Looking for the Living

Donald R.  Elly, M. Div.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?  ( Jesus) He is not here, but has risen…”  With these words the women’s world is turned upside down and so is ours.  I believe the women, as they prepare to go to the tomb were never looking for the living.  Even though Jesus, is recorded in all the Gospels as saying that he would rise after three days, the women did not go to his tomb expecting to hear about, much less see a risen Lord.   It is incomprehensible. 

Jesus’ crucifixion is seen by them as a God-forsaken moment, though Jesus never let go of trust in God.  When someone close to us is ill or facing death, the work that God might do is not visible to us.  We, like the women, and all humans, are consumed by our grief and our loss. We stop thinking and many cases time stands still.   The women are not looking for the living among the dead, but they come to the tomb to tend the dead.

Often times we talk of miracles at the time of a loved one’s illness and death. Though we hope for it, we don’t really expect it to happen.  Perplexed is an understatement.  “…Remember how Jesus told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”   Now, remembering does not automatically make the resurrection real.  It takes many appearances of Jesus in unexpected circumstances and times to surrender to the power that Jesus offers us all through the Holy Spirit.   

Jesus’ gift of breath and life—rooted in the reality of God’s gift of breath and life shared at creation comes only as we trust God to live in us.   Will we take God up on the offer to live humbly, justly giving away the healing, peace and forgiveness that we have been given by God?  The paradox of Easter celebrates the joy that God has always wanted to share with us. Where are you going to find the Jesus, the Risen Christ this Easter?   The scriptural witness is clear: Among the living. For the rising of Christ brings the dead to life, and joy out of sorrow. May you be blessed with life this Easter of 2019!

April 21, 2019    Cycle C      EASTER Sunday

Isaiah 65:17-25; Ps. 118:1-2,14-24        

1 Corinthians 15:19-26      *Luke 24:1-12



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“Jesus’ Values Revealed”

Donald R. Elly, M. Div. 

Emmy Kegler, a Lutheran Pastor and the author of One Coin Found (2019) used one word to describe Holy Week (and its beginning with Palm Sunday). Disruption.  “…Holy Week came as disruption.  I relished the shouts of the crowd surrounding Jesus…The first Palm Sunday was less a ritual procession and more a protest march.

The people of God shouted, finally the Messiah has come! The violence of Rome would be overthrown, the throne of David taken back.  Finally the people of God would be free again, no longer poor and starving in their homeland, under the burden of oppression.”1  

Reflecting on Emmy’s description, I want to share with you some of the values Jesus reveals as he with the disciples enters Jerusalem.  All four gospels record this scene.  Each conveys a unique message by what they add or subtract. For example, Luke has no branch waving or palm trees.  Jesus is King and enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey,  a beast of burden or service, rather than a war horse. All of the symbols of power convey a quest for the peace given by God alone, that passes all under-standing, unlike the warrior that arrives in full military splendor to maintain a peace focused on the expansion to amass wealth for Emperor and Rome.   

Jesus comes “in the name of the Lord”. God alone is the source of a life of peace providing hope for all.   Jesus, as we affirm, pays the price of his life to achieve it.  Death on the Cross is Jesus ultimate gift of love, of his commitment to give all to witness to God’s love.  The instrument of hate,  and torture is transformed.  

Jesus enters Jerusalem to make some other values evident.  Humility  is the posture of Christians  toward all other human beings because life is a gift and all lives are meant to be reflectors of peace  and healing for all. Kathryn Huey put well what we are to recall and honor on this day misnamed “Palm Sunday”.   I believe  that the death of Jesus is about the ultimate gift of God’s love, the gift of a compassionate God who says no to death and raises Jesus up again on the third day and this God will raise us up too.2

1.Emmy Kegler. One Coin Found (2019), pgs.96-97    

2. Kathryn Matthew Huey. Sermon Seeds, Cycle C2012) pgs.101-105

April 14, 2019; Cycle C; Palm/Passion Sunday

Isaiah50:4-9; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; *Luke 19:28-39,23:1-49




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Service as a Sacrament

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

This reflection is on Mary’s service to Jesus as she anoints his feet and dries them with her hair.  It is dedicated to every ordinary member of the congregation who week in and week out provide “a sacrament of service.  

A sacrament is a visible sign of an inward grace.”  In this intimate act Mary visibly serves Jesus by doing what might have been done by a slave or the master of the house. Hospitality to guests implies taking care of the whole person. I believe it is sacramental because it reveals her love for Jesus and gratitude for raising Lazarus. The action of humbling herself and demonstrating care for Jesus may well have set in motion Jesus’ washing of his disciple’s feet as part of the Last Supper.  What a powerful example to all of us who lead in Jesus’ name.  We must be willing to serve those we lead.  

It does seem to me that Mary balances out the contrast often drawn between Mary and Martha.  We exalt Martha’s dinner preparation as more important than listening and learning from Jesus. Mary reminds me of a recent funeral  for a female colleague who for 47 years quietly served Jesus and impacted her Church and world.   My parents also, without fanfare served Jesus by witnessing to the love of Jesus for everyone regardless of race and religion, standing up for everyone’s civil rights. 

It is the daily actions of sacramental service that make the Church more than a building. Often these acts of service done quietly are more effective than preaching, teaching and being a visible leader.  The greeter introduces people to one another and furthers the growth of relationships involved in the sacrament of service.

Anointing Jesus feet–as a displaying of affection was Mary’s way of acknowledging her loyalty to him. It was a display of faith in a time of stress. The Churches of which we are all apart have many like Mary, Martha and Lazarus who carry out the sacrament of service. 

Take a moment and offer a prayer of thanks to God for these faithful servants who are the witnesses God depends on daily. 

April 7, 2019      Cycle C                5th Sunday of Lent

Isaiah 43:1-21; Psalm 126; Phil. 3:4b-14    *John 12: 1-8










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What Gives God Joy

Donald R. Elly, M.Div. 

The Parable known as “the Prodigal Son” was interpreted in several ways as I was growing up:  One stated that Jesus wants us to avoid becoming Prodigal sons (and daughters) who rebel, leave home and end up   penniless children who need repentance.   The second  stressed that living a religious life is done by avoiding contact with sinners, strangers and outsiders (a Christian version of Judaism efforts to be holy by staying Kosher).  

Another way is to see God as focused on getting everyone to repent so that life as a Prodigal could be avoided.  All these ways of living as a Christian attempted to avoid trouble.  God, as described in the parables of the found sheep, the found coin and the beloved son is a joyful God who desires everyone, regardless of national or even religious identity, to experience the joy in life?   

Responding to God in thankfulness for life itself is a major purpose for human life and empowers the loving of one’s neighbor no matter where they live, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, National identity and religious affiliation.1   Gone are the walls between religions and countries and the negative power of sin, violence and abuse of power.

The Father of the youngest son and the elder son is able to forgive the selfishness of both sons. The Father’s welcome of the youngest son makes clear that repentance (change in the behavior) of the youngest is what makes the Party necessary and is hopeful that the humility expressed is permanent change.

The Father’s response to the elder son is what we who are attempting to be pure and suffer from self-righteousness need to hear, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is MINE is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life, he was lost and has been found.”  Accepting our being found by God is what God wants to do for all and was the purpose going all the way back to creation—so  come and celebrate with God in God’s joy. 

1.Barbara Brown Taylor. Holy Envy (2018) is a powerful statement of what it means to be Christian in a world of multiple religions. She makes clear that being Christian does not mean being dominant or better than all others. 

March 31, 2019     Cycle C           4th Sunday of Lent

Isaiah 61:1-3; Psalm 32; 2nd Cor. 5:16-21; *Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32


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Two No’s and a Yes!

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Repentance has up to now been almost an obligation to have a meaningful Lent, just as Ash Wednesday starts with acknowledging our mortality and failure to live as God desires.  It is symbolized with ashes.  

Repentance has always been associated with the request to have God “create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit in me.” No doubt that is because it is easier to think of all the ways we fall short of what we want to be, and if we judge ourselves by our failures, surely God must agree.  Repentance is a major theme of this passage.  Jesus makes it the focus of this passage with two no’s and a yes!  

Jesus asks two questions followed with two dramatic illustrations of human suffering. The first is at the hands of Pilate, the Governor of Judea, who kills worshippers in the Temple. Pilate is attempting to keep order and peace to please Rome. The Second example is a construction accident.  Is human suffering a punishment of God for society’s failure to follow the Covenant?  No and No says Jesus. However, in both cases “…unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”  

Eric D. Barreto, writing  on this text in The Christian Century (Feb. 27, 2019) notes, “Death is not purposeful or meaningful…(it) pursues us all whether we fall victim to retribution or empire or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Death is coming for us all, but will not overcome us—if we repent. God’s grace blunts the sharp edge. Repentance acknowledges that God can redeem, God can set right, God can make whole.”  

Do you trust Jesus‘ words here? Repentance is not just turning away from some pleasure or harmful behavior,  it is turning toward God and claiming God’s love in Jesus as a gift that makes suffering and pain meaningful and a instrument of hope. Isn’t this what the cross is all about?  

Jesus makes this same point as he tells of the gardener interceding with the Master for one more year to cultivate and strengthen the tree to be fruitful. I am thankful that God offers repentance as a positive possibility and will gratefully accept God’s help not only at Lent, but anytime. Frederick Buechner in “Beyond Words(2004) summarizes the focus of repentance I these words,”To repent is to come to your senses. It is not so much something you do as something that happens. True repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying I’m sorry,”than to the future and saying, “Wow!”March  24, 2019     Cycle C                    3rd Sunday of Lent 

Isaiah 55: 1-9     Ps.63:1-8      1stCor.10:1-13     *Luke 13:1-9




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Updating Who Jesus Is!

Donald R. Elly, M. Div. 

Marcus Borg wrote Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (2005) after being asked by his Sunday School class to share what he had learned as a professor meeting Jesus again. Gone was the soft and gentle savior.  As a Rabbi, Jesus was a source of wisdom who gave life it’s deepest meaning.

Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Jesus challenged the religious and political authorities.  Those in the eyes of the Roman Empire who had no value were most valuable in the Kingdom of God. Luke in this Gospel lesson from Luke 13:31-35 gives us radically different images of Jesus than I usually operate with most of the time.  

In scene one the Pharisees come to Jesus urging him to “Get away, for Herod wants to kill you.” Now this threat is not new, it seems that for most of his life there was a Herod after Jesus.  In these four verses of Luke we find Jesus functioning in three different ways to express the power of God that outlasts the Empire and the religious systems that support it.  

In scene one the Pharisees urge Jesus to “Get away  from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”  Jesus responds with power, “You tell that fox that I am casting out demons, performing cures today, tomorrow and on the third day  I finish my work. …I must be on my way (Jesus is heading to Jerusalem). Obedient to God, his Father, Jesus becomes a King who is not afraid.  

The second scene revolves around the role of Prophet as God’s spokesperson. Luke sees Jesus in the line of Isaiah and Jeremiah, who though abused and threatened with death proclaim God’s vision. Jesus faces the reality that Jerusalem meant to be God’s house has become the site of prophetic martyrdom. But God’s larger purpose will not be denied.  

The third , and. Final scene is the most startling. Jesus says, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood?” Jesus here, despite his disappointment, is tender and caring. The unexpected response, like the tender care of our parents can cause a change of heart. Will you accept the protection of God offered in Jesus’ tender care and enduring trust?If you can Jesus will become your savior again.

March 17, 2019       Cycle C                  2nd Sunday of  Lent

Gen. 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; *Luke 13:31-35 





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Through the Wilderness of Choice

Donald R. Elly, M.Div.

Wilderness in the Bible is more than a beautiful stroll for a day, or camping for a week in a beautiful setting, surrounded by all the comforts of home--i.e, TV, stove and microwave.  In the Bible “Wilderness” is geographical.  It was the region in which the captive Hebrews freed from the oppression of Pharaoh wandered for forty years under the leadership of Moses.  

The accounts of the Wilderness (or desert) in the Old and New testaments is a place where wild animals roam…without settled inhabitants.  It refers to regions that maybe arid, unfertile and barren terrain.1  It was often the region where John the Baptist lived and Jesus often went to pray and be alone with God (his Father).  The accounts in Exodus and Deuteronomy describe time in the wilderness as a place where one either grew closer to God or died, bitter and disappointed.

Luke intentionally envisions the wilderness experience of Jesus as reversal of the sin of Adam and Eve as the devil tests Jesus. The offers of the devil are rejected and refuted with the Words of the Lord from the Torah. Jesus is tempted in the wilderness much as Adam was tempted in the garden, turning down the devil’s offer thus illustrating that from ancient times (even before the Exodus) God is undoing the evil  done in the disobedience of Adam and Eve.  Even though the devil plays a central role in the story, Jesus reminds us that God is ultimately in control. 

Second, Luke proclaims that in Jesus is undoing the harm that resulted from the choice of Adam and Eve to eat what God prohibited, forgetting that God already provided abundantly. 

Finally, Jesus in confronting the devil, makes clear that Adam and Eve were intended to grow into greater communion with God. When the serpent tells us (as it did Adam and Eve) “You shall be like God” the temptation is to pre-empt God’s design and not trust God or the process of growth God has designed.

What choice will we make this Lent? Will we seek to be in control, to test God (which shows distrust)?  Are we unwilling to serve others and meet their needs as God’s partners?  

1 Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, pg. 10372. Justo L. Gonzalez, Luke, WJK Press (2010),pgs. 344-376.

March 10, 2019   Cycle C           1st Sunday in Lent

Deut 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; *Luke 4:1-13





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