Saturday, October 27, 2012
We take up with the gospel of Mark again in the shadow of Jerusalem, on the way to the cross. We've been on this road for a while now. This story of the blind Bartimaeus is the last story of Jesus’ ministry, before the cross and the passion.
"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus’ question of Bartimaeus is the same question that Jesus asked James and John only a moment ago. But the contrast between the request of James and John and the request Bartimaeus makes is cavernous. James and John were somewhat confused, they ask Jesus for power, they think the kingdom is about a seating chart. Bartimaeus asks to see. Not at all like the power and status that James and John were all about, and Bartimaeus wasn’t even officially a disciple.
Jesus called the disciples, Jesus said to them, come, follow me, and they did, they left everything to follow Jesus. But somehow there's a difference here between James and John, and Bartimaeus. It seems the healing; the transformation of James and John was a bit long in coming, not unlike most, if not many of us. It takes time to be changed by God’s amazing and abundant love. For most of us that doesn’t happen immediately, it happens gradually. I’ve spoken in recent weeks about the importance of examining what it is that we hold most dear. What is it that we hold on to so tightly it becomes idolatrous? What are the barriers that we set up in our relationship with God, with ourselves and with others? Are there burdens that we need to set down so that we may follow God’s love in Jesus Christ? We are much more like James and John than we are like Bartimaeus. For most of us, our blindness is not immediately noticeable to others, unlike Bartimaeus whose blindness was obvious. Our hurts and pains are buried deep and wide, and instead of being healed, like Bartimaeus, we look to taking power and hope to sit next to Jesus, like James and John. Jesus' call to us, the call to discipleship, is to open ourselves up, to reduce our baggage, to lay our burdens down, to let Love win. It’s hard to hear the call when there's so much noise, it’s hard to follow when what we carry is so heavy, it’s hard to move when we’ve built our sturdy wall. Being healed isn't easy for us.
Being healed changed Bartimaeus’ life completely. There’s some good and some not so good about being healed. The good part for Bartimaeus was being restored to the community. As a blind man in that culture he was outcast, on the margins, unseen by any who walked by him on that road. His work was begging and as a man restored to society, he had to get a job.
There is risk involved in being healed. There is risk involved in transformation. Life will never, can never be the same. Out of what seems like death comes resurrection. We cling so desperately to that which we believe is our identity, it's nearly impossible to give that up to an identity as beloved of God. Letting go of what we believe defines us to take on our true identity may hurt and is hard. But unless and until we let die what is killing us, we can never be healed, we will never be transformed into the new person in Christ. The Good News is that when we do let die what is killing us, we make room for Love to win, there will be new life in ways we can hardly begin to imagine.
Bartimaeus regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way. The way at this point is to the cross, which is where the rest of the story takes place. Not easy, no more business as usual, always death before resurrection. Discipleship, following Jesus on the way, to the cross, all the way to resurrection, is not about gaining or wielding power and status, it's not about a seating chart, and it is not about pain and suffering for suffering sake, or for the sake of martyrdom, but is about embracing this life with all it entails. It is as much about joy, thanksgiving and gratitude, as it is about pain, suffering and tragedy. It is about our God’s willingness to be with us in the middle of it all.
Bartimaeus is called, and healed, and in faith follows Jesus. Had Bartimaeus known what lie ahead for Jesus and for the rest of the followers, they might have bailed, who knows. The journey to and through the cross is as difficult as it is exhilarating, discipleship is not for the feint of heart. It was only a very short period of time between Bartimaeus being healed, being restored to the community, and Jesus’ passion, suffering, death and resurrection. Bartimaeus could easily have it wasn’t worth it, why bother, what happened to the reward, where’s the power and status in all this.
So discipleship as Bartimaeus shows us is not about the reward, it is about the journey. It is about being accompanied by Jesus on the road, it is about accompanying others on the journey, it is about seeing, seeing, the grace, the joy, the wonder, in all that life throws at us, because we know that Love wins. We know that resurrection happens. We know that life always wins over death. We know that we are part of resurrection. There is hope. There is hope.
Discipleship, following Jesus, is not about having the right answers; it’s not about being perfect. Discipleship is seeing healing right in front of us; discipleship is seeing the divine in one another and joining with one another in the journey. Discipleship is being transformed, being changed; becoming the creation that God calls us to be. Discipleship is answering yes to God’s call to come, even when the road ahead seems treacherous because Love wins.
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us. James and John ask Jesus. Arrange it, they said, so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory - one of us at your right, the other at your left. Jesus, I have something I want you to do for me. I want you to grant my wish for a better job, a bigger house, a wonderful spouse. I want you to get me out of this mess I'm in. I want you to make sure that with this investment, I make a lot of money. With this ticket, just make sure I win the lottery. Jesus, I know you can do this for me, and if you do, I will be a better person. I will give ten percent away. I will never again use your name in vain.
James and John, you and me, we get confused about who Jesus is. Sometimes we think Jesus is more like a genie in a lamp, instead of the one who walks this life with us and gives his life for us. James and John are confused, they think this is about seating order at a party, not life in God's kingdom. Jesus, in this story, is too polite to say to James and John, since when did you believe this is about you? And we need to hear that too, since when did you believe this is about you?
Jesus and the disciples are on the road to Jerusalem, the place where Jesus will be put to death. They all know this, but the disciples are unwilling to accept the inevitable death of their friend and teacher. Jesus says to them, if you want to be close to me, if you want me to be present with you, serve one another, serve your neighbor, serve those with whom you most vehemently disagree. This is the model of discipleship.
Jesus says it is not the order in which you sit at the table at the party. Dwight Zscheile, in People of the Way writes, "In the household of God, no one can claim privilege of place; we are all adopted children via our baptism." And this is the image Jesus invokes. It is all about diving into the water. "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized." We are baptized into Jesus' life, suffering, death, and resurrection. Taking Jesus' cup is about diving into the waters of our baptism, waters that bring the dead to life, waters that fill an empty soul, waters that give a heart the only thing worth living, and worth dying for. We get completely wet in these holy waters. We take each others hands and dive in.
Diving in to those waters is dangerous. We take the risk of dying. But you and I both know that death is necessary for resurrection. We must die to that which is killing us so that Jesus can raise us to new life. Right now, not later, not after you die, but right now Love wins. Jesus' work on the cross brings new life now. You see, what is true for each and every one of us is that there is that thing that is out there beyond us, that goal we construct our lives around, that dream that demands every ounce of our being, that job that demands all of our attention, all of our energy, or the revenge that consumes us, that is our idol. For James and John it was the prize of sitting next to Jesus at the banquet table. They couldn't see that the prize was an idol. They couldn't see that the getting the prize would kill them. Or at least destroy everything they cared about and all their relationships.
What is it for you? What is that prize that you are willing to die for. Lay it down. Lay it down. And take up your most honest and authentic self. Be free. Be transformed, be changed. Because there is where you will find new life, resurrected life, there Jesus will find you. You see, the goal of life is not to have something, or someone. Even if that someone may be God. The goal of life is not to gain the reward of an after life. Life is about living fully alive, now, in the midst of God's amazing and abundant love. That's what Jesus' work on the cross and in the resurrection is all about. Life is about living every present moment fully immersed in God's love, and showing forth God's love in your life.
The other part of the good news is that we don't do the work alone. We do this work in community. I spent a lot of my life by the side of a pool, or a lake, as a lifeguard. In lifeguard training one of the hardest exercises was to dive in and swim up to a person who is acting as if they are drowning, putting that person under control, and then swimming into the shore towing my own weight plus theirs. I truly hoped I would never have to do it for real. But that's actually what we're called to do as a follower of Jesus, as a person who is baptized into Jesus' baptism. You are called to dive into the water, sometimes you're the lifeguard, towing someone else to safety. Sometimes you're the one being saved, and you need to let someone else carry you to safety. But it's together we have a chance to receive the new life that Jesus has for us, together we know that Love wins.
And that's what this community of faith is all about. Diving in and swimming, or thrashing around, whichever it is, we do it together. That is the body of christ. The work of letting go of the idol, letting go of the prize is so important, it matters so much, that we need help, we need each other, we can't do it on our own. We need to be in the company of others. And the joy of new life, the joy of being transformed matters, and needs to be celebrated in the body of christ, in the company of others.
Lay down the pursuit of your prize, lay down your idol, be lifted up to new life in Jesus. Let Love win.
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Of all the come to Jesus meetings throughout the last two thousand and twelve years, this one was probably the first. This earnest young man wants to hear from Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Wouldn't you like to know that too? Wouldn't you like to sit down with Jesus and find out just exactly what you must do to have eternal life? No more guessing, no more praying that you do the right thing, but a clear and concise list that you can check off. Absolute certainty about what it takes to have life after death.
Jesus' first response to this young man is to tell him to follow the law. And this earnest young man reminds Jesus that he is a good Jewish boy and has been following the law since his youth. At this point I imagine Jesus taking a deep breath and gathering his spirit together. Jesus looks at him and loves him, and thinks this is not a bad guy, and Jesus says, "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 truth is that each one of us gathered here today is that earnest young man. If we have a roof over our heads, if we have a car to drive no matter what shape it's in, if we have shoes for our feet, if we have food to eat for lunch, we are this young man.
And then Jesus goes on to describe the reality that the disciples live in, and the reality that you and I live in. The disciples ask, who can be saved. And Jesus answers, it isn't about you at all, it isn't about your wealth or even your poverty, it is not about what you look like, it's not about who you're related to, it's not even about how much you give to or help others. Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God, for God all things are possible." What Jesus is saying is that rich or poor, old or young, gay or straight, democrat or republican, we are all on this planet together, and none of us get out of this live alive. We can do absolutely nothing to earn, deserve, or in any way change the fact of God's amazing and abundant love. There is no check list for salvation. Love wins. This is an invitation to not look for salvation in your stuff. So stop trying to win God's love, stop trying to earn God's love, it can't be done, it is impossible for us. But it is not impossible for God. The invitation is to be God's beloved.
So in scripture, when we hear "give all you have to the poor," when we hear "clothe the naked, feed the hungry," we realize that that is how we respond to God's amazing grace, we pour out our love for all those whom God loves. It is at the core of being a follower of Jesus, it is discipleship. And the promise is that when you give it all away, whatever it is, you will not be bereft, you will not be left with nothing. The promise is that when you give it all away, whatever it is, Love wins. When you give it all away, you are filled with that which only Jesus has. You will be soaked in God's love, you will be filled with the spirit, you will be re-membered in the body of christ, you will be transformed.
So what keeps us from giving it all away? What is it that is so important to us that we are willing to give up a life in relationship with Jesus, for a life in relationship with all of our stuff? The answer is that we are afraid. We are afraid to risk, we are afraid to live our lives fully alive in the love of Christ. We protect what we have, rather than live as a citizen of the kingdom.
Here's a story about a man who had to face his own fear, fear that caused him to work so hard and long it almost cost his marriage. Millard Fuller is the founder of Habitat for Humanity International, an organization that many of you know about. Millard Fuller was a millionaire by the age of 29, and had experienced the "American Dream." He made it his life's work to pass that dream on, especially through his work with Habitat for Humanity International. This need to serve came upon him when he almost lost his family and his health to the rigors and pressures of the business world.
Fuller's wife abruptly left him at a time he was working too hard and too much. He followed his wife to New York and together they had many soul-searching conversations. The couple finally decided they would sell almost everything they owned. They returned home to Montgomery, Alabama to "sell their home and give away their possessions, donating the proceeds to mission projects worldwide and church-related organizations." Fuller also sold out his share of his business to his partner, and donated the proceeds of that sale to humanitarian causes.
Eventually, the Fullers decided to start a housing partnership plan which would build small houses on plots of land one half-acre each. The homes were to be sold to poor, rural families. Additionally, their faith dictated they follow the biblical edict in Exodus 22:25: "If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest." The money would come from Linda Fuller's business, as well as charitable donations, interest-free loans from donors, and later, small mortgage payments from the homeowners themselves.
Fuller later commented, "We want to make shelter a matter of conscience. We want to make it socially, politically, morally, and religiously unacceptable to have substandard housing and homelessness." They founded Habitat for Humanity International, an organization which was to raise money and recruit volunteers to build homes for those in need. Habitat homes are sold to families or individuals living in substandard housing who do not earn enough to buy a home through conventional channels. Some people mistakenly believe that Habitat gives people free homes, but as a Habitat volunteer commented, "We give away nothing but a great opportunity." A small down-payment is required, as is a low monthly mortgage. The mortgage payments go into a fund that perpetuates the program. Additionally, all buyers invest a set number of labor hours in their own home. Fuller calls this "sweat equity" and points out that it builds a sense of pride and ownership in the individuals.
You are already God's beloved, so this isn't about earning your way to heaven. Lay down your fear, and live your live, fully alive, fully immersed in God's love. Find ways to respond to God's abundant and amazing love with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength. Give all that you are to bear God's reconciling message that love wins. For nothing is impossible in God.
Saturday, October 6, 2012
Again Jesus is saying and doing something radical here. He shows the Pharisees, and the disciples, in a world where women and children are possessions, relationship matters. Jesus is saying that relationships with God, and with others, matter. Indeed, not only do relationships matter, relationships are salvific. The whole of the gospel of Mark shows us what the Kingdom of God looks like, and throughout the story we learn about being disciples. Jesus announces the coming of God's kingdom, and Jesus brings to us the embodiment of the kingdom. So this passage from Mark tells us much more about God than it tells us about ourselves, but it does indeed tell us something about ourselves and our role as disciples. It tells us about who God is, who we are, and how we are to relate to God and to one another.
So I start with what it shows us about God. The truth is that God as creator is the integrating force, not just the most powerful integrating force in nature, that would suggest there are other integrating forces. But it is God who is the integrating force. That means that God is wholeness, and in a world of brokenness, it is God who makes us whole. This is how we experience God in the stories of creation, God calls order from chaos, God creates wholeness out of nothing. It is important that we understand that that is the starting point, and that Jesus always points to God's Kingdom as that which is unifying. Kingdom is about wholeness and health, God's kingdom is about compassion and mercy. God's kingdom is about being related to God and to one another. And relationships matter to God.
That is how Jesus responds to the questions of law that the Pharisees ask. The Pharisees are concerned with laws in these questions, they are not concerned with love. You and I approach marriage from the standpoint of love, and romance. The Pharisees approach marriage from a legal standpoint. This is not about law, but about love. There is a place for law, for protection of the most vulnerable in our society. A very important place. But that's not what this is about. Marriage is a contract by which the man takes possession of the woman from the woman's father. But Jesus responds to the Pharisees, not by upholding or disparaging the law, but by describing the desire that God has for humanity to live in relationship, relationship that honors and respects the beloved. This kind of relationship is the way God relates to us, and this kind of relationship is God's desire for us in relationship to one another.
God yearns for humanity to be committed to one another, God wants for humanity to put the beloved before self, God wants for humanity to live together with dignity, respect, love. This is what the kingdom looks like. Jesus knows what happens when relationships are rent, and when relationships are torn asunder. That's what he describes in this passage. Humans are torn apart. Hearts are broken. Children are hurt.
We live in a world of contingency, which is about the opposite of committed relationships. Contingency and casualness, is a message that is splayed all across our screens. When I am on facebook, there is an ad consistently that tells me that with some surgery I too can have a perfect body, or with a pill I can lose weight instantly. A theme of some of our favorite television programs is that if you are not satisfied with the partner you have, you can leave them for another. But it goes even deeper than that. The message that in order to be valued in this world you have to possess a big house, a nice car, a good wife, successful and beautiful children is pervasive.
In the world of 1st century Mediterranean culture remember the highest value was honor and status. It is into all of this that God invokes relationship and community. Here is the place where the highest good is commitment to one another. Where promises are made about always being there for the other.
It's also the place where humanity lives. You and me in all of our glory and in all of the messiness of life. God yearns for us to be together, to put the other first, and yet God knows how we fall short of that. God knows the pain of broken relationships. God knows the pain of love. Isn't that where we are going with Jesus, on this path of discipleship? Straight to the cross, that's the road we are on with Jesus. Right through that pain and suffering of brokenness. And as some might say, it ends badly with death on a cross. But you and I know different. We know it doesn't end there. We know that God loves us so absolutely and completely that something happens, that Love wins. That a new thing happens, resurrection. That's the hope in God's relationship with us, and in our relationship with others. We fail. We hurt. We are broken. But because God shares God's very self with us, and because we share our lives with others, we share the very fiber of our being, we are forgiven. We have a second chance. We live through the pain we cause, we live through the pain others cause in our lives, we are broken. And God's love seeps into our brokenness, God's love seeps into the fissures of our hearts and the fissures of the fibers of our skin and bones and muscles and organs, and somehow we are healed. Somehow we can live again. Somehow, Love wins.
As disciples, we live in God's kingdom. We live in the place where relationships matter, where relationships are sacred. Where every person has dignity, where every person belongs. The Gospel of Mark starts in the lonely places and Jesus will end up on the cross. But being alone is not what God wants for us. God says, "I am here, in my Son, to be in relationship with you. Nothing can separate us any longer." That's why we do what we do. That's why we ask for forgiveness every time we come to the table to eat. That's why we gather together and stand shoulder to shoulder to eat the bread and drink the wine. That's why we share our prayers and deposit them in this holy place, together. And that's why we go out into the world bearing God's yearning for relationship to all who we meet. We are Jesus' disciples, we live as kingdom people, and for us, Love wins.