Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Sunday Gospel Reading and Reflection (June 11)

Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
9:9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him.

9:10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.

9:11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

9:12 But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

9:13 Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."

9:18 While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live."

9:19 And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.

9:20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak,

9:21 for she said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well."

9:22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." and instantly the woman was made well.

9:23 When Jesus came to the leader's house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion,

9:24 he said, "Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him.

9:25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.

9:26 And the report of this spread throughout that district.

If I want to follow Jesus, I need to listen hard: "God desires mercy not sacrifice." Class dismissed. My homework? Learn what it means that God is merciful. Compassion is the source of Jesus' ministry.* The essence of mercy is compassion, kindness, forgiveness. Biblically, mercy is exhibited by a superior to an inferior. For example, it is within one's power to punish, but one chooses to show mercy instead. Another meaning is tied to compassion, similar to a mother's visceral love for her children.

Jesus shows his compassion to tax collectors and sinners, a women with the issue of blood, and a young girl thought to be dead. (Jesus says that "she is sleeping.") "Suddenly," occurs twice in the reading, to show how consistently Jesus embodies the mercy he teaches: Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. (Matthew 5:7) 

In Matthew, the first references to "church" appear. Have the leaders in the church of Matthew's time replaced the Pharisees of Jesus' ministry? Often those outside the church see more clearly when self- identified Christians fail to love and behave mercifully. Jesus' words to Pharisees apply to anyone who claims to love God: "Go and learn about God's mercy." I cannot be both self-righteous and merciful. I must choose.**

There are no people outside of the mercy of the Lord. There are no barriers to God's love in Jesus Christ.  If I claim to follow Jesus, the main thing that makes me holy and distinct is not the purity of my worship, who I include and exclude,  who is right and who is wrong, but rather, having been a recipient of God's unearned unfailing mercy embodied in Jesus, how am I pursued by mercy? How will I pursue mercy?

*See also, Matthew 12:7. This particular phrase is unique to Matthew. Matthew mentions Jesus' "compassion" eight times in his Gospel. 
**The Parable of the Unforgiving Steward (Matthew 18:23-35) seems to be a explanation, in story form, of "Blessed are the merciful."  

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Sunday Gospel Reading and Reflection

The Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

28:16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.

28:17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

28:20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Church as Teacher
Matthew is a missionary Gospel, with all of its instructions for missioners (Matthew 9-10). In what we call the Great Commission, above, Jesus "apostles" his disciples by sending: "Go therefore." But the content of that teaching is "all I have commanded you." That's a large part of Matthew, starting with Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount.

Glossing over Jesus' teaching is convenient to do. But preaching Jesus' teaching is the standard content of Gospel preaching.* It seems many on the outside of  Christianity have judged churches and Christians for our failures to follow Jesus' teachings. I know I fall short every minute; however, is that the excuse to discount the way of Jesus Christ when commissioned to do so?

Is this another session on works-righteousness? Let's get the tired law vs. grace dichotomy out of our minds for a minute. The existence of Jesus' teaching saves me. Full stop. The covenant Christ offers comes by God's initiative and grace, as surely as our being created in God's own image and likeness. As surely as the Torah is given by God's grace. 

Whatever eternal  life is, I am going to find it very difficult to claim Jesus when, at the same time, I refuse to meet him in my vulnerable neighbors.** In Jesus' parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:21-33), I really do meet the risen Christ in the imprisoned, unsheltered, hungry, thirsty, alien, and sick. What about those huddled families, children, parents, grandparents at our Texas borders? And those who will cross my path today and tomorrow? 

*John Wesley, the founder of Methodism in England, in the 33 Standard Sermons he preached and required of his itinerants, 14 are on the Sermon of the Mount.
**Although some read Matthew 25:21-35 as referring to brothers and sisters in Christ, that is, the Church, I err on the side of generosity. Tipping the scales for me are the questions of Scripture, such as (1) Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10) and, (2)  Am I my brother's keeper? (Genesis 4). 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Sunday Gospel Reading and Reflection

Gospel Reading

John 20:19-23; 20:19 
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

20:21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.

20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

John 7:37-39
7:37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,

7:38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'"

7:39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

The Point of Pentecost

While the Acts narrative favors the orderly, detailed and careful accounting of the coming of Holy Spirit, John's Gospel tells a different story.* John surely knew Luke's account, but presents another promise and possibility. 

While Acts 2 tells the story in metaphor, "a sound like the rush of a violent wind," or "tongues as of fire" coming upon those gathered,  John 20 presents the breath of the risen Christ as the Spirit. Jesus Christ is alive and we experience that through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not only the breath of the risen Christ, but also, closer than our next breath! 

The Holy Spirit issues forth from the Father (Acts 2) and the Son (John 20). John implies what later became known as the doctrine of the Trinity. The Spirit coming from the Son as well the Father was a source of long and sharp differences between church leaders in Rome and Constantinople, until the Great Schism of 1054 and the formation of The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. **

But the differences between Acts and John are great resources for presenting the whole Gospel of the Holy Spirit. John's Gospel is the result of a full generation of church life beyond Luke-Acts. The Holy Spirit sustains us in our journey, not for a momentary event, but for long endurance in the faith. The walk is one step at a time and is impossible and pointless without closeness and intimacy with Source of life (see reading of Psalm 104) and the Source of the Church.*** This is the depth of insight in John's witness.

Sunday's reading proclaims that walking with Christ cannot be achieved by checking off boxes, attaining goals, being good enough, longer prayers, or what pleasing God involves. Walking with Jesus is possible with the gift and grace, and God- infused joy and love, peace and patience, justice and compassion, the "living waters" of God's people in Jesus Christ. 

Acts 2 is an orderly account of God acting in the history of the church. But God and our life with Jesus is not. Life is full of messy decisions and people. Acts 2 is also a look back. Many churches attempt to recreate the Acts - Pentecost with a sound and light show, perhaps foreign languages for added effect. The point of Pentecost is to participate in God's work of re-creation, not to resort to theatre. The reenactment is within us. We are the re-creation of Pentecost in and for the world. 

*Only Luke uses "orderly account" to describe his Luke-Acts He uses the term twice in Luke 1, I assume, for emphasis. However, God working in orderly ways is not the point John.
** Rome taught that the Spirit comes from both the Father and Son, or the filioque clause.
***Pentecost is also known as the birthday of the Church.

Sunday Gospel Reading and Reflection (June 11)

Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26 9:9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow...