Gospel of Matthew

A Diary of the Apostle’s Fast (First Wednesday): How?

Because of your unbelief, for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.  However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.

Matthew 17:21,22

Moss, Stone, and Water (© John Gresham)

And here is the problem.  We are called to confront issues of darkness that cannot be overcome easily.  Our passions overcome us and those around us to a point when all seems out of control.  The quick cures that we learned when we began our walk with the Lord aren’t working.  Passages of scripture recited as if they were magic words don’t penetrate the heart of our struggles.  Imitations of what we see in televised ministries or read in popular devotionals are equally ineffective.  Lack of our expected timely results lead us to doubt and disbelief.  When these two impostors take root, nothing can be accomplished.

Overcoming the forces that throw us into fire and flood requires three elements; and without the first, the other two are meaningless exercises.  Faith the size of the insignificant mustard seed is the foundation of victory.  This sort of faith is not something that is easily held on to.  It takes far more attention to maintain a mustard seed in one’s hand than a coconut or even a pecan.  Faith requires watchfulness and discipline to hold on, especially when things are not easily obtained.  Indeed, if one is watchful and disciplined to hold on to hope, almost nothing can stand in his way.

Our Lord suggest that there are times that faith needs the practical assistance of prayer and fasting.  We must be in constant communication with God to exorcise our demons and those of others.  We must practice tangible control of our own desires before we can successfully overcome the intangible wickedness that fights against us.  With these two tools forged with the one necessary element, we cannot be overtaken in sin nor swallowed up in the despairing situations around us.  Even when we stumble, we are able to rise again in repentance and not fall as easily nor deeply as before.  With this sure-footed walk with the Savior, we can reach down and help others come on the journey with us.  Have faith above all.  In faith, pray and fast.

A Diary of the Apostle’s Fast (First Tuesday): What?

… “Follow Me.”

Matthew 9:9

 

Flight of Three (© John Gresham)

 

Not a glaring and loud advertisement for a life changing mega church conference.  Not a boastful and vainglorious promotion of an empowering series of DVD lessons for $59.99 plus tax.  No appeal to sow a sacrificial seed offering by popular power preachers to keep the television ministries reaching people all over the world who may not be able to receive such programing in the first place.  Jesus approaches a sinful man in his sinful practice who is friends with sinners with two simple words, “Follow Me.”

To follow is to walk away from where one is and make deliberate steps behind the one accepted as ahead.  As long as the leader is in motion, the follower must also move.  Every day the world turns, plants cycle the air, creatures follow instinctive patters.  Every day the one who was with and was God moves.  We should be likewise place our steps behind his.

Note that his steps are not sporadic.  There may be moments of significance.  But, he walks in consistency as life is consistent.  Our walk must not be limited to unique pauses nor can it be built on infrequent commemorations.  For if we follow only on those moments, what is there to prevent us from losing sight of the leader?  We are most likely to lose sight of who he truly is and where he is going.  Conditions can distort our vision and enemies can distract us if our footsteps are too far away from his.

No, we must have the discipline to follow and follow closely.  Even if we lack the nerve to see him nailed or the hope to see him at the rising moment, even if we don’t get an early glimpse of his glory; we are called to follow.  If we are diligent and obedient, we will be blessed in the here and here after.

Getting Our Act Together

The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.

Isaiah 52:5, Ezekiel 36:22, Romans 2:24

I believe President Obama is wrong in his support for gay marriage.  Jesus Christ taught the same standard for marriage as found in Genesis 2:21-24 when he answered the Pharisees about divorce in Matthew 19:1-9.  Male and female … For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and the two will become one flesh.  For homosexuals to choose a life partner and be granted a legal recognition by a civil authority may be suitable for this world.  But, homosexuality is a sin.  Thus, Holy matrimony for a gay or lesbian couple is not possible according to the Bible and Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant tradition.

With that said, we heterosexuals have a hell of a lot to answer for.  If we fear that gay marriage will make a mockery of the traditional family, I recommend that we take a hard look at the way we corrupt monogamy degrade sex on a regular basis.  The Chris Miller/Kim Kardashian “marriage” comes to my mind rather quickly.  Oh, it was a heterosexual union.  But, how serious was it?  Did they marry with a true spiritual bond with each other and committed hearts to withstand good and bad times together?  Or was it a sham based on their egos, sensual pleasure, and making a profit from a celebrity gossip hungry media?  If our nation can accept this perversion of holy matrimony, then two men or two women with a committed bond with one another getting married is not a far stretch.

In the liturgical church traditions; a sermon on the seriousness, love, and committment is a part of the wedding ceremony.  How many of us had a sermon at our wedding?  Weddings have become an industry from high fashion magazines, to professional planners and photographers (and photographers get paid far more than the minister who officiates the service and signs the legal documents).  These ceremonies used to take place exclusively in the bride’s or groom’s church.  At least in the home or on land owned by one of the families.  Today, anyone can go to Las Vegas and have Elvis as the minister backed up by a punk rock band, or just go through the drive thru chapel.  Or, one can spend thousands on one of those story-book weddings which may seem impressive enough to hide the fact that neither the bride nor groom are committed to life long monogamy.  And after the divorce, the bride or groom swears to have a bigger and better wedding than the first one.  If we heterosexuals participate in such shallow marketing of what was a blessed and honorable institution, why should homosexuals be denied the privilege?

And isn’t it strange how the language of sex is used as an insult to manhood?  Think of the particular word for intercourse is a curse word as is the slang term for the female genitals.  With the easy access to hardcore pornography and the general acceptance of softcore nudes and semi nudes in sexually charged situations, what was once to be done naked and unashamed has become an act of ridicule and recreational pleasure.  In fact, the sheer brutality women go through in today’s porn and the rate of sexual abuse against girls has brought the value of the female body in this society to an all-time low.  Should I be upset when two men want to commit to a union where they are unlikely to contribute further to this abuse?  Should I be angry when two women, who most likely suffered sexual abuse at the hands of men, seek solace in a marital bond with each other?

Chances are no one is going to vote for or against the president on this issue alone.  Therefore, I see little value of having a too strong of an opinion about gay marriage one way or the other (although I know where I stand).  We heterosexuals have done far more damage to holy matrimony than one man’s words.  Unless we are serious about cleaning up the mess we made, we look rather foolish trying to put limitations on someone else.

… and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

Matthew 7:2

No Greater Hell

… and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites.  There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 24:51

But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly I say to you I do not know you.’

Matthew 25:11

And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 25:30

“Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. …”

Matthew 25:41

Crossing (© John Gresham)

Is there a worse version of hell than the descriptions Jesus gave to his disciples during the eschatological discourse?  Can the reasons for going to such a hell be more frightening?  Note, if you would, the ten virgins who were locked outside of the banquet hall being told by the bride groom, “Assuredly I say to you I do not know you.”  These women are left disowned and vulnerable.  The wicked servant fares no better being counted among the hypocrites for abusing his fellows and carousing with drunkards.  He and the virgins did not live in expectation for something greater.  They mistakenly believed they had plenty of time before being in the full presence of the bridegroom and master.  The unprofitable servant made no effort to increase the wealth the master gave him, not even to give the gift to those who could make some sort of profit.  He too goes to the place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

In these three examples, the graphic punishment is not some demon in a red suit armed with a pitchfork.  To be disowned by the Lord Jesus Christ and left vulnerable in great tears and agony goes beyond any sort of vengeful torture.  This is why the martyrs endured the wild beast, burning pitch, and other horrors of earthly cruelty.  They chose to die brutally rather than be separated from the source of life and life eternal.  And the source of life is to do well to one’s neighbor, practice self-control, increase love and spirit, and to anticipate a glory beyond what this world can give.

Indeed, to ignore the plight of the least of humanity is the apex of being separate from Jesus Christ.  The Lord identifies himself with the “least of these.”  The cursed are to suffer the same total separation as the ultimate rebels against God not because they committed some act of immorality.  They are punished for their lack of compassion and mercy.  Morality is good.  But, it is no substitute for the love that gave it’s self to our unworthy humanity for our salvation.  If we do not love likewise, we have missed the whole point of the crucifixion and resurrection.  If we miss the point, we will miss his return.   There can be no greater hell than that.

Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect

Matthew 24:44

Let us live in his presence believing that his greater glory will come.

How To Respond To Atheism

It is no secret that atheism and unbelief is growing in our country.  I read an article in the Guardian where church membership may very well be less than the 40% mark that most of us took for granted.  With the ongoing hypocritical scandals and false doctrine in many denominations and congregations, I suspect things will only get worse.  But, just because Atheism is growing means that the faithful should do nothing.  This morning, I will preach our response.

Reflective Dawn (© John Gresham)

 

BECAUSE HE IS, WE MUST GO

Matthew 28:16-20

Thesis:  Disciples of Jesus Christ are called to declare his resurrection from the grave

Antithesis:  Like the time of the first disciples, there are forces in society that oppose this message

Propositional Statement:  We are called to spread the Gospel of Jesus despite the obstacles before us

Points:

  • We can overcome our own doubts (17)
  • We can go beyond our comfort zones (19)
  • When we go, Jesus will be with us (20)

Selling Out Jesus

Happy Easter to all Orthodox Christians.

This weekend is the celebration of 40 years of Pastoral Service of Rev. Wilbert D. Talley at Third Union Baptist Church.  He has been a mentor to me since I was a child. Dr. Talley held high positions at Virginia Union University and other statewide organizations.  A man of his caliber and education could have easily sought the pulpit of the most lucrative churches in the nation.  And yet, for four decades he remained the pastor of a little country church.  His work has included major improvements on the building and aiding people in building their lives.  It is an honor to celebrate such a man and wish him many more years of service to God.

Dr. Wilbert D. Talley (© John Gresham)

SELLING OUT JESUS

Matthew 26:14-16

(Introduction) Now that we know him as the resurrected savior, no Christian would sell Jesus out the way Judas did.

(Antithesis) In Matthew’s Gospel, Judas is no more wicked than any other disciple.  But, he made a most horrible choice.

(Thesis) We must be on guard not to sell Jesus out the same way Judas did because we face the same temptations.

(Relevant Question) How do we sell Jesus out

(Points)

1.  We hold on to our preconceived ideas of what is right (v. 6-14)

2.  We go to those who truly seek to kill him (v. 14)

3.  We accept a cheap payment (v. 15)

(Conclusion)  True discipleship is too costly for us to sell out at any price.

A Most Corrupt Force

The chief priest and elders, however, had persuaded the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas and the execution of Jesus.  Matthew 27:20

During my morning worship, I couldn’t help but to be struck by this verse.  The jealousy of the religious leadership would rather preserve a criminal element that does not threaten their status than an innocent (indeed divine) presence that would upset their positions.  It is this corrupt force that is able to do two things that kill the truth.  First, it stirs up a large crowd of the ill-informed.  Jesus is not tried before a jury of his peers with any sort of fair representation with the crowd kept away from propaganda that would prejudice their thinking.  No, it is the self-centered religious leadership that persuades the crowd to call for the release of Barabbas and execution of Jesus.  “If the chief priest and scribes want him killed, it must be for our good.  After all, they are the guardians of the faith.”

Taskinas Valley Sunset (© John Gresham)

With the ill-informed masses brainwashed, this corrupt force then forces the hand of government to do its will.  Government does not stay in power on might alone.  It also appeases popular opinion no matter how uniformed it may be.  If the innocent is insignificant in wealth or power, it can be thrown to the will of the masses so that government can have peace.

Capitalism vs Socialism?  That argument is a sideshow compared to the struggle between the indulgent vs. the innocent.  The corrupt force of the selfish religious leadership brings true death to a nation as the people blindly follow their chief priest and scribes and government follows the popular opinion.