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Video Series: What I’m Thinking

Each week, Pastor Eric Anderson shares just a minute or two of his thoughts on the upcoming week. But the most important part of “What I’m Thinking” is what you’re thinking. Please share your ideas in the comments, and see how they become part of Pastor Eric’s thinking, too!

What I’m Thinking: First Step

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When Moses and Elijah suddenly appeared to speak with Jesus, Peter wanted to build a booth. There was something he should have attended to first.

Here’s a transcript:

We come to the end of the season after Epiphany. As is typical of the Revised Common Lectionary, we end this season with the story of the Transfiguration, found this year in the seventeenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 17:1-9).

Jesus brings Peter, James, and John with him up a mountain. At the top, two more figures join them, which they recognize as Moses and Elijah, two of the great prophets and leaders of Israel’s spiritual history. Peter wants to build some places to dwell, but then a voice sounds from a cloud, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

When they look around again, everybody but Jesus, Peter, James, and John have gone again.

Every year this story comes up. Every year I try to “make sense” of it.

But truthfully, it’s not that challenging a story, now is it? Is it challenging to say that Jesus is a very special person? Is it challenging to say that Jesus is in the line of the great spiritual leaders of Israel?

All the Gospel writers immediately recognized parallels: Moses and Elijah both associated with mountains; both associated with giving of direction, of law, from a mountain. Is it any surprise that Jesus is also associated with that great tradition of new direction and of grace coming from God – and, just to make sure we don’t miss the point, up on a mountain?

Our impulse is to move towards that crafting of places in which to stay, those booths. But the first step is the one that we are inclined to skip, and that is to listen: to listen to Moses bringing the word of God down from the mountain; to listen to Elijah warning of all the other temptations offered by the deities of the world; the word of Jesus saying that there are high standards for us; the word of Jesus saying that God’s grace is for everybody.

Listen to him.

We are inclined to move on, aren’t we?

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories: What I'm Thinking
Tags: Listening, Transfiguration, Video

What I’m Thinking: Rising Bar

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Jesus keeps raising expectations – raising the bar – for us. Does it look whether it’s in reach?

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 5:21-37). Yes. Still. The Revised Common Lectionary continues on through the Sermon on the Mount.

This section follows right along from the end of last week’s reading where Jesus tells his disciples that their righteousness needs to exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees. That is, they are to be better, more faithful people than those who had the best reputations for their faithfulness, for their righteousness.

In this section, Jesus goes on to say how that’s supposed to be done, and in every example Jesus raises the bar. It’s sort of like a high jump or a pole vault in which the bar keeps getting higher and higher and higher until to most of us it looks quite out of reach. I’ll be honest. I look at this section of Matthew’s Gospel and my first response is, “Can we just skip this?”

Because instead of murder and violence, Jesus wants us to talk about anger. Instead of talking about adultery, Jesus wants us to talk about how we think about those we see. And Jesus says that if one is considering a divorce, well, one shouldn’t do it, that the breaking up of a marriage, even though it’s allowed for in the ancient law of Israel, is tantamount to adultery.

Harsh words indeed. High bars indeed.

Personally, I don’t think that Jesus could successfully say to anybody, “Don’t get angry.” I don’t think that Jesus could say to anybody, “Don’t look at someone and not feel that pulse of attraction.” Feelings are things that happen to us.

Nevertheless, how we express feelings, how we reflect on our feelings, how we let our feelings govern us (whether we let our feelings govern us): ah, that is something that you and I have some control over in our lives.

So, if somebody makes us angry, we’ve got some choices. There are different ways that we can express it. Remember what we’ve told the young children – the four-year-olds, the five-year-olds: “Use your words”? It’s amazing how often we not just permit but even endorse people in positions of high leadership to do things that are certainly not “use your words,” but constitute actual violence. I could argue, in fact, that war is the ultimate failure of “use your words.”

No, these are the places where Jesus is asking things of us that are achievable. However, when we do not manage to clear the bar it does not mean that we are unforgivable. That is still something that is coming to us from Jesus, from our loving God. But our first task is to strive for those heights, to strive for those goals of living a life that is loving, that is committed, that is compassionate, that is faithful.

At the end of this section, Jesus tells us not to make promises by and ensure those promises by means of oaths, of making declarations “I’ll do this as long as the sky is overhead.” “Let your yes be yes; let your no be no.”

You and I both know that we don’t always achieve that. For that, there is still the forgiveness of our friends and our neighbors and of our God. But isn’t that a worthwhile goal for ourselves? To say “Yes” and work to maintain the “Yes.” To say “No” when we have to and have the “No” be what we mean and what we do.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories: What I'm Thinking
Tags: Goals, Video

What I’m Thinking: Obvious

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Sometimes Christianity seems as, well, obvious as a lamp on a lamp stand. Other times, less so.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the fifth chapter of Matthew still (Matthew 5:13-20). The Revised Common Lectionary stays with the Sermon on the Mount through the Sundays after Epiphany, at least until just before the beginning of Lent.

This section of the Sermon on the Mount always makes me feel some of the well, some of the basic simplicity of my own role in life as a pastor and as a preacher. Because, you see, it often seems to me as if my job is to state the terribly obvious: that it’s good to be good to people; that it’s good to be humble before God.

In this section, Jesus is quite explicit about it: that Christians – not just preachers, but Christians – are supposed to be lamps placed on lamp stands and not underneath baskets, that they are as clear and visible as a city set on a hill. The purpose of this, says Jesus, is that when we do things that are good, people will see them and understand them as part of the teaching of Jesus, of the Church, of God.

The trouble is is that in these days I am not certain that it is our good works that first get associated with the Church. I’m terribly afraid that it is the harm that we have caused. I’m terribly afraid that it is the things that we’ve said that have invited the abuse of some by others. I’m afraid that it’s the hypocrisy of saying one thing – of requiring something of others – and yet doing the contrary ourselves.

It is much the same situation that Isaiah criticized in chapter 58 (Isaiah 58:1-12) when he asked what sacrifice God was looking for and truthfully it was the sacrifice of release for the captives, it was the sacrifice of breaking all the yokes.

It is simply true: what we do as Christians, as individual people, it is seen. It is understood. And people will see and understand what is good and just. They will also see what is evil and harmful.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories: What I'm Thinking
Tags: Discipleship, Light

What I’m Thinking: Raised Standards

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Micah 6:8 is difficult enough: to do justice, to love faithfully, and to walk humbly with God. In the Beatitudes, Jesus raised the bar. Poverty of spirit, meekness, pureness of heart, and more become the challenge of a faith life.

Here’s a transcript:

The Revised Common Lectionary has brought two of my favorite Scriptures to us this coming Sunday, and I’m thinking about both of them.

The earlier of the two is found in the sixth chapter of the prophet Micah (Micah 6:1-8). You may recognize the eighth verse with which it closes: “What does the LORD require of you but to do justice and steadfast love and to walk humbly with our God?”

Centuries later Jesus would go out on his teaching ministry. Matthew describes (Matthew 5:1-12) how he went to the summit of a hill or a small mountain, gathered his followers and a crowd around him, and began to teach. And he begins with what we call “The Beatitudes,” from the Latin word for blessing.

Why blessing? Well, because this is what Jesus said: “Bless are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth…” and so forth.

I usually think about Jesus as someone who takes the bar, the standards, and continually raises them, and indeed I think that if you compare Micah 6:8 with the first verses in Matthew 5 you will find Jesus raising the bar. It’s not enough just to do justice. It’s not enough to love with a steadfastness and commitment. It’s not even enough to walk humbly with our God. But now Jesus invites us to consider even the worst parts of our lives as times in which God’s blessing is active.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” – but how much did that mercy cost us when we extended it?

So yes, these are two of my favorite passages in Scripture. It does not make either one of them easy. It does not make either one of them something that one can just decide one morning to get up and do.

Part of the promise of Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 5 is that the struggle itself is part of the journey, and that God is with us in all the stresses and all the troubles to bring us to a better us and a better world.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories: What I'm Thinking
Tags: Beatitudes

What I’m Thinking: Whom Shall I Fear?

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As we wrestle in Hawai’i with the shocking news of murder and arson near Diamond Head, we hear the Psalmist ask: “Whom shall I fear?”

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about how a Sunday in Honolulu, just below the majesty of Diamond Head, became the setting for violence, for fire, for death. My prayers are with the injured and with the grieving friends and family, with those who lost homes, and with those whose hopes and peace have been shattered by this eruption of violence. I have no great wisdom, especially when we don’t really know all of what happened, except to say that we are called to better things.

The psalm for this coming week, Psalm 27 (Psalm 27:1, 4-9), speaks directly to this. You probably recognize the opening words: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

The sad truth is that people fear a great deal in these days. Sometimes they do not fear what they ought. Sometimes they fear what is of no danger, but there is a lot of fear running around, and some of it, as we saw on Sunday, is fear that is justified.

Somebody asked me just the other day what my worst fear – memory of fear – was, and the things that came to mind were times when somebody else was in serious risk of harm or of illness, and this was a risk that I could not manage. This was a danger I could not control. Those were the times that really made my breath catch and my brain freeze.

The Psalmist wrote from an experience both of deep danger – deep fear – and an experience of resilience, of survival, of emerging into an assurance that it was not just the Psalmist’s own resources that had brought them through, but also the blessings, presence, and love of God.

I wish I had some wisdom that would bring that presence and power into everyone’s life automatically and we would, in fact, be able to say with assurance, “The LORD is my light and salvation; whom shall I fear?”

But the body will react as it does. The heart will race. The skin will get clammy. The breath will come short no matter what we believe when we get to that place where the danger signals are ringing their clarion call.

What I hope is that our assurance in God can help us to resist the worst impulses of our fears. Our fears are truly bad guides. Our fears lead us into horrors, into oppression, into unjust death and destruction for the innocent. Our fears also give us that which we need to confront and to survive the real dangers of our lives.

Perhaps in the assurance of God’s presence, perhaps in letting God’s presence work in us, we can let the resources of our fears help us to endure and we can prevent the misdirection and poor guidance of our fears from leading us into places where we should not go.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories: What I'm Thinking
Tags: Fear, Video, Whatimthinking
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