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Lenten Bible Study – Day 19

Wednesday, March 10, 2021 – Day 19
Matthew 13: 52
52And [Jesus] said to [those listening to him], ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’
Matthew 13 is a series of parables that describe the kingdom of heaven to Jesus’ disciples, among other listeners. So now Jesus describes those who have heard and understood him as scribes who have been trained for the kingdom of heaven. As scribes, it is now their responsibility to teach others what Jesus taught them. (Matthew might have been describing himself, here.)
What has Jesus taught these new scribes? That they have been given a treasure trove of knowledge and must teach some things that are old and some things that are new. The new things come from Jesus. The old things come from what we call the Old Testament and what Jews call the Hebrew Scriptures. But the implication is that we don’t necessarily teach everything that is old. How do we decide what “old things” to teach?
It reminds me of my old friend Jim. Every year we go on a “long walk”. And every year he asks me questions about theology and scripture. Last year he asked me, “Jeff, what do you think of the Old Testament?” That was a pretty broad question! What he was really asking was whether we need to follow the dictates of the Old Testament, many of which are … well … hard to understand, unpleasant, and not particularly “Jesus-like”. Jim has two daughters and has always been troubled by the story of Jephthah’s daughter who gets sacrificed as a burnt offering because of a rash vow made by Jephthah. Jim always asks me “What do I do with that?”
My response was what I heard some time ago and believe to be valid. A good Jew would never ask if a story in the Hebrew Scriptures was true. They would ask, “What does it mean?” And that is what we must do with the “old” in this parable. The “old” must be consistent with the “new”. We must read the Old Testament in light of the fact that Jesus came to us, taught us and died for us. That is the “new” treasure. The “old” treasure points to that. If it does not point to Jesus, maybe it’s best not to “bring it out”. It’s not part of the treasure. Something to ponder during Lent.
Dear God. Jesus told us that we are to teach and understand both the old and the new. Please inspire us so that we can read scripture, understand scripture and live scripture the way you would have us do. Amen

Lenten Bible Study – Day 18

Tuesday, March 9, 2021- Day 18
Matthew 13:47-50
 47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
This parable should seem familiar to all of us for 2 reasons. The first is that it is very similar to the parable of the wheat and the weeds. The other reason it may seem familiar is that throughout scripture we see analogies of fishing. However, the “nets” used in other stories were casting nets. This story’s “nets” were dragging nets. They would attach a net with weights to boats and go towards shore. The nets would catch literally everything in their paths. Once ashore the fisherman would sort that fish, according to Mosiac law, they could only keep the fish with fins and scales to eat (Leviticus 11:9-12).
Much like the parable of wheat and weed we should notice that all the fish are in the net. We live in this world with people who do not think the same as us. It is interesting to notice that in Greek, ‘to gather (sunago)’ also means ‘to welcome.’ It is used in that sense in Matthew 25:35, where instead of the word ‘gather’ we have ‘welcome’. ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed (sunago) Me’. This means that the kingdom of God stretches out a welcoming hand to everybody. It is not exclusive in its invitation. Everybody without exception is invited to enter the kingdom of God. We know that a fishing net naturally gathers fish indiscriminately. It gathers fish of every kind, we read in the parable. There is clearly an inclusiveness in that phrase which reflects the universality of the invitation to accept the good news of the kingdom.
This parable starts by telling us that the kingdom of God is like a net. It is not just any net, it is a net that welcomes/gathers everything. The kingdom of God is not just for me or you, it is for everyone. This is like the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. The sacrifice was to reconcile the world for all people, not just some people. The kingdom of God yearns for the people of the world to seek out Christ. To call out to Jesus knowing that faith in Christ will bring them sweet salvation. It is here in the midst of lent in the shadow of the cross that we should see what the kingdom of God is, a net that draws all of us in, pulling us to our lord and savior.
Lord let us be reminded that you welcome all of us into your kingdom. This is not reserved for certain special people, it is an invitation for all people. Give us strength to speak your word to others so that they may know your love. Amen.

Lenten Bible Study – Day 16

Monday, March 8, 2021 – Day 16
Matthew 13:44
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
A few years ago I was honored to serve with a group of people from JMPC in Houston Texas. We were tasked with repairing houses that had been flooded. We were told that one area received 55 inches of water. Immediately, your heart hurts for the people that had to deal with the flood. I imagine myself having to deal with rising flood waters and I wonder how I would react.
Joel, was a young man who we met in Houston. He was helping us with one of the houses and his 2-year-old daughter would be living in the house. He was telling us about the night the waters were rising. At a certain point their family decided they had to leave the house. With waters already waist high they had to decide what to take with them. What were the most important things in their lives? For Joel, he put his 2-year-old on his shoulders and put the dog in a basket and attached a rope to himself. 
When we read the parable this morning the treasure is what should summon our attention. What sticks out to me is not just that the man finds a treasure, but that he understands the value of the treasure. The man sells everything he has so that he can have the treasure. He recognizes that he doesn’t own anything that can compare to the treasure. 
Many times, in our lives we give too much value to things in our lives. Often, we are missing what Jesus is offering us through his sacrifice on the cross. This treasure is more valuable than anything we have in our lives. The question is, do we understand its value? Are we ready to give up the things in our lives that don’t matter to fully embrace this real treasure?
Lord let us understand the treasure that we have in the kingdom of God. Let us know the value of the life Christ gives us. In all of this, let us let go of arbitrary things and embrace eternal things. Amen. 

JMPC Sunshine 02.20.2021

When I was in Elementary School, I was given a history lesson about George Washington, the Father of our Country. It was said that he never told a lie. Even as a child, he would not tell a lie. The story we heard was that his father gave him a hatchet as a gift. Washington was anxious to use it on something. He took it and cut down one of his father’s cherry trees. When his father, outraged, cried asked who could have done such a thing, young George said, “I cannot tell a lie. I did it.” Washington’s father purportedly embraced him and rejoiced that his son’s honesty was more valuable than a thousand cherry trees. Wow. That story is supposed to teach young folks that telling the truth even when punishment is inevitable is better than lying. An important lesson indeed. But did it really happen? No. It was a story made up years later by Washington’s biographer Mason Locke Weems. Why do we continue to tell that story? Because it is cute, and the message is a good one. This reminds me of the disciples. When we hear strange stories about them, we wonder if they are true and where we might find the sources. Peter for instance is who we meet at the “Pearly Gates” of heaven after we die. Peter decides if we get in. What’s with that story? How did Peter get that job? What doe we really know about Peter? Join us an John McMillan Presbyterian Church Sunday at 10 on Facebook Live when Pastor Jeff preaches “The Keeper of the Keys” and summarizes what we know and don’t know about the Apostle Peter.

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