An Effective Witness

Donald R. Elly, M. Div. 

John’s description of assisting Jesus in finding the disciples has always been a favorite passage because John the Baptist, unlike many around him, experiences no role confusion with Jesus.  Born six months ahead of Jesus, John no doubt learned from his mother Elizabeth (Mary’s cousin) that he was to be the one who prepared the way for Jesus.

It was what he said to those who sought baptism of repentance from him, including Jesus. Many thought John might be the Messiah. But when John proclaimed, “Look! The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  This  statement of faith is made twice. John noted, “This is he of whom I said, ‘after me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 

John also reminds the disciples of what he saw as Jesus was baptized, “I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove, and it rested on him.” John the Baptist not only prepares the way for Jesus, but is the first witness to who Jesus is.  John the Baptist is an effective witness because he testifies to how this happened.

Prior to the Baptism John had intellectual and family knowledge of Jesus.  He knew him as a cousin.  Here John becomes an effective witness when he comments, “ I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove and it remained on (Jesus) and the voice that said “He (Jesus) on whom you see the Spirit remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. I myself have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”

John proves he’s effective as a witness when he directs the disciples with him to follow Jesus. One is Andrew who then testifies to his brother Simon Peter.  An effective witness is not about what happens in you but what you see in others.  How open are our eyes to what God is doing in others?  Are we, like John, able to point  others to the Holy Spirit at work in them?  Then they too can discover for themselves who Jesus is?

Secondly, an effective witness is not a lonely individual, but bears witness to the activity of the Holy Spirit in forming a community. Want to be an effective witness?  Open your eyes and look for God at work in unexpected  people and places—right where you live.

January 19, 2020; Cycle A         2nd Sunday of Epiphany

Isa. 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1st Cor. 1:1-9; *John 1:29-42

 

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A Poetic Reflection

Donald R. Elly, M. Div. 

Baptism, God’s Affirmation+

Baptism only water, but for me liquid hope;

sealing  heaven to earth

unifying God and humanity in as bond eternal, in Jesus obedience 

making real the hope of change and the reality of God’s love.

Forgiveness 

Not doled out drop by drop like a torture treatment giving

conditional love mixed with critical demands, a mixed message 

if there ever was one.

Rather Baptism in Jesus means being engulfed by God’s presence so

that hope and change are not impossible dreams.

Change empowered by God, not dependent upon my energy and imagination is

Truly grace come alive and offering freedom.  Thank you seems natural. 

Jesus

Human sacrament, God’s creativity boldly proclaimed across time,

giving relationship  another chance.

Offered in  Jesus’ name,  baptism is a releasing of 

the Spirit for service and co-creation.  

Baptism remembered is life redeemed, affirmed.

January 12, 2020; Cycle A; Baptism of the Lord

Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43     *Matthew 3:13-17

+ This poem was initially written on January 4, 2007.  As I reflected on it now, we are affirmed in Jesus’ baptism.

 

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Joseph, Jesus’ Man

Donald R. Elly, M. Div. 

The visit to Bethlehem by the wise ones seeking to worship the Baby Jesus is one of the most popular narratives of Christmas.   

Containing mystery, intrique, violence, and a clash of Kingdoms, this scrip is worthy of a movie.   Stars are a sign of God’s guidance. God is at work in the darkness directing the wise ones to the site of Jesus’ birth. The stars are Matthew‘s reminder that this birth is cosmic in scope.   God acts to make the impossible possible — bringing the nations together, making whole what has been broken. 

Hidden behind all of this drama is Joseph, Jesus’ step father. Informed of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph chooses to be righteous–acting rightly to see she is not shamed or killed.  

Through this lens Matthew provides Joseph is protecting and providing for Mary’s and Jesus safety. Because of his compassion she can keep her promise to God to be the mother of the savior.

Joseph is “righteous” in the best sense of the word. Growing up with the Torah, as a Jewish man, he not only knows the scripture, but acts on it. Rather than leaving Mary alone, Joseph listens to God’s word through the Angel and models for Joseph what righteousness looks like.   

However what captures my imagination the most about Joseph is his steadfastness. Joseph’s action of protecting and saving Jesus from death at the hand of Herod means that the Gospel overcomes hate.Matthew does us a service as he reminds us that right living, kindness and mercy are the traits children need from dads. 

As I thought of Joseph it reminded me that as my dad, following his retirement, responded to God’s call to be a Commissioned Lay Minister he was transformed from a man with a short temper to someone who was kind, and even gentle and patient with those in the churches he served.  Just as Joseph was the man for Jesus, Dad through his growth became the man we needed and provided a model of what a man of faith can accomplish when God makes the impossible possible. Thanks Joseph and Dad for being the men of faith when it was needed. 

December 29, 2019; Cycle A; 1st Sunday of Christmas

Isaiah 63:7-9; Psalm 148; Hebrews 2:10-18; *Matt. 1: l8-25; 2:13-23

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

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Ponder

Elly, M. Div. 

Luke  masterfully  weaves the lives  of John the Baptist and Jesus together in a way that makes Elizabeth, John’s mother, a confirmation  for Mary of her role as  the mother of Jesus, our savior.  Luke is clear, even if Mary isn’t yet!  What is happening is God’s doing.   What is impossible for humans is possible with God.  

Of John’s birth Luke writes, “On the eighth day the time for the ritual of circumcision and naming the child, Zechariah declares that he is to be called  John by God’s word. Elizabeth concurs.  Zechariah’ ability to speak is restored.  “all who heard pondered, ‘What then will this child become?‘”

Pondering conveys here the sense of everything being tossed together. The meaning will unfold in God’s time.  The second time “Ponder” is used is after the birth of Jesus as Mary is reflecting on the words of the Shepherds about receiving the good news of Jesus’ birth from the angels.  Immediately they went to see the child and told Mary what brought them to the manger. “When they (the Shepherds ) saw Mary, Joseph, and the child lying in a manager, the shepherds made known what they had been told about this child…but Mary treasured  all these words and pondered them in her heart.  The Shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”  

These experiences of pondering—first as meaning to unfold over time and second of Mary treasuring and cherishing the Shepherds’ words is what I want to invite you do as you come to Communion tonight.  Ponder how God’s impossible gift will unfold in your life from this Christmas to the next. How will God in Jesus birth bring new meaning and hope in your life?  

Second as you come to the table to take the God’s gift of nourishment what will you discover and treasure in your heart?  To make your heart a place to treasure God’s love what will you have to let  go of?  What pain, anger and hurt will you leave in God’s hands?  Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me” and that remembering can renew you and the world around you!  Pondering that will make this CHRISTMAS UNFORGETTABLE. That is God’s promise.  

December 24, 2019; Cycle A     Christmas Eve

Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14     *Luke 1:59-66; 2:1-20

 

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“No Proof Needed!”

Donald R. Elly, M. Div. 

For two Sundays in Advent we get a glimpse of Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather. He makes his most dramatic appearance in Matt. 1:18-25 as the man engaged to Mary, who discovers that she is pregnant with Jesus.  Chaos ensues.  Mary questions the Angel Gabriel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin (young woman)?” Mary had lots of questions not only about how this would happen, but most intense was “why me?”  

Mary’s acceptance is described by Luke as the angel explains how this will happen. Told her that Elizabeth, her kinswoman, advanced in years, will also have a son. The  words,  “For nothing is impossible with God” bring confirmation. So Mary responds, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord: let it be with me, according to your word.” 

Matthew introduces us to Joseph, to whom she is engaged and how he responds to the news that Mary  is pregnant.  Joseph who learned this before the Angel appears,  “…being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace (and possible death), plans to dismiss Mary quietly.  Joseph’s righteousness (doing the right thing) and mercy is fully displayed.  It reveals a deeply religious Jew who choses to fully support Mary and the special child she bears.  We may not know a lot about Joseph, but we know enough to conclude that Joseph, like his name- sake Joseph in Egypt, is a reflective man. His faith combined with an openness to Angel visitation helps him–along with the Torah–to choose obedience.  

No further proof  is needed. As you and I prepare to receive and celebrate the birth of Jesus, what does Joseph teach us?  Faith is more than words. It is cultivated by the practice of learning to trust in God and to discern God is present.  Such living leaves Joseph able to  respond to God’s call. No further proof is necessary. May your relationship with God open you to God’s surprises so your advent is colored by obedience and compassion.  

December 22, 2019    Cycle A           The 4th Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 8o:1-7, 17-19; Romans 1:1-7; *Matt. 1:18-25; 2:13-23

*Both passages reflect the very obedient, faithful man guided by love of God.

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Hope in the Present Tense

 

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

The dialogue between Jesus and John the Baptist is instructive for us as we once more anticipate the birth of Jesus. We  feel like John the Baptist, frustrated that the Messiah we prepared for has not arrived as expected.

Matthew is direct about John’s discouragement.  In prison for speaking up to Herod, John hears what Jesus is doing.  John’s disciples have been telling John what is happening. Jesus has proclaimed the Kingdom’s arrival by healing a woman with a chronic bleeding problem of twelve years. Also Jesus has also healed two blind men and another who cannot hear, yet John the Baptist asks, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

What is it that makes us impatient with God (Matthew believes Jesus is Emmanuel (“God with us”).  John the Baptist, based on his own Prophetic style, expected more dramatic results as Jesus traveled the road John had prepared.  John’s problem with Jesus is one we share. When God does not act as we expected or on our schedule, we become disillusioned and seek another. 

If we understand the prophetic role as bringing in the future we may not see God at work in us or around us.  John does deserve credit, he spoke up rather than just disappear. And Jesus does not become defensive or take John’s doubt personally, but rather helps us right now to identify where God is at work. 

What if Advent is building on John’s preparation and sharpening our eyesight and opening up our ears to listen for what God is doing. Listen to Jesus‘ language in answering John’s question. Jesus speaks in the present tense, saying, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”  

So often we get so focused on the circumstances we want to change, or how things were in the past that though we have perfect vision we are more blind than the people Jesus healed. If God does something new, will we open our eyes and ears? Advent is that time.

December 15, 2019; Cycle A; 3rd Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 35: 1-10; Ps.146:5-10; James 5:7-10; *Matt. 11:2-11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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God’s Timely Gift: The Promise of Justice

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

I’m a Hallmark movie addict and make no apologies for it.  In a day and age when the reality of Evil, and the distortions of Justice  bend the legal system  to benefit the wealthy; I find some calm and peace in the simple plots that affirm the values of love and compassion and  the promise of justice—right living—fulfilled.  

As  Advent  anticipates God’s action in Jesus to break the cycle of inhumanity I am thankful to God for how Jesus transforms time.  Most of the time we think of time, not as a gift, but a means of driving us to accomplish as much as possible in as short a time as possible. In Jesus God gifts us with the grace  that breaks the rapid passing of clock time—the feeling of punching a time card of endless sameness. Suddenly we become aware that life has meaning that transforms life and fills it with joy and enthusiasm.  Time is fulfilling and each moment becomes precious, and relationships with God and neighbor becomes more valuable.   Life becomes a journey with God to forgive and be forgiven.

The practice of compassion and justice are gifts to give. Rather than seeing everyone as competitors, God, in Jesus, calls us to cooperate and work together to make the world described in Isaiah’s Peaceable Kingdom (Isaiah 11). The poetic picture of Isaiah begins small, but with God’s help, the small shoot from the stump of Jesse produces a Spirit of healing that allows for us to be a participate in a Kingdom where, “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the Leopard  shall lie down with its helpless offspring (the kid) and a little child shall lead them.  The Prophet concludes, “They will not hurt or destroy all on my holy mountain for the earth will be full of the knowledge of Lord as the waters cover the sea.

As you anticipate the birth of Jesus this Advent, where do you need the power of God to accomplish the restoration pictured here?  Neither Isaiah or John the Baptist will settle for a passive Advent. John, inspired by the Prophet, calls on us to repent—to be those that act with the justice and mercy God has freely given us. We are not to be spectators cheering Jesus on, but active participants in making the promise of Justice (right living) a reality.

December 8, 2019; Cycle A; Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 11: 1-10; Psalms 72:1-7, 18-19 Romans 15:4-13; *Matt. 3:1-12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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