Tag Archives: Sermon

Can Jeff Bezos inherit eternal life?

Mark 10:17-31

As Jesus 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?” (Read the whole passage)

We have just come through Thanksgiving, a time to celebrate the end of the harvest, time of abundance before the scarcity of winter. A time of rest following the hard work of keeping and tilling the land and animals through spring and summer. 

Most of us don’t orient our lives according to nature’s seasons. We are far removed from the subsistence lifestyle… we don’t depend on our own hands to grow our own food. 

And it is of course, still important for us to remember where our Canadian society came from and to give thanks that there are those who still do provide our basic needs… yet, how we do that by hosting a fancy meal for ourselves is a good question. 

Thanksgiving is a holiday that survives mostly on tradition, but as we take the time to give thanks each year and to reflect on our own blessings… we might discover an uneasiness with our wealth and possessions much like the rich young ruler in the story we hear today. 

Sometimes we can forget where the famous sayings of our language come from, and today we are reminded. As Jesus speaks with this wealthy young man and challenges him to give up his possessions, we hear familiar sayings. “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven” and “The first shall be last and the last shall be first”. 

Jesus seems to be coming down hard on the rich today. And this might make us uncomfortable. We know that we are the world’s wealthy. Anyone with an income over 34,000 is in the top 5% of income earners on the planet. And Jesus says that if you are rich, it will not be easy for you to enter the Kingdom of God. That means most of us. Ouch. 

But for those who have been here week after week listening to a difficult year of Mark’s gospel, where Jesus has been uncharacteristically harsh, calling people dogs, or Satan, or telling them they would be better off dead or that they have hard hearts…

Jesus might just be letting us off the hook for our particular wealth today. 

This story about the encounter between the rich young ruler and Jesus is all about absurdities. So let’s put it into modern terms so the point can be made. 

Extremely wealthy folks are often in the news these days. The world’s wealthiest person  Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is in the news for deciding to pay his employees a minimum of $15 an hour, yet also planning to open 3000 cashier-less retail stores because what better way is there to add to 156Billion in personal wealth than owning 3000 stores that don’t need staff… wealth carries power and prestige in our world, just as in Jesus’ world. 

And what do the extremely wealthy have to do with today’s story? Well, when we hear about this young man coming to Jesus, we aren’t meant to think of a nice young middle manager at the bank. We are meant to imagine someone like Jeff Bezos pulling up to Jesus in an expensive sports car with loud base booming in the air long before you can see the car and that neon glow coming from underneath. And then Jeff steps out to ask this wandering, near homeless street preacher named Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

It is easy to get bogged down in Jesus’ criticism of the rich… which may be warranted. But the point is not to hear Jesus criticizing us for trying to be faithful citizens, spouses, employees, and parents by providing for our families. 

We are meant to see the absurdity of someone as rich a Jeff Bezos thinking he has fulfilled all the rules of righteousness and done enough to get himself into heaven. 

The point isn’t the problem of heaving a certain amount of money or having possessions. The problem is thinking that being rich is a blessing from God. 

When the rich young man walks away from Jesus unable to give up his possessions in order follow Jesus, the disciples want to know what is up too. 

And that is because like our world, they live in a world that thinks being rich is a blessing from God. They have been taught that being rich and wealthy and healthy is a sign of God’s favour. Just like so many of us have heard on TV or from pulpits or from well meaning friends and relatives. Our world thinks that God is in heaven dolling out the cash to the good people and suffering to the bad. That’s until we see a person who is rich but not a good person. or we see a good person struck by illness or tragedy. And then we wonder what is going on with God. 

Over the past month, I have been humbled to attend the deathbeds of a few people. Some have been people I know, others have been complete strangers. 

Attending to the beside of a person who is dying is moment where all other things in the world stand still. Where all of life and death is contained in small hospital bed with close family and friends. 

In those situations it is my practice to pray the commendation for the dying, or what used to be known as last rites. 

In the commendation, a section of the litany goes like this:

By your holy incarnation,
deliver your servant. 

By your cross and passion, 
deliver your servant. 

By your precious death and burial,
deliver your servant. 

By your glorious resurrection and ascension,
deliver your servant. 

By the coming of the Holy Spirit,
deliver your servant. 

You will notice that we don’t pray:

By all the money he made in this life,
deliver your servant.

By all the good things he did,
deliver your servant. 

By all the rules he followed and commandments he kept,
deliver your servant. 

When all there is is a hospital bed, and a ventilator and tearful loved ones – 

money, rules and good deeds don’t mean a thing. 

And this is what Jesus is trying to make the rich young man understand. A camel could never pass through the eye of a needle. And even a rich man cannot enter heaven by his own effort. 

Rich or poor. 
Healthy or ill. 
Sinner or saint. 

The only way we get into heaven is by God’s mercy. 

The only way the Kingdom of God is opened to us, is because Jesus died on the cross for us. 

The only person who earns our salvation is God. 

God is the one who does the work. 

We do not inherit or earn or achieve eternal life. 

God gives it to us. 

Jesus accomplishes it for us.

And maybe, just maybe that is what Jesus means when he says the first shall be last and the last shall be first. 

Those who are relying on their own righteousness, their own goodness, their own faithfulness, their own achievements, their own riches and health and wealth, those who are relying on those things to get themselves into heaven will be incredibly surprised when they find out none of that stuff mattered. They might go from feeling first to feeling last. 

But those who feel like sinners, like wretches, like unworthy and unloveable people. Those who know that they don’t measure up, that they aren’t good enough, or powerful enough, or important enough, or rich enough, or pious enough for God to show them mercy… won’t they be shocked when they find out that none of that stuff mattered. That God gives grace and mercy even to them. They might feel like they have gone from last to first. 

We might feel like we have gone from last to first… because we have. 

Because, thanks be to God regardless of our blessings, possessions, wealth or lack thereof, God has decided to give us mercy, to show us grace, to grant us eternal life through Jesus.

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There is no greatest nor least

Mark 9:30-37

Jesus and his disciples 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 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.” (Read the whole passage)

We are well into this second part of the the long season of green… We have been winding our way through Mark’s gospel since May and the deeper we get, the more frustrating the disciples become. Today, they come off looking rather petty, like kids in the school yard at recess fighting over who is the king of the playground castle.

Of course we know that this isn’t just a play ground debate, we also recognize this debate about who is the greatest from the nightly news… especially as election season is upon us and one particular unavoidable politician who cannot help but tell us how tremendously great he is, unbelievably great.

But for people of faith, the scene between Jesus and the disciples today is about deeper things than self-aggrandizement and we know it. We know that this uncomfortable exchange between the disciples and Jesus has something to say about us too and about what it means for us to follow Jesus… or at least we are going to find that out.

The debate over who is the greatest is the memorable moment of the story today, but it is something that is repeated from last week which sets everything off. Jesus is talking about dying again. Last week Peter couldn’t abide it and took Jesus aside to rebuke him. This angered Jesus who the called Peter ‘Satan.’ This week, Jesus is talking about dying again but the disciples do not understand and are afraid to ask.

This point is important to keep in mind during the rest of the story. Because the disciples cannot understand what Jesus means when he says he will die and be raised three days later, they begin to focus on something trivial and manageable… they start arguing over who is the greatest. They are arguing over something they feel can control, something that seems to be quantifiable, a topic they think they can contribute to… all to distract from the fact that they didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about before and they were afraid to ask – remember what happened to Peter last week when he spoke up.

The question of who is the greatest among them is an idea they can manage… unlike the notion that Jesus has come into this world to be betrayed and die, only to rise again in 3 days. The little trivial matter is easier to talk about when the big issue, the big question makes them feel scared and powerless and insignificant.

And so they argue, they debate, they make passionate cases for who among them is the greatest… and probably they feel like they are achieving something as they travelled down the road to Capernaum. That is until Jesus hears them and sits them down for a talking to.

The disciples are doing something that we know well as human beings and especially as church folk. We know how to focus on the small trivial matters in order to avoid the big questions and bigger issues just like the disciples do.

Many of us have been to that church council meeting where the minute details of fixing a leaky sink or buying hot dog buns for the church barbecue or haggling over $10 item lines in a budget of 10s of thousands take up the bulk of time and energy….while questions of what it means to be disciples or how to follow Jesus in our community or how to encourage members growing in faith are met with silence and blank stares.

We naturally grab onto the small things, the things that feel manageable, the things that we can argue and debate and discuss… because the big questions of faith and mission and life… they sit like weights on our chests making our heats beat with anxiety when we think about them too much, let alone when we talk about them.

And so we end up sounding like the disciples, we end up arguing about who is the greatest because we are too afraid to ask about what it means for us that Jesus is betrayed, killed and raised three days later.

And we end up debating the little things like the annoyance of Sunday sports and shopping, grumbling about those who have drifted away and left us with the work, arguing over who is the blame for the decline of congregational resources and attendance… because we are too afraid to ask what it means for us that we are in this state, and what is God saying to us about being the church in this time of struggle.

So as we grumble along the way, on the road from where we were to where we are going… Jesus finally overhears us, stops us and sits us down – just as he did with the disciples.

To the disciples he says, whoever wants to be first must be last. Or in other words, all this stuff you are arguing about doesn’t mean a thing…it doesn’t mean a thing in the Kingdom of God.

And then as Jesus picks up a child and sets them in his lap, he says, “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

But it isn’t some kind of moral lesson to the disciples… Jesus is in fact making a point about all that stuff he first said about dying and rising.

Because who is doing the welcoming? Who is holding the child in his lap? And who is it in baptism that declares to be children of God.

We aren’t the welcomers. We are the children.

God is the one welcoming us.

Jesus is reminding the disciples that they don’t need to be the greatest to understand what Jesus is up to in the world. Because in the Kingdom of God there is no first and last, no greatest and no least. We are all God’s children, and for us Jesus has come into the world. Jesus has come to die with us, to die with a dying creation. Yet, three days later Jesus shows us that death is not the end. And because Jesus rises from the tomb, we rise with the God of New Life on the third day.

The disciples don’t need to understand what it all means for Jesus to be betrayed, to die and to rise again… that isn’t their job. Rather Jesus tells them that he has come to bring them into the Kingdom, he comes to walk along side them, to let them see, hear and feel the Word of God among them… the Word made flesh.

And for all the things that we grab hold of to distract from the bigger issues of faith and life… they don’t matter in the Kingdom either. Because God will continue doing what God has always done for us. Whether it be when we thought we knew what God was up to with full churches and strong attendance and budgets we could meet or whether it is now when none of those things seem to be the case.

God continues to give us the Word of forgiveness and mercy week after week.

God continues to welcome us as God’s own as we are washed and renamed beloved.

God continues to gives us bread to eat and fill our hearts, so that we might become the bread that God uses to feed the world.

It has never been up to us to understand how the Kingdom works, or to have all the answers or to be saviours.

It is up to God.

And God is coming to us, coming to little ones such as these,

in the person of Jesus who dies and rises again,

coming to us again and again in Word and Sacrament,

signs of God welcome for us, signs that remind us that we are neither the greatest nor the least in the Kingdom, we are God’s beloved children.

Rebuking Peter – Giving Up Humanity

Mark 8:27-38

…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!… (read the whole passage)

 

This is the halfway point of Mark’s gospel. The end of chapter 8 with 8 more chapters to go… and Jesus is taking a moment to see what his disciples have actually learned so far. And as we continue through Mark’s Gospel it won’t get any easier. Not that Mark is ever really easy on us during this long season of Green… yet as we head into the home stretch of the season, the challenge to what it means to be disciple will only get more pointed with Mark as he asks what it means to give up our lives for the sake of the gospel.

Jesus ask his disciples a question that is both normal and odd. Normal because we all want to know what others think of us. Odd because it should be obvious given what we have heard about Jesus so far. What are people saying about me? Who do they say that I am?

And Peter steps up, as usual, to speak for the group. He knows what people have been saying, “Elijah, John the Baptist or a prophet.”

Then the real question comes, who do you say that I am?

“You are the Messiah” Peter says, sounding like he passes the test. 

But within moments, Jesus is calling Peter “Satan”, and telling Peter to leave the circle of disciples.

What happened?

Peter doesn’t actually get it, even though it seems he passed the test just moments before.

Peter is living in a crisis… a crisis of identity and purpose. He didn’t really pass the test and he doesn’t really know who Jesus really is or what Jesus is doing in the world. You see, when Jesus asks the question, Peter knows all the answers, he knows what all the people out there are saying, which means he has been listening and trying to figure out Jesus is for himself. And when Peter says that Jesus is the Messiah, it is hardly a specific answer. The people of Israel have many different and varied understandings of who the Messiah actually was. The judges who were the first protestors of Israel followed by Kings. But then also foreign conquering kings had been called Messiahs, and prophets like Elijah, but also the suffering servant of Isaiah’s prophecy, and of course recently John the Baptist. Peter doesn’t give a conclusive answer to Jesus’ question. 

Yet, the fact that Peter (and the other disciples) don’t have a specific answer really points to the fact that they don’t really know what is coming next for Jesus and them. So when Jesus tells them what comes next – that Jesus is going to suffer and die at the hands of the chief priests and elders – Peter doesn’t like that idea at all. He might not have a specific idea about who the Messiah is, but knows Jesus’ idea isn’t his vision of following the Messiah. 

And so when Peter rebukes Jesus for his silly ideas about dying, Jesus turns his back on Peter… sends him out of the group, away from the community. Now, Peter is back and part of the group only two verses later… so what is Jesus really banishing from the circle? Peter’s self-concern and vision of discipleship. Peter doesn’t want Jesus to talk about dying… Peter is thinking about himself, how he can continue up the mountain towards the goal as Jesus’ disciple. 

In fact, it is up a real mountain, the mountain of Transfiguration, that Jesus and Peter are about to go, where Peter will want to build an altar and stay believing he has finally arrived at the pinnacle of discipleship. And again Peter will miss the point and not fully understanding what comes next. 

As readers of Mark’s gospel today, we share in common a few things with the first readers of his gospel nearly 2000 years ago. Mark was writing to a community of Christians for whom their visions and hopes for what they would become were not realized. It had been about 30 years since the crucifixion and resurrection. The early church community eagerly awaited the return of Jesus, yet the first witnesses were beginning to die off. The ones who remembered Jesus first hand were getting to be fewer and fewer. The community was beginning to wonder, what comes next? If Jesus wasn’t going to return any day now, what were they to do?

We might not be waiting for return of Jesus any day, but we too are at a moment for Christians where we don’t know what to do next. Our hopes and dreams for the future have not been realized, and if this is where Jesus is taking us… we might want to rebuke him too. 

We surely don’t like the idea of giving up our lives for the sake of the gospel… we have been waiting for a return to the mountain top, for a seat back at the table of power, to be important and respected in the world again… taking up a cross and giving up our lives does not sound like what we have been waiting for as Christians in North America, Lutherans in Manitoba, a Shared Ministry in the Interlake. 

We are as confused and frustrated as Peter is about who Jesus is and what is means to be followers of his. And we just want know what comes next for us. 

Yet as Jesus banished Peter’s self-concern… Jesus is also stripping us of all the things we think are part of the vision of discipleship, numbers and power, in order to get us to see what is really coming next. 

Peter wants to hold on to vision of grandeur, discipleship that comes with perks… but Jesus is giving things up, giving everything up, giving up his very life for the mission. 

Because the thing is, Jesus has come to offer Peter so much more than a home on the mountain top or a place of power and influence or the adoration of the crowds. Jesus is coming to give Peter, the disciples, the people of Israel and all of creation new life. 

If only Peter could get over himself and his vision to see it. But he doesn’t. Peter gets rebuked by Jesus today, only to be rebuked again on the mountain of transfiguration and then again at the Last Supper and then even again after the resurrection. 

But it isn’t just Peter, no one gets it for the rest of the gospel of Mark. The Gospel ends with the women fleeing the empty tomb and telling no one because they were afraid. 

No one gets what Jesus is doing… and just maybe that is what Jesus is coming to understand. We aren’t able to let go of our visions for ourselves, we aren’t able to stop dreaming of the numbers and the power and then importance. We aren’t able to get out of our own way. We hold on to that stuff at all costs. 

And so Jesus gives it all up for us… Jesus gives up all power and importance for the sake of love, in order to come near to creation, in order to come close to us. And Jesus gives us up too. 

Jesus comes down to us in order to give us up. 

To give up our sin and suffering and death because we cannot. 

To give us up to new life. 

To give us up to God. 

To give up on our old sinful selves, in order to make us the new creations that God intended. 

For those who lose their lives for my sake… will save it. 

Jesus tries to send away Peter and his self-concern, his holding on to the wrong things. But Jesus can’t… because that is not who Jesus is… Jesus is THE Messiah, the one who has come to save… to save us by giving us up to God. 

And so when Peter doesn’t know what is coming next and doesn’t like what Jesus has in mind, and when we don’t know and don’t like what Jesus has in mind for us either…

Jesus goes ahead with us anyways. And Jesus  goes to the cross for us anyways… and Jesus transforms us anyways, from sinners into forgiven, and from dead into alive. 

Jesus doesn’t Peter twisting in the wind, even if Peter doesn’t like what is coming. And nor does Jesus leave us twisting in the wind, even if we don’t like where we are these days.

Because Jesus does know who he is and Jesus knows who we are. 

And Jesus does know what comes next for us…  New Life in the Kingdom of God. 

Jesus Crossing all the Boundaries

Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” He went with him.

 …But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”…

…He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about… (Read the whole passage)

Last week, Jesus crossed the sea of Galilee with his disciples. As a storm blew upon them, the frightened disciples worried about a sleeping Jesus in the boat. But Jesus woke up, calmed the storm and wondered what the fuss was all about. 

Before returning across the lake to the point in the story we heard today, Jesus went to gentile territory. There Jesus found a demon possessed man loving with the pigs. Jesus conversed with the demon called Legion and Jesus exorcized the demon from the man. In the short trip Jesus crossed the boundaries of Gentile and Jew by crossing into Gentile territory, clean and unclean remembering that pigs are unclean animals to Jews, and of the normal and supernatural world by talking to a demon. 

In just that quick trip across the lake, Jesus showed that the boundaries most people observe, don’t scare him. 

And today, when Jesus lands back on the Jewish side of the sea of Galilee, the boundaries have been crossed and the rules broken. There is no going back now. 

Today, it is first Jairus who eschews social norms to throw himself at the feet of Jesus to beg for healing. Jairus, an upstanding leader in the synagogue, begging a wandering preacher for mercy for his sick daughter. 

And then the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years breaks nearly every rule imaginable to get access to Jesus. 

As Jesus responds to these two very different requests for healing, it can feel like one story jammed into another. Jairus and his dying daughter, and the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. It can even feel disjointed and a bit like an interruption… in fact, Jesus starts to seem like a traveling medi-clinic. A place for the sick to go for healing, a source of power for those in need. But as we heard earlier in Mark, Jesus has not come to be miracle healer, but to preach the kingdom of God coming near. 

So what are these two stories of healing all about, if Jesus claims to be in the business of preaching the kingdom? Well, this story inside a story is not really about healing. Or rather, the healings are only the first details of what Jesus is up to. 

When Jesus arrives on the shore of Galilee, Jairus, a leader in the synagogue throws himself at Jesus’ feet and begs for help for his sick daughter. Jairus an important community leader, who would usually have a servant for errands like this, comes to Jesus directly. Jairus who should have considered Jesus an equal, if not subordinate, throws himself at Jesus’ feet. Jairus who should have requested, commanded, or ordered Jesus to help, begs. He begs immediately and without shame. In desperation, Jairus breaks the rules of what a man in his position should behave like. 

And then there is the bleeding woman. The woman who had been poked and prodded by doctors to no avail. The woman who had been suffering for 12 years in an unclean and impure state. The woman who is not allowed to be in public, or to touch others, especially men. The woman who has no voice and no advocate. The woman who pushes into the crowd and the who steals a healing without even asking Jesus. In her desperation, this woman crosses the boundaries of what polite and proper people should be and do.  

It is easy to gloss over these images of Jairus and the bleeding woman. It is easy to see no problem with a persons of prominence and authority throwing themselves at Jesus feet. No problem with the weak and powerless reaching for the fringe of Jesus cloak. 

But would it seem normal for the pastor or council members to throw themselves at the feet of the next motivational Christian speaker to come through town? Would we think it was alright for a street person, dirty, smelly and covered in sores and oozing wounds to push her way through the communion line to receive a blessing first?

No, we would not be okay with these things. They don’t follow the right order of things. We live a world with rules and boundaries, we define ourselves by those boundaries. 

We define each other by where we work, by what we drive, by the houses and homes we live in, by the clothes we wear, by the committees we serve on and the ways we involve ourselves in the community. We even know which pews belong to whom and where we like to sit week after week. 

Our worlds make sense when we can define the boundaries, when we follow the rules. We like knowing where others belong, so that we can know where we belong. We like defining the order of our families, and of our communities. We know who is first and who is last, and we like that knowing this gives us security, power and control. Our world is much easier to manage when there are rules and boundaries to keep things orderly.

And yet we also know that the rules and boundaries don’t always serve us. We know that sometimes people end up places where the rules push them down and grind them into the ground. We know that the boundaries can become walls, keeping people out and in the darkness, isolated and alone. 

The rules and the boundaries that we live by, that we hold onto so that we can feel safe and secure… can also hurt and exclude and we know it, because sometimes we are the ones being pushed down and we are the one stuck on the outside. 

But Jesus has this habit of doing things and going places that we cannot. Calming storms and talking to demons.  

Jesus crosses the boundaries and breaks the rules. 

Jesus crosses the boundaries and breaks the rules because Jesus wants to bring God close, the Kingdom of God near. 

As the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years crosses every social boundary imaginable and steals a miracle from Jesus, and as Jesus himself is not quite sure what has happened, Jesus’ demands to know who has touched him. We would expect that Jesus would have condemned and scolded this woman, but instead he stops to hear her story. And then he joins her. Joins her on the other side of the crossed boundary. She isn’t supposed to be out in public or touching people as a an unclean sinner… no one but family that is. And so Jesus steps out of the public space and into a familiar one… “Daughter” he calls the woman. Jesus makes her a member of his family, a person whom he can be close to even if she is unclean. “Your faith has made you well.” And then blesses her. By crossing the boundary, and breaking the rules, Jesus gives this woman the first bit of care and compassion, of healing and wholeness she has known in 12 years. And it wasn’t by healing her of her bleeding, but by joining her in her isolation. 

And then Jesus continues on to Jairus’s home, and he enters despite the news of the little girl’s death. The waiting crowds tell him not to enter… they know the boundary that has come to this place.

And yet having just crossed boundaries to heal the woman bleeding for 12 years, perhaps Jesus is inspired to keep going. To keep crossing boundaries. He comes near to a sick person, a possibly dead person, and intrudes on a grieving family. 

But Jesus knows that the little girl will rise. 

Because Jesus is going to cross another boundary to join this little girl, this second daughter that he meets today. 

Jesus crosses the uncrossable. 

Jesus reaches across death and brings the little girl back to life. 

Jesus crosses the boundary of death. 

Jesus also crosses the boundary of resurrection and new life. 

And we saw it coming all along, because we know that story already. We tell it every week. 

For you see, for all of our rules as human beings, we keep telling the story of God in Christ who breaks the rules. 

Christ who gives forgiveness even though it is undeserved. 

Christ who washes in the waters of baptism even though we are unclean. 

Christ who brings peace even though there is conflict. 

Christ who makes us one even though we are many. 

For you see, for all of the boundaries that hem us in, we keep telling the story of God in Christ who crosses the boundaries and joins us where we thought God should NOT come. 

Christ joins us as the incarnate God, born into creation. 

Christ comes to us in the Word of God, spoken through human voices and heard with human ears. 

Christ becomes us in the bread and wine, and we become Christ in Body and Blood. 

Christ gathers us together from every nation and tribe and corner of the earth. 

Crossing boundaries and breaking the rules shouldn’t be a new or surprising thing for us, because almost from the very moment we gather until we are sent out, God is doing just that in, through and with us. 

God is crossing boundaries and breaking rules in order to name us as daughters and sons, making us part of God’s family, bringing the kingdom near to us. 

No matter how much we love rules and cling to boundaries, God will always be willing to break and cross them, in order to love us more. 

The Kingdom Growing Like A Weed

Today’s sermon is a guest sermon from Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker, who you can find on twitter @ReedmanParker:

GOSPEL: Mark 4:26-34

  …3[Jesus] also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

 

Parables. Those ever elusive illustrations that Jesus used throughout his ministry to teach people about God and God’s kingdom. These simple stories often begin in the same way: “The kingdom of God is like…” and use a variety of literary devices to get the point across including charm, humour and exaggeration. Jesus liked parables – a lot! There are 40 parables recorded in the bible. Which means there were probably more that were never recorded in the big book of our faith. Jesus’ stories from every day life made what he was saying accessible to his audience. At the same times, parables are also a little like riddles, it takes some time to figure them out!

Today we encounter not one, but two parables about the growing, sprouting, spreading of the Kingdom of God. Living in an agrarian and agricultural culture, it makes sense that Jesus would use illustrations and imagery that would be familiar to his audience: the sower and the seed make sense.

But I’m not convinced that these parables are as accessible as they once were. And it’s possible, if Jesus were here with us, he might not talk about scattering or sowing seeds.

If Jesus were here with us, he might say that the kingdom of God is like a video that goes viral…  

We are all familiar with youtube, and what it means for something to go viral, right?

Whether it is a clip from a famous movie, to a stunt that a group of kids are performing in the back yard, or a recipe video. 

Going viral is when a video that is posted on the internet is widely shared, or spread through internet sites such as youtube, social media like twitter and facebook or over email. 

I’m not talking about malicious viruses that invade our computers or videos that are posted on the internet in order to harm or defame others… What I am talking about is how technology has transformed the ways in which we communicate with one another and how we are able to spread and share information all over the world with the click of a button – actually, we don’t even use buttons anymore now that we have touch screens…

Which brings me back to that little mustard seed… not so unlike that unsuspecting video that makes it way onto youtube and before you know it, it’s being featured on the nightly news, or your inbox is filled with video clips of the awe inspiring and the humorous moments of life.

For Jesus to compare the kingdom of God to a mustard seed seems a little strange, who’s ever heard of anyone wanting a mustard tree? – PAUSE – after some research on the topic, it turns out, not too many people.  In the ancient near east very few people would go out of their way to plant mustard because it is very hard to control. You know the saying, it grows like a weed? That sums up mustard. Once it gets into the ground, its spreads and takes over entire plots of land. Jesus’ comparison would be akin to saying the kingdom of God is like a dandelion. Not too many people like dandelions precisely because they are incredibly difficult to control. We try to contain them… get rid of them… but they keep coming back: growing and spreading and showing up in the most unexpected and unwanted of places. Who wants that?

As it turns out, God does. 

The message and meaning of the parable is this: There is an incredible growth of God’s reign in the world. We can talk about the incredible growth of God’s reign in a person’s life, in our own lives. The focus of the parable is growth, explosive growth, enormous growth. Each parable has a unique contribution to make to our understanding of the reign of God, and this parable focuses on the incredible growth that is part of the reign of God. *

God’s love… God’s reign in the world is growing like a weed. 

God wants our lives and our faith to grow and spread in much the same way: uncontrolled, unruly and unaffected by any limits or controls we might be tempted to place on it. – And we do get tempted! We don’t like weeds. For starters, they are not very pretty. Not to mention, they are impossible to tame and grow when and where we want!

In the church, we tend to confuse God’s kingdom with the church, which can quickly become our kingdom. And we tend to see growth only from a numeric point of view. How much, how many, how often? 

That’s NOT what Jesus is talking about. In this parable, Jesus is pointing out that the way God’s kingdom… God’s Word… God’s will grows in our hearts and souls and minds… in our whole beings. 

Jesus is describing that the way God’s kingdom will grow, will not be in the ways we expect. In fact, it will be in the most unexpected and even undesired ways that the seed is planted, grows and spreads to far reaches that on our own we never could have imagined. 

Most of the time, when something is posted, the person who has posted it has no idea whether or not it will get 5 hits – you know, from your parents and grandparents and your best friend – or 5 million hits. But what you do know, is that it is scattered out there in the world, waiting to sprout and grow in ways we do not yet know.

And the key to growth? Scattering seed with wild abandon. The key to growth is a willingness to risk failure. That’s right, in order to risk growth of any kind, we must first be willing to fail. 

One thing we know from the scriptures about the Kingdom of God, is that it is not dependant on our getting it right – or even getting it at all – even the 12 disciples get extra help when they don’t understand.

In God’s kingdom seeds are sown… faith grows out of those seeds… those small, seemingly insignificant seeds that are scattered in the richest soil and within the rockiest and seemingly inhospitable ground and left to grow. Somehow, those seeds, our faith, sprouts, grows –  not because of anything we do, but through what God in Jesus is doing through us.


http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_seed_growing_automatically_GA.htm Accessed June 16, 2012. 

 

A Divided House Broken and Shed for the World

Mark 3:20-35

” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. (Read the whole passage)

 

It is only the second week into this long season of green, and Mark is giving us some unusual stuff. We don’t often remind each other of that story from the gospel when Jesus’ family thought he was nuts and tried to drag him away.

Now, of course, last week we heard the story of Jesus’ healing a mean with a withered hand on the sabbath. An action which enraged the pharisees so much that they began plotting to destroy him. 

And so as we explore this next interaction between Jesus and the people around him, it is probably helpful to remember that Mark might be intending us to see the extreme behaviour or reactions… the Pharisees who plot to destroy Jesus followed by family who think Jesus is crazy. 

Mark invites us to reconsider again and again just what Jesus is up to in the world, and who Jesus is, often by acknowledging our own extreme responses to God’s call to follow. 

Mark uses the structure of the story to make a point. We begin and end with the crowds. The unwashed, poor, unclean and desperate crowds are pushing in on Jesus and his disciples. They are looking for something, someone to give them good news.  And by the end, Jesus names those same crowds as his brothers, sisters and mothers. 

Inside of the bookends of the crowds, Jesus’ family comes to take him away because he is out of his mind. And just before the last mention of the crowds, we are reminded that Jesus family is desperate to get him away, to end their shame and embarrassment at what Jesus is doing. 

And finally the scribes sit in the inner sections of the story. They claim that Jesus has a demon. And Jesus rebukes the scribes for trying to control the actions of the spirit. 

So the order of the story goes: Crowds>family> scribes. Scribes<family<crowds. And right in the middle, Jesus gives us this strange image of Satan’s house. A house divided cannot stand. Satan’s house divided cannot stand. Satan’s house is not divided. Satan’s house, the strongman’s house, IS the undivided house.

A house divided cannot stand.

As Jesus’ family attempts to restrain him and as the scribes declare that Jesus is acting with a possessed spirit, Jesus speaks about the human search for normalcy and conformity. Conformity is often touted as unity, and yet when we consider what it often takes to achieve a unified community with no outward divisions, it is not a healthy community. Unity often required totalitarian leadership, speaking with one mind and voice requires that most people bend and twist themselves into the vision and view of another.  It is the house of the strong man that cannot stand if divided, therefore the strong man’s standing house is not divided. 

Yet, Jesus is here to tie up the strong man and plunder his house.

Jesus speaks to the crowds, his family and the scribes who all believe that they have the world figured out and that they have God figured out. 

The crowds know that they are on the outside of God’s love, unclean and inadmissible to the temple. Unable to make sacrifice in order to received God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Jesus’ family knows that family unity is essential to the Hebrew faith. They know that Jesus’ actions will not only reflect badly on him, but will bring shame to the whole family. They will lose standing in the community. 

The scribes know they are part of the religious authority. They know that because they have kept the law that they are permitted to make judgements about who is clean and unclean, who us righteous and who is unrighteous.

Jesus speaks to these groups who believe they have it all figured out and turns their whole world, their whole understanding of God on its head. 

Jesus tells all of them that they are wrong. 

Like the crowds, Jesus’ family and scribes, we so often think we have things figured out.  Whether we think like the scribes, that we can determine where God begins and ends and make judgements about who is outside of God, or like Jesus’ family that we need to keep from being shamed and embarrassed or like the crowds that we are too sinful for God to possibly love us. 

Jesus hears all of that and turns it on his it head. Jesus challenges our assumptions, challenges our claim to be the arbitrators of God’s love and declares a completely different reality. 

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”

Whatever we think we have figured out, whatever understanding of God’s activity in the world we claim to have Jesus tells the crowds, tells his family, tells the scribes and tells us that it is opposite of what we think. God is usually doing things very differently than we imagine. 

A house divided cannot stand. 

Yet God’s house, divided for 2000 years, continues to stand. 

It has stood despite our inability to agree. It has stood because the Church has been full of people who thought differently. 

God’s house stands divided because it is able to hold within it the differences that we bear as the Body of Christ. God’s house stands because even when we cannot hold our differences between us, God can. 

God’s house stands because it stands on Christ. 

Satan’s house is the undivided house. 

But Christ, who ties up the strong man and plunders Satan’s house, is our foundation. 

God’s house stands divided between the many members of the body, the many members who serve and live in different ways, the many members whose different gifts are used in different ways, the many members who are each chosen and loved by God. 

God’s house stands divided, as the Body of Christ broken and given for the world, as the Blood of christ shed and poured out for a world in need of forgiveness. 

Just as we are all guilty of same eternal sin, of the same original sin, of wanting to be God in God’s place, of standing in judgement of others. Just as we are guilty, like the crowds, family and scribes of standing in Judgement of Christ. Jesus is declaring a new reality. 

A reality where people will be forgiven for their sins. 

The Body of Christ, the House of God, stands broken and divided in the world. And today, Jesus reminds us, that it is not by agreeing or finding unity that we stand. In fact, Jesus reminds us that it is Satan’s house that stands undivided.  

Rather, Jesus declares today that God’s house divided and broken house stands only by God’s forgiveness. God’s house stands only by God’s stubborn insistence that we are all brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. God’s house stands only by the turning of our world upside down.

A house divided cannot stand. 

Yet, God’s house, broken and divided stands here. 

God’s church stands because of the many members gathered together in the waters of Baptism, waters that erode and split away our unity with sin and death. 

God’s people stand because of the the Gospel Word proclaimed in our midst that divides us from all the things that we cling to that are not of God. 

God’s Body gathered in Christ kneels together in order to be broken and shed for the world, so that grace and mercy can be seen and known by a divided and scattered world. 

God’s house is the divided and broken house, the house with cracks and rifts because of the light and mercy of God bursting out in as a sign of God’s promise of new life given for us. 

Better than investigating the mysteries of the Trinity

John 3:1-17
There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”…
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Read the whole passage)

We last heard the story of Nicodemus back in January. As part of our trial through the Narrative Lectionary we heard his story in the lead up Lent, and his confusion was one we resonated with. Jesus is being especially confusing in his conversation with Nicodemus. And today is no different, but we hear this story again for a different reason. We hear it for its connection to the feast day that we celebrate today, and the way this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus speaks about God. 

Holy Trinity Sunday is a celebration a thousand years old… as the church tried to reign in the heresies taught by earlier missionaries to newly conquered peoples in Northern Europe, bishops of these northern kingdoms ordered the celebration of Trinity Sunday in order spread right belief.

And since then, the practice has stuck. So once a year, on the Sunday after Pentecost, just before we begin six months of green Sundays in order to hear the teachings and parables of Jesus, we remind ourselves what good and proper Christians believe. 

And we believe in the Trinity – God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Co-equal, co-eternal, all of one being, yet distinct persons. But not divided by identity or purpose, instead all of the same essence, all of the same God. Three in one, one in three – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  

Simple right? 

Now you can all explain the proper, orthodox understanding of the Trinity?

Maybe you aren’t ready to teach a Sunday School class on the Trinity just yet? Well in fact, most of the things we teach about the Trinity are wrong, especially those children’s sermons where the pastor pulls out water in 3 states, or a pie or an apple in order to explain how God is one yet three. Usually what ends up being taught it one of the many heresies of the early church. 

In fact, the only thing that might be completely reliable about Trinitarian doctrine is as soon as you try to teach it, you are likely to become a heretic. 

And so you might wonder, why does the church set aside one Sunday each year to talk about this doctrine describing God rather than tell the stories of God and God’s people and God in Christ like we do all the other Sundays. Why do we have a day that is supposed to be for making us believe the right things, where we so often we end up teaching the wrong things? Why observe this Sunday at all and not stick to the regular program that we know and trust?

Trinity Sunday feels like it leaves us with this murky, mysterious, hard to explain doctrine of the church. The one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

And yet, some of the haziness and fogginess of our understanding of the Trinity just maybe says more about what it means to live out this Trinitarian faith – this Christian Faith, than a solid definition of the Trinity. Because the challenge in understanding Trinity feels a lot like the challenge of trying to make sense of what it means to be a part of this mysterious and confusing family we call the Church. Just like we know that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all of the same God, we might not be very clear on just how it is that these three pieces come together into one God. And in the same way we know that we are are brothers and sisters in faith, and that our little community at Good Shepherd is just one part of a larger Body of Christ, we might not be clear on just how it is that we all come together into one Church.

In fact, most days we probably wonder just what is God doing with us… and why is the business of faith so rife with uncertainty.

Perhaps it is fitting here (at Good Shepherd), one part of the Interlake Regional Shared Ministry, that we observe and celebrate Trinity Sunday today. Perhaps our understating and clarity around Trinity feels pretty similar to our understanding and clarity about our future… in particular about the announcement (your pastor) made last week regarding the call to serve the shared ministry. Already we have been journeying towards something we that we do not fully understand and that we are not sure of. Coming together with 4 other congregations to share pastors and how all of that is going to work between 5 points, one full time pastor, one half time pastor and one supply pastor for the time being. 

As if that wasn’t enough, my announcement that I am not taking the call to serve the shared ministry and rather beginning a search for another call actually means that I am going to technically remain the pastor of Good Shepherd a little longer than we thought. Yet… I am still in the end going to be serving as the regional pastor… but in an interim capacity. And all of that is compounded by a new search for a candidate whom God is calling to this new ministry, while I search for what God is calling me to next. 

If we thought Trinity was confusing… just try understanding the Interlake Regional Shared Ministry for a few minutes.

So maybe struggling to understand Trinity for 2000 years has really just been practice for trying to understand just what God is up to with us at any given moment. 

Or maybe… just maybe, understanding isn’t what this is all about. Nicodemus didn’t leave the conversation with Jesus today seeming to understand any more than when he first showed up. 

Yet, Jesus reminded him of something important… and in the midst of all the confusion of Trinity and the Interlake Regional Shared Ministry, the reminder is the same for us. 

Here in this place, the things that we do understand and know and trust will remain the same.

God still continues to gather us as the Body of Christ – the Church. 
God continues to hear our confessions while offering us mercy and forgiveness. 
God continues to open our hearts and minds to hear the word, the Good News of Jesus Christ. 
God continues to stir our hearts to faith because of that same good news. 
God continues to bind us together in prayer and peace.
God continues to welcome us to the table of the Lord – the communion of the saints where we share in the feast of heaven. 
God continues to offer us Christ’s very Body in order that we might become that which we eat –  bread for the life of the world. 
And God continues to send us out transformed and renewed to be workers in the Kingdom. 

And all of that happens because of the God who has named and claimed us in Baptism, the risen Christ who has shown us the way to new life, Jesus who meets us here week after week. 

Whether or not we understand the Trinity and whether or not we know just what is going to happen to us as a congregation and fledgling new ministry in the Interlake, God’s promise to us remains… ‘how’ it all works is not really for us to worry about. God is assuring us that here, among this community and family of faith, that the things we need are still given – that Jesus continues to meet us here in Word and Sacrament. 

As Martin Luther’s right hand, Philip Melanchthon wrote about the Trinity, 

“We adore the mysteries of the Godhead. That is better than to investigate them.”

Or in other words, better than understanding the Trinity and how it all works, is to gather together in worship and communion as the Body of Christ. 

And the Mysterious Triune God who calls and gathers us together will do there rest. The Trinity will continue to bring us into New Life, found in Christ.