Tuesday, September 18, 2018

But I Was Waiting for Jesus!

Scripture Reading: Mark 9:30-37 (NRSV)

What do you imagine Jesus to look like?  Most of us will think back to paintings we have seen from our childhood.  Jesus might be praying in the garden or carrying a sheep (although there isn't any evidence that he was ever a shepherd).  Some of us picture him standing at the door and knocking!

I don't remember any pictures of him being clean-shaven (he was most likely bearded).  He is also in fairly good shape in all of the portrayals.  In some he might be thinner (which was also more likely for a peasant in that age and locale) but you never see him overweight.  You may not have even imagined a larger Jesus but Matthew and Luke both agree that some called him a glutton in his day so I suppose it is possible.

In a class in seminary, I saw how Jesus was portrayed in art throughout the world.  While he seems to be blond and blue-eyed in America, I have seen him as black, Asian or Native American.  What any of these do is speak to the incarnational aspect of Jesus.  Jesus is God-incarnate.

Jesus is someone we can simultaneously identify with and yet, gives us the best example of what our human potential holds.

This incarnational aspect is broadened by Jesus himself when he begins to identify with other categories.  In the Judgment of the Nations in Matthew 25, Jesus connects his followers with the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned.  We begin to see people in these conditions as in need of our help because who wouldn't want to help Jesus?

Our ability to place God on the cross means that this incarnational ministry is willing to suffer rejection and violence.  God is somehow present with us when we are suffering.

Today's reading in Mark also has an incarnational aspect.

Where do we see Jesus today?
Children are identified with Jesus.  It is important to note that we hold children in great regard in our culture today.  This was not so in first century Palestine.  It is a definite contrast for his disciples arguing over who was the greatest.  Many would overlook a child because this association might actually lower your status in the eyes of the community.  So when Jesus says that welcoming a child is the same as welcoming him, it is shocking.  He might as well have dropped a rattlesnake in their midst when he presents to them a child.  Okay, this last is an exaggeration but you get the point I'm trying to make!

I like the idea of serving Jesus in theory.  I'm not sure I serve Jesus as concretely as he states that I am able.  It is easy to let the homeless shuffle on by as I declare, "I'm saving this place at my table for Jesus!"  How do we identify Jesus with the vulnerable?  Isn't solidarity with the outsider a part of the betrayal and death of which Jesus speaks in today's reading?  We are there some of the time but not all of the time.  So what does the incarnation mean when we are on the inside?

We'll continue to examine Mark's Gospel in worship this Sunday.  I hope you'll join us if you are in the vicinity!

In Christ,


Photo by catherine patacsil via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

I Didn't Sign Up for This!

Lectionary Reading: Mark 8:27-38 (NRSV)

I prefer to know what is expected of me in advance.  When someone has a sales pitch, they often want to make small-talk first in order to soften me up.  Once we've established a friendship, it will be harder for me to turn them down (in theory).  I'm not such an easy mark though.

Once, Sheryl and I somehow got signed up for a time-share pitch in Mexico.  We both went into the pitch adamant that we were not purchasing anything.  They worked on us and showed us around.  They took us to a nice breakfast and they had comped us with tickets to various excursions.

They tried to get us to participate by writing down the things we were looking for in a vacation.  Since this was past the time limit they had originally given us, we were no longer playing around.  They even had two sales reps playing the "good cop, bad cop" routine with us.  We would not be coerced or shamed into buying!  The rep playing the role of the good cop mentioned to us when we were alone, "I've never seen anyone with a blank sheet of paper before!" indicating their inability to move us toward a purchase.

While this may be unethical to waste their time knowing that we were not going to go through with it, I will say that they were very pushy to get us into their resort to begin with!  We were very up front about our intentions so they shouldn't have been surprised that we kept to our word.  So I guess, let the seller beware!

Sometimes the main thing gets diluted!
As we read today's scripture, we see that Peter seems to have buyer's remorse when he finally realizes what discipleship under Jesus is leading him toward.  I can hardly blame him.  If you were looking for glory, fame and honor tied to an earthly kingdom and then found out that you might end up dying, you might be a little disillusioned as well!  Peter may have been thinking, "This is more than I bargained for!" or "I didn't sign up for this!"  Jesus is speaking a bit cryptically when he talks about saving and losing our lives.

It seems as if the spiritual life is not as straightforward as the material world.  Sometimes I wish it was.  In the material world, I can make a purchase and know what I'm buying before I get it.  I know how many hours I'll have to work to earn the money for that purchase.  As far as my investment of time and work, I can estimate if it is worth the effort.

But how often do we really make these calculations?

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

What does it mean to follow Jesus today?  There is no physical manifestation and so it is much less tangible to us than it was for Peter.  What are the rewards?  More importantly, what are the costs?

I hope you'll join us as we consider these questions together in worship on Sunday!

In Christ,


Photo used from Flickr.com via Creative Commons.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Talking Past Each Other

Lectionary Reading: Mark 7:24-37 (NRSV)

I’ve served as a mediator several times in my life for people.  Usually, it is because I am the pastor of both parties but sometimes it has been for ministerial colleagues. 

Sometimes we silence those
who need to be heard.
The difficulty of communication that oftentimes calls for a mediator is that when we are emotionally charged, we often talk past one another.  It becomes difficult to hear the other person because we are defensive and feel that what they are saying will somehow be costly for us to acknowledge.  This occurs in family dynamics quite often.
It feels like a win when we can have real communication take place.  One of the functions I perform is to repeat back to the person speaking what I think I hear them saying.  If I got it correct, I ask for a response from the other person.  We try to avoid blaming language with absolutes such as “You always…” or “You never…” because this stirs up the emotions and puts the person on the defensive rather than getting to the heart of the issue.  A good mediator is really a referee that keeps things in check by stating, “These are the rules that we will play by during this conversation.”  Then I sometimes have to call a foul if someone violates the rule and ask them to restate it in another way.

I find out more often than not that when we can get to the heart of the issue, reconciliation is possible.  This doesn’t mean that agreement takes place but it does mean that people feel heard and thus respected.

At first glance, we see two somewhat unrelated stories in today’s lectionary reading of Mark.  But as we look further, we may see how a connection is made.  Jesus and the disciples fail to hear the Gentile woman when she is first encountered.  Yet she seems to redefine the mission to include her sick child as well.  They hear her and Jesus allows her to redefine it by healing the child.

Then we see Jesus heal a man who is deaf and mute.  Now that he can truly hear, he begins to proclaim the good news.  It is a miraculous story but it can also be an allegory for Christian discipleship.  We must really hear (connect) with Jesus before we can really proclaim the message.  And according to the first story, hearing may include leaving our assumptions about others at the door. 

This goes along with the old adage that before we open our mouths to speak, we should listen.

I look forward to preaching on this passage on Sunday!

In Christ,


Photo by Amy Messere via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.