Jesus' Teachings

Translating Jesus to Today

In today’s world, it’s rare for someone to ask you to walk two miles. Nobody has asked for my coat lately, and I can’t remember the last time I was slapped on the cheek. When pastors deal with Matthew 5:38-48, they tend to wax historical and provide details like the Roman laws governing how far you had to carry a pack and how much the ancient people hated to use their left hand. This misses the point. Jesus always draws his examples from the daily lives of the people he was talking to. They knew what it was like to be a minority people group governed by an oppressive occupying force. 

 

Sunday, February 19, 2017
Epiphany 7

Jesus' Higher Standard

Jesus sometimes sets the bar so high that it seems out of our reach. He tells us to turn the other cheek when we are struck, to constantly assume the humbler position (wash each other’s feet), and here in Matthew 5:21-37, to take the ten commandments so seriously that we might maim ourselves to find holiness. It seems prudent and scholarly to downplay Jesus’ words. To say that just like the bit about camels going through the eye of a needle, Jesus is using hyperbole. But, not so quick. Jesus is speaking to the simple country folk coming with their families out to a gentle hill for the afternoon picnic and lecture. He doesn’t want to confuse them or us. What he wants is to set them on a pathway towards personal holiness. 

    The threshold to the kingdom of God is extremely low. The kingdom of God is already among us, we only need to believe in order to enter. But the daily life of a Christian is extremely hard. It begins with our family. When we flirt with a coworker, we put at risk multiple families and potentially harm the children in our care. Adultery is such a serious problem that Jesus says pluck out your eyes if you need to. Don’t go down that wrong path.

Sunday, February 12, 2017
Epiphany 6

Outward with the Light

How do we know if our ministry, is on the right track? Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” - Matthew 6:22 This is one of many places where he speaks about the binary simplicity of Christian life. Our eyes are either actively attuned to the nuances of the light around us, or we are visually challenged. A local church is either discerning each day its role as a partner of God, or it is lacking in vision. Individual Christians are either prayerfully open to what the spirit is leading them to do today, or they are blind.

A Fundamental Difference

I think we should pay attention whenever Jesus makes a direct comparison between how his people do things and the standard procedure of the rest of the world. In Mark 10:37, Jesus gets asked a simple question, “When you take over, who are you going to have as your right hand man (or woman)?” It’s the kind of question that we’ll be asking the 2016 field of presidential candidates when it gets winnowed down a bit more, “Who’s going to be your running mate, Jesus?” His two-part answer pleases no one.

 

Part 1: Jesus says that among his people, the person at the top of the organizational chart empties the trash and cleans the toilets. The first place person is servant to all. The pyramid of power is inverted. This is not a token performance, such as when the Pope washes the feet of a peasant on Maundy Thursday. This is a fundamental aspect of the church, all christian mission organizations, every committee, and even of our families and the places where we mix with those  outside the faith. The higher we go in a work environment, the more humble our attitude and approach to every decision must be. In politics and in our families, we are always mindful of the Psalm 8:2

Sunday, October 18, 2015
Pentecost 24

Not Far From the Path

I sometimes tell people that the reason I am a writer today, is because I bought a computer in 1984 that had Spell Check installed. In grade school, I would get the weekly spelling test back with three or four out of the ten words marked wrong. As classes progressed and I was given essays and creative writing assignments, they would always come back with some variant of “nice story” or “interesting points” at the top, and then such a multitude of red marks and grammatical mistakes that the net grade barely passed. I didn’t know that I could write, until a mechanism allowed me to stop focusing upon the rules. In Mark 10:17-31, a rich young man comes to Jesus claiming to have kept all the rules. He is like the teacher’s pet at my grade school, a perfect speller. But something has brought him to Jesus. He knows that he is spiritually lost. He is like the novelist who writes a perfectly composed story, with each sentence grammatically correct, but fails to unfold a plot.

 

Sunday, October 11, 2015
Pentecost 23

The Heart of Religion

The great physicist Richard Feynman once described what he and other scientists were doing this way: “[The Universe] is something like a great chess game being played by the gods, and we are observers of the game. We do not know what the rules of the game are; all we are allowed to do is to watch the playing. Of course, if we watch long enough, we may eventually catch on to a few of the rules.” I think he was right, but his analogy scares me a bit. People who attempt to learn something, like chess or swimming or religion, often get fascinated with irrelevant customs and nonessentials. A child may think that it is impossible to learn to swim without a blue bathing suit or that chess (or science) is only played by boys. Further, if we were to describe chess to someone who has never seen it, we might mention that the pieces are black and white, that the opponents sit on opposite sides of the board, and that it is played by two humans. None of these things are required, and drawing a novice’s attention to petty rituals can interfere with their grasping the game’s brilliant simplicity. The same is true of religion.

Jesus says:
There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.

Sunday, August 30, 2015
Pentecost 17

Loving Jesus in a Gluten-Free World

In John 6, Jesus causes a scandal by claiming to be the bread of life. The word bread itself is problematic today; many people are on gluten-free or low carb diets. This leads to three sticking points around Jesus and bread.

Sunday, August 9, 2015
Pentecost 14

Dependence not Codependence

Long ago I read a sci-fi story about a world where appreciation was the currency, not money. Gold was plentiful, so people tried hard to be liked. I can’t remember much more about the story except that it ended badly. It’s not healthy for us to devote too much of our  lives to the pursuit of popularity. At the time, I thought the sci-fi story was far fetched. How could you monetize appreciation? Guess what? I’m on Facebook and I need to be Liked, I have a blog and I track how my hits, and when I preach, I listen hoping to hear people say, “Good sermon, Bill.”

 

Jesus exampled a life in which one does the compassionate and true thing without expectation of being Liked. His teachings always form a reality check; “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you…” In Mark 6, he faces difficulty in Capernaum because people knew him as a child. He says, “a prophet is without honor…” This is normal, people are still the same. The way he responds is to move along to the next village.

 

Sunday, July 5, 2015
Pentecost 9

The Forgotten Step-child

Teaching is what Jesus did — they called him rabbi — day after day. He taught publicly, privately, and in impromptu settings. He never said that one place of teaching was better than another. He met with people in multiple formats because disciple making was his goal. With that being said, why do we choose to ignore the older adult Sunday school classes in our church?

 

Does My DS Love My Church?

Someone has said that life isn’t a problem to be solved, it’s an adventure to be lived. One can extend this concept to ones personal relationships. My spouse, and how we live together, isn’t a problem to be solved. My spouse is a blessing to be loved. Our children and the people who depend upon my nuture, aren't problems to be solved. My church isn’t a problem for my denominational leader to solve. Even if the church decides to burn me at the stake and renege on their mission share (denominational apportionments).

Consequences of Easter

A while back there was a song by Bob Carlisle which went; "We fall down, we get up... and a saint is just a sinner who falls down and gets up.” In I Peter 1, we are reminded of the three consequences of Easter: Eternal Life, Living Hope, and Glorious Joy. Our celebrations on Easter tend to focus on Eternal Life, because that is the ‘big sell’when presenting Jesus to our secularized, unbelieving, world. But to our friends, family, and even ourselves, Hope and Joy might be the harder sell. All three Easter consequences, have a “we fall down, we get up” quality.

 

Living Hope: My Father loved to play chess when he was a boy. He was good at it.  This made it hard for him to find anyone to play him. He had a sister named Betty. To get Betty to play chess with him, he invented a new rule. The rule was, whenever Betty was losing, she had the right to stop the game and turn the board around and play the winning side. Part of what makes hope alive for Christians is the way we get to turn the tables on our defeats. We don’t go to church because we are good at life. We go because we are losing and need God’s grace to turn the tables on life. Where we are failing, we find forgiveness. When we are alone, we find fellowship. Sometimes the support for life comes in strange and mystical ways, from God directly. Other times it comes as the person beside us in our Sunday School class. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014
Easter Day2

A Story About Anger

In the context of Deuteronomy chapter 30, anger is a strange god. From time to time, perhaps more often than we admit, our relationship with anger becomes religious. Anger goes from being a short defensive emotional state (without encouragement, the adrenal mechanism of anger only lasts about 90 seconds) to being a god that we worship. Every time someone burns our bacon, we have an opportunity to switch religions for a while. We bring an offering; our gift may sacrifice a friendship or destroy our own health. We repeat in public the litany of how we were wronged. When others agree with us, we experience the euphoria of holy communion. We commit ourselves to be regular attendees at the temple of anger. 

 

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus deals with anger as he makes the great Old Testament commandments relevant to daily life. Anger is intimately related to murder. Anger held past 90 seconds, takes on life of its own, and while we may not think of ourselves as capable of murder, we have only limited capabilities to keep ourselves from doing great harm. Our words may cut like a knife. Jesus stays practical when he talks about anger; you may find yourself in jail or worse. 

 

Sunday, February 16, 2014
Epiphany 6

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