Beer & Hymns

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I have begun as the new General Presbyter for Maumee Valley Presbytery.  One of the joys of this new position is fostering healthy relationships in this region – between ministers, leaders, churches, denominationally – wherever.

Some in Christian circles might question fellowship like “Beer and Hymns” that seems to center around alcohol consumption.  But to focus on that is to miss the point.  Martin Luther, one of the churches early reformers, was keenly aware of how the church needed to reconnect with the masses and change their ways.  He was also connected to the people, and was a frequent patron of the local pub.  He knew where people hung out, and first and foremost was a priest and a pastor to his flock.

We too live in a world that aches for God, and needs to hear of the redemptive love that Jesus Christ offers.  And so Beer and Hymns comes to Maumee Valley as it does every month.  It is a time to connect with our flocks in a different way – a relaxed almost playful way.

I encourage you to come.

And if you struggle with alcohol, you don’t have to partake.  I, for instance, have developed an allergy to most beer with the genetic modification of grain proteins.  So I may have a cider.  But no beer for me.

It will be a time of singing, fellowship, and some fine malts!  Come hang with your pastor and get to know her or him on a different level.  Make a new friend in another part of the presbytery.

See you at the Black Cloister Brewing Company on Monroe St. in Toledo.  7pm.  Sunday.

-Matt

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Mary and Martha

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Ecclus. 11:2-20Rev. 9:13-21Luke 10:38-42

Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha today.  On the surface it seems like a story of Southern hospitality gone awry.

Martha welcomes Jesus into her home.  Mary, her sister, is busy listening to what he is saying, and so is sitting at the Lord’s feet.  Martha is distracted with many tasks, and comes to him, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?  Tell her then to help me.”  Jesus does not do so, but rebukes Martha.

Questions of hospitality come.  Who is going to get this man a drink?  I relate to this story because I, too, like to host friends as they come over.  Being the only person throwing a party can be a struggle: I get them a drink.  I fix an appetizer.  I have to be a host and carry on a conversation with them as well.  I have to sit and welcome them and be at ease.  Yeah, right!

But is that it?  Is that really what Jesus is talking about here?  This is one of those stories that in English loses a little of the story’s bang.  Here a little knowledge of Greek, as well as knowing the cultural norms of the time helps.  There are also a couple code words that meant something in that culture that we totally miss.

One is “many tasks” which literally means “much service”.  Later in Luke he speaks of service quite a bit, and discipleship is defined as service.  The second clue we get is Mary “sitting at the Lord’s feet.”  In our culture this is something the dog would do.  We almost see her in a sub-servant role.  It is not!  Mary is depicted as a disciple!

So when Jesus says, “Mary has chosen the better part” he is saying that being a disciple is more important than anything else at this time.  Jesus is also quite the feminist.  There is no “woman’s work” in this equation.  Jesus raises Mary to the status of a disciple.  Martha is only a worry wart.

Ultimately I don’t see anything in this passage about Southern hospitality.  I see this story as a time to examine one’s own discipleship.  As I welcome people to worship in my big fancy robe, how well am I helping folks to realize there are on equal footing with me and the rest of the church, but at the same time helping them to come and kneel before the master?  I am sensing the answer is in servant leadership and modeling the humility of Mary and Martha, openly questioning and following to the best of their ability.

-Matt

The Good Samaritan Story Comes to Life

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Ecclus. 10:1-18Rev. 9:1-12Luke 10:25-37

As I descended down the 587 steps from the city center of Fira in Santorini, Greece, I became aware of the vulnerability of the man who was abandoned at the side of the road in the Good Samaritan story.  On the path was me, a few other tourists, and some donkeys, which take people up and down if you are willing to pay.  One donkey took a liking to my OU jacket tied around my waist, broke free from his caretakers, and headed down the hill after me, heeing and hawing the whole way.  I kept moving, his caretakers yelling at him, but to no avail.  We turned and turned down the windy path, him bumping and shoving me.

As I continued my descent I thought, “What am I going to do if this donkey decides he REALLY likes my OU jacket and forcibly takes it, pushing me off the path?  Really?  Who from my group knows where I am?  And who will assist me?  Friend or foe?  Where is his owner btw?”

I was praying for a good Samaritan, or at least a donkey expert.

Did you know that Jesus’ parables were not unique? Jesus was just telling the same stories that other rabbis at the time were telling.

What characterized his parables was that he was changing the ending – ending them funny.  I had a Jewish professor in Israel who said that Jesus wasn’t necessarily ending the stories “wrong”, but more accurately that people of the time perceived that all of Jesus’ stories ended “wrong”.  He argued that the reason we are still talking about his parables is this precise point.  Jesus kept mixing up the well-known, expected, “correct” endings, and in doing so was reinterpreting how the law was supposed to be used.  He was, according to my Jewish professor, one of the great rabbis of the time, seen in his stories alone!

The parable of the Good Samaritan is an excellent example of this.  The man at the side of the road, who had been stripped and beaten…he is passed by a priest, and then a Levite.  Each comes to him and passes by on the other side of the road.  Then a Samaritan comes by, and moved with pity, bandages his wounds and cares for him.

So who did right?  Well naturally the first two!!!!  By passing by on the other side, they were remaining ritually pure for Temple worship.  Both were heading to Jerusalem, not to pray, but to lead in worship.  So the people in that day would have had this thought in their mind: “The greatest good for the greatest number of people.”

Jesus shocks the crowd when he changes the typical ending around.  He states that the third person did right.  The Samaritan.  Perhaps there were people in the crowd scratching their heads.  “Wait a minute,” they might have been thinking, “we’ve heard this story before and that’s not how it ends!”  Or, “This poor stupid Samaritan aces himself out of worship by doing this act.  He becomes ritually unclean and has to remain outside of the community for 30 days for this daring feat of helping one person.  What an idiot!”

Jesus says no.  Think again!

When the lawyer answers Jesus’ question of “Who did right?” by saying “The one who showed mercy,” Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”

Those of us who know the Jesus’ story, know that it is not just his parables that “end wrong.”  Our entire story has a wacky ending.  Our King doesn’t ride triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey and lead an army to destroy the Romans, as everyone hoped the Messiah would.  Instead, he rides into Jerusalem, gets himself arrested, gets crucified, and dies on a cross.

Oh wait, that is not how our story ends.  Jesus shocks the crowd again.  Instead he shows mercy to the crowd, and dies on their behalf, conquers sin and death, and on the third day rises again.

I am starting to like these wacky endings!  I do wonder if that donkey found his way back into everyone’s good graces though too.

-Matt

P.S. I will post a video of these donkeys I took in Santorini on FB, Instagram, and Twitter.  Check it out.  Hysterics!

St. Paul’s Catacombs

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Ecclus. 7:4-14Rev. 8:1-13Luke 10:17-24

The power of the kingdom of heaven is growing in our passage from Luke today.  In the midst of miracles and profound confusion about what is happening, Jesus thanks God “…because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”

This took me back to our recent experience in St. Paul’s Catacombs.

The catacombs are literally hidden.  It was disorienting and difficult to navigate.  Watch your head!  But in a powerful way the catacombs also attest to this strange and profound nature of the early Christians, who would gather on Sundays to give God thanks, surrounded (ironically) by dead bodies, or gather for elaborate agape feasts communing with the dead.

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We gathered down there to read about Paul’s witness to the early Christians, hear of the tale of him shipwrecking on Malta and being warmly welcomed by the people there.  In the picture above you see Karen and Diane and others from our bus.  It was a tender moment, of not just reading about Paul, but hearing how our guide for the day had been baptized at that very spot, in the catacombs.  This is where her journey with Christ began!  Talk about being tied to history!

Jesus speaks of the world on its head.  I think of the profundity of baptism, or the catacombs themselves.  Not much of this journey makes complete sense.  And yet we follow.  We engage in sometimes simple rituals.  And we preach Christ crucified.

We follow because we believe Jesus is the missing link to understanding.  And he is demanding of us an emptying of self, and taking on him as the missing link of our lives.

Through him the miracles flow and power abounds.  Through him all glory and honor become focused and understandable.

As the kingdom of heaven continues to spread through time and space, it came all the way from places like these dark catacombs to my doorstep, and all the way into my heart.  I have become a recipient of this grace, and now I can become a part of those sent out in our passage to share the good news!  And all that begins now!  This morning!

-Matt

A Great Yield, A Great Time

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Ecclus. 6:5-17Rev. 7:9-17Luke 10:1-16

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”

The Bible is filled with challenge – to live better lives, to live into LOVE, to stretch and challenge oneself in terms of following God.  And that is one way to read this passage: “There is a lot to do, but only a few who will do it.”

But there is another way to read this, in the light of the agrarian society in which Jesus lived, surrounded by farmers, shepherds, and people tied to the land used to harvests:  “There are only a handful of farmers, but LOOK AT THE MIRACULOUS BOUNTY they are able to produce!”

Growth in the kingdom sometimes comes easy, other times is a challenge.

I just got back from the journey of a lifetime.  The Journeys of Paul, with the help of Royal Caribbean, Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles, and the fellowship of folks from Covenant Presbyterian Church, FPCOKC, First Pres in Duncan, as well as my mother, her friend Liisa, Jean Nelson’s sister Mary, and a group from Educational Opportunities that was eager to learn about Paul and walk in his steps.

Of course we had time for a lot of fellowship, floating around on a large cruise ship.  There was time to learn, yes.  But there was time to cut loose, speak plainly with one another, and grow in the faith.  Some of the more remarkable conversations I had came with some of our younger clergy, discovering these lands for the first time, and seeing their own strengths in ministry play out as they served along side fellow pilgrims they did not know.

I am thankful for times of rest and relaxation, and times of growth in the kingdom when you perhaps least expect it.

It was a great yield.

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-Matt

Fighting to the Death for Truth

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Ecclus. 4:20-5:7Rev. 7:1-8Luke 9:51-62

Beware of evil.  Do not refrain from speaking at the proper moment.  Do not subject yourself to a fool, or show partiality to a ruler.  Fight to the death for the truth, and the Lord God will fight for you.

So states some of our Wisdom literature reading from the OT today.

Oh how this hits close to home.

As a people who have had to endure one of the most foolish administrations to date in the great history of our nation, it is a daily battle of when to speak and when to keep silent.

This is doubly challenging as a pastor.  I do not want to take sides politically.  But I also realize my silence violates scripture when the actions of one, or many, add to the sin of our land.

We are called to speak, not to be reckless in our speech, but also not sluggish in our deeds.  Wisdom and justice and peace follow.

This is incredibly important for our ministry in our dark times, when the assault on truth is at an all time high.  As we erode confidence in the sacredness of our own word, we run the risk of descending into anarchy.  The other choice is almost worse, for fascism is right around the corner from eroded truth as well.

One of the aspects of our reading from Sirach today (also called Ecclesiasticus) is forgiveness.  We must have a stance of forgiveness and humility, not afraid to confess our sins.  Let God will sort out the evil doers, our text implores us.

And that is a helpful reminder.  I can only invest so much energy barking at the wind, or working to change a broken system.  At the end of the day I have to fix myself too.

But let us be bold, sisters and brothers:

“Watch for the opportune time, and beware of evil, and do not be ashamed to be yourself.  For there is a shame that leads to sin, and there is a shame that is glory and favour.”

Maybe I should get that tattooed into my flesh.

-Matt

Journeys of Paul

I am off to explore the Journeys of Paul, along with my fellow travelers.  See you all soon!

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