As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs. Mark 13:1-8
We are 33 days from a cataclysmic end, a mere 792 hours from the end. That is 47,520 minutes left to get right with God. December 21, 2012 is coming! The end of the world has escaped most of us, having been replaced by other pressing issues. Such as, the beginning of the NBA season, the coming end of college football, this never-ending political drama, or that thankful holiday that visits us towards the end of this week.
There seems to be a peculiar fascination with the end of the world predictions. We have had our fair share of end of times prognosticators peddling their visions and calls to repentance in this nation. We have a litany of prophetic voices calling out in to the wilderness demanding our attention to the end of the world; Harold Camping (4 times), Pat Robertson (twice), Nancy Lieder, Tim LaHaye (wrote books about it), Jerry Falwell, Jonathan Edwards, Edgar Cayce, Isaac Newton, Hal Lindsey (lost count), Marshall Applewhite, and Rollen Stewart.
Y’all remember Y2K? I spent that year at a party and as midnight approached I dismissed myself and went outside to pray and meet the end of the world. I meet Y2K with fear in my heart and standing alone in the ally of an apartment complex. The end was surely near.
*Story of Harold Camping and May 21, 2011…I spent it on the road from NYC to DC. I spent that day unaware of the end, paying tolls on a road that carried me to a new life.
In today’s text we hear Jesus telling us the end is near. This is nothing new for those that were listening. There is a rich and proud tradition of Jewish, Greek, and Roman apocalyptic prophets that have lead folks to the brink of destruction or predicted the end, only to have it pass on by. I imagine many heard Jesus’ words in a like manner as we hear those “crazy” sign-wielding prophets of our day.
Jesus points to the buildings and warns that nothing will be left standing. All the progress, the comforts, the protections…all shall be lost. The pride, the ingenuity, the capital invested in those buildings will not last. These things are impermanent at best. We work to create lasting impression and legacies that will influence and shape the future. It is our way of eternity.
Jesus goes on to say, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. Crazy…this sounds a lot like our times. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, global warming, wars, terror, terrorist, economic woes, and political division…I cannot imagine a time filled with so many false prophets. There are far too many false prophets preaching a false gospel to keep up with. The bearers of the real gospel truth got to be tired maintain the peace in the face of thy wicked enemy.
The truth is the “real gospel” depends on your theological, politic, or cultural camp. The “haves” have a different gospel truth than the “have not’s” have. The end of the world is more about losing, gaining, or maintaining power than we would like to admit. The end of the world evokes a powerful imagery of redistribution of power to those that suffer in the margins of society. There has always been enough for all of creation to exist. Human greed, fear, and dominance keep the abundance of God from all of God’s creation.
The end of the world is near. I am not sure it is the end we all have been hoping for. The end Jesus is warning us about is the end that we in fact are causing. It is us, God’s beloved creation, that bring about the end. We are the riders of pestilence, war, famine, and death.
The end of the world is not the end of the Kingdom of God. Human institution and princely kingdoms shall end. Pestilence, war, famine, and death are part of this physical realm. We ought not embrace it and resign ourselves to its fate. We are to realize that we are its riders and that God has given us enough to advert these
The end is near. The end has always been with us. The end is part of the story. For without the end there cannot be a beginning. Jesus’ words here warn us of the coming end, an end not to be feared as much as it is to be engaged. We are to engage the end with courage, faith, and hope. The end of our world is the beginning of God’s.
When Jesus, Peter, James, and John approached the other disciples, they saw a large crowd surrounding them and legal experts arguing with them. Suddenly the whole crowd caught sight of Jesus. They ran to greet him, overcome with excitement.
Jesus asked them, “What are you arguing about?” Someone from the crowd responded, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, since he has a spirit that doesn’t allow him to speak. Wherever it overpowers him, it throws him into a fit. He foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and stiffens up. So I spoke to your disciples to see if they could throw it out, but they couldn’t.”
Jesus answered them, “You faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I put up with you? Bring him to me.” They brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a fit. He fell on the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been going on?” He said, “Since he was a child. It has often thrown him into a fire or into water trying to kill him. If you can do anything, help us! Show us compassion!”
Jesus said to him, “‘If you can do anything’? All things are possible for the one who has faith.” At that the boy’s father cried out, “I have faith; help my lack of faith!” Noticing that the crowd had surged together, Jesus spoke harshly to the unclean spirit, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you to come out of him and never enter him again.” After screaming and shaking the boy horribly, the spirit came out. The boy seemed to be dead; in fact, several people said that he had died. But Jesus took his hand, lifted him up, and he arose.
After Jesus went into a house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we throw this spirit out?” Jesus answered, “Throwing this kind of spirit out requires prayer.”
Mark 9: 14-29 [Common English Bible]
Big Bird. Medicare. Economy. Entitlements. Middle Class. Liberty. Obamacare. Freedom. Corporations. Individual Rights. Religious Liberty. Romneycare. Right to Bear Arms. Education. The American Dream. 47%, 1%, and 99%. What are things that are under threat in the US?
If we listen to the prognosticators, the commentators, and the political naysayers the sky is indeed falling. We are at a turning point in this nation and if we mess this one up those that are taking back this country from those that are occupying the streets of this nation will lose it all and no one will have anything to occupy at all. Then what are we going to do?
I watched the debates this past week for a little while. I grew weary of it all and turned on the Orioles/Yankees game to see the O’s force a game 5. You want eroding tradition how about Major League Baseball’s new playoff format. Let’s kill the pennant race and water down baseball with one game wildcard playoffs. When did the Major League become the XFL?
In all seriousness, you can’t put your attention to anything without suspicion, doubt, and uncertainty poking at your motives or morals. No wonder we get all kinds of “end of times” prophets peddling their wears and sage wisdom for a small suggested donation. Speaking of “end of times” prophets, did y’all know that the Leader of the Kingdom of God and Second coming of Christ lives in Newalla.
We live in a time of quick fixes, sweet bargains, and certain certainty. Folks are lining up to share their thoughts on “Saving America.” You listen to radio, watch TV, or read the paper it is filled with information, opinions, and warnings. Drive around town and you’ll see the bumper stickers with the “Take Back America” rally cry.
Differing opinions on how to get this country back on track and varying ideologies about humanity, inclusivity, and financial strategies separate the two competing parties of this nation. Both offer up quick fixes, sweet bargains, and certain certainty. I am pretty sure that no one sets out in politics to strip mine the people for personal gain. I have to hold on to that hope. We believe. Lord, help us with our unbelief.
The polarizing posture has separated a nation beyond color lines, class strata, and civil morality. This polarizing posture is picking teams and dividing the nation in to sides. Concentrating wealth has left a middle class devoid of hope, opportunity, and a place at the table. Those that are concentrating wealth fear losing their wealth and institute measures to protect it.
We have “us” verves “them.” Class warfare. Immigration. Same-Sex Marriage. Democrat verse Republican. Christian verses the world. It is not a climate of mutuality and consensus building. A house divided cannot stand. Our glaring weakness is our inability to see the humanity of others in the varying of opinions. Our fall will be in the distrust of each other that leads to the mighty forsaking the weak. The marginalized being exploited by those in power shall bring tears to the eyes of Lady Liberty. We believe. Lord, help us with our unbelief.
The church is not immune from this quick fix, bargain faith, and certain certainty that’s peddled in US politics. The church offers a similar resolve to the world as our national politics have offered us. If you are not for us, you are against us. There is no place for new ideas in this time of crisis. We do things as we always have, its tradition, it’s right.
There are back room deals and fear based choices being made to gather the troops, steady the base, and hold on to power in the church that there is in DC. You have rebel-rousing figures that speak truths and demand action. You have rebel-rousing figures that speak truths and demand inaction. We poll. We vote. We are bound to order and decency as we seek a resurrected and transformed Christ. I imagine Jesus is just as frustrated with us as he was with the disciples that ran around attempting to do the works of Christ, in a sort of First Century Bad New Bears kind of way.
Blinded wisdom shakes the foundations of change. Are we the faithless generation? I do not know anymore. I am more uncertain of things today than I ever have been before. My faith in Christ, my faith in the church, my faith in the government, and my faith in humanity is shaken. The better you had hoped for your children, the better our parents had hoped for us has changed.
Gone are the days of a college education guaranteeing you a job. Gone are the days of the church being the center of the community. Competition for a job is fierce. Unemployment is high. Competition for membership is fierce. Dwindling churches are high. We seek a resurrected and transformed Christ with dying and unrequited ways. We, the church, do the best we can with what we got. We believe. Lord, help us with our unbelief.
What do we believe?
What do we not believe?
What we do not believe is as important as what we do believe. They are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have belief without unbelief. We need to embrace the transformed mind offered to us n the gospel. In the gospel message of Jesus the Christ there is room for certainty and uncertainty, there is room for belief and unbelief. The gospel compels us towards death of preconceived notions and beckons us to follow Christ to the cross and place our hearts, our minds, our spirit our will at the foot of the cross and leave them there as we are delivered to a new state of being. A state of being that is full of compassion, full of hope, peaceful, love-centered, and void of human division. A place not focused on ideology, association, or belief, a better place…
Our better needs to change. A better “better” calls us to less, to simplicity, to connectivity, to community, to an environmental harmony, to consensus, to peace, to humility, and to death. For it is only in death to ourselves that we will be resurrected in to the new life Christ has called us to. It is only in death that we shall bear witness to the transformative gospel and embody it to the world.
Gone are…Big Bird. Medicare. Economy. Entitlements. Middle Class. Liberty. Obamacare. Freedom. Corporations. Individual Rights. Religious Liberty. Romneycare. Right to Bear Arms. Education. The American Dream. 47%, 1%, and 99%. What comes after we die to ourselves and inhabit the gospel of Jesus Christ?
I have no idea what it looks like or what I gain in it. I do know it is paradise. We believe. Lord, help us with our unbelief.
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.”
He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. I assure you that I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way in God’s kingdom.”[Mark 14:22-25]
One of my favorite movies as a kid was The Last Starfighter. The Last Starfighter was a story about Alex Rogan, a teen living in a trailer park in somewhere average America with his mom and kid brother, Louis. Alex is dating his sweetheart, Maggie, who lives with her grandmother in the same trailer park as Alex. They go to the lake with friends, hang out at the trailer park, and stare off in to the sky dreaming of leaving “this place.”
Alex is obsessed with playing this video game in a trailer park called, “Starfighter.” Alex spends far too much time playing this video game as he defends the Frontier from Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada.
One particular electric night in the trailer park, Alex gets in a zone and defends the Frontier on the way towards a high score. As he nears the high score Alex’s neighbors gather to cheer him on. Maggie is there right next to him, impressed with his performance. Alex beats the record and the trailer park goes wild.
Alex finds himself face to face with Centauri, the inventor of the video game Starfighter, that Alex just beat. Centauri takes him in to the Starfighter base. Alex is confused. There are all kinds of humanoid creatures wearing Starfighter suits, all speaking with strange buzzes, blips, clicks, and in foreign patterns of speech. Alex gets stamped with some kind of decoder badge that translates everyone and he learns that there is indeed a Xur and a Ko-Dan Armada that is attacking the Frontier. Alex discovers that the video game he had been playing was an elaborate cover to find humans with the gift to operate the Starfighter space ships.
It is a fun movie. It was the second Disney film to use computer-generated imagery, the first being Tron. The film is a great escape and has action, romance, and comedy. What has stuck with me over the last twenty-eight years was that translator badge Alex got at Starfighter Academy. I always wanted a translator badge.
Many years later, when I was a missionary in Kenya I was a fish out of water. For most of my time in Eastern Africa I traveled Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania meeting many people in my work with the Eastern African office of Church World Service. My office mates spoke English, their mother tongue, and Kiswahili. A few of them spoke additional languages like French, Spanish, Russian, or Italian. I spoke English, Spanglish, and very poor Kiswahili.
It was difficult being there. I was lost without context. I found things to be funny when others did not. When my co-workers laughed I did not get the joke. The foods I craved were nowhere to be found. I celebrated holidays alone with no other celebrants, the Kenyan world unaware of my American sensitivities.
Going to church was difficult too. I went a few times early on but found the language and cultural barrier a perfect excuse to sleep in on Sundays. There was this one time when we were traveling in a desolate, rural area in the western part of Kenya, near the Ugandan boarder, we went to worship in a small concrete floored church. Everyone was speaking a language I did not know. I felt lost. There were things I got and noticed but I did not connect or relate too much.
There was beautiful music being played. The melodies and tunes were familiar but the words were of a language I was unfamiliar with. People danced around the sanctuary. A sermon was delivered. The Spirit of God was moving in and around that room. It was electric. Cheers and shouts filled that concrete floored sanctuary. My ears begged for mercy. The air was being pulled out of the room faster than God could replace it. In a hot and sweat movement a few folks danced towards the front of the sanctuary as the congregation praised God. They danced up to a small table and lifted a white cloth draped over the top. There exposed to the world were a ceramic cup and a small loaf of bread.
I did not have to understand the words. I knew what was going on. As the presider spoke I heard, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” The small loaf of bread that was now in his large black hands was broken in two and placed on the clothed table. Small pewter plates were then distributed around the congregation as they kept on moving in rhythm and paced a slow, soft prayerful hum.
The man at the table continued as he grabbed the ceramic cup and said, He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. The congregation danced towards the front of the sanctuary. The man was up there at the table singing and began to move along with the congregation as he offered the cup to the people. Person after person danced up to the front by the table and drank from the cup. The pace picked up with each passing moment. I could no longer cease being caught up in it and found myself moving towards the table as well. I slowly worked my way to the table and was offered the cup. I took and drank from it. I was relieved, transformed, and confused. I was filled with the Spirit and danced my way back to my seat in the back by the exit.
If there was a theological discussion over real substance, actual presence, or memorial celebration, I missed it. But I had discovered the translator badge that I so desired as a kid. In that moment my inability to communicate with others or understand the language, customs, and practice around me disappeared and were brought into a familiar focus at the Table.
This table is our translator badge. This table takes the joys, woes, sorrows, and triumphs of our sisters and brothers elsewhere and delivers them to us here and now in this chapel on this campus in this moment, we are one. This table removes distance from the equation of life and is the ultimate social justice tool.
The table proclaims that our bodies matter. That the physical nurturing of our bodies matter. In these bodies we will live. In these bodies we will die. A fickle or fettered heart brings faith to the table the same way a confident or an unfettered heart does.
This table makes the high places low and lifts the low places high. This table knows not wealth, privilege, skin color, sexual orientation, gender identity, theological or political disposition. This table knows faith. This table knows hope. This table knows love. This table knows peace.
This table disperses the distance of our narrowly defined humanity and draws us all nearer unto the Christ and in to the presence of our divine creator. It is not in spite of the diversity of God’s creation but because of the diversity of God’s creation that this table transforms us as it does. The fullness of God is only revealed in community as we each bring our piece of the divine to this table and offer it to each other in grace and thanksgiving. For great is the mystery of faith. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. AMEN
The Pharisees and some legal experts from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus. They saw some of his disciples eating food with unclean hands. (They were eating without first ritually purifying their hands through washing. The Pharisees and all the Jews don’t eat without first washing their hands carefully. This is a way of observing the rules handed down by the elders. Upon returning from the marketplace, they don’t eat without first immersing themselves. They observe many other rules that have been handed down, such as the washing of cups, jugs, pans, and sleeping mats.)
So the Pharisees and legal experts asked Jesus, “ Why are your disciples not living according to the rules handed down by the elders but instead eat food with ritually unclean hands?”
He replied, “Isaiah really knew what he was talking about when he prophesied about you hypocrites. He wrote, This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me. Their worship of me is empty since they teach instructions that are human words.You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you.” Jesus continued, “Clearly, you are experts at rejecting God’s commandment in order to establish these rules.”
Then Jesus called the crowd again and said, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing outside of a person can enter and contaminate a person in God’s sight; rather, the things that come out of a person contaminate the person.” It’s from the inside, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come: sexual sins, thefts, murders, adultery, greed, evil actions, deceit, unrestrained immorality, envy, insults, arrogance, and foolishness. All these evil things come from the inside and contaminate a person in God’s sight.
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Sex. Greed. Deceit. Unrestrained Immorality. Envy. Insults. Arrogance. Foolishness. Violence. These are the makings of a great story. This past Friday I went to go see a movie by myself. Well, I was going to see Expendables 2 and since I love my wife I go alone and save her from having to sit through the experience that is my horrible taste in movies.
I showed up at the theater and noticed the lobby was packed with young men wearing orange. I approached the snack counter and bought my popcorn and soda and went on to my movie. I walked in and inside the 2:30 showing of Expendables 2 was an entire football team.
I am not joking. There was the entire football team from Savannah State University. I took a seat sort of in the front sandwiched between a coach and a row of young men that looked like they were either the offensive line. As I sat there my eyes got bog and I started to write a story in my head. Look at all of this excitement. These young men are laughing, joking and enjoying the experience. They are sharing popcorn and seem excited for the movie to begin.
As the movie trailers came on these young men were very vocal about what they liked or did not like. They celebrated together as a team. They jeered as a team. I suspect they had all kinds of stories on each other they could share.
Then the movie came on. A parade of masculine fueled action movie carnage arrives. The Italian Stallion, Stallone. Jean-Claude Van Damme. Bruce Willis. Terry Crews from the Old Spice commercials. Jet Li. Dolph Lundgren. Chuck Norris. Arnold Schwarzenegger. We were only missing Jackie Chan, Samuel L. Jackson, and Wesley Snipes. The excitement was as palatable as it was vocal. This was a ruckus crowd.
I imagined the nerves that these young men held. They were in Oklahoma to play Oklahoma State. They play for a school that is known for its futility. They went 1-11 last year in division 1-AA. Their opponents went 12-1 last year. This game was a literal meeting up of David and Goliath.
But there in those moments, in that movie theater. They laughed. They celebrated. They OOHH’d and AAHH’d. They had fun. It was contagious. I had fun. It was the best movie experience that I have ever had. The energy was electric.
The movie ended. They got on a bus headed to Stillwater and I drove home. They played OSU yesterday. I followed the score a little. I never thought they had a chance to win. I hoped it was not going to be a massacre. Sadly for them, it was a massacre. They lost 84-0. The story on the game was how explosive OSU was. They ran for almost 400 yards and passed for almost 300. It was utter dominance.
The line on Savannah State was they came and got slaughtered but at least they got paid almost $400,000 to do so. A lamb being lead to slaughter they were. And they play Florida State next Saturday. My heart breaks for these young men.
For me I’ll not remember Savannah State football as the one that got whooped by an opponent they should never have played on the road to another unnecessary game. I want to remember Savannah State football and our passing moment of community. Right there in the theater, laughing and cheering on gratuitous violence in the form of yesterday’s favorite action heroes.
Stories matter. They matter because it is story that fashions our community. Story tells us what has come before us. Story shares what is important. Story celebrates our heroines. Story draws us closer together. Story is how our faith shines.
Jesus cautions, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing outside of a person can enter and contaminate a person in God’s sight; rather, the things that come out of a person contaminate the person.” Before Jesus says this he warns us against those things handed down to us. Jesus is warning us against tradition. When story becomes law we run the risk of forgetting who and to what our story connects us to.
We contaminate our story when we ignore that we are tethered to Christ. Our story is intertwined and miraculously connected to Jesus.
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old. But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee.
When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
Today’s text is sandwiched between Jesus’ homecoming and Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the massive crowd with two fish and five loaves. As I was reading our text, the story of John the Baptists death, I could not help to feel as if this story was out of place. We have Jesus with no honor, John the Baptists death, & the world’s largest picnic.
I thought about what I could say to you about this story. I pondered all of the times I asked for the head of others or made unsound commitments. If I had a nickel for every time I made an unsound commitment or asked for the head of others I could take us all out for lunch for the rest of the year.
What kind of brokenness, hurt, or fear are we holding on to now?
My mind drifted and I began to think about how God redeems us in the wake of our not so good moments. I thought about all the good that has come about, in spite of what we do or do not do. God hardens the hearts of some. God stirs the hearts of others. God awakens, moves, and authors all of creation. Then I read this story again, Herod did not have to kill John.
Herod had the ability to say no, when asked for John’s head. Herod could have been prophetic and spoke truth to the matter. He could have denied the request for John’s head and set him free.
I got to thinking about how we embrace the idea of freewill and predestination. How does our understanding of freewill and predestination impact who or what we hold up as Jesus the Christ?
Free will is the idea that we are agents free from constraint that may accept or reject the notion of God. This means that we are not bound by God. Can we not choose God?
Predestination is the idea that we are agents constrained by Gods predetermined course of action. There may be limited choice but it cannot exceed the determined limits of God. This means we are bound to God. Who does God chose?
These concepts are what maintain the fabric of the reformed faith. Free Will and Predestination are building blocks of faith to which Confessions, Creeds, and Theological Statements are built upon. To be “Reformed” hinges on ones relationship to these concepts.
To be honest, I am not entirely comfortable with either of them. I wonder if free will and predestination can coexist with each other, are they sips from the same cup. One could argue for and against these ideas with equal force. It is arguments like this that get the church to where it is now…
In a recent Gallup Poll it has been revealed that only 44% of Americans have confidence in the church. This is an all time low. Just 39 years ago 66% of Americans held confidence in the church. I am not surprised. How many of us hold confidence in the church?
We can look back at the sex scandals and financial improprieties that plagued the church and stop there. Sure, it was the Catholic Church that did what it did and it was the Evangelicals that have a national problem with money. Sex and money are tough things to engage with a clear head. Temptation does not need much to get a hold of you with sex or money.
I believe that if it was just sex and money that messed with the church we would be ok. After all, we are human. I believe our problem, as the church is the same as Herod’s here, shame and honor. Better know as pride.
Herod had a choice. Herod did not have to kill John the Baptist. What if Herod had stood up to the unjust call for John’s head and released John. His disciples would have picked him up and his ministry would have continued on. Herod would have suffered a public shame. His pride would have been inflamed and his reputation would have suffered.
Jesus was in a low point in his ministry. He just got worked over at home. He sent his disciples out and they were experiencing success, but Jesus, he was in a rough way. What if John the Baptist had not been killed then would his ministry have drowned out Jesus’ own ministry? Could the one that prepared the way for the Lord exceed the Lord?
I know this sounds heretical. I am not suggesting that Jesus was not anointed. I do wonder if we have forgotten that we are anointed as well. Jesus, the fully human, fully divine, child of God arrived in the flesh to conquer death and reconcile creation. This was not an overnight mission. This was not a 30-year mission. Children of God we are in the midst of that 2,000 plus year mission. Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Anointed One, is still present in the Holy Spirit working to reconcile ALL of creation.
We are the agents of reconciliation. We are the hands, the feet, the hearts, the minds, and the voice of reconciliation in the world. Yet, we are not the source of reconciliation. This is our error; we have acted in a prideful manner.
Homelessness, disease, war, and poverty still collide with the justice-filled vision of the Kingdom of God. Are we as followers of Christ different than the 66% of Americans that find no confidence in the church?
We all make choices. Those choices do not stand on their own isolated from others. The choices we make engage and affect the world around us. We face decisions like Herod’s on a daily basis.
Poor Herod. He could have chose differently. Herod is like Pilot. Pilot could have chose differently as well. Jesus’ death could have been prevented. If we had chosen different, our injustice, our sin may not have demanded that the Anointed child of Jesus be delivered unto us and suffer for our reconciliation.
When Jesus did arrive to guide us to the Kingdom of God, we focused on his humanity and the hope that he might throw open the earthly gates and we may enjoy the spoils of war as victors. Jesus own flesh was impeding the Kingdom work that needed to happen. [Unpack this] Jesus could not guide us to the Promised Land. We focused upon the land and God wanted us to focus on the Promise. The Promised Land is no land at all but a fight for your mind. The Promised Land is the real estate in your mind.
Even Holy Things can become barriers to God. Has the church become a barrier to our relationship with God? In other polls regarding faith and God, I have seen numbers that reflect the idea that while the church is seen in an unfavorable light, God is still as popular as ever. God is not constrained by choice, free will, predestination, or reality. God is beyond any and all of this. Do we have a list of God is or God is not running through our hearts and minds? What box do we put God in to? God is beyond all that we can imagine. Have we limited God? Have we focused upon the church at the expense of God?
Is it a bad thing to lose confidence in the church? I believe that when we lose confidence in the humanity of Christ, the divinity of Jesus shows up and amazes us all.
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching.
He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”
So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
I watched a lot of TV as a child. I watched The Dukes of Hazzard, CHiPs, The Muppet Show, The Six Million Dollar Man, Little House on the Prairie, Different Strokes, Happy Days, Battlestar Galactica, The Cosby Show, The Love Boat, The Greatest American Hero, Knight Rider, Miami Vice, Sanford and Son, and Fantasy Island. My childhood seems to be bursting at the seams with memories of my favorite shows.
I love to talk about these memories with my brothers and sisters. A few weeks ago I went home to Los Angeles. This time my wife, Meredith, came with me. This was her first time meeting most of my family. This was my first time going home with my new home in tow.
I got to introduce her to my home as a child. I was really excited to play tour guide. I took her to my high school. I took her to my childhood home. I took her to my teenage home. I took her to the last apartment I lived in before I left Los Angeles. I took her to my favorite restaurants. I took her to almost everywhere that was near and dear to me. She was exhausted by the end of day one and we had an entre week left.
I was a kid in a candy store. I had wished, dreamed, and prayed about this for the last four years. I wanted to share my home with Meredith ever since we started dating. With child like eyes we landed in Los Angeles and I became that seven year old prophet that was obsessed with The Muppet Show all over again.
Some of the greatest prophets I know are children. Children see this world with eyes of wonder and grace. They trust openly and with earnest. They hold tension between the here and not yet with marvelous ease. They have not yet been given our to cynicism or suffering as many of us have.
What does it mean to be a prophet? The prolific author and pastor Walter Brueggemann tells us that the prophet must “nurture, nourish, & evoke a consciousness & perception alternative to the consciousness & perception of the dominant culture around us.”
A prophet is nurturing.
A prophet invests in the world around them.
A prophet is counter-cultural.
A prophet is evocative.
A prophet is homeless.
I love Brueggemann’s definition of prophet as it embodies for me what Jesus did 2,000 years ago and what Jesus calls us to do here today. We are called to nurture. This means that we are to feed, protect, care for, & support others in community.
We are called to invest in the world around us. Investing in our community draws us in to relationship. A relationship in which the best parts of you is shared with the us, as the worsts part of you in refined along side the worst parts of us in the wonder-working power of Jesus Christ.
We are called to be counter-cultural. We are to be in the world and not of the world. This is when we feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and love the hard to love as we speak truth to injustice that harms us all. To be counter-cultural we must bear witness to the justice delivered in living a life as Christ calls us to. This is the loving your neighbor as yourself.
We are called to be evocative. We are to be artists, poets, writers, and dreamers that elicit visions of hope and love that point towards the liberated mind of justice and the freedom found in reconciliation unto God. We use the canvas of Gods creation to form, focus, and reframe it’s fearfully, wonderfully made beauty to guide our relationships.
We are all called to be prophetic in our faith. Some of us live in a perpetual season of prophecy and others enter in to and out of prophetic witness many times in their life. Some of us deny the prophetic work we are called to and like Jonah go the other way.
We are all called to be prophets.
In todays text we see Jesus return home and encounter all of his old buddies. This is some sort of strange scene out of a John Hughes film. Son leaves and explores the world making a name for himself. He writes books, gives speeches, and get famous. He returns home for a visit.
He has changed a lot. Some of his old friends still work at the grocery store they did in high school. Some now work at the bowling alley. Some work in the oil fields. Some became teachers. Many left years ago and did not return.
The town is worse for wear and the older folks remember the Cain Jesus raised as a teenager. No one can shake that this man before them is the same awkward teen that flooded the firehouse. He is performing miracles…yadda yadda yadda.
No one pays attention. Jesus takes the posse that came with him and sends them out to work. He equips them with instructions on how to be prophetic from lessons he just learned from his homecoming.
First lesson is you got to leave home to be a prophet. Since we are all called to be prophetic we all must leave home.
I am not suggesting that we all pick up and move to some distant foreign land. I want us to look at home. What does it mean to be home? Safety, security, or comfort? Home is wrapped up in the idea of safety & security. Home is comfortable. Home is more than the physical location of our stuff.
Home is that place in our minds that make us feel safe. Home is that place in our minds that keep us comfortable. Home is the space that holds our beliefs, our ideas, our likes and dislikes, and our biases.
This is the home we must leave behind. We cannot be prophetic if we carry with us our home. If we do not leave this home behind, we risk the bondage of home quickly becoming our prison.
As we depart from home and explore the world, Christ tethers us to community and as we witness and encounter God in new ways. We may never develop a home again. We awaken to the reality that any security outside of Jesus the Christ is nothing more than a lie we sinfully hold on too. We learn that safety is a mirage in the desert we wander in. Living the prophetic life is dangerous.
A prophet is nurturing.
A prophet invests in the world around them.
A prophet is counter-cultural.
A prophet is evocative.
A prophet is homeless.
Home. Home. Home. Home. Home. Home. Home. Home. Home. Home. Home. Home. It is a funny sounding word. Home, is the idea we are sold in just about everything we watch. There are no TV shows about homeless folks wandering around.
I have held on to the idea that one day my wife and I would return home to Los Angeles. That my wife and I would eventually settle down in to our life together back home and then we could get to the real living and make a home together.
A part of me was always taking an inventory. Sure it is expensive to live in Los Angeles, but you get much more in return. I found myself talking things up prior to our trip. I prayed on several occasions that God would clear the way and melt the heart of my beloved so that she could see this place I called home for what is was, “our predestined love nest of hope and glory.”
Something happened on this trip. I drove around all the homes I had known in my 33 years living in Los Angeles and with each passing building the memories flooded in and my heart did not budge. It was not a cold and isolating experience. It was more of a recognizing of old friends and loves have moved on from each other. I tried to mourn or weep but it did not seem appropriate.
My home is gone. I can never return home. I am no longer the person that occupied that home. God has got a hold of me and has shaken up my very being. God has opened my eyes to see. God has given me ears to hear. I have failed, mourned, and pleaded with God in the process. I cling to pieces of home, knowing that the fight for my mind is in full swing.
I left home and have been wandering the desert in search of The Promised Land. The Israelites wandered the dessert for 40 years. Jesus hung out in the desert for 40 days. The desert fathers and mothers vacationed in the desert for lifetimes. Countless souls search for the divine in a diversity of ways. I have been in the desert, searching for something.
We all wander the desert. The desert is the wild to which we roam until we find rest in the home of Jesus the Christ. God has been calling us out of the desert. We want to go but we have grown fond of the desert. We are comfortable here. It has become our home. It has become that place in our minds that make us feel safe. It has become that place in our minds that keep us comfortable. It has become the space that holds our beliefs, our ideas, our likes and dislikes, and our biases. Jesus is calling us to be prophets and to be prophets we have to leave home.
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”
So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it.But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?”But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. Mark 5:21-43
Death. Have you found yourself in a situation where you prayed for death? The odds are stacked against you. You are faced with something beyond your ability, beyond your understanding. You do not have the words to ask for help.
I resonate with the kind of despair that leads one to pray for death. Death is a heavy thing. Death is filled with so many questions. Death has far more questions than answers. Doesn’t hearing the word, Death, from the pulpit make your skin crawl?
Yet death is what we have been dealt. Death along with life itself is the common denominator to all of creation. All of creation is born, lives, and then dies. Death will not go away nor will it forget to call your name.
Death is not a pretty thing. Death is a certain finalization of this life we know here on earth. When you die family, friends, and colleagues will surly experience loss. Death will leave its mark on families, communities, and nations. Imagine if 1963 and 1968 had not witnessed just three deaths. What would have come of this nation if King and Kennedy’s had lived to lead and inspire.
Death has little to no morals and is essential devoid of ethics. Death is the rain that falls upon the just and unjust as surely as money buys political clout. Death is also the last frontier. Death is the last and final experience to which you get to have.
I used to fear death. In a history class in college the material we were discussing inspired thoughts of death and fear. I got frightened and began to sweat. My fears dropped down my brow on to the desk I was sitting in I got up and never returned to class.
In seminary I had trouble falling asleep. I wrestled with my mortal coil at night and rarely went to sleep. I passed out in exhaustion. Exhausted from the struggle, as I sought to exert control over my finitude.
I encountered no theology that would deliver comfort from this. I prayed to God for answers. I called out to Jesus for relief. Every night I lay my head to pillow I would say, “Jesus how do I know you are real? Jesus, please help me. Lord, if I die I pray you take my soul tonight.” The fires of hell tormented me. The ravages of sin confronted my woes and delivered me further in to restlessness. Where art thou comfort? Where art thy peace?
I hold on to Jesus’ words from todays Gospel, “Do not fear, only believe…The child is not dead but sleeping.” Too often we are the bystanders to death and are paralyzed with fear. Death clouds our minds and hearts with its intoxicating allure. We fixate on Death. We fear death.
Death is in the hearts of many gathered this week in Pittsburgh for General Assembly. The PC (USA) has lost over half a million members in the last 10-15 years. It seems like everything we have know or have tried is not working.
It is liberal theology that is killing the church. It is conservative theology that is killing the church. There is all kinds of finger pointing going on with little to no responsibility taken.
What would happen if we listened to Jesus? “Do not fear, only believe…The church is not dead but sleeping.” We have to remember that the church is Jesus’.
The success, the failure, the accolades that this church experiences or that any church experiences is up to God. We are actors in the play at best. You or I do not grow a church. You and I live in to our faith and seek to become disciples of the Christ as we pray together, study scripture together, serve the community together, and humbly walk with the Lord our God.
“Do not fear, only believe…The church is not dead but sleeping.” Jesus is calling for us to awaken and get up. Jesus is trying to feed us.
We are a community of faith and belief. We study scripture and pray together so that we may develop our beliefs. Our beliefs are the stuff that allows us to communicate to others what it is that we believe in, stand for, or stand against. Our beliefs help us to wrestle with faith and those nights in which death seems a much more pleasant alternative.
Our faith is an entirely different matter. Our faith moves us out of the pray for death moments and in to new hope. Our faith allows for us to live in mystery and trust that Gods abundance is present. It is our faith that moves us to pray with our hearts as tears flow down our cheeks. Faith is the stuff miracles are made and belief is the stuff that prepares us for faith.
For the last six or seven years I have declared myself eligible for the NBA draft. I know right, when you look at me I do not scream power forward or even point guard. In fact, I may be the world’s worst basketball player.
It all started in seminary. I played a couple of pick-up games with fellow students. They were good. I was not. I quit playing almost as soon as I started. I had the natural, raw talent of a circus elephant out on the court.
I went to my room after a game and thought, “would it be funny if I declared myself eligible for the draft.” I found an address and some kind of form. I downloaded the form and filled it out then sent it away.
I did not get any response the first year. I did not ever get a response. Every year I filled out the form and sent it away. One year I thought about finding a middle school with shorter rims, so I could go there and film myself owning the court and send it in with my application. By the grace of God I did not find the school nor did I film myself. Therefore, I am employable today.
Declaring myself available for the draft was my little joke. I knew I was never going to be drafted by any team. God help them if any team did draft me. I was never talented in that way. I also had no desire to play professional basketball.
To get to the NBA you must have a set of natural skills and a will to commit to playing. Then you must practice and practice. The same can be said for any professional athlete. To achieve success in professional sports one must practice daily. The same is true for ones faith.
You must exercise your faith in order to be successful at it. Faith is not something that you just do. Faith is a continuous process of learning, trusting, and building in relationship with God. God starts us off small and we work our way to more and more faith.
We need to get back to a corporate faith built upon the daily task of belief building. “Do not fear, only believe…The church is not dead but sleeping.” We are not dead but sleeping.
We are called to pray.
We are called to study the word.
We are called to serve others.
I know I have room to grow in all of these areas. I may not be dead but I got sleep still in my eyes and I am groggy from that long nap I just had. “Do not fear, only believe…The church is not dead but sleeping.” It is time to get up out of bed, stop hitting snooze, and get to work.
Jesus entered a house. A crowd gathered again so that it was impossible for him and his followers even to eat. When his family heard what was happening, they came to take control of him. They were saying, “He’s out of his mind!” The legal experts came down from Jerusalem. Over and over they charged, “He’s possessed by Beelzebul. He throws out demons with the authority of the ruler of demons.” When Jesus called them together he spoke to them in a parable: ” How can Satan throw Satan out? A kingdom involved in civil war will collapse. And a house torn apart by divisions will collapse. If Satan rebels against himself and is divided, then he can’t endure. He’s done for. No one gets into the house of a strong person and steals anything without first tying up the strong person. Only then can the house be burglarized. I assure you that human beings will be forgiven for everything, for all sins and insults of every kind. But whoever insults the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. That person is guilty of a sin with consequences that last forever.” He said this because the legal experts were saying, “He’s possessed by an evil spirit.” His mother and brothers arrived. They stood outside and sent word to him, calling for him. A crowd was seated around him, and those sent to him said, “Look, your mother, brothers, and sisters are outside looking for you.” He replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Looking around at those seated around him in a circle, he said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother.”
Mark 3:20-35 (Common English Bible)
What’s the first thing to come to mind when you hear this passage?
You have crowds, Jesus, hungry followers, and angry family members. At best you have chaos or what I like to refer to as Friday night. You get all of this before you even get to the claims that someone is possessed by the Lord of the Flies. I know that when I am hungry my blood sugar drops I can act like I am possessed by something.
A house divided. Civil War. Forgiveness of all kinds. Kinship tied to life in God’s will. What a crazy and chaotic event. This sounds more like a Jerry Springer episode that a moment with our Savior.
Jesus is introduced by Jerry. Here he is all the way from Nazareth, this deadbeat. He’s got no job. He just wanders around the country telling stories and challenging authority. He has attracted quite the following. Jesus Christ.
Some in the crowd boo and hiss. Others cheer wildly. Chanting his name, JESUS! JESUS! JESUS! Jesus comes on stage shyly waving. He has all the charisma of a rock star & the presence of a librarian.
Jesus is soon joined by his posse and the stage is set. The red fabric chairs filled with uncertain, nervous, and hungry folks facing a hostile crowd. Jerry begins to ask questions of Jesus, leading him towards a certain conflict with the audience.
Jerry makes Jesus sweat. Jerry brings out surprise guest after surprise guest. Jesus’ first grade classmates. Jesus’ best friend, Biff, from back in the day. Jesus’ first crush. They all start to tell stories on Jesus. Jesus blushes and is getting real nervous.
Jerry keeps it coming. Now Jerry brings out a police office that claim Jesus is starting trouble. Then Jerry brings out a politician that is running for office again and he is telling the audience how Jesus made a pass at him. Another disgruntled former hanger on tells how she felt neglect by Jesus cause he did not promise her riches.
Then Jerry drops a bomb, out comes Jesus’ younger brother, his sisters and a cousin. They are upset and claim that Jesus is being manipulated by his crew. That Jesus is being brainwashed in to crazy actions. That they have what is best in mind for him.
There is Jesus up on stage taking it all in. Jesus’ posse is getting all worked up. Some are yelling at Jerry as they come to the defense of Jesus. Folks in the audience start at each other. The bald security guy and his crew get between folks and start defining sides with their presence.
Jesus is silent. Jerry looks to Jesus and the audience and announces one more thing, here is your mother! Out walks Mark. She had a make over at a fancy boutique. She looks wonderful. Jesus smiles as Jerry proclaims here is your mother, your brother, and your sisters.
Chaos ensues as the audience continues to jockey for position. Jesus stands up and motions for silence and says, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Looking around at those seated around him in a circle, he said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother.”
The silence is deafening. Everyone’s face turns red with embarrassment. Everyone is too shocked to look around. Conviction just got dropped on the chest of all present. How could anyone respond? Stomachs growled and they all sat there still not having had lunch.
This sounds a lot like the “church” these days. A house divided against itself. Proclamations of errant ways. The declaration of righteousness over the other “lost” party. And no one gets to eat. We are all left hungry and wondering when will we be feed.
We are stuck in a horrible cycle of doubt, fear, remorse, and starvation. The church is in her twilight years in this nation. Gone are the days when the church was the place to be seen. Gone is the power that churches wielded in the conscious of America. Gone is the influence upon moral conviction that clergy once held. Everyone is starving and no one knows when the next meal is coming.
Our children no longer fill the pews as they once did. The symbols of the church, the Table, the Font, and the Word proclaimed fall upon the ears of a bickering people. We bicker over the right way to preach the Gospel. We argue over the right way to live the Gospel. We argue over who is in the family and who is outside the family. All the while no one is getting feed. We all get hungrier as we expend energy fighting.
Why are our children not coming to church? We have nothing to offer them. We have lost our collective salt. When the church gets back into the loving others as they love themselves, life shall return. It is not a matter of liberal or progressive theologies but a matter of the church not loving the Other and not loving itself. It is a matter of wasting precious energy on arguing over things we can never truly be certain about.
When you get lost what is the first thing you do? If you want to get more lost you wander around looking for you parent. If you want to get found you stay put where you got lost and wait for your parent to return to you.
This is where the church has got it wrong. We got lost and have been wandering around for years looking for Jesus and we have gotten ourselves more lost. We are so lost now that we cannot hear the announcements over the loud speaker to meet our Jesus at the food court. It is lunchtime. We just got to get to the food court and there is a meal and a hug waiting for us.
If only we had paused when we noticed we were lost. If only we had stopped wandering around, crying in a panic looking for Jesus. We should have paused, taken a seat and wait for Jesus to return.
I know this sounds counterintuitive. Wait for Jesus’ return. It reeks of apocalyptical folk faith. It sounds lazy. It takes being found, out of the range of our efforts. Sitting down and waiting for Jesus to find you can be rationalized a million different ways. All of them exerting control of the fact that you are lost and you need to get found.
This is the great thing about Jesus, it is never too late to sit down and be found where you are. We, the church, are hungry, tired, weak, and many of us just want a nap. We are expending energy in ways that do not bless us. So afraid that we will not be found by Jesus we thrash around; give up hope, trying to think of new ways to find Jesus. Stomachs growling, we forage for food.
The nation, the church is eating junk food. Suffering from obesity, pandemic disease ravages not just our pews but also our nation. We are in need of good, nutritious life-giving food.
The whole world is watching. These are beautiful, wonderful pivotal times in the church. Yes, there is a decrease in numbers. Churches across the denomination are closing their doors. Some go kicking and screaming. Some go with the hope to fertilize the seeds of tomorrow’s church.
Where there is death, there is life. The church comprised of us, in our mortal coil and liberated with the sounds of heaven upon our lips are the church. The church shall not die. Where there is death Christ brings new life. There is a hope in being the bridge to tomorrow.
Trusting in God that we are not useless. Trusting in God that our work is not over. The Holy Spirit of God still moves in and through this world as she did during that first day of Pentecost. Jesus is still conqueror of death in this world as he was that first Easter morning. God is still God, seeking relationship, love, justice, and truth.
What exciting times we are in. There is an abundance to eat. Manna from heaven rains down upon us. The church might be just skin and bones, to weak to eat. Oh, Lord give us eyes to see your bounty, give us ears to hear you calls. The Table is set and the dinner bell is ringing. Come home. Come home. Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling…“take and eat” see that it is good for these bones are gonna rise again.
This sermon was preached at Trinity Presbyterian Church OKC, OK on February 12, 2012
A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter. Mark 1:4-45
How often have we cried out those words to God, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” If you choose, you can heal me. If you choose, you can…[fill in the blank.] Begging the Lord late in to the night, Let this pass from me. Take this pain away. Stop this hurt. Your soul aches. Your heart can’t take anymore. Your spirit is weak and you have nothing left to give. You cry out to God for relief. You don’t really care if it is death or healing, something has got to give.
If you have know this kind of pain, this frustration, and this level of anguish then you have walked in the shoes of the leper. Outside of the city gates the leper sat begging for food. The leper begged for their humanity. They were ostracized, rejected, marginalized, and a shame to all that encountered them.
For the leper even talking to Jesus was an act of defiance. Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher, a holy man. The leper has heard about this man, Jesus. Jesus has left Capernaum, about 20 miles away, having healed a lot of people and teaching in the local synagogues. The leper sitting at the cities outer gates would have heard about all of these things that Jesus did.
The leper was the first person not possessed by a demon to reach out to Jesus directly. All of the other people healed by Jesus were brought to him. This leper came to Jesus and begged him for healing saying, “”If you choose, you can make me clean.”
We read that Jesus’ response to stretch out his hand and touch the leper was motivated by pity. Out of pity Jesus healed this person. There is an alternative reading of this text. Where we read Jesus is moved with pity we can also read “Jesus is moved with anger.”
Jesus moves to heal the leper in a fit of righteous anger. The leper is unable to participate in religious rituals or engage in their civic duties due to their disease. The leper is unclean and unfit for interactions with “normal” society. The leper would wait outside the city gates for death or pity to befall them.
Jesus stretching out his healing hand to the leper to made him unclean. Jesus got dirty to be in relationship with this person. Jesus’ anger got him involved and in the mix. Jesus left behind tradition, decorum, or any other societal barrier to reach out to this person in need and became part of them.
Jesus answered the hope in the statement, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” With an outstretched hand and, “I do choose. Be made clean!” And the leper was clean. The leper was restored to wholeness. The leper became like Jesus. The leper was able to fully enjoy their civil rights. The leper was able to fully participate in their faith and go to the synagogue to honor God. The leper called out Jesus. Jesus got mad. Jesus got convicted. Jesus got involved. Jesus got dirty. Jesus built a relationship. The leper got healed. Jesus restored the community.
Who here cannot use a little healing? A little restoration? Who here wants to step out and answer the lepers in our lives? “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Where are we hearing the call in our lives? Who are the lepers in our lives calling out to us to get angry?
Anger comes in two flavors with two different God flavored sprinkles. You have “sinful anger” and “righteous anger.” Sinful anger does nothing but eat away at you. It is silent. It festers in your heart and eats at your soul. It demands a God that will preemptively act and smooth the bumps and bruises of life.
Then you have “righteous anger.” Righteous anger acts against injustice. It is vocal. It inspires and motivates just action to bring about the Kingdom of God. It demands a God that will redeem the bumps and bruises of life.
When you hold on to “sinful anger” you live your life expecting that God is in some sort of divine prevent defense covering all of the depravity that might come your way. You hold on to the dysfunction of your humanity–the frailty of your being–in the hopes of a preemptive God.
The problem with this is that holding on to a preemptive God obscures the resurrected glory of a redemptive God. Your eyes cannot see the resurrected, reclaimed, renewed vision of the redemptive God through the faded, tattered hope of the beaten down preemptive God.
Many of us have very real financial debt. God must offer a way out. God does not call us to be burdened by debt and bound by any unjust system of lending.
“God protect me from the pain of emotion, God guide me in your ways,” has become a spiritual cover up. It is the foundation of the religious mask that many of us have donned when the leper reaches out to ask us for healing.
We have been praying for God to strike while the iron is hot. We call out for God to take this burden away from us that we may be liberated to do “real” ministry. Perhaps, God is not calling us to liberated “real” ministry. Perhaps, we are right where God wants us to be and we ought to look around for those voices crying out in the wilderness, those voices calling out for healing.
The preemptive God found in “sinful anger” is connected through provision. This God tirelessly responds to our pleas for help. Like an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Lassie keeping us away from that dangerous well. The preemptive God keeps us dependent on tradition, folk ritual, and half-truths as we beg and plead for this madness to stop. The preemptive God is devoid of the glory of the promise of Gods redemptive glory in the death conquering power of Jesus Christ.
The redemptive God is what this world, this nation, this city requires. The redemptive God through “righteous anger” restores and reconciles that which is lost. The redemptive God takes what is meant for evil and makes good. The redemptive God delivers us into the belly of a whale and restores our call. The redemptive God takes us from where we are and delivers us to where we might be. The redemptive God is that “righteous anger” reaching out to touch the unclean, the marginalized, unjust, and broken, becoming broken, marginalized, and persecuted that they both might embrace restoration.
“If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with “righteous anger”, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the leper, and says, “I do choose. Be made clean!”
We need the redemptive God to take what has been meant for ill and turn it on its ear for good. We need the redemptive God that wields “righteous anger” that does not destroy the community building of shared hardship and loss. We need the redemptive God that draws the best of the worst to bear witness of the “not yet.”
The redemptive God arrived in a manger. The redemptive God clings to her mother’s breast. The redemptive God is fully human and fully divine. The redemptive God is here with us.
The redemptive God is mired in the same mess in which we find ourselves. The redemptive God borrowed money to attend college to earn a degree that does not guarantee him a job. The redemptive God has diabetes and no money or health care to pay for it. The redemptive God worries about paying bills. The redemptive God boils with “righteous anger” and is moved to action.
This passage is not just about “righteous anger” drawing us in to action and healing. It is also about relationship building. With relationships we can build communities. With communities we can change the world. Jesus is showing us a vehicle to change the world.
Ten years ago I was a youth minister at a Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, California. The church I served was right across the street from a large public high school and a few blocks from a huge State University. We had all kinds of young adults and youth in and out of that church. We were also surrounded by thousands of people that were homeless.
Surrounding us on any given night were over a hundred thousand homeless people living on the streets and fighting for room in the shelters. There never seemed to be a day that we would not encounter a homeless person.
I used to take the high school youth group over to this local park to hang out and play games. We would play kickball, basketball, baseball, and Frisbee on this large grass field blanketed with that warm Southern California sun. On the edges of the lawn under trees and hiding in the shadows were many people that lived in this park. Saddled with shopping carts filled with their life’s prizes and kits for survival, these people watched as we frolicked in the sun unburdened by their plight or seemingly unconcerned with their stories.
I preached a sermon to the youth once about this passage. I challenged them to help others and listen to their stories before you judge and seeing if there was something you could offer to them. Making sure to always recognize their humanity first. I asked them to listen for the voices in their lives that made them angry. I asked them to respond to the voices with compassion and action.
A few months had passed and the warm sunny days were giving way to cooler temperatures and the outdoor living rooms so many called home grew harsh and hostile. I got a call from the local high school principal to come to his office. He wanted to talk to me about a couple of my students.
I went down to the school and to the principal’s office. There I found two of my students sitting outside his office with worried looks on their faces. I was quickly greeted by the principal and brought in to his office.
He told me that these two young men got caught trying to sneak back in to school after the lunch bell had rang. Their excuse was that they were giving food to the homeless people in the park. When the principal pressed them on their story they told him it was in response to my sermon they had heard one time in youth group.
This is why the principal called me; he wanted to talk to me about what I had said. He and I chatted for a while. He filled me in on what the boys had told him and he gave me a little chastising. After we were finished I left his office and said good-bye to the boys and went back to the church with this strange mix of shame, anger, and pride.
You see, the boys had been collecting food from their friends and other students at lunchtime. They even would buy food with their money to take to the park and distribute during the lunch period. They jumped a fence to bring food to those that did not have any.
The next time I saw the boys I asked them why they jumped the fence to deliver the food. One of the boys looked at me and said, “I needed to give my friends something to eat. My heart hurt to see me with all the food and them with none. They were hungry. I had all this food. We had a lot of food here. So, we just got it and gave it away. It is what you told us to do. Jesus got involved, right? It is what Jesus would have done.”
Who was I to argue this teenage sage? He was right. These two high school boys risked detention and other discipline to bring food to the hungry. They had gone out and gotten involved. They got dirty. They risked their place in society to reach out and help someone else.
I listened to their story and got real convicted. Would I have done the same thing? I was upset with them but I also had a pride inside me. They had heard the message of Jesus, the call of the leper to be healed and they reached out, got dirty, and offered healing.
They were filled with “righteous anger” and did what that Redemptive God would have done. They became part of that leprous community in hopes of bringing wholeness to everyone. “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with RIGHTEOUS AGER, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!”