Resuscitating a Lost Language: A Review of Jonathan Merritt’s Learning to Speak God from Scratch

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The language that we use to speak of God has evolved over time and Jonathan Merritt puts out the call for us to reestablish our foundation. Learning to Speak God from Scratch is a way to examine our beliefs and reach out to generations that did not grow up knowing God in a religious setting.

We must remember that the Bible as we have it today has been passed down through numerous generations with many additions and subtractions and what we find ourselves reading today is the best rendition of the original intent, hopefully, inspired by God. Our Israelite ancestors did not originally share their faith through written word. It was an oral tradition that was passed down from generation to generation which was finally put to animal hide, papyrus, or paper. The writers did the best they could to get their thoughts down. Yet, even from oral to written text, there is a loss of the intention of the original meaning.

This evolution has never ended as we can walk into any book store and find numerous translations of the Bible, with each claiming to be better to reach a certain segment of society. This is the visible reality of our faith today. This boils down to the point that the majority of people do not know how to share their faith so that others can understand. As a pastor, I am no stranger to this and just when I think I have a great sermon, I am reminded by those listening that it either went over their heads or they did not pick up what I was laying down.

Merritt calls us to reexamine those words that we utilize to share our faith and realize that their meanings too have evolved over time. Many times, we make the definitions fit into our way of thinking that makes us comfortable. For example, in our current immigration battles in the United States, we look over what Jesus meant by neighbor. We do not truly welcome in the neighbor as Jesus would have when we refuse to support and welcome refugees and those seeking a better life. Instead, we lock up our neighbors and separate their children from them.

Merritt explores and attempts to build a definition for many others words and ideas as well, including Yes, Creeed, Mystery, Grace, Brokenness, Saint, and Family, just to name a few. These discussions bear some personal stories as well as getting to the root of the biblical foundation of the words. Many of the words have been co-opted to serve our own purposes over time. Or simply, in our more secular society, we have chose to overlook words and disregard their meanings. There is a language barrier that has developed over time. Merritt is attempting to break down this wall.

By learning to speak God from scratch, the hope is that we will be able to reach out with a new profound proclamation. It is not a new message, just a renewed way of saying it. This is a good start on the journey to listening to God in our lives and therefore sharing that story with others.

Learning to Speak God from Scratch is scheduled to be released on August 14. Thanks to the publisher for an uncorrected proof copy to review.

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Looking for a Sign

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Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

August 5, 2018

John 6:24-35

A very religious man was once caught in rising floodwaters. He climbed onto the roof of his house and trusted God to rescue him. A neighbor came by in a canoe and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll paddle to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”

A short time later the police came by in a boat. “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll take you to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”

A little time later a rescue services helicopter hovered overhead, let down a rope ladder and said. “The waters will soon be above your house. Climb the ladder and we’ll fly you to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”

All this time the floodwaters continued to rise, until soon they reached above the roof and the religious man drowned. When he arrived at heaven he demanded an audience with God. Ushered in to meet with God, he said, “Lord, why am I here in heaven? I prayed for you to save me, I trusted you to save me from that flood.”

“Yes, you did my child” replied the Lord. “And I sent you a canoe, a boat and a helicopter. But you never got in.”

I am sure that many of you have heard this story or variations of it. It is a reminder to us that Jesus calls us to be observant and look around. What we may find ordinary, is the grace of God working in and among us.

We are not the only ones that are looking. The crowd that has been following Jesus is still hungry!

Imagine how you have felt when you have been part of a group and especially listening or keeping an eye on one person. You only take your eyes away for a minute and realize that they have vanished. Jesus and the disciples are the ones that have disappeared, and the crowd sends out their own search party. They may not quite know what they are looking for, but they know that Jesus has it and they want to be able to experience it.

Once they find Jesus, the conversation turns back around to them and their desire for the physical bread that he had given them to eat earlier. The power of this meal seemed to have fell short as they are still asking for some type of sign or proof that Jesus is the Son of God.  If they could just witness a sign, then they would truly know that God was with them.

 Like the crowd, we too want signs that something is going to happen. If we pray hard enough then God will simply show us a sign of what it is we are supposed to do. Surely, it is through a sign that we will be affirmed of that questionable decision that was made.

Do you let yourself get stuck in the rut of constantly looking for God, and wondering where God is at? This then can extend into our questioning if prayer is even effective and so on and so forth. It is like an avalanche of questions that simply cannot be answered by the material. God is in the mystery, which is hard for us to comprehend.

 When we turn away from God, or simply look past what is being offered to us, we fail to acknowledge the grace of God working in our lives. Jesus is the bread of life. It is a bread that fills us for all our days. It is our daily bread that nurtures us and gives us strength. Jesus as the bread of life reveals to us God’s character and through it we are invited into a relationship with God that moves us to be God’s hands and feet in this world.

Through Jesus, we can live into this relationship with God. Our ancestors, before Jesus was born, could only experience this through covenant or law, and now it is directly accessible through Jesus Christ. God wants us to come together in relationship and realize that we are all united as children of God. Jesus, the bread of life, feeds us and nurtures us so that we can live into the very things that challenge us and be strengthened for those times that we fall to our temptations and sin. It is in the body of Christ that we find redemption and are made new.

Let us pray. Good and gracious God, your power to pull us into relationship can only be resisted for so long. May we stop fighting back and embrace your love and compassion that is unbounded and feeds us abundantly. Amen.

 

 

 

Jesus Provides

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July 29, 2018

John 6:1-21

Growing up there were a lot of things that I wanted!

I had one of the very first pair of Nike Air Jordan’s. Oh, I wish I still had them, because they would probably be worth well more than what my parents paid for them. I also had to have the newest pair of shoes that Andre Agassi wore when I was playing tennis. I liked material things. It is nice to be able to have something that you can hold in your hands, as opposed to an idea or concept.

This morning we begin a five-week journey in the sixth chapter of the gospel of John. We have heard the stories of the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on water, and in the weeks ahead, we will encounter Jesus as the bread of life. I would like to take a different look at this chapter over the next several weeks and examine our own understandings of it as well as where we find ourselves in God’s creation. In Jesus, we are blessed in ways that we have not fully come to comprehend.

From the outset, it appears that the concern is the material well being of the five thousand that have gathered to listen to the teaching of Jesus. Where ever Jesus and his disciples traveled, they were being followed, and as we heard last week from the gospel of Mark, it was hard for them to get even just a minute of leisure time.

The first story we heard this morning, the feeding of the five thousand, is the only story to appear in all four of the gospels. Unlike the synoptic gospels (which is Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Jesus in the Gospel of John is more assertive and proactive. He does not wait for the disciples to come to him and tell him that he should send the crowd away to find something to eat and place to stay for the night. In John, his first comments after seeing the crowd arrive and continue to grow, was where are we to buy bread for all these people to eat.

The crowd gathered does not appear to be concerned about what they are going to eat. They are there for Jesus and to hear what he has to say. They want to be able to catch a glimpse of him and go back to their villages and tell their neighbors about what they have seen and heard.

The disciples expose their doubt about being able to provide enough food to feed everyone that has made the trip to see Jesus. There is simply no way that they have enough money to buy bread to feed everyone. The disciples focus on simply the material needs of the crowd is reflected in our own living today.

As I shared with you at the beginning, I am not immune to the material things of the world. I will admit that every time I am eligible for a new cell phone on our plan I want to go out and see what the latest and greatest one is like and most likely purchase it. Sometimes the material goes much deeper than shiny new electronics!

Like the physical bread that Jesus wants everyone to have, we too have needs to ensure that we take care of our bodies that are created in the image of God. We must eat to be able to survive and have strength to go out and work in creation. We must have water to survive. There are the material things that simply make our lives better and allow us to do more things to help others.

However, we must be careful where we focus those desires, or we can easily get caught off guard and lose track of God. How many of you are on Facebook? Did you know that the church has a Facebook page? I would hope by now that you did. I posted a question out there for you earlier this week. The question was, “If you were to pay attention to your prayers, for which kind of blessings do you most often pray, material or spiritual?” There is no judgement in your answers from me. However, some would argue I was shallow if I said material while others would say I was pious if I said spiritual. I believe there is common ground to be found.

While Jesus may have started the conversation about how they were going to feed the five thousand with physical bread, he is truly going much deeper than that. He knows that the people have a hunger that food cannot fulfill. Their hunger resides in their desire to see and hear from Jesus. Others may just be gathered out of curiosity, but they are soon to get their fill on substance that they never even expected.

The disciples focus may have been on the material, but Jesus’ focus was on the spiritual needs of the people. And of course, it is much better to pay attention when your stomach is not grumbling. This feeding of the five thousand is also one of the signs that Jesus uses to reveal who he is and ultimately who God is.

In the middle of the story, it could be easy to overlook the boy that is willing to share the bread and fish that he has. We don’t know anything about this boy. The food that he offers up could be what is to feed his family over the next week. He unselfishly gives up the material, placing faith in Jesus that all will be well. It is in this faith that he not only leaves with a full stomach, but a spiritual wellness that he can now share with his family. Perhaps he even took part of the twelve baskets of leftovers home to feed his family for several weeks. We are not told what happens to these baskets.

Jesus does not hold back. He provides abundantly for those that are gathered at the table. He nourishes both physically and spiritually in the bread and the wine. Through Jesus we receive the grace and the love of God is revealed for us.

Jesus can provide our material needs, and we can pray for those things that sustain our well-being and our families. Praying for a Ferrari maybe a stretch! What Jesus reveals for the disciples is what is revealed for us today. Jesus reveals that God’s essential character is loving and God’s desire is to be accessible and available to the people of God. It is hard to quantify this and thus hard to comprehend.

In all honesty, it may not be what we want in this moment – so convinced are we that material possessions will make us happy – but it is what we need. In our brokenness and faults, Jesus provides regardless, and his love is revealed in the bread of life that we encounter in the eucharist.[1]

Let us pray. God, you know what we need before we even ask for it. May we place our trust in your saving grace as we repent of our sins and reveal our brokenness. For it is through your grace that we are welcomed at your table. Amen.

[1] David Lose from workingpreaching.org

Welcome to Your Deserted Place!

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In February of 2005 I went off to a deserted place.

It was a locale that many people would have dreamed about going to and wished that someday they may be able to make the trip. However, for me it was a deserted place because those that I loved and cared for were not with me. You see, it was a work trip, or at least paid for by my employer at the time. This deserted place that I speak of was St. Marteen. I will admit that it was gorgeous, and once my stomach went back to where it was supposed to be after I thought we were going to plunge into the ocean when we landed, I took time to enjoy the Island.

This deserted place also provided the opportunity for me to reflect and discern the future. It was in this deserted place that I heard God speaking to me and the call to come and be part of Jesus’ flock. I would say that I was Christian before this, but it was in this time away that I heard God calling me to become engaged in a church community. Little did I know that 13 years later I would be standing here preaching to you as a called and ordained minister in the ELCA.

In our gospel lesson from Mark, Jesus calls the disciples off to a deserted place so that they may take the opportunity to rest. This is not just a sabbath for them. This is an opportunity for them to reflect on everything that Jesus has called them to do. Just a couple of weeks ago, we heard how Jesus sent the disciples out, two by two, so that they may bring healing to those with unclean spirits and anoint with oil.

This was not easy work, and I am sure that the stories that they had to share with Jesus when they returned were amazing. Imagine sitting in that close circle of disciples and hearing of everything that took place over the period of time interacting with the sick and bringing hope and healing in the name of God.

We hear of Jesus going off to pray on his own and that may be what we first think that he has in store for the disciples. However, deserted places are not always good places. Jesus was tempted for forty days in a deserted place. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness and desert for forty years. Deserted places are barren and quite often there are few signs of life. The deserted place that Jesus wants them to encounter is a place of contemplation. It is a place to discern their calling in the greater ministry of Jesus Christ.

The disciples must be overwhelmed. There are people everywhere that are coming to see Jesus and the moment they seem to get away, the people start following them along the shoreline and meeting them as soon as they come ashore. Truly, a sabbath may is needed. Yet within that sabbath is a time to reflect in a deserted place that does not distract.

It is so easy for us to become distracted in the twenty-first century. Probably more so then it was in the first century. We have television and the news to steer attention away from the things that matter most in our lives. We have smart phones that have seem to become our best friends because we can not step out of the house without them. On those phones are games and social media apps to keep us busy for hours on end, at least until the battery dies.

Not only do we have those modern-day distractions, as Americans we tend to overwork ourselves.  We place great emphasis on the material things that can be purchased with those dollars that we earn in those jobs that we pour our time into. Did you know that compared to European countries, Americans work the most hours? Including all employed, Americans work on average 25 hours/week compared to the British at 21 hours/week, the French at 18 hours/week, and Italians at 16 hours/week. In Germany full time workers work on average 35 hours a week and received 24 paid vacation days.

A firm in New Zealand decided to shorten their work week to 32 hours/week from 40 hours/week. You know what they found? Their employees were more productive working just four days because they were more focused and intentional.

Perhaps working long hours and spreading ourselves thin is why America has been a world-leader. What is it costing us to be so? We have become fatigued and are easily distracted by the news and by the material things that are advertised around us daily. We work long hours and take short vacations. Sometimes to get away and enjoy sabbath or simply live into the deserted place and contemplate is counter-cultural.

I am sure that Jesus and the disciples were looked at oddly as well. However, that does not matter to Jesus. It does not affect his decisions or actions. Alone, in Jesus’ words to get away to a deserted place, is a sign of re-creation. It is an opportunity for the disciples to be restored in heart, body, and soul so that they can go and walk with those that need their love and compassion.

It is a chance for them to get away with Jesus and listen for how the Spirit is working in their lives, and by chance get a glimpse of what the future may hold for them. It is a promise that God will be with them in this ministry that they have been called. A calling that is overwhelming. A calling that requires them to stop and seek out a deserted place to be with Jesus and be reassured of the calling that has been placed upon their hearts.

Do you have that place that you can steal away to and be restored? A place where Jesus invites you to that is not only refreshing but also life-giving. It may be a place as simple as your favorite chair in a home office or family room. It may be a local park where you can walk and breath in the beauty of nature and experience God in all of creation. Maybe it was during your last vacation where you were able to experience a sense of peace and love that is unique to that locale.

Wherever that place may be for you, Jesus is calling you away to there. Welcoming you to your deserted place. He wants you to come away with him and be restored and be reminded of his love for you. A love that was bared on the cross in his death. And a hope that is revealed in His resurrection.

There will be times when we are overwhelmed and are required to work an unreasonable number of hours. We want to ensure that there is a roof over our families’ heads and food on the table to prevent hunger.  Those are exactly the times that Jesus wants us to come away with him, even if it is just on that car ride home. It is even in these little moments that we can hear God’s love for us and the wonderful things that God has in store.

Let us pray. Restoring God, we give thanks for the calling you have placed on our lives, even if we have yet to fully discern it. May we continue to see you in the little moments and be intentional in stealing away to our own deserted places to be renewed. Amen

God’s Grace is Sufficient

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This past week was my first visit to Houston. It is an incredibly large town and yet while we were at the NRG Park Complex, it seemed very secluded from the rest of the city as our food choices were limited to food trucks and concessions. Which honestly, is not too bad unless you are vegetarian, and your daughter must eat gluten free.

Transportation around town also provided a challenge since we did not have a vehicle. We chose to utilize Uber. It was in these Uber trips that we were able to experience a little of the diversity of the city. Victor’s family came from Mexico before he was born, and he drove to make extra money to support his family. Asomgyee came to the United Stated from the United Kingdom and was a professor at a local college earning extra money during the summer. Desta was our Uber driver on Friday after we decided to eat a nice dinner out before heading to NRG Park for the evening. Desta came to the United States from Ethiopia and is now a United States Citizen. He grew up in the Lutheran church in Ethiopia and now works with the youth of his church in Houston.  All three of them commented on the number of buses that they had seen around town transporting the 31,000 ELCA youth and how incredible it was that we were present in Houston.

I loved hearing their stories and was able to see God’s grace working in each of them. Not only is God’s grace sufficient, it reaches beyond all boundaries and changes everything. In this grace, we experience unending love that resonates in hope for the future.

The disciples were challenged when Jesus sent them out for the first time. He gave them authority over the unclean spirits and urged them to go out and heal. Imagine the apprehension that they had when first given this task. Many of them not too long ago had been out fishing in their boats. They had witnessed the coldness that Jesus received from his own community he grew up and they had to be wondering if he has trouble with those he knows, how can we bring healing to those that do not even know us.

They were placed in unfamiliar surroundings and instructed to do the things that they would not have even dreamed of just a couple of years before. Have you ever been placed in these circumstances? Maybe it is a new job that you have just started. Perhaps it was going off to college and leaving the familiar behind. It may have even been when you found out that you were going to be a parent for the first time. The apprehension can come to us in many different venues and yet we are not alone when we enter these places.

The youth and adult leaders that went to National Gathering were presented with many things to be apprehensive about and questions arose about our place in the world as the church of Jesus Christ. We got to meet new friends, which can be overwhelming when there are over 30,000 people. We heard from speakers with some challenging words on tough subjects, from immigration to hunger, self-harm to addiction, and what it means to be transgender to how race shapes who are you. Remembering, that the theme of the Gathering was, “This Changes Everything!” Let’s take a brief look at the week that was experienced by our group and over 30,000 youth and adult leaders.

Each of the speakers spoke to the love that they found in the church. The people that embraced them and helped them through their rough times. The stories that they shared are stories that we can relate to. Those that shared of their own personal struggles and challenges realized that they were broken and that there is nothing wrong with that. They found out that they are loved, and they were able to find hope in the gospel of Jesus.

Their brokenness is no different than ours. Each of us have our own cracks and bruises. Our own scars and hurts. It is to this brokenness and weakness that Paul writes to in his second letter to the Corinthians. He had his own brokenness and weakness and he confessed to them. It is in this that he hears God saying, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

There is an unbinding hope found in those words. When we find ourselves bound by our own brokenness, Christ is there waiting for us with a message of grace that cleanses everything clean. It is this grace that changes everything. We cannot do any of it on our own, but through Jesus and his love poured out for us on the cross. We are changed by his love forever.

Let us pray, Lord God, you come to us in ways that we are not even aware. We may see you in others, or in those things that surround us. Through it all, we desire to be changed. To live lives that reflect your love and compassion. May we experience your call, love, hope, and grace that changes everything. Amen

Love Changes Everything!

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June 24, 2018

Mark 4:35-41    

 

The wind picked up and the smell of rain hung in the air as the disciples began to fight the waves that battered the boats. They would soon be drenched by the rain that poured down. Through it all, Jesus remained sleeping in the stern of the boat.

While the storm in our story is physical, we can be battered by storms of all types as we live our lives. The storms ebb and flow as we interact and learn how to live into relationships and community. We can be a witness to the storms that others encounter as we stay in touch with the news.

There are times as a pastor that I struggle to discuss current events. However, I would be failing in my calling to share the gospel and would be complicit to current events if I did not speak to the instances of actions counter to God’s Word in our world. You would have had to be completely unplugged this past week or two to miss the news around the separation of families at the borders of our country. We can argue about specifics, but it is true that families have been torn apart and in the midst of it Jesus weeps.

I’ll admit that the immigration process in the United States is far from perfect. However, nothing justifies separating a family. Doing so, closes our hearts to the sharing of God’s love with our neighbors. When we open our hearts to Jesus, he calms the storms and reminds us that we are not alone.

The storms that the disciples encounter in our gospel text are not the first. While we cannot know for sure, I don’t think that I would be far off from saying that they experienced many other adversities. Life is full of adversities and I am sure that they had experienced deaths and sicknesses where they came to God in their despair. Not only did they encounter those storms, they traveled with Jesus and would occasionally enter villages where they were not welcome. If you recall, Jesus himself was not welcome in Jerusalem and Mary and Joseph had to escape with him to Egypt as refugees. Imagine what would have happened if Jesus had been separated from his parents.

In the storm, the disciples are overwhelmed with a sense of fear. A fear that encompasses their very beings that entices them to call on Jesus. The fear that welled up is not an uncommon emotion. That fear is also visible in the book of Job and our reading from it this morning as God calls out to him and more less asks him, “Who do you think you are?” Job’s fear pushed him to a point that he was not thinking right and thought he could do everything on his own.

Humanity is not too different than Job. Many times, the first inclination is to do it on our own and question those that tell us differently. I know that I have fell into this camp on more than one occasion. We look beyond what God has to say and the call that Jesus has placed upon our hearts as disciples. The fear that pushes us to do so wells up in the storms that disturb our comfortable lives.

There are many children that know nothing but storms. The overwhelming majority that seek safety in the United States are doing so because they are escaping their own deaths. Rosa, 9, and Juan, 12, came from the same village in Honduras. They reported that a gang running in their neighborhood was known to kidnap children, kill them, and sell their organs on the black market. The gang was also known to kidnap children, cut them open, put drugs in their bodies, sew them back up and use the bodies as containers to traffic drugs. Both children said their teachers in Honduras would warn the students about this gang and instructed children to interact with nobody during their walks to and from school. Both children said they knew children from the neighborhood that had been kidnapped and never seen again.[i]

In the meantime, we argue about who should and should not be allowed into the country. We argue over the wrong questions. Instead of being welcome and walking alongside those that are seeking a place to feel safe, they are separated and placed into detention centers, which Michigan has its own share. Battle Creek, Monroe, and even Port Huron all have certain levels of detention centers.

The ELCA is working to walk with these children. To show them that they are loved and not treated like animals that are put into a cage. AMMPARO, or Accompanying Minor Migrants with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities, is a commitment by the ELCA to walk with children that are forced to leave their homes because of violence, the threat of death, and other issues that rob them of their childhood. Because of AMMPARO, both Rosa and Juan are now doing well in transitional foster care, have been connected to legal services, and have been found eligible for relief.

Through the love of Jesus, the ELCA is reaching out to change their lives for the better. I had an opportunity to meet Mary Campbell, the director of AMMPARO, a couple of weeks ago as we toured Southwest Detroit with the Immigration Team of the synod. We shared opportunities of how we could connect with one another in ministry. Our youth and adult leaders going to National Gathering this next week will have an opportunity to learn more about AMMPARO and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. Just yesterday I received notice from Samaritas, that they are seeking support and homes to house some of these children that have been separated from their families with the goal of reuniting them with their parents. This is God’s Work in our world today through our own hands.

Through the love of Jesus, change can happen. It is here that we find the theme of the National Gathering: This Changes Everything! When we come to talk and meet each other with open minds, arms, and hearts, Jesus becomes a part of the equation. It is here that we learn to talk with love for our sisters and brothers and fear starts to vanish. The storms that we had previously encountered are calmed and we find Jesus right beside us, where he has always been.

The disciples also discovered that Jesus changes everything. They knew who to turn to when the storm started battering their boats and the ones that had gathered near them. They may not have fully understood what Jesus could do, but they had faith in him and knew that somehow, he would be able to calm the storm that had engulfed them.

Jesus continued to approach storms throughout his ministry with the disciples and he knew how each one needed to be addressed. Welcoming Jesus into the storm is where true change began to happen. The change did not first happen in the weather that rocked the boats, but in the hearts of those that came to Jesus. They had placed their faith in him.

Jesus chose to weather the ultimate storm to show his love for all of humanity. He did not approach his death on the cross lightly and at times had reservations about it. However, he made the decision to be battered by storms that filled the disciples first with fear. On the other side of the storm, the Resurrection, the disciples are reassured that they do not enter their storms alone. Through Jesus they encountered the ultimate love and hope. A love that changes everything.

Let us pray. Life changing God, you give us everything we need when we need it. We do not walk alone in our storms and we give thanks for you accompanying us. May you be with us as we learn to accompany those that seek refuge and your love. Amen.

 

[i] AMMPARO, 40 stories for the 40 Day Bible and Prayer Challenge,

http://www.elca.org/ Resources/AMMPARO#ForSynodsAndCongregations

Simply Being

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June 17, 2018

Mark 4:26-34

 

Somewhere along the timeline of civilization an idea was planted that we must get ahead. We must be better than those that came before us. We must have better jobs then our parents. For many, there is the predominant thought that the more toys that they have is surely a sign of how well they are doing in life. Let’s not talk about the debt that many go into to get these toys.

I was not immune to this line of reasoning. The moment that I walked through campus my freshman year of college, I signed up for those credit cards. I had to maintain the lifestyle I was accustomed to before moving a couple of hours away from home. It took me a while to learn differently, and quite frankly, the learning is still happening. In my twenties, I thought I was going to get rich and retire early by being part of a multi-level-marketing company. The only thing that happened was that I went into more debt and almost destroyed my marriage.

We always want more and find it hard to settle for enough. Wendell Berry wrote the following in the forward to a book,

The industrial era at climax…has imposed on us all its ideals of ceaseless pandemonium. The industrial economy, by definition, must never rest….There is no such thing as enough. Our bellies and our wallets must become oceanic, and still they will not be full. Six workdays in a week are not enough. We need a seventh. We need an eighth….Everybody is weary, and there is no rest….Or there is none unless we adopt the paradoxical and radical expedient of just stopping.[i]

When we strive for the things that are not of God, we draw ourselves further from the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is found in the simple and even mundane. The kingdom of God resides in the simplest things that are quite often overlooked and easily neglected.

The gospel of Mark starts sharing Jesus’ parables at the end of chapter 3. We heard the first last week in our gospel lesson. The parables continue into chapter 4 and into our gospel lesson for today. Jesus teaches in parables to help the disciples and others listening to understand how the world that they are currently living relates to the kingdom of God. The parables are comparisons meant to place two things alongside one another to provide analogies, contrast, or reflection. Quite often, that reflection is based on the comparison of two vastly different things.[ii] An outcome is usually present that is not expected. Jesus turns the expectations of those that are listening upside down.

In the first parable of the seed, Jesus concludes, “But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” This is language that is taken from the prophet Joel referring to the final judgement. It can also be found in Revelation. At this point, Jesus does not say who will be on what side of the harvest, but I am sure that he probably caught their attention. The faith that they have grown up in looks towards the judgement day as one where God will separate the goat from the sheep or the chaff from the grain. For the leaders in the synagogue, it is a matter of who is in and who is out. If you recall, this is much about what are gospel lesson brought to us last week.

Like many of his parables, I am sure that Jesus leaves the disciples thinking about this one for a while. And yet, the disciples are probably still having a hard time of coming to an understanding about what Jesus is talking about. Remember, this is still early in our gospel and in Mark’s version, we still have some distance to travel.

You must admit, that as far as stories or parables go, the first one that we hear this morning is pretty boring. It lacks the action that we like to see in stories. It lacks the raw emotion that we could witness in the parable of the prodigal son. It lacks the variety of soils that are present at the beginning of chapter 4 in the parable of the sower.

A simple seed is scattered on the ground. From this point, it is all a mystery! The boringness of it, is probably why the other gospel writers did not include this parable in their gospels.

We are left wanting more. The disciples were probably left wanting more. How can they be left to sit in the mystery and wonder? Yet, this is where Jesus is calling them to as his disciples. He has asked them to leave everything behind and follow him. For the most part, they seem to be following directions fairly well. Sure, they stick their foot in their mouth from time to time, but they are listening to Jesus and trying their hardest to comprehend and contemplate on what he is saying.

There is a lesson in the simplicity of this parable. The kingdom of God is found in the simplicity. Nothing is required on the part of the one scattering the seeds. “The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” Jesus could be easily explaining the growth of corn. It is almost like a science book! You have the seed that is placed in the ground and eventually it starts to grow. As it grows then the husks grow, and the corn is formed, and it can be harvested. God provides everything that is needed in the process, from the rain to the sun to the rich soil. It all comes from God in ways that they do not understand.

The simplicity that Jesus brings to the disciples in the parable, is the same simplicity that is available for us to embrace today. We don’t live lives that are meant to be on television or in the movies. Honestly, the stories that we do see on the big or small screens manage to usually weed out the boring and simple things that are usually more dominant in our lives. If you want to see a movie that includes the boring and portrays life in a true manner, watch Manchester by the Sea. Life is in the ordinary. Life is in the mundane. Life at times can be very boring. God meant for us to live our lives as if we are already in the kingdom of heaven.

We choose to create our own kingdoms with our desires and thoughts that we must strive for even more. However, we are like the seed that is scattered on the ground. We are created by God and we will be provided by God’s creation. Our lives are highlighted by school, marriage, children, baptisms, and possibly eventually grandchildren and more baptisms. In the midst of it, we encounter crises as well. Yet, we are called to live in the simplicity of just being. Being created in God’s image, living in the mystery, and rejoicing in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray. Mysterious and awe-inspired God, how could we ever fully understand the creation that surrounds us. Help us live into the unknown and be comfortable in it. Let us breathe in the very essence of your being and creation so that we may encounter you in every breath we take. Amen.

 

 

[i] Wendell Berry in a forward for Norman Wirzba’s book, Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight

[ii] David Lose, In the Meantime blog