Oklahoma Spice

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2 Kings 1:2-171 Cor. 3:16-23Matt. 5:11-16

The Sermon on the Mount continues today.  “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored??  It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”

Jesus also uses the metaphor of light.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  If you make light, you don’t put it under a bushel.

Have you ever had salt that lost its saltiness?

The other day I was planning to make my award-winning Red River Bison Chili (yes, with real Oklahoma buffalo), when I realized a couple key spices on my shelf had lost their spice.  I made a quick pivot to a different recipe, and put chili powder on the grocery list.  Perhaps you have been in this same boat.

Salt can also lose its saltiness.  Who would have thought!

Jesus, it turns out, is just as interested in outcomes as he was in intentions.  He doesn’t just want us Oklahomans to be salty, he needs us to be spicy in these challenging times.

Many of us like to focus on God’s grace.  We defer to “forgiveness” when anyone asks about Christian accountability.  We figure we are off the hook for doing anything, because God is in control.  For some, Christianity has become the broken remote.  We figure if God wants to change the channel, he will “get off his lazy rear and change it himself.”  Jesus appears to have some different views on that kind of thinking.

While it is unclear what exactly he is addressing, it becomes clear that action on our part is part of the deal.  It is expected, if not required.  Our internal drive has got to match our external motions.

This is a direct assault on those who wish to divide the spirit and the flesh, deciding that Christianity is all an interior and spiritual struggle.  Jesus says no.  If one is going to take religion seriously, you better be ready to have your daily routine disrupted.

There is a good bit in the Sermon on the Mount that involves right relationships.  In the process of the world being turned upsidedown (e.g. blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth) there will be a righting of relationships.  The world will come into harmony.

Beware though!  For that which is not in harmony, is not going to be very useful in God’s new matrix.  So choose your spices carefully.

-Matt

P.S. The Red River Bison Chili is on its way by the way.  Test run during the OU/Baylor game.  You all are welcome to swing by the house and try a bowl.  OU/texASS is coming soon and I will need to be armed and ready with more spices than just chili powder for that party.

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The Beatitudes

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1 Kings 22:29-451 Cor. 2:14-3:15Matt. 5:1-10

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

So begins the Beatitudes, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.  Many have pointed out that this is most likely not one sermon, but a series of sermons and stories shared over the couple years of ministry of Jesus.  That is all well and good.  It does not change the impact or trajectory of this story.

Jesus speaks of a world turned on its head.  The poor in spirit will be in prominence in heaven.  The hungry are filled.  The peacemakers are called the children of God.  This stands in sharp contrast to the thoughts of the day, which were very similar to our day.  Simply put, it goes, “God helps those who help themselves.”  The Beatitudes stands in sharp contrast, declaring that the world will be turned upsidedown.

Perhaps some of my readers went on Window Tour at First in OKC entitled “Hidden Symbols & The Making of Stained Glass”.  If so you have seen up close and personal a depiction of the Beatitudes.  It is some of the most valued and artistically significant glass in Oklahoma City, Chihuly glass included.

I have found that often in life, things of profound beauty or value often go unnoticed or unappreciated.  The sunrise, the stars, mountaintop silence, the beauty of a darkened cave.  These things are so often spoiled by the rush of the world.  Well despite the beauty of those Beatitude windows, this falls into the same category of missed beauty.  (And if you folks in Duncan think you are immune, when was the last time you gazed at the beauty of our Chapel window?)

It turns out the symbolism of Beatitude imagery must be rich, deep, almost mysterious.  It has to be because it reflects Jesus’ actual words here – equally mysterious.  His meaning is shrouded, and it is certain that the world will look opposite how many expect.

Christianity itself is so strange – and so rich – and so deep – and so mysterious.  Even if you don’t believe that, you have to admit it is fascinating.  And it just so happens that I believe.  That makes this journey even more hidden and mysterious.

May the depth and richness of the Beatitudes fill your day with clarity.

-Matt

Humility

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1 Kings 22:1-281 Cor. 2:1-13Matt. 4:18-25

You may know how the story goes:

The new young minister had finally arrived in town.  It was his first Sunday, and his first sermon with his new congregation.  There was an excitement in the air, and a buzz about the arrival of this new and recent seminary graduate.

They also knew what they were getting into.  They were a smaller country church and the “new ministers” always found their way to them.  They were sort of a breeding ground for new ministers, a place that nurtured and ushered the next generation into ministry with a healthy successful place to get started.

Well after the first hymn, and the first prayer by one of the elders, the minister made his way to the pulpit.  In full academic vestments and with his nose in the air, he ascended to the pulpit, a massive pulpit for that space, with 7 steps that led up, overlooking the congregation by many feet.  He then looked out at a packed church, got a little nervous, and began the reading.  By the time for the sermon, he realized in the fanfare he had misplaced a couple pages of his notes.  He pressed on anyway, riding the coattails of his seminary professors.  He kept his nose in the air, cocky as ever, and preached a fine sermon.

Despite this, the sermon began to tank.  Stories weren’t completed.  Thoughts were lost.  The nervousness and the missing pages took its toll, and with much humility, he finished, turned, and walked down all seven steps, with his head held in shame.

After the service, as people passed to shake hands with the new minister, one of the elders of the congregation walked by and said, “Perhaps next time you can ascend to the pulpit in the same manner as you descended today.”

This is precisely the struggle of the Corinthians, and we see a piece of that in our reading today.  Paul, unlike them, comes in humility, weakness, and fear.  He demonstrates the Spirit of Christ and of his power, not a power of his own making.  He uses this in his very argument, because they were struggling to keep their egos and their faith in check.

Paul has incredible human wisdom, and ironically uses it to argue against human wisdom.  His struggle is to preach Christ crucified, and to get the church in Corinth on that same track as well.

He expected – no he demanded – that other churches follow his lead.  He almost singlehandedly provided a means by which the unity of Christ crucified could exist in a diverse and cosmopolitan Church that served Christ in many different countries and with many different native tongues.  It is amazing what the Spirit of Christ can do through one simple person!

-Matt

Knowing the Land

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1 Kings 21:17-291 Cor. 1:20-31Matt. 4:12-17

Today in Matthew: “When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to the Galilee.  He left Nazareth and made his home in the lake region in Capernaum.”

It was just a few days ago we talked about this in Wednesday Noon Bible study, and the importance of knowing the land.  Understanding that “Fifth Gospel” – the story the land itself tells, is integral to the story.  If you are really serious about knowing this, joining me on one of my trips to Israel is easy.  The next trip however is the Journeys of Paul.  It’s a Mediterranean Cruise so you might be even more excited.  www.mattmeinke.com/trips Nevertheless, save up for Israel, because everyone should experience the Holy Land at least once in their lives.

When you know the land of Israel, you can easily spot that this verse marks a sudden and significant shift in the gospel’s focus.  John’s ministry was one isolated in the wilderness.  He may have been associated with the Essences, who were interested in purity and separation from the corruption of the Temple guard.  Nazareth on the other hand was in the Galilee.  It was mainly farmers and shepherds, with some artisans interspersed.  But by going to Capernaum though, Jesus sets a tone that says something even more radical: Those who shall see the great light are those who have sat in great darkness, and now on them light has shined.

And who are these new “light-shined people”? Fishermen, tradesmen, and foreigners.  Around this lake are the outcast of Hebrew society.  It is pure Greco-Roman life colliding with Jews, and the furthest thing from the temple imaginable.

This passage all but says God’s rule is coming to those you least expect.  Brace yourself for a bumpy ride, because this story gets crazy.  Indeed it does.  Not only does the Messiah die on a cross, but the inheritors of the kingdom are a rag-tag bunch of misfits, many of which came from this region.  These people were the salt of the earth, literally connected to the land.  They were not the learned people of the temple mount.  They were not the great teachers of the law or morally upstanding citizens.

This passage, while cloaked in esoteric language and code, stands as a beautiful descriptor of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It would be much like Oklahomans saying, “And now, even those Texans will see the great light!”  In the most unimaginable place possible, grace and glory shall rise.  (My apologizes to any Shorthorn fans following my blog.  Ooops, Longhorn.  Longhorn.)

May the glory of God shine into all the distant and dark regions of your heart this day.  May you find the good news in the least likely of places.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Holy Land the easiest way is to join my Wednesday Noon Bible study: www.fpcduncan.com

-Matt

Allegiances Are Hard

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1 Kings 21:1-161 Cor. 1:1-19Matt. 4:1-11

All of you have apps on your phone.  A couple of my apps are these silly addictive games.  No I never got into Candy Crush (thank God!).  Instead I fell into the Clash of Clans craze a few years ago, and all the related games of kingdoms, wars, alliances, and the like.  Most days I want to throw my phone out the car window because of this.

Often I am forming my own city, or a whole kingdom.  Usually there is a chance that when I am not logged in someone might “attack” my city (which I think btw is how they get you hooked so quickly and easily!).  It used to drive me nuts.  Now I just don’t care.

Well as you might suspect, one aspects of these games is forming alliances.  And one of the things I have realized in the midst of this is that allegiances are often hard.

Now you all know me.  My allegiances — to my Christian faith, to the Packers, to OU, to the Thunder, to all my alma maters, and to this country — these are easy for me.  These are a given.  But it is quite another thing to remain faithful to a new alliance that has just formed in my little game, when I question everyone’s motives.  I have seen them cheat and steal and wonder why this time should be any different.

Both New Testament readings today deal with allegiances today.  Jesus goes to battle, being tempted in the wilderness.  Paul takes on the church in Corinth and their divisions of loyalty.

“What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’  Has Christ been divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

The newness of Christianity might have been in the minds of the people.  Will this all survive?  Who are we?  What are we doing?

Paul equates the struggles of the church not simply to “disagreement” or differing opinions.  Today we chalk up problems in the church this way – as “disagreements” or “individualism” or “personal preference.”  Not Paul.  He declares this to be a matter of wisdom.  “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’”

Each and every time I encounter Paul’s writings I am amazed at how pertinent they are to our times as well.  The Church is still struggling with proclaiming Christ crucified and understanding how to deal with divisions in the church.  What we learn from Paul most is “how to argue.”  He is brilliant at it.  He seems to win every intellectual argument he makes.

The other part of this is that he keeps talking.  He stays in community – in covenant with those with whom he disagrees.  He remains faithful to the allegiance he made, because he knows it was not to an individual church, but to CHRIST.

What I like about the Presbyterian Church is that we pride ourselves on this.  We follow Christ.  We also believe as part of our polity that we MUST keep talking.  We value the minority opinion in any debate.  To outsiders it may seem like just fight after fight after fight.  “Haven’t you settled that gay marriage thing yet?”  No, we haven’t.  Heck, we haven’t settled that women’s ordination thing yet.  I still hear an occasional rumbling about that.

This is because we are a church that encourages diversity of opinion.  We even value it!  And why?  Because this is how we sense the Spirit of God at work.  In our differences we are able to listen to God and allow the Spirit to work – to speak to us in new and fresh ways.  If we were to silence the minority, we wouldn’t be able to listen to God as successfully and fully.

Remaining faithful to that kind of pledge is quite another thing.  Working out the voice of God takes patience and understanding.  It takes years of listening.  We are a church that is “reformed, and always reforming,” structured in a way that change is possible, in case God decides we need to do things a bit differently to respond to a changing world.

So fights are good?  Sometimes.  If done well!  Perhaps we can take a lesson from Paul, and keep talking in appropriate and healthy ways.

-Matt

Heads or Tails?

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1 Kings 18:20-40Phil. 3:1-16Matt. 3:1-12

 

The voice of John the Baptist calls out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.”  Eating locusts and honey and hiding out in the desert by the Jordan makes for great political theater.

John is thought by many to be part of the Essences, a radical group of well-learned scribes who took seriously their own ritual purity.  They knew that in order to be pure they would have to escape the “dirty” corrupt Temple guard, as well as the hypocritical Pharisees.  They went to the desert, and functioned very much like a monastery…except they were anything but hermits.  They were attracting a large following and creating a political face-off with the Temple guard.

The gospel writing is letting it be known that John the Baptist was aligned with Jesus.  Right away we know this is going to be a philosophical and political fight.  We have never seen religion and politics intersect (Har Har!!!)  Just kidding, it is all over!

The problem is that the Messiah the Essences was looking for was not the Messiah that Jerusalem was looking for.  It was a political powder keg.  And Jesus blows it up.

Surprise and intrigue.  Theological and ideological battles.  It’s funny how some never get around to discovering that this is all throughout the Bible.  They mistakenly think that the Bible is black and white and leaves no theological position unclear.  These are often the same old souls who shrug on Sunday morning and say “I believe in the separation of church and politics when anyone mentions something Jesus mentioned.”

These same type of folks – the ones who expect life to be simple and the Bible to be in black and white – are the same folks who marvel that anyone could come to a conclusion about scripture that is different than what they believe.  Like the Spirit never moves in mysterious ways.  But the reality is that the Bible is full of stories of theological disputes, differences of opinion, and surprise.

But beware!  Most of the time there are differences of opinion, it is between GOD and humanity.  The Bible, it turns out, is a story of God working amidst the muck of human existence, and saving us despite it all.

Our job in this world is to figure out God’s way.

-Matt

They Told No One

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1 Kings 16:23-34Phil. 1:12-30Mark 16:1-8(9-20)

He is risen!

Today is the remarkable ending of the Gospel of Mark.  It is my favorite ending of any book in the Bible.  I love Mark, and here it is today in all its splendor.

All along in Mark we have had Jesus’ identity enshrouded in mystery.  No one seems to get it.  Those who do are urged to secrecy: “Shhh, don’t tell anyone who I am.”  The demons are silenced.  The crowd is kept in the dark.  Even the disciples, who have some inkling of Jesus’ identity, either don’t get it, or at the cross, scatter and tell no one.  Where are his 12 male disciples?  Gone.

It is the women who are entrusted with the secret.

Three women show up at the tomb.  They find the empty tomb, and are alarmed to encounter a young man dressed in a white robe who says, “He has been raised; he is not here.”   They run from the tomb, “for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

And that’s it!  The gospel ends there.  Naturally, over the centuries, monks copying the text had decided that was a disaster of an ending.  Not wanting to leave everyone hanging; being uncomfortable with tears, they decided to make up new endings.

Many of you may have Shorter Endings or Longer Endings to Mark’s Gospel in your Bible.  I wish the editors of the text would put them in footnotes on different pages, or not put them at all.  It is clear from textual criticism and study of the manuscripts themselves that they do not belong.  Do yourself a favor and don’t even read them and ruin the ending of a good book!

It ends with “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  What a great ending!   What irony!  I mean, certainly they told someone eventually!  Right?  For here is the story before us.

It is a cliff hanger.

It is supposed to be.

Mark wants us to enter the story.  He wants us to claim it for ourselves and write our own ending.  It is like one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure Books” with the last line reading, “Turn to the page in your Journal!”

I also find it interesting that the Gospel of Mark has been filled with men.  Men, men, men.  Now the essential knowledge of Jesus’ power has been encountered in its fullness.  In this new world order, this post-resurrection world, it is women who are entrusted with the good news of the gospel.  It is no mistake.  Mark wants to let everyone know how fully Jesus was breaking down the walls of culture.

And much of what we know of early Christianity, a religion that was underground and met in peoples’ homes, is that it was dominated by women leaders.

Today, the good news is revealed – in all its splendor – to those in the story we might least expect – and who have remarkable success.

The Gospel has power.  And it is upon us.

-Matt