Don’t Be Troubled

“Don’t Be Troubled”    

John 14-27 don't be afraid, words

John 14:1-4, 25-27 (14:27) – August 26, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Have you ever felt the pain and loss of an upcoming separation, even before it actually happened? Perhaps a good friend or relative is moving far away, soon Or, maybe a loved one is seriously ill in the hospital, in fact, terminally ill. You deeply feel the upcoming, approaching loss even when your loved one is still right there, with you.

Those two situations, those two instances are similar to what actually happened to the disciples. For all they knew, their Rabbi Jesus was going away, permanently. Jesus knew He was going to be parted from His friends for a while. Jesus gave His farewell speech in the Upper Room. What could any of the disciples do or say?

Let us back up a bit. The disciples did not anticipate exactly what events were going to happen. It is not that He kept quiet about His leaving and going away. It was others, the disciples, who said, “Where are you going, Lord?”  What could some possibly hear that Jesus said would happen?

Here in the Gospel of John, the writer John wanted everyone to know that Jesus was in His final efforts to convince His disciples. Jesus knew very well what was going to happen. This discourse is one of utmost significance. Jesus gave the fullest explanation in answering these questions, and in expressing His longing, His care in this Upper Room discourse.

I realize that we here in suburban Chicago are not quite as familiar with the extent of the separation, heightened fear, and anxiety the disciples were facing during that Passion Week before Jesus’s crucifixion. But, many people today do face separation, and anxiety, too. In some cases, their feelings and emotions might border on severe fear, even terror. And, in some cases, these feelings and emotions are diagnosed as mental health challenges.

“According to U.S.A. Today (11/16/11), ‘More than 20 percent of American adults took at least one drug for conditions like anxiety and depression in 2010 … including more than one in four women.’ The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports (adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics, bold type theirs), ‘Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population).’” [1]

Thank God, we do have ways of managing that anxiety, even severe fear, today. Let me say that the various types of therapy and group support and medication we have available to us are all valid. These are all ways to manage anxiety and fear. Jesus gives us another way of managing our anxiety and fear, too.

Listen to the words that Jesus had for us in the reading today, from the new, modern translation “The Message.” From John 14: 1-4 “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”

The words that we are more familiar with, “Do not be troubled,” Eugene Peterson translates “Don’t let this throw you.” The disciples had good reason to be troubled and afraid! They knew that the Jewish leaders were out to get their leader, their Rabbi. And yet—Jesus had walked straight into the trap the leaders were setting for Him. Talk about anxiety! The disciples had every right to be scared to death!

Yes, separation can be triggered by fear and anxiety; in certain of the disciples’ cases, the fear and anxiety of just not knowing. Not knowing anything. That can be a scary prospect, indeed. The disciples enjoyed a deep intimacy with their Rabbi Jesus. Thus, “the disciples were full of fearful questions when Jesus announced His departure. Yet Jesus understood their troubled hearts and assured them of a continued home together.[2]

That was in the case of the disciples, two thousand years ago. But, what about us, today? We can see from Jesus’s words that He means a relational dimension to our interaction with Him. Yes, we can enjoy intimacy with each other, and intimacy with God. At the same time, we can be fearful and anxious at the prospect of separation—even that most permanent of separation, death itself.

How can we sort out these deep-seated feelings? Yes, fear and anxiety are part and parcel of all of us human beings. These feelings are part of our emotional make-up. Jesus goes right to the heart of our fear of separation and loss of intimacy with His words that tell us “I’m getting a room ready for you!” This image describes “the mutuality and reciprocity of the relationship of God and Jesus… [In fact,] Jesus uses the domestic image to say ‘My return to God will make it possible for you the join in the relationship that the Father and I share.’” [3]

How awesome is that? We all can join in on that relationship. Jesus lovingly invites us into that family relationship with God our heavenly Father.

But, that is not all, especially at this stressful, anxious, fear-producing time right before Jesus knows He is going to be arrested and crucified.  Listen to our Lord’s assurance to us, from Peterson’s modern translation of John 14:25-27: “I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.”

As if a close relationship with Jesus is not enough, He even promises us the gift of a dear Friend, the indwelling Holy Spirit. Even more amazing!

We are encouraged to think carefully about whether or not we have truly laid hold of the cure for troubled hearts that Jesus promises in our scripture reading today. “Faith in Christ’s person and hope in Christ’s promise will comfort your troubled heart. You may think, ‘That’s overly simplistic! That’s a nice thought, but it’s impractical and out of touch with reality!’ But these are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ to troubled hearts. Either His words are true or they’re not.” [4]

Do you hear? Jesus did not leave His disciples abandoned and bereft, all alone, fearful with separation anxiety. What is more, Jesus does not leave us alone today, either. Sure, we may go through difficult times, but Jesus promises to walk with us.

We will have challenges and difficulty in this world, true, yet we have an intimate relationship with God freely offered to us. So, that is our Lord’s parting gift to us all. His peace. Don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. Be not afraid. We have Jesus’s word on it.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] bible.org/seriespage/lesson-75-comfort-troubled…

https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-75-comfort-troubled-hearts-john-141-11

[2] Ivaska, David, Be Not Afraid (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 110.

[3] O’Day,Gail R., The Gospel of John, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. 9 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 741.

[4] bible.org/seriespage/lesson-75-comfort-troubled…

https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-75-comfort-troubled-hearts-john-141-11

@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!)

Mental Illness, Mental Wholeness

“Mental Illness, Mental Wholeness”

luke-8-35-jesus-and-demoniac

Luke 8:35 – October 9, 2016

The focus of our service today is mental illness. The National Alliance for Mental Illness has designated this past week—the first week of October—as Mental Illness Awareness Week. On the back table in the narthex is a handout with some facts about mental illness and how to be understanding, how to be an advocate for those who suffer, and to their families and loved ones.

The Gospel reading for today is an extended one. We are going to look at it piece by piece during the sermon time today. Reading from the Gospel of Luke chapter 8, starting at verse 26: “Then [Jesus and the disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As[Jesus] stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met Him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.”

Let’s talk about the setting for this encounter—for it is a significant encounter in the life and ministry of Rabbi Jesus. Jesus and the disciples have crossed the sea of Galilee to the other side: the Gentile side. This is a non-Jewish town, in a non-Jewish area, the territory of the Decapolis. On top of that, the first person Jesus meets when He steps on land is a man with demons, unclean spirits, who lived in one of the most unclean places—among the tombs.

Continuing reading from Luke: “28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before Him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”—“ Abrupt, confrontational, in your face.

Can you see it, in your mind’s eye? Or on a screen inside your head? The man, with wild eyes, disheveled hair, tattered beard. No clothes, falling on his face in front of Jesus. He doesn’t go to anyone else, but he singles out Jesus—whom he names “Son of the Most High God.” Isn’t it interesting, amazing, that the demonized people can always recognize Jesus—the Son of the Most High God—and infallibly identify the Messiah for who and what He is, long before the other people surrounding Jesus can.

These encounters where Jesus deals with demons have been discussed for centuries. Many modern day interpreters and commentators think that these people who were “demonized” (a direct transliteration of the Greek term) suffered from mental illness. Regardless of what we think about these narratives, we know that these demons are often “forces that take hold of us and prevent us from becoming what God intends us to be.” [1] And yes, demons can be represented by self-loathing and self-destructive words, actions, habits and thoughts.

The Reverend Jean Hite had some fascinating insights into this Gospel reading. She notes that “All the demons that Jesus confronts in the Gospel stories have three things in common:

  • First:  Demons cause self-destructive behavior in their victim.
  • Second:  The victim feels like he’s trapped – trapped in his life situation.
  • And third:  The demons keep the victim from living a normal, happy life in his family or community – the demons separate the victim from family and community.” [2]

Dr. Luke gives us some back story. “Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)” Superhuman strength this man displayed! A demon, or mental illness—whatever it was in the first century, whatever it is today, Jesus faces down the situation and the affliction fearlessly.

Dr. Luke continues with the encounter: “30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged [Jesus] not to order them to go back into the abyss.” A Roman legion had anywhere from 3000 to 6000 soldiers in it. Even if this was a great exaggeration, we are still talking about a whole lot of demons.

I want to interrupt to say that there could well be demons inhabiting this man. I am not denying the existence of demons and other spiritual forces. Not at all! However—I want to highlight the fact that throughout the centuries, people with any sort of mental challenge or mental illness have been incredibly misunderstood. Shunned. Excluded. Banished.

But, Jesus would not shun, would not exclude, would not banish anyone.

There is so much misinformation about mental illness, even today. It is amazing how many affected people are excluded. Astonishing how many live with the daily stigma of shunning, being ignored, or viciously teased.  Population studies tell us that people who are affected by mental illness are between 20 and 25 percent of the population. Not only schizophrenia and paranoia, but chronic depression, the autism spectrum, anxiety disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorders. One in four or one in five of the people in line with you at the grocery store, or at the bank, or filling the tank at the gas station. Everyone knows someone.

Back to Luke chapter 8: “32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So He gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.”

Remember, this was a non-Jewish area, so herds of pigs were common. Whatever expression or definition we give to the demons, they ask Jesus whether they can enter the pigs. He agrees, and immediately the whole herd drowns in the lake. This scares the living daylights out of the pig herders! “34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.”

I suspect that people had written off this scary, unbalanced man as a totally lost cause. Today, we know that many, many people with mental illness can be helped a great deal. It is a physical challenge, just like diabetes and the imbalance involving the pancreas.

Moreover, illnesses and challenges do not need to be visible. For example, I am very nearsighted. I correct that with contact lenses. There are any number of different therapies, as well as medication that can control mental illness and outbreaks. But, such a drastic healing in the first century? No wonder everyone was scared to death of Jesus!

36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So [Jesus] got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.”

Notice that Jesus wanted this healed man to stay where he was and tell his fellow townspeople about the marvelous things God has done! He was to tell his story. Be an evangelist.

Whether we are talking the first or the twenty-first century, we can all praise God—Jesus has come to heal our diseases, to free us from our bondage. Whether from sin, from demons, from mental illnesses. Jesus knows our sorrows and carries our griefs. Jesus comes alongside of us—all of us—and helps us to bear our heavy loads.

Whether the load is physical or mental, psychological or spiritual, Jesus gives a helping hand. Jesus shows up. All of which tells us that God is willing to go absolutely anywhere to come alongside, to free, sustain and heal those who are broken and despairing.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] https://jeanhite.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/a-power-greater-than-ourselves/

[2] Ibid.

@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!)

Thy Kingdom Come

“Thy Kingdom Come”

matt-6-10-thy-kingdom-come-illustrated

September 4, 2016 – Matthew 6:10

Here in the United States, most advertisers on Madison Avenue tell us every little girl wants to be a princess. We can see this in many cartoon movies made by Walt Disney. Princes, princesses, kings, queens. Living in a kingdom, with happily ever after figuring significantly in the ending of the stories.

When you mention “kingdom” to people, that is often the first thing they think of. But—what did Jesus mean when He talked about the term “kingdom?”

We have for our Scripture passage this morning a portion of the Lord’s Prayer from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6.  This is one of the most familiar portions of the Bible. A huge multitude of Christians of a vast number of denominations and faith traditions know these words by heart. I ask again: what did our Lord Jesus mean when He said these words, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

To be frank, this subject of the kingdom of God is something I have struggled with for decades. Yes, I now have some understanding of what Jesus meant here in the Gospel of Matthew. And yes, I will try to help us all to understand better what it was that Jesus was saying. And, why He wanted us to say—or pray—these words.

Jesus was considered a Rabbi, a teacher, by all who knew Him. He was learned in the Hebrew Scriptures, and must have been quite skilled in rabbinic discussion and debate. That’s why I think He knew all aspects of the Old Testament understandings of the Kingdom of God.

There are several aspects of the Kingdom of God. But, important: God created the world, and everything in it. (I think God took great joy in creation, too!) By default, everything and everyone is under God’s authority and power. So, yes. Everything is part of God’s kingdom.

However, something happened after God created everything. Sin happened. A cosmic rejection, rebellion and separation from God happened. As the Apostle Paul mentions in Romans 8, the whole creation has been groaning in agony ever since.

Let’s return to Madison Avenue, and advertising. Television commercials. I can see several young, smiling people, outside. Having fun. Maybe skiing, or hiking, or sailing. “Go for all the gusto you can!” says the voiceover, on a beer commercial. These young people are on the top of their game, not a care in the world. They are not even thinking of sin, rejection, rebellion and separation from God.

I want to tell you a secret. Well, not really a secret. The fallen world and the fallen people in this world do not want to acknowledge God at all. They are separated from any idea of following God’s life, light and love. From being a part of God’s kingdom.

This is a sad reality. Jesus knows it is. That is why Jesus tells us to pray this way. “Thy kingdom come.”  Yes, the whole world is separated from God. When we pray this prayer, Jesus wants us to commit to opening ourselves to God’s kingdom. We can help fulfill God’s kingdom in this world.

I found a fascinating bible study on the Lord’s Prayer online, released by the Salvation Army in Great Britain. When I examined this part of the study, it concentrated on another scripture passage from Luke 4. This section of Luke does not mention the Kingdom of God, but it might as well. This passage is where Jesus tells the people in the synagogue in His home town of Nazareth what His message is, in chapter 4. Jesus “found the place where it is written: 18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”

This is Jesus’s Kingdom announcement! Remember, a few weeks ago, I spoke of where Jesus preaches His first sermon. It is quite a bit like political campaigns. The various candidates all try to have their position distilled down to a simple message. What they stand for. What they will strive to do. And, in both the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke, Jesus talks a lot about the Kingdom of God. What it means, and how Jesus expects to bring it. How Jesus wants His followers to bring the Kingdom themselves. Proclaim the Gospel. Share the Good News.

There are many, many commentaries, theological books, and bible studies written on this portion of Matthew, the Lord’s Prayer. The phrase we are looking at this week, “Thy kingdom come,” is considered to be a central phrase in this prayer. Some say the most important phrase. That would mean “the Kingdom announcement … is the focal point of Jesus’ entire ministry. This prayer, then, can only be understood in the light of how Jesus ‘lived the Kingdom’ while He was here on earth. Bringing the Kingdom of God to earth was Jesus’ great task.” [1]

Here is this message, this announcement of the Kingdom, again. Jesus teaches His followers to pray with a model prayer. The Lord’s Prayer. Just like Jesus does repeatedly in the Gospels when He preaches, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom in this model prayer—except He wants us to proclaim it, too! And, to do it. To bring the Kingdom in.

One thing I love about the Salvation Army: their emphasis on service, on proclaiming the Kingdom of God through concrete, hands-on means. Following their lead, we can “look at how Jesus lived His life, get involved in the things that He thought were important, and understand what Jesus meant by the term ‘Kingdom of God.’” [2] Bring relief to the poor. Visit those in jail. Heal those who are sick. Alleviate the suffering of those who are oppressed. That is what Jesus was saying in Luke 4.

With this week, we come to the end of our Summer Sermon Series from the United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission. The last sentence of the statement: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to discern and celebrate the present and coming reign of God.” (Or, the present and coming kingdom of God.)

God’s kingdom is here and now, and God’s kingdom is future tense. Like Jesus preached, God’s kingdom is among us, within us. We can share that kingdom with others, today. Plus, God’s kingdom is a future thing. At the end of all time, the fullness of God’s kingdom and glory will burst upon the whole world, the whole creation, in awesome majesty and glory.

What a series it has been! Each week, we have delved more deeply into each sentence of this mission statement. St. Luke’s Church was founded by this vital, missionary association of churches almost 70 years ago. Each week this summer, I hope we have discovered more about this wonderful denomination. It is my hope that we now see many connections where we can fit, and serve, and grow—as a local congregation, a fellowship of believers, and as a sister church in association with the great variety of churches in the Chicago Metropolitan Association.

God’s kingdom is here and now, and God’s kingdom is future tense, too. This is something to celebrate, like the Statement of Mission says! God is building God’s kingdom within each one of us now. It is our joy and privilege to share the Good News, to tell other people about Jesus and His love for each of us.

But, that is not all. By no means! The future part of God’s Kingdom is even better. I think most people here are familiar with George Frederick Handel and his oratorio Messiah.

The text for this chorus comes from our second reading today, from Revelation chapter 11. The Hallelujah Chorus from the end of the second part of the Handel’s oratorio Messiah says, “and He shall reign forever and ever. King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.” This is a joyous proclamation of the coming kingdom of our Lord.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

[1]http://www.usc.salvationarmy.org/usc/prayer/24-7/24-7_UK_Bible_Studies..pdf

[2] Ibid.

@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!)

God’s Dwelling Place

“God’s Dwelling Place”

Rev 21-6 Alpha and Omega

Revelation 21:1-6 – April 24, 2016

It’s spring! It is finally spring! Bushes and trees are budding, the grass is greening up, the spring flowers are in full display. After the long, cold winter, everything finally is blooming and budding—showing signs of green, fresh, new life.

It seems like it’s been a long, long time since we have seen the last leaves fall from the trees, last year—in the autumn of the year. This past week I read several books to the four and five year old children at Kids Academy about trees. In one book, I read about what happens to trees during the winter. They certainly appear dead, from the outside. But now in spring time, life starts shifting into forward motion. Full speed ahead, with the new growing season!

Imagine the newness of spring, of exactly this time of year, with everything outside budding and blossoming and growing. See that in your mind’s eye. Now, imagine it, 100 times bigger and better. No, 1000 times bigger and better! Now we’re getting the beginnings of an idea of what the new heavens and the new earth are like. That’s a little of what Eugene Peterson meant when he wrote his translation of Revelation 21:1; “I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea.”

Doesn’t it say somewhere that “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good?” As the book of Genesis tells us, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and God created everything good.

God gave humanity the world and everything in it for us to enjoy. It is all a gift, everything, for us to enjoy together with God. Not only that, God wants to be in relationship with us. Can you imagine, daily strolls through beautiful gardens, in the cool of the evening? That’s just the picture that is painted for us by Genesis chapter 3.

You all know the plot line. God did have a close relationship with Adam and Eve. Then, one day, God came looking for Adam and Eve, but what happened? Sin happened. That relationship was fractured. Humanity was separated from God by sin. Now, today too, I am separated from God by my sin. We all are separated from God. Alienated from God.

When the world was created, everything was created very good. God says so, at the end of Genesis 1. Beautiful, glorious, magnificent Earth was created, and humans were placed on it to be good stewards of the Earth, and to take good care of it. But, we all know what happened. Sin happened. Not only we—us humans—were separated from God, but something catastrophic happened to the Earth, too. The world has been suffering from the catastrophe of sin, inside and out, ever since.

Another word for sin is separation. I know I sin. I displease God. And when I sin, I am separated from God. I feel it. I know I am alienated from God. I feel intense sadness, sorrow, and longing to be back in relationship with God. (And with other humans, too.)

This separation and alienation is a problem. Not only for you and for me, but for the Earth, too. The Bible is not specific on this point, but when Jesus died on the cross, the gospel of Matthew tells us that the Earth shook and the rocks were split. Somehow, the Earth knew when the Son of God died. The Earth reacted when the Creator of the heavens and the Earth died.

Thank God that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became a human being. Just like us. Thank God that Jesus reconciled us to God, so that we don’t have to be separated from God for eternity. And, this passage from Revelation reminds us that the world is going to be renewed, reconciled to God. The Earth is going to become that fresh, new, spring green place that it once was.

Remember, the book of Revelation was written by John. This book of amazing, fantastical visions was written for our edification and to help us get ready for things to come in the future. When you read this passage, this description in Revelation 21, what is your reaction? Do you think this description is pie in the sky? Is it way, way far-fetched? Or, is it a blessed promise of things to come?

Let’s read more from Eugene Peterson’s translation. Starting with verse 3: I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.”

That doesn’t sound like this crazy, messed-up world, at all. Does it? Especially the part with God moving into the neighborhood!

How would you like God—the Lord God Almighty, who created the heavens and the earth—to live in your neighborhood? On your block? Across the street, or maybe even living right next door?  For some, it’s a scary, daunting thought.

Some bible scholars say that cities—like Chicago—are scary! Sometimes, they are. Dark, dreary, dangerous places, where sin, evil, violence and alienation reign, and keep the good Christian folk huddling inside their homes and buildings. However, that is not the case here. John tells his readers that the New Jerusalem is a bright, shining city! The city of God, where God dwells. That’s God settling down, getting comfy in our very own neighborhood!

The commentator Dana Ferguson describes urban settings and cities in a fascinating way: she talks of cities being places of cooperation, interdependence and welcome. (See Feasting on the Word Year C, Vol. 2). Let’s go with that description, and think like that. What a positive, encouraging way to think of the Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem.

Yes, this bible passage provides a vision of the future, of where we’re going. These descriptive words tell how wonderful it will be. Not only a bright, shining city, but also a welcoming snapshot of what God has promised to us. And, just think. That’s where God is settling down. As Peterson translated, “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women!”

Theologian Frederich Buechner gave a telling response: “What does it mean to be ‘with God’? To say that a person is ‘with it’ is slang for saying that whether he’s playing an electric guitar or just watching the clouds roll by, he’s so caught up in what he’s doing and so totally himself while he’s doing it that there’s none of him left over to be doing anything else . . . In other words, to live Eternal Life in the full and final sense is to be with God as Christ is with him, and with each other as Christ is with us.” [1] [italics mine]

Let’s enlarge that vision to include all of Earth. Have you ever thought of caring for the Earth as caring for God’s creation? We just celebrated Earth Day on Friday. Earth Day is a day of responsibility and caring for this wonderful world. And, it serves as a tangible reminder of God’s unconditional love, extended toward all humanity.

We can celebrate God’s love, God’s presence with us, and the gift of God’s creation.

Sometimes, I hear language like, “Jesus lives in my heart.” Or, “My heart, Christ’s home.” Is it, really? How welcome is Jesus Christ in my heart? Am I generous and kind with my heart and my attitude, or does Jesus feel unwelcome when He knocks at the door of our hearts? Great question! An intriguing thing to think about. Sometimes, a serious thing to think about.

I know, I know. We aren’t there yet. The new heavens and the new earth are not here, yet.  However—what are we going to do with these Bible words in this in-between time? How can these words from Scripture impact our lives, today?

We can take these words as hopeful, encouraging words: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women!”  We can celebrate God’s presence right by our sides, today. Now, in the in-between time, and at the time of the new creation, too.

Alleluia, amen!

(Thanks to Kathryn M. Matthews and her online commentary, Sermon Seeds, http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_april_24_2016 Several of the ideas in this sermon were used in Kathryn’s article.)

[1] Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC by Frederick Buechner, Harper & Row, 1973, 21-23.

@chaplaineliza

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