The Invitation

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Prov. 7:1-27; 1 John 5:13-21; Matt. 11:25-30

If you have been on one of my Cathedral Window tours at First Pres. you know that one of the scriptures you will hear me quote is “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (pictured above)

Wrapped up in the imagery of the front window in the Sanctuary, there are many symbols which tie the front window to Jesus’ Invitation to “Come to me,” so much so that it has been called the Invitation Window.

The last couple days in these Morning Reflections, I have been exploring the use of Wisdom, which continue today in Matthew.  The context of his words “Come to me” are said in the midst of Jesus explaining that God’s Word has been hidden from some, and that Wisdom resides with those who dwell in him, who dwells in the Father.  He is providing a picture of personified Wisdom.  This is a common biblical theme.

And then the powerful image: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”   This, too, is a common theme found elsewhere in scripture, and often used as a rabbinic metaphor to understand the difficulty in following Torah, but yet the great freedom that comes with it as well.

In our Great Invitation Window, at the feet of Jesus, whose arms are wide open welcoming the people to come to him, is the picture of a yoke fit for two oxen.  Below it is a manifestation of the yoke that reminds us of a light burden – that of the Lord’s Supper, another piece of the powerful invitation theme.

DSC01221.JPGAt the table the mystery is complete, confounding those who do not understand.  This is part of the trajectory of Jesus’ teaching on wisdom – that of mystery.  He begins today’s passage with “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”  It may seem strange to our Western ears to be giving thanks to God for NOT understanding, but that is precisely what Jesus does.

His ministry is not meant to be fully understood, but to be authentic to the mystery and awesomeness of God.  The cross and the table are two major conundrums that may never be fully understood.  So it is with God, who is holy, sacred, and whose greatness can never be matched or touched.  Jesus gives thanks for this, and declares that in him is rest from the conundrum.

The next Window Tour will be Sunday, May 29th at 12:15 and is called Ordinary Time.  It will explore the miracles and parables of Jesus, along with other themes of spiritual growth that we encounter in this long, green liturgical season of summer and early fall.  http://www.fpcokc.org/ordinary-time

-Matt

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Wisdom

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Prov. 4:1-27; 1 John 4:7-21; Matt. 11:7-15

Our reading from Proverbs today is one of the delightful passages on Wisdom, who is here portrayed as Woman Wisdom.  Complete with female imagery, Wisdom is something more than something to keep and guard, but something to “hold on to” and “embrace”.  Wisdom is both a lover and guardian.

I remember back to one of my seminary classes: Wisdom Literature: Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs.   It was a revelation of God’s goodness to be in fresh, new ways.  So many want to paint life as black and white, when it is often anything but.  Today’s issues of abortion, genetics, war, same-sex marriage, and trans rights are examples that moral and spiritual decisions are not often clear cut, with arguments on both sides, often with Scripture as the basis of each side’s argument.  So who is right?

Along comes Wisdom.  She promises more than just an embrace of understanding or a new revelation of wisdom.  It becomes clear that Wisdom is a path.  Proverbs is a good example, where from one chapter to another scripture seems to contradict itself.  But that is the whole point: the wise person knows when to use which proverb for which occasion.  It is not that truth is fluid.  Contexts are fluid, and situations change, and the wise person knows how and when to apply which wisdom teaching.  The longer one walks down the path of Wisdom with the Lord, the more clearly one can see which is applicable when.

This art has been long forgotten by our post-Enlightenment mindset, which values truth as if it is a scientific hypothesis meant to be proven.

Wisdom is the missing link.

My prayer is that we can rediscover the Wisdom Literature for what it is: a textbook for how to think and live into the mystery of God – how to seek God’s assistance in the midst of doubt and struggle.

-Matt

Love That is Shared

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Prov. 3:11-20; 1 John 3:18-4:6; Matt. 11:1-6

Love binds us together.  Paul, the Gospel writers, and others in the New Testament proclaim that central character of the Law in today’s readings: that of love.  Jesus summarized the Law with “Love God, and love thy neighbor as thyself.”  1 John picks up on the trajectory of love as it binds us together as believers.

“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”  It is easy to say, “I love you,” but much more believable when those words are paired up with a hug or a kiss.  So too it is with the community of faithful.  It is easy to say, “We love the people of Oklahoma City, or the people in our neighborhood, or the poor at the homeless shelter.”  But it is so much more impactful and believable when it is paired with more than just words, but action.

Later 1 John continues: “All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them.  And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.”  To abide in love is the heart of the Christian message.  It is what Jesus did on this earth.  It is what he declares for us to do as well.

That being said, love is not easy.  And dare I say that it is easy to love family, friends, and those close to us.  That is the easier side of love.  The real challenge is loving those people who don’t want to be loved, or who despise you.

The world lives by different standards that often sound akin to “Love your family, and your country, but hate everyone else.”  That is not the way of Jesus Christ.  Instead we are called to love our enemy.  As we abide in Christ, we discover some interesting challenges for us in the world.

From the Beatitudes to Revelation, we see God’s extravagant love, poured out for the whole world, freely offered, and bountifully given.  That love is not meant to be squandered, but shared with equal abundance, until the whole world is rejoicing in the magnificent gifts of the One who died for us all.

He not only shows us the way to love, but offers love himself.  He is all of these: the Lover, the Beloved, and the Loving.

It is this challenge and this grace into which we live.

-Matt

The Power of Stephen Ministry

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Isa. 4:2-6; Eph. 4:1-16; Matt. 8:28-34

In Ephesians, we hear the familiar words: “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”  Unity. Hope. Love.

“Speaking the Truth In Love” is how love is understood and is the focus (and title!) of a book by Kenneth Haugk, the founder of Stephen Ministry.  In it he explores the role of a Stephen Minister, as one who cares, listens, and prays with a person in the midst of difficulties or brokenness.  Often in broken times, the world becomes hazy, out of focus, or skewed.  Part of the role of a Stephen Minister is to have the courage to speak the truth in love.  This could be challenges or insights – opportunities to explore where our lives in faith meet the world of tomorrow.

In Paul’s imagery of the body, Christ is at the head.  More so, we are no longer thrown to and fro by our own desires, but knit together into a new reality – a body of believers, with Christ’s will at the center of our thought.  This is, of course, core to Stephen Ministry too, seeing Christ as the center of our lives, even in the midst of life’s challenges.  Being knit into Christ’s will can be great comfort and leading.  It is also how the logo came to be, with a broken person moving to wholeness through the cross of Christ.

 

The transformative power of the cross was one that turned the whole establishment on its head.  No longer would we follow Rome, or the Jewish authority.  Nor would we follow ourselves – and our impulses toward self-centeredness, greed, base desires, etc.  Instead, we have renewed our vows, and accept God in charge.

This impacts more than just our pocketbooks or own prayer lives – it involves every fiber of our being.  We are no longer the same person, but knit together into a unified existence of radical change.

Where God will lead us, we do not know.  Where we are ultimately going is sure.  In the mean time, we choose the path of love.

-Matt

P.S. If you would like to know more about Stephen Ministry, or if having a Stephen Minister walk with you through some of life’s trouble, feel free to email me back, or call me sometime.  Dr. Edie King and I serve as our Referrals Coordinators.  She could also help you get matched up with someone in this special kind of confidential, caring relationship.  I can help too!  To learn more about our Stephen Ministry program and meet some of the leaders, visit: http://www.fpcokc.org/stephen-ministry

The Biggest Rule-Breaker

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1 Sam. 16:1-13a; Eph. 3:14-21; Matt. 8:18-27

 

My friends think I love the Old Testament because of the juicy stories.  But here’s a secret: I think I like the Old Testament because fundamentally it is a book about rule-breakers.  And the Biggest Rule-Breaker is God!

Time and time again in Scripture we see this.  Humanity chooses one way; God chooses another.  Take the stories of Jacob and Esau, or how God chooses Joseph over the other, older brothers.  Whether it is human constructs (see those stories where it’s “the oldest male always wins stuff”), or whether it is God breaking his own rules, instead defaulting on the side of grace (see Zechariah 3, or see Jesus), here again in today’s passage we see God deciding to break rules.

Samuel is sent by God to anoint another king, having rejected Saul.  So he goes to Jesse and his many sons.  “Certainly this one before me is the chosen one, Eliab, the eldest.”  But the Lord says to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have not chosen him.”  On and on we go, until we come to the runt of the litter – the smelly shepherd: David.  He is the youngest, and certainly by the rules of primogeniture, he is the LAST choice.

Well he is God’s choice.  The chosen, anointed with oil on his head, and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David.

Why is God such a rule-breaker?  Isn’t he the one who set up these rules?  Yes and No.  One could get technical and say that these are human rules set up for us.  But time and time again we see this – the complexity of the Bible kick in – God stretching us and pushing us to understand that God’s choices are not simple and clear-cut.

If the Bible were simply a rule-book, folks would have stopped reading two-thousand years ago.  We must keep reading.  Much like the Da Vinci Code, the Bible is full of twists and turns.  The Old Testament is a page turner!  Often I sit there thinking, “I wonder what God will be up to next?” as I flip to the next page.  It is strange and unpredictable.

And then I turned the page to the New Testament, and I couldn’t believe what I was reading!  “God is up to what now?  God came to earth?  Came for me??”  This is all too good to be true!

It almost is.

-Matt

New Starts

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Joshua 1:1-9; Eph. 3:1-13; Matt. 8:5-17

I have been longing for a fresh, new start.  Sometime do you ever feel like your life is in a rut?  Like you need a kick start?

Not surprisingly, renewal and hope are constant themes in scripture.  It is everywhere!  From the Exodus to the miracles of Jesus, from Noah to the Final Battle, God is interested in the reconciliation of humanity – of bringing the people closer to him, mending that which is broken.  We see God not only as a shepherd, but like here in Joshua today, as the fearless leader of the people.

Joshua turns the page on the story.  Moses has died, it is time to enter the Promised Land, and frankly the Israelites are ready for a fresh new start.  A mantra of being strong and courageous emerges.  “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord you God is with you, wherever you go.”

Some thought they were following Moses.  With Joshua taking over, it becomes a reminder that Moses was just God’s instrument.  It is God they are truly following into their future.

And so it is with us.  No matter what our struggles or conflicts at the time, we must always remember that God is there in the midst of the pain or difficulty and is longing to see us make it out.  God wants us to be whole, alive, vibrant, healthy, Spirit-filled people.

Another thing we learn is scripture is that God is there whether we acknowledge it or not.  Often, the only element missing is the reminder.

What a gift this Joshua passage was to me this morning!

-Matt

Ascension

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Dan. 7:9-14; Heb. 2:5-18; Matt. 28:16-20

The readings take a turn today, because it is Ascension Day.  Our readings reflect that.

Daniel is a fascinating book, today with a fantastical vision of the future heavenly realm, Through the crazy images of beasts and clouds we get a sense that God will restore the earth to something quite new.

Hebrews exalts the new focus on Christ’s solidarity with all humanity.  He throws around words like “sanctifies” and “suffering” and “subjecting all things to them”.  As I read it, I could not help but think about Liberation Theology which the Senior High just got done exploring on Wednesday nights (Yes, our kids are smart and like a challenge!).

As I think about this theology, with its focus on seeing the Christian faith through the eyes of the poor and oppressed and also focusing on Christ as Liberator, I see Hebrews come alive.  This book is not old and obsolete, but fresh and alive for modern ears.

To know Christ as the pioneer, one who was made perfect by suffering, I cannot help but feel a closer kinship with God.  As our country struggles, and the rich get richer and the poor get poorer I begin to wonder where God is.  Well, God is standing with the poor.  God is shouting about salvation, but it is no longer an exposition about “taking Jesus into your heart.”  This is not a political stance, but a biblical one.

We serve a God who ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of the Father.  I’m not even sure what that means.  I’m not sure if we are even meant to take this literally.  What would be the take-away?  That Christ is elusive, no longer with us?  I don’t think so.  For me this ties into these ancient attitudes about God as Savior and on the Judgment Seat.  In this sense God is a King who demands our allegiance – and this is not the kind of obedience one would be used to but a disarming odd mix – allegiance through servitude and suffering, humility, and obedience to restorative life. Now that is something!

Put another way, the Ascension is about coming to understand that we follow a God who has no limitations.  That is even more of a something!

As you encounter this holy day of the Church Universal, I ask you to commit yourself, once again to a post-ascension existence which demands action, as well as heart.

-Matt