Today's reading: Matthew 7:24-28
Children can follow along in Shine On page 202 and Spark page 282.
This is a short passage that I grew up singing in church about a wise man that built his house upon a rock, and a foolish man that build his house upon the sand. It's a very concrete image for our children, and yet explains the value of Jesus to adults quite well. I know of people who have anchored their life in faith and a faith community, realizing that life is best when it's shared. So much of the gospel of Jesus is about a shared life - economics, status, power, love, work, food, talents - everything is to be shared. More so, when you do share you realize that the best security in life is investing in the people around you. Family is one version, but so is your neighborhood and faith community. When tragedy strikes, you never have to go through it alone. When it's time to celebrate, you always have someone to celebrate with.
When we invest our time and life in faith communities, the foundation of our life is strong. If you do not invest in the relationships and people near you, the foundation of your life is vulnerable to the whims of life's storms. Let us follow this Jesus together, and build our life's together so that we can weather life's storms a bit more intact.
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 5:1-12 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?
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 1:23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," with is translated "God with us."
Children can follow along in Shine On page 162 and Spark page 196.
During Lent we will be going through 40 Jesus stories from Matthew, starting today. Each day will include a verse and a story in the Childrens Bible. Today we begin with the story of Joseph being visited by an Angel. While the mention of angels is not very familiar in our daily life (let alone for Joseph's daily life), I would propose that it is not the most shocking part of this story. Even the mention of a virgin being with child is not the most shocking part. More deeply shocking, and sometimes taken for granted, is the notion that God is with us. Jesus' birth is not a magical moment as much as the epicenter of our faith.
Sometimes we get distracted - especially with all the amazing acts that Jesus does in Matthew and the other 3 gospels in our Bible. Yet at the center of it all is not how great Jesus was, but how near and present God is. God is not up on Mount Olympus or Long's Peak, or even Pike's Peak. God is not up in some heaven light years away. God is somewhere where we are not. God is wherever we are. God is with us. What better name to give Jesus, who embodies and lived the vision of God's Kingdom (God's nation and God's people)? Immanuel - God with us. This might be the hardest part of Jesus to live and be - to connect with God in every moment in every day. Do you and I truly believe that God is with us?
Events & Evites:
Tory - Pastor of Children and Youth Faith Formation.