People of Hope

Becoming Easter People

Mark 2.1-17

The story today is one of the most remarkable stories of hope in the Gospels. It may very well be one of my favorite passages. There is so much hope here among friends and in the community of faith that brings the opportunity for healing. There is so much hope that strips away our religious pride, haughtiness and indignation as a self-righteous people. Aren’t you glad that we have these stories that help us to humble ourselves before Jesus, and accept the miserable, wretched mess that we are? Praise God that we can receive the forgiveness of sin when we are really looking for something less condemning in our lives. We long to look to others for the purpose of our brokenness, when it often lives within ourselves. There’s just something about Jesus that moves us to get up and walk away from our sick bed to live again!

Our story begins with Jesus. All eyes are on Jesus from the disciples to the crowds to the sick and his friends to the local religious leaders. It is Peter’s home that is about to be disheveled, and his roof totally destroyed. I can only imagine how Peter would have been so indignant. Perhaps we can stretch this to be the first real Trustee crisis in the New Testament! Sometimes we get derailed with the initial problem of people coming to Jesus. We find ourselves frustrated with the turn of events that can be very messy and we can get our nose bent out of shape. Let’s review the text. Jesus has come home to Capernaum.

2.1-2 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.

Have you ever longed to be a part of something that didn’t seem possible? Jesus makes room for us! Jesus has a new hometown and it’s not Nazareth. It’s Capernaum. It is believed that Jesus is staying with Simon Peter right next to the local synagogue. Such a large number of people are with him that there isn’t room to move, even outside the door. And, he moves into his purpose statement: preach the word! The last time he was in town the whole town had gone out to him for healing by bringing him every kind of sickness, disease, and demon-possessed person in order that he might heal them. The ministry had gotten upside down, and now that he is back in his new hometown and he is making his purpose clear by preaching the word. Jesus brings us back to the main purpose (Mark 1.38-39)! Repent and believe the Son of God (Mark 1.14-15). And, we will soon discover in our story that repentance and belief in the Son of God produces much fruit: forgiveness of sin. Let’s read on.

2.3-4 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.

Have you ever experienced a situation that seemed impossible? The impossible becomes possible with Jesus. Friends make a difference in this man’s life! So often we allow our gaze to linger too long on our medical situation instead of hoping in God’s restoration. We may have found ourselves lying on our poor man’s mat wondering if anyone even cares that we are down and out. But the friends of this man did not fall into the self-pity trap of discouragement. They hoped for something more so much so that they were willing to become fools for the sake of someone else’s healing. Notice here that they didn’t pray at home and not respond. Instead they put their prayers into action!

The roof diggers are a big surprise! Who digs the roof off of a house? The story says some men had carried a paralyzed man on a mat, a poor man’s bed. There were so many people clamoring around to hear Jesus preach the word that there wasn’t any room for them to help this man get to Jesus, and they weren’t going to wait for a break in the preaching to find their way forward. There wasn’t an altar call! They climbed up the outside stairwell and made their way to the flat rooftop and began to dig through the hardened clay and thatch. They pushed through the branches and twigs until they tore open a hole in the roof just above where Jesus was and big enough to lower the man down into the crowd below. They have stuck their neck out for their friend in a mighty public display.

We have all stuck our neck out for our friends in hopes that they would come to know Jesus. We’ve invited them to church in hopes they would find Jesus. Perhaps just the suggestion isn’t enough. Perhaps we have to be like these men who took the next steps to put their prayers into action. We have all offered hospitality like Simon Peter, then found our home trashed by visitors. It’s easy to get caught up in frustration when you offer hospitality that pushes you beyond your comfort zone. Simon Peter was sinned against, but he had to deal with the fact that Jesus was not disturbed by the fact that he was going to have to make repairs to a leaky roof. These four friends had destroyed his property – intentionally. Peter is going to have to do some forgiving for this act of mercy. What was a merciful act for the friends became a Trustee’s nightmare. What comes next in the text might surprise you!

2.5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Have you ever felt an unwillingness to forgive, unforgiven or unforgiveable? The unforgiveable becomes forgiven in Jesus. The paralyzed man is forgiven! The paralyzed man has been dramatically carried, dropped through the roof, and is now before Jesus. When the paralyzed man meets Jesus, I can only imagine what this encounter was like… Did he close his eyes and grit his teeth with stage fright? Did he desire to be healed or was it thrust upon him? Did he request the forgiveness of his sins or was he confused by the kind of healing he received? Was he embarrassed that his friends made such a fuss over him? So many questions!

In his most vulnerable state Jesus declares not his physical healing but the forgiveness of his sins. I can only imagine how he must have felt when the whole crowd heard this declaration. How deeply touched he would have been to have his sins removed from his inmost being. He had a heart healing. This was not simply a token word, but a deep felt need that was met. Surely each of us have been bound to our beds with illness from time to time, and we have prayed to be healed. But healing does not often come instantaneous like this paralyzed man in our story. What we don’t want to forget is that this man suffered from paralysis for some time before he was healed. Sometimes healing takes time, but it often begins with the profound act of the forgiveness of our sins. Because of their tenacious pursuit to get their friend to Jesus, they found what their hearts desired – their friend’s healing.

Jesus witnessed the faith of the friends and the paralyzed man then was moved to respond. These folks so desperately needed to find healing that they ripped the roof off of a home to lower their friend to Jesus. These folks were tenacious. They gave their friend every opportunity to find his healing. And, the answer they received went to the very core of the problem: sin. It was Jesus who saw the heart of the issue and addressed.

No one had spoken a word to Jesus about the man’s condition. Jesus was simply moved to a compassionate response. Jesus was moved to express deep love for this man. Jesus was touching the heart of the injured man and offering the perfect cure. It is at the point of the cure for sin that Jesus’ authority is challenged by the religious leaders. Jesus is the cure, and the religious leaders are jealous. They are struggling with change as they are about to lose their jobs. Jesus takes away their job security. It’s like a corporate buy out, a hostile takeover.

This cure for sin was not how they understood forgiveness. How could this Jesus exact a cure for sin apart from the traditions of the religious leaders? There was a sacrifice that needed to be made to atone for the person’s sins. There was a ritual and a process. But now Jesus is saying that he has the authority to forgive sins. Well, that was just blasphemy to the religious leaders. They believed Jesus was insulting the One True God. But to drive his point home, Jesus teaches that he has the authority to forgive sins and he further demonstrates his authority by inviting the man to get up, take up his poor man’s bed, and walk on home. This same story is found in both Matthew 9.6 and Luke 5.24 and emphasizes the fact that Jesus has authority to forgive sins. And, the conflict heightens as Jesus declares forgiveness of sins which is considered something only God can do! Jesus is taking away their job security, and the familiarity of the way they have always lived as a people. Jesus is introducing something new that is really very old.

2.6-8 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?

Have you ever experienced judgment from others? Jesus silences the voice of the critics in our lives! The teachers of the law are muttering in their hearts. We have seen the muttering leaders who questioned someone else’s actions in the church perhaps even their forgiveness and unconditional love toward someone that seemed undeserving. Sometimes it’s hard to love unconditionally, and to forgive freely as Christ has forgiven us. When we look across the Gospels, we read that we are to forgive unconditionally like Jesus did. Our choice to forgive others provides the opportunity for God the Father to forgive us (Matt. 6.14 and John 20.23). When we choose to release others from their sinful debt, then we have healing in our own hearts toward God, self, and neighbor. The story we heard today highlights the religious legal experts or scribes who were muttering under their breaths (blasphemy). They muttered that Jesus was “insulting God” in the way that he taught and demonstrated forgiveness of sins. Ultimately, they did not submit to Jesus’ authority to forgive sins. The lack of submitting to Jesus’ authority would soon create enough tension in their relationship that they would find a way to have him crucified under the Rome leader Pontus Pilot. But in the text, Jesus is holding his ground. Let’s read on.

2.9-11 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”

Have you ever wanted to tell Jesus just how you expected him to fix someone’s issues? Jesus chooses his own answers to our requests! Jesus doesn’t submit to triangulation. When multiple parties are involved in the acts of healing, Jesus goes to the source of the situation. He cuts out the middle person. The conversation becomes between the person and Jesus.

Jesus becomes the man of the hour, and amid the distractions his attention remains on the paralyzed man. The healing process is between Jesus and the man. Jesus doesn’t ask his friends what they wanted, and he doesn’t consult the religious leaders about their opinions. Jesus doesn’t take a poll from the crowd as to whether the man deserved being healed or even why he was sick to begin with. Jesus simply extends grace and mercy to someone who would not otherwise have had a chance at living a full life. No questions asked. His healing is between him and Jesus. The cure was instantaneous just like Peter’s mother-in-law who had been sick in bed with a fever then Jesus helped her up, the fever left her, and she waited on them.

2.12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

The crowd is amazed! Across Mark’s Gospel the people are constantly amazed with Jesus. We have seen the crowd who has stood by and watched as others have made their way to Jesus and found their healing. Sometimes it seems like others have cut in line ahead of us when we really thought they were behind us. We watch in awe and amazement as lives have been lived out transformed before us. Yet, in the back of our minds do we still wonder what that was all about. Did they really have an encounter with Jesus?

And, as the man walked home that day we see the crowd of people were afraid, amazed, and praised God. But the crowd beyond the walls of the home did not hear or see the whole story. They simple saw a man and his friends cutting in line to get up on top of a house. They watched the men dig a hole in someone else’s roof, probably thanking God it wasn’t their home being destroyed. Then the mat disappeared inside the home. I can only imagine how the next thing they saw are men jumping up and down on a roof they had just demolished, and the paralyzed man on the mat is now walking out into the crowd with his mat in hand – going home completely whole. What a bizarre set of circumstances to witness.

Perhaps the key ingredient in this text are the acts of hope. Simon Peter opened his home to Jesus and the crowds, expectantly. The friends bring the paralyzed man to Jesus desiring for him to have complete healing. When they couldn’t get him to Jesus easily, they took the initiative to do whatever it took to make sure their friend got to Jesus – even ripping a roof off a home.  Their hope was in the Son of Man. Hope was stirred as the paralyzed man submitted and trusted his friends to get him to Jesus. Because of the hospitality of Simon Peter and the friends, Jesus has the opportunity to encounter an injured soul with the hope of the Good News. But let’s not forget that Jesus has made himself available to all people as the hope of the world. There’s a lot of hope being shared among these folks, but there are some folks there that did not have hope in Jesus. They were the leaders of the old guard that was being reordered to align with Jesus’ new way. They were not impressed by the exchange of hope but muttered amongst themselves. They could not see the hope of Eternal Life seated right in front of them. Together we must guard our hearts not to be like those who have no hope! We want to hope even when we do not understand the circumstances or the answers.

Can you find yourself in the story? I can only imagine that each one of us have been all of these folks at some point in our lives. We have been Peter whose house has been wrecked by extending hospitality. We have been the friends who are doing everything they can to get their friend to Jesus. We have muttered in our hearts and thought ill of others. We have been lived like we have no hope. We have been amazed when someone actually received a healing of their heart or a physical ailment. We have been the paralyzed person whose life was turned around by some life altering event. And, we have been radically healed by Jesus with the forgiveness of our sins. Our passage today leads us to Eternal Hope in Jesus Christ. He is the Good News! He forgives all our sins, even when we don’t know we need to be forgiven!

O God, we are hopeless without out you! Today we come humbly before your throne of grace to receive the mercy we need and the forgiveness of our sins – whether we know we need it or not. Expose our hearts to your grace and mercy that in the places we are harboring sin, set us free to live in the hope of Eternal Life. Amen.

 

 

 

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A Sweet Surrender

Galatians 3.26-29, Romans 13.12-14

I love truffles. I remember the first time I was introduced to truffles many years ago. I hated to unwrap the paper because they looked so perfect and special in their shiny wrapping paper. And, the inside was a gift of chocolate that was so rich and special it makes my mouth water just thinking about the treat inside. As I unwrapped the sweet treat I wanted to savor every bite with a nibble at a time. The shell of chocolate was filled with this soft sweet middle that was just the perfect consistency of softness that didn’t drip into a puddle of goo. Yum!

Over the years I have treasured the expensive treat of truffles. I have bought them for special occasions and shared them with colleagues who were having a very difficult time. I remember some of my colleagues who would so appreciate a chocolate treat after a long day of stressful work at the hospital with no time for breaks. Expressions of love can be very simple in times of great distress and anxiety like a small bite of chocolate. Each little truffle is wrapped in paper like a birthday present ready to be opened and cherished as an act of loving kindness.

When I think about what it means to be a Christian, the illustration of a truffle comes to mind. A gift so small and simple can become a great gift of joy and compassion to others. We too are small and simple in the big scheme of things. But God has chosen to knock on the door of our hearts and fill us with the sweetest gift, the Spirit of Jesus. Our shell of humanity contains the most delicious gift for all the world, and we are to share this sweet treat with others. Our shell is protected by the most beautiful wrapping paper, the image of Christ Jesus. We are clothed in Christ from the moment we are baptized into Christ. Paul’s letter to the Galatian community notes that we are part of a holy community,

Gal. 3.26-29 NIV “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

There are times we are tempted to live out our lives in ways that do harm to ourselves and others. Yet we are called to live like Christ, to be like Christ, to think like Christ… to be clothed in righteousness and holiness. Paul writes to the Roman church offering this critic,

Rom. 13.12-14 NIV “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”

We all called to something greater. We are called to be children of God, baptized into and clothed with the Lord Jesus. We are called to be heirs of the Kingdom of God. When we make that commitment of faith, we have a calling to live life differently than the world around us.

I’m so grateful for the reaffirmations of faith that have been a part of our faith community. I’m excited to see our long time attenders become members and step up their commitment to serve. I’m pleased to see the smiling faces of a fresh expression of Christ in the hearts of the people I serve. But my greatest joy is always that their relationship with Jesus is growing in daily devotion and commitment, not simply a moment or two of revitalization. Faith grows daily, and requires grit and tenacity. May the hearts of those I love and cherish in the Kingdom of God have a new found strength to be disciples that know the cost of their decision and choose daily to live the commitment with passion.

O God, we are blessed beyond measure to be called children of the Most High God and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. We celebrate the great gift of the infilling of your Holy Spirit, and our new countenance as we are clothed with Christ Jesus. We are grateful that we no longer belong to our self but are part of something bigger in the community of faith. Have your way with us that we would fulfill our call to something greater! Amen.

 

 

People of Heart

Becoming Easter People

Joel 2.1-17

“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. … ‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2.1, 12-13 NIV).

A clarion call has been issued. The invitation has been given for God’s people to renew their faith and trust in Almighty God. Lent is like the trumpet call of the Old Testament priests. Lent calls us to self-examination. It provides an avenue whereby we examine ourselves in light of God’s grace given to us. G.K. Chesterton declares, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair” (Common Prayer App). And, that’s what the season of Lent invites us to contemplate: Loving God.

When we look across history on this day, we discover that St. Valentine was inspired not by human love, but for love of God. According to tradition, Valentine cared for the persecuted church in Rome. Under Emperor Claudius II a priest named “Valentine of Rome” was assisting Christians in their escape from persecution. Valentine was discovered marrying Christian couples and was arrested, imprisoned, and condemned (Common Prayer App). Valentine was stoned, clubbed, and beheaded on February 14, 269 (Common Prayer App). In 496 St. Valentine’s Day was established (Common Prayer App). Although we know little about the real Valentine of Rome, to be sure his love for God was his inspiration for loving others. Lent gives us the opportunity to rekindle our passion and love for God.

Across the pages of Scripture, God’s people are notorious for forgetting about God. We are no different. The weight of the world’s troubles can snare us causing us to become lax in our devotion. Lent is a season when we take discipleship more seriously than other times of the church calendar year. We remember the tools of spiritual formation long tucked away since last Lent. Understanding the means of grace provided for us is the key to our growth in our love for God (Thompson, The Means of Grace, xiii-18).

  • The instituted means of grace we learn from Christ alone includes Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Searching the Scriptures, Prayer, Fasting, and Christian conferencing (Thompson, The Means of Grace, 21-95).
  • The prudential means of grace we learn from one another include Small Groups that aim toward spiritual formation by working toward Holy Habits as well as Works of Mercy. We might craft what is called a “Rule of Life” that enables us to live more intentionally (Thompson, The Means of Grace, 99-120). Our small group experiences should always lead us to loving God more deeply.
  • The general means of grace we learn through contemplation, and contemplation leads us toward exercising the presence of God (Thompson, The Means of Grace, 123-134).

Nicholas Herman, better known as Brother Lawrence, served to blend his faith with his everyday life by practicing the presence of God during the 1600s. Brother Lawrence once wrote to a friend to describe his devotion to God thus, “We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of Him, and [when it’s] done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before Him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God” (YouVerse).  When we practice the presence of God in our daily lives, we have the opportunity to draw near to God as God draws near to us.

Our acts of discipleship are no longer about duty or obligation as we no longer are bound by Law, but now we are bound by love for God. It’s about loving God and loving self so I can love my neighbor. It begins by listening to the still small quiet voice of the Almighty in daily devotion, moment by moment. Asbury Theo. Seminary publishing company Seedbed share daily devotions electronically. Their desktop theologian J.D. Walt notes, “We do not live our lives for God. We live our lives from God. We do not work for Jesus. We work from Jesus.” He further notes, “Discipleship is not about mastering a body of knowledge or conforming to a behavioral code. Discipleship means learning to live freely under the mastery or Lordship of Jesus Christ, which is to say – in the abiding zone of his active presence. It means learning to be ‘carried along by the Holy Spirit’” (Seedbed, February 14, 2018).  The foundation of our discipleship is rooted in the abiding and affectionate relationship we possess in Christ Jesus.

During the season of Lent, we are invited to a deeper walk with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. May God always be our first love! In the midst of celebrating a day set apart for loving others, let us not forget what it means to be Christian. It means that we are called to give God our undivided hearts forever.

O God, you have sounded the clarion call to “rend our hearts.” Come Holy Spirit and teach us to pray and fast that we might love you more dearly and for the sake of your Kingdom on earth. May we reach the world to make new disciples in your name and for your glory. Amen.

 

People of Prayer

Becoming Easter People: Mark 1.29-39

Weekly Reading: The Gospel of Mark 1-2, 3-4

In our passage today Jesus healed the sick, deliver the oppressed, and reoriented himself to the mission of preaching the Good News all within the context of what we understand as prayer. Jesus is the model for what we might call prayer evangelism. As Jesus preaches and teaches the Good News, people come to faith with repentance and belief in the Son of God. The second step in the Gospel of Mark is the engagement in the faith community with healing prayer and deliverance from evil.

When we read the text, we see that Jesus has spent much time offering compassion through the laying on of hands and prayers for the sick in the community of Capernaum, which we know as Peter’s hometown. When we enter the story of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law, we can visually see what happened from the description as Jesus prays. What’s unique about Jesus’ prayer life is his commanding presence and action through prayer. Jesus goes to her and takes her hand then helps her up out of her sick bed. This is a tender moment. She is an aging woman with a fever that has put her in bed. What a beautiful picture of compassion from a gentleman. We glimpse the nurturing side of Jesus as he cares for her. Jesus takes her hand and helps her up. Jesus is constantly putting action with his prayers. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is going, touching, commanding, encouraging, correcting, lifting-up and having conversations with people in prayer. Prayer is a tool he uses for evangelism and outreach for those who demonstrate faith in the Son of God. Let’s read the text.

1.29-31 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew.  Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

To be sure the cure was instantaneous, complete, and very personal (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8: Mark, Wessel, 603-793). We will witness the personal touch from Jesus across the experiences described in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is one who offers his personal presence and touch to heal the sick and disabled. When healing is offered, it is not from a distant prayer.

In Mark’s Gospel Jesus offers a personal touch to many who have need for healing. Jesus is ready to engage personally with everyone, even the Leper, to offer healing (1.41). He will be at the bedside of Jairus’ young daughter, taking her by the hand she will rise-up and live again (5.41). In fact Jairus would plead that Jesus would come and put his hands on his daughter (5.23). He will be touched by a woman with an issue of bleeding (5.27-28). People would beg Jesus to touch them like the blind man from Bethsaida who saw trees until a second touch from Jesus’ hands (8.23, 25). Jesus would use spit on a man’s eyes and another man’s tongue to heal them (7.33, 8.23, 25). Jesus would deliver a young boy from evil and then take his hand helping him to his feet (9.27). Throughout Gospel stories, miracles of healing and deliverance from evil are a dynamic part of the spread of the Good News. When we read the passage of healing for Peter’s mother-in-law, we see the need of a touch from Jesus – a touch of healing and a hand up that only he can provide.

In our passage the whole town has gathered at Peter’s door. Those who are sick, diseased, and need deliverance from evil know that they cannot heal themselves. People were bringing those who were suffering and in a bad way to Jesus. The whole town were bringing a steady stream of sick and demon-possessed people to Jesus. These people were not just a little sick, they had it bad. They were suffering. They gathered like a surging mass of people, crowding at the door (Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament: Mark, Rienecker & Rogers, 88-136). And, in the midst of the healings and deliverance activities Jesus maintained his authority over both the spirit and flesh. Let’s read it on.

1.32-34 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door,  and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

When we think about healing and deliverance, we think only about the signs and wonders in the New Testament. But healing and deliverance from evil continue to be signs of God’s of his in-breaking Kingdom. Healing and deliverance are signs of the Kingdom of God breaking through from heaven to earth. The healings and deliverance were inside the context of a faith-community where believers needed God’s intervention. Inside the faith community we find our healing and rescue from evil. The healings from sickness and disease as well as deliverance from evil were not for those outside the community of faith as illustrated by Jesus when the Phoenician woman requests healing for her daughter (7.24-30) (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8: Mark, Wessel, 603-793).

Numerous people were being healed. There were a constant stream of sick people coming to Jesus. Healing and deliverance in Mark’s Gospel are the typical activity of Jesus when the Good News is preached. Miracles are a large part of Mark’s Gospel and are very important signs that point to the Kingdom of God breaking into this earthly realm. The power to heal and deliver from evil is a universal implication of the Good News. The healing of the sick and diseased as well as the demon-possessed people provided a way for each person to reenter everday activities of society (The People’s New Testament Commentary: Mark, Boring & Craddock, 105-173).

When we read the passage about the whole community of Capernaum being healed, we see the compassion of Jesus extending a helping hand to the marginalized who were unable to care for themselves. We see the faith of the people magnified, and Jesus answering their cry for help.

Here in Mark’s Gospel we understand that the proclamation of the Good News includes the activity of people being healed and delivered from evil, then enabled to return to the community of faith as full participants in the activities of the community. Healing comes when faith acknowledges God’s authority in Jesus as the Son of God. To be sure healing outside of the faith community is inappropriate because it does not include faith in Jesus. Healing is the privilege of the community of faith. Healing and deliverance from evil are signs of those who have faith, not signs for those who have not faith. Faith leads to healing, not the reverse of healing leading to faith. Healing and deliverance from evil are the outcome of repentance and belief in the Son of God and his Kingdom on earth. In Mark’s Gospel it is only those with hard hearts that failed to see the power of God at work (Black’s New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Saint Mark, Hooker, 70-77).

When we reflect on Jesus quieting the demons, perhaps it is important to note that he is not allowing evil to usurp his authority or his plans. Jesus is in charge, not the evil among them. Jesus aims at proclaiming the Good News of “repent and believe” but does not want to be sidetracked with “healing and deliverance” alone. Jesus is always willing to heal us, but if that becomes the focus we may fall into heresy. What do I mean by heresy? We cannot afford to get the message upside down. Repentance and belief in the Son of God comes first, then the healing and deliverance of evil afterwards. The desire to know Jesus and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior is our aim. Eternal Life is our reward.

Healing and deliverance have a very temporal reward, and repentance and belief in the Son of God has an eternal reward. Eternity always trumps the here and now concerns in our lives. Jesus is the “Son of God” and that is the theme of Mark’s Gospel of Good News (Mark’s Message: Good News for the New Millennium, Gonzalez). When we make the Good News about anything less than Jesus as the Son of God, then we distort the message. When we focus on our own needs for healing and deliverance from evil, we are taking our eyes of the Gospel message of bringing Good News. Our ministry should always point to Jesus.

So often we spend our prayers on the sick and dying, but rarely do we pray for the community to receive the promise of Eternal Life. Jesus is always willing to hear our prayers for healing and deliverance from evil, but we must turn our gaze to what Mark’s Gospel teaches us in the next passage. Let’s continue reading.

1.35-37 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

Jesus gets up early in the morning, while it is still dark. Jesus leaves the house to get away for a time of prayer. He wanted to be alone with God. I can only imagine how deeply moved he must have been to have cared for so many people the day before, and now he spends time with his Heavenly Father reflecting on his ministry. You can imagine how aggravated Peter was – especially knowing how he is known for his quick decisions. Ellsworth Kalas calls Peter a man of action, and we know that Mark’s Gospel is Peter’s testimony about Jesus. The single line offered here about Jesus stepping away for pray must have gotten under Peter’s skin. The next thing we read is that Peter and his companions are tracking Jesus.

The disciples “hunted for Jesus” and literally, they tracked him down. Again, they hunted Jesus down in a “hostile manner.” They were insistent that this was his work of healing and deliverance, but Jesus finds redirection in his personal prayer life. I can only imagine how Jesus was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people in the community flocking to Peter’s house for a touch from Jesus. The way it is described here Jesus must have many spent hours talking and touching people who were in a bad way. The closest illustration I can think of is my chaplaincy experience of going room-to-room in the hospital. My experience has taught me that spending time visiting many people and praying for healing is very draining. The experience that best describes the drain is when Jesus is touched by a woman who needed healing from an issue of bleeding. She touched Jesus and he immediately felt the power to heal leave his body. Jesus has taken time away from the crowd to replenish himself in prayer. This kind of spiritual restoration comes only by means of prayer.

While in prayer, Jesus hears a clear word of redirection for his ministry. Perhaps a better way of describing this word, is not redirection but a return to his original purpose statement, “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1.15 TNIV). Jesus preached the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God upon the earth. When we interpret the prayer life of Jesus, we discover here in this passage that he found new direction for his life in prayer. He was not simply asking for his personal needs to be met, we can infer that he was seeking the will of his Heavenly Father. Jesus’ personal needs are placed under the purpose of obeying the will of the Father, and spreading the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  Let’s read on.

1.38-39 Jesus replied (to Simon and his companions), “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

The main aim for Jesus was proclamation of the Kingdom of God “repent and believe” with the secondary work of miracles, healing of sickness and disease, and deliverance from evil. All the concerns for personal healing fit under the bigger picture of evangelism: declaring the Good News. According to theologian Walter Wessel, if we usurp the proclamation with the personal needs of the community, then we risk falling into heresy of misunderstanding the Good News of the Gospel message (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8: Mark, Wessel, 603-793).

Jesus’ directions from his Heavenly Father are to go to the small villages to proclaim the Good News (Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament: Mark, Rienecker & Rogers, 88-136). Jesus is not called to the glamorous Temple in Jerusalem or a life of a religious order. Jesus is called to the small places – those places not on a map – to share the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. His mission is sharing the hope of Eternal Life in the small, remote, and lonely places.

The Gospel is always moving from place to place. It moves from person to person and outward to the next place. Mark’s Gospel stories use the word “immediately” to describe the way that Jesus moved and shared the good news. The description of Jesus’ ministry is not stagnant, but intentional. He moves according to God’s will guiding him through circumstances and prayer. Jesus responds to the pressure of the people who pursue him by getting away to secluded places. Jesus is in control of himself, and his ministry. Jesus never relinquishes his authority to others, but makes intentional decisions to allow his life to be used by others. He is agreeable to the healing the needs of others, but also draws the line when he chooses like in the passage today. Jesus made a conscious decision to continue his ministry in other places according to his discerning prayer time to discover the will of his Father. As he steps out of Capernaum and continues to travel, preach/teach in synagogues, and offer deliverance from evil. Jesus is taking the community religious spaces for the Kingdom of God.

What’s remarkable is how Jesus moves through the land and first goes to the synagogues to proclaim the Kingdom of God. It is in the religious spaces that Jesus is first seen driving out evil, not on the streets among unbelievers. Jesus begins to drive out evil among the believers. For Jesus the healing and deliverance that are such remarkable signs of the in-breaking Kingdom of God are for the faithful folks. In some ways it seems that the preaching of the good news should always be followed with the opportunity for prayer for healing and deliverance from the evil in our lives. If this is Jesus’ model for the building up of the Kingdom of God, should we not do the same? Just saying it seems pretty clear here what Jesus did, and what we are called to emulate. In the next passage Jesus is indignant when he is asked, “If you are willing, you can make me clean…” If Jesus is willing, why are we so reluctant to come for our cleansing? And, why do we fear giving a testimony to the good news of Jesus in our lives? Let’s read on.

1.40-45 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

In this passage Jesus is always ready to heal and deliver from evil. His compassion is evident all through his ministry. In the passage 1.40-45 Jesus is indignant with the man who questioned whether or not he would be willing to heal him of leprosy. Jesus is always willing to address our deepest needs, but he will also hold our needs in the context of the bigger picture of our salvation and the salvation of others. Whether we are healed or delivered from sin must be placed in the bigger context of a loving God who desires that we be saved to the uttermost. The small details of disease and death are always in the context of the promise of Eternal Life. Sometimes we find our healing on this side of heaven, while other times we find our ultimate healing in death. In both cases our cry is always celebratory, To God Be the Glory.

Healing and deliverance from evil in our lives is a mystery we may never understand this side of Heaven. We have all heard the phrase, Don’t be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good. Here in this passage the thought is reversed, Don’t be so earthly minded that you are no heavenly good. It is not uncommon for us to be so caught up on our health issues that we lose sight of our purpose statement as Christians: Go and Make Disciples. We live into heresy when we place our personal healing and deliverance from evil above the evangelism of the Kingdom of God. The order of things presented in Mark’s Gospel is that we begin with preaching the Son of God, calling people to faith, and baptizing with water and the Spirit. Then we see the signs, miracles and wonders accompany the proclamation which includes the deliverance from evil, fresh communication skills, resistance to the things that might take our lives, and the laying on of hands for the sick and diseased. If we chase after the secondary things, then the proclamation fails to produce the fruit of Eternal Life. Mark’s Gospel ends on this note:

16.15-18 [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

How will we respond to Mark’s Gospel message? Will we take seriously the call to reach our community with the Good News from Mark’s message? Tom Rainer wrote a book entitled Autopsy of a Deceased Church. Rainer offers hope for churches that struggle with growth opportunities. Rainer suggests we have essentially three opportunities for creative growth to reach new people with the Good News message.

Rainer suggests the first opportunity in increasing faithfulness to the Gospel message is praying for church leadership to have new eyes to see the community around us (which includes an audit of how to spend time and money) then creating an evangelism strategy. Rainer suggests our second opportunity requires prayers to make the necessary changes (which includes confession and admission of a dire need for revitalization and a willingness to change in a short period of time) then shifting to an outward focus. Rainer suggests that if the church cannot see itself taking drastic measures for redirection, then the church should plan for the relinquishment of the building and surrendering leadership to another church. This is for the sole purpose of community outreach and evangelism.

Today the invitation is for us to take seriously our prayers to see new possibilities for how we use our time, spend our money, and utilize our building. We must take seriously the need for change, confession, and admission of our dire need for revitalization. We must take seriously our need for a creative outward focus and evangelism strategy. The altar is open for each of us to search our hearts for God’s direction with possibilities for making new disciples.

The Call to Greater Things

Mk. 1.16-20, 21-29, Mt 28.16-20, 2 Kings 2.9-10

Jesus arrives on the scene and enters Galilee after fasting, praying, and battling for 40 days in the wilderness. Still wet behind the ears from his baptism in the Jordon River, he has declared his purpose statement: Repent and have faith. To be sure these two key concepts are the gateway to salvation. As we walk into our faith journey we discover there is more to being a disciple than these initial steps. We are called to be like Jesus!

As Jesus leans into the beginning of what we now know as his three-years of ministry, the first place we see him is at the water’s edge. Jesus is walking beside the Sea of Galilee where he finds some hard-working men, laboring together in a joint business of fishing. Fishing on the Sea of Galilee was the trade of a small family-friend business or what we might call a mom and pop shop. The sons of Zebedee would most-likely have been the backbone of their father’s fishing business. The fishing business was so lucrative that they even had hired men, an important detail I don’t want you to miss. In a large sense the sons of Zebedee are about to let go of their family inheritance on what one might believe was nothing but a whim.

You see Jesus invited these men whom we would know today as solid community leaders to an unknown adventure that would cost them everything – family, friends, livelihood, and even their lives. These were the everyday kind of leaders in the township, the salt of the earth. The boys and men who would know the rough work of their hands and what it meant to stay up all night fishing for the family. And, as Jesus approached these men, the invitation came, “Come, follow me…” It wasn’t a question, “Would you like to hang out with me?” No, it was a hand extended in invitation, “Come. Follow.” And with that invitation came the intentions of what Jesus had in mind, “I will send you out to fish for people.” What is Jesus talking about? Sending? What’s this about sending and fishing for people?

Let’s back up briefly in the Scriptures to Matthew 28.16-20… the very page before Mark’s Gospel begins. We call this passage the Great Commission, and we are all familiar with the words. What is this invitation about? However, are we really taking the text apart and listening to what Jesus is telling the fledging disciples at the time of his Ascension? Jesus is laying upon them the authority – all authority in heaven and earth. Jesus is passing the mantle of his prophetic ministry to his followers just like Elijah and Elisha in 2 Kings 2.9-10 where a double portion has been handed down to the next generation. The instructions are simple: go and make, baptize, and teach. Bishop Lindsey Davis would add the word “new disciples” to help us clarify who it is we are to be ministering.

Here in the origin of our call as Christians is the model we seek to emulate in our everyday lives. You see the Gospel message was never designed to be a consumer model. It has always been about being sent to a people that we can give away the message of salvation. We are a sent people into a world where others have not yet heard about salvation. We are called out from the places that are comfortable, well-known – our homes, families, friends, businesses, schools, and work places – to embrace the unknown adventure of a lifetime.

Mark’s Gospel is about to teach us the greatest adventure of a few unknown men who will soon change the face of the world with their willingness to lay it all down, surrender to the call, and face the challenges of loving those who are completely unlike themselves and yet completely just like themselves. This is the model of ministry that we too are called to emulate, and to live into to the fullness of ourselves. We are called to move beyond the walls of conventional experiences to take a risk, to be brave, to resist the temptations to complain in the wilderness or miss the promised land. We are invited to come and follow Jesus when it seems strange and challenging.

Let’s re-enter Mark’s Gospel at the next scene. Jesus has called some men to join him, and I’m not sure if we can call them friends yet. We really aren’t sure if Jesus knew these men very well prior to his call to ministry. But I would guess that Jesus and the disciples knew a lot more about each other over the course of living together for three years! Now Jesus enters the synagogue on the Sabbath. This synagogue might be the one that is most-likely next to what we understand by recent archeology as Peter’s house in Capernaum. In essence he didn’t have very far to walk to get to church. But here they are in worship on a Sabbath, and Jesus began to teach. Let me remind you that he had no credentials, and he is offering unsolicited teaching in the synagogue. As Jesus begins to teach, he is immediately confronted with evil in the synagogue! Not on the street, but right in the place of worship. This completely amazing the people! What is going on here! Don’t miss what is about to happen, “What is this? A new teaching – and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”

I just cannot imagine how awkward the disciples were at this point! They have been asked to leave their livelihood behind and essentially everything that would root them in their community, to take up an adventure with this smooth-teaching, authority-speaking young man of about 30 years. And, the first experience they have together is a confrontation with evil in the synagogue. Flags are flying for me here! What is this? News travels fast, and Mark tells us that Jesus has just entered into public gossip circles at zero to hundred in record time. The news wasn’t just local news, it was headline news in the whole region of Galilee! You might say it made the 6pm news in Lexington, Cincinnati, Ashland, and Louisville.

As we evaluate this passage of Scripture and how it might apply to our lives, I can’t help but see two options for us at this point. We can be a newbie disciple or be a gossipy by-stander. The newbie disciple at this point is probably overwhelmed, confused, and wondering. Maybe they were excited, but most-likely very wide-eyed. We can only guess what it might be like to be a part of this experience with Jesus. On the other hand, we can be the gossipy by-stander amazed and spreading the news about what happened in church today. Wow! That was some experience! What happened? Is that guy for-real?

But perhaps there is a third option for us… and that is to be like Jesus. Jesus will soon move beyond this initial teaching to care for strangers by healing the sick, cleansing diseases, forgiving the unforgiveable, calling people to accountability, feeding the hungry, holding children, and raising the dead. Jesus will – and don’t miss this – befriend the 12 disciples whom he will share meals, weep tears, feel distrust, walk a thousand-miles and live sleepless nights among. Then those close confidants will abandon him in the time of his deepest need. Honestly, over and over the disciples had to re-think Jesus. What he did… How he lived… So much of our days we just give Jesus the token nod, but fail to realize the cost of his call on our lives. So where do you find yourself today – newbie disciple, gossipy by-stander, or Jesus? The invitation remains for each of us to choose this day whom we will serve. Jesus’ invitation is to come, follow, be sent to the nations, baptize in the name of the Trinity, and teach the world to obey Jesus’ commands. Salvation has come to this house today! Will you receive it?

There are times when we know personally the people who have not accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, but we have not yet scratched the surface for praying for the lost in our church. We rub shoulders with so many different people in our day, and rarely do we even wonder if it might be our call to witness to them about Jesus and his gift of salvation. John Wesley created opportunities to witness and serve people so that the Gospel message could impact their lives in a practical way! That’s why I think I love Methodist so much; we are a practical people. The struggle I find with our denomination right now is our lack of discipleship that moves us beyond our church to reach the world around us. If we are to follow the instructions of Jesus, then we need to really put into practice what he is asking of all his followers. Let’s reach the world!

Today we’ve heard from Wesley Denham about his ministry as a missionary. I’ve shared my pictures from the short-term children’s ministry in Serbia. The model of mission and outreach is before you. Are there places in your life where Jesus has called you to something more, or as Bobbie has said s’more? If you have not gone on a short-term mission, Bishop Fairley will be taking a team to Serbia in October. No special skills are needed, and anyone 16 and up are invited to go! See me after church, and I would be glad to share more information with you. The best fishing is yet to come for Central UMC. The altar is open. Come. Follow. Be sent. Go and Make. Baptize. Teach. Be like Jesus.  

Declaring Faith

Children’s Moment

Words are powerful. Sometimes we use our words for good, and sometimes we use our words to hurt and injure others. The object lesson for our sermon today is that our words once they come out of our mouths can never be returned. Those words, whether in poor taste or honoring, can have a lasting impact on those we speak to and about. Just because we don’t speak our words directly to someone’s face, doesn’t mean those words don’t injure that person. Can you think of a time when you spoke words that hurt someone? Hurt you? Jesus is the only answer when we use our words to hurt others. Only through forgiveness can the pain of our words be healed.

Gospel of Mark Sermon Series: Mark 1.14-15

The text of Mark 1.1-15 is the opening prologue, abstract, or the thesis statement for the whole writing piece that Mark calls “the beginning of the Good News” (MK.1.1). The pericope begins with the Old Testament declaration of a coming Messiah by the prophet Isaiah (Mk. 1.2-3). It is followed by the declaration of John the Baptist whom we view as the last Old Testament prophet (Mk. 1.4-8). Then Jesus appears, and God Himself declares Jesus as his beloved Son of God, the foundational truth of Mark’s writing (Mk. 1. 9-11). After which Satan challenges Jesus’ authority as the Son of God in the desert (Mk. 1.12-13), and, Satan by simply acknowledging Jesus has essentially admitted his defeat already. Upon John’s imprisonment and subsequent beheading, Jesus will declare his own destiny as the Messianic prophet (Mk. 1.14-15). After announcing his good news of the coming reign of God, Mark will lay out the life story of the Messiah. Not only to prove his identity as the Son of God, but for us today we have a model of how to live our lives just like Jesus presented here in Mark’s story (Mk 2-16).

We are about to embark on an adventure. Mark’s Gospel rolls along at breakneck speed to find its conclusion in the death and resurrection, the martyrdom of Israel’s Messiah. Last week we talked about John the Baptist being a wild man in the wilderness with crickets hanging off his wild and wooly beard, perhaps grasshoppers and locust would be a more scripturally accurate picture, but the picture remains the same. Here in the wilderness of Israel’s outback, Jesus will fast for 40-days and discover his calling and declare his purpose (Mk. 1.14-15).

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” – Mark 1.14-15 TNIV

The idea of fasting and eating a little bit of nothing, made me think of the coming days when Jesus will present to the whole world a full-course spiritual meal. A banquet of living righteously in a world living as a starving people. In the Gospel of Mark we are called to feast upon the life of what the Apostle John calls the Bread of Heaven. In two verses Mark serves us an entire meal for us to enjoy (Mk. 1.14-15). Actually, the first 15 verses of Mark, serves us the menu for the rest of the banquet feast. Mark begins with a powerful entry into Jesus’ ministry with historical fulfillment, Fatherly fame, and victory over his arch-nemesis in the desert. Then ends his writing with the ultimate dessert – the resurrection. It is a totally unexpected twist to the plot. It’s like being in a Japanese restaurant at a Hibachi bar and having the chef through food into your mouth, which actually happened to us. Totally not what you might expect to happen! But this image of being spiritually fed in an unexpected way is the new normal presented in Mark’s Gospel.

Let’s break down the two verses into some food we can digest: the Kingdom of God has come near to the people, the people are to repent by changing one’s mind and to have belief. In the original language the repentance and believing actions are a command to follow, an exhortation to listen to and follow every day… over and over. The actions of repenting and believing are continuous, and we are to keep on keeping on! Everything that is about to happen in Mark’s Gospel is unexpected. Jesus Christ hasn’t lived like anyone else in history thus far. He is a coloring inside the lines of life, but he is about to reframe the reality of his people in every unimaginable way possible.

Over the coming weeks through Easter we will hear the stories of his spontaneous and his intentional pushing past the window of the typical, the usual, and the everyday life. Mark will share the life of Jesus in what we might understand as a “New York Minute.” Mark captures the essences of Facebook, twitter, instant-a-gram, and snapchat where life happens and moves so quickly for the follower – real time experiences are recorded in an instant message system. Boom! It happened. It was posted. You can’t take it back. Here Jesus is living his 30 something life with radical meaningful intentional social experiences. Community is upfront and in person. It is not hidden away on electrical devices, where the only person with you is your shadow. His circle of close friends is about to be formed and the adventure is about to begin.

Mark’s gospel is considered the first message of the good news about Jesus ever written. In fact we believe that Matthew and Luke both composed their stories by using Mark as a template, an outline for the document like what we might find on Microsoft Word. Whereas Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel’s offer more of a slower read such as we might find on blogging or web-pages which hold more of a nostalgic thought out view on life… a little slower pace that gives space for thoughtful reflections that aren’t on the quicker media sights.

Up to this point nothing extravagant or noteworthy has happened to Jesus that we can tell from recorded history (apart from his childhood trip to Egypt and his trip to Jerusalem at age 12). He has had what we would imagine as a quiet unassuming young adult life at home with his family in Nazareth. There is no evidence of his exceptional heritage or his identity within the community until now. His identity has been held in a secretive state, quietly living among the people as the illegitimate child of an impure relationship. And, the viewpoint of the community at large one might imagine his earthly father marries to protect the name of a young woman cloaked in shame of a teenage pregnancy.

If Mark were here with us, he might even say the critical mass of Jesus life begins with the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah, Jesus becomes the story legends are made of – and here are the heroic tales of a man who set out not to win the world – but to fully obey his Heavenly Father and listen to his Heavenly Father’s voice. Jesus’ end goal might have been rescuing the world but his actions were fully lead not by his pride or his ambition, but with a humble servanthood of a tender shepherd. He did not come to claim the world by force or threat, but by invitation only …come follow me. This new worldview that Jesus was creating was by invitation only! No prerequisites, no titles necessary. Just the invitation to repent and believe. Jesus begins to build his whole legacy on these two concepts: repent and believe. That’s it!

According to our cultural standards, there was nothing about Jesus worthy of following. He was not an aspiring political figure, although he became one. He was not a business man, although we believe he worked his father’s trade. Jesus was not a well-trained fisherman, although he helped catch a lot of fish. He was not a baker, but he did provide bread to the multitudes on two occasions. He did not write the words of prophecy like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the many other prophets of the Scriptures. But he did live the stories that the prophets wrote about. He truly was not remarkable on any count that we would evaluate him. He even taught, but without credentials. Everything he was “good at” was part of his submission and servanthood. He never sought to hold any rank or title, yet, by his actions, victory was bestowed upon him. He truly became the prophet, priest and king of God’s chosen people by his acts of faithful submission and subsequent death.

As we study the life of Jesus this year and travel through the four gospels, the invitation becomes ours to discern whether we are measuring up to his model in the gospel stories. We live our lives doing what we believe is right most of the time in our own eyes, but perhaps we have not read the word sufficiently to ascertain the assessment of the outcome of our choices and behaviors …and ultimately our legacy.

There is a contemporary song that has spoken to my life for many years. It’s by a contemporary band called Skillet, entitled, “This is your Life.” In one line of the song it asks, “Are you who you want to be?” What a great question! Basically, it is inviting the listener to reflect on their legacy! What legacy are you leaving? Mark’s gospel will report to us that the legacy of Jesus’ three years of ministry among the nation of Israel, where he spoke across miles and miles of terrain that he walked step-by-step and not by car, bus, or train! This indeed is the model we are invited to emulate! Now how are we measuring up?

Some of you came to Wilma Hester’s funeral this week. Her children, Carol and Fred, shared many favorite memories of their mother and father with me. As I heard from Carol and Fred, I was reminded about the call on our lives to be faithful like Wilma, and just as Jesus calls us in this passage of Scripture. I came to the realization of how often we discount the little details of faithfulness in our lives. One of my favorite stories that Fred shared about Wilma was her providing cookies every day after school. How much that simple act of genuine love day after day meant to him. We could call it #Wilma’scookieministry.

As I reflected on my own legacy with my children, I asked them what has been the most important part of my parenting with them. My children have often described their favorite part of our relationship as mother-child is faithfulness, the consistent love expressed across the many years of their lives. Many children today do not experience that consistent faithfulness of their parents like Wilma and Fred – whether because of being born out of wedlock, divorce, socio-economic concerns, or demanding work schedules. Families face the challenge of just spending time together on a consistent basis with their children. And, I just have to wonder what role our church might play in that need in our local community.

Mark’s gospel challenges us to reflect on faithfulness. Jesus’ discipleship was one of consistent faithfulness on two-fronts: repentance and belief. These words require of us a kind of lifestyle that means getting up every morning and laying down our lives to take up His lifestyle. Just like an afterschool treat of cookies and milk, our hearts can be turned toward love and goodwill toward one another by simple acts of faithfulness. We are called to live into this model every day in simple ways.

On the contrary, where are the places in your life that you have not served the faithfulness of repentance and belief? Have you served your neighbor with unkindness, disdain, hatred, bitterness, and discord, when you should have been serving them cookies and milk? Jesus once said we are to forgive others …over and over again. Has that been your practice in your daily acts of repentance and belief?

The shackles of unforgiveness are tied around our own necks, and the person with whom we are holding in unforgiveness is staring right back at us day-in and day-out. It is as if we remain in a strangle hold with each other, and the whole world is watching our response. Unforgiveness is not a well-kept secret we can carry without ramifications to all our relationships. Jesus calls us not to speak ill of others. Instead we are to stop this behavior, drop to our knees, and roll away from our bad behavior as repentance. Bob Newhart once put it this way, “Stop it!” Just two words, “Stop it!” And, with the power of the blood of Jesus this is possible.

It is easy for us to put up road blocks, snares, and traps for others to step into and that is the most ungodly behavior imaginable. If you are plotting with your neighbor to wreck someone, you are treading on dangerous waters, my friend. And, if this is a habit you have, you must take on the mind of Christ Jesus, and replace this behavior for his.

In the next few passages of Scripture, Mark lays out for us Jesus’ model: come follow me, lay aside the way you used to work and live, and join me in a new adventure of living differently. As ministry begins Jesus will pull away from the crowds to take time to listen to his Heavenly Father’s guidance. Jesus does not follow his own will nor his own preferences, but lives in submission and obedience to God’s ways.

As Mark’s gospel continues to its completion, we will find that Jesus’ most dangerous connections were people who sought to live by political maneuvers. When we think of Judas in the seat of honor at the Last Supper in Mark’s gospel, we must remember that his intentions were honorable to himself as well as the leaders of his day. However, they were never the right intentions. Judas betrayed Jesus because Jesus didn’t go along with his worldview. Have you crucified another person for their differing opinions? As painful as it might be to own our mistakes, Jesus stands ready to forgive!

Mark’s gospel begins with Jesus’ declaration of his call to ministry: repent and belief. In conclusion I invite your come and follow! The meal is prepared, and the Table is set.

In the late 1800s Elisha Hoffman wrote more than 2000 hymns including “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” (UMH#133, 1894). He was a congregational preacher to sailors and seaman alike. In the Cleveland area he served in chapels and churches. But his music has spread across many denominations, and even in our own hymnal. One of his hymns published in 359 hymnals across many denominations that I appreciate so much is entitled “Are you washed in the blood?” (public domain, hymnary.org).

Are you washed in the Blood? (1878) By Elisha Hoffman

Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? 

Chorus: Are you washed in the blood, In the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb? Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Are you walking daily by the Savior’s side? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? Do you rest each moment in the Crucified? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? [Chorus]

When the Bridegroom cometh will your robes be white? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? Will your soul be ready for the mansions bright, And be washed in the blood of the Lamb? [Chorus]

 Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin, And be washed in the blood of the Lamb! There’s a fountain flowing for the soul unclean, O be washed in the blood of the Lamb! [Chorus] 

Hear the Good News! Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, that proves God’s love toward us. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth who came in the flesh and died for each one of us, you and I stand forgiven. Glory to God! Amen!

It’s all about Grace!

Galatians 4.4-7

We find ourselves beginning a new year, with the past behind us and a world full of possibilities before us, waiting for a fresh perspective on a new beginning! Possibilities for new life are all around us. Our text today offers us possibilities of new life!

We enter into the narrative today by way of the author of our letter, Paul. He is writing to the church at Galatia (Antioch Pisidian, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe). Paul has worked on the mission field in Galatia (Acts 16.6, 18.23). We would recognize this area as modern-day Turkey. Paul has founded the churches in Galatia, and now there are new believers entering into the fellowship of the churches creating a stir that the new converts from paganism where not measuring up to the faith that they processed.

Judiazers (Jewish believers) have been spying on the new converts and declaring that they were not living up to the fulfillment of the Law of Moses (circumcision and dietary laws). We know this conflict well, as Paul has attended the Jerusalem Council to hash out the details of the Law of Moses requirements for new converts to the Christian faith (Acts 15). Paul has been given the revelation that his work is among the Gentiles, and he is fully prepared to accomplish that work by not converting them to Judaism by through grace by faith alone.

Paul is sitting in Antioch, having heard the news that Judiazers (those who live according to the Jewish customs) had infiltrated the churches of Galatia, and were requiring the new believers to follow the Law of Moses (circumcision and dietary laws). Paul is furious. Paul had received the revelation from God to be the messenger to the Gentiles. He was appointed, called to this very task. Now he writes to the people in his own hand (Gal. 6.11).

The Gospel does not require conversion to Judaism first. The new covenant is entered into by faith alone. Salvation is by faith alone, not by following the Law of Moses. We see Paul following the Law of Moses when Timothy is circumcised (Acts 16.3). However, Paul seems to support the Law of Moses rituals when it helps the Gospel to be preached and received, unhindered. In other words the Law of Moses is not a requirement for salvation. We are justified by faith alone (Acts 21.21).

In the letter to the Galatians, Paul declares that the Gospel message cannot be edited, changed, or misrepresented. Paul claims that he has received this message not from humankind but by revelation from God himself. Paul is frustrated with the Jerusalem leaders who are continuing to follow the Law of Moses as a means to an end (justification/sanctification). To be sure the only transformation comes is by way of faith alone.

We cannot work our way to good behavior, and we cannot discipline ourselves to salvation (Keener, 72-77). We find that we may get offended with people who swear or drink, but we must realize that even the best of us who have been set free from outward behaviors may not be set free in our hearts. We all have to surrender ourselves for transformation in the power of the Spirit. The key is whether we have made the decision by faith alone for our salvation like the song says, “I have decided to follow Jesus…” (Traditional).

There are times in our Christian lives when we are like the Judiazers: we have run the race, but we have somehow gotten on the wrong course (Acts 20.24, 1 Cor. 9.24-27, Heb. 12.1-3, 2 Tim. 4.7-9, Is. 40.31). Paul uses this illustration to invite believers back to the right race, the right course. Paul is clear that the people who have steered the new believers off the race course are actually Jewish believers. They have not been given misinformation by unbelievers, but by believers. He is offering a course correction here for the Jewish believers and the new converts in Galatia. Paul’s message is for us today. It is an opportunity for us to evaluate our race. Are we running the right course?

Our tradition holds a “distinctive Wesleyan emphases” on holiness of heart and life based in our understanding of grace (BOD, 51). Grace is the “undeserved, unmerited” favor of God (BOD, 51). By God’s grace in the Holy Spirit we are called to live in holiness of heart and life. Through God’s grace we are renewed in our fallen nature. Grace “awakens us in our earnest longing for deliverance from sin and death” (BOD, 52). Grace moves us toward repentance and faith. Grace reaches us when we have a “repentant heart” (BOD, 52). Grace “acceptance and pardons” us (BOD, 53). The human heart experiences a real change under the guidance of the Holy Spirit by faith alone. We are made new creations, and are given a new birth. The Spirit of God “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8.16; BOD, 53). Through the Holy Spirit, we experience the love and knowledge of God.

John Wesley in his sermon “Witness of the Spirit” observed, “It is hard to find the words in language of men, to explain the deep things of God. Indeed, there are none that adequately express what the Spirit of God works in his children” (Kerr, 191). Wesley further states that the witness of the Spirit is an inward impression (Kerr, 191). If you have not known this blessed assurance, it is indeed available to you. To be sure we can know that experience of knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus lives within us.

To others among us we might need to hear that Wesley was concerned that this movement of God called Methodism would “degenerate into a mere formality; lest, having ‘a form of godliness’ we neglect, if not ‘deny the power of it’” (Kerr, 191). To others Wesley might say to guard the faith with a “scriptural, rational illustration and confirmation of this momentous truth” (Kerr, 191). To be sure Wesley believed that it was essential to live a holy life inwardly and outwardly. To further emphasize this understanding that grace moves from the inward witness to the outward experience of faith, one might use the slogan, “Head. Heart. Hands. Habits.”

Grace supplies us with new birth. That new birth brings about a dynamic love for God and a tangible love for neighbor as ourselves, as well as the very mind of Christ which transforms our thinking. Both are essential in the transformation process. Paul teaches us “that the process of transformation does not depend on our self-discipline as much as it depends on our willingness to embrace God’s help” (Keener, 72). We have a renewed nature born of the Spirit of God. We are a new creation, born anew into a new lifestyle of living. We are not to live passively, but actively putting off the old selfish nature and putting on the new creation based on faith alone (Keener, 73). We are to conform to the image of God not according to our strength, but with God’s help. Although discipline does aid us in the transformation process, new life in Christ requires our submission to the Spirit for the inward change to be secured.

God’s grace calls us forth in faith and good works. Piety and mercy are the initial fruits of the life of the Spirit (BOD, 102). A Spirit-filled life is marked by submission to others. It is marked with humility, service, and yielding in a life lived in community. On the other hand, a flesh-filled life is marked by way of gossip, slander, arrogance, overextending our authority and an overall “know-it-all” attitude that quenches the life in the Spirit.

A Spirit-filled church seeks to live in unity, building relationships with others, and staying connected across churches. A Spirit-filled life is long-suffering with others who are on the journey with us. Grace calls us to be on the journey together with all our warts and wrinkles exposed to one another that we might live in an accountable lifestyle. Grace forgives. Grace calls us onward and upward for the glory of God.

Grace calls us beyond the walls of our comfort zone to fulfill the Great Command and the Great Commission (Mt. 22.36-40, Mt. 28.16-20). Grace calls us and empowers us to live by love of God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Grace calls us to go forth into all the world to make disciples (BOD, 53). God’s grace calls us to a life of doing good, doing no harm, and loving God.

One of the most remarkable testimonies I know is the story of Fanny Crosby, a prolific Methodist hymn writer. Blind from the age of six weeks, Fanny was able to pen some 9,000 hymns in her lifetime, “depending upon God to provide for every lyric and tune” (Kinghorn, 147). The United Methodist Hymnal boasts a number of her songs including, “To God Be the Glory” (UMH98), “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross” (301), “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” (351), “Blessed Assurance” (369), “Close to Thee” (407), “I am Thine, O Lord” (419), and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (591). But today I am especially reminded of the words to one of her songs, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine. O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of Salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood. This is my story! This is my song!” (UMH369). What a fitting way for us to remember the exhortation of Paul to the believers in Galatia!

Let’s briefly recapitulate the storyline of the Letter to the church at Galatia. To be sure Paul says there is a different gospel being preached in Galatia that is no Gospel at all (Gal. 1.6-7). Paul is emphatic that salvation comes by faith alone (Gal. 2.20). When we believe, we receive the promise of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 3.22). The promise of the Spirit is our inheritance (Gal. 3.15-25). The Spirit of God brings freedom from the Law of Moses (Gal. 4.8-20). It brings freedom from sin and death. It brings freedom from the works of righteousness that are birthed in our flesh. The Spirit of God brings about the true righteousness in our lives and provides for us Eternal Life (Gal. 6.8-9).

Make no mistake about it: Galatians teaches us that it is not the Law that saves us, it is the Spirit of Jesus. This is good news! What counts for believers is the new creation (Gal. 6.14-15). Will you join me in this pursuit of holiness of heart and life? Let us welcome new members today by reminding ourselves of Paul’s words to the Galatians that there is one true Gospel based on faith alone, not by works, lest anyone should boast.

Works Cited

The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. United Methodist Pub. House, 2016.

Boring, M. Eugene, and Fred B. Craddock. “Galatians.” The People’s New Testament Commentary, Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

The Jesus Bible, New International Version. “Galatians.” Zondervan, 2013.

Keener, Craig S. Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today. Baker Academic, 2001.

Kerr, Hugh T., editor. “John Wesley.” Readings in Christian Thought, 2nd ed., Abingdon Press, 1990, pp. 190–196.

Kinghorn, Kenneth C. “The Heritage of Hymns.” The Heritage of American Methodism, Emeth Press, 2009, p. 147.

Rienecker, Fritz, and Cleon L. Rogers. A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. Zondervan, 1976.

The United Methodist Book of Worship. United Methodist Pub. House, 1992.

The United Methodist Hymnal. United Methodist Publ. House, 1989.

Witherington, Ben. Paul’s Narrative Thought World: The Tapestry of Tragedy and Triumph. Westminster John Knox, 1994.