Archive for July, 2012

Tuesday, July 31st. Mark 14:32-42

July 31, 2012

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” Mark 14:32-42

 

I had the blessing of visiting the Holy Land on a pilgrimage with an ecumenical group of pastors.  We began and ended each day in worship.  And we were divided into teams of two to plan additional times for prayer and worship at the various holy sites we visited.  I was teamed up with a Baptist pastor to lead our time of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

 

Like many of the holy sites, there was a little shadow of “Did what we remember really happen here or has this always been a convenient place to gather tourists?”  (It is hard for a natural skeptic to let go of his skepticism.)  But that quickly went away when we started to pray.

 

We were there.  On that spot.  Of all the places we visited, it was at the Garden of Gethsemane where I needed to pray.  For my faith needs this story of the garden.

 

The other garden story I know too well – the story of being surrounded by all of the goodness and blessing that God would graciously throw my way, only to throw it all away for one juicy bite of the one fruit I was told not to touch.  That story I know far too well.

 

Like Paul in Romans 7, I’m an expert at knowing what not to do but doing it anyway, and knowing what to do but choosing not to do it.  I understand the desire to do the good and the shock at discovering myself heading the other direction.  I know that garden story intimately.

 

So I need this other garden story to make sense of life.  I need to know that, while all of us followers of Jesus surrender not to service but to sleep, that Jesus remains awake.  I need to know that Jesus was as torn about his purpose as we are, nevertheless he took the cup that was his alone to take.

 

I don’t remember much of anything about the prayer service we led in the Garden of Gethsemane.  But I do remember saying “Thank you.”

 

Let us pray:  Lord, you encourage us to pray, command us to stay awake, and yet we fail, again and again and again.  So we pray yet again for forgiveness, seventy times seventy times seventy we pray.  And again we awake to find you standing near us, standing for us, still sending us, still entrusting us with the privilege of bearing your name to the world.  May your will be done.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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Monday, July 30th. Mark 14:26-31

July 30, 2012

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”

 

Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same.  Mark 14:26-31

 

Somewhere, some time along the way, as we prepared to sing the old Lenten hymn, “Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?”, I overheard someone say “Yes.”  I’ve never forgotten that.  I think of it every time I think of that hymn.  I’m thinking of it again this morning.

 

Jesus goes to the cross, alone.

 

Each of the gospels tells the story a bit differently.  Various characters make brief appearances on the stage.  One even helping Jesus with the cross down the Via Dolorosa.  But even those moments leave Jesus all the more alone.  For, at the end of the journey, Jesus takes his place on the cross, by himself, for us.

 

What do we make of Peter’s vehement declaration of loyalty to the end?  Is it heroic or is it something else?

 

Perhaps we could play a “what if?” game.

 

What if Peter followed through with his pledge to protect and stand by Jesus?  What if he organized a local militia and busted Jesus out of the Roman garrison where he spent the night?  What if he organized a crowd of people to overwhelm the parade through Jerusalem and helped Jesus scurry to safety down the labyrinthine streets of Old Jerusalem?

 

It would change everything, wouldn’t it?

 

No longer would the Christian faith be the great equalizer, all humanity finding its place at the foot of the cross, surrendering to the good news that Jesus does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

 

The faith instead would be about emulating Peter’s courage and pluck.  It would be about moral striving and literally fighting back against the forces arrayed against the good and gracious will of God.  It would leave us all with the idea, “If Peter could do something wonderful like that, why can’t we?”

 

We would divide people into the good people who act like Peter and the bad people out to get Jesus.

 

But that isn’t the story.  As much as it seems that we want to rewrite the script, that isn’t the story.  Yes, Jesus must bear the cross alone.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, like Peter we often feel surges of courage and determination and spiritual adrenaline, but we end up faltering and stumbling.  All we can do is seek your forgiveness and surrender to your love.  Your amazing gracious love.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, July 26th. Mark 14:17-25

July 26, 2012

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

 

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  Mark 14:17-25

 

I believe there is one table.  There are chairs for everyone.  Far too many of those chairs sit empty.  And those at the table are amazed to see the riff raff sitting around them.

 

As a pastor, whether it was last Sunday in a beautiful sanctuary or yesterday morning in a nursing home, I have the incredible privilege of repeating those very same words that Jesus himself used when gathering around that table with his friends.  “This is my body.”  “This is my blood.”  For you.

 

So it is that I read the Old Testament and find myself amazed at how much dirty laundry its Jewish authors hung out for the world to see.  For some reason, rooted I think in its focus on the gracious power of God and the courageous confession of fallen people, the Old Testament pulls no punches in describing people as both fallen and redeemed, blessed and broken, saint and sinner.

 

Adam and Eve trade paradise for a snack.  No sooner freed from 400 years of slavery and the people want to go back into slavery for the sake of a fleshpot of food.  Moses gets the commandments on the mountaintop while the people dance around idols.  David achieves the glory of his kingship and overpowers the wife of an honorable man.  God sends prophets and they are rejected, abused, ignored, or killed.  Relentless willingness to tell the truth of human brokenness that I find amazing.

 

So, given that history, how could it be other than Jesus gathering with his friends for this last meal, with a guest list that included the very disciple who would sell his soul, sell his Savior, for 30 pieces of silver?

 

So why is it, I wonder again and again, that people today still battle (or others impose) the expectation that they have to be “good enough”, to be “worthy”, to “qualify” to sit around that table and receive that blessed Body and Blood?  Why do we dump so many layers of rules and regulations and side-long glances and look what she’s wearing and denominational in-fighting and liturgical gymnastics around this simple act of repeating words and eating bread and drinking wine (fermented or not, from a chalice or a cup or a little plastic glass as if ANY of that matters to Jesus who is ever and ALWAYS the one and only Host of that meal?)

 

Say whatever you want about the church, the faith, or the tired litany of horrible things done throughout history in the name of God….say anything you want…get it off your chest if you need to…but for me it will always come down to this:  Judas ate that bread too.  Only after he had eaten did Jesus send him out to do his dirty work.

 

If there is room for Judas at that table, there is room for us too.

 

Far too many of those chairs are empty.  And we have the privilege of having been sent out to call a still broken world home for dinner.

 

Let us pray:  Thank you, Lord, for coming to us again and again and again, that we might receive your love in bread and wine, around your table, for the sake of your mission in the world.  Use us as signs of your love, that the world might taste and know that the Lord is good.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 24th. Mark 14:10-16

July 24, 2012

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

 

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal. Mark 14:10-16

 

Again today we see a contrast – one disciple making a deal to betray Jesus while other disciples make preparations for what they do not realize will be his last meal.

 

We normally read this story from a distance.  As if the events being remembered happened back there, far from us.  That is natural and, also, true.  But Mark wasn’t written as a diary, it was written as a directive.  It isn’t so much about remembering the past as it is transforming the present which then opens up the possibilities of a new future.

 

So we read this all too familiar story and we notice Judas.  Modern Christian reactions to Judas have been all over the board.  Some might say, “Good bye and good riddance” without losing any sleep over the idea of Judas roasting in the fires of hell for all eternity.  Others might say that Judas got a bum rap, that God used him as a pawn to set in stage what God had long ago decided would be Jesus’ path.  Still others, somewhere in the middle, would argue that Judas was deeply disappointed in Jesus for raising people’s hopes but not raising the army that could free them.

 

Mark doesn’t clear any of this up for us.  Matthew, Luke, and John don’t help either.  All tell the story of the betrayal with slightly different details but no one provides clarity.

 

What can we take away from these contrasting disciples?  Certainly more is going on in this story than what they are aware of.  This matters.  The world doesn’t revolve around us.  We play our parts but the larger drama of life is far more than we can see.  Our motives are usually mixed and our actions often betray us, even as they betray the God we seek to follow.

 

We can also hear that distant drum of death in these verses.  We know what lies around the corner but we can’t do anything to stop or prevent what is going to happen.  We hear the drum and we know that the time is short.  What will we do to make the best of that time?

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, it is painful to hear the story again of your betrayal.  To see one of your own turn against you – and to remember again our own betrayals, our own disappointment and dashed expectations.  We pray today that, in our lives and in our time, as your holy purpose is worked out, that we might surrender to your will rather than imposing our own.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Monday, July 23rd. Mark 14:1-9

July 23, 2012

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

 

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” Mark 14:1-9

 

This week we move into the 14th chapter, a relentless study in contrasts.  Today’s contrast is between the religious leaders and an anonymous woman.  Mark’s writing here is tantalizing.  He says much but leaves so much more to our imaginations, where the Spirit speaks to us.

 

The scene happens within the home of Simon the leper.  What a strange name.  What do we make of it?  Clearly his leprosy must be in his past or he would not be allowed to live freely within the village, let alone welcome friends to his home.  Lepers would have been sent outside of the village, but he is now host to the last dinner party Jesus would know short of the Passover meal.  Is he someone whom Jesus has cured?  We don’t know.

 

What we do know is that, while Simon welcomes Jesus, the religious leaders are conspiring to find a time and place to arrest and kill him.  But they are afraid. Not of killing a man because they honestly think it is the godly thing to do.  Not of killing an innocent man because they don’t think he is innocent.  They are afraid of causing a riot.  They are afraid of how people might react.

 

Enter the anonymous woman.  We have no idea who she is.  Who she is doesn’t matter.  She obviously doesn’t care what people think for she too has plans for Jesus.

 

She pours a jar of fragrant, costly ointment on Jesus’ head.  He is, after all, the anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ.  Her gift prepares Jesus’ body for death.  Mark doesn’t tell us why she did this.  Perhaps she too, like Simon, had been touched deeply by Jesus’ love.

 

At least some of those gathered think what she has done is wasteful.  I understand that.  “Where two or three gather together in Jesus’ name”…. at least one of them will complain about something.  But it is strange, isn’t it, that the words we most remember about this text are “For you always have the poor with you”.

 

Yet Jesus tells us that what this woman has done, this extravagant demonstration of love and devotion, will be remembered forever.  So we have remembered it today.  And we remember the complaints of his friends, and the conspiracy of his enemies, as well.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we turn now with you on the last steps to the cross.  We pray that you might stir up within us the kind of gratitude that this nameless woman showed you.  May we see your face as we love the unlovely and remember the forgotten.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Friday, July 20th. Mark 13:32-37

July 20, 2012

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”  Mark 13:32-37

 

Today we come to the end of Mark’s “mini-apocalypse.”  The purpose behind apocalyptic poetry is to bring encouragement to the oppressed and fearful.  But once again I am reminded that there are, always have been, and always will be, groups within Christianity who ground their understanding and practice of the faith on weaving this particular strand of biblical literature into a kind of Ouiji board secret code for deciphering current events.

 

This is a harmless distraction for most of us but can be devastating to those who are vulnerable to the manipulation of charlatans.  People like David Koresh and Jim Jones might be remembered as seriously deranged, but we need to be mindful of the ways that they twisted and perverted the faith in leading their followers to tragic ends.

 

Television personalities like Jack Van Impe, Hal Lindsey, and even John Hagee, have millions of followers who support them financially and prayerfully.  Their teaching uses fear and conspiracy theorizing in peddling a thin veneer of hate and division as they cast themselves as the beleagured “in the know” crowd.

 

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins made millions upon millions of dollars with their fictional “Left Behind” series.  I remember well when that first novel came out in 1995.  I had several people come to me, seriously troubled and fear-ridden, even obsessed, with those books.  To be fair, the first novel was gripping…as fictional literature.  But that was not how it was presented to the public.  It was clearly marketed as “a preview of coming attractions.”  And once again, rather than leading people to real faith, it inoculated far too many against it.  But LaHaye and Jenkins got to keep the money or use it to underwrite even more fearmongering .

 

I find myself writing these words and I know they are going to hit home with many people, probably on all sides of the spectrum.  There are those who will forward this devotion to their well-meaning but kooky religious relatives who have been driving them crazy for years.  Others will attack me because I named names.  That isn’t polite.  I’m being judgmental.  I don’t know what I’m talking about.

 

Guilty on all counts.  I’m not being polite this morning.  I am casting a negative judgment against religious leaders who cherry pick Bible verses and use them to manipulate people with fear and hate.  And yes, I don’t know what I’m talking about.  On that I stand in good company as Mark tells us – “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

 

I don’t know what the future holds but I know Who holds the future.  And I know that, far from staying awake, I far too often fall asleep at the wheel.  But God isn’t through with me or any of us yet.  And I think the commandment to love God and our neighbor is more than enough to keep us busy for the rest of our lives without selling the farm to wait for Jesus on a hill.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, the world uses fear to intimidate and control, but you use love to create and transform.  While we worry about the end, you love us from the beginning.  Bring fresh insight and healing to those who have been hurt along the way, even by well meaning voices.  Use us as you will, always to your glory, and to the welfare of all people.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, July 19th. Mark 13:28-31

July 19, 2012

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  Mark 13:28-31

 

Every time I read this passage I wish I knew more about fig trees.

 

Every time I read this passage I wish that Jesus wouldn’t have said “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place…

 

Fig trees I can learn about.  But that second line invites me into the kind of word parsing that I really hate.  We all remember the infamous line, “It depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is.”  Legal and semantic technicalities aside…no one appreciated that line.  So it is that a literal reading of “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place…” is troublesome.

 

The truth is, most of what is described in Mark 13 actually did happen.  The Jewish-Roman War raged from 67-70 CE.  It was horrible, particularly in Jerusalem, but not just there.  From the countryside and villages of Galilee in the north to the massacre at Masada in the east, the Roman armies were brutal and efficient. THAT generation of people are long gone but we are still here.  So what do we make of that?

 

I can well imagine that Bible interpreters seeking to preserve a very narrow foundation for biblical authority would jump on the word “all” (from ‘all these things have taken place’) and then argue that Jesus was making a future prediction.  Much has clearly happened but not all has happened so we are still waiting for the end of time, the final consummation (and conflagration), the closing chapter, the fat lady to sing.

 

But I come from a very different point of view.  The authority of the Bible does not rest for me on parsing individual words wherein the meaning is a closely guarded secret only available to the highly educated theological elite.  Nor does it rest on a very narrow and literal foundation of the modern myth of “scientifically measurable and observable phenomena.”

 

For me, the foundation of the Bible rests in God’s promise to use the interplay of people reading and talking and sharing and interpreting and being interpreted by, long preserved written witnesses, of the living relationship of the Creator and the created, the Redeemer and the redeemed, the Sanctifier and the sanctified.  Which is why, when I listen to the Bible alone or with others, I play close attention to what the text is actually doing to me/us as I/we read it.  Because I believe it is precisely in that interplay that God continues to speak and the living Lord continues to be revealed to us.

 

Thus, this text tells me that we are very selective in “reading the signs of the times.”  Farmers know when to plant.  Meteorologists warn about hurricanes.  Economists…well, we don’t want to go to far with this…  But the point is that we are quick to see the “signs” that are physically manifested around us all the time.  But we are far too often blind to the spiritual signs, to the meaning behind and beneath the surface, to the deeper realities of what is going on in reality.

 

The dark realities of life are real in every generation.  And the power of God’s word to shed light into that darkness, to reveal a path to peace and wholeness, will never pass away.  And the living Lord Jesus will always be just at the gate, just around the corner, as close to us as our next breath.

 

Draw that next breath deeply – don’t hold your breath out of fear.

 

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we always want answers because answers feel like mastery, they feel like power, they feel like the secret code to eternal insider status.  But answers seldom help.  So what we really need is your presence in our lives as we live in the questions of life.  Come to us and draw us to you, in this time, to the end of time.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Wednesday, July 18th. Mark 13:24-27

July 18, 2012

“But in those days, after that suffering,

            the sun will be darkened,

            and the moon will not give its light,

            and the stars will be falling from heaven,

            and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”  Mark 13:24-27

The depth psychologist, Carl Jung, made much of the idea of “archetypes.”  Archetypes can be understood as an infinite number of basic patterns of being and behavior that lie beneath and behind the conscious level of our lives.  For Jung, life was a dance with the archetypes within and around us.  The more conscious we are of these patterns and our participation in them, the more we experience peace of mind and personal wholeness.  (Which is about all I know about the idea…)

I’m thinking of Jung’s archetypes this morning because one of them, the Hero, isn’t terribly far from the ancient Hebrew idea of the “Son of Man” coming in clouds of glory with an army of angels to open a can of divine judgment and retribution upon the earth – a mission to boldly go (Star Trek was based on archetypes) on a mission to punish the evil and rescue the righteous.

This idea is a main driver behind the prophetic visions of apocalyptic poetry.  We see it here in Mark 13.  We also see it in the apocalyptic images from Daniel 7, Ezekiel 32, Joel 2 and 3, and Isaiah 13 and 34.  We see it in the book of the Revelation.

We even see it in the character of Superman as conceived by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  These man, both Jews, knew exactly what they were doing when they named Superman’s father “Jor-El” [El a Hebrew name for God), gave Superman the name, “Kal-El” (son of god), sent him to earth to save his own life as well as save the earth, invested superhuman powers in him, and pitted him against evil in the person of Lex Luthor.  (I’m thinking here, painfully, that they might have been aware of Martin Luther’s horrible early writings against the Jews and how they were conveniently trotted out to justify the savagery of the Nazi’s.)

It is neither a stretch nor an accident that Superman looks a whole lot like Jesus.  Not as a slam against Christianity but as an archetype within our collective unconscious.

This idea of “hero” is fundamentally hopeful.  It reminds us of the darkness of life, hence the need for the heroic, but also the promise of rescue, hence the role of the hero.  But, even as Jung himself believed, as powerful as archetypes might be, they exercise their power as they become the lived reality of people.

Which means for us, and aligns here with the witness of the Bible, that our calling isn’t to sell everything and go wait on a mountaintop for the celestial fireworks to start…our calling is to join Jesus in the valley.  Down in the real world where people live in relationship with one another, where they battle with hunger and survival, sickness and health, even life and death.

Certainly we live with gratitude and hope in our Redeemer, but that only finds meaning in purpose as we live the loving lives of the redeemed.

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, we live in a hope that we have shared with millions down through the ages, a hope that says that life does have purpose and meaning and that you are bringing us to a great day of completion.  We pray that this hope might lead us to engage the world rather than escape it, to stand with you in seeking health, wholeness, peace, justice, and mercy for all people.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 17th. Mark 13:14-23

July 17, 2012

But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; the one on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that it may not be in winter. For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days. And if anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Look! There he is!’ —do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be alert; I have already told you everything. Mark 13:14-23

We seem a long way removed from a time when it was dangerous to be a person of faith. Not so in its earliest days. In the beginning, a person who believed Jesus to be the promised Messiah could be cut off from family and friends, ostracized, even demonized. It could be dangerous.

It still is like that is some parts of the world. We hear stories of missionaries who are captured and killed. Stories of people in danger after converting to Christianity. Stories of clandestine Christian gatherings in China and the Middle East.

Not so much for most of us.

For most of us, somewhere along the line a new formula emerged. At some point “church = suffering” became “church = my personal comfort”. Not just personal comfort with beautiful buildings, padded seats, air conditioning, state of the art sound systems but psychic comfort as well – a sort of unconscious cosmic conspiracy where we don’t talk about or mention things in church or church circles that are uncomfortable or challenging of controversial.

Well…at least not for us….

It actually has become fashionable in many church circles to say all sorts of challenging, uncomfortable or controversial things….as long as they are about someone else. As long as we what say is politically correct in our own circles, our own tribe. Thus it is that pastors of “conservative congregations” can take a weekly shot at gay marriage or the government and everybody nods and grimaces and agrees. And pastors of “liberal churches” can take a weekly shot against the conservatives and their folks do the same.

After all, creating a common enemy is a quick and easy way to build community. It always feels good to be “us” when we can feel self righteously superior to “them”.

But then Jesus whispers in the ears of all who are willing to hear – “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” “What will it count if you gain the whole world but lose your soul.” “Woman, where are your persecutors? Go and sin no more.” “The poor you will always have with you. What she has done will be remembered forever.” “When the Son of Man is lifted up he will draw all people to himself.”

So it is that Jesus upsets the apple carts of the comfortable…and brings continual encouragement to the suffering and oppressed.

Maybe it is time that we worry far less about our own comfort and more about our calling. Maybe it is time that we realize that the ideas and causes and real life human situations around us that make us feel scared and uncomfortable are precisely the doors through which faith would have us walk.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we know there are places where it is dangerous to be named among your children, and yet we know that you are still present in such places through the courage and faithfulness of those who stand up for you anyway. In our comfortable lives, we shy away from that which we find scary and uncomfortable. Forgive us. Set us free. So we pray that you bring challenges into our lives and that you fill us with the kind of faith that faces them with courage, determination, and compassion. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, July 16th. Mark 13:9-13

July 16, 2012

“As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  Mark 13:9-13

As the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

A recent newspaper article said that, for growing numbers of Americans, the most significant national memory has become the destruction of the World Trade Center.  Ironically, the phone number we call when we’re in trouble, 911, is the short hand way of referring to that national tragedy, 9/11.

Which means that, for our youngest generations, the “bad guy” living in the shadows of their imaginations are terrorists and suicide bombers.  Torture, dehumanization, has become the normal practice for both the “good guys” and the “bad guys”.  It happens in secret locations, is a feature of the civil wars in Africa, the drug wars in Mexico, Central, and South America.

Back in our day, when the Cold War was still hot, we had other national memories.  Watergate.  The Tet Offensive.  Pearl Harbor.  The Lusitania.  The Civil War.  The rogue’s gallery of man’ inhumanity stretches back as far as we seek to see.

All the way back to the first century and the scapegoating mistreatment of the earliest Christians as the Roman empire squashed the micro-rebellion in that marginally significant place known as Israel.

We read Mark’s “mini-apocalypse” with the warped imaginations of those conditioned to see it at some kind of foreshadowing of the “end times.”  Here is the truth – we DO live in the end times.  People have always lived in the end times.  And the point of apocalyptic literature has always been both to give voice and encouragement to those suffering under the thumbs of the powerful AND to capture and expose their abuses.

So it is that these words, all the words of this chapter, are about ALL times, not just back then or off into the future.  Thus they speak encouragement to those who are suffering today – “those who endure to the end will be saved” – and they challenge us to learn from the past, to find another way, to finally realize that violence begets violence, and perhaps learn a new way to do life together.

Let us pray:  Dear Lord, you hear the cries of the suffering and you know the carefully crafted plans of those wielding the power to do violence.  May the sufferings of the faithful stand against evil.  May we trust the power of love.  May we trust your Spirit to guide our steps, quell our fears, and bring your kingdom of peace.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.