Archive for January, 2012

Friday, January 27th. Mark 4:1-9

January 27, 2012

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. 2 He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 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. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”  Mark 4:1-9

 

In life, in ministry, in relationships, in business – it is very easy to get discouraged.  We might want what we want but far more often we get what we get and they aren’t always the same thing.

 

This parable names our discouragement.  Whether we insert ourselves as the soil, the seed or the sower, what we usually hope for – an abundant harvest – seems a hit or miss proposition.

 

Our inclination is to focus only on the seed falling into good soil and notice that its abundant harvest more than makes up for the seeds that are lost, burned or choked.

 

Far better would be to focus on the crazy sower.

 

In Jesus’ explanation of the parable to the disciples, the sower is God, the seed is the Word of God, and the soils are examples of the ways that the Word does, or doesn’t, sink deeply into us so as to bear fruit.  Again, we hear this, immediately are tempted to judge ourselves, often harshly, and the result is discouragement.

 

I don’t know if it is a midwestern Norwegian thing or a character flaw but I can receive 99 great compliments and one slight complaint and it will be the complaint that rings in my ears for days.  I read this parable and my mind can’t get past the poor soils because I know something about being lost, burned and choked.

 

The only solution is to focus on the crazy sower.

 

God doesn’t quit.  As crazy as it seems to scatter perfectly good seed on driveways, weed beds or the cracked soil of a Texas drought, God keeps scattering that seed.  In the face of tempation, difficulty, discouragement, exhaustion, rejection, and hunger, the seed keeps coming.

 

I hear again of the relentless love, I notice that the sun has risen for yet another day, and my ears perk up.  May we both hear and listen.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, keep sending your Word our way.  May it work itself deeply into our imaginations, may it guide our wills, may it instruct us in our path.  Don’t give up on us.  Encourage us to keep on keeping on.  Encourage us as we join you in sowing love, that it might bear the fruit of transformed and blossoming lives.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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Thursday, January 26th. Mark 3:31-35

January 26, 2012

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  Mark 3:31-35

 

I once asked a rabbi – not to be rude but I was genuinely interested in learning the answer – “How do you explain, in the first chapter of Genesis, the plural form for God when God says ‘Let us make humankind in our image.’?”

 

“Well,” he said with amazing honesty, “that one is a little tricky for us.”

 

Thus far I haven’t taken the opportunity to ask a Roman Catholic brother – one who believes and teaches the perpetual virginity of Mary – “How it is that Mark refers to ‘your mother and your brothers and sisters’ in this text?”

 

Given that my Lutheran heritage has no reason to put Mary on a pedestal any higher than the one God placed her on in choosing her to give birth to Jesus, I think that an unbiblical idea like the perpetual virginity of Mary defies common sense.  Although it isn’t a chief article of the faith, it makes sense to me that, following the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph went on to have other children and to enjoy a long life with each other, their children and their grandchildren.

 

Does it make a difference whether or not Jesus had biological siblings?  It depends on who you ask.

 

It clearly made a difference in the first century.  Tradition says that Jesus himself appointed his brother James to be the first bishop of Jerusalem.  There remains some divide among the Christian cousins just what that meant, and what implications for the future, but that hasn’t proven significant over the long haul. Unlike Islam, still bitterly divided over Mohammed’s succession plan, biological primacy hasn’t been much of an issue.

 

Although other questions around primacy have caused deep divisions, it seems that, in Christianity, water is thicker than blood.

 

Our biological families are clearly important to us.  We share deep bonds, a common history, a common gene pool.  But there comes a time when we leave home.  As we move through life, our “families of choice” often become the people we spend most of our lives with.  This doesn’t take anything away from our birth families, it simply acknowledges the reality of life.

 

Jesus is not discounting his family of origin as he says to those gathered around him, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  But Jesus IS expanding the meaning of family.

 

To some, this becomes a troublesome idea that requires ignoring or explaining away.  But to me it attacks the perpetual divide between insiders and outsiders, between us and them, and I believe such an attack lies at the heart of the message of Jesus.

 

We have one Father, thus we are one family.  Our Father’s will is that we act like it.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, thank you for the gift of baptism, for naming and claiming us as your children.  We pray that this be cause for meaning and purpose in our lives rather than giving us a false sense of privilege and position.  May we live according to your will, as brothers and sisters, for the good of the world.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 25th.

January 25, 2012

Then he went home; 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”  Mark 3:19-30

 

When was the last time you had an absolutely crazy idea that could only have come from God?

 

When was the last time that you have been considered or even told that you are crazy because the Spirit was burning a fire in your belly about something that seemed utterly ridiculous?

 

I long for those moments.  But when they come – and I’ve only had a couple of moments like that – an ecclesiastical rear end whipping is usually not far behind. 

 

There WILL be voices raised that point out your insanity.  There will be howls of protest from inside your own head (and perhaps one or two from the crowd) crying, “We’ve never done it that way before!”  “We don’t have the money.”  “It will never work.”  “We’re not ready for that.”  “Lutherans (fill in the blank with your anti-denomination of choice) don’t do things like that.”

 

But there will also be a still small voice.  Perhaps not a voice from God or maybe it is.  That voice will be crying, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me!”  That voice will say, “My son has a demon that dashes him into the fire, can you save him?”  Maybe the voice will say “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.”

 

Now, crazy though you might be, and crazier still that you might be accused of being, you will need to sort through the voices and ask yourself, “Which voice will I follow?  Where is God in this?”

 

Jesus, I think we can safely say, seldom loitered long on that question.  He responded to the cries for help, even hearing the blind guy at the edge of the crowd or noticing the small man up in the tree.  Because of that, people accused him of being crazy.

 

Oh, that we would be so crazy!

 

How can we hear this text without thinking of Abraham Lincoln.  Embroiled in the bloodiest war to be fought on American soil.  Blamed and criticized and watching his country being torn apart by the seams.  Knowing that he bore responsibility for leadership, Lincoln reached into his imagination for words that might bring healing into the divided devastation before him.  As he did, he came to these words of God etched into his soul.  “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

 

Oh, that we would be so crazy!

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, people accused you of being crazy.  We are so prone to play it safe, to keep our heads down, to protect ourselves, not realizing the good that we fail to do or the growth that we are missing out on.  So we pray that you inspire crazy ideas for good in the minds of your people and that you encourage them to take the risk to follow only the voices of those crying out for you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 24th. Mark 3:13-19

January 24, 2012

13 He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, 15 and to have authority to cast out demons. 16 So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.  Mark 3:13-19

 

Our ears perk up at the reference to the number twelve.  People into the symbolism of numbers think that twelve is a perfect number (3 as the Divine number multiplied by 4, the earthly elements.) Twelve signs in the Zodiac.  Twelve months in a year.

 

Twelve children born to Jacob.  (Actually thirteen but Dinah, being a girl and all, didn’t count.)  Twelve tribes of Israel.  Jesus first appearing in the temple at age twelve.  The book of Revelation reporting that 12×12 or 144,000 people of the twelve tribes would be saved at the end.

 

Certainly such thinking has something to do with Mark telling us that Jesus chose twelve men whom he appointed to be apostles.  Twelve men to be his disciples (students, apprentices), to be apostles (sent out ones), to live with him, to teach like him, to cast out demons like him. 

 

A fundamental belief for me is that Christianity is a team sport.  Christianity is a way of life designed to be lived with others, for the sake of still others.

 

From the very beginning, Jesus chose a core group of people who would then be able to multiply the work that Jesus wanted to be doing.  While the ancient symbolism of the number twelve is obviously going on here, of more significance to me is the groundwork that Jesus lays at the very beginning of his ministry that would have implications for Christianity on into the future.  Christianity is a team sport.

 

The twelve disciples become an entry point for us to enter the stories of Jesus.  Their questions become our questions.  Their doubts and fears are our doubts and fears.  Haven’t all of us wondered what it would have been like to listen to Jesus on a daily basis, to get to know him personally, to be an eye witness to the impact he had on people?

 

There are legends attached to most of the disciples but the truth is, we don’t know very much about them, about where they came from, about what ended up happening in their lives.  But is that really what is important about them?

 

Isn’t it enough for us to know that Jesus surrounded himself with friends – and set in course a faith that likewise invites us to surround ourselves with friends?  “Small group ministry” might be a churchy buzzword today but, from the very beginning, it was the foundational building block of the Jesus community.

 

Isn’t it enough to know that Jesus gave authority to others to do as he did?  And isn’t that in fact in the calling that we each receive in our baptism – we are called, claimed, picked and chosen to follow Jesus and represent him in the world?

 

Their names might be more famous – but only you have the opportunity to impact the people in your circles of influence.  You are every bit the disciple that they were.  The ball is now in your court – make sure you aren’t playing alone.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we remember the names of those closest to you and we thank you today for their lives, their witness, their willingness to follow and your grace in selecting them.  Thank you for numbering us among your people, for claiming us in baptism, and for setting before us opportunities to be useful to your cause in the world.  May we follow as you lead.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Monday, January 23rd. Mark 3:7-12

January 23, 2012

7 Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; 8 hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. 9 He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; 10 for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. 11 Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, “You are the Son of God!” 12 But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.  Mark 3:7-12

 

The temptation this morning is to read this text and see “Jesus the Rock Star”. 

 

For reasons unclear to most of us, the “cult of celebrity” is one of the more dubious contributions that our modern culture has produced.  Why crowds of photographers should clamor around as Paris Hilton stops for a donut on the way to the gym is absolutely beyond me.  I don’t care if I ever see a picture of Beyonce’s new baby and even if I had a chance to meet Justin Bieber in person I wouldn’t ask for his autograph.

 

But obviously many people do care or it wouldn’t be such a huge business.  Only in our modern age could the Kardashian clan be on TV. 

 

Let’s not get distracted by the idea that Jesus drew huge crowds because he had suddenly become the “A list hero of the day”.

 

Instead, let’s remember what drew people to him in the first place.  It was their gut wrenching pain.

 

It was a child with an unexplainable illness.  A child born before modern healthcare, who lost oxygen in the birth process or was twisted in the womb and born without a functional leg or arm.  It was the social stigma of an otherwise innocuous skin disease which cast a person outside of a normal life. 

 

It was the bone-crushing poverty of a peasant class which did little but work and saw only enough of their produce to barely sustain their lives.

 

It was the debilitating loss of spirit that came from licking the boots of their Roman occupiers with dimly fading memories of a time when there existed something ethereal but meaningful called “national pride”.

 

It wasn’t like people who walked to see Jesus didn’t have anything else to do.  It was simply that they had nowhere else to turn.

 

Let’s take a moment this morning to realize that Jesus attracted people who were hurting – and people who would soon be out to hurt him.  Jesus attracted such people because he gave them hope, he gave them help, he gave them healing.

 

Yesterday people gathered in worship in huge auditoriums and tiny country churches.  Let’s remember two things this morning.  All it takes is a gathering of two or three people for Jesus to be in the crowd.  And the purpose of our gathering remains to equip people for a life that doesn’t ignore the pain of the broken, the lost, the poor, the sick, and the hopeless.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, you are the hope of the hopeless, you are our Healer, our Helper.  You give voice to those without a voice.  You raise up an army of love for the sake of the world.  You have blessed us that we might be a blessing to others.  Give us eyes to see, a heart of compassion, and the will and ability to help others.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Friday, January 20th. Mark 3:1-6

January 20, 2012

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.Mark 3:1-6

 

For the past few years I have grown increasingly restless.  I think something happened when I turned 51.  I think my perspective has shifted.  When I was younger, I looked out 25 years into the future and dreamed about what could be.  It felt like I had a long time to get there.  Now I’m still looking 25 years into the future but I’m looking backwards from there.  I only had 25 more years to go and now the calendar has shifted to 2012 and now I only have 24 to do my part! 

 

Making the most of time has a new meaning for me.  I sense a new and deeper kind of urgency within me and that is dangerous for those around me who are content to move very slowly.  So it is that I am loving welcoming Mark back into my life as we reach into this new year of the common revised lectionary.  I am particularly appreciating Mark’s sense of urgency.

 

For Jesus, the Sabbath was an opportunity to do good in people’s lives.  For Jesus, any time was an opportunity to do good in people’s lives.  Once again Jesus enters a synagogue.  Once again, he isn’t alone.

 

A man is there with a withered hand and a heart full of hope.  Maybe he can help me!  The religious leaders, the Pharisees, and the Jewish political types, the Herodians, are there – both hoping to find cause to get rid of Jesus.

 

Jesus has hardly started his ministry and the powers that be are already lining up against him.  (I wonder if there is a connection there to the cast-out demon from the 1st chapter who so quickly recognized Jesus as a danger.)

 

Jesus knows what they are thinking and doesn’t let it bother him in the least.  The need of a hurting man is much more important to Jesus than the intentions of those out to hurt him.  “Come forward” says Jesus.  And then next thing you know, the man’s hand is a good as new.

 

STOP.  Imagine that!  His hand is good as new.  He has two hands to eat, to work, to pick up his children.  Two good hands.  Just take a moment and let that moment sink in.  We follow a Lord who notices the hurting, restores the broken, rescues the lost.  He has called us into this work – perhaps calling us first by restoring us when we ourselves were sorely broken.

 

Don’t let this little detail escape your notice. 

 

Jesus was angry at the hardness of heart of those who forgot what the Sabbath was all about.  May Jesus never be so angry at us for the same reason.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, heal us where we are broken.  Restore us where we have lost our usefulness.  Forgive us for misplacing our passion, for forgetting our purpose, for our own hardness of heart.  Use us as soldiers of love and healing in a world bent on destruction, violence, and tossing people aside.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, January 19th. Mark 2:23-28

January 19, 2012

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.  The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”  And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food?  He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.”  Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”  Mark 2:23-28

 

There are two sides to this scandalous sabbath seed stealing saga.

 

On one side, Jesus and his friends who are walking through grainfields on a sunny Sabbath when they see seeds ripe for the stealing.  (OK, enough on the alliteration).  So they pluck some heads of grain, roll them around in their hands, blow away the chaff, and pop the seeds into their mouths.

 

ANYONE who had ever had anything to do with raising and harvesting wheat has done the same thing.  It is irresistible.  You chew the seeds and it becomes kind of a nut and grain gum that gradually disappears and then you grab some more and you do it again.  Like eating sunflower seeds, it is always better to go through that whole ritual than to take a short cut and grab a handful of wheat already in the combine’s hopper.  The disciples were simply enjoying a sabbath snack. (sorry)

 

On the other side, the Pharisees were utterly appalled!  They were beside themselves with the sheer horror of the sight!  How could Jesus pretend to have anything to do with the hallowed faith of their fathers and allow such unmitigated repulsive behavior to happen right before his very eyes!  SOMETHING MUST BE DONE ABOUT SUCH IRREVERENT, IDOLATROUS, INCENDIARY BEHAVIOR!!

 

Quick aside – even walking on the Sabbath was considered suspect as it could be also considered a form of work.  What were the Pharisees doing out there in the grainfields within eyeshot of Jesus and his friends?

 

Easy answer – the Pharisees weren’t observing the Sabbath as a time for rest, for worship, for family, for making love, for eating well.  They were simply already making a case to get rid of Jesus.  Simple as that.  Their question was an attack, not an opening to a friendly theological conversation.

 

Now we see Jesus wielding the sword of truth right back in their faces.  He reminds them of the time David and his men ate consecrated holy bread because they were hungry. And then he drives the point home with the reminder that God created time for sabbath rest for the good of those God loved – not for the sake of instituting a religious ritual system by which certain people could exercise power and authority to keep others in their place.

 

Which, in a nutshell, is pretty much what the ministry of Jesus is all about and for which he was ultimately crucified.  The powerful aren’t really interested in setting the oppressed free.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, we are so quick to see the splinter in a neighbor’s eye and ignore the log in our own.  We are so quick to elevate our prejudices, our rituals, our sense of how things ought to be, that we run the risk of forgetting what they were about in the first place.  Forgive us.  Help us remember the godly good intended in our worship life and keep us mindful of those who have no food.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 18th. Mark 2:18-20

January 18, 2012

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”  Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.  The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.”

 

 “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”  Mark 2:18-22

 

“We’ve never done it that way before…”

 

Sometimes the church gets a bum rap.  We are always so quick to point out the obvious that we miss the obvious.  Yes, the church can be a fairly inflexible institution.  Local congregations can get into squabbles over worship practices or how acolytes are supposed to dress, often under the same chorus of “we’ve never done it that way before.”  But surely that isn’t just a church problem.

 

Every institution, every business, every family, falls prey to that kind of “hold the line” thinking.  The safe and familiar will always have an edge over the innovative and daring, even over the different. As they say in sports, “defense wins championships.”

 

But there comes a time when we have to slow down, step back, and take a close look at where we are.  We have to take inventory of our reality.

 

John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting.  They were going without food for a period of time as a religious discipline, as a sign of their devotion.  Meanwhile, the followers of Jesus were having a great time.  But the day will come, says Jesus, when they will fast – and then not out of religious devotion or the subtle idea that “God will notice how dutiful we are and bless us” but they will fast out of heart-felt anguish and loss.

 

God is up to something new in Jesus that the Pharisees and John’s disciples fail to notice.  It isn’t new that God is loving or forgiving or concerned with the poor, the broken, the lost or the least.  None of that is new.  What is new is that God has come out of hiding in Jesus.  The heavens have been torn open and the loving nature of God is in their midst.  And they fail to see it.

 

The disciples of Jesus don’t know exactly what is going on but they know there is a promise happening that is better than the life they have known.  So they follow.  They observe.  They are open to being surprised.  They are new wineskins for the new wine that God is bringing into their midst.

 

Do we have the capacity to recognize where we are new wineskins or where we have hardened and are no longer open to God doing something new in our lives?  Can we realize that on our own or do we need someone else to tell us what they see in us because we can’t see it in ourselves?

 

I don’t know the answer to that one.  But it’s a worthy question.  One that requires us to slow down, step back, and take a close look at where we are.  We have to take inventory of our reality.  Often we are the change we seek.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, keep our hearts soft, our minds open, our spirits willing and our hands busy.  Forgive us when our hearts get hard, our minds close down, and we only see our own way.  Guide us, that we might be open to wherever you lead us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 17th. Mark 2:13-17

January 17, 2012

Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

 

And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him.  When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Mark 2:13-17

 

What happened?

 

All four gospels, beginning with Mark, the earliest of those, tell us that Jesus invited a tax collector to join him as a follower.  All four gospels tell us that Jesus didn’t hesitate to enter the homes and sit at the tables of obvious ne’er-do-wells.  Jesus didn’t apologize for such behavior.  On the contrary, he welcomed sinners and he joined them in the most intimate of gatherings, dinner at home.

 

What happened?

 

We need to remember that the word for “sinner” didn’t simply mean someone who broke the rules.  Rabbi’s used the word as a designation for an “outsider”.  This isn’t an apology for the heartless behavior of tax collectors but it is a reminder that “sinner” was a term that freely referred to what we might call the “wrong crowd” or “that kind of people” or sometimes simply “them”.

 

Mark and the other gospels all tell us that Jesus didn’t avoid “them”, he went out of his way to include “them”.

 

What happened?

 

How did the church ever get the reputation as the home court of the morally pure?  How did it happen that, if a church person was caught doing something wrong, that they would feel shunned or ostracized from church?  How did it happen that the church became known for being judgmental and self righteously superior?

 

When asked why he mixed with such people, Jesus tells us “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”  Do we really believe that?

 

Why is it that the church rushes in to be helpful when someone is suffering from a physical illness but shies away from mental illness?  Why do those with broken bones feel comfortable in church but those living in broken homes feel like the church is no longer a safe or helpful place for them?

 

Certainly not all churches are like that, and certainly no church is like that all the time.  But the reputation lingers and, we have to admit, often deserved.

 

What happened?  It is the same old story.  At some point we took matters into our own hands.  At some point we gave up on grace and sold out to moral improvement.  We traded looking good for doing good.  Which means, if Jesus really meant it when he said he came for sick sinners, that he also came for us.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, you see us exactly as we are and love us anyway.  We pray for the humility to let you love us, to accept the gift of life as it is that you give us.  And we pray that we might love others as they are.  We pray that we might do all we can to make sure that our congregations, as well as our homes, are open and inviting to anyone.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Monday, January 16th. Mark 1:12-20

January 16, 2012

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.

 

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—  “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.”  And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”  Mark 2:1-12

 

Let’s notice several intriguing points in this text.

 

The crowds gather outside of the home where Jesus is staying.  I believe this says as much about the lengths to which desperate people are willing to go for help as it does the charisma or even the message of Jesus.  This isn’t about a crowd hoping to catch a glimpse of a celebrity but about hurting people who have nowhere else to turn.

 

A paralyzed man, with no hope of making his own way through the crowds to see Jesus, has four great friends who are willing to do anything to help him.  They literally drop him down through a hole they dig in the roof!  For most guys, having even one friend who would do that for them would be great.  Four is amazing.

 

Mark tells us that Jesus is impressed, not with their persistence or their love or their ingenuity or their guts, but with their faith.  My sense here is that is “faith” includes all of that but based firmly on the simple idea that Jesus can be helpful to their friend.

 

Then Jesus surprises us by forgiving the sins of the paralytic.  That catches us short.  The friends didn’t bring him there to get his sins forgiven, they brought him there to get his legs back under him.  They came for healing, not forgiveness.  Yet again we are seeing the link between healing and forgiveness, between brokenness and wholeness.

 

The scribes, the religious leaders, also notice that Jesus forgives the man’s sins.  Suddenly, for them at least, this is no longer about a crowd of hurting people seeking healing, this has become an opportunity for a theological discussion.  (Note to self:  Hurting people aren’t terribly interested in theological discussions.)  Jesus knows what they are thinking so he poses a trick question.

 

The answer to Jesus’ question is easy.  It is equally easy to say “your sins are forgiven” as it is to say “take up your mat and walk.”  Any child could say those words.  But only Jesus can do them.  Words without action are just sound waves to nowhere.  Only Jesus can forgive.  Only Jesus can heal.  And that day he did both.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, on this day in which we remember the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we celebrate those whose words and deeds align with the godly purpose of bringing healing to a broken world.  As we remember four friends banding together to bring another friend to help, we pray that you be with all those who come together for the sake of others, that all might live lives of freedom, purpose and wholeness.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.