“The Kingdom of Heaven is…” (Cultivating Discipleship #2)

Donald R. Elly, M.Div.

SCRIPTURES: Gen. 28:10-19a; Ps. 139:1-12, 23-24; Rom. 8: 12-25; *Matt.13:24-30, 36-43

When you hear someone say “Kingdom of Heaven” what picture comes to mind?  Where do you imagine that the Kingdom of Heaven is in your understanding of the cosmos?  Growing up when someone said “Kingdom of Heaven”, I immediately thought it was the reality we as disciples received as a reward for living in this world and suffering cross-like experiences being his witnesses. It also came after the experience of death and judgment where Jesus served as our advocate before God who would decide our eternal destiny.  Would we receive heaven or go to hell?   Quite frankly it was a very scary thought and seemed a long way off.  

I must confess my picture of grace and how Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit operated was very small and did not change much until I went to College.   If that is how you still picture the Kingdom of Heaven you will miss the richness and challenge of Matthew as we think about growing in discipleship right now.  Matthew 13 makes clear that Jesus’ goal is to instruct us in responding to life right now so we can bear witness to and participate in the Kingdom of Heaven that breaks into our life and interrupts our best laid plans. It may be an uncomfortable analogy, but the Kingdom of Heaven, like the coronavirus is breaking into our lives and disrupting our usual control. It is capable of turning life upside down and inside out.  In fact, having this Good News to concentrate on can give us a new perspective on the coronavirus and give us, paradoxically, a life of meaning and purpose that in disrupting us makes us more aware of needing God’s power and purpose in life.   

First, we are invited to be partners with Jesus in transforming life right now.  Jesus quietly, but with authority, directs us to open our ears. We are to obey, which is what “listen” means.   Living as “good” seed in the world God has created will not be easy for us and for those we talk with about it.   What will be required is giving up our control, our agenda and being open to what God has to say to us through scripture, our interactions with loved ones, and as we move about in the world full of conflict and suffering.  Living as “good” seed will bring us into conflict with political power and systems that do now want to give up the old ways of living that has given them comfort, status, wealth and hardened their hearts.  We will be rejected and accused of not being patriotic enough, or being too liberal (whatever that means) and too fanatic for God.  We may at times find that we don’t fit in and be a disappointment to family and friends. 

In six parables Jesus describes for us what life will be like in the Kingdom of Heaven. Unique to Jesus’ rabbinic style, these parables draw their power from being ordinary and his examples are what everyone can picture.   Today we focus on the parable of the weeds and wheat.  Here Jesus shares the change the Kingdom of Heaven offers in dealing with what we might consider not just sinful, but evil.  The parable really opened my eyes to how realistic Jesus is about the rejection he experienced and the conflict created for his society (i.e. family and neighbors) by him breaking into their lives.  By announcing that God wants to operate in new ways, Jesus disrupted the tradition that kept some people in power at the expense of others.  Evil for Jesus is a fact of life and in responding to it Jesus demonstrates that evil can only be overcome by good. 

Jesus is right. The only solution to violence is non-violence.  In my experience I still struggle with the temptation to respond to anger with more anger.  When I step back and give it “five minutes” I can see that all the angry response does is increase defensiveness and a hardening of positions.  When the twin towers fell in New York on September 11, 2001 it was the objective of the terrorists that we would fall prey to fear and see the world as darkly as they did.   These are, in my opinion, evil seeds planted among the good wheat.  Yet what happened was exactly the opposite.  The world came together at that moment to give us in the United States support we would never have anticipated. The acts of love and sacrifice (and there were thousands) did bear witness to God being right there with those who suffered and died. It gave hope to their families all around the world who still cope with grief and loss even now.  

It is striking that the solution offered by Jesus is what we practice in celebrating Lent before Easter and Advent before Christmas. We are required to wait actively for the Good News to continue breaking forth because God is still at work. The wheat is still growing. We are not to pull up the good wheat to try and remove the evil tares. We are to concentrate on growing in unity with God till it becomes clear that the work of God’s love overcomes evil. You see, the Kingdom of Heaven is the reality of God’s energy and strength cultivating love in unexpected places so that evil will be transformed by love. It may not be the way we would do it if we were in charge, but according to Jesus it is what God desires of us—work on becoming more loving ourselves and let God have God’s way with evil. After all, in God’s gift of love in Jesus good does overcome evil.

July 19, 2020. Cycle A. 7th Sunday of Pentecost

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“Bushels of Abundance” (Cultivating Discipleship #1)

SCRIPTURES: Gen. 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; I Cor. 3:1-9; Gal. 5:13-26; *Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23

Don Elly, M.Div.

Over the next three weeks the focus of the Gospel of Matthew is on chapter 13 where the challenge of following through on Jesus’ call to be disciples encounters all sorts of obstacles. We are reminded by Matthew in this chapter that disciples must endure the opposition of the evil one, i.e. the tempter. Joy in response to receiving the gospel is wonderful, but trouble and persecution because of the Word (Jesus and how he lives out the Hebrew scripture) does arise and rejection is real. Just as Jesus lived out this parable, so too do we as his disciples.

Talitha J. Arnold in commenting on this passage notes that 1st Century Palestine is a hard place to be a disciple of Christ. Due to both poverty and persecution a massive number of people are migrating out of the region (Galilee). The early Christian community is dealing with dissenters and false prophets. Matthew wants us to remember that the rejection of Jesus’ message does not mean that the message is wrong or our efforts are futile.  It is simple a fact of life both in farming and cultivating the faith.  So, Jesus says, “Listen!” and casts the seed of the good news of the kingdom far and wide just as the sower in his parable does. There is no guarantee where it will land. And credit for growth is not the issue.  

As Paul makes so clear in 1st Corinthians, spreading the seed and planting is not a competition and the growth is up to God.  Failure and doubt dominate at the start. Because it is about seeds we think that Jesus is focusing on results, but as the story makes clear the effort of the sower is on distribution and where some of the seed lands seems impossible. Again, God created some plants to grow in the most unlikely places, on the sides of cliffs and out of the cracks in sidewalks.  A shrub can grow that will provide shelter and even food for the birds.

Are you listening! Just let others know what the Kingdom’s growth in your life has meant to you and let God do the rest. How open are our eyes and ears to hear the good news and to observe God at work where we least expect it? Some of the seed will have rougher time than the rest, but it will produce. The final seed cast out by the sower lands on good ground and produces grain in extraordinary amounts: a hundred to one, sixty to one and thirty to one of abundance. Our task is to persevere and sow the seed.

Secondly, Jill Duffield makes a point that we often forget in our focus on growth and our frustration that it does not a happen as we would like it to so we can feel successful.  She writes, seventy-five percent of the time the work we do related to the divine reign will yield…absolutely nothing.  Could it be that our task is to sow the seed and with Jesus’ help live out the Kingdom of Heaven values and let God do the rest?   I think so and it has been my experience that following the Holy Spirit does not mean we will always be successful. But it does mean that we are trusting the word of God that was spoken at the beginning of the Creation. God’s Word is still active and creating. The breath that created us keeps moving, shaping and forming us so that we depend more and more on God and less on ourselves. 

“Letting go and letting God” is not just a slogan but a way of life in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ picture of the extravagant sower is a picture of abundance that recognizes that not every word will take root. There will always be rejection and outright unwillingness to hear the Word or see God at work in it.  But it is God’s word to give away and not ours to hoard or protect.  The parable of the sower’s ending is its greatest challenge. Jesus goes beyond simply encouraging us as listeners to be persistent in the face of rejection. 

Do you believe that God’s grace needs to doled out by us to only those that prove somehow by our standards that they are receptive so that God’s grace won’t be wasted? This is not according to Matthew how God works. If as Matthew pictures it the seed spread by the sower corresponds to the word of the Kingdom being all around us, even in places where it might not be expected to take root and grow, then there is no scarcity here. There is no need to hold back…Each of us, as a sower of the good news of the kingdom, is to manifest the “wideness of God’s mercy and boundless love.

The church I serve now may never be huge in size but it is a is mover and sharper of this community. Regardless of size, God has called all of us to a common ministry of proclaiming the Word and cultivating the fruits of the Gospel: Love, Joy, Peace, Hope and Forgiveness. Praise God for the energy to fulfill God’s purpose. We are to share the abundance of healing and hope that happens in our lives week in and week out and be open to God producing bushels of abundance through our lives and relationships.

Prayer: God bless us as we receive Jesus’ Word, do his work and offer our lives so the Kingdom of Heaven can take root and be visible. O God, keep planting your seeds of love, hope and grace in us and may we trust you to produce the miracle of growth. Amen.

July 12, 2020. Cycle A. 6th Sunday in Pentecost

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“Yoked Together! Now What?”

Don Elly, M.Div.

Jesus I imagine is very frustrated. He has been busy proclaiming the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven (God) by teaching, healing the sick, and casting out demons—all signs that God is active.  Jesus is so successful he summons his twelves disciples and “gave them authority over the unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. Here in Chapter eleven, Jesus is following up teaching and proclaiming his message in their cities.”  Instead of being delighted and celebrating, Jesus appears to be almost angry, or as we say, “on a short fuse!”  Why?  Right in the middle of his own proclaiming and instructing the disciples on how to do ministry in his name, John the Baptist now imprisoned by Herod is raising questions about the ministry “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 

Jesus does not judge John, but addresses those who are skeptical of the ministry.  Jesus says, “You did the same thing to John the Baptist. You called John demon-possessed and rejected him.  You reject me, labeling me “a glutton who eats with the wrong people.”  It does not make sense. Jesus responds to John’s questioning of the effectiveness of ministry by pointing to the work of his disciples and praising John (in effect thanking him for his foundational road work making a path for Jesus and the disciples to succeed).

What a lesson for us today. Instead of being critical that the ministry is not developing as we think it should Jesus affirms John.  He then reminds those who want results more quickly that God is in charge of the growth. Jesus is clear that though we humans may often be disappointed with one another, Jesus is not disappointed with us. Jesus loves us with a passion that is God-sized and not just human. Jesus does not see us doing this on our own, but reminds us that we’re yoked not just to each other, but through him to God.  We are not chosen by him (or God) because of intelligence, good looks, or perfect religious behavior. 

We are chosen because with God as our yoke-partner what may seem ordinary, now becomes a means for God to do work in and through us that we could not do alone or even imagine by ourselves. We often read this passage through the lens of individualism, but for Jesus with God at the center we are as we say today, “all in this together.”  Because this is hard work for us, Jesus takes us a step further and speaks to our weariness, our despair and frustration when we do not see immediate results.

Are you tired, worn out? “Come to me; yoked together we are a team so you are never just doing this alone. Learn from me, lean on me and you will discover that you, God and I fit together and it’s not up to you to pull the load all by yourself. Stay yoked to me, keep company with me and your fellow disciples (and members of the Church) and see God transform the world while you grow stronger in your own faith and can affirm God at work in others that you might have not seen. Jesus put the results of this divine human partnership in these words: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (your heart, mind, and strength will be restored.) For my yoke fits well and your burden is shared.”

Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 145:10-20; Romans 7:15-25a; *Matthew 11:16-30

July 5, 2020: Cycle A, 5th Sunday in Pentecost

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Practicing Hospitality in the Midst of Disruption

Don Elly, M.Div.

Two words as one reads the text for this morning in the NRSV stand out for our consideration because the use of them frames and dominates the passage: The first is welcome, the second is whoever. The word welcome can be translated hospitality from which we get our word hospital and hospice. Both are institutions that receive people who are suffering, in need of care, and provide treatment and compassion. Both practice hospitality in difficult circumstances and often do not know what the outcome of their care will be. Providing welcome and hospitality was not just something nice to do, but an expectation that a person who values human life will treat guests–expected or unexpected–in a friendly and generous way.  So even if your neighbor knocks on your door after midnight and requests bread, no matter how frustrating, you are expected to get up and meet the need.

This practice is not just a friendly practice but necessary for peace and survival.  In the Old Testament there were Sanctuary cities, well known locations where one who had committed murder could flee so that the cycle of bloodshed, revenge and violence would stop before the tribes in conflict could wipe each other out.  The context for reconciliation, for mediation of disagreements allows expression of grief, acts of mourning  and hopefully healing to happen.  

In his life and teaching Jesus put the practice of hospitality and welcome in these words: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me.”  Practice of welcoming Jesus will always result in your getting more than you bargained for because welcoming someone in Jesus’ name is also to welcome (receive and accept) God who sends Jesus.  Now the opposite is true as well.  Reject Jesus and send him away and God also leaves you alone.  Jesus puts hospitality as a practice for connecting to God right up there with Forgiveness.  Practice hospitality and you are promised, says Jesus, that God is in it; refuse to give/or receive and you will discover that God is absent.  Welcome always seemed so passive and easy until you consider that the practice of it is the way that God makes an appearance, and often in a guise or disguise you would not expect and may not recognize.  

Matthew 25:31-46 makes clear that hospitality can open the door to God’s affirmation and failure to offer hospitality can lead to God letting you suffer the consequence of your choice. Diane Roth, a Lutheran pastor from Texas, made an observation that really captured my attention.  She writes, “The first phrase, ‘whoever welcomes you welcomes me…makes me uncomfortable as I have always read this passage as an exhortation for me to see the face of Christ in other people, particularly ‘little ones.’”  Why did I skip over this phrase, and what does it mean? Jesus says these words to his disciples and to us as those who will need the hospitality and welcoming of the community to survive. I think that I blinked right over it the first time because I don’t think of myself as being welcomed so much as the one who welcomes.  I think she is right.  We like to be in control, in charge and that includes practicing hospitality.   We like to think of ourselves as givers, not receivers, as those who meet needs rather than have a need.  However, the consequence is that we may also miss the gifts we need from God and wanting to be in charge we may think that what we are giving is ours to give.  It all begins with God doesn’t it?  Receiving the gift of life and love from God, we as we practice hospitality in the midst of the disruption and chaos are giving away what has been given to us.  We are bearing witness in the process that it is God who will see us through the suffering of these days.  Being able to give what God has given to us can give our suffering meaning and purpose.  This  enables peace to break out and does not obligate those to whom we give to give us anything in return.  

Matthew notes that Jesus closed this passage on hospitality with these words,“…and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple–truly I tell you, none will lose their reward.”  The symbol of a cup of water is a great image for us to remember the importance of hospitality and that it can be done by anyone of us at anytime and anywhere.  Some would say that the most significant image of ministry of Jesus is the cross!  However, the gift of a cup of cold water, ordinary as it is, is a profound witness of the hospitality and can be given and received by all of us as the Body of Jesus Christ. Amen.

June 28, 2020. Cycle A. 4th Sunday in Pentecost

Scriptures; Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; *Matthew 10:40-42

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Two Sparrows and a Head of Hair

Don Elly, M.Div.

Aging by its very nature makes one cautious; yes, even fearful.  There is the dawning awareness of the transitory nature of human existence. “Here today, gone tomorrow” describes not just a vagabond, but the sudden awareness of death.  This feeling has been heightened and intensified by the Coronavirus and the overwhelming reality of death it presents. What do we fear most about death? Feedback and research suggest that we fear the experience of it.  We want to avoid pain and suffering.   Alongside this we fear that our lives have been insignificant and that we may be forgotten.  We also experience anxiety when of those we love and are leaving behind.   When I think of death, it is not my own that makes me the most fearful, but the loss of Anne, my wife, our children, the pets we love and our friends.  These losses, anticipated or real, leave an unfillable emptiness.  Loss, whatever shape it takes, is unavoidable though we may try to deny and escape it.   

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her work with patients dying of cancer and their families identified five stages with which we must deal as we cope with death.  These are:  denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance.  Recently David Kessler has added a sixth stage:  meaning.  He makes clear that we face a choice.  The more intimate the loss the more important it is to acknowledge it.  Some deaths and losses require daily coping.  It is only in honoring our losses and dealing with death that we can eventually be thankful for their life.  Loss can be defined as the ending of a relationship with a person, place, object, event or experience.  Therefore, any loss has emotional, physical, mental and spiritual consequences.  If we chose to erect barriers against further hurt we are left bitter, angry and with a wound that is broken open by every memory. 

Jesus’ words in Matthew are stark, reminding us that being disciples means being under Jesus’ direction and authority. Jesus, aware of the cost of his call, promises us that though we may suffer hardship, and even die, we will discover life more fully as we take up our cross and follow him.

Quoting Jesus’ words, Matthew says, “Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul; rather fear (the one) who has power to destroy body and soul in hell.” For Jesus there is no separation of the body, soul and spirit. To give your soul to a cause is to fully invest yourself with body, mind and spirit—the total person. The choices we make are significant. Now making the wrong choice can be a source of fear and erode faith. Jesus gives hope because we, he says, are more valuable to God than two sparrows and every hair on our heads. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the Father…So do not be afraid; are you not of more value than many sparrows?” The remedy to fear of loss, death and change is God who gives us our significance as an indestructible gift.

Let us all pray: God, in a strange time when we are alone together, and experience a loss of the gathering of our faith.  Thank you that Jesus affirms our value.  Through the Holy Spirit we are called to love and distribute the grace of God that blesses us with a tie that cannot be broken. Amen.

June 21, 2020. Cycle A. Father’s Da

Scriptures: Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; *Matthew 10:24-39

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A Collage of Challenge and Hope

Donald R. Elly, D.Min.

As I reflected on the experience of welcoming Pentecost with its gifts of wind and fire and the rich sharing that took place together while still physically distant, the words of Paul in Romans 15:13 are a blessing I am trusting God to continue among us. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in trusting, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  The events that have unfolded in our National and Global life together since March 15th, the last time we met in person for worship, have left me very much in need of the power of the Holy Spirit.  The events that form the context of this message are well known: The Coronavirus (COVID-19) with the loss of over a 100,000 plus lives in three months. Second, the economic devastation and political division that has resulted and shows no signs of abating. Finally, there is there is the murder of George Floyd an African American at the hands of the police that are supposed to protect us all. This has led to protests and rioting that compounds the current misery of our national life.  These have occurred so rapidly and are so intertwined that we all find it hard to “catch our breath.”  How to process these experiences as a faithful Christian means to me that we must do three things:  We must lament, rage and rediscover a Resilient Spirit.

Lament means “to feel, show, or express grief, sorrow or regret, a crying out, wailing.” Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners and an organizer of the National Day of Mourning and Lament held on June 1st wrote why pausing and lamenting is necessary. Writing in stark terms he noted that we need to “try and feel all one hundred thousand deaths. One hundred thousand is 500 plane crashes with 200 passengers on board each one (there have only been 33 airplane crashes with this number of passengers in world history), two sold-out baseball stadiums…It is a marker we must not pass quickly or easily. We must stop. We must weep…And we must lament, which is to feel and bear that great grief…and reflect on it. Those who have died deserve no less. Why do this?

John O’Donohue, Irish  poet, writing  ‘For Grief” makes the point that only as you grieve can you “enter the hearth in your soul where your loved one waits.” Each of these deaths is a valued member of the human family and to not acknowledge our loss is to dishonor and miss their legacy. Passing over these losses as staggering as they are is to become numb and cold to the importance of God’s gift of life itself.   Albert Einstein, said Joyce Rupp (a well-known Iowa author and spiritual guide) noted how we need one another: “Strange is our situation here on earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose…Our lives are built on the labors of so many others.“

The same awareness is also at the heart of the rage at the death of George Floyd.  A husband, father, brother and African American man. Being angry at his death is a necessity because as one religious leader commented, “He, like each of us, is a child of God created with a purpose.  To not be angry at his senseless death is to fail to recognize that God created each of us as unique. A premature death short changes all of us and breaks the chain of human caring God has called us to cherish.  Rage must be acknowledged and choices made about how to respond to it because unexpressed rage not only ruins the life of the one who struggles with it, but it continues to fester and anger deepens and life is drained of purpose and meaning.

Much of the violence we observe around us can no doubt be traced back to trying to run from it or avoid dealing with it. Only as we face the injustice and inequity in our treatment of Blacks, Hispanics, gays and lesbians and women can we change it.  Where does the power to deal with our grief, confront our anger and respond to rage non-violently come from? The power that comes from rediscovering a resilient spirit given to us in Jesus. God acted to reconcile us to himself through Christ—it is not something we can do on our own.  Paul wrote, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. It is this knowledge of God’s call to us through Jesus that empowers us and enables us to live with a Resilient Spirit that can heal the violence and bless the world and make it whole.  

Ted Loder in Guerillas of Grace provides an appropriate closing prayer for Pentecost Sunday and the week ahead.   Let us Pray:  Make me aware of your presence that wonder may have its way with me, my passion be released, my confidence renewed in the depths of your holiness, that for a moment, my longing for you may be fulfilled and I know I am really free to share bread and intimacy, to laugh and exchange mercy, to be at ease in my struggles, bold in my loving, brave on facing down my own terror, hopeful in the music of your kingdom, joyful in my living, and graceful in my life becoming a song of praise ever sung to you. Amen.

June 7, 2020 Cycle A Pentecost Sunday

Micah 6:6-8     Matt. 4:12-25 (Luke 4:14-21)   James 3:1-18    *2nd Cor. 5:16-21; 12:9-10

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Go Be the Church

Donald R. Elly, M.Div.

Matthew in our text describes Jesus as traveling about the countryside of Galilee (all the cities and villages) “…teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom, and curing every disease…every sickness and…having compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He then said to the disciples, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” We know that Jesus had compassion and saw the people whom he preached and healed as scattered and disoriented. Matthew reports that Jesus also saw there was more to do. It seems the more teaching, proclaiming and healing Jesus did, the bigger the task became. 

Two immediate thoughts came to mind:  One, Jesus identified the problem, and Jesus asked, “the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers to help with the harvest.”  Jesus identified the problem and prayed to God, his Father, “the Lord of the harvest“ for assistance.  Two, Jesus then summoned the disciples and gave them “authority over the unclean spirits, to cast out and cure every sickness.”  Jesus gave them (and today it is us) the authority to do what he had been doing.  When you face an impossible task, or difficult circumstance what do you do?  If I am honest I don’t do what Jesus did very often. Rather than identify the problem I find myself tired, and complaining. I find myself resentful and feel inadequate.  Matthew wants to give us a hint how to manage the difficult circumstances of life–do what Jesus did: Identify the problem and pray to God, “the Lord of the Harvest.”  Sometimes in this circumstance what Jesus does is the last thing I think about doing. Often identifying the problem and praying to God the Father is my last resort rather than my first thought.  Next time you find yourself overwhelmed by circumstances and wondering what to do next, stop identify your problems (feelings) and seek God in prayer.  

In Matthew 5-8, after the Sermon on the Mount in Chapter 7, Matthew described ten (10) healings, stilling of the storm.  No wonder Jesus says the harvest is plentiful.  He is interacting with the people in daily life, not waiting for them to come to him.   Jesus is also probably “tired’.  Leslie Brandt writing in Jesus Now about “Effective Evangelism” made this comment about “proclaiming the Gospel…you must identify and relate to people where they are.  This means that you become friendly with people, listen to them—their joys and sorrows, minister to them at the point of their greatest need, share with them of your abundance, receive from them what they desire to share with you.  If you do this out of genuine God-inculcated love for these people, the time will come when you can announce the presence of the Kingdom and love of God revealed in Jesus Christ”….     

The major point made here by Jesus is that this proclaiming of the Good News is dependent upon God working through you, as you are.  Listen to Jesus’ instructions to the twelve as he sends them out. The Message translates it this way. “Don’t begin by travelling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. …Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead…You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment.”  

I want to close this message on evangelism (sharing that the Kingdom of Heaven is here) with  an email shared by Laurie Haller, the Bishop of the Iowa Annual Conference, entitled, “Go Be the Church!”  She writes of the experience shared with her by a Methodist pastor friend, Phil Dicks. Pastor Dicks was sharing about the amazing ministry taking place is his two rural Methodist Churches. Mingo and Farrar.  The two churches began using Zoom for Worship, and in a matter of days, they progressed lightyears.  Finding a way to connect online lessened the fear and anxiety of COVID-19, and people felt closer to one another. …”They discovered a way of meeting together that lessened the separation and loneliness…The disorientation helped people understand the importance of relationships to our faith—God’s desire not to be separated from us, our desire to not be separated from God, and our faith relationships with others in the Church.  There was (is) opportunity in the adversity.”  Pastor Dicks went on to share, “Each Sunday, we…ask people to share God sightings: ‘God Winks’ as they call it…which increased our awareness of God at work in and through us.  Even our traditional sending out phrase: ‘GO BE THE CHURCH’ took on new meaning as we discovered the opportunities in leaving the building and scattering–‘the Church has left the building.’ The World is our Parish.

PRAYER: Open our eyes to your vision of the world and may we as your Pentecost People, guided by the Holy Spirit be open to your transforming, reconciling in the midst of all the chaos of change, grief, death and loss. Amen.

June 14.2020 Cycle A 2nd Sunday of Pentecost

Genesis 18:1-15 Psalm 116:1-19 Romans 5:1-8 *Matthew 9:35-10:8

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“And this is eternal life….”

Donald R. Elly, M.Div.

Poet Philip Kolin’s beautiful poem flashed across the screen of my memory as I read this powerful third verse in Chapter 17, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus whom you have sent.” Philip wrote, “There is no space in heaven/everything is everywhere/You are here where/there is / No domination of the body’s five kingdoms…you are part of God’s memory/ Light begetting light/God greets you/He speaks only in vowels /He tells you about/Your new neighborhood/Infinity.” Heaven for Philip is where God resides. It is not up or down. “You are part of God’s memory/ Light begetting light. Your new neighborhood is infinity.”

Without Philip’s insight I would never have thought of eternal life and infinity as synonymous. Eternal life for John’s Gospel is not a proposition, but a relationship that God shares with us everywhere all the time. There is no waiting till death—to not know this is death. Eternal life is not exclusive only to those who Jesus lives with, but this new neighborhood is open to all who I’ve introduced God to. We witness best to eternal life when we realize that God has called us to keep informing the world that all are welcome right now. Our job is not to go door to door like the salesman introducing a new product. We are to offer a gift we have already received in Jesus and make clear that eternal life will never end. Infinity keeps open new opportunities to see God at work. Eternal life reminds us that we, no matter what happens to our minds, are not forgotten. We are part of God’s memory forever.

May 24, 2020; Cycle A; 7th Sunday of Easter

Acts 1:6-14. Ps. 68:1-10, 32-35. 1st Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 *John 17:1-11

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Love Blossoms Here!

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Jesus is saying farewell to his hand- selected followers as they celebrate a final Passover meal together. First, Jesus says to them, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Imagine for a moment that these words serve as Jesus’ final will. Love, not romantic love, is what Jesus demonstrates and wants us to complete. I was walking Lucky, our beagle terrier and we passed a yard we’ve walked by many times over the years. A totem pole artfully done stood at the edge of the neighbor’s drive way, “Love Blossoms Here!” What a powerful summary of Jesus’ hopes for his disciples in every age. Love blossoms here. By it, the world will know you are my disciples. Yet that message often appears to be drowned out by what is happening in our world.

How do we love one another as Jesus commanded? First we must take to heart that no matter what is happening in our lives that seems to contradict this mandate of Jesus, it is happening around us because the love Jesus model does not depend upon our feeling, but on our trust in God. Love is a gift God gives us in the form of the Holy Spirit. It is an advocate to maintain the love between God and us.

In this Pandemic we have been surprised by the compassion and sacrificial care of nurses, doctors, housekeepers, truck drivers, and all manner of ordinary people we would take for granted who have stepped up making love real, even dying that others might live. Mark Ralls found the love witnessed to and called for by Jesus in a most unexpected place, being shared by an unusual witness. Thelma, was in the nursing home with dementia. She was talking to herself, “I love you little. I love you big. I love you like a little pig.” Inquiring about her, the nurse said, “That’s Thelma…she taught first grade for more than 30 years and this is the affirmation she gave her children. Thelma, though ill, was living out Jesus’ message of love that God whispers in our ear.

May 17, 2020 Cycle A 6th Sunday of Easter

Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:8-20; 1st Peter 3:13-22; *John 14: 15-21

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Jesus, What are You Expecting of Us?

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” These words of Jesus, like so many of his words, need to be read in context —- meaning the whole phrase or thought is needed so we know what authority or experience stands behind these words. The Common English Bible gives us this translation: “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me.”

Behind these words of Jesus to his anxious disciples are not just a command, “Do this or else!” As Jesus connects them to God and back to himself—a three-fold, dynamic relationship is laid out. Jesus in saying them is reminding the disciples of the reality that lies behind his words, ministry and actions as they have traveled with him over the past three years. By themselves, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” can sound like an imperative that does not allow for the reality of being human, that we all experience trouble. Jesus had experienced rejection, accusations of trying to be God, being a false prophet.

Today we are dealing with a worldwide pandemic and the failure of our human institutions to take care of us and provide a road out of trouble. As I reflected on Jesus’ words the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 came to mind. Noting that hard work, no matter how good you are at that work is “pointless and chasing after wind”, he points to the truth of Jesus with these words: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their hard work. If either of them should fall, one can pick up the other. But how miserable are those who fall and don’t have a companion to help them up! …

Also, one can be overpowered, but two together can put up resistance. A three-ply cord doesn’t easily snap.” It seems to me that as life brings trouble Jesus is reminding us that backed up by his Father himself we have a bond that cannot be broken and will provide us strength for trusting in him because his works are sustained by the Father. Not only are Jesus’ works guaranteed by the Father, trusting in Jesus (backed up by the Father) we will do even greater works than he, and not alone.

May 10, 2020 Cycle A 5th Sunday of Easter

Ecc. 4: 9-12; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1stPeter 2:2-10; *John 14:1-14

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