Draw a Picture-Take a Look!

Do you recall in your elementary school days or perhaps in a seminar when the teacher or leader asked you to draw a picture of your day, or a picture of your life?  We begin to draw and soon find at least something on the page.  Some of us would fill the page with pictures and colors.  And often when that exercise is done the leader would talk about the things that fill up our lives, the things and people that make up our lives.  We take a look at our lives by looking at a picture.  Rarely would somebody simply NOT draw or write something on their paper, it just didn’t happen.  Even the poorest artists try to draw something and those half asleep would awaken enough to mark on their page.  Rarely, because our lives are filled, they are not empty. 

In our gospel reading this week (Matthew 6:24-34) Jesus calls upon us to “not worry.”  Behind any concern of worry we will always see a picture of scarcity, a blank page that denies all that truly does exist.    Jesus simply asks his disciples to look around, look at the picture of life that God has drawn, it is full, it is abundant, it is colorful.  Scarcity is not part of God’s plan for us, so Jesus says, do not worry, there is no blank page in this life to support your worry.

Teetering

The reading for this Sunday, February 20, 2011 is part four of a continuous reading of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5.  In this passage, similar to last week’s, we go a new direction.  The question raised here is about…[drumroll please]…

POWER.

As a college student taking religion courses, I read an ancient book called The Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun.  Written in North Africa in 1377, the author/historian observes and makes a range of judgments about societies.  He notes how kingdoms rise and fall, with amazing predictability.  Kingdoms that seem so powerful they could never, ever fail…they too, Khaldun says, will be crushed.

We see the current turnover in the Middle East as an example of the truth of Khaldun’s theory.  Power struggles will, inevitably, create winners and losers.  One will be up, one will be down (and let’s hope and pray that we are mostly on the upside, right?).

Not according to Jesus.  He escapes the endless track of power struggles by exhorting people to not engage in them.  To not show retribution (even if it’s “lawful”), and thereby, to not be a victim either. 

Or, to keep it very simple:  You can’t play teeter-totter with one person. 

You can’t have a tug-of-war with only one participant.

Kingdoms of this world will forever rise and fall.  Power will forever be chased.  Yet this kingdom that Jesus speaks of will never fall.  The power that Jesus wields will never be taken away…for the power Jesus wields is always and forever this: 

sacrificial love.

Lord Jesus, we strive for balance, upward mobility, and power.  You offer sacrificial love instead.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Exceeding Ourselves

In my days of high school sports I enjoyed participating in track meets.  I enjoyed the high jump event, however for those who know me you can quickly see I was not a likely high jumper.  In fact, I could barely clear the bar at its lowest setting, a humbling experience in tryouts!  But a friend on our team was pretty good at the high jump so I would watch the event closely, cheering for him.  As the competition went on the officials kept raising the bar inch by inch until even the best jumpers could no longer clear the bar.  Yes they could jump much higher than me but the officials always made sure even the best jumpers were humbled by the bar, and in the end no one could clear the bar, everyone had to relinquish to the forces of gravity and fall into the padded pit below the bar. 

In this Sunday’s gospel reading Jesus keeps setting the bar higher and higher on matters of sin.  But he is not doing this to terrify us; he is doing this to confront those who seemed to be claiming a victory over their own bar height of righteousness.   Jesus points clearly and candidly to the depth of human sinfulness, but he does so for all people, even to those who are claiming to jump very high.  Jesus sets the bar for keeping The Commandments at a God-only height, but only because that is also the height of his love for us.  And in his grace he wants ALL of us to know that our only way over that bar is through him and the cross-bar he once and for all cleared on top of a hill for us, all of us.  It’s not only about the height of the bar; it’s about how high Jesus lifts us over the sins of our lives.  

Is this the “righteousness that must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees” Jesus claims for us in verse 20, that leads us to this reading?

Because It’s Who You Are

The Super Bowl is coming up this Sunday, Febuary 6th.  Prior to the big game in Dallas, millions will be assembling in worship services all over the United States, even around the world.  Many of us will hear this reading from the Gospel of Matthew.

You are the salt of the earth.

You are the light of the world.

Quite a number of you know of my personal affinity for the Green Bay Packers.  It’s pretty obvious, after all:  when someone inquires, they see my eyes light up, my body language becomes more animated, and (I know, I know) I talk more.  I could talk for an hour about those amazing Green Bay Packers.  If they win the Super Bowl, I’ll likely be able to talk about them for days to come! 

I am a Green Bay Packer fan; it’s just who I am.

When Jesus decides to preach to the people, he begins by blessing them.  Then, Jesus tells them who they are.  Before they have proven themselves to be good disciples, before they have made themselves worthy of his praise, no matter their personal likes or dislikes, levels of piety or stations in life, Jesus tells them:

You are the salt of the earth. 

You are the light of the world.

Not you might be.  Or you could be. 

Not you will be.  Or you should be. 

You ARE.

You are common, and yet, you are indispensible to God.  You are part of God’s work in this world, and you carry God’s identity within you.

It’s just who you are. 

So…let’s get excited about THAT!

Gracious God, your calling is pure gift.  Your light shines within us.  Amen.