Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mt 9:35-38 What Good News

“Jesus went about all the ‘kingdom’, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.” (v. 35)
...proclaiming the good news of the kingdom
“What’s that mean?”
Slide - ‘far field’
This week, I asked you to consider what is YOUR good news? Whether you’ve thought about it since you read the e-bulletin or only in the last few minutes, 
What is Your Good News? Or What is Good News to YOU?

What was Jesus’ good news?
Some of you have a seminary education - so hold off on the ‘pat’ answers you learned and let’s hear from others. 
What was Jesus’ good news?

Altho a little page flipping will give us the words, the real answer is harder to discern. (page #___ ch 10:7 in pew Bible) 

In just a few more verses, We will hear Jesus tell the disciples to “Go” “& as you go, proclaim this good news, The kingdom of heaven has come near.’
(what do we know about this?) Mt, Heaven=God, Near in JC, why good news? ((How far does God seem from you?))

Let’s gather some evidence for our definition of Good News.
Slide ‘good news clues’
What we observe from our reading and knowledge: Jesus’ good news included both these words of the nearness of God and the actions of ...healing and release/freedom.
We know what Jesus did.

He is almost always surrounded by crowds, unless he has intentionally gone off by himself. Here we are told Jesus’ thoughts and feelings about the people. He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Jesus felt compassion.      

The reference to the psalms reminds us of Jesus’ familiarity with the scripture which I’m sure he memorized in their original language as part of his Hebrew studies. (We often read words from the psalms coming from Jesus. I suspect because they give voice to universal truths and feelings.) 

Sheep are not a familiar image for most of us, yet we have learned to be comforted by the words, ‘the Lord is my shepherd’.
Sheep/Shepherd images are used in many places in the old and new testaments. Most of the time, it is when God’s people are vulnerable. “When they are leaderless and subject to manipulation and attack.”
 I read, In Matthew’s gospel, crowds are described as sheep to indicate the “plight of the crowds. They are in danger of being misled by their leaders.”

Jesus feared that people would be misled by leadership.  

subtotal: Good news then encompasses what? 
Words, deeds, compassion, leadership

The other agricultural reference is of harvest, something we talk about at Thanksgiving when the celebration of bounty occurs. Do we have any farmers here? Who could tell us the other feelings that come with a field ripe for harvest?

Ripe fields and high stress go together. Sure there is joy at the bounty, but before the crop is safely in the barn or corn crib, there is a great urgency. Time is of the essence. The crop needs to be harvested because it is vulnerable to storm or insects. ‘Get all the laborers here now and let’s work round the clock until it is in.’
Therefore “harvest” is also used biblically to indicate the eschatological judgement - end of all time judgment. 
Jesus felt urgency and sensed that time was short.     

How is our list? What is GOOD NEWS? 
Is it descriptive of Jesus’? Could we say, Jesus is THE good news? And in Jesus we hear of God’s love, see actions of compassion, feel the urgency to be with him.

What did Jesus tell the disciples to do?
“Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
A worthy prayer. We can pray that prayer, can’t we?
But it’s time to turn the page.

Let’s see what Jesus said and did next:
...called 12 and gave authority
...sent the 12 out.

Is this a case of be careful what you pray for? 
Or you are the answer to your prayers?

I believe these short verses invite us into the thinking and mission of Jesus. This deep look a such a short transition between sections of Matthew takes us back 2 centuries AND forward into our future.

Two of my favorite commentators point out that [this mission] “is not voluntary ‘do-goodism’ but a [commissioned work]. The 12 are “chosen, authorized, and sent by God thru Christ” to offer words and deeds of Good News.
 And the 12 include common laborers, elite government workers, Israelie zealots, and Roman collaborators, along with 1 who will betray Jesus.
... Truly ALL are welcome here...

When we glimpse the ‘mind of Christ’ as our brethren forebearers would say, we can learn to understand the importance and urgency of this work that is mean for ALL who follow Jesus.

And we are given fuel for our labor by the inspiration of this table we visit. The bread and cup remind us of Jesus’ passion, how passionate he was for people. AND how urgently he felt their/OUR need.

Who is commissioned for this work?     YOU ARE; baptism is the commissioning of all ministers. 
Are we sent?
The next Chapter (10) of the disciples’ short mission is a preview for the great sending, aka the Great Commission, we heard on Unity Sunday. Go, Make Disciples, Baptize, Teach..
When we really understand both Jesus’ compassion AND his sense of urgency for people,
When we look at the crowds in our lives, people in danger of being misled (can you think of a few?),

When we hear the words of sending, “Go, Baptize, Teach, Make Disciples”
 And taste the elements of remembrance,

- Can you not feel the TAP on your shoulder
-- Hear the whisper or SHOUT in your ear
--- And know the ‘GO’ is meant for you?

 1 Charles Cousar Texts for Preaching Yr. A (Louis:WJK,1995)369
2. 2 Boring and Craddock People’s N T Commentary (Louis:WJK,2004)45
3 ibid Boring and Craddock, 45

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Only the Prophetic Word

Ezekiel 37:1-27 and Acts 2:1-12, 13-24 “Strange Stories and Partying” 6.8.14 ACOB Pentecost

This story of Ezekiel’s experience or vision fits right into our previous discussion of uncomfortable situations. Remember in the Acts story, the disciples were accused of being drunk they were so wild with the spirit?
Even giving these wild stories a little context may not help but here is, a reminder of Hebrew history during Ezekiel’s time.
Ezekiel’s Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones (Ez. 37:1-14)

“Ezekiel was a captive with the rest of his people in Babylon. Israel and Judah (once 2 kingdoms) have both been completely destroyed” by this time. 
“The northern Israelite kingdom, which had been called Israel, was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC (you can find that story in 2 Kings 17). The southern Israelite kingdom, called Judah, was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC (the famous dates associated with the destruction of the temple) including the elaborate, beautiful temple that Solomon built.
At this historic date of 586 BC, many of Judah’s leaders and people were exiled (also in 2 Kings ch.25). It is not until the Persians conquer the Babylonians that the exiles are allowed to return.” Ezekiel writes from captivity/exile.

It is this period of exile that inspires so many of the OT writings. It was a spiritual, social, cultural crisis for the whole Hebrew nation. Basic questions of faith permeated every thought.
  • If God’s house, the Temple is gone, where is God?
  • Can and Does God still exist?
  • If so, how do we worship without a place, a home for God?
  • If God’s vision to Moses’ was a homeland, (Israel) what does that mean for God’s people now? 
It’s a complex time of crisis, fear, and uncertainty. 
Into this mess, God send messages of hope. These messages, usually in the form of visions to prophets like Ezekiel, or thru dreams, promise that God will once again purify Israel and return God’s people to the land. (In this time, God and the land of Israel are intimately tied together.) If you are an OT scholar I am mutilating the history with these brief explanations and I apologize.

Ezekiel’s vision contains difficult images. We may find it hard to imagine bones coming together seemingly by themselves, forming skeletons, then watching as they are covered in flesh, muscle by muscle and limb by limb. But in a time when death, dead bodies, bones were the ultimate impurity, the horror of a holy message with dead bones was even more striking. 

I stop here to say that we can’t jump too quickly to the promise and the hope of this vision. Sure there is good news here - this vision is a promise of life. It refers to the future of Israel when God’s people will be returned to their land and ‘given life’ again.
Yet the truth is most of the people who hear Ezekiel’s ‘wild story’ won’t live to see the rescue
In other words, The good news is for the future, but not MY future. Can we find hope in a future we won’t see? 
How do we hear such a strange story?

Before I tell you what I think. You’ve been sitting with the somewhat strange experience of last week and of the Pentecost story we heard earlier, What do you think? How DO we hear such stories?

We might look at these wild stories and consider CONTEXT, what had happened to life in Israel and Judah?  That kind of historic consideration will take far longer than the brief minutes we have today. Read the Old Testament and you’ll get the general prophetic take on their history...

Instead, let us look at the source of Our discomfort with these wild stories. 
I think we tend to discount them, sometimes by racing forward to the good news which leaves us with a happier ending. 
Or we just ignore them in search of a more ‘practical application’ of the Bible.

Walter Brueggmann is A or maybe THE great Old Testament scholar. He wrote a book entitled the Prophetic Imagination in which he speaks to this discomfort.

He explains how Israel got to a place where an ending was necessary. But rather than tell you about all of history, I want you to listen to a few of his comments. I’ll let you decide to what era they refer.
He begins his scholarly look by describing a society that is uncomfortable with wild stories and spirit-filled visions. Perhaps because the people no longer see the radical vision of God that was their foundation.
Listen carefully, I want to know what comes to your mind.
He writes, This is a people who 
  • “have a fascination with wisdom which . . [tries] to rationalize reality, or to package it in manageable portions.” (p.31)
The culture of such a people is characterized by
  • Incredible well-being and affluence
  • An oppressive social policy that allows some to live well of the efforts of others and
  • That has the ‘theological sanction’ of an established (or well controlled) religion.” (35) [As if ‘God is on OUR side’] . . .
These people are “fed by a management mentality which believes there are no mysteries to honor, and only problems to be solved.”
The real religion of these people is “an official religion of optimism, which believes ‘God has no business other than to maintain our standard of living.’”
And all this allows for the “annulment,” he says, “of the neighbor as a life-giver, because the people believe they can live OUTSIDE of history as self-made men and women.” (43)

Do you hear the ancient people of King Solomon’s day? Or a time more recent?

He concludes the description by saying, “ONLY the prophetic word is mobilized against this compelling reality.”(43)

. . . (a difficult task for prophets, wouldn’t you say?)
Bruggemann writes that “God’s prophets didn’t ask if God’s message (which usually promises a new freedom) was realistic, politically practicable or economically viable.”
They embrace God’s call and their own fear - and they act.

On June 7 in 1893, the twentieth century’s most famous non-violent revolutionary, Mohandas Gandhi, committed his first act of civil disobedience when the then 24-year-old Indian lawyer was forcibly ejected from a train in a Railway Station in South Africa’s (Pietermaritzburg). He Refused to move to a third-class carriage while holding a valid ticket for the whites-only first-class compartment, so the great future leader was pushed off the train in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter, his luggage hastily thrown after him. The incident would change the course of his life – and that of millions of others. Gandhi later recalled:
I was afraid for my very life. I entered the dark waiting-room. There was a white man in the room. I was afraid of him. What was my duty? I asked myself. Should I go back to India, or should I go forward with God as my helper, and face whatever was in store for me? I decided to stay and suffer. My active non-violence began from that date.
“ONLY the prophetic word is mobilized against the compelling reality.”(43)
And what miraculous and WILD things can happen when one person embraces the prophetic call!

It’s up to you to finish today’s message in the week ahead. 
Because I want Brueggmann’s words to sit with us. I ask that we all re-read these two stories this week.
They are both wild stories of great wind (another word for SPIRIT) and even flames. These are events more uncomfortable than loud praying in church. 

Think about how you feel as you read these stories and why.
I keep asking myself, With WHAT am I uncomfortable when I read the WILD Stories of the Bible?

Might we take the step of embracing our discomfort? Of going into places that scare us? And doing things that are NOT approved of by the ‘powers that be’?

Dare we speak (& act) the prophetic word of God’s justice? Even when it’s wildness isn’t practical?   . . .

I’m convicted by these words of Brueggmann that I’ll leave with you.

He says, “We need to ask not whether [God’s work] is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable. !

We need to ask if our consciousness and imagination have been so assaulted and co-opted . . That we have been robbed of the courage or power to think an alternative thought.” (44) “or propose an alternative future.” (45)

Can we imagine an alternative world that is impossible? . .
Are we ready for God’s Spirit to BLOW new life into our bones?
1 Jon W. Quinn Oh ‘Dem Bones!’ Expository Files 2.9, Sept. 1996 
2 Brief History of the Holy Land
 Walter Brueggmann The Prophetic Imagination (Nashville:Fortress,1978)

Saturday, June 7, 2014


One of three messages shared at Unity Sunday, June 1 at Arlington Church of the Brethren. One from each of the three pastors of the three congregations who worship in that building. Three languages, three styles, three theologies and we are all ONE! Somos Uno en Christo.

Matthew 28:16-20 - Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. Jesus came near and spoke to them, “ I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”

In this scripture, Jesus is giving his followers some last words of wisdom, encouragement, and a task for the days ahead without him. Jesus is going UP, and His followers have certainly had their ups and downs in the last 33 days from this part of Jesus' story, haven't they?

What all has happened to them? You know the story.
Arrest and Crucifixion
Fear and running away
then Surprise, resurrection, (in spite of Jesus' many predictions, they were all surprised!)
Appearances - different ones reported in each gospel.
(In Matthew, we don't have stories past the resurrection. Only that Jesus told the women to whom he appeared to tell the men that he would meet them in Galilee.) 

What a lot of ups and downs.
But that is life isn't it? Our lives are full of ups and downs.

I visited a friend last week who I've known for 40 years. She recently completed  2-year training and received an international certification in her industry. It was quite a high, an UP we would say. .
. . . 
4 days later she got laid off. A real down!
Do you know the feeling? - have you had this kind of roller coaster ride?

It has left her wondering what to do next. Retire early? Find a new job, begin again?

I'll guess that the disciples felt some of these feelings. We know from other gospel accounts that some returned to their fishing after the crucifixion, if only to get away out on the water for a bit and do something.. And some found Jesus alongside the Sea.

But now he has left for good, ascended and promised them the Holy Spirit
And he gave them a mission  for the rest of their lives. 

It's hard to compare their lives to our lives yet this mission is one we are given too. This simple message is to be OUR mission for life.

How to you react to such a call on our lives?

I guess the disciples could have said, "Not yet Jesus, it's too soon. I've got to process all this. or after all this emotional toll, I need a vacation to de-stress" or "I've neglected my business for too long, I need to get back to make a living." WHAT ELSE MIGHT THEY HAVE SAID?

Maybe they did for all we know, but the story of the church says they came around, many managed to continue to fish and take care of their families as they built house churches that grew into Christ's church in their localities and beyond. Thanks to them and this mission, we are here today.

And now it's our mission. What comes next is up to us. 
How can we use any excuse to delay working on this mission?

We need to hear these words today, as if Jesus appeared to us in this place because he does. This IS  where we find it easiest to experience his presence.

Go, he says, don't stay in here, THIS is not your focus, out there is. GO
Go and 
MAKE disciples - OTHERS are our focus; we help, give assistance, and as we serve others, we share the good news

Go and make disciples OF ALL NATIONS - not just our own families, but friends, strangers, those we serve, those we love, those who need to hear good news in the midst of their own ups and downs of life.

Go and make disciples of all nations BAPTIZING - it's not enough just to befriend people, we must invite them to join in the circle of Christ's community. This place, this church, isn't ours to keep, it's ours to give away. We do that by inviting others to join, be baptized, make a commitment to Christ, not just drop into a church service from time to time, but truly make this the center and purpose of your life.

Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the NAME OF THE FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT. - Join the Mission that reaches beyond Christ's life on earth to all human history and God's saving action among God's children. Help them see we are all in this together, just as God's children have been from the days God saved the Jewish slaves in Egypt until Jesus expanded the mission beyond the Jewish disciples to all nations. We are one in spirit and we are to be one in the body.

Teach them to obey - help them make a commitment and teach each other the way, the JESUS WAY to live.

And look, 'I am with you always, to the close of the age.' He says.
Know that when you walk the Jesus way -with the Holy One, Jesus himself, -you never walk alone. We never do this great mission alone.

So can you tell that back to me? what is it we are to do?
... "GO, Make Disciples, Baptize, Teach, 
(and who is with us on this mission?)
(for how long?)