29 January 2011

Leadership Prezi

This morning at the UUMC Leadership Training, I utilized a "prezi" instead of PowerPoint to share my ideas about the committee structure in our church. I wanted to post it here so that those of you who were not able to attend can see it and ask questions if you have any.

15 January 2011

Mark 3-4

At the opening of today's reading, Jesus challenges the assumptions that the religious leaders of his day hold dear - "do no work on the Sabbath". They were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, but he went right ahead and healed the man with the shriveled hand. He challenged them as to "which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill? But [the Pharisees] remained silent" (3.4). According to Jesus there is only one answer to this question, but his answer angers the PTBs and angering the PTBs usually never turns out well for the non-PTBs.

Mark also includes the "Parable of the Sower" (see my thoughts from Matthew's account), but his placement of the explanation immediately following the parable keeps the reader engaged with the story and drives home the point he is making.

Mark 4 has several agricultural parables [Sower (1-20); Growing Seed (26-29); and Mustard Seed (30-32)] in it, but small note in verse 34 shows that Jesus spoke many things in parables to everyone AND he explains everything to the disciples when they are alone. How often do we hear a word from God in the midst of a crowd, but don't receive an explanation until we are alone with God?

What verse(s) stuck out the most to you in Mark 3-4?

14 January 2011

Mark 1-2

It should come as no surprise to anyone at University UMC to hear that I am a big fan of Mark's Gospel - I spent 7 weeks looking at just the first chapter last January!

The first thing any reader should notice about Mark's Gospel is that there is no birth narrative. The story picks up with John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus to enter the world (fully grown) and begin his ministry. Just nine verses into the book Jesus is being baptized by John in the Jordan River - that took two and a half chapters in Matthew!

Jesus' earthly ministry begins quickly with healings, calling disciples, driving out evil spirits, time for prayer, and forgiving the sins of a paralyzed man. Just as in Matthew, the people here in Mark are "amazed" at what Jesus is doing, teaching, and saying. They just can't believe their ears and eyes.

One of the great things about Mark is that Jesus is always going somewhere or leaving one place for another - he doesn't seem to linger anywhere longer than necessary. As you are reading through Mark, notice how many times the word "immediately" is used in reference to Jesus' movements and/or work. Things happen quickly in Mark - perhaps that's why his Gospel is the shortest - with all that action taking place it didn't take as long as Matthew and Luke!

What verse(s) stuck out the most to you in reading Mark 1-2?
What do you hope to learn about Jesus as you read the Gospel of Mark?

13 January 2011

Matthew 26-28

Matthew's Passion Narrative is one of the most moving pieces of scripture in all of the New Testament. Each gospel writer captures these last moments of Jesus' life and his subsequent resurrection in different ways, but Matthew's is my favorite - although I will probably say that about each Passion Narrative as we read it.

In these last few moments with his disciples, Jesus institutes the Lord's Supper (Holy Communion) in 26.26-29, predicts Peter's denial, prays for the cup to pass from him, is betrayed by a friend, arrested by a mob, and lead through a laughable excuse for a trial before being flogged, spat upon, laughed at, denied, mocked, nailed to a cross, and ridiculed for supposed inability to save himself.

When Jesus dies (27.50) he cries out in a loud voice, gives up his spirit, and the curtain of the Temple is torn in two - symbolizing the cessation of the need for intermediaries between humans and God. Matthew is the only Gospel to have an earthquake happen the moment Jesus dies, but unlike Mel Gibson's version - there is no tear from heaven falling to earth.

Jesus rises from the dead on Easter morning (again with an earthquake) and angels tell the women that Jesus is no longer among the dead, but is alive again. The guards who fell asleep at the tomb are paid handsomely to tell a story about the disciples stealing Jesus' body, then Jesus gives the Great Commission - go make disciples, baptize them, and teach them.

What verse(s) stuck out the most to you in Matthew 26-28?
Now that you have read the entire Gospel of Matthew, what have you learned about the Jesus Matthew describes?

12 January 2011

Matthew 24-25

Jesus continues with the rest of the Matthean Apocalypse (chs 23-25) in today's readings. Even as Jesus' life is drawing to a close, he is still taking the time to teach his disciples and all who will come and listen about the end times.

Listen to what Jesus says in 24.12-13, "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but whoever stands firm to the end will be saved." Jesus tells his disciples that as the end times draw nearer and nearer, love will begin to shrivel up and grow cold. Does it sometimes feel like there is less love in the world now than say 10, 20, or 50 years ago?

In 24.36 Jesus says, "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." The day that the world will come to an end is not known to anyone - so stop worrying about December 2012 or any other day some human is telling you that the world will end - they don't really know - only God does!

The "Parable of the Ten Virgins" is steeped in Jewish wedding tradition that gets lost on many modern Christian audiences, but would have made perfect sense to Matthew's Jewish audience when first read. I would encourage you to do some research on Jewish wedding traditions to see how this parable is teaching preparation for the coming of Christ.

The "Parable of the Talents" is another fun parable when it comes to understanding how different people are gifted with different abilities, but we are all held accountable for what we did with what we were given, not necessarily the results of our actions.

The "Sheep and the Goats" closes out the readings for today and this is one of those passages that hits at the heart of Jesus' gospel message - acting on our convictions means acting for the "least of these".

What verse(s) stuck out the most to you in Matthew 24-25?

11 January 2011

Matthew 21-23

These three chapters begin our journey through the last week of Jesus' life in the Gospel of Matthew, beginning with what we now call "Palm Sunday" or Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (21.1-11).

OK, this is one of those "Bible-nerd things," but take a close look at 21.5 (a quote from Zechariah 9.9) and tell me how many animal(s) the king is supposed to ride upon.

Notice the language that is used to describe Jesus as he is entering Jerusalem: "king," "Son of David," "he who comes in the name of the Lord," and "the prophet from Nazareth." What images come to mind when reading these descriptors? What do you think the people are expecting from Jesus when they use terms like these? Do you think Jesus actually fulfills the roles these names put him in?

In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) Jesus turns over the tables in the Temple as he is living his last week on earth. When does John's Gospel place this event? It is one of the events that each Gospel writer includes, but context and timing are everything with this one.

Chapter 22 includes a passage I refer to often in leading the church (and indeed preached a whole series on back in September): the Great Commandment. I am such a fan of these verses that I had them inscribed on the back of my first iPod. I truly believe that if we loved God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength it would be virtually impossible not to love others as ourselves.

Today's third chapter begins what is known in academic circles as the Matthean Apocalypse - Matthew 23-25. The Seven Woes (23.13-39) are quite descriptive in their view of those who would stand in the way of God's justice reigning on the earth. Jesus' words for false teachers, hypocrites, the Pharisees, the scribes, and many others cut to the bone and sear with anger. Read at your own risk!

What verse(s) stuck out most to you in Matthew 21-23?

Matthew 19-20

As we enter the last portion of Matthew's Gospel, I have started to notice that the questions from the detractors have gotten more intense, more pointed, and aimed more at trapping Jesus in a situation that he won't be able to talk himself out of:

1) What about divorce? (19.3)
2) Who can get into heaven? (19.16)
3) How can you pay workers the same wage when they haven't worked the same amount? (20.12)
4) Let my sons sit at your right and left hands in glory! (20.21)

In the midst of these tough questions there is a beautiful scene where the people gathered to hear Jesus are bringing the children close to him so that he could lay hands on them and pray for them. The disciples rebuke them, but Jesus affirms their worth and value by explaining that the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. We don't see the daring in Jesus' words today because we value children (especially in the US) and do whatever we can to protect them. In Jesus' day, this was not the case. Children were not cared for as valuable members of society, they were seen as means to an end. They were not looked after, they were bought and sold to pay debts. Children were still innocents, but they were not the protected segment of society that they are today.

The "Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard" is one of my favorite passages to throw onto Jr. High students because they invariably argue with each other about what Jesus does in the passage. It provides hours of discussion fodder and I have even seen a number of adult groups struggle with the themes of justice, fairness, and equality latent within this parable. This parable often reminds me to turn things on their heads in order to gain a new perspective - and it works!

What verse(s) stuck out the most to you in Matthew 19-20?

09 January 2011

Matthew 17-18

Again, lots going on in these two chapters so I'll keep my thoughts focused on a few passages:

The Transfiguration (17.1-13)
Peter, James, and John follow Jesus up a mountain and witness an amazing event that terrifies them. They may not have clearly understood what took place that day, but they knew it was a game-changer.

They even received a better understanding of John the Baptists role in Jesus' ministry.

Dealing With Sin in the Church (18.15-17)
What if church leaders (or regular church folks too) dealt with sin in the way Jesus describes? What if we had the gumption to actually talk to someone who wronged someone else face-to-face? What if we then brought in an additional person to verify our conversation of confrontation? What if we then took the unrepentant sinner in front of the church to confront their sin? What if we then turned the unrepentant sinner out?

I'm glad living biblically doesn't stress me out...

What verse(s) stuck out the most to you in Matthew 17-18?