JUST FOR NOW—Called by Jesus; It’s Your Choice

August 24, 2022

Don R. Elly, M. Div.

I’ve been reflecting lately on what I am called to do as a follower of Jesus Christ. Am I called to live my life by the examples of Jesus life that are reflected in the Gospels, not just the Synoptics, but also the Gospel of John? Each of the Gospels gives us a unique perspective. Reflecting on each can give us a multi-dimensional reflection of the unique understanding of Jesus.

Matthew for example makes clear that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Torah and the Prophets.  The clearest example of this is Jesus speaking from a Mountain and offering an interpretation of the Law and Prophets that does not replace these authorities. It intensifies their directions, calling for a life lived in obedience to God revealed in the Law and Prophets (the Hebrew Bible).  Following  Jesus is to follow the Way and Jesus makes the Word human.   

Mark’s Gospel stresses the urgency of Jesus as not just announcing the Good News, but in his birth by Mary and the Holy Spirit, assisted by Joseph (as Jesus’ stepfather) is  the  Good News.   Oddly enough this understanding of Jesus is similar to John’s Gospel who proclaims that Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit are one, but abide together.  Jesus  as God is  the creative active Word of God taking  human form.   This makes being human not just a biological process, but  dare I say it a sacramental choice in which every life—human and animal—has divine significance.  

My favorite Gospel is Luke. It is clear from Biblical Scholarship that the author of Luke wrote first to share the reign of God breaking into to human existence to counter all other authorities.  In Jesus Luke is clear God is out make human life now the stage on which  God wants human life to break the bonds of oppression in all forms, and usher in a transforming and contrasting way of life for all of us. 

The book of Acts declares that what happened in the life of Jesus is now continuing in the Body of Christ as it bears witness to “the Beloved Community” being the fellowship God calls us to in following Jesus. It continues to be a privilege and challenge to identify what God is calling me to do to bear witness to the way of Jesus. May the Holy Spirit continue to be a source of God’s strength and power flowing through me. Jesus, continue to reveal yourself to me as your Living Word that keeps me alive, awake and aware.

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JUST FOR NOW -“I Am the Vine and you are the Branches”

Don R. Elly, M.Div.

What is the condition of your branches? This past Sunday I preached on John 15:1-17. The title was “Jesus’ keys to community”. Jesus proclaims that “I am the true vine and you are the branches and my Father is the vine dresser”.

What immediately jumps out is the interdependent nature of the relationship between Jesus, us, his disciples and the Father. It is a mutually nourishing relationship and maintaining connection is the first key. If any part were to break away from the relationship with the other two parts in the community it is impaired and cannot fulfill it’s purpose.

Jesus put this truth in a powerful way in the Gospel of Matthew, “Truly I tell you ,whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” If you think that the community has no value, think again. What we do in Jesus’ name on earth has heavenly consequences and the connection between Jesus, God and us is of vital importance to both God, the Father and Jesus.

A second key is that in this relationship of vine, branches and the Vinedresser we are dependent upon one another for growth. This also means God the creator enables growth and productivity by pruning out the dead wood that is not producing fruit so that it does not take energy away from the branches that are growing. Every branch is pruned—non one escapes from the care of the vinedresser in trimming away that which gets in the way of growth. Pruning takes place as we listen to the words of Jesus that come from an intimate relationship with God. Connected to God through prayer and reflection of God’s word given through the Torah and the Prophets, Jesus can inspire us, as his disciples to live by the direction of God.

Finally, the major directive given by God to us through Jesus and to be reflected by us is love. “As my father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide (remain) in my love”. Do this and Jesus promises us that “his joy will be in us and our joy will be complete.”

Prayer: Dear Jesus nourish love in us so that we may fulfill your joy. Amen.

6-19-22​​​​      Cycle C​​       2nd Sunday of Pentecost

Isaiah 5:1-7Ps 42&42Gal. 3: 23-29*John 15:1-17

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JUST FOR NOW: Enthusiasm in Motion 4-8-22*

Don R Elly, M.Div

Discarded on the side of the road at six weeks’ with three siblings in a cardboard box in below zero, bitter cold weather, he survived. Somehow the box moved, it is suspected that he, a puppy and mix of beagle-terrier, was determined to live. It’s true. He was carried into our lives by friends who have not only blessed us with kittens, but a relationship of deep faith and fellowship. It was agreed that Lucky would be his name and most of the time we are blessed by his boundless energy, bright-eyed curiosity. Nothing escapes his engagement with life, be it a leaf in the wind, a meal plate to lick, or especially a rabbit. Lucky is a reminder that every day is a new adventure. It may be following Anne, who he adores, everywhere (even to the bathroom), or following a new scent to its source, but the delight is evident in the vigorous wagging of his white tipped tail and the bounce with which he greets every turn and twist of the day. Lucky may be his name, but we are the lucky ones.

*Lucky joined us on January 1st, 2013. He was rescued after being being left in a cardboard box with three siblings. All were six weeks old, but all but Lucky froze to death(hence the name really fit). This was first written on December 1st, 2017. I revised on 4-7-22.

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March 2nd, 2022 by Don R. Elly, M.Div.

My hope is to share a daily insight from my devotional time and reflections on the current situation that will provide comfort, challenge and direction for living life as fully as possible each day. For many years now I have had one major life goal that is expressed beautifully in the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Its question and answer format has become the goal of my life: “Q. 1. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” When put into my own words and life experience here is how this question and answer have helped me.

The words glorifying and enjoying God stood out for me. Could my enjoyment of God through reading scripture and prayer, which are ways of glorifying God, give my life its main direction? I began to trust these words and insights and my experience of God’s love and faith in God continues to deepen. On Ash Wednesday a colleague who worked with me at Iowa Methodist Medical center as we ministered to patients and families offering Palliative care posted this beautiful prayer on Facebook. It spoke to my heart as I ponder the conflict between Ukraine and Russia that currently threatens world peace for all of us. I plan to read it often in this Lenten season and I pray it will give us all comfort and awareness of where peace needs to start.

AN ASH WEDNESDAY PRAYER Chaplain Bill Simpson, March 2, 2022.

“On this Ash Wednesday, Lord, may we remember. May we remember the exultation of the crowds that welcomed your entry into Jerusalem, the same crowds that called for your death just days later. As we think about ‘them’ and how ‘they’ could do that, may we remember. Keep us mindful, Lord, that “we” are just like them.” We profess one thing and soon find ourselves doing just the opposite. As we recognize our own failures, Lord, may we remember. As we move through the reflection of Lent, humble us. And as we look to Easter, give us hope, not in ourselves, Lord, but in you. On this Ash Wednesday, Lord, may we remember. AMEN.”

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Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Ever played the game “Connect the dots”? You can start anywhere filling in the dots and slowly a picture emerges that conveys what the creator of the game intended. This is the image that came to mind for me I read Luke’s Gospel account that begins with John the Baptist as a central figure of Advent as we ponder again the birth of Jesus. The writer uses John’s story to help us understand the impact of Jesus, and to make that birth what some have called the “hinge of history”.

John the Baptist plays a vital role in Luke’s history of Salvation.  However, as the first dot it is an unexpected surprise.  The author of Luke unfolds for us just how intertwined the life of John the Baptist and his family is in the birth of Jesus and itsroots in the history of Jewish religion. We meet Zachariah, a Priest in the Temple hierarchy, his wife, Elizabeth who is an older cousin to Jesus’s mother, Mary. They are also the parents of John the Baptist. Though they do not appear in our traditional manger scenes their stories highlight and make clear that God coming into human form, i.e.,the incarnation, required more than nine months’preparation and involved many more people than just the Shepherds, the Wise ones and angels.  

So the first question I would ask you as you wait for and prepare for the birth of Jesus this Advent is this: Who are the persons who played a major role in the connecting the dots for you in your relationship to God? Take a moment and say a silent prayer of thanks for these often-forgottenpersons who made you the unique person you are today. My identical twin brother, Ron and I were adopted on December 6, 1946 by Robert and Dorothea Elly five years after our birth and living in the foster care system of the State of Alabama. Hidden in that story are Mom and Pop Brown of Millbrook, Alabama. Deeply faithful Christians(United Methodist), they were important dots that helped us know the love of God long before we felt the call to serve God in the Gospel ministry.

In Luke 3:1-6 Luke’s writer makes clear that for him the birth of Jesus is rooted in the history of Judaism and the Roman Empire when he writes, “in the 15th year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea…the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  …proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord…” Jesus did not just drop down from heaven to be our Savior. Jesus’entry and birth is real and took place in history.  Itwas prepared for and God is eager for us to realize that just as John prepared the way for Jesus and had a unique purpose and role for John and his parents, he has a role for us in Jesus’s story. 

What is the unique role God has for you this Advent as your follow God’s lead and connect the dots of God’s design of Salvation for all the world?  It may be a huge question and you may have only a small part of the answer, but God is depending upon you to make the truth of Zechariah’s prophecy as related to John the Baptist, a task we all have.  “And your child will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways and give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon you, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”    Prayer:  Thank you,Lord for the call to all of us to connect the dots.  May we be thankful for everyone and everything that opens us up to your love. Amen. 

December 5, 2021 Cycle C 2nd Sunday of Advent

Malachi 3:1-4 Philippians 1:3-11. *Luke 1:68-79; 3:1-6

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Remember: “Stand up and raise your heads…”

Donald R. Elly, M.Div.

Worship this past Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent and as I read Jesus’ words to the disciples reflecting on the situation of our early trail blazers in faith, it seems to have been a time of chaos and uncertainty.  Rome, the dominating power of that day is seeking to consolidate and hold onto power. Though mighty, like those in power, it is an insecure power.  It can do a world-wide census and command respect with its Military power but the smallest rebellion is taken very seriously and steps are taken to maintain control by whatever means are necessary.  The earliest Christians are seen as a threat to both Judaism and the Roman Emperor.  Now the language here is similar to Daniel and each of the Gospels see this as a time of chaos and opportunity.  

How do you experience the times in which we are living?  As you seek to be faithful to God and the teaching of Jesus, do you stay faithful to God and to the teaching of Jesus?  Luke is quite explicit, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know the desolation is at hand…There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, on earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the seas and waves (symbols of sin and darkness overwhelming the world).  People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.“   Much of the conflict, fear and anxiety seem to be present today but here is where Luke would have us remember several realities. Let me mention some that I am seeking to remember this advent.

First, when it seems more chaotic and out of control that is when the momentous change is occurring and for Luke it is a time to see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ clothed in power and great glory.  It brought to mind for me those moments when I’ve felt the most distressed. It is those times when I have been the most open to God as revealed in Jesus and felt the calm presence of God centering and steading me. How about you? When have you felt the power of God and glory and goodness of God? Let this Advent be such a time.  

Second, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  Now in the midst anxiety and great conflict in politics and personal differences we are inclined to do exactly the opposite.  We want to duck our heads and look down, not up. Why do this? Luke is clear we will miss the very redemption we are seeking from God as the very moment God is revealing that power and glory. For Luke the actions taking place as Jesus heals and instructs us on how to practice forgiveness and hospitality and break down the walls of race and prejudice will be missed if we hide away or seek to blend in rather than stand up.

Finally, Jesus wants us to remember that just as the fig tree gives us signs in the sprouting of leaves new growth is taking place, so we are to stay alert to the presence of God and the words of Jesus because these will not pass away but can guard and guide us into the new that God will do in us this Advent.

November 28, 2021 Cycle C 1st Sunday of Advent

Jer. 33:14-16 Ps. 25:1-10

I Thess. 3:9-13. *Luke 21:25-36




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Thanksgiving is…

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

When you hear the word Thanksgiving, what immediately comes to mind? Pilgrims, turkey, football, the Thanksgiving parade in New York City? Add into the mix the pressure of Black Friday where we try to buy gifts for everyone ahead of the Christmas season and we know from experience why we become  cynical and exhausted.    

How to counter this cultural emphasis on consuming and discover the radical roots of Thanksgiving is not a bad goal to aim for this year. I was blessed to introduce the topic of Thanksgiving and saying thank you to the Cancer Nurse Navigators at John Stoddard this morning as we met again for a face to face time of debriefing and reflection, and what a rich time it was.  First of all for all of us this was the first time we met together in the same room and not over the telephone and Zoom. 

Our time began with asking each of them to identify and if they wished to share the first word or experience that came to mind as they thought of Thanksgiving.  Everyone shared, but a couple of reflections stood out for all of us. “Thanksgiving is my father” who would often tell us, “If you don’t have anything you are thankful for just go ahead and stay in bed!”,  implying of course that Thanksgiving is worth getting up for and sharing as family is the centerpiece.  A second one simply commented, “Thanksgiving is homecoming.” What was striking about this one was that after the death of her Grandparents the meaning of Thanksgiving was never the same and it was a grief to which we could all relate. 

I then shared with them of Anne Lamott’s experience of thank you as shared in her beautiful book, Help, Thanks and Wow: Three Essential Prayers (2010), pgs 65-68. Anne writes, ”Waking up one day in a depressed mood, despite being surrounded by her dogs, she ‘did a kindness to herself’ and took her dogs for a walk up Mount Tamalpais near where she lives in Marin County, California. The very wind she hates was blowing. She prayed what she calls the fourth essential prayer, “Help me not be such an ass.” She noticed almost immediately that the wind died down, the view cleared as the sun came out, and she and her dogs were able to find, rest, peace in the sun and unexpected beauty. And she shouted out loud, “Thank you…” Who would dispute that this is also thanksgiving. May this Thanksgiving contain some unexpected grace in this tumultuous time. I close with the words of Paul in Philippians 4:4-7, 9: “Rejoice in the Lord; again, I say rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…and the God of peace will be with you. Amen

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“Thinking Like God…” A Reflection

Don Elly, M. Div.

In the past when I’ve read Peter’s confession, “You are the Messiah”, I’ve focused on the reality that this confession came as an insight from the Holy Spirit. It is clear from the later dialogue between Jesus and Peter that Peter has not fully internalized what this confession really meant and did not understand or even agree with Jesus on what it meant to affirm Jesus as the Messiah. When you claim that Jesus is the Messiah (the anointed one) what does it mean? Mark in describing this conversation and making it literally the center point of the Gospel gives us several insights.

First, Mark in placing this affirmation by Peter in the region of Caesarea Philippi sees that Jesus as the Messiah sees God as the sole power deserving worship. Jesus’s announcement of God’s reign seeks freedom from oppression and contrasts with the Imperial power of Caesar, the Emperor of Rome and the major political power of Jesus’ day. While Caesar’s power is upheld by military might, Jesus’ Kingship is active in bettering people’s lives, and serving them rather than expecting them to serve him. Therefore, we as members of the fellowship of the anointed are to demonstrate leadership by our service. Jesus put it in these words: “… and (Jesus) began to teach them that the Son of Man had to endure great suffering and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes and be put to death, and to rise again in three days afterwards.”

What a shock this was to the disciples (and to us) who too often think that Jesus the Messiah is coming to bring us power and setting us up to be served by God. Jesus punctures our inflated ideas of importance as he talks to the disciples following his rebuke of Peter. “You think as a human being, not as God thinks.”

We as humans think how to avoid suffering, but God thinks the meaning of life is found in what we do in giving ourselves away. As we give our lives away in the service of God to others life finds its deepest meaning and purpose. Even as we struggle with Jesus’ words we know from his example that life’s deepest meaning is found in giving ourselves away to make clear that God’s power and love are the center of a fulfilled life. So get busy. Amen.

September 12, 2021 Cycle B 16th Sunday of Pentecost

Isaiah 50:4-9a Psalm 116:1-9 James 3:1-12 *Mark 8:27-38

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“Only the crumbs, please!”

Donald R. Elly, M.Div.

When you read the encounter in Mark 7 and dialogue of this Syrophoenician woman with Jesus, what is your immediate reaction? Shock? Disgust? Jesus, you need to take a chill pill.

Many scholars see the conversation as a dialogue that was going on in the early Christian community and while it appears to be about bread crumbs it indicates according to them the tensions facing the earliest of Jesus’ followers as they were caught between Judaism’s traditions over against who is in or out and what will be required of both former Jewish followers of the way, and gentiles as they seek to follow Jesus’ way and respond to God’s call to put the reign of God at the center as Jesus’ calls for Christians to be one as God desires. We often have an idealized image of the earliest Christian community but following Jesus’ way generated lots of discussion.

“Only the crumbs, please!” The woman knows who Jesus is—he can’t escape—but she will be satisfied with crumbs if her daughter can be freed of demons. What a metaphor given to us by Mark. In Jesus God can with a few crumbs shatter the walls we build between each other. In Jesus God will open our ears and loosen our tongues so we can bear witness to the power of the Kingdom to change the world. It does not take a lot—only the crumbs, please, and God can change the world through God’s love flowing from you. The demons of hate and difference are vanquished. Let it be so. Amen.

Are the miracles of Jesus only for Jewish people? Mark’s answer is no! Jesus, despite his words, agrees, and the woman’s response brings immediate healing to her daughter. “Sir (Lord), even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then Jesus said to her, “For saying that…the demon has left your daughter”. The miracle here is that Jesus listened, and responded to her plea and that this is how we are meant to treat each other as we follow Jesus as Lord in witnessing to the reign of God.

September 5, 2021​​    Cycle B​​           15th Sunday of Pentecost 

Isaiah 45:4-7a Exodus 16:9-21 James 2:1-10 *Mark 7:24-37

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“Rooted in God’s Goodness”

A Reflection on Life as a Response to Death by Donald R. Elly, M. Div. August 11th, 2021. In honor of David Swanson.

As we sat together to plan David’s funeral a theme emerged from the stories, memories and tears of these last days of David’s life. His wife of 57 years made two comments that stuck with me. First, David died “the perfect death.” Now she did not mean that is was easy and comfortable, rather that David died surrounded by his immediate family, wife, Terry, and two daughters Wende and Kelle. All of them sharing stories, memories, and laughter (including David) is just how he wanted to die. It was a tragic time where the heart damaged by Rheumatic Fever as a child could not ward off pneumonia. He did not complain.

Death, age and illness have a way of clarifying the meaning and purpose of an individual’s life and making us all more aware of the values and purpose of every human being life. It is my privilege to often be called to bear witness and articulate the meaning of life when death occurs.

Second, Terry commented that David was a giver, working for 20 years as a food broker with Hawkeye Food Systems. Customers became life-long friends along with his co-workers. David gifted in human relationships always stood up strongly for the right. What mattered was not what was convenient for the company, even for himself, but was good. This same sense of good carried through in his life-long love of woodworking and construction. He built the house he and Terry shared and never bought a gift. His gifts were handmade and valued because of his work.

As we talked it became clear that David was “Rooted in God’s Goodness” and never forgot. The writer of the 1st Psalm described David’s rootedness in the Goodness of God in these words: “Blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path sinners tread, or sit in the seat of the scoffers; but their delight is in the instruction of the Lord…They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season and their leaves do not wither. In all they do, they prosper.” John Izzo in The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. David lived all of them: Be true to yourself, Leave no regrets, Become love, Live in the moment and especially “Give more than you take”. Rooted in God’s goodness, David lived his 79 years fully and faithfully. Thanks be to God.

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