Category: Mark

Be-Still-SolitudeWe are a week closer to Easter, but still in the midst of our Lenten journey. As we focus on spiritual disciplines during this time, we want to look at the discipline of solitude. What do you think about when you hear about a discipline called ‘solitude?’ Does it sound good, enjoyable, or maybe for you it’s painful? Maybe for those who have young kids, solitude might sound like a really good idea at times. I know that as our girls were growing up, having birthday sleepovers, fighting with each other, or just talking non-stop, I would welcome moments that I could spend in complete silence. While those who have an ‘empty nest’ where the kids have moved out, or maybe those of you who have lost a spouse and are now living alone, it may seem like you spend most of your days in solitude and silence, and it’s not very appealing. You want more noise in your world. The silence can be deafening. In our interconnected, noisy, and distracting world, solitude might seem a bit scary. The first time I heard about this, the only thing I could think of was solitary confinement, and that doesn’t sound very attractive. But maybe it’s getting more appealing in our society. Have you heard about one of the latest trends, sensory deprivation tanks?

There are storefronts popping up in many places with the purpose of selling you some time in one of these tanks that will deprive you of all your senses. It is an enclosed tank, filled with about a foot of salt water in which you climb in and float, in complete silence and darkness. I admit, this sounds pretty interesting. It was first though of by a scientist in the 1950’s but only recently has taken off for the general public. They say there are benefits like increasing cardio-vascular health, lowering anxiety levels, improving your creativity, and overall making you happier. The sessions are about an hour long and allows you to completely center yourself by eliminating all of your other senses. Some of you may be thinking that this sounds like torture, not very relaxing at all. While others are probably looking on their phones right now to find the closest place. FYI, it’s in Madison, Wisconsin.

Although sensory deprivation tanks may be a bit too extreme, I think it points to a necessary need that we all have. We desire to spend a little time in solitude. It has benefits. Jesus knew this. It is described so many times in scripture when Jesus took some time away from the business of ministry. In the gospel of Mark, chapter 6 verse 30-34, we find Jesus feeding the five thousand. But just before this passage, we hear about John the Baptist being killed and the disciples returning from their mission to preach the gospel and heal all over the area.

Knowing that they had just returned, and that John the Baptist was just killed, Jesus tells them to get in the boat and go away with him to a place of solitude. Get away from the crowds that were gathering around them. There were so many, they couldn’t even eat in peace. It is said that this desolate place was where they were headed, but the time they spent on the boat, was a time of rest. When they got to the place, the crowd had followed and gathered there. But notice that when they got off the boat, Jesus had compassion on them. Would he have been able to have as much compassion before they into the boat? Well, maybe Jesus would have, but how about the disciples, how about you? Would you have been as compassionate with the people?

Time away, spent in solitude, helps us to achieve this state of mind. It helps us in our relationship with God. Solitude is good for our souls. Solitude will help to give us clarity is decision making. When we spend this time away, we center ourselves on hearing the voice of God. It is incredibly important when you are in the process of making big decisions.

There was a time when I was at my parent’s camping trailer in Whitewater while I was discerning a call into ministry. It was after a day of silence, reading, meditating, and listening that I felt this presence come over me. It was a chill the washed over me as I was looking out over the lake, even though it was pretty warm that day. I will never forget that feeling. That chill.

Solitude helps us find our inner peace, lower our anxiety levels, and put us in a right frame of mind. Jesus loved being in boats and so do I. When I am able to be alone in a boat, fishing, I feel the stresses of this world melt away. The repetitive nature of casting the line in the water and retrieving it again, soothes my soul. Many times, while coming in from the water, people will ask how the fishing went, did you catch anything? My response really is; “it doesn’t matter, it is always good. Fish or no fish.” I come back relaxed, refocused on life.

My advice for today is to get away, it will do you good. And know this, the person that will emerge from this time alone will be different than the one going in.

Who Do You Say I Am?

Lake with DockThere are many questions that Jesus asks in scripture, but not many carry this kind of weight with them. “Who do you say I am?” Have you ever spent some time just thinking about this question? Who do say that Jesus is? Who is he to you? I guess if we really think about it for a while, we could say that Jesus could be a few things to us. But some of them might be a bit off base. We all have views of Jesus, some aren’t quite the Jesus of scripture, the Lord and Savior of our lives. So, who do you say that Jesus is this morning?

In Mark 8:27-30 we find a two-part question. Jesus first asks who the other people say he is. He wants to know what the people outside of his disciple’s circle think of him. And then he asks Peter. He makes it entirely personal. So, why the two-fold question? Why the two-fold message? Could this be a question that looks to the effectiveness of Jesus’ ministry? Jesus asks Peter who he thinks Jesus is. He wants to know; what have you been learning? What part of my teaching has stuck? Do you really understand who I am?

Peter could have answered as the crowds, saying that Jesus was a prophet, or John the Baptist, or even Elijah, but he knows who Jesus is. The messages, teachings, healing, and actions of Jesus have taught Peter that this was truly the son of God, he is the Messiah. Peter is paying attention, and his life is being transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ. He knows Jesus.

So, then the question comes to all of us. Who do we say he is? Is this just another man who seems to be wise, wants to teach us some things about peaceful living and loving our neighbors? Is this a man who is a great servant leader, one that we should try to live our lives to be like him? Or, is this man truly the son of God, the Messiah who has come to save God’s people? Is Jesus Lord and Savior over your life? Who do you say he is?

The other side of this question, actually came first. Jesus asked what the people around him thought of him. He asks his disciples who the people said he was. Why does Jesus care what others think of him? Again, I think he might be wanting to know about the effectiveness of his ministry so far. Do people think he is just a good teacher and moral example for life, or do they truly believe that he is the Messiah sent by God to redeem the world?

I wonder if the news coming back from the disciples discouraged him? I wonder if this gave him the message to step up his game. Or was it to point out to the disciples just how far they would need to go to get the gospel message across?

I guess we could look at this within the ministry of this congregation by asking the same questions. When speaking about those outside these four walls, who do they say that Jesus is? Do they know him? Have they heard the stories, the message of hope, grace, and love? Do they know who Jesus is?

We could look at this question to show us the effectiveness of our ministry. Are we doing all we can so that others hear about Jesus? Or is there more we could be doing? Who do we need to reach out to? What groups of people in our community need to hear and feel the message of love in their lives?

How do we reach them?

If the answer to the question of who Jesus is, is met with responses of just a man from history who tried to live a good life and was killed for it; or a good prophet; or a good speaker; then we’ve missed the mark. We haven’t shown people the real Jesus, and so, we need to do better at reaching out on love and kindness, taking care of the poor, the lost, the broken. We need to truly be the hands and feet of Jesus to a world that desperately needs him.

The question to you today is; who do you say Jesus is? Once we’ve answered that question for ourselves, we can then ask the second question. Who does this community say Jesus is?


Sermon-Slide-Wk3I am a second career pastor. I spent about 20 years in the construction equipment rental business. Like many other businesses, there was a lot of competition, some between rival companies, and some within the ranks of the employees. The rental business, like other, was about being the best. We wanted to have the best reputation, the best equipment, best service, and so on. We would go to great lengths to get to the top of the list.

This carried over into the staffing as well. And this made for opportunities to be, frankly, unchristian. I wish I could say that I always did what I was supposed to, that I always followed the guidance of Jesus, but I can’t. I guess you could say that I had a bit of an inferiority complex, as I would always think that others were better at things than I was. I was worried that someone would come in, do things better than I, warm up to the boss, and slowly work me out of a job. I was threatened by others who would be working right under me.

My actions were not always in line with what I believed as a Christian. Between undermining others and trying to make myself look better to the boss, I disregarded some of the basic teachings of Jesus. I would also work myself to the limit. I put in long days and nights. I wouldn’t ask anyone to help because I wanted to be the one who got the credit. All this was taking its toll on me and my family. No vacations, missing from home activities were just a couple of the results. I know now that all of this was done because of fear. I was afraid of losing my authority. I was afraid of losing my position, my job. I was afraid of losing my identity.

But there was more; in doing this, I denied the life given to me in Jesus Christ. My identity was wrapped up in who I was as an employee, as a rental equipment manager, and by how everyone else saw me. I denied my identity as a child of God. With the exception of a couple of ‘Christian events’ in my life, you might not know that I followed Christ. I was denying my relationship with Jesus by what I was doing and not doing, by what I was saying and not saying.

Fear leads us to do some pretty strange things. These could be actions or inactions, speaking up or staying silent.

During the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life, he encountered some pretty awful people. After he was arrested, Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin, the ruling elders. These people wanted to get rid of Jesus for good. They wanted him dead, out of the picture. But why? Fear. These leaders were afraid and threatened by Jesus, his power, authority, and his following. They saw this as a threat to their lifestyle, to their position. So, even if it meant circumventing some of their own rules, they were going to have him put to death.

During the so-called trial with the Sanhedrin, Peter was facing his own fear. He was afraid of what the people would do to him, and this resulted in denying that he even knew Jesus at all. Then a rooster crowed for the second time. If this can happen to Peter, then it can happen to us.

So many times, I have been a Pharisee and at other times, I have been like Peter. I think we all have at some point in our lives. But that doesn’t have to define who we are. We are all children of the Heavenly Father, the Almighty God, and we are not left in those places of fear. God offers us grace and his grace is available to all. I don’t care what you’ve done, what you’ve said, what you’ve left unsaid, or what you’ve left undone; there’s always grace for you. I have said this before, and I will keep saying it; no one is beyond the loving grace of God. You may think you are too far out there, but you’re not.

You may feel like a Pharisee. You may feel like Peter. But thankfully God covers us all with his saving grace through the blood of Jesus Christ. He does it through this free, unmerited gift of grace and it is in this grace that we have new life in Christ.


Sermon-Slide-Wk2When we hear the word betray and people who remind us of this, we usually think of only a few. The betrayal of Caesar by Brutus, et tu brute? The political betrayer in Benedict Arnold. And certainly, Judas Iscariot, as he betrays Jesus with a kiss.

The scene is another garden in Jesus’ ministry, this time the garden of Gethsemane. Immediately after the Seder supper which was shared with his disciples, Jesus brings Peter, James, and John with him to the garden to pray. It is around midnight and Jesus is feeling the agony of the plan coming to fruition. He tells his friends to keep awake while he goes to pray. After a short time of prayer, Jesus comes back to find his friends sleeping. Now, if we think about this meal as a 4-5 hour celebration full of food and wine, then we can understand why the disciples would have been tired. I know I would have been tired.

Jesus leaves them again to pray a couple more times, each time returning to find them asleep on the job. So when I think about betraying Jesus, I do see Judas’ actions as a betrayal, but I wonder about Peter, James, and John. I find language interesting and after looking up the word used for “betrayed,” describing Judas’ actions, I found that the word in Greek “paradidomai” was also used in 1st Corinthians and is translated as “abandon.”

I find that Peter, James, and John also betrayed Jesus in their abandonment in the times when Jesus needed them the most. They abandoned him mentally by falling asleep, and then later they abandoned Jesus physically by running away right after he was arrested. Peter even took it a step further by denying that he even knew him three times.

So the question becomes, when have we been like the disciples in our abandonment of Jesus? When have we been spiritually asleep? When have we run away from God? I think that everytime we find ourselves not wanting to go and do the things God is asking us to, when we are inactive in ministry, when we have an uncaring attitude, when we are selfish, and even when we are full of pride and not wanting God’s help or guidance in our lives, this is when we are spiritually asleep. We may call ourselves “Christian” but we are asleep. We are going through the motions, but our hearts aren’t in it. This is the emphasis on much of Jesus’ ministry. He was concerned with not only what was on the outside, but more importantly, what was on the inside.

We also betray Jesus when we run away from him and from his calling on our lives. We can see this in sin, when we miss the mark of God’s desire. When we don’t love our neighbors or care for others. When we turn our backs on the church, thinking that we can worship in solitude only. This also comes in our prodigal moments. We feel we know better and don’t need God to live our lives, so we go off and do what we want, only to realize later that we truly need a Savior.

So, here’s the good news for you today. We find Jesus’ response to the betrayals at the end of the Gospel of Mark. Here we find Jesus doing two things. First, he rebukes them and their behaviors. But I don’t see this as a scolding, more of an expression of disappointment. But then he tells them to get to work. He gives them commands to go out into the world and make disciples. With this command, I see forgiveness, just as Peter is reinstated and forgiven for his denials, the rest of the disciples are forgiven and given the task of taking Jesus’ message out to the world.

Whether you find yourself spiritually asleep, or running away from God at this moment, know that God has not abandoned you. Throughout scripture, we are given promises. God never sleeps or slumbers. He will never leave you or forsake you. He loves you and wants to welcome you home. In fact, he runs to meet you, even when you were far away. He sees you and runs to you, and then throws a big party, celebrating the fact that you have returned home.

The Last Supper

Sermon-Slide-wk1Last Wednesday was the beginning of the Lenten season with the remembrance of Ash Wednesday, when we remember that we came from dust and that we will return to dust. We remember our own mortality and begin a journey over the next forty days as we move towards Easter. This is a time of reflection, a time of searching, and a time of self-denial.

We at Lanark United Methodist Church have begun a worship series where we will explore the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life. This will focus on Thursday at 6pm through Friday afternoon. So, the next few weeks we will focus on that here as well.

We begin our journey with a celebration meal celebrated on Thursday evening. We find through some of the gospel accounts that it is time for Passover celebrations. Venues are arranged, tables are set, and the meal is prepared. But this is no ordinary meal. This is a narrative told through a meal. Now, if you think some of your dinners can take a while to serve and eat, think about this; the Passover meal can take up to five hours or more to complete. But we must see that this is not just a meal, it’s a retelling of a story.

The Passover meal, sometimes referred to as the Seder supper, retells the story that the Jewish people have shared generation to generation. It is the story of slavery to freedom, oppression to liberation. It is the story of Moses leading the people away from the oppression and slavery they faced in Egypt under Pharaoh. But it could also be our story. We find ourselves in slavery to any number of things in this world. Then God offers us deliverance.

During the Seder Supper, the participants read, eat, celebrate, and remember. They retell their story, the story of the Jewish faith and the covenant which God made with them. Different elements that are found within the supper retell certain parts of the story. There is the lamb which reminds them of the sacrifice that was made and marking the doorposts with its blood allowing the final plague to Passover their house. A bowl of salt water retells of the tears shed during their oppression as well as deliverance through the Red Sea from the Egyptians and Pharaoh.

Then there were four cups of wine. These were symbols of the four promises of God from Exodus 6:6-8. It was during one of those cups of wine that Jesus does something new. He breaks tradition within this supper as he shares a new covenant with his disciples. Jesus shares words that are so familiar to us today. As he takes the unleavened bread and breaks it, he shares; “This is my body, which is broken for you.” Then he holds one of those four cups of blessing and shares these powerful words; “Take and drink, this is my blood of the new covenant which has been poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins, do this as often as you drink of it in remembrance of me.”

Jesus makes a new covenant during this special meal with his disciples, but its more than that. Its more than just a covenant with those present, it is a new covenant for all of us. Every time we celebrate this sacrament, we remember what Jesus has done for us. We celebrate with others around us. We give thanks for the sacrifice made on our behalf. And as we celebrate a foretaste of what it will be like at that final meal, we receive that grace of Jesus Christ.

There is so much wrapped up in this special meal that we should never take it for granted, just thinking it’s another ritual from the church. It is so much more. This is one of those moments that we truly enter into the presence of our Lord and Savior through the power of the Holy Spirit, and partake in a spiritual refueling, an awakening, a soul feeding, grace filled moment especially meant for all of us. The table is set, the host is present, come and feast at the table of our Lord.

Raise the Dead; A Look at New Life

invasion-part-1We at Lanark UMC are in the middle of a worship series called “Invasion of the Dead” and we are looking into topics of life, death, and resurrection. This week we looked at new life. So here are some excerpts of that message.

What does it mean to be alive? What is life? Maybe we should look at the opposite here. What does death mean? I know, it’s not normally a topic to discuss in a worship service or even in public for that matter, but maybe it is. I mean really…look at where we are today.

I could say that our fascination with death is recent, but I would be wrong. I mean think of all the T.V. shows and movies that are based on death, especially as we look at zombies. The walking dead, night of the living dead, world war Z, the zombie apocalypse, and so many others show our interest as a culture in death but also the life thereafter, even looking at the meaning of life right here.

I could draw some similarities and comparisons from these shows and our fascination to zombies or the walking dead to scripture too. Think about it for a minute. Lazarus being raised from the dead, walking out of a tomb, still wrapped up like a mummy. Certainly could be a scene from a zombie movie. We can also take the book of Mark, especially the stories we find in chapter 5.

We find a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years and never being healed. Although she was among the living, she didn’t share in the life that many around her enjoyed. She wasn’t welcome in certain places, wasn’t looked at favorably, couldn’t go to her friend’s house, and many times was shunned in public. She was left alone, she was dead to the world around her, she was the walking dead.

Then we have this little girl who everyone else thinks is dead, even though Jesus lets us know that she is only sleeping. Everyone around her thinks that she has died, that Jesus was too late in coming to rescue her. Notice the servant that comes out to tell Jairus that his daughter has died and to not bother the teacher anymore. They all think she is dead.

Both examples in scripture, the little girl and the woman on the crowd, seem to be dead, well at least to the world around them. Many times I think we are like this in our spiritual lives. We are among the walking dead, or maybe the living dead. We travel from program to program, meeting to meeting, maybe even attend a bible study or help around the church with activities. We look like we are strong Christians, like we have a strong spiritual life outside of the church. But when we look at our lives a little closer, we see spiritual death. We don’t spend 15 minutes alone, reading scripture, talking with God, listening for God, and we slowly become the walking dead.

But you must see that there is a different perspective here. We find it in our scripture passage today. We find it in the story of the little girl who is “sleeping.” The family believes she is dead, but Jesus has other words, she is only sleeping. Notice this. When the world and all the people around you see you as among the walking dead, as a lost cause, maybe as someone who has traveled too far to make it back, remember that Jesus sees you differently.

Jesus saw Jairus’ little daughter as only sleeping, he saw all the potential in her life. He saw all the things she would accomplish in her life, all the lives she would touch with the witness of her life story, all the people she would infect with the love of God, and all the people she would direct to the saving grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Jesus also sees all of us in our worst of times, in our doubts, in our rejections, in our walking away, as only sleeping. He sees us as asleep, ready to be awaken from our slumber into new life. This new life that the woman in the crowd experienced when she touched his robe. This new life that Jairus’ daughter experienced when Jesus said “little girl, get up.” And it is this same life that Jesus is offer to you today.

It is this new life that removes us from the walking dead. Jesus offers this new life which lifts us from our old life, plants us firmly on the ground of a reconciled relationship with him, and begs us to go, go in faith, go in love, and go in life.

Now before I let you go with this, I want to remind you of the woman walking in the crowd, can you see her? Can you see her wandering through the crowd, bumping into people, hoping that she doesn’t bump into you, that she doesn’t get too close? She is the one who was in need of healing, the one who we considered one of the walking dead. But you know what? She’s not alone. There are so many walking dead everywhere we look. We need to be concerned about them, not that they would come after us, but that they do not know the new life that Jesus Christ offers. We need to pray for them. We need to help them. We need to love them.