Sunday’s sermon: Life Interrupted

Women empty tomb

Text used – Mark 16:1-8

  • What a truly perfect gospel text for this topsy turvy Easter, friends. Today’s Scripture reading is a topsy turvy gospel story. It’s a topsy turvy resurrection retelling. No matter how you turn it and twist it around, no matter what angle you approach Mark’s empty tomb from, it doesn’t fit. It feels out of place. It feels raw and vulnerable. It feels abrupt and fragmented. … Sort of like the world right now, right? Truly, friends, this is the perfect Scripture for this day.
  • To start off with = historical context of when Mark’s gospel was written
    • First of the 4 gospels to be written – somewhere around 70 C.E.
      • Consequently used as a source for both Matthew and Luke which were written later
    • Time in which Mk’s gospel was written was a dark and difficult and dangerous time for Christians
      • Falls under the rule of Roman Emperor Nero à time of great persecution for Christians
        • Both Peter and Paul martyred during this period
      • Time that saw Christians meeting for church in their homes for the purpose of safety and security
    • And as I stand here in this empty sanctuary this morning surrounded not by smiling faces and a vibrant Easter memorial garden but by cords and a computer screen and streaming equipment while everyone shelters in at home – for our own safety, for our own security, and to protect those we love and those among us in society who are the most vulnerable in this time of pandemic – I cannot help but feel the fear, the uncertainty, and the isolation that those 1st century Christians must have felt deep down in my bones and my very soul. Because of the disconcerting parallels between our situation and the situation that those early Christians faced, truly, friends, this is the perfect Scripture for this day.
  • Probably the most startling element of Mk’s gospel story is actually what’s missing from this story = JESUS. → In all of the other gospels, we get an encounter with the risen Christ. We get Jesus and Mary in the garden. We get sunrise and light and a vision of hope. We get Jesus’ own words of reassurance and peace: “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.”[1] We get further interactions with the risen Christ: along the road to Emmaus, on the beach for breakfast, in the upper room, and so on. But Mark is appallingly and frustratingly silent about any such appearances.
    • Only word of good news and resurrection that we get from Mk = from the one waiting for the women in the tomb: “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.”[2] → That’s it. Two simple, understated lines. Two short sentences … that changed the entire trajectory of the world. “He has been raised. He isn’t here.”
      • Feels subdued to us
      • Feels anticlimactic
      • Leaves us wanting more – more fanfare, more pomp and circumstance, more razzle dazzle → Frankly, it feels unfinished.
  • So let’s talk about this abrupt, unsatisfying ending to Mark’s Easter story. Let’s wrestle with it a bit. Really, when we compare it to the other 3 gospels in which Jesus appears and speaks with at least one person and interacts with the disciples again and all is well and beautiful, Mark’s swift and sudden full-stop ending – “They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid”[3] – almost feels like a non-ending … like the ultimate and most aggravating cliffhanger.
    • Quick overview of the multiple endings of Mk
      • As far as scholars can tell, that ending is the original ending → ending that shows up in the oldest (and therefore most authentic) versions we have of the Greek text
      • 2 other endings that tend to be included in Bibles with some heavy footnotes/caveats included
        • Shorter ending = single additional verse in which we get a brief statement about the women sharing the news after all and Jesus sending the disciples out to declare “the sacred and undying message of eternal salvation”[4] → agreed that this is a later addition because the writing style doesn’t match the rest of the gospel
        • Longer ending = 12 whole verses that include multiple appearances by the risen Jesus, Mary Magdalene sharing the good news, a much-truncated (single-verse) version of the road to Emmaus story (in which the resurrected Jesus travels with a few unnamed disciples), a commission to take the gospel out into the world, and even a brief ascension scene in which we see Jesus lifted up to heaven → Phew! As you can imagine, scholars aren’t really buying that much longer ending either. They believe it was probably written a good 100 yrs. after the original portion of Mark was because despite being the first gospel written, the stories and experiences in those last 12 verses actually draw on elements from the some of the other gospels. (Which is, of course, historically impossible.)
      • Difficult way to deal with an ending, to be sure → There’s a part of us that doesn’t like the ending of Mark’s gospel, from the young man’s muted pronouncement of the resurrection to the lack of a Jesus appearance to the women fleeing. It makes us cringe and shudder when we read it. It makes us squirm with discomfort. And I think that’s because it hits a little close to home. These women approach the tomb expecting one reality, having one plan … but when they get there, that plan is shattered and they’re confronted with a wholly different and frankly unbelievable reality of an empty tomb and a random stranger and a missing-but-supposedly-risen Savior. And they are terrified. And in their terror, the only reaction that we see is … silence. But really, is that a terrible thing … or is it exactly what we need?
        • Rev. Barbara Kay Lundblad (author, preaching professor, and ordained ELCA minister): Of all the Easter Gospels, Mark’s story invites us to stand where those first trembling witnesses stood. Those three women didn’t see Jesus. Neither do we. They didn’t hear Jesus call their names. Neither do we. They weren’t invited to touch his wounded hands. We haven’t touched Jesus hands either. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome are our silent sisters. The narrative is left for us, the readers, to complete.[5]
        • Rev. Serene Jones (theologian, Christian feminist, ordained Disciples of Christ minister, and president of Union Theological Seminary in New York City): God is present not only in the loud hallelujahs and glorious proclamations of a grand, churchly Easter morning … God persists as well in the midst of speechlessness, in death, in the outer regions of our own experiences and of our social lives, where life unfolds underfoot, as it were. Mark gives us a powerful account of God’s good news by giving us these traumatized, determined women as witnesses to God’s truth – it is not just pride or falsehood or arrogance or violent boasting that God redeems. It is also the nether regions of life where we are broken by violence and by love and by the sheer exhaustion of the labor it takes to go on. Here, where we expect to find him dead, the tomb does not hold him, as well. And with often unspoken force, grace abounds.[6] → Truly, friends, this is the perfect Scripture for this day. It is a gospel for an uncertain time. It is a gospel for a worry-strewn moment. It is a gospel for a life interrupted.
  • And friends, here we are. Here we are worshipping in our homes instead of together in community on this Easter morning – the most holy day in the entire church year. Here we are missing one another … missing family … missing friends … missing human interaction … missing normalcy. Here we are anxious and restless and afraid because the world we live in has been turned topsy turvy by the unexpected. Just like those women on that first Easter morning. They fled, yes. They harbored and lived into their fear for a time because that’s what they needed to do. But eventually … eventually … they emerged from that fear. They spoke. They shared their story. They shared their faith. They shared the good news of the gospel – that Christ has died and is risen! They must have … because here we are. That’s the unwritten end to their Mark narrative. What will yours be? Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Mt 28:10.

[2] Mk 16:6-7.

[3] Mk 16:8b.

[4] Mk 16:9 [shorter ending].

[5] Barbara Kay Lundblad. “Mark 16:1-8: Beyond Fear and Silence” from HuffPost, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/mark-16-1-8-beyond-fear-and-silence_b_1402710. Posted Apr. 4, 2012, accessed Apr. 10, 2020.

[6] Serene Jones. “Easter Vigil – Mark 16:1-8, Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 356.

Sunday’s sermon: Paved with Good Intentions

Palm Sunday 2

Text used – Mark 11:1-11

 

 

  • As I was thinking about our Scripture reading this week, the phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” kept running through my head, and I wanted to dig a little deeper into that phrase.[1]
    • English proverb with obscure origins → possibly English … possibly French → variations and “first” references spanning from 1640-1855 (I told you the origins were obscure!)
    • Meanings:
      • Importance of not just meaning well but doing well – a good intention is meaningless unless it is followed by a good action.
      • Trying to do something good often having unintended consequences which make things worse
    • And here we sit with this week’s Scripture reading – the story of Jesus on the road to Jerusalem and the cross … a road that’s truly paved with good intentions but a road that leads to darkness and death, humiliation and pain nonetheless. “The importance of not just meaning well but doing well … trying to do good with unintended consequences that make it worse.” Hmmm. Let’s dive into our Scripture reading this morning.
  • Today’s reading = Mark’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem → this is The Palm Sunday text
    • Basics
      • Jesus and the disciples are finally approaching the city of Jerusalem → come to a place called Bethphage at the Mount of Olives (just a couple miles outside of Jerusalem’s walls)
      • Jesus instructs disciples to enter a village to retrieve a colt tied up (which they do) → bring it back to Jesus → toss their cloaks over its back so Jesus can sit on it → start riding this pint-sized donkey into Jerusalem
      • Crowd’s reaction is magnificent: cloaks tossed on the road for the colt to walk on → palm branches hastily cut from the surrounding trees → palm branches tossed on the ground along with the cloaks and waved in the air in celebration and triumph → people all around shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!”[2]
      • Can imagine …
        • Throngs of people lining both sides of the road from Bethany into Jerusalem
        • People laughing and clapping
        • Children running around, playing games and laughing and reveling in the festival-like atmosphere – dodging through the crowd and zig-zagging in front of and behind the donkey
      • Procession that makes its way slowly but purposefully all the way up to the Temple → And everything about this procession is significant – what the crowd is doing, what the people are saying, and even the direction that Jesus and the disciples are coming from. There’s a layer of cultural significance here that we don’t really understand today.
        • Scholar: [Jesus] begins at the Mount of Olives, the traditional location from which people expected the final battle for Jerusalem’s liberation would begin. … When Jesus does finally enter the city, he enjoys all the trappings of a great military procession for a triumphant national hero. The people participating in the event do everything a victorious military leader would expect. In actions that would have been considered treasonous by the empire, the crowd spreads branches and cloaks before Jesus as a symbol of honor.[3] → The crowds that were surrounding Jesus were expecting a triumphant savior (“savior” with a small “s”) – one who would help them overthrow the oppression of the Roman conquerors and help the people of Israel find freedom again as a nation. For them, that’s what a Messiah was supposed to do and be! And so they greeted Jesus and ushered him into the city as a mighty conquering hero. They were excited about the freedom and deliverance that they were expecting Jesus, the Movement Leader, to bring.
          • Hear it in the crowd’s words: “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!”
  • “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”
    • Intentions were good
    • Intentions were just
    • Intentions were to honor and celebrate this coming Messiah à just not the Messiah they were expecting
    • But still, their intentions, good though they were, were misplaced. That’s not the kind of Messiah that Jesus came to be. That’s not the kind of freedom that Jesus came to bring. That’s not the kind of deliverance that would come in the wake of this triumphal entry. And so as the week would progress … as the people would realize that Jesus wasn’t raising an army of resistance and calling for armed rebellion … as they began to hear whispers and rumors of the false accusations that the Pharisees were trying to spread about Jesus … their hopes and dreams for political and national freedom began to crumble. And as those hopes and dreams crumbled, so did their intentions.
      • Remember meanings of “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”
        • Importance of not just meaning well but doing well – a good intention is meaningless unless it is followed by a good action. → The good intentions of this crowd who today are revering and celebrating this coming Messiah will soon deteriorate into cries of, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Their well-intended meaning long since forgotten, and their follow-up actions far from good.
        • Trying to do something good often having unintended consequences which make things worse → The good intentions of this crowd who today is gathering to adore and praise this coming Messiah will soon be turned against them and against Jesus by the Pharisees who will twist this triumphal entry into accusations of Jesus posing as a rebel king and thereby threatening the rule of the Roman Empire – unforeseeable, unintended consequences of the actions of this crowd.
  • Unforeseeable for the crowd … unforeseeable for the disciples … but not unforeseeable for Jesus → Jesus knew what was coming. Jesus knew exactly what was coming. Yes, Jesus knew. So I can’t help but wonder on Palm Sunday morning what Jesus must have been thinking.
    • Thinking about these seemingly-good intentions from the crowd
    • Thinking about all the pomp and circumstance
    • Thinking about what the disciples were doing and saying and thinking in the midst of all of this
    • Seeing through the joy and exuberance of the day
    • Seeing the darkness hovering around the edges of the bright and colorful celebration, just waiting to seep in and steal it all away
    • Seeing the hill looming behind the city and knowing exactly what that hill would hold in just a few short days
    • I imagine that for Jesus, it may have felt like living in a bubble – like everything around you is both hyper-real and completely unreal at the same time … like the world has turned upside-down, but you’re the only one to notice … like you’re holding your breath, not sure when the next breath will come, while everyone around you is gulping in great lung-fulls of air … like “normal” for everyone else will never be “normal” for you again.
  • So here we are. On Palm Sunday morning. Sheltering in place in our homes. Trying to worship together. Trying to find community in the midst of this pandemic. Trying to find light in this darkness. Trying to maintain whatever shred of “normal” we can in the chaos around us – a chaos that is more internal than anything; a chaos that, at least on the outside (in the streets, in the stores, in the “outside” world) is eerily silent. And like Jesus, we’re holding our breath. We’re waiting. We’re anxious. There is darkness around the edges, and we’re just trying to hold it together. Know that you are not alone. Know that Jesus is hunkered down there with you. Be assured in God’s familiarity with confusion and chaos (especially the kind that lives inside us), and be assured that God’s grace and peace are bigger than any fear we may be facing. Because that’s why Jesus came. That’s why Jesus rode that little donkey into Jerusalem. That’s why Jesus started this whole journey toward the cross. To bring us God’s grace and embody God’s love for us in a way that cannot be overcome by darkness and fear no matter how strong … no matter how prevalent … no matter how many of our good intentions crumble into ashes and dust. Jesus came. Jesus comes. Jesus will come again. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] https://grammarist.com/proverb/the-road-to-hell-is-paved-with-good-intentions/.

[2] Mk 11:9-10.

[3] Charles L. Campbell. “Sixth Sunday in Lent (Liturgy of the Palms) – Mark 11:1-11, Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 155.

Sunday’s sermon: Eyes Wide Open

boys eyes

Text used – Mark 13:1-8, 24-37

 

 

  • We’ve all heard the stories, right? Or maybe even lived the story – that one in which a young child puts glasses on for the first time and is amazed by how much he or she can see: the individual leaves on the trees, birds flying up in the sky, the words on the signs as Mom or Dad drives down the highway.
    • Hear people talk about the shock and awe of the finally experience clear vision → clarity they didn’t even know they were missing until their eyes were literally cleared
      • Sometimes that new, clearer vision is jubilant and exultant
        • Exclamations of joy
        • Smiles from ear-to-ear
        • Laughter and giggles
      • Sometimes that new, clearer vision is shocking and even overwhelming à videos of people who have spent their whole lives severely color blind trying on those special new glasses that allow them to see color for the first time – powerful videos (can’t watch them and not cry) → people (old and young)
        • Exclamations of disbelief
        • Weeping
        • Also laughter and joy
      • No matter the reaction, it cannot be denied that the clarity of vision is a life-altering thing.
  • And so it goes with our Scripture reading this morning. Today, Mark gives us two short stories of Jesus bringing sharp, unrelenting, undeniable clarity to the disciples as his odyssey toward Jerusalem and the cross and crucifixion draws to a decisive and life-changing outcome.
    • 1st portion = Jesus speaking of destruction, ruin, and dire predictions
      • Section begins with an innocent-enough observation from one of the disciples → all sitting around together on the Mount of Olives (just under 2 miles from the outskirts of Jerusalem) and admiring the beauty and splendor of the city
        • Text: One of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look! What awesome stones and buildings!”[1]
      • Jesus’ response = grim (to say the least): “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.”[2]
      • Later, a few of the disciples (Peter, James, John, and Andrew) seek Jesus out looking for further clarification: the when and the how, the signs that will indicate the coming of this end → But if they were looking for reassurance and a brush-off answer, they came to the wrong place: Jesus’ answer is only full of more troubling events and distressing scenes
        • Deception from false prophets and teachers
        • Wars
        • Earthquakes
        • Famine
        • In short: suffering – text (Jesus): “These things are just the beginning of the sufferings associated with the end.”[3]
          • Spends more time in the chapter (in the part that we skipped over) going into more detail about that suffering – suffering in relationships, suffering specifically for their faith in Jesus as Christ
    • Culminates in 2nd part of the reading = Jesus describing how the Human One (Mark’s code name for the Messiah) will return “in the clouds with great power and splendor.”[4] → And underlying all of this apocalyptic speech is Jesus’ mandate to the disciples (and, by extension, to us) to stay alert. To keep awake. To be attentive and vigilant. This is why Jesus is trying to bring clarity to the disciples in the first place with all these predictions and apocalyptic prophecies: to help them be prepared for the time when Jesus will come again, to give them focus and purpose and a mission in the face of the terrible things that Jesus knows are coming just around the corner: betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion).
      • 2 ways that Jesus illustrates this point of clarity and preparedness
        • First, the fig tree = encouragement to be attentive to the signs and in the same way you would be attentive to the signs of the changing seasons → But to this attentiveness, Jesus adds a pretty hefty caveat: “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son. Only the Father knows.”[5] → Jesus is encouraging the disciples to strike a balance between watchfulness and unhealthy preoccupation, between passion and obsession. Watch for the signs, but don’t ignore the world around you. Yes, watch for the signs … but don’t make that the only thing you do because not even the Son of God knows when he himself will return.
        • Drives this point home with 2nd illustration = household with the master gone and the doorkeeper in charge – Jesus: “Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come, whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak. Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping.”[6] → Jesus is basically warning the disciples (and, again, the rest of us by extension) to not get caught unprepared, to not get caught careless and distracted, to not get caught sleeping on the job. Because we do not know when the Messiah will return – even the Messiah himself doesn’t know that! – but when he returns, we should be ready.
  • Name the elephant in the room with these Scriptures (as with all the apocalyptic Scriptures): can sound bleak, stark, and very doom-and-gloom
    • And they can sound like that because … well, they’re apocalyptic texts. They speak of the end times. They’re supposed to shock and startle and even distress us a bit to shake us from our complacency, especially in this day and age. But especially in the midst of all that we’re facing today:
      • Pandemic
      • Supply shortages
      • Social distancing
      • Shelter in place order
      • Economic instability
      • Some of the most politically divisive times many of us can remember
      • In the face of all of this, our text can feel particularly uncomfortable. I know there are end times theories flying around the internet – theological conspiracy theories, if you will. And hear me clearly: I do not think that is what’s happening in our world right now.
    • But it’s exactly for that purpose that I want to encourage you to think of this passage not as a portent of terrible things to come but a call to action, a call to mission, a call to spend the time we have on this earth – however long that might be – working and speaking and living and loving for the message of the gospel, even (and especially!) when it feels like the world is crumbling around us … because that is exactly when the world needs to hear that reassurance of God’s love and grace the most. So stay alert. Keep the faith, yes, but also, share the faith because God knows, friends, that our neighbors, our communities, and our world are in need. Amen.

[1] Mk 13:1.

[2] Mk 13:2.

[3] Mk 13:8.

[4] Mk 13:26.

[5] Mk 13:32.

[6] Mk 13:35-36.

Sunday’s sermon: For the Sake of Generosity

two coins

Text used – Mark 12:28-44

I don’t have an audio recording of the sermon this week and probably won’t for the foreseeable future. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, our worship services will be virtually attended only until further notice. (See our Facebook page for more details.) Our virtual worship is a pared-down version of worship – opening prayer, Lenten reading (for now), Scripture, shortened sermon, prayer, and blessings. Sometimes, I’ll stream a hymn, too. So instead of an audio recording of only the sermon, I’ll be embedding the YouTube video of the whole service.

  • Since September of last year, we’ve been following the Narrative Lectionary – a pre-selected collection of Scripture readings. The reading for today has literally been set for years – since the Narrative Lectionary was created in 2010. And today, not for the first time, we find ourselves reading a pre-selected Scripture passage that speaks so powerfully and so meaningfully to what’s happening in the world today. → today’s Scripture = 3 short stories drawn together with a common thread: generosity
  • Flip things around today start with last story and work our way backward
    • 1st story we’re going to tackle = story of the widow with the 2 coins[1]
      • Basics: Jesus and his disciples are hanging out in the Temple grounds across from where the collection box sits (think a slightly more sophisticated version of the donations mailbox that we set out during Gold Rush! – locked box always available for faithful worshippers’ offerings) all the rich people are going by the collection box and ostentatiously tossing in whatever spare coins they’ve got in their money pouches (lots of money, to be sure, but nothing compared to what they’ve got stored up at home) enter the poor widow approaches the collection box and puts in two small copper coins that equal only one single penny together
      • Often talked about in sermons as a story of financial generosity – “See how generously the widow gave? I pray that you be inspired by the widow’s generosity as you consider your own giving.” (popular one on stewardship Sunday, right?)
      • But I think there’s a greater generosity underlying that financial giving at play here. Jesus makes it clear that this widow is giving despite having next to nothing to give – text (Jesus to the disciples): She from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.”[2]  The poor widow’s generosity of finances is a symptom of a greater generosity: generosity of trust. She lives a hard, hard life. She must. As a widow in that society and time, she has no husband to support and protect and shelter her. She must have no male relatives or sons to care for her either because she is clearly destitute. If she had another male providing for her, she would have had more to put in the collection box than just a few half-penny coins. But clearly, she has nothing. And yet she is unwavering in her trust that God will care for her. She is wholehearted in that trust. She is generous in that trust, dolling it out with great abandon, with a heart that is all in.
    • Backing up in Scripture a bit = 2nd story (a bit trickier than the story we just talked about) story of Jesus criticizing the Pharisees and the Sadducees again
      • Basics: Jesus is teaching in the Temple pointing out what he sees as some flaws in the Pharisees’ logic about the identity of the Messiah denounces the pretentious, deceitful, and conceited way the Pharisees conduct themselves – text (Jesus to the crowd): “Watch out for the legal experts. They like to walk around in long robes. They want to be greeted with honor in the markets. They long for places of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off, they say long prayers. They will be judged most harshly.”[3]  Jesus is calling out the Pharisees because they are dishonest and disingenuous. They are false in their actions. They are false in their dealings. They are false in their prayers. In contrast, Jesus is encouraging the crowd to a generosity of truth. Unlike the Pharisees, who are stingy with the truth, Jesus is encouraging the crowds to be generous in the way they live and portray and enact the truth.
        • Be truthful in dealing with one another (unlike the Pharisees!)
          • Sharing the truth of who they are (instead of pretense and façade of the Pharisees)
          • Sharing the truth of experiences and business practices (instead of the cheating and swindling of the Pharisees)
        • Be truthful in dealings with God (unlike the Pharisees)
          • Sharing the truth of their hearts and their faith with God in ways that are genuine (instead of long-winded and showy like the Pharisees)
    • Along these lines – 1st story in the reading = Jesus’ teaching about which commandments are the greatest probably familiar because it’s in this part of Mk’s gospel that lays out the Golden Rule
      • Basics: one of the Pharisees asks Jesus which commandment is the most important Jesus’ response: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”[4] Pharisee actually agrees with Jesus Jesus praises the Pharisee for his wisdom
      • In this part of our passage today, Jesus is talking about a generosity of love.
        • Love for God no-holds-barred, whole-self kind of love (all your heart, all your being, all your mind, all your strength)
        • Love for one another This is that agape kind of love – love that places Other above Self, love that acts for the good rather than for the gain.
        • Between these two commandments – love God and love your neighbor as yourself – there is literally no one not covered by this generosity of love.
          • God? Covered.
          • Neighbor? Jesus has made it clear throughout his teaching that that means anybody and everybody, no restrictions.
          • Self? Yup. (“Love your neighbor as yourself” implies the importance of being generous with your love for yourself as well)
  • Jesus is speaking over and over again about all the ways in which we need to be generous – generous with each other, generous with God, generous with our trust and our truth and our faith. In all times. But especially in this time. Be generous with each other – helping each other; connecting with each other in ways that are safe but meaningful; checking in with each other by asking, “How are you?” and being generous enough with our trust and our truth to truly response and truly listen to the response. We are living in times like none of us have ever lived through before, friends, and above all, they are times that will take abundant faith, abundant hope, and abundant love. God is beyond generous in sharing these things with us. So let us be generous with one another. Amen.

[1] Mk 12:41-44.

[2] Mk 12:44.

[3] Mk 12:38-40.

[4] Mk 12:30-31.

Sunday’s sermon: Who Authorized This?!

authority

Text used – Mark 11:27-12:12

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • When I was in seminary, I worked in the campus library (shocker … I know!) Every summer, those of us who were student workers had the significant and generally daunting task of doing inventory.
    • Basic procedure for inventory
      • Rolling cart with a laptop on it and one of those scanning wands
      • Move slowly up and down the stacks scanning the books to make sure they were in the right place and there weren’t any anomalies (books that hadn’t been checked in before being shelved, books that were still recorded as being on reserve for a class, books that had been marked missing in our computer system, etc.)
      • Kept various stacks on the cart so our supervisor could make the required changes in the computer catalogue system
    • Every. Single. Book. In the entire library … BOTH. FLOORS. Thousands of books, DVD, resources, and so on. It literally took the entire summer. However, doing inventory was actually one of my favorite things to do! It definitely appealed to my type A tendencies – making order out of disorder. I also enjoyed it because I was able to download an audiobook onto my iPod, put in my earbuds, and listen to a book the whole time I was scanning the shelves. All in all, it wasn’t a terrible way to spend a summer.
    • Last summer working it was mostly me and a bunch of new people working (college freshman → UDTS shares a campus with the Univ. of Dubuque, which is an undergraduate institution) → made me the student worker with the most experience by far
      • Charge from the library director was that, as we were moving slowly through all the rows and scanning the books, we were also supposed to clean things up – get rid of any garbage, weird things sticking out of books, etc.
        • Fairly large section of the middle section of books on the 1st floor all had these weird colorful strips in them
          • Strips = bright and colorful → sticking up out of many of the books → These strips had been there for years, so as I was scanning that section, I decided to do what the director had asked us to do and clean up the shelves … so I pulled all the colorful little slips of paper out. And when another student came to relieve me when my shift was over, I told that student to do the same.
    • Low and behold, a few days later, the person in charge of the cataloguing for the UD library was in my supervisor’s office livid because all of the little slips were gone! As it turns out, she had placed those slips in there in preparation to weed that section of the library, and when she finally went to start that project and found all of her carefully-placed color-coded strips gone, she was not happy. → situation in which authority caused a tricky, sticky situation
      • Not checking with authority (even though I thought it was pretty clear since we’d been instructed to clean up the shelves and the slips had been there for years)
      • Misplaced assumptions about authority (both mine and the students who followed by direction to do the same)
      • Unclear communication among authority figures (neither my supervisor nor the library director knew what those slips meant either)
    • The idea of authority is a challenging on in the church, too.
      • Theology around authority can be challenging → far too often used to subjugate other peoples
        • Justification for slavery → white Europeans believed they had the God-given right to exercise authority over peoples “less civilized” than themselves
        • Doctrine of Discovery → papal bull issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 that “established a spiritual, political, and legal justification for colonization and seizure of land not inhabited by Christians”[1]
          • Applied all across the world: Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas
          • Also inspired Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny in America in the 1800s which led to rapid and voracious westward expansion, uprooting a vast number of Native American tribes and paving the way for such atrocities as the Trail of Tears and Indian boarding schools that tried to brutalize native culture and language out of children in the name of white people’s “God-given Christian authority”
      • On a more local scale – authority in churches can be particularly spiny monsters all their own
        • Plenty of churches joke that everyone knows it’s the women’s group that’s really in charge of thing
        • Age-old threat that so many pastors have received from wealthier members that, if things don’t go their way, they’ll pull their financial support
        • Scholar: Recent surveys document that most church conflicts have less to do with doctrine and belief than with leadership and decision-making. In a word, with authority.[2]
  • And this is the same sort of sticky situation in which Jesus finds himself in our readings this morning – the quicksand of church authority.
    • Text: Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem again. As Jesus was walking around the temple, the chief priests, legal experts, and elders came to him. They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?”[3] → At this point, we’re approaching the end of Mark’s gospel, so Jesus has been getting under the skin of the religious leaders for some time now. They’re not impressed with him anymore. They want to get rid of him. And here he is strolling around in the Jerusalem Temple right under their noses. But what are “these things” that they are questioning him about when they say, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things?”
      • Chunk of Mk’s gospel that we skipped over in our readings btwn last week and this week = some crucial stories
        • 1st = Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (which we’ll read in a few weeks on Palm Sunday) → Pharisees and chief priests witnessed Jesus entering Jerusalem like a king → “What kind of authority do you have to do this thing?”
        • 2nd = Jesus fiercely and fervently throwing the money changers and merchants out of the temple – flipping tables, throwing chairs, and roaring about them turning the temple into a “den of thieves”[4] → “What kind of authority do you have to do this thing?”
        • 3rd = teaching on prayer – text (Jesus): “Therefore I say to you, whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you will receive it, and it will be so for you. And whenever you stand up to pray, if you have something against anyone, forgive so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your wrongdoings.”[5] → “What kind of authority do you have to do this thing?”
      • Clearly, Jesus has rankled the religious authorities beyond what they can bear. All of the other times throughout his ministry, when the Pharisees and chief priests have challenged and questioned Jesus, it’s been in response to something he’s done in that moment – a challenge after a healing or a thinly-veiled question directly following one of Jesus’ teaching sessions. This time is different. This time, Jesus and his disciples are simply moving around within the Temple grounds. This time, the Pharisees and chief priests engage Jesus directly. This time, they initiate the encounter. They bring the fight to Jesus.
    • Jesus’ response = unsurprisingly hedgy and enigmatic (Mark’s Jesus, above all the other gospels, is the Jesus of riddles and mysteries): Jesus said to them, “I have a question for you. Give me an answer, then I’ll tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.”[6] → And he proceeds to pose the question about John’s baptism. It seems like a simple question: “Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin?” But it is far from simple. It is a loaded question if ever there was one.
      • Loaded because it points out the Pharisees’ own failing → aspirations and trust placed in earthly authority (their own and the authority of the oppressive Romans like King Herod) rather than in God’s heavenly authority
    • Question creates a trap for the legal experts, and they know it → close ranks, bend their heads together, whisper fiercely amongst themselves for a few moments weighing their options before copping out entirely – text: They answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.”[7]
      • Scholar explains significance of this exchange: Neither response is politically palatable. If they point to the divine origin of John’s work, then their faithlessness, their inability to hear God’s call, becomes evident. … If they point to a human origin, the crowds will react with hostility, as they correctly perceive John’s important status in the work of God in the world.[8] → And in the face of their cowardice and faithlessness, Jesus refuses them an answer.
  • But Jesus doesn’t just leave it there. He goes on to speak to them in what is probably one of the most disturbing parables in the whole Bible.
    • Basic plot = landowner sets up a vineyard, then set off on a trip and rented it to a few tenants to farm and care for → when harvest time rolled around, landowner sent one of his servants to the tenants to collect his share of the vineyard’s produce → tenants beat the servant and send him away empty-handed → landowner sends more servants, one after the other, but the tenants beat all of them, finally killing the last one → landowner finally sends his own son, thinking (incorrectly) that the tenants will respect the son in a way they clearly didn’t respect the servants → tenants beat and kill the son and throw in him a ditch
    • Jesus’ punchline (remember, this is a parable that he’s telling to the Pharisees and chief priests, not to the disciples): “So what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”[9] → Jesus has left all pretense and subtlety behind at this point. His parable is uncomfortably pointed.
      • Scholar: To make a very strong point: that is the initial intention of Jesus’ parable about our persistent corruption as human beings and about God’s amazing patience, serious judgment, and promise of restoration. To the religious authorities Jesus is saying: “Just in case you are personally blind to the ongoing, arrogant, and even violent nature of your own institutional life and leadership, let me put things in the starkest of contexts. Here is my take regarding the depths of your personal and systematic pride and sinfulness.”[10]
      • To drive that point home, Jesus uses his strongest, most attention-grabbing device: quoting Scripture to those who are supposed to know it best – text (Jesus): Haven’t you read this scripture, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes?”
        • Comes from Psalm 118:22-23 = hymn of joy and celebration of God’s deliverance from evil and persecution → As I said, quoting Scripture to the people that are supposed to know it best is cheeky enough, but quoting this Scripture – which speaks of God giving victory over those who hate me and taking refuge in the Lord instead of trusting in any human leader – is a particularly pointed barb. It’s Jesus’ definitive commentary on the authority that the Pharisees believe they have and the source of true authority: God alone.
    • Clearly a barb that found it’s mark – Pharisees’ response: They wanted to arrest Jesus because they knew that he had told the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.[11] → And so begins their plotting in earnest – their plotting to implicate and falsely accuse, their plotting to imprison and convict, their plotting to eventually kill Jesus.
  • Challenge of reading this Scripture, especially during Lent as we look toward Good Friday and the cross and Jesus’ crucifixion = what that can say to us about authority → “Who authorized this? Who authorized this pain? Who authorized this betrayal? Who authorized this rejection and despair and unjust death? God did.” But, friends, this is where we find the good news of the gospel, because even as we await the darkness and misery of that day, we also await the light and joy of Easter morning – the empty tomb, the stone rolled, away, and the resurrected Christ. And who authorized such a world-changing, paradigm-shifting, earth-shattering thing? God did. God did … to show us how much God loves us. God did … to show us how powerful God’s grace truly is. God did … solely for the sake of our world-weary souls. God did. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] https://upstanderproject.org/firstlight/doctrine.

[2] Talitha Arnold. “Mark 11:27-33 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 350.

[3] Mk 11:27-28.

[4] Mk 11:17.

[5] Mk 11:24-25.

[6] Mk 11:29.

[7] Mk 11:33.

[8] Eric D. Barreto. “Mark 11:27-33 – Exegetical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 353.

[9] Mk 12:9.

[10] Dean K. Thompson. “Mark 12:1-12 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 357.

[11] Mk 12:12.

  • When I was in seminary, I worked in the campus library (shocker … I know!) Every summer, those of us who were student workers had the significant and generally daunting task of doing inventory.
    • Basic procedure for inventory
      • Rolling cart with a laptop on it and one of those scanning wands
      • Move slowly up and down the stacks scanning the books to make sure they were in the right place and there weren’t any anomalies (books that hadn’t been checked in before being shelved, books that were still recorded as being on reserve for a class, books that had been marked missing in our computer system, etc.)
      • Kept various stacks on the cart so our supervisor could make the required changes in the computer catalogue system
    • Single. Book. In the entire library … BOTH. FLOORS. Thousands of books, DVD, resources, and so on. It literally took the entire summer. However, doing inventory was actually one of my favorite things to do! It definitely appealed to my type A tendencies – making order out of disorder. I also enjoyed it because I was able to download an audiobook onto my iPod, put in my earbuds, and listen to a book the whole time I was scanning the shelves. All in all, it wasn’t a terrible way to spend a summer.
    • Last summer working it was mostly me and a bunch of new people working (college freshman à UDTS shares a campus with the Univ. of Dubuque, which is an undergraduate institution) à made me the student worker with the most experience by far
      • Charge from the library director was that, as we were moving slowly through all the rows and scanning the books, we were also supposed to clean things up – get rid of any garbage, weird things sticking out of books, etc.
        • Fairly large section of the middle section of books on the 1st floor all had these weird colorful strips in them
          • Strips = bright and colorful à sticking up out of many of the books à These strips had been there for years, so as I was scanning that section, I decided to do what the director had asked us to do and clean up the shelves … so I pulled all the colorful little slips of paper out. And when another student came to relieve me when my shift was over, I told that student to do the same.
        • Low and behold, a few days later, the person in charge of the cataloguing for the UD library was in my supervisor’s office livid because all of the little slips were gone! As it turns out, she had placed those slips in there in preparation to weed that section of the library, and when she finally went to start that project and found all of her carefully-placed color-coded strips gone, she was not happy. à situation in which authority caused a tricky, sticky situation
          • Not checking with authority (even though I thought it was pretty clear since we’d been instructed to clean up the shelves and the slips had been there for years)
          • Misplaced assumptions about authority (both mine and the students who followed by direction to do the same)
          • Unclear communication among authority figures (neither my supervisor nor the library director knew what those slips meant either)
        • The idea of authority is a challenging on in the church, too.
          • Theology around authority can be challenging à far too often used to subjugate other peoples
            • Justification for slavery à white Europeans believed they had the God-given right to exercise authority over peoples “less civilized” than themselves
            • Doctrine of Discovery à papal bull issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 that “established a spiritual, political, and legal justification for colonization and seizure of land not inhabited by Christians”[1]
              • Applied all across the world: Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas
              • Also inspired Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny in America in the 1800s which led to rapid and voracious westward expansion, uprooting a vast number of Native American tribes and paving the way for such atrocities as the Trail of Tears and Indian boarding schools that tried to brutalize native culture and language out of children in the name of white people’s “God-given Christian authority”
            • On a more local scale – authority in churches can be particularly spiny monsters all their own
              • Plenty of churches joke that everyone knows it’s the women’s group that’s really in charge of thing
              • Age-old threat that so many pastors have received from wealthier members that, if things don’t go their way, they’ll pull their financial support
              • Scholar: Recent surveys document that most church conflicts have less to do with doctrine and belief than with leadership and decision-making. In a word, with authority.[2]
            • And this is the same sort of sticky situation in which Jesus finds himself in our readings this morning – the quicksand of church authority.
              • Text: Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem again. As Jesus was walking around the temple, the chief priests, legal experts, and elders came to him. They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?”[3] à At this point, we’re approaching the end of Mark’s gospel, so Jesus has been getting under the skin of the religious leaders for some time now. They’re not impressed with him anymore. They want to get rid of him. And here he is strolling around in the Jerusalem Temple right under their noses. But what are “these things” that they are questioning him about when they say, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things?”
                • Chunk of Mk’s gospel that we skipped over in our readings btwn last week and this week = some crucial stories
                  • 1st = Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (which we’ll read in a few weeks on Palm Sunday) à Pharisees and chief priests witnessed Jesus entering Jerusalem like a king à “What kind of authority do you have to do this thing?”
                  • 2nd = Jesus fiercely and fervently throwing the money changers and merchants out of the temple – flipping tables, throwing chairs, and roaring about them turning the temple into a “den of thieves”[4] à “What kind of authority do you have to do this thing?”
                  • 3rd = teaching on prayer – text (Jesus): “Therefore I say to you, whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you will receive it, and it will be so for you. And whenever you stand up to pray, if you have something against anyone, forgive so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your wrongdoings.”[5] à “What kind of authority do you have to do this thing?”
                • Clearly, Jesus has rankled the religious authorities beyond what they can bear. All of the other times throughout his ministry, when the Pharisees and chief priests have challenged and questioned Jesus, it’s been in response to something he’s done in that moment – a challenge after a healing or a thinly-veiled question directly following one of Jesus’ teaching sessions. This time is different. This time, Jesus and his disciples are simply moving around within the Temple grounds. This time, the Pharisees and chief priests engage Jesus directly. This time, they initiate the encounter. They bring the fight to Jesus.
              • Jesus’ response = unsurprisingly hedgy and enigmatic (Mark’s Jesus, above all the other gospels, is the Jesus of riddles and mysteries): Jesus said to them, “I have a question for you. Give me an answer, then I’ll tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.”[6] à And he proceeds to pose the question about John’s baptism. It seems like a simple question: “Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin?” But it is far from simple. It is a loaded question if ever there was one.
                • Loaded because it points out the Pharisees’ own failing à aspirations and trust placed in earthly authority (their own and the authority of the oppressive Romans like King Herod) rather than in God’s heavenly authority
              • Question creates a trap for the legal experts, and they know it à close ranks, bend their heads together, whisper fiercely amongst themselves for a few moments weighing their options before copping out entirely – text: They answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.”[7]
                • Scholar explains significance of this exchange: Neither response is politically palatable. If they point to the divine origin of John’s work, then their faithlessness, their inability to hear God’s call, becomes evident. … If they point to a human origin, the crowds will react with hostility, as they correctly perceive John’s important status in the work of God in the world.[8] à And in the face of their cowardice and faithlessness, Jesus refuses them an answer.
              • But Jesus doesn’t just leave it there. He goes on to speak to them in what is probably one of the most disturbing parables in the whole Bible.
                • Basic plot = landowner sets up a vineyard, then set off on a trip and rented it to a few tenants to farm and care for à when harvest time rolled around, landowner sent one of his servants to the tenants to collect his share of the vineyard’s produce à tenants beat the servant and send him away empty-handed à landowner sends more servants, one after the other, but the tenants beat all of them, finally killing the last one à landowner finally sends his own son, thinking (incorrectly) that the tenants will respect the son in a way they clearly didn’t respect the servants à tenants beat and kill the son and throw in him a ditch
                • Jesus’ punchline (remember, this is a parable that he’s telling to the Pharisees and chief priests, not to the disciples): “So what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”[9] à Jesus has left all pretense and subtlety behind at this point. His parable is uncomfortably pointed.
                  • Scholar: To make a very strong point: that is the initial intention of Jesus’ parable about our persistent corruption as human beings and about God’s amazing patience, serious judgment, and promise of restoration. To the religious authorities Jesus is saying: “Just in case you are personally blind to the ongoing, arrogant, and even violent nature of your own institutional life and leadership, let me put things in the starkest of contexts. Here is my take regarding the depths of your personal and systematic pride and sinfulness.”[10]
                  • To drive that point home, Jesus uses his strongest, most attention-grabbing device: quoting Scripture to those who are supposed to know it best – text (Jesus): Haven’t you read this scripture, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes?”
                    • Comes from Psalm 118:22-23 = hymn of joy and celebration of God’s deliverance from evil and persecution à As I said, quoting Scripture to the people that are supposed to know it best is cheeky enough, but quoting this Scripture – which speaks of God giving victory over those who hate me and taking refuge in the Lord instead of trusting in any human leader – is a particularly pointed barb. It’s Jesus’ definitive commentary on the authority that the Pharisees believe they have and the source of true authority: God alone.
                  • Clearly a barb that found it’s mark – Pharisees’ response: They wanted to arrest Jesus because they knew that he had told the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.[11] à And so begins their plotting in earnest – their plotting to implicate and falsely accuse, their plotting to imprison and convict, their plotting to eventually kill Jesus.
                • Challenge of reading this Scripture, especially during Lent as we look toward Good Friday and the cross and Jesus’ crucifixion = what that can say to us about authority à “Who authorized this? Who authorized this pain? Who authorized this betrayal? Who authorized this rejection and despair and unjust death? God did.” But, friends, this is where we find the good news of the gospel, because even as we await the darkness and misery of that day, we also await the light and joy of Easter morning – the empty tomb, the stone rolled, away, and the resurrected Christ. And who authorized such a world-changing, paradigm-shifting, earth-shattering thing? God did. God did … to show us how much God loves us. God did … to show us how powerful God’s grace truly is. God did … solely for the sake of our world-weary souls. God did. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] https://upstanderproject.org/firstlight/doctrine.

[2] Talitha Arnold. “Mark 11:27-33 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 350.

[3] Mk 11:27-28.

[4] Mk 11:17.

[5] Mk 11:24-25.

[6] Mk 11:29.

[7] Mk 11:33.

[8] Eric D. Barreto. “Mark 11:27-33 – Exegetical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 353.

[9] Mk 12:9.

[10] Dean K. Thompson. “Mark 12:1-12 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 357.

[11] Mk 12:12.

Sunday’s sermon: What Do You Want Me to Do For You?

what do you want

Text used – Mark 10:32-52

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • I was watching a movie with the boys the other day (in fact, I think it might have been last Sunday afternoon during our family down time!). We were watching a classic … well, it’s a classic for me. For the boys, it was their first time. We were watching Disney’s “Aladdin” – the animated version from 1992.
    • Scene that struck me: scene after Aladdin has found the magic lamp in the cave and discovered the Genie inside → Genie tells Aladdin he gets three wishes → Aladdin confesses that he doesn’t really know what to wish for, so he asks the Genie what he would wish for if the Genie himself had three wishes → Genie’s response = freedom – line: “It’s all part and parcel, the whole genie gig. Phenomenal cosmic powers! Itty bitty living space. But oh, to be free! Not to have to go POOF! ‘What do you need?’ POOF! ‘What do you need?’ POOF! ‘What do you need?’ To be my own master! Such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the in all the world!”[1]

    • As I sat down to start working on the worship material and my sermon for this week, that scene kept ringing in my head, especially those last few lines: “POOF! What do you need? POOF! What do you need? POOF! What do you need?” And it struck me because we hear Jesus basically saying that again and again in our Scripture reading this morning.
      • Asks it of the disciples
      • Asks it of a blind beggar on the road
      • And it’s the quintessential question for Lent … but maybe not in the way we think.
  • Actually going to start part-way through our Scripture reading this morning – reading is 3 short sections, and we’re going to start with the 2nd section → story of James and John’s unabashed hubris
    • Text: James and John, Zebedee’s sons, came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”[2] → I’m sorry. What? What?! Talk about speaking from a place of privilege! “We’ve been traveling with you for a while now, Jesus, so it’s time to cash in our chips for a big favor score.” Again, I say … what?! But it doesn’t end there.
    • Text continues: “What do you want me to do for you?” [Jesus] asked. They said, “Allow one of us to sit on your right hand and the other on your left when you enter your glory.”[3] → Ooooo … y’all! The audacity of this is a little staggering, isn’t it? Can’t you just picture James and John sidling up to Jesus when they think none of the other disciples are listening and making this request in low, conspiratorial voices?
      • Actually see that hidden in the Gr. of the text – James and John “came to Jesus” = “came up to, approached” → So we can imagine Jesus and the disciples all traveling in a gaggle together, some walking faster and some walking slower, with Jesus leading the way. And from somewhere in that gaggle, James and John speed up their pace a little bit to leave the other disciples behind and buddy up to their Teacher.
    • Jesus’ response = meant to bring a little reality to James’ and John’s fantastical aspirations – text: Jesus replied, “You don’t know what you’re asking! Can you drink the cup I drink or receive the baptism I receive?” “We can,” they answered.[4]
      • Jesus doesn’t ridicule them
      • Jesus doesn’t chastise them
      • Jesus doesn’t laugh in their faces or tell them they’re being selfish, grandeur-seeking fools
      • Jesus’ response is calm. Matter of fact. Measured. He simply tries to make it clear to James and John that Jesus’ own mission is not their mission.
      • But James and John don’t give up that easily. They’ve made their ask, and they’re sticking to it. In fact, they’re doubling down! “Sure, Jesus! No problem. We can follow where you go. We can do what you do. We’ve been doing it for the last few years now, right? How much harder can it get?”
        • Scholar: Mark paints a picture of James and John being so caught up in popularity and power that they cannot see reality. James and John are observing the popularity of Jesus and not the harsh political reality that Jesus is about to be handed over to those who hate his life and want to see it brought to a humiliating end. James and John have no earthly idea what they are asking.[5]
    • Jesus lays it out even clearer for them – text: Jesus said, “You will drink the cup I drink and receive the baptism I receive, but to sit at my right or left hand isn’t mine to give. It belongs to those for whom it has been prepared.”[6] → Notice that even in the face of James and John’s persistent and audacious presumption, Jesus remains compassionate. Jesus remains level-headed. Jesus remains a teacher and mentor through and through. Before letting them down as definitively as he can (telling them that the places of honor on his right and left aren’t his to give), he reassures them of their worth, telling them that they are indeed capable of drinking the cup that Jesus himself will drink and receiving the baptism that Jesus himself will receive (though James and John certainly don’t understand at this point that Jesus is telling them they will die the death of martyrs for their faith).
    • The other disciples, on the other hand, don’t react quite so tolerantly → somehow the other 10 disciples catch wind of the conversation that Jesus, James, and John have been having, and they are pretty upset with James and John → Jesus (ever the teacher) grabs hold of this teachable moment
      • Calls all the disciples back together
      • Points out the vanity of the Gentile rulers and how they show off their authority and power to those around them
      • Gives the disciples a pretty pointed directive – text: “But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all, for the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.”[7]
  • 3rd section of today’s text = Jesus living example of this mission of service for the disciples
    • Jesus and his disciples are continuing their journey and come to Jericho → spend an undisclosed amount of time there → on their way out, Jesus, the disciples, and “a sizeable crowd” encounter a blind beggar named Bartimaeus – text: When [Bartimaeus] heard that Jesus of Nazareth was there, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy!” Many scolded him, telling him to be quiet, but he shouted even louder, “Son of David, show me mercy!”[8] → Before we go further, I want to remind you of how disabilities and illnesses were viewed in Jesus’ time. Unless the disability was the result of some sort of accident (loss of a limb, etc.), it was seen as a punishment for sin – either your own sin or the sin of your parents. They did something wrong. They offered the wrong offering or neglected the wrong offering or you didn’t pray the right prayer or make a pilgrimage for the right festival or wash in the ritual bath at the right time, and so you were afflicted with this condition. It didn’t matter if it was permanent or not. It didn’t matter if it was congenital or not. (Actually, that probably made it worse.) So people would have seen Bartimaeus not only as a sinner but also as unclean – someone held on the fringes of their society for fear of tainting that society and all who came in contact with him.
      • Makes Bartimaeus’ tenacity all the more impressive – scholar: We ought to acknowledge that Bartimaeus demonstrates a gutsy perseverance in his response to the divine initiative in the person of Jesus. The text fairly shouts the loud persistence of this marginalized human being. He will not be silenced.[9]
    • Jesus response to that faith-filled tenacity – text: Jesus stopped and said, “Call him forward.” They called the blind man, “Be encouraged! Get up! He’s calling you.” Throwing his coat to the side, he jumped up and came to Jesus. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see.” Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” At once he was able to see, and he began to follow Jesus on the way.[10] → 2 important things about this text
      • FIRST, Jesus asks Bartimaeus exactly the same question that he just asked James and John when they made their absurd request: “What do you want me to do for you?”
        • Gives us a sense of equality → Bartimaeus is someone who has never encountered Jesus before. He hasn’t been following him and learning from him for the past three years. He hasn’t been part of Jesus’ inner circle. And yet here’s Jesus giving him the exact same opening that he gave his disciples. “What do you want me to do for you?” There is an equanimity to this. There’s an impartiality. It reminds us that God hears all our prayers – rich or poor, educated or uneducated, spoken or silent, ridiculous or mundane, no matter the language, no matter the context, no matter the request. God opens God’s own ears and heart to each and every one of us and says with compassion, “What do you want me to do for you?”
      • SECOND, Bartimaeus is the last person that Jesus will heal before he enters Jerusalem for the last time → Did you notice what was missing when Jesus healed Bartimaeus? We’ve read a number of other healing and teaching passages throughout Mark’s gospel this year, and in nearly every circumstance, Jesus firmly instructs the person who was healed not to tell anyone. But healing Bartimaeus is a significant turning point in Jesus’ ministry because he is already headed to Jerusalem. He is headed to betrayal. He is headed to the cross. The time for secrecy has passed. Jesus’ only instruction to Bartimaeus is, “Go, your faith has healed you.”
  • So we have these two examples of big, bold requests made of Jesus in our Scripture reading this morning
    • Jesus’ invitation for both requests is the same: “What do you want me to do for you?”
    • Jesus’ response to both requests is different
      • Grants Bartimaeus’ request for healing
      • Denies James’ and John’s request for prestige
    • It’s important to note these two things because it reminds us that God does indeed hear all our prayers openly and compassionately, but that doesn’t mean that God grants every request. And it reminds us that when our prayers are not answered in the way that would like them to be answered, it doesn’t say anything about our faith or lack thereof.
      • Nothing about our text indicates that Bartimaeus’ faith was better, smarter, smoother, flashier, or more sincere than James’ and John’s faith → And yet Bartimaeus’ request was granted while James’ and John’s was not.
  • But here’s the thing, friends. Here we are in this season of Lent. Here we are in this season of repentance and self-reflection. This season of examination – examining ourselves, examining our faith, examining our relationship with God and with one another. (Incidentally, today’s Photo Challenge word is ‘examine.’ Hmmm … I wonder why.) So while we often come to God asking as James and John and Bartimaeus all did, and while God is more than willing to hear us with love and mercy and grace, the ultimate purpose of faith is to turn Jesus’ question back around – to come to God saying, “What do you want me to do for you?”
    • Reason for that turning = first part of our Scripture reading this morning – text: Jesus and his disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, with Jesus in the lead. … Taking the twelve aside again, he told them what was about to happen to him. “Look!” he said. “We’re going up to Jerusalem. The Human One will be handed over to the chief priests and the legal experts. They will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles. They will ridicule him, spit on him, torture him, and kill him. After three days, he will rise up.”[11]
      • Last time in Mk’s gospel that Jesus attempts to warn the disciples about what’s coming (last of 3 times)
        • And once again, clearly, the disciples don’t get it because directly following this crucial revelation is James’ and John’s preposterous request.
      • Beginning of our text = our ultimate reminder of exactly what Jesus did for us → the ultimate answer to the question that he asks again and again in today’s text: “What do you want me to do for you?”
        • Reminder that Jesus suffered humiliation and torture for us
        • Reminder that Jesus went to the cross and the grave for us
        • Reminder that after three days, Jesus rose from that grave to give us a stark, unrelenting, unmistakable picture of exactly how much God loves us and how much God wants to do for us
  • So let us hold up a mirror this morning: A mirror to ourselves. A mirror to our relationships. A mirror to our desires and prayer. And a mirror to Jesus’ own question. Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Let us respond: “No, Jesus. What do you want me to do for you?” Amen.

[1] Aladdin. Walt Disney Pictures. Released Nov. 25, 1992.

[2] Mk 10:35.

[3] Mk 10:36-37.

[4] Mk 10:38-39a.

[5] William E. Crowder, Jr. “Mark 10:35-45 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 328.

[6] Mk 10:39b-40.

[7] Mk 10:43-45.

[8] Mk 10:47-48.

[9] Michael Lodahl. “Mark 10:46-52 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 332.

[10] Mk 10:49-52.

[11] Mk 10:32-34.

Sunday’s sermon: The Impossible Dream

The Impossible Dream

Text used – Mark 10:17-31

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • We’re going to start off with a song this morning, friends. The lyrics are on the cover of your bulletin. There are, of course, all sorts of versions of this iconic Broadway song, but this morning, ours will come from the unforgettable, the inimitable, the supreme … Diana Ross.
    • [PLAY “The Impossible Dream”]
    • Context for this song[1]
      • Written by Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion
      • Most popular song from the 1965 Tony Award winning Broadway musical Man of La Mancha (story of Don Quixote and a little bit the story of author Miguel de Cervantes as he waits for a hearing with the Spanish Inquisition[2])
        • (If you’re not familiar …) Don Quixote = knight with not enough to do → sees foes and battles in places where there are none (most well-known e.g. – battling a large windmill thinking it was a 4-armed giant)
        • Throughout the story, Quixote is a bit of a joke. His family thinks he’s crazy. The villagers think he’s crazy. He’s dogged by a doctor who, in trying to help him recognize his madness, basically ends up killing him. The only one who believes in Quixote is his faithful squire, Sancho Panza. And, of course, Quixote himself. Even in the face of embarrassment, even in the face of ridicule, even in the face of utter disbelief, Quixote clings to his impossible dream – his dream of being a knight.
    • In today’s Scripture reading, we encounter what seems like an impossible dream: salvation. Eternal life. Entrance into God’s Kingdom. In the face of questions and uncertainty and disbelief – both from strangers and from the disciples – Jesus is candid and thoroughly honest … but he also offers hope.
  • Begins with familiar story – story found in all 3 synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) → story of the rich young man or the rich young ruler (depending on which gospel you’re reading and which translation you’re using)
    • Young man approaches Jesus and asks a question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”[3]
    • Jesus’ first response = slight but significant scolding → Jesus asks the man why he has chosen to call Jesus ‘good’ before reminding this young man that “No one is good except the one God.”[4] This may seem like a trivial thing, like a technicality … like Jesus is nitpicking. But this small correction is important because it directs the young man’s attention away from Jesus and straight to God.
      • At this point in Jesus’ ministry he’s been healing and performing miracles all over the place → this is Jesus’ attempt to keep the focus directed not on him and his actions but the source of those actions: God
        • Scholar: Jesus in not trying to deny his own goodness; rather, he is asking the man if he knows what he is saying and why he is saying it. Jesus refuses any empty flattery (if that is what it is) and takes the opportunity to challenge his [questioner] with a deeper question, “Do you even know what it means to call someone good?”[5]
    • Without giving the young man a chance to reply, Jesus continues with a pretty general but acceptable answer to the man’s question about eternal life → basically: keep the commandments (lists a few of them)
    • Man’s reply: “Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”[6] → Now, we have to image that the rich young man is feeling pretty good about himself right now, right? He’s asked this famous rabbi what he needs to do to obtain eternal life, and the initial response that he’s gotten is stuff he’s already done. Check that off the list! Eternal life … in the bag! Yes!
      • Probably excited
      • Probably relieved
      • Probably proud
    • And I imagine him starting to turn and go back to his home feeling safe and secure in this reassurance that Jesus has just given him … but Jesus isn’t done with this rich young man yet. – text: Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.”[7]And the young man … is crestfallen. – text: But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.[8] → Okay, there’s so much to tackle in just these two verses.
      • First: Jesus’ moment of discernment before he speaks again (Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him.) → This is a beautiful, powerful, challenging moment, friends.
        • Gr. “looked at him carefully” = one of the words for “looked at/saw” but has underlying tone of consideration in it → This is a beautiful, powerful, challenging moment because we can just tell that Jesus is looking at more than just this man’s hair and tunic and outward appearance. Jesus is gazing into this man’s heart and soul. He is reading this rich young man from the inside out – his desires, his gifts, his failings … everything about him. And it is from that intense gaze that Jesus’ next invitation comes.
      • Jesus’ reply cuts straight through the man’s façade to the heart of his identity: “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.”
        • It’s ironic that to this man with many possession, Jesus says, “You are lacking one thing.” He doesn’t say, “You’re missing the point.” He doesn’t say, “I have one more thing for you.” Jesus very deliberately says, “You are lacking one thing.” In that frank and searching gaze, Jesus discerned that this young man’s pride and heart and identity were wrapped up in what he owned, in his wealth and his possessions. So he piques the man’s interest with a little teaser: You are lacking one thing. In and amidst all the wealth and possessions you’ve already accumulated for yourself, you’re still lacking.
      • That one thing that the rich young man is lacking – the one thing that Jesus asks of him – is the exact opposite of where he’s truly placed his heart
        • Lacking GENEROSITY
        • Lacking SIMPLICITY
        • Lacking CHARITY
        • Lacking in that he is not lacking at all à that he doesn’t know what it is to want
        • In that frank and searching gaze, Jesus immediately figures out the one thing that will be hard for this man to do – the thing that will, in fact, be impossible for the man to do alone … as he proves with his action.
      • Man’s response = to walk away in utter disappointment – text: But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened → 2 very different Gr. words
        • Gr. “man was dismayed” = shocked, appalled, gloomy, sad
        • Gr. “went away saddened” = offended, distressed, vexed, irritated
        • Clearly Jesus’ words have had an impact on the rich young man. He goes away dissatisfied (with Jesus … or with himself?) because his possessions are many, and the thought of selling them all has him utterly bereft. Or is it the thought of missing out on accepting Jesus’ invitation and following because of his inability to part with his things what has him utterly bereft?
          • Scholar: Jesus’ invitation is not a command or a judgment, not an attempt to exact justice; it is, rather, an attempt to enact gratuity. To love the man, Jesus must tell him the hard truth, that his wealth is in his way. So Jesus invites him, as an act of love, to unload his burden, to give away his wealth, to free himself from that which has come to bind him, even though he has no idea he is so bound. This is love. This is the truth – and it is hard to hear.[9]
  • Continues with this theme of hard truth to hear in the next part of our passage BUT here we find somewhere to lay our hope
    • Jesus continues with theme of difficulty of giving up wealth – text: Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.” Then they were shocked even more and said to each other, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God.”[10] → There is it. There’s the whole point. That’s Jesus’ mic drop moment. The disciples are shocked … amazed … overwhelmed with this truth bomb that Jesus has just dropped on them … and then Jesus looks at them. Carefully.
      • Gr. = same word used when Jesus looked carefully at the rich young man → searching, probing, soul-reading gaze
      • And then we get Jesus’ response: “Who can be saved? No one … not by themselves. That dream of salvation that you get for yourself … earn for yourself … deserve for yourself? It’s impossible. It’s an impossible dream. But with God, you can have eternal life. With God, it’s possible. Only with God.”
  • Now, this text is often preached on stewardship Sunday or in regard to church finances because, well … frankly, Jesus talks a lot about wealth and money and generosity and giving in this passage. But I don’t think that’s all that this is about. I think it’s more about whatever it is that we have our hearts and our identity wrapped up in. Whatever it is we’d find it impossible to give up. → 2 reasons that I say this is about more than just money
    • First: that searching gaze that Jesus gives the rich young man → It’s a gaze that sees into his very heart and soul, and in that gaze – in that moment of unmitigated discernment and sheer agape love – Jesus sees what it is that is holding that man back. Jesus sees where he’s spending his time, his energy, his fervor, his devotion. And he says, “That’s it. Right there. You’re so wrapped up in your wealth that God cannot get through. So you’ve got to remove that obstacle from your path.”
    • Second: Peter’s response after Jesus’ declaration that all things are possible for God – text: Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.”[11]
      • 2 ways we can read this
        • Can read it as Peter being exasperated: “Look, Jesus, we’ve literally left everything behind to follow you. What about us?”
        • Can read it as Peter being expectant: “Look at us, Jesus! We’ve done that. We’ve done everything you’ve asked. We’ve been good little followers. Does that mean we get in?”
        • Either way, Peter is pointing out that he and the disciples have no wealth holding them back. They have no possessions holding them back. But we still get the impression that they are being held back by something. By their jockeying for position with Jesus? By their tempers? By their misguided expectations for the Messiah? By their inability to see Jesus for who he truly is? Something is holding them back as well because even after giving them the same searching, discerning, soul-reading look that Jesus gave the rich young man, he tells them it is impossible for human beings to enter God’s kingdom without God. He doesn’t say, “Yup. You’re good. You’re in,” like some divine bouncer at the pearly gates. He says, “It’s impossible without God.”
    • Jesus’ response to Peter reinforces this: “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news will receive one hundred times as much now in this life – houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment) – and in the coming age, eternal life. But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.”[12]
  • So in this season of Lent, let me ask you this: What is holding you back? What is getting in the way of your relationship with God? If you were to run up to Jesus just as the rich young man did and say, “Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?” what would Jesus see as your impossible surrender? Amen.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Impossible_Dream_(The_Quest).

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_of_La_Mancha.

[3] Mk 10:17.

[4] Mk 10:18.

[5] Scott Bader-Saye. “Mark 10:17-22 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 308.

[6] Mk 10:20.

[7] Mk 10:21.

[8] Mk 10:22.

[9] Bader-Saye, 310.

[10] Mk 10:23-27.

[11] Mk 10:28.

[12] Mk 10:29-31.

Sunday’s sermon: Who Am I?

Who Am I

Text used – Mark 8:27-9:8

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • [HOLD UP BIBLE] This is the Bible that I was given by my church when I was in 4th grade – April 17, 1994. It’s got my name engraved on the front – Lisa Joanne Pinney. It’s got a dedicate written on the inside … which I wrote myself because when I received it, I was thoroughly put out that no one had written anything inside it. (If you’re curious, my dedication to myself was, “May you use it all the days of your life.”) It’s got little marks around various passages from all the times I served as the layreader over the years. It’s got various highlighting and underlining throughout – the evidence of it being the only Bible that I used all through high school and into college.
    • Lots of parts of my identity wrapped up in this Bible
      • Identity as a child of my parents (maiden name on the cover)
      • Identity as a child of God
      • Identity as a worship participant
      • Identity as a life-long learner/Bible study-er
    • Identity that has clearly evolved over the years
      • Part of it have remained the same
      • Parts of it have grown and developed
      • Parts of it have faded away … But even for those parts, the reminders of that aspect of my identity are still there.
        • E.g. – purple Post-It inside the front cover
          • Single name on it: Elvis
          • Remnant from one of those ice breaker games with my first Bible study group that met in my dorm when I was a freshman → When I think back to the girl that started attending that Bible study and compare her to the person I am now, there are some things that are vastly different. But she’s still a part of me. And I’m sure that if every single one of you looked back at the person you were 10 years ago … 20 years ago … even 50 years ago, you would be able to find both the differences and the similarities in ways that are touching, ways that are shocking, and ways that are revealing.
    • We have a lot wrapped up in our identities, don’t we? In who we are. Of course we do. Who we are is … who we are! But identity is a funny thing. Some parts of our identity are self-claimed. We decide what our hobbies and interests are going to be. We decide where we’re going to live or what career we’re going to have. We decide who’s going to be in that circle of loved ones. But there are also elements of our identity that we don’t get to decide. We don’t get to choose our family. We don’t get to choose our physical characteristics. We don’t get to choose where we’re born or the language that we first learn to speak. Yet these things make up indelible parts of our identity, too. And our identity is something that’s fluid and changeable. We can learn a new skill. We can make new friends. We can even change our name or learn a new language or move to a completely new place and start again.
      • Today’s Scripture reading speaks to the importance and essence of identity in 3 different ways
  • Right off the bat = Jesus’ true identity outwardly acknowledged for the first time in Mk’s gospel – text: Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.” He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”[1] → Up to this point, the only ones who have recognized Jesus as who he truly is – Son of God, Anointed One, Messiah – are demons that Jesus has cast out of people. This moment halfway through Mark’s gospel account is the first time any person – let alone one of the disciples who have been traveling with him and learning from him and devoting themselves to him – has acknowledged who Jesus is.
    • Really interesting part of this section of text = Jesus’ response – text: He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.[2]
      • “Messianic Secret” in Mk = common theme throughout the gospel → In Mark’s account, Jesus is always ordering others – demons, healed people, and especially the disciples – not to reveal his identity.
        • Instruction that’s rarely obeyed, especially by those who have been healed (understandable, right?)
        • Purpose of this “Messianic secret” is something scholars have spilled a lot of ink trying to decipher – CEB study Bible: It’s probably best to understand the theme of secrecy in light of Jesus’ aims. He may have avoided public recognition for his miracle-working because he didn’t want to be associated with the other, fame-seeking healers of the day. He may have resisted the political hopes many attached to the title “Christ.” His identity and mission as the Christ is a secret partly because God’s kingdom is still hidden from view. From Mark’s perspective, Jesus’ status as Christ remains a mystery to some but only until God’s kingdom arrives.[3] → So Mark’s Messianic secret is about identity. It’s about preserving the purity of Jesus’ identity – not getting him confused with the natural healers or the charlatan miracle-workers that roamed the countryside. It’s about keeping Jesus’ sacred identity as Messiah and Savior of the people separate from the political expectations that were placed on the idea of “Messiah at the time” – the Jewish understanding that the Messiah would come to help them throw off the yoke of oppression, not from their sins and the permanence of death (as Jesus did) but from the political and imperialistic oppression of the Romans. And it’s about keeping his identity tied to the will and work of God which, until Jesus is crucified and resurrected, will not come to true and full fruition.
    • So this first portion of our text is about Jesus trying to define and maintain his true identity.
  • 2nd portion = glimpse of others trying to project something else onto your identity – text: Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”[4]
    • Poor Peter. In the span of a few short minutes, he goes from the high of having voiced the true identity of the Messiah to being so harshly rebuked that that same Messiah calls him Satan.
    • This part of the passage begins with Jesus trying to reveal even more about his identity → trying to clue the disciples in on just what “Messiah” or “Christ” actually is going to mean
      • Betrayal
      • Rejection
      • Suffering
      • Death
      • Resurrection
    • But this is too much for Peter to take. He’s just come into this euphoric revelation that the rabbi he’s been following is, in fact, the Messiah! And now this same rabbi is telling him that, instead of delivering the Jews from the Romans to freedom, he’s going to do the exact opposite of that? Be captured? Be killed? And be … brought back to life? No. Nope. It’s too much for Peter to wrap his head around, so he tries to pull Jesus aside to give him a little bit of a pep talk and set him straight. – text: Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him.[5]
      • Gr. = “rebuke,” “warn,” “censure,” even “punish” → This is not a soft word. Peter isn’t being gentle and cajoling with Jesus. He’s not trying to calmly and logically reason with Jesus. He’s actually scolding Jesus here. He’s trying to give Jesus an order. In fact, this is the exact same word that Jesus just used to “order” the disciples to remain silent about his identity as the Messiah. I mean … we gotta give Peter points for moxy, right? How many of you ever took aside one of your mentors, your teachers, your parents, your bosses, your team captain, or someone else in a position of authority and severely scolded them?
    • Peter’s attempt to suppress this essential element of Jesus’ identity doesn’t exactly work out well for him – Jesus turns around and rebukes him right back (yup … same Gr. word again): Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”[6] → But Jesus gets at a core truth of Peter’s identity in this harsh moment: Peter is a human being following a beloved teacher and friend. He is having a human moment – a moment in which he’s not thinking about God’s kingdom or salvation or anything else divine. He’s just thinking about his friend, Jesus. He’s thinking he doesn’t want his friend to suffer pain and rejection and death. He’s thinking he doesn’t want to have to miss his friend. And I think that’s a part of the universal human identity we can all understand.
  • 3rd portion = glimpse of transformation in identity – text: Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain where they were alone. He was transformed in front of them, and his clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they had been bleached white. Elijah and Moses appeared and were talking with Jesus. Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He said this because he didn’t know how to respond, for the three of them were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice spoke from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.[7] → This is admittedly a weird moment in the gospels, right? Jesus goes up on a mountain with a few of his disciples to pray … and while they’re up on the mountain … and Jesus starts glowing brighter than those annoying LED headlights … and Moses and Elijah show up … and clouds roll in … and then out of the clouds comes the voice of God affirming the most essential part of Jesus’ identity … and then it’s suddenly all gone again – Moses, Elijah, the clouds, the voice of God, even the glowing … and everything’s back to normal … but also, nothing will ever be “back to normal.”
    • Speaks to the changing and changeable nature of identity
      • Jesus outward appearance changing (even if just temporarily) to reflect his divine nature within
      • Jesus’ identity being outwardly affirmed by God
      • This is a moment of power and grandeur but also of holiness and blessing. It’s a little bit mystical. It’s a little bit unexplainable. It’s a little bit unbelievable. But think about the work that you have done in your life any time you’ve wanted to make a change. It could be interior work – work on your habits or your thought processes or your knowledge or your spirit. Or it could be exterior work – work on your environment or your body or your relationships. It’s work that is challenging. It’s work that takes time – that almost never produces immediate results. Very often, especially if the change is to a part of us that is rooted deep in our history or our habits, it is hard work but it is also holy work, especially if it’s work that someone else recognizes and affirms and validates from the outside looking in.
  • One element of today’s text that we skipped over = our call to identity as Christians – text: After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Human One will be ashamed of that person when he comes in the Father’s glory with the holy angels.”[8] → This is Jesus calling all who hear to a Christian identity above all else.
    • Lots of different elements and layers to our identities
      • Occupation
      • Relationships
      • Hobbies and habits
      • Personality traits (multitude of personality tests that are more than happy to help you further narrow down and define and express your identity)
      • And they all make up who we are. We are multifaceted people who live multifaceted lives. Those are the things that make us unique. Those are the things that make us special. Those are very often the elements in which we find purpose and value and mission in the world around us. But Jesus’ calling in this passage is clear: first and foremost, above all else, before all else, more important than all the rest: you are a follower of Christ.
        • Guides all the other parts of our identity
        • Informs all the other parts of our identity
        • Enlightens all the other parts of our identity
        • Enfolds all the other parts of our identity
        • And if there are other parts of our identity that clash with being a follower of Christ, we must choose. Jesus makes it quite clear that that’s not going to be an easy choice – that it’s not meant to be an easy choice. But it is our choice all the same. And so I ask you this morning: Who are you? Amen.

[1] Mk 8:27-29.

[2] Mk 8:29-30.

[3] “Secrecy” in The CEB Study Bible. (Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2013), 83 NT.

[4] Mk 8:31-33.

[5] Mk 8:32b.

[6] Mk 8:33.

[7] Mk 9:2-8.

[8] Mk 8:34-38.

Sunday’s sermon: Called to Hard Things

called to hard things

Text used – Mark 6:1-29

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • I grew up in a small town here in Minnesota. I grew up in a town that was fairly homogenously white. I grew up in a family that let me know I was loved and valued. I grew up running the halls and singing my favorite hymns in a church building that was happily and safely nestled among a dozen other Christian buildings in our town. The biggest sacrifice I had to make for my faith growing up was dragging my tired, teenage, out-too-late-the-night-before butt out of bed “early” on Sunday mornings to attend services … even earlier if it was a choir morning. A lot of my friends went to church. Some of them didn’t. But it was whatever. If you went, you went. If you didn’t, you didn’t. It wasn’t a big deal. Then, when I was in high school, I found this book on the shelves at Barnes and Noble. [HOLD UP Jesus Freaks: Martyrs by dcTalk[1]] This book tells the stories of people around the world and throughout history – from the early church all the way up to today – who have suffered for their faith.
    • Read “A Pirate from the House of Prayer”[2] → And believe me when I say this, friends, this is one of the tamer stories. Actually, it’s probably the tamest story in this book and the other book that followed.[3] These books were stark eye-openers for me. Intellectually, I knew what persecution was. I knew that it existed in the world. But that was where my knowledge ended. For me, faith was and always had been a comfort, an encouragement, a support, and a soft place to land – soft, easy, pleasant. And there’s no denying that sometimes – often, even! – that’s what our faith is for us. But our faith is also a call – a call to do and be and follow the Holy Spirit into the world. And sometimes, that call is anything but soft … easy … comfortable.
      • Scripture reading this morning take us into three places where those involved are called to hard things
  • First story finds Jesus himself called to a hard thing in what’s supposed to be a soft and easy place – his home
    • Text: Jesus left that place and came to his hometown. His disciples followed him. On the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard him were surprised.[4] → Let’s pause for a minute to remember where Jesus has been – where “that place” is that he’s just left.
      • Today’s passage comes right on the heels of what we read last week – Jesus healing the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and bringing Jairus’ daughter back from the dead → Those are some pretty miraculous exploits! I know he’s the Son of God and everything, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to imagine that those events had Jesus feeling pretty good! Feeling So from the resurrection bed of Jairus’ daughter, Jesus heads back home and starts teaching in his home synagogue.
        • My first opportunities to teach and preach were in my home church → first time: summer after my freshman year in college and once every summer after that
          • Surrounded by people who loved me and were excited to explore this new journey with me
          • Experience that was welcoming, encouraging, uplifting, and affirming of my gifts for ministry
      • But that’s not exactly the experience that Jesus had. – text: Many who heard him were surprised. “Where did this man get all this? What’s this wisdom he’s been given? What about the powerful acts accomplished through him? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” They were repulsed by him and fell into sin.[5] → From the spiritual and emotional high of raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead … to being doubted and scorned and rejected in his own hometown. Reading this passage, I have to wonder if Jesus knew this was coming. Very often, the gospels make it clear that Jesus is aware of the outcome before it happens, but I wonder if this was one of those times. Or if this was a time when Jesus was utterly taken aback – when he expected welcome and support and instead received ridicule and disapproval.
        • Gr. “they were repulsed by him and fell into sin” = really complex word (yup … just one word for the majority of that phrase!): connotations of falling away, being led into sin, taking offense, being angered or shocked, something scandalizing → Surely, this was not the next step that Jesus wanted to take in his ministry – causing people to fall away … to be led into sin.
          • See a hint of this at the very end of this section in Jesus’ response – text: He was unable to do any miracles there, expect that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. He was appalled by their disbelief.[6]
            • Gr. “appalled” = wondered, marveled at, be astonished (element of surprise and the unexpected) → Clearly Jesus didn’t expect this response.
    • No doubt that Jesus is called (Son of God, and all that) → And Jesus knew that parts of this calling would be difficult, of course. But did he expect this to be one of those times? Or was this one of those times when he was called to something and expected one response and received something wholly different.
      • Times like that in our lives and our calls: affirmed that we are called to something – a position, an action, a stance, an opportunity – and we think it’s going to be good (positive, encouraging, healthy, nurturing) and it ends up being far from those things (challenging, contentious, stressful, and draining) → That doesn’t mean we weren’t still called to do that thing. But it also reminds us that all the things to which we are called aren’t necessarily easy. It reminds us that we are indeed called to hard things, sometimes unexpectedly hard things.
  • See the flip side in our next part of our reading this morning → Jesus sending the 12 disciples out to work on their own for a bit
    • First part of the text: Then Jesus traveled through the surrounding villages teaching. He called for the Twelve and sent them off in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits.[7] → So here we have the disciples being sent out by Jesus on some mission trips, right? And he’s being generous in that he’s sending them off together, he’s sending them off in pairs. But as he sends them off, Jesus makes it clear to the disciples that this mission trip will not be all fun and games and adoration and glory. Right up front, the disciples know that they are being called to a hard thing here.
      • 1st sign: they are to take nothing with them – text: He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick – no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts. He told them to wear sandals but not to put on two shirts.[8] → Clearly, this is not going to be an easy trip. They are to take nothing with them but their faith and their companionship with each other. No security. No luxuries. Nothing to make their road more leisurely or assured. They are to rely on faith alone – their own faith and the faith of others.
      • Leads to 2nd sign: they are to depend entirely on the hospitality of others – text: He said, “Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. If a place doesn’t welcome you or listen to you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.”[9] → I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but the introvert in me is positively screaming at the thought of this! This is so far outside of “comfort zone” that I can’t even see a glimpse of the edges of that comfort zone. And yet this is what Jesus called the disciples to do.
        • Cannot help but hear ringing of calls to overseas mission in this – reminded of Luke and Andrea and their call to Nepal
          • Nepal = not going to be an easy transition
            • Different language (different alphabet!)
            • Maybe not the safest country in the world
            • Not the most luxurious country in the world
            • Predominantly Buddhist and Muslim
          • But I kept hearing the way Andrea described their call [READ ANDREA’S DESCRIPTION] → Indeed, friends, sometimes we are called to do hard things – things that we know from the get-go are going to be hard, hard, hard. Uncomfortable. Unfamiliar. Uncertain. Maybe even unsupported. But that does not mean that there is not abundant blessing and hope and transformation to be found in the midst of those hard things.
  • Last part of today’s text = example of the hardest thing of all: martyrdom → recounting of the story of the beheading of John the Baptist
    • Remember John’s call from before he was even born
      • Miraculous birth to Elizabeth and Zechariah who were old and had long since given up on having children
      • Angel Gabriel to before John was born: “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes. He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”[10] → mighty and lofty call
      • John certainly lived out that call – Mt: In those days John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judean announcing, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” He was the one of whom Isaiah the prophet spoke when he said: The voice of one shouting in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.” John wore clothes of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and all around the Jordan River came to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.[11]
      • And yet in service to that call – in staying true and faithful and obedient to that call – John made plenty of people uncomfortable and irritated … including, unfortunately, King Herod and his wife. – today’s text: Herod himself had arranged to have John arrested and put in prison because of Herodias, the wife of Herod’s brother Philip. Herod had married her, but John told Herod, “It’s against the law for you to marry your brother’s wife!” So Herodias had it in for John.[12]
        • Herodias bides her time
        • King Herod is having a birthday party à his daughter (also confusingly named Herodias) dances and so pleases her father that he tells her she can have whatever she wants
        • Herodias (daughter) run to her mother (Herodias) and says, “What should I ask for?”
        • Herodias (mother) sees her chance: “John the Baptist’s head,” Herodias replied. Hurrying back to the ruler, she made her request: “I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head on a plate, right this minute.”[13] → And it was done. King Herod had John beheaded because John had called out truth and the abuse of power and propriety where he saw it.
  • Friends, as Christians, we are called to speak and live out God’s word in this world. Very often, that word is love and hope and compassion, but sometimes, especially when that word of love and hope and compassion is for those on the margins … those on the outside … those deemed “too different, too useless, too worthless, too lost, too Other,” God’s word makes other people uncomfortable. It is a convicting word. It is a word that brings light to dark places, places that other people would prefer stay hidden. And that is indeed a hard call to live into. It takes courage. It takes conviction. It takes a bold and undeniable leap of faith. But it cannot be denied, friends, that we are called to hard things. It is our blessing. It is our challenge. But it is our call. Amen.

[1] dcTalk and The Voice of the Martyrs. Jesus Freaks: Martyrs – Stories of Those Who Stood for Jesus, the Ultimate Jesus Freaks. (Tulsa, OK: Albury Press), 1999.

[2] dcTalk, 84-87.

[3] dcTalk and The Voice of the Martyrs. Jesus Freaks, vol. II: Stories of Revolutionaries Who Changed Their World Fearing God, Not Man. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers), 2002.

[4] Mk 6:1-2b.

[5] Mk 6:2b-3.

[6] Mk 6:5-6a.

[7] Mk 6:6b

[8] Mk 6:8-9.

[9] Mk 6:10-11.

[10] Lk 1:13-17.

[11] Mt 3:1-6.

[12] Mk 6:17-19a.

[13] Mk 6:24b-25.

Service for Healing and Wholeness

James healing

Text used – Mark 5:21-34

This Sunday, we held our annual meeting which, at the Presbyterian Church of Oronoco, is something that happens in the midst of our service. We do a little business, then read Scripture. We do a little more business, then share our prayers and take our offering. We do a little more business, then celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. In addition to the business and communion yesterday, we also ordained and installed two ruling elders and two deacons for a new term of service. All said, it was an incredibly full worship service! 

We’ve been following the Narrative Lectionary as a congregation since September, and the Scripture reading assigned for this Sunday was the above passage from Mark’s gospel – the story of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter and the story of the hemorrhagic woman. They’re both stories of miraculous, life-changing healing. And as a congregation, we’ve had a lot of people dealing with a lot of things … a lot of life situations that could use some healing and prayers. So instead of a sermon in the midst of our super full service, we took a short time for healing and wholeness. 

So here’s what we did ………………………………

Reading: We began with a reading from Kate Bowler‘s Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved (pp. 121-122, 123):

“At a time when I should have felt abandoned by God, I was not reduced to ashes. I felt like I was floating, floating on the love and prayers of all those who hummed around me like worker bees, bringing notes and flowers and warm socks and quilts embroidered with words of encouragement. They came like priests and mirrored back to me the face of Jesus.

When they sat beside me, my hand in their hands, my own suffering began to feel like it had revealed to me the suffering of others, a world of those who, like me, are stumbling in the debris of dreams they thought they were entitled to and plans they didn’t realize they had made.

That feeling stayed with me for months. In fact, I had grown so accustomed to that floating feeling that I started to panic at the prospect of losing it. So I began to ask friends, theologians, historians, pastors I knew, and nuns I liked, What am I going to do when it’s gone? And they knew exactly what I meant because they had either felt it themselves or read about it in great works of Christian theology. St. Augustine called it ‘the sweetness.’ Thomas Aquinas called it something mystical like ‘the prophetic light.’ But all said yes, it will go. The feelings will go. The sense of God’s presence will go. There will be no lasting proof that God exists. There will be no formula for how to get it back.

But they offered me this small bit of certainty, and I clung to it. When the feelings recede like the tides, they said, they will leave an imprint. I would somehow be marked by the presence of an unbidden God.

It is not proof of anything. And it is nothing to boast about. It was simply a gift. …

Joy persists somehow and I soak it in. … I think the same thoughts again and again: Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.”

Remember, friends, that you have the power to be that for those you encounter: an imprint of God’s love, of God’s grace, of God’s compassion and hope. That is the joy of our faith. That is the responsibility of our faith. That is the blessing of our faith.

AnointingI invited all those who wanted to to come forward for an anointing.

anointing oil

As I made the sign of the cross on people’s foreheads with oil:
For healing,
for wholeness.

Then I placed my hand on people’s head:
Christ, have mercy.

Sending Out Our PrayersIn each bulletin, we included a “thinking of you” greeting card and envelope. Some had a simple message inside. Some were blank. As people were either waiting to come up for their anointing, waiting in their pews after they had been anointed, or waited in their pews while others were being anointed (for those who chose not to come forward), I encouraged people to fill out their cards for someone in their lives who needed healing – healing of body, healing of mind, healing of spirit, or healing of relationships. It could be someone in the pew next to them. It could be someone else in the congregation. It could be someone else in their lives, near or far.

While people were coming forward for the anointing or sitting in their pews filling out their cards, we played Laren Daigle‘s “You Say.”

Finally, we closed with a beautiful, beloved hymn of healing:

Wherever you find yourself in life right now – be it in need of healing and wholeness yourself or praying for the healing and wholeness of someone you love, may you find comfort and peace, reassurance and hope in the arms of a God who has known suffering, known sorrow, known pain, and through it all, known love above love. Alleluia. Amen.