Are Ye Able?

“…we want you to do for us whatever we ask. Mark 10:35”

Mark 10:35-45 was the scripture lesson handed to me on a slip of paper in my Homiletics (the art/craft of preaching) Class while in seminary. I was pleased because I knew that whatever sermon I preached would lead directly into one of my favorite hymns; “Are Ye Able?” It is difficult to read scripture with a fresh eye when you have spent all of your life in the church and around the Bible. It is difficult to put aside an embedded notion of what the scripture is trying to convey to us in a particular reading when it comes seemingly prepackaged with its own complementary hymn.

Jesus and his disciples had spent a considerable amount of time together leading up to this exchange as they traveled together. James and John had a front row seat for Jesus’ public ministry. They had the insight of intimate and personal interaction with Jesus. Thus when they came to Jesus with a request they had already decided what Jesus could offer them. They were, at least at the moment, without a clear perspective. Their understanding of Jesus was borne out of a closeness that left them with a glaring blind spot.

This is a truth for most of us who have by and large inherited our faith. We have the advantage of a deep and abiding sense of God’s promise. We have comfort in the knowledge of something that has always been there and will always be there. This can at worst cause us to become spoiled and think that our faith and belief are mainly a personal exercise that revolves around us. At best it can cause us to have a very narrow view of what Jesus is all about. At either extreme and at places all across the spectrum we can find ourselves approaching and Jesus directing Jesus to do our bidding by saying, “do for us whatever we ask.” It is a concern of mine for me and the church that I love that we believe that we are saying, “Yes, Lord, we are able!” when in fact we are saying “Do something for us and do it now.”

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#onething

There is always “One More Thing” to accomplish along our spiritual walk. In today’s reading from Mark, we read of a rich young man who is told that there is, “One thing you lack… (Mark 10:21).”For many of us, our religion has become an exercise in completing a checklist and proclaiming that we are finished with this chapter in our lives. Young people are confirmed and drift away from the church. Adults join the church and move on quickly to other things. The argument can certainly be made that the church is falling short in helping folks to grow after they have made a commitment to the church. Jesus seems to be making the argument that what is lacking is not a matter of religion (the church) but of a matter of our personal desire as it relates to our relationship with Jesus (faith).

We lack “one thing” for most of us the “one thing” is completely missed because of our possessions; they are plenty. We tend to blame the institution for not being able to compete with a variety of diversions that dominate our lives. We have “one more thing” that we need to be about but it is made difficult because we lack “one thing.” What are we willing to leave behind (possessions, attitudes, hang-ups, etc.) so that we make grasp the one thing we lack?

Mark 9 – Study

Jesus self identifies as the “Son of Man” throughout the book of Mark. The following is a list of the occurrences in Mark’s narrative:

“The Son of Man”

Authority

2:10 – authority on to forgive sins

2:28 – Lord of the Sabbath

Passion

8:31 – must suffer many things, be rejected by elders, chief priest and scribes, be

killed and after three days rise

9: 9 – disciples are not to tell anyone … until the Son of man rises from the dead

9:12 – should suffer many things and be treated with contempt

9:31 – is to be delivered into the hands of men … killed … and will rise after three

Days

10:33f – will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, condemned to death and

delivered to the Gentiles

10:45 as servant

10:45 as ransom

14:21 – goes (to his death)

14:21 – is betrayed (concerning the betrayer after prophecy of betrayal)

14:41 – is betrayed into the hands of sinners

Return

8:38 – will come in the glory of His Father with the holy angels

13:26 – will come in clouds with great power and glory

14:62 – (Israel’s leaders) will see him sitting at the right hand of power and

coming in the clouds of heaven

In our study we should pay particular attention to Jesus use of “Son of Man” and how it relates to the “transfiguration” as well as the continued work and ministry of Jesus and his disciples as we look at Mark 9.

1)      What is the significance of Moses and Elijah? How is Jesus in relationship with them?

2)      Verse 7 echoes the voice heard at Jesus’ baptism. What does this tell us about the transfiguration.

3)      Jesus tells the disciples to “tell no one” about the “Son of Man” until resurrection?

What does this tell us about our understanding of transfiguration outside of connecting to resurrection?

4)      As we read the stories of healings can we have a complete understanding of Jesus’ purpose and ministry outside of understanding what he means by “Son of Man?”

5)      What does Jesus speaking on greatness have to do with the “Son of Man?”

6)      Is Jesus the return of Elijah or is he the one that will return?

7)      What is the significance of “…but only Jesus…”for Mark’s Gospel?

Jesus alone

“…but only Jesus.” – Mark 9:8

So often when we come to the scripture we ask ourselves “What am I missing?” We spend a great deal of time in our pursuit of God’s Word trying to see what’s not there. In Mark’s account of the “Transfiguration of Jesus” Peter wants to add to the moment, “…it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings… (Mark 9:5).” Peter’s response to finding himself in the presence of Moses, Elijah and his teacher Jesus is understandable in that he wants to capture the moment. However, we must remember that any attempt to capture a moment inevitably takes that moment captive. There is not a direct response to Peter’s idea instead we hear the echo of Jesus’ baptism now on the mountain top, “This is my beloved son… “Along with the caveat “…listen to him.” This moment once experienced was not meant to be enslaved to our own devices. It like all moments of true worship places us in the midst of eternity.

What Peter was searching for on the mountain was a place to reside. Jesus was not offering prime spiritual real estate at a discount price to his closest friends. Jesus was offering himself and asking for a place to abide in Peter’s life and ours as well. It’s right there right before our very eyes – “but only Jesus.” Like Peter, we may seek what is not there and miss what is readily available to us. It is my hope that we will not.

Who do they say we are?

Peter’s declaration, “You are the Christ (Mark 8:9)” has for me always begged a question for the church. Who do they (the world) say that we (the church) are? Thousands of cars pass by Little River UMC each day. I expect that some of them actually see our sign or our steeple or our cemetery as the speed by. What are they saying about us? Are we recognized as United Methodists? Do they say that we are too liberal or too conservative? Do they comment on our cemetery? Do they dare attempt to approach the building and try and figure out our parking lot? Do they see us and see sanctuary? Do they see us and feel excluded? Do they even think anything about us?

If they see anything less than Christ there is still work to be accomplished. It is not on them to figure out who we are but on us to show who we are. We are the body of Christ! Jesus ordered the disciples in Mark “not to tell anyone about him (Mark 8:30).” The church has unintentionally taken this verse literally for all time. We have stopped doing our job. We have stopped telling anyone who we are and we are surprised that no one is even thinking about us.

We might need to start with a different question altogether, “Who do we say that we are?

Gifts From My Mother

Mother’s Day is quickly approaching. I have already purchased her gift. I know that she will love and appreciate that which I have purchased as it is the same thing I get her for her birthday and for Christmas. The gift buying has been streamlined and I thank my mom for the gift of making buying her a present simple. This, however, got me to thinking, “What are the most important gifts my mother has given me?”

GIFTS FROM MY MOTHER

Independence – For as long as I can remember I have known how to wash my own clothes, cook my own food and do all of the grocery shopping. My brothers and I were expected not only to be a part of the family but be active participants in the family. My mother could have probably managed all of these duties and chores herself. I expect that early on she had to go behind each of us and clean up our messes. There are few short-cuts along the learning curve towards independence. The gift of independence came only through patience (not my mother’s strongest attribute), perseverance (perhaps my mother’s greatest strength) and trust (I am certain that she has never trusted anyone like she trusts her three sons). This gift has enabled me to approach life not limited by what I couldn’t do but free to do that which I could do best.

Self-Worth – It is hard not to compare yourself to others when measuring your worth and value. This is more difficult when you live in the relative opulence of a resort community. It would be easy to judge yourself based on clothes, car, and address. My mother impressed upon us that our worth was directly related to how we used our God-given gifts and abilities not how we measured up against our friends and neighbors. Often my mother would say, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” We may not have been given wealthy parents but it was clear that she believed that we had been given all that we needed to be successful in our endeavors. This alone should was how we were to measure our worth.

Confidence– To have the gifts of independence and self-worth but to be devoid of confidence is to neuter the former. Confidence does not mean that you won’t fail. It means that you will try and quite possibly fail and try again. My mother said to us regularly, “Do something! Even if it’s wrong…do something!” These words continue to give me the confidence I need to try without being afraid of failure. It is this gift that I am almost certain that I would never have understood or received if not for my mother.

Purpose
– Many mothers refuse to see their children as anything but children. This leaves many a young man trapped as a “good boy” for the entirety of their lives. My mother impressed upon each of my brothers that we were not meant to remain boys but to become men. This meant that we had the purpose of growing and becoming that which were intended to be: men. To be a man meant being mature enough to accept responsibility for our choices and actions. If I were to get married I should not do the minimum required to maintain the relationship but be a husband worthy of the title. If I were to have children it was to be my responsibility to care for their needs. If I were to take a job I was to perform it to the best of my ability not trying to skirt the more difficult tasks. I was told over and over again that my purpose in life was, “To glorify God and further the kingdom.” There is no glory in offering what’s leftover. My purpose is to offer my best.

An Introduction to Jesus – It may me most simple to state that I inherited my faith. I remember being told that our family had been Methodist since Asbury. I remember being at the church all the time. There were days and weeks where I spent more time at church than I spent in my own home. But the truth is that faith is not easily passed on to the next generation. I never felt forced to participate or even believe. I was given the opportunity to make my own decisions within the context and culture of my upbringing. We didn’t go to church out of obligation. We went because my mother truly enjoyed being amongst the company of believers. My mother’s passion and witness of service and presence was my introduction to Jesus. It is a gift of grace that I treasure more and more each day that I continue in my walk of faith.

Happy Mother’s Day! And I hope my mother enjoys her perfume.

Mark 8 – Study Guide

Study Guide for Mark 8 – for use Sunday, May 12  

When Jesus asks his disciples how many loaves they have they respond, “Seven (Mark 8:5).” Seven is the number of completion or perfection as illustrated by the creation stories in Genesis. The church around the fourth or fifth century began to use the number seven as a designation for the number of cardinal sins: the seven deadly sins. Mark in telling the story of the “feeding of four thousand” is in no way trying to make the connection between sin and perfection in today’s lesson. That, however, will not stop me from trying to read this passage in light of the seven deadly sins.

       All that is needed to feed the four thousand (Mark 8:1-10) was already in the grasp of the disciples. The basket of loaves held the promise waiting to be fulfilled.  The basket could also hold metaphorically that which would stand in the way of the fulfillment of God’s promise: sin. “The Seven Deadly Sins” – Wrath, Lust, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Envy, Gluttony

The Loaf of Wrath – To live without ready access to food is to live on the verge of death. As survival is our natural instinct the lengths that we will go to so that our appetites may be sated is extreme. When all avenues of food are shut off an instinctive response would be one of anger. Anger naturally sows the seeds of wrath which leads us to seek revenge in the name of justice. In a world that produces more than enough food (in biblical times and now), the feeding of four thousand people is also a sign for everyone that there is plenty to eat. Anger leads to spite and vengeance which manifests itself in wrath finds an antidote in Jesus’ gesture of assuring that the multitudes will be fed.

The Loaf of Lust – Though lust is often associated with sexual impurity it can also be understood as an intense desire of money, fame, or power as well. In scripture where we see Jesus power on display, we have to recognize the underlying lust for power and fame in the disciples and in our own ambitions especially when they are left unbridled. Our intentions when we are in the company of Jesus seem pure at the moment but when we are left to our own devices we often use our association with the holy to cater to our most basic desires.

The Loaf of Greed – Greed like lust and gluttony is a sin of excess. Greed is the desire and pursuit of material possessions. The loaf of greed points more to the rulers and leaders of the day who would view possessions as a zero-sum game where there was only so much “stuff” to go around so you had better hang onto and guard everything you have while you accumulate more.

The Loaf of Sloth – Jesus is constantly reminding Pharisees and the leaders that they have fallen short in their development spiritually. Jesus then turns to his followers and tells them not to become like the Pharisees. Our failure to develop spiritually is the first indicator that we are guilty of sloth.

The Loaf of Pride – The disciples will one day ask Jesus who will receive the place of honor in Jesus’ kingdom. The desire to be more important or attractive than others while failing to acknowledge the good work of others is a sin that always keeps our relationship with God out of balance.

The Loaf of Envy – Envy is not just jealousy it is the enemy of charity which has its root in love. Envy is wanting that which someone else has earned or received but is for whatever out of your reach but be willing to do a disservice to that person to get that exact item or object that they possess.

The Loaf of Gluttony Medieval church leaders took a more expansive view of gluttony,  arguing that it could also include an obsessive anticipation of meals and the constant eating of delicacies and excessively costly foods. Thomas Aquinas went so far as to prepare a list of six ways to commit gluttony: eating too soon; eating too expensively; eating too much; eating too eagerly; eating too daintily; eating wildly.

Perhaps one of the earliest slogans of MTV describes gluttony best: Too Much is Never Enough!

Questions

1)      The Pharisees demand a sign of Jesus (Mark 8:11-13). Which of the sins might be highlighted by this exchange?

2)      The disciples on the boat are admonished by Jesus (Mark 8:14-17). Which of the sins might be highlighted by this exchange?

3)      Jesus cures a blind man (Mark 8:22-26). Jesus twice laid hands on him in order that his sight could be restored. What does this tell us about our relationship with Jesus?

4)      Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 8:27-30). Jesus orders Peter and the others not to tell anyone. Why?

5)      Jesus foretells his death and resurrection and Peter takes issue with Jesus (Mark 8:31-38). Jesus says “Get behind me Satan!” What does this exchange tell us about the work of Satan and the role of sin even as it relates to those closest to Jesus?

There are several lists of “seven virtues” including one which lists:

chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.

 Each of the above questions could be asked in the positive “Which of these virtues…?”

Seven Loaves – Seven Sins?

When Jesus asks his disciples how many loaves they have they respond, “Seven (Mark 8:5).” Seven is the number of completion or perfection as illustrated by the creation stories in Genesis. The church around the fourth or fifth century began to use the number seven as a designation for the number of cardinal sins: the seven deadly sins. Mark in telling the story of the “feeding of four thousand” is in no way trying to make the connection between sin and perfection in today’s lesson. That, however, will not stop me from trying to read this passage in light of the seven deadly sins.

All that is needed to feed the four thousand was already in the grasp of the disciples. The basket of loaves held the promise waiting to be fulfilled.  The basket also held that which would stand in the way of the fulfillment of God’s promise: sin.

What if each loaf represented one of these sins (wrath, lust, greed, sloth pride, envy, gluttony)?

Keep Quiet

Jesus commands his followers, again and again, to keep quiet about his actions, miracles and even his Messiahship. Yet for all of his commands, the word of Jesus continues to get out to a larger audience. There are those who completely dismiss the command and can’t help but talk about the change in their lives. Then there are those who mostly by their presence as changed individuals spread the word of Jesus.

This reminds me of the quote oft attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” The command to be silent cannot be carried out in practice. After all, even if we choose not to use a word the Word will be recognized

The B-Word

It is hard not to read of Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman without thinking that Jesus was unnecessarily rough in how he responded to her, “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs (Mark 7:27).” It comes off as completely dismissive and derogatory. In print, we have little idea of facial expression or tone of voice or even intended audience and perhaps the secondary audience. All we have are words and the words we have can easily be seen as Jesus calling the non-Jewish woman the “B-word.” This does not fit with the picture of Jesus painted by the Gospel writers. Jesus is not immune to name calling and directed anger it is just that Jesus does not direct that anger to the helpless and hopeless of society. His anger is reserved for the wealthy and those of high regard. Chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, tax collectors and those who live a life of wealth and privilege are singled out on different occasions while the poor and lowly are lifted up and restored in Jesus presence by his actions.

Thus we have to look beyond the words and our offended sensibilities and ask ourselves what is really happening here. The woman’s response was clever and direct, “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs (Mark 7:28).” She was not offended by Jesus words. She didn’t cry foul or call attention to herself as a helpless victim. The one that had been described as begging (like a dog?) was steadfast in her desire that her daughter would be healed. In the context of the entire Gospel and even of Mark chapter seven, it looks like the woman was in on the moment (she knew what Jesus was doing). Jesus is making a point to them, “…Pharisees and teachers of the law… (Mark 7:5).” His remarks to the women stand to point out the absurdity that Jesus would come into the world as the incarnation of God and not care for the world that God had created. As usual, those who would stand against Jesus might at once point out his rudeness and his interaction with a Gentile and miss the point completely. We might miss the point that “Pharisees” are still at work in the church and the world today.  Jesus unlike those “teachers of the law” understood the mission as salvation, not exclusion.

The Syrophoenician woman heard these word s from Jesus, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter Mark 7:29).”   The unclean lowly woman who would come after Jesus like a dog was able to comprehend Jesus’ mission while those who claim to know Jesus through years of study and preparation still are deaf to how God will continue his work in the world.