Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Carrying Crosses Matthew 16:21-28

The cross was the meeting point for everything in Jesus life. Everything he'd said and done pointed him to a particular moment in time where earth and eternity met. The cross was his moment.

Matthew tells us that Jesus was trying to tell his friends that he was headed toward the cross. They heard him talk about the suffering and struggles that he would face and they said no. He was looking ahead to the day when he would carry his cross and finally die on it. His friends heard him speak but they cringed at the idea. "No" Peter said, "God forbid..." Jesus looked Peter in the eye and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Jesus knew the cross was coming. He was heading toward Jerusalem telling his friends to pick up their crosses and follow. They heard him; but they didn't understand. It was to great a thought to even consider. Jesus knew it was coming. They might fight it or hide from it; but he knew it was coming for him and he knew that each of them and each of us would face a cross too.

The hard part about crosses is that we don't pick them. We don't pick which temptations, sufferings, or which struggles will stand between us and God. We don't need to choose a cross our crosses find us. What Jesus instructs us to do is pick that cross up and start walking with him. This is not an invitation to earthly glory. Its an invitation into a life on this earth rooted in faith and hope that counts on God even in the struggles.

Monday, August 18, 2008

What do you call me? Matthew 16:13-20

The Gospel for this week struck me in 2 ways as I read it this afternoon.

First: I heard the report about what people in Israel were saying about Jesus. Its the kind of report that journalists, students, and academics give as they try to convey other peoples ideas and observations. The disciples said what they heard; it's easy to answer questions this way. You aren't emotionally invested in these kinds of responses.

Second: I heard Jesus ask a personal question directed at a particular person, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter spoke from the heart. "You are the son of God." This is a confession, a creedal statement of belief.

Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven."
One of the real shames of the the last 2000 years the church are the multiple occasions when Christians have forced "Confessions" and "conversions." Jesus speaks honestly about the role that God plays in faith. Over the 2000 years since Christ we've regularly underestimated the Spirit's work in creating faith.

Confessions of faith come not from human strength but from God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Faith can't be forced but it can grow through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Jesus sees the unseen Matthew 14:10-28

In Matthew 14 Jesus had encounters with people from 2 very different groups who called Palestine their home. The people Jesus met considered themselves differently in their relationship with God and with their neighbors.

  • The first encounter in Matthew 14:1-20 was with true insiders: the Pharisees.
  • The second encounter in Matthew 14:21-28 was with a true outsider: a Canaanite woman.
Listening to Jesus interaction with the Pharisees and the Canaanite woman allows us, 2000 years later, to hear the presumptions of power or weakness that existed in Jesus' day in Judah.

The Pharisees assumed they held a unique position in Judah. They were close to God because they followed the law completely and dedicated their lives to following God as the law and tradition revealed. They questioned Jesus from this position of power,
“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” Matthew 15:2 NRSV
Jesus responded to their questions naming their own broken laws. They assumed they were always faithful to God through but Jesus turned the law toward them...
... God said, 'Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. 6 So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. Matthew 15:4-6 NRSV
Jesus words went to the very center of their lives and faith. Outwardly following the law was everything for them. But Jesus' would hear it. He used a different standard; what's inside the heart to judge a person. And now turning toward the whole crowd he challenged the Pharisees again. His disciples could tell that the Pharisees were offended. Jesus wasn't deterred by their offense. The unseen human heart is what matters. You can see what a person does, but you can never see what's inside of a human heart.

A new world view begins. In the old world view shaped by law ritual purity mattered; for Jesus purity of heart matters. In the old world view the appearances that other humans saw mattered; in Jesus world view the intentions that God sees matter. Jesus did not end the law; rather he put everything into a different perspective.

The Canaanite Woman presumed no position of privilege in her interaction with Jesus. She just believed he could release her daughter from demons; she begged for help. Jesus was silent. The disciples wanted to shoo her away. He answered her requests and not theirs, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matthew 15:24 NRSV The desperate mother kept begging. She was pushing Jesus begging him to reach out.
 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Matthew 15:26-28 NRSV
Jesus words about dogs and the children's food stun us. But she was not about to stop. She believed Jesus could heal her daughter. She was ready to hold on in faith trusting that he had the power to set her, body and soul, free. Martin Luther compared her to Jacob wrestling in the night in Genesis 32.
In this manner God is conquered when faith does not leave off, is not wearied, and does not cease but presses and urges on. So it makes its appearance in the Canaanite woman, with whom Jesus was wrestling when He said: “You are a dog, the bread of the sons does not belong to you” (cf. Matt. 15:26). The woman did not yield here but offered opposition, saying: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” And so she was victorious and heard the excellent word of praise: “O woman, great is your faith!”
Such examples teach us that faith should not yield or cease urging or pressing on even when it is already feeling God’s wrath and not only death and sin. This is the power and strength of the Spirit. Luther's Works, Vol. 6 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 31-37, Vol 6:139 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1970).
Jesus boldly invites us to hold on in faith. Now the outsider is truly the model for all people who are distant from God. She teaches us to hold on.

note to any regular readers: sorry for the delayed posting. I attended the funeral of Christopher Stander in Minneapolis this week and have been a little behind getting ready for preaching this weekend. Please add his mom and dad, Isabel and John, and his brothers, Hans and Eric, their wives, and kids to your prayers. Thanks

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Having No Fear Matthew 14:22-33

Fear is one of our base emotions; it's an involuntary experience that moves within us in response to something happening around us. Jesus told his friends not to fear. They were out on the water of Galilee. They'd just seen him feed 5000 men and even more women and children with a few loaves and fish. He'd sent them away, dismissed the crowd, had a time to pray and now they were surprised in the night to meet Jesus out on the water in the midst of wind and waves.

Jesus' responded to his friends' fear,
εὐθὺς δὲ ἐλάλησεν [ὁ Ἰησου̂ς] αὐτοι̂ς λέγων· θαρσει̂τε, ἐγώ εἰμι· μὴ φοβει̂σθε. Matthew 14:27 Novum Testumentum Graece. "But Jesus quickly spoke to them, “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27 NCV)

Jesus met them in their fear and offered them an an invitation to live in faith. Miracles were happening whether they believed or not. He invited them to step out in faith.

Jesus invitation started with assurance of his place in the universe, ἐγώ εἰμι. It is I. These were the same words Moses heard from the bush. This is "I am" talking. Jesus' friends were starting to glimpse his extraordinary personality. Jesus instruction μὴ φοβει̂σθε in you no fear is personal he's telling his friends, "Right now in yourself have no fear."

Peter asked Jesus to invite him out proving that he was real. Jesus said come. Peter stepped out. The water stayed under his feet . He was walking. Then fear returned; he was sinking. He cried save me, and Jesus lifted him up.
"Jesus said, “Your faith is small. Why did you doubt?" Matt 14:31 NCV λέγει αὐτῳ̂· ὀλιγόπιστε, εἰς τί ἐδίστασας; Matthew 14:31 Novum Testumentum Graece.

Peter feared and Jesus remained faithful; and those who saw it all happen in the boat believed. We might fear but Jesus can work around fear. We might doubt his power; but that doesn't limit what he can do.