Mourning Blessings

“Mourning Blessings”

Matthew 5:1-5 (5:4) – July 10, 2022

Is it safe to cry? Are you comfortable being sad? What about mourning? Showing grief? For many, many people in this society here in North America, mourning and grief is something to be hidden away, even to be embarrassed about. Do you feel free to mourn? Or, is this raw emotion one to be hidden, not allowed out in public except at funerals?

Our nation was horrified to hear that instead of a Fourth of July parade enjoyed by families and participants alike, someone shot over 60 bullets from a rooftop with a high-powered rifle on Monday. In nearby Highland Park, scene after scene of horror and tragedy played out. So many mourning and grieving! This is yet another tragedy local to the Chicago area, and yet another in a series of mass shootings nationwide in recent weeks.

Let us look again at our Scripture reading for today. For these past weeks, in fact. Our Lord Jesus gives us the Beatitudes from a mountain in the north of Galilee to the largest of His crowds to date, near the beginning of His public ministry.

We have discussed how our Lord Jesus already had a budding reputation as a miracle worker, healing dozens and dozens of individuals from their physical diseases and afflictions. Jesus not only displayed power in casting out demons, but was gaining a reputation as a brilliant teacher. He was also quite able at dialoging with the Jewish legal scholars and other rabbis.

It’s all very nice to think about this historical person, the Rabbi Jesus, and about a historical event that happened 2000 years ago, the Sermon on the Mount. But, what does this have to do with the shooting that happened so near to us just a week ago? How do you and I wrap our heads around such evil and horror and go forward without trauma and pain and continuing sadness? Can you remember a time you cried? Did you cry on Monday, hearing about this extreme tragedy that happened only a few suburbs to the north? Yet, our Lord Jesus states “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

What a time of tragedy! And, what a time of mourning! Lord Jesus, do you hear countless people crying? Grieving? Mourning? Not only for those shot, wounded or murdered in Highland Park, but for the dozens shot, wounded or murdered across the Chicago area over the past week. And, those in Uvalde, Texas. And those in Buffalo, New York, before that.  

Similar to the first Beatitude about the poor in spirit that we examined last week, this serious statement of our Lord stands out and marks someone as different, as quite unlike worldly people. Yet, how, Lord?? What we do know is that the world system today tries its hardest to avoid mourning and grieving. The whole world system with its concentration on pleasure, on entertainment and money – tawdry “bling” and frivolity – are constantly diverting attention from mourning. Grieving is the last thing that the world system, today’s society wants us to focus on.

In the first century just as today, many people were taught that crying was shameful, that grown-ups didn’t cry, that mourning and grieving showed weakness and made people too vulnerable. Do you know people who try their darnedest not to show emotion, and not to cry or mourn? Oftentimes, these are rich and powerful people who gather money and control. That way, they do their best to feel strong, unshakeable, in control of people and events [1]

And, what does our Lord Jesus do right at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount? He speaks to people who mourn and cry and grieve, and praises them! Jesus highlights them in all their grief. One large reason Jesus does this is because God gave all humans emotions. Mourning, grief and crying show we all are alive and aware. Instead of being ashamed of crying, crying shows we are brave. “Crying shows we are willing to feel pain—our own and someone else’s pain. You [and I] are not trying to block the pain around us or keep our distance from it. Tears and crying are important.” [2]

Instead of being superficial and seeking only pleasure and surface entertainment, Jesus lets us know that God honors us when we mourn. God embraces us wholeheartedly when any of us grieve. You and I do not need to block pain or pretend nothing has happened, show a stiff upper lip or keep our distance from crying, because supposedly “grown-ups don’t cry.” No, tears and crying are important. When a loved one cries or grieves, it is a privilege to come alongside and to mourn with them. To sit with them as they cry, especially in times of pain or difficulty. Especially when it is so hard to hold that grief, so difficult that it almost makes a person fall to pieces.

This blessing of Jesus, blessing those who mourn for they shall be comforted, shows that we connect with God. This Beatitude shows that God actively comes alongside those who are actively mourning and comforts them.

I follow a Mister Rogers Twitter account. Yesterday morning, there was such an apropos tweet posted, a quote from Fred Rogers! “People have said, “Don’t cry” to other people for years and years, and all it has ever meant is “I’m too uncomfortable when you show your feelings: Don’t cry.” I’d rather have them say, “Go ahead and cry. I’m here to be with you.”

Perhaps God comforts those dear grieving ones through others. Perhaps God sends relatives, or friends, or strangers to come alongside of those who are deeply mourning, and sits with them in silence, or gets them a cup of water or coffee, or brings over a casserole or does a load of laundry. Whatever we do, whatever it takes to show God’s presence and our caring, Most important, this is a way to show we share in God’s heart, in God’s caring and love.

“Jesus promised God would bring comfort and make things right for all the people listening who faced injustice, shame, trauma and poverty which caused them to cry and grieve. One way God brings comfort is through us. (Hold your hands out with palms up.) When we offer our hand or loving words—especially to someone who is sad—we are God’s comfort to that person.” [3]

What a blessing to others! And, what a blessing when each of us mourn. And to that, we can all say 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 illustratedministries.com for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

[2] Illustrated Ministries, ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Challenged to Love

“Challenged to Love”

Luke 2:15-20 (2:19) – December 19, 2021

            The coming birth of a baby today is surely a time for rejoicing! In this country today we have such events as baby showers, regular prenatal visits, ultrasounds, and lots of other preparations made as the time for the birth gets closer and closer.

            But, what about in centuries past? How would the typical baby’s parents and family prepare for the birth of a baby? Was the baby still expected and waited for with love? What about after the baby arrived? Would uncertain and even dangerous situations cause that love from the parents and family to cool, dry up and perhaps even go away?

This Baby I have in mind was not your usual baby. No, this Baby was special. In fact, super-special. This Baby’s parents Mary and Joseph were living in an uncertain time, too. It’s not only us, today, with the uncertain health situations around the country, extreme weather, financial worries of all kinds, close friends or relatives in a jam, and much more.

Mary and Joseph’s country was under military occupation. I suspect the distance Joseph had to travel was only made more complicated by the question marks caused by the season of the year, the weather, and by the possible hassle caused by meeting Roman soldiers on the road.

A far cry from the love expressed by many people today, especially when a baby is born.

Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent, the Sunday where we focus on Love. It is such a challenge to highlight love, when we are also dealing with such uncertainty. Uncertainty in our work lives, in our personal lives, and in our corporate lives, as a congregation, a family, and in your friend groups. The minute our Savior, Christ the Lord is born, in that same uncertain minute the rug seems to be pulled out from under everyone’s feet.

How can we focus on love at an uncertain time like this?

I appreciate different people and their different blog posts and articles incorporating the coming Christ child in Bethlehem. One of the readings most true to my heart this year: “It is easy to feel disappointed when things don’t happen the way you have planned them. You can get lost in your expectations, feel frustrated, and even close your heart to what is happening unexpectedly, instead of noticing the wonderful experiences around you.” [1]

What unexpected and wonderful things were happening in Bethlehem, for sure!

But, have you ever felt that so much has gone wrong, so many things have misfired or gotten off to a rotten start that nothing that’s positive could ever happen again? It’s true that the world at the end of 2021 has had terrible, awful and downright frightening things happen for so many months. This uncertainty can manifest itself into being so anxious and unwelcoming to the Christmas angels with their “good news of great joy.” Where is love when we need it most?

Sometimes things just don’t go the way we planned. Sometimes some of us feel nervous, afraid, or even disgruntled most of the time! And then, what happens to our hearts? Are our hearts open to new things, or fresh experiences, or unexpected opportunities? Chances are, no.

“Sometimes people lock their hearts because they think it will protect them. They lock out strangers who might become friends; they lock out different places that might become places where they belong. The problem with locking your heart is that it doesn’t actually protect you; it keeps out all the love you didn’t think to imagine.” [2]

            In such an uncertain time as December 2021, many people have extra armor protecting their insides, guarding against fear and hurt, almost like pulling up the covers over our heads and wishing that all of this uproar and sadness and anxiety gripping our insides would just go away. But – God has sent love into the world. God’s love, lovely love.

            Even though her world was uncertain, Mary the mother of the infant Jesus had a whole succession of wondrous events happen to her. The coming of the angel Gabriel, confirmation of the angel’s message to her fiancé Joseph. The welcome by Elizabeth followed by Mary singing the Magnificat. The journey to Bethlehem followed by a wondrous birth. And, to cap it off, a group of dusty, dirty shepherds trooping in to see her newborn Baby with an equally wondrous story to tell. More angels! More glory! More opportunities for God to be praised!

            This world certainly was weary then, and it certainly continues to be weary – and fearful and anxious – today. Nevertheless, Dr. Luke says that Mary treasured up all these things in her heart. Pondered, meditated on and considered all of these wondrous, miraculous happenings. God’s Love had indeed broken into this weary world.

            My friend Rev. April Fiet ponders these things, too, as we all celebrate the incarnate Son of God born as the infant Jesus. “The first Christmas, Love came down and got its hands dirty. Love grew and experienced pain, was overlooked, rejected, and mocked. Love embraced others with otherworldly love and was scorned for loving the wrong people. Love didn’t just take on flesh in the holiest of senses; Love took on the struggle of being human. Love encountered us, looked us in the eyes and said, “Me, too.” [3]

            Christina Rossetti wrote a poem in the 1800’s, set to music and found in many hymnals today. “Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine.”  Praise God, we, too, can stop by that manger in Bethlehem, and be caught up in the wonder of what happened that night, so long ago. We, too can welcome this lovely, Godly Love that has come into this uncertain, weary world, today.

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] Illustrated Ministry – Do Not Be Afraid, Advent 2021

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://aprilfiet.com/my-thoughts/advent-for-uncertain-hearts-week-4-love-in-the-struggle?fbclid=IwAR2yzfOdmvPxceuJF0JvE01JKHOrtrTeKkGvUq2BRr1peCcvBDjXeLmOtNM

No Need to Worry!

“No Need to Worry!”

Matthew 6:25-34 (6:27, 34) – November 21, 2021

            There is no need to worry!

            What? You have GOT to be kidding. If your everyday life is anything like mine, there is A LOT to worry about. Worries at work (look at the church office roof!), worries at home (with family members sick), worries about everything under the sun, like a friend’s daughter, another’s brother, several people going through physical therapy. That’s not mentioning making ends meet, supply chain issues, and worries about healthcare. What isn’t there to worry about?    

            Our Lord Jesus was very serious here. He’s in the middle of one of His great sermons from the Gospel of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount. This is early in His ministry; the Rabbi Jesus teaches about the Law of Moses to a Jewish audience. Lots of rabbis did exactly that! Giving their own understanding about the Hebrew Scriptures and the Law of Moses.

            Jesus spends the first half of Matthew 6 talking about prayer. He even gives us that prayer template we say every week! The Lord’s Prayer. After that, Jesus talks about the attitude we are supposed to have. How we ought to think – and act.

            Let’s think more deeply about our Scripture reading for today. Wonderful Scripture! But, not quite our usual Scripture reading for Thanksgiving Sunday. Or, is it? Commentator Rev. Janet Hunt said “these words which come to us this Thanksgiving aren’t first about giving thanks, are they?  No, they seem to get at gratitude’s opposite – or at least that which keeps us from being grateful, namely worry.” [1] Especially during a pandemic. What is Jesus thinking of? How can He say “don’t be anxious!” “Don’t worry!” and really mean it?

            Worry is invasive, like a nasty, invasive plant. Those of you who garden are very much aware of these weeds, these choking, creeping plants that wind around the healthy flowers and vegetables we plant in our gardens. That worry weed can choke the life out of the good plants, if we give them half a chance. What can we possibly do about worry?

            Janet Hunt makes a confession: “In all truth, I am a worrier.  This is nothing new.  I carried my anxiety so deep that at the age of six I had nearly developed an ulcer and my folks had me going to a therapist (in a time when that was still pretty unusual) — with whom I never did honestly share the fears that troubled my little girl’s heart.” [2] 

            I have several friends with severe anxiety, too. They worry about a lot of stuff, all the time. This anxiety can be very real, and very debilitating.

One of my favorite commentators, David Lose, notices something important about this reading. He said it hit him like a two by four! How hard is it to hear Jesus say “Do not worry about your life.” David Lose does not think it is just about him! He thinks “we live in an incredibly anxious culture. The evening news certainly depends upon worries at home and abroad to attract viewers. Commercials are constantly inviting us to worry about one more thing — usually about ourselves! — the sponsored product should supposedly solve.” [3]

David Lose wrote these words about ten years ago. Since we are eighteen months into the pandemic, with all of its attendant fear, anxiety, distress and upset, how much more is worry an everyday companion for all of us! Plus, so many people – not only across the United States, but also across the world are seeking some way out, some way to alleviate that worry. Usually by waving some commercially sponsored magic wand or using some sponsored product.

Isn’t it simpler than that? I mean, simpler, in a straightforward kind of way? Not necessarily easier, but some way that Jesus can help us not to worry?

You remember that I said the Rabbi Jesus talks about the attitudes we are supposed to have. How we ought to think – and act. What does He say here in Matthew 6, just before telling us not to worry? He gives us a choice. We can’t serve two masters: we can’t serve both God and money. Serving money is another name for looking out for security. Giving our allegiance to money and security. Making money our lord – running after security at all costs.

If we make money and security our lord – our God, in fact – what does that do to the real God, the God of the Bible? As David Lose says, “Once we believe that money can satisfy our deepest needs, then we suddenly discover that we never have enough. Money, after all, is finite. No wonder we worry – in a world of scarcity, there is simply never enough.” [4]

So, how on earth are we supposed to NOT worry? The alternative Jesus invites us to consider is entering into a real, authentic relationship with God. Live in this relationship of real, true love and trust. Is there an end to love? I think you know the answer. You have love for all your families, for other close loved ones. When one is added – a niece, nephew, grandchild, in-law – your capacity to love extends, even doubles. We love to overflowing! Even more, as God is infinite, and whose love for us and all creation infinitely overflows, as well.

Jesus’s words “do not worry!” are a command! When we live in this relationship with God, this possible life of abundance, this life of love, caring and trust, all things become possible! Even the possibility of NOT worrying, even through a pandemic.

“Suddenly, in this world — Jesus calls it the “kingdom of God” — not worrying actually becomes an option.” [5] With a loving, authentic relationship with God.

Thank You, Jesus! 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. David Lose and his commentary article from Working Preacher, “Picture This,”

I took a number of ideas and several quotes from that article on Matthew 6:25-34.)


[1] http://words.dancingwiththeword.com/2012/11/no-more-worries.html

“No More Worries,” the Rev. Dr. Janet H. Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2012.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/picture-this

“Picture This,” David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

Prescription for Prayer!

“Prescription for Prayer!”

James 5:13-5:18 (5:16) – September 26, 2021

            Do you remember back to when you were a child? Or, perhaps, when you had small children? Do you remember when you felt really sick? Perhaps, your small (or, not-so-small) children were sick? Sometimes their fever or sore throat got better with some medicine from the medicine cabinet. But, sometimes, a visit to the doctor was necessary. The doctor would prescribe some medicine that would help that infection or sore throat get better soon.  

            What do we do when our spiritual lives are not in the best of health? Where do you go when your faith life seems shaky and insecure? Could a doctor or hospital help you and me in a situation like this? I don’t think so. Doctors and hospitals are not the best places to go for most spiritual afflictions like this. Where can we go for help? James has some practical suggestions for us in Chapter 5 of his letter.

            James says, “13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.”  

            James gives us practical ways to pray. Some people – even, a lot of people – struggle when they pray. What about those who do want to pray, but don’t think they can come before God? That it is only for the “super-spiritual,” or only for pastors, priests, rabbis, leaders of congregations? They are not sure about the how-to of prayer, and therefore, don’t often try.

            This is our fifth week looking into the letter of James, and we have seen over the past few weeks that James is a very practical man. He displays a great deal of common sense, and does not pull punches when it comes to talking straight to his friends scattered around Asia Minor. (The area to the north and west of present-day Palestine.) What kinds of things does James say?  

            Are any of you in trouble? The King James version uses the word “afflicted.” In other words, burdened! Lots of people today are burdened with heavy things! Worries, cares, concerns of the world. James does not deny this. However, he does have a practical thing to do for it: pray! Come to God, confide in God, and your cares, troubles and burdens will be lessened. What is more, you do not even have to pray out loud, or even pray in words. God can understand the deep groanings of your heart, too deep for words.

            An old saying – I do not know where it comes from – says that if you share a sorrow (or a burden), you cut it in half. If you share a joy, you double it! That is God’s kind of mathematics!

            Which leads us to the next practical suggestion: if anyone is happy, sing! Not only does God have an amazing rule of doubling joys shared, but God also stirs hearts when we sing and make music to the Lord! I personally love music. It is one of my main ways to praise the Lord! By singing, playing, or listening to music. It is truly amazing to participate in musical praise and glory to God, and then see God at work among those very same people involved in the praise.  

            James also recommends “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.” When I served as a hospital chaplain, I would occasionally be asked to anoint a patient in the name of the Lord. I was always honored and even awed by the trust and faith of those doing the asking. Sometimes family members of the patient, sometimes the patients themselves.

Are you familiar with the expression “God works in mysterious ways?” (From a poem by William Cowper, and taken from thoughts from Isaiah 55.) This is so true in the cases of people anointed by oil. God’s encouragement and power surrounds those dear people, and their loved ones. God’s blessed, mysterious, loving medicine can fill a hospital room with love, care and comfort, too. I can attest to that.

We have just spoken about individual believers, and how to pray practically in an effective manner. But, what about the church – our local church, and the whole community of churches in our neighborhoods, regions, even in our country? Can practical James give us advice for churches all across our land? I think so.

We also can encourage spiritual wellness – along with physical wellness! We can actively invite people into caring relationships! Sadly, the traditional way of worship seems to have devolved into a pre-packaged, processed food product. Like the gooey, gummy or crispy snack foods that come out of a fast-food vending machine. Pre-packaged, processed and fake. “Instead of an easily-digestible [but not-so-healthy] dose of Jesus-lite, perhaps we need to return to an organic mix of spiritual practices in [our faith] community.” [1] Let’s consider structural – foundational, even! – changes to all of our faith communities.

            James calls us all to put our faith to work in the world, of living out salvation in ways that impact the world (or our neighborhoods) around each of us. Suggestion: find the prayer servants in our congregation or in your group of friends. Ask them what happens when they pray!  And, get ready to be amazed at God’s working in mysterious ways!

            As Rev. Sharon Blezard says, “The “great physician” offers hope and healing of body, mind, and spirit, but we must be active participants in the process. Whether it is the healing touch of the laying on of hands or a simple hug from a sister or brother in Christ or the potent power of prayer or the relief of corporate confession, active participation in the Body of Christ is preventative medicine at its best. What are you waiting for? There’s no co-pay, third-party billing, or lifetime limits on God’s grace and love.” [2] Prayer is our prescription from God. 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.stewardshipoflife.org/2012/09/rx-for-broken-lives-and-faltering-faith/

“Rx for Broken Lives and Faltering Faith,” Sharron R Blezard, Stewardship of Life, 2012.

[2] Ibid.

Faith in Action!

“Faith in Action!”

James 2:1-10, 14-17 (2:14) – September 5, 2021

            I watched a lot of movies and television series in the past – usually with my children, when they were children and teenagers. A lot of these shows were about young people on a high school campus, complete with all the groups and cliques, exclusion and favoritism. All the “popular” kids were beautiful people, and all the “nerds” and “dorks” were unpopular. Heaven help you if you were really poor and came from the wrong side of the tracks!

            Does this sound familiar? Is this favoritism similar to what James talks about here, in our reading today? James mentions one person coming to worship in fancy clothes, with expensive jewelry. He follows that up with a description of a poor person, in ragged, threadbare clothes, coming to that same worship service. You and I need to ask: who would James exclude from worship service? Who would James exclude from fellowship in the church?

            When we consider the typical high school campus and the typical high school kids, we may give them a pass. Some say they don’t fully understand how damaging and how hurtful their actions are, to many people. Others say that only weak, socially-awkward people get hurt from the rough-and-tumble world of high school…that is just something everyone has to put up with, and to live with. Suck it up, people! Get on with life!

            Except, this rough-and-tumble, catty, mean way of carrying on is not the way that Christians are supposed to be! Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are supposed to be better than that! Believers are not supposed to play favorites! Aren’t they? James says so! Doesn’t he?

Who would James exclude? “If we’re honest, we have to squirm a little bit as he describes the scene. Of course, we’ve all done this; we’ve all shown partiality in this. We hope we’re overcoming it; we hope we’re countering it; we hope we’re better than that. But our society has drilled into us to value people on outward appearances more than essential being.”[1]

            This letter from James is so practical! Yes, he does refer to theological concepts now and then, but he wants to give us a manual of Christian living: living the way we as believers are called to live! The description in this reading today is a pertinent, hard-hitting example.  

            The Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary today also has some difficult, hard-hitting points. Jesus and the disciples are in the racially-mixed area of the Decapolis, near the Sea of Galilee in the far north of Israel. A Gentile woman approaches the Rabbi Jesus while He is at dinner, and asks Him to please heal her daughter. Jesus says some challenging words to her about being a Gentile. She convinces Jesus to help her and heal her daughter, which He does.

            This Gospel reading deals with favoritism and being partial to one group while excluding another group. Who would Jesus exclude? Would He exclude me and my family? Would favoritism include you? How about your children, or grandchildren?  

            These are difficult issues raised by both the apostle James and the Gospel-writer Mark.

            Perhaps the world does things like this, almost all the time. Perhaps the common, sinful people in the world act and speak and think like this, almost all the time. But, we as believers are not to act like the world!

            As commentator Dr. Derek Weber says, “James points out the economic distinctions that we are all too likely to make in our hospitality ministry. But it wouldn’t be too big a leap to talk about racial and immigrant and gender and orientation distinctions at the same time. This is not, however, a recommendation to avoid the issues We are called to speak up, to follow the boldness of James and talk about the lines of respectability that we too often draw, consciously or unconsciously. It is better to enter into these delicate subjects knowingly than to be surprised.”[2]

            Today, we often use the word “believe” to mean intellectual assent, or understanding. The New Testament agrees – except the full understanding of the word “believe” is deeper and richer than simply the intellect. “When John 3:16 declares that “whosoever believes,” it is asking for a life that reflects that core belief. It isn’t really asking “do you believe” but “are you willing to put your life on it?”

“Does your life and your witness, do your actions and your words tell us that you believe that Jesus Christ is Lord of your life?” That’s what it means to believe in New Testament terms. For James, then, at the heart of believing is how we view and then treat others.” [3] Listen again to the hard-hitting words of James: “My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith if your actions do not prove it? Can that faith save you?”

            Who would you exclude? Who would I? Do we act like we prefer someone who wears fancy clothes and expensive jewelry to someone who wears ripped, patched blue jeans and shoes with holes? But, it’s more than that. No one deserves favoritism, or a fancier place to sit, or more attention, or more service. Does God choose favorites? What if you are one of those excluded high school kids, sitting at the heavenly loser lunch table, with no way to even get close to God? Shut out from God’s loving, caring, nurturing presence?

            Thank God we are always God’s beloved children! We are always the favorites – all of us! Here is a quote by Max Lucado. See if it resonates with you. “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If God had a wallet, your photo would be in it. God sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning Face it, friend – God is crazy about you!“

            Does God choose favorites? No! That is the way God feels about each one of us! Please, remember that as you go into the world. Treat every single person you meet as a very beloved child of God – because, they are! No matter what, no matter who!

@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/doers-of-the-word/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-preaching-notes

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-preaching-notes

“Be Ready!”

“Be Ready!”

Ephesians 6:10-20 (6:14) – August 22, 2021

            When I was a girl and a teenager, I was a Girl Scout. I still remember the Girl Scout motto: “Be prepared.” In the 1947 Girl Scout Handbook, the motto was explained like this: “A Girl Scout is ready to help out wherever she is needed.” The Boy Scouts had the same motto, and my former-Boy-Scout husband occasionally reminds me of that, usually when we are packing to go on a trip. Be prepared! In other words, always be ready, for whatever comes your way.

            The apostle Paul had some important things – and encouraging words to say in this letter to his former congregation. Paul finishes up with a few practical, direct words for his long-time congregation. (I say long-time, because he spent about three years with this church, longer than with any other church he planted.)

            Many of these words involve being prepared. Being ready! The apostle Paul is very serious, and actually describes the kit of a Roman soldier. He knows what he is talking about here, too! Paul was in prison, in Rome, while writing this letter to the Ephesians. Paul was shackled to a Roman soldier inside of his cell, to make double sure he was going to stay put. And, Paul had the opportunity to become sadly familiar with the Roman soldier’s armor.  

            We had a prayer today, a Blessing of the Backpacks, before the sermon. We might think of the Scripture reading from Ephesians in terms of going back to school. We prayed for the school children in this congregation, as well as for all of those related to our church members. Children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, godchildren.

And, it does not matter whether we are remembering preschoolers or high schoolers or those in graduate school. We pray for them all to have a good year of study, an enjoyable year with their friends and classmates, and especially a safe year from anything they might come in contact with, whether an illness, an accident, or some other form of danger. We pray for all of the children, wherever they are, whichever school they attend.

I love the commentator Carolyn Brown. She was a Children’s Ministry Director for years and years at a Presbyterian church, now retired. She draws the innovative comparison between the list of pieces of God’s armor Paul talks about, and the list of new school supplies our children and their families have just assembled over the past weeks, to carry to school. Here is her list.

We had a Blessing of the Backpacks just today. Think of the backpack of truth our children and young people carry with them, each day at school. They can carry either good or bad things with them. Our young people need to be secure in God’s love, with God’s help.

Many students have a locker. Smaller children have cubbies, for storage. I can imagine the apostle Paul thinking of a locker of righteousness for our young people. Young people need to be prudent and even cautious about their lockers, what they post in them, and what kind of messages are passed to and fro, using the lockers.                                                                                                                                                                                                       

            Carolyn Brown makes a point of talking about “pencils, pens, markers to communicate God’s word – make every word you write with them a word you would say to God.”[1] And, our young people are now carrying computer tablets and laptops to school. I could imagine the apostle Paul cautioning our young people to not only be prepared, but be wise in what they say.

            Finally, our children almost always have new shoes! New school year, new shoes to wear. Yes, these new shoes might be cool. But, do our young people bring the message of peace while wearing them? That’s what the apostle Paul intended. He wanted believers to wear the shoes of peace, and communicate that sorely needed message to everyone they met.

            We might think that these are instructive words for our children and grandchildren to hear. However, as Paul describes these pieces of Godly armor, I am reminded of the dangers of the world this armor protects us from. In the book series (and movie series) about Harry Potter, one of the most chilling bad guys in the books are the dementors, “huge dark creatures that fly through the air, capture you, wrap you in cold darkness and suck all the happiness out of you.”[2]

The recent, horrible take-over of the country by the Taliban in Afghanistan is so much like the dementors, wrapping everyone in cold darkness and sucking all the happiness out of people. Especially women and girls! This horrendous military action is not only against feelings and emotions of people, like the dementors, but it involves machine guns, bombs and assassination squads. It means life or death for countless numbers of people across Afghanistan.

I receive a great deal of email weekly, including letters and articles about community and humanitarian concerns. I want to bring this excerpt to you. It comes from an email letter dated August 18th by Sheila Katz, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Council of Jewish Women. This paragraph shows us a different way, an open-hearted way for all of us to be ready.

“Welcoming the stranger — the immigrant, the refugee, the asylum-seeker — is one of Judaism’s most core values. The Torah commands us no fewer than 36 times to care for those whose homeland, language, social network, and resources may be elsewhere.  We hear this more than any other commandment in our most sacred of texts, perhaps because it’s all too tempting, when things are going well for us — when we, ourselves are comfortable, when we, ourselves are safe, to turn our backs on those who have come to us for shelter, for protection — because their own home has become untenable. It is so easy to forget. So the Torah has to remind us, again and again, until we remember.” 

Whether inside or outside the church, however and wherever we serve our Lord, God intends for us to be ready. That means being prepared by these words of caution. Paul used these words in Ephesians to advise all of us to be ready to deal with challenging, even dangerous situations. We all need this prudent caution of God’s armor, in our everyday walk as believers. Plus, we all need the reminder of our interfaith Jewish friend, about the 36 commands – that’s 36 commands! – in the Hebrew Scriptures, to be prepared to take in those who come to us for shelter, for protection, for refuge. We all need to be ready for the challenges of living, inside and out.

Final words, quoting Paul? Be strong in the Lord! Stand ready, inside and out. And, do all this in prayer, always asking for God’s help. 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 so much to Carolyn Brown and her marvelous insights from Ephesians 6 for children and young people – and older people, too! – from “Worshiping with Children,” a lectionary resource I often quote from.)


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/08/year-b-proper-16-21st-sunday-in_7.html

Worshiping with Children, Proper 16B, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

Rooted in God’s Love!

“Rooted in God’s Love!”

Ephesians 3:14-21 (3:17) – July 25, 2021

            Some summers are particularly dry. Thankfully, we here in Illinois are receiving a fair amount of rainfall this growing season. However, I can remember dry, hot summers where the whole landscape seemed to be turning brown and all parched for lack of water. Gardeners here around Chicago need to keep track of their garden plots, to make sure their flowers, fruits and vegetables are receiving all the water they need, even now, in a season of fair rainfall.

            Imagine, having the apostle Paul pray for you and the fellow members of your congregation! And not only that, imagine those words being recorded in the Bible, for countless numbers of people to read, centuries later!

            In our reading today, Paul focuses on love – the love of Christ! And, he does connect it to gardening and growing crops. The apostle Paul wrote the letter from our Bible to the Ephesian believers to answer some pressing questions they had about the Christian life. Paul also wanted to encourage the Ephesians in their continued walk with God.

            Paul prays “that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18 so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love.”

            Just think: Paul’s recommendation to us as believers is to have our roots and foundation in Christ’s love! What comes to mind for you when you hear these words? What comes to mind for me is that Paul prays that I – and all other believers – have strong roots that go deep down, to support me and give me energy and nurture from the soil where I am planted. Imagine, we are reminded that we are all planted – grounded in the good soil of God’s love!

Some towns have tornados or hurricanes blow through, and blow havoc into many people’s lives. Remember the tornado that actually touched down last year within the Chicago city limits? In August 2020, a tornado blew through the Rogers Park neighborhood – not very far from my house! My husband and I went the next day to see some of the damage done. A large tree had been uprooted. We saw the tall tree lying on its side, all of its root system exposed. A wild sight!

            What happened to that tall tree can happen to us if you and I are not firmly grounded or planted in Christ’s love. We can be cut off from support and nurture from God and from God’s family of faith – and from our extended families, too.

            We know how important it is for our children (and grandchildren) to have the strong roots to give them the energy and the resources to grow big and strong. We can easily list them on our fingers: healthy food to eat, fresh water to drink, a good night’s sleep, on a regular basis. And, sadly, we can see what happens when children do not get these things. Food insecurity is a sad reality for many, many families across our country, as well as in the Chicago area. Schooling is particularly difficult if there is no fuel for the growing body in children’s stomachs.

            Another important aspect for our young people is when people surround and support them with love. Yes, God’s love is so important! Plus, the love and caring and support of people who love who you are and love the things you do is also an amazing thing. [1]

            Take, for example, the concept of “Gotcha Day.” This is where families who adopt celebrate the day when they became a family with the new adoptee. Oftentimes they celebrate the overflowing nature of the new love that happens in this new family. Perhaps you know a family who celebrates “Gotcha Day” themselves. This celebration is not only a day to celebrate the precious one who was adopted, but also the whole family – the new family that was made or transformed by the wonderful addition of this new family member.[2]     

            Listen to this memory of someone’s “Gotcha Day.” This is about a United Methodist minister and his wife, and their new son. He says, “It was on August 5, 1994 that my wife and I drove to Chicago O’Hare Airport to pick up an orphan named Kim Myung Hoon, a nine-month-old with bright eyes and a ready smile, and as if by magic turned him into our son Rhys, who is now a young adult and somewhat embarrassed to be the center of such attention. Gotcha Day. Every August 5, it’s Gotcha Day. It’s not a birthday, but then it sort of is; it’s a rebirth day, a day of becoming a family. That little life from halfway around the planet changed our lives in an instant. He filled a gap we didn’t even know we had. That moment turned us upside down or right side up with a simple smile and a reach from the hands that held him on that long flight from South Korea to our hands. To our hearts.” [3]

An absolutely amazing facet of love is how abundant and overflowing and bottomless it can be. God’s wondrous love for us amazes me every time I think of it. That is the marvelous nature of this love the apostle Paul talks about in our Scripture reading today. The apostle’s deepest desire is that we “together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love.”

I know we cannot fully comprehend God’s love for each of us. I hope and pray we can get a little glimpse of it, though. “Gotcha Day!” What a tangible way of experiencing how we all are brought into the family of God. Can you express your thanks to God for Christ’s love for you? Please God, I want to. Please God, help me. Please God, God can help you, too.


[1] Illustrated Ministries; lesson for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost from Ephesians 3, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.

[2]  https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/geared-up-for-life/ninth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/geared-up-for-life/ninth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/ninth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-preaching-notes

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks to Illustrated Ministries for their lesson for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost from Ephesians 3, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)

“God Changes Things!”

Mark 4:26-34 (4:30-32) – June 13, 2021

            When my children were small, they loved reading time, every night before bedtime! I read them all kinds of stories. I remember reading some lovely illustrated versions of Aesop’s Fables. These taught children (and adults) some moral or practical lesson, wrapped up in engaging storytelling. Who doesn’t remember the lessons of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” (slow and steady wins the race) and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” (honesty is the best policy)?

            The Rabbi Jesus also was a master storyteller, like Aesop.  Jesus used a different method. He regularly told parables. Parables are not quite the same as fables. Jesus told many parables to help people learn what God is like and how God wants us to live. “Parables are useful when the truth you want to share is difficult, whether difficult to hear, comprehend, or believe.” [1]

            In today’s Scripture reading from Mark chapter 4, Jesus tells two parables, both about seeds. Parables can be seen from a number of different viewpoints. Children can view a parable as a simple retelling of people planting seeds. As we age and grow, our understanding ages and grows, too. As I would sometimes tell my children, these Bible stories – or parables – are thinking-about stories. We think about them, ponder them, and ruminate over them.

            Parables, as pastor and writer Eugene Peterson has said, are in this sense like narrative time bombs. “You hear them – tick – wonder about them – tick – think maybe you’ve got it – tick – and then as you walk away – tick – or over the course of the next day or so – tick – and all of a sudden the truth Jesus meant to convey strikes home – boom! – almost overwhelming you with its implications or … blinding you with its vision.[2]

            Both parables Jesus relates talk about sowers and seeds. I was drawn to the second one in my study for this sermon, the parable of the mustard seed. How many people here today have ever seen a mustard seed? You can often see them at a produce market or ethnic food market, in the spice section. A fairly large tree will grow from that tiny seed, half as small as an apple seed!

            Children especially really like the idea of a tiny mustard seed growing into something big. Children are small, much smaller than adults. Yet, they can see a tiny little thing like a mustard seed growing big and bigger, and indeed taking over the garden, if we don’t watch out. Small children intuitively appreciate this story about something small having great influence. And perhaps, grown people who feel as if they don’t ordinarily have much influence also appreciate this parable about tiny things becoming big, grand, and having influence after all.                

            Aren’t we amazed that such a tiny seed can turn into a small tree? What is more, seeds germinate and grow when hidden under ground – hidden from everyone’s sight. As Jesus said, every small thing we do can make such a big difference. 

But it does not stop there! One little mustard seed doesn’t just produce one bush. Mustard bushes are what many people consider weeds. One quickly becomes several and several soon take over the whole field. Understanding that about mustard trees tells us something else about God’s Kingdom – it is unstoppable. It is going to fill the whole world.

Here in suburban Chicago, we are now into the beginning of June. Many gardens are starting to grow, producing flowers, and the beginnings of fruits and vegetables. Our Lord Jesus relates a number of parables about sowing seeds, and these parables have multiple meanings, and can be viewed from different points of view.

When the sower first sows seed, the plant has not started growing yet. But, there is potential for it to grow! As we sow good seeds in this congregation, these seeds have the potential to grow, too. Are we going to tend these tender young plants carefully? With love? Or, are these plants going to be left alone, and allow the weeds take over the plot of ground?

As we prayerfully consider this beloved congregation, a change seems to have come upon St. Luke’s Church, accelerated by this past year of Covid-tide. (as some church folk are now calling it) It is true that St. Luke’s Church is no longer the church it used to be, 20, 30, 40 years ago. St. Luke’s Church has changed, and the world has changed, too.

Do we – faithful believers in Christ – know what is coming next? Frankly, I do not. Our church leaders do not, either! Do you? This is a waiting time, an expectant time. A time when seeds can be sown, and nurtured, and a time when God may bring forth unexpected growth and exciting events! Are you eager to see what happens next? I know I am!

We know what happens when a caterpillar goes into a cocoon. The caterpillar gradually turns into a chrysalis, and after a time, a beautiful butterfly emerges. But – that is from the point of view of a human, watching over the chrysalis. What about the caterpillar? Did you ever think about the caterpillar’s point of view? I suspect the caterpillar has no idea of what is happening to it all the while it is in the chrysalis, transforming into that butterfly. That is where we are, now!

Can you see it? Feel it? St. Luke’s Church is on the threshold of a new thing! The sower sows the seed, and it goes into the ground, where the growth happens unseen. Something new is coming. “The Kingdom Jesus proclaims has room for everyone. It creates a new and open – and for this reason perhaps a tad frightening – future.” [3] Maybe Jesus is telling us God’s best dream for us – for St. Luke’s Church – is like that. Once God’s love gets planted in us and starts to grow, it changes everything around us forever. Sure, the next thing might be a bit frightening, from the caterpillar’s point of view, but I’m excited to see what is coming next! Aren’t you? I know God will be right by our sides, no matter what. And, it will be all right. Truly.

(Thank you to David Lose for his commentary “Preach the Truth Slant,” from “In the Meantime” in 2015. I took several extended ideas from that article. And thanks to Illustrated Ministries for their lesson for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost from Mark 4, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/06/pentecost-3-b-preach-the-truth-slant/

“Preach the Truth Slant,” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Love As Transformation!

“Love As Transformation!”

John 15:9-17 (15:17) – May 9, 2021

            What do you think of when I mention the word “command?” Commands given in the military? Commands from a dog’s obedience training, a service dog or police dog? Or what about the commands given in the Law of Moses – most famously, the Ten Commandments?

            Here in the Gospel of John, our Lord Jesus gives us a big command. Perhaps, even the greatest command of all: love one another. That sounds awfully familiar! Last week’s sermon was also on last week’s lectionary passage, from the New Testament letter of 1 John chapter 4.

This week the sermon comes from the Gospel of John chapter 15. Both sections of Scripture talk about similar things: love, and loving one another. I showed last week that love is an action word. This week, I want to show that love is a transformational word.

It’s helpful for me to know where Scripture is coming from. Where in the Bible, and in the case of this reading, where in the life of Jesus it comes from. The passage Eileen just read for us is a short section from a long discourse – the Upper Room discourse, given by Jesus on the same night He celebrated the Passover remembrance with His disciples. The night He instituted Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper. Also, the night before His arrest and crucifixion on that Good Friday.

As a Rabbi, Jesus knew the Hebrew Scriptures, and specifically the Law of Moses, in depth. In great detail. He was often called upon to discuss and debate specific Scriptures and points of the Mosaic Law. We see that again and again throughout the Gospels. Here, in His final discourse or sermon, our Lord Jesus comes back to the commands once more. Jesus gives His disciples one last command: love one another.

            How can we love one another? Is that another “do this” or “don’t do that” command?

            The Law of Moses, found in the Hebrew Scriptures, has over 600 specific commands. It’s quite detailed in how to live a life pleasing to God. For an individual, in a family, and in society. Instead of getting into the minutiae of exactly how to cook and wash, and how to dress and to behave, our Lord Jesus talks about transformation: He says, “Love one another.”

            Such a challenging concept! Yes, we are supposed to love one another. But, how? What does that kind of love look like?

            Jesus gives us an example, right here. “12 My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you. 13 The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.”  In case anyone has any questions about how they are to love, here’s an earth-shaking explanation. Be prepared to show your love at any time. In fact, be prepared for anyone and any time to require you – and me – to give our lives for one another. Jesus is not kidding. That is exactly the way that this command and commentary is phrased in John 15.

            What is another visible way for this kind of love to be shown? Our commentator, the Rev. Dr. Derek Weber says “What does a life of sacrificial love look like? That’s the image that you are casting this week. For many, it looks like a mother’s love. “ [1] A mother’s love – or, to some people, mothering love, coming from someone very close to you – can be amazing. Loving, yes. Caring, yes. Seemingly without bottom and without end.

            When many people think of mothers and Mother’s Day, what goes through their heads? What does Dr. Weber have to say? “For many. It is a time to say thank you to the one who often holds the family together and who often carries the heartache bound up in hope when no one else sees beyond their own personal pain. Today offers a chance to say thank you to the one who brings order out of chaos, who can find the missing sock and the lost homework, the one who remembers how much laundry detergent you need per load and the reason why some plastics won’t work in the microwave and some will. This is a chance to say thank you to the one who rarely gets thanked for all that she does day in and day out.” [2]

            But, for some in our world, mothers do not often act in a caring, loving way. Some memories of mothers are more painful than joyous. Mothers may be a difficult topic, challenging to even think about. Hurts, difficulties, losses, estrangement, even separation – any of these can make Mother’s Day a time of heartsore grief.

            However, most everyone can remember those certain people who stepped in, stepped up, and cared for us in the special way that a loving, caring parent is supposed to. Caring human beings can indeed be mothering influences and demonstrations.

            How do you and I consider others who love us the way Jesus told us to? “For others, [Mother’s Day] might need to be more personal, more individual. A part of our worship together might be a time of thankfulness for those who have loved us like that.” [3]

            This is sacrificial love, transforming a person right down to their inmost being. And, this kind of transforming love is exactly what our Lord Jesus is calling us to. Yes, we are here to thank all those who have given of themselves, lovingly, with great caring, even going to great lengths to sacrifice for their loved ones. And, we can all strive to be that person for others.

            Yes, love for our children, grandchildren, and other relatives. And yes, love for other loved ones, for those special people we meet in our journey through life. How can you best show that love for another person today? Be that person who shows amazing, wondrous love and care. Be kind. Be caring. Be loving. Be like Jesus.

            Alleluia, amen.


[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/living-the-resurrection/sixth-sunday-of-easter-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

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

Believe, Trust, and Love

“Believe, Trust, and Love”

John 3:14-21 – March 14, 2021

            Have you seen the televised sporting events where people in the crowd hold up big signs? These signs have all kinds of messages on them – from super fans supporting their teams to political messages. Sometimes, someone will show a large sign with “John 3:16” printed on it.

John 3:16 – this is one of the dearest and most memorized Bible verses of all time. “For God so loved the world that God gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not die, but have eternal life.”

            Have you thought about what that beloved Bible verse means? I mean, really means?

            Many people have a romanticized idea of love in their minds. With Valentine’s Day so recently celebrated, a month ago, when some think of “love” they think of Cupids and flowers and hearts. Valentine’s Day cards and chocolates in heart-shaped boxes for your sweetheart. This idealized, Hallmark-card conception of “love” is not what the Apostle John mentions here. Not by a long shot!  

            The idea of taking a single Bible verse and displaying it for everyone to see is a tricky proposition. People can run into all kinds of problems and misunderstandings that way. It’s like taking John 3:16 and saying that God’s love is all hearts and flowers, lace and Valentine’s Day wishes – and that is all. This superficial way is not the way to interpret individual Bible verses.

            The most important thing when we consider a single verse from the Bible is to look at the context. Where does it come from? What was happening in the Bible chapter? Was it part of a conversation or discussion? An extended statement or argument?

            John chapter 3 is early in the Rabbi Jesus’s ministry, and He was already gaining wide popularity and even stature for His great Biblical knowledge and understanding. An older man named Nicodemus, a learned teacher and member of the national Jewish ruling council, was so intrigued with Jesus that he snuck away to meet Jesus one night, under cover of darkness.

            During that extended conversation, Nicodemus and Jesus cover several important topics: Moses in the wilderness, how Moses saved the people of Israel, Nicodemus as a leading teacher of Israel, and how to be born from above. It is then that Jesus makes this extraordinary statement: God so loved the world.

            Several of these topics in John 3 have the foundation of belief. We need to believe in order to live. In order to be born from above. In order to have eternal life. Except – belief can be strictly intellectual. It can be cold-hearted and clinical. We can believe in the law of gravity. We can believe in the rules of cleanliness and hygiene for good health. We can believe in the invisible electric current that flows through our walls, enabling us to have electric lights, power for appliances, and power for our computers and cell phones.

            But, this pure, clinical statement of belief – even belief in Jesus’s statement “God so loved the world” – is not necessarily earth-shaking, not deeply emotional, never even reaching down into our very souls.

            If we consider the word “believe” – as used in this verse 3:16, and verse 3:18, too – I do believe in gravity, or electricity. But, is this intellectual belief enough? Will this kind of belief get me through the difficult times, or the painful situations, or those times when you or I cry out in despair to God? Sometimes, cold, pure belief is not enough.

            Another, alternate word that can be used to translate this Greek word for belief, pisteuo, is “trust.” Trust is more immediate, more intimate. Commentator Mark Skinner suggests that we use “trust” instead as we read this verse:  “For God so loved the world that God gave His one and only Son, that whoever trusts in Him shall not die, but have eternal life.”

            “Jesus is asking his hearers to trust that, in him, God has given a gift of love. Jesus urges them to commit themselves to that reality and all it entails. Trust will change a person. God’s love has consequences. How does one merely believe in love, anyway? Trust is riskier. Trusting in another’s love entails surrender.” [1] Trusting God is riskier, too.

            When my children were younger and went to church youth group, several times they had an activity called “trust falls.” This activity is called different things in different youth groups, but it has “trust” as the primary ingredient. The youth group would get in a tight circle, one member would stand in the middle, and then they would fall backwards, trusting the other members of the group to catch them as they fell. Trust taps emotions. Trust takes risks.

            It is difficult to trust that God can see us through, sometimes. More than intellectual belief, do we trust God to be there for us? To walk with us, or sit with us, right by our sides?  

            Some people cannot get past the words “God so loved the world.” If they trust that God loves them, they think God can’t possibly love their awful neighbor. Or the guy who cussed them out in traffic. Or the lady who is always really mean at the store. God can’t possibly love them? God loves the world – except for those people from a certain country overseas. Or, except for those homeless people. Or, except for those people who believe something really weird. Or, well, you get the idea.

            God’s love is extended to each of us. To all of us. “The love of God means blessing and belonging, even when the world around us chooses the way of death and self-interest.” [2] Even when we as fallible humans slip and slide in our trust of God, the Lord will never waver in persistent, caring love for each of us. And, that is a promise that is faithful and true – we have the words of Jesus on it.

For God so loved the world. Even you and even me. Amen.


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/love-among-the-ruins

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

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