From the Well - 1/4/2017

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Matthew 2:1-12 (NRSV) 
1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'" 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. 

So what does it take to be a seeker? The most important thing, as I see it, is a willingness to go on the journey. Our Savior is ready and waiting to lead us forward towards discipleship, service, and adventure. He is the savior who will not let us be comfortable less we forget that He came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Here's the point: wise men and women still follow a star and seek a Savior. There is hunger in our world, not the kind that makes the stomach growl but the kind that makes the heart ache. The ache is never satisfied until a connection with God is discovered. Ann Sullivan approached her deaf and blind student, Helen Keller, saying, "Today I'm going to teach you about God." Helen Keller signed to her, "Good, I've been thinking about Him for a long time." Ex-Beetle, George Harrison, in an interview shortly before his death said, "Everything else in life can wait but my search for God cannot wait, it has to happen now."

There are those who consider themselves unchurched and others who call themselves dechurched. Yet, most continue to search for something are willing to try almost anything from astrology, sex, steroids, and drugs. Most people are looking for meaning in their lives but look in all the wrong places.

Like the wise men of old it's time for God's people to go on a journey to find the Christ child, the child whose love is already in our hearts. It's time to help others discover what God has already given them in Jesus Christ. Will we sit or seek? Think about it.

Matthew

From the Well - 12/21/2017

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Matthew 1:24 (MSG) 
24 Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God's angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary.

The German theologian and rector of the University of Hamburg from 1960-1978, Helmut Thielicke, told of traveling to the United States by ship. While on the ship Thielicke noticed a German shepherd dog who had been placed by the dog's owner in the care of the crew. The owner made the trip by plane. Thielicke wrote that that was one miserable dog. The dog was in an unfamiliar world with strange scents and people it did not know.

On the return voyage, Thielicke noticed another dog on board the ship. Even though it was the same ship with the same crew, the dog's reaction to the trip was totally different. He was totally content. Why? Because the dog's owner was with him. Occasionally the dog would look up at its master as if to say, "This is a different world. I can't quite figure it out. But you are here with me and because of that I trust that everything will be ok."

Joseph's world was suddenly turned upside down when Mary told him that she was pregnant. Joseph knew it wasn't his child and so he had a tough decision to make. He could have her stoned to death or he could abandon her quietly. Then an angel came to Joseph in a dream telling him that Mary's child was God's son. Suddenly, Joseph felt the presence of God and knew what he must do. Joseph would be Jesus' earthly father. He would be the human presence that Jesus needed as he was growing up. As the Episcopal Priest and author, Robert Capon, says in his book, Parables of Grace,

Joseph, there, is preeminently an empty vessel. A father who, according to tradition, did no begetting, a simple carpenter who understood almost nothing and who died before he could understand more, he ranks now above prophets and kings precisely because, in his own emptiness, he carried, kissed, clothed, and cared for the one who emptied himself for our sake.1

During this season of presents ask yourself how you can be a God presence to someone else. Think about it.

Matthew

1 Robert F. Capon, Parables of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), 57.

From the Well - 12/14/2017

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Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV) 
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,  but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,  he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross.

The mind of Christ is to love God and love people. It's what Marcus Borg calls the Jesus imperative or the two great relationships. You can think of it like two ends of a stick. Jesus is saying that if you pick up one end of the stick you must pick up the other-loving God means loving people. Loving people also means loving God. The bottom line: we are created in God's image and we should reflect that image in everything we say and do.

In Lanny Donoho's delightful book, God's Blogs, God blogs the following:

I want to blog today about questions that almost all of you ask. I see them in your minds and I hear them in your prayers and I watch as you search in hundreds of ways for the answers. "What am I here for?" "What is my purpose in life?" "Who am I?"

It's good to ask those questions. There are actually a few good answers that relate to all of you.

If you've read My Book, you know that you guys . . . all of you . . . were created in My image.

Okay . . . that's hard to figure out if you realize that I AM not physical. I AM bigger than the universe. I'M everywhere at once, and I know, see, and hear everything. None of you are like that at all. So let Me give you a hint about what that "image" phrase really suggests.

Image is . . . a representation, a reflection, an illustration, a likeness. I'll go with representation and reflection on this one.

I created you to "represent" Me to one another. To be a reflection of Me. I have more attributes than you can name, but let's start with . . .

  • Love
  • Respect
  • Acceptance
  • Light
  • Warmth
  • Grace
  • Truth
  • Laughter
  • Fun
  • Sensitivity
  • Consideration
  • Trust
  • Giver
  • Forgiver
  • Excitement
  • Unique
  • Adventure
  • Wonder

Words that describe part of Me. The Part you can reflect.

You . . . a reflection of your Maker.

When the book says "In HIS image HE created Him" . . . it's really saying more about why than how. To reflect. That's WHY you were made. That is what fulfills. Those descriptions shining from Me bouncing off of you into the lives of others

If it's happening, you're feeling okay today. Fulfilled. You're not asking the questions.

If it's not, you may not be feeling so well. And you're probably asking the questions. It may be time to dust off the mirror.

BTW . . . reflections happen best when you are standing near to that which you want to reflect. (That which you were made to reflect.)1

So what are you standing near and what are you reflecting? Think about it!

Matthew

1Lanny Donoho, God's Blog's: Insights from HIS Sight (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2005), Chapter 16.

From the Well 11/30/2017

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Philippians 2:1-2 (MSG)
1 If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care- 2 then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends.

An ex-fiancé wrote the following letter to her ex-boyfriend:

Dear John,

Words cannot express the deep regret I feel at having broken our engagement. Will you take me back? No one but you can fill the void in my life. Please forgive me.

I love you with all my heart,

Susan

P.S. congratulations on winning the lottery.

Love is one of those words that has become so watered down that it has become, quite possibly, one of the most maudlin and meaningless words in our vocabulary. It's one thing to talk about love shared among human beings but quite another to talk about the love of God. Humans are dualistic thinkers. We tend to think in either/or terms. We say things like, "You are either for me or against me." Dualism divides and alienates.

In our dualistic thinking, we want or imagine a God who is for some and against others. We want a God who thinks like we think and supports our prejudices, likes, and dislikes. We forget that the God we don't know very well is personified in the person of Jesus Christ who is for and loves all of creation. God showed us His love by taking on human form and being born in a humble stable in Bethlehem.

There is no dualism when it comes to God. The nature of God is love. Love is not an attribute of God. Love is the essence of God. As 1st John says, "God is love." When God creates, it is in love. When God rules, it is with love. When God redeems, it is by love. When God judges, it is with love. Every move and every action of God is an expression of God's very being, which is love.

It is only by connecting with God in love that we can fully connect with others and be the mirror/reflection of God's love into other people's lives and into the world. As someone once said, "our very DNA is found in God." The Apostle in 1st John points to this fact: "Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is."

Think about it,

Matthew

From the Well - 12/7/2017

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John 1:1-18 (NRSV) 
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'") 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

Genesis starts with these words, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." John starts like this, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for God's creating words is Dabar. The Creeks used the word Sophia. John uses the word Logos which goes beyond the earthiness of Dabar and the feminism of Sophia. Logos describes the self-revelation of God which in a very important way transcends all attempts to describe form.

So, for example, in the Old Testament God came in the form of a burning bush, a smoking mountain, a pillar of fire, and as a cloud. Before the time of Jesus, God's incarnation of the Word was the Book of the Covenant. It was kept in an ark and was carried around by a wandering people. David installed the Ark in the Temple and no one but the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement to be in the presence of God.

None of these incarnations of God's Word is good enough for John. John wants us to know about the Word made flesh. It is not a bush, not a cloud, not a pillar of fire, but a human being. God came in human form so that we might see Him face to face. This is much more than Moses or any high priest ever got to see.

Before Jesus, all anyone ever saw were the things that hid God from their eyes. With Jesus, the veil was removed. The full glory was exposed for everyone to see. It was such an unexpected sight that no one could believe it was really happening.

It was hard to believe, but for those who did believe, it was the new tabernacle-the new temple-that sheltered God's presence among us. God was not in a tent or a building this time, instead, God chose to pitch His tent among us through the incarnation of Himself in human form. This is really mind blowing stuff. The God who was from the very beginning and who was the beginning of all things decided to dwell among us, not for a time, but forever.

As I've thought about this, I've come to realize how expansive and great our God is. I've also thought about how we attempt to shrink God into something we can grasp and understand. We humans don't deal with mystery and the unknowable very well. We reduce everything to a comprehensible size and timeframe. Thus the debate between the evolutionists and creationists. Interestingly, it was a Catholic Priest who first proposed the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe. George Lemaitre, a Belgian priest was an astronomer and physics professor. In 1927, he proposed that the expanding universe might be traced back to a single point of origin called a singularity.

The Franciscan Sister Elia Delio who writes about evolution, physics, neuroscience, and the importance of these for theology describes the beginning like this:

Science would say it appeared like a little quantum size blip on the screen and inflated rapidly like a balloon and since that time, it has been expanding.[1]

The Catholic priest Richard Rohr suggests that every time we read "The Word" in John's prologue to the Gospel that we substitute the word "Blueprint:"

In the beginning was the BLUEPRINT, and the BLUEPRINT was with God, and the BLUEPRINT was God.

Maybe this makes more sense to our 21st century mind. Here's the point, Jesus is not a plan B for God. Jesus is not some sort of problem-solving answer to the issue of sin. This idea of a relationship that God wants to have with us is God's goal from the beginning. God is love and has been love since the beginning of time.

As a pastor and disciple of Jesus Christ-who is the light of the world-I have one agenda and the church should have only one agenda, how to push back the darkness. As a believer in the one who created the universe and all that is, I cannot back away from love. Those who claim Jesus as Lord should never back away from love. Leaders and countries must do what they have to do. As follows of Jesus Christ, we must do what we are called to do.

Author, farmer, poet and environmental activist Wendell Berry says it best:

I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.[2]

Astrophysicists tell us that 95% of the known universe is dark energy and dark matter. It appears to be nothing but empty space. We also know that darkness is not really darkness. What appears like total darkness to the human eye is actually filled with billions of neutrinos which are light. It sounds like the Gospel of John: "A light that shines in the dark, and the dark cannot overcome it." Think about it.

Matthew