Sunday, October 25, 2015

"Courage for New Vision". A sermon on Mark 10:46-52 and Isaiah 43:18-21 for Reformation Sunday at Littlefield Presbyterian Church.

"Courage for New Vision"
Isaiah 43:18-21; Mark 10:46-52

One of the major themes in Mark's gospel is how spiritually blind the disciples were.  Last week we heard Mark's account of how James and John were so spiritually blind that, in their grasping for worldly privilege, they asked Jesus to let them sit on his right and left sides in glory.  They didn't seem to know there was anything wrong with their vision.
            In today’s gospel lesson, we find Bartimaeus sitting by the side of the road, begging for his living.  He doesn't have a perfect understanding of who Jesus is.  But he knows what he needs.  Even though Bartimaeus is physically blind, he's clearly focused on what he wants more than anything else in the world.  He wants to be able to see.   And so, when he hears that Jesus of Nazareth is coming down the road, Bartimaeus calls out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

            Now, in asking to be healed,  Bartimaeus is taking  a risk.  It'll be the end of his old life.  If he regains his sight, he won't be able to sit by the road and beg for a living.  He might see some things he won't want to see.  His new life will be strange and new. 
            Mark holds Bartimaeus up as a model of faith.   He knew what he needed and wanted more than anything else in the world.  He had the courage to see strange, new things.  He believed that Jesus could heal him.  So—even though there were people trying to discourage him, telling him to be quiet-- Bartimaeus dared to cry out to Jesus--  over and over--  and ask for vision.   "Let me SEE again."
            And just like that.  Just words.  No mud or spittle this time, like the last time Mark told about Jesus healing a blind man.[1]  Not even a touch.  In the blinking of an eye, Bartimaeus can see!  His faith has made him well!
            "Go your way,"  Jesus tells him.  But Bartimaeus doesn't go his way.  Right then he decides that Jesus' way will be his way, and he chooses to walk with Jesus, on the way.  His faith and his new vision enable him to follow Jesus as his disciple.
            "Go your way,"   Jesus says.   Jesus doesn't force or coerce us.  He invites us to choose freely which way we go. 
            After years of blindness, I imagine there were places Bartimaeus might have wanted to go...  things he wanted to see.  Yet it's clear in the story that immediately Bartimaeus becomes a disciple   and follows Jesus on the way.  It’s as if—once he can really see--  there's no other way.
            From earliest times in the church, restoring of sight has been a metaphor for the new life experienced in Christ   and for spiritual discernment.  In the early days of the church, the act of baptism was referred to in Greek as “enlightenment.”  The story of the man born blind and the story of blind Bartimaeus became part of the curriculum of instruction for new church members.  
            When we open ourselves to Christ’s healing grace, we begin to see things differently.  As we begin to see the world through Christ’s eyes--  the eyes of love--  our values are changed...  and our priorities are re-ordered.  We’re re- formed.
            Today on Reformation Sunday, we remember our history as a church...  to remember that our Reformed tradition is a living tradition. One of the great watchwords of the Reformed tradition is Semper Reformanda":  The church Reformed, always being reformed, by the Holy Spirit, according to the word of God.
            Reformation Sunday commemorates the occasion in 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  Just as God worked through the reformers who came before Martin Luther and John Calvin--  Jan Hus and the Czech Brethren, the Waldensians, John Wycliffe, and the Hussites,  as well as those who came after them--  Zwingli, John Knox, and others,   God has continued to work through the Spirit during the whole sweep of Christian history. 
            In several recent books, Phyllis Tickle describes the time we live in now as “The Great Emergence,” and offers a big-picture theory of how Christianity is changing and why.  In her book The Great Emergence, Tickle observed that about every 500 years the church cleans out its attic and has a “rummage sale.” 
            Going backward in time 500 years before our time is the Great Reformation.  Five hundred years prior to the Great Reformation is the Great Schism, around 1054, when the Greek or Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity and the Roman branch separated. 
            Five hundred years prior to that takes us back to Gregory the Great, who became pope in a time of total upheaval following the fall of the Roman Empire… a time of bitter dissension, when the Oriental branch of Christianity—Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, and Syrian-- was separated from both Western and Eastern Christianity.  Pope Gregory is known as “Great” because he was able to build on the work of St. Benedict in the monastic movement in building a kind of church-political coherence of monasteries and convents that were centers of learning and service, and that would protect, preserve, and characterize the Christian movement for the next five centuries through the Dark Ages.
            If we look back approximately 500 years before that, we’re looking at what Tickle and others call the Great Transformation 2,000 years ago--  the age that gave us the Christian faith in the first place.
            I’m grateful to Tickle for her big-picture framework of how the Spirit of God has worked over the centuries to reform the Christian faith, and for how she shows how the re-formation in the church has always been related to the political, economic, and social upheavals that were also taking place.
            Tickle and others point to historical forces that combined to produce the Great Reformation:  the invention of the printing press, the rise of nation-states, corruption in religious institutions, and the emergence of an educated elite.  Every religion is tied to the culture in which it exists, just as it informs the society.  Five hundred years after the Great Reformation, we are experiencing corresponding challenges in communications, politics, religion, and scholarship.[2]  Think of the changes in our society in just the past few decades!
            This is a whole new time in the church, and for a lot of people it can be scary.  In a major study released earlier this year, the Pew Research Center describes a “changing U.S. Religious Landscape,” in which Christians have been delining sharply as a share of the population, while unaffiliated and other faiths continue to grow.         
            This is the context we live in.   I agree with Diana Butler Bass  when she writes: in this new context, “we need to know who we are with great clarity and personal commitment.   At the same time, we need to be able to love our neighbors and work beyond faith boundaries to create a new shared sense of common good.  This will call for a different sort of church than the one we knew in the centuries that came before.”[3]
            The church is being called to a new way of life.  We’re being called to re-create our identity building on the wisdom of the past, and to embrace the questions of an emerging future in which Christians may be a minority in a pluralistic society.  Part of the good news of this is that Christians have often been more faithful and creative when we are not in charge of the society.
            On this Reformation Sunday, we could celebrate what happened 500 years ago…and then hold on for dear life to the way we’re comfortable with doing church.  We could do that.  But I don’t think that’s a faithful way to celebrate the church’s journey in faith.
            We live in a broken and fearful world, and we could find so much to be afraid of.  As a congregation, we could retreat into our familiar ways of doing church, and try to find comfort and security in being a nice and friendly little congregation. 
            Or we can ask Jesus to give us the ability to see things in new, fresh ways.  We can hear the call to “take heart”—to have courage—and follow Jesus gratefully into new opportunities and possibilities. 
            We can remember how God spoke to faithful people in a hard time, saying, “Look.  I’m doing something new.  Don’t you perceive it?”
            God is still working on us, leading us further into the truth.  The church does make progress.  It comes through the painful process of repentance...  changing our minds...  and correcting our practice.
            The good news is that--  in God’s presence--  miracles do happen.  And so, my friends, take heart.  Do we have the courage to see? 
            Jesus offers us the gift of vision, so we can see to follow him.  He  invites us to come and see the world through HIS eyes...  to see new possibilities...  and have new values and priorities, both as individuals and as the church.    He invites us to have our eyes opened to the truth of God’s redeeming love...  and to follow him in an adventure of faith.
            And so, my friends, take heart!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
October 26, 2015

[1] Mark 8:22-25
[2] Diana Butler Bass, A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (Harper One, 2009), p. 154.

[3] Diana Butler Bass, “What Can the Church Become?”    Posted October 25, 2012 at

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"God's Hands and Feet In the World". A sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on October 20, 2015, for our observance of Bread for the World Sunday

"God's Hands and Feet in the World"
Mark 10:35-45

The twelve disciples had been going around with Jesus for some time.  He’d been teaching them about the way of self-giving love.  But they don’t seem to get it.  Mark tells us that James and John “come forward” to Jesus, pushing ahead of the other disciples. 
            “Teacher,” they say, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
            Jesus says to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”  And they say, “When you come into your GLORY, grant one of us the privilege of sitting at your right hand…and one at your left.”
            Now, some people dismiss the Zebedee brothers.  They see them in this conversation, at least, as pushy, ambitious seekers of a place of honor and power. 
            But I think it’s obvious that James and John had great faith in Jesus.  They believed in him, and their personal hopes were completely woven into his destiny.  They loved Jesus.   But what Jesus is trying to teach his disciples about being a suffering servant is hard!  It’s hard to understand--  and harder to live.
            One of the reasons that the Christian message has been twisted and distorted and misunderstood—is that it’s so paradoxical.  The Christian paradox is that our Lord and Savior came as a suffering servant to save us… and to show us the WAY.
            Jesus defines greatness very differently from the ways we’re used to thinking about it.  When we follow Jesus, as his disciples, we need to struggle with the paradox that—in God’s kingdom—we gain by losing.  We become great by serving.  And we get to be first by being last.  In the kingdom of God, things look very different than they do in the world.
            “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be a servant.  This teaching is so critical to understanding Jesus’ ministry…and such a key to being a disciple—that the gospels record it no less than eight times.
            What does it mean for us to follow a servant savior?  
            Among other things, it means setting aside self  in order to take up the cause of others.  It means serving our neighbors.  It means living out our faith in terms of kindness, openness, empathy, and compassion.    Never perfectly, never fully—for we’re not capable of perfect servanthood.        
            As part of Christ’s body, when we’re at our best, we are a servant church.   When we’re not at our best, we’re an organization filled with people each trying to get their own needs met…  trying to get something out of church… and trying to get the church to be the church we want it to be.
            When we’re being the servant church, we’re feeding the hungry, calling on the sick…visiting the homebound.   We’re serving those in the community who are needy and hurting, through friendship and practical kinds of help.  When we’re being the servant church, we share in Christ’s ministry in the world by generously supporting the mission of the church with our tithes and offerings.
            Today has been designated as Bread for the World Sunday.   Friday was World Food Day. 
            We who have plenty to eat are reminded that many people don’t… and many of those who are hungry or food insecure are children. 
            Bread for the World reminds us that nearly 16 million children in the United States — one in five — live in households that struggle to put food on the table. Many of these children have parents who have job and work hard, but their wages aren’t high enough to cover the high costs of rent, transportation, and utilities — and daily meals.[1]
            So our federal government’s feeding programs serve as a lifeline for vulnerable children and families. Because children are hit especially hard by the effects of hunger and malnutrition,  nutrition programs aimed at children are particularly important. 
            A healthy start in life — even before a child is born — pays off for years,  not only for individual children and families, but for communities and our nation as a whole.
            Only one out of every 20 grocery bags that feed people who are hungry come from church food pantries and other private charities.   Federal nutrition programs, from school meals to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), provide the rest.   Our government’s child nutrition programs serve millions of children each year. 
Locally, and in the short term, we are helping to alleviate hunger when we give to the Presbyterian Hunger Program through our Two Cents a Meal offering… when we support Church World Service…when we support the mission of the Open Door…or Focus Hope… or volunteer at Gleaners.
            But we also need to work on the systemic causes of hunger.   For a lot of us,  hunger and poverty seem overwhelming.  But we don’t have to do it alone. 
            Bread for the World is a faith-based education and advocacy organization that I’ve belonged to for some years.  The reason I support Bread for the World is because they have a remarkable 
record of helping win
 passage of bipartisan 
legislation that addresses hunger.   As a result
 of this advocacy,
 children in the United
 States receive vital 
nutrition.   Emergency food reaches refugees from famine and conflict in Africa.  Agricultural development is enabling hungry people in various parts of the world to grow enough food to feed their families.

            As Teresa of Avila famously put it, "Christ has no body now on earth but yours… no hands but yours…  no feet but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which God’s compassion will look upon the world.  Yours are the feet with which God will go about doing good.  Yours are the hands with which God will bless others now."
            We are called to serve—to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.
When we respond to Christ’s call and work together, we can help to change the conditions and the policies that allow hunger to persist. 
            We are called to share our bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into our house… to care for basic needs of those who are marginalized.
            Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God promises us that we will not have to do this alone.  When we call, the LORD will answer.  When we cry for help, God will say, “Here I am.”[2]
            If we remove the yoke, the speaking of evil, if we offer our food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
Then our light shall rise in the darkness.
            This is a blessed promise and vision: 
The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places…
you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt…  you shall be called the repairer of the breach.. 
the restorer of streets to live in.
            So be it!  Amen!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
October 20, 2015

[2] Isaiah 58

Sunday, October 11, 2015

"The Call." A sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on Mark 9:3-37 on a baptism Sunday.

“The Call”
Mark 9:30-37

Last week as I was driving somewhere I heard part of an interview on NPR about the history of fraternal organizations and lodges  During the interview, someone said that people don’t join groups as much as they used to.  He mentioned Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, which was published in 2000—about the time social scientists started talking more about a trend of declining in-person social relationships and community,  which became more of a trend from around 1950 on.[1]  
            I’d read Bowling Alone when it was first published.  The title of the book came from a trend in bowling:  the number of people who bowled had increased between 1970 and 1990, but the number of people who bowled in leagues had decreased significantly.  If people bowl alone, they don’t participate in social interaction and civic discussions that might occur in a league environment.
            I think the trends Putnam and others were identifying fifteen years ago are even more evident today, in the aggregate loss in membership and number of volunteers in Parent-Teacher Associations, Women’s Clubs, any number of civic organizations, and the church.  Our leisure time has become much more individualized, via television and internet. 
            We live in a culture in which individualism and consumerism are prominent values.   As I was looking through my notes on this scripture passage, I came across a commentary Kenneth Woodward wrote in Newsweek some time ago, in which he said that one of the most common theological questions asked in our society is “What do I want?” [2]
            In that article, Woodward described a kind of  “mix-em, match-em, salad-bar spirituality."
            You know how salad bars work.  You take what you want:  the mixed greens, the cherry tomatoes, the potato salad.  You leave behind what you don't want:  the sprouts, the pickled beets, the broccoli and cauliflower.  Woodward says a lot of people today assemble their spiritual lives in much the same way.  He cites a contemporary seeker who declares, "Instead of me fitting a religion, I found a religion to fit me." 
            "What do I want?"  is the question we might ask standing in the door of an open refrigerator.  Have you ever done that?  I feel this strange, vague hunger inside me.  I know I want something. 
            "What do I want?" is the question we ask standing in the shopping mall, or the car lot--  hoping something we buy might make us feel whole or happy...  or just better.
            "What do I want?"   When that becomes the only question—or the main question--  religious faith is no longer seen as the center of life and an integrating force holding our lives together--  but rather as just one more thing added into the life we try to put together for ourselves… or something to take or leave, depending on what I want. 
            The thought that religious faith is only about getting what we want can be pretty attractive...  seductive.

            By contrast, Jesus' words in today’s gospel lesson are anything but pretty, when he talks about how he will have to suffer…be rejected…and die.
            Though the way of Jesus sounds strange--  there is also something strangely appealing about it.  Jesus speaks so confidently about the new life he offers:  life so abundant that if you give it away you only find more of it.  Life so precious that it can't be bought--  but only received as a gift.  The gospel is paradoxical and counter-cultural.
            The popular culture gives us strong messages about who we are and what we’re worth and what life means.  We’re bombarded by commercials on T.V. that tell us that we’ll be happy if we use the right products to keep up appearances…if we have the right look for ourselves and our homes.  Even young children are targeted by advertisers who want to sell toys and junk food.
            The way of consumerism invites us to grasp and grab...  and work and toil, never satisfied, always wanting more....  always trying to fill some deep emptiness which can't be filled with anything less than God.
            When we have ears to hear, we’re invited to choose the way that leads to life and abundance.  As Christians, we’re challenged by our faith to repent—to re-think, to open ourselves to be transformed by the good news of the gospel.            

            One of the great joys of the Christian life is when parents present their children for baptism.  This is their public declaration that they want their child to be a part of the church and to have a ministry in it—even before the child is old enough to be fully aware of all the love that surrounds her or him. 
            For some of us, our children can be the reason we begin to participate more faithfully in the life of Christ.  In my own life, I’d been turned off by some experiences in the church I grew up in, and so I left the church when I went away to college.  Part of what drew me back into the church some years later was a feeling that I wanted my son to be nurtured in a church family.
            Because of my own experience, I identify with the story of a woman named Karin in Nick Taylor’s book Ordinary Miracles: Life in a Small Church.[3]   Karin had been baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Church, and defected as a teen to the Methodists, who had a better youth group.  Then, after high school, she fell away from church.  “I graduated from nursing school…and went to work.   There was no time for God in my life.   But our God is a patient God,” she wrote.
            Soon she was living her version of the American dream.  She had a husband who loved her and whom she loved, a house in the suburbs, a station wagon in the driveway, two kids, the dog, the whole nine yards.  The material things were all there.  But something was missing.
            Karin realized she was looking for God in her life when she brought her children to church and made baptismal promises for them.  She said, “God was calling me back, and I finally heard….”
            At St. Mary’s, she found a loving community of people trying to live as Jesus taught.  The congregation welcomed her and her husband, and later her husband decided he wanted to live his life as a follower of Jesus.
            Karin made a discovery about the essence of her spiritual journey as she was making a trip she’d been dreading, when she delivered her first baby into a new life away at college.  Her daughter had stayed up most of the night at a farewell party, and she was sleeping in the seat next to her.  Karin wrote, “I had so many things to say to her.  There’s a saying that your children aren’t yours to keep, but God loans them to you for a while.  It was time for me to step to the sidelines.
            Karin reflected:  “God has blessed [us] with our daughters.  That morning on the long drive, I thought about the past eighteen years and how different my life has become.  Would I be the same person I am, if not for this sleeping young woman next to me?   Again, I realized God had put Susan and her sisters into my life for a reason.  In making sure they had a religious education, my own knowledge and love of God has been deepened immeasurably.  The void I felt so long ago has been filled.”
            When parents bring their children for baptism and promise to raise them in the faith, it can be a new beginning for the parents—and for all of us-- as well.
            Baptism is central to our identity as Christians.    As we live into our baptism, we learn who we are and whose we are.  We are nurtured to see ourselves as beloved children of God, and that can make all the difference!
            Baptism is a life-changing, transforming event in our lives.  The baptismal font stands at the front of sanctuary as we worship God every Sunday, reminding us that we’ve been initiated into this congregation, as well as into the universal church of Jesus Christ.  It reminds us that we’re an important part of the Body of Christ—marked and identified as a disciple of Christ.  The church is where we grow in faith and learn over a lifetime what it means to follow Jesus Christ. 
            In our Presbyterian and Reformed tradition, our understanding of baptism emphasizes God’s initiative.  God reaches out graciously to us, and offers us the gift of life in the kingdom as a free gift.  We respond by dedicating our lives to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and committing ourselves to follow him.  Baptism is the beginning of our life in the church…a first step in a journey that takes a lifetime.
            When we baptize children, we promise to teach them who they are in the light of God’s truth.  We promise to teach them what makes them different as part of a holy people…a royal priesthood…consecrated to God’s service.  We’re called to tell the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ…and to show in our lives how God has saved us by calling us out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.[4]
            When parents present their child for baptism, they promise to live the Christian faith themselves, and to teach that faith to their children, by word and example.  When we baptize a child, the whole congregation makes promises to nurture that child in a variety of ways, and to teach them the faith.  To grow up in the faith, we and our children need to worship and learn together—in our families, and in the faith community which is the church. 
            Each time we baptize a new Christian, we’re inviting that person on a journey that will take a lifetime.  Today, we’re inviting Leah to be part of the great adventure we call church.
            What God will make of Leah’s life, or where God will lead her, we don’t know.
            But what we do know…what we can say with certainty-- because we have God’s promise—is that God is with us every step of the way.
            May God bless Leah and her family…and all of us on our adventure as we discern our call further into the life God is offering us!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
October 11, 2015

[1] Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000).
[2] Kenneth L. Woodward and others, “A Time to Seek,” Newsweek (Dec. 17, 1990), page 50.
[3] Nick Taylor, Ordinary Miracles: Life in a Small Church (1993).
[4] 1 Peter 2:9


[1] Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000).
[2] Kenneth L. Woodward and others, “A Time to Seek,” Newsweek (Dec. 17, 1990), page 50.
[3] Nick Taylor, Ordinary Miracles: Life in a Small Church (1993).

Sunday, October 4, 2015

"Don't You Understand?" A sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on Isaiah 56:1-7 and Mark 8:1-21, on World Communion Sunday.

"Don't You Understand?"
Mark 8:1-21

            Does this story sound familiar?   Haven’t we heard this story before?
            Actually, we have.  In Mark chapter 6, we heard a story of a miraculous feeding of a multitude.  But this time some of the details are different.   A thousand fewer people.   Two more loaves of bread.  And five fewer baskets of left-overs.  
            Jesus looks around at the huge crowd that came to hear him and says to his disciples, “I’m really concerned for the people.  They’ve been with me for three days now, and they don’t have anything to eat.   If I send them home hungry, they’ll collapse on the way.  Some of them have come from miles away.”
            The disciples don’t sound like they’ve seen a crowd get fed miraculously as they answer:  “”But Jesus, where could you get food for all these people, out here in the wilderness?” 
            The disciples have seen something like this before.  But everything that’s happening is so much bigger and so different from what they’d been expecting or hoping for that they apparently can’t take it all in. 

            Jesus tells the crowd to sit down.  He takes the seven loaves, gives thanks, breaks them and gives them to the disciples to distribute.   The people in the crowd eat, and they’re satisfied, and then they gather up seven baskets of left-overs before they send the people away. 

            Over the years, biblical scholars have tried to figure out why Mark tells this second feeding story, when the first one was more impressive, with 1,000 more people in the crowd?  Is he just telling us, “Jesus did it again”? 
            There are some interesting details in the two stories.  In the feeding story in chapter 6,  Jesus told the 5,000 people to sit down, and they sat down on the green grass.  In the Galilee, grass grows quickly in the spring, but once the rains stop in May it gets scorched by the fierce sun.  So, according to N.T. Wright, the earlier feeding took place around the time of the Jewish Passover.[1]   Some scholars have suggested that the 12 baskets of left-overs  from the 5,000 people symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel,  while the 7 baskets of left-overs may represent his ministry to the wider Gentile world, with—in Jewish folklore—70 nations.   The first feeding story took place on the predominately Jewish side of the lake, and today’s story, they’re on the predominately Gentile side.  
            Then there’s number symbolism in this story—the 7 loaves and 7 baskets of left-overs are significant.  In Genesis, God gives Noah seven laws, which would apply to Noah’s descendants—all of humankind-- in contrast to the five books of Jewish law. [2]    In Deuteronomy there’s a contrast between the Hebrew people with the seven nations of Canaan. [3]  According to William Placher, first-century readers, who were fascinated by number symbolism, would have read this passage and said, “This time Jesus is feeding Gentiles.[4]
            In the early church Mark was addressing, there was a major controversy about who was included and the relation of Jewish and Gentile Christians, so I think Mark is telling us in this story that Jesus came to feed Gentiles as well as Jews. 
            But there’s something else—a theme that becomes more pronounced in the next episode.  Even thought the disciples had witnessed the feeding of 5,000 people, when Jesus told them they needed to feed the 4,000 people, it apparently didn’t occur to them to say, “You know, that thing you did to feed the crowd on the other side of the Sea of Galilee—could you do it again?”
            After they feed the 4,000 people and send them away, immediately Jesus gets into the boat with his disciples and they cross the lake, back to Jewish territory.  The Pharisees come and begin to argue with Jesus, asking him for a sign from heaven, because they want to test him. 

            So Jesus and the disciples get back in the boat and cross to the other side.  Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread.  They had only one loaf with them in the boat, and they’re worried about the scarcity.
            Jesus cautions them, saying, “Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.”  The disciples say to one another, “It’s because we don’t have any bread.”
            Jesus hears them and says, “Why are you talking about having no bread?  Do you still not perceive or understand?  Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have ears, and fail to hear?  And do you not remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?”  They said to him, “Twelve.” 
            “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 
            Then Jesus said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

            For a lot of us, it is hard to understand.  We’re afraid we don’t have enough bread to share with those in need.    We worry we don’t have enough money.  We hear get confused by “the leaven of the Pharisees”—the message of those who want God to set up a kingdom that’s about observing the law with great strictness,  rather than the kingdom of love and justice that includes all the people Jesus wants to include. 
            The kingdom of God is much wider and more gracious and inclusive than we might have imagined.
            Do we understand?  Can we see it?   Can we hear it?  
            Listen to how Jan Richardson describes it in  “And The Table Will Be Wide”:   
And the table will be wide.
And the welcome will be wide
And the arms will open wide to gather us in.
And our hearts will open wide to receive.
And we will come as children who trust there is enough.
And we will come unhindered and free.
And our aching will be met with bread.
And our sorrow will be met with wine.

And we will open our hands to the feast without shame.
And we will turn toward each other without fear.
And we will give up our appetite for despair.
And we will taste and know of delight.

And we will become bread for a hungering world.
And we will become drink for those who thirst.
And the blessed will become the blessing.
And everywhere will be the feast. [5]

May it be so!  Amen!

Thank you to Jan Richardson for permission to quote her work.  Please check out her blog at:

[1] N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone. (Westminster John Knox Press, 2001/2004), p. 78.
[2] Genesis 9:4-7
[3] Deuteronomy 7:1
[4] William Placher, Mark: Belief, a Theological Commentary  (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010),
[5] Jan Richardson,  
And the Table Will Be Wide: A Blessing for World Communion Sunday.”  Quoted by permission.  Copyright Jan Richardson.