Jesus says to her, “Woman, great is your faith!” This woman, this Gentile woman, she, of everyone who meets Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, she alone has great faith. I don’t know about you, but I want to hear Jesus say to me, “Mark, great is your faith!” Do you want great faith? This Canaanite woman shows us the way.
Last week Jesus told the disciples that they had little faith. Little faith is better than no faith. With little faith, the disciples listened to Jesus’s command, got into a boat, and crossed the sea of Galilee at night for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. With little faith, Peter got out of the boat when Jesus ordered him to come. Little faith is trusting Jesus, taking him at his word. We all need this little faith to be his disciples. With little faith we can go where Jesus sends us, even into situations that are frightening, without fear, because we trust that the one who sends us is Lord above all—and all means all. Continue reading
Following Jesus means that we should, from time to time, expect to find ourselves in objectively scary situations. Too often, though, we live as if being faithful disciples means never having to go anywhere or do anything that could be frightening. We all want, or we all should want, the faith to live without fear. But living without fear is not the same thing as never being part of anything scary. Living without fear means trusting that Jesus is Lord, that he is the Son of God, that the lordship of Jesus extends over everything, visible and invisible. We cannot discover that Jesus reigns over everything if we shy away from anything that might be unsafe. Risk aversion is not the same thing as living without fear. That’s what Peter and the rest of the disciples discover in a windy night on the Sea of Galilee. Continue reading
Fifteen years ago I spent part of a summer working with young children in a slum halfway around the world from here. We were teaching kids preschool, so we were covering basic things they needed to know in order to be ready for kindergarten when they were old enough. One of the topics was different animals—you know, the kind of thing you talk about with young kids all over the world. What’s a chicken? What does a chicken say? What about a duck: what does a duck do? What does a duck say? And so on. What about a dog? What does a dog say? What does a dog do? A dog bites me, one kid says. Everyone in the room laughs. A dog helps me find food in the trash heap outside my house, another kid adds. Whoa. No more laughter. Just exchanges of sad, knowing looks among the teachers.
Hunger is reality in this world, and more often than not, it is something people are born into or forced into, not something that happens because of bad decisions made by particular individuals. When my grandmother was a little girl, coffee soup and dandelion soup made regular appearances on her small family’s menu. Like the kids I helped in that slum, she didn’t ask to be born into a family that couldn’t afford to feed her. And her family worked hard, just like the families of kids all over the world. They just lived where there wasn’t enough: enough jobs, enough money, enough food. So my grandmother ate soups that weren’t really soup, and these beautiful children I fell in love with followed dogs across trash mounds to scavenge for food that wasn’t really food. Continue reading
For the past six weeks we have been sitting at the feet of the master teacher in Discipleship 101, where we have gone back to the basics of what it means to follow Jesus. Today our sermon series ends, but the class is never over. Even the most experienced disciples need to retake this course from time to time. And, in my experience, the longer you’ve been a part of a church, the more you need to pay attention to the basics.
The word “disciple” literally means “student.” A disciple studies; a disciple is a student. Whether we know it or not, we always end up being something like our teachers. The best teachers are the ones we imitate deliberately, but every student ends up being something like her teachers at some point. Discipleship is not just about information; it’s about life transformation. Following Jesus is about becoming like Christ. So we have learned over these past few weeks that discipleship means we belong to a kingdom not our own. Jesus is in charge, not us—and that’s good news! Being disciples means submitting to the test of the cross: the cross tests everything! No relationship, no allegiance, no good idea should have anything to do with disciples of Jesus unless it has been tested by the cross. So when we follow Jesus out into the world, it is without worldly power or authority: unarmed, unforceful, dependent on being welcomed by strangers so that we can bear the good news in the name of Jesus Christ. But if all this sounds like a burden, we must always remember that the call to discipleship is the call of love: Christ loves us, woos us, beckons us to follow him, and his yoke is easy, his burden is light. Still, we must respond. Hard-heartedness or shrinking back from potential difficulties or giving in to the cares of the world cut short our discipleship. God offers us grace at baptism and throughout our lives to be transformed into good soil and to produce good seed for the gospel harvest. Continue reading
A sower went out into a field to scatter seed. That’s the job of a sower, right? Sow seeds. The name says it all. Get a big, brown sackcloth bag, fill it with seed until it’s heavy, until it pulls on your shoulder and your back, walk down the path to the fields, and scatter the seed. Start out early—it will only get hotter during the day. And all that walking back and forth, up and down the fields—there’s not much to the job, but it’s definitely work. Sowing seed. It’s what a sower does. Continue reading