Writings related to Matthew

Entering In

For Sunday, March 5, 2017 – Matthew 4:1-11

All of us need wake-up calls and the opportunity to start over, which is some of what Lent offers to us. From Ash Wednesday’s sober reminder that we come from a common source, that in our very substance we are the same—no more than, or less than, good old everlasting dust—to Easter morning’s glory and grand surprise of resurrection, it is a heartfelt time of relinquishing and deepening into our humbled lowly selves and our little part in God’s big story.

It is an awesome mystery to ponder, yet who would actually choose it, to enter down into the muck of our own thoroughly human nature, all of our lack of power and control on full display, our uncertainties about our soul’s condition and whether or not resurrection is real right here and now? Let’s make a circle and discuss it, shall we?

But strange things do happen on the way to Ash Wednesday. For me this year it is pneumonia, complicated by other conditions, which now requires me, all of a sudden, to stop. Stop discussing Lent, stop talking about it, stop searching for its real meaning. Just stop. Get reacquainted with dust.

So I will lay down inward/outward and other activities for an unknown period of time. Remember that www.inwardoutward.org is the site where you will find previous postings if you want to read offerings from earlier Lenten seasons. Past lectionary reflections are under the tab called The Story.

May we each enter more deeply into our own relinquishment, ready for whatever God proposes, and may it be a restorative time for us all. With gratitude for all of you, faithful readers. – Kayla

New Understandings

For Sunday, February 26, 2017 – Matthew 17:1-9

One of the most attractive temptations is not to understand something but to keep talking about it anyway. If we keep talking, maybe we will reach a point of greater understanding. We might form a discussion group on the subject, or conduct a survey, or brainstorm possible responses, anything to help us navigate the fog and numb the abysmal sense that we might never be among those who “get” Jesus. We might never be able to comprehend fully enough who he is and what he is doing to know what he wants each of us to do. We might not ever be able to be a “real” disciple.

Peter, it seems, cannot just stand still, be quiet, and absorb the amazement of this utterly remarkable moment. He feels he must quickly try to understand it, talk about it, and shape it into a tangible product for future reference. In the process he risks losing it entirely. For me, there are three pivotal words that help save the day for Peter, three little words that all of us might want to add more often to our own conversations with God: Peter says, “If you wish…..”

“If you wish” helps Peter move out of the driver’s seat for a moment, pause his talking and planning and lunging forward long enough to consider that Jesus might have a way different from his own way, that God might want to break through sometimes and give us a new idea or two.

To face into the journey that lies ahead will require a different type of comprehension, a way of communicating that might not feel natural at first but actually is our native language. It is a way, not of greater understanding and assurance, but of letting go into the mystery of suffering and trust. It is the way of death and yet also fullness of life. We will get there not by the familiar paths of accomplishment, but by standing still and listening. What does God want to say?

Healing the Divide

For Sunday, February 19, 2017 – Matthew 5:38-48

From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus seeks to bring together what has been divided. Not to balance the opposites. Not to teach us to see one another as separate but equal and to encourage us to practice greater tolerance and acceptance. More than tolerance, he wants to reveal to us the potential we have to be a new entity altogether, stronger and more beautiful for our differences—a new creation revealing to the world the true nature of God.

However the opposites might be identified—Jews and Gentiles, religious and secular, righteous and unrighteous, rich and poor, healthy and chronically ill, incarcerated and free, the judged and the judgmental, children and adults, those educated in schools or on the streets, those with or without decent jobs or fair housing or adequate access to food, with or without the “correct” political, religious, social ideologies—Jesus knew the truth about us. We are one. And he knew the nature of God, who does not waste energy measuring out life, the sun and the rain, in varying portions depending on whether we are deserving or undeserving, but who scandalously pours out the same abundance on all.

How will he teach us to be more aligned with this kind of God? Jesus suggests some practices; you’ll have to read them to believe them. None are easy but all are guaranteed to change our perceptions about people we might have considered to be beneath us, deplorable, or disgusting. Trying to implement any of these disciplines in our own settings would help move us beyond judging and ridiculing, beyond tolerating what we thought was intolerable, and into taking the risk of face-to-face, concrete acts of generous solidarity. Practicing them together in community would help us begin to believe more fiercely in the dream of a new creation and its power to change the world.

Jesus does not hope that we will eventually learn to accept our differences and put up with those who annoy us or undermine us. No, he seeks something much deeper, something that will reveal more truly who God is: that we will become a new body entirely. He wants us to stop trying to find the perfect balance among all persons, perceptions, and opinions. Rather, he wants us to live together, messily, clumsily, toward the perfecting of love. He longs for us to heal the divides and be a sign to the world that it’s possible.

We Know What We Know

For Sunday, February 12, 2017 – Matthew 5:21-37

Jesus reminds us that we already know what we need to know. We already have heard the Ten Commandments and memorized the Golden Rule and know we should put them into practice in our affairs. “But I say to you” … there’s more. The outer practices need to be integrated inwardly.

“You shall not murder” is the outward practice; equal to it, Jesus says, is the inner practice: “You shall not take out your anger on anyone.” Jesus says, “You already know about not committing adultery.” But I say … thinking it is the same as acting on it. If we start to realize that our thoughts and actions are one, we might as well start cutting off parts of our body and tossing them away as to try to rid ourselves of all infractions. Our most valiant attempts at righteous living will seem impossible, regardless of our rigor and discipline, when knowing and following the rules is only part of the equation. We also must know and follow our inner truth, and the truth is, we are not yet fully integrated.

Such a realization can be difficult to accept. We feel shamed by our hidden thoughts and intentions, especially those for which we have enjoyed judging others harshly. But one thing we know for sure is that Jesus is not president of the Shame Club. His motive is never to shame us but to free us. Freedom lies in realizing we cannot achieve our own righteousness or accomplish our own ideas of perfection. Even following all the commandments will not get us there. Only as we examine the inner condition of our hearts and find reconciliation with our accuser, whether another person or our own conscience, do we begin to relax into the truth of ourselves. Only then does our ‘Yes’ become ‘Yes’ and our ‘No’ become ‘No.’ Only then are we able to give the world the gift of ourselves and receive the gift of others.

This is at the heart of Jesus’ mission, at the heart of his love for us and all creation, that we find the joy of simply giving and receiving ourselves. Not to live more rigidly by the rules, not to force those rules upon others, but to find the fulfillment of integration, when our outward actions align with our inward intentions and we start to breathe more easily and enjoy each other more fully. In this way we come to know what we already know—that we are here not to judge but to love.

Who We Are

For Sunday, February 5, 2017 – Matthew 5:13-20

We lose ourselves in striving to become people we imagine to be the right kind of people, pleasing to God, rather than simply being who we are. We strive after what might not be ours to do rather than submitting humbly to God’s tasks each day, as hidden and small as they might be. Jesus seeks to show us the way to a life that is not about striving but is easier, lighter, more joyful and free.

Rather than chastising his followers for failing to achieve a certain status among the religiously devoted, Jesus says they already ARE what God made them to be. “You are the salt of the earth,” he says. “You are the light of the world.” Right now, before we change the world, before we accomplish greatness, the very essence of who we are is serving a purpose. We are, in our core, adding flavor to life. We have been created, like salt, both to preserve what needs to be preserved and to corrode and melt what needs to be changed.

We are not on our way toward brightness. We are, right now, light—not only for our own little lives, but light for others, set on a lamp stand, lighting the entire house. Together our lights are like a city shining on a hill by which every tired wanderer can find her way home. As we accept and live daily in the truth of who we are, we are able to do the kinds of good works that matter, that heal both giver and receiver. We will not worry and work so hard at doing what we think we must, as so many of our inner village scribes and Pharisees seem to do, but we will do what we are more suited for doing. We will breathe in mercy and breathe out justice, breathe in love and breathe out peace.

To be who we really are is to live more and more in the essence of who Jesus really is. To be salt and light is to be mercy and justice, to stand up and reach out, without fear, wherever we are needed. It is to be the oxygen of hope that assures the world the holy one is among us, transforming and renewing. How? Just by making us more ourselves, living our true nature.