Monday, January 20, 2020

Midrashing with Mark

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

There is a pulse, urgency, and an immediacy to Mark's gospel.  The beat is up tempo, one that would match and mirror our modern day, fast - even frenzied - pace of life.  The urgency for Mark one that wants to lead us to the cross as quickly as possible.  To be sure, Mark wants to make sure we see specific scenes, but the shadow of the cross looms large.  Mark takes the interstate to Holy Week, without stopping at any rest stops...never visiting the tourist traps of the biggest ball of twine...always saying, "Move along folks, got lots to do and see...not much time.  Let's hurry."

Part of the reason why I want us to slow down and savor these words is not only because I think every word sparkles with endless entry points and every sentence can connect to our lives; but because the pulse under Mark is up tempo, we might race through missing some of the significance. 

For example, when we read the above story, perhaps we feel a bit frustrated that Simon's mother-in-law after being healed turns into Martha Stewart...she whips up a wonderful tater-tot hot dish and Jello salad on a lettuce leaf.  What in the world?

Or maybe she was filled with gratitude...sometimes when someone does something nice for me I want to respond in kind. 

Or sometimes part of who we are just needs to be expressed...maybe Simon's mother-in-law loved to host and cook ~ it could bring her joy.

Was it obligation...response....or something so deep within her being expressed?

We don't know!  The point of midrash isn't to solve scripture like it is a puzzle, but to let it linger and leave an impression.

My hunch is that part of the way you read this passage is a reflection on where you are at right now.

I could read this as an obligation if I had to sit through a meeting I didn't want to attend or feel like societies pressures feel like a burden.
I read this as a response or reaction if I just finished writing a "thank you" note.
I read this is an expression of who Simon's mother-in-law is in her core if I have found places and spaces to let my light shine.

Midrash isn't about the words on the page...or screen...but about us. 

In those moments, we might uncover and discover more than a trace of God's grace for you in these days.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Midrashing with Mark

Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

In Mark's gospel, the first one to name and claim who Jesus a man with an unclean spirit.

Not a religious scholar.
Not someone who studied the Bible daily.
Not someone who had the right credentials or a certificate of accomplishment up on the wall.

Seriously, the one who gets it first is the one who would have been last, least, and pushed to the fringe of society. 

What do you make of that?

Maybe it the person who annoys us the most who is the first to call when someone we love dies.
Maybe it the person who takes all the credit for your work, but also stays late with you one night to complete a project.
Maybe it the person who voted exactly opposite of you that has something to teach and tell you.

Of course, we would prefer people who teach and tell us things be from our tribe.  We'd rather hear important truths for people like us...rather than someone who gets on our nerves.

When has this been true for you?

Tell that story.  Or listen for that story.

Too often today we fail to see the humanity of people who are not like us.  We diminish and degrade others ~ sometimes to make ourselves feel better or because we want to score points (as if life is a game) ~ we see this all along.  I know is the script we are given to read by our leaders.

But ~ as Richard Rohr says ~ the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.  We don't love because it is easy or fluffy or 'the right thing'.  We love because we are loved.  We love because God's love fills our cup so much it runneth over and saturates people around us.  Take some time to savor both the unconventional and inconvenient truths of the gospel that disrupt us toward a better way of being in such a time as this. 

May our reflections offer more than a trace of Gods grace.


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Midrashing with Mark

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

I remember going fishing as a child with my brother and dad.  We'd go down to the Cedar River, a couple of baloney sandwiches and grape sodas in our cooler; our fishing poles and tackle boxes in hand; and a hope that we would come home with dinner for that night.

We rarely did.

Our hooks were empty more than they were ever full.  And the initial enthusiasm and excitement for fishing would dissipate within the first hour.  My brother and I would wander off to the play ground while my dad watched the fishing poles for any sign of a bite.  I think my dad just liked the peace and quiet. 

To be fish for people might mean that we are called to provide for others ~ help sustain those who we come into connect with each day. 

When did that happen so far this year for you?  Have you had a moment when you walked away from someone feeling like you had offered something that nourished and nurtured him/her?

When did you try and strike out?  Did you try to say something heartfelt, but the words came out in the wrong order or were not heard the way you intended or you just plain were stymied and stumbled in your response?

Fishing is a great metaphor.  There are many people out there who long for meaning, who struggle between hope/despair, who wonder if anyone cares.  Here sits the church, which is called to do more than open the door on Sunday mornings.  Fishing means long moments of nothing-ness followed by a few frenzied moments of trying to reel in the catch.  Our lives can something sit on the dock of the bay feeling like we are wasting time...but something is moving within our midst...waiting for us.

We do these words stir and swirl and sing to you?

May your midrash moments with Mark offer you more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~~ 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Midrashing with Mark

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Whew...there are so many small places in-between these words.  So many stories tucked neatly at the end of sentences just calling, crying out to be written.

First, notice how wilderness now is not a place of liberation but temptation.  Wilderness isn't either/or, wilderness is always both/and.  Wilderness is both the place where our soul can be free and we can feel free.  Wilderness is the place where we might touch the soil that is embedded in our soul, but also the place where there are creepy, crawling things that would prefer we not pay a visit to where they call, "home."  You reflected on wilderness last week...return to those thoughts.  How is wilderness both a place that engages you and can cause your heart to beat a bit fast when you think about the dangers out there?  I remember on our honeymoon, we were canoeing in Northern Minnesota.  It was a perfect day.  My wife and I were navigating the water in concert.  Stroke.  Stroke.  Stroke.  Cutting through smooth surface with a soft wake.  Then, we saw a bear.  At first we were all like, "Awww, a bear.  How cute."  We snapped a few pictures.  We even made a joke about Yogi Bear always wanting a picnic basket."  Funny stuff.

Then, we saw the bear wasn't alone, she had a cub.  Momma bears are very protective of her cubs.  And we were interrupting and intruding on her space.  We didn't have bear spray (not that I think that does any good).  We didn't have any defense besides a couple of metal water bottles, which I don't think would have deterred or made a dent in that bear if she had gotten mad.

Obviously, the story ends well.  I am here writing a blog.  But for a few moments, fear crept and crawled into the back of my throat.  For a few moments, my heart raced even though I had stopped paddling.  For a few moments we were faced with both the joy of creation as well as the danger. 

See how wilderness can be both/and?  Or think about being in a tent when a sudden rain storm comes up.  Or think about times you have hurt yourself out hiking and there is no hospital at the corner of Oak Tree and Maple Ave where you are standing out in the wilderness.  Wilderness is both beauty and vulnerability.  Jesus encounters and experiences that truth.  From the beauty of the Jordan River claimed as God's beloved to now a wilderness where he is tempted by voices that what to define and contain him.

There is another place for midrash ~ what is it that wants to define and contain you?  Maybe it is this feeling that you have to drive the right car or live in the right neighborhood or take the right vacation or post the right things to Facebook or write a blog post that goes viral.  There are all these voices outside us trying to define and distinguish who we are and what we should do. 

Finally, Jesus comes back and says that the realm of God is near.  Out of a moment of difficulty, Jesus says God is near.  Let that settle in.  Usually, when I come out of a difficult place, I don't always feel God's closer than my next breath.  But here, Jesus, seems to think that the connection and culmination of baptism and wilderness is what God is up to in the world today.  Let that sink, settle, and stir something with you. 

May your midrash-ing on these few verses open you to traces of God's grace.

Blessings ~~ 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Midrash-ing with Mark

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Hands down, Jesus baptism is one of the moments in scripture that causes my soul to surge and swirl.  There is so much meaning, possibility, and promise in the words above.

First, the fact is that John selects the Jordan as the space and place for baptism not just because it was a beautiful, natural setting.  Actually, I once read a scholar call the Jordan River a, "meandering ditch." Sounds delightful, right?  The Jordan was the place where Joshua (who took over leadership from Moses) led the people into the Promised Land.  The Jordan is that sacred space where your soul can breathe because you are arriving at the place where you longed to go.  The Jordan is the place where you are on the edge of everything.  The Jordan is that place where you remember who and whose you are.  The Jordan is that holy ground where you reclaim the meaning, possibility and promise of your life.

Where is that?  Describe and define it...paint a picture with words...or get out a photo you took...or write a poem...or paint it.  Jordan is the place on the edge of liberation ~ when/where has that been a place you have visited or resided for awhile?

Second, as Jesus is baptized the heavens are torn apart.  God is doing something different and new.  God is on the loose in our lives.  Torn apart means it won't be put back together easily.  Torn apart means if when what was broken open is super glued back together, it may not be the same or look the same.  Torn apart isn't always bad.  There are systems (racism and sexism and discrimination against LGBTQ) that need to be torn apart so that new ways of being can happen.  (However, there are always people benefiting from the way things are and don't want the system torn apart and will oppose you at every turn).  What needs to be torn apart right now in your life?  Personally?  In a relationship?  Communally?

A midrash from me ~ in my community ~  affordable housing has been a problem for so many years that it is now a crisis.  Our local government has said it is a priority for decades...but never puts money toward affordable house.  It was a commitment in word only, not in deed or dollars.  Such a system and way of being needs to be torn apart because people who work hard need a place to live.

Third, God naming and claiming Jesus as a beloved makes the tiny hairs on my arm stand on end.  Not only because those words were spoken then and there...but they are still spoken here and now.  Those words are heard at every baptism ~ at YOUR baptism.  You are a beloved son/daughter of God.  Whoever...wherever you are.  You are crafted and created in God's image.

How do you sense that truth?  How do you live this truth?  How might YOU in 2020 embody and embrace belovedness in a way that changes everything?  There is a question to midrash and find meaning in your life in these early days of 2020.

May the reflections and responses of your mind/heart/soul to the words of scripture provide more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~~

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Midrash-ing with Mark

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

As we continue to midrash with Mark, continue to let his story open our imaginations and awaken ideas about how these words are speaking, singing, swimming, and stirring in our lives early in 2020, we focus a few days ago on beginnings.  Today we move to the image of wilderness.  A couple of things about this passage~

Wilderness would awaken the truths from the book of Exodus, where Moses led the people out of slavery in Egypt into forty years of wandering.
Repentance isn't dripping and drenched in guilt for the original listeners.  Repentance is about changing, intentionally and prayerfully, our lives.  Repentance is closer to New Year's resolutions.  But unlike resolutions that often focus on our own individual stuff, repentance says we have a responsibility in our relationships.  So often God calls for repentance, or return, because the people of God were not doing justice, showing loving kindness, or walking humbly with God. They were not caring for the widow or orphan or allowing others to glean from their fields.  They were clinging with tight fists to get theirs while the getting was good.  To turn away from that is a turning toward God.
Baptism is about ritual baths in Jesus day.  Within the Jewish to wash or cleanse oneself was woven into the faith.  There were prayers that went with such washing that were powerful and profound ways to turn toward God.
John's clothing is an echo of the prophet Elijah who is said to return before the Messiah arrives.

So, with a few terms defined...let's midrash!

Where do you feel like you are wandering in the wilderness right now??  Eight days into the new year is there a place or a person or a situation where you read the words for wilderness popped into your mind/soul?  Or tell a story about actually being in wilderness!  Were there trees or desert or what did the place where you were wandering around look like, feel like, smell like?

Where do you sense that nudge to return to God?  Not with your head hung low, but your heart surging toward the sacred.

Where might you long for some clarity of cleaning?  Where do you feel like you are looking through a smudged or smeared window and can't see clearly?  Or where do you long to tidy up the messy moments of life?

What is one way you can notice and name the traces of God's grace today?

May your midrash responses to this passage open you to God's presence and peace in these days.

Blessings ~~ 

Monday, January 6, 2020

Midrash-ing with Mark

In the coming weeks, I want to invite us into the spiritual practice of Midrash.  This practice comes from our Jewish brothers and sisters who see Scripture not as some black and white rule book, but as a living dialogue with our dynamic, still creating God.  Scripture not as something only to be memorized but is a conversation to be entered into with God.  The dialogue of Midrash is meant to discover and uncover meaning in our lives today.  Midrash invites you to step into the small spaces in scripture in-between the words.  You can do this by sliding into the sandals of one of the characters.  You can do this by asking questions and bringing your insights/ideas.  You can do this by writing a story about a story (for example, what is the story of the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son?  Can God's creativity artistically find a voice through you in telling that story?).

Richard Rohr writes this in his daily devotional from January 7, 2019,  "[Midrash] lets the passage first challenge you before it challenges anyone else. To use the text in a spiritual way—as Jesus did—is to allow it to convert you, to change you, to grow you up as you respond: What does this ask of me? How might this apply to my life, to my family, to my church, to my neighborhood, to my country?"  (Rohr has two great reflections on Midrash.  Click here to read all of the January 7th devotionalClick here to read a more recent one from November 2019)

That is what we will be up to in the coming days and weeks.  Mark offers us numerous opportunities for Midrash because he often gives us the bare-bones story to step into.  Mark offers us a spacious place to roam and rummage around, because the way he tells his story is sparse but tenderly and thoughtfully composed.  Midrash continues the prayer practice we have been about in the last few weeks of gazing, not just glancing.  Too often we read scripture in a monotone voice.  We think we are being reverent, but it can come across with all the enthusiasm of Eeyore reading aloud.  Scripture is dynamic, but invites us to slow down, let the words sink, settle, sing, and swim inside our souls.  Scripture takes time ~ like reading poetry.  Scripture can be spacious and stirring, if we are willing to dance with it.  But so often scripture has pushed people's interpretation to the fringe/fray, making you spectators, while the pastor (professional) offers an interpretation.  We have turned the sacred act of interpretation not as a communal moment but making the people of God wall-flowers in the process.  In the coming weeks, you are inviting into another way.

To gaze, not just glance at the scripture.
To prayerfully ponder and pause, not just wait for me to share.
To enter and dance.

So, let's begin where Mark begins.
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way;
 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight,’”

I invite you to think about beginnings (after all it is a new year).  What is beginning right now for you?  Is it good news?  Tell a story about how it feels right now to be beginning?  Who went before you and beside you in this adventure?  Does the path seem straight where you can see for miles?  Or are there so many twists and turns ahead that you cannot even see 10 feet ahead?


Who was a Sunday School teacher who helped shape your faith?  What did the Sunday School room of your childhood look like, smell like, feel like?


Mark's opening line is his thesis statement.  The whole gospel is about supporting the truth that Jesus is the Son of God.  If you had to come up with a thesis statement about your life right now, what would that be?

I pray you find more than a trace of God's grace midrash-ing with Mark right now.

Blessings ~~