The Lord’s Great Love!

“The Lord’s Great Love!”

Lamentations 3:19-23 (3:22) – October 2, 2022

I know everyone here has been sad, at one time or another. Who hasn’t? Lots of things cause sadness. Just think of things that have caused you sadness, either long time ago, or more recently. Being sad is part of having emotions, and is part of the human condition.

Looking at our Scripture reading today, we see the word “affliction.” This is a more serious state than simply being sad. Feeling sadness can affect us enough, emotionally speaking! Who hasn’t been downcast and sorrowful from time to time? But, being afflicted, with bitterness? That is a different aspect to being sorrowful, even grieving deeply.

Listen to these verses from today’s reading, again: 19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.” Affliction is more than sadness. The prophet Jeremiah knew that very well! He was called to be a prophet to the nation of Judah and its people during one of the most challenging periods of its history! Jeremiah could not help but cry bitter tears when all of this prophecy and future trauma was revealed to him by the Lord.  

Any healthcare worker who works in a critical care area or trauma care unit is familiar with great sadness and affliction, in the lives of patients and their families. For some seriously ill patients, they have indeed been afflicted, and some for a long time. This can be devastating. As a hospice chaplain, I have the privilege of walking with some of these families during some of the darkest times of their lives – when they are drinking from the cup of affliction.

The prophet Jeremiah was quite familiar with the cup of affliction, too. He walked with, traveled with, the whole nation of Judah as they made their way through the valley of the shadow, and through some of the most difficult times of the nation.

The people of Judah had stubbornly rejected the Lord their God, and their stubbornness and selfishness would bring them suffering, destruction of their capital city of Jerusalem, and finally, an extended exile in Babylon for almost a century. Are people today any better? Do they follow the Lord, or do they run off after gods of their own devising? Their own creation? And by referring to “people today,” can’t that refer to you and me, too? Do we faithfully follow God and what God has directed? Or, do we stubbornly stamp our feet and go our own way?  

We can see how great is Jeremiah’s grief if we look closely at this book of Lamentations, and see him grieve with God. No wonder Jeremiah’s heart was breaking for his people; he knew what God was going to allow to happen to them, as a result of them forsaking their loving God!

I know there are some here who have experienced that deep affliction, much more than sadness. What have you done when you have experienced that deep trauma? That agonizing depth of despair and wordless, breathless sighing? What is your help and stay?

Carolyn Brown tells us: “Sometimes, it just feels like we’re yelling and God is not listening. That is the hardest time.  But even then, lots of people tell us that if you keep talking to God about it, eventually, sometimes after a very long time, it helps. No one can say exactly how or why. But it helps. So, we need to tell children that, when they are really, really angry and hurt and sad, they can tell God all about it.” [1] 

Jeremiah has a clear answer, too. “21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for Gods’s compassions never fail.” Yes, we can run away like disobedient preschoolers, dashing away across the playground. But, God never stops loving us. God may be grieved with us, as God was very grieved with the nation and the people of Judah, in Jeremiah’s time. But, God never stops loving us. Ever.

 “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for God’s compassions never fail.23 They are new every  morning; great is your faithfulness.” And, these are the bible verses where the lyrics for that marvelous hymn come from: “Great is Thy faithfulness, great is Thy faithfulness. Morning by morning, new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hand hath provided; great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.” Yes, no matter how stubborn God’s children are, no matter how much they ignore or run away from God, the Lord’s love and mercy and faithfulness are great. God’s compassions never fail. Never.

We can see how great God’s love is for humanity through the incarnation. Yes, God sent God’s son to earth to become human, live among us, and die for us. And, on this World Communion Sunday, we remember how our Lord Jesus provided communion for us, as a sacrament, a means of grace, and to remember Him. Through the centuries, all believing Christians have celebrated this meal, this Lord’s Supper, in remembrance of Him.

“Today, through World Communion, we are also celebrating that though each church does things differently, we each and all of us need God and His grace. By participating together around the world in Holy Communion, we celebrate our common need for God, and together we celebrate receiving His love and grace.

“There are many different people. There are many different churches. There are many different ways of worshipping and serving God. But in the end, we all need God and we all are God’s children. Today we celebrate that we are different, yet we are the same.” [2] Yes, we can celebrate our particular way of observing the Lord’s Supper. And, we can respect and appreciate the many different practices of taking Communion, from all across the world.

So, let us come to the Lord’s Table, along with countless people around the world today, as well as through the ages. It does not matter whether we join together in a cathedral with elaborate ritual and reverence, or in a simple house church with plain words and equal reverence.

Thank God we all have God’s love, and we all have been gifted with the Lord’s Supper. We all do this, in remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/09/year-c-proper-22-27th-sunday-of.html

[2] https://onthechancelsteps.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/same/

Healing and Hope

“Healing and Hope”

Matthew 5:1-12 (5:1-2) – June 19, 2022

Have you ever been particularly in need of hope? I know that hope is usually an internal thing. Hope is often quiet and even smooths challenging emotions and buoys people up when they are going through difficult times. Healing is something that many folks are in need of! The healing that many people immediately think of is physical healing. Have you ever thought about the other ways we can need to be healed? Emotionally, psychologically. Spiritually, as well. The need for healing of any kind is truly great in this world!

The Beatitudes from Matthew 5 are a wonderful description of hope and healing, from our Lord Jesus Christ. The Rabbi Jesus preached this sermon of hope and healing very early in His ministry. People flocked to hear Him, and to see the miracles He did.

Who was He preaching to, we might ask? Answer: lots of people! People not only local from Nazareth and the rest of Galilee, but from further south in Palestine, from the area north of the sea of Galilee, and from the area east of the Jordan River, too.

Except – how did the people who heard these Beatitudes feel? Did they have hope? Did they need healing? Our Lord Jesus had been spending a lot of time healing people. Remember, He was getting quite the reputation already as a miracle-worker. So, yes. He was ministering to many, many people’s physical needs.

Jesus had been spending a lot of time healing people. I don’t know about you, but when I reflect on the Rabbi Jesus’ public ministry, I can’t help but see His first disciples as not only His students in the way of God’s kingdom, but they needed to be good at crowd control. Seriously, any person who had the reputation that Jesus did would have been mobbed wherever He went! It would only make sense in today’s world that such an important, high-profile person – healer – an in-demand preacher and teacher – would have staff, and assistants, and handlers, and be really difficult for common folks to reach and talk to.

Have you ever tried to talk to someone really important and high-profile? Or, get a few minutes of their time? Imagine going through a secretary or administrative assistant. I’ve met with administrators and presidents on college or seminary campuses, and that was difficult enough! I cannot imagine how difficult it probably is to meet with someone really big, like the CEO of a multi-national corporation or the owner of a major league sports team or a high-profile media personality.

Except, Jesus wasn’t like that. Our Lord Jesus when He was here on the earth was accessible to anyone. He recognized that the people surrounding Him had broken hearts and unsteady hope. They needed healing in so many ways. One important way for these dear people to receive care from Jesus was to hear His teaching about healing and hope. That is why the Rabbi Jesus led them to a mountain in order to preach and teach. (And, I suspect the mountain had an area similar to a natural amphitheater, where Jesus’s voice was naturally amplified.) Plus, mountains are traditionally places that remind people of God’s presence ith them.

We know that sermons are talks meant to teach and to help people grow in their love for and relationship with God. People were so committed to Jesus and His ministry and message that they followed right along to listen to Him and as the expression goes, to sit at His feet.

The Beatitudes are the opening segment in this Sermon on the Mount that Jesus delivers. I’d like to point out that Jesus meant the Beatitudes for different groups of people from this wide crowd He was preaching to! Unexpected individuals, not typical, on the borders or off to one side in the typical congregation. And, Jesus was deliberate in His teaching and preaching. He knew He was being reactionary and unconventional, and that was okay. Our Lord Jesus never shied away from doing and saying reactionary and unconventional things!    

Jesus knew very well that many people in His day had an unclear or incorrect understanding of how to live their lives. Jesus knew they were living with the wrong goal in mind. So, the Rabbi Jesus purposely said unconventional things to shake up the establishment and to show them God’s way of living. Lo and behold, it was the opposite of the way many people understood it to be! [1]

The highlights of the Beatitudes were (and are) granting blessing, hope and healing for those who did not normally receive hope and healing. Jesus purposely turned the spotlight on groups that were dismissed, or glossed over, or ignored, or slighted. We have groups like “the poor in spirit,” “the mourners,” “the meek,” “the merciful,” and “the pure in heart.”  

In raising these disparate, separated people to prominence and granting each one His blessing, our Lord Jesus shows He cares for each and every one listening. No matter what, no matter who. What an inclusive sermon! Leaving no one out! Including many different groups and individuals from all over, from all segments of society, and beyond!

What is more, that wasn’t only just two thousand years ago. Our Lord Jesus is still raising disparate, separated people to prominence. He still proclaims His care and grants His blessing to all, in an inclusive embrace that leaves no one out. Sure, Jesus welcomes faithful, church-going folk! And Christmas-and-Easter church attenders, too! And people who would never darken the door of a house of worship, as well!

Don’t you think Jesus can heal people from the inside out? Don’t you think Jesus can give hope to the hopeless, sight to the spiritually-blind and unstop the ears of those who are stubbornly hearing just their own opinions?

            May our Lord open all of our eyes and ears to the all-inclusive message of the Beatitudes today. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/2-kingdom-life-matthew-5

Believe, Trust, and Love

“Believe, Trust, and Love”

John 3:14-21 – March 14, 2021

            Have you seen the televised sporting events where people in the crowd hold up big signs? These signs have all kinds of messages on them – from super fans supporting their teams to political messages. Sometimes, someone will show a large sign with “John 3:16” printed on it.

John 3:16 – this is one of the dearest and most memorized Bible verses of all time. “For God so loved the world that God gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not die, but have eternal life.”

            Have you thought about what that beloved Bible verse means? I mean, really means?

            Many people have a romanticized idea of love in their minds. With Valentine’s Day so recently celebrated, a month ago, when some think of “love” they think of Cupids and flowers and hearts. Valentine’s Day cards and chocolates in heart-shaped boxes for your sweetheart. This idealized, Hallmark-card conception of “love” is not what the Apostle John mentions here. Not by a long shot!  

            The idea of taking a single Bible verse and displaying it for everyone to see is a tricky proposition. People can run into all kinds of problems and misunderstandings that way. It’s like taking John 3:16 and saying that God’s love is all hearts and flowers, lace and Valentine’s Day wishes – and that is all. This superficial way is not the way to interpret individual Bible verses.

            The most important thing when we consider a single verse from the Bible is to look at the context. Where does it come from? What was happening in the Bible chapter? Was it part of a conversation or discussion? An extended statement or argument?

            John chapter 3 is early in the Rabbi Jesus’s ministry, and He was already gaining wide popularity and even stature for His great Biblical knowledge and understanding. An older man named Nicodemus, a learned teacher and member of the national Jewish ruling council, was so intrigued with Jesus that he snuck away to meet Jesus one night, under cover of darkness.

            During that extended conversation, Nicodemus and Jesus cover several important topics: Moses in the wilderness, how Moses saved the people of Israel, Nicodemus as a leading teacher of Israel, and how to be born from above. It is then that Jesus makes this extraordinary statement: God so loved the world.

            Several of these topics in John 3 have the foundation of belief. We need to believe in order to live. In order to be born from above. In order to have eternal life. Except – belief can be strictly intellectual. It can be cold-hearted and clinical. We can believe in the law of gravity. We can believe in the rules of cleanliness and hygiene for good health. We can believe in the invisible electric current that flows through our walls, enabling us to have electric lights, power for appliances, and power for our computers and cell phones.

            But, this pure, clinical statement of belief – even belief in Jesus’s statement “God so loved the world” – is not necessarily earth-shaking, not deeply emotional, never even reaching down into our very souls.

            If we consider the word “believe” – as used in this verse 3:16, and verse 3:18, too – I do believe in gravity, or electricity. But, is this intellectual belief enough? Will this kind of belief get me through the difficult times, or the painful situations, or those times when you or I cry out in despair to God? Sometimes, cold, pure belief is not enough.

            Another, alternate word that can be used to translate this Greek word for belief, pisteuo, is “trust.” Trust is more immediate, more intimate. Commentator Mark Skinner suggests that we use “trust” instead as we read this verse:  “For God so loved the world that God gave His one and only Son, that whoever trusts in Him shall not die, but have eternal life.”

            “Jesus is asking his hearers to trust that, in him, God has given a gift of love. Jesus urges them to commit themselves to that reality and all it entails. Trust will change a person. God’s love has consequences. How does one merely believe in love, anyway? Trust is riskier. Trusting in another’s love entails surrender.” [1] Trusting God is riskier, too.

            When my children were younger and went to church youth group, several times they had an activity called “trust falls.” This activity is called different things in different youth groups, but it has “trust” as the primary ingredient. The youth group would get in a tight circle, one member would stand in the middle, and then they would fall backwards, trusting the other members of the group to catch them as they fell. Trust taps emotions. Trust takes risks.

            It is difficult to trust that God can see us through, sometimes. More than intellectual belief, do we trust God to be there for us? To walk with us, or sit with us, right by our sides?  

            Some people cannot get past the words “God so loved the world.” If they trust that God loves them, they think God can’t possibly love their awful neighbor. Or the guy who cussed them out in traffic. Or the lady who is always really mean at the store. God can’t possibly love them? God loves the world – except for those people from a certain country overseas. Or, except for those homeless people. Or, except for those people who believe something really weird. Or, well, you get the idea.

            God’s love is extended to each of us. To all of us. “The love of God means blessing and belonging, even when the world around us chooses the way of death and self-interest.” [2] Even when we as fallible humans slip and slide in our trust of God, the Lord will never waver in persistent, caring love for each of us. And, that is a promise that is faithful and true – we have the words of Jesus on it.

For God so loved the world. Even you and even me. Amen.


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/love-among-the-ruins

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

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