Which do I choose?

Thoughts on Luke 9:22-25

I’m disappointed that the lectionary veers off of Mark, but I guess it veers toward readings that ground me in the season of Lent. This passage certainly does: the Son of man must suffer, be rejected, killed, oh yeah, and then raised. As a listener it would be hard to listen to the end of the sentence, the part about being raised, because of the shock of even the first word. I live in the epilogue, I know the resurrection, but those disciples must have been shocked to realize you were serious about the suffering that was to come. How bold they were to hang with you.

Then you describe what it means for them to hang with you: forget about what you want, be willing to die and go with Jesus wherever he goes.

What does this mean for me? Because I do want to come after you, and experience the saving of my life. Keep my eyes fixed on you. I will not be above my master. You suffered, I will suffer.  During Lent, I have commended my eating habits to you, I have vowed to avoid sugar and snacks, which I turn to as a way of controlling my emotions and as entertainment. Coming after you means suffering the boredom, blessing those who eat cookies, seeking you in the still afternoons.

The second reading Deut. 30:15-20 makes the Lenten message even clearer: You set before your people life and good or death and evil. You say, make your choice, blessing or curse. And then you plead for them to choose life.

Lord Jesus, you show me the way to freedom, it leads through suffering. Loving God, the way to life is found by obeying your words. Holy Spirit, you pray constantly for me to choose life. Have your way in me today. Grant me a vision of freedom and life, make it so vividly clear that I will suffer any loss to make it mine. Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil. Thank you and amen.

The promise and the fine print

Thoughts on Mark 10:28-31

The rich young man, who chose his many possessions over following you got the disciples questioning the possibility of entering the Kingdom of heaven. You assure them, “God makes the impossible, possible.” But Peter still needed clarification, he spoke for all the disciples when he described how they had left everything behind to follow you; businesses, fathers, political causes all now seen in the rear view mirror. Your tone sounds gentle and reassuring as you acknowledge their sacrifices and promise a sure future both now and in eternity. In this life the Kingdom will provide homes, families and lands beyond their limited, parochial world view. All who know and love you become family members, my home is theirs, theirs is mine. Letting go of earthly ties, frees me to receive eternal connections and provisions.

But there is a fine print on the promise: I’ll receive a hundred-fold return on my sacrifices, but I’ll receive it with persecutions. This word is used 10 times in the NT, each time associated with trouble received because of the Word of God. It is what Paul was carrying out on Christians as he was bound for Damascus. Jesus gives the disciples hope, they will be abundantly provided for in this life, but he gives it in the context of reality, they will suffer.

Wow. What does this mean to me, Lord? First of all, hold your belongings loosely, and be absolutely generous with them. All I have is loaned to me, I am a steward; my house, my husband, my kids, my work, my time, my money, all available to serve the Kingdom. And in some ways, an even harder lesson, I am to be willing to receive from others of their abundance when I am in need. Ouch, a lesson in humility.

Second, expect to suffer. What? The world will not understand or appreciate the nature of the Kingdom life and Satan, the great deceiver will stir up trouble. Don’t be surprised when troubles arise, worries lift their head, fear threatens. As Jesus said, “in the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I’ve overcome the world.” Troubles will pass, persecutions will end, but eternal life is  mine and it is increasing and is forever. Thank you and amen.

The true activity of the Kingdom

Thoughts on Mark 10:13-16

Earlier the disciples were rebuking a man who used your name to cast out demons, now they are turning away parents who want to bring their children to you so you can bless them. These disciples were good intended, weren’t they helping you manage your ministry, protecting your name and your schedule. But they were wrong. They didn’t get what you were about, did they?

When you found out what was going on, you were indignant and set them straight.

Healing people and casting out demons is clean up work, deconstructing the work of sin and death so that life and wholeness can be achieved. Welcoming and blessing the children is an exact picture of the activity of your Kingdom. Your plan from the beginning  was for humankind to be child-like, innocent, playful, properly dependent. The work of the incarnation is to restore us to such a state.

Lord, Jesus, wipe my soul’s slate clean, erase the sin and death promoting choices I make; I come to you now as a child, eager to play with you, to have you carry me in your arms speak words of affirmation and acceptance. Thank you and Amen.

The sign of a maturing faith

Thoughts on Mark 10:1-12

Jesus takes his show on the road and the crowds follow; not to get something from him, there is no mention of any healing or casting out of demons, rather they gather around to learn from him. “As was his custom, he taught them.” These followers are maturing in their faith, they want you, they want to be with you, their aim is not to get something from you and then go about their business healed or restored.

By your kindness, I feel that is represents the state of my soul. You have done such great things for me, in me and through me. I trust the circumstances of my life and my body to your keeping, what I want from you now is to learn from you, to be with you so I become like you. You offer me your teaching, your presence. May it penetrate into my secret heart and then flow from me in my words and actions.

The Pharisees came to test you. I’m done with testing you, you don’t have to prove your orthodoxy to me. What you’ve given is enough. You speak your intention for humankind in Genesis, we were created for pure, reciprocal love; in the law you show your understanding of the humanity of humankind, because we are damaged and cannot contain such unadulterated love, you allow us a way to manage our brokenness; in the incarnation you reconcile your intention and our brokenness. You make a way for us to come home.

Oh, loving God. Let me live closer to the center, closer to the purity of your heart; through me woo others toward home. Oh wise God, let me be as gracious as you, may I, without condemnation offer others a “law” to manage their brokenness, remembering all the while your intention for humankind, union with Love. Thank you and Amen.


Replace my envy with Love

Thoughts on Mark 9:38-40

Today’s reading continues yesterday’s theme…John, the beloved disciple, tells you about forbidding a man from using your name to do mighty works because he was not one who was part of the crew following you. And you correct his thinking. “Let people outside your enclave, who do good in my name be. Good done is good.” Lord, dismiss my parochial thinking about good being done, ministry taking place. Bless all who minister in your name or for your name. Even the ones who carry your name only in theory.

Replace my envy with love. Amen.

My ego’s bubble gets burst

bubbleThoughts on Mark 9:30-37

You begin some serious teaching. You secretly take your disciples on an intensive crash course on what it means for you to be the savior of the world. You tell them about your upcoming betrayal, death and resurrection. They don’t get it at all, maybe they were afraid to appear dumb so they didn’t ask for an explanation. Or maybe they were hoping that if they ignored the topic, you’d quit talking about dying. They wanted to talk about the coming of the kingdom, it’s glory and their elevated role in its institution. But given the opportunity to talk about it, they were silent. At least they had sense enough to know such discussions would not please you. Good teacher that you are, you used this moment to teach them two important lessons of the Kingdom life; one advances in the Kingdom by letting others go ahead and by honoring the powerless.

A lesson I need to be reminded of over and over again. Sure I talk about desiring the Kingdom to advance, but I find myself envious when you use other people to move it forward. I hear of the popularity of other people’s blogs and my ego begins it’s mild, but persistent outrage. Her writing isn’t any better than mine, why don’t people “like” and “share” my posts? Why can’t I write as well as her? I try to be content with being a two talent gal and not resent those who have been given five talents, but it’s hard. Such ego flares are prophetic. They remind me of just how far I am from your humility.

I remember what William Law says about such outbursts of pride in his book A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. Basically he says that when others cause me envy, I am to pray for the other; pray that God will bless and prosper them in in the very thing that arouses my envy; pray for God to grant them happiness in regard to their writing and ministry. He says that “praying thusly will cause the devil to leave off of this temptation since it leads to greater love of the other and greater humility to the self.”

Yikes. Oh Lord, your correction bursts the inflated bubble of my ego’s need to be preferred. Grant me the grace to gratefully receive and invest the two talents you’ve given me. Bless Jennifer and Susan and Micha and all the other five talent women who use their gifts to forward your kingdom. Honor them and increase their harvest for your sake. Amen

Big Picture vs little irritants

Thoughts on Mark 9:14-29

Earlier you sent your disciples out two by two and gave them authority to heal people and to cast out evil spirits. Today you return from the mountain and come upon a scene of chaos and disruption. The scribes arguing with your disciples, the crowds gawking and eager for a show. “What’s going on?” you ask. A man with a son who had been tormented by an evil spirit since his childhood had brought him to you hoping you would heal the boy. Since you were not around, the disciples, practiced as they were at casting out spirits, felt up to handling the situation. But apparently not. Later, when they question you about why they weren’t up to snuff, you explained how the power of the Spirit is generated by the behind the scenes practices of prayer and fasting.

Here is another moment  when it seems you are a bit testy with the crowd and with your disciples. Humanly, I can understand this. You were up on the mountain talking with Elijah and Moses, and then Peter, James and John about what was just around the corner: your death. With this weighty, big picture scenario on your mind, you return and find your disciples, the ones to whom you’ve chosen to entrust the job of carrying out your mission, squabbling with religious authorities and ineffective in exercising the power of the Spirit. Who wouldn’t be impatient?

But you center down and give your attention to the worrying father. You put all else on pause and talk to the man, gathering his history, his story, his pain, even his doubt. How gracious you are and how brave and true he was. He did not let his doubt keep him from coming to you and asking for what he desired. He owned his disbelief and trusted that the amount of belief he did have would be sufficient. And it was.

Jesus, you modeled for me how to love my neighbor well. I have my own weighty, big picture scenario filling my head and my mind, and yet, if I follow your example, I am to not miss out on the opportunity to pay attention to those around me, their needs, their concerns. And then do what I can, by your grace and power to address their issues. Oh, Jesus. give me such a mind and heart, one that is consumed with the big picture, doing whatever is necessary for my transformation into your image; and then knows the path to this goal leads through the active loving of my neighbor.

Silly example, but how kind you are to allow me to practice what I preach immediately. Here I am, composing this lofty and very significant piece about you and how important it is to pay attention to the needs of those around me, with my dog jumping up on my chair trying to sit on my lap totally disrupting my important work. I’m irritated with her and rise to banish her to the other room when I notice how eager she is to play; so I put my important work aside and take her outside for a run in our yard. She’s excited, rushing from spot to spot, the snow is melting and there are new smells to discover. And then I notice. Where the snow has melted daffodils have begun to emerge! Spring is around the corner and I am filled with joy and hope. I would of missed this if I had continued on with my important work.

Then there’s the uncertain, but hopeful father, the one who dared to trust his faith in you rather than his doubts about you. From him I learn how to handle my fears and my doubts: come to you anyway. Don’t let my doubts, in whatever from they take, keep me from you. Let my faith in who you are and all you promise be stronger than my doubts. Doubt is passing faith is rising. Running to you, trusting you, even with my limited faith gives grace to increase my belief and decrease my unbelief. The amount of faith I have, when acted upon, is enough!

And those earnest, but ineffective disciples; learn from them, Debby. The power of the Spirit cannot be taken for granted. You cannot rest on your laurels. Sure, God showed up in a profound way at those retreats in January and used you and your gifts to create space for Jesus to connect with the ones he loves, but in order to be the vessel that carries such graces, you must continue to pursue the Kingdom of God, and practice the disciplines of the Spirit. Be mindful of the necessity of remaining connected to the vine to be a fruitful branch.

Thank you and Amen.