Sunday, June 14, 2015

Scattered and Sown



DWELL
He also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,  and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.  The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.  But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."
             He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?  It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;  yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade." With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it;  he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples."  Mark 4

REFLECT
Scattered and sown---these verbs describe how the Kingdom of God moves into our lives.  Sowing is a bit more intentional than scattering, though they have the same effect, right?  Some sort of growth, reproduction, multiplication, and maturation. Tiny, buried seeds germinate and grow into visible plants that grow and produce fruit and habitat and more seeds!  Germination takes time.  One waits to see if the seeds that were sown or scattered will emerge.  And then they do.  With water, soil, sun, and a little time. 
IN my garden the first plants to emerge this year were pumpkin plants, all over the garden.  As if I’d tossed pumpkin seeds everywhere.  Countless pumpkin sprouts popped up.  Thing is, I didn’t plant them.  I didn’t sow or scatter them, really.  What we did was toss our pumpkins onto the garden in the Fall.  We toss yard autumn leaves and other yard waste in there for composting.  So, in a sense I did scatter seeds.  As the pumpkins rotted, the seeds fell into the ground and spent a harsh winter there.  Dormant. Lifeless.  And then, the spring sun and rains came. I cleaned up the composted garden, removed the remaining pumpkins and added soil.  That’s all it took.  Now they grow.  We’re letting them grow.  Maybe this year we’ll grow our own pumpkin patch.  Right now they seem to be growing better than anything else we planted.  Scattered seeds will grow without intention, without work, without assistance.  It is the way of things.  Death and resurrection.  Burial and growth.  Seed and fruit.  The scattering of the seeds indiscriminately leads to a future harvest. 
Tiny seeds in the right conditions become plants with the DNA to mature and reproduce.  Mustard plants are not the tiniest, nor are they the biggest shrubs.  But they do spread.  Mustard spreads in a field, like mint.  Though we planted mint in our 4 X 4 raised beds, they jumped out and spread everywhere, invading the larger garden area, too.  You can’t control it.  It’s everywhere.  Mustard plants grow and spread and persist.  It’s hard to kill.  Just keeps on growing and moving.   

The Kingdom of God is like this.  It’s not an institution or a program or an organization with a board of directors.  It is not managed. Jesus suggests that His work ,words, and ways are being sown and scattered in a way that cannot be controlled or undone.  It’s already out there, like the pumpkin seeds in my garden.  His healing, his teachings, his powerful forgiveness are already being sown into the hearts and minds of people like you and me, who scatter and sow with our own lives, our own words and actions.  The church is like a farm or a garden plot or garden box.  It has good soil, starter seeds, a history of growth and reproduction.  But it is not the only place the seeds grow.  And, contrary to what so many are saying about the church, it is not dying.  Containers do not die.  The church is a container. That's all.  And sometimes not a very good container.  The church is not itself the Kingdom of God or the Word of God. It is, at best, vessel, instrument, container garden of faith.   2,000 years of the Spirit wind blowing the seeds of faith around the globe.  It’s not everywhere, though.  So the wind continues to blow.  This week I was a sower of Kingdom seeds in the lives of a family or two. I told them about God’s love for them, God’s promised provision for them, God’s desire for them to be part of the family of God.  I listened to their story with empathy and compassion. They were grateful.  And I believe the kingdom of God broke into that household this week, the kingdom of God invaded the untilled soil of their broken hearts. They emailed me a note saying that out encounter may have restored some faith.  I don’t know how or when germination might take place.  I don’t know if I’ll see them to water the seeds.  But I trust the power of the Word to take root and grow in places we do not expect, with people who have never been in church or have left church behind.  So the good news is the growth of the church or the kingdom of God is not all up to us.  You can have great soil and a nice container for it, but without the seeds you have nothing.  So wasting efforts on the church building makes no sense if the seeds of Christ’s teachings are not planted there. 
Sown and scattered.  God has planted the DNA of the kingdom in you; they are the gifts of the spirit, faith and hope and love.  You are the seeds scattered and sown.  You are sown into a neighborhood, a school, a retirement community.  We have bee sown onto main Street in Akron.  God intends for you to visibly embody the life of Jesus where you live.  And scattered, the places you travel, the people you meet along the way, every journey and resting place is a place to scatter the seeds of faith.  May you be scattered and sown as the seeds of Christ’s love and may you plant the seed in others.  Amen.   
PRAY
Lord Jesus, your kingdom moves and grows and multiplies around us, through us, within us, in spite of us, and for us.  We see it and feel it and taste your forgiveness.  Scatter us like seeds that we might sow the word of salvation, the word of love and compassion every where we go.  Amen.     


Friday, June 12, 2015

Paralyzed

DWELL. Mark 2

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic— ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’ And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’

REFLECT

This is a healing story.  But it isn't the kind of healing story we think it is.  Most of them aren't.  Stories about healing in the bible are never just about a restored physical condition.  Truth is, there's no such thing.  our physical health is tied to our mental, emotional and spiritual health.    
The context is important, too.  We have a crowd listening to Jesus teach.  The room is full and the door is blocked.  No one else is getting access to Jesus.  There are people on the inside who have access and there are people on the outside who don't.  What's the difference? In that place, there was no handicapped access.  Mark tells us this for a reason. No one else is getting in to see Jesus.
Except for four persistent people who carry a paralyzed man to the house and lower him through the roof to Jesus' feet.  The clue that this healing is different is in Jesus' response to the presence of the paralyzed man.  he says, "Son, your sins are forgiven." This is not about a spinal chord injury or cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy or ALS.  These are terrible physiological diseases and injuries that can leave people paralyzed.  I think Mark is talking about a different sort of paralysis here.  A physical manifestation of a deeper, underlying condition at work in this man's life.   
1.  This is a story about the barriers and obstacles, the fear and doubt, that paralyze us and prevent us from living as Sons and Daughters of God.  Whatever psychologically and physically bound this man and held him down, it was preventing him from seeing and believing that he was a son of God with the power and authority of God in his life.  He could not stand on his own two feet.  What knocks people down and keeps them down? What prevents people from accepting the truth about themselves, that they are broken children of a loving and healing and forgiving God?  Forgiveness means to be set free from punishment.  Often, we punish ourselves with shame and guilt and self-hatred and envy.
All of us feel paralyzed, stuck, trapped, sometimes.  With no control, no power.  We lie down.  We give up.  We doubt ourselves.  
2.  None of us gets anywhere alone.  Friends, a community of caregivers, bear us up and go with us.  They surround us and keep us moving.  They fight for access and for healing on our behalf.  When we are paralyzed, others have to lift us up and do our walking and working for us.  And there are times when we are called on to lift and carry and walk and dig and go first in order to break down walls and move communities into compassion.  Name four people in your life who support you and lift you up.
3. The life God intends for us is accessible, despite the barriers and challenges, and closed doors we might face.  We persevere together.  I believe that this is church.  A people who are sometimes paralyzed and sometimes on the move together, seeking the life God intends for all of us, seeking to live into our truest, best selves.  The church is an empowerment movement toward Jesus, the one who forgives us enough to become more and more like him--authentic Son of God.   
4.  Too often, church looks like the closed door gathering of religious types hanging around Jesus, hoarding attention and witholding mercy, while those who need access to God's mercy lie outside without acknowledgement or a sense of power. More and more people have been denied access to God through the church.  Church has become barrier, instead of conduit.  Some of us know what that means.  We have experienced neither the forgiveness that sets us free and builds us up nor the empowerment that gets us moving toward God and the world at the same time.  That is the movement for those who accept the teachings of Jesus.  One moves closer to God and one moves deeper toward the world God made.  Access to God is never denial of the world.  We relearn what it means to live as human beings in and for the world God made and loves with such a costly and generous love. 
Let's become the church that brings the paralyzed to Jesus.  Let's be the church that provides full and complete access to God for those who seek it.  Let's be the church that lifts up those who are paralyzed and bear them to Jesus, the source of all healing and freedom.

What do you need to let go of, forgive, be free from, in order to get up and be more fully and completely the person God intends for you to be? What prevents you from embracing your true identity as an empowered child of God with a mission in this life to bring about the Kingdom/peaceful and just rule of God in this present place and time?  What would Jesus say to you, if you were on that mat? 

PRAY
Jesus, forgive our sins and free us to follow you. Amen.

    
    

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Lepers---Addicts---Jesus


DWELL.  Mark 1, continued

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

REFLECT

You cannot read the gospels without bumping into undesirables.  These are people we would rather avoid, if possible.  You may be thinking of those people right now.  They may have a different skin color than you do, or tattoos on their skin.  They may have marks on their skin from drug use.   They may live in dirty apartments in a part of town you will not travel.  They may be members of your own family.  They may have a chronic illness or addictions we cannot heal.  They may be schizophrenic or bipolar.  There are people around you that you naturally avoid because you are afraid of them.    
IN our story, Jesus encounters a leper.  Leprosy is a skin disease, considered contagious enough to require isolation from the general population.  People with the illness were sentenced to a life in a colony with other lepers.  The conditions were inhumane.  And sometimes, people were sentenced to this life with a misdiagnosis.  Nevertheless, the process of lawful return to general society required proper examination and evaluation by experts.  If the examiner, a priest, found you to be clean of the disease, you were expected to dutifully thank God and fulfill Jewish law by making proper temple sacrifice.  It was possible to be restored to community,unless you were found unclean by the priest.  This system of public health was also a system of social control.  Keep the undesirables out of the general population, so the rest of us do not get infected.  So we lock up the young black men and the poor white heroine addicts.  We still institutionalize the undesirables when we can.
But Jesus was moved with pity by an undesirable leper.  To be moved with pity is to feel pain in the gut for someone else.  Jesus identified with this man's suffering so much that he felt pain. 
This man knew that someone with authority in the broader community had to recognize him and declare him clean (healthy enough to return to the community as a full member again).  He needed a compassionate priest.  But he would accept the word of a rabbi known to heal sick people.  Jesus sends him off to regain his life in the world.  Follow the rules, but don't wait any longer.  Jesus gives this man a key to reentry.  And like an infectious disease, Jesus' work begins to spread rapidly. Because the leprous man is clean and free.  Because neither Jesus nor anyone else could quarantine him, silence him, keep him out of the public. God had touched him and he had to infect others with this news.  Jesus becomes ground zero in a new infection that threatens to change the DNA of every human being touched by him.  It is the DNA of inclusion and compassion and healing.  It is the DNA of mercy and hope and faith. Jesus gives the leper access to God and God's family in a way that the religious leaders of the day refused to offer. Its easier to maintain the status quo.  Lepers stay lepers. But Jesus sees deeper than the skin.  Jesus sees a person in pain, a beloved child of God.  Like himself.  
 When we recognize what is undesirable about ourselves and we let Jesus close to us, we experience a sense of restoration.  And it spreads when we bring the cleansing power of compassionate connection to others, especially those who are considered undesirable.  

Who are the cast offs, the outcasts, the marginalized in your community?  Who is labeled unworthy of compassion and love?  Who is disposable?  What hoops does the system make people on the bottom of the pyramid jump through to gain access to health and community?  
I suspect heroine addicts and those battling mental illness are high on the list of undesirable cast offs in our society.  I also suspect that Jesus suffers with them.  I have met many families isolated by the poverty that threatens them and prevents them from accessing the things they need to live complete lives.  Following Jesus means to go to these neighbors with compassion, pain in our hearts and in our guts, in order to reconcile with them.  To be disciples of Jesus means to meet the "undesirables" and offer them healing and hope through compassionate engagement.  We offer people access to a life with God and God's family, a life of full inclusion and hope for the future.  We walk in the same authority as Jesus did and we say to those who have been denied access, "Come inside.  There's room here for you, too."    

PRAY 

  Lord, help me to acknowledge my own "leprosy" and seek you out for healing.  Help me to have compassion for those who have been marginalized and exiled from a healthy community life. Amen.   
  
  


    

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Kairos Time and the coming of the Kingdom of God

DWELL Mark 1. part 2

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.  As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen.  And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

REFLECT
Jesus picks up John's message of life-altering faith in God.  John has been arrested.  What risk is Jesus taking by following in John's path of public leadership?  
The time is fulfilled.  Kairos time is upon them; this is a moment of crisis, change, challenge, invitation into something new. Kairos time is when we become most vulnerable and most open to God's intervention or invasion in our lives.  Can you think of a recent Kairos time, when things in your life changed to such a degree that you began to wonder about the meaning of it?     
Jesus recruits fishermen to become his students and he begins his work.  His work is confrontational and authoritative.  He confronts powerful enemies of God at work within the religious community. Notice, it is not the Roman Empire he takes on, but the synagogue,  Change begins at home in one's own heart, within one's own family and tribe.  He is recognized by the enemy as "the holy one of God" sent to destroy their power.  I suspect this demon held the synagogue hostage to a way of thinking about God and their own situation that left them paralyzed and powerless.  How often do the voices of reason and order and control tell us to avoid change or challenge because of fear of the unknown?  Fear of change impedes our progress toward a better world.  Religious people can get stuck in their traditions and rules and boundaries in unhealthy ways, cutting people off from the life-saving help of God.  Churches have too often demonized those outside their ranks while failing to see and address the demons among them.  
Jesus is shown as a healer, whose intention is to set people to rights so that they can perform their God-given service.  Healing is always for the building up of the whole community. Healing allowed Simon's mother-in-law to perform her vocation as servant provider for those who gathered.  She fed the men.  We can view this as sexism or we can see this as a restoration of her body so that she might participate in God's work.  Everyone has a part in the kingdom movement unfolding with Jesus. 
Jesus continues to heal crowds of people.  He gets involved.  He touches people.  He shows compassion  His public ministry is open, hospitable, and non-discriminatory.  And then he retreats.
Jesus prayed, because his work required that he understand God's mission, what God intended to do through him.  He prayed in the early morning, the darkness before the dawn.  His ministry symbolized this moment, as he confronted the demons of the human heart and mind holding people hostage to ways of thinking and acting that were not aligned with the heart and mind of God. Its always darkest before the dawn, they say.  Perhaps, that is the image Mark is conjuring up for us here.  There is darkness, suffering, brokenness, and abuse.  But now, anticipate light.  Be hopeful. What Jesus is doing is right and good and must be done. Now as much as then,
Jesus' work is a movement.  He is not stagnant.  He goes. The work of God is a movement among people to bring about peace, justice, and health. We must keep moving always toward the next neighbor.   This movement is nothing less than the in-breaking of the power of God, come in the flesh to heal and restore us.  

 What would you be willing to give up to follow this Jesus?  What about his work frightens you? Inspires you?  Confuses you? What needs to be healed in you?  What do you know about your neighbors? 
 
PRAY
Jesus, your kingdom comes through acts of compassionate mercy.  Call us out of fear and complacency and into a powerful movement of healing and restoration.  Show us how to embrace those around us who are suffering.  Open our hearts and minds to receive the good news:  God has come near us.   Give us hope for the journey of following you. Amen.  
       

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Beginning



DWELL.  Mark 1.


The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,*
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

REFLECT

This story begins with two men.  Adult Jews in the first century world of Judea.  The Christ and the Baptist.  These were their titles or their vocations, not their names. This story is about one of these two men, the one called Jesus.  It is, we are told, good news.  An 'evangel' was a proclamation of divine goodness or blessing that came from the emperor. This word is here translated 'good news'.  But it is not news from or about the emperor in Rome, but about this man Jesus.    
In the first century world, the Roman Emperor had been declared the Son of God.  Supreme ruler with all authority, power, and status.  The Jews were an ancient ethnic/religious group with a long history of colonialism and oppression by powerful empires: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome had all reigned over Israel/Judah.  
The Jews' primary story suggested that the one creator God had also chosen them and liberated them from oppression in Egypt and in Babylon. God would always rescue them.  Their covenant relationship with God included a temple religious system of sacrifices and prayer, as well as a system of laws to obey in order to remain in right relationship with God.  A state of righteousness or justification, in which their obedience to God gave them access to God's divine protection and provision.  They believed that their God alone was supremely powerful and ruled over the earth from a heavenly throne.  They believed in a future time when God would liberate them from their oppressors and restore harmony and peace in creation.  They believed that God would send a leader, a ruler, an anointed King (Christ) to rule on earth as God's appointed representative. Their ancient holy men, the prophets, spoke about the present age of injustice and wickedness, the wrath and punishment of God, and the hope of a new day that would dawn for God's people.  The prophets' suggested that their suffering under oppressive rulers was the divine consequence of their own unfaithfulness to God.  These people believed the words of their prophets and hoped with expectation for a day of liberation and peace.  This story is about their hopes and expectations. 
John drew people to the Judean waters of the Jordan River for a ritual cleansing of the body in preparation for God's decisive action of liberation and restoration.  Repentance means a change of one's mind. John invited them to think differently about their circumstances.  Their God had not forgotten them.  Their God intended to rescue them again.  This Baptism of repentance was a sign that they were in bondage to sin and that God had forgiven them.  Their external bondage and suffering was directly related to their internal, spiritual bondage.  They needed to be liberated on the inside, in order to be free on the outside.  They were prisoners to their own dark hearts and minds. Sin is more than immorality or unholy behavior.  It is a state of separation from God and from our truest, best selves.  It is the opposite of peace. And it is the cause of much suffering. 
John announced that a person was coming, a person whose power and authority comes from the creator God---whose life-giving power was called the Holy Spirit.  
When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit (power/life-force of God) announces that he is the one chosen by God to lead and liberate these people.  This same Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness, where egos are broken by the limits of mortality. The wilderness is where we see our worst and our best selves emerge.  Our true identity is shaped by wilderness experiences (hardship, struggle, pain, loss, etc...you know it).  We get to choose who we will be.  Jesus experiences both angels and demons there.  As do we.  
From the beginning, we know this will be a story of conflict and confrontation between the visible powers of this world and the invisible power of the creating God.  Who is the Son of God?  Who is really in charge?  We know this will be a story about internal, personal change and external transformation.  We know this will be a story about identity: what it means to be human, what it means to be free, what it means to be good, what it means to be alive.  We know its a story about vocation:  What it means to be called, authorized to represent, to perform meaningful or life-saving work.  We know this is a story about Emperors and Christs (Kings anointed and appointed by and for God).  We know this is a story about power. And with power comes danger and threat.  The story of Jesus is NOT gentle, comforting, and easy.  But it is good.     

What power do you have?  How is power used and/or abused by people?  Who is powerful?  Who are the powerless?  Are there things, systems, ideas, circumstances you'd like to change but feel powerless to do so?  Where does power come from?    

PRAY

Creator God, we dare to believe that you have spoken to ancient peoples and to us as inheritors of their stories.  Help us to see, hear, and know the power that gives life.   Amen.