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.