Monthly Archives: September 2021

Shucks!

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark.

Jesus and his disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”  ( Mark 9:30-37)

                                           ————

It was Thanksgiving Day and the first grade teacher asked her children to draw something that they were thankful for. She knew   most of these children were from the poor neighbourhood around  the school, and had little to be thankful for, but she also knew that most of them would draw turkeys.

So she was taken aback when little Douglas handed her his picture. It was of a hand, very simply drawn.  She held up the picture for all to see, and asked if anyone could guess whose hand it was

One child said, “I think it is the hand of God that brings us food.” Another said, “ A farmer. Because he grows turkeys.” There were many other ideas of what the hand represented, but it wasn’t until all the others were at work that the teacher bent over Douglas’s desk and asked him whose hand it was.

“It’s your hand, teacher, “ he mumbled.

She was surprised, but then she remembered that frequently at recess, she had taken Douglas, a scrubby forlorn child, by the hand.

She often did this with other children, but it had obviously meant  much more to Douglas. Perhaps, she thought, this was what Thanksgiving should be for; not to remember  the things we have received, but to be thankful for the chance, in whatever small way, to give something to others.

Thanks-giving – thanks for being able to give?

Today we heard that Jesus brought a child forward, perhaps it was Peter’s child, and said  to his disciples,  “When you welcome even a child, you welcome me. And when you welcome me you welcome the one who sent me.”

Well, what’s so unusual about welcoming a child?  We all love children, don’t we?  Who can look at their little faces, so open and so frank, and so accepting, and not welcome them?

Jesus was fond of turning things around, however. Like when he said,  “If you want the place of honor, you should take the lowest place – you should serve the others.”

Remember also, ‘Those are first will be last, and those who are last will be first,’ and so on?

So it was with that example of a child.

In that society, children were last. Oh they were loved, but they ranked lower than slaves in the hierarchy of the time. They didn’t contribute anything, and in an economic system where the ordinary person would be lucky to get one meal a day, children would be fed last.

Unwanted babies, mostly girl babies, were left outside to die of exposure.

Actually, things are not so different today.  In some societies, children are still not valued. Some are sold into prostitution or domestic slavery. Some are forced to work at looms, for ten or twelve hours a day, weaving carpets for export to the West. 

What Jesus was saying when he called that child to him was that the lowest member of society, the dregs, if you like, must  be loved and wanted, and treated with respect.  And served!

Who are the dregs of our society?

Surely those addicted to drugs have to be right in there. 

I remember some time ago,  a newspaper reporting on the placement of safe injection sites for drug users in Vancouver, and as part of that story, showed a young woman, emaciated, gaunt, injecting herself with the drug she must have.

The veins in her arms were so damaged  that she had to inject herself in her neck. There was a picture of her doing this with the help of a piece of mirror.

I was full of compassion for the woman, that she had this deadly compulsion, but I was disgusted that the paper would show her degradation.  The desire for a news story, seemed to outweigh any consideration of that woman’s innate worth as a human being.

Who was the greatest –  the photographer trying to get a  scoop, by using this woman, or the people who set up safe sites?

In Jesus’ day, people on the fringes, had no-one to help them,  because people reasoned that they were sinners.  If they hadn’t sinned, then surely God would have blessed them more fully.

We hear a similar rationale applied to afflicted people today, don’t we? “ It’s their own fault. They shouldn’t get mixed up with drugs in the first place,” we might say. 

Thank God there is now a little more understanding of the complex problems that lead to self-destructive behaviour.

Someone once said that you can tell how just a society is by how it takes care of its old people.

I would expand that to say that you can tell how just a society is by the way it takes care of the unwanted. 

I think that most people reading  the story of that young woman would  agree that such people should be helped  – cared for – in some way.  

But there are those whose needs aren’t so obvious. Some people  kind of just manage to function –  they get along, but not well.  

The single mother with four kids, and no job, for example.   The lonely man who drinks himself into a stupor on a week-end but still manages to drag himself into work on Monday. The old lady who can’t clean house any more, and doesn’t eat well enough, and whose clothes are shabby.

The young people who hang about on the street till past midnight when they should be home and in bed, but they are avoiding their parents and their parents don’t care anyway.  They aren’t the lowest in society. We may not even notice them, and if we did, we would find them not so easy to welcome, wouldn’t we? 

But  “The one who welcomes such as these welcomes me,” said Jesus. “And the one who welcomes me welcomes the One who sent me.”

You know, the disciples had been talking about who would be the leaders when Jesus was king. They didn’t know yet, that instead of being seated on a throne he would be nailed to a cross.  They had yet to learn that the greatest reward comes from serving others.

The thing is, that when he asked what they were talking about they didn’t want to say,

As if he didn’t know.

If we humbly and sincerely ask Jesus to be a part of our life, I believe he will become – a part of our life – and we will be able to live a life worthy of him; a life that sees him even in those less fortunate, less able,” less worthy.”

I remember a friend of mine telling me about his little boy. This particular Sunday evening, his mom took the little guy to bed and kissed him goodnight. When  his dad, looked in later to see if his son was asleep, he found him kind of sitting up, wedged with his pillow against the wall, and still awake.

So he asked his son, why he wasn’t lying down and sleeping, and the little boy said, “I don’t want to hurt Jesus.”

“What do you mean?” his dad asked, “How can you hurt Jesus?”

“In Sunday School today they said Jesus was in my heart. I don’t want him to fall over.”

Well, when we reject Jesus, he doesn’t fall over. But when we reject the lowliest of all, we do reject him.      

The first-grade teacher who gladdened the heart of little Douglas just by taking his hand, realised that we should be thankful just for the opportunity to offer a helping hand to someone.   

We can’t change the world by ourselves.  We can’t be there for everyone. But there will be moments when we can contribute in some small way, There will be opportunities to serve someone in real need, and co-incidentally serve the Son, and the One who sent him.

You know, a little while ago, the papers were full of stories about some young man, a ‘Canadian Idol.’  One report said that since his victory, wherever he goes, people jostle each other just to shake his hand. 

Shucks!!

We can touch the hand of God Himself! 

Called to Obscurity.

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

                            Called to Obscurity.

Once at a church I served, two people stopped by the office and asked if they could speak to someone about having a child baptised. As it happened, one was a young man who with his family had come into town to take over management of one of the local banks. The other was a young woman, a girl really, unmarried and with a new baby.

The Rector decided he would visit the banker’s family, and I was to visit the young girl’s family.

When I went to her home, I found her living in a basement apartment, not with her family. The place was sparsely furnished, but clean and tidy. The father of the baby was there as were two or three of her friends. Not one of them was over eighteen years old, I guessed.

The young mother lovingly held her baby as I talked with her – with them all – and filled in the baptism application.  When I asked about godparents,  she had that organized. They were both there with her. One was a young man, a friend of the baby’s father, and the other was a young Asian woman, friend of the mother.

I got to the part in the form which asks the godparent’s religion, and whether they are baptised and confirmed, the Asian girl said she was Hindu. I didn’t ask about her baptism or confirmation. And I didn’t tell her or the baby’s mother that the godparent must be a baptised Christian. I could see the way these young people supported each other,  and I wasn’t about to interfere with that. Anyway what the bishop didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, I figured.

I did visit  them at home a few times after the baptism, and to see that the baby was alright, but I lost track of them in time.

They would be easy to lose track of. They were the sort of kids you wouldn’t notice on the street. You would walk right by them.

Frankly, in our society, they were insignificant.

Mark tells us a story in which Jesus gives the disciples lessons in ‘insignificance.’

They needed lessons. 

As they have walked with him through Galilee, he has been teaching them that the Son of Man – he – would be handed over to people who would kill him, but that three days later he would rise to life.

We are told that the disciples didn’t understand what he meant and were afraid to ask.

When they arrived in Capernaum, Jesus asked his friends about what they had been arguing on the way. They didn’t answer.  But he knew.

They had been arguing among themselves about which of them was the greatest.

He sat down and told them to gather around and told them that to get the place of honor, one must become a slave and serve others.

To be honored – in the coming kingdom – one should strive to be insignificant in this world.

He brings a child forward as an example.

Children had no status in the ancient world. Unwanted babies would be left out in the cold to die. In a world where most people didn’t know where their next meal was coming from, the  breadwinner would be fed first – to ensure the family’s survival – and the children were fed last, if at all.

So the child that Jesus brought forward exemplified insignificance, if you like.

Being insignificant is not a goal we aim for in our life, is it?

Most of us have striven to get on in our jobs, and sometimes have considered what we do to be important to our employer, and are upset if we don’t get recognition, or worse, if someone else we don’t think worthy, seems to get that recognition.  

Our culture is driven by the struggle for recognition – to be significant in some way.

If you doubt me, then check the number of people who tune into the Idol series on television.

Look at the magazines that face you as you wait to go through the supermarket check out. Whom do they feature? Celebrities, of course, has-beens and wannabes, and flavor of the day. People want to know what celebrities eat, where they live, how much they earn.  And like, what have they done now?

A few years ago, there was one young woman who had no apparent talent, apart from her good looks, and who was making millions a year, because somehow, she was a celebrity. Paris Hilton was famous just for being famous. 

Our society worships those who are significant, and despises those who have faded into insignificance.   Although those who have past the prime of their celebrity still keep popping up, trying to be significant again.

That’s not what Jesus wants for us. As he told his disciples, serve others if you wish to be held in regard in His Kingdom. Make yourself insignificant.

When I was a kid, and I got sick, my parents would send me down the road to the local clinic. One of the doctors, was Dr. Skelly.

I don’t know how old she was. Probably forty or so at that time. Her hair had been coloured and some of the colour had grown out, and coloured again, and some of that had grown out too and her hair consequently always seemed to be two or three colors. She probably did it herself.

She wore down-at-heel shoes, and usually had a ladder in her stockings. And she drove a car that harked back to before the war. WW 2 , that was.

Some of the mothers who took their children down to the clinic used to smile at each other as she went by. They would never be seen like that.

Some years later, for some reason I mentioned Dr. Skelly to a friend. He was a Roman Catholic and Dr. Skelly was a member of his church. He told me that she subsisted on next to nothing and that she sent most of her salary to support those who had nothing. 

Where some of her colleagues would drive expensive cars, she had an old  banger. Where some of her peers wore fashionable clothing, and ate at expensive restaurants, she wore old clothes and ate at the cheapest places.

Out of her white coat, and away from that clinic, you wouldn’t have known what she did. You wouldn’t even have noticed her. She made herself insignificant so she could help others even more insignificant.

That’s what Jesus wants from us. It’s the same theme he has preached all along.

To be first you must be the last.

To achieve your reward in His Kingdom, you must put other people’s needs before yours. 

You must take up your cross.

Dr. Skelly’s ministry was one of helping others by denying herself.  I guess you could say that she had taken up her cross, couldn’t you?

Although she would never characterize it like that. If asked, she would probably say, “ My own needs are quite small, so I just use what I have to help others. What’s so big about that?”

Or she might say, “I have been given a talent, a gift, by God and since God gave me that gift, I am compelled to use it to help Him, help others.”

Somebody has to!  Don’t they?

Jesus was giving his disciples a gift –  the gift of the Gospel – to use to help others  – and so that those others would have the opportunity of knowing God, and also of serving His people, and sharing in His kingdom.

He didn’t give them that gift so they could lord it over each other. As they seemed to think.

He didn’t give them the gift of fame. Or celebrity. Or of rank. Or of authority. He gave them a gift they could use to serve others. He gave them the gift of life

What gift have you or I been given? And are we using that gift to puff up ourselves, or to uplift others?

If we consider that whatever talent we have has been given us by God, then how could we consciously use it for our benefit alone? 

Jeff Miller, whose interpretations of scripture you used to be able to find on the net at Bible.Org, sees Jesus’ followers as being called to a ministry  of insignificance?

Are you fearful for your reputation or your status?  If so, then remember Jesus. He became insignificant and endured the cross for you and me.

Jeff says: That’s what a disciple of Jesus will do. He or she chooses insignificance over recognition.

Takes some thinking about, doesn’t it? It goes against what our society teaches us.

Outside the art world, Andy Warhol was best known for saying, “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”

Sometimes it seems like no-one can wait for their fifteen minutes, doesn’t it?

Some people will sell their souls for their fifteen minutes of fame.

Fifteen minutes!

Jesus calls us to obscurity in this world in exchange for an eternity of joy hereafter.

Is that a hard choice to make?

Fifteen minutes against eternity?

A Call to Action

James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.[ For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.]

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark

Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17

The Spirit Calls Us To Action
A couple had the elderly minister over for dinner. They were in the kitchen getting the food ready. The minister and their young son were sitting at the table.

The minister asked the boy,” What are we having for dinner?” the boy replied “Goat.”

The minister, surprised, said, “Goat?”

“Yes,” the boy said, “I heard my dad say this is as good a time as any to have the old goat for dinner.”

James has a lot to say today about controlling our tongue.

The unfortunate truth is that we all at some time can say the wrong thing, and parents have more opportunities than most to excel at that.

Like: ” Now if you had listened to me this would not have happened.“

There is a time in our lives, particularly when we are teens I think, when we are not inclined to listen to anybody, and yet it seems that everybody is trying to tell us what to do – parents, teachers, our minister.

And there have been times when we know we should have listened, but we were so darn ornery that we just wouldn’t.

I can remember times when my dad gave me good advice, which to my later chagrin, I never heeded, but there were also times when my dad gave me advice based on his notion of what the world was like, and which, looking back I am glad I didn’t heed.

Imagine the father of Christopher Columbus when his son told him he intended to sail around the world. ” Chris! You are going to do what? Sail around the world? Stay home! You will fall off the edge, boy. Take my word for it, you will fall off the edge!”

So there are times to listen to advice and times to ignore it. Or as James might put it, there are times to speak and times to shut up.

If we heeded every bit of advice our parents gave us we would still be driving 1947 Fords, shaving with Gillette blades and putting Brylcreem on our hair.

Young people reach an age when they want to, and need to, find things out for themselves.
And if we have brought them up to have enquiring minds, and to weigh both sides of an argument, and have given them practice in decision-making, then they will do alright.

If, however, they have been brought up in a home where mum’s or dad’s decisions have to be obeyed unquestioningly, and have never been allowed to make a mistake, then when the time comes to make a decision, they might find it difficult.

Parents have a big responsibility in how they address, and what they say to, their children. Grown people – adults – still suffer hurt from things their parents said to them decades ago, if you can believe it.

James talks about how powerful is the tongue, of how by the spoken word, wonderful things can be accomplished but also terrible things can come about.

I think of the oratory of people like Adolf Hitler. His tongue was a sword that killed millions of people.

Then I think of the tongue of Billy Graham who has led people toward God, and helped guide many thousands, perhaps millions, to salvation.

So one person’s words can be destructive, and another’s encouraging and uplifting.

We have heard about hypocrisy in the Gospels, how people lived outwardly righteous lives, but had hatred in their hearts. There is a continuation of that theme here as James points out that blessings and curses can come from the same tongue.

You will remember that the Indians said that the white man spoke with a forked tongue. No wonder they didn’t want to kiss and make up.

Who wants to kiss someone with a forked tongue?

We would say today, that someone speaks out of both sides of their mouth.
James says that you can’t do that. A righteous blessing cannot come from an evil mouth. The same way that good fruit doesn’t come from a bad tree. Or clean water from a dirty pitcher.

Just as James has a lot to say about controlling our tongue, Jesus has a lot to say about being a follower.

He first asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Really he is asking who do they think he is. Peter says that Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus then begins to tell the disciples how the Messiah must suffer and be killed and that three days later he will rise to life.

Peter is shocked by this, and he rebukes Jesus.

And Jesus reprimands him in those memorable words, “Get thee behind me Satan.”

Perhaps Peter should have held his tongue.

That Jesus should die is an unthinkable concept for the disciples. In their way of thinking, a victorious Messiah would provide important positions for his followers. But if he dies, then what? What would become of them?

So Jesus has to explain to them and to the crowd what being a follower really means.

It doesn’t mean thinking about yourself, or what the rewards might be.

It doesn’t mean putting yourself on a pedestal and lording it over people.

Following Jesus means putting what Jesus wants for us and the world first.

It means carrying a cross, as he says, taking on a task or sacrifice, or a concern for others and putting your own needs last.

Putting others first means putting Jesus first.

In his book `Christ is a Native American’ Achiel Perlman describes a woman named Mary who works with aboriginal people – people who have experienced sexual and physical abuse.

To Mary, Christ is an abused person. He is in the prisons, and in the homes of disrupted and dysfunctional families. He travels with those who have no shelter or roof over their heads. Christ is in all the ordinary places where people suffer and struggle to overcome painful experiences.

Christ is in the refugee camps filled with desperate people.

So, when we help someone; when we encourage someone, when we take the hand of someone who needs help, who can’t cope, who needs building up, then we are helping Our Lord.

We may receive a call to do that ….. we may be asked to provide a meal service for the homeless……do breakfast for school kids……sign a letter for an Amnesty International volunteer on behalf of a political prisoner….. sponsor a refugee family…..become a friendly parish visitor….seek out counseling for someone who can’t cope.

Responding to a call to help someone means that for a while we deny
our own wants.

That’s what Jesus wants from us. He tells us, “Don’t worry so much about your own life. If you worry about your life, you may lose it. Caring for someone else means you will gain life eternal.

If you saw the movie Titanic, then you will remember how in the chaos of people trying to get onto the lifeboats, and where women and children were to go first, a man grabbed a baby from a woman in an attempt to get a place in a lifeboat. He thought he was saving his life, but he was making darn sure he would lose it.

Your actions show where your heart really is.

Your comforting words show the love of Christ within you

Every time we encourage, assist, uplift, provide for someone else, care for someone, we show where our heart is.

Mother Teresa put it best when she said, ” I see God in every human being. When I wash the leper’s wounds I feel I am nursing the Lord Himself. Is it not a beautiful experience?”

The Spirit calls us to action. God graciously blesses us when we respond.

Amen.