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Archive for July, 2012

Time Out

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.”  Mark 6:31

Imagine the crowds that pushed around Jesus and his disciples as they moved from town to town.  I’m sure that Jesus’ popularity had grown considerably because of his healings and other miracles, and the disciples ran errands, watched and learned, and were Jesus’ constant companions as they traveled.  The passage above says that they didn’t even have time to eat because there were so many people demanding Jesus’ attention.

My first thoughts on this passage were about celebrities and how difficult it is for them to have privacy.  Certainly we have heard a tremendous amount of complaining from them about the Papparazzi, and we have witnessed some of the horrendous things that have happened because of being hounded by cameras – Princess Diana is a good example.  So I really sympathize with celebrities, no matter what profession they are in – entertainment, sports, politics, etc.

But celebrities aren’t the only ones who have problems with being interrupted or disturbed or too busy.  All of us struggle at times with time – either too much time on our hands or too little.  In this day and age, the majority of us, even retired folks, mostly just don’t have enough time.  What has happened to fill our days with a full schedule that leaves little time even to eat?

I watch parents with children who are very active in so many activities all year long.  Some of them have had the practice of having a date night which means that they find a babysitter so they can go out to eat, take in a movie, go for a walk, spend quiet time together to keep their relationship growing.  There are also couples who don’t have time to do any of those things because one goes to work when the other arrives home – they can’t afford child care.  Some people have two, three or even more jobs that they are trying to hold down in order to make ends meet, so they have neither the time or money to do recreational things.

Yet, we all have the opportunity to do one recreational thing.  If we break the word down, we see that it is almost a phrase:  re – creation – al.  We can recreate our enthusiasm for life, our energy for our jobs or family or other relationships, our ability to “go with the flow” better, and our relaitonship with God if we take time apart.  This might be ten minutes a day when we can “steal” time to drive in silence, go for a short walk, take a shower uninterrupted (maybe!), or some other restful activity that gives us a break from the daily routine.  Re-creating ourselves comes from finding time for Sabbath.

Sabbath is time that we take to be with God, with family, with ourselves.  It’s a stoppage of the daily “grind” and stopping to take a deep breath while we just ARE.  I once gave out a three minute meditation to my congregations, encouraging them to put it in a conspicuous place where they would take a three minute break to just regroup.  I don’t know how many actually have used it, but if even a few did, I hope it helped them.

We have Jesus’ own example for us.  He told his disciples to “Come away and . . . rest a while.”  He set the pattern and showed us the importance of rest and relaxation and quiet time:  time for listening to God, to each other, to nature, to whatever helps us pause and give thanks or regroup or repair.  Maybe this week, we can all find a little more time to turn away from the ordinary and give ourselves a break, even if it is only a short one.

Try it!  You might find the rest of your day, your week, your life goes a little more smoothly.

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Pushing Buttons

“When Herod heard John [the Baptist], he was greatly perplexed; and yet he like to listen to him.”  Mark 6:20b

Herod had a conscience; his name was John the Baptist.  John had continually called Herod to accountability for his sinful ways, including having his own brother murdered so he could have Herodias, his brother’s wife.  Herodias wasn’t fooled and hated John.  She wanted him dead, as if that would take away her guilt in her complicity of her husband’s death.  Somehow she couldn’t use enough influence on her new husband to have John put to death because of his obsession with the Baptizer.

Then it happened.  Herod’s daughter came to a banquet they were having and danced for the king, pleasing him very much.  He must have been proud and delighted because he promised her anything – all she had to do was ask.  There was Herodias’ opening:  she told the girl to ask for the head of John the Baptist.  And so, Herod, not wanting to break his promise to his daughter, had John beheaded and the head presented to the daughter who would have then given it to Herodias.  Gory.  Sad.  Manipulative.

I wonder if Herodias really had satisfaction from John’s death or if she had nightmares for the rest of her life.  Maybe she thought she had “won.”  It would be interesting to learn what Herod’s response was.  This passage in Mark 6:14-29 doesn’t give us much except that John pushed Herod’s buttons, and Herod was fascinated as well as perplexed.  Didn’t he really understand Jewish law?  As a man who probably studied the Torah as a child, he surely would have known the law, especially the Ten Commandments.  Apparently, he didn’t pay much attention to them, particularly in the case of adultery and murder.  Yet, when he heard about Jesus, he said that John had been raised from the dead.

John’s death clearly affected Herod in some way.  When have our actions affected someone else?  When have WE pushed someone’s buttons?  How do we know when OUR buttons are being pushed?  In what ways do we handle those situations?  Do we react like Herod and Herodias, manipulating and trying to control those who might be bugging us?  Do we become the button pushers in return, trying to retaliate?  What can we learn from this sad story?

The forces of good and evil seem to regularly “draw the line in the sand,” as the old saying goes.  They challenge each other, and all of us struggle with that tug of war inside us between them.  I know someone who was the “prize” in the middle of her parents’ fights.  Whoever could win her to “his or her side” won the argument.  Sadly, it left her feeling a great need for control since she had very little control in her life.  She grew up sassy and argumentative, and she still hasn’t learned how to care about someone else without trying to figure out what’s in it for her.  Even worse, her idea of truth is taking something someone said and, even though using the same words, make it sound totally different.  Manipulation and selfishness shape her behaviors, and she has trouble even telling herself the truth.  Maybe she doesn’t even know how to tell what truth is.  Maybe she doesn’t care.

We can respond differently to the negatives in our lives.  We DO have a choice.  We can choose to fight back or run away.  Or we can stand up to the evils in the world and not allow others to manipulate us (to the best of our ability).  We can chose to seek the truth, to respect even though who disrespect us.  When someone pushes our buttons, we can begin to condition ourselves to respond with common sense and a shrug of the shoulder, and we do not need to ever give into it.

It can also keep us from over-reacting to others and work at not trying to push their buttons in return.  John the Baptist stood firm in his convictions and in his call to accountability.  So did Jesus.  It’s a great challenge to us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, but with practice, it gets easier and almost second nature.

The next time someone pushes your buttons, stop to assess the situation before you say anything and think through what is really happening.  Are they justified?  Or are they manipulating?  Interesting to think about and THEN act upon.

Rejection and Self-Esteem

“Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”  Mark 6:4

Jesus went back to his hometown of Nazareth where he was initially greeted with the “parade down Main Street” and joyful welcoming.  But when he started preaching to the hometown folks, they didn’t really like what they heard.  After all, wasn’t this “little Jesus” the son of Mary (notice they didn’t even mention Joseph which could be considered an insult).  They had watched him grow up, learn a trade, play in the streets, learn the Torah in Synagogue, go through his Bar Mitzvah, and most of all, they knew the questionable birth lineage.  Suddenly, just as in any celebrity, the down and dirty comes out.  They didn’t want to hear his authoritative preaching because they couldn’t accept that he had grown up and had anything to offer.

That old saying “you can’t go home again” has some ring of truth to it.  Oh sure, I know people who have gone back to their hometowns and been welcomed with open arms and recognized for their accomplishments.  I also know more people who struggle to return to their hometowns because of the same kind of blind-sided view that the people of the town have of them.  Of course, this is mostly in smaller towns (and in those days Nazareth was a fairly small town), but even in cities, the neighborhoods knew the kids growing up and some of that rejection would still be there.

It hurts when we go back to the place of our childhoods and find little or no recognition of who we are as adults.  I doubt that the people of my tiny hometown in Iowa will ever really know who I am as an adult because I have changed so drastically.  Sure, they recognize me (mostly because I’m with my parents!), but they don’t really know me.  They have never heard me preach, and I’m not sure that even if I DID preach, they would be able to hear me.  A few years after I had started serving my first church, I was asked to go back to the church that “sent me forth” into ministry.  I wanted to thank them for their support and let them know that I was doing well, so I incorporated that into my sermon.  The word came back to me from the pastor for whom I covered that I had just given them more of a report than a real sermon.

That hurt.  Okay, so I admit that my sermons weren’t all that exciting when I first started in ministry (hopefully I’ve improved A LOT by now!), but regardless, I did include some exegesis, some illustrations (my journey being part of that), and tied things together with the scriptures.  I had to remind myself that returning to your home church to preach isn’t necessarily going to be a good thing.  Fortunately, about three years after that, I was invited to come to preach again, and that was received much more openly and with enthusiasm, but by then, there was a new pastor and a number of the people who had been there previously had left, moved, or passed away, so that created a little different take on the preaching.

The hurt is something that digs into our self-esteem.  We WANT to be loved by everyone, and most of all, we want to really let the folks back home that we have accomplished all this wonderful stuff and become a SOMEBODY!  When that doesn’t happen, we find our egos wounded and our “noses out of joint” (as the saying goes).  So what did Jesus do?  He recognized that they weren’t going to hear him the way he hoped; he marveled at their lack of faith; and then he shook the dust off his feet and moved on because there were so many places that still needed to hear the Good News.  Maybe somewhere along the line many years later, someone else went to Nazareth and shared the Good News so they would hear it.

What is helpful to remember is that our self-esteem doesn’t depend on other people’s acceptance or rejection of us.  That may be one of the hardest lessons for pastors to learn, but it is also a hard lesson for EVERYONE to learn, especially when it comes to family or childhood friends.  When our self-esteem is grounded in our relationship with God as God’s beloved child, other people’s opinions of us simply don’t matter.  That’s where Jesus was.  He was secure in his identity because he was secure in his God-connection.  His self-esteem didn’t depend on anyone else except what he thought of himself as God’s beloved child.  So when he sent his disciples out two-by-two, he instructed them to pack very lightly and to move on – shake the dust off their feet – if people didn’t welcome them.

Their calling wasn’t about them, but about God.  That’s what our calling is, too.  Let’s stop worrying about other people’s opinions and ask God for God’s opinion of us.  Better yet, read it in the scriptures:  Mark 1:11 “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” said the voice from heaven as Jesus came out of the waters of baptism.  So let’s put our situation in there:  “You are my son/daughter, the Beloved; with you (put in your name) I am well pleased.”  What more affirmation do we need than that!

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