Loopholes

marriageFriday, Octoboer 2, 2015

Mark 10:2-16

People have a way of focusing in a little too narrowly on the scripture.
Just look at this passage. A very simple reading leaves us with the following conclusions:

Divorced people are sinners.
Divorced/Remarried people are adulterers.
And on a lighter note… Jesus likes kids.

But what happens if we take a step back and look at this lesson in context? What happens if we read it as part of the bigger story in Mark?

Jesus is again in Judea, where John the Baptist recently lost his head for speaking against King Herod’s marriage to his brother’s former wife, Herodias (6:14-29). With the crowd all gathered around them, everyone listening, it seems too much of a coincidence that this is the question the Pharisees choose to ask. Is it possible that instead of seeking knowledge…they are truly after Jesus’ head?

Jesus goes ahead and answers their question with a question, putting it back on them. Yes, for thousands of years the law has allowed divorce. But then Jesus makes it clear that one cannot claim to be righteous based on the law. Just look back in this gospel to the legal back and forth between Jesus and the Pharisees over ritual washing (7:1-23), Sabbath observance (2:23-28, 3:1-6), and fasting (2:18-20). One may follow the letter of the law and still have a heart as hard as stone…is God is pleased by that?

The shift from divorce-talk to children may seem a jarring contrast---but only if you haven’t been paying attention. Throughout the gospel Jesus has been calling us to notice the least and the lowest. When the disciples were jockeying for position, Jesus brought a child into their midst, instructing, “whoever wants to be first must be last of all” (9:33-37). When the disciples took it upon themselves to decide who is “in” and who is “out” of Jesus’ group, he sternly warned them against causing “these little ones” to stumble (9: 38-42). Now as the disciples try to keep the unworthy away from the messiah, Jesus is indignant and says, “let the little children come to me…whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

How can a child teach us adults about how we are to live according to the law? Even laws like divorce?

While the adults are using the law as a weapon against one another, using the scripture as a way to save themselves and condemn others, using Jesus as a way to divide and reject…

It is the child, in need of constant guidance and correction from others, prone to mistakes and seeking forgiveness, utterly dependent on the mercy and love of a more powerful one, who shows us the way into the kingdom.

Pastor Sarah

The Wrong People

wrong wrongFriday, September 25, 2015

Mark 9:38-50

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

An outsider.
Someone who did not fit the criteria of a follower.
The wrong person to be acting in Jesus’ name.

It got me thinking about some of the wrong people in my life as a follower of Jesus.

There was the tough-as-nails director of the domestic violence shelter who chain smoked Swisher Sweets and swore like a sailor. Everyone was terrified of her, including me—until I learned that it took more than walls to protect those women and children.

At that same shelter, there were the Navajo traditional healers who built a sweat lodge in the backyard and kneeled on the living room floor to create sand paintings. These rituals were just as much a part of the healing process as counseling sessions. Because of their presence I noticed absence of the Christian Pastors.

There was the recently divorced Jewish woman, more than 30 years my senior, who took me along on adventures like hiking the Grand Canyon. She encouraged me to explore the religious issues I was seeing in my work at the shelter, signing us both up for a training in Seattle on that very issue. That conference was the very first time I met a woman pastor.

There were the colleagues at the sexual assault advocacy program who were so angry with the church—for the way they have been further harmed as survivors of abuse, for the way they had been treated because of their sexuality, for the protestors who regularly gathered outside our office building with crosses and rosaries. These women inspired me to go to seminary long before anyone in my church did.

There was the Muslim woman in a hijab who showed up that first week of seminary at the door of my apartment offering a strange and beautiful towering sculpture made entirely of fruit. It was an overwhelming gesture of welcome during what otherwise proved to be a very lonely year.

And there were the security guards and janitorial staff and cafeteria employees during the long nights at the children’s hospital. They were often the first to encounter people in need because they were out where the people were. They motivated this chaplain to stay out of the office and keep walking the halls.          

And there were so many other folks who offered something to refresh this follower on the journey. Maybe not a cup of water, but instead—a good story, a song, creampuffs, dried beans, moonshine. Maybe these people are not the ones you’d think of when you go looking for role models for ministering in Jesus’ name, but they are an invaluable part of my formation as a pastor.

You may feel that you are the wrong person—to encourage, to teach, to lead, to offer comfort, to speak out, to heal in Jesus’ name. But it is often the wrong people who are able to do what the right ones just can’t.

Pastor Sarah

On the Way

train bridge web

Friday, September 18, 2015

Mark 9:30-37

The disciples preferred to change the subject when Jesus predicted the passion. Three times in Mark Jesus plainly talked about it and this time they chose to argue about who was greater among them, a rather odd response. Just what were they hearing? Jesus followed up with further instruction, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Now that turns things around as it always does. And it didn’t make it any easier for them.

The discussion of who was the greatest came from a lack of understanding along with some fear to ask. The arguing turned out to be a good way to distract from the main thing – the depth of Jesus’ love for the world. Their discussion clearly kept the focus upon themselves and apart from the work going forward. It indicated where they felt most comfortable.

It’s interesting that Jesus asked them what they were arguing about on the way. He understood that their conversation was a window into their fears. When it comes to matters of faith it can be a real challenge to keep the main thing before us. Like the disciples it’s easy to get side tracked by making comparisons and seeking status. Jesus cares about our fears because they can hold us back and hinder our service to the needs of others.

How do we hear the question of Jesus, “What were you arguing about on the way?” And how does the question invite us back to the center? What are the fears in our lives that need to be addressed by the reassurance of God’s love and faithfulness? How are we led into the vibrancy of vocation and the life of discipleship?

You never know where you will be met by grace. Understanding of faith and encouragement to follow can happen in many ways. The life of the church invites us into a journey of listening, sharing and serving. I am reminded in my work that we are connected through a community in mission, always learning, always growing, always grateful.

Pastor Randy

Getting to Know You

Walking

Friday, September 11, 2015

Mark 8:27-38

I’ve been walking my son to school every morning. For the sake of all the “have to’s” in my day, it would make more sense to choose the fastest way. Sometimes he complains, “but it takes soooo long, why can’t we ride in the car?”

But I am committed to walking. And to his complaints (and to the pressures of my day) I respond, “This way we get to spend time together…and talk…and notice things, like those spiders that build their webs in the grass…”

And we get to know each other.

I’m glad to choose 15 minutes of holding hands and pointing out dew on the grass and his little boy foot-dragging-dancing-stumbling steps. A minute of complaint gives way to chatting about his friend on the playground and wondering out loud about the things we see.

In the rain and the snow and the cold that is sure to come, I hope to continue to choose the slow, inconvenient way—because knowing him will continue to take time. Every day there will be something new to learn about him.

And in the walking, we have our opportunity.

In our Gospel lesson this week, it is painfully obvious that Peter has a lot more to learn about Jesus. Who he is. What he means. What he must do.

What he knows so far is from the slow plodding steps they’ve taken together around Galilee. But Peter’s journey with Jesus is far from over. He can’t stop now.

In the harsh words, “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus is also extending an invitation.

Keep following. Keep walking.
There is so much more for you to know.

Pastor Sarah

Still Unfolding

fall wheat

Friday, September 4, 2015

Mark 7:24-37

The routines of fall settle in once again. School is in session and summer activities are now behind us. We feel the pace pick up in the many programs of the church and we are back finding involvements – attention to matters of faith through congregational life. In many ways the energy feels good and we are ready to appreciate the very work we are called to be about in these days - together.

Especially we are mindful of the upcoming culmination of our RenewingFaith capital campaign. The campaign team has lifted up in ways of invitation and celebration what we can do together as the church to make a difference. The month of September will help us recognize how all of this relates to mission, renewal and the good work of sharing in the gospel! It has been a true source of encouragement to move into the future in this way – taking on the necessary tasks to foster the health and well- being of our shared ministry.

I am glad for the seasons of congregational life and for the dynamic gift of renewal. I think of Wendell Berry’s words:

Calling again to mind
The grace of circumstance
Sabbath economy
In which all thought is song,
All labor is a dance.

                                                                                         (Timbered Choir; Counterpoint Press, Washington D.C., 1998)

Like always we work and share in a way that speak to our gratitude for the goodness we know in Christ. Shaped by unfolding grace and the sustaining ways of God’s promises we are free to give with joy and gladness. In our Gospel reading for this Labor Day weekend, the response of those who witnessed the work of Jesus was described in this way: They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well…”

The response captures what our work, rest and prayers are ultimately grounded in!

Pastor Randy