Monday, October 19, 2009

Reflection for Mark 10:35-45

“That would never fly in the real world.” That is the typical response to sermons that lay out Jesus’ vision of the world. It is a vision of inclusion. It is a vision of forgiveness. It is a vision where people put the needs of others first and trust that their needs will be taken care of by others in the same way. It is a vision that, “would never fly in the real world.”

Sometimes, I have to be very honest, preaching is not the shaping of minds to be one with the mind of God, rather it is the continual practice of beating your head against the pulpit. People will whole heartedly agree that the vision of the world that Jesus paints with huge, courageous strokes is the world that they want, but they fear stepping into such a kingdom. Though it appears bright and glows with warm, loving colors, at the same time it is a little too bright. It is so bright and warm that it almost appears foreign and different from what we are used to.

There is a lot to fear when you open yourself up to such radical love of the neighbor. It is hard to take even the first step into God’s good news.

Pastor Kendra Mohn, experienced what this hesitancy is all about at an event in a large stadium. She says that:

Recently, while attending an event in a large stadium, there was a break in the action, the kind tailor-made for a bathroom run. Not wanting to miss anything, I sprinted down the stairs and out into the concourse. In my experience, (she says) hundreds of women usually have this thought simultaneously, so I was thrilled to see that there was no line. I must have beaten the crowds for once! As I emerged from the bathroom to return to my seat, I noticed there was still no one waiting outside. No line for the women's bathroom? What's going on?

Following the hallway around the curve, I came upon another bathroom, surrounded by a huge crowd of frowning women, arms folded across their chests. There were easily fifty people standing in line in the hallway, with many more inside. I walked up to the women at the back of the line and delivered the good news that there was an empty bathroom not twenty feet from where they stood. To my amazement, no one moved. One woman shrugged and smiled, and the rest gave no indication that they had even heard me. I tried again, a little farther up the line, with the same result. Puzzled, I gave up and returned to my seat.

Reflecting…I decided that there were probably several reasons for their lack of response. First, I was a stranger to them, and therefore untrustworthy. For all they knew, I was exaggerating the proximity of the bathroom, or the lack of business there. Second, their life experience (like mine) had taught them that there is always a line for the women's bathroom. Even if I were telling the truth, by the time they got there, there would be a line. Above all, however…they just couldn't give up their place in line. Even if there were forty-nine people ahead of them, they were still in line. They had a spot, and they were not about to give it up in exchange for the unknown.

What had first appeared to be mysterious behavior now seemed logical and prudent. In fact, given the same situation, I'm not sure I wouldn't have acted exactly the same way (she admits). It's the kind of reaction that makes sense in a broken world full of lies, scarcity, and injustice. These realities have a significant impact on us, on both larger and smaller scales. When it comes right down to it, it's going to take a lot for us to give up our place in line. (Kendra Mohn,

So, it is no surprise to us this morning then, when we learn that James and John have failed to hear the words of Jesus that call them to be servants first of all. Instead, they are trying to get ahead in a very different line which they think leads to the best seats next to Jesus on the throne, the seats of power. Jesus is not in that line. He is calling them to get into a better line just down the hall. It is a line that definitely is not full and long. It is a line that leads to an abundant life. It is not a line that they are used to. So, they cross their arms and hope that the line they are in, the line which they know well, will take them some place equally as good.

"Who would be willing to give up their place in line, their life, their security, and their money, so their neighbor can have it instead?" Pastor Mohn reflects. The real world does not allow you to get away with such things. In the real world, you may be judged, excluded, and maybe worst of all, just plain forgotten if you switch lines. If you give it all away, who is going to take care of you? Pastor Mohn continues, "It is hard to relinquish what you have managed to accumulate, however small or shabby it might be." It is hard to switch over to the line of giving to and serving the neighbor first.

And, that’s why pastors beat their head against the pulpit. Because, they know that Christ’s way of life is the abundant way of life. But, they equally know that people will just say, “that’s all good and fine to think about, but in the real world…” They are certain that other people will say this, because they say it themselves even as they type out their sermons; not truly believing the words written on the page.

But, what if we all took just a moment to give up our place in line, wander over, and at least look at the other line? We could go back to the line we have been standing in if we really needed. We may lose our spot for a time, but we could work our way up again, we know how this line works. So why do we not just take a moment and at least look at the other line, and after looking at least take one step in it.

If you took a look, you would see Jesus. You would also see him looking with love on the other people around. You would see him giving himself to heal their hurts. You would see him giving himself over to authorities so others might be free. You would see him forgiving people so that they feel free to forgive others. And, you would see his disciples tending to his needs, wiping his face, bringing over some food, and also tending to the needs of each other.

One thing you do not see is fighting to get to the front of the line. In this new area, there really is not a line. The life of Christ is not about lines; who is first or who is last. The whole scene is people putting each other first, and when they do all are cared for. Taking a step toward this glorious scene, wanting to be a part of it, the first thing you give for the sake of your neighbor is...

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Kendra Mohn is an Associate Pastor at Mt. Zion Lutheran Church (ELCA)Wauwatosa, WI and is a columnist for The quotes used here are from her 09.28.09 Post and can be found at:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Reflection on Mark 10:17-31

What do you own that is not God’s? I truly do mean this to be more than an academic question. Because, of course, we would all dutifully answer in unison, “there is nothing in the world that is not God’s. God created everything, God owns everything.” Very good you all passed your catechetical class, now you can go home and feel good about how smart you are.

But, what if, while at home you were to actually think about what you just said, and be honest with yourself, and look around at your things? You would probably find something like this: a bread machine. It is from my kitchen.

This is not God’s. I do not mean to sound heretical to you. I do not mean to say that God could not use it. I do not mean to say that God does not want to use it. All I want to say is that it is not God’s because I do not allow God to use it. Nor, is it mine because, guess what, I do not use it either. It just sits, lonely in a corner, waiting to make bread to appease the hunger of anyone who would simple open its lid and pour in some flour and yeast. It sits, waiting to feed the the hungry of the world. It sits…that is all it does. It is one of many items that God has entrusted to me that does nothing but clutter my life.

The hiking boot on my feet are similar. These get used some of the time. Twice a year they get used when I decide that six months of rest has been enough time to repair my muscles from the last time I exercised. God has entrusted these hiking boots to me, that they might help me be a healthier disciple, but most of the time they sit. They would probably do better on the feet of someone with no shoes, but about the time I think of giving them up to that noble cause I think, "but, what if I did want to go hiking sometime next year? What would I do then." So, they sit. Like the bread machine and other items of a similar nature, they sit. They are both strange, uncuddly, adult versions of a security blankets. I have them, just in case. They make me feel safe. They are a part of my wealth.

I the ancient world, being wealthy (having much) meant that God had blest you a great deal. So, when the rich man came up to Jesus, no one was thinking, “filthy rich _____” (fill in your own expletive). Not at all. They were thinking, “God truly loves this man.” And, God did. The man had his needs taken care of by God so much that he had the time to sit and study God’s word. He did not have to spend his days of worship toiling with work. He had been blessed, and all could see it.

And, similarly, when I stare around my home, cluttered with wonderful little stuff, I wonder if God had forgotten to turn off the blessing machine. No, this is not bragging. This is whining. They are very different. But, back to the rich man whom God had obviously blessed.

Making certain that he had not missed out on any of God's abundance, the rich man asked Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” In other words, what do I have to do to live a full life with God right now and forever into the future? "I have already been blessed, what more do I have to do?"

“You have kept the commandments?” Jesus asked.

“Yes, of course. It is what I do day and night.” The rich man returned honestly.

Then, with love, Jesus invited this man who was so close to God’s heart even closer. Jesus invited the rich young man so close that will of God and the will of the rich young man would eventually be intertwined. Jesus 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." In other words, make sure your stuff is God’s stuff. Make sure your wealth is God’s wealth. Make sure it is serving God’s will. Give it to the poor, and you will be on the next step of being close to God. Who wouldn't want their heart to be so close to Christ's heart?

Sadly, the rich man turned down Jesus’ invitation and went away grieving. Grieving his stuff? Grieving life with God? I do not know, but he walked away with a life full of grief.

The disciples, by contrast had gotten rid of everything to follow Jesus. They got rid of a lot of their stuff, they said goodbye to family, they got spit upon and persecuted, even their valuable boats got used by Jesus to go from side of the lake to the other more than they did for fishing. They had given up everything for God. They had nothing.

So, if the rich man, who appeared blessed actually had nothing, and they who had given up everything literally had nothing, then who wins? They essentially asked Jesus, "who wins? Who gets life with God now and forever?" They did not know what they were asking. They too were blinded by things and could not see the truth. They could not see God’s grace literally sitting right next to them. They were walking with God. They were blessed. The only difference between them and the rich man was that everything God had given them was actually being used for God’s kingdom. They simple did not see it.

Maybe that is the way it should be. Maybe it was good that they could not see the truth; that they will be blessed with much because they had given much. Maybe it is good that they were blind to their blessings because if they could actually see all that they were blessed with, they may have started to consider their wealth something that they owned. And, if they did that, they would forget that the items were God’s. And, if they did that, the items might have just sat in the corner, ministry potential gone to waste.

But, most people I think are not like the disciples. Most people can see all of their stuff. Most people are not wonderfully ingnorant like the disciples. If that is the case, all is not lost for this rest of us is it? God has promised to walk with us forever in our baptism. And, if God is walking with us, then all things are possible are they not? "With God all things are possible." Perhaps, God can do what we have been unable to do ourselves; to transform our vision so that we see our wealth, not as our own, but as God's wealth for the sake of God and for the sake of others.

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Reflection on Mark 10:2-16

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” the Pharisees test Jesus.

“Is it right or is it wrong?” They seek to hear Jesus’ answer as they bring Jesus into a debate about the ethics of divorce. And, when people bring it up today, though the discussion will go differently today then it would have in Jesus’ time, people seek to hear the answers to the ethical debate.

You know how the debate goes. Someone will say that divorce is wrong period. They will claim that the Bible says that it is wrong and therefore any time it happens, it is just plain wrong. (That may not be the truth about the Bible, but it is what they claim.) Others will seek to say it is wrong except when fraud, abuse, or adultery is involved. Abuse is the big one. It is hard to argue against leaving a marriage that contains abuse. Most people let that one slide with ease, as maybe they should. Some will say if the marriage is hurting the children, then the divorce is a good option. Still others will say, “Why stay with someone whom you will hate for the rest of your life, sure God would not want you entire life to be miserable.”

And the debate rolls on as it surely did in Jesus’ time. They had different arguments about who was allowed to give out a certificate of divorce and who the divorce certificate does and does not protect, but it was an ethical debate non-the-less and the Pharisees wanted Jesus to enter in.

And, so do we. I think that most Christians today want Jesus to enter the debate. After-all, most of us have been touched by divorce in one way or another. Some of us are divorced. Others of us have a good friend, a spouse, a sibling, or even parents who are divorced. It causes us to wonder. Through all of the pain, we wonder, “is divorce right at least some times?” “What should we think of divorce?” “Lord, tell us what you think.”

This is the point in the sermon where I have to admit that I am tempted to say, “it’s all O.K.; don’t worry that much about it; God will heal everything; it is fine; everything is going to be fine.” Then I can go home, kick up my feet, and watch reruns of the bachelor where contestants get to have all the emotional stress of divorce issues without…the ethical debate or the need to get married first.

“Everything is going to be fine, don’t worry, it’s O.K.” was the wise pastoral advice this minister gave during his internship to a young man who was struggling in the first stages of divorcing his wife. It was gentle advice I thought. But, it was wrong.

“Pastor, everything is not going to be fine. Nothing right now is fine. I feel like my heart is being torn right from my body. Pastor, things are not fine and they are not going to be fine. Don’t tell me things are fine.”

The man was right. It was not going to be fine. Things were not fine. He wanted real answers, and the worst thing I could have done, I did. I gave him cheap comfort.

Jesus does not offer cheap comfort to a complex and painful problem. Jesus is not scared of speaking. But, Jesus also refuses to enter the ethical debate about divorce. He does not lay out which instances of divorce are right or wrong. He does not expand upon the law of Moses and give us the technical answers to the technical questions that we ask. He does something different. He does something better. He answers a much better question. It is the question that is in our hearts but has trouble bubbling up to our lips, “Why the heck does divorce hurt so much?”

People who are in the heart ripping process of divorce have mixed feelings and ask, “Why the heck does divorce hurt so much?” Children come to me with confused lives as they try to navigate the reality of two homes, two sets of rules, and two people to love who do not want to talk to each other and they cry out, “Why the heck does divorce hurt so much?” Parents of children who are divorcing do not know who they are allowed to love anymore. They struggle in a separation of love and family that they did not ask for. And in all of the pain they ask, “Why the heck does divorce hurt so much?”

To this question, Jesus has an answer, “from the beginning of creation, "’God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”

When God draws two people together, God weaves their lives so tightly that they become one flesh, one piece of fabric whose links are so tightly woven that they are not even distinguishable. Marriage is the greatest example of what God intends for all of creation. We read in Colossians that “in Jesus all things hold together.” It is the Lord’s intention that all things be drawn together; that all creation be woven into one strong fabric.

So, why the heck does divorce hurt so much? Because, something that has been woven together is literally being ripped apart.

I have news for everyone. Whether a particular divorce is decided to be right or wrong through ethical debate, it is still going to hurt terribly.

Jesus does not tell us which instances of divorce are right and which are wrong. But, he does say that divorce is not something to be taken lightly.

When the disciples press him to say more, Jesus says "Whoever divorces his wife in order to marry another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." In other words, anyone who sees another person who is prettier, or smarter, or understands my situation more, and divorces so that they can have that better looking option is going to do terrible damage. Divorce is not frivolous. It rips people’s lives apart and has all kinds of unintended casualties. Friends are hurt, children are confused, and parents are put into a dilemma. Divorce is not frivolous. God’s act of weaving people together to become one flesh is not something to be taken lightly.

We know this don’t we? Could not each of us written this very sermon? Those whom divorce has touched already understand that Jesus’ words are not condemnation for doing something wrong, they are merely words of truth. Divorce rips apart and that is the simple truth.

“So, if I have divorced, am I unloved and unlovable?”

That is the real question. And, Jesus has a real answer for you. There are many who are beaten and broken. There are many for whom others simply do not care. There are many who have been touched by the sting of sin and now suffer the ripping apart of their lives.

To all of these people Jesus says, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

Have we so quickly forgotten God’s intention for creation; to draw everything together? Are you unloved or unlovable? No. “In Jesus all things hold together.”

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.