Right Action

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2 Kings 22:1-131 Cor. 11:2,17-22Matt. 9:1-8

This year marks 500 years since Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Many of us “Protestants” as we have been called, are celebrating 500 years since the Reformation began.  The Church reformed and always reforming!

Those events all those years ago, and people like Martin Luther and John Calvin, gave us many gifts, helping the Church pivot to a more faithful following of Scripture, grace, even our understanding of God.

There is a flip side.  Protestants often do well talking about grace and faith, although sometimes it can come at the expense of not talking about “right action” much.  We can fall into the trap of believing in “faith without works” even though we know that is dead!

While the final arbitration on humanity is grace, the Bible has much in the way of right action.  North American Christianity has its share of “lazy Christians”.  The prophets spent generations trying to shape the people’s thoughts, minds, and actions in ways of right speech, right worship, and right action toward others and God.

Paul addresses abuses of the Lord’s Supper in today’s reading, and calls to task those who do not join genuine table fellowship.

In Matthew, Jesus heals a paralytic.  In the midst of it he gets questions about the fact he heals this man of his sin, and gives him a clean bill of health in body and in spirit.  The Pharisees will have none of it.  Jesus retorts, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?”

Jesus heals him.  And by doing so he declares that much of the required liberation for this world includes bodily needs.  He is not solely interested in people’s souls, but in daily bread and physical ailments.

This is quite a warning to those who think questions of health insurance are only matters of state and not matters of religion.  They hit right at the core of Jesus’ understanding of religion!  And if you think the racial tensions we have in this country have nothing to do with your faith, look again!  Jesus calls us to care for the body, mind, and spirit of others, and of ourselves.  This is a call not merely to right belief, but to right action.

-Matt

Pure Peace, Pure Joy

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2 Kings 21:1-181 Cor. 10:14-11:1Matt. 8:28-34

Yesterday was our 1st Blessing of Animals!  And by so many measures it was a great success.  Connections were made with our Duncan community, and new relationships began to be formed.  Did you see the amazing coverage we got last night on Channel 7?  If you missed, it, full coverage is at www.kswo.com/story/36549287/families-get-their-pets-blessed-by-local-pastor

Please share that story on social media, even if you aren’t a social media fan.  It truly helps the church.  It’s your minute for evangelism for the day!

Well anyway, in the rush to get back home to watch some of the Packer game, I must have forgotten to wash my hands.  I got home and my little Pomeranian dog, Bentley, gave me a serious sniffing-over.  He would not stop, following me around, snorting and upset by the violations of my attention to other dogs!  He was determined to figure out all I had been up to.  When I opened up Matthew’s Gospel today and saw it was dealing with purification I thought of my doggy hands yesterday.  Pass the Purel!

Jesus heals the Gadarene demoniacs.  You know how this purification story goes, right?  It’s wacky.  The two possessed souls of Matthew’s gospel end up pure, and the demon begs to be sent into the herd of swine.  Jesus obliges.  The pigs then drown themselves.  How bizarre.

But Matthew is not so much concerned with purity, as he seems to be announcing a battle for power.  Jesus is named by the demons, an act of power, and one that is often viewed as the demons trying to gain the upper hand on their exorcist, because knowing the name of a person is to have power over them.

So perhaps the demons did not drown themselves, but Jesus maintained the power and forced the pigs to drown.

Either way, it is strange.  And the people in the town know this and want nothing to do with this man Jesus.  They want him to leave.

How true this often is in our world.  As a sinful people, we secretly like things the way they are and we don’t want change.  We secretly don’t want purity.  We don’t want unity.  We don’t want to be healed or truly experience the power of God.  Instead, we want to be in control! 

Ultimately, we don’t want change.  Change is stress.

There are ordination vows in the Presbyterian Church that all elders and ministers take.  One deals with Peace, Unity, and Purity.  It is seemingly an easy vow to take, but one that is hard to live up to.  And there are many in our church today who have become obsessed with breaking it – mainly the peace and unity part, instead liking to fight.

What does peace look like in our day?  Beyond the wars, beyond guns and racial tensions, I am talking about an inner peace.  To be called into a holy life with God means more than just praying or reading scripture, but to let go of the world and of control.  Submission and humility wrap themselves in this quest for purity, unity, and peace.

I think of those dogs who go to obedience school, and learn submission in the best way possible.  How can we give our lives over to the Master, knowing he will take care of all our needs?  I think of my little dog Bentley, who only truly calms down, who only knows true peace, when he has figured out who is Top Dog.  At the top is a picture of Bentley when he is not at peace!

What does unity look like?  How are we to live together in harmony with a variety of theological perspectives?  Paul and Peter struggled with unity.  But in the end they saw their unity in Christ and how to live as the body of Christ.  Instead of fragmenting and dissenting, we are called to live a life of togetherness.

And what does purity look like?  Certainly it is not as trite as “pass the Purel.”  And certainly it is not keeping Kosher.  This story blows that argument to pieces.  Instead, we are called to live a holy life, with Christ in control, guiding our thoughts and actions in love, and joy, and peace.

Only when we connect into Christ do we find that pure peace that transforms lives and brings pure joy.

-Matt

 

 

Thoughts & Prayers

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2 Kings 18:9-251 Cor. 8:1-13Matt. 7:13-21

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.  For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  So says Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount.

It is pretty clear that “bearing good fruit” is an essential in the kingdom.  Actions need to reflect one’s thoughts.  It is not good enough to just give things lip service.  Actions soothe deep pain and build hope.

Are you listening, America?

P.S. Prayer is a good start.  But prayer leads to action…when done right.  Ready…GO!

Guns, Jesus, and Our Culture of Violence

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2 Chron. 29:1-3,30:1(2-9)10-271 Cor. 7:32-40Matt. 7:1-12

Americans killed on 9/11: 2,996

Days it took Congress to authorize use of military force against those responsible for 9/11 attacks: 3

Americans killed by guns in 2017: 11,652

Days in 2017 so far: 276

We don’t have a gun problem.  We have a SIN problem.  

We can’t seem to realize that promoting a culture of violence is SIN.  We can’t seem to understand that defunding mental health resources is SIN.  We can’t seem to figure out that Matthew 7:12 applies to us too.  We can’t seem to figure out much these days.

Instead we dismiss events like Newton, Las Vegas, Columbine, Orlando, simply posting “our thoughts and prayers go with _____” on our Facebook feed and then returning to our regular routines.  Or we wring our hands about Las Vegas and say “Oh he doesn’t fit the profile” as if that has ever helped us address the violence and SIN at the root of this. We have an inability to name EVIL these days.  And in this case our ability to “do nothing” is our SIN.

Only in America do we have 1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days and have the audacity to ignore the EVIL all around us.  Enough with the “thoughts and prayers.”  It is time for us to all get on our knees, beg God’s forgiveness, and repent of our violent ways as a culture.

Perhaps it is time for us to all turn in our guns.  There was something in scripture about beating swords into plowshares I seem to remember.  Maybe my local sheriff’s office can figure out how to do that when we have our next amnesty program, so we can turn in any unwanted ammunition and weapons and come out with plowshares.

We seem all too quick to wash our hands of all responsibility when it comes to guns.  Did you know I actually saw a church post yesterday that simply said LORD HAVE MERCY.  At best I suppose that could mean “God forgive us for our part in this madness.  Save us from ourselves” but I was raw from the day, and my reaction was more along the lines of “Oh that’s the spirit – let’s just put this on God, and cry out to God to ‘let up on us’ for inflicting this violence on us instead of fighting this culture of gun violence.”  When did we decide to wash our hands of all responsibility and call on God expecting God will solve all our problems?  Prayer is meant to incite us to action, connect us with God and drive us to seeing our lives in better focus.  Our poor theology, lack of church attendance, and flimsy understanding of God and prayer is starting to catch up to us.

Only in America do we have such a staggering gun violence epidemic and conveniently brush it off by blaming Obama, or Trump, or the media, or the movie industry.  Then we quickly forget and return to our anxiety about Obama taking our guns, or some other such nonsense, thinking that more guns will solve all these problems.

Well you know what, all of this is EVIL.  It is sin, and we must confess it.

Did you know that per capita Canada has more guns than we do in the USA?  And yet gun violence is much lower in Canada.  How is that possible?  It is because our problem is much deeper than guns.  It is SIN.  It is that we nurture violence and the gun industry more than we nurture life, liberty, faith, and humility.

I thought taking away all the guns would solve all the problems.  Well, it might make a dent.  But we will still have problems.  It is because sin goes unaddressed around here.

I grew up around guns.  Hunting and fishing were norms in northern Wisconsin, not just deer hunting, but turkey hunting too.  Gun safety was a norm too.  The accessibility I see to guns is out of control in my mind – the lack of regulation, the lack of restriction, the lack of sensible gun laws.  We have allowed the gun industry to guide the narrative, and at the heart of their motivation is – you guessed it – MONEY.  GREED.  SIN.

The violent culture we foster is of our own doing.  “Lord, have mercy” is right.

We have to start to admit some hard truths.  We have been taking this “right to bear arms” too seriously.  Nevermind that whole “well-regulated militia” piece.  We act as if guns are going to solve our problems when Jesus calls us to a life of non-violence.  The hard truth is that unfettered access to automatic weapons makes no sense.  There are other hard truths.  The list could go on.  But….

The hard truth is that when we treat this terrorist’s gun arsenal as a right but the medical treatment for his 500+ victims as a privilege we have fallen into sin.  And it is the sin of idolatry.  It is that pesky Commandment Number 1 again.  We have decided that God is not as important in our lives as other things.  We have decided we can play God.  Or we have decided that Money is our god.  As long as we treat medical care as a commodity we will continue to have the same problems.  You put GREED at the center of the narrative.  When you turn Healthcare into a money-making endeavor of course it doesn’t want to cover sick people.  Idolatry is all over in our culture.

And (more troubling) we have been trained as Americans not to see that as SIN.  We warp our minds into thinking it is about liberty or freedom when it really has to do with IDOLATRY.

So taking away the guns isn’t going to fix it.  But neither is embracing our own sin.

Instead we should be begging for God’s forgiveness, for we have made a mockery out of loving one another.

Here we are again….Christianity needs to be on its knees.

-Matt

 

Do Not Worry

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2 Kings 17:24-411 Cor. 7:25-31Matt. 6:25-34

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”  So Jesus reminds us in our gospel lesson today.

What a troubling lesson to have as the humanitarian crises around the world exacerbate.  From Puerto Rico to St. Thomas to Florida to Houston, the need seems overwhelming.  It almost sounds crass for these words to come to us today.  The people of Puerto Rico better focus on what they will eat or drink, because people are dying!! So what is going on?  What is Jesus saying?

Jesus came and preached a gospel of action.  He wasn’t asking us to sit around and not do anything about it – but warning against the “worry” aspect of it.  Worrying often does little good.  Action, on the other hand, does.

His call today is as much ACTION to the rest of us as it is “Do not worry” to those in the midst of crisis.  If we are truly a Christian community we will find ourselves invigorated with action so no one needs to be caught up in worrying about basic human needs like food, shelter, clean water, adequate health care.

I hope that instead of worrying today about the people of Puerto Rico or those in the crosshairs of chaos in Las Vegas, instead we engage in ACTION.  This may mean action for those in need in our midst.  Or it may mean getting globally engaged and fighting hunger, poverty, terrorism on a grander scale.

I am tired of watching our elected officials detach from the needs of others and look out for only their well-being.  I am tired of the fiscal irresponsibility especially of our state legislator.  So unless they shape up and start responding to the needs around them, I am going to use my voice, my money, and my votes to throw them out of office.   We need a little more action around here and a little less hand-wringing.

-Matt