From the Pulpit: And They Shouted, Hosanna!

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, there was quite a stir. Luke says there were crowds of people who spread their cloaks on the road as his colt passed. Matthew and Mark add that others gathered leafy branches they had cut from the fields or trees nearby and tossed them into the road. Only John tells us they took palm branches and went out to meet Jesus, shouting as they went.

What, exactly, did the crowds shout when they greeted Jesus? There must have been many things that were said. In addition to cheering and calling out his name, we are told they shouted, “Hosanna!” And that seeming detail actually reveals a lot about what was going on.

“Hosanna” is an ancient Hebrew expression that means “save.” So, when the crowds shouted “Hosanna!,” they were calling out, “Save (us)!” That is, of course, more than just enthusiasm brimming over. It means that they had some belief, hope, and expectation that Jesus could and would save them.

Save them from what? A traditional Christian answer is, “From bondage to sin and death.” Just how that would be done they did not know. But that lack of information did not restrain their reactions to his dramatic entry into Jerusalem.

Imagine someone in the crowd, cheering, waving a leafy branch, and calling out, “Hosanna! Jesus! Hosanna!” All of which would have meant, “Save us!…God saves!…Save us!” That’s right. Now you know the rest of the story. The name “Jesus” means “God saves.” No wonder they were filled with emotion.

And now he approaches the city gates again, a lone rider with the hopes of the world on his shoulders. Palm Sunday is near. How shall we greet him?

Grace and peace,

Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation
Omaha, Nebraska

From the Pulpit: The Ministry of Encouragement

This week a fellow pastor and I were sharing stories over coffee when I asked him, do you believe in the ministry of encouragement? He responded right away, “Sure I do. Haven’t you been listening?” That answer got me thinking even more about the importance of sharing a word of encouragement with people who are going through all kinds of circumstances.

Consider the friends, family, and acquaintances you know who could use a simple word of encouragement. They may be dealing with health issues, problems at work, or family hardships. You might wonder if some encouragement would make any difference to them.  And yet, that may be exactly what they need most. And you might be the best person to offer that word.

Perhaps you recall a time in your own life when someone encouraged you. There was a decision you had to make. Or you had a task to do. And you were very unsure what to choose or how to act. And at that moment, you were reassured by the support of another person who cared enough to reach out to you with encouraging words. Their affirmation was just the nudge you needed.

In the New Testament, you will find Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement.” He was a great help to Paul and Mark in their missionary work. Though he was not one of the original twelve apostles, he is remembered as an influential member of the early church and declared a saint. Barnabas, a humble and dedicated soul, practiced the ministry of encouragement.

Who would benefit from your words of hope, support, and encouragement? You know their names. All you have to do now is tell them.

Grace and peace,

Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation
Omaha, Nebraska

From the Pulpit: The 2017 Thankful List

Have you ever sat down to write out a list of all that you are thankful for? A list of all the people, places, things, and experiences that make your life better? If you have ever tried to make such a list and taken the task seriously, then you know what an exercise it can be. Sure, it’s a test of memory; but more than that, it’s really an indication of how aware we are of the blessings we have received from God.

Christians say that every gift we have, whether relationships or things, comes from God’s own hand. That idea runs counter to our culture’s assumption that we deserve whatever we earn and can hold on to. Thankful people, however, are not focused on ourselves and what we can call our own; but, thankful to God for everyone and everything.

Several Psalms are about giving thanks to God. Leaf through a hymnal and note how many of the hymns are about being thankful people. Even our prayers before meals or bedtime are words of thanks for food prepared and received or rest that awaits the weary.

As a spiritual discipline, try writing out your list. Put down the names of people, places, and experiences for which you want to give thanks to God. Then spend a few minutes in silence with that list. You may be surprised by how full it is and how much the Thankful List will mean to you. Then put it away in a safe place where you can go back to it whenever you need.

And if you followed this simple reflective exercise last November, compare your 2016 list with your new one. Notice any changes? You may find, as others have done, that this simple spiritual practice will do much to revive your sense of genuine thankfulness.

Grace and peace,

Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation
Omaha, Nebraska

From the Pulpit: Is There a Plan?

A truism that you often hear is “working without a plan is planning to fail.” Most start-up businesses put together at least a basic “business plan.” Lenders and investors require them. They can be simple or complex; but, you have to have one.

Who would want to board an airplane, if they knew that there was no flight plan? Who would start a construction project without an architectural plan? What kind of coach would send a team into the next Big Game without a game plan? You get the idea. Planning matters.

So, is there a Master Plan for all of us? Some grand design that includes everyone and everything? A plan done not by human hands or massive computers, but a Creator’s Plan? Not necessarily an every step, every move kind of plan; but, a purposive direction that gives shape, form, and meaning to life?

Many people think so. They will tell you, “God has a plan for my life.” And they believe it. The same folks might add, “God has a plan for everyone and all creation.” They base their beliefs on what they find in the Bible and what they have heard in church and from important people in their lives. Theologians might say that they have a sense of the providence of God – that there is a design, pattern, direction to things established by a Higher Power than any of us.

Sometimes, particularly during a time of crisis, confidence in a divine Master Plan for humanity gets shaken. The cause might be a natural disaster or an alarming rise in international tensions. Our society is currently going through considerable pressure from both sources and several others. Even those who ordinarily trust that human history unfolds within a grand design are left wondering, What’s next?

What do you think about that one? If you believe that there is a Creator’s Plan, then how would that affect the plans and decisions that you make, big and small? How would it change the plans you are making today? Perhaps it is true, “We plan, God laughs.”

Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation
Omaha, Nebraska

From the Pulpit: God and Vacations

God and vacations do not mix. That is what a lot of people assume. Vacation means taking time out from all the routines of life and finding a more relaxed rhythm for a while. And, by and large, that includes taking time out from God, the church, and all of that.

It’s a very understandable attitude, isn’t it? If you are taking a long-awaited trip to a favorite vacation destination, you aren’t likely to ask the hotel clerk, “Where is the nearest good church we can attend on Sunday?” The poor clerk might be stunned speechless. They probably don’t get that request much.

The question is, should they? Is there any room among the all the stuff that goes with you on vacation for God? Or, is every seat taken and all the time already committed?

Let’s be clear ‑‑ even a simple, brief vacation can be an important opportunity to relax, get refreshed, and prepare for the onrush of the next thing back home. Even if it’s a one-day stay at home vacation, it can make a real difference to you. So why complicate matters with having to include God? Why not just wait until you return home to reconnect with your Creator?

Maybe your vacation is one of the best times to see your life in a broader perspective than usual. After all, you should, hopefully, have a little time on your hands. A few moments of solitude or a quiet prayer can be a way of reconnecting with both who we are and Whose we are.

You might give that a thought when you take time-out somewhere this summer. God will be there with you, for God never takes a vacation.

Grace and peace,

Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation
Omaha, Nebraska