So the lectionary gives us a year of preaching “God Is with Us,” followed by a year of “The Son of God in the Last Place We Would Reasonably Look.” Instead of using sermons to get people to volunteer to be on committees and give more money or to tell funny stories or to share their feelings, what would happen if pastors preached just the center of those texts for two years? Every text in the first two Gospels can be brought back to that center–mind you, not a center we choose but the center that the evangelists themselves proclaim.
~Timothy J. Wengert, Reading the Bible with Martin Luther, 62.
I believe, help my unbelief! Mark 9:24
When it was evident to my father that his cancer would be fatal, we talked about death. My father was completely accepting of me, but he also was a fundamentalist Baptist, very sure of his faith, active in the church, honest and generous in his dealings. What moved me was that this man, so deeply convicted by his faith, could openly share his doubts. That made his faith all the more real to me. It wasn’t a mindless conformity; it was heartfelt and human.
My biggest lament in life is my doubt. I could better accept suffering and death and love and happiness were it not for my doubt. So this cry is my most common confession: “I believe, help my unbelief.”
This is not a foreign experience to any of us. In the Bible, a father is seeking healing for his epileptic child. Jesus’ disciples cannot cast out the spirit causing the boy’s distress. (Epilepsy and mental illness were understood by the ancients as demonic spirits.) Jesus says, “All things can be done for the one who believes.” The father doubts if he has enough belief. Later, the disciples ask why they couldn’t heal the boy, and Jesus explains that this healing could only happen through prayer.
Healing our doubts can only happen through prayer. Prayer together, prayer apart, prayer for each other.
Sacred Spirit, we believe. Help our unbelief!
Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant. Mark 10:45
How could a church whose founding figure said this turn out to be so hierarchical?!? A church of popes, bishops, elders, priests– where are the servants? Deacons come the closest. Their name comes from the Greek word for service, which literally means “waiting on tables”. Gay waiters and lesbian delivery persons may be more of what Jesus had in mind.
The carefully guarded secret is that Jesus did not actually found the church. His followers did, and rather loosely on his teachings. Jesus was more interested in the movement of the Spirit than in institutionalizing it.
Yet, to be fair, when Jesus left, something needed to be done to keep his followers together; preach the gospel and heal the sick. Though warned by Jesus not to imitate current political structures, that’s generally what the church has done through the ages. Popes were like kings. While the church was often a step ahead of the culture in democracy, major democratic reform didn’t occur until the Protestant Reformation.
Christian lesbian feminists point out that another revolution is needed: one that turns the church on its side, so that communal circles characterize our relationships rather than the alienating ladders of hierarchy.
Encircle us with the movement of your Spirit, that we may commune with a Christ without walls.
Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom og God as a little child will never enter it. Mark 10:15
Recently, I had my first church summer camp experience. I felt nostalgic for this childhood experience I had missed, even as I sadly remembered my lover’s childhood search for God at such camps. There he had his first sexual experience with another boy, but he feared it would cut him off from God. I never had a sexual experience with another as a youth, and I grew up feeling alone with my desires.
There is much talk these days about how the bad we do to others later in life grows out of negative childhood experiences. But much of the good we do for others may also grow out of the poverty of our own childhood. I do what I do so that another gay child will have an easier time.
Eileen Lindner of the National Council of Churches spoke at my church summer camp of a group of children living under a bridge in urban Brazil. The eldest, a child himself, had said, “Today we’ve got to get our baby some shoes.” Lindner wondered how someone without home or parents could learn to care for the youngest child of the pack in this way. Perhaps the answer was the poverty of his own childhood.
Jesus said that a little child shall lead us. That child may be the one within us who knows what’s missing and tries to fill the need.
Awaken the child within us, Jesus, to notice what’s missing in the world and “get our babies some shoes”.
Mark 7: 27-28 (ESV)
27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Was Jesus referring to the children of Israel? As He was preaching to Jews and such, yet when a Gentile woman came to Him, it was if it were not yet their time to be preached to. As in, the Gentiles were the dogs who get fed after the children (the Jews).
This is very interesting as now, according to the Apostle Paul, it is the Gentiles time and the Jews are being hardened so we (Gentiles) might be saved.
40 And a leper comes to him, imploring him and falling to his knees, saying to him, “If you wish it, you are able to cleanse me.” 41 And, moved inwardly with compassion,(c ) he stretched out his hand and touched him, and says to him, “I wish it, be clean.” 42 And the leprosy immediately left him, and he was cleansed.
c. An alternative version of the text, attested by a few ancient witnesses, describes Jesus as moved not by compassion but by anger or vexation (perhaps at the man, perhaps at his affliction).
Mark 1:40-42, The New Testament: A Translation by David Bentley Hart