Searching for Jesus

“Searching for Jesus”

Luke 2-48 boy-jesus-in-the-temple-with-rabbis

Luke 2:41-52 (2:51) – December 30, 2018

Have you ever lost a child? Or a grandchild? I have, briefly. What a nightmare for a parent or grandparent. I remember how worried I was, and how I called and called for my oldest daughter. That is the situation we see in our Gospel reading this morning from Luke 2. Can you imagine Mary and Joseph’s panic and fear when they suddenly realize their son had disappeared from their large group of relatives and friends from Nazareth?

I remember how frightened I was when I searched for my child, and I just searched for my four-year old daughter for five minutes in a department store. I cannot even imagine how shocked and terrified Mary and Joseph were, when they finally figured out that Jesus had not even started out with His family in the morning, leaving Jerusalem.

Let us consider what we know from the Gospels. We know a lot about the time right before and after Jesus was born. Luke tells us a lot, in the first and second chapters of his Gospel record. We can assume he interviewed Jesus’s mother Mary herself. (Otherwise, how on earth would he know certain intimate details about Mary’s pregnancy and birth?)

Also, the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew lets us in on Joseph’s side of the birth narrative. We find out that Joseph also had a visit from an angel, to let him know the particulars about the Child his fiancée was carrying. Matthew’s Gospel also tells us of the visit from the wise men, or Magi, that we will hear about next week. But, what else do the Gospels tell about the child Jesus, or the teenager Jesus? Other than this narrative from Luke 2, absolutely nothing.

In such an age of constant, 24/7 news and endless information through the computer and other media such as we live in right now, this lack of biblical information might amaze us. However we might feel about it, this Gospel reading today is the only snapshot we get of Jesus between the time He was a toddler and the time of His baptism, at 30 years old. What can we learn from this narrative? Can we search out some message, some meaning for us today?

We begin with Mary and Joseph. As Luke relates, after searching throughout their caravan of relatives and friends on the way back from Jerusalem, after the Passover celebration, Mary and Joseph cannot find their son. So, they quickly return to the capital city, to Jerusalem, to do more searching.

The Gospel tells us they spent three days looking for Jesus. Not three hours, but three whole days. What a predicament! What an emotional impact this must have had on His parents. Jesus was twelve years old. I realize that we are talking about a different time and a different culture, but, still. Mary and Joseph must have been beyond frantic.

Have you ever been frustrated, or frantic beyond belief, and really wanted to have God step in and take charge? And, it seemed that God just did not show up? I remember searching for God several times in my twenties and thirties, when I was in several continuing predicaments. I couldn’t seem to find God, when I needed God the most. Several times, I distinctly remember searching for Jesus, even crying out to Him for help. And, I had difficulty finding Him.

Have you ever searched for Jesus, and He just could not be found? That was what happened to Mary and Joseph when they searched Jerusalem diligently for three whole days. No sign of Jesus.

Let us continue with today’s reading from Luke, starting at verse 46: “46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” After searching in all different places, Mary and Joseph finally track Jesus down. They find Him at the Temple, talking with the most knowledgeable teachers of the Bible, and asking them questions. I suspect Jesus also was trained well in the traditions and understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, so He probably was involved in high-level discussion, too.

When Mary and Joseph finally find their son, Mary takes the lead: “48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” As we can see, Mary and Joseph love Jesus very much, and are very concerned and fearful about Him. “Yes, it’s great that he is alive, and yes, it’s good to see him sitting with teachers and discussing religious matters, but why should they reward disobedience to their parental authority?” [1]

Let’s look at this situation from Jesus’s point of view. He was obviously learning and stretching his quickly-maturing mind. Some theologians and bible teachers do not care for this, because they want Jesus to have all the answers—even at twelve years old. “For some, the question is, “Didn’t he understand his own divinity?” For others, the question is, “If he understands his divinity, how authentic was his experience as a human being?” The text reads, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor’” Dr. Irving Cotto says about Jesus: “so, we find him learning the ropes of his faith, and perhaps deepening his understanding of who is and what he is called to do as the Messiah.” [2]

As we puzzle through this Gospel reading this morning, I wonder. Was the young Jesus searching out parts of His own overarching story? We can see Him having unusual depth and insight for one just on the brink of teenager-hood. Were we—from our vantage point and viewpoint of almost 2000 years, also searching for Jesus? Wondering where and when He would show up? When Jesus is found in the Temple, are we surprised, too?

Jesus has the last word in today’s reading. “49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[a] 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them. 51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.”

Perhaps Mary, to her credit, treasures the story because she does not yet understand. From Gabriel’s initial message through the shepherds tracking her down in Bethle­hem, astounding events have been buffeting her world. Now she has a rebuke from her son to wrestle with. She’s honest enough to know she’s got some further thinking to do.” [3]

Are we honest enough to wrestle with this reading? Yes, there are things of historical and cultural interest here, but if we focus on that, we miss the point. Jesus looks at us and asks us, “What are you searching for?” When believers get too comfortable with Jesus, He goes beyond what is our comfort level. Jesus reorders expectations and society’s norms. Jesus turns everything upside down and surprises everyone—in the first century as well as the twenty-first.

What kind of message does He have for us? This reading is a reminder that like Jesus, “we also must be about our heavenly parent’s business. As a mother and a father, God wants us to give an account of our whereabouts, but at the same time wants us to explore, discern, ask questions, and search for answers.” [4]

Please God, we are searching for Jesus, too. Will we find Him, today?

[1] https://www.christiancentury.org/article/living-word/december-30-christmas-1c-luke-241-52

Living by the Word, David Keck, The Christian Century, 2018.

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/advent-christmas-epiphany-2018-19-worship-planning-series/december-30-first-sunday-after-christmas-year-c/first-sunday-after-christmas-day-2018-year-c-preaching-notes

[3] https://www.christiancentury.org/article/living-word/december-30-christmas-1c-luke-241-52

Living by the Word, David Keck, The Christian Century, 2018.

[4] Ibid.

@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!

Peace Be with All of Us

“Peace Be with All of Us”

peace be with you, formal

Luke 24:36-49 (24:36) – April 15, 2018

Sometimes I just feel like pulling the covers over my head and not getting up in the morning. Wars, rumors of wars, bombings, fires, gas attacks, and these were just in the past week. Seriously, with all of the scary and shocking things going on in the world, the world can be a downright scary place.

No matter whether we live today in the United States or two thousand years ago in occupied Israel, there can be a lot of scary and confusing stuff going on.

In the case of our Gospel reading today, the scary and confusing stuff was going on right in Jerusalem. It was the time of the Passover, during what we today call the Passion Week. As we have been considering for the past few weeks, the occupying Roman forces in Jerusalem are watching the festival and worship situation very closely.

Sure, there are a great number of visitors from all over the known world, in Jerusalem for that great festival, Passover. But, the Roman forces must have doubled down on the populace in the city. And, even more, since the Rabbi Jesus had just entered the city only a few days before. He made a huge commotion, too, what with riding in on a donkey (like King David) on Palm Sunday, debating in the Temple during the week with the scribes, Pharisees and Sanhedrin, and getting arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane late on Thursday night and accused being Messiah. And, the crucifixion on Friday? Quite a week, for the occupying Roman forces.

Yes, we know some things in general about the disciples. They scattered, running away. Hiding, afraid that since their leader and Rabbi was just executed by the Romans on Friday, they might be arrested and executed next. In fact, Peter even denied knowing Jesus while in the high priest’s courtyard. He must have been scared to death, too.

The upper room, a larger room on the second floor of a building in Jerusalem, was one place where the disciples felt at least half-way safe. They were huddled up there, in hiding, trying to keep a low profile. Luke tells us the male disciples had already dismissed what the women disciples had told them about their Rabbi, early that morning. Something about an empty tomb, and their dead Rabbi gone. Even though Peter and John had run to the tomb and checked things out for themselves, they still did not have a clear idea what was going on.

This year, the lectionary does not have us look at the post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus when He walks with the two disciples from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus. In brief, our commentator Dr. Mark Vitalis Hoffman summarizes this section of Luke 24: “Two from the group of followers of Jesus were going to Emmaus when they encounter, but do not recognize, Jesus. They express their disappointed hope that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel, but Jesus explains how everything that happened was necessary according to Scripture. The two invite Jesus to spend the night with them. During the meal, when Jesus blessed and broke the bread, their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus, but he vanished from their sight. They rush back to Jerusalem and report to the gathered believers what had happened.” [1]

It is later that day that our Gospel reading picks up. Later in the evening, many disciples (I am assuming both male and female) are in hiding in the upper room. Luke specifically has the two disciples from Emmaus telling the rest about their encounter with Jesus.

Yet, the rest of the disciples are having difficulty believing, understanding. Even though several of these same disciples had angels and Jesus Himself telling them of the Resurrection, what gives? I suspect many of them are still paralyzed with fear. Scared to death. Afraid of the Roman soldiers coming around and knocking on the door at any moment, ready to carry off some of the disciples to be crucified, too.

How often have we been really afraid? Almost scared to death? Terror can paralyze a person. Fear can cause us to disbelieve, to run away, to get angry and fly off the handle. Don’t you think the disciples needed Jesus right then? When He appeared miraculously in their midst, many of them were still unbelieving. Still scared to death.

I think the first thing out of Jesus’s mouth was the most needed of all: “Peace be with you!” Do you hear? Jesus went straight to the heart of the disciples’ fear, their anxiety, their unbelief, and said “Peace be with you!”

Yes, we could talk about what happened after that, when some disciples thought Jesus was a ghost, so He ate a piece of fish to show His friends that He really, actually, had come back to life. Yes, we could talk about Jesus opening the disciples’ minds to the truth of the Scriptures, and how they were to be witnesses of the Good News and the forgiveness of sins.

I would like to go back to the first thing Jesus said: “Peace be with you!” During the Children’s Time, I talked about peace. There are many greetings in different languages that mean “Peace.” “Aloha in Hawaiian means affection, peace, compassion and mercy. Shalom (Hebrew) and Salaam (Arabic) mean peace, complete-ness, and prosperity. Aloha, Shalom, and Salaam can be used on meeting or departing.” [2]

Jesus wished the disciples His peace several times, recorded in the Gospels, including right here. This word is not only wishing a person peace, but “peace, shalom, and salaam” can also be wishing a person God’s presence. The disciples really needed that, too!

In the New Testament reading today from 1 John chapter 3, the aged disciple John tells us that we are the children of God. I remember when I was a mom of young children, sometimes then would get afraid. Sometimes I would comfort them, and hold them on my lap or give them hugs. Don’t you think it’s the same way with God? When we get afraid, even scared to death, we can run into God’s everlasting arms of care and concern. Our Lord Jesus can send us His peace.

The disciples really needed peace, first of all! Perhaps, they needed it most of all. God can send peace into the world today, too. Including peace into conflict in the Middle East, peace in warring regions in Africa and Asia, peace into difficult places in Central and South America. God can send peace to the streets of the cities of our country.

Jesus offers us comfort and peace, just the same way that parents (and grandparents) do. Jesus sends closeness, caring and loving, in addition to His peace.

Can you and I reach out in peace, in shalom, in wholeness and with God’s love? That is the message on my heart from the Gospel reading today. Reach out with God’s peace. Offer God’s peace to those around you today, and every day.

We can praise God for God’s peace and wholeness. God’s peace is a sure antidote to fear, today, and every day.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3627

Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman Associate Professor of Biblical Studies Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/03/year-b-third-sunday-of-easter-april-19.html

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

Follow Jesus on Palm Sunday

“Follow Jesus on Palm Sunday”

Jesus Palm Sunday - Giotto di Bonde, Entry into Jerusalem 1304-06, Fresco, Cappella Scrovegni Arena Chapel, Padua

Mark 11:1-11 (11:9) – March 25, 2018

            Have you ever been at a really big celebration? I mean a public celebration—like a ticker-tape parade, a celebration of a world championship, or the visit of an A-list celebrity? Something really, really big?

            From all the descriptions of the Palm Sunday Triumphal Entry in all four Gospels, that’s kind of what we are looking at today in our scripture passage. The celebration is really big, the Rabbi Jesus was a big-name celebrity, and this special entry into Jerusalem was a first-century type of a ticker-tape parade. Except with palms!

            Let’s take a closer look. Here’s the situation: It’s almost Passover, the most important religious observance of the religious year. A great number of faithful Jews from near and far come to Jerusalem, in pilgrimage, in commemoration of the Exodus event.

Jesus comes, too. He publicly, intentionally enters Jerusalem, even though the religious leaders are not pleased with Him or what He has been doing for the past few years. Jesus’s disciples must have known about the prophecy of an entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. This was clearly a scene with “Messiah” written all over it.

And, Jesus does not sneak into the city, all hush-hush. No! He comes in with a parade! With crowds of people waving palms and shouting “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Jesus had been planning this entry in to Jerusalem for some time. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 9, we can already see that He intended to do this thing. But here in our reading today from Mark, we see a concise account, relating what happened. Little additional information. We can see that from the other Gospels. This way of telling the account reminds me that Mark did not waste much time. He wrote mostly for a Roman audience, who had little time or inclination to wade through genealogies (like Matthew) or background information (like Luke). I think of Mark as the journalist of the four Gospel writers: “just the facts, ma’am.” And, Mark’s use of “immediately!” carries us right along from one situation to the next.

Except, our Gospel reading today is a culmination. We follow Jesus right into Jerusalem at this most holy time of the year—either the Jewish Year or the Christian calendar. With the entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, Jesus was certainly reminding everyone of a prophecy from Psalm 118.

What is the meaning of those cries of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord?” If we look at Psalm 118, we’ll find these words written by the psalmist. This was the usual Passover greeting one person would give another, except with the addition of the word “King.” And just to let you all know, the majority of the crowd in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday morning understood what they were quoting—they were intentionally welcoming someone they hoped would be their Messiah, their King! Someone who would save them from the awful situation they were in.

            There was a disconnect between the people and their limited understanding, and what Jesus actually was going to do. But I’m getting ahead of myself by rushing on to later in Holy Week. We are still here on Palm Sunday. And everyone is still excited to welcome the Rabbi Jesus—their hoped-for Messiah—into the city. They are hoping He will save them from the Romans and maybe, possibly, become their King. Except they had an earthly King in mind.

In Mark’s Gospel, we hear no mention of children. As one of my commentators says, this was an adult-inspired and led event. She suspects children did get into the act, but they were joining the adults. [1]  Remember the palm processions featuring children, on Palm Sunday? Either at this church, or at other services you may have attended over the years? This is not strictly biblical. We ought to make the palm procession intergenerational! That is truly what the impromptu parade was like. And then, when children participate with their parents, grandparents, other adults and leaders of the church, children can understand that this is a very important parade. And, a very important thing in the life of Jesus.

When Jesus enters Jerusalem, the rambunctious crowd calls out for the coming kingdom of their ancestor David. Messiah was supposed to be related to David, and Messiah’s coming was a time of peace on earth. But, the coming of Jesus causes a division. It causes anything but peace on earth.

The theologian Tom Mullen makes this statement about his denomination (Society of Friends or Quakers): “They work for peace — and if you really want to cause conflict, you work for peace.” [2] So it was for the Rabbi Jesus—the Messiah Jesus riding into Jerusalem. Even though we want to follow Jesus in peaceful ways, Jesus and His message created division, tension, and crisis—as seen by the violent reaction of the religious leaders.

But thank God, Jesus is more powerful than any division, any tension, any crisis. Jesus entered the city not as an earthly King, not as a conqueror, not to set up a nationalistic empire, but as the True Redeemer of Israel. And not of just Israel, but also of the whole world. This Holy Week is where all of the prophecies focus to a fine point, and reveal the Rabbi Jesus as not only the Messiah and King, but also as the Suffering Servant. The Lamb of God, sent to take away the sins of the world.

As we remember this Passover time, this Holy Week, we can thank God that our Lord Jesus did enter Jerusalem. As a King, as a Messiah, yes! But also as our Redeemer and Savior. Praise God, Jesus is our Redeemer and Savior, just as much as He was Redeemer and Savior for that crowd in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday. In the first century, Jesus came to save His people from their sins. Praise God, He came to save us, today, too! Amen! And amen!

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/01/year-b-palm-passion-sunday-march-29-2015.html

Worshiping with Children, Palm/Passion Sunday, 2015. Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2012.

[2] Mullen, Thomas, Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences (Waco, TX: Word Publishers, 1983), 50.

Looking for Jesus

“Looking for Jesus”

William Holman Hunt, “Finding of the Saviour in the Temple,” 1854-60

William Holman Hunt, “Finding of the Saviour in the Temple,” 1854-60

Luke 2:48-49 – December 27, 2015

Christmas time is here! Called by some the most wonderful time of the year. Certainly, one of the busiest times, what with parties, social gatherings, visiting at relatives’ homes, and so many extra things on people’s to-do lists. Yes, Christmas is now over, but we are still right smack in the middle of the winter holidays.

Our Gospel reading from Luke today is right smack in the middle of the holidays, too. Except—right in the middle of the Passover holiday, in the spring. An extra special holiday, to be sure! This is one of the rare glimpses we receive of the young Jesus, before the beginning of His ministry. When we do get a glimpse of Jesus as a growing boy, Dr. Luke doesn’t say much more than Jesus was “increasing in wisdom and in years, and in favor with God and people.”

Most people know the Christmas story from Luke chapters 1 and 2 so well. You remember. Angel visitations, miraculous statements, heavenly choruses. And, capped by the birth of the Messiah, the Lord, who will save His people from their sins. And then—we have this sort of addendum. This conclusion of Luke chapter 2.

As Scott Hoezee says in his commentary, “we have a story as mundane, as utterly earthly and simple as they come: lost child. Panicked parents. A frantic search. The whole thing started with angels and it ends . . . paging for a lost child on the P.A. system at Walmart?” [1]

Let’s take a closer look at our passage from Luke chapter 2. This reading is from “The Message,” the excellent version translated by Eugene Peterson, starting at verse 41.

41-45 Every year Jesus’ parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. When He was twelve years old, they went up as they always did for the Feast. When it was over and they left for home, the child Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but His parents didn’t know it. Thinking He was somewhere in the company of pilgrims, they journeyed for a whole day and then began looking for Jesus among relatives and neighbors. When they didn’t find Him, they went back to Jerusalem looking for Him.”

Now, from Jesus’s point of view, His decision to stay behind in Jerusalem for several days made sense to Him. He may have wanted to get to know God a little better. And, Nazareth was only a small town away up north, far away from the capital city of Jerusalem. I suspect Jesus wanted to talk further with the knowledgeable rabbis and teachers in the Temple, too.

But, from His parents’ point of view? How many of us have served as parents or adults, responsible for young children in our care? Did any of us have a child turn up lost? What must Mary and Joseph have been feeling, during that time when they did not know where Jesus was?

This reminds me of my oldest daughter, when she was just a preschooler. I was at a department store in Chicago with my two children (at that time), my older daughter just turned three, and my second daughter a baby strapped in a stroller. I was looking at clothing on the round metal racks that are common to many department stores. As I looked at clothing and tried to keep track of my young daughter at the same time, she got lost. I could not find her, and she was much too small to see me over the clothing racks.

It only took me about five minutes of searching to discover where she had gone, but that time was desperately anxious for me and traumatic for my daughter—I suspect those five minutes seemed to go on forever. She was lost. She did not know where she was, or where I was. She was all alone, far from her home and familiar things, until I found her and reassured her that everything was all right.

Back to our Gospel text, from Luke 2.

46-48 The next day they found Jesus in the Temple seated among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. The teachers were all quite taken with Him, impressed with the sharpness of His answers. But His parents were not impressed; they were upset and hurt. His mother said, ‘Young man, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you.’”

As one commentary notes, “Mary and Joseph spend 48 hours before finally tumbling to the idea that just maybe they should check the Temple. ‘I can’t imagine he’d be there’ they must have said to each other, ‘but we we’re running out of likely places, so let’s check.’ For his part Jesus is merely confused. The Temple was the first place they should have looked, as it turns out. Jesus was ‘home’ at the Temple. His parents don’t understand, however. They are too flush with a combination of intense relief and a little abiding post-traumatic stress to be able to suss it all out just then.” [2]

Let’s take a closer look at Jesus’s response: “49-50 He said, ‘Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?’ But they had no idea what he was talking about.”

Many learned biblical scholars have tried to puzzle out this divine mystery. The mystery of Jesus being at once human and divine, at the same time. Here, we have just a glimpse of what this may have been like for Jesus.

The twelve year old boy Jesus probably knew Himself as human. Just as His parents and other family were, and the other children in his town. I wonder whether Jesus was starting to understand by this time that He was fully divine, as well? Yes, some verses in the Gospels tell us He did have an awareness of being divine. Of having Godly attributes. However, I wonder whether He was starting to realize the special call on His life, even now?

We don’t know for sure; we aren’t told. But, do you think this could be why Jesus wanted to stay in the Temple? To talk with those knowledgeable about the Scriptures?

To finish the reading: “51-52 So Jesus went back to Nazareth with them, and lived obediently with them. His mother held these things dearly, deep within herself. And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people.”

Dr. Luke is a faithful reporter. He tells us the facts, as they were related to him. But we don’t know the back story, Jesus’s feelings, His reasoning. Did the Temple have a draw on His life, even at the age of twelve? Did it feel more like home than his family home in Nazareth? Luke doesn’t say.

We know that Mary was a reflective woman. She treasured up these many wonderful things, and also the things that perplexed and troubled her. And, we can ponder these things in our hearts, hold these thoughts dearly, deep within ourselves, just like Mary did.

We know today, from the testimony of all the Scriptures, that Jesus is at the same time fully God and fully man. Yes, that is why He came down from heaven to be born of Mary. This is the good news brought to us by the angel chorus. The Eternal Second Person of the Trinity, Creator of the whole universe, God the Son, emptied Himself of all God-ness. Took on humanity, and was born as a helpless Baby. Good news of great joy for all the people.

Jesus. Messiah. He will save His people from their sins. Fully God, fully human, at the same time. Yes, it’s a mystery. It’s a miracle. For a closing hymn, we will sing “Once in Royal David’s City,” one of my favorite Christmas carols. Please notice the words of verses 2 and 3. Talking about Jesus being human. And then, verse 4 tells us of the future, when we will be with Jesus forever, in heaven.

We can all say alleluia, amen, to that!

(The congregational response to this sermon will be the Nicene Creed.)

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!

[1] Sermon Starters for the Week, Scott Hoezee, textual notes, illustrations, commentary, Center for Excellence in Preaching, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

My thanks and deep appreciation for Eugene Peterson’s translation of selected verses from Luke 2;  “Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.”

Generous With Our Actions

“Generous With Our Actions”  (delivered at St. Luke’s Church, Morton Grove, Illinois)

John 5:8-9 – March 1, 2015

Ever know someone who is a pessimist? A sad sack? Always down in the mouth? Things constantly seem to go wrong for this poor guy! (Or, girl, depending.) Our Gospel reading has someone who seems to typify this type of person. I am talking about a starring character in this passage from John Chapter 5.

Let’s set the scene. Here we are, in Jerusalem. The Rabbi Jesus came to the city periodically. He was an itinerant rabbi, after all, traveling through Galilee, Judea, even Samaria. Jesus and His followers came to the capital city to worship at the Temple on a regular basis. While Jesus and His friends were walking by a famous healing pool called Bethesda, Jesus must have seen a great number of people who were sick, lame, and otherwise disabled.

According to one of my commentaries, the famous pool was placed right over a stream which still flowed underneath the city of Jerusalem. That reminds me of something we have in abundance here—water! Little streams and waterways flow right through this whole area of Morton Grove, a former wetlands area. Our trustee Bob tells me we have a small section of the church parking lot where there is a source of water underneath. Last summer, when the parking lot was stripped and repaved, the water started bubbling up.

So, I can relate, in part, to this reading. Apparently, the underground stream beneath the pool of Bethesda made the waters of the pool bubble up periodically. And, the folklore of that area had a tale to explain the bubbling. An angel came and stirred the water around. Made it bubble up. The first person in the water after the bubbling was healed! Or so the local tale of healing went. So, many blind, lame, or paralyzed people used to sit or lie on the sides of the pool, just waiting for the next time the waters were stirred up.

It’s not uncommon for people who have various illnesses to gather around mineral springs. Think of the springs around Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. Or, in our own country, of the waters of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Long before the Spaniards arrived on our shores, the waters already had a name for healing and being curative.

Let’s go back to the pool of Bethesda. There was a complication here. A snag. I am not sure exactly how Jesus found out about this particular man—out of all the poor people lying and waiting around the pool. Perhaps He was told about a particularly sad tale about a paralyzed man who had been lying there next to the pool for thirty-eight years. Imagine! Thirty-eight years!

This is the man I was thinking about when I started my sermon. The sad sack. Nothing ever went right for this poor guy! I wouldn’t blame him for being depressed and disappointed with his life. Things certainly hadn’t been particularly rosy for this man. Not for a long time.

Let me ask again. Do you know anyone who often is pessimistic? Sad? Disappointed in life? Has life continued to give him—or youor me—only lemons? I know two people like this. One, in particular, always has problems with his house. He isn’t handy, so he regularly needs to call handymen. Or contractors. Or the plumber. If it isn’t one thing, it’s the other. And if it isn’t the house, it’s his car. Almost as if he was walking around underneath a portable raincloud. Raining on his head all the time. Or so it seems.

With a life full of sadness and disappointments, this paralyzed man who had been by the pool for thirty-eight years must have had huge barriers and blocks built up! Built up, at least, in his mind. In his expectations. In his whole demeanor. It’s how he lives. It’s his—sad—lot in life.

What does the Rabbi Jesus ask this man? John tells us Jesus knew the man had been lying there for a long time. But, listen closely to Jesus’ question: “Do you want to be made whole?”

Here’s one possible response, borrowed from a sermon by a fellow minister.

“No thanks, I think I’ll just stay here on my pallet and wait for the waters to ripple. I’ve been here 38 years and I know what to expect and I know all of the other people nearby. True, I’m probably not going to get better, but – you know – I’ve gotten used to being here. So, thanks all the same, Jesus, but I’ll just continue to lie here.” This kind of response from the man can be understandable.

Let’s go one step further and listen again to this middle-aged, perhaps even older paralyzed man grumbling to Jesus. “These young whippersnappers, lying next to the pool! Can you imagine, these young punks can get to the water before me! Then, they get healed! So, I’m always too late!” As we listen, we can hear this man’s chronic complaining, his excuses, his inability to get to the healing waters in time.

We come back to Jesus, again. Remember, He asked this man whether he wanted to be made whole. Essentially, whether he wanted to change. Change can be scary! Change can be different, even difficult—something this man has probably never experienced before! Lying by the pool? Waiting for the waters to bubble up? That’s what that paralyzed man knew, and knew well. Getting up, and being made whole?? That could be really scary for this man!

Jesus knew this man was scared. Tentative. Possibly, downright disbelieving. But—Jesus, being Jesus, knew exactly what this paralyzed man needed. He needed to get actively involved in his own healing! Not simply to be a passive recipient of Jesus’ gift of healing, His gift of generosity. So Jesus said, “Stand up. Take up your mat, and walk.” This man was to take an active part in his own healing process!

We don’t have a blow-by-blow report of exactly what happened as this man tottered to his feet, or how his muscles and ligaments were miraculously healed and renewed, so he could stand and walk again. All we do know is that what Jesus commanded, happened! Praise God!

Just as Jesus did not want this man to passively receive healing, in the same way, Jesus doesn’t want passive people today, people who just lie on the couch, or sit in the pew. He wants us—that’s all of us—to be active! Actively involved in responding in joy, meaning and purpose.

Just as the paralyzed man found his legs were strong, so we can start being active, and finding our legs are strong enough for us to walk—or even sit—beside others who are in pain and need help. Our arms are actively empowered to embrace our enemies and the outcasts. And remember the paralyzed man and his excuses? When we are actively involved in showing people the love and generosity of God, we no longer make excuses.

At this church, we have many ways for members and friends to be active! Actively involved in showing the generosity of Jesus. The Maine Township Food Pantry. By bringing a few cans or jars or boxes for the pantry and putting them in with the rest of the collection out in the narthex, that’s getting involved! What about the Diaper Pantry, our mission agency of the week? We can buy some diapers and drop them off in the collection barrel in the hallway. And, volunteering at the Kids Academy, the preschool here at the church during the week. Come ask me after the service, and I’ll be happy to give you further information. Those are just three of many excellent ways to actively get involved, and to show the love and generosity of God.

God encourages each of us to get up off our mats—off our pews, too. We can go out into the community, and serve others. Just as Jesus did for this paralyzed man, so we are encouraged to be actively generous to others. Like this formerly-paralyzed man, we, too, can walk forward to new life in Jesus Christ.

Praise God! Amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions for Lent 2015. Do Lent generously!

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)