Monthly Archives: February 2018

Starting Over — Charting the Way

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,[a] will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words[b] in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:31-38 NRSV)

Mark Twain couldn’t have said it better.  “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

Peter has just confessed Jesus as the Messiah.  In a moment of insight he understands.  Jesus is the Messiah.  Then Jesus begins a new, more advanced teaching.  AP Discipleship: “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (v 31)

No!  No, you’ve got it wrong, Jesus!  The Messiah doesn’t die: he rises to power like King David.  The Messiah will defeat King Herod and then Caesar and then Israel will rise again as a great nation and we’ll no longer be serving others.  Get with the program!  You’re the Messiah for heaven’s sake!

Peter takes Jesus aside for a talk.  Like an aide to a member of Congress, he tells him to be careful, don’t make waves, watch what you say.  “We’ll need to tread carefully, Jesus.  Build up power among the Galileans before we move into Judea.”

“Get behind me, Satan!”

What?  Peter just had a moment of insight.  He rightly answered Jesus’ question.  He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  Peter the insightful disciple just became Satan?

Slow down Jesus.

But, he won’t slow down.  He tells anyone who can hear that to follow him means to deny ourselves and take up our cross and then follow him.  While we’re pondering that Jesus continues.  If you want to save your soul, forget it.  You’ll lose it for sure.  But, if you’re willing to lose your soul for Jesus’ sake (not just for anything, but Jesus’ sake) then you’ll save your soul.

Slow down, Jesus.

But, he won’t slow down.  He continues.  You can gain the world and what will it get you?  Nothing.   If you’re ashamed of what I’m saying (and I wonder if he turned to Peter to say this,) than I’ll be ashamed of you when I come in glory.

First Peter rebukes Jesus.  Then Jesus rebukes Peter.  Jesus rebuked demons, and acts of nature.  But, humans?  Yes, when we need to get in line.  And that’s just what Jesus demands: get in line.  Get behind me.  Get in line and follow me.

We don’t get it, do we?  Perhaps we don’t want to get it.  Because, if we did, we’d have to give up control over everything and everyone.  Even Jesus.  Especially Jesus.

The sad thing is, Peter missed something critically important.  As soon as Jesus started talking about suffering and rejection and death, Peter shut down.  He failed to hear the good news: that he would rise again after three days.  That’s important!  That’s what he needs to focus on.  That Jesus will suffer and die? That’s unpalatable.  But, rise again after three days?  Let’s dwell on that.

Yet, aren’t we so wrapped up on controlling that we fail to see the good news?  In this time that we’ve chosen to spend in the wilderness, I wonder if some of us are here for just that reason.  We tried to control outcomes or people or events.  And what did it get us?  Wilderness.  We tried to control our own destiny.  And here we are, wandering in the desert.

Jesus’ words are hard to hear.  Just when we think we know what we need to do to get out of the wilderness, we hear Jesus speak and it doesn’t compute.  Our way out becomes blurred and we may even repeat some of the same mistakes that got us here in the first place.  On this journey to transformation, Jesus corrects our flawed faith to bring us into line.

Where do you need Jesus to intervene and take control, so you can follow him?  Write it down.  Carry it with you this week.  Ponder it often.  Come up with at least one example of a place where you need God to intervene, so that you can follow the Master.  How might you follow Jesus this week instead of your own desires?

I’m saddened and sickened by yet another school shooting.  I want all children everywhere to be safe from killing and abuse and sexual predators.  I pray for an end to these events.  But, I saw a glimpse of good news this week.  Students who have witnessed the death of their friends, have taken their own action.  They are visiting with high level politicians and asking them difficult questions.

In another example, students skipped school to march on Oklahoma City, calling for our leaders to do something about teacher pay scales in our state.

These young people have taken up their cross.  They may not have all the facts.  Nor do they understand the nuances.  They’ll have to figure out the details of gun control vs. the second amendment.  They’ll learn that adjusting the state budget in one area will hurt another area.  They’ve taken up their cross.

Last week we identified ways in which we’re in a spiritual wilderness.  We’ve charted the wilderness.  We know what it looks like and we’re pretty familiar with the terrain.  This week, we chart the Way: the Way of Jesus.  And that means we let go of our assumptions; let go our need for control.  In its place we pick up that cross and journey to transformation, allowing Jesus to correct our flawed faith to bring us into line.

So, are we ready?  Are we ready to face our need for control?  Are we ready to follow Jesus?

If so, then here we go.

Everyone,

pick up your crosses and

get in line.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 

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Starting Over — Charting the Wilderness

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.[a] 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:8-17 NRSV

It must have come as a crushing blow.

God went to so much trouble to create this beautiful planet.  God’s ultimate achievement after flora and fauna and animals was us.  We humans were the crowning glory of creation.

It took fifty-five verses for us to blow it.  We got ourselves kicked out of Eden and went about our own way.  Four chapters later, God has had it.  It’s time to start over again.  First a flood with only a remnant of animals and humanity saved. Then it took months and months to clean up the earth from pre-creation chaos.

That’s when God did something very strange.  And that’s what matters to us today.

This is the first in a series for the Season of Lent where we look at our spiritual wilderness and starting over.  Whether you’re in that spiritual or emotional wilderness today or have been in the past, I hope this will be of help to you.

The wilderness is barren.  Foggy.  Filled with wild animals.  It feels God-forsaken.  It feels hopeless.  We drift from one place to another, not sure of our direction.  When we arrive, we recognize that it isn’t where we thought we were headed.  We wander, unsure where to go or how we got there.  Overpowered by the powers that be.  Walled in and walled off.  Alone.  Too worn out to be scared or angry.

Once Noah and his family got off the ark, they were also in a wilderness.  They had to rebuild their lives.  Start all over again.

Jesus found himself in the wilderness.  Driven there by the Holy Spirit, he encountered beasts and angels and Satan.  He was there for forty long, unending days.  Tempted and tested and hungry, he endured.

There are others throughout history that have found themselves in the wilderness.  It’s okay for them, but what about when it happens to you?  You wonder, how did I get here?  Did I earn this particular punishment?  Is God trying to tell me something?  Was there something I did or didn’t do?  Or is this part of living in a dysfunctional, sometimes toxic world?

More to the point, how do I get out of here?  Perhaps if I’m very, very good, God will relent and open up the gates to allow me to escape.  Will I be here forever?  40 minutes, 40 days, 40 years: they’re interminable, forever.

The thing is, when Noah opened the door of that ark and his family walked out onto the drying land, he was met by God.  And God had a message so important and astounding, that it left Noah speechless.

God took responsibility.  God changed God’s mind.  God made a covenant with Noah.  Here’s the strange thing: this is a covenant that depends on nothing or no one, except God.  No quid pro quo.  No, I’ll do this but you have to that.  It’s a unilateral covenant.

And it goes like this: “I won’t destroy the entire earth with flood waters ever again.  To prove my point, I’m putting my bow in the sky to remind me that never again will flood waters destroy the earth.”  It was believed that lightening was the result of the gods sending arrows to the earth with bows.  When God put that bow in the sky, God hung up a weapon of destruction.  Never again would God use it.

Jesus spent his forty-day sojourn in the wilderness with the Holy Spirit at his side.  He encountered wild beasts and angels.  But the Holy Spirit never left his side.  In other words, God was present.

So where is God when we’re in our own wilderness?  Right there with us.  Look around you and you’ll find evidence of God’s provision.  For forty years the Hebrews received water and food from God’s providence.  For forty days Jesus was sustained by God, not with food, but with power to withstand the temptations and testing.

The wilderness isn’t an easy place to be.  Yet, it’s a place where you can rest for awhile, where you can express anger, sadness and desolateness.  It’s a place to experience God’s grace.

What is or was your wilderness?  A spiritual dessert where you questioned God’s existence? A place of addictions to drugs or alcohol?  A sickness of being controlled by wealth or fame or power?  A realization that your sense of control and self-sufficiency are only an illusion?

Ask yourself, how is God at work?  Whatever got you there, look around.  How is God at work to bring you to new life?

Rest awhile.  Learn from God and your experience.  Let go of your assumptions.  The wild animals will try to tell you what you need to do (just pray a little harder or have more faith) or what got you there (you know God is trying to tell you something) or how to endure (God never gives us more than we can endure.) Move away from them.  Like any wild animal, they aren’t good for you.

In prayer and reflection, you’ll learn more about yourself than any ten wild beasts!  You’ll feel God’s presence and a sense of peace will gradually embrace you.  Rather than godforsaken, the wilderness is God infused.  Rather than hopeless, the wilderness can provide a new kind of hope.

Look for grace.  Allow grace to find you.

Most of all, stay where you are.  God will tell you when it’s time to leave.  For now, we’ll spend the next couple of weeks in this wilderness.

After the flood, God realized that humanity simply can’t live up to very high standards.  Sure, sometimes we get it.  But, after a centuries of wars to end all wars,  difficult race relations, increasing poverty, we still can’t get it right.  Even when we do the right thing, we get the wrong outcome.

That’s why God’s covenant is so important.  It wouldn’t take long for Noah to get drunk and his sons to disrespect him.  The Bible is filled with those here-we-go-again stories.  But, God looks at the bow in the sky and remembers: “I won’t destroy the whole earth.”  And for thousands of years, God has been at work.  Left up to us, it be a lot worse.

Listen to what God is saying to you: “I’ll meet you in the wilderness.  I will not dessert you.  I will not leave you.  That bow in the sky is my reminder.  I will not change my mind.  But, I can and will transform you.”

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 

 


Searching for Jesus

29 As soon as they[a] left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.  (Mark 1:29-39 NRSV)

Jesus began his ministry as he intended to go.  He was a Jewish teacher, so it was natural that he went to the synagogues to teach and to heal.  His message was refreshing to those who were sick and tired of living under Roman rule and Herod’s thumb.  His words were as healing as his touch.

He made sense of scripture.  He interpreted it in ways that many didn’t.  He brought it home to those who felt themselves living outside the faith.   People who tried to live by the rules, were set free from legalism.  He showed them freedom in their Jewish faith where others saw only rules.  He taught them the common sense behind the law so that the people could live in community with each other and in deeper relationship with God.

His healing made equal sense.  He didn’t make a big deal of it.  There was no hocus-pocus.  He used words to forgive sins, rebuke evil spirits or to calm a broken soul.  His touch lifted up, as in the case of Simon’s mother-in-law.  He wasn’t afraid to touch. Not even the lepers.  Often, a guided action on his part and healing took place.

Here was the heart and soul of Jesus’ ministry.  Here was Jesus himself.  Yet, Simon and the disciples had to go searching for him.  What some saw as a man of God caring and healing and teaching, the disciples saw as opportunity.  They would be Jesus’ advisers and public relations men. That’s why they came to that deserted place: to let him know that the next healing event was ready to begin.  They were disturbed that he wasn’t up and dressed and ready to go at the crack of dawn.

Do we go searching for Jesus because of our need to be with him?  Or because we have a to-do list for him to take care of?  Are we honest enough to admit that we try to control Jesus?

That to-do list isn’t a bad thing.  In quiet meditation we can sit with the Master and share our yearnings and worries and hurts.  Jesus didn’t come to earth only to desert us to earthly worries.  This is the One whom we can trust to understand and to help us with the demons.  That to-do list for Jesus can often turn into a list of what to hand over to God and let go of; what we can do ourselves; and what we will wait on Jesus to handle when the time is right.

We all try to control Jesus.  “If only X would happen, my life would be so much better.”

The disciples did quite a bit of searching for Jesus.  Yet, there he was: walking beside them every day.  Waking up near them every day.  Eating and drinking with them every day.  What about us?  How do we miss seeing Jesus?

We miss Jesus when we fail to feel the power of a touch; or presence; or relationship.

I live near one of the busiest streets in town.  It’s three lanes in either direction near a large medical complex.  When we moved there we knew that we would have to work with our terrier, teaching her not to run out the door and head for that street.  She chose to get out one early morning while I was trying to handle too much.  An hour later, I gently lifted her dead body off the busy street and carried her home.

My neighbor, the dog rescuer, saw me and came out to meet me.  “Would you like me to take her to the crematorium?”  All I could do was nod my head as the tears fell.  We laid her in the back of her SUV and then she turned to me and held me as I cried.  She had never touched me before.  And hasn’t since.  But that touch spoke volumes.  It said she understood about losing a pet; that she was a friend who cared.

The power of touch brings Jesus front and center.

When have you found yourself wanting to console the inconsolable, only to discover that your quiet presence seemed enough?  As Job lay in sackcloth and ashes, having lost his home, his children and grandchildren, his livelihood and his health, his friends came and sat with him for seven days.  For seven days they said nothing.  It was only when they began speaking that they made things worse.

Jesus is present in the quiet moments when words can do nothing.  Jesus is present to make inadequate words say so much more.

Relationships can become a time of presence with Jesus.  A conversation with a stranger while waiting to check out can become a message of insight; a call to a friend out of the blue turns into a moment of peace and tranquility.

Touch, presence, relationship.  Touch, intimacy, nearness.  These have to power to make whole; to bring peace, God’s shalom.

Use these with care.  Be prepared to restore yourself often.  Jesus needed retreat, so do we.

Jesus retreated while it was still dark.  Think about the previous day.  He taught in the synagogue, healed Simon’s mother-in-law and spent the rest of the day healing.  That’s tiring work.  Each person we touch, each person we reach out to fills us and depletes us.  We need quiet and meditation and prayer to nourish our souls.  We need good food to nourish bodies.  We need laughter and tears.  We need to decompress.  If we don’t find a way to do this, we’ll burn out.

In this particular text, Jesus retreats in the dark.  He must have been worn out.  Yet, he seemed to need time with God more than he needed sleep.  Was he praying for direction?  Trying to decide if he should remain in Capernaum or move on to other parts of Galilee?  Was he looking to recharge his batteries?  Whatever it was, it was a time to get away from everyone to do his own searching while his disciples were searching, even hunting, him out.

Preaching and healing.  Healing and preaching.  The saying goes, “Preach the Gospel.  If necessary use words.”  It’s a statement that reminds us that silence can be golden.  Preaching without words is modeling Christian behavior.  We are good at doing that.  But, we don’t necessarily realize that silence and presence and touch can make huge impacts on the lives of others.  You don’t have to know the Bible by heart.  You don’t need cliches.  Use real words, if you speak.

Searching for Jesus?  Look for him in the solitude of the early morning; look for him in the conversation with a stranger; look for him in the touch of a friend; look for him in the news; look for him wherever you are.  He’s as close to you now as he was to the disciples 2,000 years ago.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 

 

 


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