Faith

The God of Life and Love

The human condition is one that, all through our history, has desired to extend our existence behind this present life. In the ancient world, kings assumed that they could immortalize themselves by building great cities and monuments. The above sonnet by Percy Shelly illustrates the grand futility of such a pursuit. The sands of time have a way of grinding all our achievements down.

Try as we do, humanity can’t seem to pull off an extended existence. That reality has had a side-effect of cynicism that also traces its way through history – where the idea of any postmortem existence is dismissed. “This life is all there is, let’s eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die”.

We’ll be reading about a group of people, the Sadducees, who were themselves cynical of any notion of life after death. We’ll be reading Matthew 22:23-46.

The Sadducees pose a riddle to Jesus about a hypothetical conundrum which could occur in a resurrection of the dead in a case of levirate marriage. It’s a silly question – and Jesus seems to give a dismissive answer – but in reality, he uses the situation to express an important truth about God’s purpose with humanity. What is the emphasis of v32? What does that tell us about God’s intentions for those who will believe him?

After the Sadducees fail, the Pharisees send in a lawyer. Not that kind of lawyer – but one who was an expert in Jewish law. He asks a very common question debated by the rabbis throughout the history of Israel. What commandment is of supreme importance to God? In Jesus’ answer – what priority to we discover? How does his tethering of the WHOLE law to these two commandments reveal what God’s primary interest is for us as his followers?

In what ways do you find Jesus’ answer comforting? In what ways do you find it challenging? How can we more faithfully embrace and express the primacy of love?

Looking forward to exploring this together on Sunday! See you then!

Debters

Image result for taxesBeing not too far out from the old April 15th deadline I’m guessing we’ve all paid our taxes for the year, or at least made some sort of arrangement to.  How do you feel about paying taxes? I’m thinking most of us don’t have too much heart ache about it being we’re a democracy and receive various benefits as a result..What if though, tomorrow Russia came in, forcibly took over our country and demanded we pay them tax as the reward for having stolen our land?

That was pretty much the scenario in Israel when Jesus showed up on the scene.

In our text this week Jesus will be answering a trick  question posed once again by the Pharisees, regarding taxes. He’ll be talking about our responsibility to the kingdoms of men and also pointing out our more significant debt to the kingdom of heaven. We’ll see how, according to him, they’re very much interrelated..  Matthew 22:15-22

Our text opens up with the Pharisees again plotting against Jesus.  All through the book of Matthew the Pharisees have been the ones openly opposing him. They were the bible scholars of their day, yet their religious convictions and self proclaimed righteousness actually prevented them from seeing and cooperating with God.

How might we fall into that same trap? Do we feel the need to argue with or criticize those who don’t agree with our views on politics, worship style or alcohol consumption? Or even worse, do we question their acceptance by God given their view on less essential issues than the core truth of Jesus as Lord? What can we do to make sure we’re cooperate with God’s priority of loving him and his people?

Since the Pharisees couldn’t trip Jesus up with any of their questions on the law, they teamed up with basically their enemies, the Herodians who were pro- Rome in a political tact to oppose him…

In vs 17 we find their ill-willed question regarding paying taxes or not. On the surface it appears to be a loose, loose question.. If Jesus says yes they should pay the tax, the crowd who expected him to overthrow the government at any moment, would have been severely disappointed..If he says no, the Herodians would turn him over to the Romans for treason..Jesus in his infinite wisdom appeases everyone. Well except for the Pharisees who were hoping for the worst.

In pointing to Caesar’s image on the coin denoting his ownership of it, we can draw a parallel to God’s image inscribed on our hearts pointing to his ownership of us.

We as Christians are citizens of both heaven and earth with responsibilities to both kingdoms…Do you see paying taxes as a heavenly or earthly responsibility? Does Romans 13:1-2 shed any light there?

How might this principle effect our work performance? The way we go about doing business in the community or pay our other debts?

What about the other debt Jesus mentioned? After addressing the debt to government Jesus added AND render to God what’s God’s..What do you perceive as your debt to God? If you’re a parent what’s the one thing you want more than anything from your own children?

What is the most important thing you have given them?  Science substantiates that love has the potential to facilitate healing and overall wellbeing.  Has knowing the immense love God has for you affected your life in a positive manner? How so?

It should be a challenging and encouraging study. Looking forward to digging in together!

The Kingdom Party

Image result for extravagant little mermaid birthday party

When my kids were all in grade school and younger, we lived across from a neighborhood that was way above our means. When our oldest daughter made friends in school, the inevitable birthday party invites went out. My wife and I were stunned at how elaborate and grand the parties were for kids from that neighborhood. Fully themed Little Mermaid extravaganzas were in vogue then, as I recall. The cost of one of those parties probably matched my yearly income.

What is the biggest, most elaborate party you’ve ever been invited to? Did you enjoy yourself or was it challenging to be there?

No matter how big the party was that you attended, I can guarantee it didn’t hold a candle to ancient royal feasts. They were known to last up the 10 days. Even into the medieval period, England and France threw a joint party that lasted for 17 days in a huge field, where everyone was given coats woven with silk and gold.

This Sunday we’ll read a story told by Jesus about a party thrown by a king who gets snubbed. It’s a curious story, not without it’s critics. We’ll be reading Matthew 22:1-14.

Who do you believe the king is in this story? Who is the son? Who do you believe the people snubbing the invitation represent? Who do you think the replacement invitees are? If you said, respectively, “God, Jesus, the Religious Leaders, the church”, you would be in the company of the majority of those who interpret this parable. I agree with them too. There are other views about who is representing whom, but they aren’t as convincing to me, given the context and theme that has been rolling along since chapter 21 began.

Jesus compares the kingdom of God to an elaborate party. How does that fit within your pictures of what God’s kingdom is like? How does it match up with images of people with wings sitting on clouds and playing harps? Which is more appealing to you?

The story is a metaphor – so what do you think the king’s reaction to the people who snub his invitation and kill his messengers represents?

What was the criteria for the second group of people being invited to the party? What made them candidates for entry?

How would you interpret the last part of the story – the guy who is under-dressed and gets tied up and thrown out? What do you suppose this metaphor is representing to us about our invitation to God’s party? How might Galatians 3:27 help you imagine what this part means?

Just some stuff to ponder – hope to see you on Sunday!

 

For Display Only

Image result for for display only

Ever start to pick up a perfectly beautiful piece of fruit to take a bite, only to realize that it’s made of plastic – a prop, for display only. I have a frustrating story to share on Sunday about things that are for display only when you’re trying to purchase something. That’s one kind of frustration. A religion that is for display purposes only is another kind of frustration. That’s going to be the theme of our study this week.

This Sunday we’ll be returning to our study in the book of Matthew, reading chapter 21:18-32.

In v18-22, we see Jesus do the only destructive miracle in the entirety of the gospels. Do you think this fruitless tree was just something that irritated Jesus and he lashed out…or do you think there was something else being communicated in this? If this were a living parable being acted out for his disciples – what do you think the message is?

The following account actually gives examples of what the message of the fig tree was. Jesus has yet another conflict with religious leaders – albeit, the chief priest is now involved. This is a first in an escalating opposition to Jesus. The question of authority is posed – “who do you think you are Jesus, emptying out the temple like that?”. There is no answer Jesus can give that won’t put him in immediate danger.  Jesus turns the tables on them by posing a question that is impossible for them to answer. What were the religious leaders afraid of when it came to answering the question? What does that tell us about the motive for their spirituality?

The parable of the two sons spells it out in a pretty straightforward way. If you were to sum up the lesson of the parable, how would you word it?

Looking forward to jumping back into our study this week! Hope to see you Sunday!

An Explanation of Holy Week

This week is called Holy Week in most church traditions. The first Thursday after Palm Sunday is observed as Maundy Thursday. People sometimes tilt their heads in perplexity when they hear the title Maundy Thursday, because they think one’s trying to say “MONDAY Thursday”…which makes no sense. But it’s not Monday, it’s Maundy (mawn’-dee). Of course, that makes no sense either. What is a “maundy”? You know what’s really fun? It goes so far back that we don’t know precisely where that term originated or its precise meaning. Many scholars believe that this word came down to us after passing through Old English and Old French transliterations of the Latin word “mandatum”, which is the first word in the sentence: “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos

There. That clears it up.

Unless you don’t know Latin. The above phrase reads: “A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Jesus’ new commandment, or mandate – mandatum, given at the Passover Meal he ate with his disciples, and which he re-purposed for the New Covenant.

So, another way of naming this holy day could be Mandate Thursday – the day on which Jesus celebrated his final Passover and instituted the sacrament of communion and gave his great commandment – that we love one another.

This Thursday at 6:30pm we’ll walk through the Passover with Jesus and his disciples – with our eyes, ears and taste buds. We want to be there in that upper room.

The Friday before Easter is called Good Friday – the day that commemorates Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. Some have questioned why we’d call it good Friday when so much bad happened. Remembering what was said last Sunday helps with this: “The disciples thought God was losing. They stood witnessing the greatest victory in history, and thought it was a loss. They saw the forgiveness of all humanity’s damning sins, and they wept and despaired because they had lost the plot, they confused a governmental victory for an eternal victory.” The historic events that took place that day were, indeed, horrifying. But the glory that resulted from his sacrifice makes this not just a GOOD Friday – but the greatest and the best Friday of all.

This Friday at 6:30pm we will have a Good Friday service of worship and a live art project with interactive elements which remind us of what Jesus has done for us in his death on the cross.

Saturday is traditionally a day of prayer and fasting in anticipation of Easter. We’re inviting everyone who’d like to, to join in to prayer and fasting (skipping a meal or two, or however God may direct you). I’ve written three prayers – morning, noon and evening – to help guide you in prayer if you need it. You can get them here: COMMUNITY PRAYERS 2017

Easter is the big day! N.T. Wright says in his book Surprised by Hope:

“[Easter] ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after Morning Prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simple the one-day happy ending tacked onto forty days of fasting and gloom? It’s long overdue that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in the Church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system. And if it means rethinking some cherished habits, well, maybe it’s time to wake up. That always comes as a surprise.

…we should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children’s games, poetry, music, dance, festivals, bells, special concerts, anything that comes to mind. This is our greatest festival. Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity; as Paul says, you are still in your sins. We shouldn’t allow the secular world, with its schedules and habits and para-religious events, its cute Easter bunnies, to blow us off course. This is our greatest day. We should put the flags out.”

At Eastgate, we “put the flags out”. We start with our sunrise service at 6am on the beach (at Seltzer Park). The Sunrise Service is the Protestant version of the Catholic and high church’s Easter Vigil. The Easter Vigil lasted all night until sunrise – but Protestants in the 1700’s seemed to prefer just waking up early to re-enact what happened on the day that Jesus rose from the dead. I kinda’ like that better too. To me, there’s nothing like gathering in the pre-dawn light, in that cool salt air, to joyfully announce, through prayers, songs and liturgies, that death ain’t what it used to be! Jesus is alive!

Then we bust loose at 10am in the courtyard in front of our Eastgate building. We just don’t want to be contained within four walls when we celebrate something of this magnitude! We want to to shout it out in the open, JESUS IS ALIVE, he’s making ALL THINGS NEW! We incorporate joyful music, kid’s performances, artwork, story telling, beach-balls, party poppers and bubbles into our celebratory worship! If you come, bring a lawn-chair or a blanket. Then we EAT! We have a potluck lunch – our meager imitation of that great wedding feast we anticipate, when our risen Savior brings heaven and earth together, forever.

I’m gettin’ pretty stoked just thinking about all this! Hope you are too!

He is RISEN!

He is RISEN INDEED!

 

The Merciful Reign

Okay – so, we’re going to be reading Matthew 20:29-34 this Sunday – and instead of my normal post, I thought I’d upload a chapter from Rabbi Encounters that recounts the story (although, it’s actually from Mark’s account – so there’s only one person instead of two). Anyway – enjoy, and be thinking about God’s mercy revealed in this text.

Click the link to read more of Rabbi Encounters.   See you Sunday!

Power and Greatness Reimagined

Image result for drawing looks different when upside down

The drawing above is a classic “upside-down illusion”. The image on the top shows a giant bird clutching a man in it’s beak. However, turn the drawing around and it is an image of a man in a canoe observing a great fish. One of the important features of Jesus’ teachings is that he has persistently turned our pictures upside-down – not to be a contrarian jerk – but in order to show us how the world was really meant to be seen.

The passage we’ll be reading this Sunday are another one of Jesus’ image flips. We’ll be reading Matthew 20:17-28.

In v17-19, Jesus gives his third prediction of what fate awaits him in Jerusalem. This forecast is the most explicit, even including the detail of flogging and crucifixion. Based on the section that is coming up, we know that the disciples don’t get what he’s talking about. They are still assuming Jesus will be taking up a sword, assembling an army and overthrowing the powers that be. Instead of that, Jesus predicts his own death. Based on that, what do we understand the greatest expression of God’s power to be? From Sydney Carton to Harry Potter, humanity seems to intuit the power of self-sacrificial love. How does this impact the mission of the church? How should it define our main activity?

After Jesus gives this revelation, two of his disciples, Jimmy and Jack, get their mom to ask for special privileges when Jesus ascends his throne. Given what he’s just described his throne to look like, they really have no clue what they are asking for.

Jesus uses this as an opportunity to describe how authority is expressed and greatness is revealed in God’s kingdom. Again, he’s turning the picture upside-down and showing the image we were intended to see all along. What do you think it looks like when the greatest among us are the servants? How can a person exercise authority by serving? In what ways does this go against the grain of our normal understanding and aspirations for status and significance in life?

I won’t kid you – this will be a challenging study, but one that I believe is vitally important to our Christian maturation. Hope to see you Sunday!