God’s Selective Memory

“God’s Selective Memory”

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (31:34) – March 21, 2021

            One of my favorite Bible commentators – David Lose – attended a large family reunion about ten years ago. One of his cousins brought greetings from her father, David’s favorite uncle. Except – David’s uncle had dementia and was unable to attend the reunion. So, the elder man sent poignant, moving greetings to the gathered relatives: “Tell my family that, although I do not remember them, I still love them.” [1]

            This reminds me strongly of verse 34 from our Bible reading from Jeremiah: “I will forgive Israel’s sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs. I, the Lord, have spoken.” But, just a moment! The Lord – God Almighty, creator of the universe – says God will no longer remember Israel’s sins. Hold it! Does that mean that the Lord gets a huge case of amnesia?  

            We need to go further into the background of our Bible reading for today. The prophet reaches back into the past, into the time of the Covenant made at Mount Sinai – the covenant of the Ten Commandments, and the covenant inscribed by circumcision. That covenant was more of a transaction, intentional and holding by a sense of obligation.

            Do you know anyone who has a relationship built on obligation? Where things are built on transactions? I am thinking of someone I’ve known for a long time. Our relationship is very much a transaction. Quid pro quo. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours – and that’s all.

            There is no real joy in any relationship like this because of the give-and-take nature of the association. You don’t have friends, but simply contacts. If everything is based on dollars and cents, or on what an interaction is worth, or what you can squeeze out of the connection, the resulting relationship is not very joy-filled or full of life. Can you imagine a relationship with God being like that? Where a sober-faced angel in charge of Heavenly Accounts sits at a celestial desk, a number 2 pencil behind one ear, adding up the personal debits and credits each person accrued on some heavenly adding machine? Where would the joy be in that kind of life, where you constantly had to watch your p’s and q’s, lest you might be zapped by God’s lightning bolts?

            Many considered this the life based on the Mosaic Covenant, headed up by the Ten Commandments and continuing with 600 some laws in the Mosaic rule book. That “covenant was conditional and transactional, as stated bluntly in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. Both texts promise protection and blessing as the consequence of obedience, but judgment and ultimately exile as the consequence of disobedience.” [2] For some, this can be a particularly joy-less and somber transaction-filled life.

            We can see the main reason the people of Israel were taken out of the land and sent into exile: because the people broke the Covenant and the Mosaic laws time after time. That’s the big reason for the exile to Babylon. The book of Jeremiah prophecies to the returning Jews, coming back to the land of the Promise. The prophet mentions another Covenant – the New Covenant. The Mosaic and the Abrahamic Covenants did not work as well as everyone hoped.

            The prophet specifically says this new one is not like the old Covenant made at Mount Sinai, with Moses. But, different HOW?

            I can just imagine the prophet writing about the Lord, who gets frustrated and upset about the people of Israel forgetting about God’s mercy and lovingkindness yet again! And then, Israel ignoring God’s positive commands to come before God’s presence with offerings and singing, on a regular basis. Can you just imagine the Lord, doing a heavenly facepalm? “Oh, no! Good grief, I can’t believe you all are doing this over and over again?”

            Yet, just as David Lose reflected, this reading clearly describes the New Covenant, and “God’s intention to take the matter of Israel’s relationship with God fully into God’s own hands.” [3] The Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth put it this way: “‘I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts’ (Jeremiah 31:33). It is the very heart of us, the seat of each of us as emotional beings that God wants to be near! Not the part that is obligated, or the part of us that grudgingly follows the rules.

Yes, David Lose has bittersweet memories; he can remember a beloved uncle with a quick wit, and deep and generous wisdom, slowly sliding into dementia – which is very scary. But, right here in this reading from chapter 34, God says that God forgets. Could it be that God has forgotten our sins? Your sins and mine? Or, is that too much to hope for?

The nation of Israel can’t forget what it’s like to NOT trust God. They can’t forget running to other gods and idols and customs their more powerful neighbors held. And most of all, Israel can’t forget their inexcusable pattern of faithlessness. Is it any wonder that Israel seems hopeless and helpless in the face of forgetting? Or, perhaps, not forgetting?  

            “And so God does what Israel cannot: God forgets. In response to their failure, God refuses to recognize it. In response to their infidelity, God calls them faithful. In response to their sin and brokenness and very real wretchedness, God’s memory has to be pushed and prodded to find any recollection. God forgets.” [4]

            That is truly a blessing for those of us who sin on a regular basis – that is, ALL of us. Thanks be to God that God lovingly chooses to forget our sins. And as Psalm 103 tells us, as far as the east is from the west, so far does the Lord remove our sins from us. Praise God! Thank You, Jesus. Amen, amen.


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/love-and-memory

“Love and Memory,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-jeremiah-3131-34-17

[3] Lose, David, ibid.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

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

Believe, Trust, and Love

“Believe, Trust, and Love”

John 3:14-21 – March 14, 2021

            Have you seen the televised sporting events where people in the crowd hold up big signs? These signs have all kinds of messages on them – from super fans supporting their teams to political messages. Sometimes, someone will show a large sign with “John 3:16” printed on it.

John 3:16 – this is one of the dearest and most memorized Bible verses of all time. “For God so loved the world that God gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not die, but have eternal life.”

            Have you thought about what that beloved Bible verse means? I mean, really means?

            Many people have a romanticized idea of love in their minds. With Valentine’s Day so recently celebrated, a month ago, when some think of “love” they think of Cupids and flowers and hearts. Valentine’s Day cards and chocolates in heart-shaped boxes for your sweetheart. This idealized, Hallmark-card conception of “love” is not what the Apostle John mentions here. Not by a long shot!  

            The idea of taking a single Bible verse and displaying it for everyone to see is a tricky proposition. People can run into all kinds of problems and misunderstandings that way. It’s like taking John 3:16 and saying that God’s love is all hearts and flowers, lace and Valentine’s Day wishes – and that is all. This superficial way is not the way to interpret individual Bible verses.

            The most important thing when we consider a single verse from the Bible is to look at the context. Where does it come from? What was happening in the Bible chapter? Was it part of a conversation or discussion? An extended statement or argument?

            John chapter 3 is early in the Rabbi Jesus’s ministry, and He was already gaining wide popularity and even stature for His great Biblical knowledge and understanding. An older man named Nicodemus, a learned teacher and member of the national Jewish ruling council, was so intrigued with Jesus that he snuck away to meet Jesus one night, under cover of darkness.

            During that extended conversation, Nicodemus and Jesus cover several important topics: Moses in the wilderness, how Moses saved the people of Israel, Nicodemus as a leading teacher of Israel, and how to be born from above. It is then that Jesus makes this extraordinary statement: God so loved the world.

            Several of these topics in John 3 have the foundation of belief. We need to believe in order to live. In order to be born from above. In order to have eternal life. Except – belief can be strictly intellectual. It can be cold-hearted and clinical. We can believe in the law of gravity. We can believe in the rules of cleanliness and hygiene for good health. We can believe in the invisible electric current that flows through our walls, enabling us to have electric lights, power for appliances, and power for our computers and cell phones.

            But, this pure, clinical statement of belief – even belief in Jesus’s statement “God so loved the world” – is not necessarily earth-shaking, not deeply emotional, never even reaching down into our very souls.

            If we consider the word “believe” – as used in this verse 3:16, and verse 3:18, too – I do believe in gravity, or electricity. But, is this intellectual belief enough? Will this kind of belief get me through the difficult times, or the painful situations, or those times when you or I cry out in despair to God? Sometimes, cold, pure belief is not enough.

            Another, alternate word that can be used to translate this Greek word for belief, pisteuo, is “trust.” Trust is more immediate, more intimate. Commentator Mark Skinner suggests that we use “trust” instead as we read this verse:  “For God so loved the world that God gave His one and only Son, that whoever trusts in Him shall not die, but have eternal life.”

            “Jesus is asking his hearers to trust that, in him, God has given a gift of love. Jesus urges them to commit themselves to that reality and all it entails. Trust will change a person. God’s love has consequences. How does one merely believe in love, anyway? Trust is riskier. Trusting in another’s love entails surrender.” [1] Trusting God is riskier, too.

            When my children were younger and went to church youth group, several times they had an activity called “trust falls.” This activity is called different things in different youth groups, but it has “trust” as the primary ingredient. The youth group would get in a tight circle, one member would stand in the middle, and then they would fall backwards, trusting the other members of the group to catch them as they fell. Trust taps emotions. Trust takes risks.

            It is difficult to trust that God can see us through, sometimes. More than intellectual belief, do we trust God to be there for us? To walk with us, or sit with us, right by our sides?  

            Some people cannot get past the words “God so loved the world.” If they trust that God loves them, they think God can’t possibly love their awful neighbor. Or the guy who cussed them out in traffic. Or the lady who is always really mean at the store. God can’t possibly love them? God loves the world – except for those people from a certain country overseas. Or, except for those homeless people. Or, except for those people who believe something really weird. Or, well, you get the idea.

            God’s love is extended to each of us. To all of us. “The love of God means blessing and belonging, even when the world around us chooses the way of death and self-interest.” [2] Even when we as fallible humans slip and slide in our trust of God, the Lord will never waver in persistent, caring love for each of us. And, that is a promise that is faithful and true – we have the words of Jesus on it.

For God so loved the world. Even you and even me. Amen.


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/love-among-the-ruins

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

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

Magnify the Lord with Me!

“Magnify the Lord with Me!”

Luke 1:38-56 (1:46) – December 6, 2020

            Do you know any teenage girls? Any girls with the maturity and balance that teenaged Mary shows to us here? This kind of maturity and balance in one so young is not very plentiful among teens, believe me.

            Socially and culturally, Mary was in an awkward situation. Even, a tight spot. A young woman (for, that was what Mary was considered, in the culture of her day), pledged to be married, who turns up pregnant. Scandalous! I am sure the old biddies in Nazareth were clucking about Mary’s situation—and character—and a whole lot more.

            While we, today, may read this narrative and think, “what a nice bible story!” this reading today is much more than that. Mary decides to go and visit her older cousin Elizabeth, in the hills of Judah. Elizabeth has miraculously gotten pregnant several months earlier. (The angel Gabriel told Mary so!) Two miraculous pregnancies, two women blessed by God. Plus, Elizabeth was an older, wiser woman, able to be a companion and mentor to the teenage Mary.  

            Yes, Mary’s extended visit to Elizabeth probably was comforting and encouraging to Mary. However, my attention is drawn to Mary’s song. The Magnificat is a tremendous counter-cultural song, turning everything in the political and cultural order upside down and topsy-turvy.

            Do you have any experience with an extended situation turning our world today upside down and topsy-turvy? Any disease or pandemic that is causing nationwide—even worldwide disruption and confusion? These two instances do not have a direct one-to-one correspondence, but there are many similarities here! The political and cultural upheaval Mary sings about in the Magnificat will greatly upend the established order of things. And, in many ways today, so will the COVID pandemic and its surrounding upheaval.

            I am reminded of a fellow professor friend of one of my Bible commentators. She grew up as a missionary kid in a poverty-stricken area in the Philippines. “Growing up among that nation’s poor, Professor Malcolm has reported that when they heard Mary’s Psalm, it was the first time that anyone had told them the good news that God cares about them — the poor, the oppressed.” [1] Some people in poverty have never heard this Good News! “Christ has come to challenge the structures of sin, death, the devil, and oppression. Christ has come in the strength of the Lord to do what the Lord has always done: lift up the lowly, free the enslaved, feed the hungry, give justice to the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner.” [2]

            Imagine Mary, having the maturity and the balance to sing such a radical, counter-cultural song! Is there some secret that Mary knew about, helping her to stay balanced and level-headed during all the upset and disruption of her unexpected pregnancy and the surrounding gossip and backbiting and sometimes outright nastiness of her fellow townspeople? Did Elizabeth aid her in finding this hope and balance, this calmness and serenity?

            Knowing what we do about the marvelous words of the Magnificat, and its similarity to Hannah’s song from 1 Samuel 2, we can learn from Mary. Her strength was in her trust in the Lord. Her faith was in God’s mighty power to overthrow society’s structures and the cultural norms of her day. Although our continuing situation is not exactly similar to Mary’s, we can still rely on God, too. Our strength can be our trust in the Lord. Our faith can be in God’s mighty power to overcome society and cultural norms.

            I’d like to think that Mary had a pleasant voice. Not operatic quality, although I do enjoy the voices of people who have studied and trained their voices into wonderful instruments! I can see how Mary knowingly turned for help to the One who would never leave her nor forsake her. Singing is one deep-seated way to come to God in prayer, in sadness, in hope and in joy.

            As commentator David Lose says, “songs are powerful. Laments express our grief and fear so as to honor these deep and difficult emotions and simultaneously strip them of their power to incapacitate us. Songs of praise and thanksgiving unite us with the One to whom we lift our voices. And canticles of courage and promise not only name our hopes but also contribute to bringing them into being.” [3]

            As we come before God in these next days and weeks ahead, perhaps we may come with trust and faith. Trust and faith in the God who is always with us, even through dark valleys, even through sickness, depression, despair and death.

            And may we, like Mary, lift up Mary’s radical song of resistance. Even though there is so much oppression and evil, and so much disease and despair in the world, God has brought light and hope into the world with the birth of God’s Messiah.

            I pray that you, like Mary, find joy even in the darkness of this particular Advent season of 2020. I also pray that the songs of Advent and Christmas bring light and hope to you as you draw closer to God each day. Alleluia, amen!


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fourth-sunday-of-advent-2/commentary-on-luke-146b-55

Commentary, Luke 1:39-45, (46-55), Rolf Jacobson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/a-promise-that-changes-the-world

“A Promise That Changes the World,” David Lose, WorkingPreacher, 2012.

@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!

Be Like Martin Luther

“Be Like Martin Luther” – October 25, 2020

Psalm 46:1-3 – Reformation Sunday

Here we are at Reformation Sunday, the week of the year when we remember Martin Luther posting his list of grievances against the church establishment of the Catholic Church, more than 500 years ago in 1517. These 95 grievances against the Church sparked a movement of protest that was felt around the world. And thus, the Protestant Church was born.

Father Martin Luther – for he was a Catholic priest – was a sincere, devout follower of Jesus Christ. He thought long and hard about sin and confession, faith and grace. He also thought a lot about God’s Word, and eventually translated the whole Bible – both Old and New Testaments – into German, the common tongue of his day and area of Germany.

The Catholic Church establishment certainly had it in for Martin Luther! After defending himself against strident criticism from scholars and theologians, and legal challenges for years, the official verdict was not in Luther’s favor. Because he would not recant his views on God, salvation by faith, and the Bible, Luther was officially on the run from the establishment.

Which brings us to our Scripture reading for today. Psalm 46. Martin had a very difficult time of it for a number of years, running in fear for his life. Is it any wonder that this marvelous psalm recounting God’s strength and refuge was Luther’s favorite psalm?

This is Reformation Sunday, after all. What could be more appropriate than to read Luther’s favorite psalm? Except – this was not only a favorite Scripture reading of Martin Luther. He also was a composer and poet. /Luther wrote the words and music for our opening hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” He used this psalm of comfort and refuge as a basis for this marvelous hymn.

In German, this hymn is called “Ein Feste Burg,” “a fortification that holds fast against any assault, a castle that can withstand every onslaught, a citadel that keeps those on the inside safe and secure from all attacks.” [1] Is anyone surprised that Martin Luther considered this comforting psalm his favorite? Even though everything is falling apart on all sides, he can stand safe and secure in his Lord.

I know Luther regularly prayed to God for protection and care, both internally as well as externally. Is that similar to us, today? In this year of the pandemic, with all the extreme weather events, the political disruption, and the wildfires of the past several months – the present situation resembles Psalm 46. “though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

Sure, with everything going on in the world today, we have reason to be scared half to death! Yet, we have “a God who has been time-tested and, over and over again, can be trusted upon to keep you secure in your time of trouble. Either way – and in all times and circumstances – you have a God who has got you covered. That is what Psalm 46 declares. And that is what Luther wanted to proclaim in “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”” [2]

This precious hymn written by Luther was not only a refuge from earthly disasters, but is also personal in nature. Rev. Janet Hunt, a Lutheran minister, mentions that she hears it “as much more personal now, knowing as we do that ‘the old satanic foe’ threatened him with the sorts of ‘woes’ one could only begin to understand if one has been there. The heart-wrenching, life altering death of a child, to name but one. The days and nights of struggling to hold on to faith when the Church which had borne the faith to him no longer lived up to its promises. The fear which must have possessed Luther as his very life was threatened.” [3]

Thinking back to last week’s sermon, where Moses and the Lord were hanging out on top of the mountain, Moses wanted to see the Lord. God told Moses straight out that Moses would die if he beheld the Lord face to face. Isn’t that the God we have right here, in Psalm 46? Even though the all-powerful God could make the earth melt, and destroy us if we simply look at Him.

That is one mighty, all-powerful God! And to think, that is also the God who has chosen us, called us by name, and named us God’s beloved children. The Lord is a God who is Lord Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Plus, the Lord is also a safe refuge, a comfort, one we can run to in times of great need. Praise God, I do not need to control everything.

Can we – you and I – loosen our tight grip on all we are clutching to our chests, knowing that God indeed holds everything? Including us?

This Reformation Sunday, I am not focused on God as our Mighty Fortress. Instead, Psalm 46 talks of a refuge, and a help in our great need.

Yes, God is indeed our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. That’s something to truly celebrate. Alleluia, amen.


[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=754

Commentary, Psalm 46, Hans Weirsma, Reformation Day, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

[2] “A Mighty Fortress is our God” is not the only English translation of Luther’s “Ein Feste Burg.” Thomas Carlyle, the nineteenth century Scottish commentator, offered this version: “A safe stronghold our God is still, a trusty shield and weapon.” Carlyle’s contemporary, George MacDonald, rendered stanza one, verse one, in this way: “Our God he is a castle strong, a good mailcoat and weapon.”

[3] https://dancingwiththeword.com/being-still-letting-go/

@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!

Temptations

“Temptations”

Jesus The-Temptation-of-Christ-Botticelli

Matthew 4:1-11, Genesis 3:1-7 – March 1, 2020

Different people are tempted by different kinds of things. I suppose most everyone here has been tempted at one time or another. Not necessarily with big stuff, or important things, but somewhere, sometime, there has been some kind of thing that has tempted you sorely. Maybe it was something as simple as a plate of freshly baked cookies on the kitchen counter. You knew that dinnertime was in only half an hour, but that plate of cookies looked so tempting. Or, perhaps cutting corners at work in order to save time, not quite following procedure. Or, maybe telling a little fib. You know, something that nobody else would know about. Except for you.

Of course, these are small kinds of temptations. Not quite the big, huge temptations we just heard about in our two Scripture readings this morning: the original temptation, with the special fruit and the snake from Genesis 3, and our Lord Jesus at the beginning of His ministry, tempted by Satan from Matthew 4.

This is the first Sunday of Lent, and we begin our journey with Jesus through these next weeks, until Holy Week, that time we remember the Passion of Christ. In these weeks of Lent we will look at different Scripture readings that hold the “Stories that Shape Us:” our Lenten series for this season. Today, we take a closer look at Temptations.

Are you and I tempted by the things we do, say, and think that really aren’t “too bad?” You know, all that stuff that the world tells us is okay? What about telling little fibs? Or, actions that seem like little speed bumps, or that we explain away by saying “everybody’s doing it—it’s okay! Isn’t it?” Aren’t those temptations, too?

Today we are going to zero in on our Lord Jesus, just after His baptism, as He withdraws into the wilderness to fast, pray and prepare for His years of ministry.

While Jesus is there, He’s tempted by Satan. That part is important, too. Just like the original temptation, of Eve and Adam at that special tree in the garden, so long ago.

Let’s look at Matthew’s take on the temptation. He doesn’t waste any time, but plunges right into the meat of the narrative. Verse 1: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Here is the ultimate faceoff, between the Son of God and Satan, the tempter, trying to make Jesus fall or trip up.

Again, in our second reading from Genesis, we find ourselves at the tree, with Eve and the serpent. This is Genesis explaining the origin of sin, true. But, isn’t it also a way of showing each of us how human we are? Sure, God showers many blessings upon each of us, every day. But, the serpent questions that blessing, that trustworthiness of God, even quoting God’s own words back to Eve with a sly smirk in its beady eyes.

Aren’t both Bible readings communicating similar narratives? There is a lack, a hole, a need for something in our lives. And, Satan—the devil—the serpent can give it to us. Or, show us where to get it.

Think about Madison Avenue, and advertising on television, in print media, and now, on the computer. More and more, advertising plays upon our emotions, showing us our supposed “needs” or “lacks,” and then quickly following up with just what we need to fill that hole!

Jesus must have been the most self-assured, self-possessed human being, ever. He wasn’t like the typical human, feeling alone, incomplete, having a hole inside our heart and spirit. Isn’t that what each of us typical humans feel like, at least some of the time? Maybe, even, a lot of the time? Yet, our Gospel reading today tells us that Jesus was, indeed, tempted by the devil.

The first temptation was hunger. Or rather, for Jesus to use His power to take care of His own needs, His own hunger. I can just hear Satan say: “Come on, Jesus! You’re miles from anywhere. No one will see You do it! C’mon, turn these stones into bread. After all, You’re human. You’re hungry. Feel those hunger pangs in Your stomach? You know You want to.”

Yet, as commentator Carolyn Brown said, Jesus had been led out into the wilderness to learn something important. He wanted to be obedient to God and do as God asked, even if it meant being hungry in the wilderness. [1] And what was Jesus’ response? ““It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

The second temptation was Satan encouraging Jesus to use His power in stunts, almost like a circus performer, to get attention and show everyone how important He was. Satan even added the heavenly icing on top of this temptation: saying that angels would come catch Jesus if He threw Himself off the top of the temple. What was Jesus’s response? “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, Carolyn Brown tells us that God did not want the human Jesus to show off in such a flashy way, or prove how powerful and mighty God is. Instead, Jesus was sent to love and forgive people, have caring relationships, and be a visual example of what God was all about. [2]

Satan’s last temptation must have been tempting, indeed. Sure, lots of kings and rulers had tried to rule large parts of the world, but they were all fallible humans, with sins and shortcomings and all kinds of flaws all over the place. When Satan offered Jesus the opportunity to be King over the whole world, it must have been some temptation. Since Jesus was the perfect human, He would have been the absolute best King of the world. Oh, yeah. Plus, Jesus needed to bow down and worship Satan in order to become an instant King.

But, this wasn’t in God’s timetable. And, Jesus knew that.

What was Jesus’ response?  Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

We can see how Eve and Adam were persuaded by the serpent to give in to temptation, and eat the apple. We can see how Jesus defeated Satan, the tempter. Jesus trusted and obeyed God His heavenly Father. This struggle, this faceoff with Satan was the important thing. He showed that to Satan by responding directly and clearly, quoting Scripture passages with which all believers in Israel were familiar. [3] And after the tempter left Him, Matthew lets us know that Jesus was ministered to by angels. Like a boxer, after a hard-won fight in the ring.

For us, today, temptation is a regular part of our lives. “I’m only human!” some say. Our lives as Christians do not eliminate doubt, lacks, needs, or a sense of incompleteness. Satan will zero in on those so often! However, we can embrace our relationship with God as that place where our needs are indeed met, where our lives and very selves are made complete.

Sure, we are descendants of Adam and Eve, and as such we can be needy and lacking, searching for that God-shaped filler for the hole inside each of us. Thanks be to God that Jesus has come into our lives. We can trust Him to pick us up when we fall short from temptations’ snares. We can confess our failings and sins, and trust through the crucified and risen Jesus we indeed have the promise of forgiveness and eternal life. 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!

(I would like to thank the Rev. Dr. David Lose. For this sermon, I have borrowed several extended ideas from his article http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1488  “Into Temptation,” David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.  Thanks so much!)

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/02/year-first-sunday-in-lent-march-13-2011.html

Worshiping with Children, Lent 1, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.taize.fr/en_article167.html?date=2007-03-01

“Jesus Put to the Test,” Commented Bible Passages from Taize, 2007.

God Delivers Us from Evil

“God Delivers Us from Evil”

Psa 27 1-3 afraid, fear

Psalm 27:1-3 – March 17, 2019

I often stay up late at night. My light is often burning way past midnight. (If you don’t believe me, ask Sunny. She can attest to the time stamp on many of my emails being past midnight, and some 1:00, even 2:00 am.) Imagine my huge shock and horror in the wee hours of Friday morning when I saw coming across the computer news feed that there had been a mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. I was absolutely devastated. Talk about shocking me out of my security and complacency!

That is the portion of the Lord’s Prayer we are focusing on this week: deliver us from evil. Please, Lord! Right now!

So many faced such evil, such horror, and such sorrow in the town of Christchurch, and all New Zealand just two days ago. Imagine, if you will, two peaceful congregations, coming together for their midday time of prayer, abruptly torn apart by semi-automatic weapon fire. Is it any wonder many people around the world cannot even visualize such an attack? What on earth? Dear Lord! Deliver us from evil!

As soon as news of this horrific shooting started to come across my computer screen, you’d better believe I checked out my various favorite go-to news sites, including the BBC News. Yes, the news was even worse than I had heard or feared. And, the death toll was rising. So were my shock, dismay and horror at the rapidly developing story.

As we consider our Scripture reading from the Psalms this morning, we can flee to the assurance and strength of the first verse of Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one. The Lord protects me from all danger; I will never be afraid.”  I read these words and take heart. God is the source of my—our strength. God is our light, and we need no other light source. God is our protection and our protector. I—we—all of us need no one else.

But, wait, Lord! You didn’t mean that You would protect me from a domestic terrorist with a semi-automatic rifle!  Did You?

Even though the conception of a semi-automatic rifle was not even thought of at the time the psalm writer put pen to paper and wrote this psalm, that is the gist of verses 2 and 3: When evil people attack me and try to kill me, they stumble and fall. Even if a whole army surrounds me, I will not be afraid; even if enemies attack me, I will still trust God.”

King David is said to be the author of this Psalm, and I can believe it. David certainly knew quite a bit about having evil people try to attack him. Not only when he was young, before he even met Goliath on the field of battle, he was shepherd for his family’s flocks. He knew the many dangers a sheep or goat could face in the rocky, semi-arid pastures in the country of Israel. He was their shepherd, and he would need to rescue them when they got into trouble.

Then, when David was secretly anointed king and needed to run from the previous-but-still-on-the-throne King Saul, his fear and anxiety had the opportunity to shift into high gear. King Saul wanted to kill David. Literally. Seriously. Saul sent regular armed parties into the wilderness of Israel specifically to kill David. I am amazed that David could even write these words: “even if enemies attack me, I will still trust God.”

Dr. Beth Tanner, commentator on Psalm 27, writes “With all of the violence in our world, Christians are faced almost daily with a decision to live in fear, or despite their fear, to trust in God and God’s promises. To choose to remain true to God’s principles of hospitality feels frightening as well. Terrorists and Refugees come from the same places.” [1]

Gangs of fierce, armed men hunting you down, repeatedly? Frightening, indeed.

If we consider our problems today, whatever the specific problem is, we can draw some insight from this psalm. It’s clear that the person composing this prayer—King David—is afraid. “And yet, right in the middle of his expressions of fear, the Psalmist also declares his confident faith that God’s presence is like a light that keeps him safe.  So, he seeks God’s presence in the place where the people of Israel of his day believed God could be found: in the Temple.” [2] In the same way, we can seek the Lord where we know God is to be found: in the sanctuary, with other believers, and in meditation and prayer.

A number of these peaceful people at prayer on Friday were refugees from war-torn countries. They had fled their home countries of Somalia, Syria and Iraq—just to name a few—and had finally found sanctuary in the peaceful, beautiful town of Christchurch. New Zealand has truly gorgeous scenery, and a wonderful, equitable society of friendly people.

Not the kind of place one would expect for a domestic terror attack, certainly.

Yet, to run away, to leave almost everything you found dear and loved with all your heart, to come to a foreign land, no matter how pretty, Such heartache, and such desperation. And finally, to be getting back on your feet and finding a new home, just to have your place of worship abruptly, shockingly invaded. Get all shot up.

Dear God, deliver us from Evil, personified.

Dr. Tanner goes on to say: “Gun violence comes out of nowhere and even those places we considered safe are safe no longer. Fear threatens to defeat the gifts of trust and hospitality. The feeling of the psalm is the same.” [3]  It does not matter whether we ask to be delivered from evil things or evil people, from evil personified or evil within our own hearts. This psalm gives the message that we can depend on God as our light, our safety, our security, our salvation. And, if we depend on God, what more sure defender and protector do we need?

Jesus speaks to the city of Jerusalem rhetorically in the Gospel reading from Luke today: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets, you stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!” Jesus speaks of the image of a mother hen fluffing up her feathers and gathering her chicks to safety, under her wings. Such a wonderful maternal image! And, such an encouragement and comfort in times of trouble.

It doesn’t matter what evil approaches, what danger comes quickly. If we are gathered under the wings of Jesus as our mother hen, we will be safe and cared for—now, and wherever we go with our Lord.

May it be so, Lord. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2777

Commentary, Psalm 27 (Lent 2C), Beth L. Tanner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2016

[2] http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com/2014/01/what-do-we-have-to-fear.html

“What Do We Have To Fear?” Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer, 2016.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2777

Commentary, Psalm 27 (Lent 2C), Beth L. Tanner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2016

@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!

 

Keep Watch!

“Keep Watch!”

Matt 25-12 I know you not

Matthew 25:1-13 (25:13) – November 12, 2017

Just two weeks ago, St. Luke’s Church had its big fall Spaghetti Dinner fundraiser. This dinner took quite a bit of planning and preparation. Just ask anyone who worked on planning, preparing, serving, or cleaning up. And, another big thank you to all of those who planned, worked, or ate at the Spaghetti Dinner. It all was much appreciated!

I am a person who is not naturally a planner. Or, rather, I was not the person who would be so very prepared. You know that sort of person. They always plan way in advance. They always bring more supplies, buy plenty of food, and especially are always there in plenty of time, for any occasion. I admire these people. Over time, I have learned how to copy certain aspects of their planning and preparation. However, I am not naturally one of these super-prepared people.

To recap from our scripture from Matthew 25, there are a bunch of young women—strictly speaking, the text calls them “virgins.” They are to accompany the bridegroom and the rest of the bridal party as he travels to the bride’s home, picks her up, and they all go to a large banquet hall to celebrate the ceremony. This was a common feature of weddings in that part of the world, and still is in places around the world, today.

Jesus’s parable from Matthew 25 is all about being prepared. Doing some advance planning. And, at face value, it seems really unfair.      As Dr. David Lose (one of my favorite commentators) said, “All the bridesmaids brought oil, all waited, all fell asleep. And the decision about who gets in comes down to who anticipated the bridegroom would be this incredibly late and so brought more oil. Okay, so maybe it’s not unfair. Maybe it’s just that I’m pretty darn certain that I would have been among the foolish bridesmaids.” [1]

Oh, Dr. Lose, I relate so much! I fear I would have been among the foolish bridesmaids, too! I am afraid I may not be welcomed to the wedding banquet, either.

I have a confession to make. I have never preached a sermon on this parable before. I have always been leery of it. Or afraid of it. I wrestled with the idea of preaching on this parable, and felt convicted by God. So, I decided—with God’s help, when this reading came up as a lectionary Gospel reading that I would definitely preach on it.

Let’s pull back from this brief parable, and look at the larger situation where the Rabbi Jesus tells it. This is sometime midway through Holy Week, where Jesus is being asked when the end times will come. That’s a big reason why He gives this long discourse called the Olivet Discourse, several chapters long in Matthew’s Gospel. Similar to now, people all through the centuries have been aware that the Bible has certain mysterious, even unclear prophecies concerning the end times, just before when the Messiah will come.

Jesus “lets them know that there will be signs, terrible signs, that will give people clues that the end is coming, encouraging them not to listen to idle rumors, but to trust His words. The parable of the bridesmaids compares the listeners to [bridesmaids], entrusted with a role,” [2] while waiting for the bridegroom to come.

Preparation and planning are often mixed up with waiting. Sure, we can plan the menu for a big dinner, and purchase the food for the big event. We prepare everything for the festive table, and get the table centerpieces and flowers and everything else. But sometimes, waiting is somehow involved in this process. Waiting for God to show up. How long do we wait? That was just what the disciples were anxious and worried about. That was one big reason why Jesus told several parables in this particular discourse.

A story one commentator told happened several years ago. Dr. Karoline Lewis relates: “My father-in-law was a World War II veteran and he died a year ago this past April at the age of 96. In the twenty-three years I have known my husband, it was only in the last few that Sam [my father-in-law] ever talked about the war. The last time I saw him was at his bequest to have as many of his grandchildren present, not necessarily for a final goodbye, but as you know, people can sense that death is soon. Of course, that truth elicits its own sense of what waiting is like.

“That day, Sam talked about the war. He talked about the waiting. You see, he had been selected, singled out, not to be sent to the front, but to stay behind. Why? He was good in math. He showed us his notebook in which he had calculated multiple ballistic measurements. And as he worked on his equations, he waited for his fellow soldiers, his friends, to return. Some did. Some did not. He could not understand how he was spared. Yet in the waiting and the wondering he knew God was there, and there was nothing else he could do but trust that truth.” [3]

I wonder how many of us can trust God when we are waiting and wondering? I wonder how many of us continue to have faith in God when things just don’t seem to make any sense? Like in the case of difficult scripture passages like this one, this parable from Matthew where the bridegroom—Jesus—sends the five foolish, unprepared bridesmaids away, not allowing them in to the wedding banquet?

All these bridesmaids were waiting. (As do we. We wait for Jesus to return, and we—the church—have been waiting for centuries.) Five of these bridesmaids were prepared, and had enough oil. Five did not. We can compare that to having extra batteries for your flashlight, like I told the boys during the children’s time before the sermon. But today’s parable does not highlight a shortage of oil for the lamps. No, the oil is plentiful. There is more than enough oil. However, the five bridesmaids forget they are going to need the oil. [4] I sometimes forget I need oil—which God bountifully supplies. Do you sometimes forget, too?

I want to highlight verse 13, where Jesus says “Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

Yes, there is pain, suffering, loss, grief, sickness, anxiety, and all manner of other difficult things in this world. We are not certain when God will show up. Yet, we can glean some words of advice from this parable: Be prepared. Plan. Watch. Keep awake. And, wait.

“If only we will remember that we have a steady supply of precious ‘oil’ to help light our way. For we have already have Jesus as we await the ‘bridegroom’s’ return.’ We already have Jesus. If only we will pause long enough to recognize and receive this precious gift, it is already ours. All we have to do is fill our lamps.” [5]

We all have been called to lift our lamps—our lights—and lift them high, shining as signs of promise and hope in a dark world with little hope or brightness or light in it. The oil is provided for us. Jesus encourages us to lift our lights in an often dark world.

Indeed, isn’t this what the world needs most of all?

 

(A big thank you to David Lose, Liz Milner, Karoline Lewis and Janet Hunt for their helpful writings as I wrestled with this challenging text from Matthew 25.)

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2014/11/pentecost-22-a/  “Hope and Help for Foolish Bridesmaids,” David Lose, …in the meantime, 2014.

[2] https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/1534-my-bad-dream  “My Bad Dream,” Liz Milner, Journey with Jesus, 2017.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3413  “How To Wait,” Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2014.

[4] http://dancingwiththeword.com/oil-for-our-lamps/  “Oil for Our Lamps,” Janet H. Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2017.  November 5, 2017

[5] 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!)