The Lord’s Prayer

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2 Kings 9:17-371 Cor. 7:1-9Matt. 6:7-15

Today Jesus teaches his disciples to pray.

It is a very different outlook on prayer from Paul who says, “Pray without ceasing.” Instead, for Jesus, brevity is best.  Many have overlooked how he begins: “When you are praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

He then begins with “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name….”  It is simply, brief, to the point.

We just talked about the Lord’s Prayer this last week in the Pastor’s Bible Study.  I briefly mentioned that if you have ever wondered why we Presbyterians say “debts…debtors” you can look to this text.  Luke’s prayer, which we would view as an abridged version of the one we learned, uses the word for sin, or trespasses, whereas Matthew contains “debts”.  It really is that simple.  Just a preference of gospels.

Beyond the idea of brevity is another, perhaps more important concept.  It appears that prayer is not for God, but for us.  We do not pray to keep God informed, or to let God in on the desires of our hearts.  God already knows them.  We pray to keep ourselves focused – to mold our thoughts and our behaviors into God’s ways.

Just a simple address like, “Our Father” says mountains about Jesus’ theology.  And to speak of daily bread and debts is even more telling.  The prayer is not “Give us today our daily Cadillac” but daily bread.  “Rescue us from the evil one” not “rescue us from all the people who aren’t as pious as we are.”

The focus in on ourselves and the need for amendment.

It is powerful and stark, beautiful and easy to remember.

Because of all these reasons, it is now one of the most well-known, most used, arguably one of the most memorized prayers in the world.  I hope you find yourself praying it anew!

-Matt

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This Isn’t About a Flag. It Never Was.

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2 Kings 6:1-231 Cor. 5:9-6:8Matt. 5:38-48

“But they are disrespecting the flag!”

“But they are disrespecting the military!”

Nope.  Wrong.

First, this isn’t about a flag.  It is about people.  I think those folks on one knee have been pretty clear about what they are doing.

Second, it isn’t that simple.  This is about our country’s deeper values.  It’s about liberty – what the flag stands for.  It is about far deeper than the military, or a flag, or an anthem.  It is about people valuing people, something that Jesus hits home today in the Sermon on the Mount.  Valuing people was something Jesus spent a lot of time doing.

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Jesus spoke these words into a political powderkeg, a time when the rich abused the poor and took advantage of the rules.  They conquered and enslaved others.  The oppression was palpable by those hearing Jesus’ words.  The Sermon on the Mount is IN YOUR FACE, then and now.  It is counter-cultural.  It is something that stops many so-called “Christians” in their tracks.  Stunned.

Jesus was interested in turning power on its head.  He was interested in comforting the afflicting and afflicting the comfortable.

Enter Colin Kaepernick.  While I disagree with his style, he is finally getting his wish.  The dialogue has begun.  The narrative has been revealed.  The racist underbelly of our country is finally getting exposed.

Nevermind that this all started as a protest to police brutality.  And nevermind that these groups on one knee or with locked arms have reminded us of that at every turn.

Nevermind that the Dallas Cowboys didn’t actually kneel during the National Anthem.  They knelt before it.  Still we love to jump to conclusions without the facts and turn into reactionaries.  We are Americans.  We often don’t care about the details.  All we care about is hyperbole, headlines, and tweets these days.

Nevermind that worshiping a flag isn’t patriotism; it is idolatry (and I think the Bible had just a few things to say about that (HINT: Commandment numero uno)).

Nevermind that the National Anthem was written by Francis Scott Key on the heels of the War of 1812 when black Americans had turned to fight with the British to “win their freedom”.  Nevermind that the anti-black third verse of this song was probably part of that history and was probably part of the reason it took over 100 years to adopt as our National Anthem.  (Well that and it is just way too hard to sing for the average American).

Nevermind that the prevailing “Love it or Leave it” dogma of the moment is a distraction from the deeper love of country these people on one knee are desperately trying to show us – and the incomprehension and hate that these protesters are met with helps us to conveniently miss the racist undercurrent of our lives, the white privilege many of us experience, and the liberties being violated every day.  Nevermind that.

And nevermind that I fear that no matter how minorities try to bring attention to the injustices they see in this country, it will never be deemed a “good way” by some.

Nevermind that you may want a break from all the negativity and talk of racism, and you just want to enjoy your football game without all the distractions.  Nevermind that you feel inconvenienced by all these weighty issues and just want a time out.  Nevermind that black people never get a time out from being black.

Nevermind that Russia tampered with our election and that the people of Puerto Rico are in dire straights, and we are talking about people kneeling.  (Do I need to say that one again?)

And dare I say, nevermind that lost in the one-kneed peaceful gestures just happens to be the same deeper values of the Bible (and that this country was founded on) that they are quietly calling us to – drawing us closer to a love of neighbor that looks beyond difference, beyond fear.

Mind instead that Jesus drops a bomb shell on us today.  It is a bomb shell of ACTION.  He expects us to ACT ACCORDINGLY.  He expects us to MIND all those “neverminds” above.

If we are going to claim to be Christian, we better start acting like it.  This means more than respecting our neighbor.  It means LOVING our neighbor.  PERIOD.

That is all.  And that is it.

And if you want to do something to help all this unrest in our country, instead of exploding into some rant or angry comment on my feed, instead put down your anger, open your clenched fists, receive the love and grace that Christ offers us today, in fact open wide your arms, and embrace a neighbor.  Be it a hug, or a similar gesture of neighborly love, go out into the world and begin to show the love that Christ calls us to.

It is not an option today.   It is a requirement.  Jesus’ requirement to each of us – daily.

There’s Christianity on its knees.

-Matt

Can You Really See?

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2 Kings 5:19-271 Cor. 5:1-8Matt. 5:27-37

Bible literalists.  They drive me crazy.  Mainly because they don’t know their Bibles very well.  Perhaps you have some friends who spout this: “I believe every word in the Bible is LITERALLY true.”  These same folk want you to read Revelation and every other book literally.

Here’s a cure!  Sit them down and read today’s passage from Matthew 5 with them.  Then look up in amazement and ask them why they still have any hands or eyes!  Jesus continues in the Sermon on the Mount in serious hyperbole:  “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out….  If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off!”

Bible reading is serious business!

The high drama begins as he takes on, first, adultery, then divorce, and then swearing falsely (meaning the making or breaking of oaths).  It turns out much is demanded of the one who seeks to follow Christ.

By the time he is done with his litany, no one is left unscathed – all fall short.  Not even the Pharisees and scribes, who were seen by the people as being blameless and perfect in the eyes of God, go away with clean hands.

This is not to diminish his words.  Individual accountability is important, as well as community failings.

Interestingly enough, this is not the trajectory of the gospel, but it is an important part of the sequence.  Jesus is not here to focus on how bad we are, nor did he come to, as some of my Baptist minister friends jest, “scare the hell out of you.”

And so this passage isn’t about making everyone blind or hand-less. 

Rather, Matthew’s gospel sets up the grand narrative of the rejection of the one we call Messiah.  He lays out the disappointment of the people who are looking for a political Messiah.  He spells out the brokenness of the earth, through the miracles and parables, but also Jesus’ rejection and brokenness.  This kind of Messiah was not able to fix the brokenness in their way, but in his way.

In this way it wasn’t Hell he was interested in, but Heaven.  He came to point a way to the heavenly kingdom, but that Heaven was not where the people wanted to go.  They were focused on the future, Jesus was focused on the present.  They were focused on Roman destruction.  Jesus was focused on a renewal of faith.

Jesus rails against the whole system today in the Sermon on the Mount.  So stay tuned.  As you know, the story takes a dark turn from here.

Jesus is asking: Can you really see what is going on here?

-Matt

Upsidedown

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2 Kings 5:1-191 Cor. 4:8-21Matt. 5:21-26

We pick up in the Sermon on the Mount right where we left off on Friday with our gospel readings.  We ended with “You are salt and light” and a warning that Jesus had not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.

The trajectory of the Sermon on  the Mount is clear – a world upsidedown.  Matthew zooms in ever closer on the law, Judaism, and Judaism of his time.  And like the zoom lens of a camera, Jesus continues to get closer and closer to home, ending with penetrating focus with a series of warnings about how the law is practiced in his time and his place.

Today Jesus reinterprets various laws, and their traditional meaning.  “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or a sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council….”

Jesus takes a more strict approach than the Old Testament law!  Murder isn’t just murder, but you are violating that commandment if you get mad?  Yes.  He does the same with divorce, which was acceptable at the time.  Not so here.

Jesus becomes the conservative.  He is not throwing out the law.  He is raising the bar.

At the end of the day we are left with one central focus – “The religion you all follow is not the true direction your faith and actions need to be taking.  There is more to all this.”

This theme of turning things on their head is a common theme.  All of our stories seem to get twisted and turned.  And in the ultimate “upsidedown” the king of the Jews ends up nailed to a cross, humiliated and defeated, rejected by his own.

Perhaps we should rename this book The Gospel of Upsidedown.

-Matt

Oklahoma Spice

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2 Kings 1:2-171 Cor. 3:16-23Matt. 5:11-16

The Sermon on the Mount continues today.  “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored??  It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”

Jesus also uses the metaphor of light.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  If you make light, you don’t put it under a bushel.

Have you ever had salt that lost its saltiness?

The other day I was planning to make my award-winning Red River Bison Chili (yes, with real Oklahoma buffalo), when I realized a couple key spices on my shelf had lost their spice.  I made a quick pivot to a different recipe, and put chili powder on the grocery list.  Perhaps you have been in this same boat.

Salt can also lose its saltiness.  Who would have thought!

Jesus, it turns out, is just as interested in outcomes as he was in intentions.  He doesn’t just want us Oklahomans to be salty, he needs us to be spicy in these challenging times.

Many of us like to focus on God’s grace.  We defer to “forgiveness” when anyone asks about Christian accountability.  We figure we are off the hook for doing anything, because God is in control.  For some, Christianity has become the broken remote.  We figure if God wants to change the channel, he will “get off his lazy rear and change it himself.”  Jesus appears to have some different views on that kind of thinking.

While it is unclear what exactly he is addressing, it becomes clear that action on our part is part of the deal.  It is expected, if not required.  Our internal drive has got to match our external motions.

This is a direct assault on those who wish to divide the spirit and the flesh, deciding that Christianity is all an interior and spiritual struggle.  Jesus says no.  If one is going to take religion seriously, you better be ready to have your daily routine disrupted.

There is a good bit in the Sermon on the Mount that involves right relationships.  In the process of the world being turned upsidedown (e.g. blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth) there will be a righting of relationships.  The world will come into harmony.

Beware though!  For that which is not in harmony, is not going to be very useful in God’s new matrix.  So choose your spices carefully.

-Matt

P.S. The Red River Bison Chili is on its way by the way.  Test run during the OU/Baylor game.  You all are welcome to swing by the house and try a bowl.  OU/texASS is coming soon and I will need to be armed and ready with more spices than just chili powder for that party.

The Beatitudes

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1 Kings 22:29-451 Cor. 2:14-3:15Matt. 5:1-10

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

So begins the Beatitudes, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.  Many have pointed out that this is most likely not one sermon, but a series of sermons and stories shared over the couple years of ministry of Jesus.  That is all well and good.  It does not change the impact or trajectory of this story.

Jesus speaks of a world turned on its head.  The poor in spirit will be in prominence in heaven.  The hungry are filled.  The peacemakers are called the children of God.  This stands in sharp contrast to the thoughts of the day, which were very similar to our day.  Simply put, it goes, “God helps those who help themselves.”  The Beatitudes stands in sharp contrast, declaring that the world will be turned upsidedown.

Perhaps some of my readers went on Window Tour at First in OKC entitled “Hidden Symbols & The Making of Stained Glass”.  If so you have seen up close and personal a depiction of the Beatitudes.  It is some of the most valued and artistically significant glass in Oklahoma City, Chihuly glass included.

I have found that often in life, things of profound beauty or value often go unnoticed or unappreciated.  The sunrise, the stars, mountaintop silence, the beauty of a darkened cave.  These things are so often spoiled by the rush of the world.  Well despite the beauty of those Beatitude windows, this falls into the same category of missed beauty.  (And if you folks in Duncan think you are immune, when was the last time you gazed at the beauty of our Chapel window?)

It turns out the symbolism of Beatitude imagery must be rich, deep, almost mysterious.  It has to be because it reflects Jesus’ actual words here – equally mysterious.  His meaning is shrouded, and it is certain that the world will look opposite how many expect.

Christianity itself is so strange – and so rich – and so deep – and so mysterious.  Even if you don’t believe that, you have to admit it is fascinating.  And it just so happens that I believe.  That makes this journey even more hidden and mysterious.

May the depth and richness of the Beatitudes fill your day with clarity.

-Matt

Humility

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1 Kings 22:1-281 Cor. 2:1-13Matt. 4:18-25

You may know how the story goes:

The new young minister had finally arrived in town.  It was his first Sunday, and his first sermon with his new congregation.  There was an excitement in the air, and a buzz about the arrival of this new and recent seminary graduate.

They also knew what they were getting into.  They were a smaller country church and the “new ministers” always found their way to them.  They were sort of a breeding ground for new ministers, a place that nurtured and ushered the next generation into ministry with a healthy successful place to get started.

Well after the first hymn, and the first prayer by one of the elders, the minister made his way to the pulpit.  In full academic vestments and with his nose in the air, he ascended to the pulpit, a massive pulpit for that space, with 7 steps that led up, overlooking the congregation by many feet.  He then looked out at a packed church, got a little nervous, and began the reading.  By the time for the sermon, he realized in the fanfare he had misplaced a couple pages of his notes.  He pressed on anyway, riding the coattails of his seminary professors.  He kept his nose in the air, cocky as ever, and preached a fine sermon.

Despite this, the sermon began to tank.  Stories weren’t completed.  Thoughts were lost.  The nervousness and the missing pages took its toll, and with much humility, he finished, turned, and walked down all seven steps, with his head held in shame.

After the service, as people passed to shake hands with the new minister, one of the elders of the congregation walked by and said, “Perhaps next time you can ascend to the pulpit in the same manner as you descended today.”

This is precisely the struggle of the Corinthians, and we see a piece of that in our reading today.  Paul, unlike them, comes in humility, weakness, and fear.  He demonstrates the Spirit of Christ and of his power, not a power of his own making.  He uses this in his very argument, because they were struggling to keep their egos and their faith in check.

Paul has incredible human wisdom, and ironically uses it to argue against human wisdom.  His struggle is to preach Christ crucified, and to get the church in Corinth on that same track as well.

He expected – no he demanded – that other churches follow his lead.  He almost singlehandedly provided a means by which the unity of Christ crucified could exist in a diverse and cosmopolitan Church that served Christ in many different countries and with many different native tongues.  It is amazing what the Spirit of Christ can do through one simple person!

-Matt