The Word Became Flesh

“The Word Became Flesh”

John 1:14 – December 27, 2020

            We all use language. Every day. In conversation at home, on the cellphone, or at work. Reading a news site or writing e-mail. Words communicate meaning, ideas, stories. Each one of us has a personal story. Each story is individual and unique. Our stories are communicated using words and language, and each individual has a creative, unique way to tell his or her story.

The story of a personal life makes sense because it is part of a larger story, the Story that has the story of Jesus Christ at its center. This story of God’s initiative calls for my gratitude and response, a Story some theologians have called ‘the history of salvation.’ It is the Story set forth in the Word of God that crosses boundaries and transcends lines of race, class, culture and age.

Our Scripture text for tonight, the first 14 verses of John’s Gospel, is a restatement of an old theme. Remember Genesis 1:1? “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Scholars believe the apostle John was thinking of that introduction to the Greatest Story ever told. John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word.” John reframed that Story, and gave it a new look from a different perspective.

            The almighty God wanted to communicate with us puny, limited human beings. But how was God supposed to communicate God’s Story? What with the stress, anxiety, isolation and depression running rampant, all across our country? For that matter, what about communicating God’s Story in the time of COVID?

            The Gospel of John tells us how, no matter what the earthly situation holds. In the beginning was the Word. The Word was God. The Word is God. Jesus is the Word. John 1:14 says that the Word, Jesus, became flesh,  and . . . the Word dwelt among us.

            Think about it: the whole idea of God becoming a helpless baby, able to feel cold and heat, to be hungry and thirsty, with blood and bones, a nervous system and a digestive system. So staggering was this idea that some of the people in John’s day could not believe it. God? the creative God who made heaven and earth? Coming to earth as a helpless, human baby? No way!!

            And, not only did this Creator God appear in creation so that our eyes could see Him, this almighty God has the crazy idea of dwelling among people. Becoming one of us limited human beings, sharing our food and living in our midst. Jesus became fully man. He didn’t just seem to be a man, and pretend to be human. He really and truly became man, living with us as one of us.

            What a way for the almighty, eternal, creative God to communicate to us in a way that we limited human beings might possibly understand. God also wanted humanity to understand His Word made flesh, the one called Jesus of Nazareth.

            A good many years ago, a bible translator went to a remote, mountainous region in the interior of Africa. He worked hard at turning an obscure oral language into a written language, which involved decoding the language, writing a grammar, learning extensive vocabulary, and finally translating a portion of the Bible into the heart language of that particular people-group.

            After years of intense work and language preparation, when he felt he was ready, the missionary made his presentation of the Story of Jesus to a group of headmen from the tribe. He was surprised at their response, which was unlike any he had ever had before in all his years of telling people the Story of Jesus. The men just sat there in silence. Then, the chief came forward.

            The chief grasped the missionary’s hands and, with tears in his eyes, thanked him for coming to tell them the Story of Jesus. “This Story of good news is the one my people have waited for, all their lives long!!” And then came the clincher: the chief asked, “Your tribe has had this Story for many, many years. What took you so long to tell us?”

            This is a Story that can change people’s lives for eternity. Telling the God’s story in someone’s heart language is one of the best ways to communicate how much God loves us.

            Praise the Lord that God sent Jesus into this world, the Word incarnate, the Word that became a helpless baby in Bethlehem. Praise God that God has repaired that broken relationship with us, and to be called the children of God. The Lord loved us so much that God gave His only begotten Son on our behalf, to reconcile us to God for eternity.

            Gloria in excelsis Deo.

@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!

Encourage Each Other

“Encourage Each Other” – November 8, 2020

1 Thessalonians 4:15-18

            Today’s lectionary Scripture readings show us more about the times to come. Or, some say, the end times. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we hurried up and got to the end of days and met the Lord in the air? That is exactly what our Scripture reading describes today.

            Here the apostle Paul calms the fears of his Thessalonian church. His former church members are mourning the deaths of some of their congregation, and they wrote to Paul to ask what happened to their friends and loved ones. Where did they go after they died?

            That is a great question! As a hospital chaplain, I was sometimes asked that very question. What happens after we die? Sometimes I’d be asked by a loved one, sitting by the bed of a dying patient. But, sometimes the patient – who had just received the worst news you can possibly receive – would ask me that question, in all sincerity. With all their heart.

            When we are talking about life and death matters, many other things pale in comparison. I have walked the halls in the intensive care unit, or cardiac care, late at night or early in the morning. I have seen loved ones keeping vigil next to patients’ beds. I have hesitated, not wanting to disturb their intimate time with their precious family member. Yet, Paul’s words go straight to the heart of this vital question. What happens when we die?

            Considering our Bible reading today, commentator Scott Hoezee says, “Probably the Thessalonians did not know Jesus’ words from John 11, but if they could hear Jesus telling Martha that ’anyone who believes in me will never die,’ they may have heard that as confirming this idea that being a Christian meant not dying.  Ever.

“And then members of their church started dying.  Funerals were being held after all.  A cloud of painful questions arose: were these people not Christians after all?  Had they had inadequate faith?  If so, how can any of us be sure we are good and faithful enough?  Paul had said it was all faith, all grace, all Jesus.  But is it?  Or, far more darkly, was Paul just wrong?  Is the Gospel a hoax?  Is there no true victory of life over death?[1]

            Again, Paul reminds us: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of humankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

            As I write this sermon, the nation is still on tenterhooks, wondering who the next President of the United States will be. This nation is more divided now than in any time I can remember in recent history. Whoever “wins” will have an extremely difficult next four years in office, with all of the upheaval and dissention in this country. How will we manage to bridge such a cavernous gap? “Regardless of what we read in the headlines, whether or not it goes the way we hoped, how it brings discord, how can there be a place of peace in us, even in the midst of upheaval?” [2] How can we continue to live Godly lives in such a turbulent time?

            Are these not similar to the serious questions that the Thessalonian congregation brought to their pastor Paul? Paul brought words of encouragement and comfort to his former church. Yes, and words of great hope, too! “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

            I am not minimizing the turbulent times we are living through, right now. This past week. These next weeks and months ahead. Yet, I am taking Paul at his word. He tells us to encourage each other with these supremely hopeful words to the Thessalonians.

Yes, we are living through times of great distress and tumult. Yes, many may feel like the mountains are crumbling and falling into the sea, as Psalm 46 tells us. I preached on Psalm 46 just two weeks ago, and we found hope and encouragement through that sermon. This precious psalm also grounds us, always giving space to both feel the turmoil and to have a center of peace, unshaken by the headlines and the prevailing news of the day.

This center of peace is not a forced peace brought on by force of arms or oppression, but a peace that grows from the very nature of the One who rules with justice and joy, our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the peace that passes all understanding, God’s peace that knows no boundaries, no divisions, no human separation or dissention.

Let us visualize, for just a moment, God’s peace that passes all understanding. Now, God’s hope that fills our hopeless and helpless lives and hearts. And now, God’s love that is so all encompassing, it can fill the whole universe. That is one mighty and powerful God.

Yes, Paul tells us to encourage each other with these words.

Alleluia. Amen.


[1] https://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-27a-2/?type=lectionary_epistle

The Center for Excellence in Preaching, resources from Calvin Theological Seminary: Comments & Observations, Textual Points, Illustration Ideas, 2017.

[2] https://www.missioalliance.org/a-nation-waits-seeking-a-center-of-peace/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+missioalliance%2FEQtW+%28Missio+Alliance%29

@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!

Through God’s Strength!

“Through God’s Strength!” – September 19, 2020

Philippians 4:12-20 (4:12-14)

When people have food, shelter, employment, and money, it’s easy to be content and happy. Isn’t it? Or, is it easy to be poor, hungry, unemployed and homeless? What would the apostle Paul’s answer to that question be?

This is our last sermon from Philippians. We are looking again at the apostle Paul, in prison, in a really awful situation. Shackled to a Roman soldier, 24 hours a day, with no privacy, in a cold, dank, drafty stone cell.

For the past eight weeks, we have considered Paul and his words to his friends from Philippi. He wrote this thank-you letter to the Philippians congregation, and it was one of the most joy-filled letters we have, included in the New Testament.

Do you know how much it means for a friend to send a message, an email, a card or letter, especially when you are downhearted and close to giving up hope? That is what Paul’s former congregation in Philippi did. They showed “a love and concern that led them to help Paul. The most significant gifts often cost us very little—sometimes nothing, except a few moments to say a friendly word or the make a telephone call or send an email, the stamp to post a letter or a card. What matters is that someone has been remembered with affection and concern.” [1]

Paul says he knows what it’s like to be poor, and he knows what it’s like to have abundance, in verse 12. I know there are many in the United States who may consider themselves to be poor, but I wonder whether you realize quite what Paul was talking about here.

We could drill down to find out more about economic, educational and societal poverty worldwide. For example, according to the United Nations latest report on poverty in 2019, 23 percent of the world population – that’s 1.3 billion people – lived in abject poverty worldwide. Just to give you an idea of how little money we are talking about, that is living on approximately $1 a day, or less.

Paul did not mean just economic poverty. He also was talking about poverty of spirit, poverty of emotional wherewithal, poverty of humility and ability to persevere.

We all know something about that. Who has not felt the pinch of poverty of spirit in the past six months? In the past six months, who has not had their emotions shredded raw, like raw vegetables on a kitchen grater? Never mind about humility, who has felt their ability to persevere stretched very, very thin? I know I have. And, I suspect I am not the only one, by far.

 Paul could have been in despair, being in prison, charged with a capital crime. He was facing possible death. Yet, he wrote one of the most joy-filled letters in the New Testament. What was his secret? How did Paul keep his chin up?

He tells us, right here. In today’s Scripture reading, Paul says, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Yeah, right, Paul! Easy for you to say!

As one of my favorite commentators J. Vernon McGee says, “Many of us think that if things are going right and if we are in the right place, then we will be contented. That means that we depend on the circumstances of life for our contentment….But Paul had learned to be content regardless of his state. There were times when he had nothing, and he was content. There were times when God had given him an abundance, and he had learned how to abound.” [2]

Paul “is able to meet the circumstances of life head-on in the strength of Christ. Paul does not depend on his own strength or ability, rather he relies on the sustaining help of Jesus.” [3] Our Lord Jesus will sustain us with his strength. Alleluia!

Paul does not share his dire circumstances in order to twist the arms of his friends to send him more money. No! He thanks his Philippian friends for both their financial gift as well as their messenger, Epaphroditus, and this letter is so, so much more than just a simple thank-you card. Paul also communicates the fact that – over his years of serving the Lord – he has learned to be content, no matter what. Either contentment with hunger, as Jesus did in the wilderness, or “contentment with abundance, without being caught up with the desire for more. He has learned to rejoice in the lean times and does not feel compelled to change his circumstances. He leaves that to God.” [4]

This sounds like it flies in the face of everything we might hear from those television evangelists who preach the health, wealth and prosperity Gospel. But, isn’t it consistent with what many people in the Bible – both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament – experience on a daily basis? Paul tells us right here that it is not the outer trappings of wealth and plenty, or the circumstances of life that count to God. No, it is the internal attitude, the Godly mindset, the inside job that truly counts.

Praise God that our internal attitude is what God finds truly valuable. May we all, like Paul, be filled to overflowing, well-supplied with the strength of Christ Jesus our Lord.   


[1] Hooker, Morna D., “The Letter to the Philippians,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. XI (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 2000), 548.

[2] McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible, Vol. V (Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, 1983), 326.

[3]  “The Power that Christ Gives,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources   http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday28aee.html

[4] From the series: To Live Is Christ: A Study of the Book of Philippians

https://bible.org/seriespage/13-give-and-take-phil-410-20

@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!

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!

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!

Life on God’s Terms

“Life on God’s Terms” – July 12, 2020

Rom 8_11 Spirit of God

Romans 8:1-11 (8:10)

Does anyone know what this is? [motioning towards the garbage can] You’re right. This is a garbage can. Good for being a container for all the garbage – refuse – junk – from our homes, workplaces, and communities. All kinds of worthless garbage that is not needed or wanted goes right in here. The apostle Paul talks about all kinds of garbage in our lives, on our insides, here in the letter to the church in Rome.

Imagine, if you will, all the internal junk in a person’s life, and mind, and heart. All of that meanness, and selfishness, gossip and swearing, bullying and arguing. And, what about the times people cheat? Or, blow off assignments or obligations? Or, stretch the truth just a little – or, perhaps a lot? Oh, it’s not much. But, do you think God keeps track of each and every time?

Just think of a person’s life. Perhaps, your life, or mine. If all the years and decades of those junky, selfish, stubborn, or mean thoughts, words or deeds were piled in this garbage can, I’d imagine it would be pretty full. Even, perhaps, full to overflowing.

Life on the inside, our internal selves without God can be pretty hopeless. Worthless. Just like garbage – refuse – junk that goes into this garbage can. Another word that Paul uses for all the stuff in these garbage cans is sin. I suspect many of us here can quote Romans 3:23, where Paul says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Paul does not say, “For some have sinned,” or even “For many have sinned.” No, we all have our internal selves filled up with meanness, selfishness, gossip, swearing, bullying, arguing. And, then some.

God does have laws. Many of these laws are common sense, and others are in keeping with moral codes that many civilizations have held for millenia. We know the big 10, the Ten Commandments, and many of the other laws of Moses that are found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Right before Paul writes these marvelous words in Romans 8, he talks about the huge problem with law and sin. We know about that. Sin and the law of God do not get along.

What do I do now? I know a lot of these laws of God, sure. But I still fall into sin, even though I know the rules. Another way of looking at sin is separation from God. When you—I—when all of us sin, we are separated from God. What’s more than that, sometimes people don’t even think of the Lord. God does not even enter their minds. Can you imagine? Ignoring God? Yet, so many people do just that.

So many people today are running on that treadmill of self will run riot, of selfish, mean, resentful living. I have seen a number of these kinds of persons, and they keep running, running, running on that treadmill of separation from God.

I have one particular person in mind. An acquaintance, from some years ago. To all outward appearances, she was very successful. She had designer clothes, a successful job, a luxury car, a fancy house. But, on the inside? All kinds of resentment, anger, greed, envy, gossiping and backbiting. She cut corners on her integrity and honesty, and just did not have a moral compass. Do you know someone like that? I have a feeling we all might have more in common with this unhappy lady than any of us might like to admit.

I’d like all of you to think of a sin in your life. I suspect you have thought of a sin that is really obvious to you, right now. the one thing you feel worst about. The one regret or misdeed or misfortune that you wear like a snail does its shell. The one part of your life that forever threatens sin and condemnation. Could you write it down? Or, if you don’t have a pen and paper, could you think really hard of that particular sin right now?

Paul does not leave us in that horrible place. Yes, all of Romans chapter 7 is talking about sin, and separation from God, and how much difficulty all of us have with these sinful thoughts, words and deeds. We might think that we are stuck at the bottom of one of these smelly, stinky, filthy garbage cans, with no way out. Who will rescue me from this body of sin and death? How can I – can we – get in a place where we can possibly have access to God?

Paul has good news for us. In fact, it’s great news! We do not have to stay in this garbage dump for the rest of our lives. No, Jesus reaches down from heaven and rescues us from sin and death. Jesus takes each of us out of that separated, filthy garbage can and brings us into the glorious presence of God!

Here is the best part of all. God’s Holy Spirit helps us to stay free from the power of sin and death. We no longer need to reflect on what we have done – or said – or thought that was wrong. No! Jesus Christ delivers us from sin and the Law.

I want to invite all of us to—virtually—toss that sin we wrote down into the garbage can right here. Jesus can clean us up from the inside, and help us to sin less and less. Amen!

One last thing. I invite each of you to take another piece of paper, and write what you are free to do now that you do not have that condemnation in your life and inside your very self. What challenge will God bring into your life, now that you know you are beloved by God and filled with God’s Spirit? What kindness or generosity will you attempt? What will you do with all the love and grace God can give you? [1]

God promises to be with us, yes! And, even more, God promises to use each of us for the sake of the people and the world God loves so much. Go out into the world for God, today.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1571

“What Willl You Do…?” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2011.

@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!

 

Together with Christ

“Together with Christ”

John 14-3 prepare a place, words

John 14:1-7 (14:3-4) – May 10, 2020

When I was in middle school and high school, I attended a Girl Scout camp in Wisconsin for several years. I vividly remember the girls who got so homesick while they were there. Several really missed home, and needed lots of TLC, tender loving care, for a few days. Have you ever been homesick? Can you relate to the frightened, heartsore feelings of these girls?

I don’t remember being homesick, but I can remember feeling scared at camp. I can remember being really scared on other occasions, too. I wonder if the disciples got scared while they traveled with the Rabbi Jesus from place to place? From what we know about Him, Jesus was an itinerant Rabbi, with no real home, no place to call home base.

What must that have been like, not having anywhere to call home? The Rabbi Jesus and His followers, His disciples kept moving from place to place. Different people react to being on the road a lot in different ways. It can be stressful and cause people considerable anxiety.

Added to that, all of the disciples knew very well that their Rabbi was not viewed positively by many Jewish leaders. Repeatedly, prominent Jewish teachers and lawyers had argued with Jesus. A group of leaders actively opposed this upstart Rabbi with the radical ideas and preaching, even if Jesus was a miracle worker.

The situation when the band of disciples entered Jerusalem must have been tense, to be sure. That Passover dinner on that Thursday night was not the most comfortable, I imagine. Yet, what does our Lord Jesus say to His disciples at that meal? How does He deal with this tense situation? Jesus says, “Don’t be worried! Have faith in Me!”

Have faith? Don’t worry? Listen, Jesus, Your friends have been on the road with You for many months. They are tired, they are tense, they have no home base to go back to. What do You mean, saying to them, Have faith and don’t worry!? Isn’t that expecting a lot from these guys? Isn’t that expecting a lot from us, Your followers today?

The next words are nothing but reassurance, comfort. He says, “There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I wouldn’t tell you this unless it was true. I’m going to prepare a place for you. And if I go, I will come back and take you with Me. And then, we will be together.” Total reassurance and comfort. Jesus encourages His disciples just as much as He encourages us.

However—Jesus’s disciples just don’t understand. They can’t get their minds around the metaphor Jesus is using. They mistake His reference to a heavenly house to a real, geographical space. Thomas—who likes concrete explanations, remember—asks for exact directions to plug into his GPS. [1]        How often are we like Thomas?

How often do we need (or want) exact directions, or latitude and longitude, or a detailed list of bullet-pointed things to do? And how often are we told by Jesus that we already know the way? We know Jesus, who is the Way. Precisely because Thomas knows Jesus—precisely because we know Jesus—we cannot become irrevocably lost.

Last week was Good Shepherd Sunday. We talked about the psalm for that week, Psalm 23. I can see definite tie-ins for that beloved psalm with this week’s Gospel reading, as well. Who does not relate to the idea of God shepherding us when we are lost? Who yearns for God to spread a feast in front of us, and to welcome us to the Good Shepherd’s heavenly home?

This week is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Today is also Mother’s Day, traditionally celebrated on the second Sunday of May. This heartwarming adaptation of Psalm 23 is not only a reminder of that beloved psalm, but also a celebration of mothers.

It was written by Laurie Hays Coffman, and is called A Child Learns to Trust. [2] It says:

“My Mom is my shepherd; I shall not want. She makes me lie down under cool, downy comforters. She watches me play beside still waters. She restores my soul. She leads me in paths of respect, responsibility, and goodness, for I am her namesake! Yea, even though I walk past monsters in the dark, I will not be scared, because my mom is always near me. Her hands and her voice, they comfort me. Mama sets the table and cheerfully calls me to dinner even in front of big, mean bullies. She anoints my skinned knees and broken heart with kisses. She smiles and throws me a towel when my cup runneth over. Surely God’s peace, power, and mercy shall uphold me all the days of my life, for my Mother taught me to dwell in the house of God forever.

Yes, this is an imaginative way to think of Psalm 23. And, this adaptation gets across several of the same ideas that Jesus communicated to His disciples at that Passover dinner, too.

Do we take Jesus’s word as true? Even though it’s an anxious time right now, do we trust Jesus to carry us and remain with us—walk with us, even through the dark valleys?

We are in uncharted territory right now, quarantined, apart from each other. Can we hold on to Jesus’s promise that between now and whenever we are all together again, Jesus is showing us the way? His way! Yes, we may walk through dark places and shadowy spaces now, but Jesus our Good Shepherd stays right by our side.

Jesus also said He’d prepare a place for us—a room for us in His Heavenly Father’s house. Jesus assured us we would be reunited with Him at that heavenly banquet. What a celebration that will be! Jesus said so. We can count on it. Praise the name of Jesus!

 

@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!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3218

David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

[2] https://www.desperatepreacher.com/mothersday.htm

Recognizing Jesus

“Recognizing Jesus”

Luke 24 road-to-emmaus-rembrandt

Luke 24:13-35 (24:16, 26) – April 26, 2020

Have you ever run into a good friend you haven’t seen for a while, and not recognized him or her? That is, at first? Exactly that happened to my son earlier this week, at a store near our house as he picked up a few things. He wore a mask—as is appropriate. About six or eight feet down the aisle was another young man, wearing a mask, too. The other man bumped something off the shelf and said, “Oh, no!” My son recognized his friend’s voice! But, the masks they were wearing kept them from recognizing each other—at first.

Something similar happened after the Resurrection, to two disciples. The two even heard the witness brought to them by the women disciples, that their Rabbi Jesus’s body was gone from the tomb! But, these two disciples couldn’t quite accept the women’s witness. (Apparently, the other men disciples had a hard time believing the women, too.) We don’t know why they decided to leave Jerusalem a few days after the crucifixion, but they did.

Perhaps the two disciples were nervous, or anxious. Their leader had just been arrested by the authorities and condemned to death! What if the authorities started rounding up the friends and associates of this radical, rabble-rousing Rabbi? Why else might they have left? All of the disciples were grieving. The loss of such a wise, strong, loving person like the Rabbi Jesus must have been devastating! And, different people have different reactions to grief—reactions all over the board, from anger to depression to desperate tears.

I think everyone is grieving right now. Who is not missing things from their life before the lockdown? What about school? School children miss their classmates, teachers miss their students, and parents miss the structured, ordered classes. What about adults who cannot go to work? What about closed businesses, blocked services, rules against close proximity, and—most of all—the lost income? The economic impact? What about the desperate isolation and loneliness some people experience now, with the widespread lockdown? Not to mention the grief of having loved ones in hospital and care centers, much less dying from serious illness?

These are just some of the losses and griefs countless people are experiencing right now!

Wasting no time, the two disciples hit the road early in the day, and who did they happen to meet? We know, since our Gospel writer Dr. Luke tells us: the resurrected Jesus Christ. The risen Stranger begins to walk with them, and they fall into deep conversation on the way about all that had happened in the past week or so in Jerusalem.

What about us, today? How much would you give to have Jesus take a walk with you and tell you all about Himself? What would it be like to hear about the witness of Scripture from the author of all that is holy, the Living Word, Himself?

Dr. Luke tells us that the two disciples were kept from recognizing Jesus during that whole journey from Jerusalem to the nearby town of Emmaus, about nine miles down that dusty road. Their eyes may have been closed through fear and anxiety, which certainly can cause a great deal of upset and disturbance inside. Trauma, too, which we now see as a very serious thing, indeed. The disciples might have been confused and off kilter. Death of a dear friend or loved one can do that to you! I know. I’ve experienced it. I suspect you have, too.

What about us? Is there anything keeping us from recognizing Jesus? We have already talked about grief, which is a huge thing in some people’s lives—especially now in this time of pandemic. But, other strong emotions can keep us in a fog. Living in a constant state of fear can disturb our thoughts and even our brain function. People who study the effects of trauma tell us so. What about confusion and bewilderment? Anger and frustration? All very valid reactions, and all very human feelings, too.

Any one of these can keep us from recognizing Jesus, and if two or three are going on at once, our distress is that much greater. Our distancing grows, and some even start walking away from Jesus. Believe me, it happens much more often than we realize.

I see Jesus being gentle and straightforward as He walks and talks with these two disciples. He lays out all the truths from the Hebrew Scriptures for these two men. We don’t know for sure, but they might have been like Thomas; we looked at him last week. These two disciples may have needed to hear the Truth from the ultimate Source of Truth, Himself.

At the end of our narrative, Jesus is finally revealed to the two friends at dinner. When Jesus takes and breaks the bread, the disciples see, recognize, and realize that it is indeed their Rabbi come back from the dead, the risen Christ sitting with them at the table.

And then—Jesus disappears! The two friends look at one another, saying, “What just happened?” “Was that truly Him? Really and truly?” They finally recognize Jesus for what He was. The encounter changed their lives. I wonder—when we recognize Jesus, does that encounter change our lives, too?

When we recognize Jesus—I mean, truly realize what He means in our lives—it cannot be just a casual greeting, a mild how-do-you-do and then we merrily continue on our way, without a thought more about Jesus and His Resurrection. Jesus means much more! We need to recognize all that He is, all that He means, and all that He offers freely. Resurrection! Life everlasting! And, Himself as our brother and best friend.

Praise God, Jesus can walk by our sides even now, through trouble, grief, pain, fear and anger. He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us, wherever we may journey in life. And, that is a sure and faithful promise from our resurrected Lord and Savior. Amen! Alleluia.

@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!

Shine the Light

“Shine the Light”

Matt 5-16 light so shine

Matthew 5:13-16 (5:16) – February 9, 2020

My family lives in Evanston, not too far from Lighthouse Beach. Yes, there is still a working lighthouse standing on the lakefront. In fact, a number of working lighthouses still are shining their lights over Lake Michigan, and the other Great Lakes. Less so today, with all the electronic and computer-assisted help, but in years past, lighthouses had an essential purpose in helping navigators stay safe on stormy water.

I suspect Jesus knew about lighthouses and navigation lights, living near the sea of Galilee as He did. Navigation lights help sailors a great deal, giving them direct knowledge and understanding about how to stay safe on the water. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus talks about light. He’s talking directly to the people listening to Him, who I suspect are mostly His followers. And—Jesus makes this remarkable statement: “You are the light of the world.”

Some might think that our Lord Jesus is just expressing a pious platitude, or perhaps a devout wish. Oh, I wish people could be the light of the world! Wouldn’t it be nice?

However, Jesus not only is saying that about the people listening to Him at the time, 2000 years ago, but He is also saying that to everyone who reads these words in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus says those words to us, here, today. We are the light of the world.

Now, if we are light, that implies certain things. Jesus means that the world is in a state of darkness. What is it like to be in darkness, with no light? Let me tell you, when I was younger, I used to go to rural Wisconsin and do tent camping a long way away from any electric lights or settled places. It got really dark at night, and I sure was glad I had a flashlight! I suspect some of you have had similar experiences in the dark. It gets really dark at night, far from the safety of electricity and steady sources of light. It can be scary and dangerous, too.

I’ve never been out on a stormy night on the water, but I suspect people can be very scared of dangerous conditions on the ocean or on a big lake, too. That is one reason why people have depended on lighthouses and navigation lights for safety, security and direction, for many centuries.

As we have mentioned before in weeks past, light and darkness both have their places in God’s world. Darkness can be gentle and needed at times. During Advent and Epiphany, we thought about different aspects about darkness that are warm, friendly, even inviting. We thought about nocturnal animals, gestating animals, and growing seeds underground. All in the warm, nurturing, friendly darkness. These examples give us a whole different view of darkness as opposed to light.

Except, we do not want there to be no light at all in the world, ever, and only perpetual darkness. Perpetual darkness can be a downright scary idea. Jesus told us clearly that we are the light of the world, bringing light into dark places. Can you think of times and places where light is much needed?

As I read the words of one of my favorite commentators this past week, Rev. Janet Hunt, this concept struck home to me. See whether her words strike you as true, too.

“Light helps us to distinguish difference and to celebrate diversity.

Light can deepen understanding.

Light works on cellular structures to promote growth.

Light heals.

Light helps us find our way.

Light. And today Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” [1]

I don’t know about you, but I suspect Pastor Janet Hunt would absolutely agree with us when we also add lighthouses and navigation lights to the list of things that help each of us to find our way in the dark. Yes, darkness can be gentle and welcoming, but darkness is also scary, producing anxiety. Darkness can cause fear of the unknown, and even make people shrink to engage and interact. And, on dark and stormy nights on the water, we all sure are glad to see lighthouses and navigation lights that show us the way to go.   

When Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world, that means that Jesus is describing our inside nature as followers of Him. After all, He also said He is the light of the world in John chapter 8. Just as Jesus came into the world to bring light to people who walk in darkness, just so Jesus has given each of us that light. Jesus gives us power to display that light of His like a lighthouse brings light to a dark, dangerous coastline, providing hope and direction.

Now, wait, some people might say. I know that professional Christians are supposed to bring people the light of God. Professional Christians have learned how to do that in school, haven’t they? Well, yes. But, Jesus is not just talking to professionals here. Jesus means this description of our inside nature to be for all of us—for every believer in Him.

How are each of us supposed to shine the light of Jesus? That’s hard. That’s scary.

I remember a friend of mine—Miss Rose, who I’ve mentioned before. I came to know and love Miss Rose over thirty years ago at another Chicago-area church. She was a church member all of her life, and her special ministry was working with the children. She loved being a Sunday school teacher, and she would eagerly and willingly tell children and young people about the Lord. She never shied away from letting people know that she shined the light of Jesus as much as she possibly could.

When I think about this verse from Matthew 5, I often think of Miss Rose, shining the light of Jesus, and bringing hope and direction to many young people.

Imagine my delight at meeting Miss Rose again, when I was a chaplain intern at the Presbyterian Homes, a senior retirement community in Evanston. While I was in seminary, one of my field education positions was as a chaplain intern in the large healthcare unit there.

Miss Rose was a resident living there. And lo and behold, Miss Rose shared her love of the Lord with everyone in the healthcare unit. She was the light of the world in her little corner of the world. Even though she was in constant pain, Miss Rose never let that stop her shining the light of Jesus. When I grow up, I want to be like Miss Rose.  

I want to provide a challenge for all of us. As Pastor Janet Hunt says, we are all called to go into dark places with the light of Jesus. Sometimes, we are even called to shine the light of God onto an unfair or sad situation, and bring comfort, direction and friendship.

  • Where have you seen such ‘light’ bringing hope, direction, and promise to a world that is too often dark?
  • Where will you seek to bring such ‘light,’ to be such ‘light’ in the days to come? And, how might you do this together with others who are called to ‘be the light of the world’ with you?

All great questions. I pray that we might go forth from this place, all of us shining the light of Jesus in our particular corner of the world, each and every day.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://dancingwiththeword.com/you-are-the-light-of-the-world-2/

@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!

[I would like to thank the Rev. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his superb book Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI, 1971). For this sermon, I have borrowed several extended ideas from Chapter Fifteen, “The Light of the World.” Thanks so much!]

 

 

 

Have Hope in God

“Have Hope in God”

1 John 3-2 like Him, stars

1 John 3:1-3 – November 3, 2019

Some days are everyday days. Ordinary, run-of-the-mill days, days where nothing particularly special happens. Some days are like that. We all are familiar with those kinds of days. But, today is a special day in the life of the Church. Not only in the life of this church on this corner, but in the lives of all churches that observe All Saints Day or All Saints Sunday.

The day for the commemoration of All Saints started only a few hundred years after the beginning of the Church on Pentecost, to remember all the saints who were persecuted as well as the martyrs who had died for their faith. “All Saints Day was established as an opportunity to honor all the saints, known and unknown.[1]

But, what does that have to do with you and me, right here and right now? What about people who are still mourning, and grieving the loss of loved ones who have died? What can this day of remembering and commemoration possibly do for those who mourn and love and long for their loved one who has died?

I lost a dear brother last December, my brother Mike. His photo is on the table with the others, near the altar. Yes, this All Saints Day remembrance is personal for me, today. I think there might be some others here who have a very personal connection, and might even be struggling with their memories. That is the whole reason why we have gathered her today—to remember together, and to lift up these loved ones, along with all of the other friends in Christ who have died. Not only recently, but all throughout the years, throughout the centuries.

Instead of going with one of the primary Bible readings for All Saints Sunday, I felt drawn to an alternate reading, the second reading that Eileen read today. It is just a little, short reading, but it means a great deal to me. I will zero in on one particular verse, 1 John 3:2, where the elderly apostle John says Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  

The elderly John has been traveling around for years—as best as he could—and preaching the Good News of his Master, Jesus Christ. He knows life has been tough for these scattered believers in Christ. So, he encourages them again and again in this letter.

How many people here have gotten discouraged? Perhaps you have been all alone, working at some thankless task. Or, perhaps no one is noticing you, and you feel left out, out in the cold? Or maybe even someone has been bugging you, pestering you for your faith, for standing up for what you believe in? Whatever sad or awkward situation you find yourself in, believe me, the apostles were familiar with a similar situation.

The apostle John was writing to some friends who had been dealing with some very difficult things, including the loss of some of their own congregation, their loved ones and friends. John specifically wants to lighten the hearts of his friends with these words.

Have you ever been down, and had someone blithely give you a super-sweet saying and just walk away without even seeing how you reacted to it? Perhaps even a verse of Scripture? I have. I had someone—thirty years ago, now—just breeze up to me and blurt out a verse of Scripture, and toddle away, oblivious that I was really hurting. I was devastated, and he did not notice me at all. He did not notice the true me, standing right there in front of him.

But, the apostle John is not that way at all. John hears the emotions of his friends, and he encourages them. John is honest and up front. He freely admits what he does not know. John does not know how Jesus will appear or what Jesus will be like when He returns. However, what John does know is that when Jesus does return, “we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

I don’t know about you, but this verse gives me comfort. All of it. From John’s honesty in his not knowing, to his assurance that we shall see Jesus in that day, when Jesus returns. I do not know whether God will give us special insight, or whether our eyes will be changed to brand-new heavenly eyes. Regardless, John’s words reach down deep inside of me. John’s words comfort me in my mourning and grieving, and penetrate through my suffering and pain. John’s words encourage my heart, and give me heavenly assurance and hope.

As we remember all the saints, we might think of the “big” saints, like Mother Teresa, or St. Francis of Assisi, or St. John, St. Luke or St. Paul, the apostles. However, I want to remind everyone that Paul in several of his letters refers to all believers as saints. We all are saints, every one of us. Young, old, big, small, believers of every race and kind and way of being.

For the closing hymn today, we will sing a lovely hymn. “A children’s hymn, popular in Great Britain, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” suggests that ordinary people, going about their business, can be saints, that is, revealers of God’s grace whose faithfulness changes the world.” [2]  I suspect that the apostle John would wholeheartedly agree with these words.

I love the letters of John, written in the New Testament. Simple words, simply written, but oh, such profound thoughts! Listen again to verse 2: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

I close with some gentle words from the Rev. Janet Hunt, a Lutheran pastor in DeKalb. She writes for this special day:

May the promise and hope of this All Saints Sunday lift you.

May the music carry you.

May the familiar words hold you, filling you with comfort and confidence.

May the flickering candles remind you of the light Christ is and ever shall be: a light which we, in turn, hold and carry and pass along.

Oh, may the mystery of promise and hope and grace surround you and fill you.

And may you have at least a moment when you can simply stand still and receive all that God has for you. [3]

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/christianyear/all-saints-day/

[2] https://www.patheos.com/resources/additional-resources/2010/10/remembering-all-saints

Remembering All Saints, Bruce Epperly, Patheos, 2010.

[3] http://dancingwiththeword.com/all-saints-sunday-standing-still-in-the-mystery/ 

@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!