Hide & Seek

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Ezek. 11:14-25; Heb. 7:1-17; Luke 10:17-24

There is nothing like a good game of Hide & Seek.  As a child I loved it.  Now as an adult as I play it with kids, I wonder why I loved it so much.  It is sorta dumb when you think about it.  But from Peek-a-Boo with little ones, to Sardines with the Youth, it always brings a HUGE smile to my face.  Just writing these words I have the dumbest grin, flooded with fond memories of Hide and Seek at all ages.

The power of the kingdom of heaven is growing in our passage from Luke today.  The seventy return – the ones who have been sent out to perform miracles – and they proclaim, “Even the demons submit to us!”  Jesus then does something that challenges the disciples.  He thanks God “…because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”

There is nothing like hiding the good news to get people intrigued.

Of course, the passage continues….  Jesus states privately to the disciples, “…many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it.”  Do you see?!  So the disciples are counted among the infants who have little knowledge.

Jesus is speaking of the world on its head.  The people who think they know it all actually don’t get it as much as they thought.  By framing it as Hide and Seek, not only do the disciples get intrigued, but they begin to think about the conundrums of life in a different way.  Jesus reframes their world order.

Even the prophets of God didn’t understand as well, because they were not in the presence of the Son of the Father.  Jesus presents himself as a missing link to understanding.  And he is demanding of us an emptying of self, and taking on him as the missing link of our lives.  Through him the miracles flow and power abounds.  Through him all glory and honor become focused and understandable.

The good news for today is that at the end of the day we are FOUND.  We have had the privilege to not only peer in on God’s power, but to experience it firsthand.  The kingdom of heaven has spread through time and space, all the way to my doorstep, and all the way into my heart.  I have become a recipient of this grace, and now I can become a part of the seventy who were sent out to share the good news!  And all that begins now!  This morning!

-Matt

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Anchored

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Ezek. 7:10-15,23b-27; Heb. 6:13-20; Luke 10:1-17

Last night I was crafting an upcoming Sunday service for the Duncan church.  They are saying goodbye to their pastor and are in the midst of transition.  In the call to confession I was quoting Hebrews, and now Hebrews comes up as one of our readings today.

I was quoting in our time of confession “how our guilty hearts are sprinkled clean, our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb.10:22).  I love the imagery, especially in worship, tying into our own baptism liturgy.

Today’s reading reminded me that is not all!  One of the essential claims of Christianity, and part of its uniqueness, is touched upon in Hebrews today.  Christianity is not only about a Savior who comes and wipes the slate clean, and restores our relationship with God, but one who completes the promise that was made in Abraham.

This is not meant to say baptism isn’t important.  But it isn’t the essential piece of the puzzle.  That would be Christ Jesus and his relationship with the world!

This is also not meant to be something that makes us superior to Jews, but something that is distinctive about Jesus.  Remember, Jesus was a Jew.  And part of the story is that he was rejected by his own people.  It is a difficult part of the story, but part of the story nonetheless.  What makes him distinctive is that he does not turn on his people, but becomes the “champion” if you will.

Today’s passage in Hebrews explores the certainty of God’s promise to the people – a promise that was not lost with the fall of Jerusalem, but that was restored through a Great High Priest, named Jesus.

And what is that promise?  “I will surely bless you and multiply you.”  Of course Abraham waited for this promise to be realized, all the way to old age, with Sarah laughing all the way.  Eventually a blessing of multiplication came.

With Jesus we see much multiplication.  It wasn’t just the loaves and fishes that found great number, but the souls of followers, that grows exponentially in Acts.  God’s promise is being fulfilled, just not in the way that people were expecting.

Another interesting feature of this passage is the use of the image of the anchor.  Not seen elsewhere in scripture, here we encounter this great symbol of hope as it ties us to the past and to the past blessings of God.  It is no wonder it became an early Christian symbol, and has been seen carved into some of the most ancient Christian gathering places.  “We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Christ roots us in our own past, and keeps us steady on the turbulent sea of present life.  In him, we find ourselves rooted to the Abrahamic faith and people, and also anchored for the future, holding us fast to our true identity. 

-Matt

Memorial Day Prayer

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Ezek. 4:1-17; Heb. 6:1-12; Luke 9:51-62

My Memorial Day Prayer:

Eternal God, 
from whom all life comes, to whom all life returns, 
we remember all those who have died in service to our country.
We remember.
We give thanks for their acts of courage, grace and hope.
We give thanks for those we knew well and those we never met.
For the life, goodness, faith, courage, and love that was in each one, we give thanks. 
Show us ways that we can extend care and support to all those caught in the crosshairs of death.
We pray for families and friends and all who grieve for loved ones who have died. 
Meet them in the valley of death’s shadow. 
Embrace them in the midst of grief and loss with your eternal hope. 
Grant them and all of us the assurance 
that nothing in life or in death 
can separate us from the love of God.
May the day soon come when swords are beaten into plowshares, war is studied no more, and all peoples and your world will know peace. 
May we work for that day. 
We pray through Jesus Christ. 
Amen.

(Inspired and adapted from a prayer by Mark Koenig)

Go Ye Therefore, and DO

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Ezek. 1:1-14,24-28b; Heb. 2:5-18; Matt. 28:16-20

Today the Church celebrates Ascension Day, one of the lesser celebrated holidays in the Presbyterian Church.

 

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 the honor of being able to study Liberation Theology with Gustavo Gutierrez at Princeton.  He arguably invented that whole way of thinking about God.

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 clearly know where God is.  God is standing with the poor.  God is shouting about salvation, but it is no longer an exposition about “taking Jesus into your heart,” the heresy of personal salvation and individualism that continue to haunt the Church.  Instead it is about the salvation of humankind…from suffering…from ourselves…from one another

I have always struggled with those who want to leave faith at this: “take Jesus into your heart.”  As if the battle is won.  The battle has just begun!

We serve a God who ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of the Father.  This has to do with majesty and power.  What did we think our part was?  Sitting around gawking?  Our Savior is on the Judgment Seat and demands our allegiance – one through servitude and suffering, humility, and obedience.

This is the true demand of Matthew 28 anyway!  The Great Commission is about going into the world, teaching, and sharing, and OBEYING “everything that I have taught you.” It is about God being with us to the end of the age and acting accordingly.

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

-Matt

Support

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Baruch 3:24-37; James 5:13-18; Luke 12:22-31

My days as a Chaplain are blazed in my memory.  Working with Mercy Health System of Northwest Arkansas was a joy.  Perhaps the greatest among those joys was working with the Dominican Sisters and the Sisters of Mercy.  They brought an extraordinary presence to the halls and rooms.  I felt surrounded by God’s presence, especially with the visual reminder of their presence.

This Presbyterian minister dressed in a shirt and tie, often with khakis.  I didn’t look like some of the other chaplains, who were Catholic and had priest collars or nun habits.  And yet, the majority of our patients were Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian and it made perfect sense to have me and the other non-Catholic chaplains.

If I didn’t announce myself clearly, often I would be mistaken as a doctor.  I would enter each room and be sure to identify myself.  “Hello, I’m Matt, one of the chaplains here.”

Often a timid and disappointed response would come back, “Oh, I’m not Catholic.  I guess you can’t help me.”

“I’m not Catholic either!” I would respond.

People were often surprised by the high value these Catholics had put on their spiritual needs, and the diversity with which they were committed to in their chaplain corp.  At St. Mary’s Hospital, for instance, every patient in our facility got a visit from a chaplain every day.  It was an extraordinarily high bar for patient care that had been set, but one in which we all firmly believed.  I am thankful to the Roman Catholics for their ethic of care, and for articulating it so boldly!

Part of this is because we as a Church had taken our Bible so seriously.  The 5th chapter of James is a reminder to me of this.  “Are any among you suffering?  They should pray.  Are any cheerful?  They should sing songs of praise.  Are any among you sick?  They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord…. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed”

Yes, I prayed a lot.  I also sang.  And there was much sorrow, but also much joy.  I anointed some with oil – overwhelmed by its power.  At first I didn’t believe it, considering it “some Catholic thing”.  I offered it to some of the Protestants who had been there over 10 days, providing scripture reading, prayer, blessings, listening, and yes, anointing.  And yes, I heard an amazing amount of confessions from Baptists and Presbyterians.  I came to believe in the power of that too.

And in my time, I saw the amazing power of God’s presence, power, and healing.  I saw some of the clinical staff marvel at some of the medical responses to prayer.  Prayer, it turns out, works.

What I see happening near the end of James is a vision of real community – one that is united in faith and mutually supporting one another.  It is a vision of the Church at work.  And it works to build up the body of Christ, and knit us together in bonds of love.

Let’s live into that.

-Matt

Together

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Deut. 8:11-20; James 1:16-27; Luke 11:1-13

Separation.  Sometimes it comes willingly.  Other times it is a reality not of our choosing.

Separation seems to be the theme of our passages today.  We, as people of the Light, live in this “already but not yet” world.  We are separated from the fullness of God’s grace and we long to be fully in the light, fully wrapped in grace.

Today, the writer of Deuteronomy warns that after God has richly blessed you in this life, and therefore, not to forget the Lord.  James makes distinctions between hearers of the word and doers of the word.  In Luke, Jesus teaches the disciples to pray.  All are dealing with separation – from God and one another.

How are we to cope with this separation?  Jesus sets the tone.  He focuses on praying for “daily bread” in the Lord’s prayer.  And quelling that separation with God begins with mending relationships here on earth: “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”

Isn’t that strange!?  He doesn’t say, “Pray more and you will be closer to God.”  He is, in essence, saying, “Focus on today.  Mend fences of separation today.  Gather food just for today.  Then you will come to know the closeness of God.”

This is a solemn warning and a bold challenge to our world of today.  In a world of 401(K)s, long-term goals, and dreams of tomorrow comes a stark message of cultivating relationships for today.

-Matt

Tested Faith

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Deut. 8:1-10; James 1:1-15; Luke 9:18-27

We all endure tests of faith.  Today we hear about them in scripture.

In Deuteronomy, it strikes a tone of parental discipline, as we hear why the Israelites were made to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.  Eating of the manna in the wilderness is spoken of like a curse, becoming a reminder that the Lord would provide and that we  “cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

James also speaks of an active and tested faith.  Maturity and endurance bring about wisdom.

In both of these passages, we get a sense that the Lord is shaping us and molding us as his people for some purpose.  The sufferings that we endure seem to open the spirit to God’s presence, “for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”

I have certainly been through some trials and tribulations in my life, and I know you all have as well.  And it certainly is no comfort to someone in the midst of trauma to be talking about how this will increase their wisdom.  In fact it is the absolute WORST way to provide pastoral care for someone.  I absolutely hate when people say to one another, in the midst of their nervous energy not knowing what else to say to a person in the midst of trauma, “Well, everything happens for a reason.”  Really?  There was a reason my child was killed by a moving train?  There was a reason my wife’s cancer and pain got so bad she killed herself?  Don’t think so.  It is a HORRIBLE thing to say.  There is no rhyme or reason to some of life’s tragedies.  And if you have said this to someone before in the midst of chaos, I want you to promise yourself to evict it from your vocabulary right now.  Seriously.  Right now.  Promise me.

We are all tested in the faith.  And realizing that God has led us through the wilderness of our lives is something we discover on our own, miles away from the tragedy itself.

I pray that you discover deeply the meaning of today’s passages for your life, that you come to unlock the mysteries that God is revealing in your life, and where in your life endurance has come to shape your faith.

And if you are in the midst of the storms of life, I pray for peace for you.  And as God walks with us through the pain, I hope you will dare to trust me and others to walk with you.

-Matt