Weeds and Wheat

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Prov. 21:30-22:61 Tim. 4:1-16Matt. 13:24-30

This may sound strange to those of us who grew up in the USA, but it really is hard to tell the difference between the sheep and goats in Israel.  There are different breeds than we are used to.  When I was studying there, and taking a class on the parables of Jesus with a professor who loved to take field trips, often out of the school van window he would see a herd of sheep and goats and dare us to separate them in our minds.  We could not.  Until you get up close to them, you cannot tell the difference.

There is a similar strain of thought with the weeds and the wheat, which fill today’s passage.  The instruction is to not pull the weeds, “…for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.  Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”

The ideas of selection and separation are common in Jesus’ parables.  While sometimes it is difficult to spot the difference between who is good and evil on looks alone, there are definitely good intentions and right paths – and the implication is that we best spend some time making sure we are doing what is right, for the sake of the kingdom.

I have been in church work for many years now, and I have worked with a lot of wheat, and a fair amount of weeds too.  And I can attest, first hand, that sometimes the weeds are hard to spot.  But after a while, they show their true colors.  And I have also experienced first hand that God eventually binds up the weeds.

Interestingly enough, most of the wheat I encounter spend a good bit of time worrying about if they are good wheat or bad weeds.  It is often the weeds who are convinced of their own goodness, and march around declaring others to be weeds, proclaiming their own wheatie-ness.  This is the first sign of trouble!

I always have to remind myself that this parable refers to the kingdom of heaven – in fact to the sower himself.  So the kingdom of heaven has great hopes to be full of nourishing wheat and an abundant harvest.  The kingdom of heaven is intending for a barn that is overflowing with goodness and produce.

We must all strive to live into this gracious goal.  May abundance reign in our hearts.  And may we always be alert enough to see the abundant harvest and live into that each day.

And let’s let God handle the weeds.

-Matt

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The Daily Struggle

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Prov. 15:16-331 Tim. 1:18-2:8Matt. 12:33-42

Well another Memorial Day weekend is behind us.  We head back to work.  We put away the grill, and the flags hanging.  We remember.  We often spend time with friends and family, or visiting the cemetery.  We get back to our regular routine.

And what a routine it is.  It is a challenging world out there.  This “adulting” thing is really for the birds.  Is it just me or are things getting harder?  Not easy to make ends meet.  Not easy to be faithful to the promises we have made.  Just not easy.

The storm clouds to Jesus’ ministry are beginning to gather, and things are getting dicey for Jesus.  In Matthew’s passage today, Jesus invokes the name of Jonah, drawing a parallel to his life.  He is speaking to the scribes and Pharisees, who are demanding a sign from Jesus.  He says, “No sign will be given…except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.”

To speak of Jonah is to really rub the Pharisees raw.  Jesus had just spoken about how perplexed he was that the words and deeds of the Pharisees did not match.  He warned them, called them names, and spoke of the day of judgment.  Now he turns to Jonah, whose half-hearted preaching turned an entire city to repent.  To repent at the words of Jonah is one thing.  To have evil in the midst of folks who claim to be so great is another thing.

But Jesus goes further, declaring that “something greater than Jonah is here,” and later “something greater than Solomon is here!”  He speaks of himself as this greatness.

It is no wonder the teachers of the Law turned against him.  He threatened their authority and questioned their authenticity.  But lest we turn our hearts to stone for the Pharisees, we must remember that it is easy for us – we have the perspective of seeing him die on a cross and rise again.  The Pharisees are simply reminders to us of the difficulty and strength it will take to believe and follow Christ.

These are not easy times.  Challenges are all around us.  Being a Christian is arguably harder today that it has been in recent history.  And we must struggle every day for our words and deeds to match.

-Matt

Memorial Day Prayer

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God of power and mercy,
you destroy war and put down earthly pride.
Banish violence from our midst and wipe away our tears,
that we may all deserve to be called your sons
and daughters.
Keep in your mercy those men and women
who have died in the cause of freedom
and bring them safely
into your kingdom of justice and peace.
We ask this though Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 

P.S. I know this Morning Reflection is a tad bit late.  I am just realizing the draft did not schedule and send like I thought I told it to!  Technology.  SMH.

Recovering Sabbath

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Prov. 8:1-212 John 1-13Matt. 12:1-14

Every time Jesus breaks commandments, it is for a good reason.  He destroys expectations and transforms our faith.

Today his disciples break the Sabbath, and Jesus runs to their defense.  He uses it as a time, not to justify their behavior, but to declare scripture as not as black and white as the Pharisees would like.  He also goes on to cast the Law in a different light, declaring that “…the Son of man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Then he himself breaks the Sabbath by curing a man with a withered hand.  His bold initiatives get him in trouble and help cast the trajectory of the Gospels.  Now the Pharisees have some ammunition and “went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.”

Just as we discover in the Wisdom literature, scripture and “God’s will” is sometimes elusive, and I believe Jesus is making more than just a point about compassion or hunger on the Sabbath, but is making a bold statement about interpretation of Scripture.  He is declaring that righteousness and integrity are essential components.  Wisdom is subjective and lives in reality.  As a result it must bend and flex with the situation, revealing its truth each and every day in new ways.

Here, in these two situations, Jesus had come to the conclusion that “the Law” said something different than what the experts in the Law had decided.  He went all the way to the cross for his interpretation of Scripture.

Today’s Matthew passage is a delightful personification of Divine Wisdom, which reveals to us a God who wants us, above all else, to be fed and whole in his sight.

Now all that being said, I want to invite you to the Pastor’s Class on June 3, at 9:30am, in the adult Sunday School room.  The topic will be RECOVERING SABBATH, and we will talk about Sabbath practices and how we can experience it afresh in 2018 and in a culture that never seems to stop and rest.

-Matt

“LIKE” me, pleeeeeaaase

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Prov. 6:1-191 John 5:1-12Matt. 11:16-24

The internet is a crazy place today.  From videos of corporeal punishment with people’s children, to videos of Trump making a fool of himself, to all the “yanny” and “laurel” memes, to so many scenes of daily living, I wonder if we have any filters any more.  I am no exception, taking pictures of my food before I eat it (why do I think you all care!?)

Our whole lives have become a show – a billboard for others.

And while I see an undercurrent of yearning for connection and community, I wonder if most of us are wise when it comes to internet.

In Scripture today, wisdom is a topic.

In Matthew we see Jesus paint himself as the healing Messiah, the Servant, and the Son of Man, whose mission is to his people despite the opposition from the Jewish authorities.  Jesus seems agitated as he defends John the Baptist, and his own ministry: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

It is apparent we will need to faculties of our own minds again to determine the truth behind Jesus’ ministry.  Wisdom will guide us to know he is the Messiah, the Servant, and the Son of Man.  Through his miracles, deeds of loving kindness, and teachings we see a person who stood with John the Baptist in breaking forth the kingdom of heaven.  His deeds speak for themselves.

Behind his words, though, there is agitation.  One can almost hear, in the John the Baptist exchange, Jesus throwing up his hands and saying, “You see?  I am cursed if I do, or cursed if I don’t!”  John was made fun of because he didn’t drink and eat.  Jesus was called a glutton and drunkard for eating and drinking.  Well, I guess you can’t win here with the crowd.

Part of what Jesus is saying is that “what the crowd thinks” should be at the bottom of our list of things to worry about.  What he is demanding is the excellence of our ministry – a reaching out to the poor, the outcast, the sinners.  If we do that well, we will see the kingdom break forth, just like Christ brought it forth.

We would do well to put at the bottom of our list of importance “what the crowd thinks.”  It is not all about how many LIKES you get on Instagram, folks.

While the cross is of central importance to our beliefs and understanding, from the mouth of our Lord, we also get a strong push into the here and now of daily needs.  We see that tending to the daily needs of people is of key importance if we want to follow our Lord.

And wisdom will alert others as to whether we are genuine followers of Christ or not.

I see the Church in North America struggling too – struggling for LIKES – struggling for numbers.  We seem to think this is a popularity contest.  It is not.

We need to be struggling with daily living instead.

We need an increase in wisdom, not an increase in LIKES.

-Matt

God Sightings

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Prov. 3:11-201 John 3:18-4:6Matt. 11:1-6

Yesterday was a big day for the Church.  Pentecost has historically been second only to Easter in terms of celebration.  It is a time when we reflect on the powerful sightings of God in our midst, and the way the Holy Spirit has breathed into us the breath of life.

Our readings today don’t stray too far from this Pentecostal fire.  They witness to the powerful sightings of God.

Paul summarizes what he knows to be the “good news of the gospel” today.   Despite what many people think Christianity to be, Paul does not summarize the birth narrative or a series of Jesus’ miracles.  He mentions no parables, and does not spend much time on how Jesus treated the poor.

He mentions instead: “That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve…. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

Notice how Paul zones in on 1) the simplicity of the story.  2) his personal connection to the resurrection.  3) the way Paul enters the story.  Just like recounting a story of Abraham, or David, eventually a genealogy shows up and the story reconnects with the present reader.  The power of the gospel, for Paul, was that in time the risen Christ also appeared to him.

Are we part of this line of apostles and disciples?  Have we seen the risen Christ?  I know I have.  I have seen Christ at work in my life, revealing a path to take, a direction to follow, a decision or stance in the world with which I am to be firm.

But how well have I told our children of that sighting?

When do we do the all-important “genealogy” report, and let others know that the line of sightings ends with today?

May today be filled with yet another glimpse of the risen Christ in your life!

-Matt

The Power of Care

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Isa. 4:2-6Eph. 4:1-16Matt. 8:28-34

From Ephesians: “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”

This understanding of love is the focus of a book by Kenneth Haugk, the founder of Stephen Ministry.  In it he explores the role of a Stephen Minister, as one who cares, and listens, and prays with a person in the midst of difficulties or brokenness.  Often, in the midst of brokenness, the world becomes hazy, out of focus, or skewed.  Part of the role of a Stephen Minister is to have the courage to speak the truth in love.  This could be challenges or insights – opportunities to explore where our lives in faith meet the world of tomorrow.

I have worked in congregations where there is Stephen Ministry and in congregations that do not.  And while it is an investment, why would you NOT want specially trained people in listening, prayer, care, and speaking truth in love?  Every congregation can benefit from this training by equipping those called by God to this caring work!  I am a Stephen Leader and can help you find a place to receive training.

In Paul’s imagery of the body, he helps articulate that with Christ at the head, we are no longer thrown to and fro by our own desires, but knit together into a new reality – that of Christ’s will.  This is, of course, core to Stephen Ministry too, seeing Christ as the center of our lives, even in the midst of brokenness.  Being knit into Christ’s will can be great comfort and leading.

But ultimately choice enters the picture.  Do we follow our own selfish desires, which so often include greed, oppression of others, and self-sufficiency, or do we follow Christ who demands we love our neighbors as ourselves?

The transformative power of the cross was one that turned the whole establishment on its head.  No longer would we follow Rome, or the Jewish authority.  Nor would we follow ourselves.  Instead, we have renewed our vows, and accept God in charge.

This impacts more than just our pocketbooks or own prayer lives – it involves every fiber of our being.  We are no longer the same person, but knit together into a unified existence of radical change.

Where God will lead us, we do not know.  Where we are ultimately going is sure.  In the mean time, we choose the path of love.

-Matt

P.S. If you would like to know more about Stephen Ministry, or if having a Stephen Minister walk with you through some of life’s trouble, feel free to email me back, or call me sometime.  There is a Regional Stephen Ministry network in Greater OKC, and some of our larger churches like Westminster Presbyterian Church and All Souls Episcopal Church often cross-train folks who end up serving in their home congregations.  I can also connect you with a Referrals Coordinator, who can get matched up with someone in this special kind of confidential, caring relationship if you feel you need to talk to a Stephen Minister.