Archive for October, 2019

Mark 5:35-43

October 18, 2019

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.

When he had entered, Jesus said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was.

He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this and told them to give her something to eat. Mark 5:35-43

Having just assured the woman who had been suffering for years that her faith had made her well, Jesus turns his attention back to Jairus and his daughter. Again, he tells Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” That is so much more easily said than done.

This has become a very noisy story. Imagine Jesus surrounded by a crush of people jostling for a closer look. The callousness in the words, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” The weeping and wailing outside of Jairus’ home. The laughter of those who heard Jesus say that “the child is not dead but sleeping.”

Only then is there a moment of peace. Jesus enters the child’s room and takes her by the hand. A touch. Then a word. Then the child is good as new. And then, as we’ve come to expect, Jesus tells them not to say anything to anyone about what they just witnessed. As if….

Both of these healing stories are ultimately about Jesus. What links them is the tension of fear and faith. Neither Jairus nor the bleeding woman let their fears stop them from approaching Jesus. Something made them through the fear – even the fear of rejection and disappointment. Was it their faith, their trust, their desperation? Does it matter?

We are so quick to wrongly disconnect faith and fear. We think of faith as a mental thing, a set of ideas and convictions and thoughts. We think of fear as an emotion, a feeling. Yet don’t our thoughts come wrapped up in feelings? And don’t our feelings come on the wings of thoughts? Are these really such separate things? I don’t think so.

When Jesus tells Jairus not to fear but only believe, he isn’t telling Jairus to deny his fears. Instead, Jesus is acknowledging the inevitability of his fear without surrendering to the idea that his fears will inevitably overwhelm or define him. He is inviting him to surrender to faith, to trust that Jesus has the power to write the end of this story.

We do well to let such trust inform our fears, even as we surrender our fears to our trust.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, not all stories have happy endings but you have given us a lot in the stories of this woman and this little girl and her family. There is so much that we fear in our world today, give us the trust that you hold the whole world in your hands. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Advertisements

Mark 5:25-34

October 16, 2019

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.

He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Mark 5:25-34

The technical term is “inclusio”. This refers to a literary device where a story is wrapped, or framed, within a story. Mark likes to do this and what it does to us as readers is highlight both sides of the story, either to heighten the importance of its theme or to emphasize the content of the inclusio.

The first part of the inclusion was yesterday’s introduction of Jairus and his hurting daughter. Then, the middle part, on his way to Jairus’ home, Jesus is interrupted by a woman who had been suffering for twelve years. For twelve long years (maybe the age of Jairus’ daughter?) this woman had been suffering not only from her physical ailment but also from the social pain of being rendered unclean. The Old Testament is embarrassingly (brutally?) specific about how to handle women when they bleed (Leviticus 15:19-33).

Unlike Jairus, a respected elder within his village, who personally confronts Jesus to beg for help, this ritually unclean woman sneaks up on him. Even though no one else has been able to help her, she desperately reaches out to touch Jesus. She believes that Jesus can help, and her faith is met with her healing.

The interesting wrinkle in this story is that Jesus doesn’t realize what just happened. He knew something happened but not what happened. Only when the woman falls before him to confess the miracle she just experienced does Jesus get it. I really don’t know what to make of that, but it is surprising.

Upon hearing her story, Jesus addresses her as “daughter.” She is not a nameless person to him. “Daughter” is both a term of respect and endearment. She is no longer unclean. Perhaps she has never been unclean to Jesus regardless of what the Levitical holiness code might have said about her condition. He sends her off in peace.

These stories are not only about a sick little girl and a suffering woman, they are about the power of Jesus to heal the broken and restore the outcast. They aren’t just healing stories. They are love stories.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, sometimes we don’t realize the power of social conventions to damage the lives of people. We don’t realize how they can make sick people suffer even more. Thank you for the healing at every level that this woman experienced in your presence. Help us to receive, and to be agents of, such healing in our lives today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 5:21-24

October 15, 2019

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Mark 5:21-24

Even though we live in the age of the Internet and social media, my guess is that word of mouth remains the most powerful form of advertising for every business that can’t afford television ads. When Jesus was alive, word of mouth was the only form of advertising. Word got out.

Do you remember playing the old game where you sit in a circle, the first person says something in the ear of the next person, you pass it around the circle, and the last person says it aloud? The story always changes. Sometimes the story becomes unrecognizable. That is the drawback of word of mouth advertising. Once it begins there is no controlling the word that gets out.

The word got out about Jesus. Today he is back in Galilee and again he draws a large crowd of people. Notice that the person who draws Jesus’ attention this time in a leader of the synagogue. A trusted community leader. Quite likely aware of the growing opposition against Jesus. But he had no time for that, his daughter was ill. He gave Jesus a shot.

We ought always notice how Jesus always notices those both in the center, and at the edges, of a crowd. He doesn’t see a crowd, he sees people. And when they are hurting, he helps them. It isn’t complicated. Whether a prominent Jewish community leader or a demon-possessed Gentile, Jesus is there for them.

I know the helpless and terrified feeling that comes with a sick daughter. I’ve been there. Anyone with a daughter has been there. But there is sick and then there is really really sick. Jairus’ daughter is really really sick. Any parent would do anything they possibly could for such a sick daughter, even risking humiliating himself in front of the rest of the town to get help from Jesus. Long shot though it might be.

We all remember the old line, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” I don’t think there are many in emergency or ICU waiting rooms either. And I take great comfort to remember the ways that Jesus showed up for people who were hurting. There was no “What have you done for me lately?” involved. That isn’t how Jesus was.

That isn’t how God is.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank you for such open access to your presence. You are as close to us as our next breath. The simplest prayer draws you into our consciousness. Your grace, your mercy, your love, greets every prayer. We pray today for those worried about their children. Bring comfort and hope to those who are hurting. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 5:14-20

October 14, 2019

The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.

As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.’

And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed. Mark 5:14-20

More surprises surface as we come to the end of the story of the Gerasene demoniac. The last scene featured thousands of pigs running off the cliff to drown in the sea. It is hard to top that. It is funny to imagine all of those pigs running one way while their swineherds run the opposite way back to town to tell on Jesus. After all, they were supposed to protect those pigs.

And, of course, what are the people in the village going to do? They listen to the breathless swineherds’ story and they just have to see it for themselves. Like rubber-neckers at a freeway crash. But instead of a flotilla of dead pigs they see the town crazy sitting quietly by a Galilean. They didn’t know what to make of that…but now they were afraid of the guy because he was quiet rather than fearing his next outburst.

They don’t understand what is going on so they react by wanting the whole scene to end. They would rather Jesus just leave, and leave them alone, instead of finding out what happened. Sometimes we really do think ignorance is bliss. We would rather just not know. We prefer the peace of denial rather than the possibility of the truth upsetting our lives.

It is interesting again to remember that, when Jesus asked the demon its name, the demon replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” The word pops up again here as the townspeople recognize the man sitting with Jesus. Everyone then would have known that a “legion” was a unit of the Roman army consisting of about 5000 soldiers. Given that all of this happened in Roman occupied territory – and that the Decapolis was a group of ten Roman villages on the frontier of that Roman occupied territory – soldiers would have been a part of daily life.

Is there are link here? Is this whole story just a subtle dig? That Jesus, armed with nothing but his voice and the truth, could defeat the thousands of Roman soldiers (the pigs rushing to the sea) who made life so miserable for those they dominated? Here we do well once again to remember the opening verses of Mark. Who IS the Son of God and what good news does he bring? Is it Jesus or the Emperor?

What a story that demoniac had to tell!

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, the message of your love, and the power of your presence, has turned countless lives from despair to joy, from sickness to health, from grief to gratitude. You have given us all many stories to tell. Give us the courage to tell them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 5:6-13

October 11, 2019

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.

Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. Mark 5:6-13

Even from a distance, both men recognized what they saw. The tormented man amazingly saw Jesus for who he was, the Son of God, but he was afraid that Jesus would make things worse, “do not torment me.” And Jesus, clearly seeing the man’s distress, offered both diagnosis and treatment in a single sentence, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”

There are two more surprises.

The first is Jesus speaking, not so much with the newly healed man but with the unclean spirits that have controlled him. The spirits – which are many – the guy obviously has a lot of problems – beg Jesus for mercy. How weird is that?

And then Jesus obeys the unclean spirits – very strange – and sends them into a huge herd of pigs. Who then rush into the lake and drown.

Certainly, this is a story of a miraculous healing. It is a story of the compassion that Jesus shows to those who suffer. But then there are all these little details that would be so easy for us to miss. The evil spirits recognize Jesus when the religious leaders don’t. This all happens across the sea, in foreign, Gentile, territory. Only Gentiles would have anything to do with pigs. And a herd of 2000 pigs approaches farming on an industrial scale. Almost lost in all of this is a dazed man who has been returned to his right mind. What do we do with all of this?

Some – certainly not all – mental illness and mental stress is a maladaptive response to trauma and shame. It begins as a barrier of protection against pain. Then it takes on a life of its own. Like the old line about alcoholism: First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man. The man first sees Jesus as a threat, not unlike a person suffering from bipolar mental illness in a manic state, or an addict in their disease, might resist treatment.

But none of that stops Jesus. He comes with love, responds with compassion, and gives a suffering man new life. Because that is what Jesus does.

Then there are those pigs. The story doesn’t end well for them, not to mention their owners. There is a cost involved in the cure of the man in the tombs. We will see how the locals react to that next week.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, it is strange how resistant we can be to those things in life designed to help us. We like sugar more than vegetables. We resist doing what is helpful because of our fear that it will be worse than what we have come to know as normal. We need you to move us toward healing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 5:1-5

October 10, 2019

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. Mark 5:1-5

He must have an unclean spirit. How else do we explain it? Look at the things he does. He is out of control. He is a danger to himself and to others. Just think of the children! We need to get him out of town. Let’s chain him out among the tombs where no one else wants to go. Out of sight. Out of mind. Problem solved.

In their desire for their own safety, they didn’t stop to think about his safety. He was a danger. Especially to himself. Can you see his suffering? Can you feel his shame?

Some people read this text and they think about the various homeless characters they see asking for money at street corners. Or pushing shopping carts filled with treasures down sidewalks. Or camped out under bridges. I see my extended family. I see my mom. My aunt. My sister. My son. My daughter. Me.

We have come a long way in destigmatizing some forms of sickness. But others? Other forms still carry, in addition to the suffering of the illness, the added weight of cultural shame. There is no shame to many forms of cancer – except those people think they can trace back to “lifestyle choices.” No shame in diabetes – except when the person suffering from wounds that won’t heal is seriously overweight. It isn’t fair and it isn’t helpful but it’s there.

Sadly, there is no mental illness or addictive illness without shame. But there are many voices trying to turn that around.

Today is World Mental Health Day. This is an opportunity to lift up the real suffering that real people experience because their illness happens to involve chemicals in their brains and maladaptive responses to survive. I am grateful to know that many voices are being heard in the face of the terrifying statistics around suicide, overdoses, and the increasing dangers of new substances that change the way that people feel.

Can you see the man among the tombs? Can you see his scars and open wounds? Can you hear his cries? Jesus did.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, your children are suffering. They need help. They need care. They need treatment and ongoing support. We pray today that you work through the skills of mental health care providers to bring hope and recovery to those who suffer. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 4:34-41

October 9, 2019

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.

A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:34-41

We know what the disciples were thinking….

’Why are you afraid?’ Are you serious? I’ve been on this lake my whole life and I have NEVER seen a storm like this one! I thought the boat was going down! I thought we would have to swim for it! I’m a pretty good swimmer but get serious, in THESE waves? Pardon my French, Jesus, but are you CRAZY!?”

“Besides all that, while we were bailing water like madmen what were you doing? SLEEPING in the back of the boat! You weren’t even helping us. We were going down and you didn’t even care!!!! ‘Why are you afraid’ you ask? Give me a break. I thought I was done for!!!”

When you live in Houston, you just sort of resign yourself to flooding. Hurricanes happen. Sometimes your part of town is spared. Other times it floods where it has never flooded before. You just never know. But you always know. The floods are going to come.

The wheels of the economy spinning backwards. The diagnosis you feared the most. The tragic accident and the late night phone call or knock at your door. Sometimes the winds blow and sometimes it’s a tornado.

When we find ourselves in those dark moments of life – and we are people of faith – we discover that faith doesn’t insulate us against the storms. Devotion shifts to desperation with disappointment just around the corner. We ask the age-old questions. Why me? Why them? Why now? Like the disciples in that boat, as we bail with all our might, we wonder if God cares.

Maybe we remember this story. How Jesus stopped the windstorm with a word. Then we look back at our life and we remember the times when it felt like the winds were stopped. And we wonder. Will there be a miracle this time? Or will this be it? Will the wind win this time?

Maybe the thing to remember in this story is that there were other boats on the lake that same night. The story said “other boats were with him.” It is just a little detail. But it does remind us that the disciples weren’t as alone as they might have thought. The story assures us that God does care. And that God is stronger than the wind.

We aren’t as alone as we think. God does care. God is stronger than the wind.

God does care. God is stronger than the wind.

God is stronger than the wind.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, when the winds blow in our lives, when we speak the fear that captures our hearts, when you seem so far away, bring this story back to us. Remind us that you are in the boat with us. That we are not alone. That you are stronger than the wind. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 4:34-41

October 9, 2019

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.

A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:34-41

We have a pretty good idea what the disciples were thinking….

’Why are you afraid?’ Are you serious? I’ve been on this lake my whole life and I have NEVER seen a storm like this one! I thought the boat was going down! I thought we would have to swim for it! I’m a pretty good swimmer but get serious, in THESE waves? Pardon my French, Jesus, but are you CRAZY!?”

“Besides all that, while we were bailing water like madmen what were you doing? SLEEPING in the back of the boat! You weren’t even helping us. We were going down and you didn’t even care!!!! ‘Why are you afraid’ you ask? Give me a break. I thought I was done for!!!”

When you live in Houston, you just sort of resign yourself to flooding. Hurricanes happen. Sometimes your part of town is spared. Other times it floods where it has never flooded before. You just never know. But you always know. The floods are going to come.

The wheels of the economy spinning backwards. The diagnosis you feared the most. The tragic accident and the late night phone call or knock at your door. Sometimes the winds blow and sometimes it’s a tornado.

When we find ourselves in those dark moments of life – and we are people of faith – we discover that faith doesn’t insulate us against the storms. Devotion shifts to desperation with disappointment just around the corner. We ask the age-old questions. Why me? Why them? Why now? Like the disciples in that boat, as we bail with all our might, we wonder if God cares.

Maybe we remember this story. How Jesus stopped the windstorm with a word. Then we look back at our life and we remember the times when it felt like the winds were stopped. And we wonder. Will there be a miracle this time? Or will this be it? Will the wind win this time?

Maybe the thing to remember in this story is that there were other boats on the lake that same night. The story said “other boats were with him.” It is just a little detail. But it does remind us that the disciples weren’t as alone as they might have thought. The story assures us that God does care. And that God is stronger than the wind.

We aren’t as alone as we think. God does care. God is stronger than the wind.

God does care. God is stronger than the wind.

God is stronger than the wind.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, when the winds blow in our lives, when we speak the fear that captures our hearts, when you seem so far away, bring this story back to us. Remind us that you are in the boat with us. That we are not alone. That you are stronger than the wind. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 4:30-33

October 8, 2019

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.” Mark 4:30-33

I really appreciate the words “as they were able to hear it” because that fairly well describes the journey of my life. It is connected, for me, to that other famous line that I recently talked about, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” I think that is the way life works.

No one can be expected to do math until they come to understand the concept of a number. No one can find their way around a town they have never visited unless they have some sort of map or guide. That is just common sense.

How do we learn? We learn through a combination of experience and guidance. We need others to help us along the way. As they help us, and as we gain the experiences of our lives, our inborn talents and interests and curiosities emerge. We find our path. Hopefully, we keep on learning throughout our life. I would love to die still curious.

As I find myself thinking and writing about the word “faith”, I realize that that word has taken on a whole new range of meanings for me that I didn’t use to consider. I say “innocently” because I really was innocent when I used to think that faith was a thing that I could have more or less of. I thought I needed enough of it to please God. If I didn’t have enough of it, I would be in trouble. Like Peter sinking beneath the waves.

Honestly, it was the Bible that contributed to this way of thinking. Jesus says I need faith like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds. That tells me, that when it comes to the thing of faith all I need is a little bit. Like Brylcreem—A Little Dab’ll Do Ya! But then Hebrews 11:6 pops up and says that “without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” How do you have a little dab of that?

Think about that hard enough and you enter the eternal spin cycle of shame and confusion. Faith becomes one more thing to be compared in a culture that tells us that bigger and more is always better than smaller and less. One more performance to be measured and evaluated and judged and graded.

So how has my thinking been evolving? I realize that I have far too often equated faith with certainty rather than seeing them as polar opposites in constant creative tension. Faith is more about conversation than conclusion, more like a dance than a doctrine. Faith is more a way of being and a way of seeing life.

Faith thus requires both life experience and guidance. It both creates and depends on relationships to flourish. Faith opens life to us because it takes us beyond what we know to the good news that we are known. And so is everyone else. And we need one another to discover that together.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, open our hearts and minds to the reality of your presence and the guidance of your Spirit. Bring us to a new awareness of our part in your kingdom and help us trust that your purposes will be worked out in the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

October 3, 2019

He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29

When you live in a big city, and you don’t have the room or the inclination to garden, you don’t spend much time thinking about seeds. Except when you are in school and they make you do the bean project. The bean project is a rite of passage for young people.

Remember how it worked? Your science teacher gave you a small bag of beans and a set of instructions. You were to plant them in little numbered boxes or cups and then experiment with them. Some got more light, some less. Some got more water, some less. Some you watered with Coke or something else. You measured their growth and you wrote a report and you were done and moved on.

You might not even have noticed the wonder of it all. How could it be that that seed held all that it needed – short of water and sunlight – to become a plant? And not just any plant. A plant that could someday produce seeds of its own. Even after your science teacher explained the math of how it all happened, it was still a miracle.

It is interesting how non-specific Jesus is when he is teaching about the kingdom of God. Truly, that is his main thing. From the very beginning, chapter 1, Jesus announced that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” You don’t have to know anything about kingdoms to sense how strange it is for him to use those words.

In the real world, kingdoms don’t move. They might expand as the king conquered more territory but other than that, kingdoms are places you go to, they aren’t things that come to you. So how strange that Jesus says that the kingdom of God “has come near”? There is something mysterious about that. He must be talking about a different sort of kingdom.

But actually he isn’t. Because, when you drill down through the layers of what a kingdom really is, you can finally only land on the word “relationship.” The relationship between the king and the king’s subjects and all that that means. Other words come to mind like power, privilege, loyalty, subservience, protection, identity. You don’t need land, a castle, or a crown to have that. They’re nice. They’re handy. But they aren’t the heart of the matter.

So the only way to understand how Jesus portrays the kingdom of God “coming near” is to realize that it is only coming near now in Jesus himself. He is the physical embodiment of God’s reign in the world. Thus to trust Jesus, to believe in Jesus, is to realize that God is our true king and all earthly kingdoms are of a wholly different nature than God’s kingdom.

Earthly kingdoms are not modeled on God’s kingdom – earthly kingdoms are in competition with God’s kingdom for the hearts and minds of God’s people. Caesar can take my taxes but Caesar has no rightful claim on my heart. Caesar only gets my heart if I give it to him – and I’m not going to do that.

God’s kingdom is subversive but not violent. It is not coerced or forced or even enforced on anyone. It just IS and it is the only universal, all-inclusive, kingdom there is. Which makes it both as powerful, and as mysterious, as bean plants sprouting in little boxes. Even if you feed it Coke. As long as it gets enough sunshine because it is only darkness that will certainly kill a seed.

Let us pray: Lord, reign in our lives. Reign in our lives with truth, justice, compassion, and love. Thank you for the mystery of your love which has been planted, and is now carefully tended, in our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.