Archive for June, 2012

Thursday, June 28th. Mark 13:1-8

June 28, 2012

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

 

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs. Mark 13:1-8

 

Today’s devotion will be the last for awhile as I head off into two weeks of summer vacation.  This morning I’m feeling the accumulated stress that builds as you try to cover all the bases, knowing that you’ll be leaving the stadium in good hands but leaving nonetheless.

In our walk through the gospel of Mark we now reach the 13th chapter.  This chapter is Mark’s mini-apocalypse.  This chapter is presented as private information shared only with some of the disciples – Peter, James, John, and Andrew.  The feeling of “private”, “insider”, information is a common element of apocalyptic writing.  So too is the “future tense” of the narrative.  Apocalyptic writing comes across as predicting the future when what it really does is offer hope and explanation in the midst of, and in the memories of, times of turbulence, testing, and trial.

Scholars agree that Mark was written during or shortly after the horrors of the Jewish uprising in Jerusalem from 67-70 CE.  The Jewish/Christian world was rocked by Rome’s crushing force that included the utter destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the end of a long chapter in Jewish faith.

And yet, even as Mark’s narrative is set within a particular historical context, the language continues to speak powerfully to us today.  We still have our edifice complexes as we marvel at the seemingly indestructible large stone buildings that rise among us.  Here in Houston, the Astrodome, the 8th Wonder of the World, sits empty, condemned, unusable, and dwarfed by the new stadium right next door.  One day it will be rubble.

Not a day passes in our lives where there isn’t significant evidence of birthpangs in our ever-changing world.  The European economy is in turmoil.  I listen each morning to the reports of political and financial wrangling between once powerful countries seeking to work together rather than dominate one another.  The bigger they are, the harder…

Wild fires are raging in Colorado and the western United States.  When you hear reports that 30,000 people are being evacuated, you know there are serious fires burning.  Last year we saw the worst wild fires in recorded Texas history.  Now those conditions exist all along the Rocky ridge.

We were talking about those fires last night in Bible study and a woman, whose daughter lives near Colorado Springs, said, “What is so horrible about all of that is how absolutely powerless you feel.”

Yes.  We are far more powerless than we like to admit.  We live our lives caught up in forces that are far beyond our control.  We live with a never ending list of “little messiahs” who promise us they will fix all of our problems if we just elect them to office, buy their products, design their technology, or attend their seminar.  All….rubble.

Yet there is another voice.  A still small voice that overpowers the wind and the mighty storm.  This Voice tells us that the darkest night cannot quench the smallest candle.  It speaks words of hope, guides our feet down paths of peace, and reminds of the power of love.  It is a Voice reminding us that confessing our powerlessness is the first step toward wholeness.

Keep awake.  Keep watch.

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, all times are good times and bad times.  As life crashes among us, and as we nurture the tiny glimmers of hope around us, we pray for a constant sense of your presence, power, and provision.  Draw near to those who suffer, those who seek to be helpful, and those given weighty responsibility.  Help us rest our faith on the solid foundations of your love, shown forth in the communities that gather in your name, rather than the shifting sands of the gods who are no gods.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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Wednesday, June 27th. Mark 12:38-44

June 27, 2012

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

 

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:38-44

 

A couple from Faith just returned from vacation in Europe.  As they told me of their travels they mentioned the beautiful church buildings they saw in every little village through which they passed.  Every village had one.  And every church building they entered was remarkable.  So I did the math.

 

Many of those buildings were built during feudal times.  Think institutional slavery blessed by church and culture.  None of those beautiful church buildings were built with bake sales.  They were built with money provided by wealthy landowners and labor provided by the working poor.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that, once one village had a beautiful, massive church building, the folks one village over thought they could do even better.  So people competed with one another, a massive religious edifice complex.

 

To the glory of God?

 

The scribes devour widows to fuel their lifestyle of public extravagance.  They want to see and be seen.  Their public prayers are spoken to elevate their standing among those who hear them.  They could just as well be praying to Ba’al.  The widow gives everything.  Including her money.

 

The widow gives.  The scribes purchase.  Therein lies the difference and Jesus watches it happen.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, in our living, in our giving, may our focus and passion rest on doing good rather than looking good.  Help us manage well whatever we have been given.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 26th. Mark 12:35-37

June 26, 2012

While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared,

            ‘The Lord said to my Lord,

            “Sit at my right hand,

            until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?” And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.  Mark 12:35-37

 

So I sat down yesterday morning to listen to this intriguing passage and I realized that I was stumped.  Once again I ran smack dab into the realization that I will never know enough to feel confident that I know enough to do what I do on a daily basis.

 

What got me was the phrase, “David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared…”  As I read those words I realized that I know next to nothing about how the pre-Jesus Jewish world understood the concept of “spirit” not to mention “Holy Spirit.”

 

Clearly it is important.  You have to wait exactly one sentence in the Hebrew scriptures before you run into a reference about a “wind from God” hovering over the pre-creation chaos.  The Hebrew word there translated “wind” is “ruach.”  And ruach appears over 400 times in the Old Testament.

 

Wind is one meaning of ruach.  But ruach can also mean a person’s “inner thoughts,” “mind,” “character,” or “disposition.”  In our normal way of talking, perhaps the closest we could come to the meaning of ruach would be to use words that reach down to the essential heart and soul of who a person truly is.

 

So…when Jesus…or when Mark writing the story of Jesus…joins David and the Ruach of God together in the declaration from Psalm 110, this is something that runs far deeper than our usual understanding.

 

As Christians, we often think of the Holy Spirit as a new Christian invention.  God wasn’t “Holy Spirit” until showing up in the 2nd chapter of Acts.  At least that is what many of us learned in Sunday School as children.  That isn’t right (biblically or theologically) but it is a quick answer that seems to make some kind of sense.  It is the sort of answer that we give to children…partly to answer their question and partly to shut them up.

 

The tragedy is when we don’t grow beyond that.  We try to do adult life with a childish Sunday School faith and, while it might be painfully obvious to the wider world that that is exactly what we are doing, we ourselves don’t know the difference.

 

There are consequences to this.  We shrink reality to fit our box.  We close our minds to protect ourselves from exposure to what we don’t know.  We end up in the same place as the opponents of Jesus – unable to hear the truth standing right in our midst.

 

David has his place.  His day.  His role.  But something much greater than David – and yet organically and essentially linked to David via the Ruach of God – is now standing before the crowds.  His name is Jesus and he will heal the brokenness of our lives.

 

Let us pray:  Breathe on us, Breath of God.  Fill us with new life, new eyes, new ears.  Let us draw in life as we draw ever nearer to the truth that sets us free.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Friday, June 22nd. Mark 12:28-34

June 22, 2012

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.  Mark 12:28-34

We hear all the time about how complicated the world is.  Of course it is.

So why not keep it simple?

A scribe asks a question.  It seems a simple question and yet it is just another example of how we human beings tend to think.  “Which commandment is the first of all?”

That’s how we tend to think.  We wonder, “Which is the first?”  “Which is the best?”  “Which is on top?”  All questions behind which lurks the real question…”Who is first?”  “Who is the best?”  “Who is on top?”

It seems it is always about striving to be the best.

Why?

The Bible is clear.  There is none who is righteous, no not one, save Jesus himself.  Whom we killed.  Which puts us all at the foot of the cross.  All at the mercy of Jesus.  Every single one of us.

There is no top.  There is no first.  Except for God.

There is no bottom.  There is no least, no lost, none left out.  Because God is there too.

Keep it simple.

When I love God, I love my neighbor.  When I love my neighbor, I love God.  These are inextricably bound together.

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, today, one moment at a time, help us see the good that flows forth as we love you by loving those around us.  Let us see our world, as torn and dark as it so often seems, through your eyes.  One step, one word, one thought, one glimpse, one act, at a time.  May love teach us to let go, to give up, to give way, to step aside, to surrender.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, June 21st. Mark 12:18-27

June 21, 2012

Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that ‘if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.’ There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.”

 

Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”  Mark 12:18-27

 

I just love the scene from Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon’s character verbally eviscerates the pony-tailed pretty boy pseudo-intellectual Harvard graduate student in the bar off Harvard Square.  That was the first image that came to mind is listening to the Sadducees take on Jesus.

 

The Sadducees included the temple priests in Jerusalem and that was a pretty good gig back then.  They were also prone to playing whatever politics they needed to play to keep Rome off their backs so they could do their temple thing.  It was a lucrative set up for everybody, all paid for by the religious pilgrims for whom the temple was the center of their universe.  Think “Rome Meets Las Vegas.”

 

As the highest social class, the Sadducees lived very well.  In this life.  Mark tells us that they didn’t believe in the resurrection.  They believed that we simply return to the dirt out of which we were made.  Which, of course, both justified and explained their cavalier attitude about the injustices and unrighteousness of the temple which they controlled.  If there is no resurrection, there is no accountability.  God’s blessings are realized in this life alone and they were doing quite well.  Carpe diem.

 

So they take on Jesus.  They trot out the kind of cute little word game that I might have used in college if I was attacking someone who tried to tell me about Jesus.  It doesn’t take long before Jesus foreshadows Will Hunting.

 

“You know neither the scriptures nor the power of God…”  Technically, I guess I’m a religious leader.  I graduated from both college and the seminary.  I’ve served churches for a long time.  I can tell you that there is no more powerful sword to wield against me than to tell me that I know nothing about the scriptures or the power of God.  That one cuts deep.  Especially to religious leaders like the Sadduccees.

 

Jesus ends with “you are quite wrong” which I appreciate because it is the only time he ever says something like that directly in any of the gospels.  He isn’t beating around the bush on this one.

 

But what I really appreciate is Jesus’ reminder – “He is God not of the dead, but of the living.”  Soon after I sat down to start writing this morning I got a phone call from a friend whose daughter was killed in a car accident last night.  She just graduated from college on Friday and was driving home from a job interview.  As horrific and tragic as that bad news is, the only good and comforting news that the family and friends she leaves behind will hear in the days to come is the good news of the resurrection because of the love of God poured out in Jesus.

 

I’ll take that over intellectual pissing matches any day.  (Excuse my French.)

 

Let us pray:  Dear God, you are life and death to us.  You are life itself to us.  You are everything.  Forgive us our pathetic attempts to explain you, to deny you, to attack you.  Forgive us for hiding behind the veneer of social respectability and class consciousness.  Come to us, in the tragedies and joy of these lives you have given us, to breath new life into a broken, rebellious and dying world.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Wednesday, June 20th. Mark 12:13-17

June 20, 2012

Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him. Mark 12:13-17

 

Notice right away that two groups are named here as attacking Jesus here.  The Pharisees (the religious moral reform party in favor of Jewish independence from Rome) and the Herodians (political supporters of King Herod Antipas, to whom the Roman government had given authority over Galilee and central Israel.)  The Pharisees and the Herodians would never be on the same side of the fence.  To see these two groups come together is to imagine Barack Obama and Mitt Romney joining forces because they are afraid of Ron Paul.

 

Politics does make strange bedfellows.  Especially when the quest is for power and influence which may, or may not, have anything to do with justice and the common good.

 

I know, I know, I know…it isn’t polite to talk about religion, sex, and politics.  But what am i supposed to do?  I’m sitting here in my pajamas, thinking out loud about a passage of the Bible where Jesus clearly tells us to pay whatever taxes we are to pay.  I can’t help myself.

 

YES, this is a political text.

 

Jesus sidesteps their trap with a trap of their own.  To pay taxes to the emperor was distasteful to the Pharisees (tithes are supposed to come off the top of our income…but the emperor always jumps to the head of the line.)  To pay to God the things that are God’s (like, for example, our lives, our devotion, our fidelity) seems quaint foolishness to the real politic world of the Herodians.

 

Both groups are fingered.  Both groups are challenged.  As are we.

 

God is God of all creation – sex, religion, and politics all fall under God’s domain.  We might find it difficult to decide together what that means for us but stony silence is no more the answer (nor is it possible), than hiding behind the smokescreen of theocracy.  God knows that when broken people come to share life together in community they will need leadership or they will live in chaos.  Christian stewardship includes our care over all things in our lives, and yes, that includes paying taxes.

 

But listen carefully to Jesus’ answer and there is no doubt, although the emperor is listed first, a denarius is trivial.  The ultimate authority remains God, whether the emperor likes that or not.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, we read of these groups of people continually trying to trap you, to test you, to win you to their side or just to get rid of you.  We pray today for the humility and courage, not to impose our will on you but to surrender ourselves to your will for us.  We pray for the authorities in our lives, both secular and religious, that we might live and walk ever closer to justice and the common good.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 19th. Mark 12:1-12

June 19, 2012

Then he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture:

            ‘The stone that the builders rejected

            has become the cornerstone;

            this was the Lord’s doing,

            and it is amazing in our eyes’?”

When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.  Mark 12:1-12

 

There’s an old saying about how painful it is to discover, after a lifetime spent climbing a ladder, that it is leaning against the wrong building.

 

As we read the gospel stories about Jesus and the opposition he faced, eventually what we come to see as the most diabolical aspect of his opponents is not that they opposed him because of the threat he posed to them, but because of their concern to protect their people from another religious pretender, another “promise whatever it takes to get elected” charlatan.

 

In their minds, they were doing the right and godly thing by opposing Jesus.  Even to the point of his arrest and crucifixion.

 

But, even if we give them that, we also see the deeper currents flowing under their actions.  For they were also protecting themselves.  Expecting anything different would be to imagine a scene where the entire United States Senate and House of Representatives decide to resign one day because they can’t agree on a budget.  “We can’t seem to accomplish what you sent us here to do, so, for the sake of the greater national good, we hereby resign so you can elect some new people who will get the job done.”  It isn’t going to happen.

 

Nor would the entrenched interests of the religious leaders (not to mention the crowds) realize that they were only the latest in a long line of God’s people who cared only for themselves.  Even if it meant killing the heir and keeping the vineyard to themselves.

 

Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, we get life so backwards when it comes to you.  We worry so much about whether or not people trust in you that we forget about how much you have entrusted to us.  We are workers in your vineyard – we are the produce of that vineyard.  Forgive our selfishness and blindness, that we might recognize you in our midst.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Monday, June 18th. Mark 11:27-33

June 18, 2012

Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?” —they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”  Mark 11:27-33

 

We live under several kinds of authority in our lives.  Institutional authority is the power invested in the structure of organizations.

 

We have to pay taxes because we are citizens and that is how we have chosen to fund the operations of government, at each level.  Students have to listen and obey their teachers because we give the teachers authority to take charge of their classrooms.  You have to do the work assigned to you by your manager at work because of the authority of the position they hold within the organization.

 

Coercive authority is the power given to enforce institutional authority – or the position of power taken by someone with the ability to enforce it.  Whether it is a highway patrolman with his lights flashing behind you or a masked man with a gun demanding your wallet, you are wise to obey.

 

Conferred authority is the authority we grant to someone else who may or may not have any institutional or coercive authority.  I have given, for example, my friend Jamie authority in my life regarding golf.  If he says I need to get golf shoes, or new clubs, or not to sway my hips as much as I want, I listen to him.  I value his advice and judgement and therefore given him authority over me that he wouldn’t otherwise possess.

 

Institutional authority can expect obedience.  It can expect compliance.  Coercive authority can demand compliance.  But the real power in our lives is conferred authority because conferred authority is based on trust, on love, on loyalty.

 

The scribes and Pharisees had a certain amount of institutional, even coercive, authority and they would soon use it over Jesus.  But this authority is shaky, temporary, illusionary.  It is as fickle as the crowds it seeks to control.

 

Jesus, on the other hand, had no institutional authority nor did he seek to exercise coercive authority.  The only authority Jesus would have would be conferred authority.  Which, in the end, is the most powerful authority there is.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we too suffer under the weight of what people will think.  We act based on what we can get away with rather than what is right.  We worry more about what the neighbors will think than about what you will for our lives.  Free us from this bondage as we entrust all that we have and are to your care, keeping and will.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Friday, June 15th. Mark 11:20-26

June 15, 2012

In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea”, and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. ‘Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.’   Mark 11:20-26

 

Now we find ourselves again with the now withered fig tree.  Peter is quite impressed.

 

I’m having a hard time listening to this text this morning.  I’m not impressed with a fig tree parlor trick.  This simply seems out of character for the Jesus we have been following.  He heals people.  He tells stories.  He doesn’t snap his fingers or wiggle his nose or mouth incantations.  He works miracles, not magic.  The fig tree looks like magic.

 

I hear the encouragement Jesus gives for the disciples to have faith.  The encouragement to pray and the promise that their prayers would be answered….if only they believe.  This too is troublesome.

 

How many people have prayed fervently through the years for miracles to happen?  Prayers for sick parents and children and loved ones.  Prayers for sons and daughters serving in the military.  Prayers for business deals that would save their jobs or rain that would save their crops.  Prayers for sobriety and prayers for their next drink.

 

Sometimes what they pray for happens.  Once.  And “faith” becomes magic for them.  Rather than a foundation for life, it becomes a fountain of youth, a mythic fantasy they chase but never catch.  Until they give up and quit.  Resentful, disillusioned, disconnected.

 

Far more often, prayers seem to go unanswered.  Then people might doubt their faith – did they believe enough?  Did they pray with the right words in the right ways?  Well meaning people tell them, “God always answers prayers, it is just that sometimes the answer is no.”  They say, “You have to remember that God’s timing is not your own.  You never know how God will answer your prayers but God always will.”

 

Well meaning people protecting God, as if God needs the help.  Well meaning people unconsciously protecting their own sense of faith as magic.

 

This can be a dangerous text.

 

Or we can hear it differently.  We can see the fig tree as a symbol of this very kind of misguided faith.  There it stands, looking like a fig tree, acting like a fig tree, taking up the same space as a fig tree.  But bearing no fruit.  Its time is over.

 

Like the temple.  Majestic, awe-inspiring.  Busy as a beehive.  But empty of prayers.  It has ceased being a beacon of hope, transformed by human pride into Fantasy Island.  It has to go.

 

Nothing will be left at the end.  Nothing except forgiveness.  Reconciliation.  Resurrection.  “ Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, may we pray less about change in the world and more about change in our own hearts, that we might change the world.  May we pray less for magic and miracles and more for the resolve to do what only we can do.  May we, in our prayers, be ever more deeply rooted in you, source and giver of life itself. In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, June 14th. Mark 11:12-19

June 14, 2012

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

 

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”

 

And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.  Mark 11:12-19

 

I remember a woman who had been consumed her whole life by these verses about the fig tree.  She had heard them as a child and they rooted themselves, not in a good or helpful way, in her memory.  Worse, they rooted themselves in her identity.

 

She was the barren fig tree.  She was the one cursed by Jesus for her failure to bear fruit in her life.  She was a wife.  A mother.  A teacher.  She was a faithful volunteer.  But still she could never get away from that deep-rooted sense of worthlessness that she had carried her entire life.

 

I’m a pastor, not a psychologist.  As clear as it was to me that there were much more complex things going on inside of her, she came to me to talk only about the fig tree verses.  She felt cursed.

 

In a not so weird way, I feel equally convicted by Jesus raising a ruckus in the temple.  I still feel convicted by the idea I read earlier this year – that Jesus began a faith movement in Israel, that became an institution in Rome, a culture in Europe, and big business in the United States.  I know that we need money every week in the church.  And we always need, or at least have places for, more money than we receive.  We’re raising money for projects outside of the church every month; at times, every week.

 

Now I know that Mark didn’t include the fig tree story for the purpose of binding the soul of a woman two thousand years in the future.  And I trust that Jesus understands that our gathering and using money in the church is a far cry from the purchasing of God’s favor that was going on in the temple.

 

Yet I also can appreciate how these words and actions of Jesus – who wasn’t fooling around and meant everything he said and did – created a spellbound crowd and a fearful power structure.  They still do.

 

Not to bind us but to free us.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, forgive us for making the faith about us, for turning your love into a “thing” to be bought and sold and earned and lost.  Forgive us for doing life on our own terms, under our own power, rather than relying on you.  Forgive us for acting like the church is a family business rather than a port in the storm, a hospital for sinners, and a light on a hill.  Bring comfort and healing to those tormented by long ago heard yet misunderstood Bible verses.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.