Tuesday, June 27, 2017

MATTHEW 10 : 40-42 
Matthew in the Margins…4th S. after Pentecost…Revised 2017

One of the shortest of all set Gospel passages, but let’s not dismiss it too quickly. When Jesus talks about welcoming, accepting, receiving, depending on the version we use, they’re all positive actions. Jesus is a very positive human being! ‘MT’ uses two different words to report Jesus. The first means welcoming in the senses of taking into one’s arms, receiving someone or something as a gift, taking them into one’s home; that kind of thing. The other speaks more of taking responsibility for someone or something. (In v. 38 it’s used of taking up the cross!) Put them together & what have we got? Much more than old ‘bibbiti, bobbiti, boo’!

Jesus firstly seems to mean receiving Him & thus embracing discipleship gladly & joyfully as a gift from God’s own Self. Baptism comes in somewhere here. Signifying in an outward & visible way the principle of welcoming by God & each other within His fellowship. As we discern, exercise, &, that word again, welcome, God-given gifts among each other. Some of these gifts mentioned are prophecy, right-living, living as one of God’s ‘little ones’. All of which derive from God’s welcoming us as beloved children. Go back to the myths of GN1 & we see God welcoming creation into being. Theologically, welcoming starts ‘in the beginning’!

Not to welcome Jesus, & anyone He calls, is to reject Him as He tells us [LK 10:16]. Is there anywhere to hide between receiving & rejecting? Do we take this seriously - whatever it may mean for us - within our church structures? Out in the margins, too; where many don’t feel accepted, & certainly not welcomed? When Jesus talks about ‘little ones’ He always means those who are little in other people’s eyes, not just small children.

Are there three God-centric ripples here? Welcoming God is to welcome Jesus; welcoming Jesus is to welcome God; welcoming a Jesus follower is to welcome Jesus, is to welcome God? A kind of ‘trinity’. Which includes Jesus' humanity within it; yours & mine, too. Does the welcoming life of our congregation & its sub-groupings make us conscious we’re part of, & draw God-energy from, that triple rippling of life-giving water? Is that one way of looking at the ‘reward’ Jesus mentions? If those ripples aren’t there, has our pond become stagnant?

What is the 'cup of cold water' those around us need? How often does Ms. X  or Mr. Y tell us, when we try to care, "No, I don't need any help; I'm fine, thanks!" Can we learn, & help others learn, that it’s OK to welcome help? Turning down help graciously & welcomingly offered, diminishes both the would-be receiver, & the one offering that 'cup of cold water' - whatever form that may take. Diminishing God’s little ones isn’t good for Gospel!

PS. It so happens I’m to baptise both a mother & her new-born daughter today. I find much to ponder as I preach - briefly! - on this passage. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

MT 10: 24-39
Matthew in the Margins…3rd S. after Pentecost…Revised 2017  

This is a ‘busy’ passage. Much to be explored. But do see para. 3 below.

For starters, do you remember the old “Sticks & stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me?” From school & other play-grounds? can we go past the name calling, the ‘Beelzebul’ bit. Pharisees have just called Jesus this in 9:34. Can we doubt Jesus being hurt by association with the ‘dung god’ of the Philistines? Now He warns His followers they’ll be put down like that too. There’s a lot of name calling going on in today’s world. I know some folk just seem to ‘ask for it’; but…! At times we’ll be put down, too; may be tempted to join in putting someone down - even ourself! But putting down is not a productive practice. It’s all about fear. Fear of others; fear for, or within, oneself. There are better ways for those of us who follow Jesus to respond to name-callers than putting-down, entering the fear arena, tempting or provoked though that may be! Even when name calling turns to sticks & stones!

Referring to vv.26-7, NJV here comments that Jesus turns from public instruction that doesn't work, to focussing on instructing His disciples. Are we at a stage where that might be productive for us, too? One possibility is the proven track record of ‘Home Groups’ within congregations for ‘Body-building’. Having been involved in them & belonged in them for many years, I wouldn’t be without one! (It strikes me vv. 26-33 would be great material for a Home Group to explore & take further than merely preaching it?)

Hell, Gehenna, (v. 28) needs unpacking. Is it a place of God’s creating, or of human invention; our own making? To consign others into! Historically it’s a dump for burning garbage. Jesus’ own body would probably have ended up just up the road in Gehenna if Joseph hadn’t begged it from Pilate & Nicodemus hadn’t helped bury it. Jesus is always homing in on & using imagery of His day. Warning is implicit in this place & its use. Beware of ending up there! Beware even more, of creating it for anyone else! Even for ourselves!

With regard to the ‘sword’ Jesus’ wields, could that ever be anything other than the cutting edge of God’s love for us? I’ve heard pretty unattractive ‘Jesuses’ preached. We don’t need more. Any more than we need the ‘nice at any price’ ones, either!

“Taking up the cross’ came to life(!) for me when Kosuke Koyama published his ‘No Handle on the Cross’ 1 in which he contrasts a lunch box, or brief case, with a cross. Pointing out there’s no handle on a cross; no convenient way of carrying one. I take that to mean there’s no convenient way of being a disciple either!

SCM, 1976 

Monday, June 12, 2017

MT 9:35 - 10:8 
Matthew in the Margins…2nd S. after Pentecost …Revised 2017 

Jesus is 'moved in his guts' at the state of ordinary folk, God’s flock, deserted & led astray by self-serving leaders, spiritual & political. Are our own elected, appointed, or self-styled, leaders doing exactly the same things? Out for power! Out for pickings! Feasting on both, or at least dining out! Today’s passage still reveals them for what they are & what they’re at.
May it not be, ‘reveals us’ or ‘what we are’ or ‘what we’re at’!
With EZK 34 surely ringing in his ears, Jesus shows us a better way, but it will cost him - & us! There's little we can do for the harassed, helpless, stomped on, until we’re moved in our guts for them as much as God in Jesus is; as much as Holy Spirit energises us to be.

However today’s healings of people & whatever is oppressing them take place, by whom, & by whatever means, God’s Rule still comes near. On earth as in Heaven! A version1 I use a lot talks of God’s rule ‘closing in’. It sounds a bit threatening, but maybe it’s a reminder God’s Rule isn’t as ‘sloppy’ as we may like to think! MT reminds us God’s freeing any of us is not only through proclamation, but by putting things to rights. His personal liberation, his conversion from tax-gatherer to disciple & then on to Apostle shows not only that he could change, but that we can, too!

Where the realm of heaven is closing in, breaking out, whatever, we find meaningful healing of one kind or another, & a new freedom not to be ourselves, but to be God’s! As MT’s Jesus journeys, villagers & townies, farmers & fisher-folk, pillars of society & those living on the wrong side of the tracks, all benefit. At times Jesus seems to hesitate, & cause His followers to hesitate, about the extent of their ministry. When the chips are down, though, for Jesus outsiders count as much as the most solid of insiders. A point not to be lost on us. And those to whom we minister & preach. The margins & the marginalised matter to God, & should therefore matter to us. 

Jesus' Good News is of a Rule other than by priests, politicians, professionals. It's more about love than duty; about service more than servitude. Being compassionate, literally ‘moved in our guts’, till we’re aching can bring great healing to healer as well as healed. Moreover, Gospel without a healing component is ‘small g gospel’ indeed! 

Gathering the harvest is a matter of bringing to fruition what every stalk, head, grain in every field has within it. When we’re moved as above, we’ll answer our own call to discipleship with a godly hand rather than a swinging scythe!

 Our names mayn't be on MT's list, but are we on Jesus' current ‘database’?  Remember those games of hide & seek when whoever was 'he' or 'she' took us by surprise? God's Rule jumps us unsuspectingly because God's always, "Coming! Ready or not!" Do we who teach others recognise that at the heart of Gospel?

1 The Complete Gospels, Polebridge 

Monday, June 5, 2017

MT 28: 16-20 
Matthew in the Margins…Trinity Sunday…Revised 2017 

Today it’s worth pondering that the command, supposedly from the mouth of Jesus Himself, to baptise into the name of the Trinity, has a certain richness about it. Being  baptised, baptising, into the Wholeness of God needs to be valued, seriously.  Alfred Plummer reflects in the early 1900s1, ‘baptising into the Name of the Trinity may mean immersing in the infinite ocean of the Divine Perfection….into the Divine Essence’. That’s pretty deep stuff! Brendan Byrne2 also reminds us how Trinitarian Jesus’ baptism by John is (MT 3:13+) & how connected with that ours is.

I happen to be writing this on my baptismal anniversary. For many years now my wife & I have each lit our own largish ‘baptismal’ candle - we weren’t given candles back in the days we were baptised - & celebrate with great gusto. (Including some from a bottle of red!) More seriously, rediscovering what Plummer says above can give new insight to our celebrating. Let’s encourage others to rediscover their baptism & begin to celebrate it, day by day, not only on the anniversary.  

The meeting in Galilee - somehow the regulation mountain's crept into the scenario, perhaps courtesy of earlier mountain top experiences - sounds a bit like the average congregation: some worship, but some doubt. Perhaps this is a good launching point for a sermon seeking to encourage us to accept people at different stages along the Way. Including celebrating we have honest doubters in our midst. If, that is, we haven’t already squeezed them out into our margins! Part of our ministry to honest doubters is encouraging them to stick with God, as God sticks with us. God still works wonders!

If Jesus were to hold a debriefing (overworked word!) on “Go…Make… Baptise…Teach", how would we report progress? However that process is ongoing,  let’s not make Jesus’ last words here, "Lo, I am with you always..." sound more like a threat than a promise!

While totally valuing the Trinity as Divine Love, rather than cold doctrine, is it fair, or too late, to ask, ‘Where does the Motherhood of God come in? Is it in the Person of the Spirit, as some suggest? Or is that just muddying the waters? Something to ponder - but probably not preach about! The very last words of the passage remind us that all Jesus ever commands is love. Pray the Trinity, All of God, to equip us to love, love, love, on a daily basis to the end of that age Jesus has in mind here. beginning right here & now!

Alfred Plummer, S.Matthew, early 1900s, reprinted Eerdmans, Michigan, 1956, ad loc.  2 Lifting the Burden, Liturgical Press, Minnesota, 2004, p.228