As we begin to wrestle with these texts today - with their claims of exclusivity and condemnation - I’d like you to consider the idea of belonging. What does it mean to you to belong? Who, or what, do you belong to? Most of us have so many allegiances in our lives that we sometimes feel that we are in the midst of a competition, or perhaps we are being competed over.
We live somewhere in the midst of family considerations, Doctor’s orders, financial obligations, the needs of our friends, and - heaven forbid - even the opportunity for relaxation and enjoyment. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between the people, places, and things that belong to us and the people, places, and things that we belong to.
Belonging certainly implies ownership, indeed “to be the property of a person or thing” is one of the definitions of belonging prescribed by www.merriam-webster.com. There is a lot more to belonging than that, though. Other definitions include:
1. a : to be suitable, appropriate, or advantageous <a dictionary belongs in every home> b : to be in a proper situation <a man of his ability belongs in teaching>
2. a : to be the property of a person or thing —used with to <the book belongs to me> b : to be attached or bound by birth, allegiance, or dependency —usually used with to <they belong to their homeland> c : to be a member of a club, organization, or set —usually used with to <she belongs to a country club>
I have a love/hate relationship with exercise. I always have. God has blessed me with a high metabolism and with the lack of ability to sit still, so I have always been relatively fit. The only time I have ever attempted to lose weight intentionally was when the weight classes dropped half way through wrestling season in high school. I ended up staying the same, which bumped me into a higher weight class with larger, stronger boys that found me to be about as competitive as a mop.
Unfortunately I have never had much of a need to become more fit, other than general health and a nagging desire to fit into societal expectations of physical prowess. I’ve never had a real goal. I’ve never had any real motivation. As I get a little older - and I am well aware that I am far from aged - there are some new motivations creeping that are not apparent from the surface. Of course, the reality is that all of us, regardless of age and stage, need to care for the fragile vessel we’ve been given.
Yet somehow, we usually need some kind of external motivation to make the internal choice. Many of you know that our family has a new dog. Emma, the dog, has become my external motivation - and my new jogging partner. Yet there are still days that I just don’t want to do it. In fact, most days I would rather just let her run around in the back yard than go through the effort of physical exercise.
We had so much fun last time, we decided to do it again! Who knows, this could be habbit forming. Members and friends of the church are invited to join for a Ladie's Luncheon on Wednesday, May 23 from 11:30a.m. to 1:00p.m. Join us in the FPC Parlor for a joyful meal and fellowship.
Truth and action - there is a relationship between truth and action. You’ve heard this said a thousand times in just as many ways. People say things like, “The proof is in the pudding, actions speak louder than words, or practice what you preach.”
There is another phrase that involves another phrase that my mother taught me not to say, and especially not from the pulpit (my kids will never let me hear the end of this). The phrase is, “Shut up and dance,” and it has shown up in pop culture repeatedly over the last decade as song titles, band names, and blatant challenges to act. It’s a challenge to act on opportunities, and it is a challenge to stand up and demonstrate what you believe in.
In fact, Shut Up and Dance was even the title of a recent fundraiser in New Jersey held by the Pennsylvania Ballet netting $150,000 for a group called MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance). MANNA is similar to our Meals on Wheels program, except that they serve people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or other life-threatening illnesses.
And so the author of 1 John challenges us to “love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” And although we receive this as an invitation, it is at the same time both a commandment and a description of who we are and what we do as followers of Jesus.
Some of you may have noticed that I like to sign my emails with the word, Peace. I often wonder how that is received. Sometimes I will add the word, Grace, because I believe those are two concepts that require one another. We need grace - the unmerited and undeserved favor of God - in order to truly experience peace.
Still, I will confess that I sometimes add Grace to Peace because I think that makes the salutation sound a bit more ecclesiastical and a bit less hip. It’s my own little way of reclaiming something our culture has stolen from the church - or maybe we have given it away. The result is the same either way.
Some time ago I was venting about some injustice to a group of colleagues. I signed the email with “disturbance” instead of peace. It was, again, my own little way of saying that I do not wish for equilibrium in the presence of injustice. My hope was not for the sublime tranquility of the status quo. My hope could only be recognized by a change in the way things were.
Have you ever felt that way? It is not a happy way to feel, but I would suggest that it is not a bad way to feel. We tend to think of peace in terms of tranquility or restfulness and contentment. We do not tend to think of peace in terms of conflict. Strangely enough, Martin Luther King Jr. - the architect of the civil rights movement in our country - believed that peace was not simply the absence of conflict; instead, peace is the presence of justice.
Before reading the Mark passage I acknowledged that the oldest Greek manuscripts stopped at verse 8. Manuscripts containing the longer ending (vv9-20) can be dated to around 200 CE. Manuscripts with the shorter ending can be dated to around 400 CE. After reading verses 1-8 there was a moment of silence, followed by the shorter ending. Scholars believe that Mark’s gospel is probably the oldest text of the synoptic gospels, possibly preceding Matthew’s gospel by 15 years.
I want you to know that I have beautiful feet. It’s true! Romans 10:15 says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” An old mentor of mine told me about that many years ago. He was the same one who told me about preaching in a small country church and being told his sermon was awful. It turns out that the person meant “awe-full” or “filled with awe.” He meant it was inspiring!