This year, we have been taking the challenge to read together the gospel of Gospel of Mark. After a slight detour with Holy Week and Easter readings, we pick up back in chapter 3. The writer of Mark gives a quick clear account of the gospel immediately as rushing us towards to the words that require our action and attention. Immediately, we have things to do and responding to God’s call on our lives. Additionally, we have paired our readings with our yearlong verse: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” We take on this call to not only hear God’s word, but also live it.
In the weeks that follow the resurrection, Jesus spent that time with the disciples in a 40-day semester. Imagine after 3 years of being together day in and day out of teaching and preaching, healing, and caring for people. All of the sudden, it all felt quite different. The words of resurrection and life after death took on different urgency. And so, in these days, Jesus and the eleven, who Mark is so gracious to name for us, gather for us, to remember and relearn. The time together is of relearning and fresh learning. For us as Easter people, we live each year freshly and newly with new eyes to see anew and afresh.
As disciples who move from the tomb to the highways and byways, we are called like Karl Barth once famously challenged us to hold the Bible in one hand and the Bible in the other. Barth, the great theologian, taught theologians and preachers ‘to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible (1) .’” “Newspapers, he says, are so important that ‘I always pray for the sick, the poor, journalists, authorities of the state and the church – in that order. Journalists form public opinion. They hold terribly important positions. Nevertheless, a theologian should never be formed by the world around him – either East or West. [They] should make vocation to show both East and West that they can live without a clash. Where the peace of God is proclaimed, there is peace on earth is implicit. Have we forgotten the Christmas message?’” For the next few weeks, we look to media stories taking seriously Barth’s challenge.
This week, the story of twelve-year-old Cherish “Chance” Houle was shared across multiple media. Let me share with you her story. She was described as an uplifting and hope-filled person. Over the last six months, she began to bullied and experience incredible pain for exploring who she was. The adults and friends in her life, who tried to support her, but it was relentless.
“Cherish’s family and support systems want the public to be aware of her situation in hopes that it will prevent tragedies such as this from occurring again. They are asking that parents talk to their children and find out answers to hard question. Are they being bullied? Are they the bully? Have they witnessed bullying and it broke their heart, but they were glad they weren’t the target today? Did they not know what to do and walked away? Or joined in the laughter because they didn’t want to attract the attention of other bullies in the crowd. We are asking you to teach your children that our words are our most powerful resource and we need to be careful to use that precious resource to positively affect people. Teach your children what to do if someone they know is talking about suicide. Teach them who to call for help.(2)”
Bullying is when you lose track of treating one another as a child of God. When your words and your actions, no longer honor the child of God in another. When you no longer see the beauty and uniqueness of what God has made in another, you moved towards bullying. We initially think of bullying on how children might treat one another. Adults can one another. Adults can bully children, as well.
Jesus gathered the disciples together and sends them out together. We need one another. We need to value one another. We remind one another that God valued each of us for who we are. God, who made us, values us both for who we are becoming and for who we are. God, who urges us on, loves us now! For the Cherishes among us, God is already loving us and has loved us.
Did you hear the call of Deuteronomy, friends? As God speaks to God’s people, they are reminded, that they are never alone! Whether it is the halls of middle school, navigating parenting, co-worker relationships, a new job, figuring out to care for an ailing parent, or this new health turn, God will not leave you or forsake you. If you are being bullied or watching as someone else is, “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.’”
The Fuller Youth Institute has done the research bringing together some of the best minds in the world on youth faith development and they call it Sticky Faith, meaning Faith that will Stick around for our youth. One of their learnings is that our youth need seven sticky points. Seven adults who love and care for them. Seven people who they could turn to. Seven people who they would chose. Seven people who are not necessarily related. Seven people who they trust to debrief and tell their pain and goof off with. Seven people to thrive and survive to adulthood to value them as child of God. (3) Here at West Grove, God has been and continues to call us to be a place where children and youth are called to valued and loved as unique and individual children of God. Where each one may find some of these seven sticky points here in this place.
On the strength of our Easter faith, we are also called to step up and step in as people who are courageous and bold, even when courage is fear that has said it’s prayers. Colin Ryan tells this tells this story from fifth grade: When I was in fifth grade, you could have told me, “Colin, it’s not cool to wear the same pair of sweatpants every single day of school,” but I was comfortable. And you could have told me, “Colin, it’s not cool to go to the school dance and do the Macarena for the entire duration of Guns N’ Roses’ ‘November Rain.’” I would not have stopped. You could have even told me, “Colin, it’s not cool to be an active member of your local church’s clown troupe.” Then I went to sixth grade, middle school, and all of a sudden, it was clear there were only two options. I could somehow be cool, or I could somehow be invisible. And I have to say, I was doing pretty well at option two. Until third period on the first day, when a teacher had us fill out a questionnaire with “get to know you” questions. I assumed that she would be reading them privately, so I felt safe to share from the perspective of the sweatpants-wearing, Macarena-dancing, Christian-clowning little snowflake that I was. The teacher collected the sheets, shuffled them, and redistributed them to the class. We went one by one. We’d read the student’s name and then our three favorite answers. My sheet ended up in the hands of a kid who was one of the coolest and meanest. His “favorite answers” of mine were the three worst ones to be read out loud. The first question was “What’s your favorite movie?” The other kids wrote Scream and Universal Soldier. I remember thinking, We’re 11! How are you seeing R-rated movies? He read my answer, Beauty and the Beast (which I maintain holds up better than the others, but I couldn’t make that argument effectively at the time). A laugh erupted from the room, and my cheeks burned because I knew we were just getting started. The next question he read was “Where would you like to travel?” The others had said “Australia,” “Japan.” I wrote “Wherever a book takes me.” The laughter this time had an explosive quality to it. The kids were high-fiving. The final question was “What do you like to do on the weekends?” The other kids wrote “Hang out with friends” and “go to the mall.” I wrote “perform with Clowns for Christ.” Those who weren’t laughing at me were sort of staring at me in disgust. I felt about an inch tall. I remember fixating on my Trapper Keeper binder and trying to figure out if I could somehow disappear inside it. But then, something amazing happened. A voice from the back of the room said, “Guys, cut it out.” And the room went silent. The voice belonged to Michelle Siever, and Michelle Siever was popular and cool. Michelle Siever had sway. The room was quiet. (4)
For the Colins and Cherishs among us, can you and I not be a Michelle? What does it look like as a church to continue to build sticky faith with seven people for each of our beloved children and youth, we pray for their health and well-being into thriving life? Jesus calls us to love and value, not just the few people, that we prefer, be each and every one.
This is the gospel, the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
(3) Powell, Kara and Chap Clark, Sticky Faith.
Old Testament Lesson: Deuteronomy 31:5-6
The Lord will give them over to you and you shall deal with them in full accord with the command that I have given to you. Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.”
Gospel Lesson: Mark 3:13-19
Jesus went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons. So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. Then he went home.
Meditations Sunday, April 8 through Saturday, April 14
Sunday: “The Lord will give them over to you and you shall deal with them in full accord with the command that I have given to you.” Deuteronomy 31:5. Pray today for all those have been or are bullies. Their lives are often full of pain. Let God fill your heart with compassion with compassion for them.
Monday: “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31: 6. Consider today who God is calling you to walk with to be bold and courageous.
Tuesday: “Jesus went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him.” Mark 3:13. Jesus led a life of calling disciples. To what is Jesus calling you?
Wednesday: “And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons.” Mark 3:14-15. When did you proclaim the good news? Where did you share God’s message?
Thursday: “So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter);” Mark 3:16. Peter gets his own verse! Consider God’s special gifts for you. Each of us are gifted.
Friday: “James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.” Mark 3:17- 19a. Today, let the names of disciples then and now fill your ears and heart. Pray for disciples and followers of Jesus.
Saturday: “Then he went home;” Mark 3:19b. Jesus too, rested. May you have a day of rest.