Law Breaker!

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1 Samuel 20:24-42Acts 13:1-12Mark 2:23-3:6

Something very strange happens at the end of Mark’s second chapter.  Jesus breaks the Law.  Right from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel we get a sense that this Messiah is not like we expected.  He does not come toting guns and overthrowing the Romans like people were wanting.  He comes teaching people a new way to interpret the Law and look at one another in love.  

As Jesus’ disciples began picking some grain out of the field, people started asking, “Why are your disciples doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”  At worst they were stealing.  At best they were breaking the Sabbath laws by working in the fields on God’s Holy Day.  And how does Jesus respond?  “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need?”  

Jesus thinks the daily needs of the hungry and oppressed are of utmost importance.  He is being a good Rabbi and showing that, in his mind, a true reading of the Law means something different (that it was a greater sin to allow a poor person to go hungry).  And furthermore, this “responding to the hungry and needy” is not just something he is involved in, but he encourages his disciples to do they same, get their hands dirty, and get on with the business of loving one another.

 

We might do well to think about this story in our current volatile political climate.  On one hand, I have never been so happy about a “do nothing Congress.”  On the other hand, healthcare needs to be fixed.  Obamacare was supposed to be step one.  Where is step two?  Where is step three which would be a Single Payer System like the industrialized nations that have good healthcare. 

 

As the politicians fight and do absolutely nothing in D.C., we may want to remember that we have a completely different agenda as Christians.  We don’t dance to the tunes of the Democrats or the Republicans.  We dance to the tune of Jesus Christ, who came preaching a new way of being and doing for others.  At first it sounded like he was just breaking the Law, but under the surface was a torrent of love for others.  He draws us into the Greatest Commandment: to love God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  

By loving others we come to understand how to love God.  That means something very different than political gain.  It means self-sacrifice and emptying of ourselves, so God can get through.

-Matt

Welcoming the Lost

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1 Samuel 20:1-23Acts 12:18-25Mark 2:13-22

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”  Jesus declares this in Mark’s gospel after Levi (or Matthew) is chosen as a disciple, and after Jesus goes to his house to eat with him.  Naturally Levi’s friends are there – other tax collectors and sinners.

What is most interesting to me is that, as one of the twelve, Levi had become a central leader in the church.  Oh, we don’t hear much about him after the resurrection, but we know that each of them had deeds of power and might.  We can infer that Levi, or at least Levi’s church work, was well known by the people that first read Acts.

This is the heart of the good news.  It is not only that Jesus died and was raised, but that in doing so he came to give victory to those who least expected it.  He came and saved sinners.  He comes, not to call the righteous, but the sinners.

This is all very interesting, considering that until very recently, we in the North American churches had become obsessed with “who is in and who is out.”  We have spent far too much of the last 50 years judging other’s worth, when Jesus made it very clear that the church would be composed primarily of the sinners and the lost.  The righteous already had their place (whatever on earth that meant!!!).

And so we struggle.

The funny part is we think our petty fights of today are unique.  But it turns out the early church was plagued with the same struggle – who is in and who is out.  For the early church it was between Paul and Peter.  Peter wanted to raise the bar for becoming a Christian – requiring “Jewishness” first.  Paul had other thoughts, believing that baptism was the only mark of the new believer, and that Christ was the only thing that tied believers together, not which rules they followed.  Well, we know who won out!  It was Paul, and his proclamation of only the Rule of Love.

I find great comfort in this.  It means that those churches who refuse to spend energy on these fruitless battles, but instead are welcoming the lost and afflicted and who simply DO the work of the risen Christ are right on track.   

-Matt

Healing

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1 Samuel 19:1-18Acts 12:1-17Mark 2:1-12

Today is the Healing of the Paralytic in Mark.  I share the story of the time a preschooler changed the way I thought about this passage:

It was Preschool Chapel.  I decided to tell the story of the Healing of the Paralytic, and let some of them help me reenact it.

I read from our Bible Story Book, showing pictures of how Jesus was crammed into this house, and the friends of the paralytic could not get close so they cut a hole in the roof and lowered him down.  Jesus gets questioned.  In frustration, he says, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’?”

Then we needed to get involved.  I choose two preschoolers to help me.  With reluctance our “Jesus” came forward.  The little boy seemed a little more intrigued, playing the part of the paralyzed man.

I had a rolled up mat as a prop.  Having heard the story once, I knew they would need little coaching.  I was right.  The little boy who was sick immediately grabbed his mat, spread it on the ground, and suddenly fell down and went rigid.

“Jesus” came over, and I whispered her the line.  As she knelt down and proclaimed him healed, the little boy sprang up, jerkingly looked around, and very quickly, with shock and amazement, grabbed his mat and took off for the narthex door as fast as he could!

A teacher bounded in quick pursuit.  “Wait!!!” she yelped.  He was off!  The teacher didn’t catch him until he was clear out of the chapel all together.

It was great!  It really couldn’t have been any better.  The exuberance.  The chaos.  The impulse.  This may have been how it actually went back then!  The “healed one” sparked the crowd, stunning and amazing us.  His excitement over being “healed” had just filled the whole room.

When we had finally corralled him, I asked for two new volunteers: a sick person and a Jesus.  Hands shot up everywhere!  Of course they did!  This was an exciting story now.  These kids understood the power and excitement of the crowd.  They were looking to be healed next.

And that is what we are looking for in the church, isn’t it?  We are looking for souls that are ready and waiting to be surprised by the risen Lord.  We are looking for those who are open and ready for that healing touch.  We are looking for “Jesus’s” too.  Are you ready to come forward and pronounce words of power or forgiveness?  Or are you looking to be healed, to put your past behind you, and with excitement take your mat and follow Jesus?

-Matt

On the Move

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1 Samuel 18:5-16,27b-30Acts 11:19-30Mark 1:29-45

Many of you may have noticed the recent break from Morning Reflections around the beginning of July.  Between family reunions in Wisconsin and deaths in the family, it has been a very busy summer.

What I realized during my time away from writing is the power of God on the move.  I did not need my office or my Bible or my alone time for God to speak powerfully to me.  I suppose I could look at the years of contemplative prayer as practice, but God is always finding ways to speak to us if we need to hear.

Our lessons for today reflect our God on the move.  In 1 Samuel, we see a shift to David in power, with Saul, the people, and God all coming to terms with David as the new leader.  In Mark, we see Jesus on the move, but the extraordinary magnetism of his power, as people are brought from near and far to be healed.  In Acts, we see the church on the move.

If you take a step back from the Bible and look for overarching themes, one you will find is that God is on the move.  God moves over the waters at Creation.  God moves out into foreign lands.  God takes the law from stone tablets and is on the move – into human hearts.  God comes to earth, and spends a good bit of time on the move, only to die and witness his church move to all the corners of the earth. 

I pray that you will find God on the move in your life today, and that God will follow you to work and to lunch and to your family time and to your alone time too.

-Matt

The Order of the Phoenix

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1 Samuel 17:17-30Acts 10:34-48Mark 1:1-13

I love Harry Potter.  Love the series…loved most of the books…the movies too.  And although it was a while back I still remember going to the theater to see the last few movies, but especially the Order of the Phoenix.  I love how it jumped right into the action with no explanation, somewhat discombobulating yet exciting.  Talk about hooking an audience!  Even folks who have not read the book and don’t know what all is going on were in.  The story was dark and shifty, brilliantly put together for the movie, and just an all around good story and good series.

Many of you know this – my favorite gospel is Mark.  It is short, sweet, and to the point.  He is selective, yet colorful and persuasive.  Mark is a great writer.  Mark tells a good story!

Our journey through Luke ended yesterday, and we begin the gospel of Mark.  What does Mark begin with?  What is important to him?  Certainly not the birth narrative, for there isn’t one.

Mark jumps right into the action, like that Harry Potter movie.  Mark knows how to hook a reader.  Mark begins with “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ….”  And that beginning is John the Baptist proclamation of Isaiah’s prophecy that a messenger is being sent ahead to prepare the way of the Lord.

Then, after colorfully painting John the Baptist with camel’s hair, a leather belt, eating locusts and honey, we immediately segue to the baptism of Jesus.  It is brief.  It is without incident.  Then we move to the temptation in the wilderness.

I am curious about the brevity and the fact that two of the four gospels don’t even find it important enough to mention the birth narrative.  What does that mean?  For Mark, I suspect he means to emphasize that God is on the move.  By not beginning with “A long time ago, in a place far, far away…,” he is giving urgency to the story.

Mark also understands that you may have already heard some stories about this Jesus.  He doesn’t go into background information of who he is, his Jewishness, or such.  There is an assumption you already know who the players are, and if you don’t there is no time to explain.

This sets the tone for what I believe Mark’s true message is: “What’s next?”

Just as his gospel ends, he leaves us hanging, wondering what happens next.  We are called, in Mark’s gospel, to the mystery of the gospel, the partial details.  We are called to embrace the confusion.  Mark is articulating that he is OK with the confusion, and so should we.  He brilliantly creates a page turner!

Just like Harry Potter’s The Order of the Phoenix, I suspect Mark was telling a story that he felt was in process.  It too is discombobulating and dark.  It ain’t all fun and games.  And at story’s end we are left wondering what is next.  More specifically in the gospel of Mark, we are left wondering, “What is so ‘good’ about this news, and how do we fit in with this story?  How does this impact me?”  

And that is the story for all of us to answer.  For every Christian.  To really digest the gospel and answer, “What is God’s good news for me?  Here.  Now.”

The answer to that question impacts your “today.”  It impacts every moment of the rest of your life.

-Matt

P.S.  Did you know the Phoenix was used as an ancient Christian symbol?  That mythical bird that dies in old age and rises out of its own ashes after three days…sound familiar?  Friends, if you are a Christian, you too have joined the Order of the Phoenix.  It’s a secret society that carries some pretty powerful news.  😉

Standing Unafraid

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1 Samuel 16:14-17:11Acts 10:17-33Luke 24:36-53

Today there is a picture of David, the new King, standing before Goliath.

You remember the story of David and Goliath, right?  With just a sling and a few stone, the mighty warrior Goliath is toppled.

Today is the beginning of that story.  The remarkable contrast is Saul, who is dismayed and greatly afraid.  David is not.

The Spirit of the Lord has rested on us now – as inheritors of the Light.  We too stand unafraid in the midst of adversity.

Our politics may swirl and perplex.  Our churches may be filled with dissolution.  Our personal lives may be filled with heartbreak, or the loss of a loved one, or whatever personal tragedy.

But our God remains the King of the Universe and the Lover of Souls.  We will never be lost, with right on our side.

Fear not, the Lord is with you.  This day and always.

-Matt

Walk to Emmaus

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1 Samuel 16:1-13Acts 10:1-16Luke 24:12-35

The walk to Emmaus is our gospel reading today.  This has always been one of my favorite post-resurrection appearances.

You probably know the story – two men are walking along the road from Jerusalem out to the coast.  Along the way is a small village called Emmaus.  Jesus joins up with them, but they do not recognize him.  They tell the story of what had happened – that this great prophet, Jesus, had been handed over to the priests and leaders and condemned him to death.  They knew also of the empty tomb, and the vision of angels that told them he was alive.  But they were skeptical.

Jesus interprets what has happened.  They still do not recognize him.  Then he walks on ahead, as if he was going on, but they urge him to stay.  As he breaks bread with them, “their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”

There is one small detail of this story that often goes unnoticed.  It is at the beginning: “Now on that same day…”  This was Easter Sunday!  The day of the resurrection.

News had traveled fast!!!  Fast indeed!  Emmaus is a good distance away, a full day’s walk.  They must have started fairly early in the morning.  So news had truly traveled fast, and these two were somehow connected to Jesus’ ministry.

By the end, their encounter with the risen Lord had transformed them to the truth of the good news: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

The next day all sorts of apostles are declaring, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”

I love this nameless second person in the story.  The first is called Cleopas.  The second we don’t know about.  For me, that is meant to signal this person’s connection to “every person.”  It could be you or me next!  Prepare to meet the risen Christ in your life!  Perhaps you already have!

Prepare to meet the risen Christ – today or any day.  Perhaps even in your home tonight as you break bread at table.

This story marks the beginning of the secret society of Christians.  Previous to the resurrection, they were a band of followers of a really amazing prophet.  Now they are coming to understand the depth and mystery of his coming.  He was more than a prophet.  He was the Son of Man.  And there are things that can only be understood in the experience of the risen Christ – things like baptism and the Lord’s Supper that take on new meaning, and bring the mystery of the risen Christ home.

Welcome home, my brothers and sisters.  This story brings it home.  Literally.

-Matt