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Video Series: What I’m Thinking

Each week, Pastor Eric Anderson shares just a minute or two of his thoughts on the upcoming week. But the most important part of “What I’m Thinking” is what you’re thinking. Please share your ideas in the comments, and see how they become part of Pastor Eric’s thinking, too!

What I’m Thinking: Welcome God’s Children

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Christianity isn’t about competition. It’s about welcoming God’s children.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the end of chapter nine of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 9:38-50). This appears to continue on the same conversation from last week’s reading, the reading in which Jesus clarified that greatness is to be found in service.

So that means that there was still a child present, the one that Jesus had called over to talk about how important it was to welcome a child, and that those who welcome children are those who welcome Jesus, and those who welcome Jesus are those who welcome God.

Well, that brought up a question for John, who asked about somebody who had been casting out demons in Jesus’ name. They’d stopped him because he wasn’t one of Jesus’ followers. Jesus said, no, anybody who does a good work in my name is not going to be able to speak ill of me. So don’t put stumbling blocks in the way of people. And if your hand, or your foot, or your eye cause you to sin – which I think here means to place those stumbling blocks in front of people – then cut them off.

With the child present, with that recognition of welcome present, I think that what Jesus is telling us here is that religious competition is not the aim. The aim is welcome. The aim is compassion. The aim is care. It is still all about the children of God – the small keiki, and the adult keiki, and the kupuna keiki, if you like.

It is all about the children of God.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories: What I'm Thinking
Tags: Video, Whatimthinking

What I’m Thinking: Greatness

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Through history, people have debated the nature of greatness. Jesus didn’t settle the argument – it rages still – but it’s clear where he stood. Greatness is service of neighbor.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the ninth chapter of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 9:30-37). Now in last week’s gospel lesson, Jesus for the first time told his disciples that, in Jerusalem, he expected to be rejected by the leadership there. He anticipated that they would arrest him, even hand him over to the Romans for trial and crucifixion.

Jesus’ announcement resulted in an argument. Jesus even said to his dear friend Simon Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”

In this reading, Jesus told his disciples once more about his expectations: rejection, arrest, crucifixion, resurrection. He told them this while traveling. At the end of their journey, Jesus asked them what they had been talking about. The right answer, of course, would have been, “Well, we were talking about what you told us. We’re struggling to come to terms with it. We hope that you’re wrong.” But instead of that, they said nothing it all. It turns out that what they had been doing during the journey was arguing about which one of them is greatest.

Jesus said to them, “The one who serves all is greatest of all.” Further, he found a child somewhere and said, “The one who welcomes a child is the one who welcomes me. The one who welcomes me is the one who welcomes the God who sent me.”

Throughout the Hebrew Bible there is an interplay about what the nature of greatness is. We find greatness expressed in familiar terms, about monarchs and palaces and armies and victories. But we also find greatness expressed about care for the neighbor, about reverence for God, about making certain that the most vulnerable in society – the widows and the orphans – that they are fully cared for and fully included in the community.

Here at the end of this journey with his disciples Jesus made clear which end of the spectrum he fell on. Greatness, said Jesus, is about service. Greatness, said Jesus, is about the welcoming and the care for a child.

This argument about the nature of greatness has never ended. If I’m honest, I have to say that the winners of the argument have typically been those who look to the grand buildings and the great armies and the victories and the titles.

Jesus says that they are flat wrong. Greatness is the service of all and the welcome of a child.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories: What I'm Thinking
Tags: Greatness, Video

What I’m Thinking: Failure

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When Jesus talked about being rejected and executed, he was describing failure. He went on to recommend… failure… to his followers.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the eighth chapter of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 8:27-38). The section begins with a lot of promise. Jesus asked his disciples who people thought that he was. And they came up with a bunch of answers, none of which Jesus approved, until Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the Promised One of God.”

A promising beginning, but it began to awry from there, and who led it astray? Jesus himself, telling his friends that the Messiah had to be arrested and tried and convicted and executed. Gathering a crowd and telling them that if they wanted to become his followers they had to take up their cross and follow him.

What made all this so shocking in the first century was that a Messiah, by definition, was a success. The Messiah was the one who would overthrow the occupying Romans. The Messiah was the one who would become the new monarch. The Messiah, by definition, was a success. What Jesus described, with arrest and conviction and execution, what Jesus described with taking up the cross, was failure. Unsuccessful rebels against Rome were crucified.

A Messiah, by definition, was a success.

Over the centuries, it’s only the resurrection that has made these words make sense. It is still very difficult for us to embrace this notion that failure is not just a part of the life of faith, but potentially an extraordinarily valuable part of the life of faith. We grudgingly concede that failure sometimes is the best teacher. There are things you learn from, well, lack of success that lead to success in the end. That, actually, is how the scientific method works in many cases. You try one thing, then a different thing, then another different thing until you find the thing that matches your hoped-for or predicted outcome.

But in the life of faith we tend to expect that if we do the “right thing” that another “right thing” will take place.

Jesus showed us clearly that that’s not always how it works. He showed it clearly in his life; his disciples showed it in their lives. Not a one of them could be considered a success in the usual understandings of the world. Nevertheless, they also show us by their example that they changed the world. Oh, not as completely or as successfully as they might have liked. The world is still very much as it is. When Christianity took over the Empire, the Roman Empire, I have to confess that it was more Empire than it was Christian.

It is, I think, for us to work through our times of failure, to work through the times that we do feel like we are carrying not just a heavy burden but the burden of our own execution, and find in it the seeds of the resurrection to come, a new life with a success beyond imagining.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories: What I'm Thinking
Tags: Video, Whatimthinking

What I’m Thinking: Restoring Community

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By healing, Jesus enabled people to return to their community. We have other ways to do that.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the seventh chapter of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 7:24-37), the second half, which tells the stories of two of Jesus’ healings.

The first is quite well known. Jesus had left Galilee, trying to take something of a vacation, when he was sought out by a local woman whose daughter was afflicted by a demon. She asked Jesus to cast out the demon and Jesus refused, saying it was not right to take the children’s food and give it to dogs. It’s about as cruel a thing as I can think of Jesus saying recorded in the Gospels.

She responded with words that have not merely been remembered; they have been honored with the opening up of the Christian Church. She said, “Even the dogs get to eat the crumbs which fall from the children’s table.” And so the demon was cast out from her daughter.

The second story is fairly simple. Jesus returned to Galilee, and a group of people brought him a man who could not hear and who could not speak clearly. They asked Jesus to change that. Jesus did. The man could hear. He could speak. And everyone was amazed.

Healing stories, though, can be complicated depending on who is reading or hearing the stories. To folks who are disabled, a healing story can sometimes sound like, “You are not a full human being with your disability. You are not a full part of our society as long as you are lacking the ability to see, unable to hear, unable to walk and get around, or even subject to anxieties or ways of thinking that are not the same as most others.” And so one of the problems that folks with disabilities find in stories like the healing of this deaf man is that nobody ever seems to ask the person being healed if that’s what they would like.

We can only assume that the man being brought by his friends, by his neighbors, understood and approved of what was happening. We can only hope that it was their love and affection for him which led them to seek out what he might not have been able to ask for by himself.

Both of these stories talk about the restoration of an individual to their community. The girl possessed by a demon would not have been able to interact with her family, with her neighbors, with the freedom that she would want, with the fullness of self, as long as this demon held her. And in the first century, someone unable to hear to speak, would have been at a remove from their neighbors. Jesus restored both of these people to their communities.

The thing is, in our day we have other ways to do this, and sometimes we use them and sometimes we don’t.

There are other ways to communicate with folks who cannot hear. There is sign language, and you know what? A hearing person can learn it and use it. For folks with other kinds of disabilities, there are ways that we can change the places that we build in order that they are not frustrated by them. We can put audible signals on crosswalks. We can put curb cuts in sidewalks. We can make sure that the upper floors of our buildings do not require climbing stairs.

How do we restore folks that we have, by our own actions, folks that we have set aside from our community? How do we say – how do we show – how do we invite – folks to not overcome the barriers, but how do we remove the barriers we have placed? And say, “Now, we can extend a full welcome.”

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories: What I'm Thinking
Tags: Disability, Healing

What I’m Thinking: What Defiles

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Jesus’ disciples didn’t wash their hands routinely – Jesus wasn’t concerned. He was concerned about people abandoning their parents, however.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the seventh chapter of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 7:1-23). Our lectionary editors have tried to follow one particular strand of Jesus’ teaching here, and so therefore you’ve got some verses(1-8), and then a gap, and then some verses (14-15), and then a gap, and then some verses to close (21-23). But I’m thinking about the entire section with the omissions no longer omitted. I think it actually has something to say about Jesus’ main point, the one on which the lectionary focuses.

Observant people had observed that Jesus’ followers did not routinely wash their hands before eating. That was common practice for first century Jews. Jesus’ response is rather puzzling; it’s another accusation of hypocrisy. He tells them that they have been following the human traditions – washing hands – but ignoring more central, more Scriptural, more Biblical traditions. And the one he seizes upon is the support that people were supposed to offer their parents. “Honor your father and your mother,” as of course it says in the Ten Commandments.

Apparently some families would declare that portion of their resources that would have been used to support aging parents as gifts to God, and if it was a gift to God, it could not be used to support the parents. To Jesus, this was clearly a terrible thing to do.

So he went on to say that it is not what comes into a person’s body that defiles. It’s not about dirt or unwashed hands. It’s what comes out of a person that defiles, and it is those evil intentions that turn into evil actions, things that harm other people: those, said Jesus, come from within.

So I’m thinking about the acts of “devotion” that have been used in our day and in other days to cause enormous harm, worse by far than impoverishing one’s parents, which is awful. But people have devotedly stolen, maimed, and killed. In these days, people, as an act of “devotion,” are refusing COVID-19 vaccines or refusing to wear a mask around other people – and these are things that are coming from within.

So it is, I think, more than time for us to summon up from within the best of ourselves, to treat one another well out of a strong desire that our neighbors and the stranger live lives that are worthy of the dignity of one created in the image of God.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories: What I'm Thinking
Tags: #video, Whatimthinking
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