Not Far

Mark 12:28-34

Today is All Saints Sunday—a day of remembrance for Christian people of every time and place. We celebrate the great communion of saints as we remember the dead, some known generally as members of the vast Church universal, and others whose names and cherished memories are treasured in the intimacy of our own hearts. Especially in our close memories, having joined the saints in eternity during 2017-2018, are:

Vicki Blakeslee
Vernon Clover
Lindy Langdon Cook
Gary Lee Dougherty
Matthew Fawver
Ramona Yvonne Kemp Blair
Rick Longyear
William Bradford Lott
Esther “Patty” Marquart
Robert H. Meyer
Lois Morgosh
Carol Nameth
Carol Yvonne Rathbun
Betty Jane Tanner
Alice Wallace

These saints are absent from the body of Christ on earth and present with the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

What Do You Want Me To Do For You?

Mark 10:46-52

The subject of the day, as far as Mark’s gospel is concerned, is spiritual blindness. The healing of “Blind” Bartimaeus—an outcast beggar left at the side of the road—provides Mark’s commentary on the spiritual blindness of so many others. Religious authorities, insiders, and even the disciples were having trouble seeing and understanding Jesus, in essence blind to the nature of his mission.  Bartimaeus is crying out for help. The religious authorities have labeled him “sinner.” The disciples want him silenced. But Jesus summons him and asks him the question, “what do you want me to do for you?”

Bartimaeus speaks for the de-churched and the spiritually disenchanted everywhere when he answers “I want to see again.” For there are many in our world whose zeal for the Lord grows cold, whose warm memories of commitments made at youth camps fade, for whom the troubles of the world disenchant and struggles with sin storm their faith-citadels.  Whether slowly or suddenly, the spiritual sight that pointed them to faith disappears, and they are left in a spiritual darkness, devoid of God.

Into such darks comes Jesus. Jesus calls. Jesus asks. Jesus asks, “what do you want me to do for you?” Will the spiritually blind be ready with an answer?

The Nearer Your Destination...

Mark 10:35-45

Jesus had a sacred mission to complete.  It was a God-given mission; it was the purpose for which he was born and his destiny. It pressed in upon him, occupying his thoughts, dictating his actions, flooding his soul. He would fulfill the expectations of the prophets. He would give his life in humble obedience. He would usher in the promised Kingdom of God. The hour of his mission’s fulfillment was ever so close, as Jesus and his disciples made their way to Jerusalem.

With the holy mountain and its gleaming temple looming large, Jesus sought yet again to prepare his disciples for what was to come. He spoke of the true nature of God’s Beloved Son. He spoke of his own suffering, of redemption paid for in sacrifice, and of a kingdom where selfless love prevailed. But the disciples could not hear him. They had pictured a savior in their minds who give them whatever they wanted, and as Jesus spoke they simply indulged their personal daydreams of glory.

It all must have seemed to Jesus like the words from a much more recent songwriter: “…the nearer your destination the more you’re slip-sliding away.”

Blessed to do the Hard Things

Mark 10:17-31

The pages of history are filled with stories of the indomitable spirit of humans. There are explorers who who fearlessly set off into the unknown in order to discover new lands, chart new courses of travel, even walk on distant bodies in space. There are people who, through hard work, discipline, and determination, overcame extraordinary physical challenges and claimed lives of victory. There are people who searched tirelessly through the mysteries of the universe, banging on the doors of science and technology until these mysteries yielded and brought forth the breakthrough discoveries that have changed our world forever.  

Yes, our histories are filled with heroic figures who refused to surrender in the face of trials and difficulties. And yet, there remains for every human being one particular challenge that will always stand beyond our grasp: we cannot save ourselves.  Salvation belongs to the Lord...and when we first see what living a life of faith really demands of us, we are tempted to cry out with Peter “Lord, who can be saved?!”  Jesus’ answer to us is that no one can save him or herself. But there is grace, and by that grace, “what is impossible for humans is possible for God.” We are blessed to do the hard things.

If You Want to Be Great at Something...

Mark 9:30-37

People are ambitious by nature, and ambitious people seek recognition and reward. The championship trophy for the greatest athlete, the adoring fans and lucrative contracts for actors and actresses; stock-options and country estates for successful businessmen and bankers; advancement in rank and ticker-tape parades for military heroes…great ambitions demand greater recognition.

Yet for Jesus’ followers, aspirations of greatness are sometimes criticized as lacking humility. Ambitious people are suspected of loving themselves more than God…of stealing a little bit of God’s glory for themselves...of being too worldly. Today’s scripture about “being greatest” and “being last” is an oft-quoted example of how Jesus despised ambition in his disciples. But did Jesus really feel this way?

Jesus in fact does not despise the desire to be “greatest.”  Today’s lesson actually has Jesus giving us the very recipe for greatness: “If you want to be greatest of all do this.…” What Jesus did do is stand the world’s definition of greatness on its head. His teaching undercuts a basic human assumption about the nature of achievement.  When it comes to influence and notoriety, we are to think small, not big. We are to think “serve,” not “get served.” We are to think of going a second mile instead of finding the most convenient rest stop.

The greatest heroes of our faith will not ever need to apologize for the recognition they receive in the fullness of God’s Kingdom.  But in this age, when we yet await that fulfillment, greatness is often overlooked because it always serves.  Simply and tirelessly.  Are you ready to be great?

Look Again

Mark 8:27-38

This morning’s Gospel lesson is like a fulcrum at the center of Mark’s message—the hinge upon which the curiosity of the disciples swings open into true faith. The true nature of Jesus’ identity, and the implications of what that means for his followers, is now on the table. The public mission of Jesus in Galilee is essentially over, and from this moment on everything points toward Jerusalem, and so the disciples are given entirely new teaching: The Son of Man must suffer and be crucified!

When the Disciples—especially Peter—heard the new teaching, it didn’t sit well. Watching Jesus endure suffering, death, persecution…this is not the sort of thing that gets a person out of bed to come to worship in the morning! Peter actually took hold of Jesus and began to rebuke him, as if to say, “this really isn’t the sort of Christ we were looking for!” Jesus rebuked him right back: “Well,  you aren’t looking in any place that God cares about!”  

Jesus went on to say that not only will the Son of Man suffer, but everyone who will be a true disciple must likewise enter a self-denying, cross-enduring life of their own. The word we’d all suspected, but not wanted to face, is finally announced: in order to keep our lives, we have to let them go. If we clutch on and try to save ourselves, we will lose what we’ve got. 

At the heart of the entire matter is the basic question of who is “in charge.” Do we make Jesus ours, or we are his? Will we try to make Jesus into our personal Christ, or will we ourselves become his obedient disciples? In Mark’s Gospel the whole narrative hinges on that one essential question. For us today, it is still a matter of life and death.