Discontent

Giuseppe_Passeri_-_The_Cleansing_of_the_Temple_-_Walters_372512

Lam. 2:1-9; 2 Cor. 1:23-2:11; Mark 12:1-11

What began on Palm Sunday with high expectations and a parade of palms, has now led to the cleansing of the Temple and Jesus’ authority questioned.  The mob has turned quickly.  Jesus fuels the anger of the people, and we know that anger turns on him quickly.  In Mark 11, Jesus cleanses the temple.  Today he tells the parable of the wicked tenants.  It irritates more people.

A man plants a vineyard, builds a wine press and a watchtower and leases it to some tenants.  The master sends a slave at collection time to retrieve rent.  They beat them one by one.  They kill the last one the master has sent.  So the master sends his son.  They kill him too.

“What will the owner of the vineyard do?  He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

Rarely are Jesus’ parables told in such an allegorical fashion.  It is clear he is recalling the similar vineyards that the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea speak of, identifying God’s vineyard and wayward Israel.  They treated the prophets badly.  Why not God’s son?

It could be argued that with the cleansing of the temple, Jesus infuriated the Sadducees.  Now with this parable, and the violent rejection of his words, it is clear the Pharisees and other teachers of the law would also be indicted.  Now they turn.

Each group in turn, Jesus points the finger and the growing escalation of discontent with Jesus ministry – including the Roman officials – leads to plots to kill him.  Thus is the Holy Week narrative.

When have you been disappointed or irritated with God?  What do you do with those feelings?  I would hope that Holy Week, among other things, helps us see that it is OK to come to God 100% real.  God can take it.  It also helps us move forward in faith, with clean and honest hearts about our joys, disappointments, or angers with God.

We follow a God who does not turn on the ones he loves.  He comes back and says “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  The story marches on.

-Matt

Walking with God, Together

labyrinth

Lam. 1:17-22; 2 Cor. 1:8-22; Mark 11:27-33

Labyrinths come in all shapes and sizes.  The one at First Pres is identical to the 12th Century labyrinth in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France.  It is spectacular.  I got thinking about labyrinths through our scriptures today, where travel is so prominent, especially 2 Corinthians with Paul’s travels encountering a God who anoints us, puts his seal on us, gives us the gift of the Spirit, yet we are also needing to walk with God too.  It is a two-way street of faith.

I love our labyrinth for its openness, filling our large Watchorn Hall.  Just as Watchorn invites and welcomes with its spaciousness, so too the labyrinth welcomes and invites.  Just the other day I led the youth in a Guided Walk entitled “From Darkness to Light.”  Our readings this week are calling us from darkness to light.  Holy Week does the same thing.  It was a great walk, and the youth are so energizing and insightful.  They are also open to new things and are at a place spiritually where charting out new adventures is almost expected.

One of the other great joys of the labyrinth (esp. when doing these guided walks) is that the labyrinth invites us to walk the path together.  In a very real way it asks us to live in the Land of Oneness, even if just for a short while.

Oh how our church needs to experience this.  We seem to have forgotten we are all one in Christ. Did we forget to bring our Bibles?  Did we forget to crack them open and read them?  We have become brainwashed by a numb Church that is afraid of its own shadow, paralyzed by the fear of our own irrelevance, drinking the Kool-Aid of the prosperity gospel and the consumerist culture around us.  Somewhere along the line we got unity confused with conformity, forgetting that God calls us to unity in the midst of our diversity.  Oh how the church needs to live in the Land of Oneness again, stop being deathly afraid of its diversity, trade in its obsession with individualism, and reclaim community instead of celebrating divisiveness at every turn.

Oh how our country needs to hear this too.  So often we live in the Land of No, the Land of Ego, the Land of Narcissism, the Land of Dissension.  “Walk the path together?? With you? F-you” becomes the cry of this diseased world.  It has been heartbreaking to watch our country devolve into a land of guns, violence, oppression, where out-and-out lies, hostility, and obstruction are found at every turn.

Gone are the days of basic civility in public discourse.  We have become panderers to the least common denominator. Gone are the days when talking bad about the President of the United States is an impossibility.  Gone are the days when a President is able to live out his Constitutional responsibilities for 4 full years.  Now we dismiss the vote of the people, who twice elected this man to 4-year terms, instead silencing the vote of the people after 3 years, trusting we have become so numb to the discourse we have forgotten basic liberty, no longer care, or are no longer listening.  In fact, evil is counting on it.

It is a world where people are easily offended by someone’s words, but seem blind to the violence inherent in their own words.  This is where carrying guns is the norm, individualism trumps everything, and where beliefs quickly devolve into violent outbursts, where racist underpinnings, xenophobia, and rallies that include sucker punches, armed police, and rubber bullets become the norm.  Fascism is not far behind, friends.

The labyrinth calls us into a space where that kind of world becomes an increasing impossibility.  The labyrinth is more than just an ancient tool, but a spiritual tool that God can use to call us beyond ourselves.  God calls us to turn our world of violence, poverty, and hate upsidedown.  Unity does not begin in conformity, but in unity of purpose.  That can start at the labyrinth.  This is what Paul means when he says in 2 Corinthians that our word to you has been ‘Yes and No’ but with God it is always ‘Yes’.

It has been said that Life as maze and Life as labyrinth are two opposite concepts.  This is so true.  The purpose of a maze is to get lost.  The purpose of a labyrinth is to be found.

I invite you to walk the path with me Thursday night at 5pm.  It is Maundy Thursday.  The theme is Manna in the Wilderness.  We will wander the wilderness together encountering God’s goodness along the way.  My hope is that we meet up with God, as we eat of the manna together, walk together, pray together, and experience God anew in our daily walk.  My prayer is that we see God’s ‘Yes’ in togetherness.

Come walk with me.  Come experience the radicalness of community and togetherness.

-Matt

Restoration

fig-tree-900316_960_720Lam. 1:1-2,6-12; 2 Cor. 1:1-7; Mark 11:12-25

Prepare for a bumpy ride!  This week’s readings are doozies.  It is amazing how quickly the Hosannas of Palm Sunday end.  Loneliness and mournfulness fills Lamentations today with a series of five poems representing building grief over the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon.  It captures the thoughts of Holy Week: rejection, suffering.

This year has been exciting Lenten offerings at FPCOKC.  There was the Journey with Jesus Stations of the Cross a while back that got a lot of press coverage, and gave us an opportunity to walk the Via Dolorosa in a colorful, vibrant way with our windows.  Last night was the Seder meal.  The Labyrinth has been used creatively, with me leading a midnight walk for the youth along the theme of darkness and light.  Through these experiences, many of you have experienced the depth of emotion Jesus must have felt going to the cross.

In Mark, the shouts of Hosannas die away quickly and the darkness of Holy Week creeps in  with Jesus cursing a fig tree and cleansing the temple.

The cursing of the fig tree has been one of the more troubling actions of Jesus for me.  Later the disciples find the tree withered, and remember him cursing it earlier.  Jesus launches into a speech about having faith.  It is hard to put two and two together here without a little context.

First, why does he curse a tree that is not producing fruit?  This is part of God’s good creation!  This tree isn’t producing because perhaps it is dormant, or it is old.  Is that reason enough to curse it?  As if Jesus was angry with it.  Because of the tie in with faith, I have to assume that Jesus is meaning for the disciples to produce fruit, through faith and forgiveness.  Jesus even makes the allusion that the Romans have more faith than the Jews.  It is gutsy and edgy talk.

I also believe, that paired with the cleansing of the temple, Jesus shows that anger and isolation can be used to the glory of God when channeled properly.  And if one knows the Old Testament, these two stories clearly work together.  The abundance of disillusionment with the establishment rings forth!  The fruitless fig trees of the Old Testament prophets comes to mind: Jeremiah, Hosea, Micah, and others.  The temple represents the old guard as well.

Jesus is announcing a withering and destruction of the old ways.  He is inciting and shaking up the order.  Holy week is in full swing and it is only Monday!

May this week be one that rattles your foundation, brings a new vision of Christ at work in you, and restores in you a vision of new life and hope for the future.

-Matt

Embracing Death, Embracing Life

sprout-1147803_960_720Exod. 9:13-35; 2 Cor. 4:1-12; Mark 10:32-45

Well, this is my last reflection before Holy Week.  It is sometimes hard to believe Lent is almost over.  Where has the time gone?  So next week we sink deeply into the final days of Christ on this earth.  It is a journey to the cross – a journey from life to death and from death to life.

The complex interplay of life and death on the Christian journey is the highlight of Paul in 2 Corinthians today:

“[We are] always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.  For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.  So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

This crazy dance between apostolic weakness and divine power is the mystic and charm of Paul’s writing.  He paints a picture of the complexity of faith – here life and death.

We talked about this just yesterday in our Thursday Noon Bible study!  We have been studying the Gospel of John, and in many ways his trajectory is this same theme – that eternal life begins now, and is shown through abiding in Jesus (who died!).  We glimpse heaven (and life) ironically through the fact that his death is at work in us.

We learn in the midst of Holy Week that the purpose of our lives is death – death to self so that Christ may live.  We also learn that service and humility are essential components which don’t necessarily lead to being struck down, but instead with being lifted up.  In service is exaltation.  In death is life.

This kind of role reversal of death itself is the central conundrum of the Christian faith.  We don’t shy away from death.

To the world, this may seem crazy.  To us – perfect sense.  Well maybe.  We embrace the conundrum at least.

-Matt

Listening

heart-1187266_960_720Exod. 7:8-24; 2 Cor. 2:14-3:6; Mark 10:1-16

Listening is such a key part of life.  We listen to each other.  We listen for God.  We listen to our own bodies.  I remember back when my sister Heather was pregnant with Luke, and 3 days past her due date.  Talk about listening to her body in profound ways!

Often, in the Bible, we have stories of listening, In Exodus Moses and Aaron begin their display of tricks.  Pharaoh does not listen because his heart is hard.

The Lord tells Moses and Aaron to go before Pharaoh, and Aaron is told to throw down his staff.  It becomes a snake.  So everyone throws down his staff.  They all become snakes!  Aaron’s snake eats all the others.

Pharaoh does not listen.  He refuses to let the people go.  We learn of the disaster life can be when we do not listen to God.

And so we begin the Ten Plagues.  The first is the water turning to blood, reminiscent of Pharaoh throwing each Hebrew boy into the Nile.  Now the tide has turned.  The very life-blood of the community, the Nile, has ironically turned into life – into blood, which makes it useless for human sustenance.

I often talk with people about prayer, and how to listen to God.  Just yesterday I spoke of about way of listening for God – our listening to scripture.  Often God can speak in profound and new ways – enriching ways – through that same ol’ scripture.  Be ready for God’s surprise if you start reading scripture.  It can be surprisingly fresh.

Some people take the Bible literally.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  I think it cheapens the text and gives us an easy way out.  I am talking about deeply listening for God through scripture, revelation, and the Holy Spirit.

 

I am much more interested in what the Bible principally teaches.  What do these words mean for my heart to do?  Just like Pharaoh, I believe we have hardened ourselves to God’s word at times, more intent with fighting with each other than having its word permeate deep into our souls.  Lost in the “literalist arguments” are the impact of scripture.

I invite our world to open itself up to the reading and hearing of scripture once again.  To put down our Bibles and stop looking so intently – looking for ways to disagree with our neighbors.  Ironically, this is how you take scripture MORE seriously.  I invite the world to stop and LISTEN to scripture, and hear the story each in our different ways.  (When I was 15 and heard these stories, they meant a lot different things than they do today.  I hope when I am 45 I hear yet different things.)

So listen with fresh new ears today.  And ask yourself, “What is God telling me this time?”  Your imagination may wander from the text altogether.  That’s OK.  Now that’s serious business!

What is God up to in your life today?

-Matt

Salt, Pickles, and YOU

cans-881098_960_720Exod. 5:1-6:1; 1 Cor. 14:20-33a,39-40; Mark 9:42-50

Today’s gospel reading, is one of the more troubling texts.  If your hand causes you to sin, you are instructed to cut it off.  If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.

What are we to do with this kind of radical self-sacrifice, laming one for the work ahead?  The last verse provides some context.  “For everyone will be salted with fire.  Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?  Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

In our fast food nation it is difficult to see the meaning of these words, but in biblical times this made perfect sense.  We think of salt as something to season our food to enhance the flavor.  In biblical times it was too precious to be wasted like this.  Salt was used for pickling, in a time when there was no refrigeration.  Salt was a necessary preservative in a land where drought could go on for years, and stores of food were essential.  If something was not salted, not preserved, it could go bad quickly.  So here, salt has a duel metaphorical purpose – for sacrifice as well as preservation.

We must preserve our bodies and spirits against the temptations of sin.  We must keep ourselves salted in the Lord, salted in the Spirit, and salted in the fire.  Purity for the sake of peace becomes an important key.  Pickle ourselves?  No, preserve ourselves so we can endure!

I am big on pickling.  I do it myself.  Not so much into canning fruits (because of the hot-pack method hassle), but I love to make bread & butter pickles or pickled green beans.  In small batches with the aid of refrigeration it really is simple.  But salts, brines, vinegars – this is how we Germans survived the long winters without electricity, preserving our food.  For millennia people understood the power of pickling, now we tend to blank.

Jesus’ words all comes in the midst of a number of stories amplifying our imperfection.  The disciples are squabbling over who is the greatest.  And following this passage is a dealing about divorce.

Jesus is encountering the broken world, and witnessing the stumbling blocks of humanity.  The point is to more than just pepper our lives with good will and humility, but to literally change our very make up, change our lives (that’s what pickling does), and live into a self-sacrificial life where individual physical essentials are secondary to the community’s need for peace and understanding.

In a world where most of Jesus’ concepts of new life are foreign and contrary to American ideals, we are challenged as New Testament people to step into a new life in Christ, where the norms of society are turned upside-down.  We are challenged to live out our baptisms, which call us to die to ourselves, and take up a life past the grave, which looks out on the horizon and embraces a new order – one with limitless possibilities of grace and peace.

-Matt

I Wanna Be First!

gold-bear-318359_960_720Exod. 4:10-20(21-26)27-31; 1 Cor. 14:1-19; Mark 9:30-41

The disciples argue over who should be first today.  It is a natural thing to do.  All one has to do is watch a class of third graders line up at the door.  Being first in line is important.  This aspiration carries to the playground, where one strives to be “king of the hill”.  And not much changes as one moves into adulthood.  The games look a little different, but for the most part, many strive to get ahead of everyone else professionally and emotionally.  People drive certain cars, wear certain clothes, have the fanciest mobile device (“King of the Cell Phone Hill”).

Jesus’ words, then, are not the most popular: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

To be “church” we are told that we will be the world’s servant, or each other’s servants.  It is a world upside-down.  Jesus then took a little child and put it among the disciples, and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Servanthood is something we talk about with the new Stephen Ministers in training.  We talk about what it means to be servant leaders.  It carries authority with it, but it also requires one doesn’t get bloated with that authority, and remains humble, thankful, and caring.

In Jesus’ ministry he continually lifts up those who have been put down.  The blind, the widowed, the children, the sick in body and spirit, the divorced.  He preaches egalitarianism and fairness.  And while, on the surface that may not seem like a radical thought, it still is.  It is radical because it means the poor become rich – and this is still a hot button today.

Most of the time I encounter fights in the church or the nation it has to do with money.  Taxes, money, and power are of central importance in our secular culture.  And Jesus steps into the midst of this argument with his thoughts about servant ministry.  The goal is not to accumulate more money but give it away, to not gather more power but to serve those under you.

It truly is a world upside-down.

-Matt

P.S. Be praying for our very own Jim Borgstadt, who is completing his Stephen Ministry training soon.  We are partnering with All Soul’s Episcopal Church, where we will have a commission service soon.