To be sure, the weeks after the Resurrection have been a time of training for the disciples. I am sure our Lord went over passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, pointing out how He fulfilled the promises given so long ago. I also suspect Jesus went over some practical things, too. What seminarians and professors refer to as practical theology – the every-day life and practice of being a follower of Jesus.

Now, Jesus is about to say good-bye. But, before He does, the disciples can’t wait to ask one more burning question. I get the feeling that this question just bursts out of them! “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

I imagine our Lord stifling a big sign, and almost saying to His followers, “You’re asking Me this again? Haven’t I explained it thoroughly to you guys and girls before? I mean, many times before?” I can just see a meme of Jesus doing a facepalm, on social media. The disciples still haven’t gotten it. They still just don’t get the full picture.

Before we come down too hard on the disciples, we need to remember that they did understand a great deal of what was said in the Hebrew Scriptures. Yes, after the Resurrection, everyone certainly expects God to do something.

Some of Jesus’s disciples must have expected to be clothed with power, and deputized as Jesus’s right-hand men and women. They understood that their leader was in fact the Messiah! In large part, “their question to Jesus about the restoration of Israel is perfectly reasonable. The Messiah is expected to purify the land and rule over the nations. Is this finally the time?” [1]

“Listen, Rabbi, we know a huge miracle happened, and God raised You from the dead. But now, aren’t You going to become the greatest King of the whole world? That’s what we remember from our Torah study as kids, and from the preaching and teaching You did, too. So, when is that going to happen? Soon? Right now? When, Lord?

Jesus doesn’t go into a long discourse the way He did in the Gospels, to explain His position more thoroughly. No, instead, He gives the disciples an outline of what they are to do. A short how-to statement, after the weeks of intensive learning.

Isn’t that what practical theology is all about? I loved my practical theology classes in seminary. In those classes, I learned how to put the theological learning I got in my other studies to work. Classes like preaching, or what I’m doing right now; like pastoral care—what I use in talking with church members or as a chaplain in the hospital. And, I learned more practical things, picking up great tools for my pastoral tool belt in those practical classes. I learned the every-day life and practice of being a follower of Jesus—in the classroom.

The disciples must have learned things about the every-day life and practice of following their Lord Jesus, too. Except, there is a big difference between the classroom and real life.

As Jesus responds, “He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This is the real thing, Jesus! No being just an apprentice. Not practice, not any more.

After these words come out of Jesus’s mouth, He ascends to heaven. Another miracle, accompanied by angels, even!

This to-do list from Jesus Himself ought to be a highlight for all of His followers. First, look at where we start. Jerusalem, or home. Where we stand, right here and now. Next, Judea—or our neighborhood. Is there anyone next door or down the block who needs to hear the Good News about Jesus? Maybe it’s kinda difficult. Maybe we hesitate. Really, Lord? Invite my neighbors to worship with me? Why not? Remember, Jesus said so. And then, to Samaria. What, Lord? That’s where those different people live—different from me, I mean. Sure, I know it’s nearby, but I’m just not comfortable!

Now, wait a second. The ends of the earth? Seriously? Some days I have enough problems getting out of bed in the morning, much less going to the ends of the earth. Yet, this is what our Lord Jesus commands all of us to do.

There is no “end of the earth.” “The world is my parish” John Wesley said.

The work of proclaiming that Good News, that salvation to all people is still going on today. The exciting thing to realize is that the ascension of our Lord meant that the promised Holy Spirit would come to the disciples, soon.

Coming attractions, indeed! Stay tuned for the next installment: Pentecost! The coming of the Holy Spirit. Get ready!



(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!


Commentary, Acts 1:6-14 (Easter 7A), Matt Skinner, Preaching This Week,, 2011. 

Give Praise! Give Thanks!

“Give Praise! Give Thanks!”

Psa 100 thanksgiving, praise

Psalm 100 – November 21, 2018

Who likes to be bossed around? Does anyone?

Listen to these examples: Do this! Come here! Watch out! Stop that! Go to your room!

It is not too pleasant to be bossed around, especially by someone mean or overbearing. But, what if someone who loves you is the one doing the bossing? What if that person has your best interests at heart? Imagine you are in a kitchen and someone cries, “Watch out! That stove it hot!” Or, when you are standing by an outdoor pool, and someone yells, “Be careful! You’re right by the edge!” That changes things a whole lot, to many people.

What about Psalm 100, our scripture reading for this evening?

As is the problem with written communication, we don’t have nuances and vocal inflection. There isn’t a certain way for us to tell whether the author of Psalm 100 was grumpy, joyful, or somewhere in between. However, I would like to think of our Psalm writer being joy-filled and excited. Doesn’t this Psalm sound like it’s written by an excited person?

I want to let you know: there are some commands, some imperatives in Psalm 100. Not suggestions, not “oh, by the way, could you possibly do this?” No. No, indeed.

A number of these verbs, or action words, are clear commands. In the first three verses, “Raise a shout!” “Serve!” “Come!” and “Know!” Verse four has “Enter!” “Be thankful!” and “Bless!” All of these verbs—and they are many of the chief action words in this Psalm—would be instantly recognizable as a command to anyone who spoke Hebrew!

I don’t know about you, but when some people try to twist my arm and bark commands at me, I don’t really like it. I may begrudgingly comply with such commands, rolling my eyes, but for sure not willingly. Not with my whole heart. Not freely, in worship and praise and thankfulness and gratitude, I can tell you that!

But, what if our psalm writer did not feel grumpy or mean at all? What if his situation was 180 degrees reversed? One commentary I read said “Surely the psalmist was imagining what it might sound like when all the earth is praising the LORD at the same time. What a joyful sound, indeed, that would be!” [1]

Let me tell you a few things about this psalm, in general. Psalm 100 is the last in a small collection of special psalms of praise and worship. Do these verses get you in the mood of worship? Of praise? Could we see ourselves marching to our particular house of worship looking forward to meeting with God? To serve and praise and bless and be thankful to God? That is exactly what this Psalm is encouraging—no, even more strongly—is commanding us to do.

I love the exuberance of children. They can be so uninhibited! So filled with joy and happiness and excitement that it just boils over. Sometimes, children just overflow with joy like fountains, bubbling up all over the place. This exuberance also reminds me of the worship styles and especially the musical expressions I have seen in African-American church services. I think this psalmist was expressing an intense feeling of worship very much like that contemporary praise. “One can almost hear the outbreak of jubilation described in this summons to praise in Psalm 100. This psalm calls the entire community to lift praises to God.” [2]

I’d like to tell you something about me. I love music. I studied music theory and composition as my undergraduate major some years ago, I love finding out interesting and historical things about music, too.

Around the middle of the 1500’s, John Calvin the Protestant reformer said that any music performed in the church had to be sung. No instruments, and no glorious sounds other than voices. That meant a number of the Reformed churches could not play any of the marvelous organ, instrumental, or choral music of composers like the Lutheran Johann Sebastian Bach, who came a little later.

John Calvin said only singing psalms set in verses, was right and proper for church worship. After all, the Psalms were the song book of the Bible. Very early after Calvin made that declaration, a clergyman named John Kethe turned this Psalm, Psalm 100, into verse. It was set to a hymn tune known—of course—as “Old Hundredth.” Let me read Psalm 100, in rhyme:

All people that on earth do dwell,

Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice,

Him serve with mirth, His praise forthtell;

Come ye before Him and rejoice.

Stanza 2:

The Lord, ye know, is God indeed;

Without our aid He did us make.

We are His flock, He doth us feed,

And for His sheep He doth us take.

Stanza 3:

Oh, enter, then, His gates with praise,

Approach with joy His courts unto;

Praise, laud, and bless His name always.

For it is seemly so to do.

Stanza 4:

For why? The Lord, our God, is good;

His mercy is forever sure.

His truth at all times firmly stood

And shall from age to age endure.


This psalm text was written in the late 1500’s, and immediately was a big hit. Psalm 100 soon appeared in a hymn book, or psalter, and was regularly sung in church services. What I did not know before a few days ago was that this setting of Psalm 100 was in the hymn book brought across the Atlantic Ocean a few years later.

The church music professor Dr. Hawn said, “This is probably the oldest continuously sung congregational song in North America. When the first British explorers arrived in Jamestown Island on May 14, 1607, to establish the Virginia colony on the banks of the James River near Chesapeake Bay, they undoubtedly brought with them a Psalter, a collection of metrical psalms.” [3]

Just imagine: the earliest English colonists sang this hymn, using the words of clergyman William Kethe, the same words that congregations sing today, four and a half centuries later.

Dr. Hawn reminds us, “the important thing to remember is that William Kethe’s text ties us with the earliest settlers in the American colonies over 400 years ago. It was not long before a Psalter was published in the American colonies: The Bay Psalm Book (1640) was the first book published in North America.” [4]

What a marvelous chain of events, and connections. We can follow the verses of this Psalm across the ocean, into hymn books, and ultimately read it tonight in this service.

That’s all well and good, you might say. History is nice, but we need to dust off the cobwebs and come back into the modern age. Enough of these historical words like “doth,”  “unto,” “forthtell” and “seemly.” All right. I’ll ask some questions. Modern-day questions. These can be thought-questions, and you don’t need to answer them right away, or even out loud.

What is your attitude towards worship of God? Or, is that just for other people? Do you willingly and joyfully come into God’s presence? Or, is going to your house of worship more of a chore, where you are just reluctantly going through the motions? Penetrating thought-questions, for us all.

I pray that the Holy One might speak to hearts as needed.

How do I see this Psalm? I’m glad you asked! I come from the Christian faith tradition, and God has called to me from that understanding. What is more, the way my mind best understands God is through the lens of Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin. Calvin’s Reformed tradition especially treasures Psalm 100.

This Psalm’s essence might well be contained in the first question and answer of a respected historical teaching tool for young people, the Westminster Shorter Confession.

Question: What is the chief end of humankind?

Answer: The chief end of humankind is to glorify God and enjoy God forever. [5]

This is a way of abbreviating this Psalm, in a nutshell. But it does not matter how we abbreviate it, or turn it into verse, or read and meditate on it, or sing it from the rooftops. God wants to know our attitude towards worship, and is hoping our attitude is excited! Joyful! Praise-filled! May we all come into God’s presence with a joyful noise, giving thanks from the bottom of our hearts every day of the year, not only on Thanksgiving Day.

Alleluia, amen.


Commentary, Psalm 100, Alfie Wines, The African American Lectionary, 2009.

[2] Ibid.


History of Hymns: “All People that on Earth Do Dwell”. by C. Michael Hawn

[4] Ibid.

[5] McCann, Jr., J. Clinton, The Book of Psalms, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. 4 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 1080.


(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!

Love Your Enemies

Matthew 5:43-48 – February 19, 2017


“Love Your Enemies”

Rules are good things. Rules help us to know what are good things to do, or prudent actions to avoid. Rules—or laws—or commands give us guidelines for how to behave, and what is or is not acceptable. You all know the rules of the road, and traffic laws we need to follow. We have codes of conduct and ethical guidelines for different professions. All of these are rules, laws, codes. Commands.

Moses talked about commands, too. The Ten Commandments, and an elaboration of the big ten, too. That’s what we have for our Old Testament reading today. We used a modern translation, Eugene Peterson’s The Message, to give us a fresh understanding of this important part of God’s rule book, or God’s guidelines for living.

There are 613 laws—or rules—or commands—in the Law of Moses, in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the last few weeks, our Gospel readings have Jesus starting with a big law from Moses’s Law Code, and then elaborating on it. Not reciting the law by rote, like some child at school, but much more than that. Jesus transcends the Law of Moses, every time.

Like last week. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 5:21? “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’” He quickly followed with Matthew 5:22—”But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Transcending the Law of Moses, with additional information. Jesus was talking about the inside job, about how people’s feelings translated to their outward actions. Today’s reading from Matthew 5 goes even further. How does Jesus begin? In verse 43: “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that.”

We all know how children scuffle and argue together. Imagine a playground or the park in your mind, with a group of kids. Two of them start arguing. The argument escalates. Soon they are name-calling, first one, then the other. Then, they start pushing one another. They push harder, and more vigorously. Before you know it, punches start flying. Maybe the friends on both sides get involved, and we have an outright brawl on our hands.

What did Jesus say, again? “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that.” And then, Jesus goes a step—or three—further. He adds: “I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer.” This may well be the hardest thing that Jesus ever told us to do.

We can tell, from specific examples in the surrounding verses, that Jesus was thinking about the occupying Roman forces. He gave several examples of how His listeners ought to act when confronted by Roman soldiers, and made some recommendations on how to respond. Positively, courteously, and not in a retaliatory way! Turn the other cheek; don’t hit back. Give the soldier your cloak, and the shirt off your back, too.

Jesus said—in extremely plain language—we are not to retaliate. Not to escalate things, or make things bigger, or worse, or to blow things out of proportion. Jesus said “Love your enemies.”

Here is the parallel passage from Luke 6:32-33, where Jesus is also preaching. “27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.”

I know this may be difficult for us. But—what part of this rule do we not understand? Or, is it just really, really challenging for us to live up to this particular command of Jesus? This is part of God’s rule book. This is the ultimate. The pinnacle. This is the last of the laws from the Law Book of Moses that Jesus quotes here, and then goes even further in His interpretation.

We sit, in our safe, warm church, looking back at the first century. We consider Jesus, talking about the occupying Roman forces. They had the whole nation of Israel under their collective thumb. But, we aren’t under occupation, being crushed by enemy forces or living under martial law. However, the nation of Israel was. What’s more, Jesus knew it, very well. Even more than that—Jesus gave these commands, or rules, for believers to follow, with full knowledge of the land of Israel being under occupation.

One of the commentators I consult regularly had this example listed for the Gospel reading today. Carolyn Brown describes a children’s book called The Christmas Menorahs: How A Town Fought Hate, by Janice Cohn. She tells us, “A hate group threw a rock through the bedroom window of a Jewish boy in Billings, Montana.  There was a menorah lit in the window.  In response, the children of the town drew menorahs to put in their own windows.  The local newspaper printed a full page menorah for other families to color in.  It was the community’s way of standing up to a bunch of bullies.” [1]

Thus, a loving, non-violent, empowering way of standing up for someone being bullied. Of loving one’s enemies, just like Jesus said.

“The book includes the legend about the King of Denmark wearing a yellow star when the occupying Nazis decreed that all Jews must wear a yellow star.” [2]

I remember what a dear senior friend of mine told me, who grew up in the hilly region of France not far from Switzerland. She was a child during World War Two. A number of unaccompanied Jewish refugee children were being housed in their small town. A very devout, Christian town, let me add. The occupying Nazi forces demanded that the Jewish children wear the yellow stars of David, indicating they were Jewish. My friend’s mother sewed yellow stars for every child and young person in that town. They all wore the yellow stars, every day, whether Jewish or Christian. That is how they combatted the Nazi occupying forces, using peaceful, non-violent means. (And, they saved the lives of every Jewish child in that small town.)

Remember what Jesus said in response to the question: “But, who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the Jewish people could not stand the Samaritans! Jesus knew that! Yet, that was just His point.

Is it difficult to show love to our enemies? To those who hate us? Yet, this is exactly what Jesus calls us to do. This is right up at the top of God’s rule book, right next to “Love God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Including our enemies. Including whomever is a Samaritan to each of us.

Yes, loving our enemies is difficult, and challenging. It’s difficult for me, and I suspect it’s a challenge to a number of others here, too. But, God will help us. All we need to do is ask God for help with loving others who are difficult for us to love.

Listen to the words of Jesus, finishing this Gospel passage: “48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity.” We already know what to do and how to live. Let’s go out, and live like it.

Alleluia! Amen!

[1] Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 7, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014. 2011.

[2] Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 7, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014. 2011.


(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!)