Friday, May 20, 2016

The Disciple Who Was a Stumbling Block

May 20, 2016

My 2016 Ongoing Journey: Exploring Matthew to discover what following Jesus and becoming more like him would look like.

Matthew 16:13-23  ~ Peter’s “Good Confession. “In most Christian traditions it is incorporated in some way into the experience through which individuals affiliate with the church by acknowledging faith in Jesus and being baptized (or having their baptism confirmed).

Peter announces Jesus as Messiah, and Jesus confirms his declaration as divinely inspired. [Paul would later declare, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:3).] But then Jesus utters that mysterious instruction that is repeated several times through the Gospels: “Shhhhh! Don’t tell anybody!” It’s called the “Messianic Secret,” and many books and treatises have been written about it. I’m going to acknowledge it and leave it for now.

Perhaps because of its importance to the whole Christian experience, the “Good Confession” passage may overshadow the passage immediately following. Jesus begins to explain what it means for him to be “Messiah”—here he utters the first of three predictions of his Passion. But Peter, the one who has just declared him Messiah, takes him aside and scolds him: “Jesus! Don’t talk like that! Messiah doesn’t talk like that!”

Jesus’ response is the same as his response to the tempter in the wilderness: “Get behind me, Satan!” And then come the words that must have stung Peter severely: You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Ouch!

I have acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God and my Savior; but, am I a stumbling block to him? Am I trying to force Jesus into my mold—to direct where he leads me; confirm the “spiritual” choices I’ve already made and to which I’m already committed?

That's the way it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Of Yeast and Signs

May 18, 2016

My 2016 Ongoing Journey: Exploring Matthew to discover what following Jesus and becoming more like him would look like.

Matthew 16:1-12 ~ Some people never get it. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage, there was one miraculous sign after another: the parting of the Red Sea, water from the rock, manna from heaven, and on and on. But at every turn, when there was trouble, the people turned on Moses and questioned God: “Were there not enough graves in Egypt? Did you have to bring us out into this wilderness to die?”

At Mount Sinai the people experienced the thundering, explosive presence of God; but when Moses lingered on the mountain the people grew restless and impatient and persuaded Aaron to manufacture a God that would be more convenient and more easily domesticated.

Jesus had feed five thousand with five loaves, had fed four thousand with seven loaves, had healed the sick, and the Pharisees and Sadducees asked, “Show us a sign!” They had a different agenda.

Good grief, Charlie Brown!

Even the disciples have to have everything explained in great detail. They have their own agenda, too: an Israel restored to the glory it enjoyed under David and Solomon, and places of honor and authority for themselves in that restored Israel.

I guess we all have our own agendas that skew our expectations when it comes to faith. Those agendas usually are about accruing benefit for ourselves.  

I wonder whether I’ve sufficiently surrendered my own agenda in order to align my will with God’s will. I think that’s a big part of what it means to follow Jesus: surrendering my own agenda and trusting that God’s agenda is the superior way.

That's the way it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

On Eating Crumbs That Fall From the Table

May 17, 2016

My 2016 Ongoing Journey: Exploring Matthew to discover what following Jesus and becoming more like him would look like.

Matthew 15:21-39 ~ This passage is among only a few passages in which Jesus simply moves among the people, teaching and healing. There are no controversies, no Pharisees or Scribes. Every pastor envisions that kind of ministry.

Ministry changed during the twentieth century. Early on, basically prior to WWII, local church pastors did pastoral work: teaching, preaching, counseling, guiding and tending the spiritual health of the faithful, and calling sinners to repentance. And they lead the church in outreach ministries of evangelism and compassion.

As the century wore on, ministry morphed. It became more “professional” and a ton more administrative as the church adopted corporate structures of organization. The problem was that as the churches became “more like a business,” the ministers work grew to become “more like a CEO”.

As Baby Boomers took their turn at leadership, the church floundered—a fish out of water, gasping for oxygen as it tried to meet business-like standards and adjust to an increasingly consumer-oriented culture whose mantra was, “the customer is always right.” Boomers told pastors, “We’re the customers, and you’d better please us or we’ll take our business to the Mega-Church down the street.”

In such a consumer culture, everybody wanted to “have” a church; but very few were willing to “be” the church. “Isn’t that what we pay the preacher for?”

I am encouraged by the spirituality of the millennial generations who are less obsessed with “success” and materialism. They’re more family oriented and much, much more spiritually oriented. They’re spirituality is not necessarily exclusively Christian—at least not American Southern Evangelical Christianity. Their spirituality is more of a hunger for connection with God. And they’re not finding that connection in the corporate model of church or in the “Prosperity Gospel” or in the judgmental rantings of the recently emerging confluence of the religious and political right (a marriage that historically has always—ALWAYS—been destructive).

They simply want to know how to follow Jesus.

You remember Jesus. He’s the one in this text who has just come from serious encounters with the right-wingers of his day who had heaped up a ton of religious rules and regulations designed to justify their own harsh understanding of God and to exclude anyone who wouldn’t jump through their hoops. He’s the one who then went to the coastal area northwest of his home, where he found receptive hearts and hungering spirits—even among those the religious right referred to as “dogs.”

And he fed them. All of them. And he has called me to follow him.

That's the way it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Following Jesus: "Tradition!"

May 14, 2016

My 2016 Ongoing Journey: Exploring Matthew to discover what following Jesus and becoming more like him would look like.

Matthew 15:1-20  ~ The infamous “Seven Last Words of the Church”. You know them. You may have uttered them: “We never did it that way before!” I can hear Reb Tevye, in “Fiddler on the Roof,” singing, “Tradition!”

The peril behind the words is not simply the clinging to tradition (although that can certainly cause problems). Some traditions are valuable. They give a sense of balance and stability, and unite people around common memories and hopes.

The intermediate peril is in closing the door and allowing no additional traditions to form. Our God identifies himself[1] as one who is “always making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). The greatest danger to excellence is satisfaction.

The ultimate peril comes when we value traditions more than human needs and relationships. We humans have a way of creating traditions so we don’t have to be faithful. We end up trusting in our traditions, rather than in God’s grace, for our justification. That’s called “idolatry,” and it is one of the two sins most frequently and severely condemned in both the Old and New Testaments, including the sayings of Jesus. [The other sin is the neglect of the poor.]

That’s what the Pharisees were doing in this text. Specifically, Jesus said, “You justify not helping the poor—even your parents—by saying, ‘I gave at the church’.” Perhaps that same indictment was behind Jesus’ statement, “The poor will always be with you” (John 12:8).

I love traditions, and my favorites are probably those that embrace the Christmas season. I tend to resist any new Christmas songs, preferring the old traditional ones. Had I been rigid in that tendency, I probably would never have discovered “Mary, Did you Know?”, “Breath of Heaven,” and who knows what other songs that once were “new,” but now are part of the traditions I love.

If I am to follow Jesus, I will do a thorough inventory of the traditions around which I have organized my life and my faith. Are any of them standing between me and God? Am I depending more on the way I “do” Christianity than upon the One who calls me to “do?”

That's the way it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.

Together in the Walk,


[1] I wish there were a personal pronoun that was neither gender specific nor neuter—one that would incorporate the quality of God that transcends gender and that identifies with and participates in all manifestations of humanity.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Following Jesus--Calming the Storm

May 13, 2016

My 2016 Ongoing Journey: Exploring Matthew to discover what following Jesus and becoming more like him would look like.

Matthew 14:22-36 ~ The story of Jesus (and briefly, Peter) walking on the sea can test one’s sense of credibility if one is looking for concrete, tangible, test-tube-verifiable reporting of facts. I’ll simply repeat a short paragraph from my last blog: “Let Matthew speak for himself. Matthew has an important message, which is addressed to a specific audience, and which is delivered for a specific purpose. The need to defend the Scriptures becomes an end in itself, and too often we end up ‘proving’ the details of biblical stories, but missing the point”--"straining at a gnat but swallowing a camel" (Matthew 23:24).

There is evidence both from within the Gospel and from other witnesses that suggests Matthew wrote to instruct and encourage recent converts to Christianity—converts probably from among Hellenized Jews. These were marginal Jews (kind of like today’s “spiritual but not religious” population) who had found traditional Judaism empty and had adopted Greek culture.

Since Judaism was (and is) monotheistic, we don’t find much in Judaism about demons, spirits, etc. But when we move outside of Judaism in to the Greco-Roman culture (where Paul later would journey and minister), we encounter a whole pantheon—a veritable hierarchy of gods, spirits, demons, etc.—some of which were benign, but many of which were treacherous. Virtually all of them manifested human-like tendencies to erratic whim and tantrum.

And they were everywhere: in the air, in the trees, in the abyss under the earth and in the water. And they sometimes would take up residence in people: curved spines, mute lips, blind eyes, drooling chins. They were everywhere. And they were evil.

New Testament scholar, Hans Jonas, described life in that culture like this: take a young child, blindfold him and place him in the middle of the busiest intersection in downtown Chicago at rush hour. Remove the blindfold and leave him there amid the whizzing, booming, thundering traffic.

The predominant thought in that culture was, “How can I avoid evil today?”

Storms were thought to exhibit the anger of the gods, and in this story, with the wind howling and the waves crashing, Jesus is not intimidated. Indeed, he strolls unruffled through the gods’ temper tantrum. And when he gets in the boat, the wind ceases and the water becomes like glass.

Mark and John also include versions of the story. It’s interesting that Luke, the only Gentile writer of a Gospel, omits the story.

Matthew presents Jesus as master over nature and over the demons and spirits. Fact? Symbol? Metaphor? Those questions totally miss the point. Jesus meets people wherever they are, in the midst of whatever distractions and fears and superstitions may haunt or possess them. While others may stir up storms of controversy, fear, bigotry or ideological dogmatism, if I would follow Jesus I will be a source of peace and calm that can restore clear thinking and collaborative, productive relationships.

Whatever your specific, personal take on this story, it’s at least that much.

That's the way it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,