This Is Love!

“This Is Love!”

1 John 4:7-13 (4:10) – May 2, 2021

            Have you ever wondered what love looks like? If you asked ten different people that question, I suspect you would get ten different answers. What does love look like, anyway?

            The apostle John talks about love a great deal, both in his Gospel as well as his letters. We just read a portion of 1 John chapter 4, where John gives us a straight-forward definition of love. Love is an action word, and the definition comes from God’s point of view. The Lord God almighty, who made heaven and earth and all that is in it, shows humanity what love is.

            Repeatedly, in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, the Bible testifies to the loving, living nature of God. Yes, the Lord God is the almighty Creator of all things, the Source of all light and love. And yes, the Lord God is also shown in the person of Jesus, the God made flesh, the One humans have touched and laughed with and eaten with.

            We come back to the question: what does love look like? For a more intellectual answer, we can read from 1 John chapters 3 and 4. Or, we can take a closer look at the Gospel account of Jesus, at His words and actions, and how He lived His life, and that will show us a lot about what love looks like.  

            1 John 4:7 says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God.”

            In Matthew 14, our Lord Jesus showed compassion – He showed love for the multitudes gathered around Him, and healed the sick. This was just one of a repeated number of times He did this. With a lack of medicines and a high prevalence of incurable diseases (especially at that time), Jesus regularly showed His love and compassion for many people in the most fundamental of ways: He healed them.

            How often are we called to be healers? How often are you and I requested or moved to show love for one another through our healing actions, words and prayers? Is this not a way you and I can carry out the commands of Jesus?

            1 John 4:9 says, “And God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him.” We know that Jesus came into the world to show humanity what love is. 

            In Mark chapter 6, Jesus showed compassion – He shared love to the crowds. He truly saw their hearts, realized they were sheep without a shepherd, and taught them many things. Jesus gave them – taught them the Word of God, the words of eternal life. What’s more, Jesus was the Word of God incarnate, life-giving to all who would come to Him.

            1 John 4:10 says, “This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.”

            In the Gospel of John chapter 3, Jesus and the Jewish leader Nicodemus had a long conversation. In that conversation, John makes the editorial statement “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” This is why Jesus came into the world: so that you and I will not be separated from God for eternity, but instead be reconciled to God, and be with God in eternity.

            Jesus showed this love through His in-depth conversations with a large number of people. He not only talked with the academics and religious elites, like Nicodemus and the other Jewish leaders, but Jesus also talked with people on the outskirts of society, like the woman at the well in John chapter 4 and the tax collector Zacchaeus in Luke 19.

            How about us? Do we show love by our conversations with a large number of people, from a diverse group of backgrounds? Or, are our friends and acquaintances all people “like us?” Would Jesus just come and hang out with good, upstanding church folk – and no one else? People from our little group or clique or neighborhood? What about our nationality group or political party – and no one else? Or what about this particular church, and not the church down the street? Much less the temple or mosque across town? Would Jesus show love to everyone?

            God so loved the world. Does that exclude anyone? Perhaps you and I might like to exclude some folks – but would God exclude them? Who would God exclude? God so loved the world. That’s everyone. That’s what John 3:16 says.

So, what does God’s love look like? It looks like Jesus, as He shows His life, love and death for us. And, we have the ability to love because God first loved us.        

            “God’s love does not depend on our initiative or on our worthiness. We don’t have to reach out to God or even believe in God in order to be loved. We don’t have to clean up our act before God can love us. We don’t have to measure up to some standard in order to be lovable. No, God showers love on us whether we deserve it or not. And honestly, who could ever deserve such amazing, immeasurable love?” [1]

            Everything begins and ends with God’s love. God showers us with love, whether we deserve it or not. What amazing, immeasurable, wondrous love is this.

            Alleluia, amen.


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-of-easter-2/commentary-on-1-john-47-21-4

Commentary, 1 John 4:7-21, Judith Jones, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

@chaplaineliza

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Calling by Name

“Calling by Name”

John 10 parable-of-the-good-shepherd_lg

John 10:1-10 (10:3-4) – May 3, 2020

Have you ever felt lost? Lonely? Like everything was dark and stormy? I know I have, from time to time. Especially right now in this time of the coronavirus pandemic, that is the big difficulty with being separated from our friends and from one another: we run the risk of feeling lost and alone.

On a number of occasions, our Lord Jesus talked about being lost and alone—or rather, about being found, about living in community, in a group. Several times in the different Gospels, Jesus compares Himself to a Shepherd. Our Scripture reading today from John chapter 10 is one of those situations.

This is familiar territory, a common metaphor in the Bible. God is the Shepherd, and the nation of Israel is the flock of sheep. Though most of us today in suburban Chicago don’t know much about farm animals, this topic was an everyday subject to the people listening to Jesus. In villages and small towns, most families had a few sheep or goats. There were a few shepherds who would take all the animals from the different townspeople’s houses out of town to pasture.

As Jesus taught the people, He made sure to give a detailed account of the bad things that could threaten the sheep. Thieves and robbers sometimes waited to grab a lamb. They might even lie in wait to come over the wall of a sheepfold at night, and steal a couple of sheep away. That was one important reason for the shepherd to guard the sheep and sleep across the entrance to the sheep’s pen at night. In other words, to serve as the door for the sheep.

I know many today are fearful and anxious at such an uncertain time. Some people do not even want to hear another word about the topics of coronavirus and COVID-19. Radio, television and other social media have broadcast every variation of news about the pandemic for many weeks. Are coronavirus and COVID-19 robbers and thieves of our peace and security? Do these fearful and very real threats seek to heighten danger to all the people? All the sheep? These are things for all of us to think about and ponder in our hearts.

I attended a number of intensive summer seminars taught by the retired professor and Presbyterian pastor the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Bailey. Sadly, he died four years ago, but he greatly enriched the general understanding of Christianity and the Bible. He drew upon his many decades of familiarity with the culture and practices of the Middle East, and strongly encouraged his readers to view the Biblical texts through a Middle Eastern cultural lens.

In his book The Good Shepherd, John chapter 10 is one of the chapters in the Bible Ken Bailey tells us about. As he so often does, Dr. Bailey gives example after example of Middle Eastern accounts, described in the reading. A Syriac bishop from the 12th century discusses the thieves and robbers coming after his sheep—his parishioners—so realistically. [1] I almost was persuaded that he was describing evil and greedy fake ministers of today, out to “fleece” the unsuspecting sheep who were shepherded by the Syrian bishop Ibn-al-Salibi.

As this book describes the voice of the Shepherd, we come to see how the sheep quickly learn to recognize their own Shepherd’s voice. Even though there are other shepherds in the same area, the Good Shepherd’s sheep hear that distinctive voice and follow the one they know.

“But, wait!” you say. “Other voices might be just as loud,” or “Other noise can drown the Good Shepherd out.” Perhaps, even, the sheep get confused or anxious or downright lost, and wander away from their Shepherd. What then? What about a situation like right now, in a pandemic, where lots of fear, anxiety, emotional and economic uncertainty, worry, grieving and mourning distract us from the voice of our Good Shepherd? What about loss of jobs, loss of homes, loss of loved ones, loss of all kinds of things people hold dear?

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, knows about every situation. Nothing surprises Him. Jesus will stay by our sides and walk with us through each scary situation, each grief-filled event, and each dark valley we cross.

I know—from experience—the malicious, nagging murmur in my ear that says, “Why should the Shepherd want to call me? I’m not important. He probably does not even have a name for me, let alone know who I am.” The Syriac bishop has an answer for that. Reaching across the centuries to reach us today, Bishop Ibn-al-Salibi tells us “The shepherd expresses his true knowledge of [the sheep] by calling their names. For the one who calls another by name makes clear that he knows him.” [2]

Just think. Our Lord Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd. Jesus knows the name of each of His sheep. It isn’t just a “Hey, you!” or “What’s your name?” No! Jesus calls each of us, His sheep, by personal name. Jesus knows each of us so well, He knows everything about us. And, what’s more, He still loves us!

Praise God, just as the risen Christ called Mary by name in the garden that Easter morning, so Jesus calls each of us by name. I rejoice in the knowledge that I am a much beloved sheep of our Good Shepherd. We all have a beloved relationship with Jesus! Each one of us is His dear sheep—we can trust Jesus’s word on it. Praise God! Alleluia, amen.

 

[1] Bailey, Kenneth E., The Good Shepherd (InterVarsity Academic: United States of America, 2014), 216-17.

[2] Bailey, Kenneth E., 218.

@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!

Love Drives Out Fear

“Love Drives Out Fear”

1 john 4-18-perfect-love-casts-out-fear.

1 John 4:7-8, 13-19 (4:18) – September 16, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

When I was in grade school, I remember a story I read where a boy was punished very severely. He was beaten, and sent to the barn without any supper. I don’t remember where the story was from (probably in one of my textbooks), but I do remember my gut reaction to the moving and evocative words that described the boy and his situation. Sullen, lonely, filled with anger, but at the same time torn with some remains of love for the brutal father who had beaten him and turned him out of the clapboard house on the frontier into the cold night.

What kinds of fear do you remember? If not fear that you experienced, fear and anxiety of someone close to you? Those feelings, emotions and experiences can be so traumatic. I know, because I dealt with many painful, fearful, anxious situations while a hospital chaplain. And, sometimes, I was completely helpless to do anything to lend a hand.

Is there some fear or anxiety that even now surfaces from deep within? If so, I am so sorry to remind you of that painful experience. Except—in this sermon, in this scripture reading today, the apostle John deals with God’s love, and with personal fear and punishment. We can relate to John’s moving words.

To back up, in this letter John talks a great deal about love. God is love. Love is of God. We love, because God first loved us. Simple words, yet profound ideas. In our reading today, John continues with more of the same: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Yet, you and I know that we cannot love all the time. Because, we are human. We get angry, and lonely, and fearful. Sometimes we back away, isolate, or even snap back at others. All of us do at times. Mile-deep emotions and mile-wide feelings come upon so many as we live our day-to-day lives—in the first century, as well as the twenty-first. Awkward situations and traumatic experiences choke out the joy and delight of living in community, of life in the family of God. What can we do about these complications of living, and of loving?

The apostle John knew very well about this dilemma. He was the youngest of the disciples. He was identified as “the disciple Jesus loved.” He lived the longest of just about any of the direct witnesses to Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. He wrote this letter late in his long life, a life full of hardship and trauma, full of persecution and anxiety. Yet—he was able to write moving words such as these: “Dear friends, let us love one another.” Matter-of-fact presentation of a simple yet profound concept.

John communicates God’s unconditional love to us in this letter, even in difficult circumstances. He shows us Jesus and His love through these simple words.

John understood very well what kinds of horrible things the persecutors could (and probably would) do to any Christians they got in their clutches. From the writings and letters of the second century, we know that John had personal experience with the persecutions. He was finally exiled to a tiny island in the Mediterranean Sea called Patmos.

So, what does John have to say about fear? We are talking about gut-wrenching fear. Remember, he was well-acquainted with fear, and its close cousin anxiety. Verse 18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

The word for “fear” John uses here is the Greek word phobo, or the run-of-the-mill word that is found in the suffix “-phobia.” Many of us are familiar with all kinds of phobias, from fear of heights or enclosed spaces, to fear of spiders or snakes, to fear of the dark. Could I remind us of a certain phobia that Charlie Brown had, in the Charlie Brown Christmas special? He was frightened of everything. He had “pantaphobia.”

Perhaps the apostle John “does mean something closer to Charlie Brown’s depression-inducing pantaphobia in which fear becomes a general way to go at life.  John yokes this fear that has no place in perfect love specifically with a fear ‘of punishment,’ which may be an indication that what he is talking about is the fear of still being punished for our sins.” [1]

What a fear, indeed! Being afraid that God probably will not forgive me, no matter how much I do, no matter how hard I try to gain God’s acceptance. That unfeeling, unforgiving attitude from God would break my heart. Sort of like the attitude of an uncaring, unfeeling, even brutal parent. Not at all like Jesus, like the God whom John knew personally.

After this life is done, we move into the life to come. Common questions many would ask: “’How can I be sure I did enough for God to love me?  What if God plays all the sins of my life on some giant screen for all to see?  How will I ever live down the humiliation of that?  How do I know there is grace sufficient for even me?’ This is clearly the kind of fear of punishment John is pointing to.  And it is a miserable thing to have dangling over your head” [2]

Again, we get full assurance from John. And, John intimately knows Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, the Messiah, the creator of all the universe, the Logos, the Word. John is the beloved disciple, the one close to Jesus’s heart. John lets us know that “perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Yet, what are the next words from John? “We love, because He first loved us.” John circles back to this simple yet profound truth.

Commentator Judith Jones says, “God made love real and present by sending Jesus to live among us and to die for us. God continues to show us love through Jesus’ life-giving presence among us.” [3] That is the presence John is a witness to. That is the presence John is willing to suffer for. John loves, and through extension, we all love, because Jesus loves us. Unconditionally, fully, and with all His heart. Jesus loves us. Period.

So, it does not matter what our creaturely, very human selves tell us about phobias. It does not matter what Charlie Brown and his fear of everything whispers to our insides. John’s witness is that Jesus loves us, period. Jesus’s perfect, unconditional love drives out fear. Not only fear about everything on the outside, about fighting, hardship, and persecution, but about illness, loneliness, and sorrow.

Most importantly, His perfect unconditional love drives out the fear that I won’t measure up, that I won’t be able to do enough, be enough for Jesus. We love, because He first loved us. Period. John is a faithful and true witness to Jesus and His perfect, unconditional love.

Do you believe that? “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” John tells us so, right here in this reading today. Receive the Good News of the Gospel. Jesus came to save sinners, of which I am chief.

Fear is done with, banished, gone. Jesus came into the world to love us, unconditionally. That is truly Good News.

[1] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/easter-5b-2/?type=lectionary_epistle

The Center for Excellence in Preaching, Stan Mast, resources from Calvin Theological Seminary: Comments & Observations, Textual Points, illustration ideas, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2448

Commentary, 1 John 4:7-21, Judith Jones, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

@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!)

His Followers—Including Us, Too

“His Followers—Including Us, Too”

John 17-9 Jesus prays for us

John 17:6-19 (17:9) – May 13, 2018

Throughout the centuries since Jesus’s death and resurrection, believers have followed their Lord Jesus and prayed for others. I suspect we all can picture Jesus and His friends during that last week before His crucifixion. And, Jesus was a person of deep prayer. This profound image is quite precious to me, and I suspect for you, too.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus prays for His followers. Not just any old prayer, but a significant prayer, at a profound time of Jesus’s life. The night before His crucifixion, when He must have had a thousand and one things on His mind, Jesus takes the time to think of and to pray for His followers; His friends and disciples.

Today is Mother’s Day. Today is a day to take the time to think of beloved mothers (and, those who have acted as mothers). Some more devout people even pray for their mothers. And grandmothers, and daughters and sisters. All those who act as mothers, too.

In many, many cases throughout this country—and beyond, around the world—many caring, loving and nurturing women have mothered those under their care. In cases of religious nurture, caring mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters—and others who have stood in the place of these maternal figures—have prayed for their friends, relatives and loved ones, too.

Whether nearby or far away, prayer makes that intimate connection, that bond between friends, relatives, and loved ones. It does not matter whether the pray-er and the ones prayed for are next door, in the next town, or separated by miles, mountains or oceans.

Jesus was making that connection, too, through His prayer.

As we have noted before in weeks past, the disciples were anxious, worried, even scared to death. And, Jesus knew that very well. Remember His words of comfort from just a short while before this? In John 14:27, where Jesus says “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.”

Of course, Jesus knew how serious this all was! He knew He was going to be beaten, jeered at, crucified, and die. He knew it was all going to happen in less than twenty-four hours. Yet, Jesus still had the amazing love, nurture and caring for His friends and disciples that He would say such things as these. Jesus did not allow the horror and anguish of what was to come take away from the love, caring and connection He had with His friends.

In today’s passage from John 17, Jesus expresses His deepest yearning for His closest followers. But, there is much more. Commentator Janet Hunt says “[Jesus] speaks to them all together at length ‘one last time’ as he sits with his disciples at table that Thursday night. … For instance, we get a sense of Jesus’ profound connection to the one to Whom he prays. And we are told that those who followed Jesus had learned of the truth of this as well.” [1]

How often do we hear of a faithful, devout mother or grandmother or auntie or dear friend praying for her loved one, asking God to take care of this dear one, whether nearby or far away? And, even when things become depressingly sad, or that diagnosis turns into a hospice admit, or the divorce finally happens, God is still able to be there and be present with the one prayed for. And their family.

As we can see from today’s scripture reading, Jesus prayed for His closest followers and friends. I love the way Dr. David Lose puts it: Jesus “senses their anxiety, confusion, and fear, and so he prays for them. He knows they can bear no more, and so he prays for them. He knows he will soon leave them, and so he prays for them. And as he does, and whether or not they understand everything he says, he tells them that they do not have to do everything or even understand everything.” [2]

Jesus was a master at making connections, just as relatives do in a close family, just as dear friends make intimate connections with each other. Sure, this climactic point in the Passion Week, this night in which Jesus was betrayed, had all the disciples’ emotions and feelings at a breaking point. Sadness, anxiety, fear, anger, horror. And, we know Jesus was there with His friends in the middle of all of those tumultuous feelings.

What about those in countless congregations today, and those who did not go to a house of worship this weekend, who had (or are still having) difficulty with the relationship with their mom? What about those whose mothers are somehow unwilling or unable to care for their children? What about those who have given children up for adoption? Mother’s Day is certainly difficult for these hurting people.

What about the mothers who have had miscarriages, or stillbirths, or abortions? What about those mothers who have lost a young—or not-so-young child? What about those who have never been mothers—for a whole host of different reasons? Yet, these women often care for and nurture others, whether theirs by natural means, or through choice. And even more important, Jesus is certainly able to love, nurture and care for all of these loved caregivers, all of these called children of God.

As we look at John 17, we can be sure that Jesus used His masterful way of connecting to show love, care and nurture. Pastor Tim Yee had the following illustration: “Jedd Medefind and Erik Lokkesmoe’s book, The Revolutionary Communicator, stresses seeking connection as an important communication tool that Jesus modeled, as he engaged people… This story [the authors] share of a little boy visiting a grieving elderly widower illustrates the power of seeking connection: The mother noticed the little boy crossing into the neighbor’s yard and climbing up into the old man’s lap. He remained there for some time, sitting quietly. When the boy returned home, his mother met him with her hands on her hips. “I told you not to bother him!” she scolded. “What were you doing?” “I wasn’t doing anything,” the little fellow answered. “I was just helping him cry.” (p. 23) [3]

Yes, Jesus prayed for the disciples, and “not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word…” That includes us! Just as a devout mother or grandma prays for her loved ones, just as Jesus seeks a intimate and loving connection with His friends and followers, so we can seek to have that deep connection with one another.

Dr. David Lose invites all of us to hear these words of Jesus addressed to each of us today. To imagine – really, to know – that Jesus was praying for us all those years ago and continues to care for us, support us, and love and connect with us today. Please take a moment to think about where we need to be more whole, to have more peace in our lives. And then, imagine that Jesus is actively, intimately praying for each of you. And, indeed, for all of us. [4]

Jesus is caring for us, you know. Jesus loves each of us that much.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://dancingwiththeword.com/last-words/  “Last Words,” Janet H Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2018.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2566  David Lose The Power of Being Prayed For

[3] Revolutionary Communicator: Seeking Connection

https://lifeforleaders.depree.org/revolutionary-communicator-seeking-connection/?utm_source=Life%20for%20Leaders&utm_campaign=6da0a06843-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_05_12&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_daeb77a376-6da0a06843-85700765&mc_cid=6da0a06843&mc_eid=6effffadbb

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2566  David Lose The Power of Being Prayed For

@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!)

For the Sheep

“For the Sheep”

John 10:11-18 (10:11) – April 22, 2018

Jesus Good Shepherd_BnF_Ethiopien_389_fol_1v

The Bible often talks about sheep. Sheep in a sheep fold. All we like sheep. The sheep and the shepherd. The nation Israel is like sheep. The followers of our Lord Jesus are like sheep. We can follow the repeated illustrations of sheep and a shepherd in many places in the Bible, in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Just like in today’s scripture readings.

The words of Jesus can be a bit puzzling to both children and adults. We as adults can figure out what Jesus is saying here in chapter 10 of the Gospel of John. We have more developed brains and we can figure out what Jesus means by the metaphor “I am the Good Shepherd.“ Jesus is like a Good Shepherd, and we are like sheep.

But, what makes a shepherd “good?”

Jesus gives us further information in His description about what a Good Shepherd is not. A good shepherd is not a hired hand, since a hired hand doesn’t own the sheep. And so, he does not truly care about the sheep. If the hired hand is watching the sheep, a wolf might come and attack and scatter the flock. A hired hand will probably run away and leave the flock unprotected. So, the hired hand is most definitely not a Good Shepherd.

I go back to my initial question: what makes a shepherd “good?” For a more complete answer to that question, we need to take a close look at Psalm 23, our psalm reading for today. Remember, we are still trying to figure out what makes a shepherd “good.”

Our description from King David lets us know more about what makes a shepherd “good.” As sheep, we might be unsure about where we will find grass to eat, especially in a semi-arid region like most of the country of Israel. Yet, our Good Shepherd knows where there are places with grass to eat; we as sheep will feel safe enough to lie down in green pastures.

What else makes a shepherd “good?” When flocks of sheep are wandering around the fields and foothills of many dry places in Israel, sometimes it is difficult finding places to get water. A quickly rushing stream is not a place where sheep like to drink, since they can get hurt or swept away by the swiftly moving water. Yet, the Good Shepherd can lead His sheep to pools of still water, where they can safely drink.

Even today, we can ask similar questions. What makes a Shepherd “Good?” Dangers and problems can crop up today, at any time, among Jesus’s sheep, too. Will I have enough to eat or drink? What about a quiet place to live? Will the place where I live be safe? Or, will there be wolves and other nasty creatures wandering in my general area?

One of the earliest known depictions of Jesus in early church art is found in the Roman catacombs, under the ancient city. One of my favorite commentators, Carolyn Brown, tells us that “The catacombs are narrow, twisting underground tunnels.  The walls are filled floor to ceiling with graves that have been dug out of them.  They are dark and spooky.” [1]

Carolyn Brown suggests that we imagine we are walking quietly through the catacombs with a small oil lamp to find Christian friends who are gathering to worship by a designated grave. Can you hear the clank or crunch of Roman soldiers’ armor or boots? Christianity was an illegal religion. Christians were often hiding or on the run from the authorities. Since this was the case, it is easy to imagine why someone painted on the catacomb ceiling a picture of Jesus as a strong young shepherd who would take care of them.

What does a Good Shepherd look like, to you?

Jesus expands on this illustration of the Good Shepherd. The people of His time lived mostly in villages or small towns. Even if they worked doing other things, I suspect almost all of them were familiar with sheep, lambs and shepherds. I bet they had some ideas about what made a “good shepherd,” and what a “bad shepherd” looked like, too.

Even though today we might not be very familiar with the job of a shepherd, we still know how safe we feel when someone truly cares for us and looks out for our best interests. We still understand when someone protective stands guard and watches out for enemies so we can feel secure. We still appreciate when someone loving goes out of his or her way to search for a lost sheep when we wander away or get hurt or are in distress.

Jesus wanted to get across the idea of how much He cared for His sheep—that’s all of us. Jesus not only compares us to sheep (a biblical illustration repeated several times in the Hebrew Scriptures), but He tells us just what a hired hand does with the sheep. Or rather, Jesus tells us that the hired hand just runs away. The sheep would then be deserted and alone, liable to be attacked and perhaps eaten by wild animals.

Except, our Lord Jesus will not run away. Instead, He will care for the sheep, feed and water them, and lead them in good places. Jesus will not allow them to stray, but instead will lovingly protect and guard the flock.

As commentator Lucy Lind Hogan says, “To be [Jesus’s] followers was to enter into his sheepfold. He came to be the one who cared for and fed them.  It was a dangerous job; protecting the sheep from wolves and bandits. As the good shepherd Jesus had not only to be willing to, he did, lay down his life for the sheep that God had given him.” [2]

What does our Good Shepherd look like? How do we know when we have found Him?

And, is it possible that Jesus loves us so much that He gave His life for us? That He laid down His life for the sheep God had given Him? Jesus goes further in this reading from John 10, even further than King David in Psalm 23. Jesus not only cares for the sheep, and loves them, but He even dies for them. Gives up His life for the sheep.

Similarly, we lay down our lives every time we set aside what we want to take care of the needs of others.  We all need to hear Jesus’ insistence that if He lays down his life He can take it up again.  Giving up what you want once does not mean you will never get it or that you will always be called on to give up what you want.  Adults have learned that, but it takes a while for children to learn it, too. [3]

I said earlier that some people, young children especially, have a problem understanding metaphors. When Jesus said “I am the Good Shepherd,” that can be one of those hard sayings.

When Dr. Maria Montessori was working in a children’s hospital “she found that when she told sick children stories about the Good Shepherd using small wooden figures, they almost all grabbed the figure [of the Good Shepherd] and held onto it “for keeps.”  So the Good Shepherd made sense to them in some way.” [4] Jesus our Good Shepherd is able to come alongside of all of us, too. We are able to take hold of His hand, “for keeps.”

We know today Jesus loves us so much He gave His life for us. How much did Jesus love us? He loves us this much. [spreads arms wide]

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/03/year-b-fourth-sunday-of-easter-april-26.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 4, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1239

Commentary, John 10:11-18, Lucy Lind Hogan, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.

[3] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/03/year-b-fourth-sunday-of-easter-april-26.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 4, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015.

[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!)

 

Christ is All!

Colossians 3:9-15 – January 15, 2017

col-3-11-christ-is-all-words

“Christ is All!”

Did you ever get a brand-new suit? A lovely new dress? Were you dressed in new clothes from head to toe? What about when one or your children or grandchildren was dressed in a wonderful new outfit? That can cause a person to feel brand new, all over.

That’s what the Apostle Paul is talking about, here in Colossians 3, verses 9 and 10: seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self.” That is exactly the word picture Paul is using, about taking off an old shirt or coat, and putting on a new, clean garment.

Paul not only is talking about our new selves and our new identity. He is also alluding to what happened at baptism. He makes mention of it in the letter to the Galatian church, and he mentions it here, too.

In the early Church, people often got baptized as adults. They would go through a several-week period of preparation, teaching and study, and finally be pronounced ready to be baptized. After the time of baptism, which often took place on Easter, the newly-baptized person would put on a new, clean white garment. This would show everyone that they were washed clean and ready to claim their new identity in Christ.

Some people might be wondering what I am doing up here, with no robe. I wanted to show everyone what Paul was describing here. See, I am just plain old me. Nothing special, nothing to write home about. But, now, I am going to take off the old self. Take off my old jacket. What is it that Paul said, again? I put on—we put on the new self. Like, right now, when I put on my robe. I am clothing myself in Christ. We all have done this, already! It has already happened, and is a blessed reality!

However, there is a problem. Paul reminds us about that. Did you know we can fool ourselves into thinking that this has not happened? Paul says exactly that, in verse 9: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices.”

Paul knows how easy it is to lie. Maybe not tell big whoppers, but certainly bend the truth. Some people lie a little, and others lie a lot. Whether it’s a lot or a little, whether it’s lying to other people or lying to ourselves, some people can act like they still have their dingy old clothes on, and haven’t put on their brand new Jesus garment yet. Some people can talk like they haven’t had much of an acquaintance with Jesus, either. Jesus is not affecting them much at all. Not in the way they talk, or act, or think.

We all know how easy it is to stretch the truth to other people. It’s just human, after all! This might be a challenge for us to hear, but, let’s think about lying to ourselves. Yes, not acting or talking like we have put on Christ. What about when we fool ourselves a lot, or beat ourselves up? When we say, “no one will ever know!” or “I guess nobody ever expected much,” or even, “what’s the use? I never can measure up.” Settling for cut-rate, lying to ourselves that whatever we are doing is okay, or giving up, not even trying at all. It’s a really difficult habit to break.

That is a big, big problem! What are we going to do about such a state of affairs?

Sometimes, people do end up stuck in the middle. Right before the scripture passage we read today, in the letter to the church at Colossae, Paul mentions a laundry list of practices and other things that can get in the way. Things that come between us and God.

We believers may think we have gotten rid of the malice, impurity, even blasphemy that Paul describes in verse 8. Yes, Paul matter-of-factly ticks off bad habits and sinfulness from the list, but spiritually, these people haven’t put on their brand-new Jesus garment. Do you know people like that? I’m afraid some people are too focused on themselves, either in a puffed-up self-centered manner, or in a negative, self-defeating way.

I discovered verse 11 of this chapter a long time ago. Paul says, “you have clothed yourselves with the new self…. In that renewal, there is no longer Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”

One commentary I consulted was particular about the translation of this verse from Greek: “There is no such thing as Greek and Jew (the difference of privilege between those born of the natural seed of Abraham and those not, is abolished), [no such thing as] circumcision and uncircumcision (the difference of legal standing between the circumcised and uncircumcised is done away with)—and [no such thing as the difference between] bondman, freeman.” [1]

So many people just skim over this verse, not even considering the inclusiveness and social justice that the text implies. Instead, they are—we are—still focused on ourselves, as if we all are wearing blinders. They—we celebrate the day they were “saved”, but fail to do the work of God’s realm, including the removal of barriers. Those who are stuck halfway between their old, sinful clothes and their new, clean Jesus garment may even be creating new barriers.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. In August 1963, he made his “I have a dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, on the Mall in Washington, D.C. He said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

That sentence resounds with the quality and the content of this verse from Colossians, as well as the similar verse from Galatians 3:28, which talks about neither male nor female, neither Jew nor Gentile, and neither slave nor free. All of us—that is, everyone—are one in Christ Jesus our Lord. Or, as Colossians 3 states: “Christ is all, and in all!”

Martin Luther King was highlighting people’s insides, not their outsides, and looking at the quality of their character, not the color of their skin. Or how nice their clothes look. Or how expensive their shoes are. Or whether they have been to college or not. Or which side of the train tracks they are from. Or what ethnicity or culture they grew up in.

“There’s a great line from a movie where two African Americans are walking past a whites-only church, and one of them says, ‘I’ve been trying to get into that church since I was a kid.’ His friend responds by saying, ‘That’s nothing, Jesus has been trying to get in there for a lot longer and he hasn’t gotten in yet.’” [2]

The larger church is hurting. Most believers have witnessed divisions and separation both inside and outside the church. Hurt, grief, anger, dashed expectations, frustration, fear…. a mass of emotions. Hurting people, hurting each other.

Jesus will help us. He will not leave us alone, hurting and separated from others. He will not leave us wearing old, dirty, sinful clothes, but will help us to put on a brand-new, clean Jesus garment. Jesus will come alongside of each one of us. He wants all of His children to come together, to love each other, no matter what.

I close with the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John, chapter 15: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” No matter what. How much did Jesus love us? He loved us this much. (spread out arms) Alleluia. Amen!

[1] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/jamieson/jfb.xi.xii.iv.html  Commentary on the Whole Bible (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, 1871). When

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday18ce.html “Real Life in Christ,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

@chaplaineliza

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