Archive for October, 2017

Matthew 12:46-50

October 13, 2017

While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”

And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:46-50

We gathered at St. Martin Episcopal Church in Houston for a National Day of Prayer service. A rabbi on the planning committee was the first to speak. As he welcomed us to the service he told a story. It has become one of my favorites.

He said, “Once a boy asked his father, ‘Why does the Bible teach us that everyone has descended from a single father?’ And the father replied, ‘So no one can say that their father is any better than anyone else’s.’” I’ll never forget that moment.

Tribalism is alive and well in our world today – and wherever it sings most fervently, it is most destructive to human community. It is an appeal to our worst instincts. It thrives on greed and false pride. It blinds us to the ties of our common humanity. It is quite comfortable in a world measured by “I will win at all costs and I couldn’t care less about you.” How can we live like that? How can we allow such thinking to prevail in our culture, in our congregations, in our schools, in our businesses, in our government?

Jesus exposes the evils of tribalism. Jesus demonstrates with his life how destructive it is to identify ourselves by our tribal religion or our tribal government. When we do that we end up seeking only to justify ourselves and to protect ourselves from those we perceive to be “other.” We don’t hesitate to use violence or any other means to the end of ascending to the top of whatever imaginary mountain we create in our minds. Thus was Jesus murdered. He got in the way. He threatened the tribe and its tribal identity.

Jesus couldn’t be more clear. “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” God’s arena is life itself, common humanity. This is what the writer of Ephesians means when he says that “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”

Tribalism doesn’t break down walls, it builds them. At any cost. Physical walls, psychic walls. Tribalism strokes division. It feeds upon blaming others. It thrives on victim thinking – accusing every other tribe of taking what is rightfully ours. Tribalism controls access, it controls opportunity, it tilts the playing field toward itself.

I sat down this morning to read the text for today, hoping to send you all off into the weekend with an attitude of joy and gratitude to know that God is with you and Jesus is your hope. First, I read this text. Then I read the newspaper.

The leading articles this morning are about cutting the cost sharing that allows the Affordable Care Act to provide access to medical care, virtually gutting the program, and a threat to cut off aid to Puerto Rico, just weeks after, not one but TWO devastating hurricanes. That is where tribalism leads us. This is where tribalism distorts our thinking.

Tribalism becomes the great justifier of the unjustifiable. It tells us that we can cut communal support for poor people even as we waste untold millions of dollars flying off for the weekend or sending people across the country for publicity stunts or protecting the wealthiest of the wealthy from paying taxes to the very country that created the opportunity for them to gain that wealth.

Tribalism encourages us to demean those who are different. To talk down to every other tribe. To dehumanize the other. To threaten war and annihilation simply because we can. Because tribalism is a lie – a distortion of the reality of creation, that we are all children of one God – it requires lie upon lie to sustain itself. This is where unchecked tribalism has taken us.

Everything I have ever learned about the Christian faith tells me, to the core of my being, that God is no more interested in “making American great again” than God was in propping up the Roman Empire. Jesus comes to heal the world not to divide it into winners and losers. His family consists of those who do the will of God, not those of a certain tribe, or those with the right membership papers, or the right skin color, or the right income level, or live in the right zip code.

I would love to send you into the weekend with happy thoughts. To reassure you that, by the grace of God, you have a place in the family of God. But that isn’t how Jesus says it today. Jesus says his family consists of those who do the will of God. Tribalism and its attendant evils is the very opposite of that. Faithfulness demands that we name it, reject it, and resist it.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, this morning you remind us that doing God’s will is our calling, our purpose, and our identity. We still remember the words of your first sermon in Luke, how you quoted from Isaiah, how you reminded your hearers, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” We trust that this remains your holy and certain will, and that loving our neighbors, all our neighbors, is the path that will get us there, the path we walk when we follow you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Matthew 12:38-45

October 12, 2017

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.” Matthew 12:38-45

“Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” Who among us haven’t asked that question a time or two in our lives? Facing a big decision, not knowing where to turn, wondering what the “next right thing” is, we pray for God’s help. We pray for direction. We look for signs. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it.

I look back at my life and I can remember dozens of times when seemingly miraculous things surprised me along the way. Just recently, a nurse came to get Kelley and me from a waiting room, early in the morning, to escort me to the room where I would be prepped for open heart surgery. I was nervous. The hospital hallway was deserted. We turned the last corner and ran smack dab into a member of my congregation. Stephen was on my call committee. He and his sons and their Mom are in my confirmation class. Turns out I would be in his circle of care. He was a godsend during my time in the hospital. It was a sign to me that everything would be OK. That God was watching over me. That God still comes to us undercover in human flesh.

But what counts as a sign? I guess it depends on where you are looking and how open you are to see what you see. You miss the signs if your eyes are closed. You miss the signs if you’re not looking for them. Signs, by definition, point beyond themselves, so there is a certain amount of responsibility on our part to expect them, to look for them, to interpret them.

Can we miss the signs? Can we be confused by the signs? Anyone who has ever driven through Dallas has experienced the discouragement of unhelpful signage. There was an interesting article in the newspaper the other day about how hard it is for us to see what we don’t expect to see – we easily overlook what shows up on the edges of our expectations.

The scribes and Pharisees have been watching Jesus like a hawk. They have seen him interact with people. They have seen him help people. They have heard him teach people. Yet none of that is enough for them. Their hearts are hard and their minds are closed. Maybe their desire for yet another sign is actually a real plea for help in seeing what they can’t see, yet is so obvious to many others. The answer Jesus gives is shocking.

He calls them evil and adulterous because they are following a god they have created in their own minds – a self-serving god who does their bidding rather than the real God who invites them into a covenantal relationship of love and service. They want the kind of sign that we all want – a sign that we’ll be OK, a sign that God is with us, a sign that comforts us. But Jesus points them instead to a story of death and resurrection. It was great to see Stephen in the hallway but I still needed to let a surgeon cut into me and my heart. God sees us through the difficulties of life far more often than God moves the mountains out of our way.

The scribes and Pharisees wanted to see a sign from Jesus. Did it ever occur to them that maybe Jesus was looking for a sign from them? A sign of their openness to new ways of thinking about God? A sign of their willingness to follow God down new pathways of service? A sign of a new understanding of how they had twisted their spirituality into rules and regulations that created divisions between people rather than a spirituality rooted in creation that sees everyone and everything as an interconnected sign of God’s loving presence?

Do we ever consider that God looks for such signs from us as well?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, today is a new day. Today is a gift. Today is a sign that you haven’t given up on us. A new day. Heartaches and disasters and death will visit us today. Each will bring grief but also out-pourings of courageous compassion and generous acts of self-giving love. Lead us through, that we might taste the hope of resurrection. Lead us, one day at a time, to see you among us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 12:22-37

October 11, 2017

Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute; and he cured him, so that the one who had been mute could speak and see. All the crowds were amazed and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons.”

He knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

“Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure. I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:22-37

Today’s reading was long. It is also both profound and timely. I hope you didn’t skip reading it. Either way, go back and read it again.

The story begins by Jesus healing a man who cannot see or talk. He is opposed by people who can physically see but they are blind to what is actually happening right before their very eyes. They can easily speak, but they have no idea what they are saying.

Every time I read these words I think about Abraham Lincoln. In 1858, after being selected to run for a seat in the US Senate, Lincoln wrote a speech in which he reached for these words from Matthew. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Lincoln lost that election. It wouldn’t be the last time that voters would prove to be both blind and mute – oblivious to reality, mindlessly spouting crazy words, on the wrong side of truth, justice, and what makes for healthy human community.

Nor would it be the last time that the principles of the Christian faith would be twisted and undermined for the sake of protecting idols.

The opponents of Jesus fuel the flames of division. They mischaracterize his words and they attack him with baseless accusations that sound bad even when both unproven and unprovable. They eat him up with sound bites.

Jesus warns the Pharisees that even a strong house can easily be plundered. But maybe they already know that. Maybe they have already figured out how easily they can continue to accrue the advantages of self-dealing unless someone like Jesus gets in their way.

Jesus tells us that the proof is in the pudding. A tree will be known by its fruits. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior – unless, or until, God works the miracle of transformation in a person’s life.

And finally Jesus tells us that words matter. “I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Carelessly uttered words – even 140 characters at a time – that lie, that bear false witness against people, that distort and distract and demean – have consequences.

I have to say it – Abraham Lincoln read this Bible passage and used it to lead a divided country toward justice. I wish both politicians and the populace would read them again to the same end.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, in the face of continued devastation, hurricanes and earthquakes, wild fires and refugees, guide those with the power to be helpful to see good cause to end their  flaming of division. Help us see, in the face of all that might otherwise divide us, opportunities to love rather than blindly following the empty promises of opportunists. Be with all who are hurting, bring them one step closer to recovery. Bear good fruit among us. In Jesus name. Amen.

Matthew 12:14-21

October 10, 2017

But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them, and he ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope.” Matthew 12:14-21

How do we make sense of Jesus?

We keep reading stories of Jesus in action. People follow him. He cures the sick. He offers encouraging words to the poor. He reminds the powerful that power comes with responsibility, not just privilege. And for all of this, he is constantly under attack by those who conspire to destroy him. How do we make sense of that?

He cures the crowds and then he tells them not to say anything to anyone about what they have seen him do. He doesn’t try to “build his brand.” He doesn’t say “LOOK AT ME!” He doesn’t “monetize his ministry.” There is nothing about Jesus that looks anything like our modern day idolatry of celebrities and the rich & famou$.” How do we make sense of that?

Matthew makes sense of Jesus by reaching back into the Jewish scriptures. He quotes from Isaiah. He sees Jesus in Isaiah’s promise of the suffering servant who has been chosen by God to reveal God’s will to the world. It is beautiful poetry but do we really listen to it? Do we notice it? Because, if we know anything at all about poetry, we know that the words were chosen with infinite care, never just slapped on the page because they may or may not rhyme.

Isaiah tells us that the servant has been chosen by God. The servant is evidence, not of the people’s readiness or eagerness to know God’s will, but evidence only of God’s choice to reveal God’s will through the life of the servant.

Isaiah tells us that the servant will bring his words, not to the synagogue or the temple or the palace but to the streets. This will be a public proclamation, not a private theological reflection. And the goal of the message is justice. Justice. Concern for the people, all of the people. Rich and poor. Insider and outsider. Concern for the quality of their lives. Concern for the basics of food, water, shelter, and peace.

The goal of such justice is healing the torn fabric of creation. It is creating human community that transcends tribe and space and time. It reaches all the way back to creation itself, to the promise to Abraham that all the peoples of the world will be blessed.

That’s how we make sense of Jesus. Everyone in favor of his goals will follow him. Everyone threatened by his goals will conspire to destroy him. No one will be able to stop him. And no one will be forced to follow him. That’s how love works and that’s how we make sense of Jesus.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, your patience, your persistence, and your perseverance reaches down through the ages, still amazing to us. How you could continue to do nothing but good even in the face of active resistance and deadly opposition challenges us in our impatience and our fickleness. Help us see the breadth of your concern. Help us see the reach of your love, not just to the church but through the church into all that it means to be a human community rooted in justice. Keep us steadfast in our following. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 12:1-13

October 9, 2017

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. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 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. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. Matthew 12:1-13

Can you name the Ten Commandments, in order, right now? Did you know that there are two different versions of the Ten Commandments in Christianity? If you can, and if you know, my sense is that you are part of an extremely small minority of people in the Christian faith. At least that has been my experience after nearly 30 years of teaching the commandments.

I think about that whenever posting the Ten Commandments gets another 15 minutes of fame. We heard about it most recently with the Senate primary race in Alabama. The judge who refused to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building – that he had placed in there in the middle of the night on July 31, 2001. Two years later, after defying a federal court order to remove it, the judge was himself removed from the bench. Today he is running for a seat in the US Senate. I don’t know the guy but I would love to ask him my two opening questions today.

We love the “idea” of the law – as long as it says and does what we think it ought to say and do. We don’t like the laws we don’t like so we ignore them. (How fast did you drive to work today?) We pay good money to create and sustain loopholes that benefit us. (Why else are lobbyists among the most highly paid people in every state capital in the country?)

Maybe I’m naïve but I believe that most laws begin from an earnest and honest desire to make something better. That is the heart of the Ten Commandments. They lay out a simple pattern of behavior that seeks to protect our relationships with God and our neighbors. They tell us, as Luther might have said, “what to do and what to leave undone” to have the best life possible.

When the letter of the law violates the spirit of the law, when the justice system codifies injustice, then the law must be tested and resisted until the law is changed.

Jesus didn’t have a problem with his disciples gleaning a little wheat on the Sabbath. He didn’t hesitate to heal a man’s hand on the Sabbath. If he did – if the Pharisees were the ones who reached out for a snack, or healed a man on the Sabbath – and Jesus sharply criticized him for it, then I might think differently about such matters. I might even agree with the judge and his granite monument. But Jesus didn’t, and I don’t. Jesus looked beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law. Jesus asked, not “What do the rules say?” but “What earthly good in the real lives of real people will come about because of this?”

Let us pray: Dear Lord, in all things, help us to always put people first. Help us to always ask the crucial question – what earthly good is to come of this in the real lives of real people? Instill in us a healthy respect for the rule of law and guide all of those whose calling in the world includes managing the affairs of the legal system. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Matthew 11:25-30

October 6, 2017

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:25-30

I love road trips. I love traveling light. I don’t like to stop. I just like to ride, watching the miles pass beneath me, letting my mind wander where it will. Especially when I’m out west, I look across the land and wonder what it would have been like to be among those first pioneers as they slowly made their way to a new way of life.

I really can’t imagine sustaining life before electricity and refrigeration and a gas station every few miles. A diet where everything was made from scratch. Drinking lukewarm water all summer long. Hearing little to nothing about the wider world.

This text brings all of this to mind for me as we listen in on Jesus’ prayer life. He is grateful that those who think themselves “wise and intelligent” don’t know as much as they think they do. What matters is what God reveals, not what they discover on their own or what they make up out of whole cloth.

As I get older, I appreciate this text more and more. I often realize that I was really smart back in 1995. That is the last time I remember being on the top of my game. Every year now I realize that I know less and less. That what I thought for sure about has now been proven wrong. That very little of my “unlearning” has been replaced by new learning.

When I am on a road trip I’m able to disengage from life. I check in from time to time, maybe read the paper at a truck stop café, call Kelley a couple of times a day, but largely I am just on my own. I retreat back into a simpler day when the cares of the world weren’t such an assault on our imaginations. When we didn’t know what we didn’t know and we were OK with that.

Ultimately, the destination for every road trip is home. And each time, to quote the poet:

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

Through the unknown, remembered gate

When the last of earth left to discover

Is that which was the beginning;

At the source of the longest river

The voice of the hidden waterfall

And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for

But heard, half-heard, in the stillness

Between two waves of the sea.”

At the end we finally discover that we are not as on our own as we imagine – we have been carried along the whole way. That the burdens we imagine are far more imaginary and self inflicted than we realize – and so easily laid aside. That the great secret, the knowledge we spend a lifetime seeking, is simply this: We are loved.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you see our pretensions and our strivings. You see our pride and our hypocrisy. You see our struggles and our confusion. You invite us to lay it all down. To let it all go. To come to you for rest. Right now, in this moment, let us feel your love and, in that, find peace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 11:20-24

October 5, 2017

Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent.

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you.

And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.” Matthew 11:20-24

Sometimes it is easy to forget the distance between the writing of the New Testament and our contemporary reality. We forget that we might miss some inside jokes. We might not grasp the sense of a then common cliché. We read the names of these cities but we don’t, and can’t, understand how they would have sounded in the ears of Jesus’ hearers. Chorazin. Bethsaida. Tyre and Sidon. Capernaum. Sodom.

Today, if I were to list the names of places like Los Angeles, Fargo, or Cleveland, each would evoke a certain sense in us. We know something about them. Or at least we think we do. Other places take on a new sense because of what happens there – San Bernardino, Las Vegas, New Orleans. Fame becomes infamy. Tinsel becomes tragedy.

While we might not fully understand the internal references to the places that Jesus names, we can immediately and certainly recognize the point that Jesus is making. Those places that knew Jesus the best were the first to reject him. The foreign places, the infamous places, like Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, come out with the long end of the stick. His words are both challenge and threat.

Why didn’t the local communities, the ones who knew Jesus best, embrace him and repent?

When you read through the gospels, looking for evidence that would ultimately put Jesus on a cross, it is hard to see what he did that was so wrong, so dangerous, so intolerable. He helped people. He healed people. He taught people. He broke through social divisions. He embraced the outcasts. Why was he so rejected?

He wasn’t a politician. He wasn’t seeking votes or approval. He wasn’t a revolutionary. He didn’t raise an army. He wasn’t a merchant or an entrepreneur seeking to strike it rich. He posed no threat to those who were. So why did he pose such a threat to those who knew him best?

Consider our own day here. Facing the recovery from multiple natural disasters, all of which will prove extraordinarily expensive, we have politicians – who used to worry about the deficit and the national debt – stepping over themselves to cut taxes. Not to mention gutting efforts to take climate change seriously or to protect our environment.

Still in shock from yet another senseless mass shooting, we’re having difficulty making any move toward common sense gun control as one piece of the puzzle to move forward.

In the face of rampant drug addiction and all of the social costs that brings to our lives, more states are legalizing marijuana even as the federal government seeks to cut access to health insurance and health care – which includes mental health care and drug treatment programs.

We ask ourselves why we find ourselves in such conundrums and we begin to better appreciate why Jesus was rejected – because he prioritized people in a selfless, sacrificial, loving way. Especially those on the edges. He valued people over profits, prophets over politicians, and service over self-interest. He invites us, especially those who know him best, to do the same.

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, the fear of rejection is among our deepest fears. We don’t want to be left out, kicked out, ignored, or abandoned. Yet you seem to embrace those very things in a courageous, loving way. Bring us to the place of repentance – give us new eyes to see, new ears to hear, new voices to speak, new willingness to act. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 11:16-19

October 4, 2017

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Matthew 11:16-19

Did Jesus get frustrated? That is a real question. Did Jesus get frustrated?

I know I get frustrated. I get frustrated a lot. I frustrate myself – I expect much more from myself than I deliver. I get frustrated at other people – far too often. Did Jesus get frustrated?

Often frustration is rooted in the desire to control. We want other people to do what we what them to do, how we want them to do it, and when we want them to do it. We might not even tell them what we expect but still we get frustrated when they don’t deliver. We even want institutions to work the way we want them to work. When they don’t, we get frustrated.

Did Jesus get frustrated? It looks here like he did. The people just don’t seem to get it. They criticize John for being too spiritual and Jesus for being too worldly. Jesus feels like he is surrounded by party poopers and that is frustrating. Come on, people, dance!

Frustration can also be rooted in being misunderstood. The people around Jesus didn’t seem to get it. That is frustrating. They are looking AT John and Jesus rather than THROUGH John and Jesus. They are looking AT their behaviors rather than seeing THROUGH those behaviors to the people who are being helped, given hope, and healed. That is frustrating too.

Life today is fraught with frustration. Just when we think we are getting somewhere, something happens and everything gets thrown into disarray. People don’t act the way we think they ought. The weather turns against us. We lose respect. We lose patience. We lose a sense of compassion. We get battered into a corner where we either sulk or strike out. We see this at every level of our lives.

Of course I believe Jesus experienced frustration. He can’t know us if he can’t know our feelings. We all feel frustrated at some point. But what does Jesus do with that? He takes a deep breath and he presses on. He remembers who he is and what he is about. He is driven by love. He strives for compassion rather than control. He takes the long view of life rather than the short view which can’t see past the obstacle of the moment.

This is the path he invites us to follow.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, from disaster to disaster, from tragedy to tragedy, from the unwillingness to be heard to our own unwillingness to listen, life is full of frustrations. You know this, you know this about us. Forgive us our impatience, our rashness, our pride. Help us slow down and take one step at a time. Help us recognize you in our midst. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 11:7-15

October 3, 2017

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let anyone with ears listen! Matthew 11:7-15

In the 10th chapter of Matthew we heard very challenging words about what it would be like to follow Jesus. Now, in these opening verses of chapter 11 we are seeing those words in vivid color in the life and ministry of John the Baptist.

John, remember from yesterday, is in prison. Why? Because he called out the local political ruler for his selfishness and his callous disregard for doing what is right. Herod Antipas had stolen his brother Phillip’s wife, Herodias. John spoke up and Herod Antipas lashed out. John was thrown into the prison where he would later be beheaded. On a whim inspired by a drunken Antipas seeking to save face in front of his dinner guests.

John the Baptizer was an itinerant preacher. He had no money, no power, and posed no threat whatsoever to the ruling Romans. Yet he spoke words of truth against the powerful and look where it got him. It took him right where Jesus said it would. He would suffer for it.

Someone would later quip, “The truth will set us free but first it will make us miserable.” John was miserable although he had the truth on his side. Herod Antipas didn’t care about the truth; he only cared about power and his public persona. If that meant the death of an innocent man, so be it. Especially if he could find a way to manipulate a crowd against the man of truth.

Yesterday we saw another tragic episode of senseless gun violence in our country. 59 people were killed, over 500 injured. It was all over the national news. On any other normal day in our country, only about 80 people would have been killed by people wielding guns. We might have noticed the articles in our local paper (a quick check this morning in Houston listed two different drive-by shootings and a string of armed robberies.) Last week an 8 year old boy was killed in an accident at a shooting range. But none of that seems to motivate anyone to take action to do anything to change the gun culture in our country.

Because guns keep us safe.

Because guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

Because our soldiers fight and die so that we can have the freedom to keep and bear arms.

As Kurt Vonnegut might say, this the day after another day of senseless death and suffering: So it goes….

What does following Jesus look like this morning? I hope every one of the victims and their family have people in their lives who come alongside them with compassion and love for that is always how God shows up. I hope voices are raised that speak the truth against the winds of our cultural myopia and fixation with violence, against the moneyed interests of those who make and sell weapons of wanton destruction, especially against those who exploit lies that protect those interests. That will probably be enough to get them into trouble.

So it goes…

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, let John the Baptizer be a hero among us this morning. His steadfast devotion and courageous application of the truth against the powerful. His reminder to us that might does not make right. Draw near to all of those who lives were lost and disrupted by the shooting in Las Vegas. Walk with those who struggle with their next steps. May your kingdom come among us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 11:1-6

October 2, 2017

Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities. When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” Matthew 11:1-6

I had to call a plumber last week. Actually, I chose to call a plumber last week. I suppose I could have figured it out myself. Made the requisite three trips to the hardware store. Watched a few YouTube “how to videos.” Bought the one tool that I don’t yet have that I will never use again after this job. But I wasn’t feeling up to it so I just called the plumber.

As I waited for him to arrive I felt a surprising surge of gratitude welling up within me. I am so glad that there are people who decide to become plumbers. The world needs plumbers. When he was done with my little project I gladly gave him some of the money that my congregation gives to me because they are glad that a few people in the world become pastors. That is how God’s economy is designed to work. People exchanging their gifts in service to one another.

When he drove away, off to the next job, I hope he drove away with a sense of satisfaction. There is one more shower controller in the world that works like it is supposed to work because he showed up to fix it.

It isn’t much of a stretch for me to imagine John the Baptizer sitting in prison. I doubt, at any point along the way of his life that he aspired to become a prisoner. Yet it happened. So there he sat, wondering if it was worth it. Did he waste his life? Was he wrong about Jesus?

Who among us haven’t asked similar questions? Am I doing the right thing? Am I valuable in the world or just taking up space?

Jesus answers with a series of word pictures that answer John’s question. Jesus’ answer invites John to imagine his life, not from the point of his present predicament, but from the point of view of all the people he has helped along the way. All of those without hope who now are living into an open future. All the broken ones now leaning into a new kind of wholeness. Jesus doesn’t have to say it – he just points to the people being served and John can see how he was caught up into that work.

Today is Monday. Go out and use your gifts to be helpful. Serve someone today. Just do your part and trust that your effort is part of something much bigger that you can only see through the eyes of faith. The only eyes that matter.

Let us pray: Keep us steadfast, O Lord, in our daily work, our daily witness, our daily service. Help us see how we are connected to the wide sweep of your healing and helping ministry in the world. Draw near to those in prison, that they might be given new eyes to see and hearts to love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.