Go and Tell!

“Go and Tell!”

Mark 16:1-8 (16:7) – April 4, 2021

            After a terrible, horrible week like the disciples have just had, anyone would be distressed, dispirited and downhearted. The last few days were horrible, indeed. The most horrible thing about the last few days was when the disciples’ Rabbi Jesus died on the Cross.

            .  Friday evening Joseph bravely claimed Jesus’ dead body and laid it in a cave tomb. He and a few of the women quickly wrapped the body in a sheet, since it was so late in the day.  There was a law that you couldn’t tend or even touch a dead body on the Sabbath.  So, everyone went home to hide and cry and try to figure out what happened.  The women gathered supplies to wash Jesus’ body and some good smelling spices to wrap into the sheet when they rewrapped it. [1]

            But, let’s back up. Back up to early Friday morning. Where were the men disciples? Except for Peter, who followed Jesus and the mob at a safe distance, the Gospel accounts make sure to tell us that all the men ran away. And, Peter denied Jesus three times in the High Priest’s front yard. We know John showed up at the foot of the Cross that Friday, because Jesus mentioned him specifically in the Last Words on the Cross. However, the men disciples must have been scared to pieces, fearing that they might be picked up by the Roman soldiers, too.

            Admittedly, it must have been a very scary time. Imagine, a bunch of Roman soldiers carrying off the leader of a rag-tag group of disciples, in the middle of the night. I probably would have run away, too. Terrifying times, indeed.

            Except, the Gospel writers – including Mark – tell us that a number of the women disciples remained at the Cross. And, watched Jesus die. And, helped Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus’ body to the fancy tomb, wrap it hurriedly in a linen sheet, and make sure things were decently done before the Sabbath time began at nightfall. What is more, nothing could be done during the Sabbath – especially this Sabbath, during the holy time of Passover.

            The angel (who Mark calls a “young man,” but the other Gospels identify as an angel) tells the first witnesses – the women disciples – to go and tell the others.

“The earliest and most reliable manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark conclude with a description of the women as “trembling and bewildered.” Mark tells us that they “fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).” [2]

At first, they don’t! Would you? If you had something that horrified and grieved you to the depths of your soul happen on Friday, and then something else to shock you out of your sandals on Sunday, would you be all that eager to go and tell? Tell even your good friends about what the angel said?

            The men disciples themselves did not have a very good track record at this “go and tell” command, either. “Those who are closest to Jesus and should tell others about him often don’t. So the disciples hear Jesus predict his passion three times and regularly end up dazed, confused, and arguing about who is the greatest. Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah but completely misunderstands what that means and actually rebukes Jesus when he explains. Again and again those who should understand just don’t understand what is going on and so fail to share the good news.” [3] So, who are the faithful ones, the ones given the great Good News of the Risen Lord at the tomb? The women disciples, and they are told by the angel to go and tell. At first, they are afraid. But then, they gain courage – again – and do go and tell the men disciples.

            I wonder – where would we find Jesus today? The women disciples are told to go to Galilee, because Jesus is planning to go there and meet with all of the disciples, after His resurrection. But, where can Jesus be found today? Is He here, in church? Well, yes. I think He is, but not only here. Isn’t Jesus found outside of the church, too? What about in the hospital, at the bedside of those we are praying for? Isn’t Jesus there? What about right next to people who are newly unemployed? Or, homeless for a long time? Does Jesus sit by their sides? What about people who are not sure Jesus is even God, maybe not even sure God exists. Doesn’t Jesus wait patiently for them, ready to embrace them in His time?

            Jesus is right by the side of all of these people. Yet, we are also told to go and tell. It is not an either/or proposition! Yes, our Risen Lord Jesus is walking beside each of us! And yes, we are to witness to Him! To go and tell everyone that Jesus Christ is risen today! We serve a risen Savior, who’s in the world today. I know – we know that our Redeemer lives!  

            We are emerging from the tomb of pandemic quarantine into a world that desperately needs the healing touch of our risen Lord Jesus Christ. And, since we are His followers, Jesus has given us the direct order to go and tell, too!

We are to tell the world there is hope in the name of Jesus. We are to tell the world there is joy in traveling with the risen Savior. We are to tell each person we encounter that they have the opportunity to know the one who brings compassion and forgiveness and a just society. And then, we are to go out into the world and do our best to bring that about – in the name of Jesus.

Go and tell – in the name of Jesus. Alleluia, amen!

(I would like to express grateful appreciation to Dr. Esau McCaulley and his opinion column featured in the New York Times on Friday, April 2, 2021. I have taken several ideas from this column for this sermon.)

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2012/01/year-b-easter-sunday-april-8-2012.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter Sunday B, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2012.

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/02/opinion/easter-celebration.html?referringSource=articleShare

[3] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/03/easter-b-only-the-beginning/

“Only the Beginning,” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2015.

Jesus Calling!

“Jesus Calling!”

Mark 1:14-20 (1:17) – January 24, 2021

            Have you ever heard someone calling, and responded right away? I am sure you have. Whether it is a call out to the back yard or the garage to come in for dinner, or a call to join in on a project or job, have you felt eager to respond? Excited? Like you can’t wait to begin?

            I wonder whether the disciples felt that way when they responded to Jesus?

            Last week, we took a closer look in the Hebrew Scriptures at the Lord’s call of the young Samuel when he was serving along with the high priest Eli in the Tabernacle. Today, our Scripture reading talks about Jesus calling four of His disciples.

            But, wait a moment. The four fishermen were actively involved in their secular jobs when Jesus came up to them and called. Simon and Andrew owned one boat at least, perhaps more than one. James and John were the sons of Zebedee, and we do know that Zebedee had a fishing business with at least several boats on the Sea of Galilee. So, we are talking about some serious fishermen seriously involved up to their elbows in fishy business.  

            I am sure our Lord Jesus talked with loads of people each week. Except – I don’t think He called all of those people to be His disciples, His followers. Do you wonder about these four fishermen, in particular? Does something about this reading today bother you? How could Simon, Andrew, James and John up and leave everything right away? How could they walk away from their nets and respond to Jesus’s call – immediately?  

            Let’s consider a different translation of this reading, from The Message. Verses 16-18: “Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you.” I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.”

“They didn’t ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.”

            Perhaps you might not believe this narrative. Does anyone actually DO that anymore? I mean, dropping everything and just following Jesus when He calls. Maybe, in Bible times, people did things like that. But, today? Does anyone answer God’s call like that anymore?

            Let’s be honest. I cannot imagine doing what these four fishermen did. True, we do not have many professional fishermen in the Chicago area. But, can you imagine leaving your full-time job – or, if you don’t work full-time, leaving whatever takes much of your time and attention each day. “Most of us, truth be told, would find it very hard to leave work and family and friends and all the rest to venture into such an uncertain future. Does that mean we’re more or less failures as Christians? Or at least that we are less faithful than Andrew and Peter, James and John?” [1]

            I started off looking at Jesus calling four disciples. He chose them and called them, knowing them better than they knew themselves. Why don’t we flip this around and look at this scenario from the fishermen’s point of view. These four guys had Jesus call, to follow Him.

We read that they got up without hesitation, leaving their nets and boats and catches of fish behind. Immediately! Did they feel eager to respond? Excited? Like they couldn’t wait to begin to follow this unconventional Rabbi?

“We are called, perhaps not so much to follow, but to take Mark’s ‘immediately’ seriously. This is not, “wait a few minutes. Let me pack my bag. I have a few more arrangements to make.” No preparation. No packing list. No recommendations of what to take, what to do.” [2]

When I first felt a call to serve God, I was in high school. I did not listen for a long time. At least, I don’t think I heard clearly. Sure, I heard something of a message from God for some time, but it was muffled, or garbled. I did work as an eager church leader, as a faithful church worker for years and years before I had the opportunity to go to seminary when I was forty years old. But – isn’t being a faithful church worker following the call of God, too?

As commentator David Lose says, “We follow [Jesus] in particular and distinct ways that may or may not be like the first disciples. And that, I think, is the point. Perhaps we follow by becoming a teacher. Perhaps we follow by volunteering at the senior center. Perhaps we follow by looking out for those in our schools who always seem on the outside and invite them in.

“Perhaps we follow by doing a job we love as best we can to help others. Perhaps we follow by doing a job we hate but contributes to supporting our family and helping others. Perhaps we follow by being generous with our wealth and with our time. Perhaps we follow by listening to those around us and responding with encouragement and care. Perhaps we follow by caring for an aging parent, or special needs child, or someone else who needs our care. Perhaps we follow by….” [3] Well, you get the idea.

Jesus calls us all to follow Him, in any number of ways. That means us knowing that Jesus is for real – He is the real thing, the real deal, the genuine article.  

 When we are called to follow Him, that means He calls us to turn our backs on something else in our lives. Is it possible that sometimes we get altogether too comfortable, too unwilling to risk, too unable to step out in faith? My challenge to all of us: be willing to step out, and follow the calling of Jesus, whenever and wherever He wishes us to go.

Please God, I’ll go.


[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/01/epiphany-3-b-following-jesus-today/

“Following Jesus Today,” David Lose, …in the meantime… 2015.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/the-immediately-of-epiphany

“The Immediately of Epiphany,” Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher, 2015.

[3] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/01/epiphany-3-b-following-jesus-today/

“Following Jesus Today,” David Lose, …in the meantime… 2015.

@chaplaineliza

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

We Can Be Friends, Too!

(This week, we are celebrating in Sunday Worship with a Children’s Service: a service oriented toward children and young people. We pray for them as they begin a new school year, whether online, in-person, or something in between. This sermon from Philippians 2:19-30 is geared toward all ages, especially for our younger friends.)

“We Can Be Friends, Too!” – August 23, 2020

Phil 2-20 work of the Gospel

Philippians 2:19-30 (2:28-30)

Paul wrote a letter to the Philippian church, when he was in prison. Paul tells about his two close friends who are with him, supporting him while he is in prison.

What if your friend was in real big trouble? Would you be there to help your friend who was in a desperate situation? Or, would you want to hide and stay away? Would your fear keep you from helping? I bet you would be like Timothy and Epaphroditus and would be there to help your friend!

So many church members just stay out of the way. Can you – can I be a friend of Jesus if we hide and stay out of the way?

As Paul wrote this letter to the Philippian church, he was in prison. You and I might think that Paul wasn’t able to do anything in prison, but just hide and keep out of the way. He couldn’t go where he pleased. He was locked up!

Here Paul talks further about being a good friend. Paul tells about his two close friends who are with him, willingly supporting him while he is in prison.

Would you – or I – be there to help our friend who was in a desperate situation, even in prison? Or, would you want to run to hide and stay out of the way? Could our anxiety and fear make us super scared? Or, would we continue to be there for our friend?

The friends in Philippi knew Paul’s friend Timothy from when Timothy was one of Paul’s companions. Paul had the highest praise for his young friend, saying that Timothy was genuine, faithful and could certainly be depended on, no matter what. Especially when he was telling other people about God’s Good News.

Isn’t this the best kind of friend to have with you, if you are in a difficult spot?

I know that going back to school is usually not such a challenging time. However, we haven’t had Coronavirus around before. Having Coronavirus is almost like being in jail! It is keeping us locked away from our friends. It is very stressful for all of us. But, none or us are alone. God is always with us, is always fighting for us, and has great plans for each of us.

Are you willing to be genuine, faithful and dependable for your friends? How about for your fellow classmates or co-workers? Paul reminds us, we can all be like Timothy, willing to be friends for others, no matter what.

Paul’s other friend, Epaphroditus, was a church leader in Philippi. He hand-carried an important financial gift to Paul.

Epaphroditus also was very, very ill while traveling, and after he reached Rome where Paul was in prison. However, he overcame those difficult times. Paul praises his friend Epaphroditus for working just as hard as Paul did himself! Plus, while Paul was stuck in prison, his Philippian friend took excellent care of Paul. I suspect he was Paul’s hands and feet, and really helped the ministry while Paul was in jail.

For all of those reasons, Paul really praises Epaphroditus. But, at the same time, Paul needed to send him back to Philippi with this very letter. (The one we are reading.)

Do we understand how much it cost Epaphroditus to go visit Paul? Weeks, perhaps even months on the road. He was deathly ill while traveling, and after he reached his destination, too. Of course Paul was grateful and thankful for both his good friends!

Do you know anyone who has had the Coronavirus? You cannot go and see them. They are alone. Yet you can be a good friend and send them messages, right? And, if you were sick, you know that God is your good friend. No matter how things are going, how unhappy you are or how troubled your life seems, God will be right next to you. We have God’s promise on that! God is true to those who believe.

Are we supposed to be friends to others in a similar way? I think Paul would say, “Yes!”

Our hearts can be filled with gentle words, kind deeds, forgiving hearts and peacemaking. Jesus is depending on all of us! Did you ever think Jesus was depending on you? You might be the only way God could show love to some of the kids, families, co-workers, and neighbors you meet every day – in class, or in the office, or at the grocery store, or at the park. [1]

Just as much as Paul was thankful for Timothy and Epaphroditus being his good friends, you and I can be thankful that God is our good friend. No matter how things are going, how happy we are – or not, or how bumpy or steep the way is ahead, God will be right next to us. We have God’s promise on that!

Paul encourages each of us to come alongside of all our friends, and be there, just in case. That is truly something we all can be thankful for. Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/07/back-to-school-2013.html

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Encourage Like Paul!

“Encourage Like Paul!” – August 2, 2020

Phil 1-3 thank God words

Philippians 1:3-11 (1:3-6)

Do you remember a time when someone encouraged you? I mean, when you were feeling downhearted or down in the dumps, and a friend or relative gave you a real, sincere word of encouragement? I am afraid to say that my words of encouragement often do not measure up when compared to this encouraging letter Paul wrote to his Philippian friends. Paul really meant what he said in this letter to Philippi – every word!

We are starting a sermon series on the letter to the church in Philippi this week. This letter is one of the most heartwarming and personal letters written in the New Testament. Philippians is one of my favorite Bible books, too.

Just to remind us all, the apostle Paul traveled around for years. As an itinerant preacher and missionary, he was often on the move. Although, Paul did settle down from time to time, and stay in particular towns for a number of months. Like, right here, in Philippi.

`           I know today we might be encouraged by a family member over the telephone, or by a co-worker in a Zoom meeting, or by a friend through email or Instagram. But in the apostle Paul’s day, there were only two choices: either face to face, in a personal encounter, or in written form. Paul was far away from his friends and former parishioners, so he used a letter.  

Paul’s affection and care for his Philippian friends went much deeper than a nodding acquaintance, such as we might see in casual, continued encounters like in line at a grocery store, walking in the neighborhood, or in a polite exchange at the office.

Let’s look at exactly what Paul said here. This was a thank-you letter for a financial gift sent by the Philippian church. Since Paul was in prison, he was doubly thankful for the gift! I suspect it provided for his food, clothing and other needs while he was locked up. Let me remind people that if a prisoner’s friends or relatives did not supply these necessities, the prisoner was sadly out of luck. The prison did not supply anything. At least, not for free.

So, you and I might think this was a sad time and puzzling situation for Paul to have positive words to say about anything – much less to send such a positive, uplifting letter to his faraway friends in thanks for their financial gift.

Paul is fairly bubbling over with gratitude and thankfulness as he begins this letter. I wanted us to especially notice the 3rd verse. Paul thanks God every time he remembers his friends in Philippi. Do you have friends you can say that about? Do you or I have even one or two friends who are so special to us that we remember them to God with such warmth and excitement? What a marvelous thing to say about a friend. A good friend. Even, a best friend.

Verse 4 tells us that Paul always – always prays with joy when he prays for these special friends from Philippi. This is the first of many times Paul uses to word “joy” in this letter. He uses either the noun “joy” or the verb “rejoice” fourteen times! When I first took the course Bible Study Methods decades ago in bible college, we were told that if a passage or a book of the Bible repeated something, there was a really good reason for it. I believe, and commentators and Bible scholars agree, the apostle Paul means joy to be an overarching theme in this letter.

And, verse 5 tells what fills Paul with such joy: the Philippians not only were supporting Paul in prayer, but they also supported him in the partnership of the Gospel. They shared the Good News of Christ, too! That really filled the apostle Paul with joy.

How do you feel when you are especially encouraged and affirmed? What if that someone who encourages you is someone very special? Someone who means a whole lot to you? Doesn’t that make that encouragement and appreciation even more meaningful?

Let’s imagine. Close your eyes, if that helps you imagine. You and I are among this group of believers in Philippi, and we have just received this letter from our Pastor Paul in prison. Let’s listen again to these three verses: “I thank my God for you every time I think of you; and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now.”

Paul is thankful for the money his friends sent. But, I hear these words saying how incredibly thankful and grateful Paul is for the caring and love of these people, friends from far away. Have you ever been encouraged and affirmed, with these amazing words?

I am reminded of when I taught piano lessons, some years ago, before I started seminary and several years into it. I taught for about ten years. I remember one student in particular. Her parents were going through a nasty divorce that lasted for many months. I taught this girl for a whole year. Her mother wanted her to continue with lessons until the end of the school year, as a stabilizing factor, because she saw how encouraging I was to her daughter in each lesson. And, I really tried to be a caring encourager for a troubled time in this girl’s life.

We all have had teachers, coaches or mentors in our past. Who has taught you about the Christian faith? Who has mentored you along the way, and encouraged you to become a more faithful believer? Do you have an apostle Paul in your life? Or, perhaps an encouraging and faithful Barnabas, one of Paul’s companions? Or, maybe an excited and eager John Mark, another companion of Paul? [1]

Whatever kind of teacher, coach or mentor in faith you have had, praise God for this beloved person. Thank the Lord for the impact this dear one has made on your life, and on mine. And, perhaps you can be that person who has a lasting impact on someone else. Please God, may it be today!

[1] http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/c/2Advent-c/SR-2Advent-c.html

“A Letter from a Mentor,” Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Catholic Resource for This Sunday’s Gospel. Adult Study, Children’s Story, Family Activity, Support Materials.

@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!

 

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!

Joshua Called Courageous!

“Joshua Called Courageous!”

Josh 1-9 be strong, poster

Joshua 1:1-2, 5-9 (1:9) – June 17, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Do you know what it’s like to be a second fiddle? Someone’s assistant? Someone to back up the real leader, or director, or president? Always there, just in case, always ready to step in, in case of emergency, but never really, fully in charge? I do. I’ve been in that faithful, dependable assistant position a lot, for a number of years.

It can be a relief, not having to be the top person in charge. Remember, President Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here.” With the second fiddle, the buck definitely would not stop at the assistant’s desk. He or she would be able to pass it on.

All the same, imagine Joshua, the newly designated leader of the nation of Israel. His predecessor, the strong and dynamic leader—or, director, or head of the Israelite nation—Moses, had been in charge of the nation for over forty years. Israel had been wandering in the wilderness all that time. Joshua had been Moses’s right-hand man all of that time, too. By all accounts, Joshua was a faithful, dependable assistant and second-in-command to Moses, for decades.

What kinds of things must have been going through Joshua’s head, after the death of his leader, probably even his mentor, Moses? I cannot imagine the shock and grief at his leader’s death, plus all the huge weight of the responsibility for the whole nation of Israel, now resting squarely on Joshua’s shoulders. What on earth does he do now?

As the book of Joshua begins, we hear the words read to us today, where the Lord God meets with Joshua. Not with Moses, as had happened a number of times in years past, but with Joshua, instead! Joshua is the one having an up-close-and-personal encounter with the Lord!

This is a first-hand encounter with the God who led Israel through the wilderness for forty years. Pillar of cloud by day, pillar of fire by night, manna every morning, for forty years. We’re talking an extraordinary God, here! Power beyond understanding, magnificent glory, works miracles on a daily basis. That’s the God who meets with Joshua.

Joshua probably did not feel at all up to the daunting task of primary, solo leadership. However, God knew better than Joshua. “Joshua was prepared by faithful service in small things, in being Moses’ assistant. Dr. Alan Redpath tells of a motto over a kitchen sink: “Divine service is conducted here three times daily.” [in the washing of dishes] The motto is true, and great men and women are prepared by faithfulness to the small things.” [1]

We see that God has encouraging words for Joshua: “Be strong and courageous!” And, “Be not afraid!” That is why many biblical scholars think that Joshua had an inferiority complex. The Lord needed to give him a leadership pep talk!

When Pastor Gordon and I began an interim, emergency pastorate in 2014 here at St. Luke’s Church for three months, this was a familiar job for me. Gordon and I had done it before, in an interim position at another UCC church in 2007. I was Gordon’s assistant. I was playing second fiddle to a seasoned, self-assured pastor who had many years of experience under his belt. When Pastor Gordon left St. Luke’s Church in June 2014 and left me as solo pastor, I was experiencing some of the same feelings that Joshua probably felt. How on earth am I going to lead these people? Yet, with God’s help and the help of several seasoned professional pastors and clergy, I weathered that storm of low self-confidence and low self-esteem.

Joshua faced a huge, new, daunting task, to be sure!

What is one of the most important things the Lord says to Joshua, when giving him the heavenly pep talk? “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.“ Reading and meditating on the Word of God on a regular basis is of primary importance to God. Moses did these things. Joshua must have seen Moses read and meditate on the Word of God, countless times, and I suspect he joined in, as well.

Let’s break down God’s words to Joshua in these verses, and take a closer look at what God is telling him to do. “Joshua must take great care to observe the law. God’s Word and Joshua’s commitment to it would be the pillars supporting his success. Joshua did not only need to read God’s word. It had to be on his lips (“shall not depart from your mouth”), in his mind (“meditate in it day and night”), and he had to do it (“observe to do according to all that is written”).” [2] Regular, even daily insights into God’s Word, the Bible, can help us think the way God does, behave in the way God does, and have compassion on the people God does.

Even though you and I are not facing such a huge task as Joshua, today, what we face can be daunting to us. Sometimes, we can be anxious, fearful, afraid, even stressed out, angry or confused. We might need encouragement and support from God, too. What is a daunting task, to you? How can God’s words to Joshua be helpful and encouraging to any of us, today?  

Pray, seek the Lord, and talk to other, trusted Christian friends. The helpful, encouraging answer will be there. The Lord can—and does—inspire and encourage each of us as we face new and daunting tasks in our lives, day by day. What a tremendous promise to celebrate!

Remember God’s words to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous!” And, repeated again and again throughout Scripture? “Be not afraid!” Be that way. God said so!

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/joshua-1/   David Guzik Bible commentary on Joshua 1

[2] 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!)

 

His Followers—Including Us, Too

“His Followers—Including Us, Too”

John 17-9 Jesus prays for us

John 17:6-19 (17:9) – May 13, 2018

Throughout the centuries since Jesus’s death and resurrection, believers have followed their Lord Jesus and prayed for others. I suspect we all can picture Jesus and His friends during that last week before His crucifixion. And, Jesus was a person of deep prayer. This profound image is quite precious to me, and I suspect for you, too.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus prays for His followers. Not just any old prayer, but a significant prayer, at a profound time of Jesus’s life. The night before His crucifixion, when He must have had a thousand and one things on His mind, Jesus takes the time to think of and to pray for His followers; His friends and disciples.

Today is Mother’s Day. Today is a day to take the time to think of beloved mothers (and, those who have acted as mothers). Some more devout people even pray for their mothers. And grandmothers, and daughters and sisters. All those who act as mothers, too.

In many, many cases throughout this country—and beyond, around the world—many caring, loving and nurturing women have mothered those under their care. In cases of religious nurture, caring mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters—and others who have stood in the place of these maternal figures—have prayed for their friends, relatives and loved ones, too.

Whether nearby or far away, prayer makes that intimate connection, that bond between friends, relatives, and loved ones. It does not matter whether the pray-er and the ones prayed for are next door, in the next town, or separated by miles, mountains or oceans.

Jesus was making that connection, too, through His prayer.

As we have noted before in weeks past, the disciples were anxious, worried, even scared to death. And, Jesus knew that very well. Remember His words of comfort from just a short while before this? In John 14:27, where Jesus says “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.”

Of course, Jesus knew how serious this all was! He knew He was going to be beaten, jeered at, crucified, and die. He knew it was all going to happen in less than twenty-four hours. Yet, Jesus still had the amazing love, nurture and caring for His friends and disciples that He would say such things as these. Jesus did not allow the horror and anguish of what was to come take away from the love, caring and connection He had with His friends.

In today’s passage from John 17, Jesus expresses His deepest yearning for His closest followers. But, there is much more. Commentator Janet Hunt says “[Jesus] speaks to them all together at length ‘one last time’ as he sits with his disciples at table that Thursday night. … For instance, we get a sense of Jesus’ profound connection to the one to Whom he prays. And we are told that those who followed Jesus had learned of the truth of this as well.” [1]

How often do we hear of a faithful, devout mother or grandmother or auntie or dear friend praying for her loved one, asking God to take care of this dear one, whether nearby or far away? And, even when things become depressingly sad, or that diagnosis turns into a hospice admit, or the divorce finally happens, God is still able to be there and be present with the one prayed for. And their family.

As we can see from today’s scripture reading, Jesus prayed for His closest followers and friends. I love the way Dr. David Lose puts it: Jesus “senses their anxiety, confusion, and fear, and so he prays for them. He knows they can bear no more, and so he prays for them. He knows he will soon leave them, and so he prays for them. And as he does, and whether or not they understand everything he says, he tells them that they do not have to do everything or even understand everything.” [2]

Jesus was a master at making connections, just as relatives do in a close family, just as dear friends make intimate connections with each other. Sure, this climactic point in the Passion Week, this night in which Jesus was betrayed, had all the disciples’ emotions and feelings at a breaking point. Sadness, anxiety, fear, anger, horror. And, we know Jesus was there with His friends in the middle of all of those tumultuous feelings.

What about those in countless congregations today, and those who did not go to a house of worship this weekend, who had (or are still having) difficulty with the relationship with their mom? What about those whose mothers are somehow unwilling or unable to care for their children? What about those who have given children up for adoption? Mother’s Day is certainly difficult for these hurting people.

What about the mothers who have had miscarriages, or stillbirths, or abortions? What about those mothers who have lost a young—or not-so-young child? What about those who have never been mothers—for a whole host of different reasons? Yet, these women often care for and nurture others, whether theirs by natural means, or through choice. And even more important, Jesus is certainly able to love, nurture and care for all of these loved caregivers, all of these called children of God.

As we look at John 17, we can be sure that Jesus used His masterful way of connecting to show love, care and nurture. Pastor Tim Yee had the following illustration: “Jedd Medefind and Erik Lokkesmoe’s book, The Revolutionary Communicator, stresses seeking connection as an important communication tool that Jesus modeled, as he engaged people… This story [the authors] share of a little boy visiting a grieving elderly widower illustrates the power of seeking connection: The mother noticed the little boy crossing into the neighbor’s yard and climbing up into the old man’s lap. He remained there for some time, sitting quietly. When the boy returned home, his mother met him with her hands on her hips. “I told you not to bother him!” she scolded. “What were you doing?” “I wasn’t doing anything,” the little fellow answered. “I was just helping him cry.” (p. 23) [3]

Yes, Jesus prayed for the disciples, and “not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word…” That includes us! Just as a devout mother or grandma prays for her loved ones, just as Jesus seeks a intimate and loving connection with His friends and followers, so we can seek to have that deep connection with one another.

Dr. David Lose invites all of us to hear these words of Jesus addressed to each of us today. To imagine – really, to know – that Jesus was praying for us all those years ago and continues to care for us, support us, and love and connect with us today. Please take a moment to think about where we need to be more whole, to have more peace in our lives. And then, imagine that Jesus is actively, intimately praying for each of you. And, indeed, for all of us. [4]

Jesus is caring for us, you know. Jesus loves each of us that much.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://dancingwiththeword.com/last-words/  “Last Words,” Janet H Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2018.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2566  David Lose The Power of Being Prayed For

[3] Revolutionary Communicator: Seeking Connection

https://lifeforleaders.depree.org/revolutionary-communicator-seeking-connection/?utm_source=Life%20for%20Leaders&utm_campaign=6da0a06843-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_05_12&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_daeb77a376-6da0a06843-85700765&mc_cid=6da0a06843&mc_eid=6effffadbb

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2566  David Lose The Power of Being Prayed For

@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!)

Riches of God’s Inheritance

“Riches of God’s Inheritance”

eph-1-18-riches-of-heart-paul

Ephesians 1:1-2, 15-19 (1:18) – November 6, 2016

It’s All Saints’ Sunday! The day set apart to commemorate all the saints. Not only the living saints of today, but all the saints, all those who have ever believed in God, for all time.

Who is a saint, anyhow? We have the Apostle Paul. He is called a saint by many streams of Christian faith and tradition, and has been known as one for hundreds and hundreds of years. A powerhouse of a believer, that’s to be sure! What about St. Luke, who our church is named after? The only Gentile to author books in our Bible, and a learned man. A doctor. He certainly is lifted up as a prime example of faith in our Lord.

But that was centuries ago. Who do we lift up as saints today? Mother Theresa was just declared a saint by Pope Francis several months ago. Her example as the founder of the order the Missionaries of Charity, and her piety and good works are definitely something for all of us to emulate. What about on the Protestant side of the aisle? Some would say people like Martin Luther King Jr. ought to be lifted up, who did so much to promote the worth and position of people of color, of women and of downtrodden individuals all over the world. What about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who steadfastly stood against the rise of the Nazi party in Germany in the 1930’s and into the 1940’s, and trained pastors secretly in a forbidden seminary. He wrote extensively about not only the Christian faith, but the fearsome menace of the Fascists in Germany against not only Christians, but against all people of conscience, all over the world.

Yes, we commemorate all of these, and many more. The Apostle Paul surely would nod his head in agreement. But, what does our scripture lesson for today have to do with all of these big names, all of these rock stars of the Christian faith? Good question! For the answer, let’s turn to the passage from Ephesians, the beginning of Paul’s letter.

Starting at verse one, chapter one: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Do you hear? Saints! Paul calls everyone who belongs to the church in Ephesus a saint. A believer, one who is faithful to Jesus.

One of the commentators I consulted says “In Paul’s understanding the title “saint” belongs to those who have been united with Christ. He routinely calls the members of his churches “saints” (Ephesians 1:1 and 1:15) because of who they are in Christ and not because of what they have accomplished. [1] (italics mine)

We take these writings in the New Testament to heart. We believe the biblical writers not only to have addressed these letters to the stated churches and people, but we consider these writings to be addressed to us, too. So—Paul is calling us saints. In Greek, it is hagioi, or holy ones, set-apart-ones. That is us, too!

Our scripture lesson today lifts up Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian believers, or saints. These are Paul’s friends. He had been pastor in Ephesus in the past for many months, and he had developed some deep, intimate relationships with some of the people there. Now far away, he writes this letter to his friends, his former congregation.

When you have deep, intimate relationships with people, and then move far away, how do you keep in touch? Today, of course, with the telephone, computer and social media, there are many ways to stay connected. But, in Paul’s day? Not so much. Besides returning to see the friend for a visit, the options were personal letters, and visits from emissaries, who might deliver a personal message to a friend or relative.

Paul really wanted to communicate some specific things. He does this in a prayer; the prayer in the passage we read today. Paul prays for the Ephesians…but, how does he pray? For what? He mentions faith! Love! Hope! Riches!

Let’s break that down. He leads off with the two most significant, and in a compliment to his friends, too! Verse 15: “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints;” that is, for all of their fellow believers in Christ. And, I think Paul is talking about the Ephesians’ love for all saints, everywhere!. That’s huge! Could someone say that about us? About this group of believers, right here at St. Luke’s Church?

I want us to pay particular attention. That compliment of Paul’s is a great example for us. To love not only believers nearby, who look like us and worship like we do on Sunday morning, but also have love for believers far away, who look and act and speak in very different ways, and may not worship in ways that are familiar, or even comfortable to our way of thinking. Certainly, something to think about.

Let’s get to the heart of this prayer (and the heart of this sermon); look at Paul’s mention of hope and riches. This is his earnest request of God: “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ…may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation…so that, you may know what is the hope to which God has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.”

Here is Paul’s earnest prayer for his friends in Ephesus, and by extension, earnest prayer for all of us, too! That we may be fully aware of 1) the hope of our Calling by God, and 2) the riches of God’s glorious inheritance.

Let me double check. Then, if we understand Paul correctly, we can tell that we are saints—holy people—set apart—solely because of who we are in Christ, not because of anything we have done, or how good we have been, or any other striving or good works on our part. And that is consistent with exactly what we have heard last week, in our Reformation Day sermon. We are set free—we are made holy people, hagioi, saints of God—by Jesus Christ. Not because of anything we have done, or by our puny striving, or our paltry good works. (What a marvelous tie-in to last week’s sermon!)

You may be wondering why I asked everyone to bring in photos of their loved one who have died. I wanted a visible reminder of these beloved saints, these loved ones who have gone before us, into God’s blessed presence. Paul prays that the Ephesian saints may know the riches of our glorious inheritance—which is salvation! Redemption! Adoption as God’s beloved children. Our loved ones who are now in God’s presence know those glorious riches firsthand.

In a few minutes, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It is not only us gathered here who celebrate, but it is that great cloud of witnesses we spoke of, at the beginning of the service. We have our own cloud of witnesses, too, who are gathered here around the altar. Who we remember and miss and think of with fondness, and who are with us each time we gather together as a congregation in worship.

Each time we gather together at this table, we join the communion of saints—and our own cloud of witnesses to God’s glory and unbounded love. Just as they are feasting in heaven right now, around God’s own banquet table, so we feast here today. A foretaste of that banquet in heaven, and the blessed hope of the reunion to come.

Let us not forget: as the Apostle Paul reminds us, we can also celebrate the riches of our inheritance! That is, our forgiveness by Jesus Christ, our salvation and redemption in His name, and our adoption as children of God. Saints of God! That title of “saints” isn’t just for the superstars of faith, but it’s for you and me, too. To all who believe. Praise God! Amen!

 

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1634  Ephesians 1:11-23, Mark Tranvik, All Saints C, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

Preach the Word!

“Preach the Word!”

2-tim-4-2-preach-the-word-water

2 Timothy 4:2 – October 16, 2016

For those who have had a mentor relationship—either as a mentor or a ment-ee—this kind of relationship can be so rewarding. This is the kind of relationship I had with Pastor Gordon, when we worked together years ago for almost a year at another UCC church. He was the mentor, I was the ment-ee. Paul and Timothy had this kind of relationship. Close, nurturing, and a blessing to both parties. In their case, this relationship was especially close. Paul even called Timothy “my true son in the faith.”

We get glimpses of the deep, nurturing relationship between Paul and Timothy in several of the New Testament letters. However, perhaps the deepest, most personal window into their relationship comes from this letter, the second letter to Timothy recorded in the New Testament.

Some backstory. Paul is in prison in Rome. This is nothing new for Paul. He had been imprisoned multiple times throughout his time as a follower of Jesus Christ. What is the most urgent thing on Paul’s mind? His direct command, his charge to his son in the faith: “Preach the Word! In season and out of season.” (In other words, all the time.)

Yes, Timothy was a pastor, and a preacher. We can take this command as something that Paul only meant for Timothy. Or, expand it a little further, and consider it a command for any pastor, for any preacher.

I would like to let everyone here know that I always—always—start with the Word of God. When I start preparing my sermons, I pray over the text. I ask God what the message is that God wants me to deliver to the congregation. I research the pertinent passage, and sometimes other, related passages from the Bible. Sometimes I take a closer look at the original languages, and at the nuances and the shades of meaning in the translations. Then, after all that, I write the sermon. And, I hope and pray I may faithfully proclaim God’s Word to the congregation. Always.

That is what I—personally—do as I bring the Word of God to you, each week. But, I believe Paul is talking to more than just his son in the faith. I believe Paul’s message can be taken to heart by all believers. Not only by me, or Pastor Gordon, or Pastor Kevin from Epiphany UCC, or Pastor Vertie Powers from the Chicago Metropolitan Association. But, Paul’s message is for all of us. Each of us, individually. At this church, and any every church.

As is so often the case with the Apostle Paul, he crammed a ton of ideas into a very small space. Let’s read his directions to Timothy, again, starting at 3:14: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.” Paul had already praised Timothy for his careful learning from his grandmother and mother, Lois and Eunice, at the beginning of this letter. Here, he expands this idea.

Here, Paul ”refers to the people from whom Timothy has learned. (And it is ’people,’ more than Paul alone, but a collection of people, since the ‘whom’ in 3:14 is plural.)” [1] We know that Timothy learned from his mother and grandmother, because Paul said so. Perhaps Timothy also went to Hebrew school, or Torah classes, or studied with some rabbinic scholar as a teen. But, Paul said Timothy learned from a number of people. Mentors. Teachers. Coaches. Elders in the faith, people who had thorough, lived-or-demonstrated faith. Their faithfulness, which made Timothy who he was as an adult.

Go back in your mind and memory. Can you remember one or two special people who instructed you in the faith? People who lived out their Christian faith each day, every day?

I can remember one dear woman when I was in elementary school on the northwest side of Chicago at the Lutheran church. I vividly remember a senior, Mrs. Pabst (who died many years ago). She was faithful. She was kind. She had the spiritual gifts of helps and mercy and service to others in abundance. She was unfailingly loving and giving to others. Each day. Every day. She lived out the Christian life in front of me. I learned practical theology from Mrs. Pabst: how to make theology part of everyday life and apply it to the nuts and bolts of everyday living. She demonstrated the Christian faith as part of who she was.

That’s what Paul is talking about here. He praises Timothy for having absorbed practical theology from mentors, teachers, coaches. The Christian faith was part of who Timothy was.

Who have we learned from? Who showed us how to make practical theology part of our everyday lives? Great question! I’ll let us all ponder that for today.

Let’s get back to talking about the Word. Yes, Paul commanded Timothy to preach the Word. What else does Paul say about the Word? About Scripture? These verses are rich with meaning. Paul says that Timothy learned Scripture from the time he was very small. From his infancy Timothy had been exposed to God’s Word, which was—which is able to make all of us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

How about for us, today? Does that mean learning about Scripture in Sunday school? Memorizing verses in Confirmation classes? Sharing at bible study or at prayer time? Yes, yes, and yes. All of those, and so much more. What about decorating the sanctuary for Christmas? What about getting the fellowship hall ready for the Spaghetti Dinner or the Not-So-Lent Fish Fry? What about working at the Car Wash? Or praying for others with the email Prayer Chain?

Can those be times when we learn from each other how to be of service, and how to live Godly lives in a cheerful, faithful way? How to DO practical theology?

Just letting you all know: this final letter is bittersweet. More than sad. Paul is coming to the end of the road; he knows it. This time, he knew he had very little time left before he was executed. Beheaded. He has lost the final appeal, before the Emperor in Rome. Time is short—Paul desperately needs to give Timothy a final charge: “Preach the Word!”

We can all point to preachers on street corners or on television, or on the Internet. Preachers who give us lessons in how NOT to preach the Word. Preachers who use a boom box or a bullhorn, using guilt and shame as weapons to browbeat passersby into their “churches.” False preachers like these have no regard for those hearing the message. They do not deliver the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. God’s Word that transforms the life of every person who truly believes.

Communicating the transforming Word of God is the ministry of the Church. The main job of each and every believer. Just as Paul praised Timothy for having absorbed practical theology from mentors, teachers, coaches, just as Paul recognized that the Christian faith was part of who Timothy was, so each of us can live out the Christian faith each day. Every day. We can make theology part of our everyday lives, too.

We can have confidence and faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord, our Savior. We all can live lives that let everyone know we are Christians because we have love for one another. We can strive to be unfailingly loving and giving to others. Many others. Each day. Every day. And when we finally stand before Jesus Christ in glory, we will hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

St. Francis of Assisi made theology part of his everyday life, making the Christian faith part of who he was. He reminded us, “Preach the Gospel at all times. And when necessary, use words.” Let those with ears to hear, let them hear. Amen.

 

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1836 ; Commentary, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Matt Skinner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

@chaplaineliza

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

The Widow’s Contribution

“The Widow’s Contribution”

Mark 12-42 widow, mite mosaic

Mark 12:43 – November 8, 2015

I have a friend who is recently retired. He goes around town, quietly, and does good. He was raised in the church, but that was a good many years ago. Yes, he does have a belief in God, and he expresses that faith by doing good for others and being faithful.

Sometimes that means driving people to a doctor’s appointment. Or volunteering at a local not-for-profit organization. Sometimes that means picking up the left-over baked goods from a business at the end of the day, at closing time. And then, delivering the baked goods to a homeless shelter. He does all of this without thanks, with little or no fanfare. He is faithful. He is dependable. He contributes, in any way he can. And, I am so glad he is my friend.

We turn to the Gospel reading for today, from Mark 12. Jesus and His disciples are in Jerusalem, and Jesus is having another in those continuing discussions with the chief leaders and teachers of the Jewish Law. They happen to be in the rear of the Temple. Large sanctuary, lots of coming and going, to and fro.

These are several verses from Eugene Peterson’s excellent translation, The Message. Mark sets the scene in verse 41: “Sitting across from the offering box, Jesus was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection.”

Wait, didn’t the congregation at the Temple in the first century pass an offering plate? How did they collect money to keep the doors of the Temple open? And, was there any outreach, any charitable giving being done?

For this, we turn to Matthew Henry’s commentary on this chapter from Mark. “There was a public fund for charity, into which contributions were brought, and out of which distributions were made; a poor’s-box, and this in the Temple; for works of charity and works of piety very fitly go together; where God is honoured by our worship, it is proper He should be honoured by the relief of His poor.”;

So, different cultures and different places of worship, not to mention different centuries. We are looking at a slightly different practice of collecting money. Just to make sure everyone is on the same page. The principles of giving and generosity are the same, and those principles span the cultures and the centuries.

Apparently, people used to hang out at the back of the Temple and talk, have discussions, and sometimes debate. Oh—and they would also check out how much other people were contributing to the Temple and to the charitable fund. (I’m quite serious.)

Remember how open, how blatantly obvious the religious leaders were, about their religious observance? Their ostentatious prayer practice, their ritual observance of washing and cleanliness, their attention to the least little bits of the Jewish Law Code, and their finger-wagging and complaining about other people who weren’t quite as observant? So, of course the prideful extra-observant people among the religious crowd would be extreme in their giving practices. Talk about being a show-off!

Jesus has dealt with this kind of prideful observant attitude before. Here in our reading, we see Him dealing with this kind of show-offy attitude again, only in the matter of giving to the needy. What is the next thing He notices? From Mark 12: “Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents.”

What is this? Jesus does a compare/contrast sort of thing. He compares the large contributions of the rich people with the measly two small coins that the widow contributed. Large amount compared to a small amount.

We will take a short detour and look at our reading from the Old Testament for today. This passage from 1 Kings is a fascinating reading, about how God provided for the prophet Elijah in the time of an extended drought.

I could have preached my sermon to you from this reading! But pairing this passage with the reading from Mark makes a more powerful story.

Elijah was one of the most prominent prophets in the Old Testament. He was God’s spokesman in a time when the nation of Israel was not following God very well at all. King Ahab was married to a foreign Queen named Jezebel, who led Ahab and much of the rest of Israel into idolatry and worship of false idols. That is one of the reasons why God sent an extended drought onto the whole region of the Middle East.

Elijah listened to God, and God communicated to Elijah to head up north, near Damascus, to the home of a non-Jewish widow in the town of Zarephath. Ordinarily, widows were not very well off, with no husband and little means of support. This widow was really, really poor. By the time Elijah arrived at her house, she only had one bag of flour and one jar of oil left in her pantry, and that is all. Hard for us here in the Chicago suburbs to believe that she had so little. Remember, it was a time of extended drought,food prices must have been going through the roof.

Elijah worked a miracle. God provided for the widow, her son, and the prophet. The widow made food for her, her son, and for their tenant the prophet Elijah, every day. The bag of flour and the jar of oil did not run out for months, until the Lord allowed the rains to return and the crops to grow again. Did you hear? God provided for them, out of God’s abundance.

This is what I suspect Jesus was thinking of when He pointed out the widow who put the two coins into the collection box. What did Jesus say? “Jesus called His disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”

Did everyone hear what Jesus points out?

All of these show-off rich people gave a portion out of their abundance. But the poor widow? The widow gave extravagantly. She gave over and above. She gave, trusting in God’s abundance. She gave, hope-filled, looking to God to provide for her needs. Like the widow in Zarephath, centuries before, this widow in Jerusalem trusts God to provide. This widow decides that everything she is and has belongs to God.

But, the treasurer and trustees at the Temple might have had a problem with this kind of thinking, and this kind of giving. Guess what? Too bad! What is valued and lifted up by Jesus, what is important to the Kingdom of God is not what is valued in this world. God does not have a dollars-and-cents kind of perspective!

This vignette is just a slice of the widow’s life. But, I’d like to follow the widow home. See how she treats her neighbors. Does she bring over a pot of soup to a sick friend? Does she clean the apartment of someone who has fallen and broken their leg? And what about her listening skills? Is she someone people come to, to talk about their troubles? Giving to God is so much more than just dollars and cents. So much more than just the coins the show-offy rich people put into the collection box in the Temple.

What about us, today? How can we take this scripture lesson today, and apply it to our lives? Is it just a nice story about what happened to people in Jesus’s day? Or, is it much more?

Today, we all can be like the widow in Jerusalem. This widow gave extravagantly. She gave over and above. She gave, trusting in God’s abundance. And, this widow decides that everything she is and has belongs to God. Like my friend I told you about, who does lots of things without thanks, with little or no fanfare. We all can be faithful. We all can be dependable. We all can contribute, in any way we can, to God and to God’s kingdom.

God willing, I’ll contribute to God’s kingdom. Will you contribute, too? Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!