Archive for April, 2012

Monday, April 30th. Mark 8:1-10

April 30, 2012

In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.’ His disciples replied, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?’ He asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven.’

 

Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. Mark 8:1-10

 

Reading this passage immediately gives us a sense of deja vu all over again.  We’ve seen this before.  This is not the first time that Jesus has fed a crowd on a hillside.

 

Not only is the miraculous feeding of the 5000 the only miracle that appears in all four gospels, both Mark and Matthew repeat it with this account of the feeding of the 4000.  Clearly it is an important, and revealing, story.

 

We can’t help notice the numerology.  Five loaves + two fish = 7, the perfect number, in the first story.  Seven loaves = 7 in this one.  12 baskets of leftovers in the first story = the 12 tribes of Israel.  7 baskets of leftovers in this one.

 

We can’t help but notice the lack of creativity on the part of the disciples.  We can excuse them the first time around for wanting to send the crowds away to find food on their own but not this time.  They’ve been there before.  They’ve already forgotten what Jesus can do with a few loaves and fish.

 

We can’t help but notice the compassion of Jesus.  In both feeding stories, the disciples look at a huge hungry crowd and see a problem too big to be solved.  Jesus looks at the same crowd and has compassion for them.  He eventually sends them away but he sends them away on a full stomach with plenty of leftovers to bring with them.

 

And that is the part we forget about.  We notice so much but we also forget the crowd.  We forget that couple over there.  They barely survive in their lives.  They haven’t eaten for three days but that isn’t terribly unusual.  Most of the population of Israel lived at a barely sustainable level of life.  But they had heard about Jesus so they made the trip to find him and hear him speak.

 

What they heard was so compelling that they stuck around for three days.  He gave them hope.  He spoke of a new way of being.  He spoke of love in ways they had never heard.  He spoke without divisions, without rancor.  He gave them a vision of God’s good and gracious will for all.  And then, at the end, he fed them with miraculous food so that they would not go away hungry.

 

When we see the couple in the crowd, the persons among the people, the trees not just the forest, then we see with compassion.  For this is how Jesus sees us.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, we are hungry for the vision of life that you brought to hungry crowds.  We are hungry for food which truly satisfies rather than the junk food that we too eagerly settle for.  Like the disciples, we sometimes only see problems but, like the crowds, we also come to you for that which only you can give.  Thank you for our daily bread.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

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Friday, April 27th. Mark 7:31-37

April 27, 2012

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’ Mark 7:31-37

Isn’t it interesting that this 7th chapter opened with a confrontation over laws of ritual cleanliness with Jesus quoting Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me,” but then ends with Jesus healing a man who couldn’t hear or speak.

Isn’t is also interesting that Jesus takes the man aside, away from the crowd, and heals him privately.  But then this healing results, once again, in people eagerly telling the story even though Jesus had told them not to.

A broken man honoring Jesus with his heart by showing up for help.  Religious leaders caught up in hand-washing while crowds are bringing the sick, the lame, the deaf, to Jesus for help.

Isn’t this an incredible disconnect?

I mentioned my mother in yesterday’s devotion, she comes back to mind again in this one.  One day, when I was still in the seminary, I was with my mom when a discussion about the faith started moving more toward an argument than a discussion.  I have no memory at all of what the conversation was about.  All I remember is that I said something that seemed to make sense and my mom, instead of backing me up, challenged me severely.

“Kerry,” she said, “you get so caught up in your head that you forget about your heart.  The Christian faith is simple.  ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’  That’s about all you need to know.”

I remember that moment because a miracle happened.  I immediately shut up and I learned something at the same time.

She was right.

So let’s move now into the weekend with the simplicity of this story ringing in our hearing ears.  Jesus restored the gift of hearing to a deaf man.  He loosened his tongue so he could speak.  Upon seeing this miracle the crowds, among whom we stand, were astounded beyond measure.

“He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, thank you today for the gift of life.  For ears that hear, lips that speak, and hearts turned back toward you.  Thank you for the gift of stories that intrigue us, challenge us, encourage us, and guide us.  May we both use and rejoice in those gifts as we gather in worship this weekend, and as we live throughout the week.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, April 26th. Mark 7:24-30

April 26, 2012

 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. Mark 7:24-30

This has always been a difficult text for me.  Through the years, after having written several sermons on it as it has come up in the schedule, I’ve heard this text in different ways.  But I always come back to the same place – either Jesus is demonstrating his humanity here in the midst of a particularly difficult day or Mark is doing it for him.

Jesus seldom looks more reluctant, racist, or cold-hearted than he does here.

He sneaks into town to hide out in a house hoping no one would notice him.  While we all need our rest and time to unwind, this still comes across as diva behavior and falls short of the Jesus we expect, the person going about doing good.

A woman with an ill daughter comes to find him. Mark tells us that she is a Gentile and immediately our minds make connections:

Jews and Gentiles don’t mix.  That is ridiculous as God is their mutual Creator and Father and they need to learn to live in peace and harmony with one another.  We know this is God’s intentions because this is how we see Jesus act. We especially expect Jesus to show love and hospitality to strangers.

Well, maybe so…but not so much here.  Instead, Jesus seems rude, dismissive and sarcastic.  Let’s be honest here – if sick children don’t tug at your heart strings then you are plain and simply heartless.  And Jesus, with his rude reception of this desperate mother who sought nothing more than help for her daughter, comes across right here like a class A jerk.

But this woman fires right back at him like a seasoned bartender or a small town waitress in a diner who long ago quit playing polite with men acting like jerks – with a soft voice that only emphasizes the seething anger under its surface, she says, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Such is the tone that our world expects the powerless to take when asking for crumbs from the powerful.  Be nice.  Be polite.  Know your place.  Realize WHO you are talking to (as if the powerful person somehow ascended to their position by divine right rather than historical accident.)

Nothing is more important to this woman than help for her daughter and she is not going to be dismissed, even by a dismissive remark.  My mother in heaven, a fiercely proud woman with a strong back, a sharp tongue and a deep love for her children would  be cheering for that Syrophoenician had she been there that day.  You go girl!

And Jesus is moved.  He even says it: “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.”

Here’s my take on this passage for today.  Especially as it falls on the heals of Jesus dealing with the Pharisees and their conception of religious rules.  We could very well have a sense of Jesus as seen by this woman.  Jesus doesn’t do what we expect when we expect it.  He doesn’t seem to follow OUR rules.  But that ought not dissuade us from sticking to our guns, from being bold, from hanging in there, especially when we do so for the sick, the weak and the worldly powerless.

This Syrophoenician woman is one of my heroes in the Bible.

Let us pray:  Jesus, this is a hard story for us to hear.  It is hard because you seem so much less caring than we expect you to be, even though the daughter is cured in the end.  And yet we finally hear great encouragement in this story – not only of your power to heal but also the power that lies deep inside of us that gets expressed through our own honesty and unwillingness to back down when people need help.  For all of this, even the parts that are hard to understand, we give you thanks.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 25th. Mark 7:14-23

April 25, 2012

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’

When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, ‘Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, ‘It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’  Mark 7:14-23

For most of its history, the college I attended did not allow dances on campus.  Steeped in a certain kind of holiness code piety, and well aware that they were entrusted with the care of young people, the thinking fell somewhere along the lines of “if we let them rub their bodies together vertically it isn’t a far fall before they are doing it horizontally.”

Or something like that.

Do we then believe that those students didn’t dance at all?  Of course not.  This is America and few laws hold more power in our lives than the law of supply and demand.  So they found other places to dance and a new kind of balance ensued.

“Out of sight and out of mind” isn’t all that far from “don’t ask, don’t tell” which is finally related to “peek-a-boo”, one of the earliest games we teach our children.

So who were they fooling?  I don’t know.  Dancing was allowed by the time I attended but we didn’t have many dances.  I never attended one.  There were plenty of other places around town that were more fun.  The campus could keep its holiness code in place and the students lived life as they pleased.

Such is the problem with external expectations for religious behavior.  Ritual rules can foster compliance, even cooperation, but there is no direct correlation or connection to our hearts, our wills, our desires, or our stubbornness.  At the end of the day we will largely do what we want to do and little will stop us if we don’t want to be stopped.  This is the human condition.  For better or worse.  Mostly worse.

If confronted, we usually fall back on either “but everybody’s doing it” or “but it isn’t hurting anybody.”  Interesting alternatives, aren’t they?  The loss of individualism or the victory of individualism.  Both of these are really beside the point.

In reality, individualism is a construct we impose on the world.  It isn’t the way the world really works.  In reality, this world in which we live, the one God is constantly creating, is founded on relationships, on interconnectedness, interdependence.  Everything is connected to everything else.  Hurtful behaviors always hurt someone.

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Each of the evil intentions that Jesus identifies as coming “out of us” cause relational pain, they all hurt someone, including ourselves.  A religious restriction against eating pork is no more irrelevant than a rule against dancing.  We don’t need compliance, we need conversion.

Conversion of our hearts and minds and bodies and wills brings us toward a new place where we can connect God’s best intentions with how we live our lives and how we impact other people.  I say “toward” because I don’t know that we get there on this side of the grave.  It is a journey, a process, a different way of being, rooted in a different kind of relationship to God, self and others.

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we pay a lot of attention to what other people say and do, and we often worry about what others see us say and do.  We know very well that most of the difficulties of our lives flow forth from the inside out.  Draw us near to you, that we might see ourselves more clearly, that love might make room for our neighbor and that we might learn to live in peace.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 24th. Mark 7:9-13

April 24, 2012

Then he said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, “Honor your father and your mother”; and, “Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.” But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, “Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban” (that is, an offering to God)— then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.’  Mark 7:9-13

Again today we see what happens when we hide behind the rules rather than living in the truth for which the rules were originally made.

Jesus points out how the Pharisees used one rule – setting aside their first fruits as an offering to God – over against another rule – supporting elderly or needy parents in an age before retirement plans, Social Security or Medicare.

Why would this happen?

When we ask a question like that, always remember to first look for the money.  Where does it go and what does it do?

Money is power and power is influence.  Assuming that the Pharisees really are giving of what they have been given to God (which, by the way, unless you are talking about a burnt offering – which sometimes becomes lunch – that means giving to something to a human being entrusted with godly responsibilities), part of what they are doing is “buying influence” within the religious community.  Even if that isn’t the intention, it is always a result.

On the other hand, providing support for aging parents provides no support to the provider.  Helping someone eat today is great but they will be hungry again tomorrow.  The only possible “influence” such provision would bring might be the respect from others who know what you are doing or a moral, internal, affirmation that you are doing the right thing.

Influence within human community (power) or following God’s command to love, respect, honor and support our parents (moral authority)?  The Pharisees are choosing the first.  Even worse, they are doing what elevates their religious authority even as they ignore God’s deeper commands.

What would a godly path look like?  Doing both while making whatever personal adjustments or sacrifices that would require.  And this is the other side of what we are looking at today – not only power versus moral authority, doing the effective thing over doing the right thing, but also selfishness versus selflessness.

Jesus sees all of this because his eyes are open to a different grounding of reality.  Not public affirmation or power but personal righteousness and surrendering to God’s power.

Jesus marches to a different drummer that leads to a new place where all of God’s children have enough, especially the powerless.  This is the dance he invites us to join.

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we often bend the rules of life to protect ourselves, to protect what we have, regardless of the cost to others.  And we often care much more about what the neighbors think than we do what you think.  Forgive us this selfishness and set us free to live in God’s will rather than our own.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Monday, April 23rd. Mark 7:1-8

April 23, 2012

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honors me with their lips,
   but their hearts are far from me; 
in vain do they worship me,
   teaching human precepts as doctrines.” 
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’”
  Mark 7:1-8

 

What are rules and why do rules matter?

 

Simply stated, rules are standards for activity, boundaries for behavior, that allow people to play together well. Without rules, life together would descend into chaos.

 

From sharing the lanes of a freeway to enjoying a baseball game, life is possible because we have rules.  We can’t live without rules. 

 

At the same time, while the rules which regulate our lives are helpful, our need for rules gives rise to the need to set the rules, alter the rules, interpret the rules, impose the rules, and regulate the rules. We have rules for choosing those who establish rules and pay high fees to those who can help us bend the rules.

 

Like a rushing river that is beautiful until it spills outside of its banks, rules have their place until they become the purpose rather than boundaries within which we live toward the purposes of life.  Rules can be deadly when they take on a life of their own.

 

There was a time when the self-imposed rules of the Jewish holiness code had their place.  As a means of creating and establishing an identity, rules governing cleanliness and social behaviors were helpful.  Helpful until they spilled their banks, took on a life of their own, and became the end rather than means to the end.

 

Rules can be sneaky that way.  Especially when we discover that we can bend them to our own purposes, impose them on others, or when they become so fixed that they recede into the background and we forget why we do what we do the way we do it.

 

This is what is happening here between Jesus and the religious leaders.  Sensing the danger that Jesus poses to their positions of power, the religious leaders pull out the rule book and throw a penalty flag when they see the disciples eating without washing their hands.  Seen from their own point of view, the Pharisees are protecting the religious social order.  Seen from Jesus’ point of view, the Pharisees are putting themselves in the position of Ruler to protect their own positions of power.

 

Rather than regulating behavior to establish community, their religious rules are imposing behaviors that divide and destroy community.  At that point, the rules need to change.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, we often don’t realize degree to which our lives are impacted by expectations that long ago lost their helpfulness.  We don’t always recognize when rules and traditions have lost their purpose and taken on a life of their own.  Open our eyes and keep us mindful of what makes or breaks our lives in community with others.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Friday, April 20th. Mark 6:53-56

April 20, 2012

 

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. Mark 6:53-56

 

And now we come to the end of the roller coaster that is the 6th chapter of Mark.  It ends, fittingly, with crowds of needy people showing up eager for help.

 

But that isn’t exactly what it says.

 

It doesn’t say the sick began showing up, it says that people went rushing about seeking the sick and bringing them to wherever Jesus showed up.

 

We come to this text on a Friday morning.  In this past chapter we have seen Jesus teaching in the synagogue, sending his disciples out in teams of two to do good, feeding a huge crowd of people, stilling a storm at sea, praying…and now he is back at work healing.

 

He is healing the sick that the people are bringing to him.

 

As a pastor, I can tell you that Friday means Sunday is just two days away.  Somewhere in the back corner of my mind, “next Sunday” always lurks.  The text that I will be talking about, the activities that will be happening, the people that will be coming, never is this far from me.

 

So I hear this text on Friday and I imagine all of the people who will be bringing others to church on Sunday who need help.  Because of our Faith House ministry, I know that we will be in worship with people right in the midst of a hard struggle for healing.  Because of the many recovery groups that meet at Faith, I’m always hopeful that someone might venture into Sunday morning worship, to give thanks and to seek another kind of connection to their Higher Power.

 

Yes, I hear this text and I wish that we had Christian people actively seeking anyone who is hurting within traveling distance of a Christian sanctuary to bring them on a Sunday morning so that a revival of healing could break out across the world.

 

I know that probably won’t happen. 

 

But I count on, I expect, I look forward to, that person over there who brought her friend who is going through a divorce, or that person over there who brought a friend who is struggling with their children, who is unemployed, who is grieving the death of a friend or family member. Because I know that happens every week.

 

And then I notice the text again and I see that the sick weren’t being brought to the synagogue but to the marketplace…and I’m convicted anew that we spend too much time inside of our church buildings and not enough time out in the world in the name of Jesus.  And yet again I do the math and I realize that isn’t quite right.  In fact we do spend a couple of hours on Sunday morning in the church building but then our people are sent right back out into the marketplace where they spend the majority of their time.

 

And I pray that some of that time might be spent actively seeking the hurting, the lost, the lonely, the broken, and the sick.  For that, it seems, is what happens when Jesus shows up.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, thank you for the healing touch of your love, for the hope that you pour into our lives, and for the purpose that we share as your people.  As you brought healing into the crowds who were brought to you, we pray that you would rekindle in us a holy imagination of the good that you seek to do through us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, April 19th. Mark 6:47-52

April 19, 2012

 

When evening came, the boat was out on the lake, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the lake. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. Mark 6:47-52

 

The more slowly you read this passage, the more confusing (or is it intriguing?) the passage becomes.

 

You notice that it has now become evening and you instinctively realize the power of darkness.  Bad things (we think) happen under the cover of darkness.  More people are afraid of the dark than are afraid of the light of day.  But why is it that we think of daylight as normative and darkness as inconvenient?

 

The boat is alone on the lake because Jesus sent the disciples out there.  Jesus, we read yesterday, “made” the disciples get into the boat to cross to Bethsaida, on the other side of the lake.  And Jesus is alone on the land.  We hear that and assume then that, with every minute they are apart, the disciples on the boat are getting farther and farther away from Jesus, who remains stationary on the land.  But then suddenly Jesus “sees” them straining against an adverse wind.

 

How can this be?  Is Jesus “one of us” or not? Is he “truly human” or is he a celestial Superman with x-ray vision, super human strength, and magical powers over common human limitations?  It seems these questions are instantly answered as Jesus takes a stroll on top of the waves.

 

Two more strange twists yet remain.

 

The passage says that Jesus “intended to pass them by.”  What?  Didn’t it just say that he headed “towards” them precisely because he saw they were straining against the stormy wind?  What happened?  Did he plan on helping them but suddenly change his mind?

 

Then he appears, or at least his disciples notice him, and they are terrified.  Wouldn’t you be?  It is not the sort of thing one expects to see, even out at sea.  And yet isn’t that what happens when we are in the midst of a storm in life?  We can be absolutely consumed by a difficulty but then, when another difficulty surprises us in the midst of the initial one, the initial storm recedes even as the waves of the next batter us.

 

Why is it, by the way, that we think that good weather is normative and storms are unwelcome intrusions?

 

Then the final twist.  Jesus says, “‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ These words of comfort and presence are what we expect to hear from him.  That the waves stop once Jesus gets in the boat seems the point of the whole story.  We want to stop right here and let this story be an encouragement to us.  But the story doesn’t stop.  It forces us to see the reaction of the disciples.

 

They are astounded.  Astonished.  They don’t understand.  They don’t get it.  Then the kicker:  They don’t get it, not because of the marvels they have seen, but because their hearts have become “hardened.”  They don’t see because they refuse to see.

 

Which Jesus do you follow?  The “Superman” Jesus with extraordinary powers to right all the wrongs and fix all the hurts of life, who could in fact “intend” to pass us by?  Or the Jesus who gets into our boat with a word of encouragement and an invitation to let go of our fears?

 

Against which Jesus were the hearts of the disciples “hardened?”

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we pray that you see us.  That you see us in night and day, in calm waters and raging storms.  See us.  And more, be with us.  Come to us.  Travel with us, that we never walk alone.  Open our eyes to see you in all things, through all times, regardless of what is happening.  For we trust that when we see you with us, you will swallow up our fear and light our path, and we will know we are all in the same boat.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 18th. Mark 6:45-46

April 18, 2012

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray. Mark 6:45-46

 

As I shared yesterday, I’ve spent the first two days this week in a gathering of people heavily invested in Christian ministry.  Pastors, seminary professors, post-graduate seminary students, an ELCA bishop, the general secretary of the Reformed Church in America, leaders from a Christian college, an Anglican priest from England, and a pastor from Africa…quite an assortment of voices. 

 

The question that guided our conversation was “What are the practices for listening, reflecting and consciously living in the life of the triune God by the power of the Holy Spirit?”

 

While this sounds heady, theological and high brow, in fact it led to the most helpful, down to earth, extended conversation about what it means to be church together that I have had in a long long time. 

 

Among the practices we identified were things like creating space to spend significant time listening closely to scripture and to one another in ways that go much deeper than listening to someone lead a Bible study or read a two minute devotion.  We talked about what it means to take seriously our identity as the Body of Christ, that ideas like “the mission of God” or “forgiveness” or “reconciliation” or “unity” only exist in the messy flesh and blood interactions of people living smack dab in the reality of creation.  They aren’t “ideas” but a way of living life together in community, for the sake of the community.

 

We talked about hospitality as a far deeper guide to interaction with one another than a cup of coffee and an easily seen sign to the entrance door of a sanctuary.  We considered the growing influence of Christian experience as it comes to us through the understanding of the growing Christian witness of the southern hemisphere and Asia – places with a much clearer sense of religion infusing all of life, of the interaction of the spiritual and material realities of life.

 

At the end of the day today, as the group prepared to break up, I found myself seeing the faces of so many lay leaders at our congregation and wishing that they could have been here.  They would have come away, as I am, with a new-found appreciation for the life and mission we share as the church and a renewed willingness to do what it takes to make the most of the time we have.

 

And now, typing this in an airport, waiting for a delayed flight, I am appreciating again the guidance and modeling of Jesus who, after a busy day of ministry, goes to the mountain to pray.  For it is in prayer, not so much telling God what we want but being with the God who wants us, that we create the space to remember who and what we are about.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, draw near to us as we draw near to you.  Guide us, fill us, send us, use us, empty us, and fill us anew.  Thank you for the many ways you continue to reveal yourself to us, and through us, for the sake of the world.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 16th. Mark 6:35-44

April 17, 2012

When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men. Mark 6:35-44

 

Let’s not be too hard on the disciples here.

 

Yesterday we heard Jesus invite the disciples to spend some time in a deserted place for rest and reflection.  Deserted places seem like good places for such activities.  (There isn’t a whole lot else going on to distract us.)  Deserted places are great places to get away.

 

I’m actually writing this devotion, strangely enough, rather late at night (11:39 PM), literally from a desert place (Spirit of the Desert Retreat Center in Carefree, Arizona) where I am spending a couple of days with Clayton Faulkner, who serves with me at Faith.  We’re here for a conference put together by Church Innovations to talk about what it means to discern the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the life of our congregation.  (Enjoy the journey these hyperlinks will take you on…)

 

Today, while walking across the beautiful campus of the congregation we are using for our daily meetings, Clayton talked about how easy it is to see how a desert setting invites a kind of mysticism that we usually don’t experience in the freeway jungle of a city like Houston.  He’s right.  It does.  It always has.

 

Deserts are great settings for prayer but, if forced to find enough food to feed 5000 people, give me a Washington apple orchard or a Florida orange grove any day.  Thus, let’s not be too hard on the disciples here.

 

Imagine their shock when Jesus responds to them – YOU give them something to eat.  Can you see their faces?  See them looking at one another?  See them looking at Jesus as if he was…nuts?

 

What did Jesus mean by that question?  Was Jesus being facetious?  Was he kidding?  Or did Jesus see something in the disciples that they could not yet see in themselves?

 

We know this story.  We’ve all heard it many times.  We know it is the only miracle story to appear in all four gospels.  We know that Jesus takes five loaves and two fish and feeds a huge crowd.  We know that there are 12 baskets of leftovers and we’ve been reminded how this connects somehow to the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 disciples, and many other Biblical references to the symbolism of the perfect number “12”.

 

But today, let’s keep the meaning of this story very simple.  There is a time when great teaching serves a crowd very well…but hungry people need food, not just a great story.  And maybe what Jesus saw in the disciples was their potential – a potential that could only be unlocked as they found themselves faced with the opportunity to do that which they clearly could never possibly do on their own.

 

For then, not only then but especially then, when we are at the end of our ropes and our resources, might we be especially open to remembering that there is never a moment when Jesus isn’t with us and therefore never a moment when we won’t have the resources we need to do what we are called to do.  Because Jesus will supply them.

 

The open question remains…will we have the compassion to notice the hunger in the crowd…and the willingness to share the resources at our disposal, using them for God’s purposes?

 

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank you for this story.  Thank you for this promise of abundance which flies in the face of our fears of scarcity.  Thank you for the reminders of your presence, your power, and your provision. Instill in us that confidence that trusts you, even in the face of that which overwhelms us, and the willingness to share what we have been given toward the feeding of a hungry world.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.