“…listen to him!”

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Just as they (Moses and Elijah) were leaving him (Jesus), Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah…While (Peter) was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “ This is my Son, my Chosen (My Beloved); listen to him!”    

God speaks directly to Peter, James and John.  As Luke tells the story of the transfiguration, God’s  voice coming out of the cloud interrupts Peter’s suggestion to Jesus.  “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings (shelters), one for Jesus, Moses and Elijah…Having stayed awake and seeing the glory of Jesus, and not knowing how to make sense of it all Peter wants to memorialize the experience and mark its occurrence.  

I used to be very critical of Peter. However, as I reflected on Peter’s suggestion, I find that it is my instinct as well.   Maybe if I mark the spot and make it holy that will honor God and I can go on about my business doing what I want to do. It does seem to me that we in our congregations have the same problem and tendency as Peter. What is built as a dwelling  for God often becomes what we worship and we miss the message that God speaks here:  “This is my son, my Beloved; listen to him.”  

As we reflect on the transfiguration let’s follow God’s direction and listen to Jesus.  What does that mean? Alice Camille in  God’s Word is Alive put what’s happening in the transfiguration this way: “What a wake up call!…Jesus is stepping aside to pray, and Peter, James and John almost sleep through the transfiguration that is happening. They wake up just in time to see Jesus…and the greatest saints (Moses and Elijah) talking about the fulfillment in Jesus of God’s ancient promise.  Isn’t this a metaphor for our lives?”  Wake up and track where Jesus is  highlighting God’s grace in your life?

March 3, 2019; Cycle C           Transfiguration of  the Lord  

Exod. 34: 29-35; Ps. 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; *Luke 9:28-36   

 

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Live With No Strings Attached!

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Jesus in his sermon on the plain contrasts two ways of life: One way is based on the values of the broken old age (hate, violence, injustice, poverty). The other embodies the values of God’s Kingdom (love, peace, justice, abundance).

Jesus according to Luke, presents a choice offered by God in Jesus that contrasts with the values of the Roman Empire.(1) Which will we chose as our ethic for being in relationship in the world?  What is your immediate reaction to Jesus’ statement, “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those that abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.  Do to others as you would have them do to you”?

The ways of responding to those who exert their power against you, and mistreat you advocated by Jesus seem so impractical as to be laughable, but we (you and I) have historical examples of this ethic so it’s good to ponder what kind of world we want to live in and the values we are willing to live for.  

Reading these words over I thought immediately of Martin Luther King who, based on these words of Jesus, was able to inspire those in bondage under segregation to respond to literally live out these truths.  More recently I thought of Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned for 27 years because of his work to abolish apartheid.  

Coming out of prison he lived the values of Jesus’ kingdom and lead the entire Nation of South Africa through a time of “truth and reconciliation”. Peace instead of bloodshed was the result.  The center of this ethic is mandate to “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you. Expect nothing in return.”  Why?  

First, we who follow Jesus are called to this not because we are so good, but because God has shown us mercy. We are to live with no strings attached, because God loves us with no strings attached.

1 Ronald J. Allen & Craig M. Williamson. Preaching the Gospel (Without Blaming the Jews), 2004, pages 186-188.

February 24, 2019; Cycle C                     7th Sunday of Epiphany

Gen. 45:3-11; Ps. 37:1-11; 1st Cor. 15:35-50; *Luke 6:27-38

 

 

 

 

 

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Empowered to Bless

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Luke 6:17-26, called the Sermon on the Plain, describes those who are blessed as members of God’s Kingdom.  Luke’s sermon is in direct contrast to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.  

Entering the final Sundays of Epiphany, Luke reveals Jesus’ hope and his words light the way to a fulfilling life of empowerment.  The blessings described by Jesus bluntly   state that God alone is the giver of life. Material success and religious knowledge, while giving us comfort on one hand and a source of pride on the other, fail as sources that reveal God.

David  Ostendorf (1) puts it this way as he comments upon this text.  “God does not take kindly to half hearted-ness. God does not bless us as we maintain the status quo…or bless us as we bathe in respectability in the eyes of the world. God does not bless us as we quietly maintain tradition and…ignore prophetic voices calling us back to God.  God does not bless us well off, full, comfortable, hearty, and well spoken of.  (The Kingdom of God) rests among those who have nothing but God. Our God is the God of those who have nothing but God.

First, Luke has Jesus speaking on a plain because these words are not meant to replace the Torah, but a way of life, a way of relating to the world.  These beatitudes and their promises are meant to empower those—the poor (destitute), the starving and those who have lost it all—that God, the power of hope and healing—is here with them and Jesus will be their companion and guide.

Secondly, Jesus, for Luke, is the “Power of God” flowing out to all who seek to touch him.  How does Jesus maintain this power that flows out?   Before this sermon on the plain Jesus has been in prayer and guided by God, chose his disciples.  Prayer is placing before God your dependence and allowing the power of God to flow through you.  

Prayer and community are powerful sources of blessing.   This life giving power shared by Jesus in healing and word is how God will transform the world.  In The Message the final blessing is a promise, “You’re blessed when tears flow freely. Joy comes in the morning.”    

(1) David Ostendorf, “Theological Perespective.”, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1 (2009), ps.360-361.

February 17. 2019; Cycle C                   6th Sunday of Epiphany

Jer. 17:5-10; Psalm 1; 1st. Cor. 15:12-20; *Luke 6:17-26  

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Simon Peter’s Epiphany

Donald R. Elly, M. Div. 

I’ve most often seen this encounter of Jesus with Simon as  a “call” story in which Jesus is calling the disciples to become his pupils and he will be their rabbi.  However, there is no call.

Luke describes a scene in which Jesus is standing beside Lake Gennesaret being pressed by the crowd and observing the empty boats left by the occupants who are busy cleaning the nets after a fishing failure.  Empty nets still have to be maintained (cleaned of sea weed, algae and other unwanted items and tears in nets need to be repaired). Tired and worn out they are packing up for another day.  

Have you ever had that kind of experience?  Simon and his partners maybe frustrated, but “that’s the fishing business.”  You just get ready to go out again, trusting that if you prepare you will have better results the next time.

When this happens to me I’ve found that what Simon and his partners do to prepare for the future is absolutely necessary. “One is never going to succeed at fishing (or another other line of work) 100% of the time.” The last thing Simon is expecting is to encounter God.  Jesus sees the empty   boats as a means of  getting space to speak to the crowd pressing upon him. He gets into Simon’s boat and asks him to move away from shore so he can carry on a conversation with the crowd. Tired from the effort of fishing the night before Simon is waiting quietly in the boat as the preparations for future fishing is underway.

It seems to me that Peter’s experience is similar to that of Moses who encounters a burning bush while tending his father-in-law’s sheep and God engages him in a way that changes the course  of his life. While being a shepherd, Moses ends up on Holy Ground and is forever changed.   Jesus, having conversed with the crowd engages Peter.  

Were you Peter, the experienced fisherman, would you have obeyed Jesus?  Peter does, life changes.  For Luke this is how God works–through ordinary people like Mary, Elizabeth and Isaiah.  Epiphany opportunities are all around us, are you ready? Simon was.  Jesus is waiting for you!

February 10, 2019; Cycle C; 5th Sunday of Epiphany

Isaiah 6:1-8 (9-13); Psalm 138; 1st Cor. 15:1-11; *Luke 5:1-11

 

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“Today This Scripture Has Been Fulfilled…”

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Jesus, Luke reports, declares directly what God wants him to do.Empowered by the Spirit Jesus finds God’s purpose for him described in the words of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  

These hopeful words were first declared in 538 BC for those who had been captive in Babylon, providing a blueprint for restoration and  hope. For Jesus these words mirrored the design of God’s reign for the people living under Roman occupation and continue to speak to those who are marginalized, pawns of the rich and powerful.  

As the Son of Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ words amazed his listeners who understood them as gracious.  But Jesus did not stop there. He provided further illustration that these words were not just good news to Israel but that God’s reign is to expand to the gentiles.  Remember the Widow of Zarephath who ministered to Elijah and Naaman, the Syrian enemy who was healed by Elisha.  The people who had been comforted by his words become enraged and wanted to kill Jesus. This foreshadows Jesus’ later suffering at the hands of religious authorities who get the Romans to murder Jesus.  

When scripture is fulfilled we are reminded that while it may be good news, it may bring about rejection and suffering, but God does not abandon us.  Secondly, scripture as it is fulfilled may by the power of the Holy Spirit unfold a vision of healing and hope that is not ours to control.  Could it be that loving enemies requires us to see them as God does—those in need of healing, hope and God’s love.  Just as Jesus challenged his disciples not to be comfortable but to stretch beyond what we know to let God make all things new.

Prayer: God, help me to step out in faith when you call me to unfamiliar territory. By following you I am surrendering to God, your Father who makes all things new. Help me to read Scripture with your eyes to see the Holy Spirit at work. Amen.

February 3, 2019; Cycle C;  Sunday of Epiphany

Jer. 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1st Corinthians 13:1-13; *Luke 4:14-30

 

 

 

 

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This is the Day…

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Jesus, for Luke, is the power of the Holy Spirit invading human life, making ordinary people the revelation of God. It begins unexpectedly with Mary, a young unwed teenager, and continues with Elizabeth, a  woman considered too old to bear children. Yet that child, through the Spirit  prepares the way for Jesus.  

It is important to note a couple of details that make clear that “this is the day Lord has made so that scripture comes alive.  We live in a culture that destroys the power of words drowning us in information. We forget that we, ordinary sinful humans, are called to partner with God in “bringing good news to the poor…to proclaim the release of the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  We are to be partners with God in working to make this good news real, not just talk about it.

Secondly, for Luke, salvation is an action of the Holy Spirit right now. All too often we have settled for hearing these words as an announcement that will someday come true.  But for Luke the future is now.  God’s Spirit acting makes us people called to make salvation active in actions that make clear that we have heard God and Jesus can depend upon us make every day a Jubilee.

I would close with a prayer of Saint Teresa of Avila quoted by Maria Shriver  in her book, I’ve Been Thinking. The poem makes clear that every day is a day for being filled with the Spirit and letting God use us. St Teresa of Avila prayed:

“May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing that you are a child of God   Let this presence settle into your bones and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise, and love. It is there for each and every one of us.  Amen.

January 27, 2019; Cycle C         3rd Sunday of Epiphany

Isaiah 58:6-8, 61:1-4; Psalm 19; 1st Cor. 12:12-31; *Luke 4:14-21

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NOW is the Time

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

John’s Good News is different from that of his colleagues, Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Where each of them (often copying each other and using material uniquely their own) present the story of Jesus’ ministry, it’s impact on people and institutions of his day, John’s Gospel focuses on Jesus, his identity and meaning for those who believe (trust) him.  

John’s Gospel says in  Jesus, NOW  is the time to see in Jesus the Word made flesh.  It started at the creation, but right now Jesus is God continuing a new creation.  NOW  is the time, will you join the party or sit it out?  

John’s Gospel presents seven miracles and the first is the turning of water into wine at a wedding at Cana of Galilee.  “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.”  

Been to a wedding lately?   Weddings, which used to happen in the Church of the bride, now happen all over the place—the Botanical center, or in good weather, outside at a Rose Garden, or a State Park.  But what has not changed is that the weddings usually attract a crowd invited by the bride, the groom and the family.  Also at the end of the wedding ceremony the status of the groom and bride is usually concluded with a wedding feast with lots of wine, laughter and wishes shared for the future.  

Now this wedding at Cana is when John makes clear who Jesus is.  The wine runs out and Mary remarks to Jesus, “They have no wine.” Despite protesting his mother’s expectation Jesus gives directions that six stone jars–used for the rite of purification (bathing for worship)–and sitting empty be filled to the brim with  water which becomes wine.  How is not the issue, but Jesus is revealed as the power of God bringing healing and wholeness.  

The action is a sign pointing to God at work in Jesus offering God power to a broken world not just in Jesus but through us.  NOW is the time to see God abundant grace. Will you respond to God’s party invitation and share generously?

January 20, 2019; Cycle C; 2nd Sunday of Epiphany

Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; I Cor. 12:1-11; *John  2:1-11

 

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