Author Archives: Sandy Bach

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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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.


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.


Redeeming Time

15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Ephesians 5:15-20 NRSV)

Summer isn’t over.  That will occur on September 22 this year with the autumnal equinox.  Meteorologists call the end of summer on August 31st.  Frankly, summer is over when school begins.  It’s the beginning of a new year, so to speak.  Our kids return to school and new classrooms and new teachers.  And the rest of us tend to follow suit.  Vacation season comes to an end and we get serious about fall activities.

How timely that we read this passage today.  The author of Ephesians tells us to make the most of time; the days are evil; be wise; don’t get drunk; worship and sing; give thanks for everything.  That’s a tall order!  Perhaps it’s also strange.  As we begin a fresh new year, perhaps this passage is timely.

How do we redeem time?  The word, redeem, has so many meanings and we Christians throw it around as if we understand it’s meaning.  Jesus went to the cross to “redeem” us from sin.  He traded his life for yours and mine.  He freed us up to make better lives for ourselves and others.

Redeeming time, in this sense, is about what we do with the time we’re given.  When we awaken each day, we have the opportunity to open ourselves up to our very existence.  We can receive this new day that God has made because we know that God is in it.  What might that look like?

We begin by understanding that not everyone awakens to a beautiful world.  Some choose not to see the beauty.  Sadly, some are surrounded by really bad stuff.  All of us are capable are seeing the fresh possibilities in a new day.

We redeem time when we recognize that we have choices.  As my friend and colleague is fond of saying, “Life has choices.  Choices have consequences.  Make good choices.”  We redeem time when we rescue the time we have from loss or inappropriate practices.  Notice that the author says, “Don’t get drunk with wine…” (vs 18)  Certainly alcohol abuse is a waste of time and energy.  But, don’t we get drunk on other things?

The risks exist: to get drunk worrying about the future; to get drunk on overspending money; to get drunk on anger.  We get drunk when that which gets in the way of our relationship with God takes over our lives.  We lose time.  We lose ourselves.  We’re unable to worship God.  We’re unable to be thankful.

We get drunk when we choose to lose ourselves in anything that kills our spirit and our soul.  Over drinking and abusing drugs come to mind.  Overeating is the drug of choice for others.  Getting drunk relieves anxiety and we can avoid both God and the problem.  Until we sober up and all sorts of other emotions step in to drive us back to our addiction.

Our author suggests being thankful.  In everything.

Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to be thankful when things are going wrong?  First we see all the bad stuff.  Then if it gets bad enough, we begin to see glimpses of God’s presence:  a friend saying the right thing at the right time; a good night’s rest after many a restless night; a sense of God’s peace just when you need it most.  Soon you’re noticing that the rain let up at just the right moment.  That the evening news reported somebody performing an act of kindness.  You see life differently and, though life is not all good, it’s also not all bad.

Give thanks for the right timing of events; for green lights; for smiles and sunshine.  Dare to turn to the evilness of our days.  Give thanks that, though evil exists, life isn’t evil.  God is the one who gives and sustains life and intends good for God’s creation.

That’s when time takes on a new aspect.  There is an example used in training classes that expresses this best.  The facilitator jams rocks of all sizes and shapes into a jar and then tries to pour sand around it.  Each rock is an item on our to-do list.  Predictably, it all doesn’t fit.  Then the facilitator empties the jar and begins again.  This time she identifies priorities and puts the largest rocks in first.  Next come the secondary priorities and she puts the smaller stones into the jar and watches them settle around the largest rocks.  Finally, she adds sand and it slips over the rocks and stones into the tiny crevices.  These are the less important things, but still things that need to be completed.  The jar is filled and all the items on the to-do list fit in the jar perfectly.

The point is this: what’s most important in your life?  Do it first?  I tried meditating in the evening and guess what?  I never got to it.  I had to move it to first thing in the morning.  I discovered that it got my day off to a good start.  Some of my biggest rocks include physical exercise, caring for my disabled husband and for the congregation I serve.  Once I identified those, everything else fell into place.

Redeeming time requires wisdom.  It’s part time management, part boundary setting.  It’s all prayerful and prayer-filled.

We redeem time when we use it wisely.  We redeem time when we use it to change the world.  We redeem time when we seek the leading of the Holy Spirit and grab it while it while we can

All glory ad honor be to God.

Amen.

 


Merit Badges

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,[b] as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.[c] Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us[d] and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  (Ephesians 4:25-5:12 NRSV)

Rules for living in unity:

  1.  honesty is the best policy
  2.  keep a check on your anger
  3.  thieves, get a job, so you can help others out
  4.  watch what comes out of your mouth
  5.  no backbiting or profane talk.
  6.  forgive each other

Merit badges.  Do your best to be a good person and here’s a list of what to do and what to avoid.  And, to be truthful, my badges are adding up.  I’m feeling pretty good about myself.

It’s an easy passage to read, unless we read between the lines and understand the context.  This is a letter written to churches made up of Jews and Gentiles.  The Jewish Christians already had a set of values that they learned from the law of Moses.  The Gentiles came to them with what the author calls pagan values.  They have left behind the worship of multiple gods and entered their new life with a sense of freedom from laws and rules.  This collided with the Jewish sense of Torah (Law.)  The author aims to set everyone straight.

The Head of the Church is Christ.  And that implies great meaning.  The rest of the letter is directed toward understanding what that means for the fledgling congregation.

The author could be speaking directly to us in the 21st century.  We need this passage to run a check on ourselves.  Let’s take another look.

How do we speak truth to our neighbor?  In his play, “Strange Interlude,” Eugene O’Neill has a double dialog going: dialog spoken and dialog of unspoken thoughts.  The two dialogs don’t agree.  When we talk about truth telling, we often think of this in terms of pointing out wrongdoing or inaccuracies.  The double dialog protects from hurt feelings, but also, authenticity.  The author states that our neighbor deserves best.  And it begins with truthfulness in our own hearts.

If we are to be honest, we begin with ourselves.  What are you doing to protect yourself and those secret places in your soul that you don’t dare allow in the light of day?  What are you hiding behind that could be melted away in God’s grace?  That’s right, God’s grace.  Honesty with neighbor begins with God.  Exposing our soul to God opens us up to repentance and forgiveness.  We are changed as much as the members of that first century congregation.

Anger is important.  It reminds us that injustice is a sin or that someone is trying to hurt us.  The problem with anger is when it turns lethal and we seek revenge for wrongdoing against us or a loved one.  But, it gets us no where.  Anger has a way of multiplying itself until it owns us and we lose the authentic self that God created us to be.

When we deal with our anger today, we let it go and allow God to do something with it.  If community is important, than reconciliation is a constant.  Holding grudges allows for festering.  It does no one any good and too many people suffer from it.  If it’s important enough to hang onto, it’s important enough to talk it out with the one who hurt you.

The same with evil talk.  It has a lot to do with unresolved anger.  Allow your words to build up rather than break down.

During this summer, the sign on our neighborhood elementary school has read, “Be the kind kid.”  I walk past it every morning and I read the reminder to me: “Be the kind adult.”  The first thing I did was to talk less.  I love the sound of my own voice, so it’s been a huge lesson to speak less and listen more.  I’ve discovered that kindness has been easier because listening provides me with words of understanding and acceptance.

As I read this passage, I discover that I want to remove the merit badges from my sash.  In fact, I want to set aside the whole concept and reread this passage in light of my baptism.  Every time we see the baptismal font, isn’t it a reminder that we are a new creation?  That God, in Christ, came to earth to show us the way?  Every time we come forward to that font, we are reminded who we are and to whom we belong.  We were marked in those waters and reminded what Jesus did for us.

We are a new creation over and over again.  Our salvation is always and forever.  And God is always at work in us to transform us.  Every time we receive that transformative power, we “put off” our old ways.  We repent, yet again, and enter a renewal that leads to changes in the way we act, the way we respond and the way we are.

We do this every time we walk with God.  We do this every time we change as a result of listening to each other.  We do this when we talk honestly to God.  We do this when we own up to our anger that is getting in the way of our relationship with God.

It requires fellowship, repentance and forgiveness.  It leads to reconciliation.  It makes for authentic community.

We often say, “Remember your baptism and be glad.”  Sound silly?  Many of us were baptized as babies.  Remember what?  Remember that you are baptized and marked by God.  Remember that you belong to God through Jesus Christ.  Remember that you came through the waters of baptism into new life.

Remember your baptism.  And be glad.

I’m putting away the merit badges.  I’ve achieved very little when I look at what God has done for me through Christ.  And though I know that I’m saved by grace through faith, I want to honor God by paying it forward.

I’ll start at the baptismal font.  And I’ll try to be the kind and authentic person.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 

 


How Do We Fit In?

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.”

(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended[a] into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.  (Ephesians 4:1-16 NRSV)

 

In a motion picture called The Mission Robert DeNiro plays Mendoza, a ruthless mercenary who makes his living selling Indians on the slave market.  One day he kills his brother in a fit of rage.  Unable to live with the guilt, Mendoza goes to live in a monastery where he meets Father Gabriel.  The priest suggests that Mendoza accompany him to a mission in the mountains where the Indians live.  As penance Mendoza carries a huge sack of armor along the way.  Near the end of the climb Mendoza struggles up a slippery hillside, still carrying the sack, when he comes face-to-face with one of the natives.  The Indian man holds out a knife, and Mendoza assumes he will be killed.  But the man uses the knife to cut the rope, and the sack of armor goes tumbling down the hillside.  Not anger, wrath, and malice, but compassion, kindness, and humility.  That’s what Paul writes about. *

Humility.  Gentleness. Patience. Bearing with one another in love.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks often of “Ubuntu.”  It’s a difficult word to translate into English, but it describes the kind of person Paul is calling us to be.  A person with Ubuntu is generous, hospitable, friendly, caring and compassionate.  Ubuntu understands that we are not our own.  We are a part of something much larger and because of that we participate with others.

Paul says that we’re a part of Christ’s Body.  Also known as the Church.  It’s a calling.  It’s a calling to humility and gentleness and patience.  We bear with on another in love.  We enter the world in love.

It seems to me that anger and hate are easy and energy sapping all at the same time.  It takes courage to humbly stand for what we believe. It takes courage to be patient with those who don’t see things our way.  Yet, the outcome is peace.  Peace of mind and body and soul.  It’s a form of letting go and allowing God to be involved.

We tell our kids to play well with others.  How do we measure up to those standards as adults?  How do we stand tall, serving our neighbor, while risking becoming a doormat?  We do it together.  We are the body of the Christ.  We aren’t alone in this, but we are a part of something much larger than us.  Huge.

And we do it by the grace of Christ.  Paul is clear about what we believe: One.  One body, one Spirit, one hope in Christ’s resurrection; one Lord, one faith, one baptism.  And it all leads to God.  Amen and amen.

But, that’s not all.  Paul shows us how we move into this unity thing in order to develop our skills of caring and compassion.  It comes as gifts bestowed on those who will equip us for this journey.  Some will be Apostles to build the Church; prophets to speak truth in love; evangelists to share the Church with seekers; pastors and teachers to preach and to teach the Church.

That’s how we grow up.

Ubuntu generosity and hospitality.  Ubuntu compassion.  Holding the knife, not to kill, but to relieve burdens.

That’s the world I want to live in.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

  • Mike Graves “The Sermon as Symphony: Preachign the Literary Forms of the New Testament”  (Valley Forge, Judson Press, 1997) page 187

 


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