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Archive for November, 2015

Make my heart to grow

There is a prayer in the Northumbria Community that I really love called Saranam (Refuge). Whenever it comes up in the monthly cycle of prayers and meditations, I pull it out and put it on my Facebook.

Make my heart to grow
as great as Thine,
so through my hurt
Your love may shine,
my love be Yours,
Your love be mine,
saranam, saranam, saranam.

Today is different.

Today I realize God has been answering my prayer.

Today I realize I’ve prayed a dangerous prayer in a sense.

Over the past few months, I have been continually made aware of brokenness in our world. Families struggling to make ends meet. People struggling to get to today’s end.

Stories that I cannot write on here. Stories that are not mine to tell.

Stories that break my heart. I mean – really break my heart. Stories that make my heart hurt so much I cannot help but let the tears pour out.

Stories that take me to the end of my knowledge and experience and then push me beyond.

Stories that I wish sometimes I could wake up and find that the world is a happy place after all.

I prayed for this. Not in these words. But I prayed that God would enlarge my heart to make it as big as his. Through this prayer, I’ve asked God to show me – really show me – what he sees in the world, in the lives of those around me. I’ve asked for a heart to hold what He holds.

And that is why it is a dangerous prayer. For I have wept more tears in the past few months than I can ever remember. This glimpse I have into my portion of the world is heart breaking.

And maybe the only thing that is comforting as my heart keeps breaking is that found in the God who is revealing these things to me – his heart breaks. He understands. And he is big enough to hold my heart as it breaks while he shows me what I need to see for my heart to grow as big as his.

Lord, come quickly

Today is the first Sunday in advent. I love advent, a time of waiting and preparing for Christ’s coming. I love how it gives a different focus than commercialism demands of us. I love that it is a time to reflect.

This year as I head into advent, my heart is heavy.

I have the picture of a young (10) refugee boy I met who found a toy gun and enacted what I’m sure he witnessed back “home” before crying out in his own language and shaking in distress because he couldn’t find his family.

I have the stories of the beautiful people I have come to know through ministry through the side door. Stories that would break anyone’s hearts. Children in our own backyards who go to bed crying.

The worldwide events with ISIS, hostages, terrorism, earthquakes, civil war, hurricanes that make home an unsafe place.

This advent, I have a lot of questions. We cry out each year, “Lord, come quickly” – and this year all I can say is “Lord, have mercy”

Today, as I write this, I am comforted in song – “Mercy Now” by Steve Bell, Canadian singer/songwriter.

“Only the hand of Grace could stay the pace
of nature’s rage against us now”

Lord, come quickly… for we could all use a little mercy now.

Sermon: Giving All Mark 12:38-44

Preamble: This was a sermon that I gave today for preaching class on Mark 12:38-44. I received some helpful comments but have not integrated them into the original text of the sermon partly because I have been realizing that there is something about the moment of preaching that cannot be captured again. A sermon is an event, not just a piece of writing, and while the comments would honestly have made this a better sermon, I feel it is dishonest to edit and then say ‘this is what I preached’.

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Introduction

Esra and Fethullah are not your typical bride and groom. In August, this Turkish couple decided to spend their wedding day feeding 4000 Syrian refugees with the money that had been given to them to start their married lives together. In their wedding attire, they served a banquet meal to those who had been displaced from their homes, families, and lives. Fethullah told the media that “seeing the happiness in the eyes of the Syrian refugee children is just priceless. [They] started [their] journey to happiness with making others happy” (Telegraph, 2015). Esra and Fethullah knew something about giving what they had to God and to others.

Context

Today’s passage is the last story in a series of encounters with the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees in the Temple in the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey as the crowd spread their clocks and shout “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”. The crowd has declared Jesus to be king over them as he rides into town.

His next visit to the Temple was overturning the tables of the money changers and driving out those who were selling and buying in the temple. The temple had become a symbol of violence as the Orthodox Jewish leaders of the day were plotting a violent rebellion against Rome. As NT Wright says, the temple had become to mean “Violence towards outsiders; injustice towards Israel itself” (Wright, pg. 152). This was quite different from the Kingdom that Jesus was proclaiming, whose king would make his entrance into Jerusalem on a humble donkey and in only days from the crowds praising Him, would be crucified on a cross.

Jesus’ judgment on the temple were not taken well by the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees. The temple was central to their professions and understanding of Jewish life. These three groups of Jews make their attacks on Jesus, questioning his authority and trying to trap him. In the meantime, Jesus passes judgement on the Temple itself through his responses and teaching, inciting the Jewish leaders to want to kill him.

One scribe came to Jesus, knowing that Jesus had given wise answers to the questions that were meant to attack him publicly. In discussing the greatest commandment, the scribe articulates that the commandments to love God with all your heart, understanding and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself, is far greater than all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices. Jesus responded by saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (12:34)

The kingdom of God that Jesus was bringing was not some radical and violent rebellion against Rome. But one in which we are called to follow the old law of the Jewish people – to love God with our whole hearts, souls, minds and bodies and to love our neighbours as ourselves. In one way, there was nothing new about the revolution that Jesus was bringing. In another way, it was a strange way to start a revolution.

Passage

While this one scribe understood this strange way of Jesus, the majority of Scribes did not. The scribes were given elite positions in society, wearing robes that told everyone what place they held and the respect that they should be treated with. They were given seats of honour – the special places at the high tables. And they expected such! They entered the marketplaces knowing that they would be greeted with respect.

Clearly the Scribes enjoyed their outward appeal and the benefits their position afforded them. However, this wasn’t their only downfall. The Scribes offered prayers out loud that were long and were to show off in front of those who would hear them. But these prayers are empty for we are also told that these same scribes would devour widows’ houses. The Greek word interpreted as devour is actually a much stronger word. It meant to take absolutely everything from the widows, to leave nothing beyond. The scribes were not only taking advantage of the very poor and vulnerable in society – they were voraciously taking all that they had, leaving very little hope of recovery. Outwardly, the scribes would try to project an image of superiority and nobility, but inwardly, their hearts were far from God’s and they prayed verbose prayers and devoured widows as if the two could be separated.

I can imagine Jesus sitting back and letting his words sink into the disciples’ hearts as he watches what is happening around him in the temple. There are lots of wealthy people putting in money into the treasury. Some of them likely wanted to be seen. Perhaps a plaque could be made in their honour for their generous donation. At least people around them would see that they are important people, wealthy people, generous people and good people who give to the purposes of the temple.

And then quietly, a poor widow walks up to the treasury and puts in two small coins which Mark goes out of his way to tell us only amounted to a cent. This poor widow would not have been important in society, she was definitely not wealthy and perhaps she was even a little embarrassed to be in a temple with people of fine clothes and generous donations. Perhaps she wondered if her two coins even mattered in comparison to the donations that were so obvious of those who walked up to the treasury before her. But she quietly walked up to the treasury and quietly walked away.

This nameless woman does not go unnoticed in the kingdom of God. Jesus calls over to his disciples and points out this woman to them, saying, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

This vulnerable widow who was at risk of being devoured by the scribes, who had only two cents, demonstrated her love for God with everything she had, with her whole heart, her whole soul, her whole body, her whole mind. She put the things of God before her own needs. And she did so quietly. She didn’t need anyone to notice – she did it out of love.

Application

Esra and Fethullah provide a modern-day example of what it means to give out of everything we have for God. Like the widow, they surprise us as they are a Muslim, not Christian couple. They do not follow the words of Jesus as we do and yet their actions embody a love for God and love for neighbour that is unmistakable.

We may not be in a position to feed 4000 Syrian refugees. And perhaps it would be reckless to suddenly give all that we have to the offering plate when we have children in our own homes to feed and provide a warm and safe place to live. Perhaps though there are steps that we can take towards giving all that we have and all that we are to God. And maybe there are ways that we can give all that we have in ways that only God sees.

Maybe we could set an extra space at our table for someone who is in need of some sort – perhaps they are hungry for food or hungry for friendship.

Many of us have been taught to give a ‘tithe’ of our earnings – or ten percent. How many of us could honestly give more? If we add up our coffee expenses, could we give up a few overpriced coffees? Could we use our cars less and save the money we would spend on gas, parking and wear and tear to build up the kingdom of God?

The poor widow gave all that she financially had – but she also travelled to the temple to give it. Are there ways that we can give of our time? Could we give up a Sunday morning to teach Sunday school or a Friday evening to hang out with the youth in our neighbourhood? Could we babysit for the young family that can’t afford to pay a babysitter but desparately needs a date night?  Or perhaps we could offer to drive the single mom down the street to the grocery store on the weekend to do her shopping for the week? Could we take a leader in the church out for coffee to hear what excites them in ministry and what keeps them going and to pray with them?

How do we order our time at home? I know I can find a whole host of things to keep me busy that really need not to be done. I busy myself with Facebook, email, quick computer games that turn into half an hour breaks from whatever I am supposed to be doing. Others find distractions in TV. Could we fast from one of these distractions for even half an hour to pray?

Conclusion

Giving all that we are – our bodies, souls, hearts and minds – to loving God may seem impossible when we look at how hard it is to give a single hour of a day or a portion of our money. Maybe we can be moved by people like Esra and Fethullah who gave their wedding day and wedding gifts to feed refugees to give more of who we are and what we have to the God who gave all that he had in Jesus. Maybe we can participate in the strange revolution of serving and generosity that Jesus started this kingdom with people declaring him king as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in order to give all He was and is through the cross for those he came to save.

References

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/turkey/11783353/Meet-the-Turkish-couple-who-spent-their-wedding-day-feeding-4000-Syrian-refugees.html

Wright, NT. The Gospel of Mark for Everyone