Henri Nouwen writes, “Christian community is the place where we keep the flame of hope alive among us and take it seriously so that it can grow and become stronger in us.” As we live in hope, “…we dare to say that God is a God of love when we see hatred all around us… when we see death and destruction and agony all around us.” Today we finish our “Face to Face Jesus” series. The Jesus we meet in Mark 14 anticipates his death, but not his destruction. We meet a king who is a servant, who offers himself and invites us to live as a people of hope.
This morning brings us both an interruption and a continuation of our “Face to Face with Jesus” series. It’s an interruption because we will not be spending time in Mark’s gospel today, but considering instead some elements of the very familiar Christmas story—taken from the gospels of Matthew and Luke. But in fact, it’s a continuation of the view of Jesus that has been emerging all along. Even as we saw last week with Jesus’ invitation to the rich young ruler, following Jesus entails divesting ourselves of power and privilege, and aligning ourselves with the poor and marginalized. As the Christmas story reminds us, Jesus himself laid aside privilege and power and entered our world in order to identify with, and to redeem the brokenness of our world. He invites all who come after him to follow a similar trajectory.
Our relationship with Jesus is not only important but it may be the most important thing about us. The rich younger ruler was interested in doing something to inherit eternal life and he thought he would find direction in this quest from Jesus himself. But in spite of Jesus’ loving invitation the interaction made him sad and he left loving his possessions more than he loved the good teacher. In a secular culture where making Jesus central seems bizarre and in a church culture where a loving invitation to discipleship seems harsh, or conservative, or excessive, this story calls us to live our whole lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.
In her book, Daughters of Eve: Women of the Bible Speak to Women of Today Virginia Stem Owens writes: “our faith never comes alive, except on the edge”. She describes well the unnamed woman we find in Mark’s gospel who, despite having suffered from a bleeding condition for 12 years, finds herself instantly healed when she manages to touch Jesus’ cloak. The Message renders Jesus’ words to the woman in Mark 5:34 this way: “You took a risk of faith, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed!” Where are the “edges” in your life, and in our community that require a risk of faith? And how can we expect Jesus to respond when we reach out to him this way? Stay tuned for the answers!
This morning, as part of our Face to Face with Jesus series, we turn to Mark chapter six and see a God who looks with compassion on a crowd that is hungry for hope, for food. In the well-known story of the Feeding of the 5,000, we see Jesus offering his people miraculous rest and nourishment. All we need to do is to bring him what we have, and Jesus does the rest.
When church families experience challenges, obstacles, and pain we all resort to our well-honed natural responses. Some of us fight, debate and challenge. Others dig deep, stay faithful, and pitch in. Others move on, avoid the struggles, and find a new family. Ephesians 4:1-16 is a powerful reminder that all of us need to pursue unity and maturity while recognizing that we are part of the body of Christ and He is the Head of the church.
Two Sundays ago, we introduced our fall series in the gospel of Mark – Face to Face with Jesus – with an diagnosis that seemed to resonate with some of us – that sometimes in our journey of faith, for all of our familiarity and proximity to Jesus, we can end up in a place where we are actually blind to Jesus. Not necessarily indifferent to or distant from, but blind to him. Unable to really see Him as He really is. He’s there, but he’s fuzzy, vague, indistinct, lacking any real clarity. The kind of clarity that calls us to attention, that causes us to listen, and that inspires us to come near, to worship and trust and follow Jesus.
And this morning, I want to continue in this by taking us into a moment with Jesus that brought some more clarity – maybe some unexpected clarity – to Jesus’ first disciples… (We apologize that the recording does not include the introduction, so please refer to the attached pdf for the sermon introduction)
“The quest for the eternal, all-beautiful, all-true and all-pure, and the quest to be close to the poor and most broken people appear to be so contradictory. And yet, in the broken heart of Christ, these two quests are united. Jesus reveals to us that he loves his Father, and is intimately linked to him; at the same time he is himself in love with each person and in a particular way with the most broken, the most suffering and the most rejected. To manifest this love, Jesus himself became broken and rejected, a man of sorrows and of anguish and of tears; he became the Crucified One.” –Jean Vanier, Community and Growth
“Being home blind is a phenomenon we’ve all experienced. It’s when we are so used to something being around that we stop seeing it in detail. Psychologists affirm that this is a universal experience and a natural, functional response of the human brain… Over time, familiarity can breed blindness. And nowhere is this more disastrous than when it comes to Jesus.” (Don Everts, God in the Flesh)
This morning, we will talk about the way that our moment-by-moment experience of gratitude can bring us back to the person of Jesus. We are not talking about “looking on the bright side” so much as a simple noticing of the way that God loves and cares for each of us in our present life experiences. Brian Lehane suggests: “Perhaps God doesn’t necessarily want us always to be saying “thank you” so much as to be noticing how much we are loved and cared for by Him and, in turn, to respond by living a life of gratitude.”