Dress Rehearsal Time!

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Gen. 44:18-34; 1 Cor. 7:25-31; Mark 5:21-43

Life is full of choices.  Sometimes the Bible gives a clear understanding of the choices.  But God will not tell you who to vote for on Tuesday, just like God will not tell you who to marry.

The Corinthians too are struggling with the right thing to do.  Remain a widow?  Remarry?  Stay unmarried?  Paul says two interesting things: 1) “I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion….” and 2) “the appointed time has grown short”

In the midst of his argument, Paul lays a foundation for church governance.  And it is the foundation of theological debate.  Despite Paul having no scriptural warrant for such beliefs, he gives his opinion as someone in Christ’s loving embrace.  The church would do well to take a cue from this.  I speak daily to people who believe scripture says one thing or another, when often there is no scriptural warrant for their beliefs.  I would rather we be honest about that, and then begin the discussion.  That doesn’t mean their ideas are less valid.  But it also means there can be many interpretations.  Healthy discussion could be more easily achieved in these instances.

The second phrase roots Paul in a time when the church was focused on the end of times.  They believed the second coming was very, very soon.  They were making preparations for that, and not getting bogged down in the acts of daily living.  They were instead living for Christ alone.

I don’t hear many in our churches today making preparations of this kind.  Perhaps we should.  Do we believe Christ is coming again?  Perhaps we should.  Because the fact is, he is coming.  We are called only to lay a foundation for his reign now.  Easier said than done!

This “end of times” theology shapes Paul’s thinking.  Should we throw it out and move on?  Should we embrace that kind of thinking again?  If we do, how does it change us?

As I think about worship in today’s churches, and especially what I experience on Sunday at First Presbyterian in OKC, I see the church right on track.  When I hear John Edwards on the organ, and his care and concern for congregational song, and the way he lifts us and encourages us all in glorious song, I give thanks.  I also give thanks for the organ rebuild we have done here in 2016.  Congregational singing is better!  Have you noticed?

I think of these times of church as our dress rehearsals.  We are preparing each other for the praise of the heavenly choirs.  We are preparing and rehearsing for a celebration beyond comprehension.  This is the church at its best, living life for the praise of the Almighty.  To pepper in “end of times” theology gives urgency and purpose to our dress rehearsal.

So let us rehearse and perfect our lives with urgency and purpose.  Let us move into God’s good future, not knowing what the future holds, but knowing who holds the future.

-Matt

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New Rules

mosaic-409427_960_720Gen. 43:1-15; 1 Cor. 7:1-9; Mark 4:35-41

I have to be honest: we are only two-thirds of the way through the Joseph story, and already I am tired of his brothers.  BIG TIME!  They wander here…. They wander there.  They seem to flub up often, and see very little of the big picture.  Perhaps I am intended to grow in agitation with them.  It seems part of the story.

Today they head back to Egypt with double the money and with Benjamin, the youngest.  It is about time!  Get out of my story!

I suppose the Genesis trajectory, and indeed the whole Old Testament is a reminder to me that sometimes God’s work is slow and meticulous.  It takes much time for God’s will to be revealed to the characters trapped in the text, and sometimes for us too.  Often this is true in our lives too.

Often the New Testament trajectory is the exact opposite.  God seems to move fast.  God is elusive and unpredictable.  Paul is experiencing the repercussions of God moving a bit more quickly.  Today he takes up the topic of marriage, sexual intimacy, and sexual immorality.

The Apostles are bearers of new and different rules, breaking the norms of society, and changing around long time traditions of family values.  It had been advocated that sexual intimacy is not compatible with the life in Christ.  Paul objects to this blanket statement, but also agrees with a good portion of this premise.

Some think that we are moving too fast in the church and redefining things like marriage.  The reality is that the Church has always been asked by God to be at the forefront of the Holy Spirit moving in radical ways, continuing the trajectory of the New Testament – a breaking of boundaries and human constructs, following new definitions of love, compassion, and justice.

So often, however, the Church has not lived up to its calling, but wallowed in institutionalism, resisted change, held on to power, celebrated its apparent immutability, and generally been the most recalcitrant of all the Abrahamic religions.  It is embarrassing to say the least.

Did we forget the New Testament?  Is anyone reading this radical set of writings?  Does anyone see the inclusive, welcoming trajectory?  Does anyone understand that living into change sometimes is the most biblically-based thing one can do?

Part of this is the fault of those of us calling for the change.  Instead of quoting Scripture and living into the nudgings of the Holy Spirit, too often we have coward in the corner of the Church with our tails between our legs, fearing the accusations of bending to culture.  Instead we needed to be talking about how culture had been more authentic to the Holy Spirit’s leading, and had left the Church in the dust.  We needed to be talking about how the Church had become stuck, buried its head in the sand, power hungry, fearing change, and sinning to the point of reconstructing the very human constructs that Christ came to unbind.  We had become Peter, not Paul in the argument, resisting all change.

Paul was a good arguer.  He won many of the fights.  Interestingly enough, he fought for change.  He fought to undo years of tradition.  And he won.

Today’s Church in North America is poisoned with harmful American ideology like individualism.  This doesn’t help the call for reform.  Nor does it help church attendance.  It means very few sit still enough to listen to the argument.  Instead they get up and leave.

Our job as Christians is not to panic at this.  We must stay the course of truth and love laid out in the Gospel.  This may be God pruning the Body of Christ.

What we need is to boldly proclaim our tradition which is Reformed and always reforming, and focus on the Holy Spirit as we are led into God’s new future.

This was never ours to begin with.  Bury the power-hungry craziness.  Time to follow.

I have to warn you: the Church may not look like the Church we once knew.  And that’s OK.  It was never ours to begin with.

-Matt

Focus: Blessing and Trust

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Gen. 42:29-38; 1 Cor. 6:12-20; Mark 4:21-34

The gang of brothers return to Canaan today, explaining the intriguing events of their trip to Egypt.  Jacob is upset by the news, “I am the one you have bereaved of children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin!”

Jacob is not amused by Reuben’s request to return to Egypt with Benjamin, the youngest.

If you remember Jacob was the one who as a boy stole his brother’s birthright.  Things have always been topsy-turvy for Jacob.  His name in Hebrew refers to “heel” hearkening back to his birth when he grabbed onto Esau’s heel in the womb to try to beat him out.

And yet, Jacob has been showered with God’s blessing.  He had many children, many wives, Old Testament code for “favorable in the eyes of God.”  Now, in Egypt he has a source of food.  But he doesn’t see that.  Woe is Jacob.  But, he IS blessed.

It is easy for us in America to feel like Jacob.  The “woe is me” syndrome is always lurking it seems.  And yet God has blessed us so richly.  It is easy to take that for granted.  It was not long ago, I was at a seminar where the speaker said: “The rich people in the room will know what I am talking about….”  I began thinking to myself, “From the world’s perspective, especially the Third World’s perspective, EVERYONE in this room is rich.”

Focusing on blessing is not always easy.

There is an undercurrent of trust as well.  All throughout the Old Testament we see this.  Life hangs on by a thread – and we are called to trust God – God will deliver us.  God’s story moves on, despite our “stuckness.”

This is the main point in the parable today in Mark, a parable we just talked about in the Senior High class last night.

For Mark the purpose of the parables is to perplex.  Only the ones on the inside “get it”.  He explains the parables to those disciples in private, but to many the meaning is hidden.

There are catchwords like: lamp, light, hear, more, given.  The point is that the kingdom is sneaking up on people, enshrouded with mystery, not easily given to the light.  One has to work in order to understand the meaning of things as they happen.  The stories speak to the mystery of the kingdom.  Things are hidden.

The good news of the gospel is that these words are in our hands already.  We need to trust.  We need to rest in the mystery of the kingdom.  Things may not make perfect sense, but God is working things out.

How can we trust this?  We know how the story ends!  We know that the women leave the tomb not knowing what has happened, and fear and trembling filled them, and they told NO ONE of what they had seen and heard.

Obviously they told someone!  We know the story, front to back.

So these parables fit into that mystery.  They are yet more ways that the upsurge of good news and blessing from God is being cloaked along the way.  Some get it; some don’t.  But repeat after me: Things may not make perfect sense now, but God is working things out.

-Matt

P.S. Thanks to Pierce for finding the great picture to go with today’s lesson on trust!  The Senior High always give me energy and insight.

The Conundrum of the Kingdom

o-VULNERABILITY-facebookGen. 42:18-28; 1 Cor. 5:9-6:8; Mark 4:1-20

The parable of the soils has always been one of the most widely remembered stories.  Often I hear people use snippets of this parable to describe a situation or person, and immediately the others in the group know what that person is talking about: “Oh, it’s like the seed that fell among the rocky soil…”  And another will say, “Right.  No roots.”

This parable continues with one of Jesus’ central themes, that the kingdom is about growth.  In Mark, one additional aspect is highlighted.  For him another curious theme arises.  Mark has a harsh view of the purpose of the parables – they are told in order to perplex and confuse.  Here, even more troubling, “in order that they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.”

Is it really true that the parables are provided so forgiveness does not occur?  The question then arises, what was this growth anyway?  I thought the growth was the good news itself.  Evidently it is more complex.

Jesus tells these stories in order to highlight the difference between those who “get it” and those who don’t.  And while it is clear that the kingdom is growing wildly and without restriction, it is also important to note, that like Revelation, it appears there is a divine secret and mystery behind it.  Just as the kingdom is growing, so is the conundrum of the kingdom itself.  More are understanding.  More are also experiencing profound confusion, or perhaps even greater judgment.

Here we are in the midst of Lent.  We are being encouraged to live into the mystery and experience the dichotomy of God’s gracious activity in our lives.  For the more grace we encounter, the less it may make sense.  The lines are being drawn, and we are being told to listen and make sure we are on the proper side – one in which grace triumphs over the establishment, and in which, ironically, divisions are healed.

-Matt

 

The Irony of God’s Grace

irony-62117_960_720Gen. 42:1-17; 1 Cor. 5:1-8; Mark 3:19b-35

Joseph, having been betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery, Joseph has now earned the respect of Pharaoh, and suddenly risen to power as chief overseer of Egypt.  In today’s passage, he encounters his brothers again, this time with them coming to Egypt to beg for grain.  The famine has hit the land hard, and Egypt is in a better position because of Joseph and his help in planning.

When he meets his brothers, he keeps his identity a secret, but recognizes them.  They lie to him by omitting some information about their brother Joseph by saying, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of a certain man in the land of Canaan; the youngest, however is now with our father, and one is no more.”

In a twist of irony, Joseph accuses them of being spies and throws them into jail.  The irony: it is he who spies on them.  He also makes them relive his own uncertainty and helplessness when he was sold as a slave by making them slaves.

He demands to see the youngest brother, now Benjamin, who has safely been left behind in Canaan.  This is a standard practice of progeny.  If the brothers do not return back, for whatever reason, Jacob’s blood line will die.  It is a safety net of God’s promise of progeny.   For Joseph to demand all the brothers means the whole family is in jeopardy.  Much more faith is required to send the last brother, than all the others.

Amidst the self-disguise and intrigue, amidst the anguish and helplessness, God comes to us this morning and speaks of the world upside-down.  The tables are turned.  The first shall be last, and the last first.  This passage is yet another testament to the fact that God’s choices are not always human’s choice.  Joseph, who was thrown away by his family, turns out to be very valuable to Egypt, and to God’s purposes.

If there is one word that comes from this text for me today it is: bankruptcy.  Only when the sons of Jacob are completely emotionally and economically bankrupt is God’s grace able to move in their lives.  Only when they come down a few notches do they come to realize the importance of knowing and honoring others.  If they were in a 12 Step group, their imprisonment would be called rock bottom, and they would be ready for Step 1.

What will it take for us to enter into the irony of God’s graces?

-Matt

Lenten Journey through Faith & Color

DSC01270.JPGIt was exciting to see the article in the Oklahoman on Saturday, featuring our upcoming Stations of the Cross service: the Lenten Journey through Faith and Color.  Wednesday at Noon.  Hope you can attend!  Check out the article:

http://newsok.com/faith-in-vibrant-colors-first-presbyterian-in-oklahoma-city-offers-lenten-journey-through-faith-color-tour/article/5479918

God is Here

clasped-hands-541849_960_720Gen. 41:46-57; 1 Cor. 4:8-20(21); Mark 3:7-19a

The book of Genesis is so rich in its stories.  Remember Joseph?  In our story today, Joseph has already interpreted not only his fellow prisoners’ dreams but the Pharaoh’s.  He has been seen favorably and has now risen to power.  At only thirty years old, all are bowing to Joseph.

The greatness of Joseph shines through.  As soon as he takes the reigns of power, he starts storing food – for seven years of plenty.  Then the seven years of drought begin.  Egypt is ready.

Where the OT lesson shows the power of action, the gospel lesson shows the power of God, and also the power of talk.  Jesus is having to escape on the Sea of Galilee by boat to avoid the crowds.  He has healed so many, they are coming in flocks.  The actions are speaking louder than words.

So often this is true in today’s society.  I see so many false prophets on the television spouting off about how to live Christlike lives.  These same folks are usually windbags who are filled with excuses to justify hording all the money they can get their hands on, declaring it to be God’s blessing, and dismissing those in need.  Well, there is a time for talk, and there is time for action.

I am also aware that I use a lot of words, and each weekday many, many words drop into your email box from me.  But I pray that I am not a windbag, but one who is pointing always to the Son of God.  We are not having to chase him down on the Sea of Galilee anymore, hoping to catch up.  He is all around us now.  All we must do is reach out our hands in love and we will find him.  Just like Joseph reached out.  Just like Jesus reached out.  Just like the apostles and saints that came after him.  He is here.

-Matt