“What Are We Afraid to Ask?” Mark 9:30-37

We are told as the Gospel lesson begins today, that Jesus is teaching his disciples.  He’s making his way along the dusty back roads of the Galilee with them, dodging crowds, so that he can instruct them.    He seems to be intent on having them fully understand what it is that he is all about.    

What it is that he is “all about,” is this matter of how he will be betrayed, killed, and after three days will rise again, and what it will mean to follow him.

This is now the second of three passion predictions in Mark’s Gospel.   This is a very important point to be understood for Jesus.

          But, it appears that classroom attention span in the first century is no better than it is in the 21st Century.  

While Jesus teaches about his impending betrayal, death, and resurrection, the Disciples appear to be engaged in the furious debate among themselves in hushed tones, like teen-agers in the back of the classroom, — over which one of them is “the greatest.”  

So it is, when the teacher calls upon them, they are silent.

          “They did not understand what he was saying and they were afraid to ask.”  Mark records.

This could have been any classroom, anywhere.  The dynamics have not changed in 2000 years.

          So, what are we to make of this Gospel lesson?   What does it have to say to us?  

          I’d like to suggest that one way we might discover what this has to say to us is to follow the question that is never asked.

          What are they afraid to ask Jesus about? 

          Maybe they were afraid to ask Jesus what he was talking about because they did not hear him clearly.  Preoccupied with their own conversations, their own desire to figure out which was the greatest among them, they simply did not hear his teaching.  

Is that what it means when it says, “they did not understand him?”   Garbled words?   Unclear context?   Maybe they just can’t concentrate on what he is saying.

But that doesn’t quite ring true. 

This is the second time Jesus has talked about going to suffer, be killed, and rise again.  

          I don’t think it is the case that they are not hearing clearly, or not concentrating sufficiently.

          I think they are afraid to ask Jesus what he is talking about because they simply do not want to know what all this talk about Jesus’ suffering really means!

          And this is the point at which the Gospel leaps across the centuries, for this is the question that we avoid as well.  

This is what we are afraid to ask of Jesus.  “What does your suffering, death and resurrection stuff have to do with me?”

          When you think about it, you know; we really aren’t afraid to ask all kinds of questions of Jesus, or of God in general.

          The news report speaks of gunfire erupting in a nearby city and another young person lies dead, and we ask, “Why doesn’t God do something about that?”

“Jesus, why don’t you do something about hunger?”  We ask as we see the starving waif on the television asking for our support.

“Jesus, why does my friend have to suffer like this?”   We find the question crossing our lips after we hang up the phone getting the latest news about the illness, the spread of the cancer, or the marital or familial problems.

Oh, we have no lack of questions we’d like to throw over Jesus’ way, once we get rolling.   

“Jesus, why is justice so elusive?”

“Jesus, why can’t we find a way to provide jobs and health care for people?”

“Jesus, why are we stuck in this pandemic? Why don’t you cure and remove affliction as you did in days of old?”

It’s not that we don’t know how to ask questions of Jesus, all of them really good ones!  All of them deserving of some kind of answer in the cosmic sphere of this universe of troubles and tribulations.

But these are all questions that demand something of the ruler of the universe!  What is God going to do about these things that afflict us? Questions about God’s apparent inability or unwillingness to intervene in this world.  Questions about why God seems unwilling to step in or to come near where and when God is so desperately needed!

The grand irony of course, is that even as we hurl all these questions to God and to Jesus, the one time that God did decisively step into this world, (in flesh and blood no less) to actually do something, — we questioned God’s actions.

We ultimately crucified the one God sent for stepping in!   

The one time God stepped in, what God chose to do rather than jumping in as a King like David, or as a General to rally the troops, or like Superman to fix everything … God chose to come as a man, to teach, to lead by example, to suffer betrayal, and to die at the hands of the very humans he came to save.

We don’t understand that.   And, deep down, we really don’t want to understand it!

We don’t want to understand it because we have a sneaking suspicion that if we DID understand what Jesus was talking about, the implication is that we would have to do something. 

We would have to lay down our lives for the sake of our neighbor.

We would have to change our lives for the sake of others.

We would have to make different choices about how to live for the sake of those who suffer in this world.

All of those things would have to be done by us in order for things to change in this world and for suffering to end.

We would have to be willing to lay down our lives, rather than remain in the positions of favor, or of power, or of authority.  We would have to give up our aspirations to be “the greatest” in this world.

No, see, if I were going to lay bets as to why the disciples do not understand what Jesus is saying to them, it would say it is because they don’t want to hear this from Jesus!”

I don’t want to hear that in order to follow Jesus, I will have to give up my own aspirations of being great, or at least having notoriety of some kind.

I don’t want to hear that the way that Jesus takes those who follow him is not by the path of glory, but rather the path of service.

I don’t want to hear that following Jesus does not take you down the path of everything getting better every day in every way, but rather it involves the path of the suffering servant.

I don’t want to hear this Jesus, that you call those who follow you to give sacrificially, to live simply, and to love deeply – not just the ones easy to love, but the outcast and the ones that this world considers to be of no value or of little status.  

See, that’s what is happening when Jesus reaches out and takes that little child, saying “whoever welcomes this one….”

 “This one.”    The child that Jesus reaches for is likely not some spit-shined cutie, a cherished little lad or lass in sparkling clean clothes.

 In the 1st Century, (the time of Jesus,) children had about a 60% death rate.   Childhood diseases, accidents, and child labor all still existed.  Children had about the same social status as slaves.  Families had a lot of kids because, well, not many of them would survive to adulthood.  Children were often left to mostly fend for themselves.

 Picture not the white robed little darling of the Sunday School folder, but rather the snot nosed kid of the neighbors who is always taking free lunch and stealing the apples from the tree because he/she is perpetually hungry.  

This one, the illegal immigrant child that everyone likes to scapegoat as the problem with this country….

Whether that was in the 1830’s when it was our German immigrant forefathers,

Or in the 1850’s when it was the Irish Catholics coming over,

Or the 1930’s when it was Jewish refugees, trying to flee from Hitler,

Or the 1950’s when it was Black children moving to cities from the Jim Crow south during the Great Migration….

Or in the 1970’s when it was all those southeast Asians in the aftermath of Vietnam,…

Or the 1990’s when it was Kurdish refugees after the Gulf war….

Or the 2000’s when it was the Hispanic children at the border…

Or now, with the Afghan women and the children seeking refuge from the Taliban.

The child Jesus picks up in his arms is not some well-dressed little tyke, but a rag doll brat who’s been screaming all night because he or she is hungry, tired, and frightened — and the parents are nowhere to be found for they do not run up and complain about Jesus’ grabbing of their child.

This is what we don’t want to hear, the question we don’t want to ask.

We don’t want to hear that Jesus points our hearts and our minds away from ourselves and our sniggering comments about “which of us is the greatest.”

He teaches of his own choice to go to Jerusalem to suffer, lay down is life, and to find resurrection — or he directs our attention down to that no account kid who we’d all rather ignore and would like to see just go away.

 “If you want to be greatest, look at these.  Have regard for them, love them, welcome them.  When you welcome them you not only welcome me, but the One who sent me.” Jesus says.

This is what we don’t want to hear.  

This is what we don’t really want to understand. 

This is what we are desperately afraid to ask Jesus about, God about, because if it was made any more clear to us, if we really did understand this, then we could make no more excuses about what we have done or left undone.    We would have no more reasons not to follow where Jesus has so clearly shown the way.

But here is the Gospel in this. 

What we are afraid to ask, we are assured we will know in the end!  

The Son of Man will suffer, be rejected, die at human hands and be raised, and he will do all this for you, so that you can begin to see where true greatness lies.

It lies not in what you argue about, insist upon, what you try to protect, or what you seek as your own source of greatness.

It lies instead in what you are willing to do for the sake of others, and how much you are willing to set aside your own ambitions in order to welcome and to serve.

“Who do you say that I am?” Mark 8:27-34

This is the age of the Opinion Poll.   

There isn’t a week that goes by where we aren’t bombarded by either a request for our opinion, or information about one. 

I can’t get a cup of coffee or a burger without being handed an opportunity to respond to a survey.

“Tell us how we’re doing….”

“This is what people are saying….”

          “An ABC, CBS, Fox, CNN or NBC or Pew Research poll has shown….”

          Public opinion seems to drive everything these days.  

Opinion Polls are used to tell us whether the President’s approval rating is up or down, and then speculation is made about what kinds of things the President can or cannot do based upon said approval rating.   

Opinion Polls tell us what effect those numbers may (or may not!) have on everything from the economy to the upcoming elections.  Polling results are used to formulate what kinds of response should be pursued to change those numbers, what should or should not be talked about, and what positions can be taken.   

          Maybe it is all that exposure and sensitivity to polling that causes me to pick up the nuance of Jesus’ question in the Gospel for today.

          “Who do people say that I am?”  

That’s what Jesus asks of his disciples.  What are people saying about me?  What do you hear?

          Is Jesus in the opinion polling business as well?  

It’s hard to imagine Jesus worrying about his approval rating or determining his next move on the basis of public opinion!    

          And yet, there does seem to be a fair amount of diverse opinion out there.  

          Some are saying that Jesus is John the Baptist come back from the dead.

          Others have put him in the role of Elijah the Prophet, the one who was to return before the coming of the Messiah.

          Still others have Jesus pegged as one of the prophets in Israel of old, long before the time of Ezra and the time of Exile.  Maybe God is raising up a leader like God did in the old days, a Judge, a King, a Messiah!

          Public opinion about Jesus is ranging far and wide as word about him spreads.  People are talking and forming opinions.

          By and large we would see that as a good thing.  “At least people are talking about Jesus!”  

          But in Mark’s Gospel, time and time again Jesus urges folks NOT to talk about him! 

It is one of the mysteries of this Gospel that is really no mystery at all if you think about it.  Talking about someone or something tends to raise expectations, (sometimes unrealistically.)   It appears that Jesus does not want people talking about him as much as he wants people talking to him and listening to him.

          After asking his disciples what people are saying, he turns and asks them, point blank, “But who do you say that I am?”

          I didn’t fully understand the nuance of what Jesus was doing here until I was interviewed with the Bishop of the Upstate New York Synod for a congregation that they wanted me to consider serving. 

I had completed all the paperwork, answered all the theological questions in advance in the precise and clear kind of language that Bishops and Professors like to hear.  

The Bishop and his assistant had asked me several situational kinds of questions, how I handle conflict, what my views were on several pertinent church related issues.  I had sailed through all those questions without much difficulty.

          Then the Bishop said, “Just one more question. Tell me, what does Jesus mean to you?  Who is Jesus for you?” 

Suddenly, we were not talking about what other people thought.  What was politically popular or theologically correct to say.   

This was a question about what I held to be true, what motivated me to follow Jesus.  

I was in Peter’s shoes, in the shoes of all those disciples who heard this question from Jesus’ lips. 

          “But who do you say that I am?”   Jesus asks.   It appears that he already knows what other people are saying, (and he wants his disciples to be aware of that), but the real question is what are you saying?

          What are you saying with your lips?

          What are you saying with your life?

          What are you saying with the decisions you make, with the company that you choose to keep, the actions you take and with the way you spend your time and your resources?   

All these things reveal a piece of who you profess Jesus to be to you.

          I think it is possible to go through your whole life without really struggling with this question from Jesus.   “Who do you say that I am?”  

You can even be a good church member and not think about it much.  You may come here week in and week out, be busy on any number of boards or committees, and never really struggle with who Jesus is for you.

          For many of us, Jesus came as a package deal with the family we grew up in, or he came with the marriage, or he came with our heritage and life-long membership to the church.  

Jesus is who we talk about, sing about —all the time to time.

We direct our prayers to him, in fervent belief that he will know what to do with them, and with us.  

Jesus is the one whom we from time to time will postulate about.  We might even find ourselves saying, “I wonder what Jesus would think about that?”   

And that is perhaps the most telling phrase that we can use.  

Because you see, if we are wondering what Jesus would have to say about something, it means that we really haven’t been pondering what Jesus would have us say about that thing. 

We haven’t thought through what it is, (because I follow Jesus,) that I may have to say as a disciple to a situation, or a subject, an event or an issue.

What does following Jesus compel me to say here?

Jesus said things with his life.

He said things with how he treated people, and what he confronted, and what he was all too willing to forgive.

“Who do you say that I am?” is an invitation to think about what you will say as a follower of Jesus, when you are confronted with the same things that confronted him, and that he confronted.

It is not sufficient to simply talk about Jesus.  

It is not sufficient to simply be connected to him from afar, and that is why the second half of this Gospel is so hard for us.  

No sooner does Peter “get it right,” than he is also rebuked. 

Why? 

Because, Jesus says, Peter has set his mind on “human things”, not “divine things.”

After plainly spelling out the steps of what will come next for the Son of Man, the Messiah, Peter isn’t so sure about that direction.   

He takes Jesus aside and says, (we can imagine) “Are you sure about that, Jesus?  I mean is this really where you want to go?”

Human things are almost always about self-preservation and self-interest.   This is where Peter finds himself.  

And this is (more often than not,) where we find ourselves as well.  Struggling between what the life and actions of Jesus show us to be way of the Kingdom and the temptation of self- preservation, and protection, holding to cherished ideals and the things of this world.

Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

And, as soon as Jesus says this, we are right there with Peter!

“But I’m sure Jesus didn’t mean this…..”  we say

Whatever we fill in there, and we will fill it in! 

We’ve done it in our own lives.  We’ve set our eyes on human things.

We rationalize away the call to take up the cross.   

Each time we do that, the words of Jesus seem come back to hit us, often just a little bit harder.

“Who do you say that I am?”   With your life, with your decision making, with your actions and choices?

Is Jesus just a “nice guy” to you?

Is Jesus just someone to whom you turn when you are in trouble? Your last resort?

Is Jesus the one you turn to mostly in your convenience?  Is he subject to your own polling and to the whims of what others think, or what you might be feeling at the time?

Or is Jesus, to you, the Messiah, the Lord and Savior who comes to lay a claim upon your life?   The one who calls you into a life of service and self-denial for the sake of others?

“Who do you say that I am?”  Jesus asks his disciples, and of you and me this day.

Beloved in the Lord, I don’t expect you to answer the question perfectly all the time.  (Nor, apparently, does Jesus!)   He will keep working with Peter and all those who follow.

The point of any question when it is raised is to invite one into consideration. 

I only expect you to do what Jesus expects his disciples to do, which is to face the question, to struggle with it, and to struggle to live into it.

Jesus does not ask his disciples who they think he is because he is concerned about opinion polls, or about what others are thinking.

Jesus asks, because he is concerned about them.

He wants them to be struggling with the right questions in life, – the ones that will help them to follow and that will result in the bringing in of the promised Kingdom of God.

The way of the Cross is not a natural move for us or for anyone.   Jesus included!  We will see him struggle with that in Gethsemane.  

We will see him stand silent before religious leaders and Roman authority.

He will insist then as he still does that his kingdom is “not of this world” – but it is coming into this world in the actions of his followers, and even in their restraint.  

In the end, the world will do its worst to him.  Jesus sees that coming as well because that is what comes when you dare to propose that things can work differently from the ideals held by this world. 

The natural move for us is the way of the human, to take care of ourselves first, to question the difficult path of loving, forgiving, and healing.

Who do I say Jesus is with my life and my actions?      Let that be the question on your heart this week, the one that makes you look at your own actions and at this world through the eyes of Jesus.  

“Beggars All” Mark 7:24-27

What are we going to do with the beggars?   

          It is a subject much upon our minds these days as the world seems to lurch from one humanitarian crisis to another.

          Potent images come our way via the news media.

          It is convenient to de-humanize them, label them “other” because that helps us deal with them as a more impersonal object.  The people pictured become something to be managed or with which we must contend.

 And so, the homeless man becomes:  “That guy on the corner…” without a name.  

The person in need of public assistance becomes a “welfare recipient.”

          The Refugee or immigrant is classified as “legal” or “illegal.”

          The those displaced by hurricane, flood, war or economic forces a “victim” of their circumstance.

          Having a label instead of a name gives one a comfortable distance from them.

          We might just as well call them all “beggars.”

There is no denying that all of these people have legitimate needs, nor is there any denying that we are blessed with resources and put in a position from which we could give them aid and comfort.

The question is, “who should respond?

This is where the debate breaks down.  

Is it a personal choice to help or not?

Should we mobilize as communities, governments, associations and aid agencies?

What to do with the beggar as the beggar appears before us with their needs?

          The Gospel lesson today lets us see Jesus himself struggle with this a bit.  He does so with all of the ugliness and uncertainty that often accompanies such struggles.

          Jesus is a foreigner himself in this story, having traveled up out of Israel into Gentile territory.

          He might be up in this region as a kind of “break” from all the work in Galilee.

          He might be here because the heat is on in Galilee, and he finds himself a refugee, trying to stay out of the view of the ever-present gathering crowds, the inquisitive Jerusalem authorities, and the occupying Roman forces.

          For whatever reason, Jesus finds himself near the cities of Tyre which sits along the Mediterranean coast.

If you know your bible history, you might better know this area as described long ago as the land of the Philistines.

The Philistines were the perpetual “thorn in the flesh” of Israel.   Philistia had contact with Greek culture, supplied by trade from Europe, they were hard to conquer.  

When the Israelites entered the land in The Conquest, they had the standard bronze weapons of that day. 

The Philistines already had access to iron.  

          Joshua could not bring the Philistines to heel.

          Nor could Samson, nor any of the Judges, not even King David.

          There was no love lost between Israel and these “Gentile Territories” or their inhabitants, so maybe there is some of that history percolating in the way that Jesus receives this woman in the story.  

          This woman comes seeking Jesus help because of what she has heard. Jesus has the ability to command demons, and her daughter has one.   With a mother’s desperation she comes, –for here at last is someone who can do something about his daughter’s condition!  

She comes to Jesus, and we are told “she begged him.”

          Jesus is at first dismissive of this “Syro-Phonecian woman” who is not even given the dignity of a name.  

          When she comes and begs of him on behalf of her daughter’s affliction, Jesus response is: “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs…..”

          We hear him say that and we are aghast!

          Yes, Jesus has every freedom and right to put his hand up and draw the line somewhere, as we would agree, do we all!

          It’s what you do with beggars. 

Part of us sympathizes with him.  

We too, want to have every right to prioritize, and to justify, and to set parameters, and to say “not my circus, not my monkeys!”   The needs of this world are never ending, and we have to make decisions with our own limited resources.

But when we hear such a “drawing of the line” from the lips of Jesus?   Then it is that we recognize, (like Jesus evidently did himself,) that rejecting the needs of others absolves one of absolutely nothing.

          The child will still be in the power of the demon.

          The woman will still be in need of help that only Jesus can render.

          We rightly see that Jesus is only trying to get himself off the hook here and out of the picture, so that he doesn’t have to deal with her or her predicament.

This is what makes the woman’s response to Jesus’ insult to her, and the way he tries to put her off, all the more remarkable, for she does not over-react.

Make no mistake, Jesus does use an insult, — comparing her and her request to a dog begging.  It’s not right to deny your own children something to give it to the mutt under the table.

.         In his refusal of her, it is as if we don’t even recognize this Jesus anymore.   Who is this, that he refuses someone in their hour of need?  

Who is this, who acts as if he has some measure of privilege, as if he shouldn’t have to be bothered with beggars while he’s off duty, on vacation, in a foreign land?

Jesus acts as if God could care less about the Gentiles with his initial response, and that should bother us because.. .well… we’re all Gentiles here!

How Jesus responds to this woman in her hour of need, is how apparently Jesus would respond to us!

 Some scholars have argued that it is Jesus’ “laser focused determination” to reach the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” that prompts his curt response here.  

He has just set his priorities, the plans are in motion, and while John will tell us Jesus has come to save the world, in Mark the Kingdom breaking in happens amongst the house of Israel first, and then radiates out from there.

It’s just not time yet!  There will be time for the Gentiles… later..

          All of which is of little consolation if you have a child thrashing at home with a demon gripping them, isn’t it?

          What should we expect, a Jesus who will look at us and say, “wait your turn?”   “Be patient?”  “It’s not your time yet.”

It really is the woman’s persistence here that saves Jesus in our eyes.  Her unwillingness to just be dismissed and her chutzpah to point out that all she’s looking for is crumbs is what snaps Jesus back into what we would hope and expect of him.  

          “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” – that response takes Jesus aback!
          All she’s asking for is crumbs!   This is an incredible understanding of Jesus’ power and ability!  

It is a statement of faith really, and from a Gentile! 

“You have more than enough, and all I am looking for is a crumb, Jesus.”

“For saying that,” Jesus says to her, “you may go, the demon has left your daughter.”  

“For saying that…”  Whatever the “that” is. 

Was it the insistence that all she needed were mere crumbs? 

Was it her pushing back on his comment?  Her reminding Jesus that there are needs of the whole of the household, even those under the table, at the edges, outside the center?

Whatever the “that” refers to, it is what was needed by Jesus in that moment to change his own direction.

          And that is the end of the story, her story anyway… her desire is granted.

          It is, however, not the end of the story about what to do in the Gentile lands or with them.

From Tyre Jesus goes on to the next stop on his foreign tour, the Decapolis, which is a fair distance — far to the east and south, again in “Gentile territory.”  

Once again Jesus is sought upon by beggars who have heard about what he can do, but this time instead of putting up a protest at their needs, Jesus takes the man brought to him off to the side and does the spitting, touching, speaking of the word and that opening – and the man is healed.  

Although Jesus plainly warns them not to tell anyone, once you’ve given speech and hearing to a man who was deaf and dumb, do you really expect him to remain quiet???

          This story has a tag line at the end. 

After the healing, the word about what Jesus had done spreads throughout the “they” of the Decapolis, presumably meaning the Gentiles living there.

They were astounded beyond measure we are told, saying “He has done everything well; he makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

          Which, by the way is the last thing really that you want beggars to do, advertise and broadcast where they got their help, because – well you know what that will mean!

          There will be more beggars showing up!

          Which, in a strange way gets us back to where we started, because the crux of all of this still has to do with what to do with the beggars, for there are so many of them!

          There are some that beg for our attention, others that beg for our vote, our support, or our finances.

          There are those who beg for their very lives, and some who beg as a way of life.

          We see those who beg for a place at the table of this world for justice, and others who are beggars of publicity, seekers of attention!

          Some beg with their antics, public displays, and outrageous behavior.

          Still others have learned how to beg with the abundance of their resources, buying the influence they need to effect change in their favor or to keep things operating as the “status quo.”

          We see those who beg for change with protest and threatened violence, and others with peaceful demonstrations and persistence, only to be met with violence in the end.

          What are we to do with all these beggars?

          Maybe the place to start is with what Jesus learns and ends up teaching us this day.   

          You cannot avoid the beggars or put them off.

Nor can you afford to ignore them.  They will come your way and you will have to make a decision about that to do with them.

          You must listen to them, discern with them what it is they are really asking of you, and what it is that they may have to teach you!

          In the end, it will be how you respond to those who have no right to ask anything of you, but who need the help that you alone can give  that will reveal who you are!

In your response to the beggar, you will discover what it is what you have to offer this world, and who it is that you truly are.

          It is said that Martin Luther’s last words to us were found scribbled on a note in his pocket.  It simply read, “We are all beggars before God, this is true.”

          The Reverend D.T. Niles, an African American United Methodist pastor later took similar words and put them to a phase to make a statement about how we live out that deathbed realization.    

          “Christianity,” Niles said, “is one beggar, telling another beggar, where he found the bread.”  

And by extension then, he also said, 

          “Evangelism”, (the act of telling people about Jesus,) “is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find the bread.”

          We are all beggars before God.

I believe we are always in danger of forgetting that.  This Gospel reminds us that even Jesus, whom we confess as being “truly human,” needed to be reminded and on guard about his attitude toward the beggars.

The Jesus who could turn away a woman in need, that Jesus we don’t even recognize!

The Christian who does not look upon one in need with compassion, that too, ends up being a Christian who is unrecognizable, no longer following the central teachings and actions of the one he or she calls “Lord.”

If the world is sometimes confused about who we are as Jesus’ followers, it may just be because we’ve forgotten this lesson that even Jesus had to learn.  

It is time to repent, to listen, and to act toward the beggar in the way in which that we would hope God would act toward us.

 For, we are beggars all before God, this is true.

“What You Notice” Mark 7:1-23

“What is it that you notice?”   

The installation of new carpeting in the sanctuary of a previous congregation was a curious entry point for the Gospel lesson for today.  That event gave me an opportunity to pay attention to what it is that people will “notice.”

The installation crew arrived and it was fascinating to see what they noticed when they starting removing the old red wool carpeting.

They noticed the craftsmanship.  

“These seams were all hand stitched, some old timer in the business did this.”  One of the workers remarked.

          Then we had the observations of people as they would walk in to the church for various reasons.

Some were relieved about the change.   “Oh, about time that old red shag carpet disappeared!”

 Some were saddened, as nostalgia brought forth stories about what had taken place on that old carpet,– the baptisms, funerals, weddings and wedding pictures, youth sleep overs, etc.

          I posted progress of the work as it was being done on Facebook at the time, and in all the years that I’d been curating a Facebook presence for that congregation, I can tell you that THIS event had the highest response rate of any posting ever!  

Over 425 comments, likes, or shares across five different postings in two days, and not just by congregation members but by friends of friends of congregation members as it was shared forward and commented upon.   

People in other words, were noticing this!

          After the majority of the work was done, I had e-mails and comments of what drew the eye now in the sanctuary with the new blue carpeting in place. 

The banners stand out more – the red sanctuary light popped out now as a distinct feature. 

          And of course, there were also comments of what wasn’t done, or what wasn’t done right, or what needed to be changed or fixed or further addressed. 

          I just found it fascinating to consider what gets noticed, and by whom!

          Today’s Gospel lesson is also about what gets noticed and by whom.  

“Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.”

          It is what the Pharisees and scribes “notice” that sets the tone and action for what follows.  

We are told that the Pharisees and scribes noticed that “some” of the disciples are eating without first washing their hands in the ritual manner prescribed.

It’s the inconsistency that probably catches their attention. The Pharisees and scribes are compelled to get clarification, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders…?”   

          And, it is that question which prompts Jesus’ strong and lengthy response.  It was a questioning that skipped direct communication with the disciples.  The Pharisees and scribes did not ask them why they hadn’t washed.)  

Instead went to the head, to the teacher, to have him explain the actions of those who are clearly under his charge.

          In other words “What are you teaching these people, Jesus?”  What makes them so cavalierly dismiss the long-established traditions? 

          I wonder if that is what prompted Jesus’ strong reaction?

          I’ve often wondered if this would have been an issue at all if the Pharisees and scribed had asked the few disciples directly why they hadn’t washed.

          They may have had a philosophical or theological reason.  “Following Jesus has made us reject some old things…” they might have said.
          They may have had practical reasons, for instance a number of Jesus’ disciples are fishermen, and as a matter of their occupation they handled dead fish, in bait and hauling in the catch and so were never seen as ritually pure.   

They may have explained to these Jerusalem folks that water was scarce up here in the Galilee, they we didn’t just keep “six stone jars holding 20-30 gallons each” laying around for purification rites like they apparently did down in Jerusalem with its plentiful water supply from Hezekiah’s aqueduct. 

          We will never know how the question could have been answered by the disciples because really the issue was not whether hands had been washed or not, but rather what kind of teaching Jesus was doing.

          It is fairly clear that the Pharisees and scribes have come down here to observe Jesus and they don’t like what they see, not one bit!   So they go to their perceived source of the problem.  

What exactly is Jesus is teaching?  

          Which, I think, prompts another fascinating question about what we notice; “Do we only see what we want to see?”

          I pondered that with the carpet.   

I know that I was seeing what I wanted to see, the completion of a project that was started years ago!  

The installers that day probably were looking for how to get it in quickly and to our satisfaction.

          Those commenting on Facebook were chiming in on color choice, cost, what they noticed now and a myriad of other things

          So, I wondered, “Do we only see what we want to see?   Notice what we want to notice?

          And this is the point of contact where this Gospel lesson spoke to me, and I could hear what it was that Jesus had to say.

          To the question about hand washing Jesus presses from an external matter (of what we notice,) to what it is that we do with what we notice. 

Jesus quotes Isaiah, and goes to the matter of the heart.

          “Listen to me,” Jesus says, “all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”  For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come:

          This is the warning given, the observation made by Jesus upon the “observers,” —all of the “noticers.” 

He gives the teaching to the Pharisees and scribes who have come down to observe, and to the disciples who are eating and wondering, and to the general crowd who is gathered.

          From whence does this come, this noticing what you want to notice?   It comes from within, and this is what you must be on guard about!

          This is the deep truth about us that we would rather not face.   

Whenever I “notice” something in someone else, that is really more about what is stirring inside of me than it is about what that other person.

It’s not really what they are saying, or the way they look or how they behave that is the issue.  What is at issue is what is stirring inside of me as I notice them!

          The displeasure I have at how things are going is coming from within me!

          It is really about my own judgment about how a particular action should or should not be done.

          What is cooking inside me, coming out from me that is the real issue.  It is not the actions of the other, not the external matters of ritual hand washing, or any other outward actions.

          Oh, how hard it is for us acknowledge that and know what to do about it!

          We would much rather push blame on someone else for doing things that bother us!

It is their fault for not doing things the right way, or not paying attention to the rules, or messing up the well-established procedures. 

          The issue is really not the hand washing in this story, and Jesus knows it.

          The issue is; what are you noticing and what are you doing with what you notice?  

What is being prompted in you, stirred up in you?  Are there thoughts of judgment, or unrest, anger or disgust?  

What is it that you are looking for then?  Are you looking for the best in people, or the worst in them?  

Do you tend to notice things with an eye toward criticizing, or do you tend to notice things and approach them with an attitude of grace, forgiveness and love?   Giving benefit of the doubt.

          It is from within that the things that defile us come, Jesus says, so watch out!  

We know that to be the case, but we very much shy away from acknowledging it, or owning up to it, or dealing with it.

          Me included.

          It is hard work to be reflective.

          It is difficult work to look inside your own beliefs, your own understandings, and your own sense of what is acceptable and critique it, question it.

It is hard work to look beyond actions, or to see past long held prejudices, or to question long held and cherished beliefs to see if they still hold true.

It is hard work to look at something from someone else’s experience or perspective!

          It is painful to admit that you might have been wrong about something!

It is always much safer to point out the offense of someone else, or to point out what that other person “ought” to do, or “ought” to know, or “ought” to have had a firmer handle on.

          “Just what are you teaching your disciples, Jesus, that they neglect the tradition of the elders, the washing of their hands?”

          The answer from Jesus might have been, “I’ve been teaching my disciples to love.”

          The answer from Jesus might be, “I’ve been teaching them to forgive, instead of to judge.”

          The answer from Jesus might be, “I’ve been teaching my disciples that the externals of what people do or look like, are of much less importance than what is going on in here, in the heart, and how to act upon that!”   

Jesus might well have been teaching them all that until you get what is going on “in here” – in the heart, under the power of God’s love, grace and forgiveness, – none of the externals will do you any good.

          What do you tend to “notice?” 

Is your life is consumed by a preoccupation with the rules, or the laws, the externals or the way things are supposed to be done?   It is so easy to get caught up in all of that!

Jesus knows that, and so he quotes Isaiah to bring it back home

“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

It is much harder to let the Grace of God in Christ Jesus enter your heart in such a way that he helps you to see things differently, challenges your long held and cherished beliefs, and opens your own heart to consider the teachings that are harder to observe than the just externals, the washing of hands.

Loving your neighbor as yourself?  Who can do that?   We’d rather talk about the carpet!

It all just has me pondering, over and over again.   What is it that I “notice?”– and what it is that Jesus would want me to notice in others? 

“Just Walk Away” John 6:56-71

“Just walk away….”    That is the advice given readily and repeatedly in our world these days.

          Don’t like the service you receive in a restaurant?   Well, just walk away, there are plenty of other places to eat.  If they aren’t interested in keeping the customer happy voting with your feet and your dollars will get the message across to the owners!

          Don’t like the way things are going in the political sphere?   “Just walk away.”  

While voter suppression gets pushed in various forms and voter fraud is feared and put forth as the reason for everything from fewer ballot boxes to requiring photo ID, the far greater threat is the number of people who simply throw their hands up at the whole endeavor.  

That’s why “turn out the vote” measures are so effective and powerful tools in election cycles.  Far more people are just ready to walk away from their civic duty than to walk toward engagement in it.

          Don’t like the way things are done in your service club, your church, or your organization.   “Just walk away.”   

If the VFW doesn’t suit your fancy go to the American Legion.  

If the Rotary isn’t doing it for you anymore, join “Toastmasters” or the Lions Club, maybe the Elks or the Eagles…

If you are upset with a denomination’s actions, well then there are a variety of other options out there, find one that closer mirrors your own proclivities and priorities in this age of “silos” and agreement.

          “Just walk away” has become a viable option for our day.  

          That was not always the case, or was it?

          We shake our heads, trying to figure out what has changed in our world, in our society, in our own churches. 

Why is it that we find people “walking away” instead of “walking together?”

          As we come to the end of the “Bread of Life” discourse in John’s Gospel we find ourselves in very much the same place.

          People are “walking away” from Jesus!

          It’s important to know how John’s Gospel differs from Matthew, Mark and Luke, the so-called “synoptic” gospels.   Those gospels all give us the same basic viewpoint of Jesus.

          In Matthew, Mark and Luke the question the gospel writers raise is one of belief.  Is Jesus the Son of God?    Is Jesus the Messiah?  The writers all want to offer their witness to you that he indeed is.

          In Matthew, (written to a largely Jewish audience,) the Gospel writer takes great pains to show how Jesus was connected to the Hebrew Scriptures, the fulfillment of prophecy.  The genealogy in the beginning of Matthew’s gospel shows you that Jesus is an extension of God’s work, in continuity with those major players in Israel’s history.

          In Mark, (written likely to a Gentile audience,) the central question is “how could you miss it!  Not see?”    Here the disciples follow but cannot quite figure Jesus out.  There is a “Messianic secret,” something that keeps the followers from believing fully.  It makes you as a reader “in the know” re-examine the story again and again to “see” Jesus and believe.

          In Luke, we are told up front that Luke’s interest is in writing an “orderly account” for the “God Lover.”  Here is the story is crafted so that you might come to believe, and see how in the book of Acts, belief in Jesus propels the good news forward to the ends of the earth.

          But in John’s Gospel, another question is being examined entirely.  It has to do with the matter of “walking away.”

          John’s community is divided. 

It is now 90 years after the events of Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection and ascension. 

The understanding was that Jesus would be returning soon, within their own lifetime, to bring about the Messianic age in full.

That has not happened, and now some in John’s community are choosing to “walk away.”

          It is not belief that stands in the center of John’s Gospel.  Everyone believed!  We were all of the same belief, but how does one sustain a life of following Jesus when his return is delayed?  

John’s Gospel is concerned with betrayal, and with what to make of those who simply are no longer following Jesus, those who are walking away!

          How do you make sense of people who have come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, but who are nevertheless walking away from the community, walking away from the fellowship, walking away from the gathering for the breaking of the bread and the reading of scripture?

          How do you make sense of the “fair weather followers?”

What are you to do with those who come looking to Jesus for bread when they need it, but who turn and walk away when things get hard, or when the teaching gets difficult, or when the coming Kingdom offends, or when people in your own fellowship betray you?

          This is what the author of John’s gospel struggles with, and he goes back into the teachings and stories of Jesus to find his answers.

          The answer the author finds this.   Jesus knew from the beginning who would walk away….and he called him, called them, anyway!

          That’s why it’s so important to finish out the chapter, add those last two verses here that talk about Judas. 

          Throughout the whole Bread of Life discourse Jesus has been doing something that in leadership circles is sometimes called “raising the temperature.”  He ramps up the difficulty or the discomfort of those who come to him until they reach a critical moment, a crisis point of decision.

          The people come to him looking for bread, and he calls them on it, “you’re only interested in your stomachs.”

          They protest and remind him that God gave manna in the wilderness, and he intensifies a bit more.   “your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and died…”   I am the Bread of Life.

          They scratch their heads asking how that can be, and Jesus said he has come down from heaven to give life to the world.

          They scratch their heads again and say, “but you’re Joseph’s kid, what do you mean you came down from heaven?”

          Jesus raises the temperature again and gives them something chew on… his body, his flesh, is life, they must eat of it, take it into themselves, let him become part of them to live.

          Finally now, even his own disciples, the twelve are offended.   “This is a hard teaching?” they complain.  “Who can bear it?  “Who can follow it?”

           “Does this offend you?”  Jesus says,Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”

          That is a statement that we kind of gloss over, but I want us to dig into it a little bit. 

In John’s Gospel Jesus is the Logos, the pre-existent Word who was with the Father, whom the Father sent into the world.

John says right up front in chapter one. “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.1He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him..  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 

          There is no doubt about who Jesus is, in John’s community.  The question is one of receiving, of taking Jesus in, living with the Word made Flesh in your midst.

          From the very beginning, God was choosing to come into the world.   That much is certain!  

Even Nicodemus who comes to Jesus by night with his questions is certain that Jesus has been sent from God! The question is, “Should we follow you?”  

The answer back to Nicodemus is “Will you be born of the spirit from above?”  Will you receive me, take me in? 

Will you live as Christ shows you to live, or will you walk away?

          And that is intensified here I think when Jesus himself brings up the offending matter.  “Is this going to make you walk away, this teaching that is hard, this idea of taking myself into your very lives?   

          Well, what if I were to walk away from this world?  Jesus seems to say.  Listen to it again:

Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”

          We think of “ascension” as Jesus completing his work here on earth from Matthew, Mark, and Luke.   We think of ascension only in connection with the promised return of Jesus already in mind.

But at this moment in John’s gospel, in the midst of Jesus’ discourse with the disciples, that idea of Christ ascending is not yet in their minds!

          No, what is being threatened here I think is Jesus walking away from us!

          Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”

          In that moment then, when Jesus says that, — there is I believe a pregnant pause in the gospel, a catching of breath, can you feel it?   

The threat hangs heavy in the air of Jesus throwing up his hands at us and walking back to where he came from, back to the right hand of God, back to where he has been since the beginning.

Jesus threatens leaving this world to the darkness that it so much seems to prefer, because the complaint is that following him is hard.

          “Just walk away….”

          The threats hangs there, but for a moment before Jesus looks at them intensely,

–just as intensely as he looked at Nicodemus,

–just as intensely as he will look into the eyes of the Samaritan woman,

–and dare I say, just as intensely as he will look into your eyes and your heart right now, before he says:

          “It is the spirit that gives life… the flesh is useless.   It is for this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

          Peter gets it right here, when Jesus asks if even the twelve wish to walk away now.

“Lord to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”  Peter says.

          But that’s not enough of an assurance, in the face of betrayal, and people walking away right and left.  

          It is not Peter’s words, his commitment that will be enough.

          The flesh is after all useless, Peter’s will, useless, we will see that later in the story.

          The decision to walk away or stay is not based on your decision only.

          No one comes to Jesus unless drawn by the Father, and so Jesus adds the capstone comment.

          “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.”

          Jesus includes this in order to make clear that those who come to him are drawn by the Father, — even the betrayer, even the one who chooses to walk away.

          This is how John makes sense of the world in which he lives, where people are finding it hard to swallow Jesus’ call to live.  Where people are walking away.

          Betrayals happen.  

Betrayers exist, even in your midst.

But such betrayal does not separate one from the love of God or the light that has come into the world, — such light has come not to condemn the world, but to save it!

          Even you, betrayer that you are, are drawn to Jesus by the will of the Father.

          Even you, who may choose to walk away, — even that will not separate you from the love of Christ who will still call you, still choose you, will still accomplish God gracious will in you.  Jesus will still die for you and Jesus will still love and save you.

          “Just walk away?”

          That is not possible really for anyone.  No one who has been drawn by the will of the Father ends up separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

No one.

“Chew On This” John 6:51-58

We are in the fourth week of this discourse on bread from John’s Gospel, and a little review is in order to help us make sense of where we are going today.

          If you recall, this story started out when the crowds came across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum looking for Jesus to do another miraculous feeding for them. 

They liked that free lunch stuff.

Jesus in short order criticized them for only looking for a hand-out of food.  “You came only because you ate your fill of the loaves…” he says. 

Jesus then presses them to look for something more than just satisfying their stomachs.

          As this discourse goes on, Jesus becomes more and more offensive, encouraging those who followed looking for physical things to begin considering the spiritual benefits that he comes to bring. 

 Now Jesus tells them that he himself is the living bread from Heaven, and when they ask how that can be, he presses them just a little bit more.  

He gives them something (and the pun IS intended here), to “chew on.”  

For while in verse 51 the Greek word for “eating” in reference to the bread from heaven is a rather common word, to sit down at table and eat; in verse 53 the word used by Jesus for eating is one that expresses a more crude practice.  

It is “gnawing.”

It is “munching”, 

It is the kind of noisy eating associated with animals tearing up a fresh kill.

It is “urgent eating” if you will … what you might hear a dog pack or pride of lions do to get a portion before it is snatched away by some other competitor at the carcass.  It is the kind of eating you do as if your life depends upon it… because it does!

          This is what Jesus challenges his listeners to consider as they follow him today, as he presses them to really take him into themselves.

          It is meant to jar them with its crude comparison and make them think. 

And so, it should do the same to us, make us think. 

Just what is it that Jesus presses us toward?  What does Jesus want us to “chew on” when it comes to following him?

          The first thing that I think we need to “chew on” is the depth of what Jesus is willing to do for you… for us.   He says here, “…and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  

          Now I struggled here as to how to drive this home.   What Jesus does for each and every one of us is to give himself up…. Physically.

          How do I make that clear?

I thought at first that the best way to drive that home might be to lift up stories of people who have made the ultimate sacrifice, laying down their lives for the sake of others.

You don’t have to go too far in searching to find those kind of stories.  You know the ones, they come out of extreme situations of hardship, life and death moments, from the GI in world war II who falls on the grenade to save his buddies to the police officer who puts himself into the line of fire to save bystanders.   

 “…and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 

We get that kind of sacrifice.  We can readily see how these heroic people were living the ultimate expression of laying down their lives for others.

But, the problem with all of those examples is that they tend to be too far removed from our experience, our everyday life.   We ponder, “could I have done something like that?”   

We make an intellectual exercise out of the call of Jesus to follow where he has led the way.  As if, you know, someday, when I am confronted with that kind of opportunity, I hope that I’m able to do what Jesus would have me do.

But here is the thing.   Throughout this whole conversation about bread, what Jesus continually lifts up is life, and a life that begins now, in the present tense.”  Listen to this again:

“I am the living bread…”  Jesus says.

“and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you.”

“those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

“whoever eats me will live because of me..” 

We have too often heard this as if it were some future promise, confused it with an eternal life that comes at the end of our days on this earth.

 But Jesus consistently talks about life in him as something that begins now and carries forward.

Furthermore, this whole conversation about the Bread of Life, begins as you recall with folks following him around looking for a free lunch!  Jesus’ words calling us to this life that he offers is grounded in and grows out of the most mundane of everyday experiences, finding something to eat.

So, you see, lifting up heroic examples of people who have given their lives, made ultimate sacrifices, thrown themselves on the hand grenade does not accomplish what Jesus drives home here.

Jesus is not looking for a heroic few, and exceptional person here and there.

Jesus is after each and every one, in their daily life!   He is calling each and every life to take him into themselves and having taken in the one who gives himself up, consider what they will do with that kind of “life” that is within them now.

This is what we’re supposed to “chew on.”   What difference does taking Jesus into ourselves make to our lives right now?

I know that sometimes when I stand up here and preach, and I talk about stewardship, or giving, or choosing to do something for the sake of the other, or talking about what God calls you to do, to consider, that I am probably met with a bit of skepticism.  

Yeah, that’s what the pastor is supposed to say.  It’s what we expect, so let him get it out of his system and then we’ll go on.  

We are often like those crowds who followed Jesus looking for a free lunch, not quite ready for anything more than that.

It is disturbing to suddenly realize that Jesus is talking about a lot more than bread, and that the path that he lays down for each of us to follow as disciples is one that takes the giving up of our lives in daily life very seriously!

          It is important that we “chew on” the depth of Christ’s sacrifice, and the depth to which God calls upon us to give in order to live.

          It is important for us to remember, to see, that the way to everlasting life, a story that lives beyond us, is found not in doing what we can to keep our own life, but is rather found in how much we are willing to give up our own life for the sake of another.

          This is what Jesus does for us.  

          The second thing that I believe we need to “chew on” is what it means to gather here in Christ’s name.   

          We come here for worship, and for a meal, and it is important that we realize that what we receive here is Christ himself within us.  

When you take Christ Jesus into your very self, what Christ demands is that you also take on the same kind of urgency that Jesus has for the Kingdom!

Do we have a sense that we are taking Jesus into us, into our lives, into our very beings? And once there, do we sense his “urgency” to do the things that are the mark of the Kingdom of God in this world, the Kingdom that Jesus promises to bring into our midst? 

Do we have a sense of urgency to be about the things that Jesus set about doing?

In the end, you see, we do not attend this meal to just get a “special feeling.”  Oh, such special feelings might be there, and there is nothing wrong with feeling the power of God’s love coursing through your veins as you take the bread and the wine.  

But “feeling” is not what this is about.

We also do not come to the table just to get a “dose of spirituality” to get us through the coming week.  

It may have that effect. 

Surely being strengthened for daily life is a good thing, but we don’t come here just to get our needs met or to “top off our own tank” to help us make it through another week.

No, what Jesus presses us toward today is consideration of what happens when we come here, when we take Jesus into ourselves.  

We come to the table to become one with the One whom God has sent from heaven to give life to the world, a life that begins now and continues to eternity.

And so, we need to ask, “Where is this living bread leading us?” 

What kind of “life” are we being called to live today?  

Not just as guests at this table, but as partners with the one whom we take into our very selves here and whom we carry with us into the rest of this week and into our world!

We need to “chew on” this…..”Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”  

The world sees Jesus through us!

The world sees Jesus through what we do, and what we say every day!

          You are not the same after you have stepped up to this table.

          Now Jesus courses through your veins, and pounds within your heart, and so should all of his passion for others!

Jesus courses through your veins and pounds within your head, so your thoughts must be God’s thoughts, your words the words of Christ to your neighbor, your eyes the eyes of Jesus, seeing those around you as Jesus would survey this world, with compassion and forgiveness.

Jesus courses through your veins and pounds within your heart and presses to your hands, which now are empowered to do the works of God in this world !  

You are empowered to do what Jesus came to do.  Your actions are the actions of God in Christ Jesus in this world and to this world!  

If that is truly the case, then you will begin to sense also Jesus’ urgency!   Your time to do God’s work here is short!

          Do you sense Jesus’ urgency to proclaim the good news?

          Do you feel Jesus’ urgency to live, to love, to forgive and to work for the redemption of this world?

          Your story is now woven now into the stories of all those who are called to live. 

As you take the Lord’s Supper today, chew on this! 

Here Christ comes to live within you, and to transform you into one who would lay down his life for others, for the sake of this world, in a thousand little actions every day.                When you step up here today, do so remembering that this meal is meant to change you, and to change your life, now and forever.

“Complaint Department” John 6:35;41-51

People will complain about the most interesting of things.   

          Consider, if you will, the common complaints that we hear and probably willingly join in. 

          Road construction.  The very words themselves make us shudder.   Traffic diverted, lanes closed down, steel plates on the roadway, and the dreaded flag person or pilot car.

We are tempted to think that the people behind the orange barrels must lay awake at nights trying to think of new ways to inconvenience us.  But the truth is all this work is done that we might have safer roads and better driving.  Their desire to give us a blessing!   

What we see instead is a curse of snarled traffic and inconvenience.

Or in the current situation we find ourselves — masks

I only have to say that word and the complaints are already forming in your mind. 

For some masks are a necessary nuisance.  They are a simple tool to keep us from spewing illness into the air.  They are a courtesy we do for the sake of the other.   Yes, they are uncomfortable, confining, smelly if worn too long, and can be confusing as one tries to figure out how to drink, eat or open a plastic bag at the supermarket without licking a finger.   

There is no shortage of complaints about the nuisance factor with masks!

For others, however, the mask elicits a fervor not just of complaint but of active resistance!   The subject raises ideological and sociological complaints of identity and control.

There is no lack of emotional response about the implementation, use, or request to mask up, and complaining about them reaches a whole new level, all of which are distractions from the central issue of how we care for one another and crush a virus that is crushing us!

Or how about “robo-calls?”

On Wednesday of this past week the same mechanized female voice that comes with these nuisance calls informed me first that the DEA had a package of drugs with my name on it, the Social Security agency was trying to reach me, and that Amazon wanted to contact me about my recent order of an I-phone 11.

All I ever have to do is just “press one” to sort out any of these conundrums. 

Our complaints range here from how blatant these scams seem to be to how subtle the pitch can sometimes seem. 

It’s hard to see an upside to robo calls, except they come because we have the blessing of immediate communication now, and how often that has been a lifesaving gift!

Are there complaints in the church?  Oh, I’ve been around long enough to know that there are often a few.

In Ephesians the Apostle Paul writes about how God gives to each a measure of the Spirit, and to each a measure of gifts, and that the gifts will differ, but somehow, despite Paul’s reminder that gifts may vary, we still hold expectations that our church, our pastor, our community should do it all and do it all equally well.   If they do not, the complaints begin.

That is the fascinating thing about complaints.  They seem to take on a life and will of their own at times, blocking out all positives.  They take on a life that threatens to override every other good intention and apparent blessing.

          The danger of engaging in complaining is that it will sometimes blind you to the positives, all the gifts, and all the blessings that are also coming your way.

          In the Gospel today we are told that Jesus’ own people were complaining.  

          They complain about the very gifts that Jesus claims to bring to them.  

          “I am the bread of life….  I am the bread that came down from heaven….”  

          Wait a minute there, Jesus, how can you say that?  We know you.  We know your father, we seem to remember you running around here in diapers, how can you make such a claim, that you have come down from heaven?   Aren’t you Joseph’s son?

          In that moment of the beginning of the complaint, the whole focus of what it means for Jesus to be “bread,” is lost.  It is swallowed up in the question, “How this can be?”

          Look at the blessings that are being ignored by those to whom Jesus is speaking. 

          “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father.”   Here Jesus stands, telling them that they are all the presence of God because the Father has acted to draw them together this day, and they miss it!

          Do we miss that as well?   

Look around you today.  Has it ever occurred to you that you are not just here because you decided to come today, but that you are here because God drew you here!  

What does it mean that out of all the churches in this community and all the opportunities in general for things to do, God has intentionally drawn you to this place, at this time, to be with these people. 

          We are here because God has drawn us together today. 

That is a blessing. 

We are here for each other. 

We are here, as Paul says in Ephesians, “to be imitators of God, beloved children, and to live in love as Christ loved us…” 

We are here for each other, drawn together this day to care for each other. 

Do we miss that in our rush to complain about what is not here, or what we have to do, or what we haven’t got? 

We certainly can miss that if we succumb to the temptation to enter into the world of complaint!

          Take a look at another blessing that gets lost in the complaint in this Gospel.  “and I will raise that person up on the last day.”    

Here a blessing is given! 

If you have been drawn here, you have been given the assurance of the resurrection.  To each and every person here today, and within reading and listening range, Jesus says, just because you are here and because God has drawn you here, and because God says so, you too will be raised from death to life

Does it get any better than that?   

How often do we miss the chance to be lifted up by God, and by one another, because we preferred instead to stew in our own juices, focus on what we can’t understand instead of being open to what God wants to give us as a free gift?

          Another blessing lost in the complaint to those in this Gospel.  “’And they shall all be taught by God.’  Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”   

If you came here today, you learned something about God. 

You learned God’s desire is to get to know you. 

You learned that God’s desire is to bring people together. 

You learned about the Bread, which gives life, and that bread is Jesus himself, who comes to you and for you – and because Jesus came for you, he also came for that person next to you, and that person you are angry with, and that person with a different viewpoint than yours on the subject of traffic, masks, or phone calls.

“Give us this day our daily Bread” is the prayer on all of our lips, and Jesus says, “here I am… for you!”  

Eternal life, real life, is the kind of life that we hear Paul talking about in the Ephesians lesson.  Did you catch what this real life looks and feels like?

Listen to the balance in life and relationship that Paul says a life in Christ gives.

It’s o.k. to be angry, but not o.k. to act on anger in a way that hurts someone else or that lingers.   Don’t let the sun go down on your anger!

It is not o.k. to steal, even if you try to rationalize it in any way!  Rather you must be about honest labor with your own hands, and then not for your benefit solely, but so you can help others. 

That is the key, not your benefit, but for the other, the neighbor, the one who also needs this day daily bread!

It is not o.k. to just say whatever pops into your mind.  “Let no evil talk come out of your mouth.”   Instead, your words should be chosen and tempered to be useful in building up, in being constructive and being “grace filled” Paul says.

Put away bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving…

This is the kind of life that God in Christ Jesus says is to be our staple,– our “bread!”  

It is a life that orders your events and days and gives you balance in care.  A life centered on relationship with one another, and it is a gift that Jesus comes to bring. 

Such life, bread, is free for the taking, but you will miss it if you close your mind to it and prefer instead to remain in the world of complaint!

This is not an easy thing to do.  It is often said that the worst thing you can say to a depressed person is “cheer up.”   After all, if it was just a matter of choice, who would choose to be depressed!   

Complaint too, is not simply a choice. 

We don’t often choose to become complainers, but the impulse comes upon us.  The irritation happens, the disappointment takes root.  

The world is a place which does indeed sorely vex us. 

There are terrorists out there.  There are thieves.  There are those who would seek to harm us.  There are those who manipulate and who seek to hold on to power by any means necessary.  There are scammers and scoundrels.

But there are more people, including us, who are simply having a bad day or struggling with things of which no one is aware, and we get short and hurt.

If we come to believe that the whole world is out to get us, we close in upon ourselves.  When our only concern is for ourselves, for how something affects us, for how this will inconvenience me, then it is that we are ripe for getting lost in the world of compliant!

That has been the story throughout this Gospel story.   As people sought out Jesus for their own needs, looking for bread, they quickly fell into the trap of complaining because Jesus simply did not give them what they thought he should or would.

What Jesus continually presses them about, and us toward, is leaving behind the concern for ourselves and instead taking up a servant life where the focus is on caring for the other. 

That is where sustenance is found. 

That is where we find the bread of life that Jesus comes to offer.

We know, deep down, that this is where we are fed. We are fed when we care for the other.

The spouse discovers this; the more one seeks to care for the other, the more love and joy one seems to get in return.

The child knows this.  When life is scary, the place to go is to the parent, and while the wrapping of the arms around the mommy or daddy’s neck is meant to be a way to draw comfort from them, it also has a strange way of giving care and comfort.

To embrace the other in a time of fear and hurt is to both give and get the very thing for which we hunger.

No matter how scared or tired the parent is, in that moment of embrace all of the world’s cares melt away in the need to love, to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving.

This is the life that Jesus wants us to discover.   The life that he says he will give his own life in order to give us.  

People will complain about the most interesting of things. 

They complain sometimes that God doesn’t love them, or care about them, or doesn’t even know they exist, and that the church doesn’t help them. 

The great irony however is that even in the midst of their complaining, God is still offering the very thing they need!

God is still surrounding them.

God is still reaching out God’s arms with the embrace of the very thing that will give them life. 

Can you see it this day? 

Look around you. 

Here is the bread of life. 

It is found in what you will do for the sake of your neighbor. It is found in that other whom Jesus loves, and in the gaze of Christ upon you from their eyes

“Living Into” John 6:24-35

Everybody seems to be looking for Jesus, but do they really know what they are looking for?  What they hope to find?    

That is the question that the Gospel lesson for today begs.  

Jesus has just finished the miraculous feeding and gone across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum.  Now the crowds are following him looking for “bread.” 

They are complimentary toward him. They call him “Rabbi.”  They are happy to see him, but they are also somewhat insistent, maybe even demanding? 

          “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  They ask Jesus.   Which at first sounds like they are interested in serving and in the Kingdom, but then they follow that up with what are more self-serving requests.

          “What sign are you going to give us?  What works do you perform?”  They inquire.  

“Say, how about that ‘bread trick,’ the one we just heard you did, the one just like Moses did in the wilderness?  (hint, hint)

          “Give us this bread always!”  They demand.

          Jesus’ assessment of their compliments and their requests is this.  “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” 

 It appears that Jesus sees through to their true motivations.  They appear to not be looking for him to engage in the work of the coming Kingdom of God but are rather interested only in what they can get for themselves.  

          This may seem a little harsh of an assessment on the part of Jesus, but this is in fact the same kind of tightrope that we all seem to walk when it comes to looking for Jesus.

          Do we come to Jesus because we are motivated by the signs of his Kingdom, wanting to serve him and to advance it?

          Or, do we in fact mostly come to Jesus looking for him to give us something we want or think we need? 

Are we motivated by our own growling bellies? 

Bellies, that growl — if not with actual hunger, — but because we seek something from Jesus; his help, his healing, his intervention in the mess that we’ve made of our lives?

          This is an age-old question.  What am I really looking for when I am seeking Jesus?  

Am I looking for a leader that I can follow, or for someone who will feed me, give me what I want?   

Am I looking for someone who will challenge me and bring out the best in me as I seek to serve and to live as a disciple? 

          Or, am I looking at Jesus as a kind of “vending machine” who if I push the right buttons and deposit the right gifts will dispense what I need when requested?

          This is a hard Gospel lesson, for it lays bare our own motivations.   It makes us examine and question ourselves. 

Why do we seek Jesus?  

I must confess that I am not always as ready to be a vessel of service as I am to be a receptacle for blessings.   

I confess that I often find myself asking for God to bless me rather than asking how God can put me to use to be a blessing to others.

          I always seem ready for God to intervene in my life to set things right or to straighten things out.    

I am less inclined to respond quickly when God calls upon me to be a means of intervention, or blessing to others. 

I am less eager to wade into the lives of others and become an agent of God’s Kingdom in this world.

          We are in good company with this dilemma. 

It is the same question with which the disciples struggled, and everyone who seeks Jesus, or whom Jesus sought out. 

Whether you are the casual seeker who comes across in the boat looking for bread, or the closest of Jesus disciples, James and John, the question is still the same.  

          Do I seek Jesus for what I can do for him as a disciple, or for what he can do for me?

          I do not know any way to resolve this question, other than to point out an important point in the translation and then to give you a personal example, — at the risk of being too personal.   

          When these seekers ask Jesus, “What must we do to be doing the works of God.”   We are told that Jesus’ response to them is: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”   

Actually, the translation is a little different from that.  What it actually says is “That you believe into him whom he has sent.”    That sounds awkward to our ears, but in Greek it has a special connotation.  It implies and speaks of ongoing relationship.

You see, you can believe in something and still be separate from it.  

          For instance, you can believe in democracy, speak well of it, defend it as the best form of government, hail it as important, and still go through life never exercising your right and privilege to vote or participate in it.  

That is manifestly apparent in our country. 

Everyone here believes in democracy, (or says they do) but not everyone believes into it.   Not everyone involves themselves into that right and privilege.  

What was the figure in last year’s record election turn out?   Only two thirds of all eligible voters cast their ballots?

          Everyone believes in democracy, but not everyone believes into it enough to participate!

          Believing into Jesus implies that you intentionally wrap your life around him, that you participate in Jesus.  You have an ongoing and dynamic relationship with him.   

It is relatively easy to say that you believe in Jesus.  You can even profess and confess, that a relationship with God in Jesus Christ is important to you and can be life transforming.   

But believing into a relationship?  

What does that look like?  How does that work? 

It means you have to work hard at this! 

You have to watch over this relationship.  

And yet, as a good Lutheran I remember that faith, belief is supposed to come as a free gift of grace.  So how can it be about so much work?

To understand what it is to believe into a relationship, you must always remember that what we are talking about here is a relationship of love, and to understand that you really have to compare it to something that you have already experienced.  So here is the personal example, at least the best one I can come up with from my own experience.   

It is also the example my Seminary professor Gerhard Forde always seemed to fall back on as well.

To understand what it means to live into relationship with Jesus, you have to insert a love relationship that you can understand, that you have known.

I met my wife on a cool, fall night at college.  I was hanging up posters, she had just finished studying for a test and was a little bleary eyed and in need of a break.

As a break from studying, she helped me hang up the posters around campus. 

It was cordial. 

There was no hint of an ongoing relationship. 

We were just there out of necessity for each other.  I needed help holding up posters, she needed to give her mind a rest.

It wasn’t until a year later that we re-connected, and this time I saw in her something else besides a convenient person to hang posters.  

I began to believe into a relationship with her.  I asked her out.  We dated.  She didn’t find me repulsive.  We had our ups and downs, our ins and outs, but with each passing day and week we found ourselves wanting more and more to be with each other, and to share with each other.  

I had always believed in marriage.  

I believed it was a good thing. 

I believed that someday I might like to be married.  

But it wasn’t until I met Elizabeth that I wanted to believe into something with a particular person, sharing all that would come.

Was this relationship that I believed into a free gift? 

You can’t make someone love you, no matter how many flowers you send or gifts you give.  

But it was a free gift to me, because I can’t get it in any other way except that she give her love to me.

Does this relationship that I have believed into demand things of me?  

You bet!  But I give willingly — of my life, my time, myself, not because I have to, but because I want to and have found doing so to be life giving! 

Do I serve her, or does she serve me? 

Yes. 

There is in our lives now an interplay of serving one another.  I bring my strengths, my gifts, to where her weakness lie, and she brings her strengths to where I am weak, and we are stronger together than we would be if we were to stand simply as individuals.

Do I have to work at this relationship? 

You bet!  

I am constantly checking my own wants, my own needs, my own desires against the greater sense of the whole into which we have committed ourselves. 

Am I free to do what I please? 

Yes, but do I choose what I do with another person in mind? 

Absolutely!  

Having believed into this relationship, it has transformed me. 

Parts of this relationship are beneficial to me, but I am not in a relationship with my spouse to just get my own needs met.  We are mutual in our desire for one another, and for the future, and for what it seems God wants us to do with our lives as we live into that life together.

When Jesus scolds the crowds this day, accusing them of only looking for bread for their bellies, he does so because he desires to be so much more for them than a vending machine. 

Jesus desires to be in a dynamic relationship with them where service is mutual, and the focus is clear.  A relationship not just about satisfying the hungers of the belly, but on the larger things, the bigger picture, the hungers that the Kingdom of God has in mind for this world, and the satisfaction that Jesus has come to proclaim.

This is what it means to believe “into him.” 

It means that you enter into a love relationship where there is a true partnership, a true sharing, and where there is a less concern for individual needs and identity in favor of the identity that emerges together.   

“I am the bread of life.”  Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  

What Jesus offers to those who seek him is this kind of dynamic relationship, not unlike any other love relationship you may have experienced – or that you may indeed hunger for! 

Jesus offers himself, and in doing so invites you into a relationship where the burdens are shared, where the gifts are multiplied, and where no matter what the circumstances, there is a sense that we will be there for each other and together we can do great things, even bring in the Kingdom of God.     This is the bread offered, the bread that gives life.  It comes when you believe into a relationship with the living God in Jesus Christ

“Leftovers” John 6:1-21

The multiplication of food happens all the time in our kitchens. 

I am the chief cook at home, and one of my favorite things to do is to go the refrigerator and see what is there for leftovers and then concoct a way to make something completely new and different from them.

A bit of mashed potatoes?   Combine that with an egg, some scallions, garlic and a generous amount of parmesan cheese and you’ve got the makings of some tasty potato cakes.

A chicken breast and thigh?   Pull the meat off the bone, dice it, saute’ some onion, celery, and make a bechamel sauce.  Add in some herbs, pimento and a splash of hot sauce and you’ve got a creamed chicken to serve over those potato cakes.

It’s not miraculous, to be sure, but it does happen.  By the time I’ve worked up the leftovers into something new I discover that I’ve made enough to still have leftovers again!   

That happens mostly because I underestimate what it is that I have to work with in the first place.  How it multiplies on you in the process of cooking still always seems like a sort of a mystery to me.

The miraculous feeding by Jesus of the multitudes is the only story that is included in all four of the Gospels.   The details vary a little from Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, but the essentials of the story remain the same.  

You have one huge needy, hungry crowd.  

You have what looks like too little food to even begin the task.

The solution the disciples come up with is always to dismiss the crowds and turn them to their own resources.  

The solution Jesus proposes instead is to take whatever it is we have at hand, break it, blessing it, and begin serving it up and sharing it amongst those gathered.

In the end of Jesus’ directions being followed, leftovers are gathered, both as a sign of abundance and to prove that there is sufficient for all to eat their fill.

There was clearly something very important about this event!   

A little delving into the history of that time and the circumstances in Judea at the time helps us understand it, particularly as John tells the story.

We are by the Sea of Galilee, which John reminds us is also called the “Sea of Tiberias.” 

That is an ownership claim by the Roman Emperor.   This sea and all that is in it belongs to Rome now. 

We know from historical records that under Roman occupation at the time of Jesus, the Sea of Tiberias was being seriously over-fished to supply Rome with a salty fish sauce called Garum.   It is a fermented savory sauce, something like Worstershire sauce.  A hungry Rome savored it.

We also know from records of the time that under Roman occupation, typically 25% of all the grain crops grown in Judea would have being required as tax apportionment and shipped back to Rome to feed the population there.

It is significant that John identifies what the child has to offer.  

Barley was the least desirable of all the grain crops grown, and so it was the grain most often “left” for the people of Galilee to feed themselves.

The fish the child has may well be cast off remains of the production of the fish sauce that Rome craved.  Garum is made by salting the fish and drying them in the hot sun until they would “weep” the clear liquid that becomes the sauce.  Once the extract was collected, the rest of the fish could be discarded.

So, what is it that the boy has to offer to Jesus for his lunch?  

Leftovers! 

This is what Jesus has to work with – the cast off and the dregs.   This is what he transforms into abundance.

And who does he do the miracle for?  Well, these too are the cast offs and the dregs of the Galilean people.   The ones who have come to find him, bringing the sick and those in need of his touch.

Something is happening here that not one of the Gospel writers wants us to miss, and that is what makes this story so hard to preach.

What does Jesus get to address the needs of this world?  He gets the leftovers!

What he’s got never looks like it will be enough for the crowd before him or for the task at hand.

What this world has to offer to the Son of Man is not its finest or its best, but rather what it decides it doesn’t want for itself!

However, whatever Jesus takes into his hands, (all the gospel writers maintain) is more than enough!

When you give something to Jesus, no matter how inadequate it may appear, whatever he takes and blesses is what God somehow makes work!

In the end, in fact, you discover that you’ll have some leftovers, and you’ll have to figure out just what to do with them!   

How this all happens is always a mystery to us.  Something we can’t quite explain.  

          Despite Jesus showing us this directly what happens when we place what we have in his hands, we still find ourselves underestimating what it is that we have to work with.

 It happens all the time. 

I hear it all the time.  

We talk about the needs of the congregation, or the needs of the community and we start to talk about how to address those needs and the litany of “What are these among so many?” begins.

“I have nothing, I can’t contribute.”
“I’m too old for this sort of thing.”
 “I’m sorry, but I have issues.”
 “I’m too busy.”
 “I’ve already given and I’ve done my bit.”
 “We should let the younger folks do it.”
 “I’m not ordained.”
 “I don’t know enough about the Bible.”
 “This is not my gift.”
 “I’ve got too much on my own plate right now.”
We look at the challenges laid before us, in our communities, in our schools,

in our neighborhoods and in our churches and we find ourselves echoing what those first disciples said as they looked at the crowds and at what they had on hand.

          “But what are these among so many…”

“Sure, we’ve got a few things going for us here, but what are they among so many needs?”  So many issues?  So many people?  So many demands?

The point of this story is clear.

 When you deliver whatever you have at hand into the hands of Jesus, commit them to God for God’s use, God will take whatever it is and somehow make it work!

 If you keep those things to yourself, lock God out of the picture, then what you have in hands will never be enough, not even for yourself!

The miracle in this story is not just one of feeding the hungry.

The miracle is also about the opening of the imagination!   It is about inspiring faith on the part of the Disciples.  

The miracle is inextricably tied to the world in which these people find themselves, where they are marginalized and left only the dregs.  Where the rich and powerful sap the resources of the land for their benefit or export them to others who do not live there.

“What are these among so many?” they ask, as if Jesus was going to agree with them?  

As if Jesus was going to say, “Oh, is that all you have, five loaves, two fish, excuse me, I didn’t realize it was so small.”

NO!

From Jesus we hear, “What have you got?”  and “Let’s get to it.”  

Jesus knows that God the Father is a lavish God.  A God who creates still all that exists and as such provides generously for this world! 

God the Father is always giving, always creating, always more generous than we know how to comprehend. 

Jesus knows and comes to show us that God is indeed a generous God.  That part of his nature is not diminished!

          Our God is capable of taking what looks wholly inadequate for the task at hand and somehow transforming it into what is needed right now and then some!

But we’ve got to stop thinking, “We have nothing.”   

If the child had not opened his hamper, and said, “Here Jesus, take my lunch!” – This story would never have unfolded, never would have been told.

We’ve really got to stop thinking we have nothing, or not enough!   

We’ve got to stop thinking about how we can procure for ourselves, and begin thinking about how we will see the abundance provided by a generous God and how it should be shared by all – with all!

Which of us will be the child of God who will open his or her hamper and say, “Here Jesus, let me share what I’ve got!”   

Instead of just lifting the lid and peeking inside and making the determination on your own, “I don’t have enough!.”

“Enough” as it turn out, is always an elusive amount, is it not?   It becomes more and more elusive the more you try to pursue it for yourself, decide when “enough” is yours.

See, here’s the blessing we miss in this story. 

How do you think that little boy felt as Jesus accepted his offer? 

How do you think he felt when Jesus took what he had and made it go out to the multitudes?  

Can you imagine the little boy beaming with pride.  “I was part of that!”

“Jesus took what I had to offer!   It didn’t look like much to me, but he said it would be plenty!”

“Wow, look at what Jesus did with what I gave him!”

Look at all the people fed, and the happy faces, and the satisfied and hopeful looks.”

Did you ever think about the joy that must have come when the child put what looked like so little into Jesus hands, and then watched as miracles unfolded? 

This is a story not just about miraculous feeding, it’s also about the opening of the imagination and the beginning of faith and hope for a different life.

What do you believe? 

What do you find yourself saying?   Doing? 

Do you peer into the hamper of your life and say, “What is this, my gifts, my abilities, my resources, my talents among so many needs in this world?”

Or will you dare to open your hamper to Jesus, and offer what is there for him to bless, break and use in this world.

If you do, then just you wait. 

It will happen.

The miracle will take place. You’re going to have to be part of the crew trying to figure out what to do with the leftovers, because there will always be leftovers!

“Come Away” Mark 6:30-34; 53-56

As an introvert, I understand and appreciate this directive of Jesus.   “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” 

          I like nothing better than to get away from bustling, crowded places.   My idea of relaxation is to have a leisurely lunch in quiet place, read a book, listen to a podcast or just take in the scenery.

          I know that is not a universal love. 

For many who are extroverted in their nature, the thought of sitting quietly in a deserted place is excruciating!

They much prefer the “many were coming and going” part of this story.  They want a restaurant with a lively “buzz” of conversation, music, the clang of the kitchen and find it all stimulating and energizing.  They relish the interchange of ideas, the people watching, and all of the interactions going on.

That exhausts me!

So, as I read this gospel, I find particular comfort in seeing Jesus recognize both of these often divergent needs.

It is Jesus who encourages interaction in the first place.  He sends his disciples out two by two, instructing them to mix and to mingle in the towns and countryside around Galilee.   

The disciples become “apostles” or the “sent ones.”  

In the sending out they learn to trust in God’s provision, how to assess those whom they meet, and discern where they can best offer healing and peace as they talk about the Kingdom of God.

We are told in the opening of today’s Gospel that as the disciples return from that busy work of proclaiming the Kingdom, clearly, they are stoked!   They launch into telling Jesus all about what that they have “done and taught.”

If the Gospel were just a matter of getting busy and getting the work done, I suppose Jesus would have only called such extroverts who could have moved endlessly from interaction to interaction like heaven sent “fuller brush sales-persons.”  Each vigorous interaction would have propelled such disciples on to the next, more energized by each passing contact.  This gospel story would have highlighted the next big move or the journey expanding, the ever-widening circles of the disciples influence and impact on this world.

Clearly “they” (meaning both Jesus and his disciples) are now recognized and gaining notoriety, for Mark tells us as much.  

Momentum is building!

Which is why it is important to note that Jesus intentionally shifts from the extroverts excited to share what they have done to caring for the needs of any introverts in the group. 

Instead of building on the wave of energy and pushing forward on the momentum built, Jesus gives those who need it opportunity to retreat and to reflect, and in fact, imposes that even on the energized ones. 

“Come away…”

In doing so, Jesus is modeling that both actions are important, necessary, and affirmed.

Which do you find yourself more drawn to as a disciple? 

Are you the “let me tell you what we’ve been doing” kind of disciple?  The “let’s get out there and make it happen” kind of disciple?  Do you find doing the work of the Kingdom energizing and get frustrated that you aren’t accomplishing more, doing more, involved in this or that endeavor?

Surely this Gospel reminds us that the need is never ending! 

We hear that people are running ahead of them as they row the boat to get to where Jesus is going. 

People are bringing those in desperate need out just to touch the hem of his garment.

There is no end to the need or the demands of Kingdom work, that much is certain!

Or are you the “let me take a moment to rest” kind of disciple?  The one who needs some time away to recover, to find the inner peace and refreshment that comes from stepping back for a bit.  Do you need some time to assess where we are right now, how best to proceed into the future since the needs are many and the laborers indeed seem limited?

I think it is important for us all to wrestle with those two often divergent needs from time to time because this world in which we live does not model any kind of balance between those two at all!

We tend to value action over reflection.  

In the United States, the average person will take only 54% of the time that is allotted to them for vacation.  The remainder will go unused.   

Many who take their vacation will report feeling guilt over taking time off, either because of the importance of their job, or the burden they feel they are placing on co-workers or the company by their absence. 

Many more will also report feeling tired after their vacation because they tend to pack it with activity.  They travel on a tight schedule.  They make family and friend contacts.  They take in shows, nightlife, and sightseeing.  People run themselves ragged trying to “get it all in” while they are there or while they can.

As a society, we just don’t do “come away to a deserted place” very well.

This point was driven home to me on a high school youth mission trip about a decade ago.

The ELCA has a Navajo Lutheran Mission in Rock Point, Arizona.   This was never a residential school.   It had some housing for families, but it mostly focused on teaching, health and social service work on the Navajo Nation near Canyon de Chelly.  

As a church we had planned to go down, take in a few sights in the southwest and then serve the community there.  

In a previous trip, under a previous director for the mission, we had scrubbed and polished, painted and cleaned, helped out with a VBS program and busied ourselves serving in the distribution of food from their pantry.

This time however, under a new director, we did none of that. 

He welcomed us.  He invited us into our arranged lodging on the campus and sat with us.  He talked a little about the work they did amongst the Navajo, the “Dine’”, which translates “human beings” but when we asked how we could help, he abruptly shifted gears.

“You have planned an awesome mission trip,”  He said.  “While you are here, you will rest with us.”

He had no projects for us to do.

He simply sat and talked with us about all that he, all that we, were learning from the Navajo.

“This is the mission.”  He said.  “God is already here and we are just now listening to how God has always been here.  We are learning in what ways God has made the Dine’ God’s people.   We are learning the wisdom of being in the lonely place, the deserted place.  That is your mission here.  God has much to teach us here. We become better followers of Christ as we learn to become Dine’,– human beings.”

For two days, we sat and watched the wilderness.   We greeted the sunrise, felt the Sun’s power in the midday and watched it set behind the butte in an explosion of oranges, reds and deep purples at night.

We saw stars and the milky way in the skies that were not dimmed by city lights.

We hiked the desert.  We marveled at all the life that we found there.  All the life that would never been seen had we not slowed down enough to pay attention to it. 

Flowers on the cactus, insects and reptiles scurrying under bushes and between the rocks   We saw the beauty that was this place.

We talked deeply, listened well, and experienced “Navajo Time”… the doing of things when the time was right to do them instead of being driven by clock and a schedule.

On the third day as we packed to leave, the director came and thanked us for our “work.”  “You have done awesome things here by living in our midst and honoring the ways of the Dine’.”  He said.

          As we drove away, we talked together about the experience.  

“What did we really do there?” one young man asked.  

          And from the back of the van came the response from a young woman, who thoughtfully said, “We changed….”   

We spent the rest of the van ride that day talking about all the ways in which we had been changed by the experience.

          In the Gospels there are several places where Jesus turns to his disciples asks them a question.

          “Who do people say that I am?”

          “What were you talking about along the road?”

          Jesus speaks to the disciples in parables and does things that are not the norm for how the world usually works.

          As the Gospel stories unfold, we witness the change that comes upon those whom he talks to and touches.

          Here is the thing.

          When you are plunging head long into the work that must be done, you usually aren’t thinking about much else besides the task at hand.

Jesus, however, models something quite different for his disciples, for us.

          He wants us to think.

          He wants us to process what it is that we have just seen, heard, and experienced.

Jesus encourages his disciples to step away from the busy work to have a leisurely meal and to consider what has been said, what has been done, and what they have seen.

Jesus pulls them back from the headlong rush into doing so that they can ask good questions and to gain new perspectives and insights into this Kingdom that he comes to proclaim.

          That too, is work!

          That too, is your mission!

          Jesus wants to you to be opened to change!  The Kingdom he proclaims and invites you into is a different kind of Kingdom from the one you are currently living in!

          That is going to take some time to process!

          So, I ask you again, what kind of a Discipleship do you find yourself naturally drawn to being?  

Is it the “Let’s get going!” kind?  If so, Jesus will likely make you slow down and ponder.

Is it the “Just let me think about that..” variety?   Well, If so, then don’t be surprised if you find him pushing out to interact with others, to step into their homes and live where they live to find out what the Kingdom would be like in their place, their situation, and their shoes.

          Both are affirmed by Jesus.

          Both are needed, for you will not change if all you are doing is rushing to and fro!

Just as, you will not get anything done to change this world if all you do is sit and think about it.

          What is the invitation you hear from Jesus this day?

          Which one scares you most?  

          Which one appeals to you most?

          Which one do you most need to develop?           Come away and consider, the call of Jesus on you.