Beyond the Barrier

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Isa. 48:1-11Gal. 1:1-17Mark 5:21-43

In Isaiah, amidst judgment, we hear how now is the time to hear new things, things once hidden.   Paul, in Galatians, starts out firing.  He attacks his readers for abandoning the gospel and following a different one.  “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval?” he asks.  And in Mark, Jesus feels power leave him when the hemorrhaging woman of 12 years touches his cloak.  He witnessed to her faith, and declares her well.

The readings illumine disconnects.  One is isolated from the community because of her condition.  Jesus remedies that.  Paul is in the midst of the convulsions of the early church, which are experiencing much discord amidst the unity in Christ.  Isaiah, as well, has a disconnected people, who are one day going to learn of the new way of God, which is the old intention of God to be connected to his people.

It becomes very clear, as the New Testament progresses, that God is doing a new thing, and that “thing” is the dissolution of the barriers between people.  The sick are made clean.  The rabbis like Jesus are eating with sinners.  The Son of God goes to a cross to break a barrier between sin and death.

There are so many barriers in this world of ours.  There are barriers of language.  Barriers of mileage.  Physical barriers, or the temptation to build more.

I experience these and other kinds of disconnects all the time in ministry.  Personal pride and ego sometimes get in the way of Christ.  People get their feelings hurt.  Fear takes hold of a people.  We build barriers to feel safe.  But it rarely (if ever) has that effect.

The diversity of this country and our world is both a benefit and a curse.  Many languages.  Many cultures.  Many walks of life.  They all seem to collide, creating this longing for homogeneity and simplicity.

But is that really what we want?  We saw what simplicity and homogeneity got us – in the Old Testament the Chosen People were still fighting within themselves for power and prestige.  Unity in the midst of diversity is a far trickier notion.

As it turns out what God wants for us is to look beyond ourselves – beyond the simplicity of our own cultural narrowness.  This is the point of the healing of the hemorrhaging woman.  She looks beyond her illness, to a place where few can go – to faith – knowing that if she could only get within reach of Jesus, she would be healed.  Who she is gets lost in the shuffle, because what is important is what her focus is.

Let us look beyond the barriers that separate, and dream of a world where all follow the Way of Christ.

– Matt

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Seeing the Light

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AM Psalm 31; PM Psalm 35

Isa. 45:18-25Eph. 6:1-9Mark 4:35-41

Psalm 31 spoke deeply to my soul this morning.  In the seemingly ever-increasing storm clouds of doom and gloom with the current state of our government and world, Psalm 31 was a wonderful reminder for me this morning of God’s faithful presence in the midst of strife.

“In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me…. You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me.”

I also sat facing east and on one of those very rare mornings you can actually see the sun in Ohio.  It is quite an adjustment having lived down South for so long where there was sun every day.  But what a sight seeing the sun rise and being reassured that a new day is upon us, a new start.

But the most powerful words of the psalm came just a verse later: “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.”  It could be argued that Jesus quoted this Psalm from the cross at his death.

Fear does weird things.  Anger or dismay often lead us to throw up our hands and sometimes we retreat into our fear.  This is NOT what God intends for us!  We are to move forward in faith, not backward in fear.

Courage and trust are needed.

This is not the time to forget the words of the psalmist, but to claim our heritage and the faith of our ancestors.  It could be much worse.  And it was much worse.  And we as a people made it through back then.  And we will make it through now.

In whatever challenge you face today, personally or collectively, be assured that God delivered us from the hand of Pharaoh, and through the wilderness.  And God will not leave us now.

I often resource churches in trouble or in transition.  Often I encounter budgets that look just fine, but fear has grabbed a hold of the people, and a theology of scarcity has crept in too.

Often I am reminding them they have all the resources they need, namely one another, and I am looking around the table at a goodly portion of those resources – you all!  Money is not going to save us.  Now is not the time to cancel programs or reduce ministry, but to claim a genuine opportunity for new heights in ministry.

Jesus did a heck of a lot of ministry with only 12 disciples and the sandals on his feet.  How much more can we do with the energy and power of so many more?  Our communities of faith will endure any trouble.  I believe this because I believe the gospel.

We will see it through the anxiety of job loss or economic downturn, of medical bills piling up, and of community demographics declining.  We will see it through a chaotic and troubling Trump presidency.  We will see it through, because we know that God has already delivered us from the hands of the enemies.  The true enemy cannot touch us anymore.

We are the Lord’s, who is abundant in goodness, and who has taken us into the shelter of his presence.  The world around us may change, but our spiritual home is secure.

May you see the Light of God’s presence this day.

– Matt

Our Healing God

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Isa. 41:1-16Eph. 2:1-10Mark 1:29-45

“That evening at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  And the whole city was gathered around the door.”  They were in a small town in the Galilee region at the house of Simon and Andrew.  It began with Simon’s mother-in-law being cured.  Then word got out and all the sick of the town were brought here.

I have been to the archaeological site that is believed to be Simon’s house (in fact, some of you have been with me!  It is that place where an entire church is built over the archaeological garden, suspended on steel beams, with a glass floor, looking down into the house.  Remember?)

One of the things I noticed is that houses of that time were fairly small – probably only 20 feet square, sometimes divided into two rooms, a common room, and a private room, where Simon’s mother-in-law would have been.  It would have been tight.  If Jesus was in there and a few of the disciples, and Simon’s mother-in-law, it was packed.  In this very intimate setting, people are crowding around, peering in the door, looking in the windows.

There is another detail about this story that just makes me love Mark’s gospel.  They left the synagogue and went to the house where Simon’s mother-in-law was.  Here is the Son of God.  Does he heal at the synagogue?  No.  The Temple?  No.  The courthouse or main street?  No.  At someone’s house.  This is a savior who is interested intimately in us.  He isn’t disconnected from his disciples.  He isn’t shouting his message onto a big screen in a mega-church, meeting his thousands of worshipers virtually.  No, he is going into their bedrooms.

This is an intimate God who loves and cares for his followers.

This God is interested in wholeness and healing, in mending the brokenness of the world and giving hope to the hopeless.  He is not in his ivory towers, but in a room that has declared him unclean to go back to the temple.  God has made a procession to the doorstep of the rejected, the afflicting, the oppressed.  He wasn’t interested in judging or looking down on those who had “sinned”, for it was often thought that the physically afflicted had done something wrong to deserve this.

None of this meant anything to Jesus.  His only care in the world seemed to be to find the lost.

And he is still at work.  Heck, he found us!

He offers the same healing to his followers today.

Where in your life are you needing Jesus’ touch?

-Matt

Hunger

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Isa. 40:25-31Eph. 1:15-23Mark 1:14-28

Today we encounter HUNGER.  Hunger for a better world.

Meet John the Baptist.  Moving pretty quickly in the gospel of Mark, only 14 verses in, already Jesus’ Galilean ministry has begun.  It is heralded by John the Baptist, who declares, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Understanding that line from John is key.  Notice that the “good news” for John is not what we are used to hearing, like in Paul where the good news is equated with “Jesus came to save sinners by grace through faith.”  Here, the good news is simply that the kingdom of God has come near.  And the “repent” part is to turn from that negative thinking.  You must repent and believe that the time is fulfilled.

In other words, the people were hungry – hungry for a change.  Much like our present state in America, I sense that the people of that time were so ready for a change of leadership, they could taste it.  They knew that life had to be better than what they had.  Some had bought into the thinking that life was supposed to be this bad, that they deserved this life, and that God was punishing them for not following.

John speaks against this negative thinking, declaring that we must believe that a better life is around the corner.

Jesus taps into this hunger.  His calling of the first disciples seems to be a snap.  He says, “Come, and I will teach you how to fish for people!”  And they go.

It got me to thinking this morning – this element of hunger versus action.  We so often fall into the traps – we expect our churches will grow if we shame them into seeing their rotten lives – or we expect our churches will grow if we offer some wonderful programs.  Only when we are truly hungry will we truly learn to fly.

What God is saying to us today is: Are you hungry yet?  Are you hungry for a better world?  Because that will motivate you!  God is reminding us that our programs will not save us.  The church is not saved by pretty buildings, or great sermons, or fun programs, but by a people who are so hungry for a better life, they must move into the future in a different way.

These first disciples were on fire before they even met Jesus.  And so the keys to growing a church today come: It is not getting people to say “I came to FPC to be fed” but helping people to get hungry for more.

Are you thirsting for justice and righteousness?

-Matt

Embracing the Future

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Isa. 40:12-23Eph. 1:1-14Mark 1:1-13

Today is a day of new beginnings.

In these seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, there are a lot of the lectionary passages that represent new beginnings, or actual beginnings like starting the Gospel of Mark.  Mark jumps right in to the good news skipping over any birth narrative or anything about Jesus’ childhood.

Many of us are in desperate need of new beginnings.  Many of you have been talking to me about your hunger for a new start.  Whether it is medical challenges, unemployment, balancing medications, stress in relationships, loneliness, depression, I have seen that many of us carry heavy hearts into the new year.  We are longing to turn the page on the past and embrace God’s new future for us.

Ironically, Mark both turns the page on the past, but also embraces it.  As Mark starts, he takes us back to what is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

We then with a description of John’s baptism of repentance.  No birth narrative.  The beginning of the good news begins with prophecy.

Mark sees a grander narrative.  The entirety of Jesus’ coming was a fulfillment of the Scripture, a loosing of the chains that once kept us in bondage.  Proclaiming the way actually preceded the birth of Jesus.  John was not the only “proclaimer”.  Prophets of generations past had also spoken of the coming of one who would restore the kingship, a successor of David who would stomp the invaders of Israel.

It is difficult to view a grander narrative when we are in the midst of it.  It is hard to have patience to let God work on us, heal us, give us hope, allow us time to turn the page on the past while at the same time embrace the past.

May God bless you with the ability to trust in the messianic hope that is upon us.  May God bless you with the strength and courage to start again, not dragging past fear and pressure into the present, but bringing enough of the past along with you to where you can see from whence you came and where you are headed.

-Matt

Make America Safe Again

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Isa. 63:1-5Rev. 2:18-29John 5:1-15

Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”  At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Is Jesus providing words of comfort to this lame man?  Healing, yes.  Comfort, not so much.  He seems to be in the mode of shaking up the establishment today.  You see, this day of healing at the pool of Bethzatha was the Sabbath.  Not only did Jesus break the law by healing on the Sabbath, he encouraged this man to take up his mat and walk.  The Jews said to the man, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”

Jesus invites us to break some rules today, if they violate the heart of God’s law.  He also demands that we get to the business of healing that which is broken in our midst.  He is also saying: Move on!  The time is now for ACTION!

Today as the government shutdown drags on, the political games ramp up, and TSA and Coast Guard members continue to work tirelessly, probably without pay, as morale of the troops deteriorates and more of our national security is put at risk, I say THE TIME FOR ACTION IS NOW.

It is time for us in this country to come to terms with the reality that government is GOOD.  It is not the enemy as is so often portrayed.  Our government is one of the ways we have instituted some of Jesus’ words in this country, providing safety nets of healing for those at the margins.  There are multiple government agencies which do the work of healing, which say to people “Take up your mat and walk” that frankly could probably be done by the Church if we did not live in a representative democracy.  Providing “take up your mat and walk” to all allows for the grace of God to extend far beyond the walls of individual denominations.

So to all the political shenanigans I say: This is not about you.  It is about the safety, security, and greatness of each American.  So open the government, stop holding 328,000,000 hostage because you are not getting what you want, and then we can talk about what God wants next for us.

The government was put in place by the will of the people.  If you want to change it, fine.  Put it to a vote and change it.  But you do not have the right to close down that which we decided was important for our well-being.

Make America Safe Again – make it a place where it is safe for God’s grace to flow.  Make it a place where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is allowed to function at full capacity.  I would think that includes having safe skies for TSA and all the other agencies running fully.

Jesus paid the price for his ideology.  There were many who were not OK with the action that he provided.  He went all the way to the cross for his stance.  He died because some did not want to open the doors of grace and share God with others.

Jesus demands we move past our fears about what others may think – to work for mercy, justice, and peace, even in the face of torment.  We must be compassionate, but not stop at the compassion.  It includes a new way of thinking – of being – that may have new rules and upset the establishment.

This is a challenge that leads many to give up.  All around me I have friends that have thrown in the towel on Christianity.  “Life is easier without that challenge,” they might be thinking.

To that Jesus says hogwash.  Take up your cross and follow me.

Christianity is not meant to be easy.  It is meant to change the world.

-Matt

We Need A Miracle

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Isa. 59:15-21Rev. 2:8-17John 4:46-54

Every day I hear news of the gov’t shutdown, and our leader’s inability to do the tasks that were charged to them.  The obstinance and idiocy is almost unbearable.

It makes me thankful that we do not follow human authority, but the one who brings new life to all the world.  We follow the Star, the one who brings Light to the world.

The healing of the official’s son in John is about new life and hope.

On the heels of turning water into wine, it is John’s second “sign” of this Word Made Flesh, this Light to the Nations.

Maybe you remember the story.  The royal official is in Cana with Jesus where he had changed the water into wine.  His son is ill in Capernaum, almost 15 miles away.  Jesus begs him to heal his son.  Jesus offers a very strange evaluation of the situation.  “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”

This, in fact, is the point of the whole story.  Oh yes, the boy is healed, and in fact the royal official meets his slaves on the road to his house who bring him confirmation.  But here we are in John, where the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” and by chapter 4 we are dealing with these signs and wonders.  Our Incarnate Lord is spreading proof that the shake-up of the world has begun.   It is an announcement matching that of the angels on Christmas night.

Jesus declares “Your son will live,” and it becomes the second sign that Jesus did after coming to Galilee.  These signs and wonders change the course of human history, not only for those who are healed, but for those who are scared by his power.  If God has come all the way down to be with us, it would make sense that some would not be happy about this.  Their power is in jeopardy.  Their authority is going to be questioned.  If someone among us has the power to raise the dead, the word is going to get out.  Belief will spread, but so will fear.

We see this in John.  We see that there is a way to the Father, but there is also a way to the cross.  These seem to interrelate.  The road toward betrayal and death is also the way to truth and life.

This is the life we are called to.  It is not a life of belly-aching about our idiot leaders, but a life of self-sacrifice, self-emptying, and bringing new life to dark places.

Join me.  Be part of the Miracle today.

-M