Sunday, February 24, 2019

Pictures of the Kingdom: Bread, Water and Rest - Matthew 14:13-33

Last week we looked at several parables in which Jesus showed us pictures of the Kingdom of Heaven and what it looks like at work in the world around us. Today we have two more snapshots of the kingdom, not in the form of parables, but in the form of two incidents in the life of Jesus.
First of all let us begin by taking note that Jesus is human. The passage begins with Jesus withdrawing. Jesus like us needs a break from time to time, he needs space to catch his breath, and like so many of us there are times when he needs a break from other people. This is one of several times throughout the gospels when Jesus actively pulls away from the crowd and away from people to replenish himself, to get some space and some time away from it all. John the Baptist, his cousin has recently died and he needs to get away, he needs a break, he needs to be by himself.
There are times in all of our lives when we need to take the time and the space to get away from others. We need to find a quiet place to rejuvenate ourselves, some down so that we can recharge, refocus; take some deep breaths so that we can face the world around us again. Some of us need this kind of time daily and that is ok. Jesus needed time like this as well.
Jesus does not get the down time he needs on this particular day, on this particular day when we tries to get away a crowd follows him and meets him in his alone place. And Jesus chooses not to find another alone place or to send them away, instead he has compassion on them and their needs and chooses to meet their needs.
But then as the day draws on but before Jesus is finished, the disciples realize that they are all way out in a deserted place without food for all these people. They want to send them away, but Jesus tells them to get the people something to eat. So they come together and see what they have among them. In Matthew there is no small boy with his lunch. (That is in John’s gospel) Here Jesus asks his disciples to feed the crowd, so the disciples look at what they have among them. All they have is fives loaves of bread and two fish. They tell Jesus what they have and Jesus instructs them to give it all to him. He has everyone sit down, he blesses the small meal and gave it to the disciples and the disciples feed the crowd of well over 5,000 (when you include the women and children) with the fish and loaves with plenty to spare.
And then our passage goes on. After this, before nightfall, Jesus instructs the disciples to dismiss the crowds. He then has them get into a boat to head out a across the lake without him. Jesus, after a devastating blow, and a long day, is finally able to be alone. Jesus is now able get that rest he so desperately needed. Although Jesus had compassion on the people and did not send them away when he needed some time and some space by himself, he does not hesitate (Matthew tells us he does so immediately) to create a situation in which he will be able to get the rest he needs. He is finally able to take the time he needs to process the death of his cousin, to be alone to mourn for a while, to be able to rest and recuperated from ALL that has been going on. 
Even when life comes crowding in around us and we find that our much needed time of rest and rejuvenation is interrupted with the important needs of others, that does not mean that we must continually sacrifice ourselves, we need to work, as immediately as possible to give ourselves the time and the space we need. And we may have to be aggressive about it, Jesus sends everyone away, he dismisses the crowd and puts his disciples on a boat and sends them away, actively creating a situation when he will finally be able to be alone. When you need this kind of time, it is ok to actively create that space in your life. It might mean that you need to remove yourself from those around you and go off by yourself, or it might mean that you need to send others away, but either way, Jesus’ example shows us that it ok to do this.
So as it grows dark, once the disciples are way out in the middle of the sea in the boat, Jesus decides it is time to join his disciples, so he goes out to them on the turbulent sea, walking on the water in order to get out there. The disciples don’t know who it is or what to think, so they assume it must be some kind of apparition, a ghost! And are justifiably afraid, but Jesus calls to them, telling not to be afraid.
Peter then asks if he can come out to Jesus on the water and Jesus invites Peter to join him. So Peter jumps out of the boat but becomes frightened when he realizes what he is doing and exactly how scary this is and begins to sink. And Jesus asks him why he doubted, if Peter has an answer to that question it is not recorded in scripture, nor is any conversation they must have had as they walk together back to the boat and climb in. The disciples know what to do at this point; they worship him and declare Jesus to be the Son of God.
Jesus has just given us another picture of the kingdom in these two scenarios. And it is because of what they had seen through the course of that day that causes the disciples to come to this realization. But what about the events of that day gave them this realization? They had seen Jesus perform miracles before. This is not the first time they have seen Jesus do something beyond explanation, it is not even the first time they have seen him heal people. So what about the events of this particular day allow them to see Jesus clearly?
Jesus does two things. He provides food in the desert and he makes a path through the water. There is one particular time in scripture when food is provided in the desert and a path is made through the water. These are the miracles of the Exodus.
When God was leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt toward the promise land, God provided them with food in the desert. Then when their way was blocked by the sea, God made a path for them through the water. The ability to provide for the people to give them bread and fish to mirror the manna and quail of their sojourn in the desert and then make a way through the sea, are miracles of God. One of the ways Israel knows their God is as the God who provides food in the wilderness and a path through the sea.
On the exact same day, Jesus provides food to a crowd and then makes a way in the sea and also makes that same way for Peter to come out to him on the water and return to the boat along with him. When Jesus steps into the boat he has exhibited the power of the one and only living God of the universe. The person they see step into the boat that night is not just some miracle worker, he is not just a well-spoken and radical rabbi here to teach the people about God, he is the Son of God. He is sent by God, and comes with the power of God in hand, the ability to provide bread and the ability to make a way in the water.  The One who steps into the boat is not merely the traveling companion with whom they had come out in the boat earlier that day, he is the Son of God and they worship him as such. The man they have known for so long is so much more than they could have dreamed or imagined.
Right now on Facebook, it is popular to take an old picture, perhaps of you and your siblings from your childhood and then recreate the same picture over again now, many years later, now that you all are much older. Everyone is in the same pose, making the same facial expression, perhaps even in similar clothes and you all are on the same couch that still sits in your mother’s living room, or on the lawn in front of your childhood home. They are a sort of “then and now” pictures. That was us then, this is us now.
The picture we have of the Kingdom, that we have before us this morning, is a “then and now” picture, much like the ones that are popular on the internet. Jesus is recreating an all too familiar snap shot of God that would have been all too familiar to the disciples, the God they met through Moses when God sought them out to free them from slavery. So when Jesus gets into the boat that night, they are able to see the God of the Exodus there in the boat with them.
The God of the Exodus is the same God who is Jesus Christ. The God of provision, the God who gave them exactly what they needed each day, is there with them in the boat. Suddenly when the disciples see Jesus they see echoed in him the story of the manna and the quail. In Jesus they have what they need and even more. They have abundance. In this snap shot we not only see a God as one who gives exactly what is needed, we also see a God who goes above and beyond our expectations, who provides plenty when there is little and fills us to overflowing when find that we are dry.
When we are tired, when we are care worn, when we are in the desert and hungry, God is there giving us what we need and more. God does not send us away. God will satisfy, and fill us to over flowing. In Jesus we have exactly what we need, the comfort we need, the care we need, the strength we need and more. Jesus is always about the “more” the full to overflowing, about making sure we have leftovers to share, so that we never have to feel like we never have enough, even enough to share.
It is important to remember this is the disciples’ lunch Jesus is giving away. Jesus is asking them to give away their own lunch to feed this crowd. And where the lunch would probably have just been enough for them, Jesus extends that lunch and allows it to feed all who had gathered there. But not only that, there was plenty left over. They had enough to take some on the boat with them to provide dinner for them, as well as any who was on the boat with them. Not only did they have enough, they had plenty, not only did they have plenty, but they had abundance; enough to take some home with them.
But not only is Jesus the God of the manna and the quail, but he is also the God of the water crossing. Jesus is the God of provision AND the God who makes a way when there literally is no road. Jesus can command nature in such a way that he can reform the shape of the landscape to make a road in a place no one else would not only dare to walk but where it is actually impossible to walk and then he allows for us to join him there, makes a way for us to walk alongside him where there is no path, or way for us, where without him, if we even look focus on him, we would fail to walk. Jesus can transform nature to make a way where there is no way, and call us to himself, where it is impossible to follow. With Jesus we can do the impossible. When we follow Jesus there is a way, where there is no way, because he transforms the world around us to allow us to go to all the places he calls us to go.
There is actually one more detail of the Exodus story which is revealed in Jesus here. Not only is the manna and the quail and the water crossing echoed in the actions of Jesus on this day, but also the first “gift” God gave to the people after they left Egypt. One of the first things God did for the Israelites after they left the lives of slavery in Egypt was God gave them the gift of rest. God told them there would be manna and quail for six day, then on the sixth day they should collect enough for two days, because on the seventh was for them to rest. There would be no manna and quail to gather, so that they could take a break from all work, all struggle all that exhausted and expended them, so they like God, who rested on the seventh day of creation could take the time and space they needed to rest. God made space in their lives for them to get away from the work and the stress of the week which can press in around you as real as any crowd. In Jesus here we see the God of rest. Jesus’ first attempt at time away and rest may have been thwarted by the very real needs and cares of others but he still takes time to rest, to get away and give himself the space he needed, to think, to pray, to mourn, to gain comfort in God, to take a nap. We don’t know what rest looked like to Jesus but we see here that it is important enough for Jesus that he eventually sent everyone away so that he could provide for his own needs as well as the needs of others.
In Jesus here we see God. We see the God who provides as well as the God who commands nature. We see the God who fills us to overflowing as well as the God who allows for impossible paths to become the road down which we will follow. We see a snapshot the kingdom, on in which our needs are met, one in which there is plenty, in which we are filled to overflowing. We also see the God of the universe who can shape the world around us, who can make a way in the water, a path on the sea. We see the God who allows for us to follow no matter how impossible it may see, if Jesus tells us to come, then the impossible becomes possible and the sea becomes as firm as dry land. We can go to any place Christ calls for us to go, because Jesus is the all-terrain God who makes a way in, through and over everything.
And Jesus is the God of rest, the God who calls for us to rest and models for us self-care.  Jesus found time to be alone, no he created time and space to be alone, so he could take care of himself in his own time of need. It is not selfish to need time to mourn. It is not selfish to need time to rest. It is not selfish to need time alone. Jesus needed all these things and he sent everyone away so that he could have this time of rest. Rest is a Godly thing, Taking time to rest, to take care of yourself when you are struggling, suffering, sick, mourning, is literally Christ-like. We should never feel ashamed of this need, or feel that to take the time and space we need to rest, rejuvenate, to heal, to gain strength in body and mind, in alone time, is selfish. It is what Christ would do, and did do in the same situation.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Pictures of the Kingdom: Matthew 13:24-43

The kingdom of heaven is at hand, the kingdom heaven is near, the kingdom of heaven is here. Words we have heard repeated on the lips of Jesus throughout the book of Matthew. Jesus has been letting us know that the kingdom of heaven is not something far off, not something unreachable, not something we will find after our time on earth is done or something we will only know when we find ourselves in eternity. It is at hand. It is near. It is here. It is present. It is around us in the here and now.
Jesus is letting us know that the kingdom of heaven is where ever the children of God are at work doing the work and the will of God here in on earth. The kingdom of heaven is something which comes to this world as we allow God’s will to be done in us and through us, so that in our lives and in our actions God’s will is being done here on earth.
So Jesus give us a set of parables which seem backwards and nonsensical on the surface. Weeds are allowed to keep growing, leaven is presented as a positive thing instead of something a Hebrew woman must remove from her home before Passover, least it contaminate anything else in the house, and invasive plants  are not only allowed to grow in the garden but they continue growing to unbelievable proportions. In the upside down, backwards, kingdom of heaven, where the last are first and the first are last, and bad things are presented as good things, as Christians, we are the harbingers of God’s kingdom, in that we bring it with us. We are carriers, infesting our world with the love, the goodness, the grace, the mercy, the forgiveness, the holiness of God, as we live lives reflecting the very nature of God in all that we do. And Jesus is patient X. When we walk close enough to Christ, and work to imitate his life with our own, when we live out who he is, how he lives his life while we live ours, what he has and who is is transferred to us. We take it with us into the world, contaminating the world around us with Jesus’ light and love. And what we want is an epidemic of Christ-like, holy living in our world. 
If the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, as Jesus says that it is, what does it look like? How will we recognize it when we see it? Jesus gives us snapshots of the Kingdom in the parable we have before us this morning. They are pictures showing us pieces of the Kingdom at work. It is almost as if Jesus is passing around a photo album and as he points to photographs he tells us how the photos gives us a glimpse at the God’s kingdom.
He points to the first photo. We can see a field and in that field wheat and weeds are growing side by side.  Jesus explains that the workers of the field want to pull up the weeds immediately, but the master says to let them grow until the harvest and then separate them lest wheat is accidentally pulled out or uprooted along with the weeds.
 “Oh this is a good one!” He says and as he turns the page. There on the page, we see a faded photograph of a woman kneading dough. On one side of the worktable are measuring cups there are three. She must have used three measures of flour. On the other side of the table we see that she has measuring spoons. She has obviously portioned out a small amount of yeast to put in her dough. “See the small amount of leaven,” Jesus points out, “it has gone into all the dough and although is it hidden from sight and is no longer seen, it has filled the whole thing with its leavening power.” Such a small amount has had a big impact.
Our attention turns to as set of pictures on the other side of the page. Jesus is point to the first one saying, “Oh this one shows us almost the same thing.” Our eyes fall on a picture of someone planting a small mustard see in the garden. And since we are familiar with Middle Eastern gardens and common garden plants we all wonder, “Why would that person do that!” Mustard is like mint, if you plant it in a garden it will just multiply and grow everywhere. Soon you will have nothing but mustard in your garden and very little else. In the next picture we see the mustard plant, it is large and out of control, it seems to be a shrub, much larger than it really should be. And then we look at the third picture, this is truly a prolific little mustard seed. For it has become larger than any mustard plant we have seen, it is practically a tree, and as we look close we see that a pair of birds indeed have mistaken it for a tree and have made a nest deep in its branches, finding safety and protection in its foliage. And we think to ourselves, “the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that grows and grows and grows, threatening to take over everything?” God’s kingdom is like a mustard plant, which grows bigger than we could ever imagine it could become. It defies logic in its growth and becomes a place of safety and security in which others can make a home.
We look at the three pictures and wonder what does it mean to say the, Kingdom of heaven is like wheat and weeds growing together, and also like a small amount of yeast affecting the entirely of a loaf or a mustard seed that grows to astronomical proportions? How do these word pictures help us see the kingdom of heaven all around us? How does this allow us to live the kind of lives kingdom people must live?
Jesus does give us some explanation about the wheat and the weeds. It seems we are the wheat, the people of God, Christians living and growing the Church. Jesus explains that the Church will be full of people who love God; people who are seeking after Jesus Christ, who are working to be reflections of the light and love of Jesus Christ in the world; people who are living out God’s holiness in their daily lives. And also, in the Church, there are people who are not; people who are living contrary to the love of God; people who do not reflect the character of God to those around them; people who are bad witnesses as to who Jesus is, people are false ambassadors, whose value do not reflect the values of God. There are people, who say they are Christians, who are not living out the presence of the kingdom of heaven in their lives.  We are all in the Church together, wheat and weeds living and growing together. And it is hard to tell us apart. The weeds, spoken of in this passage, look very much like wheat until they are full grown. So the master of the field lets them grow alongside the wheat until the harvest so that none of the wheat is accidentally pulled out and uprooted in a pre-peremptory move to rid the field of the weeds before the harvest.
In a world where we have simultaneous scandals involving the Church, where it has been discovered that nuns have been systematically misused by priests over the decades, where the count of young people who have been abused by clergy among Southern Baptist churches in Texas has reached over 700, and that is all on top of the history of priests abusing young boys that has shook the Catholic church to its foundations, we begin to wonder, “What is going on within the Church?”  In a world where almost any time someone finds out that I pastored for a period of time in Kansas, I have to then prove that I share no sympathy for the Westboro Baptist church in Topeka, or their ideal, you have to wonder what is going in the Church today. Or whenever any of us get on social media, we find Christian saying all sorts of hateful things about immigrants, or people of color. Christians who seem to blindly support political figures and policies that, to us, seem to run contrary to the grace, love and mercy to which we believe God calls us to live out in all aspects of our lives. We have to wonder what is going on with Christians? It seems, if we believe ourselves to be wheat in this field, called the Church, and we continually find that we are am surrounded by Christians who seem to be reflecting a different god with their words and their actions than the one we are working so hard to reflect, the only conclusion we can come to is that there weeds growing in among the wheat. And sometimes as we look around at everyone who also calls themselves Christian, it feels like we are completely surrounded by fake wheat (and their fake news about Jesus).
Jesus tells us that the wheat and the weeds will grow together. This is the way it will be until the end, when it will all be sorted out. He also tells us who does the sorting. And guess what? The wheat does not get to do the sorting! When you put it that way is seems so logical. Wheat does not harvest, nor does it pull weeds or throw them away. That is the job for others. Not us. The master decides, the master knows the wheat from the weeds. We are just called to grow in the field. So we should not be too dismayed when it seems that not everyone in the field is a child of the kingdom.
The kingdom of God is like yeast, which is mixed in with the flour in a batch of bread, while only a small amount is put into the dough, that small amount has the power to fill the whole thing causing the entire batch of dough to rise. The people of God at work in the world, living their lives in ways that bring glory to God are leaven, filling the world. The Spirit of God, at work in the Church, in our lives enters into the world through us, and through us, fills the world with the love of God, going into all the places in the world that we go.
The Kingdom is also like a prolific, invasive plant in a garden that takes over and then become larger than anyone could imagine. People may think that the Church, or its people, can only become an over grown plant or a small shrub, that is the most “damage” we can do. But the small seed has grown into a huge plant, and surprised everyone by become a tree, with branches that can provide safety and security to small animals and birds.
This is good news for the Church. The Church may not seem like an overwhelming force. Christians may feel like we do not have much influence in our world. But our impact is larger than we think. We are yeast in the dough, small but powerful in the affect we have on the world. We are the leaven that fills the dough, whose leavening power can fill everything and have lasting impact on the entirely of the world. We are invasive plants, growing and keeping on growing until we have taken over the entire garden. When kingdom people live out the kingdom in our neighborhoods, workplaces, schools and all the other places we live, the impact we have is much more vast than we think.
This is good news for a small church like us. Our size does not limit the impact we can have on our community and the world. A small church can be leaven in its community. We can impact the entirety of our neighborhood. When we live out Christ’s mission, together, here, and in our personal lives our reach is large and broad. We fill the world around us with the leaven of God.
As a church we go so much further than this small white-sided building with stained glass windows. We work to bring God’s kingdom into this neighborhood, the surrounding communities and into the furthest places of our city and our world. We may not always realize all the places we go and all the lives we touch.
Every time there is a fire in Cambridge and a family is displaced, we are there. We are at the YWCA at Easter with baskets and gift bags touch each mother and child who resides there with the goodness of God. There are nearly 500 children at the FMA who are touched by our generosity and reached with our prayers each year when we collect pumpkins. And there are about 70 families we touch each month through the baby pantry. I can go through all the things we do but the 20 (or so) of us gathered here today, reach into our community and our world and have an impact in ways that goes far beyond what we can imagine
It is the same with our individual lives. Whenever we speak the peace of Christ to our co-worker, whenever we extend the kindness of God to the cashier or those around in line at the grocery store, whenever we are careful to reflect the holiness, grace, mercy and forgiveness of Christ in the words we use and the things we post on-line, whenever we act in ways that show the love of God to our neighbors, then we are bringing the kingdom of God into those places. As the people of the kingdom it is our job to be leaven, we are to become over grown plants to over take the whole world with the love of God, to spread the grace and goodness of Christ like a virus in a closed community.
Here is the thing, we are all too familiar with the fact that there are people out there who call themselves Christians that do not act in ways that we recognize as Christ-like. In their words, in their actions, in the ways they interact with people within the Church as well as with the world around us, seem to be less than holy, to say the least, and seem to outright contradict the ways in which, we know, Jesus to be calling us to live. We can see this in others around us and since we all just plants in this field growing together, it is not our place, or job, to remove the weeds from the field and to be honest really is not even within our capabilities to able to tell the difference between what is really wheat and what is really a weed.
Since we cannot do anything about the weeds among us, why don’t we stop worrying about all the other people out there not living the way we think they should live, and work to be good wheat in the field. Let us soak up the Son, so we can reflect his light into the world around us. Let us allow the God of the universe to water us, with the life giving word, so that we can become strong healthy wheat, good plants the master will be proud to harvest when the time comes.
We have no control of what pastors in Texas do or what priests are doing or have done. We cannot stop that one “church” and its congregants from protesting the funerals of soldiers, or anything else they choose to do and say. We really have no control of what other Christians say on the internet, which memes they post or what political views they espouse. What we do have control over is what we say and what we do. We have control over the quality of our own leaven, whether the invasive plant we are growing into is a safe place for others or not.
The kingdom of heaven is like the children of God living out the character of God in all the places they go, the followers of Christ being the hands, feet, voice and presence of Christ to all the people with whom we interact throughout our lives. We live the kingdom, we bring the kingdom, we breath the life of the kingdom into our world daily, by being the people Jesus is calling us to be each and every day.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

A Closer Look at Teachings of Jesus: Do Unto Others and Other Sayings of Jesus Matthew 7:1-11, 24-29

“Do unto others. . .” This is probably one of the most widely known and quoted passages in all of scripture. Although it has roots outside of scripture, there had been similar sayings in circulation for quite some time before Jesus took his place on the Mount and began to teach the crowds who had gathered. It is the way in which Jesus stated it which was new. When Jesus presented “the golden rule” for the first time, it turned a familiar sentiment upside down and on its head.
The traditional way of stating it was, “Do not do to others what you would not want done to you.” On the surface there does not seem to be much difference between this way of saying it and the way Jesus said it. Is seems to be almost the exact same thing. But where the common way people of Jesus’ day were used to hearing it, presents the idea in the negative, “do not do”, Jesus presents it in the positive, “do.” In the first way of stating it, you can be content to “no do,” that is to do nothing; as long as you take no action, you can live by this particular axiom. You can make no movement in the direction of your neighbor or those around you and fulfill its requirements. It does not move you forward but instead stays your hand.
When Jesus turns this saying on its head and presents it in the positive. It spurs its adherents into action. It requires for followers of the Gospel to move on behalf of their neighbor. It requires us to “do,” to act, to do the good that needs to be done. It requires us to do the good we would want others to do on our behalf. “Do not do,” requires nothing of us, but “do,” forces our hand, causes us to move, compels us to go into the world with compassion and empathy. We begin to see those around us as versions of ourselves, their hurt becomes our hurt, their needs becomes our need and it then it asks us to imagine how we would want those around us to act, to behave, to do and then pushes us to do exactly that, because when the other is us, then we begin to act, behave, speak with kindness, and gentleness to all. Nobody wants to be treated roughly, without respect, or to be disregarded and dismissed, so when we put ourselves in the place of others, we suddenly begin to treat everyone we meet with kindness and dignity.
A world in which we all go around treating one another with the kindness, compassion and caring, with which we would want those around us to treat us, is a world where compassion is the rule. What we have here is a glimpse of the world Jesus envisions for us. A world where the kingdom of God is at hand, is near, is here, in us, in our actions and the way we live our lives. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of compassion, a world of wonder where each person is continually treated with utmost dignity and respect. When we think about a world in which we all truly lived by this one rule, with this one revision of a statement that would have been familiar to his audience, Jesus pulls back the curtain and gives us to see through the window into a new world, a better world, a world where God’s will is done; where were forgive one another freely; where we ask for no more than we need (to think back to the passage we looked at last week). It is truly a world where God’s kingdom has come to earth in a new and powerful way.
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount this is exactly what Jesus is doing, opening windows into a world that we have yet to truly imagine. He pulls back the veil that keeps us from seeing the world as it should be, as it could be, as God created it to be and allows us to see that God’s re-envisioning of the world, which Jesus allows us to catch a glimpse of can be reality. Jesus is showing us the world as he sees it and gives us the ability to reimagine the world with him. And it is that world as it can be; a world where all things are made new, where God reigns and where all God’s creation reflects the love and goodness of God. Where equality is lived out in the kindness, compassion and caring of all, where we treat one another with respect and dignity, where the peacemakers are blessed and the humble are inheriting; a new world, a better world, God’s world, God’s kingdom, here and now. Throughout this passage, Jesus is repeatedly pulling back the curtain, opening the shutter so that we can see a picture of this God’s kingdom, as it is, when the children of God live it out in their lives.
The piece of the Sermon on the Mount, which we have before us this morning, begins with another oft quoted and misinterpreted bit of scripture. “Do not judge.” At this particular point in history, this might very well be the most quoted bit of scripture. The sentiment, “Don’t judge me,” “What right do you have to judge,” “I’m not one to judge,” gets tossed around all the time. And each and every time this passage is referenced, it is done so in such a manner that is a complete misunderstanding of what Jesus is saying in this passage.
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is telling us to judge, to discern between what is right action and what is wrong action. It calls for us to look within ourselves, as well as those around us and see right ways to act, right ways to speak, right ways to treat those around us. The Sermon on the Mount calls for us to make judgements.
And then here we have this sentiment that seems to contradict all that has come before, “Do not judge, so that you may be not be judged.” And the failing in understanding comes from what Jesus is meaning when he says, “Do not judge.” Jesus is not saying that you cannot make determinations between right and wrong actions or ways of living. Although this is the common way of applying this passage, it is not at all what Jesus was telling us here.
The word, “judge”, in the original language does not mean that we are not to make calls on what is sin and not sin. It is not about not declaring the actions of others sinful and going against the will and desire of God for how we are to live our lives. It is not about discerning together right and wrong as it is lived out in our lives and the lives of the Christians around us. It does not say that we cannot call out sins when we see it. This is the call of the church as we encourage one another other to live out the kingdom ways that are set forth here in the Sermon on the Mount, as well as other places in scripture.
The word used in the original language is the word that specifically refers to final judgement, the kind of judgement that can only be made over the sum of a person’s life. We are not to pass judgment on others. That is to say that we do not have the power or the authority to consign those around us to hell. Neither you nor I get to sit in the judgment seat and divide the goats and sheep, or declare who is accepted into God’s kingdom and who is not. That is not our place, that is not our role in the universe.
Not only so we not get to pass final judgment on others, but way in which we pass final judgment on others, we will receive that same kind of judgment; the measure we use declare final judgment will be the same measure that God will use on us. The first thought is that we should simply avoid doing this, but if we, for whatever reason think that we should, or that we can, it is best that the measure we choose to use is wide and broad, is forgiving and full of grace, because we will be judges with the same measure we use on others.  
Christians it is not our duty to tell others that they are going to Hell. It is not our place to act as if we get a say in these matters. This does not mean we do not call sin, sin. This does not mean that we cannot lovingly call one another to better ways of living. As we envision the better world which Jesus presents through his teachings. Although it is not our place to sit on the judgment seat of God, it is our place, to call those around us to join us in our endeavor. When we see others around us who are not following Jesus, who are not journeying toward the Kingdom of God with their lives and their actions, it is our place to invite them to join us. To invite anyone and everyone we meet to live into this vision of a world ordered by the goodness and love of God, to come and get to know the Jesus we know; to invite them to live lives that reflect the love of God as well. Our place is to call others to join us, not to put a chasm between us and those who currently are not, by consigning them to eternal damnation.
On the same vein Jesus, when Jesus speaks about the speck in our neighbor’s eye and the plank in our own, Jesus is showing the absurdity it is for us to judge others harshly. From our perspective we often think we have a great view of the failings of those around us. We see that they are falling short of Jesus’ kingdom vision. “They” are not living up to the measure which we see Jesus has placed on our lives. “They” do not love their neighbors as fully as they might. They clearly do not love God the way they should. They are not treating others with dignity and respect, compassion and kindness. “They” are failing, at living the Jesus way.  And we are quick to want to set them right. To show them where and how they are falling short, how they are failing. But Jesus reminds us that although we may believe that we have perspective to see and show others how they can do better in their lives, often times we lack the perspective to see how we ourselves are failing.
So instead of reaching out to fix and correct those around us, we should first work to have perspective when it comes to our own lives and the manner in which we ourselves fail. This is not about abandoning each other and only worrying about ourselves, our own salvation. It is not a shift of focus from other to ourselves, only worrying about our walk with God and our own journey with Christ, so that we become self-serving Christians who only care about our own spiritual journey. The Christian journey is not ultimately a solitary walk; it is a journey in community. We are called together to be a body, living and working together, journeying with one another toward the vision of the Kingdom, Jesus presents here. We are walking together in caravan toward the borders of a heavenly nation. As we work together to bring that kingdom into this world here and now, we should work to correct our own failings before we begin to worry about the ways we need to correct the failings of those around us. Instead we are called to support one another help each other, to journey together, protecting and giving guidance in love and mercy, with kindness and forgiveness. Living the example Jesus set forth with his own life?
When we are working to correct our own lives, it is much easier to come alongside of others to help and encourage them, so that we can help each other. When we begin with correcting ourselves it becomes easier to be a part of the corrective community around us. This is about helping and encouraging one another, instead of continually just seeing the fault in those around us. When we allow others to help us with the ways in which we so greatly fall short of who God is calling us to be, it is easier to help those who are also struggling with God’s call on their lives as well. We allow others to help us with the planks in our eyes, as well as to work with those dealing with specks in their own.
Another bit of this passage which is all too familiar to many of us who have been in the church for years, calls for us to seek and know and promises that when we do so we will find. To be exact Jesus actually tells us to seek and keep on seeking to knock and keep on knocking. As we journey together toward the world Jesus is revealing to us we must not be timid in our desire to seek after the things of God. As we work to live as Jesus calls us to live as we “work out our salvation” (as Paul put later puts it) we should know that it is a continually endeavor. It is a daily seeking, in which we search and keep on searching for all that this live with God has to offer. To not just give a cursory glance and expect to be able to see and understand all that can or should be seen and understood.
If the door to life with God seems closed knock and keep on knocking, knock so as to be heard.  Call out to the person in the house for just as surely as someone will come when you knock and keep on knocking, God will not ignore your request to come close. God will not abandon one who is continually seeking to live and walk in the ways God is calling for them to walk. The door will not be locked and closed to anyone who wishes to come into God’s kingdom. There are no enemies that will be kept outside the gate; everyone is will be invited in.  This is a world where no one is barred from relationship with God, no one who desires communion with God will be held at arm’s length and told they are not worthy. Everyone is invited to come in, everyone is family, and everyone is friend.
But although everyone is invited, everyone is accepted we should not be surprised to find that the road to God’s kingdom is hard and ultimately the gate is narrow. The call is broad, the invitation is expansive but few RSVP and even fewer actually come.  No one who comes will be turned away, no one who seeks will find that they have been invited to a snipe hunt or lead on a goose chase, but in the end only those who actually seek and those who actually know will find and be let in. Our goal is to bring the entirety of world with us. Our goal is for the reimagining of the world to be pursued by all, but even as we call, even as we reach out in love and compassion some will turn away, some will refuse our call. Some will not understand the world we are proclaiming to them and they will stay where they are, they will not join us on the road, they will not seek the gate, and they will not knock on the door.
When we invite others to come do not be surprised when they do not come, do not be discouraged that some do not see and understand, or hear and be moved. To expect everyone to respond positively to our message, to believe that the calling God has placed on our lives or that the vision of a world in which we all love and respect one another and the work that involves in our own lives will appeal to everyone is to expect dogs to the sacredness of what is holy or for pigs to understand the value of a pearl. Some will not be wooed by the love and goodness of God. It is hard for those of us, who have come to see the kingdom of God to believe, but some will not see it as desirable, not everyone likes the vision of a world where we are all loved equally, where every person is treated with kindness, goodness. A world of inequality, partiality and privilege works well for them. They know their place and the place of those around them. It is easier to be kind only to those you desire to be kind to. In some respects it feels good to bar the way for some; keep them on the outside while we are inside. Some will not catch hold of the kingdom vision and desire God’s revision of the world to come into being here and now. This should not discourage us; this should not cause us to fall away as well. It is to be expected. The road is hard and not everyone is willing to put in the work that is involved in reimagining our broken world into the glorious world of love and grace and mercy which is the kingdom of God. And although our heart mirrors the heart of God in desiring for all to come in, for everyone to join us in the journey, for the whole world to reflect the vision of the kingdom of God here and now, lived out by everyone, allowing God’s kingdom to truly come on earth as it is in heaven, we realize that some will turn away, and reject the call to kingdom living here and now.
This is the thing. Some will hear the words of Jesus and be amazed. They will act. These teaching will change how they see the world and how they live their lives. But others will listen, they will hear and they will turn away. Some will be wise and some will be foolish. Some will not be able to see the world as Jesus sees it. Some will not be able to imagine things any other way than they broken, messed up way they are now, they are foolish, they lack imagination. But some will heed Jesus’ words, some will, some will join Jesus in his radical re-envision of things and journey together with him, bringing the Kingdom of God, near, bringing it here.
As we come to this last chapter of the sermon of the mount Jesus continues to give us glimpses into the Kingdom of God we get a collection of glimpses that continue to create for us a picture of the world as God would have it, the world Jesus desires to bring into existence here and now. When Jesus says, the Kingdom of God is here, what he means if we live, if we act like this now, in our lives, through our actions we can live God’s kingdom here in earth, bring it into existence with our lives, with our words, with our actions and by bringing others alongside of us, inviting them to come and see Jesus and by coming to believe in him and allowing his words and his teachings to shape their lives they too can bring God’s kingdom to earth. Let us be wise, let us be hearers of the world. As Jesus pulls back the curtain, let us look long and hard at the world he is revealing to us and join together to bring that kingdom to earth, God’s kingdom so that God’s will can be done, is done in us and through us in this world, as it is done in heaven. Let us be the ones who bring the love, the mercy, the equality for all, that is the kingdom of God into this world, in all that we do, in all that we say, each and every day of our lives. Let us pray with our words, our actions, our lives, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is heaven.”

Sunday, February 3, 2019

A Closer Look at Teachings of Jesus: Where Is Our Treasure?: Matthew 6:7-21

The Lord’s Prayer is widely known by Christians the world over. Most of us here today are probably familiar with it in at least two different English translations, perhaps more. Some may of have memorized it as small children in the KJV, and then when you were older, learned it again in the NIV. And those of us in this congregation, we pray this prayer at the end of our prayer time each week in the NLT. To say that it is well known would be somewhat of an understatement.
This prayer is a part of a greater body of Jesus’ teachings known as the Sermon on the Mount which begins with the passage Mike covered in his sermon last week on the Beatitudes and goes through chapter 7, so this passage comes at about the middle of a group of teachings. But we are not looking at the Lord’s Prayer on its own the morning, we are looking at it in context. The prayer moves almost seamlessly into teachings on forgiveness, and fasting and ends with, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Jesus ends here because the rest of this passage can be seen through the lens of our treasure.
When Jesus speaks about our treasure, he is not merely talking about the objects in our lives, our TVs our computers, our diamonds and electronics, all the things with which we fill our homes, nor or Jesus simply speaking about the money with which we fill our bank accounts. These are the actual things that thieves can break in and steal but we, as humans, are more complicated than that when it come to our treasures, that is what we hold dear, what we are willing to guard and protect. But the things we value are not always actual objects, but are often things that are not always tangle treasures such as our wide screen TV. The things we hold dear, the things we put in the center of our lives, and hold onto most securely and have sway over what we do, how we spend our time and yes, even our money, are the things that we truly treasure.
So let’s take some time and think about this.  What do we value, what in our lives has worth? What are the things in our lives on which we focus the most? What fills the space in our lives? Not simply, what fills the physical space in our lives, but also what fills our time, and consumes our energy, as well what fills our heads, our minds, our thoughts. What truly are the treasures in our lives?
Jesus tells us what these things are, shows us where our heart is. What we value, what we hold dear, tells us about where our focus is, or center of our lives is, depends on what we determine to have worth.
As we think about what we hold dear, sometimes it is hard to be honest with ourselves; sometimes it is hard to see ourselves and our own lives with discerning eyes. But when we think about our treasure in context of the teachings of Jesus we have read this morning, it becomes a little easier to pin point. Jesus speaks to us about fasting, “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
This is a passage I usually preach on right before Lent. And although Lent is a time of communal fasting, a time when we give up things in our lives whether that be certain kinds of food, or entertainment, a particular meal each day or on a certain day of the week during the 40 or so days prior Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection to help prepare us spiritually for this holy time in the life of the Church by saying “no” to earthly things that have value to us, so that we can say, “yes” to God and the things of God.
Fasting is spiritual practice that can and should be practiced throughout the year, in our individual spiritual lives as well as a part of the communal spiritual life of the Church. Jesus speaks to the manner in which we fast, about whether are working to draw attention ourselves when fasting but how we fast, the manner in which we fast, as well as what we fast say things about our treasure.
What are the things we give up when we fast? Do those things have value to us? When it comes time to fast, are there things we are unwilling to give up even for a short period of time, to help us focus on God and engage better in spiritual practices? Are you unable to give up social media? Can you not even think about giving up your evening sitcoms or your morning news?  Are you unable to disconnect from your phone for a day or even for a designated period of time. How you fast, and what you are unwilling to give up, to give in to God, says something about what your treasure is and where you heart ultimately lies.
Jesus also talks about forgiveness. Now forgiving someone is not about “letting them get away with what they did,” nor is about someone not bearing the consequences of their actions, even if those consequences have long reaching affects such as losing relationship with the person they harmed. Forgiveness may result in restored relationship with someone but that is not always a sign of forgiveness, especially if the harm done was particularly awful.
Forgiving is about not allowing someone else’s harm to you to take root in your life and continue to shape and form you long after the person “trespassed” against you, to us the Biblical phrase. Forgiveness is letting go of the anger the rage, the emotions that allow someone’s action to hold sway in your life? Forgiveness allows us to begin the process healing, which depending on how deep the harm, can be lifelong.
So when we are thinking about our treasure, what we take the time to guard and protect when it comes to forgivness, there are several questions we can ask ourselves. Who are you willing to forgive? What are you willing to forgive? Are there people you are simply unable to forgive? Do you allow that hurt to control you and your life? Does that person suck up your energy because you are continually angry or even enraged over what they have done to you? Does it fill your thoughts and your mind? Do you find yourself dwelling on it at all times of the day or even the night? Are you allowing past harm to shape who are today and who you are able to become future? Is the way you hold on to that harm inhibiting God from transforming you into the person God is calling to be? If so, then you probably have not forgiven.
When we set up a situation in which we refuse to forgive someone, that says something about what we treasure, what we value, what we are willing to put in the center of our lives and allow to be the center of our focus and in many ways control us. Forgiveness is about not allowing that harm that has been done to you to become a treasure, that you build a fortress around and protect at all costs. When we say, “I will not forgive.” We are making that harm as valuable to us as a chest of gold. It becomes the center and the focus of our thoughts and our energy.
Finally we come to praying. The prayer Jesus gives us here is an example of prayer which reveals our spiritual lives and our relationship with the Lord are to be the treasures in our lives. When the things of God, are what is valued, then our prayers begin by being centered around God, who God is and giving God glory and praise for God has done and is doing in this world. It is prayer that declares that God is our Father and is holy. It is a prayer that desires for the ways of God to rule on this earth in the same way they rule in heaven. It is a prayer that seeks the coming of God’s kingdom in our lives, and through us.
But it is also a prayer that asks God for what we need. It is asking for the miracle of manna and quail in our lives, which is to ask for provision for TODAY and no more.  It is asking for no more than what is required and not expecting God to be the great fairy wish giver in the sky.  And it is a prayer the boldly asks God to forgive in the same way we are willing to forgive others.
It is a prayer focused on God and the things of God. How we pray speaks volumes about where our treasure is. What do we spend the most of our time in prayer praying for? Do we spend time giving glory to God, thanking God for all God has done for us, allowing the goodness, the greatness, the truly awesomeness of God to wash over us and give voice to these truths in prayer? Do we seek God’s will above all things? Do the words of our prayers seek God’s kingdom to come into this world and transform in the ways only God’s kingdom can? Do we want to be forgiven and do we want to forgive? All this reveals to us what we value and where our treasure actually resides.
Finally the manner in which we pray and fast says something about our treasure. When we feel that prayer requires special words, and flowery phrases, when we fill our prayers with aphorisms, when we pray in order “to be spiritual,” to be regarded as “spiritual,” or in such a way as to look pious, or when we make big deal about exactly how much we have given up when we are fasting, how hungry we are, how hard it is to go without, when we come back after having given up a lunch to spend time in prayer and then let those around us know how hungry we, either with words, our actions or the way we look. That says something about what we value. Our treasure is found in appearing to be Godly, our focus is on what others think about the spiritual things we are doing and saying, instead of actually residing in the God to whom we praying or seeking after by fasting.
Our spiritual practices, how we pray, how we forgive and how we fast, reveal to us what and where our treasures lie. When we think about these things do we find that our focus is on ourselves? Do we find that our words reveal that we value how others perceive us over and above finding solace in God? Are we allowing the ways other people have harmed us to form and shape us over and above allowing the will of God and the kingdom of God to transform us?  Do we find that we are unable to fast, or unwilling to fast because we are not able to give up even the most mundane things in our lives in order to purposely seek after God? Are we unwilling to say “no”, to certain things in our lives, in order to give us space or to say, “Yes,” to the things of God? Where is our treasure? What do we value? Do we hold our treasure in the things in our lives, in the hurts that we nurse, in the appearance of piety and what other people think of us?
These are not the things the people of God value. People who are seeking after Jesus and desire to live our lives in the same manner in which Jesus lived, hold treasure in spiritual things, in giving God honor and praise, they find value in seeking the kingdom of God and bringing God’s will to earth. Christians find that drawing close to God has more value than gold or silver.
Where our treasure is there our heart is also. Let us all seek after God in all things, desiring the things of God, guarding them and protecting with the same vigor we do the precious objects and things of this world. Let us find our hearts in God because our treasures are found there as well.