Listen Up!

“Listen Up!”

Mark 9:2-9 – February 14, 2021

            When I was in elementary school, on rainy days we would play games in our classroom instead of going outside for recess. One of these games was “Telephone.” The whole class would line up single file, in a big circle around the classroom. The teacher would quietly whisper a sentence into the first child’s ear. By turns, one by one, each child would communicate the sentence exactly as they heard it to the next person. And—imagine the giggles when the sentence got to the end of the line and ended up all garbled!

            We can imagine the way the disciples sometimes received information from Jesus. We can just tell from listening to this reading from Mark. Let’s set the scene. We have Jesus with His disciples, and some other followers. Women, too! Usually unnamed, but also there. In several important instances, Jesus had an inner circle. Three special, or key disciples, who would be the ones he wanted to tell special things. Important things, as in the Gospel reading for today.

            Jesus had been preaching God’s word, healing people and doing other miracles for some time. If we think about it, by this time the Rabbi Jesus was really in demand. Think of any popular person, or famous celebrity. Often mobbed by people when He stopped to preach in a synagogue, or if He stayed overnight at someone’s home.

            A week before the happenings in our passage today, Jesus fed more than four thousand men, plus women and children. Immediately afterwards, He heals another blind man. Jesus was even more in demand than ever, after that display of power and might! Remember, that’s one of the main emphases for Mark. Showing the power and might of the Son of God!  

            As much as Jesus taught and preached and performed miracles, He needed time to Himself, too. He withdrew to have time with his Heavenly Father, all alone, in prayer. Here at the beginning of today’s reading, Jesus took three of his disciples with Him to pray. I suspect they took off early in the morning to go up to a high mountain, nearby.

            I want you all to take note! Jesus actively looked for time to get alone with His Father. To pray as well as to listen and concentrate on what the Lord was saying to Him. Sure, Jesus said amazing things and did astounding miracles, on a regular basis. He rubbed shoulders with crowds and taught large groups of people. But He also knew He needed to separate and recharge. To have down time, personal time, family time with His Heavenly Father.

            Sure, it’s great to be in crowds, fun to be with people sometimes! But it’s also good to be alone. Restful to take some time away, time to pray and take stock. Recharging time! As one of my daughters says, alone-time can be wonderful, too.

            But this time is a little different. Jesus brings Peter, James and John with Him to the top of the mountain. And then, He prays—as it says in the parallel Transfiguration account in Luke. While all four of them are there, lifted up, apart from the ordinary everyday life down at the bottom of the mountain, something happens. Something completely unexpected, and marvelous.

            Or, was it? The disciples had already seen their Rabbi and leader Jesus do miraculous things on a regular basis! Feeding thousands of people, performing a number of miraculous healings, and ejecting unclean spirits—and we’re just talking about during the past few weeks!

            While Jesus is in prayer at the top of the mountain, His clothes become dazzling white. Whiter than any laundry could possibly make them. Plus, Moses and Elijah show up in the same bright white clothes, and start talking with Jesus. (I am not sure exactly how Peter, James and John could tell the other two were Moses and Elijah, but somehow, they knew.) Mark even tells us what the reaction of the three disciples was to all of this—they were scared to death!

            Let me ask—do you know someone who tends to dither? When they are scared, or nervous, or excited, do they just start talking? Just a reflex action? I think that’s exactly what Peter is doing here. And Mark tells us Peter didn’t even know what he was saying.

            Can you just see these three grown men, clutching at each other? Scared to death at these miraculous, out-of-this-world happenings? “Um—Lord! Um—let’s build three altars here! One for You, and—um—one for the other two guys, too!” Or, something like that. Do you think Peter and the other two disciples were receptive to what God was saying at this point? I suspect not.     

But wait—there’s more! As if that wasn’t enough, with Jesus, Moses and Elijah showing up in dazzling white, a cloud covered them all. And a voice came out of the cloud.

            Can you remember when a supernatural cloud appeared before? Remember, the LORD appeared as a cloud to the nation of Israel, in Exodus 13. Again, in Exodus 19, the LORD’s voice came out of the cloud in thunder. And so it is, again. God’s voice came out of this cloud that surrounded the disciples and Jesus, Moses and Elijah. The voice said, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!”

            It isn’t every day that the Lord God Almighty talks to you! The Lord even gave specific instructions to the three disciples. “Listen to Jesus!” This is a command, NOT a suggestion! The verb tense is present imperative! Here God not only commands the disciples to listen, but by extension, God commands the whole world to listen—to Jesus!

            Jesus healed deaf people, so they could really hear. What’s more, Jesus came to heal the spiritually deaf to His words! Jesus opens all our ears so we can hear the truth in His words!

Just as we closely listen to a doctor when he or she is talking to us about our cancer, or heart attack, or broken leg, just as we ask our spouses or family members to accompany us so that we have another set of ears to listen accurately to the doctor, so also you and I are to listen carefully and attentively to the words of Jesus. The voice from the cloud, from heaven declared Jesus to be none other than the Son of God. Then, the voice commanded us to listen to Him.

The message of this Gospel reading today is clear. To hear, we need to listen carefully. To experience, we need to open our minds and hearts to the possibility of God’s voice. Look at the Son. Listen to His words. Open your mind and heart to His presence. We don’t need to be on the top of a mountain to experience God’s presence and fullness. Just shake off the routine, the same-old same-old. And, God will be there. We can celebrate the fullness of the Lord’s presence! The possibility of God’s power and grace! Alleluia, amen.

Take a few moments to reread the gospel. Imagine you’re before the Lord Jesus as He speaks to you in His glory. What is His word to you? We start the journey of Lent this week with Ash Wednesday. How will that word of Jesus help you this week as you begin your Lenten journey?

@chaplaineliza

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

St. Luke’s Church – Part of Christ’s Body

“St. Luke’s Church – Part of Christ’s Body”

1 Corinthians 12:12-26 (12:26) – February 7, 2021

            So many activities needed to stop with the shut-down and shelter-in-place last March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing I have missed very much is the wonderful time I spent reading to the preschool children here at St. Luke’s Church. Every Tuesday morning for years, I read picture books of all kinds to the children.

            I was reminded of this sad experience as I considered today’s Scripture reading. Paul’s discussion about the Church compared to an actual, human body reminded me of a delightful children’s picture book, one I’d love to read to the preschool children. This book is a retelling of a Liberian creation story about a human head, two arms, a body, and two legs, and how they all decide to come together and work as a team, creating a complete human body.

I believe the apostle Paul would greatly approve this story and message! A human body does need its various parts to work together. Just imagine the commotion, the disruption that would happen if parts of the body went on strike, or refused to work with other parts of the body!

As Paul said, “15 If the foot were to say, “Because I am not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” that would not keep it from being a part of the body. 16 And if the ear were to say, “Because I am not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,” that would not keep it from being a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were just an eye, how could it hear? And if it were only an ear, how could it smell? 18 God put every different part in the body just as God wanted it to be.”

No matter how many parts of the body we name, each part is important, and each part is needed. We can tell right away if a part of the body is hurt, or broken, or not working normally. And, what if certain parts are missing altogether? The functionality of the body – or, as Paul would remind us, of the Church – would be very much diminished.

I know most people are associated with a local church, and many people are active members. What a wonderful way to honor and please the Lord when God’s children are active and vital parts of God’s body – the Church.

The local church has members who are active in many roles. There are those who are the mouth of the congregation – the pastor and teachers in the church. The arms of a local church are often seen as the deacons, in the food pantries and serving ministries. And, the feet of a congregation can be those who transport people, or participate in Meals on Wheels. The heart of the local church can be those vital members who are well-beloved among the church folk.

As I describe various tasks and ministries, I suspect you can think of individuals who fit these to a “T.” And, all of these parts of the body, of the Church, are needed.

From time to time, churches need to take stock, and see where they are going as a congregation. Group reflection and consideration is useful, even exciting. We here at St. Luke’s Church are going to put together a timeline of the past 20 years this coming weekend! As Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” said, “Who we are in the present includes who we were in the past.”

I need to present this church timeline as the final project in a clinical internship I am taking right now. Plus, I see this marvelous opportunity for our congregation to find out more about some important history that this church shares together. Both the ups as well as the downs, the celebrations as well as the difficulties are all so important and valuable to reflect upon and consider. The best part is that we will have a marvelous church coach to assist us this weekend.

The Rev. Brandyn Simmons has a great deal of experience in working with congregations on the historical background of a congregation as well as the assessment and understanding piece. I am very grateful to Pastor Brandyn, and I ask each of you for your prayers as we take this exciting journey of memory and discovery.

Some of you may have long experience with your local church, or you may be a more recent member. Regardless of how long you have been at your church, what has kept you coming to worship services? What aspects of fellowship and togetherness at your church are important to you? What is the single most positive thing you would like to tell me about your church? Now, take that thing – whatever it is – and write it down. Send it to your pastor in an email, or in a phone call, text, or note by mail. This is such a blessing for your pastor and your congregation!  

For many churches, the first Sunday of the month is Communion Sunday. In the Lord’s Supper, the local congregation has another reason to come together as the Body of Christ. We are invited to come together around the table and share the bread and the cup together. Even in the socially-distant time of the pandemic, we can still be together in spirit and in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.    

Yes, we are all individuals, and yes, each of us is beloved by God to be whatever part of the Church Body God has meant for us to be! And yes, we can be the best hand or eye or foot or whatever Church Body-part we are able. Can you do that? I know I will try. Let’s all strive to be God’s Body as we pull together, work together, and celebrate together. The apostle Paul would certainly approve!

@chaplaineliza

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

Know Joy – Know Jesus!

“Know Joy – Know Jesus!” – August 30, 2020

Phil 3-10 That-I-may-know-Him

Philippians 3:1, 4-11 (3:8)

What is really important to you? Some people value family or friends. Others think material possessions are important. Some consider a marvelous resume to be valued above all else. Each of these can make some people satisfied, and that’s only the start of the list of important things. Many things hold value to many people, and cause them to be satisfied in life.

Is being a rule-follower important? When we dot every “I” and cross every “T” – carefully making absolutely sure that we are obeying every law; is that the thing some people value the most in their lives?

The apostle Paul said that this description described him exactly – a rule-follower who dotted every “I” and crossed every “T.” He gives us his marvelous resume, in some detail. We find out that Paul was born to a well-respected Jewish clan in the tribe of Benjamin. He was properly brought up in the Jewish faith, and even chose to live as a Pharisee, as one of the strictest followers of the Jewish Law that it was possible to be. The old Saul went overboard in his devotion to God, too – so devoted that he even persecuted the early Church.

Do you know anyone like that? Anyone who is so strict at following the rules that they even frown and get angry at their friends and family – regularly? What would the old Paul, the Pharisee Saul, have been like as a friend? Always trying to be super-righteous, always working hard at being perfect – Paul tells us straight out that he used to be a miserable person while he tried as hard as he could to be super-righteous.

I wonder what kinds of bullet points Paul – or as he was in his Pharisee days, Saul – would have on his letters of recommendation? “Pharisee Saul is one of the most righteous people I know.” Or, “The highest praise I can give to Pharisee Saul is he never, ever makes a mistake.” If anybody could possibly save himself through his own super-strict efforts at living according to the Mosaic Laws, I bet it would have been Paul, or as he was before, Pharisee Saul.

But – Paul found his own self-righteous actions and trying to make himself righteous enough for God just did not work. There was no way he could earn enough “brownie points” to be acceptable to God.

In other places in the New Testament, Paul describes what an awful mess he was in when he realized this! The Pharisee Saul had lived his whole life acting self-righteous, putting on a show. But here, in Philippians, Paul cuts straight to the chase. He tells us that he no longer trusts in himself or his qualifications. Instead he trusts in Christ! Absolutely, one hundred percent.

I am not sure whether you get excited about accounting. You know, the language of numbers, statements of profit and loss. But, that is exactly what Paul uses here. He uses accounting terms! “The end of a profit and loss statement shows the net loss or net income, indicating the extent to which a business, craft or household is profitable.” [1]

Paul is saying here that all his trying to be super-righteous, in his own power, got him absolutely nowhere! As far as the profit and loss statement of his life before God, he was absolutely bankrupt! There was no way he could possibly even approach God – except through trusting Jesus Christ as Lord.

And then – and then! Paul uses accounting language again. Paul counts knowing Christ as “gain.” When Paul wrote down the profit and loss statement for his life before God, ALL the gain, ALL the profit was credited to Jesus! As Paul came to understand what a miracle happened when he put his trust and hope in Christ Jesus, he became more and more excited.

Paul willingly, eagerly left behind all of his marvelous religious resume. Marvelous as far as the world is concerned. Paul actually uses a swear word here, in verse 8. “I consider everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” – meaning, putting aside all his training, and superior resume, and everything else – “I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” We might think of a four-letter word to use here, and that is exactly what Paul uses in the original Greek.

“Paul regards ‘everything’ of little value in comparison with the far greater worth, the supreme advantage, of knowing Christ.” [2] To gain Christ – to have Jesus one hundred percent on the profit side of our profit and loss statement before God – is the most marvelous thing in the world to Paul. He is so, so joy-filled about this, he almost bursts with joy!

Paul told the friends in Philippi about his boundless joy at knowing Christ Jesus so closely, and so well, even though he was in prison, chained to a Roman soldier 24/7! He still overflowed with joy! Is that true for us? Are we in the same joyful position as the apostle Paul? Are we overflowing with joy because we know Jesus? Or, is our joy being blocked or diverted?

Life was certainly no walk in the park for Paul, especially now. Yet, we can almost feel his joy right through the printed page. Even though, hardship – yet, there was joy! Even though, trials – yet, Paul felt joy! Even though, sickness – yet, Paul and his friends were joyful!

I realize you and I are probably not in the happiest of places right now, with uncertainty and anxiety all around us. Yet, Paul reminds us, we can have joy! If we place our trust and hope in Jesus Christ, His joy is available to us, any time! What a marvelous promise. Be joyful in Christ Jesus. No matter what.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1592

Commentary, Philippians 3:4b-14 (Lent 5C), Elizabeth Shively, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/lent5ce.html

“The Prize,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

@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!

Jericho’s Walls Tumbled Down

“Jericho’s Walls Tumbled Down“

Josh 6 Walls_of_Jericho_1217-94

Joshua 6:1-7, 15-17, 24-25 – July 14, 2019

Obedience can be a really good thing. Parents at home, managers in the workplace and teachers in the schoolroom depend on obedience for good, orderly behavior, conduct and communication in a group setting. It makes so much sense: when people listen, understand and obey, everything works so much more smoothly. So much more easily, too.

The people of Israel were not always obedient to God and God’s Word. Not by a long shot! Remember after Moses led the people out of Egypt, and they wandered around the area of the Sinai peninsula for forty years? Repeatedly, the people of Israel were disobedient to God’s commands. God finally had enough with their rebellion and disobedience, and said that every person who had come out of Egypt across the Red Sea (where the Lord did a mighty miracle) would die in the wilderness—the sad penalty for grumbling, rebellion and disobedience.

It is a new day, with a new administration. Moses’s trusty lieutenant Joshua is now the leader of the wandering nation of Israel. After some celebration at crossing the River Jordan into the land of Canaan, and ritual preparation—circumcising every adult male—Joshua sends two spies into the city of Jericho. A covert operation, to check out the lay of the land.

The two spies are welcomed into the house of Rahab, a prostitute. She quite possibly had rooms to rent, and this was also a source of money for herself. The spies quickly find a friend in Rahab, and get some valuable information about the great fear and anxiety that had entered into the hearts of all the people of Jericho. More than that, Rahab even hides the spies when the city authorities come to her house to check out more about the whereabouts of these spies.

After the spies bring the news of the great fear and anxiety filling the hearts of all people in Jericho, Joshua our fearless leader prepares his army to fight.

Thus far, everyone among the people of Israel has been obedient to the voice of God.

I wonder, are you and I obedient to the word of God? Do we follow all of God’s commands? We might say, with the rich young ruler, we have followed all of the Big Ten. Jesus even tells us of the commands in His interaction with the rich young man: “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”

I suspect the people of Israel followed the Ten Commandments, too. This was part of the Law that Moses brought down from the top of Mount Sinai just a few decades before. Although, lots of those people of Israel grumbled, rebelled, and disobeyed God, and Moses, while they were in the wilderness. As punishment, they all died without seeing the Promised Land.

As I said, this was the dawn of a new era. Joshua was the new leader of Israel now. The people of Israel were young, vital, and excited to enter the land of Canaan. The army of Israel made themselves ready to attack the city of Jericho, buoyed up by the positive report of the spies.

Except—what kind of a battle plan was this? Joshua, are you crazy? Are you drunk? What on earth were you thinking? Just walking around the well-protected city of Jericho once a day, in total silence, for six days? Not just with the army, but with the priests and the Ark of the Covenant, too?  Then on the seventh day, to walk around the city seven times, in total silence. And then, give a mighty shout, all together! Shout, and blow trumpets, and the thick, high walls will fall down all by themselves.

What kind of battle plan is that? God’s battle plan. God was going to fight for the people of Israel, and show everyone that God was on the side of the nation of Israel.

Lo and behold, the army and priests obeyed Joshua and the command of the Lord. Lo and behold, when the trumpets blew and the army shouted on the seventh day, the walls did come tumbling down. “In the face of such a great obstacle, Joshua complied with the plan of God. Though he may not have completely understood the plan or its significance, he followed God. Joshua moved the people to action.” [1] Obedience was the key to Israel’s success.

I wonder, again. Are you and I obedient to the commands of the Lord, today? Do we follow all the words of Jesus in the Gospels? Here is more of Jesus’s conversation with the rich young man: ““Teacher,” he declared, “all these commands I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

How do we square love of money and possessions with the concept of obedience to a just God? I don’t care who we are, one commentary on this passage said we each have “virtual strongholds that impede our spiritual progress. It may be a weakness in our character, a physical infirmity, it may be indifference to spiritual things in general or to a specific area we are neglecting. It could be materialism or some life-dominating pattern. It may be a difficulty at one’s place of work, in the home, with a particular personality, or it may be a financial burden.” [2] Each of us has difficulty obeying God, in one area or even several at once.

I return once more to the question of the day: are you and I obedient to the commands of the Lord, today? Do we follow all the words of Jesus in the Gospels? Commands like being a good neighbor to absolutely anyone, even a Samaritan? Even someone of a different color, or a different religion? Let’s look at another command of Jesus. Love one another. Sure, it’s easy to love our neighbors and those in our families. But, what about loving the stranger? Yet, the Bible tells us we have to do that, too. Do we? Or, would we rather turn our backs on the foreigner, put the stranger in detention, or perhaps even deport them?

Let’s look at some commands Moses gave to the nation of Israel, the commands this nation of Israel must have been very familiar with. From Deuteronomy 10:19 – “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” And, from Leviticus 19:34 – “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” In the books of the Torah—the first five books of the Bible alone, Israel is commanded to care for the stranger or non-citizen thirty-six times.

These are some important commands of the Lord. Are we going to be obedient to these commands, or are we going to grumble, rebel and be disobedient? These commands tell us to be open, welcoming, loving and caring to all—just like our God. These are challenging commands. Yet, they are echoed again and again throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.

Looking at a children’s bible story from an adult point of view? This serious reading about obedience from the book of Joshua pulls us all up short, and gets our attention. May God aid our understanding of our Scripture reading and sermon this morning.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://www.lifeway.com/en/articles/sermon-overcome-obstacles-jericho-promised-land-joshua-6

Michael Rochelle is pastor of Shadow Hills Baptist Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.

[2] https://bible.org/seriespage/destroying-fortresses-victory-jericho-joshua-61-27

@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!

The Most Excellent Gift

“Love: The Most Excellent Gift”

1 Cor 13 love, ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This description from Paul tells us what love is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alleluia, amen.

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

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

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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

All the Children of the World

“All the Children of the World”

jesus loved-children-clive-uptton

Mark 10:13-16 (10:13) – October 7, 2018

Today, the first Sunday in October, is World Communion Sunday. Today, we celebrate the holy practice of Communion, along with the millions of Christians in thousands of churches and gathering places all over the world. I know I asked already about the many different Communion services we all have been to, in different churches. I would like to go back further, before the Passion Week, before the time Jesus instituted Communion at that Passover dinner.

We have a little, short Gospel reading today. This situation is not long before Palm Sunday. We are not exactly sure how long. A number of days perhaps, or a few weeks before Jesus and His disciples enter Jerusalem for that last week, that Passion Week.

What is the Rabbi Jesus doing here? Teaching, as usual. Also, arguing with the Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses. These smart guys were always testing each other, to see whether each of them could give wise answers—and correct answers. A lot of the Gospel writings were responses of Jesus to these questions. He had just finished one of these verbal duels with the Pharisees when this particular situation with the children came up.

“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him touch them.” Both in the first century as well as in later centuries, it was common for parents to bring their children to rabbis for a blessing. This was a very common thing, often done. However, the disciples here rebuked the parents. “Children should not be allowed to disturb the teacher and his students.” [1]

They considered themselves more important. Rabbi Jesus was doing very important teaching, teaching His Very Important Students, the disciples. We can see they just did not get it. The disciples completely missed the point of Jesus and His ministry. Again.

We have one group of men—the disciples of Jesus—and another group of men—the Pharisees—bickering and arguing about who is right, and who is more important, and who gets to listen to the Rabbi. Then, we have a third group, probably mothers and maybe grandmothers, bringing small children for a blessing from the Rabbi Jesus.

Let’s come at this from a different point of view, and look at the feelings, emotions and the power struggle going on.

A snooty, self-important group of Pharisees have been asking Jesus challenging questions, again. As is always the case, Jesus answers their questions well. The beleaguered disciples are probably relieved that they have finally gotten rid of the Pharisees, and finally are able to sit and listen to their Rabbi’s teaching by themselves, for a change. Some women with small children in tow come to the door of the house, tap-tap-tapping. They would like a blessing for their young kids, if it isn’t too much trouble. Can you see the picture?

A couple of the disciples poke their heads out the door. “What? Now? Come in and bother our Rabbi? He just got done with the Pharisees, and He’s doing some important work right now. Get lost. Take off. The Rabbi doesn’t have time for you, anyhow.”

But, Jesus finds out. I don’t know whether He overhears the disciples, or what, but Jesus gets upset with them.

In English, we usually need to use special words for emphasis or to show something is really important. The language the New Testament was written in, Koine Greek, has specific verb tenses, the aorist active imperative tense. Jesus uses one of these verbs right here: “Let—or, permit—the little children to come to Me.” Jesus was particularly urgent and intense, here. He caught His friends in the middle of turning these moms and kids away, and publicly rebuked the disciples. In front of the women and children. Jesus really meant what He said!

What is more, in the act of shoving away the unimportant folks Jesus capped that rebuke of the disciples. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

The view of children in the first century was radically different than today’s view. Modern readers or listeners of this Gospel lesson often romanticize children. Oh, how innocent! Oh, how accepting a child is! However, “ancient societies lacked such romantic notions of childhood. Jesus directs His comments to adult male disciples who are shoving away the ‘non-persons.’” [2] The child in ancient culture was not even considered a “person.” Children belonged to their father, and were dependent and subject to him even as adults.

Do we understand how radical the words of Jesus are, yet? If we see the children of the first century as totally dependent on their father, we can take His words one step further. Jesus tells His disciples they need to become like children—become totally dependent on their Father in heaven. The disciples—and by extension, the followers of the disciples, that is, us!—must understand we are totally dependent upon God’s grace and care and welcome.

And, after Jesus gives this stinging rebuke to His disciples, Jesus then turns around and blesses the small children. He takes them up in His arms, and holds them. What a picture! Can you imagine holding a little one in your arms, perhaps smoothing back their hair, smiling back at them, maybe even tickling their tummy—and then blessing them? That is what Jesus did. He cared for them. He blessed them. And, probably blessed their moms, too.

Children were considered “non-persons,” not yet adults, not yet important like the Pharisees or rabbis or priests or teachers of the Law. And, certainly similar to the status of women, who were often considered “non-persons,” at best second-class citizens, if that. Not males, not the important ones. Who might be considered “non-persons” today? Would the handicapped be considered “non-persons?” What about the mentally ill? What about the homeless, or the street people? Are they all “non-persons?”

All of these individuals are important to Jesus. He reached out to children, to women, to lepers, to the blind and lame, to foreigners, to ritually unclean people, and the mentally ill. Jesus was not exclusive, but radically inclusive. Jesus raises the social standing and the self-worth of all individuals. His welcome transcends all barriers, all boundaries, all colors, all separations of class and language and ability.

What a marvelous welcome each of us has on this World Communion Sunday. Our Lord Jesus bids us all come. All are welcome here.

Amen, alleluia.

(Postscript)

  • The image of Jesus gathering up the children has me imagining Jesus gathering up those most vulnerable among us — particularly now those whose memories have been rendered raw by the necessity of reliving their most traumatic moments in these last days. Who among us most needs the safety of that divine embrace? And what does it look like, what does it mean for you and me to extend it in Jesus’ name?
  • The National Sexual Assault Hotline number is 1-800-656-4673. If you have need of it, use it. If not, pass it along. Indeed, may we continue to hold close in prayer those whose suffering is ongoing. And may we keep on seeking to shape a world where such a hotline is no longer necessary. [3]

[1] Perkins, Phemie, The Gospel of Mark, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. 8 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 647.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://dancingwiththeword.com/jesus-gathers-the-most-vulnerable-into-his-arms-then-and-now/  Pastor Janet Hunt has served as a Lutheran pastor in a variety of contexts in Northern Illinois. Currently she serves as pastor at First Lutheran, DeKalb, IL.

@chaplaineliza

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

 

Peaceful and Quiet Lives

“Peaceful and Quiet Lives”

1-tim-2-2-pray-message

1 Timothy 2:1-8 – September 18, 2016

It’s good to be in the habit of doing certain things. Say, going to the gym. Exercise is a beneficial thing, and if I go to the gym on a regular basis, like three times a week, I will be healthier for it. Same for other things—like practicing the piano, or practicing football or baseball—it’s beneficial to get into the habit of regular repetition, week in, and week out.

Worship and prayer are regular, comfortable things, things many churches do the same way, week in and week out. Here in our scripture passage today, Paul gives his younger friend Timothy some words of wisdom. Recommendations, if you will, of some things Timothy’s church can do in worship and prayer that will be beneficial to them all.

Reading again from 1 Timothy 2, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior.”

I’ll stop right there. Not because the rest of the reading is unimportant. No! But, because Paul has so many ideas that are bursting out of him one on top of the other, I am afraid we might be overloaded if I read them all.

Paul begins the chapter by encouraging Timothy to offer prayers for all members of the human family during church services. He mentions prayer in the terms of: petitions (humble, general requests to God), intercessions (requests, pleading for those in need), supplications (requests for ourselves, especially when faced with a crisis) and thanksgivings (expressing gratitude for blessings we receive). [1] All people need to be held up to God in prayer. All. That is, everyone. Not just one particular neighborhood, not just one particular ethnicity, not just one particular denomination. Paul tells Timothy—Paul tells us—pray for all people.

Yes, this is a wonderful passage that gives us the basics of prayer and worship, and lets us know more about Paul’s ideas concerning this important aspect of our lives. However, I was drawn to one particular phrase in this passage that went beyond the basics of worship: that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” I pursued it all week.

I was fascinated to dig into this passage of scripture. I have not read the Pastoral Letters as often as the rest of the New Testament. So, this week was a good excuse for me to dust off those seldom-opened commentaries and brush up on what was going on in this highly charged situation. For, highly charged it certainly was!

There was a complication, in the case of these house churches. Let’s take a look at the historical context. In the first century, small house churches like the ones where Timothy and Paul worshipped were in a precarious situation. They were constantly involved in “the struggle to secure and maintain a foothold within a hostile environment, where political authorities would always tend to be suspicious of the little house groups whose legal status was at best ambiguous and be ready to act against them at short notice with little excuse.” [2] Many of these small groups of emerging Christians desperately wanted to gain basic respect. Not even respectability, but hoping for just a bit of respect from the authorities.

These groups, or house churches, are identical to house churches meeting all over the world today, in fear for their leaders, if not the group members’ very lives. House churches in parts of Vietnam and Thailand, China, Pakistan, Nepal, and large parts of the Middle East. These groups are—today, here and now—struggling to survive in precarious political situations.

Is it any wonder that these small house churches wanted to pray for those in authority over them, so that they might have some peace and quiet? Quiet and tranquil lives?

Good habits—beneficial, certainly! Habits like prayer and worship are something that Paul would tell Timothy that his house church ought to follow, each time they gather.

How does this prayer and worship counteract the complication of overbearing and even unjust authorities that hold sway over these little groups of believers?

Both Paul and Peter tell their friends that the Godly thing to do is to pray for the authorities. I read from Romans 13:1: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” And 1 Peter 2:17: “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” The New Testament tells us so, in several places, including this letter from Paul to Timothy.

We can see Timothy and his church are prompted to pray for the government. As Rev. Findlayson comments, “We are encouraged to pray for the political process such that it provides an environment where ‘we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness’ (verse 2:2). This verse actually contains a clue to the content of our prayer for government. We are to pray for “peace”, but what kind of peace? Is it peace in the sense of freedom from war, social and industrial strife and revolution?” [3]

Ah. We have arrived at the topic of the day. The theme of our service today. What kind of peace do we pray for, indeed?

I have been talking about peace ever since February, the beginning of Lent. Remember, I went to a number of different churches, church groups, and schools to ask individuals what their personal definition of peace was. What is peace to you?                I got many fascinating definitions and expressions. Everything ranging from “Peace is serenity” to “Peace is Jesus Christ in my heart” to “Peace is quiet and calm” and “Peace is no war and no fighting.” And, a whole lot of other things, besides.

This kind of peace Paul describes is not just personal peace, and individual peace. This kind of peace Paul talks about is peace in the larger sense. Peace among regions, between people groups, and even between countries. We can see the progression in Paul’s thought. The spread of truth and of the Good News of Jesus Christ is facilitated when peace exists among the nations. In Paul’s day, the Roman Empire, the Roman transportation system and the Pax Romana made the spread of the Gospel easier. Then as today, peaceful interaction between countries and regions opens doors for the Good News.

See what Paul says in verse 4. God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” So then, when we pray for government and for the authorities, we can confidently pray that there be peace for the maximizing of the spread of the Good News.

Paul gives us the basics of prayer and worship. Remember what I often say? Prayer time is one of my favorite times in the worship service. Paul tells us we are to pray for all people; and we are to follow Paul’s lead in supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings. The intention of such prayers is so that we Christians in society will be able to live tranquil and quiet lives. This isn’t me saying it. It’s the apostle Paul!

Regardless of whether there is peace in our church, peace in our neighborhood, or peace in our country, prayer is always a good idea. A close relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the reason we are here. Praise God! Thank You, Jesus. Alleluia, amen.

If anyone would like to know more about how to come to know God in a closer, more intimate way, I would be glad to tell you.

[1]  http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday25ce.html Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

[2] New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on 1 Timothy, James D.G. Dunn, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994)

[3] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday25ce.html Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

@chaplaineliza

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