Teaching Tuesday

Tuesday of Holy Week is a day full of teaching. So much so, that we will only deal with a small fraction of the texts. However, after the busy-ness of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Jesus and his disciples take a day of rest in Bethany on Wednesday. That bit of rest will provide the opportunity for us to reflect on some more of today’s teachings in tomorrow’s devotions

As Jesus and the disciples pass the fig tree, which just a day before was cursed for its lack of fruit, they notice that it has withered away to the root. In only twenty-four hours Jesus’ curse has come to fruition. Jesus uses this to teach about the importance of faith, saying “truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.” (Mark 11:23, NRSV) It is this text from which we get our saying, “faith that moves mountains.”

Do you have this kind of faith, doubt-free, mountain-moving, faith? If you are anything like me, and most people I know, the answer to that question is a qualified, “sometimes…” At times like that I rest on the faith of the father of the possessed boy who proclaims “I believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24 NRSV) This week, my prayer for us all is that we deepen our faith. We may not be able to move mountains, but let us work toward moving at least small hills!

After Jesus and the disciples arrive at the temple, they are approached by some Pharisees and some Herodians in an attempt to trap Jesus. Immediately Jesus realizes it is a trap. The Pharisees and Herodians are usually at odds with one another, so when they approach Jesus together it is a sign that something strange is happening.

They ask Jesus whether or not it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. The problem is the biblical prohibition against idolatry. The Roman coins of the day identified Caesar as a God, and displayed his picture. Jesus immediately turns the question back on them by asking whose image is on the coin. Effectively he accuses them of idolatry, so when they answer “Caesar,” Jesus instructs them to “give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17 NRSV) In effect, Jesus says, “The money belongs to Caesar, but YOU belong to God!”

Are we living our lives in that truth? Are we, like the Pharisees, seeking to bracket God’s presence in our lives? Or are we giving God our whole selves?

Monday Mayhem

Monday of Holy Week is an interesting day. Mark records two stories for the day, first is Jesus’ cursing of a fig tree, the second is the cleansing of the temple. These two stories set the stage for the week to come.

The day after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem sees the Messiah, along with the disciples, on their way back to Jerusalem. On the way hunger sets in, and a Jesus passes a fig tree he stops to look for some fruit. But as Mark tells us, “it was not the season for figs.” (11:13) When, as we would expect, Jesus finds no figs on the tree he curses it. But, the tree shouldn’t be bearing fruit, so why is Jesus upset? In a few short verses the disciples will find the cursed fig tree withered and dead.

The only account between the initial encounter with the tree and the result of finding it withered is the story of the Jesus at the temple.  The story of the fig tree forms a kind of frame for the story of Jesus at the temple. Mark wants us to hear theses two stories together, to let them explain each other.  The tree is cursed because it lacks of fruit.  The same thing happens at the temple.  Jesus overturns tables and chases people from the courtyard of the temple because of the fruit it is bearing.

We could look at this story of Jesus clearing out the money changers at the temple and see that he is upset because God’s “house” has been made into a “den of robbers” and get the impression that the problem is with the money changers.  We could decide that they were charging too much to change the Roman coinage that the worshipers brought with them into the appropriate temple currency.  But, I think we miss the point of the story if that’s the choice we make.

In his demonstration against the temple, Jesus quotes from Jeremiah in calling the temple a den of robbers.  In Jeremiah 7, the prophet writes:

If you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.  Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?

In this context, the meaning is clear.  The injustice of the people in their everyday lives is what makes them robbers.  They treat the temple like a safe-house, a hide-away.  The temple is not where the robbery happens, but rather where the robbers head for sanctuary.

I believe this was not only what Jeremiah had in mind when writing the original prophecy, but also what Jesus had in mind when he quotes from it in the courtyard of the temple.  It is not the money changers or merchants selling sacrificial animals which get Jesus in a tizzy.  It’s the collaboration between the temple authorities and their Roman overlords.

What aggravates Jesus about the temple is the lack of fruit from the religious institution that is in full leaf.  Care for the widows, the orphans, the stranger is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of God, whether you are Jewish or Christian.  Jesus did not find fruit on the fig tree, and it withered away to nothingness.  Jesus did not find the fruit he wanted from the religious structures of the temple and made a point of making a public demonstration to let everyone know.

Collaboration with an oppressive government was at the root of Jesus’ demonstration at the temple.  He had hoped, even prayed that the religious powers of the day would put justice first.  He hoped that they would do whatever it would take to provide care for all people.  But, he did not find the fruit he longed for.

If Jesus passed us on the street, would our lives be filled with leaves, or laden with fruit?

Prayer Suggestions

Here are a few links and suggestions for the 24-Hour Prayer Vigil coming up next weekend. If you have a resource you;d like to share, please leave a comment, or send us an e-mail. Scroll down for the links, they are at the bottom of the page.
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Prayer Suggestions

  • Pray for individuals in our church by name.
  • Pray for someone you haven’t seen in while.
  • Pray for the poor and forgotten of our community and the world. That this Easter, they would find hope for a better future.
  • Pray by listening. Take a few slow, deep breaths.  Try to clear your mind of all thoughts about what you have planned for latter, or things that have happened.  Pay close attention to your breathing, noticing the air enter and leave your lungs.  Rest in your breathing and listen for God’s voice to speak to your soul.
  • Pray for our community, that we might see a blossoming of faith in and commitment to God.
  • Pray for all people who will visit churches on Easter, that they might find a renewed relationship with the God Who Is.
  • Pray for pastors who are busy preparing to preach and present the Gospel on Easter, that God will comfort them, provide strength and wisdom, and help them discern the words to say.
  • Pray for someone you love deeply. And pray for someone who has hurt you, that they will realize the wrong and that you will find forgiveness.
  • Pray for your neighbors. Those you know and those you don’t.
  • Pray for our Area Minister, Mike Weinman; our Regional Ministry Team; and our General Minister and President, Sharon Watkins.
  • Pray while you move. Instead of sitting or kneeling, try praying while you walk around. Notice all the details of your surroundings and give thanks for the signs of spring.
  • Pray by writing.
  • Pray through scripture, open the Bible to a favorite passage, or open at random, read and let God speak to you.

Links to prayer resources:

How to Pray for an Hour by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
World News in Prayer
Prayer Vigil Guide (This resource by Desert Hills UMC is great. Pay special attention to pages 7, 11, and 12.)

 

Easter Special Offering

The various programs and projects of the general ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) supported by our Easter offering provide us with the ability to serve from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth.

National Benevolent Association partners with service providers and local congregations in connecting food and hunger related ministries.

The Division of Overseas Ministries through partners on various projects such as the Ikengo Agricultural Center in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Loving People Wells project in Anhui Province, China.

Disciples Volunteering through the Division of Homeland Ministries, sponsors long-term rebuilding projects along the Gulf Coast, the East Coast and Joplin, Missouri.

The Council on Christian Unity promotes dialogue and collaboration within the US, Canada and around the world between Christians, long divided over differences of theological interpretation while also fostering understanding between Christians and peoples of other faiths.

Higher Education and Leadership Ministries identifies young leaders and helps them develop the skills they’ll need to transform the church and accomplish its mission of reconciliation in the world.

Hope Partnership supports establishment of new congregations and the transformation of existing congregations while Disciples Extension Fund helps them find the financial resources they will need in their ministry.

The Central Pastoral Office for Hispanic Ministries provides collegial support to Disciples Hispanic congregations. North American Pacific Asian Disciples, which on any given Sunday supports Disciples congregations in the US and Canada worshipping in 18 different languages. National Convocation promotes the spiritual life and outreach mission of African-American Disciples, while working with the whole church to root out the sin of racism and promote social justice.

The Office of General Minister and President’s mission is to lead, serve, inspire, nurture and facilitate the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as one church in many expressions.

Disciples of Christ Historical Society preserves the memory of those in the past who through their faith and works, have brought us to this moment today.

Let us give generously as we collect our Easter Special Offering on March 29th and April 5th. As we do so, we partner with those who serve on our behalf, witnessing and loving from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth.

Lenten Schedule

One of the busiest times of the church year is just around the corner. I hope that you will take advantage of some of the many great opportunities for worship, prayer and fellowship!

Palm Sunday – Sunday school at 9:30 and worship at 10:30 as we enter into Holy Week and remember the final days of Jesus’ life.

Maundy Thursday – 7pm at the United Methodist Church, Pastor Alex will preach and we will celebrate communion around tables!

Good Friday – There will not be a community-wide Good Friday service this year. Therefore, we have invited everyone to join us for a simple, and reflective, worship service at Marshfield Christian Church on Good Friday. Join us for this time of reflection and remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. Service begins at 7pm.

24-Hour Prayer Vigil – This year our 24-Hour prayer vigil starts at 6am on Saturday with 30-minute time slots until 6am on Sunday morning. Prayer resources will be available on the church website, and at the church building beginning on Palm Sunday

Sunrise Service – Join us for worship around the new fire pit (weather permitting) at 7am as we celebrate our Risen Lord and Savior. If the weather doesn’t cooperate we will worship in the sanctuary. No matter where we are, we will pray, sing, celebrate communion and hear again the story of the resurrection.

Easter Breakfast – From 8 to 9:30am we will have a selection of breakfast casseroles and beverages in the fellowship hall. Donations will be accepted for the youth and children’s ministries at the church.

Sunday School – We will have Sunday school for adults and children at 9:30 as we learn about God’s gift of salvation through the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Easter Service – During our 10:30am worship service on Easter morning we will be challenged to carry the story of Jesus with us wherever we go.

Come, let us celebrate together this Easter!

Intimacy or Isolation

When they heard the sound of God strolling in the garden in the evening breeze, the Man and his Wife hid in the trees of the garden, hid from God. God called to the Man: “Where are you?” He said, “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked.
And I hid.” 
Genesis 3:8-10 (The Message)

This is the next installment in our series on relationships. The first step is to determine whether the relationship in question is going to be based on the idea of a contract or covenant. Covenantal relationships are great, but they really aren’t appropriate in every situation. When I take my car to have the oil changed, I don’t expect a covenantal relationship. That is an appropriate time for a contract. The shop changes my oil. I pay the shop. We all go on with our day.

However, in our deeper relationships, contracts just don’t cut it. Marriage, friendships, even church membership is about covenant. In these relationships you and I give ourselves to, and for, others. And, in these relationships we either pull toward one another in intimacy, or pull away in isolation.

It’s been that way since the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, God was wandering the garden in the cool of the evening, longing for some time with his creation. God was longing for intimacy. Adam and Eve, newly aware of their nakedness, their vulnerability before God, were hiding away. While God longed for intimacy, Adam and Eve chose isolation.

The question we ask ourselves in our relationship safety inventory is this, “Are they (the other person) safe enough for me to be myself, or do I need to put up some walls to protect myself?” Being vulnerable to another person is a scary thing. Vulnerability means the potential for being hurt. And, if we have lived very long at all, we have been hurt by others. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally, but we’ve been hurt.

Throughout the Bible we read of God’s longing to be with humanity. And in story after story we run away and choose isolation. As much as God loves us and cares for us, there is something in us that is scared to be vulnerable. Even in front of God who knows every hair on our head…

If intimacy is hard with God, it’s even harder with people. But intimacy is vital in our lives. We were created to have deep, meaningful, intimate, relationships; with God, and with other people. And, I believe, that the church is to be a safe place to develop those relationships. Unfortunately, even in the church, we are human. That means that there are times when we will move away from intimacy and toward isolation.

It is precisely because church is supposed to be a safe place for intimacy, that when our trust is broken and our relationships injured, the pain is amplified. You probably don’t have to look very far to find someone who has been hurt by the church.

So, what do we do? The first step is to recognize that we all come to this place seeking intimacy with God, and fulfillment of our innate need for relationship (with God and with other people.) If we can remember that we are all looking for that intimacy in our covenantal relationship with one another, I think we are several steps closer to being the community of faith, and the believers, that God is calling us to be.

Easter Lillies

Anyone wishing to donate a lily in honor or in memory of someone may purchase a lily and bring it to the church on Friday, April 3, so that we may be able to get the lilies placed and ready before the Sunrise Service on Easter Sunday.  If it is not possible to bring the lily to the church on that date, notify Sally, Angela, or the church office, and arrangements will be made to include it with the others on Sunday.

Other than a lily, another option is to make a donation to the Webster County Food Pantry.  Make checks payable to the Marshfield Christian Church and in the memo line indicate if it is in memory or honor of someone.  The Church Treasurer will then be able to send one check to the Food Pantry.

The names of those honored or memorialized by donation of a lily and/or donation to the Food Pantry will be included in the Easter bulletin April 5.  Be sure to give all pertinent information to Jennifer before Tuesday,  March 31.  A sign-up sheet has also been placed in the foyer for your convenience.

You may take home the lily you purchased following Easter Worship or any time after April 5.

Covenant or Contract

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.”
Genesis 17:1-2 (NRSV)

In my last “Pastor’s Ponderings” I wrote about power in relationships. Like it, or not, there is a power differential in most of our relationships. Even in marriage, which is intended to be a partnership, there are times at which one partner has more power than the other. That is the way the world works. However, in healthy relationships there is a sense of safety in spite of those power differences. For example, there is an obvious power difference between God and me, but I know that God is safe, that I can trust God, therefore the difference in power isn’t a problem.

I’ve found that people have a tendency to do safety audits on a regular basis. “Is it safe to share this with that person?” “Can I trust them to be honest and loving?” The idea of safety, of having healthy relationships with one another, will be my focus for this article, and for the next few in a series. During the series we will discuss four different topics. The first of those is, Covenant or Contract.

If you’re like me, you have tended to use those two words as synonyms of one another. But, there are some distinct differences in what they mean. In our daily lives we deal more in terms of contracts. Covenant is not a common phrase anymore. We hear covenantal language used in church and around weddings, but not many other places. We think of the New Covenant to which Jesus refers in the Last Supper. We may even think of God’s covenant with Abraham. But mostly we deal with contracts. We hire contractors to help us with building projects. We sign contracts for our cell phones. We may even have a contract at our place of employment.

So what is the difference? And, more importantly, does it matter? I believe it does matter, greatly. And I believe a brief description of the differences between covenant and contract will help us see why. Scott Hahn writes this about the difference between a covenant and a contract: “Contractual relations usually exchange property, exchange goods and services, whereas covenants exchange persons. So, when people enter into a covenant, they say, ‘I am yours and you are mine.’ So, God uses the covenant to enter into a relationship with those whom he created in his own image: humanity and all human persons.” (Scott Hahn, Salvation History: One Holy Family)

 

A contract exchanges things, while a covenant exchanges people. Think about it this way, a marriage is a covenant where two people exchange themselves for one another. Slavery, on the other hand, is a contract where a human being is treated as an object. We believe slavery is wrong because humans are not objects, we are created in God’s image, we are people, not things.

Notice that there can be a power differential in a covenant. God’s covenant with Abraham doesn’t make Abraham equal to God. But in a covenant, the “other” (regardless of the power dynamics) is treated with love and respect. Isn’t that what we all want? To be treated lovingly and respectfully. Don’t we all want to be like the little child who Jesus calls to sit on his lap? Jesus is showing a covenantal relationship while the Disciples are busy thinking in contracts and shooing the child away.

This idea of covenant is essential to our lives together in the church. When we join the community of faith, the Body of Christ, we do so in covenant. We build a relationship with the Bride of Christ. We don’t simply purchase a seat at the table, or salvation, or a vote, or anything else. We covenant with God. We covenant with one another. We even covenant with the wider church, at the denominational level.

When I do my safety audit, the first thing I want to know is: “Is this a covenant or a contract.” Sure a covenant can be broken. However, from my perspective a covenant is a whole lot safer than a contract. Besides, I like being a person and not an object…