28 Nov

November 17 & 18, 2012

Matthew 6:25-33

“First Things First”

Tom Willetts

Thanksgiving Sunday

 

Matthew 6:25-33 25

Do Not Worry

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 6:27 Or single cubit to your height

 

Ready or not here we go! With the celebration of Thanksgiving begins the great race to Christmas -37 days and counting down. I trust this is not a surprise to anyone. As if we hadn’t already noticed that all the stores are getting ready with the decorations. Two weeks ago I saw a live Santa Claus already sitting in a Mall display with “elves” in training.

The big controversy this year seems to be the creep of Black Friday store hours and openings into Thanksgiving Day. The stores are saying that we asked for the earlier hours so we could grab the bargains and go back to bed. It’s to relieve our stress and worry. Some of the employees are saying they won’t work – there are several online petitions, others seem willing to work for the holiday double pay they have been promised. The sure thing that I have noticed is that everyone seems to get quite anxious and worried about many more things at this time of year. If it is not the usual food, fun, gifts and family, then we seem to add in worries about store hours and public displays, or what a billboard some place might say, or what someone will write in an editorial.

Perhaps rather than being thankful today you are more apt to say, “Enough trouble already – All I want is a quiet day with no fights and squabbles. I want no more worries for one day.”

Perhaps you are very worried about “the meal” and “the family” and “what if they come” or “what will they say.” The holiday season can be the pinnacle of worry season as well.

Into worry I have read this scripture and you are saying to yourself, “Sure pastor, if I don’t worry it won’t get done.” I hope no one would hear this and simply adopt the mantra “Hakuna Mattata” made famous by those philosophers of the jungle from Lion King – Timon and Pumba and their outlook on life. “No worries.” But is that really what happens? Even Timon and Pumba realized that life was really more complex than simply ignoring all worries. They were worried about everything, until they got the young prince lion to be their faithful friend.

But how is it that we have this scripture that tells us: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to his life[a]?

What do we do? How do we act in this holiday season filled with worry and live these words as followers of Jesus? After all, he gave us these words, he told us: “31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things.” Wait Jesus, am I suddenly a pagan for worrying? Am I a pagan for being concerned? I was worried about food a moment ago, now I’m worried about my eternal relationship with you? Now I am feeling the worry. Now, we are experiencing the problem.

Yet the Father knows we need these things. What are we to do? The key point is focus. Jesus is teaching us that to live thankfully in this world – and not be overwhelmed by worry – no matter the holiday or season or events in life – we must keep our focus centered on the Kingdom of God.

Does worry about the turkey – its size or the recipe or the stuffing – cause the bird to come out better? Does worry about what people will say, cause them to speak or say different words at the dinner table? Does worry about my holiday outfit suddenly transform the response of my guests to it? NO. Besides look at the birds of the air – look at the lilies of the fields consider the grass of the field and what do we realize? They are all fine, just as God has created them. Live life – do your best and don’t worry. The text does not say – don’t care and don’t try your best. The text says, don’t worry. Worry about this life, this moment, causes us to not focus on the goal of our eternal lives – the Kingdom of God.

Many people say, “Being thankful is all about seeing the glass is half full and not as half empty.” I disagree. That too is the wrong focus. Being thankful is seeing that there is a glass and that God will constantly fill it to whatever amount you need. Being thankful is not about amount. It is about focusing and recognizing God’s provision. Our worry will not affect God’s loving provision for us. God is going to provide. God always does provide. Whether the glass has the amount of water in it that we want or feel we are happy with makes the water level suddenly all about me and my worry – not about the water. Thanksgiving is about giving thanks to God for the glass and any amount that you can see in the glass. The scriptures guarantee constantly that God will continually supply our needs. We are not to worry. We are to participate. We participate by first seeking the Kingdom of God.

Let’s remember the pilgrims, who started this Thanksgiving idea in America, were desperately seeking the opportunity to express religious freedom. They had suffered much discrimination and abuse in England – their homeland – and were not so happy in Holland – to which they had fled seeking relief. Then an English businessman offered them a deal. He offered them a trip to a new and undeveloped place called America, where they could settle and freely express their religious beliefs. All this could be theirs if they faced the unknown and uncertain future. Talk about a worry.

The Pilgrims faced this opportunity – this worry – with all the Christian skills and discipline they could muster – prayer, Bible study, experience and fellowship – and they set off for America. They arrived in modern day Massachusetts late in December of 1620 with few provisions and no shelters. Within a month 10 out of 17 fathers and husbands died. Within a couple of months only 4 of the 17 mothers and wives survived. By the first Easter almost half of the pilgrims were dead. I’m sure someone surely asked, “Where is God’s provision?” Someone was worried. Yet, by the fall of 1621 – less than one year after landing – they are celebrating the first Thanksgiving meal. Not quite as we do – but none the less a feast.

For what were they thankful? Did they mourn the many who had died – YES. Did they worry about their survival during those first months – YES. Did they struggle – YES. All of this happened, but obviously to celebrate thanksgiving in the midst of all they had been through they must have had their focus in a unique and holy place – The KINGDOM of GOD.

To seek is to intentionally invest time and effort to pursue that which we desire. We don’t casually seek or accidentally seek or wander around as we seek. To seek is to focus all attention toward realizing the desired object or goal. To seek the Kingdom of God is to clarify our focus on the Kingdom of God. We aren’t groping around blindly – we are seeking actively and committing ourselves intentionally to engage as full participants in the Kingdom of God.

We seek through PRAYER, BIBLE STUDY, EXPERIENCE, and FELLOWSHIP. All with the intent to find – to discover – to realize a more intimate relationship with God. When we realize the purpose of our seeking we will also realize that all that we truly need is supplied. Worry has been replaced with faith and confidence in the holy and complete provision of God.

There is no doubt – there is no worry – there is no lack – there is only focus on seeking the Kingdom of God – first and foremost – only. Then the promise will be realized that all these things will be given to you as well. Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

 

5 Oct

October 6 & 7, 2012                                    World Communion Celebration

Mark 10: 13-16

Seems Like Kid’s Stuff

Tom Willetts

 

Mark 10:13-16

The Little Children and Jesus

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

 

I remember when I first heard this Bible verse and understood that as a child Jesus was inviting me – welcoming me – advocating for – and willing, eager to give me special gift as part of the Kingdom of God – he was even going to take me in his arms and bless me. My reaction – “Get out of my way! I’ve got places to go and Jesus to meet!” My parents – with all good and proper intentions – placed their loving hands on my knee and shoulder and repeated the oft heard strain – “Tommy, now sit quietly.” They were unaware that Jesus had just spoken to me – of the impact of this verse. They were far more in interested in maintaining the proper decorum and demeanor within our suburban Methodist Church. Thankfully, I kept hearing this verse and my parents took their hands off of me and I still find that “I’ve got places to go and Jesus to meet,” so don’t worry about an expiration date on Jesus’ words but take a moment and ask yourself, – do I hear, “Now just sit quietly,” from your past or present in response to Jesus’ declaration of invitation, inclusion, and blessing to the children?

Children in Jesus’ day were the property of the father. Their survival depended on the generous spirit or whim of the father. They had no status or significance on their own. 60% of them would die before the age of sixteen. Over the past weeks we have already read several Bible accounts in Mark of desperately sick children – one demon possessed child. Being a child in Jesus day was precarious, powerless, marginal, minimal and hopeless. Jesus has already told the disciples – just two weeks ago – with a child in his arms, Mark 9:37 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”  Welcoming a child = welcoming Jesus + welcoming God into their lives. How easily we forget.

In today’s gospel lesson people are bringing children to Jesus. This is not uncommon. People would bring their children to traveling Rabbis’ to receive a blessing – a wellness visit to hopefully inoculate them against the evils – the precariousness of their lives. The people recognized the dire situation of their children and they recognized the power of Jesus to bless them. The problem was the disciples – those closest to Jesus – who didn’t care about the children – their need, their plight, their situation nor did they really care what Jesus had told them about welcoming children. As disciples they cared about themselves – their own personal relationship with Jesus far more than anyone or anything else. So as these inconsiderate, needy, insignificant children came interrupting their teaching time with Jesus they did what we all do – rebuke them. Previously, in the gospel do you know who else was rebuked – Satan and evil spirits. Children had it tough.

Jesus’ response is equally powerful, 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. Would you want Jesus to be “indignant” in response to your actions on his behalf?

Jesus provides a three part instruction to the disciples. He said to them, [ALLOW] “Let the little children come to me, [DON’T STOP] and do not hinder them, [BLESSING] for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Is everyone ALLOWED to come to Jesus through the ministry of our church? Absolutely! NO ONE IS EXCLUDED. In fact, the sinner the better. It’s the self-righteous ones that really cause all the problems. We are all sinners – all saved by faith in the grace of Jesus Christ. The more we claim the love of Jesus in our lives the more humble – the larger our servant heart grows to the point of total surrender to Christ. Remember your sin – remember your need – remember someone brought you to Jesus. Let them come.

How tough should it be to meet Jesus? What hindrances exist between those in need and the love Jesus has to offer?  TIME – SPACE – MONEY – EFFORT and ATTITUDE. I’m too busy to invite, to welcome, to serve, to teach, to sing, to read, to …. We don’t have the space to receive any more people. The corollary excuse, “We don’t have any more money we can give to build more space.” I’m too tired – I’m retired now – My birth certificate says, Find someone else. All of these can be more or less true or false at any point in our lives. Sometimes we have little or no control over our time, space, money or effort.

We do have control of our attitude. Our attitude towards others should never be a hindrance to anyone coming to meet Jesus Christ. I’m using attitude to address the quality of our character, our relationships, and our faith community. Do people see the love of Christ in our daily behavior? Do you witness to your faith? Do you invite people to church?  Do your family and friends see Christ in us? Has anyone referred to you as their “Christian friend” or family member? When guests and visitors come among us do we welcome them and introduce ourselves and offer a conversation and share with them? Jesus has set this as our standard – the expectation of being a disciple of Jesus. We can all control our attitude and seek to not hinder others.

Verse 15 speaks to our personal response as we do meet Jesus. We are to meet Jesus as a child – with NOTHING. None of what we have or do or have learned are necessary to impress Christ. The Lord desires a broken and contrite heart. Those children brought nothing of earthly value to Jesus – that’s why the disciples hindered them – that’s why Jesus welcomed them. All the children brought was the desire to be in a love relationship with Jesus. They brought an intention – a desire – a faint hope of a promise of deliverance. They sought relief in someone’s arms and the loving arms that did receive them all – without judgment or measurement – were the arms of Jesus.

When in the arms of Jesus we are not disappointed. (Jesus) placed his hands on them and blessed them. The comfort and blessing of God for your life. A relationship – a covenant of love that Jesus will not break or abandon. Sure, we are going to make a mess of it – all disciples have, even the first twelve. But the love of Jesus – the promise of Jesus – the covenant of Jesus is unbreakable. We are going to share in the expression of that covenant love in just a few moments in Holy Communion. This weekend is World Wide Communion Celebration. All Christians are asked to share that which binds us together – the love of Jesus Christ expressed in this Last Supper.

Come as a child to meet our Lord. AMEN.

29 Sep

September 22 & 23, 2012

Mark 9:30-37

What do children really know?

Tom Willetts

 

Mark 9:30-37

Jesus Predicts His Death a Second Time

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

 

Do you remember the days in your life when you would pass notes in class to each other? I wasn’t very good at it. But some were. The best note passers could write an epistle on an page and fold that page down to the size of a peanut. All the while they appeared to be paying attention to the teacher – busily taking notes or completing the assignment. A focused and serious teacher were the easiest to pass notes on because they couldn’t conceive that anyone would be doing anything other than paying attention to them and the subject at hand. That is when the note passing was the best. With an uncanny intuition of opportunity and lightning speed the note would begin its journey across the room. Everyone had to be on their game – aware of the situation and the danger. If anyone was slow, or acted surprised or fatally curious – don’t read just pass – then the note was discovered and the great secret revealed and trouble for all ensued.

I get the sense in today’s scripture that the disciples have just been caught “passing a note” amongst themselves and that they haven’t been paying attention to Jesus’ lesson as Jesus would prefer. Surely their secret is revealed and Jesus – in always divine form – offers them a lesson.

They are traveling “in cognito” as much as possible. Remember last week Jesus announced that he was to be arrested, face trial, be killed, and rise again on the third day. That was quite troubling – Jesus recognizes this upset spirit amongst the disciples, so Jesus leaves “that place” and takes them on a retreat. Jesus repeats himself concerning the coming days, He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”  They still don’t understand what this means, but it doesn’t stop them from making preparations. The preparations are the note passing I referred to earlier. The subject of the note is this, “After Jesus is gone who is going to be in charge?” They don’t think that Jesus is noticing them talking because Jesus keeps walking and teaching until they arrive at his destination.

But nothing escapes Jesus. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. They have been caught red handed. Who me? Who me? But just like the note passing – everyone is guilty. The result is just as obvious – the lesson changes from Jesus’ last days on earth to leadership.

My teachers used to do this same thing – this is serious. 35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” More seeming non-sensical teaching. Who can be the leader as the servant? After all leaders are in front – they are on top – they are served – they are powerful – they are respected – they have power. Servants are in the rear – servants are at the bottom – they serve – they are powerless – they are abused – they are powerless.

This makes as much sense as Jesus predicting his death – we all know how that worked out. – OH – Do you get it? So maybe we should figure this out rather than pretend like Jesus is being non-sensical. Here is the example Jesus provides.

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

 

Leaders must be aware. Jesus was aware of what the disciples were talking about – the argument as they walked. Jesus was paying attention to them even if they were not really paying attention to Jesus.  Jesus is aware that a child is in the room and he welcomes the child among them and offers an example to them. Notice the child is treated with great respect – the child is not used or objectified – but rather lifted up. Jesus took the child in his arms – protection, respect, honor and most importantly – a loving relationship is provided to the child. Leaders must be aware of what is around them and that those around them constantly deserve protection, respect, honor and a relationship – whether they are little children or misunderstanding, self-interested disciples.

Leaders must have patience. I see the lesson of the patience of Jesus as he waited until they arrived at the destination – Capernaum, enter the house – in private and that he sat down to speak to the unruly disciples. Jesus surely heard the ruckus going on in the back of the pack as they walked along. Yet, he didn’t wheel around and begin a heated tirade against the disciples’ behavior. Jesus showed patience with the rumor mongering and power playing and posturing that was going on behind him. Jesus waited for the “teachable moment.”

Leaders must be willing to confront. This connects to the next point of leadership – confrontation. Everyone hates this in our culture. Most leaders would rather cut off their arms than confront a problem or they confront so poorly they rip the arms off those around them. Rarely is public confrontation healthy or productive. Someone always ends up beaten and battered and everyone who has witnessed the event feels humiliated and hurt – even if they weren’t really involved. The major reason that folks don’t want to serve on ministry teams or in leadership is because of confrontation issues – fears about, bad experiences of, being victimized by or shame at having acted poorly in a confrontation.

While these are all problems and concerns of confrontation it still does not negate the reality that troubling issues and real concerns must be addressed honestly and gracefully. Jesus confronted the disciples in private – with a calm compassion – and he spoke to the issue with a positive way forward for everyone to choose. The covenant between leader and disciple was maintained – the relationship was valued above all and yet, the point was made. No one felt bad or humiliated or belittled or attacked or offended, yet the problem was confronted and a resolution – a way forward, for all presented.

Leaders must be totally committed. Despite the disciples poor understanding, and selfish arguing Jesus never wavered from his total commitment to them and to the mission given him by God – go to Jerusalem – face arrest, trial and crucifixion and be raised again. Our mission is not this – but rather to go and make disciples in the name of Jesus. Jesus accomplished what we cannot accomplish and he showed us how to do it as well, but we even have problems with this – leadership and discipleship.

Here’s what we are going to do. All of our leaders must be aware. I don’t mean more meetings – I mean more listening and watching. As leaders we must know and care for each other and must know and care for all the people of the church and of our community.

As leaders we must be patient with each other and with those around us. We need to not assume or accept hear-say or get all bothered when others “don’t get it” or get selfish or even foolish. Remember, God is ultimately in charge and none of us fully knows the path or the future, just our small vantage point. Relax a bit with patience.

Confrontation is OK especially when it is done within the context of a covenant. We are going to be developing the covenant concept more in the future to help us.

Total commitment to the mission of Jesus Christ is essential. The only reason we exist is to share the Good News of Jesus Christ – invite others – learn and grow in that love relationship and faith community – and to be the hands of Jesus in the world. It’s that simple. Everything for Jesus’ mission.

On Tuesday church leaders are going to meet for our annual planning time. We will figure out the schedule of events and we will explore leadership – Jesus style as well. Welcoming Jesus as leader, welcomes God as leader. We all want that.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

14 Sep

September 15 & 16, 2012

Mark 8:27-38

Saving and Losing?

Tom Willetts

 

Mark 8:27-38

Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Jesus Predicts His Death

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

The Way of the Cross

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Manwill be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Footnotes:

  1. a.     Mark 8:35 The Greek word means either life or soul; also in verses 36 and 37.

 

Who is already getting the annoying phone calls from the various political candidates asking for your consideration and vote? All of the calls are trying to get you to consider who the candidate is – identity, positions or stances on the issues, and to get you to support them. They are asking, “Who do you think that I am?”

We all have experienced this question in our lives. At a job interview, or at a major corporate project presentation or event or even when we got married we all are called upon to define who we are to others – receive their response to our claims and together move forward for a common good or purpose. Sometimes people don’t believe our promises – sometimes they don’t grasp the full measure of our identity. They hold on to partial, flawed, incomplete, self-satisfying identities from our past.

Jesus initiates this type of conversation in today’s scripture. Apparently there were many people saying many things about who Jesus was. Over the past eight chapters of Mark Jesus has been teaching and preaching and healing and feeding masses of people and here at the thematic midpoint of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus asks, “Who do people say I am?”  The answers he gets are perfectly correct based upon the past history of the disciples and the pundits. 28They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

John the Baptist is correct because Jesus’ major teaching points were the same as those of John the Baptist. Since Jesus came after John and John has been beheaded by Herod by this time, Jesus is assumed to be a disciple of John or John the Baptist returned. The disciples’ understanding of the message, “Repent the Kingdom of God is at hand,” and the timing seems to support this position.

Others say Elijah, because Jesus has on two occasions fed masses of people as did Elijah. Jesus has healed people – even children – as did Elijah; Jesus even healed a foreigner – as did Elijah. Wouldn’t it be great to have a great healer in our midst to fix all the health care issues we confront in our lives? Jesus is the Great Physician and does offer healing and wholeness – this is true and we like this – we want this.

and still others, one of the prophets.”  Over the centuries of Jewish history many prophets had come to the nation to correct the misdirected ways and deeds of the nation. – Return to God and be faithful to God – Oppose the foreigners corruptions – Remain hopeful, God has a plan – God will deliver the people from oppression – are all themes of various prophets over the history of Israel and Jesus has said all of these things to people as he has journeyed around Israel.

Jesus reframes the question and asks, 29“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”  I’ll bet there is a long silence. It’s a lot easier to offer the answers of others than to be put on the spot and offer “my” personal answer. It’s a huge risk. It’s frightening to guess – to propose – to open yourself up to possible critique. After all, we all know that Jesus knows the answer – but what answer – will we be right or wrong – perhaps a big problem or hug.

Peter answered, “You are the Christ.[a] RIGHT ANSWER. YEA!! 30Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. Why the secret? For Mark it was critical that we the reader – the future disciples – realize fully what CHRIST meant – for Jesus and as a disciple of Jesus.

The next paragraphs make it clear that the people closest to Jesus didn’t yet understand what “You are the Christ” means. They offered the words – the correct answer – but didn’t yet grasp the meaning – the impact – the transformation – the crisis – the adjustments –the changes – these words cause in our lives. We know that Peter is correct in saying, “You are the Christ,” but what does that mean? Peter didn’t know at that moment – none of the disciples knew – though later he – they – us would realize. The growth of the realization of what “You are the Christ” means is the work of discipleship. Let me set the question this way? If I ask, “Is Jesus the Savior of your life?” Is YES your response? “Is Jesus the LORD of your life?” Can you answer with the same YES? Are those the same questions? They are NOT.

Many people want salvation from the sins of their life, we’ve all made mistakes – eternally heavenly bliss is much preferred over the fires of hell. However, fewer want to permit Jesus to tell them what to do – be LORD of their lives. I mentioned “meddling” last week and someone asked for a definition – let’s linger a little longer here this week. Meddling from my life’s experience is when the words of Jesus directly offend or invalidate our personal preferences and beliefs and we experience a crisis or spiritual discord.

Forgiveness – How much? 70 X7.  WHOM? Everyone, including yourself.

Who in my neighbor?  The person who most frightens or has the least in common with you. Do I have to share with everyone? YES. All people are neighbors. ALL means ALL.

Whom do I love? Your enemy.

For whom do I pray? Those who persecute you and speak hate toward you.

How much do I love God? With everything – all that you have. 10% is only a down payment.

You think I’m meddling yet? Talk with Jesus about it but first listen carefully: 34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

These verses outline the path of discipleship and make the “end game” obvious. The path is; (1) Self Denial, (2) Cross bearing, (3) willingness to lose one’s life for Christ’s sake, (4) boldly, lovingly witnessing to the gospel in the world. The end game is eternal life in the Father’s glory with the holy angels.

Saving is Losing. Some will offer a John the Baptist or prophet’s answer and say, “Keep repeating the past. We didn’t get it right yet. It was good enough for them. It’s still good enough now.” Some will offer Peter’s answer, “NEW is better,” and perhaps not really realize what that means and their personal agenda gets in the way.

All of us must hear and follow Jesus’ words of faithful discipleship. Jesus is the Christ LORD and SAVIOR – following Jesus means a life of Self Denial, Cross Bearing, Personal Sacrifice, and Witnessing to the Gospel. Faithfully following this path of discipleship we will realize that saving is losing. So, who do you say Jesus is?

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

14 Sep

September 9, 2012

He has done everything well.

Tom Willetts

Mark 7:24-37

Jesus Honors a Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith

24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.[a] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Jesus Heals a Deaf and Mute Man

31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.[b] 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.

33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Footnotes:

Mark 7:24 Many early manuscripts Tyre and Sidon

Mark 7:31 That is, the Ten Cities

 

            “He has done everything well,” Cross references:

  1. Mark 7:24 : 7:24-30pp — Mt 15:21-28
  2. Mark 7:24 : S Mt 11:21
  3. Mark 7:25 : S Mt 4:24
  4. Mark 7:31 : 7:31-37pp — Mt 15:29-31
  5. Mark 7:31 : ver 24; S Mt 11:21
  6. Mark 7:31 : S Mt 4:18
  7. Mark 7:31 : Mt 4:25; Mk 5:20
  8. Mark 7:32 : Mt 9:32; Lk 11:14
  9. Mark 7:32 : S Mk 5:23
  10. Mark 7:33 : Mk 8:23
  11. Mark 7:34 : Mk 6:41; Jn 11:41
  12. Mark 7:34 : Mk 8:12
  13. Mark 7:35 : Isa 35:5, 6
  14. Mark 7:36 : S Mt 8:4

Listening to all the reporting and rhetoric of the political campaigns this phrase, “He has done everything well,” Cross references:

  1. Mark 7:24 : 7:24-30pp — Mt 15:21-28
  2. Mark 7:24 : S Mt 11:21
  3. Mark 7:25 : S Mt 4:24
  4. Mark 7:31 : 7:31-37pp — Mt 15:29-31
  5. Mark 7:31 : ver 24; S Mt 11:21
  6. Mark 7:31 : S Mt 4:18
  7. Mark 7:31 : Mt 4:25; Mk 5:20
  8. Mark 7:32 : Mt 9:32; Lk 11:14
  9. Mark 7:32 : S Mk 5:23
  10. Mark 7:33 : Mk 8:23
  11. Mark 7:34 : Mk 6:41; Jn 11:41
  12. Mark 7:34 : Mk 8:12
  13. Mark 7:35 : Isa 35:5, 6
  14. Mark 7:36 : S Mt 8:4

is coveted by all the candidates. Whether it is a national speech, a TV appearance, an editorial board endorsement or a fact check news article all candidates want to hear these words of support and affirmation. I think we all want to hear them in our lives as well.  Those who are helping the children improve their reading at Littleton Elementary know that the children all crave the affirmation – “You’ve read well,” or “Good job.” So what did Jesus do that deserved such an accolade.

He is confronted by a Greek, Syrophoenician woman while taking a vacation in the vicinity of Tyre (well north of Israel – deep in Gentile country) with a persistent demand to drive the demon out of her daughter. The woman is most aware of her need – her dilemma and that of her daughter suffering in the possession of the demon. Her need opens her to express a faith she hasn’t been raised in or possibly practiced or would even accept her as a participant. She is definitely not RIGHTEOUS.

This is reflected in Jesus’ initial  response to her request; (this is the party line response,) 27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  WHY? I believe Jesus is offering the party line – the acceptable – the proper – the ordinary – the regular – the righteous – OUR response.  He is saying what we would say to such a request, by such a woman – woman by all Jewish standards of the day as totally UNRIGHTEOUS. This actually echoes last week’s scripture lesson between the Pharisees and the disciples about dirty hands and righteousness. That was set inside Israel – now Jesus goes to Gentile country and we see the same issue in a new context.

The purpose of this is to engage us – do we remember last week’s scripture and remember the source of true righteousness – or do we still hold to our fabricated righteousness standards and accept Jesus’ insulting word’s.

The second purpose is to give the woman the opportunity to fully express her faith in Jesus in this Gentile land. Is her request genuine or contrived or deceptive in some way? Her response proves that it is genuine. She loves her daughter deeply – she will fight for her recovery and healing and her faith and confidence in Jesus as a Holy healer is substantiated. Notice, she is not rude or disrespectful, but rather is aware, humble and honest – 28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Jesus’ response is to grant the healing in absentia, and he tells her to simply go home and be assured of the healing of her daughter. She doesn’t protest this – her faith has been professed and no fact checker comes by to check on the accuracy of Jesus’ claim – simply faith completes the encounter. Is this sufficient to proclaim, “He has done everything well.”  You be the judges?

Let’s look at the second story. Jesus moves on to the region of the Decapolis – a close cluster of ten cities south of Tyre and Sidon, closer to the Sea of Galilee. Perhaps he still hopes for a vacation. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. (So much for a vacation). 33 After he (Jesus) took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

Is anyone else having a hygiene moment right now? (Fingers in ears – spitting and touching the man’s tongue.) Surely the people aren’t praising Jesus’ hygiene habits or healing style. While every miracle of healing is amazing, no matter the method or style and worthy of great awe, does healing a girl miles away in absentia and then healing the deaf and mute man in private really warrant such attention and public acclaim as “37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said.” Jesus kept telling them to hush – “36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.” What is going on here?

We often miss the point – the intent – of Jesus’ miraculous work in our lives? Someone is suffering with some problem or affliction and we want it fixed. We want the suffering to end. We don’t want to experience the problem any longer. Make it go away. When God – Jesus miraculously acts – generally all we perceive is the immediate action – sick – now healed, deaf – now hearing, mute – now speaking. Problem solved.

But all miracles point to only one reality – the mercy and love of God is beyond our control or understanding. Jesus is not just a “fixer” – he is ultimately our Lord and Savior. The populist response to these miracles actually diminishes Jesus’ future acts and ultimate mission. Jesus didn’t come to just fix our aches and pains – he came to save us from eternal loss and death because of our sins. Many people miss this. You can see it plainly as the people demand of Jesus to save himself from the suffering and pain of the crucifixion on the cross – fix yourself Jesus – then we will believe – populist opinion – not God’s full expression of mercy and love for all humanity for all of time. So what do we do?

We have faith. Just as the Syrophoenician Woman fought through the prejudices and false righteousness around her with a steadfast faith seeking for the healing of her daughter, we remain steadfast, confident and faithful in the midst of conflict and persecution. And as the deaf and mute man simply received the gift of healing, in private – with humble participation – we simply and obediently receive the gifts of God’s grace into our lives. We keep our attention focused on Jesus and in so doing we realize far more than just the popular accolades – we experience the full mercy and love of our Lord and Savior. Receiving the full measure of God’s blessing into our lives is the gift Jesus – the healing – the miraculous work Jesus desires each of us to receive. Don’t settle for the first things you hear – there is far more available in Christ Jesus. He has done everything well.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

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