The Sixty-Fifth Letter: Enough to Go Around

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Dear Daughters,

Last fall, my women’s Bible study group at church began working through the Gospel of Mark together. I particularly enjoyed reading N. T. Wright’s Mark for Everyone commentary, guiding the group’s discussion, and unpacking the tricky passages.

I’ve read Mark before, both in snippets and straight through in one sitting, and I’ve certainly heard a lot of sermons preached on it. In fact, Pastor Bob preached through the book of Mark over the course of one liturgical year in recent memory. Your dad even translated it when he was studying Koine Greek as an undergraduate.

So it’s very familiar to me. And at 16 chapters, it’s the shortest Gospel. It’s all in a rush, it seems, especially when you read straight through it.

But reading Mark as a group this time, especially with all of the summarizing and re-hashing of the themes every week last fall, really illuminated the Gospel for me in a way that caught me off guard. It’s not just short and speedy and simple. Nope, it’s downright radical, girls. Seriously. It’s upside-down Kingdom, challenge the status-quo, packed-full-of-symbolism radical. This is powerful stuff, this Word of God.

It’s always good to be reminded of that.

My group took a break from Mark to read a different book this spring, but we picked it up again during Lent, starting with Mark 10. To kick off our discussion, I asked my friends to think back over the first nine chapters of the book and reflect on what stood out to them.

I’m sure it was no surprise when I told them the three things I had been carrying in my heart these last months because, quite honestly, when I’ve got something on my heart, I preach it. All the time. You’ll know this about me someday.

The first was the radical pull-back-the-veil, reveal-things-as-they-really-are nature of Jesus’ baptism scene. How radical would it be for us to hear God’s message to Jesus as a message about our own calling as God’s beloved children? “You are my beloved child,” God says. You are. YOU.

The second was the Gerasene demoniac’s healing. This has always struck me as a strange one, the focus often on the demons requesting to go into a herd of pigs—talk about crazy stuff in the Bible! —but N. T. Wright points out something I had never thought about before. This man, this Gentile who had been tearing his body apart because of possession and illness, is not just healed by Jesus, but commissioned by Jesus. Jesus tells him to go back to his community—most likely a Gentile community, given the location—and tell what God has done for him. This man, this nobody, is actually the first apostle to the Gentiles. How powerful is that?

And then, lastly, the bread. Oh, the bread. I’ve been preaching about the bread every time I can.

God’s message throughout the Gospels is a message of abundance and provision. It’s the message throughout Scripture, of course, but it comes up powerfully in the life of Jesus.

Here in Mark, the disciples see Jesus perform radical miracles of the body and spirit, they hear him teach and explain a radical Kingdom of God, and they are sent out and tasked with doing miracles themselves. Mark tells us they do it. They actually cast out demons without Jesus there with them.

Then they witness Jesus doing another crazy thing for a crazy big crowd of people. They even help him do it. God transforms a measly amount of bread and fish into enough food for over 5000 people, and there are twelve baskets of bread leftover. Leftover, post-miracle abundance.

But then, and this is what stays with me: a little while later, the disciples are freaking out when a storm comes up and they’re on a boat without Jesus. But Jesus, once again being his radical self, comes walking out on the water to them. Mark says Jesus “intended to pass them by,” which evokes a lot of things, including Moses being permitted to see the full revelation of God from behind as God passes by him in the cleft. The disciples here are seeing something they cannot believe, and it scares them. When things calm down a big, Mark says, in passing, that they were scared and confused because “they didn’t understand about the bread.”

They see God in the flesh, but they did not understand about God’s provision. They saw bread multiplied for the masses, but they did not understand that God had sent the true Bread of Life who was big enough, strong enough, enough enough. They were themselves able to cast out demons, but they doubted the ability of God to cast away their fears.

If only they had understood about the bread.

If only they had understood about God’s provision.

If only they had understood about God’s abundance.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few months.

Do I understand about the bread?

Do I recognize the message of abundance the Gospel announces to the world? This is not a name-it-and-claim it abundance. This is not a reward-for-good-behavior abundance. This is not a give-and-you-will-be-blessed abundance.

This is the sheer, undeserved, over-the-top abundance of grace.

And it is for everyone. Not just you, girls. Not just me. Not just other pew-dwellers.

This abundance is offered to the most ornery of political leaders.

This abundance is offered to the shut-in across the street.

This abundance is offered to the registered sex offenders in our neighborhood.

This abundance is offered to the mom of the kid at preschool that kind of grates on your nerves.

This is radical abundance. There is enough to go around. It won’t run out. And offering it to others does not lessen the value of it, the generosity of it.

We Christians say we believe in the grace and love of God, but I worry that we don’t act like we believe in it.

I don’t think we act like we believe that it applies to others, that much is darn sure as far as I witness Christian behavior in my own community and on my own Facebook newsfeed, but I also don’t think we act like we believe it in our own lives.

And still I wonder:

Do I understand about the bread of heaven? Do I understand that this life is not my own? This house is not my own? That you are first and foremost daughters of God more than you are my daughters? Yes, I think that is the message of scripture.

This world is not ours. Our lives are not ours.

Everything we have is undeserved. And there is enough to go around.

If only they had understood about the bread…

I don’t know, ya’ll. I might still be preaching this message when you’re grown-up and reading these letters.

If I’m not, remind me.

Love,

Your Momma

The Forty-Eighth Letter: I Need Reviving

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Dear Daughters,

Tonight our church is kicking off a revival weekend: three evenings of dinner and revival services that culminate in our Sunday morning worship service and potluck after church.

Sigh.

I should probably say up front that I wasn’t raised Baptist, and I feel a bit ambivalent about these planned revival events in general.

Probably because of the charismatic strain of my childhood—in which we said we expected the spirit to move any given Sunday—it’s hard for me to wrap my brain around a planned-out revival. Though I’ve been told that these are totally normal things for a church such as mine, I’ll confess it’s hard for me not to be doubtful.

Over the last few days, though, I’ve been feeling a good old Pentecostal nudge about it. Here’s what that nudge is telling me:

We need reviving.

And, what’s more:

I need reviving.

Last week, during a meeting with one of our ministers, I broke down in tears because the church feels broken to me. Like we’ve got it wrong and I don’t even know how to change things. Like I don’t have the energy to even imagine how church could be different, how new life could be breathed into dry bones. (Look at me getting all Scripture-quotey.)

Hear this, girls. I’m not trying to be down on our particular local church. This is a community who loves you and teaches you and smiles at you and can’t believe how big you’re growing.

What I’m trying to say is that I have this gut feeling, this uneasiness, that the church as a whole is broken.

The way we tend to do church—and by “we,” I guess I mean everyone who has experienced church as I’ve experienced it, which certainly isn’t everyone, not even everyone at my own church, but I would guess is a lot of thirty-something Americans who grew up broadly evangelical—the way we do church doesn’t seem to be getting to the heart of Kingdom-of-God work. We make due with how church is because it’s always been like that. We are used to it. We don’t even expect it to be more, to be the place where we experience the presence of God. Yes, the presence of God. Look at me getting Pentecostal.

I think a lot of us do a lot of good in our individual lives, a lot of us have these hands-and-feet-of-Jesus convictions, but I rarely see faith communities living out being the body, being a community that draws people to God, that welcomes the stranger, that cares for the orphan and the widow, that feeds the hungry, heals the deaf and the mute. I don’t see us doing much of that literally or metaphorically.

Sigh. Maybe I just don’t have eyes to see. Or ears to hear.

As I said, I could use some revival.

I’ve been studying Mark lately, and Jesus is just so radical.

And so I was crying tears of frustration and sadness and broken-heartedness, because I want a community that selflessly and radically gives to one another and to the world, a community that is vibrant and happy to join together on a regular basis because we are Just So Darn Excited to be gathering and worshipping, to be learning and teaching, to simply be sharing in the presence of God.

That presence of God would call us to radical lives, girls, not just shuffling-kids-to-soccer-practice lives.

That presence of God would draw the stranger to us, and we could be welcoming angels without realizing it, rather than weighing the pros and cons of snappier music during our services. (Don’t get me wrong–I wouldn’t mind a little more toe-tapping myself.)

Sigh.

Here’s the truth. When I try to get you excited about church on Sunday mornings—yay! Sunday school! Yay! Nursery! So fun!—it’s a show. A show.

I don’t feel that excited on Sunday mornings, truth be told, and by the looks of most people in our church—the harried parents, the lonely widowers, the distracted businesspeople, the college professors, the worn-out staff, the kids running to get donuts—I don’t think most of them are excited about being present either (except maybe those kids who really want the donuts, you two included).

Most of us are there because we are there.

And so… revival.

Seems like a good idea to me.

Let’s go get us some.

Love,

Your Momma