Light and Salvation

“Light and Salvation”

Psa 27-1 fear, afraid, words

Psalm 27:1, 4-8 – January 26, 2020

How many times have you been somewhere when the lights flickered off? When the electricity stopped working at night, and everything went dark? I have vivid memories of times like that. When I was a little girl in Chicago, sometimes the wind and the rainstorm were raging outside, and the lights suddenly went away. I wasn’t too afraid, even though I was small, but some of my friends and classmates at school were. Light is so needed in our homes and our lives. You could even say light is a foundation, a fundamental to our existence.

Our psalm today shines a light on that very thing: light. King David wrote this psalm, and the very first statement he writes down is “The Lord is my light, and my salvation.” A commentator says “The opening verse describes the Lord with language that suggests God’s presence is life-giving and protective. The Lord is called ‘light’ because light drives darkness away. Light is a basic category of order and stability that recalls the first act of creation (see Gen 1:3; and Exodus 10:21).” [1]

This summary statement echoes so many other verses in other parts of the Bible, but I wanted to focus next on the Gospel of John, chapter one. The Word—the Messiah—is called the Light. Referring to God as Light makes this psalm particularly appropriate for the season of Epiphany. This is the time we especially celebrate God’s presence, and the Light of the world coming to earth.

Our Gospel reading from Matthew 4 has much the same idea. Matthew even quotes from the prophet Isaiah: “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; those living in the land of the shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” Again, the divine Light breaks into the world and allows us, for all time, to come to be close friends, even sisters and brothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When you or I come home at night during a storm and the lights suddenly flicker off, what is the first thing we do? Almost always, we light a flashlight, or a candle. We restore some light to that dark room we are standing in. With light comes safety and salvation.

When I was a young child, I knew I was safe in my house at night with our big dog, even if the lights could not go on. But, what about children who are afraid of the dark, and a big storm shuts off all their lights? Shuts down all the electricity. And, the nightlights can’t go on for those frightened girls and boys. There might be dangerous monsters creeping around the bedroom, or in the attic or basement. What happens then? Wouldn’t the children need the reassurance of a loving parent in the scary darkness of night?

What about King David? What does he say about the dark spaces and dangerous places? He comes right out and tells it to us like it is. Verse 2: “When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.” Sure, David had a lot of enemies, and sure, the bad guys were actively pursuing David, for years.

Reading about parts of the life of David is like being on a roller coaster—so many ups and downs, and terribly exciting, most of the time. David was on the run from King Saul in the wilderness, for years. I bet you anything that as David wrote this psalm, he was thinking about those times, those years that he was pursued by the finest soldiers in Israel, the best in the business of being a soldier.

Even though we are not pursued by a whole bunch of military personnel, I suspect from time to time you and I feel pursued by a bunch of other evil circumstances, or horrible people. Perhaps it is someone at work who makes your life miserable? Or, maybe it is a continuing health situation for yourself or a loved one that just won’t go away? Or, like several of my friends, underemployment, where they just cannot make ends meet, no matter what? When we are in predicaments like these, God can seem really far away. God might never even hear us when we call! At least, that is what we might feel in our hearts—sometimes.

I suspect King David had his moments of fear and trembling, moments when he doubted that God would come through for him. Such moments are only human. Throughout the centuries, countless people have cried out to God in distress and despair. We today have a lot of those moments, too. I don’t think anyone could manage to live life in this world and not have those kinds of doubts.

Thank God that David thought of this, too. David not only called the Lord his “light,” but he named the Lord his “salvation,” too. Again and again in the Hebrew Scriptures, the various writers refer to and remember that part of God’s identity as they remember the Exodus from Egypt. God delivered Israel numerous times with a mighty hand. And, David knows very well that God has delivered him, personally, from King Saul’s soldiers—again and again.

As David celebrates the presence of the Lord with the words of this psalm, he asks to “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” What a joy, what a privilege to be able to come to the house of the Lord on a regular basis.

We have the assurance—as David tells us—that we will be in God’s presence, hidden in the sacred shelter of God’s tabernacle. What a promise! What a God. How can we help but praise the Lord? Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4358

Jerome Creach |

@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!

Believe and Obey!

“Believe and Obey!”

Gen 8 Noah's Ark 5

Genesis 7:5, 23, 8:1 – June 23, 2019

Who remembers Sunday school? If not your own experience in Sunday school, perhaps your children’s time there? Or even your experiences teaching Sunday school? Children’s bible stories play a big part in Sunday school. We are going to look at ten children’s Sunday school stories for our summer sermon series, starting with Noah and the ark from Genesis.

I have memories of Sunday school and Vacation Bible School where the children sang songs about Noah and his ark, including “Rise and Shine!” complete with hand motions and hand claps. I suspect many of us have memories about Noah, Mrs. Noah, the ark, the animals coming two by two, the rain falling for forty days and forty nights, and finally the rainbow at the end of the story. We can learn some things as adults from this narrative in Genesis, too.

First, imagine yourself—ourselves—back in Noah’s time, in Genesis. According to the Bible, the world was different, in a lot of ways. People had a huge tendency to do things and say things that were contrary to God’s will and God’s ways. (Some things have not changed.) People were so downright disobedient to the Lord’s manner of living and the ways God had instructed people to act that God got extremely angry with all the people. Except, for Noah and his family.

This is not the version of Noah and the ark that is found in Sunday school stories for children. That warm, fuzzy, sanitized version tells children about Noah and his sons building the ark, the animals coming two by two (carnivorous beasts, too!), and everyone living in harmony on the ark while it rained. Which is one version of the events.

Are you familiar with what some other groups say about the God of the Old Testament? About how God is a mean, angry, vengeful God, ready to smite anyone who steps even a toe out of line? These groups emphasize narratives like this one from Genesis, “a story that is most definitely not for children. In this interpretation, God is so angered by human rebellion that God floods the whole earth, wiping out nearly everything in a fit of divine rage. This is a story about a God whom you’d be crazy to want to have anything to do with, a God of wrath who is ready and willing to strike down sinners.” [1]

This second interpretation does not quite hit the mark either. We have two ends of a pendulum swing—the first version warm and fuzzy and happily-ever-after, and the second version mean and vengeful and smiting and wiping out everything on the face of the earth.

What does the book of Genesis say? As Eileen read from Genesis earlier in the service, “The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation.” And, “Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.”

This is in contrast with the whole rest of humanity that God had created. In Genesis chapter 6, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.”

Or as Eugene Peterson’s translation “The Message” says so poignantly, “People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart.” And, “As far as God was concerned, the Earth had become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting—life itself corrupt to the core.”

It is difficult for me even to contemplate such extreme evil and wickedness as Genesis describes—until I think of murder, slaughter, concentration camps, internment camps, gas chambers, razor-wire fences, genocide, people “disappearing” and abducted in plain sight, carpet bombing of civilians, and napalm raids. There have been so many people approving of these horrible activities throughout history, in hatred and fear of other people-groups, or in the name of their country’s security. Even today.

God’s heart, in striking contrast to the evil inclination of the human heart, is grieved by their betrayal. God is pained by the brokenness of creation. God sends the flood, then, not as an act of revenge, but out of grief over the rending of right human relationship with God.” [2] Perhaps I can see why the Lord was sorry God had made the human race in the first place. Perhaps all of this horror and human-made devastation can break our hearts, too.

But—Noah alone believed God. Noah was a righteous man, and was obedient to the words and ways of the Lord. As The Message says in Genesis 6, “Noah was a good man, a man of integrity in his community. Noah walked with God.”

How many of us can say that about ourselves? How many of us are good people, and people of integrity? For that matter, can we point to anyone, any single person we know and say, “That person walks with God!” Yet, the Bible says that about Noah.

So, Noah and his sons (and perhaps their wives, too) built the ark, believed God and were obedient. The Lord sent the rain upon the earth to wipe away every living creature, for forty days and forty nights. Only Noah and those with him on the ark were saved. And finally, “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.”

After Noah and his family finally left the ark, the Lord made a covenant with Noah. Perhaps we remember this covenant of the rainbow. “At the heart of that covenant with Noah and his descendants is God’s promise that “Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life” (11b).  In other words, God seems to promise that God will never again use a natural catastrophe to destroy all earthly life. Yet while God says “never again,” God doesn’t add, as we might expect, “but in order for me to spare creation, you must do this and that.”  God’s post-Flood covenant is unconditional.” [3] In other words, no strings attached.

As commentator Doug Bratt reminds us, perhaps the Lord knows if we try to keep up our end of the bargain by acting in a manner pleasing to God, we will just fail completely. Again. “People after the Flood, after all, aren’t much different than they were before it.” [4]

Just as the rainbow covenant (or promise) was unconditional—no strings attached, so is the promise of Resurrection we have in the risen Lord Jesus. God promises through Christ Jesus and His death on the cross to forgive us our sins; just as the Lord promises through the rainbow to never flood the earth again.

Can we believe God, today? Can we obey God, instead of going our own way?

We have the opportunity to believe and be obedient to God, just like Noah. We can strive to be people of integrity, walking before the Lord in righteous living, and treating each other as God would have us do. We can thank the Lord for the Resurrection promise we grasp hold of, the blessed truth that the risen Lord Jesus has provided salvation for us, just as the ark provided salvation for Noah and his family.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1222

Commentary, Genesis 9:8-17, Elizabeth Webb, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-1b-2/?type=old_testament_lectionary

Sermon Starter of the Week, illustrations, text commentary, etc, Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, 2015.

[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!

Gideon: Fearful and Uncertain

“Gideon: Fearful and Uncertain”

Judges 6:1, 7-24 (6:22-23) – June 24, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Judg 6_19-24-Gideon-Sees-the-Angel-of-the-Lord

Occupied territory. An oppressive military force. Just the very words conjure frightening images in a person’s mind. Thinking of different wars and conflicts, throughout the centuries. It doesn’t have to be a conflict we actually remember. There are—sadly—plenty to draw from, from many centuries in the past.

The tribes of Israel had settled in the land of Canaan after wandering for forty years in the wilderness. But, what happened to the new country of Israel in just a few decades? How did they lose control of their country so quickly? How did Israel become a conquered region so easily?  

For a quick explanation, we need to look at the beginning of Judges chapter 6. “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years God gave them into the hands of the Midianites.” Throughout the Old Testament book of Judges, that is the way it was. The people of Israel stopped doing the things God told them to do, and stopped worshiping the Lord. Then, God would allow a foreign nation to take over and oppress Israel for a time. When the people couldn’t stand it any longer, they would cry out to the Lord. Then, the Lord would raise up a mighty warrior and judge. The judge would throw out the invading armies and then rule over the people of Israel for a time, and all would be prosperous and happy again.

You would think the people of Israel would learn, but, no. They would keep doing the same flawed thing; they would stop worshiping God, and get conquered by a foreign nation.

At the beginning of Judges chapter 6, we are in one of the parts of the cycle where a foreign nation is occupying the country of Israel. The Midianites are a particularly savage nation. Their armies steal all the flocks and crops from all the farmers, wherever the occupying forces go. This is a particularly fearful and uncertain time for the tribes of Israel, to be sure!

Back to the land of Israel. Occupied territory! As the scene in Judges 6 opens, the narrator lets us know that the Midian army is so greedy and grasping that they will confiscate any animals or produce from any Israelite farmer. How do we know that? Because, Gideon is threshing wheat inside of a winepress, in secret. He’s in hiding from the Midianites, so the occupying army won’t find out and take the wheat by force.

I also get the idea that Gideon is timid. Uncertain. Perhaps even fearful. Do you blame him? With the marauding Midian army prowling around, confiscating any crops from any farmer, wouldn’t you be afraid, too?

Thank God we do not have to deal with occupying armies or marauding bands of thieves today in the United States, unlike Gideon, unlike countless farmers in areas of conflict even now. But, are there big, challenging things in our lives today that cause us to be timid? Uncertain? Perhaps even fearful? Chronic sickness, unemployment, a serious accident, or a fire? Have any of these happened to you, or to your loved ones?

The next thing he knew, Gideon was shocked down to his shoes. (Or, sandals.) Wonder of wonders, an angel appeared to him. The angel spoke, saying, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”

“Wait a minute! What? The Lord God said that to me? Is there some mistake? Has the angel got the wrong person? Or, made the wrong connection?  Believe me when I say I am not mighty. And, I am certainly not a warrior.”

If we paid attention in Sunday school class and read the Bible carefully, we would be familiar with several people telling God that they were not cut out to do the things God told them to. But, Gideon really means it. His clan is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh, and he thinks he is the weakest (which probably meant he was the youngest) in his family.

But, the Lord has not made a mistake. God surely wants Gideon, believe it or not. For sure.

Imagine today, with God telling us that we are exactly what God wants, exactly what God expects from others. I wonder what else God is saying that we forget to notice. Or, maybe even outright refuse to hear?

Back to Gideon. Uncertain, fearful Gideon. I suspect he might have been a bit of a cynic and a pessimist, too. What’s the next thing out of Gideon’s mouth, in his conversation with the angel of the Lord? 13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all God’s wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

Whoa, Gideon! Did you really mean to say that? It sounds a little like you are scolding the Lord for not helping out Israel, and leaving the nation in this awful situation. Or—did you really mean to say exactly that?

I’ve got to say, I have felt like telling the Lord something like this, when I’ve been in several seemingly hopeless situations. When my former husband and I both pounded the pavement, we fruitlessly looked for work for several years. We both went to several job placement agencies over those years, and we were not able to find anything other than short-term, low-paying, temporary jobs. Between us we had thirteen years of college and graduate school education, and—no solid, permanent job offers. None. For years.

It was infuriating, and unbelievable, and incredibly frustrating. For years, I spent countless hours in prayer, raging at God, begging, pleading. Plus, we had two preschoolers, and neither of us had health insurance coverage. A frightening time, for years. I suspect Gideon might have felt the same way, except his situation was even worse. But, back to Gideon.

The angel of the Lord was patient and understanding with Gideon “when Gideon needed proof that it was an angel of God. The Lord then led Gideon on a series of events that helped Gideon gain courage to do as God had told him.” [1] We see the Lord encouraging Gideon with several statements, such as this:  14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

Gideon wants to make sure that this is God talking to him. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” 23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” 24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace.”

This is not the end of Gideon’s uncertainty and questioning. Not by a long shot! Gideon continues to check and double check with God, just to make sure God is really and truly going to use him to deliver Israel.

Doesn’t the example of Gideon show us how patient and understanding God is, even when we have fears and uncertainty? God patiently answers so many of Gideon’s questions. God was right there with Gideon, just as God was with me and my former husband, through all those years of unemployment and under-employment. Just as God was with Joshua, and Moses, and Abraham before him.

Moreover, Gideon shows us how God looks at our potential, and not just the person we are right now. Instead, God helps us to believe in what we can be, and what God knows we can be, for God’s sake.

Gideon finally got God’s lesson into his head. I’m afraid it takes a great deal to get things into my thick head, too. But, praise God! The Lord had great patience with Gideon. I know God has great patience with so many of us, today, even when we are fearful and uncertain. Let us see what God sees, looking at one another.

Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://childrensermons.com/gideon/ August 4, 2013 Jim Kerlin People in Old Testament Hiding from the Enemy (Gideon)

@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!)

Repenting Hearts

“Repenting Hearts”

Jer 17-9 heart deceitful, script

Jeremiah 17:5-10 – July 31, 2016

I just came back from my study leave at the New Wilmington Mission Conference. Wonderful conference, again. (It always is!) I sat in bible class, and mission hour, and morning and evening meetings all week, learning about the marvelous ways believers are reaching out, locally and all over the world.

However, I also learned about many, many places in the world where believers are persecuted and in danger. Where the government has tight control, or where different groups are fighting. Where believers, especially church leaders, have been imprisoned, even killed. Countries like Syria, Egypt, South Sudan, Iraq; parts of Nepal, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. One of our bible passages for the morning is from Jeremiah 17. It tells us: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

Humans can be particularly inhuman, sometimes. Human hearts can be deceitful above all things, sometimes.

We are continuing with our summer sermon series from the United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission. I am sad to say that the sentence of the week is: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called and commit ourselves: To repent our silence and complicity with the forces of chaos and death.”

Natural humans without God can be inhuman. They can treat each other abominably. Not only through evil deeds like fighting, destruction and war, but also through general chaos and death—just as our sentence of the week from the Statement of Mission says. Many people want power and control. Many people strive to maintain power and control at all costs. They trust in humans’ own strength, and Jeremiah says their hearts turn away from the Lord.

What an awful thing! To have people in control—police, mayor, other government officials—whose hearts are completely separated from God. These people are controlled by the forces of evil, of chaos and death, according to the prophet.

Yes, these verses contain poetic language about humanity. As one commentator says, “To ancient peoples, the heart was not only the center of emotions, feelings, moods and passions, but also of will and motive power for the limbs. The heart discerned good from evil; it was also the center of decision-making. Conversion to God’s ways took place in the heart. In verse 9, it is said to be where evil begins.” [1]

At the mission conference this week, we had a chance to put our words into action.  Interested people had the opportunity to sign a petition to request Secretary of State John Kerry to intercede on behalf of the people of South Sudan, and to allow humanitarian aid to come in to the regions of the country under conflict and war. That is a concrete way to come up against the forces of evil, of chaos and death, and to show the love of God in a tangible way.

Evil. Chaos. Death. Just what the sentence from the Statement of Mission for today says. Natural humans—humans without God—have deceitful hearts, hearts that turn from the Lord. Our scripture passage for today tells us: “That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.”

Well, I am not a deceitful person, an evil person. I know God. In fact, God lives in my heart! Where can I go wrong?

One problem there: according to our Statement of Mission, we are to “repent our silence and complicity with the forces of chaos and death.”

You mean, being silent can be a problem? Maybe, even a sin? The statement tells all of us to repent. That certainly sounds like sin language. What is more, the statement mentions “all of us.” Not “some,” not “most,” but “all.”

            Albert Einstein said, ““If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” Can anyone relate? Horrible things happen every day. People who live next door, or down the street, or other places nearby find themselves in a difficult situation. They can be seen as vulnerable. Observers can turn out to be ostriches, hiding their heads in the sand. Hoping against hope that the problems of domestic abuse and its connected trauma might just go away.  Or, when there is racial tension in your side of town, to do nothing. In fact, to say nothing, to look the other way, and to stand on the sidelines with your mouth shut.

            What is wrong with that picture? That kind of behavior telling us what the sentence from the Statement of Mission tells us. The deceitful people who actively do terrible things to others? Are they at all like the quiet people who shut their eyes to injustice, or pretend that violence, bitterness and inequity never happen…at least, not in my world. Not on my block. Not in my part of town. Something to think about.

            This past week, I had the joy of learning about mission aspects of the Lord’s Prayer from a coworker for the World Mission Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Rev. Jen Haddox. Yes, the Lord’s Prayer is prayed all over the world. In a multitude of languages, and numerous settings. This prayer can cross boundaries—just like believers. Believers can, with God’s help, cross the boundaries of unbelief and of chaos. Believers can bring the love of God into an evil and traumatic situation.

            Jen Haddox spoke about areas of Vietnam, where the government has tight control over everything—both everyday life in the villages and towns, and over the house churches and Christian leaders. And, some believers live in fear of government oppression and even prison. Yet, as Jen said, believers in Vietnam have a joy and a freedom that overcomes the forces of chaos and death.

            In both bible passages this morning, both passages give us the good news from God. Both passages have a compare and contrast section: natural humans, without God, and humans who strive to follow God. We can see what can happen when God intervenes.

Yes, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, just as the Statement of Mission says. And, yes, we can pray for believers throughout the world, as well as in our backyard. We can pray for South Sudan, for Vietnam, for other areas of war and conflict. Remember, conflict and trauma can be anywhere. Not only physical conflict, but psychological and emotional, too. Here in the Morton Grove area, and in Chicago, as well as far away in large parts of Africa and Asia.

The prophet says: “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.” We can bring that blessing to those under the forces of chaos and death. Yes, we need to repent our silence in the face of evil. We can tell God we are sorry for our silence, and strive to bring words of blessing and peace into situations of trauma and chaos.

What an opportunity to strive to become believers who transcend boundaries! Praise God for the chance to spread the love of God into lives of people near and far. Through prayer for faraway places, and through tangible means like food from the Maine Township food pantry for those who are nearby.

Won’t you join in the mission of God? Let’s all strive to pray, go, and do, in the name above all names, the name of Jesus. Alleluia, amen!

[1] Chris Haslam, Anglican Diocese of Montreal. http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/cpr06m.shtml

Confront Evil, Love Enemies

“Confront Evil, Love Enemies”

Luke 6-27 love your enemies

Luke 6:27-28 – July 17, 2016

This week in the news has been difficult, to say the least. Thinking of two situations: the truck rampage in Nice after the Bastille Day celebrations, and the attempted coup in Turkey. Horrific situations. The loss of life, the horror, grief and trauma. Localized in the case of Nice, France. Widespread, in several regions of the country in Turkey.

I know, as sure as I am standing before you today, that many people are traumatized. The deaths, hospitalizations, shootings. Not only affected and grieving people in localized areas, but people throughout the region. Maybe even the world.

I chose this particular passage a week ago to discuss our sentence of the week from the United Church of Christ Statement of Mission. This week’s sentence: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to name and confront the powers of evil within and among us.”

I searched the Bible to find verses and passages which dealt with evil and confronting the powers of evil. Yes, I could have chosen verses by the Apostle Paul that dealt with powers and principalities, institutional evil and great wickedness. Or, I could have gone with generalities, and centered on sin. I can think of several passages from both the Old and New Testaments that deal with sin, both individual and corporate sin.

However, a week ago, I chose chapter 6 of the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus talks about enemies and how His followers ought to treat their enemies. This was before the attack in Nice, before the attempted coup in Turkey, and before the Black Lives Matter protests here in this country. Jesus had some pointed things to say about enemies. Some surprising things, too.

Karen read this passage to us, a few minutes ago. I will read verses 27 and 28 one more time, to let us hear the words of our Lord, again. 27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Another way of saying this comes in verse 31:  “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Wait a minute. Maybe, more than a minute. Enemies do bad things to us. They speak in mean and calculating ways, and sometimes act viciously, even heartlessly. Enemies are sometimes evil, through and through. That is exactly what our sentence of the week from the Statement of Mission talks about, too.

When I think of evil, sometimes I think about something that slithers or sneaks. Something that hides in the shadows, creeping along in the darkness. Occasionally, evil acts blatantly, coming right out in the open, swaggering around all over the place, like someone who curses and cusses a blue streak. But, I would like to concentrate on evil that sneaks around secretly, even unnoticed. Spreading its poison, insidious in its grasp.

What can we do in the face of this kind of evil? When these kinds of enemies continue to rise against us?  

These words of Jesus are challenging words. Some might say hard words. Even, impossible words. But, think about it. The whole focus of evil and of enemies is to get us to retaliate. To be just as evil in return, if not more so. “An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind,” Gandhi said. What good is that to anyone?

Not only individuals, but groups also can be sucked right in. Groups—often with the tribal mentality—can be drawn into a cycle of evil, even violence. Is that what Jesus advocates here? What about when He says “Do to others as you would have them do to you?” What do you think He meant here? Did Jesus want us to retaliate and do evil acts? Say nasty and mean things? Or, did Jesus want us to try something radically different? Unusual? Counter-cultural?

I would like to tell you about a town in Denmark. Middle-sized town, generally peaceful and harmonious. Except, in 2012, the police received calls from a number of concerned people, including some parents. Several guys in their late teens or early twenties left their homes, their town, and all that was familiar, to go to Syria. To work for Muslim terrorists.

The two police officers, Aarslev and Link, are police specialists with a role in crime prevention. This article featuring them and their idea appeared Friday on the National Public Radio website. “They usually deal with locals who are drawn to right-wing extremism, or gangs. The landscape of global terrorism was completely new to them. But they decided to take it on. And once they did, they wound up creating an unusual — and unusually successful — approach to combating radicalization.”

“The rest of Europe came down hard on citizens who had traveled to Syria. France shut down mosques it suspected of harboring radicals. The U.K. declared citizens who had gone to help ISIS enemies of the state. Several countries threatened to take away their passports — a move formerly reserved for convicted traitors.”

“But the Danish police officers took a different approach: They made it clear to citizens of Denmark who had traveled to Syria that they were welcome to come home, and that when they did, they would receive help with going back to school, finding an apartment, meeting with a psychiatrist or a mentor, or whatever they needed to fully integrate back into society.”

“Their program came to be known as the ‘Aarhus model.’” [1]

This program, this way of treating enemies reminds me a lot of Jesus. Let us listen to our Lord’s words from Luke 6, again. “27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Isn’t this knowingly being kind to those who wish to do us harm? Who hate us, curse us, and wish to mistreat us? Correct me if I am off base, but I think these police officers are very much following the commands of Jesus.

These are challenging words which we find in Luke 6:27-36. I suggest re-reading this passage with an open mind and open spirit, and then ask yourselves (and myself, too—I always preach to myself, as well!), “What would Jesus do?”

As Father John Dear says, “Jesus wants us to break the downward cycle of violence by refusing to practice further violence. Violence in response to violence will only lead to further violence, he teaches, so do not retaliate with further violence. Break the chain of violence.”

Father Dear goes on to say, “Does that mean sitting back and do nothing in the face of violence? No, quite the contrary. Jesus also forbids passive resignation or indifference to evil. Instead, he demands an active, creative nonviolent response that will disarm our violent opponent without using their violent means… Through our nonviolent resistance, we insist on the truth of our common humanity, until… he repents of his violence and agrees to treat us with respect as human beings.” [2] As the Hutu and Tutsi tribes reconciled in Rwanda, as whole groups of people of all colors, classes and races reconciled in South Africa.

Is it difficult to follow the commands of Jesus? YES. Yet, I strive to do this very thing. Imperfectly, yet I strive on. I remember the words of Abraham Lincoln: “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

I invite us all to seek the ways of Jesus, and search out an active, creative nonviolent response to evil, to enemies, and to violence. Will you join with me in striving to follow Jesus, today?

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

[1] http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/07/15/485900076/how-a-danish-town-helped-young-muslims-turn-away-from-isis

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-dear/an-eye-for-an-eye-makes-t_b_8647348.html

Our Stronghold, Our Peace

“Our Stronghold, Our Peace”

God, stronghold for the oppressed

March 9, 2016 – Psalm 37:39-40

Most everyone is afraid, at one time or another. And, there are some really powerful things in this world to be afraid of! Worry, anxiety, fear. Those are all things that threaten to take away any peace and serenity in our lives.

One of the enemy’s most powerful weapons that he uses against us?  Worry, anxiety, fear can overwhelm us with a thick shadow of darkness, threatening our every move and decision. Not only the huge things, but also the little things. The personal things. I know we, here at St. Luke’s Church, have a good deal to be concerned about. Things just happen.

Just when I think I’m going in a definite direction, with a specific goal in mind, things can happen. These things can just be accidental, minor bumps along the way. Or, sometimes the situations or accidents can be catastrophic, life-changing. Maybe even life-ending.

Take our psalm for the evening. A psalm of King David, David wrote about evildoers, and about the evil people seem to routinely do. Yes, there’s lots to worry about! Yes, there’s lots for us to be anxious about! Look at all the evil in the world!

No matter what kinds of things happen in our lives—and good things happen as well as bad!! —the psalm we read today is talking about the evil things that happen. Evil things complicate our lives. Make our lives messy, even confront us with dangers. Things to worry about, endlessly.

What can we do when we get into an anxious predicament like this? What if the evil, worrisome things complicate our lives beyond all imagination? It is then that we feel separate from others. What’s more, we can feel separated from God, too. Any peace we had is hopelessly gone. Worry, anxiety and fear take its place.

I have known people who do not face evil, trials, and tribulations very well. I usually didn’t ask at the time, but I think one of the reasons might have been because they were not sure whether God was really in their lives. I know for a fact that several of my acquaintances do not really care about God, and don’t want much to do with Him at all. They are totally separated from God.

There are several ways to face evil; this way is not the wisest way, to my way of thinking.

The psalmist, King David, certainly had cause to be anxious. He had been up against real evil, many times. He had been in a real mess over and over, and he had come through it repeatedly. What’s more, David knew God had been at his side all the way. And, David knew that the evildoers would get their comeuppance, sooner or later.

Remember what David said in the first two verses of this psalm: “Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.” This theme runs through this psalm, all the way through. David tells us not to worry! Yes, the evildoers might be prospering right now. Yes, the evildoers might have lots of money, and property, and power, and control. The evildoers might be doing awful things to people. But, that is not the end of the story!

Some scoffers might say, what about things that are even worse than we can imagine? Things like violence, war, rape, bombing. Why do godless people seem to get away with all these horrendous acts?

Marjorie Nelson, a Quaker nurse served with a Friends medical team in Vietnam in the late 1960’s. She is a pacifist. This is part of her story. “Our project was located six miles from My Lai [the site of a massacre by U.S. military forces]. We treated at least one survivor from that massacre. Vietnamese friends told me not only of that event but of five similar incidents perpetrated by American or Korean troops in our province alone. I saw children injured by NLF rockets which exploded near their orphanage. I treated patients in our rehabilitation center who had extremities blown off by land mines planted by both sides in that conflict. Do I under-estimate the power and influence of evil? I think not.” [1]

Some scoffers consider Christians to be naïve and easily manipulated. I don’t think so. I don’t think Marjorie, that Quaker nurse and pacifist, was naïve. Yes, we are aware of the evil that people do. Sometimes, horrible things, so awful we cannot even imagine how horrific. But we are not naïve. We have sin within ourselves, too. Plus, God’s message is to love our enemies, and be kind to them. Even when we are our own worst enemies.

David finishes the psalm with the verse “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; God is their stronghold in time of trouble.”

A stronghold is not only a refuge, a place of safety, but a stronghold is also for our salvation, for offensive purposes, too! We can see that God is not only a safe place for us to hide, but also God is also a strong place to keep us free. No matter the situation, God is there for us.

God is our salvation–and we can come to the Lord at any time. We have not only the ability to come to God, but we have the privilege, too! What an opportunity. And what a thing to celebrate–we can echo the psalmist’s words, “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and God will give you the desires of your heart.”

 

[I’d like to thank Catherine Whitmire and her excellent collection of thoughts on peace found in Practicing Peace (Sorin Books: United States of America, 2007). ]

[1] Whitmire, Catherine, Practicing Peace (Sorin Books: United States of America, 2007), 126.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!