Dance Before the Lord!

“Dance Before the Lord!”

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 14-19 (6:14) – July 11, 2021

            Have you ever been to a worship service where people praised the Lord in all kinds of ways? More than singing hymns and worship songs. I mean, playing all kinds of instruments, dancing before God, and other kinds of artistic expressions. I know some churches regularly have multiple expressions of praise to God, in lots of different ways!

            This full reading from 2 Samuel chapter 6 is a long, extended one. I left out some of the material in the middle, not because it isn’t important. Following God’s explicit instructions and God’s subsequent punishment certainly is important! However, I wanted us to focus on the second part of today’s reading: King David and his joyous dancing before the Lord.

            Have you ever attended a church that had a dance ministry? Where members of that church performed sacred dance before the Lord? I have been a guest in such churches and worship services. This can be a beautiful and expressive way of praising God, and offering up the best of what creative people can give to God. Just as much as singing a worship song as solo or duet can be, or playing an instrument for special music in church.

            Let’s take a closer look at this narrative from 2 Samuel 6. The Ark of the Covenant – or, as our reading says, God’s Covenant Box – had been taken hostage by the Philistine army. That did not go well for them. If you happen to remember the movie made some years ago where the fictional archaeologist Indiana Jones found the Ark of the Covenant hidden away in Egypt, things did not go well for the Nazis who appropriated the Ark from Indy and his friends.  

Meanwhile, the Philistines decided God’s special Covenant Box was too much for them to hold hostage any longer. God convinced them to return the Ark by sending plagues on the Philistines. So, they shipped it back into the land of Israel on an ox-drawn cart with no driver.

King David was so excited to have the Ark of the Covenant back in Israel’s hands. He organized a big procession to bring it back into Jerusalem, his capitol city.

Sadly, I will not have time to take a close look at the sudden death of one of the men entrusted to walk beside the special Covenant Box. Following God’s specific instructions could be a sermon topic all on its own! We are going to continue on to look at the next episode of this narrative: where King David and a whole bunch of priests and Levites – the leaders in charge of all Israel! – dance and praise before the Lord as they march on the way to the Tabernacle.    

I remember several leaders of some churches where I belonged, years ago. I cannot imagine any of these leaders dancing and leaping before the Lord. Either because of embarrassment or pride, anxiety or impatience, or some other emotions altogether, these church leaders probably would never, ever dance in joy before the Lord. Never, ever.

But, our writer tells us that not only David and some priests and Levites dance, but says that eventually almost everyone in Israel joins in! They all join in worship and praise to the Lord. Celebrating God’s special Presence in the Ark of the Covenant, God’s special Box.

  Many people could see the Ark as it was brought into the city. They could sing and march and dance because it had returned from the Philistines. And, the people of Israel could be greatly blessed because now the Ark of the Covenant was back where it belonged, among God’s special people. And, God’s special Covenant Box signaled God’s Presence to all of Israel.

            Today, no one knows where the Ark of the Covenant is, if it even still exists. Nevertheless, God’s Presence is still very much in evidence among God’s people, right now. As one of my commentators mentions, “What symbols, objects or stories help us ‘have eyes to see and ears to hear’ God’s Presence among us? Stories from scripture, such as the exodus from Egypt, can make God present now.” [1]

            What special objects or stories mean a great deal to you? What special objects or stories are all-important to you, so important that you cannot imagine a worship service without them? Some imagine a large cross in the front of the church. Others think of the big Bible on the altar or lectern. Christian worship services often hold special things as quite valuable.

            “The danger, of course, is that the special objects or rituals will become idols in themselves, rather than signs pointing to God-with-us. So we must cultivate dynamic awareness that allows our rituals and objects to act as a sort of hyperlink, moving us beyond them to the larger Presence there.” [2] Just so, today we can connect to God’s Presence in ways that are significant and touch the heart and soul, that are meaningful to each of us – and celebrate others for connecting in ways that are meaningful and soulful to each of them! Whether dancing and leaping, praising in loud voices, praying quietly, singing hymns and songs, drawing and painting, making banners or wall hangings. We humans have a multitude of ways to praise our God!

            What ways are especially meaningful for you to connect to God’s presence?

            Just as David and the other leaders of Israel danced and praised God, we can dance and sing and march. Make some noise, too! Immanuel, God-with-us, the Lord’s Holy Presence is always with us – not just in church. Not just when we open the Bible. We can praise through spiritual practices, through the Lord’s Supper, through God’s beautiful creation, too.

We can all be attentive to God at any time, and at all times. And, the Lord is so pleased when God’s people bring a sacrifice of praise! Praise the Lord!

@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 7th Sunday after Pentecost from 2 Samuel 6, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-15-2/commentary-on-2-samuel-61-5-12b-19

[2] Ibid.

Letter of the Law?

“Letter of the Law?”

Exodus 20:1-17 – March 7, 2021

            I enjoy driving very much. My husband is happy to let me be the primary driver in our house. I used to be a commercial driver some years ago, and I still hold a commercial driver’s license. So, I do know a good deal about the rules of the road.

            What would it be like if drivers did not obey these rules of the road? Just think of stop lights. We all know what happens when cars or trucks run a red light. Accidents happen, and sometimes, people get very badly hurt. All this happens because people just plain break the rules of the road.

            Our Scripture reading today comes from Exodus 20, and is a listing of God’s rules for living – the Ten Commandments. What would happen if people just plain broke God’s rules for living, any time they felt like it?

            One of my favorite Bible commentators is Carolyn Brown. She is now retired, but she was a longtime Children’s Ministry Director in the Presbyterian church. She wondered what would happen if we turned the Ten Commandments on their head, and made them the complete opposite of what God intended? Here are Ten Ways to Break God’s Rules.

1.    You are your own boss.  Do whatever you want to do whenever you feel like it. 

2.    Decide who and what is important to you.  Pay attention only to those people and things. Everyone else can drop dead.

3.    It does not matter when or how you say God’s name.  You can use it to swear or cuss or to get what you want (as in “God is on my side so you better do things my way, or else!”).

4.    It doesn’t matter if you never worship with God’s people on Sunday, or regularly.  If there are other things you’d rather do, go do them.

5.    Parents don’t get it.  Ignore them whenever you can.

6.    Kill whatever or whoever gets in your way.  The strongest live longest.

7.    Don’t worry about your family.  Think only about yourself and what you want.

8.    Finders keepers!  Toddler’s Rule of possession:  I see it, I want it, it’s mine! 
If you want it, figure out how to get it; cheat if you need to.

9.    Lie if you have to get out of trouble. Lie to get what you want.
Lie to make yourself look good – even if it makes someone else look bad.

10. The one who dies with most toys wins.  The world is full of awesome things.  Get your share, no matter what! [1]

            What was all that? Those Ways to Break God’s Rules sound totally selfish, absolutely self-centered, and completely against any kind of moral code or rulebook.

Why did God give God’s people the Ten Commandments, anyway?

“We suppose it is for our own good. Right? Well, you have to wonder. Is God one to bring the whole nation of Israel out into the wilderness for a time out? Is this conversation started with a wag of the divine finger and slow shake of the holy head, displaying disappointment and the prelude to punishment? Are these ten [commandments]given because the people of God have proved unworthy, have fallen short of who they were intended to be? Are they being grounded by these words” like a big bunch of misbehaving teenagers? [2]

            Let’s look at the beginning of the commandments. ”I am God.  I brought you out of slavery in Egypt.  I opened the sea for your escape.  I am the one and only God.  Don’t worship or pray to anything or anyone else.” The Lord tells the people of Israel exactly why God gave them these rules: to help them know how to live together as God’s free people. Not as slaves anymore! No, the Lord brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt: Exodus 20 tells us so!

            God is also warning the people of Israel about the different idols and gods of Egypt. People in Egypt worshiped many different gods. So, to ask the people of Israel who had just left Egypt to worship the Lord – and only the Lord – was a big stretch. A huge challenge! We might think we are only worshiping one God – but, are we? What are our modern-day idols? Do we worship money? Possessions? A job? What about how many “likes” we get on social media? What keeps us from making God the center of our lives? What distracts you and me? [3]

            These rules are not super-strict laws for people to follow reluctantly, or with their arms twisted behind their backs. Instead, as we read them, we can see descriptions of the kind of people God wants us to be. Not because God is a mean or nasty Heavenly Parent, but because we can strive to be that kind of people, the Lord’s relatives, in close relationship with our God.

            Remember, God will not say, “Jump through these hoops, or over these hurdles, and only then will I love you!” No! Instead, God says, “My love for you will shape you into these kinds of people, this kind of loving, beloved community.”    

            Let us strive to live together as a people of faith, as a community loved by God. Amen!


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/02/year-b-third-sunday-in-lent-march-8-2015_7.html

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

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/rend-your-hearts-claiming-the-promise/third-sunday-in-lent-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/third-sunday-in-lent-year-b-preaching-notes

[3] https://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/74507/7-March-3-Sunday-in-Lent.pdf

Third Sunday in Lent – 7 March 2021 The Faith Nurture Forum would like to thank Rev Jonathan Fleming, Minister of Cumbrae with Largs St John’s.

@chaplaineliza

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

Baptism: A Gift of God

“Baptism: A Gift of God”

luke 3-21 african depiction baptism

Luke 3:21-22 – January 13, 2019

When I was a small child, I remember being so excited about gifts. Christmas gifts, birthday gifts, it did not matter. I remember how wonderful it was for me to receive gifts. I also remember when I was in middle school, when I first bought my mother a birthday present, a little vase from a gift store. I believe it was the first birthday present I had ever bought and given to anyone. I really hoped she would like it.

I also remember when I was a little older, being so excited to share my newly-opened gifts with one of my best friends. I would bring over to her house the sweater or special socks or wonderful book I had received, and be so happy when she rejoiced with me over my awesome gift. Can you think of any wonderful gifts that you wanted to share? Perhaps a brand new bicycle, or an engagement ring, or some extra-special news from far away. The wonderful joy of receiving the gift was made even more special by sharing the joy.  

One very special gift-giver is God. God gives wonderful gifts to God’s people. We can hear about that gift in our Gospel reading from Luke 3. “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.” When John the Baptist urged people to come forward and be baptized, Luke’s Gospel says all the people were baptized. That means all of them. All who heard John’s message and invitation came forward to receive God’s wonderful gift of grace through baptism.  

Who among us is perfect, here? Who never sins? Who never does anything wrong or never says mean or angry things, or never steps out of line? Not me. I know I fall short of where God wants me to be. I am hesitant to accept this free gift of God’s grace, at times. I know I sin, I know I miss the mark of God’s righteousness that is set for me in the Bible.

This is the case with you, and with everyone in the world, whether they admit it or not. Romans 3:23 tells us “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” This is a heavy burden to lay on anyone. Yet, what does the Apostle Paul tell us in Romans 6:23? Yes, the wages of sin—our payment for sinning—is death. Yet, the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As we watch in the baptism service, some may wonder. As we see, in Luke 3, some wondered there, too. Luke tells us they were questioning in their hearts whether John the Baptist might possibly be the Messiah. John redirected their questioning and their gaze by pointing to one who would come after him. John pointed to Jesus.

The Rev. Jeff Campbell relates, “A loving God is constantly reaching out, wanting to be at the center of our lives. And although we might still have questions, we are directed to Jesus, just as John directed those gathered who were seeking a Messiah.” [1]

Baptism is a sign of this marvelous, free gift of God. God’s rich and abundant grace is poured out. As we can see from our reading today in Luke, all the people present received this marvelous gift. Jesus was an extra-special case, since He already had an intimate relationship with His Heavenly Father. Looking at today’s reading, we can see what happened, from Luke’s account: “And as [Jesus] was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus showed, in part, that by being baptized He was dedicating His whole life to following His Heavenly Father. The Holy Spirit descending on Jesus was a visual sign of the gift of grace freely given that descends upon each one who is baptized. What a marvelous visual sign for all of us to treasure!

Then, as a sign of love and response, we strive to love and to serve God in Christian fellowship and service, all the days of our lives. Freely and without obligation.

I want to caution everyone here. Baptism is not something we do on our own, not some rung of the ladder we are building to get into God’s heaven. No, us building a ladder of good works will never work. God’s grace covers everything, and the free gift of God is given on our account. It’s not us at all. It is all God. God’s amazing love and indescribable gift.

When a baby is baptized, the parents tell God and the church, “Our child belongs to the Lord.” When an adult is baptized, he or she tells God, “I belong to you. I trust you with my whole life.” At Jesus’s baptism, God’s voice said aloud that Jesus is God’s beloved Son. Jesus is God’s well-loved Child. It pleases God that Jesus trusts and obeys God. That makes God glad beyond measure. [2]

Rev. Janet Hunt, ELCA pastor from DeKalb, relates the following: “Jesus’s life did not measure up to much by those standards you and I often hold dear. He never married or had a family. From all we can tell he owned no property, had no wealth to pass on once he died. The results of his work were awfully hard to measure: unless you kept track of the numbers healed and taught and fed. A whole lot of the time the crowd he hung around with was not the sort that could help him ‘get ahead.’ In fact, they were those most respectable folks then and now might mostly avoid. In the end, Jesus died a painful, shameful death, abandoned by his closest followers….being claimed and loved by God brings power and purpose — to Jesus, yes, but also to each and every one of us who have heard even a whisper of the promise Jesus hears today: “You are my Child, the beloved…” But that power and purpose are not only for this life alone. Oh, these must be promises which extend far beyond the physical and must carry us not only through this life but into life eternal, don’t you think? And isn’t it ours to begin and end each day wondering at the meaning of having been called by name… and belonging to God.” [3]

What wonderful gifts, to all of us. What an indescribable gift of grace, given freely in baptism, to us all!  

As the Holy Spirit descends like a dove from heaven, we all can hear the voice of God, whispering to each of us, “You are my son. You are my daughter. My beloved one. With you I am well pleased.”

Each of us can say, “I am God’s beloved.” Remember our baptismal vows, and rejoice!

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-1-worship-planning-series/january-13-baptism-of-the-lord-sunday-year-c/baptism-of-the-lord-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-1-worship-planning-series/january-13-baptism-of-the-lord-sunday-year-c/baptism-of-the-lord-2019-year-c-preaching-notes

[3] God’s Claim, God’s Protection…

http://dancingwiththeword.com/gods-claim-gods-protection/  January 6, 2019

Water Drop Words – Star Words

Marci Auld Glass is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho. She wrote a post several years ago in her blog Glass Overflowing where she said, “The premise is this: the magi followed the star to find baby Jesus, bringing their gifts. We are also seeking Jesus, trusting God can/does use many signs [or gifts] to guide us closer to the Divine presence.”

Marci says, “People are invited to take a star in worship. On each of the stars is a word. I invite people to trust the word that selects them, but we do not police the star choosing, so if people need to trade out a word, they are free to do so. When we first started doing this, people weren’t sure they wanted to trust the words they drew. Now it has become an important part of our congregation’s liturgical year.”

Here at St. Luke’s Church in Morton Grove, for the past few years we have been celebrating a Reaffirmation of Our Baptism on the second Sunday of January, the Sunday after Epiphany. Instead of star words, some churches have used water drops, and passed out water drop words to their congregations. That is what we are doing today.

The water drop gifts are passed around to the congregation using the same offering plates that we use later on in worship to gather up the tithes and offerings. As people help themselves to a water drop word (without looking—just reach in and grab!), the significance is not lost. In this moment, people are not asked to give; they are invited to receive. It reminds us that this is always the order of things in God’s kingdom—God always gives first, and then we are invited to respond with our gifts and ourselves.

As the Holy Spirit descends like a dove from heaven, we all can hear the voice of God, whispering to each of us, “You are my beloved one. With you I am well pleased.”

Each of us can say, “I am God’s beloved.” Remember our baptismal vows, and rejoice!

 

@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!

 

 

Prepare!

“Prepare!”

Mark 1-3 prepare, road

Mark 1:1-8 (1:3) – December 10, 2017

This is the second weekend in December, a time of year that many people consider festive, merry and bright. The holidays here in America—with Christmas quickly approaching—are associated with tinsel, holly, and bright lights. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, silver bells, and jingle all the way.

But, that’s the secular way of welcoming the holidays. When we think of religious Christmas carols, we can remember O Little Town of Bethlehem, Angels We Have Heard on High, The First Nowell, and O Come, All Ye Faithful.

Except…it isn’t Christmas yet. We are still on the second Sunday of Advent. We are still preparing our hearts and minds for the coming of the Baby in Bethlehem. Sort of like in George Frederick Handel’s “Joy to the World,” Isaac Watts’s verse “Let every heart prepare Him room.”

The first two Sundays in Advent are more prophetic in tone. The bible readings for these two weeks look at prophecy referring to the coming of the Lord. In the case of the Apostle Peter, he is talking about the second coming of our Lord Jesus. The Gospel reading from the first chapter of Mark is about the forerunner of the Lord, John the Baptist. Mark starts off this gospel with “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet.”  John the Baptist cries, “Prepare! Prepare the way of the Lord!”

What are we supposed to prepare, anyhow? That was always a question I asked myself.

Let’s back up. We learn more about John the Baptist from the Gospel of Luke. He was Jesus’s cousin. We know about John because his older mother Elizabeth was pregnant at the same time as the young Mary, the mother of Jesus. I suspect John and Jesus grew up fairly close to one another, perhaps even seeing each other on a regular basis.

What about the people at the time of the John the Baptist and his ministry, in the first century? What did they think of him? John comes across as—what some today might call—a lunatic or crazy person. Some homeless guy, spouting weird religious stuff about the coming of the Lord, or something. Really wacko, and not very appealing. Look at what he wears! Look at his weird diet, too!

John had quite a prophecy to live up to, as well. Listen to what Isaiah the prophet has to say! “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

Yes, we can compare John to one of those doom-and-gloom prophets with a long, bushy beard. We might see them in cartoons, walking around a downtown area with a large sign that says “Repent! Prepare! The end of the world is near!”

I know I’ve heard street preachers downtown who preach fire-and-brimstone messages, warning everyone of the judgement to come, telling people to clean up their acts. Isn’t this similar to what John was preaching? Telling people to repent and to prepare for God’s coming?

Although, God did not just send a preacher like John the Baptist one time only, two thousand years ago. No, God regularly sends those preachers into our lives today to remind us that God’s arrival is indeed just around the corner.

What’s more, we hear from one of those preachers in the New Testament lesson for the Second Sunday of Advent. In Eugene Peterson’s great modern translation “The Message,” the apostle Peter asks, “Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life?” [1]

Living a holy life? That is exactly what John the Baptist wanted people to do, too. That is why he told people to clean up their hearts, and clean up their lives. Prepare! Get ready! John told people they had forgotten how to live like God’s people and needed to make changes. So, he baptized people who heard him, changed their minds and hearts, and wanted to make those changes permanent in their lives. [2]

We know that many people did change their hearts and minds, and did start living the way God wanted them to live, back in the time of John the Baptist. We know that many people repented and got baptized as an outward sign that they were repenting, and that God forgave their sins.

There are certain people who do not want to change. Certain people are stuck in their imperfect but familiar ruts, stuck doing the same thoughtless things, saying the same hurtful words, thinking the same inconsiderate thoughts. Everyone remembers Ebenezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens’s story A Christmas Carol? Remember how mean and sour and nasty Scrooge was? He had absolutely no intention of changing his ways and becoming a kinder, more compassionate person—becoming more Christlike.

The people who John baptized certainly wanted to change, and they told John the Baptist so. They had a change of heart, and turned around to go a different way. They were preparing for the coming of the Lord. They were preparing the way for the Lord to work in their hearts, minds and lives. Can we do the same thing in our hearts, minds and lives, today? Or, will we cry, “Bah, humbug!” with Ebenezer Scrooge and continue on our stubborn way, away from God?

Another aspect of Scrooge’s life bears looking at. Another of Ebenezer Scrooge’s problems was that “he thought everything he had – his money, his possessions, his business – were the things that brought meaning to his life.” [3] The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future could be viewed as preachers. They came to him that evening and reminded him that all of those earthly things could be gone tomorrow. Sure, Scrooge had prepared all his earthly assets, but he had not prepared the inner sanctuary of his heart.

In the first century, in our Gospel lesson today, John the Baptist encouraged the crowds to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. We have preachers today to encourage us to do the same thing. We have the witness of conscience and the Holy Spirit to do the same thing—encourage us to change. By repenting; literally making a 180 degree turn. By stopping dead in our tracks, like old Ebenezer, and re-evaluating the course of our life.

What is more, John promised that someone was coming from God who was going to be very important. John told people that they could change and that Jesus would give them even more power to make even bigger changes.

What about us, here and now? We can hear the call of John the Baptist. We can prepare for the coming of the Messiah. We can prepare Him room, just as the Christmas Carol “Joy to the World” tells us. We can prepare the sanctuary of each of our hearts to welcome the Baby in Bethlehem who is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Won’t you prepare the way?

[1] From An Advent Journey: Devotional Guide, Week Two. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/11/year-b-second-sunday-of-advent-december.html

Year B – The Second Sunday of Advent (December 7, 2014)

[3] From An Advent Journey: Devotional Guide, Week Two. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry.

(A heartfelt thank you to An Advent Journey: Devotional Guide. Some of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this guide.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my Advent sermon series. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

They Recognized Jesus!

Luke 24:19-35 (24:31) – April 30, 2017

Luke 24 Supper at Emmaus, Rembrandt

“They Recognized Jesus!”

In centuries past, people did not have many options when it came to traveling places over land. Sometimes, when they had a little more money, they would ride horses, or donkeys—or, use wagons or carriages. However, most people did not have that luxury. So, people would walk.

We are going to consider our Gospel lesson this morning. It is a lengthy reading, most of Luke 24. Luke talks about two disciples who are walking to a nearby village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. Does anyone here know how far seven miles is? I wanted to give you all a real-life example. If you left St. Luke’s Church here in Morton Grove and walked seven miles east down Dempster, you would end up in Evanston. Right about at Dempster and Ridge, at the Jewish synagogue Beth Emet. It would take me between two and a half to three hours to walk that far, at a moderate pace. (Just so we all know how far the two disciples walked.)

From Luke 24, this is a reading about two people on the road. (start walking from the front of the church)  “13-16 That same day two of them were walking to the village Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who He was.

17-18 He asked, “What’s this you’re discussing so intently as you walk along?’ (full stop)

Ah. We can see that they were busy talking, pouring over the information, and trying to understand what had happened.  These disciples were people who both knew the need for and had hope for the coming of a Messiah who could redeem God’s people. [1]

“They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend.”

How often have we been hoping against hope for something wonderful? Something dynamic, that will knock everyone back on their backsides? And then—and then—hope fizzles. Hope is gone. The Messiah, their leader is put to death on Good Friday (what a misnomer!), and nothing more is possible.

“Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, ‘Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what’s happened during the last few days?’

Cleopas is not mentioned in any other biblical reference. He and his unnamed companion had been followers of Jesus. There must have been a number of these lesser-known people, disciples who knew Jesus as a prophet mighty in deed and word. A Miracle Worker whom they had hoped would be the Messiah, the one to redeem Israel. [2]

(Then, Jesus asked a leading question.) ”19-24 Jesus said, “What has happened?”

(Continue walking and reading.) “They said, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed Him, got Him sentenced to death, and crucified Him. We had our hopes up that He was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find His body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.”

(Be at the back of the church by now.) Did everyone hear? Jesus chose to appear to some women, first thing. And now, Jesus appears to two unimportant, minor followers. Not even the big three disciples, Peter, James, and John. How Jesus cares for and is concerned for those who are unimportant, and sometimes shunted aside. The risen Jesus comes to them, especially! (Continue walking.) The seeming unimportant, the ones behind the scenes, the forgotten ones.

25-27 Then He said to them, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into His glory?” Then Jesus started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to Him.”

Wouldn’t you like to be on that trip, with Jesus and the two lesser-known disciples? Imagine, Jesus Himself, explaining how the scarlet thread of salvation is found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. What insights! What glory! (Walk up to the front.)

Now, we arrive at the village of Emmaus: “28-31 They came to the edge of the village where they were headed. He acted as if He were going on but they pressed Him: “Stay and have supper with us. It’s nearly evening; the day is done.”

These two caring disciples were people who were concerned for others—or at least for this traveling companion of theirs who thought He’d continue on in the evening.  “Cleopas and his friend knew how unsafe the roads were.  Surely the man who had spent so much time with them talking about Scripture would be better served by a simple meal and safe accommodations for the night.” [3]

“So Jesus went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, He blessed and broke and gave it to them. At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized Him. And then—He disappeared.”

What was that all about? Were these two men dreaming? All the talking, all the pondering of what-ifs, suppositions, different theological opinions, pro and con. There is a kind of resignation in all this, both in Luke’s story and often in our own lives.  Can’t you hear the cynical, long-suffering comments? “Get real.”  “Grow up.”  “Back to work.”  We can only imagine how the families and friends of Cleopas would offer snippy, unsolicited advice and opinions when the two got home to long untended work and family obligations. [4]

And then—and then—Jesus makes Himself known to them. Something nebulous, some intellectual and theoretical story changes in the twinkling of an eye to something real, wonderful, and concrete. Something these two men are eyewitnesses of, and can testify to.

32 Back and forth they talked. “Didn’t we feel on fire as He conversed with us on the road, as He opened up the Scriptures for us?” 33-34 They didn’t waste a minute. They were up and on their way back to Jerusalem. They found the Eleven and their friends gathered together, talking away: “It’s really happened! The Master has been raised up—Simon Peter saw him!” 35 Then the two went over everything that happened on the road and how they recognized Him when He broke the bread.”

As we look back on the movement of this narrative from Luke: 1) the two travelers are met on the road, 2) have the Scriptures opened, 3) and share in a meal that reveals the identity and presence of Christ. Then, 4) the travelers are sent out to share and live the Good News. [5] Isn’t that what happens as the two lesser-known disciples waste no time in going back to Jerusalem to share their story?

Remember, these two disciples had been on the road. Aren’t we all traveling? All on the road through life? Doesn’t Jesus come alongside of each of us, as He opens the Scriptures and explains how He has come into the world to reconcile us to God? And then, Jesus enters the house (or, church) with us, and we recognize Him when He breaks the bread of life, for us, too?

The last, and most important part, is sharing the Good News. We can tell others how Jesus has risen from the dead. We can tell others how He has changed our lives through His Word, the Bible. We can tell others how He comes to be with us each time we break bread, too. Just like Cleopas and his friend, just like Peter and the other disciples, we can turn the world upside down, too.

I close with the words of a special prayer—the Collect for today, the third Sunday of Easter, from the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer. “O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to His disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold Him in all His redeeming work; who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

 

(The Gospel reading is from the modern translation The Message, by Eugene Peterson. With gratitude, I appreciate Rev. Peterson’s translation and use his words in my sermon today.)

(I thank Carolyn Brown for her wonderful idea of traveling, of walking around the congregation in my sermon today. From Worshiping with Children, Easter 3, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/03/year-the-third-sunday-of-easter-may-4.html )

[1]  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=933  Commentary, Luke 24:13-35, (Easter3A), Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

[2] Ibid, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

[3] Ibid, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

[4] Ibid, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

[5] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3188 David Lose President, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia

 

We Are Called

“We Are Called”

call of God 1 Cor 1

I Corinthians 1:1-3 – June 12, 2016

Remember the baptism we celebrated here in this sanctuary a few weeks ago? What a wonderful opportunity to welcome a new child to God’s forever family! When we baptized baby Christine, we celebrated a sacrament of the church. And, baptism is a great expression of God calling people to God’s heart. Embracing all God’s children, no matter how young or how old they might be.

Our New Testament scripture reading comes from the beginning of the letter to the believers in the city of Corinth. The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to address some problems and answer some questions for the Christians in Corinth, a city not too far from Athens, Greece.

Paul only stayed in some towns and cities for a short time. A few towns—as we saw when we took our postcard trip through Acts last summer—he only was able to stay in for a very short time. But, the city of Corinth? When he was on his second missionary journey, Paul spent eighteen months there. That’s a good long time, in any century.

Imagine a town with loose morals. Think Las Vegas, pretty much any time of the year, and New Orleans, especially during Mardi Gras. Combine them into one city, and you have an idea of what the city of Corinth was like. Corinth was known throughout the Roman empire—and beyond—for being a loose-living, rough-and-tumble city. Lacking moral character. Yet, God tapped the prim and proper Apostle Paul on the shoulder and had him spend a year and a half here in this town. And, what a town it was!

We are taking a close look at the greeting in Paul’s letter. “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,” It’s like the address label or identifying mark, telling the recipients who is sending the letter.

Yes, this letter is from Paul and “our brother Sosthenes.” Except, I want us to look more closely at one particular phrase: “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.”

This word “called?” A fascinating word. Paul is identifying himself as an apostle. Not just because he said so, or because he’s calling himself that, but because God said so! “Called” is the Greek verb kaleo, used dozens of times in the New Testament. It means “to call, invite or summon.” (Depending on who is doing the action. Friends invite, whereas kings summon!) This word can also be translated “to name.” (As in this case.) God has named Paul an Apostle. [1]

Paul is called as an Apostle, and given a specific job or task. We are probably familiar with the term “pulpit committee,” for filling the pulpit when a church is looking for a new pastor. When the church decides on a prospective pastor, they “call” that pastor. The church is choosing her or him to come and work for them. The church “invites” or “calls” the pastor. Kaleo.  A very biblical term!

The next verse of the greeting is in several parts. First, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be His holy people.”

There is that word again! “Called.” Kaleo. The believers in Corinth have been called to be God’s holy people! Wait, I thought Corinth was Sin City! I thought the city was a cross between Las Vegas and New Orleans in the middle of Mardi Gras! Well, yes. You would be correct. Except—this is God who is doing the calling!

God can call people out of all kinds of places. God can name individuals to be whatever God wants them to be. To do. To act. To love. To show mercy. To give. Whatever we are called to do, God summons us to fill that task, or calling. Even though many of us may never be a minister like Pastor Gordon, or a church musician like Angela, or a chaplain like I used to be, in the hospital, but God still calls.

All believers are still invited to follow God. And, that is not all. Let’s listen to this verse again. “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be His holy people.”

The believers in Corinth were sanctified. There are other places in the New Testament where believers are described in just this way: “sanctified.” Which is a fancy word for “set apart,” or “separated.”

Believers are called as hagiois – saints, separated or set apart. Now, who wants to be “set apart” or “separated?” To the typical non-Christian Corinthian, that does not sound like very much fun. I do not think many of these non-Christian friends had much patience for that. However, Paul and his Christian friends did not withdraw from society and isolate. Instead, Paul and his friends lived together with the others in Corinth. They had a special quality that marked them and made them special. “Set apart” or “separated.” That is how Paul describes us as believers.

This is a difficult concept to some, but not in all contexts. Athletes set themselves apart often. They train hard, eat healthy, have particular foods and drink. A commentator mentions, “I wonder if that isn’t just another way of saying that [they’re] set apart or dedicated. That kind of language might work better for us. People are quite ready to talk in that way in our culture. Athletes set themselves aside. They dedicate themselves toward particular ends. There is a sense in which Paul is saying, ‘You are a dedicated people; you have been set apart.’” [2]

So, not only Paul is called—or named—as an Apostle of God. The believers at Corinth are called—or named—as a set apart, dedicated people of God. By extension, we—that is, all of us!—are named as a separated people of God. Not dedicated to loose living, or of low moral character; instead, set apart. Called, invited to be God’s people.

I am turning to the United Church of Christ Statement of Mission. You all have it as an insert in your bulletins. We are on the second part of the preamble today. Please read along: “we seek within the Church Universal to participate in God’s mission (John 20:21) and to follow the way of the crucified and risen Christ. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called (1 Cor 1:1-3) and commit ourselves.”

This second part of the preamble, “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called,” is an identification. We are not only finding out about the believers in the church at Corinth, we find out about us. About you and me, today.

We all are called! We have been invited by God, named as Christians by God. Just as baby Christine was loved by God and welcomed into God’s forever family through baptism, so God loves us and names us as part of God’s forever family, too.

This is important. The United Church of Christ is awfully particular about who receives this Statement of Mission. We all do! We all are called. We all are named as believers. And, we all are encouraged to follow this statement of mission, to carry it out.

Last, to return to our greeting from this letter, Paul has all believers everywhere calling on God. Another verb “kaleo,” another instance of us naming Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Their Lord and ours. You can look at it as an identifying mark or label. We call Jesus Christ our Lord.

If we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord, we are certainly ready for anything. In the weeks ahead, we will find out in more detail what the UCC Statement of Mission has for us to do. God willing, I will be ready. Will you?

[1] https://billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/kaleo. (Thank you, Dr. Mounce.)

[2] http://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/content/pdfs/15-4_Nations/15-4_Dinovo.pdf, Dinovo, Terrence L., “Jesus Christ and Him Crucified,” Word & World, Volume XV, Number 4, Fall 1995.

@chaplaineliza

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