Category Archives: Theology & Culture

Jesus is not talking about divorce in the way we think

GOSPEL: Mark 10:2-16
Some Pharisees came, and to test [Jesus] they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

When I was 7 or 8 years old, I remember the first one of my friends telling us that his parents were getting a divorce. It was a strange and complicated situation. Over the following weeks and months, he began living one week with his mom and the next week with his dad. And while there were two birthday parties, two thanksgivings, two Christmases, I could tell that having parents who didn’t live with each other anymore and having to move your whole life back and forth every Saturday was not something I would ever want. 

Fast forward to one day when I was 19 and working as a camp counsellor, we got a panicked call from the camp director during our hour off. We were needed to come and settle a group of unruly campers. The old pastor who was doing bible study with the group of high school aged campers, had gotten into a heated discussion with one teenaged girl over whether or not it was a good thing for her parents to divorce. He was insisting it was a sin. She was insisting that the fighting, and anger and frustration that was tearing apart her family had finally gone away once her parents separated and that this was a good thing. 

Despite being relatively common and something that many couples experience these days, divorce is still a word that carries stigma and shame. The wounds of divorce can be deep and slow to heal. 

So, when we hear Jesus offer some pretty strong words about divorce, it can sound like condemnation. “Because of the hardness of your heart.” he says… and yet ask anyone going through a divorce what their heart feels like and they will probably tell you the story of a heart being ripped to shreds, a wounded and broken heart. Not a hard one. 

So what is the deal? Doesn’t Jesus get how messy and complicated this is? Doesn’t God have compassion and mercy for two flawed people who don’t know how to find their way back to each other? Can’t Jesus see that sometimes a marriage needs to die for the individuals in it to live?

We can’t forget which Gospel we are reading today. This is the Jesus who has just called the Syrophoenician woman a dog, who has called Peter Satan, who has told John that it would be better if he were thrown into the ocean than get in the way of Jesus’ mission. 

Jesus in Mark’s gospel does not suffer fools and he doesn’t have time for people who don’t get it. 

So what are we not getting?

For a long time the church has used this passage to clobber anyone considering divorce. Pastors have told abused women that it would be a sin to leave their husband. We have told incompatible couples that they must continue to suffer together. The church has forbid divorce on any grounds, just like Jesus seems to be doing here. 

So again, what we are not getting that Jesus gets? The clue is in the in the question. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

Not is it lawful for a couple to get divorced, but for a MAN to do the divorcing. 

The Pharisees and Jesus are not talking about marriage as we know it. This is not about two people who enter into a loving covenant to share a life of love together. 

This is about the contract between a man and a woman’s father. This is about men buying women just like they would buy a cow or a sack of grain or a piece of land. 

In the world of the Pharisees, women were not people. They were property. Property whose function was to serve and provide pleasure for the man, and ultimately provide a male heir. And if these things were not provided whenever the man wanted them, this was grounds for divorce. In fact, pretty much any dissatisfaction was grounds for divorce.

All man had to do was say, “I divorce you.” and his wife was cast out of the marriage and onto the street, where her only two options were prostitution or begging for survival. 

So when Jesus calls the Pharisees hard of heart, he is speaking of a power imbalance in a contractual and economic relationship. Not hardness of heart between a modern husband and wife. 

Jesus is calling out the Pharisees for being selective in their reading of the law of Moses. They say that the legal procedure of divorce is simple. But they know that the law of Moses is full of concern for widows and destitute women. It was the duty of a widower’s brother to marry a widow. It was the duty of a widower’s kin to provide a widow with children if she didn’t have any. And if re-marrying was not possible for a widow, it was the duty of the community to care for her. The men harvesting fields were to leave a portion of the harvest behind to be gleaned and collected by the widows. It was a law that a portion of the offering collected in the synagogues and temple be given to the widows and poor. 

For a set of laws to be so concerned with the care of husbandless women in a community to make it so easy for a man to divorce his wife doesn’t make any sense… it is a deliberate misreading of the rules. 

And Jesus knows it. The Pharisees know it. The disciples know it. Mark knows it. 

It is why the passage about people bringing children to Jesus is tacked onto this passage about divorce. 

Jesus is calling the people around him to care for the weak and vulnerable among them. He is telling men that it is wrong to dump their wives onto the community to care for. He is telling those in power that they don’t get to abdicate their responsibility to care for the powerless. Jesus is calling out and condemning those who would tell the weak and vulnerable to pull themselves up by their own boot straps. He is telling those in authority that their power comes with the obligation to use it for good. 

If Jesus were to have this conversation with us today, it would not be about divorce at all. 

If Jesus were talking about our hardness of heart he would be calling us out for very different reasons. 

Jesus would say, because of your hardness of heart it took the discovery of unmarked graves for your nation to wake up to the tragedy that is Indian Residential Schools in Canada. 

Let those are who have been lost and forgotten by too many for too long come to me, because the Kingdom of God belongs to them. 

Jesus would say, because of your hardness of heart many are persecuting and causing violence to the healthcare workers, doctors and nurses and other medical staff who are simply caring for those that need it.

Let these tired and exhausted and depleted caregivers come to me, for there is rest and comfort and peace in the Kingdom of God. 

Jesus would say, because of your hardness of heart you are afraid of those who are different, those from other countries, who worship and pray differently, whose skin is differently coloured. 

Let those who are marginalized for the way they worship, for the colour of their skin, for the language they speak come to me for the Kingdom of God belongs to them. 

Jesus would say, because of your hardness of heart you have told married couples on the ropes that their need to divorce is a sin. 

Let those who dying to separate in order to live come to me. 

Yeah… it is hard to hear Jesus challenge the hard places in our hearts. 

Yeah… it has been rough to listen to Jesus call us out week after week. 

Yeah… this might not feel like good news. 

And just when it feels like Jesus has just come to stomp all over us for having hard hearts, Jesus reminds us that we easily forget who we are, and we easily forget what Jesus is doing for us, to us. 

As we gather around the Word, as we remember being washed and joined to the Body of Christ in the waters at the font, and as we are given bread and wine from the table of the Lord… Jesus is blessing us. For ours is the Kingdom. 

Jesus is reimagining our world. Jesus re-humanizing all those are pushed down to the bottom. Those who are marginalized by those in power, those who wind up the victims of hardened hearts. Those whom the disciples would try to send away but Jesus would welcome and bless. 

Jesus is restoring humanity and dignity to all. Lifting up those on the bottom by bringing them back into relationship with their community, but also by bringing down the high and mighty by bringing them back too into relationship with their communities. 

Yes, we have hard hearts. No we have not lived up to the power and responsibility we have been entrusted with. 

Jesus names that and it is hard to hear.

But Jesus also names our humanity and dignity, restoring us to community – wether we are the privileged on top or the marginalized on the bottom. 

Despite our hard hearts. Despite what we have failed to do for the weak and vulnerable, Jesus says, come to me. All of you. Because you too are all the weak and vulnerable in some way. And because I have named you my children, the Kingdom of God belongs to you.

Being Salted with Fire

GOSPEL: Mark 9:38-50
38John said to [Jesus,] “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Today, we continue through the gospel of Mark, delving deeper and deeper into the question of what it means to follow Messiah, to be a disciple, to figure out our place in the world. As we head into these homestretch weeks of this long season of green, we will continue to be confronted with the difficult questions of faith and the difficult questions of our human condition. 

And as we face these questions, Mark is revealing a vision of how God is breaking open our world to make room for the Kingdom. Slowly but surely, we are being invited into this mission that Jesus is on in Mark – the Mission of bringing the Kingdom of God near to those who need it. 

One of the things about Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is that he gets a little cranky. Jesus has been cranky off and on during the past few weeks. Yet, last week he showed surprising restraint and patience with his struggling disciples. But this week he more than makes up for it, by ranting in frustration about the inability of his disciples to get out of their own way. 

Today, we continue from were we left off last week, when Jesus had sat down his disciples to unpack their struggles. They had been arguing about who is the greatest among them because the didn’t know where they fit in their world. Jesus had picked up a baby and holding the baby in his arms, told them the first must be last and the last must be first; that Kingdom of God was for the least of these. 

Still in that moment, gathered around, baby in arms, the disciple John interrupts his teacher.

“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

Rather than letting Jesus’ message sink in – the message that in the Kingdom of God there is no order or rank or hierarchy, there is only belonging – John cannot let go of his insecurities. John is thinking that if the group cannot be measured by rank, then at least they can figure who is inside the group and who is outside. It is almost as if John needs to be able to quantify his worth and place this group. He cannot trust that God knows. 

Even still, John’s question reveals a particularly deep insecurity. He is upset that there are people out there casting out demons in Jesus’ name because the disciples had struggled to do the very same thing. Jesus had sent them out, but when the disciples had retuned they were unable to do the deeds of power. Now, here were some people doing the thing that the disciples could not do and they weren’t even a part of the group. 

John is revealing the thing that keeps the disciples from ever really getting what Jesus is up to – their insecurities about their role as Jesus’ followers. 

It is an insecurity that still pops up for us – the thing inside of us that cannot rejoice in the successes, talents and abilities of others, but instead seeks to tear down those who seem to threaten our place and position. On the sports team, dance group or musical ensemble, it is person who cannot abide the talent and ability of teammate.  In the workplace, it is the one who undermines the capability and productivity of a co-worker. In the church, it is the leader who shoots down every new idea before it is given a chance. In a family it is the jealous sibling, spouse, parent or child, who resents a loved one for the gifts they show, rather than rejoicing. 

This insecurity is almost certainly at the heart of most divisions and conflict we endure in our world. It is why political campaigns start out positive but go negative when another seems to poll better. It is why internet debates turn so rancid so quickly, when argument and reasons cannot sway opinion, people quickly turn to attacks and insults. It is why expert opinion no longer holds the water it once did, because so many of us think we should be experts on everything and get our backs up when it feels like someone or something is suggesting we might not know as much as we think we do. 

It is an insecurity rooted in the deepest part of our humanity, in the sinful self who just cannot let go of our own needs to feel adequate and needed and capable at all costs, even the denigration of our neighbour. 

And this insecurity is why Jesus erupts into his angriest rant to date:

42“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”

And on Jesus rants, declaring that if one part of our bodies cause us to sin, they should be cut off and thrown away. For some reason, preachers and other church folk have heard this rant from Jesus as some kind of formula or prescription for dealing with sin – a tough love approach to community conflict. But certainly it is not that. It is Jesus losing his cool with disciples who just cannot get out of their own way – disciples who cannot see that good ministry happening in Jesus’ name does not need their approval or sanction. 

But what is perhaps the most striking about Jesus’ angry rant is not the vivid imagery of being tossed into the ocean with a rock tied around one’s neck, nor cutting off hands, feet or pulling out eyes that cause sin. It is that Jesus is still holding the baby, that little one, the least of these. 

As Jesus has gathered his struggling disciples, who just need to know how they fit into their new world, as he tries to give them a symbol of their equality before God. As he reminds that God has room and a makes a place for even a helpless baby – a person with little value or import in that world – Jesus is frustrated that the disciples cannot let go of their insecurities. They cannot get past their fears and trust what has been promised and given to them by God. 

But then… before going too far, Jesus reels himself back in. And though it may sound cryptic, Jesus comes back to the point:

  49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Ancient salt and fire were central elements of daily life. Salt was used for money (or salary), for roads, to preserving food, for making brine for forging metal. And it worked along with fire to make things pure and safe. But ancient salt was also impure and needed to be carefully maintain and used. Fire and salt worked together in so many areas of ancient life. 

Jesus is using this image of salt and fire – obscure to us, but common to the disciples – to remind them again of their role in the mission of the Messiah. The Messiah who realized that God’s grace was give for all people by the Syrophoenecian woman. The Messiah who is on the road to crucifixion AND resurrection, no natter Peter’s objections. The Messiah is not concerned about first and last, but about gathering up all God’s people. This Messiah reminds the disciples to be at peace – God is making them worthy!

It is no accident that at the lowest of the lows, hiding away in the upper room after the crucifixion of Jesus, that the risen Christ appears to his followers saying “Peace be with you.”

And it is no accident that this is God’s message for us too. 

Even as we feel like our hands and feet and eyes have been cut off, even as feel as though our saltiness is fading away… Jesus’ promise to us that that God is transforming us for the Kingdom. 

Despite our inability to get out of our own ways. Despite our tendency to hang on to our insecurities. Despite feeling unworthy of the mission of the Gospel. 

Jesus is salting us with fire. God is making us ready for Kingdom. 

Yes, that might mean that some of our baggage needs to be dropped. Yes that might feel like parts of ourselves are being cut off. Discipleship is not easy. Being transformed by God sometimes takes us to uncomfortable places and out future is less certain than it ever was. 

But it is exactly in these times of change and crisis, that the work of transformation takes place. This is exactly where God is doing God work. Here with insecure people who are certain we aren’t good enough, who want to know if and where we belong. 

And yet, God is salting us with fire, removing our imperfections, making holy, and preparing us for the mission of the Kingdom. 

Who is this greatest? There are only sinners, like us.

GOSPEL: Mark 9:30-37
35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Sermon

As we round into the final weeks of this long season of green, on our way to the end of the Church year and Advent, we continue to hear Jesus interact with his disciples. Last week, Jesus asked them who they thought he was. It was a moment of revelation followed by rebuke. Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah but then turned around and lost the plot, getting upset with Jesus for following the path set out for the Messiah, the path of suffering and death. 

This week, following this key revelation, as they are traveling between towns, the disciples begin to bicker about who among them is the greatest. It sounds childish considering who they are following and the teaching about what it means to take up their cross that Jesus had just given. Arguing about who is the greatest feels like it is something that belongs on the playground, a conversation for children….

And yet, it is an argument that drives so much of our world these days. Only about a month ago three billionaires raced to see who could be the first private citizen to fly to space. As we speak, Canada is in the midst of a Federal election with the leaders’ debate was last week, where every question was a nuanced version of ‘who is the greatest?” And of course, our society is full of controversy over COVID-19 public health measures, including vaccine requirements. My home province of Alberta tried to win the race to be the greatest in declaring the pandemic over in July, only to now be looking at a total healthcare system collapse over increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases. 

So this argument that the disciples are having might seem immature, but it is certainly not an unusual one. Maybe it is worth considering just what is really going on. 

As Jesus continues to preach and teach, he has been speaking more and more about what is the come for the Messiah – more and more about his impending suffering and death. And the disciples have started to put it all in the context of understanding Jesus to be the Messiah – just as Peter confessed last week. 

Yet, the disciples still don’t understand what this all means for them. Before, when they were fishermen and tax collectors, they know their place in the world and their place in their communities. In their extremely ordered Hebrew society, they knew their rank and station.

Yet now, as Jesus has called them out of those known places and into this unknown position of being his followers, followers of the prophesied Messiah, they are struggling to know who they are and where they fit. The place of the Messiah in the world comes predicted and described, but where Messiah’s number 2 through 12 followers fit might not be clear. 

So they do what human beings so naturally do, they try to sort out where they fit and who they are, within the context of their community. They try the best they can to answer that deep question within all of us that asks who we are and how to we fit into the world around us. 

But also like us, they go about it in toxic and self-destructive ways. They try to order their community by rank, putting themselves on top and those around them below. It comes from the same place that the question that the serpent posed to Eve came from, the question about knowing her place in the garden. 

This question is one that continues to plague us today, this desire to know where we fit and who we are. And even though it can feel like the kind of question that children ask or argue about – think “my dad is stronger than your dad” – it is is one what drives so much of our world. 

It is a question subtly asked in car commercials, suggesting that a new car would improve our station in life. It is one baked into the marketplace and corporate world, constantly demanding more productivity, more profit, more loyalty. It is part and parcel with every political move and decision, and at the heart of every political campaign. It often shows up in churches when we look at and wonder about the neighbour congregation down the street and how they are doing. 

And in the midst of crisis, as we are now, it shows up as we try to figure out what to do and how to proceed. And when opinions differ, especially when agreeing to disagree isn’t possible but instead decisions have life and death consequences, we can be guilty of posturing according to our position rather than searching for the course of action that it is best for all. 

Trying to sort this all out, trying to understand where we fit – or more specifically “Where do I fit?” is something deeply imbedded in how we understand ourselves. We need to know where we stand and where we fit into the world around us, no matter how destructive the search for the answer can become. 

When Jesus hears the childish argument of his disciples, we might expect the grumpy Jesus who called the needy but persistent Syrophoenician woman a dog two weeks ago or the angry Jesus who rebuked Peter. 

But instead Jesus stops and calls his disciples to gather around and asks “What were you arguing about on the way?”. When none of them has an answer, Jesus has them sit down with him. You can imagine that Jesus sees beyond the childish argument, and instead sees disciples who are struggling to understand their place in the world. Disciples who need reassurance rather than competition, disciples who need to be reminded that they belong. 

“Whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all.” he declares.

Then Jesus brings in a little child and puts it among them. But not just any child, but greek suggests that Jesus has brought an infant into their midst. Children in this world were considered to be blessings but also people for whom you didn’t get too strongly attached, lest they didn’t survive childhood. Children’ weren’t considered full persons until grown. 

So with this baby in his arms, Jesus holds one who is considered to be the least of all in that world. And Jesus says that whomever welcomes this one, who is the least and lowest in world, welcomes him. 

Jesus is chipping away at the disciples need to establish an order, their need to know where they fit by creating ranks and status among themselves. Jesus is using the tangible example of this baby as the means of showing his disciples what it means to belong to the Kingdom of God. There is no rank, first and last have no meaning. Belonging is what matters. God welcomes them, they belong to the Kingdom. They are children of God, servants to one another, members of the Body of Christ. 

The question about who is the greatest doesn’t apply here, instead who do you belong to is what matters. And with God, all belong in the Kingdom. 

It is a message that almost does’t compute in our hyper competitive world. Defining ourselves by who is on the top feels like the only way to understand ourselves. But God gives us a different understanding, an understanding based on belonging and not on rank. 

It is a part of our understanding of who we are that has been challenged by this pandemic. Our sense of “we” or community has been shaken. We have had for more opportunity than we really need as individuals to contemplate our individual identity.

Yet, God reminds us again and again, there is no greatest among us. 

There are only sinners to whom God gives grace, mercy and absolution. 

There are only suffering people for whom God promises healing and reconciliation

There are only the lost, least and forgotten, whom God welcomes into the Body of Christ. 

There are only the unwashed, whom God makes clean in the waters of Baptism. 

There are only the hungry and starving, whom God feeds at the table of the Lord. 

There are only disciples, whom God sends out to heal a world in need. 

In confession, in the Word, in praise and prayer, in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, God reminds us again and again of not who, but whose we are – we belong to God. There is no greatest and there is not least, but instead there is a place for all in the Body of Christ – all belong to God. 

Even our small lives don’t get in way of God’s big picture

GOSPEL: Mark 8:27-38
31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

This week, I sat down to watch the movie Worth. The story dramatizes the real life story of Ken Feinberg, the lawyer who was tasked to run the 9/11 victim compensation fund. In the opening scene, Ken lectures a law school class about the value of a human life. “What is a life worth” he asks? Certainly the question of what is the value of a human life is interesting to think about. But the real impact of the movie was to bring me back to my own memories of September 11th, 2001. Even on this 20th anniversary of 9/11, most of us can instantly remember where we were and what we were doing when the news that planes had hit the two towers.

There are a handful of such events that ground our lives, that we can instantly remember where we were and what we were doing when they are brought up. Victory in Europe Day in 1945. The assassination of JFK in 1963.  9/11… these moments are etched in our memories because they changed our world forever.

And now many of us remember the middle week of March 2020. When the first cases were announced in Manitoba, when the shutdowns were enacted and our whole world changed. 

In more normal times, we can be guilty of just going about our lives without too much attention paid to the larger things going on in the world. The business of what to make for supper, when to water the garden, remembering to change the furnace filter and pay the water bill, of being on time for work, of making time for coffee with friends, of caring for family and making time for rest… we can be pre-occupied with all the things of living life day to day. But those moments when the picture stops us in our tracks often stick out in our memories, they even have the power to shape and form us into new and different people. Still most of the time, the big picture isn’t forefront in our minds. 

Today, when Jesus takes a moment to ask his disciples who people say that he is, he is very much addressing this conflict within us of letting the small everyday things of life overtake the big picture. 

Jesus and the disciples are in Caesarea Phillipi, which is not just relevant because of its place on the map. Jesus and his disciples have left Hebrew territory, and are in gentile lands. They have stepped outside of the chaos, into a place where they are mostly unknown, where they can find a moment’s rest from the crowds and religious authorities. 

And it is here that Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”

Being good disciples who know the faith of Israel, they provide answers that cover all the bases. John the Baptist, Elijah, a prophet… all examples of roles within the Israelite religious understanding. 

But Jesus takes it a step further, “Who do you say that I am?”

In a moment of insight, Peter gets it, “You are the Messiah.”

And with that revelation, Jesus takes the opportunity to unpack just what this all means. He reminds his disciples that the Messiah must undergo what the prophet Isaiah wrote about – the Suffering Servant. Rejection, persecution, suffering and death. 

And all of a sudden Peter’s bubble pops. The insight he brought forward just moments earlier is gone, and he pulls Jesus aside. He begins to rebuke his teacher and master for talking this way. Jesus does not like this shift from Peter, and gives a rebuke of his own, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but human things.”

Just as we heard last week when Jesus called the Syrophoenician woman a dog, Jesus can lash out when tired and frustrated. Here again, Jesus’ rebuke of Peter might be less of a condemnation of Peter’s flub and more a frustrated teacher annoyed by one of the students interrupting the lesson because he is missing the point. 

As we hear the story again, it is easy to think that we would never be as foolish as Peter to tell Jesus what to do at the precisely the wrong moment. But Peter is not special in his misunderstanding. Peter is simply wanting to preserve the relative comfort that he has found as a follower of Jesus. He has found purpose and importance, found a mentor and teacher that he wants to follow. Jesus dying will mess that all up.

Just like Peter, it is very easy for us to let our lives – our thoughts, our desires, our plans – fill the world. It is easy to come to church and to hear of God’s plan for the salvation of creation and then only a few minutes later be more concerned with what lunch will be. It is easy to let the busyness of our lives fill the world and push God aside. 

And even in mid pandemic, when our busy lives have been made smaller, we probably haven’t made more room for God and faith… instead our smallness has still managed to fill our world. Peter is sidetracked by the thought of the suffering and death of his teacher and master. And we are guilty of letting the slog of just getting from one day to the next push God out of our attention. 

Our fears about work, family, friends, and community push God out. 

Our keeping up with news updates, or trying to ignore the news at all costs push God out.

Our navigating a world that we both miss and that is more dangerous push God out. 

Our attention to politics, economics, social justice, reconciliation, climate justice and more push God out.  

All of it pushes God out of our thoughts and attention.

Yet even when Peter pulls an irritated Jesus aside to rebuke him,… Jesus still finds a way to re-orient Peter’s hangs up. 

You can imagine the group standing in a circle as Jesus speaks. At first when Peter identifies Jesus the Messiah, everything within the circle, within the group feels right. But then Jesus starts talking about how the Messiah must suffer and die. Peter must have felt like the world outside the circle starting to close in, dark shadows forming around the group making everything feel dangerous and overwhelming. When Peter cannot take it anymore, he pulls Jesus aside, making his circle of safety even smaller. Peter is trying desperately to hold on to what is good and comfortable, to his life following this popular teacher and preacher… not following a Messiah toward suffering and death. 

But then Jesus turns from Peter, back to the disciples. Jesus opens up Peter’s little circle. Jesus pushes back the dark shadows and scary outside world. Jesus opens himself up everything around him.

The Messiah, the Son of Man, has not come to create a small comfortable circle of disciples, but to save the whole world. Jesus has come to bring the whole world back into the grace and mercy of God. 

Peter’s smallness and details won’t push Jesus away. Instead the opposite happens, Peter’s life becomes part of the story of God in the world.  

In fact it isn’t just Peter, nbut the story of the Messiah, the suffering and death of Messiah gathers all of our busyness – all of our concerns that fill the world, or our small day to days that take all our attention – and Messiah folds us and our lives into the story of God. We might try to push God to the margins, but faith will let go of us. 

From the beginning, Jesus has reminds his disciples that the work they are doing and that this path that they are following are a part of God’s promises salvation. The way of the cross is about saving the world. And that way of cross the transforms us to the core.  

It isn’t just that God is saving our troubled world, but God is changing us along the way. All of our busy, small, inward looking selves… all the thing that occupy and distract us from faith, that cause to forget God…  God is folding and working them into the story of salvation, the story of grace and mercy given for all.

Peter’s desire to keep things they way they are, to keep his friend safe…. And our focus on getting through each day, living in a topsy turvey pandemic world… these things are now a part of God’s story. God story gathers us all up, no matter how much our lives try to fill up the world. 

The Messiah is on the way of the cross. The way of suffering, rejection and death. But also the way of resurrection and new life. 

And the Messiah is bringing us along… even when we cannot see it, even when it feels like the details of life gets in the way…. Jesus brings us in. Jesus take up his cross and carries us too… carries us to empty tombs, to resurrection and into New Life. 

Crossing the Boundaries of Faith

Mark 5:21-43
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, `Who touched me?'” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Last week, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee with his disciples. As a storm blew upon them, the frightened disciples worried about Jesus sleeping in the boat. But Jesus woke up, calmed the storm and wondered what the fuss was all about. 

Before returning across the lake to the point in the story we heard today, Jesus went to Gentile territory. There, Jesus exorcised a demon-possessed man living with the pigs. In the short trip, Jesus crossed the boundaries of Gentile and Jew by crossing into Gentile territory and interacting with people and things with whom he should not normally be interacting.

In just that quick trip across the lake, Jesus showed that the boundaries most people observe, don’t scare him. 

And today, when Jesus lands back on the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee, the boundaries have been crossed and the rules broken. There is no going back now. 

Today, it is first Jairus who eschews social norms to throw himself at the feet of Jesus to beg for healing. Jairus, an upstanding leader in the synagogue, begging a wandering preacher for mercy for his sick daughter. 

And then the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years breaks nearly every rule imaginable to get access to Jesus. 

As Jesus responds to these two very different requests for healing, it can feel like one story is jammed into another. Jairus and his dying daughter, and the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. It can even feel disjointed and a bit like an interruption…. In fact, Jesus starts to seem like a traveling medi-clinic. Like a place for the sick to go for healing, a source of power for those in need. But as we heard earlier in Mark, Jesus has not come to be a miracle healer, but to preach the Kingdom of God coming near. 

So these two stories start out on the surface to be about healing, but turn out to be about so much more. 

When Jesus arrives on the shore of Galilee, Jairus, a leader in the synagogue throws himself at Jesus’ feet and begs for help for his sick daughter. Jairus, an important community leader, who would usually have a servant for errands like this, comes to Jesus directly. Jairus, who should have considered Jesus an equal, if not a subordinate, throws himself at Jesus’ feet. Jairus, who should have requested, commanded or ordered Jesus to help, begs. He begs immediately and without shame. In desperation, Jairus breaks the rules of how a man in his position should behave. 

And then there is the bleeding woman. The woman who had been poked and prodded by doctors to no avail. The woman who had been suffering for 12 years in an unclean and impure state. The woman who is not allowed to be in public, or to touch others, especially men. The woman who has no voice and no advocate. The woman who pushes into the crowd and steals a healing without even asking Jesus for it. In her desperation, this woman crosses the boundaries of what polite and proper people should be and do.  

It is easy to gloss over these images of Jairus and the bleeding woman. It is easy to see no problem with persons of prominence and authority throwing themselves at Jesus’ feet. No problem with the weak and powerless reaching for the fringe of Jesus’ cloak. 

And yet, we live in a world full of boundaries. A world where we have needed to think carefully each day about how our actions and decisions will either run up against or cross boundaries.

And when we aren’t measuring risk and public health orders, we have been living with the boundaries of screens. The tools that simultaneously allow us to connect with family, friends and community when we otherwise would not be able to, but that also remind us of the distance we have been keeping from each other these past months. 

Now, as vaccines are rolled out, questions around who can do what, who can go where and what it means to be completely safe have arisen. Will businesses, schools, public services and even churches make distinctions between those who are granted access and those who aren’t? 

Of course, it hasn’t been just the pandemic that has placed boundaries on our lives. For the past year, the boundaries and barriers created by colonial and racists histories have lifted up the many obstacles that people of colour face in our society, and particularly the systematic and institutional barriers that Indigenous people face in Canada, put in place by predominantly White Christian Settlers through the Indian Act, the reservation system and residential schools. 

The boundaries and barriers of the world help us to make sense of things, help us to know how to follow the rules. They often define the way people belong, so that we can know where we belong. They allow us to know who is “in” and who is “out” among us. Who is permitted and who is not. 

And yet we also know that the rules and boundaries don’t always serve everyone equally. We know that sometimes people end up in places where the rules push them down and grind them into the ground. We know that the boundaries can become walls, keeping people out and in the darkness, isolated and alone. 

The rules and the boundaries that we live by, that we hold onto so that we can feel safe and secure… can also hurt and exclude and we know it, because sometimes we are the ones being pushed down and we are the one stuck on the outside. 

But Jesus has this habit of doing things and going places that we cannot. Calming storms and talking to demons.  

Jesus crosses the boundaries and breaks the rules. 

Jesus crosses the boundaries and breaks the rules because Jesus wants to bring God close, the Kingdom of God near. 

As the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years crosses every social boundary imaginable and steals a miracle from Jesus, and as Jesus himself is not quite sure what has happened, he demands to know who has touched him. We would expect that Jesus would have condemned and scolded this woman, but instead he stops to hear her story. And then he joins her. Joins her on the other side of the crossed boundary. As an unclean sinner, she isn’t supposed to be out in public or touching people … no one but family, that is. And so Jesus steps out of the public space and into a familiar one… “Daughter” he calls the woman. Jesus makes her a member of his family, a person whom he can be close to even if she is unclean. “Your faith has made you well.” And then he blesses her. By crossing the boundary, and breaking the rules, Jesus gives this woman the first bit of care and compassion, of healing and wholeness that she has known in 12 years. And it wasn’t by healing her of her bleeding, but by joining her in her isolation. 

And then Jesus continues on to Jairus’ home, and he enters despite the news of the little girl’s death. The waiting crowds tell him not to enter … they know the boundary that has come to this place.

And yet having just crossed boundaries to heal the woman bleeding for 12 years, perhaps Jesus is inspired to keep going. To keep crossing boundaries. He comes near to a sick person, a possibly dead person, and intrudes on a grieving family. 

But Jesus knows that the little girl will rise. 

Because Jesus is going to cross another boundary to join this little girl, this second daughter that he meets today. 

Jesus crosses the uncrossable. 

Jesus reaches across death and brings the little girl back to life. 

Jesus crosses the boundary of death. 

Jesus also crosses the boundary of resurrection and new life. 

And we saw it coming all along, because we know that story already. We tell it every week. 

For, you see, for all of our rules as human beings, we keep telling the story of God in Christ who breaks the rules. 

Christ, who gives forgiveness even though it is undeserved. 

Christ, who washes in the waters of baptism even though we are unclean. 

Christ, who brings peace even though there is conflict. 

Christ, who makes us one even though we are many. 

For, you see, for all of the boundaries that hem us in, we keep telling the story of God in Christ who crosses the boundaries and joins us where we thought God should NOT come. 

Christ joins us as the incarnate God, born into creation. 

Christ comes to us in the Word of God, spoken through human voices and heard with human ears. 

Christ gathers us together from every nation and tribe and corner of the earth. 

Crossing boundaries and breaking the rules shouldn’t be a new or surprising thing for us, because almost from the very moment we gather until we are sent out, God is doing just that in, through and with us. 

God is crossing boundaries and breaking rules in order to name us as daughters and sons, making us part of God’s family, bringing the kingdom near to us. 

No matter how much we love rules and cling to boundaries, God will always be willing to break and cross them, in order to love us more.