”When Evil Darkens Our World”

Donald R. Elly.  M. Div. 

My title comes from a prayer sent to my wife, Anne, by a good friend in response to the murder of eleven Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh , PA. It captured the mood of fear, darkness and anger so many of us experience on a daily basis living in the chaos, and violence occurring all the time, yet unexpectedly.  

For me the prayer conveyed hope forcing me to think about my own response to evil. Jesus in Jerusalem, a city filled with tension, conflict and violence gives his disciples then, and now, some ways to respond and cope.  First though we see Jesus as the sign of God’s Kingdom breaking in, one result is conflict, violence and death, yet in it Jesus asserts God is at work. God is with us. In my name healing is happening. Those who are last will be first, the oppressed will be freed.  

When evil darkens our world, you will discover God working in unexpected places—your life, giving words to witness to God’s love and strength to be strong in face of conflict and division.  Are you hurting, lonely, frightened, picking up the pieces of shattered dreams? My Father, God, will through me, in you, bring new life.  

I close with the prayer by Rabbi Chaim Stren that gives me light in the midst of the darkness and evil, through the Holy Spirit, to witness to hope.  “When evil darkens our world, let us be bearers of light. When fists are clenched in self-righteous rage, let our hands be open for the sake of peace.  When injustice slams doors on the ill, the poor, the old, and the stranger, let us pry them open.  Where shelter is lacking, let us be builders.  Where food and clothing are needed, let us be providers. Where knowledge is denied, let us be champions of learning.  When dissent is stifled, let our voices speak truth to power. When the earth and its creatures are threatened, let us be their guardians.  When bias, greed, bigotry erode our country’s values, let us proclaim liberty throughout the land.  In places where no one acts like a human being, let us bring courage; let us bring compassion;  let us bring humanity.Amen.

November 18, 2018; Cycle B; 26th Sunday of Pentecost

Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 22:1-11,19-23; Heb. 10:11-25; *Mark 13:1-9 


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“Lead With Gratitude”

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Jesus is angry with the religious authorities who administer the affairs of the temple and Mark makes clear why. (Jesus ) taught, Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect…to have the best seats in the Synagogues…they devour widows houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.”  

Religion and religious practices are meant to give life meaning, to tie humanity together so, with God (or gods), they can face life’s circumstances. However, religion can be used, as it often today to talk of God  while robbing the poor and oppressing humans in God’s name.  Failing our duty to let religion be God’s guide to a full life, we do well to pay heed to Jesus warning, “They will receive greater condemnation.”  So Jesus provides us a contrast as he observes worship and the giving of gifts in the temple.  

What are we to do to overcome the Pharisee in all of us?   For Jesus our mentor is a widow who  out of her poverty (only has two cents) gives it all to God and trusts God to provide. Money is not her issue, she has little and yet she gives it to the Temple that is exploiting widows. It all belongs to God, even me. Giving her all to God she is radically open for God to provide for her. 

For me the widow here—like Ruth and Naomiare trusting God to lead the waythere is nothing else and no one else on which to depend.  Lin-Manuel Miranda, the recipient of  the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his hit musical Hamilton, an avowed user of Twitter wrote “Gmorning, Gnight!  little pep talks for me & you (2018).  It is a record of how he starts and ends his day. The purpose – a tweet, “It’s nice to have things to hold on to, some kindness right here, within sight.”  He powerfully describes for me the act of the widow observed by Jesus putting all she had in the Temple treasury.  

Lin-Manuel wrote:  “Good morning, Lead with gratitude. The air in your lungs, the sky above you.  Proceed from there.”  That is her posture.  In the week ahead “lead with gratitude” and find God.

November 11, 2018; Cycle B; 25th Sunday of Pentecost

Ruth 3:1-5; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9:24-28   *Mark 12:38-44





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The Final Question

Donald R. Elly, M. Div. 

Brian Stoffregen reflecting on this passage aboutthe most important commandment” observes that this is the last question asked of Jesus by a variety of people.  Between Mark 11:27 and 12:38 Jesus deals with questions of authority, taxes, resurrection and the ancestry of the Messiah.1 

This one on which the commandment is foundational became central for me in dealing with my weariness, anger and frustration at the current loss of a common vision that ties us together as a United States.   The constant conflict over political ideas, along with the continual murder of those who differ with us or are different from us leaves me feeling hopeless and helpless.   What about you?  Do you find yourself adrift in the chaos?   My pastor, Cindy Hickman, reminded me in her sermon that Jesus did not come as a Savior to lift us out of this chaos, but to provide hope and a model for living in it.   Preaching on Jesus she raised this question, “If we can see Jesus as human like us, can we live as a human like him?”  Reflecting on life lived by Jesus & the values Jesus lived out is a guide to brining heave to earth.

Pondering the question makes clear to me that being Jesusdisciple does not begin with others, but with me.  What motivates me to follow Jesus?  First, for me Jesus lives obedient to God who makes clear in Jesus that the focus of faith is down to earth.  There is no promise to makes life easy or remove us from danger and fear.  

Second, Jesus makes clear that we cannot discover God until we love neighbor and ourselves.   Very often I’m trying to love God and want, if I’m honest to avoid neighbor, evil and chaos. Not possible.  We are called with God’s help to redeem it, to love through it.  

A member of the Tree of life Synagogue, the scene of murder during worship gave me the final hope of the day—rooted in the law of love (and I paraphrase) “My cup is over flowing with love expressed in (all manner of ways) but the intent is love and it is love that transform evil—not the other way around.”1  Amen.

November 4, 2018; Cycle B; 24th Sunday of Pentecost

Ruth 1:1-18; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:1-14; *Mark 12:28-34

1. Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks (2012), pgs.1-5.  2. Judaism’s gift to the World is trusting God, while suffering greatly. Keeping God and neighbor together in love is central and foundational for hope in times of despair. 




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Seeing Jesus Again for the First Time

Donald R. Elly, M.Div.

Marcus Borg in Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” writes how his relationship with Jesus, despite his extensive scholarly knowledge of Jesus, is always fresh as if Jesus is always breaking in again and again making life itself more meaningful.  I have this same sense as I read Mark’s description of Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, a blind begger calling loudly for Jesus. Listen to the ruckus. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth. He began to shout out…Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!It is so loud that the crowd sternly ordered him to be quiet”. By his words the blind man makes clear that though he is blind, he is aware of who Jesus is and the hope Jesus brings.  

For MeganMcKenna Bartimaeus forces us  to ask if we actually see.  “Whom do we shunt or rebuke or quiet?  Like the rich young man, do we need to imitate the blind man, dropping our cloaks and possessions along with the masks and defenses we use to help hide from the questioning of God?  

Even now who is crying out in pity? Whose cries are we not hearing?Bartimaeus, blind though he is, knows who Jesus is better than his disciples and we who claim to follow him.  Mark reminds us that if we seek Jesus, call to him; Jesus will stop and call us to him.

Will we  take heart, get up and respond to Jesuscall?  Following Jesus is more than a matter of worship, ritual and knowledge. Calling to him in every circumstance of our lives is how he knows what we need, and most importantly how Jesus can direct us again and again to those in the world who need what we have to give from Jesus. We serve in his name, and we can receive what we need from those who we might otherwise tell to shut up or pass by as not important.  We are promised that every time we see Jesus it will be as if for the first time and life will never be dull.  

Prayer: Give me Bartimaeus persistence. May I discover you calling me every step of my way on the road of life. Amen.

1  Megan McKenna, On Your Mark (20060. pgs 147-149). Bartimaeus models the Reformation Spirit of Listening & learning.

October 28, 2018; Cycle B; 23rd Sunday of Pentecost 

Job 42:1-17; Psalm 34:1-8 (19-22); Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52


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On the Road Again

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

“And they were on the road…” Mark describes Jesus and his disciples as nomadic (paralleling Israel’s earliest history).  “The way” introduces us to Jesus through the actions he does, the people he meets and his response to them.  On the way is life with the God who created, loved the World and desires for us good.  In Chapter 10 Mark illustrates both the obstacles to life with this God and the joys of entering into God’s Kingdom lived out on the road.

Jesus calls us to discipleship and a deepening relationship learned on the road leading to the Reign of God.  Choicemaking on our part is necessary, yet it appears that the disciples will never learn, even now.  Shortsightedness, failures and flaws are on constant display.  Why?

As I reflect on my life of seventy plus years with this Lord, it seems to me there are two reasons I find valuable. One, failure does not mean finished in Jesus eyes, and he exhibits an eternal patience.  Jesus, Mark indicates uses these failures to lift up and make clear that the path or way is narrow and hard, but we are not alone. 

These  teaching moments  lift up the real tension created  by the Good News of God breaking into life and calling us to choose between the life we settle for and the expectations of God on full display in Jesusactions of healing and teaching .  

Second, we find the mirror of the disciples mistakes, fear and anxiety are obstacles to our ability to hear in Jesus’ message God’s call to life anew.  James and John seem so hard of hearing to us as they ask for seats of power when Jesus comes to glory.  But are we no less so?  

Greatness as defined by Jesus will not be like that of the oppressors. ”Whoever wants to be great must become a servant.Whoever wants to be first must become a slave of all. Really!  A slave’s meaning of life comes from being directed by the Master.  Are you willing to lead by service, by letting God be your director?  Do that on the road of your life and you will discover the glory of God.

October 21, 2018; Cycle B; 22nd Sunday of Pentecost

Job 38:1-7, 34-4; Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c; Hebrews 5:1-10; *Mark 10:32-45

*Verses 32-34 form the powerful contrast between our human concept of glory over against the path of service, sacrifice and death through which Jesus trusted God would accomplish his glorification.  It would be God’s power, not his own display.






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“Let God Do It”

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

An unnamed man runs up to Jesus, kneels and asks him, “ Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” I’ve always been struck with how Jesus responds to those who cross his path (i.e. way).  Jesus never turns them away. Jesus listens.  The result is instructive not just for the disciples and the crowds, but for us.  So listen to the dialogue between these two.

First, the man is deeply religious but wants a stronger connection with God (eternal  life). If you could ask Jesus one thing, what would it be?   Second, Jesus in the manner of the Rabbi’s, deflects his affirmation of being good and turns the conversation to the goodness of God and how the relationship between God and humans is measured by quoting the second half of the commandments concerning human relations.  “Teacher, all these I have kept since my youth.” Jesus looked him hard in the eye—loved him!” Eugene Petersen in the Message comments, “This is the key sentence in every story…”  Jesus had just met him. Mark never tells us his name, but  the promise of this story is that Jesus offers his time, attention to each and every one of us and loves us and wants to support our desire to know God deeply.

Third, we witness in the young man’s turning from Jesusway what keeps him from following Jesus and know that we too are weighted down with sin that can keep us from following. We wonder what will it take for us to commit completely to the way of Jesus?  We like, the rich young man, see the Kingdom or reign of God coming as Jesus teaches, touches and transforms others.

How open am I to letting Jesus teach me, transform and touch me?  What, like the riches of the young man, keep me from following Jesus?  We see the disciples struggling with status, possessiveness and possessions and we know Jesus sees our failures. How will we be saved (made whole)?  “With humans it is not possible, but with God all is possible.” Will we let God do it?1

1 Eugene Peterson translates, “With God all things are possible” using the words, “ Let God Do It”, The Message, pg. 1562

October 14, 2018; Cycle B; 21st Sunday of Pentecost

Job 23:1-16; Psalm 22:1-15; Hebrews 4: 12-16; *Mark 10:17-31







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Jesus’ Heart Examination  

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Hardening of the arteries, if untreated, leads to muscle weakness and heart failure. Using stents, and open heart surgery, physicians can keep the heart functioning and even repair the effects of hardening of the heart.   For many patients it is as close to a miracle as we experience.  

But what if our heart problem goes deeper blocking the flow of God’s love we were created to share in the intimate relationship of marriage and in the community that is called the Body of Christ?  What if the gift of relationship Jesus gives us to repair the world experiences the hardening of the arteries?   Jesus, as deftly as any heart specialist, zeros in on the problem of ruptured relations.  We are afflicted by “Hardness of Heart.”   Our loss of God’s intention for us in marriage and community relations is a heart problem.

The Pharisees test Jesus hoping to trap him.  Using the example of divorce, they ask, “Is it legal for a man to divorce a woman?” “What did Moses say? Just because something is legal does not make it right or just. They respond, Moses gave us the right to divorce. Marriage for Jesus is a gift of oneness, in which a man, a woman and God become one. When marriages fail (and they do) the intention of God to address the loneliness of Adam is negated  and the hope for repairing the world is delayed. Hardness of heart goes unrepaired. Those among us who have been through divorce know that the pain of the experience is not what God intends. 

What are we to do?  When the disciples are being  “hard of heart” prohibiting the children from coming to him, Jesus say to them, and us, “Let the little children come to me”1, for healing is here where God’s Kingdom makes grace visible.  You, see, it is my experience that our very brokenness is a means by which God repairs the world. I believe it, for it happened to me. Thank you , Jesus!

1 “Little Children” is a term for members of the early Christian Community who were  oppressed. vulnerable and outcast. Though we usually separate passage into two parts together they inform each other.

October 7, 2018; Cycle B; 20th Sunday of Pentecost

Isaiah 55:1-13; Psalm 26;

Hebrews .1:1-4; 2:5-12; *Mark 10:2-16


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