Amos’ Rant, Jesus’ Question, and the Disciple’s Incredulity

Amos’ Rant, Jesus’ Question, and the Disciple’s Incredulity

Sermon for Oct. 14, 2018, on Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 and Mark 10:17-31  Audio version available here (for several weeks)

Mark 10:17-31

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and 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.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, neuroscientist Andrew B. Newberg, and co-author Mark Robert Waldman, discuss exactly what the title says: that words can change our brains.  Negative words can damage our brains.  Positive words improve our brains. 

This is one of the reasons I am so thankful for Jesus, which will become clear in a minute. 

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Imagine

Imagine

Sermon on Matt. 8:5-13 for Oct. 7, 2018, World Communion Sunday   Audio here

Matt. 8:5-13

  When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him 6 and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.”  7 And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.”  8 The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed.  9 For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.”  10 When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.  11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,  12 while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.

Sometimes I hear people say, “My father always used to say…” — and then they say something wise or useful that they learned from their father.  I learned a lot from my father too.  Not so much by what he told me, but by his example.  I learned by how he lived.  He was always respectful to my mother.  He valued her intelligence and skill.  He helped out in the kitchen, both in food preparation and in clean up.  As I was growing up he was always honest.  He was disciplined.  He was both kind and firm in his convictions.   And now that he is old, he is still all of those things.  That is what he taught me, not by repeated expressions, but by his life example.

Jesus’ Teaching by Example

In the same way, we learn from Jesus by his example as much as we do from his teaching.  We notice what he did with his time, where he went, the kinds of people he spent time with.  For example, though Jesus never taught meditation, he meditated.  He did not tell us how to treat women, but he treated women with dignity and respect.  He did not tell us who we should keep company with, but he was always with the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed and the impure and invited them to his table. 

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Unlearning as Step 2 on the Journey

Unlearning as Step 2 on the Journey

Sermon on Mark 9:38-50; for September 29, 2018, Pentecost +19B    Audio Version

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.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

“If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

I have been walking the path of a spiritual journey in the Christian tradition for a long time now, as most of you here have been.  I have learned a lot over the years.  I am so full of gratitude for my many teachers — people who have taught me by the example of their lives, scholars, authors, literal classroom teachers, and lecturers.  Over the years my thinking has evolved, changed, and grown in so many ways.  Probably so has yours. 

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The Adults and the Children in the Room

The Adults and the Children in the Room

Sermon on Mark 9:30-37 for September 23, 2018, Pentecost +18B           Audio Version

Mark 9:30-37

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Not long ago I visited a person in the hospital.  On hearing that an email prayer request had been sent out, the  person’s spouse said, with a smile, “It was supposed to be a secret.”  I replied, “It is a secret; just one everyone knows.”  He laughed.

Our text begins with Jesus trying to keep secrets. It says,

“They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples…”

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The Self On the Spiritual Journey

The Self On the Spiritual Journey

Sermon on Mark 8:27-38 for September 16, 2018, Pentecost +17B  Audio Version here

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them 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.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

When I lived overseas, one morning I left the house to go to the corner market for bread and milk, but it was closed.  So I walked a couple of blocks up to the larger market area, but instead of bustling, it was deserted.  It took a while to become aware that it was a state holiday. 

There is a strange rule that seems to be in effect everywhere: “What everybody knows, nobody says.  For example, you would never think to tell your neighbor that there is no school on Christmas; we all know it. 

The same thing happens when we read the bible.  Sometimes the curtain is lifted a little and we get a peek at how Jesus and the disciples lived, like when we hear that Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, “as was his custom” we learn that Jesus was a regular at synagogue worship.  (Luke 4:16)

Similarly, we know that Jesus went off to pray at night, and Luke tell us that Jesus “would withdraw to deserted places and pray” (Luke 5:16) which means that he did that customarily; it was part of his spiritual practice.  But we are never told what he did in those long nights of prayer.  We are not given a method. 

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“Tikkun olam”  Healing the World

“Tikkun olam”  Healing the World

Sermon on Mark 7:24-37 for September 9, 2018, Pentecost +16B   Audio Version Here

Mark 7:24-37

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

In Judaism, there is a phrase that sums up our human responsibility as “tikkun olam” which means repairing, or healing the world.  Our moral duty is not only our own spiritual welfare, but extends to the entire world.  The starting point of this perspective is that something is broken and needs repairing, or sick and needs healing. 

Philosopher of comparative religion Huston Smith has said that nearly all religions agree that part of the human condition is our feeling that something has gone wrong that needs to be put right.  Whether they teach that we have many lives to go through, or some kind of purification process, or path to follow, the assumption is that our current state is an unwell state.  We need tikkun, healing.

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Jesus’ Radical Reorientation

Jesus’ Radical Reorientation

Sermon on Lev. 11:1-12 and Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23, for September 2, 2018, Pentecost +15B

Audio Version Here

Lev. 11:1-12

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.

“For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

In our church, after each Sunday morning service, we gather for lunch in Fellowship Hall.  Sharing lunch together is important to me, and I am so thankful to all who participate.   I sent an email to our folks about shared meals, so they already know a bit about why I consider them so significant.  Sharing a meal with people is as ancient as any human practice is.  Sharing meals is far more than simply eating together.  It establishes who is part of your group, whether it is a family, a clan, a tribe, or a church. 

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