Mark 9:38-50 

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someonecasting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. 

42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me,it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell,to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. 

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire.  50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” 

As I was thinking about this conversation around our lectionary reading today, my friend Bruce Baker came to mind. Bruce, or “Bake” as we called him, was the executive director of student ministry non-profit in Lexington many years ago. It was a ministry that I was involved with in high school, it had a huge impact on my life. The relationships that I formed with other students and with the adult leaders of this group helped to shape me in many ways growing up in Louisville. 

When I got to the University of Kentucky in Lexington, I was thrilled to learn that this group was starting up in Lexington and I met Bake. Bake and I began a great friendship and a working partnership that established this group in Lexington and its still going strong 28 years later.

I thought of Bake because of the title of today’s sermon: “Salty”. Bake was very salty! He was one of those persons that everyone simply loved to be around, he was the go-to guy in Lexington for faith leaders. At the time, he was in his late forties and really was an established presence in the Lexington community. He was everyone’s friend, yet also not afraid to mix things up a bit. 

He was the one who introduced me to the writings of Thomas Merton, the Abbey of Gethesamani and the importance of Sabbath retreats and rest, and he was a Presbyterian Elder that greatly influenced me in my decision to become Presbyterian! 

Bake was also not afraid. He would joke about his willingness to do anything for a dollar. Which he backed up, repeatedly. There were numerous occasions where some of the young folks at the time would dare Bake to do something incredibly outlandish, and to our astonishment, he’d do it. For instance, the time we dared him to climb the water wheel while in line for the Beast roller coaster. And, in front of hundreds of folks, he did. 

But, there were also many times where Bake would go more than the extra mile to support us and to reach out to kids in the projects of Lexington, as well as the wealthy kids in the suburbs that were so lonely. His example pushed me in so many ways. 

Bake would also work with anyone willing to love our community and kids. He modeled what it was like to bring different denominations together and faith communities for the common good. Plus, he was committed to Lexington. He had many of what I’d call the celebrity Christian leaders at the time, both conservative folks and progressive folks try to get him to come and work with them. Oftentimes for higher, guaranteed pay and a higher platform. Bake would have none of that, he may have been tempted, but he valued the relationships he had in Lexington too much. 

Bake modeled so much of what our gospel lessons are sharing. The disciples were trying to get Jesus to recognize how special they were when they tried to stop others from driving out demons. They wanted to be exclusive, in their own identity as disciples. Yet, Jesus shatters that image by saying that whoever is not against us for us, that we can’t be so prideful to think we can do this on our own, that we have to recognize that if someone offers to help us, or to give us a gift to refresh us that could encourage us, we should take it. 

Bake got that and didn’t position Campus Life to be a siloed ministry. He worked with everyone. That sometimes didn’t help our “brand identity”, but it did help bring the community together. 

Bake had a way of focusing on the main thing: Jesus and Jesus’ love for others. I found this quote from an intentional Celtic community that highlights this way of living that fits well with our conversation this morning: 

“We can do worse than remember a principle which gives us a firm rock and leaves the maximum elasticity for our minds: the principle ‘Hold to Christ and for the rest be totally uncommitted’” – Herbert Butterfield 

Another example of this here in Springfield Township are all of the faith communities starting to work together, the conversations that have been started. They have all reached out to me since I’ve been here with offers and desires to partner with us and to encourage Fleming Road UCC. Connect Day was a great example. 

It’s also interesting to think about Bake and his calling to teenagers in relation to this morning’s text. As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Jesus tells us to welcome all, especially those on the margins of society, those who are overlooked or looked down upon. Children in the 1st century we’re considered non-persons. Jesus is giving them recognition and this week’s text he continues with hard language about welcoming children and not causing them to stumble. 

With a background in in youth ministry, I thought of this passage often…I did not want to cause anyone to stumble! But, this passage also says a lot about taking risks. It’s about being vulnerable and entering into friendships with those considered on the outside. The saying in this passage about cutting of your foot or gouging out an eye comes from a common saying in the first century, however, the original proverb said to cut out both eyes or hands! This is an attempt to say that it’s better to lose a part of you than all of who you are, and if you are not reaching out and loving those on the margins well, then you are missing the mark, you are sinning. And, again, as we talked about, sin is relational…it’s not only present in what you do or are, but what you do not do and who you are not. 

Who you are is a wonderful human made in God’s image called to live and love as Christ did and does…to be the body of Christ. The opposite of that is to deny God’s presence and working in your life, which leads to a sense of loss of identity, or hell. 

Hell may or may not be real, but it’s an alternate reality. God never intended for there to be a hell, and the ways we tend to think of hell aren’t really expressed in Scripture…some would even say that hell is not a part of the scriptural canon… The true reality that God intended is heaven. Heaven is being in God’s Presence. That Presence is expansive, wide, and we can catch glimpses of it everywhere when are eyes are opened to that reality. CS Lewis talks about heaven in his classic fictional book The Great Divorce as being a place of endless wonder and hell being a small crack in heaven. Yet, we, humanity make that crack so much bigger as we settle for lives filled with dysfunction and lies about our true selves as God sees us. So often we live in a place of darkness or hell. God’s love is amazing, it is so amazing that it is overwhelming and to some that’s wonderful, but to others that can be really scary. 

Donald Bloesch in his book The Last Things says this: “…hell is being exposed to the light that redeems even when darkness is much preferred. Hell is the incapacity to love even in the presence of love.” You see, the problem is not does God forgives us or love us, but can we forgive and love ourselves and others? We want to hide from God and his love for us behind our insecurities, our comfort, our wealth, our pride…whatever it is that we are holding on to that somehow gives us some false sense of security. We often do not want to be exposed to the light of God’s love that exposes everything for what it truly is, so we often prefer to live in darkness. pastedGraphic.png pastedGraphic_1.png 

Jesus says that we will be salted with fire in this morning’s passage. It’s interesting, fire burns and it warms. It can bring life or turn it to ashes. Either way, it consumes us. The fire of Jesus’ love does consume us, but it brings us life. I want to be that person. 

My friend Bake, and many others over the years, have been that salt in my life. We can be that way with each other, and with the world around us. May we sprinkle that salt to all we encounter…including ourselves! 


Mark 9:30-37

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

I’m a runner.  Most of you know that, and I struggled this week on whether I should use a running metaphor today, but this applies.  My image as a runner is important to me.  I also like to run fast.  I’m 53 years old, yet, I can run farther and faster now than I ever could…even with some minor aches and pains this past year.  Sometimes, I have this image of myself really training hard in hard and winning my age division at the Boston Marathon or something similar.  I don’t want to settle for being a good runner, I want to be a great runner.

I also imagined the same thing for the cross country team I coach.  I want them to go all the way to State every year.  Never happened as a team, but we did some individual runners to state and our girls team made regionals in a magical year.  

Yet, here’s the thing, running is a sport where you can’t hide.  All runners experience something similar, we are constantly humbled.  Most runners imagine winning, coming in first…but, obviously, that doesn’t happen all the time! 

In this sport, the only way you get better is by running daily, running workouts that make you suffer and experience some pain…not to the point of injury, but pain nonetheless.  It’s hard.  Yet, something emerges within, you begin to appreciate others, you experience a shared deep connection with other runners as you put yourself out there.  

You are also vulnerable after a race, extremely vulnerable.  After running the Boston Marathon in 2016 and being extremely humbled as I ran it injured and it only got worst.  When I crossed the line, I only wanted to call my daughter who I knew would understand as a runner…I cried when I started talking to her, and I don’t really cry that often.  

As a coach, I also have to remember that my words to my runners after a race have to be honest, authentic, and also encouraging.  Especially to my own kids ran for our team!

Many of those words after a race are themes that I’ve repeated often, yet so many times they are simply not heard, yet, after a race, after the suffering, they often are heard in a way that is much more meaningful and they are received in a way that is almost very innocent and pure.  Plus, honestly, I had some cred with these kids because they knew that I’m willing to suffer in races as well, they know that I know what they are experiencing, and that I was with them.

Running can be a great parallel to life, and to this morning’s gospel lesson.  

Jesus has been with his disciples, he wanted to simply teach his disciples something meaningful, so he went through Galilee in secret as it says.  He was teaching them that he would suffer, die, and be raised from the dead.  This was hard for them to hear and understand, but he kept on saying it, teaching it.  It was important to Jesus because he was called into this world as the representation of all humanity.  He was not only telling the disciples that he would suffer, die, and rise again, but that they would be participating in that suffering, death, and resurrection through him.  

The disciples were probably keenly interested in the new life part, the resurrection part, but in order to experience that resurrection, before we can truly understand what it means to live life as God intended, we have to experience suffering, we have to die.  This isn’t a cruel  joke on God’s part, it’s a reality that we, as created beings, don’t always see or experience life as beautiful as it was meant to be.  We have to go through experiences in life that push to ask some of the hard questions.

Yet, the disciples, like us, were not interested in the harder questions, they were asking the question:  which one of us is greater?  What is our image to God?  Where will we stand with God at the end of time?  What’s our status?

In the midst of those conversations, it seems like the disciples were focused on the resurrection part.  Which I get, don’t we all want to run to the ending of a story, we want to feel good and triumphant.  The passage even says that the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus what he meant.  Could that have been because they were afraid to confront the hard realities of suffering, of pain?  

So, they escape by arguing about who’s going to be greatest.  Or try to hide.  But, they are missing the mark and Jesus would not let them hide.  Jesus asked them what they were arguing about, they grew silent.  They knew that Jesus had caught them in a “sin”.  We don’t talk much about the word “sin”, but it is an archery term actually, it means missing the mark.  When you don’t hit the bullseye with an arrow.  

It in this context, sin is a relational term.  The disciples were missing the mark, they were focused on themselves, avoiding the hard questions, being distracted, rather than lifting each other up and loving well.

What does Jesus do?  Well, he doesn’t send down thunder on them, he doesn’t condemn them.  He does the opposite, he treats them with respect and simply calls them together, sits with them, and brings a child into their circle.  He encourages them to serve others, to be last, to put others before them.  

The example of a child is important to note.  Children in the first century were considered non-persons.  They were often slaves, they were of no value.  They were truly on the margins.  I tell my kids all of the time how amazing they are and how loved they are, but this wasn’t even close to the reality in Jesus’ time.

By doing this, by bringing in a child, Jesus is saying that children are the stand-in for himself, for the Son of God.  We should welcome children, those on the margins as we would God, the creator of the universe.  It’s not about becoming childish so we can enter the kingdom, it says much more about maturity, about being bigger than our selfish desires or our protected self-image and welcoming others in.

Friends, we are saved by God’s grace, all of us live in God’s love whether we recognize it or not.  In the UCC, we believe that God’s love, God’s salvation action has more to do with Jesus’ actions on our behalf than our actions.  We can’t evoke God’s salvation, he gives it to us, all of us, even those who have felt left out.  

We are also called, as followers of Jesus, to live into this salvation with a sense of growth and maturity.  We are called to live resurrection lives.  Maturity happens as we grow through experiences with ourselves and with others.  Oftentimes that growth happens when we enter into relationships with those who we may not normally associate with…God has so many friendships, so much growth, so much life, real life, waiting for each of us and for this church.  As we become welcoming in our lives personally and corporately as a church, we will experience growth and we will the experience the joy of our salvation.  

May we welcome life as it comes to us:  suffering, death, resurrection…even as we welcome others in our communities who walk through these doors or that we meet in the neighborhood, welcoming them as we would welcome Jesus.  


Mark 8:27-38

Peter’s Declaration about Jesus

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”[a]30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,[b] will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words[c] in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Bold question by Jesus in this morning’s text!  “Who do people say that I am?”  If someone were to ask that about you, what would you say?  Take a mental checklist of things to say…

If it were me, I’d first think of being a father, a spouse (most days if you ask Debbie I think), a pastor, a runner, a neighbor, etc.  

But, who are you really?  Who am I really?  I know that for me, those are roles that I play, sometimes well, sometimes not so well, but who I am, how I know myself and others, who really know me, are able to see me and I am able to see them at a deeper level.  

A few months ago, we talked about the South African Zulu greeting and response, “Sawa bona”.  When one is present with someone else, they would tell them, “I see you”, the response, “I am here.”  

It is a powerful statement of being present with someone else.  It also means that two folks have a deep sense of their own self because they are able to see others and to be present with others.  

In so many ways, I think that’s authentic friendship.  

We are seeing that in this morning’s gospel lesson from Mark.  Jesus is asking his disciples, who do people say that I am.  The disciples give a lot of descriptors, but only one, Peter, is able to see beyond the descriptors and to say that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the promised one, the true friend of all peoples regardless of social status, of life situations, of their actions or sins.  

Jesus doesn’t want the word to get out just yet, he tells his disciples to let things unfold, to be patient.

Jesus then goes on to say that he would suffer.  Greatly.  Friendship with humanity, authentic friendship, comes at a cost.  In this case, this kind of life was going to lead Jesus into GREAT suffering, incredible shame, being exposed fully to the world…naked, scarred, broken.

And, something else, that he would go through all of this, but then rise again.  That, out of his suffering, his humiliation, his death exposed to the world, that he would rise again.  That no matter what he goes through, that love will win out and he will rise.  

He said this openly and the disciples, especially Peter, were stunned.  They thought of the descriptors, they wanted a deliverer, someone who can save them but without the pain and humiliation.  They wanted a triumphant God, a national hero that would solve their problems but without the hurt and scandal.

Jesus would have none of that…he gets mad and has a rather strong rebuke for Peter, “get behind me Satan”.  

You see, friends, even genuine friends, sometimes get a bit cloudy or hazy in what they see in one another.  In this case, Jesus is strongly telling Peter to wake up, to not hide behind some kind of hero type messiah, a nationalist messiah that would deliver Israel from the Roman occupation or make them a great nation again in the eyes of the world.  

No, Jesus was saying that to follow him, there something deeper going on.  He is saying that he has come to give life, to give Presence, to all of those suffering with humiliation, with brokenness, with pain, and even death.  That they can walk with him as he walks with them through the throes of life.  And, that they too will rise with him…but, they, along with him, will have to go through the hard stuff of life.  

They may even lose their lives.  Actually, they will lose their lives, in order to gain life.  Everything.

Friends, as I continue the journey of this summer, and really my whole life, of reconciling within me the grief of loss, that even things that I may hold on to dearly are dying, that this is the process of life…and that the messiah, the true friend, is with me in that process and that I too am rising again in the midst of the shame and the suffering of death.  Being with mom for the 24 hours before she died was hard…it’s been hard with every person that I’ve witnessed die…but, when it’s your mom, it was hard to see her struggle, hard to hear her wanting to go home, then hard to hear her breathe so painfully for much of a day, and then to simply stop and be in that quiet moment.  At times there was a tragic beauty in it, but mostly not very dignified…it was a struggle.  

Yet, it’s something that we all will experience.  And, we have a hope in resurrection because of Jesus.  But, let’s also remember that Jesus’ resurrected body still bears the scars of his humiliation.  And, yet, he overcame…and so will we, scars and all.  

And, you know what, that’s good news.  We have an earthy, really, honest faith that not only is with us in the hard stuff, as well as the good stuff, but a faith that is like yeast in the dough as it says in scripture that is causing new and beautiful things within us to grow.  


Mark 7:24-37

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”


Going up a mountain can be hard!  Our son loves to climb mountains, I do as well.  I’m pretty adventurous, but my son takes it to new places.  On our vacation this year in the PNW, Brennan picked out three amazing hikes for us as a family.  All of them required ascending lots of vertical feet.  They were hard, yet, the views were worth it…and the journey up, as hard as it was, and at times thinking our son is wanting to get his inheritance early…we made it.  Along the way, we had some amazing conversations, some great openings, and even some growth.

Our psalm reading this morning is from the Psalms of Ascent.  

As we’ve discussed before, these are psalms that would be recited during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Devout Jews in the 1st century would go to Jerusalem to worship in the temple.  Jerusalem sits on a hill and the temple sets on a high place in the city.  To this day, it’s called the Temple Mount.  So, there was a sense that one would be travelling upwards, ascending towards Jerusalem, towards God.

Our gospel reading this am from Mark, from the Lectionary, which is a universal pairing of Scriptures for the church for daily reading in order to paint a picture of God’s activity in our lives, actually gives us two stories.

The first is a healing of the daughter of Syro-Phoenician woman.  The daughter is possessed by a demon.  This woman is not Jewish, and she crosses some major social boundaries in approaching Jesus.  First, she’s a woman and women in this culture did not approach men easily.  Second, she’s Syrian, she’s not Jewish.  The very fact that she confronts Jesus with her daughter’s plight shows great courage.  

Jesus had been about his ministry in Galilee, yet he retreated to the region of Tyre.  Maybe for some rest, or time to get away from the crowds in Galilee.  Yet, the crowds found him in Tyre.  

When the woman approaches Jesus, Jesus may have been tired.  His response to her seems kind of rough.  His response of letting the children be fed first gives an impression that Jesus was saying to her that he had come for Israel, not the rest of the world.  That it was unfair to throw the children’s food to the dogs, was comparing foreigners to dogs?  I’m not sure.

We have two dogs, both are amazing in their own way.  Ella, the oldest, is a hound dog that sleeps a lot.  Leo, the shepherd/pointer mix is full of energy and always “on” it seems.  They both hang out under the table during our evening dinners, just hoping for a scrap.

Now, I do love my dogs, but not the same way that I love my children.  So, this passage perplexes me.  

But, maybe it could be a sense of Jesus testing the faith of this woman, but even that seems harsh.  Or, as some commentators have said, maybe Jesus is making an outlandish statement to highlight his Jewish audiences’ prejudices or sense of entitlement.  Jesus is always pushing boundaries, taking risks, exploring where love may take him and even us.  

I’m not sure, but there is a shift in this passage towards an understanding that God’s Kingdom is inclusive and God’s love and presence is for everyone.  God is not satisfied being confined to a temple mount or tied to one particular privilege group of folks, God is available and pursuing all.

God also values folks  willing to seek him out.  This woman has some “moxie”, after Jesus’ comments, she comes back at him saying that even dogs are blessed or lucky to get crumbs.  Jesus doesn’t get defensive or try to “save face”, he simply is amazed at her faith and says that her daughter is healed.  And she is.  

Friends, this story is perfect for us on a day we celebrate communion.  God did not come to give us privileged status, but to provide himself to the whole world in which we can have communion, or community, or deep relationship.  God wants to go to everyone regardless of background or status.  God doesn’t show favoritism.

It’s not an accident that the author of Mark includes this next healing story of having one’s ears opened right after the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman.  Friends bring a deaf friend to Jesus.  Jesus declares an imperative “Be opened”!  And the man can hear!  I’m not sure what he experienced before that time, but I know he had to be disoriented when his ears were opened.  What was he hearing?  How did he process it?  How did he react?  One thing for sure, once he began to hear, his world began to change.

How many of you have had your ears cleaned out by a doctor?   My doctor pointed out, mowing my lawn with ear phones from my iphone causes wax build-up and apparently I have a very small ear canal.  I have had to get my ears dug out.  Which is literally what the gospel author is saying, we have to have ears dug out by God in order to hear.  We have a lot of cruddy stuff that prevents us from hearing.  Stuff like habits, pride, perceptions, image, cultural baggage, or emotional issues.  Whatever, we all have things that prevent us from hearing.  But, God is calling us towards God’s self.  God wants us to grow and be the persons we were called to be, all of us, together, in community.  

This man was deaf, God opened his ears through Jesus.  Jesus restored him into community.  That may have been messy and he may have things that he’s hearing and needing to share.  Which, he was also mute, so now he could share!  He was able to talk…and I’m sure he talked a lot for a while!  

Friends, may we hear God’s radically inclusive love calling out to us, inviting us into the beauty and sometime messy work of building relationships with our neighbors, this Nepali congregation that will be sharing our space, each other, and God.  May we come to this table this morning with a desire to be fully present with others and with this God.