Chaos, Change, and St. Ignatius

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2 Samuel 2:1-11Acts 15:36-16:5Mark 6:14-29

Change is inevitable.  We see that come to life in 2 Samuel today.

David is anointed king in the town of Hebron where he and his two wives reside. (As a side note, I always get a chuckle when folks these days declare they believe in “biblical marriage.” My response is often, “What…polygamy???”  David, the greatest of the kings, had two wives.  We won’t even talk about how many Solomon had.)  In the midst of change, David smooths things over by blessing those loyal and who buried Saul.  Despite this, Abner, Saul’s uncle and chief military officer, sets up a false government up North, and anoints Saul’s son, Ishbaal, as king over Israel, the Northern Kingdom.

Chaos and conflict ensues.

Often in our biblical stories there are dramatic shifts of outlook.  Perspectives change.  Leadership changes.  And yet permeating the stories is one common thread: despite the chaos, God’s purposes are being realized.  It all reminds me of the many changes in church leadership that has occurred over time, from popes to the Reformation and folks like Calvin and Luther.  Individual churches go through pastoral changes, some of them tumultuous, and yet God’s Spirit continues.

Over time, the Church has exhibited amazing fluidity and flexibility.  It is organic and freely structured, despite the Roman Catholic’s assertion it is not.  I see churches pop up everywhere, nearly every day.  And as we witness the age of the death of many mega-churches, which were so strong just 10 years ago, I have to say that the church will survive this chapter too.

Today’s renaissance is people coming back to their roots.  There are numerous Presbyterian churches experiencing just this.

I’m sure you have heard someone say: “If only things were the way they used to be!”  I never know quite what that means.  As I look back on the last 100 years, I see only change.  The world is always in flux, but especially in the 20th Century.  Often what those folks mean, it turns out, is that they want things back the way when THEY were children, and children have a way at looking at things with rose-colored glasses.

It turns out, the only thing we can count on is change.  And our scriptures for today remind us that despite changes in human leadership (such as our very chaotic turnstile White House these days), our divine leadership remains constant.  In our world of flux, we have one constant in our life, and that is the steadfastness and faithfulness of God.  That will never change.  That needs to be our focus, amidst a sea of change and doubt.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit!

-Matt

P. S. I would be remiss if I did not mention today was also the Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Check him out: Ignatius of Loyola  Without Ignatius, I would not be writing these Morning Reflections today, and I owe him a heap of gratitude.  We also wouldn’t have the Jesuits and their amazing commitment to education.  Thanks Ignatius!

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Jairus’ Daughter & J.S. Bach

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1 Samuel 31:1-13Acts 15:12-21Mark 5:21-43

In Mark today we witness the miracle of the raising of Jairus’ daughter.  So today’s Morning Reflection comes to you through art – the splendor of a stained glass window depicting Jairus’ daughter.

Also, today is also the Feast day of: Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel, & Henry Purcell.  Enjoy reading about them by clicking the link, or listening below:

Joy!

Matt

Support Our Troops

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1 Samuel 28:3-20Acts 15:1-11Mark 5:1-20

The fight over who is IN and who is OUT is an age old fight we humans continue again and again.  From Cain and Abel, to our Acts passage today which is the first Church fight, to our current political circus of immaturity – the world has always been full of people vying for power.

The struggle in Acts is the struggle over Jews and Gentiles in this new Christian world.  Can Gentiles be “in?” Today in Acts we see that first theological debate take shape.

What will be the new requirements for Christians?  Ultimately Paul’s argument wins the day, and today we have many Christians (me included) who did not have to become Jewish first, in order to qualify for entrance into the ranks of Christian.

As our beloved lawmakers in Washington wrestle with whether or not a Commander in Chief can even lead from a Twitter account, or whether there actually needs to be a verifiable process for orders, the age-old grab for power continues.  (Imagine the power I could have these days if I simply stole a certain phone or hacked into a certain Twitter account.  It’s ridiculous!)

Never mind that that this whole argument over transgendered service members began because of medical bills and military budgets.  Never mind that the military spends 5 times more money on erectile dysfunction prescriptions than it does over transgender medical care.  (That’s 84 billion dollars a year on erectile dysfunction medication by the way, folks).  But never mind that.  And never mind that this is yet one more attempt at distraction from Russia.  And never mind that this opens up the can of worms of gays in the military again, and we are back to the question of “who is in” and “who is out.”

Never mind all of those things.

We seem to have forgotten that there are 10,000 active transgender people currently serving in military uniforms.  We seem to have forgotten what it means to “Support Our Troops.”  Can you imagine the disruption of a platoon in a combat area when the status of the platoon commander is called into question?  This is the height of stupidity.

What we learn from Peter and Paul in Acts is that there was a right way to go about fighting, and there was a wrong way.  

There are ways to make change, and honor the Spirit of God as it blows through our churches, and then there is just reckless, awful behavior.  Sen. John McCain pointed out this troubling trajectory just a couple days ago on the floor of the Senate.

It is time for Christians to stand up, and honor the traditions of decorum and civility.  And why?  Because that is how we believe the Spirit of God can best lead us into his new future.  We don’t fly off the handle, or throw away all the rules.  We believe that God has led us to this point and that the rules we established we have for HIS reasons.

It is time for us to take back our country and take back our churches by having respect and dignity for all people, honoring process, civil discourse, and by parenting those who can’t seem to outgrow their adolescent tantrums.  Stand up everyone.  Take responsibility.

Keep in mind that as the People of God you play a part in this – a responsibility that will not go away simply because we elected someone who values chaos and who only effectively leads the country from one tabloid-model five-alarm fire to the next.  You have a responsibility not to sit around looking for the next manic sequence of tweets, but to speak out against that which stands against God’s ways.

If we do not stand up for love, justice, mercy, and peace, then we are nothing.

Get to it, America.

-Matt

Calming the Storm

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1 Samuel 25:23-44Acts 14:19-28Mark 4:35-41

In Mark, Jesus stills a storm.

As is often, New Testament themes pick up on Old Testament themes, or fulfillment of them.  A great windstorm overcomes their small boat on the Sea of Galilee, reminiscent of the storm in Job.  And yet, he is asleep, again reminiscent of Job, and a typical posture of trust in God.  Then, reminiscent of many of the Psalms, the others plea for deliverance, and the wind is silenced.

The story comes to a head with the final line of the story, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” 

This is the question we all have to answer.  For many our answer is “Jesus is the Messiah,” and that changes the trajectory of how we live.  Jesus is the one who calms the storms of our lives.  Whether it be great sins, or cancer, or death, or even just a lack of trust, God is delivering us from it all.

-Matt

Hungry for More

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1 Samuel 25:1-22Acts 14:1-18Mark 4:21-34

Well “fun” is not a word that comes to mind with the Gospel of Mark.  The reading this morning is somewhat harsh – a continuation of the lambasting that Jesus is giving the disciples.  Mark has a harsh view of the parables, focusing on the hardships of discipleship, and the ignorance of those hearing them, a place where forgiveness will not occur, and that the kingdom will come to a head – when judgment or separation occurs.

Today’s parables are about the lamp under the bushel basket, the growing seed, and the mustard seed (interestingly enough the NT lectionary topic for this next Sunday).  At the end of each is a clear message that there is a fork in the road.  You either get it or you don’t.  Either you have it and receive more, or you have nothing.  You either make the harvest, or you don’t produce grain.

There is also a sense that the kingdom of God is about growth and expansion – out of control – out of our hands.  Even its understanding is out of our hands, which we are reminded of in that “Jesus did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.”  There is something hidden and mysterious about the inner workings of God’s kingdom.

There are those who get it and those who don’t.

This is all somewhat upsetting, considering we just started this gospel.  It is like walking in to see the last Harry Potter movie without having read any books or seen any previous movies.  The story is hidden and mysterious.  Good luck understanding the full picture.  Mark is similar in that much of who Jesus is is beyond our grasp anyway.  Ironically this keeps me reading!

All of this, it turns out, illuminates Mark as a brilliant storyteller.  He knows that those who are reading his work are going to be folks who have interest in the story.  They have heard bits of this GOOD NEWS and are hungry for and seeking out more.  When he talks about growth and the spreading of the kingdom like wild-fire, it is going to be easier to relate to than when the disciples initially heard it.  It is that same literary concept that makes us yell out in the middle of a mystery/suspense novel, “No, don’t go in there!”  The reader knows a little more than the characters.

What we have come to know, as followers of the risen Lord, is that growth is secondary to the good news itself.  A good harvest is a natural outcome to the news that we have heard – a news that is more than just good, it is great!  And we also know that if a final judgment is coming, there is work to be done in the interim!

-Matt

Evangelism is NOT a Bad Word

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1 Samuel 24:1-22Acts 13:44-52Mark 4:1-20

It is easy to understand why God liked David so much.  Despite his many faults, David has a knack for leadership.  Today in 1 Samuel, we see how he is not persuaded by gossip and rumor.  He keeps his eye on the prize – his focus on God’s plan.

This is something the Church struggles with mightily on a daily basis.  Keeping focus on that which is important is difficult in our media-driven, visually bombarded culture.  Temptation is everywhere.

Sometimes gossip and rumor fills up the airwaves.  Sometimes gossip and rumor fills up our churches instead of the evangelical spirit of God’s Good News that brought us into being.

Despite having the enormous gifts of God at our hand – the fruits of the Spirit – we sometimes fail to focus on the poor and the afflicted.  Instead we have infighting and backbiting.  We spend our time moving forward then backward then forward then backward….instead of moving into the future God would have for us.  We let the media convince us that “taking care of the poor” is socialism, when it has nothing to do with politics.  It has to do with the core of our Christian being, and no matter our political affiliation, the core of who we are is a people who reach out to help neighbor.

Sometimes the same happens with gossip.  Instead of reaching out to others, we become complacent with insular chatter that amounts to nothing more than backbiting.

We have also failed as Christians in blazing a trail for a new evangelism.  How do we share GOOD news in a world full of hate and backbiting?  How do we share the Good News in a dimply lit world where our leaders want us to see the glass half full?  How do we share the Good News in the 21st Century in a positive and relevant way that will keep our neighbor engaged, not turned off?

Let’s start with that word: evangelism.  The progressive wing of the Church has allowed that term to be hijacked by nut cases that are barely Christian, when it is a term for all of us.  Think about its definition.

“Evangelism” simply means spreading the good news by personal witness or public sharing.  There is no one group that has a monopoly on sharing.  There are a lot of ways of sharing.  Pressing the SHARE or RETWEET button on this Morning Reflection could be seen as evangelical fervor.   Telling someone who is consumed by guilt and self-loathing that God loves them is a form of evangelism.  Tell a personal story of transformation and it is definitely evangelism.

Evangelism need not involve soap boxes and megaphones.  It can be as simple as inviting someone to the Wednesday Morning Bible Study or telling a story of God’s grace in the midst of crisis.

The community has been showered with grace abundant.  We must take hold of that grace, and be the leaders that David was, focused on God’s will, and not the selfish motives that can so often creep in and seduce our wills.

We must also take hold of that grace and TELL it.  Do we believe we have good news to share or not?  If so, press RETWEET now.  SHARE now.

God loves you – despite your failings.  God has a place for you, and a plan for you!  Believe it!

-Matt

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

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1 Samuel 21:1-15Acts 13:13-25Mark 3:7-19a

Our gospel lesson today shows the power of God at work, and also the power of talk.  Jesus is having to escape on the Sea of Galilee by boat to avoid the crowds.  He has healed so many, they are coming in flocks.  The actions are speaking louder than words.

So often this is true in today’s society.  Many churches talk a good talk, but I don’t see much action.  I see a sleepy church during the week, and the only activity on Sunday.  This is not the life we were called to.

We are about the same thing Jesus was about – changing lives.  Throughout the week we spread the love of God.  So the question comes to each of our churches – are we hording all the money we can get their hands on, declaring it to be God’s blessing, and dismissing those in need?  Or are we reaching out to our communities and transforming lives?

There is a time for talk, and there is time for action.

I have served churches that seem to have this all mixed up.  They spend a lot of times maintaining their massive facades and little time investing in ACTION in their communities.  It is no wonder God’s Spirit has blown to other churches.  This is not what we are called to do.  We are called to lose our lives in order to gain them.

It is time for us to follow in Jesus’ steps – to get active – to lay hands on our communities and heal them – to get involved in every aspect of our communities’ lives.

That is the Gospel!

-Matt