Love As Transformation!

“Love As Transformation!”

John 15:9-17 (15:17) – May 9, 2021

            What do you think of when I mention the word “command?” Commands given in the military? Commands from a dog’s obedience training, a service dog or police dog? Or what about the commands given in the Law of Moses – most famously, the Ten Commandments?

            Here in the Gospel of John, our Lord Jesus gives us a big command. Perhaps, even the greatest command of all: love one another. That sounds awfully familiar! Last week’s sermon was also on last week’s lectionary passage, from the New Testament letter of 1 John chapter 4.

This week the sermon comes from the Gospel of John chapter 15. Both sections of Scripture talk about similar things: love, and loving one another. I showed last week that love is an action word. This week, I want to show that love is a transformational word.

It’s helpful for me to know where Scripture is coming from. Where in the Bible, and in the case of this reading, where in the life of Jesus it comes from. The passage Eileen just read for us is a short section from a long discourse – the Upper Room discourse, given by Jesus on the same night He celebrated the Passover remembrance with His disciples. The night He instituted Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper. Also, the night before His arrest and crucifixion on that Good Friday.

As a Rabbi, Jesus knew the Hebrew Scriptures, and specifically the Law of Moses, in depth. In great detail. He was often called upon to discuss and debate specific Scriptures and points of the Mosaic Law. We see that again and again throughout the Gospels. Here, in His final discourse or sermon, our Lord Jesus comes back to the commands once more. Jesus gives His disciples one last command: love one another.

            How can we love one another? Is that another “do this” or “don’t do that” command?

            The Law of Moses, found in the Hebrew Scriptures, has over 600 specific commands. It’s quite detailed in how to live a life pleasing to God. For an individual, in a family, and in society. Instead of getting into the minutiae of exactly how to cook and wash, and how to dress and to behave, our Lord Jesus talks about transformation: He says, “Love one another.”

            Such a challenging concept! Yes, we are supposed to love one another. But, how? What does that kind of love look like?

            Jesus gives us an example, right here. “12 My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you. 13 The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.”  In case anyone has any questions about how they are to love, here’s an earth-shaking explanation. Be prepared to show your love at any time. In fact, be prepared for anyone and any time to require you – and me – to give our lives for one another. Jesus is not kidding. That is exactly the way that this command and commentary is phrased in John 15.

            What is another visible way for this kind of love to be shown? Our commentator, the Rev. Dr. Derek Weber says “What does a life of sacrificial love look like? That’s the image that you are casting this week. For many, it looks like a mother’s love. “ [1] A mother’s love – or, to some people, mothering love, coming from someone very close to you – can be amazing. Loving, yes. Caring, yes. Seemingly without bottom and without end.

            When many people think of mothers and Mother’s Day, what goes through their heads? What does Dr. Weber have to say? “For many. It is a time to say thank you to the one who often holds the family together and who often carries the heartache bound up in hope when no one else sees beyond their own personal pain. Today offers a chance to say thank you to the one who brings order out of chaos, who can find the missing sock and the lost homework, the one who remembers how much laundry detergent you need per load and the reason why some plastics won’t work in the microwave and some will. This is a chance to say thank you to the one who rarely gets thanked for all that she does day in and day out.” [2]

            But, for some in our world, mothers do not often act in a caring, loving way. Some memories of mothers are more painful than joyous. Mothers may be a difficult topic, challenging to even think about. Hurts, difficulties, losses, estrangement, even separation – any of these can make Mother’s Day a time of heartsore grief.

            However, most everyone can remember those certain people who stepped in, stepped up, and cared for us in the special way that a loving, caring parent is supposed to. Caring human beings can indeed be mothering influences and demonstrations.

            How do you and I consider others who love us the way Jesus told us to? “For others, [Mother’s Day] might need to be more personal, more individual. A part of our worship together might be a time of thankfulness for those who have loved us like that.” [3]

            This is sacrificial love, transforming a person right down to their inmost being. And, this kind of transforming love is exactly what our Lord Jesus is calling us to. Yes, we are here to thank all those who have given of themselves, lovingly, with great caring, even going to great lengths to sacrifice for their loved ones. And, we can all strive to be that person for others.

            Yes, love for our children, grandchildren, and other relatives. And yes, love for other loved ones, for those special people we meet in our journey through life. How can you best show that love for another person today? Be that person who shows amazing, wondrous love and care. Be kind. Be caring. Be loving. Be like Jesus.

            Alleluia, amen.


[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/living-the-resurrection/sixth-sunday-of-easter-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

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

Transfigured? Frightened!

“Transfigured? Frightened!”

Mark 9:6 (9:6-7) – February 11, 2018

Jesus Transfiguration Georgian relief Luke 9

Transformations can be quite a surprise. For example, when a run-down house gets a top-to-bottom rehab job over weeks or months, the house can be really transformed. Or, when someone is diligent over time with diet and exercise, and loses a lot of weight, they can be really transformed, as well. People can be surprised and impressed when they see the stunning changes that happen, gradually. These kinds of transformative changes can take a while.

The type of stunning change that happened in our Gospel reading today did not take weeks or months. Instead, our Gospel writer Mark talks about the transformation happening suddenly. Or, to use one of Mark’s favorite words: immediately.

We need to set the scene. Just previous to this reading, in Mark chapter 8 Jesus asks His disciples who others say that He is, followed by who the disciples think He is. Peter makes the great statement “You are the Messiah.” It is then that Jesus predicts His death. He starts to tell His disciples that He will have to suffer, be rejected and die, and then rise after three days. All of which must have been difficult to understand for the disciples.

I can relate to the followers of Jesus. Jesus was a charismatic leader, and many people listened to Him, and even followed Him. However, some of the things Jesus said were clear out of their experience. Even with all of the biblical revelation, evidence and commentary that we have nowadays, some of the statements of Jesus are still a challenge for us to understand, today. I can relate to the disciples’ confusion and puzzlement!  

A few days after the confession of Peter and all this big stuff happening, Jesus decides to go for a day trip, up on the top of a mountain. He asks only three of His disciples to come with him: Peter, James and John. After they reach the mountaintop, Jesus suddenly is changed. Transformed. Or, as the Gospels tell us, Jesus is transfigured. This is a state of God’s heavenly glory, suddenly appearing all around Jesus, making His clothing whiter than anyone has ever seen. If that is not enough, the glorified Jesus is seen talking with Moses and Elijah.

Can you see the picture? Imagine a huge, bright spotlight shining on Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Plus, there are more small spotlights all around, and the background surrounding them is all backlit. Except—the people of Jesus’s time have never even heard of electricity. All of this super-white light and super-white clothing is supernatural. Of heavenly origin.

I am reminded of the heavenly glory that surrounded Moses on top of Mount Sinai. Moses was no stranger to heavenly whiteness and brightness. He was in the presence of the Lord God Almighty for many days. And, Elijah—going up to heaven in a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses? That must have been a heavenly experience of light and glory, too. Much less being in heaven, in God’s presence for centuries at that point.

Moses and Elijah were the premier representatives of the Jewish people, of the Jewish law code and the voice of the prophets. Revered by millions of Jews since their time. And, on top of that, they were in the presence of the suddenly-glorified Lord Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder that mere humans Peter, James and John were all shaking in their shoes?

I discovered a fictionalized conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah, from that mountaintop that Mark tells us about. This conversation comes from Pastor Joyce, written in 2003, from a commentary website I visit on occasion. Listen to this conversation:

Elijah: Look at these stubborn and fearful people. How do you get these children to honor God?

“Moses: And how do you teach them to love each other? God knows I tried. I brought God’s law down from the mountain top. It is very clear. The simple commandments tell them how to love and honor God and how to live together in mutual love and respect.

But right after I told them how to live, they began complaining about God and began to worship false idols. The law told them not to betray or disrespect others. Yet, the powerful continued to grasp for more wealth and power. Foolish people they thought that would give them security. But for these things they have to oppress the weak. Then the fighting starts. It can lead to killing.

“Elijah: Well, I warned them. I told King Ahab and the people not to worship false idols. I challenged 450 prophets of Baal and they died on the mountain top. But today, people still worship the idols they create: power, material possessions, and the comfort they bring. But they do not receive satisfaction from them. NO! How do we teach people to find the real thing — joy in relationships with God and with each other?

“Jesus: God sent you, Moses, to give the law.  God sent you, Elijah, and other prophets to warn the people of how they are harming themselves. Now God has sent ME… I will live among these rebellious people for a while. I will love them and I will die for them. These men you see before you, and those who follow them, will carry on my work of reconciliation to God and humankind.

“Moses: These men? Look, they are dumbstruck. They are frail. They are confused.

“Elijah: Good joke, Jesus. Now… tell us your real plan.

“Jesus: I have no other plan.

“Elijah: But how will they find the wisdom and the strength?

“Jesus: Ahhh… I will be with them.” [1]

Did everyone hear? Jesus promised to be with the disciples, a number of times. Not only with the disciples, but with all of His friends and followers.

It’s true that Peter—good, old foot-in-mouth Peter—made some sort of confused and excited offer to build three little booths or mini-altars there, on top of the mountain. Yes, with our 20/20 retrospect, we can laugh at Peter’s fumbling and falling all over himself. But, wouldn’t we be in the same boat? What if there were a heavenly visitation right here, right now? Boom! Cue the bright lights! The glorified Jesus, here in our midst, here at St. Luke’s Church!

The thing is, Jesus could have stayed there, on that mountaintop, with Peter, James and John. Relatively safe, and the mountaintop could have become a pilgrimage site, renowned throughout the world. But, no. Jesus knew He had to walk the way of the Cross. He knew we, His followers and friends, had to come down from that mountaintop, too.

The disciples did not just slink away and hide. No, they went out after the Resurrection and Ascension and after Pentecost, and they turned the world upside down with the Good News of the risen Lord Jesus. It was not all sweetness and light for the disciples, or for the other followers of Jesus. No, many of them had a very difficult time. Yet, Jesus was with them.

Today, we don’t permanently live on the mountaintop, either. Yes, we often walk through the dark valleys. Yes, there is sorrow and pain in our lives. As David Lose says, the nitty-gritty details of misunderstanding, squabbling, disbelieving disciples. Religious and political quarrels of the day. Jealousies and rivalries both petty and gigantic. Into the poverty and pain that are part and parcel of all of our lives. [2] Yet—Jesus is right by our sides, too. Yes, in the good times, and yes, in the not-so-good, even sorrowful times, too.

Do you hear? Jesus will be with us, in good times and bad. We can take comfort in that. We can celebrate. Praise God. We are not left alone and friendless. What a friend we have in Jesus, indeed. Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://desperatepreacher.com//bodyii.htm

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1563

“He Came Down,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 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!)

God’s Abundance

“God’s Abundance”

John 2-8 Miracle Wedding at Cana Coptic icon

John 2:8 – January 17, 2016

Weddings are so often a joyful time! Busy, yes. Stressful, yes. But joy-filled, too!

Have you ever known a wedding where something unexpected happened? I mean, a mistake happened, or something just went plain wrong? These are just a few things that actually happened to a real-life pastor, the Rev. Dr. Alyce McKenzie.

  • The groom and best man got to the church on time, but they forgot to bring the suit for the 6-year-old ring bearer.
  • The matron of honor had surgery a little too recently to be standing for a long time and collapsed during the vows.
  • The pastor got the time wrong and showed up an hour late for the wedding.
  • People on the guest list didn’t bother to rsvp for the reception, but showed up anyway, assuming there would be enough food and drink for them. And there wasn’t. [1]

This last one happened at the commentator’s daughter’s wedding a few years ago. Can you imagine what kinds of consternation this might cause at a wedding? Surprise? Frustration? Embarrassment?

Imagine that wedding in the town of Cana, at the very beginning of the ministry of Jesus. It doesn’t so much matter when the wedding was celebrated, then or now. An awful problem, no matter where or when. Except, even more so in the Middle East, where hospitality is such an important, foundational part of life.

Today, we know how important it is to offer guests something to eat or drink when they come to our homes for a visit. Think of that, and then multiply it. Times ten, and even more. I suspect not only many of the local townspeople were there, but also friends and relatives from near-by towns. We read in the Gospel record that the Rabbi Jesus was also there, with His disciples. And, His mother was invited, too. Large crowd of people!

Reminding everyone, in the first century, Jewish custom held that most any wedding would be an event of celebration for several days. Our Scripture passage today shows a wealthy Jewish family—with a number of servants and a household steward.

Imagine the huge amount of time and the money that went into a celebration of that size. Plus, the logistics! We read that the family provided extravagant feasting for days. In the case of today’s Scripture, if there were any miscalculation or lack in provisions in food or drink, not only the bride and groom but also their families would most likely suffer great humiliation. And what if—God forbid—something should go very wrong? What then? The surprise, the frustration, the embarrassment that potentially could happen at that wedding celebration in Cana.

John begins his narrative in the middle of things. He opens the scene on the third day of the wedding feast. The party is in full swing! And it is a party. Huge celebration.

The miracles in John’s gospel are called signs; they show everyone Jesus the Son of God, and His Godly power, might and glory. As commentator Nancy Rockwell said, John’s signs deal with ordinary human things, set in the course of human events. Like, a wedding feast. [2] And the Son of God, the Divine Word made flesh, is human, too! He enjoys Himself at a big party, with His friends and family.

We aren’t sure, since the Gospel writer does not say. Perhaps Jesus’s mother Mary is related to the family, or is good friends with one or more family members. Regardless, she is concerned about the situation. “Weddings epitomize the fact that even the best planned and most auspicious of human scenarios are imperfect, flawed, and lacking. Something always goes wrong. Something is always askew. It is the role of the mother of Jesus to express that reality and to look expectantly (I imagine) in the direction of her Son.” [3]

His mother Mary comes to her Son—I suspect quietly. “When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’” What’s to be done? This is a huge problem, and a terrible embarrassment to both families! Talk about public humiliation! Mary knows very well what is going on. So, she goes to Jesus for assistance.

When we have problems, or embarrassment, or difficulty today, how do we handle it? Do we keep it to ourselves? How about sweeping awkward problems under the rug? Or do we do what Mary did? Do we go to Jesus?

Our commentator Nancy Rockwell says, “Consistent with the other signs in John’s gospel, and in keeping with John’s exact words, would be this: Mary cannot stand by and watch an injustice, will not watch the groom and his bride be disgraced;  she does not want their marriage celebration to have a lasting shame as its memory. And in response to her compassion for them Jesus does what Mary, in her famous song in Luke’s gospel proclaimed:  he fills the hungry with a good thing.  He replenishes the wine.” [4]

Yes, I could tell you about the expression Jesus uses to address His mother—“Woman,” which can be a term of respect. I could talk about the way Mary sidles up to the servants and tells them “Do whatever he tells you.” But, instead, I want to focus on the large stone jars that Jesus used. These were six large containers of water with anywhere from twenty to thirty gallons apiece. There was a large crowd gathered at the party—or, banquet. Jewish ceremonial tradition demanded that there be a large amount of water nearby for observant Jews to wash ceremonially before they ate.

Jesus knew all about this custom, and He told the servants to fill the jars. Let’s say there were twenty gallons in each one. That was one hundred twenty gallons of water, just waiting!

As Nancy Rockwell said so well, Jesus responded to His mother’s compassion for her friends. Jesus replenished the wine! Notice He did not shake His finger at the crowd for enjoying some wine. Neither did Jesus sneak out the back door, not wanting to have anything to do with such a “shameful happening.” Imagine, not having enough wine for a big, multi-day celebration like this!

Instead, Jesus replenished the wine. Over one hundred gallons of it! He allowed the party, the feasting, the celebration to continue. He stepped into potential humiliation and family embarrassment at a significant event in the town of Cana. Jesus transformed it into something abundant.

Jesus worked a miracle! Another way of looking at it is that God abundantly provided for this situation at the wedding party. God reached out and touched this event, transforming it into something miraculous. Jesus transformed the potential injustice and embarrassment of these families into something wonderful.

I remember another situation, another place, another time, where injustice, frustration and embarrassment were gradually transformed into something amazing. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his words, and his actions? Transformed our country through the miracles of what was accomplished through the civil rights marches, through Dr. King’s earthshaking speeches and sermons. What a transformation, taking something hurtful and potentially embarrassing, and transcending the flawed and faulty world.

Thank God! God’s Son saw fit to provide for this family situation at the wedding. Jesus can provide for us when we get into embarrassing situations, or difficult situations. Let’s thank Jesus for His love and care for each one of us. For reaching out and giving abundantly from God’s overflowing resources.

Amen, alleluia!

 

[1] http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Wedding-Mishaps-Alyce-McKenzie-01-14-2013

[2] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/biteintheapple/cana-an-unexpected-time/ Nancy Rockwell

[3] http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Wedding-Mishaps-Alyce-McKenzie-01-14-2013

[4] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/biteintheapple/cana-an-unexpected-time/ Nancy Rockwell

@chaplaineliza

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