Monday, December 31, 2012

It's Good to be King

 Matthew 2:1-12 describes Herod as king of his world; he reigns for his personal benefit. His power and influence spanned nearly a half century during which time he continued to build the great temple which pleased the Jews and the Romans, who were content that all was calm during his reign.

In a real sense Herod and Israel conspired together as they both pursued their common interests in which religious and political motives intermingled.   Each “scratched each other's back,” and bowed before legislative and religious laws. Despite more than “passing interest” in reports of a Messiah's birth, the chief priests and scribes and Herod turned a blind eye to what had happened.

 Both were unwilling to relinquish their world and accept the possibility that the Messiah has been born. It was more convenient if this was not true and they could keep their good thing going for a while longer.

While the Magi are not insiders, they were a force to be reckoned with, and not readily dismissed. Their arrival was more than a nuisance; it was an “international event”… the status quo was not prepared (willing) to accept the glory of God's heavenly kingdom whose power was love as opposed to Herod’s love of power....not now; maybe later; they had a good thing going and didn’t need another king much less a Messiah to spoil it.

Do we sometimes yearn for God’s Kingdom, while finding it hard to leave our comfort zone? After all, Herod’s kingdom was comfortable for the insiders who played the game. Is there a piece of Herod’s kingdom that resides in each of us?


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

We Need a Little Christmas Right This Very Minute


The news of 20 children and 6 adults whose lives were ended all too soon in an elementary school in Connecticut make it difficult to put words on paper right now.  The dashed hopes and fears of children and parents are more than we can process; It’s tempting to turn away to shield ourselves from the horror.

“How many things have we become used to in the course of the years, of the weeks, and months so that we stand un-shocked, unstirred and inwardly unmoved?  Advent is a time when we ought to be shaken and brought to a realization of ourselves.” So wrote Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest, awaiting execution for being accused a traitor by the Nazis in 1945. Then, the great Advent question is when do we awake from our sleep and complacency?

The tragic events of the last 2 months make it clear that we are unable to muddle through alone. It’s no secret that we find it necessary to turn to one another. Isn’t this what God wants for us? In many ways we, like the virgin, nurture our fertile soil as we absorb our pain and suffering and that of those around us, and give birth to Christ as we share his love with one another.

Henri Nouwen writes that Elizabeth and Mary, as models for the Christian community, were filled with hope. Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled but fulfilled according to His will and not according to our wishes. The Christian community is the place where we keep that hope alive among us. He tells us that we need to wait together like Elizabeth and Mary to be present to one another; to keep each other at home spiritually so that when the Word comes it can become flesh and have a whole new life in us.

Perhaps the words of David Steindl-Rast make it possible to understand how what began in Bethlehem two thousand years ago can apply to today’s recent tragic events: “By focusing our human efforts on cultivating tender connections and caring relationships we can give birth to a world conceived by the Holy Ghost.”

Our readings are in Luke 1:39-45(46-55)



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A "Dear John Letter" for Advent

Dear John,

Come on now! This is no way to usher in Christmas or as we now feel the need to call it, the Holiday Season. This is a time for cinnamon-flavored mull wine; the aroma of cranberry-scented candles and cute little Santa Claus Christmas (there’s that word again) cards. John, we’re not used to being told that our reasons for celebrating Advent is shallow. We’re not used to being called names like brood of vipers…(now that’s pretty nasty talk even for a kid from Brooklyn like me!)  We are not used to hearing that we are called to sacrifice in this Holiday Season (okay Advent), and not over-indulge after all it’s Christmas and “it only comes once a year.”

John, if you want to be helpful you might want to consider giving us some practical tips on how to prepare for Advent... like how to avoid Holiday weight gain, or how much we should tip the postman and letter carrier. Never mind grateful reflection on God’s goodness in being born in us again and again. Never mind, it’s God’s gift that transforms us and changes our lives…not now please. I’ve got to decorate the house…brood of vipers…give me a break!

Thank you,

You know who I am
Luke 3:7-18

Luke 3:7-18

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Our Time in the Desert

Adversity can play a key role in honing our ability to hear what is beyond the usual scope of our ordinary consciousness. Facing stressful challenges outside the norm of our usual experience can heighten our awareness of events that otherwise would go unnoticed.

“Samuel Johnson put it “Depend upon it sir, when a man knows he is about to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” It is precisely for such clarity and insight that people seek out desert experiences such as solitary retreats, in which we step away from many of the usual supports of life, family, friends, familiar surroundings and routine, in order to be open to God’s call.

Unlike John-the-Baptist in Luke 3:1-6 , we don’t always get a chance to choose our desert times and places. They sometimes are provided for us in the form of illness, change in employment, failures in relationships, death of a loved one and even, natural disasters. These deserts all hold new possibilities for hearing the word of God at ever deepening levels.

 In past month much of our conversations here in Monmouth County NJ have been focused on the ravages of Hurricane Sandy. In recent weeks our Bible Study and Men’s Group have referred to having had our “spiritual nerves” more sensitized and “closer to the top”.

We, God knows, didn’t choose Sandy but the environment around us shifted as the ocean’s surge and its deluge paradoxically created our desert and the opportunity to let our spiritual ears tune in to God’s voice, through our displaced neighbors near and far.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

As we continue to absorb and be absorbed by the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, it’s quite remarkable that this Sunday's Gospel (Luke 21:35-36) calls us to stand up straight, expectantly, with our heads raised and our hearts watchful. As people of faith we are called to assume a posture of hope in the face of despair. It strikes me that to do so must be an act of determined will, for it runs contrary to our most basic instincts. It’s so hard to comprehend the promise that is meant for us beyond all that is described. It is difficult to believe that there will be anything more than what we can now see.
How is it that we can stand with our heads raised in hope in the face of suffering and despair?
Perhaps our willingness to stand up and be seen and heard in a world that is shaking all around us, and our walking into our own suffering and the suffering of others, is where it all begins? Maybe when we step into the large and small heartbreaks of those who are in pain, we will meet Jesus. For that is where Jesus can always be found: waiting in the midst of the pain to somehow show us the way to new hope and new joy and new life.

And once we've done that for a lifetime and experienced the gifts of God in such unexpected places over and over again, maybe that’s when Jesus does return --- whether it is only to me at the end of my life or to us all at the end of this age? I guess we won't be able to keep ourselves from lifting up our heads in hope to see our redemption drawing near! Because we will have already encountered the source of that redemption in Jesus over and over again!
(adapted from Dancing with the Word, Rev. Janet Hunt)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Peace I Leave With You My Peace I Give Unto You...

What happens when our personal “structures” are reduced to rubble? For many of us who live here on the coasts of New Jersey and New York, Mark 13:1-8 has become a reality. Hurricane Sandy has enabled us to witness an apocalyptic time: the collapse of what we had; what we valued; what we took for granted.  Can we say “everything will be all right” without it sounding like an ingratiating platitude? Embedded in the rubble can we hear what God is trying to say to us? How do we trust in the Holy Spirit when we are too cold to listen, too frightened to hear?  What can we learn from the despair in the faces of our brothers and sisters? Perhaps Jesus is telling us in Mark to Pull together in these hard times. This is how you get through. I’ll be with you too, and I will show you the way. Things will get difficult, but stick together and remember what is important in life – to love one another

In the words of John Powell:
 There have been quite a few times when I have felt the winds of God’s grace in the sails of my small boat. Sometimes these graces have moved me in pleasant and sunlit directions. At other times the requested acts of love were born in the darkness of struggle and suffering. There have been spring times and there have been long cold winters of struggle for survival. God has come to me at times with the purest kindness, at times with the most affirming encouragement, and at other times with bold frightening challenges. I think that all of us have to watch and pray, to be ready to say “yes” when God’s language is concrete and his request is specific-“yes” in the sunlit springtimes and “yes’ in the darkness of winter nights. (John Powell, S.J., The Christian Vision, The Truth That Sets Us Free, p147)


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

We are to risk, to love, to live, to struggle fail

What would you do if failure didn't matter? What would you endeavor, dare, or try? What mission would you attempt, what venture would you risk; what great deed would you undertake?
Would you, like Bartimaeus in our Gospel (Mark:46-52), shout out for healing even though the people around you try to shush you into silence? I wonder, could it be that Bartimaeus was so used to failure and disappointment that he saw no reason not to try one more time?
Would your cry be for healing? Would it be for justice, or peace, or equality, or any of the things that the world calls idealistic? Or maybe you would volunteer at a food pantry, or help out with Family Promise, or visit an elder who most have forgotten, or reach out to someone who is overwhelmed by grief... even though you don't know what to say?

So often, these things – whether great or small – seem either so hopelessly impossible or so ridiculously insignificant that we just don't even try. Yet the promise of the Gospel is that we are free ... free to risk, to dare, to love, to live, to work, to dream, and yes, free to fail, because we have God's promise that there is no small gesture and there is no impossible deed, and that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will also bring all things – even our failed efforts – to a good end.
So, if you're going to risk anything that matters, "not failing is not an option." Risk entails failure. Change entails failure. Creativity and innovation and experimentation all entail failure. And if we forget that, we will either never try anything that matters or end up sorely disappointed.
(Adapted from David Lose , Working Preacher, Luther Seminary)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

There's no such thing as a dumb question...really???

 Throughout our lives, most of us have been told by our teachers that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Well, in Mark 10:35-45 James and John blow the lid off that myth. They really did ask a really dumb question at an even more inopportune time. Jesus just finished telling the twelve for the third time, that his fate was all about suffering, death, and resurrection. Yet, immediately following they ask if they can sit on his right and left side "in your glory."

Talk about not getting it! What do you suppose the Zebedee brothers had in mind? They want a piece of the “messianic action,” on either side of Jesus’ throne. James and John think they know what it mean to follow Jesus but they still don’t get it.   

Jesus is, as he tells James and John after their bold request, a servant messiah, and to follow a servant messiah one must become a servant: "whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:44-45).
In fairness to James and John, answering the call to "servant-hood" does not come easy. We are so much like then in many ways, aren't we? We would much prefer to be known as a great "anything" but servant. Yet, when by His grace, we are called to give of ourselves to serve the least of our brethren, we know that we are in God's presence.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

If I Were a Rich Man...Really?

Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.

In Mark 10:17-31, how could such a command be an expression of Jesus’ “love” for the man or anyone? No matter how we try to soften his words, their penetrating truth can send us away like the rich man, “shocked” and “grieving.”

We know that one of the ancient keys to knowing whether or not you were “blessed” and that God was on your side was success…especially financial success. Perhaps the rich man’s problem is not that he is rich but that he has put his faith in the wealth he has or craves?

Robert Capon suggests that religions are our human attempts to get God on our side and to do something for us. Some religions stress saying the proper words, reciting the correct creed, or proper confessions of faith. Some religions stress worshiping the right (or rite) way. Some religions stress doing or living the right way. Whether it is "creed, cult, or conduct," or all three, religions are our human attempts to get God on our side and to get God to do what we desire. Perhaps this type of "religious" mindset is behind the question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life.”

In our text, the answer to "how hard?" is "It's impossible." Whenever we make it "possible" to do with enough work or sacrifice, we miss the radical nature of Jesus' comments: "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible." (Crossmarks, Brian P. Stoffregen)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Don't push these children away...

Once again in Mark 10:2-16, the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce "to test" him and once again they misunderstand or misuse the scripture to justify their agenda. They hope their question will expose Jesus as dangerous to families, in light of his scandalous comments in prior encounters.

Jesus turns the conversation with the Pharisees away from the legal foundation for divorce to God's design for marriage. That is, he dismisses the law which permits a man to divorce his wife if he "finds something objectionable about her," (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) and cites Genesis 1:27; 2:24, that describes marriage as a unifying bond between two people. Of course, the Pharisees neglect to mention a key piece of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which requires a husband to give the certificate of divorce to his ex-wife. Such a document might provide a divorced woman with a defense against rumor and slander. For a majority of women in that culture, survival depended upon being a member of a household. A woman, perhaps with children, without a husband and without a means of explaining why she was unmarried, could be exposed to great risk. (Commentary by Matt Skinner)
In our day and time and certainly in industrialized cultures, marriage is less about economics and more about people seeking mutual fulfillment. And while divorce still often leads people (especially women) into financial hardship, divorced women today do not always find themselves doomed to the same state that their ancient counterparts did. However, these points do not render this passage irrelevant; rather, they cast light on how Jesus' teaching might protect women (and men) from those who would use divorce to punish, imperil and victimize the "other."

Once again Jesus is unequivocal in citing the “power” of the child as he reminds us that they are often the innocent victims of the hurt and brokenness that come, even when a divorce appears to be the best among all available options.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

In Jesus Name We...


Go figure? In  Mark 9:38-50, the apostles are all bent out of shape because someone outside of their “elite” group dares to do their job and has been caught casting out demons. Ironically, none of the twelve were able to exorcise an unclean spirit from a boy earlier in Mark. Now, they want to forbid someone who is doing the same thing, but successfully.

Jesus’ response is unequivocal: Cut out all your elitist nonsense and get over yourselves; he was acting in my name.  

What does acting in my name mean? Jesus tries to teach us that acting in the Name of Jesus is not merely a knee jerk response to a liturgical prayer.

It's living a life under the reign of God in Jesus, as Jesus.

Jesus was also unequivocal when he tells us that anything that gets in the way of living in His name, should be eliminated. So should stumbling blocks disguised as precious body parts, be severed? Again, the violence of Jesus' hyperbole here is palpable and unequivocal. It serves to remind us that preventing another from being “of Christ” and acting in his name is far worse than self-mutilation.
We ask:

What stumbling do we put in the way of others?
What does it mean to be “of Christ?”
What criteria should we use to determine if someone is "of Christ" or not?
What about active church membership?
What if, rather than "active church membership," we call it "being a part of the body of Christ"?
Can one be "of Christ" and not be an integral part of the "body of Christ?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Whoever welcomes me...welcomes the One who sent me

In Mark9:30-37 the disciples continue to be confused with Jesus’ message partly because their burning question was not “How can I live my life as Jesus?”, but rather, “How can I be seen as the greatest?”

Their self-centered thoughts were barriers to their understanding of what Jesus was telling them. In addition, their “arrogance,” reminiscent of Adam and Eve, breached the lines of communication with Jesus and their relationship with Him. They were unsuccessful in their attempt to heal the child because they were more intent on impressing the crowd; competing with each other and vying for Jesus approval rather than serving as instruments of God’s Peace.

In citing the child, Jesus is telling us that we have to welcome those “non-persons” who occupy the lowest rung of society’s ladder: "whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

Once again Jesus is challenging us to reverse long-standing, ingrained, human habits and to set aside our common human understanding of how to win fame and glory, and instead learn from Jesus, God's way.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

When is it God's Will?

Do I really want to follow the will of God? Am I deluded first by wanting to make my own plans and then by insisting that God support and realize them? Or, do I seek to find my place in God’s plans, in God’s “master plan” for me?  

Most theologians believe that the Holy Spirit works not only in our conscious thoughts but also in our subconscious. Many times the Holy Spirit does not share with our conscious minds the reasons and motives for a given inclination, but moves us anyway, by forces we cannot recognize or name, to fulfill his highest purposes and to attain our own ultimate destinies. We achieve peace when we harmonize ourselves with this movement of the Spirit.

The head may be left with a thousand questions, but the heart’s intuition will sense that “This is right” and will know a peace of its own.

(The Christian Vision, The Truth that Sets Us Free; p 149, John Powell, SJ.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Satan??? What did I say that was so wrong?

Suppose this was the first time you were reading Mark’s words in his Gospel 8:27-38 Mark 8:27-38. You might wonder if these people really knew each other or if they had an identity crisis. On the one hand Jesus asks "Who do people say that I am?" On the other, his close “friends” who are all over the lot, respond "John the Baptist,” and others, “Elijah,” and still others, “one of the prophets." Now, this is after they have seen him feed thousands; cure the sick; raise the dead, and cast out demons. This is also after he’s provided enough clues as to who he really is.

Then, after Peter, comes up with the right answer, so we think, and proclaims “You are the Messiah.” Jesus turns to his disciples and rebukes Peter…and calls him, “Satan” and tells him that he is setting is mind on human things, not divine things.   

Now here’s a loaded question, which of the two is confused? I did say it was a loaded question but, in fairness to Peter why did he get it wrong or does even get partial credit?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Caught With His Compassion Down

Thank God for this tenacious lowly “theologian” who comes to us in the form of a mother seeking help for her daughter in Mark 7:24-37. Her “theology” doesn't originate in books and study; it's an expression of painfully experienced need and fierce motherly love.

Jesus commends the woman's reasoning but says nothing about faith -- strange, perhaps, in light of other passages in Mark that connect faith to receiving blessings. For some interpreters, this makes the mother mostly a model of determination or verbal dexterity rather than faith.

But doesn’t her determination make us understand what "faith" really means? Notice her persistent efforts: (refusing to go away until she gets what she came for), her hopeful insight (refusing to believe even a tiny speck of grace isn't out of reach and knowing just a scrap can make the difference for her), and -- in the end -- her trusting acceptance (her willingness to take Jesus at his word and journey home alone to confirm her daughter's healing).

Who says things like desperation and tenacity aren't the same thing as faith, when that desperation and tenacity are brought to Jesus? In Mark, "faith" is hardly about getting Jesus' name or titles right, or articulating proper doctrine. It's about clinging to Jesus and expecting him to heal, to restore, to save. It's about demanding he do what he says he came to do. It’s about KNOWING.

Look for this woman in the back row of church this Sunday. Maybe she's the one whose reputation discourages her from getting involved or the one who slips out during the last hymn to avoid having to mix with the churchy "insiders." But she keeps coming back, fiercely convinced that if anything we say week-in and week-out is true, then it's got to be true for her, too. (
adapted from Commentary on Gospel by Matt Skinner)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It's not what you swallow that pollutes your life



In Mark 7:8,14-15, 21-23  Jesus teaches that the people of God are not set apart by particular traditions or ethnicity, but by a purity that emanates from the heart, manifested by love for others. We do not need more religion, but more reflection on what proceeds from our heart. Yes, traditions can be good, and can point others to God. However, they can also send a message explicitly or implicitly, "you don't belong."

Jesus challenged the purity “laws” and turned them upside down. In their place he substituted a radically alternate social vision. The new community that Jesus announced would be characterized by interior compassion for everyone, not external compliance to a purity code, or by egalitarian inclusivity, but rather by inward transformation.

"No outcasts," writes Garry Wills in What Jesus Meant, "were cast out far enough in Jesus' world to make him shun them — not Roman collaborators, not lepers, not prostitutes, not the crazed, not the possessed. Are there people now who could possibly be outside his encompassing love?"

What "outcasts" do we sanctimoniously spurn as impure, unclean, dirty, and contaminated? 
(The Journey with Jesus: Weekly essays by Dan Clendenin )

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"To Whom Can We Go?"

Am I Going to Leave or Stay?

In John 6:56-69, the followers of Jesus have heard words they do not understand. They are repelled! It simply is impossible to believe that Jesus is inviting them to eat his flesh and drink his blood…so, many of those who had followed Jesus up to this point now walk away. They have reached an obstacle which they cannot overcome.
It is not difficult to imagine his sadness as Jesus watched them leave…He feared that he was going to be completely abandoned. So, he turns to the twelve apostles and asks them what they are going to do...

Peter speaks for us when he responds “Lord to whom can we go?”

We do all that we can in life to avoid being placed in position of vulnerability, yet in this Gospel we have the twelve surrendering control and choosing complete dependency on Jesus. That dependency reveals an ultimate statement of faith: Lord, we have no options. We have no choice but to keep following you.

Faith is deepened in situations where self-reliance is no longer possible, where it is difficult to rely on our intellect, reason or abilities.  

The process of being attracted by something in Jesus - listening to what the Word says - and then asking: “am I going to leave or stay?” is part of our spiritual journey. For most of us, it can happen many times in a lifetime. We are faced with a choice: do I accept this, or do I acknowledge that I have to grow into its meaning? And what do I do? To whom do I turn while I am growing into understanding? These are the steps we take to be totally dependent, reliant, and available to Jesus.  

This is the challenge of the Gospel and in the end our response has to be personal…to walk away…or to stay and walk further into the Mystery. (Wellspring of Scripture)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

You Are What You Eat

Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…John 6:51-58

Whoa!!! Imagine hearing this for the first time. Imagine hearing this without any previous experience of the Eucharist.

We know that some in the crowd took such offense at Jesus that they stopped following him because he said these things—

Jesus doesn’t soften or temper his words in the least. There’s not even a hint that he might be speaking poetically or metaphorically. He’s not quick to change the subject either.

For us, these words may have lost their offensiveness. But, Jesus didn’t drop these rhetorical bombshells so that they’d be easily forgotten. It’s clear that He was stirring the pot on purpose. He wanted to say things that challenged people.

Imagine you are attending church for the first time as this passage is read!
Imagine hearing Jesus say these words. How would you react???

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"... Know That I Loved You"

In many ways, Billy Bigelow serves as a metaphor that reminds us that no man wants to be forgotten; no person is content to be a moment in the lives of others, a negligible experience, an indifferent influence. As forceful as the urge is to live is the desire to be remembered. As insistent as survival is the desire to abide with another.
A man does not achieve fulfillment in his memory of himself but in his being remembered by others. Those who love another are anxious to remember; they know that no one truly die.(Padovano)

Friday, August 3, 2012

On Wednesday we continued with our discussion of Carousel. We observed Billy as he lay dying, pleading with Julie to “hold my hand.” We recall that during an encounter in an earlier scene during which the couple “unknowingly” professed their love, Billy boasted  I don’t need you or anyone; I got it figured out for myself... what are we… two little specks of nothing? Following his death, a despondent Julie is consoled by the chorus who sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

In many ways we see the intersection of lives as a “communion” in which we are part of His Mystical Body. While our little Carousel seems to turn oblivious to our existence, we are all connected… those who came before, those who are here today and those who are yet to come.

When Julie sings “What’s the Use of Wonderin” she sings of love without strings, without ego that overlooks human frailties… it’s an unconditional love that transforms the one who loves and all those who are loved... 

Something made him the way that he is,
Whether he's false or true,
And something gave him the things that are his,
One of those things is you

Monday, July 30, 2012

Do We Really Count in This Big World

On Saturday the Mens Group discussed a possible answer to Billy Bigelow’s lament: There’s a heck of a lotta stars in the sky and the sky’s so big the sea looks small. Two little people, you and I; we don’t count at all.

In his gospel St. Mark (4:30-32) answers Billy and reminds us of how the smallest of seeds can flourish and grow infinitely: “The kingdom of God is like, a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth.  Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

Thursday, July 26, 2012

…As Thyself Billy

As was suggested by one of our group during our discussion of the first installment of Carousel last night, Billy Bigelow was incapable of loving because he was incapable of loving himself. While we have discussed them often, Billy was a great model for one of the “Two Great Commandments.”
Taking it further, Padavano tells us that Homecoming has less to do with geography than it has to do with a sense of personal integrity or inner wholeness. The most important of all endeavors in life is to come home. The most terrifying of all fears is loneliness. It means that one has become a stranger to himself and consequently, to others. Someone truly loves us when he brings us home, when he makes us comfortable with ourselves. We are loved when we are no longer frightened with ourselves. The human heart was made to be at home with itself.
Another of our group reminds us that God is our link to all love: all impulses of love [emanate from] and return to the love that made them. (Thornton Wilder)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Where Can We Buy Bread and How Much Will It Cost?

 John 6:1-21 helps shed light on our own needs, and expectations.

How often is it that people "come after" Jesus because of the signs? People observe the good that comes to those who follow Jesus. Expectations are awakened. We want the big things: Healing from horrible diseases; instant money when the house is in foreclosure; a miracle for the child who cannot overcome addictions. Sometimes we get the miracle.

But, how often is it that all someone needs is a simple reassurance that, indeed, Jesus the Christ is present. That presence can get the boat to shore and can calm the grandest of fears. In these stories, our job, like that of the disciples, is to share the Jesus factor, what Jesus has done and continues to do for us. It is to help others "mind the gap" between the momentary optimism of "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish," and the influx of negativity in "But what are they among so many people?" In between "Here is what little we have" and "Here are the 12 baskets of leftovers," there is the Jesus factor.  
Let's not forget to factor Jesus into our daily equations and situations. Let's not forget to share his good news with others. It means remembering that as our needs are met, we are to share with others.
(Ginger Barfield, Preaching This Week,, 2012. & Mind the Gap," Alyce M. McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, Patheos, 2012.)


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Summertime and the Living is Easy

Rest… A break from all the bustle and activity. Rest…A chance to renew, to stop, to slow. Rest… And end of work, if only for a little while. Rest…An opportunity to stop doing that you may simply be. Rest…What a beautiful word!

Jesus' simple invitation in Mark 6:30-34,53-65  to "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile" is not just an invitation to take an afternoon off or go on vacation -- though those may be important elements -- this is an invitation to loosen our shackles and climb out of the cages we've constructed from a culturally-fed belief that more is the ticket to happiness and that work is the ticket to more.
Maybe that's the key thing about Sabbath rest and our Bible discussion and reflection?  They provide a chance to step back from all the things that usually consume us so that we might experience God's presence and a sense of contentment and give thanks.
 Jesus wants us to rest. He wants us to recognize the “trap” we call success and the rat race we call modern life. He wants us to reflect on how much time we really spend together and actually enjoy the things we’ve worked so hard to attain.
God wants us to live an abundant life. Abundant life doesn't consist of merely more and more. "Abundant" ultimately isn't a quantitative term but a qualitative one.
How do we begin? Maybe we might consider just one evening when we will shut down our computer, or turn off our cell phones or, say no to one obligation or appointment. After all, it’s summertime and the living is easy.
(David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

He Who Goes Before

The execution of John the Baptist, in Mark 6:14-29, is a story that goes beyond mere political corruption. The contrast between the innocence of a young girl, who at the bidding of her mother, asks for the head of John on a platter, and Herod's motives, is grotesque and reveals the potential for utter corruption and evil of those in power.   

Yielding to pride and his weakness, Herod executes John because he “vowed” that he would give the young girl whatever she wanted. Of course as king, he was not required by law to fulfill a vow or execute an innocent man at her request.  

This story shares many common elements with the story of the trial before Pilate to come. Pilate also condemns Jesus to death knowing that he had done nothing wrong. Jesus' execution is ordered out of political expediency and out of Pilate's desire to save his reputation and his own political future. In the same way, Herod clearly has John executed rather than suffer the political embarrassment of not keeping his vow.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Jesus came home, but he wasn't at home.

In Mark 6:1-13 Jesus went home. But, he wasn't at home. In spite of his powerful teaching, his family and old friends treated him with skepticism. In a culture that measured a person's worth by their place in society, Jesus had clearly overstepped his bounds. Carpenters were poorly regarded as men who left their families without economic security to seek work. They did not even have the respect of their own families. Jesus was a carpenter. By daring to step above His station in life He did not fit into the world of His family and old friends. He was no longer what his home town folks of Nazareth expected him to be. They did not trust him. So, he went back out on the road to serve the surrounding villages.

Jesus came home, but he wasn't at home.

Have we ever been disrespected by those close to us? How do their opinions affect us? Have we ever treated old friends or family in the same way? How have our opinions and acts against others affected you?

How can God help us in these areas be at home in Him?