God’s Constant Love and Goodness

“God’s Constant Love and Goodness”

Psalm 25:4-10 (25:7) – February 24, 2021 (Midweek Lenten Service, Week 1)

            I fondly remember a dear older pastor who died several years ago. Pastor Lou often used to spread his arms wide and say at the beginning of worship, “God is good, all the time!” And the congregation in his church would respond, “All the time, God is good!”

            Sometimes, the goodness of God can be difficult to experience. Isn’t that the truth? Sometimes, with all the falls and missteps, the sins and shortcomings that people commit, the goodness and faithfulness of God can be so distant. It even seems like that goodness and faithfulness is never to be reached, never to be felt, disappearing like smoke.

            Do you sometimes feel the lack of relationship in your life, just disappearing like smoke, too? Many of us feel lonely, closed in, even isolated. The missteps, sins and shortcomings can amplify those feelings, and cause further separation from God.  

            As we read this psalm over again, we can see the view “of the landscape of the soul that experiences pain and difficulty, even at times a sense of abandonment, yet which longs wholeheartedly for God. Waiting for God to draw near, for God to be felt and discovered is in the cry of the faithful who wish only to be remembered by God.” [1]

            Feeling especially lonely and isolated yet? I think that abandonment is what our psalm writer is reaching for here. Yet – all is not lost! This psalm is a deeply personal psalm about relationship – the relationship between the psalm writer and God. Even though our writer does talk about the sins and errors of his youth (and some of us are guilty of sins and errors when we get older, too), hope is certainly not lost!

            Yet, there is a bedrock of truth in what my friend Pastor Lou said: “God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!” We can see that repeated several times in this psalm. Our writer repeats the fabulous Hebrew word chesed, here translated steadfast or constant love. It has an even richer and fuller meaning than that, but that translation is a huge concept on its own!

“Remember, O Lord, your kindness and constant love which you have shown from long ago. Forgive the sins and errors of my youth. In your constant love and goodness, remember me, Lord!” This wonderful petition, “Remember me!” is coupled with the Lord remembering all the kindness and constant/steadfast love which has been abundantly shown, already!

The request is for relationship. And, we know God is in relationship with us, already! It does not matter that we do sin, for we know a forgiving, merciful God. The capper is the constant, steadfast love extended not once in a while, not sometimes, but all the time. For – that is exactly what “constant and steadfast” mean.

             Dr. Nancy Koestr has a superb illustration of this idea: “My dog has the right idea. She takes the leash in her mouth when I take her for a walk, so that she can lead me. It is an endearing gesture and always makes me laugh. If this give and take happens between animals and humans, surely it happens between us and God. And as we live in that relationship, we wait, and receive, and lift our souls.” [2]

            Praise God, we are offered a deep relationship with God. We are loved by God! And, this is a good God. Not sometimes, not most of the time, but all the time. I can indeed say with Pastor Lou, God is good, all the time! And, all the time, God is good. Amen, amen.


[1] https://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/73719/21-February-1-of-Lent.pdf

Thanks to Rev. Marjorie McPherson, Edinburgh Presbytery Clerk, for her thoughts about the 1st week of Lent.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-26/commentary-on-psalm-251-9-4

Commentary, Psalm 25:1-9, Nancy Koestr, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

@chaplaineliza

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

Remember Through Generations

“Remember Through Generations”

 

Exodus 12:1-14, I Corinthians 11:23-26  – April 9, 2020

Jesus Last Supper, 2

Do you look at social media much? Maybe, Facebook? Instagram? Or perhaps, Twitter? In case you are not as familiar with these social media sites, there is a popular Internet trend that has been circulating for about ten years. It’s called (Hashtag) Throwback Thursday, or #TBT.“ This hashtag is used by people all over the world to share and relive their past experiences with anyone they want—both positive and negative experiences.

As I considered the Bible readings for this solemn evening, I could not help but think of #ThrowbackThursday. Perhaps the main reason is because when our Lord Jesus was at dinner with His disciples on that Thursday night 2000 years ago, it was Passover they commemorated with that special dinner.

That event was when Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt, out of slavery, into freedom. But before Pharaoh was convinced to let the Jews leave, the Lord sent plagues upon Egypt. It is at this point we take up the narrative. The Lord is going to send a horrible last plague; the firstborn son in each household across Egypt would die. In order to escape that plague, Jews were instructed to smear blood from a lamb on the lintel of each house. Then, the angel of death would know not to kill any in that household. The angel would pass over that house.

Have you had Bible experiences duplicated in your life? Like, right here, here and now? Not necessarily a Passover dinner with a roast lamb—although some modern-day Jews are kind enough to invite non-Jews to their homes for a Passover dinner, or seder. But, have Bible experiences happened to you?

We are going to remember the dinner that Jesus shared with His disciples that Thursday night, 2000 years ago. Why? Because Jesus told us to remember Him.

Morgan read about the details of the Passover lamb from Exodus as our Scripture reading tonight. Holy Week and Easter as two springtime festivals, but they do not always coincide. This year, as sometimes happens, they do. As Christians mark some of the holiest days of their religious year, so do Jews. Remember #ThrowbackThursday? #TBT has special significance this year. Not only for our Lord Jesus as He remembered the Passover with His disciples, along with Jews in that time and place, but Jews today still remember, still look back to that Exodus event.

This spring is also a very different season because of the coronavirus pandemic. This health emergency has made everything more difficult for everyone. With these shelter-in-place orders for everyone’s safety and well-being, people are more anxious and fearful than usual. For some people, of whatever faith, even their faith wears thin sometimes.

How are you holding up, with Easter on hold this year? Doing things differently? Perhaps some of your friends or acquaintances are celebrating Passover in a very different way this year, too. How are they doing? People snap at each other, especially when they are forced into close quarters together. What is more, with so many restrictions on our movement—at least, here in suburban Chicago, as well as other major cities—life feels closed-in, and claustrophobic. Have you or your family felt that way? This is a great concern during this quarantine, especially for people who track spousal abuse, child and elder abuse, and violence in households. Help is available. If you or someone you love can use the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the toll-free number is 1-800-799-7233. In such tense times, I am glad caring, helpful people are at the other end of the phone.

Where else can we turn, but to God? As the Bible describes to us time and again, God has been there for others, in Bible times, throughout history, throughout similar crises of war and strife, of deadly illness and pandemic, of natural disaster, and of famine and starvation. Yes, all these things have happened, and yes, Jesus has been here through it all, right by our sides.

We come to this night. We come to the table, this table. Jesus gathered with His friends around another table, in that Upper Room. He said the words that Paul gave to us in a letter to the Corinthian church, those words we know today as the Words of Institution. Yes, Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread. He took the cup. He blessed them, and passed the bread and cup to His disciples. He said about that event, “Remember Me.”

There is such a deep connection. The command in Exodus tells the Jews to remember. The words of Jesus tell His followers to remember. And each time we gather around a table like this, we repeat the Words of Institution, urging us to remember. We remember the gracious promises of God, throughout the generations. We remember the mighty power of God, the comforting presence of God, and the saving grace of God, throughout the generations.

I know that my faith falters, at such a difficult time as this. Some of my friends and acquaintances shyly admit the same. That is why it is so important to come together—virtually, if need be. We can perform the centuries-old practice of Communion on Maundy Thursday, where we remember those words Jesus spoke to a room of friends around a table. We can be strengthened spiritually by the Body and Blood of our Lord. Even though separated physically, we can pray for God’s holy presence to be with each of us in a special way tonight.

As we come to the table, let us also come to God with our hearts open wide. Let us come to the feast with Him who died for us, giving praise and thanksgiving for this great gift, as we all remember. Amen.  

@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!

 

Have Hope in God

“Have Hope in God”

1 John 3-2 like Him, stars

1 John 3:1-3 – November 3, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the music carry you.

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

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

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

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

Alleluia, amen.

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

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

Remembering All Saints, Bruce Epperly, Patheos, 2010.

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

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Our Good Confession

“Our Good Confession”

1 Tim 6-12 good confession

1 Timothy 6:11-13 – September 29, 2019

Some people express their devotion to certain things so clearly, don’t they? Take sports teams. I am sure you know friends or acquaintances who devoutly follow a sports team in season and out. I have one particular friend who regularly wears the team jerseys (yes, he has several), plus team hats, team jackets, and team flags. All the official merchandise! Everyone knows who he supports!

I wonder, do many of us know people who express their belief or devotion to Jesus Christ with the same excited amount of fervor? Or, are people shy of expressing their belief in the Lord very loudly, lest they be considered weird or narrow-minded, or even extra judgmental?

We are looking at the letter to Timothy for the second week in a row. Here we sneak a look over Paul’s shoulder as he dictates this letter, and discover he is concerned about Timothy remembering what is really important. He tells Timothy what that is: remember when he made the good confession, when he openly told everyone he was on Team Jesus. Can you see him excitedly shouting, waving his arms and wearing his Team Jesus merchandise?

Perhaps that “Team Jesus” uniform and jersey analogy is going a bit overboard, even somewhat fanciful. However, Paul was quite sincere in reminding Timothy about the time he publicly confessed his faith in Jesus Christ. This time of baptism was an important time in any adult believer’s life, both early in the founding of the church as well as in later centuries.

I suspect we here in the United States have only an unclear idea of how much danger the first believers were in. They were outlaws, outcasts in the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire was not particularly fond of Jews, but at least Judaism was allowed. However, Christians were getting rounded up by the authorities because Christianity was a new, outlaw religion.

Did Paul realize his friends would get in trouble if they told people they were on Team Jesus? Yes, of course he did. Sadly, he knew this very well. He himself was in prison for regularly testifying to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s take a closer look at the words Paul wrote to Timothy: “12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command.”

Almost everyone who became a believer in Jesus Christ at that time was converting as an adult from another kind of religion to Christianity. In other words, taking the step of a public baptism was part of confessing Jesus Christ as Lord, publicly.

In many cases, the newly-baptized person put on a fresh, white robe, signifying new life in Christ. I want to emphasize—after baptism—putting on fresh, new clothes: a brand-new Team Jesus jersey, letting everyone know that the newly-baptized person was now an openly-professing Christian.

Just so we do not mistake exactly what this confession details, let me give an illustration from the book of Acts, chapter 16. Paul, Dr. Luke and their friends were on a missionary journey to a large city in Macedonia, Philippi. Paul—as usual—was getting in trouble for preaching, teaching and casting out evil spirits. Paul and his friend Silas get thrown into prison, and God sovereignly causes an earthquake to happen. The jailer (who has been hearing all about their good confession all day and into the night) gets convicted by God, Reading from Acts 16: 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.

That was the good confession. Right there. The confession made by the Philippian jailer, even though he knew what a commitment that confession might be.

But, wait—Paul does not stop there in his letter to Timothy. He then mentions the Rabbi Jesus, who after His arrest and during His trial makes the good confession before Pontius Pilate oly a few hours before His crucifixion. Moreover, Christ Jesus made this good confession before many hostile witnesses.

A professor of the New Testament Dr. A.K.M. Adam states “In this, Timothy followed the example of Jesus before Pilate, who did not deny God in order to secure his own safety (the letter identifies Jesus’ response to Pilate also as a “good confession”).” [1] Again, the apostle Paul is not shying away from openly stating that these people believe in the Christian God.

We here in the United States might think, Paul, are you crazy? Coming right out and telling hostile people you are a Christian? Wearing your Team Jesus jersey all the time, day and night?

Yes, Paul does mean that. He is faithful, and he confesses his faith in Christ on a regular basis. He wants to encourage Timothy to do the same, to live each day for Jesus.

I think most people who knew how hard the baseball player Joe DiMaggio played would say he gave his heart and soul to the game of baseball. Late in his career, when the New York Yankees were comfortably ahead in the pennant race, Joe DiMaggio was asked why he continued to play so hard. He said, “Because there might be somebody out there who’s never seen me play.” Just so, the Christian should live every day as if someone will see him who has never seen a Christian before. [2]

So, Paul and Timothy are both wearing their Team Jesus jerseys, and maybe Team Jesus hats and jackets, too. The transformed Paul and Timothy let everyone who sees them know that they are Christians, showing love, compassion, and caring to all.

Paul even gives Timothy a run-down of all the attributes we ought to expect to show in our lives if—if we have this good confession, and before hostile witness, too! If we show this kind of sincere, persistent faithfulness, then our lives will start to show these Godly characteristics Paul mentions in verse 11. We will pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. That was the transformation that Paul told Timothy would happen. And, God does transform lives, even today!

Just like Timothy, we are encouraged to live like we mean it. Live as if someone who sees us has never seen a Christian before. Live the best life we can, for God’s glory. It’s not just with a spoken-confession, but it is also with a doing-confession. Not only show Christ by the words we say, but we show our belief by the actions we do. Yes, confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus, and also do the deeds that please God and glorify His name.

That is confessing the good confession, indeed. Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=731

Commentary, 1 Timothy 6:6-19, A.K.M. Adam, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

[2] https://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/faithful-all-the-time Source: Summer of 49, David Halberstam

@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!

Remember Jesus

“Remember Jesus”

communion line drawing

1 Corinthians 11:23-27 – March 30, 2018

One Sunday in another church, one of the bible reading was from the second chapter of Ruth. In the middle of the reading were the words, “The Lord be with you” (Ruth 2:4). The congregation, trained as they were in liturgical language, immediately interrupted the reading with the unison, “And also with you.” The congregation had only ever heard the words, “The Lord be with you,” as a liturgical call that demanded a response, which they provided. [1]

This leads me to ask, how often can “church” get in the way of worship? Here we are at Good Friday, one of the most holy and most devastating days of the church year. And, we can hide in our “churchiness.” Have you pulled the bedcovers of church tradition and church practice over your head, and hidden away from the sadness, shock and devastation of Good Friday?

The words of our New Testament reading for this evening include the words of institution for the Communion service. These are the words I will say later in this service as we remember our Lord at dinner with His friends. The apostle Paul “had learned these words from Christians before him (who had received them ultimately from the Lord) and was in turn passing them on to the Corinthian believers.” [2] These words which our Lord Jesus spoke at that Passover seder were already well known in the Christian community, just a few years afterwards.

Amazing, how significant and meaningful certain meals can be. I suspect you all can remember a particular meal you shared with someone. Was it grandparents? Children? Good friends? We remember meals, and deep conversations, and meaningful interactions. We remember the weather, the situation, where we were. All of this we remember.

All bound up in our Communion service is the recollection of where Communion came from. Whether we call it Holy Communion, or the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, we remember this night when it all started. We remember what our Lord Jesus said and did; we remember what happened after that dinner, on that night two thousand years ago.  

A problem showed up by the time Jesus’s followers were familiar with this remembrance meal,. Paul highlighted this problem in his letter to the believers in Corinth. People of higher or lower social status commonly received different amounts and better or worse qualities of food and drink at their church potlucks in Corinth. That was just the way it was: widespread, almost universal social custom and it could not be changed.

Paul wanted the Corinthian believers—and us, too—to know that “the Lord’s Supper was intended to demonstrate the unity of the church in the mutual dependence on the grace of God shown in the death and resurrection of Jesus.” [3]

Do we hear? Do we understand? Jesus wanted us to know that God’s grace is poured out on all of us, whether we live on the right side or the wrong side of the tracks, whether we are born into wealth or into poverty. No matter our country of origin, or place of citizenship, we all have citizenship in heaven if we believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Remember, Jesus set aside all pretensions and false importance. He did not puff Himself up, or claim undue privilege. As the Gospel of John tells us, our Lord Jesus took the place of a servant and washed His disciples’ feet when they were arguing among themselves, when each considered himself too important to wash the others’ feet. Can our “churchiness” get in the way of our worship? Our reverence? Our remembering?

Rev. Janet Hunt reflects on special times in her family, from her cousin, She remembers, ““I don’t really want a Shamrock Shake. I just want the feeling I had: 7 years old and my mom bought me one after the parade.”

“My cousin Greg posted this on Facebook a few weeks back.  His status update touched me so that first I found myself laughing and then tearing up remembering his mother, my Aunt Jane.  We exchanged a few private messages after that where he recalled with me that this was common practice for his mom, one passed on, evidently, by our grandmother — that of special treats communicating something about love.  That shamrock shake, in fact, was his mother’s way of saying, “I love you and you’re special to me.”

“Meals and memory do get all tied up together, don’t they?” [4]

Whether it’s a memory of our own meals, or a remembering of a meal shared in the Bible—like the meal of Abraham and his three heavenly Guests by the oaks of Mamre, or our Lord Jesus sharing loaves and fishes with a huge crowd, or the great welcome party when the Prodigal came home—we remember certain meals. We share together this special meal, this sharing of bread and passing the cup. We remember deep emotion and feelings, and sometimes we are struck to the heart.

We remember that Our Lord Jesus wanted us to know His message: “I love you, and you’re special to me.” As often as we eat this bread and share this cup, we remember. On this very special night, we remember. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=279  Commentary, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Dwight Peterson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://words.dancingwiththeword.com/2012/03/on-meals-and-memories-some-thoughts-for.html

“On Meals and Memories,” Janet H. Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2012.

All the Saints

“All the Saints”

Rev 7 multitude white-robes

Revelation 9:7-28 (9:7) – November 5, 2017

Today, we commemorate All Saints Sunday. The first Sunday of November, that day we remember all the saints who are now in heaven, worshiping God in that great cloud of witnesses. We also remember familiar people, relatives and friends known to us, dear to us, who died since last All Saints Day last year. What is it about these formal occasions of remembrance? Often, we remember those who have sacrificed much, displayed tremendous bravery, or were persecuted—even died—at tremendous risk to themselves.

What is it that causes you and me to be listed in among a great multitude of saints like these? Or, aren’t we even to be worthy to be listed on the same page as these rarefied superstar saints? These women and men who followed after God, no matter what?

One of our Scripture readings today comes from the book of Revelation, starting at verse 9: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

We break into the narrative as the elderly John has another vision, this time a scene of heaven. And, instead of seeing a predominance of Jews and only a sprinkling of other tribes and people groups, John sees a great multitude of all colors, all ethnicities, all languages and dialects, from every place on the globe.

I am blown away by that vision, the more I think about it. I am in awe, because the great multitude is of every possible description, every possible people group under the sun. Not just me and my family, not just me and the people from the neighborhood where I grew up. Not just people from one region, or one country, or one ethnicity. But, people from everywhere.       These people of the vision are called “saints,” and many people today have only one specific idea of what a “saint” is. St. Francis of Assisi, or St. John of the Cross, or St. Martha—the patron saint of our neighbor Catholic church, or the newly beatified saint, Mother Teresa.

Robert Louis Stevenson, writer of Kidnapped and Treasure Island, has a different definition of “saints.” “The saints are the sinners who keep on going.” And, both apostles Paul and Peter call their friends “saints” in the greetings, to all of the people who receive their letters.

But, we know very well that life often does not go smoothly. Not for us, not for our friends and families, and certainly not for the multitudes who lived in centuries past. Interesting, that “because we sinners are made holy by God’s grace, and not by our own actions, we are able to keep on going as Stevenson says.  Our keeping on in life often involves suffering.” [1] And, if we know anything about history, we know that believers in Christ often had to deal with grief, pain, suffering, and even persecution.

When John received this grand series of visions that he wrote down in the book of Revelation, he was often puzzled. He had to ask the people or elders or angels around him what it was he was seeing. As is the case here: “Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

Leading question, you may say! John persuades the elder to answer the question himself. ““they are before the throne of God and serve God day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. 16 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat.”

It sounds like to me that these people in heaven, who are identified as “saints” in other places in the book, no longer have to go through that valley of the shadow here on the earth, where God walks right by their side as they are in difficulty. They no longer need to face challenges of health reversals or job loss or crushing poverty or horrible accidents, or various calamities of one sort or another. They are at God’s side in heaven, and never have to experience those trials, losses, hunger and anguish any more.

But we are still left on this side of the veil. On this side, on a troubled world where suffering and loss and fear and anxiety rear their heads all too often. Especially grief, where we mourn the loss of loved ones, friends and relatives who left us too soon.

Rev. Janet Hunt talks about a sad situation like this: “And yet, for all of those for whom I light a candle and remember each All Saints Sunday, there is still really just the one I carry closest of all. One whose dying has me yearning most deeply for the promises of this day.

“It came to me again last week when a beloved cousin came to visit. He had stopped to see his folks the night before he flew out and as he sat with them he told his dad he was going to see Kathleen. “You remember Kathleen, don’t you dad? She was Tommy’s wife.” (Kathleen is my mother.)

“Now in these recent years my dad’s brother does not remember as he once did. For a moment last week, though, there was clarity as he remembered his only brother and as he registered all over again the fact that he had died and with that remembering, his face fell along with his tears. And mine did, too, to hear of his remembering.” [2]

Grief, sorrow and loss are like that, sometimes. We can be fine, content, living our lives. Then, out of nowhere it seems, the thought of that special loved one, that dear friend who is no longer with us in this world, comes to mind.

And then, Janet Hunt reminds us, “nothing makes us more grateful than the gift of that time and place so vividly described in today’s words from Revelation. A time and place:

  • where the whole world will gather and join together in song and where we will be washed clean,
  • where hunger and thirst will no longer hold sway,
  • where there will be shelter from all that would harm,
  • where the very water of life will sustain us,
  • and where God Himself will bend low to wipe away our tears.” [3]

Is such a place even possible? In those times when you or I are grieving anew, remembering with sorrow or longing in our hearts, the apostle John assures us that “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And, ““Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

In plainer words, from his first letter to the scattered believers in Christ, John gives us further assurance: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

Today, we have a foretaste of heaven from both Scripture readings. Revelation tells us of the wonderful worship service in heaven, where everyone is praising God. And 1 John lets us know that when our Lord Jesus appears to each of us, we shall be like Him in glory.

“So with all of you, I will light the candles this All Saints Day. In memory and in powerful hope we will light the candles. Standing confident in the very promises of God we will light them.[4]

Amen. May it be so. Amen.

[1] https://preachingtip.com/archives-year-a/pentecost-year-a/all-saints-day-all-saints-sunday/

[2] http://dancingwiththeword.com/all-saints-day-in-memory-and-in-hope/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

@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!)

Faith Begins at Home

“Faith Begins at Home”

2-timothy-opening-page

2 Timothy 1:1-5 – October 2, 2016

Today is the day we celebrate our children’s first communion. What a happy day! We all join together in praise for Claire, Edward and Noah. They learned more about the why of it, the beginnings of Communion yesterday, in the choir room.

We went through the events of that Passion Week two thousand years ago, and concentrated on that Maundy Thursday evening, that Passover seder our Lord Jesus and His friends celebrated. We talked about the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Jesus. Then, we talked about how Jesus ascended into heaven and is in heaven right now. And, that Jesus gave us the practice of communion—of the Lord’s Supper—for us to remember Him and to join together as a congregation of believers in Jesus and what He did for us on the cross.

Another really important thing we talked about was how Jesus forgives us for the bad and angry words we say, and the bad and wrong things we do. That is another important part of communion, too. We need to confess our sins before we come to the Lord’s Table. Then, just as I remind us all in the Assurance of Pardon each week, God will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Believe the good news! In Jesus Christ we are forgiven.

These are central foundations of our faith. The Christian faith. That’s the same faith the Apostle Paul talked about in our Scripture lesson today, from 2 Timothy. Paul says to his protégé Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”

This same faith, in these same things. Except, everything was very recent. There were still a number of people living who had actually seen Jesus and the events in Israel. (Can you imagine that?) So much more immediate.

Timothy was one of the first Christians brought up in a believing family; he received sound teaching about God from his mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois. Yes, Paul was very close to Timothy, a young man whom he took under his wing. But we see here that Paul gave credit where credit was due: Paul raised up Timothy’s careful teaching from a believing family, and the sincere faith of both his grandmother and mother.

Eunice, Lois and Timothy were Jewish. As in any careful Jewish home, the mother and grandmother had a good deal to do with teaching the children. The Hebrew Scriptures are careful to tell faithful people to share about the ways of God within the home. Deuteronomy 4:9 reminds us, “Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” Worship services in the Temple were not sectioned off, with a separate place for babies and toddlers, and a junior Temple, and then Temple for adults. No, there were multiple generations present at all worship services. What a great way to celebrate the family of faith, the larger faith community.

Praise God for families that strive to live for God, and to raise children in the nurture and fear of the Lord. Wonderful opportunities to learn more and more about God in a familiar setting, and how to walk in God’s ways and will.

But—what if a person does not grow up in a believing family? What then? Can someone be raised in a secular family, or a non-Christian family, and still come to know God?

I did. I grew up in a home where there was no mention of God at all. When I was a preschooler and into my primary grades, I don’t believe I ever when to church at all. Maybe, once. (A vague memory.)

I’m the youngest of six children, and I grew up on the northwest side of Chicago. My parents were both raised in Catholic parishes in Chicago, but they stopped attending the Catholic church while they were in college. And, they never renewed their acquaintance with the church.

It was a combination of things that started me attending Christ Lutheran Church in Chicago when I was in elementary school. My older sisters sometimes went to the youth group of that church because their friends attended there. The church also had a volleyball team, and one of my sisters loved to play. They would occasionally go to church, and my mother pushed me out the door to go to Sunday school with my sisters. I found I liked it. I really liked it, more than anyone ever expected.

That congregation became my family of faith. I not only attended Sunday school and youth group, but I learned all about the Christian faith while at that church. The pastor, Pastor Wold, was a faithful and conscientious teacher in confirmation classes. I remember attending confirmation every Wednesday afternoon for almost two years after school, and we carefully went through Luther’s Small Catechism.

Just like Timothy, with a sincere faith living in him passed down from his blood family, so I had a sincere faith living in me. It was passed down to me through faithful Sunday school teachers and youth leaders. I remember with gratitude people like Pastor Wold, Mrs. Pabst and Mrs. Smallman. People who carefully taught me how much God loved me.

Here, at St. Luke’s Church, we have the opportunity to teach our children about the Christian faith. Not only Miss Karen teaches our young people, in Sunday School, but all of us do as we gather together in worship, sing, pray, repeat the stories of our faith. Even sit together in silence. All of these are ways we come together as a family of faith, before God. We all have the opportunity to learn from each other on a regular basis, when we gather for worship.

Today is a special day. Yes, it is the first communion of Claire, Edward and Noah. Praise God! We do rejoice with them! But, it is more than that. Much, much more.

Please take out your bulletins. Look at the front page. What does it say on the bulletin? World Communion Sunday. “World Communion Sunday (originally called World Wide Communion Sunday) is a gift of the Presbyterian Church to the larger ecumenical church.  The first celebration occurred at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1933 where Dr. Hugh Thompson Kerr served as pastor.”

“World Communion Sunday grew out of the Division of Stewardship at Shadyside. It was their attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.” [1]

So, not only are families interconnected by blood ties. Not only are congregations connected as families of faith. But, a multitude of congregations, of churches, are interconnected with each other. All over the world.

This celebration of the Lord’s Supper—called in different places Communion—or the Eucharist—is as different as are the many varied cultures where the Lord’s Supper is commemorated today. Some people today will meet out of doors, under a tree. Others will meet in a plain structure with only a roof over their heads. Some will meet in a fancy, ornate sanctuary, while still others will creep away by ones or twos to a hidden place for fear of being arrested, or worse. All of these are remembering our Lord Jesus as He instituted this holy meal, this sacrament.

We meet each Sunday as a family of faith. And, we meet today as fellow members of the family of Jesus Christ. Praise God for friendship, for fellowship, and praise God for the marvelous diversity of the families of faith throughout the world, in cities, small towns, rural churches, across denominations, transcending barriers and dividing lines, all through the power of the love of Christ. Truly, our sisters and brothers, all around the world.

 

[1] http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/special-days-and-emphases/world-communion-sunday/  John A. Dalles, a PCUSA pastor who has researched the history of World Communion Sunday notes this in his blog entry, reprinted from the October 7, 2002 Presbyterian Outlook.

@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!)