Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Saturday, November 24, 2012
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 disciples had an on-going dispute among themselves and those who had been faithful in following Christ were wondering what they were going to get in return. They saw this as an earthly kingdom and surely each one of them would be assigned a job in Jesus' leadership team. Who was going to have the best jobs? Had Jesus been thinking about whom he could have sitting in the positions of greatest authority, on his right and his left? All of this was probably a frustration to Jesus and I'm sure he wondered if they would ever truly understand what he was talking about. Finally he decided it was time for an object lesson and he calls to a little child for him to come and stand among them. (History tells us that this little boy is Ignatius who grows up to be a great leader in the church and is eventually martyred) Jesus points to this little child and a great lesson is taught. His followers had been very childish in their petty arguing over position. They were not to be childish, but they were to be childlike! They were to humble themselves and come to Jesus with child-like trust and faith. They were to simply enjoy sitting on his lap and being in his presence. That's what it meant to be serving in Jesus' kingdom, and his desire was that his disciples would put away the childish bickering and allow themselves to become childlike.
At the end of a Sunday morning service a few weeks ago we were invited to celebrate the Eucharist together. For me this is one of the most exciting parts of the worship experience as I am blessed to participate in a sacrament that is celebrated the world over by Christians. This particular Sunday teams of two were placed around the sanctuary as we were invited forward to partake. At the station where I was to partake the team consisted of a young lady and a five year-old girl. I watched the little five year-old as she became a part of this team. She took her responsibility very seriously and as I watched her ooze with childlike love and humility I thought that I was truly getting a glimpse of Jesus sharing himself with us. When little ones (smaller than her) came forward she would bend way down to offer them the cup and look lovingly into their eyes. When the big tall adults arrived she stood up on her tip-toes and lifted up her face to theirs -- her face simply beaming with joy. In the sheer happiness of her moment I saw what Jesus wants from all of us. She didn't care about any kind of position, she was just thrilled to be serving Jesus, however that might be. You could literally sense her love for him.
Sadly we can become caught up in the "adult" bickering and concern over place and/or position just as the disciples. There are times when Jesus must place before us a beautiful example of what it means to serve in the kingdom. We are called to put aside childish concerns and to throw our arms around Jesus, joyfully sitting in his presence and enjoying who he is. IF and/or when he calls us into service, we are to do it with such joy that we simply cannot contain ourselves for the king of all creation has asked us to serve with him.
Lord, may the sheer joy of being in your presence lead me to childlike service to you in your kingdom. Amen.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Matt. 12:1 ¶ At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.
Matt. 12:2 When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.”
Matt. 12:3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?
Matt. 12:4 He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests.
Matt. 12:5 Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless?
Matt. 12:6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.
Matt. 12:7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.
Matt. 12:8 For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”
In yesterday's reading Jesus was trying to teach the religious leaders that they needed to take seriously the scriptures that they would have memorized. He quoted to them Hosea 6:6. Surely some time had passed between Matthew chapter 9 and now the incident in chapter 12, but Jesus brings up the same verse again and this time emphasizing the fact that they obviously did not know and/or understand what the verse really meant. Or, maybe they did know what it meant but they chose to ignore it, picking and choosing which parts of the scriptures they wanted to emphasize in their own personal lives. Somehow it was so much easier to stick to the hard and fast, black and white rules than to get into that messy territory of figuring out what may have really been meant by showing mercy.
God's goal for humanity is that we become reflections of the Son, reflecting his nature to the whole world, and his nature is holy love. This holiness of Christ is to be our goal in all that we do here on this earth, and that is why Hosea had reminded the Israelites in the Old Testament and now Jesus is reminding the religious folks that mercy always comes before sacrifice, because mercy is a reflection of the character of God. However, we can be like the religious folks getting hung up on the black and white of the rules and somehow missing God's real intended purpose. No, even when given the chance they didn't get it. What about us -- do we really truly get it?
It is messy and uncomfortable to realize that everything related to our Christian life isn't always neat and tidy and tied up in a box. Instead, we are given a mind and God asks us to use it so that we can have a real impact on the world around us -- having mercy, instead of sacrifice! One area in which Christianity has expended a great deal of energy is in trying to prove the literalness of certain parts of scripture. The religious folks of Jesus' day would have been right on this one, for they believed that their purpose was to protect the "truth" of the scriptures and tradition. However, Jesus' reuse of this scripture makes us realize that they were not understanding that what Jesus had to offer was a leaving and breathing faith that moved beyond the rigid boundaries of the restrictions which they had personally created. Their own interpretations of the scriptures created a situation in which the true nature or character of God could not be revealed in their lives.
We might be surprised to discover that when the United States was arguing over slavery there were "good" Christians who used scriptures very literally to argue in favor of slavery. Today we might be appalled at that thought but while we think it's appalling, we may still be doing the same thing but simply with new and/or different arguments. Jesus said that we were to get over it -- and to understand the underlying purpose of the law. Clarke in his commentary provides us with four ways in which to understand when laws should be superseded:
1) When it is required by the natural law of necessity. What happened at this point and time? It was the Sabbath but the disciples were starved. They had no food and Jewish law did allow for you to walk through someone's field and to pick grain by hand (as long as you didn't use a sickle). The necessity of the day was that they were hungry! These men needed to eat and therefore in this case it wasn't work, but the sticklers of the law saw it this way. They would have preferred that the disciples went hungry, rather than to get food from the field. Jesus said they were to have understood that mercy came first!
2) If there is another law which is superior, the other law is overridden. Which law is superior to all? Love God and love neighbor. Therefore, the very purpose of God for mankind, to be a reflection of his image to the world supersedes all laws. What would a loving Father have done for his hungry children? Would he have made them starve and wait for another day? Never! He would have fed them.
3) There is a law of charity and mercy. This is what was indicated by the scripture from Hosea. God's desire is for mercy and not for sacrifice. The law of mercy says that love always trumps rigid rules and sacrifices.
4) Laws are also superseded when the one giving the new and/or different law has authority to do so. Jesus Christ had the authority to say what could happen on the Sabbath. He had power and authority from his Father -- only the religious leaders didn't want to see it or believe it, and therefore were always there, quick to judge everything that he did.
It's a question of the purpose of the Sabbath -- for whom or what was it created? The Sabbath was created for mercy, and a law should never be used to contradict it's very purpose. However, the religious people still didn't get it. They clung to their traditions and their defense of the scriptures and in the meantime they allowed the sick, the needy, the poor, and those who needed a touch from God to suffer around them. If we think that we have to be defenders of the letter of the law then somehow we don't believe in God's power which has made his word enduring for thousands of years! Instead, we need to focus on being the merciful people of God that he intended for us to be.
We have been given many chances just like the religious folks of Jesus' day. My prayer on this Thanksgiving Day is that we truly do "get" it and that we embrace sacrifice and reach out and love our world in the way in which Jesus would have wanted.
Lord, I am so thankful today for your mercy. May I be an agent of your mercy to the world. Amen.