Week 7--1 John 3-5, 2 John, 3 John
1 Corinthians 13 and Ruth 1:16-18 are often used in weddings even though their context is not that of romantic love. I have not performed any marriage ceremonies, but my husband Jeff has done a few. One of his favorites was when the couple chose verses from 1 John to use in their wedding. Reading 1 John 4 early on the morning of Valentine's Day I was reminded again of how beautifully it describes love:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Whether you are married or single, widowed or divorced, whether you received chocolates & roses for Valentine's Day, a silly meme like I did, or nothing at all, know that you are loved by God and called to love others not just on Feb. 14, but always.
Week 5--Matthew 21-25
Jesus saves his harshest critiques for the Pharisees and other religious leaders of his day. Matthew 23 is nearly all a list of the ways the Pharisees fail to keep the heart of Moses' Law and also fall short of how the Kingdom of God is supposed to look. Nothing like seeing Jesus display some righteous anger at religious hypocrites. I am always tempted to say "You go, Jesus! Preach it!"
This year, after reading verses 5-7 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others," something different hit me. "What," I asked myself, "does this look like today?" Religious leaders tend not to wear tassels and phylacteries (boxes containing Scripture verses, worn on forehead and arm), but some do wear clerical garb or faith-promoting t-shirts. Nothing wrong with that, or with the Pharisees wearing phylacteries or tassels. It was the "extra-wide" attention-grabbing nature of these things--it was the "why" behind the choice to wear them or make them extra wide. Were the scriptures in the boxes or on the t-shirts about God or about how the people wearing them look to others?
Likewise, verses 13-29 are titled, "Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees" in my Bible. In each section Jesus calls the Pharisees "hypocrites." Again, it's easy to judge them for their sin, but what is one of the most common complaints of younger people about Christians today? Hypocrisy. Maybe instead of condemning the Pharisees, I should be examining my life by the same measure used for them. Am I a whitewashed tomb--"People look at you and think you're saints, but beneath the skin you're total frauds" (v. 28 The Message). Or am I guilty of following tiny details of the Law while forgetting what's at the very heart of God's law like the Pharisees who "give a tenth of [their] spices—mint, dill and cumin. But neglect the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness."? Do I give money or things publicly and yet fail to show love for other people?
And while I'm all fired up about Jesus calling out the hypercritical Pharisees, do I forget how the chapter ends? It ends with Jesus observing that he still wishes he might be welcomed by them so that he might "gather [them like] children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings." The Pharisees were not willing to come to Jesus in repentance to be forgiven and held. Am I willing to allow Jesus to gather me under his wings?
Tyner UMC’s first worship series of 2023 is called “Glimpses of God’s Kingdom.”
Last year a friend from my University of Illinois days occasionally posted a photo she’d taken for a “52 Week Photo Challenge” on Facebook. Each week has a theme and people post photos that illustrate the word for the week. I’m not sure why I signed up—it was impulsive—but it’s pushed me to look at familiar sights in new ways.
The photos above are from week 2 (ground level) and week 3 (broken) of this challenge. Both were taken at Potato Creek State Park, in places Jeff and I had walked by many times. We’d just rarely focused on the ground or on things that are broken like the headstones in Porter Rea Cemetery. When we looked specifically for scenes that fit the word of the week, we saw sights we’d never seen before. Well, we’d “seen” them but not stopped to look closely at or think about them much less take a photograph of them.
Matthew chapter 13 is a collection of parables told by Jesus. After the first, the parable of the seeds, Jesus’ disciples came and said to him, “Why do you use parables when you speak to the crowds?” (v. 10 CEB)
Jesus’ answer is longer, but in a nutshell, he says this of the crowds: although they see, they don’t really see; and although they hear, they don’t really hear or understand. (v. 13 CEB)
Jesus’ disciples cared enough to ask Jesus to explain the parables, and their hearts and minds were prepared to understand the meaning behind the parables. Two people can see or hear the same thing and not perceive or understand it in the same way. Often we don't take the time to stop to ask or think about scripture we read. The glimpses of God’s kingdom I see in scripture will not be the same glimpses as others see. That’s why I like discussing what we’ve read on Sundays after worship.
Just as the photo challenge is helping me to see familiar parts of my world in new ways, the challenge of being intentional about seeing glimpses of God’s Kingdom is helping me to see not only scripture, but everyday events, in new ways.
Part of the message I preached on January 15 was inspired by a journal entry I wrote after reading Matthew 9:36-38, one of the New Testament chapters for this week:
“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The size of the harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest.” CEB
As pastors, my husband and I often get private prayer requests from members of the congregation about friends or family members who are really struggling or who have experienced a tragic loss. It is clear from the stories we hear that people today might also be described in the way Jesus described the crowds. “troubled and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” We feel compassion for these people and want to help.
In this week’s Women’s Bible study on Ruth 2:1-4 the video speaker noted that Boaz prayed a blessing over Ruth—but later Boaz became the one God used to fulfill what he had prayed for! One of the “Living It Out” challenges at the end of this week’s study asked us to go through the list of people we are praying for and ask God how He might want us to be the one to meet someone’s need.
Whether it’s sending a card, offering a ride, taking a meal, or sitting and listening, we can be workers in the harvest. Those of us who know the Good Shepherd can offer people a glimpse of God’s Kingdom. What glimpses of God’s Kingdom or insights did you glean while reading Matthew 6-10?
Week 1 of the NT Challenge
Tyner UMC’s first worship series of 2023 is called “Glimpses of God’s Kingdom” which fits well with our challenge to read through the New Testament in 2023. In Mark 8:18, Jesus asks his disciples these questions:
Don’t you have eyes? Why can’t you see? Don’t you have ears? Why can’t you hear? Don’t you remember? CEB
Can’t we all relate to those questions? Too often, I have eyes, but don't see what God puts in front of me. I have ears, but can I read with the desire to hear what God says to me through scripture? As we read and interact with the New Testament in 2023, I pray we would be intentional about using not only our eyes and ears, but our hearts, minds, and spirits to connect what we read to our lives.
A group of us gathered after worship on January 8 to talk about the first five chapters of Matthew. One of the insights Pastor Jeff shared was about Matthew 2:18:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and much grieving.
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she did not want to be comforted,
because they were no more.
This described what happened in Bethlehem after Joseph took his family and fled to Egypt. The children of Bethlehem around Jesus’ age were slaughtered on the order of King Herod.
Pastor Jeff said, “I love how honest the Bible is. It’s not all sunshine and roses for people in the Bible any more than it is for us.” Whether it’s the parents of Bethlehem weeping for their children to Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before He is arrested, we see real people crying out to God in their grief.
This theme came up again in our Women’s Bible Study of the book of Ruth. Video leader Bianca Juarez Olthoff comments that upon Naomi’s return to the land of Judah and her people near Bethlehem, she asks them to stop calling her “Naomi” (sweet) and to instead call her “Mara” (bitter). Naomi can’t see how her life can ever be sweet again and shares her very real feelings of bitterness at what she perceives as God turning His face against her. It’s comforting to know that we can share our “bad” feelings with God; in fact, I find that sharing these types of feelings with God is usually the best way to start the journey to get past them.
What glimpses of God’s Kingdom or insights did you “see and hear” while reading Matthew 1-5? (Comment below)
Pastors Cathy Wesolek and Jeff Stueve share the pastorate at Tyner UMC