Weekday Email to Members and Friends – 2020-05-14

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Thursday May 14th 2020
A Weekday Emailer from
Matt Matthews
 
To Members and Friends of 
First Presbyterian Church
Champaign, Illinois
 
Dear Friends,
 
Thanks to all of you who participated in last night’s Online Prayer Meeting. Seeing your faces was great. Praying with you was water on the moon. I think these connections really matter. 
 
* * *
 
When my friend the Rev. Jim Shiflett retired from Chicago Presbytery, I got to be his pastor for several years when we lived in South Carolina. Jim was a biblical storyteller, and he and I led Bible studies together. One of the amazing gifts he brought to Bible study is he got us all thinking about where we were in this text, how this text pulled at our flesh and spirit. I had learned about exegeting the text, of course. And I exegeted the congregation to which I preached, carrying, like the dense theologian Karl Barth, the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other when I trudged up to the pulpit. 
 
But thinking more intently about how the text lifted me, hooked me, harpooned me was new. I hadn’t spent as much time thinking about this. It shook my bones.
 
Jim died this Christmas, and he keeps popping up in my life everywhere. Like on one of my last trips to Chicago, where Tom Ulen and I took a bunch of First Pres people to the Art Institute. 
 
 At an Italian dinner at a long table in front of warm ovens on a cold, January night, I leaned over the table and asked my friend Tom to please pass me the brussels sprouts the table was sharing. 
 
Simple question, I thought. 
 
But he paused, and smiled that smile of his.
 
“I’ll hand you the brussels sprouts,” he said, “but first, let me invite you to answer three questions.”
 
Another pause. 
 
“Question number one: How many teeth does a horse have?”
 
We laughed. 
 
Others at our end of the table leaned in as I badly failed the test. We listened to Tom explain that when his granddaughters ask for ice cream, or to stay up late, or to go to the park, he’ll always stop them and say, “First, let me invite you to answer three questions.” All parties are delighted with the conversations these questions ignite. 
 
The questions are his way of connecting with his grandkids. They step out of the moment to ponder what Grandpa has asked them. It’s a way that Tom grows a deeper relationship with these children he adores. They learn more about each other, of course, and, as importantly, they learn about themselves. They also learn other important things—like how many teeth a horse has.
 
My friends Jim and Tom are on the same theological wavelength. Slow down. Think more deeply. Is the question you’re asking really the question you want ask? What is the deep context of our questions, our traditions, our history, our ken, our appetites?
 
Now, when I study the scripture, like always, I pray and ask God to open the text to my dim understanding. And now, thanks to Tom and Jim, often times, an image of Jesus pops into my brain. He smiles that smile of his and says, “I’d be glad to illumine this text for you, Matt.”
 
Pause.
 
But first, let me invite you to answer three questions.” 
 
News:
 
How many teeth does a horse have? The horse will normally have 24 deciduous teeth, emerging in pairs, and eventually pushed out by the permanent teeth, which normally number between 36 and 40.) 
 
Humor (from Dave Hunter:) What kind of music do windmills like? They’re metal fans.
 
Good Word: (Notice the holy pause in second sentence of v. 6.)
 
John 8: 4-7   [T]hey said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
 
Let us pray:
 
Grant unto us, O God, the fullness of your promises. 
Where we have been weak,
grant us your strength;
where we have been confused,
grant us your guidance;
where we have been distraught,
grant us your comfort;
where we have been dead,
grant us your life.
Apart from you, O Lord,
we are nothing.
 
In and with you 
we can do all things.
 
AMEN.
 
(United Church of Canada, Service Book, 1969.)
 
 
Much, much love to you all.
 
PEACE,
 
Matt Matthews
Cell: 864.386.9138
Matt@FirstPres.Church