Category Archives: Uncategorized

Digital Worship Service May 9, 2021

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 9, 2021 Traditional Worship Service

Confession and Forgiveness

We are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Greeting:

L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
C: And also with you.

Prayer of the Day: O God, you have prepared for those who love you joys beyond understanding. Pour into our hearts such love for you that, loving you above all things, we may obtain your promises, which exceed all we can desire; through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

First Reading: Acts 10:44-48

44While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Psalm: Psalm 98

1Sing a new song to the Lord, who has done marvelous things,
  whose right hand and holy arm have won the victory.
2O Lord, you have made known your victory,
  you have revealed your righteousness in the sight of the nations.
3You remember your steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel;
  all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
4Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands;
  lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.
5Sing to the Lord with the harp,
  with the harp and the voice of song.
6With trumpets and the sound of the horn
  shout with joy before the king, the Lord.
7Let the sea roar, and all that fills it,
  the world and those who dwell therein.
8Let the rivers clap their hands,
  and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord, who comes to judge the earth.
9The Lord will judge the world with righteousness
  and the peoples with equity.

Second Reading: 1 John 5:1-6

1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

  6This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

Gospel: John 15:9-17

[Jesus said:] 9“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
  12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

Sermon: Pastor Adam Stockton

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession:

Let us pray:
Loving God, we lift up this world that you love. Renew your creation and give wisdom to all your people who share in your responsibility to care for the world. Give wisdom to the leaders of nations, states, and cities to care for your people and the world. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The countries of the world experience disunity and conflict; we set our minds on fear and greed rather than on your rule of justice and steadfast love. Build up all countries on your cornerstone of peace. Protect and bless all who sacrifice to guard our freedoms, including: Ben, Christian, Clayton, Daniel, Dillan, Haden, Lindsey, Luke, Michael, Mike, Spencer, Steve, Sydney, Tyler B. and Tyler G. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We still weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. Cradle the fearful, the suffering, and the dying, assuring them of your loving presence. We lift up before you: Becca, Betsy, Bob D., Bob S., Brenda, Christa, Craig, Dave, Debra, Doug, Gary, Jamie, Jan, Jeff, Jerry K., Jerry N., Judy, Marie, Matt, Maureen, Michele, Mike, Patrick, Peggy, Pete, Richard, Rita, Sal, Sandy, Scott, Shirley, Steve, Vicky, Vim, Spring Wright, all medical and emergency workers, and the friends and family of Mark Steinborn & Valarie Filgrove and those we pray for in our hearts(pause)
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for the ministries of the ELCA and the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod, we also lift up in prayer today: Trinity Lutheran Church, Wichita Falls, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Lubbock and Young Adult Ministries of NT-NL and ELCA. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader: In trust and hope, we commend to you, O Lord, all for whom we pray. Amen.

Highlights/Sharing of the Peace
Offering
(offering can either be mailed to Rejoice (12000 Independence Pkwy, Frisco TX 75035 or there is the opportunity for electronic giving on the website http://www.rejoicefrisco.com)

Instructions for Communion
Words of Institution

Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer

A: Let us pray. Lord Jesus, in this sacrament you strengthen us with the saving power of your death and resurrection. May these gifts of your body and blood create in us the fruits of your redemption and grace in our lives, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Blessing

Verses 1,3 and 4 of Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

DiscipleLife

L: As God has claimed us as his own in Christ,
we seek to follow Christ with these marks of DiscipleLife:
▪Praying Daily
▪Worshiping Weekly
▪Studying the Bible
▪Serving Others
▪Building Spiritual Friendships
▪Giving to God and our Neighbors in Need
▪Engaging God’s Mission

Dismissal: “Go in peace, serve the Lord. “Thanks be to God” Alleluia


Digital Worship April 25, 2021

Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 25, 2021 Traditional Worship Service

Confession and Forgiveness

We are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen

Greeting:

L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
C: And also with you.

Prayer of the Day: O Lord Christ, good shepherd of the sheep, you seek the lost and guide us into your fold. Feed us, and we shall be satisfied; heal us, and we shall be whole. Make us one with you, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

First Reading: Acts 4: 5-12

5The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ 12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Psalm: Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Second Reading: 1 John 3: 16-24

16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Gospel: John 10: 11-18

11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away — and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Sermon: Judy Clark

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Prayers of Intercession:

Let us pray:
Loving God, we lift up this world that you love. Renew your creation and give wisdom to all your people who share in your responsibility to care for the world. Give wisdom to the leaders of nations, states, and cities to care for your people and the world. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The countries of the world experience disunity and conflict; we set our minds on fear and greed rather than on your rule of justice and steadfast love. Build up all countries on your cornerstone of peace. Protect and bless all who sacrifice to guard our freedoms, including: Ben, Christian, Clayton, Daniel, Dillan, Haden, Lindsey, Luke, Michael, Mike, Spencer, Steve, Sydney, Tyler B. and Tyler G. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We still weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. Cradle the fearful, the suffering, and the dying, assuring them of your loving presence. We lift up before you: Becca, Betsy, Bob D., Bob S., Brenda, Christa, Craig, Dave, Debra, Doug, Gary, Jamie, Jan, Jeff, Jerry K., Jerry N., Judy, Marie, Matt, Maureen, Michele, Mike, Patrick, Peggy, Pete, Richard, Rita, Sal, Sandy, Scott, Shirley, Steve, Valarie, Vicky, Vim, Spring Wright, all medical and emergency workers, and the friends and family of Mark Steinborn & Valarie Filgrove and those we pray for in our hearts(pause)
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for the ministries of the ELCA and the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod, we also lift up in prayer today: Trinity Lutheran Church, Wichita Falls, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Lubbock and Young Adult Ministries of NT-NL and ELCA. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader: In trust and hope, we commend to you, O Lord, all for whom we pray. Amen.

Highlights/Sharing of the Peace
Offering
(offering can either be mailed to Rejoice (12000 Independence Pkwy, Frisco TX 75035 or there is the opportunity for electronic giving on the website http://www.rejoicefrisco.com)

Instructions for Communion
Words of Institution

Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer

A: Let us pray. Lord Jesus, in this sacrament you strengthen us with the saving power of your death and resurrection. May these gifts of your body and blood create in us the fruits of your redemption and grace in our lives, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Blessing

DiscipleLife

L: As God has claimed us as his own in Christ,
we seek to follow Christ with these marks of DiscipleLife:
▪Praying Daily
▪Worshiping Weekly
▪Studying the Bible
▪Serving Others
▪Building Spiritual Friendships
▪Giving to God and our Neighbors in Need
▪Engaging God’s Mission

Dismissal: “Go in peace, serve the Lord. “Thanks be to God” Alleluia


Book coming out in 2021

Creation by Jey White

If you’ve been to the welcome page of SignoftheRose you’ve seen that I have a book coming out in 2021. This is the cover artwork for that book and for me this was a chance to collaborate with my daughter Jey White. I am thrilled with how it evolved and with the finished product. I’ll be sharing more about the work in the coming weeks and I am excited to put some of my work out in a new format.

Hearing the Monsters’ Fears

Some desire a dance with their demons

awakening the monsters that lie within

Embracing their deepest darkness

Drinking away the inhibitions

Silencing their consciences

Entering the darkest night

Without the searching of the soul

I’d rather sing a lullaby for my demons

To listen to monsters’ fears by candlelight

Hearing their stories and regrets

Learning what they were afraid to see

Tending the scars of the soul

Walking through the darkest valley

Into the morning beyond the mourning

Monsters of the Mind, by Tirby@deviantart.com

Matthew 23: 37-39 Lament over Jerusalem

Image from http://www.thiscontemplativelife.org/2018/03/lament-over-jerusalem-free-prayer.html

Matthew 23: 37-39

Parallel Luke 13: 34-35

 37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you, desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

The focus shifts from the religious leaders to the city of Jerusalem in this brief lament for the city. This passage has received renewed attention from feminist readers who have pointed out that here the traditional image of being sheltered under God’s wings is now set within a female metaphor for Jesus doing a traditionally feminine task of mourning. This brief, poignant image which mourns for a people and city which have been led astray and have rejected the messengers of God and have resisted God’s continual desire to gather the people together only to find themselves lost in the wilderness and homeless. The loss of Jerusalem, the loss of the temple and the loss of the land have occurred before in Israel’s story (under the Babylonian empire for Judah, under the Assyrians for the northern kingdom of Israel) and these focal portions of their identity were shattered. If Matthew’s community is hearing this in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by Rome, they (and other Jewish communities) are probably trying to make sense of the destruction while they seek the peace of the city they find themselves within.

The image of God’s wings as a refuge is used frequently in the Hebrew Scripture[1] but the image of God is frequently described using masculine metaphors. That Jesus uses a feminine metaphor to describe his desire to gather together the people of Jerusalem is not unique, but it is noteworthy. Instead of an eagle or hawk, a bird often associated with strength, now Jesus casts himself as the anxious mother hen trying to gather her young birds together and shelter them. The Apocryphal work 4 Esdras 1:30 also uses an identical image when referencing the Lord Almighty, and although 4 Esdras may be later than Matthew’s gospel they both capture the desire of God or Jesus to shelter God’s people. From the beginning of Matthew’s gospel part of Jesus’ vocation has been to save his people from their sins (1:20) but here the very people he desires to rescue resist that saving.

The house becomes a wilderness[2] and in the aftermath of the Jewish War many people who considered Jerusalem either their physical or spiritual home find themselves homeless and having to make their peace in whatever city they now make their life. The previous exile was a time where the people of Israel had to rediscover what it meant to be the people of God without the promised land, a Davidic king, the city of Jerusalem and the temple. In the previous exile the written scriptures became central to their new identity. For these followers of Jesus, they have now centered their identity on Jesus as the writing of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry become attempts to reorient their identity around a new center in a new land. Jesus is the awaited Davidic king, but he is a crucified messiah, Jesus is greater than the temple and will be with these disciples where two or three are gathered, and this people who may be homeless now await for the day when they can proclaim with all creation “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” at the arrival of their new home when the kingdom of heaven comes. They live oriented towards a hope that can move them beyond their lament because even in their desolation their Lord desires to gather them together like a mother gathers her children or a hen gathers her brood.


[1] Exodus 19:4, Ruth 2:12, Psalm 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 61:4, 63:7, 91:4

[2] The Greek eremos means wilderness, desert and can have the connotation of being abandoned/desolate as most translations render.

Matthew 23: 1-36 Woe to the Blind Hypocrites

James Tissot, Woe Unto You Scribes and Pharisees

Matthew 23: 1-36

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father — the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hellas yourselves.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.’ 19 How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; 21 and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; 22 and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup,so that the outside also may become clean.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28 So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, 30 and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. 33 You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, 35 so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.

I am taking the majority of this chapter as a long unit both because this is a section of Matthew that many modern Christians are uncomfortable with, especially looking back at the way Christians, when they became the dominant religion in many areas, treated their Jewish neighbors. The paradox of the way Matthew has been read is that while it is the most Jewish of the gospels, it also has passages that have been read to paint Judaism as a whole in a judgmental and harsh light. The language of Matthew 23 would be very familiar to those who have spent any time studying the prophets in particular and the Hebrew Scriptures in general, but since most Christians have little familiarity with how to read the scriptures we share with our Jewish brothers and sisters we misunderstand Matthew, the scriptures, Christianity and Judaism.

If you’ve read through these reflections on Matthew, you will not be surprised that judgment is a part of the coming kingdom of heaven for those who resist it and prevent others from hearing about or accepting its approach. Matthew is an extremely gifted scribe who is able to pull from a wide range of the scriptures (the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament) as he is attempting to narrate the story and teachings of Jesus, but in a world where copies of the scriptures were both rare and controlled by those in religious authority the Pharisees and scribes would be the ones with both access to these scriptures and the ability to proclaim them to the people. The Hebrew scriptures in the law, narrative and prophets is very hard on rulers and those with religious authority because they are the ones who will shape the actions of the people because they have access to these sacred writings that reveal God’s will for the society they are to construct.

One way to read this section is to allow it to be a mirror to compare one’s own practices to. Jesus is speaking to his disciples and the crowds, not primarily the Pharisees (as they are represented in Matthew) here. As Anna Case-Winters can state:

As we read these sharp edged texts today we are tempted to let them rest in the past as a condemnation of a particular subset of the Pharisees. We locate ourselves among the righteous and know that Jesus is talking not about “us” but about “them.” What if, instead, we took the texts as an occasion to examine our own religious life and practice to see if the things Jesus speaks so heatedly against are to be found there? Those who are religious leaders might look particularly closely at what is condemned here. These texts are surely a cautionary tale instructive for religious leaders and all “would-be” followers of Jesus. (Case-Winters 2015, 263)

The Pharisees and scribes become an example of those who do not practice what they preach, who focus on the wrong things, who are judged here because they in positions of power have judged or misled others. Throughout Matthew the followers of Christ have been pointed towards a completeness, a wholeness, in how they embody the law mercifully in both inside and outside. The reinterpretation of the commandments in the sermon on the mount is designed to create a community which can be the salt of the earth, a city on a hill and a light to the nations. In our modern, individualistic readings of Matthew we may find it hard to reconcile the rigorous obedience of Matthew with mercy and forgiveness but that point to the ways our readings have become more like the Pharisees and less like Jesus as Matthew presents him. For Matthew, mercy informs what this obedience looks like and transforms this from a project of individualistic perfection to a community where the needs of one’s neighbor are central and righteousness is not practice for the approval of others in the community or society but before one’s heavenly Father.

It is also important to realize that these texts, as difficult as they can be to hear, are also spoken with the desire that the hearers will change their course. While Matthew may believe it is unlikely that the Pharisees and the scribes will repent and change their ways, at the right time the seed of this difficult word may take root even among these who are resisting this proclamation of the kingdom of heaven. It is also important to realize that these Pharisees represented to many hearers a compelling alternative to the practices of these early Christians. They did occupy positions of influence and authority and their practices, while easily discernable to the observer, provided a piety which could be observed and practiced. Jesus has always called for practicing something deeper than piety, practicing righteousness. The wearing of phylacteries or fringes on one’s clothing are not lifted up as wrong, it is the practice of enlarging the phylacteries (which carry a copy of Deuteronomy 6:4-9) or lengthening one’s tassels[1] to be noticed by others. It is the desire to be noticed and acclaimed by others based on places of honor, honorific greetings, or specific titles which form the basis for the actions of these Pharisees Matthew portrays which form a contrast to the relations as ‘brothers and sisters.’[2] All the disciples of Jesus stand in the same relationship as siblings of the one heavenly Father, and are all those who are taught by Christ. They are the opposite of the characterization of these Pharisees who seek positions of honor and power and, as throughout the gospel, the greatest are servants, and the humble ones are lifted up.

As we look at the seven woes, we encounter themes that have been present before in the gospel. The first woe sets the stage for why Jesus is so hard on the Pharisees and scribes, they are actively doing harm to others by denying them entrance to the kingdom of heaven. They are so opposed to what Jesus is doing in proclaiming and enacting the kingdom’s presence that they impede and actively work to convert others to their way of reading scripture. Their work to create converts who share their certainty and makes these new Pharisees children of Gehenna[3] who continue to work against the children of heaven. While followers of Christ are not to swear on anything (5:33-37), Jesus criticizes these Pharisees who are willing to delineate between which oaths are binding and which oaths are not based on what is sworn upon. This practice of delineating which oaths are binding may go back to Number 30 which deals with oaths made by women, which can be overruled by men in Numbers, but if this is based on actual practices it would be an innovation which would make the taking of certain oaths meaningless. For Jesus’ disciple their words and their faithfulness to those words, whether under oath or not, are central to being a community of truth.

Ultimately the practices, while not wrong, place the focus on the wrong place. Slavish obedience to weighing out a tithe of spices that detracts from the weightier demands of justice, mercy and faith misses the mark, as does washing the outside of cups or making beautiful tombs without changing what is inside the individuals.

Jesus’ accusation of the Pharisees and scribes is that they are both blind and hypocrites. As in 15:14 their blindness is dangerous because they are the blind leading others who are blind to fall into a pit. Hypocrite is a word used more by Matthew than any other gospel, and it is a word which originates talking about stage actors who pretend to be something they are not. To Jesus, the Pharisees are those who act like they are righteous and yet it is a role they play rather than a reality they inhabit. They continue the resistance to the servants of God who have been sent again and again to God’s people, and yet they are in a position where others watch their actions to understand what righteousness looks like. To Jesus their actions and their resistance are not only dangers to themselves but to the others looking for leaders that point them to God. As those who may control access to the scriptures and who occupy positions of power they are judged more harshly.

There is a long tradition of warnings in the scriptures about the cost of being unfaithful. They may be toward the people in general like the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 28, or they may be directed specifically at leaders like Ezekiel 34 and many other places. The language may be harsh and polemical, but it is also to try to open the possibility of repentance. Sometimes it is the language of a people who have been broken by the movement of foreign empires crying out in pain to God, like Jeremiah 46-51, and asking for God’s judgment on the nations. Here, Jesus stands in the prophetic tradition, like those sent before, to Jerusalem and Israel crying out to the people about leaders who have failed to embody the coming kingdom of heaven and have resisted its messenger. It is a plea for the people to hear even when their leaders have been deaf. Still today it is a call to reexamine our own practices of righteousness and to examine if we have been blind guides and hypocrites who are a danger not only to ourselves but those who rely on us to understand God’s will.


[1] In Matthew Jesus wears tassels on his clothing which is noted in the story of healing the woman with a flow of blood in 9:20 (NRSV translates this same word as fringe)

[2] What the NRSV and others translate as ‘students’ is the Greek adelphos which is brothers, which can be expanded to ‘brothers and sisters’ since women would be assumed to be a part of the community.

[3] The translation of Gehenna as ‘hell’ places a lot of baggage around this term that would not have been there at the time of Jesus’ ministry. See my discussion on Gehenna, Tartaros, Sheol, Hades and Hell

The Wisdom of Myth

Adrift by Locopelli at deviantart.com

In our modern arrogance we wanted to demythologize the world
Science and rationality became our new gods, but now they served us
Creation became merely resources for consumption turned to capital
Capitalism became the religion of the new age, money became meaning
Wisdom was abandoned for data and people became means to profit

Yet, I continue to seek the wisdom of myth, the reason of religion
Returning to the songs passed through the ages that taught us to sing
The yearning of our ancestors for a story that tells where we came from
That gives us a frame to understand who we are in relation to the world
Common stories that give meaning, that bear some ancient knowledge

Were the myths misused in the past to divide and to destroy, yes
Just as science, rationality and capitalism have all been used to enslave
And there is no going back to some imagined past before our postmodern age
Perhaps in listening again not only to these stories and the world they imagine
But also, to the society they tried to form and the wonder the inspired

How creatures of creation came to understand their place in a world of magic
A porous world where the divine and the demonic were not far from the surface
A world saturated by meaning through the stories that shaped the people
Perhaps they were merely the ruminations of old men or the tales of women
The ravings of a misunderstood prophet or the songs of kings and queens

And though it is the path overgrown with weeds, I still try to traverse
This quest for wisdom in the myths of our ancestors, the sense in the stories
Which might help me to use the data and science of our time in ways humane
To see the creation beyond the consumption, the people behind the profit
To seek a society where my children can know both knowledge and wisdom
Myth and math, story and science, money and meaning, and so I seek

A Conversation Between Pastor Neil White and Pastor Chris King on Racism, Faith and Hope

This is a conversation that I made available for both my congregation and the Frisco Interfaith Alliance between myself and Pastor Chris King. As a white pastor and leader of a primarily white congregation I felt it was important to begin with listening in this moment.

 

Video Reflection 5: On Creativity

1 Corinthians 12: 4-13

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

As I was thinking about what we needed in a time like this I started reflecting about the role I’ve tried to play as a leader of this community and what attributes I try to model as a leader, and although I’m not one who normally goes for catch phrases what I ended up with were my 5 c’s: Calm, Centered, Connected, Creativity and its cousin Curiousity. Apologies for the alliteration but I do try to remain calm in times of crisis, and I’ve walked through some in my times as a leader as an adult. I try to remain centered in the things that ground me, my faith, my love of scripture, the people I love. I try to remain connected with the people I am gifted to serve however I can to the best of my ability, while still taking times to rest and care for myself. But I want to focus on these last two today: Creativity and its cousin Curiosity.

I’ve had a fascination with creativity and curiosity for years and I’m thankful for some of the places it has led me in my life. I can talk about this for a long time, but some quick reflections today:

  • Some of us may be at the point where we are growing bored (or maybe we’ve been bored for days now). The good news is that this can be a place where curiosity and creativity can play. When we are constantly busy it is hard for us to get curious about something, to invest the time and resources it takes to be creative. Also crises can be a place where necessity forces us to consider new and creative ways of doing things.
  • Creativity is scary, vulnerable and full of terrifying firsts. It was terrifying when I started writing, when I started recording video (especially since I’m self-conscious about how I look in pictures and video), Elizabeth Gilbert gives a lot of reasons not to be creative, which I’ll read (if you want all the reasons see the video) but ultimately it is scary, scary, scary
  • Creativity looks different in different people. My medium is words, Adam has a great eye for photography. Maybe you organize things or paint or skate or dance, or who knows what the gift God’s spirit has placed within you. Jack Gilbert, the poet reportedly once told a student in one of his classes, “Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden within you are hoping you will say yes.”Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic, 7
  • “I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings, both for its own amusement and ours: The universe buried strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” Big Magic, 8

I’m going to close today with a poem that I wrote years ago, but that still is one of my favorites of these gifts I never knew was buried inside me, it’s a poem called Creative Words (click on the title to link to the poem)

 

Video Reflection 2 During COVID 19, Body of Christ

Romans 12: 4-13

4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

 

We are only the body of Christ together, we need one another in this time. We all have different needs and those needs may change as we go through this time.  We are trying to anticipate those needs and I’ve been talking to lot’s of people over the last couple days, but I can use your help.

 

Today I have a couple very pragmatic and practical things in this reflection. First I’ve attached the directory, and we’ve also placed it online at https://rejoicefrisco.com/Pages/DirectoryUpdate.htm which is under the about us tab at the top of the website. First I’d like you to check your information is correct and if you either don’t have a picture or would like to change your picture you can email a new picture to communications@rejoicefrisco.com. What I’d like you to consider is looking at the people around you in the directory and call, email or text someone you know and someone you don’t know well. Doesn’t need to be much, could be something as simple as “This is Neil (or insert your name), just wanted to let you know I was thinking about you today.” It’s a simple act of staying connected to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

Secondly, I asked Adam to create a link on our website to request or to offer assistance. We don’t know exactly what the next several weeks will bring, but there may be needs that arise in our congregation or in our community. Perhaps someone is close to running out of toilet paper and someone else has a case, perhaps someone needs help with something at their home. The link on our website is https://rejoicefrisco.com/Pages/Assistance.htm and it is one of the rotating links on our main page. Please feel free to share this in the local community. We’ve reached out to a couple local organizations, like schools, but we also wanted to be ready to adjust as we move through this uncharted time.

 

Being that today is St. Patrick’s day and while people may not be drinking green beer today, we can close today with a prayer attributed to St. Patrick.

 

St. Patrick’s Prayer

 

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

Christ shield me today
Against wounding
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.

Tomorrow we will broadcast our normal Wednesday night service as our video. I will send out the words and the song that comes from our hymnal but since Joyous Light, the service we use, falls outside our normal copyright license I cannot make the music available. If you’d like to take a copy of the service you can pick one up at church for your use, the building will be open 9-3 today and tomorrow.