“Called by Grace”

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He knows they are hurting. He knows the division between Euodia and Syntyche has spilled over and divided the rest of the congregation. He knows division will threaten their witness, and rob them of joy, and undercut their boasting about the power of grace.
So he writes them this heart-felt letter from prison, because sometimes the best time to talk about peace is when its absence is making it seem all the more precious …

“Trained in Grace”

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That is the picture Paul is trying to paint.
He’s never been a runner, but he knows about striving, staining, struggling toward something.
He’s been chasing a goal all his life.

“God is at work in you”

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Philippi is a congregation for which he has great affection, but a place sorely divided. It is enough to break Paul’s heart, so he calls for unity and he grounds his appeal in Christ’s example.

“Boom!”

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Clarence Jordan of Koinonia Farms once said, “Whenever Jesus told a parable, he lit a stick of dynamite and covered it with a story.” Well, this parable is no exception!

“Forgiven”

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Peter asks, “How many times should I forgive someone? Seven times?”
He thinks he’s being generous! “In the Bible seven is the number used to signify perfection, completeness, wholeness ….”
But Peter is not thinking big enough. Jesus recommends a number that sounds like infinity!

“Power”

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How do you speak truth to power?
That’s the challenge that was facing Paul as he composed this letter.

“Meeting Jesus: by taking up a cross”

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If you were reading this story for the first time, you might wonder what happened next.
In Disney movies, once a character is revealed for who they really are, there’s one more good song, lots of smiles, and then the closing credits. Think Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, Sleeping Beauty, or Cinderella.
But Matthew is writing his gospel long before Walt Disney perfected the form. So this scene does not end with everyone living happily ever after.

“Meeting Jesus: through questions”

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Who do people say Jesus is? Well they’re all over the map, then and now.
But Jesus probes further and asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”
He asks the people that know him best, the people who have left everything to follow him, the people who have seen him preach and teach and heal.
At first no one spoke. (I wonder how much of a pause there was before Peter piped up.)
Finally he blurts out, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!”
It’s a great answer – true, perceptive, bold, inspired.

“Meeting Jesus: at less than his best”

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If this scene were the first time you had met Jesus, would you want to follow him?
His defenders say he was just testing her,
or that the word used means puppies, so it isn’t really that insulting;
or that he is weary to the bone and says something he doesn’t mean.
What do you see?

“Meeting Jesus: at a meal”

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Last week we began a look at five stories from Matthew from the slant of “meeting Jesus again for the first time” (to steal a line from Marcus Borg).
We are looking closely at Jesus in Matthew for three reasons:
because the Jesus these stories reveal may be more wonderful than we realized as children;
because they may be more demanding than we have been willing to admit; and
because our neighbors may be searching for something to feed their deep hunger,
something that the Jesus of these stories delivers.