A Story That Is LIVED

whereyat.jpg

Deut. 6:16-25Heb 2:1-10John 1:19-28

“And when your children ask you… ‘What is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your children, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand….’”

When I was studying in Israel, one of the things that impressed me the most was the way Jewish children were educated in the faith.  It wasn’t enough to hear a story being told, they were often enacted, lived out, felt in the heart and hands while spoken on the lips.  Stories like Pharaoh and Egypt and Moses came ALIVE, especially at Passover.

Every aspect of Jewish life seemed this way to me: It was to be lived, retold, and at the forefront of our lives.  The prayers and the depth of commitment to the story was overwhelming.

As we celebrate Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, we do so with a deep sense of time in our lives and time in the church.

This is when “catechesis” can take full form.  In order to truly learn, we build it into the calendar, mark it in our lives and in our hearts.  And while a King Cake can add to the festivities, it also becomes an opportunity to set today apart from tomorrow.  We joyfully embrace today, ending a party that began on Epiphany, Carnival season, and clearing our lives of the sweetness and indulgence of our lives.  (This is also an excuse to learn a little bit about New Orleans history, which is a rich piece of the history of America too and the gumbo pot that is American culture).

Tomorrow as Lent begins we embrace simplicity, reverence, and penitential solitude.

I encourage you to BUILD RITUAL into your day, into the life of your family.  It is a great instructive tool.  And do that tomorrow too.

Happy Mardi Gras, y’all.  Have a piece of Kings Cake for me.

-Matt

For a little bit about the what and why of a King Cake, check out https://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/history/king-cakes

Advertisements

Dignity, Respect, and Love – a day after the United Methodist Church reaffirms ban on same-sex weddings and gay clergy

human-rights-3805188_960_720

Ruth 2:14-232 Cor. 3:1-18Matt. 5:27-37

Yesterday was a big news day for the United Methodist Church. They voted to reinforce bans on same-sex marriage and LGBTQIA+ clergy members.  In many ways the rules tightened.  And so my Methodist brothers and sisters awaken to a new day, many of whom are expressing to me feelings of being beaten down by the rules, tired, exhausted, disheartened.

In the midst of the hurt, I commit to walk with my friends through the pain.  I pray that they continue to proclaim the Law of Love and encourage their churches to do the same in the best ways they feel they can do that.

It also may come as little solace then to turn to our Matthew passage today and see Jesus tighten some rules, tightening the Ten Commandments, taking on adultery and bearing false witness.

Rules, rules, rules.  Sometimes they are a good thing.  Other times rules are used to restrict or control in unhealthy way.

It is easy to over-simplify the Bible and think that the Old Testament was about Law and rules, and the New Testament set us free from the Law.  As it turns out, some things are more strict in the New Testament.  So it is with today’s Rule of Love.

And this is where Jesus and the United Methodist Church seem to be at odds.  When Jesus tightens rules it is defaulting to being more loving.

Do I believe that if Jesus were alive today he would preside at a gay wedding?  Absolutely.  I believe this because I believe the gospel.

I believe this because I have read the New Testament, and I see that at every turn Jesus was a champion for people to love each other and love the world deeply and fully in healthy ways.

I believe this because, like Pope Francis recently said to a gay man, I believe that “God made you like that.”  And when you believe that, the equation changes.

Jesus fell squarely into this camp as well.  He did not look at people who were afflicted as people tainted with sin, or tainted with the sin of their parents.  He saw them as human beings.  He saw them as human beings afflicted by the world, beaten down by a world that did not understand their worth and value and dignity.

He was someone who saw people as created in the image of God, and he blessed, encouraged, and ushered them into a fuller experience of the Holy.  For many, marriage can be a prime avenue for a fuller expression of the most healthy, loving relationship possible.

So, of course Jesus would preside at a gay wedding!

———-

At times throughout history the resounding NO of our institutions has been instructive.  Discipline and correction is one way to look at these issues.

But in my eyes, these decisions of yesterday in the United Methodist Church border on abuse.

This is not about human rights.  (Frankly I am sick and tired of people talking about these issues like it is about human rights).  It is not about human rights.  This is about human dignity.  It is about people being valued as people, and encouraged to live full and healthy lives in the eyes of God, seeking to follow God in the deepest and most profound ways possible.

Not everyone is going to see Scripture this way.  And I understand that.  I value that.  But as we continue to wrestle with scripture as God-fearing people, let us always remember that while God’s ethic of New Testament Law was not always a blanket yes (often calling for accountability and fortitude), that God also demanded the Law of Love be on our hearts at all times.

And let’s be honest.  The decisions of the UMC yesterday have little to do with accountability and fortitude.  They have to do with power and control.  And that is what saddens me the most.  Evil has crept into my friends’ church.  It was revealed the moment “the local option” was rejected, revealing how deeply power and authority is being used to bind. As an outsider looking in, it looks a lot like people in power beating others over the head with rules.  And as someone who has a position of power and authority in his church, I have to say warning bells are going off all over in my head.

Time to hit the pause button, UMC!

In Matthew today, Jesus’ whole point in tightening the rules was to incite everyone.  It wasn’t beating people over the head with rules or controlling others, but asking for them to hit the pause button and examine their own lives.  In the context of adultery, Jesus mentions that, “…everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery…. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.”  Holy cow!  Doesn’t this mean nearly every man on earth is guilty?  Wouldn’t most of the male population look like a bunch of pirates?

Jesus uses the Ten Commandments as a springboard to incite everyone.  We are all guilty.  No one can escape from the law, not even the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Martin Luther would say that this is what drives us to grace – the condemnation of the law.  It certainly shows the utter state of human sin, and that without Christ we would be nothing.

So as we walk forward with our Methodist brothers and sisters in what may seem for many like a frustrating and exhausting journey, let us commit to a season of humility and love.  Let us listen.  Let us walk with one another, and suspend judgment, whatever that may be.

We don’t want to be pirates here.  We want to be the most loving neighbors we can.  And we want to encourage others to use their power and authority wisely, take a posture of humility, and move forward with dignity and respect.

We don’t have to wrap ourselves in Pride flags here.  But we must get our hands dirty, with prayer and action.

Let us blaze a trail together with our Methodist brothers and sisters, to a day when all will feel the power of Jesus’ healing touch, when all will know love, when all will feel hope, and when all will have the dignity and respect and Love they deserve.

May God grant us a just world for all.

-Matt

Bishops: Presbyterian style

ready-1153149_1280

Isa 63:15-64:91 Tim. 3:1-16Mark 11:27-12:12

In 1 Timothy today the qualifications of bishop are laid out.  Among the requirements: to be married only once, managing his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way.  This news may come as a shock to some who thought celibacy was always a requirement in the Roman Catholic Church.  There are many things about the early church that look a bit different than today, for better or for worse.

The root of that word “bishop” is also the same word as how we get “presbyter”.  And those of us who are Presbyterian know what it means to be a “presbyter” – we are each “little bishops”, providing oversight and leadership as we engage as presbyters in committees.  And so in our system, both elders and ministers serve as presbyters, both being ordained, providing oversight to the churches, and in a very real sense, functioning as bishop.

In many other ways, the day to day work I engage in as the General Presbyter for this region, in another way, provides for the care for churches and ministers in the same way that other churches employ bishops.  But we don’t have that.  All leaders – all presbyters – are little bishops.

Qualifications of Deacons are also laid out in our passage today.  Here too we get an image of the church as the household of God.  This is of unfathomable importance in understanding the structures of the underground early church and its power struggles.

We live in a time when clergy sex abuse scandals abound.  We have seen church officials struggle with standards, discipline, power, and boundaries.

I have often said that one of the main functions of the presbytery is to protect its churches and protect its ministers.  For example: we require churches have adequate liability insurance; we require ministers to have boundary training; we teach safe practices; we work with our committees on ministry to enact discipline and structure and good matches between churches and ministers; we provide for ways for churches to care for their pastors and for pastors to effectively and safely lead their flocks.

This is something we did yesterday in Maumee Valley Presbytery as we adopted a Sacred Trust Boundary document, and the policies and procedures that will follow.

I am proud of how we function as Presbyterians.  I suppose I am biased, but I believe it is the best system for our world.  I like how we are organized.  We put ultimate power in groups, not individuals.  No one has absolute power.  No one is exempt from oversight.  There is a system of checks and balances.

Let us always strive to support one another, correcting each other where we need to, and protecting those among us as we strive for grace, blessing, and peace in this world that is hurting so much sometimes.

-Matt

Turn Things On Its Head

man-2047269_1280.jpg

Isa. 60:1-172 Tim. 2:14-26Mark 10:17-31

One of the recurring themes of Scripture is that God will turn things on its head.  The rich will become poor, the ones with power will have little power, the poor will be raised up, etc., etc.  We encounter this in Mark 10 today.

A rich young man comes to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. After telling him a litany of commandments, which he declares he has followed, Jesus answers with, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me”

Unable to do so, the rich young man leaves grieving.

At points in scripture we see how great wealth can be a blessing and a vehicle of God’s grace or God’s wrath, but this is not the message we get from Jesus.  He is emphatic that money corrupts spiritual health.  He demands that our priority must be to follow him.  All else it seems is secondary.

How can we live into such words?

What in our lives do we need to turn on its head?

How is God challenging us to greater spiritual health in the midst of plenty?

How can God use us to build up treasure in heaven?

– Matt

Old Rose & Women of Faith

rose-nicaud-portrait-by-maddie-stratton-c5145789f75a1686

Isa. 59:1-15a2 Tim. 1:1-14Mark 9:42-50

2 Timothy: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.”  He encourages Timothy to rekindle the gift of God in him, “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power….”

It is clear in the Bible that women were in positions of power and influence.  In other letters of Paul, we see clear examples of women running the churches.  And here, in regards to Timothy, it is clear that the reason he is Christian has to do with a faith that was passed to him through women.  This matrilineal line of faith did more than just teach him the faith.  From later in the letter, we discover that all the sacred writings, including Torah instruction, were entrusted to his mother and grandmother.

This is extraordinary behavior, especially for that time.  Later in history, the church regressed and lost its way, repressing women in later centuries, keeping them from leadership, and lifting up a few verses of Paul that seem to indicate that women should be silent.  Forget about the volumes of other examples in the Bible where women are lifted up, revered, put in positions of authority, huh?

We are still struggling to make up ground and reclaim the faith that was ours from the beginning.  When are we going to embrace the Bible and its radical message, and stop making excuses for our own sexism?  When are we going to stop using the Bible to justify our own false narratives about power and let God be God?  When are we going to stop lifting up a couple verses about women being silent and read the rest of the Bible?

The picture above is of Rose Nicaud.  Few may know her name – maybe even very few New Orleanians may know her name – but her legacy can be felt (and tasted) every day in New Orleans today.  Rose was a former slave who purchased her freedom, and sold cafe-au-lait in the French Market in the early 1800s.  “Old Rose” is now recognized as the first New Orleans street vendor to offer fresh coffee, a trailblazer, beginning with a push-cart, a humble business plan, and serving to French Market vendors.  Her vision and simple business plan was followed and built upon by many others, and today Cafe du Monde and other businesses continue that tradition.

But on another level Rose is an icon – as one who stood against a culture of racism that was already growing in this country.  In Creole culture it was much more a norm for a woman to be a business owner.  But if you know anything of the history of slavery and oppression in this country you might know how powerful the story of a successful black business woman in the early 1800s can be, and how the dominant culture might have wanted that narrative to disappear.

I am thankful for the spirit of power and courage that God gave Rose Nicaud.

I am thankful for the spirits of mothers and grandmothers, many of whom brought us to the faith.  I am thankful for my mother and grandma too!

I also long for the day when sexism, racism, classism, and all the other evil isms will die a swift death.  They plague us and cause us to sin against one another.  The good news is that we have made it thus far, and God has recruited us to set the pace for excellence, and given us another chance to mend past errors and reclaim the faith of our forefathers and foremothers, wherever their story rises.

– Matt

Servant’s Hearts

dollar-1644801_960_720

Isa. 58:1-12Gal. 6:11-18Mark 9:30-41

In Mark, the disciples are arguing about who is the greatest disciple.  Jesus gathers them all together and declares, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”  He then took a little child and put it among them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

How often I have fallen into the trappings of power and wealth.  It is easy here in the midst of American capitalism to think the answer to happiness or life is to gather more money or power.  Jesus speaks clearly and plainly, by taking a little child, who is an exemplar of powerlessness.  He is saying, “Forget about having 100 employees, or having a huge 401k…your job is to lift up the least among you…. Your job is to be a servant, not a ruler.”

Jesus lets us know, in no uncertain terms, that power and influence will never buy happiness.  It is antithetical to the trajectory of our faith.  If you want to be powerful in the kingdom of heaven, you need a servant’s heart.

We are bombarded by a consumerist economy at every turn.  Probably in accessing this Morning Reflection you have already seen an ad on your phone or digital device.  As you drive to work or church I am guessing you will see more.  The goal, it would seem if we believe the messages we are being dealt, is to gather as much stuff as possible.  To find the greatest deal and “save” the most money.  To have the newest and the latest.  The underlying message – if you have this, that, or the other you will be successful, happy, powerful, richer, more complete.

Jesus seems to turn that on its head and say: The only way those things are going to be good is if they build community, humility, and help you develop a heart of service.  If those things lead to selfishness they have no place in my kingdom.  Don’t fall into that temptation.  Build others up, and you will persevere….all of you.

This is a tough lesson to learn in the USA.  It is a challenging time.

– Matt

Living Wet

salisbury-cathedral-369006_1280

Isa. 55:1-13Gal. 5:1-15Mark 8:27-9:1

In Galatians 5, Paul returns to a central tenet of the gospel message: “For freedom Christ has set us free.”

His tirade on freedom states: “…through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Yesterday was quite a day.  This morning continues that.  Let’s just say it has been WET:

  • The rain continues this morning.
  • Tears were shed when I learned of the death of a former congregant and friend of mine from Oklahoma City, Dan Orza – a faithful follower of these Morning Reflections, often commenting and LIKING posts.
  • I washed my hands of a toxic friendship yesterday.  It was a hard decision, but one that needed to be done.  Perhaps this will allow for more room for goodness and God to work.
  • Tears were again shed as I resourced a church and got telling a very moving story of Baptism and God claiming us, even though the young man in the story did not feel or understand God’s grace.  It was an example of a deep Presbyterian understanding of baptism and how GOD claims, GOD acts, GOD saves.  (I think the waterworks came because of how deep I know the reality of his baptism affected this young man – years later…it may have saved his life).
  • I encountered a powerful reflection and artistic representation of baptism from a fellow minister in MVP, Rev. Cathy Johnson, a “Glimpse of Grace” that boldly declared:  Drop by drop, Hand by hand, We are claimed and named and redeemed, And sent forth to “live wet”.  If you aren’t familiar with Cathy’s powerful ministry, now is the time to plug in!  Email her if you would like to be added to her list.
  • Tears flowed again as I read this morning of the death of Mother Capers of Wallingford PC in Charleston, SC, and who was instrumental in my friend and fellow GP colleague Jerrod Lowry discovering his call to ministry.  When he said “I wish that I had the chance to tell her how her words and love impacted me.  I want to feel sad.  Instead I rejoice that her baptism is complete!…Rest well, Mother Capers!” the overwhelming nature of yesterday came back again.

So it was a WET day.

Baptism is a funny thing.  We boldly declare that the old life has passed…a new life has begun.  And yet sin continues to follow us.  Pain and sadness linger.  Hurt abounds.  Brokenness of this world takes hold.  And yet we baptize.  We declare the reality that we are claimed by God.  And we await the day those vows, those promises made at baptism, can become a full reality.

For freedom, Christ has set us free.

Baptism is both a beginning, and a promise of action.

I mentioned in yesterday’s reflection how much of today’s church is being held hostage – being held by our own fear.  The yoke of this slavery is almost too much to bear.  Living in the Church of 2019 is sometimes brutal and challenging.  It is not just struggling churches, but struggling individuals — to make end’s meet, to find true freedom, to experience the new life in Christ truly when chaos, confusion, poverty all swirl around us.

Paul slams his message of freedom home when, in dramatic fashion, he jests: “If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”  If you read Paul closely you discover Paul’s primary concern is knitting up the body of Christ as a relational body, not become a bastion of demonic isolation.

Freedom in Christ means exactly that.  It means not being strangled by the prejudices of the past, but embraced by a new ethic: a Law of Love.  Wasn’t that the whole point of the cross?  Paul’s point is well taken.  Maybe what we need is a focus on what is essential: that old rugged cross.  Some may want to forget that.  But I am clinging to that cross.  It is where I find the water of baptism flowing most powerfully.  It is where the story of redemption begins.

But it is not where the story ends.

I continue to LIVE WET.

-Matt

P.S. Thanks Cathy