Out of the Fog

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Gen. 42:18-28; 1 Cor. 5:9-6:8Mark 4:1-20

As I gripped the steering wheel and drove through the fog last night, my cry went up to God: “Could I just please make it home in one piece so I have the opportunity to continue to serve you tomorrow?  That would be swell, God.”  Last night’s dinner party was wonderful, and it is always good to party with friends, but the dew point made for a foggy, slow drive home.  I am thankful just to be writing today’s reflection.

Grace and Travel are the order of the day in Genesis too.  And God’s grace begins to spill uninhibitedly through Joseph.

Today he sends his brothers on their way home, in order to retrieve Benjamin.  He sends them with grain.  And to top it all off, he returns their money too – literally topping the bag off with the bag of money.

The brothers don’t see this as grace yet.  They are filled with fear and trembling.  “What is this that God has done to us?”

They had decided going back to their land to fetch Benjamin was a penalty for what they had done to Joseph (and they still don’t know the secret of who Joseph is in Egypt).  Now the penalty must be more!

What looks like grace to me (a big bag of money out of nowhere!), they take as a compounding penalty.  Part of this has to do with the rules of indebtedness during ancient times.  These men are trying to get out of this famine alive.  All they want is to just make it.  Instead now, they are wracking up more debt to the Egyptians.  By giving them their money back, the Egyptians now have more to hold over their head, when it comes time to collect the debt.  These brothers are putting their very livelihood in jeopardy.  They may end up being indentured servants to Joseph and the Egyptian gang.

This is all part of the trajectory of grace which we see throughout this story.  Heavens, that we see throughout the Bible!  The whole trajectory of grace is upon us today, tracing God’s providential hand, guiding, directing, and caring for us.

Ultimately this will lead to a Savior who guides us out of the fog of this world into the glorious light.  The ride isn’t over yet!  We have much more grace coming.

 

-Matt

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Joseph

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Gen. 42:1-171 Cor. 5:1-8Mark 3:19b-35

Many know of the story of Joseph.  Actually many know him as having the amazing technicolor dreamcoat.  Others know him as the king of dreams.  Sometimes our understanding stops there.

Today, having been betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery, Joseph has now earned the respect of Pharaoh, and suddenly risen to power as chief overseer of Egypt.  In today’s passage, he encounters his brothers again, this time with them coming to Egypt to beg for grain.  The famine has hit the land hard, and Egypt is in a better position because of Joseph and his help in planning.

When he meets his brothers, he keeps his identity a secret, but recognizes them.  They lie to him by omitting some information about their brother Joseph by saying, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of a certain man in the land of Canaan; the youngest, however is now with our father, and one is no more.”

In a twist of irony, Joseph accuses them of being spies and throws them into jail.  Ironically it is he who spies on them.  He also makes them relive his own uncertainty and helplessness when he was sold as a slave by making them slaves.

He demands to see the youngest brother, now Benjamin, who has safely been left behind in Canaan.  This is a standard practice of progeny.  If the brothers do not return back, for whatever reason, Jacob’s blood line will die.  It is a safety net of God’s promise of progeny.   For Joseph to demand all the brothers means the whole family is in jeopardy.  Much more faith is required to send the last brother, than all the others.

Amidst the self-disguise and intrigue, amidst the anguish and helplessness, God comes to us this morning and speaks of the world upside-down.  The tables are turned.  The first shall be last, and the last first.  This passage is yet another testament to the fact that God’s choices are not always human’s choice.  Joseph, who was thrown away by his family, turns out to be very valuable to Egypt, and to God’s purposes.

If there is one word that comes from this text for me today it is: bankruptcy.  Only when the sons of Jacob are completely emotionally and economically bankrupt is God’s grace able to move in their lives.  Only when they come down a few notches do they come to realize the importance of knowing and honoring others.  If they were in a 12 Step group, their imprisonment would be called rock bottom, and they would be ready for Step 1.

What will it take for us to enter into the irony of God’s graces?

-Matt

Hot Air

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Gen. 41:46-57; 1 Cor. 4:8-20(21)Mark 3:7-19a

 

The gospel lesson today shows the power of God, and also the power of talk.  Jesus is having to escape on the Sea of Galilee by boat to avoid the crowds.  He has healed so many, they are coming in flocks.  The actions are speaking louder than words.

So often this is true in today’s society.  I see so many false prophets on the social media and television spouting on and on about how to live “blessed lives” but rarely seem to get around to talking about Christlike lives.  They are often windbags who are filled with excuses to justify hording all the money they can get their hands on, declaring it to be God’s blessing, and dismissing those in need.  Well, there is a time for talk, and there is time for action.

I too use a lot of words.  Am I full of hot air?

Each weekday a whole lot of words from me drop into your email box.  I pray I am not a windbag, but has helped point you to God.  We are not having to chase the Son of God down on the Sea of Galilee anymore, hoping to catch up.  He is all around us now.  All we must do is reach out our hands in love and we will find him.  Just like Joseph reached out.  Just like Paul reached out.  Just like Jesus.  Just like the apostles and saints that came after him.  He is here.

He is here, and he is not full of hot air, or just words, but a Savior who reaches out and touches us with healing power.  Our God is a God of actions matching those words of power and hope.

-Matt

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 addiction 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

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