July 25, 2021
The possibility of going into space has captivated humanity for decades, if not centuries. Only 600 people or so have had the opportunity and it leaves the rest of us with questions. What does it look like to view the earth sixty+ miles above the planet we call home? What does weightlessness feel like? Imagine the stories we would have to share with our families.
And believe it or not, this could all be yours if you had millions of dollars!
Over the past week we have had the opportunity to watch two commercial spacecrafts ascend into space for a few minutes of sights, only seen by a very few select people. You thought a helicopter ride at Good Old Days was exciting, just wait until you will not have to go far to catch a quick excursion to space.
As exciting as this sounds, it does not come without scrutiny. You have two billionaires, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos (the richest person in the world), spending exorbitant amounts of money to achieve their childhood dreams. Well, if you have the money, why not? When we have 1 in nearly 6 children hungry in the United States, is space exploration going to combat childhood hunger? And this is just one of numerous ways people have suggested is better use for the money spent in research and development. Branson and Bezos clearly have an abundance of money and as we encounter our gospel lesson today, we can question whether they utilized their abundance for the greater good.
Today we begin an excursion into the gospel of John over the next five weeks. This is known as the Bread of Life series because Jesus makes several references throughout chapter 6 of him being the bread of life. We have two stories today in which Jesus performs signs, which point to his divinity and relation to God. The first sign comes in the form of Jesus feeding the 5000. The second sign finds Jesus walking on the water towards the disciples in their boat.
The story of Jesus feeding the 5000 is the only story found in each of the four gospels. Details may be slightly different in other gospels, but this story is shared by all four gospel writers. It is a story that the people of Palestine could recognize. In our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we hear of Elisha feeding 100 men with minimal provisions. The story of Moses may also come to mind for those listening to Jesus as manna was provided in the wilderness and they ate to their fill.
In John’s sharing of this story, we have 5000 who have come to listen and be healed by Jesus. It is getting near supper time, and they must be hungry. I do question if there are other reasons they may have been so hungry. It was not uncommon for those in power to withhold food from the people as a sign of their power and authority. The rulers did not want them to forget who fed them and provided them their daily bread.
The entire purpose of Jesus’ ministry is to turn the current system upside down. Jesus knows the plan for the 5000 and he has yet to inform the disciples. This leaves them scrambling. How can we feed so many people? And yet, here is a boy with five barley loaves and two fish. This is probably everything the boy has and yet with these provisions, Jesus will feed the entire gathered crowd. I think this is why we read this story in all four gospels. It is important to recognize Jesus’ power over the current rulers. It is important to know Jesus has compassion for all of creation.
Out of these five loaves and two fish Jesus reveals the abundance of God once again. An abundance revealed by God in the wilderness as Moses led the people of Israel, and an abundance revealed by Elisha as he fed 100 men. All hungry people. All looking for something more. Whether it be literal food, or the spiritual connection with a loving creator. There is such an abundance that there are 12 baskets remaining after all are fed.
Do you know what it means to be hungry? In the literal sense, not too many of us do in the western world. All we must do is go to the grocery store and get what we need. If we cannot afford it, food pantries are available. Yet, we still manage to let people go hungry. Nearly 1 in 6 children! I pray power is not being used to withhold the basic necessities of life to people in our time, but I am afraid it is.
When we look beyond the literal hunger, there is a hunger within each of us for something greater, a deeper connection with the divine. Jesus is our connection. Jesus comes with the promise that he is the bread of life and through him we will be fed. It is easy to bake our own bread though as we place our desire in worldly things. Jesus reminds us that he is enough. Jesus is nourishment for the soul in a way that none of those worldly possessions will feed us. True abundance is found in Jesus Christ and in this abundance, we are called into a deeper relationship with creation.
So, where does that leave us with the abundance found in others. For one thing, it is not our concern because we are not called to judge. Yet, we can pray that those with great abundance may pay their employees a living wage. We pray they may reach out to make their communities and world a better place. In a way this new space exploration may eventually lead to better communities as costs are lowered and more is discovered about our place in the universe. I will admit Jeff Bezos did attempt to address some of the scrutiny after his excursion to space. He donated $100 million each to two individuals to use how they see fit. What a blessing this is and may it be a small first step in sharing our abundance. An abundance which was originally shared by Jesus Christ.
Our journey with Jesus is never complete. He leaves the people in awe after they are fed and well nourished. He too feeds us and nourishes our hungry souls. We find him in the bread served during communion. We find him poured out in the wine and quenches our thirst. It is in this mystery we are invited to the table to sit and join in fellowship and community with our siblings. It is at the table where love is made known and we are encouraged to get up and take it out into our communities. It is a love that feeds the hungry crowds. It is a love that turns no one away. It is a love in which we are bold enough to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of another.[i] So it is at the table where we are invited to encounter an abundant love which knows no bounds. A love which welcomes us into the mystery, and we are fed. A love which calls us out to do the same.
[i] William H. Lamar, IV, “Chasing Jesus,” The Christian Century, 2003.
July 18, 2021
Matthew 6:30-34, 53-56
Apathy is something we could all easily excel. These past 16 months have taught us how to be apathetic. It is easy to become overwhelmed and numbed by the events surrounding the pandemic and the world in general. Therefore, it is easy to find a nice, secluded place and have little to no feeling or emotion for the past months. We have witnessed this in the aftermath of September 11, where many people’s attention waned as the months went on. We have witnessed this more recently in mass shootings where there is broad concern at first and then as the shootings multiply, we just wonder where the next one will be.
Sympathy gets us a little closer in building relationships with those affected. When we have sympathy with one another, it brings us closer to a unity in which God hopes for us living. With sympathy, we may have pity for the person suffering, but we do not truly understand the suffering.
When we begin to have empathy for another person, we are getting even closer to the world in which God has intended. We can understand and share the feeling of those amid suffering. We find ourselves getting ever closer to the compassion of Jesus, which he never lets subside.
I am sure the apostles went through all these stages as they learned how to be in the world without Jesus. Jesus sent them out for the first time on their own at the beginning of chapter 6 in Mark’s gospel. They have now returned to Jesus in the opening verses from today’s lesson and they are eager to share with Jesus what they have done. It reminds me of the days I was completing my Clinical Pastoral Education in the hospital, and we had to return at the end of the day and share with our colleagues. Once a month we would even be required to present a verbatim, a word for word accounting of an interaction we had with a patient. In the hospital setting, it is difficult to build rapport with patients because hopefully they do not stay long. However, in the short time you have with each one, there is always room for compassion. The verbatims were not necessarily a tool to point out our faults or short comings. The verbatims were tools for us to learn about ourselves.
I picture the apostles sharing with Jesus all the people and different situations they encountered. Sharing about the people who rejected them. Sharing about the people they may have made strong connections. We are not told whether they had to present verbatims to Jesus. The apostles were sent out by Jesus to teach and heal. They were sent out by Jesus to learn compassion for people no matter where they were in life. I am sure when they returned, Jesus was proud of what they had accomplished and he continued to teach. I am sure Jesus also praised them for sharing of God’s love.
Compassion did not come easily to the apostles and there is no reason to think it would come easy for us. Yes, some people do tend to naturally be more compassionate. As much as it can be a gift, it can also be a trait we learn. It is not accomplished by showing one another how to be compassionate. Jesus sent the apostles out on their own so that they could experience first-hand how to walk with people and be in their suffering with them. Honestly, this is some of the best learning. I recall my times in Clinical Pastoral Education, and even parish ministry, when I had no clue what I was doing, yet the Spirit guided the way. In a way, it was baptism by fire.
Jesus knows this was hard work and the first thing he does for the apostles when they return is to present a gracious invitation. It is an invitation to “come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” Jesus knows the energy required to reach out and heal people. Jesus knows the fatigue of endless compassion. As he tries to get away in prayer, it seems there is always a crowd showing up. Even in today’s lesson, after Jesus invites the apostles to come away, they find themselves on the shore in Gennesaret with a crowd of people waiting to see them with the hopes of Jesus easing their suffering.
Jesus never says enough. Jesus never says, go find someone else. Jesus continues to reach out and heal every person who has come to him. Jesus is truly present to be with all who come to him in their suffering and makes them feel loved. This was the example the apostles had to look up to. Jesus’ life is the penultimate model for us when we want to reach out with love and compassion. Jesus is here for us. Can we be there for others?
We complicate compassion. We get in our own way. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and want to step away from it all. When we do, we close ourselves off to others and we fail to listen. Or we begin listening to the wrong messenger. You do not need to be in a position of power or authority to share in compassion with Jesus. All you need is the willingness to open your heart to this beautiful creation God has placed around us. The beautiful creation of humanity. The beautiful creation of nature. The beautiful creation found in the awe, mystery, and wonder of God. Being open to this beautiful creation, knowing Jesus is here with us.
These may ways to find compassion. However, the truth is, you cannot teach compassion.
Compassion is something you learn by living. Jesus’ entire ministry is one which revolves around compassion. Compassion for the apostles who are returning from their first outing of teaching and healing on their own. Compassion for the crowds gathered along the shore who just wish to touch the fringe of Jesus’ cloak. No matter where, or how you find yourself, Jesus is present to offer compassion and love. In his compassion, Jesus walks with us in our suffering and showers us with a love which has no equal. May you learn and begin to embody the compassion in which Jesus has for all creation. May you have compassion for the neighbor and stranger alike. May you share the love of Christ with everyone you encounter.
There is no secret that there is a great divide in our society. It is a divide which has been present for decades if not centuries. It is a divide that has been made more apparent in the past administration which took residence in the White House. It appears there is no hope in bi-partisan politics as each side believes their solution is the only way and the thought of compromise is nearly laughable.
Brian Allain and Adam Thomas compiled and edited this collection containing over twenty authors. Each chapter comes from someone who already has their feet on the ground and provides examples of ways in which we can begin healing the divides. This can seem like an overwhelming task. However, if each of us were to start in our own corner of the world it could do so much to calm the fears of many. Allain and Thomas are to be applauded for this grandiose effort.
Where does the church fit into the discussion of climate change?
How should the church approach climate change?
Jim Antal calls the church out to proclaim the Good News and the responsibility it has to care for creation. No matter what denomination you fins yourself in, the call to protect and restore creation should be the responsibility of all who claim to follow Jesus. His call for the church to redefine itself can seem overwhelming. However, younger generations are coming to a greater understanding of the environment than those who want to stick to tradition in the church. If the church is not willing to address climate change then many in the younger generations are willing to let the church slip by.
Antal writes, “A final cornerstone for a repurposed church concerns the next basic moral instruction of both the New Testament and Hebrew Scripture–a moral instruction found at the core of every world religion. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves; and on the E-a-a-r-t-h (see page 13), we must recognize that future generations are no less our neighbors than those who live next door today.” (page 58)
Antal does not only believe the church is at the point to make a difference in the way we interact with the environment, but also provides stories and actions that can be taken. Sharing a conversation he had with Bill McKibben back in 2007 is a basis for his argument. He believes the church was born for such a time as this and has a history of confronting such challenges.
This is a great resource for pastors and teams in a congregation who are hoping to make such a change and encourage others to do so. It is well written and could be a great resource for team truly looking to love their neighbors as themselves.
Thanks to Speakeasy for the copy of this book and the opportunity to review
June 27, 2021
While we may not like it, taking risks are part of life. They can be small risks, or they could be big risks. There is a chance of losing everything, and there is a chance of losing little. The world of business involves risks daily. Risks on new products or services. Risks on hiring people. Sometimes the risks pan out and other times you are required to go back to the drawing board. Risks can affect the entire community for both good and sometimes bad.
Walt Disney was no stranger to risk. He took one risk right after another because he had a vision. A vision of creating something no one else had created before. He could have thrown in the towel when his first studio, Laugh-O-Gram went bankrupt in 1923. Instead, he took risks and found funding to continue in his crazy venture. It would be five short years later when Mickey Mouse would first appear in Steamboat Willie. As quickly as he became successful, there were still people questioning him and he had to continue to take risks. Now, millions of people look forward to going to a Walt Disney Park every year.
Of course, risks do not only involve business dealings. The stories of healing in this week’s gospel reveal a risk on the part of those seeking Jesus. A risk of putting everything on the line. A risk of faith. A risk trusting Jesus heals.
First, Jairus approaches Jesus soon after he comes ashore. Jairus explains to Jesus his daughter is near death and he would like Jesus to see her and heal her. Jesus agrees and they set off toward his house. Were Jairus and Jesus acquaintances? There seems to be little hesitancy on Jesus’ part to help. In other healings he just tells them to go, they have been made well. Here, Jesus is going for a personal touch. Jairus takes the risk of putting everything on the line. We know he was a leader in the synagogue. What would others say when they knew he went to Jesus seeking help? And at the same time, Jesus was his last resort. His daughter was worth the risk.
Sandwiched between the story of Jairus’ daughter, is the story of the woman who has been hemorrhaging for 12 years. She takes the risk to reach out to Jesus. If only she could touch his cloak, she may be healed. Jesus was also her last-ditch effort. She had been to the doctors and spent all her money and she was actually in worse health now. She did not have anything to lose. She was at the lower end of the economic scale, whereas Jairus was on the upper end of the economic scale. As Jesus calls out, wondering who touched him, she came with fear and trembling. Afraid she may be chastised and even worse. She was considered unclean because of her hemorrhaging. To reach out and touch someone would be considered contamination.
While the woman comes to Jesus with fear and trembling after the act of touching his cloak, she seems courageous right before the touch. The fear and trembling quite often happens to us before we take a risk. There is a fear of stepping out into the unknown. There is a fear of losing everything. Walt Disney was familiar with losing everything and yet was confident in his plans and took risk after risk to share his vision with the world. In the face of fear, we can become frozen and numb because of being overwhelmed with everything else happening around us. All these events can put a damper on our faith and thus not believing in the healing of Jesus. Yet, despite our fears, Jesus continues to reach out and heal. It may not always be the way we expect or want, but Jesus is always present in the brokenness to help us pick up the pieces.
When we take risks, it is much more than ourselves who are affected. The risks of Walt Disney nearly 100 years ago affect people today. Taking risks reverberates throughout our friends, family, and even communities. It is the same as we open our hearts to the healing of Jesus. We are connected and God wants us to be connected. Healing occurs in our families and those who surround us with love and support. Martin Luther King Jr. preached at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. just four days before he was assassinated. His words speak truth to the gospel and ring true for us today:
“We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”
We are all mutually connected. God has knit and woven all of creation together into a beautiful quilt which embraces the world. We weave in our risks and when there are frays, Jesus is present to heal and tie off the loose ends. God knew from the very beginning the world needed to be healed. God brought peace to the chaos. We know the stories of our ancestors, and war and division are nothing new. Healing was God’s intention from the very beginning. It is Jesus’ intention to bring the healing to us through his stories and ultimately his death and resurrection. It is in healing we are made whole and the kindom of God is revealed and we are welcomed into eternal life. Jairus and the woman take a risk of faith to encounter the healing powers of Jesus.
Are you willing to take a risk of faith?
Jesus offer healing to those who reach out to him. Jesus offers healing to all of creation. There does come a time when we question the healing. Our congregation has experienced a lot of death in the past couple of weeks and it is easy to wonder why we did not witness a physical healing. Healing does not always look like Jesus blessing the woman with hemorrhages for 12 years. Healing has occurred in death and being welcomed into eternal life. Healing has begun to happen for those still here by mourning and shedding tears at memorial services. In the meantime, let us continue to take a risk of faith. Let us proclaim our faith boldly. A faith which at times can seem counter cultural. A faith based on mystery. A faith in which Jesus heals.
June 20, 2021
What are your storms?
We all have them. Be it struggles in a relationship, hiding a truth we are not comfortable sharing, financial, vocational, and made even more apparent this week, the death of a loved family member. We each react to our storms differently because we are human. While some are bold to confront them head on, others would rather find a quiet place of peace. Maybe you could name these storms, I know I can, or maybe they are beginning to form, and you are yet unaware. We never know where the next storm is going to come from.
Chris Gardner shares his story of overcoming such storms in his memoir and a movie of the same name, The Pursuit of Happyness. Chris had dreams of making it big. Chris wanted to provide for his family and give those things to them which he did not have growing up. He seemed to be looking for the next best thing. As a salesman, he invested his life savings in portable bone density scanners. Thinking he could sell them and turn a profit. However, the sales were not consistent. He would encounter a storm when he had no money left to pay for a cab he was sharing and made a run for it. Unfortunately, he left behind a scanner which meant he was out a lot of money. In that encounter he learned of the opportunity to work for a stockbroker.
Unfortunately, the position was an unpaid internship which may lead to a job but there was tough competition. His wife’s response is to leave for New York City and leave their son with Chris. He eventually gets evicted and one scene from the movie has him and his son sleeping in a subway station bathroom. He will also get his paycheck garnished because of unpaid federal income taxes. Chris finds himself in a storm so big, he wonders if he will even be able to get out.
You may have not been in this position yourself. Your storms may not appear as big. Regardless, Jesus is in the boat to calm the storm and speak peace to the chaos. Jesus calming the storm is a reflection of God’s very action in the beginning of Genesis. “The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). It was this wind from God, or the very breath of God, which swept over the waters and brought a calmness to the dark. It is in Jesus’ words in which he rebukes the wind, waves, and storm that a breath of peace and calm is brought to the fearful disciples.
The storms of our lives reveal many anxieties. You may find yourself in a constant state of worry. Worrying about what if and wondering if you could have or should have done something differently. As we see in the disciples, there is a state of fear. When you do not know what is going to happen, it is easy to become fearful of the unknown and once again, the what ifs. The storms can bring out the worst in us, yet they can also bring out the best. When we confront the storm as Jesus did, there can be a sense of peace and calmness. Praying for God’s help and guidance in such storms gives us the courage to not back down. It gives us a courage to get back up if the storm knocks us over.
Of course, individuals are not the only ones who can be battered by storms. The church is no stranger to storms. This weekend we return to the sanctuary after a long fifteen months of wondering when we will be back. We have attempted a couple of other times only to see infection rates rise again. While the church is not the building, there is a sense of welcome here and belonging. Part of it is tradition. Part of it is feeling comfortable. As we listen to the story of Jesus calming the storm in Mark, we are reminded of the ship Jesus was in. There was safety there once Jesus calmed the storm. Another name for the sanctuary could also be a nave. It is derived from the Latin, navis, which means ship. Many churches actually resemble upside down ships as you look at them. We too, returning to our ship, can pray and sense the storm is being calmed currently regarding the pandemic.
While that storm is being calmed, churches find themselves with other storms not necessarily present pre-pandemic. There is concern over membership: is everyone going to return? There is concern over the budget: is it still going to add up and are we going to find ourselves in the black at the end of the year? There is a fear of what will happen and also of what may never happen again. There is a question of will the church survive this major shift in faith we have witnessed since last year. These are not only questions for Trinity, our partner churches, our denomination, but for Christianity as a whole. This past year we may have all been in the same storm, but we are in different boats and are responses are going to be varied.
As we think of our sanctuary as a ship, what would it look like if we were to offer safe passage to the fearful and hopeless people of God? What would it look like for us to open our arms to all and welcome them in unconditionally? What if we think outside the box and do something radical? This is where the church is headed post-pandemic.
Storms affect as all. The question is, how do we face them? At the beginning I shared the story of Chris Gardner. A story of one storm after the other. Chris would eventually get the stockbroker position and would venture off and start his own firm. While he would become wealthy, he realized it was not the main thing. He writes, “Wealth can also be that attitude of gratitude with which we remind ourselves every day to count our blessings.”
The daily storms we face can be overwhelming. They require us to stop and take a deep breath and maybe even get angry and shed some tears. This is not an inappropriate response. The storm does not last forever and Jesus lets us know we are not alone. While the disciples thought they may perish at sea while Jesus slept, he was present. Bringing a sense of calmness to the boat. Calm enough that he could sleep through the storm. It was in the worried voices of the disciples he awoke and spoke words of rebuke to the storm and the wind, and the waves calmed. The disciples were left in aww. We are invited into the aww of Jesus as we ask him to rebuke our storms. We pray for his presence to guide us through the dark nights and a peace which can only be found in Christ.
June 13, 2021
It has been a long fifteen months. Very little has looked the way we would have hoped for and if we are honest with ourselves, we are not going to return to normal as we knew it. Practices and routines are going to look different in the future. Priorities have changed and now we must truly be willing to let go and let God guide us into the future.
I am not so good at the letting go part of it. There has been a huge learning curve over the past fifteen months, and I have been reluctant to let go of those things I knew I could control. Even when someone asked me, “What can I do to help?” I did not know what to say because at the moment at did not know what I needed. I have been forced to use technology and media in different ways than were in my game plan this past year. While this has taken up a lot of my time, I also know it is a valuable tool for the future of our congregation and the church as a whole. In the past fifteen months, we have learned new and exciting ways to be the church as we continue to celebrate God’s word together.
Before the pandemic struck last Lent, we were in the midst of a journey with LEAD to listen to our community and its needs. There are still plenty of needs in the community, yet they have shifted and we must find new ways to meet those needs. In just fifteen months, we are in a new time and place. Yet, we must not forget God has been with us in every step along the way in these past months. Seeds have been planted and there is new growth for us to look for. Among those seeds are many visions. When each of us have our own vision and fail to let others in to help and discern then we have chaos. I have been guilty of this. A vision is only as good as the community that gathers around it to work for a common cause.
Jesus teaches the disciples and the others gathered in parables. Parables can be frustrating. Parables can seem ridiculous. Parables can lead to us throwing our arms up in the air and walking away because we have no idea what Jesus is trying to say. In the passage from Mark, Jesus lays out his vision for the Kingdom of God. Jesus uses different parables to communicate the point he is trying to make. Today’s parables are agricultural and would have been quite familiar to those he was teaching. For somebody growing up in a big city today, it most likely would be lost on them.
First Jesus starts with the parable about someone who scattered seed on the ground. This is the kingdom of God, Jesus says. The kingdom of God is like these seeds which sprout, grow a stalk, then a head and the full grain. These seeds could have easily been trees, something we may not harvest to eat, yet can provide other resources. Think of the glorious oak tree which comes from the little acorn. God works wonders in those little seeds. Bearing much fruit and bringing strength and growth to something which at one time was small. God works in our lives much the same way. There is a mystery in our faith. We are invited to place trust in the Lord to lead us on the right path. To grow strong and be strengthened in the mystery of God. God invites us into the mystery.
In the second parable, Jesus must really get their heads turning. Of those gathered that farmed the land, they have got to be thinking Jesus does not understand agriculture. The mustard plant could be invasive. The mustard plant was not wanted in the fields because it could spread rapidly and overtake other crops. The mustard seeds could be seen as those in society others have shunned. Each era of time has created their own outcasts. In Jesus’ time it would have been the gentiles, lepers, tax collectors, and many others.
We have made outcasts of those who we do not think fit into societal norms. We separate people based on race, financial well-being, anyone within the LGBTQ spectrum. And you know what Jesus is trying to say? The kingdom of God welcomes them all! There is no difference in the eyes of God. Everyone is created in the image of God to be loved as they are as God created them. This little mustard seed which can grown into a large shrub and invade fields can also be a shelter for other parts of God’s kingdom. These outcasts are made great! God does not cast out anyone. Humans are the ones who cast out, thinking they know better than God.
Too often we worry about what our neighbor is doing and do not stop to think about how our own actions may affect others. This is when we get stuck in our own vision instead of the greater vision of God which is far greater than we can ever imagine. Jesus teaches through parables to get people to think. We can be sure the people Jesus taught this parable to will not be able to get the image of the mustard seed out of their heads. It was a radical image.
Jesus invites us to let go of our control and accept his radicalness. It can be difficult to accept his radicalness because we think we need to do everything on our own. Jesus is present and is expecting us to ask for help and shows up in those around us when we least expect it. Are you looking for those that are growing and are you being open to growth yourself? Are you open to welcoming in those mustard seeds that have been cast out by others? Are you open to planting some mustard seeds to see what may take root and provide shelter and gain strength? In all of this, Jesus invited us to let go.
Letting go is a difficult task. When you have the vision laid out in front of you there can be reluctance in handing a project off to someone else. Jesus reveals to us in his parables that we do not have to do it on our own. The scattered seeds grow on their own with little effort on our part. Out of the earth, God’s very creation, the plant grows from seed to stalk, then head and full grain. The mystery of God flourishes in the seed and grows to provide an abundant harvest. As the mustard seed becomes a great shrub, Jesus turns an invasive plant into a refuge for the birds of the air. Jesus gives hope to the outcasts and instills a sense of trust for all. May you place your trust in God as you begin to let go of the struggles and challenges weighing you down. May you let go and let God.
June 6, 2021
Have you ever been involved in an intervention?
The occasion to help someone see the brokenness around them can be uncomfortable. Yet, it is also a reminder to the person they are loved and cared for deeply. An intervention is a useful tool to help a person come to terms with a particular challenge and acknowledge it instead of ignoring it. It is used in hope of getting someone to make a positive change in their life. When we think of interventions, our minds may go right away to substance abuse. Often, it is acknowledging that which has power over us. Jesus intervenes for us and goes right to the front line and does not back down.
One of my favorite sitcoms is How I Met Your Mother. The long running series follows four friends in their various struggles and challenges of life. It is a comedy and yet there are points of seriousness and even revelation. Throughout its nine seasons, they used interventions in both serious and absurd ways. An intervention was called for in countless episodes. On the serious side, they dealt with depression after the loss of a father, rushing into a relationship, and pushing to connect with a biological father. The absurd included the overuse of magic tricks, an obsession with spray tans, use of a fake British accent, and even an intervention for having too many interventions. A banner was even created so the person knew it was an intervention. While absurd at times, to see a group of friends help another friend acknowledge a challenge (even if it appeared silly), revealed they loved and cared for one another.
I bring up the notion of intervention because we read about one in the third chapter of Mark. The third chapter of Mark has Jesus’ family concerned. They want to shield him from any retaliation or harm those in authority may cause him. His family wants him to be careful. His family loves him and believes they are caring for him by showing such concern. This is not substance abuse we are talking about. There is a concern Jesus has lost his mind. He is speaking and teaching about things totally different from the current understanding of the Jewish people. He is turning everything upside down. It appears to Jesus’ family, he is deluded.
The authorities have something completely different in mind. The authorities seem to think he is demonic. Jesus is unlike any other prophets who have come before him, and the scribes simply do not know how to handle him. They attempt to handle him by discrediting him. A common tactic played out today in all areas of life.
The love and care of Jesus’ family means little to him at this point because they are the ones that are yet to fully understand. While the questioning of his family probably comes as no surprise to Jesus, there still must be a twinge of hurt. Think of those times you are trying to share something serious with your family and they write you off as being deluded. Jesus does not let us in on this concern if it is there. He is preparing to teach and knows exactly what he is doing.
We hear in Jesus’ dialogue what he stands for. He is seeking unity among God’s creation, and in his teaching, Jesus points out how a divided house or divided kingdom cannot stand on their own. And if Jesus is Beelzebul, how can he still be casting out demons like he has been doing? Satan, or the evil which exists, cannot stand when it is divided. Satan is the “strong man” in which Jesus refers. It is the strong man who is really doing the dividing and causing derision among the people of God. By Jesus healing the people of God and performing exorcisms, it prevents the evil from fully taking power.
It is Jesus who is in the fight for the world. By him being born as an infant, he is fully in the world and can tie up the “strong man” and perform healings, exorcisms, and many miracles. This is the good news of Jesus Christ. He has come into the world to confront our demons alongside us. When we do not let Jesus walk alongside us, we can get in trouble.
It can be difficult to acknowledge you are struggling and ask for help. We become independent and want to do everything on our own because we don’t want to show any sign of weakness. Yet, the “strong man” still attempts to get in and take control. The “strong man” can reveal itself to each of us in various ways. It could be through our own weakness of not wanting to ask for help. It could be in an addiction of one form or another. It could be in our own mental well-being.
This is no different from the people Jesus was teaching nearly two thousand years ago. His teaching stated so much, if a house or kingdom was divided it cannot stand on its own. I would say we can extend it to the individual. When we allow the “strong man” to confuse and misguide us, we cannot thrive. This is why Jesus is such good news! Jesus is in the fight for us. Jesus has gone to the front line and is not backing down. Jesus does not need anyone intervening on his behalf. Jesus is intervening for all of creation.
Through our baptisms, we invite Jesus into our lives to help us. Sometimes we forget the declaration at our baptisms, “you are marked with the cross of Christ forever”. We are gathered as friends and neighbors. Yet, more importantly, we are gathered as family. As we gather around Jesus and open ourselves with his teachings, we too are his sisters and brothers. How much different our community, the church, and the world could be if we all lived into Jesus’ vision of the family.
Mark’s Gospel begins Jesus’ ministry at a breakneck speed. We barely have time to stop and take a breath. As everything seems to be happening so fast, Jesus’ family wants to intervene for fear of his life. This is of no concern for Jesus. His concern lays with the communities and houses that are divided. Jesus is concerned for each and every one of you. Jesus comes to preach unity among the divided. These communities and houses are divided because they have entertained evil and let evil manipulate decisions and interactions. Jesus goes to the front lines for you to fight the strong man, as he calls it. Jesus brings light to the evil and hope for our future. Jesus embraces us as family.
May 30, 2021 Holy Trinity Sunday
Waking up on a January morning to the mist and fog lying over the rolling hills of Trappist, Kentucky was not a sight I anticipated. Being able to take a walk on the miles of trails was a blessing. To find myself contemplating and praying on such holy ground was surreal. This holy and sacred ground has continually been cared for by Trappist monks for over 170 years. The monks have lived, prayed, and worked together for nearly two centuries!
It was here, at the Abbey of Gethsemani, where I met Thomas Merton for the first time. Now, let me be clear, he had already been dead for over fifty years, but it was through his words and the feel of his presence where I came to appreciate his depth of spirituality and his many writings. I give thanks to Thomas Merton for drawing me into a deeper spiritual life and the desire to become a Spiritual Director. The writings of Thomas Merton explore a deep connection with God found in contemplation and prayer. Merton’s writings point to the unity of creation and how we are all one in Christ. I was thirsty for more and have since enjoyed engaging his many words.
Merton along with Richard Rohr are two modern examples I look to to as spiritual teachers. I was searching as I was preparing to go on my seminary internship later in the year. It was the writings and words of these great spiritual teachers which drew me deeper into the wonder of God and revealed the power of the Holy Trinity. I was encouraged to continue my searching and learning through the God I had seen revealed through their works.
Encountering Nicodemus in John’s gospel this time around brought a new profound awareness of what must have been going through his mind. He too was searching. He had seen something in Jesus and wanted to learn more. Nicodemus would have been in the temple in the scene prior to this selection from John. Nicodemus would have seen Jesus become angry with the money changers and merchants making a mockery of the Temple. He would have heard Jesus’ teaching and he was drawn in by his words and actions. Much like the disciples who were encouraged to drop whatever they were doing and follow Jesus.
Nicodemus’ action at Christ’s death in helping Joseph of Arimathea prepare his body for burial revealed his faith for all to see. Nicodemus, a Pharisee by training, would have been questioned in his support of Jesus. I believe it is this reason he came to Jesus in the darkness of the night. He did not want any of the other leaders in the temple to see he was intrigued by what Jesus had to teach. Yet, when he first comes to Jesus, he calls him Rabbi. Being called Rabbi was a sign of great respect and it showed he was willing to learn. He was searching and he believed Jesus had something greater to teach him beyond the Hebrew Scriptures. He knew what it meant to be a follower in the Jewish tradition, and he sought a greater insight from this teacher who turned tables over and spoke with authority.
I also find it interesting Nicodemus sought Jesus in the darkness of the night because all humans tend to do the same thing. Whenever embarrassed by what others may think or simply do not want others to know, actions take place in the dark. It could be the literal darkness of night or the darkness within our own homes where no one else can see. It could be something bad or it could be something good. Whenever we want to hide something, we place it in the dark confines of our lives.
Nicodemus, in his encounter with Jesus at night, wants to know more and begins a dialogue of what it means to be born anew. Nicodemus stumbles and fails to understand as Jesus begins to teach, yet he perseveres. Too often, when we fail to understand, we just nod our head and walk away. It is much easier when you are presented with concrete facts and knowledge. Because of this, it is easy to get tripped up in the parables of Jesus. The disciples did not get it right away either. Jesus had to share the same stories in multiple ways for them to fully understand what he was talking about. And when he referred to his death, they denied his words. It would take the resurrection for them to fully understand Jesus’ words prior to his death.
Many struggle with faith because they want facts. They want Jesus to come to them just like he appeared to the disciples in the closed room after his resurrection. To have faith, one must believe in those things in which there is no visible proof. As Christians, our faith has been built on two thousand years of teaching and testimony. The foundation of our faith is the words of scripture. For me, I can also point to the spiritual leaders in which I have developed a strong connection. They have taught me to see and experience God in new and exciting ways.
Jesus’ teaching to Nicodemus gives us insight into the Trinity. Speaking of God, Jesus tells of God’s love for the world, and it is because of this, Jesus is now present with us. Jesus is not present to condemn our struggles, challenges, or missteps. Jesus is present to redeem the world and restore God’s kindom here on earth. When it comes to the Spirit, Jesus speaks of the flesh and the Spirit. The flesh is those things of the world leading us astray. The material items of this life; love of money; desire to lift oneself up above all others. It is in the Spirit we are born anew in the waters of baptism and given new life. In the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we are promised an enduring and eternal life in God. In our searching, bits and pieces are revealed to us daily if we are willing to be observant.
It is easy for us to see signs of new life in these spring months. The months where everything comes into bloom and greens up. Yet, God is also always present in the dreariness of those winter months to lift us from our gloom. Take the time to stop and breath. Stop and breath in the wonder and mystery of the Triune God. Take the time to sit in prayer and ask for Jesus to join you in conversation. Be open to the mystery of the Holy Spirit and her guidance. Slowly, you will begin to feel the presence of the Triune God washing over you.
We are all on a journey. The question is, do you know where you are going? Surprisingly, the answer for most people is no. Getting caught up in daily tasks can stall the journey or appear to put it on hold. Yet, it continues whether we are aware or not. It is a dance. A dance with all our daily activities. There is give and take. Amid the dance, God is at work. The God we know as, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is a dance revealing life and the love of God. It is a dance inviting us to celebrate in all the gifts we have been given. Are you ready to join the dance?
May 23, 2021 (Pentecost Sunday)
Imagine the challenges of moving cross country. Perhaps you have done it yourself. Moving more than a thousand miles from your support system. From experience, we moved four hours away when I attended seminary and going from seeing family nearly daily to seeing them every few months was a challenge.
Sarah Thebarge took on such a challenge. Not only that, but she was also recovering from breast cancer treatments at the age of 27 and had recently broke up with her boyfriend. Sarah was looking for a fresh start and was eager to find such a new start in Portland, Oregon. She did not quite know what to expect in this move and was open to whatever may come her way. I believe the Spirit was at work when it brought Hadhi and Sarah together for the first time. A chance encounter on public transportation revealed their many differences. Hadhi, a Somalian Refugee and single mother of 5 girls, was having difficulties navigating her new American life. Sarah found herself present to help Hadhi’s family adjust. Hadhi and her daughters provided an opportunity for Sarah’s life to be transformed and find new meaning. In the barriers of language and cultural practices, the Spirit drew them together and they affirmed each other’s differences.[i]
On the Day of Pentecost, we recall the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples and all those gathered together. The Day of Pentecost was already remembered in the Jewish community as the Feast of Shavuot and originally marked the first harvest of the planting season. It would eventually become a day in the Jewish calendar when the Jewish people would remember Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. On this first Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the promise of Christ is fulfilled as an advocate is sent in the form of the Holy Spirit.
The Day of Pentecost reveals the differences among the people of God. The multiple languages spoken in the aftermath of the rush of the wind and the tongues of fire reveal a God working in the differences. It has been suggested Pentecost is a reversal of the Tower of Babel story. At the Tower of Babel, we are told in the Hebrew Scriptures, God separated the people and sent them off speaking in various languages. On Pentecost, they continue to speak in various languages, but now they are understanding one another. The Holy Spirit comes seeking unity, not uniformity.
Imagine if we were all the same across the globe. What a boring world it would be. We would not have the beauty of various languages nor the cultural practices found in each region around the world. The Holy Spirit has come so that we can affirm our differences and live into unity.
Pentecost is a call to action. It is not the beautiful, peaceful image of adoring the infant Jesus on Christmas Eve. It is not the glory found on Easter morning as we rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Pentecost comes in with the sound of a violent wind and fire resting upon all present. If you look at the flames of a fire, they can be unpredictable. Just when you think you are in the perfect spot to toast your marshmallow, the flames decide to shift. The Holy Spirit is much the same. The Holy Spirit invites us into the car, and we are encouraged to take the backseat and let the Spirit guide us. Pentecost and the Holy Spirit guides us out of our comfort zone and leads us to a scary place. A place where we proclaim the Good News! It is also a place where we meet one another in our differences as witnessed on the first Pentecost after the resurrection.
It can be difficult to sit down at the table when you do not agree with the person on the other side. This has happened throughout history as we have seen many splits within the Christian church and many denominations formed. In government, you have politicians doing all in their power just to suppress those thinking along different ideological lines. Instead of having conversations, we have press conferences denouncing one another. Churches dig their heels in and hold steadfast to tradition and push back on any inkling of change. This can result in being very insular.
As individuals, we can fall in the same traps. Why would I want to understand someone if they don’t think the same as me? In a society where wondering what is in it for oneself, is the first thing thought about, there is the notion that my way is the only way. On Pentecost, the Spirit has come to stir up all those misconstrued beliefs. The Holy Spirit comes to draw us together in our differences. The Holy Spirit invites us all to the same table.
Are you willing to let the Holy Spirit guide you to the table? The moment we begin to understand we are not in control it is like a relieve valve is turned and tension and pressure is released. The moment we say yes to the Holy Spirit taking the driver’s seat and begin to enjoy the ride, we open ourselves up to the divine mystery of God in our lives. It is in the divine mystery where new relationships are formed, and we begin to love our siblings for their differences.
A wind ripped through the crowd and garnered everyone’s attention.
What would it take to garner the attention of people today? Is it a pandemic bringing life to a standstill? A pandemic which has helped reveal issues existing beyond our personal boundaries affecting our siblings around the world. The movement of the Holy Spirit on the first Christian Pentecost fulfilled the promise of Jesus sending an advocate. The Holy Spirit is the advocate Jesus promised, guiding us in the truth and drawing us together in our differences. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit draws us out of our comfort zone by bringing us fully into the Light of Christ. Being in the Light of Christ, we are brought together in our differences to affirm one another and seek the kindom of God. May you let the Holy Spirit reveal the Light to you.
[i] Sarah Thebarge, The Invisible Girls, 2013.