Monday, September 26, 2011

Jesus, are you talking to me? Matthew 21:33-43

There's no clearer point of conflict between Jesus and the religious establishment than in the temple the week before his death. Jesus overturned tables and confronted the money changes. The high-priest and elders were attune to his presence asking for answers. The wanted to know what authority Jesus had to act Matthew 21:23. Jesus answered their question with 3 parables questioning their authority.

first: two sons only one of whom did his fathers will Matthew 21:28-32
second: tenants who dishonored the land owner Matthew 21:33-43
third: about the wedding feast where the invited didn't come and the king sought out many others to come in their place, but one who came was sent out Matthew 22:1-14

Jesus second parable Matthew 21:33-39 veiled the names but not the biting words. Imagine a landowner who isn't paid by his tenants. What would he do? He sent servants to collect what was owed. The tenants beat one and killed another. What would he do next? The landowner chose to send his son believing that the tennant might respect his son. But they siezed the son and killed him believing they'd get his inheritence.

After the resurrection we realize what all Jesus meant. We see who was who and what happened; but before the cross the words bit hard into the chief priests and the elders.

Jesus' words can bite right into a person. He came to show us how to love; but he also came to change us so that we would act out of love. His stories engage us at the deepest levels of our human nature exposing the sin and contempt beneath the surface. Jesus called out the leaders not by name but by identifying their sin. They had no one to blame and no place to hide. He was implicating someone who acted just like them in the death of prophets and the misuse of God's gifts.

The chief priest and the elders wanted to silence him, but they didn't dare for fear of the crowd Matthew 21:25-26 Matthew 21:46. And Jesus taught as a prophet almost daring those in power to conspire against him. And they did, and he died, and he rose. This is the unspoken part of the parable. Yes the tenants had their way and killed the son, but the tenants didn't win through violence, the son of landowner came back from the dead to redeem what what lost not through violence and death but through new life. AMEN.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Who did the Father's will? Matthew 21:23-32

Imagine the scene
Jesus in the temple in Matthew 21:23. He was in the place that symbolized the very heart of Israel's religious life. Some there in the temple wanted to hear him teach and others were questioning him, doubting him maybe even hoping to trap him so that they could have their way over him. The religious leaders asked,

By what authority are you doing these things and who gave you this authority? Matthew 21b NRSV
Jesus answered with a question of his own,
Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” Matthew 21:24-25 NRSV
The question stung the religious leaders who doubted Jesus. The crowds loved Jesus and John before him. They believed in John and now in Jesus. And Jesus turned the question back to them Matthew 21:25-27.
Now Jesus made his point in story about two sons in Matthew 21:28-30. Both sons were asked by their father to go and work in the vineyard. One son said no and changed his mind doing as his father asked. The other son agreed but ended up not doing the job.
Jesus asked them in Matthew 21:31, "Who did the father's will?" The answers obvious, the first one, the one who did it. Jesus said yes that's right and then he spoke to them a word of judgement and promise in Matthew 21:31-32. It was word of judgement for the religious and a promise for the sinners, the prostitutes and tax collectors, would enter into the kingdom before them.
Jesus didn't say they were out of the kingdom or out of God's reach, but he told them that Good News had come for those they considered beyond God's reach. Good News has come for those who had turned their backs on God and then returned to His will.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

a life worthy of the gospel Philipians 1:20-30

Paul wrote to the church in Philipi about being church. He said things plainly. And he said that what was important was living a life worthy of the gospel of Christ. Paul wrote

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, (Philipians 1:27 NRSV)
I've been thinking about this verse as I prepare to give a short meditation at a 100th anniversary celebration for a congregation where I served for 5 years. Every church that I've been part of, from my childhood on, has been a place to learn what God's Word means. I hope that in the church today that we are teaching these same lessons to everyone else who we invite in, nurture in faith, serve along side of, and send into the world. I hope that we are being witnesses in service and compassion and if need be that we will witness with our words.

Many people say they are unqualified to be witnesses on God's behalf. Many say their sins and limitations are too great for God to use them. But a God of boundless grace really does use the broken. He uses broken people to share his light. I remember reading this passage in a cardiac ICU. Paul told the church in Corinth

For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you. 2 Corithinians 4:6-12 NRSV.
We are the broken vessels, the cracked-pots who God will use. We are the one's He chooses to bring His light to the world. Over and over we see that powerful witnesses to God's work have some of the greatest cracks. Saints with deep flaws and scars are the ones that God really uses to let His light shine in the world. John the Baptist came calling people to turn away from their sin and be baptized. The Risen Christ takes us from that first moment washed and claimed and puts his light in us to shine through the cracks for the good of the world. AMEN.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

How Many Times Matthew 18:21-35

Jesus had a great way of teaching us the real truth about himself and ourselves as human beings: telling stories. Stories can tell us a whole lot about who we are and what we do sometimes even more clearly than just giving us a rule to follow.

In Matthew Jesus had been speaking with his friends about forgiveness. He told them that they had power in the church to set people free, to let them lose from their chains to sin, he even told them this power wasn't just about things on earth Matthew 18:18. Those released here are free in the eyes of heaven. The stakes are so very very high. What we do here matters not only here and now.

Forgiveness doesn't always seem like an eternal matter. Sometimes forgiveness looks just like a very practical business. Maybe that's the reason why Jesus' friend Peter came to him with a very practical question about forgiveness:

“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Matthew 18:21 NRSV.
Jesus' friend wondered out loud about forgiveness. We might be tempted to ask the same question. Maybe you think the number depends. Maybe for little things a person could forgive somebody again. But some actions, some crimes, are so outrageous in that you believe they can't be forgiven. Peter seemed to be stretching for a big number when he asked Jesus if forgiving someone seven times was enough. Jesus said a number that's been translated either as 77 times or 490 times in Matthew 18:22. Peter thought forgiving 7 times was generous. Jesus asked him to stretch even more.

Jesus told his friends a story about a king and a servant in Matthew 18:23-35. The servant owed the king a lot of money. It was more than he could reasonably earn in 3000 life times. Pay me said the king. The servant begged for mercy and the king was merciful. He forgave the whole debt.

The story turned when the forgiven man tried to have his debt's repaid. He found a fellow servant who owed him a month's worth of wages. He heard the man's pleadings for mercy. They probably sounded a whole lot like his own begging. But he didn't show mercy like he'd been shown by his master. The forgiven man called the authorities and had him thrown him in jail until he could pay.

News like this travels fast. It reached the ears of the king. He had the servant who wouldn't forgive another tossed in jail. Jesus warned us not to remove the splinter from our neighbors eye without first dealing with the log in our own. Which standard do you wish God to judge you with; the one that you use to measure others, or the one God has set through the cross and rising of Jesus.
A lot of people prayed 10 years ago that there would be peace on earth in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United State. A lot of people asked God out loud about justice and righteousness as the seeds of violence and destruction were thrown about the earth.

The enemy wants us to forget about peace and justice, forgiveness and renewal. God's kingdom grows as we remember that we are both citizens of eartlbound nations and citizens of God's kingdom. Trust in God, not evil, trust in God's mercy, not vengeance. It takes is the faith of a little seed, hope in Christ, to have a reason gh to keep planting even when the enemy is working hard against you and God. Even when days are tough and grief is too real to ignore it's planting time for God's Word.

Every person has reason to forgive; but not every one with reason to forgive has let go of the hurt and let God handle it. Forgiveness happens after we name the hurt and turn the problem over to God and to the proper authorities. Forgiveness happens but it doesn't mean that we'll ever forget.

God has forgiven you; he's planting the seed in your life. Let it take root and flourish. In Christ you are forgiven by God. Remember that forgiveness is meant to change both one who forgives and one who is forgiven. You stand here today forgiven through Christ's blood shed on a cross of everything. The seed is in your hands. AMEN
Pax, John