David Triumphs over a Bully

“David Triumphs over a Bully “

1 Sam 17 david-goliath, Peter Boon

1 Samuel 17:1, 4, 8-11, 20-24, 31-32, 41-51 – July 28, 2019

Who has experience dealing with a bully? It could be on the playground, or in your neighborhood, or at work, or even in a local church. It does not matter where you or your siblings or children or grandchildren or parents happen to be, chances are that bullies can be found all over.

Our scripture reading features a big bully. Saul is king of Israel, and the perennial enemy of Israel, the Philistines, come to attack Israel yet again. Instead of fighting with the two armies coming up against each other, the Philistines send out their acknowledged champion, a huge man called Goliath, to challenge someone from Israel to fight. Did I mention he was a big bully?

Children often encounter bullies at school or on the playground. As adults, we often have thicker skins and are able to deal with the physical, psychological and verbal abuse bullies so often heap on the smaller and weaker ones around them. Bullies can and do seek out their victims, intimidate, and prey upon them, even if teachers, coaches, administrators and other adults are on the lookout for bullying behavior.

When my husband was growing up on the west side of Winnetka, a neighborhood bully named Adam lived just a couple of blocks away, to the east. You may even have seen him on television or on the big screen after he grew up.

According to common knowledge around the neighborhood, Adam had an unhappy home life, and I feel badly about that. That probably contributed to his negative attitude. Adam was antagonistic to other boys in his neighborhood. He was a sizeable kid, and would intimidate and beat up many other boys. My husband was fortunate, since he never tangled with Adam. I suspect Adam was well known at the local school, and not for a good reason.

Is this similar to Goliath’s backstory? A great question, and one we cannot answer.

1st Samuel 17 tells us for forty days the army of the Philistines were in attack formation, drawn up in battle gear across the valley from the army of Israel. For forty days the large man (some would call him a giant) Goliath would stride in front of the Philistine battle lines to challenge the army of Israel to send out a champion of theirs, to fight. As Ralph Klein, retired professor of Old Testament at Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago tells us, “The idea that a combat between two champions could decide a battle is well known in ancient sources. Goliath was 9′ 9″ tall and extremely well armed. His armor would have weighed about 125 pounds.” [1]

Just think—a huge guy with impressive armor and weapons. Goliath was massive!  That alone would be disheartening. But, wait. When we add physical and verbal intimidation to what the Philistine army would be guilty of, we see what a horrible impression they made on the army of Israel. And not only the army of Israel, but for the whole nation of Israel by extension.

Does this sound familiar? Do we have bullies in our neighborhoods? Our schools or workplaces? When we examine and break down how Goliath used intimidation and fear, we can see that Goliath was a master intimidator. (Or, at least, how antagonistic and intimidating were the people who wrote the words for Goliath to say. He might have had great writers.)

What about the other side of this lopsided-looking match-up? We do know what David looked like, from this and other descriptions in 1 and 2 Samuel. At this point, while David is only a teenager, he has not become tall and broad-shouldered yet. He is described as ruddy and good looking. We can also see how full-grown warriors of Israel are afraid and intimidated by the insults and trash talk of Goliath and the Philistine army, and the teenaged David has a very different response. He is horrified at the blasphemies and trash talk Goliath spouts.

Let’s examine what Goliath said, more closely: “Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me.  If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.”  And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.”

Goliath was a soldier by profession, and very good at what he did. He had probably honed and fine-tuned his scare tactics. We see classic manipulation and intimidation patterns.

I would like to highlight one type of person from our modern context. This can be an office manipulator, a neighborhood busybody, or an overbearing and mocking know-it-all. This type of person is not necessarily a huge menacing presence. They might not be physically intimidating, but their verbal browbeating and coercion can be just as terrorizing. This poisonous activity can induce just as much fear and demoralization in the attitudes and behavior of those surrounding this toxic person. This toxic person can be a virtual Goliath, and might come in many shapes or sizes. We need to be aware and on the lookout for mean bullies like this.

Let’s go back to David. He comes to the army camp with supplies for his older brothers, but the whole camp is away at the battle lines for Goliath’s daily intimidation. “There, David finds his brothers, and as he talks with them, Goliath steps forward to repeat his challenge for the 81st time (see 1 Samuel 17:16). Goliath says what he always does, but this is the first time David has heard him. David listens to this giant’s challenge and his cursing of Israel and her God. He watches the frightened Israelites (including his brothers) draw back, their courage shattered by this man’s words and appearance.” [2]

Wait, says David! Who is this Philistine, and why is the army of Israel cowering in fear?

Great question! We all know the rest of the story. David volunteers to challenge Goliath, comes at him with only a slingshot and smooth stones, and nails Goliath between the eyes with an Olympic-worthy shot from his sling. As the huge man falls to the ground, dead, David hews off Goliath’s head with his own sword, and thus becomes the darling of all of Israel for defeating Goliath. The original David vs. Goliath match-up.

The point of this bible story often displayed for children in Sunday school is that God is with us even when we are afraid, just like God was with David when he faced Goliath. However, from an adult understanding, we can go further. Yes, absolutely, God will be with us in all kinds of unequal, David-versus-Goliath battles. What is more, using God’s perspective can be lifechanging. From God’s point of view, David was the winner even before he used his slingshot. David was a teenager after God’s own heart. He kept his eyes on God and prevailed against a bully, against all human odds.

Are you facing a continuing battle today? Is there a mean bully in your workplace or neighborhood? Finding God’s perspective on the toxic problem is a great help. Continue doing what you know is right, in a winsome and positive way. And, God will continue to be with us, against all the Goliaths that come into our lives.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=331

Commentary, 1 Samuel 17:[1a, 4-11, 19-23] 32-49, Ralph W. Klein, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

[2] https://bible.org/seriespage/14-david-and-goliath-1-samuel-171-58

“David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17:1-58),” by Robert Deffinbaugh at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

@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!

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!)

 

Justice, Healing, Wholeness

“Justice, Healing, Wholeness”

Eph 2-14 word cloud

Ephesians 2:14-17 – August 21, 2016

The Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro have been going on for two weeks. The Olympics has been a marvelous time of both competition and camaraderie, crossing international borders. I have not spent as much time as in years past watching the different competitions, but there have been some exciting and nail-biting times in these past weeks. Swimming and diving, gymnastics, track and field: the United States has won medals in these and many more. And yes, there have also been some scandalous things that happened, both on and off the field of play.

Scandals, quarreling, fighting, bombing. Attacks, sniping, terrorism, and even warfare. So often those are common events in the world today. Sadly, common, and sadly, robbing countries of their best and brightest young people.

From the time that I was little, I was drawn to the Olympic competitions not only for the sake of sport, but also for the sake of the Olympic values and traditions. The Olympic values strive to counteract those negative traits and actions I just mentioned. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, wanted the Olympics to lift up the ideals of respect, fair balance, pursuit of excellence, joy in effort, and balance between mind, body and will. He held up these as the essential Olympic values. What wonderful ideals to reach for!

However, as faulty, error-filled people in this mixed-up world, we have a big problem. Sin gets in the way of these lofty ideals. Negative feelings like hatred, xenophobia, classism, separation of all kinds get in the way. Sin also includes the haves versus the have-nots, all over again, in a myriad of ways.

I would like us to switch gears and look at the Scripture passage for this morning from Ephesians 2. The Apostle Paul is in the middle of a very long paragraph about Jesus Christ and why He came to earth: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who … has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility; His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross..”

As is typical with the Apostle Paul, he makes a complex argument and brings a whole bunch of ideas into play. But I want to highlight this central fact from Ephesians chapter 2. Humanity was once far away from God, made far away by our separation and sin. There was—and is still—a dividing wall of hostility. Hostility between us and God, and hostility between human beings. Hostility between individuals, neighborhoods, groups, nations, races, classes, and a whole host of other separations.

The Olympic ideals, values and tradition help in counteracting this hostility and separation between humanity. The United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission helps to counteract this, too. I have been preaching through the Statement of Mission this summer. The sentence for this week states: Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called: to work for justice, healing, and wholeness of life.” Wonderful things to strive for! And, worthy ideals to shoot for, from the point of view of the Olympic ideals, or from a Christian framework.

Jesus Christ came to earth to reconcile us to God, to destroy that dividing wall of hostility, so that each of us could have healing and wholeness of life. Praise God! Alleluia! That involves our relationship with God. Our vertical relationship, which is so important. Jesus has done that for us. No longer separated and far away, we now have a relationship with God.

But, that is not the end of the story. No! God wants us to take the next step. God calls us to work for justice, healing and wholeness of life, not only for us individually, but for others as well. That is our mission, from the UCC Statement of Mission.

I spoke about this several weeks ago, when several moms from Morton Grove went to the south side of Chicago, into the Englewood neighborhood. Two of us went again this past Wednesday, to help serve at a dinner outreach to that community. We took this opportunity to reconnect with the good people in the Englewood neighborhood and show them that friends outside of their community care, and are concerned. Friends want to help them strengthen relationships, and bring peace into their streets. Their neighborhood. Their community.

By several of us going to the Englewood neighborhood, this was a concrete way of showing our love and caring for others. As a follower of Christ, it was and is my responsibility to work for justice, healing and wholeness of life. Not because I am a pastor, not because I am a leader of this congregation, but because I follow Christ and strive to do the things He did and to say the words He said. And most especially, I strive to love the way Jesus loves.

All of us are called to do that same thing. To follow Christ to the best of our ability.

Let me switch gears and talk about the Olympics again. I did have the opportunity to watch a bunch of races last week. My son and daughter got really excited about the men’s and women’s swimming. We were awestruck to watch Michael Phelps add to his haul of Olympic medals, plus all of the other American swimmers doing an outstanding job in the pool.

I also made note of Simone Manuel, who won two gold medals, one for the 100 meter freestyle and the other as a member of the 4 by 400 relay team. Ms. Manuel is one of the fastest swimmers on the planet today. She also happens to be African-American, the first black woman to medal for the United States in swimming. Ever.

Articles and news stories immediately proliferated on the Internet, television, newspaper and other forms of media. Yes, they all praised Ms. Manuel for her grand achievement. Yet, some of the longer articles told a different story. About how the history of swimming pools and racism are closely tied together in this country. About how “according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, in the United States, a black 11-year-old is 10 times as likely to drown in a swimming pool as a white 11-year-old. And as of 2010, around 70 percent of African-Americans said they couldn’t swim, compared with some 40 percent of white folks.” [1]

I quote from an article in Rolling Stone, “the fraught dynamics of segregation were fought within swimming pools as well. Often whites would shut down or avoid pools rather than have to intermingle with black people. There were legal battles fought throughout the 1950s over the access black people had to swimming pools and beaches that continued even after Brown v. the Board of Education and the idea that “separate but equal” facilities were deemed unconstitutional.” [2] A large percentage of American children having a likelihood of drowning. It doesn’t matter who, or what, or where. They are our country’s children. All of our children. And, this is a matter of justice—or, injustice.

This racist attitude is changing. Praise God! Plus, I am so happy for Simone Manuel and her two gold medals in swimming! This aspect of justice is something we all can do something about. And healing, and wholeness. Can you hear God calling? Calling to each of us? As the book of Isaiah says, “God will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in God’s paths.”

We can all look forward to God’s shalom, healing, peace, and wholeness, and verdant life. God wants us to try to communicate this Good News, work for justice, and do our best to spread healing and wholeness. To our friends, our neighbors, those we work with. Let us strive to live healing-filled lives, with God’s help. Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/08/12/484841513/simone-manuel-wins-olympic-gold-thats-a-really-big-deal

[2] http://www.rollingstone.com/sports/simone-biles-and-simone-manuel-wins-impact-on-race-w434453

@chaplaineliza

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

Don’t Worry?

“Don’t Worry?”

Matt 6-34 do not worry about tomorrow

Matthew 6:25-34 – November 22, 2015

Worry. Fear. Anxiety. This 21st century urban culture we live in is an extremely anxious culture. People worry about all kinds of things. And, with the recent events in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad, many people all over the world are even more anxious. For good reason!

Worry about my friends. One of my friends has an elderly parent who is in hospice. Yes, I’m concerned about the whole family! Worry about jobs. Some people worry about their bosses, or their co-workers. I have several friends who are in need of jobs, and wish they could have the luxury of worrying about the situation at work! So, there’s worry about finances in there, too.

Worry about health and about family. One of my sisters had a knee operation several months ago. She lives out of state, and I haven’t heard from her in a while. Worried? Concerned for her and her mobility? Yes, I am, at least a little.

All of these situations are troubles, concerns. Worries. The news on the radio, on the television, different media websites—all depend on worry and anxiety to pull in their viewers. And with recent events, many of the politicians worldwide are having a field day. And the media outlets? Trying to get the public on the edge of their seats, to keep tuning in, or buying their products. A never-ending fearful circus.

Here in our bible verses this morning, our Lord Jesus is telling us not to be filled with worry. Worry—anxiety—fear. When we come right down to it, this yucky predicament sounds familiar. We might not like it, we might be uncomfortable with it, but these various negative situations still happen to many of us, on a regular basis.

All the worry and anxiety just mentioned? That was mostly external. Looking outward. Yes, common to all of us. Let’s up that worry and anxiety one notch higher. Let’s sprinkle some self-centered fear on it. Add a few dashes of worry, and pile on concern about foreign people, faraway places, and strange-looking things? Does that sound familiar, too?

Fear of the interior. That’s the inside job. Your insides, my insides. Our feelings and emotions, everything all mixed together like with a blender or a kitchen mixer. I can imagine some people are so anxious and worried about what’s going on inside of them that they don’t even want to examine themselves, and do an inventory. They would far rather hide under a blanket. Or check out in other ways that involve various preoccupations or addictions. Sure, emotional insecurity is very real. Lots of people feel alone. All by themselves, and cut off from others. Bitterness and frustration can make things worse. Worry and anxiety can magnify those kind of feelings, way out of control.

The last few verses of Matthew 6 is the Gospel reading for Thanksgiving this year. Jesus preaches one of His signature sermons at the beginning of His ministry, the Sermon on the Mount. He deals with a whole bunch of topics here. The Beatitudes, the Law Code of Moses, prayer, judging others, and worry. Our reading for today. How on earth are we supposed to get thankfulness out of worry? Or not worrying? Seems like this is about gratitude’s opposite. Worry. Anxiety. Robbing our lives of peace, joy and serenity.

I have heard a good deal about worry and anxiety in the past few years. In my previous job, I worked as a hospital chaplain. Yes, I would pray with anyone who asked. But, I would also listen. As I listened, I heard about a whole lot of worry, anxiety and concern. And, rightfully so! Anxiety about upcoming treatment, worry about finances, awkward anticipation about losses of various kinds. But I would also hear about depression, anger, and self-pity. I’d hear about these painful emotions mixing and crashing around inside of people, and oftentimes, I would be helpless to do anything about it, except listen.

In personal life today, I have concerns. Sure, I have thoughts that sometimes preoccupy my mind. I can live in yesterday for too long of a time. I sometimes look forward to tomorrow—or next week or next month with some fear and anxiety. But what is the overarching message of this reading? What does Jesus tell us in this paragraph from the Gospel of Matthew?

He talks about the beauty and the vastness of God’s creation. He tells us to lift our heads and look around. Doesn’t God take care of the birds of the air and the beasts of the field? Yes, stuff happens. Life happens—and then some, at times. But if God takes care of the birds and the beasts, think about us. Think about you and me. Do you think for one minute that God would forget about you? Or, that God would forget about me?

In preparing this sermon, I found this wonderful article online. A Lutheran pastor, the Rev. Dr. Janet Hunt says this about this section of Matthew: “Somehow, sometimes, God does use the really terrible things that do happen to many of us to remind us of what is worth worrying about and what isn’t.  Only in Jesus’ words today?  Nothing is worth worrying about, not even the worst tragedies and struggles that are ours, for it is all in God’s hands.  The big things, absolutely. And the small ones, too.”

I think some of you might have heard these little sayings: “It’s hard by the yard, but it’s a cinch by the inch.” And, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Anything can seem overwhelming, if we look at the whole huge thing at once. Sure, life does have challenges. And then some! However, Jesus’ words are really wise: “34 So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own.” In other words, one day at a time. “Don’t worry about tomorrow!” Those aren’t my words—they’re the words of Jesus!

Some of you might be saying, “That’s all very well, to say those words. Words are pretty, but do they have any action? Do they have any lasting effect on me, on you? How does it work? In real life?” What does worry and concern do to me? To you? In real life?

One way to deal with worry and concern is to practice a breath prayer. A breath prayer has two parts: first, a name of God that fits the prayer and the second a short request for help in dealing with the problem. For example, “God, help me feel okay at the dentist.” We can say God’s name while breathing in, and the request is said while breathing out. Breath prayers can work for little worries, and big concerns, too.

Jesus says these one-day-at-a-time words from Matthew 6 to each of us, today. We can take these words home with us, today. These words urge us to let go of our worry.

Jesus offers us an amazing gift. The possibility of God’s presence, through the challenges of life. God being with us, protecting us from that worry and anxiety. Shielding us from anything that would rob our lives of peace and joy.

Praise God! God continues to help us deal with worry and anxiety, no matter how big our concerns are, or how little. Whenever and wherever they might pop up.

It seems there is nothing greater for us to be thankful for. Gratitude? You bet! Grateful to God for God’s love, protection and tender care. Here, and hereafter.

We can all say amen to that. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

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

Generous With Our Words

“Generous With Our Words”

Jesus cures the blind man John 9

John 9:38 – March 15, 2015

In our sermon today, we are going to consider a situation where Jesus met a man who was born blind, and healed him. Miraculously! I could preach an awesome sermon on the blind man, or on the healing. But I want us to look at the aftermath of the healing. As we consider this man, I would like you to think about his lonely, isolated, marginalized situation, too.

I want to read chapter 9, from the Gospel of John. I’ll be reading from a modern translation called “The Message,” by Eugene Peterson.

True Blindness

1-2 Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

3-5 Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.”

6-7 Jesus said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “Sent”). The man went and washed—and saw.

 

The Rabbi Jesus performed another miracle! And this time, He healed a man who had a dark cloud over his head. The man was born blind. He had never, ever been able to see anything. We can tell how he was isolated. Shunned. And like I just read, certain people blamed the man for being born blind. “Well, he must have done something to be born that way!” Treated in that way, we can see how he was marginalized! Other people blamed his parents. “Serves them right! Look at them, having a child born blind! Just a nuisance, a drag on them and their lives.”

Isn’t that like some people today? Isolating, shunning, marginalizing people because of some seeming disability. What kinds of negative, judgmental things are they thinking of? Whose cynical words are they paying attention to? Are they like the disciples, or the other townspeople, listening to their own preconceived, sometimes faulty judgments?

Let’s hear what happens next, in our reading today.

Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, “Why, isn’t this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?”

Others said, “It’s him all right!” But others objected, “It’s not the same man at all. It just looks like him.” He kept saying, “It’s me, the very one.”

10 They said, “How did your eyes get opened?”

11 “A man named Jesus made a paste and rubbed it on my eyes and told me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ I did what he said. When I washed, I saw.”

12 “So where is he?” “I don’t know.”

We can hear the disbelief of everyone in the town. The townspeople were arguing! Some said this guy was the blind man. Others said he couldn’t be. He, himself, kept on saying, “Yes, I am! I’m the one! It’s me, the very guy!”

The former blind man’s words showed he was fully aware of what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now. He knew very well how he had regained his sight! And after the healing, Jesus was nowhere to be found. Let’s continue. See what happens next!

13-15 They marched the man to the Pharisees. This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. The Pharisees grilled him again on how he had come to see. He said, “He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “Obviously, this man can’t be from God. He doesn’t keep the Sabbath.”

Others countered, “How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?” There was a split in their ranks.

                We see the Pharisees as official, religious people of the town. They were the ‘judges’ or ‘experts’ for all things religious, in their day. They ruled on proper behavior and correct rule-keeping, as far as everyone’s daily lives were concerned. The Pharisees were meticulous in following the Mosaic Law code! You had better believe they made sure that everyone else followed the law code just as closely as they did, or else everyone would hear about it!

We know the blind man had been begging outside the Temple for years. However, the religious leaders had paid so little attention to him! Now that he had sight, they did not recognize him when he was not in his usual place, begging. The Pharisees had never even noticed him, a person, except to toss a few coins in his cup. This blind guy was totally marginalized, even shunned. Jesus on the other hand, saw him and paid attention to him.  He treated the man as a real, worthwhile person. In response to his need, Jesus healed him. And was promptly criticized.

17 The Pharisees came back at the blind man, “You’re the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?”

He said, “He is a prophet.”

18-19 The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”

20-23 His parents said, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.” (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. That’s why his parents said, “Ask him. He’s a grown man.”)

In this specific case of the formerly-blind man, the Pharisees carefully investigated this guy. They brought questioning words, and made cynical, unbelieving comments. Plus, we can see how the super-religious people intimidated the townspeople, not to mention the blind man’s parents. The leaders badgered them into saying that this healing Rabbi Jesus was definitely not the Messiah. The townspeople listened to their own fears. They didn’t want to be ostracized, too!

The judgmental attitude of the religious leaders was aided by their skeptical, angry words, capped by. “This man can’t heal on the Sabbath! This man can’t possibly be from God!” The Pharisees were blinded by their meticulous rule-keeping. They were hindered from seeing the marvels of God and God’s miraculous working. But, back to the reading.

24 The Pharisees called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind—and told him, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor.”

25 He replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . now I see.”

26 They said, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27 “I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?”

28-29 With that they jumped all over him. “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”

30-33 The man replied, “This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

34 They said, “You’re nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!” Then they threw him out in the street.

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36 The man said, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.”

37 Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”

38 “Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.

39 Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”

40 Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”

41 Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”

In the final act of this chapter, we see the former blind man meeting Jesus. He had already mentioned the miracle-working power of the Rabbi Jesus to the Pharisees, and was thrown out on his ear for his bold statements. Then, he runs into Jesus. Remember, he had never seen Jesus before. Only heard Him. What do you know, the man addresses Jesus with believing words! The former blind man’s eyes were opened in a number of ways!

Just as the townspeople and the Pharisees were blinded by their fears, skepticism, and preconceived notions, the same thing might very well happen to us today. We can strive to be like the man born blind, who gave witness, and told the religious leaders what happened after he was healed. The man sees what Jesus has done, and gives Jesus believing words, too! Speaking up for Jesus! Can we speak up for Jesus? Or will we hide in a corner? Can we offer each other generous, positive, God-focused words? Or, will we keep quiet, be timid, duck our heads and run away? This is a challenge all of us can listen to today.

Thank God, we can offer each other encouraging words! Generous words! Positive, God-honoring words! Just like the formerly blind man. We, too, can say we believe Jesus. Praise God! Amen.

 

Thanks to Eugene Peterson for his wonderful translation The Message. I quoted John chapter 9, around which I have interwoven this message.

@chaplaineliza

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

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