Monthly Archives: September 2018

Jesus’ Way of Suffering Love: God’s Work Be Done

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone[a] casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me,[b] it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell,[c] to the unquenchable fire.[d] 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.[e][f] 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,[g] 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire.[h] 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?[i] Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”  (Mark 9:38-50 NRSV)

This scripture has my name all over it.

I have been hurt by Christians, pushed away, even told that I’m a sinner because women don’t belong in the pulpit.  I listen to sentimental piety that makes Jesus into a real nice guy.  I have friends who would rather talk about hell than grace.

I prefer talking to sworn atheists and agnostics.  Though they try to talk me out of loving Christ, they sound more “real” than some Christians I know.

I’m John, interrupting Jesus’s teachings on how to be the greatest in the kingdom by being the least and the servant.  I’m bugged by others who have used my Lord’s name for their own purpose.  Jesus doesn’t see it this way.  “If he’s using my name to do great works, he won’t be able to cut me down later on.”

It’ doesn’t seem fair.  We’re the ones with the truth about Jesus and others need to join our ministry and study under this great leader.

Jesus continues his teaching: “If someone so much as provides a cup of water in my name, understand that they are one of mine.  God will notice.”

I suspect it doesn’t sound right to John and it sounds wrong to me.  How can people speak their faith and say such awful things?  How can people be so wrapped up in anger and not notice love and grace?

Actually, it’s easy.  I do it myself all the time.  “Jesus, that person doesn’t believe as I do.  Cast them into the outer darkness.”  “There’s a person who is using the Bible to bully others.  Stop her now!”

I confess that I’m judgemental.  In my finest moment I listen carefully and find that I may disagree with them, but I understand why they’re saying it.  Christianity has a lot of different sects in it and each one expresses their theology differently.  And each of us has our own view of who God is.  And most of them can be supported by scripture.  Sort of.

I don’t want to be stumbling block.  Jesus uses strong words on this.  He won’t abide people using the Bible to bully or scare or hurt his “children.”  He expects us to speak.  He expects us to teach well and learn constantly.  He expects us to be on HIS side.

He respects anyone who gives so much as a cup of water to any of his children.  That cup of water represents many different things.  It can be Queen Esther who risked her life to save her people; the person who attempts to restore the weary to right relationship with God and humanity.  It’s anyone who listens to the Holy Spirit and follows through.

God desires wholeness for all creation.  God’s desire is that we nurture it. Jesus warns us to do what’s necessary to stop any action that would prevent that from occurring.

We live in a world that rejects so easily.  If you don’t look like me, don’t believe the way I do, there’s obviously something wrong with you.  Politics is hard; religion is even harder.

Christianity is going through some tough times.  I believe God is shaking things up and we’re struggling with the change.  The discussions are so hard because they touch the very heart of what we believe.  God calls us to stand up for truth and when we do we’re excluded.  God calls us to be flexible and when we do: excluded.

It’s difficult to be a Christian today.  Our younger generations see us struggle and squabble and they walk away.  Are we any better than the secular world who also struggle and squabble over the issues?

What I read this morning is that Jesus calls us to see that God’s work be done.  Provide that cup of water to the included and the excluded.  Understand what  you believe, listen to others.  Whether you agree or not, they’re struggling just like you are.  And the angrier they are, the more scared and anxious they are.  They need our prayers, not our arguments.

Jesus reminds us that we’re meant to take care of each other.  He speaks in exaggerated terms when he says to cut off hands or feet if they cause you to sin.  That’s because he’s deadly serious about this.  Treat others like you want to be treated.  All of us belong to the body of Christ.  We’re all wrong at times and we’re all right at times.  Deal with it by keeping God in the loop.

I understand that my way of interpreting scripture isn’t popular.  Some would suggest that I play fast and loose with the truth.  What I read in scripture though is a God who’s love is greater than I can fathom.  I believe in a God who judges while loving us passionately.  I follow a Savior who brought a common sense but often difficult approach to getting along with each other.

Most of all, I love God because God has loved me so very much, especially when I wasn’t very lovable.  So when I meet the unlovable, I know that I can only do one thing.  Love them back, find ways to agree and let the rest of it go.  Christianity has been around for over 2,000 years.  It’s not up to me to save it.  It’s up to me to reach out to others and provide that cup of water.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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Jesus’ Way of Suffering Love: Fitting Jesus Into Our Mold

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”  (Mark 9:30-37 NRSV)

Sometimes it’s hard being a disciple of Jesus.  He demands much and we want so badly to measure up.  We want Jesus to smile at us and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant…”

Jesus and the disciples are traveling south, headed to Jerusalem.  Jesus is about as clear as he can be when he says, for at least the second time, “The Son of Man will be handed over, killed and, three days later, rise again.”  The disciples don’t get it.  Perhaps they don’t get it because they can’t get passed their own sense of who a Messiah is and what he does.

They believe that the Messiah will ride a war horse into Jerusalem and fight the oppressive Romans and bring Israel back to her former glory.  The Messiah will be a true son of David, who grew the kingdom and made it great.  So, this talk about being handed over and dying just doesn’t make sense to them.  If Jesus is the Messiah, then dying isn’t part of the plan.  If he dies, so does the dream of greatness.

Speaking of greatness…

They’re so wrapped up on their own mission statement of the new Israel that they find themselves in conversation about who will be the greatest.  Old fashioned competition has entered the picture.

They’re silent.  Not for the first time.  They’re silent because they’re afraid to ask Jesus what he means by this dying and rising stuff.  They’re afraid to ask, because they aren’t ready to hear the answer.  They’re silent because they’ve been caught.  They know better because they’ve been with Jesus long enough to know that being the greatest isn’t one of his tenets.

It was so delicious having that conversation.  I can imagine they discussed their God-given gifts and talents.  Some were smarter, others more street-smart.  The fishermen would have discussed best business practice with an assurance that they had a corner on the market.  They had received power to heal.  What a head rush that would be!  They were teaching as they traveled.  They were beginning to get it.  They felt pretty full of themselves.  The competition to be the greatest was just too tempting.

The scripture says that Jesus sat down.  That’s a code word.  In our day, when we have something to say of great importance we stand up.  We stand and make our presence known.  In Jesus’ day one sat down when he was ready to teach.  Jesus sat down and the disciples knew that they were going to get another lecture.

“To be great,you have be least.”

What?

“To be great, you have be last and servant of all.”

Sure.  Ever hear of Caspar Milquetoast?

This is a difficult stance to take.  It’s human nature to regard greatness.  It’s human nature to compete for the best slot or to be the best.  As I write this, my husband is watching a football game (or two or three) on the television.  It’s a game whose players strive to be best so that their team will be the best.  College athletes look to the greatest as the one who receives the annual Heisman Trophy.  NFL teams compete to be the greatest by winning the Super Bowl.

At its best, competition is important.  We improve as human beings.  Sports’ fans advocate for public schools because sports “builds character.”  At its worst, players believe their own press and cross ethical lines that hurt, even damage, other people.

Greatness is determined not by weakness, but by strength; not by sacrifice, but by taking; not by humility, but by stepping up; not by being truthful, but by skirting around it.

First the disciples are afraid to ask questions.  Now they’re stunned into silence.  They’ll see an example of servant leadership during their week in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration.  Until then, they’ll continue to listen and try to learn.  They’ll continue to be silent when the question at the forefront of their collective minds has the potential for an unwanted answer.

To be first we have to be last and servant of all.

This is Jesus’ way and one we’re called to follow.  So, perhaps we can see what this looks like by watching the master.  Jesus was no push-over.  He called out those who used insincere remarks.  He wasn’t always nice; in fact he had moments of being quite cranky.  He regularly stood up to the Jewish leadership, naming their egregious behavior in specific terms.  He even emptied the temple one day when he’d had enough.

Caspar Milquetoast: take notes.

In fact, being servant of all takes courage and stamina.  It takes courage to stand up to those who would sideline people based on their looks or their social status.  It takes stamina to stick it out with a person in poverty who can’t hold down a job no matter how hard they try.  It takes wisdom to recognize the phonies and the users among us.

Who do you know who shares these characteristics?  She is probably someone who knows who she is.  His strength outweighs his weakness because he knows his true value.  These describe authentic people who don’t need to seek greatness in order to be great.  They do what they feel is important and if that means taking a step back from the spotlight, so be it.

As Jesus explained this to the disciples that day, he needed an example.  His eye fell on the children.  First century children held no value, because they produced nothing.  Their only worth was what they could produce when they came of age.  They were nobodies who knew about being silent and unseen.

This is who Jesus used as his example.  “Welcome one of these and you welcome me.  In fact, welcome me and you welcome the Father.”

This would have been a stunning moment for the disciples.  Welcome a child?!  Who would be a better example today?  One of the panhandlers with their signs looking for food and money?  A person with disabilities?  Name someone and see if you can sense the strangeness like the disciples did.

The truth is, we’ll be asking who is the greatest until the end of time.  The world’s standards will continue to hold us down, at times.  We’ll walk past the Gentile women, the leper and other unsavory “sinners.”

The truth is, we run into “greatness seekers” in every walk of life.  In my own profession I feel deep sadness when I hear about or meet a minister who can wax eloquently about “his great ministry,” or “her church” or allude to his “great preaching.”  I tire of the pompous preacher and the questions about church size.  The truth is, I go there myself sometimes, especially in my most judgemental moments.

The good news, though, is that we follow the Son of Man, the Son of God, who was faithful unto death.  He practiced what he preached through solidarity, relationship and encouragement.  He was faithful unto death, the weakest position of all.

And he was the greatest of them all.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Jesus’ Way of Suffering Love: Get in Line and Deny Yourself

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”[a] 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

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,[b] 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[c] 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 8:27-38 NRSV)

They are traveling through the heart and soul of world power. A city dedicated to Caesar by one of the Herod’s. A city who chooses to worship one of the gods of Baal. World power is celebrated, practiced and worshiped in this place.

“Who do people say that I am?” An interesting question from Jesus. What are the rumors and stories going around?

“Well. Some say John the Baptist. Others Elijah. And others simply say one of the prophets.”

Jesus nods his head. Then he asks the big question, “Who do you say that I am?”

Who do you say that I am? Be careful how you answer this question. Because when you finally answer it, you’ll also tell Jesus and the world who you are.

When Peter answers, “You are the Messiah,” we nod in relief. He got it right! Jesus is Messiah; anointed; out of the line of David. But, Peter doesn’t have it quite right. Messiah in first century Palestine meant not only a king out of the line of David. It carried with it the expectation that he would free Israel from oppressors and restore Israel to its former glory and independence.

No wonder Jesus said, “Don’t repeat what you just said.” Don’t repeat it because you have some more learning to do! And Jesus dives right in.

Here’s what you can expect of your Messiah: the Son of Man is going to suffer. He’ll undergo rejection, betrayal, death. And then he’ll be raised on the third day. Hardly, are his words out of his mouth when Peter rebukes him.

That’s not the message to deliver, Jesus! Tell them how we’ll gather an army of soldiers and head for Jerusalem to take over! Tell them how glorious it’ll be and why some will have to die! Tell them—

“Get behind me Satan!”

You’ve got Messiah confused, Peter! Messiah is of God. Messiah isn’t of this world of power and money and military might. Messiah can’t be tamed. Messiah can’t be turned into our image. Messiah isn’t someone who makes us winners.

Peter, you don’t understand. If you’re going to follow me, you’re going to have to take up the cross. While Peter shrinks in horror, he thinks of those he’s watched who have had the cross beam strapped to their shoulders while they walked to their death. He remembers the wailing of pain as they were hung high.

Peter doesn’t want to go there. And neither do you or I. Jesus calls us not to martyr ourselves, but to be willing to go that far. Jesus acknowledges that life is hard; that we’ll be faced with suffering because we live in a broken world. But, that’s not our cross.

Taking up our cross means that we’re willing to suffer the consequences of following Jesus faithfully. It means that Jesus comes first; his priorities are our priorities. It means that our time and energy and gifts and talents are used in the service of Christ.

Think hard about this Peter. Think real hard. Because where I’m headed is to ride a donkey, not a war horse, into Jerusalem. Where I’m headed is to a cross, not a throne.

It’s worth it, though, Peter. It’s so worth it. Look around you. Do you really think Casesar is a happy, peace-filled man? No, he’s afraid of losing power and he’s greedy for more. The powerful elite are hanging onto power by their fingernails. They are in it for themselves. There’s no joy in that.

We’re in this for God. You’re servants of those who need Jesus the most. You’ll give it all you have and receive so much more in return. No, it isn’t a ride in the park. But, there’s more joy in serving Messiah than in anything else you can choose to do.

So, think hard, Peter. Who do you say that I am? A warrior of prosperity or a fulfiller life and success or any number of worldly things will only bring temporary satisfaction?

Eternal life in the now is so much more than this.

Get behind me Satan. Either get out of my sight or get in line and follow me. What God has to offer is life. Honest life; authentic life.

What God has to offer is so great that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ.

Absolutely. Nothing.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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