Tag Archive | Mark

First Sunday of Advent, 2017

First Sunday of Advent, year B, 12/3/17

First reading:  Isaiah 64:1-9

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Second Reading:  1 Corinthians 13-9

Gospel Reading:  Mark 13:24-37


To be quite honest, I was hoping to be done with the “end of the world” readings.  This past month leading up to Christ the King Sunday is SUPPOSED to be “end of the world,” because it’s the end of the Church year, but now we’re in Advent.  But once again, Jesus is confronting us with “the end.”

We should be on our way to Bethlehem, not Jerusalem.  We are four weeks away from Jesus’ birth, and this passage is two days away from Jesus’ death.

I was railing against this earlier in the week, when my husband reminded  me that EVERY Advent 1 we begin at the end.  I had forgotten.

Maybe it’s because world and national events have been especially difficult lately, that I was really hoping for a break.

The worst hurricane season on record, the devastation to the Caribbean, Texas, Florida, and especially Puerto Rico.  The fires in the West which have destroyed the lives of thousands, even in they escaped physically unharmed.

Terrorist attacks in Barcelona, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, Philippines, Pakistan, England, and New York City, where we lost one of our own townspeople.

Horrifying gun violence on our streets and in Las Vegas and Texas.  Civil unrest in Charlottesville and wherever racism rears its ugly head.

I don’t want more “end of the world,” I want a cuddly baby.  But we’re not getting one.  At least not today.

Perhaps we read from near the end of Mark on this first Sunday of Advent because the messages Jesus gives is appropriate.

Jesus stresses “keep alert,” or “keep awake” 3 times in the last 3 verses, with good reason.

I think what Jesus is trying to tell us, is that if we don’t slow down and pay attention – when he DOES come, we’ll miss him.

Now, we could talk about keeping alert for the darkening sun and moon and for the falling stars.  We could talk about the “‘Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory” and the angels.

Many preachers and people of faith focus on the apocalyptic parts of the passage to make predictions about when the end will come.  The people who were the first to read (or hear) Mark’s gospel certainly could relate.

For them, the destruction of the Temple was current events, and the persecution of Christians meant more than having to say “happy holidays” – it meant death.

For them, Jesus’ declaration, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” was in the tradition of the greatest prophets, calling the people back to faith.

But what do these words mean for us, thousands of years on from the time Jesus shared them with the original disciples?

The key for “the END” for us is in verse 32:  “About that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

We aren’t called to stand on street corners holding signs “the end is near.”  We certainly aren’t called to make predictions of the end.  We aren’t called to separate ourselves from society, sell all that we own, and wait on some mountain like a doomsday cult.

Jesus calls us to “keep alert” and “keep awake” not only for the end of all things (as if we could miss the sun going dark and stars falling from the sky!), but for how to live our lives UNTIL that day.

“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.”

Jesus is not physically with us right now, but he has left us – his slaves, his servants, his disciples – in charge – each with our own work.

What does that mean?  What IS our work?  And how do we “keep awake and alert” until our master returns?

Our work, brothers and sisters, is to live faithful lives every day – to go about our business, loving God and neighbor in word and deed, until he comes again – whenever that may be.If we have a job, we go to work and are diligent in our working – whether we’re a grocery clerk, a cashier, a teacher, a business executive, or congressman.

If we have a job, or we’re in school, retired, and even if we don’t get around much anymore, our work includes serving our neighbor in Jesus’ name.

It means being kind to those who we see are struggling – sitting with the new kid in school, or the one who has no friends.  Reassuring the mom in Target whose little one is having a meltdown.  At this time of the year especially, being kind to those working in the retail industry.

Remembering those who might be dreading Christmas because of poverty or broken family relationships.

When we remember what Jesus told us in last week’s gospel – that whatever we do to the least of these, we do to him – then loving our neighbor in word and deed is the best way we can keep awake, and be alert when the master comes.

Because in reality, the master is with us all the time, is here even now as we look into the faces of each other.

Are we awake to this – or are we sleepwalking through our days?

Because keeping awake doesn’t just mean looking for the stars to fall from the sky – it also means feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, being a shoulder to cry on, and praying for our enemies.

It’s kind of exhausting honestly.  Kind of why I wanted our gospel today to be warm and fuzzy.

But instead, it’s a good reminder that Advent isn’t just about the baby Jesus – but also about baby Lisa, baby Ellen, baby Michael, baby Vivian, baby Tom (mentioning those present by name) – and ALL of God’s children.

AMEN.

 

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25th Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 11/15/15)

first reading:  Daniel 12:1-3

Psalm 16

second reading:  Hebrews 10:11-25

gospel reading:  Mark 13:1-8


At the end of each Church year we’re always given some pretty graphic readings in the lectionary.

Today – a time of great anguish says Daniel.  Wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines says Jesus.

photo credit: cnnMany throughout history have tried to predict these “end times” or the apocalypse.  Some people focus their lives on preparing for “The End.”

I’m not sure why, because we are told repeatedly that it’s NOT for us to know.  Even in this morning’s gospel reading the disciples want to know when, but Jesus won’t give them the answer they want.

They ask point blank, “When will this be?”  But Jesus doesn’t answer, “in 5, 25 or 2,015 years.”  Jesus says don’t worry about the date.  What you need to worry about is your own self.  Do not be alarmed at the wars and earthquakes and all that other stuff – they may affect your bodies but not your souls.

“BEWARE that no one leads you astray.”

Jesus tells us our anxieties shouldn’t be placed with the external events, but with what’s going on INTERNALLY, in ourselves and in the community of faith.

Jesus says do not be alarmed at all the stuff on the outside, but beware of the many who will come in his name and lead many astray.  In the Old Testament, those who “lead astray” are called false prophets.  How do we tell the false prophets from those who speak the gospel?  This, Jesus tells us, needs to be a primary focus for us as all this other stuff is happening.

And it makes sense to me, because chaos, in our personal lives and community and country can lead people to do frightful things.  It’s important to know our CENTER.

Jesus broke into human history as a human person out of love for you and me.  Jesus died, so that you and I can live.  He lived, died and rose again so that we no longer fear death, and have a place reserved for us in heaven forever.  Jesus wasn’t just some nice guy or prophetic leader.  Jesus is GOD in the flesh, God incarnate – Emmanuel – come to us in love.  THIS IS THE GOSPEL.  THIS IS OUR CENTER.

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We learn this through Scripture.  Scripture is the norm and guide for our lives as Christians.  Through the Bible we come to know Jesus.  Through Jesus we are saved.  But even false prophets can quote Scripture.  SATAN quoted Scripture to Jesus in the wilderness.

photo(7)So we have to pay attention to how anyone who claims to be a Church leader uses Scripture.  The Bible is an instrument – a tool.  As such it can be used for good or ill.

The Bible has been used to defend and denounce – slavery, polygamy, strangers/aliens/immigrants, rape, divorce, to begin and to end wars – you name it, the Bible can be used and abused.

This is why it’s important we know the Bible – to read the thing and not just have it gathering dust on our bookshelves.  This is why it’s important not just to read it, but to study it – to find out the context in which its books were written.  Because verses taken out of context can be dangerous.

We have a sad history in our country of cults – with their charismatic leaders – and so many have ended tragically.

We’ve been hearing a lot about those who pervert Islam, but there have been and will be plenty who try to pervert Christianity as well.

If anyone tells you that

  • they have ALL the answers, or that
  • they have a “special” relationship with God,
  • that you need to listen to EVERYTHING they say or suffer consequences, or that
  • theirs is the ONLY way to follow Jesus, that
  • you have to be good enough to deserve God’s love, or that
  • there are those out of God’s reach,
  • if there are a whole lot of rules to worry about and not a lot of grace to celebrate,
  • if the preachers sleep in mansions while they beg for your money – then

WATCH OUT

Some of these false prophets may even start out with faithful intentions but end up getting full of themselves, and their ministries end up being just that – THEIR ministries – not Christ’s.

Many have come, and many will come, and try to lead us astray.

That’s why I’m so thankful to have a boss, my bishop, who watches over me.  And our bishop is accountable too, to us as a synod.

We see things going on in the world.  We can look at almost any moment in human history and see wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, and times of great anguish.

We see it certainly in our time.  The world is in the midst of the largest refugee crisis since World War II.  Wars are raging.  We’ve been trying to figure out since BEFORE 9/11 how to combat a movement with no country – whose latest victims in Beirut and Paris we mourn deeply.  And on Friday there was an earthquake off the coast of Japan.

While many people see these things and cry, “The End is near!”  Jesus tells us to look within – within ourselves and within our community the Church.

He warns us not to so over-analyze events so that we fail to respond to the needs of those who suffer – being SO concerned about “The End” that we fail to live here and now.

Jesus warns us to not be so concerned about “The End” that we fall prey to those who give us easy answers, or the ones that make us feel better or circle the wagons.

All this stuff going on around us may or may not be “The End” – if it is or isn’t, OUR job is to stay close to Jesus, and act as Jesus would act.

Because in “The End” THAT is what really matters.

AMEN.

 

20th Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

20th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 10/11/15)

first reading:  Amos 5:6-15

Psalm 90:12-17

second reading:  Hebrews 4:12-16

gospel reading:  Mark 10:17-31


We live in a broken world.  We live in a broken society.  We live broken lives.

We spend a great deal of time running away from this simple fact.  We spend a lot of time trying to deny it.  We spend  a lot of our resources trying to fill the holes in our souls.  We do this to our detriment, because the denial makes it hard to truly heal.

Our readings today speak to this reality, and what we can do, and what God DOES, to bring that healing to us.

The main example of our collective and individual brokenness given in our readings today revolve around money and/or possessions.  This is a very touchy subject for many of us, which is why the prophets and Jesus himself spoke so frequently about it.

In Amos, the people are told to seek the Lord and live.  But seeking the Lord involves caring for neighbor, which the people have NOT done.  They have been most concerned with storing up treasures for themselves – building houses and vineyards, and they “trample on the poor.”

In Mark, we have the famous story of the man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus’ classic line:  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Jesus challenges the man to give up everything that’s important to him in order to follow – and the man just can’t do it.  He, like most of us, is very attached to THINGS, and the security that finances provide.

These readings point to one of our main weaknesses in life – the power of money and possessions.  We are more tied to our stuff than we are to God.

It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t quote the first commandment to the man – “You shall have no other gods,” because as it turns out, THAT is the one he couldn’t keep.

I don’t know many of us who can.  It’s human nature, sinful nature, that we are driven to accumulate.  But in the act of our accumulating, we end up depriving others.  As Amos writes, we trample the poor.

But we need to be careful when we look at these passages.

My aunt Helen loved the camel saying, mostly because she grew up poor, lived with not a lot, and worked hard till she was in her 70’s, being a housekeeper for rich people.  She loved this verse because she envied rich people.  She loved this verse because it somehow made her feel better about herself for NOT being rich.  She loved this verse because she saw it as an equalizer.  And that’s too bad.  SHE MISSED THE POINT.

But just like Jesus looked on the rich man and LOVED him, Jesus loved my aunt too, despite her misunderstanding – because with God all things are possible.

What I see God doing in these readings is challenging us to examine our priorities – to find what it is within ourselves that keeps us from giving ourselves completely to God.

1st commandmentMoney is easy.  It’s easy for us to say these readings are about money.  And they ARE about money.  But they are also about the first commandment, the one the rich man couldn’t keep – all the “other” gods we put before the Lord.

They are about anything that leads us to be shocked and leave Jesus grieving, because we cannot give up what we value over him.

Money/wealth/possessions are just the easiest to talk about because they’re the easiest to see.  But our readings are also about the things INSIDE us that hold us back from a full relationship with God – things like:

  • hatred and prejudices, or envy or holding grudges – all the things that keep us from loving our neighbors,
  • things like finding our self-worth through our jobs,
  • or from who we associate with,
  • judging ourselves based on how many facebook friends or retweets we get,
  • or how beautiful or “in shape” we are.

Jesus tells us to give it all up.  All the outward worldly signs of blessing or success, all the attitudes and feelings we use to judge ourselves and others.  They mean nothing to God.

They mean nothing because they cannot get us ANYWHERE in our relationship with God.  Because “for mortals it is impossible.”

We’re stuck.  Each and every one of us.  Thanks be to God, Jesus didn’t leave us with the impossible task.

For while Jesus said it’s impossible for us, he added, “but not for God; for God all things are possible.”  Thanks be to God!

It IS possible through Jesus to inherit eternal life, and not only that, to have God with us here and now through the power of the Holy Spirit.

God looks on us and loves us, even while we cling to our worldly stuff.  God looks on us and loves us, even while we grieve our inability to love God, one another, and ourselves as we should.  Praise God that God doesn’t hold it against us when we fail – because we fail all the time.

This is why it’s so comforting for me to soak in these words from Hebrews – “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…”  We “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.”

God who loves us KNOWS we are broken.  God who loves us UNDERSTANDS our brokenness.  God who loves us gives us grace for healing that brokenness.

There are times in our lives, when even the thought of that healing seems too far off, but remember – for God, all things are possible.

AMEN.

 

17th Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

17th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 9/20/15)

first reading:  Jeremiah 11:18-20

Psalm 54

second reading:  James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

gospel reading:  Mark 9:30-37


When I was growing up I often heard the phrase, “Children are to be seen and not heard.”  Usually this was said to me because I had appeared to someone to overstep my bounds.

I always hated that phrase.  As a child I felt like it shushed me – shut me out of the conversation.  As an adult I know phrases like that are all about de-valuing.  As a child, my opinion didn’t count.

I know the adults around me loved me, and they didn’t consciously mean me harm, but they counted my thoughts and words as UNWORTHY.

But at least my presence was acknowledged and valued.  In the ancient world in which Jesus walked and preached, children were NOTHING.  Forget about “seen and not heard,” they weren’t even supposed to be “seen.”  Children had no status, and were viewed as little more than property.

Now, even since my childhood, the place of children in our society is much greater.  One could argue that we’ve become “child-centric.”  It seems for parents now, that the world revolves around our children.  Our lives are planned around their activities and needs.

Sometimes, I must say, their desires supercede our values.  Worship and faith community life take a back seat too often to sports or clubs.  Or when our need to have our kids think we’re cool us takes precedence over common sense – like parents who allow their kids to have alcohol at a party at their house.

So in our child-centric culture, Jesus’ act in our gospel reading today can lose its punch.

Remember the status of children in the world in which he lived.  Nobodies.  Nothings.

He uses a child to illustrate his point – that the one who wants to be first must be last – must be a SERVANT (the Greek equivalent of a waiter).

The disciples were oblivious to almost everything that Jesus was trying to them.  He was preaching about suffering.  They were arguing about who was the greatest.  Jesus, as with everything else he said and did TURNED THINGS UPSIDE DOWN.

“You want to be great?  Then be last.  Do you need a visual for what that looks like?  Take this worthless child, and welcome him or her IN MY NAME.”

If we look at this reading too quickly we think it’s just a quaint picture of Jesus telling the disciples that children are important.  We need to get back to the SHOCK the disciples must have felt at that moment.

They still wouldn’t get it, not until after the resurrection.  After all, don’t we say, “hindsight is 20/20.”  But we, brothers and sisters, have the advantage that they didn’t.  We can ONLY read this knowing what came after.

So Jesus tells us to welcome the worthless, the nobodies, the powerless.  Ok, so he doesn’t directly command us to do so, but he baits us.

“Whoever welcomes such a person in my name welcomes ME – and whoever welcomes me… welcomes the one who sent me.”

When we welcome the worthless, we welcome Jesus, and when we welcome Jesus we welcome God who sent Jesus into the world for you and me.

Who among us doesn’t want to welcome Jesus?  Who doesn’t want to welcome God?

Well, since we’re gathered HERE, in this place this morning, my guess is that most of us DO want to welcome Jesus and God – into our community, and into our hearts.

So what does that look like?  What does Jesus putting a child in his arms THEN, look like for us NOW

I’ll talk about who the “children” are, but first I want us to focus on ourselves as welcomers – and then bring it back to the children.

Number one, ego has no place among us.  Let there be no arguments among believers about who is the greatest.  There is only ONE greatest, and he washed his friends’ ugly dirty feet on Maundy Thursday, and died on a cross as a despised criminal on Good Friday.

Two, Judgment also has no place among us.  If we want to welcome Jesus among us we welcome ALL those who society as deemed unworthy – the nobodies, the worthless.  If we want to welcome Jesus among us, we welcome those who WE also have deemed unworthy – because for as much as I might say judgment has no place, we still do it, me included.

It’s sin – this compulsion we have to look down on others, to rate ourselves as better than some.  We’re bound to it. We can only confess it, and cling to Jesus’ grace for us, unworthy as WE are.

Because, in the end, that is OUR relationship with Jesus.  In the end, WE are that child Jesus took in his arms.  WE are the nobodies, the unworthy, the worthless.  In bondage to sin, unable to free ourselves.

None of us like to think of ourselves in that way, but there it is.  Between what we have done, and what we have left undone, we’ve got nothing to bring to God.  We’ve got NO case for deserving GOD’S welcome to US.  We’re guilty.   We may not look like it.  Our worthlessness may be hidden by nice clothes or a fancy car.  But we can’t hide it from God.

It’s a radical, shocking thing this love of God.

We have received tremendous immeasurable grace from Jesus – grace that takes us from hell to heaven, grace that welcomes us and gives us the courage AND humility to welcome others.

This is the life Jesus has given us.  His love breaks down every wall our sin puts up.  His love calls us to love others, and welcome them into this wonderful broken community of grace.

We welcome because Jesus welcomes us.  We welcome, knowing that as we do, we welcome God.  And it starts and ends with God’s shocking grace.

AMEN.

15th Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

15th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 9/6/2015)

first reading:  Isaiah 35:4-7a

Psalm 146

second reading:  James 2:1-17

gospel reading:  Mark 7:24-37


For vacation this year I spent two weeks traveling around the western area of our country.  I saw some amazing sights – marvels of God, the power of water, the genius of the Native people in living with their environment.

But I also witnessed evil genius.  I also witnessed the power of self-destruction.  I also witnessed greed and egotism on one of the grandest scales I’ve ever seen.

My family experienced the Grand Canyon, Arches, Mesa Verde, and Bryce Canyon National Parks among many other places – and our journey ended in Las Vegas.

I could go on and on about feeling God’s power and majesty in creation – but my thoughts after pondering the readings for this morning are more with Las Vegas.  And those thoughts aren’t near as nice or clean or beautiful.

What we have in our readings this morning are hypocrisy, beggars, and not listening to what Jesus says.  That seems to sum up Las Vegas pretty well.  Except it’s not that easy.

The nickname most of us know for Vegas is “Sin City.”  But after being there a mere two days I came to see it more as “SAD City.”  There were people, including me, who walked past homeless folks on the streets.  There were people bent on self-destruction.  Activities that given the right frame of mind and context are fun and life-giving, but are taken to such extremes that one can only wonder why more people don’t DIE there.

At first I wondered why the pool was only four feet deep and closed at 8pm, then I saw how people were behaving at the pool at 6pm and I knew.  The casinos are open 24 hours.  I only saw them by 9am, but even at that hour they were filled with people staring at their machines with desperation as their cigarettes burned in their fingers.

All in all I felt an overwhelming sadness for these folks, and ANGER too – at the “higher ups” who were benefiting from people’s addictions and desperation.  Evil geniuses that profit from our greed and compulsion to stake it all for the chance to win big.  Anger at the old women who were trying to push “baseball cards” of young “girls for hire” into my husband’s hand as the two of us walked past.

But I only saw there on a grand scale what I see around me in my daily life on a regular basis.

James, in our second reading, calls out our hypocrisy.  Our tendency to play to the money crowd, our accumulation of things, our hoarding of stuff, while we see our neighbors suffering around us.  Jesus himself acknowledges our baser instincts, our attraction to exclusion, our need to think of ourselves as better than others, when he calls the Syrophoenician woman a “dog.”

And we, like the crowds in Jesus’ time, are just as incapable of listening to his words.  To them he said, “don’t tell anyone,” but they couldn’t contain themselves and told EVERYONE.  To us he gives the new commandment to “love one another,” and the mission to “teach all nations,” and what do we do?  We keep it to ourselves, happier to share the latest gossip than our faith, insulted by the instruction of the Church to give of ourselves, our time, and our possessions.

What are we to do when confronted with our sin?  What are we to do when we realize what a mess the world is – and OUR part in making it and keeping it that way?  What are we to do?

ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

We’re stuck.  We are in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves.

WE ARE THE SYROPHOENICIAN WOMAN – unworthy of anything, even the smallest crumb that falls from the table – from THAT table [pointing to the altar] especially.

Depressing isn’t it.  In our “do it yourself” culture, none of us want to hear that we “can’t.”  But there it is, like it or not.

Well, as much as I might not “like” it, I’m also eternally grateful that I’m not left to work out the mess of my life, or anyone else’s, on my own.  I’m grateful I don’t have to rely on my own strength of character or righteousness to get on God’s good side.

Jesus has done all that and more on the cross.

He didn’t give his life for us because we’re good or noble.  He went to the cross for us precisely because we’re NOT. We don’t deserve a place at his table, we don’t even deserve the crumbs from it – yet he invites us, every one of us, to feast on his love and forgiveness.

We are beggars – yet he lifts us up and gives us a place of honor.  We are beggars – yet he carries us through our deepest pains.  We are beggars – yet he gives us hope beyond this life.  We are beggars – yet he gives us strength to meet the day ahead.

We may not be able to do anything to save ourselves, thank God.  But now that we ARE saved, we beggars have a LOT of work to do.  Sure we screw it up.  We fail.  Sometimes we make a real mess of things.  But it doesn’t keep us from working – because we are FREED from the bondage of all our mistakes.  Jesus sees us fall, picks us up, and sends us out again.

That freedom is tremendous, indescribable.  Jesus may have healed the woman’s daughter, he may have healed the deaf man – but how much MORE has he healed and given to you and me?

We go to the casino empty handed.  Not one coin to put in the slot, and yet the owner himself comes up to us and says, “You’ve broken the bank.  You get it all.”  What would we do?  Jump for joy!  Hug everyone around us!  Drinks for everyone!

Jesus does so much more than that.  We get MORE than money – we get our LIVES.  We get LOVE.  We get to SHARE that love without losing any for ourselves.  We get HEAVEN.

HOW can we keep that to ourselves?

Let’s not.

AMEN.

 

5th Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

5th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 6/28/15)

first reading:  Lamentations 3:22-33

Psalm 30

second reading:  2 Corinthians 8:7-15

gospel reading:  Mark 5:21-43


There are weeks I look at the readings for Sunday and say, “Thank you God, the readings are perfect!”  This is one of those Sundays.  So much good.

  • In the first reading we find in the midst of defeat, the people proclaim hope in God’s love.
  • In Psalm 30 we have the song of one who has been utterly brought down, who yet proclaims “you have turned my wailing into dancing.”
  • In the New Testament reading St. Paul writes about generosity – showing love for one another by bringing ourselves down a peg or two, so that we can lift other up to be with us.
  • And in our gospel reading we have stories of two desperate people, daring to hope in the midst of their seemingly hopeless situations.

They’re all great.  I could easily preach a sermon on any of these.  How to choose?

Well, instead of looking deeper into ONE of the passages, I’m going with a theme.  And the theme I see running through all four of our scriptures today is that of INCLUSION.

The people in Lamentations were a militarily defeated people.  Their country had fallen.  They felt the oppression of a foreign force.  Yet they DARED to speak of God’s steadfast love.  Even though they were on the “outs” politically, and in some ways felt on the outs with God too – they dared to proclaim that ultimately they were “in” – that their hope was in the Lord of compassion and mercy.

They might look like they’re out, but they’re NOT.  “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”(v22)

Even when things aren’t going our way in life – especially when we might feel oppressed or actually are oppressed, God is with us.  Even if the rest of the world treats us like we’re “out” – with God we’re always “in.”

Our psalm this morning is just beautiful.  One of my favorites actually.  Our psalmist was dying and in emotional distress.  Their health, be it physical or spiritual or emotional, was broken, and the Lord restored them.  “Weeping spends the night, but joy comes in the morning.”  “You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”

When WE are in THAT night, the night of weeping – when we’re wailing in sackcloth – God can feel so far away.  We see the rest of the world moving around us while we languish, and feel “out.”  Our bodies betray us, our minds tell us lies about being unworthy or forgotten.

But even in the midst of that we hear “NO.  You are ‘in.’  Joy is coming.  You WILL dance.  In fact, joy will be your garment.  You’ll wear it.”

St. Paul’s message of inclusion is less about how we feel.  He is concerned about how we treat our neighbor.  He challenges the followers of the Lord Jesus to be generous and genuine.  He gives us Jesus as an example – Jesus became poor so that we could be rich.

As followers we are to DO something for those on the fringes, on the outs, of society.  Give according to your ability. And Paul isn’t just talking about our spiritual gifts here.  He is plain talking about money.   He challenges us to reflect on our ABUNDANCE and our neighbor’s NEED – to make sure there is a “fair balance” – to give accordingly so that everyone can have “enough.”  Paul challenges us who are “in” to come together to make sure there is a place for those who are “out.”

And the theme of inclusion is no different for Jesus in our gospel reading.  Our two stories from the gospel bring us extremes of people on the outside looking in, and Jesus breaking down the dividing wall.  Two people, a respected religious leader whose daughter was dying – the ultimate “out” – and a woman who was as outside the community as you could get without actually being dead, FELL BEFORE JESUS.  Literally fell at his feet.

Jesus goes with Jairus, but on the way they’re interrupted by the poor woman who is truly “out.”  Her problem with blood made her unclean – UNTOUCHABLE.

But this woman on the outs has HOPE – hope that merely touching Jesus’ clothes will heal her, since she CANNOT touch his skin.  She sneaks up behind him and touches him daring for a cure.  But she cannot hide.  Jesus KNOWS. But he doesn’t condemn her, he commends her faith and bids her go in peace – “you’re in.”

Jairus’ daughter in the meantime has lost her chance for cure – she has died.  Nothing more to be done but begin the grieving.  But Jesus says no.  It’s NOT too late.  He sends the grievers away and commands the girl to rise.  “You are not ‘out’ of this life, you’re ‘in.'”

In our political, emotional, financial and medical circumstances we can often feel “out.”  Out of step, out of line, outside the box, left out, shut out, cast out.  Between our personal  and societal problems, decisions that have come from the Supreme Court, violence and hatred in our own country and around the world, this indeed may be the way we feel.  Debates, anger, mistrust swirl.  Some celebrate while others weep.

According to the world it may indeed appear that some are “in” while others “out” even in the church – but NO. NEVER with God.  NEVER.

EACH ONE OF US is precious, unique and LOVED by God, demonstrated through the sacrificial act of Jesus on the cross.

Our “out”ward circumstances are NOT a sign of our place with God.  For as we learn in our readings today – ALL are included:  the oppressed, the poor, the sick – there is NO ONE “outside” the reach or embrace of God’s steadfast love.

So know this brothers and sisters – no matter what it looks like, no matter what it FEELS like, YOU ARE INCLUDED, surrounded by God’s mercy and love.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN.


***This is the first time I have preached since the events in Charleston.  While not specifically named in the sermon, our national church (the ELCA) had given us a special prayers to use this day, as well as a letter from our presiding bishop, The Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, which was read publically.  Rest assured Charleston and the issue of race was not neglected in our worship.

2nd Sunday in Lent, 2015

2nd Sunday in Lent, 2015, year B (preached 3/1/15)

first reading:  Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Psalm  22:23-31

second reading:  Romans 4:13-25

gospel reading:  Mark 8:31-38


There’s a false belief spreading like wildfire in Christian circles today and it is deeply troubling to me, and many others.  It’s the belief that if we follow Jesus that we will be blessed with earthly success and “blessings.”

To the folks who preach this message, “blessings” are all good things, like rewards for good behavior.  Like my children who get to choose from their classroom’s prize box if they’ve behaved all week, if we just follow God’s rules and walk the right path, we’ll get to choose from the heavenly prize box of job promotions, good health, loving relationships or winning the lottery!

Unfortunately proponents of this kind of bad theology have a lot of followers, because it’s playing to the crowd – it’s telling people what they want to hear.

We all want to think that if we play by the rules we will be rewarded.  We all want to think if we’re fair people, then others, and systems, will be fair to us.  Problem is, wishful thinking doesn’t make something so.  Problem is, many times reality smacks that wishful thinking right in the face.

Problem is that try as we may to follow the rules, both society’s rules and God’s rules, many times there is NO reward.  The reality is that those who play by the rules experience just as much suffering in life as those who don’t, sometimes even more.

Not only is this “blessings equal good things” thinking not realistic – IT’S NOT BIBLICAL EITHER.  Our gospel reading makes this extremely clear.

Peter was infected with this “blessings equal good things” thinking.  It was repulsive for him to hear from Jesus that blessing comes “in” and “through” trials and suffering.

Jesus says he will undergo great suffering, be rejected and killed.  Only after that will he rise again.  So Peter rebukes Jesus.  No way Lord!  But Jesus came right back at him.  Rebuke follows rebuke and Jesus puts Peter in his place.  Not only that, Jesus says that his disciples must FOLLOW.  Follow a path of suffering?  Take up MY cross?

If the word “gospel” means good news, then what in the world kind of good news is this?  Who in their right mind would want to follow Jesus?

NO ONE – if all we are looking for is earthly success.  NO ONE – if we want a quick fix.  NO ONE  – if we expect an easy life.  NO ONE – if we want to think we’re masters of our destinies.

So why follow Jesus?  Why commit to a life of denying ourself and taking up our cross?  Why, when there’s no earthly payoff?  Ah, but here’s where we would be wrong.

There IS a payoff, both in heaven AND on earth – it’s just not the payoff we expect.  What we have to decide is if we want an easy road that leads nowhere, or a more difficult path that leads to forever.

It may be harder to follow in the way of Jesus – indeed Jesus tells us it WILL be, but does “harder equal worse?”  Or is “harder” BETTER in the long run?

When Jesus rebuked Peter he didn’t only say, “Get behind me…” he also said, “For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.”  He also said, “For what will it profit [us] to gain the whole world and forfeit [our] life?”  Peter is looking only at immediate gratification, not at long term benefit.

Human/earthly things drive us to what feels good now, having a good time, what will puff us up – winning, succeeding, doing whatever it takes to be number one, not caring about the little guy.

Divine things draw us to what gives ultimate peace – LOVE – which is sometimes HARD work, what builds us up – winning even when we lose, no one being left behind, everybody getting picked for the team – no little guy to step on because everyone is BIG, everyone is priceless because we were all bought by Jesus’ sacrifice.

Human things tell us that Donald Trump is worth more than me.  Barack Obama is worth more than you.  Bill Gates is worth more than Donald Trump AND Barack Obama!

But God says, “Nope.”  You and I are worth exactly as much as Donald, Barack and Bill.  God shows no partiality.  Jesus loves each and every one of us, and died for each and every one of us – all the same.

And because God suffered for us, because Jesus went through torture – he is able to carry us through torture – he is able to carry us through the times when reality smacks OUR wishful thinking in the face.

Because God suffered, our suffering does not mean we are somehow “less than.”  Because God suffered, it means our suffering isn’t a sign of God’s displeasure.  Because Jesus was rejected, we are not alone when WE are rejected.  Because he died and rose again, our deaths will not be the end.  Jesus may not always tell us or give us what we want, but he gives us what we NEED.

There are places in this world where people live in abject poverty.  Where political and religious persecution are REAL and life threatening.  Yet in many of these places the Church is thriving!  In these places people are willing to die if necessary to follow Jesus.

Because they KNOW what we need to re-learn.  They know what we need to share with those in our lives who struggle…

That the blessing is Jesus himself.  We are blessed because he loves us.  We are blessed because we are never alone.  We are blessed because he rejoices with us when we rejoice and holds us up when we’re desperately depressed.  We are blessed because God can see for us beyond what feels good, to what is REALLY good.

We are blessed because no matter what happens, he is with us in THIS life, and after this life is done, he has saved our lives FOREVER.

blessed 2

AMEN.