Meeting Jesus In-Between

“Meeting Jesus In-Between”

Temptation of Jesus – Jesus MAFA

Mark 1:9-13 (1:13) – February 21, 2021

            How often do we experience several significant happenings in our lives, and yet feel very much in between things? On the virtual road through life, yet not arriving at any settled place and not staying there for a good long time? When young people pass between one grade and the next, or graduation from one school or course of study to another, that is a time of being in-between.

            This whole past year – 2020 – might be seen as an in-between time. Certainly not a normal year, by anyone’s understanding. Whether it’s a busy time for our families, a hectic time at work, or a stressful time in terms of health, we might be in-between things in one or more areas of our lives. This seems like a time that is especially full of a lonely, uninhabited wilderness for so many.

As we look at Mark’s Gospel reading today, we see big changes for Jesus. His baptism – a big event! Jesus driven into the wilderness – another significant event! And then, Satan coming to Jesus – a third, powerful event! All in the space of five short verses. These three significant events all come crashing into Jesus’s life in a very short time, and with Mark’s typical economy of language.

We talked more about the Baptism of Jesus several weeks ago. This was certainly a highlight in our Lord’s life, and sure sign of His Heavenly Father’s approval. Then, immediately (one of Mark’s favorite words!), Jesus was driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus must have had major feelings concerning this sudden ushering away from all human habitation. To cap the wilderness experience, the devil and Jesus interacted, face to face. That must have been a sight to see! Imagine, Jesus on one side, and Satan on the other.   

            Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days, all alone in that deserted region. In-between times, in a time that is not a big, wonderful event, but is separated at a distance both physically and in terms of thought and experience. An in-between time, a wilderness time of loneliness and quiet.

            I understand a number of nurses serving in hospitals and care centers are so weary of seeing patients so very sick. This time of pandemic is stressful for everyone, but especially for those who care for seriously ill patients. Since the pandemic has caused patients to be so lonely and isolated, seldom receiving even one relative as a visitor, some nurses have taken it upon themselves to come alongside of very sick patients. To sit with them, give an extra squeeze of the hand or a sentence or two of encouragement or comfort before going to the next room.

            Is there a possibility that hospitals and care centers might be another place of the wilderness in the present day? Perhaps not the actual semi-arid wilderness of Palestine, but certainly an isolated experience, away from other humans except for brief times during the day.

            All the same, this in-between time can also be a time that is hallowed by God’s presence. Sure, God can meet us in this space, this liminal place in between the big things that happen in our lives – in yours and mine.  

            Even though big events can happen in our lives, so much of the daily activities of our lives are not big. Not earthshaking. Are you in the wilderness in some way today? In between events, and wondering how everything is going to right itself, or even somehow manage to continue?

            Let me tell you some good news! It is a comfort and encouragement to know that God seeks us out when we are in those in-between times. True, those wilderness times in our lives can be discouraging and disorienting for each of us. When we are lost or wandering or angry or grieving, God finds us again and again. This is the bedrock of our Reformed faith, that God takes the initiative and comes to seek us out, no matter what

            Just as the Lord God proclaimed Jesus to be God’s Son at His baptism, just as the Lord God sent angels to attend Jesus in the wilderness after Satan left, the common thread in each of these significant events is the Lord God’s closeness to Jesus. We hear the heavenly voice meet Jesus at the threshold of something new and different, and proclaim Jesus as God’s beloved!

            Not only the big places and events are holy, but also the in-between places. All places become holy as our God comes into all of them, breathing new life and encouragement and comfort into every space and place.

Are you at the threshold of something new or different? Still in the wilderness? Or, just continuing to walk that road of day-to-day existence? We can all take heart! God names us all God’s beloved. Did you hear? Each of us is God’s beloved child, no matter what.

As commentator Denise Anderson says, God meets us where each one is. God approaches each of us to claim us, equip us, and send us to do God’s will – as God’s beloved children. Amen!       

@chaplaineliza

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

I would like to thank the Rev. T. Denise Anderson, Coordinator for Racial and Intercultural Justice with the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and former Co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), for her contributions to the Lenten sermon guide Again & Again, from Sanctified Art. These Lenten sermons are based on that sermon guide.

When God Shields Us

“When God Shields Us” – October 18, 2020

Exodus 33:12-23 (33:19-22)

Have you ever known someone who was really important? I mean, really, really a V.I.P.?

Moses was personally acquainted with the biggest V.I.P. in the whole world. Even, in the whole universe. Eileen just read today’s Scripture lesson from Exodus 33, and we heard what an awesome experience Moses had on top of that mountain. Just him and the Lord, they had personal one-on-one time.

Let’s take a closer look at this reading. An overview, so we can understand exactly what is at stake. We can simply take Exodus 33 as a striking word-picture of how awesome, mighty and all-powerful God is, and we would be absolutely correct. Our God is indeed an Awesome God. But, there is so much more involved here.   

Moses and the Lord talk about the presence of God. This is huge! The presence of God is a continuing theme in the book of Exodus, and right here is a particularly important exchange between our two protagonists.  

We could simply watch Moses and the Lord, almost like we are in the audience, or viewing on a television screen. Reading this story from Exodus, we might say “What does this story have to do with me?”  But, we can relate this to our personal situation – each one of us.

To come before the physical presence of God is truly rare – but it was something Moses greatly desired! What is more, he also wanted to be able to reassure the people of Israel with the reality of God’s presence. Is that something that reassures you, today?

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, again and again, we hear about how dangerous it is to approach the Lord. God’s presence is so fearsome that a number of people are immediately struck dead for daring to come in contact with the Lord. For much of Exodus, the Lord is not even sure whether Israel is even worthy enough to sit by and receive that Godly presence. Yet, Moses sees God’s presence and blessing as a beneficial thing, a good and necessary thing.

Have you ever been given the silent treatment? This could be by a parent or other grown-up when you were younger, or perhaps by a sibling or a friend? The silent treatment is particularly sad and jarring, especially when you really respect, even love the person giving you the silent treatment.

That is pretty close to what the Lord wanted to do to the whole nation of Israel by removing God’s presence and blessing from Israel. That would be horrible! Like, drinking water, and finding it was dry water. Or, going outside in the middle of the day, and finding there was an eclipse of the sun – permanently. What a traumatic, even cataclysmic event, having the Lord discuss permanently removing God’s presence and blessing from Israel. [1]

Yet – God said to Moses, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ And, even further, “the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” That must be so heartwarming, hearing God say, “I know you by name and you have found favor with me.”

I remind you, looking on the face of God was fatal, for a number of those in the Hebrew Scriptures. I wonder: is it a fatal act to think that we see God’s glory, that we fully comprehend God, today? The hazard of thinking you’ve got it all figured out becomes a sign of our self-centered, self-involved problem. The idea that we’ve got it figured out, because once we figure that, WE become God to ourselves – our self-centered delusion is that WE are greater than God. This was certainly part of what was going on with the self-involved people of Israel, periodically thinking they were much more important than the presence of God.

If we step back from being self-centered and self-involved, we realize we are invited into a relationship – a relationship with the Lord. Moses knew that to become more aware of the presence of God, he needed to spend time with God. That is exactly what he and God were doing on top of that mountain. And, God and Moses had a number of one-on-one encounters that helped Moses get through his life’s journey.

Knowing that we are always in the presence of God will help us get through many difficult things. Though complicated questions and weighty issues overwhelm us on a regular basis, we can be certain that God walks beside each of us on our journey through life, too. [2]

Are you ready to have a relationship with the Lord? To have one-on-one conversations with God? Sure, our God IS a powerful, mighty, Awesome God. We are also freely invited into the generous, merciful presence of God.

Let us celebrate the presence of God, today. Amen, alleluia.


[1] Brueggemann, Walter, “Exodus,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. I (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 1994), 938-39.

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/pressing-on/twentieth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a-lectionary-planning-notes/twentieth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-a-preaching-notes

@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!

The Coming King

“The Coming King”

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

Luke 19:35-40 – April 14, 2019

The most powerful person in the world. Ever hear that expression? I suspect it is familiar to most of us from movies, from comic books, from historical fiction. With the release of super hero blockbusters every few months, we certainly have the opportunity to see the clash of titans on the big screen, and the super hero of the movie conquering the huge threat or the big bad guy—or big bad girl. The thing is…can we imagine Jesus as the most powerful person in the world?

Our Gospel reading today from Luke 19 tells us that a huge crowd of people thought the Rabbi Jesus was a really important person, a really powerful person. He was a Miracle Worker, He preached with authority, and just to be in His presence—wow! The crowd was hailing Him as the long-awaited King, the Anointed One of God, the Messiah.  

Jesus, Himself, had been telling His disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem for some time now. Even though His friends kept telling Him that the Jewish leaders and the Sanhedrin had it in for Him and wanted to kill Him, Jesus still “determined to go to Jerusalem,” as Luke tells us back in chapter 9.

Today’s story has all the makings of a great drama. (And, the narrative of the Passion Week has been recorded a number of times in motion pictures.) As commentator Alyce McKenzie tells us, “Good stories, screenwriters tell us, have a compelling protagonist, a believable supporting cast, a series of vivid scenes, and plenty of dramatic tension.” [1] Dr. Luke’s telling of the Palm Sunday story has all that, and more.

Here we are on Palm Sunday, and the weeks of Lent are almost over. That means that our series on the Lord’s Prayer is almost over, too. What sentence are we going to look at today, with our Scripture readings of Luke’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, and the Apostle Paul’s hymn of Christ’s humility? We take a closer look at “for Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever, amen.”  What more glorious Scripture readings to examine!

As we think of our great Divine drama, Jesus not only is a marvelous protagonist, but we can see He displays Divine foreknowledge. “Jesus knows ahead of time where the colt will be and what the response of the owner will be to being told, “The Lord needs it.” Luke shares with the other evangelists a portrait of Jesus as a true prophet whose prophecies are fulfilled and who has access to the secret knowledge of human hearts.” [2]

The second necessary feature of a great drama is a believable supporting cast. Look at the disciples—human, and distinctive. Listen again to Luke’s story: “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it “

We notice the rest of the supporting cast here, in the next verses. “As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. 37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

From time to time we have talked about putting ourselves into a Scripture reading, and viewing it from the inside. Where would you be, in our Gospel reading from Luke? Are you an excited disciple or crowd member, waving your arms and picking up a palm to welcome the Messiah Jesus into the city of Jerusalem? Or, are you one of the skeptical ones on the road, holding back, with a wait-and-see attitude?

“The people were obviously weary of the Roman occupation. They had been hearing rumors of a great teacher from Nazareth who healed the sick, fed the hungry, and made the scriptures come alive. Some of them had seen miracles first hand and had heard parables straight from Jesus’ mouth. Now, they had a deliverer; their long-awaited Messiah and Savior, King Jesus, was with them.” [3]

The third necessary element in any great drama is dramatic tension. Boy, does the Triumphal Entry have that! Even down to the antagonistic Jewish leaders who come up against the Messiah Jesus, this has drama all over the place.

It is almost too difficult for me to put myself into the narrative, I know this story all too well. Yes, I am tempted to rush right through the Palm Sunday celebration, go once-over-lightly through the several events recorded in the other Gospels during Holy Week, and cry again because of the Crucifixion this Friday night. Or, was it two thousand years ago?

Switching to the New Testament reading from Philippians, the apostle Paul has a slightly different point of view. Paul is writing from the other side of the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and Jesus’ ascension into heaven—as we know from the Apostles Creed, Jesus has taken His seat at God’s right hand in heaven.

As we start this reading to the church in Philippi, Paul tells us of Jesus, before His incarnation and birth in Bethlehem. The eternal Christ humbled Himself, emptied Himself of all Godhood, all Godly prerogatives, and became a helpless human baby. Imagine the most powerful person in the whole world, in the whole universe, even. The eternal Christ put aside the kingdom of the universe, the ultimate power and the infinite glory, to become human.

Another way of looking at this is that Jesus put aside all of that kingdom, power and glory so He could communicate better with us, so He could come along side of us and be Emmanuel, God-with-us, as we have talked about at Christmas. But, that is not the end. Oh, no! Certainly not!

We see this progression: the preincarnate Christ, in all His kingdom, power and glory. Amen! “Christ emptied himself of inherent divinity, and for his supreme obedience unto crucified death, he was exalted by God for unending glory. Philippians 2:5-11 keeps the focus Christologically and theologically tight. On Passion Sunday [today, this Sunday], Paul keeps us grounded in what God, through Christ Jesus, is doing.” [4]

We do not look at the institution of Communion on Maundy Thursday and the Crucifixion of Good Friday. We are skipping the additional drama, trauma, anguish and grief today. Paul does mention those things briefly, but he looks to the amazing ending. “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

If that is not a proclamation of the last line of the Lord’s Prayer, I don’t know what is. “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, amen.” Have you bowed the knee to our ascended and exalted Jesus the Messiah? Is your tongue acknowledging Him as Lord and Savior? Yes, Jesus was crucified on our account. It was for our sins He was crucified. His arms are open. His pierced hands are extended. Come to Jesus, today.

[1] https://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Palm-Sunday-Alyce-McKenzie-03-18-2013.html

Rewriting the Palm Sunday Story: Reflections on Luke 19:28-40, Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

[2] https://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Palm-Sunday-Alyce-McKenzie-03-18-2013.html

Rewriting the Palm Sunday Story: Reflections on Luke 19:28-40, Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

[3] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=15           

Commentary, Zechariah 9:9-13 / Luke 19:28-40, Rodney S. Sadler, Jr., The African American Lectionary, 2008.

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=284

Commentary, Philippians 2:5-11 (Passion Sunday), C. Clifton Black, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

@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!

Prayer: Powerful and Effective

“Prayer: Powerful and Effective”

James 5-16 prayer of righteous, words

James 5:13-20 (5:16) – September 30, 2018

If anyone has been following the news in the past weeks out of Washington, you know that journalists have been trying hard to get as much information as possible about the people and the situations involved. Journalists always are on the lookout for reliable information. They want to answer some basic questions: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. If you can answer those five questions clearly, you will have a good, solid news story.

The past two weeks have been a roller coaster for many people. With the nail-biting news about the Supreme Court nomination, many people across the United States have been sitting on the edge of their seats. While I am not going to play politics or tell anyone which Washington politician or opinion is right or wrong, as a pastoral caregiver I do pay close attention to people’s emotions and reactions.

What I have seen in these past days are the overwhelming number of people with heightened emotions and reactions to anxious, even fearful situations. As someone involved in pastoral care and trained as a chaplain, I notice these things. In our scripture reading today, we find the apostle James talking straight about how to pray, and thus deal with things similar to these: heightened emotions and reactions to anxious situations.

The apostle James was a practical kind of guy. We can see that from this short letter, the only letter he wrote, included in the New Testament. He gives some practical advice to his readers on how to live a faithful and effective Christian life: how to live faithfully with others in society, how to control the tongue, how to turn away from evil and towards God. Here, in the fifth chapter of James, he turns to prayer. As we look at this passage, James tells his friends how to pray, in very practical terms, almost the same way as a news reporter might tell it.

Here are the first verses of our scripture reading, from one of my favorite modern translations of the Bible, The Message, by Eugene Peterson. “Are you hurting? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven—healed inside and out.”

James covers the bases here. People who are hurting, happy, sick, sinning. In other words, he tells us Who ought to pray. Anyone ought to! Anyone who needs God’s help or anyone who has received God’s blessing ought to pray. That means anyone—all of us.

What is the next question? What should we pray about? Anything, and everything. That is the wonder and power of prayer. So many things to pray about, but James gives some great descriptions. He tells us what kinds of situations, in just a few words.

When should we pray? Anytime is a great time to pray. When we are hurting, or feeling great, or sick, or sinning? In each case, we are invited by James to bring everything to the Lord in prayer. Whenever we are in trouble, or in need to healing, or for forgiveness from sin? That is the time for prayer. Anytime.

Where are we to pray? Absolutely anywhere. This is one that James does not directly address, but we can see James tells us we are able to pray any time we need help from God. So, it just makes sense that you and I can pray anywhere we happen to be. Wherever we are, God is with us. God is everywhere.

The last question is, Why should we pray? The simple answer? Because God answers prayer. Verse 16 tells us “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Did everyone hear? “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Except, I have been hearing from a large number of people during the past two weeks. Such difficult and traumatic events are extremely hurtful, especially for people who have had similar things happen to them. Psychologically speaking, the mention of a similar traumatic event can very well cause someone else to vividly relive their personal experience, no matter how long ago it happened. Trauma is imprinted on the brain in a unique way. It’s like the brain flags the specific memories as super-important. Those flagged memories can surface or re-surface at unpredictable times, when someone reminds you of something traumatic that happened. Like, for example, this serious discussion in the news of harassment and assault.

During the past two weeks, calls to rape and sexual abuse help lines have skyrocketed, anywhere from doubling to running four times as many as in a similar time period. Online, in social media, and personally, I have heard more people tell of harrowing incidents of rape and sexual abuse, and the horrible responses received when these actions were reported. Plus, I have both read and heard of situations where no one ever reported these horrific acts—until now.

Though I don’t who or what you believe, I think all of us can agree that as God’s people, we all need regular repentance and soul-searching, no matter what. We are also all in need of healing, personally, and certainly communally. Isn’t that what James tells us here?

When I was a chaplain, working in critical care units like the Emergency Department, Intensive Care, and trauma support all over the hospital, my primary job would be that of compassionate listener—even before prayer, and also as a heartfelt part of prayer. I suggest for all of us to consider a heart of compassion and a gentle hand of mercy. It’s time to put our defenses down and instead experience the vulnerability of listening to one another.

“If someone has a story to tell, the greatest gift you can offer is simply to listen. You don’t need to have answers or wisdom. You probably don’t need to say anything except, ‘I hear you. I believe you. I’m sorry you experienced that.’ In the compassionate version of the world I yearn for, we offer one another solidarity, a listening ear, and a tender heart. “ [1]

As this letter tells us, the apostle James was practical. He also had quite the reputation for prayer. We all know the familiar saying “Listen to what I do, not what I say.” That was James. He would not tell his friends and followers to pray if he didn’t follow Jesus in prayer himself.

Through the power of prayer, total personal and communal healing can occur. James was following the example of Jesus who taught his disciples to pray and showed them that people can be healed through prayer.” [2] James spent so much time in prayer that he had the nickname “Old Camel Knees,” since his knees were so hard and callused from staying on them in prayer for hours on end.

As one commentator said, “we must be active participants in the process. Whether it is the healing touch of the laying on of hands or a simple hug from a sister or brother in Christ or the potent power of prayer or the relief of corporate confession, active participation in the Body of Christ is preventative medicine at its best.[3]

What are we waiting for? “Take it to the Lord in prayer.”

Amen. Alleluia.

 

(My sincere thanks to Charles Kirkpatrick, for his Object Lessons & Children’s Sermons, Coloring Pages, Puzzles. Sermons4Kids.com. https://www.sermons4kids.com/5Ws_of_prayer.htm  I borrowed freely from this children’s activity for this sermon.)

(What follows is the Response our church had after the sermon. Instead of a Prayer of Hymn of Response, we had the following activity.)

Amidst the prescriptions James prescribes, the anointing of the sick is one that we do not do enough of, and one I want to offer to this congregation, to this family of faith during the worship service.

We read again these verses from our scripture passage from James chapter 5: “Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven—healed inside and out.”

Come, let us worship God, and claim our desire to be made whole – spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

And if anyone is just sick and tired of the current state of the world, come and be prayed over and be anointed with oil, a sign of the possibility of healing, inside and out.  

 

In the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, be strengthened and made whole, filled with God’s grace; may you know the healing power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Dear Comforting God, thank You for hearing and answering our prayers. Help us to remember that You want to heal us when we are sick, help us when we are in trouble, forgive us when we sin, and rejoice with us when we are happy. In the healing name of Jesus, Amen.

[1] https://fosteringyourfaith.com/2018/09/30/time-for-compassion/

Rev. Dr. Susan J. Foster (Sue) is the pastor of the East Woodstock Congregational (UCC) Church in CT.

[2] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=52

Commentary, James 5:13-16, Christopher Michael Jones, The African American Lectionary, 2008.

[3] http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2012/09/rx-for-broken-lives-and-faltering-faith/

“Rx for Broken Lives and Faltering Faith,” Sharron R Blezard, Stewardship of Life, 2012.

@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!

Jonathan Encourages David

“Jonathan Encourages David”

be not afraid, words

1 Samuel 23:14-18 (23:17) – July 1, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Running for your life. Always in hiding, always on the look-out. It’s what psychological specialists in trauma and similar mental challenges call hyper-vigilance. I suspect, if we think about it, we can come up with a situation where either a person we know or people who are familiar to us have been worried, afraid, looking over their shoulders, if not on the run.

This is similar to the situation David was in, for many months, on the run in the wilderness of Judah.

But, let’s back up a bit. The strong, young David—charismatic leader of men—was the hero of Israel. Young, good-looking, he had walked onto the field of battle and won in single-handed combat with the mighty warrior Goliath the Philistine champion. Everyone in Israel praised David, up-and-coming rising star in the court of Israel. Men looked up to him, women adored him. (Apparently, he was really attractive.) His name was on everyone’s lips. What was not to like about David?

We must not forget about the other important part of David’s story. He been anointed while still a teenager to become king by the aging prophet Samuel. That means, David would take the place of King Saul. Except, King Saul was still king. Awkward!  

At first, King Saul thought David was a good guy to have around the palace. Plus, David had some skill with the harp, so he could soothe the king when the king was depressed and out of sorts. Then, to add to all of this, David and Jonathan, King Saul’s oldest son and heir, became close friends.

Imagine your best friend. I mean, your best-best friend, closer to you than even the closest members of your own family. That was David and Jonathan. Best friends forever.

King Saul probably had some uncertainty and insecurity in his life, even though he was the king of Israel. We can read about the several times that the king displayed his irritation and even outright hatred for David. Eventually, middle-aged King Saul’s anger and jealousy at the younger, good-looking, charismatic David boiled over. He sent his loyal soldiers after David. Yes, to kill him.

So, the powerful king of your country is seriously jealous, and hopping mad at you. What do you do? Run, of course. Make yourself scarce.

We see several reasons for people to be on the run from powerful leaders. Yes, politics may play a part in this. War and conflict might also figure in. Power and control are also important possibilities in any severe disagreement. And with Saul, his violent anger against David was definitely more personal.

For several chapters in 1 Samuel, we can read about the adventures of David. Life-and-death adventures, too. If Saul’s soldiers had ever caught up to David, the situation would mean death for David.

Sure, David had been playing cat-and-mouse with the king’s soldiers for months.           As commentator Bob Deffinbaugh said, “David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. …The full weight of Saul’s pursuit and its implications seems to bear down on him. Perhaps weary in both body and spirit, David is greatly distressed to hear that, once again, King Saul is nearby, fully intent on killing him. There is ample evidence to show that if given the chance, Saul will do so.” [1]

We see that King Saul decided to go out into the wilderness and eradicate David once and for all. We also know that David and Saul’s son Jonathan are best friend, even though it had been many months since they had seen each other. What a wonderful friend to have, even taking his life in his hands. That’s what it meant for Jonathan to risk visiting David, in the wilderness.

What kind of stress and trauma must David have been going through? Let’s read from 1 Samuel again: “While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that[a] Saul had come out to take his life. 16 And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.”

This is one reason why it’s so important for us to see how Jonathan encouraged David, even though both friends must have felt extremely pressured. David had been on the run for many months, and his psychological state could only have been one of extreme trauma!

When these two dear friends finally meet, what the first things Jonathan does? Helps his dear friend to find strength in God.  If you are alone and struggling to keep your head above water, no matter what challenges or difficulties are coming your way, having a dear friend come alongside of you to encourage you can make all the difference.

Of course, David was in extreme difficulty. Running for your life from the king’s best crack troops must have been both mentally and physically exhausting. Having the king’s oldest son and heir as your best friend must have added a layer of challenge to the whole mess.

What does Jonathan lead off with? “Be not afraid!” He reminds David that all Israel knows that the prophet Samuel has anointed him to be king after Saul, and says that he—Jonathan—will be his right-hand man. All of which must have been a great comfort and encouragement to David. They two dear friends renew their covenant, and then Jonathan has to leave. I suspect David has to continue to elude the king’s troops, too.

Our situations and challenges today are not as dire as David’s horrible predicament. However, God continues to speak. God continues to encourage and lift up hearts, even through great trials and tribulations. Are you having troubles and difficulties in your life today? God is there, and ever present help in times of trouble and need.

Just as David’s best friend Jonathan was there to encourage him through the deep dark times, God can bring friends alongside of us, too. Friends can speak words of encouragement and trust to us, like “Be not afraid!”

Are you someone’s best friend? Is your best friend going through difficulties, pain, even trauma right now? Can you come alongside of your friend and encourage their hearts today? Consider your part. The Lord might be calling you to be that friend, today, or tomorrow.

What a ministry, that of being an encourager. What a kindness, and what a service to others. Whether you are the one who could use a friend, or whether you are the one called to be such a friend, remember David and Jonathan. Best friends forever. An encouragement, finding mutual strength in God.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/20-friend-indeed-1-samuel-2315-29 Bob Deffinbaugh 

@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!)

He Is Not Here!

Matthew 28:1-10 (28:6) – April 16, 2017

Matt 28-6 He is not here, cursive

“He Is Not Here!”

Birds. butterflies, and flowers all have something in common: they are all surprises! You might not expect a brightly colored cardinal or peacock to hatch from a plain old egg, but, it does! You might not expect a lovely Monarch butterfly to come out of a drab cocoon, but, it does! You might not expect a colorful tulip or sweet-smelling hyacinth to grow from the lumpy bulb you planted last fall, but, it does!

Birds, butterflies and flowers are very common things. We have become used to their small surprises, every time they emerge from the dull former things to the bright, new life. What kind of surprise do we have, at Easter time? What great big thing has changed?

Let’s go back three days, from Easter Sunday to Good Friday. The priests and religious leaders finally thought they beat Jesus. That upstart Rabbi, false Messiah, calling Himself the Son of God—the religious leaders finally got that Galilean troublemaker arrested. About time, some might say! That Jesus was just a rabble-rouser, speaking against the Romans, stirring up trouble, and protesting against the established order of things. Serves Him right. (Or, so some people said.)

We know the Passion narrative, how our Lord Jesus was arrested by Roman soldiers, tried, beaten, jeered at, spat upon, and finally brought before Pilate for the sentence of execution to be delivered by the ruling governor.

We know the Way of the Cross, how our Lord Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrows, carrying that cruel cross on His back through Jerusalem. And, the many women and others in the crowd, watching Jesus walk that road out of the city.

We know the Crucifixion, how our Lord Jesus was nailed to that cross, hoisted up, and hung there for hours that Good Friday morning and afternoon. Until, at last, He died on that cross amidst the thunder and earthquake.

What some do not know is that our Lord Jesus was taken down from that cross later Friday afternoon and laid in a new tomb. Quickly, quickly, before night fell on that Friday evening, and the Jewish Sabbath began. A time of God-ordained rest when no work could be done, not even to bury a dearly loved one.

Friday night passed. All day Saturday—the Jewish Sabbath—passed. Saturday night, and nothing could be done. No work, certainly. It was dark, after all!

On Sunday morning, the first day of the week, the two Marys came to the new tomb. I’d imagine they came early, early in the morning, creeping—coming on tiptoe toward the tomb. I’d also imagine that they might have been frightened to come into a graveyard.

We don’t know much about the other Mary (other than her name, which was a very common name for that time), but we do know several things about Mary Magdalene. When Jesus met her, a year or two before, she had a number of demons residing in her. Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, cast the demons out of her! The old, horrible existence she had been living was—gone. Everything had become new. The demons were gone, Mary was healed and free to live the abundant life. The very life she lived was proof of God’s abundant power in her life. [1]

I don’t know about you, but if Jesus had done something that awesomely powerful in my life, I may have followed Him, too, no matter what!

Both Marys were going to the tomb to perform a solemn, loving ritual for their Rabbi, teacher and leader, a ritual of anointing with precious oils and expensive spices. They had not had time to do this loving anointing when they so hurriedly placed Him in the tomb late Friday afternoon.

I suspect the women were also concerned about how to roll away the stone. Possibly, they meant to ask the Roman soldiers. The last thing the two Marys were expecting was an Easter surprise!

As Matthew tells us in his Gospel, an Angel of the Lord had rolled away the stone, and sat upon it. “[The Angel’s] appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.”

What about the two Marys? The Angel said to them, first thing, “Do not be afraid!”

Do you notice that? Almost every single time that angels appear in the Bible, they first have to caution people: “Do not be afraid!” Angels must really be fearsome creatures, since they always are saying, “Do not be afraid!”

Let’s go a few verses further. The risen Jesus greets the two women with the same words: “Do not be afraid!” Here, I am certain the women were scared half to death when they encountered Jesus!

Talk about an Easter surprise! No one expected their Rabbi Jesus to be alive again.

What on earth does this mean for us, today? “For children, this simply means ‘don’t be afraid of anything.  I am stronger than the worst evil there is.  And, no matter what happens I will be with you always.’” And for us big people, it can mean exactly the same thing. Jesus tells all of us, “Don’t be afraid!” This is a message we can tell each other again and again. This is a message that we can unpack repeatedly.  “On Easter for children it begins with knowing that no one could kill Jesus forever” and, it’s a celebration of God’s cosmic, unbeatable power. [2] On Easter for us big people it means that Jesus has conquered death once and for all, and lives forever.

We go back to birds, butterflies and flowers, these very common things. God has created them to hatch, to burst forth, to bloom. We have become used to their small surprises, every time they emerge from the dull former things to their bright, new lives.

“Tradition has it that Christ was raised from death to life in the springtime, when the ground and the trees are waking up from the dead of winter and showing the unmistakable signs of rebirth that come every year. But the new life that is in Christ is not really like the new life in nature in spring.” [3] New life in Christ is not only a physical matter, but a spiritual matter.

On Easter, we have a great big surprise, a huge surprise: a dead body coming out a tomb, alive again. Jesus has overcome death. God has done the biggest miracle in the world—in the universe. Our Lord Jesus is alive again. This is the greatest Good News of all!

Alleluia! He is risen! Alleluia!

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/easter-sunday-festival-of-gods-creation

Worship Planning Helps (Easter): Worship & Preaching Notes, Hymn Suggestions and Worship Resources from the United Methodist Church General Board of Discipleship.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/03/year-easter-sunday-april-21-2014.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter Sunday, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/easter-sunday-festival-of-gods-creation

Worship Planning Helps (Easter): Worship & Preaching Notes, Hymn Suggestions and Worship Resources from the United Methodist Church General Board of Discipleship.

@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!)

Powerful, Living Word

“Powerful, Living Word”

Heb 4-12 alive and active

Hebrews 4:12-13 – August 7, 2016

Words have power. Well-written words paint pictures in our brains, lift our spirits, or tug at our heartstrings.

Think of the vivid quote from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest: “We are such stuff/As dreams are made on; and our little life/Is rounded with a sleep.” And, the stirring words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Or, the heartstring tugs from A.A. Milne’s book Winnie the Pooh: “How do you spell ‘love’?” – Piglet “You don’t spell it…you feel it.” – Pooh”

This service today is all about words. Some very special words. Powerful words. God’s words. The Word of God, the Bible.

Our passage for this morning comes from the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 4. Reading verse 4:12 again: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Those words are pretty powerful! Sharp, penetrating, dividing, judging. The Word of God has great penetrating power, piercing incisively. This is an everyday picture: imagine a butcher with a very large, very sharp knife, cutting down to the bone.

“The word of God is not just sharp, but sharper than the sharpest doubled edged sword. In that sense the word of God can cut either way—in judgement or blessing.” [1] Plus, God’s Word, the Bible, is filled with God’s Spirit. That is important, too!

We are taking a closer look at the United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission. Today’s sentence is: Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to preach and teach with the power of the living Word.

God’s words have been powerful since the beginning of time. And, even before. Think of the preincarnate Jesus, the eternal God the Son. The first chapter of the Gospel of John tells us “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” Jesus, the Logos, which is a Greek expression meaning “the Word.” He spoke, and the entire universe came into being. Jesus is equated with this powerful, living and active Word of God!

As a minister of the Gospel, it is my responsibility and joy to preach and teach the Word of God. To preach and teach the amazing, mighty, powerful, living Word. Yet, the Statement of Mission tells us plainly that we all—that is, everyone here—have that same responsibility.

Last Wednesday afternoon, I went with several people from Morton Grove to the south side of Chicago. My friend had been in touch with a mothers’ group called Mothers Against Senseless Killing (MASK). This group has a free meal outreach called Give Them a Meal.

The four of us went to the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. What a wonderful opportunity for people to come together, to share, to have fellowship and make community. We set up everything so the free meal could be offered to anyone who came up to the street corner.

We were there for several hours. Yes, it was a marvelous afternoon. We were of service to that community. However, I wanted to let you know that just before I left, I had a wonderful conversation with the senior pastor of a Missionary Baptist church that set up an outdoor worship service on that same street corner.

Complete with sound system and moveable pulpit, that church has a regular outreach to their community each Wednesday evening. Pastor Matthew told me of the burden on his heart to disciple the members of his church. He strives to teach them to share their faith. Just as the UCC Statement of Mission says, “be ready to teach and preach with the power of the living Word.”

That’s what Pastor Matthew and his congregation strive to do, week in and week out! I am not particularly skilled in evangelism. That is one area where I fall short. I can learn lots from him and the members of his church. Plus, this sentence from our Statement of Mission tells us that teaching and preaching with the power of the living Word is something that every believer in Christ ought to be doing, on a regular basis.

There is a problem, though. We humans have shortcomings. We miss the mark in so many ways. As I was preaching last week, natural humans have deceitful hearts. We hide and run away. Our thoughts, words and actions are cloaked in darkness and sin.

Does this word picture sound sadly familiar? Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, and then repeatedly in the New Testament, we see over and over again how natural humans keep tripping up. How we sin “in thought, word, and deed,” The second part of Hebrews 4:12 lets us know that God’s word “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” I think that all of us here today acknowledge that we humans do sin. Miss the mark. Make mistakes. Say stupid things.

There is a famous picture, or icon, of Jesus.  Jesus the Judge. We are all familiar with pictures of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, or Jesus with the little children. But here in these verses, we have a serious word-picture of the risen, exalted Jesus, Jesus the Judge. Yes, this is a very real part of our Lord Jesus, whom we know and love.

The other half of this pair of verses lets us know that “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Words of caution! Words telling us to take care. As one commentator mentions, “the Word of God can probe the innermost motives of the real self and bring them out into the open, and then, with the self exposed to the light, prompt repentance and forgiveness.” [2]

Serious stuff, the Word of God! The Bible.

Still, we need to look at the words of the statement from the UCC Statement of Mission. “be ready to teach and preach with the power of the living Word.”

When it comes to everyone—all of us being ready to preach and teach, God offers us help. Isn’t that wonderful? God lets us know that we have God coming alongside of us. Helping, coaching, cheering us on as we tell others about the tremendous God we serve.

I have mentioned Miss Rose before. Miss Rose was a loving, caring senior from a church I attended some thirty years ago. Imagine my surprise and pleasure to find her one of the residents at the senior citizen home I worked at while I attended seminary! Miss Rose had the gift of evangelism. She would ask practically everyone, “Do you know the Lord?” Then, she would tell about the wonderful things God was doing in her life.

Miss Rose did not have an easy time at the retirement home. She was in constant pain, among other health issues. However, she did not let that stop her. Practically every person knew that God was Miss Rose’s Helper, Refuge, Strength. Shepherd. Healer.

Just in case anyone is wondering how to be “ready to teach and preach with the power of the living Word,” We can follow Miss Rose’s excellent example. Tell others what God is doing for you, right now. Tell others about the Holy Spirit’s power in your life. And, tell others about the amazing Word of God, the Logos, God the Son, Jesus!

What an opportunity! Tell others, like Miss Rose. Tell others about God’s power in your life, today. Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday28be.html “The Word of God,”  Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.  

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday28be.html “The Word of God,”  Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.  

@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!)