More than We Can Accept

This is my radio devotion for Thursday, August 27, 2020, aired on KBBN/KCNI, who graciously airs devotions from the pastors of the Custer County Ministerial Association.

Could you use a little good news today?

Good morning, I’m Pastor Matt Fowler of Broken Bow United Methodist Church. This week, I’m turning to the Gospel of Mark to hear and share some good news, because my spirit needs it. Maybe yours does too. Incidentally, I’ve also be preaching on Mark for the past few weeks if you want check out BBUMC.org.

Yesterday, I shared about some of my bike riding antics, but I didn’t share one important thing: I always wear my helmet. It wasn’t always that way. When I was young, I built ramps in my alley three railroad ties tall. I’d protest when my mom would tell me to wear my helmet: “But didn’t you see my jump? I never fall down (a lie), and if I did, I wouldn’t land on my head.” It was inconceivable to me that I could fall and hit my head. But my mom who was an intensive care nurse, and my uncle who was a paramedic knew differently. But here’s the question today: Why is it so difficult to accept new information?

Jesus ran into this question when some people asked him, “Why do John’s disciples and the Pharisees’ disciples fast, but yours don’t?” (Mk 2:18). He responded with three images or stories (Mk 1:19-22). First, he says that wedding guests don’t fast at the wedding with the groom present; they fast later, suggesting that time with him is like a wedding and he’s the groom. Second, he says that no one patches an old coat with a new piece of cloth, because the new cloth will shrink and make the hole worse, insinuating that the new and old don’t mix well. Third, he says that no one puts new wine into old wineskins, because the new wine’s fermentation will burst the old skin, suggesting that mixing the new with the old will ruin both.

Mark doesn’t tell us how the people responded, but the way the legal experts continue to respond throughout the gospel shows that they, at least, didn’t get it. They all saw Jesus living the way of faith, their faith, in ways that challenged them. They thought they knew how to be faithful, even if the systems in place were oppressive, heavy-handed, and joyless for some or many. So, when they saw Jesus calling ordinary people, eating with sinners, and eschewing some of the standard religious practices, they doubted his faithfulness to God, and wondered what his actions meant about God’s kingdom.

It’s difficult to accept new information, a new way of being or approaching the world. When some whipper-snapper comes home after college suggesting new ways of doing the family business, is it difficult? Sure. Do we sometimes learn things in the process for which we’re better off in the long run? Maybe.

In matters of faith, the expansive grace of Jesus might be similarly hard to accept. Throughout the gospels, Jesus invites people to follow him, regardless of how the religious establishment sees them. He embodies God’s mission to draw all people into relationship with God through him. All people. All people. And following him with our words, actions, and heart, is the only requirement. We don’t earn his love. And we don’t get to demand that others try to earn his love by following rules we establish for them, even if we’d like to. Of course, following Jesus and accepting his grace means that we’ll want to change our hearts and lives, little by little with the help of the Holy Spirit. But this is a response to grace. Can we accept this good news? Can we live it?

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