What Comes Forth

08.16.20

Have you ever been around someone that you never have to guess what they were thinking or feeling?  What they were thinking, their thoughts, dreams, hopes, excitement, emotions, always on display? It is a character trait that is both annoying and endearing? You can bask in who they are, or you dismiss them and try to avoid them.  I think Joseph was one of those people. 

Joseph is one of the most illuminating figures of the bible. We are given not only the historical accounts of his life, which are horrifying, but we also get to see the emotions, the fears, the disappointments, and the joy.

Joesph has multiple meetings with his brothers, were did the unthinkable to him, and are oblivious to his identity. Joesph comes to a point where he cannot hide his joy and excitement anymore.  He has all this joy and happiness inside of him that he can only keep pushed down for so long until he pops. 

For Joseph, faith was faith, and faith was life.  He didn’t have to force it.  His faith was what came forth from his life. The first time we see God even referenced by Joseph is in jail when he explains to other prisoners that dream interpretations come from God then, a second God reference is of the same substance, but for Pharaoh. While there is not much dialogue from Joesph proclaiming God,  his life serves as a megaphone abut God.  God comes forth in the life of Joseph. 

‘God coming forth’, is exactly what Jesus is talking about in the first part of our gospel reading Jesus says.…

As I mentioned in our passage primer this week, there are several aspects of Matthew 15 with which I struggle.  This statement from Jesus, ‘to eat with unwashed hands does not defile,’ is one of them, especially during our current pandemic.  However, what is seen and/or heard immediately from this statement is not what Jesus is saying.  He is not mounting an anti-hygiene protest, nor is he revealing that he has bought into an extremest conspiracy theory.

The earliest findings of any types of hygiene guidelines and laws date back to the Exodus when God, through Moses, gave the Israelites instructions on everything from washing their hands, to the disposal of human waste.  These hygienic practices were a religious responsibility. About half a century later, under King David, these practices were expanded from being religious to being a societal practice. 

More than any other people, personal hygiene was a founding principle of the Israelites, and Jesus was not contradicting this.  Jesus was talking about something much deeper, he was addressing what we allow to exist inside of us, that which influences and changes what we put into ourselves.

A couple of weeks ago, I referenced our experience a decade ago with our daughter Grace spending 11 days in the hospital with Steven Johnson’s Syndrome, a severe, often fatal, reaction to medication.  What I did not mention was that she, along with our son Caleb, had been taking the same medicine for the same sickness, for the same amount of time.  Caleb had no problem with the medication and within a very short time was feeling better and back to normal.  However, something in Grace’s system influenced the otherwise ‘okay’ medicine rending it toxic.

This is what Jesus is saying.  Everything in our life is influenced by what is already at our core, what is inside of us.  We put relationships into our life – they can mix with our insides and come out as a healthy lasting relationship, or they can come out as adultery and fornication.  We put communication in, it mixes with our inside, comes out of our mouth as unifying and encouraging words, or it comes out as false witness, gossip,  and slander. Our heart, our core, takes the non defiling things we put into our life and determines if they come out beneficial or harmful. 

It all depends on what we allow to be inside of us.

Jesus is challenging the standard religious thought, especially as established by the institutional leaders.  He is telling them that transformation does not take place by our practices alone, or anything that we think we must, or must not, do to be right with God.  It is much deeper,  it is that which comes forth from us that identifies that our heart, our core, what is our center. 

 When we put someone on a pedestal, because of their religious or political position, or someone who sounds like they know God better than us, or even someone who seems to know the Bible better than us, and fully depend on them to tell us what to believe and how to have faith, how to have God as our center, then, Jesus says that we ‘Make Void the Word of God.’ Think about this, Jesus is saying when our examples, and truth, foundation becomes the examples and truth of man, we have dismissed God.

Let’s get into this a bit deeper by looking at one word, the word that provides the true challenge of Jesus’ message – the word ‘DEFILE.’  The greek, in this context is κοινοwhich means ‘to defile’. The root word, which gives  us clarity of the meaning of ‘defile’ is koinoó , which, in certain context can mean ‘to make unclean, pollute, desecrate’. Now, if we go deeper to the literal meaning of the root word, the word from which these all use in their  particular context, ‘to make common.’

Consider this,We have the choice, we can be common, or we can represent HOLY.  We can stick with everyone else in being the same, having a status quo, common, faith, or, we can represent holy.

As we have witnessed in Matthew’s gospel, when it moves to another story or teaching, as we ‘move on’, ‘moving on’ is never ‘moving away’.  

Jesus now travels to the major Roman port cities of Tyre and Sidon, home to countless pagan temples, populated largely by gentiles but sizable Israelite population resides there as well.

Remember, there is an intentionality of the chronological order in Matthew’s gospel, teaching moments are often followed by an experiential lesson as well.

As Jesus, and his disciples, enter the area, they are immediately confronted by a Canaanite woman who is shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’  Jesus’ response is odd, it is very suspect, it is very ‘un-Jesus’ like. He dismissively ignores the woman, then, as she continues to make a spectacle of herself by screaming, the disciples join in suggesting that Jesus send ‘that shouting woman’ away. Jesus responds to the suggestion by pointing out that ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ She then gets in front of Jesus, kneels, and begs, ‘Lord, help me.’ Jesus responds with the seemingly racist and callous response of  ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ The woman replies to Jesus with, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Now, she has Jesus attention as indicated by his response, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ After this, we are informed that, at that moment, her daughter was healed instantly.

The change in Jesus posture with the woman, as well as a positive and affirming response, signals that something significant has just taken place.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the disciples share a look of confusion with each other.

This interaction just seems to increase in the odd and bizarre factor as this conversation progresses.

Let’s dive in and break this engagement down.

We begin by looking at Jesus’ initial response to the woman – he ignores and dismisses her, while the disciples, thinking they have picked up on a subtle cue meant for them, join in by urging him to get rid of her.  This opening action, or inaction, on the part of Jesus was intentional, it was targeted, it is was a signal that this is going to be a teaching moment aimed at, not the woman, but the followers of Christ. He is using the moment to teach his followers, particularly his disciples, what he had just verbally taught about in the earlier verses. As the woman shouted, what was inside of the disciples, and probably inside the crowd as well, began to take hold, they thought the gate had been open to let their own attitudes come forward,  it could no longer be held back, it all came pouring out out of their mouths, ‘Just send her away, Jesus!’ 

In these brief four words, the disciples revealed a bigotry and a prejudice against the woman, as ‘all her kind.’ They, unconsciously formed a hostile attitude toward the woman because of her nationality, her color, her ancestors, basically ‘who she was.’ In the most blunt of terms, they were revealed that they were racists.  We know that because her requests, and methods, were  nothing new, thousands had come to Jesus doing the same thing for the same reason, probably, many who were also shouting – the disciples didn’t  suggest sending them home, well except for when there were too hungry, when they became a burden.  This time was different, this time it was a pushy Canannite, woman, a gentile.  Sure, the gentile centurion had come to Jesus on behalf of his servant for healing, maybe, the servant was even a gentile. The difference, though, in that gentile situation and this gentile situation was all about presentation (or so they would have claimed), that man, the Centurion, knew how to act, he was respectful, he knew the words to say, it knew how to act right.  He was following the unspoken rules that you follow as a gential and addresses a Israelite. This  Canannite gentile Woman either didn’t know how to act correctly, normally, or she did but just refused to do so. 

So, Jesus echoed the mind and heart bigotry of his disciples and followers, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ While this was true, the promise to Abraham and passed down to Jacob, did declar that all people would be blessed by the Israelites, Jesus coming to heal the  Israelites would, conceptually, enable them, the Jews  to go to the gentiles.  While accurate, it was not true to ‘who’ Jesus was, and they should have known this by now.  Sometimes, it is impossible to even realize what we have allowed to be hidden in the dark places of our heart and mind – especially racism and bigotry.

The disciples did not, and at this point could not, empathize with the woman, something in them did not want to.  So they hated and despised her – Jesus let them see this as he opened the gate for these things to come forth from out of their lives.  He echoed their thoughts, he mirrored their darkness. 

While the disciples only saw a non-Jew, a non-Israelite, and a non-male; what they did not see was that this oppressed and desperate woman was a Canannite, she, like Rahab, Tamar, and Ruth, all shared ancestral connections with Jesus.

Next, we see the woman quickly move ahead of the still walking Jesus, and kneel in front of him, probably in deference bowing her head to the ground, blocking his way so that he has to stop.  The response of Jesus to the woman’s repeated cry for help is to say, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ These words too, are not the mean spirited words they sound to be. The gentiles held a much different attitude towards animals.  While the Israelites may have had animals around as a necessity, the gentiles endeared the animals they had as beloved family pets.  So, the phrase ‘dogs’ would not have been taken as the insult it sounds to us – it was a description of the immense difference in the faith and religion of the Israelites and the scattered and dysfunction of the faith practices of the gentiles. 

Her response is an unveiling of her unbridled faith, as well as of the expansiveness of God’s love and Jesus’ ministry. In saying, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table,’ the woman exposed her understanding of God, God’s love, and of her own belovedness by God. 

She was saying, ‘yes, I know you came for the Israelites, but, I also know that you are enough, and have enough grace, for me and all peoples.’

Jesus is blown away by the heart and core of this woman as he sees what comes forth from her, as evidenced by his response to her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ He sees a faith that empowered by what is inside this woman.

This woman, who didn’t look like one that Jesus had come for, she didn’t wash her hands as part of a religious ritual, she didn’t observe the dietary laws or think certain foods were unclean, she didn’t have the right ‘pure’ bloodline, her nationality did not hold the power her oppressors held, she may have not been the acceptable color, she didn’t live in Jerusalem nor was she allowed in the temple, in all honesty, there are countless ways that she did not fit the proper mold of a faithful follower of Jesus…..unless you were able to see her heart, or if you were to be there, like Jesus was, when what was inside came forth.

Let’s look at this in a practical way, from a historical event, to see how what  is inside comes out, and what comes out positively or negatively impacts all that are in a part of our journey. 

The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell

On November 14, 1960, a US Marshall’s vehicle pulled up in front of the New Orleans home of Abon and Lucille Bridges to escort their 6 year old daughter to William Franz Elementary School. Little Ruby was wearing new dresses, socks, and shoes and ready for her first day of  school.  

As Ruby, and the Marshalls, arrived at the school, they were met by an angry mob. John Steinbeck, who was there to witness the moment, later wrote about what he had observed, specifically, he wrote  about a group of women at the protest whose picture had been seen nation wide, –  

“No newspaper had printed the words these women shouted. [The newspapers] indicated that they were indelicate, some even said obscene. On television the soundtrack was made to blur or had crowd noises cut in to cover. But, I heard the words, bestial and filthy and degenerate. In [my] long and unprotected life I have seen and heard the vomitings of demoniac humans before. Why then did these screams fill me with a shocked and sickened sorrow?” John Steinbeck

Ruby was one of three children that integrated the public school system in New Orleans in 1960, however, Ruby was by herself at William Franz Elementary School. She spent the year traveling to and from school  in the vehicle with the Marshalls, who in between would go back to her street to protect her house and parents.  Lucille and Abon, her parents, suffered that year as he lost his job as a gas station attendant because of Ruby; their grocery store  would no longer her family shop  there; her sharecropper grandparents in Mississippi were turned off their land. Most parents removed their children from the school the day that Ruby arrived. Ruby, walked in through the screaming mob every morning and every afternoon.  In between, she was alone in a classroom, just her and Barbara Henry, her teacher, brought in from Boston.

”If Charlie [the Marshall] had not done his job, had not answered the call and wasn’t there for me, if the teacher was a different person, I would have had a different life,” she said. “I would have seen [white people] in a different light.” Ruby Bridges

Now, as an adult 60 years later, Ruby shares life lessons she learned from that year, and her subsequent life, how those who didn’t join the hateful mobs made a huge difference in her life, ‘many others in the community, both black and white, showed support in a variety of ways. Some white families continued to send their children to Frantz Elementary despite the protests and danger, a neighbor provided her father with a new job, and local people babysat, watched the house as protectors, and walked behind the federal marshals’ car on the trips to school.’ It was not until Bridges was an adult that she learned that the immaculate clothing she wore to school were donated to her family by a white relative of Dr. Coles,  her volunteer psychiatrist.

Marshall – Charles Burks, Teacher – Barbara Henry, and Ruby Bridges

What is coming forth from us?

What is coming forth from  you?

Are you, are we, settling for ‘common’?

Let’s pray.

Wrestling til’ Daybreak

08.02.20

In seventh grade there was the group of boys who have already become ‘men’ – puberty for them was a thing of the past. Then there was the other half, like me and most of my friends, who were still a decade or two away from puberty.  Then, there was Matt, Matt experienced puberty prior to learning to walk.

No where was this categorization more obvious than in Physical Education class. Everyday, class would begin the same, when seemingly a 1,000 seventh grade boys would cram into the small locker room to change into our required gym clothes.  Not only was this a challenge because of space, but also, because the past puberty seventh grade men would just walk up and rip the lock off their locker, while the pre pubescent seventh grade boys would be in a panic, scrambling to remember their combination – at the end of class, we would all crowd back into the same locker room to take the required shower all together in the no privacy group shower room. It was terrifying.  Coaches would stand at the exit door to make sure everyone had wet hair before leaving. In between the beginning and the end of class, there was the actual class.  Small, beanpole, frightened boys playing games such as Dodge Ball against huge and hairy men. 

While the Friday Seventh Grade Dodge Ball games were enough to send shivers down the spine of a 7th grade boy….we were unaware of the true evil coming our way – until we did, it all began on a late fall Monday, in third hour.

The Wrestling unit.

The coach had quickly educated us on the first move, this was holding down your opponent or freeing yourself from your opponent. Followed by coach pairing us up with our opponent for the entire wrestling unit. His method of choosing partners is best described as ‘sadistic’.  From the beginning pair up, his strategy was painfully obvious – man against boy. The most terrifying of all pairings came at the moment when coach, sporting an evil smirk, yelled, ‘Anthony’, then taking a long pause to build the suspense, his evil smirk gradually widened as we turned and looked at all men waiting to be chosen. There was only one man left, I had been keeping track. He looked at me, and the fear in my eyes, and then turned to Matt and said ‘Matt, you will be Anthony’s partner.’

Coach was now in his happy place.

As Matt and I were called to the wrestling mat, instead of walking to the center of the mat, Matt walked directly to me. He bent his head down to my ear, remember that Matt was a giant, whispering, ‘I will be in thee floor position.’ At this point it was all semantics for me, on the floor or kneeling, the outcome would be the same.  I had resigned myself to a death on a Monday in late fall on the mat in the wrestling room during third hour.

As we took our positions, I unsuccessfully attempted to hide my fear, coach blew the whistle. Matt quickly rolled out of my grasp – exactly the way Coach had instructed, his next move, however, was a bit more unorthodox.  He rolled to his back, pressed his shoulders to the wrestling mat and yelled, ’Anthony pinned me!’

Coach still had the whistle hanging between his teeth, but now his evil smirk had change to a look of pure confusion.  His joy was gone, his sadistic anticipation of a bloody match, had evaporated in an instant.

Matt stood up, looked at coach, and said, ‘I don’t do wrestling.” He then walked away from the center returning to his seat on the edges of the mat.  

It was a surreal moment as coach raised my hand in the air and instructed me to return to my seat.  The next day we coach announced that we had completed the wrestling unit and would be moving on to the second part of the basketball unit.

Matt was now a hero for all the seventh grade prepubescent boys.

Wrestling is probably the world’s oldest sport, dating back to 3,000 BC.  It was introduced into the ancient olympics in the year 708 BC. My, career in wrestling, began, and ended, on a mat in the wrestling room of West Junior High School of Norman, OK, in the year 1973 AD, during third hour on a late fall morning.

The grandson of Abraham, the son of Isaac, the father of Joseph, was a hard and successful worker, but not really a fighter, or a wrestler, he was more of a runner (as in run away), he was a natural manipulator, an even better deceiver, but, he was not a fighter.  However, he was about to face the most epic of all wrestling matches.   

Jacob was on his way home, it had been 20 years since he had run away from a fight at home, a fight, with his brother which he was sure to lose.  During that 20 years he had married 2 sisters, had children by both wives and servants, had amassed a fortune, and realized that he was a good business man. He had also, for the first time, met his match in Laban, his deceptive and manipulative father-in-law….who had warriors to fight for him.

Jacob had weighed the odds of facing his scheming father-in-law, or, facing his brother Esau, who had surely been nursing a very justified grudge for the past 20 years.

As he secretly snuck out of Laban’s house with his wives, children, servants and possessions, he headed home, on the way, Jacob attempted to soften the anger of Esau by sending daily gifts. As he approached the ultimate face to face confrontation, Jacob delayed the inevitable for one more night.  Continually calculating the potential risks, Jacob split up his family, people, and possessions and hid them safely to minimize his losses. Then, after enlisting the use of all of his strategies of manipulations, Jacob went back to the overnight camp and prepared for a night alone.

Even with all of his selfish faults, Jacob was a very determined man.  His very name meant ‘one who holds onto his brother’s heel’ – which is what he was doing at his own birth.  Even in the womb he was determined to get, and be, the most of every category.

Back at camp, as Jacob was alone, there was a man who gave Jacob no option but to engage in the epic wrestling match of a lifetime.  It was dark so Jacob could not see who he was against, but the possibilities were endless. It could have been the ghost of his father, Isaac, who Jacob has deceived, or his bother Esau, who Jacob had deceived, or his father-in-law,  Labah, who Jacob had deceived. That was just the top three most obvious choices.  He did not realize it but he was actually about to engage in an all night wrestling match with God.  If the fight had been during the daylight, Jacob would have never engaged, he would have recognized the odds were definitely not in his favor, Jacob would have employed his most successful maneuver, he would have run away.  It was dark though, and Jacob unknowingly, engaged in an epic struggle.

God, being a father, fought like a father. He withheld his own power to match that of his child Jacob. This was not just a struggle of Jacob with God, it was also a struggle for God against Jacob.  In many aspects, Jacob had been in this wrestling match his entire life.  Battling the powers within himself that were constantly at war with what he knew was right.  Choosing to mistreat and mislead loved ones, leaving them with no choice but to compete with each other for his love and attention; the very ones who should have been able to rest in his love and acceptance, his wives and his own children.  Then there were those who love for Jacob was betrayed by his determination to ‘get more’ – his father and his brother.  This was not Jacob’s first wrestling match, but it was his first honest interaction that mattered, this struggle was pivotal and essential in the life of Jacob.

There is something very different in a wrestling struggle and a mere street fight.  In a fight your goal is to destroy your opponent, to a the point that he cannot even rise up as the fight is over – in a wrestling match, your goal is to prevail, to take inventory of all of all your resources, your strengths and your mind, and then use those resources to out maneuver, to out wit, and to out discern your opponent.  In the dark, when you do not know who your opponent is, reading the situation and the powers against you is much more difficult – all you have is your own resources doing all you can to prevail.  

As a sliver of daylight became visible on the horizon and the two men were still struggling, God,  released his power through a gentle touch.  A touch that displaced Jacob’s hip – a touch that broke Jacob, a touch that reveled to Jacob that this was no ordinary opponent.

Let go of me,’ God said to Jacob.

‘I will not until you bless me,’ Jacob replied.

Jacob was beginning to recognize the fullness of this situation.  While getting a blessing had been the goal of his life, he was fearful yet interested in the possibilities of this moment.  This was a transformative moment for Jacob, his struggle now turned inward, no longer being about prevailing but, instead, it now was about coming to terms with himself.  Understanding that his life was meant to be more than just about Jacob, but, quite possibly his life was about something larger.

The Jewish understanding of the concept of ‘blessing’ was not the self-centered, fortune cookie vision, that we have now. A blessing was given so that the blessed would bless others. God was going to bless Jacob so that, in order with the promise that had passed from his grandfather, to his father, and now to him. 

Understanding the full meaning a blessing, and understanding the cultural and religious understanding of the day, is essential for us to understand the transformation taking place in Jacob. A truly selfless spirit had to exist to receive such a blessing, and, until this struggle with God, Jacob did not have such a spirit. This struggle was the nudge, or push, that connected the dots for Jacob, he had an epiphany as the sun rose that morning. He was finally ready and willing to receive the blessing that he had been seeking his entire life.

Jacob used his greatest power, the power that he had been endowed with in the womb, the power to hold on.  As the night-long exhausting wrestling match depleted Jacob’s strength and power, he held on to this opponent. To which his opponent said,

‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’

God to Jacob

It was all very fuzzy but Jacob thought he heard the words ‘striven’, ‘God’, ‘humans’ and ‘prevailed.’  Jacob had no problem with the word ‘striven’ that had been the storyline of his life, a constant struggle with someone, but the words ‘God’ and ‘Prevailed?” 

‘Have I just wrestled with God all night? and, did I win?’

Jacob to himself

As Jacob considered the implications of his opponent’s statement, an opponent who had now withdrawn himself, Jacob began to have, as he allowed, an experience of transformation. He could see beyond himself, he realized his role in the course of the world, he was humbled and depleted, he was broken, he was being rebuilt.  He now walked with a limp, but there was also a change in his countenance, no longer was he dependent on his own wits to survive, life was much bigger now. He was not perfect, there would still be a lot of rough edges but this was at least a partial metamorphosed Jacob. As can be seen in the name he gives to this place, ‘Peniel’, meaning ‘I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ It was a transformation that his life was no longer about prevailing, he wasn’t a prevailer, he was a runner – he had not prevailed, all he had done was to hold onto God, and in the struggle, he had been preserved.

He was now ready to face life, all the unknown, with no guarantees, no assurance of victories or personal gain, no recognition of importance or worth, but now, he was facing life with hope, sustainability, mercy and humility, all grounded on love.

In in order to understand the pertinence of Jacob’s wrestling match with God, to our own lives, let’s jump forward a couple of thousand years.  We end up at a wilderness place with thousands of hungry humans along with an exhausted Jesus and his weary disciples. Jesus has been denied even the shortest of breaks as he has, once again, has seen the oppression, the suffering, and the misery of the people.  His compassion and mercy compelled him to address their needs.  His passion makes it impossible to ignore. His, was a gut response to the needs, it pushed him to release, to heal, to free. There was an everlasting line of needs, one after the other. Jesus lived in the Kingdom of Heaven, even while on earth, a dwelling place that he calls all believers to live in,  a place where the physical needs of others are of priority to address, when the earthly reality is that the Roman Imperial system, as well as the existing religious system, did not see physical needs such as health, hunger, disease, poverty, shelter, abuse, and education as issues of priority.

So, when the disciples suggested that it was getting dark and that it would be best to send the crowds home, Jesus was perplexed.  There were still needs to be met, plus, now the people were hungry.

‘You feed them,’

Jesus to Disciples

‘We do not have anything to give them,’ the confused followers said, ‘we didn’t plan on feeding anyone, let alone a crowd this size.  We don’t have anything! What good can 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread for all these people?’

While what they didn’t have was the earthly focus of the disciples, the kingdom focus of Jesus was on what they did have.  They had a starting point. Jesus took that bread and the fish, and broke it all apart and distributed the small, tiny pieces into the baskets to be passed among the people.

The disciples had to be horrified at the thought of passing these basically empty baskets among the hungry crowd, to a crowd expecting something great to happen. The disciples had to be frustrated.  Jesus needed to rest, the crowds were hungry, the line for help was endless, they were in the middle of no where, it was time to go home.  The disciples were upset, they were struggling, they were in an epic wrestling match.  It was daylight, they could see their opponent, it was the whiny and complaining crowds with all their needs, their suffering, their oppression, their ancestral passing down of this oppression based largely on pigmentation, their nationality, their societal placement, the color of their skin, their enslavement, their poverty, and now their hunger.  They were not prepared and now it was on Jesus, and the disciples to provide.

‘When would this end?’ They questioned.

The more their frustration simmered the more they realized that the crowds were not their opponent, much like Jacob, they were wresting against Jesus, they were wresting against God.

Jesus was the problem, God was the source of this ridiculous situation. If Jesus did not have to stop every time a hurting person appeared this would not have gotten so out of hand.  If only God were to instruct Jesus to dismiss the needs sometimes, if only he would moderate the passionate compassion of Jesus.  Afterall, there were more important and pressing things to get to.

As with all of Jesus miracles, the miracle of creation to this moment of needs and hunger, we do not know the technical details of the abundance of food that filled every person in attendance that day, but we do know that the day ended with an abundance. It could have been a magical moment when the tiny broken pieces strangely multiplied, or it could have been an even more miraculous transformational moment as the people put themselves aside realizing they didn’t have to take more than they needed, or possibly seeing the contribution of the fish and loaves spurred them to realize they also could contribute.  Regardless of the how, the reality is that there was not only enough food there was actually an abundance.

The disciples then realized that their struggle was not with the crowds, nor was it with Jesus, it was with themselves. It was about a struggle with trust that came with living outside of the Kingdom of heaven where earthly things are allowed to hinder us from answering the call of God. Keeping us from addressing issues of injustice, oppression, deep inherited baggage that is more than humans can bear, hunger, sickness, racism, hatred, dismissal, disregard, poverty, and all suffering. All the things that tangle our roots and restrict our sight.

A wrestling match can bring us to transformation if we hold on. A struggle can show us what we have instead of what we do not have.  What is your struggle, what is God bringing into your vision?

With an attitude of willingness to be a part of God’s answer to our prayer, let us pray.

Deeply Rooted – Pulling Weeds

07.19.20

A farmer planted a field with wheat seed but, as he and his workers slept, an enemy came into his field and planted weed seeds in the same exact places there the wheat seeds had been planted. The strategy was to plant the weeds close enough so the roots would intertwine with the wheat roots. As soon the seeds began to sprout the workers noticed that many of the sprouts were not wheat – they were weeds.  The workers immediately ran and told the farmer about the weeds  – volunteering to start pulling weeds themself. 

The farmer recognized that an enemy had secretly entered the field and sowed the weeds. I’m sure that the workers first thought was not ‘Who would do such a thing?’ Or ‘Who could possibly be an enemy to our master?’ Instead, I imagine that they asked ‘Who would have seeds to grow weeds?” Who would be so vengeful, so calculated, so hateful?

The farmer assessed the situation and told the workers to allow the weeds to grow up with the wheat. He knew the roots of the wheat and the weeds were already tangled.  Pulling the weeds would result in pulling up much of the wheat.

So they waited until the harvest was ready and then pulled the weeds first, bundled and burnt them, and then, they will be free to pull the wheat.

The workers were to wait until the roots of the wheat would be untangled from the roots of the weeds.

I began to study wheat roots this week and quickly became overwhelmed. The roots are intricate and designed to seek out moisture in dry and cracked soil, but the most interesting and applicable thing about wheat root is in the seed itself.  The wheat seed is created with the ability to grow different 2 root systems during the growth process.  The first roots are set to support the system in the immediate stages of development.  This system of roots remains fairly shallow and would be easy fodder for the roots of weeds.  However, once the infant wheat seed stabilizes, the seed begins to grow the second series of roots which grow in a more vertical manner (which helps them seek out moisture), making them more capable of freeing themself from the weed roots.

This helps us understand why the newly sprouted wheat plants would be in danger if they were pulled up early.

After Jesus had told this parable, and had left the crowds, the disciples asked him to explain the meaning.  He explained that he was the sower of the good seed, the field is the entire world, the good seed are the people of God’s kingdom, the bad seeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows the bad seeds is the Devil, the harvest will take place at the end of the age at judgement, and the harvesters will be the angels.

This parable, at first glance, appears to be a call for us to gather the weeds now, and to then burn them – however, the true takeaway is actually the opposite. Pulling up and burning the weeds is not our assignment in this story, and, in fact, according to our mission of not judging or condemning, we are clearly unqualified, and we will never be qualified.

Our job is to join the farmer in the wait; waiting on roots to be untangled and free.

I am not sure there could be a more difficult and frustrating role, honestly, I am ready to pull some weeds.  Weeds that I have identified as putting our loved ones in danger, that are diluting and perverting the gospel, that are dividing us all – even within same faiths, weeds that are choking our love for God and destroying our ability to love all others as we love ourself.

The truth is that this parable is not about pulling or burning weeds, it is not about children of the evil one, it is not about us labeling humans good and evil, but, it is about the expansiveness of God’s grace, it is about the depth of God’s patience, it is about the full definition of what Jesus meant when he said  that ‘God so loves the world’  – the limitless love of God, it is about God’s complete understanding of the human experience.

It is not about pulling up, it is about untangling and being free. It is about holding off judgement until the last root that is willing to be untangled is untangled.

Let’s begin with a few elements of the parable and Jesus’ explanation.

Let’s start with the sower of the weeds…

The Enemy

The word is used four times in the gospel of Matthew.  Here in 13:35, the Enemy sows the weeds in the field.  Back in 5:43-44, the We are instructed, by Jesus to love our Enemies, and to even pray for them.  The third appearance of Enemy is in 10:36 where Jesus warns the apostles that they will have enemies in their same household, in their families. The final Enemy caution is found in 22:24 where Jesus harkens back to King David where we see these same enemy, the enemy that sowed the weeds, will ultimately be under the foot of Jesus as he is sitting at the right hand of God.

The Sower is identified as…

The Devil

Our next element of the parable comes in the Devil.  Here again, Devil is mentioned 4 times in the gospel of Matthew.  First we see Devil in chapter 4 as Jesus is tempted by the Devil who is tempts him to be allied with the devil instead of God. The 2nd is here in our focus passage where Jesus identifies the enemy Sowing the Weeds as being the Devil.  The 3rd comes in 16:33 when Jesus says to his disciple Peter ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ as Peter attempts to sway Jesus from God’s plan (something Peter does thinking it is the best way to save Jesus). The 4th mention of Devil is found in Matthew 25 as the King is addressing the unrighteous at judgement:

‘Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:41-46

Let’s, now, return to our field full of wheat and weeds.

The workers have correctly identified that the field now has weeds growing alongside the wheat.  However, the farmer is concerned, if the weeds are pulled in the early stages of the wheat root system development, their shallow roots will be intertwined with the roots of the weeds and the risk of killing the wheat is certain.

Since we are not the weed pullers in this parable, nor are we the enemy or the children of the enemy, so what is the call that comes out to us from this parable of Jesus?

The answer is that we have

Root Responsibility

This takes us back to the first parable in Matthew 13 where we found the absolute necessity of having good soil in order to have deep roots. To til our own soil, making it receptive to truth, discerning those forces that will contaminate the soil – this is our unique call.  Removing the toxins of hate and racism, the impurities that prevent our part in achieving justice and freedom in the lives of others, the poisonous particles that lead us to reject truth moving us to complacency, everything that destroy our soil and inhibit our roots.

Tilling the soil is a very individually intentional process. It starts with standing guard over those elements that are permitted into the soil, asking, are we allowing the politics of division, are we welcoming the religiosity of judgement and condemnation, are we seeking and searching for truth, do we love mercy and justice for all, and, are we rejecting lies and deceit?

Are we taking our soil seriously, or have we outsourced it over to others? Are we accepting all the seeds being thrown in our direction or are we seeking to reject the bad seeds from our soil?

And, after that, we ask, ‘do we have tangled roots?‘ and How do we untangle the roots?’

God tells us to ‘wait’…and, in telling us to wait, God has signaled what he does, as we grow deep roots and we work to untangle from the weeds…

God waits.

God’s grace, his guidance, his mercy, his compassion, his hope, and his love, waits, alongside of us and for us.

When the weeds were sown in among us, he didn’t do a risk assessment to determine how many wheat plants it would be okay to lose if the workers were to pull the weeds right away, making a wheat harvest much easier and less costly later, resulting in higher profit. No, every wheat seed was important and valuable, they all were needed in the field.

He waits.

He doesn’t give up on us, he doesn’t ridicule us, he doesn’t condescend towards us, he doesn’t reject us, he doesn’t turn his back on us, he doesn’t replace us, he doesn’t ignore us, he doesn’t dismiss us….He waits.

You see, as God does his job as the sower and the farmer, he addresses the concerns on the surface.  He guards the fields from herbivorous predators and other destructive pestilence.

He, having given us free will, and the power, he waits for us to develop and untangle our roots so we are ready for harvest.

Time to interject Important Note: Jesus told this to those who had the mission of untangling their roots, the very people he was calling to do the personal work.  He further explained it to his disciples who were also called to a work of personal root untangling. And, over two thousand years later, he calls us to the same.  If you are hearing, or reading this, you are not a ‘child of the evil one’.  In fact, one of the first weeds the enemy will try to tangle in your roots is this lie, that you are hopeless and too far tangled, you are not.

See, when we identify growth problems in others, things that we mistakenly judge and condemn as sin, it is actually a much deeper problem – a tangled roots problem.  The same is true for us, tangled root problems.

Throughout this pandemic God has brought world wide tangled root problems to our attention.  There have been two obvious, constant, reminders constantly being thrown before our eyes.  

This past Friday, as I was still struggling through this parable and particularly with God’s primary point for us – Grace Fellowship and all believers, today and in this time – God turned up the volume, literally, the volume on the television news.  The voice was a mayor of a large city in a state where Covid numbers are rapidly rising and surpassing record numbers.  The mayor, looked as though he was in the midst of a campaign rally standing before a large crowd of supporters.  What caught my eye was that he was wearing a mask, something we do not always see in our political leaders.  As the mayor spoke his tone began to change, he dramatically ripped off the mask, and declared that his city would survive without those ‘silly things’.  The audience roared with applause and laughter. 

This mayor, as well as the crowd, has a tangled root problem. They have allowed their roots to become tangled with roots that are not concerned with the health of others which, ironically is causing them to not care about their own health.  They have put their own agendas ahead of truth, they are listening to politicians and to a very agreeable exclusive, and small, group of scientists who are in line with their agenda, instead of those who are risking everything to give us truth.  They have a root problem tangled with roots that is preventing them from loving others as themselves, and, therefore of loving God.

In the northeast Oregon, a church that insisted on continuing in person worship services is tied to 236 positive tests, in West Virginia a church is linked to over 51 positive tests, in San Antonio a church is tied to 50 cases, in Tennessee a pastor said that he stopped counting after hearing of 12 members testing positive following attending in person worship, a Christian camp in Missouri shut down after 82 individuals positive cases were tied to the camp.  All of these outbreaks took place just in the month of June. All of these institutions had taken precautions. All of these had a root problem. Tangled roots caused them to harm rather than to love.

Our White House, this week, demanded that hospitals begin sending their Covid test numbers to the White House instead of the to the CDC. Tangled roots of political agendas, as they often do, have made vital truth even more difficult to find.

The other occurrence that we have seen since the beginning of the Pandemic is the protest all over our nation demanding justice for those American, and humans, of different races.  This is not a new problem, but it is a deeply dismissed and ignored problem. We have responded to the protests by pointing out the rage presented by those dealing with a full ancestry of oppression and racism. They have been killed at a disproportionate rate and have frequently been ignored by our justice system. We respond with comments like, ‘If they would just act differently, if they could be like us…’, if they wouldn’t protest and riot’ – instead of considering the damage of pain and oppression.  Interestingly, we herald the revolutionaries in our own history, who threw tea into the water, tea that would have been one million dollars loss to the owners , George Washington was against this protest. Still he love this story as pivotal in our freedom.

Politicians have recently responded by saying ‘White people have been killed to…’. Which is not only ignorant in its revelation of misunderstanding but also as unChristlike as is humanly possible.

God is waiting for us to untangle our roots,

he is prompting us to recognize our problems beneath the soil by letting us see the problems that are blatant above the soil.  He is lovingly revealing to us the work that is still needed before harvest time.

He is calling us to stop tying to pull the weeds from others based on our own judgmental and condemning perceptions and, instead, check out our own roots.

He is calling us to free our tangled roots from all the evil seeds that are keeping us from the greatest commandments from God.  Love.

God is calling us to Revival

If you grew up in an evangelical church, you have surely heard it prayed ‘God, bring us revival.’  God is bringing us revival, now. This revival does not fit the perimeters that have heard it prayed for however, it will not involve emotional church worship services where great music leads the participants to raise their hands, close their eyes, maybe even drop to their knees in tears.  It won’t involve an outpouring of confession of personal sin or even multitudes coming to know Christ.  It will, however, be very personal, very private.  This Revival involves each of us, that are followers of Christ, to begin untangling our roots. To untangle from the roots of politics, agendas, personal rights, hatred, racisim, selfishness.  It will be a revival of God pointing those out to each of us privately. This revival is already underway – it is time that you and I join in.

God rejoices in unity, the enemy delights in division; God desires peace for us, the enemy seeks to sow chaos in our lives; God passionately encourages us to have good soil and deep untangled roots, the enemy seeks to render our soil toxic and our roots shallow; God desires justice, the enemy incites prejudice, racism, and violence; God is merciful, the enemy is vindictive; God leads us in a life of hope, the enemy leads us to ruin; God is love, the enemy is hate.

God waits patiently until the day when he can say to us,

 ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:32-40

Let us pray.

Being Loud

Message – Being Loud 

06.21.20

The gospel passage read today is the most passionate telling of a pivotal moment in the life of Jesus Christ.  For in this short passage, using these few words, we see the motivation that propels Christ for the remainder of the gospel of as told by the disciple Matthew.

Jesus, after the beatitudes, and after being amongst the people, sharing in their pains and hardships, witnessed the oppression they were under, he had seen and addressed their sickness and disease, he had seen that which he could not ignore.  The pain of the human condition.

It is surely not an overstatement to say that this had been an overwhelming and exhausting journey that had now been experienced by God in the flesh

As Jesus retreats to the circle of his disciples, he expresses his summation of the the human experience.  

‘The people are harassed, they are hopeless,’ he proclaims.  

Other translations use words such as distressed and dispirited, fainting and scattered (ceased to be a people), carrying problems so great that they do not know what to do, confused and aimless.   

These two verbs, harassed and hopeless, come from the root words skulló (skool’-lo) and rhiptó (hrip’-to), in their raw form  mean to flay and cast aside.  Cast aside we can understand but the word ‘flay’ may be unknown  to you – it basically means ‘ to skin’ so in a verb form would be ‘skinned’.  Think flaying a fish.

While Jesus probably did not mean that flaying was literally taking place, the people would have understood as it had been known to be a practice of torture of living humans as well as a show of disrespect to dead humans.  This practice has been identified as existing as early as 800 years prior to Jesus birth.

The use of theses words, and of combining them together create a very potent and powerful image that represent, by Jesus, the pain and agony he had seen and experienced in his time with the people.

Jesus was devastated and pushed to action.

Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase of the bible, The Message, describes the countenance of Jesus as ‘his heart was broken.’

It is significant that Matthew would document that Jesus uses these two images combined to present a visual the disciples would understand as he, of all the disciples understood the oppression of the Jews as he had been an employee of the Roman government.  He knew how they used fear to control and manipulate the people.  

It is out of this event, that God led Jesus to a mission of doing and not just a mission of telling.  It is at the point that the ministry becomes as much about now as it does about our life after this earth.  His message is not just doubt God’s act of love and sacrifice being the way to heaven but even more desperately about the way being an avenue to hope, peace, and love now, on earth.  It was the whole of his proclamation that the Kingdom of Heaven is near, and for his prayer, ‘Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.’

The impression of the human experience, the pain and agony in the lives of God’s people can only be described as pivotal. This revelation, while intellectually not new, but from the perspective of the flesh was seismic. God the father had used this moment to shape the ministry of Christ and to mold his passion.

He was there for the people. Any sacrifice he would make would be for the people.  His life was now being given to the people.

Jesus, now moved the disciples from mere learners to active doers.  For the only time in gospel of Matthew the status of the disciples is changed to apostles, they were now living out what they had seen Jesus do and teach.  Jesus was  sending them to do what he did when he encountered the misery of the human experience.

Jesus sent them out because it was a need that could not be ignored. 

Jesus sent the disciples, now apostles with a specific call, used very specific words and a very specific order.  He used the root word ‘Go’ but in a form that meant ‘As you have gone, also, tell them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.’

You see the ‘Go’ to tell was not their mission, it was a ‘Go to Heal’, and while you are ‘Going and Healing’ , tell them about the Kingdom.  This is significant because it shows us the passion of Jesus for our ‘now’ as much as for our ‘later.’

They had seen Jesus at life, a life of caring, a life of compassion, a life of hope, a life providing peace, a live of love.  When he was in front of the crowds and when he was just with them.

Jesus told them, on their ‘Go’ if they were welcomed in, if they were permitted to do the work of Jesus they were then to bring a ‘peace’ to the house. 

They were called to ‘GO’ and to ‘BE’ the ‘IMPRINT’ of Jesus.

This is our multi-dimensional God, the one who cares for us now, and forever.  

Modern Evangelicalism has made the call of Jesus a one dimension calling.  It is a ‘Say’ calling, tell about Jesus win converts for eternity.  It is easy and quick. 

Jesus statement of the lack of laborers has been used to propagate this one dimensional calling of Jesus.  Other aspects, aspects such as care, compassion, mercy, peace, and even love have all taken a back seat to the ‘tell’ the ‘say’. 

This is the call, to be ‘Doers’ because God is a compassionate and loving God, we know this because Jesus, the election, exact imprint of God, was a compassionate and loving human being.

The ‘Say’ the telling that the ‘Kingdom is Near’ becomes a natural privilege as the compassion and love have already been communicated by our lives. The communicated message then, just ties up the loose ends.

This is an act of living out the great commandments:

Love God

Love Others as Yourself.

Jesus directed his now apostles to go the the lost Jews.  He gave a strict instruction to not go to the Samaritan or the Gentiles.  This was not a slight on either of these groups, they will have their moment with the compassion of God.   Now, however, is the time of need for the Jews.

This time is not just because of the pain of their lives, it is even more needed because their division keeps them from being unified, from the greater power that comes with community.

Much like now they are also divided.  Like now they have slapped labels on each other.  Labels like liberal and conservative, progressive and fundamental, traditional and contemporary, boring and exciting, among just to name a few.  Just like today, these labels kept them from helping and encouraging  each other in their times of need.  They kept them from strengthening each other in their times of misery.

Jesus send the apostles to unify them.  Much like he proclaims his goal of unity in his prayer just before he was arrested.  

 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you  sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

John 17:22-23

They couldn’t help each other because they did not consider themselves brother and sisters with each other.  They had failed to remember the common element of their faith was to look for the promised Messiah and therefore they had missed Jesus.

Their politics, their chosen religious leaders, their own agendas had all kept them from seeing and addressing the pain of all their other same faith neighbors.  They could not see beyond the roadblocks of themselves.


Let explain it through a real life, this week, story.

Illustrative Story of justifying actions of cop and responding with accusation against the cope.  This is the problem – instead of us taking a knee to understand the pain expressed about this incident, we have ran to our own corners to defend our politics and stance.  It is not about Mr. Floyd, it is not about this police officer, it is about centuries of a people in pain that we have refused to make the sacrifice of our own roadblocks in order to cure and heal.

We are in a time where the entire world is sharing in a suffering that we do not have the power to overcome.  I am sure that Covid is not a judgement of God but that God is going us the opportunity to be apostles of God’s compassion, his mercy, and his love. In the midst of this shared struggle we are divided with many even dismissing the reality of the deaths and the pain.

Add to this more of the same racist tragedies have taken place with African Americans suffering unneeded loss and pain.  Our politics and out complacency ha has kept us from responding since the founding of our nation.  This, along with Native American, and many other people groups have been oppressed and persecuted.  The church outside of these communities have said little.  We have gone to our sides, we have said ‘NO’ to Jesus shock at the suffering and pain.

We have refused to consider the pain of the past of the African Americans  forced to come to America resulting in a passing down pain and misery generation to generation. We seldom accept the responsibility for the brutal treatment of the Native American, who also cannot help but down their pain.  When children began arriving at our borders unaccompanied by their parents we immediately complained about parents who would send their children on such treacherous journeys alone without any consideration of how bad their lives must be to permit their loved ones to go. We continue to listen to false religious prophets who lead us from compassion and concern and toward hatred and dismissal of the very pain that led Jesus to transform his disciples into apostles. 

Our call is not to speak but to ‘BE”. Our call is too be appalled at the human persecution of any group of people to such an extent that we cannot help but be appalled and outraged. Our call if to “BE” the compassion and mercy of Jesus revealing his love, peace, and hope to those who are oppressed and mistreated. Our call is to live our life out loud, it is time that we take an honest look and say “this is not right!’.  Our call is to live the life Jesus sent his apostles to live.  A life where our mission is to heal the hurting, to rescue the harassed and mistreated, to show mercy and compassion, to love and bring peace.  It is to let the imprint of Jesus be unavoidably seen in our actions, our heart, and then, our words.