Matthew 5:38-48 Children can follow in Shine On page 196 and Spark page 274.
This is the continuation of the passage from yesterday (as in the are the same teaching and meant to be read as one segment). The heart of the matter is God still calling us to a deeper law then the laws of the land. The laws of the land start to break down when they allow one group of people to rise above another and start to oppress and control another group. In God's world (which this is) we are all equal. Not that we all have the same gifts, but that we are all equally valued and important regardless of what our abilities are. I like to point out how the New England Patriots might value Tom Brady as their quarterback and leader on the field. However, if it wasn't for their kicker (anyone know his name?), they would have lost three additional games this season, let alone been in a tie with the Seahawks at the end of the Superbowl! Everyone has value, and even leaders need every single person who follows them.
Furthermore, in this passage, when the Jewish followers are listening to Jesus, they are picturing their enemies - the Romans - who are occupying them. Strangely enough, the Romans rely on Jews in order to be powerful. The Romans cannot envision their self worth without putting others down (in massively violent ways). Jesus is asking us to be something different. He asks us to keep engaging those who are bullying us, and to love those we fear and hate. We are to keep relating to those we'd rather ignore, leave, hurt or kill. We are to work towards a better relationship with our enemies. Again, everyone has value in this world. Rome needs all the "lowly" peasants (football teams need every player) and the Jews need Romans (whom they hate). There's a great scene in "Life of Brian" where the Jews start to wonder what the Romans have done for them. I leave it for you as a bit of humor this snowy Saturday start to the weekend.
Peace be with you (and your enemies),
Matthew 5:21-37 Children can follow along in Spark page 272.
This section of the sermon on the mount is a list of "You have heard it said _____, but I say to you ____." Jesus is making it clear that the standards of Jewish (religious) law are simply not enough. He teaches about murder, marriage and swearing (an oath). Instead of keeping the old standards, Jesus digs a bit deeper to their root causes. Murder is obviously unacceptable, but what about all the disagreements that lead up to a murder? Divorce is not desired, but what about the changes in desire that lead to divorce? Swearing oaths is supposed to solidify our word, but why not simply be honest, trustworthy and reliable all the time with or words and promises? This reminds me of the law today in our lives.
Immigration standards are one thing, but what about loving everyone, no matter what? You have heard it said that you should be a good citizen, but I say that the only citizenship that matters is being a citizen of God's kingdom/nation. So treat everyone as a citizen of God's land.
Taxes and financial law matter, but what about making sure everyone has enough? You have heard it said that you should make as much money as you can legally, but I say to make sure everyone has enough to live by.
The examples could keep on going. What in your life have you made a higher standard that represents your core values? It is an ancient Christian and Anabaptist spiritual practice to make Jesus our standard and God our judge and love our deepest value. May love guide you more than the law. May compassion guide you more than the constitution. May Christ mediate your community, and not the courts.
Matthew 5:13-20 (Children can follow along in Shine On 260 and Spark 268):
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
The Law and the Prophets
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
This passage is one of the iconic readings for Anabaptists who often talk today about creating "contrast communities", gatherings of people whose lives truly seem different, communities that have an "x" factor in the presence of which people may say "There is something strangely wonderful here." Or even to live out what Tertullian said people would exclaim about early Christian community: "See how they love each other." That is salt. That is light. That is the fulfillment of any law.
Matthew 5:1-12 Children can follow along is Shine One page 164 and Spark 264.
"Blessed are the..."
Known as the Beatitutudes, this passage starts the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). It is the simplest, straight forward reminder that the blessed are not the rich, powerful, happy, popular, healthy, full, satisfied, violent or selfish. The blessed are those often criticized and looked down upon by society. The blessed are those seeking after God. The blessed are those dealing with the tragedies in life of death, hunger, violence and judgement.
For Anabaptists, the sermon on the mount and the Beatitudes have been a source of persecution. Since the beginning of the Anabaptist movement and stream of Christianity, most have insisted that God and Jesus intend for us to live and embody the Beatitudes. They are realistic, life-giving, and simply a better version of the 10 Commandments from Moses in the Old Testament. Many other Christian groups have disagreed and looked upon Anabaptists with disapproval. We'll continue the Sermon on the Mount for a few more days this week. Is it still our primary vision of God's nation/kingdom/ways? Is Jesus' teaching still the center of our faith and life?
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Have you ever wondered if there were any scribes or Pharisees in the crowd that day? Jesus is certainly not mincing words when he is calling them out as unfit leaders in their communities.
One of the main characteristics that millennials are looking for in leaders is authenticity. Is the teacher, parent, boss, or pastor real and genuine? Are we living the way we are talking? If we say we care about the environment, what are we doing to help make a difference? It does not take long to identify a fake. What can you do to live your most authentic self today as a Jesus follower?
Matthew 4:12-23, Children can follow along in Shine page 184 or Spark page 258
18 As [Jesus] walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—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.
Jesus is still quite new as a teacher and preacher. In fact, his cousin John was just arrested for being a preacher. Jesus is sad and lonely. His first action was to move to and set up a new home in a new town. I guess he felt a need for a new start. He then made friends. First it was the brothers Peter and Andrew, then brothers James and John. He said to them, "Follow Me." Soon he had a small group of friends who surrounded him. They became his community of support. These new friends followed Jesus as he began to teaching, preaching and caring for the sick and those with diseases.
Jesus' invitation is also for us to "follow him." As Mennonites, we take this invitation seriously. Notice who Jesus invited to be his friends. Not all of them were popular. In fact, disciples like Matthew (the one who wrote this text) was a tax collector. Tax collectors were one of the most hated groups of people and certainly not trusted by the general population. Jesus also spent time caring for the sick and those with diseases. We can find ways to reach out and care for others when they are sick. Sending cards or a text message lets others know we are thinking of them. Following Jesus' ways can be both challenging and truly rewarding.
Matthew 4:1-11, Children can follow along on page 180 in Shine On and 248 in Spark.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you”,
and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.” ’
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
The devil comes to Jesus with the implicit threats of irrelevance, invisibility, and loss of ability. Make yourself beloved with bread. Be seen with tower tricks! Lead all nations. But Jesus is here for the love, which is what he must remember and learn here in the wilderness, and carry it in his heart all the way to Jerusalem and the hard death to follow. And then the secret of Easter: love is the heart of the universe, not domination, and not death, but love. So what he establishes in the wilderness remains and prevails. So good.
Matthew 3:13-17 Children can follow on page 178 in Shine On and page 242 in Spark.
Verse 16 - "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."
This season as we consider "Behaving" after our Epiphany season of "Belonging," we also invite people to be baptized. Although Baptism has too often been linked directly to entry into heaven, for many Anabaptists it has signaled life with Jesus. In this passage, John tries to switch the roles, and be baptized by Jesus. However, Jesus makes it clear that to keep living in right ways, everyone should be baptized. What has often been misinterpreted is that Baptism is needed to be part of a special group. In fact, the primary explanation in this passage is to signal that you are living in right ways. To be part of God's people and to experience heaven you do not need baptism as much as you simply need to focus on living in right ways. The focus of baptism is a sign that you are giving up selfishness and giving up the need to be more important than others. You give up living a life that focuses on greed, fear, violence and hate.
This season that pastoral team invite everyone who has not been baptized to be baptized on Easter Sunday, our annual tradition. This will serve as a sign that you are aware of God in your life, and that you will continue living after the ways of Jesus. It also clearly signals that you value this church community, and that you commit to investing in it with your time and gifts. Too many people in America are tired of institutional churches that feel bossy and exclusive. Let us be a people and a place that embody love and relationships. Let us baptize each other as John baptized Jesus, and let us keep remembering our baptism of hope, peace and making the world a better place.
Children can follow along in Shine On page 172 and Spark 224.
"Out of Egypt I have called my son."
This story is one of the darker ones in the Bible. It is almost a second telling of the story in Exodus when Pharaoh feels threatened by the Hebrews and decides to kill all the young boys. In this story Herod feels threatened by the news of a new king, so he kills all the baby boys in Bethlehem. Being a smaller town back then, this probably was about 20-30 children. This seems so awful nowadays, and it really is! However, are things any different today? Recently fearful people have been killing each other in the US, let alone in different parts of the world. We single out a group that is different because of ethnicity and/or religious identity and are willing to kill. For centuries wealthy elite have used young men to fight their wars, and enslaved young children to work and make the world's goods. Simply put, this is not a new story.
Is Jesus a new story? If nothing else, he follows a deep stream in Judaism that started epically with Moses saving the Hebrews from Egypt. Moses and Jesus both saved the slaves from tangible oppression and depression. While Moses took the people away from Egypt to a new land, Jesus taught the people a new kingdom to live by. Jesus was not interested in overthrowing Rome with swords and shields. But he was very interested of stripping Rome and the Jewish elite of their power to dominate life. Even if the powerful had the swords, money, and religious authority, in the end they did not own life. They were no closer to God and righteousness and peace than anyone else. Thank goodness Herod failed to take the life of this child.
Matthew 2:1-12 (Children can follow along in Shine On page 170 and Spark page 218)
Matthew tells us not about kings but rather "wise men." And there weren't three (this tradition got its start because there were three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh). This story is a strange and lovely tale of mysterious travelers from the east (so not local - outsiders!) making a great journey. And stranger still, their journey is compelled by their reading of the stars. These wise men are not midwestern, 21st century church-goers. They are "the world" recognizing the heart-truth of Jesus. This birthing of peace on earth is not owned in one quarter or another. It is something that extends to "the east" and can even be read in the "stars." In 21st century terms, we might say it is an "intergalactic" visitation, and a witness to a truth for all galaxies and star systems - peace is being born, and all people and all creation bear witness and rejoice.
Events & Evites:
Tory - Pastor of Children and Youth Faith Formation.