Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
February 28, 2021
“Losing My Religion”
Mark 8: 31-38 – New Revised Standard Version
31 Then 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. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But 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.”
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,[a] will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words[b] in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Will Willimon said, “The American church often presents the gospel as the solution to our problems, a technique for better marriages and smarter kids, a way to make nice people nicer, and successful people even more successful. You hear a lot of, ‘My life was a mess but then I met Jesus and now everything’s fixed.’” That’s great! The problem is, actually meeting Jesus is messy and would probably scare the be-jesus out of us!
In today’s gospel, Jesus told his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected, and killed. And after three days, rise again. That last part would be great if we could skip all the suffering, rejection, and death. Peter agreed, because when he heard this, he took Jesus aside privately and rebuked him, a pretty strong word. This must not happen to you – because… well, maybe because Peter loved Jesus too much to see him suffer. Maybe because Peter had just minutes before declared Jesus the Messiah, and such things do not happen to messiahs. What kind of messiah gets killed? Or…maybe because, I’m just looking to be a nicer and more successful person.
But, in response to Peter’s private scolding, Jesus turned and publicly rebuked Peter. And if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, Jesus called Peter “Satan” because Jesus said he was putting human things, like avoiding pain and conflict, in front of divine things. This is the “easier” part of today’s text. The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, rejection, and death. Then, Jesus called out to the crowd, “And if any of you want to become my followers…”
Those crowds had just kept growing. Despite telling people to keep things quiet, more and more people followed Jesus. And why not? He was the best show in town. Free food and entertainment. Imagine watching demons scream as they’re called out of the possessed. Healings of one kind after another – the blind, the lame, the diseased. He walked on water. Calmed a storm. Dared to argue with Pharisees. One day, he fed 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. And just a couple of verses before today’s reading, he fed another 4,000 people with 7 loaves of bread, with 7 loaves leftover. And yet, after all that, Jesus said to the disciples, “And you still don’t understand?” So, Jesus made the first of three attempts to make it crystal clear. Understand this: “If any of you want to become my followers, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.”
I want to sit with this for a minute. He didn’t say, “If any of you want to become my followers, you must love God and love your neighbors as yourself. And love your enemies. And forgive 70 times 7. Be more compassionate, etc.” Those things are all true. And feed the hungry and clothe the naked and shelter the homeless. Those things are all true, as well. But it’s not the love thing that makes following Jesus difficult. It’s the whole “deny yourself and take up your cross” thing.
On Thursday, once again, we had a powerful conversation about this text at our Lunch and Lectionary on Zoom. By the way, you’re invited to join us. Among the things we discussed was an observation by Phil that “only those with a self can deny their self.” Wow. And with SafeHouse Denver as our mission partner this month, that’s even more obvious. For survivors of domestic violence, it’s not that they don’t have a “self,” but many have been told that they should simply accept their abuse as “their cross to bear,” tragically often by pastors or family members. If only they loved their spouses more, they would stop being abused. Let me be clear: This is outrageous, and this is false. And if that is what your religion tells you, run. Run like hell and rebuke it as you go. That is truly the logic of Satan.
Again, Jesus said, “If any of you want to become my followers, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.”
Now, what is “denying yourself?” It’s more than not having a second cookie, or a second glass of wine, or a house with a bigger back yard. It’s not a Lenten discipline. That’s too small. Jesus pairs this line with “and take up your cross.”
So, we might think of “taking up your cross” as a personal burden. Something that is uniquely your struggle. Yes, but not really. At least, not here. It is not a difficulty or a particular weight on your shoulders. That’s not to dismiss your own personal struggles and burdens. It’s just not the meaning of this text. Perhaps we should ask: When Jesus spoke of crosses, what did the crowd hear? Take up your cross?
Crosses littered the landscape. The cross wasn’t unique to Jesus. The Roman Empire crucified thousands of people. In fact, when Jesus was just a boy, Romans crucified 2,000 Galileans at once. “Romans put up crosses like billboards advertising Caesar’s supremacy and the fate of any who dared to challenge it.” In that way, the cross is very much like the lynching tree, as Dr. James Cone writes. “In both cases, the purpose was to strike terror in the subject community.”
Black men, women, and children were lynched, hung from trees, for no reason at all – for looking in the “wrong” direction. The point wasn’t the infraction. It was the terror. Like confederate flags, statues of Robert E. Lee, and militarized police forces in places like Ferguson, Missouri. And the whole debacle at the US capitol. They’re all warnings meant to terrorize.
Terror was the point for Rome too. Crosses were used as instruments of a torturous death against anyone whom they deemed a threat. The cross was a weapon and a message for anyone who dared to question Rome’s occupation. Of all things, why would Jesus tell people to pick up a cross?
We sing sentimental songs about old rugged crosses, but the cross, like a lynching tree, like the executioner’s chair on death row, would have sent nice potential followers fleeing. In fact, I wonder how many followers he had at the end of that day? I can picture one person after another slipping away from the back. Running for their lives. It should make us seriously question whether we want anything to do with this Jesus movement. But, then again, what good is a religion that only asks you, politely, to be nice?
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “any religion that professes concern for the souls of men and is not equally concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried.”
Jesus does give one compelling reason why they should, why we should, stay. He asks, “What good is gaining the whole world but losing your soul?” Perhaps we could say, you can have your soul or you can have your stuff. But, not really, because that’s too small, too individualistic.
Perhaps a more appropriate question (among others) is: what good is having everything you want if you’ve sold everyone out to get it? With Jesus, there’s always a collective impact to consider. For example, Jesus didn’t just heal individuals. He healed individuals so they could be reunited and heal their communities.
That part is hard to fully comprehend because Americans, white Americans, make things about the individual – almost like our civil religion. The whole mask thing baffles me. It’s my right to choose not to wear a mask. What kind of religion would go along with putting the whole community at risk of infection because it’s my “right” to do so? It’s our right to hold super-spreader events? But on behalf of 524,670 dead people, as of this morning and counting, I ask, “What good is gaining the whole world but losing your soul?” Of course, I have the same question of Jerry Falwell and company, especially as they bow at the religion of a literal golden calf Trump sculpture this weekend. If you haven’t seen it, google it.
Jesus said, “If any of you want to become my followers, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” The cross. This thing used as an instrument of suffering and death, of terror and oppression.
Dr. Cone has been asked many times how the truth of the black experience of lynching and the cross of Christianity can be reconciled. He said, “Both the cross and the lynching tree represented the worst in human beings and at the same time ‘an unquenchable ontological thirst’ for life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning.” They are transformed “symbols that represent both death and the promise of redemption, judgment and the offer of mercy, suffering and the power of hope.” A religion that is real because, like today’s gospel says, there is no rising on the third day without transforming the human experience of suffering, rejection, and death.
I don’t know why Jesus said the Son of Man “must” suffer, but he certainly understands that all humans do. To be human is to know rejection. And death. And so, to be in solidarity with suffering humanity, he must experience life as we do. But Jesus shows how following him transforms it. And how the cross represents hope.
Just like Dr. Cone said, “God took the evil of the cross and the lynching tree and transformed them both into the triumphant beauty of the divine.”
And if the followers of Jesus would actually, truly and finally confront the evil and terrorism of white supremacy with repentance and reparation, we could be, we will be, a triumphantly beautiful nation. But, nice won’t do it. Nice isn’t enough. We must deny ourselves and take up our cross. And if your religion doesn’t ask that of you, lose it. And take up the cross of Jesus instead.
 Lectionary Sermon Resource, Year B, Part 1, Abingdon Press, 2017
 Mark 8:17
 W. Hulitt Gloer, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, page 73
 Learn more at eji.org
 https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/ February 28, 2021
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
February 21, 2021
“The Future of Our Choosing”
Psalm 115 – New Revised Standard Version
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.
2 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”
3 Our God is in the heavens; God does whatever God pleases.
4 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
5 They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
6 They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
7 They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
they make no sound in their throats.
8 Those who make them are like them;
so are all who trust in them.
9 O Israel, trust in the Lord! Their help and their shield.
10 O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord! Their help and their shield.
11 You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! Their help and their shield.
12 The Lord has been mindful of us; and will bless us;
bless the house of Israel; bless the house of Aaron;
13 bless those who fear the Lord, both small and great.
14 May the Lord give you increase, both you and your children.
15 May you be blessed by the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
16 The heavens are the Lord’s heavens,
but the earth he has given to human beings.
17 The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any that go down into silence.
18 But we will bless the Lord from this time on and forevermore.
Praise the Lord!
When Terri and I discussed a theme for Lent, we decided to focus on the Psalms. We’re especially interested in exploring the Psalms through the eyes of artists and the words of poets. That’s exactly what the videos from The Work of the People do. In fact, I wouldn’t have chosen Psalm 115 without the accompanying video. (go to www.theworkofthepeople.com and search for Psalm 115.
First of all, I love hearing Walter Brueggemann speak. He’s 90 years old, still writing books, articles, and until the pandemic, still lecturing around the country. I saw him just last year at Montview, about this time in February. Walter is ordained in the UCC but is internationally renowned as the premier scholar of the Psalms and Old Testament – and known for his cutting-edge interpretation in the best prophetic social justice tradition of Jeremiah and Amos – all based on our covenantal relationship with God and one another. A classic Brueggemann quote: Hunger for God minus love for neighbor is an oxymoron.
So, to prepare for this Lent, I’ve been brushing up on my Psalm studies. Phil Campbell reminded us at our Lunch and Lectionary on Thursday that Brueggemann categorizes the Psalms as psalms of orientation, psalms of disorientation, and psalms of re-orientation. Or, a new orientation. So, as we move forward in Lent, I thought it might be helpful to lay out this model.
Briefly, psalms of orientation are ones we often read in church about praising God with cymbals and dancing. "Let everything with breath praise the Lord. The Lord is my shepherd. My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth." They tell us who we are, give us our identity. But, Brueggemann says, praise songs are “not the most interesting.” Laura Jean Truman, however, calls them, “Psalms for people whose lives are going just spiffy, thanks very much; for people that don’t have much to report but thankfulness for a good harvest and a recitation of old sayings like “the early bird gets the worm!” and “God helps those who help themselves!” Well, not exactly.
But, she asks, what happens when a collection of cliches falls apart? As they always do. What happens when the façade has at last been penetrated and the perfect world folds in on itself? These psalms of collapse are the psalms of disorientation.
We may not be as familiar with these Psalms, but we know them deep in our hearts. These are lived experiences of anger and despair. Psalm 13: “How long will you hide your face from me?” We may politely call them psalms of lament, but more deeply, they are the anguish that arises out of the experience of suffering, or seeing suffering, while the wicked walk around happy and free.
Laura Jean said these Psalms exist because someone asked, ”But why are you so angry?” Sometimes, when someone says that to you, doesn't it make you want to scream! Or explode? Moreover, sometimes we have experiences of such radical dissonance we find ourselves praying for revenge and retribution. Like Psalm 35: “Let disaster come to them when they don’t expect it.” Psalm 35 is a trip. For times when we feel God has betrayed us. “How long are you going to let this happen?” This isn’t supposed to happen to me.
The wonderful thing about such Psalms is that they are full of the stuff that good Christians aren’t supposed to think, let alone say out loud. With the Psalms, however, "Israel insists that communion with God must be real and honest, open to criticism, argumentative, and thereby capable of transformation."
Naturally then, we move along to re-orientation. But not so fast. This isn’t a workout program. The psalms of reorientation, Laura Jean Truman says, aren’t about self-help. “They are the words of people who have experienced a miracle, against all odds.” Listen to her beautiful descriptions: “Gasps of thankfulness when the impossible breaks through. Whispers of delight when the unimaginable has happened. When God has broken into time and space and done something with our efforts that we could not have anticipated and certainly could not have created alone. The psalms of reorientation speak of surprise and wonder, miracle and amazement, when a new orientation has been granted to the disoriented, especially when there was no reason to expect it.” 
She advises, we don’t “get out of” disorientation by our achievements or on our own timetable. These psalms aren’t something we’ve built out of the rubble of our deconstructed house. It’s looking back and realizing what God has done for us. Although, it’s not a return to something we once knew. It’s the gift of a brand-new thing – a new heaven and a new earth. God says, “See! I am making all things new!”
Of course, not surprisingly, all 150 psalms do not fit into such neatly defined categories. Psalm 115 fits, at least in part, as a psalm of orientation that explains their identity as a monotheistic people. A celebration of God also intended as a defense of monotheism – one god, the God of Israel, a god who cannot be seen. A God who does what she pleases. Quirky line, right! They were surrounded by polytheistic cultures – nations with many gods – whom the Psalmist memorably describes:
5 They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
6 They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
7 They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
they make no sound in their throats.
On the one hand, that’s really funny to imagine. On the other hand, this is highly offensive. It smacks of smug, self-righteousness. Religious exceptionalism. In fact, the word idol itself is what we say about someone else. We are smarter or more faithful or more righteous than those “other people” who… So, it’s important to identify this temptation to create idols out of things other people do.
Therefore, perhaps we should just get rid of the concept of idol worship altogether. And yet, the video images of ecological destruction and people behind fences helps us see – there are real idols made of silver and gold. That have real consequences.
For example, who has a mouth that doesn’t speak? Like the image in the video, politicians in front of a microphone.
Who has ears but cannot hear? Anyone who can ignore the cries of kids in cages.
Who has eyes but can’t see? The video shows people walking past a hungry man. It’s also anyone who hears the cacophony of cries from across the country “I can’t breathe” but refuses to see systemic racism. What idol is being worshiped? Right alongside white supremacy, the idol of complicit silence.
Who has a nose that doesn’t smell? Those who put toxic dumps next to low-wealth neighborhoods or dump sewage into rivers and lakes. And so on and so on.
And so, the Psalmist says, “Those who make idols are like their idols, so are all who trust in them. But, O Israel, trust in the Lord! House of Aaron, trust in the Lord. All who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord. God is your help and protector. God is mindful of us, blesses us and gives us increase.”
This Psalm is a praise song to their God, about their identity, set against what other people do -- worship idols. But a faithful interpreter of this text asks us, what idols do we worship? And might that not explain, in part, why we feel disoriented at times? And then set us on the path toward reorientation?
That’s my natural inclination. A three-step process. What can I do? What plans can we make? Let’s set goals and work toward them. But what does it mean if we can’t achieve re-orientation based on our own hard work and good efforts? Notice that my idol is "achievement?" And a few more things!
Let’s go back to that quirky line: God does what she pleases.
Walter told the story of a neighbor who won’t wear a mask. “Well, if I die, it must be my time.” He said, “It’s such a statement of despair and resignation. A refusal to take any initiative or responsibility. Utterly without hope or expectation for anything new. A passive recipient of what comes, whether what comes is from God or elsewhere.” Just like inanimate and powerless idols who can do nothing. They can’t even make a sound in their throats.
Walter said, “I don’t conclude that my neighbor is a worshiper of idols. I do conclude that she has willingly signed on for a world in which she is not expected to play any role in shaping the future that is to come upon us.” Because those who worship powerless idols become like those idols – powerless and inanimate.
No, instead, we worship a God who does what God pleases. Which sounds like a capricious God who could care less whether or not you and I get Covid 19, too busy having fun in heaven. But Walter’s point is that if we worship a God who can do anything she pleases, then we worship a living God – not an inanimate one who has no power in the world. You become like that which you worship. So, “if we worship the God who freely does what she pleases, we become free like the God of freedom.”
In this psalm of orientation, we affirm, Israel is not passive. Throughout scripture, it is repeatedly asked to “choose life so that you may live.” And neither are we passive.
Indeed, the future is of our choosing. That’s not meant to make us feel powerful. Much to the contrary, the implications are overwhelming. The freedom to choose always is.
But get ready for what is really overwhelming:
The gasps of thankfulness when the impossible breaks through. We worship a God for whom the impossible breaks through.
Get ready for whispers of delight when the unimaginable has happened. Because we worship a God from whom the unimaginable happens all the time.
Get ready for the God who breaks into time and space and does something with our efforts that we could not have anticipated and certainly could not have created alone.
Let us trust in and, through what we choose to worship, become more like this God.
Sources quoted and consulted:
Walter Brueggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2002).
The Psalms and the Life of Faith, Walter Brueggemann. “The Psalms and the Life of Faith: A Suggested Typology of Function.” Ed. Patrick D. Miller.
 www.theworkofthepeople.com – search for Psalm 115
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
February 14, 2021
“What Love Does”
1st Corinthians 13: 1-13 – New Revised Standard Version
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
This passage suffers from familiarity. It’s heard so often at weddings that we could easily assume that chapter 13 is about two lovers. If you want something for that, go the steamy poetry of Song of Solomon, that’s where you’ll find biblical erotica.
I didn’t choose to read this passage because it’s Valentine’s Day. Well, maybe I did a few weeks ago. But I actually think this text is a fitting response to this week’s trial of the former president.
It was a hard week. Like you, I watched again with horror the images of violent mobs, incited by their commander, smashing doors and windows; crushing law enforcement between doors and beating them with pipes and flag poles; we heard them chant death to the vice-president, a gallows built and noose hung conveniently nearby; I felt something in my throat as horrified Senators scurried through the labyrinth of hallways to avoid the mobs; and I cried while house members recounted grabbing gas masks and removing their congressional pins, listening as battering rams tried to break into the chamber. This week was traumatizing for them and for all of us, the whole country, all over again.
Or it was no big deal. Boring enough to sit doodling with your feet up. Are we really so divided that we can’t even agree on this?
Paul was so concerned about what he heard regarding the bitterly divided Corinthian church, he sat down to compose a letter to them. Perhaps we might consider his words about love.
But first, we can’t skip to the words of love in chapter 13 without first going through conflict in chapter 12. Paul received word about contention among the Corinthians, arguing about whose gifts were the greatest. He wrote to them that there are a variety of gifts that all come from the same Spirit. To one person is given wisdom, to another knowledge; to one is given faith, and to another healing. Or prophecy, or discernment of spirits, miracles, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. There are lots of gifts of the Spirit. But he kept repeating, not one of them is better than another because they all come from the same Spirit. The Spirit decides who gets what. How could one thing be better? So, stop arguing.
Paul continued by describing or comparing the church to the body of Christ. No part of the body is more important than another. He explained, the eye can’t say to the hand, I don’t need you. Furthermore, no part of the body is more honorable than another. In fact, Paul said, the less “respectable” members should be treated with greater respect.
This wasn’t meant as just metaphor or rhetoric. The early church was radically egalitarian. Men and women shared leadership, often to the amazement of outsiders. In the church, people who were slaves and people who were free were to be equals. Jews and Gentiles worshiped together, although, they were still debating such questions as whether non-Jewish believers had to first become Jewish to be Christian? That was also part of the conflict Paul addressed in 1st Corinthians.
Chapter 12 is one of the most important and consequential parts of the Bible laying out, in the midst of conflict, a beautiful description of the Christian way. No part of the body is more important than another; as Paul said, honor was to be given to the least. And, of the many wonderful gifts of the spirit, not one of them is better than another, because the same Spirit gives them all.
He then ended chapter 12 by saying, “But strive for the greater gifts.” Wait. I didn’t think any gift was better than another, but some are “greater”? And still more curiously, these are not Spirit given? We have to strive for them? That’s when he told a bitterly divided people that he would show them “a still more excellent way” and said:
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Those words have a context among a divided people. They aren’t the flowery words of an imaginary world but a real challenge to living, breathing people.
“If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
Paul explained this is the “still more excellent way.” There’s faith. And there’s hope. And there’s love. But the greatest of these is love. For which he calls us to strive.
Love is patient. Or are we to strive for love that is patient? Love is kind. Or are we to strive for love that is kind? Perhaps both. That love is and we must strive for love that is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Strive for love that does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in truth. Strive for love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Strive for love that never ends.
On the one hand, all that striving sounds exhausting. Not exactly a gift. On the other hand, I can do that. That’s hopeful because we can strive for love when we’re not feeling it. We can strive for love that never ends, although, I have to add, in my experience, and perhaps in your experience too, some love ends. Some love is asked to bear, put up with, too many things, even becoming an excuse for abuse. Maybe that’s one way we know this passage isn’t first and foremost about two lovers or a marriage. But neither do I think a community or country should simply “put up with” anything and everything. I appreciate Paul’s clarification that love that does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in truth.
But then there’s the Senate. We were not only traumatized by repeated images of violent mobs, pictures of gallows and noose, haunted by chants and screams and battering rams. Worse, the means for even a modicum of justice was offered but denied in monstrous and preposterous ways – to use the words of the indefensible. Truth was spoken, but to use the words of Paul, people rejoiced in wrongdoing.
Can we be honest? Love? I don’t love those people. I don’t want to love those people. They have no interest in loving back. I’m tired of striving for love from hateful people. But of course, to be clear, there are some good but misguided people in that mix – not in the sense of very fine nazis. But people with whom we simply share a different world view, some of whom are members of our families. Yet it’s the others that draw me dangerously close to hate. That is, if we dare be honest.
To which I hear Paul saying, keep striving for the more excellent way. Keep striving for love. And that will make a difference. Dr. King had a lot of personal experience with this, and he explained:
Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it.
Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it.
Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.
That’s what love does.
That’s why I think 1st Corinthians 13 is just what we need today. Strive for love, love that is patient and kind and all the rest. Keep hoping for it. Praying for it. For as long as necessary. Love doesn’t give up. And because God is love, our striving for love puts us into the presence of God, and with that, we can do anything.
I know it was a hard week. But we can keep striving for love. Together.
Prayer for Victims at the U.S. Capitol and Our Nation
Holy Spirit, mighty in your mercy, give tender consolation to the victims of terrorism at the US Capitol, and be with our leaders as they relive violence and trauma. Be with all who suffer nightmares: those who frantically reached for gas masks, removed their Congressional pins, listened to the screams of insurrectionists using battering rams to break through the doors that separated them from mobs. We pray for those watching footage of their rush to safety through the labyrinth of hallways to avoid the violent mobs, grateful for those who protected them. Console the families who received afternoon phones calls saying, “I love you.” We especially pray for those who died while protecting Members of Congress, and those who took their lives afterward. Lord, in your mercy, we beseech you to touch them with healing grace.
January 6th wasn’t a day isolated from others. The fevered pitch of lies ignored, the foreshadowing violence unheeded. Not in our country, we thought. Our innocence violated, assumed of foreigners who wish to undermine democracy, not our neighbors. We also pray for people of color and religious minorities, forced to relive their trauma, the same violent acts of terror throughout history and today by white supremacists and neo-Nazis and “Christian” nationalists demanding their privilege, refusing the rest of us the simple freedom to live without fear of violence and terror. Open the eyes and ears of all in denial who say, “this is not who we are.” Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.
We also pray for those who stormed the capitol, those who erected gallows and hung nooses, who chanted death to the vice-president, who smashed doors and windows, and assaulted law enforcement with pipes and flag poles, attempting to overthrow the government. All for lies and power at all costs. Touch their hearts with the insight of their actions, with the truth that sets us free, that we may turn together toward peace and goodness, respect for all life, and appreciation for our wonderfully diverse country, a banner of hope for many around the world. Convict the conscience and awaken the minds of the Senators who refuse to acknowledge their complicity, who refuse the healing for the rest of us that comes from accepting consequences. We beseech your mercy, O God, to touch their hearts with healing grace, too. The healing that comes only through accountability, especially for the instigator in chief.
O God, Holy Spirit, consoler, tender but mighty in your mercy, let justice flow like mighty streams and righteousness like ever-flowing waters, and hear our prayers. Amen
Rev. Dr. David Bahr, Pastor
Park Hill Congregational UCC, Denver, Colorado
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
February 7, 2021
“The Promises of God”
Mark 1: 29-39 – New Revised Standard Version
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
I grew up in a church with very traditional gender roles. More than likely, you did too. Women cooked and served. Men built and repaired. The board of elders were all men. The Sunday School teachers were all women. Similarly, boys helped fix things. Girls helped in the kitchen, which is why it was so odd and out of place that I preferred to be in the kitchen, washing and drying dishes. But I found it much more interesting to listen to their conversations than talk about fertilizer and football. By the way, I hear there’s some kind of game later today.
In rural North Dakota where I was raised, churches would often have an annual dinner for the whole community. Northwood, the town where I went to school, only had two churches: Lutheran and Lutheran. One served an annual ham dinner. The other, Swedish meatballs (although that’s kind of odd since they were all Norwegians). People drove from miles around for those meatballs, along with boiled potatoes and lefse. One year, one of the organizers had a hip replacement and couldn’t be there to guide the process. She worried they would use boxed potatoes to avoid the pain of peeling them all. The pastor went to visit Helen a few days before the event and assured her that there were people at the church that very morning peeling potatoes. He said, “You sure must love cooking.” She replied, “oh heavens no. I don’t love cooking at all, but I love Jesus, and this is what I can do for him.” Nice! I love Jesus. And this is what I can do.
In today’s text, Simon’s mother-in-law had such a high fever, she was confined to bed. It’s not like she could have just taken some Advil. Fevers were a serious and potentially fatal problem. It must have taken a lot out of her. Therefore, don’t you think the least Simon could have done is let her get some rest before jumping up to serve? Why didn’t he say, “Hey ma, take it easy. I’ll make the sandwiches this time.” But clearly, healing by Jesus provided full restoration. There was no time needed for recuperation. She jumped right up to offer hospitality to her guests. “To serve,” the text says.
With our modern ears and sensibilities, my first reaction is to say “there we go again. Reinforcing gender stereotypes.” But if we dig a little deeper, we’ll realize that she and Jesus were upending stereotypes.
Here’s a couple of reasons why: First of all, she got it. Throughout his gospel, Mark tells one story after another about how the men didn’t get it. For example, they argued with each other about who was the greatest. They pushed children away who wanted to approach Jesus. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
One time, Jesus actually told Simon, whom we later know as Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” Later, three times he denied even knowing Jesus. “I tell you, I don’t know him!” The third time, he heard a cock crow in the distance. On the other hand, his mother-in-law? She immediately got up and served Jesus.
However, the word “serve” here doesn’t mean she went into the kitchen to fix sandwiches. It’s a specific word Jesus used for himself. One day, James and John came to Jesus and said, “We want you to do whatever we ask of you.” Um, OK, what’s that? “We want to sit next to you in your glory, one at your right hand and one at your left.” Picture Anthony Fauci standing behind Trump. Palm to his face.
Jesus responded by telling the disciples about rulers and tyrants who try to lord over people. “But not among you; whoever wishes to be great must be your servant.” And added, “I came to serve, not to be served.” That’s not a generic word, but the same one specifically ascribed to Simon’s mother-in-law.
She is the living demonstration of faithfulness in the eyes of Jesus. She and many other women, who “followed him and provided for him (served) when he was in Galilee; and still other women who had come to Jerusalem with him.” While the men hid in fear, they all courageously stood by Jesus while he hung from the cross.
Simon’s mother-in-law got it. She understood and immediately began to serve. But there’s one more thing. Back in verse 31, it says the fever left her when “Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up.” But “lifted up” is not exactly right. Other versions more accurately translate, “raised her up.” A parallel with Jesus. This word is used only one other time in Mark. In the second to the very last verse in the Gospel of Mark, the women who came to prepare Jesus’ body for burial were told he was not there. Why? “He has been… raised up.”
Simon’s mother-in-law is definitely not a gender stereotype. She is a powerful demonstration, a model for the kind of liberation Jesus practiced, which is why it’s so upsetting to see this text misused to claim, “see, the Bible says a woman’s place is in the kitchen.” As Cynthia Briggs Kittredge said, this woman is “an icon of resurrection and a paradigm [for] Christian ministry.” Not simply a paradigm for women, but for anyone who loves and wishes to be Christ-like.
When news got out about the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, the “whole city” gathered around the door. Jesus cured many and cast out many demons. Terri talked about the meaning of demon casting last week.
Well, after an exhausting night like that, he got up early and went into the wilderness so he could be alone and pray. When Simon and his companions “hunted him down,” Jesus told them that it was time to leave Capernaum and go on to neighboring towns to “proclaim the message. Because that’s what I came out to do.”
“Proclaim the message.” I was curious. I didn’t want to assume I knew the answer, so I went back to the beginning of Mark. What’s “the message?” It says, “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” Which kind of just leads to another question: What is the good news of God?
So, I asked our group at Lunch and Lectionary on Thursday. Laura pointed to the Exodus story and said the good news of God is liberation. And the prophets who proclaim justice and mercy. Marlene said, the good news of God is that God is love. John said, and not only that, the good news of God is that “we’re loved and we don’t have to do anything to earn it.” Bob added, “no matter what we’ve done, no matter our past or history.” Sharyl agreed and added, furthermore, the good news of God is that “we’re God’s skin in the world to each other.” We’re called to pass that love on. Or, in other words, we’re called to “serve.” In whatever ways we can.
Some days we love Jesus by peeling potatoes. Other days it’s working to overturn the death penalty. Some days it’s buying socks to give to women and men living on the street. Other days it’s calling members of Congress to demand accountability for lies and incitement to violence. Repent! Every day we can love Jesus by denouncing white “christian” nationalists – who, if they picked up a Bible and read some stories of Jesus, might realize there is nothing “Christian” whatsoever about supremacy and privilege. Jesus warned against tyrants like that – those who argue about who is great and demand to sit in seats of power.
But, if you love me, serve. Raise one another up. Free the captive. Mourn with the grieving. Bless the meek. Save the earth.
What would you say is the good news of God? Yes, it’s that we are loved unconditionally. It’s also justice and mercy and liberation, which we see in real life through examples of courage like Colin Kaepernick. That’s the good news of God. And the perseverance of Bryan Stevenson, who said, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” The good news of God is expressions of faith like Stacy Abrams. And the brilliance of Amanda Gorman. And the promise that we can change.
From today’s text, ultimately, the good news of God is everything you do for a neighbor who can’t do anything back for you.
 Mark 9:34
 Mark 10:13
 Mark 8:33
 Mark 14:66
 Mark 10:37
 Mark 10: 41-47
 Mark 15:41
 Like the Common English Bible and many others
 Commentary on workingpreaching.com
 Mark 1:14
I love being the