Then He Took a Child

And an argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest (Luke 9:46).

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost

Mark 9:30-37

Jesus’ face was turned toward Jerusalem; he was on his way to meet death. Things were different now.  He didn’t want to mingle with crowds; he wanted to go deep with his friends, to teach them the most important lessons at all.  Time was short and the days were desperate.  Jesus knew if he didn’t get his message across to these twelve, his mission had failed. He was desperate to see some measure of understanding in the disciples’ eyes.  

“The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.”  Jesus scanned their faces—there was a traitor among them, and he knew it.  “They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” He announced it as fact, a warning, maybe even as an appeal.

Not a glimmer of insight showed on the faces of his friends. His words didn’t fit their plans or dreams; they grew quiet and began to fidget.  The Master’s sense of gloom, his talk of death, cast a shadow on them all.  They were like a patient who receives a dreaded word from the doctor: “We’ve found something in your x-rays…”  There are times when you don’t want to know more.  

“They did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” Fear kept the disciples from asking hard questions. Peter already made one attempt to manage Jesus, and earned the name “Satan” for his trouble. Maybe it was just easier to keep quiet. If they could have worked up the courage, what questions do you suppose the disciples might have asked? 

Why must you suffer? What kind of a Messiah dies? Will you leave us? What will happen to us?

Pause for a moment and ask yourself: What questions am I afraid to ask of Jesus?

Jesus’ frustration bubbled out after they found a place in Capernaum to spend the night. “What were you arguing about on the road?” he asked them, and a guilty silence filled the room. They  glanced at one other, hoping someone would come up with a decent answer. On the road they had been working out seating arrangements for the ticker tape parade that awaited them when they hit Jerusalem with the Messiah in tow.  They had squabbled over who got the office next to the boss, who was the alpha disciple?  You can almost hear Jesus pray: “O Lord, how can the keys of the Kingdom be entrusted to these guys?”

Do you demand proper respect? Do you enjoy the titles and trappings of your position?  Are you driven to succeed in your field, to rise to greater levels of authority or respect? Do you long for recognition, fame, wealth, security?  Does being stuck where you are stick in your craw?

If so, join the circle of the twelve.  It may be hard to find a place; everyone is elbowing in for the best seats.  The morning session has already begun.  

He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Cultivating Compassion

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

 

Exodus 17:1-7

Philippians 2:1-13

Matthew 21:23-32

This week’s scriptures simmer with conflict. Our reading from Exodus finds the “congregation of the Israelites” stranded in the wilderness of Sin, in a decidedly unhappy mood. Water is in short supply, and people know exactly who to blame. Things get so ugly that even after the people drink their fill, Moses names the place “Massah” (testing) and “Meribah” (quarreling).

Sunday’s gospel account from Matthew 21 recounts Jesus’ escalating battle with the religious leaders. Accusatory thrusts and countering questions lead to conversation-ending judgment: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Temperatures are rising. Trouble is on the horizon. Read more

The Yoke of Injustice

Proper 9, Year A

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

The July lectionary readings from the Gospel of Matthew are threaded together with agricultural images that run through Jesus’ teachings.  Jesus invites his disciples in this week’s scripture to shoulder his “easy yoke.” Next week’s teaching will bring news of productive soils and seed. The third week of July finds Jesus talking about weeds and wheat, and the last Sunday reading of July provides a cornucopia of agrarian themes: the small mustard seed that blossoms into something big, a field that contains a treasure, and vivid images of the harvest. Read more

A Holy Week Like No Other

Palm/Passion Sunday

Matthew 27:11-54

Palm Sunday breaks the monotony of the season of Lent. And what a Lenten season it has been. One for the books, with social distancing, enforced quarantine, empty churches, no, I mean EMPTY churches, toilet paper fasts, all underlaid with a gnawing sense of unease, and in many parts of our neighborhood and world, fear of disease and death. The title of a recent blog post echoed my sentiments exactly: “This is the Lentiest Lent I Ever Lented!”

 And now we prepare for Palm Sunday and Holy Week, knowing that this year there will be no gatherings at the church door, no procession of palm-wavers singing their way down the center aisle, no “Hosanna in the highest!” will be heard on the streets of Jerusalem or any other city street, no sudden hinge that leads the church into Holy Week.

The skeleton crew that gathered last Sunday in our church to livestream the service talked over plan for Palm Sunday. “Maybe four of us waving palm branches could circle the camera twelve times and no one would notice all the people were missing.” What will Palm Sunday be like without our annual dramatic reading of the Passion of Christ? What will Holy Week be like without our gatherings with other churches, without foot washing, bathrobe dramas, shadows and candles, stations of the cross, without real flesh and blood people? Sometimes it seems like we’re living in an Avengers movie and a quarter of the world’s population has just disappeared.

In another sense aren’t we living what we always wished for? We have definitely experienced a break from the busyness of life, from the diversions that pulled us in a hundred directions. Things have simplified; our needs have been clarified; even as our fears have been amplified. I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but this Palm Sunday doesn’t feel like any other. It feels like we’re perched on the edge of a precipice. It feels like those few seconds when the roller coaster comes to the highest point of its ride and stops, just before it plunges over the crest of the hill.

In a way, the strange silence on our streets today reminds me of the silence of Jesus on that last day of his life. Jesus had a lot to say in a three year ministry. We read his words and teachings each week. We have pieces of his sermons, transcripts of his public protests, remembrances of the fights in which he participated.  He spun stories for huge crowds; he whispered the secrets of the kingdom to his disciples.  He talked to people he wasn’t supposed to talk to—untouchables, women, foreigners, sick people, sinners. 

Jesus was still talking when he came to Jerusalem, even though his mouth had placed a target on his back.  He taught large crowds in the Temple by day, and spoke privately with his disciples at night.  Time was running out, and he wasn’t quite finished. “I have much to say to you, but you cannot bear it now,” Jesus told them.   He spoke with urgency through that last supper and we even have a record of the last prayer he prayed for the disciples and the private words of agony he poured out to God on his own behalf in the garden of Gethsemane.  But when the hour of darkness finally caught up with him… when he was handed over to those who sought his life, Jesus quit talking.  He went utterly silent, letting his actions speak rather than his words.

This Holy Week will be like no other. For one thing, it’s going to be a lot quieter. But the story is still there. Jesus’ actions still speak as loudly as they ever have. And, who knows, maybe with the enforced separation and the buzz dialed back…with the shadow of danger and even death lurking over the whole scene, maybe we are ready to hear the story of Jesus’ last days in a way that we haven’t heard it in a long time.  This year, as the days lengthen, as the drama heightens, as the crisis grows, as our anxiety squeezes us, the Son of God makes his way to the Mount of Olives, riding on the back of a donkey. The drama begins. With words. With silence. With heart-wrenching passion and action. With acts of betrayal and acts of mercy. This year, may Holy Week be a week like no other.

Nine Miles from Jerusalem

Christmas 2/Epiphany

Matthew 2:1-12

Isaiah 60:1-6

This Sunday our church will read scriptures of Epiphany, celebrating the visitation of the magi to Jesus. Although no manger scene would be complete without these exotic strangers from afar, Matthew says that they showed up some time after the birth of Jesus, and found Joseph’s little family in a house at Bethlehem. Read more