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Meeting Matthew Again...Anew

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When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Jesus saw the crowds...we are often so quick to race and run to the familiar words of the beatitudes that we miss the fact that Jesus saw the crowds.  Jesus gaze is not just a passing glace.  What he observes awakens something deep within.  Jesus is not just pontificating or philosophizing here. Jesus is not talking abstractly or setting about propositions.  Jesus is saying the poor in spirit who are standing right there.  Jesus is saying those who mourn who are right here in the crowd.  Part of what we miss in the sermon on the mount is that we have turned it into Orthodoxy (something to believe) rather than Orthopraxy (a way to live).  The sermon on the mount is not just good advice and a way to organiz…

Meeting the Beatitudes Again...Anew

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One of the undercurrents...just beneath the surface of nine counter-cultural statements of Jesus in the beatitudes...is the truth that he isn't really saying anything new.  He is actually riffing and remixing wisdom that the rabbis of the Jewish faith had taught for centuries.  Over the next few posts, we will explore this truth...but let's start with an overview of all nine.

It starts with beloved are the poor in spirit...poor here is ptochoi, which literally means, "the very empty ones, those who are crouching."  While most of us would want to avoid poverty at all costs, many of the beloved of God in the Hebrew Scriptures went through severe time of want/need. Think of Joseph in prison in Genesis...or Ruth and Naomi trying to glean just a bit of wheat from the field... or the widow who Elijah helps to stretch the last bit of meal in the jar.  I think Jesus saw something in those stories that connected one to another.

The second is beloved are those who grieve.  Ri…

Meeting Matthew Again...Anew

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18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
The familiar can sometimes become formulaic.  For example, I know the recipe for my grandmother's banana bread so well, I can make it without even looking...although I sometimes do just to see her handwriting.  Or I know my morning routine.  Or where my favorite items are at in the grocery store.  And the same can be true with the above passage.  
Jesus walking along...sees two brothers.  We could stop there because I wonder how often we really see what …

Meeting Jesus Again...Anew

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From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

Ah, repentance...classic churchy term.  Usually the way the church talks about repentance makes you want to grab an umbrella because it is about to start raining guilt.  Usually, repentance suggests and says, "You have messed up so bad Mister...good Lord!"  Usually, the list is so long, that we forget that whole baptismal belovedness we have been talking about here in the posts.  Usually, we have so turned people off on the church because we merge repentance and that image of the devil together as a powerful, potent process of fear.

We have wandered so far away from the Jewish understanding of repentance, which simply means change.  Change your mind.  Change your direction.  Change the way you are seeing/being/living.  Not because God is out to get you...but because there is a more life giving way to be about the world.  Not because of some future state of your soul, but because the pr…

Meeting Matthew Again...Anew

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The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.  Matthew 4

When we hear the word, "tempter" or "Satan" or "devil"...I imagine that the painting above would be what most of us see in our mind's eye.  Or perhaps John Lovitz from Saturday Night Live skits.  Maybe you would throw in a pitch fork for real authenticity. 

A few things about the above painting:
1. I love that it looks like Jesus and the devil are just having a discussion...like you do.  All that seems to be missing is a cup of coffee and you'd think they are two old friends catching up on each other's life.
2.  I love that the devil looking figure seems to be contemplating Jesus' point.  You can almost hear the devil saying, "Ah, I see, you are quoting scripture at me.  (stroke chin here)  Perhaps I should quote some scripture back."
3.  I love that it is happening at night, which is when I tend to toss and tu…

Meeting Matthew Again...Anew

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Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.  The tempter came.... Matthew 4

So just to review the roller-coaster that is Matthew's gospel so far...

Joseph has to risk the hostile stare and glares and gossip, finding the courage/conviction to marry Mary.  Joseph, not only does this, but adopts Jesus.

Then Wise Ones come knocking on the door of the palace, because that is where you would find a new king only to encounter Herod...Mr. Anger-Management Issues.  Herod's fear of a baby (the irony reminds us that so often that the fears we carry can be fanned to flames in some of the most peculiar ways) sends the Wise Ones off to worship the child. 

The so-called Wise Ones have to be warned in a dream not to go back to Herod.

Joseph takes his family and flees the wrath of Herod all the way down to Egypt (echo, echo if Exodus). 

Eventually, the family comes back, settles in a…

In Loving Memory...

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One of the sheros of my life passed into God's embrace this week...Mary Oliver.

There are so many of Mary's poems that have fed my faith and stirred my soul.

This line comes from the poem, Sometimes

"Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it."

Or I think about the words of the poem, Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.

As the rabbis have said for centuries, "Words create Worlds"...and I have often deeply desired to live in the beautiful/honest/broken world Mary crafted with her words.  She preached through poems.

It is my prayer that we will continue to treasure the insights, humor, ideas, and grace Mary Oliver invited and awoken within us.

With deep, deep gratitude for the tr…

Meeting Matthew Again...Anew

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Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.  And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on 
him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

What do you see when you look at the above painting?

I see the waves both embrace/cradle Christ as well as crashing down around him.  Perhaps pointing to the truth that the One claimed as "Beloved" will also face the cross.  Perhaps pointing to the truth that you and I will face moments of profound/powerful love and heartbreaking disappointment.

I see John and Jesus intimately interconnected.  There is a love we…

Meeting Matthew Again...Anew

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So we have prayerfully pondered the ways we have too easily dismissed and denied John because of his clothing and diet.

Perhaps that has also shined a light on the ways we do that to others who see the world different than we do...still to this day.

And now...we hear John's sermon.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.  Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.  Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will …

Meeting Matthew Again...Anew

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In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”  Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.  Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan,  and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

What memories flood to overflowing your mind when you hear the word, "Water?"

I remember splashing in the community pool with friends playing Marco Polo.

I remember fishing with my dad along the Cedar River using corn to catch the fish...because these were Iowa fish!  It didn't really work.

I remember canoeing with my wife Gina during our honeymoon....which even more than wallpaperi…

Meeting Matthew Again...Anew

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If you keep reading in Matthew 2, you will encounter Mary and Joseph fleeing from Herod's fear based policy causing hurt and harm to all infants. 

Mary and Joseph save Jesus' life...God's life...continue the promise of Emmanuel (God with us and for us).

Which brings me to this question:

What is bringing you life right now? 

Here we are eleven days into a new year.  While your diet program might be struggling.  I mean really, why doesn't water taste more like chocolate?  Or why can't chocolate have zero calories?  Or maybe you are clinging to your other resolutions like hanging from the top ledge of a 10 story building.  The question, what is bringing you life might just help.

What brings me life is: family, friends, laughter, writing, and music.  So, let me share some music today from the Piano Guys.  I pray it brings you more than a trace of grace.  Blessings ~~


Meeting Matthew Again...Anew

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In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.  Matthew 2:1-3

What are you afraid of?

Perhaps your first thought is to puff out your chest and think, "Nothing."

Or maybe that still small voice with whispers, "Death."

Or maybe that still smaller voice more vulnerably and honestly says almost unheard, "Not being love or accepted or knowing what to do."

Or maybe like Charlie Brown when Lucy says, "Maybe you have Panophobia or the fear of everything."  To which Charlie says, "That's it!!!"  Knocking Lucy over with his enthusiastic excitement.

Fear hovers and hangs around us.

This has been true for most of my ministry which began right after September 11th.  Yet,…

Meeting Matthew Again...Anew

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Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:  “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”  When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,  but had no marital relations with her until she had bor…

Meeting Matthew Again...Anew for the First Time

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Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy...you can click here to read all the names. 

Genealogy and knowing where we come from can be fascinating.  DNA testing companies seem ubiquitous.  The fact that Matthew starts by naming names that make up the roots of Jesus' family tree. 

If you were brave and decided to click on the above link you might have:
A...been interested to read all the generations of Jesus stretching back to Abraham.
B...wondered about the stories behind each of those names.
C...fallen asleep...in which case you are probably not reading this blog any more.
D...you didn't click the link...and the above hasn't resolved any kind of conflict within you.

Genealogies are not for everyone.  My uncle is fascinated in it...my mother never was.  Some people love seeing that the farm in the Midwest went back to the 1800s....some people don't see the relevance to their lives today. 

Jesus' family tree is no less complicated.

What is fascinating about the li…

Meeting Matthew Again...Anew for the first time

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What impressions, if any, do you have of the gospel of Matthew?  I know some folks who like Mark's gospel because it is brief...the shortest of all four...just the facts ma'am kind of gospel.  I know folks who love Luke's earth, Village Voice gospel being the only one with the parables of the Prodigal Son and Good Samaritan.  I know folks who love John's poetry which starts off, "And the Word took on flesh and moved into our neighborhood," which will totally cause you to look at your neighbors differently.

Matthew?

Um Matthew?

Well, he has that Sermon on the Mount, right?

Wait...Matthew, isn't he the one with all the people thrown in outer darkness and gnashing of teeth?

Talk about your anger issues.

Matthew may or may not be at the top of your "Best. Gospel. Of. All. Time!"  list.  But, I think it is worth meeting Matthew again...anew...as if for the first time.  To enter Matthew with a new perspective.  To listen to Matthew...not in the back …