A Scandalous God Matthew 22:1-14

Have you ever thought of the Gospel as something that is scandalous? Normally, we call the Gospel “Good News.” It is because of what Christ has done for us through his death and resurrection. The Gospel is for us, salvation. So how can something that is so good for us be a scandal? It is scandalous for us to hear because God doesn’t follow our understanding of value, worth or importance. Instead, the Gospel destroys our false claims.

A king is throwing a wedding party (a symbol for salvation) for his son. Nobody responds. A second invitation is sent out but some of the invited guests were too busy with the farm or their business. They were too busy doing the things which we define as bestowing worth to a person. The king’s invitation is what graciously declared their importance in the kingdom but they refused. The other invited guests abused and killed the king’s messengers. They violently snubbed the king’s gracious invite. So what does a king do to those who snub his kindness? Naturally, he destroys them.

There needs to be a word of caution given here. If we aren’t careful, we end up taking one of Jesus’ parables about God’s kingdom and make them about supporting our claims for worthiness and power. The actions of the king can be used to justify violence (in God’s name) and anti-Semitic beliefs. Jesus was using this parable to illustrate the nature of God’s kingdom. He wasn’t reducing God to a tyrannical human king seeking vengeance for being snubbed.

Since none of the first invitees were willing to attend the party, the king sent out more servants to invite who ever they could find, good or bad. In the end, these folk had a valued place in the kingdom which exceeded those busy with farm, business or direct opposition could never attain. The kingdom of God is about and will always be about grace.

A curious point was made about a guest present at the party without a wedding robe. When asked, the guest gave no answer to why they were at the party and were then thrown out. The person didn’t comprehend the kindness and grace given by the king’s invitation.

So what do we do with this parable? We live in a crucial time when we are divided and the value of human worth is being debated. Black Lives Matter, immigration policy, suburb vs. inner city, rich vs. poor are all being played out as to who is worthy and who is not to be a part of this country and world. The violence being lived out today and as shown in the parable is how we choose to define our own value and worth.

Jesus told this parable as a way of describing the kingdom of God. We are important not because of our wealth or stubborn ideology. Value in the kingdom of God comes by God’s invitation. The invitation is sent out to all people. Therefore, all are the same.

So will we finally get this through our heads? Will we abandon our efforts to define ourselves by tyrannical force? Are we really going to let ourselves be on the outside looking in at the salvation God has invited us to in Christ? Or, are we going to let God be the one who defines us by that gracious and wonderful invitation to salvation?

Peace

A Good Story Matthew 13:1-23

We all know a good story when we hear it. The story line connects to a part of life that we can identity with in our own lives. A good story teller knows how to use humour, elicit emotions, draw on our fears or lift up our hopes. A story that connects with our lives is one that will, most likely, stay with us for a while. So in the reading, Jesus is telling about his use of parables. A parable means to bring along side for the use of comparison. A parable can serve to be a good story since it comes along side and connects with life. However a story that compares well to life can just as easily draw us in or if it gets a little too close, may repel instead. The parables Jesus told did both.

The parable of the sower is well known. A sower spreads seed on a variety of soils with mixed results. The seed that fell on poor, rocky soil produced nothing but the seed that fell on good soil produced a tremendous crop. Any gardener or farmer knows that good soil has a much better chance of producing a great harvest. There is nothing surprising here, except for what the parable does as it comes along side our lives, it exposes us. This is precisely why Jesus used parables in response to the disciples’ question.

The grace of God is everywhere. It fills all of creation with life. Jesus showed how that grace enhances life in his compassion, empathy, care for the sick, invitation to the outcast, concern for those walked on by others. His resurrection shows God is a God of life and not death. The love of God is like seed ready to bring life to its fullest. Yet the seed is not always received that way. The question is “Why?”

Some people are simply hard as a rock and the concept of grace just won’t easily take root. Some people have been so beat down that like a well worn path, a seed will have a hard time finding a crack in the hard crust for life to put down roots. Some people like the idea of grace and want more of it but they get absorbed into the life offered by the world. Some people are where life in the kingdom of heaven flourishes.

We all know what a good story is when we hear it by how it compares to life. Parables are like a good story in that they come along side and connect our lives with life in the kingdom of heaven. The parables of Jesus expose our hardness. They can also plant a seed which will bring astounding results produced by the grace of God. As Jesus told the disciples, “He who has ears, let him hear.”

Peace.

Jesus Had Compassion For Them (And Us). Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23]

Summer finally seems to have arrived. Beaches are beginning to open up. Lawns are needing to be mowed. Fans are still waiting for the “crack” of the bat hitting a baseball. Many are yearning for ‘normal’ to return but that normal is not present. “I can’t breathe,” are words refusing to be silent. Will the next wave of Covid-19 be a ripple or tsunami? The presidential campaign is turning into a full out sprint. The worry is how will the connective fibres holding us together as a country withstand the efforts to tear us apart into divisive camps.

Jesus had gone around the area preaching the good news of the kingdom as well as healing the sick. The crowds were large with no one to unite and bring healing to them. He had compassion for them. So the disciples were sent out to continue what Jesus had been doing. The more workers meant more could be done. Jesus told them to do this freely, without payment. He also told them to be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves. The kingdom of heaven and its reign comes to us freely without a cost. Make no mistake, the cross was costly for Christ but the gift of his kingdom is free. The disciples needed to model this and to be aware of the push back they would face. There were those, like wolves, who profited and enjoyed having power over the sheep (people). These wolves will prosecute and persecute anyone getting in the way of their privileged position. The disciples needed to know this and to also understand that they’ll have the Holy Spirit’s support with them.

The summer season has arrived and the desire for many is to get back to what is considered to be normal. However the political division, racial issues and progression of Covid-19 infections are forcing us to face a world that is far from that normal. Into this world, Jesus is sending us (the church). The message is that there is another way for the world to exist and it comes freely, the kingdom of heaven which comes to us through Christ. This other way is where the sick are cared for and our neighbour’s health is important for us to support and keep. This other way brings healing to injuries formed by racial and political divisions. This other way calls out with honesty the evil that sits at the doorway of our lives, naming it for what is done. Will this cause a push back? Of course. However, don’t forget that the Spirit is present and will give the support needed. A lot of work needs to be done. The more announcing the kingdom of heaven that comes near to us in Christ, the more that good news gets spread.

Peace.

The Word that Communicates John 1:1-18

We communicate through all sorts of ways.  A smile, scowl, hand gesture, ‘the look’, emoji, act of kindness are all ways that we can communicate to others.  These help convey emotions like anger, joy or frustration but are limited.  We use medium like Twitter, smartphone, Facebook, email, YouTube, texting, etc. to help us in passing on news and ideas to others.  These medium have no power without the use of simple, basic words.  The use of words is how we communicate with each other.  Noun, verb, adverb, tense, etc. are how we fully express ourselves and relate to others.

The opening verses to the Gospel of John tell us about someone called the Word.  We are told that from the very beginning the Word was with God and was God.  Furthermore, all of creation came into being through this Word.  If we want to know about God, then the Word is the noun, verb, adverb, tense, etc. expressing God’s nature to us and relationship with us.  So who or what is this Word?

Well, even though we owe our very existence to the Word, we have rejected it.  The law which Moses passed down we love to call and use as God’s Word to control and berate others.  However, the Word is grace upon grace and truth.  To the darkness of the world with its revenge, assassinations, violence and slavery, the Word is a light that shines of life and the darkness won’t extinguish it.  Social media may be used to attack, degrade our humanity, demand perfection that is unattainable but belief (a gift from the Holy Spirit) in the name of the Word gives us the capacity to be declared children of God.  Once again, who or what is this Word?

Well, words are used to communicate.  The Word is God in the flesh come to be with us.  The Word is God showing to us what humanity was created to be.  The Word has come to be a light that exposes our darkness.  The Word is what took our rejection and murderous cross so that we could know the grace upon grace that raises life out of death.

John the Baptist stood alongside the Jordan River and pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Jesus is this Word that is the full expression of God to us.  So if you want to know the truth of God’s nature, look to the words of the Gospel of John as they continue to point to Jesus.

Peace.

Peace: accepted or rejected Luke 10:1-20

A couple points to consider.

First, are you at peace?  This isn’t a trick question.  Are you at peace?

Secondly, how does peace relate to your place in the kingdom of God?

Peace seems really in short supply today.  The struggle to find peace is ongoing without a whole lot of success.  The search for peace leads us to try practices like meditation or something called ‘being in the moment.’  These practices along with others can help us feel more relaxed and push off the stressors in life for a while but when you get cut off in traffic…you are hotly corrected for having the wrong political views…the boss expects more while offering less support…peace disappears.  Our struggle for peace continues because we don’t quite understand how to make it happen.  Peace doesn’t come by denying reality.  Peace doesn’t come by having the biggest army.  Peace is a gift and a gift comes through grace.  Grace is an expression of kindness, a love that is given without merit or worth.  Grace is hard to find in our polarized world.  No wonder peace is so rare.

Jesus was sending out seventy followers with the instruction to offer their peace wherever they went.  Their peace was directly related to being a part of the kingdom of God.  Prior to this, Jesus rebuked James and John for wanting to destroy a Samaritan town with fire from heaven because the village wouldn’t receive them.  Jesus was now giving a strongly different idea about being an emissary for the kingdom of God.

Jesus sent out seventy to the surrounding area where he was about to go.  The first thing they were to do upon entering a town was to offer their peace.  If their peace was rejected, the town wasn’t rejecting them but God.  The response was not to destroy the town but to wipe off the dust from their feet.  Since God was the one being rejected, God will deal with them.

If their peace was accepted, they were to stay at that home and enjoy the hospitality offered.  The seventy were not to move from house to house.  In other words, they were not to manipulate and play one home against another for their personal benefit.  Rather they were to stay at the one place and receive the homeowners gracious hospitality.  Do you know what happens when grace is met by grace?  This is where the kingdom of God can be called near and peace is found.

The seventy returned excited over the ways that the kingdom’s presence was evidenced.  Jesus commented that he saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  Amazing how something as simple as an offering of peace, an expression of grace can undercut the essence of evil.  What Jesus wanted them to celebrate wasn’t witnessing to the evidence of the kingdom but being secure of their place in God’s kingdom.

Does peace seem to be in short supply?  Then share your peace.  If it is received then both sides will graciously know that the kingdom of God is near.  This is truly something to celebrate.

Peace

Why did they need to die? Luke 13:1-9

Why did they need to die?  They were going to worship their God and to offer prayers.  They were going to a place that was a sanctuary for them.  They weren’t hurting anyone.  Why did they have to die?  We’ve all heard about the shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.  Fifty Muslim worshipers were killed for what?  Worshiping at their local Mosque?

These kind of events happen all to often.  In this case we rightly blame white supremacy and hate which is grown around the world.  We also blame access to high powered guns.  We blame mental health as the problem.  Yet the question, “Why did they need to die?” never gets answered because the victims at Christchurch didn’t deserve it anymore than anybody else.

Some brought to Jesus’ attention the Galilean worshipers whose blood Pilate stirred in with their sacrifices.  “Were they any worse sinners?” he asked.  The answer was, “No.”  Then Jesus urged them to repent and not perish.  He also brought up those killed when the Tower of Siloam collapsed on them.  “Were they any worse sinners?”  Again, Jesus answered saying, “No.”  Once more came the urgency to repent and not perish.

Jesus’ answers are not all that satisfying.  We want to believe that you get what you deserve.  When a mass shooting happens, we know better than to blame the victims.  They were innocent.  When an accident brings death, we shake our heads wondering ‘why?’  So we are frightened because life suddenly seems very fragile.  The reality of death is much too close.  Jesus urges us to put our attention in a different direction to the One who is the author and giver of life.

Jesus came to show us that God’s response to sin is forgiveness and death is overruled by resurrection.  There is nothing easy about the cross of Jesus Christ but it is the way that the hand of God reaches down to the grave and pull us out to life.

Jesus called for repentance which is nothing less than a total transformation of thinking.  We get out of the thinking we get what we deserve.  The victims get what they deserve.  The hurt we do to others we justify as something they deserve.  Reality is that we don’t always get what we deserve.  Life is very fragile.

Jesus is urgent for our repentance and a turn to God who gives us forgiveness and life.  We don’t deserve this either.  This is why we call it grace.

Peace