Sunday, February 22, 2015

For the Love of Fish Fries and other Lenten Practices

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. 
12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 

When I was in middle school and high school, I played basketball. I wasn’t a very good player or even a dedicated player, but I was on the team and occasionally played with the starters. Unlike today's student athletes, I didn’t do anything much in the off seasons. Whenever the first few practices of the season rolled around, it was brutal. I can remember blisters the size of quarters on my feet, cramps in my side, burning in my chest and muscles that ached with each step.

I was reminded of those practices this week when my yoga instructor told us to stay in our warrior two position even if it hurt a little, even if we started to shake. In her soothing, otherworldly voice she reminded us that by practicing a little suffering we would get stronger. She's right, I thought, as my thighs started to burn. The muscles form because they tear during exercise and then the body rebuilds them even stronger. 

And really, that’s what sports practices are—a time to get stronger, practice skills and come together as a team.  And there’s no hiding the fact that you were lazy in the off-season. When you're terribly out of shape the coaches know it, your teammates know and you certainly know it.

As I flowed through my yoga poses that day, I was thinking that Lent is also a time of practice and even teamwork. In Lent, we practice our spiritual disciplines and we gather in community. Like all practices, we are preparing for something. In Lent, we are intentionally taking time to prepare for a season that hasn’t come to us yet.

Lent as Practice

Lent gives us an opportunity to try new ways of getting closer to God. We can push ourselves a bit and do things that don't come naturally.

Give something up. Most of us are familiar with the practice of giving something up for Lent. Some people give up chocolate, others sugar or alcohol or coffee. In a sign of the times, some of my friends are giving up Facebook or other social media. We give something up in order to understand something about Christ’s suffering. Lent is the season in which we recognize that our salvation came at a cost. The purpose of giving something up is to  experience and understand suffering on a small scale knowing all the while that Jesus did this on a big scale.The writer of 1 Peter reminds us that:

Christ suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, 
in order to bring us to God. 

Add something on. Some of us practice Lent by adding on a spiritual discipline. Maybe it’s adding a morning prayer or trying to memorize some scripture. We can practice keeping a journal or try writing a prayer every day. Another practice might be to look at every person you meet and think about how they are made in God’s image. We take on a practice or two that changes how we see the world. The purpose of these practices of giving up or adding on is to draw closer to God.

Check out these ideas for things to try for Lent.

Community Building
See the interactive map here
In addition to being a time of practice, Lent is also a time of teamwork or community building. Here in Western PA we have fish fries and community lunch services during Lent.  Wondering how popular the the fish fries are? Google has a map of the fish fries in the area. 

Now if you are questioning why a fish fry or lunch gathering is Lenten practice, you are not alone. At first glance they seem pretty superficial. What is holy or righteous about a fish fry during a time of fasting? There hasn’t been much scholarly exploration of this over the centuries, so bear with me in my explanation.

First, let's put in in the context of the prophet Isaiah who tells us that we don’t have to be miserable and somber during a time of fasting. His message is that repentance is a much about what we do as what we feel or how we look. Isaiah calls us to be a team, to work together for God’s justice. He writes:

Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
    and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
    a fast day that I, God, would like?
“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and your lives will turn around at once.
--The Message 

When we gather at a fish fry or community luncheon, we see neighbors and friends who may have been hibernating during a long winter.  There is the buzz of a community coming together. We inquire about families and friends, we show that we care. This is one way we begin to show our love to our neighbors. 

We also meet new people since a fish fry attracts people from many different demographic groups, but we are all there out of some kind of hunger, whether it's literal, spiritual or emotional. We usually gather at a long covered table and make conversation with whomever is sitting next to us. Eating together creates a common bond and knits us together as a community despite our differences. 

These people, this community, can sustain us when we encounter difficult times in our lives. These are the very people that Isaiah tells us to care for in their times of hardship and they are the people who may care for us in our seasons of temptation and isolation. We are to work together.

Finally, I think we can argue that Jesus likes a fish dinner. He surrounded himself with fisherman. If you remember Jesus’ call to the disciples you may recall that he said, follow me I will make you fishers of men (or people for those of us with two x chromosomes).  The fishing was always good when Jesus around. He also shared a fish dinner with the disciples after the resurrection. 

A fish fry also attracts huge crowds, something Jesus was known for. When Jesus feeds the 5000 hungry people on the hillside, what does he give them? Fish and bread. What do you get at a fish fry? Fish on bread--and a choice of two sides with a home baked dessert.

Gathering people, loving people, feeding people. Sounds pretty Jesus-y to me.

Getting ready for the season
Lent helps us to understand the seasons of life.  So often in our faith walk we think of the power of Christ. We trade the upbeat snippets of scripture that tell that we can do all things in Christ or the God has plans to prosper us.  We think we should feel peace during Advent, joy over Christmas, and excitement at Epiphany. But the reality is nobody lives a life that is all peace, joy and excitement.

Lent shows us that life sometimes doesn’t meet our expectations--even for the best of us. Lent gives us permission to let our gray mood match our gray sky  Lent tells us that it’s OK to suffer. We don't always have to put on a sunny smile as we face the dark and the cold seasons.

In Lent, we are reminded that there are seasons in the church year and there are seasons in our lives. Some of those seasons are joyous and exciting—we get married, we have children or grandchildren, we retire or we move someplace warm. Jesus had those good seasons early in his ministry. He was successful and was making a difference in the world.

But even Jesus had "off" seasons. Even Jesus, the perfect son of God underwent suffering. Jesus felt the pain of having people turn on him. Jesus knew what it was like to have friends betray him. Jesus knew what it was like to look like a failure. Jesus understands your life.

Jesus’ life and our lives go up and down like a roller coaster. Today’s reading from Mark shows us that. Jesus is baptized and the Holy Spirit tells him he is God beloved. You, too, are God's beloved. That’s a top moment.

But, things plunge to the bottom as the Holy Spirit drives him into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted. You, too, will face temptation. You, too, will be in the wilderness.

It’s important to notice something about the descent though. When Jesus goes to the wilderness, when Jesus faces temptation, the Gospel writer Mark emphasizes that Jesus is not alone. The angels are there with him. When you walk through your dark valleys, you will not be alone. 

And this is the good news for us in the ups and downs of our lives. As we descend into darkness we can still find God. Even when we walk through the valley of the shadows God is there.

But sometimes in wilderness, we have to take God’s presence on faith. In the light of joy, in the excitement of new things, in the peace of prosperity, we can see God clearly. But in the dark, it’s different.

In the dark, we can’t see the hand in front of our face. We don't know where we are going. In the dark, we don’t know what is beside us or behind us of us. In the dark, we may not be able to see or feel God with us. In the dark, we cry out why have you forsaken me? In the dark, we need faith, because there is no proof in sight. We need to learn to trust that what we cannot see is still there. 

And this is why we practice. This is why we need Lent. We need the Lenten practices so that when our season comes, we are prepared. Well, as prepared as we can be.

We need to practice seeing God at work in the dark and in the suffering because it doesn’t come naturally. We need to practice so that when we have an off-season of job loss or divorce or illness or death, we can trust that God is there. We need to practice a little suffering or practice a little forced prayer so that we are as prepared as we can be when we end up in the dark or the wilderness. We need to practice finding God in the dark. 

We also need to forge community connections so that when we are in need, we have a team who can help us. We have to have trusting and loving relationships with people who will be our ministering angels and walk with us through the dark wilderness. Sometimes, if things get really bad, we need to rely on the faith of others to carry us when our own faith is stretched thin and the darkness threatens to overtake us.

We practice going through Lent, knowing the resurrection is at the end of it. We practice walking toward that hope year after year during Lent. We do this so that we remember that God is with is in the valley. We do this so that the seasons of dark and light become ingrained within us. We do this so that when all seems hopeless we can take it on faith that there is a way out of the valley. 

In our gospel today, we see that at one moment Jesus is basking in the waters of baptism as God’s beloved. In the next moment he’s forced into the desert to face temptation. He is God’s beloved AND he suffers. Just like you and just like me.  I pray that this Lent is a time of practice and teamwork so that we can learn how to minister to each other in the wilderness. I pray that each of us learns walk though our dark valleys rather than be swallowed up by them. I pray that our Lenten practices can allow us all to feel closer to Christ--in the light and in the darkness that are the seasons of our lives.  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

At the Top

MARK 9:2-9
2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.


Ten years ago I took a trip to Costa Rica. Costa Rica is in South America, and it's similar to the Untied States in that there are coasts on both side of the country and a ridge of mountains down the middle. But, unlike Pennsylvania, Costa Rica is warm. Tropical warm. Shirts and short sleeves warm.

The mountains are gorgeous. There are trees dripping with moss. More than 500 orchids grow in the mountainous rain forest. A mist seemed to hang over everything. It was like walking into a fairy tale setting.

On the trip, we had an all-day hike in the mountains. It would be awesome because someone was driving us up the mountain. All we had to do was walk down it. No problem, I thought. A day of walking downhill in a fairy-tale forest. But, it was nothing like I expected.

In this story, Jesus takes Peter, James and John to the top of a mountain where they see the glory and power of God shining through Christ at the Transfiguration. But it turns out that being a disciple of Christ was nothing like they expected. All the power and the glory they were experiencing was coming to an end.

This mountaintop experience with Jesus is in the middle of the book of Mark. It is between two very important events—Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion.  Jesus moves up the mountain in ministry, preaching and healing and gathering crowds. But, Jesus’ ministry will look very different as he and the disciples head down the mountain toward Jerusalem.

Their trip up probably seems easy. Jesus is in the drivers seat and his ministry is taking off like wildfire. The crowds keep growing and growing.  Thousands gather to hear him preach. Wherever Jesus goes, it seems that there is a crowd waiting for him, a crowd calling for him, a crowd longing to experience him in person. Jesus’ ministry is a huge success. It’s all very exciting.

But then Jesus’ message changes. He tells the disciples and the crowd that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”

Jesus tells the disciples that the journey they are on together isn’t about fame and power, it’s about suffering. Jesus says whoever wants to be his disciples must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. Suddenly, other powers are determine the agenda--elders, teachers and priests control what happens in Jesus' ministry.

When Peter hears this teaching he is incredulous. He thought Jesus the Messiah had come to restore Israel to power. The suffering was supposed to end with Jesus, not continue.

Peter takes Jesus aside to rebuke him for that teaching. Maybe Peter had some advice about being more upbeat. After all, suffering, killing and death are real downers. People come to hear Jesus preach good news. They come to be inspired, not depressed. But Jesus pulls no punches with his response.

He tells Peter, “Get behind me Satan!”  In other words, you’re wrong. Jesus tells Peter he’s focusing on human concerns. But Peter doesn’t get it.

This is where our story starts today--after Jesus introduces the idea of his suffering and death. Six days after Jesus starts preaching about suffering he takes Peter, James and John up the mountain.

They’ve reached the top literally and figuratively.  They are high up, close to God and doing well with ministry. Peter and the disciples see Moses and Elijah are there, even though they’ve been dead for many years. It’s like a religious trifecta—Moses who gave humanity God’s laws, Elijah the prophet who heard God in a still, small voice and Jesus the Son of God.

Transfiguration by Lodovico Carracci
And Jesus is different. He is transfigured before their eyes. The very holiness of God shines through Jesus as his clothes become dazzling white. Peter, James and John experience the overwhelming glory of God in Christ. They see Jesus full of power and radiant with promise. They have a heart-stopping encounter with the divine that leaves them terrified, confused and unsure of themselves.  It was an awesome and awe-full experience.

Peter starts babbling in his confusion and fear. Fear and insecurity can do this to us. You go to a job interview or are meeting with a doctor or a person you respect immensely and suddenly you say something that makes no sense because you are nervous.  Then you spend hours wondering how you could say something so odd.

Has this ever happened to you? I thought so.

It seemed to be happening to Peter, too. The Bible says, Peter “did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” Feeling like he should say something, Peter blurts out:

"Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 

Peter witnesses the glory of God in Christ and says, Let's build some tents. Hmmm...

This statement has puzzled scholars. What does Peter mean?      
  • It could be a way of showing honor to Moses, Elijah and Jesus.
  • The gospel writer Mark could be showing us that Jesus is as important as the law and the prophets.
  • It could also mean that Peter wants to prolong the experience. Maybe he wants to stay on that glorious mountain forever—a camping holiday that never ends.
  • Making three dwellings could also be a reference to the Jewish celebration of Sukkot—the Festival of Booths.
  • Sukkot is a fall festival with both agricultural and historical significance. It’s occurs in the fall as a harvest festival and it also commemorates the wandering in the desert.

If you’ve ever driven through Squirrel Hill during the Festival of Booths, you see small, tent-like dwellings in the backyards of  some of the houses. Part of the celebration of Sukkot involves the building of a shelter in which to eat, pray and even sleep. It is a reminder of the time the Israelites wandered the desert.

Sukkot, is also known as a season of rejoicing. [i] In the Jewish tradition, Sukkot is only festival associated with an explicit commandment to rejoice.[ii]

Peter and the other disciples are overwhelmed by the transfiguration. But in his terror, I think he speaks the truth of his heart and it reflects almost all of those scholarly insights. Peter knows in his heart that Jesus is a man of God. Peter has heard him teach of the law and quote the prophets.

Peter has also heard the change in Jesus teachings. Peter now knows that Jesus will suffer, be killed and raised from the dead. He has heard Jesus say that the people who follow him will have to take up their own cross. Peter now knows that he will have to deny himself and possibly lose his life.

Is it any wonder Peter wanted to stay on the mountaintop? Do you blame him for saying let’s build some tents and make this like Sukkot, a time of rejoicing in the presence of the Almighty? The power and the glory of God are there and present. While all that transfiguring may be frightening, it would still be tempting to stay there at the top where things are good and holy.

We, too, are in the same place in our church year. We’ve come through the joy of Christmas, the inspiration of Epiphany, we’ve heard about Jesus’ ministry. We are standing here at the top, basking in the glory of Jesus’ success. And then, come Ash Wednesday, our worship will take a different tone as we enter Lent.

The music will be moody and reflective. We’ll hear less about healing and more about suffering. We will head down the mountain with Jesus and the disciples.

As I headed down the mountain on my Costa Rica trip, I was able to enjoy the beauty of the forest—for the first hour or so. But then, the blisters started forming on my feet and my toes started smashing against the front of my boots. A while later, I noticed that my steps were less sure. I couldn’t look around, I could only look at where I was placing my feet. My legs started shaking and I had to stop every few minutes and rest. Pretty soon it was all I could do not to cry in pain, anger and frustration. This was not what I expected or wanted. But what could I do? I had to walk down the mountain. In all honesty, I still resent that I couldn't appreciate or enjoy the hike down the mountain. But, I did it.

While the disciples faced a much more difficult journey, my experience walking down the mountain helps me to understand Peter a little bit. Peter says, Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Yes, indeed, it’s good to be on the mountaintop.

But, for Peter the mountaintop moment comes to an end. A thick cloud appears and God’s voice tells the disciples, This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him. When the cloud clears, Peter and James and John look around they see Jesus.

Only Jesus.

When they look they see the fulfillment of the law—in Jesus. When they look they see what the prophets had promised—in Jesus. When they look at their leader, they see more than an ordinary man. They see the Son of God, ready to lead them into a different kind of ministry. Authority has been give to Jesus and God says listen to him. Who can ignore the voice of God?

On the mountaintop, the disciples encounter the divine. And as mysteriously as it started, it ends. It’s time to go down the mountain and back into the world. It’s time to try and make sense of that experience. It’s time to start the journey toward Jerusalem, toward a new kind of ministry, toward a new kind of glory. 

Do you suppose the disciples look back up the mountain as they walk down? Did they look over their shoulders at what they were leaving behind? I’m guessing that they did. But they now know they have to listen and follow Jesus down the mountain.

They continue walking with Jesus, putting one foot in front of the other.  Maybe they are shaking. Maybe they are angry and frustrated that their ministry is taking a different turn. Maybe they did not want to hear anymore about the suffering.

But they did it. They went down the mountain with Jesus.

Peter and the disciples walk beside Jesus both on the way up the mountain and on the way down. Their trip alongside Jesus wasn’t perfect.  They made mistakes. They cut and run when things got really scary at the crucifixion. But, ultimately they did listen to Jesus and follow his path.

On that mountaintop, witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration, Peter and James and John were transformed as well.  God showed them something that was bigger than their fear and more powerful than suffering. God showed them Jesus in a new light--the light of eternity. That is a reason to rejoice.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Jesus Agenda

29As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And 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.
35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He 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.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Have you ever had one of those days where it seems like everyone needs you? The boss gives you a deadline. A kid gets sick or whiny or your adult child needs you to babysit a sick and whiny grandchild. The house is a mess. The car breaks down. The phone keeps ringing. The neighbors show up on your doorstep and you haven’t even brushed your teeth. When we have a day like this, it can be hard to remember what we wanted to accomplish.  Our agenda gets thrown out the window as we respond to the crises around us.

This is the kind of time Jesus was having. It was a stressful day for the Son of God. He’d worked a long day amazing the crowd with his teaching and wowing them with a healing in the synagogue.

The people left synagogue buzzing about this Jesus guy. Friends were telling friends that Jesus could preach with authority and heal. Jesus’ ministry went viral in the town of Galilee. By that night the whole town was outside the door waiting for Jesus to do his thing.

Christ Healing the Sick by Washington Allston, 1813.
They were probably jostling to get to the front line, bringing their sick and diseased relatives along, pushing them toward the front. Shouting for Jesus to help them.

Jesus, heal my daughter!
Jesus, restore my sight!
Jesus, cast the demon out of my father!
Jesus, help me to walk again.

And there was Jesus, healing person after person, but there were more, always more.  By the time he quit, the gospel writer Mark tells us he healed many of them, but interestingly he did not heal all of them. There were still people who wanted Jesus—who needed Jesus— to do more. 

After a late night of work, presumably, Jesus goes to sleep for a bit. Then, very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus gets up, leaves the house and goes to a solitary place where he prays.

But, the disciples find him and Peter comes up to him and says in an accusing voice, “Everyone is looking for you!” It seems there are still people clamoring for Jesus to do his thing. It’s like devoted fans who wait by the back stage door to catch a glimpse of a famous singer or actor. The crowd was waiting for Jesus. Longing for Jesus.

This story, like our own lives, if full of competing agendas—the crowd, the disciples and Jesus each have an agenda.

First, there is the crowd. There are people whose are there for healing. Their agenda is to encounter Jesus and obtain healing for themselves or a loved one. Other people may just be there to see the amazing healing. But healing and miracles were definitely on the top of the crowd’s agenda.

Second are the disciples. The disciples are interesting because they don’t seem to have an agenda of their own. Their agenda is being formed from the outside in.  They are the ones dealing with the crowd. They are the ones who hear the crowd call for Jesus’ help. The crowd is influencing what’s on the disciples’ minds.

They say it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease and that’s certainly the case in this story. The disciples feel the pressure of the crowd’s expectations and go looking for Jesus.

How often is your life like the disciples on that morning? Many of us spend so much time responding to other people’s needs that we lose track of our own agenda. We run from one thing to the next to the next without stopping to eat and barely remembering to breathe.  There’s just so much we have to do that we forget to check in with God. We move blindly forward letting things on the outside motivate and form us. We have no idea what God's agenda for us might be.

Finally, there is Jesus’ agenda. Jesus is beginning his ministry and his popularity is on the rise. He heals people from the town only to discover there are more and more of them.  Jesus gets up early, heads off alone to pray. The disciples interrupt and try to impose their agenda (or the crowd's agenda) on him. But Jesus says no.

“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.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

In this passage, Jesus connects to God in prayer before planning his day.

It’s possible Jesus prayed a prayer that many of us pray. Maybe Jesus was looking at all of the hurt, brokenness and illness and wondering how he could fix it.  How could he possibly heal the whole town? Should he heal the whole town?

Being overwhelmed in the face great need is normal. Talking to a dying person or someone who has been through a serious trauma leaves all of us feeling hopeless and helpless. We want to “fix” things, but we just can’t.

And that feels so wrong. What do you say to a man who has lost his beloved wife? How do help a person whose child has committed suicide? What can you do for a 10-year-old whose parents die in a car accident?

In the face of such a broken and hurting world what is our Christian calling? Jesus surely calls us to action, to do something. But there is just so much anger, war, abuse, hunger, sickness, poverty heartbreak…. The list is huge.  And there’s more, always more. 

As Christians we came face to face with this issues of brokenness and fragility all the time. We see the consequence of it in our lives. We also see the results of our collective brokenness and we want to do something about it. 

That’s why many of us are here. We long for healing. We want to change ourselves. We want to change the world.  We have heard the good news of Christ and we are trying to figure out how to apply it to our lives and how to live it in the world. 

We love Jesus and we believe that following the teachings of Jesus will make us better people and the world a better place. We believe that loving our neighbor, praying for our enemies, blessing the poor, healing the sick, strengthening the faint hearted and supporting the weak are what Jesus is calling us to do when he says Repent, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.

We have felt Jesus touch our lives and change us and we want that change for everyone. Jesus offers this salvation. Jesus is a powerful man who calls us to participate in God's redemption. 

And yet here is Jesus in our story. He's alone in a garden, while a crowd of broken and anxious people gather to see what he will do. He's off praying while a crowd of needy people hope to encounter his healing. The people in the crowd long for the elimination of suffering and the miracle of a happy ending in their lives. 

But then, Jesus leaves. He simply walks away from the crowd and moves on to the next town. This is disturbing. But there is an important lesson in it, and it’s this:

When we focus on the miracles of healing that Jesus performs, we can see Jesus’ power. We can revel in his divinity.

But, when we focus on the fact that he seemed to leave people behind, we can learn something about his faith. We can learn something about our own lives from his humanity.

In this story of Jesus’ early ministry, he learned that at some point he had to trust God to set the agenda. We see that despite his divine healing power, he wasn’t called to do it all at that time.  While he may have wanted to be the one to heal every single person in that town right then and there, God gave him a different agenda. Jesus had to trust that God loved those hurting people and would continue to work for their healing. 

Letting God set the agenda is a great act of faith. If we control events from start to finish who is really in charge? If we plan everything out and know exactly who should do what, then where does God fit in?

Today, we will meet as a congregation to review our past year and try to discern how we are being called to participate in God’s mission. We aren't called to set our own agenda. We are called to participate in God's agenda. 

As the body of Christ, we face a world full of hurting people. God is unquestionably calling us to heal some of them. God has even equipped us to heal some of them.  But, we will never heal all of them. That’s God’s job. Our call is to be in prayer and follow the agenda that God places before us. Our call is to hold on to the hope of healing and wholeness in the face hurt and brokenness. 

Let's fast forward Jesus’ story to the end.  As his death draws close, we see him praying alone yet again, pouring out his heart to God in Gethsemane. Let this cup pass from me, he prays with tears and hurt and heartache. He's asking God to change the agenda. And when that doesn’t happen, Jesus does not fight the circumstances that lead to the cross.

On the cross, it seems hopeless. It looks to everyone like Jesus is leaving behind the hurting and broken world. It appears that Jesus the Messiah is abandoning his work, his friends and the people who were counting on him.  

But really he was trusting God’s agenda to reconcile and redeem all things. Jesus went to the cross in faith, believing that God was at work in the most unlikely of circumstances. Jesus was fulfilling his call and trusting God would do the rest no matter how unlikely the circumstances seemed.

And that is our call as well. As a church we are to pray and discern where God is calling us act and how God is calling us to heal. We are to pour ourselves out for that calling, recognizing that there will always competing agendas and too much for us to accomplish on our own. We are to trust that God is working through us and through Christ's death and resurrection to heal the world and reconcile heaven and earth.