Proper 18, Year A: Matthew 18:15-20: Community and Conflict

Paper cutouts of colorful people holding hands in a circle

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 18, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

This is some very practical teaching about community from Jesus. The Kingdom of God is all about being in relationship with God and with others.

Here’s a great breakdown from a lesson found on the Episcopal Digital Network:

Remember the steps to Conflict Resolution:

  • Step One: Go directly to that person.
    • Remember the Greatest Commandment – Love the Lord your God and Love your Neighbor as yourself.
    • The Golden Rule – treat others how you would want to be treated.
    • Be Respectful and responsible.
  • Step Two: Bring along another person or two.
  • Step Three: Bring the situation to the church (or this may mean to your school, work, or community depending on the situation.)
  • Step Four: Walk away from the situation and take a breather. Continue tocommunicate with the person and when they are ready to come into the community, welcome them.

We can use this kind of advice in a lot of situations, not only within church. I have been in situations where someone had a problem with me or what I was doing, but instead of coming to me with their concern, they seemed to tell other people and it got back to me. I admittedly can think of situations where I complained about another person’s actions without confronting them about it. It’s good to remember that the best choice is to talk directly to the person first (unless they are physically abusive and you need protection from them–in which case you should seek help and not confront someone alone).

 

The Kingdom of God is the community of God–people working together to love their neighbors as themselves.

Proper 17, Year A: Matthew 16:21-26: Lose Yourself

Saint Peter Painting

St. Peter – Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 17, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus tells his disciples that he has to go to Jerusalem, where he will suffer and be killed, then he will rise from the dead. Wow, can you imagine how that came across?  How do you think you would have reacted to that? Well, we know Peter’s reaction: “God save you from those sufferings, Lord! That will never happen to you!” 

Jesus rebukes him harshly, “Get away from me, Satan! You are not helping me! You don’t care about the same things God does. You care only about things that people think are important.” (These quotes are from the Easy-to-Read version here.) Ouch, he called him Satan! I don’t think Jesus was implying Peter was literally possessed by Satan or anything, but more that he is speaking against God and what God wants at this moment. Remember that just last week we read about Peter being called the Rock on which the church will be built. What a change to this story! It happens to all of us–faithful and loving one time, failing and wrong another time. Meanwhile he just wants Jesus to not die, which doesn’t seem so awful to our human eyes. It seems Peter understand Jesus was the Messiah, but not all that might mean. 

Jesus goes on to say the following:

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Matthew 16:24-26 (NRSV)

I love it when Jesus speaks in paradoxes. Maybe that’s weird of me. Lose your life to save it. Amazing. What does this mean to you? What are you giving of yourself today? How are you following Jesus?

Proper 16, Year A: Matthew 16:13-20: The Rock

Rome - Mosaic from st. Peters cathedral

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 16, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Our next passage comes after the disciples have been traveling around with Jesus, watching him heal and teach and work miracles. At this point, they’ve spent a lot of time with him.

Then he asks them, “Who do people say I am?”

They answer that people think he’s one of various prophets or John the Baptist. Then he asks, “And who do you say I am?”

This moment is key. They should have an idea at this point that he’s not an everyday teacher.

And now it’s Peter who answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus tells him he is blessed, that no one had to teach him that, but that his Father in heaven taught him. He says, So I tell you, you are Peter. And I will build my church on this rock.” 

He says the power of death will not defeat the church and that he gives Peter the keys to God’s kingdom. Imagine! The keys to the kingdom! And it’s true, the church went on in the hands of Peter and other followers after Christ’s death and ascension. They drove it forward from there. They took up the mantle of leading the future of Christianity and spread the gospel around the known world (and it’s gone around even more of the world since). This seems like a significant moment. They have seen all that Jesus is and what he is teaching; they must recognize his power and vision and carry it on.

We also must recognize his power and vision and carry on his truth into our current world. We can be a rock of the church as well–we can carry on the work of healing in the world that Jesus began.

 

Proper 15, Year A: Matthew 15: 10-20, 21-28: Inclusiveness of Jesus

Jesus and the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15), published in 1877

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 15, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Today we hear more of Jesus’ teaching. He says,  “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” This is important because of the culture Jesus was within–a culture that had very detailed rules about cleanliness and purity. There were specific rules about what foods were eaten and how to prepare them, etc. 

So his disciples asked him about it, saying that the Pharisees were offended (Pharisees were huge on following those rules). He says they are blind leading the blind. Peter asks for further explanation. Jesus seems incredulous that they still don’t get it. He says that what goes into the mouth, goes to the stomach, and then out to the sewer,  but what comes out comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.”  So what comes out of the heart, which reveals what’s within you, is more important than what goes in. Many Christians today are still obsessed with purity and following rules, usually of a sexual nature–but is it as important as what comes out of their mouths? Is it more important than the fact that these same Christians often condemn others rather than showing love?

In the second part of the reading, Jesus comes across a Canaanite woman (so, a foreigner, not Jewish), who calls out to him to have mercy because her daughter is tormented by a demon. His disciples want him to send her away and he does not answer at first. And then his first response seems harsh: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and when she continues to ask for help he answers, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She says that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table. He then tells her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter is healed. This seems like he is almost testing her, and teaching his disciples at the same time. We know that Jesus came for more than his own Jewish people. He often reaches out beyond them in other interactions (with the Roman centurion who has a sick servant, with the Samaritan woman at the well, for examples.) The Bible is continually about expanding the love of God; it is a story of inclusiveness–as God’s love reaches out to the whole world. Even in the Old Testament, when men try to hold their faith tight, God reaches out to the rest of the world–as with Ruth, as with the people of Nineveh Jonah doesn’t want to save, and in many other stories. Jesus’ love is meant for all. If your faith teaches you to be exclusive and reject others, it’s not really the faith Jesus taught–it’s more like the faith of the Pharisees.

Proper 14, Year A: Matthew 14:22-33: Do Not Be Afraid

Jesus Walks on Water

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 14, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

 

This is a well-known story, but try to consider it anew.

Jesus sends his disciples out on a boat. He instructs them to go to the other side of the lake and tells them he would join them later.  Then he sent the crowds he’d been teaching (this is right after the feeding of the 5,000) away so he could go up into the hills to pray.  This is not a part of the story people usually focus on, but I like this idea of going into the hills to pray. We go to a lake house in Maine almost every summer, and I can really feel the presence of God on the hill overlooking the lake where the house is perched. It’s a beautiful place to pray. He spends enough time alone in prayer that the boat has gone far from shore. The boat was having trouble in choppy waves on a windy night. Early in the morning, Jesus goes to the boat by walking upon the water. Understandably, his disciples freak the heck out when they see him–screaming that it’s a ghost.

Jesus calls out to them not to be afraid and Peter responds, “Lord, if that is really you, tell me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus says, “Come, Peter.”

I love this simple command.

So Peter gets out and walks on the water to Jesus, but then he gets afraid seeing the wind and the waves and starts to sink. He calls out to Jesus to save him. Jesus saves, as we say, and he does save Peter. He says, “Your faith is small. Why did you doubt?”

After they are back in the boat, the wind stops and his followers worship him and say, “You really are the Son of God.”

There are a lot of ways to read this story, and many have become Christian clichés about “stepping out of the boat,” “stepping out in faith,” “walking on water,” “keeping your eyes on Jesus,” etc. It can be used for good or ill (such as encouraging people to take harmful risks or give money they can ill afford to give to already rich televangelists, etc. But I like to keep it fairly simple on this blog. What is the heart of the story to you? For me today, I’m drawn back to the image of Jesus, praying alone in the hills overlooking the lake, then going down to help his friends in the wind-tossed waves. “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid,” he says.  There’s a lot to be afraid of, but we must go out and do good in this world. Do not be afraid.

 

 

The Transfiguration: Luke 9:28-36

Florence -  Transfiguration of the Lord

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You can see all the lectionary readings for The Transfiguration by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday. It’s all about Jesus’s transfiguration—suddenly appearing amazing—glowing brightly and then being joined miraculously by Moses and Elijah—ancient forefathers of the Jewish people.

Jesus climbs a mountain with three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John.  While they were watching, Jesus changed before their eyes.  The Bible says, “His face became bright like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.  Then two men were there, talking with him. They were Moses and Elijah.”

Peter (always quick to speech and action, not always thinking so hard about it first) said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you want, I will put three tents here—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  Peter was ready to worship the three of them right there and then.  But then they heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son. He is the one I have chosen. Obey him.”

In Matthew’s version of this story, Peter James, and John were freaked out at this experience (as one might expect).  They fell to the ground in fear, but Jesus came and touched them and told them not to be afraid.  When they looked up they saw that Jesus was alone and he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen.

In this version it just says that they didn’t tell anyone about it for a long time.

This can be a bit of a confusing lesson; there’s a lot of weird, miraculous stuff happening here, but I won’t overexplain it.  A quote on the Worshiping With Children website (one of my favorites when I was teaching church school) says, “this story is meant to be savored as presented rather than to be explained.”  I like that and it seems like good advice.  What you mainly need to know is that Moses and Elijah are ancient fathers of the Jewish people.  Maybe it would be like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln suddenly appearing in front of you (well, that’s not a 100% perfect comparison, but it might help). Just imagine! Your teacher, whom you revere but do not yet fully understand, is not only glowing, but is joined by ancient wise fathers of your people. It would be both beautiful and terrifying.

Dwell on that image today and dwell on the awesomeness of God. Meditate upon the mystery.

Proper 12, Year A: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52: Mustard Seed

Sermon on the Mount Stained Glass

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 12, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus continues with parables about the Kingdom of God.  Interesting, as a child growing up in the evangelical church, when I heard God’s Kingdom, I thought it was talking about heaven, but that’s not really what he’s talking about if you actually read it.

Here are all the things Jesus says God’s Kingdom is like in this reading:

  1. Mustard seed–starts small, grows into something huge)
  2. Yeast–little bit of yeast makes all the dough rise
  3. Hidden treasure in a field–worth selling everything else to gain it
  4. Fine pearls–again, worth selling everything to gain it
  5. Fishing net–catches so many people, good and bad–good gathered up and evil to be thrown into the fire

That’s a lot to unpack. The kingdom of God starts out as something tiny but grows into something huge and worth everything else in life. And it will gather up both good and bad people and throw out the bad.

I like this part:

Then Jesus asked his followers, “Do you understand all these things?”

They said, “Yes, we understand.”

Matthew 13:51 – Easy-to-Read Version

Do they really understand? Do we?

Finally Jesus says that teachers of the law who have learned about the Kingdom of God now has new things to teach. It’s like he has new and old things in his house and he “brings out the new with the old.” There is value in both the new teaching of Jesus and the old teaching of the law.

Who are you in the Kingdom of God? Are you helping the mustard seed to grow into something amazing? Are you spreading the love of Christ? Or are you doing evil? Go into the world and do good today.

Proper 11, Year A: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43: Weeds in the Field

Man holding open Bible in a wheat field

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 11, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

This week we study another parable Jesus told his followers. It’s a challenging one for a modern reader. In this parable, Jesus talks about God’s kingdom being like a man planting wheat seeds (somewhat like the last parable we studied).  While the man sleeps, his enemy comes and plants weeds among the wheat–pretty nasty thing to do. So the weeds and wheat end up growing together in the field. His servants ask if they should pull up the weeds but he says not to, because they might pull up the wheat as well. He says they should leave them until the harvest and then separate the weeds to be burned.

This time, Jesus does not tell all the people he’s teaching the meaning when he’s done. However some of his followers came and asked him to explain it.

I’m going to quote this explanation in full here:

He answered, “The man who planted the good seed in the field is the Son of Man. The field is the world. The good seed are the people in God’s kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the Evil One. And the enemy who planted the bad seed is the devil. The harvest is the end of time. And the workers who gather are God’s angels.

“The weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire. It will be the same at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will find the people who cause sin and all those who do evil. The angels will take those people out of his kingdom. They will throw them into the place of fire. There the people will be crying and grinding their teeth with pain.Then the godly people will shine like the sun. They will be in the kingdom of their Father. You people who hear me, listen!

Matthew 13: 37-43, Easy-to-Read Version

Wow! That is some wild and scary stuff. I think the point to take away for us today is that it’s not our job to judge our fellow human beings (gosh, this is a hard lesson–I can be so judgmental), but that God is the judge in the end. He can sort the wheat from the weeds. He knows the human heart.

I do think it’s o.k. to call out if we see someone proclaiming God’s kingdom in a way that seems inconsistent with the teachings of Christ. But in the end we cannot determine what’s really in their hearts and how God would judge them.

Proper 10, Year A: Matthew 13:1-9,18-23: Parable of the Sower

Christ Sowing Seeds, Stained Glass Window

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 10, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

In today’s lesson, Jesus gets into a boat to speak to a crowd on the shore (because they were really crowding him on land). It’s a cool visual to think of him sitting in a boat speaking to a crowd lining the shore.

Then he spoke to them in parables–parables are just little short stories that teach a bigger spiritual lesson. I think of them as fictions that reveal truth (things can be true without being factual–admittedly hard for me to say as I am obsessed with getting facts right and not spreading false information–I have a whole other blog about that).

Anyway, his story today is one that may be very familiar–about a farmer sowing seed.

Here’s the story (Easy-to-Read Version):

“A farmer went out to sow seed. While he was scattering the seed, some of it fell by the road. The birds came and ate all that seed. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where there was not enough dirt. It grew very fast there, because the soil was not deep. But when the sun rose, it burned the plants. The plants died because they did not have deep roots.Some other seed fell among thorny weeds. The weeds grew and stopped the good plants from growing. But some of the seed fell on good ground. There it grew and made grain. Some plants made 100 times more grain, some 60 times more, and some 30 times more.You people who hear me, listen!”

The great thing about this particular parable is that Jesus goes on to tell his audience the meaning. The seed that fell by the path is like people who do not understand what they’ve learned about the Kingdom of God. The seed that fell on the rocky ground is like people who accept the teaching of the Kingdom but they don’t go any deeper–they follow for a time but then fall away from it. They give it up easily. The seed that fell among the weeds is like people who hear the teaching but let their anxieties and love of money grow up and choke out the growth. Then there’s the seed that fell on good ground–that’s like people who hear and understand. They grow and produce “a good crop, sometimes 100 times more, sometimes 60 times more, and sometimes 30 times more.” 

So what is the good crop they produce? That can be found in studying more of Jesus’ teachings. Here’s one good summation from Jesus himself:

He said, “Teacher, which command in the law is the most important?”

Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.’ All of the law and the writings of the prophets take their meaning from these two commands.”

Matthew 22:36-40 – Easy-to-Read Version

Proper 9, Year A: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30: Rest for the Weary

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Interior of St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic – Source: iStockphoto.com

It took me longer than expected to get back to blogging, so I am a few weeks behind. Only a couple days after my son spent more time than expected in the hospital, I fell and dislocated my elbow pretty badly. I am only this week able to type with both hands again.

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 9, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

In today’s gospel, Jesus responds to comparisons of his ministry to John the Baptist’s ministry. John had been an ascetic, living very simply, subsisting on very little and living like the extremely poor people of the time. Jesus was more celebratory, and was called, “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners”. John was ministering in a time of waiting for the Messiah, and the wait was meant abstaining and preparing. Jesus’ ministry is more celebratory, because he is the fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah.

He goes on to say that God has hidden things from the wise and revealed them to children. I think what he’s talking about here is that many of the learned people in his society rejected his message and him, but that the poor and marginalized people followed him. This was a great part of how Jesus ended up being criminalized by the powers-that-be. He was too influential over masses of people and preaching a dangerous philosophy of the last shall be first and love and hope. The powerful do not want the people under their feet to have that much hope.

Then we have one of Jesus’ most famous and beautiful sayings:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Hope for the hopeless. Rest for the weary. Jesus gives it.