Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Rhythm of Discipleship: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (NRSV)
Trommel und Trommelstock - Köln Marathon 2017 by Marco Verch on Flickr. CC BY 2.0

At Lutherlyn, we played the game Two Truths and a Lie.  I’m going to give you three statements, and I’m going to poll you on which one isn’t true:

1. A three-year-old recently said our Sunday worship service is fun.
2. A mother with no family ties to any of our congregations drove her daughter thirty miles to our Vacation Bible School, because she loves it so much.
3. A woman gave $1,000 to our church because of her fond memories of growing up here in the 1980’s.

Which one of these is isn’t true?

Well, all three are true—because I can’t lie in church!

The amazing thing is that there are tons of great stories just like these about what Jesus is doing in people’s lives through our church.  The only problem is that we don’t often share these stories.  Then, we miss out on the hope and joy Jesus is creating right in our midst.

Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus’ disciples sharing with him and one another all that they had done and taught when Jesus sent them out two by two into the surrounding towns and villages.  

Afterwards, Jesus invites them away to a deserted place so that they can rest—because thus far, they hadn’t had any time to eat.

But it wasn’t long before a huge crowd began waiting for Jesus—and he has great compassion for them, because they are as sheep without a shepherd.  They come from all over, bringing the sick on mats.

And once again, Jesus teaches, and Jesus heals.  

What strikes me is that there were surely enough sick people around to keep Jesus and his disciples busy 24/7.  It would seem appropriate, then, for Jesus to press forward with this work until there wasn’t anyone left to heal.  It would seem inappropriate, foolish, and even selfish for Jesus to go away, and then spend precious time teaching and chatting.  

Can you imagine walking into a store only to be told by the person behind the counter, “I’m on break!” or “my shift’s over;” or even stranger than that, “I’m reading my bible right now, and you’ll have to wait”?

This sequence of events highlights just how out of sync Jesus is with the rhythms of our modern-day world.

For starters, rest is for the weak.  Functioning without rest is a badge of great honor.

Furthermore, time is precious—and you’re always going to want something to show for it!

You’ve got to stay on top of your to-do list!  There’s meals to cook; grass to cut; an inexhaustible supply of dirty laundry…. The kids need to be taxied from here to there, so that be well-rounded and qualify for college scholarships.  An aging parent is relying on you to stay in their own home and out of the nursing home. Deadlines at work are approaching and the boss is on your case. Your promotion and pay raise are on the line.

And then there’s all the vacations you want to take; trendy restaurants to eat in; the big games you don’t want to miss.  

“Busy” isn’t a big enough word to describe how we live.  In reality, we are religious in our pursuit of what matters most to us.  And still, we wonder why we feel so empty; so frustrated; so bored even.  We wonder why we’re not happy.

The problem with running on a hamster wheel is that sooner or later, you’re going to realize you’re not a hamster!  God did not create you to prove to yourself and everyone else how successful you are as an employee, parent, and child; nor did God create you for the maximum enjoyment of all the stuff our materialistic and image-obsessed society has to offer.  The life God intends for you is teaching (and learning), serving, telling, and resting.  

When Jesus saw the crowd, he had compassion on them and began to teach them many things.  They were sick, broken, rejected, and poor—and they needed to hear a word of assurance from God.  Even more than literal bread they need the heavenly bread that is the Gospel; the truth of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Those whom the world rejected needed to hear that God loves them unconditionally.

Jesus does the same for you.  You experience this as Sunday worship; bible study; prayer and private devotion.

Once Jesus taught the people, he then served them.  He ministered among them.  You who are fed with God’s Word compelled by it to serve.  Your eyes are open to the cries of God’s children.  Your heart is encouraged to love.  You see God’s love in action when you minister among those in need—and when others minister to you.  

As you see God’s power at work, you are going to tell others about it!  God’s mighty acts can’t be kept secret.  The discouragement and frustration we experience all too often turns to hope and eagerness as we talk about what God has been up to—and give thanks.  

Then finally, you are invited to go away with Jesus and rest.  You must stop and let Jesus do for you what you cannot do for yourself.  Your fed and nourished with Word and Sacrament—and the rhythm of discipleship.

If this does not describe your existence, you’re malfunctioning!  The church is malfunctioning!  Anxiety, frustration, and emptiness are signs that death is at work in you.  But it’s not up to you to get yourself out!  Jesus has compassion for you—and he comes to break the vicious cycle to lead you into the life that is really life.  

As we look to our future as a congregation, as you look ahead to your day or your week, there must be teaching, serving, telling, and resting.  This is the rhythm of discipleship.  This is the liturgy of life.  This is the life of a sheep in Christ’s sheepfold.  This is the life you are meant to live.  

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Gospel Breakthroughs: Mark 6:14-29 - Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

14King Herod heard of [the disciples’ preaching,] for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

17For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. (NRSV)
Lutherlyn Zipline & High Ropes Course.  Photo by author.

I just got back from Camp Lutherlyn.  I was there as a leader of Remnant Confirmation Camp—a week-long immersion into faith, friendships, and nature.

I was too shy to go to Lutherlyn when I was their age.  It was a world outside my comfort zone into which I would not venture.  But our campers took the plunge.  They left their homes, their families, and their devices behind.  They trusted themselves to stay in a place they’d never been, with people they’d never met, to do things they’d never done, and actually have fun.  They prayed out loud in front of their peers.  They dressed up in costumes and made fools of themselves.  They spoke openly about their struggles and pains. They trusted their peers to lift them up over a high wall.  They trusted their counselors to keep them safe on the zipline. 

Since they did, they had incredible fun—and grew in ways they never could have imagined.  More importantly, they experienced God’s love in ways they never had before. And above all else, they learned to trust God.

As I think back to my refusal to go to camp, I’m reminded of how easy it to tell God, “no.”

This is the tragedy we see played out in our so-called “Gospel” for today.

King Herod had imprisoned John the Baptist for insulting his honor and the honor of his wife.  Herod’s wife bore a grudge against John, but Herod took a liking to him.  He admired John.  He protected John.  He knew him to be a righteous and holy man.  But he was also troubled by John—because John spoke truths that he didn’t want to hear.

Then one night at the birthday party Herod threw for himself, his daughter so pleased him and his guests with her dancing that he carelessly swore an oath to give her anything she desired—even half of his kingdom. 

The child, not knowing how to respond to such a lavish offer, asks her mother, who tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist. 

Herod is deeply grieved over the debacle he’d gotten himself into—but he couldn’t appear foolish in front of his guests.

So he did what he had to do: he murders a holy and righteous man… He sacrifices John to save face and stay in power.

And now, in the echo of thus brutal violence, a question remains: what do you do with a Gospel that reveals truths you don’t want to hear?  That threatens to turn your world upside down?

None of us is royalty—or can summon goons to kill people on demand.  Thank God.

But that is not to say that you won’t find yourself facing Herod’s dilemma… On one hand, you’re glad to hear the Gospel and call yourself Christian. But you also want security, control, and people’s approval… You want to be successful and have fun…. And you don’t want anything getting in your way. Then you find there’s no time for church.  There’s no time for prayer.  You can’t afford to be late by stopping to help that stranger.  If you give something away, you may be depriving yourself of it later.  It’s not worth it to change your habits to be a more faithful steward of God’s gifts.  You will not be uncomfortable or inconvenienced. You don’t want Jesus messing with your life.  God can’t be trusted to give you what you want. 

It’s so much easier to admire Jesus rather than love him. 

Herod admired John—but not as much as he loved being king.  And he’s not as powerful as he thinks.  His throne is so fragile that he can topple it with one careless word.  And now, he’s petrified—because he suspects that Jesus is actually John the Baptist, raised from the dead—and out for revenge.

Though that isn’t true, John will be vindicated—because he faithfully prepared the way for of the one who will free God’s people from the evil Herod commits—and from everything that robs you of abundant life.  Your restless anxieties, your ambitions, your need for approval and control—these are all “little Herods” reigning in you.  They destroy the life God creates.  They bind you in fear.  They lure you into sinning against God and neighbor.  They create more misery for you and for others than you’d probably care to admit.

Jesus wants to break through to you just as he did to our campers this week: to free you from the vicious cycles that bind you to perpetual anxiety; to end the violence you commit against your neighbor to get what you want.  He breaks through your pain to carry you through tough times when you can’t carry yourself; and to draw God’s love out of you to heal broken lives.

Be on the lookout for Jesus to break into your life as a stranger in need; for Jesus to loosen your grip on things you think you can’t live without so that you can know what it’s like to live by his grace alone.  Be on the lookout for Jesus to raise you up over your fears and show you what you can do and the difference you can make by trusting in him.  Be on the lookout for Jesus to show you what abundant life really is. 

He did it for our teens this week, and he will do it for you too. 

Don’t settle for being an admirer of Jesus.  Be a disciple and let Jesus fill you with the life and love that saves the world.  Jesus loves you, so get set—because his Gospel is going to break through on you.