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We’re a stone’s throw from the season of Lent. A season that challenges us to confront our mortality without fear, to fix our attention on Jesus, and remember it is GOD who makes all things new! Amen?! This Sunday, we’ll prepare for Lent with awe as we experience the story of Jesus’ transfiguration in Matthew 17 and God’s affirmation of Jesus as the beloved son.
That sense of awe is particularly important this year as we prepare for Lent in the Gospel of Matthew. The final chapters in Matthew’s Gospel, before Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, are not for the squeamish. They are not bedtime stories. Jesus throws out an unrelenting barrage of parables that are provocative in the extreme. Lavish generosity is rejected, messengers of good news are killed, and condemnation hovers around every corner. Jesus teaches with an urgency that means to grab us, shake us awake, and set us firmly on our feet prepared for the essential Kingdom work Christ has for us. If this makes you a bit nervous, I’m with you!
However, as we know from experience, when Jesus’ words are toughest, when his teachings are most difficult to hear, the depth of God’s grace is never far away. In fact, it’s when Christ’s words are most provocative that his grace is most abundant. We know where Jesus’ life leads – to the cross. The Kingdom he ushers in is opposed on every side, but it will not fail! God’s will for life, love, healing, forgiveness, hope and reconciliation cannot be stopped!
So, get ready, people of God! Jesus is coming to shake things up! God’s Kingdom comes! I wonder what Kingdom work God has in mind for you! Amen?!
See you Sunday…
It’s a gray day in Albuquerque. We don’t have many of those. It’s usually cause for great celebration because we need the moisture that gray clouds provide. Still, I miss the light. Light changes everything. In fact, I find this gray day renewing my gratitude for the life light brings. And as we worship together in this extended season of Epiphany, the season of light, I find it renewing my gratitude for the ultimate, infinite light shone by, in and through Christ.
Again this Sunday, we’ll hear from Jesus’ teachings. Our lives will be illuminated by a series of parables through which Jesus describes what the kingdom of heaven is like. But today, with gray all around, I couldn’t help thinking of all the ways Jesus shined his light on me this week. Below are a just a few moments. If you reflected on your week, where would you see Christ’s light shining on you? With whom will you share it?
- Playing Battleship with my son at 6 a.m.
- Participating in a bible study filled with laughter
- The privilege of being invited into a hospital room for prayer and conversation
- Learning decaf coffee isn’t so bad now that I’m old enough that I can’t drink caffeine after 3:00 and still get to sleep at night
- Sharing a time of vulnerability over a cup of tea
- Filling out a Valentine card for a man who has loved and supported me for 17 years, and receiving one from him
- Being moved to tears by a co-worker (Barbara is AMAZING!) who cleaned up a heap of trash outside the church all by herself because I wasn’t feeling well
- Serving alongside people of great faith and courage who show love for me and my whole family daily
Let it shine!
See you Sunday…
Therefore I tell you, do not worry…about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Matthew 6:25
As the mother of a child on the cusp of middle school, this verse hit me hard. Jesus speaks of worry, a tough subject in and of itself, but it’s his words about bodies that screamed out at me. Don’t worry about your body. If only…
I wonder how many people, like me, grew up worrying about their bodies. I almost lost a classmate to anorexia. Calorie counting and exercise regiments were topics of conversation beginning around fourth grade. A handful of classmates needed daily medical intervention to survive. Others struggled with questions of gender and were desperate for bodies that were acceptable to their families and faith leaders. Some were told that if they didn’t change their sense of bodily identity they wouldn’t be loved. Today I am moved to ask, has anything changed?
Jesus’ words strike me as incredibly important. He implores us not to worry about our bodies asking, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will God not much more clothe you…” (6:30a)? At the foundation of Jesus’ words is the assurance that God cares deeply for the bodies God has given us and will care for these bodies as they are. God desires to liberate us from our constant anxiety and body-condemning. And once liberated, God calls us, in these beautifully imperfect bodies, to the kingdom work of loving the other blessed bodies God places on our path.
What if we risked loving our bodies as God does? What might we be liberated from and for in Christ’s name?
See you Sunday…
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 4:1
Still dripping wet from baptism, Jesus is led into gut-wrenching temptation. It’s tough to watch. Jesus is vulnerable in every way imaginable, and the tempter comes at him with everything he’s got. Make sure you have your coffee on Sunday, because we’re digging into this reading with both hands!
However, our reading doesn’t end there. After his exhausting experience in the wilderness, Jesus makes a fascinating decision. He knows the brutal king Archelaus is on the throne in Judea, but instead of confronting Archelaus, Jesus “withdrew to Galilee” (4:12b). What’s going on? Is Jesus running away? Is he going to just sit back and let Archelaus’ reign of oppression continue?
Hardly. Jesus does something extraordinary. Jesus preaches the Kingdom.
I admit, when I hear of all the suffering going on in the world, I want those in power torn from their leadership. I want them held accountable for all the world to see. But in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus shows us another way. He shows us that to proclaim the Kingdom of God is to refuse to bow before tyrants. It is to proclaim that the end of the tyrant’s reign is near. It is to confess God is the ruler of the world, and it exposes the ultimate futility of anyone who works against God’s purposes for life and love. Far from running away, proclaiming the Kingdom put a target on Jesus’ back.
It seems to me, that if you are as fed up as I am about the suffering in the world, we’d better get out there and proclaim the Kingdom. After all, Jesus is out there already!
See you Sunday…
Matthew 2 tells us of wise men who seek out and pay homage to the newborn king. They shower Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh. But were these the gifts on Jesus’ wish list?
You see, Matthew 2 tells us another story as well. Maniacal King Herod will not tolerate any threat to his power. After hearing about a newborn king in Bethlehem “he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under” (2:16b). It’s horrifying. Countless families were torn apart. Yet, Jesus and his family are spared. An angelic messenger instructs them to flee.
This event is deeply disturbing on many levels. In particular, I’ve thought, “That’s all well and good for Jesus to be spared, but why wouldn’t God save ALL of Bethlehem’s children?” While I’ve found no satisfactory answer, Dr. Craig Koester illuminates something else about this story. He reminds us that Jesus was delivered from Herod’s murderous rage, but Jesus’ reprieve from the Roman Empire’s brutality was only temporary. In a few short decades, Jesus would be murdered by Rome, executed in a shameful crucifixion. Jesus does not escape. Jesus is not spared. With the mothers of Bethlehem, Jesus’ mother must also endure unspeakable grief.
The coming of Christ, God made flesh, reveals the depth of God’s love for us: to be with us, save us, and forgive us. But in Matthew’s Gospel, Christ’s coming also reveals the depth of humanity’s lust for violence.
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were fine gifts. But I wonder if Jesus’ wish list today includes something far more valuable. Might it include the handing over of our tools of violence – our actions, words, and desires? Do we have the courage to lay these down before our crucified king?
See you Sunday…
I wonder how long it had been since Mary and Joseph had a good night’s sleep. Mary in the home of her parents, Joseph in a house nearby. Mary was expecting and Joseph knew the baby wasn’t his. Matthew’s gospel tells us Joseph had decided to “dismiss Mary quietly.” But his mind wasn’t quiet, right? If Joseph was a righteous man, as we’re told, he had to be deeply saddened by this scandalous pregnancy that would dishonor Mary for the rest of her life and certainly follow Joseph as well. Was he angry, jealous, despairing? Was Mary desperate for Joseph’s understanding or her parent’s support?
We just don’t know. Matthew doesn’t give us a thing when it comes Mary and Joseph’s feelings. In fact, Matthew seems to be in a tremendous hurry to get to Jesus.
I think he might be on to something important.
We know so many devastating stories, don’t we? Loss and grief. Suffering all over the world. Regrets, failures, and shortcomings. We’re familiar with sleepless nights. It’s just a guess, but I think Matthew knew how proficient we’d be at imagining what Mary and Joseph were enduring. Where we need all sorts of help is in understanding just how big God’s love is, and what it looks like to have God’s expansive, unending love with us every single day. Matthew tells us that Jesus, God’s Messiah, has come to save us. He is “God with us.” But, in all honesty, my Jesus awareness could use some work.
This Sunday, we begin in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew’s in a hurry to tell us about Jesus. He’s in a hurry to show us what perfect love looks like and invite our imaginations to run wild! I could use more of that…what about you?
See you Sunday…
From the brilliant mind of Alicia Keys:
She’s just a girl, and she’s on fire
Hotter than a fantasy, lonely like a highway
She’s living in a world, and it’s on fire
Feeling the catastrophe, but she knows she can fly away
Oh, she got both feet on the ground
And she’s burning it down
Oh, she got her head in the clouds
And she’s not backing down
This girl is on fire.
This Sunday, we hear the powerful story of Esther. She’s an orphaned young woman, a descendant of exiles, a Jew living in Persia. She’s a nobody among nobodies. But her beauty (hotter than a fantasy, if you will) catches the king, Ahasuerus’, eye. Buffoon though he is, he gets what he wants.
He doesn’t know she’s a Jew.
After being forced into Ahasuerus’ harem, Esther becomes his favorite and is made queen.
However, not long after she is crowned, Ahasuerus’ top advisor, Haman, feels slighted by a local Jew. Haman bribes Ahasuerus to commit genocide. Ahasuerus, without hesitation, agrees to destroy all of the Jews in Persia.
Esther’s feeling the catastrophe. But she’s got both feet on the ground, and she’s not backing down.
Risking her life, she approaches the king. She wins his favor. She saves her people.
This girl is on fire.
God’s name is never spoken in Esther. But God’s will to lift up the lowly, to choose the weak to confound the strong, to save God’s people from every imaginable threat, and to deliver them when it seems all hope is lost – these gifts flow from every verse of Esther.
It is this God who comes in the flesh, in Jesus the Christ. It is this God we await in Advent.
See you Sunday…
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