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Archive for January, 2017

“Bless You!”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . blessed are those who mourn . . . blessed are the meek . . . blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . . blessed are the merciful . . . blessed are the pure in heart . . . blessed are the peacemakers . . . blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake . . . blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”  Matthew 5:3-11 (NRSV)

Given this list, most of us would say we may not WANT to be blessed for all these reasons, but then, we always look at things from our own perspective and in our own cultural setting.  Is Jesus really saying that the only way to be blessed is to suffer?  I don’t think so.

It seems to me that he is teaching his disciples and the crowd who is listening in the background that God’s blessing is for everyone.  I mean, if God is there to bless those who are going through these really difficult situations, then surely God is also there for the ones who are not experiencing such things.

But let’s face it, we ALL experience challenges and difficulties!  God is aware of the people who are marginalized and rejected by family, friends, and society, and God is there with them, unlike many folks who try to stay away from them and ignore them.  So if God is blessing them, maybe God is also blessing those who aren’t in that situation.

And, maybe that blessing actually is given so that others might, in turn, become a blessing to those in difficult times.  Whatever the case may be, there is a clear instruction here in this section of the Sermon on the Mount (often called the Beatitudes).  Jesus’ disciples (including us) are called out of complacency, ignorance, and going along with society to bless those who are outcasts or challenged or rejected or marginalized.

I have often heard and used the sentence, “You are blessed to be a blessing” with congregations.  The interesting thing is that people will hear it and think of the materialistic part of their lives as blessings.  But Jesus isn’t talking about our possessions or our jobs or how many children we have or how well we have climbed the so-called ladder of success.

Jesus is talking about relationships.  God is in relationship with us, offering us unconditional love and acceptance, and God asks us to do the same with others. These teachings lead us to righteous living which means living in right relationship with God and those around us as well as those in the world where we can make a difference.

So, how are you blessed to be a blessing?

In what ways will you reach out to the ones who are marginalized?

How will you live your faith so others can see Christ at work through you?

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Gone Fishing

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’  Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”  Matthew 4:19-20 (NRSV)

This passage about Jesus calling the disciples has always made me wonder.  I wonder what it was about him that would cause them to drop everything and follow him.  (I can just picture Zebedee standing in then boat hollering, “Hey!  Where are you going?  We have work to do!”)  I wonder how they could leave their families and everything they have known to go with a stranger who said, “Follow me.”

I wonder most of all what I would have done.  As someone who has felt called to pastoral ministry since I was a teenager, I didn’t accept that call so easily.  In fact, I avoided it with all my strength.  Mostly, I was in total denial that God could even consider calling me to be a pastor.

It took me over twenty years to finally say “yes,” and then I did so with a lot of anxiety and trust, as well as a huge leap of faith.  Comparing it to jumping off a cliff and trusting that God was there to catch me was a common example for me as I went through the process of seminary and ordination.

Because I have a lot of friends and colleagues who have had similar experiences, I know this is a common theme that runs through our lives as people who are called to any kind of ministry.  So, why on earth would these fisher people just up and leave everything to follow Jesus?  Really?  Wow!

As in so many places of the biblical writings, I suspect the authors of the gospels are trying to get across that following Jesus is a total commitment.  We can’t just half-heartedly say we will follow because we won’t make it!  Giving ourselves fully to God’s call in our lives, no matter where it is, what it looks like, or what we have to do to get there is a total commitment.

But what about our families?  What about our friends?  What about our jobs?  Maybe that’s the mystery that’s behind God’s call.  It really begins at our baptism when God names and claims us as God’s own child.  Being baptized or reaffirming our baptism regularly reminds us of who we are and Whose we are.  It’s an identity, as well as our calling.  It’s our responsibility, as well as our vocation.  It’s our challenge, as well as our joy.

Dropping everything to follow Jesus means that we put him first above everything else.  The other stuff or people don’t go away.  God’s call in our lives may seem like we are left alone, but God wouldn’t call us and then send us forth without companionship and the tools to minister wherever we are sent.  That’s what Jesus did with the disciples – he trained them and nurtured them along, teaching them what it meant to live in God’s ways.

We are called to “fish” for people.  That means sharing the love of God with others, and sometimes (maybe a lot of times), it means stepping out of our comfort zones, trying something new, learning something new, meeting new people and interacting in ways that build them up and support them.

Jesus stands at the shores of our lives and calls us every day.

How do we respond?

Where is Jesus calling you today?

Is there something you have been feeling you should do, but have been afraid?  Go for it!  You aren’t alone on the journey!

Baptized

And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Matthew 3:17 NRSV

I always wondered why Jesus presented himself to John to be baptized.  We often think of baptism as something associated with forgiveness of sin, washing away the old sinful nature and taking on the new life in Christ.  Well, Jesus was not someone who might fit that criteria!

Over the years and through seminary, I have heard and read about this, and, thanks to many commentators and a number of interesting theological discussions, I have a much better understanding about why Jesus was baptized.

  1.  There is a link throughout the New Testament between Jesus and Moses, as well as Israel.  In some ways his baptism, being immersed in water and named and claimed by God seems like a way to usher in the new covenant.  Even as the Israelite slaves passed through the water to freedom, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection brings us all into new life and freedom.
  2. More than that, it symbolizes a new beginning for Jesus – the beginning of his very public ministry.
  3. It was an experience where God named and claimed him as God’s own Son, and in some ways, it “humanized” God – touchable and tangible.  Jesus said that to see him was to see God because God was in him.
  4. Another thought is that it was also Jesus’ way of connecting with us in our humanity. Although he may not have needed forgiveness of sins, his mission was to identify with us, with our lives, with our experiences, with our journeys.

This passage is about Jesus, and yet, we can also see it as a reminder to us that, in Christ, we, too, are commissioned and sent forth as the extension of Christ – the Body of Christ – into the world to bring the love of God to others.  Since Jesus is no longer with us physically, we become the physical presence of the Body and are sent forth to ministry in Jesus’ name.

So, the words that God spoke to Jesus, “This is my Beloved” are also spoken to us in our baptism.  When we are baptized, it isn’t just a ritual that the church does, but it is God working in us to claim us as God’s beloved child.  We are loved beyond anything we could ever understand.  God names and claims us as part of God’s family, as God’s own child.  What a gift that is!

Baptism gives us an identity – tells us who we are and Whose we are.  Baptism informs how we live our lives.  Every day, we live as God’s baptized and beloved children because we have put on Christ through water and the Spirit.  Whether we claim it or not, we are baptized, called, and commissioned to live our baptism in the world.

How will you live your baptism?

How will you share God’s love with others?

How will you help the family of God to be real to others?

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