Questions and Reflections

November 2016

Welcome to Matthew: joy in judgment

Our gospel reading is Matthew 24:36-44

Happy New Year! Today is the start of a new church year. For the next 12 months, most of the readings from the gospels will come from Matthew. The Gospel According to Matthew was probably written in the mid-80s somewhere in Syria or Galilee. The author used the gospel according to Mark along with other stories they knew or read about. 50 years after Jesus' death and resurrection, the early Christian community was struggling to integrate their Jewish tradition, identity, and heritage with their multiracial and multiethnic reality. The Holy Spirit was calling different kinds of people from different kinds of places to be a Christian community. With the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70, the early community was trying to discover who they were. 

Part of this conversation revolved around the idea of judgment. Matthew is full of judgment. Every few chapters, we hear a person, community, or group being by Jesus, God, and other people. The amount of judgment in Matthew can leave a  bad taste in our mouth. If we're sharing this story with our children, we shouldn't run away from judgment. Even our preschoolers know what judgment feels like. When we are judged by someone else, it is normal to be defensive. It is normal to be angry or depressed when we experience someone judging us. And it's also normal to judge others, from the car they drive to the way they dress. One of the lesson we try to teach is not to judge but we all know what judgment feels like. 

Could there a joy in judgment? That question is central to Matthew's experience of Jesus. For Matthew, Jesus is God's judgment on the world. Jesus shows God's power breaking into our world, casting out demons, healing the sick, forgiving sins, and bringing the poor good news. God's love is judgment. But instead of asking us to be defensive, God's judgment offers us an opportunity for new life. If we have a roof over our head and know where our next meal will come from, Jesus' judgment might worry us. But for the person without a home and how is hungry, Jesus' judgment offers an opportunity for food and life. Jesus' judgment offers an opportunity for joy. One goal this church year is to see the joy in God's judgment and live that joy in all that we say and do. 


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A Great Multitude: who is Jesus talking to in Luke 6?

Our gospel reading is Luke 6:17-31.

Today's sermon in the gospel according to Luke should sound familiar. This is Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount which appears in the gospel according to Matthew. In Matthew, Jesus begins his public ministry by sharing everything. He sits on a mountain top, surrounded by his disciples and a crowd. When we see Jesus there, he looks like he's standing between the earth and heaven. We are looking up to Jesus. His words, in this context, point us to "a covenant made with a community to which [we] aspire to belong" (Thomas Frank in Feasting on the Gospels - Luke Volume 1, 2014). Luke's sermon starts in a different place. Jesus isn't on a mountaintop. Instead, Jesus comes down from one and teaches while standing "on a level place." 

The crowd gathering around Jesus is filled with different kinds of people. Some come from Judea (the area around Jerusalem) while others come from the city of Jerusalem itself. Another group, however, comes from the coast of Tyre and Sidon. Tyre and Sidon are old cities and city-states founded and ruled by the ancient Philistines. The Philistines fought wars against Israel, King David, and the early Israelites. At one point, they even captured the Ark of the Covenant itself! Tyre and Sidon are also areas associated with kings and queens who ruled parts of Israel and encouraged the people of Israel to follow other gods. As cities on the coast, Tyre and Sidon did have faithful Jewish merchants and followers of God living within their walls. But Tyre and Sidon are places that should be hostile to God. But this crowd is different. This great multitude is full of the "right" kind of believers and the "wrong" kind too. There are people hear who we do not expect. But these unexpected people are standing alongside us, wanting to be healed and learn what God is doing in the world. So Jesus, seeing this crowd full of unexpected people, does a very unexpected thing. He is not standing above the crowd; he is inside of it. Jesus, when he looks at the people around him, is standing at eye level. He in the middle of this crowd full of the right and wrong kind of people. God is doing more than inspiring us to join what God is doing in the world. God is coming into the middle of us, meeting us where we are at right now, and bringing us into God's future. 


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