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Lenten Bible Study – Day 20

Thursday, March 11, 2021 – Day 20
Matthew 18:12-14
12 What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of your[c] Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.
Since the early church this tory has always been understood allegorically. We are the sheep that gets lost and Jesus is the shepherd who loves us so much that he leaves the others and finds us. It also tells us the rejoicing of the shepherd when the sheep is found! This is truly the God we serve, a God that loves us so immensely that there is celebration in our return. In fact, this same parable in Luke tells us that all of heaven rejoices when we are found!
I do not know a lot about sheep, but I am told they are not the most intelligent animals. In fact, they can get lost simply by following another sheep or following something like a butterfly. So many times, when I think about people being “lost” I think of drastic things that they have done (murder, stealing, drugs). However, the reality is that often we get lost more like sheep, not even noticing that we are getting lost.
When I was 8 years old I went to Myrtle beach with my 10-year-old cousin Charlie. At one point we both got on a raft and went into the ocean. We kicked our little legs for awhile until we got hungry. We decided to go back, but when we turned around we didn’t see land. We panicked and began kicking in every direction until we had no idea which way to go. Eventually we heard my dads voice and headed that way.
How many times in our lives do we get lost from God simply by living our busy lives? It seems like busyness gets us lost more than something intense and painful. If a wave had launched me and Charlie into the sea we would have known, we were lost and called out immediately. However, our little kicks got us so lost that we didn’t even realize it until we couldn’t find our way back.
It doesn’t take a big action or act of defiance to get lost, sometimes it is just busyness and us not paying attention. Know that no matter how lost you may get Jesus will seek you out and rejoice when you return.
Thank you, Lord, for always seeking us out and thank you for a love that rejoices for finding us despite our failures. Amen.   

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.

JMPC Sunshine 02.26.2021

On June 28, 1972, Chiffon Margarine started running a commercial starring Dena Dietrich as “Mother Nature”. She is handed a stick of what she presumes to be butter, tastes it and gushes over the sweet, creamy taste of natural butter. Then she is told that it’s not butter; it’s Chiffon Margarine. “We fooled you, Mother Nature!” the announcer says. Mother Nature scowls, raises her hands and a there is a clap of thunder. This is followed by an elephant stampede in the direction of the announcer in one of the commercials. This amusing and popular commercial illustrated the common response of one offended by some perceived “lesser” person. Mother Nature is going to bring down a natural disaster on them because she was “fooled” into believing margarine was butter. We see this type of behavior in James and John, much to the annoyance of Jesus. Join us at John McMillan Presbyterian Church Sunday at 10 on Facebook Live as Pastor Jeff preaches “Sons of Thunder” a biography of apostles James and John, the sons of Zebedee.

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