Friday: Matthew 5 (The Beatitudes)

From Ryan Ruffing

Here, at the beginning of Jesus’ teaching ministry in Matthew’s gospel, we are abruptly challenged by words that can only be described as ‘from another reality’ - words that seem to have their root in a fundamentally different order of things. The whole of Jesus’ teaching in The Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:27) is summed up by the reaction of his listeners - “the crowds were astonished at his teaching.” (7.28)  If we do not pause to read these words with fresh eyes, we risk missing what is astonishing, glossing over familiar phrases like a friend we have learned to take for granted. We may easily miss that Jesus is inviting us to nothing less than a total transformation of every part of our being - from the depth of our heart to our most public action. We are being invited to walk a path which leads from the ‘order of this world’ to the ‘order of the Kingdom of God.’ 

Jesus begins this invitation to re-orientation with the 9 statements we read yesterday, called The Beatitudes (from the Latin word meaning blessed). These statements are straightforward and deceptively simple - each packing a radical message. We see their radical nature by contrast, if we imagine for a moment how our western American culture might compose its beatitudes - blessed are the rich, blessed are the powerful, blessed are the well dressed, blessed are you when you play your cards just right and come out on top, blessed are you when you look like you’re on top even though it’s just a show, blessed are the quick witted and sharp tongued, blessed are the argument-winners, blessed are the over-achievers, blessed are the intelligent, blessed are you when others notice that you’re intelligent, blessed are you when you are well liked by the ones who others notice are intelligent, blessed are you when you look, talk and post on Facebook like one of the intelligent ones, blessed are the corporate ladder climbers, blessed are you when you side-step the bosses wrath and let someone else take the fall, blessed are the world-traveling, Instagram snapping, no-worries-in-the-world-killing-it-at-life ones, blessed are you when people say so many nice things about you and lift you high on a pedestal of desire and envy.

As I write this list, I feel my own insides tense, realizing how much of this vision of life has footholds in my own heart. In ways small and large, I love this picture - I have believed it is the way of flourishing. And yet, in its pursuit, I have been bent double with the burden of selfish concern, I have hurt others, I have been left utterly dry and dead.  

And here is Jesus - speaking words that pour over my soul like water over cracked ground. You do not have to live in this desert - I will take you to an abundant place of plenty. Begin here - re-learn in the deepest part of yourself what it means to be blessed, let me replace the lie that you have loved with myself.

I invite you to re-read these statements of blessing, and as we continue to read Jesus’ sermon over the next several days, let’s seek to see it with fresh eyes and open hearts.


Thursday: Psalm 78; Joshua 17.1-18; Galatians 5.16-26

From: Lucia Flaherty

This Psalm starts with urging the importance of teaching our children about God's deeds, might, and wonders. And in this collective remembering, we're told we'll find hope. The Psalm then details layers of memory. We are instructed to teach our children to remember a specific, layered story about God's power in the wilderness. There are the layers of God's power and provision (see verses 12-16, 23-28, 43-55, etc.). Then there's the layer of the Ephraimites forgetting God's power and provision, which lead to testing God and shedding belief entirely (see verses 11, 18, 32). There is the layer where God kills them, which then causes them to remember God as their rock (see verses 34-35). But then there's another layer where they once again forget God's power and test him again (see verses 41-42).

So the Psalm continues, unpacking these Russian dolls of remembering and forgetting. But the center doll, the solid one, is found in verses 38-39: "Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again."  And so we come to the point of it all—God remembers us even when we don't remember him. I find hope in that.

I live in Boston with my husband, daughter, and cats.

Thursday: Psalms 61-63; Joshua 12.1-24; Galatians 2.1-10

From: Kara Dodds

This morning in our lectionary reading we listen as Paul continues his rebuke of the churches in Galatia. Paul recounts to them his second visit to the church in Jerusalem which he had made because of a revelation he had received concerning those among the fellowship who had spread a counter gospel that was troubling the church and unsettling the minds of believers. This counter gospel was one of works-based righteousness in which the path to favor with God was a result of submitting to certain rules and regulations. Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem had preserved the truth of the Gospel and ensured it was proclaimed with unity among the Apostles. Imagine Paul’s concern to hear that now, only a few years later, the churches in Galatia had fallen into the same old trap, turning to a different gospel and deserting the one who called them into the grace of Christ (1.6).
In the introduction to this letter, Paul proclaims the grace and peace of the gospel over the churches of Galatia and reminds them of the true gospel: that Christ gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age (1.3-4). Later, Paul warns that Christ will be of no advantage to those who choose to walk in the way of works first (5.2). In other words, even in the present evil age, right living remains powerless to produce right standing with God. It is only in accepting what Christ has done on our behalf that we have peace with God. It is in this peace, this freedom in Christ, that right works find their proper place as we offer works of worship instead of bondage. 
So how are we doing? Have we, like the church of Jerusalem and the churches in Galatia, fallen into the same old trap? Let us not be troubled with the pride (or shame) of the futile exercise of measuring against our own standards, others’ standards, or those of our culture. Instead, let us be people who, because of the gift of God, are free to offer works of service and sacrifice which proclaim the sufficiency of him whom we worship.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

I live in Jamaica Plain with Chris and Barnaby.