Being Made Well!

Donald R. Elly, M.Div.

“Do you want to be made well?”  Jesus’ question is addressed to an unnamed man who had been lying by the poolside of Bethzatha for long time.  John informs us he has been there for thirty-eight years.  

First, think about that length of time. How limited your life has become, and how many times in all those years the effort to get into the healing waters has failed. Perhaps it is the resignation and despair that captured Jesus’ attention and provoked his act of compassion. Yet it might also have been the determined look on his face, not to give up that made Jesus aware of his plight.  

I thought of those like Nelson Mandela, imprisoned in South Africa for twenty-seven years, who came out and chose to lead the people of South Africa to a peaceful end to apartheid. “Do you want to be made well?” I don’t know!  Being made well means I that I am  willing to deal with unknown changes and a radically new life. Gone is the excuse of disability.  

Suppose we are that unnamed one? What would be necessary to be made well?  Three needs come to mind. First, I would need the strength that Jesus offers to risk change.  Second, the power of the Spirit filling me with hope and making me aware that Jesus’ healing is given with no strings. Finally, being made well requires getting involved in the works of Jesus—giving away the grace that found me and made me whole. John tells us that this healing is the third sign of God breaking in to  make the world well.  

Prayer:  Jesus, your grace finds me when I’m in despair and makes me well.  Thank you.   May I give your grace to others so that the work of God continues.  Amen.

May 26, 2019; Cycle C; 6th Sunday of Easter

Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Rev.21:10; 21:22-22:5; *John 5:1-9

 

 

 

 

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Love’s Legacy

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Aisha Brooks-Lytle begins her reflection on John 13:31-35 with the powerful story of a discussion she had with her husband Carl two and a half years before his death.(1). Terminally ill with a rare degenerative neurological condition, Aisha asked her husband, “What do you want our son to know about life after you are gone?” Thoughtfully he responded, “I want (him) to know that God and family are more important than a job or success.” She then asked, “What did he want for me?”  He didn’t miss a beat.  “You need to practice piano!” He knew it would help me as a jazz vocalist, singer-songwriter and worship leader.  

These words of Carl came to mind immediately as I read Jesus’ challenge to his disciples and us to accept love’s legacy,  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”, Debi Thomas comments.

This is my first reaction when she comments, “When I look at my own life, it’s not too hard to nane why I perpetually fail to obey Jesus’ dying wish.  Love is vulnerable-making, and I’d rather not be vulnerable…Love requires trust, and I’m naturally suspicious. Love takes time, effort, discipline and transformation…”(2).

I confess  I struggle with transformation, change is not easy  for me and I sometimes stay stuck because I’m more comfortable, odd as it seems, with the anxiety I know than the freedom Jesus offers.  But carrying out this legacy is not just up to me, it’s Jesus’ commandment. It’s not a choice but a matter of obedience.  

Reflecting deeply on Jesus’ words makes me realize that it is not about me, it is about what Jesus has done and will continue to do through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  I am called to love’s legacy not because I am perfect, but because Jesus has already loved me and will through God’s love continue to work on me and through me. My failure is not an option for God.   In that legacy there is hope. 

(1) Aisha Brooks-Lytle .Christian Century.” The Living Word”(5/8/19)

(2) Debie Thomas. “If You Love”, pg.1-4

May 19, 2019; Cycle C; 5th Sunday of Easter

Acts 11:1-18; Ps. 148; Rev. 21:1-6; *John 13:31-35

 

 

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Hearing Jesus’ Voice

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Hearing the sound of a loved one’s voice as one nears the end of life can bring great comfort.  It provides a way to cope with death by reminding us that the last sound we, too,  may hear is voice of a loved one and that we are not alone.

(1)My brother in the last hours and minutes of his life could not speak. Weakened by illness, he responded to our voices with a lifted eyebrow or the quick squeeze of a hand. Touch communicated presence.   This knowledge gave him comfort, but reminded us to speak softly, clearly with words of love.  

In John 10 Jesus draws a distinction between those who reject him and his message .They cannot identify him as the Messiah.   We who trust Jesus know the sound of his voice, and trust him as the Messiah.   ”My sheep hear my voice.  I know them and they follow me.  I give them infinite life , and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”  

Let me share the promises John describes by learning to hear the voice of Jesus and know him as Messiah.   The first promise in hearing the Shepherd’s voice is that we are also supported by God, and the Holy Spirit. Believe is i.e. Jesus and you are also connected to God ‘support’ and the Holy Spirit’s power.  

Secondly nothing can, John claims, “Snatch us from God’s hand. The sheep identify the voice of the shepherd through repeated experience and practice.  As this happens they develop a keen ear for the voice and hearing knowing they will never be abandoned.   Daily practice of reading scripture, praying and seeking the presence of God fosters ability to hear God’s s voice.   It cannot happen any other way. Practice does bring knowledge and a deeper experience.  

Finally David Lose comments,  (One) cannot be an armchair Christian. Only by acting on our practice and actually living the Christian life do we come to a deeper faith and commitment. …Our actions to act on God’s love and share Jesus’ peace and joy reinforces the ability to hear God’s voice.

May 12, 2019    Cycle C            4th Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Rev. 7:9-17   *John 10:22-30

1 The memory of sharing voice and touch when my twin brother died June 27, 2016 is a reminder of God’s comfort & peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christianity’s Radical Claim

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

Being a Christian is to make a radical claim: In Jesus God becomes human.  The Gospel  makes clear that flesh is not evil, nor is it to be rejected. Nothing  humans do in God’s name (even for deceitful purposes) or to one another can shake the reality of God’s love for humanity. Flesh is not despised by God but the primary instrument by which  the world will be redeemed.

Though Paul expresses a complex understanding of the flesh—it can be a means by which we, made of flesh, fail to use it to glorify God or to show compassion or care or to create what’s expected by God. Still in Jesus God seeks us out and forgives.

Illustrating Paul’s understanding John paints a picture for us that makes Christianity’s radical claim unforgettable and real for us. Jesus, as the Risen Christ comes to Peter who denied him.  Rather than judge in Jesus God seeks restoration and the healing of broken fellowship.   Peter and the disciples who are lost in grief and self-condemnation are challenged by Jesus to feed, care and love the people. This only happens because they have been loved into new possibilities.  

Jesus, as the Risen Christ, appears as one unknown to them who comes on their terms. Jesus identifies that they have fished all night, caught nothing and then suggests they try again. Secondly he fixes breakfast and feeds them grilled fish and broken bread.  The words of Jesus, “Come and have breakfast” and the act of service make clear that Jesus is not just a restored spirit, but a fully resurrected and functioning human being who as God  brings hope and salvation to all –even when we have failed God.  Fish and broken bread become the sacrament of grace we are to embody in our lives using our distinctive skills, yet giving strength to each other not because we like each other, but because God calls us to follow him. 

“Follow me” is a call to God’s most fulfilling mission and whenever we hear them the Risen Christ is asking us to use our humanity to make the divine claim of God real.  What a challenge and joy.

May 5, 2019; Cycle C       The 3rd Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:1-6, (7-20); Psalm 30; Revelations 5:11-14; *John 21:1-19

 

 

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Breathe Deeply and Live

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

John’s Gospel introduces us to numerous resurrection appearances. Taken individually they usually meet the need of a specific person.  Mary Magdalene is a perfect example of this personal focus of Jesus as “the Risen Christ” breaking through her grief. Blindsided by the empty tomb, Mary fears that the open tomb means Jesus’ body has been misplaced.  In tears and anxious at the loss, she cannot recognize Jesus till he speaks.  

In the second appearance John describes the disciples as barricaded behind locked doors for fear of the religious leadership. Will they be hunted down and killed like their leader? What are the fears that cause us to lock our doors, and stop breathing in the new life offered in Jesus?  

We live in a time of instantaneous communication that immediately places us at the scene of anything that happens in our world.  The result is not less fear, but more.  Research indicates that this reality has given rise to more anxiety, distrust and to depression.  Our fears are manipulated to divide us and get out the vote for those that promise us security.  

Let’s look at the gifts Jesus gives to the disciples to address their fear and bring them out of hiding. John first has Jesus, as the Risen Christ  appear to them despite their locked doors.  “Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  No time is spent telling us how this was done.  The emphasis is on Jesus being with them, being alive.  

What is the peace Jesus gives?   Theologically Jesus is the peace. There are no barriers the Holy Spirit as the Risen Christ cannot overcome. Trust this story in times of anxiety and the Risen Christ is with you.  Say, “Peace be with you” and automatically Jesus is with you.”   The disciples are given instruction to do for the world what Jesus has done for them. Peaceful fellowship can overcome any fear.   A community bound in fear remains a paralyzed group governed only by security.  

Jesus says breathe in the truth of God’s love and you will experience the peace God gives and desires for you and all the earth.  

Prayer: Lord in times of fear teach me breathe deeply and be open to you as my security and source of life. Amen.

April 28, 2019; Cycle C; Second Sunday of Easter

Gen. 2:4b-7; Psalm 150; Rev.1:4-8    *John 20:19-31

 

 

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“It’s Time to get up, Make your bed …Go!”

Donald R. Elly, M.Div.

All of the Gospels bear witness to Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and later Resurrection–details differ.  A detail in John’s Gospel account caught my attention and was the subject of a dream giving me comfort and deepening my faith. 

First, the context John reports, like the rest of the Gospels, that Jesus was buried hurriedly at the end of the week so there would be no violation of the Sabbath.   How interesting that Jesus’ body is claimed by Joseph of Arimathea, with Pilate’s permission, and buried by him with the help of Nicodemus. He brought a mixture of spices–myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds. Together these two wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in linen cloths in obedience to Jewish custom.  

The next morning Mary Magdalene comes to visit  the grave and discovers the stone removed, the tomb open and assumes the body has been taken. Telling Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved they set out running to the tomb.   The one looked in and saw the linen wrappings there but went no further.  Then Simon Peter following him went in and saw the linen wrappings lying there…the cloth that had been at Jesus’ head, not lying  with linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.  

As I dreamed about this sight seen by Peter and the other disciples I imagined Jesus hearing Mary say (maybe from childhood) “It’s time to get up!  Make Your Bed! Go!”   But then Jesus hears these challenging words added to his mother’s childhood directions, “The world is waiting to see the work God continues through you.  You have a long day ahead of you and people to see and God’s work of Resurrection to begin again and again.  It’s  Easter and a New Day,  no more time to waste.  Go!”

Prayer:  It’s Saturday a day for reflection on Jesus’ death and his hope of Resurrection.  As we hear this ancient, yet startling news of life anew may we give thanks for all those who have made this good news possible Amen. 

April 20, 2019      Holy Saturday      John 19:38-42; 20:1-10

       

 

 

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Experiencing Resurrection

Donald R. Elly, M. Div.

The word resurrection, not capitalized, means “the act of rising from the dead, or a rising from decay, disuse, etc., revival.  We see resurrection occurring around us and in us all the time.  

The most recent example was the sensational play of Tiger Woods, pro golfer who won the 2019 Masters by one stroke. He overcame personal, medical, physical  and mental challenges.  This resurrection was not only in skill, but in his attitude toward his fellow golfers who experienced him as a colleague interested in more than being a personal star. When Resurrection is capitalized it becomes a theological word referring to Jesus being raised from the dead. This action by God is one to which his followers are witnesses. They are not passive observers but experience the “Risen Christ through communion, acts of healing and  changed lives that reflect the joy of knowing Jesus. This leads them to be witnesses as they participate in acts of justice, humility, gratitude, and the giving and receiving of peace.  All of these are seen as acts done in the name and power of Jesus Christ.  

The Presbyterian Book of Common Worship, pg. 396 provides titles for different acts of worship.  The weekly service of worship is called “Service for the Lord’s day.”  It makes clear that what happens in worship is an order  that should help we who are part of it find that faith is shared for strength to work (earn a living).   The funeral service is “A witness to the Resurrection.” It emphasizes a deceased believers “body” (excuse the pun) of work–how the skills and abilities were used not only to earn a living but as a testimony of praise to God for life lived to the care of the world and others.  It does seem to me that our call to be witnesses begins at birth, and is signified by Baptism either as an infant or an adult.  

It happens when we become aware of the power of the Risen Christ inspiring a change that would be impossible without Jesus and his living Body—the Community of believers. My Easter Prayer is this:  Jesus, as the Risen Christ, keep leaving the tombs of disappointment and guide us to a life with you that is always leading us to a Galilee and beyond.  Amen.

April 21, 2019; Cycle C; Easter Sunday

Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 27:1-14; 2 Cor. 5:16-21; *Luke 24:1-35  

 

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