God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Monday, April 28, 2014

Parades and the Kingdom

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 51

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
   Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.  Mark 11:1-11
When I went to graduate school in  political science out east, one of the draws for me was that I would be close enough to DC to go to all the protests and demonstrations. Well I remember one spring receiving an invitation from the justice action network of the United Church of Christ to protest US involvement in Central America. This was soon after Iran Contra when we were funding all sorts of dictators and right wing militia groups to battle communist influence and secure our economic interests. I don't remember the particular action of the US government we were protesting, but I felt it was important at the time. As we gathered to march past the white house to the Capital. These amazing puppets joined the march. They were so tall. Towering over us all, adding drama and flair to our demonstration. These puppets were part of a UCC Congregation's ministry from Vermont. As we sang songs of freedom and hope in Spanish and English, the puppets danced to our movements and hope. As we sang of a God who wants us to love our neighbor, I was struck by what a powerful moving experience it was. Whenever I think of Jesus' parade into Jerusalem, I am reminded of the many protests I participated in - where my politics and my religion came together to demand a better world, to change how we treat people who are beloved children of God.  
       On Palm Sunday, Jesus enters Jerusalem. Jesus is coming to the seat of religious and political authority to announce the coming kingdom of God and call for repentance. Imagine the sight of the crowd that has been following Jesus being joined by those in the city spreading out their cloaks and waving palm branches while singing and shouting Hosanna (God Saves), Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Jesus enters the city not on a war horse but a colt. He is not bring an army to battle but a ragtag group of the least, the last, the lost, the outcast. The people are announcing to the city that God saves and here is the one, a humble man, not a war hero or an avenging God, has come to bring God's mercy and justice to the temple. Jesus brought his parade to the religious center. He walked through the temple, seeing what was happening in God's house and left the town.  
       In our churches and our culture, where there is a desire for the church to stay out of politics, to keep politics out of worship, Jesus takes the word of God straight to the center of power. He preaches repentance and of the coming Kingdom. He invites us to hold our political and religious authorities accountable to God's dream of a world where the lame walk, the blind see, the mute speak, the deaf hear, evil is chased away, the prisoners are set free, the hungry are fed, the children are welcomed, and the least become important. How are our church's and pastor's keeping this vision of God's dream before us? I am reminded of the Moral Monday Movement in North Carolina where religious leader and people gather to fight poverty and policies that are hurting the poor and working class. God's justice is a moral matter. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, "...  If [the poor and dispossessed] can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life..." The leaders of Moral Mondays have identified five principles that are “bigger than Democrat or Republican but good for the whole”: 1. Economic sustainability and ending poverty; 2. Education equality; 3. Healthcare for all; 4. Fairness in the criminal justice system; and 5. Voting Rights. What we're up against is much too big and all-encompassing. We must see, as Dr. King once said, "an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" - and an injury to one is an injury to all."  Where will you let the inspiration of this text take you to challenge the injustice you see?

Prayer Practice:
Blessed are you who come in the name of the Lord, Jesus you showed us what it means to challenge political and religious authority. Yet we don't wants politics in our church, we want it to be the calm peaceful Jesus we meet. Jesus the provocative preacher and the political revolutionary meet me today. I'm not sure I want to meet that you, but I want to be your follower and I know that I have to move and change to be who you want us to be. Guide my feet to day Jesus. Amen,

Waiting for the Great Leap Forward by Bill Bragg

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Kingdom Sight

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 50

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. Mark 10:46-52
       What do you see when you look around you? Are you able to see God's presence in the world? Are you able to perceive the activity of God? Are you able to understand how God is moving, playing, working in the world?
       Jesus has just spent time sharing with the disciples what it means to be a suffering messiah, one who is condemned, killed and risen. In explaining that the messiah comes to serve, he share that to follow a suffering messiah means to be a servant. To be a follower means to welcome the least, the last, the child into the kingdom. The disciples after each of these moments have been caught dreaming of glory, wishing for power, misunderstanding the kingdom and Jesus. They have turned a blind eye to both Jesus and his actions and words. So into this pattern of explanation and misunderstanding, Jesus encounters a blind beggar. Jesus is on the way, when a blind beggar calls out, "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me." People tell the beggar to stop, they rebuke him for his cry, telling him to be silent. The beggar cries, "have mercy on me." Jesus says to those around him to call the beggar forward to him. The blind man is told to take heart and rise, for the savior is calling. He springs up and came to Jesus. Jesus asks him what do you want me to do for you. Bartimeaus says, "Master, let me receive my sight." Jesus heals him to continue on the way. He followed down the way with Jesus.
       Let me receive my sight, in many ways this is the cry of this section of the Gospel. Let me receive my sight. The disciples have been blind and unable to understand who Jesus is. So Marks wants to invite us to seek mercy. To cry out for sight that we may see the kingdom, that we may see Jesus, that we may understand God's invitation to join Jesus on the way.  

Prayer Practice:
       Let me receive my sight. Let me look upon the word with your eyes. Help me to notice the things you would notice. Help me to perceive you, to see your presence in my life and the world around me. Amen. 

Open My Eyes that I Might See

Sunday, April 20, 2014

To Serve

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 49

       They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’                                                                                                                                  James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’
        When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’                                                                                                                                  Mark 10:32-45
        When we follow Jesus and are called into discipleship positions how are we to be? Jesus' words to his disciples on this question are tough to live by. He shares once again that he will be condemned to die by religious authorities who will give him to the civilian authorities who will mock, spit, scourge and kill him. And then he will rise in three days. This prediction of his death and resurrection leads James and John to request places of honor in the coming kingdom. Jesus says to them, "You don't know what you are asking." Will you drink the cup I drink? Will you be baptized with my baptism? He is inviting them into his life of ministry which places him at odds with the religious and political powers. Will they be able to be cleansed by the Spirit? Jesus does not promise them glory; he invited them into ministry. The other disciples are indignant that James and John could ask this, to be set ahead of the others. Jesus calls them together to explain again what it means to follow. To follow Jesus is to live in a new way. We aren't to be like those foreign rulers who live in a system of hierarchy. We are going to live different those who are great will be a servant. If you want to be great you need to be a slave to all. For Jesus came to serve not be served. Jesus came to give his life away to save many.
       These are tough words for us. Jesus is inviting us to live in a new way where hierarchy and dominance are not the way we live with each other. Jesus is not inviting us to become doormats and be walked all over and used up. He is inviting those in positions of authority and power to behave differently. To seek to give their lives to raising up the lives of others. To provide comfort and healing, to help people experience God's love and presence, to resist and cast out evil, to feed the hungry, to still the storms and troubles of life, to welcome the children, the outcast, the sick. Glory is not about power and wealth; it is about opening your heart and wealth; it is about opening your heart and arms to a hurting world. Are you willing and able to do this?  

Prayer Practice:
Jesu, all that I ask to day is you make e servant. Show me what it means to love as you love, to hela as your heal, to serve as you serve. Amen.
Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love

Friday, April 18, 2014

Money and Discipleship

 The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 48
      As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.” ’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
         Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
          Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’   Mark 10:17-31
        How do we deal with money and being a disciple, a follower of Jesus? Does how we use our money change our relationship to God?
        In our section of Mark today, a man ran up to Jesus and knelt before him. The man wants to know how to inherit eternal life. Jesus says you know the commandments: do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor you father and mother. The man says, I have kept all of these from my youth. Jesus looks at the man and loved him. Jesus loved him and says, 'There is one more thing. Go, Sell all you have, and give it to the poor. You will be blessed in heaven. Come and Follow me.' The man hearing this, his face shows it all, he loses the hope he had come to Jesus with and leaves. Jesus loved him and he left. Jesus called him and he left. Jesus shared with him what would bring him into God's kingdom and he left.
       After he left, Jesus looked around and said to the twelve, "How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God." The disciples were amazed by what he said. He follows this up with 'it is easier for a camel to go through a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.' So much for the prosperity gospel. The idea that when you have God's blessing you will be granted wealth, riches, money is a barrier to embracing God's kingdom. Jesus is challenging the belief that wealth demonstrated God's favor. This belief has always been around that if you have achieved power and status, God has blessed you. Jesus is arguing that it is not money that shows blessing.
       The disciples gasp, "Who than can be saved." Jesus looked at them and says, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible." Money isn't a sign of favor; instead it can be a barrier to fully living into the kingdom.
       Peter asks what about us, we have left everything. Jesus than says that those who have left family and wealth for my sake, for the Gospel will be blessed with persecution and in the age to come eternal life. Many who are first will be last and the last will be first. Following Jesus is not easy. It means leaving behind what holds us back from God whether family or wealth. Following Jesus will lead to persecution. To live the kingdom life is to challenge the status quo with God's dream for the world. It is to think about us, all of us, and not just me and mine. This is hard in a culture that tells us the goal is to succeed, to get ahead, to move up in status and power, that anyone can make it big. We are invited to turn a mirror on the reality and question a social order where people who work a full time job do not have enough money for food and housing. But some have so much money they have multiple houses and throw food away. Where a few have so much and most have so little, our understanding of money needs to be transformed. Jesus is letting us know that money and your relationship to money can be a stumbling block to discipleship. But with God, this stumbling block can be transformed.  

Prayer Practice:
Sit down to day with your checkbook, savings account, record of money. As you look at how your money flows in and out of your check book. Ask God to show you where you need to change how you spend your money. Where you need to change your spending in order to give it to the places and people God is asking you to help. Prayer for guidance in how to use your money wisely and compassionately. Look up your spending and know that Jesus looks at you with love and invites you to come and follow. Amen.
O Where Are You Going


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Welcome the Child

 The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 47

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16
       When my son was little we had some interesting, challenging church adventures. In one church, I had been invited to come hear the new pastor who was brought to welcome families into the church. We went while my son was a toddler. The people handing out the bulletins told me that he could be left across the green with the other little ones. I wasn't ready to leave my child in another building with people I don't know. So we stayed in church and when it was just before the sermon, the old man behind us tapped me on the shoulder and told me to leave since I wasn't paying attention anyway. Then there was another church where they too took the kids out during worship, but my son didn't want to go because he liked to listen to the sermon. Seriously would wiggle and squirm throughout the liturgy and then when sermon time came he would stop and listen. Then there were the looks we got if I let my son take communion before eight grade. Especially the time when he took the bread and said - um um this is so good. People were outraged at the disrespect for the solemnity of communion. If you had asked my son he could of told you what the bread and juice were, but he took them with joy rather than prayerful quiet.  
         So why are our churches so full of gray haired people. I can't imagine that I am the only one who experienced the church being unwelcoming to children who squirm and wiggle, who approach the sacraments with joy and wonder, who approach learning and quiet differently than adults. How many parents and children have had no one speak to you or been met with disapproving looks? 
       Jesus says, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."  So how do we make our houses of worship places that welcome the child whether they stay in worship or go to Sunday School? How do we share this knowledge that if you want children to have faith, to believe the Good News, people need to receive it as children? If children are left to choose faith on their own when they are adults, they will rarely choose. So how do we share our faith, our love of Jesus with children whose parents have only been to church for a wedding or funeral or Easter and Christmas?  
        We have to discern why we believe church and faith are important for us and for the world we live in. We then have to work to be a place that actively creates a space and worship experience that blesses children. We need churches that welcomes the noise and restlessness, that takes the children into our arms and shares with them the stories of the one who loves and welcomes them. We need to become communities that don't just teach people to be kind but grow disciples who work to build God's Kingdom by healing the sick, feeding, the hungry, welcoming the outcast, and resisting evil. We then become the living embodiment of the one we follow, sharing God's love with a lost and hurting world.  

Prayer Practice:
Breath deeply letting the worries of your day flow away from you on your out breath. Picture in your head the children in your church and family. Feel Jesus' power and protection surrounding you. Be in stillness with Jesus. When you are ready turn your attention to each of these children. Pray that God's blessing will be upon them.  Let the Spirit guide your prayer for these beloved children. Amen.

All Are Welcome by Marty Haugen

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Divorce and Discipleship

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 46    

   He left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.
       Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’
      Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’  Mark 10:1-12
     You Were Mine by the Dixie Chicks
      The year my son's father and I split up, the Dixie Chicks, became the song track for my pain, heartache, and hope. I never listened to country music, even though that was all my family listened to, but that year. The words that poured out in their singing, helped me to pour out my emotions especially on the long drive back home after dropping my son off at his dad's. When I was sad, You Were Mine spoke to me. When I was angry, Goodbye Earl, released what I would never do. When I was hopeful about the future, I would sing along to Wide Open Spaces and Cowboy Take Me Away. That year of separation and divorce had so many emotions to confront. What to do next? Would I finish my Phd. in Political Science knowing I didn't want to be a professor and would have a hard time finding a political philosophy job? If I didn't do that, what would I do? I had to struggle with the hurtful things people say to each other toward the end. It wasn't about being over weight, not liking to exercise, or clean constantly. All of it was an excuse and meant to wound. The hurtful words were to help him push me away, so he could move on.  
        So during that year there was a lot of soul searching. What does it mean to be the only divorced person in my family? Grandparents married forever, parents forever. My sister and brother forever. And then me failing. One of the passages of scripture that did not bring comfort to me during this time was Jesus speaking about divorce. It didn't matter whether it was Matthew making an exception for adultery. Or Mark having Jesus say that Moses gave us the ability to divorce because of our hard hearts. But this passage always and still to this day makes me stop and wonder how it applies in a culture where divorce will go forth whether you want it or not. And don't get me wrong, I was in a much better, healthier place for both my son and I on our own than when married. But that didn't stop me from questioning whether I would ever remarry. And yes all my minister friends told me were we unequally yoked since he wasn't a believer. But the words make me pause. Do we take these words seriously on our discipleship journey? Would we make different choices, if we did?  
        So what do we do with this passage? Some of the scholarship argues that Jesus is trying to challenge the patriarchy where it easy to set aside a woman and to do so was to leave her with few or no options for where to live, how to make a living, how to survive. So to retract easy divorce was to protect women and children. To challenge easy divorce was to make sure that they would not be easily cast aside and that there was a need to make sure everyone had enough to live on.  
     On our discipleship journey, Jesus is pointing out our hard hearts. There are some traditions and practices that have grown up in the way we lead our lives have more to do with our fallibility than with God's dream for us. We have seen in this Gospel what hard hearts do. They prevent us from looking on hungry people with compassion. They prevent us from casting out evil. They prevent us from seeing who is actually part of kingdom building even if different from us. They cause us to push people away and seek glory. So divorce is about hard hearts. Jesus isn't asking abused women to stay in bad marriages. But in other cases, we are to stop and open our hearts - to work through trouble, to struggle through the hard times, to grow together even as we are different, to think about the children. So Jesus isn't saying in this passage that the only kind of marriage is between a man and a woman, because homosexuality wasn't of concern. He is talking about justice and open hearts. He is asking us to take seriously covenants, promises that are made before God.

Prayer Practice:
Jesus, bless families hurting with the pain of separation and divorce. We know that when two people are married, they mean it for life. Yet, at times, with some people, and in some very complex situations, it just doesn't happen that way. Give peace and courage to all who have experienced the disruption caused by divorce or separation. Help them to accept their feelings of rejection, loneliness and grief. Help all of us to be sensitive to emotional, spiritual and physical needs of the children caught in the middle and enable us to reach out in love. Amen.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Stumbling Blocks

 The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 45

    ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
      ‘For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’  Mark 9:42-50
     As I read this passage I couldn't help but think about the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which King Arthur runs into the Black Knight who he invites to join his cause, but the knight wants to fight. He starts losing the fight and limbs - it's just a scratch, a flesh wound - he has no limbs.
Just a Flesh Wound
This section of sayings by Jesus is about placing stumbling blocks in front of those little ones who are seeking to follow and have faith. So we get a series of disappearing limbs that describe some of the stumbling blocks to faith. Jesus in these sayings suggest removing the stumbling block. It is better to give up a limb than to continue in a direction that turns you or those little ones from faith.  
      What stumbling blocks to faith do you face today? Do you let the hypocrisy of church members prevent you from experiencing God's word in community? Do you let the silence, absence of God when you cry out, challenge your faith? Do you let an illness or death separate you from God's presence? Do you let doubts and questions about faith keep you from learning and growing through those doubts and concerns? Do you let the televangelists or image of Christianity prevent you from believing in God who busts out of the narrow confines of the box God has been put in? What are your stumbling blocks?
       Jesus closes this section of sayings, by inviting us to renter God's covenant by being the salt and flavoring life with the essence of God's flavor. We are reminded that salt has been used to symbolize the making of a covenant with God. Remember God's promises and be at peace.  

Prayer Practice:

Unsure, when what was bright turns dark And life, it seems, has lost its way,We question what we once believed And fear that doubt has come to stay. We sense the worm that gnaws within Has withered will power, weakened bones, And wonder whether all that's left Is stumbling blocks or stepping stones. 
Where minds and bodies reel with pain Which nervous smiles can never mask, And hope is forced to face despair And all the things it dared not ask: Aware of weakness, guilt or shame, The will gives out, the spirit groans, And clutching at each straw we find More stumbling blocks than stepping stones. 
Ah God, you with the Maker's eye, Can tell if all that's feared is real, And see if life is more than what We suffer, dread, despise and feel. If some by faith no longer stand Nor hear the truth your voice intones, Stretch out your hand to help your folk From stumbling block to stepping stones.
                                                 Iona Community Song 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Who is the Greatest?

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 44

   They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
     Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’       John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.  Mark 9:30-41
       Why do we follow Jesus? Are we doing it for glory? Are we hoping for fame? For those of us called to ministry, do we dream of being the next mega church pastor, getting the next book contract, being the next tv preacher everyone talks about?  
       Well after Jesus has just explained to the disciples about the cross and resurrection. They continue on the way and when they stop, Jesus asks the twelve what they had been talking about on the way. The disciples didn't answer; they were silent. They knew Jesus wouldn't be happy with their discussion of who is the greatest, who among them was the best. They were discussing glory and so didn't answer.
       Jesus sat down and called the twelve to him. And he talks to them about greatness. Jesus explains, "if anyone would be first, he must be last of all, servant of all." To make his point, Jesus gives the disciples a visual clue. He brings a child into their midst and then takes the child in his arms and says, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me," and by receiving me receives God.  
      John wants to clarify greatness, so he asks about a man, an ordinary man, who is able to cast out demons, but he is not one of us. He isn't here learning from you, being authorized by you to cast out demons. We told him to stop because he wasn't following you.
      Jesus' response is to open up the mission and ministry. He says if they can get rid of evil in my name, they will have a hard tie speaking ill of me. If they give you water in my name, they are part of the kingdom. "For whoever is not against us, is for us."   
      Greatness for Jesus is the greatness of the small, the least, the lost, the last. To be great, we are invited to become God's servant. To welcome the children and those who are rejected by society. To invite into ministry those who are doing good in Jesus' name. Who is great is not about having the biggest, brightest, shiniest ministry. You aren't necessarily great because your congregation has more members, more money, more programs, more fame. For God the question of greatness is about service and welcoming the outcast. Letting God shine through what you are doing so God is the focus not you.  

Prayer Practice:
He knew the weakness of the small Who dandles babies on his knee, And knelt with those who could n't see But dared to call; He told the frail they would be strong; He stirred their song.
And so the kingdom comes, he said, In hidden ferment of the yeast, In vagrants summoned to the feast, In broken bread: What's undervalued in its place Is charged with grace. 
When we defer to sight or size, Believing big is always best And falling for the Tempter's test, God open our eyes To see how Christ, the Lord of All, Smiles from the small.                                                                                                                         The Iona Community 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Help My Unbelief

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 43

When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. He asked them, ‘What are you arguing about with them?’ Someone from the crowd answered him, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.’ He answered them, ‘You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.’ And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it threw the boy into convulsions, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You spirit that keep this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!’ After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘This kind can come out only through prayer.’  Mark 9:14-29
       "I believe, help my unbelief." Jesus has come down from the mountaintop where Peter, James, and John experienced his transfiguration, where we are invited to listen to the Beloved. He then tells us about the suffering Messiah who will meet contempt and encounter people who do whatever they want. After this discussion, Jesus came upon the rest of the twelve, who are with a crowd. The crowd sees Jesus and come up to him greeting him. He asks them what they been arguing about. A man tells of bringing his son to Jesus because his son is struck by seizures that dash him down where he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth. The father then says I asked your disciples to heal him, but they were unable to heal him. 
      "I believe, help my unbelief." Jesus, is disappointed in the faith of the disciples and the crowd. He asks How long. How long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? How long? The boy is brought to Jesus the evil inside the boy caused him to fall down, convulse, roll and foam. Jesus asked the father, to tell him when he got ill. The father shares his story, his son's story. He tells of the years when the evil has cast his son into fire and water to destroy him. He shares his pain and says, "If you can do anything, have pity on us and help us."
        "I believe, help my unbelief." Jesus, who is still struggling with the lack of faith and belief of his closest followers, says, "If you can!  All things are possible to him who believes." The father cries out with tears, "I believe, help my unbelief." Jesus saw the crowds come running and rebuked the evil and commanded it to come out of the boy. The evil did not leave easily. The boy has a last seizure and then becomes still as death. The crowd believed the boy was dead, but Jesus took his hand and lifted him up to life.  
        "I believe, help my unbelief." The twelve ask why. Why couldn't we heal the boy? Jesus says that "this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting."  
        "I believe, help my unbelief." At this point in our journey with Jesus, we are invited to stop and struggle with our belief and unbelief. Because there are those among us who have prayed daily, hourly, minute by minute for the healing of our loved one, only to have them succumb to the illness. We lose our faith in God, who didn't answer our prayer for healing. We lose faith is God who seems silent or absent from us.  At those moment and in those times of doubt, we cry, "I believe, help my unbelief."

Prayer Practice:
I believe, help my unbelief.  No matter how far away from you I have traveled, no matter how dark life looks right now, no matter how lost and alone I feel, remind me, I can always start over, begin again, believe once more. Amen

Suzanne by Leonard Cohen

Monday, April 7, 2014

Suffering and Following Jesus

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 42

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ He said to them, ‘Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.’                                                                                                                        Mark 9:9-13
"You can't go forward if your looking back.  You run into walls that way."                                                                                                           Karen Marie Moning 
        How do we move forward in the face of suffering? How do we move forward in the face of contempt? How do we move forward when they (the crowd, the political authorities, the religious authorities, the people you are called to serve) do whatever they please? How do you go forward if your looking back?
        A couple of months ago I received a letter inviting me to let go, to release the past in order to move forward. I was annoyed, hurt because of who it was from, and probably not ready to hear the words, because I have been struggling with how to let go of the suffering you experience as a pastor in churches that have been hurt and hurt the next person who holds the job. Part of me looks back to the moment in my ecclesiastical council when a minister asked me about the cross and how I would take it up to follow. Partly he asked this question because my ordination paper was flowers and rainbows. Ok not that bad but it was pretty cheerful and I was excited and ready to begin. So when he said, "You don't have anything about how you will be taking up your cross." I know that in my paper I had skirted the issue of suffering and taking up our cross. Partly because as a good Congregationalist I had questions, lots of questions about the Risen Christ but was totally gaga for Jesus. I also didn't feel like I was going to be persecuted for my faith or faith real trials. So I know I answered his question by saying something about being a pk and knowing that saying yes to ministry was a long process because I knew many of the downsides of ministry.  
       But I didn't get it then. I was to full of hope and ready to get started. Since then I have definitely taken up my cross. I have experienced how cruel people can be to each other when they are part of God's church. I have received hate mail, emails that make one weep with sadness, threats and insults. None of the things I expected from people I was called to be the pastor and teacher to. The cross seemed so far away and yet having been a pastor for ten years it is so close with just one wrong word, one misstep, one mistake and conflict boils over. 
       So how do you move forward in the face of suffering, contempt, and where the people do whatever they please? Each day I get up, I look with longing forward to the next place I am invited to come and serve. I know that Jesus is here with me in the suffering. I know there is more to come. That joy comes int he morning. That death is not the final answer. That resurrection is possible. For God is the God of second, third, fourth .... chances. Jesus shares in our suffering, is there with us when faced with contempt, where people do as they please. The cross is not the final answer. That even those of us who are invited to take up our crosses and follow will experience grace, forgiveness, hope.  

Prayer Practice:

Holy One when I am suffering, remind me that I am not alone.  When I am feeling sorry for myself, remind me to look beyond myself to find you. When I am feeling despair, restore me to hope. God, remind me that I am not alone, that I am called. Help me to move forward. Be with me now and forever more.  

Don't Give Up by John Legend, Pink, Herbie Hancock

Friday, April 4, 2014

Listen to Jesus

 The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 41

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.  Mark 9:2-8
       Listen to Jesus. So here at the beginning of the end, Peter, James and John and we the readers experience a voice telling us that Jesus is God's Beloved, listen to him. While Jesus is filled with the glory of God, glowing white and speaking to Elijah and Moses, we are invited to Listen to him. Jesus, in this experience with Elijah and Moses, becomes the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets, listen to him. Jesus, with Moses, is the fulfillment of the law - he shares with us the importance of the commands and instructions that God has given to us, he points to what is important, Listen to Him. Elijah and the prophets called on people to turn back to God who will turn their despair into hope. Jesus has come to fulfill the prophets representing this turn from despair to hope, Listen to the Beloved. The Gospel of Mark, stressed the importance of listening, or hearing: do you have ears and do not hear, he digs into the ears of the deaf man and sighs his prayer that the man may be opened. We are invited to remember that Jesus is sowing the word of God far and wide in the rocky ground, on the warn paths, and in the good soil. So listen.
       This is one of the hardest calls of the gospel. Listen to Jesus. We don't want to listen and understand if it means we will have to change. We like things the way they are; its worked for us so far. If we truly hear, the Gospel message, it means we can't ignore the ways we are called to act, the compassion we are to express, the Good News we are to share. Listen to Jesus. So not only is it hard to truly hear, when we read and study the word or listen to the word in worship, we can't help but be transformed. We can't help but begin to experience God and want others to fell the same. Do you spend time with God's word? Do you have time each day or each week when you spend time in silence, not filling your prayer with word but letting the words, feelings, images come from God.

Prayer Practice:
Use the words of the scripture today to lead you into silence. On your in breath say, "This is my Beloved." On you out breath, say, "Listen to him." Do this while gradually shortening the phrase. Move to in breath, Listen and out breath, to Him. Then gradually shorten the phrase to Listen. Then let the Listen fade away into silence.  

Transfigure Me by Christopher Grundy

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Who is Jesus?

The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 40

     Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
      He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’  Mark 8:27-9:1
       After the disciples asked, "Who is this that even he wind and sea obey him?" The answer the disciples experience comes in all the encounters that Jesus has after the question is asked. Jesus is the one who heals disease; free people from evil; raises young girls to life, makes the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the mute to speak. Jesus is the one who challenges tradition that are not life giving and teaches about God's kingdom. Jesus is the one who looks on the hungry with compassion and feeds them. Jesus is the one who comes to spread God's kingdom to insiders and outsiders, to challenge the religious and forgive the broken, to make the last first.
       When Jesus asks, "who do they say I am?" The twelve answer him - John the Baptist, Elijah,a prophet. He then pushes them, "who do you say I am?" Peter answers, "You are the Christ." Jesus than began to teach them what it means to be the Christ, the suffering messiah. He tells the twelve how we will be rejected by the elders, scribes, and chief priest. The suffering messiah will be killled and rise again.
       Peter is not happy with this description of the Christ. Peter wanted a messiah, a Christ who would come in glory and power. The description Jesus gives is not glorious or powerful. So Peter rebukes Jesus and Jesus turns to Peter and says, "Get behind me Satan." For you aren't on the side of God. Peter had it wrong. The messiah is one who suffers.  
       Jesus than speaks to the multitudes of what it means to follow. If you are to follow me, you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow. To save your life you must lose it and whoever loses their life for the gospel will be saved. Jesus calls us to self -denial and cross-bearing. Jesus promises to us as the suffering messiah that he will suffer for God's sake. He will share in your suffering. He will walk with you when you suffer.He will walk with you through your trials. He will be with you when you die and bring you to new life.   

Prayer Practice:
Spend a moment answering the question: Who is Jesus? After answering this question ask Jesus to show you who he is and how you can follow him.