Turn Things On Its Head

man-2047269_1280.jpg

Isa. 60:1-172 Tim. 2:14-26Mark 10:17-31

One of the recurring themes of Scripture is that God will turn things on its head.  The rich will become poor, the ones with power will have little power, the poor will be raised up, etc., etc.  We encounter this in Mark 10 today.

A rich young man comes to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. After telling him a litany of commandments, which he declares he has followed, Jesus answers with, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me”

Unable to do so, the rich young man leaves grieving.

At points in scripture we see how great wealth can be a blessing and a vehicle of God’s grace or God’s wrath, but this is not the message we get from Jesus.  He is emphatic that money corrupts spiritual health.  He demands that our priority must be to follow him.  All else it seems is secondary.

How can we live into such words?

What in our lives do we need to turn on its head?

How is God challenging us to greater spiritual health in the midst of plenty?

How can God use us to build up treasure in heaven?

– Matt

Advertisements

Old Rose & Women of Faith

rose-nicaud-portrait-by-maddie-stratton-c5145789f75a1686

Isa. 59:1-15a2 Tim. 1:1-14Mark 9:42-50

2 Timothy: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.”  He encourages Timothy to rekindle the gift of God in him, “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power….”

It is clear in the Bible that women were in positions of power and influence.  In other letters of Paul, we see clear examples of women running the churches.  And here, in regards to Timothy, it is clear that the reason he is Christian has to do with a faith that was passed to him through women.  This matrilineal line of faith did more than just teach him the faith.  From later in the letter, we discover that all the sacred writings, including Torah instruction, were entrusted to his mother and grandmother.

This is extraordinary behavior, especially for that time.  Later in history, the church regressed and lost its way, repressing women in later centuries, keeping them from leadership, and lifting up a few verses of Paul that seem to indicate that women should be silent.  Forget about the volumes of other examples in the Bible where women are lifted up, revered, put in positions of authority, huh?

We are still struggling to make up ground and reclaim the faith that was ours from the beginning.  When are we going to embrace the Bible and its radical message, and stop making excuses for our own sexism?  When are we going to stop using the Bible to justify our own false narratives about power and let God be God?  When are we going to stop lifting up a couple verses about women being silent and read the rest of the Bible?

The picture above is of Rose Nicaud.  Few may know her name – maybe even very few New Orleanians may know her name – but her legacy can be felt (and tasted) every day in New Orleans today.  Rose was a former slave who purchased her freedom, and sold cafe-au-lait in the French Market in the early 1800s.  “Old Rose” is now recognized as the first New Orleans street vendor to offer fresh coffee, a trailblazer, beginning with a push-cart, a humble business plan, and serving to French Market vendors.  Her vision and simple business plan was followed and built upon by many others, and today Cafe du Monde and other businesses continue that tradition.

But on another level Rose is an icon – as one who stood against a culture of racism that was already growing in this country.  In Creole culture it was much more a norm for a woman to be a business owner.  But if you know anything of the history of slavery and oppression in this country you might know how powerful the story of a successful black business woman in the early 1800s can be, and how the dominant culture might have wanted that narrative to disappear.

I am thankful for the spirit of power and courage that God gave Rose Nicaud.

I am thankful for the spirits of mothers and grandmothers, many of whom brought us to the faith.  I am thankful for my mother and grandma too!

I also long for the day when sexism, racism, classism, and all the other evil isms will die a swift death.  They plague us and cause us to sin against one another.  The good news is that we have made it thus far, and God has recruited us to set the pace for excellence, and given us another chance to mend past errors and reclaim the faith of our forefathers and foremothers, wherever their story rises.

– Matt

Servant’s Hearts

dollar-1644801_960_720

Isa. 58:1-12Gal. 6:11-18Mark 9:30-41

In Mark, the disciples are arguing about who is the greatest disciple.  Jesus gathers them all together and declares, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”  He then took a little child and put it among them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

How often I have fallen into the trappings of power and wealth.  It is easy here in the midst of American capitalism to think the answer to happiness or life is to gather more money or power.  Jesus speaks clearly and plainly, by taking a little child, who is an exemplar of powerlessness.  He is saying, “Forget about having 100 employees, or having a huge 401k…your job is to lift up the least among you…. Your job is to be a servant, not a ruler.”

Jesus lets us know, in no uncertain terms, that power and influence will never buy happiness.  It is antithetical to the trajectory of our faith.  If you want to be powerful in the kingdom of heaven, you need a servant’s heart.

We are bombarded by a consumerist economy at every turn.  Probably in accessing this Morning Reflection you have already seen an ad on your phone or digital device.  As you drive to work or church I am guessing you will see more.  The goal, it would seem if we believe the messages we are being dealt, is to gather as much stuff as possible.  To find the greatest deal and “save” the most money.  To have the newest and the latest.  The underlying message – if you have this, that, or the other you will be successful, happy, powerful, richer, more complete.

Jesus seems to turn that on its head and say: The only way those things are going to be good is if they build community, humility, and help you develop a heart of service.  If those things lead to selfishness they have no place in my kingdom.  Don’t fall into that temptation.  Build others up, and you will persevere….all of you.

This is a tough lesson to learn in the USA.  It is a challenging time.

– Matt

Living Wet

salisbury-cathedral-369006_1280

Isa. 55:1-13Gal. 5:1-15Mark 8:27-9:1

In Galatians 5, Paul returns to a central tenet of the gospel message: “For freedom Christ has set us free.”

His tirade on freedom states: “…through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Yesterday was quite a day.  This morning continues that.  Let’s just say it has been WET:

  • The rain continues this morning.
  • Tears were shed when I learned of the death of a former congregant and friend of mine from Oklahoma City, Dan Orza – a faithful follower of these Morning Reflections, often commenting and LIKING posts.
  • I washed my hands of a toxic friendship yesterday.  It was a hard decision, but one that needed to be done.  Perhaps this will allow for more room for goodness and God to work.
  • Tears were again shed as I resourced a church and got telling a very moving story of Baptism and God claiming us, even though the young man in the story did not feel or understand God’s grace.  It was an example of a deep Presbyterian understanding of baptism and how GOD claims, GOD acts, GOD saves.  (I think the waterworks came because of how deep I know the reality of his baptism affected this young man – years later…it may have saved his life).
  • I encountered a powerful reflection and artistic representation of baptism from a fellow minister in MVP, Rev. Cathy Johnson, a “Glimpse of Grace” that boldly declared:  Drop by drop, Hand by hand, We are claimed and named and redeemed, And sent forth to “live wet”.  If you aren’t familiar with Cathy’s powerful ministry, now is the time to plug in!  Email her if you would like to be added to her list.
  • Tears flowed again as I read this morning of the death of Mother Capers of Wallingford PC in Charleston, SC, and who was instrumental in my friend and fellow GP colleague Jerrod Lowry discovering his call to ministry.  When he said “I wish that I had the chance to tell her how her words and love impacted me.  I want to feel sad.  Instead I rejoice that her baptism is complete!…Rest well, Mother Capers!” the overwhelming nature of yesterday came back again.

So it was a WET day.

Baptism is a funny thing.  We boldly declare that the old life has passed…a new life has begun.  And yet sin continues to follow us.  Pain and sadness linger.  Hurt abounds.  Brokenness of this world takes hold.  And yet we baptize.  We declare the reality that we are claimed by God.  And we await the day those vows, those promises made at baptism, can become a full reality.

For freedom, Christ has set us free.

Baptism is both a beginning, and a promise of action.

I mentioned in yesterday’s reflection how much of today’s church is being held hostage – being held by our own fear.  The yoke of this slavery is almost too much to bear.  Living in the Church of 2019 is sometimes brutal and challenging.  It is not just struggling churches, but struggling individuals — to make end’s meet, to find true freedom, to experience the new life in Christ truly when chaos, confusion, poverty all swirl around us.

Paul slams his message of freedom home when, in dramatic fashion, he jests: “If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”  If you read Paul closely you discover Paul’s primary concern is knitting up the body of Christ as a relational body, not become a bastion of demonic isolation.

Freedom in Christ means exactly that.  It means not being strangled by the prejudices of the past, but embraced by a new ethic: a Law of Love.  Wasn’t that the whole point of the cross?  Paul’s point is well taken.  Maybe what we need is a focus on what is essential: that old rugged cross.  Some may want to forget that.  But I am clinging to that cross.  It is where I find the water of baptism flowing most powerfully.  It is where the story of redemption begins.

But it is not where the story ends.

I continue to LIVE WET.

-Matt

P.S. Thanks Cathy

We REMEMBER

Trayvon-Martin-018

Isa. 54:1-10(11-17)Gal. 4:21-31Mark :11-26

Today in Mark, Jesus speaks of the yeast of the Pharisees, and its evil.

If there is one strength we have as Christians it is that WE REMEMBER.  We REMEMBER every time we gather at the table and break bread.  We REMEMBER our story every Sunday as we read scripture together.  We REMEMBER the saints that have gone before us.  We REMEMBER well.

These days there is a temptation – a great temptation.  It is to FORGET.

…to bury our heads in the sand and forget history

…to dismiss science and FORGET what we have been taught.

The goal of many politicians today is based on fear, deflection, uncertainty and doubt.  We heard a good dose of this last night.

Fear is the opioid we are being fed.  This is today’s yeast of the Pharisees.

Mainly I think it is done to deflect us from the real issues, which is massive excesses in spending, and accepting policies we would otherwise find abhorrent.  It is to deflect our minds from the real issues – that economic inequality is eroding the soul of America.

Jesus cautions us: beware of the yeast of the Pharisees.

Today is Trayvon Martin’s birthday.  He would have been 24 today.  Let us never forget how racism and racial inequality continues to rip at the soul of our country.

Let us never forget that when leaders fail to lead it is for a good reason – to distract us from something critical to our liberty.

Jesus has some harsh words for the disciples, “Do you still not perceive or understand?  Are your hearts hardened?”

God reveals today in Mark that God is not only interested in right teaching, and right following, but in the hungry, the oppressed, and somehow the truth of the gospel hinges on the actual physical care of those around us.

This smells a lot like the “social gospel”.  And while it is not the only thing scripture doles out, we get a heavy dose of the social gospel from the gospel writers.

It is radical and untapped grace.

Be confounded today by the mystery of God, and confront the yeast of the Pharisees with me.

Let us REMEMBER.

-Matt

Growing in Grace

the-bread.jpg

Isa. 52:1-12Gal. 4:12-20Mark 8:1-10

A familiar story comes to us today: the feeding of the four thousand.  There are many of these stories of the feeding of multitudes, and with them comes a lot of numbers: the numbers of loaves, baskets, and people are all different.  5,000 were fed with 5 loaves and 2 fish.  Now we have 7 loaves, 7 baskets, and 4,000 people, and we don’t even know how many fish.

For those who like symbolism and numerology, today’s reading becomes a sore disappointment.  We come to find out that the point of the story has nothing to do with numerology, but with grace.  The symbolism is indeterminate.  The point is that God feeds those in need – that Jesus came to satisfy the hungry – literally.

It doesn’t matter how many.  God can handle whatever, whoever, however many.

The fact is that abundance is all around us.  The miracle is in Jesus’ confidence.  He boldly moves forward by simply asking, “How many loaves do you have?”  He takes the seven loaves, gives thanks, breaks the bread, and gave it to them.

Notice that we have the same four verbs that we do at the Lord’s Supper.  Take, Offer thanks, Break, Give.  This is not only a story of abundance, but a foreshadowing of the great feeding that happens every Sunday.  The Church continues to re-enact this story of grace.  And we, like the crowds, are indeterminate.  4,000.  5,000.  It doesn’t really matter.  God feeds as many as show up.  It is not only spiritual food, but actual food, his own body.

This story also has to do with “being astounded.”  The miracle is not only in the feeding of these people, but the level of dumbfoundedness on everyone’s face.  The story before also saw the people being “astounded beyond measure.”  The profundity gets larger, as the miracle gets larger.  Then we have the story of the yeast, directly following today’s reading.  In other words, we are getting to the point where no one is understanding how or why or to what extent Jesus is doing these things.  This profundity carries us right to the cross.

The mystery is growing.  And so is the grace.  And we are going along for the ride.  See why I like Mark?

– Matt

Tests

question-2736480_960_720

Isa. 51:17-23Gal. 4:1-11Mark 7:24-37

Today is the quirky story of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter being healed, as portrayed by one of the New Testament’s most gifted writers, Mark.

It is quirky because Jesus never meets the daughter whom he heals.  This is an exorcism from afar.  The other bizarre feature of this is the words that come out of Jesus’ mouth are almost seen as an insult or racial slur.  This woman, this Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin begs Jesus to heal her daughter.  His response?  “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

It appears that her faith turns the tables.  “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Who are the children?  Who are the dogs?  What is Jesus’ purpose in this strange statement?  I am convinced that Jesus was using this as a test.  Perhaps he was thinking, “I know how to get under her skin.  I will see what she is really made of here.”

Tests.  They are dreaded by high school students and college students alike.  There are tests to get us into the Army, into many jobs, get us out of high school.  Tests come and often serve to move us to the next level of learning or what have you.  Tests.

I hate tests.  But they are all around us.  Even when we are out of school the tests come, albeit in different ways.  So many aspects of life are test-like – job responsibility, marriage, having children.  Being in the church sometimes is a test – with the seemingly most abrasive people constantly thrust in our midst, perhaps at God’s direction to test us.  Very few experience the church as “one big happy family”.

It appears, from the Syrophoenician woman’s faith, that part of the test of this life includes standing up to injustice and racial inequalities.  She smartly puts her foot down, and from that her faith shines.  Jesus may well have been playing Devil’s advocate, impressed that this woman could hold her own.

I believe God is still testing us.

How do you see God testing us still?  Maybe testing you?  And how are we responding?  With faith and determination?

And what does God require of us, in this time and in this place?

-Matt