Son of God? or Crackpot?

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Hosea 5:8-6:6; Acts 21:27-36; Luke 6:1-11

Today’s story in Luke is another radical example of Jesus as lawbreaker, but more so, also being over and above the law.

Jesus breaks one of the Ten Commandments today, as the Jews of the time see it.  He does so by raising serious questions as to what it means to “keep the Sabbath.”  What do Scriptures demand of us?  What is the Holy Spirit, through the life of Christ, leading us to in terms of Sabbath-keeping?

In the first vignette, the disciples pluck grain and eat on the Sabbath.  When questioned, Jesus declares, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”  This is an extraordinary claim.  The Son of Man?  As in, the Messiah?  “Aren’t you full of yourself, mister,” the Pharisees must have been thinking.

Have you read any C.S. Lewis books?  I love Lewis’ book Mere Christianity, a simple overview of Christianity.  There is also a common thread that runs throughout.  Lewis describes the Christian walk as the “shocking alternative.”  He declares that there is no middle ground for the Christian.  Jesus comes to earth and does more than perform miracles.  He is more than a nice guy.  He is someone who declares himself as God’s son, as the Messiah, and as the Light of the World.  That being the case, there is no middle ground. Either he is the Messiah, as he claims, or he is a nut-case.  This is the dilemma.  You can’t just think he was a nice prophet who was misunderstood.  You either believe he is the Son of Man, or a crackpot.

This impact can be seen in our passage today.

The second vignette we have today is a more radical breaking of the Sabbath.  Jesus heals a man with a withered hand.  He then asks the crowd, knowing what they were thinking, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?”

We believe Jesus to be the Messiah.  He is God.  So he has every right to break the rules that he himself made.  In other places he re-frames some rules – declaring that the Sabbath is made for people, not people for the Sabbath.

At the end of the day, we encounter a savior who is more than just a lawbreaker – he is a healer, a caregiver, and a person who stands over the Sabbath as one who is here to teach us what love and caring really look like.

He showered this world with love – and not just in healing withered hands, but in dying on a cross so that we all may taste life, taste freedom, and taste love in a fresh new way.  It is ironic, but it is true.

This is our quest – to come to know this God/man who demands of us so much, and who has given so much as well.

-Matt

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Radical Acceptance

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Hosea 4:11-19; Acts 21:15-26; Luke 5:27-39

Jesus continues to challenge the establishment today.  He is such a rabble-rouser! Have you thought about that!?

In today’s passage, we encounter Levi, who we assume later becomes Matthew.  Levi is a tax collector, and sitting at his tax booth, Jesus says to him, “Follow me.”  He leaves everything and follows Jesus.

Before he leaves, he decided to throw a huge party for Jesus in his house, and so all his friends – fellow tax collectors also come to the party.  Naturally when the Pharisees and scribes get wind of this they complain to the disciples about it, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”  (You see, just EATING and drinking with tax collectors was considered a sin, an offensive act for Jews, where food laws clearly separate the properly observant Jews from sinners.)

Jesus responds with, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”

Jesus is challenging us still.  In our current society, there are many who would quickly say, “Oh, he hangs around the wrong crowd,” if they saw a fellow Christian hanging out with a non-Christian.  And I know some well-meaning church folks who would panic if they were told them their job as a Christian was to hang out at the homeless shelters, the bars and clubs, and the prisons.

Because, you see, a tax collector in that time was not like an IRS agent today.  It was someone actually detested – a henchman of Rome.  It was like a dirty word.  Today, it would be like Jesus partying with ISIS members here in America – someone who represents an antithesis to everything we stand for.

And Jesus reaches out to him.  And the relationship transforms.

 

It becomes clear that if one is going to follow Jesus, one better be ready to have some new rules.  And these are new, wacky rules based on principles of love and acceptance, not the Levitical codes about cleanliness.

I wonder where that leaves us today?  Are we living up to these challenges?

Because this is RADICAL LOVE and ACCEPTANCE.

-Matt

Your Sins Are Forgiven

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Hosea 4:1-10; Acts 21:1-14; Luke 5:12-26

Today Luke reminds us of the familiar story of the healing of the paralytic.  His friends bring him to the house, but finding no way in because of the crowd, they lower him in through the roof.  When Jesus sees their faith, he declares, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

I have stood at the ancient archaeological site of Peter’s mother-in-law’s house where this is thought to have happened.  The roof is no longer there, but the mystic around this story still is.  Our folks going to Israel will soon be standing at this site of this miracle as well.

Of course the real fascination is the scandal of Jesus forgiving sins.  The scribes know full well that only God forgives sins, so to them this sounds like blasphemy.  Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man, which is quite a title – an Old Testament term which means that at the very least he is a great prophet, but more likely the end-time judge who arrives on the clouds of heaven.  “Who does this guy think he is?” the scribes are asking themselves.

And then Jesus does something miraculous.  He steps in and says, “Which is easier…to say ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘Stand up and walk.’”  So he does it.  And the man takes up his mat and goes home.  This is all too much for the crowd.  Strange things.

What fascinates me the most from this passage is not the healing, but Jesus’ initial assertion that “Your sins are forgiven.”   What sins?  The sin of busting this guy’s roof?  Jesus may have been referring to the understanding of sin of the time, which held that his physical affliction had something to do with his sins of the past.

At other times in the gospels, Jesus challenges even this idea.  He talks about sin in a much more general way, often leaving the crowd wondering if these were the “sins of the mother and father.”  At other times, Jesus understands sin as more as a condition, one that we all suffer from.

But here he does not even ask this paralyzed man what he did.  Sin is just something that exists in all.  The overwhelming part of this story is that he focuses not on the past, but the present.  No matter what he did or who he is, the fact is, “Your sins are forgiven.”

This is a powerful statement – come to Jesus and your sins are forgiven.  And that goes for all of us.

This story isn’t about a paralytic that goes through someone’s roof – it is about every person, and the power of action and belief.

-Matt

Playing God

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Esther 6:1-14 or Judith 10:1-23; Acts 19:1-10; Luke 4:1-13

When will the slaughter of the unarmed in this country cease?.  If I see one more video of police killing someone at a traffic stop….

Today’s passage in Luke is the temptation of Jesus.  It ends with Jesus being placed on the pinnacle of the temple with the dare: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here….”  Jesus, of course, answers with, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

He is tempted to play God.

The argument could be made that when someone has a gun in their hand they are tempted to play God.  I could also make the argument that these events, these killings, are the result of fear.  Adrenaline is coursing and people panic.  The argument could also be made that is it just primarily FEAR, and that it is related to race, because statistics are not too kind to those trying to make another argument.

I was going to begin my reflection with “When will the slaughter of the unarmed citizens of this country cease?” But then I realized what I would have truly meant was “When will the slaughter of the unarmed black citizens cease?”  The reality is we have a race problem.

The problem is that we are overly-weaponized and death-options are all too close.  The temptation is to give in to fear, and with real bullets it is all too easy.

Why are we not talking about having stun guns as the primary weapon to draw for law enforcement?

I come from an extended family plentiful with law enforcement, so I know the dangers our brave men and women in uniform face every day.  I am all for them having the option of deadly force and being able to protect themselves.  Because those streets can be brutal. But these days it would appear that that sidearm is drawn ALL TOO QUICKLY for way too many of our law enforcement officers.

This just feeds our culture of violence.  It feeds the fear.  It is a vicious cycle that leads to these traffic stops escalating.

I am so tired of reading of violence.  And I wonder when we are going to grab scripture with both hands and actually start reading some of the profound and upsetting words Jesus has for us.  When are we going to stare into the face of Jesus and face our own temptations to play God, and make hyper decisions rooted in our own fears.

When are we going to truly follow the Prince of Peace who demands we turn the other cheek and embrace our enemies?  Violence does not fight violence.

We must reverse this world’s tendency to treat daily life like one giant video game that has no consequences.  Because that is the true temptation – to wash our hands of all responsibility and punt.

Today is the day each of us must wrestle with our own temptations – as individuals, as citizens, and as a nation.

-Matt

Baptisms All Around

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Esther 5:1-14 or Judith 8:9-17, 9:1, 9:7-10; Acts 18:12-28; Luke 3:15-22

Just last night at Session we approved two more baptisms.  We seem to be doing a lot of baptisms lately.  How wonderful!  Always good to have. Our passages seem to be full of them too.

Baptism is a fascinating sacrament.  In it we enter into a new life – into a new community.  In it, we also see our own death – a death to an old way of being.  This connection between death and new life, water and fire is made in our Acts and Luke readings.

In Acts, we hear of Paul in Corinth – a man who is continually in trouble with the law.  He is brought before Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, who very much like Pilate for Jesus, renounces his own jurisdiction.  The Jews claim Paul is “persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to the law.”  Gallio basically says so what, declaring he doesn’t want to be a judge of Jewish matters.  Paul does not repent of his new vows in Christ

Paul wanders all around, strengthening the disciples in their new found Messiah.  In the course of these travels, we come across a Jew named Apollos.  He is eloquent, well-versed in the scriptures, burning with enthusiasm.  He knew his Old Testament and the prophesies regarding the Messiah.  But he did not know of Jesus’ arrival.

Pricilla and Aquila pull him aside and “explained the Way of God more accurately.”  He then becomes a great champion of the faith.

It is a great story.

In Luke, we hear the tale of the baptism of Jesus, as well as John’s proclamations about baptism.  “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming…. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Remember that Luke wrote both Luke and the book of Acts.  He very well may have in mind a connection here.  We hear of water and fire and John seems to know intrinsically that someone like Jesus is coming.  Apollos has the same ideas.  He knows a Messiah is coming.  He had been preaching that – with fire, although he knows not the name of Jesus.

Acts is a fantastical story.  It has mystery and intrigue.  It provides for this almost mysterious transformation and spreading of the gospel.  Like a good virus, there seems to be no way to stop this either.  Even Apollos knows what is coming, and he is from Alexandria.  It appears the good news will spread to all the ends of the earth.

What is interesting about Acts is that by the books end, it does not spread to the ends of the earth.  But yet, here we are reading this story in yet another corner of the globe.  By stories end, we ourselves are thrust into the story, left wondering, “So now it is your turn.  What’s next?”
Very much like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, we become a part of the story.  And we continue to see the firey story spread every time we baptize in his name.

How does your baptism by fire and water affect the trajectory of our story?  What is your baptism driving you to do what you do?

-Matt

The Heart of It All

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Esther 4:4-17 or Judith 7:1-7, 19-32; Acts 18:1-11; Luke (1:1-4),3:1-14

Luke shares with us what he believes are the essential details about Jesus, the Messiah.  He is one of the few to articulate what his purpose in writing is: “So that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”

Then we bounce over to the third chapter, where we hear the proclamation of John the Baptist.  With excruciating detail, Luke lets us in on the secret of who’s who and what’s what.  It is almost as if he is trying to prove that this is historical, rooting it in names and places.  It is if he is saying, “Who could make this up?”

I find it interesting he wrote this for folks who had already been instructed in the faith.  It is as if the gospel text was pulled out after years of following Christ.  “Here, read this if you want to know even more.”  That is oral tradition at its best!

I wonder what people knew.  What had they seen and heard?  What is the essential truth to know about Jesus?

“Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”  Perhaps this is the heart of the Christian message.

If you have taken the Disciple I Bible study, you may remember how it starts.  It begins with a good hearty talk about the authority of scripture in our lives, and some of the different types of biblical literature and its purposes.  In it, we encounter John’s purpose: So that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  So many of the New Testament writers are wrestling with this very concept, and certainly Luke is wrestling with and responding to these questions as well: Where do the Jews fit in this?  How do Judaism and Christianity co-exist?

At the end of the day, Luke may say he is focused on details and getting it right, but in the mean time he proclaims a lot of good news!  From John the Baptist we hear terrifying words that reassure the faithful – God is coming, and when he does, ALL flesh shall see the salvation of God.

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”  Well, my friends, the radical good news has come to a street corner near you!

Oh, there will be decisions to be made.  And his story all but implies that soon you too will meet up with the Savior of the world – this Jesus.  When you do meet him, be filled with the promise that even tax collectors and sinners got a second chance…and so do you.

-Matt

God of Extravagant Surprise

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Esther 1:1-4,10-19 ; Acts 17:1-15; John 12:36b-43

If you think you party a lot, you haven’t read Esther!  The book begins with King Ahasuerus throwing a great banquet that lasted 7 days.

On the seventh day, when “the king was merry with wine” he commanded Queen Vashti to appear before all the officials and guests of the party, to show her off.  The queen refuses.  And the kin, in his rage, deposes her, and seeks another queen.

Esther will eventually appear on the scene.

The Book of Esther is an odd little book, and many of the great rabbis have argued that it should not even be included in Holy Scripture because it does not mention God.  Despite this, it becomes a wonderful text that shows how the most unlikely of people often end up being the chosen ones.

This, of course, is a common theme in the Bible, where God is always choosing the one least expected.   David is a good example.  When Samuel went to seek out a new king and anoint him with oil, we went down the whole line of sons, from eldest to youngest, and finally threw his hands up.  “Is there not another?” asks Samuel. Oh yeah, that smelly shepherd boy, my youngest, David’s father replied, speaking of David. Surely you don’t want him.

Jacob and Esau, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, the Twelve Disciples, you and me – everywhere we turn we find God’s choices as a bit mysterious and exciting and also anti-establishment.  Our God is a rabble-rouser.  Oh my!

So I encourage you to hold up Esther this day in your scripture reading.  May she remind you of God’s surprising but wise choices.

-Matt