Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Happy, Blessed, and Beautiful in God's Eyes Matthew 5:1-12

The Gospel, that we read for All Saints, is sometimes called the Beatitudes. It is the greatest description, that I know, of the world as God both wills it to be and as God sees it coming into being through lives of faith.

Jesus spoke these words to a huge crowd. They came searching for him. Some hoped he’d heal their bodies or spirits. Others believed Jesus was the great leader who’d come to set them free from earthly tyranny. People came from all over searching for this great teacher, this great rabbi. And Jesus was ready to teach. He went up to the top of the mountain. He sat down and he began to teach them about what the world looks like to God.

If you read this passage you will see that one phrase is repeated over and over: μακάριοι οἱ this is often translated blessed are those or happy are those. One word μακάριοι is repeated over and over, blessed or happy are those who are:

  • poor in spirit
  • in mourning
  • meek
  • hungering and thirsting for righteousness
  • clean in heart
  • peacemakers
  • persecuted for righteousness sake
The popular definition of happiness or blessing that grows out of material wealth doesn't fit these very real life circumstance that Jesus' followers face every day. Still we call call these the Beatitudes, a word that comes from the Latin beatus for beauty. Maybe another translation is beautiful in the sight of God. Think of the one who follows God and think of that one described as blessed, happy, and beautiful in the site of God.

Blessed, happy, beautiful, in the end each of these translation of the word μακάριοι gives us a different facet of the story. The key here is seeing just how radically Jesus sees the world from us. He's offering a markedly different vision of the world from what we humans see. He sees beauty and joy and blessing in God's people even when we might not see it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Love: the Heart of Christian Life Matthew 22:34-46

In our Gospel reading Jesus replied to a Pharisee's question about the law, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” by pointing to two similar commandments instructing the law's adhrents to love,

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and most important command. 39 And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ 40 All the law and the writings of the prophets depend on these two commands.” Matthew 22:37-40 (NCV)

Jesus' words about love, in reply to the Pharisee's question about law, came straight out of the ancient legal code itself.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”Deuteronomy 6:4-5(NIV)

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”Leviticus 19:18 (NRSV)

Jesus pointed at these invitations to love (וְאָהַבְתָּ) above everything else in the law. It seems so simple and so elegent. If you want to fulfill the law of God love God and others. The hitch is love for others doesn't exist in a vaccum inside of oneself. For 2000 years believers have been invited to live beyond themselves, in relationships, loving God and neighbors. Wise men have observed that no humans have static relationships (thanks Martin Buber). We are in relationship with real beings, God and the people around us, who change and who act entirely on their own. That means we're invited to love a real God and real people.

Jesus invited the Pharisee to fulfill the law by loving (ἀγαπήσεις) the Lord first and next loving (ἀγαπήσεις) your neighbors as yourselves. The invitation is to a life lived in love. For 2000 years Jesus' words have invited us into relationships. Edward Marquardt describes these two verses as hinges,

A door cannot open without two hinges on it. Only when there are two hinges can a door swing in and out. To love the Lord our God and to love our neighbor are the two necessary hinges on which the whole Bible swings. Without the hinges, the Bible/the door is relatively useless. The Bible becomes effective in a person’s life only when the two hinges are in working order.”

The commandments instructed ancient Israel, the Pharisees, and all of us today, to live in love. Jesus is inviting us to live now and in the future loving God and the people around us. It would be much easier to live in love if we could just wait until we get to the here-after to start; but Jesus didn't tell the Pharisees to wait before they started loving in some far away place or some far off time. His direction is to love in a broken world that knows sin, death, and the works of the evil one all to well. This is the same broken world that Jesus came to redeem.


This week our church will gather 489 years after the Reformation and celebrate our heritage in the Word. We'll give thanks for a bold young priest who challenged the church he loved to be faithful to the Gospel. We'll remember the day when he pounded a 95 Thesis invitation to debate, to the door of Wittenburg University's Chapel.

As we celebrate the Reformation we'll keep our challenging times in mind. Our days, much like Luther's days on earth, were filled with uncertainty. Challenging times call for the church to be at its best and to hold fast to what matters. Our Reformation Heritage includes a call, even in difficult times, to listen to Scripture and to live boldly in the freedom of the Gospel. We can't wait for the perfect conditions in the church or the world before we start living out our faith; instead we need to start now so that we can be salt and light for the world.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Who's money is it Matthew 22:15-22

Two political groups came to Jesus with a dangerous political question. The Herodians and the Pharisees were fishing for a way to entrap Jesus. They wanted to ask Jesus about the righteousness of paying taxes.
If he said yes he would have been labeled as a traitor to his own people. The tax collectors were seen as traitors so why not someone who encouraged paying taxes.
If he said no he would have been on the hook for subverting the power of Herod and the Roman occupation.
Jesus responded with a question, "who's pitcture is on the coin?" They said Caesar's. Jesus told them to give the money to the emperor if it was the emperor's, afterall it had Caesar's picture on it and not God's.
Jesus' words about the money's real owner seem very shrewd at first. He jumped out of the trap saying, "Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar." His words even rhymes like a short campaign slogan. But listening these past few weeks, as people have been talking about what happened in the markets, it seems his advice was wise not only 2000 years ago but today too.
People simply can't stop talking about money. We need it to live to (heat our homes to buy food). But we don't need to be ruled by money either. This is Jesus' best advice. Don't be consumed by money. Don't be ruled by money. Live instead by faith giving the things of this world back to this world and giving God what is rightly God's.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Ready or Not, You're invited Matthew 22:1-4 Philipians 4:1-9

Jesus parable about a wedding feast that the invited guests chose not to attend is rich with images and power.

The first image in my mind is of invitations being sent out by the King to the Wedding Feast. As pastor I get wedding invitations many times a year. The invitations arrive in special envelopes with beautiful fonts, fancy hand writing, and special inner envelopes and even extra sheets to keep the words clear and un-smudged.

Couples who send invitations out for their weddings expect some of the people they invited to come. But in Jesus' parable no one came when the King invited them. So the servants were sent to remind the guests of the feast. But the servants were received rudely and even brutally mistreated.

The King responded with rage. He sent soldiers in to the city to wipe out the murders. Then he send out the servants into the streets.

Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Matthew 22:9-10 NRSV
Many came but one man wasn't prepared. Part of me asks how could he be ready. He was out on the street and the slaves invited him in. Some will say this is where the story breaks down; but maybe this is the point when the story is most poignant. The King's invitation comes ready or not. Perhaps we assume we'll have time to prepare and get everything in order; but the truth is we don't and we can't.

Context and Time

People are talking about money and finance quite a bit these days. There's deepening anxiety around the coffee tables where seniors, who depend on investments, visit. There's panic in the homes of parent's worried about their mortgages and jobs. We've been caught, as a global consumer culture, unprepared for this moment. We aren't ready. We don't have the right plan or the right garment. People know this experience first hand today. In time some may just view today's struggles as a blip; but for many others this is no blip. Houses are on the line, jobs are on the line. It feels for many like the world they know it is over. They weren't ready for the economy to collapse and now they fear the outer darkness where people gnash their teeth and weep.

This coming Sunday has been set aside, by the Stewardship Team in the congregation I serve, to invite people to make pledges for the next year. Talking with other Lutheran preacher in Minnesota it seems like the October's the month when we Lutheran's talk about money. Part of me says this isn't the time; but part of me says this exactly the moment to talk about money and ministry.

Institutional churches are struggling to stay relevant and in some cases financially viable. This financial crisis will push many of us into uncomfortable situations and challenge us to focus on outward ministry and not just inward maintenance. The Internet Monk has an interesting commentary (written in response to Chris Sander's Life After Church) that seems to fit this week as our congregation discusses budgets and ministry in this unique moment in history.

Some wonder if the church is still relevant; I believe we are, if we meet the world as it is, not as we think it should be. We need to stay focused on mission when everything distracts us from serving Christ. We still need to be..
the church that visits the nursing homes, provides major funding for the community pantry, builds and maintains a youth center, pays a Christian counselor and has its pastors doing a remarkable amount of pastoral care in the community. In other words, the landscape may look bleak as Sanders describes it, but for pastors and area ministers on the ground in the traditional church, there is real ministry happening, and much of it commendable
People who've been caught unprepared need to hear the Good News. Pastors and parishioners both will be hungry no just to hear the CNN, NPR, or FOXNews headlines repeated. Let them know the Good News,
The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philipians 4:5-7 NRSV
Its not time to panic; its time to preach Christ.