Hearts Gone Down

When I read of the possibility that the Germanwings jetliner may have been intentionally brought crashing to the ground I struggled to breathe just for a few seconds. Tears so wanted to come flowing, but I held them back. I just don’t know which would be worse – an unexplainable mechanical failure never to be fully diagnosed, or an intentional act of either desperation (suicide) or violence (terrorism). If I were grieving the sudden, violent death of my teenage son or daughter, my spouse, my best friend at school … which of the two scenarios would offer – not the most comfort, but the least pain?

Life hands out tragedy and sadness with indiscriminate abandon. We don’t expect rhymes or reasons for earthquakes and ensuing tsunamis, meteors falling, solar flares. Those situations leave all of us feeling more vulnerable. We are in the same boat. To be singled out, however, to be on the receiving end of some stranger’s personal despair or individual desire for revenge – that’s quite another matter.

Where does one turn for consolation? Is there any avenue for hope?

I don’t know where God was yesterday. I really don’t know where he was, said Lital Baum-Betzalel upon learning of the death of her brother Eyal.

Three women – mother, her daughter, and her daughter’s daughter. Gone.

Singers; sports writers; sons and daughters – They are no more.

Crippled with sadness. 

Let us deal with this tragic incident without intrusion.

Story after story emerges of people whose ordinary lives mirror our own. Perhaps that’s what makes these kinds of things all the more difficult to comprehend – We are on the plane. The sound of passengers screaming could be heard, recorded forever on the plane’s voice recorder. The cries of loved ones will grow more muted; and our cries will be silent ones, inspiring us to wonder why it is again that there is so much violence in our world?


Last Glance

A whirlwind kind of blog – and an eternity in a glance.

“Agua! Agua, por favor. Para mi bebé,” the young mother boarding the bus pleaded, catching my arm. Not knowing if I would have time, I sprinted across the bus terminal to the vending machines. My friend Jasminne explained that this woman had been unable to obtain water for her infant because she did not have the right bills. Having traveled internationally, I knew well the struggle of figuring out how to use unfamiliar currency. Hurriedly, we dug through our pockets and wallets. “I have it. I have it,” I exclaimed as I slid two crumpled one dollar bills into the hungry mouth of the Aquafina machine. “What button do I push?,” I asked Jasminne in a panic. “Any button! The whole machine is water,” she responded.

Grabbing the bottle that dropped smoothly down the slot, I rushed back across the terminal, and thrust the water into the woman’s hand just before the…

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Text: John 3:1-16

Title: You Have To Start Over … Again

There is this absurd joke – more of a ridiculous story than a “joke” – that I tell about a shaggy dog. If it’s told correctly it takes about twenty minutes to tell. It is extremely repetitive. When I told that joke to my children they never asked me to tell it again. It’s somewhat boring, even tedious. And, to be honest, if you tell it right, it’s exhausting. Because the textual content is so repetitive and boring you have to put a lot of physical energy into it to keep it interesting. You have to try to convince the people listening that it is worth their time; so vocal inflection and even gesturing is a big part of it.

A couple months ago I was in Connecticut helping out with our grandchildren while my daughter was traveling. Alina is four years old and I was bringing her home from day care this particular evening. It’s about a twenty minute ride with the evening traffic, so I decided to tell her the Shaggy Dog joke. I wanted to time this so I would get to the punchline just as I was opening the car door in the driveway having arrived at their home. I gestured in ways that were conducive to safe driving. I used vocal inflection. I would see her in the rear view mirror and scrunch up my face. I was putting a lot into this in order to keep this tired four-year old engaged, and I was doing a good job.

The joke repeats the line: That’s a pretty shaggy dog you’ve got there some 42 times if you tell it right. I timed it perfectly. We were pulling into the driveway, my granddaughter having given my performance her full and rapt attention. I parked the car, went around to open the door for her and delivered the punchline: I don’t think your dog is so shaggy. There was silence as she sat, frozen in her car seat, staring at me. I could see the wheels turning, trying to figure out if she was supposed to laugh now, or not. I looked at her. She looked at me. Then, I heard the words I’d never heard after telling this joke. She said: Do it again, Grandpa. Start over from the beginning. I quickly came up with several good reasons why that was a bad idea.

Adam, Rachel and I were discussing how difficult it can be to “start over” … Have you ever worked on a document on a computer only to inadvertently delete it with no knowledge of how to get it back?

You must be born again, says Jesus to Nicodemus. Or, if you prefer, you must be born from above. But that doesn’t alter the fact that Nicodemus was being told he was going to have to come up with an entirely new way of thinking about life. It’s as if Jesus hit the “refresh” button. It’s not exactly the same as “delete” for sure, but it does have a way of completely altering what we see on the screen of our lives. It’s not what a lot of us want to hear.

I’m in my 70th decade. When I was a child I thought like a child. And foolishly, I thought I knew several very important things about adults. First, I was always amazed that adults seemed to have money in their pockets. It occurred to me that my mom or dad could buy a piece of bubble gum any time they wanted, and they didn’t even have to ask. And I thought: I can’t wait to be an adult!

Adults always seemed to know where they were going. And if they were not certain about how to get there, they had maps that told them exactly how to get there. Here I was, always being asked what I was going to be when I grew up, asked what my favorite things were to do, asked what my favorite subject was, what sport did I like the best … Adults always just seemed to know these things. I can’t wait to grow up, I remember thinking, because adults have it all together! They know their favorite subject. They’ve figured out what they are going to be and there seemed to be little doubt as to their favorite sport teams.

My wife and I were sitting at dinner the other night and Jan reminded me of her waitressing days during college. She’s given me permission to share this story with you. Jan never enjoyed waitressing. Her first restaurant gig was at the Sheraton. “I was a terrible waitress,” she said. Always mixing up orders, charging the wrong price … Jan said: For six weeks running I told everyone I waited on: This is my first day. The strategy behind this chronic lie of hers was that people would be more forgiving if they thought she was just starting.

Nicodemus, you are an adult, studied in Scripture, wise – so you have come to believe – in the ways of God. But if you are going to experience the kingdom of God, you are going to have to start over. We’ve got to hit “refresh”.

Upon being pressed for more detail, Jesus gives the news that only made things more confusing for this holy man, set in his holy ways. “Set,” yes; but not satisfied. Nicodemus is aware somehow that he was missing something. The road map to God’s will and ways is expressed and experienced in the windy breezes of an untamable Spirit. Nicodemus would have to come to grips with the fact that in the midst of an ordered spiritual life – at its core, actually – is the truth and power of a divine spontaneity that defies any structure that leads to complacency. Every day, every hour, every moment, Nicodemus would have to be willing to start over; and so must we.

In a sense that is much deeper than the trivial cliché might have us believe, every day is the “first day”. Today, we start over.

Yesterday’s histories and today’s stories must serve to inspire us to raise the sales of our lives higher if we hope to catch the heavenly winds. We have to believe, as hard as it can be to do so amidst all the sadness and grief and violence and uncertainties of our times, that God’s Spirit blows among us still. We have to raise our sales higher than the prejudices of this world. We have to look up beyond the tired politics, believing there is a heaven worth claiming for this earth.

Come to Jesus by day or make your way to him in the darkness, but listen to what he is saying. In ancient times it was a serpent raised high to ward off evil. In the “Christ moment” it is the cross that draws attention to the power of evil and what it causes us to do to each other. Though he would have to endure it, Jesus doesn’t stop at crucifixion. Look at the cross, yes; but look beyond it for all the things swaying in the winds of God’s Spirit. Be born again! Look above yourself and be birthed in breezes of divine grace and forgiveness. Live there. Love there. From that place, perched only on the gloriously shifting back of the Holy Spirit, begin to see the wonder of God’s love not only for you and yours, but for all the world.

Tim Keller reminds us of the rather tedious 25th chapter of the Book of Leviticus which contains all the rules related to the Jewish “Year of Jubilee”. As you may recall, every fifty years, on the day of atonement, a trumpet was to sound throughout the land calling everyone back to their home, their property and their family. Every fifty years there was to be a year off. No planting and harvesting. The rule was to be that you could buy or sell property with the value to be determined by what the property would produce until the next Jubilee, when it would return to the original owner. Keller points out what this meant was no matter how irresponsible a person had been and no matter how far into debt they had fallen, at least once in their lifetime “each person had a chance to start afresh”.[1]

If you need it, let today be your “jubilee”. If you don’t think you need it, then maybe you need to offer it to someone else – forgive them, and love them, and walk with them. Give them a “jubilee”. If you want to catch a glimpse of this “kingdom” – this radical God-presence that Jesus speaks of, maybe you need to start over and walk with him.

In the game of Monopoly the place you start is called “Go”. And every time you return to that spot, you get a little something to help you on your way. Jesus saw it in Nicodemus; perhaps you see it in yourself – you not only need to … you want to be born again! You want to start over! Jesus is saying – with him, you can.


[1] Tim Kerller – Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. Published by the Penguin Group (USA), 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY  10014. © 2010. Kindle Location 463-478.

Biblical inerrancy is irrelevant because there are no “inerrant interpreters”. In his book Disarming Scripture, Derek Flood takes on the big question of violence in the Bible. He also looks square into the face of what it means to say the bible is “inerrant”; He stands toe to toe with the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” – the notion espoused by Methodists that faith stands upon the four-legged stool of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. The book is engaging. It challenges stereotypical conservative and liberal readings of the Bible. It offers the option of “reading the Bible like Jesus did”.

The piece of the book that caught my attention and held it was the idea of a hermeneutic of trajectory. Rather than ask the question: What does the Bible say?, Flood poses this question: Where is the Bible headed? His notion of “trajectory” as applied to the sacred texts suggests to us that we have a responsibility not only to know the words of Scripture, but also to discern the direction the Scriptures are going. While it might seem obvious, it is seldom a part of the conversation to consider what it means for us to go from a God who limits revenge in the lex talionis (“eye for an eye of” of Leviticus 24:19-21) and thus insuring that punishment is proportional – from that, to Jesus’ teaching: Do not resist an evil person … turn the other cheek … love your enemies (Matthew 5:38-44).

In some ways Food’s book is in the vein of what Jack Miles did almost twenty years ago in God: A Biography. Miles considered the God of the Hebrew Bible from the standpoint of character development in the literary sense of the word. Flood invites us to enter – or re-enter – the mystery of what it means to be in a relationship the goal of which is to lead us to the center of what it meas to love. He challenges any hermeneutic that places the Bible as the “ends”. He sees the message of the Bible as one that puts us on a trajectory leading to radical inclusion, non-violence and, as difficult as it can be, love of our enemies. Flood takes on the heavy issues – and he challenges a heavy hitter in his response to Yale theologizn Miroslav Volf.

Volf, says Flood, attempts to set us free from the destructive inclination for revenge by allowing us to entrust that work to God. That’s not good enough for Flood. Furthermore, he challenges Volf’s notion from the perspective of the trajectory of forgiveness and love found within the Scriptures themselves.

The book is so engaging and so important that I am going to invite persons to read it with me and discuss it together! I’ll extend the invitation on my Facebook page and on First UMC Burlington‘s page as well.

Thanks, Zach Hoag, for putting me on to it!

(For an excellent in-depth review of one chapter of the book, see this piece by Brandan Robertson.)

We All Will Be Tempted

Text:  Mark 1:9-15

“My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation.” That quote is from the Book of Sirach, Chapter 2, the first verse – one of the books we refer to as the Apocrypha. These are books which appeared in the Latin Vulgate but not in the Hebrew Canon of the Bible.

The only change I might recommend to the verse would be to suggest that, sons and daughters alike, if you come forward from the womb, prepare yourself for temptation.

We began our Lenten Series this past Wednesday. We are looking at seven sayings – not The Seven last words of Christ – but seven things the scriptures tell us that we might not want to hear. Remember: dust you are, and to dust you will return. That’s the main theme of the Ash Wednesday service. We are mortal. We are all going to die, not to put too fine a point on it.

Today we home in on the fact of temptation. Central to St. Mark’s understanding of the ministry of Jesus is that it happens in the context of a “cosmic battle with Satan”.[1] We aren’t half way through the first chapter of the gospel but that Satan is trying to tempt Jesus away from the redemptive script of his life.

With regard to the temptation of Jesus we should note how lean Mark’s telling is. We are more familiar with the story as told by Matthew and Luke, and it’s worth our time to take a moment and look at the comparison.

In Matthew and Luke Jesus is tempted by the devil throughout his forty days in the wilderness; but it is only after the forty days that Jesus is tempted to turn stones to bread, jump from the temple with the expectation the angels would catch him, and bow to Satan in order to attain the wealth and glory of the world.

Matthew tells us that after Christ resists these temptations the devil left him, and then angels came to wait on him.

Luke tells us the devil left Christ while looking for another, more opportune time to tempt him. Luke makes no mention of angels coming to wait on Jesus.

Matthew takes eleven verses to tell the story of the temptation of Jesus. Luke takes thirteen verses.

What does St. Mark tell us?

  “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him.”

Two verses. Much is left to our imagination. Mary Ann Tolbert is the dean of the Pacific School of Religion. She writes: [The gospel of Mark] is a self-consciously crafted narrative, a fiction, resulting from literary imagination, not from photographic detail.[2] This doesn’t mean, she continues, that there is “no connection to history”. But rather than paint a precise picture for us, Mark leaves us a lot of room to wonder and ponder … and imagine. I have been wondering about “temptation”.

At our worship planning meeting last Tuesday we said we did not want to focus on the mundane – like the temptation of a chocolate donut over brussel sprouts. This isn’t to say that such temptations are of no consequence.

Then there is the list that Paul offers in Galatians – things he calls “the works of the flesh” – things like fornication, impurities, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, strife, jealousy, anger, dissensions, envy, drunkenness – and just to make sure we understand this list is not exhaustive, he concludes the verse open-ended by saying: … and things like these.[3]

In I Corinthians Paul assures the Christians there that the testing they are experiencing is “common to everyone”.[4] And, continues Paul, God “will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

While I don’t ever recall being tempted by “sorcery” and a few other things on Paul’s list, I wonder if there aren’t at least two temptations common to all of us.

First, there is the temptation to be comfortable. From the mattress we sleep on to the pew we sit in, we want to be comfortable. Sometimes the temptation to be personally comfortable trumps our desire to be connected in community. We had talked about roping off the back and side pews in an attempt to make a statement for community. You could still sit in the back pew; it’s just that the back pew would be closer to the front and occupied by more people. But as I thought about that, it felt a bit hypocritical. Who is to say people who sit in the center front aren’t doing so for exactly the same reason folks are sitting on the sides or in the back – this is where they are most comfortable!

So I resisted the temptation to make people on the sides and back uncomfortable. Isn’t it true, though … that we will go to some pretty amazing extremes in order to be comfortable?

Perhaps you have heard it said that the purpose of the Christian Gospel is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It’s quite a dramatic change from hearing the voice of God saying: “You are my Son, the Beloved” to being driven out into the wilderness to do battle with the devil.

There is another temptation I want us to consider today – the temptation to be certain. This is a temptation that much religion succumbs to. We see it expressed in the scriptures when religious leaders ask Jesus about his authority. They were looking for signs that would prove Jesus was the messiah. Give us a sign from heaven, they say to Jesus in Mark 8:11. By what authority are you doing these things, they ask Jesus in Mark 11:28.

This is to say: “How can we be sure you are who you say you are?”

We yearn for certainty in every aspect of our lives – from the diagnosis of the doctor to the guidance on our GPS.

I was talking with my sisters yesterday and something came up about one of my nieces. She is quitting her fulltime job, effective March 1. She owns a home. She doesn’t quite know what she is going to do. My sister said she wasn’t sure how to feel about her daughter’s decision – to take a year off and see what comes of it. But then, upon reflection, my sister who is 67 years old said: When I think of the times in my life that I took risks I don’t regret any of them – even the ones that didn’t work out the way I had hoped they would.

All of our best efforts to “insure” our lives – financially, socially, professionally – are futile. Life doesn’t offer us certainty. In his book Disarming Scripture, Derek Flood defines faith. He writes: Faith is not about certainty, it’s about vulnerability.[5] That might seem to fly in the face of what we read in Hebrews 11 where the author writes: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. But isn’t this line from Hebrews telling us to step away from the known, the comfortable?  The Oscar-winning star of faith in the Bible is Abraham, a man who stepped toward an unknown destination, trusting in an unseen God, leaving everything that was certain behind. The book of Hebrews says of Abraham: By faith he set out, not knowing where he was going.[6]

Without being foolish, we must fight against every temptation to live lives of certainty – certain that this group doesn’t belong, or that that group is unworthy. We must fight against the temptation to assume we know a sin that can’t be forgiven, remembering Jesus’ words to take the log out of our own eye first.

Have you ever been absolutely certain about something only to find out you were wrong?

We can’t be certain about tomorrow. I think the striving after security and comfort and the need to be certain about so many things regarding our future robs us of living the miraculous adventure of now.

Even absent many of the details that Matthew and Luke offer us, Mark gives us this – that angels waited on Jesus. Face your temptations; and in your encounters with the devil, perhaps you will see the host of angels attending you as well.


[1] John R. Donahue, SJ, Daniel J. Harrington, SJ. The Gospel of Mark – the Sacra Pagina series. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesoata. © 2002. Page 23.

[2] Ibid., Page 13.

[3] Galatians 5:21.

[4] I Corinthians 10:13.

[5] Derek Flood, Disarming Scripture – cherry-picking Liberals, violence-Loving Conservatives, andf Why We All Need to Learn to Read th Bible Like Jesus Did. Published December 1, 2014.  Kindle Location 1543-1557.

[6] Hebrews 11:8.

Text: Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Matthew 10:26-31

In the story told in the books and movies called The Hunger Games, young people are selected from each of the districts to compete against each other to the death. They are called “tributes”. Each evening Sermon 1during the course of the games, there is a holographic report projected into the sky of who was killed that day. Music plays. And the images of tributes who lost their lives is shown.

Today we begin several weeks of reflection on war and violence – what it costs us and what it is doing to us, particularly to our children. I was brought up being told that who we hang around with says something about who we are. We can’t escape the fact that we citizens of this great country hangSermon 2 around with a total defense and national security budget of 1 trillion, 9 billion dollars.[1] This number includes $161 billion for Veteran’s Affairs to take care of our soldiers returning home who need medical attention – a number expected to rise sharply to $238 billion nine years from now as the mounting costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are laid upon us.

Back when Buffalo Springfield was spinning its “For What It’s Worth” – which is a song protesting an early curfew in LA’s Sunset Strip – Kent State shootings wouldn’t happen for another several years. But the song became associated with the anti-war movement. It had an almost prophetic quality to it. “A man with a gun over there …”

I recall my pilgrimages to Israel. It’s been about twenty-five years since my last trip – I remember having to get used to the presence of soldiers. And the guns – the ubiquitous presence of firearms slung over people’s shoulders, tossed on the seats of folding chairs at check points as if they were children’s backpacks. And the people carrying the guns were little more than children themselves. Because that’s how it is in the military, especially among the ranks of those who fight.

I think it would be extremely naïve of us, if not downright dishonest, to say that we are not afraid. People get elected to public office because of promises they make to protect our homes, our families, our jobs, our liberties. And in truth, we also want to protect our privileged status.

In the book of Deuteronomy – and in much of the Hebrew Bible – the children of Israel are a minority looking for power. They are victims of the worst kind of violence looking for some means of vindication and retribution. Their understanding of God teeters on a fulcrum between faith in God and the fear of God. They would look for theological justification for their own acts of revenge against the enemies they feared.

And so, the Deuteronomist packages Godly fear with promises of security. If we and our children – and their children – all Sermon 3fear God, says today’s text, then we will live long and things will go well for us. The command in the next chapter is validated by divine decree. The “clearing” – which is a euphemism for the killing – of the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jeubsites – is all done with God’s blessing and with the accompanying order to “utterly destroy them”.

Right off we see at least two problems. First, we’ve learned, haven’t we, that children are not guaranteed security when their parents – or older brothers and sisters – engage in military action against enemies – because war begets war.

Second (and more importantly), what do we do with this kind of God?

Derek Flood has written a book called Disarming Scripture in which he tackles head on the problem of a vengeful God, especially in relation to the message of Jesus. We encounter throughout the Bible a “religious fundamentalism” which is characterized, says Flood, by an authoritarian, judgmental, self-righteous, and ultimately fear-based approach to life.[2] This was the way many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day understood scripture.

Genocide, infanticide, cannibalism, and rape are all attributed to God in the Old Testament, writes Flood. This presents us with a profound problem. Theologian and priest Raymond Schwager wrties: Approximately one thousand passages speak of Yahweh’s blazing anger, of his punishment by death and destruction, and how like a consuming fire he passes judgment, takes revenge, and threatens annihilation … No other topic, writes Schwager, is as often mentioned as God’s bloody works.[3] There are over one hundred passages in the Hebrew Bible where Yahweh explicitly commands people to kill.

In other words, writes Derek Flood, at issue is not simply what God does, but what humans do in God’s name.

There is a glimmer of hope here, however. There is a kernel of a beginning conviction that violence and the wielding of worldly power is never sanctioned by God. Initially the Lord is intimately associated with the army – God is called the “Lord of Hosts” – but accompanying this is the notion expressed in Psalm 33: A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.[4]

Along with all the war-mongering – divine and human – in the Hebrew Bible, there are these words as well, suggesting that the people were struggling with the kind of God that commissioned them to kill. There was a part of them that knew better. Walter Brueggemann describes the Hebrew Bible as “consisting of testimony and counter-testimony.” We do not hear, in the Hebrew Bible, a “single unified voice”. Rather, writes Derek Flood, we encounter multiple competing voices – each claiming to be the correct view, each claiming authority.[5]

There were prophets who faithfully challenged the unquestioning faith. And no prophet was more articulate or more insistentSermon 4 than Jesus. Jesus, who by simply being born, was the cause of the death of innocent children as Herod’s anger and fear raged.

Our children are the recipients of a religious tradition that faithfully questions rather than is unquestioningly obedient. Jesus, writes Derek Flood, never got more riled up than when people used religion to hurt people. Whether the Christian Crusades of the medieval age or the Islamic radicals of the 21st Century, the children are left orphans and the little ones’ heads are dashed against the stone. It should make us weep. We don’t yet fear the God Jesus proclaimed nearly enough.

When commissioned to go spread the good news of the kingdom of God, Jesus’ disciples were told to walk away from any ensuing conflict. There is no “Stand your ground” law in effect here; no validation of violence in the name of a humanly-contrived righteous God. When persecuted, says Jesus earlier in Chapter 10 of Matthew’s gospel, shake the dust from your feet and walk away.[6]

Don’t be afraid, says the Christ to these young men, sent to be bearers of the good news of the presence of the kingdom of heaven. Earlier in this chapter we learn that this “heaven-presence” is characterized by life returning to the dead places, by healing overcoming pain. Those whose lives are scarred by hate and who have experienced nothing but the devil will be cleansed as the demons give way to the blessings of God.

This idyllic image, painted by Renaissance artist Domenico Ghirlandaio, presents us with a Western European utopicSermon 5 construct. There are hints of murmuring in the crowd, almost as if they are hoping the commission doesn’t work. And the scene is complicated by the fact that it contains multiple biblical as well as political inferences. But in the center is the Christ. Jesus is the source of conflict and their only hope for peace. Jesus is our world’s best chance for bringing to an end the madness that destroying us. And our theology tells us that the mission of the Christ is directly connected to the faithfulness of believers.

Every five minutes a child dies as a result of some violence in our world – whether war, street gangs, domestic abuse. What if, instead of the incessant commercials for a football game, every time a child died as a result of human violence, their image was projected onto the sky?


[1] http://www.pogo.org/our-work/straus-military-reform-project/defense-budget/2014/total-us-national-security-spending.html and the Washington Post – http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/07/everything-chuck-hagel-needs-to-know-about-the-defense-budget-in-charts

[2] Derek Flood – Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why we all need to learn to read the Bible like Jesus did. Published by Metanoia Books, San Francisco. Decemvber 1, 2014. Kindle Location 476-490.

[3] Ibid., Kindle Location 159-173.

[4] Psalm 33:16-17.

[5] Derek Flood – Disarming Scripture. Kindle Location 536-557.

[6] Matthew 10:14, 23.

Note: I am posting this on Saturday evening. It is subject to change.

Text: Mark 10:35-40

 On the twitter feed this past Friday – There were a couple tweets that got my attention. This one from “Hacking Christianity” by way of the United Methodist Rethink Church feed. It links to an article by Franklin Graham denouncing Duke Divinity School’s decision to sound the Muslim “Call to Prayer” from the Chapel Steeple.

Mr. Graham posted on his Facebook Page the following: I call on the donors and alumni to withhold their support from Duke until this policy is reversed.

The last time I looked his post had 79,500 “Likes” and 63,201 “Shares”.

The school cancelled the “Call to Prayer” but denies it had anything to do with possible financial repercussions.[1]

The other tweet was from Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. They posted a link to an article that gives us the news that

“for the first time in at least 50 years a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families.” Michael A. Rebell is quoted in the article. He is the executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University. Rebell notes that the poverty rate has been increasing nationwide. “A lot of people at the top are doing much better,” he writes, “but the people at the bottom are not doing better at all.”[2]

In Vermont we have a “relatively low student-poverty rate of 36%.” We spend more than any other state per student – $19,752 per pupil.

The US Department of Agriculture says that children born in 2013 will cost just over $245,000 from birth to high school graduation. That does not include the cost of their education during those years; and college is also extra. In Vermont, with our annual cost per pupil added to the $245,000, the price ticket is $482,000 – almost half a million dollars – to house, feed, clothe, entertain, medicate and educate our children.

The price might be higher, depending on where you land regarding the “Baby Stroller” situation.

You can get the Urbini Avi Stroller at the low price of $129.00. That’s down from $298.00.

Or, for just another $70 you could keep the little one comfy in the Graco Fast Action Fold Jogger Click Connect Travel System. They sleep while you jog.

But hey … Let’s just cut to the chase. You know what your baby needs – the Stokke Crusi Carriage for a scant $1,649.00.

I bet I’m not the only one in this church today who has paid less than that for a car.

But is that what children want these days? Is that what they expect? Is that what they need?

Paige’s New Car


Nationwide, our public schools have more children attending who live in poverty than don’t. When Paige got her new car for her sixteenth birthday I don’t know if you noticed the yard around the driveway where her new car sat. Perhaps you caught a glimpse of the houses across the street from hers. It looks to me from this video as if Paige is loved, and she has learned how to love in return. But it also looks to me as if Paige lives in the lap of privilege. She has generous parents.

Before we head into our biblical text for the day I want us to contemplate what adults cost … and who has to pay.

Slide 8 Huffington Post published the report: 2014 is the hottest year on record since we have been monitoring global temperatures. It was 104֯ (F) on June 8, 2014 in Lahore, Pakistan. People took to the canal to try to cool themselves off.[3]

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records weather data independently from NASA. Both came up with the same information. Of particular concern is the temperature of the oceans. While land temperatures for the year were the fourth warmest on record, ocean temperatures were significantly enough warmer to average out as the warmest year. The ten warmest years on record have all happened since 1998.

In another article, this one posted in the NY Times this week, there is growing concern with regard to the impact of human behavior on ocean life. The results of research published in Thursday’s Science Journal quotes Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” writes McCauley.[4]

Coral reefs have declined by 40% worldwide. Fish are migrating to cooler waters and carbon emissions are altering the chemistry of sea water.

And yet, human beings are acting like tourists to our own destruction rather than like people willing to honestly confront the true cost of our unsustainable lifestyle.

Video Ice Melt – Too Close


In their commentary on the gospel of Mark, John Donahue and Daniel Harrington note that this request by James and John was so outrageous and so embarrassing for St. Matthew that when he told the story in his gospel, it wasn’t the boys who made the request. Matthew couldn’t stomach the audaciousness of his fellow disciples. Clearly, this is not how disciples of the master would behave. So when he tells the story, Matthew has the boys’ mother make the request for her sons.[5]

You don’t know what you are asking, says Jesus. How long can we claim ignorance with regard to our behavior and our expectations? At what point does innocence born of ignorance give way to … stupidity? How long must we live before we learn the fact that “Pay Now or Pay Later” is a fact of life at every level? We pay now with self-restraint or we pay later with increased poverty and decreased security – for everyone.

The first conference I attended at Willow Creek Community Church I heard Bill Hybels say something that has stuck with me like peanut butter sticks to hot toast: Ministry will cost you everything. I heard this word when I was struggling with what the mission of the local church was. It’s wonderful to want churches to be big, to be financially secure, to be transforming the lives of its members and neighbors. But how many times do we have to hear it – count the cost.

This isn’t to say that Christians are supposed to be impoverished or that we can’t be successful in our work. It is to say that following Jesus is not about getting the biggest bang for our buck. It is about putting our material treasures in line with our professed priorities. If our “professed priorities” are our own individual comfort no matter what the cost, we end up creating a world where people are extremely uncomfortable.

James and John have no idea what their request would cost. That does not let them off the hook.

If you think you can have children on the cheap, you aren’t ready to have children; but …Your annual salary is irrelevant in terms of the cost of parenthood. Children don’t just have an impact on our priorities. Children are our priority.

While James and John are trying to get something for nothing, they fail to see the irony of their having made the request to a man who will give his all. And, as Jesus always does, he tells them the truth. They are going to get what they are going to get … and they are going to pay. The joy of the Christian life is not unlike the joy that children offer – the satisfaction isn’t in getting life on the cheap. The satisfaction is in giving our life in service to others. That babies and toddlers are “cute” is to our physical nature what the gospel is to our spiritual nature.

Whether we are talking about the cost of children or the cost of discipleship, the story under our consideration today should give us pause. What is it we really want? And how much is it worth to us?


[1] http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/duke-hold-weekly-muslim-call-prayer-chapel-tower-28247220

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/majority-of-us-public-school-students-are-in-poverty/2015/01/15/df7171d0-9ce9-11e4-a7ee-526210d665b4_story.html?hpid=z1

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/16/2014-hottest-year-on-record_n_6479896.html?ir=Green&utm_campaign=011615&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Alert-green&utm_content=FullStory

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/16/science/earth/study-raises-alarm-for-health-of-ocean-life.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=c-column-middle-span-region&region=c-column-middle-span-region&WT.nav=c-column-middle-span-region&_r=0

[5] John R. Donahue, S.J. and Daniel J. Harrington, S. J. – Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Mark. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 56321. © 2002. Page 311.