Tag Archives: Gospel of Matthew

Love is Not a Dream

Read Matthew 5:38-48

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.'” (Matthew 26:52)

worldJust when Spring has finally sprung, just when warmth and life start to come back to the earth, just as people start to prepare for new hope and new opportunities for living life, a tragedy occurs that reminds us of how fragile and precarious life is. Today, as I was busy amid my day’s worth of work, a notification from the NY Times popped up on my iPhone, telling me that there were two explosions that went off during the Boston Marathon. As it turns out, these explosions were purposefully set off to harm, maim, and kill people. And the mission was accomplished. As of this writing, at least three people were killed, dozens maimed, and an entire nation is in a state of shock and panic.

Even following such tragic events like 9/11, all of the shootings that have happened and other devastating events, we still wonder who in the world would want to hurt innocent people. How can people be so cold, so calculating, and so vicious?  Why is it that the human race seems to be hellbent on blowing itself up? How should we respond to these and other acts of terror?

Before we answer those questions, let us think back to the world in which Jesus was born in. Christ was born into a world that is just as harsh as the world in which we live. He was born in a country that was occupied by a cruel and merciless Empire. He was born into a world that scourged and crucified its opponents. He was born into a world that shunned the poor and honored the greedy and powerful. It is into such a world that Jesus was born, and he was bound to experience the cruelty that this world had to offer.

Yet, what was his response? Did he respond out of fear? Did he respond out of hatred? Did he respond based off of his emotions? How did Jesus react with the world around him? What was his response to the cruelty, injustice, and horror that he was faced with everyday of his life?  The answer is as simple, and yet as profoundly irritating, as can be. Jesus responded with love.

Many, when hearing this, may think that I am just spewing a Christian cliché. Some may even go as far as to say that Jesus’ teachings work in theory, but not in real-world situations. After all, if we let people get away with murder, they’ll just keep on murdering? How does love solve the world’s problems?

The answer is, it doesn’t. But then again, neither does responding in hatred, violence and fear.  There is nothing that we can do to stop people from harming us, should they choose to. And a consequence of living in this broken world is that we run the risk of being caught in the fray of evil. And if we are honest, we sometimes perpetuate evil ourselves.

But we are not called to change the world; rather, we are called to change ourselves. We are called to rise above the fray and to love people, even when they don’t deserve to be loved. We are called to reach out to the starving, the naked, the angry, the disenchanted, the sick, the imprisoned, and all of those who are desperate people caught in desperate times. We are called to be the very presence of God in the lives of those who are desperately in need of the presence of God. In the end we have a choice, to react in fear or to react in love, to give in to the reaction the world is seeking after, or to embrace the reaction God desires of us. The choice is yours.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Love is only a dream if you refuse to make it a reality.

PRAYER

Lord, we lay our fears down at the foot of the cross and pick up your love and your grace. Help us in this endeavor. Amen.

 

A Forest of Crosses

Read Matthew 2:13-23; John 21:1-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

CrucifixionA father, a mother and their young three-year old boy are making a long and dangerous trip home. They had spent the past few years in hiding and decided that it was finally safe to return home. There wasn’t much certainty of what would be awaiting them upon their return home; however, they knew that they could not stay away forever.

As they finally reach their homeland, they are entering a hell that they cannot even begin to anticipate.  Their young son looks up, wide-eyed and frightened, left speechless by what his innocent eyes were witnessing.  The mother looks up and gasps, calling her husband to look up. Above them is a forest of crosses, erect and grotesque. To each of the crosses are lifeless corpses, blackened with the decay of death. The bodies are rotting and are torn open from the pecking beaks of birds and the gnashing teeth of jackals and other scavengers that have made a feast of the flesh.

I am guessing that many of you are probably pretty disturbed by the image that has just been painted in two short paragraphs. If so, just imagine what the how scarred the little boy must’ve been to look up and see the sight of those bodies nailed to a forest of crosses. Hundreds of them set in their places to send a message of fear to anyone who dare resist the law of the land. This little boy, whose name is Yeshua in his native language of Aramaic and whose known by the Greek translation of that name (Jesus), would never forget the images of the crosses that foreshadow the way he is ultimately going to die.

This is the scene of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus returning home from Egypt in the History Channel miniseries, “The Bible.”  And there can be no doubt that Jesus’ life in ancient, 1st Century, Palestine, would have been riddled with such horrific images. Jesus grew up in a world where the word “peace” equated to a cruel, merciless, and torturous death.  In Jesus’ world, there were was no democracy, there were no civil “rights”, and there was no middle class. There were only the haves and the have-nots.

When we hear Jesus telling his disciples that if they wish to be his disciples they need to deny themselves and pick up their crosses, let us not forget the image above of the forest of crosses filled with the rotting, decaying stench of corpses.  Jesus wasn’t talking about putting on a silver or gold necklace when he said “pick up your cross”; rather, he was talking about the Roman means of capital punishment.

As we move closer to Holy Week, and ultimately to Good Friday (the darkest day in the Christian calendar) let us reflect, not only on the sacrifice that Jesus made, but on the sacrifice Christ is calling us to make. If we are going to be Christ’s followers, if we really believe in Jesus’ message, then we will be willing to lose it all…no matter how bad it hurts…for the sake of Christ and his Good News.

While, I cannot tell you what your cross is, or how you are to bear it, remember that the only way to get to Good Friday is to pick up your cross and follow Jesus. The only way to get to Easter, to get to your own resurrection, is to die to all that you believe you are and to embrace who God proclaims you are.  The only way to truly live, is to die to whatever is holding you back from giving your all to God.  For most of us, this “dying is metaphorical”, but that doesn’t make it any less real.  We are called to die to ourselves, and be resurrected in Christ Jesus so that we may bring God’s hope, healing and wholeness to those who are in desperate need of the life that God has to offer.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

To deny yourself does not equal self-neglect; rather, it equals the recognition that you are not “YOUR” own.

PRAYER

Lord, I surrender myself to your will. Use me in a way that will bring about your Kingdom here on earth. Amen.

 

Forgiven

Read 2 Samuel 11; Psalm 51; Matthew 6:14-15

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

Then Peter came to Him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! “ (Matthew 18:21-22)

King_DavidHave you heard the tale of King David?  When I mention his name, images of a ruddy-faced shepherd boy might come to mind. Perhaps, you are seeing a sling-shot and a stone in the hands of a puny boy facing a monstrous giant named Goliath? Or perhaps you see the rising star of a man, named David, who quickly climbed the political ranks in Saul’s military. Perhaps you see David being chased down by an envious King who was desperately trying to hold on to the power that was never his to begin with.

But, when the name David is mentioned, do you think of the man who slept with another man’s wife and got her pregnant? Do you think of a man who had her husband sent to the front lines in a battle to be killed so that her husband would not know of the affair? Do you think of a King who has gained so much power that he forgets the very God who gave it to him?  When we read Psalm 51 and reflect on the lamenting of its author, it is hard to not think of David when he finally realizes that he was not powerful enough to hide his sins from God.

Whether or not Psalm 51 was actually written by David or not is beside the point. The fact of the matter is that the Psalmist, whoever he or she was, was certainly feeling desperately in need of God’s forgiveness. It is fitting that this Psalm gets traditionally attributed to David, in light of the great and scandalous sin that David committed. It is a Psalm that we all can relate to, as we have all found ourselves getting caught in the act of doing something we should not be doing.  We have all found ourselves on our knees, at some point or another, begging God to forgive us.

Seeking forgiveness is a part of the Christian journey.  John the Baptist preached the message of repentance…as did Jesus…as did the apostles and all of the Christians since then.  But for Jesus, seeking forgiveness was not enough. Anyone, given the right circumstances, can be pushed to do that; however, Jesus taught that it was equally important for us to be forgiving of others. “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Now, most of us recognize that it is important to forgive others. It may be hard, and we may not want to forgive everyone, but we know that forgiveness is something God would want us to do. Yet, when we speak of forgiveness, we often only think of others.  After all, we are to forgive others, right?  What we don’t realize is that God not only wants us to forgive “others”, but God also wants us to forgive ourselves.  In fact, if we don’t forgive ourselves, how can we ever be in a place to forgive others?

We can beg God for forgiveness all day long; however, if we are unwilling to accept God’s forgiveness, then we will never receive it.  The fact of the matter is that God has already forgiven us and is waiting for us to move beyond the ashes of Lent and lamentation into the warm and bright light of Easter. Whether we are as powerful as King David or as humble and meek as a peasant child born in a stable, God is calling us to be a people of the resurrection…a people who have been forgiven, who forgive themselves, and who extend that forgiveness to others. Such people embody God’s hope, healing and wholeness!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

PRAYER

Lord, teach me the discipline of forgiveness…first for myself and then for others who have wronged me. Let my willingness to forgive bear witness to you! Amen.

 

It’s the End of the World As We Know It

Read Mark 13; Revelation 22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (Matthew 10:7, NRSV)

It's the End of the World As We Know ItHave you ever heard the song by R.E.M., “The End of the World As We Know It”? I was just listening to that song today and reflecting on the message of it. In the song, Michael Stipe goes through a complete list of cliché things that people say are going to happen when the world comes to an end. Intermingled with that list is also some social commentary of how the world, typically thinks of itself. Stipe sings, “Save yourself, serve yourself. World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed.”

Then when the list has been had, Stipe sings that “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” Come again? You feel fine that the world is coming to an end? Some Christians make it their living to “warn” people of the impending doom that will befall the earth in the last days. Many people spend their lives speculating what the end will be like, when it will happen and the devastation that will be wrought. And now that we are in the year 2012, many people are worried that the Mayans might well have predicted the end.

Yet, Michael Stipe is singing that he feels fine about this? Now, I am not going to put words into Michael’s mouth; however, I was reflecting on the lyrics of this song and what they mean to me. When we watch television, or read the news online, we often see apocalyptic images spreading around the world like wild fire. Tensions are high, people are afraid, and soothsayers are ever active in predicting the end. Yet, as Christians, we ought to know that God does not wish destruction upon the earth.

Yes, an entire book of the Bible is devoted to talking about the end times and yes, Jesus talked about such times too; however the point was not to scare people as much as it was to give people hope. While the language is that of GOd reigning justice down, Revelation and other texts like it are more pointing to the destruction the earth has wrought on itself and the consequences of such destruction. Just look at the war riddled world and you can easily see images of Revelation.

So what is hopeful about this? The hope is that redemption is not only on its way; however, it is here. As we approach Advent, we often reenact the “coming” of Jesus and, in Revelation, we look forward to the “second coming” of Jesus. But, what we fail to realize, is that Jesus has already come again…in us! All four Gospels tell of Jesus talking about the gift of the Holy Spirit, given to those who believe. The Holy Spirit that dwells in us is ever working in changing the world around us. But, in case you didn’t get the memo directly, we are to be ACTIVE players in that.

Rather than pretending to be awaiting for the first coming and rather than anxiously awaiting the second coming, perhaps we Christians should be actively living the coming of Christ in us! If more Christians lived out their Christianity in ways that made a difference to those around them, and less worried about event that are completely out of our control, then perhaps we would usher in the end of the world as we know it. Perhaps, instead of a world of suffering, pain and chaos, we could usher in a world of hope, healing and wholeness. Perhaps instead of a broken world, we could help usher in a world of togetherness, of community, and of LOVE. And if that is what it means to usher in the end, how can we not feel fine about it? This is what it means to be Christian: to usher in the end of the world as we know it. It’s time to get to it!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

To be made in the image of God means that we are made in the image of love.

PRAYER

Lord, I am your servant. Help me to usher in the end of the world as we know it through your love. Amen.