Confidence in the Ministry of Jesus

Rev. Marilyn Washburn

[]As the end of my ministry of you with you is approaching, we are also moving into the end of the church year, and we are looking at some of the end of Mark's Gospel as well. There are some fascinating things in our Scripture this morning.

Many people think that Mark actually has two different endings written at two different times. This particular part of the ending of Mark's Gospel is when Jesus is about to approach the Cross and he's finishing up with his disciples some of the ministry that he has had among them. And he talks with them about the fact that the buildings around them will not always be standing. And isn't that true for us in our world, that buildings around us that were here centuries ago may or may not be around anymore? In many cases in our own communities, we have watched buildings go up, and buildings come down, and new buildings go up in their place. Life is like that, always changing, always moving in new directions. As we are thinking about this today, let's look at a couple of things that Jesus tells us.

First of all, he talks here about the community of what would become the church, and he reminds them that they need to develop a spirit of discernment, learning to discover what God is doing and saying in their midst. What is this world all about and what is our faith all about? Jesus reminds the disciples gathered around him that they will hear many people coming and saying many different things, claiming to speak in his name or in the name of God, but that not all of them will be authentic. As we come down through the ages, we have heard many different things along that line. In our modern world, we certainly do. I can think of a number of places where I have heard voices speaking in the name of God, but omitting certain aspects of the Gospel. It's very interesting. I remember reading the other day about Thomas Jefferson wanting to cut certain things out of the Bible because he wanted to rewrite parts of it and only keep other parts of it. And this is the case with many people.

There are many who like to preach a gospel of 'feel-goodness,' that you go out every Sunday just feeling very good, uplifted and happy, and very nice about the world and about yourself. But we know that that's not always the way. In many cases, they omit the Cross. A few years back, there was a piece on television about some of these new non-denominational churches, and one of them had completely taken the Cross out of the church because they didn't want to think about that. They had a teddy bear sitting in a rocking chair in the front of the church because, you know, you hug teddy bears and they make you feel good. And they were trying to preach a gospel of 'feel-goodness' about yourself. But Jesus says, "Don't listen to that." A Cross-less religion, a Cross-less Christianity is no Christianity because if we don't have the Cross and the evil and the badness, we can't really know goodness and new life and fresh hope.

There are some who preach a faith that is so tied to our nation and politics that they demand a USA patriotic ideology. And I don't think Jesus would want that either. While we want to be loyal to our country and we want to be loyal to our faith, we can do it without preaching that our country is the best, the only one, that we have the only way, and that God wants everyone to be like us, that God wants all people to be like themselves. God has diversity in the creation and diversity in the world, and we are called to learn to figure out how to get along with each other and how to put ourselves where we belong in the scheme of things.

There are some who preach a gospel of personal financial prosperity. "Come and be part of God's family and God will bless you with all kinds of good stuff: very big houses and very big cars, and very big everything. You'll have more than you need. So come and God will bless you with everything you need." Well, remember what Jesus told us a couple of weeks ago in the story of the rich man: "Sell all that you have and give it to the poor, that's what you need to enter the kingdom of God." Give away some of the things that you have. Excess wealth is not part of the Gospel.

There are some who preach hatred for other religions and other races, those who preach hatred of anybody who disagrees with them, hatred for whatever reason, hatred for other churches that disagree with them, hatred for other churches that are open to different people that they say are not truly churches of God. I've seen many of these kinds of situations. I was telling the story not too long ago about General Synod in Kansas City. I'm not sure when it was, ten or twelve years ago maybe. We got off our bus and were greeted with signs from that church in Topeka, Kansas, that preaches hatred for gays. And the signs said, "The United Church of Christ loves gay people; God hates the United Church of Christ." I don't believe that's what Jesus would preach. I don't think that's what Jesus is talking about. Remember what he was saying to us a few weeks ago about reaching out to those who are different when he healed the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman who was a foreigner and of a different religion? He reached out to her and helped her and said, "You too are a daughter of God, a child worthy of love."

I think we have to be careful as we think about the vastness of the ministry of Jesus. We are called by Jesus to be led by good actions, open minds, and honest deeds, to give up our excess wealth, to aid and assist those who are suffering, to feed and clothe and lift them up in whatever way we can. We are called to reach out to foreigners and those who have different faith traditions, to not overwhelm others with our own faith or with excessive pride. To live our faith is much more what Jesus wants, much more of what Jesus leads us to, living our faith every single day. It is when we do that we feel the power of God at work. Sometimes it leads us into some difficult situations where we go against the grain, but that's okay because isn't that what led Jesus to the Cross? He went against the grain of his day. He said all kinds of things that were different, that shook people up and turned them around and changed them, changed their minds, changed their attitudes.

And I love that phrase in Hebrews, 'to provoke to love and good deeds.' We are to provoke others to love and good deeds. We are to provoke each other, nudge each other, to push and say, "All of us have to work together for good and love and hope." Jesus even talks about the fact that war and famine and earthquakes are going to exist in this world, but that it isn't the end. As he puts it, it is 'the beginning of the birthpangs,' that the earth will go through these kinds of tumults, these kinds of difficulties, this kind of change and shaking up. But it doesn't mean that war is good. It doesn't mean that it's not a bad thing when an earthquake happens and people's lives are destroyed and turned upside down. But what it means, I believe, is that God is with us through all of that and wanting us to move through these pangs of birth into the new life. As Jesus moved through the Cross into the resurrection with hope, so we are called to a new birth, a new life, fresh hope, peaceful coexistence, love, good deeds, sharing and caring.

In the ministry of Jesus, all of these things come our way. It's not always easy to hear some of the things he said: "Love your enemies, don't judge other people, reach out, touch, and share." Those are not always easy for us to do, but that's what we are called to do. And so if we are going to continue to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and to live out his ministry, it is my hope and my prayer that all of us will find a way, even if it's a tiny little step, to help someone else, to raise our children, fill them with love for other people, to help our children to not be bullies, to help our children to reach out to others in special ways by giving of themselves, not just telling the story, but living it because that is what Jesus did. He lived the message and continues to live it on the other side of the difficult Cross. And so we will walk through that darkness as well in one way or another, but always it is with the hope of the new birth on the other side. Thanks be to God. Amen.

November 15, 2009

Read other Sermons by Pastor Steve