Monday, September 29, 2014

Crazy little thing about reading the could be dangerous!

Sunday, September 28th, we had the privileged of giving Bibles to our 3rd graders and to our first year confirmands. The lectionary text, Matthew 21:23-32 seemed like a perfect opportunity to share with our children, as well as adults, how to be faithful in both reading and giving authority to Scripture.

Just as we enjoy giving presents - we need to be aware of how to use them...and I side with Karl Barth, in this day and age we need to read the Bible with a newspaper (or smartphone) in one hand.

(please forgive dashes and .....'s this is my sermon manuscript for the day)


I believe that in many ways reading the Bible in the 21st century is harder than it was as little as 100 years ago… there are many reasons – for one, many of Jesus’ stories and parables are agriculturally based – and we are by and large a society far removed from the small family farm.

We are also privy to more information than ever before. 100, 200, 300 years ago the Bible may have been the only book in the house… when it was dark and cold outside a family would read the bible – in huge chunks – faith, church, scripture reading became part of the fabric of the family and the community…this changed as books became more affordable – and people started actually owning books – think about it - in the 50s and 60s and on through the 80s even what was the essential book that every house hold have?

World Book encyclopedia – and a Webster’s dictionary. Weekly – probably daily we’d hear three little words from mom – ‘look it up’!

My set of World Books are in a box in the attic – for some reason I still have them. It is faster – and more expedient to look it up on my phone – or have siri do it… –

In the 90s people started buying personal computers…and 10 years ago – not only did most homes have computers, kids even had their own email address. And then, Facebook was born – and now we have dozens of ways to connect with one another, to share ideas and to hear the opinions of others on a wide array of topics…

We have more power in our personal devices than the Apollo rockets! How did they get to the moon and back without one of these?

Our first computer cost 5000 (they threw in a printer) and we had a whopping 50 megabytes of storage! That’s about enough to store 25 pictures today!

There’s something else – because of the sharing of information – around the globe – we have access to more data – I fear that my 1972 World book is woefully inadequate compared to a September 28, 2014 Google search on just about anything…I was at lunch with some members of the church and a name came up – we wondered if it was a bible name – and low and behold one of the ladies pulled out her phone and looked it up – and we learned that it was indeed a Bible name!

Fun fact – according to a Time magazine article written on the eve of World Water Day – the source is the UN…

Out of the world’s estimated 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to mobile phones. Far fewer — only 4.5 billion people — have access to working toilets.

We are in a new world – a world that requires us to learn and understand and comprehend in new ways… its not bad – it isn’t a burden, but we can’t expect to continue reading the Bible, or anything else for that matter, with blinders on either…Karl Barth, one of the greatest theologians of recent times wrote that one should start every day with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other –

People want meaning – we want to know why others would choose to believe the way they do…we have reasons we like the Hawkeyes or the Cyclones…and we make room for UNI fans too… we just have to be able to articulate why…

this is the blessing of reading scripture with resources that we have available – resources that help us to understand better the context of 1st century Israel…

We have heard it said that the Bible is timeless and has timeless wisdom for us – and I agree that this is true – but we do grave injustice to scripture if we impose our own 21st century understanding and values to a document some 2000 years old written for an audience that was educated in a totally different style of learning from ours.

I say all of this to wrap our minds around this morning’s reading…

Matthew 21:23-32     Jesus’ authority questioned

23 When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people came to him as he was teaching. They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority?”

24 Jesus replied, “I have a question for you. If you tell me the answer, I’ll tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things. 25 Where did John get his authority to baptize? Did he get it from heaven or from humans?”

They argued among themselves, “If we say ‘from heaven,’ he’ll say to us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But we can’t say ‘from humans’ because we’re afraid of the crowd, since everyone thinks John was a prophet.” 27 Then they replied, “We don’t know.”

Jesus also said to them, “Neither will I tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things

Parable of two sons

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’

29 “‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went.

30 “The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go.

31 “Which one of these two did his father’s will?”

They said, “The first one.”

Jesus said to them, “I assure you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you. 32 For John came to you on the righteous road, and you didn’t believe him. But tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Yet even after you saw this, you didn’t change your hearts and lives and you didn’t believe him.

Reading this passage as is – we would rightly agree that Jesus is once again in a verbal sparring match with the religious authorities of his day…

But there is a set up – that we will miss if we don’t back up a few verses…

This is actually the day after Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem – a day we call Palm Sunday…we know about Palm Sunday, right? Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem – on a donkey colt – Hosanna! Hosanna! The people cried – as they waved branches and put their cloaks on the road before him – a sign that they were recognizing Jesus as a potential leader – a victor, maybe even, the messiah!

After he arrived in the city…

Matthew 21:12-17 (The Message)
12-14 Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text:

My house was designated a house of prayer;

You have made it a hangout for thieves.

Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.

15-16 When the religious leaders saw the outrageous things he was doing, and heard all the children running and shouting through the Temple, “Hosanna to David’s Son!” they were up in arms and took him to task. “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

Jesus said, “Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?”

17 Fed up, Jesus turned on his heel and left the city for Bethany, where he spent the night.

Then there’s a whole section where Jesus is so frustrated he zaps a poor fig tree – we won’t go there today…

Now, can you see with this background the implications of today’s reading…by throwing out the money changers Jesus was upsetting the economy of the Temple - and it was a major feast week - folks were coming from all over the known world with their own moneys - and it had to be changed into temple currency so that they could buy their offerings for Passover week. 

No temple money, no sacrifices, no sacrifices and the visitors to the city were disobeying the rules - breaking God's commands as overseen by the religious leaders of the day.

But when Jesus threw out the money changers he did something else that could be overlooked at first reading..."Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them."

God's economy was being transformed by a new way of looking at the value of things, people, and the institutional systems that were in place.

NOW we can understand why the religious leaders were questioning Jesus' authority – by what right is this, this Galilean trying to re-write our rules, our laws? By what right is he re-defining our way of life?

From whom does Jesus get his authority?

From the Father…of course we know the answer to the question… and because those who were less learned trusted Jesus, responded to John’s baptism by water and the spirit and put their faith in God as taught by Jesus – their path was the one of the son who repented and turned toward the fields.

So whats our excuse?

We have all of these resources at our hands…we have, hopefully, a clearer understanding of who Matthew was writing to, and the religious and political events of the day…are we going to do something? Are we going to respond to God’s call and claim on our lives???

Or are we just going to give lip service to God?

We can see the unfolding of Jesus’ last days – days where his actions spoke as loud as his words…the implications of clearing the money changers – wasn’t as much a political action as it was to make room for those who were on the fringes – on the edges of society – outcast and prevented access to the Father… just as his verbal sparring with the religious leaders –

He wasn’t condemning them, but he was prodding them to walk the walk that they were espousing…

To turn their lives around and repent – to say yes to God and for their yes to mean yes…to enter the vineyard and gather the harvest of all…not just those who looked like them and dressed like them – but expand the net to gather in God’s beloved children – even the tax collector and the prostitute have a place in the Kingdom of God…

Reading scripture this way is dangerous, boys and girls… you have a choice – as you break in your new Bibles…and for us older folks – as we read our Bibles…

You may read it as an old book that has some words that help us be nice people…or you can dig in with your eyes wide open – explore the world as Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul knew it…a world not too unlike ours, when you get right to the core of it…

And you can then let God’s word illumine your lives and inspire you to be kind and gentle and passionate about the building up of the Kingdom of God – so that it means something when we pray…thy kingdom come, thy will be done – on earth as it is in heaven.

In the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit… Amen.

Just out of curiosity:

What is your favorite scripture passage?  Why?  What is happening in the Story of God before and after the verses you know and love?  

Would love to hear from you!