Encourage Each Other

“Encourage Each Other” – November 8, 2020

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18

            Today’s lectionary Scripture readings show us more about the times to come. Or, some say, the end times. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we hurried up and got to the end of days and met the Lord in the air? That is exactly what our Scripture reading describes today.

            Here the apostle Paul calms the fears of his Thessalonian church. His former church members are mourning the deaths of some of their congregation, and they wrote to Paul to ask what happened to their friends and loved ones. Where did they go after they died?

            That is a great question! As a hospital chaplain, I was sometimes asked that very question. What happens after we die? Sometimes I’d be asked by a loved one, sitting by the bed of a dying patient. But, sometimes the patient – who had just received the worst news you can possibly receive – would ask me that question, in all sincerity. With all their heart.

            When we are talking about life and death matters, many other things pale in comparison. I have walked the halls in the intensive care unit, or cardiac care, late at night or early in the morning. I have seen loved ones keeping vigil next to patients’ beds. I have hesitated, not wanting to disturb their intimate time with their precious family member. Yet, Paul’s words go straight to the heart of this vital question. What happens when we die?

            Considering our Bible reading today, commentator Scott Hoezee says, “Probably the Thessalonians did not know Jesus’ words from John 11, but if they could hear Jesus telling Martha that ’anyone who believes in me will never die,’ they may have heard that as confirming this idea that being a Christian meant not dying.  Ever.

“And then members of their church started dying.  Funerals were being held after all.  A cloud of painful questions arose: were these people not Christians after all?  Had they had inadequate faith?  If so, how can any of us be sure we are good and faithful enough?  Paul had said it was all faith, all grace, all Jesus.  But is it?  Or, far more darkly, was Paul just wrong?  Is the Gospel a hoax?  Is there no true victory of life over death?[1]

            Again, Paul reminds us: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of humankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

            As I write this sermon, the nation is still on tenterhooks, wondering who the next President of the United States will be. This nation is more divided now than in any time I can remember in recent history. Whoever “wins” will have an extremely difficult next four years in office, with all of the upheaval and dissention in this country. How will we manage to bridge such a cavernous gap? “Regardless of what we read in the headlines, whether or not it goes the way we hoped, how it brings discord, how can there be a place of peace in us, even in the midst of upheaval?” [2] How can we continue to live Godly lives in such a turbulent time?

            Are these not similar to the serious questions that the Thessalonian congregation brought to their pastor Paul? Paul brought words of encouragement and comfort to his former church. Yes, and words of great hope, too! “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

            I am not minimizing the turbulent times we are living through, right now. This past week. These next weeks and months ahead. Yet, I am taking Paul at his word. He tells us to encourage each other with these supremely hopeful words to the Thessalonians.

Yes, we are living through times of great distress and tumult. Yes, many may feel like the mountains are crumbling and falling into the sea, as Psalm 46 tells us. I preached on Psalm 46 just two weeks ago, and we found hope and encouragement through that sermon. This precious psalm also grounds us, always giving space to both feel the turmoil and to have a center of peace, unshaken by the headlines and the prevailing news of the day.

This center of peace is not a forced peace brought on by force of arms or oppression, but a peace that grows from the very nature of the One who rules with justice and joy, our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the peace that passes all understanding, God’s peace that knows no boundaries, no divisions, no human separation or dissention.

Let us visualize, for just a moment, God’s peace that passes all understanding. Now, God’s hope that fills our hopeless and helpless lives and hearts. And now, God’s love that is so all encompassing, it can fill the whole universe. That is one mighty and powerful God.

Yes, Paul tells us to encourage each other with these words.

Alleluia. Amen.


[1] https://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-27a-2/?type=lectionary_epistle

The Center for Excellence in Preaching, resources from Calvin Theological Seminary: Comments & Observations, Textual Points, Illustration Ideas, 2017.

[2] https://www.missioalliance.org/a-nation-waits-seeking-a-center-of-peace/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+missioalliance%2FEQtW+%28Missio+Alliance%29

@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!

Joy Through Difficulty

“Joy Through Difficulty” – August 9, 2020

Phil 1-12 advance Gospel

1:21-27 (1:21, 27)

When bad things happen to you, how do you react? What about when really unpleasant things continue to go wrong – what then? Do you feel down in the dumps? Depressed and anxious? What about your general attitude towards life – is that affected, too? Who am I kidding? Of course our whole lives are affected.

What about the apostle Paul and his attitude? The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the believers in Philippi as a thank you note, and a whole lot more. But, let’s take a look at Paul’s immediate situation? Where was he as he wrote this letter?

Let’s look more closely at verses 12 and 13: “12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” Wow! We can see, right here, that Paul was locked up, in prison.

That would be an awful situation for most people – in fact, for just about anybody! However, I know that Paul was repeatedly locked up, thrown in prison, put into stocks, beaten on a number of occasions with rods or with a whip – and I could go on. Paul himself tells us about many of these difficult situations that happened to him in 2 Corinthians, too.

During this sermon series, we will highlight Paul’s focus on joy! Again and again, Paul mentions either “joy” or “rejoice.” We know that Paul was considered a saint, and he traveled a great distance as a missionary. Plus, he certainly had perseverance. Even what some call stubbornness. And, he let his abundant joy shine through.

If we try to compare ourselves to Paul, some might say, “I’m no saint! At least, not like St. Paul! He was a real saint, and extraordinary missionary, and powerful pastor.”

Scripture – the Holy Spirit – couldn’t be talking to me through this verse…or, could it?

Sure, we see Paul in these verses, in prison, locked up. He is in chains, chained to a Roman soldier, and still, he’s joyful with the joy of Christ! What on earth…?

You and I may not be in as dire circumstances as Paul’s, but, surely there are some lessons to be learned from Paul. How can we imitate him, today? What can we do to show God’s joy to everyone, despite difficulties and big challenges in our own lives? I’m glad you asked.

Sometimes life does get particularly rough. You and I know that. Maybe really difficult times have hit my family or yours. Maybe we know friends or acquaintances who have dealt with similar challenging situations. You know these things as soon as I mention them. Serious accidents or horrifying diseases? What about when death hits close to home – repeatedly? What about natural disasters, fires, floods? Or, God forbid, armed conflict? And, what if our family has a member in the same place as the apostle Paul, in prison? What do we do then? How do we keep the joy of God front and center in our lives?

In case we haven’t noticed before, Christ is a big deal to the apostle Paul. Jesus Christ is the reason that Paul is now imprisoned. Christ is not just a sideline or an afterthought. Paul has not stopped talking about the claims of Christ even in prison. He has that deep of a relationship with Jesus Christ that he wants everyone to be similarly related to Him.

Do we – you and I – have that kind of deep, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ? And if not, why not?

I’d like everyone to imagine. And as I said last week, you can close your eyes here if it helps you to imagine. Think of your best friend. I mean, your best, best friend, whether you two are still in touch, or whether you haven’t seen each other for years and years. Is everyone thinking of that special relationship? That relationship is as close as the one with our Lord Jesus.

At least, Jesus dearly wants that very special relationship with each of us.

We know Paul already praised his friends for being partners in preaching the Good News of God. Moreover, “Paul writes from prison (Phil 1:7, 13-14, 17), uncertain whether he will die (verses 19-20), hoping only that “Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death” (verse 20). The circumstances have not dampened Paul’s joy (see 1:18; 3:1a; 4:4, 10). Perhaps [the circumstances] have even clarified his focus.” [1]

How can we have that dearly close relationship with our Lord Jesus, too? What can clarify our focus?

Paul tells us again and again that we are not to be focused inwardly, not to be focused on ourselves. Our call is to be focused in an outward direction. Think of others. Do things for others. Tell others about Christ, and how much a relationship with God can change their lives. Has that relationship changed your life? As we live out the Gospel – the Good News – in our lives, that is the absolute best invitation we could possibly have for others who have not heard about the close relationship our Lord Jesus wants to have with them.

There is an added bonus, too. “The Lord’s people who are discouraged will see our faith in God in the midst of trials and be encouraged to trust God and bear witness for Him.” [2]

Let’s all pray that we can have this incredibly close friendship with Jesus Christ, not only for the sake of others, but especially for us! As we are drawn closer to God, vertically, others around us see our lives shining like a bright light. Then, we can tell many about the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord. Is there anything better than that? Paul doesn’t think so. God will be pleased, too! Go! Do! Think of others more than of yourselves, in the name of Christ. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3431

Commentary, Philippians 1:21-30, Troy Toftgruben, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.  

[2] https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-6-happiness-through-circumstances-or-christ-philippians-112-18

@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!

Rest for the Weary

(I am on vacation this weekend. Thanks to the Rev. John Lewis of The Presbyterian Church of Hamilton, Ohio for preaching for me at St. Luke’s Church!

This is a sermon from 2008 on the Lectionary passage from Matthew 11:28-30.)

“Rest for the Weary” – July 6, 2008

Matt 11-28 rest, bench

Matthew 11:28-30

I was born here in the city. My parents were born here, too, in Chicago. I have only a vague idea of what goes on in the country, on a farm. My information about farming activity comes chiefly from material I have read, and a bit from stories I have been told. By my father-in-law, for example, who grew up on a small farm in southeastern Iowa during the 1930’s.

So, when I read a scripture passage like the one we have before us today, I have to take a really close look at it, and work hard at fully understanding it, because I am not that familiar with oxen, or yokes. But burdens—I am familiar with burdens. And our Lord Jesus talks about burdens here in this reading from the Gospel of Matthew.

Burdens come in all assorted shapes and sizes. Burdens can be solitary things, with each of us, on our own, struggling with our separate burdens. It is difficult indeed for me to carry a burden on my own. And I am heavily laden. Let’s face it. We are all burdened with something. Perhaps several things. A few of us carry a lot of heavy difficulties, whether psychological, emotional, or physical. These all can be heavy burdens, to be sure.

If I thought I was having problems before, I did not even consider this next complication: I am naturally separated from other people here in this world. Just as much, if not more, I am also separated from God above. I not only have a wall of isolation separating me from other people, I also have that same isolating wall separating me from God.

The Bible has a name for this horrible wall of isolation, and this name is sin. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 3:23, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The verse is not that a few have sinned. It does not say that some have sinned. The letter to the Romans says that all have sinned. So that wall of isolation has been erected between me and God, and me and other individuals. And that wall is there for you, too.

Think of different kinds of loads: burdens of pain and suffering, burdens of loneliness and isolation, burdens of other kinds of losses. If we think about it, on top of the other burdens that each of us is carrying is the burden of sin.

So, not only is each one of us separated from God and from our fellow human beings, but each of us is heavily burdened by countless other things. And I could imagine lots of people getting virtual hernias, because they are carrying their burdens all by themselves.

The truly good news is that we do not have to bear these burdens all alone, any more. Our Lord Jesus has reconciled us to God. Each of us is no longer separated, isolated. But Jesus brings us back into a proper, friendly relationship with God. Each of us has the opportunity to be called a child of God.

And Jesus not only reconciles each of us back to God, this is where He mentions the yoke. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

What is a yoke, anyway? How does it work? What does it do?

You all remember that I am a city girl. From my reading, I have found out that a yoke is used by a farmer to harness two animals—often oxen—to a piece of farm equipment, usually a plow. Yokes were made of wood. When the yoke was made, it was adjusted, so that it would not chafe. And the significant thing about this is that a yoke was custom-fitted to the particular ox that pulled with it.

Jesus mentions a yoke here. Remember, all of these people Jesus was talking to understood about farm life, and oxen, and especially about a good fit on a yoke. So when or Lord Jesus mentions “My yoke is easy,” He means that His yoke for each one of us fits us very well—it’s tailor-made, in other words. And even more important, one ox alone does not pull in a yoke. The load would be unbalanced if there were only one ox. Instead, each of us is in a team . . . in a yoked team with Jesus. If our Lord is right with us, pulling at our burden—whatever it is—at our side, then each of us is on a winning team.

Just imagine. I no longer need to pull at my burdens all by myself, isolated and alone. Jesus is right there next to me, helping me, pulling by my side. Praise God! Jesus comes alongside each one of us. Jesus is there to encourage us. And He will bring rest for our souls. Is there any better news than this best of all Good News?

Alleluia, amen.

@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!

Together with Christ

“Together with Christ”

John 14-3 prepare a place, words

John 14:1-7 (14:3-4) – May 10, 2020

When I was in middle school and high school, I attended a Girl Scout camp in Wisconsin for several years. I vividly remember the girls who got so homesick while they were there. Several really missed home, and needed lots of TLC, tender loving care, for a few days. Have you ever been homesick? Can you relate to the frightened, heartsore feelings of these girls?

I don’t remember being homesick, but I can remember feeling scared at camp. I can remember being really scared on other occasions, too. I wonder if the disciples got scared while they traveled with the Rabbi Jesus from place to place? From what we know about Him, Jesus was an itinerant Rabbi, with no real home, no place to call home base.

What must that have been like, not having anywhere to call home? The Rabbi Jesus and His followers, His disciples kept moving from place to place. Different people react to being on the road a lot in different ways. It can be stressful and cause people considerable anxiety.

Added to that, all of the disciples knew very well that their Rabbi was not viewed positively by many Jewish leaders. Repeatedly, prominent Jewish teachers and lawyers had argued with Jesus. A group of leaders actively opposed this upstart Rabbi with the radical ideas and preaching, even if Jesus was a miracle worker.

The situation when the band of disciples entered Jerusalem must have been tense, to be sure. That Passover dinner on that Thursday night was not the most comfortable, I imagine. Yet, what does our Lord Jesus say to His disciples at that meal? How does He deal with this tense situation? Jesus says, “Don’t be worried! Have faith in Me!”

Have faith? Don’t worry? Listen, Jesus, Your friends have been on the road with You for many months. They are tired, they are tense, they have no home base to go back to. What do You mean, saying to them, Have faith and don’t worry!? Isn’t that expecting a lot from these guys? Isn’t that expecting a lot from us, Your followers today?

The next words are nothing but reassurance, comfort. He says, “There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this unless it was true. I’m going to prepare a place for you. And if I go, I will come back and take you with Me. And then, we will be together.” Total reassurance and comfort. Jesus encourages His disciples just as much as He encourages us.

However—Jesus’s disciples just don’t understand. They can’t get their minds around the metaphor Jesus is using. They mistake His reference to a heavenly house to a real, geographical space. Thomas—who likes concrete explanations, remember—asks for exact directions to plug into his GPS. [1]        How often are we like Thomas?

How often do we need (or want) exact directions, or latitude and longitude, or a detailed list of bullet-pointed things to do? And how often are we told by Jesus that we already know the way? We know Jesus, who is the Way. Precisely because Thomas knows Jesus—precisely because we know Jesus—we cannot become irrevocably lost.

Last week was Good Shepherd Sunday. We talked about the psalm for that week, Psalm 23. I can see definite tie-ins for that beloved psalm with this week’s Gospel reading, as well. Who does not relate to the idea of God shepherding us when we are lost? Who yearns for God to spread a feast in front of us, and to welcome us to the Good Shepherd’s heavenly home?

This week is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Today is also Mother’s Day, traditionally celebrated on the second Sunday of May. This heartwarming adaptation of Psalm 23 is not only a reminder of that beloved psalm, but also a celebration of mothers.

It was written by Laurie Hays Coffman, and is called A Child Learns to Trust. [2] It says:

“My Mom is my shepherd; I shall not want. She makes me lie down under cool, downy comforters. She watches me play beside still waters. She restores my soul. She leads me in paths of respect, responsibility, and goodness, for I am her namesake! Yea, even though I walk past monsters in the dark, I will not be scared, because my mom is always near me. Her hands and her voice, they comfort me. Mama sets the table and cheerfully calls me to dinner even in front of big, mean bullies. She anoints my skinned knees and broken heart with kisses. She smiles and throws me a towel when my cup runneth over. Surely God’s peace, power, and mercy shall uphold me all the days of my life, for my Mother taught me to dwell in the house of God forever.

Yes, this is an imaginative way to think of Psalm 23. And, this adaptation gets across several of the same ideas that Jesus communicated to His disciples at that Passover dinner, too.

Do we take Jesus’s word as true? Even though it’s an anxious time right now, do we trust Jesus to carry us and remain with us—walk with us, even through the dark valleys?

We are in uncharted territory right now, quarantined, apart from each other. Can we hold on to Jesus’s promise that between now and whenever we are all together again, Jesus is showing us the way? His way! Yes, we may walk through dark places and shadowy spaces now, but Jesus our Good Shepherd stays right by our side.

Jesus also said He’d prepare a place for us—a room for us in His Heavenly Father’s house. Jesus assured us we would be reunited with Him at that heavenly banquet. What a celebration that will be! Jesus said so. We can count on it. Praise the name of Jesus!

 

@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!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3218

David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

[2] https://www.desperatepreacher.com/mothersday.htm

We Know the Ending!

“We Know the Ending!”

Isa 65-17 new-heavens-new-earth

Isaiah 65:17-19 – November 17, 2019

Who likes to watch movies? I’m thinking in particular of scary movies. There’s the plucky heroine, the brave protagonist, the encouraging older character actor, the quirky supporting actor. I bet you recognize these typical parts of the horror movie formula. And, have you ever found yourself yelling at the screen, “Don’t go down in the creepy basement!” or “Don’t go up to the scary attic!” You and I could almost guess what was coming, couldn’t we? Many of them are so formulaic we already know the ending.

In the scripture reading from the end of Isaiah 65, we find out how things are going to end, at the end of all recorded time. It’s the end of the ultimate scary and suspenseful movie. Sure, there is a lot of scary stuff that happens in each of our lives, as well as really sad things and even some overwhelmingly traumatic happenings. But, there is no ultimate surprise ending to the overarching story. We already know the ending. God wins, and the whole world is re-created!

Let’s take a step back. What came before chapter 65 of Isaiah, in the original creation?

We all remember the blessed words of Genesis 1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That was the time of the first creation. God created everything in this world, and God made it all very good. We have God’s word on it – it says so at the end of Genesis 1:31. “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”

The sad—even traumatic—events of Genesis 3 happened so soon afterwards, where the spotless creation was marred by sin, and the whole world was changed, turned topsy-turvy.

Just think—creation, blessed and sanctified by God in the beginning, was indelibly altered, leaving a huge upheaval in the whole order of all created beings and created places. We are still in that in-between time, dealing with the aftermath of Adam, Eve and the apple.

All this fall, I have done a part-time chaplain internship in a busy downtown hospital. There is nothing quite so intense as a critical care unit of a busy hospital to get across the sorrow, agony and mourning of the human experience.

Here at this church last week, we prayed for a senior who was scheduled for a delicate procedure the next day, last Monday. I have not checked up to see how that dear senior is doing now, but there are several serious continuing health issues in this dear one’s life and body. I do not know whether or not there are additional concerns in this situation. All I know is that I promised we would pray for this prayer request for four weeks. That is what I could do for this dear senior, to encourage and come alongside of this dear one.

But, we all are still in the time of the first creation. We all know about that time; still in the time of imperfection, of fallenness, of crying and suffering and sorrow.

I have mentioned Rev. Janet Hunt before. She is a Lutheran pastor in DeKalb. She is dealing with a real-life experience right now, where one of the families in her congregation is reeling from the unexpected news of cancer. This heart-breaking diagnosis affects not only the young person medically affected, but the whole extended family as well.

Rev. Hunt is correct when she says that this loving family has resources, both material and spiritual. They have adequate health insurance, and live near wonderful medical care and excellent hospitals. This youth’s particular medical diagnosis is the most common, and the most treatable form of that hated disease, cancer. And still—and still, Rev. Hunt’s heart breaks “to be living in a world where mothers weep, and dads stand stoic so as to emit a sense of much needed calm, and [young people] try to hold back tears of confusion and fear.” [1]

While here in this flawed world, we groan, and we struggle; we cry and we mourn. Why me, Lord? Why us? Why are there many children and young people in horrible circumstances, both in and out of the hospital? For that matter, why is anyone suffering? Why do bad, negative, even traumatic things happen to good, loving and compassionate people?

Why, Lord? Why, oh why? Please let me know. Please, please, dear Lord, act in all their troubled lives, relational difficulties, and medical situations

As we consider today’s Scripture reading from Isaiah 65, Rev. Hunt says, “I want the world the prophet promises now:

  • Where the sounds of weeping and distress are simply no more.
  • Where little ones (and children) never die and where life is still short when we live to be 100.
  • Where hard work is rewarded with adequate shelter and enough to eat for everyone.
  • Where sworn enemies —- the wolf and the lamb — eat together.

Oh, what a world that would be, will be where not one is hurt or destroyed on God’s holy mountain.” [2] This whole reading incorporates God’s wish for the entire world. When God describes Jerusalem, God means the whole world.

Remember how I started this sermon, talking about scary movies? We wanted to warn the characters of the dangers.  But, what if we have already seen that movie for the second, third, even fifth time when we knew the ending?  Once we knew the ending we sometimes might want to tell the hero not to worry during the scary parts and sometimes want to warn the heroine to be careful when everything is going well.

In our Gospel reading from Luke 21, the disciples ask, “Teacher, when will these [dire, horrible] things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” The Hebrew Scripture readings for this week tell us God’s final ending.  The New Testament readings advise us on how to live until the ending comes. [3] Yes, we could concentrate on the disheartening Gospel reading, and look at all the bad, awful, and even worse things that are going to happen – and even happen right now. However, I wanted to look at God’s truly happily-ever-after ending. Let us all know and look forward to God’s ultimate, Good News ending.

Yes, creation is part of God’s continuing work today, and the continuing reality of the world today. Remember the prophet’s words in verse 65:19, that sorrow and crying will be taken away as God re-creates the world. Never fear – God will wipe away every tear from every eye. No more sorrow! In this reading, we see real celebration! Praise God, we will have joy in the morning on that day! In the words of that joyful gospel song, Soon and very soon!

Isn’t that God’s ultimate Good News? Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://dancingwiththeword.com/new-heavens-new-earth/

[2] http://dancingwiththeword.com/new-heavens-new-earth/

[3] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/10/year-c-proper-28-33rd-sunday-in.html

Worshiping with Children, Proper 28, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

@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!

 

Have Hope in God

“Have Hope in God”

1 John 3-2 like Him, stars

1 John 3:1-3 – November 3, 2019

Some days are everyday days. Ordinary, run-of-the-mill days, days where nothing particularly special happens. Some days are like that. We all are familiar with those kinds of days. But, today is a special day in the life of the Church. Not only in the life of this church on this corner, but in the lives of all churches that observe All Saints Day or All Saints Sunday.

The day for the commemoration of All Saints started only a few hundred years after the beginning of the Church on Pentecost, to remember all the saints who were persecuted as well as the martyrs who had died for their faith. “All Saints Day was established as an opportunity to honor all the saints, known and unknown.[1]

But, what does that have to do with you and me, right here and right now? What about people who are still mourning, and grieving the loss of loved ones who have died? What can this day of remembering and commemoration possibly do for those who mourn and love and long for their loved one who has died?

I lost a dear brother last December, my brother Mike. His photo is on the table with the others, near the altar. Yes, this All Saints Day remembrance is personal for me, today. I think there might be some others here who have a very personal connection, and might even be struggling with their memories. That is the whole reason why we have gathered her today—to remember together, and to lift up these loved ones, along with all of the other friends in Christ who have died. Not only recently, but all throughout the years, throughout the centuries.

Instead of going with one of the primary Bible readings for All Saints Sunday, I felt drawn to an alternate reading, the second reading that Eileen read today. It is just a little, short reading, but it means a great deal to me. I will zero in on one particular verse, 1 John 3:2, where the elderly apostle John says Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  

The elderly John has been traveling around for years—as best as he could—and preaching the Good News of his Master, Jesus Christ. He knows life has been tough for these scattered believers in Christ. So, he encourages them again and again in this letter.

How many people here have gotten discouraged? Perhaps you have been all alone, working at some thankless task. Or, perhaps no one is noticing you, and you feel left out, out in the cold? Or maybe even someone has been bugging you, pestering you for your faith, for standing up for what you believe in? Whatever sad or awkward situation you find yourself in, believe me, the apostles were familiar with a similar situation.

The apostle John was writing to some friends who had been dealing with some very difficult things, including the loss of some of their own congregation, their loved ones and friends. John specifically wants to lighten the hearts of his friends with these words.

Have you ever been down, and had someone blithely give you a super-sweet saying and just walk away without even seeing how you reacted to it? Perhaps even a verse of Scripture? I have. I had someone—thirty years ago, now—just breeze up to me and blurt out a verse of Scripture, and toddle away, oblivious that I was really hurting. I was devastated, and he did not notice me at all. He did not notice the true me, standing right there in front of him.

But, the apostle John is not that way at all. John hears the emotions of his friends, and he encourages them. John is honest and up front. He freely admits what he does not know. John does not know how Jesus will appear or what Jesus will be like when He returns. However, what John does know is that when Jesus does return, “we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

I don’t know about you, but this verse gives me comfort. All of it. From John’s honesty in his not knowing, to his assurance that we shall see Jesus in that day, when Jesus returns. I do not know whether God will give us special insight, or whether our eyes will be changed to brand-new heavenly eyes. Regardless, John’s words reach down deep inside of me. John’s words comfort me in my mourning and grieving, and penetrate through my suffering and pain. John’s words encourage my heart, and give me heavenly assurance and hope.

As we remember all the saints, we might think of the “big” saints, like Mother Teresa, or St. Francis of Assisi, or St. John, St. Luke or St. Paul, the apostles. However, I want to remind everyone that Paul in several of his letters refers to all believers as saints. We all are saints, every one of us. Young, old, big, small, believers of every race and kind and way of being.

For the closing hymn today, we will sing a lovely hymn. “A children’s hymn, popular in Great Britain, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” suggests that ordinary people, going about their business, can be saints, that is, revealers of God’s grace whose faithfulness changes the world.” [2]  I suspect that the apostle John would wholeheartedly agree with these words.

I love the letters of John, written in the New Testament. Simple words, simply written, but oh, such profound thoughts! Listen again to verse 2: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

I close with some gentle words from the Rev. Janet Hunt, a Lutheran pastor in DeKalb. She writes for this special day:

May the promise and hope of this All Saints Sunday lift you.

May the music carry you.

May the familiar words hold you, filling you with comfort and confidence.

May the flickering candles remind you of the light Christ is and ever shall be: a light which we, in turn, hold and carry and pass along.

Oh, may the mystery of promise and hope and grace surround you and fill you.

And may you have at least a moment when you can simply stand still and receive all that God has for you. [3]

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/christianyear/all-saints-day/

[2] https://www.patheos.com/resources/additional-resources/2010/10/remembering-all-saints

Remembering All Saints, Bruce Epperly, Patheos, 2010.

[3] http://dancingwiththeword.com/all-saints-sunday-standing-still-in-the-mystery/ 

@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!

Anxious About Anything?

Anxious About Anything?

Phil 4-6 don't worry

Philippians 4:4-9 (4:6) – September 2, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Worry. Anxiety. Fear. These are natural emotions, and so common to our human experience! When we are on edge, lonely, filled with anxious thoughts—our minds can play funny games. Some people can think frightening or isolating thoughts. We often talk—or think—ourselves into things that cannot be true. Sometimes we talk—or think—ourselves out of things that are absolutely true. [1]

The Apostle Paul understood about worry, anxiety and fear. When he wrote this letter to the believers in the city of Philippi, he was imprisoned in Rome. Prison in the first century was not at all like the functional, barred jail cells we might think of today, when we consider American prisons. Whether in prison today or 2000 years ago, being in prison must be an awful thing. I have never been in prison. I’ve never been arrested. Several of my friends and acquaintances have, though, and I understand it can be a very frightening experience indeed.

Except, the Apostle Paul was not your normal prisoner. He was a Roman citizen. What’s more, in his first imprisonment, he was allowed to remain confined in a private apartment, although chained and shackled to a Roman soldier as guard. Paul mentions his chains and being confined in this letter to the Philippians.

This scary predicament of Paul’s would probably cause most people a great deal of fear and anxiety. Wouldn’t you be afraid, to be chained and shackled to a Roman soldier? They were no joke military men. Not playing. Not even close. And, it was worth the soldiers’ lives, being responsible for a prisoner and keeping him under close custody. Like I said, serious business.

So, what on earth did Paul mean when he said “Do not be anxious!”

Probably few people here have been arrested or put in prison. However, everyone here knows what it’s like to be anxious and fearful. Let’s take finances. How many here have wondered if their money would last until the next paycheck? What about grocery bills? What about unexpected car repairs? Or, house repairs, like a plumber or washing machine repair?

Let’s talk about health, or lack of it. If not for you, then a loved one. Any broken bones or sudden falls? What about an emergency operation? Or a routine procedure suddenly made much more complicated by the unexpected? What about loved ones with recurring mental health issues? Doesn’t that put a great deal of additional stress on the whole family?

Speaking about our families, what about our loved ones? What if something happens in one of their lives? Fights can get particularly nasty, turning into long-held grudges. What about children or grandchildren? Will they be able to go to school? Go to college? Get a job? Avoid drugs and alcohol, and keep to the straight and narrow?

Paul has an answer to growing anxiety, fear and worry: he says to pray! Listen to verse 6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Wait a minute, Paul! That sounds an awful lot like the tricks Jesus used to pull, when He told His disciples to do something that was next to impossible. How on earth are we supposed to keep that fear, worry and anxiety away? I have heard an old expression: “Worry about nothing; pray about everything.” But, how does that work, exactly?

Some might think they need to do everything themselves, with no assistance. Sort of like a big home improvement project. A huge do-it-yourself project. What’s more, if those same people go to YouTube and look online, they will see handy handymen and handywomen doing amazing things to their homes, all by themselves. But, it very rarely works that way in real life.

If you go to the home improvement mega-stores, you’ll find lots of helpful employees, ready to give advice about all kinds of improvement activities. Except—you don’t need to do it all alone. In fact, there are helpful people to come alongside you and give encouragement and moral support, and even assistance.

Commentator Alyce McKenzie writes, “There are other things that I might be able to do but that it would be so much better to have someone else do. We had a bad storm in our area a few weeks ago. The result is that lots of houses in our neighborhood have to have their roofs redone. Could I do this? It is humanly possible, I suppose, but we are hiring a roofing company that knows what they are doing.” [2]

The apostle Paul could have done this prayer thing all on his own. Except—he had some good friends present with him while he was in captivity in Rome. Dr. Luke was one of Paul’s faithful companions. I suspect they prayed together regularly; Aristarchus was another friend, and probably Tychicus, too. Plus, Paul also mentions a number of others in Rome who came to faith in Jesus Christ. One or two, or perhaps even more of these unknown friends came to see Paul, and to pray with him, for the many months while he awaited his trial.

Alas, along with Dr. McKenzie, I am afraid I might not have the faith. I might be anxious and fearful anyway. As she said, I can psyche myself up in other areas of life. But I need God to bring peace to my soul.” [3]

Just like Dr. McKenzie, I wish Paul had reversed the order of this verse and written it like this instead: “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and then you will receive the gift of not worrying about anything.”

Oh, it is so difficult for me to train my heart and not worry or be anxious about things. Things that go bump in the night. Things that are scary, or irritating, or anxiety-producing. Things that can even frighten us to death. Our attitude is often exactly the opposite of the way Paul encourages us to be. Paul wants us to hear: “’Live without anxiety because God cares for you.’ In Philippians 4…the peace of God that comes through prayer counters anxiety because it ‘guards believers’ thoughts and hearts in Christ.’” [4]

The people of Philippi would have understood what it was like to have a guard watching over their thoughts and hearts. There was a Roman garrison in Philippi, so this was a familiar image to them. The Philippians could rejoice—just as we rejoice—because prayer can guard our hearts and minds. Each moment of each day, “in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,” we can present our requests to God. And, we can help each other, support and encourage each other, as we pray.

Requests, joys, concerns, whatever is on our hearts, God wants us to bring these prayers to the throne of grace. “This is the peace of God Paul proposes as an alternative to anxiety. The Philippians are not called to imitate the peace of Christ, but to accept the gift of that peace being offered to them by the Grace of God, accessed through the habit of prayer.” [5]

Verse 4:7 is almost a benediction: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Hear the words of the apostle Paul today: the gift of God’s peace is offered to all of us, despite fear and worry. We all can live without anxiety, because God cares deeply for each one of us today. Yes, now, and forever. Amen!

[1] Ivaska, David, Be Not Afraid (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 123.

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

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

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

@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!)

Jonathan Encourages David

“Jonathan Encourages David”

be not afraid, words

1 Samuel 23:14-18 (23:17) – July 1, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Running for your life. Always in hiding, always on the look-out. It’s what psychological specialists in trauma and similar mental challenges call hyper-vigilance. I suspect, if we think about it, we can come up with a situation where either a person we know or people who are familiar to us have been worried, afraid, looking over their shoulders, if not on the run.

This is similar to the situation David was in, for many months, on the run in the wilderness of Judah.

But, let’s back up a bit. The strong, young David—charismatic leader of men—was the hero of Israel. Young, good-looking, he had walked onto the field of battle and won in single-handed combat with the mighty warrior Goliath the Philistine champion. Everyone in Israel praised David, up-and-coming rising star in the court of Israel. Men looked up to him, women adored him. (Apparently, he was really attractive.) His name was on everyone’s lips. What was not to like about David?

We must not forget about the other important part of David’s story. He been anointed while still a teenager to become king by the aging prophet Samuel. That means, David would take the place of King Saul. Except, King Saul was still king. Awkward!  

At first, King Saul thought David was a good guy to have around the palace. Plus, David had some skill with the harp, so he could soothe the king when the king was depressed and out of sorts. Then, to add to all of this, David and Jonathan, King Saul’s oldest son and heir, became close friends.

Imagine your best friend. I mean, your best-best friend, closer to you than even the closest members of your own family. That was David and Jonathan. Best friends forever.

King Saul probably had some uncertainty and insecurity in his life, even though he was the king of Israel. We can read about the several times that the king displayed his irritation and even outright hatred for David. Eventually, middle-aged King Saul’s anger and jealousy at the younger, good-looking, charismatic David boiled over. He sent his loyal soldiers after David. Yes, to kill him.

So, the powerful king of your country is seriously jealous, and hopping mad at you. What do you do? Run, of course. Make yourself scarce.

We see several reasons for people to be on the run from powerful leaders. Yes, politics may play a part in this. War and conflict might also figure in. Power and control are also important possibilities in any severe disagreement. And with Saul, his violent anger against David was definitely more personal.

For several chapters in 1 Samuel, we can read about the adventures of David. Life-and-death adventures, too. If Saul’s soldiers had ever caught up to David, the situation would mean death for David.

Sure, David had been playing cat-and-mouse with the king’s soldiers for months.           As commentator Bob Deffinbaugh said, “David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. …The full weight of Saul’s pursuit and its implications seems to bear down on him. Perhaps weary in both body and spirit, David is greatly distressed to hear that, once again, King Saul is nearby, fully intent on killing him. There is ample evidence to show that if given the chance, Saul will do so.” [1]

We see that King Saul decided to go out into the wilderness and eradicate David once and for all. We also know that David and Saul’s son Jonathan are best friend, even though it had been many months since they had seen each other. What a wonderful friend to have, even taking his life in his hands. That’s what it meant for Jonathan to risk visiting David, in the wilderness.

What kind of stress and trauma must David have been going through? Let’s read from 1 Samuel again: “While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that[a] Saul had come out to take his life. 16 And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.”

This is one reason why it’s so important for us to see how Jonathan encouraged David, even though both friends must have felt extremely pressured. David had been on the run for many months, and his psychological state could only have been one of extreme trauma!

When these two dear friends finally meet, what the first things Jonathan does? Helps his dear friend to find strength in God.  If you are alone and struggling to keep your head above water, no matter what challenges or difficulties are coming your way, having a dear friend come alongside of you to encourage you can make all the difference.

Of course, David was in extreme difficulty. Running for your life from the king’s best crack troops must have been both mentally and physically exhausting. Having the king’s oldest son and heir as your best friend must have added a layer of challenge to the whole mess.

What does Jonathan lead off with? “Be not afraid!” He reminds David that all Israel knows that the prophet Samuel has anointed him to be king after Saul, and says that he—Jonathan—will be his right-hand man. All of which must have been a great comfort and encouragement to David. They two dear friends renew their covenant, and then Jonathan has to leave. I suspect David has to continue to elude the king’s troops, too.

Our situations and challenges today are not as dire as David’s horrible predicament. However, God continues to speak. God continues to encourage and lift up hearts, even through great trials and tribulations. Are you having troubles and difficulties in your life today? God is there, and ever present help in times of trouble and need.

Just as David’s best friend Jonathan was there to encourage him through the deep dark times, God can bring friends alongside of us, too. Friends can speak words of encouragement and trust to us, like “Be not afraid!”

Are you someone’s best friend? Is your best friend going through difficulties, pain, even trauma right now? Can you come alongside of your friend and encourage their hearts today? Consider your part. The Lord might be calling you to be that friend, today, or tomorrow.

What a ministry, that of being an encourager. What a kindness, and what a service to others. Whether you are the one who could use a friend, or whether you are the one called to be such a friend, remember David and Jonathan. Best friends forever. An encouragement, finding mutual strength in God.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/20-friend-indeed-1-samuel-2315-29 Bob Deffinbaugh 

@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!)

Encourage, Nurture and Communicate

Luke 18:15-17 (18:16), Mark 10:13-16 – August 6, 2017

Luke 18-16 Jesus, children, stained glass

“Compassion: Encourage, Nurture and Communicate”

Encourage, nurture and communicate. These are three strong action words! Why on earth do I have these three verbs, or action words, as the title of my sermon today? Especially in the middle of a summer sermon series on compassion?

Our gospel reading is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 18. This is a situation where the disciples are being really thick-headed. By forbidding young children and babies to get close to “their” Rabbi Jesus, the disciples are definitely not being compassionate. In fact, this is an unkind and unfeeling act. Sadly, we know this kind of unkind, unfeeling behavior is typical of the disciples on much more than one occasion. It might even be typical of followers of Jesus today—this behavior may be even typical of people we know in our own neighborhoods.

Encourage, nurture and communicate. Those are action words that sound like Jesus. What’s more, I suspect the disciples might chase us away from Jesus if we act in that way, too. Encouraging others; nurturing and communicating to others, in love and friendship, showing others the love of Jesus. Are the disciples really so thick-headed and dense that Jesus has to rebuke them? I am afraid so.

We are going to go back two months, to the middle of June. In the Wednesday midweek bible study, we took the opportunity to begin crafting a revised mission statement for St. Luke’s Church. Using the excellent book The Path by Laurie Beth Jones, the bible study members and I went through a series of exercises and steps to winnow through the different types of words and phrases which might often be listed in mission statements.

Our first puzzle piece in the revised mission statement was to find some action words, or strong verbs, that describe what we as a church have been doing among ourselves in the past, and what we wish to do in the present for those inside and outside the church, for outreach.

In other words, we focused on our church’s unique gifts and background, on our passion. What are we passionate about, as a church? If our mission holds no passion, we won’t go much of anywhere. The word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek words “en” and “theos,” which mean “in God.” What are we enthusiastic or “in God” about? [1]

Let us take another look at our Gospel reading for today. What were the people in our Gospel text for today excited about? Reading from Luke 18: “15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them.” The parallel passage in Mark also mentions people bringing “young children” to Jesus.

Do you hear? Parents and even grandparents were excited to have the Rabbi Jesus place His hands on their children. They wanted Jesus to bless their children! That’s what they were passionate about! That’s what they were enthusiastic about!

How can we—as a family of faith—take what most excites us and use it to change things in our neighborhood—in the nation—in the world?

Every mission requires action. Action words are verbs. The bible study looked at a long list of action verbs. We kept our church and what we are good at in mind, and, what we wanted to see our church do in this neighborhood, too. We figured out the three most meaningful, purposeful and exciting verbs out of over 200 action words that referred specially to our particular church and what we are good at. That is puzzle piece number one.

And, yes. That is where encourage, nurture and communicate fit in. These action words are the words we chose as meaningful, purposeful and exciting words for St. Luke’s mission.

Turning back to our Gospel reading for today, we need to examine the thick-headed disciples and their hasty halt to the babies and children who wanted to come to Jesus. What were the mistakes the disciples made? How can we do better, today?

Let’s take our three action words. I would like to ask you: can we as a congregation encourage people to come to Jesus? Can we encourage children, young people, adults and seniors to come to Jesus? Our second action word is nurture. Can we nurture each other in the love of God within this church building? How about nurturing others who are not in this family of faith? And third, we can all communicate God’s love, every day. Not only within the church, but outside. On the street. In our homes. To everyone we meet.

To continue with the story of how we built the mission statement piece by piece, the bible study examined what we stand for, as a congregation—as a family of faith. What principle, cause, value or purpose would we be willing to defend…devote our lives to? For example, some people’s key phrase or value might be “joy” or “service” or “justice” or “family” or “creativity” or “freedom” or “equality” or “faith” or “excellence.” What is St. Luke’s Church’s CORE? What is the most fundamental value/purpose for St. Luke’s Church?

Again, we went through a whole list of meaningful and worthwhile phrases and values. The bible study talked about a few of the ones we found most important, and came up with three finalists: integrity, faith and welcome. This is puzzle piece number two in our mission statement.

What exciting possibilities are open to us, as a congregation?  Someone asked Laurie Beth “What if I come up with the wrong mission statement?” When she asked him what his current mission statement was, he didn’t have one. She told him, “Well, whatever you come up with will be 100 % more accurate than the one you have right now.” A good mission statement will be inspiring, exciting, clear, and engaging. It will be specific to our congregation and our particular enthusiasms, gifts, and talents. [2]

Let’s go back to the thick-headed disciples, who just did not get what Jesus was trying to get across to them. As Luke mentions, “15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.” Can you imagine a follower of Jesus kicking someone out of the youth group? Or telling someone they are not welcome in a bible study or a men’s breakfast? Or, at service on Sunday morning? Can you imagine someone at our church doing something like that?

This is one big reason why integrity, faith and welcome were so important to our mission statement. We considered integrity, faith and welcome to be St. Luke’s Church’s CORE, or the most fundamental value or purpose for St. Luke’s Church.

Which brings us to puzzle piece number three. Who is important to us, as a family of faith? Which group or cause excites us? Who do we want to come alongside? We in the bible study chose three groups that we most want to reach, or feel the most empathy for. We can impact these in a positive, meaningful way: children, families and individuals.

What was our Lord Jesus’s response to the disciples? “Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Jesus valued children and young people. Society as a whole did not think very much of children at all. Certainly not in His time, and not so much in ours, either. Worldwide, the position of children and young people is not high—especially of pre-teen and teenage girls, and women, too.

It is imperative that St. Luke’s Church reaches out with the Love of God to children, families and women, too.

How can we reach out in love, to those inside the church, and out?  Reach out with God’s Love, that overarching, undergirding base, the end-all and be-all to everything? We can reach out through loving words and actions, good works, food pantries and other service projects.

Jesus had a compassionate, one-sentence mission statement, which He states in Luke 19:10. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” That is what He gave His entire life to. St. Luke’s Church’s compassionate mission statement is: to ENCOURAGE, NURTURE and COMMUNICATE in INTEGRITY, FAITH and WELCOME to children, families and individuals through loving words/actions, good works, food pantries and other service projects.

Are we serious about our mission? God willing, we shall be. Now, go and do likewise. Encourage, nurture and communicate God’s love in integrity, faith and welcome. To everyone we meet.

 

[1] The Path, Laurie Beth Jones, (New York, NY: Hachette Books), 49.

[2] The Path, Laurie Beth Jones, (New York, NY: Hachette Books), 64.

@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!)

Generous With Our Hearts

“Generous With Our Hearts”

Jesus heals son of royal official John 4

John 4:50 – March 22, 2015

Important people are just that—important! Ever try to see one, face to face? Sometimes we go through a receptionist, or an administrative assistant. Make several telephone calls, or emails, and confirm the appointment? It can be really difficult, just getting the attention, being squeezed into the schedule of a very important person.

That’s the situation we are faced with in our scripture reading today. The two main characters are a royal official, a very important person. He was reputed to be important—a big man, regionally known. And, the Rabbi Jesus. Let me remind everyone again: this was the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the area around Galilee, so Jesus was not very widely known, yet.

Can we compare this VIP situation to any parallels today? Do we know any very important people, in our workplaces, neighborhoods or schools? How about a school principal? A very busy person! What about our town’s mayor, or the local state representative? Again, really important people. What about your company’s president, or CEO? These all are people who pull a lot of weight, who have a great deal of responsibility.

Let’s go back to this reading from the Gospel of John. The royal official here in Chapter 4 has a big problem. He has a sick son. A really sick son. No matter how important the official was, he was a father, at the same time. And his son was really sick.

How about important people, today? A school principal, a town mayor or local state representative? A company’s president? Sure, each of them might pull a lot of weight and shoulder a great deal of responsibility. But—each of them has loved ones. Any of the loved ones may very well get sick. And sometimes, get really sick. What the Gospel writer tells us about this royal official is that he was a very concerned parent. A good, loving parent.

Those of us who are parents or grandparents or uncles or aunts know about the anguish and pain of having a sick relative. Especially, a sick child. This congregation knows the concern and the time and the many, earnest prayers that have been offered for loved ones from our church. In the year that I have been here, I can think of several, including our miracle big boy, L! And, Sunny’s friend B. These children’s parents and other loved ones went all out to get help for their dear children.

This royal official in our reading today is no different. He was so concerned about his son! The Gospel reading states that the ailing son was close to death. The father dropped everything! Everything in his very busy, very important schedule! The official took the time to seek out Jesus, and travel for a whole day, way out of his way, to beg for this man’s help.

Let’s focus on Jesus, for a moment. A miracle-worker, Jesus is called. Here He is, back in His home town. Still in the area where there were people who knew Jesus’ family. I would like to remind everyone—in verse 44, “Jesus Himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in His own country.” Jesus had been welcomed back into the area after He turned the water into wine, but many people remembered Him as the boy and young man He once had been, before He became a Rabbi.

Plus, I suspect certain people merely wanted more miracles. Many just wanted to see a dog-and-pony show, and ooh and ahh over the flash and dazzle, the miracles, the signs from God.

What about this royal official? This very important man from Capernaum? Even though he may have—initially—scoffed at the reports of Jesus doing miracles, especially turning water to wine, by this point he is desperate. He dropped everything and traveled for a whole day to come and see Jesus! He had a genuine need—that is, his son was close to death. He begs and pleads for Jesus to accompany him back to Capernaum.

Today, so many of us have friends who are sick, or loved ones in the hospital or rehab centers, or at home. Sure, our world is broken. As our friends from the website #40acts mention, no one is exempt from pain and sorrow. Many, many people become ill, some chronically, even permanently ill. Death is an integral part of the human experience. We all are born. We all die. As my acquaintance Rabbi Joe said, “We all have an expiration date.”

Yet, this royal official had hope! This royal official came rushing up to Jesus. Can you just see their encounter? Perhaps in the middle of the street, or in the town marketplace.

We might think Jesus’ response is out of left field. What? What is He talking about? “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told the official, “you will never believe.” One of the most interesting parts about this response is how Jesus says it. In Greek, the word “you” is plural. Let me say it again, a bit more colloquially. “Unless y’all-people see signs and wonders, y’all will never believe.” Now, I think Jesus made this statement in a public place, with a bunch of people around. He wasn’t just talking to the official. No! Jesus was addressing a group. Y’all.

We see the official begging. He pleads with Jesus to come with him, to heal his sick son. “Sir, come with me before my child dies.” This very important person is a father with a genuine need, a father whose heart is breaking with worry and anxiety about his son. And Jesus? His internal compass always turns toward those whose hearts are breaking. Jesus’ response to the official? “Go. Your son will live.”

The official was able—through the veil of great worry and anxiety over his son—to really hear Jesus’ words. Moreover, this father was able to take Jesus at His word and go home. He may have been wondering exactly who Jesus was. A prophet? “Did Jesus hear a message from God that my son would be healed?” Or, perhaps, even, the Messiah? “Did this Rabbi Jesus cause my son to become well through a miracle?” Regardless, the official started back to Capernaum.

Let’s hear verses 51 to 53 again. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.” 53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.

Wow! And again I say, wow! We can see that this official did not come to Jesus with false motives, or just wanting to see a miracle-worker. On top of this, the official willingly left when Jesus told him the boy had been healed—long distance, no less! Then, when his servants confirmed the healing sometime later, this father—this official knew for sure. Jesus performed a miracle. A sign from God. The official believed Jesus, and so did the rest of his household.

Is Jesus ready to meet us in our distress? In the middle of our pain and sorrow? I think you know the answer to that. Jesus is ready to meet us, to walk with us, in all these situations. Does anyone have sick loved ones? Jesus is there, at your side. How about pain and sorrow in life? Jesus will walk next to you, keeping you company. Does the world seem broken, and as if it will never be fixed? Jesus is ready to meet us, to help us pick up the broken pieces. To encourage, support, and heal in any one of a number of ways.

Just as this official did something right–he came to Jesus when he was in genuine need! So, we are invited to come to Jesus when we have needs, too. Jesus can heal our broken hearts, just as much as He can heal our broken world. Plus, we can reach out and allow Jesus to use our hands, our feet, our voices to come alongside of others, too! We can be partners with Jesus, to help others. Just like Jesus, we can see needs around us and respond from our hearts. Respond with generosity and kindness. May it be so! Praise God, amen!

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions for Lent 2015. Do Lent generously!

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)