Developing Kingdom Vision

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Let me be the first to wish you a “Happy New Year in Christ!”  In the past several years I realized that our new beginning in Christ does not start with January 1st, but with the First Sunday of Advent.  On this day our life in Jesus comes full cycle—meaning that we have a God-given opportunity to deepen our trust in Jesus as Emmanuel (God with us) and develop “Kingdom Vision.”  So what are some of the steps we might take to grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus.  

Luke, in the Gospel passage for this first Sunday, describes three ways that we might do so.  Notice also that this advice comes toward the end of the Gospel just as Mark‘s journey with us last year ended with a similar text known as apocalyptic because it is about the end of the world and welcoming a new one.1  

Luke in chapter 21 shares these words of Jesus: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth distress among nations confused by the roaring sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world…” This is sure a description of the mood of  this past year and how many of us view the future.  

Now when these things begin to take place…”, what should we, who are letting Jesus lead us to do?   First, do the exact opposite of what you feel like doing. Instead if cowering in anxiety, and worry, “Stand and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  You can’t see God at work if you are covering your head and hiding.  

Second, remember all this will pass…”but my words will not pass away.  Be on guard  so that your hearts are not weighed down…”  Finally, “Be alert at all times, praying  that you have the strength to escape all these things that will (already have) taken place and stand before the Son of Man.”  

There you have Luke’s advice for the New year.  So practice looking up, being alert, praying and all the gifts that God intends for you, especially a deeper knowledge of Jesus, God’s gift of himself, will be yours. Happy New Year in Christ Jesus.

1.Mark 13, Matthew 24 and Luke 21 share similar material about the end of  the world called eschatology. The events are often used to predict the future. I believe these events happened to the first Christians and is advice to us to be faithful. 

December 2, 2018; Cycle C; The First Sunday of Advent

Jer. 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1st Thess. 3:9-13; *Luke 21:25-36



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“All the Best to You”

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

“All the best to you” is how Eugene Peterson translated “Grace and Peace to you”, the second half of verse 4 of Rev.1:1-11 in the Message. This captured my attention, not that “Grace and Peace” are not important, but this book of Revelation, in all of its vivid detail, drama and imagery, really is God in Jesus wishing the best to us, not the worst. God continues to unfold what it means to obey God in  all the chaos and confusion in which we live no matter the cost. Eugene Peterson died at 85 on October 22, 2018  after a very distinguished career as a Scholar/Pastor and these could well have been his final words to all of us.   “All the best to you from the GOD WHO IS, THE GOD WHO WAS, AND THE GOD ABOUT TO ARRIVE.”  He made serving God the center of his life.

This last book of the Bible was written to seven churches in Asia in 90 AD. (today it would be Western Turkey). Christians who were breaking away from their roots in Judaism and pressured to be loyal to the Roman emperor were targets of persecution by Diocletian, the Roman Emperor (d. AD 96). He claimed the titles “lord” and “god was persecuting Christians who would not worship him. It is how the writer of Revelation ends up in exile on an Island of Patmos. As we celebrate Thanksgiving and eat with family, watch football and prepare for Christmas these events of the past seem distant.  But the pressures and stress of the holidays strip life of its most important values and we can forget the most important fact.  God is still at work and calling us to discover the fullness of life in that relationship.

The words of John on Patmos that came in worship on the Lord’s day. His words reminds us what God is continuing to do for us in Jesus.   “Glory and strength to Christ, who loves us, who blood-washed our sins from our lives , who made us a Kingdom of Priests for his Father, forever—and yes he is on his way!”  

John’s belief in God at work in Jesus is not a prediction, but a statement of fact—there is more to life than food, money, sports and the accumulation of gifts.  God has called us to deepen our relationship in Jesus. Revelation challenges us to consider, “Who is our “lord and god”?  We are not alone, “All the Best to you”.

November 25, 2018; Cycle B; Christ the King Sunday

2nd Sam. 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-12;

*Revelation. 1:1-11

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”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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