Archive for November, 2019

Mark 7:9-13

November 12, 2019

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

One time I was talking to a lawyer friend of mine when he told me about his experience of taking the test to be admitted to the bar. He gave me the example of a complicated multiple choice question where he was supposed to pick “which of the following questions is the least wrong.” It turns out that those are really helpful real world questions because that is how it often works in the real world. Lawyers need to be able to argue both sides of disputes well.

Which is why, though it appears cynical to say, we don’t have a “justice” system in the United States, we have a “legal” system. We have an adversarial system where the goal is to win (gain the best outcome for our client) rather than a judicial system where the goal is justice. Given the sinfulness of human nature, that might be the best we can do.

That is the nature of laws functioning as boundaries on human behavior. The rules might be very clear cut but the application gets fuzzy. Think about the extraordinarily complex rules of a relatively simple game like golf. Or all of the judgment calls a baseball umpire makes or football referees make in the course of a game. In the real world, it is seldom as simple as just follow the rules.

Is it cynical or realistic to recognize that “all rules are made to be broken” or “for every law there is a loophole”?

Jesus directs these words to the Pharisees and scribes. The scribes were the lawyers, the experts in the law. The Pharisees were the parish pastors who applied the laws to the lives of the people. These were positions of great public trust. No doubt the expectations of the people were that the Pharisees and scribes knew what they were talking about. That they were honest. That they were fair. That their interpretations of the law fell into line with God’s will. Such trust is easily abused.

Central to our conception of justice is the idea that “no one is above the law.” Regardless of a person’s identity or position, no one can recklessly or intentionally break the law and get away with it. But, when you are the person with the power to interpret the law, it is much easier to twist things to your own benefit. Which is exactly what the Pharisees did when it came to their interpretation of the law concerning the care of one’s elderly parents.

God’s law is clear – take care of your parents. God is always going to side with the least powerful, the marginalized, those most in need of care. But the Pharisees twisted that to their own benefit. And, most insidiously, used God’s own rule to justify themselves.

Beware of those in positions of power who twist the rules for their own benefit, who act like they are above the law. Because those most likely to be hurt are those who are least likely to be able to defend themselves.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, guide us always to do what it right in our lives because it is the right thing to do. Help us see where we seek to justify ourselves at the expense of others, at the expense of the truth. Keep us ever mindful of the consequences of the choices we make, that we play within the rules, always for the common good. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

November 11, 2019

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)

So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Mark 7:1-8

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were the Moral Majority reform party within Judaism. They were the religious leaders in the villages of Israel. They were into spiritual and social purity, following the letter of the law. They also taught that the oral tradition was a trustworthy guide to all matters of faith. They accepted the history books, the wisdom literature, and the prophets as God’s word.

The Pharisees believed in a very active and present spiritual world. They taught about angels, demons, and the devil. They believed that all people would be resurrected to face a final judgment that would send them either to Abraham’s bosom in heaven, or down to the eternal punishment of hell, all based on the person’s holiness, purity, and fidelity to the faith.

All of that looks pretty familiar to aspects of the Christian faith. There are corners of Christianity that emphasize things like angels and demons. And there certainly are corners of the faith that teach strict religious, social, and behavioral holiness and purity.

This morning I am pretty skeptical about all of that. Clearly it seems that peer pressure, human manipulation, and cultural conformity are built-in features of human spirituality – and that is not a good thing.

This isn’t a modern creation. It didn’t begin in Jesus’ day. It stretched back at least as far as Isaiah. It is actually as old as creation itself. We always think we can do God one better. God gives us freedom. That isn’t good enough for us so we start to define what freedom means. Very quickly we come to realize again that we’re not that good at social engineering. We create monsters. We no longer see people as people but only people as pawns.

When religion becomes our religion then we are just worshipping ourselves.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, forgive us for all the ways we major in minors. All the ways we judge ourselves and others and thereby set ourselves apart. Help us see through, that we might more clearly see you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

November 11, 2019

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)

So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Mark 7:1-8

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were the Moral Majority reform party within Judaism. They were the religious leaders in the villages of Israel. They were into spiritual and social purity, following the letter of the law. They also taught that the oral tradition was a trustworthy guide to all matters of faith. They accepted the history books, the wisdom literature, and the prophets as God’s word.

The Pharisees believed in a very active and present spiritual world. They taught about angels, demons, and the devil. They believed that all people would be resurrected to face a final judgment that would send them either to Abraham’s bosom in heaven, or down to the eternal punishment of hell, all based on the person’s holiness, purity, and fidelity to the faith.

All of that looks pretty familiar to aspects of the Christian faith. There are corners of Christianity that emphasize things like angels and demons. And there certainly are corners of the faith that teach strict religious, social, and behavioral holiness and purity.

This morning I am pretty skeptical about all of that. Clearly it seems that peer pressure, human manipulation, and cultural conformity are built-in features of human spirituality – and that is not a good thing.

This isn’t a modern creation. It didn’t begin in Jesus’ day. It stretched back at least as far as Isaiah. It is actually as old as creation itself. We always think we can do God one better. God gives us freedom. That isn’t good enough for us so we start to define what freedom means. Very quickly we come to realize again that we’re not that good at social engineering. We create monsters. We no longer see people as people but only people as pawns.

When religion becomes our religion then we are just worshipping ourselves.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, forgive us for all the ways we major in minors. All the ways we judge ourselves and others and thereby set ourselves apart. Help us see through, that we might more clearly see you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 6:53-56

November 7, 2019

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.

And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. Mark 6:53-56

Do you want to know what I see when I imagine this text in my mind? I see a world full of desperate people. Hurting people. Despairing people. And, in that, the world back then looks a whole lot like the world today. If we have the eyes to see.

Jesus had the eyes to see.

Wherever he went, the crowds followed. But these weren’t like the crowds of crazed teenagers chasing down Elvis or the Beatles. These weren’t like the crowds of people filling football stadiums or political rallies. So don’t think for a minute that these crowds were all about the cult of celebrity. They weren’t there to be thrilled or entertained or manipulated or used.

Imagine a father and mother discovering that their child is unconscious in the back yard. They pick her up, rush to the car, and speed to the hospital for help. Now imagine a traffic jam with parents and children all rushing to the same hospital at once. Mark wants us to appreciate that this was the nature of the crowds following Jesus.

The cult of celebrity wasn’t something new to the Roman world which occupied Israel. Leaders constantly tried to out-do whoever had gone before with bigger and more spectacular parades, with evermore horrific violent games. Raw meat to the multitudes. And always, the crowds turned out in force.

The crowds turned out for Jesus too. He saw them. Wherever he went. And in his wake he left people whole.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, often it is so hard to see the brokenness in people. Sometimes because they hide it. Sometimes because we simply can’t or won’t see. Your love heals us from the inside out. Fill us with that love today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 6:45-52

November 6, 2019

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

When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased.

And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. Mark 6:45-52

The crowd was fed. The disciples dispatched. Jesus was alone. He took some time to pray.

It is kind of a cyclical thing but people occasionally pay a lot of attention to prayer. Sadly, most of those times appear immediately after the senseless tragedies with little beyond “thoughts and prayers.” I sometimes wonder if, after people say that, they do it?

Sometimes articles appear in newspapers and magazines about the health benefits of mindfulness and meditation. Cortisol is the hormone our body naturally makes and releases when we are under stress. Too much cortisol, the effect of too much stress, is not a good thing. It causes anxiety and depression, disrupts our concentration, troubles our sleep, and even causes weight gain. The simple practice of setting aside time for quiet, for prayer, for mindful breathing, can literally help our body to settle down.

I like to define prayer as “what we do when we are consciously aware of the presence of God.” In that, the words we use, or even the thoughts we think, don’t matter as much as the heightened awareness that we’re not alone. That we’re not accidents. That there is a purpose to our lives and a power holding us together.

Following Jesus means following him to those moments when we too find a place to be quiet, to be attentive, to bring all of who and what we are into the presence of God. He did that. We ought to as well. For our own good.

But you can’t live on the top of a mountain. It is beautiful up there but it isn’t a place to say. Life awaits. So Jesus came down from the mountain and walked into a storm. I think it usually works like that. Your prayers won’t stop the storms any more than storms can stop your prayers. But there is something about heading into a storm strengthened by prayer that puts the storm in its proper place.

Jesus looked out and saw his disciples struggling in their boat so he went to them. I don’t want to get caught up in the math about that one – I’m just going to move into my day with the image of a boatload of frightened disciples, overwhelmed, as they have often been in their lives, by the storms they well recognize, shocked by the inexplicable appearance of Jesus.

The curious phrase is “he intended to pass them by.” I’m reminded in that of the wisdom of a parent letting their child learn by doing rather than constantly rescuing them.

Seeing Jesus, they were terrified. Sometimes the help we need scares us at first. But the words of Jesus stilled the storm in the air and the storms in the hearts of his clueless disciples: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank you for breath. Thank you for time. Thank you for giving us the power to slow down, to turn our thoughts toward you, to remember who we are and Whose we are. Walk to us in the storms of our lives. Hear our cries. Settle our hearts. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 6:35-44

November 5, 2019

When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties.

Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men. Mark 6:35-44

The feeding of the 5000 (plus any women or children who might have happened by) is the only miracle story that appears in all four gospels. Why do you suppose that is? What is it about this particular story that so struck the imaginations of people that it stands out among the rest?

There’s the superficial – everyone wants a free lunch. Today is Election Day. When is the last time you voted for a politician who told you that it is childish to assume that you will always get what you want, blind to not realize that every public good requires taxpayers to pay for it, selfish to be concerned only about your own private concerns or pocketbook, or greedy to leave your grandchildren with a mountain of debt? Oh, that’s right…that’s not how it works. Instead you have people from every party promising the moon which will arrive on your doorstep on a silver platter.

Many people follow Jesus because they expect to personally benefit from the relationship. Insider status and all of that. A ticket to heaven. Even our spirituality falls prey to our constant wondering about “What’s in it for me?” Personally, I look back and I realize that is exactly how I thought at the beginning. And that is somewhere behind every time we question God for the unfairness of it all.

Even the old “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?” question belies that deeper expectation that only good things happen to those who show up to Jesus’ feed line in time for dinner.

Maybe the allure of this story is the depth of the symbolic significance of the details. Bread from heaven. The new Moses delivers. Fish – ΙΧΘΥΣ – that curious symbol etched into the walls of the gathering spaces for the fledgling Christian resistance – Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. 12 baskets, the restored glory of the reunited 12 tribes of Israel.

Or maybe the sacramental reference of taking, blessing, breaking, and giving.

Maybe it always stands there to remind us that God always takes what we have and makes it enough for what we need. That God provides.

But for me, I’m going to settle on only this – the disciples want to send the crowds off to find their own food. Jesus looks at the crowds with compassion. He sees their need. The crowds is filled with food. The disciples are taught that sending the crowds away to fend for themselves might be the easy way, but it isn’t the Jesus way.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, there is so much hunger in our world today that people are always attracted to the promise of a free lunch. We’re always looking for the easy way out rather than facing the difficulties of the only way through. Help us see again that compassion unlocks the abundance of your creation rather than blinding us with self-created illusions of scarcity. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 6:30-34

November 4, 2019

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. Mark 6:30-34

The message for this Monday morning is simple: We do our best when the best we do is rest.

It seems counter-intuitive. We have a lifetime of well-meaning advice behind us telling us to work as hard as we can, not just to get to the front of the line but to stay there. We’re told that “successful people do what unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do.” And, in all of that, the sad truth is that there is not always going to be something more THAT we can do, there’s always more THAN we can possibly get to.

People call it a rat race for good reason.

Yesterday a middle school mom told me about the demands being placed on her middle school child. He is a good student. He is diligent and conscientious and he wants to do well. But the sheer amount of work he is expected to do every week is overwhelming. I told her that I think I smell a rat – and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was until I read our text for this morning.

Jesus’ friends get back to him after giving it their best to do what they had been taught by him to do and Jesus invites them to rest. To REST. To take some time. To get away. So I’ll say it again, we do our best when the best we do is rest.

That is how we are designed to work. That is how our bodies are designed to work. We are not designed to be perpetual motion machines. In the old days when I used to be an athlete, no one pointed out to me that my body needed the time to recuperate after the stress of practice – and that resting well was required to truly benefit from the stress. I grew up during the days when wanting a drink of water during football practice was a sign of weakness. That’s crazy! That is not how a body is designed to work.

Even in the creation story, six days of work and one day of rest still left plenty of time to work!

So Jesus put his friends in a boat and headed out in search of a peaceful cove – but the crowds wouldn’t let them get away. Moral of that story – don’t expect the world around you to take care of your need for rest. You have to take charge of that. You have to set the boundaries to see that your own needs for rest get met. You have to decide what works for you.

Personally, I take plenty of time for rest in my life. I like to go to bed early and I like to get up early. Most days begin with at least 3 hours of quiet time, which includes writing down these reflections on scripture. I read. I try to learn new things every day. Some days I go for walks. I always take Fridays off and I only work on Saturdays when there is something that needs to get done. I have a lot of systems and routines that help lots of things take care of themselves.

The text ends by telling us that Jesus looked out at the crowds that had followed them on shore and he had compassion for them. He said that looked to him like sheep without a shepherd. I’m thinking that it was his own awareness of his need for rest – and his willingness to take a little boat ride to get the rest that he needed – that refilled his compassion tank and allowed him to be fully available to the flock. We do our best when the best we do is rest.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we stand today at the beginning of a new week. Thank you for the meaningful ways we will use our time this week. To work. To serve. To learn. To contribute, in our own small ways, to the common good of the world. Help us not only do our best but help us create space to rest for, in that, we know we are following you well. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 6:30-34

November 4, 2019

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. Mark 6:30-34

The message for this Monday morning is simple: We do our best when the best we do is rest.

It seems counter-intuitive. We have a lifetime of well-meaning advice behind us telling us to work as hard as we can, not just to get to the front of the line but to stay there. We’re told that “successful people do what unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do.” And, in all of that, the sad truth is that there is not always going to be something more THAT we can do, there’s always more THAN we can possibly get to.

People call it a rat race for good reason.

Yesterday a middle school mom told me about the demands being placed on her middle school child. He is a good student. He is diligent and conscientious and he wants to do well. But the sheer amount of work he is expected to do every week is overwhelming. I told her that I think I smell a rat – and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was until I read our text for this morning.

Jesus’ friends get back to him after giving it their best to do what they had been taught by him to do and Jesus invites them to rest. To REST. To take some time. To get away. So I’ll say it again, we do our best when the best we do is rest.

That is how we are designed to work. That is how our bodies are designed to work. We are not designed to be perpetual motion machines. In the old days when I used to be an athlete, no one pointed out to me that my body needed the time to recuperate after the stress of practice – and that resting well was required to truly benefit from the stress. I grew up during the days when wanting a drink of water during football practice was a sign of weakness. That’s crazy! That is not how a body is designed to work.

Even in the creation story, six days of work and one day of rest still left plenty of time to work!

So Jesus put his friends in a boat and headed out in search of a peaceful cove – but the crowds wouldn’t let them get away. Moral of that story – don’t expect the world around you to take care of your need for rest. You have to take charge of that. You have to set the boundaries to see that your own needs for rest get met. You have to decide what works for you.

Personally, I take plenty of time for rest in my life. I like to go to bed early and I like to get up early. Most days begin with at least 3 hours of quiet time, which includes writing down these reflections on scripture. I read. I try to learn new things every day. Some days I go for walks. I always take Fridays off and I only work on Saturdays when there is something that needs to get done. I have a lot of systems and routines that help lots of things take care of themselves.

The text ends by telling us that Jesus looked out at the crowds that had followed them on shore and he had compassion for them. He said that looked to him like sheep without a shepherd. I’m thinking that it was his own awareness of his need for rest – and his willingness to take a little boat ride to get the rest that he needed – that refilled his compassion tank and allowed him to be fully available to the flock. We do our best when the best we do is rest.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we stand today at the beginning of a new week. Thank you for the meaningful ways we will use our time this week. To work. To serve. To learn. To contribute, in our own small ways, to the common good of the world. Help us not only do our best but help us create space to rest for, in that, we know we are following you well. In Jesus’ name. Amen.