This Is Love!

“This Is Love!”

1 John 4:7-13 (4:10) – May 2, 2021

            Have you ever wondered what love looks like? If you asked ten different people that question, I suspect you would get ten different answers. What does love look like, anyway?

            The apostle John talks about love a great deal, both in his Gospel as well as his letters. We just read a portion of 1 John chapter 4, where John gives us a straight-forward definition of love. Love is an action word, and the definition comes from God’s point of view. The Lord God almighty, who made heaven and earth and all that is in it, shows humanity what love is.

            Repeatedly, in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, the Bible testifies to the loving, living nature of God. Yes, the Lord God is the almighty Creator of all things, the Source of all light and love. And yes, the Lord God is also shown in the person of Jesus, the God made flesh, the One humans have touched and laughed with and eaten with.

            We come back to the question: what does love look like? For a more intellectual answer, we can read from 1 John chapters 3 and 4. Or, we can take a closer look at the Gospel account of Jesus, at His words and actions, and how He lived His life, and that will show us a lot about what love looks like.  

            1 John 4:7 says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God.”

            In Matthew 14, our Lord Jesus showed compassion – He showed love for the multitudes gathered around Him, and healed the sick. This was just one of a repeated number of times He did this. With a lack of medicines and a high prevalence of incurable diseases (especially at that time), Jesus regularly showed His love and compassion for many people in the most fundamental of ways: He healed them.

            How often are we called to be healers? How often are you and I requested or moved to show love for one another through our healing actions, words and prayers? Is this not a way you and I can carry out the commands of Jesus?

            1 John 4:9 says, “And God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him.” We know that Jesus came into the world to show humanity what love is. 

            In Mark chapter 6, Jesus showed compassion – He shared love to the crowds. He truly saw their hearts, realized they were sheep without a shepherd, and taught them many things. Jesus gave them – taught them the Word of God, the words of eternal life. What’s more, Jesus was the Word of God incarnate, life-giving to all who would come to Him.

            1 John 4:10 says, “This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.”

            In the Gospel of John chapter 3, Jesus and the Jewish leader Nicodemus had a long conversation. In that conversation, John makes the editorial statement “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” This is why Jesus came into the world: so that you and I will not be separated from God for eternity, but instead be reconciled to God, and be with God in eternity.

            Jesus showed this love through His in-depth conversations with a large number of people. He not only talked with the academics and religious elites, like Nicodemus and the other Jewish leaders, but Jesus also talked with people on the outskirts of society, like the woman at the well in John chapter 4 and the tax collector Zacchaeus in Luke 19.

            How about us? Do we show love by our conversations with a large number of people, from a diverse group of backgrounds? Or, are our friends and acquaintances all people “like us?” Would Jesus just come and hang out with good, upstanding church folk – and no one else? People from our little group or clique or neighborhood? What about our nationality group or political party – and no one else? Or what about this particular church, and not the church down the street? Much less the temple or mosque across town? Would Jesus show love to everyone?

            God so loved the world. Does that exclude anyone? Perhaps you and I might like to exclude some folks – but would God exclude them? Who would God exclude? God so loved the world. That’s everyone. That’s what John 3:16 says.

So, what does God’s love look like? It looks like Jesus, as He shows His life, love and death for us. And, we have the ability to love because God first loved us.        

            “God’s love does not depend on our initiative or on our worthiness. We don’t have to reach out to God or even believe in God in order to be loved. We don’t have to clean up our act before God can love us. We don’t have to measure up to some standard in order to be lovable. No, God showers love on us whether we deserve it or not. And honestly, who could ever deserve such amazing, immeasurable love?” [1]

            Everything begins and ends with God’s love. God showers us with love, whether we deserve it or not. What amazing, immeasurable, wondrous love is this.

            Alleluia, amen.


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-of-easter-2/commentary-on-1-john-47-21-4

Commentary, 1 John 4:7-21, Judith Jones, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

@chaplaineliza

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

Cup of Cold Water

“Cup of Cold Water”

Matt 10-42 water, words

Matthew 10:40-42 (10:42) – June 28, 2020

I have several friends who are wonderful hosts and hostesses. They love to have friends and relatives come to their homes, and provide such excellent hospitality. In fact, I had the great good fortune to be the recipient of such fine hospitality a few months ago, at the home of my niece Josie’s uncles (on her mom’s side), in Washington state. Jeff was a marvelous host!

What does hospitality have to do with this bible reading from Matthew 10? At first glance, this reading talks about prophets, or God’s messengers. Jesus tells us how it’s important to accept, or to welcome the messengers of God.

Hospitality was huge in the Middle East. It still is, today. If someone comes to your home, you go all out for them, making them comfortable, feeding them, and otherwise supplying their needs. That hospitality has been a hallmark and a highlight of visiting this region of the world, for centuries.

When the Rabbi Jesus made this statement about receiving the prophets, God’s messengers, what do you immediately think of? What is the first thing that comes to mind? The first thing I thought of was an old-fashioned Sunday dinner after church, where one of the prominent families at the church invites the minister over for a fine meal following the morning services. Well, that cannot happen now, because of COVID-19. Not the socializing at each other’s houses, and not the in-person worship services.

But – can this reading mean more than that?

Somehow, I don’t think the Rabbi Jesus was thinking about the chief rabbi from the most prosperous synagogue in town. I don’t think Jesus had the hot-shot leading elders of the largest congregation in mind, either.

I suspect you can immediately think of someone—maybe a couple of someones—who is absolutely marvelous at hospitality. Putting on parties and get-togethers, gathering friends, relatives, acquaintances. I know, I have been at a few of these gatherings. They are almost always wonderful times to connect. Wonderful times for eating and drinking, too.

What about you? Are you grateful to friends or relatives who have the spiritual gift of hospitality? This absolutely is a spiritual gift, listed among the other more acknowledged or appreciated biblical gifts. Some have that gift of hospitality in abundance.

Except, the words of Jesus do not excuse some of us who are not so hospitality-gifted. No, Jesus’s words are intended for all of us. That means every believer has the responsibility to extend hospitality, whether they have that spiritual gift or not.

I could expound upon the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are given to each believer when they come to believe in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul has written several lists where he runs down a good number of these gifts: in chapters Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4, among others. Gifts like teaching, discernment, helps, and administration.

I can hear some people say, “Oh, I just don’t have a hospitable bone in my body. I can’t welcome people into my tiny apartment. I’m all thumbs when it comes to spreading a wonderful table, and I don’t know the first thing about throwing a big party.” Well, guess what? Jesus did not say, “This command is just for the people among you who really like Martha Stewart.” Or, “This command only applies to the people who can throw the best parties.”

Jesus wants ALL of us to be hospitable. He wants ALL of us to extend a welcome. But, to whom? Who is it Jesus wants us to welcome in such a way? It’s just our friends and relatives, right? It’s just the people from my church, or from my side of town. It’s just the people who look like me. Isn’t that who You mean, Jesus?

Let’s read verse 10:42 again. ”And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.” Acts of mercy and deeds of compassion, no matter how small. My goodness. Is Jesus talking about being kind to – anyone? Everyone? No matter what? No matter who? No matter what they look like? Or, where they were born?

Yes, mercy and compassion are two of those spiritual gifts the apostle Paul talks about. Except, Jesus commands all of us to show compassion and mercy, right here. By doing these compassionate things for anyone and to everyone, we give witness to the unconditional love of our Lord Jesus. Jesus does not make this expression of compassion and mercy something exclusive to “only our kind.” No, He specifically says that we are commanded to show mercy and compassion to “the least of these.” Some translations use the words “these little ones.”

Okay, Jesus. I guess I get the idea. You want me to show mercy and compassion to just about everyone who needs help. But, I need some ideas.

Dr. David Lose, one of my favorite commentators, gives us some excellent suggestions. He says: “at other times, Jesus seems to say, it’s nothing more than giving a cup of cold water to one in need. Or offering a hug to someone who is grieving. Or a listening ear to someone in need of a friend. Or offering a ride to someone without a car. Or volunteering at the local foodbank. Or making a donation to an agency like Luther World Relief. Or…you get the idea.” [1]

Jesus does not simply make a suggestion. This cup of cold water, this mercy and compassion is something He is really serious about. Let us take our Lord’s words to heart, and put them into action. Now. Go, do, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3265

“No Small Gestures,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

@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!

Lost Sheep

“Lost Sheep”

Matt 9-36 sheep, shepherd people

Matthew 9:35-10:1 (9:36) – June 14, 2020

In college, I can remember times when I heard fiery sermons about missionaries, and about how God provided the world as a harvest field for the followers of Jesus. I can remember how the preacher would thunder “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few! Pray that the Lord will send out many into God’s harvest fields!”

I attended a Christian college, and I did hear a number of sermons like that. Yes, that Bible reading is from Matthew 9:37. Perfectly appropriate for preachers to take this verse and highlight it in a sermon meant to urge people to go out to the mission field. The very next verse is where our Lord Jesus chooses the 12 disciples, and commissions them to go out into the villages and towns and heal, preach and do just what Jesus had been doing.

However, when I read these verses from Matthew to prepare a sermon for today, I was drawn to the previous verse, verse 36. When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

I am NOT going to focus on the harvest being plentiful, and the workers being few – in that case, this would be a very mission-oriented sermon. I do preach mission-oriented sermons when I feel God leading me that way, but for this Scripture reading at this particular time, I see a different picture. Instead of God sending followers out into the world, I see Jesus full of compassion and caring. I see Jesus as a loving Shepherd, caring for His lost sheep who don’t even know they are without a shepherd.

Many, many people around the country have not been in physical contact with anyone else for a long, long time. In some cases, for months. People are still suffering from social isolation, from limited and limiting conversation from behind a mask, at a socially-acceptable distance of six feet—or more. Have you felt isolated and alone? Have any of your extended family, or loved ones, or friends been in that situation? Jesus would be able to give you a hug, for sure. As a Shepherd, Jesus would certainly lift up and carry little lambs in His arms.

Can you imagine how comforting that would feel, to be held in the arms of our Lord Jesus? What a wonderful feeling, to be protected and made secure by our Heavenly Shepherd.

For those who did not know, I am in the middle of a 4-part community video series involving the recent months, the pandemic and the shelter-in-place order in Illinois. This series is in collaboration with the Morton Grove Chamber of Commerce. I am the host and narrator for the project, and we are very grateful to the Village of Morton Grove and associated departments for all their help in making this series a reality.

As I think back a month, to the beginnings of this idea for a video series, it all started with a conversation. Or rather, two conversations, with Father Dennis and with Mark, the Director of the Chamber of Commerce. In both, we talked about how disconnected and discouraged many people felt. All three of us – Father Dennis, Mark, and I – had many people sharing with us how disheartened they were, for a number of reasons, all stemming from the pandemic, the shelter-in-place, and the social isolation that gripped so many across our nation.

Which leads me back again to this verse from Matthew 9:36, where the Rabbi Jesus spoke of compassion, and nurture, and how Jesus cares for each of us as His sheep. Jesus did not just preach from a pulpit, or up front on a raised platform, separated from all the other sheep—I mean, people. No, Jesus had compassion on these lost sheep.

Jesus felt such love and compassion towards these members of the house of Israel, He felt it deep down to his “splachna,” down to His guts, or bowels. According to the original Greek, in the first century, to be moved right down to one’s bowels was to be moved with compassion, or to have compassion inside. The bowels – or guts – were thought to be the seat of love and pity at that time. This expression denotes the very heart of Jesus’ understanding and personhood.

With Jesus, His compassion was not impersonal or disembodied. He did not simply see abstract problems that could be explained away. Instead, Jesus had compassion on real people. He saw each individual, the real self inside, and considered each one worthy of compassion and care. To know that someone has seen the real self, hidden underneath and still manages to love and accept us. What a profound difference that makes in our lives, in our hearts, in our self-image. Can we do less when we seek to engage the community around us?” [1]

What an earth-shattering thing, for Jesus to see us, to know us deeply, down to our hearts. We can praise God for this wonderful certainty, even as we are in the midst of such anxiety and fear. As a community, we can gather together to name our stresses and losses, and to grieve and mourn. Yet, Jesus shows us how to have compassion on ourselves and on others.

Morton Grove and the surrounding neighborhoods are finding resilience, togetherness, hope and even joy. Praise God for the example of our Lord Jesus. We can join (virtual) hands in community. Is there any better, more holy calling than to make friends with everyone we meet?

Remember, God loves everyone, no matter who. And, we might be surprised at who becomes our new friend in the Lord as we show compassion, too.

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/open-our-eyes/second-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a-lectionary-planning-notes/second-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a-preaching-notes

@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!

No Longer Orphans

“No Longer Orphans”

John 14-18 not leave you

John 14:15-21 (14:18) – May 17, 2020

When I used to read lots of fiction novels, especially when I was young, a favorite theme was making the protagonist an orphan. Sometimes abandoned, sometimes ignored, sometimes desolate, this setting provided a rich background for the author’s writing.

Today’s Gospel reading from John 14 seems especially pertinent in these uncertain times of pandemic. Here Jesus promises the Holy Spirit’s coming to be with us. The Holy Spirit now is present with believers, both with them and in them. Jesus says He will not leave us all alone, the way orphans are left all alone.

When some people think of orphans, they think of children, huddled in orphanages, housed in drafty attics, or in poky little rooms. Imagine Orphan Annie at the beginning of the musical “Annie,” or Harry Potter in the first few chapters of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Just thinking about orphans in that way feels desolate.

Except—most of us are orphans, too. We lose parents to many things: to cancer, strokes, diabetes, or accidents, among others. Most people are at least half-orphans. I was—my dad died when I was in college. In July, it will have been forty years since I lost my dad, and became a half-orphan. At least I had my mom until the early 2000’s. But, that loss of my father to cancer was a sad blow. I missed my dad very much, and now I miss both of my parents.

When Jesus said to His disciples “I will not leave you as orphans,” I would imagine that Jesus’s words were comforting to many if not all of His disciples.

Death and sickness were everyday facts of life 2000 years ago. I don’t read very much about the individual disciples in commentaries and other reference books, for the main reason we are not told very much in the Biblical record. But, I do know the human condition, for people in the present day, and other common situations many people are familiar with.

Thinking again about the human condition, and people we encounter every day—whether in person, on social media, or in the news—what is their situation? What are they dealing with?

We are all sadly familiar with people dealing with financial trauma, job loss, physical illness, spiritual desperation, emotional isolation, instability, want, disrupted relationships, abandonment, violence … the list goes on and on. These elements of the human condition are bad enough. But, when we add our current emotional and psychological climate, especially in this unprecedented time of pandemic, individuals can feel overwhelmed. Whole communities can be disheartened and desolated, particularly in hot spots affected by the coronavirus. Interesting that Jesus uses the word “orphaned” in this week’s text, as it is such a potent metaphor for what he was about to do, which was to leave his beloved disciples and go and die. [1]

Jesus just got finished promising the coming of the Holy Spirit. Many people love this promise, and grab onto it with both hands. Yes, it is a marvelous reality in believers’ lives.

But—sometimes—especially in uncertain times like right now—individuals can feel like orphans! Isolated, alone, disheartened, even desolated. I am particularly thinking of seniors I know who are in fragile health, confined to their homes or apartments. I shop for two households of seniors right now, in this time of shelter-in-place in Illinois. A senior couple, and a widower. Two of my relatives are both seniors, both living alone in Chicago. I’ve heard expressions like squirrelly, stir-crazy, isolated, even though we live in a time of computer access and social media connections.

Is this what Jesus was thinking of?

Jesus, I want to be able to communicate to people some hope, some feeling of togetherness, some kind of kindness, compassion and coming-alongside.

I know, the promise of the Holy Spirit may sound like an empty promise if you’re locked down and in quarantine. But, perhaps one way the coming of the Holy Spirit can be expressed is when we look at the words and actions of Jesus’s followers. Maybe another way to look at the work of the Holy Spirit is a way that animates and encourages people to reach out to one another.

Before I came to St. Luke’ Church, when I was a hospital chaplain, I was a listening ear to patients or loved ones or staff. I came alongside of these people in difficult situations – like a Paraclete, in a similar way to the Holy Spirit coming alongside each of us in difficult times.

In a practical sense, the way the Holy Spirit sometimes works may be the kindness we extend to each other. Yes, the Holy Spirit is with us and in us. And, yes, in these times when many people find themselves desperately alone or lonely, the Holy Spirit moves or sends others to be God’s hands and feet, God’s listening ear, the person who shows up at your door delivering groceries, or the volunteers who drop off baked goods or canned goods at a food pantry.

I am blessed with a pleasant smile – it just happens. I was told a number of times by patients and loved ones that my smile lit up a hospital room. Could your smile, your kind words, your compassion and helpfulness be the Holy Spirit’s working in all of our lives?

Listen to Jesus—God will give us another advocate to help us and be with us forever— the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit indwelling each believer. The Holy Spirit works through each of us, through all of us, sometimes at the most unexpected times.

Are we called to be the hands and feet of Jesus? Is God pleased when we spread kindness and help others? As we show love to each other, we show love to Jesus. And, the Holy Spirit bears witness within. What a wonderful promise from Jesus. What a wonderful opportunity to do God’s work. Go, and do likewise.

[1] https://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/orphaned-anna-hosemann-butler-05-20-2014.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!

A Whale of a Tale

“A Whale of a Tale”

Jonah spitout, painting

Jonah 1:12, 2:1 – August 18, 2019

Jonah and the whale is a much beloved bible story often told to children. Many young ones listen with wide eyes and ears to the story of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish. Every bible story book I have ever seen mentions that the great fish was sent by God, so children (and adults) will know God was with Jonah even in the belly of the whale—or, great fish.

That lesson is definitely one everyone can use! Children, young people, adults, seniors alike, how valuable it is to know that God is with all people—even in the metaphorical or actual belly of a whale.

But, with our adult-sized viewpoint, let’s go back to the beginning of this story, to the beginning of Jonah chapter 1. Jonah was an acknowledged prophet of God. Prophets of God were held to particularly high standards. Everything they said in the name of God had to come true: this was stated in Deuteronomy, in the Law Code of Moses. And, Jonah understood he needed to follow God’s commands. Except—he didn’t. He stubbornly decided to turn tail and run, run in the opposite direction.

What about you and me? What if there is a command Jesus plainly sets forth in the Gospels—like give away your money and you will have treasure in heaven, or love your neighbor as yourself, or especially, love your enemies? And, some Christians—maybe even you and me—do not follow those commands? What then?

We follow Jonah as he runs away in the opposite direction. He goes west, taking a ship for Tarshish, across the Mediterranean Sea. The Lord pursues Jonah with a great storm, the ship almost founders at sea, and the sailors ask Jonah why the storm has come upon them. Jonah is finally honest and says it is all his fault. He is the cause of the great storm. Throw him overboard, and the storm will stop. The sailors were unwilling at first, but finally they did throw Jonah overboard. And, lo and behold, the storm did indeed stop.

Have you ever wished that God could talk to you as clearly as God talked to people in the Hebrew Scriptures? I know I certainly have. Except—even if God talked clearly to us as a dear friend and close companion, are we sure we would listen to God’s spoken words? Or would we be disobedient sometimes, just like Jonah?

Finally, Jonah stops running. Finally, in the belly of the great fish, Jonah repents and asks God for forgiveness. What does God do? The Lord is gracious, forgiving and compassionate, of course! That is God, all over. Exactly the Lord’s gracious, compassionate heart.

As we follow Jonah in the fish’s stomach, and as he gets vomited up on land on the third day, we have a sudden glimpse of why Jonah did not want to go preach to Nineveh. For anyone who knows the history of the book of Jonah, the Assyrians controlled large parts of what is now Syria, Iran and Iraq, among other nearby regions. The Assyrian armies were particularly cruel and bloodthirsty to the nations they fought with and conquered—similar to other armies.

Is anyone surprised to learn that Jonah did not want to preach to Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian Empire?

Jonah finally goes to Nineveh and tells them to repent, otherwise God will destroy Ninevah! What happens? The Assyrians and the King of Nineveh do repent. In fact, this is what the King says. “Everyone must turn around, turn back from an evil life and the violent ways that stain their hands. Who knows? Maybe God will turn around and change his mind about us, quit being angry with us and let us live!” 10 God saw what they had done, that they had turned away from their evil lives. God did change his mind about them. What God said he would do to them God didn’t do.”

What is more, Jonah was furious with God for not destroying Nineveh! Here’s what he  said to God: “1-2 Jonah lost his temper. He yelled at God, “God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!”

We can laugh at Jonah for getting furious with God and stalking off, essentially slamming an imaginary door and leaving an imaginary room. But—God forgave Jonah for Jonah’s sins and disobedience. God created the people of Nineveh. Can God not express divine love and compassion and forgiveness for all the people in the world God made?

When you and I allow hatred and fear to take residence in our hearts and blind us to the fact that God created each person on earth. Father Richard Rohr warns, “you will go back to dualistic thinking and judgments: good guy/bad guy, win/lose, either/or.” [1] That is not the way of God, the way of heavenly compassion and mercy, grace and truth.

Sure, God knows very well that we all are sinful. Sure, God knows that we all mess up. Even, stealing from the weak and old, killing with knives or guns or bare hands. What about the other ways of hurting people, like destroying someone’s reputation by spreading false rumors? Or destroying a marriage by sleeping with someone’s spouse? Or, destroying the well-being of a temple or church by embezzling a large sum of money?

Sure, you and I are very glad and grateful when God forgives us, when God has compassion and mercy and grace on us. But, if we slip into the fearful, dualistic thinking and judging of good guy/bad guy, win/lose, either/or, we are in danger of missing the path of God’s heavenly love and compassion, God’s love and mercy, God’s everlasting arms of forgiveness.

Yes, this is so challenging for all of us. I do not know how, but God was somehow in the midst of horror and violence and desperation, of victims and post-traumatic stress and even the horrendous death and torture that the Assyrian armies were responsible for. And, God forgave the Assyrian people of Nineveh. God has forgiven countless countries, because each country is made up of individuals created by God.

We can move that to the 20th century, and the 21st. God created each person in the American military, the German army, the Russian navy, the Japanese military, the French or Palestinian resistance, and all their families. God created each person in the Nigerian army, the Iraqi military, the British or Chinese navy, and all their families. People are wounded and many died. Yet, God loves all of those people—both the ones who did the awful things as well as those who were wounded or killed. I do not understand how, but God does love them.

Yes, this is a challenge for which we need God’s help. Jesus calls us to love our enemies, no matter what. Jesus did not give us a loophole, a way out. We can look at the original disciples, and Christians of the first few centuries. None of the original disciples died in their beds except John, and he was exiled to a tiny island. God is somehow in the midst of all of the horror and anxiety and despair. I don’t know how, but the Lord is with us, no matter what.

Just like King David said in Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You are with me.” God is faithful, merciful, and forgiving, and will remain at our sides through pain, suffering, fear, anger, desperation—no matter what. What a comforting thought. Each of us can say a heartfelt “Amen!”

Thanks be to God for God’s abundant mercy and grace—towards each one of us.

 

[1] Richard Rohr Meditation: The Perennial Tradition: Weekly Summary Aug. 11-Aug. 16, 2019   Center for Action and Contemplation (WeeklySummary@cac.org)

@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!

Do What to Enemies?

“Do What to Enemies?”

Luke 6-35 love enemies, bible

Luke 6:27-38 (6:27-28) – February 24, 2019

Throughout history, we can trace many battles between enemies. I don’t mean outright war, like between armies with guns and tanks and bombs, but enemies, nevertheless. Serious sports rivalries can turn ugly, like soccer hooligans causing fistfights and even rioting. Factions and strife in a town can cause a cohesive neighborhood to break up. And in recent times, political differences can cause serious rifts between former friends. Deep tension even makes family members stop speaking to each other, sometimes for years.

What is this corrosive feeling between enemies? Some say envy, others say fear, others say hatred, plain and simple. Which brings us to the Gospel. What does Jesus say about enemies?

But, first we need to back up, and remind ourselves of what came just before. Or rather, what we heard last week. Just a reminder that Luke chapter 6 contains much of the same information that Jesus preached in Matthew, chapters 5, 6 and 7. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount—leading off with the Beatitudes—is summarized in about one third of the space, right here. In Luke’s Sermon on the Plain.

Jesus said a lot of controversial things, a lot of which got Him into serious hot water. But, “love your enemies” was a particularly troublesome statement.

The country of Israel was under occupation. Just imagine occupied France or the Netherlands during World War II. The hated Romans were Israel’s overlords, and the whole country had to pay Roman taxes. Essentially, paying tribute to Caesar and his armies. The Roman soldiers threw their weight around, and it was backed up by the threat of force of arms. In other words, Roman garrisons were stationed in towns throughout Israel, keeping the populace in line and making certain there was order in Rome’s occupied territory.

Somehow, I doubt whether the Rabbi Jesus scored many points with either the Jewish leaders or the Jewish people by preaching about loving their enemies.

Sharp divisions have come up from time to time in the modern day, too. Think back several decades, to the 1960’s. A sharp debate over civil rights tore our country apart, much like certain political stands do today.

Let’s think about that debate concerning civil rights. This is February, Black History Month. Black leaders protested, held sit-ins, and even marched on Washington in August 1963, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the famous “I have a dream” speech. But many Americans at that time did not agree with civil rights, or with blacks and other people of color receiving equal treatment under the law, or equal treatment in general society.

Remember the race riots around the country, and here in Chicago. The National Guard needed to be sent in a number of situations to keep the peace. A great divide was evident in our country throughout the 1960’s, and my retired professor Ken Vaux and Pastor Gordon Smith were among those allies who stood with the black protestors.

Many people on both sides of that political divide would say that they were sincere, devout Christians. Christians who probably would hear sermons on Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain from time to time in their churches.

Wait a minute. People on both sides of the civil rights issue? Sincere, devout Christians? Well, yes. Yes, they were.

Let’s get back to Jesus, preaching the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. He challenges the crowd. “He says the shocking phrase, ‘Love your enemies.’ What?! He doesn’t just tell us to listen to them. We are to love them!….Some must have decided that they were not ‘willing to hear’ and walked away with their heads full of questions. Others began to work on the bargain. Which enemy might they “love” without risking their own position? Others tried to imagine how they could love their enemies.” [1]

How can anyone do this seemingly impossible stuff Jesus told us to do?

First, Jesus does not ask our opinion. He doesn’t check in with us and see whether we agree with Him. His words are not an option. “Love your enemies.” “He is talking about the Kingdom of God, where love is the rule, not an eye for an eye.” [2] What did Gandhi say of that bloodthirsty comment? “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

Let’s hear the next few verses: “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. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.” Wouldn’t you expect yourself to be loving, caring and generous? Don’t we all think of ourselves in a positive light, as Jesus suggests here?

Not so fast. Jesus does not let anyone off easily. He holds us all to a high standard. These verses have “examples of ways we should be generous and loving, expecting nothing in return. In fact, Jesus tells us (if we are willing to hear), ‘If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended?’ We are to ‘Be compassionate just as [God] is compassionate.’ Everything about this way of being in the world goes against the ways of the world. It is so counter-cultural that we may not be willing to hear.” [3]

So, what ought we to do when we encounter an enemy?

It could be meeting a real White Sox fanatic, when your family has been Chicago Cubs fans for generations. Or, at this local election time of the year, it could be sitting at the lunch table or the senior center with someone who vocally supports someone from the opposite political party.

Dr. Margaret Ann Crain, a retired professor from my seminary, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, tells the following story. “Many years ago, when I was first employed by a congregation as an educator, I was appalled by the resistance that came from some members of the church. They made a show of walking out on the pastor when he began to preach each Sunday. They tried to stir up support for their point of view whenever the church council had a decision to make. I confess: I did not love them! But I also did not ever ask them to explain their point of view. They were enemies, and I didn’t listen to them. As I look back now, 40 years later, I really regret that response. If I had listened to them, I could have become more compassionate and understanding. They were faithful church members all their lives. I suspect that they had some faith-filled reasons for their resistance. Clearly, their methods were poorly chosen. Yet, they may have had important lessons that all of us needed to hear. I will never know because I did not love my enemies. I was not willing to hear what Jesus has to say to us today. Are you?” [4]

What do we do when we meet someone who disagrees with us vehemently? Jesus says in verse 31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We are asked to do what to our enemies? Love them. We are told to treat others—all others—how? As we wish to be treated. Period. Jesus said it, and it is not an option.

Is this difficult? Well nigh impossible! Except—with God’s help. So help us God, help us love our enemies. Help us love them as we love You, and treat our enemies as we wish to be treated.

Amen, alleluia.

 

(Many thanks to Dr. Margaret Ann Crain and http://www.umcdiscipleship.org for ideas and assistance for this series on discipleship.)

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-2-worship-planning-series/february-24-seventh-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/seventh-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] 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!

Prayer: Powerful and Effective

“Prayer: Powerful and Effective”

James 5-16 prayer of righteous, words

James 5:13-20 (5:16) – September 30, 2018

If anyone has been following the news in the past weeks out of Washington, you know that journalists have been trying hard to get as much information as possible about the people and the situations involved. Journalists always are on the lookout for reliable information. They want to answer some basic questions: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. If you can answer those five questions clearly, you will have a good, solid news story.

The past two weeks have been a roller coaster for many people. With the nail-biting news about the Supreme Court nomination, many people across the United States have been sitting on the edge of their seats. While I am not going to play politics or tell anyone which Washington politician or opinion is right or wrong, as a pastoral caregiver I do pay close attention to people’s emotions and reactions.

What I have seen in these past days are the overwhelming number of people with heightened emotions and reactions to anxious, even fearful situations. As someone involved in pastoral care and trained as a chaplain, I notice these things. In our scripture reading today, we find the apostle James talking straight about how to pray, and thus deal with things similar to these: heightened emotions and reactions to anxious situations.

The apostle James was a practical kind of guy. We can see that from this short letter, the only letter he wrote, included in the New Testament. He gives some practical advice to his readers on how to live a faithful and effective Christian life: how to live faithfully with others in society, how to control the tongue, how to turn away from evil and towards God. Here, in the fifth chapter of James, he turns to prayer. As we look at this passage, James tells his friends how to pray, in very practical terms, almost the same way as a news reporter might tell it.

Here are the first verses of our scripture reading, from one of my favorite modern translations of the Bible, The Message, by Eugene Peterson. “Are you hurting? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven—healed inside and out.”

James covers the bases here. People who are hurting, happy, sick, sinning. In other words, he tells us Who ought to pray. Anyone ought to! Anyone who needs God’s help or anyone who has received God’s blessing ought to pray. That means anyone—all of us.

What is the next question? What should we pray about? Anything, and everything. That is the wonder and power of prayer. So many things to pray about, but James gives some great descriptions. He tells us what kinds of situations, in just a few words.

When should we pray? Anytime is a great time to pray. When we are hurting, or feeling great, or sick, or sinning? In each case, we are invited by James to bring everything to the Lord in prayer. Whenever we are in trouble, or in need to healing, or for forgiveness from sin? That is the time for prayer. Anytime.

Where are we to pray? Absolutely anywhere. This is one that James does not directly address, but we can see James tells us we are able to pray any time we need help from God. So, it just makes sense that you and I can pray anywhere we happen to be. Wherever we are, God is with us. God is everywhere.

The last question is, Why should we pray? The simple answer? Because God answers prayer. Verse 16 tells us “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Did everyone hear? “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Except, I have been hearing from a large number of people during the past two weeks. Such difficult and traumatic events are extremely hurtful, especially for people who have had similar things happen to them. Psychologically speaking, the mention of a similar traumatic event can very well cause someone else to vividly relive their personal experience, no matter how long ago it happened. Trauma is imprinted on the brain in a unique way. It’s like the brain flags the specific memories as super-important. Those flagged memories can surface or re-surface at unpredictable times, when someone reminds you of something traumatic that happened. Like, for example, this serious discussion in the news of harassment and assault.

During the past two weeks, calls to rape and sexual abuse help lines have skyrocketed, anywhere from doubling to running four times as many as in a similar time period. Online, in social media, and personally, I have heard more people tell of harrowing incidents of rape and sexual abuse, and the horrible responses received when these actions were reported. Plus, I have both read and heard of situations where no one ever reported these horrific acts—until now.

Though I don’t who or what you believe, I think all of us can agree that as God’s people, we all need regular repentance and soul-searching, no matter what. We are also all in need of healing, personally, and certainly communally. Isn’t that what James tells us here?

When I was a chaplain, working in critical care units like the Emergency Department, Intensive Care, and trauma support all over the hospital, my primary job would be that of compassionate listener—even before prayer, and also as a heartfelt part of prayer. I suggest for all of us to consider a heart of compassion and a gentle hand of mercy. It’s time to put our defenses down and instead experience the vulnerability of listening to one another.

“If someone has a story to tell, the greatest gift you can offer is simply to listen. You don’t need to have answers or wisdom. You probably don’t need to say anything except, ‘I hear you. I believe you. I’m sorry you experienced that.’ In the compassionate version of the world I yearn for, we offer one another solidarity, a listening ear, and a tender heart. “ [1]

As this letter tells us, the apostle James was practical. He also had quite the reputation for prayer. We all know the familiar saying “Listen to what I do, not what I say.” That was James. He would not tell his friends and followers to pray if he didn’t follow Jesus in prayer himself.

Through the power of prayer, total personal and communal healing can occur. James was following the example of Jesus who taught his disciples to pray and showed them that people can be healed through prayer.” [2] James spent so much time in prayer that he had the nickname “Old Camel Knees,” since his knees were so hard and callused from staying on them in prayer for hours on end.

As one commentator said, “we must be active participants in the process. Whether it is the healing touch of the laying on of hands or a simple hug from a sister or brother in Christ or the potent power of prayer or the relief of corporate confession, active participation in the Body of Christ is preventative medicine at its best.[3]

What are we waiting for? “Take it to the Lord in prayer.”

Amen. Alleluia.

 

(My sincere thanks to Charles Kirkpatrick, for his Object Lessons & Children’s Sermons, Coloring Pages, Puzzles. Sermons4Kids.com. https://www.sermons4kids.com/5Ws_of_prayer.htm  I borrowed freely from this children’s activity for this sermon.)

(What follows is the Response our church had after the sermon. Instead of a Prayer of Hymn of Response, we had the following activity.)

Amidst the prescriptions James prescribes, the anointing of the sick is one that we do not do enough of, and one I want to offer to this congregation, to this family of faith during the worship service.

We read again these verses from our scripture passage from James chapter 5: “Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven—healed inside and out.”

Come, let us worship God, and claim our desire to be made whole – spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

And if anyone is just sick and tired of the current state of the world, come and be prayed over and be anointed with oil, a sign of the possibility of healing, inside and out.  

 

In the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, be strengthened and made whole, filled with God’s grace; may you know the healing power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Dear Comforting God, thank You for hearing and answering our prayers. Help us to remember that You want to heal us when we are sick, help us when we are in trouble, forgive us when we sin, and rejoice with us when we are happy. In the healing name of Jesus, Amen.

[1] https://fosteringyourfaith.com/2018/09/30/time-for-compassion/

Rev. Dr. Susan J. Foster (Sue) is the pastor of the East Woodstock Congregational (UCC) Church in CT.

[2] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=52

Commentary, James 5:13-16, Christopher Michael Jones, The African American Lectionary, 2008.

[3] http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2012/09/rx-for-broken-lives-and-faltering-faith/

“Rx for Broken Lives and Faltering Faith,” Sharron R Blezard, Stewardship of Life, 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!

Compassion? Go and Do Likewise

“Compassion? Go and Do Likewise”

Luke 10-37 good-samaritan, line drawing

Luke 10:25-37 (10:37) – September 3, 2017

A good number of years ago, my husband and I attended a large church. This church had a great number of activities, classes and ministries. One of the classes that I enjoyed attending was one particular adult Sunday school class. In this class, there were a number of middle-aged and older adults, some of whom really enjoyed discussing and arguing together about the finer points of the Bible. Some of these people were really knowledgeable about Scripture, about archeology and about ancient culture, and they could argue their points to beat the band. Did I mention that a number of them were lawyers?  People who were well trained to argue and press their points firmly. Even pouncing upon and verbally trapping their adversaries.

While I enjoyed this verbal sparring on occasion, this got a bit tiresome. Instead of huddling together, talking among ourselves inside a church classroom, I wanted to go out into the community and talk with others about the love of God. I wanted to show people how much God loves them.

That’s the situation in the Gospel of Luke. The Rabbi Jesus was having another one of His religious conversations, about the finer points of the Mosaic Law Code. Yes, Jesus knew the Law of Moses backwards and forwards. He knew the Hebrew Scriptures intimately. Yet, so did many of the religious leaders who asked Jesus question after question. Especially this religious lawyer who asked Jesus several questions. I believe this lawyer was well trained to argue and press his points firmly. Even pouncing upon and verbally trapping his adversaries.

I love this compassion series that I have been using for our summer sermon series. The Illustrated Children’s Ministry has done a tremendous job of translating the weekly Bible passages into an understandable story that anyone can understand. I bet we all know passages from the Bible that are so difficult. Not these Scripture passages! These Bible translations are straightforward so that anyone from 5 to 95 can easily understand them.

Let’s listen to the beginning of Luke 10, starting at verse 25: “A man who knew a whole lot about religious laws came to Jesus with a question. He said, “Teacher, how do I really, truly, live with God?”

“Jesus asked him, “Well, what does God’s law say? How do you understand it?” The man answered him, “It says to love God, completely—with heart and soul and strength and mind—and to love your neighbor like your own self.” And Jesus said to him, “That’s it! Do that, and you’ll have the life you’re asking about.”

That’s the initial question the lawyer asks. How does he—how do we—really, truly, live with God? Jesus responds with the question, “What does God’s law say?”

I recently preached a sermon about this all-important two-part law: we love God completely, the vertical part of love, and we love our neighbor like our own selves, the horizontal part of love. That is distilling all of God’s many commands in the Bible down to the foundation, the very core of what God expects from us. That two-part command is enough for another sermon. Indeed, many sermons have been preached on this bible verse!

But, wait, there’s more. The religious lawyer wasn’t done with the Rabbi Jesus yet. He goes a step further, and asks another question. I am not certain whether he wanted to trick Jesus, and make Him trip up verbally, or whether the lawyer felt really convicted, and wanted to justify himself.

What does our Scripture passage say? “Still wondering, the man asked, “But who exactly is my neighbor?” And in response, Jesus told this story.”

We all know the story of the Good Samaritan. A certain man—an anonymous, undefined man, so we are not sure where he fit in the social order—this man was beaten up and left for dead while he was traveling. He is identified only by what happened to him.

Two fellow travelers came upon him, on the side of the road. One was a priest, an important religious man. He looked at the hurt guy from a distance, and then turned and went on his way. The second was a Levite, another important lay leader at a synagogue. He also looked at the hurt guy from a distance. He, too, crossed to the other side of the road and passed by the guy who was lying in a ditch.

Both of these men were upstanding leaders in their communities. Both of them had significant stature. Both of them neglected this poor guy who was obviously in need of help. We are not told why, just that both of these very important people stopped, noticed the guy who was beaten up, and passed by on the other side of the road.

Now, the third man to pass by was a Samaritan. I don’t know whether you are aware of the fear and even hatred the Jewish people had for Samaritans. Think back a number of decades. Can anyone remember the fear and animosity parts of this country had for black people? How Jim Crow laws were firmly in place in large parts of the South? Let’s go back to World War II, and the perceptions of Germans, Italians, and Japanese in the United States. There was a great fear and animosity for these groups of people.

Now you might better understand the fear and hatred the Jewish people had for these half-breed Samaritans, supposed traitors to the people of Israel.

The third person to come upon the hurt man in Jesus’s story? He was indeed a Samaritan, and he did something none of Jesus’s listeners would expect. The Samaritan was kind to the hurt man.  As commentator David Lose tells us, “the Samaritan instead goes to him, and becomes vulnerable in that closeness. How often are we frightened to come close to others simply because we do not want to bear their pain, to be open to their need?” [1]

Most of the people listening to this story would have been enemies to the Samaritans, since Jews and Samaritans did not get along. How do you imagine the people Jesus was talking to felt when they heard this story of a Samaritan reaching out to help a Jew? Can we take this shocking story and move it to the present day? Are we shocked when we see a newspaper article or television news story about an observant Muslim man helping an elderly Orthodox Jew who has fallen and hurt himself on a busy sidewalk?

Again, are we frightened to come close to others simply because we are afraid of being open to their need? To their pain?

The Samaritan showed compassion by binding up the hurt man’s wounds, taking him to an inn and paying for the hurt man to stay there and recuperate. Compassion, indeed, is sympathy put into action. As I have been preaching each week this summer, God wants each of us to show compassion to others. Be kind, show mercy, be sympathetic. Just like the Samaritan.

We need to look at the end of the story from Luke 10. Then Jesus asked, “Who became a neighbor to the man who was attacked?” And the man with the questions said, “The one who had compassion for him.” Jesus said, “Go. Do that.”

I can just see the religious lawyer, shocked that the hated Samaritan is the good guy in this story of the Rabbi Jesus. His answer in response to “who became the neighbor?” The lawyer couldn’t even say “the Samaritan,” so he said “the one who had compassion.” Jesus speaks to us, just as strongly as He spoke to that lawyer so long ago. We are to have compassion, in exactly the same way.

“No one is beyond the reach of God’s love. No one. And so Jesus brings this home by choosing the most unlikely of characters to serve as the instrument of God’s mercy and grace and exemplify Christ-like behavior. That’s what God does: God chooses people no one expects and does amazing things through them. Even a Samaritan. Even our people. Even me. Even you.” [2]

What does Jesus say to the lawyer? What does Jesus say to us, today? “Go. Do that.” “Go, and do likewise.”

 

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/07/pentecost-8-c-the-god-we-didnt-expect/  “The God We Didn’t Expect,” David Lose, in the Meantime, 2016.

[2] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/07/pentecost-8-c-the-god-we-didnt-expect/  “The God We Didn’t Expect,” David Lose, in the Meantime, 2016.

(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!)

Compassion = Just, Kind, Humble

“Compassion = Just, Kind, Humble”

Micah 6-8 word cloud

Micah 6:6-8 – August 27, 2017

Familiar things, familiar words. Even familiar bible verses. When we see or hear familiar things—like a familiar family member, a familiar couch or chair, a familiar saying or expression our best friend says—what goes through our minds? Do we take it in? Do we pay attention? Do we understand that what we are seeing or hearing is important? Or, do we just dismiss it?

Do we dismiss a loved one who just happens to live with us because she or he is always underfoot? Do we even hear an expression from a friend because he or she says it all the time? Or, does familiarity encourage us to ignore the loved one, the sayings, or expressions?

Can this happen to familiar bible verses, too? I am thinking now of John 3:16. Can that beloved verse become so familiar, so same-old, same-old, that it has absolutely no power in our lives or hearts? What about some other super-familiar Scripture verses, too? What about them? What happens to our sensibilities now, now that I have highlighted this important point?

Let’s take a closer look. When we hear the same old thing (even in a bible verse) repeated over and over, week after week, our ears can stop hearing it. It might make some people sick and tired, or bored to tears. We can say, “yeah, yeah,” and ignore it. Go on our merry way. As bible commentator Tyler Mayfield said, “There is a danger to familiarity. The familiar can be overlooked or neglected.” [1]

We have for our Scripture passage today one of the most familiar commands from the Lord, ever. Micah 6:6-8. I will read it in the straight-forward modern translation for all ages provided for us by the Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Starting at verse 6: “How can I even begin to approach God? How can I honor who God is? What gift could I bring, what sacrifice could I make? Would God like it if I made offerings like those made in the past—rams, oil, or whatever is most precious? Does God want me to give up what means the world to me?”

That translation puts a new, different twist on things, doesn’t it?

In this chapter of Micah, the people of Israel pose several questions, and this one is a biggie. How can we even begin to approach the awesome God who made heaven and earth? Isn’t God huger than huge, more righteous and holy than anything else in the entire universe? How can you or I possibly bring anything to God that would please this Holy One?

As Dr. Mayfield says, the central issue with all of these questions concerns the gift, the sacrifice. “What is it, O God, that you want from us? What do you require? Just tell us your favorite offering, and we will surely sacrifice it—even if it is a rather extreme request.” [2]

This is a rhetorical question, of sorts. Micah follows it up with God’s response, in this very familiar verse, Micah 6:8. Is it “same old, same old,” or do you think we ought to sit up and pay attention? After all, this is a verse that lets us know God’s own requirements of how to come to God, this Holy One who made heaven and earth. Listen to this very familiar verse.

The prophet says: “No, listen, people, we already know the answer to this one.  God has told us, this is what counts; this is the compassionate life God wants for us: that we would do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly, together with God.

Let’s turn to the playground and the schoolroom. What do you think children value? What are ways they like to be treated when they are together? Do you think children want things to be fair and equal in the classroom? Do they want people to be kind to them when they are in line at the store, or at the restaurant, or at home? And what about showing respect to other people? Do children want others to show them respect and courtesy on the playground, school, in the mall, or on the sidewalk? What about at home, too? These are important questions, since they not only apply to children, these questions apply to each of us. Every day.

“That’s not fair! He got more! She cut in line! They shoved me! That’s not fair!” Sound familiar? Does it sound like children bickering at home? This is exactly what the prophet Micah mentions, right off the bat. He tells us that God wants us—all of us—to act justly. And, to remind all of us, justice means fairness. Making things right. Got integrity? Do you act in an upright manner? That is exactly what God wants us—all of us—to do.

But, wait a moment! I know we have been through this before, but I thought the people of Israel were eager to know what kinds of stuff they could offer to God.

I can hear the conversations now: “Just tell me, I’m ready to bring the special animal offerings! I’ll bring really expensive stuff, Lord. Just tell me what it is that You want me to bring!” The problem is, the Lord may not give the answer the people expect. In fact, it is not the answer they seek. They have focused on expensive animals and special oils and fine wine offerings—small and large. The people of Israel have over-emphasized super-special sacrifices, and showy gifts in worship; they have ignored justice and kindness to others. [3]

Do you think children want other people to be kind to them? What about us? Do we want others to show care and consideration toward us? Let’s go even further. Being humble is a difficult concept for children to understand. (Gee, sometimes it’s difficult for me to understand!) However, being respectful is simpler to understand. Do I want others to be respectful to me? Just as important, am I—are you—respectful and courteous to others, no matter what? No matter who they are, and no matter where they come from, which side of the tracks they live on, or what they smell like, or who they vote for?

As we can see, Micah “turns the questions asked in verses 6-7 away from their focus on the types of offerings and toward a focus on the type of person. God does not want a specific type of offering. God wants a specific type of person.” [4]

Are you that type of person, the type God wants? Someone who regularly does just things with integrity? Someone who loves kindness and mercy and does kind and merciful things for others, regularly? What about someone who walks humbly, and is respectful and courteous to others, no matter what?

I think the prophet Micah would say that this is a truly compassionate life.

I wonder what this kind of life looks like, in our setting, here in the Chicago suburbs? How do you imagine this kind of life looks in our world today?

The prophet says our life is a journey, and we walk with the Lord, each day. We walk with integrity, in kindness, and we walk humbly. Imagine God is asking you to do one thing this week that would bring more compassion to those around you.

What would our lives look like if we lived like this? Would other people stop short in their tracks and say, “That person definitely is kind!” “That person goes out of her way to help people!” “That person certainly values the newcomer.” “That person displays genuine integrity, for sure!” I challenge all of us: choose one (or more) of these attributes each day for a week, and live it out.

Act justly—with integrity. Do kindness and mercy. Walk humbly with our God, showing compassion to all we meet. And, guess what? This is the way to truly please God.

Let those with ears to hear, let them hear. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3152 ; Dr. Tyler Mayfield, Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3152

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3152

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3152

(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!)

Compassion with Our Welcome

“Compassion with Our Welcome”

Deut 10-19 words

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – August 20, 2017

The world today is a divided place, even here in the United States. There are so any divisions in society happening recently. Arguments, inflamed rhetoric, serious disagreements—and this is just between family members and acquaintances. Then, to escalate matters even further, many people of sincere beliefs and good conscience are finding themselves on opposite sides of serious matters, like immigration, the movement of people groups, and the safe passage of refugees and migrants.

What are we to make of such things?  More importantly, what does the Lord tell us in the Bible that we are to do about immigrants, refugees and migrants? More on this important topic, a little later in the sermon.

I also want to tell you all about the Family Peace Fest yesterday outside of the Civic Center. Frankly, I was nervous and anxious about this event. Or, more specifically, about the potential weather on the day of the Family Peace Fest.

However, God took care of all of my fears and anxiety. Yesterday was a gorgeous day, the weather couldn’t have been better, and this turned out to be a wonderful event at the Civic Center at Harrer Park on Dempster! We not only raised up peace, hope and harmony in Morton Grove and the surrounding neighborhoods, but we showed everyone who attended that our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural community could gather together, laugh, learn, and enjoy each other’s company. We also showed the Chicago area and the world that this diverse community lifts up peace as one of our most prized values.

We continue with our summer sermon series on compassion. This week, we are considering a reading from Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Hebrew scriptures. Here we are looking closely at some words of Moses to the large number of Jewish people, at the end of forty years of wandering in the Sinai desert and wilderness.

Moses also said a great many things that make a great deal of sense, especially from our Hebrew scripture reading today. From Deuteronomy 10: “Hey, people, what is it God wants from you? Just this: your reverence, your faithfulness, your love, your dedication, and for you to obey the commandments. They’re for your own good.”

Moses gave the Jewish tribes a whole lot of instructions, rules, and commands. Let’s take a close look at his commands for this people. They had strict duties and responsibilities to God and to other people. What was it Moses said again? Just this: God wants our reverence, our faithfulness, our love, our dedication, and for us to obey the commandments.

Right here is a summary statement of all of the laws, rules and commands Moses gave in Deuteronomy, the second giving of the Law. We’ve talked a few months ago about summary statements Jesus gave in the Gospels for what God wants from us, above all. Well, here is a brief summary from Moses about the exact same thing. What God wants, above all.

Going on, in our Scripture: “All the sky and all the stars belong to God, the earth and everything in it, and listen: God chose you—your people, your ancestors and your children—you! Do not cut yourself off from God; soften your heart. God is above all, but concerned for those who have nothing, caring for those who are stranded and alone, providing for them.”

What is this? Moses is now departing from a simple summary statement of what God wants from us into specific waters: Moses says God is concerned for “those who have nothing, caring for those who are stranded and alone, providing for them.”

Can you imagine some of the situations that may cause people to leave their homeland and go to a new place? We can just imagine some of the positive things. Economic opportunities, or better living conditions. Then, there are negative situations. Wars and conflict, perhaps famine or drought, earthquakes, fires, and other catastrophic events. These situations might come out of nowhere and knock people off their feet and destroy their homes.

Sometimes little is left except to migrate, to become refugees or immigrants, sometimes traveling a long, long way.

I saw a meme on the computer a few days ago. It said: “Your car is German, your vodka is Russian, your pizza is Italian. Your kebab is Turkish, your democracy is Greek, your coffee is Brazilian. Your tea is Tamil, your shirt is Indian, your oil is from Saudi Arabia. Your electronics are Chinese, your numbers are Arabic, your letters are Latin. And you complain that your neighbor is an immigrant?” [1]

As many memes do, this one uses ironic statements to get the point across. My blogging friend (and Registered Nurse) Marilyn Gardiner wrote a post just a few days ago about this very thing. Let’s hear what she has to say about this meme in her own words.

“While the meme is about things, I began to think about all the people in my life who are immigrants. As I made the list, I started to laugh. It’s unlikely I could function without them.

My doctor is from Jamaica, my surgeon is from Greece, my hairdresser is from Albania.

“I occasionally get my nails done by a woman from Vietnam; I buy fruit from a man from Albania. The advisory board members on a project that I am responsible for at work are from Syria, Iran, Algeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, and the Azores. A consultant who also works with the project is from Somalia. “My colleagues are from Portugal, the Azores, Brazil, Haiti, and Malawi – and that’s only a few of them.

“Daily I say hello to hotel employees from Guatemala, Haiti, and Egypt. The restaurant next to my work that sells excellent falafel and shwarma is owned by Iraqis. My friends at church are from Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Lebanon. Other regular friends in my life are from Pakistan, Israel, and Iran.

“What’s more, my maternal grandfather who died many years ago is from Poland….

“Every one of these people contribute positively to their communities and to the workforce, a fact that validates what studies have shown – that immigration has a positive effect on both economic growth and productivity.” [2]

Marilyn was a missionary kid, now living in Boston. She grew up in Pakistan, going to boarding school for years in the mountains away from her parents. So, she knows well the feelings of displacement, of not being home (wherever “home” is).

Turning back to our Scripture for the morning: “God is above all, but concerned for those who have nothing, caring for those who are stranded and alone, providing for them. You, too, remember when you were immigrants, strangers in Egypt—let that memory stir compassion in you for the strangers among you.”

All of us (even Native Americans, way far back) come from somewhere else. Even if you or I were born locally, our parents, grandparents, or ancestors further back hailed from somewhere else. At some point, we or our parents or our ancestors were alone, lonely, stranded, displaced, and missing “home,” wherever their “home” was.

Here in Deuteronomy, God gives a direct command: love the immigrant, the stranger, the migrant, the refugee. Have compassion for them. Love them. Care for them. (We were once immigrants, too.) Can it be any more direct?

Let us finish this reading: “Worship only God; hang on tightly to God; praise God; know that everything wonderful you have seen, God has done.”

What wonderful words from our God. Everything wonderful that we see every day? God is the author of it. God deserves our worship and praise, every day. We are urged here to hang on tightly to God!

God hangs on tightly to all people God has created. What is more, we know the Lord cares deeply for people who are the least powerful—especially women, children, and immigrants, as our Bible reading says. Can you imagine some reasons God shows extra care for them? Who are some immigrants and refugees you know of today? People in your life, or people you’ve heard of? What are some ways we can show compassion to immigrants in our lives and our community? What comes to your mind?

We showed love, caring and compassion for all people in our community yesterday, raising up peace at Harrer Park outside of the Civic Center, at the Family Peace Fest.

How can we show compassion? Be creative! Take an action step. One genuine smile, one kind word, one loving action. These actions, taken together, can change the world, one smile at a time.

Our friendship and compassion to immigrants, strangers, refugees and migrants is such a gift. Best of all? We will be doing what God commands. Hear what God is saying to the church.

[1] https://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2017/08/07/who-are-the-immigrants-in-your-life/

[2] https://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2017/08/07/who-are-the-immigrants-in-your-life/

(A heartfelt thank you to Marilyn Gardiner and her wonderful blog “Communicating Across the Boundaries of Faith & Culture.” Thanks for your permission to make an extended quote from your blog in this week’s sermon.

Another 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!)