This week, we are looking at the Beatitudes, which is one of Jesus' most famous teaching. In it he tells groups of people that they are blessed for the mess that they are going through. More specifically he says stuff like Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the Earth or blessed are those who mourn for they for they will be comforted. As we saw last week, translating New Testament Greek into English is not a perfect science. This is the same this week, when we look at the Greek word makarios the NRSV translates this verb as blessing. A better translation would be happy or happier. So if we look a the two verses I have previously quoted we would read Happy are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth, or Happy are those who mourn for they will be comforted. So what gives? How are we to be happy in the midst of our suffering?
I think there are two points for us to consider, with this teaching. The first is that we as God's people need to take the long view on the sufferings in our life. We are suffering, but this suffering is not the final note or final chapter but that God's Grace, Mercy, and Love win in the end. So this knowledge helps us to move through our suffering knowing that it may be long but it is not final. The second is best explained by Gerald Liu Assistant Professor at Princeton Theological Seminary "As peculiar as the promises of happiness seem in the Beatitudes, they seem to rest in part upon the ability of the followers of Jesus to attend to the wounds of the world with the saltiness of God, to illuminate a way forward in impossible circumstances with divine light, and to do those things as if it’s just us being who we are. Like it’s second nature." So we don't let others suffer alone, we come and walk alongside them, because that is what we are called to do.
So how do you feel about this call to be Happy in the midst of your suffering? What does that look like in your life? Is it helping out a friend or family member who is struggling right now? Is it getting other Christians to help alongside you? What does the grace, love, and mercy of God look like when it is stretched over your suffering?
The video I am including this week is the song Happy. How do you feel this fits the Message from Jesus? How do you think it misses the mark? Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think.
As you can see from the various blog entries so far, we are going to be studying the book of Matthew for a while. Today's text is often referred to as the tempting of Christ. In this text, Jesus has just been brought up out of the river Jordan newly baptized and then wanders in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. It is at this point that Satan shows up on the scene and begins to test Jesus. When we look at the Greek, the original language for the New Testament, we see that the word used is test not tempt. So Satan was not tempting Jesus but instead testing Jesus. What he is testing Jesus about or on? It wasn't mathematics, social studies or science but instead was how Jesus would relate to God. This is all approved by God, because we see that the Spirit was what led Jesus here. So what do we do with this? How do you feel about a God who tests us? Is it fair? Is God just being a jerk?
This story reminds me when I was a student in Nuclear Medicine a the University of Iowa. It was the first week, where we learned to do venipuncture, where we put a needle into the patient so we can give them medicine. Our professor took a few moments and demonstrated the technique on one of my classmates and then it was my turn to try on one of my classmates. I was scared beyond belief when I thought of putting that needle into my friend's arm. After several minutes I finally got the nerve and put the needle very slowly into my friend's Mark arm. No Luck, no blood came back into the needle telling me that I wasn't in. I then twisted the needle around to try again and my instructor came over and told me to take the needle out. I had tears in my eyes, I think it hurt me more than Mark. "Paul, what did I tell you to do? Go in quickly. The longer you take the more it hurts. Don't redirect, unless you know you can hit it again. Sometimes it is better to pull it out and get another needle to try again." I shook my head through my tears. "Remember Paul, you are doing this because you care about somebody else. This test can save their life. So it might hurt a little a first but what comes out in the end more than makes up for the pin prick of the needle." I have lived by these words every since both during my time as Nuclear Medicine technologist and also as a Pastor.
When God tests us, God does it because God cares about us. God is helping us grow closer in relationship to God. Does testing hurt, yes but it doesn't compare where we come out in the end which is a healthier and a closer relationship with God. Where might God be testing you right now? How do you feel about it? How does it feel knowing that even though God is testing you, God is also walking with you through the test?
Repenting is one of those church words that makes for great movie dialogue like "You must repent or suffer the consequences!!" than a common word that we use in our everyday vocabulary. It might even seem to make less sense, when I tell you that January 13, 2019 is the Sunday, we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. What does Water and Repentance have anything to do with each other and more importantly what does it have to do with me?
Repentance is about admitting our mistakes and then making the best possible actions to fix our mistakes, ask forgiveness, and not to make that mistake again. Repentance is about going in the opposite direction than where you were going. It is like if you stoled something, you give back the item and then help other people not to make the same mistake you did. I know for many of us, talking like this causes us to break out in a sweat, our pulse quickens, and our stomachs get upset. Admitting our faults is hard to do, especially in our culture today, where it seems like everybody is ready to pounce on you if you have one toe out of line. It takes a lot of courage to admit when we are wrong. It takes a lot of courage to do the right thing. So how do we do this?
This is where that water comes in. Baptism is a sacrament which is a fancy way of saying that we see God's presence come into the world through the physical element of water. Baptism is a time where we are covered in water which represents the part of ourselves that rebels against God and what is right and we break the water as a new creation. Our baptism reminds us that we are not perfect yet God still claims us by name. God promises to be with us in spite of our mistakes and because of God's love we are given the courage to admit our mistakes and make amends. God loves us even when we make mistakes. God never gives up on us. So during this new year what would it look like to admit your mistakes? Pretty scary stuff right? Remember that God is with you in the midst of your mistakes and also in the midst of you "saying your sorry" and through it all God loves you!
I hope you all had a great Christmas!! In the church year, we are in the season of Christmas until this coming Sunday the 6th of January, when we celebrate Epiphany. This is the Sunday, we talk about the traditional story of the three kings coming from the East following the star. In recent years, biblical scholarship has begun asking us to relook at the details of this particular story. As interesting as it is to look at these details, what has stayed the same and is often overlooked in this story is the concept of Going into the Unknown. Going into the Unknown is a scary thing. I think many of us remember our first jobs, where we didn't know all the ropes; didn't know very many people; didn't know the routine; or maybe didn't even know if we liked what we did for our job. It can be scary, having a new routine or a new normal. However, jobs are something that we eventually learn to grow into and we eventually become comfortable with. I would argue that Going into the Unknown in terms of faith is very hard.
In our story today, we have many sets of people going into the Unknown. We have Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus going into the unknown of Egypt. We also have the three kings/magi following a star to find the boy who would be the Jewish Messiah. I think Going into the Unknown, based on the call of God can at both times be comforting and very challenging. It is comforting because, we know God is with us and will support us as we journey. However, at the same time it is very challenging because we don't know where the end of this unknown time will come. It is also scary because we don't known exactly what God has in store for us and what we will have to do. The thing we see in scripture today is that when we trust God in the midst of this unknown time and space, is that God delivers us. It might take some time, there probably will be difficulty, but in the end God honors God promise and delivers us.
As we look into this new year, where do you think God is calling you to go into? Where is the great unknown for you? Is it a new job? Is it working on a broken relationship? It is rethinking how you look at yourself? Is it finding help for an addiction? Whatever it is, know that God walks with you during this time and God honors God's promises!
Our text today talks about Jesus' birth from a totally different angle than the Christmas text we hear from the Gospel of Luke. In Matthew's text, we hang out with Jesus' adoptive dad Joseph. We hear about how Joseph felt when he learned that his finance was pregnant as well as his plans to divorce her quietly. Then the angel of the Lord comes to Joseph and tells him about the baby that Mary is carrying, who is God's son. The angel goes on to say "...and they will call him Immanual-which means, 'God with us.' "
Believe it or not the Greek, the language of the new Testament, is not as helpful to us here as it might seem. For you see the prophesy, written in Hebrew, that takes place in Isaiah 7 talks about a baby coming who will be named Immanuel which means "God is with us". The "is" is very important to the audience of the Gospel of Matthew. During the time of Matthew's Gospel, the temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed (God's earthly home); thousands of people have been killed; and several hundred had been crucified by the Romans. Times were not good for our Jewish brothers and sisters.
Jesus' birth reminded them that even though God's earthly home had be destroyed, God had not abandoned them. In fact, God had come down with skin on to let people know how much God cares about us, and how much God honors God promise to walk with us.
So how about you today? Is there something going on in your life, where you feel the absence of God? Do you feel abandoned? Hopeless? Christmas and Advent remind us that the promise of God is still valid today. God has promised to walk beside you; to support you; and care for you. This is the reason we get so excited for Christmas, because it reminds us that we can lean on God in the good times and the bad times. Isn't that the best news you have year all year?
As I was working on the text for this week, I was stuck with how Professor Juliana Classes talked about our text for today. She said this "For people today who all too often find themselves in a state of chaos and despair, this powerful depiction of the (suffering) servant in Isaiah 42 may speak in the following ways: First, in the midst of those times when chaos is rampant, when we are weighed down by the forces that seek to destroy life as we know it, we need to accept the fact that we often are no more than “bruised reeds” and “dimly burning wicks.” As the songwriter and theologian Leonard Cohen says so beautifully in his song, “Anthem”: “Forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, but that is where the light gets in.” That is where the light comes in. God’s grace and power works exactly there where we are broken, where we are most fragile --"
What struck me from her statement was this image of a cracked clay pot and how the crack wasn't an imperfection but was where God's grace and power are at work. I know for myself, I can get caught up in doing things "perfectly" that I forgot what the purpose behind what I am doing is. Or I don't feel that if something is not done "perfectly" that God can't use what I am doing. However, it is in the imperfect that God's love and power are at work? Where is that for you today in your life? Where are those cracks showing through in your life? What does it look like knowing that God is in the cracks, using God's power and grace to be with you in this brokenness?
These last two weeks, you may have noticed that we haven't had your typical Advent texts. In Advent we are getting ready for Jesus' birth, so I think it is easy to fall into the trap of only looking at Gospel lessons. As we have been exploring the whole Bible using the Narrative Lectionary, we see that there has been a pattern developing since Genesis about the character of God. God is about using every day/normal people and placing them into extraordinary circumstances to make a difference in people's lives.
This is what is happening in our text for today. If you haven't had a chance to read the book of Esther yet, I would recommend it to you. It is a short book and it is quite an interesting story. At the time of this writing, the people of Israel had been exiled into Babylon. They are no longer rulers of their own land but in fact have been captured and forced to live their lives outside of their homeland and to embrace customs that were not of their own. Esther before she becomes apart of the King's haram, is an orphan. It was just prior to this happening that her cousin Mordecai, found her and was helping her out. Nobody in the Haram outside of Esther's inner circle even knows she is Jewish. If they did, this would effect her negatively in the Persian Royal Court.
At this point in the story, Esther is forced to act so that she can make a difference. The king had just drafted a law which could condemn all of the Jews to death. In order to talk to the king about what he was doing Esther, would have to take a life or death chance, because a person could only talk to the King if he wished it. Otherwise the person would be executed for trying to talk to the king.
Spoiler Alert, her chance pays off. She helps the King draft a law where the Jews can defend themselves from their enemies and her people are saved. Esther made a difference. Advent is about Christ coming into the world to make a difference in our lives and to show us how we can make a difference in other people's lives. So what about you? Where is God asking you to make a difference in somebody else's lives. How can you this Advent season, help somebody see the hope that we get from our Savior? Maybe it is volunteering at the food shelf. Maybe it is donating to the sock it campaign here at church for the kids at Greenfield. Advent reminds us that God made a difference for us and our lives and that we are called to do the same.
I don't know about you, but waiting is hard. Several months, back I challenged us as a congregation to make ourselves wait. Not too long ago, I remember being at Nilssen's and actually waving people in front of me. After about 5 minutes, I could begin noticing physically that I was loosing my patience to wait. My hands started to sweat; I could feel the irritability starting to rise out of my stomach and go into my head; and I started glancing at my phone a little to much. Wow, and this was only five minutes. I can see I have a long ways to go in extending out how patient I am in living my daily life.
In today's text, we talk again about patience but in a difference context. We are talking about being patient when injustice or evil is rearing its ugly head. I don't know about you, but I think I have less patience when it comes for this type of stuff. When injustice happens or evil happens I want God to step in and make amends now. I don't want to see people suffer. I believe also that God doesn't want people to suffer. However, living in a world that is coated in sin, suffering happens. Evil and injustice happen and happen too frequently.
Our text from Habakkuk reminds us, that even though evil happens, this is not the end. God does not tolerate evil, and that it will be eradicated. The one thing God doesn't say though, that this process is quick and painless. It took many years and decades for the Nazi regime to be tossed from power. However it was. I think this is what Habakkuk is trying to tell us today, that evil is not going to win and that God's justice and mercy will reign supreme. Habakkuk also reminds us that this process can be long and heart breaking. So how do we then deal with situations that are heart breaking to us; that shines forth injustice; or shows off the evil in this world?
We need to trust in God, by praying and by working to support God's mission in the world. The Habakkuk text doesn't invite us to inaction, on the opposite, it reminds us to act as God wants us to with justice and hope. What this text really does for us is remind us that God's justice might take a awhile but don't lose hope because in the end God's will and justice prevail. So what is God calling you to do with an injustice or an evil that you see around you?
I apologize for the lateness of this post but the head cold I got over this past weekend has been a doozy. The last two night have been hard to get some good sleep but I am just happy I have been able to get some rest. As I look at the text for this coming week, my groggy eyes are drawn to chapter 7 verses 8-11.
Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, "We are safe!"—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord.
As we have been marching through the Bible thanks to the help of the narrative lectionary, we have seen time and time again that the people of Israel forgot what it means to live under God's covenant. They turn to ways of hurting themselves and each other. They take the easy way out. This past Sunday, we talked about the hard road of peace. It is a lot easier to discount people and to simply ignore them than to actually treat other people with the same dignity we give our trusted family and friends.
This Thursday, is Thanksgiving, which is a time of family get togethers. For a lot of people this is a very fun time of the year, but for a lot of people it is a time of various bad family dynamics. There is a family member who makes your skin crawl or who always seems to push all your buttons. It can make the holidays very hard to enjoy let alone tolerate. However, God asks us to walk the walk of our faith especially around circumstances like this. How would it look like if you engaged this relative or friend in the language of peace? What if you took some time to listen to what they are saying? Note I am not saying you have to agree with what they are talking about. What if you gave yourself permission not to fall into those arguments that drives you nuts? The language of peace is for both us and the people we have a relationship with by setting boundaries, about what we can and will not do.
The Jeremiah text today is reminding us that following God's path for us isn't easy and that it takes work. However when we do this, when we practice what we preach, amazing things happen. Peace can come to us and to our Thanksgiving's gathering. I hope you all have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!
You did read that right in the description. We are suppose to read chapter 2 of Isaiah after chapter 36 and 37. That seems a little weird until, we consider what happens in chapter 2. In this chapter of Isaiah, we hear what happens when God is present. God comes down and helps settles disputes. No longer are there swords but instead plow shares. Nation will not rise against nation in war but instead talk to each other. It seems like a pipe dream doesn't it? No more war. No more violence. People working together to feed other people. People working together for the benefit of all, instead of just themselves or there little neck of the woods. Can you even imagine what a world like this would even look like? Let us take a couple of minutes to dream about it....
I can see people getting along. I can see people listening to one another. I can feel hope, instead of fear. I see people getting enough to eat. I see people helping other people so that can have a hand up. I see people not being lonely. I see people understand that they are loved and cared for. I see people have a place to live. I feel that people are respected and have dignity because they are treated as a brother or sister and not an enemy.
So is this just a pipe dream that Isaiah is having? What if I told you that this can happen and even better that this going to happen. What if I told you that we can be a part of the transformation of our world? How would that make you feel? Now here is even the harder question what is God calling you to do? Is it listening to your neighbor? Is it helping to make sure nobody in our community goes hunger? Is it mentoring a child? Is it giving a stranger hope instead of reacting to them out of fear? What is it?
In our fractured world, we as Christians need to be God's hands and feet on the ground to help people realize that God's message of peace, of love, and of grace is not some fairy tale but the truth. A truth that will help free this world of its violence and usher in understanding; mercy; and peace.