Saturday, January 28, 2017

MT 5:21-37
Matthew in the Margins…6th S. after the Epiphany…Revised 2017 

We’re still on Jesus’ ‘sermon on the mount’. Actually a bringing - together the heart of Jesus’ teaching throughout His ministry as a new Moses. Jesus, as ever, assumes His hearers know what it is from the past He’s building on. Might we sometimes assume too much knowledge of, either Testament, by our hearers? Jesus moves on from the ‘letter of the Law’ as it had been passed down & interprets it anew. Much as one of our jobs as preachers is interpreting how all this applies (or, in some cases, may not, or does not!) today.

At the heart of today’s passage is Jesus’ awareness of the damage done to everyone involved when relationships - family/neighbourly/ community/world - are broken. In Jesus’ new community, what we know as ‘Church’, we’re all family, & suffer, become victims, when relations are broken. Violence of every kind breaks out & keeps on feeding on itself, increasingly damaging or destroying people. None of this can be solved by enacting tougher & tougher laws. All that does is fill more & more gaols. Jesus is offering us a different kind of law here. A different approach to law. Applying a new perspective to an ‘old’ Law, following in the steps of the Prophets to interpret it in a new light for a new day. Is Jesus implying, as well, that YHWH’s honour is at stake, as head of the world family, not simply the  Church, when any member of that family brings dishonour on it in any way?

In an age where ‘data-bases’ have become so vital, perhaps we can see this as Jesus giving us an alternative, very person-to-person, ‘data-base’ to build relations on.

There are many issues here we need to interpret according to where we are in our Church & where our Church is in our world. Someone (Bonhoeffer, maybe?) summarised what’s at stake in all this as: Jesus was crucified so we don’t have to crucify each other.  That’s powerful imagery interpreting a powerful reality! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

MATTHEW 5: 13 -20 
Matthew in the Margins…5th S. after the Epiphany…Revised 2017 

Awhile back we were introduced to salt with real ‘zing’ in it. Mined from ancient Oz salt deposits. It’s the salt we go for now. All the time! Today Jesus isn’t focussed on us eating salt. He’s on about us becoming salt! Salt that zings with God & for God. In the O.T. there are references to salt as a sign of covenant with God.1 Apart from anything else He means here, Jesus is saying we’re to bring out the flavour of what He stands for as a sign of our being faithful to the ancient covenants. 

William Barclay2 refers to a practice in some synagogues that apostates wanting to be received back into the fold had to lie across the doorway of the meeting place, & that some early churches took that idea on board! The point of course being that salt that's lost its ‘saltness’ is fit only for trampling. (Maybe we could sneak 'A Form for the Stomping of Penitents' into the next Prayer Book?) Seriously, avoid such a fate by zinging with God & keeping covenant!

In Jesus’ day dark was dark & light was light & never the twain would meet. The sharpness of this contrast lies behind all the dark / light imagery in the Gospels. There's no mistaking Christians who're lit with God from within; nor Christians who don’t zing with God! Jesus challenges half-heartedness for what it is: a failure to bring out the flavour of God in life, & a failure to keep covenant by being lit from within by God's Glory. Jesus, the most ‘God-filled’ Person ever, knows what He’s talking about!

Those who see keeping the Faith as a set of rules to be obeyed (or else!) often take refuge in what follows. At first glance Jesus appears to be taking a hard-line approach, but think it through. If the Law is the expression of the Will of the God of Love, then its fulfilment, right down to the last jot & tittle, will also be an expression of that Love. Human nature often seems to find it easier to lay down the Law (often for someone else!) than to Love.  Yet Jesus calls on us to become God’s kind of Zing in a world that’s lost its taste for God, & God’s kind of Light in a world growing darker & darker for many. 

It is often said that God's wrath is God's love seen from the wrong side. In which case let’s keep on the right side of God & discover, maybe to our surprise & delight, that we’re in God’s Kingdom of Heaven already, here on earth. An alternative way of looking at this issue might be that no matter how often we flip ‘the God coin’ it will always come down with a loving God facing us. Because it’s a double header!

1 e.g. LEV 2:13   Daily Bible Readings ad loc., Church of Scotland, undated, p.117

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Matthew 5: 1-12
Matthew in the Margins…4th S. after the Epiphany…Revised 2017  

(Do read LK’s account of the ‘sermon’ in conjunction with MT’s when preparing.) William Barclay’s comment ad loc., ‘the beatitudes are not pious hopes of what shall be, but congratulations on what is’, still goes to the heart of the matter. It reflects Jesus’ consistent teaching that the Kingdom of God (‘Heaven’ in MT), is now on earth, ‘as it is in Heaven’! Some would go so far as to say, “It’s now or never”! God certainly rules right right now among those singled out by Jesus as ‘blessed’. Barclay gives another insight for our preaching when he sums up these Beatitudes as, ‘Jesus’ teaching distilled’. However we approach this passage, reflecting that the Beatitudes are ‘now’ as well as ‘then’ things will serve us & our hearers well. Why not explore questions like: 

Do we need to unveil our hearts as well as our eyes to today’s blowing-out numbers of those poor in either or both senses before we can join their ranks as blessed through showing compassion on them? (Mind you, I prefer LK’s harder, simply, ‘poor’.)

Maybe we need to become mourners not just at physical deaths, but the death of values that God in Jesus represents? Does the ‘closure’ many seek after a physical death actually exist? What about after ‘spiritual’ death among the physically living?

Regarding the ‘gentleness’ Jesus speaks of & congratulates the ‘gentle’ on, how can we make the earth more worth ‘inheriting’? 

Are we hungry enough to do what’s right in God’s eyes & not simply mourn the lack of right(eous)ness? (Note LK’s alternative form, also Thomas 54 & 69:2.) Could the old, discredited term, ‘God of the Gaps’ take on a new lease of life by our filling gaps, including stomachs? 

What do we need to do to go beyond mere pity to mercy & compassion?

How do we recognise a heart that’s ‘cleansed’ today? Is ‘cleansed’ a term that come to mind about anyone round us, churched or not? Are we ourselves cleansed in heart & able to see God clearly enough to preach about Him?

Can we break the cycle of talking, talking, always talking about peace by actually making it happen?

Let’s make ourselves worth persecuting & reviling by standing for God as revealed in Jesus!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

MATTHEW 4: 12-25 
Matthew in the Margins…3rd Sunday after the Epiphany…Revised 2017

The Baptiser is called to announce the Christ. Jesus, the Christ, the Anointed, is called to live out God in our midst. He then calls others to live out the God they see in Him. He begins with Peter & Andrew, James & John, & hasn’t stopped calling others in all the years between their stories & ours. Are we answering that call in our own personal & community living? Can others see God in us? 
Jesus travels to Galilee, probably to to buy time to discern the implications of John’s arrest for His ministry. In Galilee, all He’s learned during His trials in the wilderness are being put to the test again. Galilee isn't the quiet place many of us seek when we have big decisions to make! Galilee is marginal! A hot-bed of resentment & resistance towards centralism of all kinds & the pitfalls that go with that. Jesus is as comfortable in life’s margins & among marginal people, as in institutions, sacred or secular! Are there margins we need to get out into for God?

Taking God seriously means holding God's Rule (‘Kingdom’) & human rule of every ilk in a constructive & creative tension. The Baptiser, Jesus, these first four followers, & those who come after, then or now, ‘get’ God’s Rule. Not always immediately. The starting place may be something like genuinely ‘wanting in’. Do we want to live & breathe God? Do we want to be moved to do so & act accordingly? The Baptiser opts in from a background of desert self-denial; Simon & Andrew, from casting nets; James & John, from mending them. Are Zebedee, & his wife, & other parents of those called enabled to opt in to God’s Rule by letting go & letting God? It's a big ask for anyone to leave their ‘desert’, their ‘boats’, ‘nets’, family, daily bread. But Jesus becomes Bread of Life, Living water, too, for those who will follow. 

Following, Proclaiming, Teaching,  Healing, etc., all need to happen out in life’s margins as well as inside church. Church is called to play an important role in setting the scene, but many ‘God things’ usually happen out-side the protective walls of sacred space. Compare the ways Jesus & John operate. You have to move outside your comfort zone & go outside to John. Jesus on the other hand makes home visits to call us beyond our comfort zones. More, where John seems to major in sin, repentance, & punishment, (but n.b. LK3: 10-15), Jesus delivers compassion, acceptance, & healing (restoration) in Person.

Word of Jesus spreads person to person! No internet! No Face-book or Twitter! There’s no substitute for person to person spreading of the Gospel. Jesus never just talks up good news; He is good news! In Person! In you & me! When we opt in!

What - or whom - may God be calling us to move on from today? Boats we're going down in? Nets we're tangling in? People or situations that can’t or won't free us to move on in God & for God’s Rule? Even when it means venturing outside our comfort zones.