Promises Kept

 “Promises Kept”

John 14:8-17 (14:17) – June 5, 2022

When you think of our Lord Jesus when He was here on earth, what kinds of things come to your mind? Was the Rabbi Jesus an extraordinary preacher and teacher? I believe He was. How about a miracle worker? Certainly, by countless accounts! Did He always tell the truth? I think so. And, how about keeping the promises He made? Absolutely.  

Very often in the Bible, people predict what is going to happen in the future. The prophets of God were very good at this. Sometimes these predictions are warnings and negative things; sometimes the predictions are good things and events to be eagerly awaited!

After the Ascension, the group of disciples were all in Jerusalem, awaiting some really big predictions to come to pass. Predictions by angels, and by the Hebrew Scriptures, and some plain-spoken words by the risen Lord Jesus Himself. It was on Pentecost morning that a large number of predictions came to pass – in a huge way!

You remember the scene? A little over one hundred followers of the risen Lord Jesus had gathered together in Jerusalem, in that very same second story of a building. The place that was the same Upper Room where the disciples had their Last Supper with their Rabbi, the night before His crucifixion.

You remember the train of events? A big holiday and Jewish festival was celebrated: the festival of Shavuot, or First Fruits. Lo and behold, the group of disciples was having a prayer meeting, when suddenly “there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.”

The disciples were as surprised as anyone! Yet, Peter realized what was going on and as one of the spokesmen for the disciples, he stood up and proclaimed that this was indeed an earthshaking sign from God! He even quoted from the prophet Joel, about the descending of the Spirit of God.

You remember what happened? Peter said, ““People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. 23 But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed.”

I am certain that as Peter spoke he remembered that last night in the Upper Room; their leader and Rabbi Jesus gave the disciples a firm promise, saying “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will bein you.”

This cataclysmic happening on Pentecost morning was that exact thing! The pouring out of the Spirit of truth, God’s Holy Spirit! It was not a gentle, even passive pouring out, but instead a mighty rush of wind! Flames appearing over each believer’s head! And, the gift of tongues or speaking in languages that the disciples had never learned! God displayed awesome power and might on that Pentecost morning!

Let’s go back a few weeks, to that Upper Room, to that Passover dinner just before Jesus was betrayed. All during the past few weeks Jesus had been predicting His death. Fulfillment of prophecy often seems distant and impersonal…like it is not warm or intimate. By some standards, Jesus gave a prophecy, it’s true. But more than that, Jesus gave a firm promise. He promised that His Heavenly Father would send the Spirit of truth upon the disciples.

 “For he lives with you and will be in you.” Such a positive way of seeing this marvelous event! Jesus recognized that His promise would become a lifeline for the disciples, a promise made, and a promise He certainly kept! Isn’t keeping a promise warm, positive and genuine? That describes our Lord Jesus to a “T”

Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus supplied deep needs. Wants and desires, too. He supplied a whole description on new life to Nicodemus. Jesus supplied living water, spiritual hydration to the woman at the well. He supplied healing to the man by the pool of Bethesda. Jesus supplied guidance into an unknown and frightening future to Thomas, and for knowledge that God’s promises are definitely true, in Philip’s case.

And here, in the Upper Room, to all of us here today and throughout the centuries, Jesus elaborated on the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our Gospel reading today points to “an intimate Pentecost, to the Holy Spirit at work in our inner lives and in our world drawing us into intimate relationship with God who delivers on all God’s promises.” [1]

The Pentecost event two thousand years ago was indeed a huge cataclysm of sound and wind and flame and excitement! Yes, and our individual Pentecosts today can also be quiet, introspective and just as full of the Holy Spirit. Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting Lord, the God of all creation is sending the Holy Spirit into each of our lives.

This is not a mere prophecy, an impersonal declaration of the might and power of some distant Higher Power. Our risen and ascended Lord Jesus has given us a personal promise, a warm, genuine affirmation of God-With-Us, Emmanuel. A genuine promise given, and a promise bountifully kept – in your life and mine. Amen, alleluia!    

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] https://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/intimate-pentecost-alyce-mckenzie-05-10-2013

Peace of Mind and Heart

“Peace of Mind and Heart”

John 14:23-27 (14:27) – May 22, 2022

            The world is in powerful need of peace right now! Isn’t it? Just think of the many places in the world today, right now, where there is strife, conflict, fighting, and even outright warfare. The gift of Jesus that He speaks of here in today’s reading, peace of mind and heart, is something truly to wish for! Even, to clasp tightly to our minds and hearts!

            Here in John, chapters 14 through 17, is His Farewell Discourse. These are the last words that Jesus gave to His friends before His arrest and crucifixion. Important words, indeed!

            Even at this point, on the night before Jesus was betrayed, His disciples needed some further explanation of what Jesus was saying to them. First Peter (John 13:36), then Thomas (14:5), then Phillip (14:8), and then Judas (not Iscariot) (14:22) ask for clarification about exactly what Jesus is telling them. Jesus packs a whole lot into just a few short verses.

            I would like to highlight one particular verse: John 14:27. Jesus said, 27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” There is so much conflict, fighting, mass shootings, and attacks of one kind or another happening in this world right now. We need peace badly!

            David Lose, one of my favorite commentators, wants us to think more deeply about this word “peace.” I hear Jesus say this word. But why? How do we understand peace? What do we imagine Jesus means? “Too often, I think, we think of peace as simply the cessation of conflict. And clearly an end to violence is a good thing. Many of us have prayed for peace in the Middle East, [peace in the Ukraine,] peace in our community, perhaps even peace in our homes. But I think the peace Jesus offers is more than the absence of something negative.” [1]

            But, wait a minute, some people say! I know the world needs peace in the Middle East, and peace in Ukraine, and peace in lots of other places worldwide. But, what about me? What about my house, my neighborhood? I am not experiencing much peace in my personal life!

            Rev. Janet Hunt agrees just this past week that peace is regularly shattered in her neighborhood in the town of Dekalb, in the community where she lives and serves. She mourns the fact that “peace of mind, heart and body are too hard to find; so many needs, physical and otherwise, go unmet. And even if all else seems to be going well, still we struggle through our personal, sometimes private heartaches which threaten our peace, our sense of wellbeing.” [2]

            Looking at Chicago, I was just on the spot of a mass shooting on Friday, just a few blocks west of the Water Tower, off of Michigan Avenue. The police activity was still very present as they investigated that evening shooting and the aftermath. I needed to be in the area for my job, to visit a patient for the hospice I work for. Yet, I saw firsthand the very real conflict and disruption in the city center, in one of the most affluent parts of the city.

When someone reports feeling calm and “at peace,” so often people scoff, or are jealous, or disbelieve. That is, at first. Why is this? Is peace so rare or so unusual?

            I want us to go back to the Upper Room, back to the Farewell Discourse. “Think, again, of the timing of Jesus’ promise: it is the night of his betrayal, the evening when he will be handed over to those who hate him and who will take him away to be executed. And yet in that moment, he not only senses peace but gives it to others.[3]

            Yes, Jesus knows He doesn’t live in a peaceful world, and Jesus knows very well that His personal life is going to be rocked to the core in just a few hours. Yet, Jesus tells His disciples that He gives them His peace. And, guess what? We can access that same peace! That peace which the world does not understand, that the world cannot give.

              When someone reports feeling “at peace,” that person “instead testifies to a sense of wholeness, even rightness, of and in one’s very being It’s a sense of harmony with those persons and things around us. Peace connotes a sense of contentment, but even more fulfillment, a sense that in this moment one is basking in God’s pleasure.” [4]

            Even when you and I are in the midst of hardship, struggle, even conflict or disruption, we can access Jesus and His peace! Countless believers have clung to this blessed promise, even through great difficulty, horrific tragedy, and deadly conflict. Through personal tragedies or nationwide devastation, it does not matter. Jesus still offers His peace, freely! That peace is not only to be embraced in some far distant future, but it is already ours!

            God’s promise of peace is not maybe, or perhaps, or just in case. God loves us with an everlasting love! God has already gifted us with that peace that passes all understanding. God has already laid claim to us! With that claim comes peace that is truly beyond our understanding, peace that is always ours for the receiving.

            With Rev. Janet, I can affirm that in the hardest of times, in the hugest of challenges, when my heart is most tender, God’s peace is right there for me, and for you, too. Both when faith runs deep, and when it’s hard to believe, too. And when it’s a challenge for you to have faith alone, that is what the church is for – to believe together, in community.

            Jesus said, “the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” This gift of peace is truly for us all.  Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to Rev. Janet Hunt and her excellent commentary on this Gospel reading for the 6th week of Easter, https://dancingwiththeword.com/when-peace-like-a-river/. I have used several ideas and quotes from this post in this sermon. And, thanks to Rev. David Lose as well. I owe much to him, from http://www.davidlose.net/2016/04/easter-6-c-peace-the-world-cannot-give/)   


[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/04/easter-6-c-peace-the-world-cannot-give/

[2] https://dancingwiththeword.com/when-peace-like-a-river/

[3] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/04/easter-6-c-peace-the-world-cannot-give/

[4] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/04/easter-6-c-peace-the-world-cannot-give/

Hallowed Is Christ Jesus

“Hallowed Is Christ Jesus”

Philippians 3:4b-14 (3:8-9) – April 3, 2022

            Lots of words are old-fashioned. To say it another way, lots of words in the dictionary are words not much used today. Many people don’t know quite what they really mean. Have you ever thought about the word “hallowed?” I know, we say the word regularly when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. But, what does that word truly mean?

            In our Scripture reading today from Philippians chapter 3, Paul makes some audacious, over-the-top statements about himself. But more than that, Paul makes some extraordinary statements about Jesus. Paul’s total commitment is to Jesus Christ. Paul gives and lives as he does because he knows God (Jesus Christ) is hallowed. Sadly, many people do not have a clear idea about the word hallowed.  Before we can pray the Lord’s Prayer with understanding, we all need to learn that hallowed is another word for holy. Separated. Set apart[1]

            Think about it: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”

            Let’s back up, and take a closer look at this reading. Paul starts out by clearly boasting about himself. Writing to fellow believers in Philippi, Paul admits that his heritage and reputation could give him more reason than most people to place confidence in his spiritual pedigree. [2] This is one place where we can learn a great deal about the Apostle Paul! He goes over his resume, essentially, ticking off his wonderful credentials one by one. This is a surefire way to lift himself up, certainly. Talk about being a show-off!

            Do you recognize anyone you know in these words of Paul? I am reminded of people who are obsessed with important credentials, boastful and really full of themselves. This could be people trying awfully hard to get ahead, to claw their way to the top, by making sure their resume is top notch. Only having the best of the best listed on that piece of paper!

            Was this kind of activity putting God first? And, what about these boastful, obsessed people – do they have any sort of relationship with God? Do they consider God holy, or hallowed? Or do they ever think of God at all, except for paying God lip service on those occasional times when they recited the Lord’s Prayer?

            But, those are only the first three verses of our reading. Paul does an abrupt about-face in verses 7 and 8. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” See how the Apostle Paul makes another extraordinary statement? The overwhelming grace of God – the surpassing worth of knowing Christ – calls Paul to a new, heavenly set of values.

            We will shortly be celebrating Communion, after this sermon. Here at this church, we do not usually say the Sanctus as a part of the Communion liturgy, since we use a shorter form of that section of the service. This part of the Communion liturgy is quite ancient. Here is the Sanctus: “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord, God of Hosts! Heaven and earth are full of your glory!”  

            See how this statement fits into that Godly set of values from the Apostle Paul! “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”

I invite you to consider the Sanctus when saying the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer. Imagine joining everyone who ever lived, lives now, and is already in heaven saying together that God’s name is hallowed. Because – God truly is holy!

What does Paul say next? “I consider [my worldly gains] garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith inChrist—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” Paul describes the value of all these worldly gains – all his marvelous resume – comparing it to the value system of the kingdom of Christ Jesus his Lord — complete rubbish! Absolute trash! That is where his outstanding resume belongs, compared to Christ Jesus our Lord!

               The Gospel reading for today comes from John 12, where Mary anoints Jesus’ feet while He is at dinner, in preparation for His death. “Like Mary pouring out her love by pouring expensive perfume, Paul shows his love and desire to know Christ by pouring out his credentials and achievements, his life, and considering them all rubbish (the Greek word also means “dung” and “excrement”) in comparison to the life to be gained in Christ.” [3]

            How much more can we consider our Lord to be holy? How much more meaningful can it be to say “Our Father, who are in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name,” compared to worldly credentials, or mere human achievements – compared to Christ Jesus our Lord.

            Paul’s goal, and our goal, is to know Christ! That holy, hallowed, set-apart Son of God, the one who reconciled us to God and bestowed upon all of us God’s gift of His righteousness. Praise God, Christ has redeemed us and we now walk in the newness of life.

            One last call to action, from the Apostle Paul: we are to straighten our priorities. Follow God’s priorities, God’s values, and follow Jesus. Make it your priority – my priority – our calling to know Christ intimately, and the power of His resurrection. Then, we surely can pray “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name,” not only understand it, but mean it, too! Thanks be to God.

@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/2016/02/year-c-fifth-sunday-in-lent-march-13.html

[2] https://desperatepreacher.com//texts/phil3_4/phil3_4.htm

[3] https://desperatepreacher.com//texts/phil3_4/phil3_4.htm

Love – No Matter What

“Love – No Matter What”

1 Corinthians 13:1-10 (13:7) – January 30, 2022

            With February right around the corner, many people start thinking about hearts and flowers. Thinking about chocolates and candy. Sweets for the sweet, as the old saying goes! Yes, Valentine’s Day is just two weeks away, and stores and card shops are full of red and pink displays and hearts and roses.

            As many hear this chapter on love from 1 Corinthians 13, some people wax sentimental. This chapter is a favorite to read at many wedding services in the church. “Everyone will nod along with a smile on their face. They’ll be remembering a wedding somewhere where these words were used to somehow capture the essence of this wild and crazy promise being made before the gathered overdressed assembly, this human enterprise that escapes human capabilities on a regular basis. [Or,] they’ll be remembering the Pinterest or Instagram post in fancy calligraphy, or the needlepoint in Grandma’s sitting room.” [1]

What if I were to tell you that love – the Bible’s definition of love – does not have anything to do with red and pink store displays, or hearts and flowers for Valentine’s Day?

            As we reflect on the biblical definition of love, let’s see what Paul says love does NOT do. I’m turning again to the wonderful modern translation of Eugene Peterson, The Message. “Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others.”

            That doesn’t sound much like lace and chocolates, hearts and big red bows, does it? No romanticized consumer version of love here! Do you recognize this honest, genuine kind of a feeling in the people you are close to, in the people you call family? Loved ones, and ones you cherish? This description is more of a love that is right down to earth, an honest, genuine feeling that is real and isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty.

            Let’s see a little more of what Paul says love does NOT do: “Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel.” When I read all of these things love does NOT do, sometimes I get discouraged. It’s like I can’t measure up. I could never be that kind of person or be described that way; could you?

This enlarged, continued description of the biblical definition of love sounds too good to be true. For real people, I mean. To me, it sounds a lot like Mother Teresa, or Fred Rogers, two people who are considered to be the pinnacle of loving, caring people.

Wait a minute! Have we talked to God about this? Paul has been telling us for almost two chapters in 1 Corinthians that God freely gives believers spiritual gifts. What is more, Paul says that love is the absolute best of these different, diverse spiritual gifts. That means that God gives out love freely! With both hands! Right here, Paul is describing the gift of love that comes through people from the Lord. Isn’t that some of the best news ever?

I don’t need to scramble and strive to love, trying really, really hard. It’s not all me, putting together my own faulty kind of caring. No! God freely gives gifts of love to God’s children. God helps us to show love and caring, kindness and unselfishness. That is such a relief for me, and such a blessing to others!

We believers here on this earth may stumble on our way of walking the Christian journey, and that is okay. We do not need to fulfill each and every part of this long, involved definition that Paul given to us, either. And, it is not just up to our fallible striving or hard work to be the most loving and caring Christian believers possible. No! God will help!

When I think of God’s love, I think of certain people who modern society might not consider. Two individuals come to mind, who I knew years ago. Both are with the Lord now, and both had the diagnosis of Down syndrome. Both people were as loving and caring as anyone I have ever met. Both were selfless, totally concerned for others, and unfailingly kind, loving and giving. Isn’t this another example of love, according to the Bible? Isn’t it what love is all about?

Let’s take a final look at the last section of Paul’s definition of love, according to God. The previous entries or parts of the description were couched in the language of what love was NOT. At last, Paul describes what love IS. “Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.” These are positive, affirming, uplifting traits, indeed.

We may not be able to walk the walk or talk the talk as perfectly as Paul describes here. “But we can stand in Paul’s certainty that there is a new way of being alive in the world, a new way of seeing the world and everyone in it. Must we simply accept everything going on in our messed-up world with a smile and nod? Of course not; evil exists. But we aren’t always the best at identifying where the real evil resides. Paul argues that it would better to lead with love.”[2] Again, you and I cannot generate this kind of spiritual gift in and of our own imperfect humanity, or of our own good works. We are welcome to ask the Lord for help and lead with God’s love.

This transformation is truly a gift – a gift of love! This gift comes from God, and is freely    offered to all believers! Let us thank God for this gift of love we all can display, and we all may give to others, just as freely. Alleluia, amen!


Thanks so much to Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries for www.umcdiscipleship.com and his excellent preaching notes for this week’s worship service and sermon. I used several ideas from these notes for the sermon today

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/love-never-ends-being-the-body-of-christ/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/love-never-ends-being-the-body-of-christ/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-preaching-notes

Gifts for Service

“Gifts for Service”

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (12:4) – January 16, 2022

            Christmas was not that long ago. Less than a month ago! Remember the gift-giving? And, how much you wanted to see whether a close family member really liked your gift? Sometimes gift-giving can be stressful, especially when we exchange gifts with people who do not have a generous spirit. You know the kind, people who are so focused on themselves that they – or perhaps, we forget what Christmas is all about – receiving God’s greatest gift of all.

In this after-Christmas, post-gift-giving season, is there any wonder that many people are still up to their ears in the after-holiday bustle of gift returns or gift acknowledgements, and some even disappointment from all the gift-giving?

            God did not finish giving gifts when the Baby in Bethlehem was born in a manger two thousand years ago. By no means! God continues to give gifts to each believer, just as Eileen read to us. How generous of God! Our scripture reading says “God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit.”

Perhaps, we might paraphrase Paul: “Since you have already received gifts from God, what are you doing with them – lately?” But, perhaps I am getting too far ahead of myself. All of us as believers in Jesus Christ have been given some very special gifts from God! Perhaps you were not aware, or once knew and had forgotten, but it is true. Every Christian has a unique, God-given gift (or unique bundle of gifts!).

Oh, no, some say. I can just hear them. “Not me! I don’t have any special gifts from God! How could that be? I can’t do anything super special. I’m just a run-of-the-mill person.” Our commentator Karoline Lewis would strongly object! Lewis says we all need to recognize “that the gifts we receive are the very grace-acts of God. The term that Paul uses for “gift” has the same root as the word for “grace.” [1] These grace-filled gifts are charismaton in Greek, which is where we get the word “charismatic.” And, each believer receives these gifts!

            What a marvelous thought: each of us is a charismatic Christian, in other words! That is exactly what the apostle Paul says, right here.

Here in 1 Corinthians is not the only place where the New Testament gives a list of spiritual gifts. It talks about them in Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4, and Romans 12, too. Plus, modern lists of spiritual gifts draw from all over the Bible. We can see that each believer has a unique, God-given gift (or unique bundle of gifts!). Individualized, and personalized!

So, what do we do, now that we know we all have spiritual gifts? Good question!

Just knowing about our spiritual gifts is only a small portion of actually having them and acknowledging them. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are an excellent way for each of us to serve God, in our own individual way. Do you know someone in the church who is a really helpful person? I can think of several. I think God may have given them the spiritual gift of helps. How about someone who is particularly encouraging to others? That person might indeed have the gift of encouragement.

What about the gift of administration, to organize and figure out what goes where? The gift of healing is seen physically, true, but it’s also used for mental, emotional or spiritual sickness or distress. And, the gift of leadership, of delegating tasks and gathering people together is another important spiritual gift.

            This is where our responsibility comes in. We don’t just sit on our hands and do nothing, now that we know about our personal spiritual gifts. God challenges us to recognize which of these spiritual gifts have been given to us individually and then to use them to the glory of God in our lives at home, at school, at work, and in the community. [2] As Paul says, it is the same God that causes these gifts to work in and through us. “God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits.”

            Now, what about service to others? Specifically, I am thinking about the federal holiday that will be celebrated tomorrow. Yes, it is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday anniversary. Moreover, this holiday has been recognized as a Day of Service, nationwide.    

            The whole idea behind this service fits hand in glove with the United Church of Christ’s concept of the Beloved Community. Service is a hallmark for certain churches, especially in the UCC. The Rev. John Mingus describes the many-year journey of renewal his church took, Pilgrim UCC in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in a recent article on church renewal.

Rev. Mingus finishes his story with this moving summary: “the word is out about this church. Visitors come and stay. New folks go out and invite others. All kinds of folk see us as a safe place. We care for the homeless. We feed the hungry. We work for peace and public education. We have children and programming. We are a church in mission and when we gather it is as a beloved community. We are black and white, gay and straight, young and old, and much more. In our radical hospitality and at prayer people know that they are loved.” [3]

            Serving with spiritual gifts? Or providing a Day of Service? Or is it showing our neighbors we are indeed a Beloved Community? However you explain it, God will be so pleased that God’s people are given something to do that shows all people who God is.

God is indeed behind these marvelous expressions of Beloved Community, in exercising our spiritual gifts. Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-after-epiphany-3/commentary-on-1-corinthians-121-11-2

[2] http://www.sundayschoollessons.com/gift.htm

[3] http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/unitedchurchofchrist/legacy_url/11073/10JourneyTowardBelovedCommunity.pdf?1418436796

Moved Into the Neighborhood

“Moved Into the Neighborhood”

John 1:14-18 (1:14) – January 2, 2022

            Sometimes, before a book really gets started, or before the action starts in a play or a movie, the author needs to say some important things. Things that we as readers (or watchers) need to see and absorb, in order to truly understand the rest of the book – or play, or movie. This is often called the prologue, and it can hold some pretty important stuff!

            Our Scripture reading today, the first Sunday of the New Year, comes from the first chapter of the Gospel of John, verses 14-18. This reading is from John’s prologue to his long narrative about our Lord Jesus and His life and ministry. Before the action gets going, John writes some really important stuff about the Eternal Second Person of the Trinity in this beginning, including verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

            Before the action begins in our lives, in our next chapter, we can sit down and think. Is there any kind of important stuff you would like to mention? Any special instructions or information for your potential readers? Let’s think about these opening verses from the Gospel of John. What do they say to us? “How do they function? [These words of the prologue] provide perspective a default position, a direction. They set the tone, set out themes so we know what to expect – a lens through which to view what comes next.” [1]

            These words remind me that you and I can take the opportunity to write prologues for our own stories, for the next chapter of our own lives.

We recognize this prologue of John’s from every Christmas, for years. Every year, we sing “O, Come, All Ye Faithful,” and every year we sing these tremendous words “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.” Those words are lifted right from this very chapter, right here! But, what does it mean, for the eternal Second Person of the Trinity, God from before the foundation of the universe, to become flesh, a fragile human Baby born in Bethlehem? 

This is the central, foundational promise of this Gospel – God became human, capable of being experienced and known by other humans. A simple yet profound message and promise.

Face it. We as weak, limited human beings have limited capacity to understand things. Things like God and God’s revelation. God understands our limitations, our fragility, and our hesitations. God the Eternal Second Person of the Trinity, Creator of the universe, emptied Himself of all that was God and came down from heaven. Jesus became a tiny, helpless human Baby born in Bethlehem, and then grew and experienced humanity from the inside out, to better be able to communicate to us limited humans down on earth.

How awesome, how unbelievable, how indescribably kind was that? Let’s go back to John’s Prologue. The last verse we read today says a whole lot: “the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made [the Father] known.”

As our commentator Karoline Lewis points out, verse 18 seeks to describe what the Word made flesh came here to do. John uses the Greek verb exago, “combining the prefix ex, which means “out” with the verb ago which means “to bring or to lead.” In other words, the principal purpose of the Word made flesh is to bring God out, to lead God out, so that an experience of God is possible. It makes no sense for the Word to become flesh if God is not able to be experienced, and on every level of what it means to be human.” [2]

So, here we are, as limited, fragile human beings, faced with a loving, caring God-made-flesh, Emmanuel, God-with-us. How have you experienced Emmanuel, God-with-you, in your life? Has Jesus been especially real to you at any point? Have you been going through difficulties and problems in your life, or in the lives of your families, and our Lord Jesus came alongside you and was very present in your life and experience? That is the very thing He came down from heaven to do and to be. To come alongside of us as we muddle our way through our messy lives.

As Lewis suggests, “I wonder if perhaps we all need a prologue — a prologue for our lives, even our believing, our discipleship, our relationship with God…. What themes will orient your life this year? Maybe we could call this a reorientation of New Year’s resolutions.

“This might be an especially helpful exercise at the beginning of a new year — what resolutions you want to make but also what God resolutions you need to make. In other words, resolutions not just for the sake of your life, but for the sake of God in your life, and for the sake of helping your congregation orient their lives to God’s Christmas, God’s present, and God’s future.” [3] What a marvelous idea! Make new year’s resolutions centered around God – God in the flesh, God’s present, and God’s future.

God is not someone far away, or someone who doesn’t care about us or our families, or our problems. God in very present with us. We as fragile, fallible humans CAN experience our Lord Jesus Christ, who did the ultimate. God the Father gave us all the most marvelous Christmas gift: the gift of God’s own Eternal Son, born as a Baby in Bethlehem.

I love how Eugene Peterson translated verse 14: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” Moved down the street, maybe even right next door. What a gift for all of us to experience. The Eternal God, right here, right now – Jesus moved into our neighborhood, and, God willing, into our very hearts and lives. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/a-prologue-for-the-new-year

[2]  https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-christmas-2/commentary-on-john-11-9-10-18-5

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/a-prologue-for-the-new-year

Joy at Arm’s Length

“Joy at Arm’s Length”

 Luke 2:1-14 (2:9-10) – December 12, 2021

            Have you felt recently like there are lots of feelings coming your way? It seems like 2021 is a year of deep feelings. Yes, the feelings of fear, anxiety, worry, and grief (over many different kinds of losses!). At the same time, there are occasions of happiness, comfort, and once in a while, excitement! Can you recognize joy in that bundle of feelings?

Let’s look at what Dr. Luke has to say about the shepherds. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”

            As we read this familiar Christmas story, was there much in the shepherds’ daily life and experience to fill them with joy? I do not think they were particularly joy-filled, with their ordinary, workaday life and their low, social status.

Remember the difficult situation the shepherds were in. The shepherds’ position on the social ladder in Palestine was pretty near the bottom. Working as a shepherd was something that vagrants might pick up, or a job for ne’er-do-wells, or others who were very much down on their luck. Similar to the current day, where the angels might come and give a heavenly announcement to homeless people.

            Today, you and I do not need to be down and out like the shepherds to have difficulty finding joy. Goodness knows, there is a lot going on in the world today, much less in each individual life. Look at the extreme weather! Look at the political situation, both local and national! Look at finances all over! Look at health situations! Need I say more? Actually, I do.

            My friend Rev. April Fiet reflects about our focus on joy, too. She says, “I was already struggling with joy because I feel guilty delighting in things when others are suffering. It feels inappropriate. How can I rejoice when someone else is experiencing the pain of a loved one in the hospital and being unable to be with them? How can I feel delight when business owners are forced to close their doors? How can I justify smiling at the sound of the birds in the trees or the scent of fresh baked bread when neighbors are sick, families are separated, and such brokenness exists in the world?” [1]

Oh, my. I can relate to Pastor April’s reflections. Are you and I uncertain about joy? Is it difficult for us to feel joy, even a challenge to think about experiencing joy?

I know what it is like to work a hum-drum, workaday job. Yes, I have had some jobs like that, years ago. I wonder whether the shepherds felt like that, right before the angel chorus broke into this hum-drum, workaday world and appeared to them?

Dr. Luke says that the shepherds were doing their job in the fields by taking care of the sheep. It is what they did every day. “Maybe their job had become a routine. Perhaps they were used to living in the fields, and they had forgotten to notice the green grass or look up at the glittering stars. Suddenly, the angels came to the shepherds to share, “the good news of great joy for all the people.” They said, “Jesus has been born. It is a blessing for you. It is a blessing for everyone!”[2] Imagine, a bunch of extraterrestrial beings lighting up the whole night sky! Imagine, what would that have been like if you had been there?

Years back, many people remember cute Christmas pageants, with children dressed in bathrobes as shepherds, and angels with aluminum papered wings and tinsel halos singing “Gloria!” Yet, the real angels’ joyous announcement was contagious! They surrounded the shepherds with that great joy, for all people! The ultimate birth announcement for all time!

I am sure you remember getting filled with joy just because your friend or relative was so joy-filled. We just celebrated the birth of a grandbaby in this congregation a few days ago, and the grandparents were so joy-filled it surely was contagious for the rest of us! And how much more to have a glorious angel chorus filled with joy, singing their Glorias to God in the highest!

But, sometimes – it can be difficult to be filled with joy, even if angels are telling us to be. Sometimes, uncertain hearts can still lean away from joy, for all kinds of reasons. Some remember birth stories of sadness, either in their own lives, or in the life of someone close to them. And some people are just not feeling particularly holly-jolly, merry and bright at this time of the year. Again, for a whole host of reasons. And, that is okay. God understands and God is right here with us, through it all.

Even if we have the angel chorus turned down low, like on a car radio, we can still hear the good news of great joy. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” We can listen to the joyous chorus – softly: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”

Yes, the angels brought something extraordinary to the shepherds, and to all of us. Even when we are uncertain to receive it, the angels bring us good tidings of great joy, for all the people! And even when some of us do not have the strength or wherewithal to reach out for joy, a loving, gentle God continues to beckon to us. God’s gift of joy still remains.

I encourage us all – look for God’s joy in our lives today. And, God-with-us, Emmanuel, will stay at our sides in an uncertain Advent, through the Christmas season, and for the rest of our lives. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] https://aprilfiet.com/my-thoughts/advent-for-uncertain-hearts-week-3-joy-at-arms-length?fbclid=IwAR27woV9I-D9ZOu6-QnqwTF_Md7hE8MDmhpkjxdJ9JivtCJY-Nqmscm5aG8

[2] Illustrated Ministry – Week 3, Do Not Be Afraid, Advent 2021

The Most Excellent Gift

“Love: The Most Excellent Gift”

1 Cor 13 love, ring

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (12:31) – February 3, 2019

In less than two weeks, the yearly holiday of romance and love will be celebrated. Yes, the holiday of Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. According to the popular women’s magazine Woman’s Day, people here in the United States spend a lot of money on their Valentines: an estimated $18.2 billion in 2017, including 144 million Valentine’s Day cards. [1] Gifts, cards and chocolates are wonderful for that special someone in your life! But—is this idea of love what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote the Scripture passage we read today?

As we come to the end of our series of gifts from God, we can think back over the past month. As we celebrated Epiphany the first Sunday of January, we not only saw the gifts the foreign-born Magi gave to the toddler Jesus, but we celebrated the greatest Christmas gift of all time: the gift of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. We also rejoice as we remember our baptism and the tremendous gift of God’s grace bestowed upon all of us.

We consider what Paul was talking about in the previous chapter, 1 Corinthians 12. Spiritual gifts! We spent two weeks discussing the generous gifts God gives each of us—all of us. Gifts of helps, service, teaching, healing, wisdom, understanding—and then some. What is more, Paul encourages us to put these gifts into practice for the common good of others. And last week, we explored the interconnectedness of each of us and each of the gifts that we bring to this family of faith. We learned that we need one another in a fundamental way. [2]

Which leads us to our Scripture reading for today, from 1 Corinthians 13. Paul caps off this discussion of spiritual gifts with the most excellent gift of all: love.

Many people relate the reading of the this “Love chapter” with weddings. Romance and hearts and flowers—and Valentine’s Day—seem to go hand in hand with this chapter. That is, on the surface. But, when the Apostle Paul really gets going on the depth and breadth of God’s love, he does not mean hearts and flowers and candy at all. God’s love is what is offered to all of us.

What does God’s love look like? Paul gives us some vivid examples. Reading from The Message: “If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all God’s mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I am nothing. 3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”

Forgive me. I’ve just told you what God’s love does not look like. This is what happens when a person does not have God’s love living within him or her. A very sad, despairing state of affairs, to be sure.

Paul does tell us what love is, however. Again, from the Message; “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.”

This description from Paul tells us what love is.

Very sadly, if we read the newspaper and turn on the news, we see another expression of God-talk. This kind of black-and-white thinking, all-or-nothing talk comes from rigid or extreme religious groups. You know the groups I mean. Groups that say unequivocally “I’m on God’s good side, and you’re not. I’m going to heaven because I do the things God wants. You don’t, so you are going to hell.” It doesn’t matter whether they are stringent Christians, fundamentalist Catholics, extreme Muslims, or radical Hindus. Such hurtful thinking and corrosive speech lets us know these religious groups have likely not experienced God’s life-changing, wondrous love. You know, all of the wonderful, life-giving parts of love that the Apostle Paul just described to us.

Father Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico, has written and taught extensively on God’s love. He spoke of these hurtful religious groups, and then asked, “How can we do better? To begin, we might put ourselves in the other’s shoes and imagine why someone is so hateful.”

Father Rohr continues: “While working in the Albuquerque jail for over a decade, I met many men who had been raised in a punitive, authoritarian, absolutist way, often with an absent or abusive father. Understanding another’s story can teach us compassion. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t set some healthy boundaries. But it does open our hearts and help us recognize that other people are victims, too. They’ve been wounded, too. Yet they are still objectively an image of God, created in God’s image.” [3]

We are not all called to work in prisons, like Father Rohr. But, God has gifted each of us to offer our gifts to others. Each of us have been given gifts to reach out to our friends and neighbors with the love of God. Remember what we talked about last week, how all of our spiritual gifts are interconnected? Each of us is needed by the others in this family of faith. And, God’s love is one of the greatest connectors of all.

One of my absolute favorite people ever is Mister Rogers. Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian minister, ordained to ministry in television and mass communication by the Presbytery of Pittsburgh in 1963. He had a marvelous, moving ministry to children—and to adults—for decades—in public television.

One of the ways Mister Rogers reached out and communicated to children with his television show was through music. He wrote over two hundred songs about important things and things that concern children very much. Like this one: “There are many ways to say I love you. There are many ways to say I care about you. Many ways, many ways, many ways to say I love you. Cleaning up a room can say I love you. Hanging up a coat before you’re asked to do it. Drawing special pictures for the holidays and making plays.” [4]

Important words from a loving, honest, generous man, Fred Rogers. He let us know that love can be as simple as hanging up a coat—or doing the dishes—or sending a greeting card. Mister Rogers would definitely agree that showing love is being kind to others, and being your honest, caring self. No matter what.

A reminder, from the Message: “[Love] Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.” That is the kind of God we have. Love is a gift God offers to all of us, freely.

It doesn’t matter how each of us expresses God’s love. God gives many gifts to all of us, freely. Let us give love away to everyone, no matter what. Just as freely as God gives to us.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://www.womansday.com/relationships/a4702/10-fun-valentines-day-facts-103385/

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-1-worship-planning-series/february-3-fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Exploring and Experiencing the Naked Now, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010).

[4] http://www.neighborhoodarchive.com/music/songs/many_ways.html

(Many thanks to the Rev. Jeff Campbell and http://www.umcdiscipleship.org for ideas and assistance for this series on spiritual gifts.)

@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!

Discover God-given Gifts

“Discover God-given Gifts”

1 cor 12-7 gifts given to all

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (12:6) – January 20, 2019

When my children were little, from time to time we would go into toy stores—usually on the occasions when they were going to birthday parties. We would choose a present for them to take to the party. My children would not only enjoy giving gifts. All of their friends would see all the other presents given to the birthday boy or girl when they were opened at the party. And sometimes, they would tell me about some extra special gift given at the party. What gift-giving opportunities we all have had, whether at birthday parties, holidays, or other occasions.

We have been talking about gifts for the past few weeks. Not only in the weekly sermons, but also in other parts of our worship service, too. God gave us all the most wonderful gift of all at Christmas in the gift of God’s Son, the baby Jesus. We can all praise God for that super special Christmas gift.

Two weeks ago, the first Sunday of January was the day of Epiphany. Some might know this day as Three Kings Day, or the occasion the Wise Men came and brought gifts to the toddler Jesus. Whatever you call it, that was the day the foreign-born wise men came with their rich gifts to lay before the young Jesus. Last week was the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord Jesus. Another gift-giving occasion. What is a good reminder of God’s gift poured out upon us all. God’s grace. God’s rich, full and abundant grace, given to us all. Baptism is an outward sign of that God-given grace.

After all this talk about Christmas and birthday gifts, and how marvelous and generous our God is, there is even more to say about gifts. The Apostle Paul talks about gifts to the believers in Corinth in our Scripture reading today. God gives Christ-followers spiritual gifts.

I am certain everyone here has seen public service announcements on television, or heard them on the radio. These are announcements about public health, or about the public good. This is exactly what Paul was doing here. Paul made a general public service announcement about spiritual gifts. God is gracious, and God gives out spiritual gifts generously. Paul made sure that all his friends in Corinth—and all of us, by extension—knew this.

As is so often the case, Paul was making this announcement about gifts for a definite reason. Some Christians don’t even know about spiritual gifts. They might not be aware of them. Perhaps they have a great many things going on in their lives, or the lives of their families, and are too distracted.

Some Christians do know something about spiritual gifts, but think that they are for someone else. Not for regular folks like me, or maybe like you. Spiritual gifts are only for the superstars of the faith, for people like St. Francis of Assisi, or Mother Teresa, or perhaps Billy Graham. Everyday people can’t get spiritual gifts. Not much, anyway.

And, every so often, some Christians even think they are not good enough for spiritual gifts. Not worthy, or not saintly enough. They know they mess up, and do bad things, and say things that make God sad. There is no way—God couldn’t possibly give them spiritual gifts.

Guess what? I have good news for all of us. In fact, great news! God gives spiritual gifts to everyone. To you, to me, to the members of St. Martha’s Catholic Church, to the friends at Morton Grove Community Church, to the folks at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. God freely and generously gives spiritual gifts to all of these folks. All Christians, all throughout the world.

This list of spiritual gifts here in 1 Corinthians 12 is not exhaustive. More spiritual gifts are listed in other passages. In Romans 12:6-8, Paul lists prophecy, serving, teaching, encouragement, giving, leadership, and mercy. Ephesians 4:11-13 has apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. And, even these three lists are only partial lists. God is endlessly inventive and full of generosity. If we were to check out modern assessment tools for spiritual gifts, we would find many more gifts.

Just like Paul and his friends, we would find out that spiritual gifts all come from the same source: the Holy Spirit. What is more, these gifts all have the same purpose: “the common good.” As commentator Carolyn Brown says, “we identify and celebrate all the gifts God gives us and recognize that we are meant to use these gifts not just for our own good but for the good of the people around us.” [1]

So, we all have spiritual gifts, and these gifts are a joy for us to use for others.

Except—what if we never use these gifts, and they sit in the bottom of some drawer, or in the back of a closet? What then? The Rev. Jeff Campbell uses a distinctive analogy to help us understand more thoroughly. He says, “Activation of your spiritual gift is essential. Activation is putting your gifts into practice “for the common good.” What good is a gift if it is never shared for the good of others?

“I have a few credit cards in my wallet, as I am sure many of you do. When you receive a new credit card, you usually find a sticker on it that provides an 800 number to call in order to do what?  To activate the card. Have any of you ever received the card and placed it in your wallet, never calling to activate the card? Not if you need to use the card! So why do some disciples clearly recognize a spiritual gift but leave the sticker on and never use it?” [2]

Our friends at the United Methodist Church have developed a bible study especially for this bible reading, and using this section of spiritual gifts. In it, the members are urged to listen for their own personal gifts. Discern the signs, and ask others.  “You may wonder what your spiritual gift is. God will help you discover it.”

“You may already know what your spiritual gift is. That’s good; keep sharing it! All of us should “be on the lookout” to help one another recognize their spiritual gifts. In this way, God encourages us to contribute to our community of faith in Jesus Christ.” [3]

So—what do you have in your spiritual wallet? What spiritual gift do you have? Find out, today. And if you already know, use it for the common good, for the community of faith, and for everyone you can.

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/01/year-c-second-sunday-after-epiphany.html

Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 2C, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2013.

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-1-worship-planning-series/january-20-second-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/second-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-1-worship-planning-series/january-20-second-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/second-sunday-after-epiphany-2019-year-c-faith-formation 

(Thanks to Rev. Jeff Campbell and the other friends at http://www.umcdiscipleship.org for help and ideas for use in this sermon.)

One Who Brings Peace

“One Who Brings Peace”

Micah 5-5 He will be our peace

Micah 5:5 – December 20, 2015

Peace. Peace is the subject today. Today we light the Advent candle of peace. Here, inside the church, it seems like peace is a realize-able actuality. But—not on the outside. Not out in the cold, cruel world. Peace, peace, is the cry! Here in the 21st century, we have wars and the rumors of war. Fighting, skirmishes, various attacks of various kinds. Will anyone hear our cry for peace? Will anyone—anywhere—heed our cry?

In biblical times, there was always some tribe or country beating up on another tribe or country. Always somebody marching off to war. To enlarge territory, or to gain political advantage, or to right some wrong. So seldom did the nation of Israel have true peace! Much of this book of the prophet Micah deals with war, conflict and fighting. Except for right here.

Our Gospel reading from Luke tells of the pregnant Virgin Mary going to visit her older cousin Elizabeth, who prophecies that Mary has within her the baby Jesus, the Son of God. Usually, the Scripture readings are chosen with great care. Chosen with an eye to common themes. So, what is in common, here? The prophecy of a strong leader to come, from our Old Testament text, and the prophecy of the birth of the Messiah, from our Gospel reading.

Here we are at the fourth Sunday of Advent. We have had Advent for a long time. Since the last week of November. I can just hear the children saying, “When is Christmas finally going to get here?” Some schools have already gotten out for the winter holidays. I know some local churches are featuring a Christmas cantata today, or a Christmas pageant in worship.

Yet here we all are. The last Sunday of Advent. Isn’t Christmas here yet? Isn’t it time for angels and shepherds, Mary and Joseph and the Baby in a manger? Can’t we hurry things along?

As we look at the prophecy in Micah, we can see that the prophet is certainly not thinking about warm and fuzzy Christmas carols. Not about the lion lying down with the lamb, about God reaching down and bringing peace on earth, good will towards all people. Or, is he? What is Micah saying in our reading today?

Yes, a strong leader will rise up. Who do you think Micah’s contemporaries thought the prophet was talking about? I was fascinated to read in one commentary that most people would connect this strong leader to King David. But, wait! David had been dead for two hundred years, by the time that Micah wrote his prophecy. How could the Jewish people think “David” when they heard prophetic words like this?

Because—because of the prophecy of David’s prophet Nathan from 2 Samuel 7. A direct descendant of David would be king. God had promised King David that exact thing. So, who else could this strong leader be but a direct descendant of the great King David?

All well and good! Except, it gets more complicated, fast. Micah mentions “out of you [Bethlehem] will come one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Now, I can understand a strong leader. A ruler, a mighty King. A descendant of King David. I can even understand the prophecy of a baby, from Luke, chapter one. The descendant of David needs to be born. Elizabeth prophecying and praising God that the mother of the Messiah to come was coming to see her. Okay, I’ve got that.

I am so indebted to John C. Holbert’s article on this Scripture reading. [1] I was aware of some of this material from the book of Micah, but by no means all. And never in so much depth!

Micah’s prophecy foretells a strong leader, yes. A descendant of David is presumed. (Micah doesn’t specifically say so.) Adding two and two and two together, from the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures, people have ascertained that this prophecy also refers to the Messiah. And then—Micah adds the part about the ruler “whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” This part definitely needs more explanation.

These phrases are a challenge to translate from Hebrew. The best that anyone can figure is that there are several meanings for these words. “Origins” can also be translated “coming forth” of old! Dr. Holbert says that God put this word ‘olam, or “ancient times,” “into human minds in such a way that they may know a bit of what has happened in the past, and a tiny portion of what may come, but just enough to teach them that they in fact know precious little about either past or future in the end. There the word appears to mean something like a very long time or deep in the past and far into the future, not quite eternity but as much as any puny human mind may conceive.”

Talk about not being able to understand Scripture. These couple of phrases blow me away. I feel small when I read this. Really young, like a preschooler. I realize I do not know very much about God or about the Bible, at all. Period. God surely can flatten me, humble me with a phrase from the prophet Micah.

But, wait! There is more! Let’s unpack this reading, further.

Holbert continues: “Who then does Micah have in mind? This is no simple heir of David; here is someone primordial, someone from the most ancient of times yet also uniquely prepared to act decisively in the present.” In other words, Micah is talking about Someone more than human. Looking forward to the future, talking about Someone who not only is the promised Messiah to come, the promised descendant of David, but also looking back to the far distant past. To the beginning of time, even beyond the beginning.

Then, in Micah 5:3, the prophet brings up the image of a woman in labor. What is our Gospel reading from Luke for today? It’s about two pregnant women. Elizabeth prophecying about the Child Mary is carrying. The Child is the Lord. The Son of God. The next verse, Micah 5:4 speaks of the promised one who will be a shepherd. Just like King David! A powerful and godly shepherd who keeps the flock safely; “and they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.” Again, this is Messiah language, and more!

Who is this Messiah, anyway? Descendant of David, check. Born in Bethlehem, which is David’s ancestral home. Check. But, Micah says from ancient of days? Luke calls Him the Son of God? The Lord God Almighty?

This great Shepherd will not only be concerned with the flock of Israel, but also the flock of the entire world. And—this is the most important part to me, right now. This strong leader, this Shepherd will be our peace.

This Messiah will not just be peaceful for Israel’s sake. No! Our Messiah, our Christ, from ancient of days, will act peacefully for the safety and well-being of the whole world!

Do you hear the Good News from the prophet Micah today? This Messiah was not going to act in the way that so many other Middle Eastern potentates did. Or, for that matter, like any other earthly ruler ever has. Instead, we are told in our Scripture passage today that He will feed His flock. The Messiah’s flock will have the opportunity of living secure, safe, and peacefully under Messiah’s mighty protection. I thank God that I am one of the worldwide flock.

God extends that opportunity to everyone, so that we all can have the security and care of the Messiah, the Good Shepherd, the Babe of Bethlehem, the ruling King. Praise God for God’s wonderful gift of protection and care.

[1] http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Who-Is-This-Peaceful-One-John-C-Holbert-12-11-2015

(Many thanks and much appreciation to Dr. Holbert! Wonderful article on Micah.)

@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!