Sunday, July 27, 2014

Look of love

Like many people I don't think of myself as rich. I'm almost glad I'm not rich, thankful even. There are many warnings in the Bible to the rich. They may have it now but they may be in trouble later. There are cautions in the Psalms against imitating the rich and then there is the story of the rich man and Lazarus in the gospels. So, when I turn to read the story Jesus told about the rich, young man, I am pretty sure who he was talking about and it was not me. I guess I see the young rich guy as a Wall Street investment banker making tons of money for himself and not caring about anyone else. He pulls up to Jesus in a Lexus SUV and turns down the thump thump of his bass just long enough to get his question answered. How do I score the investment you are talking about, Jesus, he asks. Jesus tells him to give away what he owns to the poor and you will have invested for eternity. The man wasn't expecting that so he got back in his car, turned up the stereo and went back to making money.

Today, Marilyn McEntyre in her book, What's in a Phrase, helped me see this story a little more clearly. She focuses on v. 21 in Mark 10, "and Jesus, looking at him, loved him."  Even before answering his question he takes a second, longer look at this young man, she writes. He takes the young man and his question seriously because he sees both his immaturity and his spiritual hunger, she says. Then she writes,"since I haven't given up my possessions, and know few who have, I realize most of us don't have any stones to throw at this rich young man when he went away sorrowing because he could not give up his wealth." She claims she tithes to her church and gives her canned goods to the food bank, but states she will probably carry her laptop to the grave.

The point of the story, she points out, is not judgment but love. Jesus loves even those who are not yet wholehearted, pure and generous. He turns toward us with a compassionate gaze, listening to our imperfect prayers, to petitions that smack of self-righteousness, and self-interest, seeing us through our learning moments, our resistances, and our spiritual failures - is how she puts it.

Some people left everything to follow him immediately. Others went home to fields in need of  plowing, and children in need of raising and families needing to be fed. They go home to ponder what Jesus said, what it means to live by grace and how righteousness is reckoned. McEntyre helps me see the rich man in a different light. Some probably did go home sorrowing or at least feeling like they wished they could be more like the disciples who could follow Jesus and not look back on what they were leaving behind. Like we might look at those who move into a house church situated in the midst of the city or among the poor of the third world. We wish we had that commitment or sense of purpose.

But McEntyre is a good and true guide, I think. She sees this story as a complement to the stories of the calling of the 12 disciples. It is more ordinary. Perhaps, she suggests, the rich young man did not leave without hope; perhaps Jesus look of love stayed with him a long while; perhaps he did not conclude right away that Jesus' way was not for him. "I imagine, McEntyre writes, he went home to restless nights, and days of wrestling with what the Lord requires of him." He had a lot to sort out, she says, and I imagine Jesus' love stayed with him and encouraged his growth process. Jesus look of love was what sustained him as he groped his way toward a new relationship with God. As it sustains us in our following Jesus.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

I was reading in Matthew 14 today. Jesus walks on water is the title of this section. It's a favorite. I have always thought it cool that Peter actually was able to take a few steps on the water. Just like Jesus. He didn't make it far but he tried. I realized that Matthew probably took this story from Mark's gospel. Mark's main source was Peter himself many scholars believe. So if Peter was telling the story why did he leave himself out? Some scholars think that Peter's pride got in the way. But Mark includes other Peter stories that do not show him in a good light, for instance, his denial of being one of Jesus's followers before the crucifixion. Michael Card in his book, Mark: the Gospel of Passion, writes he used to think that, as well. But after spending more time with Peter in the book of Acts and his two letters he changed his mind. Now, he thinks Peter told Mark to leave him out of this story because he walked on water. Humility, Card says, was the reason for Peter's absence from the story, not pride.

Peter did walk on water which is  something not too many people can claim. His walking on water could have been a distraction from what Peter/Mark were teaching. When Matthew tells the story with Peter in it, the focus is more on Peter's failure than his brief success. He is going down when he sticks out his hand and yells for Jesus to save him.

It was Peter's failure more than his success that taught him humility. He took a few steps on water but he was a goner if Jesus did not reach out to him. Littlefaiths is what Jesus calls him and the rest of the disciples. Peter never forgot. Humble yourselves under God's mighty hand and he will lift you up is what Peter wrote in his first letter. He had experienced that.

We are more success oriented that failure oriented. We try to hide our failures and play up our successes. Our resumes do not usually contain a bullet list of our failures. Yet we know we often learn more from failure than success. In this case, Peter made the most of a life long lesson he learned the day he was sinking in the deep. Cast your cares on him because he cares for you.

I'm glad Peter held his water walking out of Mark's gospel story. But, I am glad Matthew included it in his. Mark shows us a lesson in humility and Matthew shows us how Peter learned it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Church in the city

We are attending a small church in the city. It is in the historic (= old and rundown) section of the city that is undergoing revitalization (= people who have lived there a long have to move out as it becomes popular to move in there). The church meets in a storefront on Main St. On August 1 the lease will expire and so the church has been looking for a new (= old) storefront to move into. The church only has use of the present space on Sundays so people have to set up and take down every week and meetings are held in people's homes. Hopefully, the new space comes with more permanency.

Yesterday there were about 27 of us, including children, there. The pastor just returned from a week of vacation with her family on the Gulf Coast but she was able to preach a thoughtful sermon on hospitality. Another person on the mission committee presented a summary of their work on a non profit agency in the community which the church could support by volunteering. Each week for three weeks an agency will be previewed and then the church will decide on one of them. This week we heard about an agency that works on revitalizing people, especially, children and families where one of the parents is in jail. There is tutoring for the children and mentoring for the offenders who are released. There are family reunion parties to encourage positive relationships with the offender and his/her family and others. Then, in our service, another person read scripture, and another led our prayer time which we all closed by praying the Lord's Prayer and another introduced communion and the children led it.

Another person led the singing. The last song was written by Michael Hansen. I had trouble finding the words and music. So here are the words to A Generous Man:

He comes upon a place of famine
With food in his hands.
And people come from miles around.
They have heard,
They went to meet this Generous Man.
They were not worthy, they could not pay.
But still he opens his hands.

He comes upon a place of sickness
with healing in his hands.
And people come from miles around.
They have heard,
they want to meet this Generous Man.
And they are not worthy, and they cannot pay.
But still he opens his hands.

You give it away.
You give it away.
LORD, come give it away.
Come, give it away.

Then we formed a circle, held hands, and some of the children led us in a closing prayer.