James 5 – Warnings and Prayers

Read James 5

It is no secret in Scripture that God has a special place in His heart for the oppressed and marginalized.  Much of the mission of the Church is based on a call to care for the widow, the orphan, those in prison, and the oppressed and much of the early church was made up of such people.  The makeup of churches nowadays seems to have changed a bit.  Church appears to be a place where those who have their lives all together go, not where the broken come to receive healing.

James issues a warning to those who are “rich,” but it goes for all those who oppress or ignore the oppressed and marginalized.  Our actions in this regard do not go unnoticed before the thrown of God.  We must be careful in how we act and in where our priorities lie for it is not our earthly wealth that matters to God, but what we did with the blessings, actions that reveal where our heart is, that He has given us that truly matters.

One of the ways we can ensure a proper orientation in our lives in this, and all matters that James brings up, is committing to prayer.  We don’t talk about this enough, I think, in the church.  When we come before God, we come to praise Him, to thank Him, and to lift up our needs and the needs of the world before Him.  We do this because God calls us to, because He is capable of handling our needs, and because we trust Him.  Doing so, however, does not exempt us from action either.  God calls us to be active participants in His work in the world and this happens through the prayers and actions of His people.  When we invite God into situations, we believe that He is going to act in ways the build His Kingdom and further His will in the world.

Luke 6 – Blessings and Woes

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The beatitudes recorded in Luke take on a shorter and partially more negative form than those recorded in Matthew.  Yet the message of these teachings is much the same: there is a greater perspective than what is happening currently that we must keep in focus.

Some of these make a lot of sense to us.  God has a special place in His heart for those who are poor, oppressed, and marginalized; Scripture is very clear on that.  It is not a wonder that Jesus teaches that these folks will be blessed.

But what about the reverse of these?  Why is it that Jesus says that those who laugh now will mourn later?  What is it about being wealthy now that will lead to poverty later?  How is it that those who are full now will be hungry later?

As has been mentioned before, the economy of God doesn’t necessarily match up with what we think is important.  The message that Jesus is speaking is not that His followers should seek to be poor, desolate, and unhappy so to gain blessings.  That doesn’t seem to match up with Jesus’ statement in John that He “came so that they may have life, and have it to the fullest.”

What is important here is perspective.  When our perspective on life, fulfillment, and following God focuses only on “living it up” in the temporary, especially when it is at the expense of others, we seem to miss the point.  Jesus relates these things to the idea of loving our enemies and judging others, driving home the point that all of life is lived in relationship.  When we find ourselves marginalized by others, we can find hope in the blessing that will come.  When we find ourselves marginalizing others, we best think twice.

Matthew 21 – The Greatest Danger

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Matthew continues to point his audience, primarily intended to be Jews,  back to the Old Testament Scriptures, showing Jesus as the fulfillment of all prophecy.  In the two major events that we are familiar with, the Triumphal Entry and the cleansing of the temple, Scripture is directed toward Jesus as the fulfillment.  Even Jesus’ teaching contains Scripture that references Himself as the Messiah.

However, it isn’t the presence of Scripture that has the Pharisees so concerned, but it’s content.  Israel’s past when it comes to listening to those whom God has sent as prophets is sorted, at best.  Most of the prophets that God sent were rejected and even killed because of their message.  While God continued to try and draw His covenant people back to Himself so that they could live into their true identity, the people continued in their disobedience and, in some ways, became much like the fig tree that Jesus cursed: fruitless.

I wonder if this is the greatest danger God’s people face today.  Over and above the decentralization of the church, societal marginalization, and even persecution both physical and ideological, when God’s people become content to simply exist, to play it safe, and to pursue those things that make us comfortable… not that which makes us disciples called to make disciples.

Jesus’ parables were directed at the people of Israel; the Pharisees and Matthew’s readers would have recognized this.  However, the teaching holds incredibly true for God’s people today as well.  The Church in North America has rested on it’s laurels for far too long.  Her past achievements have been enough, some think, to warrant a voice in today’s culture, however those passing too often see a tree with leaves but no fruit, and Jesus says, “A tree is known by it’s fruit.”