More Than a Gourmet Meal

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

John’s Gospel in the 6th Chapter tells two miracle stories, the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on the water. Miracles in the Gospels point beyond the healing and identify Jesus as a gift of God making clear that God is still at work creating and making humanity and the world whole.

In Matthew and Mark miracles pointed to the reign of God breaking into human life and making clear that God has a purpose for us that will not be thwarted. In the John Gospel the miracles are signs pointing to Jesus as the “Living bread” the source of life itself. Furthermore as we follow Jesus we experience the power of the Holy Spirit guiding us to deeper trust.

Let’s look first at the feeding of the 5000 which John’s Gospel connected to the Jewish festival of the Passover. The Passover is the annual Jewish celebration of God’s freeing the People of Israel from bondage in Egypt and proclaimed freedom from all forms of enslavement. It re-enacted God’s protection of the first born from the Angel of death just as in Jesus as God-becoming human-we are protected from death.

God’s feeding of the frightened Israelites in the desert with the “bread of heaven”, manna see Neh.9:15) is also re-enacted in the feeding of the fib thousand. Those sharing in this meal where five loaves and two fish are enough to feed all those who are hungry is God at work in Jesus. Not only that Jesus tells them to “gather up the fragments so that nothing may be lost.”

For John Jesus embodying God’s authority is demonstrating that God working through Jesus as “the bread of life” not only sustains them, but calls the earliest Christians to share not only their resources, but themselves as those who trust that what we have will be enough when we trust God to bless it, break it and we distribute it to those in need.

The second miracle of Jesus walking on the water is a strange conclusion to the sharing of this meal, but John sees the God of Israel making clear that Jesus not only has power to be the bread of life Jesus can bring calm and peace in the midst of the world’s (Sea’s) chaos. The next time you find yourself facing an out of control-circumstance and fearful, remember Jesus’ words, “It is I, do not be afraid.” Repeat them as a prayer of peace. The bread of life is also the Lord of the world. For John more than a gourmet meal is being served for God is here right now.

July 25, 2021 Cycle B 9th Sunday of Pentecost

2 Kings 4:42-43 Psalm 23 Eph. 3:14-21 *John 6:1-21

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Faith: The Seedbed for Miracles

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Douglas Hare’s comment on the feeding of the five thousand caught my attention when he noted that “this miracle is reported in all four Gospels”.1) This suggests that the earliest Christians found it especially meaningful.

First, it made clear that in Jesus’ ministry of healing and teaching the power of God, through the Holy Spirit, is at work as the reign of God. We need to trust in faith that the compassion of Jesus, despite the desire to be alone with the disciples, made this meal sacred and makes every gathering around a table where the food is blessed in a prayer of thanks and we are fed is a holy moment of renewal.

The goal is not to figure it all out, but trust that the life to which Jesus calls us is a witness to the fact that the God who provides is the center of our lives and not any other power. For the earliest Christians becoming a follower of Jesus was a choice between the Emperor as political power or God as the sole power of creator and provider. The choice is ours.

Secondly, and this is something I never thought of before, sharing in this meal is an illustration of faith as the seedbed for miracles. In fact the whole 6th Chapter of Mark can be read as faith giving birth to miracles. In Mark 6 we read of John the Baptist’s gruesome death as an illustration of the way the Roman empire and political power, without the love of God and power of Holy Spirit, treats people. However, Jesus though rejected by his hometown and hearing of John’s death sends the disciples out two by two to witness to the power of God’s reign at work despite death and suffering.

The disciples are amazed but their actions infused by the power of Holy Spirit make us partners with Jesus in cultivating faith and being instruments for the miracles of God to be seen, heard and shared. The very circumstances that from a human viewpoint would seem to be powerless are filled with the same compassion Jesus displays as he feeds the five thousand and calls us to do the same. Our faith (as trust in Jesus) is a seedbed of miracles opening us to the power of Jesus’s spirit working in us to repair the world in Jesus’ name. 1) See not only Mark 630-44, but also Matt. 14:13-21, Luke 9:10-17 & John 6:1-15.

July 18, 2021 Cycle B 8th Sunday of Pentecost

Joshua 1:1-9 Psalm 23 Hebrews 11:1-6 *Mark 6:30-44,53-56

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Which Way Will I Choose?

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Janet Hunter, commentator, gave me a new perspective on a text and raised the question that ran through my mind as I read Mark’s account of the death of John the Baptist. Why does Mark who often moves at a fast pace from one event to another paint such a graphic picture? I do think that Mark wants us to know that John has completed his task in preparing the way for Jesus, and that in John’s death we are informed that answering God’s call to life does not protect us from death.

In struggling to make sense of this past year we know that death is real and often close enough to create fear and anxiety. Ron Allen, a New testament scholar, notes that “Mark focuses on John’s execution to highlight the contradiction between the rule of God and rule of Caesar, between the way of life and the way of death.” The brutal death of John and the oppression of Caesar’s empire and its reign contrast and highlight the reality of the reign of Jesus and the Kingdom of peace, healing, hope and compassion God offers and we, as Jesus followers are confronted with which way do I want to live? Herod’s banquet of the powerful and fearful contrasts later with Jesus’s feeding of the 5000 (see 6:30-34).

A second and very important point is that John’s death, like Jesus death on the cross, indicate that there are some values that though we may die for really illustrate what makes life worth living. What empowers a person’s life may be more clearly revealed at death . John Lewis’s witness and work on voting rights is a legacy his death has made more real and urgent for us today.

Are the values for which you are living and bearing witness to worth dying for? As I reflect on the contrasting ways of living may what you, Jesus, offer to the world through me, make clear that your reign is my priority and that values of compassion, justice and peace are a legacy I am willing to die for.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, be not only in my heart, but also in my hands as I reach out in your name to confront all the ways that human beings are exploited and devalued. Forgive me when I fail to reflect the values of your Kingdom. Amen.

July 11, 2021 Cycle B 7th Sunday of Pentecost

Amos 7:7-15. Ps. 85:8-13 Eph. 1:3-14. *Mark 6:14-29,30-34

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Jesus is Rejected

Don Elly, M. Div.

Rejection takes many forms.  Mark recounts several ways that Jesus and his message are discounted when he returns home after positive reception in other parts of Galilee and even across the Sea of Galilee in gentile territory.  Jesus’ message in the hometown synagogue astounds some who heard it but Mark is direct, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of Joses, Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?” And having grown up in Nazareth among the people no one expected nor is able to see God’s reign breaking in as Jesus announces it.  Everything Jesus is saying and doing can be found in the words, actions and God’s call to the Prophets. Though Mark provides all the ways Jesus is discounted the only glimpse we have of how Jesus might have felt about rejection is found in these words. “And he (Jesus) could do no deed of power there except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  And (Jesus) is amazed at their unbelief.”  

How do you deal with rejection? What are some of the feelings that happen when rejection happens to you? Having experienced rejection twice in two workplace settings I find that even today, If I focus on them I can experience anger, feelings of being judged inadequate and set aside.  My skills are no longer needed or valued.  Did Jesus feel this way?  Mark does not focus on what Jesus felt, rather he shares with us what Jesus did and in effect what we as people following Jesus’ way can do to cope with rejection. 

First, Jesus does acknowledge the reality of the rejection and does heal and cure those he can.  Second, Jesus continues teaching.  Finally we read, “(Jesus) called the twelve and began to send them out two by two with specific directions on how to handle rejection, “if any place will not welcome you and refuses to hear you shake off the dust on your feet as a witness  against them.”   The result can be summed up in one word, growth.   Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your direction and keeping us focused.  Keep reminding us that rejection is not about the end, but is opportunity to continue your ministry. On Independence Day it is worth remembering that rejection frees us to follow you.    

July 4th, 2021 Cycle B 6th Sunday of Pentecost

Ezek. 2:1-5 Psalm 123 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 *Mark 6:1-13

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Affirming and Practicing a Healing Faith

Scriptures: Deut. 30:15-20 Psalm 130 2nd Cor. 8:7-15 Mark 5:21-43

Don Elly, M.Div.

Healing as an act of proclamation is a primary activity of Jesus that announces not just that the reign of God has come near, but that it is present now. Through healing (as well as worship, study, and the practice of hospitality and service) the reality of God comes alive. In the fifth chapter of Mark Jesus heals Legion, a demoniac afflicted with so many uncontrollable urges he is unmanageable. He is chained in a cemetery (he is as good as dead to his community). Out of sight, he is out of mind and out of luck. This has happened on the Gentile side of the sea of Galilee away from home. Returning to Capernaum, Jesus encounters two women inneed of healing. Mark weaves their stories together so that while we are told of the plight of one of the women (a young girl), we are also informed of the needs of another. The two women contrast in every way but one, both are afflicted with illnesses that cuts them off from life. One is twelve years of age, the other has suffered from a constant menstrual flow for as long as the first has been alive, twelve years. The result is that the older woman is destitute and desperate. Mark informs us that Jairus, an officer in the local synagogue, approaches Jesus head on (a sign of his desperation), while the woman sneaks up behind Jesus in the midst of a crowd to touch Jesus’ robe. Remarkably both are healed with no ritual, no prayer, as if to make the point that the power comes from Jesus out of his compassion. This contrasts with the hardness of heart that makes human rules hard and unbreakable.

What stands out each time I read these stories is that both episodes are stories of faith.  No statement of belief in Jesus is required.  The daughter is dependent upon her Father’sfaith.  Think about that truth for just moment: Whose faith led you to trust Jesus and even today enables you to experience the healing that can happen as we open ourselves up to the love of God revealed in Jesus?  Faith makes clear that God does not like barriers to the grace God would offer us.  The woman who suffered in isolation for so long “bets everything—even her life—on a desperate gamble.”   She exhibits the sheer audacity of one whose only recourse is to seek to just touch Jesus’ robe hoping that the divine power she had heard about might just accomplish the healing that had eluded her for so long and at such great expense.  What would make you risk everything to reach out to Jesus?   Mark’s central purpose is to tell us who Jesus is.  Faith begins with Jairus on behalf of his ill daughter.  Faith often comes alive when we are trying to do something good for others.  Williams Sloane Coffin put what Mark describes for us in these words, “I love the recklessness of faith. First you jump, then you grow wings.” 

Where is your deepest need for God in your life?  That is a second lesson we learn from the example of Jairus.  “When he saw Jesus, he fell to his knees, beside himself, not caring about how he looks to the local community, as he begs Jesus, “My dear daughter is at death’s door. Come lay your hands on her so she will get well and live.” Need expressed; faith follows.  This is how some of us come to faith in Jesus.  Thank God, Jesus did not expect him to affirm faith first. Jesus did not practice faith healing as we often think of it. While he reached out in compassion and appropriately facilitated healing, the healing happens as each person chooses to trust God.   Let’s take a closer look at the two central characters whose faith and trust in Jesus are commended as the source of healing. 

Jairus Is an official in the synagogue, a person of authority in Jewish society. Mark understands that authority is derived from his position in the community.  By coming to Jesus, Jairus tacitly affirms that whatever authority he possesses is surpassed by that given by  Jesus.  His confession of faith in Jesus’ authority is an expression of Jairus’s trust in Jesus and recognition of the authority of God that is expressed in Jesus’ teaching, preaching, and healing. Jairus also expresses this trust in a most profound way as he “kneels before Jesus” and makes his deepest needs known.  

The woman with the incurable medical issues has long been isolated from community interaction by her condition. Her very condition made her constantly unclean and any contact with her fellow community was to risk death for violation of the Torah and the Holiness code.  Yet she seizes this last chance, having heard about Jesus, she comes up behind him hidden by the crowd and touches his cloak, for she said (to herself), “If I but touch his clothes I will be made well.” She touches the edge of Jesus’ robe, she feels herself healed.  Jesus feels it too.  Despite the urgency of the Jairus daughter’s condition, Jesus does stop and takes his time. It seems to me that Jesus is not swayed by Jairus’ status and treats the woman as an equal in the reign of God.   What a risky expression of faith and immediately her hemorrhage stopped and she was healed.  She not only expresses her trust in Jesus but is completely honest with him, and knowing her act is punishable by death, she still tells him the truth.  Jesus’ response is often overlooked but he commends her practice of faith to restore her to community.  “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”  Broken economically and previously shunned and shamed, this woman is now fully brought back into the Jewish community. Mark tells us that she like Jairus threw herself at Jesus’ feet trembling as to what might happen because of her violation of the law.  If you cannot find yourself in this story in any other way, think about what her courageous faith had done for her and how Jesus responded. Instead of calling her “unclean”, Jesus names her “daughter”, a daughter every bit as precious as Jairus’ beloved daughter. 

One of the most paradoxical lessons of the pandemic of the past year and a half has been the awareness of just how important community and safe touch are to the healthy functioning of society. One of the things we missed most in having to following rules of social distancing and limited touch was human contact. We are at our best when our relationships include compassionate and safe touch. We are in fact created by God and shaped and made human in relationship with other persons. Our relationships–in the church, in friendships and in marriage – are not just something extra added onto life for distraction and entertainment, as if we would be complete human beings in individual isolation. “Relationship”, “touch” if you will,make us human and whole. In Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, Allen Verhey notes that both Jairus and the unnamed woman display “audacious hope that traces all the way back to God’s purpose in shaping humans and creation. Audacious hope is hope that is demonstrated in Jesus’ whole life. Jesus enables us to practice audacious hope as we live by the values of justice, mercy, forgiveness and love through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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In the Boat Together

Scriptures: 1st Sam. 17:32-49 Psalm 9:9-20 2nd Cor. 6:1-13 *Mark 4:1, 33-41

Don Elly, M.Div.

Our Gospel lesson raises a boat load of questions for us as we ponder the future of the Universal Christian Church as a whole and Union Park Presbyterian Church in particular. The first question that comes to my mind is this, “What do you depend upon in the unexpected upheavals of living?  In this past year of dealing with the coronavirus, the mounting deaths and pressures on our medical system what spiritual resources emerged for you in dealing with the anxiety and fear? This overarching question came up for me as I read the familiar story of Jesus and the disciples crossing the sea of Galilee and being caught in an unexpected storm. “On that day”, a day of healing, teaching and meeting the demands of a public who are in conflict over his ministry Jesus said, “Let’s go to the other side.”  The other side of the sea of Galilee was gentile territory and leaving the crowd behind, Jesus went with the disciples in the boat. No one is expecting a storm and Mark pictures Jesus and the disciples as not expecting a storm. In fact. it is entirely possible that Jesus, and even the disciples, worn out by the fast pace of events are looking for a little respite and hoping for some down time from the constant pressure of needy people and conflicting viewpoints.  Haven’t you ever just wanted to get away?  Maybe you have even thought to yourself, “All I need is a few moments of peace and I’ll be able to handle anything that the world can throw at me?”   If you were in the boat with Jesus together right now, what might you expect of him as your Rabbi?

Tired, Jesus instantly falls asleep.  And one of the things that immediately stands out is the peace of Jesus.   Despite the pressures he has been under Jesus is able to fall asleep so that when the storm and chaos arise Jesus is not aware of it until he is awakened by the panicking disciples.  What does Jesus asleep in the boat in the middle of the storm communicate to you?  Mark is very direct.  Jesus asleep in the boat is not a picture of a leader who does not care.  For Mark Jesus asleep in the boat is the picture of a Savior who is secure in God.  Already in Chapter three Jesus in his healing has shown that he—bound to God as Father–is capable of healing people with diseases or casting out demons.  These actions by Jesus are meant to show us who is in charge of not just our lives but of the entire world.  Mark, writing from the view of the first-century culture sees Jesus as demonstrating a calming presence to all those with him in the boat.  Facing persecution and feeling powerless against the opposition of the religious and political authorities of the day, Jesus shows God’s strength. Mark’s goal in telling this story is to strengthen the faith—the trust—of the early church. God’s goodness is at work despite the storm clouds of opposition and the waves of resistance.  God is at work beneath the surface of every trial and a response to the disciples and our anxiety in the face of change. 

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?  This same question surfaces in us when we see the unexpected violence of theological disagreement and racial divisions. Jesusawakened, does not speak, but teaches us what to do by demonstrating that God is with us in the wave swept boat.  For Mark God is not above as the pagan gods were observing the dilemma we face.  No, God is with us! And directs us to depend upon and trust God who is with us. Jesus woke up and “rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be Still.’”   Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.” The disciples, and we with them, are confronted with the reality that God is not only present but in the boat with them.  Will we trust this truth and depend upon God’s strength being with them as they face opposition and conflict with their former Jewish faith tradition and the authorities of Jerusalem and Rome.   “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?” is not a judgment, but an opportunity for us to bear witness to who we really trust.  Put yourself in that boat with the Jesus and the disciples and you have an opportunity to demonstrate that it is God on whom you depend and rely when circumstances shake your faith.  The disciples’ awe here is an expression of their reinforced faith.  “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey?”

In closing, it seems to me that along with affirming their awe that Jesus is not just God with them in the temple or in the boat, but Jesus through his words “Peace! Be still!” is the reality of God coming to us in everyday life. For the disciples they experienced the power of God in Jesus’ person in a boat—the very place where they worked every day to provide a living for their families.  They did not have to leave work to go to the Synagogue to find that God is active.  No! God, in Jesus came seeking them and they discover the power of Jesus’ words of “Peace! Be Still!” to bring the power of God as creator into their ordinary lives.   

I recently discovered watering flowers to be an encounter with God that brings much-needed peace and calm in the world where anxiety can overtake us all too often. I was watering the flowers and enjoying the beauty. To make sure that the flowers got the necessary amount of water I started counting from 1 to 10 and then back down to 1. I suddenly became aware for me that in doing this I was becoming more calm and open to the beauty of God around me and less anxious to rush on to the next task. Just as Brother Lawrence found the presence of God with him in washing the pots and pans following the meals in the Monastery, I felt Jesus’ words of peace become real as I watered the flowers. This placed me in the presence of God and I was the recipient of God’s grace. Furthermore, I became aware in an odd way that the World is the boat we are all in and God is in the boat together with us. Thank God for such holy moments and daily experiences of your presence. Amen.

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“Welcome to Jesus’ Way of Life” Don Elly, M.Div.

Scriptures: Psalm 133 Romans 15:1-13 Matthew 28: 16-20

This service is a celebration to welcome and recognize Sophia, Nathan and Annabella as young people who are confirming promises made by their parents when they were baptized as small children. Sophia, Nathan and Annabella are making these promises for themselves. Building on a relationship with Jesus that began at Baptism they are now accepting Jesus’ call to continue growing as Christians by following Jesus’ way of life. They are promising to continue to learn about Jesus and God’s will for them as they travel with us on Jesus’ way of life.

Using the scriptures from Romans and Matthew I want to share with them and all of us what it means to be a Christian and follow Jesus’ lead for a lifetime. On May the 19th when Sophia, Nathan and Annabella and their parents met with the Session we all shared in a few words “WHAT BEING A CHRISTIAN MEANT TO US.” The clerk of Session made a poster of these responses which was shared with you over the past several Sundays. Our three confirmands shared “What being a Christian means to them” Here is what they shared:

Sophia wrote and shared: “Being a Christian is to believe in God. It means that Jesus as God’s Son was alive to show us how to live and cope with suffering.” Nathan wrote: “Being a Christian means that there is always someone watching over me and forgiving my sins and protecting me.” Annabella wrote, “Being a Christian means we are a member of Jesus’ family…understanding what God did for us and how God wants us to live.” As a member of Jesus’ family it means we are part of a family that looks after you, and helps you learn that God created the world and wants us to trust in God.”

Jesus in Mark Chapter 3:31-35 follows the arrest of John the Baptist by demonstrating that the reign of God is here now. Mark is saying, “Open your eyes and look! God has not finished the work announced by the Prophets and John the Baptist (who was considered a prophet). It continues even to today. For Mark the Good News is God making God’s presence clear as Jesus heals, teaches and serves the poor, including his disciples. Jesus opens wide the arms of God and welcomes everyone calling them into his community. While this is Good News to those who were powerless and often oppressed by Rome, not all are pleased. The religious authorities who got their power by judging others and putting them down thought Jesus was not just crazy but was being misled by Satan. Even more surprising, his mother, brothers and sisters who were embarrassed by Jesus come to try to quiet him down and rein him in. Jesus does not reject them, but does redefine family: Listen to what he says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, sister and mother.” Jesus calls us all to be a family of faith that trusts in God.

I want to share with you what two of the earliest Christians have to say about being a Christian. I will let them speak for themselves in their own words. The first is from Paul, who was originally Saul and a man very committed to the Way of life given by God in Judaism. Saul was so committed that he actually sought to arrest Christians who he believed were undermining Judaism. In Acts 9 we read, Saul went to the high priest seeking letters to the synagogues of Damascus so that …”if Saul found persons who belonged to the Way, he could arrest them and take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. During the journey, as he approached Damascus suddenly a light from heaven encircled him and he heard a voice (of Jesus) asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you harassing me?” Who are you, asked Saul and Jesus responds, “I AM JESUS WHOM YOU ARE HARASSING”, …Now get up and enter the city and you will be told what to do.” The rest of the story is history, Saul becomes Paul and the Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul later wrote to the Christian Community in Rome. the following words about the Way of Life in Christ. These are clearly words we need to take to heart today.

Reading from the Message translation here is what Paul challenges us to do as we follow Jesus’ way of life: “Those of you who are strong and able in faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy on himself by avoiding people’s troubles but waded right in and helped out. …Whatever is written in the past was (and is) written for our instruction so that we have hope through endurance and encouragement of the scripture. May the God of endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude toward each other, similar to Christ Jesus’ attitude. God wants the combination of God’s steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us. WE NEED TO KEEP ALERT ON WHAT GOD WILL DO NEXT. This way we can glorify the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ together with one voice. Then Paul closes this direction for walking Jesus’ way of life with this blessing. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Message puts these final words of Paul this way: “Oh May the God of hope fill you with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your trusting lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope.”

In Matthew 28:14-16 the disciples who have followed Jesus’as the way of life are now commissioned to take the Good News of Jesus to the entire world. We read: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”

Sophia, Nathan and Annabella, as you continue to grow in the way of Jesus, I challenge you to do two things to keep growing. First. develop a pattern of reading the scripture and praying a prayer of thanks for all the strength God has given you for this day. Do this every day. Secondly,remember that just as an ambassador is commissioned to represent the values of a particular country, you are now commissioned to witness to the values of love, justice and care for the weak that Paul talked about and Jesus demonstrated in all the gospels. May the God of peace continue to bless you on your journey with Jesus day by day. Amen.

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“God’s Invitation to Live into Love”         Donald R. Elly,  M. Div. ​​                  

Andrew Taylor-Troutman writing in the Presbyterian Outlook,”Looking into the Lectionary” (May 24, 2021) gave me new insight into the importance of the Trinity when he commented, “that the doctrine is a beautiful mystery rooted in God’s relationship with God’s own self. …then God is in relationship with humankind, and finally we are called to be in relationship with one another “for all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God,” (Romans 8:14). This truth summarized by Paul is what Jesus tries to explain to Nicodemus who John describes as confused by the idea of being born anew (see the 3rd Chapter of John).

Whether “born again” or “born from above”, our rebirth is a gift of grace from the One who so loved and continues to love and will always love the world (John 3:16). Andrew beautifully identified the dynamic of the trinity in these words: “We are all welcomed participants in the evolution of love.” I found the idea that we are gifted with a three way relationship that ties us to God, Jesus, one another to be life affirming.

“God is love and those abide in love and God abides in them.”(1st John 4: 1-18). We are called to imagine what it would be like to be in our place and time if we lived by the same Spirit that bears witness to our spirits that we are children of God”? (Romans 8:16)

First in this evolution of love is the act of God in voicing into existence the creation of the world and then following that creative Word with a desire for relationship with the creation in the intimate formation of Adam and then Eve. That God shows love by seeking relationship and giving us the resources of the world and freedom to use them is an act of grace in itself.

Secondly though, the fact that Nicodemus finds it difficult to comprehend God in the person of Jesus reminds us that this gift is not for condemnation or failure but has the purpose of saving not just humanity, but saving the world by making it whole. That attempt is not just rejected but crucified by those humans who are threatened by God’s intense display of love in Jesus. That might have been the end of the story, but not for God. As promised in Jesus the Holy Spirit (I like to call Christ’s Spirit) is breathed out into the world anew through the Resurrection and God and we are called to give that blessing and love away so that God’s hopes for the world can continue to evolve. When I see the Trinity not as words but the experience of God’s love that has been shared with me by my physical family of Parents, Grandparents, a brother and members of the family of faith from all over the world. For me the Trinity is not a doctrine but an experience of God’s love that will always be given new expression as the love of God is revealed in Jesus. It seems continues to evolve, gives birth to new forms by the Spirit of the Risen Christ. It keeps adopting human beings and shaping them into children of God. Prayer: Thank you, God that you always seeking us out in evolving, creative love that brings new hope even in the darkest times. Amen.

May 30, 2021Cycle B, Trinity Sunday

Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17; 14:18-23

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A Reflection: “The Surprises of Pentecost”. Don Elly, M.Div.

Scriptures: Genesis 11:1-9 Acts 2:1-41 (selected verses) Romans 8:14-17, 22-27

I want to encourage you to think of Pentecost as a surprise, actually several surprises God wants to give us as the rest of the world begins to emerge from the darkness of the Pandemic; and we fumble our way (like a toddler) to a new normal. We have to be careful here because what I believe God wishes to offer us is not a reality, or even on the horizon for many parts of the world. Many don’t live in a prosperous country with the economic and infrastructure to even make the vaccines to counter COVID-19 available. Even as we acknowledge the disparity it is ironic that only a little more than a third of our country’s population are fully vaccinated. I find myself ashamed that in spite of the richness of the gifts with which God has blessed us so many don’t care about themselves, their neighbor, let alone the plight of the rest of the world. In this regard let us ask God’s forgiveness and that of our global neighbors for the sense of entitlement that leads to sin our part.

The major and first surprise of Pentecost is that what Peter preaches to the crowds at Pentecost is not a past reality but goes all the way back to Genesis as we (humanity) weregiven the breath of life. In sharing that the writer affirmsGod as the creator who “In the beginning began to create and continues right up to the present day creating and breathing life” into all that lives.  The gifts of wind (Ruah) and fire continue to be given even today.  Through these gifts God empowers us to be co-creators or partners in God’s creating enterprise. Peter is not talking about God only empowering the disciples right after the death of Jesus, or the Church Fathers of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries. Peter Is not talking about how God is empowering the reformers all of whom are colleagues in faith and the cheering section portrayed by the writer of Hebrews as cheering us on now.  This Pentecost God want to empower you… Are you open to that?  Are you ready to feel the breath of God like a mighty wind or the Fire of the Holy Spirit right now?  

The second surprise of Pentecost is that by the action of the Holy Spirit God through the disciples (through us) does what seems, as Luke describes it, impossible. The arrival of the Holy Spirit allows for each one to hear Jesus’s disciples from Galilee to hear what God is doing in Jesus Christ, and will do through them in their own language.  Luke describes the arrival of Pentecost in these words, “Suddenly a sound from heaven like a howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting, They saw what appeared to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them.  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enable them to speak. Therewere pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all these people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them?  How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language?  Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia, Phygia, and Phamphylia, Egypt and the regions bordering on Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—WE HEAR THEM DECLARING THE MIGHTY WORKS OF GOD IN OUR OWN LANGUAGES. They were surprised and bewildered.  Some asked each other, “What does this mean?”  This development meant that God—who had according to Genesis 11:1-9 disrupted  the unity of humankind that was according to the story of the building of that tower were aspiring to take their God-given gift of language and using it to build a tower by which humans would not need God and could do what they willed and not what God intended. They would, if they had succeeded, built a tower to join earth to heaven and have no need of God.  God disrupted this arrogant plan and scrambled their ability to work together to carry out their plan. Now Peter is announcing that God working through the Holy Spirit evident in the Risen Christ is allowing them to hear the Good news of what God has done in Jesus in their own language.   Have you ever had this happen to you where you were gathered in worship and praising God?  Kyle Caudle in a d.365 Devotional illustrates that this reality still takes place.  He writes, “When I was in divinity school, I took part in a multicultural immersion trip to Romania.  While we were there we worshiped with other Baptists and visited various mission sites for the Roma people.  No one in our group spoke Romanian.  As a language it sounded and looked so different than the foreign languages we encounter in the United States.  How many high schools even offer courses in Romanian?  Because of this vast difference in language I wondered how these worship services would go.  How would we fit in?  How would we understand anything?  What if we stood up or sat down at the wrong time?  Even worse, what if they asked us to sing?   At worship one evening our hosts did exactly that, they invited our group forward to sing.   A member of the Romanian worship team let me use their guitar, and we began to play, ‘How Great is our God.’  As we started to sing, the whole place joined in–both English and Romanian.  In that moment we knew we were united in the Spirit. The Spirit has a way of bringing God’s people together.”  

This surprise of Pentecost underlines the truth that God is our creator, sustainer and desires in the gift of Jesus’ resurrection as the Risen Christ to once again call us to unify—not on our own, but because of God’s great love for us in Jesus.  Will we get the message and as Paul puts it, “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship”… Will we not allow ourselves to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so we can discern the Will of God that is good and acceptable and complete”?  This Pentecost are we going to allow God to cultivate among us the gifts of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-27) so that the world may know we are not drunk, or in an ecstatic state of being, but focused on living out this gift of Pentecost in all we say and do?  May we remember that your gift of the Holy Spirit is meant not just for our individual salvation or personal pleasure and power.  It is a gift for all of us as a body.  Help us also not to worship old forms of buildings, or worship and neglect to discern your powerful Holy Spirit at work among us in new ways.  The challenge ahead of us is immense, but not impossible. 

How are we to do this?  The final surprise of Pentecost is that God has made clear how this can be done. In Jesus Christ God came in human form to remind us that this vehicle of human flesh and life is integrally related to God’s design for living out the gifts of the Spirit by being unified around the one gift we all share—the gift of love.   (1st Cor. 12:31-13:13).   This Pentecost let us recommit to embodying the fruits of the Spirit and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit by BEARING WITNESS TO GOD’S GIFT OF LOVE – THE ONLY GIFT GIVEN TO ALL OF US FOR THE EXPRESS PURPOSE OF TRANSFORMING THE WORLD.   

Would you bow your heads, and open your hearts to the Holy Spirit as I pray:

God of newness and delight, You greet your world again with light and life. In Jesus, as the Risen Christ you have challenged us to be your people living out God’s love, no matter the opposition we face or how we might feel on a given day and moment. Thank you that in Jesus you have made clear how much you love us body, mind and spirit. Give us the strength to see you at work in all of humanity—despite our differences. Let your vision for the world become a reality for us as we live every moment of everyday in gratitude and thanksgiving. Amen.

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“Protected and Directed”

Don Elly, M.Div.

We live in a world where the prayer of Jesus shared in this 17th Chapter of John’s Gospel is quite comforting. With injustice, escalating gun violence, murder and deepening racial divisions giving clear evidence of the failure of community bonds to hold in check our anger and impatience with systemic failure and each other, what can strengthen us for the days ahead? Is this the moment we ought to pause and consider more carefully the wisdom of the scriptures as God’s call to all of us to listen to Jesus. I believe that in his words and that of the Psalmist we can reaffirm the purpose for which God created us. It is my hope that my words this morning will not only bring us a new awareness of Jesus’ protection but also of God’s direction.

Jesus who has led the disciples up to this moment when he faces opposition to the Good News of God coming alive in him and us, now calls in prayer on God to protect us. Even as Jesus is saying farewell to his human journey as God’s “word made flesh”, he is asking God to protect those who have by God’s design followed him. “I am asking on their behalf, I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave to me, because they are yours. All mine are yours and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. …Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given to me so that they may be one, as we are one.” Jesus describes himself as having been the protector of the disciples and is now in prayer delegating that task back to God as he faces crucifixion. He is not praying for himself here, but for the disciples who have not come yet to the depth of relationship with God that Jesus has. Are you tired of the chaos of our day? Are you worn out from doing good only to feel that we human beings as a whole are a lost cause? Is your compassion drained and empty after all these months of dealing with COVID-19? Read this passage again and draw strength from the resource to which Jesus points—His Father, who is the creator of the world and who continues to be in charge despite all evidence to the contrary.

Remember, even at this crucial time when Jesus is facing opposition that will lead to death, he is here taking time to pray for those who are left behind–but not without help and support. When do you pray? Jesus, if the gospel records are clear, was constantly in prayer and drawing strength from the scriptures (especially the Prophets and Psalms) for the difficulty he faced. Prayer functions in the life of Jesus to provide protection and direction. Can you recall those moments when prayer and the memory of Jesus praying for you increased your strength and renewed your hope? Thank you, God for Jesus’ prayer that makes your love so real. Jesus’ time here might seem to be a waste of time;however, it is a reminder of the values that were for him at the center of life itself, and in fact gave life its greatest value. The world (often called “Worldview”) has dominant values that place the values of making life worthwhile in contrast to the worldview of Jesus and the values he lived and encourages us to express in our lives. The world would have us place our personal security above all other things. Here personal autonomy is seen as a higher good than the common good, or the values of love and service that lift up the community good. Another source of value that is thought to give security is amassing money. Here having enough money to be comfortable, to buy what you want when you want is a measure of success. By contrast Jesus lived a life of sacrifice and service and encouraged his followers to do the same. Jesus also lived out the value of gratitude and thanksgiving for all that God had given to him. Clearly love of God and neighbor was seen by Jesus as not only the fulfillment of the Jewish Torah, but the only way to truly worship God.


Jesus is about to leave the disciples so what he asks from God for them is worth lifting up. Jesus, who sees himself as one with God is asking that God, as his Father would develop and deepen a sense of unity among his disciples. Jesus is not asking for unity as a source of political and military power, but as an expression of the bond between the disciples, Jesus and his Father. There is strength in numbers so Jesus is asking that the community begun by God in him become even stronger as they remain unified.

Second, this prayer by Jesus asks for protection on our behalf from the evil one, not because the world is evil and evil is stronger than God, but precisely because evil is not strong despite all the evidence that seems to say that God’s purpose, love and community are powerless.  The purpose of this protection is not for personal preservation but for the demonstration of joy.  For me it is as I recognize the strength of the community to overcome hatred and division, that I see God transforming hated by the power of love.  This paradox makes the protection of God offered in Jesus real. Remember that Jesus never asked to be protected from the world, from evil and sin; only that he might be light in the darkness.  At times we feel powerless and fearful in the face of evil and wonder why God does not remove it (or us). Asking for protection in Jesus’ name provides not onlysafety, but makes us witnesses like Jesus who continued to see God blessing the world.  

Janet Hunter gave me new insight into a final way that Jesus praying for us is vital.  Jesus praying for us helps us to see that in depending upon God’s protection and direction we are given a glimpse of how God wants to work through us. She writes about a nurse manager of the emergency department who would remind her staff to “look at those entrusted to them and see not just someone ill and suffering, but their own grandpa and grandma, to see that they were entrusted to see in them God’s image.  They were to catch a glimpse of ‘holiness’ as Mary Oliver, the poet described it.  Jesus and the Psalmist are pointing to the same reality:• And, at least in part, isn’t this what it is to live in the world, but not be part of it?  Isn’t this what it might mean to live in the world and offer contrasting values as Jesus did?

• Isn’t this what it would be like to live by another set of rules entirely?

• Isn’t this what it is to live by God’s dream of unity and oneness instead of by our own often too small views of the world?

She closed her commentary on this passage with this challenge: What a difference it would make if even a handful of us (and Jesus at this point was down to a few dozen followers) could see the holy in ourselves as Jesus does? Then what if we were to live out God’s view of us as “God’s beloved children”? Finally, living out this truth is not just a part of remembering our Baptism, but is a life style where we never forget we are protected and directed by a love of God that never quits. If we were each of us to see this as what God might do through us—then maybe the unity for which Jesus prayed might just happen. Prayer: Almighty God, may we never forget that you began this world with the intention that we might know your love. But we didn’t get the message. You sent Jesus who not only calls on us to abide and remain in the love of God, but here prays that we never forget that like him, we are God’s beloved and called to give that love away until everyone knows they too are God’s beloved people. Amen.

 

 

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