Distractions

festival-517197_960_720

1 Kings 3:16-28Acts 27:27-44Mark 14:12-26

Lately writing Morning Reflections has been challenging.  I have felt distracted, stretched too thin, working a couple different part-time jobs in different locations, trying to piece together my life, and still trying to have a life.   Prayer time seems elusive.

It has made these 1 Kings’ readings all the more difficult, because the struggle of everyday life is knee-deep there too.  Today we continue the theme of Solomon’s wisdom.  A dramatic representation of his wisdom comes in the battle over two infants.  One is dead, the other is alive.  “No, this one is mine.”  The two mothers fight over the live boy.

Solomon is crafty.  He orders a servant to bring him a sword.  Then he orders the live boy be cut in half.  (OK, my problems are nothing like this!  Lordy!) The true mother of the alive boy becomes easy to spot, “Please, my lord, give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him!”  The other said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.”  King Solomon responded:  “Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him.  She is the mother.”

In our New Testament reading, Jesus celebrates the Passover with his disciples.  The one who betrays him “is the one who is dipping his bread into the bowl with me.”   Jesus declares that it would have been better for that one not to have been born.  What a struggle.

I can’t imagine receiving that kind of curse.  Being told it would have been better to not have been born!  Yikes.  At first Jesus declared that the one who will betray him was in the room eating with him.  Naturally they became distressed and began to say to him, “Surely, not I?”

Most of us have grown up with this sense of the Lord’s Supper.  The way I envision it Judas knows what he is about to do.  I always imagined Jesus talking about the betrayer and thinking about Judas’ eyes dilating, with him thinking, “Oh man, he knows about me!  I gotta sneak out of here!”

But Mark’s version seems to imply otherwise.  Judas, perhaps, did not know.  Mark implies that Judas too asked, “Surely, not I?”  And if he would have known he was up to no good, why would he have dipped his bread.  I’m sure you have surprised yourself more than once thinking, “Did I really just do that?”  Perhaps that was said as he was dipping.  But that certainly gives credence to the fact that he was still at the table and with Jesus.  He didn’t freak out by the earlier betrayal discussion and sneak out the back door.

Both passages today are talking about the difficulty with following the right path.  Getting on the right path, it appears, is not something we can do on our own.  We struggle with our sin.  We need God’s wisdom and God’s blessing in order to continue.

The good news is, we have God’s blessing already!  We just must be continually reminded of it!  May the distractions of your life fade away, and the wisdom of God take its place.

-Matt

Advertisements

Grant Us Wisdom, O God

abstract-2100_960_720

1 Kings 3:1-15Acts 27:9-26Mark 14:1-11

For millennia, people have prayed for the “wisdom of Solomon.”  Often people remember King Solomon as the “one who messed up”, and so it may seem a bit strange to pray for the wisdom of Solomon.  If you are one of the people saying “Why are we praying for HIS wisdom!?” then I encourage you to read the 1 Kings passage today.

It turns out, Solomon started out with his heart in the right place.  The passage today is probably one of the most famous of Solomon passages.  He prays for wisdom.  And it is beautifully crafted, humble, and God-centered.

“And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.  And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted.  Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”

Oh, if our leaders in government had this kind of humility.  Instead they often showboat and prance around as if they are the only ones who matter.  Others like to make it seem that folks on their side of the political fence can do no wrong, but the ones on the other side can do no right.  Can you believe there are still people blaming Obama for not responding to Katrina?  He wasn’t even President in 2005.  George W. Bush was.

Sometimes we can’t even get to talking about wisdom yet; we need a little more common sense!  Heck, we are struggling just with facts.  When 99% of scientists agree that climate change is real and yet only 96% of scientists can agree that tobacco causes cancer, and yet we have swaths of the electorate that deny climate change, you know we have a problem.  It is a sad commentary on our education system, and people’s propensity to believe propaganda “news”.  We actually revel in our stupidity sometimes.  It baffles the mind.

Now, I am a Presbyterian minister, and that means I know that humanity is, by nature, is a big ol’ MESS!  Sin stains us all.

The questions come: Where is our humility?

Where are we as a country praying for the wisdom of Solomon?

Lack of humility is one of the problems in the gospel of Mark today, as well.  The scribes and chief priests are looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.  They think they have all the answers.  They think they know the truth.  And they are going to squelch anyone who thinks otherwise.  They know killing is wrong, so they are doing this by stealth.

I wonder how our businesses and churches would change if every meeting we began with a prayer that put us in our place: “Lord, we know that we are broken people.  We don’t have all the answers.  We are here to come up with some solutions and move into the future, but we acknowledge our inabilities.  We need your help.  Grant us the wisdom of Solomon and the forbearance of Christ as we endeavor for your will in this situation.  Amen.”

-Matt

Keep Awake

family-2645534_960_720

1 Kings 1:38-2:4Acts 26:24-27:8Mark 13:28-37

I remember those nights at college when I would stay up until the break of dawn.  Parties didn’t even get started until 11 or midnight.  The music was loud; the pouring was done liberally; the behavior was questionable from nearly all of my fraternity brothers.  I look back and wonder how I survived.

These days I question if I could stay up all night even if I tried.  New Year’s Eve is something I dread each year, hoping I will be somewhere other than the East Coast, so I can watch the ball drop an hour or two early and have an excuse to go to bed before midnight.  I now read today’s scripture passage in a whole new way.

“Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come….Therefore, keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.”

These words ring in my heart, for I know what a challenge this can be.  And this is not Jesus telling us to pull all-nighters, but to engage in vigilance and accountability.

Reminiscent of the cursing of the fig tree when Jesus insults the crowd, telling them if they had more faith they could move mountains like the Romans, today’s passage also digs at the crowd.  He speaks of the four nocturnal watches of the Roman guard.  Jesus is saying, “If you all had the vigilance and accountability of the Romans, you wouldn’t be so confused about this age!”  It’s an insult to these natives who felt the “immigrant” Romans were less than welcome (or less than human).

Jesus is calling us to a life of watchfulness and readiness.  He doesn’t want a bunch of sleep-deprived followers, staggering around.  But he does want us to be prepared for the fullness of time.  This means daily working for the kingdom, and paving a way for Christ to come again.  This is something we don’t think about too much in our current practices of Christianity.

Jesus is speaking about changing one’s whole trajectory of life – refocusing – investing in God’s ways, not the ways of greed, self-fulfillment, and debauchery.   How would our lives change if we lived them as if Christ was truly coming again soon?  How would our lives change if we spent our time looking for the consummation of the age?

-Matt

Good Teachings of Bad Examples

flags-1722052_960_720

1 Kings 1:5-31Acts 26:1-23Mark 13:14-27

If you are one of those folks who thinks the Old Testament isn’t relevant to our day, today’s passage in 1 Kings is your cure!  Political maneuvering is at the heart of our passage.  Oh, we don’t have any problems with politicians these days.  Har har.

In our story today, King David is old and advanced in years, and the struggle for a successor has begun.

With many of David’s sons out of the picture, the death of Amnon and Absalom, and the apparent death of Chileab, David’s fourth son is the logical choice by many.  Adonijah enters the picture.  The problem is that succession to the throne by the principle of primogeniture was not yet a standard practice in Israel, and Adonijah’s actions reflect the same treasonous activity of his older brother Absalom.  What to do?

Nathan has a plan to have Solomon take over.

Political maneuvering.  Intrigue.  Privilege.  Seeking the blessing of previous generations.  Political grandstanding.  It turns out, not much has changed.  (I have one word for you all: RUSSIA).  Turn on the news and it is filled with political grandstanding.  Other than a few officials helping with the hurricane response, our news is filled with self-interest every minute.

The problem is that power and money are alluring.

It is funny how so many hold the Bible up as an exemplar of human behavior.  Those people obviously haven’t read the Bible.

It is anything but an archetype of perfect behavior.  On the contrary, the Old and New Testaments are often good examples of what not to do.  From Cain’s jealousy of Abel to Noah in his drunkenness to Peter’s disagreements with Paul, the Bible is chock full of difficulties and the complexities of human relationships.

It is all the more reason to say that the Bible must be understood as a whole.  It is not a legal brief meant to be dissected line by line, but a trajectory of grace.  It is a Great Play in two acts, with God as the primary actor in both acts.

God is leading this band of rabble-rousers, who in the Old Testament are the Jews, and in the New Testament are the Church.

Today, not much has changed – we are still just sinful creatures trying our best to follow God’s word, and often falling short.  But we hold to God as best we can, using some of the good examples and bad examples in the Bible to guide us.

Most importantly, we know that despite our imperfections, God is at the helm, and in his hands ultimately this will all work out to his good grace.

-Matt

Give to God What Is God’s

caesar-1863693_960_720

2 Samuel 18:19-33Acts 23:23-35Mark 12:13-27

If you are one who would like to think that the Bible isn’t political, you are going to have a rude awakening this morning when you read Mark 12.

Two questions come to Jesus, in order to trap him: the question about paying taxes to Caesar, and the question about the resurrection from the Sadducees.

These two questions, which fan the flames of those in power: 1) Rome who has the political power, and 2) the Sadducees, the religious and temple authority.  Jesus is rubbing salt in the wound he inflicted with his parable (in the previous passage about the wicked tenants), casting dispersions about those who are the tenants of the vineyard, and throwing them out for new tenants.

These groups mean to trap him and he sees through their hypocrisy and twists his answer so craftily that it continues to confound and exacerbate.  “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

On the surface it is somewhat playful.  It has Caesar’s image on it.  Of course it is his.  Give it all away!

Now before you think I am advocating a 100% tax, giving all our money away to the government, let me say some more!  If Jesus had said, “Give it to God,” there would have been trouble, for Jesus would be breaking Roman law.  He would have been thrown in prison. Instead, by saying, “Give to God the things that are God’s” any good Jew listening would think, “Well, that is everything!  Everything is God’s!”  Roman officials would have heard him being in compliance with the law.

At the end of the day, Jesus is not talking about money or the resurrection really, he is talking about “where your heart lies.”  And this, my friends, becomes very political for Jesus.  He doesn’t want you to follow the politician of the day.  He wants you to follow him.  Fully.  Maybe that does mean 100%, come to think of it.

Jesus does get political.  And it is not the debate with other rabbis that is important here, or even Jesus’ answer, but the trajectory of this gospel, a trajectory that is witnessing the rejection, betrayal, and crucifixion of God’s own.

The tables are turning, but ironically, it is the crucified and rejected one who ends up turning the tables and coming out on top.

And so it is in our churches today.  Sometimes we get so focused on the Fight du Jour, and we miss the fact that the only important fight was one that Jesus already won.  Despite his own people rejecting him, he has a grand “YES” for this world, and an invitation to having our slates wiped clean.

-Matt

Turning Things On Their Head

photographer-2538376_960_720

2 Samuel 18:9-18Acts 23:12-24Mark 11:27-12:12

The Bible may be a lot of things – but boring isn’t one of him.  It is graphic and memorable.

In our Old Testament reading, Absalom is hanging by his hair from a tree.  In a bizarre twist of the story, a great battle ends with the son of the king, Absalom, getting his hair stuck in a great oak as he is riding under it.  Joab comes across him, fearing raising a hand to the king’s son.  Finally he is convinced, and while his armor-bearers surround him, Joab thrusts three spears in the heart of Absalom, and they strike him and kill him.  It is tragic, but certainly memorable.

Paul is also being hunted.  The one who hunted Christians and killed them is now himself being hunted.  40 Jews take an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed Paul, and they go to the chief priests and elders to tell them of their plan.  Paul’s sister warns him of the ambush.

The Bible is filled with battles, with death, with power-shifts.  Almost always we see God’s deliverance at hand, or God choosing differently than we might expect.  From Jacob and Esau, to Ruth and Naomi, to Jesus and Paul, we continually see a God at work who chooses the most unlikely of characters to carry his will forward.

These things are of great comfort to me.  In a world that seems to have problems beyond my control – a government that seems intent on destroying itself, racial inequality and tensions everywhere, world hunger – God has chosen me as one of his agents of grace.  I am certainly not the most qualified.  I am not as smart or as charismatic as I would like to be, but God chose me anyway.  And he chose you too.

Things certainly have come full circle.  Who would have thought that God would entrust his kingdom to people like you and me?  We don’t have that much power and influence.  Or do we?

In God’s world, the mighty fall.  The proud are humbled.  The rich become poor.  In God’s world, all things are made new by the king who gave his life for us all and died on a cross to save even the most lowly of people.

And with that, comes the good news that God has saved even us, and the freedom to live a life of service to others, continuing the ministry of turning things on their head.

-Matt

The Signs

wallpaper-1492818_960_720

2 Samuel 17:24-18:8Acts 22:30-23:11Mark 11:12-26

Just like yesterday’s Gospel reading was troubling and difficult to understand, so is today’s gospel reading of Jesus cursing the fig tree.

The story of the fig tree had troubled me for many years.  What did this tree do to deserve being cursed??  Actually it withers and dies.  It wasn’t even the season for producing figs, and yet Jesus blames it for not having figs?!  Does Jesus lose his cool?

The only valid explanation came from one of my professors in Israel – and the explanation came due to a mountain, not a shriveled tree.  I remember us standing at the Herodium, a man-made mountain that the Romans used as a fortress in Jesus’ time.  And it is a huge pile of moved dirt, let me tell you.  Everyone in our group gasped and said, “This MOUNTAIN got here artificially?”  Yes, basketful by basketful, by slaves.

Well, as the professor explained, Jesus and the disciples were traveling from Bethany to Jerusalem, passing through Bethpage.  On that route, the Herodium is visible.  And so when Jesus said, “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…,” it was as if Jesus was saying, “If you only had faith like the Romans, you could move mountains like them.”  It was an insult.

Jesus was not mad at the tree, but mad at the people, making a point about “things coming to pass”, prayer, and faith.  The tree was left as a visible reminder.  Interestingly enough, not too long from that time, he would travel the same road on his way to Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.  Talk about things coming to pass!  I wonder if on passing the tree on Palm Sunday he turned to the disciples and said, “Hey guys…remember what I said: Have faith in God.  I’m withering next, but don’t you worry.  YOU WILL be moving more than just mountains in my absence.”

Scripture is so weird sometimes, and that’s why I like it.  It challenges me and causes me to think deeply about my life.  The fig tree for instance….there are signs in my life which remind me to have faith in God.  And I am not talking about grand signs like eclipses, or the Lord’s Supper, or the like.  I am talking about withered signs.

Oklahomans know a little bit about withered signs – from usually high summer temperatures, to the destruction of tornadoes or hail.  From tree limbs down, to roofs blown off, to water main breaks, we are often reminded that the things in life are just transitory.  And they are just things.  It helps me to focus on that which is truly important – that which does not pass away – the Word of God.

-Matt