Authority and Love

A teacher with authority – that’s the Jesus that the gospel of Mark presents in the text this week.  Authority… a tricky thing for our independent culture today.  He is described as a teaching with authority – not as the scribes taught…

In the epistle, a letter to the Christian church in Corinth, Paul speaks with similar authority as he teaches the importance of love – even over knowledge….  for “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

The gospels present the scribes as teaching with an emphasis on knowledge and strictly following the law.  Often the gospels challenge these key religious leaders to have mercy and compassion on the people – to lead them with love.

I am the second of three children – I have an older brother and a younger sister.  Both my older brother and I find ourselves drawn to academics (he is currently in law school).  However, in our zeal for knowledge, we have not always shared our information with one another in the most loving of ways.  That is to say, we also appreciate a good argument and are both quite passionate.  On a good day, these tendencies lead to great and energetic conversation.  On our worst days, there is a lot of noise and yelling… and not a lot of listening.

It has taken me far to long to learn that it is better to be kind than to be right.  I am grateful for my brother and learning this lesson as it continues to help me in my marriage.

This is a lesson that Jesus already knew.  In today’s story as we see him teaching in the sabbath he stopped his lesson – not to simply correct a heckler, but to help a man crying in need.  A man who suffered from unclean spirit.  This act of mercy shows the character of the teacher, the rabbi, that Jesus was.  One who consistently showed that mercy and justice are what the law are truly about.

As we hear messages from pulpits about forming community and living community we must remember the words of Paul “love builds up” and the example of Jesus.  We must put these messages into action in our own lives – striving to build our communities with love, with mercy, and with patience.  We must make decisions and choices to build up those around us – our families, our children, our young people, our elderly, our poor, our lonely, our imprisoned, and our sick.   Instead of marketing strategies that target those who it is easy to see what gifts they might bring to our community, we must invest in and build up all our brothers and sisters.

We are the beloved community of God.  That community is open and inviting to all.  Our churches are in excellent positions to live that identity out into our neighborhoods, cities, and all of our lives.

My prayer for today:  Oh great God, you hold the knowledge of all things.  Help us to hear the words of Paul and strive to follow the example of Christ in building each other up in love.  With the guidance of the Holy Spirit give us the strength to do all things with your unfailing love.  In your holy and unending name we pray, Amen.

Fishy

Fishers of people and being swallowed by a fish all in one week… that’s pretty fishy to me!  What is this all about?

This week our texts tackle some pretty great classic stories – Jonah and his big fish, Jesus calling some fisherman to use their skills to gather people, and Paul helping a struggling community dig a little deeper into living in community together while building the Kingdom of God.

I learned as a kid, that fishing can be a quiet and solitary activity.  Not being good at either of those things, I wasn’t taken fishing as much as my brother.  This could also have something to do with the time I got upset that we were going to take a bucket of little fish away from their Mama’s and Daddy’s and may have “set them free” at the end of a day…

The fisherman Jesus was talking to however didn’t fish for fun – they fished together to bring in a larger catch to sell and provide for their families.  For many of them, this was a family endeavor.  They knew a lot about gathering people together on the boat and working as a team.  They would use everything they knew about gathering people together throughout their ministry with Jesus.

Sometimes however, we hear the call from God (or like the fishermen Jesus) to come and follow – and we run – like Jonah.  I would like to pretend I am more like the disciples here… immediately responding to the call of God.  But I’m not always that way.  Like Jonah, sometimes I am called to do things I don’t want to do.  To people I’d rather not help.  Yet despite my faults, God doesn’t give up on me.  In God’s own unique and loving ways, God encourages and continues to call me where I am needed and teaches me things I never could have expected for myself.

A few of you may know that I am from central Wisconsin.  Before moving to Chicago I lived in a small cabin on a private lake surrounded by 300 acres of beautiful forest full of hiking trails – all 10 minutes from favorite grandparents.  I loved my job working with young campers, staff, and families.  I loved swimming in the lake, leading hikes, and roasting marshmallows after worship on the beach.  Thoughts of Chicago – completely frightened me.

God was calling me to go, and I was refusing.

No one could have convinced me how I would fall in the love with the city – it’s people, it’s beautiful buildings, the lake.  I never could have imagined working with children and families at the Temple or having summer camp in a church in Rogers Park.

And God continued to call.

Thank the Lord that God is smarter and more stubborn than I am.  It has been an amazing journey and I won’t trade it for anything.   The education that I have gained studying at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary has continued to shape me and knowing who I am as a beloved child of God.  I have made some wonderful friends, and I meet my wonderful husband.

Both of these texts continue to speak to us about calling, and also shed light upon the importance of community.  When Jonah spoke God’s warning to Nineveh – they heard it, repented, and were saved.  When Jesus called the fisherman by the sea they joined his community and were forever changed.  There seems to be something here about participating with others and the messages of God…

So I wonder, my friends…

I wonder how God is calling to you today – to leave your boat and follow – or get in your boat and go somewhere?

I wonder how your life will be changed as you answer that call?  How will the community and the kingdom of God be changed?

I wonder how we can come together and encourage one another – in ways that we will never be the same again.

Dear Lord, the God of all wisdom, you know the things that we fear and that we reject like Jonah did.  Continue to move in our hearts that we may hear your voice and like the disciples, have the courage to follow you.  Help us to trust in the movements of the Spirit to continue to strengthen the communities we belong to, building the Kingdom on earth. In your great name we pray, Amen.

Called?

One of the things I love most about the lectionary is the arcs that they make – connections over the seasons helping to give opportunities to enter deeper and deeper into the stories of the faith.

As we move past Christmas and into the season of Epiphany.  We have heard stories of Kings and of baptisms – remarkable stories revealing the remarkable coming to earth of God godself. The great mystery of Christmas is the miracle of the incarnation.  Year after year we leave the celebrations and the joy and continue on to the stories of the life of Jesus calling us each into deeper discipleship.

Today’s primary text comes from the book of 1 Samuel.  In difficult times where the people of God were led by Judges, not Kings as many Kingdoms around them.  God was the King of the people of Israel.  Yet this wasn’t enough for them.  They fell away from following the laws and hearing the voice of God.  Therefore the beginning of this passage suggests that God stop speaking.

Many parents out there can commiserate with the feeling of your beloved children who are not listening – and after a while of not being heard – you may also stop speaking.

Yet there was a young boy, Samuel, who was training under the priest Eli – in this young child God saw potential and reached out.  Samuel didn’t recognize the voice of God and went not once, or twice, but three times to the aging Eli, responding to a call for his help.  It was Eli who recognized that God might be calling, and he coached Samuel how to respond.

Many parents and teachers play this important role – the role of coaching and helping young people (or any age people!) respond to a calling.  “Calling” has become a kind of “Christianese” term.  Not many hear the clear call Samuel did that night.  It can also be convenient to interpret a lucrative career or choice as God’s calling.  Or when one is in a dark night we often question what we thought to be God’s calling on our lives.

I strongly think that calling is a very important concept in our faith – along with understanding our own gifts.  Combined these two concepts along with the knowledge that we are all God’s beloved creation help to shape the Christian identity.  If we are careful, these concepts are also very powerful ways for us to share our faith with others.

In the time I spent in high school, college, and a few years after college I tried to fight the nagging voice inside of me to go to seminary and pursue ministry.  I was going to be a teacher – maybe a rock climbing teacher, or a camp director – but definitely not a pastor or work for a church.  I fought what I slowly came to accept as my calling.  Yet I came across the idea that the most fulfilling work is for each person to find a meeting place of their passion with the world’s deepest need.  I have a passion for theology – and I think the world desperately needs healthy, sound, responsible theology for bad theology kills people across our world daily.

I wonder what are some of your passions?  I wonder how God is calling you to share your gifts with the world?  I wonder how you respond to that calling?

Baptism Beginnings

This is one of my favorite stories, and each time I come back to it I am rewarded with new insights and confirmations.

A big part of my theological foundation is that I believe in a Trinitarian God. In my studies, I find myself drawn to some of the eastern theologians compared to some of out western theologians because of this central belief. When the eastern church split from Rome, both christian churches grew in their own ways. In the Eastern church, the mystery of the Trinity has always been held central while I would argue that in the Western traditions, Jesus has become more central than the trinitarian nature of God.

The basic doctrine of the trinity is sometimes argued as non-biblical, yet this passage clearly shows the three distinct persons of God. Each fulfilling their distinct roles in their own ways. The mystery of the trinitarian nature of God can be overwhelming at times. There is so much that I want to know, so much that I read that I do not understand well, and so many unanswered questions. While at times it is comforting to rest knowing that our God is bigger than anything we can fathom, the unknowing can also be very uncomfortable.

I also love the sacrament of baptism. Maybe because I love water. It is interesting how water draws so many of us in. How like fire, we become captivated by it’s movements. Water, also catches my interest in science. It is quite the unique substance that literally keeps all of life alive. Water is also a closed system. While it moves and changes state – new water is not created, simply cycled around the planet.

That makes all water connected. The water that believers from around the world are baptized in, and the water that Jesus himself was baptized in – is all connected.

As we begin a new year, and this story pops back into the lectionary I encourage you to remember your baptism. The promises that were made for you – to love you and to help you to know the love of our mysterious God. I encourage you to remember the baptisms you’ve been a part of – as a parent, a godparent, or a congregation member. Remember the promises you have made to others.

The great thing about the seasons of the church is that they take time from a linear form and tie together the end and the beginning to make a circle. Therefore there are new beginnings with each new season – like this season of Epiphany. Some of us have big new things in our lives – jobs, moves, children, spouses, or other things. Some of us start this new year without major changes. Together we can help support one another through changes, through beginnings and endings. It is in the intergenerational community that we have hope that we too can work through the newness – can find some hope amidst the many questions of life.

Whatever this new year and new season brings for you – I pray for hope and connection to offer you and your family love and support in living out the life God call each of you too.

Wondering
I wonder what ways baptism brings newness?
I wonder what ways baptism connects the community of believers?
I wonder what the presence of God through the Holy Spirit touches you most?
I wonder how that presence of God convicts you to live?

Prayer
Thank you, God, for the stories we have of Jesus’ life as a child and as an adult. Today we are reminded of the origin of our sacrament, baptism, which draws us together as brothers and sisters, part of families. May we learn to live in ways that are pleasing to you. Amen