Sunday, October 21, 2018

Divine Interruptions and God's Perfect Timing; Matthew 9:18-26

My personality profile is that of a task-oriented person. I’m a “get’er done”, kind of girl, a “work, first play later” type person. I’m also a bit of a perfectionist, so I’m get it done and do it right. Multitasking often means I am less efficient and more scatterbrained. I have had to learn over the years when an interruption is important so that I—A. don’t allow myself to become as easily distracted by that which is unnecessary, and B. that I pay attention to important interruptions, some of which are divine encounters. When we are interrupted necessarily, that which is important is what gets done, and the rest falls into place because God’s timing is always perfect. In our gospel reading today, Jesus is divinely interrupted twice. Jesus was in the middle of responding to a question and using it as a teaching moment when He is divinely interrupted by one of the rulers of the synagogue. While Jesus was fully divine, He was also fully human. I am convinced that though Jesus often knew what was coming ahead, He didn’t always know because He didn’t use His divine powers without direction from the Father. He allowed Himself to be led by the Holy Spirit and only did the Father’s will. Therefore, I don’t think Jesus foresaw either of these interruptions. But along comes Jairus with an urgent request. We know his name from the gospels of Mark and Luke. Here is a Jewish leader who has great faith in Jesus. He kneels before Jesus, a position of humility and worship. According to Matthew, Jairus tells Jesus that his daughter has just died. According to Mark’s gospel, she is about to die. Regardless, it is clear that Jairus believes Jesus can raise the dead. Jesus had already raised a widow’s son to life as he was about to buried, being carried out of the house in a funeral procession. Jairus has great faith in Jesus. Jesus, seeing Jairus’s faith, gets up to follow him. Interruptions that seem like inconveniences at first can be life changing events. I visited ancient Capernaum when I was in Israel last winter. It’s not that big, and it probably would not have taken long to walk from where Jesus was to Jairus’s house, but the crowds are thick and Jesus is interrupted a second time. This time because He is touched. This interruption is important. We cannot talk about the healing of Jairus’s daughter without acknowledging the woman that touched Jesus. The gospels won’t allow it. Jairus doesn’t seem too perturbed about the interruption because he believes Jesus can raise the dead. Jesus is the one who makes a point of addressing the interruption. The woman could have touched Him, and He could have gone about His business, but He makes a point of stopping to have the woman identify herself. It is the disciples who are most concerned with the interruption. In the gospels of Mark and Luke, we hear the disciples saying all kinds of people were touching Jesus because of the crowds, what’s the deal. But Jesus stops. He wants the woman to identify herself. He intentionally takes time for her. She too believed in Jesus’s power to heal. She didn’t even need to touch Him, just the tassel of His garment. She too takes a position of humility towards Jesus. In making the woman acknowledge herself, Jesus affirms her wholeness that has come out of her brokenness. Jesus takes time to acknowledge her faith and affirm her position in the kingdom as His daughter. She is part of His family. Sometimes people realize we are busy, and they don’t want to take up our time, but if we allow them to go away and dismiss them, we might be missing an opportunity to deepen a relationship--when your kid tugs on your pantsleg when you are trying to cook dinner, when your spouse wants to talk when you are watching tv, when someone comes to your office door, when an acquaintance stops to greet you in WalMart, when someone asks for help that “will only a take a minute,” we might need to give them 30 minutes, we might even need to reorder our day. Sometimes what is being asked of us isn’t all that’s needed. The woman didn’t just need the blood to stop, she needed to be recognized as a person with dignity and worth. Interruptions can not only mean being inconvenienced, but interruptions can be messy. In both of these interruptions, Jesus makes Himself unclean. It was unclean to touch a dead body. It was unclean to touch a woman on her period, and this woman had been bleeding for 12 years. She was perpetually unclean. Jesus was the only one who could make each of these ladies clean again. Jesus takes our uncleanness upon Himself so that we might be made whole. Jesus takes our isolation upon Himself so that we might be made part of the covenant community. Being interrupted may mean that we might have get our hands dirty in order for someone’s problem to be fixed. It may mean that our reputation gets tarnished or that it is costly for us in some way. But in God’s economy, the benefits always outweigh the costs. Notice the repetition of the number 12. The girl was 12 years old and the woman had been bleeding for 12 years. The number 12 in the Bible symbolizes Divine Rule. These were signs of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God and the acknowledgement that God is in control and Jesus is the King. It didn’t matter that Jesus had gotten interrupted because God’s timing is always perfect. By the time Jesus gets to Jairus’s house, the girl has been dead long enough that the professional mourners have gathered. There is music and wailing and a lot of hullabaloo, but Jairus is calm. Jesus tells the mourners to give way, for the girl is asleep. In the gospels of Mark and Luke, only Peter, James, John, and the parents actually witnessed Jesus bringing the girl back to life. He tells them not to tell anyone, but the word gets out and gets out quickly. With a crowd already gathered and in the mourning process, it would have been virtually impossible for the word not to get out. They knew she had really been dead and not just in a coma. Despite the delay, the girl lived. Jesus’s power is not limited by our time tables. Some of us tend to get panicked when we feel like we are running behind schedule, but Jesus is not anxious. If what we are doing is what God wants us to do, we need to relax and trust in God’s perfect timing. Are there interruptions in which you know God was trying to do something through you? Have you missed divine encounters because you have been too busy to be bothered? Are there times when interruptions have proven to be an amazing blessing, perhaps you ended up being encouraged by someone else’s faith? Think of a time when you were glad that you stopped for an interruption. Have you ever been the recipient of a blessing because someone stopped what they were doing to offer you help? May we be those who are open to divine interruptions. May we look for opportunities to exhibit the Kingdom of God and to bring healing and wholeness to others, even when it seems inconvenient or costly. May we trust that God’s timing is always perfect and that if we allow God to order our steps, God will accomplish that which is necessary, good, and right through us. The next time you face an unexpected interruption, take time to consider whether it might be a divine appointment or a distraction from the devil. Because God’s timing is perfect, you can take a few moments to pray for God’s direction as you seek to discern your next steps.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Old Wine, New Wine, Good Wine; Matthew 9:14-17

What’s the difference between Episcopalians and Baptists? The Episcopalians will acknowledge the Presbyterians in the wine aisle. I enjoy a glass of wine every now and then, but I am picky. I tend to like NC native grape wines, and in my opinion, if it’s dry, it’s only good for cooking. That being said, I never want to make light of alcoholism. Alcoholism runs in both my family and my husband’s family. It has been present in every church I’ve served, with some folks admitting their problem and practicing sobriety, many having successfully achieved sobriety for a number of years, some who have openly lived with times of sobriety and times of relapse, and a few who refuse to acknowledge what everyone else knows, but no one will talk about, which is a great failure of the church. That which is brought into the light can be healed. We are called to hold one another accountable, and we are called to support one another in our struggles. Addiction is why we use grape juice instead of wine at Communion, even though we know that Jesus used real wine. Wine has played an important part in many cultures in history and still does today. It was important in Jesus’s time. These two parables are probably familiar to most of us, but I’m not sure we’ve given enough thought to what Jesus is really talking about. Too often, I think we assume that Jesus is saying the new is good and the old is bad, but I don’t think that is at all what Jesus is saying here. Jesus is saying we don’t want to lose the old or the new, but the old and the new what? How many of you grew up having patched clothes? I did my mom actually made a lot of our clothes growing up. It was cheaper than buying store bought clothes. But when it came to pants, I tended to wear out the knees riding bikes, climbing trees, and playing. Clothes are so cheap now, you can just throw old ones away and buy new ones, and then there are those who pay ridiculous amounts of money to buy the holes that wore into my clothes. If you sew an unshrunk patch over a hole or if you use a different kind of material for the patch, you find that the next holes you get are right above and right below the patch because the garment has threaded out. The patch ended up not doing a whole lot of good because you can’t keep patching the same place over and over for very long. In Jesus’s day, all clothing was of course, handmade, so you would want to be able to use a garment as long as reasonably possible. Notice that this parable doesn’t mean we should throw out the old garment. Otherwise, we’d just be left with patches. Correctly patching the old garment will preserve it so it can be useful again. The same is true with the parable of the wine and wineskins. New wine goes into the old wineskin and the old wineskin breaks, and the new wine is lost. To preserve both the wine and the wineskins new wine must be put into new wineskins. Jesus cares both about the wine and the wineskins being preserved. Note that old wine can go into new wineskins just fine. Eventually, old clothes and old wineskins do wear out, but new wineskins and new patches also eventually become old. So what is Jesus getting at? The context of these parables stems from a question about fasting that was asked not by the Pharisees, but by the disciples of John the Baptist. This questioning probably took place at the feast at Matthew’s house or just after it, which are the verses prior to today’s reading. It is quite possible that Matthew held his feast on what the Pharisees considered a fast day. John the Baptist and his disciples followed a rather ascetic life, so fasting was a practice they followed as well. Not only that, but by this time, John was in prison. It would be very appropriate for his grieving disciples to fast. Jesus does not condemn the practice of fasting at all, but He does say that it is not appropriate for His disciples to fast at this time. In fact, Jesus had already taught about fasting in the Sermon on the Mount. He preached that when you fast, fasting was an appropriate act of worship, don’t do it like the Pharisees, where you act like you are miserable just so everyone will know you are fasting, but do it in such a way that people can’t automatically tell. Wash your face, look decent, and go about your day. Now certainly there would be times when people knew you were fasting, like corporate fast days, such as the day of Atonement, but again, the emphasis was on the fact that fasting is an act of worship, a sign of repentance, not a indication that you are starving and can’t wait until you can eat again! But in this case, something new was happening, and it was so wonderful, Jesus likens it to a wedding. No one fasted during a wedding. People were coming to know Jesus. The disciples were introducing their friends and colleagues to the Bridegroom, Jesus. Then Jesus predicts His own death by saying the bridegroom would be taken away from them, and then they would fast. Fasting was an act of worship proscribed by God in the Law on the Day of Atonement. Later leaders and prophets ordered times of fasting for corporate repentance. But at the time of Jesus, the Pharisees had established a pattern of fasting twice a week. It was a new thing that had now become commonplace, but its time was up. Fasting still had its place and still in the way that God originally intended, but these rituals no longer served the people but enslaved them. When the Pharisees started this practice, I do not believe they intended to use it to enslave people. They developed practices over concern for keeping and honoring God’s Law, but over time, their ways of worship became burdensome and not meaningful. In addition, the Pharisees began looking down upon and treating differently those who did not go along with their rules. What once, perhaps, had value, served only now to divide worshippers. How often we judge people based on our own worship preferences rather than trying to understand where someone is coming from? Jesus does not criticize John’s disciples for asking the question. Matthew Henry points out in his commentary that we don’t know what someone’s devotional life is like just by looking from the outside. We must be careful not to judge based on appearances. We can ask curious, caring, and committed questions—questions that are non-judgmental, which we ask to honestly understand someone else with whom we want to develop a closer relationship, not questions that you are using to try and distance yourself from a person or group of people. Jesus values the old clothing, the old wineskins and the new wineskins. Jesus values fasting and feasting. What makes the difference is the appropriateness of the act. What is the context? Is fasting truly an act of humble worship or mere ritual? Is feasting a celebratory act of worship or mere gluttony? We need to remember that everything new becomes old. Take worship music for example. I have heard a lot of “We want to sing the old hymns.” So I pull out something from the 1400’s and inevitably I will hear, “We’ve never heard this before,” despite the fact that it is still sung in churches around the world. What they really mean, is we want to sing early 20th Century American songs, not even early American music. But that stuff was brand new at one time. I hear, “We want to sing contemporary music.” And I will pull out something from Keith and Kristen Getty, but what is really meant is “We want to sing praise choruses from the late 80’s.” New, old, it doesn’t matter to me, and it doesn’t matter to Jesus. To me, it’s important that it have solid theology and a decent sound, even if we have to learn it. To Jesus, the worshipper’s heart is what is important. Remember that Jesus did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. He wanted to make evident God’s original intentions in the Law that had been lost through tradition. It took some stripping away to regain what was really intended, like cleaning the layers of dust and soot on off of an old masterpiece painting. An old reality was being expressed in new ways, but we can also use old ritual to express a new reality. Paul did not give up his Judaism when he encountered Jesus. He fulfilled a Nazarite vow and made a point of returning to Jerusalem again and again to celebrate the festivals. But Jesus was now very much a part of what Paul did. These ancient rites were all about celebrating and glorifying Jesus. Jesus values the new wine and the old wine. Jesus values new believers and long-time faithful saints. We cannot expect new and not yet believers to be “just like us.” We do need to appreciate the energy, gifts, and ideas that new believers bring. Like new wine, they are joyous and effervescent. Remember that old wine can go into new wineskins, but new wine cannot go into old wine skins. We need to remember that we are all growing and changing. The disciples were learning. They didn’t stay in the same place. Wine aficionados will tell you that aged wine is often superior. It has more depth and character. We need the wisdom and experience of those who have been walking with Jesus not simply longer than we have, but more closely than we have, and we need to keep allowing ourselves to be stretched. That means getting into some new wineskins, every now and then. The most important thing is for us to make sure that what we do is much more about honoring Jesus than our personal preferences. How do we connect with the tax collectors and sinners of our world today? What do we need to change so that we can introduce them to Jesus? What do we need to keep so that we can remain grounded in the ancient Truth?

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Jesus, Friend of Sinners; Hosea 6:4-11a, Matthew 9:9-13

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Monday, August 27, 2018

Which is Easier?: Matthew 9:1-8

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

What Scares You?; Matthew 8:23-34

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

God is Great, God is Good!; Psalm 145

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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Don't forget; Psalm 119:169-176

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