Sunday is coming! “Moving from Power, Privilege and Prestige to Service” Mark 10:35-45

“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for the many.” (Mark 10:45)

Jesus told his disciples for the third time that he was on the way to Jerusalem to suffer and die (Mark 10:32-34). James and John reveal that they have no idea what Jesus is talking about by the conversation that ensues, because they are more focused on themselves and their status than what Jesus has promised he is about to do.

First, James and John demand Jesus do what they ask of him (Mark 10:35), treating Jesus as their subordinate.

Second, James and John ask for positions of power at his ‘right hand and left hand’ once Jesus ‘comes in to his glory’ (Mark 10:37). Even after all Jesus has done to heal the sick, cast out demons, forgive sinners, feed the hungry, love the poor, connect the outcast, rebuke the religious establishment, and teach about a different kind of kingdom of grace, mercy and peace; they still understood Jesus to be the one to overthrow their Roman occupiers, not as one who came to suffer and die at the hands of sinners for the sake of the world.

Third, James and John upset their fellow disciples for even making such a request of Jesus, clamoring for positions of privilege selfishly for themselves (Mark 10:41).

Jesus responds by telling them they have no idea what they are asking (Mark 10:40). While they are thinking of attaining power, privilege and prestige once Jesus establishes his authority; Jesus is preparing to drink the cup that is before him (see Mark 14:36); one that will lead to his death.

Jesus then reminds them (and us) what his mission is all about – selflessness, humility and service.

In this upside-down age Jesus is bringing to bear it will not be power, privilege and prestige that matter, but in how we live our lives for others. Power, privilege and prestige focus on what we can get from others whose purpose it is to give us what we seek and desire.

Jesus came not to be served but to serve. The way of Jesus is the way of service. Service offers our lives for the sake of others to make their lives better.

No one shows us how to serve selflessly with humility to live a life worth living for others better than Jesus does – and his greatest act for others is the cross.

Perhaps the ‘ransom’  Jesus offers by giving his life for the many (Mark 10:45) On the cross is not only salvation from sin and death, but also brings about our deliverance and liberation from only seeking to serve ourselves.  Jesus reminds us that a faith that lives in the here and now is focused on service to others – a truth we sometimes too easily forget as we long for the age to come.

What are some ways you could serve others; rather than looking on them to serve you?

What might this turn-around do within your relationships?

How could looking at the world for places you can serve – change you?

PGS

http://2baldpastors.com/sunday-is-coming-moving-from-power-privilege-and-prestige-to-service-mark-1035-45/

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“If I had $1Billion” (A Church you’ve been longing for: encourages high expectations while being rooted in grace) Mark 10:17-31

10/14/2018

Sermon on Mark 10:17-31
“If I had $1Billion”

A Church you’ve been longing for:                                                                        Encourages High Expectations
While Being Rooted in Grace

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

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Sunday is coming! “The richness of Grace” Mark 10:17-31

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘you lack one thing; go sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” (Mark 20:21-22)
 
In a capitalistic society like our own, one would expect disgust, dismissal or blatant laughing in Jesus’ face at his demand to sell everything and give it to the poor as a prerequisite to following him. It is easy to imagine this man shaking the dust of his designer suit, adjusting his fancy sunglasses, tie and slicked hair before chuckling to himself and getting back in his limousine to leave this loser behind. 
 
As fun as it is to imagine that scene unfolding, that is not the story Mark is telling. 
 
Mark tells us the man walks away “shocked and went away grieving for he had many possessions” (Mark 10:22).
 
This should tell us three things.
 
  1. This man actually wanted to follow Jesus. Why verbally spar with Jesus over the commandments if you weren’t serious about your faith life? His concern over living a righteous and abundant life (eternal life) – leaves one thinking that he was a true seeker. He was successful in life and now he was looking to live a meaningful one. There is a genuine, recognizable, endearing quality in this guy that moves us to like him, root for him and even see ourselves in him. We are him in many ways. On our best days, we want to make a positive difference in the world, but Jesus makes it harder (not easier) for us to do so by pointing out that our possessions and our wealth – hold us back from total devotion and humility. We are often too comfortable, and get in our own way of truly following Jesus with our whole heart, soul and mind. This interaction inspires reflection: What is holding you back from following Jesus?
  2. This conversation also reveals how enslaved by our consumerism we are. Would any of us actually give up “everything” to follow Jesus? We live in a culture that keeps us desiring the best things in the moment (even if we cannot afford them) and longing for more and more comfort and material goods. The disciples complain that they have “left everything” but still struggle. Perhaps there is some consolation in knowing we are in good company in wrestling with Jesus’ demands upon us while we try to make a living, provide for our families, share what we can and plan for the future as stewards of our finances. By inviting us to leave it behind and follow him, what kind if life is Jesus offering us to live?
  3. Salvation, discipleship and witness is impossible, but only if we seek to it for ourselves. The example Jesus gives of a camel passing through the eye of a needle reveals how outlandish a proposition it is to enter God’s kingdom on our own. But, Jesus insists, all things are possible for God (Mark 10:27). Ultimately this interaction with both the rich man and the disciples is a reminder of God’s undeserved mercy and grace. This invitation may come as shock and amazement to us, but Jesus offers it in love (Mark 10:21). Are you ready to trust in that love?
 
Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
PGS
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“When they throw the book at you” (A Church you’ve been longing for: knows hurt, loss & Love) Mark 10:2-16

10/07/2018

Sermon on Mark 10:2-16
“When they throw the book at you”

A church you’ve been longing for:
Knows hurt, loss & love

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

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Sunday is coming! “That terrible divorce text” Mark 10:2-16

“Because of your hardness of heart, he wrote this commandment for you.” (Mark 10:5)

Jesus comes across as a hardliner against divorce the first time one reads Mark 10:2-16. While the breakup of marriages is a painful reality for people both inside and outside the Christian community – it is worth a closer look to see what Jesus is up to in this conversation with the Pharisees. There is more going on underneath the surface than just divorce.

The conversation is about humanity’s “hardness of heart.”

The Pharisees come to Jesus with the question of divorce; not to get an answer – but to test him. Their hardness of heart will never accept who he is or what he has to offer, since they saw themselves as the authorities of both law and tradition. They reveal their hardness of heart by the callousness of their question, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (Mark 10:2). Women had very few (if any) rights in that culture, and if divorced, would be shamed, rejected with little to no prospects of survival. Divorce for a first century woman in Judea was a death sentence. The Pharisees were asking, “It is OK to just throw these worthless women away because it is legal, right?” Jesus exposes their hardness of heart in their question, not only in his response, but by the virtue that there are no women present or given voice in this encounter at all and Jesus advocates on their behalf.

The disciples also reveal their hardness of heart by shooing away the children when they approach Jesus. Even more vulnerable than women in that culture were children who were completely dependent on adults for survival. Infant and child mortality rates were high. Children were deemed worthless until they came of age and began contributing to the family. Children of divorced mothers were often rejected alongside the women, making them even more expendable.

So what does Jesus teach here?

Jesus acknowledges that divorce is a real part of the human experience, but we are not to be flippant or dismissive about it. We are to take our relationships – especially our families – very seriously. When families are broken-up (because of our hardness of hearts) creation itself mourns.

Jesus highlights partnership and equality by quoting Genesis 2:24. As we come to greater understandings of human sexuality and gender identity in both the life of the church and our wider society, Jesus’ exposes our hardness of heart by advocating the goodness of creation and worth of each person; especially those we so often overlook.

Jesus addressing the hardness of heart that leads to adultery. Unlike his contemporaries that only blamed women for adultery, Jesus extends the equality of our sinfulness to everyone. With that equality comes both the shared responsibility of our treasured relationships; the possibility for reconciliation; and the need for community when what was once “one flesh” is put asunder.

Jesus cares for the powerless by inviting the children to come to him. Just as women in the first century were extremely vulnerable (few if any rights, little opportunity); children were completely dependent. Jesus is highlighting his care and blessing for the least of these and inviting us to relate to people out of compassion, mercy, inclusion and love – not judgment, exclusion, shame and dismissal.

The way of Jesus is to go looking for the vulnerable and suffering; then value, embrace and bless them as Jesus does.

The church has a lousy track record when it comes to caring for people in the midst of family trauma, separations, break-ups and divorce. Too often the message has been judgment, shame and blame; not compassion, mercy, love and an embrace of blessing when we need it most.

We can do better.

An ongoing practice of faith is to repent of our own hardness of heart; trust in God’s forgiveness, and seek to see others as Jesus sees them.

Questions to keep wrestling with:

-How do we care for, support and include those who are preparing to enter into marriage?

-How do we care for, support and include those who celebrate their marriage?

-How do we care for, support and include those who struggle within their marriage?

-How do care for, support and include those who are in the process of separation or who have gone through divorce?

-How do we care for, support and include those who are, and will remain single?

-How do we care for, support and include people who are non-binary, LGBTQ+, and/or are still discovering who they are?

-How do we care for and support children who live in a variety of family arrangements – so that they can know the welcome and love of Jesus who blesses them, and a community that cherishes them?

PGS

(Thanks to my colleagues: Pastors Sarah Barnes, Dick Burgess, Daphne Burt, Scott Harris, Brett Hertzog-Betkoski and Mary Robinson for their insights prior to the composition of this post.)

http://2baldpastors.com/sunday-is-coming-that-terrible-divorce-text-mark-102-16/

Posted in 2 Bald Pastors, Sunday is Coming!

“Because Your Witness Matters” (A Church You’ve Been Longing for: Cultivates Care, Prayer, Healing & Openness) Mark 9:38-50

9/30/2018

Sermon on Mark 9:38-50
“Because your witness matters”

A Church You’ve Been Longing for:
Cultivates Care, Prayer, Healing & Openness

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

A few comments on this sermon by (me) the preacher:

First.

Thanks to my friend, colleague, and fellow Bald Pastor, Joe McGarry. I was struggling with this text all week and pulling together what I felt compelled to say in light of good news. After we had spoken on Saturday evening, my sermon took on greater clarity.

Thanks Joe.

Second.

I genuinely hope to not be a stumbling block for others.

After worship on Sunday morning a visitor confronted me in the line after worship for “taking sides” and handed me a note suggesting Dr. Ford may be lying about Judge Kavanaugh who they believe to be a wonderful human being. I did not specifically name or comment on either Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh. Watch and listen for yourself.

I can only guess that this was the section of the sermon that was deemed by this individual to be offensive (it starts around 11:50):

“…So, I didn’t watch the hearings this week. I didn’t. Mostly because I knew what was going to be said. You know the talking points. You know the political theater of it. You know the way people will respond to each other. So, I really didn’t watch it all that much. But the thing I did do is – I paid attention to those who were telling their stories – as individuals. Some are people I know. Some people I know peripherally. People that were posting online. People that were sharing in more conversational places. Places where they had been abused. And what that was like. The terror of that. And the shame of that – even though they have nothing to be ashamed of – but that’s the way it kind of happens in our culture.

There’s a lot of hurt there. A lot of hurt there.

I read that one in six women in America will experience some kind of sexual assault. (https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence)

I thought that was appalling. 

What do we do in our lives?  In our interactions? In our relationships? Where we can speak truth? Where we can listen to stories? Where we can care for each other?        Where we can get people the space to do that?

If you have ever been privileged with someone sharing that story with you, you know what a big deal that is – and the pain that goes along with it. 

It’s hard. Just like this passage — is hard.

But it matters.

It matters who we are in the world. It matters who we are together. It matters what Christ is doing among us. It matters that we can come as broken sinful people and leave as forgiven saints of God. It matters that we don’t have to have it all figured out yet, and yet we know the love of Christ reigns supreme.”

Third.

I am not hurt, offended or even puzzled by this reaction to me. Years ago, a stunt like this would at the very least have given me pause. On Sunday I saw it more as indicative of these divided times in which we live where everyone has an answer to a question before it is even asked; with talking points supplied by our favorite pundits.

I knew what I said and didn’t say on Sunday about the wider issue of sexual assault. I also know what I did and didn’t say about the hearing in particular. Some could argue I did not go far enough or say enough or even be present enough for those in the room who may have survived such an attack or know someone they care about that had gone through it.  I question if I conveyed the appropriate response by the church is to listen, care and support people in their trauma; rather than dismiss it, gloss over it or pretend it never happened.

If you have been sexually assaulted by another person, I believe you.

I believe the church needs to be a safe place for people to share their pain if we are to help people in a healing process. If standing up for people to share their stories is a stumbling block to some; that is an unfortunate commentary on the state of the way people are choosing to relate (or not relate) to one another. We’ll all have a lot of stubbed toes if we are going to do the work of the church together.

What saddens me about this reaction on Sunday morning is that it reflects perfectly who we have become as a society: people that only seek to affirm our already held biases and assumptions. This is exactly the stumbling block Jesus warns against, and these stumbling blocks are holding us captive by our fear and hatred of the other. That rage keeps us from meeting each other in our pain and struggles. In the meantime real human beings suffer. What this person was going through or carrying with them Sunday morning, I’ll probably never know. That doesn’t mean we should remain silent. What we can hope for (I hope for) is that in the work we do together as the church – Christ will break through the dividing walls between us as promised (Ephesians 2:14).

What I do know is that the personal stories that are the most difficult to share and the hardest for us to acknowledge – are the ones that cry out the loudest for us to hear them.

Please do.

Because your witness matters.

PGS

Posted in 2 Bald Pastors, Discovery, Faith Everyday, on Gospel of Mark, Sermons | Tagged , ,

Sunday is coming! “An Appalling Passage” Mark 9:38-50

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off…” (Mark 9:42-43a)

Stated simply, these words of Jesus are appalling. They conjure up thoughts of medieval torture chambers, cruelty doled out today by warlords in places of political turmoil and/or imagined dystopian futures where totalitarian regimes oppress the people in a world gone haywire.

Cutting off flesh as tribute and a consequence for one’s wrongdoing as a painful (and shameful) reminder of transgression justifies our call for vengeance, punishment and dehumanization of wrongdoers when we feel hurt and betrayed. Even though we live in what we believe to be a more enlightened and sophisticated age than ancient times, we still believe in ‘an eye for an eye’ (or worse) retributive justice even though Jesus rejects that concept in favor of non-violent resistance, love and prayer (Matthew 5:38-48).

To understand what Jesus is talking about; more context helps.

Jesus is still holding the child introduced in Mark 9:37, while talking about not putting stumbling blocks in front of “little ones” in Mark 9:42-48. This passage is a continuation of Mark 9:30-37, where Jesus told his disciples he would be betrayed, suffer, die and be raised, that to be first means to be last and servant of all, and that to welcome a child, is to welcome Jesus and the one who sent him.

I don’t believe Jesus is literally prescribing self-mutilation or imposing brutality as  the consequences of our sin. He is however, raising the stakes for what it means to care for the most vulnerable among us – especially children.

Perhaps such vivid hyperbole can stir us out of complacency to all the suffering in the world around us. Jesus asks, “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?” (Mark 6:50)

Where are the most vulnerable near you? Can you see them?

You’ll find Jesus with the least of these. Don’t get in your own way as a stumbling block to welcome and care for them. Keep your saltiness and spice up the world around you.

And please, please, please take good care of your body, so you can serve well. 🙂

PGS

http://2baldpastors.com/sunday-is-coming-an-appalling-passage-mark-938-50/

Posted in 2 Bald Pastors, Sunday is Coming!