Archive for October, 2015

That One Thing We Lack

Rebecca Sheridan

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Mark 10:17-31


Jesus tells the rich man, “You lack one thing.” It’s an ironic thing to say, in a way. What can a rich person lack, really? Wouldn’t we all love to be in that man’s position – a faithful man of God who keeps the commandments and has enough wealth to be considered rich. It might be hard from our perspective, or from the disciples’ perspective, to see anything lacking in this guy. So, what is Jesus talking about, that he lacks one thing?

We could ask the same question of ourselves. What is that one thing we might be lacking? For most of us, the first response very well could be some kind of material thing – we lack enough money for retirement, or we have a nice place to live, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a little bit bigger kitchen, or one more bathroom? A nicer car, the latest Iphone, and updated new fall wardrobe. I shared with many of you last week at our baby shower, and I’m sure part of it is that nesting instinct I’m having these days, but I was seriously laying awake at night worrying about what we still needed to get for the baby, especially if I went into labor early – we didn’t have any diapers, we had just a handful of clothes, and no bath/infant care stuff. It was hard for me to focus on what we DID have – a roof over baby’s head, a furnace that works, a crib & carseat, a steady salary to buy whatever we still needed. A colleague who had spent time in Africa recently reminded me: in some parts of Africa, women who have next to nothing have babies and those babies grow up healthy and fine! Babies really don’t need much, he said. Under my breath I was muttering that Nebraska winters were a bit harsher and I should at least plan to have some blankets for this kid, but it was a good reminder to me to look at all that I did have instead of focusing on what we lacked. Most of us in the United States have a lot more than we need – and when you get down to it, there’s not a whole lot we lack in the material possession department.

So, if Jesus were to tell US, “You lack one thing,” what might that one thing be? Jesus would probably not be suggesting that we lack any material possessions. For this rich man, Jesus could be suggesting a few things: perhaps the rich man lacks a sense of generosity. He is not able to give away all he has to the poor. Or perhaps Jesus is pointing out the man’s need to depend more on God instead of on himself – he asks what he can DO to inherit eternal life, as if he can somehow control God by his actions. Jesus asks him to trust in God and not in what he does, saying “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Or maybe, the man simply lacks a closer relationship with Jesus. Jesus asks him to “come, follow me,” but the man goes the other way shocked and grieving. He appears to be looking for a straightforward solution to inheriting eternal life – do this and you’re in, no more worries. He doesn’t seem to like the answer Jesus gives – which is Jesus asking him to invest in a journey of following Jesus, a more long-term commitment with potential dangers and challenges ahead.

What might Jesus say we are lacking? That’s a hard question to answer. It could be any of those things, right – a closer relationship with him, a willingness to give of our time, talents and treasures more generously, or strengthening our dependence on God instead of on what we DO. Or for you, maybe it’s something else. If we examine ourselves closely enough with this question, the reality is that none of us will measure up to Jesus’ standards for us. We all lack something. We all need Jesus. It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for us to enter the kingdom of God, Jesus reminds us today. But Jesus also gives us a powerful promise – “For mortals it is impossible, but for God, all things are possible.” God has the power to make up for anything we lack. And through Jesus Christ, God declares that who we are and what we have to give is enough – there is nothing else lacking.

Today, we are overjoyed to welcome Max Miller into our church through the rite of Holy Baptism. Baptism is God’s answer to any inadequacies or insufficiencies we might have. When we think to ourselves that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for us to be saved because of what we’ve done or NOT done, because of what we want to do but don’t do (like giving away all of our possessions to the poor), God reminds us in baptism that for God, all things are possible. Our baptism reminds us that as children of God, there is nothing we lack. We are sufficient enough, because we have been named, claimed, and saved through Jesus Christ.

It is so easy for us to focus on what we lack – on what we don’t have rather than what we do have. If only I were a little bit richer, or a little bit smarter, or a little less hot-tempered, or a little bit thinner…the list can go on and on. Here at Bethel, it can be easy to look at our budget and offerings and worry about the little money we have, even though giving is up and people give very generously of their time and gifts, as we celebrate today. In remembering and celebrating baptism today, Jesus turns our focus to what we do have – a loving and supportive church family, a gathering of individuals who have all been uniquely created and gifted by God to serve in different ways. And we have a God who makes the impossible possible, getting camels through eyes of needles and saving people like us who would never measure up in our own harsh standards of perfection, much less God’s. Thanks be to God, who makes all things possible, so that we lack nothing. Amen.

All Are Welcome?

Rebecca Sheridan

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mark 10:2-16


The recent visit from Pope Francis has been a reminder that the church has hurt people. The Catholic Church has been in the news more publically for its stance on issues like homosexuality, abortion, and divorce, as well as of course the tragedy of clergy sexual abuse scandals. It’s easy to point fingers at another church body and say what’s wrong with them. But we as Lutherans need to recognize that our church, even OUR congregation here at Bethel has hurt people intentionally and unintentionally by our words and actions, or inactions at times, too. Like any individual, the church does not always act in the way we would expect followers of Christ to act or respond to human need and suffering. Can you think of someone you know who’s been hurt by the church? Maybe you yourself have been hurt by the church in the past, or by something a fellow Christian said.

In today’s gospel, two sayings come to mind that have been misused by well-meaning people to hurt others: the first is misusing the words we say at most weddings, from the mouth of Jesus himself: “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” And the second is how we treat the youngest and most vulnerable in our church: “children should be seen and not heard.” This morning, Jesus draws our attention to just two of the ways we fail as humans to live up to God’s expectations for us: divorce and neglect of children. God calls us to be in relationship with others, and we mess those relationships up. We hurt each other – we hurt our spouse, our families, our children, we hurt fellow members of the body of Christ we call the church, and we hurt those outside of the church because we fail to share the good news.

At first read, you might be wondering why Jesus seems to randomly jump from talking about divorce to exhorting us to welcome children in today’s gospel. I definitely wondered what the two had to do with each other. At least today, I think that the common connection boils down to how we welcome or fail to welcome those who are less than perfect into a less than perfect church. “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them,” Jesus says, “for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Do not stop them, Jesus says! Unfortunately, we in the church have adopted rules just like the Pharisees to keep people out of the church rather than welcome them in and share the good news that ANYONE can come to Jesus, regardless of what they have done. Faith is not about what we do but about what God has done for us. It is the core of our Lutheran witness that we believe that no one is too messed up for God’s forgiveness. Yet when we start getting down to the hard work of welcoming EVERYONE into God’s kingdom, we quickly get into making exceptions, don’t we?

One of those groups that I have heard from firsthand as a pastor is people who are divorced. Some people have been turned away from receiving communion because they are divorced. Others have told me about going to their pastor for counseling; which is a very healthy thing, by the way, as divorce is the second most stressful life event to go through apart from the death of a spouse. Instead of offering support and healing to move forward, the pastor has condemned or blamed the person going through the divorce – even though the marriage was dysfunctional, not healthy, or even abusive. Jesus is clear in today’s gospel – we ought not take divorce or marriage lightly. But we could also ask, is it OK to separate something that God clearly would not have put together – in the cases of abuse, adultery, and unhealthy hurtful relationships? For those of us who are married, do we look down on those who are divorced as if we’ve never made a bad decision or broken other relationships, as though we’re somehow better in the eyes of God because of our marital status? While Jesus clearly desires for us healthy, lifelong marriages, Jesus never equates the divorce of two people to mean that God also divorces from being in relationship with them, so to speak. God will never leave us or forsake us – so why do we in the church suggest by our actions or attitudes that God has?

God’s welcome is a lot bigger than ours is. Let them come to me – the divorced, the felons, the alcoholics, the poor – you name it, Jesus says. Do not stop them. But what about the children? We LOVE children, right? We’re so happy to have them, especially when our congregation tends to be older. As long as we can still hear the sermon. And as long as they sit quietly and don’t move around too much during worship. As long as they sit in the back so they don’t distract others. Is that what we want the primary message for our children to be? Church is about sitting still and being quiet, or about growing in a deeper knowledge of and relationship with Jesus Christ? I don’t hear Jesus asking these children to be quiet and sit in the back at all in today’s gospel. Instead, Jesus puts them front and center, embracing them while some of the disciples grumble.

At one of the first congregations I served, the council had a vision for adding on a bigger fellowship space, which would include a place for a nursery, space that the current building didn’t have. Being a historic older church building, of course, this idea was controversial. And we heard the standard things like, “I brought my three kids to church every Sunday and never needed a nursery!” Until one brave woman in her ‘80s stood up and said, “You know, I brought my kids to church every Sunday, too, but I remember trying to hold on to all four of them, keep them quiet, and navigate those narrow walkways with my giant diaper bag because there was no place to put it. There was no good place to change a diaper if one of them needed a diaper change. I always came home exhausted and I don’t think I really heard a sermon for years. I could’ve used a nursery, and I’m sure some of our families today could, too.” Her comments changed the mood of the room – suddenly, it seemed like a good idea to most of the congregation to have a nursery. We were talking a lot about wanting to attract more young families, but our words and actions weren’t reflecting that we were serious about welcoming children even if they were noisy or their parents didn’t use the same distraction techniques of the past.

Jesus calls out our hardness of heart in hurting other people in our relationships today. We do that in our failure to nurture healthy marriages – we do that with other family relationships, we do that with our own children, and we certainly have been guilty of hardness of heart in the church. We stop people from encountering the love, grace, and forgiveness of Jesus because of our own judgments. We easily condemn others for bad parenting, bad relationship decisions, or bad life choices, forgetting to look at ourselves and our own less than ideal behavior. But as God’s children, Jesus welcomes us with open arms, offering us forgiveness and life. God in Jesus Christ is always calling us back into relationship with him, and God’s greatest desire is to help us foster healthy relationships with one another, too. We as a church, then, can tell a different story than the negative ones we hear on the news – we are a people that welcomes all who want to grow closer in relationship to Jesus and each other – regardless of your past, regardless of what you’ve done. May all of us who have experienced the loving embrace of Jesus be bold enough to share that with others, welcoming them with open arms. Amen.


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