3, 2, 1…Connect

Tower_of_babel

Gen. 11:1-9Heb. 6:13-20John 4:1-15

Genesis is chuck full of wonderful themes and intrigue.  The theme of “the Fall” is one of them.  It goes well beyond the story of Adam and Eve, but permeates the whole book.  Certainly we see in each of our lives how easily frayed our relationships can become, both from God and from each other.  It is easy to relate to Genesis.

Today’s story of the Tower of Babel certainly fits into that theme.  As the story goes, the whole earth had one language and the same words.  Human pride gets in the way, and the punishment is that language and speech are jumbled.  Before the “fall” was about humans falling away from God; now they are falling away from each other.

As the human population grew, the fray only continued.  People became divided politically, socially, and economically.  That divide continues until today.

I am fascinated by our smartphones and how these little devices are revolutionizing our communications.  We stand at the precipice of a fascinating age of connectivity, never seen before in human history, which I suspect will not end.  What an exciting opportunity for the church – to once again reclaim its Pentecostal message that exhibits oneness and community in the body of Christ.

Just the other day I was talking online with a Coptic priest serving a number of churches in Ethiopian.  How exciting.  It takes mission and evangelism to a whole new level when we can have live interactive discussions with people around the world at any moment.

We are a Christian community stand in opposition to the Tower of Babel – beyond to the other side of its complementary story of the Pentecostal fire where those who spoke different languages began to understand one another.

The question is “What will we do with our time and how will God use us?”

-Matt

Advertisements

A Rainbow Promise

rainbow-christmas-2893686_1280

Gen. 9:1-17Heb. 5:7-14John 3:16-21

I just signed a new covenant with First Pres., Duncan.  The presbytery is also having to wrestle with my contract/covenant with them as well, as the longer this interim time marches on the more unrealistic my limited hours are.  Then I turned to the readings this morning, and more talk of covenants – BIG ONES with God and God’s people.

The covenant with Noah is laid out today.  It comes with a rainbow promise by story’s end.

There are a lot of covenants in the Bible.  The first ones that come to mind are the covenants with Noah and Abraham.  There is also the Sinai covenant.  Covenants come in many forms, sometimes agreements between God and human, other times between human and human.

The Noahide covenant is a bridge forward and backward.  God says to Noah and his sons, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”  This is yet another creation narrative, in a sense.  God’s goodness spills forth, once again, and we too are invited to step out of our arks and renew our own covenant, one that extends to each other, to the earth, and to God.

By the end, the rainbow stands not simply as a promise not to destroy the earth, but as a sign of the goodness of God, the invitation to be in covenant with God, be fruitful and multiply and share life and love with all those around us.

At Sinai God makes covenant with the chosen people, and encourages them not to make covenants with the foreigners in the land of Canaan.  This covenant today is a precursor to that, helping lay out the plans of God, to fill the earth with his love and the community of Israel.  The intention is to have the whole earth spread with the name of the Lord.  Sound familiar?  It is the very promise that Paul and others were carrying forward as they brought the good news to the Gentiles.

The writer of Hebrews has offered solid food but his hearers are only able to digest milk.  John says there is light and darkness in the world.  Sometimes you get darkness.  When you do, dust off your sandals and move ahead.

It’s still all about God and God’s loving embrace of all the world.

To live in glory, truth, and love in the present life is a joy and a freedom.  In Christ we have another covenant – a covenant of love set before you were born.  And we are drawn into that love that was set forth at the Noahide covenant, and led to share light and love, at all times remembering the rainbow of God’s love.

-Matt

Lift Up My Soul

photo-1438890513707-bf5799d2e14b

Gen. 8:6-22Heb. 4:14-5:6John 2:23-3:15

The scene in our Genesis passage today is most certainly one filled with hope but also anxiety.  After 40 days on the ark Noah anxiously sends out the raven and then the dove three times.  The second time the dove comes back with an olive leaf, a symbol of peace and flourishing life.  The third time the dove does not come back, evidently finding a place to nest, or deciding the ark was a smelly mess anyway, not wanting to return!

The dove provides us with a symbol of renewal and hope.

The Psalmist too is looking for guidance and deliverance (Ps 25 is the psalm for the day, btw).  It is unclear specifically what is the problem is.  This unspecified trouble comes with it specific remedies though: reasons for God’s gracious response and goodness.   The Psalmist claims obedience, offering to “lift up my soul” and saying to God, “In you I trust, do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.”

“My eyes are ever toward the LORD.”  These words of dedication and trust in God’s grace are unwavering.  Without knowing what problem he was experiencing, the Psalmist lays out the road ahead, “Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.”

What I enjoy about the story of the Ark, as well as the Psalms, is that they stand in the face of our culture of mistrust.  Here are two beautiful examples of deliverance and trust.

Today is the funeral for my buddy Martha Pat Upp.  If there was anyone at FPCOKC who put their trust in God it was certainly Martha Pat.  She was also a faithful reader of my Morning Reflections when I started these things, and a big fan.  And through the turbulence of life, she trucked on, faithful and sure as ever that God was at the helm and with her eyes fixed on God and God’s direction.

The movement from the ark back to dry land is almost like experiencing another creation narrative, with slow deliberate transformations and growth.  The earth first accepts animals, like the dove nesting, and when it is ready, in due time, Noah and the gang hit dry land.

We all know that ark was smelly.  I mean, come on.  But yet, I read the story of the Ark and I sense a cleansing, and a spirit of purity and grace.  God accepts Noah in his limitations, and works miraculous grace.

And this is where the Psalmist stands in grace as well.  God’s “Yes” is greater than our “No’s.”

Halleluiah!

-Matt

Have Heart

stethoscope-3075838_1280

Gen. 6:1-8Heb. 3:12-19John 2:1-12

The last couple days have been some of the most trying days of my personal life and professional career.  Between the presbytery, my church, and my life, it has been big decisions, and crunched time.  Sorry you haven’t heard from me in a few days.  I simply ran out of time.

In the midst of it, one of my friends said, “How do you keep going, doing such difficult work for these churches?  You obviously have a heart for ministry.”

And that is true.  I think it’s amazing the kind of energy one can have when you truly love what you are doing.

Today, that word pops up in a number of our readings – heart.

“The Lord saw …that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually …, and it grieved him to his heart.”  Genesis 6:5b, 6b

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
  Hebrews 3:15

The wedding at Cana in John, while it doesn’t say these words, could be interpreted as, “their hearts were filled with joy.”

In scripture, the word heart is used quite differently than our usage.  While we often think of the heart as the center of emotions, and the head as center of intellect.  People of this time used bowels as the place thought to be the center of emotions.  The heart was where one’s own soul resided.  And soul was different for them as well, a representation of their whole self: body, mind, spirit, and emotions.  A soul was not separated from the body, but the very essence of it.  From it comes blood, the essential fabric of life.  Without the heart, the center of life, one loses the breath of God, given at the time of Adam by God himself.

Jeremiah later speaks a promise of God to put the law of God within us, and to write it on our hearts.  So hearts are where reason reside.  Even today we say, “Does that feel right in your heart?” an indication of full satisfaction.

One’s true self came out through the heart, and to have a hardened heart meant being frozen and impenetrable to God’s grace – self-centered and distant.

Hearts can be hard, shut, made of stone, proud, or hurt.  In places in the Bible, hearts are covered, an awkward phrase which may indicate a protective shield, defending from outside hostilities or danger.

Hearts also change.  They can become open and refreshed.  Hard hearts can be thawed by the awesome grace of God.  (Of course in our Genesis passage, the hardened hearts of the people are unsalvageable to God, and destruction of the whole creation is begun, with only Noah finding favor, a righteous remnant).

We are called to the joy of the wedding at Cana, when hearts danced and were filled with joy.  God invites us to have open hearts, surprised by the joy and grace offered each day.  An open heart is one which bursts with joy, responding to God in thanksgiving.  An open heart is also one filled with passion and compassion.  This means a special burden to the open heart, one that is concerned with justice, peace, and goodwill.

Having an open heart means not only fully experiencing the joy of the wedding at Cana, but being compelled to show up and share in the revealed glory of Christ. It means being open to others in need, a welcoming, trusting, and listening heart.

Is this an invitation to attend the wild and crazy parties?  Absolutely, if that is where one can minister to the outcast and brokenhearted.  What a better place to shine the light of Christ, see a non-judgmental open heart, and work for the end of suffering, loneliness, and ache for justice to prevail!

So let us live this day with an OPEN HEART, listening and living a life of invitation.

-Matt

Stand Firm

sidewalk-657906_1280

AM Psalm 5, 6; PM Psalm 10, 11
Gen. 3:1-24Heb. 2:1-10John 1:19-28

Have you or your work ever been questioned?  Have you ever struggled to stay true to yourself in the face of accusations or temptations?  Have you ever felt like John the Baptist – being the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness” for justice, freedom, or peace?

I know many of you can relate.  I know because some of you have told me, shared your stories of pain or questioning.  You have emailed me.  You have talked with me.  I have  been routinely surprised at the extent that this Morning Reflection ministry has had on me as I hear the stories of how so many of you have struggled to stay true to yourself in the face of pain, opposition, or struggle.

This is what we are called to: to bear one another’s burdens.  Sometimes in the midst of that we are called beyond ourselves – to stand for something greater.  Sometimes we called to rise up and take a stand against an unhealthy system, whether that be a large corporation, the government, or a dysfunctional marriage.

And it is not easy.  It is never easy to endure the accusations – to work for justice, freedom, or peace.  Sometimes it is hard to see the big picture and realize that the problems in the short term will help out the problems in the long term.

John the Baptist knew this well.  He seemed to inherently know the big picture, and he took a stand, enduring the short-term chaos – the short-term trial – because he knew the rest of the story.  In the reading today it is if John the Baptist is on trial today.  The Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem.  They asked him, “‘Who are you?’  He confessed and did not deny it, ‘I am not the Messiah.’  And they asked him, ‘What then?  Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’  Then they said to him, ‘Who are you?’”

In the midst of the questions, he remembered the bigger picture.  For him that “rest of the story” was that Jesus was the one who could take on the powers and complete the work of justice, freedom, and peace.  Jesus: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me’”

Did you notice what else John had?  Humility.  In the face of standing – perhaps railing against the system, we must realize we do not have all the answers.  We are all called to John’s humility – to realize that we are not the One who brings justice, freedom, or peace.

But we very well may be the catalysts for that change.  We may very well be the ones who are called to help change the system.  And if that is so, may God grant us the grace to stand firm in the face of torment – to stand firm when people slander you or speak ill of you.  Remember – you may be the one who is called in this time and place to shine the radiant love of Christ – breaking the systems of the past, and helping God’s light to shine in.

So stand firm.

-Matt

Word Became Flesh

virgin-mary-1866783_960_720

AM Psalm 1, 2, 3; PM Psalm 4, 7
Gen. 2:4-9(10-15)16-25Heb. 1:1-14John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  These words have echoed through the naves of our churches for two millennia now.  And they still carry as much mystery and depth as always.

This passage from the beginning of John’s gospel also stands as a prologue to the whole book.  Karl Barth used to teach a class on the Gospel of John and the entire semester was spent focusing on the first 20 verses or so.  That is because so much of the Gospel is simply an expansion on this initial philosophical stance.

The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us – full of grace and truth.

What do these words say to our church today – churches who are struggling to share the gospel?  John is anything but simple, and yet, the images are often rooted in simplicity.  The Word was with God.  Logic, rational, understanding: these things are with God.

And the Word became flesh…Jesus, right?  Seems easy so far.  In Jesus is all that is logic and understanding.  OK, not so simple.  Later John takes up these concepts of grace and truth and expands them into light and sharing the light.

Down South the last couple weeks folks have been finding their way back to church after missing church for a couple weeks.  Up North many are just starting to miss church.  Over the years I have heard laments about winter and missing church.  My favorite is still a high school senior lamenting when we had to cancel Christmas eve service with that horrid ice storm from a few years ago, with the choice words: “I didn’t know the little baby Jesus could arrive if First Pres’ choir didn’t sing him in!”

And yet the light comes. Nothing could stop Christmas from arriving, because it was already in our hearts.  Christ is all around us, and God’s Word permeates every nook and cranny of this world.

I hope you have discovered the wonderfully strange book of John’s gospels, which speaks to the complexity, and yet the simplicity of God’s truth revealed to us.

-Matt

Last Day of Xmas – Thank You, God

thank-you-3040082_1280

AM Psalm 2110:1-5(6,7)
Jonah 2:2-9Eph. 6:10-20John 11:17-27,38-44

Eve of Epiphany:
PM Psalm 2998
Isa. 66: 18-23Rom. 15:7-13

As Christmas winds down, and we enter the Season of Light tonight with the Eve of the Epiphany, we pause to say Thank You to God.  Thank you for bringing us the true Light of the World, and showing us the way.

The splendor and variety of how that light has come is shared in all our readings today.  Let me briefly cover a bunch of them.

One of the most vivid images children often remember from the Old Testament comes before us today: the time of Jonah in the belly of the fish.  When I read this story to children I often ask them, “Why is Jonah so happy he got swallowed by a fish?”  I would be a little upset!  Instead, he is thanking God, first and foremost.

“The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head….But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you.”

The fish saved him from drowning!  I think often we adults forget that part of the story.  But the kids zoom right in on the thankfulness.  They know and understand joy.  As an adult I often get stuck with the plausibility of the story to begin with, or spend time trying to figure out what type of fish this would be.  How bizarre of me.

Interestingly enough, if you read deeply, you see this is more than the belly of a fish, but he comes from the “belly of Sheol.”  The belly of Hell.  Or, the belly of shadowy darkness.  As he comes back into the light, he sees God’s deliverance.

Being in this belly is simply a metaphor for being separated from God.  There are a lot of ways we separate ourselves from God, or are separated because of our circumstances.

Ephesians is wrapping up.  The whole armor of God comes to light.  Take a belt of truth.  A shield.  A helmet of salvation.  Flaming arrows.  We find out our struggle is not against our enemies, but against the authorities and the cosmic powers.

How are you struggling?  Is your struggle with outside pressures?  Things beyond your control?  Or are you struggling at this point in your life with something more intimate, perhaps wrestling with yourself?

The writer of Ephesians reminds us: “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication…. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.”

My prayer for you, and for all my readers in these Morning Reflections, is that God reveals himself to you, and that you find yourself connecting to God in prayer deeper and more often.  Know that you are loved.  And know that God has called you into the Light where darkness cannot survive, and where peace and joy win.

-Matt