Give Thanks? For What?

“Give Thanks? For What?”

Psalm 100:1-5 (100:4) – November 24, 2021 (preached at the Morton Grove Interfaith Thanksgiving Eve service, held at St. Martha of Bethany Catholic Church campus)

            What are you thankful for? I don’t know whether you or your family come up with a “gratitude” before you eat your Thanksgiving feast tomorrow. Except, it is becoming more and more common that as families and friends gather around the festive table that they go around the table and say what each one is grateful for. Sometimes, even before they begin to eat. The religious writer Diana Butler Bass calls this “the Turkey Hostage Situation.” No food until everyone comes up with a gratitude!   

            Some years we are more grateful and thankful than others. The psalm we read tonight features thankfulness as a highlight of worship. When we come into our houses of worship, we are supposed to be thankful. Grateful. Especially now, at this Thanksgiving time of the year.

I want to dig more deeply into Psalm 100, and see what else we can discover.

I love language. I loved English classes when I was in middle school and high school. Of course, I loved literature! I was – and still am – fascinated with the way language functions and is put together. This great interest in languages helped me when I went to seminary and studied biblical Hebrew and Greek, the original languages our Bible was written in.   

One helpful tip I remember when looking at the nuts and bolts of a Bible verse or paragraph is to break it down. Look at the different parts of speech: nouns, adjectives, and especially verbs. The verbs in Psalm 100 give us a great deal of insight into this psalm, or song.

Speaking of songs, this reading IS a song. This song gives us instruction of how to come into God’s presence – the how-to’s of worship. The African-American Lectionary commentary says, “The psalmist uses seven different verbs to call to the community to worship: make, serve, come, know, enter, give thanks, and bless. Although there are moments when we need to be still and quiet in the presence of the LORD, this is not one of them.” [1]

I really appreciate and enjoy those times when I worshiped in African-American congregations. Since I lead a congregation now myself, I miss those other opportunities to go, and see other congregations, and enjoy different praise structures and faith traditions in worship.

Yet, I wonder – what is it about this psalm that makes it so marvelous as a template for worship? If we go back to the verbs used in this song, this hymn of praise and worship takes on a more wonderful meaning. And institutional meaning.

True, I have attended worship in a number of different settings, over the years. In many of these, the basic outline of worship remains the same. The worshipers come together, and they know, they understand (as best as they are able) that God is the reason they gather. Then – and this is important to any worship service – they give thanks.

I remember a small, intimate worship service some years ago while I was on a retreat. About 15 people were gathered together. We did not have any of the outside trappings of a building, no special glass, no carved woodwork or stone, no music or musicians. Yet, that was a meaningful worship experience for me, and for many others in that group.

That retreat was not at Thanksgiving-time, yet we were all thankful and grateful the group of us had gathered together. Can you relate? Have you had a feeling like that, a similar experience where you and the other members of your group felt thankful about this holy experience? This worship opportunity where you felt thankful and grateful you and the other people in your group (any group – family, friends, congregation, retreat group) felt the same way? Indescribable, worshipful, beyond words, even divine.  

This psalm talks about experiences like that in worship, and says that giving thanks is an integral part of worshiping God. We can give thanks that God is our God. And, we can give thanks for all that God has given to us.

            I agree with commentator Larry Broding that thanksgiving is one of our primary attitudes of worship. “We are to be happy when we present ourselves to God. We are to be thankful when we are in [God’s] presence. Other attitudes are possible (sorrow, need, intercession, surrender, peace, etc.) but joy and thanksgiving should be our primary focus.” [2] And, this isn’t just at Thanksgiving. It’s at any time of the year.

For those among us who do not feel like gathering with family or friends at a dinner table tomorrow, I relate. Thanksgiving can be a difficult occasion, a complicated time. Know that there are friends who stand with you, or sit beside you, in your discomfort, grief or longing.

            Specifically, what about the upcoming feast tomorrow? Similar to writer Diana Butler Bass, are you and I familiar with the Turkey Hostage Situation? Are we going to hold our turkey – or whatever other kind of main course – hostage while each one around the table scrambles to come up with something they are grateful for? We are grateful for the stuff, the things of our lives! That is turning our annual day of thanks into a commodity-based occasion. [3] It is not helpful for us to twist or force “thankful” feelings and behavior in this way

            Going back to my great interest in language, I found Butler Bass’s alternative for this round-robin of “gratitude” to be a fascinating option. Instead, an alternative suggestion: Perhaps this Thanksgiving is a good time to ask some different questions regarding gratitude:

To whom or what are you grateful?
What challenges have you been grateful through?
Have you been grateful with others?
Where have you discovered gratitude within?
Has something in your life been changed by being grateful?
In
what circumstances have you experienced thankfulness?

            Any or all of these are marvelous ideas to ponder. Situations to consider. Again, this may or may not work for the group gathered around your Thanksgiving table. But, it certainly takes our minds off of the tangible, material things, the clutter of forced gratitude at Thanksgiving, and the myriad of stuff we might have randomly filling up our lives, like the stuffing inside of a turkey.

            Tonight, I hope and pray we all can “Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;” may we all “give thanks to God and praise his name.”

             I pray a blessed and thankful holiday upon us all. Amen.

@chaplaineliza

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


[1] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=98

Commentary, Psalm 100, Alfie Wines, The African American Lectionary, 2009

[2] http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/Psalms/100.html

·  “How To Prepare for Worship,”Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Lectionary Resource for Catholics.

[3] https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/about

How to Worship?

“How to Worship?”

1 Tim 2-2 pray, message

1 Timothy 2:1-4 – September 22, 2019

Have you ever been to a different kind of worship service? A service where people prayed differently, sang different kinds of songs, played different instruments, and even spoke in different languages? I have attended a number of different kinds. Worship of God can be diverse and different, depending on where we live, what each of us grows up with, and what kind of faith tradition we come from.

In today’s reading from the first letter to Timothy, we hear about instructions for prayer and worship. This letter to Timothy is one of the pastoral letters from the New Testament. In other words, this letter contains instructions for a church leader on how to be a better pastor and leader of a congregation. Including—recommendations for corporate worship and prayer.

This is not like the instructions from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew or the Sermon on the Plain from Luke, where our Lord Jesus gives specific instructions for personal, private prayer. No, this letter is from several decades later, when there were established groups of believers, and they needed structure and direction on corporate worship and prayer.

From 1 Timothy 2: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—” This sounds wonderful! I have experienced this aspect of prayer in practically every worship service I have ever attended. I suspect you have, too.

Whether prayer happens from the pulpit or lectern, or from the floor of the church, whether the prayer is offered by members of the congregation from the pews or seated in a circle, extemporaneously or written out, Paul’s recommendation of unified prayer is definitely one that has gone on as long as believers in Christ have gathered together.

However, the prayers we offer are not just generic prayers. I want to remind everyone (and I am reminding myself, too!), that we are encouraged to “offer prayers for all members of the human family during church services; prayer in the terms of: petitions (general requests to God), Intercessions (requests for those in need), supplications (requests for ourselves), and thanksgivings.” [1]  The apostle Paul is quite specific here! All of these different kinds of prayer!

I wonder: are your prayers—are my prayers—as far-ranging and thorough as these? Are these recommendations something we all can get on board with? Something we all follow?

Let’s continue with this reading from chapter 2. Who should we pray for? “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

We are not talking about good-tempered rulers. No, the kings, rulers and those in authority in the later half of the first century were not nice guys. What happens when we have mean rulers and cruel leaders, those in authority who do such wicked things as throw people out of their homes, put them in jail, even force them into exile, or even death?

Let’s take a look at the Roman emperors Tiberias, Caligula and Nero. None of them were particularly “good or nice,” several showed signs of mental instability, and these men were at the pinnacle of power in the Roman Empire for over 25 years. Yet, the apostle Paul recommended that his fellow believers pray for them, for other rulers, and “for those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

This was an instruction Timothy received for his regular worship services! What was the apostle thinking of? The Rev. Bryan Findlayson suggests “Such prayer seeks to restrain the powers of evil and so encourage peace and security. When society is in a state of peace, believers can freely serve both God and mankind.” [2]

Again, what about rulers and those in authority who persecute Christians? What about governments that destroy churches, jail church leaders and ministers, and make it impossible for Christians to live and raise families? What about those governments? Do we still need to pray for those wicked people? We are to pray for peace, but what kind of peace?

I would say, yes, especially for those wicked people in government who persecute Christians. “Most often our prayers for peace concern our own personal well-being. When society is at peace, life can go well for us and we can build that extra barn. Yet, the peace Paul has in mind is a positive environment for the proclamation and hearing of the gospel.” [3]

September 21st is the International Day of Peace. The website specifically for this day states: “Established in 1981 by unanimous United Nations resolution, Peace Day provides a globally shared date for all humanity to commit to Peace above all differences and to contribute to building a Culture of Peace.” [4] What a wonderful thing to contribute to building: peace.

Moreover, as the apostle Paul reminds us, peace in the world involves a positive environment for proclaiming and hearing the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. Is our government corrupt? We need to pray for the members of a wicked and corrupt administration, then. What matters even more is that we are safe to proclaim the Good News of the Lord, and to provide for a way to let everyone know the Good News of salvation through His name.

Division and divisiveness is not conducive to spreading the Good News. This current-day division and animosity between people who call themselves believers must make God very sad. Christians of all communities and all ethnicities ought to have their wonderful belief in Christ to unite them. But, no. Sadly, believers all over the world allow politics to divide them.

The Rev. J. Vernon McGee had this to say: “We need to pray for our country, and we need to pray for those who have authority over us. If you are a Republican and a Democrat is in office, pray for him. If you are a Democrat and a Republican is in office, pray for him.” [5]

We have been thinking about the unity of believers from all parts of the world for several weeks now. In our bible study, we are studying the book of Philippians, and talking about how the apostle Paul and his friends preached the Good News to a diverse and different population in the regional capital of Macedonia, Philippi. Diverse and different individuals came together to worship the Lord Jesus Christ, and God made it possible for them all to join in worship.

What a wonderful example to lift up! Can we do the same, here, now? We here at St. Luke’s Church can strive for the same unity and friendship, despite differences in our families, the languages we spoke as children, or the towns where we were born. We can also come together in worship, despite differences in worship styles, or singing, or prayer.

I pray at the beginning of most services here for God to bless our time in worship, and especially to aid us in lifting our vices in words, prayer and song. This is truly what God calls us all to do. Moreover, God looks upon every voice raised in prayer, praise, or song as legitimate worship, no matter what, no matter where, no matter how. We are all encouraged to do the same. We have God’s word on it!

Alleluia, amen!

@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!

 

 

[1] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday25ce.html    “Worship in the Church,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://internationaldayofpeace.org/

[5] McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible: 1 Corinthians through Revelation, Vol 5, (Nashville TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 1983) 436.

Remember Jesus

“Remember Jesus”

communion line drawing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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

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

Peaceful and Quiet Lives

“Peaceful and Quiet Lives”

1-tim-2-2-pray-message

1 Timothy 2:1-8 – September 18, 2016

It’s good to be in the habit of doing certain things. Say, going to the gym. Exercise is a beneficial thing, and if I go to the gym on a regular basis, like three times a week, I will be healthier for it. Same for other things—like practicing the piano, or practicing football or baseball—it’s beneficial to get into the habit of regular repetition, week in, and week out.

Worship and prayer are regular, comfortable things, things many churches do the same way, week in and week out. Here in our scripture passage today, Paul gives his younger friend Timothy some words of wisdom. Recommendations, if you will, of some things Timothy’s church can do in worship and prayer that will be beneficial to them all.

Reading again from 1 Timothy 2, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior.”

I’ll stop right there. Not because the rest of the reading is unimportant. No! But, because Paul has so many ideas that are bursting out of him one on top of the other, I am afraid we might be overloaded if I read them all.

Paul begins the chapter by encouraging Timothy to offer prayers for all members of the human family during church services. He mentions prayer in the terms of: petitions (humble, general requests to God), intercessions (requests, pleading for those in need), supplications (requests for ourselves, especially when faced with a crisis) and thanksgivings (expressing gratitude for blessings we receive). [1] All people need to be held up to God in prayer. All. That is, everyone. Not just one particular neighborhood, not just one particular ethnicity, not just one particular denomination. Paul tells Timothy—Paul tells us—pray for all people.

Yes, this is a wonderful passage that gives us the basics of prayer and worship, and lets us know more about Paul’s ideas concerning this important aspect of our lives. However, I was drawn to one particular phrase in this passage that went beyond the basics of worship: that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” I pursued it all week.

I was fascinated to dig into this passage of scripture. I have not read the Pastoral Letters as often as the rest of the New Testament. So, this week was a good excuse for me to dust off those seldom-opened commentaries and brush up on what was going on in this highly charged situation. For, highly charged it certainly was!

There was a complication, in the case of these house churches. Let’s take a look at the historical context. In the first century, small house churches like the ones where Timothy and Paul worshipped were in a precarious situation. They were constantly involved in “the struggle to secure and maintain a foothold within a hostile environment, where political authorities would always tend to be suspicious of the little house groups whose legal status was at best ambiguous and be ready to act against them at short notice with little excuse.” [2] Many of these small groups of emerging Christians desperately wanted to gain basic respect. Not even respectability, but hoping for just a bit of respect from the authorities.

These groups, or house churches, are identical to house churches meeting all over the world today, in fear for their leaders, if not the group members’ very lives. House churches in parts of Vietnam and Thailand, China, Pakistan, Nepal, and large parts of the Middle East. These groups are—today, here and now—struggling to survive in precarious political situations.

Is it any wonder that these small house churches wanted to pray for those in authority over them, so that they might have some peace and quiet? Quiet and tranquil lives?

Good habits—beneficial, certainly! Habits like prayer and worship are something that Paul would tell Timothy that his house church ought to follow, each time they gather.

How does this prayer and worship counteract the complication of overbearing and even unjust authorities that hold sway over these little groups of believers?

Both Paul and Peter tell their friends that the Godly thing to do is to pray for the authorities. I read from Romans 13:1: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” And 1 Peter 2:17: “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” The New Testament tells us so, in several places, including this letter from Paul to Timothy.

We can see Timothy and his church are prompted to pray for the government. As Rev. Findlayson comments, “We are encouraged to pray for the political process such that it provides an environment where ‘we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness’ (verse 2:2). This verse actually contains a clue to the content of our prayer for government. We are to pray for “peace”, but what kind of peace? Is it peace in the sense of freedom from war, social and industrial strife and revolution?” [3]

Ah. We have arrived at the topic of the day. The theme of our service today. What kind of peace do we pray for, indeed?

I have been talking about peace ever since February, the beginning of Lent. Remember, I went to a number of different churches, church groups, and schools to ask individuals what their personal definition of peace was. What is peace to you?                I got many fascinating definitions and expressions. Everything ranging from “Peace is serenity” to “Peace is Jesus Christ in my heart” to “Peace is quiet and calm” and “Peace is no war and no fighting.” And, a whole lot of other things, besides.

This kind of peace Paul describes is not just personal peace, and individual peace. This kind of peace Paul talks about is peace in the larger sense. Peace among regions, between people groups, and even between countries. We can see the progression in Paul’s thought. The spread of truth and of the Good News of Jesus Christ is facilitated when peace exists among the nations. In Paul’s day, the Roman Empire, the Roman transportation system and the Pax Romana made the spread of the Gospel easier. Then as today, peaceful interaction between countries and regions opens doors for the Good News.

See what Paul says in verse 4. God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” So then, when we pray for government and for the authorities, we can confidently pray that there be peace for the maximizing of the spread of the Good News.

Paul gives us the basics of prayer and worship. Remember what I often say? Prayer time is one of my favorite times in the worship service. Paul tells us we are to pray for all people; and we are to follow Paul’s lead in supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings. The intention of such prayers is so that we Christians in society will be able to live tranquil and quiet lives. This isn’t me saying it. It’s the apostle Paul!

Regardless of whether there is peace in our church, peace in our neighborhood, or peace in our country, prayer is always a good idea. A close relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the reason we are here. Praise God! Thank You, Jesus. Alleluia, amen.

If anyone would like to know more about how to come to know God in a closer, more intimate way, I would be glad to tell you.

[1]  http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday25ce.html Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

[2] New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on 1 Timothy, James D.G. Dunn, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994)

[3] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday25ce.html Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

 

 

Listen to Jesus

“Listen to Jesus”

Jesus Transfiguration icon Luke 9

Luke 9:28-36 – February 7, 2016 (9:34-35)

We do many things on a regular basis or schedule. We eat at regular times. Some people take medication on a daily schedule. Some have habits of regular prayer or weekly bible study. And what about what we are doing right now? Regular Sunday morning worship? In our Protestant tradition, worship is generally on a weekly schedule. We gather together to worship, pray and sing to God, regularly.

Our Gospel reading today comes from Luke 9. As is often the case, Luke brings us in to the story in the middle of things. So often, the Gospel writers go from one event to another to still another, hardly stopping to take a breath. I suspect that’s what the Rabbi Jesus felt like most of the time. Going from one situation to another; one healing, then a teaching, and then the next and the next, and the next after that.

The Gospel writers give their readers some specific clues about Jesus. How He would not neglect the regular worship and prayer in the synagogue or the Temple, on the Sabbath days and holidays. And, how He would intentionally retreat to private places on a regular basis, separate Himself to meditate and pray.

Let’s remind ourselves about this reading. Jesus withdraws from the larger group of disciples and from His ministry. He goes to the top of a mountain to pray with His inner circle of disciples—Peter, James and John. What happens next is nothing short of absolutely amazing.

Reading from Eugene Peterson’s translation “The Message,” “While [Jesus] was in prayer, the appearance of His face changed and His clothes became blinding white. At once two men were there talking with Him. They turned out to be Moses and Elijah—and what a glorious appearance they made! They talked over His exodus, the one Jesus was about to complete in Jerusalem.” What a marvelous, mind-blowing scene that must have been, too!

I invite us to step back a moment. This Gospel reading we consider this morning is full of significance. I could go off in a number of directions, and preach any one of a vast array of sermons, with various themes and topics. The passion of Jesus? The death and resurrection of Jesus? The triumphant ascension of Jesus? The appearance of Moses and Elijah? The significance of the light? The road to the cross?

I choose to highlight the worship aspect of this Gospel reading today. Jesus chose to withdraw to the mountain to pray and meditate before God. By the time this reading ends, we end up with a rousing worship service, there on the mountain top! Amen! Glory, hallelujah!

Who was Luke, the author of our Gospel reading? Christian tradition tells us Luke was a doctor—and a Gentile, a Greek. The only non-Jewish writer of a book of the Bible. One of the commentators I consulted, David Lose, thinks Luke might even have been a pastor. “A pastor keenly interested in and attentive to the life and worship of his community.” [1] If we study the Gospel more closely, Luke outlines a basic pattern of worship several times in his Gospel. This is one of those times.

Three of the Gospels show us the Transfiguration. But, Luke is the only one who adds the description of Jesus leading the other three disciples up on the mountain to pray. Instructing us in the pattern and nature of worship!

And, what is the reaction of the three disciples? Where do we find our faithful friends, Peter, James and John? Fast asleep. Again. We do not know why or how they wake up, but they did. They wake to the sight of Jesus looking dazzling bright, whiter than snow, brighter than anything they had ever seen. This is truly a situation where I can say: Oh. My. God!

I do think our friends the disciples have a bit of a problem. Here they have their Rabbi Jesus, the best example of Godly living the world has ever seen. The best example of living with a close and deep relationship with God, with prayer and meditation front and center in His life. And where are they at this significant time in the life of Jesus? Asleep at the switch. Not paying attention, not getting involved or participating.

Participating in what, we ask? In prayer. In worship of God.

Let’s take a quick look at the steps of worship Luke illustrates for us in this passage. First, prayer. Jesus led His three friends and disciples to a quiet, lonely place to pray. We’ve already touched on this. Jesus had a regular pattern of prayer. He had a deep and intimate relationship with His Father in heaven. He wants that for us, too!

Second, discussion focused on the cross. (In this case, we see a foretaste of the glory of Jesus after the Resurrection!) Reading again from Luke 9, “At once two men were there talking with [Jesus]. They turned out to be Moses and Elijah—and what a glorious appearance they made! They talked over his exodus, the one Jesus was about to complete in Jerusalem.”

Looking at our worship service today, that’s what we do. Every Sunday, we talk about Jesus dying on the cross—as Moses and Elijah talked about with Jesus, His exodus, His departure. His crucifixion and resurrection. And, His ascension into glory. We sing about it, and pray about it, too.

Then, third, comes the time to listen to the Word. Listen to Jesus, the Word Incarnate!

Continuing with the reading from Luke 9, “When Moses and Elijah had left, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, this is a great moment! Let’s build three memorials: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He blurted this out without thinking. 34-35 While he was babbling on like this, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them. As they found themselves buried in the cloud, they became deeply aware of God. Then there was a voice out of the cloud: ‘This is my Son, the Chosen! Listen to him.’”

Note well the command from God! Quoting David Lose again, “the voice from heaven is directed not to Jesus but to the disciples with the injunction, ‘Listen to Him.’ … this combination of prayer, discussion focused on the cross, and the command to listen … at least kindle our liturgical imagination, reminding us of what Sunday can be like.”

Remember, Jesus took the disciples away to have an intimate worship service with them, there on the mountain top. What happened, again? They didn’t pay attention. They fell asleep.

How often do we do the same thing? How often do we just go through the motions? How often do we want the same old worship styles and are hesitant to accept any change in worship or new part of the service? How often are we more concerned with what our fellow worshippers are wearing than the condition of their hearts? Their souls? Their emotional lives? Their physical well-being? Wouldn’t Jesus concern Himself with gathering, with prayer and word and praise? Or would Jesus get sidetracked like the disciples? Going through the motions?

Hard to imagine Jesus doing anything of the kind.

As we gather in this place for communion today, we remember. Jesus said, “Do this to remember Me.” Do what? Participate in worship. More specifically, all of us are to participate in the communion meal, where Jesus is revealed in the breaking of the bread.

Worship is a time to gather, to open the Scripture, the Word of God, and to celebrate the Word Incarnate. Break bread. Remember Jesus. And afterwards, we are sent forth to bring Jesus into the world. Jesus, God’s Chosen! Jesus, the hope of the nations! Jesus, the Prince of peace.

Alleluia! Amen.

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/02/transfiguration-c-worship-transfigured/

Thanks to Eugene Peterson for his wonderful translation The Message. I quoted several verses from Luke chapter 9 in this sermon.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey. Pursuing PEACE. And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!

 

Invitation to Wonder

“Invitation to Wonder”

Virgin Mary and Child - Russian Orthodox

Luke 2:17-18 – December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas! What a wonderful expression. People greeting each other on the street, in the stores, here at church. I know not everyone celebrates Christmas, but still. What a joyous time of the year. Merry Christmas, many people say!

But I want you to go back, two thousand years. Go back to a time when “Merry Christmas” was not even a phrase, a wish, an idea in people’s heads. Go back to the time that Dr. Luke describes in the second chapter of his Gospel. Back to the time when Israel was an occupied country, and the Roman Empire was the strong man. Back to the time when all people in Israel needed to be enrolled. The Roman government decided to have a census, so that they would be able to tax the people of Israel more accurately.

In our Gospel reading tonight, we heard this census described. The Holy Family, Joseph and his fiancée Mary, went to Bethlehem to enroll, because Joseph was a direct descendant of King David. I suspect there were many people on the roads. Today, traveling can be stressful and nerve-wracking. However, I am certain travel in the first century was much more difficult. Poor roads, with many people walking to get from one place to another. We might imagine that Joseph and Mary had a donkey, but nowhere in the Gospel is that mentioned. Travel conditions were challenging, at best.

So, there they are, in Bethlehem. A long way from their home, in Nazareth. I suspect Joseph took care of the enrollment business first thing. But Mary felt the pains of labor begin. What a scary thing! To be far, far from home, in an unfamiliar place, and to have such a significant event happen. Significant, and potentially life-threatening, too.

I have had several children. I can remember all four of the deliveries. All of them happened in the hospital, with nurses and doctors standing by. Quite possibly most of the women here who have delivered babies can remember all their deliveries, too. Don’t you think Mary and Joseph remembered this experience for the rest of their lives? Yes, delivering a baby is a special day for anyone. But—even more so, for Mary and Joseph. Because of the angels. And the additional special visitors, too.

As Luke tells us, there were shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Remember, there is no radio or telephone, no Internet or even telegraph. When messengers personally come to deliver a extra special announcement, it is a big deal. These angels coming to the shepherds, well, that was a super big deal, to be sure!

And the announcement? This isn’t the birth of a normal, ordinary baby. No! This baby is an extra special baby. The Messiah, who will save His people from their sins. Did you hear? This special baby, this Savior, Christ the Lord, is born to you—to me—to all of us, in the city of David, which is called Bethlehem.

Did you hear? The Savior, the Christ, the promised Messiah, came into this world as a Baby in Bethlehem. The Eternal Second Person of the Trinity, Creator of the whole universe, God the Son, emptied Himself of all God-ness. Took on humanity, and was born as a helpless Baby. That is not only good news, that is earth-shaking news. Good news of great joy for all the people. For you, for me, for all of us.

Yes, the promises of Christmas may sound familiar to us. The good news that the angels brought may be old news, to some. But those promises? They are so needed, today. What with uncertainty and fear, anxiety and hatred so common today. Peace and security seem way out of humanity’s reach. Don’t we need some good news right now?

This is good news, this Gospel the angels brought to the shepherds. And they, in turn, told everyone they could about the Child, which the Lord had made known to them. Just as Luke said, all who heard about the Child were amazed at what the shepherd told them.

After that special birth announcement from the angels, and the excited visits from the shepherds, we are left with Mary. Mary who was only a teenager. Mary, who had had nine months to consider this extraordinary pregnancy and upcoming birth.

I cannot imagine a teenager entrusted with such a serious task as bearing the Savior of the world. Yet, Mary must have been up to the task.

Mary must have been a reflective young woman.

We know from verse 18 that Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. All of these words, these unfolding events. Another translation has this verse as “Mary was keeping together (sunetare) all these words, bringing them together (sumballos) in her heart.” Keeping together, sunetare, has the sense of integration. Bringing these events together, or sumballos! She was fitting all the puzzle pieces together, bit by bit.

Can we do the same? Can we fit all the puzzle pieces together? Can we slow down, just a little, and wonder at the miracle of that night? I invite us all to listen to the good news of the shepherds.

Stop by that manger in Bethlehem, and be caught up in the wonder of what happened that night, so long ago. The eternal God, Creator of the universe, come to earth as the Babe in Bethlehem.

God gives each of us an opportunity, an invitation to wonder; an invitation to worship the newborn Savior.

O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

@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!

Generous With Our Words

“Generous With Our Words”

Jesus cures the blind man John 9

John 9:38 – March 15, 2015

In our sermon today, we are going to consider a situation where Jesus met a man who was born blind, and healed him. Miraculously! I could preach an awesome sermon on the blind man, or on the healing. But I want us to look at the aftermath of the healing. As we consider this man, I would like you to think about his lonely, isolated, marginalized situation, too.

I want to read chapter 9, from the Gospel of John. I’ll be reading from a modern translation called “The Message,” by Eugene Peterson.

True Blindness

1-2 Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

3-5 Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.”

6-7 Jesus said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “Sent”). The man went and washed—and saw.

 

The Rabbi Jesus performed another miracle! And this time, He healed a man who had a dark cloud over his head. The man was born blind. He had never, ever been able to see anything. We can tell how he was isolated. Shunned. And like I just read, certain people blamed the man for being born blind. “Well, he must have done something to be born that way!” Treated in that way, we can see how he was marginalized! Other people blamed his parents. “Serves them right! Look at them, having a child born blind! Just a nuisance, a drag on them and their lives.”

Isn’t that like some people today? Isolating, shunning, marginalizing people because of some seeming disability. What kinds of negative, judgmental things are they thinking of? Whose cynical words are they paying attention to? Are they like the disciples, or the other townspeople, listening to their own preconceived, sometimes faulty judgments?

Let’s hear what happens next, in our reading today.

Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, “Why, isn’t this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?”

Others said, “It’s him all right!” But others objected, “It’s not the same man at all. It just looks like him.” He kept saying, “It’s me, the very one.”

10 They said, “How did your eyes get opened?”

11 “A man named Jesus made a paste and rubbed it on my eyes and told me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ I did what he said. When I washed, I saw.”

12 “So where is he?” “I don’t know.”

We can hear the disbelief of everyone in the town. The townspeople were arguing! Some said this guy was the blind man. Others said he couldn’t be. He, himself, kept on saying, “Yes, I am! I’m the one! It’s me, the very guy!”

The former blind man’s words showed he was fully aware of what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now. He knew very well how he had regained his sight! And after the healing, Jesus was nowhere to be found. Let’s continue. See what happens next!

13-15 They marched the man to the Pharisees. This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. The Pharisees grilled him again on how he had come to see. He said, “He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “Obviously, this man can’t be from God. He doesn’t keep the Sabbath.”

Others countered, “How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?” There was a split in their ranks.

                We see the Pharisees as official, religious people of the town. They were the ‘judges’ or ‘experts’ for all things religious, in their day. They ruled on proper behavior and correct rule-keeping, as far as everyone’s daily lives were concerned. The Pharisees were meticulous in following the Mosaic Law code! You had better believe they made sure that everyone else followed the law code just as closely as they did, or else everyone would hear about it!

We know the blind man had been begging outside the Temple for years. However, the religious leaders had paid so little attention to him! Now that he had sight, they did not recognize him when he was not in his usual place, begging. The Pharisees had never even noticed him, a person, except to toss a few coins in his cup. This blind guy was totally marginalized, even shunned. Jesus on the other hand, saw him and paid attention to him.  He treated the man as a real, worthwhile person. In response to his need, Jesus healed him. And was promptly criticized.

17 The Pharisees came back at the blind man, “You’re the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?”

He said, “He is a prophet.”

18-19 The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”

20-23 His parents said, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.” (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. That’s why his parents said, “Ask him. He’s a grown man.”)

In this specific case of the formerly-blind man, the Pharisees carefully investigated this guy. They brought questioning words, and made cynical, unbelieving comments. Plus, we can see how the super-religious people intimidated the townspeople, not to mention the blind man’s parents. The leaders badgered them into saying that this healing Rabbi Jesus was definitely not the Messiah. The townspeople listened to their own fears. They didn’t want to be ostracized, too!

The judgmental attitude of the religious leaders was aided by their skeptical, angry words, capped by. “This man can’t heal on the Sabbath! This man can’t possibly be from God!” The Pharisees were blinded by their meticulous rule-keeping. They were hindered from seeing the marvels of God and God’s miraculous working. But, back to the reading.

24 The Pharisees called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind—and told him, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor.”

25 He replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . now I see.”

26 They said, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27 “I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?”

28-29 With that they jumped all over him. “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”

30-33 The man replied, “This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

34 They said, “You’re nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!” Then they threw him out in the street.

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36 The man said, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.”

37 Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”

38 “Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.

39 Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”

40 Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”

41 Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”

In the final act of this chapter, we see the former blind man meeting Jesus. He had already mentioned the miracle-working power of the Rabbi Jesus to the Pharisees, and was thrown out on his ear for his bold statements. Then, he runs into Jesus. Remember, he had never seen Jesus before. Only heard Him. What do you know, the man addresses Jesus with believing words! The former blind man’s eyes were opened in a number of ways!

Just as the townspeople and the Pharisees were blinded by their fears, skepticism, and preconceived notions, the same thing might very well happen to us today. We can strive to be like the man born blind, who gave witness, and told the religious leaders what happened after he was healed. The man sees what Jesus has done, and gives Jesus believing words, too! Speaking up for Jesus! Can we speak up for Jesus? Or will we hide in a corner? Can we offer each other generous, positive, God-focused words? Or, will we keep quiet, be timid, duck our heads and run away? This is a challenge all of us can listen to today.

Thank God, we can offer each other encouraging words! Generous words! Positive, God-honoring words! Just like the formerly blind man. We, too, can say we believe Jesus. Praise God! Amen.

 

Thanks to Eugene Peterson for his wonderful translation The Message. I quoted John chapter 9, around which I have interwoven this message.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions for Lent 2015. Do Lent generously!

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