Tag Archive: Matthew

As the world continues to muse on the death of Osama bin Laden many questions, concerns, and curiosities remain…

Yesterday I received this e-mail from a fellow pastor and friend:

I stayed up late last night watching the news coverage of the President’s address and the reporting of the “killing” (and that is the way the media reported) of bin Laden. And I am struggling with images of Americans in the street outside the White House dancing joyfully at this man’s death.  I know he needed to be brought to justice.  But as a Christian my heart is breaking at the display of glee and joy among our citizens, so many shown in the news coverage to be of such a young age. You and I serve the church and the Christ.  We preach about justice and forgiveness and reconciliation.  And I, as well as you, know that many of our parishioners may be jubilant at the news of bin Laden’s death.  In this season of Easter, having just celebrated God’s forgiveness and reconciliation in the Resurrection of the Christ, it seems the perfect time to speak to the Christian understanding of justice and forgiveness and the difficulty, at times like these, to be Christian…to live into our baptism … to be Christian first, American second.  Where to begin? And do you think it wise to deal with this from the pulpit?

I wonder along with my friend: “Where do we begin?  What is the proper Christian response?  Is it wise to deal with the situation from the pulpit (or wherever you find your job or ministry)?”

Or do we say nothing?

I find these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics to be helpful:

“Some who seek to escape from taking a stand publicly find a place of refuge in a private virtuousness.  Such a man [sic] does not steal.  He does not commit murder.  He does not commit adultery.  But in his voluntary renunciation of publicity he knows how to remain punctiliously within the permitted bounds which preserve him from involvement in conflict.  It is only at the price of an act of self-deception that he can safeguard his private blamelessness against contamination through responsible action in the world.  Whatever he may do, that which he omits to do will give him no peace.  Either this disquiet will destroy him or he will become the most hypocritical of Pharisees.”

We must speak.

We must speak to, into, and through the situations of the world.  To not speak is to say that it does not matter to us, our faith, or to God.  We commit not a sin of activity (theft, murder, adultery, gossip, etc.) but a sin of inactivity, of saying nothing.  Complacency in the face of injustice is as fraught with sin as the unjust actions that are committed.  We cannot withdraw into a refuge of private virtuousness.  We cannot retreat into our own hearts and minds, proclaiming to ourselves what the world needs to hear.

However, when we speak we must do so compassionately and modestly.  Not with chants of victory and triumph, but with pacifying tones of humility and peace.  We speak from a position of faith and peace seeking understanding, not from a place of celebration through killing.

When we speak, our words must be wedded to our deeds.  Our words of humility must be matched by time spent on our knees in prayers.  Our call for understanding and mercy must be paired with hugs and embraces of those who are different.  We cannot sing songs lamenting the loss of any life, and at the same time find a dancing partner in pride and jubilation.  We must not do as Jesus accused the religious leaders of his day, of neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.  It is these, Jesus says, that they (and us) ought to do, practice, live, enact, and embody (Matthew 23:23).

Is it wise to deal with the situation?

Perhaps the death of bin Laden comes then as an opportunity for Christians…an opportunity to speak and embody the words of Christ…an opportunity to say true and compelling things about life and hope here and now through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection years ago.  We, as Christians, enter this moment with a unique platform to shout and gloat less, but pray and reflect more.  Perhaps we seize the opportunity to show the world that we, as Christians, act differently when we hear the news of death and uncertainty.


What would it look like to love God with one of the most precious gifts God has given – our body.   How might we engage our five sense in loving God?  Is this how we might embody Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind?  A few days ago we said something about our eyes; then our ears, then our hands and feet, then our mouth, now our nose… 

The nose is an interesting part of God’s creation.  Some noses are large with twists, crooks, and humps.  Others are petite, unobtrusive, and barely noticeable.  All noses, however, serve wonderful and important purposes.  Our noses inform us that a delicious meal is cooking in the kitchen.  We use our noses to enjoy the pleasure that comes from fresh-cut flowers.  Noses alert us to danger such as smoke or gas.  For some, noses fulfill a role that only they can – our noses hold our eyeglasses in place.

When we read the story of Jesus’ anointing we can engage our noses in the scene.  We can imagine the smells emanating from around the table (Lk. 7:36-50).  The small of fresh baked bread rises from the table.  The salty and cool Mediterranean breeze fills the house.  Perhaps the men are sweaty from a laborious day of work.  And then a woman enters with an alabaster of jar of ointment.  As she cracks open the jar and pours the contents on Jesus’ feet the sweet aroma wafts up from the dust.  The smell is strong but sweet, intense yet pleasing.  However, she seems to be wasting the expensive perfume.  She pours more and more upon Jesus’ feet, weeping and kissing his feet.  The aroma is overwhelming and attractive.  Those gathered around the table are indignant at the seeming wastefulness of the woman, but they are nonetheless drawn to the sweet smell.

Sweet smelling things draw our attention.  We are attracted to pleasant fragrances.  What if we, Christians, were like a sweet smelling fragrance?  What if we, the Church, clothed ourselves with the aroma of Christ in a world polluted by sour and stingy odors?  (Have you smelled the stink of corporate greed lately?  Or the repugnant scent of prejudice?  Or the vile fumes of violence?)

Quite interestingly, Paul calls us to be just that, the aroma of Christ.  Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:15-16).

We, the Church, are the aroma of Christ.  We take in the lovely fragrance of the candles, hymns, and words of worship on Sunday mornings, and we go into the world emanating that same scent.  Through our actions and voices we give off a pleasant and acceptable aroma.  God calls for our business decisions, our relationships, and our day-to-day living to cast an aroma that draws, and does not repel, people to Christ.  God wishes to woo all people to God’s self. Perhaps we too, the Church, are the pleasing aroma that woos, entices, and attracts a sullied world.

Let us be the aroma of Christ.

Sharing the eyes of God

I have always puzzled over Jesus’ high command to the lawyer in Luke 10.  Jesus instructs him,”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.”  What does it look like to love God with our heart?  How does the soul love?  With what strength – biceps and triceps(?) – are we to love God?  What happens in the mind when it loves?

Of course, part of  the significance of Jesus’ answer to the lawyer  is it’s capturing of the essence of the 10 Commandments, to love God and love neighbor.  Jesus is also quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, a command that would have been familiar to the lawyer and other Jews of the day.  (Isn’t it strange how we often think of Jesus as purely original, as if he was the first to say such profound, true, and meaningful things?)

I wonder if Jesus meant – in a frank, down-home, charming way – we’re to “love God with all we got?”  With whatever energy we can muster. With whatever sensibilities we can direct to God and neighbor.  With all the thoughts and passions we can cultivate in glory to God.  We’re to love God with any gift God has given, at any time we can, and in any place we can.

So…what about the gift of our body…or our senses…

Seeing as God sees

The story of Samuel’s search for a king is telling of God’s vision.  God has grown weary of Saul as king, and sends Samuel to Jesse’s house in search of a new king (1 Sam. 16:1-13).  As Jesse’s sons trot out before the search committee, Samuel is sure he will be able to spot the new king.  He assumes the new king will be tall, good-looking, and commanding.

But as the first son approaches, the words of the Lord come to Samuel: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature.”  Several more sons pass before Samuel, but they are not chosen either.  The Lord’s instruction to Samuel remains steadfast: “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on outward appearances, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

“For the Lord sees not at man sees.”  How amazing.  How wonderful.  How much better is God’s vision than our vision.  While God’s eyes penetrate beyond the surface, our purview captures only fleeting glances of other persons.  Part of our vision problem is time.  We are hurried; we are busy.  We catch only a glimpse or snapshot of someone and believe we’ve seen the whole picture.  We fail to plumb the depths of persons’ hearts and convictions, joys and concerns.

God’s vision seems so grand compared to our pithy eyesight.  God’s scan of the world captures all, bringing all people into God’s line of sight.  When Jesus entered one synagogue he saw a woman who had been bent over for 18 years.  How long had she been coming to the synagogue seeking help, longing for someone to notice her?  While the others’ eyes passed over her (for what seems like quite a long time), Jesus noticed her, laid his hands on her, and sent her away standing upright.

Jesus has, how shall we say it, universal vision.  The eyes of God, of Jesus, see all.  Jesus’ vision captures those who go unnoticed, those on the margins.  Jesus sees the invisible people in a crowded world.

I remember several years ago my church celebrated a Hanging of the Greens service.  During the service, children processed into the sanctuary with chrismons, stars, ivy, and poinsettias.   Many children participated in the service, cutely prancing down the aisle to the front of the sanctuary.   Despite all the kids, however, I waited to see just one, my cousin.  I had eyes for her only.  While all the children beautifully participated in the service my eyes were locked in to see only one person.  I was concerned with laying my eyes upon my cousin, delighting in how precious and cute she was in her role.

We have, how shall we say it, selective vision.  We have tunnel vision.  Our eyes see those things that we choose to see, those persons that are convenient and attractive to us.  God’s vision is much grander, much more encompassing, much broader.  Unlike our eyes, the wide scope of God’s vision captures all, looking not upon outward appearances.

Those who have eyes let them see.

Lent 4.5 – Water

How do we use God’s gift of water more faithfully?

How do we take serious Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 41:17?

Did Jesus really mean what he said in Matthew 10:42?

“The poor and needy search for water,
but there is none;
their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the LORD will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.”

– Isaiah 41:17

“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

– Matthew 10:42

Francesco Trevisani (1723)

Why parachurch evangelistic ministries?

In chapter six Jones examines the link between evangelism and the church.  Predictably and rightfully, he says, “persons carrying on the ministry of evangelism must have a close relationship to the church.”  Conversely, any faithful church must be intimately committed to the ministry of evangelism, refusing to become clubs that exist only to serve its members.  In fact, Jones argues that the rise and necessity of mission societies, crusade and revival ministries, denominational boards, and other evangelistic parachurch organizations stems from the failure of local churches to be evangelistic (140).  “To be a Christian disciple is to participate in a Christian congregation” (142).  Jones goes even further to state, “those who call themselves Christian and are able to participate in a congregation but do not, call into question their Christian identity” (142).

Who then is a Christian?  Jones refers back to the seven aspects of Christian discipleship he named earlier (baptism, cognitive commitment, worship, spiritual disciplines, witness, spiritual gifts, and faith-sharing).  These characteristics and practices, Jones argues, build towards spiritual maturity.

What elements do not define a Christian?  Jones first points out that self-identification as a Christian is not sufficient.  Recall the words of Jesus in Matthew 7.21: “”Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  Jones also claims that one’s Christian identity is not solidified by one’s sacramental history (has he or she been baptized?), church membership (is his or her name on a church membership roll?), or ethnicity (does he or she simply belong to an ethnic group or does he or she practice the traditions of the group?).

Why does Jones stress the important of distinguishing between Christians and non-Christians?  He seeks to establish the difference between evangelism and proselytism.  Oftentimes, he claims, these two words are incorrectly used synonymously.  Proselytism, he believes, aims to convince a Christian disciple to switch membership from one church to another.  Evangelism, on the other hand, seeks to initiate non-Christians into the Christian community.  Any proselytism in the name of evangelism represents fragmentary competition among Christians and damages Christian unity.

Jones’s thoughts about the intimate relationship of the church, Christians, and evangelism are instructive.  However, at times he holds too dearly to his seven characteristics of discipleship, making them a litmus test for true faithfulness.  There is no need to make these seven aspects doctrinal or dogmatic.  We must allow for contextualization and prayerful discernment and sensitivity when gauging the authenticity of others’ faithfulness and discipleship.  We also cannot assume that evangelism is limited only to non-Christians currently outside the church.  There are many who fill the pews now in need of revitalization and evangelizing.  With Christians and non-Christians and insiders and outsiders, “we need to do two things simultaneously: be clear what the Christian life is all about.  Invite others to join that life” (150).

This is the sixth review in an eight-part series looking at Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor

Faith because of us…Faith in spite of us…

Walter Brueggemann’s Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism provides an interesting, helpful, and insightful angle for the study and practice of mission and evangelism.  From the start, Brueggemann identifies attitudes towards evangelism from both ends of the “conservative/liberal” spectrum.  He claims that traditional conservative approaches to evangelism are nothing more than a reduction of biblical “news” that Christians “should/ought/must” proclaim.  On the other hand, liberals, he argues, have become so embarrassed by the word “evangelism” they cower in fear at the very utterance of the word and would rather talk about “social action.”  In his work Brueggemann holds together these concepts in his evangelistic model of “announcing good news” (conservative evangelism) and “appropriating the good news” (liberal social action).

Throughout Biblical Perspectives Brueggemann uses a copious amount of scripture.  His exegesis and interpretation of scripture is brilliant and enlightening.  He views the biblical text not as a handbook, but as an articulation of an imaginative model of reality into which we are invited to participate.  Specifically, Brueggemann’s ability to draw upon the Old Testament for evangelistic insights is wonderful.  His use of Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, the Psalms, and the prophets broadens the scope of the biblical witness and model of evangelism.  His illumination of the OT pushes the reader to imagine and explore evangelism beyond Matthew 28.

However, Brueggemann does not neglect the New Testament.  In fact, he offers a beautiful reading of the importance of baptism.  He argues that baptism is a subversive act in which “the claims of the gospel of God’s hidden, decisive victory are fully voiced” (45).  Through baptism we are embraced and incorporated in to God’s story, putting away the former self (Eph. 4.22-24).  The putting away of other gods, other desires, and other selves, Brueggemann suggests, is to totally commit one’s self to God.  This commitment of self and a desire to hear other’s commitment is the drama of evangelism.

Brueggemann calls all Christians back to the canonical witness for evangelism.  He invites us to imagine ourselves as part of a larger, cosmic story, a story in which we are not fully in control.  Brueggemann’s invitation for all to participate in the urgent, on-going work of evangelism is accessible and practical.  It successfully moves our hope for the future of evangelism beyond our own schemes and strategies and into the heart of a God who has already done great things.  Brueggemann reminds us that when faith does arise, sometimes it is because of us and sometimes it is in spite of us.

This is the fifth review in a five-part series looking at Walter Brueggemann’s Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism.

Thought for the week

“Lord! What you say is true. Your care for me is greater than all the care I can take of myself.” — Thomas à Kempis

Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471) was a German monk and a practical mystic. This quotation comes from his work, The Imitation of Christ. Kempis greatly influenced John Wesley.

The Revised Common Lectionary texts for this week:

Isaiah 60:1-6

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

The Revised Common Lectionary texts for New Year’s Eve:

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

Psalm 8

Revelation 21:1-6a

Matthew 25:31-46

The Revised Common Lectionary texts for this week:

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Psalm 100

Ephesians 1:15-23

Matthew 25:31-46

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