Matthew 16:1-4

The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Then he left them and went away.

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morn, sailors be warned.” I can’t remember when I learned that saying but apparently it’s an old, old piece of wisdom that even Jesus and his contemporaries knew. And, indeed, humans have devised ways to chart and forecast the weather from the beginning of time because having some sense of what is coming ahead is so immensely helpful in preparing for it. Rain, snow, heat – we want to know what’s coming in order to be ready so we may thrive.

Jesus invites the Pharisees and Sadducees – two groups typically at odds with each other but suddenly united by a common opponent – to move beyond their testing that they may wake up, see what is coming, and be prepared for a new way of God acting in the world.

Testing, of course, denotes suspicion, perhaps also resentment and even fear. Given his wild popularity with the crowds and with all his talk about the kingdom of God, Jesus threatens the authority and status of the Pharisees and Sadducees and challenges their view of relationship with God. And so they keep testing him, looking for some way to discredit him.

He, in response, invites them to join him, to see in his ministry and very person the possibility that God is doing something new, that God is keeping God’s promises in a way no one expected. Much of the tragedy of the Gospel stories is that so many good religious people – and particularly religious leaders – were so committed to their particular way of understanding God’s activity in the world that they could not imagine anything beyond their present structures and traditions.

I suspect we struggle with that as well. Is part of the reason the church in our generation is declining, I at times wonder, simply because we are so invested in our particular traditions and practices – our way of experiencing God – and are therefore less than open to the musings, questions, and wonder of a new generation seeking God? If so, perhaps we also might read the signs, wake up, and look for God’s ongoing work in the world.

Prayer: Dear God, open our eyes to see you in our lives and world, open our hearts to be surprised where find you already at work, and open our mouths to share with others what we see. In Jesus’ name, Amen.