Friday, January 27, 2012


Mark 6:14-44

These two stories usually are not linked together. Usually we deal with Herod's misuse of power as separate from Jesus' feeding of the five thousand. After all, what do they really have to do with each other?

On the surface this first part of the passage has political overtones that remind us of stories we hear today. Here you have Herod throwing his birthday party. In comes his own daughter who dances for him and delights him so much he will give her whatever she wants: a corvette, her own music video, even half of his own power! To be sure, Dr. Spock would not approve of this parenting style. To be sure, I find it a bit disturbing. Herod never comes across great. In Matthew's gospel, Herod is so threatened by Jesus' birth, the Jesus' family has to flee down to Egypt, a la Joseph, because Herod said he would kill all the first born sons, a la Moses right before the Passover.

But lest we think Herod is a one dimensional character, it should be noted that Herod does not really want to harm John the Baptizer. In fact, it says in verse 20, Herod even "protected" John. It seems like Herod has a soft spot for John, even after John calls him to task for marrying his sister-in-law, Herodias. But Herodias can't let her grudge go.

Mother and daughter consult on what wish they want Herod to grant and come up with John's head on a platter. It is violent and we see just how much anger and resentment builds within us when we are unable/unwilling to forgive. We see first hand how much revenge can blur our vision and leads to hurting people.

That being said, what in the world does this have to do with the feeding of the five thousand? I am glad you asked.

Jesus hears John is dead. He is heartbroken. He wants to get away, go to a deserted place by himself (vs. 31). But just as he tries, he sees a crowd. Not just any crowd, five thousand! That is the most people to gather around Jesus so far in the gospel. It is a huge crowd. And Jesus is moved with compassion, which means something within his gut compelled him that he could not just keep going on as planned. So, he stopped and taught and when the disciples wanted to send the crowd away, Jesus said, "You give them something to eat."

One part that I find so compelling when you connect these two passages is that Jesus takes a moment of profound grief and pours it out in love. Rather than drawing inward, which is usually the most natural response, Jesus moves outward to an extreme number of people. The other part that is so compelling when you connect these two passages is that Jesus invited the disciples (and us) to do the same.

We live in a world today where people want to circle the wagons in fear. We want to protect our own and think that fences will keep all the bad parts of life at bay. That is not always the case. Life, true life, is a risk. We can be proactive, create all kinds of plans and lists, and even try to plot the trajectory of our life. At some point, there will be a bump - big or small. And we will need to confront that we don't control everything. Some things are out of our hands. Some things happen in spite of our plans and in spite of God's grace and love. That does not mean that God's grace and love are not present in the bumps along life's road. But I think in order to find that grace - at times- we need to be more open and draw the circle wider.

Again, that is hard. My natural instinct is to protect myself when I hit a bump. And I believe there are times when you do need to protect yourself and not over extend yourself and not expose yourself to more hurt/harm. There are also times when drawing inward doesn't help us and does not open us to the traces of God's grace. Sorting out when to draw in and when to draw out is not easy. For me, that is why I am a part of a church and try to engage in conversation with those I respect. God's presence, traces of God's grace, can be found when I talk openly about the bumps in life's road and listen to the response of those around me.

So, may you notice God's presence and grace and love in times of grief and in time of joy and in those ordinary times in-between.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Calm in the midst of a (snow) storm

Mark 4:35-41

After going most of December without snow and even enjoying 50 degree weather the first week of January, Wisconsin has once again realized it is not Florida. Over the past couple of weeks snow has caused me to cancel meetings, nurse sore muscles that I had not used since shoveling last winter, and remember that some drivers treat snow fall like a sort of invincibility shield thinking that the two inches of space is plenty of room to pull into on-coming traffic.

And so when I read about Jesus resting at the back of the boat, I must confess I am a bit jealous. In the midst of life with kids activities, school events, work, cleaning, and did I mention about trying to keep the driveway clean of snow? It is difficult to find rest, especially in the midst of a storm.

The waves crashed in on the boat, the disciples were yelling, there was loud commotion, and Jesus was snoozing in the back of the boat. It is such an odd scene, I can't help but laugh. Either Jesus was really tired or was like my college roommate could slept through fire alarms. Like so many times we encounter humor in scripture, when the laughter subsides is the moment the scripture writers make their point.

"Peace...Be Still" Jesus says. Most of the time I've thought that Jesus was saying both to the storm all around. More and more I think that that one of those comments and maybe even both were actually directed at the disciples.

How in the world do we find peace in the midst of the snow storms of life? How in the world can we be still when there is so much to do? Ever try to sit still when you have a nagging sense that there is something you are suppose to or could be doing? In those moments, my mind keeps screaming..."Don't just sit something." And the only way to quiet the voice is to get up and respond to the laundry that needs folding or the lawn that needs mowing.

Those words are powerful especially since one chapter earlier, Chapter 3, Jesus confronted the idea of Sabbath by healing a man who lived with a diseased hand. Even as Jesus says you cannot legislate Sabbath, a short time later, he finds his own Sabbath space. He finds time (to quote Barbara Brown Taylor) when he is "good for nothing" and rests.

I pray this morning as the sunlight glistens off the newly fallen snow that we would find moments of rest and especially the peace Jesus spoke in the midst of the storm to the disciples. And may that moment of rest and peace grant you the openness to sense the traces of God's grace in your life.

Blessings, peace and grace.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Mark 4:1-20

Quick review of Mark so far...

There is a proclamation of good news... the Heavens are ripped open, Jesus is tempted, and John is arrested. This makes our news today seem down right chipper. But, God is on the loose in our world in such a way that life cannot go back to usual just because the Christmas tree is down and we got our credit card bill in the mail.

Mark continues with stories of healing. Jesus does not begin his ministry with a sermon, but with reaching out in relationships. Something good for me to remember. While it would be a whole different way of being and doing church, I wonder how powerful it would be to gather in people's homes for several Sundays in a row to talk, worship, sing, pray and most importantly nurture relationships with each other? That might challenge our faith in a new, good way.

In chapter 4, we encounter one of the first parables in Mark, that of the worst seed planter in history. The person either does not know what he is doing or is careless. It is a strange time to be talking about seeds. The ground is frozen. Tomorrow there is a projection for our first serious snow fall of the year. While we might be dreaming about spring, no one is even close to going out into the back yard to plant seeds into the rich Rock County soil.

So, the parable is jarring on two levels - it is the wrong season and the seed sower (to put a positive spin on things) is eccentric. After the story lingers in the air for a while and the crowd goes away scratching their collective heads, the disciples ask, 'what in the world are you talking about Jesus?' (That is a paraphrase).

Jesus says the sower is someone who offers a word of good news. The sower is the one who comes with words not of selling something or words of indisputable correctness or even careless words. The words are good news kind of words. The kind of words we centered ourselves around during the month of December in Advent: hope, peace, joy and love.

Even if that is the case, my tendency is to be really careful with those kinds of words. Don't talk about hope too much, someone might be going through a rough time. Don't talk about peace too much, the television shows too many images where peace feels far away. Don't talk about joy, the economy is bad. Don't talk about love, less people think I don't notice reality all around.

Part of what I hear Jesus saying is that we can be generous and even careless and certainly extravagant with our words of good news. Therein is the rub. It is easier for me to grumble about the bad news of television rather than go out and offer good news to an albeit smaller audience but nevertheless fertile soil. This is a good passage for any of us who ever open our mouths to speak. The point may not be whether our words grow into Jack and the Beanstalk like plants or little green sprouts that stay small. The question the parable leaves me with as I enter into a new year is, what words are falling from my mouth? And I don't think it means I always have to be peskily optimistic. There is always room for honesty. There is always room to name injustice and brokenness. And there is always room to notice and name the light that is streaming in from the cracks in our life.

May the traces of God's grace be found in the words that fall from your mouth this week into the soil of your life and the lives of those around you. May the traces of God's grace be found in words spoken honestly and hopefully.

Blessings and peace.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Click to read Mark 1:21-45

Mark begins his Gospel, which means Good News, by telling us that the heavens are ripped open, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness and John the Baptizer is arrested. Really? That is suppose to be good news? Yet, as Don Juel points out, when the Heavens are ripped open is because God is on the loose in the world.
After calling Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow him, Jesus begins to heal people. Healing and the church have a strange history. To be sure some of the first hospitals were founded and run by churches, priests were some of the first physicians, but there is also that pesky Exorcist film as well as televangelists claiming to heal people instantly on stage that has driven a wedge of skepticism in people's minds when it comes to religion and healing.
I recently toured a new hospital opening in the city where I live in. I had never seen a surgical room before, but as I glanced in there were computers and pinpoint precision lasers and lots of other cool things that I did not have the foggiest idea what it was used for. The tour guide made sure to point out how state of the art things were and how seriously this hospital would take healing people.
Don't get me wrong, I am glad for the marvels of modern medicine. But I also have bumped up against its limits. I have sat with families who cannot believe the doctor cannot do anything more to cure them. I have seen families ready to say 'goodbye' to loved ones, only to have doctors unable/unwilling to stop. Even with all the best equipment in the world, we know that our bodies are mortal and finite.
And while I don't want to return to a time of pastors as doctors (I am pretty squeamish around blood), I do think there is a key difference between healing and wholeness that we do not talk about. I may feel physically fine, but emotionally be a wreak. I may be happy as can be, but the only thing that seems to soothe my soul is an addiction to alcohol or shopping.
Today we divide our bodies up to specialists. We go to someone who knows all about the heart, to another person who knows all about the pain in our foot, to someone else who helps us work through our emotions and then off to church. Part of the gospel claim is that we are more than the sum of our parts. We are whole-ly (holy) created in the image of God.
The healing narratives tell us of Jesus talking with the person living with illness or seeing people as whole people even with the illness. I pray as people of faith we would see ourselves as whole people, see the connections within us, from our tiny pinkie toe to the hair on the top of our head - no matter how much hair might be up there. I think there is healing in seeing ourselves as whole people, and encouraging others to see us that way too.

May traces of God's grace be found as you look in the mirror and into the eyes of those you bump up against this week.


God's Calling - We don't have it all figured out

  A few weeks ago, I offered the analogy of the Slinky as a serendipitous example of the ways calling can go off course and still end up in ...