Sunday, July 15, 2018

15 July 2018

Mark 6:14-29
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
15 July 2018

We all know them ... others around us, family, friends ... or, perhaps, “them” is us.
People for whom, chaos is part of their entourage.
Wherever they go, whatever they do ... like Charlie Brown’s “Pigpen” trailing a cloud of dust, so they ... or maybe, we ... enter in, carry on, and leave ... with nothing but problems, uproar, disquiet, panic, and DRAMA. 
And ... like Pigpen, the dust of their, or perhaps our own, life-chaos swirls around and sticks to everyone and everything who, which has the unfortunate circumstance of being there with them, with us.
The chaos-bringer’s problems become everyone’s problems.  Their uproar, everyone’s uproar ... disquiet ... panic ... and DRAMA.  OH, the DRAMA!!!
So what do you do ... assuming you’re not the chaos-bringer, but only an innocent bystander ... what do you do when you’re faced with the chaos-storm bearing down on you?
Well, there’s two approaches into which we usually fall.
Sometimes, the chaos is successful in its quest to stir up more and more chaos, more and more drama, and we feel like we’re helplessly sucked into it.  High panicked voices, potty-mouth cursing, uncontrollable dramatic sobbing and so on breed more of the same in an epidemic ... either of our merging right into the maelstrom of melodrama ... or, our actively trying to fight it off.  Surrender ... or emotional confrontation.  They can sound the same, from a distance.  All the voices are raised, all the eyes drip tears.
Then there’s the other approach ... detach and disengage.  Ignore the drama and the dramatist, the chaos-maker, the chaos-waker ... perhaps offer some benign words of consolation ... there there, it’s going to be OK... and run away as fast as possible.  Who needs their life-garbage anyway?  I’m busy and have enough going on in my own life ... I don’t want to be bothered.
And yet ... neither of those are a faithful approach for the ones who are called to follow Jesus.  As we continue our Ordinary Time -green-season instruction-rich walk through these early chapters of Mark’s gospel, this week we once again find ourselves faced with words, a story, on what it means to be Biblical Live-rs ... faithful disciples of Jesus … however, this time, it’s not through a story about Jesus and his disciples, but rather, the One Who Came Before ... John the Baptist.
First, though, we have to encounter another chaos-bringer.  It’s Herod ... not the King Herod who is mentioned in the Christmas story ... but instead, his son, Herod Antipas, who after his father’s death ruled under Caesar a quarter of Herod the Great’s kingdom. 
The text starts today with Herod having heard of “it” ... and it was everything we’ve also heard about in the past few weeks ... the beginning of Jesus’ ministry of sending out others in his name, that four-fold path of discipleship learning and building we discussed last week:

·      I do, you watch;
·      I do, you help;
·      You do, I help;
·      You do, I watch.

Jesus had sent out his disciples to do his work in his name, and doubtless having twelve Jesus-followers out and about increased the chatter in Herod’s kingdom about Jesus.  And so Herod, just like everyone else, was trying to figure out just who this Jesus was.
But the clouds from his chaos-trail obscured the truth for him.  Herod thought that it was John the Baptist at work again.
Herod’s chaos-trail is laid out clearly in this text we have before us today.  He – Herod Antipas – had divorced his first wife – that was a politically expedient marriage, for he’d married the daughter of a neighboring king ... Herod Antipas has divorced his first wife and remarried the divorced wife of his own brother Herod Philip ... kind of a first century version of wife swap.  Drama drama drama!  From other historical sources we know that the neighboring king whose daughter Herod Antipas had married ... for political expediency ... and then divorced ... that king was in an uproar... understandably so.  We don’t know for sure, but most likely Herod Philip was in an uproar too ... his wife, and daughter, gone from him and now part of his brother’s household.
That wife, Herodias ... she most certainly aided and abetted the chaos and drama in this story ... as it says, she

...had a grudge against (John) and wanted to kill him.

But Herod didn’t.  Herod actually listened to John, and protected him.
NOT out of respect and honor ... that old fashioned sense of the word “fear,” like being in awe of someone ... no, the word Mark uses here is the one meaning plain-old shaking in the boots being scared.  Herod was scared of who John was, the Word he carried, the God (and that God’s consequences) of whom, of which John spoke.
And yet ... and yet ... despite all of that ... the chaos-train flowing behind Herod ended up swallowing Herod whole.  Herod had too much to drink at a banquet ... he watched his stepdaughter dance before him (we can only guess what kind of a dance it was ... how her mother put her up to it ... how she – Herodias - knew what Herod would say, and do, as a result) ... Herod got trapped in his own honor-and-shame trap ... to keep his word meant honor, to break it meant shame ... and John lost his head.
But there’s more to say here about John.  John, for his part, when he encountered Herod’s chaos ... John took the third way.  When faced with the chaos-train Herod and his family and his entourage were dragging in after them, John did not disengage and turn a blind eye, nor did he get sucked into the anxiety, either by actively combating it or fighting to resist. 
John just, simply, told Herod, “King, this isn’t right.” 
This isn’t right.  Perhaps that’s what we’ve also been saying to ourselves, in this strange way to spend this Sunday morning, hearing a story like this.  Blood and guts before brunch.  There’s a panel, a piece of medieval art in the Art Institute in Chicago, which graphically depicts this whole story.  Even the bright colors and the way painters painted the human figure 800 years ago is not entertaining enough to remove the horror of this story from us. 
So why is this story part of Mark’s story to, for us – as Mark titles his Gospel, “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God?”
One commentator says that this story is a living illustration of a parable Jesus tells which comes a little earlier in Mark’s gospel ... one that sometimes comes around at this time of the year when gardens have sprouted and are bearing good produce ... fruits and vegetables ... the bounty of the summer.  The parable is that of the sower and the seed ... some seed falls on the path, some on the rocks, some among the thorns, and some on good soil.  It’s an illustration of how the Word of the Gospel ... the Good News of Jesus ... “takes” or doesn’t in people’s lives.
Herodias and the others in Herod’s chaos-train ... they’re certainly examples of the seed of the Word falling among the rocks.  The Good News didn’t stand a chance with them.
But Herod ... the text said that Herod listened to John.  The Word had a chance.  It had even started to take root in Herod’s life. 
But then ... but then it got choked out, by the weeds which surround Herod.  Herodias ... his stepdaughter’s dance ... the other officials ... that honor-and-shame gerbil wheel Herod couldn’t get off or out of ... what will they say of me?  What will they think of me?? ... and that was the end for John.
And there is another, larger answer to that question, “why is this story part of Mark’s story to, for us?”
It is, quite simply, a preview of the Cross.  This whole episode, this whole story, absent as it is of the written word about Jesus ... and yet, and yet it is a harbinger, a prediction, of what will happen to Jesus soon enough ... and, in some way, to all who heed Jesus’ call to discipleship.
John’s manner and demeanor points to Jesus ... taking that third way; when faced with chaos, John, like Jesus later on in his Passion story ... here, John neither surrenders to nor emotionally confronts it ... nor does he disconnect, disengage and detach.
John’s is the non-anxious presence ... he quietly, calmly lays out the larger Truth ... and offers a choice:  you may remain in the chaos, and let your life be tempest tossed in the face of it ... or, you may embrace the chaos ... instead of flailing and fighting against it, instead of disconnecting and disengaging, see how you are one with it ... and then, carefully, prayerfully, take steps to change your life.
In other words ... the non anxious presence tells the Truth, lives the Truth, and offers the Word that will guide others into that Truth.
The Truth of love, and life, and service, all in Jesus’ name. 
And then ... and then ... it goes on to the end ... for there are always risks involved in embracing the chaos ... John, the calm at the center of all of Herod’s chaos, ended up dying because of, for it. 

When his disciples heard about it, they came and took (John’s) body, and laid it in a tomb. 

In the same way Jesus’ disciples would do with him.
Embracing the chaos comes with risks, that’s for sure.
For John, for Jesus, for Jesus’ disciples ... and for us.
Now, the bulletin cover probably isn’t the best ‘recruiting tool’ for Christianity ... “Come and lose your head for the sake of God’s truth” ... and most, nearly all of us won’t endure life-threat for bearing the Good News of Jesus ...
... but yet, but yet, that is the word of truth for us, for all who hear Jesus’ discipleship call to follow him, Jesus’ call to Biblical Living which is all about repentance to God, forgiveness by God and service in God’s name, to and through others, for the sake of the world God loves.
That Word of God’s promise is that, yes, following Christ’s call to discipleship does come with risks.  That’s true.  Today, not likely to be as John the Baptist encountered ... but chaos can and does take many other different shapes, twists and turns in trying to block all the joy and peace and love God has for us ...
But that Word of God’s promise is that God is with us, in all that we do, think and say in Jesus’ name ... with us in and through all the risks, guiding us to embrace and honestly take on the Chaos of this life, so that this life would be something different, something better ...
... for his sake, and in his name.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

8 July 2018

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Mark 6:1-13
8 July 2018

The past few weeks, we’ve been journeying through the third, fourth and fifth chapters of Mark’s Gospel … witnessing a series of firsts, as Jesus begins his earthly ministry with his disciples.
This week’s Gospel carries us forward … in a fine serial fashion … this morning … with a lesson on how to be a Biblical Live-r.
It’s a text ripe with instruction on discipleship.  Discipleship … growth in personal discipleship … growth in corporate discipleship … this is the major point of emphasis in many congregations today. 
Sixty years ago, it all used to be about Membership … Membership in a church, put on a par with having your union card, belonging to the Country Club and the DAR and the Elvis Presley Fan Club.  It was the socially acceptable, “meet, right, and salutary” thing to do.
But then … but then people started to realize that you could be a member of an organization without actively participating in its activities.  Fill out your application, pay your dues, and you were in.  And of course the church worked that way too.  Most church constitutions -- including ours -- have a clause in them stating that an active church member means someone who has made a donation of record” (usually $1) and has communed once in the past two years. 
So you can legally be an active, voting church member just by showing up at Christmas or Easter, and one of those two times, putting a buck in the offering plate. 
Ah, but that’s a human rule, certainly.
Once again, Lutherans have an enduring, faithful word on all this … whether we paid attention to it or not … our Confessional word about Church Membership is that people become Church Members in their Baptism … it’s Baptism … God’s act … not ours … which makes one a Member of the Church with a capital C ... as in “One Holy catholic and apostolic Church” … and That is the Most Important Word about belonging.
God chooses us, in Water and Word of forgiveness, promise and hope … once and for all in our Baptism … and the flowing stream of living water, once poured over us, has a continual effect, yesterday, today, and into God’s tomorrow, with and for us.
Now I realize that individual congregations – as legally incorporated entities – need to say somewhere in their incorporating documents (like our congregation’s constitution) what makes an active, voting member; you have to draw the line somewhere.  But remember that word … that Membership word … is a human word … and has no standing with God whatsoever.  It’s a congregational bookkeeping term, and nothing more.  Period. 
What matters to God is the Baptismal Word … as we have it clearly printed in our hymnals, under Luther’s Small Catechism … page 1165, in the back … under section IV … let’s turn to that page and read that Word together …

What then is the significance of such a baptism with water?
 It signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

It is the Baptismal Word that makes the difference for us. 
It is the Baptismal Word … flowing streams of living water … with, for, in us … which make us into Biblical Live-rs.
And today’s Gospel text, as I said, offers us fine instruction on how to be Biblical Live-rs ... disciples ... of Jesus.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus offers his disciples ... then, and now ... a clear, four-step approach to discipleship:

·      I do, you watch;
·      I do, you help;
·      You do, I help;
·      You do, I watch.

Here in our Gospel reading today, we see all four of these steps in action.
First, note what happens to Jesus in the initial section of today’s text.  He goes to his hometown, to teach, and he’s roundly dismissed by his own townspeople.  They just can’t believe that God would use one who was to them so common and ordinary, to do the extraordinary work of God!

Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?

As the text says, they took offense at him.  And so Jesus moved on ... not, as you note, not without doing the relatively minor work (!) of curing a few sick people through his touch.  Minor, indeed.
Note, too, that all through this story it’s noted that his disciples followed him.  They watched as Jesus preached and taught ... they saw how he was roundly dismissed -- Jesus’ point in showing this to them was that not everyone would listen ... they went on with him, as he left his hometown and kept teaching in the surrounding villages.
I do, you watch.
But you, watch what happens next.  Jesus called to the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.
Here’s I do, you help and You do, I help in action.  Kind of all rolled into one, but the point is made ... Jesus right here at this still early point in his ministry begins the transition to the disciples’ carrying on his mission and ministry, so that even after he’s gone, the Word will still be proclaimed.
First – he tells them how to dress and what to take with them, and how to lodge while they’re on the road.
But then – and note how his instructions reflect what had happened to him in the section prior, when he – Jesus – was doing and they – the disciples – were watching … he gives them the word on what to do when people won’t listen ... just as the people of Jesus’ hometown took offense at him, so too, Jesus says to the disciples, this could, will happen to you too.
So ... do what you saw me do, is what he tells them.  Move on to the next town, just as I did with you.
And see what happens.   It’s you do, I watch.  They – the disciples – they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
If we read Luke’s version of this story ... where Jesus sends out 70 disciples, not just twelve ... this point becomes even more clear.

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”  Jesus said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.”

And this, this is just one story, one example from the Gospels, of how Jesus intends for his disciples to be raised up, to be trained, for deployment in Jesus’ name ... this is just one example of Jesus’ tried-and-true way of creating Biblical Live-rs – active, faithful disciples ...

·      I do, you watch;
·      I do, you help;
·      You do, I help;
·      You do, I watch.

Which is precisely the way we shall be, as we follow Jesus’ call to raise up new disciples.  We ourselves, and others.   Since that was Jesus’ main work ... so shall it be ours, too.
 I know you’ve heard me say it, and say it, and say that I’ve said it again and again over the past four and one half years (following another rule of Jesus’ – tell them, tell them again, and tell them that you told them ... ah, but that’s ANOTHER sermon) ... but the old days when we could count on “church membership alone” to get us – the church – through – whatever situations the world gave to us ... big situations, like disasters and economic crises and political instability ... and regular old run of the mill daily stuff, like the grinding, wearing on that gets to each and every one of us ... well, those days are OVER ... those days when we just made these kind of assumptions about people...

 (well, they’ll just join and be church members just like us ... so they’ll surely know everything there is to know about faith, church, Jesus, and all that; they’ll come and serve on committees like we did, they’ll come to worship and fill the pews and chairs like we did, they’ll take an active role in serving the institution like we did) ... and so on ...

No!  In these days of re-awakened faith, re-formed faith, what a number of Christian writers and thinkers are calling the Second Reformation ... we’re going back to Scripture, back to the stories of Jesus, and finding that what makes a disciple of Jesus is what Jesus has done for them ... US ...  we’re realizing that relying on the human bookkeeping term of “church membership” won’t save us ... we see that the wall which separates “inside the church” from “outside the church” needs to come down, because we’re realizing that Jesus is active and alive in people’s lives OUTSIDE THE CHURCH ... and there is plenty of INSIDE THE CHURCH that need to be blasted open, to let the revitalizing fresh air of the Gospel in, to cleanse, to purify, to heal and make whole and new once again.
And the way it shall be done, the way we shall learn from each other, the way we shall grow in discipleship together ... is by following Jesus’ example ... first, teaching each other how to be Biblical Live-rs ... disciples ... teaching each other how to read Scripture, how to discuss this life of faith, how to share stories of how Jesus is active in our lives, how to pray individually and together with and for each other ...
... being church, not just Belonging To A Church.

Jesus does not promise an easy road.  But then, in that four-fold way of making disciples, he told us that from the beginning ... as it was the same for him ... and they took offense at him.
Nor do we know what precisely we shall be about as we hear his call to follow ... what kind of healing, what kind of bad spirits we may cast out ... but we do know that there is plenty ... plenty, in our homes and schools, our jobs and lives with friends, our life together as congregations of Jesus’ disciples ... plenty of illnesses to heal, plenty of bad spirits to cast out, like poverty and hopelessness and despair.
But through it all, Jesus promises us that he will be there, with and for us, as we embark together on this discipleship journey.
And it is a journey ... to be sure ... not a destination ...

... well, when I get this much faith, I’ll be there;  when we hire this or that staff person, then we’ll be there; when we get this or that for our building, then we’ll be there ...

No, this life, this faith, it is a journey; as it was for those first disciples, so it shall be for us; Jesus, walking with us, leading, guiding, teaching, discipling us; we, walking with others, sometimes teaching, sometimes learning, always growing in faith, in love, in service to and for each other.
In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

1 July 2018

1 July 2018
OT 13
Mark 5:21-43

Sally – Charlie Brown’s little sister – calls to him, “Mom says to wash your hands for dinner!”
Charlie Brown dutifully washes his hands, and then pats Snoopy on the head, saying “Excuse me, Snoopy, I have to go eat dinner.” 
Sally, seeing him do this, tells her brother “And you have to wash your hands again because you touched the dog.”
“Oh, good grief,” Charlie says.
But Snoopy’s ears go up.  “Touched the dog??” he thinks.
“Touched the dog?” and he starts chasing Sally, who screams, “Stay away from me!  My hands are clean!”
Snoopy keeps chasing her.  “Look out!  I’m covered with disease!  I’m filthy dirty!  Here comes the bubonic plague!  Pat my head and get a handful of germs!  Here comes the walking disease carrier!  Beware!  Look out for me … I’m diseased!  I’m contaminated!  I’m unclean!”
Sally climbs up on a chair and screams, “Help!”
Finally Snoopy backs off and walks away, “Touched the dog!  Good grief!”

This little story might help us understand the large concept behind our Gospel text today, in which Jesus heals and makes whole two women, one older, one younger, who, by the laws of his religion, were “unclean” to him, and especially, as a rabbi, a religious teacher, he was obligated to avoid, to stay separate from them. 
But, more likely these ancient Hebrew cleanliness rules and laws are confusing to us, and not even Snoopy and Charlie Brown can help.
The whole Hebrew concept of “cleanliness” is one which largely escapes most modern people – Christians and Jews.  We’re not quite sure what it’s all about.
One of my colleagues offers this explanation:

For reasons we don’t fully understand, certain animals, foods, diseases, body fluids, and dead things made the ancient Hebrews say “Ugh!  Don’t touch them!”  Such things were “unclean” or “impure.”  If you touched them you became unclean.  If you had one of the diseases, you became unclean.  Anything or anyone that you touched became unclean.  Being unclean was the opposite of being holy.  Being unclean meant that you couldn’t come to the holy temple to worship the holy God.  Anything unclean was unfit or unworthy to be in the presence of the holy God.  If you were unclean, you had to go through a rite of purification or cleansing in order to be welcome back into society and into the presence of God.

Thus the cleanliness laws and rules are all about separation … keeping people separate and separated from each other.
And there are chapters … whole chapters … in the Hebrew Scriptures about what is “clean” and what is “unclean.
These “purity chapters” in Leviticus chapters 11 through 15, contain verses such as these:

Every animal that has divided hoofs but is not cleft-footed or does not chew the cud is unclean for you; everyone who touches one of them shall be unclean. All that walk on their paws, among the animals that walk on all fours, are unclean for you; whoever touches the carcass of any of them shall be unclean until the evening, and the one who carries the carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until the evening; they are unclean for you.

When a man or woman has a disease on the head or in the beard, the priest shall examine the disease. If it appears deeper than the skin and the hair in it is yellow and thin, the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is an itch, a leprous disease of the head or the beard.

And my personal favorite:
If anyone loses the hair from his head, he is bald but he is clean.

And so, as we turn to our Gospel text for today, we do so with these two verses from the Hebrew Scriptures, this “cleanliness code,” before us, informing us as to what is going on here:

If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness; as in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean.

All who touch a corpse, the body of a human being who has died, and do not purify themselves, defile the tabernacle of the LORD; such persons shall be cut off from Israel. Since water for cleansing was not dashed on them, they remain unclean; their uncleanness is still on them.

The stage was set for today’s text, a chapter earlier, the story between last week’s calming of the sea-storm and today’s crowd-storm … as Jesus and the disciples arrive on the Gerasene – the Gentile - side of the sea of Galilee, they are met by a man possessed by an ‘unclean spirit.’  Jesus orders the spirit to leave the man and go into a herd of pigs – for Hebrews, unclean animals - and the pigs immediately run into the water and drown.
Today, Jesus and the disciples have returned to the Hebrew side of the sea – and we have another of Mark’s “story within a story” texts. 
In the first, a leader of the Hebrew religion, a synagogue leader named Jairus, appeals to Jesus to come and heal his dying daughter – due to her condition, she is an unclean young woman.
In the second, a woman who has been suffering with bleeding for twelve years … today, we’d have medical names for such a condition, but in Mark’s time, she was simply unclean.
For those original hearers of Mark’s Gospel story – and remember, Mark’s Gospel was most likely the earliest compiled narrative of Jesus’ earthly ministry, first told as a whole story, then, later, written down … and all this, most likely around the time of the beginning of the final Hebrew rebellion against the Roman occupiers, the beginning of the end of traditional Temple-centered Judaism, in the time frame of the years 60 to 70 of this era … for those original hearers, there would have been some particular words, word-images, language that would have helped them “tune in” to the Evangelical – Good News – Word here … here are a few:

The number 12 – the twelve year old young woman, the daughter of the synagogue leader … in her last year of childhood, the onset of adulthood for a woman … twelve years of uncleanness and separation for the older woman … reminding the hearer of the 12 tribes of Israel, and how Jesus comes to renew his people Israel, to bring them life … new, rich, full, bridging the separations with God’s love and presence and renewal and healing …

The 12 year old girl … dead in this year of such promise and hope for her, the year when young women were often promised in marriage … to her, Jesus brings new life …

The woman with the illness … for 12 years she has been as good as dead to her community … having to be separated away in her uncleanness … and also, a victim of the “purity business,” going to doctors, spending all she had, and getting no better, but rather, worse … to her, Jesus brings restoration, hope, healing, wholeness, once more.

The woman is persistent … persistent in her search for healing and wholeness and restoration to community … so persistent that she crosses a barrier … touching Jesus … making him unclean … but Jesus is just as persistent … seeking to find her … and he calls her ‘daughter,’ like Jairus’ daughter, he draws her back into community once more.

Those words would have been particularly clear and meaningful for Mark’s first hearers and readers … and they can help us, too, understand, take to heart, this text, with this ancient, perhaps confusing concept of “clean-unclean” at its heart;
… but I’m thinking, maybe, perhaps, this story, more recent, might speak better to us.
When I was associate pastor at Glenwood Lutheran in Glenwood, Minnesota, some 15 years ago now, I was the pastor on staff charged with youth ministry – so I worked closely with the youth director on event planning and follow through.
One Saturday night we were having a middle school youth event at the church, with games and ice cream afterwards.  This being rural Minnesota, we had lots of middle schoolers but also lots of adult help which gave Amy, the youth director, and I an opportunity to send various adult – youth teams off around the church on a scavenger hunt, while we stayed back to welcome latecomers.
Eventually we saw some boys we didn’t recognize stick their heads in the basement door and take a look around.  Now, I started this message with a story about Charlie Brown, but do you remember his friend “PigPen?”  The one who was always dirty, head to toe?  Well, that’s what these boys ALL looked like. 
Amy and I started to talk with them – it turns out they’d never been inside any church before, let alone this one – they saw some of their school classmates going in, and wanted to check us out.
Their eyes wandered over to the counter full of ice cream and sundae fixings, and Amy and I encouraged them to help themselves … which they did … filling HUGE bowls full of ice cream.  After they filled up, we sat down with them to find out who they were.
Who they were, we rapidly figured out, were kids who would be considered from the “wrong side of the tracks” in our little town of 2,500.  One lived with his grandmother because his mom had left and his dad was in jail.  Another one I recognized as the boy who came into my office one day to hang out because his parents left him alone for hours on end. 
So Amy and I sat and answered these boys’ questions about the church, God, youth group, whatever.  And they had a lot of questions. And also a seemingly insatiable hunger for ice cream.
And then, a strange thing happened.  Some of the groups of middle schoolers who were out on their scavenger hunt cruised through the church basement on their way looking for clues.  When they saw their classmates, these “dirty boys,” they glared at them.  And then, at Amy and me. 
How DARE we have taken our time to serve and talk with them, these outsiders … these unclean kids … these ones who were separated from the “nice kids” of the church by their living situation or economic status or just plain dirtiness. 
Good church people didn’t associate with those kind of kids, after all. 
They were unclean in so, so many ways … and outside the community of faith.
And here we were, in God’s house, among God’s people, and God’s people were acting the furthest from Jesus in this story, right here before us today.

Jesus hangs out with the unclean.  Jesus doesn’t care about those labels, ‘unclean,’ separated, outside community.  Jesus risks it all … even his own inclusion in the faith community … so that others may be gathered in.
Who are our “unclean?”  Who are the ones we say are outside community?
What does Jesus say about these labels we place on people?
And what does Jesus say about how we should treat them?
People of Faith, think on these things this week, and then do, likewise, as Jesus does.


Monday, June 25, 2018

24 June 2018

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time  year B
Mark 4:35-41
24 June 2018

This Sunday, we continue in our exploration of the early chapters of Mark’s Gospel, and his interactions with his disciples.
The past few weeks, we’ve seen how the disciples’ world has been turned upside down … turned upside down by Jesus’ coming among them.  Mark’s the Gospel which prefaces nearly every turn and twist with “immediately,” to emphasize the bold, decisive moves which is Jesus’ story in this Gospel story … and thus far … as today we close out reading the fourth chapter of Mark … thus far it’s been a whirlwind.
Jesus casting out demons.  Jesus healing lepers and the paralyzed.   Jesus uttering new teachings.   Jesus arguing with the religious leaders who question and challenge his authority.
And always, always, there are crowds.  Pressing crowds.  So many people around Jesus that his disciples fear the crowd will crush him.
And so, when Jesus says to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake,” they jump at the chance.  Here would be a time, a place, where they could finally be away from the crowds and the controversy, a time, a place where they could just be, just them and Jesus, together. 
But then up came the storm.  It’s one of those classic Sunday School Bible story moments … because almost everyone has seen a thunder and wind storm before, many of us have seen them on a lake or a large body of water … how fast they can come up, how strong they can blow, and we “get” the awesome fury of nature and what it can do.  The Sea of Galilee isn’t huge … 13 miles long, 8 miles wide, 33 miles around.   But to be in a little boat, halfway across, with four miles still ahead of you, in the midst of a lot of wind and waves … it would have been a frightening experience. 
And it must have been a BIG storm … remember, many of the disciples were fishermen, so they would have seen … and been in … storms on this lake before. For them to show this much fear shows how big and bad the storm really was.
Just as fast, though, Jesus takes care of it.  Again, it’s the Sunday School lesson moment, the one immortalized in that old 60s song about “putting your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water, the man who calmed the sea.”  It’s the teachable time, the great and wondrous miracle, Jesus has rescued the faithless disciples with just a word … “Peace!  Be still!”
But … wait just a minute.
For there is one five word sentence here, in this short story from Mark’s Gospel, which ought, this morning, ought to give us some pause.
I don’t know if you heard it or not when it was read a few minutes ago.
So here it is again.

When evening had come, Jesus said to the disciples, “Let us go across to the other side (of the lake).”  And leaving the crowd behind, the disciples took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he was. 
Other boats were with him.


How many of you, how many of us, when you’ve heard this story, have pictured just ONE boat out there on the Sea of Galilee, getting bounced around on the waves?  Come on, admit it.  Most if not all of you have.  I have. 
The most famous art rendition, Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” pictured on our bulletin cover this morning, reinforces this. 
Yet, that’s not what the text says.  Other boats were with him.
Well, no wonder we’ve missed this point.  The disciples have, too.
Actually, the disciples have missed a lot of what’s been going on around them.
Haven’t they been paying attention to all that Jesus has been saying and doing, what Mark has conveyed in the past four chapters?  The healings, the teachings?  Obviously not.
No wonder they miss the fact that, out there on that stormy sea, they are not alone.
They’ve got tunnel vision … in the moment of crisis, they can’t see anything around them … just themselves.


Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on the disciples, this early in Mark’s Gospel story.  After all, there will be plenty of opportunity for that later on (!) but as for right now, they haven’t been with Jesus that long, they are still immature in the faith.
Jesus sees this.  After he calms the storm, he asks the disciples, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?” 
The sense of the word Jesus uses that’s translated as “afraid,” the sense is that Jesus sees the disciples lacking something in their inner being.  They are “afraid” because they don’t have faith … literally, what Jesus asks them is “DO YOU NOT HAVE FAITH?”  And he answers the question for himself, in the way he asks it … Well, No, They Don’t Have Faith.
Otherwise, they would know that they are safe with Jesus.  Otherwise, at the very least, they would realize that the other boats could, would  come to their rescue, band together to make it across the stormy lake without loss of life.
The disciples’ fear is causing them to have tunnel vision … they can’t see anything beyond themselves … in the moment of crisis, self-preservation kicks in to rule their day, “it’s all about me … it’s all up to me … up to me, to rouse Jesus, to get this storm to end.”
Once again, this week, just like last week, in the parable Jesus was telling about the Mustard Seed, It’s not All About Me … it’s All About Faith.  Even a little bit of faith would see the other boats, would realize that they are on their way, together with Jesus, together with the others who are following Jesus … on their way across the sea to the land of the Gentiles … where God will continue to be with them.
And that’s what I believe is so vitally important in not missing those five little words we’ve skimmed over in this story.  Other boats were with him emphasizes the together-nature of life with Jesus … life to be lived, not alone and independent, self-reliant in times of the great storms of life … no, life in Christ is life meant to be lived in the body … the body of Christ in the world … the body of other believers who make up the body of Christ in the world.
Other boats were with him.  Later, for the disciples themselves, after Jesus, after his in-the-flesh presence has gone away from them … after he is crucified and raised, ascended to his Father and our Father in heaven … after those times, it is the Body of Christ … those other boats, those other believers, who remind them of Jesus … who encourage, support, help, guide, bring them through, keep on carrying forth the message of Jesus into the world.  It’s not totally up to them … they are not alone.  The Spirit of Christ is with them, and in and through those other believers, they will see and feel the Body of Christ at work, in the world. 
And so it’s been for two thousand years, as the message of Jesus keeps on creating the Body of Christ in the world … the creative, healing, teaching, renewing, forgiving word of Jesus moving through … people … other boats, other believers. 
We are not alone on the stormy seas we encounter in life.  Christ is with us.  Sometimes he shows himself to us in big, astounding ways, like calming the storm.  But most of the time, it’s those other boats who are with him, with us … Jesus’ body, in the body of other believers, surrounding us, encouraging us, close to us, reminding us of Christ’s love and peace and care Total independence and self-sufficiency are good … very good … in some things, but when it comes to life in the Body of Christ, they are of no use … to Jesus, or anyone else. 
We belong together.  We serve together.  We rejoice together.  We hurt together.  We are the body, together, the other boats out there on the stormy sea, and together, we will reach the other side, because the body we bear and the body we are, is Jesus.
These are good words for us. 
This faith, this life, it’s not a solo affair, and it’s not all up to me … me, or you, by ourselves.
Other boats are with us. We are in this together, this faith, this life, the Body of Christ, called, gathered, fed and nourished, and sent into the world to be as Christ to and for the world.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

17 June 2018

OT 11B
Ezekiel 17:22-24 / Mark 4:26-34
17 June 2018

With this week’s Gospel text, we move with Jesus in his ministry, from actively taking on the religious and political leaders of his day … the Scribes, the Pharisees, the Herodians … we move with him into a new phase of his ministry … of which his telling of parables is the hallmark.
Now, you might think, on Confirmation Sunday, that hearing parables would be appropriate … especially if you consider a parable to be an exercise in teaching and learning.  And with that, you’d be half right.
Because a feature, a function, of a parable is its teaching quality … just like confirmation has at its root the process of catechesis … learning about the faith. 
Parables are smaller, usually, more manageable stories which help us figure out larger stories or concepts.  They often use comparison to do this … “the Kingdom of God … the Kingdom of Heaven is like ..”  Like that old saw about “How do you eat an elephant? – One bite at a time” … so it is with parables, one parable at a time the super-large, unexplainable concepts become clearer and clearer to us.
But parables, like confirmation … they have not only a take it in and add to your learning and knowledge meaning level, but also … there’s a call to action.
Parables are meant to direct the hearer … then, and now … into some kind of action.  Just as confirmation is meant to do the same with the one who is being confirmed … here, today, that’s Wyatt, who in a few minutes will come up here and share some of his own words about his faith journey, and then, publicly affirm his baptism, taking on the promises his parents made for him some thirteen years ago, responding to God’s promises before God and us that he will now take on responsibility for his faith journey with God.
The parables which we hear today from Jesus have to do with planting, seeds, farming.  There is one large, long parable, right at the outset of chapter 4, which is not part of our text (because we hear it in one of the other lectionary-cycle years) … that’s the parable of the sower and the seed … the one which goes …

Listen! A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil.  And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away.  Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold."  And he said, "Let anyone with ears to hear listen!"

Later, Jesus explains the parable to his disciples:

The sower sows the word.  These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.  And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy.  But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.  And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing.  And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold."

That’s a clear example of what is meant by parable, made clearer to Jesus’ hearers, then … and now … in his explanation.  There’s knowledge, yes, but also, a clear call to action.
Now, today’s parables are brief, much more brief than that first one.  And there’s no explanation from Jesus as to their meaning.  So we have to work through them ourselves.

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground …

Hear Jesus’ words here carefully.
First, the kingdom of God.
Really, this word is more “God’s rule” or “God’s power.”  The point is, what follows this word is about our relationship – being and living under God’s authority – and that begins here and now, in this place and time, rather than just someplace in the far off future when we “go” to “be” in God’s kingdom.
So what are we called to be about, in this first parable, as we follow “God’s rule?” 
Our effort – Jesus’ focus, and therefore, ours … is to be on the scattering of the seed.  The planting. 
The growing of the seed just happens.  Jesus actually uses the word automati … which means the same as our word “automatically” … in his description of how the seed grows, “of itself.”  And, eventually, when the grain is ripe, it’s time to harvest.
Jesus’ message here is clear.  Pay attention to that which I call you to do.  Which is the planting … the planting of the seed … the planting of the Word. 
Planting is what this congregation has done in your life, Wyatt.  Through Sunday School and our former Elementary School, through servant events and Bible School, and worship, we’ve been about planting the seed in your life. 
Now, today, it’s your turn to respond. 
So when I soon ask you this question …

You have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
          to live among God’s faithful people,
          to hear the word of God and share in the
Lord’s supper,
          to proclaim the good news of God in Christ
through word and deed,
          to serve all people, following the example of
          and to strive for justice and peace in all the

… your response, Wyatt, is the beginning of your time of actively taking that seed that’s been planted in you, and now sharing it out into God’s world.  You’ve always been called to share it, but now, as you affirm your baptism today, you take on the special responsibility of responding on your own … as we each are called to do … it’s part of growing up and becoming an adult … and so you get an adult-sized response to share before us:

I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.

Now, the second parable is all about that “I” in your response-promise.
It’s a well known parable, in which Jesus talks about a mustard seed.  Around here we don’t raise a lot of mustard, but in the Midwest, it’s one of the rotation crops put in on farms when they’re “resting.”  My wife, Kathleen, has a portion of the old family farm in northern North Dakota, and occasionally in one of those “rest” years her cousin who runs the farm for her plants some mustard.  It’s a small bush, nothing special, nothing so great as wheat or rapeseed or soybeans.
And that’s the point here. 
Because “nothing special” is probably the last way we would expect “God’s rule” or “God’s power” to come, for the seed to be planted, for God’s Word to be spread, to be lived, into the world?
We’d more likely expect something more like the first reading today …

On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it,
 in order that it may produce boughs and bear
fruit, and become a noble cedar.

Sometimes that’s the way God works.  But most of the time God works with the “mustard seeds” and the mustard plants … the nothing specials … the ordinary days, the ordinary people, the ordinary every day actions we do … that’s the way God’s rule comes into the world.
Let’s go back to that promise you’ll be asked about in a few minutes, Wyatt.

Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
          to live among God’s faithful people,
          to hear the word of God and share in the
Lord’s supper,
          to proclaim the good news of God in Christ
through word and deed,
          to serve all people, following the example of
          and to strive for justice and peace in all the

How do you think you might go about doing that in and through your life, Wyatt?  In big and splashy ways?  Maybe.  Sometimes.  Maybe you’ll go on the next ELCA Youth Gathering trip, in three years, wherever that may be.  Maybe you’ll go to an ELCA college like PLU or St Olaf or Concordia, Moorhead … maybe you’ll choose a faith-related career.  Maybe, you might even, consider going to seminary, and being a professional worker in the church.
But I’m thinking, it’s more likely, the way you’ll live into that promise, is just by being Wyatt.  Yourself.  On ordinary, nothing special days, when you’ll show God’s love, God’s rule, into the world.
Like several years ago, when you gave your shoes to Pastor Reitan to take to Africa, and give away to someone who needed them more than you did.
Yeah.  Like that.
That’s the way most of us will live out that same promise.  In ordinary ways.  Nothing special.  But oh, so important.
Leading by serving, using the gifts we’ve been given. 
Even your confirmation day, Wyatt, is on a Sunday in “ordinary time.”  It’s not Pentecost or Easter or Holy Trinity.  It’s an Ordinary Sunday. 
And that’s great.  On a Sunday when we hear Jesus, telling us in parables, calling us to action, reminding us that it’s all about the planting, and then showing God’s love through our ordinary selves we mustard seeds … whether it’s helping a neighbor carry in groceries, giving a person a smile and a hello, or sitting with someone after they had surgery. 
It’s about planting tiny seeds in our own neighborhoods, and then getting out of the way, because the seeds know what to do … automatically. 
The kingdom of God comes by itself, but it needs people who sow little seeds.

I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.

That’s your word, today, Wyatt, and all of ours as well, as we follow God’s call to show God’s love, God’s rule, into the world.