Unbind Us and Let Us Go

Meditation on John 11:32-44

All Saints Sunday

Pastor Karen Crawford

The Presbyterian Church

Oct. 31, 2021

Link to live-streamed service with the message and candle lighting: https://fb.watch/8_xNikrCCo/

Bulletin:

The phone rang yesterday—and it was a rare and wonderful surprise for Jim and me. His nephew was calling on Facetime so that his mother, Jim’s big sister Mary, could see and talk with her one and only sibling on her birthday.

Mary was born on Halloween! She is 10 years older than Jim. Today she is 87.

She is a former longtime church preschool director and kindergarten teacher in the public schools. She decided she would be a teacher when she was a little girl growing up in the Bronx. After she graduated high school in 1952, she went away to New Paltz State Teacher’s College. She graduated from college in 1956 and two years later, married a boy she had met in high school—Chuck Amann, an engineer.

One of Mary’s first teaching jobs was in a one-room schoolhouse in Fishkill, NY. Later, Chuck and Mary moved to New Rochelle and then to Pelham Manor to a home not 5 miles from where she had grown up. They had two boys–Scott and Kenny, and after Scott married Shelagh, two grandchildren came along: Molly and Jack.

When I met Mary around 2005, she had retired, but was still teaching every day, working as an elementary substitute. We had great conversations—Mary and me—with our early childhood backgrounds. She had strong opinions about what’s good for young children’s development. She loved it that I had three boys. She tried to spoil them whenever we visited.

Chuck passed away on Feb. 25, 2017. Mary has never been the same. We don’t know the actual diagnosis, but she has some form of dementia. She lives with a full-time nurse/companion. She no longer remembers or recognizes her children or grandchildren. She calls her oldest son, Scott, by her husband’s name.

When Jim called her about a year ago, saying, “Hi Mary! This is your brother, Jim.”  Mary replied, “I don’t have a brother.” Jim was so sad after that!

On the call yesterday, Mary was having a good day. She was about to eat birthday cake with her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. And though she struggled to find words and engage in conversation, she listened as Scott and Jim took a walk down memory lane, remembering the apartment on Corsa Avenue in the Bronx where Jim and Mary lived as children with their Irish-immigrant Presbyterian parents.

For a moment, there was a lifting of her confusion—and a look of joy. Could it be recognition?  Had we seen a glimpse of the Mary we all knew and loved and for whom we still long?

Then I had this thought. “If only the Lord would heal her.” I decided, right then, that I would pray for her healing—something I haven’t done in a long time. I think I had just given up hope that Mary would ever get better.

But this is the same Lord who called forth Lazarus from the tomb. “Unbind him,” Jesus commands the crowd. “Unbind him and let him go!”

***

     Jesus has delayed his response to Mary and Martha’s message about the illness of their brother, Lazarus, in our gospel reading in John 11. Jesus tells the disciples that the illness is for “God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” He waits a couple of days before going to Bethany. Martha runs to meet him on the edge of town, saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

     Jesus will engage in a theologian discussion with Martha that leads up to his declaration, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

   “Yes, Lord,” Martha says, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

    Martha runs home and tells Mary, “The teacher is calling for you.” She goes to meet Jesus—and this is where today’s passage begins. The one who will gratefully anoint his feet with perfume and wipe them with her hair kneels at his feet, crying and saying what Martha said. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

    Seeing her tears, Jesus is “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” This phrase “greatly disturbed” will be repeated. Scholars wonder if this is grief mixed with anger, perhaps at the lack of faith shown by Mary and Martha and the Jewish community. Or, it could be anger at death itself!

     Jesus asks to be taken to Lazarus and begins to weep before praying aloud, revealing more about our compassionate God. Here are just some of the things we can learn from this text:

  1. God shares in our grief and losses. This is not an unemotional God who doesn’t care about our pain and suffering. God is not “aloof in the heavens,” says theologian Gilberto Ruiz. “God is emotionally invested in our well-being.”
  2. God always hears our prayers and wants us to know that he hears our prayers. Sometimes we assume that if we have prayed for someone’s healing and they aren’t healed, that God must not be listening. God always listens—but God may have other plans!
  3. And the purpose of miracles is to bring glory to God and lead others to believe in God’s Son.

At the end of the passage, when the dead man comes out, his hands and feet still bound with strips of cloth, I hear an invitation that I don’t want you to miss. The Lord is asking us to participate in his healing ministry, setting people free from the burdens they carry so that they may become something altogether new.

Jesus could have removed the graveclothes himself. He didn’t! Instead, he compels the crowd into action with, “Unbind him and let him go!” The Greek word translated “unbind” can also be translated “release.” So we can say that Lazarus is “released from the constraints of death.” (Gilberto Ruiz).

The raising of Lazarus is ultimately a sign story—and not just to the group of family and friends at Bethany but to all of us about “what the glory and presence of God in the world really means,” says one theologian, Theodore Wardlaw. “The point is that—through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord—the world is finally not a place where we need to revisit endlessly the losses in our lives that make us weep…We are forever being given the opportunity to step out of sorrows that would otherwise bind us, and to be embraced by what the story points to:.. life-giving resurrection joy.”

   This story is not for people who have never wept or lost, Wardlaw says. It is “for those who, like Lazarus, are being called by Jesus to get back up again—to honor and thank God for what has been… (and) step into a life that still begs to be lived and that invites them forward into a hope filled future.”

   Here on All Saints’ Sunday, we remember and give thanks for the lives of Christ’s followers in every time and place— and read scripture filled with the promise of things to come—when on earth, it really is like it is in heaven.

   My sister-in-law, Mary, is one of those saints of the church who has touched many lives as a teacher of young children, a friend to many, a mother, grandmother, sister, wife, and faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.  

   I had forgotten how she had encouraged and supported me throughout seminary, even though she and Chuck didn’t think women should be pastors. Then, when I accepted my first call to ministry to the congregation in Minnesota, Chuck and Mary made an exception to their rule about female pastors. They were happy and proud—but sad that we lived so far away. Every time we talked to Mary, she invited us to come and stay with them.

   Friends, who are the saints that touched your life? Who encouraged you and nurtured your faith? Parents or grandparents? Another family member? A Sunday school teacher, youth leader, or other church member? A friend or neighbor who invited you to church?

    When I look around this sanctuary, I see a room full of saints! So many of you serve the Church quietly, behind the scenes. You have shaped the faith of many others and helped to grow the Kingdom. In your own personal life, you take time to talk to people and listen to their problems. You pray for the sick. You share what you have with people in need.

    We are all ministers and saints, people of God redeemed by the Son and called to participate in Christ’s healing ministry. Jesus could have removed the grave clothes himself when he called a dead man out of the tomb. But he didn’t.

    Instead, he cried out to the crowd an invitation to serve, “Unbind him and let him go!”

Let us pray.

Loving God, we thank you for forgiving us for all our sins and offering us new lives in Jesus Christ. Thank you for all the saints who have gone before us and who continue to cheer us on the race of faith from the Great Cloud of Witnesses. Empower us to minister to people who are carrying heavy burdens, Lord, and help them to trust in you. Lead us to build up the faith and hope in our community and world. And Lord, stir us to let go of our own burdens that we are carrying so that we may experience the fullness of your resurrection joy! We cry out to you now, “Unbind us and let us go to love and serve in your Son’s precious name.” Amen.

  

What Do You Want Me to Do For You?

Meditation on Mark 10:46-52

Pastor Karen Crawford

Oct. 24, 2021

Link to live-streamed service, with adult and children’s messages:

https://fb.watch/8Rse7nEUhk/

Downloadable bulletin:

We gathered for a service of Communion on Thursday afternoon at Windsorwood Place in Coshocton. We were in Velma Hoffman’s living room—Margie Baird, Jan Kobel, Janet Ashman, Velma, and me. The room was warm and inviting. After confirming that Velma doesn’t pay for utilities, we turned on every light in the room to help us all to see the prayer of confession on small slips of paper. And help Janet read our passage of Scripture—the one from the gospel of Mark that we read today.

I studied my friends’ faces as Janet read the story of Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus—sitting beside the road. Begging as he always did. For he was blind. Then he hears Jesus of Nazareth is coming. He begins shouting to Jesus, asking for mercy! “Son of David” he cries two times—his cries revealing that he recognizes who Jesus really is—the anointed one, come to heal and save the world from its sins.

When Janet finishes her reading, we talk about the scripture—Velma, Margie, Janet, Jan, and me. It occurs to me that these four widows understand exactly what happened in Christ’s time—and what it all must mean for us as we seek to live eyes wide open to spiritual truths with the power to transform hearts and minds today.

 They are strong, godly women. All of them caregivers since their marriages and the birth of their children.  All of them still seeking Christ in faith, wanting new and abundant life, even in this season of simplicity and, at times, separation from those they love the most.

Margie has been there only 2 weeks. She enjoys coming out to be with the folks for meals and activities, though the meals seem kind of repetitive, she says. The food isn’t seasoned, so it doesn’t taste like meals at home. And they serve a lot of beans, she adds, and the others laugh in agreement.  “Well, I guess they’re good for us,” she says with a smile. “High in protein.”

 More than the home cooking that they miss, their greatest loss, 99-year-old Velma says, is their independence.  When people ask what she misses the most in her new life at Windsorwood, she says, “My wheels. I miss my wheels!” Giving up her car means that whenever she wants to go somewhere—a quick trip to the store to pick up one thing or to go to church on Sunday morning, she has to rely on someone else to take her.  She doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone.

The story of Bartimaeus speaks to this wonderful group of thoughtful, smart, sensitive women, who often feel, much like the blind man in Jesus’ time, on the margins of society.  We talk about what Bartimaeus’ life must have been like before meeting Jesus–dependent on others for everything. Begging his only choice for survival.

And the crowd of people—many of whom are sighted, with homes, jobs, and full stomachs—sternly orders him to be quiet! Not only is he blind and silenced, he might as well be invisible—an outcast from the crowd.

But when he meets Jesus, and asks for mercy, in an instant, with a word, a blind man’s world goes from scarcity to abundance, darkness to light.  

Velma marvels at how it must feel to suddenly be able to see after being blind, perhaps for a long time. “What would he see?” I ask. Faces and people, Velma says, where he had only heard voices. He would see sky, birds, and trees.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks, after calling for Bartimaeus to come near when he hears Bartimaeus calling to him for mercy.

“My teacher,” the blind man answers. “Let me see again.”

***

 This is the second and final time Jesus will heal a blind man in the gospel of Mark. The first time, in chapter 8, when Jesus and the disciples come to Bethsaida, some people bring a blind man to him and beg Jesus to touch him. He takes the blind man by the hand and leads him out of the village; and when he puts saliva on his eyes and lays his hands on him, he asks him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looks up and says, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” So, Jesus lays his hands on his eyes again—and the man’s sight is restored.  Notice these details—we never know the man’s name, he doesn’t ask for help or healing for himself, and it’s Jesus’ touch and saliva that heal him, not completely at first, but after a second try.

 What’s different about the story of Bartimaeus? Well, we know his name, for one. Most people Jesus heals are never named. They are the poor, the blind, the sick, the lame and demon-possessed.  Bartimaeus is a Greek word that means “son of Timaeus,” which seems oddly repetitive when we read the phrase, “Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus” in verse 46.

William Placher, prof. of philosophy and religion at Wabash College in Indiana,

says the repetition is to call attention to the name of the person seeking healing.  “Timaeus” could mean “one who was purchased or bought.” Jesus has just foretold his death and resurrection, saying just before the beginning of today’s passage, “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Now, Placher points out, “we encounter a son of one who was purchased or bought who needs help.”

The word call is key to this passage; this is the first time Jesus has called anyone since he called his 12 disciples and Levi early in the gospel. This is a call story! Not just a healing story! What does Bartimaeus do in response? I almost missed the significance of this detail.  He throws off his cloak when he comes to him! This cloak, probably his only one and his protection from weather and harm, could easily be lost in the crowd and never recovered.He gives up his one precious possession, leaving behind almost all his material goods—with the exception of the few remaining clothes on his back.

 What a contrast this is to the rich man who approaches Jesus earlier in chapter 10 and asks what he has to do to inherit eternal life. He lacks one thing, Jesus says. He needs to sell all that he owns and give the money to the poor, then come and follow him. That man doesn’t immediately follow Jesus in that call story. He goes away grieving—”because he has many possessions.”

 With Bartimaeus throwing off his only cloak and coming to Jesus for the healing only Christ can give, what does the Lord say is the cause of his healing? Faith. Bartimaeus’ faith has made him well. That word translated well could mean physical or spiritual health. So one could say that Bartimaeus’ faith has also saved him.

This passage, indeed this whole section beginning at chapter 8 with the healing of the first blind man, isn’t really about physical blindness.  It’s about spiritual blindness—something that plagues the disciples from the getgo. They never seem to understand what Jesus is trying to say. Even Peter, the first to say that Jesus is the Messiah, rebukes him when Jesus explains that he will be tortured, die and rise again.

James and John have just come to him with a request beginning in 10:35, revealing their spiritual blindness.  “What is it you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks. They want him to say that, in his glory, they will sit at his right hand and his left.  “You do not know what you are asking,” he answers.

Now, when Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” the blind man simply wants to be able to see again—and believes that Jesus is the one, who, in his mercy, can do this for him, when no one else can.

 “Here, just before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, is someone who gets everything right,” Placher says. “He recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, gives up everything, asks only for his sight, and follows Jesus on the way. Who is this perfect disciple? A blind beggar, sitting by the roadside, yelling his head off.”

***

Today’s passage stirs us to see ourselves in the story of Bartimaeus.

 Are we the disciples who were called and responded—but are suffering from spiritual blindness? Are we focused on the things of this world, getting stuck in worry, rather than trusting in the things of God?  Are we the ones choosing to live in scarcity and fear, not quite understanding the miracle of our salvation and the new and abundant life in Christ available right now?

 Are we like the crowd, not seeing or wanting to see or be bothered by the blind beggar by the side of the road, crying out to Jesus?

 Are we like Bartimaeus, willing to let go of even our prized possession, as Bartimaeus dropped his one cloak in the crowd when he heard that Jesus was calling for him? Are we ready to follow him, though it may mean sacrifice, it always means sacrifice, truly giving all of ourselves to His loving purposes?

Brothers and sisters, Christ is with us now. And he wants each of us to have the healing our Savior and Messiah offers to all.  He wants us to live eyes wide open to spiritual truths with the power to transform hearts and minds today.

The one who came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many is asking us the same question he asked his first disciples and his perfect disciple—Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus:

  “What do you want me to do for you?”

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for opening our eyes to the truth of your Word. Let it dwell richly in our hearts and transform us, more and more. Help us to never overlook people living in poverty, on the margins of society, like blind Bartimaeus, just trying to survive from day to day. Help us to see, befriend, and meet the needs of others as you lead us. Bless all our widows and widowers of our community who continue in simplicity of lives to minister to others with their wise and loving ways. May they never feel alone or lonely. Fill them and us with your joy. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

How To Talk with God

Meditation on Job 38:1–7 (34–41)

Pastor Karen Crawford

The Presbyterian Church in Coshocton, OH

Oct. 17, 2021

Link to live-streamed service, including message: https://fb.watch/8Js-bLzvP4/

Download bulletin:

 

I like to read autobiographies. How about you? I enjoy hearing people’s stories, especially the stories of people of faith. I am reading Jen Bricker’s story— Everything Is Possible: Finding the Faith and Courage to Follow Your Dreams.Jen, author, aerialist and speaker, believes that everything happens for a reason and for a good purpose. Everyone has unique gifts or superpowers, as she says, to fulfill God’s call on their lives.

     Jen was born to Romanian parents in a hospital in Salem, Illinois. Her heart was on the right side of her chest instead of the left.  And she was born without legs.

    Camelia, her birth mother, never actually laid eyes on her. “That’s because my birth father, Dmitry, didn’t allow it,” Jen says, “not even for a split second.”  A relative says the doctor who delivered Jen told Dmitry that she would die.

     “All I know is that he took one look at this tiny infant with two appendages where her legs were supposed to be and decided she’d be better off with someone else.”

    Jen isn’t angry about it because they gave her the greatest gift of all, she says—a family that needed her as much as she needed them. Her mother had given birth to 3 boys and desperately wanted a girl, but couldn’t have anymore.

   “This was exactly how God planned for it to be,” her adoptive mother, Sharon Bricker, began telling her when she was old enough to understand. “You were an answered prayer, a miracle, for us. They gave us a gift. They gave us you.”

      After she was placed with the Bricker family, doctors at a St. Louis hospital gave a bleak prognosis: they wanted to make a bucket for her to sit in.  They said she would never be able to sit up, crawl, or move from place to place without being carried. “My mom sat in the doctor’s office and cried her eyes out. But my dad did not agree with their prognosis,” Jen says.

   They took her to Shriners Hospitals for Children in St. Louis, and the news was more encouraging.  “Mr. and Mrs. Bricker,” the doctor said, “this little girl is going to do things you never imagined would be possible.”

   Jen had two surgeries before she was 5, but her strong, confident personality didn’t allow physical challenges/differences hold her back from doing everything she wanted to do. And she wanted to do everything! She learned to talk, spell and read at an early age. She excelled in many sports—swimming, basketball, volleyball, softball, roller skating (she did it standing on her hands) and her favorite of all—gymnastics.  

    At 6 years old, she decided she would become an Olympic gymnast when she saw Dominique Moceanu on TV. Dominique was tiny, dark, and Romanian—like Jen. I told myself, “One day, that will be me.”

    But the focus of her book isn’t all on her dreams or accomplishments. It’s about hers and her family’s faith forged through trials and difficulties. It’s about forgiveness, healing, and finding joy. She wants to inspire others to find God’s purpose for them and not let anything hold them back. Her message is  “dream big; embrace what God has given you; bring light where there are shadows; spread hope, faith, love and peace.”

    The simplicity of her prayer life spoke to me as much as her empowering story. Many people struggle with prayer and worry needlessly that they aren’t doing it “right.”  As if there is a right or wrong way. We only have to look to examples of ordinary people of faith who have nurtured a personal relationship with the Lord and walk with Him each day. Jen emphasizes honesty, trust, and vulnerability when she talks with God.

      “Just open your heart and speak what’s in it,” she says. “For me, praying instantly brings me back to my purpose and connects me to Him. It’s a feeling of instant peace and calm. Jen, you don’t have to worry, you don’t have to stress. God’s here. He’s listening. He’s got your back.” Let your heart do the talking,” she says, “God will get the message loud and clear.”

***

     The Bible is full of examples of the faithful talking with God. They speak from the heart, embracing honesty and vulnerability before God. I think of the prayers of Moses, leading God’s people through the wilderness, terrified that the people were going to stone him! Or the prayers of Abraham, whom James calls a friend of God.

Abraham was constantly waiting for God’s answer —looking up the stars, longing for the offspring that would be so numerous they couldn’t be counted.

And then there’s the prayer life of Hannah, unable to bear a child, praying for a miracle in the temple. She reveals her vulnerability when she doesn’t care what she looks like—praying emotionally, moving her lips without making any sound—to the point where the priest Eli accuses her of being drunk!

      God answers all who persevere in prayer and faith. God answers all! Abraham and Sarah will have Isaac.  The people of God will have water from a rock, bread from heaven, and eventually reach the land flowing with milk and honey. And Hannah will give birth to the would-be prophet and priest, Samuel.

      In the 42 chapters of Job, we hear cries from the heart, honesty and humility from the one who was “blameless and upright,” fearing God and turning away from evil” though he was faced with great loss. The death of his children and loss of herds and flocks, servants, property, all his wealth—and then his health leads him to such grief and pain that he wishes he had never been born.

    Job stirs us to lift up the age-old question, “Why does God allow suffering? Why do terrible things happen to good people?”

    In today’s passage in chapter 38, the Lord finally breaks a long silence and answers his servant, Job.  It’s about time! We have slogged through page after page of dialogue between Job and his 3 friends trying to make sense of what has happened and what all this must mean theologically.  In the end, they come up with nothing, only that it must be his fault.

   When the Lord finally answers “out of the whirlwind,” I am relieved that our Creator is speaking, but I don’t understand. How could his questions for Job about Creation and the wonders of God answer Job’s question of, “Why has God allowed such suffering?”

    God sounds angry to me, and I don’t know the reason for it. Job is only being honest and vulnerable with the Lord whom he loves and fears.

    He sounds angry to a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, too.  “Is this the loving God that we know,” writes Timothy Adkins-Jones in Christian Century, “puffing out their chest and putting Job in his place? Is this the response we need when managing our own suffering? We aren’t God, we weren’t there, and we can’t make lightning? It angers and pains me.”

   But then he finds himself rereading the passage through a lens of love. And so do I…..And it changes the meaning.

     The One who is speaking of the wonders of Creation truly cares for us in our afflictions. Our compassionate God desires to comfort us when we grieve and help us to trust Him completely for everything.

    God is reassuring Job and all of us that we aren’t supposed to understand what God knows.  It’s not only OK that we don’t know God’s plans; it’s part of God’s plan!

 “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord in Isaiah 55:8-9. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

***

     Jen Bricker, author, aerialist and speaker, has experienced great blessings, many of them unexpected, in her life.  

She has overcome challenges to do amazing things and inspire others to share their superpowers with the world. And it was a wonderful surprise when she discovered that Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu is her biological sister and that she has a younger sister, Christina, as well. The reconciliation of the family, stirred by a letter from Jen, was nothing short of a miracle.

The Moceanu daughters didn’t know that Jen existed; they didn’t know she was born without legs or that their father had left her at the hospital. Dmitry has since died of cancer.

    “I hope he found peace and took comfort in the fact that God is good,” Jen says, “and wanted our family to finally be whole.” 

      The only way to grow her relationship with her new found sisters, she said, was to invest time in it—talking things through and being open and honest with their feelings.

    Come to think of it, that’s exactly how we grow our relationship with the Lord, investing time, talking things through, being open and honest with our feelings,  trusting that we won’t understand all the mysteries of God—and that’s part of God’s plan.

     I leave you with the words of a young lady born without legs, abandoned by her birth parents, but loved and cherished by God and destined to be an aerialist, author, speaker, and follower of Jesus Christ: “Dream big; embrace what God has given you; bring light where there are shadows; spread hope, faith, love and peace.”

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, thank you for your love and for the mysteries that are all part of your good plan for us and the world, mysteries that we may never understand. Thank you for your desire to be closer to each one of us, to spend time with us, and for us to be honest and vulnerable with you in our prayers—trusting you enough to humbly but boldly share our hearts, questions, and feelings. Let us follow in the example of your faithful servants, Job, Abraham, Moses, and Hannah. Lord, help us to be more like Jen Bricker and others who are courageous and fearless, willing to take risks for your glory and for the sake of your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.

For God, All Things Are Possible

Meditation on Mark 10:17-27

Pastor Karen Crawford

Oct. 10, 2021

Link to live streamed service with message:

https://fb.watch/8BrvB_1QCv/

Download Bulletin:

I’ve been unhappy with my furniture lately. I find myself admiring the furniture in other people’s homes and feeling dissatisfied with mine. That ever happen to you?  Jim and I have had conversations about his big, green, leather recliner. Sure, it’s comfortable. I’ll give him that.

But it doesn’t go with any of our other furniture or the dark brown carpeting. And it’s well- worn from years of use. The leather is cracking on the seat. Every time we move, I tell him, “We’re not going to bring the green chair.”

He gets a kind of pained expression on his face.  “Do you know how much they cost?” he always asks me. Next thing you know, we are moving the green chair.

And I am admiring other people’s furniture, again… Wishing for more…

We encounter a man in the gospel of Mark today who is eager to meet Jesus and find answers to his questions. I confess that this passage convicts me, for his one problem is, shall I say, close to home.  He has too many possessions! Too much stuff and he likes it too much.

The passage begins with Jesus and his disciples starting out on a journey.

We learn in verse 32 that he’s on his way to Jerusalem. What awaits Jesus in the Holy City? The cross— and the work of God for “us and our salvation,” as we say in the Nicene Creed.

 This encounter with a man anxious to talk with Jesus is an interruption on their way to their destination. Jesus not only allows the interruption, he uses it as a teaching moment for his disciples—and for his followers, in every generation!

Isn’t that how ministry often happens? As an interruption to what WE have planned to do.

Isn’t it curious that the disciples don’t stop the man from approaching Jesus? After all, they just tried to shoo away mothers bringing their children to Jesus for a blessing.  Have they learned their lesson about who is important in the kingdom of God? No, they haven’t. They let this man approach Jesus and join them because he is rich!  With great wealth comes status in Jesus’ society, much like It does in ours today.

Now this man of many possessions IS trying to be faithful. He isn’t a Pharisee trying to trick Jesus into saying something that will get him arrested. He has come to Jesus for answers to his burning question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That word “inherit” catches my attention. What do we have to do to inherit something? Nothing. We receive inheritance when a close relative dies.

Jesus lets that comment go by. He corrects his address of “Good Teacher” –for nobody is “good” but God, and then lists some of the commandments for the man to follow.  “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.” As the apostle Paul will say in his letter to the Romans, the sum of the 10 Commandments is LOVE.

The man who interrupts Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem eagerly tells Jesus, “I have kept all these commands since my youth!!!!” He is expecting Jesus to say,  “Good job! Yes, you have done everything to inherit eternal life.”

Instead, Jesus says, “You LACK one thing.” Listen to HOW the Lord speaks to him. In verse 21, he looks at him and loves him before he speaks the hard truth.For the “one” thing the man lacks, Jesus gives a multi-step solution:

  1. go, sell what you own
  2. give the money to the poor,
  3. you will have treasure in heaven;
  4. then come, follow me.

In case we think this is one obscure saying of Jesus in Mark, we find similar instructions in Matthew 19:21: “Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” And in Luke 12:33: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.”

How does the rich man respond to Christ’s invitation? He goes away from Jesus  “shocked” and “grieved” because of his many possessions—and the mistaken belief that wealth and prosperity are the Lord’s rewards for our faithfulness. Therefore, if you are poor or sick, it must be because you or your parents have sinned.

This is the choice Christ has laid before him:  He can have:

                       a: the wealth and status of his life in this world OR

                       b: treasure in heaven

We are left wondering if the man has been changed by his meeting Christ, in spite of his departure in grief and shock.  How can we not be affected by Christ’s loving gaze and invitation to follow him?

We don’t have to wonder how the disciples respond to Christ’s teaching. They are “perplexed” when he says, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” They are “greatly astounded” when he says, again for emphasis, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” and adds,  “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.”

The disciples ask one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus overhears—or knows the question in their hearts. He looks at them with love, just as he looked at the man with many possessions.  “For mortals it is impossible,” he says, “but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter speaks up for the group after that, declaring, “Lord, we have left everything and followed you!” He is still missing the point. “We have done what you asked,” he is saying.  “Haven’t we done enough to be saved?

Friends, we can learn much from this passage. First, we should never allow wealth or possessions take the place of God in our lives.  Stuff isn’t going to make us happier. When we get more stuff, we just want more. I speak from experience. What’s the point of new furniture when you have cats with claws? You end up having to cover it to protect it!

We have heard Jesus say in Matthew 6:24,  “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” But there’s more to this passage than a caution against collecting possessions and loving money. The Lord wants us to hear, once again, that second instruction—after Jesus tells the man to sell his possessions– give to the poor. The Lord is concerned for our needy neighbors and wants us to be concerned, too. This is part of answering Christ’s call!

There’s even more to be learned from today’s gospel lesson. The main message of  the passage, I believe, and indeed  the whole of the gospel is about our Creator’s love and grace. Human beings don’t understand God’s grace! We struggle to forgive ourselves and one another, so we assume God is struggling to forgive us, too.  But God isn’t keeping record of our failures or holding them against us.

And human beings don’t understand God’s unconditional love. Why? Because we don’t love that way and we don’t often see unconditional love in this world. Listen. You need to hear this. As Philip Yancy has written, “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.”

Brothers and sisters, there’s also nothing we can do to add to Christ’s work on the cross for our salvation.  All of us are sinners; none of us could save ourselves, even the earliest disciples who “left everything to follow Jesus.”

For mortals, it is impossible. But not for God. For God, all things are possible!

Let us pray. Holy One, thank you for Jesus, who shows and tells us how to love you and our neighbors, even those who might be hard to love. Forgive us, Lord, for our obsession with possessions. Remove our desire for more things that never satisfy us. Stir us to care for the poor as you do— to share ourselves, our friendship, and our resources with those in need. And Lord, help us to understand, accept, and receive your love, mercy and grace. Assure us that you have done everything needed for us and our salvation through the sacrifice of your perfect Son, Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord. In His name we pray. Amen.

Oct. 3, 2021 Worship with The Presbyterian Church

Pastor Karen Crawford

Alice Hoover, organist

Jim Arganbright, liturgist

Link to Livestreamed Service: https://fb.watch/8pGxZgjSiE/

Bulletin:

Let them Come to Me

Meditation on Mark 10:13-16 and Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

Pastor Karen Crawford

Oct. 3, 2021: World Communion Sunday

     It is wonderful to be back in our main sanctuary for World Communion Sunday.  I don’t think I will ever forget those months of virtual Communion during the pandemic! That was hard, envisioning our connection with the Body of Christ while isolating in our homes.

    Today, I am ready to celebrate Communion in a way that fits what we believe—that Communion should be passed, poured, eaten and in all respects shared with one another, symbolizing the unity we have in Jesus Christ!  The Sacrament of Communion should be delightful to see and delicious to taste—like the God we worship. As the psalmist sings in 34:8,  “Taste and see that the Lord is good!”

    We who were spoken into being and fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God are reunited, restored, re-membered and reconciled to one another and our Creator. We have come to be changed and made new, and to become agents of change with the Body of Christ around the world.

      Paul talks about our call to co-labor with Christ in 2 Cor. 5, beginning at verse 14, For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”

   Our becoming a new Creation and co-laboring with Christ in his ministry of reconciliation is the message artist Makota Fujimara shared with Sojourners magazine in February. Fujimara is the author of a new book, Art and Faith: A Theology of Making, published in January.  He was inspired by theologian NT Wright, who wrote the forward for his book. Wright says the resurrection of Jesus sparked “the unexpected launch of new creation, of the ‘kingdom of God,’ on earth as in heaven” and that humans are equipped and invited to work with God in advancing this new reign.

   Fujimara, in his art, uses materials and techniques from nihonga, a Japanese style of painting. Pigments are made from crushed minerals and precious metals, then applied in many layers. Nihonga, he says, is “a slow process that fights against efficiency.”

Link to more about Fujimara’s art:

https://culturecarecreative.com/

“Prayer and contemplation are woven into the work. The tiny mineral particles refract light, often creating subtle prismatic effects. It is a style of art made for the type of long, unforced gaze that slowly reveals evermore depth. Deceptively simple and quietly elegant.” Sojourners, Feb. 2021. Here is “Walking on Water.”  And, “The Art of the Gospels.”

        “God created  beyond utility or need,” Fujimara says. “God is all sufficient and self-sufficient. In short (shockingly) God does not need us.  Yet God chooses community over isolation, gratuitous creation over passivity. God invites us to co-labor toward the new.”

    “Fujimara is also a student of kintsugi or ‘golden repair,’  the Japanese art of mending broken ceramics with lacquer mixed with precious metals, restoring a bowl or cup to wholeness  and function while highlighting, rather than masking, the fractures.  Objects repaired by kintsugi masters are often stunningly beautiful, veined with gold, silver, or platinum that trace a history of traumatic destruction and sublime redemption.”

     This art begins not with the gold—but with the shards. “Kintsugi masters sometimes handed down a set of fragments through generations, contemplating the pieces… for decades before beginning the repair, which itself might take years.” Like the art of kintsugi, Fujimara invites us to  “look with compassion and love on broken lives and broken systems as the starting point of repair, reform or healing.” He sees virtue in being able to see the brokenness and fractures, as painful as they may be.

    Through the pandemic and many other traumas of this last 18 months or more,  we can learn from Japanese art and the gospel itself that “we must first learn to behold even those painful broken fragments as beautiful,” rather than rush to fix everything or hide the damage. (Sojourners, Feb. 2021)

    Western cultures, including we who live in the U.S., wouldn’t hold onto broken shards for generations, considering how we might make a work of art of what remains. If something is broken, we quickly get it fixed or throw it away and buy new. We wouldn’t bother with the painstaking process of putting together all the broken shards with precious metals, and we certainly wouldn’t emphasize the broken places AND make them even more beautiful and valuable than they were before.

    Friends, on World Communion Sunday,  I look around this sanctuary—and I see many open seats. It’s hard not to notice—especially after worshiping all these months in our smaller, more intimate chapel. Yes, some of the seats are open for our members who haven’t yet returned because of the pandemic. But many are simply open, reflecting a time long ago, when our faith community was much larger. When you look around, you probably remember the people who used to sit in them and are no longer with us anymore.

   The open seats don’t discourage me one bit! I see them as waiting to be filled. We have plenty of room for seekers and believers. Do you know what I mean by seekers? Folks who don’t know Jesus or aren’t sure about him and haven’t accepted him as their savior. But we can’t wait for them to show up. We have to go to them and be intentional about inviting those outside our circle of friends, family and faith and make them feel welcome when they come.

Many people in our community don’t know they have a place at the table—a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to come in the Kingdom of God.

   You know who I miss the most at this table? You know who I long for? More young people. When we have more children and youth here, our worship has more energy and joy!

In Christ’s time, children were not seen as important. We can tell that by the disciples’ reaction to Christ’s words in the gospel of Mark today. And in our society, sometimes the voices of children aren’t heard. I pray that our congregation is one who listens and responds to their opinions and ideas, needs and desires, hopes and dreams, and concerns. After all, this is THEIR church, too.

   Jesus turns his society upside down and challenges modern notions when he teaches that the faith of children is actually THE model for adults. When the disciples are shooing away the mothers seeking a blessing for their children, he is indignant. Indignant! “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

    On this special day when we remember and give thanks for the Body of Christ, so much larger than one congregation or denomination and found in every nation, we come to the table as simply God’s redeemed children. We come as the beloved. We come not because we must, but because we may. We come with a little faith, wanting a little more. We come not because we are strong, but because we are weak.  We come seeking a blessing, like the mothers with their children in the gospel. And to see the One who is a glorious reflection of God and exact imprint of God’s very being, as Hebrews says. The one who is the pioneer of our salvation, made perfect through SUFFERINGS.

Cross Religion Christ Easter Crucifixion

Brothers and sisters, Christ understands our sufferings better than anyone else! There’s no one who knows and loves us more. We come to be united, strengthened, and made bold to share the good news! That Jesus, by the grace of God, tasted death so we wouldn’t have to! He is our source of hope and strength, who “sustains all things by his powerful word.”

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. Is that ever overwhelming to you? Don’t let it overwhelm you. And don’t be dismayed by your own brokenness. You are infinitely valuable to the Lord. We can’t rush the work of transformation—to be made whole and holy. We have to trust our Creator, the Divine Artist, and be patient.  

    Fellow co-laborers with Christ, keep reaching out with his love so the banquet table in the Kingdom of God will grow. Remember what Jesus said about children—how the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. And, “Let them come to me!”

    With eyes of faith, I invite you to see how lovely and beloved you are, right now, as broken shards and yet, by the grace of God healed, whole, and holy.  I invite you to imagine how beautiful the Body of Christ will be when the Lord, gathers us all together in a final, divine work of art. Like the broken shards of kintsugi, joined by veins of silver and gold, we will be more precious and beautiful than before.

Let us pray. Holy God, who created us in your image, thank you for Jesus, your Son, who offers himself and new life to us as we celebrate Communion with Him and all the world. Thank you that he is our source of hope and strength and tasted death for us so we wouldn’t have to. Stir us to gratitude for what you have done for us and for our salvation. Help us to see ourselves with your eternal eyes and not be dismayed by the broken shards of our lives and the brokenness in the world around us. Give us a vision for the beautiful work of art you are making of us, a slow process, a divine process, a mystery waiting to be revealed in your timing. In Your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

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