Tag Archives: Mark

Jesus is a hot mess | Have faith in God

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is a hot mess.

After he curses a fig tree that has no fruit (because it’s not the season for figs), and after he drives out of the temple the sellers and buyers and moneychangers (who are going about their normal business), this is how the story winds down:

And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.” (Mark 11:19-22)

Cursing, driving out, having faith. What are we supposed to make of this?

The Collect for the Renewal of Life, which we read on Mondays at Morning Prayer, seems to provide an interpretive key.

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness while it was day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

Drive far from us all wrong desires

Jesus, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” is hungry and wants some figs. The fig tree is not in season, so he can’t have any figs. “Dammit,” he says, “I want some figs. Screw you, fig tree!”

Unreasonable expectations, right? Why would Jesus expect figs when they’re out of season?

He doesn’t live in the United States in the 21st century, after all — he doesn’t have Whole Foods or Piggly Wiggly. He can’t just have anything he wants anytime he wants.

But we can. So why are we so pissed off all the time?

Why are we so put out at the slightest inconvenience, so quick-tempered when things don’t go exactly as we want them to?

“But I want Fig Newtons!”

Incline our hearts to keep your law

Jesus brings that angry energy with him into the temple precinct. “I just want some peace and quiet, guys … is that too much to ask?”

“Doves! Get your doves here! Two birds for one gold zuz!”

“Gold changed here! One gold zuz, only $250! Today only!”

And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. (Mark 11:15-18)

I’ll bet he really enjoyed a nice, quiet prayer time in the temple after that. What do you think?

Can’t you just picture him, rocking back and forth in his pew, muttering to himself?

“Now my foot hurts from where I kicked that guy’s table. And I think I have a splinter from that other guy’s stool.”

So serene, being in the “house of prayer for all the nations.” So soothing and spiritual.

Guide our feet into the way of peace

So yeah, now Jesus and the disciples are leaving Jerusalem and the next morning Peter can’t let the fig tree thing drop.

“Look,” he says, “here’s that withered old fig tree!”

“Dammit, Peter!” Jesus stops.

christ-in-gethsemane-p

And with that, the anger dissipates. The restless, irritable, discontented rabbi breathes in and out, exhaling a prayer:

“Have faith in God.”

“Have faith in God.”

The disciples look at each other.

The rabbi smacks his forehead. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:26)

Have faith in God

What is forgiving, anyway, but acknowledging that you didn’t get what you wanted?

“That company didn’t hire me.”

“My parents won’t let me do anything.”

“All I wanted was some peace and quiet.”

They frustrated me … they upset me … they paid no attention to my needs.

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive.”

Letting go of your frustration and disappointment and anger may seem as impossible as making a mountain go soak its head, but if there’s anything that Jesus can teach us this morning, it’s that letting go is both necessary and within our reach.

If the Son of God himself was a hot mess sometimes, who are we to think we’re any better?

If the Word of God incarnate, the wisdom from on high let slip a curse or two in his frustration — “but I want figs!” — who are we to expect smooth sailing?

Whenever you stand praying, forgive — let go of what you want, admit that you are angry and out of sorts, and find instead cheerfulness and rejoicing.

Let go of your frustrations, and find instead the peace that passes understanding.

It makes about as much sense, seems about as ineffective, as telling a mountain it’s all wet.

But it turns the harsh light of morning back into a moment when we can hear the still, small voice of God as we breathe in and out, just like Jesus.

“Have faith in God.”

“Have faith in God.”

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The Lord is near; be patient and hope in him

I am at the annual NAMI Wisconsin conference, hearing from speakers about mental illness and the peer-to-peer support which is the hallmark of NAMI’s recovery approach. Helping people experience recovery — living well with mental illness — builds hope.

One of this morning’s psalms resonates with my own experience of recovery.

The LORD is faithful in all his words *
and merciful in all his deeds.
The LORD upholds all those who fall; *
he lifts up those who are bowed down.
The eyes of all wait upon you, O LORD, *
and you give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand *
and satisfy the needs of every living creature.
The LORD is righteous in all his ways *
and loving in all his works.
The LORD is near to those who call upon him, *
to all who call upon him faithfully.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; *
he hears their cry and helps them.
The LORD preserves all those who love him, *
but he destroys all the wicked.
My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD; *
let all flesh bless his holy Name for ever and ever. (Psalm 145:14-22)

“The Lord upholds all those who fall; he lifts up those who are bowed down … the Lord is near to those who call upon him.” These assurances build hope in us as we share our stories of God’s faithfulness in our own times of trouble.

The writer Jesus son of Sirach (whose book the church calls Ecclesiasticus), describes the internal attitude I try to have as I work my own recovery each day.

Accept whatever befalls you, and in times of humiliation be patient. For gold is tested in the fire, and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation. Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him. (Ecclus. 2:4-6)

The slogans of recovery, like “One Day at a Time,” and the teachings of our Christian faith echo Sirach’s timeless human wisdom.

Accept whatever befalls you. What is, is. Accept that things are the way they are without becoming “restless, irritable, and discontented.”

Be patient. One of our speakers yesterday suggested that patience is a fruit of practicing mindfulness in every situation, and that mindfulness is really being present to what is actually happening.

Make your ways straight. At the men’s breakfast and Bible study I attend on Thursdays, we spoke this week about how our lives are to be lived in response to God’s grace. We do not earn grace; but in gratitude we make changes in order to stay in God’s way.

The short reading from the Acts of the Apostles exemplifies the simple faithfulness that is to characterize our new life — whether it’s life in recovery, life in Christ, or both.

Then after completing their mission Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem and brought with them John, whose other name was Mark. Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 12:25–13:3)

Notice how John, whose other name was Mark, is simply present with Barnabas and Saul. Notice how he doesn’t figure in the action at Antioch — it’s Barnabas and Saul who are made apostles.

Mark must have been practicing mindfulness throughout that time, though, paying attention to the new life in Christ. Eventually, his insights bore fruit in the gospel account that bears his name.

The Lord is near to those who call upon him, who call upon him faithfully.

In times of humiliation, be patient.

Make your ways straight, and hope in him.

Collect for St. Mark

Almighty God, by the hand of Mark the evangelist you have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sermon for 2 Lent | Abraham, Peter, and a mustard seed

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:31-33)

I don’t know if Paul had this story in mind when he wrote today’s chapter of the letter to the Romans, but his rivalry with Peter might have colored the way he painted the story of Abraham’s faith.

Abraham

Before the portion of Genesis that we read this morning (Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16), Abram:

  • had already followed God to the land he showed him, “along with his wife Sarai, his brother’s son Lot, and all their possessions, and all the persons they had acquired”
  • had already gone down to Egypt because of a famine
  • had already separated from Lot so they wouldn’t get in each other’s way, then come back to rescue him
  • had already been blessed by Melchizedek
  • had already made a covenant with God, and “it was reckoned to him as righteousness”
  • and had already had a son, Ishmael, with Sarai’s servant girl Hagar, who went into exile with the boy

Today, God gives Abraham a new name, and God says Sarah will give birth to a son.

Here’s how Abraham responds, at least according to Paul:

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:19-22)

Peter

Now before Jesus started talking about suffering and dying, Simon

  • had already left his nets and followed him
  • had already seen a man with an unclean spirit healed
  • had already seen his mother-in-law healed, for goodness’ sake
  • had already seen a leper healed
  • had already seen a paralyzed man get up and walk
  • had already seen a tax collector leave the money follow Jesus
  • had already been appointed one of the Twelve and given a new name, Peter
  • had already heard Jesus teach in parables, calm a storm, heal a demoniac, raise a girl to life and heal a suffering woman

And Peter had already gone out on a mission with the rest of the apostles and done all of these impossible things himself!

And then …. Jesus fed 5,000 people, walked on water, cured a deaf man, and fed 4,000 more people.

And then Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”

Today, Jesus talks about yet another impossible thing: “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Peter starts to argue with Jesus, saying that’s not how it’s going to be! We’re on a roll here – look at everything we’ve accomplished – and it’s just going to keep getting better from now on!

Jesus is sharp in his rebuke, calling Peter on the carpet in front of everyone. “Get behind me, you adversary, you tempter! (That’s what “Satan” means.) You’re focused on human things, not divine.”

I can just imagine Peter’s face burning red with shame.

In his book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr writes “Jesus praised faith and trust – even more than love. It takes a foundational trust to fall, or to fail, and not to fall apart.”

How Peter must be humbled by Jesus’ rebuke, though he still has to fall, and fail, a couple more times before he finally falls upward into the identity his name points to: Peter the Rock.

The Mustard Seed

But today I want to turn from rocks, and from the mountain-top where the tempter lives, and focus down on a little mustard seed.

Jesus said, according to Matthew, that “if you have faith the size a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Both Abraham and Peter had trust.

Both of them had seen God acting and had followed God in trust.

Abraham also had just enough faith to be “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

That little faith, small as a mustard seed, was “reckoned to him as righteousness.”

However, Peter is most like us – that’s probably why he’s first among the Twelve apostles.

Like Peter, we have already seen Jesus and his Spirit acting in our lives:

  • In two powerful Faith Alive weekends that have revitalized the congregation
  • In vibrant healing ministries that we offer each other every week
  • In so many Bible studies, EfM groups, and reading groups every week
  • Through our mission partners and mission prayer links
  • Through our children and young people
  • In our retired clergy, so generous with their wisdom and time
  • In the 85 people who came out on Wednesday night to gather with our bishop for a Lenten study

But like Peter we have a hard time hearing Jesus when the talk turns serious, when he sets his face toward Jerusalem and the cross.

The transformative dying that Jesus describes, what we now call the Way of the Cross, demands of us not just trust that Jesus is leading us where we need to go, but faith that our falling and failing actually moves us upward toward the share in the kingdom that he promises.

That kingdom, Jesus says, is within us (Luke 17:21).

That kingdom, he says, “is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (Mark 4:31-32).

Jesus says elsewhere that unless a grain of wheat is planted and dies, it cannot rise into new growth (John 12:24).

We are so like Peter in our falling and our failing — afraid to let go of our success, afraid to risk even a tiny mustard seed of faith.

Today, may we be like Abraham, fully convinced that God, in Christ, can do what he has promised.

“For those who want to save their life,” Jesus says, “will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Our little faith is enough. Our little mustard seed of faith, if we are willing to lay it down for Jesus’ sake, and for the sake of the good news, is enough.

And that little mustard seed of faith will “be reckoned to us as righteousness,” just as Paul said it would be.

He also said, “The promise rests on grace … “

And the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, now and for ever. Amen.

New in the kingdom of God

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark (14:22-25)

What a difference six months makes!

I have come to realize a truth that I had only intellectually known before. As the Collect for Guidance says, “in all the cares and occupations of our life … we are ever walking in God’s sight” (BCP 100).

Six months ago, I was completely discouraged and at the end of my own power. Today, I woke up glad, looking forward to the day.

I could not manage my own life; no human power could have relieved my problem. But God could and would if I sought Him.

“In these holy mysteries,” the Collect for Maundy Thursday reminds us, Christ “gives us a pledge of eternal life” (BCP 221).

In the holy mystery of a man sharing a meal with his friends (and his betrayer) …

In the holy mystery of a teacher serving his students …

In the holy mystery of the incarnate God dying a criminal’s death …

In the holy mystery of  an empty tomb on an early Sunday morning …

That day when the Risen Christ breaks the bread and drinks the cup with us — “new in the kingdom of God” — is about to dawn again.

In that dawn, we can be glad — in every dawn, because of that one, we too can be “new in the kingdom of God.”

Visions of peace

Four Evangelists cross from the Printery House

Four Evangelists cross from the Printery House

Therefore we praise you,
joining our voices with Angels and Archangels
and with all the company of heaven,
who forever sing this hymn
to proclaim the glory of your Name:

Holy, holy, holy Lord; God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest. (BCP 362)

Today the assigned readings and the canticles appointed for the day line up perfectly to create a single unifying image for Morning Prayer.

In the Book of Ezra, we read about the rebuilding of the Temple following the return of the Israelites from exile in Babylon. They are restoring the site of their worship, and with them we picture their prayers once more ascending to God, with incense surrounding the golden cherubim atop the Ark of the Covenant.

Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers;
you are worthy of praise; glory to you ….
Glory to you, seated between the Cherubim;
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.
(Canticle 13, BCP 90)

In the Revelation to John, we similarly see a vision of restoration, of worship to God in the heavenly City, the new Jerusalem. John describes his vision of a throne surrounded by 24 thrones, on which are seated 24 elders, in front of whom are seven torches and a sea of glass, and around whom are the “four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind.”

Christian tradition has long associated the four living creatures — “at his feet the six-winged seraph; cherubim with sleepless eye” (Hymn 324) — with the four Evangelists: Matthew like a lion, Mark like a man, Luke like an ox, and John like an eagle.

In Canticle 18, we respond to the reading with the same song the angels and elders are singing around the throne:

And so, to him who sits upon the throne,
and to Christ the Lamb,
Be worship and praise, dominion and splendor,
for ever and for evermore.
(BCP 94)

Now, if that were the whole story, that would be enough — a nice symmetry making Morning Prayer extra lovely. Fine.

But there’s even more.

These visions of a restored Temple, of a City with the Lamb at its center, were recorded in order to give comfort to God’s people in hard times. The exiles were struggling to recover their sense of self, and it seemed like the grinding bureaucracy of the Babylonian empire might slow down or stop their building project. The early Christian communities of John’s time were beginning to be thrown out of the synagogues where they had been worshiping and to experience persecution by the Roman empire.

These are not just lovely songs, but visions of peace meant to sustain God’s people in times of trouble.

How will you imagine peace in your life today? What images will help you get through your struggles?

A Collect for Peace

O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

Beloved

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The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)

I received an email a couple weeks ago from a young woman asking to be baptized at St. Thomas, the parish I serve in the Diocese of Fond du Lac.

She did not grow up in a religious household, but she has pursued deeper and deeper spiritual engagement and is now led to make a mature commitment to Christianity.

In the Daily Office readings this morning, I couldn’t help reflecting on her request as I read about Peter’s vision regarding the Gentiles. When he arrived at Cornelius’ house, he saw that the Holy Spirit had come into their lives, too. He asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing from those who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47).

This young woman knows that the Spirit is in her life, and that Spirit is moving her to make a public act of faith.

Jesus himself makes the same public act in this evening’s reading from “the beginning of the good news” according to Mark.

The Spirit is surely already present in the life of the Son of God, just as the Spirit “proceeds from the Father” — Jesus does not need baptism in order to receive the Spirit, but the Spirit moves him to reveal his identity in a public way.

And what is that identity? “You are my Son, the Beloved,” says the voice from heaven; “with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).

All of us who are baptized into the Body of Christ share in his identity as Beloved.

I look forward to the day — soon, I expect — when we will welcome another Beloved daughter into the fellowship of Christ’s Body.

Do not fear

But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” (Mark 5)

Mark is an exceptionally skilled storyteller, weaving two stories together here in a cinematic way.

In the press of the crowds, in front of everyone, a proud religious leader suddenly throws himself onto the dusty ground, begging Jesus to help him, heedless of the stares. His daughter is near death, and he will do anything for her sake.

Jesus helps him to stand, and with a gesture says, “Lead the way.”

Unnoticed in the crowd, just as she is paid no mind by anyone, a woman furtively follows Jesus, taking advantage of the distraction. “If I can just touch his robe,” she says, “I will finally get better.”

And then everything stops. Freeze frame. The religious leader’s hands cover his face; the woman’s fingers reach toward Jesus.

JairusHe feels her. “Who touched me?” She panics and falls to the ground. He lifts her up and reassures her, “Your faith has made you well.”

In the same moment, word comes to the religious leader. “Your daughter is dead. Stop crying now, don’t trouble the teacher.”

Jesus stands with him, meeting his slack, tear-stained gaze. “Do not fear.”

Do not fear.

Do not worry what other people think.

Do not hesitate to reach out to Jesus.

He will reassure you.

He will stand with you.

Do not fear.

Coda: In all of the images I looked through I could not find a single one where Jairus was actually kneeling before Jesus, with the exception of one cartoon. Apparently, pictures (by their silence) tell a thousand words. Men’s shame at appearing weak or in need persists.

Do not fear.