Sunday is coming! “The different kind of power at work in the kingdom of John & Jesus” Mark 6:14-29

So (The disciples) went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed many with oil who were sick and cured them. King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, ‘John the Baptizer has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’” (Mark 6:12-14)

It seems the reason why Mark interrupts the story of Jesus with the death of John the Baptist isn’t to tell us about the death of John the Baptist; it is to tell us more about Jesus. In the verses prior to this passage, Jesus went home where his power was limited by the people’s unbelief (Mark 6:1-6). So he healed a few people and then sent his disciples to call people to call people to repentance, cast out demons and anoint them with oil for healing (Mark 6:7-13). This ministry’s different kind of power draws the comparison between Jesus and John. Even Herod believes Jesus is a resurrected John (Mark 6:16).

Herod both feared and respected John, but he was too weak politically to save him having been outmaneuvered by his wife who hated John. Herod has John killed rather than lose face, exposing his own frailty. Later on, Jesus’ enemies corner Pilate into having Jesus executed as well. This passage asks us – what is power, and who has it? Mark flips our expectations upside down.

From the beginning of the story, Jesus invites us into a promise that is yet to be fully realized.“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!’” (Mark 1:14-15). The kingdom that both Jesus and John proclaimed is hidden under apparent powerlessness in John’s beheading and ultimately in Jesus’ death on the cross. Yet, the surprise (and even terror) of the resurrection calls us into a new way of being as death is left powerless.

As we live in the meantime, the kingdom Jesus and John proclaimed continues to expose the fraudulent powers of death as it invites, welcomes, values, heals, restores and forgives all the wrong people by the world’s standards. And just as power attempts to bring its wrath upon all who oppose it, Jesus gives his life as “a ransom for the many” (Mark 10:45). Sacrificial love is the center of what this kingdom is, does, and promises. The kingdom of God invites people to be and live for others whatever the personal cost; as Jesus calls his disciples of any age to “deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34b).

-How is the power of sacrificial living calling you in a world of exposed weakness?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “Going & Staying-Put” Mark 6:1-13

And (Jesus) could do no deeds of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:5-6a)

It might sound counter-intuitive, but I find that it is actually easier to ‘go’ than to ‘stay-put.’

I find many people feel the opposite to be true for them – they want to be someplace that feels familiar. They seek relationships that re-enforce commonly held norms among people they know well (even if they don’t along with them). People tend to respond to expectations that feel comfortable, safe and established. Church often reinforces those feelings for them.

There is a reason both the status quo and nostalgia have such a grip on people and are so often near impossible to overcome – change is not only difficult, it is viewed as the enemy of everything we value. Which is why it is better to ‘go’ than ‘stay-put.’ When we ‘stay-put‘ our human nature resists change, we forget the stakes to which we are called and we get easily distracted from doing the ‘going‘ to which Jesus calls us. A common result is very little gets done.

A reason local service opportunities, mission trips, going to camp, advocating for others, getting together for youth gatherings that bring 31,000 of your closest friends together, and so many other things that happen ‘outside’ our faith communities are so powerful: they disrupt our everyday experience with new possibilities.

The key, of course, is to bring those experiences back with us, so that neither we nor our churches get too settled. It is when we start feeling settled that we resist being engaged, challenged or pushed to do new things because we tend to focus on ourselves, our likes and predictable life patterns.

Not for lack of trying, I can see why Jesus felt like he had ‘no power’ at home while he was effective elsewhere. People already had a vision for who they were and what they hoped to be without him. I can also see why Jesus sent his followers out into the community without any resources rather than having them set-up a well-stocked religious spot in town. Jesus has a much bigger vision for us than we could ever realize without him.

So here’s the challenge:

– What if we saw our congregations not as the havens of stability to keep us safe from the world that we so often think they are, but rather as dynamic mission outposts in which God has called us to meet other people beyond our walls?

– What if instead of operating out of fear and anxiety for ourselves, we tried living in a way that declares ‘Jesus is Lord’…’every life is interesting and beautiful and beloved and full of struggle’…’God’s grace is sufficient for you’…’the Spirit is with us’…’love wins’…’and if we ‘go,’ whatever happens, happens?’

– What if we stopped playing it safe, stopped longing for a past that was probably not as glorious as we remember, and we stopped resisting change in order to embrace God’s call into the future by embracing this messy world right now; knowing the only thing we need to take with us is Christ’s blessing?

Maybe then, we’d know the full measure of his power.

Maybe then, we’d be healed to be agents of healing.

Maybe then, we’d stop ‘staying-put‘ and ‘go‘ so we never get settled.

We might just find the spot God has called us to be a beautiful place to explore together.

PGS

Sunday is coming! “The healing touch of Jesus” Mark 5:21-43

 

 

 

 

 

Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” (Mark 5:23)

I’ve sat with people who were not going to get well.

I’ve sat with families who have lost a child.

I’ve sat with people who have been connected to church their whole lives who have prayed for healing and are still waiting.

I’ve sat with people who have never been to church and lost a loved one with nowhere else to go.

In the midst of it all, Jesus shows up.

Sometimes he shows up in obvious places – in the signs we so often look to: the Word, the sacraments and prayers; beautiful places; art and song.

Sometimes he shows up through the people we would expect to be there – family, loved friends, neighbors, clergy and other church folks.

Sometimes he comes as healthcare workers, other patients, or in little kind gestures we might ordinarily overlook if we weren’t looking.

Sometimes he comes in complete disguise (like the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned [see Matthew 25:31-46]), and we meet him (or miss him) by not paying attention or falling prey to our fears.

But Jesus shows up.

The people in this story knew it. The woman who reached out to him hoping for healing. The crowd in amazement as they saw her get well. The desperate father Jarius whose daughter was about to die. The crowd who mourned her, the girl as he took her hand, the disciples as they looked in wonder as she skipped off to the table for something to eat.

Jesus showed up.

He shows up still.

Jesus shows up through you and me and all the unexpected places we find ourselves where people are hurting, mourning and weeping.

In everyone who comes to us when we are hurting and mourning and weeping, he shows up there too.

When we see him, it is like we can skip again.

When he touches us, we are made well.

When others see him, the banquet can begin.

When you embrace them with his touch, the party has already started.

Where are the hurting places where you can bring the banquet?

Let’s party. 🙂

PGS

Sunday is coming! “Storms” Mark 4:35-41

What storms do you find yourself in?

When the storm arose and overcame their boat, the disciples (several who were fishermen and knew their way around the Sea of Galilee) saw the water swamping their craft and began to believe all was lost. Fear leads to inaction. Inaction leads to helplessness. Helplessness leads to despair. The storms closes in.

Yet when things looked most dire, they woke Jesus and asked: “Do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38).

Have you ever asked God that question?

We expect God to act. We seek vindication. We hope for justice to be done. We anticipate all things to work together for good. Yet it is sometimes difficult to foresee a positive outcome in the midst of trouble; a bad diagnosis; the latest tragedy; an unexpected loss; feeling stuck; outside forces pressing in on us beyond our control. We see cruelty having free reign; injustice supported by the masses; dangers that insert themselves into our lives that make us seem fragile, small or insignificant.

Yet we are not devoid of agency… Jesus is in the boat.

They woke him, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

He responded, “Peace. Be still. Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).

While our passage ends with the disciples scratching their heads in confusion and awe as the storm subsided, they still needed to get ashore (Mark 5:1).

How do you think they got there?

Perhaps once they knew the peace of Christ was with them – they acted.

What storms do you find yourself in? What storms do you see surrounding others?

What could be possible – if you knew the peace of Christ was with you in the boat to calm that storm?

How might you enter the storms others face – and act?

Yes, God cares. Christ is with you. The Spirit is moving across the waters. Yes, the storm is raging.

Stay calm.

Let’s face this storm together.

PGS

Sunday is coming! “Subversive Kingdom Seeds”

 

 

 

 

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” (Mark 4:26-27)

There is something subversive to this ‘kingdom’ Jesus speaks about in these seed parables in chapter 4 of Mark’s Gospel:

-The ‘kingdom’ is like a sower scattering seed extravagantly in all kinds of places (Mark 4:1-20). Why would one waste seed so extravagantly?

-The ‘kingdom’ is like a seed growing in the night without knowing how. Yet, we enjoy the harvest (Mark 4:26-29). It is the kind of thing that happens ‘by faith and not by sight’ (2 Corinthians 5:7) How many other things are we the beneficiaries of through God’s good creation we don’t understand? Where do we exploit it to benefit unjustly? Where do we use it to exploit others?

-The ‘kingdom’ is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a large shrub to protect the birds in the shade (Mark 4:30-32). Mustard scrubs are unruly and difficult to control. Birds would be unwelcome guests in garden by eating other seeds. What are the undesirables that God keeps reaching out to in this ‘kingdom’?

What other things do these stories reveal?

1.The ‘kingdom’ as seed. Seeds get buried in the soil in order to grow and bring about new life. There is symbolism here of death and resurrection. (N.T. Wright. Mark for Everyone. [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001], 49.) Just like Easter, there is an element of surprise in these stories as new life emerges out of old ones to create a new reality ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’

2.The ‘kingdom’ as growth. Creation brings forth life. While we still don’t fully understand how, life tends to be resilient, grow where it can, and spring-up in unlikely places. Faith does that too. Wherever it takes root the ‘kingdom’ is present.

3.The ‘kingdom’ as agency. The sower sows. How does God act as a sower? How do we as Christ followers, sow seeds? How do we collaborate with what God is doing to bring and/or embody new life around us?

These seed parables suggest that the ‘kingdom’ does not come about through the ways we are used to things getting done: through power, wealth, or influence. Instead, the ‘kingdom’ arrives in ways that are inexplainable or less than obvious. The ‘kingdom’ (when you pay attention) enters our lives under the radar, mostly unnoticed, until it stealthily takes root and grows. Sometimes the surprise nature of the ‘kingdom’ flips our expectations and unroots the way we believe the world works. It may even change the way we operate!

Where is the ‘kingdom’ needed in our world today?

How might the ‘kingdom’ already be underway?

Who is the ‘kingdom’ trying to reach?

How might the ‘kingdom’ already there?

PGS

—-

From Luther’s Small Catechism:

Your kingdom come.

What does this mean?

In fact, God’s kingdom comes on its own without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come to us.

How does this come about?

Whenever our Heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that through the Holy Spirit’s grace we believe God’s holy word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.

(“Explanation to the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer,” Luther’s Small Catechism, Evangelical Lutheran Worship. [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006], 1163.)

Episode 65: 10 Questions the Church Should Stop Asking

Have you ever found yourself asking these questions….

How do we survive as the church?  Why don’t we have X,Y, or Z? Why aren’t we like that church down the street?  Why should we change?
or Shouldn’t the church just take care of its own?

Pastor Joe and Pastor Geoff explore these idea and many more in this episode of the 2 Bald Pastors.

Sunday is coming! “Discovering your sisters and brothers”

 

 

 

 

 

Whoever does the will of God is my mother and sister and brother.” (Mark 4:35)

It was a soup kitchen, but it ran like a professional restaurant – serving hundreds of meals twice a day in downtown Toronto. Our youth (who were there on a mission trip)arrived at the soup kitchen in the morning to serve as volunteers. After a brief orientation, when we arrived in the morning, we were all given jobs to get that meal ready to go by noon. Because it was such a big operation, each person that worked there barked out orders for things to get done in that noisy and busy space.

With one exception.

At the end of each command – “stir this”; “grab that mop”; “take that tray out to be served”; “we need more garbage bags”; “start cleaning those pots and pans”; came and addressed to each person as “sister” or “brother.”

Brother, could you come here please and serve these vegetables”; “Sister, start taking the trays out of the oven and put them on the serving counter”; and so on.

After lunch was served, cleaned-up and preparations for the evening meal were made, our group went to retrieve our brown bag lunches that we are prepared before we came.

Then something else happened… we were invited to join the workers for lunch at their table with the meal they had prepared for themselves. We were told later that this did not occur often, because there were so many volunteer groups that came through their doors, all with different motivations and effort. But these sisters and brothers invited us as their brothers and sisters to join them. It was an honor and a privilege. We were treated like family. They saw something in us.

As the crowds pressed in around Jesus, seeking to touch him, hoping to be healed and freed of what had possessed them, his family looked on with disdain saying “he has gone out of his mind” (Mark 4:21).

They called for him, and the crowd told Jesus his family was waiting for him.

Jesus asked, “Who are my mother and brothers?” Motioning to those he was sitting with Jesus said, “Here are my mother and brothers. Whoever does the will of God are my mother and brother and sister.” (Mark 4:33-35)

When we go to meet Jesus by serving others; when we welcome the stranger; free the oppressed; comfort the sick; clothe the naked; feed the hungry; giving of ourselves as Jesus gave for us (Matt 25:31-46), Jesus promises not only that will we meet him there (Matt 25:40), we also act as part of his family, as sister and brothers (Mark 4:33-35).

What that soup kitchen in Toronto understood, was that they were not only doing the will of God in their community by caring for others, they were serving and meeting Jesus in each of the hundreds of people they served each day. And for whatever reason, they saw that same devotion and dedication in us, as they welcomed us into their family as if we were sisters and brothers already.

Where is Jesus in your community?

Who might we see as our “sister” or “brother” who is already part of our family — doing God’s will around us we may have overlooked?

Where might we serve Jesus together?

PGS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 64: Christian and Muslim Relations with Dr. Grafton

Pastor Joe and Pastor Geoff sit down with Dr. David Grafton from the Hartford Seminary to get a better understanding on Christian and Muslim relations in the United States and around the world.

Resources Mentioned in the Podcast:

Mosque Finder 

Salatomatic 

ELCA Muslim Relations Page

 

Sunday is Coming! Mark 2:23-3:6 “Asking the right question”

 

 

 

 

 

When you start with the wrong question, you are bound to come up with the wrong answer.

It starts with the religious leaders asking of Jesus and his followers, “Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24)

Why?” is usually a good question to start with, but not just to prove our assumptions.

In asking the question this way, the religious leaders have already decided what Jesus and his followers are doing is wrong. They ask this question as a form of judgment, seeking only to discover their motive (which must be sinister).

Think of how many questions we ask of others, having already decided the answer we are looking for in order to publicly shame, admonish or prove how superior we are to them.

When we pre-judge people and their motivations, we close ourselves off from seeing or learning anything new. We also tend to de-humanize the people we are scrutinizing.

By asking the wrong question these religious leaders could not discover that Jesus was showing them (and us) a better way to be human by caring for others rather than simply enforcing the rules which would have ignored them. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). He used the Sabbath to make the lives of people around him better. Do we?

A better question to ask might be: “Why do we have the Sabbath?

The religious leaders forgot the Sabbath was set aside to remember the people of God were once salves in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15). They turned a celebration of freedom into a rigid rule. Jesus used the Sabbath as an opportunity to set people free. Jesus revealed what the Sabbath was supposed to be for – freedom. His opponents took Jesus’ actions on the Sabbath as an assault on what they held to be sacred. Asking the wrong question led to the wrong answer. So they sought to destroy him (Mark 3:6).

How about you?

What do you think the disciples experienced when their hunger was met on that Sabbath? (Mark 2:23)

What do you think the man whose hand was restored experienced on that Sabbath? (Mark 3:1-5)

What do you think the crowds hoped to experience when they came to him after that Sabbath? (Mark 3:7-12)

What do you hope to experience the next time you encounter Jesus?

Will you see it?

It might be right in front of you already. Ask the right questions.

PGS