Fighting to the Death for Truth

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Ecclus. 4:20-5:7Rev. 7:1-8Luke 9:51-62

Beware of evil.  Do not refrain from speaking at the proper moment.  Do not subject yourself to a fool, or show partiality to a ruler.  Fight to the death for the truth, and the Lord God will fight for you.

So states some of our Wisdom literature reading from the OT today.

Oh how this hits close to home.

As a people who have had to endure one of the most foolish administrations to date in the great history of our nation, it is a daily battle of when to speak and when to keep silent.

This is doubly challenging as a pastor.  I do not want to take sides politically.  But I also realize my silence violates scripture when the actions of one, or many, add to the sin of our land.

We are called to speak, not to be reckless in our speech, but also not sluggish in our deeds.  Wisdom and justice and peace follow.

This is incredibly important for our ministry in our dark times, when the assault on truth is at an all time high.  As we erode confidence in the sacredness of our own word, we run the risk of descending into anarchy.  The other choice is almost worse, for fascism is right around the corner from eroded truth as well.

One of the aspects of our reading from Sirach today (also called Ecclesiasticus) is forgiveness.  We must have a stance of forgiveness and humility, not afraid to confess our sins.  Let God will sort out the evil doers, our text implores us.

And that is a helpful reminder.  I can only invest so much energy barking at the wind, or working to change a broken system.  At the end of the day I have to fix myself too.

But let us be bold, sisters and brothers:

“Watch for the opportune time, and beware of evil, and do not be ashamed to be yourself.  For there is a shame that leads to sin, and there is a shame that is glory and favour.”

Maybe I should get that tattooed into my flesh.

-Matt

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Journeys of Paul

I am off to explore the Journeys of Paul, along with my fellow travelers.  See you all soon!

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Who Does This Guy Think He Is?

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Hosea 4:1-10Acts 21:1-14Luke 5:12-26

Today Luke reminds us of the familiar story of the healing of the paralytic.  His friends bring him to the house, but finding no way in because of the crowd, they lower him in through the roof.  When Jesus sees their faith, he declares, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

Of course most of the story focuses on the scandal of Jesus forgiving sins.  The scribes know full well that only God forgives sins, so to them this sounds like blasphemy.  Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man, which is quite a title – an Old Testament term which means that at the very least he is a great prophet, but more likely the end-time judge who arrives on the clouds of heaven.  “Who does this guy think he is?” the scribes are asking themselves.

And then Jesus does something miraculous.  He steps in and says, “Which is easier…to say ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘Stand up and walk.’”  So he does it.  And the man takes up his mat and goes home.  This is all too much for the crowd.  Strange things.

What fascinates me the most from this passage is not the healing, but Jesus’ initial assertion that “Your sins are forgiven.”   What sins?  The sin of busting this guy’s roof?  Jesus may have been referring to the understanding of sin of the time, which held that his physical affliction had something to do with his sins of the past.

At other times in the gospels, Jesus challenges even this idea.  He talks about sin in a much more general way, often leaving the crowd wondering if these were the “sins of the mother and father.”  At other times, Jesus understands sin as more as a condition, one that we all suffer from.

But here he does not even ask this paralyzed man what he did.  Sin is just something that exists in all.  The overwhelming part of this story is that he focuses not on the past, but the present.  No matter what he did or who he is, the fact is, “Your sins are forgiven.”

This is a powerful statement – come to Jesus and your sins are forgiven.  And that goes for all of us.

This story isn’t about a paralytic that goes through someone’s roof – it is about every person reading these words, and the power of action and belief.

It is about an extraordinary presence that has come into our midst – the very presence of God – to heal and forgive each and every one of us.  Knowing the political and cultural climate of today, that sounds like a pretty good place to start.

-Matt

Therese of Lisieux

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Therese of Lisieux

In my ongoing quest to lift up women leaders of the Church, today is the Feast Day of St. Therese of Lisieux for many of our brothers and sisters around the world.  She was a French Catholic Carmelite nun who lived in the late 19th Century, only living to the age of 24.  And yet she is one of the more popular saints in church history.  Go figure.

This is mainly due to her spiritual memoir, Story of a Soul, which lays out the “little way” – a simple life of prayer and good works.  I encourage you to discover the witness of St. Terese.

I conclude with her Morning Prayer:

O my God ! I offer Thee all my actions of this day for the intentions and for the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I desire to sanctify every beat of my heart, my every thought, my simplest works, by uniting them to Its infinite merits ; and I wish to make reparation for my sins by casting them into the furnace of Its Merciful Love.

O my God! I ask thee for myself and for those whom I hold dear, the grace to fulfill perfectly Thy Holy Will, to accept for love of Thee the joys and sorrows of this passing life, so that we may one day be united together in Heaven for all Eternity. Amen.

Baptism

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Esther 5:1-14Acts 18:12-28Luke 3:15-22

Some of us remember our baptism.  For others we were too young, or it has faded from our memory.  I do not remember mine, but I have had the joy of standing in the Jordan River presiding at baptisms and reaffirmations of baptisms, experiencing joy and new chapters of following God.

Baptism is a fascinating sacrament.  In it we enter into a new life – into a new community.  In it, we also see our own death – a death to an old way of being.  Perhaps this is why at some funerals we talk about that person’s baptism “now being complete in death” – the transformation to a new way of being is now full and complete because the old way is completely gone.  In so many ways baptism is almost simplistic – common element of water used in a one-time washing.  And yet in another way baptism is a complete mystery – it is God at work revealing a new life that is emerging.

Today’s gospel reading speaks of baptism. In both Luke and Acts today we see the transformation from water to fire in preaching and in baptism.

In Acts, Paul is in Corinth.  This is a man who is continually in trouble with the law.  He is brought before Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, who very much like Pilate for Jesus, renounces his own jurisdiction.  The Jews claim Paul is “persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to the law.”  Gallio basically says so what, declaring he doesn’t want to be a judge of Jewish matters.  Paul does not repent of his new vows in Christ.

In our travels with Paul, we come across a Jew named Apollos.  He is eloquent and well-versed in the scriptures, burning with enthusiasm.  We are told that he “spoke accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.”  This basically means that he knew his Old Testament and the prophesies regarding the Messiah.  But he did not know of Jesus’ arrival.

Pricilla and Aquila pull him aside and “explained the Way of God more accurately.”  He becomes a great champion of the faith.

In Luke we hear the tale of the baptism of Jesus, as well as John’s proclamations about baptism.  “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming…. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Remember that Luke wrote both Luke and the book of Acts.  He very well may have in mind a connection here.  John speaks of water and fire.  He seems to know intrinsically that someone like Jesus is coming.  Apollos has the same ideas.  He knows a Messiah is coming.  He had been preaching that – with fire, although he knows not the name of Jesus.

Acts is a fantastical story.  It has mystery and intrigue.  It provides for this almost mysterious transformation and spreading of the gospel.  Like a good virus, there seems to be no way to stop this either.  Even Apollos knows what is coming, and he is from Alexandria.  It appears the good news will spread to all the ends of the earth.

What is interesting about Acts is that by the books end, it does not spread to the ends of the earth.  But yet, here we are reading this story in yet another corner of the globe.  By stories end, we ourselves are thrust into the story, left wondering, “So now it is your turn.  What’s next?”

Very much like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, we become a part of the story.

How does your baptism by fire and water affect the trajectory of your story?  What is your baptism driving you to do?

-Matt

The Heart of the Matter

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Esther 4:4-17Acts 18:1-11Luke (1:1-4),3:1-14

Luke shares with us what he believes are the essential details about Jesus, the Messiah.  He is one of the few to articulate what his purpose in writing is: “So that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”

Then with excruciating detail, Luke lets us in on the secret of who’s who and what’s what.  It is almost as if he is trying to prove that this is historical, rooting it in names and places.  It is if he is saying, “Who could make this up?”  It’s very different than the other gospels.

I find it interesting he wrote this for folks who had already been instructed in the faith.  It is as if the gospel text was pulled out after years coming to know Christ.  “Here, read this if you want to know even more.”  That is oral tradition at its best!

I wonder what people knew.  What had they seen and heard?  What is the essential truth to know about Jesus?

“Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”  Perhaps this is the heart of the Christian message.

If you have taken the Disciple I Bible study, you may remember how it starts.  It begins with a good hearty talk about the authority of scripture in our lives, and some of the different types of biblical literature and its purposes.  In it, we encounter John’s purpose: So that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  So many of the New Testament writers are wrestling with this very concept, and certainly Luke is wrestling with and responding to these questions as well: Where do the Jews fit in this?  How do Judaism and Christianity co-exist?

At the end of the day, Luke tells a great story.  And from the stories about John the Baptist to the miracles, to the tax collectors and sinners needing grace, to the time around the cross, we hear and see a consistent theme: God is coming, and when he does, ALL flesh shall see the salvation of God.

These are reassuring words to the faithful.  You too will meet up with the Savior of the world – this Jesus.  And you too will be filled with the promise of a second chance.  It came to the tax collectors and sinners and now it comes to you.

-Matt

Lydia

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Job 40:1,41:1-11Acts 16:6-15John 12:9-19

Turn to Acts, and discover the story of Lydia today.

The conversion of Lydia is another powerful story about the women of the church.  Paul, Silas, and Timothy are making the rounds, stop in Philippi, and encounter Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth.  “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.  When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.”

This is a quick turn.  All we know about her worship life is that she is a “worshiper of God” which is a nice way of saying she is a Gentile who worshiped Israel’s God, somewhat of a stray by Jewish standards.

On the other hand, this is a Roman colony.  We are told of the “household of Lydia” which indicates she is unmarried.  She is also of relatively high social and economic status, being a merchant and mistress of a household, a combination that wouldn’t normally be possible in that day and time.  The district in Lydia, where she is from, Thyatira, is a center of production of purple dye, so it is possible she is the representative of all that is purple in this region, one of the top merchants in the area.  She seems to be quite a maverick.

I had the privilege of sitting in Philippi, down by the river, probably in a similar place to where Paul and Lydia met.  I am excited to go back in just a few weeks.  The Journeys of Paul Mediterranean Cruise.

What I remember most in Philippi was the most delightful open-air Greek restaurant, right on the sea.  The group that year included my mother and my friend Rose, both of whom are pretty adventurous eaters much like me.  We ordered a few things ala carte and dove into our food.  There was a strange ground up fish dish that tasted like heaven.  What was this glorious concoction?  Since the menu was in Greek, and I didn’t know a lot of the menu items, we had told our waiter to bring a few authentic dishes, his choice.  Turns out this great dish was octopus!  After my first encounter with eating octopus in Japan (which was a cold, raw trainwreck), I was amazed I could find any joy in this animal.  The Greeks made octopus tasty and delicious for me.

As I reflect back on my time in the city of Philippi, and Paul’s travels here – his ups and downs – I draw inspiration from people like Lydia.  She blazed a trail for the Gospel to spread, an outsider who found a place.  I remember feeling out of place in this beautiful country, probably like Lydia did at times, but enjoying the bounty of this area, ready to go back and tell the story of this beautiful land and the stories it held.

It was just a few verses ago we were told that Paul and Silas went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia “having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.”  Lydia, you see, was from Asia.  She has made her way to Philippi for commerce.

But lying underneath all this is a theme:  There are places where the Holy Spirit is ripe, and places it is not.  Since the word of God was not ripe for Asia, perhaps because of language or culture, Lydia becomes a lynchpin.  Rather than Asia opening to Paul and Silas, Asia has come to Paul and Silas.  Lydia, who ironically bares the same name of the region in Asia where Thyatira is, is a person who can “walk the walk and talk the talk” so to speak.  She can now be an ambassador to that region.

This too is a story of the unleashed good news.  God’s power is out on the loose.  And, once again, it is entrusted to a woman.  Those who want to believe that Paul and the New Testament are anti-women need a refresher course on Acts and Paul’s letters!  As Luke writes his two books, there is a movement: from Jewish men to Gentile women.  God’s word spreads more than just geographically.

For me that is such good news I can hardly contain myself!

-Matt