Discipleship, Doubt, Jesus, Matthew, Musings, Politics, Sermon Notes, Sunday

Sunday Sermon: Matthew 28:11-15-“Fake News and the Power of the Resurrection”

I had the joy of being with the Gallery Church Downtown and Riverside Baptist this past weekend to preach. They have been going through the Gospel of Matthew for over two years! This is the second to the last sermon in the series, and I loved talking about the good news of Resurrection the Sunday following Easter.

You can listen to the sermon in its entirety here, but I am posting a most of my manuscript here and the litany/response we did at the end.

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Today, we proclaim the good news: because of the resurrection of Jesus, nothing can or will stop the restoration of all things.

Stories are powerful. This is not a new idea for us. We grow up learning some of the most important lessons of life through stories: kids books, fairy tales, passing down family traditions and accounts of days gone by: we are people of stories who are moved by stories. And last week, we retold the central narrative for our shared faith: the betrayal, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Yet, in more recent days, we have seen what happens when people have different stories to tell from one another: stories that clash. I’m not just talking about people telling the same story with different details or perspectives, but stories that conflict with one another. I think we see this as more evident than ever in the news cycle, in our social media feeds, in our families, and in the government structures both here and around the world. As soon as a news story breaks, the spin begins. And the spin exists because people know the power of stories and information to influence others to do everything from vote a certain way to buy a certain product. News has become commodified and when it is commodified, it can be leveraged for special interests-to coerce people into action (or inaction).

This is, at best, biased news and, at worst, propaganda. Which leads us to the infamous “fake news”. Fake news is at work in our text today, as we will see. But “fake news” is a phrase which was deemed by Politifact as the Lie of the Year for 2016. Now, contrary to what some (including our president) seem to think, fake news is not simply biased reporting, or even news we disagree with. It is outright falsehoods: made-up stuff, masterfully manipulated to look like credible journalistic reports that are easily spread online to large audiences willing to believe the fictions and spread the word. It’s a poplar lie that is popular because people want to believe it and share it.

We will talk about this a little bit more later on, but the point is not simply decrying the reality of fake news (though I could get on a rant about it, for sure!). This phenomenon of fake news, which many think is indicative of our post-truth world, speaks to the prevailing counter-stories we often live in. We are not moved by facts which do not, at some level, also move us emotionally and at the level of our desires. I believe this shows us that there are stories which are not simply untrue, they run counter to the core narrative of the resurrection of Jesus. And we Christians believe them and live from them all the time.

These counter-stories go something like:

“This life as it is, is all there is—and it’s up to us to make it better.” This is the classic modernist story of humanism, or the enlightenment. It is the air we breathe. And it comes out in how we tend to talk about the world around us. We hear it in the political discourse all the time: “We are regressing as a society.” or, on the other side of the political spectrum: “We are returning to the glorious good old days.” This is was never more present than in the two competing slogans of the presidential campaign: “Make America Great Again” and “Stronger together” (or the Democrat’s response to Trump”s “MAGA” was “We are already great. and we are great because we are good”. These slogans, and the parties/candidates which they represent, both share a pretty central assumption: greatness can be accomplished and realized in our lifetime, and it is up to us to make it happen. This is, oddly, what all of American politics have in common, regardless of party affiliation. The story they tell is: We accomplish greatness through the collective power of our own efforts.

If I’m getting your pulse rate up a little bit right now or you are wondering where the heck this guy is going with politics, you are kind of proving my point about the power that these stories have! But there is the other side to this narrative which gets us in further trouble: what if something stands in the way of our greatness, of our desire to be significant? How do we hold on to the power we have? How do we get it from others? This is where fake news comes into play: preying on our fears, manipulating our emotions, and feeding on the powerful motivators of guilt, shame, and greed.

Not only are we drawn to the stories which reinforce our biases, we are moved to anger by the stories which work against our deeply held beliefs. And this is not necessarily immoral. We hear about stories of abuse of power and we feel outrage. We read some of the things being done in our government or around the world, and we cry out for justice.

But there is a subtle turn that takes place: we think we should respond in kind, we are made to be afraid, so we respond with more fear. Guilt with more guilt. Shame with more shame. But this is not the way of the kingdom: this is not consistent with the story of the Resurrection. This is the way of the powers and principalities. This is the way of anti-kingdom. And this is what we see this at work in our text today. (yes, this was all just an introduction!)

Many have said, regarding this text, that as soon as the mission of witness to Jesus begins, a counter-mission begins as well. There is the mission of the women to go tell (and of Jesus to go ahead of them to Galilee) and the mission of the soldiers and religious leaders to discount and explain away the missing body of Jesus. The guards go to report to the chief priests. This is important, because they were the very ones who convinced Pilate that the tomb needed guards in the first place. (notice…the people in power seemed to take Jesus at his word that he would rise again in the three days, more than his own followers!)

So the guards give an account of what happened: not fake news yet, they just tell what has happened—but it is not good news for the religious leaders. So, the chief priests, after hearing the news do what anyone else would do, they hold a committee meeting! And who is on the committee, all the people who stand to lose power and influence, should the real message get out there. It’s here that they devise a plan. More scheming to preserve their power, and they know that the best way to do this is to spread a false story.

Now, this is not a very credible story. For one, Roman guards don’t sleep. They had a vested interest in protecting the tomb, and they are the best of the best. Even the attempt to undermine the news is feeble at best: “While we were sleeping, the disciples came and took the body.” Have you ever heard of someone’s testimony of something that happened while they were sleeping stand up in court? Of course not. Nor does this bode well for the soldiers: sleeping on the job.

But the leaders assuage the fears of the soldiers. They tell them to just spread the story and we will take care of the governor for you (i.e bribes, political power). The counter-mission against the resurrection is often includes the means of money, grabbing power, bribery, lying, manipulation, and appeasing those in power. Good thing this doesn’t happen today anymore! 🙂

This causes me pause. This is a lot of trouble to go through to spread a fake news story. I’ve often wondered that about fake news today: what motivates someone to craft fake news and spread it, beyond it just being a cruel joke? Most often, the motivation was money. And money was surely the motivation for the soldiers, but why the religious leaders? What did they have to benefit? I believe they were afraid. I think that the entire charade of Jesus trial and execution were rooted in fear. And now, the fact that Jesus could, in fact, be raised from the dead, was dangerous to the religious/political establishment. Why?

Resurrection was seen as vindication. It basically would have shown that all the accusations of the people in power in the Temple were lies. It would have stood the whole system on its head. And it would show that Jesus was rightfully the King of the Jews. A king which the religious establishment missed (and dismissed) and that Rome couldn’t ultimately destroy. Now, interestingly enough, Jesus was not the only one to talk like this about resurrection being vindicating. Other revolutionaries, like the Maccabees who tried to take Jerusalem back by military might almost 200 years prior, used similar language to talk about their coming hope in 2 Macabbees 7. Though this is a book not included in the protestant canon of Scriptures, it is historically supported and it captures well the hope the people of the first century had. In 2 Maccabbees, seven sons and their mother were all martyred by the reigning imperial king because they wouldn’t disobey God’s law. And they would exclaim to the king each time, right before their execution, that God would be merciful to them, raising them back to life to show the error of the king’s ways and that God was on their side. Resurrection vindicates the martyred. (My mind is drawn to the incredible example of our Coptic brothers and sisters in Egypt, who have the power to forgive those who murdered their family members…their hope for resurrection and the example of Jesus forgiving his enemies fuels their faith)

If you’ll allow me, let me give a bit of an excursus on resurrection, as we sometimes tend to conflate resurrection with heaven/life-after-death. St. Paul thought that the resurrection of Jesus was so central to faith (and to what new thing was breaking into the world) that if it were not true, then our faith would be futile, we would still be in our sins, and we would be pitied as people without hope. You can read this in 1 Corinthians 15 (which is one of my new favorite chapters in Scripture) where Paul makes a direct connection between our own coming resurrection and the resurrection of Jesus, which is a first-fruits of that resurrection. What this means is that, because Jesus is alive (though he was murdered), we will also rise as he has. We will rise with real, physical, immortal bodies to enjoy the fully redeemed and restored creation with our God.

This is what N.T. Wright often calls life after life after death. This is why Paul quotes Isaiah, saying “death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” The answer, nowhere. Death is done. Life is ours, in Jesus. And it is a forever embodied life which we get to enjoy in resurrected bodies. Not as angels in the clouds, not as disembodied spirits floating somewhere, but as fully restored human beings, enjoying a fully restored heaven and earth, in fully restored relationships with each other and our King. And Jesus’ resurrection shows us that this is not an empty hope. It has already begun, because he is risen!

We have the more fascinating and beautiful story in the resurrection, but we are so prone to forget it. And we are prone to believe the other stories around us. We often need to take the time to admit where we really are, because many of us give mental assent to the fact that there was someone named Jesus who was crucified and died and resurrected, but we are not believing the powerful story of resurrection. We aren’t living from it. We still fall victim to fake news and to counter-narratives in our own lives.

This is true for me way too often. I don’t know about you, but I have real, deep fears. I fear that things won’t get better in the world, when I continue to hear of the increasing violence in our world, whether it is bombings overseas or shootings two blocks from my house.

I also fear that I will be insignificant. I fear that I will never have anything to offer the world. I fear that you all will not find my preaching fascinating or moving.

My wife Kara and I have recently stepped out into a very scary time of life. As many of you know, I was one of the first people to be a part of this new church work in Baltimore, in helping to start the Gallery Church. I’ve journeyed with the Prince family, with Albert and Lauren, for almost a decade. With the Medina family for 7+ years. With many of you for a long time. And I stepped out into something new, feeling a pull and a release. But sometimes, to be honest, I think I was a complete idiot. I struggle with this often: just ask Kara how much of a mess I can be sometimes! I’ve stepped from known to unknown. There has, in a sense, been a sort of death; a loss.

In stepping out in this new season of life, I feel like the Lord has something to tell us and show us, but I’m afraid I will miss it. I’m deeply afraid that I will spend my whole life trying to find something, but will miss it. I’m afraid that things wont be restored or redeemed.

This is not simply fake news: it’s bad news. It’s bad news in desperate need of THE good news.

I need the power of the resurrection, which reminds me that nothing can or will stop the world from being restored. And this restoration, this new creation world, includes you and me.

Notice something interesting: Matthew seems to just sort of simply, calmly, and causally include this story in-between the account of the resurrection and the commission to go make disciples of the the Risen Jesus. He doesn’t combat it with a bunch of apologetic arguments. He doesn’t seem to be wringing his hands, saying, “So I really hope people don’t get deceived here.” He just tells the story: some people are claiming the disciples stole Jesus body: here is how that rumor came about. It almost seems as though Matthew wants this passage to be a bit of a footnote for us. Matthew doesn’t want to give too much space to fake news, because there is a much more powerful and important story to tell which was first given to us, not by powerful leaders and soldier, but by a few scared women: Jesus is alive.

What might it look like if we were to fully embrace the truth and power of the resurrection? What could it look like if you shifted from fear to enduring hope?

As soon as you will be on your way to simply tell what you’ve seen (as the women were), there will be people conspiring to produce fake news about Jesus. It’s not because they hate you. It’s not even really about you that much. It’s about what stories can do for us.

So as you move into the last passage in Matthew about the great commission, may you become emboldened and encouraged that you have the privilege to witness to the powerful reality of the resurrection. It is a powerful announcement which proclaims, in the words of Samwise Gamgee, all that is sad is coming untrue!

Samewise Gamgee: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”

A great Shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.”

How will we respond?

I believe we are at a moment in history where it is absolutely essential for us to recover the beautifully dangerous, subversive, and powerful truth of the Resurrection of Jesus. We have the chance to retell this story by participating in it again and again. And we get better at telling something by practicing it.

Today, I want to lead us in what the poet Wendell Berry encourages us to do: to not simply believe resurrection but to “practice resurrection”.

In a world of fake news, fake claims, and post-truth, we proclaim…

Jesus is risen, and so shall we rise—with all things restored and finally made right. (refrain)

In our lives where we live in fear, isolation, disillusionment, and shame, we proclaim…

In our bodies which face weakness, decay, isolation, sickness, frailty, and death, we proclaim…

In our minds where we fight against the lies of the Accuser and of our own making, where we no longer wrestle with doubts afresh but acquiesce to their presence, we proclaim…

In our hearts, where we want the things which bring us and other harm, and where we struggle to allow ourselves to feel, for fear of more pain, we proclaim…

In our church which is holy yet tainted by sin, beautiful yet tragic, powerful, yet confused by violence, we proclaim…

In all creation, which groans under the pain of exploitation, pollution, human greed, and neglect, awaiting our revealing as daughters and sons, we proclaim…

Though we are taught to be individuals first, to seek our own welfare, our own interests, and our own desires, no matter the cost to others, we proclaim…

Though we face tragedy, loss, injustice, betrayal, derision, abandonment, death and sorrow, we proclaim…

And when we feel like our work does not make a difference, that our words fall on deaf ears, that our efforts are in vain, we take hope as we proclaim…Jesus is risen, and so shall we rise, with all things restored and finally made right!

Alleluia!

Welcome to Eastertide: a most dangerous of the church seasons for all that is fake and passing away—for death has been swallowed by victory and we celebrate the continued and ultimate in-breaking reality of the new creation into this world, and proclaim that nothing can stop the restoration of all things to our King!

Jesus is risen, and so shall we rise, with all things restored and finally made right!

Benediction: 1 Corinthians 15:54b-58

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Discipleship, Matthew, Sermon Notes

(Post)Sermon Notes: What Will You Do With What God Has Given You?

So, we had some volume issues with our podcast posted this week, so I thought it was a good excuse to try to get some more (post)sermon notes up for those of you who like to follow such things. I will be doing the same next week, in lieu of a podcast (or a sermon for that matter!).

Text: Matthew 25:14-30

So, I didn’t manuscript my sermon sermon this week. I just made four observations with questions at the end. I’ll try to link the points the best way I can to the scriptures they reference.

We are all given gifts of great value, though we are not given the same things.

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.

 

We are expected to invest what we’ve been given.

16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

This investment means risk and a lack of clear instruction from the master. The servants had to figure out how to put what they had been given to work (or not).

We can tend to justify our inaction/laziness with our own beliefs/theology.

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

Many issues we create can be tied to what we believe about God or ourselves, that is simply untrue.

We will be judged/rewarded in connection with how we put to use what God has given us into the world.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ 23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

 

Questions for Reflection:

-What has God given you? (talents, gifts, resources, etc.)


-What are God’s desires in the world/for the world?


-What can you do with what God has given you? What imagination do you have for investment of what you have?


-What is keeping you from acting on it? (what are your fears, hang-ups, questions, doubts?)


-What do you think God be declaring to you, in light of what is keeping you from moving forward? If you are afraid, what do you think God is saying to you in your fear?

I’d love any thoughts you may have, feel free to comment or contact me directly through the site here.

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Matthew, Religion, Sermon Notes

(Post)Sermon Notes: Would Anyone Want Your Life?

So, we weren’t able to get our normal podcast posted this week, so I thought it was a good excuse to try to get some (post)sermon notes up for those of you who like to follow such things. I hope it helps you consider or re-consider what this life of follow Jesus might look like.

Text: Matthew 23:13-15
How many of you are familiar with the movie “The Little Rascals”?
The movie centers around little kids, particularly the boys who have formed the “He-Man Woman-Haters”. This is an exclusive club, with the big rule that you have to hate girls to belong. The two best friends, Spanky and Alfalfa, end up having a falling out because Alfalfa has fallen for Darla, and has been spending time with her in secret.
It all comes out in an epic scene, where, while trying to have a secret date in the clubhouse, Alfalfa accidentally burns it to the ground because of his romantic lunchtime candles. He is punished by the group, and it isn’t until the very end, through a surprise guest, that they realize they were wrong, finally rebuilding their clubhouse and hanging a new sign on the door: “He-Man Woman Haters Club: Women Welcome”. In the final scene, you see them all getting along so well, and even Spanky seems to enjoy the company of his female friends.
In this movie, there was a strict rule that was preventing Alfalfa from pursuing the love of his life. And it was a nonsense rule (and even a dangerous one…we might admit that some organizations would be more honest if they hung a sign like the one at the end of the movie on their doors…). Alfalfa had been sold a bill of goods and he couldn’t do it anymore. It was not a life he wanted. And the damage it caused was extensive.
I know the movie is a silly example, but the Pharisees and teachers of the law that Jesus is talking to have been doing something similar. They have been laying up heavy burdens on others, they have been seeking to exclude other people and convert people to their cause, and have been blind to the hurt and pain they are causing, not to mention the fact that they were causing themselves to miss out. There is a certain misery in seeking to always police the world and be right all the time. That is what is behind the word “woe”. Jesus is saying: this life you have chosen for yourself…it is not just misguided and destructive, it is sad and lacking.
Woe is me.
We don’t tend to hear the word “woe” often today, but they were used by prophets to name what currently exists in someone’s life. It is a statement of regretful fact with even a twinge of compassion. This is not simply judgment, it is a sorrowful statement of what is happening.
It begs the question: do you really want this life, and would anyone else want your life? This is a key question for us as disciples of Jesus. Of course our lives have challenges and we are not perfect, but would someone on the outside looking in want our life? And if not, why not? This is a time for us to get honest about our own lives as we look at the lives of the Pharisees.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Jesus begins by passing judgment on the scribes and Pharisees for the effect that their hypocrisy has on others. The kingdom of heaven is meant to be attractive and inviting, but the scribes and Pharisees prevent those so attracted to it from entering the kingdom. They do not live as if they have entered the kingdom. because they actually haven’t. But they feel like they have to prevent others as well.
These leaders are so obsessed with holding on to their power and position, that they are trying to trip up and discredit Jesus so that the people who used to follow them (and now follow Jesus) will turn back to them. And how do they do this? Power and coercion. You aren’t following the rules. You aren’t keeping sabbath. You don’t really understand the Bible.
[the best manuscripts don’t include v. 14, so we didn’t look at it. For more detail as to why, or if you are concerned that we are removing things from the Bible, read this and
this to start]

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

Jesus, in talking about the Pharisees suggests that they are missionaries (and even successful ones), but those they convert are made even more corrupt than the Pharisees themselves. This is the danger of seeking to convert someone to an “-ism” an ideology , rather than to a way of living in deep relationship with the God of all. There is an appeal to fundamentalism and philosophy—it is the thought that we now know fully how to do the right thing and everyone else is wrong. Again, this is the heavy burdens of the Pharisees and the ultra-religious. Even our zeal can be something that becomes anti-kingdom. (Just ask the Apostle Paul about that one)
Some of us have really felt this one. We have been indoctrinated into thinking and acting in certain ways where fear was a big motivator. If you do this, then it will lead to [insert worst-case scenario/consequence here]. The bar becomes set so high that we live in constant fear, shame, and guilt because we cannot measure up. And perhaps, there is even this twisted hope that if I share this enough, I will come to believe it and embody it, and maybe even the person I convert will prove that this is right!
Quite simply put: this is a conversion to a Jesus-less religion. Keep these rules. Do things the right way. Believe the right things. Set yourself apart from those who believe the wrong things. There is nothing inherently wrong with describing our faith in relationship to our faith tradition. Someone will say I am Baptist or Catholic or Episcopal or Lutheran or Jewish or whatever it may be. There is such to be gained by identifying with a certain religious stream. However, when that becomes the thing that is more important than Jesus, we need to be careful and aware.
A side note: this is one of the several times where Jesus mentions religious people being the ones especially in danger of being related to or of hell. This should make our ears perk up a little bit. The question is, what are we attempting to convince people of? A system of belief? A particular set of holy living codes? A specific morality? Or…is our message one that says: the kingdom of heaven is near and you can be a part of it…now.
Pascal once said: “People never sin more grievously than when they act from religious motives.” I don’t feel like I need to convince you of this. So many wars have been waged over religious motives (even within the same Christian faith). Religious motives are fleeting and destructive, not just to others but also to ourselves. There is NOTHING about this way of living that is attractive to our world…and it is often where many people, apart from Jesus are living (and many who do confuse belief in Jesus). There is a better way.
What does your life speak about what you believe about the kingdom of God? Is it an invitational life? Is it an attractive life? Could it be that you are closing a door in people’s faces by the way you are stuck right now in your life? Is God saying “woe” to your life right now, not in a way of judgment but in a way of saying “It doesn’t have to be this way.”? The truth is, the door to the kingdom is open wide for us. Jesus has opened it and he is inviting us in. He is the Door. He is the Way. And to follow him is to lay down our striving, our burdens, our guilt, our shame, our rules, the lies we’ve been telling ourselves and others, the expectations we have or others have. It is laying all of it down and it is surrendering to a life with Christ.
What is preventing you today? What is the bad news in your life, the lies and stories you are telling yourself? What does God want you to know about him and about yourself this morning? What is the truth that makes life in the kingdom a joyful possibility?

I’d love any thoughts you may have, feel free to comment or contact me directly through the site here.

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Matthew, Musings, parable, Sermon Notes

[Post]-Sermon Notes: The Reasons for Parables

Note: I am posting a more manuscript version of my sermon because of technical issues with the podcast this week. This was delivered this past Sunday morning during our 11am gathering. Enjoy!

“The Reasons for Parables”
Text: Matthew 13:10-17

On a Sunday similar to this one, in the early fall of 1946, the English novelist George Orwell stood at the front of a church, honoring the enduring legacy of one of the leaders in the Church of England who had recently passed away. Many don’t know this, but Orwell (his real name being Eric Blair) was a very committed Anglican, his faith influencing his writing.

Before he came into the church, he noticed a large tree out front; one that had just started to show its maturity. Some children were climbing in the branches and playing under the shade.

It caused him to share these words:
“A thing which I regret, and which I will try to remedy some time, is that I have never in my life planted a walnut. Nobody does plant them nowadays—when you see a walnut tree it is almost invariably an old tree. If you plant a walnut you are planting it for your grandchildren, and who cares a damn for his grandchildren?” 

Setting aside Orwell’s loose lips and candor during a memorial service, the truth is a powerful one. We do not think to plant seeds for a future we will not get to experience. We are doing work, planting things which we will not see grow or mature.

I first shared this quote almost two years ago in this very room as we jointly celebrated the 100-year anniversary of Patterson Park Baptist Church (and their final Sunday as a church) and the first official Sunday morning of Gallery Church Patterson Park. It was a beautiful time and we gave everyone a walnut seed as a way to remember that we are both beneficiaries and builders of the kingdom; a kingdom that did not begin and will not end with us.

The disciples in the first century find themselves in a very similar place. The idea of the “kingdom of God” is not new to them. It has been in the collective conscious of the Jewish people for centuries. It is reawakened every generation with people who attempt to bring in the kingdom politically or militarily by force. It is anticipated as religious leaders come to gain power and influence with the occupying government, in hopes that they will one day plan a sort of coup to overthrow their oppressors. Yet, success would always evade them, and the consequences were not just loss, but death and often a tightening of the shackles on the people: more taxes, more oppression, more laws, more military.

The prophetic words of Isaiah have become painfully true for the people of Israel. Isaiah’s call was to go to speak to a people. We love to read Isaiah 6 up until verse 9, because it paints a picture of the greatness of God and the incredible response of Isaiah to God’s call. “Here am I, send me!”. We love to use this to talk about missions and obedience. But you know what comes after Isa 6:8? Isaiah 6:9!

The LORD tells Isaiah that he will be going to a people who would not understand or repent. As a result, they would experience the judgment of God.
(Read Isa. 6:9-12)
Verse 13: “And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”
Judgment and destruction for a people who would not turn to the God that loved them. But also hope…
(Isa. 10:33-11:2)

So, not only had Isaiah’s words come true (in a not so good way), they were also coming true (in a beautiful way!) in the person and work of Jesus. And the disciples are seeing this, but they want to understand why Jesus is speaking in this very strange way to others.
So their question is this: Why did Jesus speak in parables?
For us to seek to answer that question, we will talk about what parables are and what they do.

Parables are an exposition.

(v. 11)
Jesus is telling the parable about the sower, seed, and soil in order to communicate something that is happening in the kingdom right now. Again, we will deal with this more fully next week as to what this parable reveals, but Jesus says that these parables have to do with the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.

Parables are not simply just nice, cute stories that use something concrete to explain an abstract reality. On the surface they do that, but Jesus is not simply teaching to convey information. He tells parables to do something: to reveal the kingdom and who is in on it.
As we will come to see more next week as we talk about the meaning of this particular parable, Jesus is describing something that is happening right now.

So, I know some of you have struggled a bit this week with the questions I asked last Sunday, because I didn’t answer them for you. Someone asked me, “Are you going to answer all of those questions this week?” I’ll tell you what I told them: not yet, and I doubt I can answer all of the questions for you. Remember, we need to sit with our questions! We need to engage with Jesus teachings and allow them to do their work, not simply be problems for us to figure out!

But our main question is this: what does the parable expose or reveal about life and God and me? If we seek to answer that, we are working within the given framework that Jesus has given us. But parables don’t just expose reality, they also reveal something else.

Parables are a revelation.
(v. 12-16)
I mean this more than just that they reveal something about God and his kingdom (that is covered in the exposition). They reveal something about the hearer (or better yet, they reveal who is a hearer).
Jesus says that this way of teaching helps to fulfill the prophecy (and in some ways, the ministry) of Isaiah. Jesus chooses to teach this way in order to reveal who is really paying attention and who isn’t.
The hidden aspect of the parables’ message is thus both a cause of and a response to people’s unwillingness to follow Jesus.
Simply put, not everyone who hears the words of Jesus will understand them, abide by them, or follow them. And, of course, the disciples have a great advantage, having had the Sermon on the Mount given to them specifically.
But parables in some ways are a very practical tool that allows Jesus to see who is really desiring this kingdom. Those who show interest, who understand the parables are showing that they are a part of this movement. But those who do not, reveal that they are not followers of Jesus or his kingdom.

Parables are an invitation.
(v. 17)
This, for me, comes back to the walnut seed. Jesus is exposing the place of privilege and responsibility that the disciples have in being able to see and hear and understand what Jesus is doing.
To me, it is amazing that most commentators focus on this parable and ask questions about the previous verses in relation to the age-old questions of predestination and human responsibility or free will. I will not wade into those waters this morning for a variety of reasons, except to say this. Divine providence/election and human responsibility are both held in tension in the Scriptures. And, at the risk of over-simplifying things, when it comes to divine providence and human responsibility, by definition we are responsible for only one of those things! What I want us to see is that the idea of election: being chosen for a specific task by a specific person (in this case Jesus and his disciples) does not signify simply a privileged status. It is a “blessed status”, meaning, there is a great responsibility place upon you now, because of what you see and hear.
What is most incredible to me about this passage is that Jesus looks at this rag-tag group of followers and says: “You need to understand: your spiritual heroes would have given anything to be able to be in your sandals right now! Isaiah wrote about this ‘shoot of Jesse’ which would spring up out of the burned out stump of a tree of this nation, and you are looking at him, in the flesh!”
Implicit in that statement is a “so what are you going to do about it” sort of question. Will you jump into the story that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Elijah, Isaiah, and David is fulfilling now? Will you find yourself in this story and be changed by it? Will you be a part of this kingdom? Will you listen to me so I can tell you what it means?
This invitation is ours today as well. We are inheritors of a legacy not our own; a kingdom we did not build, but we can join in and belong. This is historically significant! Jesus is looking to us and saying, so many people would have loved to be where you are now, but it wasn’t time. But now it is time.
This is how Jesus began his ministry, calling people to him because the Kingdom of God is breaking into the world. That is happening right now, through the work of the Spirit in the church that Jesus started.
So, do we hear this? Do we hear what Jesus is up to in the world? Are we seeking to listen to him? We will be moving from hearing to understanding next week as we (finally) talk about what this parable means.
But let’s just take time to listen to the Spirit of God, right now in this moment.
What is he exposing to you right now about himself and the Kingdom?
What is he revealing about you?
How is he inviting you into his work in the world this week?
Benediction:
May we have ears to hear and eyes to see all that God is accomplishing around us in his kingdom. May we respond to his invitation to join him in his work, and may we realize that we are the inheritors of a past not our own, and co-stewards of a future that God is pulling most wonderfully into the present. May his kingdom come and his will be done, in Baltimore as it is in heaven.
Grace and Peace be with you.

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church, Matthew, Musings, Scripture, Sunday

Thoughts from Last Sunday’s Text

This Sunday was the first time in awhile I didn’t really give a sermon. We had an open mic time of sharing about the events of this past week in Baltimore, how we are processing, what we need to pray for, etc. It was a beautiful time and I was very proud of our church family.

We then read Matthew 10:16-23 and I gave 5 thoughts which came up as I read them. I wanted to just share them, without much commentary.

When Jesus sends us out, we are promised authority and presence, not safety. (v. 16a, 17-18)
We have a responsibility to be wise and to act with integrity. We need to act in peace, but act strategically. (v. 16b-17a)
We cannot avoid conflict as we seek to proclaim and embody the kingdom of God. (this is hard for me) (v. 21-22)
The only way we will be successful in our mission is if we go empowered by the Spirit. (v. 19-20)
Our work is never done, until Jesus returns (v. 23)

Any thoughts?

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