Tag Archives: following Jesus

The Great Invitation: Salt and Light

February 5, 2017
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany A
View a video of this sermon here.

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

“Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:13-20

Last week, we heard Jesus offer a radical view of blessing to his listeners. To them, wealth and power were strong indications of God’s blessing, while poverty and suffering were signs of being cursed. These people believed that you got what you deserved, so anyone who held wealth and power must have done something really good to deserve them. Likewise, anyone who suffered in poverty must have done something really bad.

But Jesus turned this around, and said, “You are blessed when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. You are blessed when your spirit is poor, when you hunger and thirst after righteousness, when you mourn. Yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Jesus packs a lot of new ideas into his Sermon on the Mount. We will only look at part of this sermon during the season after Epiphany, but I urge you, sometime before next Sunday, to go ahead and read the whole thing, Matthew 5-7, at one sitting. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the way Jesus tells us who we are, who he is, and how we can be part of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let’s start with who we are. Continue reading

What Are You Looking For? – Sermon on John 1:29-42

January 15, 2017
Epiphany 2A

Today’s gospel lesson picks up the story right where we left off last week, after the baptism of Jesus by his cousin, John the Baptist. John and a few of his disciples are together as Jesus approaches.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified,
“I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.
I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). – John 1:29-42

Do you ever get discouraged at your own thick-headedness? I sure do. I’m pretty sure there is a groove in my skull where a 2×4 fits just perfectly, because I seem to constantly need that kind of a wake up call. So I take a small amount of comfort in knowing that John the Baptist’s disciples were just as thick in the head as I often am.

After all, John has to tell them two days in a row, “ Look, there goes the Lamb of God!” They have to hear it at least twice before they get it, and start following Jesus instead of John.

But they follow him at a distance. Maybe they are just curious. Maybe they are uncertain what John’s story about baptizing Jesus really means. Whatever their reasons, these two disciples stay far enough behind Jesus that I’m sure they were surprised when he turned and faced them.

“What are you looking for?” he asks.

These are the first words Jesus speaks in John’s gospel. We heard the opening verse of John on Christmas Eve: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…” But that Word doesn’t actually utter a word until 38 verses later, and when he speaks,
it’s a simple but profound question.

When Jesus asks Andrew and the other disciple, “What are you looking for?” it means a lot more than just, “Can I help you find something? Is there some object you’ve lost?” Jesus is really asking, “What are you searching for in life? What is your soul’s deepest desire? What are you seeking with all of your being?” What are you looking for?

Jesus asks us the same question. What do you seek? What are you hunting for, to satisfy your soul’s deep longing? He’s still asking. He still wants to know, because we are really good at looking for all the wrong things, in all the wrong places.

We can devote ourselves to all kinds of self-help programs, diets, and workout routines, in an effort to improve our physical and emotional lives. We can also devote ourselves to destructive habits that eat up our time and financial resources, and tear down our bodies and our minds. We can waste our lives looking for the next big thrill, expecting to be entertained at ever-increasing levels of stimulation. We are really good at consuming, as if buying material goods will somehow make us feel important, accepted, and loved.

What are you looking for? What will satisfy your deepest need? What will bring you joy?

When Jesus asks them, “what are you looking for?” the disciples of John don’t give him an elevator speech or a thoughtfully prepared mission statement. But they know what they are looking for. They know that the thing they’ve been seeking is this man standing in front of them. They respond with a question of their own. They only want to know, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”

Again, this means more than, “what’s your current address?” They are really asking, “Teacher, what is it like to abide with you? Is there room for us in your life? Can we come live where you live? Will you teach us? Because, what we are looking for something to devote our lives to. We are looking for someone who will teach us the things of God. If you are who John says you are, we want to spend every possible moment in your presence. Where are you abiding, so we can come abide with you?”

And Jesus invites them to “come and see.” He doesn’t give them a business card with an address they can find later. He invites them immediately into his life. He does this with the understanding that they may choose not to follow. Once they’ve seen his accommodations and had a taste of his teaching, they may not want to stay. But his invitation is open anyway. Come, and see.

When Jesus says, “what are you looking for?” he’s asking if we are ready to be disciples. If we are looking for comfort, or security, or some assurance that we are right, we might not be ready to follow Jesus, to abide with him and become his devoted students. If we are looking for acceptance into the “Cool Kids Club” or recognition for belonging to the most popular leader’s inner circle, we might not be ready to ask where Jesus lives.

But if we want to be with him day in and day out from this moment and for all eternity, if we recognize that following Jesus is the only way to know the fullness of God’s love, then it just makes sense for us to want to spend every moment in Christ’s presence.

Asking, “Where are you abiding? Can I stay with you?” puts a different twist on our usual thinking about becoming a Christian. We often talk about making Jesus part of our lives, inviting him into our hearts to live with us. But what if we turn that around, and realize that Jesus is welcoming us into his life? Jesus invites us to come and see where he lives. He offers us the opportunity to become part of what he is doing. Jesus invites us to join him in his life.

His invitation is open, but it’s up to us to follow, up to us to “come and see.” We must decide if we can make that kind of deep commitment, if we can devote ourselves to that kind of close relationship. It means letting go of our own desires and expectations, and surrendering our whole being to God’s desire and plan for us.

What are you seeking with all your being? What is your soul’s deep longing? Are you ready to go be part of Jesus’ life, so you can find what you seek? Once you’ve found Christ, what happens next?

Andrew shows us. Notice that it doesn’t take long for Andrew to go find his brother Simon. And the instant Jesus meets Simon, he gives him a new name: Peter, or “Rock.” In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus waits until later in his ministry to rename Peter, and he goes on to say, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:18) But here, Jesus gives him a new name the moment he meets him.

Jesus gives each of us a new name the moment we meet him, too. Last week, we talked about the name given to us at our baptism. We are called “Beloved” and “Child of God.” In 1 John 3:1 we are reminded of this new identity. John writes, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

But Christ gives us another name, a specific one, just as he renamed Simon to indicate what his new mission in life would be. Maybe your name is “servant” or “healer” or prayer warrior” or “teacher.” Maybe you have been named “reconciler” or “leader” or “joy-bringer.” Whatever your new name is, it is an invitation to live into your new identity as a follower of Jesus in a particular way.

It may take a couple of times hearing someone else say, “Look! There goes the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” before you realize that following Jesus wherever he goes, living with him more than allowing him to live with you, is the only way you are ever going to find what you are seeking. Entering into a life-long commitment to live with Jesus, and to be part of his saving work in the world, is the only way you will ever fulfill that deep longing inside you. It’s a longing that you might not even be able to name. But it’s there. And only Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, can fill the God-sized hole in your heart. It isn’t so much a matter of inviting him into your life. It’s a matter of accepting the invitation to become part of Christ’s life.

This season of Epiphany follows a theme called “The Great Invitation.” Over the next few weeks, Jesus will invite each of us to follow him, to sit at his feet and learn from him, to come and see what life in Christ has to offer.

Jesus isn’t sitting around waiting for us to invite him into our lives. Instead, Jesus invites us into his life. With his “come and see” Jesus includes us in his Lamb of God work. It isn’t really about looking for something to fill the God-sized hole in our lives, after all. It’s about filling the us-sized place we can claim in God’s family by accepting Christ’s invitation to grace.

Pastor Mike Lyle writes, “When will we stop being challenged? Never. When does God stop asking difficult questions and expecting extraordinary feats of faith? Never. When do we get to rest on our laurels? Never. When can we become self-satisfied, self-congratulatory and complacent? Never. When will God stop loving us, stop feeding us, stop protecting us, stop nurturing us? Never. When will God give up on us, leave us to our fate, sell us out to that which would destroy us? Never. What are we looking for? Nothing that we thought [was important], but everything that we most want and need. Where do we find it? Where Andrew and Simon, James, John and the others found it, in Christ our Lord.” (Mike Lyle, http://wsumc.com/wp-content/uploads/1.19.14.pdf)

The Great Invitation has been extended to you. Come, and see.

Let’s pray.

Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
Lamb of God,

you invite us into your life, to be with you, to learn from you,
to abide in your love.

Help us to accept your invitation to grace,
knowing that it requires more of us than we are equipped to offer.

There is nothing we can do to save ourselves;
it is your grace alone that saves us.

Forgive us for trying to rule over our own lives.
Help us completely surrender to your love.

Grant that we may desire you more than anything.
Show us the way to the Father,
that we may claim our place in your Kingdom as beloved children of God.

All glory and praise belong to you, Almighty God,
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, now and forever. Amen.

walking behind the bishop2015-01-10 10.15.09

Counting the Cost – Sermon on Luke 14:25-33

September 4, 2016
Watch a video of this sermon here.

One of the first phrases I learned to speak when I lived in Germany was, “Wie viel kostet es?” “How much does it cost?” I had to know how much things were worth, to stay within the budget dictated by the cash in my hand whenever I went to the market. What we ate depended on its cost. If the cost was too high, we didn’t eat it!

I am not a “shopper.” I don’t enjoy looking at rows and rows of merchandise with an “I’ll know it when I see it” attitude. It may be because whenever I see something I really like, it’s way outside my budget. I know I’m in trouble if the price tag isn’t visible, because: “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.”

In today’s passage, Jesus explains the cost of true discipleship to his followers. Jesus is on the move again. He has left the hospitality of the Pharisee’s table, and is headed once again toward Jerusalem. He knows that this will be his last journey, that the price tag on this trip is high, and it isn’t negotiable.

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.
So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. (Luke 14:25-33)

Wow. It almost sounds as if Jesus is trying to get people to stop following him! Have you ever heard Jesus be so negative? Ten times in these few verses, he uses the word “not” – three of those are in the phrase “cannot be my disciple.” Jesus has seen the crowds growing behind him, and he knows that some of these followers are only tagging along to see another miracle, especially if that miracle includes getting a free lunch. Some of them are following only because they’ve been caught up in the mob mentality that has begun to develop around Jesus and his disciples. So he turns to the crowd and tells them, “Unless you’re serious about following me, you might as well go home!”

But Jesus is not trying to get rid of followers. He just wants them – and us – to know what is involved in being a true disciple. We need to know what we’re getting into when we say we want to follow Jesus, because the cost is high.

Specifically, Jesus says we must hate our families if we want to follow him. This was pretty strong stuff in a culture where family was everything, and loyalty to one’s family was the highest loyalty expected. So let’s take a look at that word, “hate,” to see what Jesus means.

First, we must realize that this kind of “hate” is not an emotion – it’s an attitude of perspective. Keep in mind that the Greek vocabulary Luke used had relatively few words in it. So, the Greek word misew can be translated as “hate” but it also means disregard, be indifferent to, or to love one thing less than something else. In this particular instance, Jesus is offering a comparison between the devotion one would normally hold sacred only for family members and the devotion required to become one of his disciples. Jesus is saying, “Love me more than you would even love your family, as important as that is to you. Love me more than whatever holds first place in your life, whatever matters most to you.”

Not only must we be willing to put Jesus ahead of all other priorities, he raises the price of discipleship even higher. “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple,” he says. Keep in mind that, at this point in his ministry, his own cross wasn’t even on the horizon yet. His original listeners would not have been aware, as we are, of the connection between this challenge and the suffering Jesus would soon experience at his own crucifixion.

To them, taking up one’s cross was a general expression of accepting the burden of great suffering, suffering that would surely end in death. It was the same responsibility a soldier would accept, going into war. If following Jesus meant taking up a cross, it meant staying loyal to him through certain suffering, to the point of death.

Jesus must have seen the faces around him turn somber as his words started to sink in. Whenever Jesus found that his words were too hard for people to hear, he turned to one of his favorite teaching strategies – telling parables.

“If you were going to build a tower, wouldn’t you first sit down and figure out if you could afford it? You wouldn’t want to become a laughingstock because you failed to plan your project well! And if you were a king going into battle, wouldn’t you first sit down and figure out if your army was strong enough to defeat the enemy?”

But there are three things about these little parables we may miss if we read them too quickly. First, Jesus tells us that the process of building or going to battle starts with sitting down. Counting the cost requires some thoughtful pondering before any action can take place. In the same way, we can’t follow Jesus any old way it suits us. We have to carefully consider the commitment we are making.

Second, Jesus focuses on outcomes. Counting the cost indicates that there is some end in mind, some goal to be reached. You don’t start building a tower unless you plan to finish it. You don’t head into battle unless you think you can overcome the enemy. You don’t follow Jesus unless you want your life to be changed forever.

Finally, Jesus indicates that the cost is too high for the resources available. No matter what accounting system you use, no matter what assets you think you have, when it comes to following Jesus, you don’t have enough to pay the cost on your own. Your resources are not sufficient. There is no price tag visible, so you can’t afford it.

But Jesus isn’t finished. “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions,” he says. Not only do we need to count the cost, that cost is everything we hold valuable. We have to bid farewell to everything we call our own. We have to leave behind everything that matters most to us.

And when Jesus says you have to leave behind everything that matters to you, whether it is family, or good standing in the community, or the things you own, he means you have to leave it behind now, and keep leaving it behind. This isn’t a one-time-and-you’re-done thing. It’s an ongoing, day-by-day, moment-by-moment surrender to God’s grace and mercy.

To be a disciple of Jesus you must know that the cost will be putting Jesus first, and everything else last. That starts the moment you say “Yes” to Jesus, and it does not stop. Ever. There is no 401K plan for being a Christian. You don’t retire from following Jesus, to live off the investment of your past discipleship. Every day starts anew. Every moment requires your full commitment. And if you aren’t willing to give your all, Jesus says, you cannot call yourself one of his followers.

All those lessons Jesus has been teaching us the past few weeks about hypocrisy, letting our fears get the best of us, placing a higher value on material wealth than spiritual wealth – it all boils down to this: go all in, or go home. We can’t hold anything back, if we want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Because there is no way to “sort of” take up your cross. There is no way to follow Jesus on your own terms, when it is convenient to you. You can’t follow Jesus for the way it makes you feel about yourself or the way others admire your piety. You must surrender everything to Christ, or you aren’t really a follower.

The cost is high, but the cost of not following Jesus is even higher. Yes, Jesus asks us to leave everything else behind, to make him our first priority, but what price do we pay if we decide to not follow Jesus? What is the cost of refusing to be a true disciple? In his book, Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard lists the things we lose if we don’t follow Jesus with our whole being. He writes:

“Non-discipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring.”

The question you have to ask yourself is this: Is it worth it? Is it worth giving up abiding peace to live life on your own terms? Is it worth sacrificing a life penetrated by love to settle for having things the way you like them? Is it worth cutting yourself off from faith that trusts in God’s overarching plan for your good, in order to run your life the way you want to? Is it worth giving up hope, and the power to stand in the face of evil? Is it worth it to you to say “No” to God’s abundance, so you can skimp by on your own meager resources? Because that’s what it costs to not take up your cross.

Notice that I am not talking about salvation here. I am talking about discipleship. I grew up in a church that focused all its attention on getting people saved, but it failed to teach those new believers how to follow Jesus and make him Lord of their lives once they’d experienced that salvation. Jesus wants to do more for us than save us from our sins, as important as that is. Jesus wants to give us abundant life, to deepen our relationship with him as we grow in faith. Jesus wants us to be his true disciples.

When we say “yes” to following Jesus, when we surrender our will to his will, something amazing happens. Bit by bit, we are changed. Each time we keep saying “yes, Lord, I leave behind everything to follow you,” we are re-formed. We are transformed, becoming more and more like Christ. We experience abundant life, by God’s grace. And we discover that the cost of following Jesus, that we thought we couldn’t possibly afford, is worth it all. Because the price has already been paid out of God’s deep love for us, and when we give our all to Christ, we receive so much more!

As we come to this Table, prepared for all who desire to follow Jesus, he invites you to count the cost. Don’t come out of habit, or because you want others to see you doing the right thing. Don’t come to prove yourself righteous, because none of us is righteous on our own. When you come to this Table, come to offer yourself, body, mind and soul, to the One who died to save you, who rose again to redeem you, and who will come again to claim you as his own. When you come to this Table, having counted the cost, come as a true follower of Jesus Christ, ready to leave behind everything you ever thought was important, so that you can take up your cross and follow Him. Amen.

Sign of the Times – Sermon on Luke 12:49-56

August 14, 2016

I have had a crazy week – how about you? There have been meetings, and we started a new worship service at Ridgeway on 23rd, plus the County Fair, with our Diaper Depot and Feeding Station, and Thursday night’s concert with 7th Time Down and Bob Lenz… it’s been busy, busy, busy around here! The constant hum of busy-ness fools us into thinking we have everything under control, as long as we can keep checking things off our “To Do” lists.

And then Jesus shows up and wads up the list and calls us nasty names. Just when we think we know what we are supposed to do and how we are supposed to do it, the King of Kings and Prince of Peace lashes out at us and calls us hypocrites – just about the worst thing he could possibly call us. You think I’m making this up?

Jesus said to his disciples (that’s us, by the way):

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!  I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!  Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!  From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three;  they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” – Luke 12:49-56

Not a very cheerful passage, is it? Remember that Jesus and his disciples were on their final journey to Jerusalem. As Jesus moved closer and closer to his destination – his death – a sense of urgency must have been rising in him. There was so much his disciples still did not understand about the Kingdom he had been born to rule. They were still looking for a Messiah who would be a military champion, someone to bring down Rome in a great show of armed strength. They were looking for a king who would restore the throne of David. They were not looking for a King reigning on the throne of heaven, or a king who would be a servant, or one who would be tortured and executed. They were not expecting that kind of king.

It must have been very frustrating for Jesus. Here he had been teaching with stories and parables about the way the Kingdom of God works, and they still didn’t get it. Once in a while, there would be a glimmer of understanding, but it would quickly fade, as the disciples who knew Jesus best kept trying to put him into the box of their own expectations. Can you hear the exasperation in his voice, as Jesus starts yelling – first at the twelve, and then at the crowds that were always gathering wherever he went?

Earlier, Jesus had rebuked James and John for wanting to bring down fire on some Samaritans who had not welcomed them (Luke 9:51-56), and now he declares that he cannot wait to bring down fire himself. Can’t you just hear James and John complaining, “How come you get to when we don’t?”

There is a difference between cleansing fire and fire that consumes. James and John were eager to destroy, but Jesus is talking about cleansing, purifying fire. He knows what lies ahead for him, and for his disciples, and he wants to be sure they have been refined and tested, so that they can remain strong when the time comes.

And that time is very near. Very soon, Jesus will ride a donkey into Jerusalem while the crowds shout “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” A few days later, these same crowds will cry out “Crucify him! Crucify him!” and he will be led to the place of the skull, hung on a cross, and crucified. There isn’t much time left before the prophets’ words will be fulfilled.

Against this image of cleansing fire, Jesus throws another image, one we normally associate with water. He speaks of his own baptism, not as water to extinguish the flames, but as an example of what purification by fire prepares us to endure. He knows he will be put to the ultimate test.

The Jesus we see in this passage doesn’t seem much like the Jesus who loves and heals and cares for the poor. No, this Jesus announces division instead of peace. His rant sounds more like John the Baptist than the Beatitudes.

This Jesus is fed up with the way people keep insisting that their rules are more important than God’s love. He didn’t come to endorse the status quo. Jesus has come to set into motion God’s radical will for the world. The stress Jesus is under is not anxiety, but a total absorption in his mission. That mission is to redeem a broken world.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus pits “peace” against “division,” treating them as opposites? We often think of the opposite of peace as war, and the opposite of division as unity. But here Jesus turns the dial another notch. It’s as if Jesus is saying any division is war, and there can be no peace without unity.

Yet he knows that his own mission and ministry will cause division, even between family members. Jesus describes how following him with undivided hearts can set children against their parent or parents against their children, if those we love do not follow Jesus, too. It isn’t that Christ intends to cause ruptures just for the sake of disruption, but he knows that being his disciple carries with it the cost of forsaking everything else, and not everyone will make that kind of commitment.

Did you notice that all the divisions Jesus lists are between generations? Jesus is telling us that family ties no longer determine a person’s identity, loyalty, or status. Instead, what marks us is whether we accept or deny Jesus as Lord. What ties believers together is not our ancestry, but Christ. Jesus overturns the world’s priorities, causing division and clearing the way for God’s divine plan for peace to come to its fullness in the Kingdom of God.

God’s divine plan for peace is not always welcome. Those who benefit from the status quo, who hold positions of power at the expense of the powerless, will oppose any who come alongside Jesus to bring peace and justice to others. It is a sign of our times that political and military power struggles are escalating throughout the world, not just here in the United States. That sign, Jesus says, is something we need to pay attention to.

Even those of us who aren’t farmers will check the weather report before we go to bed, and again first thing in the morning, so we can order our lives accordingly. This week, as the temperature and humidity levels rose, I was watching the radar pretty carefully on my phone’s weather app. I was grateful when concert organizers used the same tools to determine we should move Thursday evening’s concert indoors, instead of risking a violent thunderstorm hitting the grandstand during the performance, or someone being overtaken with the heat.

Jesus is saying that it is nothing less than hypocrisy when the same skills are not brought to bear on recognizing that the day of the Lord is near. In Luke 11, Jesus chastises the crowds because they keep asking for a sign that he is the Messiah. Now, he chastises them for their complete inability to interpret the signs they are given.

The problem is not so much that we are unable to interpret the signs of the times, but more that we are unwilling to do so. It’s interesting that Jesus uses this word “interpret,” because the root word of hypocrite – that nasty name Jesus aims in our direction – also refers to an actor, or interpreter. Just as an actor puts on a character different from his own and interprets a role, so a hypocrite interprets the weather but not the more obvious current state of affairs. This kind of interpretation is superficial, not authentic, just like an actor dressed in costume and stage makeup. It is hypocrisy.

So what does the weather look like today, here in New Ulm? What time is it getting to be? What are the current concerns of the Kingdom, which Jesus is so eager to bring to completion? How are we being hypocrites, acting out our own short-sighted interpretation of “the way things are,” and missing the point of the way things ought to be? On the surface, like an actor dressed in costume and stage makeup, we look fine. But are we really paying attention to what time it is?

As I listened to Bob Lenz speak at the 7th Time Down Concert on Thursday night, something was troubling me about his message that I couldn’t quite put my finger on until later. I realized that, for all his talk about claiming resurrection power in our lives, he never once said anything about repenting of our sin or how that resurrection power transforms us into people who love more.

Earlier in the day, I had talked with Cathy Townley, who is consulting with our “Boost Sunday Morning” team to help us look at ways we can make worship more meaningful and rich. During our conversation, Cathy said, “You need to look at what makes your church unique in your community, and live into that identity. Don’t try to be the Cool Church or the Hip Church, if that is not in your DNA. But figure out what it is your church is offering that no other church in town offers, and live into it.”

Well, I thought, we have identified that. We are forming our identity around hospitality, because that’s what we’re good at. In a moment, Jerry is going to share with you some of the ways we are already beginning to make changes to help us focus on that identity.

But as I struggled to identify what it was about Bob Lenz’s presentation that didn’t sit right with me, I realized this was also the very thing we need to be sure our identity as a church makes clear to the whole community around us. Bob talked about claiming resurrection power, but it isn’t just any resurrection we are talking about. It is the power of Christ’s resurrection, offered to all who believe in him.

I’m also not just talking about life in heaven after we die. I’m talking about being resurrected from our current state of sinful death into a new life that begins immediately when we decide to turn away from living in ways that are killing us, and begin to follow Jesus into life that is rich and full and filled with joy and peace.

This church isn’t just about hospitality, because you can find that at any of the local restaurants or bed and breakfasts around town. We are about extending Christ’s hospitality to people no one else wants to welcome. We are about showing love to people no one else wants to love, in the name of Jesus. We are about helping people no one else thinks they can help, because that’s what Jesus calls us to do.

Jesus holds division and peace in tension, and asks us to interpret the times through God’s clock. What time is it? The same time it was 2000 years ago. Time to wake up. Time to take off the blinders and see what God sees. Time to repent of our complacency, our hypocrisy, our willingness to act one way in public and be something else in private, our willingness to maintain the status quo instead of moving radically into the demands of Kingdom living. It’s time to take a good hard look at who we are, and what we do, and recognize that Jesus calls us to be more – not in our own power, but in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It’s time to realize that the weather is shifting. In his second letter to the church at Corinth Paul writes, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! (2 Corinthians 6:2)” It’s time to become true followers of Jesus Christ. The time is now. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

Clothed in Christ – Sermon on Colossians 3:12-17

July 31, 2016
View a video of this sermon here. 

Did you ever play “Dress Up” when you were little? Maybe you dressed up as a superhero, or you put on your parents’ clothes to play a game of make-believe, pretending you were all grown up. Maybe you put on a costume for Halloween, or to act out your part in the Christmas pageant. Whatever you put on, it gave you permission to be someone different for a short time, to pretend you had more power or grace or holiness than you actually possessed. You could be someone new.

A couple of years ago, I listened to an interview with one of the actors from Downton Abbey. She described how putting on those amazing period costumes affected her. Her posture changed, even the way she spoke suddenly became more refined. Wearing the costume automatically put her into the character she was portraying. Putting on the dress made her into someone new.

Maybe this is why Paul chooses to use clothing as a metaphor in his letter to the Colossians. Paul writes about taking off the old self and clothing ourselves in the new life in Christ. Colossians 3:1-11 tells us to strip away everything from our lives that is not of God, so that we can put on the new self, the self that is constantly being restored to bear the image of God. In that process, Paul tells us, there is no longer any identity that matters, except for Christ, who is all and in all.

But, even though the assigned reading for today ends there, Paul does not! He goes on to describe what we are to put on, once we have stripped away all the sinfulness and self-centeredness, and have given ourselves over completely to become followers of Jesus Christ.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:12-17

This taking off the old and putting on the new that Paul describes is the essence of following Jesus. We renounce sin in all its forms and repent of our old, broken way of living for ourselves. Then we turn away from that life and toward the new life in Christ that is filled with grace and peace. We begin living for God, and in the process, we become more and more like Christ.

Clothe yourself with Christ’s attributes of humility and gentleness, forgiveness and love, Paul tells us. As we consciously begin to wear these attributes, we may find that they don’t fit very well at first. They won’t fit at all if we try to put them on without first taking off the pride and anger, the lying and the fear that marked our old life.

For Christ’s goodness to live in us and fit us well, we must strip off everything that connects us to sin. Then, and only then, will the characteristics of Christ-likeness begin to fit. As they become more and more a part of our thinking and speaking and doing, we find that something else happens. Putting on these external behaviors does something to our internal spirit.

“Let Christ’s peace rule in your hearts,” Paul writes. What began as an outward change of behavior now becomes and inward change of heart. The peace of Christ begins to take over the way we think and behave, ruling not only our hearts, but also our actions.

It is important to remember that all of the Christ-like characteristics we are to put on are social ones. We are connected to one another, and as Christ’s body, we are sent into the world to connect with others, as well.

Kenneth Sehested writes, “There is more than functional purpose for being clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bearing with one another, forgiving each other, binding us to each other – such work is not for the faint of heart. This is not conflict-avoidance advice. … This is about what to do when bare-knuckled emotional brawls break out.”[1]

Because they will. People whose lives are connected by a common purpose, as we are in the church, are bound to come into conflict with each other from time to time. The question isn’t whether, but how will we respond to that conflict when it arises.

When you avoid me because you are angry or disagree with me, it does damage, not only to the Body of Christ to which we both belong, but also to your witness to the world that is watching. When I confront you with anger or abusive language, it does damage, not only to the body of Christ to which we both belong, but also to my witness to a world that is always looking to see what makes us different because we follow Christ Jesus.

That’s why Paul puts one Christ-like virtue ahead of all the others. “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony,” he writes. Even when we disagree, as we sometimes will, speaking the truth in love will keep us in harmony with one another, and keep our witness to the rest of the world intact.

Paul goes on to say, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” This change of heart, this movement from clothing ourselves in Christ to finding inward peace, happens when we immerse ourselves in the Word of God.

John W. Coakley writes, “The texts of the Bible … are not to be treated as objects to be understood, containers of ideas to be questioned or debated, rather, they are to be taken into oneself through the whole shape of daily life.”[2] The author of Hebrews puts it another way: “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). And in his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). When Christ’s word dwells in us richly, our lives bubble up in worship and praise, and we are filled to the brim with thanksgiving.

Giving God thanks and praise is the one thing you can do that will set you apart from the rest of the world. Because the rest of the world is busy trying to be self-sufficient, instead of God-dependent. The rest of the world is busy paying attention to its physical desires instead of seeking the Kingdom of God. The rest of the world is obsessed with hatred and fear, with anger and lies, instead of the love, peace, and truth that Christ offers to all who will call on his name and turn their lives over to him.

Three times in two verses, Paul reminds us to be thankful, to have gratitude in our hearts, to give God our thanks and praise in everything we do. The word for thanksgiving is Eucharist, a word we closely associate with worship. We don’t know if the early church was already using this word to mean Communion, as we use it now, but it’s helpful to remember that we call it Eucharist because the solemn rite we follow in this sacrament always begins with something called the Great Thanksgiving.

Paul tells us that, having put off the old sinful self, and having put on Christ, our hearts are transformed by Christ’s peace as we take God’s Word into ourselves. The only response we can offer to such a great gift is our continual thanks and praise. Our lives become lives of worship, so that everything we do or think or say is done in the name of Jesus, even as we give thanks to God through Christ.


A church was looking for a new pastor, and the District Superintendent (DS) sat down with church leaders to talk about what they wanted to see in this new person. “Someone who can attract young families,” they said. This made sense, because the church had been in decline for many years, and the congregation was aging. So the DS asked them, “what is it about your church that young families would find attractive now?”

They looked at each other, then at the floor.
“Well, what attracted you to this church when you first started to come here?” the DS asked encouragingly.

“It’s the fellowship. This is where I can see my friends every week, and we can catch up with each other’s lives,” one woman replied. “It’s where I get a sense of belonging, where my friendships were formed.”

The DS thought for a moment, then said, “Yes, and these days, people who are under the age of 35 with children can get that same sense of belonging and friendship building at their kids’ soccer games, or other sports activities. They build friendships with other parents whose kids are involved in the same things their kids are involved in. They don’t need church for ‘fellowship,’” the DS said. “What else?”

“Well, church is where I get involved in helping other people. We work at the food pantry or take a meal to the homeless shelter, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of that,” said one man.

“Yes, and people who are under the age of 35 do those things, too. They just don’t need a church to help them do it. They are very involved in social justice issues, but they work through secular organizations to get that same satisfaction,” the DS told them. “What else?”

The room was silent. Someone coughed.

Finally, the DS said, “What’s the one thing that church has to offer that soccer teams and social agencies often don’t? … Anyone?”

Still no answer.

“Okay, look at it this way. What difference has being part of this church made to your faith? How has following Jesus Christ, as a member of this congregation, changed your life?”

“Oh pastor,” one man grumbled, “You don’t want to go there. That’s getting too personal!”

“Well,” the DS answered, “it’s the one thing you have going for you that other social groups and service groups don’t. The one thing the church can claim as its own is Jesus, and if you can’t identify how Jesus has changed your life, what makes you think anyone else would be attracted to your church?”


Sometimes it’s the people in the pews who need Jesus the most.

When we put on Christ, we look different, we act differently, we speak differently, because we not only wear Christ on the outside, we are filled with Christ from the inside. And it shows. People notice. They become curious, and want to know why our lives are different from theirs, why we have peace and joy in abundance, whatever the circumstances are, why we aren’t greedy like everyone else, why we aren’t consumed with lust, why we aren’t angry all the time, why we don’t resort to slander and gossip and foul language.

If no one is noticing how your life is different from theirs, why is that? If no one is asking you how you have such peace, why is that? If no one is remarking about the joy you always show, why aren’t they? If no one can see Christ in you, ask yourself why.

Could it be that you haven’t really been changed, that you have not ever experienced the transformation Christ offers to all who will call him Lord? Is it possible that the person who needs Jesus most is you?

If you are like the person who comes to church to see your friends, but Christ hasn’t changed your life and made you new, maybe it’s time for you to strip off the old you and clothe yourself in Jesus Christ.

If you come to church for the satisfaction of serving others, maybe it’s time for you to strip off the old you and clothe yourself in Jesus Christ.

If you talk one way at church, but your language at home and at work is laced with criticism and slander and abusive talk, maybe it’s time for you to cast off the old you and clothe yourself “with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Maybe it’s time for you to start bearing with your sisters and brothers in Christ, and if you have a complaint against another, forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven you.

“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

[1] Kenneth Sehested, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 1, 160.

[2] John W. Coakley, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1, 162.

Sheep Without A Shepherd – Sermon on Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 Pentecost 8B

July 19, 2015

We stopped outside of Caspian for gas as we headed home from a few blissful days on a lake in Michigan’s Upper Penninsula. As we pulled out of the station, the transmission slipped. And kept slipping. “Let’s get to Eagle River,” Bruce said. “Maybe we can find a mechanic to look at it.” The clerk at the auto parts store told us where to find the car dealership, and as we pulled into the service department, I Googled “transmission repair Eagle River.” Just in case. Sure enough, no one could look at the car before afternoon. So we headed out to Eagle Transmission on the edge of town, figuring we could always come back if we needed to.

The mechanic at Eagle Transmission took us for a ride, with his computer plugged into our car. “Well, it’s one of two things. It could just be the solenoid, which means 4-6 hours and about $850. Or the clutch plates are already shot, and we’re talking a total rebuild. I’m booked up into next week. You can try taking the back roads home. Stay off the interstate, because you can’t go more than 35 miles a hour, or it will try to shift into third gear and you’ll tear up those clutch plates for sure. Good luck.” Continue reading

Eureka! Healed for a Purpose! Sermon on Mark 1:29-39

February 8, 2015

A kindergarten music teacher always introduced the first concert of the school year with these words to the parents: “Don’t blink, or you’ll miss a whole song.”

As we read through this first chapter of Mark’s gospel, I remember that advice. Mark wastes no time telling his story, and his urgency comes through, even when we try to divide his gospel into neat little passages that we can examine one by one. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss a whole story.

Spreading the events of a single day over several weeks gives us the opportunity to study those events closely, but we still get the impression that the people who were following Jesus had a hard time keeping up. Already, we’ve found Mark’s favorite word, “immediately” again and again – Mark uses it twelve times in the first chapter alone. So, just in case you need to catch your breath, or you made the mistake of blinking, here’s what has happened so far:

  • Jesus called four fishermen to follow him, and they left their boats and nets immediately.
  • They came to Capernaum, a small fishing village, where the four apparently lived.
  • On the Sabbath, Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach with authority. A demon-possessed man challenged him, and named him as the Holy One of God – in other words, the Messiah – but Jesus told the unclean spirit to be silent and leave the man. It obeyed immediately.

It’s still the Sabbath. Jesus and his disciples have just left the synagogue after this encounter. The next part of the story happens in four distinct scenes over the next few hours. Hear the Word of the Lord as the story continues in the first chapter of the gospel of Mark, beginning at verse 29. Scene One:

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

Maybe they went to Simon’s house because it was closest to the synagogue. Or maybe it was the largest home, with room for guests. Or maybe Simon just headed to his own house because he liked to take the lead. However they came to Simon’s home, we learn something about him that we didn’t know before. He has a family to support. And his wife’s mother is sick with a fever.

Simon tells Jesus this “immediately” – perhaps to explain why she does not come to greet the guests who have just arrived, or maybe to warn those guests that there is illness in the house they should avoid. Or maybe Simon has a hunch that this Jesus, who has just shown authority over an unclean spirit, might also have the authority to drive out a fever.

And that is exactly what Jesus does. He doesn’t say a word. He only puts out his hand and takes the hand of Simon’s mother-in-law. The fever is gone. Immediately. As Jesus brings her to her feet, the verb is identical to the one Mark will use in chapter 16 to describe Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead. He lifts her up.

And the mother-in-law’s response to this miraculous healing is also immediate. She gets busy and serves them. Greta Ortega writes, “her service cannot be understood as a woman’s menial work under the domination of lazy males, but as a true messianic ministry.”[1] In essence, Simon’s mother-in-law becomes Jesus’ first deacon, reminding us that Jesus saw himself as a servant, too.

Later in his ministry, Jesus will tell his disciples, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)

And this brings us to Scene Two, beginning in verse 32:

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 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.

As the Sabbath draws to a close, we see that you can’t keep a secret in a small town like Capernaum. By now, everyone knows what happened in the synagogue, and many people will have already heard that Simon’s mother-in-law is no longer sick. As soon as Sabbath ends, a stream of people makes its way to Simon’s door, asking for healing, asking Jesus to do for them what they saw him do for that man in the synagogue.

Notice how Mark frames this story. Earlier in the day, Jesus performed a single exorcism in a very public place. Later in the day, he performs a single act of healing in a very private place, his friend’s home. Now the worlds collide. The private home becomes a public space, as Jesus heals and casts out unclean spirits for the many who come to Simon’s door.

And notice also that there is a clear distinction between healing and exorcism in Mark’s gospel. Mark will maintain this distinction throughout the coming chapters. The most important aspect of this difference is that Jesus never touches someone to expel an unclean spirit, but he often heals through the power of touch.

Many years ago, I received a complaint from a church member about the loud conversations in the narthex before worship. I was perplexed, until I talked with the dear woman who had taken it upon herself to greet every senior member of our congregation with a hug on Sunday morning. Some of those seniors lived alone, and this was the one time during the week when they could enjoy the human connection that comes with physical touch. Some of them were a little hard of hearing, and because of that, this woman would talk more loudly to them as she engaged them in the only conversation they would have all week. What had sounded like irreverent noise to one member was actually the caring ministry of another.

This woman’s ‘hugging ministry’ was an example of the intimacy of relationship that human touch in scripture represents.[2] God created us for relationship, for nearness to himself, and that is why Jesus became human: to make God’s love real and tangible, to make God touchable. And this, as P. C. Ennis puts it, is what “makes it all the more demanding (if frightening) to realize that for some people, we are the only Jesus they will ever meet.”[3] God not only calls us into service through his Son, God calls us into community with those who long for that connection we all crave, that nearness to God made possible through Christ.

The story continues in verse 35. Scene Three:

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark,
he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 

This is one of only three times in Mark’s gospel when Jesus goes off to be alone in prayer. Luke describes several instances of Jesus seeking solitude, but in Mark, we only read about Jesus going off alone to pray here, then after he has fed the five thousand, and finally in the garden of Gethsemane on the night he is betrayed by Judas. These are pivotal moments in Mark’s story, and they all share one common element: darkness.

Darkness and wilderness are closely linked here. Jesus goes off to some deserted location, reminding us of his time in the desert at the beginning of his ministry, when he was preparing to withstand Satan’s temptation. After learning of John the Baptist’s death and then feeding 5000 (plus women and children), Jesus will send his disciples off in a boat so he can spend the night in prayer (6:46). On another night, in a lonely garden, Jesus will pray, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (14:32-42) The darkness associated with Christ’s times of solitude is the very darkness where he questions God, where he faces fear, and where Jesus submits to his Father’s will.

Even Jesus struggled to find his purpose at the beginning of his ministry, but he knew how to discover it. He prayed. The one who knew God’s heart better than anyone still set aside time to be alone with his Father in the darkness, to seek God’s will in extended times of prayer.

Called to service, called to community, we are also called sometimes into the darkness. It is here that we meet God, and sometimes our fears, face to face. It is in solitude and darkness that we find our purpose and learn to trust completely in God’s will.

Keep in mind that going out alone, in the middle of the night, in unfamiliar territory, would have been a very dangerous thing for Jesus to do. There were no streetlamps to light the way, no motion activated floodlights to scare off the wild animals. There were no cell phones to notify others if something went wrong. There was no GPS to help you find your way back to town if you got lost.

Being alone in the dark wilderness wasn’t the safest place to be in the first century. For Jesus, though, it was the only place where he could talk one-on-one with his Father, without interruption. Well, almost without interruption.

The story concludes, beginning in verse 36: Scene Four.

36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Simon and his friends must have expected that Jesus would just keep on doing what he had done yesterday – healing the sick, casting out demons, meeting the needs that were presented to him. So far, the plan had seemed to work pretty well. They had given up fishing, but fishing for people wasn’t so bad, if all you had to do was control the crowds that kept coming to see Jesus perform his miracles. They could work from home, instead of from the boats. It would be great! Come on, Jesus, let’s go watch you do all the heavy lifting! The crowds are clamoring. You don’t want to disappoint your public.

But Jesus tells them something they weren’t expecting to hear. “Let’s go to the neighboring towns so I can preach there, too. That’s my job.”

The disciples may have been thinking, “What, leave Capernaum? Leave the comfort and security of what we know? When you said, ‘Follow me’ we weren’t expecting to follow you that far, Jesus.” They may have thought it, but Mark doesn’t indicate that they said it. This was a moment of decision for the disciples. There would be many more like it. Each time, they would have to decide, “Do we keep following?”

And that is the choice we face each day, too. The people of Capernaum had missed the point. They showed up for the miracles, but they failed to hear the message Jesus was preaching to them. Repent, turn away from your old ways, and believe the Good News that the Kingdom of God is now present with you.
Be changed.
Be transformed.
Keep following.

Jesus never went out looking for people to heal.[4] That was never his primary mission. People came to him, seeking his healing touch, asking for his help, and he had compassion on them. Some of them did believe. Some did repent and follow Jesus, and their lives were changed forever. These were the ones who, like Simon’s mother-in-law, responded with gratitude and devotion.

But Jesus had to choose between becoming the local healer and reaching as many people as possible with the good news of God’s love for them. The disciples would probably have preferred for Jesus to stay in Capernaum, healing from his home base, and theirs. But Jesus leads them out into their own dark wilderness: the unknown territory of introducing others to the Kingdom of God and leading them to repentance.

The disciples learned that you can’t be a true follower of Jesus by sitting in the comfort of your own living room. You have to get up, as Simon’s mother-in-law did, and join with others in the work of the Kingdom of God. Because for some people, we are the only Jesus they will ever meet.

We may not be the only ones who will satisfy their urgent, physical needs, but we are the only ones who will introduce them and welcome them into the family of God. We are the only ones who will help them recognize their need for a Savior. We are the only ones who can show them what it means to be transformed into Christ’s image through the daily disciplines of prayer and Bible study, service and sacrifice. We are the only ones who can show them what it means to decide every day to keep following Jesus. We are the only ones who can love them as Christ loved us, who can make that love tangible and touchable for them.
We are the only Jesus they will ever meet.

Let us pray.

O Lord, healer of our every ill, we come to you in our weakness, in our uncertainty. Just as your friends in Capernaum looked to you in expectation and hope, we come to you now, asking you to heal us, to free us from the unclean spirits that haunt us.

Because we know that you can, dear Jesus. we know you are able to do more than we can imagine. We know you can fix what’s wrong in us. So stretch out your hand and touch us, Lord. Heal our brokenness of body, mind, and spirit. Make us whole.

And then, Lord, help us to keep following you. Don’t let us turn back to our old ways of trying to cope. Help us to keep trusting you, even when you lead us into the dark unknown territory of going wherever you go.

Because we want to serve you, Lord, with the same gratitude and dedication Simon’s mother-in-law showed. We want to join with you, Lord, in the work of establishing your kingdom here on earth. And we want to stay with you, Lord, showing others the way through their own darkness, leading them to you.
We pray these things in your precious name.
 Amen.

[1] Greta Ortega, Feasting on the Word, Year B Volume 1, 334.

[2] P.C. Ennis, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, 334.

[3] Ennis, 336.

[4] R. T. France, NIGTC: The Gospel of Mark, 109.