Tag Archives: Matthew

Jesus hosts The Clock Game: “Higher, Higher, Higher”

Part two of our #TryLENT journey with the Godspell, the musical. Read Part one: Prepare Ye the Way.

Remember the Clock Game? It is a The Price is Right classic, and it hasn’t changed much over the years. The premise is so simple: just name the exact price of the prize, and you win it. You have as many guesses as you can muster in the 30 seconds on the clock. The contestant says a price, and the host says simply “higher,” or “lower,” until the right price is found. Above is a video of a woman who won $1 million playing the game. It helps that she nailed the first price on the first guess. It also helped that the second price was a nice round number. Still, it was an impressive feat.

This is the second part of our Godspell journey, and there is a great part of the musical that tells the story of Matthew 18:21-35. It is the story of a servant who owes his master ten thousand talents. I think the amount, taking exchange rates and translations into account, is one bajillion dollars. Actually, it is an amount that equals 60 million days of labor, so it may as well be a bajillion. When the master wants to collect the debt, the servant begs for mercy and promises to pay the master back. Clearly this is absurd promise. It would take him over 150,000 years to pay the master back. The master though, takes compassion on the servant, and forgives the entire debt. It feels like a happy ending, but then the servant goes and sees a fellow servant who owes him money. The second servant, facing a debt of about two month’s pay, seeks the same mercy. It is refused. When the master gets wind of the refusal, he’s mad. “I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:32-33).

This is a great parable about forgiveness, and it is important to hear the echo of the Lord’s Prayer in the background, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” On its own, it is a great fable about compassion and how we should behave as a people who have been granted mercy. Our of our gratitude for the mercy we have been shown, we should show others the same mercy. Given Jesus’ intro to the story however, where he plays a little bit of the Clock Game, it takes an even greater weight.

Yes, Jesus plays the Clock Game with the disciples as a part of a long teaching about the nature of the community Jesus is forming. Back at the beginning of the chapter Jesus is asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom?” (Matthew 18:1). His answer includes several parables and tweetable quotes, like:

      “I assure you that if you don’t turn your life around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom.” (18:3)

 

    “Those who humble themselves like this child will be the greatest in the kingdom. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcome me.” (18:4)”If your hand causes you to sin, chop it off and throw it away.” (18:8)”If someone had one hundred sheep and one of them wandered off, wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine to search for the one that wandered off?” (18:13)”If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together… But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others.” (18:15-16)

The disciples are taught that humility matters. They are taught to avoid sin as much as they can, but Jesus acknowledges that sin is going to happen. So he tells them how to work to bring people back into community. He tells individuals to do all that they can (I’m assuming that the cutting off the hand thing is hyperbole) to avoid sin. He is also telling the community to work hard at keeping in community – even in the face of those that sin against you. So Peter, who seems to be getting it, starts to play The Clock Game.

The prize: Community. It is the ability to stay together as the Body. It is nothing less than entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, which is inseparable from connection to the Community. So Peter guesses at the price of community. His first guess is seven times. Jesus’ response? “Higher.”

“Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive them as many as seven times?’

“Jesus said, ‘Not just seven times, but seventy and seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

So does Jesus mean 77 times?

Higher.

Does he mean 70 times 7 times?

Higher.

Does he mean a bajillion times?

Now we’re getting closer.

This feels like an impossible task, but the task of staying in community is never easy. Being in community is full of difficulty. It is full of pain, pitfalls, and disappointment. Being a community means that faulted, hurtful, selfish people are going to come together for long enough to see the faults, the hurt, and the selfishness.Yet it is only in community that we may know Christ.

The only way to God is through community. Are there moments of individual revelation? Of course. Are there moments when solitude is a holy experience? Yes. But any full pathway to God includes others. It includes doing the hard work of justice, mercy, kindness, grace, and love. And if we are going to be in community, we need to forgive. Day by day, every day. We are need of forgiveness, and called to extend forgiveness to others. It is not an easy task. It takes a lasting, growing, long-term relationship with Christ and others to be able to remain in community.

Day by day, the Godspell song says. Day by day I pray for three things, to “see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly.” Those things don’t come easily. They don’t come magically after saying a prayer, or after having water poured on your head at baptism. Seeing God more clearly is a process of practicing intentional grace. The only way to see God more clearly is to see God in the face of others. See God in the face of strangers, in the face of homeless man on the street, in the face of immigrants struggling to make a life, in the face of the women on your screen with nothing else on, in the face of those that want to do us harm. It is no easy task to see God clearly. I’d much prefer a caricature of God, one that looks like me, acts like me, worships like me, works hard like me, and thinks like me. So Day by day I pray. I pray for the compassion it takes to forgive. I pray that God will have the same kind of compassion on me. And I play The Clock Game.

How many times will I be forgiven? How many times am I called to forgive my brother and sister? How many times will I be invited into community? How many times can I see the face of God in another? How many days will I have to live in the Kingdom, if I but answer the call? How many times will Christ call me back?

Seven. Higher

Seventy Seven. Higher…

Seventy times Seven. Higher…

Higher…

Higher…

 

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The 10 Commandments of Jesus

This is not comprehensive.  What are some commandments that you would add?

This is not comprehensive. What are some commandments that you would add?

There are a lot of people that clamor to put the Ten Commandments in public places.  I believe too firmly in the separation of Church and State to want to see that happen.  Yet sometimes I wonder why no one seems to want to put the sermon on the mount in the courthouse lobby?  Jesus said, “When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too.”  How would that go over?  After we put the sermon on the mount at the courthouse, could we put Luke’s sermon on the plain on Wall Street?  How would that fit?  He said to “lend expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35 in the sermon on the plain).  What would that do to our economic system?  

Really, I can’t help but wonder if there is any way to reconcile a realistic society with Jesus’ teaching.  Does our justice system of punishment and retribution have anything to do with the grace and peace that Jesus taught?  Could our society function on the premise of turning the other cheek?  Could our economic structures survive Jesus’ teaching about money?  Jesus places some pretty big demands on his followers.  It is hard to imagine how it would even work.

But then, do the systems we have in place now work? I’m not sure a society can function under the rules Jesus laid out, but I’m also pretty sure no society has really tried.

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” – Gilbert K. Chesterton

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You are the light of the world.

Part Two of my story of Godspell. Read part one here.

Click here to go to the full sermon, where I talk about our experience with Godspell, called “You are the Light of the World.”  From 11:30-20:00, I talk more extensively about the salt and the light as found in Matthew 5:13-14.

Our Riverside UMC "Godspell" cast

Our Riverside UMC “Godspell” cast

“You are the light of the world,” I sang. And then I went home and reflected on the amazing thing we had just done. Godspell had forever changed me, but in the hours after the show I don’t think I had any idea just how much.

“You are the light of the world,” we all sang. Dino Hayz, director of the Center for Living Arts and our Jesus, went out into the audience. He grabbed someone and had them stand up so we could all sing to that one particular person, “You are the salt of the earth.” Then quickly to another man he dashed. He got him to stand up so we could point to him and sing, “You are the city of God.” Finally, he found one last woman. She was sitting near the back, and we sang one more time, “You are the light of the world.”

It was the last song before intermission. We left the sanctuary rocking. We were half way home, and we all sensed that things were going well. None of our rehearsals suggested that the show would go as smoothly as it had been. At the end of the show, after singing the beautiful refrain “We can build a beautiful city, yes we can. Yes we can. We can build a beautiful city. Not a city of angels, but finally a city of man,” I felt a great sense of accomplishment.

After the show a woman approached me. She told me that she had a great time. She loved the music, and she was so glad she could come. For years, she told me, she had a Playbill from the original Broadway production. She also had an album she had never played. For years she had kind of wondered what Godspell was, and when she saw us in the paper, she decided on a whim to come check it out. I told her how happy I was that she was there, and invited her to come again to worship with us.

The next day I was talking to our head usher about what a great experience the show was. We were marveling at the amount of people that came, and how many people came that were not a part of our church. I told him about the woman I talked to after the show, and he quickly realized that he knew who I was talking about.

“Yeah, I was talking to her at intermission. She seemed like she was looking for something, and I wanted to help her. I saw her and said, ‘You are the light of the world,’ she was one of the people that you guys sang to when Dino got her to stand up.'”
She kind of laughed when I said that,” Tom told me. “And then she said, ‘No one has ever called me that before.'”

I got goosebumps when he told me that, and I thanked Tom for telling me about their exchange. Then I went back into my office and was overwhelmed. Something washed over me that I can only describe as the Holy Spirit as I prayed “Thank you God.” Tears started to flow, and my efforts at standing became feeble. I literally fell to my knees in tears as I was struck at once with an overwhelming sense of awe, wonder, sadness, joy, and purpose. “No one has ever called me that before,” she said.

There were so many moments that made Godspell a memorable experience. If it were not for Tom’s story, I would have counted it as a great memory. I would have remembered the impromptu rehearsals in the kitchen with my wife and daughter as we sang and danced together. I would have remembered Molly gently nudging me into the right place so I was ready to be one of the priests in the Good Samaritan parable. I would have remembered the prayer we shared before the show. I would have remembered hugging Dino during the farewell song, and whispering to him. “Thank you, brother.” With or without that conversation with Tom I would have relished in the glow of accomplishing something as a team.

After hearing the story of the woman that had never been told that she was the light of the world though, I had something more.

“You are the light of the world,” is not just a catchy line in a pretty song in an upbeat musical.
“You are the light of the world,” are Jesus’ words to his followers. They are words from what we call The Sermon on the Mount as found in Matthew 5-6. It is a small part of Jesus’ dissertation about what it means to live in this world.

“You are the light of the world.” It is a claim on those that had gathered. It is an assurance of what Jesus’ followers are, and what they shall be.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus said so long ago.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus declares today. You.

So let your light so shine. There is a light that is within you that is good. There is a light within you that is of God. There is a light within you that needs to be seen. I think for a moment of the children in this world that have never been told that they are the light of anyone’s world, and it breaks my heart. I think for a moment of people stuck in abusive relationships, allowing their light to be crushed, and I want to scream. I think for a moment of youth that want only to hide and be as invisible as possible so as not to draw anyone’s attention, and it kills me to know that they have never been told, “You were created in the very image of God. The light that God created at the very moment of creation. That is in you. Hear Jesus crying to you, ‘You are the light of the world.'”

That little musical gave me a lot of things. It gave me memories. It gave me friendships. It gave me knowledge about myself. And it gave me a renewed sense of purpose. It gave me a way to think about my mission as a follower of Christ.
I will strive to never allow another man, woman, or child pass me by without letting them know, in no uncertain terms, that they are the light of the world.

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