Who Are We Looking For?

“Who Are We Looking For?”

Jesus and empty tomb

Matthew 28:1-10 (28:5-7) – April 12, 2020

Are you living in the midst of uncertainty? Not sure of what is happening from day to day? Sometimes, not even sure of which day it is? I talked with my sister yesterday, and she admitted she lost track of the days of the week a few days ago. I know for many, the “right-now-time” throws many people into a tailspin, and knocks them down. The “right-now-time” of quarantine is an uncertain, uncomfortable time. A time of not-knowing!

That is what it was like for the followers for the Rabbi Jesus, immediately after the crucifixion. They were in a tailspin, knocked down and uncertain what was coming next.

Their Rabbi, their leader and guide had just been killed in a particularly gruesome fashion on Friday afternoon. Joseph of Arimathea had gotten the body of Jesus released to him late Friday, and they quickly put Him in the tomb before night fell. It was the Sabbath night, too, so they had great reason for the big hurry. Friday night and Saturday day were—and are—the Jewish day of rest, especially made holy because of the Passover observance.

At such an uncertain, uncomfortable time, what do you think the disciples did on that Saturday, on that Sabbath day? Some may have cowered in fear, afraid that the Roman soldiers would come after Jesus’s close associates, too. Some may have been too grief-stricken even to move, to eat. Some may have gotten angry—angry at the Roman overlords, and angry at the Jewish authorities, but felt impotent to do anything about their anger.

What about us? What are we doing in the midst of this quarantine period, this “right-now-time” of the pandemic? Some today may also be afraid, fearful, anxious about ourselves and our loved ones. Some—whose lives have already been intimately touched by this virus—are grieving and mourning because of loved ones who are very sick or have already died. And then, there are those who are downright angry! Angry with an invisible virus, angry at the various responses to the pandemic, but feel personally impotent to do much about their anger.

Our Gospel writer, Matthew, tells us of the two women disciples who come to the tomb early Sunday morning. They come where they laid Jesus’s body on that desperate Friday afternoon. They grieve and mourn, and have spices to anoint the body properly, since on Friday there hadn’t been enough time for a proper burial. Except—Jesus is not in the tomb!

Can you see the two women, thunderstruck, as they stand in front of the empty tomb? The stone has been rolled away, showing the hole in the rock. Plus, on top of the stone sits a miraculous sight in its own right. An angel, dressed in bright, shining white, waits to speak with the women. Can you imagine their surprise, shock, even fear at the angel’s appearance? The angel says, “Don’t be afraid!” I can just see the shining figure, hand outstretched, comforting words calming their fears and anxiety.

Here we are in 2020, in the midst of the “right-now-time” of the pandemic, and we need an angel to come and reassure us! Some today have even forgotten what the presence of God feels like. We badly need comforting words to calm our fears, anxiety, anger and confusion.

The angel did exactly that. The angel tells the women disciples not to be afraid, and repeats the words of Jesus—“He is not here, just as He said!” And then, “Quickly, go tell the other disciples Jesus is risen!”

Those women had their fear, grieving and uncertainty disappear in a moment! Alas, it won’t be quite that miraculous or quite that sudden for a recovery from this pandemic.

My journalist husband makes memes from time to time, and they sometimes have biting social commentary. He recently made a meme with a grandfatherly-type man reading to two young children, with a snarky comment about “the before-time.” But, what about the “right-now-time?” That tense time between the diagnosis and the treatment? Or that worried time when others have lost the job that provides income for their household? Or, that anxious time when we fear for loved ones who are essential workers? Or, that waiting time when some cannot even sit next to an ICU bed in the hospital because of COVID-19?

We are living through tumultuous times, indeed. I suspect, when people look back on the year 2020, there will be a clear line of demarcation between the “before-time,” the “right-now-time” in the midst of the pandemic, and whatever comes after. We hope, we pray that this next time may be known as the “recovery-time.”

As the angel told the women and men disciples, Jesus is no longer in the tomb! Jesus is risen! Yes, those were desperate, anxious times for the disciples, and yet Jesus said He would be with them. There have been fearful, anxious times throughout history, yet Jesus has conquered death. Disasters, famines, floods, and yes, pandemics have come upon great numbers of people at times—yet Jesus tells us, urges us “Don’t be afraid!”

Yes, the women were afraid, yet full of joy! We can take heart that Jesus gives us the assurance that He is alive!

“God is not finished yet. We might recall that, indeed, God’s favorite thing to do is to show up where we least expect God to be and to surprise those who have given up on God.” [1] Jesus has promised; He will be with us! And, His peace can never be taken away from us, no matter what. That is Good News, indeed. Amen, alleluia!

 

(I would like to thank Rev. Dr. David Lose. For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas from his commentary on Holy Saturday, from his online article http://www.davidlose.net/2020/04/the-forgotten-day/ )

@chaplaineliza

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

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2020/04/the-forgotten-day/

Who Is This Jesus?

“Who Is This Jesus?”

Jesus Palm Sunday, Armenian manuscript

Matthew 21:1-11 (21:10) – April 5, 2020

Do you remember watching a parade? Some might think of a small, neighborhood parade, or a large, elaborate one. I remember watching old newsreels, the kind that used to be shown in old-time movie theaters, with a cartoon before the feature film. Some of the tickertape parades I saw on the newsreels were huge spectacles, with massive crowds waving as the guest of honor came by, usually in an open convertible.

You understand the picture? That is the scene from the Gospel we are talking about today. Except, instead of confetti and tickertape, the crowds in Jerusalem waved palms. Some even threw their coats or cloaks in front of the guest of honor. Both the long-ago crowd and the modern crowd yelled and hollered and made all kinds of noise.

The Rabbi Jesus had been in circulation in the area for three years. He had been preaching with power and healing people for all that time. I suspect that great crowds wanted to welcome Jesus into the city of Jerusalem, for a number of reasons. And, a great number of people used a word from the Hebrew Scriptures to welcome Jesus. Hosanna!

Hosanna! Let’s say it again. Hosanna! Today, that word is familiar to many from church. From Palm Sunday. It’s something that people say—what children say when they wave their palms. Isn’t it? Isn’t that what it means?

The word “Hosanna!” comes from Psalm 118, meaning “Save us!” It was used when the crowds welcomed the Jewish hero Judas Maccabeus to Jerusalem, more than a century before Jesus lived in Palestine. “Isn’t the Rabbi Jesus a prophet? A healer? Didn’t He have all kinds of power? I haven’t seen it, personally, but I’ve heard about Him from all kinds of people! He’s a wonderful Rabbi, too. Don’t you think He might be the Messiah? He’s come to save us!”

I can just hear the crowd: “Save us!” “Please, bless us! Make us prosper!” “Hosanna!” In this single word, “Hosanna!” the crowd communicates a whole lot of things!

What did the crowd think of Jesus, two thousand years ago? Who did they think He was?

Today, people have lots of opinions about Jesus. Can you hear some of these ideas when people cry out to Him? Some consider Jesus to be a prophet, even a miracle worker. They certainly honor Jesus. Others think of Jesus as a very good man, one whose words, deeds and teaching were a cut above the rest of humanity. Some think the man Jesus exemplified the best of God as Jesus understood God. Or, is Jesus God incarnate, God come to earth in human flesh?

What did the crowd think of Jesus, two thousand years ago? Who did they think He was? Remember, Israel was under Roman domination. The Jews were a conquered people, under tight control by the Roman army. There had been rumors and whispers of a coming Messiah among the Jews for decades, even for centuries.

“Isn’t the Rabbi Jesus a prophet? A healer? Didn’t He have all kinds of power? I haven’t seen it, personally, but I’ve heard about Him from all kinds of people! He’s a wonderful Rabbi, too. Don’t you think He might be the Messiah? He’s come to save us!” With such urgency, such expectations, it’s no wonder the crowds cried “Hosanna!” “Save us, please!”

In the last number of weeks, not only in this country, but worldwide, vast numbers of people look calamity stark in the face. We have the loss of jobs, loss of income, loss of freedom of movement. What have we got in exchange? More fear and anxiety, more anger and confusion, more mourning. What about first responders, medical workers, janitorial staffs, grocery store workers, and people who pack and ship everything from A to Z? Front line workers all. I cannot begin to tell you about fear, worry, sorrow and anticipatory grief in operation here.

We need someone to come and be our Savior, the Rock of our salvation.

The corona virus is not quite like a physical enemy, one we are able to fight through the force of arms. Not like the Roman army, or the armies the United States fought in the wars over the past two hundred years. Would we, today, have reacted much differently than the crowds that greeted and shouted at the Rabbi Jesus? Or, would we be blinded by our fear, anxiety, confusion and profound grief at this current, horrible pandemic? Are we hearing “Hosanna!” differently this Palm Sunday? How can we walk with our Lord Jesus through this Holy Week?

Let me suggest things to do to help each other, at this desperate, anxious time. Can we show each other more kindness, help each other, be more selfless? Perhaps, even be more like Christ in our daily lives and daily activities? We can all do small, caring actions, each day. Call or text a loved one or friend. Offer to take out the garbage for a neighbor, for those who are able. Check on a senior who lives down the street—using appropriate social distance, of course.

As we call on God in our great need, can we see how God in the flesh comes to us? Humble, gentle and riding on a donkey, not charging in on a white stallion, or riding in a late model tank. Our Lord Jesus comes in vulnerability, and weakness, to join with each of us and be with us through our trials and tribulations. God comes to love us and redeem us, no matter what our situation may be. No matter what.

Praise God! Hosanna! Thank You, Jesus.

 

I would like to thank Rev. Dr. David Lose. For this sermon, I have borrowed several ideas from his commentary on Matthew 21:1-11 from his article Palm Sunday A – The Greater Irony

Posted: 31 Mar 2020 11:12 AM PDT http://www.davidlose.net/2020/03/palm-sunday-a-the-greater-irony/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+davidlose%2FIsqE+%28…In+the+Meantime%29

@chaplaineliza

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

Shine the Light

“Shine the Light”

Matt 5-16 light so shine

Matthew 5:13-16 (5:16) – February 9, 2020

My family lives in Evanston, not too far from Lighthouse Beach. Yes, there is still a working lighthouse standing on the lakefront. In fact, a number of working lighthouses still are shining their lights over Lake Michigan, and the other Great Lakes. Less so today, with all the electronic and computer-assisted help, but in years past, lighthouses had an essential purpose in helping navigators stay safe on stormy water.

I suspect Jesus knew about lighthouses and navigation lights, living near the sea of Galilee as He did. Navigation lights help sailors a great deal, giving them direct knowledge and understanding about how to stay safe on the water. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus talks about light. He’s talking directly to the people listening to Him, who I suspect are mostly His followers. And—Jesus makes this remarkable statement: “You are the light of the world.”

Some might think that our Lord Jesus is just expressing a pious platitude, or perhaps a devout wish. Oh, I wish people could be the light of the world! Wouldn’t it be nice?

However, Jesus not only is saying that about the people listening to Him at the time, 2000 years ago, but He is also saying that to everyone who reads these words in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus says those words to us, here, today. We are the light of the world.

Now, if we are light, that implies certain things. Jesus means that the world is in a state of darkness. What is it like to be in darkness, with no light? Let me tell you, when I was younger, I used to go to rural Wisconsin and do tent camping a long way away from any electric lights or settled places. It got really dark at night, and I sure was glad I had a flashlight! I suspect some of you have had similar experiences in the dark. It gets really dark at night, far from the safety of electricity and steady sources of light. It can be scary and dangerous, too.

I’ve never been out on a stormy night on the water, but I suspect people can be very scared of dangerous conditions on the ocean or on a big lake, too. That is one reason why people have depended on lighthouses and navigation lights for safety, security and direction, for many centuries.

As we have mentioned before in weeks past, light and darkness both have their places in God’s world. Darkness can be gentle and needed at times. During Advent and Epiphany, we thought about different aspects about darkness that are warm, friendly, even inviting. We thought about nocturnal animals, gestating animals, and growing seeds underground. All in the warm, nurturing, friendly darkness. These examples give us a whole different view of darkness as opposed to light.

Except, we do not want there to be no light at all in the world, ever, and only perpetual darkness. Perpetual darkness can be a downright scary idea. Jesus told us clearly that we are the light of the world, bringing light into dark places. Can you think of times and places where light is much needed?

As I read the words of one of my favorite commentators this past week, Rev. Janet Hunt, this concept struck home to me. See whether her words strike you as true, too.

“Light helps us to distinguish difference and to celebrate diversity.

Light can deepen understanding.

Light works on cellular structures to promote growth.

Light heals.

Light helps us find our way.

Light. And today Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” [1]

I don’t know about you, but I suspect Pastor Janet Hunt would absolutely agree with us when we also add lighthouses and navigation lights to the list of things that help each of us to find our way in the dark. Yes, darkness can be gentle and welcoming, but darkness is also scary, producing anxiety. Darkness can cause fear of the unknown, and even make people shrink to engage and interact. And, on dark and stormy nights on the water, we all sure are glad to see lighthouses and navigation lights that show us the way to go.   

When Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world, that means that Jesus is describing our inside nature as followers of Him. After all, He also said He is the light of the world in John chapter 8. Just as Jesus came into the world to bring light to people who walk in darkness, just so Jesus has given each of us that light. Jesus gives us power to display that light of His like a lighthouse brings light to a dark, dangerous coastline, providing hope and direction.

Now, wait, some people might say. I know that professional Christians are supposed to bring people the light of God. Professional Christians have learned how to do that in school, haven’t they? Well, yes. But, Jesus is not just talking to professionals here. Jesus means this description of our inside nature to be for all of us—for every believer in Him.

How are each of us supposed to shine the light of Jesus? That’s hard. That’s scary.

I remember a friend of mine—Miss Rose, who I’ve mentioned before. I came to know and love Miss Rose over thirty years ago at another Chicago-area church. She was a church member all of her life, and her special ministry was working with the children. She loved being a Sunday school teacher, and she would eagerly and willingly tell children and young people about the Lord. She never shied away from letting people know that she shined the light of Jesus as much as she possibly could.

When I think about this verse from Matthew 5, I often think of Miss Rose, shining the light of Jesus, and bringing hope and direction to many young people.

Imagine my delight at meeting Miss Rose again, when I was a chaplain intern at the Presbyterian Homes, a senior retirement community in Evanston. While I was in seminary, one of my field education positions was as a chaplain intern in the large healthcare unit there.

Miss Rose was a resident living there. And lo and behold, Miss Rose shared her love of the Lord with everyone in the healthcare unit. She was the light of the world in her little corner of the world. Even though she was in constant pain, Miss Rose never let that stop her shining the light of Jesus. When I grow up, I want to be like Miss Rose.  

I want to provide a challenge for all of us. As Pastor Janet Hunt says, we are all called to go into dark places with the light of Jesus. Sometimes, we are even called to shine the light of God onto an unfair or sad situation, and bring comfort, direction and friendship.

  • Where have you seen such ‘light’ bringing hope, direction, and promise to a world that is too often dark?
  • Where will you seek to bring such ‘light,’ to be such ‘light’ in the days to come? And, how might you do this together with others who are called to ‘be the light of the world’ with you?

All great questions. I pray that we might go forth from this place, all of us shining the light of Jesus in our particular corner of the world, each and every day.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://dancingwiththeword.com/you-are-the-light-of-the-world-2/

@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!

[I would like to thank the Rev. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his superb book Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI, 1971). For this sermon, I have borrowed several extended ideas from Chapter Fifteen, “The Light of the World.” Thanks so much!]

 

 

 

Dynamic Spirit Power!

“Dynamic Spirit Power!”

Acts 2 Pentecost mural

Acts 2:2-4 – June 9, 2019

Have you ever been outside in hurricane-force winds? Either you, or a loved one you know and who is very dear to you? How about a massive storm that has huge bolts of lightning, and loud cracks of thunder? Can you imagine God’s mighty power displayed, for everyone to see and hear and feel? Anyone who has ever been caught in such a powerful storm can tell you, such a dynamic panorama can be earthshaking, literally. That mighty God-sent power is just what I’ll be preaching about today.

Most of us, perhaps even all of us are familiar with the disciples’ fearful reaction after our Lord Jesus ascended into heaven. And, for good reason! The Roman authorities were still hunting for the body of the Rabbi Jesus that disappeared from the tomb, some weeks before. Remember what happened on Easter morning? Not only the Roman authorities but also Jewish leaders were still demanding to see the body of this itinerant rabbi that they said was stolen from the tomb! Of course, we know better.

God’s mighty, miraculous power intervened, by way of the Resurrection and Ascension. Our Lord rose from the dead, walked and taught on this earth in His resurrected body for seven weeks, followed by His bodily ascension into heaven. What is more, the last instructions of Jesus to wait for power, to stay put in Jerusalem, were still fresh in people’s ears.

But—still, God left the disciples very much afraid, and very much in hiding. At least, after the risen Jesus went away for good. That’s what humans thought, anyhow.

Here we are, on Pentecost morning, waiting with the disciples. As was their custom, they were gathered for prayer in the Upper Room. Can you imagine a large group of disciples, with Jesus’ mother Mary in the midst of them? Talk about a prayer meeting! Still, they were huddled, in hiding. These disciples were being faithful, as best as they could. When, on Pentecost morning, a God-sent happening occurred. But, you don’t need to take my word for it!

Listen to what Dr. Luke says at the beginning of Acts 2: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

Now, today, if something like that happened, we might look around for the fancy special effects team in the background. We might wonder where the cameras were placed when those tongues of fire wondrously appeared above each person—marking them, letting everyone know that God was director, and God wrote the script.

Getting back to a description of a display of God’s mighty power, that other-worldly power was certainly on display in the sound like the blowing of a violent wind from heaven. In keeping with my analogy, God was also producer and certainly handled all special effects.

The Koine Greek word for “power” is dunamis, which the Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament defines as: able to produce a strong effect power, might, strength” and “as supernatural manifestations of power, miracle, wonder, powerful deed.” This is the same word that is used ten times in the book of Acts to refer to God’s mighty power or acts. Plus, dunamis is the root word for dynamite: the mighty, powerful dynamite of God!

This dynamic power was on display to the disciples, in the upper room. Dr. Luke mentions that “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” On display only among the disciples—at first. But, soon, other people started to get in on the action!

Let’s hear from Dr. Luke: “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?”

Once the dynamic Holy Spirit blows in on the disciples with tongues of fire, and their physical tongues are loosened in many other languages, what an awesome display of power! Passersby from other countries off the street gathered around. They heard the violent wind of the Spirit and the expression of many languages that quickly followed. All of the disciples were telling the Good News, that Jesus our Messiah is risen from the dead—in many different languages. And, probably because of the regional pronunciation, the expat onlookers were able to tell that many of those who were speaking different languages were Galileans. Is it any wonder that these onlookers were totally amazed?

I am reminded of a flash mob in some public place, like a mall or in a downtown square. Just as passersby are engrossed in the performance the flash mob does, in a similar way, the onlookers are fascinated by the whole God-sent operation that happened in Jerusalem on Pentecost morning, especially by the sharing of the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ in their own heart-language, their own mother tongue. And, since the Holy Spirit was present in mighty power on that Pentecost morning, many came to believe in Jesus as their Messiah that day.

But, Pentecost was not just a one-time event. You know, an event that happened just in the distant past, in Bible times, never to be repeated. No! Whenever anyone believes on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, a Pentecost happens! The Holy Spirit blows through that person, that beloved one of God. The Holy Spirit blows into each of our lives, and the power and possibility of God acting with and through each one of us is an amazing and awesome truth!

Commentator Rev. Gary Simpson brings out the fact “I am more aware of the numerous ways the Holy Spirit comes into people’s lives and affects positive change. No longer is my understanding of Pentecost simply wrapped around the phonetic languages we speak out of our mouths. Rather, I am aware of the many ways the Holy Spirit speaks through us and to us through sounds, pictures, ideas and even hope.” [1]

I am reminded that some people think Pentecost was just a day, an event that happened two thousand years ago. But, no! Wait a minute! Are these well-meaning people putting limits on the mighty power of God? What about that violent wind of the Holy Spirit that blew through the house on that first Pentecost? Are these well-meaning people trying to put God in a little box of their own devising and understanding?

As the Rev. Simpson reminds us, Pentecost is not simply a day to remember the birth of the Church, but it is also a day to celebrate the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, the dynamite of God, active and present in each believer’s life and heart. It is God’s power working in us and through us, so we can be witnesses to what the risen Lord Jesus has done for us. Yes, we are changed, too! And we have the opportunity to change the world, just as much as the first-century disciples of Christ—by the power of the God-sent dynamite of the Holy Spirit.

Alleluia! Amen.

[1] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=88

Lectionary Commentary, Acts 2:1-8, Gary V. Simpson, The African American Lectionary, 2009.

@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!

 

God Delivers Us from Evil

“God Delivers Us from Evil”

Psa 27 1-3 afraid, fear

Psalm 27:1-3 – March 17, 2019

I often stay up late at night. My light is often burning way past midnight. (If you don’t believe me, ask Sunny. She can attest to the time stamp on many of my emails being past midnight, and some 1:00, even 2:00 am.) Imagine my huge shock and horror in the wee hours of Friday morning when I saw coming across the computer news feed that there had been a mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. I was absolutely devastated. Talk about shocking me out of my security and complacency!

That is the portion of the Lord’s Prayer we are focusing on this week: deliver us from evil. Please, Lord! Right now!

So many faced such evil, such horror, and such sorrow in the town of Christchurch, and all New Zealand just two days ago. Imagine, if you will, two peaceful congregations, coming together for their midday time of prayer, abruptly torn apart by semi-automatic weapon fire. Is it any wonder many people around the world cannot even visualize such an attack? What on earth? Dear Lord! Deliver us from evil!

As soon as news of this horrific shooting started to come across my computer screen, you’d better believe I checked out my various favorite go-to news sites, including the BBC News. Yes, the news was even worse than I had heard or feared. And, the death toll was rising. So were my shock, dismay and horror at the rapidly developing story.

As we consider our Scripture reading from the Psalms this morning, we can flee to the assurance and strength of the first verse of Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one. The Lord protects me from all danger; I will never be afraid.”  I read these words and take heart. God is the source of my—our strength. God is our light, and we need no other light source. God is our protection and our protector. I—we—all of us need no one else.

But, wait, Lord! You didn’t mean that You would protect me from a domestic terrorist with a semi-automatic rifle!  Did You?

Even though the conception of a semi-automatic rifle was not even thought of at the time the psalm writer put pen to paper and wrote this psalm, that is the gist of verses 2 and 3: When evil people attack me and try to kill me, they stumble and fall. Even if a whole army surrounds me, I will not be afraid; even if enemies attack me, I will still trust God.”

King David is said to be the author of this Psalm, and I can believe it. David certainly knew quite a bit about having evil people try to attack him. Not only when he was young, before he even met Goliath on the field of battle, he was shepherd for his family’s flocks. He knew the many dangers a sheep or goat could face in the rocky, semi-arid pastures in the country of Israel. He was their shepherd, and he would need to rescue them when they got into trouble.

Then, when David was secretly anointed king and needed to run from the previous-but-still-on-the-throne King Saul, his fear and anxiety had the opportunity to shift into high gear. King Saul wanted to kill David. Literally. Seriously. Saul sent regular armed parties into the wilderness of Israel specifically to kill David. I am amazed that David could even write these words: “even if enemies attack me, I will still trust God.”

Dr. Beth Tanner, commentator on Psalm 27, writes “With all of the violence in our world, Christians are faced almost daily with a decision to live in fear, or despite their fear, to trust in God and God’s promises. To choose to remain true to God’s principles of hospitality feels frightening as well. Terrorists and Refugees come from the same places.” [1]

Gangs of fierce, armed men hunting you down, repeatedly? Frightening, indeed.

If we consider our problems today, whatever the specific problem is, we can draw some insight from this psalm. It’s clear that the person composing this prayer—King David—is afraid. “And yet, right in the middle of his expressions of fear, the Psalmist also declares his confident faith that God’s presence is like a light that keeps him safe.  So, he seeks God’s presence in the place where the people of Israel of his day believed God could be found: in the Temple.” [2] In the same way, we can seek the Lord where we know God is to be found: in the sanctuary, with other believers, and in meditation and prayer.

A number of these peaceful people at prayer on Friday were refugees from war-torn countries. They had fled their home countries of Somalia, Syria and Iraq—just to name a few—and had finally found sanctuary in the peaceful, beautiful town of Christchurch. New Zealand has truly gorgeous scenery, and a wonderful, equitable society of friendly people.

Not the kind of place one would expect for a domestic terror attack, certainly.

Yet, to run away, to leave almost everything you found dear and loved with all your heart, to come to a foreign land, no matter how pretty, Such heartache, and such desperation. And finally, to be getting back on your feet and finding a new home, just to have your place of worship abruptly, shockingly invaded. Get all shot up.

Dear God, deliver us from Evil, personified.

Dr. Tanner goes on to say: “Gun violence comes out of nowhere and even those places we considered safe are safe no longer. Fear threatens to defeat the gifts of trust and hospitality. The feeling of the psalm is the same.” [3]  It does not matter whether we ask to be delivered from evil things or evil people, from evil personified or evil within our own hearts. This psalm gives the message that we can depend on God as our light, our safety, our security, our salvation. And, if we depend on God, what more sure defender and protector do we need?

Jesus speaks to the city of Jerusalem rhetorically in the Gospel reading from Luke today: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets, you stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!” Jesus speaks of the image of a mother hen fluffing up her feathers and gathering her chicks to safety, under her wings. Such a wonderful maternal image! And, such an encouragement and comfort in times of trouble.

It doesn’t matter what evil approaches, what danger comes quickly. If we are gathered under the wings of Jesus as our mother hen, we will be safe and cared for—now, and wherever we go with our Lord.

May it be so, Lord. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2777

Commentary, Psalm 27 (Lent 2C), Beth L. Tanner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2016

[2] http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com/2014/01/what-do-we-have-to-fear.html

“What Do We Have To Fear?” Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer, 2016.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2777

Commentary, Psalm 27 (Lent 2C), Beth L. Tanner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2016

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

Love Drives Out Fear

“Love Drives Out Fear”

1 john 4-18-perfect-love-casts-out-fear.

1 John 4:7-8, 13-19 (4:18) – September 16, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

When I was in grade school, I remember a story I read where a boy was punished very severely. He was beaten, and sent to the barn without any supper. I don’t remember where the story was from (probably in one of my textbooks), but I do remember my gut reaction to the moving and evocative words that described the boy and his situation. Sullen, lonely, filled with anger, but at the same time torn with some remains of love for the brutal father who had beaten him and turned him out of the clapboard house on the frontier into the cold night.

What kinds of fear do you remember? If not fear that you experienced, fear and anxiety of someone close to you? Those feelings, emotions and experiences can be so traumatic. I know, because I dealt with many painful, fearful, anxious situations while a hospital chaplain. And, sometimes, I was completely helpless to do anything to lend a hand.

Is there some fear or anxiety that even now surfaces from deep within? If so, I am so sorry to remind you of that painful experience. Except—in this sermon, in this scripture reading today, the apostle John deals with God’s love, and with personal fear and punishment. We can relate to John’s moving words.

To back up, in this letter John talks a great deal about love. God is love. Love is of God. We love, because God first loved us. Simple words, yet profound ideas. In our reading today, John continues with more of the same: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Yet, you and I know that we cannot love all the time. Because, we are human. We get angry, and lonely, and fearful. Sometimes we back away, isolate, or even snap back at others. All of us do at times. Mile-deep emotions and mile-wide feelings come upon so many as we live our day-to-day lives—in the first century, as well as the twenty-first. Awkward situations and traumatic experiences choke out the joy and delight of living in community, of life in the family of God. What can we do about these complications of living, and of loving?

The apostle John knew very well about this dilemma. He was the youngest of the disciples. He was identified as “the disciple Jesus loved.” He lived the longest of just about any of the direct witnesses to Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. He wrote this letter late in his long life, a life full of hardship and trauma, full of persecution and anxiety. Yet—he was able to write moving words such as these: “Dear friends, let us love one another.” Matter-of-fact presentation of a simple yet profound concept.

John communicates God’s unconditional love to us in this letter, even in difficult circumstances. He shows us Jesus and His love through these simple words.

John understood very well what kinds of horrible things the persecutors could (and probably would) do to any Christians they got in their clutches. From the writings and letters of the second century, we know that John had personal experience with the persecutions. He was finally exiled to a tiny island in the Mediterranean Sea called Patmos.

So, what does John have to say about fear? We are talking about gut-wrenching fear. Remember, he was well-acquainted with fear, and its close cousin anxiety. Verse 18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

The word for “fear” John uses here is the Greek word phobo, or the run-of-the-mill word that is found in the suffix “-phobia.” Many of us are familiar with all kinds of phobias, from fear of heights or enclosed spaces, to fear of spiders or snakes, to fear of the dark. Could I remind us of a certain phobia that Charlie Brown had, in the Charlie Brown Christmas special? He was frightened of everything. He had “pantaphobia.”

Perhaps the apostle John “does mean something closer to Charlie Brown’s depression-inducing pantaphobia in which fear becomes a general way to go at life.  John yokes this fear that has no place in perfect love specifically with a fear ‘of punishment,’ which may be an indication that what he is talking about is the fear of still being punished for our sins.” [1]

What a fear, indeed! Being afraid that God probably will not forgive me, no matter how much I do, no matter how hard I try to gain God’s acceptance. That unfeeling, unforgiving attitude from God would break my heart. Sort of like the attitude of an uncaring, unfeeling, even brutal parent. Not at all like Jesus, like the God whom John knew personally.

After this life is done, we move into the life to come. Common questions many would ask: “’How can I be sure I did enough for God to love me?  What if God plays all the sins of my life on some giant screen for all to see?  How will I ever live down the humiliation of that?  How do I know there is grace sufficient for even me?’ This is clearly the kind of fear of punishment John is pointing to.  And it is a miserable thing to have dangling over your head” [2]

Again, we get full assurance from John. And, John intimately knows Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, the Messiah, the creator of all the universe, the Logos, the Word. John is the beloved disciple, the one close to Jesus’s heart. John lets us know that “perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Yet, what are the next words from John? “We love, because He first loved us.” John circles back to this simple yet profound truth.

Commentator Judith Jones says, “God made love real and present by sending Jesus to live among us and to die for us. God continues to show us love through Jesus’ life-giving presence among us.” [3] That is the presence John is a witness to. That is the presence John is willing to suffer for. John loves, and through extension, we all love, because Jesus loves us. Unconditionally, fully, and with all His heart. Jesus loves us. Period.

So, it does not matter what our creaturely, very human selves tell us about phobias. It does not matter what Charlie Brown and his fear of everything whispers to our insides. John’s witness is that Jesus loves us, period. Jesus’s perfect, unconditional love drives out fear. Not only fear about everything on the outside, about fighting, hardship, and persecution, but about illness, loneliness, and sorrow.

Most importantly, His perfect unconditional love drives out the fear that I won’t measure up, that I won’t be able to do enough, be enough for Jesus. We love, because He first loved us. Period. John is a faithful and true witness to Jesus and His perfect, unconditional love.

Do you believe that? “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” John tells us so, right here in this reading today. Receive the Good News of the Gospel. Jesus came to save sinners, of which I am chief.

Fear is done with, banished, gone. Jesus came into the world to love us, unconditionally. That is truly Good News.

[1] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/easter-5b-2/?type=lectionary_epistle

The Center for Excellence in Preaching, Stan Mast, resources from Calvin Theological Seminary: Comments & Observations, Textual Points, illustration ideas, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2448

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

@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!)

Anxious About Anything?

Anxious About Anything?

Phil 4-6 don't worry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

In the Middle of Fear

“In the Middle of Fear”

Isa 43-2 redeemed

Isaiah 43:1-3, 10-13 (43:2) – July 15, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

If you were ever in the middle of a fearsome, hair-raising experience, you might be able to relate to my sermon today. Even if you have not been personally involved in a terrifying experience like being trapped in a dangerous house fire or caught in the middle of a raging storm in deep water while on a small boat, you probably know someone who has. Or, at least heard first-person accounts of those terrifying experiences.

What does the prophet say in this morning’s scripture reading? It is really difficult to hear what anyone is saying when you or I are in the middle of a fearful predicament. Even if the words are really important, or even if they come from a particularly significant person.

We might have the words coming at us, but we are still in the horrible situation of being in the middle of a devastating fire, or a terrifying flood, or other traumatic experience. We still have situations as if we are lost in deep water, or caught up in the middle of fear-inducing flames. What will we do? How will we cope? Will the wild flames overwhelm us? Will the raging waters close over our heads? Dear Lord, answer me! Gracious God, help!

Take the nation of Judah, who the prophet of God is talking to. The nation has been conquered. The best and brightest of the people of Judah have been captured and taken captive, far away in Babylon. “By outward circumstances, the people of Judah had [good] reason to be afraid of Babylon’s army and exile. God points them past the present circumstances to both this command and promise.” [1]

Did you hear? These verses have good news! They have within them both a command and a promise. These words are a proclamation, from the Lord, no less! “But now, this is what the Lord says—God who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.”
In the paragraphs just before our reading today, in Isaiah 42, God is called not only the creator of the heavens and the earth, but also creator of all the people on the earth. God is the “source of breath and life for humankind (42:5). Now God reveals the divine self strictly in relationship to God’s chosen ones. The God who speaks the new word of freedom, life, return, and redemption is “the creator-of-you, Jacob,” “the shaper-of-you, Israel” (verse 1). This is the transcendent God whose word created all that is good (Genesis 1).” [2]

So, God not only created the heavens and the earth, and is the creator of all that is vast and unending in this universe, but God is also the Lord of the small and the personal. The prophet proclaims God as the Lord of all, of that which is large and small, the creatures and people of this world, too.

Israel was—and is a country with desert regions and vast wilderness places. Israel was—and is also a country where sudden storms come up, and flash floods suddenly happen. That can be extremely scary, to be caught in a sudden flash flood where the water starts to rise all around you without any warning. We hear on the news today about flash floods that overwhelm people and stall out their vehicles. And sometimes, those individuals even die.

What fear! What anxiety! And, what threatening troubles!

What can we do, in the face of all of this difficulty and challenge? The prophet gives us the answer. God has redeemed us.

But—what does “redeemed” mean, anyway? Isn’t that a religious word? We certainly hear it in religious contexts. According to the dictionary, “redeem” means to buy back, to recover, as by a mortgage or pledge.

So, we are kept captive by our fear and anxiety. The nation of Israel is similarly kept captive by their fear and anxiety, too. Here in the United States, in the 21st century, we do not have debtors’ prisons any longer. However, centuries ago, when people became bankrupt and could not pay their debts, they were often either were thrown into prison or made slaves until the debt was paid.

God does not magically erase all difficulty. “God does not manipulate the created order and introduce entirely new categories: fireless existence. Rather, God redeems what God has made, and redemption involves an exchange within the created realm. A price is paid in order to set things back the way they were.” [3]
This act of redemption is not the end of things. No, the Lord does not stop there. As the prophet says in today’s reading, “I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” God speaks our name. That is what the prophet says!

In this act of speaking their name, God takes ownership. The Lord God claims Israel as God’s own and sets them free. “In these verses God speaks to God’s people not like a king on a throne pronouncing an edict, but like a lover whose heart is bursting, who has waited an eternity just to say their name. In this act of speaking their name, You are mine” means also “I have ransomed you” (43:1) [or, redeemed you]. Maker, lover, and redeemer, God will pay any price and overcome every obstacle to be reunited with God’s own. [4]

We can take heart. We can claim these precious verses as our own, as we go through fiery trials. God has called us by name, too. The Lord says “You are mine.”

Bible study teacher David Guzik states plainly “God twice owns His people. God has right of ownership both as Creator and Redeemer. God’s ownership is personal, because He says I have called you by your name. His ownership is certain, because He seals it by saying You are mine.” [5]

We have the Lord’s assurance that we are God’s creation, we are redeemed, and we have been called by God’s name. What is more, we have been bought with a price, with the precious blood of our Savior.

Knowing we belong to God is a wonderful response to fear and anxiety. So, “Be Not Afraid!” No matter the trial or difficulty, God will be with us. The Lord is right by our side. We have God’s word on it, from right here in Isaiah 43.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://www.blueletterbible.org/comm/guzik_david/studyguide2017-isa/isa-43.cfm

Study Guide for Isaiah 43 by David Guzik – Blue Letter Bible

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=494

Commentary, Isaiah 43:1-7  Anathea Portier-Young, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

[3] Seitz, Christopher R., The Book of Isaiah 40-66, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. 6 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), 381.

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=494

Commentary, Isaiah 43:1-7  Anathea Portier-Young, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

[5] https://www.blueletterbible.org/comm/guzik_david/studyguide2017-isa/isa-43.cfm

Study Guide for Isaiah 43 by David Guzik – Blue Letter Bible

@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!)

Peace Be with All of Us

“Peace Be with All of Us”

peace be with you, formal

Luke 24:36-49 (24:36) – April 15, 2018

Sometimes I just feel like pulling the covers over my head and not getting up in the morning. Wars, rumors of wars, bombings, fires, gas attacks, and these were just in the past week. Seriously, with all of the scary and shocking things going on in the world, the world can be a downright scary place.

No matter whether we live today in the United States or two thousand years ago in occupied Israel, there can be a lot of scary and confusing stuff going on.

In the case of our Gospel reading today, the scary and confusing stuff was going on right in Jerusalem. It was the time of the Passover, during what we today call the Passion Week. As we have been considering for the past few weeks, the occupying Roman forces in Jerusalem are watching the festival and worship situation very closely.

Sure, there are a great number of visitors from all over the known world, in Jerusalem for that great festival, Passover. But, the Roman forces must have doubled down on the populace in the city. And, even more, since the Rabbi Jesus had just entered the city only a few days before. He made a huge commotion, too, what with riding in on a donkey (like King David) on Palm Sunday, debating in the Temple during the week with the scribes, Pharisees and Sanhedrin, and getting arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane late on Thursday night and accused being Messiah. And, the crucifixion on Friday? Quite a week, for the occupying Roman forces.

Yes, we know some things in general about the disciples. They scattered, running away. Hiding, afraid that since their leader and Rabbi was just executed by the Romans on Friday, they might be arrested and executed next. In fact, Peter even denied knowing Jesus while in the high priest’s courtyard. He must have been scared to death, too.

The upper room, a larger room on the second floor of a building in Jerusalem, was one place where the disciples felt at least half-way safe. They were huddled up there, in hiding, trying to keep a low profile. Luke tells us the male disciples had already dismissed what the women disciples had told them about their Rabbi, early that morning. Something about an empty tomb, and their dead Rabbi gone. Even though Peter and John had run to the tomb and checked things out for themselves, they still did not have a clear idea what was going on.

This year, the lectionary does not have us look at the post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus when He walks with the two disciples from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus. In brief, our commentator Dr. Mark Vitalis Hoffman summarizes this section of Luke 24: “Two from the group of followers of Jesus were going to Emmaus when they encounter, but do not recognize, Jesus. They express their disappointed hope that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel, but Jesus explains how everything that happened was necessary according to Scripture. The two invite Jesus to spend the night with them. During the meal, when Jesus blessed and broke the bread, their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus, but he vanished from their sight. They rush back to Jerusalem and report to the gathered believers what had happened.” [1]

It is later that day that our Gospel reading picks up. Later in the evening, many disciples (I am assuming both male and female) are in hiding in the upper room. Luke specifically has the two disciples from Emmaus telling the rest about their encounter with Jesus.

Yet, the rest of the disciples are having difficulty believing, understanding. Even though several of these same disciples had angels and Jesus Himself telling them of the Resurrection, what gives? I suspect many of them are still paralyzed with fear. Scared to death. Afraid of the Roman soldiers coming around and knocking on the door at any moment, ready to carry off some of the disciples to be crucified, too.

How often have we been really afraid? Almost scared to death? Terror can paralyze a person. Fear can cause us to disbelieve, to run away, to get angry and fly off the handle. Don’t you think the disciples needed Jesus right then? When He appeared miraculously in their midst, many of them were still unbelieving. Still scared to death.

I think the first thing out of Jesus’s mouth was the most needed of all: “Peace be with you!” Do you hear? Jesus went straight to the heart of the disciples’ fear, their anxiety, their unbelief, and said “Peace be with you!”

Yes, we could talk about what happened after that, when some disciples thought Jesus was a ghost, so He ate a piece of fish to show His friends that He really, actually, had come back to life. Yes, we could talk about Jesus opening the disciples’ minds to the truth of the Scriptures, and how they were to be witnesses of the Good News and the forgiveness of sins.

I would like to go back to the first thing Jesus said: “Peace be with you!” During the Children’s Time, I talked about peace. There are many greetings in different languages that mean “Peace.” “Aloha in Hawaiian means affection, peace, compassion and mercy. Shalom (Hebrew) and Salaam (Arabic) mean peace, complete-ness, and prosperity. Aloha, Shalom, and Salaam can be used on meeting or departing.” [2]

Jesus wished the disciples His peace several times, recorded in the Gospels, including right here. This word is not only wishing a person peace, but “peace, shalom, and salaam” can also be wishing a person God’s presence. The disciples really needed that, too!

In the New Testament reading today from 1 John chapter 3, the aged disciple John tells us that we are the children of God. I remember when I was a mom of young children, sometimes then would get afraid. Sometimes I would comfort them, and hold them on my lap or give them hugs. Don’t you think it’s the same way with God? When we get afraid, even scared to death, we can run into God’s everlasting arms of care and concern. Our Lord Jesus can send us His peace.

The disciples really needed peace, first of all! Perhaps, they needed it most of all. God can send peace into the world today, too. Including peace into conflict in the Middle East, peace in warring regions in Africa and Asia, peace into difficult places in Central and South America. God can send peace to the streets of the cities of our country.

Jesus offers us comfort and peace, just the same way that parents (and grandparents) do. Jesus sends closeness, caring and loving, in addition to His peace.

Can you and I reach out in peace, in shalom, in wholeness and with God’s love? That is the message on my heart from the Gospel reading today. Reach out with God’s peace. Offer God’s peace to those around you today, and every day.

We can praise God for God’s peace and wholeness. God’s peace is a sure antidote to fear, today, and every day.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3627

Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman Associate Professor of Biblical Studies Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/03/year-b-third-sunday-of-easter-april-19.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 3, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015

Risen Indeed!

“Risen Indeed!”

Easter word cloud

Mark 16:1-8 (16:6) – April 1, 2018

            Have you ever had something completely unexpected happen to you? I mean, something so unexpected and unusual it is disorienting? Perhaps it leaves you with your jaw hanging open. I might say that the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series reminds us of that, but, no. I am talking much bigger than that—of cosmic significance! And, much more disorienting. Astounding.

            It wasn’t as if the Rabbi Jesus had kept it a secret. No, He had spoken of it to His followers, a number of times before His crucifixion. But, really, it is a bit farfetched.. Jesus, being raised from the dead? Come on, Jesus. You must be joking. Seriously?

            We know more about what happened on that Easter Sunday from the other Gospel accounts. But, Mark? Not so much. Mark writes in his usual concise, blunt manner. Short on details and description, heavy on action. Let’s take a closer look at our Gospel reading.

            “After the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices to go and anoint the body of Jesus. Very early on Sunday morning, at sunrise, they went to the tomb.”

            We already know the men disciples of Jesus scattered as soon as Jesus was arrested. This was for very good reason! The men were very much afraid that they would be arrested, too! But, this left just the women disciples of Jesus at the foot of the cross, and at the tomb.

            How often is it that women take care of the body of their loved one after death? In many cultures and all around the world, for millenia, washing and dressing the dead body, anointing the body with spices and with perfumes, holding a vigil or mourning or sitting shiva. How often is this the responsibility and privilege of women?

To continue, from Mark 16: “On the way they said to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” (It was a very large stone.) Then they looked up and saw that the stone had already been rolled back.”  The big stone rolled over the entrance to the tomb must have been worrying the women. Mark even mentions it. I suspect they already were discussing how their combined strength was probably not enough to even budge the stone. But—what is this? The stone is already rolled away! It’s the first inkling that things at the tomb are not as these women first thought.

            “So they entered the tomb, where they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe—and they were alarmed.“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here—he has been raised!”

I can’t help but smile as I read my commentator’s view on this verse: “seems to be on Jesus not being present because he has better things to do than wait around at a tomb. The “young man dressed in a white robe” (angelic messenger) delivers the good tidings of Easter morning like an administrative assistant explaining why you can’t have a quick word with the boss: “You’re looking for Jesus? Sorry, you just missed him.” [1]

Wait a minute—did I hear that right? Jesus just stepped away? These women are left holding the spices, and they only have a vague idea of where their Rabbi Jesus might have gone.

I realize this whole situation is astounding, but can we put ourselves in the shoes of these women? They had absolutely no idea where Jesus was. Plus, they are faced with an angelic messenger. How often the first words out of any angel’s mouth are “Don’t be afraid!” Angels must be frightening, and awe-inspiring, and enough to make these women shake in their sandals.

Is anything clouding the sight of these women as the angel speaks to them? Is anything clouding their hearts from discerning what it is the angel has to say? We all know the grief and cares of this world, some more than others. What else did the angel say? “Look, here is the place where he was placed. Now go and give this message to his disciples, including Peter: ‘He is going to Galilee ahead of you; there you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Again, these women were flabbergasted. Amazed, half in disbelief. As our commentator Dr. Pape tells us, the angel’s instructions to the women “is to tell the disciples, and especially Peter who had denied him, that they had better get on the move (Mark 16:7). Jesus had explained already that after he was raised up, he would go ahead of them to Galilee (Mark 14:28). Now the “young man” reminds them of this scheduled rendezvous. If it’s Jesus they want, they will need to head back to Galilee.” [2]

This is a tall order. The angel orders the women to tell the disciples that they are to go clear across the country, to Galilee, and there they will meet the risen Jesus. I suspect the women already knew how skeptical the men disciples would be of their claim that Jesus was alive. And then, on top of that, the whole group of disciples were told to remove to Galilee to go and meet with the risen Jesus? Kind of far-fetched, if you ask me. Looking at this passage, we read of the women’s response: “So they went out and ran from the tomb, distressed and terrified. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

I wonder how much of the women’s response was fear and anxiety? How much was unbelief? And, how much was other emotion, and distress, getting in the way of them hearing the message of the angel clearly?

Yet, along with the Rev. Janet Hunt, “I find myself wondering about those women now… those who were looking on from a distance: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome.  And I wonder then if it was force of will that kept them there at the foot of the cross for as long as they stayed or if time stood still for them and all other responsibilities just faded away.

“And I wonder about the people who will gather in all of our places of worship this Easter morning to hear again a story many of them have heard over and over again.  I wonder what grief, what loss, what worry, what fear will be clouding their hearts as they step into a place bathed in lilies and the sounds of trumpeted Alleluias.  I wonder if for them this hour shared will be a distraction to be gotten through before they get back to other matters pressing on their minds and hearts or if they will hear in the ancient story retold a promise that will then somehow come alive right before their eyes as they return to their lives in a world.  A world which all too often seems to hold a whole lot more despair than hope, more cynicism than trust, more death than life.  I wonder if some among us, like those women on that first Easter morning, I wonder if we will see God’s promises kept in unexpected ways and places on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning or Wednesday night.”  [3]

We know now, from the other Gospel accounts, that this was just the beginning of the story, the beginning of that Good News, that Jesus has risen, indeed! Despite worry, anxiety, despair, loss, and cynicism, we know the tomb is empty. We know that with the risen Jesus, hope, love, mercy and forgiveness have come into the world again. We can say with the angel in the tomb, “Jesus is not here—He is risen!” Jesus Christ is risen, indeed. Amen, alleluia!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2406

Commentary, Mark 16:1-8, Lance Pape, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://dancingwiththeword.com/a-gap-in-the-story-easter-thoughts/

@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!)