Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Matt. 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!
The Pharisees and scribes were focused on the smallest, legalistic details of life. They wanted to make sure that people would know how to properly tithe on the herbs that grew in their gardens. The time and energy involved in tithing on seasonings could be exhausting. The result was such a focus on the seasonings that the main dish was altogether ignored. The kingdom was about justice, mercy and faith — this was the substantive food!
Hilary of Poitiers reminds us, “God laughs at the superficial diligence of those who measure cucumbers. God laughs at our attempts to swallow camels, as if the sins of avoidance were less serious than the sins of consumption.”
Tomorrow will be Thanksgiving Day in the United States and many families will celebrate by cooking a turkey with all kinds of side dishes. But what would happen if we simply showed up with all the seasonings for the dinner? Yes, I’ll bring the salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme! Maybe someone else could bring the cinnamon and nutmeg. What a boring dinner that would be! And yet that’s what the religious life of the scribes and Pharisees looked like!
Let’s be honest that we might find ourselves in the very same place. The meat of the spiritual life is to focus on justice, mercy and faith. Christians are to seek justice in this world, a justice that looks at the big picture — the turkey — and not just on the salt and pepper! The Pharisees were so proud of observing the very letter of the law, and sometimes we are as well! But what is the big picture — what is the main dish? Justice challenges us to have missionary eyes which will explore the context and greater influences which create a particular environment and whether there are ways in which Christians should intervene. It helps us then to focus on the issue of mercy or compassion which is borne out of our faith. It is then a faith which is brought to those around us who suffer from injustice so that they, too, may experience the mercy of God.
As we contemplate this season of Thanksgiving, may we not just show up with the seasonings but focus on the main dish! May we seek his face, wisdom and guidance as we desire to walk as servants in his kingdom.
Lord, please help me to keep my focus on the big picture as you lead. Amen.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Matt. 20:29 As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. 30 There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” 32 Jesus stood still and called them, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.
Jesus was going to pass by and the blind men who were sitting on the side of the road realized that they had an opportunity. They had heard about this man Jesus and that he was a miracle worker. This was it - the opportunity for their lives to be significantly changed.
Their social status would have encouraged them to stay in the background — remaining quiet! And yet they recognized that this moment might never come again and so they persevered. They began to shout “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”
The crowd’s response reflects the way they felt about these two individuals. They told them to be quiet! They were not worth it — they were simply poor, blind beggars! Unworthy to ask this man for anything.
They would not give up. They refused to listen to what people said to them — and in essence, about them. They shouted even louder.
Jesus stopped. The opportunity now stood right in front of them and with boldness they declared that they wanted to see. Jesus was moved and they were healed. Their perseverance had been well worth it!
There are moments of opportunity within our own lives — moments when Jesus comes our way. I’m afraid that we take it for granted that he will pass this way again another day. That the still small voice that may be encouraging us to respond to the Lord, or to something he’s challenging us to do — that this voice will come again another time. There are moments of opportunity — ones which will never pass again and had the blind men let the moment pass, they would have remained blind.
Some of us, by refusing to respond when Jesus passes by are missing the opportunities which he has placed before us.
At the same time, we may need to persevere in our faith. The blind men would not let anything discourage them. Too often we allow the negative voices around us to discourage us from what we ought to be doing, or how we should be responding. They aren’t worth it! Persevere, step forward in faith — and allow the Lord to do his work in you.
Lord, may I walk forward, persevering with faith in you. Amen.
Monday, November 24, 2014
Matt. 18:1 ¶ At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Matt. 18:2 He called a child, whom he put among them,
Matt. 18:3 and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matt. 18:4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Matt. 18:5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
The idea of greatness and power was consuming the disciples as well as those surrounding Jesus. Their image of power and leadership came from the world and they were trying to imagine what this new kingdom was going to look like. It just didn’t make sense to them.
Jesus decided to show them what the kingdom was going to be like and the picture was a bit stunning. Instead of someone like Caesar with all of his power, wealth and might Jesus, called a child over and had this child stand in the midst of them. One can imagine what this child may have looked like. The child may have been dirty and sweaty from running around and playing and was certainly not dressed in any kind of finery. Just an ordinary child — and this was Jesus’ picture.
That picture was worth a thousand words because as much as Jesus could have preached about the kingdom his followers kept trying to figure that out in their minds. But here, before them stood a simple youngster, and people knew what they were like. This was the picture that the people were to understand — that this is what it’s supposed to be like in the kingdom. God’s children, all of them as humble loving children, enjoying the love and fellowship of the Father, humbly serving in the kingdom.
This was also a picture of himself. The people may not have understood it in this way, but he had come as a child to bring about the redemption of humanity. He had humbled himself and as his life was preparing the way for his followers, so was his humble childhood.
The call is now for us to be a reflection of him and if he came in the form of a humble child, then our reflection is of a humble child in the kingdom.
And all around us we see the children, and they are a reflection of Christ. If we are to welcome Christ into our lives, we must welcome the children, for in their midst, he is there. The needy, hungry, and stranded children of this world. This is where we find Jesus and this becomes, for us, the picture that should move us. We try too hard to figure it all out. Jesus made it simple. He brought the child and they saw what he meant. It’s time to open our eyes and see the children for they are the picture which leads us to Jesus.
Lord, open my eyes today to see with your eyes, the children and you. Amen.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Matt. 14:5 Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet.
Matt. 14:6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod
Matt. 14:7 so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask.
Matt. 14:8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.”
Matt. 14:9 The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given;
Matt. 14:10 he sent and had John beheaded in the prison.
Just because someone has a position of leadership doesn’t mean that they don’t do stupid things. Now, there could probably be a litany of stupid things that were done by Herod, but this was one of those where he opened his mouth and spoke without thinking what he was saying. The problem was that he publicly offered to grant the daughter of Herodias whatever she asked. I’m not sure that promising a teenager (and I’m not sure she was a teenager, but let’s just go there) anything she wants in front of a crowd of people is ever a smart idea. His reaction to her dancing reveals that he’s not thinking very clearly and is a bit overwhelmed by the moment. In that moment he makes a rash promise and now he is stuck.
His ego wouldn’t allow him to go back on this public promise, although it seemed unwise to him. Rather than face the humiliation of doing the right thing, he moves forward and has John killed. Notice that the scripture says that he is grieved! In his heart he knows what the right thing is to do and yet, he will not do it! He had opened his mouth and now had to live with the consequences.
Where can we find ourselves in this story? Sadly, probably right there with Herod.
Moved in the moment. There are times that we can be moved by the experience of a moment and we simply fail to think. Emotions are a very powerful thing and can overwhelm our common sense! One slip in an emotional moment and we can make a decision that will ruin our lives.
Declaring a rash promise. Obviously Herod did not think about the consequences of his promise and from a leadership perspective, his promise made no sense. I’m wondering whether his advisers sitting around him cringed when he spoke the words out loud. They were the level headed ones who probably recognized the consequences immediately. This was not going to end well!
Following through when you know it’s the wrong thing. I think of young people who tell me that they have allowed a relationship to develop and go on, even when they knew it was wrong. Eventually they get to a point where they have no idea how to get out of it and so they marry someone they know they should never have married. It’s not just in the area of relationships, but when it comes to experimenting with the world. Is it wrong for me to try those drugs, or gamble away our savings, or ??? That gentle nudge says it’s wrong, and yet we go ahead anyway, too embarrassed to say no.
Herod is a good example for us — of how not to do things. He becomes a giant reminder of the ways in which we can head down the wrong path. May God help us to avoid opening our mouth, and inserting our foot!
Lord, please be my guide and give me wisdom to know when to keep my mouth shut. Amen.
Saturday, November 22, 2014
Matt. 13:52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Jesus was explaining the importance and value of the past when it is connected to the present and future. The things that the Scribes had learned in the past were valuable if they were placed within the context of what they were currently learning about the kingdom. There could never be a time when they would close the books and say -- that is all there is to learn!
There is an appreciation of the things of the past which brings us to a greater understanding of the present. Both are important, and without both lack the richness of the kingdom of God.
A week ago I had the privilege of eating dinner with Reuben Welch, author of the book, “We Really Do Need Each Other.” He just recently celebrated his 90th birthday and I was reminding him of the influence that he had on so many of us young people — many years ago at Estes Park in Colorado for a Youth Conference. His book and messages spoke to us about this need for one another.
We need those who have gone before us, for they are treasures in the kingdom. Jesus said that the master of the household would bring out the treasure, old and new. There is beauty in a kingdom which is balanced with old and new. There are things that we learn from tradition — and there are things that we learn from the people of tradition. Sitting at a table and listening to Reuben Welch was a blessing for me. He has experienced so much of life and is connected to people and events that I will never be personally, and yet, he is able to make that connection for me. It was a priceless conversation — the old, and the not so new — spending time talking together.
We really do need each other — for it is in this need for each other that we find the beauty of the kingdom. Too often we are encouraged to seek to minister to that one demographic! That’s not what Jesus said. Jesus said to bring out “what is new and what is old.” This was the kingdom.
We are challenged today to serve in the kingdom in a way which reveals the beautiful gems which have been placed into our hands. The old and the new, glistening and gleaming off of one another, producing a most beautiful experience for the world around us. Jesus was warning the Scribes because they didn’t see the value in both. They hung onto the old. What about us? Do we see the value — or are we hanging on, either to the old, or to the new. Jesus had it right — we really do need each other.
Lord, thank you for the blessing of old and new. Amen.
Friday, November 21, 2014
Matt. 9:23 When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion,
Matt. 9:24 he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him.
Matt. 9:25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.
Matt. 9:26 And the report of this spread throughout that district.
This is a simple story which we have heard or read numerous times. Jesus heals the little girl and the people rejoice.
But at the moment in which he arrives at the home he encounters the professional mourners. These are the flute players, the ones who have come to make a great noise about the child’s death. It is the flute player that testifies to the fact that she is truly dead. Also, flutes were generally employed when it came to the death of a child. The whole community would therefore understand that it is a child who has died in this home.
The flute player is doing the job they have been paid to do! They are loud and pronouncing a very public grief, in essence, standing in the place of the family who may not be able to express their personal pain. The loud and energetic mourning on display by the professional mourners is probably not a pain that is very deeply felt. The flute player was accustomed to grieving loud and long, as one one who had no hope (but certainly was being paid). It’s important to remember that the loudest grief is not always the deepest. A shallow river produces much more sound than one which runs deep.
The flute player played the role of assisting the family and community in their grieving but with the arrival of the Messiah, all of that changed.
The role of the flute player stopped me a bit in my tracks for I was a flute player when I was in school. I enjoyed playing in the band, playing my flute, and hanging out with my friends. We were not called upon to be mourners, but instead had the joy of playing the fun high notes that brought a bit of a twist to the music. Sometimes we played high above the melody in notes which filled the spectrum of the music with joy and anticipation. This was fun!
But being a flute player in Jesus’ day — in this role — was not fun. And somehow I think that we might be able to find ourselves in the place of the flute player that day. We continue to live in a world that is punctuated by pain and often we don’t know what we are to do about it. We respond in the way in which we feel comfortable and somehow we pull out our metaphorical flute and begin to make noise.
Someone is hurt and not knowing how to respond we grab our personal instrument — voice, pen, keyboard — and we make noise! Somehow we think that the noise is helpful, just as the flute player. But the music of the flute was really a sign of hopelessness. There was no hope, so the only option was to grieve loud and long.
The grief of the professional mourners did not match that of the parents. It’s that awkward moment when someone says to a devastated parent, “Oh, I know just how you feel,” and then begins a litany of advice on how to just “get over it.” It’s the flute player that’s playing their tune. It’s loud and yet it is shallow. True grief is so painful and deep that barely a squeak of sound can be heard as the pain wells up from within the very viscera of our being. It feels like a bowling ball has been swallowed and with every breath it lands somewhere squarely in the chest. The sobs are muffled and stifled and yet there is the chatter of the flute player. The noise is but a distraction from the real pain and eventually you want the flute music to go away.
The flute player became unemployed that day. No one had ever experienced the power of the Messiah, nor the joy that he could bring. While the flute player continued doing the assigned job, Jesus came and ushered in a new kingdom in which the role of the flute player would be forever changed. Instead of pronouncing the hopelessness of death, the flute player could become an instrument of praise for the Messiah, pointing the way into the new kingdom.
These days no one thinks of a flute being an instrument of mourning. Instead it is associated with the marching band of my high school years, playing the joyful and uplifting notes of the orchestration.
Jesus takes our grief and our mourning and fills it with the presence of his kingdom and in that moment everything begins to shift. Nothing is to remain as it has always been, but instead it is to point us to the one who has power to raise the dead. The flute is playing a new and different tune.
Lord, please be with those whoa re suffering grief today. Amen.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Matt. 6:22 ¶ “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light;
Matt. 6:23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
This passage in Jesus’ sermon has given people pause. It’s not entirely clear what it is that he is trying to say but there are those who say there is a physical as well as a moral understanding. Physically the eye is the part of the body which has an affect on every other part of the body. What we see directs the ways in which we will go. The hand responds to bring the food which is seen to the mouth of the individual. Our feet are led on the pathway that is seen by the eyes. There is something incredibly centering about the eye for it receives data which will then influence the remainder of our behavior. This is the problem with a diseased eye, for it cannot clearly interpret the signs and it makes it more difficult for the entire body to remain on track.
From a moral perspective that which the eye sees will drive behavior. Are we singularly focused in our lives — focused upon Christ? This is the moral question regard to the eye. It is the morally healthy individual who will keep their focus on the things of God while it is the spiritually unhealthy individual who will be driven toward the darkness.
I would like to suggest another way in which to think of the eye for today we understand the role of the retina. It is the beams of light which are absorbed by the nerves which are found in the retina. These are then sent to the brain that interprets what it is that we see. When we keep our focus on Christ, then the light of Christ is what is absorbed by our retina and it is his image which is then transmitted to our brains. Remember the folks in the Old Testament who repeatedly talked about seeking the face of God! There is something about continually seeking Christ, seeking the face of God that becomes burned into who we are.
Remember when we were little children and our parents told us not to look into the sun? Of course, if you are like me, you tried it a time or two! The result was a bright blob in the middle of your vision which remained there for a period of time. No matter where you looked that bright blob was in the middle of your field of vision. The light of the sun had been almost burned into your retina and the image remained long after you stopped looking!
When our eye is healthy — when it can absorb all the light that it sees, then we begin to have a clearer image of Christ, and the longer we look at him, the more the image will remain in us!
The question for us must be, “what do you see?” What we see will determine how we live our lives. This is true on a moral level, a spiritual level, but also a physical level. Just as the image of Christ can be burned into our eyes and brain, so can the “dark” images that we allow our eyes to see and ponder. This is the problem with pornography. The darkness of the images will be embedded in our brains until there is no room left for the light of Christ. There were problems in Christ’s day with people being engaged in unhealthy practices and he understood this. He knew that if the eye wandered to the dark things of the world, then the whole body would be in darkness.
The only solution to the problem is for the eye to be turned and focused on Christ. He is the source of true light. Whatever it is that we see today, that will control our bodies and become the compass. May it lead us to his light!
Lord, please help me to see your face today. Amen.