Choose Someone Else!

“Choose Someone Else!”

Isaiah 6:1-8 (6:8) – May 30, 2021

            Have you ever had a really vivid dream? Colorful, psychedelic, surreal, even? Sort of like what we just heard in the Scripture reading this morning. I suspect that people first hearing about Isaiah’s vision from chapter 6 may have thought the prophet was going way overboard with such vivid, descriptive language!  

Let’s take a few giant steps back, and gaze upon the big picture of this vision. We see the immense Holy One, and we see little, tiny Isaiah. “God’s presence is so large, the hem of the Lord’s robe alone fills the temple space. This is vastness. Strange but faithful creatures envelop the throne. Smoke obscures the whole scene. We are used to the images of fire and smoke, cloud and height being associated with God. It is all here.” [1]

            Some might think that Isaiah was exaggerating a lot when he described the Almighty God, seated on a throne in the heavenly temple. Yet, that vivid, glorious scene from the heavenly temple is the template of what goes on in many worship services today.

            The first hymn many people think of when they consider Trinity Sunday is “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.” This hymn’s verses either refer to or directly quote this Scripture reading from Isaiah 6 – the first line, “Holy, holy, holy,” “Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee” and “all Thy works shall praise Thy name in earth and sky and sea.” This Scripture reading from Isaiah does not give us any information at all about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, but has been used effectively as a backdrop and assist in helping Christians get some understanding of this mystical, almost ethereal doctrine that is so difficult to understand.

            What’s this about comparing Isaiah chapter 6 and worship services? Most worship services begin with a hymn of praise. Look at Isaiah 6:3 – “And [the seraphim] were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’” If that isn’t a hymn of praise, I don’t know what is. What’s more, some contemporary churches have several hymns or an extended praise time at the beginning of their services.

Many worship services then move to a confession (or admission) of sin. Let’s check out Isaiah 6:5 – Isaiah cried, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” We here at St. Luke’s Church have a confession of sin at the beginning of every worship service. I consider this vitally important! Just as Isaiah realized his sinfulness in the light of everything happening in that heavenly Temple, so we ought to confess our sins, too. We need to make ourselves clean on the insides before we can possibly come near to God.

After the confession and admission of sin comes an assurance or forgiveness of that sin, in Isaiah 6:6-7 – “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’” Just as we follow the prayer of confession in our worship with the assurance of pardon – Believe the Good News of the Gospel! In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven!

This template for the worship service from Isaiah does not have a reading of Scripture, but many other instances in the Hebrew Scriptures do, where the minister gives further instruction and exhortation using the Scripture. (This is exactly what I am doing right now! Exhorting the congregation, based on the Word of God.) What follows is all-important, the whole point and reason for it all! Isaiah 6:8 holds a call to service extended from the Lord God Almighty. This call is the focal point of the retelling of this vision. “I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

When I first felt that call from God, I was in my early 20’s, attending an evangelical Christian college as a music major. Women were definitely frowned upon as ordained clergy. I heard that call, and I even reflected upon it, turned it over in my head and heart, and talked about it with some other students at my school. However, not much came of it – then – yet.

As we take a look at another call narrative, the one from Exodus 3 involving Moses and the burning bush, we get a whole different response to the question “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Moses certainly does not want to lead the people of Israel! “Choose somebody else!” is his response. And, even after God says God will empower Aaron as Moses’ right-hand man, Moses still drags his feet.

Isn’t that like us, sometimes? Don’t we often drag our feet when God calls? Aren’t we more likely to say, “Choose somebody else!” when God taps us on the shoulder?

When you and I hear the Word of God rightly divided and expounded, when we breathe in the Holy Spirit-inspired Word, that divine response and possibility is there, for all members of the congregation, for each believer in the Good News. The heavenly touch of the Holy Spirit may well come upon each of us, bursting forth into fiery life! That Trinity, that Triune God can empower you and me, and help us to do things, to say words, to dream dreams that go far beyond what we could even think or imagine – like Isaiah.   

Yes, worship is wonderful, and the Lord has great joy in the worship of God’s people! Yet, what is the focal point of worship? Responding to the call of God. When God calls, can you respond, “Here am I, send me!” That is what God truly wants, an open heart, and a willing spirit.

Say with me, with Isaiah, “Here am I, send me!”

(Thank you to John Holbert for his Patheos commentary from 2015. I took several extended ideas from that article. https://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/choose-somebody-else-john-c-holbert-05-28-2015

 “Choose Somebody Else!” John C. Holbert, Opening the Old Testament, 2015. )

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/the-holy-trinity-2/commentary-on-isaiah-61-8-3

Commentary, Isaiah 6:1-8, Melinda Quivik, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

The Voice Within!

“The Voice Within!”

Romans 8:22-27 (8:26) – May 23, 2021

            Happy Pentecost! Praise God! Rejoice! Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. We see the promises of the risen Jesus being fulfilled as the Holy Spirit blows into the hearts and lives of all believers, there in Jerusalem, and to this very day.

            The Scripture reading from Acts chapter 2 paints a vivid picture. The Holy Spirit blows through that upper room like a violent wind. We have first-hand accounts as the Ruach ha Kodesh – the Holy Spirit – appears as flames of fire above each believer’s head. And then, the followers of the risen Rabbi Jesus run out into the street, on fire with the message that Jesus is alive! He is risen! Praise God! Alleluia!

            Today’s Gospel reading comes from the Upper Room Discourse, chapters 15 and 16 of the Gospel of John. It includes where Jesus mentions the Holy Spirit, “the Advocate who speaks from God in order to guide us into the truth.” But, I was especially drawn to the third Scripture reading today – where the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf with wordless, inexpressible groans. So, the Holy Spirit is as close to us as Word, and words, and no words – as wordless Intercessor. [1]   

It is true that the Pentecost event from Acts chapter 2 is about diverse people suddenly understanding each other; but it is not JUST about people understanding different languages – it is also a heavenly revelation, a Divine visitation,

The coming of the Spirit is a breaking-through of God, coming into individual lives. The Holy does not act only through dramatic events, like in Acts 2, but just as much in the everyday, in the mundane, workaday, ordinary circumstances of life – as the apostle Paul shows us in Romans chapter 8. As preacher and pastor, I strive to assist the congregation to experience – to see, hear and feel – this powerfully intimate work of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, we can see the powerful working of the Holy Spirit on that day of Pentecost, when tongues were loosened, God’s mighty power was made manifest, and thousands of souls came to believe in the message of our risen Lord Jesus Christ. And, yes, each of us can witness to the intimate power of the Holy Spirit, as Comforter and Advocate, who comes alongside of each of us at incredibly personal moments, when we do not even have the words to frame a prayer. The Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf, advocating for us before the heavenly throne of grace.

In Romans 8, we see the Holy Spirit acting in several different ways. In 8:17, we can see that we have been adopted. We are the children of God – our adoption papers have been served. We have a place in the family of God! Amen! With the whole rest of creation, we are now – right now! – joint heirs with our Lord Jesus. When we get to glory, we all – each one of us – will have that position, not as lowly servants, but as sisters and brothers of our Lord Jesus.

The Pentecost event of 2000 years ago is still happening today. The Holy Spirit energizes each person who comes to Christ. “Already we have tasted the fruits of the Spirit, the life-giving, life altering reality of living within God’s embrace.” This blessed truth is made known to us each day, in the Monday through Saturday realities of our lives. [2]

Sure, each one of us goes through hills and valleys in our individual lives. And, God is right by our sides, through every valley, and atop each hill.

Paul reminds us, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for.” As a child of God, I freely admit sometimes I act like a small child, in God’s eyes. I don’t know what to pray for, or even how to pray. I blunder and bluster my way through life, sometimes even forgetting to pray. My intimate relationship with God seems to be a distant thing, indeed. Is it that way with you, sometimes?

            Thank God for the Holy Spirit, indwelling our hearts! We experience a personal Pentecost each day, when the Holy Spirit communicates with us deep within, being our Advocate, coming alongside of us when we are unsure, afraid, grieving or deeply in prayer – praying those deep prayers within our hearts that are without words, praying on our behalf. Thank God for that Advocate, Intercessor, Comforter, Counselor, and Spirit of Life and Truth.       

            As we look at these separate Scripture readings, we see different views of the work of the Holy Spirit. Each talks about the Spirit in a distinct way. But, each is in harmony on one point: when the Holy Spirit comes, things change! [3]         

            This change stuff is difficult. Sure, it makes people nervous! But, the Holy Spirit has a way of not only shaking things up, but also granting the courage and confidence to see things through. And maybe, see things in a new way.

            God gives each of us power – power that enables each one to do God’s work on earth. In our families, in our neighborhoods, and perhaps to the uttermost ends of the earth. With the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, God does have work for us to do.

Look for the fruit of the Spirit in your heart, in your life. See where others have stepped out for God, to act as Christ’s ambassadors. Get involved! And, look forward to see where God empowers you to go, and serve – to diverse people, even in our neighborhood. We all carry God’s Good News, like the followers of Jesus on that first Pentecost morning. We can be on fire, too! And our lives will never be the same. Amen, alleluia!

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/day-of-pentecost-2/commentary-on-romans-822-27

Commentary, Romans 8:22-27 (Pentecost B), Audrey West, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/pentecost-change

We All Are Witnesses!

“We All Are Witnesses!”

Acts 1:1-11 (1:8) – May 16, 2021

            I have a confession to make. I do not say the Apostles Creed very often any longer. I used to say it almost every week, especially in the liturgical Lutheran church where I grew up. However, we here in this church do not regularly say the Apostles Creed. I wonder whether you remember a line from that Creed: “He (meaning, Jesus) rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”

            Those are just words from a Creed, aren’t they? Those words don’t really mean what they say, do they? Or, are those words instead blessed Gospel truth?

Commentator Carolyn Brown tells us that “during his life on earth, his disciples knew Jesus as a very special person, but after Easter Jesus was different.  He appeared and disappeared sometimes in locked rooms but still ate fish and bread.  Thomas could touch him.  Since the Ascension, people have seen Jesus only in visions and dreams. [The ascended] Jesus is still alive and is not just with God, but part of God.” [1] 

We just read about the last appearance of our Lord Jesus from Acts chapter 1. Jesus lived His life on earth witnessing to people around Him, teaching, healing, telling people about the Good News that He was sent to earth to share. Except – Jesus was about to ascend into heaven.

            What was going to happen to His mission after He left? How were more people going to hear about the Good News that Jesus was sent to earth to share?

            For that, we need to step back and look at the Gospel narratives. In fact, Dr. Luke gives us an excellent summary at the beginning of Acts chapter 1. He says in his first book, the Gospel of Luke, he “wrote about all the things that Jesus did and taught from the time he began his work until the day he was taken up to heaven.”

            Yes, the Rabbi Jesus did send out the disciples, two by two, during His life and three-year ministry on earth. Jesus did empower them to go forth and share about the coming kingdom of God – except it was not quite the same, was it? There could not be a clearer distinction between the sending of the two groups of people – before and after the coming of the Holy Spirit.

            True, the itinerant Rabbi Jesus did travel throughout Palestine, up and down the River Jordan, around the Sea of Galilee, and through the Decapolis in the north, teaching, preaching, and performing miracles for three years. Jesus performed His mission, which was communicating the Good News He was heaven-sent to share. His faithful, intrepid band of followers were with Jesus as interns of sorts, learning, doing on-the-job training.

But, there was a big difference between playing on the second or third string with the Rabbi Jesus there as coach, as opposed to going out on the field with the varsity team, sharing about the coming kingdom of God, to the uttermost ends of the world!

            Isn’t that sort of the distinction between before and after the resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ? Except, we haven’t gotten there yet! Pentecost is coming next Sunday. Not quite there yet!     

            Have you ever watched high school or college sports? I have. My two older daughters participated in a lot of them, especially my oldest. She lettered in three sports in high school: swimming, basketball and softball. Janet was especially wonderful at relay races, in the pool, where one swimmer would swim her laps and then tag the wall for the next swimmer to begin.

            Can you see the similarity? Just as my daughter was really skilled at relay racing and tagging the wall so that another swimmer could start, that is what our Lord Jesus did at His ascension. Jesus told His disciples – both men and women followers – that He was tagging the wall and expected them to carry on with the race. Jesus plainly told the disciples to carry on with the God-given mission to be His witnesses.  

            The Ascension was NOT an end, in and of itself. At least, it did not put a period to the life of the disciples of Jesus. By no means! Sure, when we repeat the words from the Apostles Creed “He (meaning, Jesus) rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,” that is not an ending point!

            Remember back to school days? Near the end of school many elementary schools have field days featuring, among other events, relay races.  Though Jesus did not actually pass a baton to his disciples, he did tell them very clearly that they were to take up his ministry on earth.  Jesus’s earthly part of the race was complete, but theirs was just starting. [2]     

            Yes, with His last words, Jesus commanded His disciples to be witnesses, to tell forth God’s Good News. And, what does that look like? One way is to tell how our Lord Jesus has acted in our lives. What has Jesus done for you lately? I want to know your personal experience! Can you tell someone about that? That’s being a witness!

            I’m getting ahead of myself, but after Pentecost, everywhere the disciples went, they were accused of turning the world upside down. That’s what they did, and that’s what our Lord Jesus is commanding us to do, as followers of Jesus. Sharing God’s Good News is not just a suggestion – it’s a command from our Lord.

            What has Jesus done for you lately? Be a witness! Go and tell!

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/04/year-c-ascension-of-lord-thursday-may-5.html

Worshiping with Children, Ascension C, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

Go and Tell!

“Go and Tell!”

Mark 16:1-8 (16:7) – April 4, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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


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

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

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

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

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

Make Us Clean!

“Make Us Clean!”

Psalm 51:1-12 (51:2) – February 17, 2021

            The marvel and puzzle of adults with smudges on their foreheads – on purpose! – is a wonder to many children. Why would adults have dirt or ash crosses put on their foreheads? And why wouldn’t they wash it off to make it all clean?

            It takes a while for young people to learn, “yes, I am a sinner, too.” Doesn’t it? Sometimes it is difficult for grown-ups to state plainly that they sin, too. They fall short of what God would have for them in this life. They mess up the clean sheet of paper. Isn’t that what sin is? Falling short, missing the mark, washing away the guilt and stains of sin. However we describe it, we know very well when sin happens. King David knew when he was dirty on the inside from sin, too.

            It does not matter whether King David was remembering the women of the village where he grew up, washing, scrubbing and wringing out their families’ clothing in tubs outside their homes, or whether we think of the agitator on those automatic wringer washers of yesterday, we all need to be cleansed from the wrongs we commit, on a regular basis.

            Today is the first day of Lent, that penitential period of forty days before Easter when the Church all across the world begins to journey with Jesus towards the Cross. Many people use external things like food or drink or certain practices to show their observance of Lent. This is a good thing, and I do not want to cause anyone to rethink their Lenten practices. However, King David here in Psalm 51 had something far more radical in mind. He wanted more than just his exterior cleaned. He wanted his insides cleaned up, too. Cleaned, and renewed!

            Ash Wednesday is the day in the liturgical year when we concentrate on renewal—the messing-up we have done, on the inside as well as the outside. Whether large or small, we can all be cleansed and renewed deep down on our insides. The psalmist uses that most intimate of all things, first-person pronouns. “Have mercy upon me,” “blot out my transgressions,” “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,” “I know my transgressions,” and “my sin is ever before me.”

“We are all first marked with the cross using water (and sometimes oil) at our baptisms.  At that time to be marked with the cross is a wonderful thing.  We are identified as the beloved children of God.  On Ash Wednesday we are marked with the cross using ashes and the words, “remember you are dust.”  The ashes and words remind us that we are not so wonderful.  In fact, we are all sinners.  The sign is not an X, marking us as [mistakes or] hopeless rejects, but a cross reminding us that God loves and forgives us, sinners though we be.” [1]  

We are not perfect believers in God. But, God says that is okay. God loves us just the same. This Ash Wednesday service is a special time to gather together, and to become aware of our turning-away from God. This understanding of the messing-up we have done and are continuing to do—prepares us to receive the forgiveness and joy of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. And the cross of ashes on each forehead is a reminder of that blessed forgiveness in each one of our lives. Praise God, we can be restored to a close relationship with God.

Hear the Good News! In Jesus Christ, we all are forgiven! Amen.


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/01/years-abc-ash-wednesday-february-18-2015.html

@chaplaineliza

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

Good News of Great Joy!

Stained Glass Nativity

“Good News of Great Joy!”

Luke 2:8-16 (2:10) – December 20, 2020

            Do you need Good News? So many are discouraged. Disconnected. Downhearted. This disconnected year of 2020 makes us all feel isolated and separated, even with the computer and social media. Especially at holiday time.

            The shepherds needed some Good News, too. On those hilltops around Bethlehem, they were not exactly welcome in the general society of the town, either. Focusing on today’s Scripture reading, Dr. Luke tells us about the shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. But, he does not mention anything about the low position they held in society.

            Did you ever think you had something in common with those shepherds? This year of the pandemic, we certainly do. We all experience a real disconnect and isolation in society—and so did the shepherds.

            Throughout the centuries, in many situations, Christians have found themselves set at a distance from society at large. As you are feeling a similar kind of discombobulation, it may be that there is some solidarity in our worldwide disconnection.

            Differences in language can be a real barrier between people, too. It does not matter whether a family comes to a new land or a different area in times of conflict, or famine, or some other upheaval. If you are unfamiliar with the common language spoken in the area in which you are now living, that can be a huge disconnect, too. That is a large reason why ethnic groups of people gather together in towns and cities—for solidarity, social purposes, and for ease in communication.  

            I worked as a chaplain at Swedish Covenant Hospital for a number of years. I can remember how particularly touched an elderly woman was when I spoke to her with the few words of Polish I knew. This woman from Poland had dementia, and there was no one working in the hospital that evening who spoke Polish. I heard about this very sick woman when I went to the nurses’ station. I told them I just knew a very few Polish words. However, a few nurses encouraged me to come to her bedside and say those few words—which I did. It calmed the woman immediately, and the nurse and CNA were so grateful to me.

            Even a few words in a familiar language can bridge that disconnect and barrier, and make a stranger feel more at home, more connected.

            But, the disconnect for the shepherds was even more than that. “By the time of Jesus, shepherding had become a profession most likely to be filled from the bottom rung of the social ladder, by persons who could not find what was regarded as decent work. Society stereotyped shepherds as liars, degenerates, and thieves. The testimony of shepherds was not admissible in court, and many towns had ordinances barring shepherds from their city limits.” [1]

Imagine the difference in class between the shepherds and the bulk of the townspeople of Bethlehem. Certain people live “on the wrong side of the tracks,” or “on the other side of town.” Or, perhaps they come from the hill country, or down by the river.   

            For that matter, can you believe the disconnect between all people on earth and the angels? When the angels came to communicate their Good News to humanity, who were they sent to, first thing? Not the wealthy, in their expensive houses. Not the leaders of the community, or the rabbis or ministers of the houses of worship. No, the angels came to the lowly shepherds in the hill country, who did not even rate a home or a welcome among the “decent folk” in the middle of town.  

            I know this is not quite the same as the shepherds’ loneliness, but have you been feeling the isolation of COVID-19? Not being able to connect, or go out for coffee, or sit down with a friend or relative for a meal? Isn’t this similar to the shepherds’ isolation and loneliness?

            The angels did not observe the class consciousness of society, or the language barriers or color barriers of so much of our world. No! The angels sent from God brought glad tidings of great joy to ALL the people. Not just some select few, not even to most of the earth’s population. No! This Good News came to ALL the people. To all with a spiritual disconnect, too!          

            The angels came to the “fields of the isolated, the disenfranchised and the forgotten, or in our own painful places of spiritual wilderness, because God speaks the good news of Christ’s coming there. God brings great joy to those who need it most there.” [2]

            Whether we are isolated spiritually, or disconnected in real life, God wishes to draw ALL of us in to the Good News of the birth of God’s Son. Regardless of where we come from, or where we are right now, we are welcome.

            Do you hear? Each of us is special—each one of us has the angel of the Lord bringing Good News to us—personally. Glad tidings of great joy, no matter what!

            Wonderful news for Christmas, for sure. Wonderful news, any time we need it!

Alleluia, amen!


[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1522

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1522

@chaplaineliza

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

We Can Be Friends, Too!

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

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

Phil 2-20 work of the Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

Joy Through Difficulty

“Joy Through Difficulty” – August 9, 2020

Phil 1-12 advance Gospel

1:21-27 (1:21, 27)

When bad things happen to you, how do you react? What about when really unpleasant things continue to go wrong – what then? Do you feel down in the dumps? Depressed and anxious? What about your general attitude towards life – is that affected, too? Who am I kidding? Of course our whole lives are affected.

What about the apostle Paul and his attitude? The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the believers in Philippi as a thank you note, and a whole lot more. But, let’s take a look at Paul’s immediate situation? Where was he as he wrote this letter?

Let’s look more closely at verses 12 and 13: “12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” Wow! We can see, right here, that Paul was locked up, in prison.

That would be an awful situation for most people – in fact, for just about anybody! However, I know that Paul was repeatedly locked up, thrown in prison, put into stocks, beaten on a number of occasions with rods or with a whip – and I could go on. Paul himself tells us about many of these difficult situations that happened to him in 2 Corinthians, too.

During this sermon series, we will highlight Paul’s focus on joy! Again and again, Paul mentions either “joy” or “rejoice.” We know that Paul was considered a saint, and he traveled a great distance as a missionary. Plus, he certainly had perseverance. Even what some call stubbornness. And, he let his abundant joy shine through.

If we try to compare ourselves to Paul, some might say, “I’m no saint! At least, not like St. Paul! He was a real saint, and extraordinary missionary, and powerful pastor.”

Scripture – the Holy Spirit – couldn’t be talking to me through this verse…or, could it?

Sure, we see Paul in these verses, in prison, locked up. He is in chains, chained to a Roman soldier, and still, he’s joyful with the joy of Christ! What on earth…?

You and I may not be in as dire circumstances as Paul’s, but, surely there are some lessons to be learned from Paul. How can we imitate him, today? What can we do to show God’s joy to everyone, despite difficulties and big challenges in our own lives? I’m glad you asked.

Sometimes life does get particularly rough. You and I know that. Maybe really difficult times have hit my family or yours. Maybe we know friends or acquaintances who have dealt with similar challenging situations. You know these things as soon as I mention them. Serious accidents or horrifying diseases? What about when death hits close to home – repeatedly? What about natural disasters, fires, floods? Or, God forbid, armed conflict? And, what if our family has a member in the same place as the apostle Paul, in prison? What do we do then? How do we keep the joy of God front and center in our lives?

In case we haven’t noticed before, Christ is a big deal to the apostle Paul. Jesus Christ is the reason that Paul is now imprisoned. Christ is not just a sideline or an afterthought. Paul has not stopped talking about the claims of Christ even in prison. He has that deep of a relationship with Jesus Christ that he wants everyone to be similarly related to Him.

Do we – you and I – have that kind of deep, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ? And if not, why not?

I’d like everyone to imagine. And as I said last week, you can close your eyes here if it helps you to imagine. Think of your best friend. I mean, your best, best friend, whether you two are still in touch, or whether you haven’t seen each other for years and years. Is everyone thinking of that special relationship? That relationship is as close as the one with our Lord Jesus.

At least, Jesus dearly wants that very special relationship with each of us.

We know Paul already praised his friends for being partners in preaching the Good News of God. Moreover, “Paul writes from prison (Phil 1:7, 13-14, 17), uncertain whether he will die (verses 19-20), hoping only that “Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death” (verse 20). The circumstances have not dampened Paul’s joy (see 1:18; 3:1a; 4:4, 10). Perhaps [the circumstances] have even clarified his focus.” [1]

How can we have that dearly close relationship with our Lord Jesus, too? What can clarify our focus?

Paul tells us again and again that we are not to be focused inwardly, not to be focused on ourselves. Our call is to be focused in an outward direction. Think of others. Do things for others. Tell others about Christ, and how much a relationship with God can change their lives. Has that relationship changed your life? As we live out the Gospel – the Good News – in our lives, that is the absolute best invitation we could possibly have for others who have not heard about the close relationship our Lord Jesus wants to have with them.

There is an added bonus, too. “The Lord’s people who are discouraged will see our faith in God in the midst of trials and be encouraged to trust God and bear witness for Him.” [2]

Let’s all pray that we can have this incredibly close friendship with Jesus Christ, not only for the sake of others, but especially for us! As we are drawn closer to God, vertically, others around us see our lives shining like a bright light. Then, we can tell many about the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord. Is there anything better than that? Paul doesn’t think so. God will be pleased, too! Go! Do! Think of others more than of yourselves, in the name of Christ. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3431

Commentary, Philippians 1:21-30, Troy Toftgruben, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.  

[2] https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-6-happiness-through-circumstances-or-christ-philippians-112-18

@chaplaineliza

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

We Are Convinced

“We Are Convinced” – July 26, 2020

Rom 8-37 conquerors, water

Romans 8:33-39 (8:37-39)

Shel Silverstein wrote some wonderful poetry for children. (His poetry is enjoyed by all ages, in fact!) You may be familiar with two of his books of poetry called “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “A Light in the Attic.” This poem is called “Whatif.” I will read most of it:

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!
[1]

 

Whatif? Many people are haunted by all kinds of fears that a school-age child might have. We can relate to some of them, perhaps even most of them! The commonality of these fears crosses borders, and connects us all in a powerful way. Does this remind you of our Scripture reading at all? Whatif? Whatif God is against us? Whatif God condemns us? Whatif the devil stands in front of us, telling God all the sins we have ever thought, said or done? And, then – Whatif God tells us we can’t get into heaven?

You need to understand something about the apostle Paul’s writing style. He wrote some really long sentences. Some of his sentences went on for a whole paragraph! Plus, it is typical of Paul to interrupt himself in the middle of a point he’s making, add some more details, and then pick up where he left off in the first place. What is more, every phrase in this 8th chapter of the letter to the Romans has marvelous information for our salvation!

We can watch as Paul assembles his argument. In verses 31 and 32, he asks, “who can be against us?” Paul’s answer: no one, not even God, who did not spare His own Son from death. In verse 33, who will bring a charge against us? Again, the answer is no one. God justifies – or makes it just-as-if we had not sinned. Then, in verse 34, Paul asks, “who will condemn?” The ringing answer is: no one! We are looking around for more accusers, but no one steps forward. Christ Jesus died for us, was raised for us, and intercedes for us. [2]

Did you hear? Jesus intercedes for us, too! Not just once or twice, but Jesus is continuing to intercede on our behalf! That is amazing. I almost cannot believe it, but Paul says so. In verse 35, Paul describes many physical hindrances that may separate us from the love of Jesus Christ. This rhetorical statement continues, piling up more and more bricks. You and I really need to listen to the apostle Paul when he tells us something so important, point blank.

I do need to remind us that Paul does describe here the kinds of sufferings that he and his fellow believers did go through. These were (and are today, too!) very real sufferings – danger, threat and struggle – of countless people throughout the world.

However, our salvation is NOT our doing. Bryan Findlayson tells us exactly what Paul is building here. Paul knows full well that “our standing before God is not dependent upon our love, obedience, perseverance or faithfulness, rather it rests on what Christ has done for us. At this moment we stand perfected before the throne of the Almighty God. We are eternally secure.” Do you hear that? Do we have any idea what fantastic news that is? You, I, all of us “are being daily renewed into the image we already possess in Christ. This is not our doing, but rather it is a gift of grace from a loving and merciful God.” [3]

As if all that is not enough, Paul adds the marvelous icing to the top of our salvation. It is almost as if he gets more and more outrageous with each pair of things he references. Sure, these strenuous pressures are powerful, sure to cause many people to stumble and fall. But – let us listen to them again: Paul says, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation.” He continues to mention all of these threats, elements, and all of space and time spread out before us – and yet, nothing – NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!

The love of God transcends all things. The love of God reaches into the depths of human despair, embraces those who live in the shadow of death, or the overbright light of present life. The love of God proclaims to the world that Jesus the Messiah is the world’s true Lord, and in Him and through Him, love has won the ultimate victory! [4]

Paul started out this chapter by telling us that “therefore there is no condemnation for those who are “in Christ” Jesus. He ends by telling us that therefore there can be no separation from the love of God for those who are “in Christ” Jesus.” [5] All this is Good News indeed.

Amen, alleluia!

[1] Silverstein, Shel, “Whatif,” from A Light in the Attic (Harper & Row: San Francisco, 1981), edited.

[2] Wright, N.T., “Romans,” The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. X (Abingdon: Nashville, TN, 2002), 613.

[3] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday18aee.html  “The Love of God,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources. Includes detailed textual notes.

[4] Wright, N.T., 619.

[5] Findlayson, “The Love of God,”

@chaplaineliza

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

Rest for the Weary

(I am on vacation this weekend. Thanks to the Rev. John Lewis of The Presbyterian Church of Hamilton, Ohio for preaching for me at St. Luke’s Church!

This is a sermon from 2008 on the Lectionary passage from Matthew 11:28-30.)

“Rest for the Weary” – July 6, 2008

Matt 11-28 rest, bench

Matthew 11:28-30

I was born here in the city. My parents were born here, too, in Chicago. I have only a vague idea of what goes on in the country, on a farm. My information about farming activity comes chiefly from material I have read, and a bit from stories I have been told. By my father-in-law, for example, who grew up on a small farm in southeastern Iowa during the 1930’s.

So, when I read a scripture passage like the one we have before us today, I have to take a really close look at it, and work hard at fully understanding it, because I am not that familiar with oxen, or yokes. But burdens—I am familiar with burdens. And our Lord Jesus talks about burdens here in this reading from the Gospel of Matthew.

Burdens come in all assorted shapes and sizes. Burdens can be solitary things, with each of us, on our own, struggling with our separate burdens. It is difficult indeed for me to carry a burden on my own. And I am heavily laden. Let’s face it. We are all burdened with something. Perhaps several things. A few of us carry a lot of heavy difficulties, whether psychological, emotional, or physical. These all can be heavy burdens, to be sure.

If I thought I was having problems before, I did not even consider this next complication: I am naturally separated from other people here in this world. Just as much, if not more, I am also separated from God above. I not only have a wall of isolation separating me from other people, I also have that same isolating wall separating me from God.

The Bible has a name for this horrible wall of isolation, and this name is sin. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 3:23, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The verse is not that a few have sinned. It does not say that some have sinned. The letter to the Romans says that all have sinned. So that wall of isolation has been erected between me and God, and me and other individuals. And that wall is there for you, too.

Think of different kinds of loads: burdens of pain and suffering, burdens of loneliness and isolation, burdens of other kinds of losses. If we think about it, on top of the other burdens that each of us is carrying is the burden of sin.

So, not only is each one of us separated from God and from our fellow human beings, but each of us is heavily burdened by countless other things. And I could imagine lots of people getting virtual hernias, because they are carrying their burdens all by themselves.

The truly good news is that we do not have to bear these burdens all alone, any more. Our Lord Jesus has reconciled us to God. Each of us is no longer separated, isolated. But Jesus brings us back into a proper, friendly relationship with God. Each of us has the opportunity to be called a child of God.

And Jesus not only reconciles each of us back to God, this is where He mentions the yoke. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

What is a yoke, anyway? How does it work? What does it do?

You all remember that I am a city girl. From my reading, I have found out that a yoke is used by a farmer to harness two animals—often oxen—to a piece of farm equipment, usually a plow. Yokes were made of wood. When the yoke was made, it was adjusted, so that it would not chafe. And the significant thing about this is that a yoke was custom-fitted to the particular ox that pulled with it.

Jesus mentions a yoke here. Remember, all of these people Jesus was talking to understood about farm life, and oxen, and especially about a good fit on a yoke. So when or Lord Jesus mentions “My yoke is easy,” He means that His yoke for each one of us fits us very well—it’s tailor-made, in other words. And even more important, one ox alone does not pull in a yoke. The load would be unbalanced if there were only one ox. Instead, each of us is in a team . . . in a yoked team with Jesus. If our Lord is right with us, pulling at our burden—whatever it is—at our side, then each of us is on a winning team.

Just imagine. I no longer need to pull at my burdens all by myself, isolated and alone. Jesus is right there next to me, helping me, pulling by my side. Praise God! Jesus comes alongside each one of us. Jesus is there to encourage us. And He will bring rest for our souls. Is there any better news than this best of all Good News?

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

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