Monthly Archives: October 2018

Jesus’ Way of Suffering Love: First In Line

35 James and John, Zebedee’s sons, came up to him. “Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us.”

36 “What is it? I’ll see what I can do.”

37 “Arrange it,” they said, “so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory—one of us at your right, the other at your left.”

38 Jesus said, “You have no idea what you’re asking. Are you capable of drinking the cup I drink, of being baptized in the baptism I’m about to be plunged into?”

39-40 “Sure,” they said. “Why not?”

Jesus said, “Come to think of it, you will drink the cup I drink, and be baptized in my baptism. But as to awarding places of honor, that’s not my business. There are other arrangements for that.”

41-45 When the other ten heard of this conversation, they lost their tempers with James and John. Jesus got them together to settle things down. “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.”  (Mark 10:35-45 The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Oh dear.  James and John, do you have any idea what you’re asking for?

Will you be baptized like Jesus in the muddy Jordan River, entering into the lives of those you’ve been called to serve?  Will you enter willingly into the horrible, degrading trial that awaits Jesus?  Are you able to be flogged before being forced to drag your cross to Calvary?  Will you drink the cup that is crucifixion?

Or will you freeze with horror when your teacher is arrested and run for the hills during the trial?  Will you deny him?

You don’t have a clue, do you, James and John?  You don’t have any idea what you’re asking?

They want security.  They’re afraid of what Jesus has been telling them.  He’s warned them that he’ll be handed over and condemned to death.  He’ll be handed over to the Romans and they’ll mock him and spit on him and flog him and kill him.  They understand that part.  That’s what happens to people who stand up to the status quo or fight to free Israel from Rome.

His final statement makes no sense.  “after three days he will rise again.”

He’ll what?  Rise where?  How?

And so they’re scared.  Scared to ask questions.  Scared to consider what their teacher is trying to tell them.   They think they’ll be fighting with swords and spears.  They want security. When Jesus wins the throne of David, they want to know that Jesus loved them best.

They don’t get it.  I trust neither would any of us on the front side of resurrection.

They ask him to do for John and James whatever they ask of him.  That’s what my son used to do when he wanted permission to do what he knew we wouldn’t permit.  It’s a childish game.

When do we do that?  When do we try to tell God what God should be doing?  “Thy will be done,” becomes “my will be done.”  We are such control freaks that we forget that God is in control and has a better view of life than we do.

Jesus asks them a good question. “What is it you want me to do for you?” He doesn’t say yes or no to their request.  “Just spit it out.  What’s on your mind?”

And when he hears the request, is he all that surprised?  Is God all that surprised when we ask of God what we have no business asking?  Make my life comfortable so I don’t have to suffer and help me become a more spiritual person.  It’s when we struggle that we discover our spirituality.  So, what will it be?  Shallow or deep?

“You don’t know what you’re asking.”  And neither do we.  We yearn for peace while we struggle over gun control laws.  We want to see the end to poverty without being a part of the solution.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was fond of saying, “’What will you have?’ quoth God; ‘pay for it, and take it.’”

James and John would eventually pay for it with their lives.  Christians throughout the centuries have paid for it with their lives.  We may not fear for our lives, but we have other fears that hold us back.

What will you have?  What do you crave in your heart and soul?  What is breaking your heart?  Is it poverty or a bad marriage?  Is it war or a body wracked with disease?  Is it change that makes our world look so completely different or a deeply felt unhappiness?

What are you willing to pay?  Will you give up control and hand it over to God, finally saying with depth of feeling, “Your will be done?” Will you escape from that prison in which you hold yourself?  Will you place trust in God like a child?  Will you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself?

Will you set aside your own sense of importance in order to be a servant?

I suggest that in your best moments, you do.  Look back when you have forgotten your own needs in service of someone else.  When have you felt yourself free from a life of routine and boredom and the sameness day after day?  When have found a new center?

If you’re not there now, why not?  Who or what has gotten in between you and God and caused you to demand the false security of greatness?

We yearn to be comforted and comfortable.  We can’t know what that looks like until we’ve experienced discomfort.  We pray for wealth and when we get it, we pray for something so much deeper.  All too often we get what we pray for and then the price that goes with it.

If it sounds like I’m telling you to quit praying, I’m not.  What I’m suggesting is that when we pray, we honestly and authentically say, “Not my will by yours be done.”  That we enter into life with Christ knowing that there is joy to be found within the hard stuff.  That when we quit asking Christ to walk with us, we walk with him and allow him to point out to us his call on our lives.

Most of us desire greatness.  We want to be noticed in a positive light.  We need to have our best efforts affirmed.  Sometimes we get it, sometimes we get passed by.  This is normal.

James and John didn’t simply want an “atta boy.” They wanted to know that when this battle was over there would be a place for them near their rabbi.  There’s nothing wrong with that, either.  I suggest that what they craved was assurance from Jesus that they would never be separated from him come what may.

Their journey will take them to Jerusalem, as promised.  It will take them through the terror of Jesus’ arrest, the horror of his torture, the nightmare of crucifixion.  They will find emptiness and heartache and abandonment on Friday.  They will know joy like never before the following Sunday.

They will follow Jesus and they’ll know greatness.  They will care more about following and serving than about greatness.  They’ll drink Christ’s cup and they’ll die for it.  Their greatness lies in their service, not their desires.

These past several weeks we’ve looked at Jesus’ Way of Suffering Love.  When we decide to follow Jesus and serve him, we listen and learn: that true greatness comes when we deny ourselves to help others; that we can be grateful that Jesus won’t be squeezed into our mold of what he should “do”; that wealth must be rigorously managed or it will manage us; that when we accept the kingdom like a child possibilities abound.

Real life happens when we follow Jesus.  True greatness happens.  Life takes on new perspectives and is more exciting and is more grace-filled than when we sit on the sidelines waiting for God to serve us.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 

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Jesus’ Way of Suffering Love: Wedges of Wealth

17 As he went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”

18-19 Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”

20 He said, “Teacher, I have—from my youth—kept them all!”

21 Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, “There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”

22 The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.

23-25 Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who ‘have it all’ to enter God’s kingdom?” The disciples couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: “You can’t imagine how difficult. I’d say it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to get into God’s kingdom.”

26 That set the disciples back on their heels. “Then who has any chance at all?” they asked.

27 Jesus was blunt: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.”

28 Peter tried another angle: “We left everything and followed you.”

29-31 Jesus said, “Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land—whatever—because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land—but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first.”  Mark 10:17-31

 

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Jesus knows how comfortable we are with our possessions.  This week he’s making extreme demands — sell everything, give to the poor, follow me; extreme judgement: it’s impossible for the wealthy to enter the kingdom.  He also makes extreme promises: whoever leaves it all behind, will receive.

This young man isn’t just wealthy, he’s likable.  He approaches Jesus with humility and honor and respect.  “Good teacher…”  Even though Jesus pushes back on it and reminds him that only God is good, he meets him where he is: following the commandments.  This is where the young man shares his truth: I’ve done all that.  It’s not enough.

When have you felt that you weren’t enough?  Weren’t doing enough?  Couldn’t do enough?  How have you handled it?  Perhaps you worked harder trying to squeeze more into an already full day.  Then you gave up.  Quit trying.  Quit worshiping.  Quit.  It was too much.  Jesus asked too much.

Jesus looks at the young and loves him.  Can you see his face relax and his eyes soften?  He sees something in this young man and so do we.  That’s how we want Jesus to look at us: with love. We depend on him to understand how scared and alone we am.  That we need those possessions in order to feel safe and secure and not so all alone.

Undaunted, Jesus continues.  He makes the extreme demand:

Go.  Sell what you own.  Give it to the poor.  Come.  Follow me.

Sell what you own and give it away.  Aren’t we being responsible with our wealth when we carry life insurance, automobile insurance and home insurance?  Shouldn’t we tuck money away in nest eggs like IRA’s and 401k’s?

The young man had many  possessions.  He was holding on to them tightly.  I wonder if Jesus was telling him to sell it because it wasn’t that the young man owned them, but that his wealth possessed him?

My husband bought me a beautiful diamond ring for our 25th Anniversary.  I loved that ring.  I loved the look of it, the way it made my hands look, the way the diamonds glittered in the light.  One morning, I sat in worship and listened to the music being played while the ushers collected the offering.  I thought about the meaning of this part of worship.  It’s not a time for paying “dues.”  It’s giving back to God a part of all that God has given us.  It’s responding to God’s great love for us by providing the church the means to pass this grace along.

My eyes fell on my beautiful ring.  I love it too much, I thought.  This ring is owning me.  I’m not willing to sell it and give it to the poor.  I didn’t like being owned.

What owns you?  If you lost all of your possessions in a tornado, which loss would devastate you the most?  That’s your starting point.

You know, we assume that the young man didn’t follow Jesus’ directions.  But, what if the reason he went away sad was because he recognized everything that owned him?  What if he sold that extra house and donated the extra clothing that filled multiple closets?  What if he gave up the prestigious home in the right part of town?  What if he gave away his wealth to those who had little?  Or used his ability to gain wealth to run a charity that made a real difference in the lives of others?

What if he was one of the people who stood at Calvary and watched him die?

I remind you again this week: we are saved by grace through faith.  There’s nothing we can do to “win” God’s favor.

In response to that kind of unfailing, unending, passionate love, Jesus reminds us that we can’t worship God and material items, as well.  A full and rich life demands more:

–it demands a commitment to being in relationship with God.  We can’t live a full life without that connection to our creator.

–it demands that we see the people all around us. All the people; not just those we want to see.  Really see those you don’t want to see.

–and when we see the people, to love them (I didn’t say you had to like them.)  To enter into a relationship that empathizes with the hurting side of their lives.

–to take risks.  To step outside yourself and follow Jesus’ way.  Especially when it scares the devil out of you.

Letting go isn’t easy.  Especially when we take in our prized possessions.  We don’t need our wealth to lean on, we need God for that.  Our possessions hold only so much promise.  Christ offers us a promise that is rich and satisfying and lasts for eternity.

What do you own?  Over what are we masters?  What’s left is what owns us.

That’s where we begin.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Jesus’ Way of Suffering Love: The Unsettling Reign of God

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,[a] and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.  (Mark 10:2-16 NRSV)

“I’ve lost a wife through divorce and a wife through death.  I can easily say that losing my wife through death was a lot easier.”

These words were spoken by a friend of mine several months after his wife of more than 25 years had passed away.  I was surprised when I first heard them.  Doesn’t divorce give at least the illusion of maybe getting back together again?  Death is so final.

In the years since I’ve considered his statement many times and I’ve gained a bit of understanding.  I’ve never been divorced and I’m not widowed.  I don’t know the emotions involved in either.  However, I know the difficulties that marriage entails and I understand how they can lead to divorce.

Jesus’ words in this text are difficult to hear.  Divorce is all too common today and I wonder if there were similar issues in first century Rome and Palestine.  These words have been used to keep marriages together for good and for bad.  People have told me that it was passages such as this one that made them stay in the relationship and make it strong again.  I’ve also read about ministers who sadly told a battered wife to return to her husband or be damned to hell.

Is Jesus saying you can’t divorce?  And if you do, you can’t remarry or you’re committing adultery?  Is he laying down a law of his own?  Is eternal punishment promised?

Notice that the Pharisees arrive with a question, not because they’re interested in his ideas for lowering the divorce rate, but to test him.  Whatever he says will be used against him.  They know it.  Jesus knows it.  He doesn’t give them an immediate answer, he asks them a question.  They respond by quoting the law of Moses that permits a man to divorce his wife.  She can’t divorce him, but he can let her go for anything from unfaithfulness to last night’s dinner being burned.

Jesus attacks the law.  That law was necessary because you’re human and stiff-necked.  He then goes backs to the beginning — Genesis.  This is what God intended: that when two people marry, they become one and they remain together, both physically and spiritually.  God never intended divorce.

In the kingdom of God, mutual respect and concern rule the day.  In everything, including marriage.  When divorce happens, not only a physical separation occurs, but a spiritual one.  To be married is to be open and vulnerable to your mate and to be respectful and caring of your mate’s openness and vulnerability.  When that fabric is torn, a deep wound is created; sometimes it’s never mended.

Sadly, we live in a broken world.  We’ve spent the past few weeks looking at our brokenness in this broken world.  We’ve talked about being willing to take up the cross for Christ’s sake in the world; that to be the greatest in the kingdom is to be the least and slave of all; that we are tempted often and sometimes we tempt others to stumble along with us.  These are difficult to hear and even more difficult to do.

We are broken people, saved by grace through faith, living in a broken world.  Jesus tells us how to live and sets the bar high.  Jesus knows we won’t reach it.  Not every time.  This text comes on the heals of his previous teachings, so why would they be any different?  In a broken world, we fall short, even fail at times.  In a broken world, divorce is sometimes necessary.

From Genesis through Revelation, we read and learn about God who loves humanity.  God loves us so passionately, that God sent Jesus to live among us.  God loves us so passionately, that sometimes judgement has to take place in order to bring us back to the loving father.  If sometimes we fail to carry the cross, or serve others as a servant or allow others to stumble and fall on our account, we have sinned.  We have let God down.  When we divorce or break the marriage vow in any way, we have sinned and we have let God down.

That’s when we become as a child.  That’s when we receive the kingdom as a child.  We admit our total dependency on God.  We open ourselves to be receptive to God’s voice.  And we respond as a child.

Jesus isn’t as interested in what is lawful and as he is in the purposes of God.  God had a purpose in creating marriage.  God has a purpose in everything God created.  Jesus walked this earth to show us that way.  Not to set the law aside, but just the opposite.  To deepen our understanding of it.

In this text, Jesus raises women to be equal with men in marriage and to be equally responsible for the marriage vows.  He makes it clear that marriage isn’t something to take lightly and then dissolve if it doesn’t meet your expectations.  There’s no money back guarantee.  Marriage is holy.  Marriage is a spiritual union as well as a physical one.  But, he doesn’t make divorce a cruel and unjust regulation.

Just when we think we have the answers to life, someone comes along and changes the questions.  Maybe that’s God’s way of saying, “Come to me as a child: dependent on me and receptive to my Word.”  When we’re at our best, we can serve others, we can deny ourselves, we can keep our marriages strong.  When we’re at our worst, life falls apart.

Grace enters then and picks us up.  We become like a child, once again.  With a broken heart and a broken life we turn to God’s presence saying, “What was that about dependence and receptivity?  I think I’m ready for that, God.”

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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