Carry on

[Matthew 4:12-17]

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.

It sounds like running away.

John had been by the Jordan River. He was on the end of that river closest to Jerusalem. Closest to the authorities. Closest to the people in power that he was attacking. John got too critical, too specific. He was a bit too zealous in speaking truth to the political and spiritual powers. He got put in prison.

At the other end of the Jordan River was Galilee. It was as far from the authorities, as far from the people in power, as far from what anyone who mattered cared about as you could get. (And still be in Israel, that is.)

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.

It sounds, at first, like Jesus is running away, that he is quitting, that he is going home. He’s been to see John. He’s been to the wilderness. He’s been to the devil and the angels.

And now he’s going back home?

The expectation,  the preparation, the affirmation, the initial confrontation–all that is done. The thirty years we know little of are over. Jesus had to get through them to get to this.

And this is what Isaiah said would happen. That’s what Matthew says.  This region of darkness would see a great light. The people living on the edge, culturally, would find the same hope that people huddling in darkness find at sunrise.

Many of us go lots of places, learn lots of things, have lots of experiences. But at some point we have to go home and get started on what we are called to do. Preparation is important. The for what, essential.

And Christ followers have a for what.

practicing what you . . .

I told you to do something.

I almost didn’t do it myself.

I told you to write something from Sunday on a 3×5 card. One truth. One idea. One …something…that you wanted to remember, to make part of your life.

And then, I almost didn’t do it myself. I looked at all the thoughts from the weekend, all the thoughts from Sunday and I thought, “Only one? How can I pick only one? I want to remember them all. I want to do them all. I want to…”

And then I realized that it’s not right to invite people to do what we aren’t will to do ourselves, to invite people to try what we aren’t willing to try, to invite people to trust what we aren’t willing to trust.

So I wrote on my card.  And immediately I was challenged.

I wrote, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…”

And I thought, “But I often seek my own kingdom, my own status, my own reputation. I want this to work because it will help me. I want people to notice this thing about God because then they will notice me.” Not always. Not every time. And not intentionally manipulating. But when I stop and think, I gotta be honest.

And I thought, “But often I seek my own righteousness, my own good reputation with God, my own being really good so God will notice me.” Not always. Not every time. But often I start doing good things because I think that I will make God happy with how righteous I am and then He will love me more, then He will do more for me.

The invitation Jesus gives us is to look for God’s kingdom, wherever it may be found, and rest in His goodness, not ours.

Single steps

Yesterday you may have been in a church building. You may have taught a class. You may have taken a long walk outside and looked up at the sky. You may have spent time with your family. You may have talked to God. You may have written some notes. You may have read the best book ever. You may have laughed at the efforts of a three-year-old to be twelve. You may have wondered why. You may have wished that things were different. You may have decided that they will be. You may have realized that January is already one third over. You may have renewed a commitment. You may have made a promise. You may have understood a goal. You may have figured out, finally, what God is inviting or calling or commanding you to do.

Yesterday.

Today you have to do everything that was left over from last week. You have to do everything to get ready for the big presentation on Tuesday and the concert on Thursday and the play on Saturday and the difficult conversations with the neighbors and the kids and the teachers and the boss that will last all week long.

Today.

And somehow, that great understanding from yesterday needs to permeate today. And we don’t know how.

Jesus says,

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. [Matthew 6:33-34]

So take five minutes and one truth from yesterday that you realized was part of seeking God’s kingdom and write it on a 3×5 card and stick it in your pocket or on your mirror.

And remember it.

The Kingdom? Single steps.

Descriptive

[Matthew 3:4-5]

We want to know what to do.

Some of us, anyway, when we become part of a group or we have a new identity or we are starting fresh, we want to know what to do. We want to know what the rules are, what it takes to fit in, to measure up.

And then we look for examples.

And some of us find John (the baptizing one).

He’s dressed in a garment woven from camel’s hair with a leather belt. He eats locusts. He eats wild honey.

And we think that we need to.

I mean, he’s the spiritual one, right? He’s the prophetic one. If we are prophetic, if we are to speak out the truth, we should live on the fringe. We should wear burlap and eat oddly.

But he didn’t wear burlap. (It would have been more like wool.) And he may well have been the only one of Jesus followers to eat bugs. The disciples will be found eating wheat and fish and bread and wine and other normal (for the time) food.

We want to copy outsides because that is so easy to do. But what made John distinctive wasn’t what what on the outside. In fact, part of why he wore what he wore is that he didn’t care so much about the outside. He wore what was available and durable.

There is much in Matthew that is descriptive: “This is what John did.” We want to make it prescriptive: “This is what I should do.” All the while, as we copy those things, we may miss what truly is prescriptive: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’”

It is, after all, much easier to worry…than to follow.

Do something.

(Matthew 3: 1-4)

The first word that John (the baptizer) says, as recorded by Matthew anyway, is ‘repent.’

I’m guessing that it wasn’t the first word he ever spoke, mind you. John was fully human. He would have done and said everything that a child says and does. But John grew up knowing that he was fulfillment of a prediction.

When we listen to Luke tell the story, we find

  • that John’s dad was in the temple,
  • that he was doing spiritual work,
  • that an angel told John’s dad that John would be great in the eyes of everyone,
  • that John would be like Elijah
  • and that because dad wanted evidence that he could believe the angel, the angel shut his mouth til John was born.

John knew that he had a calling and that arguing with angels has consequences.

When we think of repent, we think of guys with beards saying “repent, the end is near.” John’s message feels very different: “repent, the kingdom of heaven is near.” In the former case, repenting feels like judgment avoidance. In the latter, repenting feels like preparation, like getting ready for something wonderful.

The image of repenting is the image of turning around, of an about face. In the mouth of John, it means that we are going the wrong direction and if we turn around, we are heading toward the kingdom.

And the king.

John is saying, “You know the way you are trying to do things? The way that is so frustrating and confusing and painful? The way that is so twisting? How’s that working? You could turn around, you know. You could open up to the king. He’s near. “

People came to listen. People came to watch. Some saw no need to turn around and turned away.

Others?

They turned around.