Lenten Devotional: Tuesday, March 19

by Daniel Malec

Mark 12:30-31 (NIV):  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

As I reflect on this scriptural reference from Matthew, I am struck by the order that Jesus has laid out these commandments.  Loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength comes first. I am coming to realize that these commandments are likely laid out in this order for a reason.  Too often in my life, I make personal commitments to forgive and move on, yet my heart and mind seem to hold on and not let go. This leads to more pain and resentment and it seems the cycle goes on even though my intention is to let it go.

I find myself in the midst of this cycle now. Since we moved into our house over a year a half ago, we have been embroiled in conflict with our next- door neighbor. Throughout this journey of discord, pain and resentment, I have experienced tests to my faith like almost none other.  What does it mean to love our neighbor when it feels like she is constantly attacking us and making false accusations against? How do I practice forgiveness when what I really feel is resentment? Why am I still holding on to so much pain and anger when I keep trying to forgive and move on? This conflict has cut to the core of who Alys and I strive to be.  We desire deeply to be good neighbors – to help build a healthy and loving community. Instead it seems that our life commitments are an insult and an affront to our neighbor.

In my conflict resolution work in schools, I often encounter students that appear to be dripping with resentment.  I often share with them the saying that is attributed to the Buddha: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”  My expectation often is that they will grasp the harm they are causing to themselves and then let go of the resentment. I have found through my own journey with pain and resentment, that this is far easier said than done.  I have gained more compassion and empathy for my students and their burden of carrying resentment.

While I have been trying to forgive and move on from this conflict with our neighbor, I continue to be caught holding the burning coal in my hand.  I can’t seem to let it go. I believe what is happening is that I am trying to do this according to my time and not God’s. My focus should be on recognizing the pain and resentment that I feel and to offer it up to God.  Once I do that, then I believe my duty is to focus on the first commandment so that God can show me how to forgive and love my neighbor according to God’s plan and not my own.

One thing we have known for sure throughout this journey, is that God is in the midst of all of this.  God did not lead us around the country for a year and have us settle next to this particular neighbor for nothing.  There is something in this that is far bigger than us, but I have not been able to understand it yet. I think that is a bit of the point.  God has invited us to trust, period. God has not provided us with the answers to all of our questions, but if I truly believe God and God’s invitation to mercy and justice, then I have to believe that the answers will come according to God’s time.  God is faithful … all of the time 🙂

Prayer:
Dear God,
During this Lenten season, I want to make room for you in my heart and mind.  I want to make space for you, but I want to be honest that you will be sharing space with some unsavory thoughts and emotions.  I offer those thoughts and emotions to you as well. I patiently wait for you to transform them into instruments for your peace and justice.  Transform my heart and mind into a sanctuary for you and your divine light. In Jesus’ name I pray.

Lenten Devotional: Saturday, March 16

by Hope Cook

Mary Oliver says in her poem When Death Comes, “When it’s over, I want to say: all my life / I was a bride married to amazement.”

While we were on the road this past weekend, we stopped at a rest stop and I reflected on “rest stops.”  I watched as people scurried from their cars and speed-walked inside to use the restroom, then hopped back in their cars and sped away.  The only people who seemed interested in resting at the rest stop were either old people with little yip-yap dogs or children.  I watched as a little girl, probably 18 months, toddled around and squatted to look at every root and flower on the ground. She seemed enthralled by the magic of it all.  She then made her way unsteadily towards a tree.  When she came to it, she examined it the way an alien to earth might examine it.  She touched the bark, peeked around it, walked around it, gazed up towards the branches.  She was clearly amazed by this strong stick in the ground.  

Nature is our best way of connecting to the Divine.  This is like Face-timing with God.  You can’t sit in nature, even if it’s sitting on the stoop of your office building, without noticing something about nature.  You might look up at the sky and wonder about the weather, you might notice the temperature or the breeze or the pollen, but you’ll notice.  

At this stage in my life, it feels like I live on an interstate.  There are rest stops available at regular intervals, but I rarely get off and pull in and park.  I’m making it a point during this Lenton season to schedule rest stops.  If I manage to go outside during lunch, it’s like hitting the reset button on my mind.  I’m temporarily not thinking about work, I’m noticing.  Sit and notice …  notice the smells, the breeze, the clouds, the sounds.  Rather than take away sugar or wine during Lent, try adding rest stops instead.  

In Mark 6:30 Jesus even advised his workers to take a break and rest:
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 

Sermon: Let the King Come Down

IMG_0326From the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus gives a one-sentence sermon, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

For centuries people have been attempting to interpret these words from Jesus, speculating on the kingdom. And these misinterpretations have sometimes been disastrous, like the crusades of the 12th Century, the Salem witch trials of the 17th Century and the rapture movements of today.

While all these misinterpretations are rooted in the words of God, they all get it wrong. When thinking about the kingdom, it’s best to take a journalist’s approach and think about the who, what, when, why and where. The key is to look at the kingdom as Jesus did — a relationship between God and us, in heaven and earth.

Who is the kingdom? It’s God and us.
What is the kingdom? It’s God’s glory through our work.
When is the kingdom? It’s both now and in the future.
Why the kingdom? For both God’s glory and our benefit.
Where is the kingdom? It’s within us and in heaven.

Look for ways in your life in which you can draw on something and be vindicated by God. Try to discern the will of God and act out that will to the best of your ability. Discern what God is doing and bring the love, mercy and will of God into every situation.

“Let the King Come Down”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 15: 1-25
Nov. 25, 2018

Sermon: The Stone Left Standing

The temple in Jerusalem was an architectural masterpiece. It certainly had significant religious significance for those of the Jewish faith, but additionally was a massive structure that dominated the landscape. So when Jesus goes to the temple and says that it will be destroyed and he will rebuild it in three days, it was a bold proclamation.

We now know that Jesus didn’t mean he will literally rebuild the physical structure of the temple, but rather the structure of the church. And at the heart of the rebuilding is us — the people of God.

It’s important to recognize that although we have each been given the of God, Jesus still wants us to be the church.  The community of believers is integral to our faith — calling out our sinfulness, lifting our spirits and collaboratively impacting change in the world. We are the church. We need the church.

 

“The Stone Left Standing”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 13: 1-8
Nov. 18, 2018

Sermon: The Shouting Outside

As Jesus and his disciples were heading to Jericho, a blind man stops Jesus and asks for healing. The disciples are frustrated with the man and “rebuke” him.

Why would the disciples be so upset? By this time, they should understand how Jesus operates, healing all who need healing. They are focused on the destination, but Jesus is focused on the path.

We are much like the disciples. How often do we ignore human suffering that gets in the way of our path? Walking by the homeless person in the way of our path to work? Not listening to the person of a different political bent who gets in the way of our path to like-minded discussion. Ignoring the person who needs emotional support who gets in the way of our daily tasks.

God calls us to follow the path of Jesus. But it’s not an easy path. It’s a path in which we will encounter pain and suffering. Will we walk the path like Jesus?

“The Shouting Outside”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 10: 46-52
Sept. 23, 2018

Sermon: Head of the Class

As James and John were walking with Jesus, they asked him if they could sit at his left and right . At first glance, it appears selfish, but what their desires come from a natural human instinct — ambition.

We all have ambitions, especially in our professions. But there are two types of ambition. One type of ambition involves us achieving fame, financial success and glory. If we pursue our careers for this type of selfish ambition, it will undoubtedly leave us empty.

The other type of ambition involves us pursuing what we love to inspire others, to help our community and in our little way, change the world. This is the type of ambition that God wants us to pursue. The type of ambition with which Jesus lived his life.

“Head of the Class”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 10: 35-45
Sept. 16, 2018

Sermon: Shoving Camels ’til Kingdom Come

Jesus tells us to give up all our possessions and follow him.

It sounds severe, but what does it really mean? Are we really supposed to give up everything? Perhaps we are to use our talents to do good, not to make profit. Perhaps we are to use our money to do good, not to selfishly spoil ourselves. For true wealth comes in our power and ability to help others.

But even those small steps is a radical change from our capitalist society. However, the possessions we are encouraged to keep — the clutter we continue to gather — is keeping us from following Jesus. It’s impossible to have a selfish view about money and wholeheartedly follow Jesus.

Fully heeding Jesus’ words will ruin our life. But it’s the best thing that can happen to us.

Note: Due to technical difficulties, the first three minutes of sermon, including Gospel reading, were not recorded.

“Shoving Camels ’til Kingdom Come”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 10: 17-31
Sept. 9, 2018

Click to listen to The Word in Song, “Come Unto Me

Sermon: Savoring Peace

Jesus shows a different side of himself in Mark 9:42-50, talking about judgement and describing hell. His “fire and brimstone” words here often drive people away from the church. But why is Jesus so angry?

Prior to these events, Jesus talks about children being the most pure of heart, and the most holy. And anyone who gets in between a child and God will suffer the most dire consequences.

Even in this day, we see people using God to manipulate and abuse children. We see children suffering from war, genocide and persecution. And Jesus’ words of judgement are necessary for those suffering persecution.

But what can we do? One, we need to pray for those suffering. Two, we need to reach out to those who are suffering, and give them the connection they need to find peace and the true love of God.

“Savoring Peace”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 9:42-50
Aug. 26, 2018

Click here to listen to The Word in Song, “If God Be For Us.”

Sermon: Transfiguring Vision

When the disciples see Jesus for who he really is, God tells the disciples to listen to him.

That voice of God also encourages us that God will not leave us alone in the valley.

Down in the valley of the Twitter-verse, the 25-hour news cycle, there’s so much information, but very little truth and wisdom. If we don’t have it on a much larger framework to hang on — an idea of the world as love — then all that information is worthless.

“Transfiguring Vision”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 9:2-10
Aug. 19, 2018

Sermon: The Right Question

In an era of political tension, it’s easy to misuse the Bible for political gain. As the events at Willow Creek church demonstrate, you can preach Jesus Christ every Sunday morning and still use it for demonic purposes if your focus is on yourself, and not God. Jesus says anything that is standing in the way of salvation is demonic.

We go through life thinking other people owe us the debt of being what we imagine them to be. That’s a lie. Paying attention is one of the most important skills in life, and it’s only possible when Christ helps us find our true self and abandon our selfish self. If you truly want to follow Jesus, you’ll have to deny yourself. You’ll have to go through life not having it your way. You’ll have to bear other people’s burdens and be transformed by their problems.

“The Right Question”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 8: 27-38
Aug. 12, 2018