Prophecy sometimes gets a bad rap like the proverbial boy who cried wolf. Or, if you prefer, like the ominous warning Winter is Coming from Game of Thrones.
Being the lone voice who is calling the community to hear them can be lonely and long, draining and daunting. And yet, this is the work of the prophet.
Look and listen. We hear them, Say.
We decide which to heed, and with what fervency.
– Do we have to wash our fruit before eating it?
– Does coffee have positive health effects?
Prophets call communities out on both of these issues!
However, last week, I asked you to discern about good news, bad news, and news you did not need. Each week of this month, we will be looking at the good news, one of the four gospels. Each written at a slightly different time, for a different audience, by a different author. With that information and perspective, we can learn from each of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Today, we start with Matthew.
Written by a Jewish scribe, the Gospel of Matthew was composed most likely for Jewish Christians in diaspora. After the Temple was destroyed during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70, the faithful were fearful and scattered. Scrolls and prophecy of the Anointed One, the Christos, who will proclaim justice were balm to hurting souls, particularly as times of persecution began. (1) The Gospel, the good news, of Matthew was compiled with narrative of Jesus, the Messiah, with the prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled. (2)
The Gospel of Matthew begins with the telling of the family tree. From generation to generation, we have been waiting for the Anointed One, Messiah. Prophets have foretold of the One who is God’s Chosen’s Servant. From the days of old gone by to the birth of Jesus, and beyond, God’s people have been waiting for the One who would bring peace and righteousness making everything as it ought.
In the first chapter of Matthew, the author starts branch by branch the highlights of the fruit of the tree. Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Judah. But like a thorough genealogist, the gospel writer we call Matthew, continues through all the photo albums of faith including names we know like, Boaz, David, Solomon, Josiah. Also featuring in a revolutionary way: women who are so rarely given name in the biblical witness: Ruth, Wife of Uriah (who we know is Bathsheba), Tamar, Mary.
In the long line of God’s people, many had heard of the coming of a Savoir. One who set the world right.
Unroll the scroll of Isaiah. Listen to how God told described the suffering servant in the days after the Babylonian Exile. God talks of the chosen servant with description as one who acts and moves history. Three times in four verses, the prophet Isaiah describes the Christos with justice. My study of the scripture in preparation for this morning, led me to share the Voice paraphrase. This version is written as though, the scripture was a script acted out by actors. Imagine the voice of God being read by Morgan Freeman, James Earl Jones, Octavia Spencer, or your favorite actor.
Jesus is walking with the disciples and questions are coming up, as in the gospel lesson with the crowd. Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath? In the Gospel of Matthew, the focus on the legal matters is central. Jesus teaches in a rabbinical style and offers a parable style answer. If you had a sheep fall in pit, would you not save it? Of course, I am going to heal the withered hand of this man! Voice-over style, as the gospel is apt to do, please feel free to add in the voice of God you prefer, the passage of Isaiah is shared.
As you hear and read the Gospel of Matthew, we are reminded of the good news fulfilled as we study scripture. This is why we give our 3rd graders Bibles. This is why we give our confirmands Bibles at the beginning of their confirmation journey. It is our greatest hope, that they get engaged enough to explore their gift. They read and ask questions of their Bibles. Study and ponder the scriptures. Interact, ask questions, and wonder about the Bible. We are encouraged to live our faith by using our Bibles in study as well.
I encourage each of you to engage in regular study of your Bible. There are no retired Christians. At each stage of our faith development, we find moments of pause and engagement. At each stage, we must reflect on how we study for this stage. I love to hear how some of you are engaged in personal study with online modules through Upper Room, Be A Disciple, Richard Rohr, and others. This week, as we begin our Sunday School classes, let me commend to you multiple strong class offerings on Sunday mornings starting today! Pastor Jim and I are both teaching Bible studies this fall – His on the Life of David and mine on Faith in Washington, based on viewing clips from the TV series West Wing paired with Bible study I wrote with colleague to address how our faith grounds us in uncertain political climate. Also, the Book of the Month club continues on Thursdays with Finding God in the Waves this month.
Peter Gomes, the former minister at Harvard Memorial Church, tells the story of an awkward circumstance in which an anonymous benefactor gifted the Church with as many bibles as needed to fill the pews. “Before proceeding too far along the road of this benefaction, I felt it wise to take the advice of some colleagues, and I found their reaction to be apprehensive, and in fact quite suspicious of the motivation behind the gift. “What does the benefactor want or expect?” I was asked, and warned that placing Bibles in the pews would create an invitation to steal them.
Further, I was warned that “people will think that this is a fundamentalist church. If they see Bibles in the pews you will have an image problem.” These concerns notwithstanding, however, we accepted the gift, placed the Bibles in the pews, and, happily, over the years we have lost quite a few to theft.” But even more interestingly, he goes onto note, an experience I can imagine that many of us have had.
Have you seen someone you remember from your past but cannot remember their name? Gomes suggests that he hears people with that same lament over not knowing their Bible. (3) I echo this. How often I have heard someone my grandmother gave a Bible at Easter when I was in school, but I haven’t look at it in years. Like a friend, I kinda remember.
This is a fresh opportunity for us to dust off our Bibles or let the church know if you need one to dig in, read the scriptures, and hear the good news!
The Gospel of Matthew shared the good news not only with the Jewish Christians of Antioch and Syria of the 1st century, but the fulfillment of God’s promises the Anointed One, the Messiah comes to bring justice and peace is good news for us today, as well. For all who suffer and for the world in need of righting and right side-upping, God’s chosen One is breaking through in justice.
Generation after generation, prophets have told us Messiah would be coming to bring justice, a new kind of justice. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, son of Mary. Jesus lived a lived a life of God’s ways, taught radical love, died for love, rose again. Christ will come again. Generation after generation prophets point to how we are called to study scripture, be doers of the word – not hears only. To Do the Gospel of the Matthew is to continue as life long students of God’s good news in the fulfillment of studied scripture.
For this is the Gospel, the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
1) Carter, Nancy, ed. And Kelly, Leontine T.C. Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew Who Do Say that I am?, 1993.
2) Wright, N.T., Matthew for Everyone. 2002.
3) Gomes, Peter. The Good Book Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart 1996.
Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 42:1-4 (The Voice Paraphrase)
Eternal One: Look here, let Me present MY servant; I have taken hold of him. He is my chosen, and I delight in him. I have put my Spirit on him; by this he will bring justice on the nations. He will not scream or yell, crying for all to hear. What is bruised and bent, he will not break. He will not blow out a smoldering candle. Rather, he will faithfully turn his attention to doing justice. And though he faces obstacles, resistance, and great pressure, he will not crack, he will not give up until things are set right. Even the coastlines wait patiently for his instruction.
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 12:9-21
Jesus left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.
When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them, and he ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, September 9 ~ Saturday, September 15
Sunday: “Eternal One: Look here, let Me present MY servant; I have taken hold of him. He is my chosen, and I delight in him. I have put my Spirit on him; by this he will bring justice on the nations.” Isaiah 42:1. The servant of the Eternal One, Christ brings justice. Where do you see justice?
Monday: “He will not scream or yell, crying for all to hear. What is bruised and bent, he will not break. He will not blow out a smoldering candle. Rather, he will faithfully turn his attention to doing justice.” Isaiah 42:2-3. Pray for each of us as we seek to turn our attention to doing justice.
Tuesday: “And though he faces obstacles, resistance, and great pressure, he will not crack, he will not give up until things are set right. Even the coastlines wait patiently for his instruction.” Isaiah 42:4. The coastlines feel the ebb and the flow, the coming and going, and yet they are held up as patient. Where are you being called to be patient for the instruction of the Christos, the Anointed One?
Wednesday: “Jesus left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and the religious leaders asked him, ‘Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?’” Matthew 12:9-10. Sometimes we lose track of what is important. Take some time today to refocus on what is important.
Thursday: “Jesus said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out?” Matthew 12:11. Jesus calls us not only to extend reason, but love and compassion. How are you caring for others today?
Friday: “Then Jesus said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other” Matthew 12:13. Pray for all those who find the courage to seek out healing in body, mind, and soul.
Saturday: “This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, ‘Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.” Matthew 12:17-18. Consider the prophecy of the coming of Christ was spoken generations before you and continues to be fulfilled. Praise God for God’s faithfulness.