Matthew 9:35-38

September 19, 2017

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:35-38

What happened to the daily devotions? Rest assured, I think about that every day that passes without my taking a little time to sit with a Bible passage, run it through the filter of what is going on in and around me, and funnel all of that into a page of reflection and prayer. I have done this, off and on, for many years, knowing that there are a few people out there who appreciate it. But sometimes I don’t write.

Usually I fail to write when I get busy or distracted or I’m on vacation. That is what happened this month. First the hurricane and all that entailed. Then it was hosting some family members for a week as they waited for the water to go down so they could go back home. And then it was welcoming my daughter and her children into our house for the next few months as we work toward rebuilding their home.

In the midst of that I was going to doctor appointments and showing up for tests in preparation for a medical procedure that I’ll be having done this week.  So the devotions got left behind. Life happens.

Today’s text concludes the 9th chapter of Matthew. It closes with an image of Jesus that I want to hold and a description of his followers that I aspire to be.

Jesus spends his time doing good. He brings healing and encouragement and insight into the lives of the people he touches and teaches. He comes into the crowds from a place of compassion, with courage and conviction. He isn’t an untouchable (not to mention highly touched up) celebrity. This isn’t about a cult following. Jesus is an amazing man, full of love for the unlovely and hope for the hopeless. That is the Jesus who grabbed me by the back of the neck and refuses to let me go. I can appreciate feeling harassed and helpless. I need a shepherd like everybody else.

But one shepherd can only watch so many sheep. One farmer can harvest only so many acres. One fisherman can catch only so many fish. One teacher can teach only so many people. In both his wisdom and his humility, Jesus realizes that he will need help. He needs more people doing the sort of things that Jesus himself had been doing. That was always his plan. I aspire to be one of those people.

And so do you! If not, you wouldn’t have bothered to read all the way down to here. Jesus has you by the neck too! God needed you to BE, and there is a tiny little corner of the world that needs what you have to offer. When there is enough of us, across the world, each tending to our own tiny little corner, pretty soon the whole world is touched. Like salt. Like leaven. Like a flickering candle of light. Every devotion and every sermon I have ever written has been a variation on this same theme.

I should be back writing regularly in another couple of weeks or so. Meanwhile…

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, as children we were taught to sing that you have the whole world in your hands. We believe that. We trust that. But far too often we forget that your hands extend through our own. Keep us willing to serve as you served, to love as you loved, to have compassion toward all who are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Use us, as you will, always to your glory and the welfare of your people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Matthew 9:27-34

September 8, 2017

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you.” And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, “See that no one knows of this.” But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district.

After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.” Matthew 9:27-34

It feels like just the other day we were glued to weather reports, feeling the anxiety of Hurricane Harvey, slowly but surely, methodically meandering toward the Texas coast. It looked like it was going to be really bad. It was. But it could have been much worse. Now we’re watching Hurricanes Irma and Jose. We’re watching what happens when wind damage precedes flooding. Our hearts go out to those living on the islands and the mainland as they prepare and evacuate. Have mercy on us, Son of David!

Yesterday Mexico was hit by an earthquake. That created some tsunami waves that affected some coastal regions. And along with the hurricanes now in the Atlantic, Hurricane Katia is threatening the southern Mexican coast. Have mercy on us, Son of David!

I’ve been in several flooded houses lately. We’ve been working in the homes of the members of our congregation and their neighbors. Yesterday marked the first time that we were able to get into and begin cleaning the only house I ever bought in my life. My daughter and her family live there now. It is both heartbreaking and cathartic to pry open your grandchildren’s dresser drawers with a crowbar in order to throw their still soaking things into a trash bag. Their toys, old Halloween costumes, stuffed animals, Disney sheets, and all of the books that put them to bed and opened their minds to the world.

The heartbreak is the end of one kind of childhood innocence. The catharsis is realizing that they had a ton of stuff that they don’t use or need anymore. Some will be replaced but they are OK and that is all that matters.

Then to come home and catch up on the news. Seeing again what hurricane winds can do, realizing suddenly that a flooded house is an extremely disruptive and expensive inconvenience but a home reduced to splinters is devastation. Have mercy on us, Son of David!

We’ve been hosting a camp for children this week at church. The first day of school was pushed back a week and we knew that one way we could care for families was to provide care for their kids. In our chapel service the first day I raised the question that people always ask in times like this, Why do bad things happen to good people? Even children ask that question, in their own way. I don’t have an answer except to say, bad things happen to good people because bad things happen to all people. I’ll ask the same question later this morning and I know that I will hear a chorus of 80 children echoing that line. They learned, and accepted, it immediately.

Then I said, And what do people who follow Jesus do when bad things happen to people? We do the best good things for them that we can do. Why? Because that is what Jesus did.

The blind see. The mute talk. The flooded recover. The crowds are amazed. The Pharisees mock.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, suffering and fear abound. Still the storms. Protect the people. Guide the authorities and first responders and all in a position to help their neighbor. See us through this season. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 9:18-26

September 6, 2017

While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.

Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And the report of this spread throughout that district. Matthew 9:18-26

They laughed at him. What were they laughing at?

A crowd has gathered outside of the home of a local religious leader. His daughter has just died. We can well imagine the speed at which that story churned through the neighborhood. Everyone slows down when driving by a deadly accident on the highway. The local news usually opens with the latest body count. We love football even if it means ignoring the potential long term consequences of young men banging their heads into each other. Then Jesus showed up – and the gathering crowd laughed at him.

Jesus had said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” That’s why they laughed. Was he making a joke? What he just cold stone stupid?

On the way to the house Jesus was touched by a woman who had been suffering for twelve long, lonely, painful, and tragic years. Her bleeding, absolutely no fault of her own, rendered her ritually unclean and socially unacceptable. Her natural suffering was intensified by the unnatural reaction of her community. They didn’t understand her bleeding. Maybe they thought it was contagious? Far better to ostracize her than to accommodate her – after all, that is what the ritual purity laws demanded. Jesus was her last chance. She pushed to the front of the crowd and grabbed him by the fringes of his robe.

Notice how Jesus addresses this woman. He calls her “daughter.” Not stranger, not outcast, not unclean. He chooses one of the most wonderful words in the world. Daughter. I am blessed with both a beautiful daughter and step-daughter. I would do anything I could for Kate and Ron would do the same for Emma. I know both are strong and gifted young women, fully capable of carrying their own weight, but they are daughters and I am a father and I know there will ever and always be a vulnerability about them that needs their father’s love and support. Which we gladly give.

Can you imagine how wonderful it felt to that woman to be addressed as daughter?

Then, having touched her emotional pain with his term of endearment, Jesus healed her physical pain. Instantly. His holiness made her whole.

And the crowd laughed at Jesus? Yes, they did. How could he be so stupid?

Jesus walked through their laughter to the bedside of the other daughter in this story. He took her by the hand and she got up. Who got the last laugh?

I read these twin stories still pondering the headlines about the vicious decision to kick the fates of 800,000 young people down the road because they are being punished for the crime of being born to parents who sought a better life for them. I presume half of them are daughters. And this coming on the heels of another cruel and misguided policy that further seeks to shame people born with gender identity issues who seek to serve their country.

Jesus tells me to love, to welcome, to serve, to heal, to defend, to feed – and this always on behalf of the most vulnerable ones. Is he stupid? Or are we?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, please protect the children caught in the midst of disasters and diseases and tragedies not of their own making. Create safe places and welcoming, softened hearts, for those who are misunderstood and ostracized. Use us to amplify the voices of the few who cry out for protection and justice. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 9:14-17

September 5, 2017

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” Matthew 9:14-17

Over the past several years I have noticed something troubling that I had not noticed before. Once I noticed it, I couldn’t “un-notice” it anymore. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on just what it was until I read something that finally gave me the vocabulary word that I was missing. Whataboutism.

Whataboutism is a rhetorical move that allows us to evade any uncomfortable issue by deflecting attention away from ourselves to someone else. There need not be any real or even logical connection between our behaviors and those to whom we deflect. That doesn’t matter. All that matters is how deftly we bludgeon our opponents (I would say conversation partners here but this kind of verbal sparring doesn’t even pretend to be meaningful discourse) with our whataboutism.

If you’re not familiar with this term, here’s an example. You tell your child that they need to be home by 10:00 PM. When they show up at 10:35 PM you express your displeasure and tell them what the consequences will be. They fire back at you – “10:00 PM is a ridiculous curfew. What about Tommy? His parents let him stay out until midnight.” Effective parents don’t bite. We’re not talking about Tommy or his parents, we are talking about you! Now you can see it. I hope you can never un-see it again.

The disciples of John approach Jesus with a whataboutism. We and the Pharisees fast. What about your disciples? Why don’t they fast? Jesus doesn’t bite. Jesus is not there to prop up an old system that has long ago lost its meaning and godly purpose. Jesus is about doing something radically new. He isn’t going to engage in a meaningless debate about the spirituality of “going without” when his purpose is to bring life and light into a dead and dark world.

Living at ground zero of Hurricane Harvey has been an emotionally trying experience for everybody. The newness that has come upon us is painful. Especially the newness of a once beautiful home becoming a soggy, moldy, shell, landscaped by a mountain of debris. This brings out the best in us and also the worst from us.

The public outcry against Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church has been appalling to me, yet not surprising. As far as I’m concerned, everyone had decisions to make about how they would handle the hurricane and flood. Osteen’s critics have him hit hard with whataboutism, all rooted in their ideas of Jesus. “You live in a mansion, what about Jesus who had nowhere to lay his head?” they cry with self-righteous indignation. You’re rich, what about Jesus who was poor and cared about the poor? That’s nothing new. It is just another way to evade the reality that many congregations are largely self-centered, serving only their own, throwing a few bones of generosity somewhere so they can feel good about themselves, yet are unwilling to risk really and truly putting the poor first, or attacking the systems that create and sustain poverty because that would mean really putting their own skin in the game.

I might have plenty of theological differences with Osteen but I also have great admiration for a ministry that has long proven willing to try new things, in new ways, to help new people come to a new place in their relationship and understanding of God. Most of that happens behind the scenes, away from the lights and cameras, in the lives of people. Which is what matters most.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you alone are our guide and model. You alone define what matters in our lives, what matters in the care we extend to others, what matters in our following you. Forgive us for holding too tightly to our precious old wineskins lest we waste the newness that you would bring into our lives. Encourage all of those who have lost so much. Give them patience and bring the support they need to recover. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Romans 12

September 1, 2017

This is how we will recover from Hurricane Harvey.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, one day at a time, lead us in love. Your love conquers all. May your love conquer us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Psalm 26:1-7

August 30, 2017

Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.

I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites;

I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.

I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds. Psalm 26:1-7

Somewhere along the way we come across the crazy idea that life is supposed to be fair. It is a crazy idea. Life isn’t fair any more than all trees should be evergreens or all people should be a certain color. God creates diversity, not sameness. If anything is fair along the way, it is because we decided to apply the concept we call “fairness” to that particular situation.

Floods teach us that life isn’t fair. Floods expose the geographical realities imposed on us by gravity. We made about 160 calls to families in our church today and again I was reminded of how fundamentally unfair life is. Many told us that the water came within inches of entering their home but they came out dry. Others said that theirs was the only home on the block not to flood. That isn’t fair but it isn’t supposed to be fair. It is what it is.

My daughter lives in my old house. When Allison hit Houston back in 2001 I got about two inches of water in half of the house. I had to tear out the carpet and install tile. It was a nice upgrade. This time my daughter lost a car they just bought last week and had over 4 feet of water in the house. It will probably be days before we can even get to it to start cleaning it up. Kelley and I weren’t hurt at all. Our street didn’t even flood. That isn’t fair. But it is what it is.

The Psalmist invites God to “Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind.” Disasters like this flood are truly a time of testing. Testing not as in trying to get all the answers right but testing as in removing the impurities from metal, exposing the depths of our character.

I read about things like people looting, or cutting in line for food at shelters, or making things difficult for volunteers and first responders, or second guessing political leaders who are truly trying to do their best, or people scamming those hit by floodwaters, and it makes me angry. I wonder what happened in the lives of people to twist their characters into something cruel and greedy and self-centered. Something that just gives in to sin rather than fights against it. Something that just doesn’t care anymore. Something that can use but no longer love.

I think about the conversations I had yesterday with people from our church. Those who were flooded and lost nearly everything told me “it’s just stuff, we’ll be OK”. Those who came out dry told me, “Just let me know what we can do to help.” A leader of our Stewardship Committee spent Monday and Tuesday helping the Bellaire Fire Department rescue people. He walked alongside his kayak bringing senior citizens to safety. He told me “it was scary when the water was over my head and I couldn’t touch.” THAT is Christian character in action.

Yes, trials do test our faith. Sometimes we come out wanting. Sometimes we need the witness of others to kick us in the pants and get us into the game. And sometimes we are brought to a place where we realize that we really do believe “it’s just stuff.” We fight against sin with love.

The storm is largely over. At least for us in Houston. Now the recovery begins. Like just about every injury in life, the recovery takes a whole lot longer. It isn’t fair, it just is what it is. And God will see us through.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, when our patience wears thin, give us struggles to make us wait. When we recognize our blessings, challenge us to share. Use us, as your hands and arms and feet, to lift up those who have been beaten down. Test our faith and see us through. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Psalm 46:1-5

August 29, 2017

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. Psalm 46:1-5

Tuesday morning in Houston and the worst of the storm isn’t over yet. The movement has been from fear to misery. The volume of water and the extent of the flooding is beyond imaginable. The primary shelter for the city was designed to accommodate 5000 people. This morning there are over 9000 people there. That is just one of dozens of shelters. Soon they will all be full.

A disaster like this reminds us how dependent we are on one another for the simple basics of everyday life. Not just now but always.

This morning a mother was interviewed at a local shelter. She was rescued from her home along with four little children, her son and her nephews. The rescue crew had to leave the other men behind as their initial focus is on children, the elderly, and those with special needs. The mom showed us the little bottles of prepackaged formula available at the shelter – she said that her son alone would drink four of them at a time. All four children would need several diapers a day. Thousands of families are just like her.

No one in this city will be untouched by this storm. Every family will either be flooded or will have close family or friends who are flooded. It will take a long time before we get back to the normal rhythms of life.

Psalm 46 reminds us that God is a very present help in trouble. People are experiencing that all over town. Courageous volunteers using boats to rescue people from homes. Police officers, firemen, National Guardsmen. Neighbors helping neighbors, strangers helping strangers. God is present in all of that. It is the sort of thing that we talk about all the time in church but we don’t know it until we know it. We know it when we need it.

Living in a big city is a mixed bag. Surrounded by people, you seldom come across anyone you know. People come here because this is where the jobs are – and the traffic and the complexity and all of the difficulties in finding ways for millions of people to share the same spaces and resources. Then disasters strike and the city takes on a wholly different character. It is good to be reminded that God is in the midst of the city.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, though the waters rage and rain still falls, we pray this morning for your continued presence and help for those who need it the most. Unleash the force of self-giving love as people help people to get through this flood. Protect those who find themselves in shelters and those prepared to be helpful to them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Psalm 40:1-4

August 28, 2017

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.

He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.

Happy are those who make the Lord their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods. Psalm 40:1-4

The other day it occurred to me that waiting for a hurricane is like waiting to be punched in the nose in ultra-slow motion. You know it is going to come. You know it is going to very likely be very bad. There is absolutely nothing that anyone can do to stop it. All you can do is prepare the best you can – stock up on food, water, and emergency basics. Then you wait to see how bad it will be. If it is bad, it will be bad for weeks or months. Hurricane Harvey is proving the worst ever.

On Friday, for the first time in my 30 years of ministry, we canceled Sunday worship and everything else we had planned for the weekend. We all went home and we waited for it to hit. Hit it did.

Hurricanes are heartless. The damage is indiscriminate. First the wind, then the rain, then the flooding. Hurricanes expose realities that we generally are oblivious to. We don’t notice the high places in neighborhoods until every house is flooded except for those two over there. We don’t notice the work of all the civil engineers who planned for future water retention until their systems work…or fail…or threaten to fail.

We don’t pay much attention to disaster relief agencies until we need them.

Now Houston needs it all. We can trust that anyone who has ever flooded before will definitely flood again. And many who have escaped previous flooding will now have their turn.

This morning we are still waiting to see how bad it is and how bad it will be. We still have a few more days to go. Some people are still waiting to be rescued. Some people who evacuated are waiting to see when they can go home. And some people are heeding the advice of the experts – stay in place, don’t go out on the roads, and wait until the roads clear before we go anywhere.

I have already heard from people asking how they can help. Right now, all people can do is pray or donate money to others who are already in position to help. We will know more by the end of the week but, for now, we just wait.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we pray this morning for the health and well-being of all of those who have been affected by Hurricane Harvey. We especially pray for the first responders and those still waiting to be taken to safer places. Give us patience and assurance that the rains will stop and the recovery will begin. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 9:9-13

August 24, 2017

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Matthew 9:9-13

Where in the world did anyone ever get the idea that “good” people go to church and “bad” people don’t? This idea – held in far too many hearts – requires ignoring every major Bible story that I can think of and certainly requires that we completely ignore the ministry of Jesus.

Is it possible that Christians, well-meaning and maybe even well-intentioned Christians, can hold ideas near and dear to their hearts that require them to ignore the ministry of Jesus? Yes, it seems quite possible. Sneakily, eerily, tragically, possible.

Tax collectors were universally hated in Jesus’ day. They bribed their way into their roles as collaborators to the occupying Roman powers. They extorted money from their fellow Jews as virtually everything came attached with a Roman tax…and the highest surcharges that the tax collectors could skim and get away with. They were backed up by the muscle of the Roman military. They were present even in the smallest villages.

Imagine the shock spreading through the people following Jesus when he approached Matthew’s table. Instead of criticizing him for his evil occupation, Jesus says “Follow me.” Instead of telling Jesus to shove off, Matthew immediately leaves his table behind. Now this is a surprise!

But it fits! It fits with a Biblical narrative that begins with God’s call to Abraham to leave his childhood home and travel to a distant land. And he does. God’s call to Moses, a murderer hiding out behind a flock of sheep. And Moses goes and does what God wants. David, from shepherd to king. Peter, James, John and the others, from the obscurity of fishing for fish to the notoriety of fishing for people. Paul, from Jewish supremacist to Christian missionary. A radical invitation extended to just the right misfit who then abruptly, immediately, responds.

Jesus goes beyond calling followers, he eats among friends. He moves from the immediacy of call and response to the intimacy of sharing a meal around a table. With a very mixed crowd.

Why? “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

The guest list in Jesus’ mind doesn’t seem to be divided into the “good” or the “bad” but the willing and the unwilling. Between those who respond to Jesus’ invitation to come to dinner and those who prefer to eat elsewhere. Because, in the end, you gotta eat somewhere.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank you for the invitation to join you at your table. Thank you for reaching through the ages, through the crowds, to notice a sinner like me, call me by name, and invite me to follow. Thank you for willingness, fleeting and fickle though it be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 9:1-7

August 23, 2017

And after getting into a boat he crossed the sea and came to his own town. And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he then said to the paralytic—’stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And he stood up and went to his home.

When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings. Matthew 9:1-7

At first glance it seems strange that the first words out of Jesus’ mouth upon seeing a paralyzed man carried into his presence are “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” That isn’t at all what anyone would suspect. Maybe a word of compassion or empathy? Maybe a heart-felt conversation – Tell me a bit about your suffering. What happened that put you on this bed? Instead, Jesus instantly offers a word of forgiveness. What do you think about that?

Suppose you were that man. Suppose that you suffered a debilitating stroke or were in a car accident that left you suddenly paralyzed. It is hard to imagine but it happens every day to someone, somewhere. What would you be thinking then?

I put myself in that position and I know that I’m no different than most people. I would be angry at God and angry at myself and angry at the world. And I also know that I would internalize that anger. I would be wondering what I did wrong that I would deserve such a fate. And if Jesus showed up at my hospital door I would be much more interested in being able to walk again – which I would see as a miracle – and much less interested in a word of forgiveness – which I largely have come to take for granted. Forgiveness, I would think, is easy. Walking again would be tough.

But the scribes aren’t seeing this scene from the point of view of the paralyzed man. They are just sniffing around for another gotcha! moment to hold against Jesus. Jesus goes against their theories about God. They are in their heads, protecting their theology, blind to the pain of the poor guy on the bed. Jesus is in their heads too. He sees just what is going on. So he backs up his healing words with a healing deed. “Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.”

Jesus has authority because Jesus is the Author of life. He is the source and the ground of our being.

Jesus sees our reality far more deeply than we do. He sees our brokenness in mind, body, and spirit. He takes our sin from more seriously than we do. What we might want to hide and deny and run from, Jesus walks straight into. He cuts through the layers of what paralyzes us and offers a new path of wholeness. Of holiness. His voice cuts through the ages. Stand up!

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we need a far deeper faith than playing theological head games. We need a much deeper trust than mouthing words can take us. We need you at the deepest levels of what separates us from you and from others. We need healing from whatever holds us back and holds us down and paralyzes us. Say the word that we might stand up. In Jesus’ name. Amen.