Posts tagged mark
An Open Invitation

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.” ’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’

 Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’

Mark 10:17-31

Preached and written by Doris Powell

Are there any passages of scripture that terrify you? For me, this is one… the story of the rich man seeking eternal life. So terrifying, I still remember a sermon preached on this text over forty years ago. Why terrifying? Because even then, I knew I was rich.

Today, you can go to a website, GlobalRichList.com, to learn just how rich you are. Say, your annual net income is $25,000. Enter $25,000, and click: “Show my results.” Watch the numbers whir in the results box to learn:

You’re in the top 2% richest people in the world!

I admit it lacks context… a $25,000 income in the USA means a pretty modest life-style. $25,000 in Ghana means you live in luxury. Still, it’s a bit shocking: the top 2%.

Forty years ago, I didn’t need a website to tell me I was rich. I had a modest home with a mortgage, heat in the winter, enough food, a steady job, and an education. I was rich. Maybe not mega-rich, but rich enough.

The Rich Man

The man in this story was likely mega-rich. Many Bible translations title this story, “The Rich Man. ”In Jesus’ time, there was no middle class. So, if you “had many possessions,” you were rich. This was a memorable event. It happened right in front of Jesus’ disciples. The strong emotions and surprise they felt meant it would live in their memories. They were “perplexed” and “greatly astounded” as Jesus taught:

“How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

Extremely perplexing in a society that believed God showed favor by conferring wealth. If the wealthy couldn’t be saved, who could?

This encounter is recorded in all three Gospels with only slight variations. Matthew identifies the man as “young” and Luke as “a ruler.” In Mark’s Gospel, two added details make it feel more personal to me, more human. The rich man knelt before Jesus. I can picture his reverence in this act, as well as in his words, “Good Teacher.”

Jesus, as a devout Jew, gave the honest answer one might expect he’d advise everyone, about observing the commandments. Imagine how the man’s simple response must have affected Jesus.

“Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”

He wasn’t bragging. He was looking up at Jesus, telling of his life-long spiritual journey. Here is the second detail recorded only by Mark:

“Jesus, looking at him, loved him.”

Jesus, looking into his heart, then gave him a very personal answer:

“You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

The encounter concludes:

“When the man heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”

Then followed the discussion with Jesus’ disciples about:

‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ … “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.”

So, forty years ago when I heard that memorable sermon, I was kneeling at Jesus’ feet with that rich ruler to hear: “Go, sell all what you own…” Could I do that? I didn’t think so. Truly, the passage we read from Hebrews got it right:

“Indeed, the word of God is living and active… it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before God no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”

The Sermon

The sermon I remember began with a caveat: Jesus was speaking to an individual, not giving generic advice. The Bible is NOT saying, Doris, Betsy, Kenny… all of us… MUST sell all we own to gain eternal life. But I still didn’t feel totally off the hook, so I tried to follow the advice offered in the rest of the sermon by our minister, Lester Moore.

1. Go home, pull out your excess and give it away. You don’t need it, and it can meet the needs of others. I did that. It wasn’t too hard.

2. Learn to distinguish NEEDS from WANTS, or you’ll quickly accumulate new excess. Makes sense. That was a bit life-changing for me, always asking myself, “Do I really need that?” It’s not that I never buy anything that I just want, but there are many things that I haven’t acquired. And I never got sucked into a life-style of living beyond my means.

3. The things you need to keep: find a way to share them. This suggestion was surely the most life-changing for me. I’d never thought about it quite that way before.

Patterns for Everyday Life

I decided I needed to keep my car. How could I share it? Within the week, a coworker came up to me and asked if I might consider taking on a rider to work. An Iowa State University student, working part-time in the mail room, needed a ride in. She could pay gas money. Would I consider it? I was able to share my car! I told her I didn’t need gas money. She was right on my way. And I was blessed with an incentive I needed to get to work on time.

I also decided I needed to keep my house. Within the year I was able to share it with a dear friend, Sandee, who was trying to be a mom, a full-time student, and a part-time worker to afford housing. It was too much. She and her son, Ryan, lived with me for two years. It was the most harmonious time of my life. After she went off to seminary, I had several students stay with me at different times while they were doing their job searches. And the blessing came back around to me when I spent seven weeks enjoying Betsy’s hospitality as I recovered from ankle surgery. A great friendship blossomed.

Last week, I was delivering Meals on Wheels with Lawrence, when it occurred to me… I’d found a new way to share my car, delivering meals. This morning’s Call to Worship got it right: “Here we set the patterns for everyday life.”

For years after that sermon I lived, what I called, “a simplified life-style.” It freed me to follow the call I heard to go to seminary where I lived in a small studio apartment for the next three years. I’d look out over San Francisco Bay and feel so blessed.

The Invitation

There it was. It was there all along. I had just missed it. In my worry over possessions, I had totally missed The Invitation:

“Go, sell what you own… then come, follow me.”

Jesus looks at each one of us and invites us: “come, follow me.” The following will take a different form for each of us. Our calling is unique. And what we must unburden ourselves from, to be free to follow, will be unique too.

The UCC calendar identifies this Sunday as “Disabilities Awareness Sunday.” For many, an attachment to possessions can be disabling; but for others, it will be something else. An addiction? A fear? A grievance? An old wound? When Jesus looks on you and loves you… what will his next words to you be?

If I’m honest, I have to tell you, I’ve back-slid. One look at my house and you can see I haven’t been living that simplified life-style for some time. Distinguishing needs from wants takes discipline. Living in a large (for me) house, for twenty-five years hasn’t helped. But after a life-time of working on it, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, habits of sharing possessions and time have endured.

The Good News is: “Come and follow” is an open invitation. An open-ended invitation. It didn’t come with an expiration date. It’s right here, for each of us.

Sometimes I wonder about that rich man. I can’t imagine he could get those few moments with Jesus out of his head: what it felt like to have Jesus look on him with love. Did the invitation play over and over in his mind? In his dreams? Did he find “grace and help” in his time of need? Maybe later he sold and distributed all he owned and followed. We don’t know. Or maybe, after Jesus’ resurrection, he became part of that community we read about in Acts last week:

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”

As Jesus assured his disciples:

“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

May it be so for us, too… Amen.

Rachel McDonaldmark
Sisters

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary* and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence* at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Mark 6:1-13

When I’m not busy pastoring here at South Haven, I also do a little bit of work on the side for an organization called the Center for Parish Development.  One of the tasks I do is create graphics for social media.  I have a routine, where I make sure the organization’s name is carefully centered at the bottom.  I pick colors from a similar palette for brand recognizability.  I work to arrange photos in just the right way. 

I create what we consume relentlessly, neat, boxed, bright, catchy images and videos.  Anything to get us to look up and pay attention, even if it’s only for three seconds.  I spend time packaging information.  I like taking lengthy theological treatises and turning them into a six word saying.  It brings me great joy because it’s predictable and pleasing.  

We expect this.  Neat, well-designed, concise.  

The Gospel of Mark is the briefest of the gospels.  Not typically for detail, Mark gets to the point.  I like Mark.  Quick to read and understand.  

Except for moments like here, in the sixth chapter.  Amongst the story of disciples being sent, and chilly hometown crowd, we hear this brief mention of Jesus’ family.  Not only that, but this detail that just zips by: Jesus, apparently, had sisters.

This has the potential to unravel the whole thing.

This is not easily repackaged, neatened up.  It’s what happens throughout scripture, when these brief mentions of the women on the edges represent whole layers of stories and understanding that we only get the briefest glimpse of.  

The story frays around the edges.  The central message of Jesus and the disciples fades out of focus when you realize that the impact of all of this goes far beyond the main characters.  Jesus’s actions have consequences.  In this case, his actions seems to have impacted yet again more unnamed women, sidelined in the story.  

How many times have we heard about these disciples, and yet not a word about these sisters?

I have sisters and I am a sister.  There’s very little I wouldn’t do for them.  This week it included riding with my sister Charity to a baby shower in Columbus I wasn’t even invited to.  Later in the month I’ll travel to Seattle to stay in a small room in an Airbnb, sharing a bed with my sister Kristen.  This is what it means in my family to be a sister.  We show up for one another. 

Yet families are complicated. 

Back in chapter three, we get a brief mention of Jesus’ mother and brothers, who have chased after him.  This is after Jesus has begun healing and performing miracles, but his family has arrived to grab him by the ear and drag him home.  The crowd lets Jesus know his family is looking for him.  Jesus replies in this way, saying, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  and looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

So much for family loyalty.  

No surprise, perhaps, later when Jesus says, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”  Here we catch the briefest hint that Jesus’s family might have rejected him, just as he seems to have walked away from them.  

But what about his sisters?  

This is a loose end I can’t let go of.  Jesus is so quotable, so loveable, so marketable, until he’s not.  Until I’m wondering if Jesus abandoned his sisters, no matter how a sacrilegious thought this is to think.  Even if they did shun Jesus, this gets personal when I think of my own sisters.  This can’t be right.  Wouldn’t Jesus and his family be, well, a little more Norman Rockwell?

Mark could have left this detail out.  It could have been the amorphous hometown crowd, full of impersonal people, that rejected Jesus.  But Mark had to bring family into it.  

Was Jesus’s family trying to keep him home because they knew it would be safer there?  Were they refusing his message and miracles because to acknowledge them would mean acknowledging this dark path Jesus was to follow?  Was it easier to think of Jesus as brother or son, than savior of all?

Or was this more of a Cinderella story, with evil step mothers and step sisters, better abandoned?

I don’t know.  What I know is this is an itch that I keep coming back to.  

Did Jesus’s sisters end up following him?  Were they there to see his miracles, to find their own escape from their hometown.  I imagine one way or another, through Jesus their life was transformed.  

To create something new, you must let go of the old.

This is a story that forces me to think about just how revolutionary Jesus really was and still is.  This isn’t gentle Jesus, but strategic Jesus.  This is Jesus who left his hometown behind and instituted a take em or leave em policy with his disciples.  This is  Jesus who travels lean and mean.  

When I think about Jesus’s sisters I’m forced to remember that Jesus didn’t preach ease and simplicity, but fracture and challenge.   

I don’t think Jesus hated families or his family.  But I know he came to tell us about sacrifice.  

I’m grateful that Mark included this little detail.  Because it stops me from sliding through this story as if it’s something I’ve heard before.  Yes, yes, the disciples aren’t to take anything with them, get on with it. But sisters are real to me.  It’s a hook, a catch, that reminds me that our faith is about real people and real consequences.  

Jesus unravels that which we clutch onto.  

And this includes neat and tidy pictures about families.  Jesus’s sisters are a reminder, a message of their own despite their lack of name and detail, that the world Jesus left behind was complicated.  That it did tear families apart.  But it did more than that.

Christianity from the beginning has always been a place for complicated families.  Jesus brought this way of breaking and reforming families.  The church became a place for people to find their new families.  Jesus’s message held: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother!”  We still use this language today, when we look around the room and don’t see strangers, but siblings in Christ.

But what about Jesus’s sisters?

I don’t know.  I wish I knew more. 

Yet I am grateful for their silent witness that forces me once again to consider that the bonds of family we find here in church are hard fought.  That these are not simple and easy relationships.  The life of faith is complex and difficult and I am quick to forget.  

For today though, for Jesus’s sisters, I will remember.  

Rachel McDonaldmark, jesus
Unfulfilled Dreams

Mark 1:4-11 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with* water; but he will baptize you with* the Holy Spirit.’ 

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved;* with you I am well pleased.’

Less than a month before he was killed, Martin Luther King Jr. returned home to Ebenezer Baptist Church.  He was there to preach to the community that baptized and ordained him.  The title of his sermon for the day was “Unfulfilled Dreams.”  

He preached on 1 Kings 8, about a little phrase that the God had spoken to David. David, as we know, never completed one of his biggest dreams.  It was Solomon, not David, who built the temple that was David’s dream.  Yet 1 Kings has God telling David, “You did well to consider building a house for my name” or in the King James language Rev. King used, “Whereas it was in thine heart to build an house unto my name, thou didst well that it was within thine heart.”

Martin Luther King Jr. took this words from God and preached it as it was first heard to David, then to the congregation, but then as pastors so often do, you can just hear in this sermon how he was preaching to himself.  We know Martin Luther King Jr. as the hero, as the one whose vision has been vindicated and accepted, even as we imperfectly move toward it.  But to him, this glory wasn’t far from assured.  Like David, Martin Luther King Jr. knew that his dreams were not likely to be fulfilled. 

Yet, what he heard in this scripture, this tiny little overlooked verse, what he wrung out of this text was the promise from God that trying was good enough.  That is was about the orientation of our heart, our intention, that God honors.  He said near the end of the sermon, “I don’t know this morning about you, but I can make a testimony.  You don’t need to go out this morning saying that Martin Luther King is a saint.  Oh, no.  I want you to know this morning that I’m a sinner like all of God’s childrens.  But I want to be a good man.”     

It is almost heartbreaking to hear this, the testimony of a man we know and honor as a great man, standing before his church family and before God simply asking to be known as good.  

I’ve read that Americans these days may have left this kind of longing far behind, as we now accept that we are good, maybe great even.  That we have an over-inflated sense of self, that it’s a problem of over-confidence than lack-of-confidence.  And for churches and preachers this can make it much more difficult to convince Americans that we are, in fact, sinful creatures.  In short, we don’t need convincing that we are good, because we know we are.    

I have seen this and believe it to a certain extent, but I don’t trust it entirely.  Because what we say and do on the surface can often hide our real insecurities.   I have seen the longing Martin Luther King Jr. had.  This deep desire to be known as good.  The desire to be liked, to be loved, to be seen as someone worthwhile, someone good.  In fact, overconfidence can be a mask for deep insecurities and a desire to be loved and known and seen as good that we all have.  We want to hear these words, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” 

Of course, these are the words God said over Jesus during his baptism.  As Jesus came out from the waters of the Jordan river after joining right in on this wild baptism thing, Mark says the heavens were torn apart.  The Spirit descended.  And God came right to the river, right to the mud, right to the ragtag group of followers, to John the Baptizer with his camel’s hair clothes, to Jesus, and declared God’s pleasure.  This was good.  This was worthy of love. 

And this was before Jesus even did anything.  This is the beginning of his ministry, the very first time we meet Jesus in Mark.  Maybe his divinity was worth declaring good.  But there’s hopefulness here that God’s blessing comes as an act of grace.  Jesus is beloved not because of what he is going to do, but because of who he is.  God’s blessing comes as undeserved grace.  

We can travel far away from understanding God’s blessing upon the world, upon us, as good.  It’s a blessing that comes right at the beginning of creation, in the beginning as Genesis says, when God was creating the world, God continually called what God saw “good.”  This, remarkably, included us, the humans.  As beings created in God’s own image, as beloved children, we too were called good.  But we’re quick to abandon this blessing God gives. 

But we have to come back to this, go back to the beginning, go back to the blessing of God, because do people need to hear this.  I know this because there are powerful people who continue to lie and tell people that they are not valued.  That where they live makes them less worthy.  But that’s not of God.  

Because in God’s eyes, the people of Haiti are good.

The people of Africa are good.

Do you know why they’re good?  Because they are people created in the image of God. Full stop.  

Guess what, church?  We’ve forgotten this, time and time again, preferring judgment to the knowledge that God loves and offers grace freely, abundantly.  That God called our world good.  That God doesn’t judge separate from this world, but becomes fully human to be a part of it, and it well pleased with that!  

We are good to God and worthy of love.  

Here’s the other way we could imagine God.  We could imagine God distant from our world.  Judgmental of our world.  An unmoved mover.  Aloof.  Elite.  Out of touch.  

But here, when we come to recount this story of the day when Christ was baptized, we hear anything but.  The story goes that God tore open the heavens to send a blessings to earth.  That Jesus asked to be baptized, to be brought alongside all of these other people who were seeking a new way of life, to get right in the river with them. 

And God was pleased because it was good.  

If only we could believe this.  If we could believe it about ourselves.  What would it mean about how we viewed the world if we believed that we were good?  Maybe greater yet, what if we believed those around us were good?

We are witnessing in our society right now such a lack of appreciation of the good that is to be found in others.  I think of the world Martin Luther King Jr. inhabited and I think it is no wonder that he sought to be considered good in a world that was telling him he was less than the white men around him.  And Rev. King’s dream is still unfulfilled!  White privilege is alive and well. Police decisions motivated by fear and distrust, an inability to believe that a young black man could be good, lead to senseless killings. Need I say again how entire countries are dismissed out of hand.  

Yet these are beloved children of God!

It is my faith, it is my belief of who God is, it is my study of scripture that makes me want to shout this until all know and understand.  

I wish I could sit down with Martin Luther King Jr. and tell him, yes, yes, you are a good man.  Because God has come to you and names you as beloved.  And you are good.  

That I could tell this to all who doubt their self-worth, who have to listen to the other voices that dismiss them, who push them aside who say they are not valued.  To let them know that this is not how God sees them.  

Today, let the sky open.  Let God send the Spirit on those who need to hear that they are beloved, that they are good.