Perhaps it goes without saying, however we are living in a time when our word is increasingly divided, our nation is fragmented and our communities falling apart. All the technology that connects us makes it easier and easier for us to choose the programing, the kind of new and the information with which we already agree. Too often it feels like every issue has two irreconcilable perspectives, with little room in the middle and no one willing to see, hear and share with “the other side.”
And yet, I have hope. This is why Jesus came; what it means to follow; and why I believe God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit gathers us in and calls us to be so much more together: light of the world, salt of the earth, body of Christ and children of the Living God in very urgent, real and meaningful ways.
Several years ago I find myself in room with about a dozen people, most of whom are total strangers. We are there for a month-long, hands-on intensive to learn how to provide pastoral care to people in a hospital setting. As the orientation begins, the head chaplain at South Austin St. David’s hospital turns to us and asks one of those “ice breaker” questions meant to open us up and become more familiar and perhaps less strange to one another. A good “ice breaker” is fun, easy and safe. And there in the heart of Texas, deep in the bible belt, I believe for this episcopal priest that was probably what she intended. “What is your favorite scripture and why?” she asks.
Now for many, this was a no brainer and they were quickly able to recite all kinds of scriptures, citing chapter and verse. For me, however, I did not grow up in such a tradition and I had at best what could be described as a challenging, strange and often estranged relationship for most of my adult life with all things God, faith and the bible. My peers quickly jumped in, “John 3:16” someone said, “For God so loved the world…” another responded, followed by a brief story from the person. “Beautiful! O.k., who’s next?” says the chaplain. Another shares “Matthew 28.” “Go and make disciples” someone explains and the chaplain responds “Powerful…” And on it goes, “Psalm 23, the Lord is my Shepherd, Comforting; John 13, Love One Another, yes, yes, yes!” On and on the conversation goes, until all have shared except me.
Call it inspiration or desperation, however as the eyes of colleagues, strangers and potential friends turn on me, I respond, “the beginning of Mark 5.” No one chimes in. Even the chaplain has a furrowed brow. Finally she says, “Mark 5?! Well for the life of me, I cannot remember what that might be!”
Feeling awkward and a little embarrassed, I begin to explain. “For me this story is the essence of the Gospel. It is what love of God, neighbor, enemy and self looks like and it gives me hope especially in times like this.”
To understand the depth and power of this story we need to step back a little. Jesus is there teaching in parable and story. Whether affirmed or uplifted, confirmed or curious - or simply looking for entertainment because Netflix was invented yet - more and more people come to hear what he has to say. “The kingdom of God is as if someone woul