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Reconciliation through God

When they had come into a house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about during the journey?” 34 They didn’t respond, since on the way they had been debating with each other about who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,“Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all.” 36 Jesus reached for a little child, placed him among the Twelve, and embraced him. Then he said, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me.”

Read this week’s full text, Mark 9:30-37

This weekend I was able to hear Dr. John Perkins speak on reconciliation. With the wisdom of his 85 years but the energy and spirit of a much younger man, Dr. Perkins shared powerful reflections on what he believes reconciliation really is. He says most churches go about reconciliation without questioning false idea that there are two races that must be reconciled, which merely reinforces our old notions of hierarchy and separation. In reality, Dr. Perkins reminded us that race was created by humans, not God, and that we are all part of one diverse race, all reflecting the image of God. “Reconciliation is the gospel,” he shouted; it is about reconciling to each other and to God, who as Paul says “…through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation”

Dr. Perkins’ words came to mind when I read this week’s somewhat amusing scripture, where Jesus’s friends sound much more like my brother and me bickering as children than disciples who are called to usher in the Kingdom of God.

But jokes are usually funny because they are true, and we should know by now that the disciples are people just like us, prone to bickering and insecurities. The age-old question of “who is the greatest?” has plagued me long since I stopped fighting with my brother, still popping up in yoga class, at grocery stores, and when I walk into church on Sunday mornings. Like the disciples, it comes up for me even in spaces that should be sacred; I heard it this weekend, when I sat in another “intentionally diverse” church in Durham, and found myself thinking about whether my church is greater at reconciliation, greater at interpreting Jesus, or greater at being a community.

The disciples’ arguments created distance in their community, separating them from each other and from Jesus and perhaps foreshadowing their upcoming betrayals. In the same way, today after centuries of asking “who is the greatest,” we are still haunted by the lies, power, and competition that have left us divided from God and from each other.

This model makes no sense to Jesus, and he tells the disciples their game will only backfire: “Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all.” He goes on to explain that if they really want to be close to him, they must do it not by distancing but through community: “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me.”

This is the reconciliation of which Dr. Perkins spoke. Literally a re-“coming together;” coming together again. Not striving to forge something new that might seem impossible, but returning to our created state, our true selves that exist in and with God and each other, that were connected once and will be again. Dr. Perkins says that reconciliation is first and foremost a reconciliation to God. Black and white folks can drink coffee together, we can even wash each other’s feet, but that is not reconciliation, he insisted. Reconciliation is repentance, forgiveness, a union and closeness that comes only through our creator. It’s not a two-pointed line between black and white but a multi-dimensional relationship with each of us connecting to God through each other and to each other through God.

Asking questions like “who is the greatest” sever these relational lines, dividing us not only from each other but from God. Like the disciples, Jesus tells us that to reach true reconciliation we must seek not greatness but humility, justice, and community.

Reflection written by Carynne McIver. If you are interested in writing a weekly reflection for Durham Church, contact Carynne.

Like Trees Walking

29 He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” 30 Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Read this week’s full text, Mark 8:27-38

This moment when Peter names Jesus as messiah is the literal and spiritual center of the book of Mark. Mark centers his story of Jesus with this moment as the disciples are confronted with key questions about the man they are following — who is he? what do people say about him? what do they say about Jesus? and what do they DO if they have some inkling of just who he is? It is tempting to focus on the big moment of getting it right. But there are some helpful hints in the story that this one big moment of getting it right is surrounded by a whole bunch of getting it wrong.

As usual, context helps. The story that comes right before is a bizarre half-healing by Jesus. A blind man comes to Jesus for sight. Jesus spits in the dirt and smears it on the man’s eyes. After the first application of spit-dirt, the blind man says he can see a little bit (amazing!), but with his half-sight, the people around him look “like trees walking.”

He can see, and he can’t see. It’s both at once.

The crowds that follow Jesus wander in this sort of half-sight. They see him and they don’t see him. They see that he’s a prophetic teacher. But they don’t see his full identity as the promised messiah of Israel. They hear him making politically dangerous claims as the true King of Israel, but they will fall away in droves when he actually confronts the politically powerful. They hear him making theologically dangerous claims to forgive sins and to embody God on earth, but they will be shocked when he declares that he is God’s messiah.

I can relate to the man as he wanders around with his half-sight. He knows that Jesus has changed his story forever. He went from blind to able to see! He can see movement, he can see other people. He clearly rejoices in his half-sight even as he longs to see more and more clearly. He has tasted something beautiful and wants it in its fullness.

Most of the time I wander in half-sight. Do you?

I see, heal my blindness. I believe, help my unbelief. We see but in a mirror dimly. I want to see face-to-face.

The trouble is when we forget that we often stumble around half-blind, half healed. We see people walking around but they look like trees walking…and we forget that people are so much more than they appear. We see the veneer that someone projects and forget that everyone is walking around with heaps of hurt and beauty within.

We mistake our partial blindness for full sight. We are in the middle but we think we’ve arrived.

But what else can we do? What is the alternative? We can rejoice in the sight we’ve been given and let it feed our longing for greater healing.

Reflection written by Amanda Diekman. If you are interested in writing a weekly reflection for Durham Church, contact Carynne.

Rules Created by Humans

He replied, “Isaiah really knew what he was talking about when he prophesied about you hypocrites. He wrote,

This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far away from me.
Their worship of me is empty
since they teach instructions that are human words.[a]

 You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you.” Jesus continued, “Clearly, you are experts at rejecting God’s commandment in order to establish these rules.

Read this week’s full text, Mark 7:1-23

I never liked meat. As a child, I only ate it when smothered in sauce or buried in a casserole. But eat it I did, since I am a rule-follower by nature and one of my mother’s rules was “you need meat.” Which was her mother’s rule, and her grandmother’s habit, and her great-grandmother’s necessity. It was a tradition I obeyed, however reluctantly, until one day after forcing down yet another dry turkey sandwich in college it suddenly hit me: some people don’t eat meat. And they seem ok.

I had realized the tradition of eating what my parents served was just that–tradition. Not a commandment, not a requirement, but just something that we had always done in a certain way. And the more I thought about it, the less I could justify it. So I stopped following that tradition.

I don’t say all of this to tell you to become vegan, but to share the story from my own life that came to mind when I read Mark 7 today: You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you.

We are born into a world filled with human traditions, many of which are beautiful and healthy, but others which may not seem so good once we stop and notice them. What we eat is one tradition, but there are many others: what is good or bad, how we define success, who we respect, who we see as dangerous or unworthy.

Deciding that the way we’ve always thought or acted, or a belief we’ve always held, may not be consistent with the way that God is calling us to live takes work. It demands that we ignore the human-created rules we hear from family and friends, TV shows, and favorite websites. It asks us to stop and notice what we do and think and where those traditions may come from.

Quoting Isaiah, Jesus reminds us that choosing human rules over God’s wishes is not merely a modern challenge:

This people honors me with their lips,

but their hearts are far away from me.

The human rules we have inherited today have traveled through generations dating back to the times of the Pharisees and Isaiah and even earlier. Which of these traditions may be keeping our hearts from truly honoring God?

Reflection written by Carynne McIver. If you are interested in writing a weekly reflection forDurham Church, contact Carynne.

The Patterns of This World

20 This was because Herod respected John. He regarded him as a righteous and holy person, so he protected him. John’s words greatly confused Herod, yet he enjoyed listening to him.

Read this week’s full text, Mark 6:14-29.

Herod is a hard man to pin down. The basic facts are that he was king of the state of Judea, ruled over by the much more powerful Roman emperor. Herod played the role of a junior bureaucrat, throwing parties and trying to build up his own power. But he dreamed Jewish dreams of ruling as the “messiah” — the true king of Israel, the one to liberate his people and establish justice.

Herod was caught between two competing cultures. He was wrestling with exactly the temptations that the apostle Paul may have been imagining when he wrote, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

The pattern of Herod’s world said, embrace the Roman powers, embrace ruthlessness, embrace violence, embrace extravagance, embrace “any means necessary.”

But God never abandons us to the patterns of this world. God is constantly providing witnesses, people whose lives make us ask questions. People who have the potential to transform everything.

For Herod, that person was John the Baptist.

Who might it be for you? Who makes you scratch your head? Whose life challenges the patterns of your world?

John the Baptist said no to extravagance and Roman power. He preached that God wanted to totally transform our lives. And that a true messiah was on his way.

The story says that Herod respected John. He protected him because he saw that John was “holy,” set apart by God. But at the same time, John confused Herod. John’s life made Herod ask hard questions. He unsettled the things that Herod thought he knew.

In the end, Herod gets caught in a trap of his own making. He’s forced to choose between Roman ruthlessness and John’s confusing alternative message. He chooses the patterns of his world. He chooses stability. And he kills John.

God never abandons us to the patterns of this world. God’s transforming Spirit is all around us. Psalm 85, the psalm paired with this week’s story from Mark, says, “God’s salvation is very close to those who honor him so that God’s glory can live in our land. Faithful love and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed.”

God’s glory longs to live in our land. God never abandons us. But we do have a choice with what we do when the patterns of our world and God’s alternative salvation come into conflict.

What do you choose?

Reflection written by Amanda Diekman. If you are interested in writing a weekly reflection for Durham Church, contact Carynne.

 

The Girl Gets Up

Jesus left that place and came to his hometown. His disciples followed him.On the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard him were surprised. “Where did this man get all this? What’s this wisdom he’s been given? What about the powerful acts accomplished through him? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” They were repulsed by him and fell into sin.

Jesus said to them, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.” He was unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. He was appalled by their disbelief.

Then Jesus traveled through the surrounding villages teaching.

He called for the Twelve and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick—no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts. He told them to wear sandals but not to put on two shirts. 10 He said, “Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. 11  If a place doesn’t welcome you or listen to you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. 13 They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them.

Read this week’s full text, Mark 6:1-13.

The passage immediately preceding Mark 6.1-13 is one I held on to in my late teens and early twenties in much the way that I held on to my pink blanket as a toddler or the way, during long days in elementary school, I held on to the faith that my mom would be there to pick me up at 3:00 and I would get to go home. I had many comforts growing up; those were a few of them. Anyway, when my pink blanket was Mark 5.35-43, I said half lines of it to myself on repeat, “Talitha cum, talitha cum, talitha cum.” Scripture tells us it means, “Little girl, get up!” She isn’t dead after all, just asleep. Jesus revives her.

Jesus addresses a girl on the cusp of adolescence—we’re told she’s twelve. Who knows what transpired in the girl’s life preceding the moment in the text where she appears dead? Who can’t imagine? Listen to girls the world over. Still, that isn’t where the story lingers. God says get up. And she does.

While I don’t doubt a bit that more often than not I miss the mark in my approach to scripture, reading Mark 6.1-13 for this week I realize that, in addition to the mistake of regularly reading myself right into the center of Bible stories, too often I stop reading too soon.

The Bible doesn’t say, “Get up!” and end there. In Mark 6.1–13 Jesus and his disciples head to Jesus’ hometown before venturing out again. They live in amazement. Jesus sends the disciples out into the villages in pairs as healers, teachers, peacemakers, people doing kingdom work. They cast out demons and heal people who are hurting.

The text also instructs the twelve to “shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against” those who “will not welcome you” and “refuse to hear you.” There is a certain comfort in this, too, and something that is more potent than a comfort. The disciples are given a way to acknowledge and move on from people who hurt other people on purpose. We learn that it is possible, imperative even, to love those who hurt others on purpose without adopting or endorsing that perspective and behavior. Cruelty, injustice, and violence are insidious, but not supreme.

We are called to something else entirely. The positive, generative, big benevolent truth of God is present even when we feel beleaguered. Maybe our own aching can tune us in more fully to the needs of the world. The girl gets up. And the story moves forward. There are other people hurting who need help. We’re invited to venture on, repent, read all the way to Mark 12.29-31 and linger there—that we may love God and other people.
Reflection written by Annie Mountcastle. If you are interested in writing a weekly reflection for Durham Church, contact Carynne.

Faith in Power

30 At that very moment, Jesus recognized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 His disciples said to him, “Don’t you see the crowd pressing against you? Yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 But Jesus looked around carefully to see who had done it.

33 The woman, full of fear and trembling, came forward. Knowing what had happened to her, she fell down in front of Jesus and told him the whole truth.34 He responded, “Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace, healed from your disease.”

Read this week’s full text, Mark 5:21-43.

I’ve been thinking about power lately. Where is power? Who has power? Who talks? Who listens? Who is more self-assured, more defensive, more deferential? Who makes decisions? Who looks or sounds powerful?
Some power is obvious: Guns. Wealth. Sometimes it is less so: people who always speak confidently, as if they have no doubt that their words will be heeded. Others who are quick to jump to the defensive, as if knowing they may have much to lose.
Among my friends and teachers who discuss white supremacy, a frequent question is about how we make power visible and shift power structures. How do we make sure that each of us is equally empowered, regardless of our color, or gender, or circumstances?

But when power is abstract and intangible, this is a hard question. It sometimes seems that the only answers are to take power–violently, if necessary, or to sit back and hope that the powerful at some point decide to hand it over.

With so many thoughts of power on my mind, the word jumped off the page at me in this week’s passage: At that very moment, Jesus recognized that power had gone out from him.
This is funny, because we never think that Jesus could lose power. He might use his power for good, or maybe even share it, but how could the Prince of Peace, the Alpha and Omega, actually lose power? And lose it seemingly by accident, or at least unexpectedly. He seems confused and surprised, freezing immediately when he realizes that his powers have been tapped.
This woman did not take Jesus’ power with violence, or persuasion, or through a barter or bribe. Somehow just believing in his power meant that she got some.
But as soon as she realizes what has happened, she freaks out, with “fear and trembling.” I’d be scared, too. Having power you aren’t used to is terrifying. Standing in front of a room full of people who are waiting to hear you speak? Stepping into a job that feels overwhelming and thinking, “there’s no way I can do this”?
This woman doesn’t seem to know what she’s gotten herself into–what her faith has gotten her into. So she kneels down in fear to confess and this slightly-less-powerful Jesus doesn’t hit her, or chastise, or make a mental note to blakmail her later… he blesses her. He announces to the crowd what both of them already know: her faith has healed her.
This woman was empowered by faith in power. And it wasn’t merely the faith itself that healed her, but what her faith led her to do: reach out and touch Jesus.
What power do you have faith in? Do you have faith in your own power? Do you have faith in power of God to bless your life, to flourish in our city, to heal the world?
Or maybe like me, do you most days just have faith in white power, in male power, in straight power, in corporate power, in government power, in violent power?

Where does your faith in these powers lead you? Self-preservation that hides behind white supremacy because it seems like the easiest thing to do? Despair and doubt that you or I or God could ever make this world different? Or does it lead you to reach toward something else?

This woman’s faith in his power led her to reach out and touch Jesus. And in doing so, his strength flowed into her, both power and blessing, and she was healed.
Reflection written by Carynne McIver. If you are interested in writing a weekly reflection for Durham Church, contact Carynne.

Why Are You Afraid?

35 Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” 36 They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along.

37 Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. 38 But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”

39 He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. 40 Jesus asked them,“Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?”

41 Overcome with awe, they said to each other, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”

Read this week’s full text, Mark 4:35-41.

Mark 4.35-41 is filled with questions answered with questions. Wind and waves are overwhelming the boat as Jesus’ companions wake him asking, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He answers by stilling the storm and asking them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” They answer his question-answer with a question, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Questions ache off the page throughout scripture, not the least of which is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And how about Genesis when God says to Adam, “Where are you?” And that big book of suffering, the Book of Job, in which God speaks in questions upon questions. “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?’”

 

Are you still afraid? I often think I definitely am. Some days I feel fear radiating through me—I feel electric with fear, like a sickness, like a short-circuitingknock-knock joke that won’t stop telling itself. Knock-knock. Who’s there? Fear. Fear, who? I’m afraid, are you? I’m afraid, are you, who? Wait, who are you? Knock-knock. Where’s that knocking coming from? Fear. Fear, who? Where are you? Knock-knock. Is that you? You, who? Yoo-hoo! Fear? Are you out there? In here? Anyone? Knock-knock. Who’s there? Fear. Afraid of what? Who?Knock-knock. You, too?Are you still afraid? Are you?

 

My granddad used to scream in his sleep—memories of World War II. On summer sleepovers at our grandparents’ house in elementary school my younger cousin told me scraps of our grandfather’s war stories that her mother had told her, ways of explaining his nightmares. I stood in the hallway, in bare feet and a nightgown, staring at the closed door of the sleeping porch where he slept alone. He was screaming. I should go in there and wake him. I should try to help or do something. I just stood there.

 

He’d been an U.S. soldier in Europe then Japan. He took photographs of the newly liberated concentration camp Buchenwald thinking no one would believe him otherwise. When I was in eighth grade he came to my school to talk to my English class. Someone asked him about the war. He stood there and cried.

 

At his funeral, as he had requested, we sang “Silent Night.” It was 2006. My sister and I drove up from a still wrecked New Orleans to attend the funeral with our family and there we stood, singing a Christmas carol after lowering his casket into the green earth, that heart ache refrain, “Sleep in heavenly peace.” And, “Jesus, Lord at thy birth, Jesus, Lord at thy birth.” And those final lines of song, “sing Hallelujah. Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born.”

 

The truth is not that the flood waters will never overwhelm our boats, flood our cities, drown us, our families, our neighbors, plummet whole neighborhoods under water. It happens all the time. God notes that Job is faithful, among the most faithful; then all ten of his children die when a house collapses on them.

 

Are you still afraid? It’s the wrong question. I conflated the two questions Jesus asks in Mark 4.35-41 and in doing so I’ve gotten it all wrong, made a depressing jumble of things I don’t understand. Jesus knows the people are afraid. That much is totally clear. They’re terrified that they’re drowning, and they’re mad he’s not more worried about it.

 

Jesus doesn’t ask whether they’re afraid, he asks why.

 

He says to the roiling wind and sea, those forces that the people with him experience as real and pressing threats, “Peace! Be still!” The result? “Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.” You were afraid of death? It isn’t coming—life everlasting is present already, here in the dead calm of the sea and in the windstorm, too, here even in our suffering, in our anger, in our confusion, and in death. Love cuts through every horror and sadness. Grace is all present all the time everywhere. I think that’s the idea, anyway.

 

“Why are you afraid?” Jesus asks before going on, “Have you still no faith?” It’s as though the divine is roaring in our trembling, terrified ears, I am here. I’m with you in this. You’ve got questions? Ask them. I’m going to ask you right back.

 

Jesus asks “Why are you afraid?” and then, instead of asserting that they have no faith, he asks them. He says, “Have you still no faith?”In asking this, Jesus invites them into faith.

 

The question is not whether we’re afraid. Of course we are. The question is why and what’s the way forward. Do we use our fear as occasion to blame others? To be like the people on the boat asking Jesus why he’s not helping us more? To scream, “Doesn’t anyone care about me?” All the while Jesus is here with us, right here with us, offering peace and asking “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” We can stand in our fear with faith, let it become a reverent fear, a faith that in awe asks to know God more fully—Jesus, who says “Peace!” in the midst of the cruelest, most terrifying, storms.

Reflection written by Annie Mountcastle. If you are interested in writing a weekly reflection for Durham Church, contact Carynne.

Seeds of Faith

Still-Background-Set-Seeds-of-Faith_slide4_426x320Then Jesus said, “This is what God’s kingdom is like. It’s as though someone scatters seed on the ground, then sleeps and wakes night and day. The seed sprouts and grows, but the farmer doesn’t know how. The earth produces crops all by itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full head of grain. Whenever the crop is ready, the farmer goes out to cut the grain because it’s harvesttime.”

He continued, “What’s a good image for God’s kingdom? What parable can I use to explain it? Consider a mustard seed. When scattered on the ground, it’s the smallest of all the seeds on the earth; but when it’s planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all vegetable plants. It produces such large branches that the birds in the sky are able to nest in its shade.”

Read this week’s full text, Mark 4:26-34.

For those of you who know the enneagram, I’m a 5. For those of you who don’t, I’m an investigator. This means that I “want to possess knowledge, to understand the environment, to have everything figured out as a way of defending myself from threats from the environment.”

This makes religion a bit of a sticky subject for me.

My sticking point is what’s at the core of every religion. Underneath the debates, underneath the discussions, underneath the ideological difference and the dogmatic similarities there’s one common, undeniable core – faith.

It’s faith, or the leap of faith, that flings us from the shores of logic to the sea of spirituality. It requires us to admit, not to others, but to our own souls, that there is something more. Something that we will never fully comprehend. And that that is OK.

That’s tough for me.

I like to be able to look at a seed in the ground and tell myself: “First it will germinate, then stem cells will mutate to fit the plants needs at each stage of life. It will pollinate and fertilize, form new seeds then disperse those seeds to start the process anew.” I like those words, ‘germinate’, ‘mutate’, ‘pollinate’, and ‘fertilize’. They’re science words, meaningful words, words that let me convince myself that I know what’s going on.

But, if I were to be honest with myself, I would have to admit that they only teach me I know nothing. A process, maybe, but I still don’t know why the trees grow. Why the wind places the seeds where it chooses. Why the water gives life to some and not to others.

I hide behind the words these words because I feel like they have power, but I stray away from words like God and prayer and Christ and Love because those words actually do.

Those words have to power to show us why the trees grow and the winds blow, but only so long as we are so humble and so honest as to admit that we know nothing, and that we never truly will.

Reflection written by Garrett Button.

Sitting with Jesus

Jesus entered a house. A crowd gathered again so that it was impossible for him and his followers even to eat. When his family heard what was happening, they came to take control of him. They were saying, “He’s out of his mind!”
Read this week’s full text, Mark 3:20-35.

I can easily imagine the conversations that went on as Jesus’ family overheard bits and pieces of stories about his ministry. Is he eating enough? Is it really good for him to spend so much time with these prostitutes and swindlers?

And then when they heard how he was upsetting the local people in power, they really got worried. Does Jesus really want to confront these powerful people? If he keeps going like this, he’s going to get himself killed.

After worrying themselves sick, they decide that they need to do something. For his own good, they’re gonna bring him home where he can think it all through and come to his senses. “We need to go and take charge of Jesus,” you can just hear Mary saying.

Have you ever felt like that?

Those of us who have known Jesus our whole lives, who grew up in the church, singing all the right hymns and praying before every meal—we‘re pretty darn comfortable with Jesus. We think we know just exactly what he’s up to. And sometimes, we might know a bit better than Jesus what faithful Christian life looks like.

Like Jesus’ family, we hear about Jesus’ teaching and it is too scary, too dangerous, too risky, and too uncomfortable to really be taken seriously. Just like his family, we want to say to Jesus, “You are out of your mind.”

But the key to understanding this passage comes with where we sit. Jesus’ family insists that he come out to them, sending in a messenger to announce that Jesus’ family has arrived. They remain at a distance, not willing to be confused with the desperate throng that surrounds Jesus.

Jesus beckons them—and us—to come inside.

In this passage, Jesus shows us that we are not merely invited into a relationship with him, but we are invited into a new family. But just before this, Jesus comes down hard on people who “blaspheme the Holy Spirit.” To blaspheme is to slander, to insult, to go against God’s way. It is to divide ourselves from the only One we truly belong to—Jesus Christ. Maybe the ultimate blasphemy against the Spirit is to refuse to enter the house of sinners, even though Jesus makes it clear that’s where he is going to stay.

Jesus still beckons. He asks us to join the throng, to sit in the circle around him, to get our hands and knees dirty on the dirt floor, to press our bodies in with the outcast, the prostitute, the sick, and the swindler. Jesus says that if we want to come into his house and join his circle, we don’t get to choose who sits beside us.

Reflection written by Amanda Diekman.

The Wild Kingdom

Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, shining like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb through the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life, which produces twelve crops of fruit, bearing its fruit each month. The tree’s leaves are for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Night will be no more. They won’t need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will shine on them, and they will rule forever and always.

Read this week’s full text, Revelation 21:22-22:5

national_parks_26A few weeks ago Garrett and I decided to plan a romantic weekend in the mountains to become officially engaged. We had a three day backpacking route around Linville Gorge mapped out and anticipated fields of wildflowers and beautiful sunsets.

It was all going to be perfect. And it was…for a few hours. After a day of hiking we found an ideal campsite, only to discover that the water source shown on the map was impossible to find. It turns out that when you have only a half liter of water left, deciding whether to get married seems like a very minor problem compared to whether you’ll survive the night. But we did finally find water–at the bottom of a long and winding road.

Day two was going to get better. We would descend into the gorge, cross the river on a bridge, and have a pleasant walk along the river while happily imagining our future life together. But the descent turned out to be one of the longest and steepest trails either of us had ever seen. And our reward at the bottom was a bridge that had washed out from a flood two years earlier. After deciding that we had minimal chance of boulder-hopping across the rushing river with our packs, we reluctantly turned back up the mountain to retrace our very steep path from the morning.

Relieved to have finally made it to the top, we were looking forward to finding a campsite and having a well-deserved dinner and rest. That seemed to be within reach, until we ran into wafts of smoke and tiny floating cinders. Yes, there was a forest fire. On our trail. Between us and our car.

After only slight panic, we managed to find a ride from from a friendly former ranger at a nearby parking lot, who took us an hour and a half out of his way to arrive at our car minutes before the search and rescue team set out to look for us. We decided that surviving dehydration, floods, and forest fires seemed like good practice for surviving marriage. And then we went to Asheville and ate for 24 hours straight.

The weekend reminded me that nature is wild. It’s powerful, unpredictable, and overwhelming. But on the first night we did enjoy a stunning sunset. And eating lunch next to the river, we admired the rushing water and swirling pools. The hike back to the top of the gorge culminated with a beautiful view of a lush gorge, overflowing with spring’s bounty of leaves, buds, trees, and flowers. Our drive to safety down the mountain took us on winding back roads, past hidden glens of evergreens and peaceful fields. Nature’s strength is only surpassed by its beauty.

Last week, John’s Revelation told us that God will dwell with humankind. This week, we see what God’s dwelling here looks like: A glowing city, basking in eternal sunlight and flowing with “a river of life-giving water, shining like crystal.” This river of life is bordered with trees of life–a whole orchard of trees, overflowing with good fruit to eat. Adam’s curse is lifted and we live in peace with nature, with God as our neighbor.

We often talk about the kingdom as “breaking in” to our world, as if it is only appearing in tiny cracks and we may get a glimpse of it if we are very lucky. But if the kingdom is crafted from the rivers and trees of life, then it is already here, exploding, just outside our doors!

God didn’t create a world filled with nicely mowed lawns and perfectly air conditioned spaces–we did that. God created a huge wilderness, brimming with divine strength and power and filled with beauty and life-giving water. And he placed us in its midst, inviting each of us to drink.

Reflection written by Carynne McIver.