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Monday, July 20, 2015

Jesus takes some "me" time

My sermon for this week was based on Mark 6:30-34, 53-56.

To  download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

One of the trickiest things in this world is striking a good balance in life.  Many people find it difficult to juggle work, family, friends, etc, etc.  The problem being that in an attempt to fulfill all the obligations, to try to fulfill all our responsibilities, there is one thing that often gets jettisoned: recreation.

Yeah, yeah, "first world problems", you say.  But it's not.  Recreation is actually extraordinarily important.  Look at the word: re-creation.  Recreation is not goofing off, it is the act of recuperating the energy we need in order to go out into the world.  It is the act, quite literally, of re-creating ourselves.

Our modern culture is crippled by depression, anxiety, burnout and physical ailments related to those disorders.  For many of us, these problems are often brought on by work/life imbalance.  If not the cause, it is certainly a contributing factor.

Look at it this way: you can't give someone the shirt off your back if you are not wearing one.  You can't feed the world if you yourself have not been fed.  It is not selfish to look after yourself.  It is a necessary life skill.

Jesus tried to strike this balance, and he was thwarted.  After the Disciples come back to him after discharging their first acts of ministry, Jesus invites them away to a place where they can be by themselves.  Jesus recognized the value of being away from the crowds, away from work so he and the Disciples could relax and recoup their energies.  But the crowd follows them, giving them no reprieve.

Although he demonstrates some questionable boundaries, it is of course a great example of Christ's love and dedication that he nonetheless forsook his own needs to minister to the needs of the people.  But you know, he was Jesus, and maybe he had the energy to give.  Most of us are not endowed with the super-human abilities he might have had.

The Lectionary does something weird here though, something that makes the Gospel excerpts difficult to interpret.  If you check the chapter and verse, you will notice that between the stories of Jesus trying to retire to a quiet place and failing to do so, the Lectionary cuts out the story of the Feeding of the 5000, the miracles of the loaves and fishes.

So I am going to do something I rarely do and go "offbook" by reinserting that story.

I think this important to do because I believe the moral of the story, the solution to not wearing ourselves thin on work, life, ministry, etc, is to realize that we are not islands, that no one man or woman can carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.  In reality, we are reliant upon one another, and this is not a bad thing.

Ok, so the miracle.  Traditionally, the superficial interpretation of the passage is just to assume that Jesus magically multiplied the loaves and fishes through the power of God.  This and of itself would be pretty impressive, of course, but how can you and ever relate to that?  You and I are mortal, incapable of performing miracles like that.

A more realistic interpretation is that in a landscape devoid of Quizno's and corner stores, in a crowd of 5000 people, surely some would have brought food with them, especially if they were going to walk from one side of the Sea of Galilee to the other.  If Jesus and his Disciples modeled generosity by sharing their food with others, chances are others began sharing with their neighbours as well.

What would be the greater miracle: that food was magically multiplied by some mysterious force, or that a spirit of generosity was modeled and unlocked in the crowd?

Because the reality is that no one, not even Jesus could feed 5000 people.  Over and over again, Jesus enlists the help of others, such as sending out the Disciples in the passage right before the one we read this week.

If even Jesus needed a helping hand, should we really be so reluctant to ask for one?

The trick in life is to be aware of when we need to help and when we need to be helped, when we need to be "on" and when we need to be "off".

Today my hope is that we can all take a bit of time to be fed, some time to retreat from the hustle and bustle, and take some time to re-create.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The cowardice of rhetorical questions

My sermon for this week was based on Mark 6:1-13.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

Even notice how some people ask questions as statements?

See what I did there?

I made a statement but phrased it as a question.  What I actually said was, "I have noticed that some people ask questions as statements, and I am hoping you have too".

It's a harmless little rhetorical trick that draws people into a story.  But sometimes, rhetorical questions are far from harmless.

Take the Gospel passage for today.  Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth, enters the synagogue and begins teaching.  Some of the people in the synagogue take offense at him.  They take offense for a number of reasons, chief amongst them being that Jesus was not a trained rabbi, and yet he was surrounded by disciples and was teaching at the synagogue.  He was also a 'local boy' that they had all seen grow up and ply his trade as a carpenter before he embarked on his ministry.

So they begin asking questions.

But the problem is, the questions they ask him are not honest, nor are they even asked directly to him.  Rather, they are grumbled amongst one another.  They are questions meant to blame, shame and to diminish.

Let's go over their questions and translate what they are actually saying:

"Where did this man get all this?  What is this wisdom that has been given to him?  What deeds of power are being done by his hand!"

The statement in these 'questions' are pretty obvious: "He is not qualified to teach.  He has no training, no credentials, no authority.  He is a charlatan".

The next questions they ask are, "Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?"

The statements are once again pretty clear: "He is a manual laborer, the son of an unwed mother, the nothing from a family of nothings whom we have know are whole lives".

It is also telling that they call him "The son of Mary".  In a patriarchal society like ancient Judaism, once would generally trace lineage to one's father.  But of course, the whole town knew that Jesus was not Joseph's son, so they call him "the son of Mary".  It sounds innocent enough until you realize they are actually trying to diminish Jesus by pointing out that he is a bastard (using this word in the dictionary definition of the term, and not the pejorative).

Now, who knows why they reacted like such jerks.  Chances are, they were irked at someone who had little or no formal education expounding on spiritual matters more profoundly than they were capable of.  Perhaps they were jealous that Jesus was stealing their spotlight.  Maybe they feared for their positions of importance in the community.  Maybe they just resented a 'local boy' who had done better than them.  Who knows?

Either way, they made a snap decision about Jesus and didn't even give him the benefit of the doubt.  They just decided that he was not worth listening to and so they begin to grumble to other people to undermine him.

How differently might this situation have gone if they had just listened to Jesus?  How differently would it have gone if they had just asked their questions directly to Jesus, loaded as they were?

And more the point of my sermon, how differently would this discussion have gone if they had just gone up to Jesus and said, "We are angry at you and afraid of you because you are threatening to us", thereby actually opening an actual dialogue with Jesus.  Real progress could have been made that day.

So are we asking the same questions?  Are we asking these questions of ourselves, of each other, and even of God?

Questions are great.  Questions are the way we increase our knowledge.  But if we are asking questions to make statements, we are just being jerks.  In the future, perhaps we can restrict our questions to things for which we are actually seeking answers, and restrict our statements to things that will make us, our families, our churches, our workplaces and our communities better places.