Chosen & Thankful

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Eccles. 2:16-26; Gal. 1:18-2:10; Matt. 13:53-58

Today Jesus is rejected in Nazareth.  “Is not this the carpenter’s son?  Is not his mother called Mary?  And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?”

There is something about this story that rings with truth: “The hometown boy returns.  That kid?  Yeah, I remember him.  Always causing trouble.”  I have this happen on another level with kids at church.  Some of them are graduating from high school, but I will always have in my mind the image of them at 8 years old, or 4, or perhaps I remember them as an infant.  It will be even more difficult to envision them in a few years as my doctor or as a Senator, CEO, or President of the US.

It is hard to grow into one’s own authority.  And certainly a small town like Nazareth might have trouble seeing past “that little boy who used to run around the market” and seeing him as the Messiah.

And have you ever wondered what those comments about his mother and brother’s are?  Some think the phrase “carpenter’s son” is meant to be an insult.  But I would argue that that is not true – it is meant as a social strata marker – and a good one at that.  Jesus was the carpenter’s son, and Nazareth was in the midst of an economic boom, with much work.  Jesus was most likely set to inherit a large business.  He was the eldest son.  Yes, he was blue collar, and probably as strong as a mule and looked like a hefty blue collar worker, but a rich one.

In other words, he didn’t fit the part of prophet.  I can almost hear them: “Isn’t this that eldest son of Joseph?  So this is the kid who left his dad in the lurch!  This is the guy who left a large, booming, successful business to wander around and tell stories?  Oh yeah, this guy isn’t even worth a bag of chips.  He can’t even honor his family.  Now we are going to listen to him on spiritual matters?”

Maybe this story is told to see the very human side of Jesus, or the struggle to grow into his role as Messiah.  I tend to think this taps into the ever-present narrative of “God’s ways are not always our ways.”  I think about people like King David, the “runt of the litter” shepherd who becomes king.

For all of us who have felt like the odd choice, or the runt of the litter…this passage is for us.  We too are invited into the wonderful and surprising choices of God – for God has chosen us too – chosen us to be a become of light and joy in a hurting world – chosen us to love – chosen us for some bold tasks.  We may not feel like it most days, but we are God’s instruments, and God’s beloved child.  And if you feel ill-equipped or unworthy, fear not.  You are in good company.  God was able to use me.  He will use you too.

-Matt

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We Remember

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Memorial Day Prayer

God of power and mercy,
you destroy war and put down earthly pride.
Banish violence from our midst and wipe away our tears,
that we may all deserve to be called your sons and daughters.
Keep in your mercy those men and women
who have died in the cause of freedom
and bring them safely
into your kingdom of justice and peace.
We ask this though Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Weeds & Wheat

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Prov. 21:30-22:6; 1 Tim. 4:1-16; Matt. 13:24-30

It really is hard to tell the difference between sheep and goats.  When I was studying in Israel, I really couldn’t tell the difference.  I don’t know, maybe there are genetic differences between the sheep and goats in Israel and the kinds of sheep and goats we have here.  Over there, a herd of both would come slumbering by and our professor would dare us to separate them in our minds.  We could not.

There is a similar strain of thought with the weeds and the wheat, which fill today’s passage.  The instruction is to not pull the weeds, “…for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.  Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”

The ideas of selection and separation are common in Jesus’ parables.  While it is difficult to tell who is good and evil, there are definitely good intentions and right paths – and the implication is that we best spend some time making sure we are doing what is right, for the sake of the kingdom.

I have been in church work for many, many years now, and I have worked with a lot of wheat, and a fair amount of weeds too.  And I can attest, first hand, that sometimes the weeds are hard to spot.  But after a while, they show their true colors.  And I have also experienced first hand that God eventually binds up the weeds.

Interestingly enough, most of the wheat I encounter spend a good bit of time worrying about if they are good wheat or bad weeds.  It is often the weeds who are convinced of their own goodness, and march around declaring others to be weeds, proclaiming their own wheatie-ness.  This is the first sign of trouble!

I always have to remind myself that this parable refers to the kingdom of heaven – in fact to the sower himself.  So the kingdom of heaven has great hopes to be full of nourishing wheat and an abundant harvest.  The kingdom of heaven is intending for a barn that is overflowing with goodness and produce.

We must all strive to live into this gracious goal.  May abundance reign in our hearts.  And may we always be alert and introspective enough to see the abundant harvest and live into that each day. And let’s let God handle the weeds.

-Matt

Rich Church. Poor Church. — achurchforstarvingartists

So the last will be first, and the first will be last. Matthew 20:16 When I was a child, the leaders in our Mainline Church were – for the most part – successful professionals: the professors and lawyers, the business people and doctors. They faithfully pledged a portion of their incomes towards the ministry of […]

via Rich Church. Poor Church. — achurchforstarvingartists

Repent

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Prov. 15:16-33; 1 Tim. 1:18-2:8; Matt. 12:33-42

Sometimes it is easy to miss how Jesus insults the Pharisees.  With 2000 years of cultural divide, it is easy to miss.  Today in Matthew we discover Jesus invoking the name of Jonah, who is being demanded a sign from the scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus says, “No sign will be given…except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.”

To speak of Jonah is to really rub the Pharisees raw.  Jesus was perplexed at how the words of the Pharisees did not match their actions.  He warned them, called them names, and spoke of the day of judgment.  Now he turns to Jonah, whose half-hearted preaching turned an entire city to repent.  To repent at the words of Jonah is one thing.  To not even see you need repentance is another.  This is a cutting insult.

Then Jesus goes even further!  “Something greater than Jonah is here,” he says, and later stating “something greater than Solomon is here!”  He obviously doesn’t mean the Pharisees.  It appears he is referring to himself.

It is no wonder the teachers of the Law turned against him.  He threatened their authority and questioned their authenticity.  It’s easy to demonize the Pharisees and mock their hearts of stone.  But we know the whole story – we have seen him die on a cross and rise again.  The Pharisees are simply reminders to us of the difficulty and strength it will take to believe and follow Christ.

Today we are not in the midst of easy times either.  Challenges are all around us.  Being a Christian is arguably harder today that it has been in recent history.  If you turn on the television sometimes what is being sold as “Christianity” looks anything but.  We must struggle every day for our words and deeds to match.

We do not need to relive the suffering of Christ for the gospel to come alive in our lives.  But our spirits need to intersect with the faithfulness of the cross and challenge us to move from the cross to greater horizons.  This is a daily struggle – a daily calling.

Press on.

-Matt

Taking on Demons

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Prov. 10:1-12; 1 Tim. 1:1-17; Matt. 12:22-32

It was just a few days ago the Church celebrated the Pentecost.  We witnessed the extraordinary events of the Church coming together – forming out of a few followers in disarray after the chaos of the resurrection – unity coming out of the chaos.

Today’s passage in Matthew witnesses to the same Spirit.  “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.”  We see in the midst of these words, Jesus healing a demoniac who was blind and mute.

As Jesus cures the blind and heals the lame, we see the extraordinary nature of the Church forming.  God’s kingdom, it turns out, is about the wholeness of the people, and the poor and helpless being lifted up.  It is a world where all are seen as equal, and where justice and righteousness reign over bigotry and narrow-mindedness.  In many ways, Jesus doles out free healthcare.

The world we see through the lens of the Gospel, and through our post-Pentecostal eyes, is one of extraordinary grace – pouring out over the whole world, and saving the lost.

This is not the world that many churches are preaching about.  Frankly it scares the heck out of some of them.  But God’s grace is like that.  It dumbfounded the Pharisees, and it dumbfounds us still.  On Sunday, some of you mentioned my last Morning Reflection.  Most were extremely positive.  A few of you were saying things like, “Wow, that was almost too political!”  And while I appreciate and understand that angle, I hope we never shelve our faith Monday to Saturday, with only Sunday-like convictions.  God calls us to proclaim Christ at all times, speak out for the wholeness of people and lifting up the poor and the afflicted.  So you will have to bear with me as I wrestle with our Oklahoma political context, which in my eyes does not always comport with the Gospel.  Let’s keep talking!

Ultimately that Gospel is grace that pours out to the whole world, saving those thought to be lost.  We can all agree on that, right!?

Can it really be that God cares for all, even the least among us?  Can God care that much?  Can the unity God calls us to through the radical transformation of the gospel really be for all?  Does the extraordinary opportunity for healing present in the gospels extend beyond those who we think?  You betcha!

-Matt

Fallin Apart

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Prov. 8:1-21; 2 John 1-13; Matt. 12:1-14

Yesterday was quite a day for Oklahomans.  The bridge collapse at May and NW Expressway is just a few blocks from my house.  I had traveled under the bridge just 18 minutes prior to the collapse.  Then there is our beloved Legislature, who can’t pass a bill that will pass constitutional muster to save their souls.  Yesterday’s embarrassment was the bill that criminalizes abortion, making it a felony for the physicians.  Today there will be some equally useless trans bathroom legislation.  Our State is a model of inefficiency and crony capitalism.

Don’t get me wrong – I would consider myself pro-life in many, many ways.  But today Governor Fallin will almost assuredly sign yesterday’s crap into law, in a pathetic show of political grandstanding, knowing she will cost Oklahomans millions of additional dollars in court fights, only to end up where we started, with no laws that protect children or aid in their education, care, or upbringing.  There will be no protection for the unborn either.

Some might argue these legislators are standing up for what they think is right, but the reality is there is a right way to stand up for the rights of unborn children and there is a wrong way.  The medical doctors I speak to tell me this is the wrong way.  This is just more garbage legislation from a garbage legislature.

To these legislators I would say, if you want to get the “conversation going” don’t use our expensive, overrun courts for it.  They are busy cleaning up the mess from you all defunding education and every other program that protects the needy, afflicted, and vulnerable among us.  It is your policies that have led to all these abortions, with women feeling they have no other options.  Get the conversation going in your synagogues and churches, and win over the heart of the people.  Help support and value these young women who are facing the hardest decision of their lives.  Don’t throw them to the wolves of compassionless draconian ideology and pepper it with punitive threats.   Gimme a break.

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This is what we do in Oklahoma – we break laws (in this case fiscal discipline, common decency, and compassion) for no other reason than political gain, votes, and grandstanding.

What’s ironic is that I turn to our scripture today and see Jesus breaking a law.  But every time Jesus breaks commandments, he does it for more than just show – but for a good reason.  He reinterprets the law.  Today his disciples break the Sabbath, and Jesus runs to their defense.  He uses it, not to justify their behavior, but to declare that scripture is not as black and white as the Oklahoma legislators (oops, I mean the Pharisees) would like.  He also goes on to cast the Law in a different light, declaring that “…the Son of man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Then he himself breaks the Sabbath by curing a man with a withered hand.  His bold initiatives get him in trouble and help cast the trajectory of the Gospels.  Political grandstanding?  The argument could be made.  Now the Pharisees have some ammunition and “went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.”

Jesus helps plumb the depths of the law – its intricacies and its purpose.  Oh how I wish he would show up and explain the issues of our day to our beloved legislators.

It is obvious Jesus understands the trajectory of the Wisdom literature and is a well-read rabbi.  We talked about Wisdom literature earlier in the week, remember?  Jesus is making more than just a point about compassion or hunger on the Sabbath, but a bold statement about interpretation of Scripture.  He is declaring that righteousness and integrity are essential components.  Wisdom is subjective and lives in reality.  Situations must be interpreted in the light of scripture.  This is why we have preaching in today’s churches!  We interpret the law for our day.  It is not that scripture changes, but as the situation does, and we must come back to scripture time and time again, seeking God’s truth in each situation.

This is not the law falling apart as some “all-or-nothing, black and white” thinkers might declare this blog to be.  He is saying compassion is more important.  He is saying with the Sabbath argument, “Hey what about the hunger!  Isn’t that a sin too!?”  He argues that by focusing only on the result (i.e. breaking a law) but ignoring why we are breaking the law (i.e. hunger) we have failed to understand the law altogether.  He went all the way to the cross for his interpretation of Scripture.

I am thankful for Jesus who reveals to us a Compassionate God who wants us, above all else, to be fed and whole in his sight, and for all to have the adequate resources they need for life to flourish.

-Matt