“Be Ready!”

“Be Ready!”

Ephesians 6:10-20 (6:14) – August 22, 2021

            When I was a girl and a teenager, I was a Girl Scout. I still remember the Girl Scout motto: “Be prepared.” In the 1947 Girl Scout Handbook, the motto was explained like this: “A Girl Scout is ready to help out wherever she is needed.” The Boy Scouts had the same motto, and my former-Boy-Scout husband occasionally reminds me of that, usually when we are packing to go on a trip. Be prepared! In other words, always be ready, for whatever comes your way.

            The apostle Paul had some important things – and encouraging words to say in this letter to his former congregation. Paul finishes up with a few practical, direct words for his long-time congregation. (I say long-time, because he spent about three years with this church, longer than with any other church he planted.)

            Many of these words involve being prepared. Being ready! The apostle Paul is very serious, and actually describes the kit of a Roman soldier. He knows what he is talking about here, too! Paul was in prison, in Rome, while writing this letter to the Ephesians. Paul was shackled to a Roman soldier inside of his cell, to make double sure he was going to stay put. And, Paul had the opportunity to become sadly familiar with the Roman soldier’s armor.  

            We had a prayer today, a Blessing of the Backpacks, before the sermon. We might think of the Scripture reading from Ephesians in terms of going back to school. We prayed for the school children in this congregation, as well as for all of those related to our church members. Children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, godchildren.

And, it does not matter whether we are remembering preschoolers or high schoolers or those in graduate school. We pray for them all to have a good year of study, an enjoyable year with their friends and classmates, and especially a safe year from anything they might come in contact with, whether an illness, an accident, or some other form of danger. We pray for all of the children, wherever they are, whichever school they attend.

I love the commentator Carolyn Brown. She was a Children’s Ministry Director for years and years at a Presbyterian church, now retired. She draws the innovative comparison between the list of pieces of God’s armor Paul talks about, and the list of new school supplies our children and their families have just assembled over the past weeks, to carry to school. Here is her list.

We had a Blessing of the Backpacks just today. Think of the backpack of truth our children and young people carry with them, each day at school. They can carry either good or bad things with them. Our young people need to be secure in God’s love, with God’s help.

Many students have a locker. Smaller children have cubbies, for storage. I can imagine the apostle Paul thinking of a locker of righteousness for our young people. Young people need to be prudent and even cautious about their lockers, what they post in them, and what kind of messages are passed to and fro, using the lockers.                                                                                                                                                                                                       

            Carolyn Brown makes a point of talking about “pencils, pens, markers to communicate God’s word – make every word you write with them a word you would say to God.”[1] And, our young people are now carrying computer tablets and laptops to school. I could imagine the apostle Paul cautioning our young people to not only be prepared, but be wise in what they say.

            Finally, our children almost always have new shoes! New school year, new shoes to wear. Yes, these new shoes might be cool. But, do our young people bring the message of peace while wearing them? That’s what the apostle Paul intended. He wanted believers to wear the shoes of peace, and communicate that sorely needed message to everyone they met.

            We might think that these are instructive words for our children and grandchildren to hear. However, as Paul describes these pieces of Godly armor, I am reminded of the dangers of the world this armor protects us from. In the book series (and movie series) about Harry Potter, one of the most chilling bad guys in the books are the dementors, “huge dark creatures that fly through the air, capture you, wrap you in cold darkness and suck all the happiness out of you.”[2]

The recent, horrible take-over of the country by the Taliban in Afghanistan is so much like the dementors, wrapping everyone in cold darkness and sucking all the happiness out of people. Especially women and girls! This horrendous military action is not only against feelings and emotions of people, like the dementors, but it involves machine guns, bombs and assassination squads. It means life or death for countless numbers of people across Afghanistan.

I receive a great deal of email weekly, including letters and articles about community and humanitarian concerns. I want to bring this excerpt to you. It comes from an email letter dated August 18th by Sheila Katz, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Council of Jewish Women. This paragraph shows us a different way, an open-hearted way for all of us to be ready.

“Welcoming the stranger — the immigrant, the refugee, the asylum-seeker — is one of Judaism’s most core values. The Torah commands us no fewer than 36 times to care for those whose homeland, language, social network, and resources may be elsewhere.  We hear this more than any other commandment in our most sacred of texts, perhaps because it’s all too tempting, when things are going well for us — when we, ourselves are comfortable, when we, ourselves are safe, to turn our backs on those who have come to us for shelter, for protection — because their own home has become untenable. It is so easy to forget. So the Torah has to remind us, again and again, until we remember.” 

Whether inside or outside the church, however and wherever we serve our Lord, God intends for us to be ready. That means being prepared by these words of caution. Paul used these words in Ephesians to advise all of us to be ready to deal with challenging, even dangerous situations. We all need this prudent caution of God’s armor, in our everyday walk as believers. Plus, we all need the reminder of our interfaith Jewish friend, about the 36 commands – that’s 36 commands! – in the Hebrew Scriptures, to be prepared to take in those who come to us for shelter, for protection, for refuge. We all need to be ready for the challenges of living, inside and out.

Final words, quoting Paul? Be strong in the Lord! Stand ready, inside and out. And, do all this in prayer, always asking for God’s help. Alleluia, amen!  

@chaplaineliza

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

(Thanks so much to Carolyn Brown and her marvelous insights from Ephesians 6 for children and young people – and older people, too! – from “Worshiping with Children,” a lectionary resource I often quote from.)


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/08/year-b-proper-16-21st-sunday-in_7.html

Worshiping with Children, Proper 16B, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

Where’s Your Treasure?

“Where’s Your Treasure?”

Luke 12-34 your treasure, words

Luke 12:29-34 – August 11, 2019

I greet you all in the name of our loving, gracious God and our Lord Jesus Christ. It is good to be back here with you at Epiphany United Church of Christ.

Is anyone here familiar with a particularly challenging time? Either in your life, or the life of someone close to you? I’ve been through a number of challenging, even difficult times, over the years. Periods of unemployment, strained and broken relationships, times of extended illness of loved ones, even death and periods of grieving and loss—of many kinds. Sadly familiar to many here, I suspect.

On the flip side, I have experienced times of great happiness and contentment in my life, periods of harmony and peace, times when I felt I was in a good place, in terms of relationships, employment, and my personal and family life. Those are times I suspect many people want to continue to experience, long-term. Even, your whole lives long.

What did Jesus have to say about both of these long-term situations? Both the up-side as well as the down-side?  Our Scripture reading from the Gospel of Luke sheds some light on that question. Our Lord Jesus gives many instructions in Luke 12, and tells His listeners a number of important things. He talks about the positive times in life as well as the times of sadness and heartache. And—Jesus does not shy away from challenging His listeners. By no means! He talks straight, and lays things on the line, not pulling any punches.

Let’s pull back, and look at today’s short, power-packed reading from Luke chapter 12 in context. Luke 12 comes from what bible scholars call the Sermon on the Plain, a section from the Gospel of Luke that parallels the Sermon on the Mount closely, Matthew chapters 5 through 7. Many of these statements in Luke state or summarize statements we find in Matthew. (Both Sermons have versions of the Lord’s Prayer, for example.) But, these words of the Rabbi Jesus—from either sermon, Luke or Matthew—have both comforting as well as challenging moments. For example, the words from our Scripture reading today.

This reminds me of two years ago, when I preached a series of sermons on the Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew 5. Those were the lectionary readings for February 2017. Yes, the words of Jesus are familiar. We are the light of the world, the city on a hill. We need to take care of our tongues and not call each other names. And, especially, Jesus’ command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Jesus meant all that. All of it. I found it particularly challenging to faithfully lift up the words of Jesus for those Sundays. I tried to do my best, but I know our Lord’s words can sometimes be difficult to hear, and even a rebuke for us.

So, it is with a similar feeling of anxiety that I come to this reading today. What is Jesus saying in this section of the Sermon on the Plain, anyway?

I included a part of last week’s reading from Luke to begin our reflection this morning. Words of a reassuring nature for people going through some difficult, challenging times. Concentrate on God. Keep our eyes focused on things that matter to God, and don’t worry about the peripheral but distracting stuff that happens in our lives. That sounds great! I could just stop right there, couldn’t I?

But, Jesus does not stop there. He continues: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”

Wait a second, Jesus! It’s all very well to tell us comforting stuff like “Do not be afraid, little flock,” and “your Father (or Parent) knows what you need.” Those things are great, and reassuring, and encouraging, especially when we are going through difficult times in our lives. But, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor?” and, “provide for yourselves a treasure in heaven?” What kind of stuff is that? Sounds pretty suspect to me. I can imagine two hecklers in the back of the room glancing at each other, and elbowing each other. Yeah, I always knew this Rabbi Jesus was running some sort of con game.

Except, it isn’t a con game. Jesus is really for real.

Sure, economic security is certainly a concern for almost everyone. And, appropriately so. Concern for ourselves and for our families is to be commended. But, I think we can better understand where Jesus is focused: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Commentator Matt Skinner notes that “we can train our wills and our ways of thinking (for that is what the heart symbolized in his culture) through the ways we use our money.” [1]

Jesus is really asking each one of us: where are your priorities? What do we put first in our lives? Are my priorities “me, me, me!” and “my house, my car, my 401 K!” Or—are my priorities something else? Something that would be pleasing to God? Something involving having an open heart and loving compassion?

These words of Jesus tell us a lot about God’s view on charity, on being open-hearted and open-handed. The parable of the rich fool is found just a few verses back in Luke 12, where Jesus talks about a foolish man who had big barns stuffed full of all his crops and other goods—all his wealth. And then, after doing a tour of all his barns stuffed chock full of stuff that he was hoarding for himself, he had a sudden, massive heart attack and died.

Jesus’s words for us today are closely connected to this mindset. Where is our treasure? Where are our priorities? If we spend all our money on ourselves, guess where our hearts will be. What is more, we can extrapolate further. Perhaps some do not have too much money, but are particularly focused on their house, or their car, or have some other focus for their life. What is their priority in life? What would Jesus say about that particular priority?

Are we leaving our relationship with Jesus in the dust, in a far distant second or even third place?

I am going to start a third chaplain internship next week, two days a week, and I will still be pastor at St. Luke’s Church in Morton Grove. (And, I would appreciate your prayers, both for my challenging internship and my faithful service to the lovely congregation at St. Luke’s.) When I considered this Scripture passage this past week, I couldn’t help but think of people in the hospital. The patients and their loved ones who I will meet.

I am familiar with that environment, since I was a hospital chaplain for some years, before I came to St. Luke’s Church. I remember many who had total reliance on God, who were spread thin, in trauma. Many of these folks had been pushed so far, and had very little left in the way of resilience. They had fears, anxieties, trials and tribulations. But, they also had faith in God, in whatever faith tradition they came from.

When they—when we—reach a traumatic situation, God is there. God is faithful. That was some of what Jesus was saying in the first part of our Scripture reading today. And, for those who have not faced such sadness and trauma in our lives—yet—this statement of Jesus applies, as well. Where are your priorities? Where are mine?

When we put God first and allow other things to take second place, it is amazing how things sort themselves out. God has a personal hand in sorting things out in each of our lives, and that is truly a wonderful thing. So, where is your treasure?

I’ll let Jesus have the last word: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4142  Matt Skinner

@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!