Mark 5:6-13

October 11, 2019

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.

Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. Mark 5:6-13

Even from a distance, both men recognized what they saw. The tormented man amazingly saw Jesus for who he was, the Son of God, but he was afraid that Jesus would make things worse, “do not torment me.” And Jesus, clearly seeing the man’s distress, offered both diagnosis and treatment in a single sentence, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”

There are two more surprises.

The first is Jesus speaking, not so much with the newly healed man but with the unclean spirits that have controlled him. The spirits – which are many – the guy obviously has a lot of problems – beg Jesus for mercy. How weird is that?

And then Jesus obeys the unclean spirits – very strange – and sends them into a huge herd of pigs. Who then rush into the lake and drown.

Certainly, this is a story of a miraculous healing. It is a story of the compassion that Jesus shows to those who suffer. But then there are all these little details that would be so easy for us to miss. The evil spirits recognize Jesus when the religious leaders don’t. This all happens across the sea, in foreign, Gentile, territory. Only Gentiles would have anything to do with pigs. And a herd of 2000 pigs approaches farming on an industrial scale. Almost lost in all of this is a dazed man who has been returned to his right mind. What do we do with all of this?

Some – certainly not all – mental illness and mental stress is a maladaptive response to trauma and shame. It begins as a barrier of protection against pain. Then it takes on a life of its own. Like the old line about alcoholism: First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man. The man first sees Jesus as a threat, not unlike a person suffering from bipolar mental illness in a manic state, or an addict in their disease, might resist treatment.

But none of that stops Jesus. He comes with love, responds with compassion, and gives a suffering man new life. Because that is what Jesus does.

Then there are those pigs. The story doesn’t end well for them, not to mention their owners. There is a cost involved in the cure of the man in the tombs. We will see how the locals react to that next week.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, it is strange how resistant we can be to those things in life designed to help us. We like sugar more than vegetables. We resist doing what is helpful because of our fear that it will be worse than what we have come to know as normal. We need you to move us toward healing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Advertisements

Mark 5:1-5

October 10, 2019

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. Mark 5:1-5

He must have an unclean spirit. How else do we explain it? Look at the things he does. He is out of control. He is a danger to himself and to others. Just think of the children! We need to get him out of town. Let’s chain him out among the tombs where no one else wants to go. Out of sight. Out of mind. Problem solved.

In their desire for their own safety, they didn’t stop to think about his safety. He was a danger. Especially to himself. Can you see his suffering? Can you feel his shame?

Some people read this text and they think about the various homeless characters they see asking for money at street corners. Or pushing shopping carts filled with treasures down sidewalks. Or camped out under bridges. I see my extended family. I see my mom. My aunt. My sister. My son. My daughter. Me.

We have come a long way in destigmatizing some forms of sickness. But others? Other forms still carry, in addition to the suffering of the illness, the added weight of cultural shame. There is no shame to many forms of cancer – except those people think they can trace back to “lifestyle choices.” No shame in diabetes – except when the person suffering from wounds that won’t heal is seriously overweight. It isn’t fair and it isn’t helpful but it’s there.

Sadly, there is no mental illness or addictive illness without shame. But there are many voices trying to turn that around.

Today is World Mental Health Day. This is an opportunity to lift up the real suffering that real people experience because their illness happens to involve chemicals in their brains and maladaptive responses to survive. I am grateful to know that many voices are being heard in the face of the terrifying statistics around suicide, overdoses, and the increasing dangers of new substances that change the way that people feel.

Can you see the man among the tombs? Can you see his scars and open wounds? Can you hear his cries? Jesus did.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, your children are suffering. They need help. They need care. They need treatment and ongoing support. We pray today that you work through the skills of mental health care providers to bring hope and recovery to those who suffer. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 4:34-41

October 9, 2019

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.

A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:34-41

We know what the disciples were thinking….

’Why are you afraid?’ Are you serious? I’ve been on this lake my whole life and I have NEVER seen a storm like this one! I thought the boat was going down! I thought we would have to swim for it! I’m a pretty good swimmer but get serious, in THESE waves? Pardon my French, Jesus, but are you CRAZY!?”

“Besides all that, while we were bailing water like madmen what were you doing? SLEEPING in the back of the boat! You weren’t even helping us. We were going down and you didn’t even care!!!! ‘Why are you afraid’ you ask? Give me a break. I thought I was done for!!!”

When you live in Houston, you just sort of resign yourself to flooding. Hurricanes happen. Sometimes your part of town is spared. Other times it floods where it has never flooded before. You just never know. But you always know. The floods are going to come.

The wheels of the economy spinning backwards. The diagnosis you feared the most. The tragic accident and the late night phone call or knock at your door. Sometimes the winds blow and sometimes it’s a tornado.

When we find ourselves in those dark moments of life – and we are people of faith – we discover that faith doesn’t insulate us against the storms. Devotion shifts to desperation with disappointment just around the corner. We ask the age-old questions. Why me? Why them? Why now? Like the disciples in that boat, as we bail with all our might, we wonder if God cares.

Maybe we remember this story. How Jesus stopped the windstorm with a word. Then we look back at our life and we remember the times when it felt like the winds were stopped. And we wonder. Will there be a miracle this time? Or will this be it? Will the wind win this time?

Maybe the thing to remember in this story is that there were other boats on the lake that same night. The story said “other boats were with him.” It is just a little detail. But it does remind us that the disciples weren’t as alone as they might have thought. The story assures us that God does care. And that God is stronger than the wind.

We aren’t as alone as we think. God does care. God is stronger than the wind.

God does care. God is stronger than the wind.

God is stronger than the wind.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, when the winds blow in our lives, when we speak the fear that captures our hearts, when you seem so far away, bring this story back to us. Remind us that you are in the boat with us. That we are not alone. That you are stronger than the wind. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 4:34-41

October 9, 2019

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.

A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:34-41

We have a pretty good idea what the disciples were thinking….

’Why are you afraid?’ Are you serious? I’ve been on this lake my whole life and I have NEVER seen a storm like this one! I thought the boat was going down! I thought we would have to swim for it! I’m a pretty good swimmer but get serious, in THESE waves? Pardon my French, Jesus, but are you CRAZY!?”

“Besides all that, while we were bailing water like madmen what were you doing? SLEEPING in the back of the boat! You weren’t even helping us. We were going down and you didn’t even care!!!! ‘Why are you afraid’ you ask? Give me a break. I thought I was done for!!!”

When you live in Houston, you just sort of resign yourself to flooding. Hurricanes happen. Sometimes your part of town is spared. Other times it floods where it has never flooded before. You just never know. But you always know. The floods are going to come.

The wheels of the economy spinning backwards. The diagnosis you feared the most. The tragic accident and the late night phone call or knock at your door. Sometimes the winds blow and sometimes it’s a tornado.

When we find ourselves in those dark moments of life – and we are people of faith – we discover that faith doesn’t insulate us against the storms. Devotion shifts to desperation with disappointment just around the corner. We ask the age-old questions. Why me? Why them? Why now? Like the disciples in that boat, as we bail with all our might, we wonder if God cares.

Maybe we remember this story. How Jesus stopped the windstorm with a word. Then we look back at our life and we remember the times when it felt like the winds were stopped. And we wonder. Will there be a miracle this time? Or will this be it? Will the wind win this time?

Maybe the thing to remember in this story is that there were other boats on the lake that same night. The story said “other boats were with him.” It is just a little detail. But it does remind us that the disciples weren’t as alone as they might have thought. The story assures us that God does care. And that God is stronger than the wind.

We aren’t as alone as we think. God does care. God is stronger than the wind.

God does care. God is stronger than the wind.

God is stronger than the wind.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, when the winds blow in our lives, when we speak the fear that captures our hearts, when you seem so far away, bring this story back to us. Remind us that you are in the boat with us. That we are not alone. That you are stronger than the wind. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 4:30-33

October 8, 2019

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.” Mark 4:30-33

I really appreciate the words “as they were able to hear it” because that fairly well describes the journey of my life. It is connected, for me, to that other famous line that I recently talked about, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” I think that is the way life works.

No one can be expected to do math until they come to understand the concept of a number. No one can find their way around a town they have never visited unless they have some sort of map or guide. That is just common sense.

How do we learn? We learn through a combination of experience and guidance. We need others to help us along the way. As they help us, and as we gain the experiences of our lives, our inborn talents and interests and curiosities emerge. We find our path. Hopefully, we keep on learning throughout our life. I would love to die still curious.

As I find myself thinking and writing about the word “faith”, I realize that that word has taken on a whole new range of meanings for me that I didn’t use to consider. I say “innocently” because I really was innocent when I used to think that faith was a thing that I could have more or less of. I thought I needed enough of it to please God. If I didn’t have enough of it, I would be in trouble. Like Peter sinking beneath the waves.

Honestly, it was the Bible that contributed to this way of thinking. Jesus says I need faith like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds. That tells me, that when it comes to the thing of faith all I need is a little bit. Like Brylcreem—A Little Dab’ll Do Ya! But then Hebrews 11:6 pops up and says that “without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” How do you have a little dab of that?

Think about that hard enough and you enter the eternal spin cycle of shame and confusion. Faith becomes one more thing to be compared in a culture that tells us that bigger and more is always better than smaller and less. One more performance to be measured and evaluated and judged and graded.

So how has my thinking been evolving? I realize that I have far too often equated faith with certainty rather than seeing them as polar opposites in constant creative tension. Faith is more about conversation than conclusion, more like a dance than a doctrine. Faith is more a way of being and a way of seeing life.

Faith thus requires both life experience and guidance. It both creates and depends on relationships to flourish. Faith opens life to us because it takes us beyond what we know to the good news that we are known. And so is everyone else. And we need one another to discover that together.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, open our hearts and minds to the reality of your presence and the guidance of your Spirit. Bring us to a new awareness of our part in your kingdom and help us trust that your purposes will be worked out in the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

October 3, 2019

He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29

When you live in a big city, and you don’t have the room or the inclination to garden, you don’t spend much time thinking about seeds. Except when you are in school and they make you do the bean project. The bean project is a rite of passage for young people.

Remember how it worked? Your science teacher gave you a small bag of beans and a set of instructions. You were to plant them in little numbered boxes or cups and then experiment with them. Some got more light, some less. Some got more water, some less. Some you watered with Coke or something else. You measured their growth and you wrote a report and you were done and moved on.

You might not even have noticed the wonder of it all. How could it be that that seed held all that it needed – short of water and sunlight – to become a plant? And not just any plant. A plant that could someday produce seeds of its own. Even after your science teacher explained the math of how it all happened, it was still a miracle.

It is interesting how non-specific Jesus is when he is teaching about the kingdom of God. Truly, that is his main thing. From the very beginning, chapter 1, Jesus announced that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” You don’t have to know anything about kingdoms to sense how strange it is for him to use those words.

In the real world, kingdoms don’t move. They might expand as the king conquered more territory but other than that, kingdoms are places you go to, they aren’t things that come to you. So how strange that Jesus says that the kingdom of God “has come near”? There is something mysterious about that. He must be talking about a different sort of kingdom.

But actually he isn’t. Because, when you drill down through the layers of what a kingdom really is, you can finally only land on the word “relationship.” The relationship between the king and the king’s subjects and all that that means. Other words come to mind like power, privilege, loyalty, subservience, protection, identity. You don’t need land, a castle, or a crown to have that. They’re nice. They’re handy. But they aren’t the heart of the matter.

So the only way to understand how Jesus portrays the kingdom of God “coming near” is to realize that it is only coming near now in Jesus himself. He is the physical embodiment of God’s reign in the world. Thus to trust Jesus, to believe in Jesus, is to realize that God is our true king and all earthly kingdoms are of a wholly different nature than God’s kingdom.

Earthly kingdoms are not modeled on God’s kingdom – earthly kingdoms are in competition with God’s kingdom for the hearts and minds of God’s people. Caesar can take my taxes but Caesar has no rightful claim on my heart. Caesar only gets my heart if I give it to him – and I’m not going to do that.

God’s kingdom is subversive but not violent. It is not coerced or forced or even enforced on anyone. It just IS and it is the only universal, all-inclusive, kingdom there is. Which makes it both as powerful, and as mysterious, as bean plants sprouting in little boxes. Even if you feed it Coke. As long as it gets enough sunshine because it is only darkness that will certainly kill a seed.

Let us pray: Lord, reign in our lives. Reign in our lives with truth, justice, compassion, and love. Thank you for the mystery of your love which has been planted, and is now carefully tended, in our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 4:21-25

October 2, 2019

He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” Mark 4:21-25

This is a rather cryptic passage, isn’t it? I’ve thought about it for a couple of days and I’m still not sure what to do with it. What is this lamp thing? What is it revealing? What is hidden? What is secret that needs to come to light?

“The measure you give will be the measure you get”? What’s that about? What is the “still more” you will get? What do those who “have” have? And what is it that they will get more of? How can you take nothing away from those who have nothing?

I don’t know what to call this except a very cryptic passage. It is like verbal tofu – it is a way of communicating that leaves a series of holes just waiting to be filled in by the listeners…if they have ears to hear.

Traditionally we have thought of the light as the teachings of Jesus and Jesus’ call for us to love God and love neighbor. Just about anyone who has ever had anything to do with Sunday School can hear the voices of children singing….”This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine… Hide it under a bushel, NO!…”

Whenever we baptize someone, we give them a candle with the words from Matthew, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

We get that. It makes sense to us. What doesn’t make sense is the secretive thing. The hidden thing. What is that about?

Here is where we need to remember the context in which Mark wrote. From the very beginning of his gospel, Mark contrasts Jesus with Caesar, Jesus within the milieu of the Roman empire. Seeing this helps us see that we always have to add – to love the teachings of Jesus and Jesus’ call to love our neighbor MORE than we might love Caesar and Caesar’s teachings and ways of doing life. That is dangerous. THAT is subversive. THAT could get a guy killed!

This also calls to mind the “messianic secret” the appears again and again in Mark. Everything will find its meaning in the resurrection of Jesus. His identity and power, now secret and hidden, will be fully revealed when the grave is found empty.

As for the “measure” business? William Shakespeare’s take in Measure for Measure had to do with restorative justice. Angelo, the deputy to the Duke of Vienna, takes a very public hard line against immorality which results in imprisoning a man who got his fiancé pregnant. Then he secretly abuses his power by coercing the sister of a prisoner to sleep with him after she pleads for mercy and the release of her brother. She threatens to expose his hypocrisy but he tells her that no one will believe her because he is powerful and she is nothing. In the end, everything is exposed.

Maybe the meaning of “the measure you give will be the measure you get” is something along the lines of “you will get what you have coming to you.” Or, as Dr. King often said, “The universe bends toward justice.”

Let us pray: Lord, as painful and as difficult as it can be, we pray for your light to shine wherever it needs to in order to bring us to conscious awareness of injustice and the destructive, even if seductive, power of sin. Let that light shine in and through us, that we might follow you even if against the grain of those who would follow Caesar instead. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 4:13-20

September 30, 2019

And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.

And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.

And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing.

And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” Mark 4:13-20

Jesus taught like the favorite teachers you had while growing up. The kind of teacher you loved, not just because of what he or she said, but how he or she said it. Fun teachers wouldn’t refer to someone who didn’t like to waste their money as “thrifty”, they would say the person is “tighter than Dick’s hat band.” You might not know what a hat band is, certainly not who Dick is, but you’d catch the meaning and you would laugh.

Or maybe you wouldn’t have much of a sense of humor. You would miss the point and ask a friend, “I don’t get it. What is a hat band?” Something would get lost in translation. The point would lose the punch. The response to the explanation might be “Oh. I still don’t get it.”

Using words to paint pictures is the art of communication. Sometimes Jesus taught – like here with the sower and the seeds parable – using allegory where the words used are symbols carrying a different or deeper meaning. The meaning emerges in the interpretation.

I never knew, for example, while watching “The Wizard of Oz” that it was a satirical take on various political issues like the argument between the gold or silver standards for money. Once you start playing with interpretations you realize the depth of the original allegory. The fun, the power, and the danger, come in the interpretation.

We could, for example, play with what Jesus (or Mark) means using the word “word.” Someone could say that “word means ‘Jesus himself’ like it will be later used at the beginning of the gospel of John.” Another could say it means “the message that Jesus teaches as summarized in the beginning of Mark, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” And that might lead still someone else to see the political implications of Jesus’ message – how the good news that Jesus brings differs from the good news that Caesar brings.

See what happens when a story starts to cook in the conversations about it?

However we understand “word”, it is clear from the parable that Jesus is comparing it not only to a seed but to what happens when that seed lands. The seed itself – like any of our interpretations of “word” – is a bundle of potential. Where it lands leads to what happens next.

We could, as I did in my earliest years, turn this parable back onto itself and start categorizing people based on how they respond to Jesus. I remember feeling very guilty about being rocky ground, knowing full well that I really ought to try much harder to be good soil. As if “soil” had the moral agency to change itself or as if seeds had the ability to escape the bird that snatches it before it has time to germinate.

Now I’m older and I’m much more comfortable with the mystery of how we are all the types of soil at the same time and the real surprise is always that any seed finds that soil which yields an abundant harvest.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank you for bringing meaning into our lives in ways which engage us, make us think, guide us to wonder, invite us to play. We confess those times when we are resistant, superficial, or distracted, and we thank you for those moments when we glimpse you at work in the depths of who you have created us to be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 4:10-12

September 26, 2019

When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’” Mark 4:10-12

I’ve never been in a club with a secret handshake. Frat life for me in college was playing on the basketball team. I was a Cub Scout washout. We didn’t have gangs in North Dakota…we had cliques. There was nothing secretive about them….they were just selective.

Sometimes the church feels like that kind of secret society clique but it really isn’t. Most congregations will take anybody. Maybe some are so close to death that they might actually invite someone new to come someday. We can wish, can’t we?

But there was a time when there were very few Jesus followers in the world. Experts in the first century church suggest (ignoring the numerical hyperbole of Acts) that there might have been as few as 5000 Christians in the entirely of the Roman Empire at the end of the 1st century. There were times of relative peace but there were also periods of significant persecution of the earliest Christians. Nero blamed the great fire in Rome on the Christians in 64 CE.

Mark was written in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans between 66-70 CE. That horribly dark time was quite likely the trigger that said, “We need to be writing some of this stuff down!”

Probably the greatest challenge in those early years came from within as commitment to Jesus usually met the painful breaking of ties with family and community. Christianity began as an internal family squabble within Judaism. The communal cracks that formed during and after the ministry of Jesus became much greater divisions after Jerusalem as sacked and the temple destroyed.

Mark was written in the midst of all of that. As I have shared before, the great “secret” theme that runs through Mark will be resolved at the end…in a very interesting way. For now, let’s not read any more into these verses than we need to. From the very beginning, some got it and some didn’t. Some believed and some didn’t. And even among those who believed, not all believed the same thing. Not much has really changed, has it?

In fact, Mark quotes from Isaiah 6:9-10 in the poetry about looking but not seeing, hearing but not understanding, and thus, not repenting or being forgiven. Then, as now, the great mystery is how some people get it, some people get it wrong, and some just don’t get it.

It always intellectually troubling to read passages like this. It seems counter to us when Jesus tells someone not to say anything to anyone or when Jesus makes it sound like he is purposely obscuring the truth lest it change anyone’s mind.

But there is also an inherent challenge when we read such verses. Mark writes in a way that gives us inside status. We join the disciples as Jesus challenges them. Jesus asks us, “Am I seeing? Am I understanding? Am I open-minded or am I shut down? Am I willing to be humble and surrender my life to God’s care and keeping – to repent and be forgiven – or am I content just to do my own thing, go my own way?”

Let us pray: Lord, sometimes it feels like we just don’t get it. We confuse faith with certainty and we run rather than wrestle. There are times when are heads are confused and our hearts are hard. Forgive us. Renew us. Direct us. Use us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 4:1-9

September 26, 2019

Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:

“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”

And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” Mark 4:1-9

This probably has nothing to do with this text but I’m going to write it anyway. Just now, as I sat at my keyboard, my imagination swirling with memories stirred up by this parable, for the very first time in my entire life, I noticed that the “F” key and the “J” key on my keyboard each have tiny little raised up bars on them. I have never noticed that before. Ever. Weird.

I type a lot. Every day. And I have for years. Thanks to the North Dakota State Board of Education, typing was a required class when I was in high school. It was the only real world skill I developed in high school that continues to be a blessing in my life today. I can type pretty fast. Without looking at the keys. Just today I noticed these little bars on the “home base” keys where my index fingers go.

Why have I never noticed that before?

Now that I’ve noticed them, I’ll never forget them. I’ll actually be grateful for them because they are what help me get my fingers in the right places to type. Why haven’t I noticed them before? I don’t know. It is a mystery. Maybe it was just my time.

Jesus says “Listen!” and I remember every coach I have ever had preparing to tell the team something important, “Listen up you guys!” I want to hear what he has to say.

I remember a drunken old farmer outside of Mooreton, North Dakota, who used to plant the most crooked rows of crops in the county. My mom’s boyfriend was a farmer. I remember a Sunday afternoon drive when he took up past one of Howard’s fields and laughed about it.

Careless planting offends the sensibilities of North Dakota farmers. And the sower in this story is certainly a careless planter. He just scatters his seeds to the wind. He just throws them out there rather than carefully planting them in the good soil.

Why is it that some people have excellent hearing and can’t hear a thing?

This parable of the sower and the seeds was a popular text at the Bible camp I worked at in college and seminary. The director used it in teaching us to love all the kids, even when it seemed like we weren’t reaching anyone, because you just never know how the Holy Spirit will cook inside of them. Along with typing in high school, this was probably the most helpful advice I received to prepare me for my vocation as a pastor.

“When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

Today was my day to discover the home key ridges on my keyboard. I can’t explain it. I don’t know why I have never noticed those little ridges before. I don’t know why God grabbed me by the neck and dumped a load of faith into my life. I also don’t know why I keep having those moments when the faith just doesn’t land in me. Those times I forget.

You, my reader, are a precious child of the Creator of the universe. You are a one off work of art. The world is incomplete without you. God loves you and continues to work out God’s purposes in your life. God will use you today to bless the world. That is the good news of the kingdom. That is the seed planted in your soul as you read these words.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Let us pray: in the mystery of our lives, O Lord, you move like the wind. Sometimes a gentle wind. Sometimes a fierce gale. We are grateful for the seeds of faith that you continue to cast within and among us. May they take root and grow. In Jesus’ name. Amen.