Archive for May, 2012

Thursday, May 31st. Mark 10:1-12

May 31, 2012

He left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.

 

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

 

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’  Mark 10:1-12

 

Now we come to the matter of divorce, the dissolution of a marriage.  Few passages in scripture elicit the intensity of emotional reactions as do those concerning divorce.  For good reason.  Marriage and divorce ought never be taken lightly.

 

But having said that, let me say this:  In all my years as a pastor I have never yet sat down with a couple to prepare for their wedding to hear them say, “We don’t care so much about the wedding, we’re just anxious to be married long enough to go through a long and difficult divorce and then live the rest of our lives with guilt and shame, all the while knowing that our partner is potentially enjoying a much better life with someone else. Even better, we might wait to divorce until we have a couple of innocent children so we can drag them through the process with us and sentence them to growing up in a car pool with a calendar helping them remember whose house they will be sleeping in each night.  That way, even our grandchildren will have to make uncomfortable decisions about who to invite and where they will sit at their own weddings some day.”

 

God knows that little is more painful in life than divorce.  Divorce, simply stated, is devastating.  So is a marriage that isn’t working – whatever that might mean in individual cases.  So let’s listen to these words from Jesus and hear two clear messages in them.

 

First, in the world of the Old Testament law, women (like sheep) were considered property.  They belonged to their father until their father struck a bargain with a suitable mate, whereupon the woman moved into the tent of her husband and became his property.  If she displeased her husband in any way (the “grounds” for divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1read “she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her.” ) the man could simply write a certificate of divorce, kick her out of her tent, and she would have no alternatives but return to her father’s tent, find another man, become a prostitute, or starve.

 

The primary function of Jesus’ words in their context is to protect women.

 

Second, notice that the Pharisees ask Jesus to “test” him.  They aren’t seeking helpful information, they have simply chosen an inflammatory subject to trap Jesus.  Their choice of questions should help us understand that divorce has always been a painful reality, a touchy subject, and we should be wary of treating it as an “issue” separated from the real world of human relationships, emotions and consequences.

 

Most often, as a pastor, I am asked what seems to be a simple question:  Is divorce a sin?  I have learned that that question is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  It looks like an intellectual question but often (usually) cloaks the real questions – How do I move forward after seeing my whole world crumble around my ears?  Does God still love me?  Is healing and forgiveness possible?

 

Here, as in so many other areas of life, a question is less of a question and more a plea for help.  And an answer is less of an answer than an invitation to a deeper conversation.  Yes, divorce is a sin but it is also a confession of a whole host of sins that led to the divorce.  Yes, divorce is tragic, it is the death of a relationship, but it is also a redemptive act which can open us to a new future.

 

The Bible is crystal clear that God hates divorce.  We can understand that.  No one wants their children to suffer.  But prolonging suffering by suffocating under a burden of shame and guilt is no answer either.  Here our faith isn’t far from our common sense – while we know that divorce isn’t God’s will, if it happens, whether we make it happen or whether it happens to us, how we divorce, how we use it as our teacher rather than our jailor, how we behave before, during and after, makes all the difference in the world.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we pray today for the health and well-being of marriages.  May people so learn to trust in you that they are free to love and trust one another, free to live in trustworthy ways.  And we pray today for those whose lives have been scarred by the pain of divorce and its consequences.  Help people learn, move through their grief and pain, heal from their shame, and adjust as well as possible to a new life.  We pray for parents and we pray for children.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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Wednesday, May 30th. Mark 9:42-50

May 30, 2012

‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

 

 ‘For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’

Mark 9:42-50

 

“Deterrence” is the idea that people will do the right thing if they are afraid of the consequences of doing the wrong thing.  Generally speaking, among most people, it seems like deterrence works…because it works for them.  What then seems utterly baffling are those for whom deterrence has no effect.

 

Clearly there is an element of deterrence in these verses for today.  Punishment by bodily mutilation is an ancient practice, far more common in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi than in the laws of Moses.  Certainly far more common in the sharia law practiced (intermittedly at best) in some Moslem majority countries.  We have heard, for example, that theft is a very rare occurrence in a country where the penalty is cutting off a hand.

 

Is that what Jesus means?

 

If we are to take these verses literally then I wouldn’t be writing this morning.  Instead, what would be left of me (after cutting off both hands, both feet, and removing both eyes) would be tied to a millstone, feeding the extraordinarily well fed fish on the bottom of theGulf of Mexico.

 

But what happens when we take them seriously?  Suddenly we realize that all of our focus has jumped to the penalties even as we barely notice the good that Jesus is after.

 

In very severe language, Jesus warns against doing damage to, or putting a stumbling block before, one of these “little ones who believe in me.”  That might mean those who are new to the faith or it might literally mean children (who were politically powerless and physically vulnerable.)

 

Maybe, instead of tying ourselves up in pretzels arguing about modern literal interpretations of ancient biblical laws, we would do far better to ask ourselves, “Is this practice/belief/tradition good and helpful for children or new believers?  Or does it somehow do damage to them, become a stumbling block to their faith in Jesus?”

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, these verses have long bothered us.  We don’t know exactly what to make of such horrific passages.  But we have to confess, even now, that we are far more concerned about the penalties than the rest.  Taking good care of those new to faith, of the children in our midst, seems to be what really matters to you.  May we be diligent in removing barriers, making space, setting good examples, and taking time to teach.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 29th. Mark 9:38-41

May 29, 2012

John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. Mark 9:38-41

 

It is probably some sort of arrested development in me but I continue to see a junior high cafeteria as a primary metaphor for life.

 

At some point, realizing that the world had changed and it had become necessary to feed, rather than simply educate, young people, the architect for the school designed a state of the art kitchen and an eating area that could accommodate the target population of students.  Then came the kids.

 

Gone were the elementary school rules of sitting with your class, junior high became the jungle.  Now the kids began the ordering process.  No one specifically wrote down the rules but soon everyone knew where the cool kids sat.  Over there are the geeks, over there the skaters.  Some of the kids think its cool to act like gangsta’s.  The Goth crowd is back in that corner.  The Asians hang together.  The African Americans over there.  Pity on the new kid in her first day of school and that dreadful moment when they have to find a place to sit.

 

Why does this happen to us?  Why do we do this to ourselves?

 

John is upset because someone outside of their group is helping people.  They tried to stop him – because he wasn’t in their inner circle.

 

But Jesus is OK with him.  What seems to matter to Jesus is making a difference for good.  Casting out a demon, giving a cup of cold water, it seems for Jesus that doing the right thing by people is far more important than hanging out with the right people.

 

Like a cafeteria.  Its purpose is providing space to eat, where there is food enough for everyone.  But that doesn’t seem to be enough for us.  We turn it into something else….like we do with neighborhoods, sections of town, regions of states, even hemispheres.

 

Why do we do it?  Because we mistakenly believe there isn’t enough for everyone.  So we arrange the rules so we get more, ignoring how that ends up with others getting less or nothing at all.  But we don’t notice that because we are hanging with the right crowd.  We don’t notice the fear among us, the anger around us, the resentment building. What good does this do…for anyone?

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, today help us be conscious of all the ways we play the insider/outsider game.  Make us aware of the degree to which we worry about being more than and better than some and less than others.  Give us opportunities to practice kindness and to show curiosity and interest in the lives of others.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Friday, May 25th. Mark 9:30-37

May 25, 2012

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 

 

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’  Mark 9:30-37

 

I have a friend who never goes to the doctor unless he absolutely positively has no choice.  His rationale?  “What I don’t know won’t hurt me.  If I go to the doctor, he will always find something wrong with me.”  Oddly enough, sometimes that is good advice.

 

The medical news this past week included a new recommendation that doctors cease doing routine PSA tests for prostate cancer.  Studies have determined that a positive result often leads to unnecessary interventions that are worse than a slow growing cancer.  As I have often found myself saying to parishioners in the hospital – That’s why they call it a “practice” and why they call us “patients.”

 

This was where the disciples wanted to stay.  They didn’t want to hear the bad news that Jesus would be betrayed and killed.  They couldn’t get past that.  They couldn’t hear “he will rise again.”  All they heard was the bad news and they didn’t want to hear it.  What they could understand they didn’t like and what they didn’t understand they didn’t want to know.

 

Have you ever gotten into an argument with your spouse or a friend and you just got stuck in it?  It isn’t so much that you agree to disagree as much as you just get stuck.  You can’t think.  You don’t talk.  You settle into an uncomfortable silence.  My sense is that is where the disciples find themselves at the end of the these verses.

 

They don’t like what they know and they don’t want to know more about what they don’t know.  So they settle for an uncomfortable silence.  They just don’t bring it up.

 

Unfortunately, silence doesn’t help.  Nature doesn’t like a vacuum so all sorts of unhelpful thoughts are more than ready to move into this silence.  So it is that Jesus’ announcement of suffering was greeted by an argument among the disciples about who was the king of their little hill.  But again, they remain silent.

 

The text closes with Jesus taking a child into his arms.  Suddenly his talk of suffering and their talk of greatness comes to focus on this little child.  All for the sake of a child.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, you have promised that the truth will make us free.  Free us from our fear of the truth.  Free us from worrying about our positions in life more than worrying about life for all people.  As you were patient and forgiving of your disciples, be patient and forgiving with us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, May 24th. Mark 9:20-29

May 24, 2012

And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it threw the boy into convulsions, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’

 

When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You spirit that keep this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!’ After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘This kind can come out only through prayer.’ Mark 9:20-29

 

This is a roller coaster of a story.  As we saw yesterday, the scribes and the disciples  have been arguing with one another, ignoring a troubled dad standing there with a suffering son.  Jesus arrives and takes over.

 

Notice that when the boy is brought to Jesus his suffering immediately gets worse.  We see that and remember all the times in our lives we have been told that it will get worse before it gets better.  Now the boy is rolling on the ground with foam forming on his lips.  If we don’t take the time to notice this text in our minds we will miss the horror of it.  Blithely reading the words allows us to pass over the pain, the noise and the disruption.  If this is an emergency room, we would more likely find it at a psychiatric hospital than the normally more quiet suffering of a general admission sort of place.

 

Then the text picks up speed on the downslope and it jostles us intellectually and emotionally.  Jesus assures us that there is great power in believing (which to us is both encouraging and troubling.)  Anticipating that we might be troubled to be so subtly reminded of our lack of trust, the father rescues us with a prayer that has brought great encouragement to me at key times in my life, “I believe; help my unbelief.”

 

With a loud voice, Jesus exorcises the demon.  The boy is made well.  Strangely, unlike so many other healing stories, we don’t hear a word of reaction from the father or the boy, only the mistaken guess of the crowd that perhaps Jesus killed the boy rather than healing him.

 

Only then, at the very end, do we hear the disciples question Jesus about why they were unable to help…suggesting that they had been trying but were unable, hence the initial argument with the scribes.  And the story ends with those haunting words from Jesus, “This kind can come out only through prayer.” which leaves us, to this day, wondering about the depth, the purpose, the power, of our own prayers.

 

A roller coaster ride.  When it is done, the disciples head off in one direction, wondering what they have just witnessed can teach them about prayer. And in the other direction, a profoundly grateful father and a newly healed son return home with a brand new lease on life.

 

Such things happen when love comes to town.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, this story reminds us of all of the hurting children and troubled parents who reach out to you for healing and hope.  We know some are healed and some are not.  This is an often painful mystery to us.  Yet we continue to pray, we continue to trust, which we believe is our part.  Healing is up to you.  We believe; help our unbelief.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 23rd.

May 23, 2012

When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. He asked them, ‘What are you arguing about with them?’ Someone from the crowd answered him, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.’ He answered them, ‘You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.’ Mark 9:14-19

 

So much for the mountain tops.  Cut the celestial angel chorus soundtrack.  Visions and vacations behind him, it’s time for Jesus to go back to work.

 

Earlier this spring there was a golf tournament in Houston.  At the last second, I was invited to go.  I was sitting near the 18th green and I got to watch each player finish his round.  Once they headed off the green to turn in their score, you didn’t see them again.  Except for Phil Mickelson.  He came down to a specially roped off area and signed autographs for a whole lot longer than I was willing to watch him do it.  No matter how his round went, Phil finds time for people and for that, they love him.

 

I remembered that scene upon reading how the crowds gathered around Jesus as he came back into their midst.  But they aren’t there for an autograph session.  There is a problem.

 

Actually there are two things going on when Jesus approaches.  In one corner, there is a man with a suffering child who has been seeking the help of the disciples.  In the other corner, the disciples are arguing with the scribes.  Since we have just come upon this scene with Jesus, we don’t know for sure how the argument started or what exactly they are arguing about.

 

Here I could imagine a parent with a desperately ill child in a hospital emergency room.  Two doctors, both with egos the size of their student loans, are arguing with one another about the appropriate treatment while the child is being ignored.  I could imagine how their argument could quickly become about them and who is going to win rather than about what is best for the child.  I could imagine how the child disappears upon becoming “a case” and it all being about which doctor would win.

 

Something like that is going on and Jesus has no patience for it.  Jesus seems far less interested, even irritated, by the religious squabble going on.  His focus is on the child.  “Bring him to me,” he says.

 

Oh that we might have the same capacity to put first things first in the church.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, you saw an anxious parent and a suffering child and you welcomed them.  Far too often we get caught up in trivial arguments and religious puffery and we forget the heart of the matter…we forget that we are not here to win theological arguments but to share your healing love in the lives of those who suffer.  Help us keep first things first.  In Jesus’ name.

Monday, May 22nd. Mark 9:9-13

May 22, 2012

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ He said to them, ‘Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.’ Mark 9:9-13

 

Increasingly it seems to becoming the popular view that Jesus’ transfiguration is a “misplaced resurrection narrative” or even Mark’s version of foreshadowing Jesus’ ascension. These arguments are grounded, in part, in the lack of a resurrection or ascension narrative at the end of Mark. I don’t know enough about the arguments to say much more.  But, for me, it is enough to see this story as a turning point.

 

From here to the end, there will be no more mountaintops for Jesus.  From here to the end, Mark follows Jesus to the cross.

 

The turning point happens with Jesus, Moses and Elijah on a mountain.  The law and the prophets – the story of what it meant to follow God in our lives – will now be completed by the journey of Jesus to the cross, to the grave, to the right hand of God.

 

God’s love will be greeted by suffering, contempt, humiliation and rejection.  Elijah (John the Baptizer) has gone the way that the disciples will go as well.  Good news won’t feel so good.

 

As we have heard again and again in Mark, Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about what they saw on the mountain, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  The disciples are clearly confused.  They don’t know yet what you and I have known most of our lives – the good news that Jesus HAS risen from the dead.  That Jesus is our hope, our salvation, our model, our guide, our Lord.

 

We’re now free to tell, to live, that story.

 

But do we?  Or is it too hard?

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we’ve seen the vision of you in your glory.  We’ve heard the story.  We believe, help our unbelief.  Give us, when we falter and slide and choose easy roads, the courage, conviction and compassion we need to live and tell your story in our lives today.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Monday, May 21st. Mark 9:2-8

May 21, 2012

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. Mark 9:2-8

 

Just outside ofSturgis,SD, there is an interesting geological feature calledBear Mountain. Technically (which is a modern term, normally helpful but also spiritually empty) Bear Mountain is a tertiary intrusive, which formed when volcanic magma pushing to the surface caused an uplift in the earth’s crust, but failed to reach the surface for eruption.

 

For the Lakota Sioux, and for about 30 other indigenous people betweenCanadaand North Texas,Bear Mountainis a holy place.  Many groups tell stories of the significant events which occurred there.  The Lakota people tell of how they received the map of the sky that guided the spiritual life of the greater Lakota, Dakota and Nakota Nations from the top ofBear Mountain. The map particularly instructed the Sioux on how they should behave while near or on Bear Butte. The receiving of the star map is not unlike the receiving of the Ten Commandments onMt.Sinai. To this day, people gather at particular times of the year to consider important questions to the tribe and make lasting decisions for the people, as well as to gather medicine and food.

 

I thought ofBear Mountainwhen reading this text from Mark, the scene we know as the transfiguration story.  When I was on pilgrimage in Galilee, we could look off in the distance from just about wherever we were and we could seeMountTabor, the traditional site for this story.  For a Christian living inGalilee, that mountain would be a constant reminder of this story from Mark.  Just a glance and a moment to ponder and you would be joining Peter, James, John, Moses, and Elijah on the top of that mountain with Jesus.

 

Far off in the distance, you would see the snowy top of Mount Hermon, the source of fresh water inIsrael.

 

God would be as close to you as the mountains off in the distance.  God’s presence, and God’s words (This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!) would be a living reality, not a foggy memory.

 

But for most of us?  We live in a world reduced to man-made mountains stripped of spiritual significance except for the gods of commerce.  Our temples are skyscrapers and sports stadiums.

 

And yet this is not all that bad or is it to be unexpected.  For God knew in sending his disciples to the ends of the earth that such a journey would take them far away fromMountTabor.  So the story was captured in memories and then in words and then shared down through the ages.  For God knows that we need such sign posts to remember who we are and what we are about.  And all it takes is a word to remind us, to take us to mountaintops we might never see in person, and yet still live as those who remember well the words of God’s Beloved Son.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, you have touched our lives on mountain tops, you have carried us through valleys, and you have called us to remember the words of Jesus.  We give you thanks for those brief glimpses of glory that root themselves deeply in us, bringing meaning and purpose into our journey in life.  Thank you for these signs and may we ever follow as they lead the way.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Friday, May 4th. Mark 8:34-9:1

May 4, 2012

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’  Mark 8:34-9:1

 

My initial reaction to this text begins with the realization that I have no memory of “learning it.”  Particularly the line, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

 

It feels as if that line is as much a part of me as “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” or “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.  Let these gifts to us be blest.”  They are in me and in you.  Few can remember the first time they heard them, read them or learned them.

 

So why do they come as such a shock every time we see them again?

 

Why are they so puzzling?

 

Why does “followers” (or “disciples” in other places), in the context of this line, suddenly sound like an inner circle of which we are not a part whereas in other places “followers” feels much more benign?

 

Why are we uncomfortable with the words “deny themselves?”  Why do we instantly begin an inner conversation about how the cross of Jesus’ crucifixion relates to the unsought after suffering we enter for the sake of others?

 

Why is it so confusing as we do the math in reading about saving our lives and losing our lives and profiting the whole world and forfeiting our lives?

 

Why does this text remind me of specific times when I had an opportunity to explain to someone else how I felt and what I thought and what it meant to me to try to be a follower of Jesus but I was afraid other people would think I was a freak so I didn’t say anything…and felt the shame of my own silence.

 

Why does this text, with Jesus’ diagnosis of his age as both “adulterous” and “sinful” feel as applicable today as it did back then?  Why doesn’t anything seem to get better and stay better?  Especially in me?

 

Maybe it’s just me.

 

Maybe most of the people who read these words find them comforting.  They easily count themselves among the followers of Jesus.  They don’t get too hung up over words like “cross” and “deny” and “lose”.  They don’t feel shame at being reminded of those moments in their lives when they felt ashamed of being a person of faith.

 

No doubt there are people like that.  Some might add a comment to this post.

 

But for me, I’ll let these words cook in me today.  I’ll let them have their way with me.  As if I had a choice…for these words, and our Savior who said them, will never let us go.

 

Let us pray:  Once again, dear Lord, you have caught us in the act of our own self-righteousness.  You have caught us making your way of being in the world into something else that is easier for us, more comfortable for us, less of a cross and more of a club.  Birth in us a renewed willingness to follow you, one step at a time.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, May 3rd. Mark 8:27-33

May 3, 2012

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

 

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’  Mark 8:27-33

 

Every time I come to this text I am reminded again of how absolutely timeless it is. 

 

For Jesus to ask the “Who do people say that I am?” question at Caesarea Philippi – a crossroads of ancient paganism and modern (at the time) political power – shares the same dynamic as Martin Luther King giving his “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  In both instances, a vision of life rooted in the Kingdom of God, Jesus as the promised Messiah and people living in harmony in the midst of diversity in the Beloved Community, is spoken in a setting of earthly power that is living toward a very different vision.

 

My mother always said, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”  These competing visions are always both present.  Only occasionally do we recognize them for what they are and, on those occasions, we have to make a choice.  We can’t have it both ways.

 

Peter chooses.  “You are the Messiah.”  Peter doesn’t realize this but that is the easy part.

 

Then Jesus teaches the disciples what “Messiah” looks like when it comes from a place of God’s wildly inclusive love, of spiritual transformation, of New Creation.  It looks like suffering, rejection, humiliation, and death.

 

If “Messiah” conformed more closely to the earthly vision of Caesarea Philippi (or Washington, DC), it would look like power, albeit softened into some kind of benevolent world domination, backed up by military might, keeping the world peaceful and allowing the earthly empire to flourish.  It would look like Rome used to look.  It would look like every earthly empire has looked…briefly…from the point of view of those holding power in the empire.  It would look like glory and it would even look like the easier road.  All it takes is money and the right people in the right places.

 

Jesus denounces Peter’s misguided attempt to protect Jesus.  Jesus isn’t about self-protection.  His identity, his calling, his heart, is about self-giving love.  Loving the unlovely.  Accepting the rejecting.  Suffering under the blows of those who have no idea how self-destructive their worldly ambitions inevitably become.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we always look for the easy way out.  Our ears perk up at every bit of insider information we can acquire.  So we still look to you to be our miracle worker, our divine healer, the one who always takes our side.  Today, with Peter, we are reminded of the deeper reality of love and the hard path that we walk when we follow you into the pain of the world rather than seeking our own escape.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.