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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

February 22, 2015

Gospel: Mark 1:9-15
1st Reading: Genesis 9:8-17
2nd Reading: 1 Peter 3:18-22

With all there is to do and remember in life, we all have different ways of reminding ourselves of our commitments and appointments. In the cartoons, folks tie a string to their finger. I've only seen this once or twice in real life. Other people write it on their hand. Many people have devices, electronics to keep lists and calendars to remind themselves. My favorite way to remember to bring something is to place it in the doorway, so I have to walk right over it. Sometimes I have three bags of things in front of my door. Probably not so smart for fire safety. I have only my self to blame the times I walk right over the thing I was intending to bring without ever seeing it!

Something makes me smile about God using a rainbow as a reminder never to flood the earth again. When I see a rainbow, it is always a reminder to slow down and appreciate the beauty all around me. All of a sudden it doesn't matter if I'm running late or I forgot something I was supposed to do. A rainbow is a good excuse for running late and a good reminder of the big picture what is most important in life.

Reminders are one way to try to be organized in a wild and disorganized world. Rainbows are a way of organizing and separating the light spectrum, but they seem such a wild expression. It is easy to see why a rainbow is such an important religious symbol. It's beauty is incredible. It doesn't last. It is mysterious. Wherever you stand, it appears differently and when you try to follow it, it seems to move. There is something very spiritual about a rainbow, in that it can't be touched or captured and that it has the potential to touch us so deeply and delight us at the same time.

There are a lot of wild things going on in the readings for today. Noah lives in a time of wild abandon, sin of every kind. It seems that God responds with a wild plan. Noah is to build an ark to house some of every kind of animal on the earth. He is to gather and organize and live among these wild animals on this ark for many months. In the film Noah that came out last year, they solved the question of how all these animals kept from eating each other by placing them under some kind of hibernating sleep. Wild flood waters come to the earth. What kind of seasickness would the inhabitants of the ark have experienced? What kinds of fears? What kinds of chaos in these waters?

Who knows what feelings would have come over Noah and his family as they stepped from the ark and saw the rainbow and began to understand the covenant that God was not only making with them but with all these wild animals they had saved? Were they relieved? Angry that their home had been destroyed with all its comforts, the land was a mess and all their friends had drowned? It sounds very lonely and sad to start over. Not something they would have chosen to do on their own. Maybe they were too exhausted to react at all. We know that God regretted this kind of destruction. Now this colorful bow that was like a bow and arrow, instead of being used as a weapon, would be placed as a symbol of peace in the sky to remind everyone that God wasn't about destruction, but new life.

We look at this story as part of the evolution of human thought about who God is. Earlier, more primitive cultures saw God as potentially destructive and punishing. As we started to develop a theology of a God of love, we spoke of God more as one who saves us and helps us. But rather than say that we were the ones who changed in our understanding, we say that God changed after regretting this act of destruction.

But this isn't the end of the Noah story. And it isn't the end when Noah dies or his sons have children. In 1 Peter we have a picture of our unconstrained, wild God coming to love and save even those who died in the flood, through Jesus' death and resurrection. Have you ever wondered what was Jesus doing after he died on Good Friday but before he rose on Easter Sunday? It says in our reading that he went to bring new life to those who had gone before and specifically mentions those who perished in the flood. 1 Peter says, “He went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey.” Those who perished are even saved through the power of Jesus' resurrection. They, too, can share in the new life he offers. God doesn't come to punish and destroy, but to reach out and heal and give new life.

Last week, Jesus was linked with Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop in the transfiguration. He gets their official endorsement. Today, he is linked with Noah. For Noah the rain fell for forty days and and forty nights. For Jesus, he was driven into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. Noah was surrounded by wild beasts in the ark. Jesus is with the wild beasts in the wilderness. Certainly both Noah and Jesus wrestled with their demons in that time. Noah being tested to even build the ark and then perhaps wondering if the waters would ever subside. Wondering if it was all a cruel joke, wondering about his own identity and what he was capable of, wondering who he would be when it was all over. And Jesus, tempted by Satan, having just been told that he is God's beloved Son, wondering what that means, being tempted to use that power for his own gain and coming through with a much clearer picture of who he would be and what he was capable of when God's favoritism wasn't so obvious. Both of them had to wrestle with their demons to move forward on the path of faithfulness. And when Noah stepped from the ark, human kind was starting fresh and new, a clean slate. And when Jesus comes out of the wilderness, he called for a clean slate, a time of repentance, a statement about the nearness of God, and of faith and belief. Something new is happening with the arrival of Jesus, on the same level of everything being made fresh and clean after the flood, except this time, no one will be left behind. In fact it is even a deeper cleansing, in that it involves all creation for all time and a new start of this relationship between us and God in which God makes love known to all of us through the Beloved son, Jesus.

It is a pretty wild concept to include everyone and everything, past present and future, human and animal, a covenant for all time, not because of something we did or some standard we could never meet, but all being fulfilled through God's saving action of love in Jesus Christ.

One of our favorite books is “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendack. Max who is maybe 7 years old puts on his wolf suit and goes wild. One of the parenting books I've read tells me to think of my child as a cave man, in an earlier stage of evolution, and speak to him as if I were an ambassador from this world trying to communicate and explain this foreign land to him and trying to appreciate and understand where he is coming from. Max is being wild in this book, but instead of trying to understand him, his mother sends him to his room. Mothers do lose their patience sometimes. So Max sails off to where the wild things are. He has a wild rumpus with the wild things, but eventually he decides to go back to where someone loves him best of all. And it is clear he is still loved, especially when he gets back to his room and finds some hot dinner waiting for him.

We have our wild moments and we sometimes cross a line. Sometimes we need to be wild for a while, because it brings us experiences we might never encounter. We often learn something from our wild days. And when we are ready to come home to the one who loves us best of all, we find a meal of love and warmth waiting for us when we do repent and return.

God appreciates a little wildness. Sometimes we picture God, sitting primly on a throne. That looks pretty boring to me. Other times we picture God, wildly creative, bringing the world into being, as the Holy Spirit soaring and helping us to soar, knowing no boundaries and everywhere at once, loving with a love so wild that none will escape it. So let us join the wild rumpus that God has begun, and let down our hair as we celebrate the wild love of God on our lenten journey.

Ash Wednesday 2015

Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
1st Reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Psalm 51:1-17
2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

There are three kinds of particles in soil that are categorized by size. They are sand, which is the largest, clay which is the smallest, and silt, which is in between. You can tell what kind of soil you have, if it isn't already obvious to you, with a simple test of taking a cup of soil from your garden and putting in a glass jar with a quart of water and shake it up. The sand settles quickly, within a minute or two. The silt settles within an hour, and clay can take a day or two to finally settle in the water. Then you can see the different kinds of soils by the layers in your jar.

I reflected on the size of the particles as I mixed the ash with oil today. Ashes for Ash Wednesday ought to be smearable onto someone's forehead, without too many large pieces falling into people's eyes. Ash is small particles. It makes for clay soil.

If you have a garden with clay soil, you may think it is the bane of your existence, because you want there to be spaces in your soil for roots to be able to permeate and because you need oxygen in there to make the chemical reactions happen in your soil that makes nutrients available for your plants. Clay is actually good to have in your soil, because water sticks to all the surfaces of a particle of clay. Clay holds a lot of water and your plants need that water.

Ash makes for really tiny particles in soil. Today we smear ourselves with ash and dust, consider where we come from and where we are going, and what really matters.

We smear ourselves with dust. This is a very ancient practice. I looked up the custom of using Ashes during mourning or repentance and this is what I found. The use of ashes to indicate mourning, deep repentance or humility goes back over three thousand years and involved many cultures. As early as 800 BC, Homer wrote about it in The Iliad, and records show that it was practiced by Greeks, by Hebrews and by many other cultures of the western Mediterranean. Ashes were regarded as a symbol of personal remorse and sadness.

There are many Old Testament references to the practice. Here are a few:

Job 42:6 "Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Job repented in sackcloth and ashes while prophesying the Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem.
Dan 9:3 (c. 550 B.C.) "And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes."
Jonah 3:5-6 In the fifth century B.C., after Jonah's preaching of conversion and repentance, the town of Nineveh proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, and the king covered himself with sackcloth and sat in the ashes.

Esther 4:1 "When Mordecai perceived all that was done [the decree of King Xerxes, 485-464 B.C., of Persia to kill all of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire], Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry."

Tertullian (c. 160-220 AD) wrote that the penitent must "live without joy in the roughness of sackcloth and the squalor of ashes."

Maybe, with the mark of the ashes, we can't pretend that everything is ok, when it clearly isn't. It is outward and visible and disturbing to have dirt on our faces. Other people see it. We are constantly reminded of it. But when we are in the process of repenting, that is what it is like on the inside. There is something that is smudged. It isn't a permanent character flaw or something that you can't forgive yourself for, but there is something to be working on that isn't right. It could be better and sometimes a whole lot better.

At Camp Odyssey, we often talk about cleaning our windshield. Driving through life we pick up dust and dirt and dead bugs, which is the racism and homophobia, and our prejudices we come into contact with in our lives. They obscure our view of the world and especially other people. Once in a while we need to stop and really see our windshield—how dirty it is. And then we need to clean our windshield. We need to decide that we aren't going to look at the world that way anymore and clean it off, see people for who they really are.

This is the way it is with all sin, not just the sin of prejudice. We are made good, but we get smudges and streaks as we go through life and we must stop at times to examine the dirt and ashes we have on us and organize a cleanup.

Dirt, dust, ash, it doesn't have a positive or negative value. Soil is necessary for life, to feed plants, for roots to grow in, to provide nutrients. It is just when it gets where it isn't supposed to that we think of it as bad. When it is on us, we want to wash ourselves. When it is in our house, we want to sweep it up, because we prefer order and predictability.

Dirt doesn't lend itself to predictability. There are so many amazing things in there. Not in this ash that I am giving you tonight. It has been burned. It has been purified by fire. This ash doesn't have all the properties that soil has, all the microbes and insects and so forth. But this ash will go back to the soil. Some will brush off of you and the carbon will join with other elements to make new compounds in the soil. Plants and insects and microbes will feed on it and turn it into other things. With soil, nothing stays the same for long. There are always new things going on in there and that is a good thing, because if that kind of thing every quit going on, life would cease to exist for us on earth.

The ashes and dust tonight are a reminder of where we come from, that God fashioned humankind from the clay, those little particles coming together to make us, acknowledging that we are made of the same stuff as this. And someday, sooner or later, our bodies will go back to dust and be transformed into other creatures and soils and new life of other sorts. We come from somewhere holy, from elements and life created by God. We are loved by God, with all the smudges, the mistakes, the imperfections. But since we have the grace and new life of God and make ourselves so miserable, wouldn't we want to thank God for loving us, and make our own lives and the lives around us a little better by making a change, by turning from our sin and embarking on the new life God is inviting us to right now? That is the journey of lent. Finally, we are going somewhere, our bodies and our failings are temporary, but our relationship with all other things in the universe goes on and is eternal. Sometimes we need to put a little smudge on our foreheads to remember what really lasts and matters, and live in a way that honors those connections.

From the broken pottery that we have become, God picks up our pieces and wets us in the waters of baptism, joining us together again, creating a beautiful mosaic, all people together, all living things united with God, giving and receiving life and giving thanks to the one who marks us with the cross at baptism and marks us again and again as members of one family united by love.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

February 15, 2015

Gospel: Mark 9:2-9    
1st Reading: 2 Kings 2:1-12     
Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

    I remember visiting my pastor in his office when I was about 18 years old.  I had been considering entering the ministry since I was 12 or 13.  But it seemed like the magic was gone.  I didn't feel as passionate about it as I had before.  How could I recapture the spark?  Did it mean that I should reconsider my path?  
My pastor told me that faith was like a marriage—not something I could particularly relate to.  He said when you first fall in love, you feel almost sick, can't quit thinking about the person, have all kinds of positive strong feelings about the person.  And the newness wears off.  But being head over heels in love wasn't better than the feelings that come with being someone long-term.  Those later feelings were deeper and more realistic. While it might not be so exciting and would be boring at times, that kind of relationship could sustain a couple through many trying times.  
My pastor was telling me that faith can be similar to a marriage.  There are some moments of intense feelings and experience, and a lot of times of the day to day long-haul types of experience that can end up deepening our relationship with God and sustaining us in all kinds of trouble.
In life we have brief moments of glory and passion, but like Peter's experience on the mountain top, the cloud quickly overshadows us.  Maybe, like Peter, we want to make it last, to stay there and live in that moment of bliss forever, but that isn't what life is for.  I don't know if we see more clearly in those moments of bright clarity, or if it is such a bright flash, momentary and disorienting so that maybe it is the overshadowing cloud  that is more real, when we learn more, when we grow more, when we are more likely to hear the voice of God speaking to us, when we are more likely to listen to Jesus and less distracted by the glory that we hope to gain for ourselves.  
Listening is the key, whether we are talking about marriage or faith.  And I tell you, listening will take us out of that glory and into the cloud.  When we listen to Jesus, we listen to the poor and neglected.  We're going to hear things that challenge us.  This isn't someone telling us what we want to hear.  This is stuff that is hard to hear, things about ourselves, about the reality of the world around us, and about our neighbor's experience, which is never quite going to match ours.
That doesn't mean the moments of glory are worthless.  They can be very life-giving.  They can energize us.  They can give us a vision of what could be.  For the Disciples on the mountain top, they were seeing Jesus as he truly is, full of light and warmth, glowing with love, glorious and beautiful.  Yet the world was not ready for that.  Powerful men didn't want to be outshone by some poor, homeless carpenter.  They were tired of Jesus putting them in their place.  They wanted to do whatever it took to put him in his place.  The cloud was looming for the diciples.  If they really listen to him, they will know that he will suffer and die.  He's been trying to tell them.  But this vision of his glory may sustain them for the journey.  They see on the mountaintop, the end of the story.  Knowing that, it may help them endure the coming trials they will face.
On Interfaith Advocacy Day, several of us went to Salem to talk with our legislators.  Before we ever did that, we had a whole morning of education on the issues.  I went to the forum on economic issues and there I got a picture of how things could be if we made our society more fair.  As it stands now, it is standard practice for the lowest wage workers to experience wage theft—their tips being stolen, being expected to come in a half hour early without pay, being considered a contract employee when that clearly isn't the case.  Some “Independent contrators” who were cleaning office buildings were making less than $3 an hour.  This is already against the law, but there is very little enforcement.  In the sessions, we got a glimpse of our state without wage theft—a more fair and glorious place to live, and one that we can all feel better about.  Getting there is not going to be quick or easy, but now that we see clearly what has been going on and what needs to change, even though we enter the cloud of challenge and difficulty, we have this vision of how things ought to be that will sustain us.
In my Master Gardener Class, I am starting to get a vision of what could be if I can use scientifically proven information to make my garden better.  We looked at a slide the other day at seeds that were started in regular potting mix next to those started in seedling mix.  The difference was amazing.  I got a picture of what could be if I changed even one thing about how I garden.  That momentary glimpse at glory will sustain me as I either cough up the extra money for seedling mix or put in the manual labor to make it myself.  I got that momentary flash of light, but I will soon be entering the cloud of listening, and hard work, and the challenge that lies before me.  Having a picture in my mind of what could be will sustain me in the coming months and longer.
But I also think that maybe those moments of glory might not be that infrequent.  Maybe Jesus was always like that, glowing and glorious, but it was only in that moment that the Disciples were able to see it.  Maybe we can train our eye to look for those flashes of glory in every day life.  There are people I know who have trained their eye to see those moments and appreciate them.  One was Judith.  Another is Betsy Belles.  It might have been something in their upbringing, someone they met who taught them, but most people I know like this, have a discipline, they practice this way of looking at the world.  They show us how to see the world in the same way.  We are actually born to see the world in awe and wonder.  But somewhere along the line some of us lose that ability—maybe it is like marriage.  It isn't new or fun anymore or exciting in the same way, and we start worrying about what other people think.  We can't go around everywhere “oooooohing and ahhhing” about every little rock or squirrel or fan or whatever it happens to be or people look at us funny.  But isn't it great to have these little people around us, so that we can see through their eyes the wonders of this world and share in more of those moments of profound glory in a slug, in the grain of wood, in a flavor or color, or in a person we never would have noticed except these little people notice and remind us of the glory all around us that we take for granted.
If you have recently seen the glory of the Lord, if you have a vision of what can be and indeed what will be, let that vision sustain you, and take the time to listen.  Listen to the pain of people and this land and let God transfigure this world through you to be the kind of world we want to live in and want for our children.
If you are in the cloud of confusion and doubt and boredom, know that God is still with you.  And even though you may not be able to see them, many of your friends and neighbors are walking this path with you, trudging along from day to day, trying to hear God's voice and direction, trying to see through the fog, trying to make their way.  This is a fine place to hone your listening skills, to learn to deal with disappointment, to find humility, and to build up your strength.
     The really exciting thing here is, that even though Jesus tells the Disciples not to tell anyone, we know from this story that Jesus will be seen as he is.  He will show up even after we put him to death, deny him, hurt him.  He will show up in the poor and challenging people in our lives.  He will show up teaching us how to serve.  He will show up when we are confused or arrogant.  Jesus is present and glorious and is our brother in glory.  Although we will also go through many times of fear and pain, we also shine with the love of God and are part of his family.  Now we get to go look for that glow in others, that glory, that beauty, that challenge, that hope.  And we get to train our eye to see that glory—to hear it in a song, to taste it in communion, to know it in a handshake or a moment of eye contact, and to let ourselves hope for the future that Jesus had in mind when we would all know our connections with every other living thing, past, present, and future, and rather than struggle to hang on to one particular experience, that we would simply notice and give thanks, and listen for the next encounter with the holy in this moment and this moment and this moment.

Monday, February 9, 2015

February 8, 2015

Gospel: Mark 1:29-39
1st Reading: Isaiah 40:21-31
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

“Those who wait for the LORD” consider a time in your life when you waited. What were you waiting for? What was it like to wait? How long did you have to wait? Was it worth the wait? Did you learn anything about waiting in the process? What are you waiting for now? How is God involved in your waiting?

“Those who wait for the LORD...(wait for it) shall renew their strength.” Consider a time you felt small and insignificant. What was it like? Consider a time you felt strong. What was the source of that strength? What did you do with the strength you found?

“Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles.” Feel the initial pull as you mount up with wings of eagles, feel your feet leaving the floor. Feel yourself climbing into the sky. Feel yourself in flight, the weightlessness of your body, the movement through the air. Look at the world around you, the world below. What do you see? What do you experience? Where will you go with this new freedom? Where might it take you?

“Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary.” You find yourself running now. Feel your heart beating as you move swiftly. Feel all your cells fully alive. Where will your feet take you? Normally that would be limited by your energy, but your energy is coming from the source of all life and energy—from God. You are realizing there is no limit, no weariness coming. Instead you find you have the means to get from where you are now to your goal without becoming tired.

“Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” And so you slow to a walk. Before, you were moving too fast to take in the world around you. But now you slow down and you see the beautiful world around you. You smell the rain, the cut grass, the leaves decomposing, a whiff of smoke from someone's chimney. You hear the sounds of children on a playground, some music coming from a car nearby, a dog barking. You see other people on their journey. Some are weary and tired. Some need your help. Others are discovering a boundless energy like you, and picturing where they'd like their walk to take them. Since you find you can walk endlessly you have the freedom to choose anywhere you'd like to walk and the meaning of each step, the gift that each step can be to you or to another person. Each step is an awakening, an opening to the freedom that God offers. Each step an increase in awareness of God's healing power for you, for this earth, and for the people around you. Where will your next step take you? And the one after that? And the one after that?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

February 1, 2015

Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
1st Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

I know you've all been waiting for word from the pulpit about whether it is okay to eat food offered to idols, so I'm prepared to hand down my final word on the subject. All jokes aside, this reading is really about what it means to be in community, and that is that we are going to have disagreements about how to live our faith. On most things, especially regarding food and other matters of taste and opinion, it doesn't really matter to God. What matters is that we show love to our neighbor the best we can. For the Corinthians, that meant not eating food offered to idols, not because God cares, but because our neighbor might misunderstand and be led to worship other gods because of our eating habits and preferences.

I don't know what our modern day equivalent would be, but we do have a lot of strong feelings and associations around food. Take coffee hour—oh here we go! Want to get a lot of feathers ruffled, bring up coffee hour. It's just food people! Or is it?

There are some who have provided us with beautiful, luscious coffee hour refreshments. This is a ministry they provide. They reason, this keeps people visiting longer at social time—as long as there is food to eat, folks stay and visit and support one another. From this point of view, the measure of a good coffee hour is that you can't get people to leave and there is food left over—a sign that there was more than enough. A biblical example of this would be the story of Jesus feeding the 5000.
There are some who are more of the mind that coffee hour should be spare. It shouldn't be elaborate, because there are people here who might feel too intimidated to sign up to bring treats for coffee hour. They might feel they have to match the amount and quality and variety that some others provide. Furthermore, some believe that with a hungry world out there, it is a problem for us to dine so heartily on so many treats. A biblical example of this kind of coffee hour would be the story of Jesus tempted in the Wilderness, fasting for 40 days.

Some want to just bring cookies, like the good old days. But there are diabetics and children whose parents don't just want their kids eating sweets, so we bring in the cheese and crackers and pretty soon the fruit, and the veggies who are more health-conscious, etc. Are those who do a more elaborate coffee hour wrong? No! How about those who do a more simplified version? There is nothing wrong with that approach either.

So if we can have all this controversy and drama around coffee hour (I can attest that I have literally heard hours and hours of opinions on this), think what kinds of feelings and beliefs come up around Holy Communion—who is welcome to receive, how many Sundays a month it should be offered, what kind of bread, what kind of beverage, what kind of cups, who can serve it, should we stand or kneel, should we sing or not during distribution, and so forth.

The good news is, it doesn't matter to God. What matters is that we get together as a community and figure out how to talk about what works best for us and, more importantly, what works best for our neighbor, who may not be used to the way we do things. It is good that we are in community with a wide variety of styles and preferences at coffee hour. That way everyone knows it is safe to be yourself and have your own style in this and any other area of your life. No matter what, you are welcome here and may participate in whatever activities you want to on whatever level suits you.

The bad news is, we waste a lot of time and energy talking about this stuff that doesn't matter to God, when we could be using that energy to help somebody. Furthermore, outsiders see us arguing about stuff that doesn't matters, whether it be coffee hour, human sexuality, organ versus piano, what color to paint the church, and they don't want to be part of that. They also correctly perceive that these arguments are often hiding some other disconnect between us and possibly keeping us from sharing our deeper feelings and values with each other.

I rarely take arguments about food or traditions at face value. Often they are about trust, insecurity, power and so forth. For instance, when my husband I have debates about how to load the dishwasher, I figure there is something else going on, because really the dishwasher doesn't matter. I was listening to a story on NPR this week by an author studying couples and singles and this story reassured me that couples are doomed to a lifetime of arguing about household chores, but in the end, if you could stand it and you didn't kill each other, it was worth it to have someone to take you to the doctor and provide some companionship in life. I have to ask myself, if Nick brings up that I snuck the knives into the dishwasher instead of handwashing them, is there some other part of his life that he isn't feeling in control that he feels he needs to control this? Has he had a bad day? If I bring it up, it is because I'm not feeling valued and supported with the household chores? There is something going on behind most petty arguments, and maybe even all of them.

So here comes Jesus in the Gospel this morning—the real authority on every matter. Of course I always figure Jesus is on my side. I like to be right more than just about anything else. Jesus, please tell us, what kind of coffee hour is the right kind, paper or cloth napkins, wine or grape juice for the Lord's Supper, forks up or down in the dishwasher? He sees right through our petty disagreements and he isn't giving them the time of day. He doesn't get dragged into the discussion. I find that ignoring is becoming a valuable tool in my toolkit, especially as the mother of a toddler who is trying to get my attention with temper tantrums. Jesus ignores those in power and starts teaching right over them. And Jesus also looks around. He sees there someone who is hurting and he goes to him and frees him.

We are not Jesus, but we can learn from Jesus and follow him. I know I have a lot of learning to do. We all do. I hope that some time soon, when we find ourselves ranting about something so insignificant, we notice it and stop. We might, then, take a look inside ourselves and just be curious about why we're so angry or put out, what is really going on inside us that this is where we put our focus. I don't know what we'll find. I might even be a little afraid to find out. But it will be good for us to see ourselves clearly and then be able to express what need really is there that we haven't addressed—what grief, what fear, what shame. And secondly, I hope we would do as Jesus did and look around at those around us and see who might be on the fringes, who might be feeling left out, who looks a little lost and approach them.

It is Jesus noticing this tormented man and approaching him that changes everything. This changes the focus of the room from the teaching of the scribes that wasn't authoritative. It changes the center of the room as Jesus approaches the outer edge. Jesus doesn't walk in and say, “Look at me, everyone!” He focuses on someone who needs his healing presence and he invites us all to see those in our midst we never noticed before and to see their pain and suffering, acknowledge it and approach that person despite our fears and hesitation. It wasn't just Jesus blessing this man and freeing him. This man is the the only who recognized Jesus and named him and because of him, stories about Jesus start to spread. This man blesses Jesus. Blessing goes both ways. We have a sense of foreboding that eventually this will lead to Jesus' death, but we also know that there are three years of ministry ahead of him, that this fame will lead many to come to Jesus where they will find healing, where they will be freed, where petty disagreements about dietary preferences won't take center stage, but where topics like healing and disease and separation and fear will be addressed as well and where these suffering ones will be part of the conversation, contributing to the discussion instead of always just being talked about as if they aren't there.

These readings and our faith invite us to step out of the role of authority, to stop making ourselves the center of everything. Instead we place Jesus there and all the people he represented who never otherwise got noticed. Instead of putting our needs and preferences first, he invites us to think of others and the effects our choices and actions might make on them, to pay attention to them. Then our own petty arguments and differences will disappear and we can focus on the healing and life that matter to Jesus and ultimately matter to all of us.