Making America Great, Part II


1 Samuel 9:1-14; Acts 7:17-29; Luke 22:31-38

I got a lot of feedback yesterday about my Morning Reflection about healthcare and “making America great again.”  Overwhelming positive and supportive.  But to the few naysayers that may still be out there, I say this:

I am sorry that I am experiencing “politics fatigue” (as a recent article called it).  I am flabbergasted and flustered, because I did not learn in seminary how to explain to someone why they should care about other people.

And further, if there is just one person in America that declares bankruptcy because of medical bills, I say that is too much.  The days are over for us treating healthcare as a commodity.  It is too important.  It is a BASIC HUMAN NEED.  It is necessary to thrive.  It is like air, and water, and shelter.  You need adequate care for all to have a healthy society.  And if you don’t understand that, then frankly I feel sorry for you.

If we are truly going to celebrate the 4th of July and the principles on which this country was built, then we are going to have to shelve the talk of tinkering with healthcare delivery, and start talking about actually having better HEALTHCARE.  You heard me right!  We are going to have to talk about what it means to believe in liberty – because I see part of that “state of being free” as being free from the oppressive restriction of medical bankruptcy.  There is no self-autonomy in that, for me or the person declaring bankruptcy.

And no, we do not have the best healthcare in the world.  We used to.  But in the last 30 years or so, we have slide to the bottom of industrialized countries in almost every healthcare outcome that exists.  So yes, we used to have the greatest healthcare system in the world.  But have you looked at it in the last 20 years?  Actually looked at it?  Or have you just been spouting this same mantra because its what you said 20 years ago, and what your parents said to you.  Have you talked to any doctors or nurses lately?  Because what I am hearing from my doctor friends is that this system is broken.

It is time for Christians to claim what is rightly ours – the plight of the poor and afflicted.  If it was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me.  It is my duty to stand up for the most vulnerable among us.  I will lend them my voice.  I suggest you join in the fight.  And if that means taking on the big prescription drug companies or the big insurance companies, then so be it.

“I wish Matt would stay out of politics.”  Oops, sorry.  That’s not what Jesus did.  Neither will I.  Sorry if your sugar-coated religion doesn’t match what the Holy Spirit is demanding of the Church today: action.  I’m sorry if you want to be a part-time Christian on Sundays only.  So I’m not sorry if I offended you saying that; I’m sorry for you.

Our disagreement is not one of politics.  It is a fundamental divide on what it means to be a Christian, and on what it means to live in a society as a Christian, and how to stand up for our principles.  Frankly it might even be deeper than that.  Perhaps our divide is on what it means to be a good person.

I’m not sorry if this offends you.  

Perhaps it needs to offend you.

Christianity has been in decline in this country for decades.  And I believe one reason is because so many “Christians” were looking for a country club, not a radical organization that is out to reorganize all of life, complete with a radical leader like Jesus who came to upend the political equilibrium.

We raised a generation of lazy Christians, and now we are paying the price.

When the slugging got too hard, many fled for an easier religion, where entertainment or “feeling good” are the standards.  We Christians remain, fighting, speaking out, demanding to take seriously EVERYTHING Jesus did, and not cherry picking a few ideals to make us feel like we are doing our part.  We need Christians who are ready to follow the One who healed the Gerasene and went out of his way to reach out to the afflicted and outcast.

Passing an empty soup can on Sunday morning raising a few cents for hungry children is not Church.  Church is a radical way of living our faith, where we lose our life in order to gain it.  It means giving ALL to Jesus, so that others may experience the freedom of the gospel.  Church is not an opportunity for you to feel good or get “refueled” for the week, but a place where you are reminded to lose yourself in order for Christ to win it all.

Church is about changing lives.  Church is about following Jesus.

And at this point in our church’s life and in our country’s life, it is time for us to change our broken healthcare system.  It is also time for us to change the lackadaisical way we have gone about being Christian.  Gone are the days of singing a lovely little Sunday hymn and going home for the week.  Jesus demands we follow him 24/7.

If you are uncomfortable good.

If you are questioning whether this “Christian thing” is really for you, good.  I would rather have 1000 people who want to follow Jesus, than 1,000,000 people who don’t give a darn.



Making America Great Again


1 Samuel 8:1-22; Acts 6:15-7:16; Luke 22:24-30

Jesus sums up his ministry and his preaching today.  The heart of his message began with sayings such as “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” and now ends with the same ideology.  “The greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves….I am among you as one who serves.”

Jesus preaches an upside-down world, where the weak are powerful, the poor are rich, and the sinful are made clean.

This all comes on the heels of the disciples fighting over which was the greatest.  Jesus is reminding them that greatness will not come from hypocrisy, judgment, or puffing oneself up.  Greatness will come from service and self-emptying. 

This is what I wish our politicians understood.  If they want to fix healthcare, perhaps the first step is for them to give up all their money and federal health benefits.  Perhaps then they could at least relate to the plight of others.

There are many who wanted Jesus to claim his power as the Messiah – to ride into Rome with armies, and take over.  Frankly I wish this.  I want him to come and boot these idiots out of power and take over.

Back then they wanted him to crush the Romans.  Did he do it?  No.  He laid his life down, so that others could live.  He became the sacrificial Lamb.

As I see one politician after another splashed on my computer screen – one blowhard after another telling us why they still haven’t gotten anything done with regard to fixing Obamacare – I wonder if we still haven’t gotten it.  It appears we are still looking for another King David – another person to rise above the rest and save us all.  Some were hoping Trump would be that.  Well, trust me, all these folks will fall short of our expectations, just like Barack Obama fell short of the expectations of his base.

We need to wake up to the reality that the Messiah already came.  And he did not live up expectations either.  Of course, he wasn’t looking to live up to our expectations.  He was here to show us a new way – one that included self-sacrifice, humility, patience, and fortitude.

Making America great, it turns out, has nothing to do with that veiled racist slogan, but reclaiming the selfless sacrifice of the One who paid it all.  This is what our current Administration knows nothing about.  It doesn’t have to do with seeking to be great, but seeking to serve one another, lift one another up, and be a slave to all.

When you take a stance of humility, I’m not sure how you don’t come to the conclusion we need universal healthcare for all.  When you truly seek to serve the other, it becomes hard to look at healthcare as anything other than a basic human need, and not the commodity it is being treated as.  When you truly seek to serve, you put a cork in all the blowhard, empty talk about prices or exchanges or premiums, and you start talking about HEALTHCARE.  CARE.  MEDICINE!  GETTING WELL.  Not access to doctors.  Better healthcare!

Jesus was the True Leader, on whom we hang it all.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could all remember that a bit more?

Living into that is a big jump though.  Are you ready?


PREPARING & The Lord’s Supper


1 Samuel 6:1-16; Acts 5:27-42; Luke 21:37-22:13

In our readings today, it is a day of making preparations.  In our world of instant gratification and instant information, have we lost the art of preparation?  When the 2 minutes in the Braum’s Drive up is too long and when we buy tickets for the play online only a few hours before curtain, I wonder how on earth we prepare at all – prepare for marriage…prepare for the SAT…prepare our hearts for God to use us and change us.

In scripture today, groundwork is laid – both good and bad.  In Luke, the work of plotting against Jesus got a boost with the help of Judas Iscariot.  It was his “work” that allowed the dreams of the chief priests and officers of the temple to carry out their plan.  Meanwhile, the other disciples are busy preparing in another way – preparing for the Passover meal.

While on the surface these two preparations may seem like night and day, good and bad, remember what the Passover meal represented!  It was a celebration of the misery of exile, the oppression, the eventual visit from the Angel of Death, and a release from captivity.  It is a story of eventual release, but it is not all celebratory.

I think it is interesting that both of our “preparations” are for plots that begin with heartache and turmoil.  Of course, we know how the Passover story ends.  And remember how the story that involves Judas Iscariot ends?  It does not end in the Garden with a kiss.  It does not end when Judas hangs himself.  In fact, that story doesn’t end.  It is still going.

I remember being a part of a Passover meal in Israel.  It was eye-opening.  Many of you have heard me reminisce about the reality of that day, in that small apartment in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, play acting so much of the Exodus story I felt wrapped up in the story itself, complete with stopping up the sink until it was overflowing on the tile floor, just to represent the Red Sea.  Talk about parting the waters! (Or was it the neighbors in the apartment below us?)  I remember mostly how these devout Jews celebrated this meal as if their story of redemption and hope was still playing out.

I thought to myself, IT SHOULD BE THIS WAY ALWAYS!  To be caught up in the story.  To create the story anew.

We Christians must capture that same feeling – at the Table, in fellowship with one another.  Our story does not end at the foot of the cross, or with Judas’ suicide.  The story blazes on.  It passed from generation to generation, and it has made it to our doorstep.

And we must prepare – prepare our hearts for the this sheer gift of grace, prepare for the coming of the Savior of the World into our lives, our homes, our daily walk.  We must prepare in understanding the foundation that way laid.

By arousing the imagination and the senses – this is creating the story anew.  Often this means getting the kids involved.  This is where we have much to learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters.  At the Seder meal, the children read the questions and play hide and seek with the Afikomen.  At Purim there is the building of tents.  There are shofars on Rosh Hashanah.  Prior to the Passover, there is the rambunctious cleaning of the house for any speck of leaven.  Of course the kids remember!  They have been active participants, creating new memories, and grafting themselves with the story.

And so let’s do some real preparations here.  Of course, guess what…this takes PREPARATION!

Perhaps we create the Last Supper anew by talking about what Jesus would have eaten and not eaten.  There was no McDonald’s, kids.  Let’s talk about dates, or figs, or goat milk.  Salads with strange vinegar-like dressing.  Let’s build out this meal.

And then let’s put the bread and the wine as central symbols around a glorious feast that involves EVERYONE, where everyone has a speaking part.  Who is going to be Judas this year?  Oh, we don’t have to get gruesome about it, but it sure would be nice for someone to sneak out of the room with 30 pieces of silver, only for us to hear them drop in the temple offering plate in another room.  Maybe Judas hides something along the way – some stolen “grace” that gets found once again before the meal can end.

This would energize the meal.  It would get the kids truly involved.  It would certainly get the adults involved too, asking why we are doing these things.

This is how we truly remember.  By becoming part of the story.

And this is when the story truly begins.  For if we do not understand the past, how are we to move into God’s future for us?  How are we to be guided?  God, where do you want me to go?

It is only in our past reflections that we will be able to focus on the present with eagle eyes, and move swiftly into our new lives of hope and joy and peace.


God’s Church


1 Samuel 5:1-12; Acts 5:12-26; Luke 21:29-36

Holy Stewardship Sermon!  I’m not sure this would preach in our pulpit today!  The story of Ananias and Sapphira comes to us today in our Acts passage.  It has much to teach us about the place that God holds in our community of faith.

This husband and wife team conspire to deceive Peter and the community with their partial tithe.  They owned a piece of land, sold it, but instead of giving all their proceeds to the church (as was the new Christian “tithe”) they decided to hold some back for themselves.  The husband lies to Peter.  Peter sees through the lie and declares, “You did not lie to us but to God!”  He falls dead.

Three hours pass, and his wife, Sapphira, not knowing her husband is dead yet, arrives.  Peter asks her why she is putting the Spirit to the test.  She also falls dead.

Could you imagine the new Stewardship Campaign?  Give all to God, or he will strike you dead!

This is not a story of Peter’s power, or God’s judgment, or even a story about tithing.  I’m not even sure it is a story about Ananias and Sapphira.  It is a framing of the new Christian order.  Who was leading this group of misfits?  Not Peter – but God.  God is calling together this community of believers, and God is in charge.  Peter makes it clear that their violation was not against the people, but against God.

This is also the first time we hear a new word: “church”.  Not a common word in the gospels, this is the first time it is used in Luke-Acts.  Already though, we are getting a flavor of what this new “church” is all about, how it functions, and who is in charge.

The Holy Spirit directs and guides us.  And from among us we chose leaders who guide us and represent us, but it is God who we call Lord.

This is of great comfort to me, especially when I think of the brokenness of people – our sin and folly.  There is no church that is perfect, because there are no people that are without sin.  And when we look to God for leadership, we are on safer ground – in fact, the safest ground we can be on.


Why the Prosperity Gospel is Dead Wrong


1 Samuel 2:27-36; Acts 2:22-36; Luke 20:41-21:4

Let’s talk about the prosperity gospel.  Some of you know what I’m talking about.  Its theology has inculcated our churches.  One of the poster children for this stream of thought is Joel Olsteen.  This doctrine is one of personal empowerment – a health and wealth gospel – a religious belief among some “Christians” who hold that financial success and physical well-being are always the will of God.

The problem?  It is anti-Biblical.  1 Samuel today flies directly in the face of that whole school of thought, which I could argue is not Christian.  It is a lovely self-help trajectory.  But it has nothing to do with the Bible.

This is why I put Christian in quotes up there.  This is certainly not a Christian concept.  And while Joel Olsteen is very encouraging, positive, and uplifting, and while Joel may in fact be a Christian, he certainly doesn’t look like one from what I have seen and read.  True prophets don’t always tell you what you want to hear to feel good.  True prophets sometimes challenge, afflict, and correct.  Joel needs to turn from his wicked ways, repent of his sin, and embrace something other than the devil of the greedy eye.  He might also want to pick up the Bible and read it from time to time.

And no, this “verse” isn’t in the Bible: “God helps those who help themselves.”  (Did you know there are tons of USAmericans who actually believe that it’s in there?)

What we learn from Scripture is that there are days of plenty and there are days of want.  The rhythms of life come.  Harvest comes.  So does famine.  And when famine comes, is our faith secure?  What we learn in 1 Samuel is that prosperity has come for some, and not for others – that buried in the mysteries of God and the mysteries of this life, God’s goodness will ultimately endure.  The oracle against the House of Eli is devastating.  Early death.  Tragedy.  Yet we as readers are invited into the grand sweep of the goodness of God only as we turn the page and encounter the call of Samuel.  What was an omen for one meant a new day for another family.

As random tragedies strike and cancer afflicts, sometimes these kinds of questions come: Why me?  I have always asked Why Not Me?  There is enough brokenness in the world to go around and each of us at some point bears the curse of pain.  So it is to be human.

This flies in the face of the prosperity gospel and those who would like to have you believe you can pray your way to success, happiness, and wealth.  That is not how our God works.  We do not believe in the Genie in the Lamp, but the God of the Universe

The story of the Gospel is pretty clear.  Blessing comes only as we open our hands in sharing, not as we hold tight and horde wealth.  The Sermon on the Mount, the Parables, the cross itself – these all grow out out of the grand narrative of God’s ultimate blessing.  That through thick and thin, God will provide, most readily through the body of Christ, hands of sharing, wealth in generous spirits, success despite our momentary afflictions, because Christ’s love has power over death and pain.  It is as we respond that God’s goodness comes, and God’s Kingdom reigns.

God’s Kingdom is not built on wealth – but on justice, freedom, dignity, respect, love, equality, and peace.

So…why me?  Wrong question.  The question is “What do I do next?”  How is the community going to respond?  How is the community going to respond to the evil around us every day?  The question is why aren’t we doing more to correct the evils around us?  Why are we so lazy to think God is going to deal with everything when we should be the hands and feet of Christ caring for one another better

May God bless you this day.  And may you come to know more deeply the love of God in the eyes of the other.  And may God’s kingdom reign.  Today and always.


OK, rant over.

Overflowing Love


1 Samuel 2:12-26; Acts 2:1-21; Luke 20:27-40

Today the Spirit blows in to our story.  The Church is born.  Acts 2.

If you are new to Scripture, this is actually nothing new.  The Spirit is always blowing in.  It blew into Creation, hovering over the waters.  The rush of the wind often signals God’s presence for the prophets, or in Jesus’ ministry.

And yet, there is something different about today’s “blowing.”  Acts 2 is more than just a story of tongues of fire thought.  Acts 2 provides a major shift in the Christian story.  It is a continuation of the ministry of Jesus Christ, but a radical shift in how God is going to continue God’s work among the people.

The coming of the Holy Spirit, appearing as tongues of fire, resting on each person, fulfills the promise made earlier in the Luke/Acts trajectory.  And who is the promise inherent in the work of Jesus Christ?

Jesus came preaching good news to the outcast.  He didn’t come just to save those who followed all the rules (i.e. devout Jews like Pharisees) but to save the lost.  His love poured out to sinners of all kinds, including Samaritans and Gentiles.  Acts continues this process.

No longer is there an ethnic litmus test to be in the right with God.  Instead, we find God’s grace pouring out on all of us.  This sounds pretty good to this Gentile boy writing.  God’s story has spilled over to my people, to our people, even to little ol me.  God’s story of grace has spilled out over all the earth in fact, providing freedom and purpose to all who seek it.

This is at the heart of Peter’s speech too: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”

Even slaves.  Even women.  This was unheard of.

We still struggle to believe this.  We still struggle to believe that God’s grace can be this powerful and inclusive.  We still struggle to see God’s grace that big.  There are still pockets of people in our culture, or even whole countries of people elsewhere, many cannot fathom as included in this promise of God’s grace.  But it is true.  God’s grace has extended beyond all of our imagination.

And hearing the Good News of Christ is not what saves – the Good News IS that God saves the lost.  We would be best to have some humility in this area, and know that God’s Spirit blows where it wills.




1 Samuel 1:21-2:11; Acts 1:15-26; Luke 20:19-26

Every day we are faced with so many choices, especially USAmericans.  McDonalds or Subway, WalMart or Target, Conoco or Shell.  Just driving down my street trying to pick a place to grab lunch can be overwhelming.  I remember my friend Betsy, who had just come back as a mission worker to the Sudan, telling the story of being overwhelmed in the shampoo aisle.  Where she was in Sudan there was one shampoo.

Despite these somewhat innocuous, often irrelevant daily choices in our lives, there are serious choices as well.  Where do I go to college?  Do I take that new job or not?  Should my spouse and I have another child?  Those simple choices can have large, outreaching effects.

Choices, choices, choices.  So is the theme of our scriptures today.  Hannah makes a choice to stay behind and wean the young boy Samuel, and then decides to offer him to temple worship.  In Acts, a choice must be made to fill the 12th Apostle position – a choice between Barsabbas or Matthias.  In Luke, Jesus has a careful choice to make, as the Pharisees try to entrap him with questions of money – Caesar’s or God’s?

Life is all about choices.  Each day we are faced with a multitude of them.  How are we choosing to use our time, our money, our talents?  How are we offering ourselves to the Lord?  What is left to be done as we build up the kingdom?  Who will do the heavy lifting?  Who will represent us best, and be our leaders?

As Jesus reminds us with the debate over money – “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.”  That in itself is a trick back on the Pharisees, for what is God’s?  Everything.

That’s one heck of a stewardship campaign!  Give everything back to God!

So often I find questions of tithing and self-sacrifice answered with greed.  Giving time or money to God is often answered with the same rationale as alumni requests from our favorite college – “I have already given them enough!”

Well, have we given God enough?  Have we done all that is required?

It is my prayer that each of us reflect on the choices we have before us – rejoicing in the one who made us, and offering as much praise as is necessary.