When You Pray

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Prayer is a necessity and a mystery. I believe after reading the Gospels, and reflecting on the examples of Jesus, Paul, Stephen, Peter that prayer is an essential mark of  the people of God.  

The earliest Christian Community that developed around Jesus recorded many instances of Jesus at prayer. Pausing to pray, getting away alone were, for Jesus, ways to deepen his bond with God, his Father. Through prayer Jesus receives strength, wisdom and energy for the task  of proclaiming and embodying the Kingdom of God.  

Luke  writes, “Jesus (He) was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him,  “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”  It  is for the disciple not a matter of comparing Jesus and John. Rather, the implication I drew from this is that one of the ways disciples witness to their teachers is by not only praying, but how they pray.  

Who taught you to pray?  When you pray whose example are you bearing witness to?  My clearest memory of learning to pray was in our foster home prior to adoption as the Browns made sure that a prayer of thanks was offered at dinner time and they made bedtime prayers of thanks a ritual. This was continued when my brother and I were adopted at age five by the our parents, Robert and Dorothea Elly.  “When you pray say…”  

Here  I believe Luke is giving a guide to think about as we seek God, not a rote prayer to always say.  The important topics of prayer are honoring God’s name, looking for God’s Kingdom, giving thanks for tomorrow’s bread (having already been fed today), practicing forgiveness and finally asking our Father to be present as we are tested by the times and pressures we are facing.  

Luke closes his commentary with a story about the focus of our prayer.  In light of God’s grace our prayers are always be an “ardent call for the Kingdom in which God’s name is hallowed and in which all have what they need.” 1 It is not prayer just for me, but for everyone.  The focus is on others and that God attend to their needs.   In Prayer we release the power of  God’s Holy Spirit for others, not self.

1.Justo l. Gonzalez Luke, Interpretation series: Westminster John Knox Press (2010), pages 904-911.

July 28, 2019; Cycle C; 7th Sunday of Pentecost

Prov. 30:8b-12; Psalm 85; Col. 2:6-19; *Luke 11:1-13 

      

 

 

 

 

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Welcoming Jesus!

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Jesus on his final pilgrimage to Jerusalem (9:51) does several things that indicate for Luke, Jesus is entering the final stage of earthly pilgrimage. Luke’s words are cryptic, “When the days drew near for (Jesus) to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus’ mind is set on Jerusalem and the conflict to come.

Second Jesus sends messengers ahead of him. Thirdly Jesus concentrates on what discipleship looks like.  He tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. Visiting Mary and Martha, Jesus addresses discerning before serving.

Finally the importance of prayer to develop and deepen our relationship to God is made central to discipleship. Were you entering the last days and weeks of your life what legacy would you leave? In this context the relation-ship of Jesus with Mary and Martha becomes a key to being faithful .  

We hear nothing about Lazarus, his death and resurrection, which for John sets the stage for Jesus’ glory and resurrection.  The intimacy of John’s description is not present, rather Jesus is staying in the home of Martha where Mary happens to be only the younger sister. There is no mention of Lazarus.  Martha is the owner of the home and Mary clearly in a subordinate position (I found myself thinking about Luke’s portrayal of the Prodigal son where the elder brother is contrasted to the wasteful younger brother.)  Actually the parable and the story of Mary and Martha are reversals of human expectations so we become more aware of God’s expectations.  

Luke describes Martha welcoming Jesus.  However, it becomes apparent that she is distracted and worried about everything but Jesus. Martha, in fact seeks to get Jesus to side with her and to order (as the male) her younger sister to do what is expected of her—assist her sister in meal preparation.  

Jesus declines judging Mary.  Serving is important, but being a listener is at this moment most important.   The choice is not either/or serving over gift of presence. Both are important. To be fully a disciple both are part of welcoming. For Jesus, as Luke recounts this experience, listening and serving are both ways of welcoming Jesus and deepening our relationship to God.

July 21st, 2019; Cycle   C               6th Sunday of Pentecost

Amos 8: 1-12; Psalm 52; Col.1:15-28      *Luke 10:25-42,15:11-32  

 

  

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An Antidote to Hate

Donald R.  Elly,  M. Div.

Hate is, I believe, the world’s worst four letter word.  Looking it up in the dictionary I found this definition:  to feel intense dislike, or extreme aversion or hostility.” When we truly hate someone or something, we usually want to avoid the person or group, or have nothing at all to do with them or the cause being espoused. 

Hatred is growing today in our society. Intense feelings divide, polarize so we lose sight of values to unite us and bring us together.  Such hate produces a loss of community.   Many of our institutions are fractured by hate and they no longer serve the common good. If we are honest we become afraid of talking to one another.  

What is the antidote to such hate?   I want to recommend several insights, prompted by the interpretation and insights of Amy Jill-Levine from her discussion of the Parable in her book, Short Stories by Jesus.  She notes that the Lawyer who sets out to test Jesus knows very well by the answer he gives to Jesus is straight from the Torah, “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength  and with all your mind (intention), and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). In other words one is to love God with the totality of their being—nothing held back.  Jesus even as he commends the lawyer in his knowledge of the law, says Levine, “reframes what is at stake by exhorting, Do this and live.”  

The imperative “do” focuses not on a single action, but an ongoing relationship.  The point is to “live now” and not to be focused on “eternal life.” The Lawyer wanting to look “right” compounds his error by asking “Who is my neighbor?”  The question becomes a polite way of asking, “Who is not my neighbor?” or “Who does not deserve my love…or “Whom can I hate?”  Jesus answer to him  is “No one.”  Everyone deserves that love—local or alien, Jews or gentile, terrorist, or rapist, everyone.”  God’s love cannot be restricted. God’s love for Jesus includes our enemies—the ones we hate. The cycle of violence and hatred is broken as we  let our enemy treat us as neighbor.  Eternal life is inherited now as we love with no restrictions. 

July 14, 2019; Cycle C; 5th Sunday of Pentecost

Lev. 19:18; Deut. 27:17; Psalm.82              Col. 1:1-14; *vLuke 10:25-37

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Packing for Life on the Road (With Jesus)

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Alyce McKenize, well known preacher, really set the scene for me as I read Luke’s account of Jesus’ instructions to those sent ahead of him to every town and place where he himself intended to go.  Listen carefully to the what he said to them.  “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few”.  

Behind these words is Jesus’ experience of being overworked. Could it be that Jesus’ call to the seventy and to us today is a warning that there will always be more to do than is humanly possible?  

So let’s listen carefully to what Jesus tells us about packing for life on the road in his name.  “Go on your way. See, I am sending you like lambs in the midst of wolves.”  Luke has reported that the conflict over Jesus’ teaching, preaching and healing has intensified to the point where it troubles not only Herod, but causes his immediate brothers and sisters to think that Jesus is crazy.  

In this circumstance what Jesus tells the disciples and us is even more surprising:  “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house (hold)!’  And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not it will return to you.  Stay put in on place (don’t move from house to house). …Whenever you enter a town and you are welcomed, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The Kingdom has come near you.’ Even if you are not welcomed you can be sure that “the Kingdom of God has come near…”  

Jesus is obviously sharing guidelines learned the hard way as he has been teaching, and healing, being accepted and rejected. So the directions to go on the road empty handed and completely dependent upon God is best.  We are to be living examples of dependence upon God alone.   It strikes me that these instructions guarantee that  what we are announcing is about God and demonstrating what God can do and not about us.  

Prayer: Through your Spirit, Jesus strengthen us to advance your cause, not ours. Amen.

July 7, 2019; Cycle C; 4th Sunday of Pentecost

2nd Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians (1-6) 7-16; *Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

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Fit for the Kingdom

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Luke 9:51-62  is a turning point in Jesus’ ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Rather than continuing to provide glimpses of the Kingdom of God breaking in right now through teaching, healing and references to the Torah, Luke writes, “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”   Jesus’ interactions with the disciples and those encountered on the road are directed to make clear what we as disciples have to do to become fit for the Kingdom.  

In  Luke 9: 51-55 when the Samaritans did not welcome Jesus because his face is set on Jerusalem—this phrase is used twice—underlining Jesus’ resolve. James and John react in anger and want to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them for their rejection.  Jesus accepts the Samarian’s rejection.  Jesus rebukes James and John.  

Retribution is for Jesus a distraction from getting to Jerusalem which is his priority.  I think how often we don’t learn from Jesus that doing what God asks is more important than rejection. We, like James and John, react and waste energy on those who appear to reject us.

What would happen to the development of the Kingdom of God if we followed Jesus‘ example. When are we going to learn that reacting in anger, while it may energize us, is not Jesus’ way here?

The second part of this passage, Luke 9:56-62, it seems to me, is more likely to be our problem today.  Everything and everyone become a priority over the Kingdom. David Lose shares the excellent question raised by Michel Rogness in his commentary on this passage. “Does Jesus make a noticeable difference in our lives—so that what he wishes becomes a priority?”

Even more to the point: Does the grace, mercy, and love God revealed in Jesus come first we plan and shape our lives, or do we shape our faith to fit life as we’ve already planned it?  Just as to be physically fit requires that we exercise, being fit for the Kingdom means we make listening to Jesus the priority and let that impact how we respond to everything else. Now there is anexcellent goal for a meaning-filled life. 

July 30, 2019; Cycle C; 3rd Sunday of Pentecost

2nd Kings 2:1-14; Psalm 77:1-20; Gal. 5:1,13-25; *Luke 9:51-62

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Unchained! For What?

Donald  R. Elly, M. Div. 

Have you ever had moments when life comes rushing at you with all its changes, or you find yourself moving from one thing to another so rapidly you can’t think clearly? Take a moment to identify one word that describes your feelings as you think about the world right now?

When I explored this question with several friends and colleagues, here are the words they shared: afraid, anxious, confused, angry and unsettled.  The word I chose came to mind for me was “chaos”.   The dictionary defines chaos as a “state of utter confusion, disorder; a total lack of organization.”  This is the word described in the scene Jesus faced as he arrives in the region of Gerasenes at the town of Garsa.

Jesus and his disciples had already experienced the chaos of the sea and now he arrives on shore and is met by a naked man nicknamed “Legion” who is obviously out of control.  The label of legion tells us how deeply disturbed he is. A Legion is a unit of 6000 fully armed Roman soldiers sent by Rome to maintain the peace. Controlled by many demons the man has no home by the local grave yard where he roamed among the dead because no chains could restrain him.

He was loose but not unchained from his inner turmoil.  Jesus and the disciples have already experienced chaos in getting here.  In Luke 8:22-25 Jesus is awakened from a deep sleep as a storm arises and he rescues the fearful disciples who are amazed that Jesus has control over the winds and waves. Asserting God’s power over nature; Jesus has dominion over demons & evil.

What Jesus does is instructive.  First, he does not deny the chaos in nature or human beings.  Jesus names them and with God’s help brings healing. Secondly, Jesus uses tools God has given us for dealing with chaos.  Jesus turned to faith, scripture and and depended upon a growing relationship  with God.   A vital truth in this story is that there is nowhere God won’t go to free us from demons—those experienced by the man and us.  Unchained! For what? Because God does this for us in Jesus we are to offer that today to everyone— No exceptions.

June 23, 2019; Cycle C; 2nd Sunday of Pentecost

1st Kings19:1-15; Psalms 42&43         Gal.3:23-29; *Luke 8: 26-39

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When the Advocate Comes

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

The lessons for this Sunday provide additional teachings about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as followers of Jesus.   Romans 5:1-5 makes reference to God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit mutually working together so that we experience Peace. In particular, it is through the Holy Spirit that the love of God has been poured into our hearts so that the suffering for Jesus serves a purpose of strengthening our witness. We are assured that nothing can separate us from God’s love that makes us joint heirs with Christ.  

Listen to how Paul describes what happens when through the Holy Spirit we are adopted by God in Christ. “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is the very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.

What difference does this make? According to Paul because of God’s action in Jesus Christ through the Spirit our future is secured and our standing with God is sure. Though Paul uses lots of words it is clear that because of the Holy Spirit’s action, God through Jesus gives us peace and security that cannot be destroyed or changed.  Paul invites us to imagine a life of courage, the courage of those that adopted by God receive a full measure of God’s blessing and riches.  

Add to this the role of the Holy Spirit as Advocate (one who walks along side us) smoothing the way and teaching us that God is for us from the very beginning of creation–creating and forming us, but also traveling with us into the future.  Things may change, but God will always be giving us strength and insight so that we are reminded that just as God has been at work in the past bringing peace, God is securing our future.  

Prayer: Paul and John reveal that through Jesus you adopt us and give us the power to bear witness to your love.  Secondly you promise to advocate for us walking alongside us and teaching all the new things God is doing.  Thank you. Amen

June 16, 2019   Cycle C      Trinity Sunday

Prov.8:1-4,22-31  Psalm 8 *Romans 5:1-5     *John 15:26-27, 16:12-15 

 

 

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