Online Worship Services
July 18, 2021
A Mark Sandwich
When reading the stories from Mark's Gospel appointed for this summer, author Daniel Harrell made the following observation that really stuck with me as we continue to look at how discipleship is described in Mark's Gospel. Daniel Harrell says that we have the "makings of a Mark sandwich." I don't think it is because I'm hungry that I raise this image of the sandwich, though certainly the disciples seem to be eating and traveling a lot this summer. Today's Gospel shows us the challenge to both care for others and tend to our own spiritual lives in the process. This challenge was experienced by Jesus and his disciples as well as seen in today's Gospel. Now to that sandwich imagery.
Throughout his Gospel, Mark sandwiches one story (or stories) of Jesus inside another in order to amplify the meaning of each. The beginning of today's Gospel provides the first slice of bread - the part about being called away. After all that work of healing, casting out demons and traveling on foot, the apostles try to get away for a bite to eat in peace on the boat. The crowds press in on them and Jesus has great compassion for the crowds (It seems that Jesus rarely needs to eat - maybe that is the divine side of him) and we read a line that is too often treated like a throwaway line, "And he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd." According to Harrell, that's the bottom part of the sandwich.
The second slice of bread is when Jesus arrives on the other side of the shore. The people recognize their shepherd, and again, they rush for a healing and beg to touch the fringe of his cloak, as the unnamed woman in the Gospel story three weeks ago had done.
Now, what's in the middle of the sandwich? Notice the big gap in the verses listed in your service sheet. We jump from vs. 34 to vs. 53. What is in between then? The meat, the middle, is the story of a miraculous feeding and the miraculous walk on water, both signs of divine power. We will read those familiar accounts of Jesus feeding 5,000 and walking on water next Sunday from John's Gospel. The whole sandwich is an answered prayer. God in Christ is the long-wanted Shepherd of his people. And if there remains any question concerning Jesus' identify, Mark adds the line, "All who touched even the fringe of his cloak were healed," and fed, and loved. What a combination of stories, or a Mark sandwich, indeed!
July 11, 2021
Plumbliness, Truth and Consequences
In our first reading the Lord shows Amos a plumb line set in the midst of the people of Israel. Because Israel does not measure true, the Lord will no longer pass them by, and the northern nation will be overthrown. The second part of today's Hebrew scripture reading tells of the clash between the priest Amaziah and Amos.
Amos identifies himself as an ordinary guy - a humble herdsman and "a dresser of sycamore trees." He is not part of a conspiracy against the North, nor a member of one of the professional prophet guilds. His authority comes from the Lord, who called him to prophesy to Israel (the North).
Vocation and calling are also at the heart of the Gospel reading as well, in this case John the Baptist's preaching truth to the King Herod. This story is also full of drama and the consequences of rash decisions. It is an epic story retold in the opera Salome. Come hear and reflect on the original story as told by Mark.
June 27, 2021
More miracles and stories of faith
Today's Gospel story of Jairus' daughter being raised from the dead concludes a series of miracles that began with the stilling of the storm and the healing of the person possessed by a demon. It's actually a story interrupted by a story. Today's Gospel stories are stories of the test of truest faith - whether anything will stand in the way of Jairus' faith.
Jesus is approached by a member of the Jewish ruling class, Jairus, who begs Jesus to heal his daughter. Jesus complies, setting out with the man, but is interrupted en route. Because he allows this interruption of a poverty-stricken woman, he arrives too late to save Jairus' daughter. But the tragic ending to the story is surprisingly reversed by Jesus' powerful deed of raising the young girl back to life.
There are many things to say about this story, a rare one in which Mark the Gospel writer names a character - Jairus - a rich man who falls down at the poor healer's - Jesus' - feet. Jesus brings the girl back to life through the gift of healing, but also by the faith of the girl's parents. Despite what some were saying, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?" Jesus jumps right in and tells the father, "Do not fear, only believe." How is faith in these stories and in our lives of faith linked to our health and wholeness?
June 20, 2021
Crossing to the Other Side: Calming Storms and Seeking Peace
Today's Gospel, following on the heels of last week's Gospel stories about the sower trusting in the seed planted anywhere and faith the size of a mustard seed, hurls us forward with those seeds of faith to be spiritually fearless with Jesus's request: "Let us go across to the other side." I believe that this command of Jesus goes hand in hand with Jesus' direct engagement of challenges. It also reminds me that Jesus' ministry is one dangerous crossing to the other side after another, of literally rocking the boat.
When the storm breaks in all its violence and the disciples rouse him and urge him to panic Jesus sits up, turns and speaks directly to the wind and the waves. "Peace," he says, "Be still." He talks to the storm face to face.
Offered a choice between fight and flight, Jesus goes with direct engagement. He speaks to the storm and utters that word of power spoken over the waters from the beginning. He speaks, and the eternal word is present - greater than the wind and the waves, greater than our fear of conflict, greater than our desire for control, greater than sin, greater than earth. His is the word that is able to bring peace where peace seems out of the question. Jesus talks to anyone: members of opposing parties, hostile foreign heads of state, sinners, tax collectors, Samaritans, people who are out to destroy him.
How can Jesus' fearless approach to speaking with everyone and seeking peace be a model for us in our discipleship?
June 13, 2021
Seeds and the Kingdom of God
IHow much faith do you really need? How much faith do we really have? Both of today's parables demonstrate that we only need a seed's worth of faith to get us going in life. What is the seed God wants to plant in our hearts, the seed from which abundant life will grow? The seed is the great potential we all have for love, love of God, love of ourselves as God's creation, and love of others, love in word and deed.
I remember a parishioner in Vermont recalling having charm bracelets as a young girl. One of the first charms she received from her parents for one of these charm bracelets was a clear one - and in it - you guessed it! A single mustard seed. A daily - or as often as one wore the bracelet - reminder of today's parable, which for me says, "All it takes is one tiny seed to get your faith started" - and then, it just grows and grows and grows. And all of us are here to provide the soil, the water, the love and care needed to help one another in keeping those seeds nourished for one's entire life.