What do you Desire?

Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 1:18-24; Matthew 18:21-35; John 3:13-17

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

This past Thursday the liturgical calendar passed over what higher traditions celebrate as the “Festival of the Holy Cross.” I’ve chosen to explore two readings from last Thursday, in conversation with today’s lectionary passage from the Gospel of Matthew on forgiveness.

Paul writes in Corinthians, 22”For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom…” What about us Gentiles? What about you and me? When it comes to our religious faith, our spirituality, what is it that we desire? Is it for a tangible feeling that something out there, bigger than us is aware that we exist and sends us a little love nudge now and again? Is it for the music or camaraderie of a worship experience every Sunday or there-abouts, whether or not God shows up? Is it a daily strength prompting us through all the difficult times of our lives enabling us to keep going? Is it something other? Something lingering deeper inside? Is it a searching for that soul-connection with someone that we desire? What is it that you desire for your faith journey?

Peter, in today’s gospel story from Matthew, seems to desire “a righteousness that is as far as it needs to go, but no farther.” Have you ever felt that way? Okay, what’s the limit of my work here? What are the parameters of my task for this job? What has to be done to get it done? How many words do I have to type before I have enough and can pass the class?

“Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (18:21-22) Presbyterian Outlook editor Jill Duffield reflects on this passage,

“Seventy-seven is a metaphor for infinity. Seventy-seven is code for: “Don’t keep score.” Seventy-seven is a way of reminding Peter and us: Forgive as you have been forgiven and you likely don’t want to calculate that amount. You can’t calculate that figure.

Jesus drives home the point with a parable, the crux of which is this, “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I have had mercy on you?”[1]

Before we get hung up on the parable of the king and his forgiveness, we need to realize at the deepest level of our hearts and beings,

“that it is never the king’s desire to punish the servant, nor is it God’s desire to punish sinners. Quite the contrary—the king’s threat, like God’s law, is a mirror that brings the servant/sinner to self-knowledge and repentance. Only when debtors acknowledge the overwhelming weight of their debt can they see the true greatness of God’s mercy. Calvin’s fundamental claim that “in being aroused by fear, we shall learn humility” echoes this interpretation: to know God, know thyself.1”[2]

Notice how quickly the king forgives! The king was predisposed to want to forgive his servant out of love for him and his station. If this is a parable meant to teach us a truth about God’s being, God is predisposed to want to forgive us as well! Laying this parable along side John’s gospel passage, we are reminded that, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son….”

We are forgiven as much as the cross!?! Then the crux is, if our spiritual path is to be more and more like Jesus, we can do no less than forgive with our very lives as well. Oh. Oh my, Jesus, that is a tall order. It is no big mystery that our families are the melting ground for most of the hurts we sustain, for most of the debts cast against us. I would hazard a guess that the majority of counseling issues have to do with family of origin relationship challenges and their fall out. Why, God, Why? You challenge me more than I think I can bear. Or do you? On the other side of the cross we bear, if we are truly on a path of Christ-like-ness, then we are also on a path of self-transformation and healing to wholeness.

Is that my desire, O God? To be whole? To be free of the burden of hurts? Free to forgive and be forgiven? Free to love and be loved?   Yes, O Yes Lord! Then it is absolutely imperative for me, and I suggest to all of us, to give up “keeping score” of past hurts. For our own health and the health of those around us, they need to be given up, released, and dissolved into the greater love of neighbor and self.

Don’t get me wrong; if abuse, misuse, neglect, or harassment are in the mix, those are crimes with consequences that need to be meted out. In those cases it is doubly imperative to get the help you need with proper counseling and reporting services. To truly free yourself from past or present hurts, God and you need to find the right path to take for your own health and healing; healing-wholeness being a very healthy desire to have.

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Jill Duffield, in her e-mail of September 11, 2017, to the Presbyterian Outlook “Looking into the Lectionary” subscriber list (http://pres-outlook.org/category/ministry-resources/looking-into-the-lectionary/)

[2] Katherine D. Blanchard, “Theological Perspective, Matthew 18:21-35, Proper 19 ” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

Advertisements
Posted in Conversation Starters, Encouragement, Reflection, Sermon | Leave a comment

The Lord’s Way

Scriptures: Psalm 119:33-40, Romans 13:8-14

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

I wonder how Paul received his calling – not his second calling when the risen Christ spoke to him on the Damascus road, but his first calling, a Pharisee son of a Pharisee. Did he ruminate day and night in some ivory tower of Jewish academia where his parents taught, or did he simply have a family that lived and breathed their faith daily, and with such authenticity that he couldn’t help but be raised up into it.

Or was he raised in a kind of “life as usual” in whatever town he lived in doing whatever his family engaged in for income and trying to get to Sabbath on Saturdays to hear Daddy preach now and again? I wonder if God ever spoke to him through the scriptures, calling out to him, beckoning him to read more, reach deeper in and find God as a treasure seeker finally finds a pearl of great worth. I wonder if Paul sat in his window one day as the sun’s light poured in and birds sang their morning songs and found himself longing so deeply that simply reading a morning Psalm became his own deeply seated prayer:

Ps. 119:33 “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. 35 Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it., and not to selfish gain. 37living, breathing  Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways. 38 Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you. 39 Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good. 40 See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.”

This complimentary text for today’s lectionary readings speaks to me of a holy longing. Consequently, the name of the first book I had to read and write a reflection to this past week for class was titled “The Holy Longing.” I suspect as I read, reflect, and learn, some of my gleanings may find their way into my sermons for you…I hope that all of us will be enriched for it.

Devotional authors have tried to describe that holy longing in different ways. One author whose name I can’t recall stated that there is a God-shaped crack in every human being that can only be filled by God. I love that this allows each person’s God-shaped crack to be unique while at the same time our unlimited God can still fill it.

Another way of describing a holy longing is to offer ourselves up to the flame of desire to do and be God’s instrument of love in the world. Described this way, we may find ourselves as Christians standing at a precipice of critical transformation. Enacting God’s love in the world is arguably the best summary for Christian spirituality. How is this done? The Lord’s way; the law, or Torah, as the Psalmist called it.

For contemporary readers, this begs a few questions.

“How then can twenty-first–century pilgrims move beyond anxiety and fear over “law” as a concept and God’s law as a reality? How can law evolve in the mind of the hearer from ink on a page or ancient carvings in stone to a useful, necessary, and enriching internal compass?

Psalm 119:33–40 in particular offers two gifts to modern–day seekers…Thee first of these is to lift up the quality of wholeheartedness. Verse 34 asks, “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.” Verses 36 and 37 invite God to “turn my heart … [and] turn my eyes,” in order to give them their proper focus. Studying and living in God’s way engages the whole person, and when a person can give his or her whole heart to such a path, the rewards include a greater depth for life, a peace that cannot be destroyed by any of life’s circumstances.”[1]

The second gift is a fundamental shift in priorities:

“In a most countercultural fashion, the psalmist speaks of finding happiness, not as life’s highest priority, but rather as a byproduct of pursuing understanding of God’s law. The freeing discipline of such study and the subsequent ordering of life afford new depths of joy, for these bring one closer to God. Do you want to find greater happiness? Refrain from focusing solely on the self; seek God and God’s reign. You will find greater happiness than you thought possible.”[2]

If that is the case, then by all means, let this Psalm become my prayer, too:

Ps. 119:33 “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart….40 See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.”

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

 

[1] Julie Peeples, “Theological Perspective, Psalm 119:33-40, Proper 18” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Ibid.

Posted in Encouragement, Sermon | Leave a comment

What is Your Cross?

Scriptures: Matthew 16:21-28

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Today I’d like to cut right to the chase. In today’s passage Jesus is teaching.

“Immediately after Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus turns his attention to the cross—his own cross and the one appointed for each person who follows him. Christology implies atonement. Matthew’s phrase ‘from that time on’ suggests that the cross starts to make sense only in connection with knowing Jesus as ‘Messiah, the Son of the living God.’”[1]

We know Jesus as Messiah. We know Jesus teaches for three years, is tried by Pilot, crucified on a cross by the authorities, is laid in a tomb sealed with a rock with a guard posted by it, and is resurrected bodily from the grave, released to life again, appearing and teaching for another 40 days (Acts 3:1) before ascending bodily into the heavens.

If understanding his cross only makes sense with an avowal “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” then what about us? We understand his Messiah-ship, if in a limited Gentile sort of way. We understand the cross, if in an academic, historical kind of way. But do we understand what it means to follow Jesus Christ? To live emulating his sacrificial life? To take up our cross, as he bids us do?

Jesus teaches: “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (v.25). One commentator wrote:

“Jesus is clearly not the professor or scribe who teaches about the church from a distance, but the good shepherd who lives with, leads, and feeds his sheep, heals their wounds, protects them from their enemies, sleeps in the same fold as them, and is willing to lay down his life for them. If we want to follow him, then we are also going to have to bleed, weep, sweat, and die.”[2]

I don’t know about you, but that makes me just a little bit uncomfortable. Haven’t most of us worked into a place in life where we have earned our rest? Haven’t most of us done the good deed now and again without seeking payment for it? What is our cross that we must take up? Isn’t that for … somewhat younger folks to do? Writing about the contemporary Christian condition, that same commentator said,

“Our concern is … our willingness to follow Jesus into the world and onto the cross. We do not control God or give Jesus the conditions to our discipleship; instead, we risk contamination and insecurity by releasing the need to protect our own lives and institutions.”[3]

Peter had a hard time with that, and I imagine we do, too. But we might want to revisit our reluctance in light of a bigger picture.

“Peter’s response to Jesus indicates that Peter has not adequately understood or accepted the way of Jesus. In fact, Peter has now placed himself in opposition to God…. He has moved quickly from a “rock” of faith and discipleship (v. 18) to a “rock” that causes others to stumble (“stumbling block,” v. 23; cf. Isa. 8:14). Even though Jesus highly praises Peter in verses 17–19, declaring him blessed and the recipient of divine revelation, Peter still exhibits the qualities of one who has much to learn about being a follower of Jesus.”[4]

To which I can only add, don’t we all. I’m with you, Peter. I don’t always understand the scriptures or how I am to interpret them for contemporary contexts, and I rely on the intellect and writings of many who have passed before me in the faith. What I need, and perhaps what all of us need just a little help with, is becoming like the “good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:21,23 – lit. tr. good and trustworthy slave) we will read about in Matthew chapter 25. As for today’s passage, perhaps

“The disciple who ‘takes up the cross’ is one who is willing to surrender pride, ego, status, comfort, and even life for the sake of the kingdom of God.”[5]

Any one of those is a good beginning, leading ever onward toward a deeper relationship with Jesus – and that is something we all need.

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

Question for Reflection

How can your life include a faithful response to Jesus’ charge that his followers must “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24)?

Household Prayer: Morning

God of love, today help us to live peaceably with all. Help us live in genuine love: to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to love you, O God, with our whole heart, mind, and strength. In Jesus’ loving name. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Holy God, because you have been with us this day, we have stood on holy ground. Thank you. We know that you will remain with us through this night. Thank you. We know that you will be with us again tomorrow. Thank you, in Jesus’ holy name. Amen.

 

[1] Hambrick-Stowe, Charles. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Kim, Jin S. Feasting on the Word…

[3] ibid.

[4] Reddish, Mitchell. Feasting on the Word…

[5] Ibid.

Posted in Conversation Starters, Reflection, Sermon | Leave a comment

Life at the Crossroads

Scriptures: Isaiah 51:1-6; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

The Gospel of Matthew and the community for which it was written is a fascinating study.  Scholars tell us Matthew’s original readers and hearers were Greek-speaking. Some early Christian writers even claim there was an early Hebrew version of the Gospel of Matthew. “During the Middle Ages Jewish authors, writing in Hebrew, often quote the Gospel of Matthew in a text different from the canonical Greek. In 1380 the Spanish Jewish polemist Shemtob ben Isaac ibn Shaprut incorporated the entire text of Matthew in Hebrew in his treatise, Eben Bohan. His text often corresponds to the earlier Jewish quotations of Matthew in Hebrew, leading to the speculation that Shemtob’s text preserves an early copy of the Hebrew Matthew.”[1]

Final verdict? We don’t know for sure, but all these clues paint an intriguing picture. Its place of origin usually points to Syrian Antioch or one of the larger settlements in Galilee, normally areas associated with Gentiles. Biblical scholars tell us Matthew’s faith community seems to have been made up primarily of Jews, however, not Gentiles. There are elements throughout the Gospel that indicate this.  Examples include Matthew’s use of Jewish terminology such as “Kingdom of Heaven,” which points to the Jewish hesitancy to use God’s name when reading or speaking, Matthew’s concern with fulfillment of Hebrew Scriptures, tracing the decent of Jesus from Abraham and the “Great Family” of whom I’ve shared several stories the past few weeks, and a strong emphasis on Jesus as the Son of David, linking him to the Golden Age of ancient Israel.

Despite its strong affinity towards a Jewish audience, throughout Matthew’s Gospel we also find intriguing examples of universal salvation, stretching the claim of Jesus as Lord and Messiah to those outside the fold of the Jewish flock.

Woven into Matthew’s account is the view that Jesus saw the harvest as the entire world, not just a harvest of the 12 tribes of Israel.  Matthew’s full statement of Christ’s Great Commission in the 28th chapter makes this abundantly clear: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:19-20, emphasis added).

Today’s pericope is an interesting passage. A portion of Mark’s gospel is quoted, but then additional material of Matthean originality gets added. Let’s take a closer look.

Mark 8:27-30 reads:  “Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.”

Matt. 16:13-20 reads:  “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.”

Mark ends the first section of this story with Peter’s announcement that Jesus is the Christ. Matthew, in the parallel account, adds this peculiar blessing:

“Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’” (Mt. 16:18-19 NRSV)

There is a play on words in verse 18 that is certainly intentional, for Peter in Greek was not a surname at that time. In Greek, Petros and petra, the two words used in that verse, have two distinct meanings. In a sense, the translation of verse 18 actually says, “And I say to you, you are stone, and upon this rock I will build my church.”[2]

Which, if we see it that way, causes the next portion of our passage to need a second look. It is not inconceivalbe that Jesus first addresses Peter with an affirmation of his nick-name then moves on to speak about greater cosmic things related to himself. I wonder, when the NRSV has Jesus say, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church;” whether Jesus was referring to himself as the rock? If Jesus is the rock upon which we must build the Church that makes for an entirely different interpretation of this passage; both for the rest of the unfolding of Matthew’s Gospel, and for our life as a community of faith today.

Churches often make a Rock/Church/Jesus kind of mistake during times of transition. People say things like, “When the new pastor arrives…,” and, “Won’t it be nice when…,” or, for bigger congregations, “With different staff coming on, we can have them….” My deep and earnest prayer for you is that you build your church upon the Rock of our Salvation, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Prince of Peace, the Only Begotten One.

For nothing is more true than this: if you want to see the work of Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven, flourish, it will take all working together-working as one with Christ as the head, to do the work of ministry we are called to do. After all, like the communities for which Mark and Matthew were written, we too are in the midst of a churning, fermenting time, once more at a major crossroads in history – especially, perhaps, a crossroads of faith. Who do you say Jesus is? Your answer just may be one of the most important confessions of your life.

In the name of the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

Questions for Reflection

When have you succeeded in resisting the forces that seek to conform us to the world? How has that felt like “spiritual worship?” What are the ways you most readily answer Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?”

Household Prayer: Morning

Today, O God, help me receive your revelation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. It is in his name I pray. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Holy God, for anything I did this day that was pleasing to you, I give you thanks and pray that you use me to your glory; for anything I did this day that was displeasing to you, I beg your forgiveness and pray that you redeem me for your glory. Amen.

 

[1] Howard, George. Eerdman’s Dictionary, Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Hermeneia NT (20 vols.) Hermeneia—A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (New Testament) (Hermeneia NT-20) See copyright information at the beginning of the respective books. Published by Augsburg Fortress Box 1209 Minneapolis, MN 55440. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hypertexted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 1.5

Posted in Conversation Starters, Sermon | Leave a comment

Looking Deeper – Joseph

Scriptures: Genesis 45:1-15; Matthew 15:(10-20) 21-28

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

I would like to share some interesting insights about the Joseph Cycles, the series of stories featuring Jacob’s eleventh son Josepgh; one of the original heads of the 12 tribes of Israel. The final form of these stories appeared during the Babylonian Exile[1], during a time of captivity far from their own land. This final representative collection of writings comes from what scholars call the Priestly tradition, one of the four main sources identified in the first books of the Hebrew Bible.

Why did they write these amazing and important stories down in the midst of exile? Was it that they saw connections and parallels from these ancient, probably oral tradition stories to their current struggles under an alien race living in a foreign land? Was it because the priestly caste was seeing complete assimilation and break down of Israelite identity and needed something to hold themselves together? Or was it more academic, to remember and record all their rich history before it could disappear in the mists of time? Or, in the face of the fall of their empire, are the Israelite people doubting God even exists for them after all? One scholar observed,

“Israel was fraught with questions. Some of the exiled people were discouraged. What was God’s purpose? Did God plan to deliver them from exile? Did God have the power to do so? Other people were accommodating to Babylonian culture, to the extent that they were in danger of compromising their Israelite identity and mission. The Priestly writers tell the saga of Joseph as a way of both reassuring the discouraged exiles that God would act in their behalf, and urging the hyper-adapting exiles not to sell out to Babylonian culture.”[2]

What was it that the Priestly writers wanted Israel to know? Did they hope to teach something? And so they write: Remember Joseph? His brothers sold him into slavery, but he came out on top and extended salvation to his family in due time.

“The exiles need neither yield to despondency nor consider Babylon as their lasting home, because their God is at work in their circumstance to sustain them and to bring them home in ways that are no more obvious than Joseph rising to power in Pharaoh’s court.”[3]

I wonder, could we, in our own contemporary time and place, further extrapolate a theological parallel? For example, are we in danger of losing our identity and mission as a denomination? A congregation? A religion? These questions don’t yet haunt me at night, but I might just be on the cusp of something. Perhaps I am beginning to understand that being discouraged in the face of challenges, even living as refugees in exile, is a temporary state. Whatever trials and tribulations we might be going through or facing right now in our lives either personally or denominationally might just be minor in the bigger picture of God’s salvific work continually moving ahead through time.

Joseph’s deep desire for reunion and the reconciliation between he and his brothers might just be as dramatic a statement as can be made that God is for us and not against us, that God made us for community, and not to be alone in the world. “We cannot be fully blessed—and our groups cannot be fully blessed—until we are together in mutually supportive community. The figure of Joseph is a model: we can take the lead in reconciliation, as Joseph does in our text,”[4] writes Ronald J. Allen.

I would like to suggest that Jesus and the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel lesson are also boldly treading new ground of reconciliation. For hundreds of years, embedded in Israelite thinking was the perspective that “we are the chosen ones, all others are outsiders-Gentiles.” There is a sociological term that describes such thinking: ethnocentrism. We are no exceptions in falling pray to it. It is as deep as us/them, east/west, Catholic/protestant, white/black, latino/american, left/right, gay/straight, Christian/Islam; you name it, we all think it at some point in time in our development as human – and as spiritual – beings.  But God – Spirit is bigger than that! Much bigger. Even Jesus, Emmanuel, fully God with us, exhibited this same human tendency in today’s text. Yet it didn’t stop the Canaanite woman from continuing to press her case, did it? No indeed! The text indicates Jesus accepts missional correction and her daughter is miraculously healed.

I wonder if that interchange changed Jesus significantly for the rest of his earthly ministry. If so, would it be fair to say God is able to change and grow? Even as God teaches us, does the human condition teach God how to be more compassionate, more human? Wow!

Perhaps God is indeed bigger than we think, always working towards the salvation of all that God has made, even in the midst of temporary or discouraging setbacks. For you and I, perhaps the human condition is enough for us to reach out to our fellow human beings in compassion, welcoming all in the name of Christ. Maybe it is even deeper than that. Maybe, in the great cosmic workings of time, we will also learn how to reach out to creation itself in compassion, choosing what is good and right and honorable over what is profitable, grasping, and self-interested. If God is bigger, than we, who are made in the image of God, mightn’t we have infinitely more to offer than we think possible?

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us; even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

Questions for Reflection

Why do you think Jesus resisted the Canaanite woman’s request? How does this fit with your idea of Jesus’ mercy and love? What changed his mind? How does this influence your faith in God?

Household Prayer: Morning

Merciful God this day is full of your possibilities for healing and reconciliation, for new beginnings and restored relationships. Unite my heart with your will so that your abundant anointing will flow through me. Send me now with your promised blessings to preserve the lives of those in need. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

God of the night watches: guard me from torment I pray. Release me from distress. Call me close to you and kiss me with your favor that I may rest secure in you. Amen.

 

[1] Allen, Ronald J. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Posted in Conversation Starters, Reflection, Sermon | Leave a comment

Encounter on the Sea

Scriptures: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Matthew 14:22-33

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Walking on the water: one of the best-loved and oft-remembered stories of the miracles of our Lord. In context, the disciples have had one encounter on the sea already. Early in his ministry, Jesus was with them in the boat during a storm, asleep; as the waves tossed and turned and the storm built they paniced, woke him, and he stood up and rebuked the storm and all grew still. “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” They cried.

Just before today’s passage, Jesus had heard of the beheading of his cousin, John the Baptist. He had fled to the mountain to pray. He had been interrupted by a great following, and was led by compassion to nourish them in their need, feeding over 5000 men besides women and children. Miraculously, 5 loaves of barley bread and two fish physically feed them all. Finally he is able to flee again to the mountain and prays all night, finally nourishing himself in communion with God.

Meanwhile, the disciples had set out over the sea and again encountered a storm. They have been tossed to and fro all night long in fear for their very lives. Unlike the last time they were together in one boat, however, this time Jesus was absent. What follows in this story is completely different.

5And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

I find it curious that Jesus doesn’t get into the boat right away. I wonder if the writer intentionally picked this story as a mid-point in the journey of faith for the disciples. If so, could the Gospel of Matthew be a metaphor for any believer’s journey of faith, with this story like the crest of a wave, a point of no return? I wonder…

The Gospel of Matthew begins by introducing Jesus as Emmanuel, “God with us.” The circumstances of his birth and early years progress rapidly to his Baptism and commissioning, then gathering of disciples. Gradually the disciples begin to learn what it means to have God with them in the person of Jesus Christ. The more they learn, the more they are pushed to grow in faith.

How curious Jesus at first lets the disciples experience an entire night of tempest on their own before coming to them on the storm-tossed waves of the sea. How curious that Jesus doesn’t immediately still the wind and waves, and how curious that Peter steps out of the boat, briefly walking on water before beginning to sink and calling out for Jesus. Jesus reaches out his hand to save, then they both step into the boat before the storm becomes still.

Is that how it is in our journeys of faith? At first, when we are new in our belief, Jesus is right there with us, either awake or asleep, but right there. I wonder, then, as we mature in faith, if Jesus steps further back and pushes us to stand upon our own two feet as we learn to become followers and emulators of the Way the Truth and the Life? What about when times are hard and the tempest blows all around? Is Jesus just as near as Jesus needs to be? Perhaps the tempest is all that blows around us, within us, seeking to subsume or fracture all of who we are – yet we can still call on Jesus to be our center of calm.

In addition to these “wonderings,” there are some unmistakably deep theological points that need to be highlighted. First of all, in Hebrew thought, the sea, or any body of water, represents chaos: all that unmakes; an antithesis of the generativity of God. Paradoxically, however, God is still sovereign even over the sea as Creator.

“So when Jesus approaches the disciples in their boat as they battle with the elements, the prospect is, naturally, terrifying. Who can walk here with such authority and freedom? The act and its associations are unmistakable. Jesus is exercising a prerogative that belongs to God alone. When he speaks to them, his words serve only to reinforce the sense that this is a divine revelation.”[1]

Second, when Jesus does speak to the terrified disciples, Matthew has him use the Greek form of the Divine Name, egoœ eimi, “it is I.”

“Jesus is using the divine name to announce his presence. I Am is here, trampling victoriously over the waves. In these brief but charged words and in the awesome vision that unfolds before the disciples, Jesus is identifying himself with God, the liberator and redeemer of Israel, who is at the same time the creator of the world and the victor over chaos.”[2]

Third,

“Peter calls him “Lord” without understanding that title’s full significance. The lordship of Jesus is given specific content and meaning in this incident: he is lord over the deep, over the wind and the waves and all the destructive forces that threaten to overwhelm human life. Jesus’ actions here hold out the promise of a new exodus for his followers, a new entry into the land of promise, a new future… The whole event leads up to a mighty confession of faith: “Truly you are the Son of God” (v. 33).”[3]

Which leaves us with only two questions to answer: Who do you say that He is?   Where are you in your journey of faith today?

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Russel-Jones, Iwan. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Questions for Reflection

How do you reconcile a sense of division within yourself and the world with the unity we are promised as the people of God? What sustains you in times of conflict? Identify some occasions in your life when you were unable to recognize an invitation to reconciliation and wholeness.

Household Prayer: Morning

Lord of Life, we greet this new day sustained by the great cloud of witnesses who praise your name. Help us to lay aside any burden or distraction that might prevent us from fully serving you this day.

Give us perseverance and joy so that we may come to the end of the day confident in your presence and aware of your blessings. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

God of Hope, confirm for us at the close of this day the fulfillment of your promise of provision. Release our concerns for things done and left undone. Give us your peace so that we rise refreshed to serve you with openness and love. Amen.

Posted in Conversation Starters, Sermon | Leave a comment

Inspired by “Gift From The Sea”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh once wrote of a shell she discovered on the beach, beautiful to behold, simple and elegant, yet vacated both by its original creature and the hermit crab that later borrowed it for a time. As she reflected on the shell, she reflected too on the shape of her own life’s shell.[1]  What is the shape of your life?

I wonder if any of us might recognize a repeating pattern in our lives, a pattern like a shell wrapping around its center, offering its shelter for a time to the life held most preciously inside? I wonder if Christ is the center about which we grow in our spiral-like life?

Or does something else hold our attention while we rotate out of control through the endless rounds of family life, work life, bills, laundry, school schedules for the children, housework and dinner for the family, bed-time routines, and final few moments of exhaustion before sleep. Then wake up and repeat: coffee, breakfast cereal bowl, get the older kids dressed for school, lunches made, bike to school, take the young one shopping and do the errands…

Or, I wonder, is Christ to be found in all of that? If so, how? Perhaps that is what we come together to do each Sunday…in a sense seeking once again to find our center; to find Christ as our center…and fuel ourselves for the great balancing act of life in these, our earthly shells.

What is the shape of your life?

[1] Lindbergh, Anne Morrow.  Gift From the Sea.  Vintage Books, a division of Random House, INC.  New York, NY (c) 1983.

Posted in Conversation Starters, Reflection | Leave a comment