Healing Must Come

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Gen. 39:1-231 Cor. 2:14-3:15Mark 2:1-12

Today Jesus heals a paralytic.  You know the story: Jesus goes home in Capernaum for a few days.  Word gets out and many want to come see Jesus, some to get healed.  Many gather around him, and there is no room.  So some friends of the paralytic climb on the roof, dig through it, and lower him down in. (There’s nothing like a bunch of strangers digging their way through your roof!)

Jesus gets some flack from the scribes about his saying to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.”  So he goes on, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’?

Jesus heals him.  He stands up, takes his mat, and goes out before all of them.

Today we cry out for Jesus to touch us, and heal us again.  We are frozen in our response to violence in America.  We are unresponsive – stiff as a board – unable to discern what to do and which way to go.  We are a bloodthirsty people who love our guns, and so any mention of restriction is simply unfathomable.

Today power and authority collide in a cosmic struggle against evil.  Demons lurk in the shadows.  Sin lurks.

We need Jesus to take us by the hand and deal with these powers and principalities.  I suspect that trusting in the Lord to deal with this is also going to require some action on our part.  We will have to embrace the reality that the Prince of Peace would clearly understand that everyone’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness trumps anyone’s desire to have any kind of gun at any time.

Can we miraculously come to value life and move from our frozen positions once again?  Can we too be touched by Jesus and healed?  Can we overcome our addition to violence and the violent culture we love so much?

I find great comfort in knowing that God’s cosmic struggle in this story, the healing of the paralyic, led to an overwhelming setting free of the Spirit.  Unleashing God’s power in the world is something that is long overdue.

So catch the Spirit with me.  And let us be led by the one who healed the paralytic and later healed the Roman guard who had his ear cut off by a disciple’s violent act.  Let us rise, and take our mat, and turn from our violent obsessions, and run to tell people how great it is to be alive anew, following the one who demanded peace and healing for all who were broken.

-Matt

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Chocolate for Lent

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Gen. 37:25-36; 1 Cor. 2:1-13Mark 1:29-45

Tomorrow begins our Wednesday Noon Class, Chocolate for Lent.  I invite you to bring a sack lunch, come and watch part of the movie Chocolat with me, and discuss the theological benefits of chocolate!  Yes, it is true, we are going to talk about temptation, addiction, and where all these Lenten practices began.  We might even dare to indulge in some chocolate.

We will explore Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and struggle with whether to “Give Up” or “Take On” lenten disciplines.

Join me!

Frederick Douglass

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Gen. 37:12-24; 1 Cor. 1:20-31Mark 1:14-28 

[Frederick Douglass]

Today, in addition to some very good readings, it is also the feast day of Frederick Douglass, an early abolitionist here in America, and an advocate of education and desegregation of our schools way before that was a topic most people were thinking about.

Everyone needs to know about Frederick Douglass, especially if we are going to get serious in this country about fighting inequality, poverty, and injustice in ways that actually matter.  So often we say that, but it is just fluff.  So often we sugar coat the argument, post a meme on Facebook, but are unwilling to address the real issue.  I could argue that our gun violence actually fits in to this – and our incessant desire to stay living in sin and inequality as a people.

It is time to repent, turn around, and embrace the stories of those who have fought against injustice and paved the way for us to be a better people.  It is time for us to follow the path blazed by the great Frederick Douglass.

So pray with me:

Almighty God, we bless your Name for the witness of Frederick Douglass, whose impassioned and reasonable speech moved the hearts of people to a deeper obedience to Christ: Strengthen us also to speak on behalf of those in captivity and tribulation, continuing in the Word of Jesus Christ our Liberator; who with you and the Holy Spirit dwells in glory everlasting. Amen.

If you would like to know more about Frederick, click the link above.

-Matt

Next!!!

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Gen. 37:1-111 Cor. 1:1-19Mark 1:1-13

Today is all about new beginnings.

We begin the gospel of Mark today, my favorite gospel, not just because of its brevity, but because of Mark’s quirky details which paint a stunning and imaginative picture of God’s grace.  Unlike the other gospels, “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” does not begin with a birth narrative or with the beginning of time, but rather with John the Baptist proclaiming in the wilderness.

Like a good journalist, he paints a picture with quotes, memorable details, and keeps it brief.  Today is not just about a baptism in the wilderness but a baptism of fire.  Only 13 verses in and Jesus is already tempted in the wilderness.  Mark moves it along, sowing the seeds of expectancy and mystery.

 

Many of us are yearning for new beginnings this Lenten journey.  2018 has been hard already.  The Lenten journey is built for this!  We enter this Lenten journey, knowing that the end of the journey is a cross, but knowing that as we live into the penitential and centering aspect of these 40 days, that our journey does not end at the cross.

And so we slow down and focus on things one day at a time, not knowing what the future may bring, but knowing who holds the future.

-Matt

In God’s Time

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Hab. 3:1-10(11-15)16-18Phil. 3:12-21John 17:1-8

Habakkuk can be a very upfront and personal kind of prophet.  His first person narrative is almost auto-biographical, and he seems easy to get to know and relate to.  He recounts his direct dialogues with God.  And today we read his concluding prayer as our Old Testament passage.

Here he paints God’s intervention as profound and in cosmic terms.  He continues his complaints and questioning of God’s wisdom, but answers his own questions in amazing amounts of trust and affirmation of God’s reign.

Last night at the Ash Wednesday service, we encountered the importance of confession and honesty to God.  I had the privilege of inviting you to a special commitment to prayer, and fasting, and almsgiving, but also to come to grips with the purging and repentant nature of the ashes themselves.  Well today’s Habakkuk passage provides another dimension of that honesty toward God.

As we move into this spiritual journey of Lent, it is important to know our place.  Yes Lord, we have fallen short.  Another key component of that is knowing God’s majesty above it all.  “O Lord, I have heard of your renown, and I stand in awe, O Lord, of your work.  In our own time revive it; in our own time make it known.”  In conjunction with realizing the cosmic and awesome nature of God, he is able to know his place in the whole created order, and that provides enough humility and trust to move forward with his petition.

It is hard to ask God for something if you don’t believe God can actually do it!

Habakkuk knows God’s power.  He trusts in God’s power, and is renewed in that.  And he does it in beautiful poetry which I cannot recount here.  From pierced arrows to quivering lips to fruitless vines to the sun raising its hands, it is simply a passage you must encounter directly.  Click the link above to read it yourself!

-Matt

Ash Wednesday – 6:30pm @ FPC-Duncan

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AM Psalm 95 [for the invitatory] & 32143; PM Psalm 102130
Amos 5:6-15Heb. 12:1-14Luke 18:9-14

Today marks the beginning of Lent. These are the 40 days that lead up to Easter which mimic the 40 days that Jesus wandered in the wilderness. It is a season of preparation, a season of purging. Traditionally it can be a time of prayer, fasting, or almsgiving.

Lately many Presbyterians have been “giving something up for Lent” or taking on an additional spiritual discipline. Something that only Lutherans and Catholics did, it is good to see an air of intentional spiritual discipline in the Presbyterian Church.

Have you thought about giving something up? Some give up chocolate, or alcohol, or meat, or white bread. Perhaps now is the time to give up smoking, or cursing. Others give up Facebook or Snapchat, or television, or the PS4, or Family Guy. In this sense, giving something up isn’t so much giving up their favorite whatever just to deny themselves, but to open up time in their schedule for God to enter their lives in new ways. To rededicate the time they would have spent on that PS4 to pray or volunteer at a community center.

Fasting is something that I don’t hear about much anymore. I wish we would rediscover the power of fasting. In college I was the chair of the Campus OXFAM Program. Almost the entire campus at Westminster College would fast for 24 hours, only drinking water, and we would raise money for hunger. I helped contract with the cafeteria to cut back their meals and staff, or shut down completely, and the money we would save would go to OXFAM. Some, because of their medical condition, couldn’t fast, but they would give up their cafeteria plan for the day too, and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in their room.

Fasting can be a powerful thing, that wakes the senses, and awakens the soul. It can put one in touch with one’s body, and in touch with their dependence on God and the earth. It was even more powerful to fast as a whole group, like at Westminster.

Fasting is a willingly abstaining from something. Over time, the church has expanded this…it could be food, or water, or sex. It’s something to think about.

Almsgiving is an opportunity to “take on a spiritual discipline” rather than give something up. Perhaps it means giving more money to church. It may mean volunteering one day a week somewhere. Giving an extra hour a day to God.

I hope you consider Lent for your daily walk. Today we mark the beginning of Lent with ashes on our foreheads, remembering that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. We places ourselves in a mindset to reconnect with God in new and deeper ways.

Join us at 6:30 tonight for the Imposition of Ashes.

-Matt

Mardi Gras

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Prov. 30:1-4,24-33Phil. 3:1-11John 18:28-38

Get your partying in now.  Today is Mardi Gras!

Today is also a good time to reflect on our Proverbs passage. Proverbs sits as a part of the Wisdom Literature, which I have referenced in the last couple sermons, but not a usual topic for Presbyterians.

The Wisdom Literature of Israel is complex and rich.  Its main goal, in my estimation, is to give a cross-section of sayings for the plethora of human experiences.  If you have been reading Proverbs slowly and deliberately, you may have realized that some contradict one other.  The wise person knows which to apply at each certain time.  Thus is the dilemma for the reader of Wisdom Literature.  You gotta know it all for it to be any use!

Today we near the end of Proverbs.  It provides comforting words to those of us who feel we have just begun our journey into wisdom.

Today’s reading also helps frame Mardi Gras—that despite our foolishness and foibles, we are merely God’s creatures.  And it frames our celebration as part of the human journey.  We may not know all the secrets of life, but we are merely human, and celebrating our journey with God along the way to perfection.

“I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the holy ones.”  The writer is saying, “That’s OK… it’s OK to fall short and not have grasped the breadth of all of these sayings.”

Verse 4:   “Who has ascended to heaven and come down?  Who has gathered the wind in the hollow of the hand…?  What is the person’s name?  And what is the name of the person’s child?  Surely you know!”

This may perhaps be in the form of a riddle, a riddle that perhaps no one can answer.  At least I can feel smart knowing that no one knows it!  This verse brings me comfort!  Others have argued that the answer to this riddle is “God.”

I personally believe this may also be a way to put the know-it-alls in their place.  Provide me with his name, and his children’s name, knowing full well there is no such person.  Of course then God comes to earth, his child who is literally the know-it-all Messiah.  Perhaps there is something along these lines too.

It is important to treat the Israel Wisdom Literature in the context in which they were written.  This passage is not meant to befuddle, but to put us in our place, coming to know the source of all wisdom, the Lord, our God.

So today let us celebrate our journey with God, and rest in the one who holds all the secrets to life.

-Matt