This is on YOU

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Gen. 3:1-24; Heb 2:1-10; John 1:19-28

When Adam and Eve meet up with the serpent, we get more than talking snakes and fig leaves.  We hear of Adam and Eve hiding from God.

Of course, that’s not it.  There is also a lot of passing the buck.  “The SNAKE, he made me do it.”  Then Adam, “The WOMAN, she made me do it.”  How typically human.  Instead of admitting we have done wrong, we blame another.  Who is at fault?  Certainly not me!  If my kid is failing at school it must be the school system’s fault.  It certainly isn’t mine or my perfect child.

What we learn in scripture is that SIN pervades everything we do.  What we learn in the Garden is that everyone is at fault.

Today is Mardi Gras.  And I don’t mean to rain on everyone’s parade with talk of sin and falling short of God’s glory.  There is always a time for joy and celebration, for God has been good to us, and there is much to celebrate.

Think with me though how we hide from God and how we pass the buck.

Ultimately, this story in the Garden is a story of grace amidst our being ourselves.  Despite the stupidity and sinful nature of humans, God continues to not give up on us, working grace and mending brokenness.

But much is required of us.  Taking responsibility is a good start.  Knowing that we cannot hide from God, and facing the music is part of being an adult.

Our church budget is way out of wack.  We are staring at a $285,000 deficit.  And there are some who might be tempted – thinking the answer is “slash, slash, slash.”  I am sorry, but God has mighty tasks for us ahead.  Now is not the time to circle the wagons and start shrinking our ministry.  Enough hiding from God and passing the buck.  What God demands is that we step up and step out in faith.

It is time to seriously consider raising your pledge at church.

Generations of saints came before us.  They knew the secret to life was not passing the buck to the next generation, but stepping out in faith and action.

I also think about this little garden in which we now live – our planet.  We have been given dominion over the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, and over all that God has made.  There are some who would like to hide from God and ignore the problem completely.  There are others who get myopic, thinking that if they can just do their little part and recycle, all the world’s problems will go away.  Between polar ice caps melting and forests disappearing, I am here to tell you, recycling your drink can is not the answer.  Enough hiding from God and passing the buck.  God demands that we step out in faith, and step up in action.

It is time to seriously consider stepping out in faith and action and demanding justice, demanding action from the companies we work for, and the governments who serve us (not the other way around, btw…we don’t serve them…they serve US!)

If God came walking by us right now, I wonder if we would hide from view, ashamed of our own failures.  What does it mean to be good stewards of the earth?  I get out my big green recycle bin and I proudly think, “Well, I am doing my part.”  Am I really?  What more is required?

All of us are called to action, called to take responsibility, called to step up – to be a good gardener during my stay here – in our churches, in our lives.

-Matt

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Word/Flesh

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Deut. 6:10-15; Heb 1:1-14; John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  These words have echoed through the naves of our churches for two millennia now.  And they still carry as much mystery and depth of profundity as they used to.

This passage also serves to stand as a prologue to the whole book.  The great theologian Karl Barth used to teach a class on the Gospel of John and the entire semester was spent focusing on the first 20 verses or so.  That is because so much of the Gospel is simply an expansion on this initial philosophical stance.

The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us – full of grace and truth.

What do these words say to our church today – churches who are struggling to share the gospel?  John is anything but simple, and yet, the images are often rooted in simplicity.  The Word was with God.  Logic, rational, understanding.  These things are with God.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.  Jesus is the Word.  Ergo – Jesus is all that is logic and understanding.  Later John takes up these concepts of grace and truth and expands them into light and sharing the light.

From time to time I lead a discussion about the “I AM” statements in John.  Since our narthex windows in the chapel are I AM windows, I often get this opportunity.  It is interesting to see the depth of those “I AM” statements come to life in the midst of a community of disciples.  We all relate to or see different things: living water, I am the good shepherd, I am from above, light of the world, I and my Father are one.

Every time I think I have grasped the depth of John’s gospel, I am set back by the mystery of it all.  It is far more complex and mystical than I ever thought.  The centrality of the mystery comes at the cross, of course, but that mystery is even alluded to today.

What a strange book we have on our hands.  And what a wonderful book that speaks to the complexity, and yet the simplicity we all must recapture if our church is to have a chance.

John speaks to faith in a different way.  And in a world that is increasingly disconnect from Christianity and suspect of just about any religion, I wonder if John’s mystery and different way of talking about faith isn’t exactly the medicine this world needs.

Mystery – elusiveness – profundity – this is at the heart of the gospel message.

-Matt

Salt and Light

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Ruth 1:15-22; 2 Cor. 1:12-22; Matt. 5:13-20

The reading in Matthew deals with salt and light.  “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?”

I recently sat with some of our children at church with a variety of salt products talking about this very passage – a salt shaker, a big box of Kosher salt – and we talked about all the different things we could do with salt.  The children reminded me I could put it on the sidewalks to melt some ice.  But more importantly we could put it on popcorn and make it taste really good!  One also remembered Sea Salt Caramels.  My kinda girl!

Of course, talk of salt meant life.  It’s primary purpose was not particularly to season food, although that was a wonderful secondary aftereffect.  Salt was needed to preserve food.  Without salt, just like without water, a community could die.

If we are salt and light, that means that we are essential ingredients for God at work in this world.  He is counting on us!  He wants us not to just shine our light before others, but to give flavor to life.

This is all wrapped up in Jesus understanding of  “law”, for we are not to just selfishly follow all the laws, but to live in a way that loves neighbor as we love ourselves.  This outward way of living transforms, changes, and preserves the life that has been given to us.

May you live this day as salty as you can!

-Matt

 

You are IN!

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Ruth 1:1-14; 2 Cor. 1:1-11; Matt. 5:1-12

There are those who would like us cast aside the immigrants and refugees of our day.  Have these people even read their Scriptures?  All throughout the Old and New Testament we are called to a better way – to ever-widening circles of love, family, inclusion, grace as I talked about yesterday in my sermon.

Ruth is a great example, which we begin reading today.  Ruth – a Moabite, a foreigner – who then joins the line of David, a descendant of Jesus.

In Matthew we encounter the Beatitudes.  Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount, in which he raises the bar for all those cast aside by society, and lifts them up, especially immigrants and refugees.

If you want to proof-text you can get the Bible to say just about anything.  Heck, there is a verse about rejecting the Moabite in your midst.  But if you keep reading…….

If you keep reading what you encounter is that God’s love is expanding, and we are called to be a part of that.  There is always danger in prooftexting.  But when you read the entirety of scripture the trajectory is clear, and it can be summed up in the words of the Sermon on the Mount.  There is a call to action – and that action is based in grace, love, and inclusion for all God’s people.

Read on, my friends.  And encounter the awesome good news for Gentiles and Jews alike – that we are already engrafted into God’s family and loved with an everlasting love.

-Matt

Now What?

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Isa 63:15-64:9; 1 Tim. 3:1-16; Mark 11:27-12:12

With a White House is chaos, arguably the worst scandal involving the White House and a foreign power since Iran-Contra, I awaken to read 1 Timothy, which basically asks, “Now What?”  The difference between dreams for a better America and the nuts and bolts of daily leadership become apparent.

In 1 Timothy, we see a Church that is struggling to see its future ahead.

Many had thought Jesus would come again.  And by saying that, they meant “tomorrow” or perhaps “the day after next”.  It was soon.  Then it didn’t happen.  This left them in a quandary.  They had to find the structures necessary to formalize and grow.  Bishops were now needed – leaders.  And deacons too – those who cared for others.  The struggle for how to organize was prevalent.  Different churches have interpreted this different ways.

Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters might freak a bit when they see these qualifications of bishop.  Married only once, managing his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way.  Where is celibacy?  Nowhere.  There are many things about the early church that look a bit different than today, for better or for worse.

Qualifications of Deacons are also laid out.  Here too we get an image of the church as the household of God.  This is of unfathomable importance in understanding the structures of the underground early church and its use of power.

The root of that word “bishop” is also the same word as how we get “presbyter”.  And those of us who are Presbyterian know what it means to be a “presbyter” – more meetings.  Both elders and ministers serve as presbyters, providing oversight to the churches, and in a very real sense, functioning as bishop.  If I were to translate this to Washington, everyone in the Senate, House, White House, and Courts would be considered “presbyters.”  They are all designated, elected leaders, accountable to one another and to us.

I now serve the presbytery as our Stated Clerk, which means I am ex-officio of a lot of committees.  Some days I am about up to my ears in oversight.  I am also noticing how different we are organized than other churches – Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran.  But I like how we are organized.

I may be the Stated Clerk, which is officially the ecclesiastical leader of all the Presbyterians in Central and SW OK, but I am no where near the US President (Thank God!!!!)

We put ultimate power in groups, not individuals.  No one has absolute power.   No one is exempt from oversight.  There is a system of checks and balances.  This allows individual sin to be kept at bay.

I just love the Presbyterian Church! For in it, we believe Jesus Christ is head of the church, with ultimate authority, and all of us are leaders, checks and balances, to keep us accountable to the True Lord and all moving forward as He leads.  I just love the PCUSA and I hope you do too.

-Matt

Hearts in the Right Place

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Isa. 63:7-14; 1 Tim. 1:18-2:8; Mark 11:12-26

Today, in Mark, is one of the most disturbing stories of the New Testament: the cursing of the fig tree.  It seems oddly upsetting for those focused on Valentine’s Day.  But ironically it fits right in – with the true meaning of St. Valentine’s Day.

Jesus was traveling from Bethany to the Temple Mount and sees a fig tree in the distance.  He is hungry, and as he comes upon it, realizes it has no fruit on it.  He curses the fig tree saying, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”  Now, here’s the catch that troubles me:  it was not the season for figs.  It is not as if this tree is defective.  It was cursed for doing exactly what it is supposed to do at that time of year.

So what is going on?  Right after this story is the cleansing of the temple.  It appears that these two stories are interwoven, meant to work together.  Israel is compared to the fruitless fig tree.  He gets mad, throws money changer tables, and calls them robbers.  Then a day later, as they pass by the fig tree again, Peter is astounded to discover the fig tree has withered.

This is when the story gets even more emotionally evocative.  Jesus answers with, “Have faith in God.  Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.”

Those of you that have been to Israel with me in 2012 may remember the day we took this journey (sorry 2017ers, we missed this!).  I remember passing from Bethany to Bethpage and stopping and pointing off in the distance to a man-made mountain, the Herodium.  “Oh look, friends, if you had faith like the Romans you could move mountains.”  The Herodium was literally an artificial mountain that had been build by Roman ingenuity and the hard work of Jewish slaves.

Could it be that Jesus was insulting the crowd when he was talking about a mountain being taken up and thrown into the sea?  Could it be that he was declaring his fellow Jews had less faith than the Romans?  If so, this is quite an insult.

Despite the raised emotions of this passage, it becomes for me a great testament to faith, belief, and prayer.  On this sappy day of romantic love (hardly what St. Valentine stood for), Jesus is reminding us that God desires a heart that is in the right place.  He is reminding his disciples not to get too complacent and think that just because they are Jews that they are doing everything right.  Jesus encourages self-differentiation – honest feedback – “keeping it real” – in a day and time when people rarely say what they mean and do what they say.

This is the call to us today – to keep it real.

– Matt

Treasure in Heaven

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Isa. 60:1-17; 2 Tim. 2:14-26; Mark 10:17-31

God will turn things on its head.  This is certain to me.  It is a standard theme throughout scripture.  The rich will become poor, the ones with power will have little power, the poor will be raised up.  So it is in the prophets, and in the gospels, especially Mark.

Today this theme takes the form of the rich young man who comes to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. After telling him a litany of commandments, which he declares he has followed, Jesus answers with, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me”

Unable to do so, the rich young man leaves grieving.

In Job and Proverbs and many other places in Scripture we find that wealth jeopardizes spiritual health and is looked at with much disdain.  This may come as a great shock to many Americans who strive for money and power.

Our God is a God of justice.  The psalms declare time and time again that those who flaunt God’s law will get their just reward.  In order to find God’s blessing, one must have priorities straight, putting people first.

At other points in scripture we see how great wealth can be a blessing and a vehicle of God’s grace or God’s wrath, but this is not the message we get from Jesus.  He is emphatic that money corrupts spiritual health.  He demands that our priority must be to follow him.  All else, it seems, is secondary.

How can we live into such words?  Where is the challenge for our spiritual health in the midst of plenty?  How can God use us to build up treasure in heaven?

– Matt