Weekly Lessons and Sermon
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always
acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Salt and Sins
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I couldn’t believe it…
That today’s Gospel story ended with this discussion of Salt.
I shared last week that I had been unwell, and the doctors were working to figure out the problem.
Well the problem… was Salt.
Or: a lack of salt…
It turns out, my episodes are related to my naturally LOW blood pressure.
And the remedy:
I’m supposed to eat A LOT of it.
So personally, this Gospel reading seemed quite fitting.
But I also might be JUST a little too close to this salt metaphor to dig into it today.
And there’s also MUCH more here than just the discussion of salt.
There’s actually a whole lot of discussion on Sin:
And tearing, and breaking, worms and hell.
Lots of scary stuff.
So…While I promise to eat more salt:
We really do need to talk about all of this other stuff.
When we read all three of today’s readings:
It’s clear that this doesn’t seem to be a good day for anyone in any of these stories.
This doesn’t seem to be a good day for anyone in any of our scripture readings today.
Moses is mad at the Israelites:
And what an unexpected description we’re given of Moses!
Imagine him standing before God, with his hands on his hips, and huge headache saying:
“why do you treat your servant so badly?
Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me?
Did I give birth to them? If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once!”
We see Moses today, not as the brave, fearless leader we’ve come to remember him as.
Instead, we see him as the real struggling human that he actually was.
Someone who is so frustrated, that he’s ready to totally give up.
God does deal with Moses’ problem.
But he doesn’t just say, “fine. Here’s some meat.”
No: God has Moses gather the elders so that they might learn to share some of the responsibility of leading the Israelites.
It seemed like a fine idea,
But once again human nature blinded people’s eyes.
Remember: God took some of Moses’ spirit and placed it on the gathered elders, who then prophesied.
But there were two men:
Eldad and Medad,
Who stayed in the camp.
They too received part of Moses’ spirit and they too prophesied:
Which caused a jealous outburst from the elders.
They seem to be saying, “Who let them in our club?”
Moses is frustrated, and he fervently wishes that all God’s people would be filled with God’s spirit.
In the New Testament reading,
We heard James: Like Moses,
Being very direct with his readers.
He lets them (and us) know that God is ultimately in charge.
Evidently his readers were acting very much like us:
Planning their lives to suit themselves regardless of how their lives affected others.
“Do not speak evil against one another…do not judge others.”
He warns them that riches will rot and that the poor will cry out against any of those who would harm them.
Someone who knows the right thing to do and doesn’t do it, commits a sin.
James makes us squirm: Maybe even more than Moses did:
Because he points to a real human reality that we all have experienced.
And then finally:
When we think we’ve heard quite enough:
Jesus lays out the problem and the solution in very clear terms.
Today’s Gospel reading starts in a VERY similar way that the Old Testament story ended.
A member of the “inner circle” or “the club”
Was put out because someone outside that circle was also able to use one of God’s gifts,
And evidently without the “right” credentials.
Both Moses and Jesus were faced with the same problem:
Their followers just didn’t get it.
They didn’t get that what was offered to them:
Is offered to everyone.
That it wasn’t an exclusive club.
What the people in Moses’ time,
The people in James’ time,
And the people in Jesus’ time didn’t get was what it means to be a part of the “people of God.”
In any age, being a part of the people of God means taking upon oneself a certain lifestyle:
A certain set of principles,
The responsibility to live a certain way in community with others.
It means looking always towards God and ones neighbor:
And not toward oneself.
In Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus talks about this lifestyle he calls it “the Kingdom of God.”
And this kingdom of God wasn’t something to wait for:
It was becoming a part of their lives right then.
Living in this kingdom means taking a whole different view of what it means to be successful.
In his letter, James firmly scolds those who aren’t living as the people of God ought to live.
He lays their sins right in front of them and offers them an ultimatum.
Jesus, too, uses some pretty harsh images to shake people up:
To remind them that sin is serious, and the consequence of sin is being cut of from God: much as a hand can be cut off from the body.
But Jesus doesn’t leave us to think about the effects of sin:
He offers us an alternative. And it’s a quite simple one.
In last week’s Gospel,
Jesus picked up a little child and said,
“whoever welcomes a child in my name, welcomes me;
And anyone who welcomes me, welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Today, it might strike us as a charming thing for Jesus to do when he uses a child as an image:
In that age, though, it was remarkable.
In Jesus’ time, Children had no status at all.
They represented the lowest of the low:
Not only the materially poor:
But the spiritually poor as well.
And here Jesus was forcing the adults to rearrange their thinking.
He was forcing them to understand that unless they allowed themselves to go back to being as simple and innocent as children:
Unless they began to accept ALL of God’s people as part of their community:
Unless they began to live as if they really understood that the kingdom of God was in their midst,
They were in danger of falling into serious sin.
But we don’t really want to talk about sin, do we?
It’s distasteful to us:
So we tend to ignore it.
But… It’s PART of us:
And if we ignore it, we’re kidding ourselves.
So what do we do?
What can we learn from the lessons we have heard today?
As we think about it:
Moses was dealing with a disgruntled and ungrateful people, and perhaps basically, with the sins of pride and elitism.
James laid out a whole list of sins he observed in the lives of his readers.
We could certainly find something that we too have done in that list.
But we can’t stop with the lists.
We have to look to the Gospel to put the issue into perspective:
To help us know how to begin dealing with our sinfulness--
Because in this life, no matter what anyone says, we aren’t going to get it completely right.
We can, as Jesus says, “Become like little children.”
Children: who are certainly not perfect:
Who stumble along and make mistakes, but are open enough to learn more about the world and how to walk around in it.
We too can become like little children:
We can be open enough that God’s word might still teach us something.
We can be secure enough in our faith that our relationships with others:
Even those very different from ourselves, will enrich us rather than intimidate us and cause us to shut others out.
The secret is in understanding what Jesus’ disciples were missing in today’s Gospel:
That the Kingdom of God is here among us.
Unlike those disciples, we know the rest of the story as Mark tells it:
Right down to the glorious resurrection.
So we shouldn’t be surprised to hear that the kingdom is among us still.
What we need to do is keep remembering to live with each other.
After all, that’s why we come to church and read the Bible together in the first place:
To help each other remember what it means to live the life of God in the world.
Disciples Don't Understand
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
For much of Christian history:
being identified as a “disciple of Jesus” has been considered high praise.
It is, after all: What we strive to be:
We WANT to be disciples of Jesus in the world.
And in Jesus’ time:
The disciples were the hand picked group of followers:
Who lived, learned, and labored alongside Jesus.
They were commissioned to heal the sick, baptize people:
And proclaim the Good News of God in Christ to the ends of the earth.
But when we look closely:
We see that the Scripture does not always portray the disciples with such glamor and reverence.
In today’s Gospel:
Jesus takes the disciples aside to teach them that he will soon be given over to human hands:
That he will suffer, die, and rise again.
And the disciples just don’t get it.
It’s very similar to what we heard last week:
Unable to understand that Jesus must suffer and die.
Marks’ Gospel tells of Jesus trying to teach the disciples this important lesson:
On three different occasions.
And EVERY TIME: The disciples don’t get it.
They’re concerned with other things.
Like which one of them is the greatest:
And what the people in town thought about them:
And what they’re going to eat for lunch.
And they argue about it.
Not only do the disciples not understand:
They’re also too afraid to ask Jesus any questions about his bizarre teaching of his suffering, death, and resurrection.
Hindsight is 20-20:
Because we can look at the disciples:
And see their failure:
And even be annoyed at their lack of understanding.
Because we KNOW the end of the story.
Yet how often are we guilty of the same thing?
How often are we afraid to ask a question because we think we should know the answer:
Or because we’re afraid our question is stupid:
Or even because we’re afraid of the answer?
Maybe the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus a question:
Because they should have been paying better attention.
Or maybe they were afraid because they thought Jesus would think they were ignorant.
Or MAYBE: They were afraid to ask because somewhere:
Deep Down: They already knew the terrifying answer.
Jesus said, “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.”
I wish that Mark would tell us about the expressions on the disciples faces:
When they heard Jesus speak these words.
Mark doesn’t tell us about any gasps, or horrified stares:
He only says: “They did not understand what he was saying,
And were afraid to ask him.”
We can guess, that the disciples feared the fate of their friend and leader.
Each of them had left their families:
And their livelihoods:
To join the task of following Jesus.
Naturally: Hearing that Jesus expects to be arrested and killed:
Never mind the bit about rising from the dead--
All comes as quite a shock to the disciples.
But what if there was another reason that the disciples were afraid?
What if, along with the fear about what would happen to Jesus:
They were also afraid of what would happen to them?
After all: If JESUS:
Their Leader is arrested and killed,
Surely his closest followers would come under scrutiny as well.
Maybe the root of the disciples’ fear is the fact that they actually were beginning to understand.
Maybe they were beginning to realize what the true cost of discipleship is.
In a world where wealth is good: but more wealth is better:
Where consumerism is the king:
And where our worth is measured by what we have,
Rather than what we give:
The cost of discipleship is hard news that many would prefer not to hear.
But it is also GOOD news that we desperately need to hear.
There was a lot of press a few years ago,
About the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Jonathan Daniels.
Episcopalians from around the world, gathered in Alabama:
To remember the man who was killed during the height of the Civil Rights movement in 1965.
Jonathan Daniels: Was basically martyred:
After pushing an African American teenager named Ruby Sales:
Out of harms way, when the two walked into a corner store.
They were met by an angry man: pointing a loaded shotgun at them.
For Jonathan Daniels:
The cost of discipleship was his very life.
And as the disciples began to process their fear about what Jesus was teaching them:
Maybe they were beginning to realize the heavy cost that discipleship would place on their own lives.
These are, of course, extreme cases.
But they also show us the true fact that we can’t confess the faith of Jesus crucified, and resurrected:
Without coming to terms with the reality that discipleship puts on us.
It Costs us something.
For some of us, it may cost us what is popular.
For others, it may cost us our comfort zones:
Still others, it may even cost us a friend.
It’s easier to just listen to Jesus’ hard teaching about suffering, death, and resurrection:
And continue on:
Without asking any questions: As if nothing had ever happened.
It may be easier: To continue on the road to Capernaum:
Arguing with each other about who is the greatest:
Instead of facing the hard reality of what is to come:
Where the one who wants to be first must be the last of all:
And the servant of all.
But deep down in our bones:
Just carrying on: As if this Jesus stuff is nothing:
Will leave us hungry.
The path of discipleship is HARD.
It leads us through suffering:
And even death.
It may cost us dearly.
But its good news and blessings are even greater:
As we discover the path takes us away from fear:
Away from arguing:
Into uniting, supportive friendships.
As the Eucharistic prayer says:
Out of error, into truth:
Out of sin, into righteousness:
Out of death and into resurrected life.
Who Do You Say That I am?
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
A number of years ago,
Nicolas Sparks wrote a book called the Notebook.
Its popularity increased as it was adapted for a movie.
The story is a love story:
About a couple—with the wife dealing with Alzheimer’s disease.
She lives in a care facility, and her husband visits her regularly:
Always with a notebook in hand.
The husband reads from his notebook:
A series of flashbacks:
From when they were young:
Reading their love story over and over again:
In the hopes that his wife will remember some of it.
Many can relate to this story.
The love story.
Or even those who have loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
The wife in the story does not remember who she is,
And so the husband reminds her over and over again.
He tells her who she is, and who they are together.
Their story is important, not only to her, but to him.
It gives them meaning and purpose in the midst of tragedy.
How often do we need to be reminded of our own stories?
As we continue to grow and change as people faced with a variety of circumstances:
We can lose sight of our true selves:
And we need to be reminded of who we really are.
In today’s Gospel: We hear a lot of things that we hear in the season of lent:
Actually, this is the same story that we heard on the 2nd Sunday of Lent this year.
Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer.
Then he will be killed.
And after three days, rise from the dead.
Jesus knows his own story,
And he does not make excuses about it.
In fact, Mark tells us that:
“He said all this quite openly.”
Jesus understood his belonging in God’s story:
And all that that would mean.
Later, he asks his disciples, the crowd, and ultimately us:
Two very important questions:
“Why would people gain the whole world, but lose their lives?
What will people give in exchange for their lives?”
One biblical translation called “The message” puts it in this way:
What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you:
The REAL you?
What could you ever trade your soul for?”
Jesus wants to know our stories:
Wants our stories to be a part of HIS story.
And the answers to these questions reveal who we truly are:
And what we believe about our stories and identities.
The answers to those questions also reveal who we believe Jesus is.
Do we believe in the story that he tells?
The Jesus that Peter says is the Messiah?
Do we believe in the Jesus that will be rejected by so many:
And left to die on a cross, only to be resurrected?
Do we really believe all of these stories?
Do we believe in the ministry of suffering and self-sacrifice?
It’s a tough one.
Either Jesus is crazy:
A con man:
What he says is TRUE.
In your own life:
If Jesus were to look at you and ask,
“Who do you say that I am?”
How would you respond?
If someone were to ask you who you are:
What story would you tell?
One could interpret Jesus’ words today as saying:
“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead.
Don’t run from suffering. Follow me, and I’ll show you.”
“Don’t set your mind on merely human things:
Follow me: And I’ll show you the Divine things that are a part of you.”
This is a different message than what we hear from the world around us:
And even from our human nature that seeks to avoid pain at all costs.
God is calling us into a different way:
To be a part of a different story than the one the world is telling us.
The same is happening in the book of James today:
When James warns us about the words we speak:
How damaging our words can be if we’re not careful.
And that what we say: And HOW we say it:
Reflects our faith:
And ultimately, our very self.
What we say:
Reflects WHO we are.
God is asking us to offer our whole selves:
Our time, our talents, our treasures:
And especially our sufferings.
And to trust that we will be led into a more meaningful life than what we could come up with ourselves.
Flannery O’Connor, An American writer put it this way:
“Just being who you are, not justifying or apologizing
it sounds so easy.
It’s a life work not to get caught in producing, performing, proving:
keeping accounts of indebtedness,
waiting for gratitude, reward, ambition:
manipulation, staggering self-pity.
but cultivating: the habit of being.”
It is cultivating a habit of being:
That tells God’s story:
And Hearing it echo in our own.
It’s cultivating a habit of being:
That is able to just be:
To be where we are:
In all joy, in all suffering.
It’s cultivating a habit of being:
To be not only who we are called to be:
But to remember who we really ARE.
And like the couple in The Notebook,
May we remind each other of God’s story:
God’s LOVE story to us:
And to the whole entire world.
May we remember the love story that isn’t even over yet:
The story that is ongoing:
And even when we lose our way:
To have the courage to keep writing the story:
Bit by bit:
As we remember who we really are.
God Can Take It
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