A Heart to Give

If you like to see parts of this morning’s worship service including the baptism and the sermon click here,

Meditation on Mark 10:17-31

Oct. 14, 2018

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

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 17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.  19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’”  20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”  21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”  24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”  27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”  28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”  29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,  30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.  31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

 

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Today, we are blessed with the joy of baptism!  We will welcome Annika and Silas into the family of God.

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We will pray for the Spirit to come and dwell with them, shape and grow them to become what God has planned for them.

 

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When we baptize, we are urged to remember our own baptisms and be thankful. For Christ has claimed us. We belong to Him and no longer live for ourselves. Paul in Romans 6:4 says,  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. Paul says again in Galatians 2:20,  “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Our 2018 Book of Common Worship says, “Baptism enacts and seals what the word proclaims. God’s redeeming grace is offered to all people. Baptism is at once God’s gift of grace, God’s means of grace, and God’s call to respond to that grace.  Through baptism, Jesus calls us to repentance, faithfulness, and discipleship. Through baptism, the Holy Spirit gives the Church its identity and commissions the Church for service in the world. … When we are baptized, we are made one with Christ, with one another, and with the Church of every time and place.  In Christ, barriers of race, status, and gender are overcome; we are called to seek reconciliation in the Church and world, in Jesus’ name.” (p. 404) As Paul in Galatians 3:28 says,   ” 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

In baptism, we say “yes” to following Jesus, wherever he may lead us.  And we promise to help one another be faithful to Christ’s call. We recommit ourselves to seeking the “newness of life,” made possible by the Spirit of God.

 

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If I were on a desert island and could only choose one gospel to have with me, it wouldn’t be Mark. Other people have shared my view, I discovered in my reading this week.

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American Theologian William Placher says that Mark has been the most neglected gospel for most of Christian history. Even Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.)  “noticed how much of Mark can also be found in Matthew…” so why “consult a truncated copy,” asks Placher, when “the fuller original was available?”

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Mark is “an odd text—abrupt, sometimes clumsy, written in Greek totally without literary polish, yet astonishing in its complexity…. Written by an ill-educated author long ago, it has amazing similarities to the work of the some of the most sophisticated storytellers of our time.” (2)  It wasn’t until English Deist Thomas Chubb,  a man without formal education, in the early 18th century, “proposed that Mark was really the first Gospel to be written” that scholars began to study it more seriously.

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Many have come to agree with him and place Mark’s writing between 65 and 75.

Following a radical teaching on marriage, divorce and children, in which Jesus rejects his patriarchal culture that views women and children as men’s property, Mark continues teaching on wealth, discipleship and the kingdom of God in our reading today. Jesus is on a journey when a man runs up to him and kneels before him, asking what seems like a stupid question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” But Jesus doesn’t treat it like a stupid question. He does, however, correct him in calling him, “Good teacher.” When he says, “No one is good but God alone,” he’s not saying he isn’t good; he’s saying,  “I’m not just a teacher.” From the first line of Mark’s gospel, we know that Jesus is the Son of God!

Jesus then asks the man about his obedience to the commandments. Is he trying to trick the man? I don’t think so. He is about to refute a traditional Jewish belief that wealth is a sign of divine favor. Moses warns the Israelites in Deut. 28:11-18 to remember that their prosperity comes from God as a reward for obedience to His commands.

Jesus responds to the man by looking at him and loving him. This is a God who knows us intimately! Psalm 139:23-24 says,  23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Then, Jesus tells him he lacks one thing. The problem is his heart.

 “Go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” he says, “and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.”

Jesus speaks a similar message to his disciples in Luke 12:33-34:  “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

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Today’s passage in Mark is a call story, much like when Jesus calls to Simon and Andrew, casting a net into the sea in Mark 1:16.

 

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Except this call story doesn’t end the same way. He is “shocked” and goes away “grieving.” Only then do we learn that the would-be disciple “had many possessions.” Jesus’ disciples would also be shocked by the revelation that wealth isn’t a reward from God.  “Look, we have left everything and followed you,” Peter begins to say, sounding defensive.  Jesus says, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” and then, “Children,” he repeats for emphasis, “how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” With his talk of camels  and needles, he uses everyday objects—the largest animal and smallest opening–to make his point; it’s not about a camel going through a small gate in Jerusalem, a story that originated in the 9th century.

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 “Then who can be saved?” his disciples say to one another, confused and perplexed, perhaps afraid of how Jesus might answer if they ask him directly.

Jesus looks at them, like he did at the man with too many possessions, and he says,  “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God, for God all things are possible.”

So, how do we respond to today’s gospel? The church over the years has interpreted this scripture in a variety of ways. Union Presbyterian Seminary Professor Lamar Williamson, Jr. says one way is a literal reading,  popular in the Early Church, which anticipated Jesus returning at any day to meet them in Galilee. The church in Acts 4:32-35, didn’t sell all their possessions, but they held all things in common, sharing so that no one had a need. The second way is “an ascetic or restrictive” reading, with some Christian groups being led to a life of “radical renunciation of possessions and total dependence on the providence of God.” The third is a “symbolic” or “generalized” reading, common with Protestants. Maybe you have heard this interpretation. Jesus’s command to sell and give everything away was only for that one man, because “his love of and dependence on wealth was his particular impediment to discipleship. For all disciples, however, its spiritual meaning is that we must root out of our lives whatever may hinder our following Jesus…”

I agree that we do need to ask God to remove anything in the way of our wholehearted response to Christ’s call. But the symbolic interpretation doesn’t ring true. For Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” The wealth—and not just love of wealth or money—is a problem because it is not shared with the poor! It is a question of justice and being obedient to God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves. Williamson goes on,  “After we have done our best to make this text say something less upsetting to our system of values, Jesus looks intently at us and continues to quietly affirm that life is to be had not by accumulating things, but by disencumbering ourselves. … This text proclaims the good news that the way to be really rich is to die to wealth. If we are not shocked, appalled, grieved, or amazed, we have either not yet heard it or heard it so often that we do not really hear it anymore.” (188)

Jesus is looking at us now with love. What is not possible for mortals is possible for God!  He who has claimed us in baptism knows us better than we know ourselves! Is there one thing lacking in us? Do we have hearts to give?  How will you respond to Christ’s call?

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Let us pray. Holy One, we thank you for claiming us in our baptisms—that we belong to you! Help us, Lord, to understand how we must live according to your Word. Forgive us for never really being content, for always wanting more and coveting what others have. Teach us how to live in this materialistic, selfish-centered culture, and not be like the man with too many possessions who walked away from you, grieved. Empower us by your Spirit to be faithful to your call. Stir us to hold on loosely to our wealth and possessions, realizing that having too much can be a hindrance to walking with you, fearlessly going and doing whatever you lead us to do. Give us hearts to give generously to our needy neighbors, showing our faith and your love. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Not Ashamed!

To see this morning’s sermon just click here:

Meditation on Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

Oct. 7, 2018

World Communion Sunday

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

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      Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.  He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,  having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels.  But someone has testified somewhere, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor,    subjecting all things under their feet.” Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them,  but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.   10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.  11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,  12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

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Nearly 40 women from 4 congregations participated in our annual women’s retreat at Riverside a week ago Saturday. It was a time of relationship-building, encouragement and laughter, learning and fellowship, arts and crafts (that’s what the ironing was all about), prayer and worship, singing, and liturgical dance. The theme was, “Flourish”—growing in Christ. Four women shared formal presentations with the group, telling how God is working in their hearts and lives, leading and strengthening them to be whom God calling is them to be. Several talked about recognizing their own need to take risks and embrace the changes God wanted them to make so they could grow in Him.

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One lesson that I always take away from our women’s retreats is that nurturing our spiritual health and growth should be a priority for every Christian—even more important than the responsibilities of the church, our work in the world, our families and friends, and personal needs and desires.  But spiritual growth doesn’t just happen! It requires intentionality—carving out the space and time in our life for spiritual pursuits “to be still and know,” as Psalm 46:10 says, “that I am God.”

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If your life is too scheduled, your life is too full so that you are exhausted and don’t have enough time for prayer, worship,  studying God’s word and showing God’s kindness to people in need, then you won’t experience much spiritual growth. You won’t deepen your relationship with the Lord.  And you will struggle in your relationships with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

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What the Lord has done for us and our relationships with Him and one another are of utmost importance to the author of Hebrews. Though it is called “The Letter to the Hebrews,” it’s not written in the form of a letter; it bears the marks of an early Christian sermon. We don’t know who the preacher was, says the Rev. Dr. Thomas Long, a well-known preacher and teacher of preachers in our denomination. He seems to be a well-educated Jewish Christian for  “the Greek of Hebrews has often been called the best in the New Testament.”

The preacher addresses “a real and urgent pastoral problem, one that seems astonishingly contemporary,” Long says.  “His congregation is exhausted. They are tired-tired of serving the world, tired of worship, tired of Christian education, tired of being peculiar and whispered about in society, tired of the spiritual struggle, tired of trying to keep their prayer life going, tired even of Jesus.  Their hands droop and their knees are weak says 12:2, attendance is down at church (10:25) and they are losing confidence.”  “Tired of walking the walk,” Long says, “many of them are considering taking a walk, leaving the community and falling away from the faith.”

What is surprising, perhaps, is the preacher’s response to spiritual weariness. He doesn’t “appeal to improved group dynamics, conflict management techniques, reorganization of the mission structures or snappy worship services,” Long says. The answer is knowing Jesus Christ and understanding what God has done for us in Him. This understanding leads us to shape our lives in grateful, faithful response. Knowing that the preacher is dealing with spiritual weariness gives a whole new meaning to the familiar passage, beginning at 12:1,   “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,  and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross,  disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

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At the beginning of our reading today, the preacher declares that the God of the Old Testament who spoke through the prophets is STILL speaking in these “last days” by a Son, not just with actual words, but through His mighty and gracious acts. The “last days” is this age that Jesus ushered in, the time of the “new covenant sealed in His blood,” as we say in our communion liturgy. The author of Hebrews declares the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ. The atonement or “purification” as the preacher says, came about through one who was without sin, the “reflection of God’s glory and exact imprint of God’s very being.”

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All living creatures are dependent on God, Hebrews tells us, for he “sustains all things by his powerful word,” just as Jesus answers Satan in the wilderness in Matthew 4:4 with, “…‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

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The lectionary skips to 2:5, then, from Christ’s superiority to angels to quoting the beautiful question in Psalm 8:4, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals that you care for them?” This is another important message we always hear at our women’s retreats! We are reminded of how precious each one of us is to the Lord—how much God loves us!  God loves you! Have you accepted God’s love for you? Not understanding and accepting God’s love and the promise we have in His Son can lead to our spiritual weariness. This is a lack of faith! The preacher of Hebrews urges hearers to hold onto their faith, which he defines in 11:1 as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

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We can’t see everything clearly now, he says. We can’t understand everything.  But we do “see Jesus,” he says in 2:9. He makes himself known to us, especially in the breaking of the bread! His suffering death opened a new way of life to us. Now we’re living for His glory! We’re living for His pleasure! We’re living for His service.  “Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners,” says Hebrews 12:3, “so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” We, too, are being perfected through suffering and are enduring trials, says Hebrews 12:7, “for the sake of discipline.” Our Heavenly Father disciplines the ones he loves—His children. This is part of our sanctification, God shaping us into the people he wants us to be.  “The one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father,” says Hebrews 2:11.

 Jesus is not ashamed to call us his sisters and brothers!  

 Jesus is not ashamed of us!

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In a few moments, we will celebrate our oneness with Christ and our brothers and sisters around the globe when we gather at the table.  World Communion Sunday started with Shadyside Presbyterian church in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1933, where Dr. Hugh Thompson Kerr served as pastor. Presbyterian Outlook says that Dr. Kerr came up with the idea when he was moderator of the General Assembly in 1930. His younger son, the Rev. Dr. Donald Craig Kerr, pastor emeritus of Roland Park Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, was sixteen in 1933. Donald Kerr says that World Communion Sunday “grew out of the Division of Stewardship at Shadyside. It was their attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another. The concept spread… slowly at the start. People did not give it a whole lot of thought. It was during the Second World War that the spirit caught hold…. World Wide Communion symbolized the effort to hold things together, in a spiritual sense. It emphasized that we are one in the Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus Christ… (The) celebration of World Wide Communion Sunday was adopted as a denominational practice in the Presbyterian Church (US) in 1936.”  In 1940, when a predecessor body of the National Council of Churches promoted the celebration, the practice became widespread. Today, World Communion Sunday still carries a strong stewardship message, as it demonstrates, Rev. Dr. Kerr says, “that the church founded on Jesus Christ peacefully shares God-given goods in a world increasingly destabilized by globalization and global market economies based on greed.”

 We are all welcomed at the Lord’s table—all of us sinners who long to know and serve Christ more. We come to the table to remember what God has done for us, and share the gifts he has given to us, when he spoke His love, mercy and grace, first through the prophets, and now, in the last days, by a Son.

Accept God’s love for you. Accept that God, as Psalm 103:2 says, has removed your sins as far as the east is from the west! Today, you are a new creation in Jesus Christ! So, live, from this moment on, as a forgiven people! Forgive as you have been so graciously forgiven. Give as you have so generously been given! Love as you have been so lavishly loved! Show mercy as you have been shown mercy! Walk, as Jesus walked, in the ways of peace and justice. May God’s will be done on earth, in His Church, in our homes and schools and places of work, as it is in heaven.

As we partake of the bread and cup in faith, we are strengthened, fed, encouraged, and united by the Spirit–renewed, refreshed and reconciled in Him.

Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters! He is not ashamed of us!

 

Let us pray.

 

Holy One, Majesty on High, thank you for speaking to us of your love, mercy and grace, first through the prophets and now by your Son. Thank you for taking away our shame! Unite and grow us by your Spirit that we may truly be Christ’s Body for the world—heart, hands and feet. Revive the weary. Heal the sick and grieving. Bring joy to those needing encouragement. Give peace to those struggling with anxiety. Help us to accept and experience your love and forgiveness and to show your love and forgiveness to others. Lead us to make space in our minds and lives for spiritual pursuits—for prayer, worship, Bible study, and for serving others through compassionate and generous acts. Teach us to say no to things that are not good for us and yes to the things you want for us and the wisdom to know the difference. In Your Son’s name we pray. Amen.