Total Pageviews

Monday, November 26, 2018

Look! The King is Coming (Revelation 1:4-8)

By way of introduction he simply writes, “I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (1:9).  John lived in the penal colony named Patmos, a rocky island off the coast of modern Turkey, ancient Asia Minor.  Piecing it together, we figure out that he was in exile because of his Christian faith.  In 96 AD, in Jerusalem, certainly in Rome, and in the region of the seven cities mentioned in the first two chapters of the Bible’s final book, Revelation, followers of Jesus suffered for their faith.
            The Roman Emperor Domitian insisted on deference from all people, even demanding that subjects of the empire acknowledge him as divine.  “Domitian is Lord!”  All were expected to make this proclamation, suffering greatly if they would not.  Christians would not. 
            Some were harassed in their own communities.  Their businesses were forcibly closed, or they were bullied by local constables, or they were shunned by people who did not want to suffer by being associated with them.  Others ended up arrested for their insistence upon saying that Jesus and only Jesus is Lord.  Of those arrested, some were executed in gruesome fashion, or for sport, thrown to lions in the arena, or forced to fight in gladiator games; all because they would not just let it go.  “Jesus is Lord.”  To these late first century believers, that claim was worth more than anything; more than their own lives.
            “Jesus is Lord.”  How much is that worth to us?  Who is Jesus?  A cute ornament, the centerpiece of the nativity that sits on the mantel.  In the final days of the year, when we get rid of our trees, take the lights down, and bid Christmas farewell, do we put Jesus in box in the closet to be left there until we give him a nod at Easter, and then put up our nativity next Christmas?  “Jesus is Lord.”  Do we make that claim?  Do we make it seriously?  In the softness and comfort of our American context, we don’t face severe punishment for saying Jesus matters more than any relationship, possession, or loyalty.  Still, we are as called as John was to acknowledge Jesus not only as Savior who assures us of Heaven but also as master who directs our lives.  Do we? 
            John doesn’t tell the specifics of his story.  Somehow, he avoided the death penalty and instead was exiled, away from his home church in Ephesus to, perhaps, hard labor on Patmost Island.  He wasn’t concerned that future generations of Christians know who John is.  He wanted to help his friends in the seven churches in Asia Minor stay faithful in their commitment to Jesus even as they faced the same persecution that landed him in chains.  Revelation was a letter comprised of his vision of the end.  He presents Jesus as the victor and Lord of all.
            We’re not persecuted, but in our affluence, too many of us who claim to be Christians have reduced Jesus, emptied him of His power, neutering his authority and setting him at the margins of our lives.  Moving from Thanksgiving to Christmas, how can we recover the grandeur of Jesus, the majesty of our Lord, so that this season for us is a season of worship? 
            “From Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”  John takes himself out of the equation.  His vision isn’t for him.  Jesus spoke this word that John might write it and pass it on so that the individuals in the congregations that receive it might be formed as communities of disciples who will stay true to Christ no matter the cost.  Jesus longs for you to read Revelation to grow into a disciple who will see Him and give yourself fully to Him.  Even if you or I never face persecution, we can develop a faith that would stand up in the face it.  Our discipleship takes form as we truly see Jesus.
From Jesus Christ, the faithful witness.  The Greek word for witness is ‘martyr.’  Of course, we hear that and think of those who die for what they’ve said and for beliefs they refuse to renounce.  With that picture in mind, we might hope our faith is strong enough that we would stay faithful, but we don’t aspire to become martyrs.  We are happy to live for Jesus, but we don’t want to die for him. 
Yet, martyrdom – witness – is our calling, by the Holy Spirit.  In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus demonstrates the perfect love of God lived out on the human stage.  He was fully human, he saw people as they were, and loved them as they were.  Even at the end, betrayed, arrested, flogged, and crucified, Jesus modeled perfect love, loving those who betrayed and killed him. 
As our Lord gave witness to the goodness of the Kingdom of God, so too must we.  We can admire the way Jesus forgave people and loved all, even his tormentors.  He wants to see us go beyond admiration.  He wants us to see Him, know Him, grow in our knowledge of Him, and then add our own testimony to conversations with friends and to the public discourse even when doing so sets us uncomfortably apart from the people in our lives who don’t feel that call to follow Jesus.  That’s what a martyr does: testifies to what he or she knows to be true about Jesus.  Will we?  Do we know Jesus?  Will we tell what we know?  As we live our lives through the holiday season to New Year’s Day, 2019, what will be said of our witness?  What will others learn about Jesus from us?
Jesus, the faithful witness is also, the Firstborn of the dead.  The way we think of things, birth begins life, death ends it.  God never intended death to be part of our story.  Death is sin’s descendant, not God’s.  Sin does not get to change God’s story, even the sins we choose.  In God’s story, his children have eternal life in His loving presence.  Just as Jesus showed us how to live, by his witness, in his resurrection, he clears our path.  He is the first born.  We follow Him into eternity when we put our trust in Christ and become his disciples.
Finally, we are told, the Witness and the Firstborn is the Ruler of the Kings of the Earth.  Jesus is not a Christmas decoration or a piece of golden jewelry.  He is the king.  President Barak Obama; President Donald Trump; Presidents Washington and Lincoln; each one of them, just like each one of us will bow before Jesus, the king of kings and lord of lords.  The Bible says that will happen, and confessing Christians believe it to the extreme.  We believe on some future day, we cannot predict when but know it is coming, all this will be gone, and the Kingdom of God will remain, in glory. 
            Jesus the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the king of kings, loves us, has freed us from our sins by his blood, and makes us kings who serve.  John had the audacity to write this while imprisoned and his followers, themselves facing death believed it.  And the church has preserved this story so we can read and believe.  We are beloved of God.  Jesus actively loves you as you are.  He sees you as a child of God. 
            Jesus the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the king of kings who loves us, has freed us from our sins by his blood.  Sin snares us and we cannot escape.  Paul’s letter to the Romans emphatically makes this point.  Sin wreaks our relationship with God and destines us for an eternity apart from Him.  But Jesus, through his death on the cross, takes on himself the punishment for sin.  He forgives us and invites us to step from our sinfulness to his holiness.  Matthew, one of the 12, stopped being a cheating tax collector and began life as a disciple of Jesus.  Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, whom he had forgiven, to go and sin no more.  Jesus loves us as we are and frees us so that we are no longer slaves to sin.  When we receive his love and forgiveness, we do not remain as we are.  We are new creations, ready to live the life He created us to live from the start.
            He loves us, he freed us, and he makes to be Kings, yet, people who serve; a kingdom of priests serving God.  We worship.  We study.  We share His love with others.  We forgive each other and those outside the church.  The resurrected one is the Jesus of Revelation, the king of kings; Jesus tells us in Revelation that our destiny is to be his people in the world, drawing the world to him. 
            He was a baby born in a manger, but that manger’s been empty for a long time.  Our anticipation in the Advent season is of the coming of the King.  “Look,” Revelation says, “He is coming with the clouds. …on his account, all the tribes of the earth will wail” (1:7).  And later in Revelation we are told people from all the tribes of the earth will be part of his Heavenly gathering (7:9-10).
            In my house, we’ll have a nativity decoration, as will many of you.  It’s part of our remembrance.  It’s how we tell the story.  As we tell it, I hope we can honor John who wrote Revelation while on Patmos, and along with John, all the Christians who have suffered for their testimony that Jesus is king.  The Christmas story we love so much starts with Mary and Joseph, with a baby and a star, with shepherds and wise men.  But that’s only the opening.  That prelude draws us in to the story of the King and the relationship He invites us to have with Him.  Discover life lived in step with Jesus; a life in which we are always anticipating that day when we look to the horizon and say, “Look!  The King is coming with the clouds.”  That story is our story, the story of eternal life with God.  It is a story to be shared.

Monday, November 12, 2018

How Much is God Really in Control? (1 Kings 17:8-16)

Image result for 1 kings 17

Sunday, November 11, 2018

            Whew!  Big exhale.  Why?  She has looked at me with a solemn face as she asked me to pray for her.  What I say next is really important.
I respond, “Tell me about it.” 
Every single one of us has a story.  Even the seemingly unremarkable daily occurrences move the story of your life.  It might mean nothing to someone else, but this is your story.  You don’t know what’s on the next page until you get to it.
When someone asks for prayer, she (or he) is reeling from what happened on the previous page; agonizing through the page she’s currently on; and, fearing what’s on the next page.  We don’t ask for prayer in the happiest parts of the story.  We’re blissful in those moments.  We ask for prayer when things are tough and we’re worried, afraid.
It’s clear she is a believer in Jesus.  Her thought that prayer might help was an indication of this.  As she tells her story, she says, “I know God is control.”  Why say that?  I think it’s because we absolutely hope that is so.  It’s a veiled desperation heave.  O God, I hope you’re in control. 
God could have stopped the mass shooting in California; and the one in Pittsburgh; and the one in Parkland, Florida; and the one … . God could have stopped it all if God wanted to.  Did God just not want to? 
Telemachus Orfanos was at the Las Vegas concert last year.  He survived that mass shooting.  I wonder if he said a prayer of thanks that included the words, “God is in control.”  He was 27 years old, a U.S. Navy veteran.  We honor veterans today. God is in control.  He who survived Las Vegas was killed at the shooting in California last week.  God is in control?  How much control does God really have? 

The book of First Kings in the Old Testament, after taking us through the golden age of King Solomon, then details the tragic story of God’s chosen people as they, against God’s intentions, split into a Northern Kingdom, Israel, and a Southern Kingdom, Judah.  Both were ruled by a series of kings, many of whom tried to be faithful to God’s ways.  Just as many abused power, disregarded the suffering of the poor, and led the nation into sinful idolatry by mixing worship of God with worship of other peoples’ pagan gods called Baals. 
At the end of chapter 16, we meet the new king of the north, Ahab. It says, “Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord … than had all the kings of Israel before him.”  Ahab married a non-Jewish queen, Jezebel, daughter of the king of Sidon.  Ahab happily followed as she led him into idolatry, an insulting disregard of the God Ahab was supposed to represent and serve and love. 
Flipping the page to chapter 17, without warning or ceremony, we meet Elijah the Tishbite.  No introduction is offered.  He bursts onto the scene, his first recorded words a direct threat to King Ahab.  He tells Ahab there will be a 3-year drought in which rain will only come at his, Elijah’s word. 
Why don’t we receive background on Elijah, the Old Testament’s most prominent prophet?  Prophets only existed to point people to God; often, pointing to God’s displeasure.  Prophets meant to speak and then diminish as the message of God dominated the story. No one believed the idea that God is in control with as much commitment as the prophets.
Implied in his pronouncement of the drought was a condemnation of Ahab and Jezebel.  This drought is God’s punishment for their wickedness.  Immediately God sends Elijah into the wilderness, on the run.  By declaring the environmental disaster and blaming the king, Elijah becomes an enemy of that king.  Ahab kills his enemies.  And Jezebel is more coldblooded than her husband. 
The entire episode displays God’s control.  God tells Elijah to flee to the Wadi Cherith, a barren, dry place of wilderness; and that was true even when there was no drought.  Now, no one survives out there.  It is the perfect place to hide because Ahab will never think to chase Elijah there.  No fool would hide there. 
God makes water flow from the dried up wadi and Elijah drinks.  God instructs ravens to bring Elijah food and they do.  Control!  God controls the rain and the animals and the streams. 
But this begs the question, what about everyone else, besides Ahab and Jezebel.  We know that in natural disasters – floods, droughts, hurricanes, fires – the poor suffer worse than the rich.  Yes the drought punishes the wicked king and queen, but must God punish everyone as a drought clearly does?  We have to look back at the story – Elijah’s story; Ahab and Jezebel’s story; yours and mine.  I meet God in my story, but I do not know what God is doing in others’ stories.  There was a drought.  It does not tells us how God acts in the stories of common people throughout Israel during the drought. 
Then, the next account tells us exactly that; not a king’s story, but the presence of God in a very common person’s story.  Elijah has been in a place where his only hope of survival is God’s ability to command nature – ravens to provide for him.  Also, Elijah depends on his belief that God wants to help him. 
To Elijah in his Cherith wilderness hideout we read that “the word of the Lord came to him.”  “Go now to Zarephath and live there.”  Zarephath is in the coastal region to the west of Israel.  Sidon is the capital city of the region.  Remember Sidon?  That’s Jezebel’s hometown.   It’s like telling a runaway slave in 1860 to hide in the home of a poor white farmer in Mississippi. 
God tells Elijah, “I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”  The narrator of 1st Kings does not let us in on Elijah’s, thoughts, not yet, anyway.  Elijah goes and meets the woman at the Zarephath town gate.  She doesn’t look very good as she gathers kindling.  She’s dangerously thin, with sunken cheeks and sallow complexion.  Elijah asks her to stop what she’s doing and fetch him a drink of water.  Without protest, she moves at his word and as she does, he asks her to bring him bread. 
This is too much.  She replies, “As the Lord your God lives” – she knows who Elijah is, that he is the prophet of the God who’s caused the misery of this drought – “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering sticks so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son so that we may eat it and die.”  She is preparing for her own last supper. 
First, God sent Elijah to survive in the wilderness around the Wadi Cherith.  He lived in a place of death.  Now, God has sent Elijah into enemy territory to get sustenance from a woman who is planning to starve to death in the midst of the drought God has sent. 
Elijah’s next words show how utterly idiotic we can sound when we say exactly what God tells us to say.  “Fear not,” he tells her.  Then he tells her to go ahead with plans, a last supper followed by death by starvation.  Yeah, go ahead with that, but first bring me a little something to eat.  It’s so ludicrous, it defies description.  And that’s the point. 
We heard the telltale phrase of Old Testament prophets when Elijah was sent to Jezebel’s stomping grounds.  “The Word of the Lord came to him.”  Now we hear a similar phrase that signals God is in the midst of this inexplicable contradiction in Elijah’s words.  “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel.”  We know something profound is coming.  Your jar of meal from which you make bread and your jug of cooking oil you use to prepare it will not empty until the rain comes.  So, go ahead and prepare for your death, but know this.  God is preparing life for you.  Not only that, but you will be a part of the story of God’s word convicting and then redeeming Israel. 
We say “God is in control” as a desperate hope that God will do something to rescue us from the darkness we’re in; we cling to the hope that God will heal us from the trauma we have suffered.  God did not cause the shooting in California or Pittsburgh or Florida.  God did not spare Telemachus Orfanos in Las Vegas just to have him die this past week.  These shootings happen because God allows us to have free will.  When we human beings have free will, often, we choose evil.  These shootings and deaths are evil.  Evil is present in the world.  I don’t know why this young navy veteran died.  His story is not my story.  What I believe is God was in his story.  I know God is in mine. 
God is first in control of God’s self in a way that I cannot control myself.  I overreact to things.  I get emotional.  I lose my temper.  I can be selfish and, sometimes, shortsighted.  I lose control.  I believe we all do.  God is steadfast.  God doesn’t direct every movement of my life or course correct every time I make a bad decision.  God lets me live with the consequence of my mistakes.  God lets me suffer the natural outcomes of my sins.
When I turn back to God in repentance and faith, God forgives.  God creates a new future.  When, from the darkest parts of myself, I turn to God, God shines His light in the darkness.  God draws me to it.  We see this in the Apostle Peter.  He denied knowing Jesus three times as Jesus was being tried and flogged.  A week after the resurrection, Jesus restored Peter, three times allowing him to pledge his love.  Peter bore scars on his soul from his sin, but those scars were signs of healing restoration, not shame. 
The widow in Zarephath “went and did” according to Elijah’s word (v.15).  She doesn’t question.  She keeps scooping ground meal, pouring oil, baking bread, and feeding God’s prophet, her son, and herself.  With each meal, with the restoration of her health, with each moment of feeling full and satisfied, she discovers what it means to live according to the word of the Lord. 
When the pages of your story tell of that part when you have to walk, as Psalm 23 says, through “the valley of the shadow of death,” and your only recourse is to ask a friend to pray for you; there’s no other solution.  I don’t know that God promises to make the next page in your story instantly easier or to immediately solve all problems. 
Here’s what I am sure of.  God promises to be there.  Life is out of control.  You and I feel out of control.  So we pray.  And when we do, we meet a God who gives hope to starving widows who have lost it.  We meet the God who confronts wicked kings with truth and power.  We come face to face with the God who loves us so much, he let his only son take our place in death. 
Maybe in your story right now, the next line is, someone, please, pray for me.   Maybe that’s how things are.  Of course, you have people to pray for you and with you.  God is here.  He loves you.  Whatever you have going on, in this very moment, turn to Him.  Ask him to help you.  Turn to Him and see what it looks in your life when he fills your cup and blesses you with His love.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Where We Can Agree (Mark 12:28-34)

Image result for Mark 12:28-34

            One political group identifies with the man in power.  No matter how foolish he acts, these supporters will stand by his side.  They ignore his boorish behavior as they prop him up claiming he’s best hope for the nation.  They don’t really believe that.  In truth, they plan on sponging off his riches and privilege.  They want to advance themselves by walking in his shadow.  We’ll call them the brownnosers. 
            The brownnosers’ rivals are a group that’s committed to the letter of the law.  They are fully convinced that their interpretation is the only valid one.  They exert power over common people as they wield the law like a sword.  At their word, one is vindicated or condemned.   And everyone listens to them because they seem to know so much. We’ll call them the legalists. 
            The legalists and brownnosers definitely do not like each other.  They constantly clash in public verbal sparring matches.  However, the legalists are at odds with another group, a second rival.  This group holds the seats of power in the ruling body. They actually possess legislative authority.   We can refer to them as congress.  Some of those in congress have loose association with some of the brownnosers.  The actually despise the brownnosers, but are willing to use them, if it maintains their privileged position.
            I’ve tried to be coy, but you are too smart for that.  You can see right through my veiled references.  I’ve mentioned three groups that in different ways hold the people of the nation under heel with their misuse and abuse of power.  Three governing bodies vying with one another, sometimes entering dubious alliances, other times openly attacking each other; we all know exactly who I am talking about.  It is the first century in Jerusalem and I have just described the Pharisees as legalists, the Herodians, sycophantic members of the puppet King Herod’s court, as brownnosers, and the Sadducees who controlled the temple as the congress.
            These power groups had to wrangle under the oppressive eye of Rome the way today’s politicians have to deal with the inevitability of Election Day.  Powerless powerbrokers, they elevated themselves at the expensive of the common person.  And then Jesus broke onto scene with something neither they nor the Romans had anticipated.  He told the truth!  He was real.  He revealed what was real about them.  And this one truth-telling man exposed and disoriented those who had previously thought of themselves as untouchable.
            Follow Mark, the master story teller.  Imagining the scene, I picture this section being read in the home of some Christian in Ephesus 88AD.  A group of Christ-followers is gathered, 30 people.  It is a rich Christian’s home, big enough to host the church in that sector.  Among those 30 there to glorify God in the name of Jesus are the poor, the travelers, the weary and beaten.  They have been harassed by local politicians and constables. They’ve been intimidated by Roman legionnaires.  They’ve been kicked out of the synagogue for insisting that Messianic expectations have been realized in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  They know that to follow him is to be a people abused by society’s powerholders. 
            They come to an Ephesian church maybe hosted by an aged Timothy.  He’s invited an old friend to share a good word: John Mark.  He’s well known having apprenticed under Barnabas and Peter, and near the end having reconciled with and then worked alongside Paul.  We recognize names like Timothy and Mark as being among the younger set of disciples we meet in Acts and Paul’s letters.  But this particular Sabbath Day, it is 50 years past the resurrection.  These men we remember being young are now the last vestiges of the original generation of Jesus-followers.  Where has Mark been?
            With a gleam in his eye he begins reading what he’s been working on – his version of the good news; this is Mark’s Gospel.  By chapter 12, those 30 believers in the Ephesian house church are with him.  He pits the Pharisees in public confrontations with Jesus and the crowd cheers Jesus as he demonstrates wisdom, defeating their tyranny with a Gospel of freedom, overcoming their abusive theology with his Gospel of love and grace.
            Mark has Jesus deflecting all the rhetorical and legal assaults the Pharisees can muster. Defeated, they do something they would never do.  They conspire with the Herodians!  “They sent to [Jesus] some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him” (12:13).  Jesus meets their absurd scenario and in Mark’s abrupt prose we read, “They were utterly amazed” (12:17).  That’s Mark 12:13-17 if you want to read it later yourself.
            The Sadducees, perceiving themselves to possess a vastly superior intellect to the parochial Pharisees and pompous Herodians, take their turn at Jesus.  They tell an improbable parable about a woman who marries 7 brothers.  They want to disprove resurrection.  All they accomplish is the proof that Jesus is much more adroit than them.  You can read this encounter in Mark 12:18-27.
             The rhythm is easy to pick up. All the corrupt parties of Jerusalem politics have been thrown into an unwelcome alliance in a joint effort to put the village rabbi from Galilee back in his place.  A shot comes at Jesus from one corner, he swats it back byspeaking the bold truth of God.  Another shot comes from over here and Jesus is ready.  Their deceptions won’t slow him down in his determination to reveal God’s salvation to all who come to him genuinely seeking God.
            In the midst of this, Mark throws a curveball we need to see.  Within corrupt political structures whether the systems of 1st century Jerusalem or 21st century American politics, there are people who honestly want to serve.  Of the Republicans and Democrats hoping to win this Tuesday, some are truly good men and women.  Maybe you don’t vote for them because you disagree with their views on a certain issue, but you don’t have demonize them.  It’s OK to disagree with civility. 
            Mark writes in verse 28 that a scribe approached Jesus.  Most of the scribes in the temple were probably Sadducees.  This Sadducee watched Jesus go at it with Herodians, Pharisees and other Sadducees to the delight of the crowd.  But this one was annoyed.  He could see that the cheering crowd had no more interest in truth than the corrupt politicians bickering with Jesus.  These people cheering Jesus today would be jeering him as he hung from the cross just a few days later. 
But this man had a real question.  From one thinker to another, “Teacher, which commandment is first?”  If we want to live in right relationship with God and with our fellow human beings, if we want to honor God in our lives, where do we start?  Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”  People think Jesus invented that statement.  He was quoting law they all knew. 
He doesn’t stop though.  He then quotes Leviticus 19:18.  This comes right from the middle of the holiness code, a law they all knew. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Mark’s audience in that Ephesian church pastored by Timothy has been laughing along with Mark and Timothy as they all hear Mark tell of Jesus’ flourishes in overcoming the assaults hurled at him by Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians.  But they notice the change in Mark’s tone when he gets to this part.  Jesus never won arguments for the sake of winning arguments.  He didn’t want to defeat people. He wanted to enlighten people with truth so they could see their own sins and thus see their need for God.  Seeing their need for God they would then discover the path to God was the way paved by Jesus.
A hush falls over Mark’s audience as they hear him tell of this scribe, a Sadducee who is beginning to open his heart to Jesus.  We might describe the man as a Washington insider.  Mark holds before us the story of this insider stepping onto the path of discipleship through a thinker’s conversation about theology and faith. 
“You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and beside him there is no other;’ and ‘to love him with all the heart, and all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ – this is more important than all whole burnt offering and sacrifices” (12:33).  Astounding!  A scribe who worked in Jerusalem just said that relationships of love mattered more than temple ceremony.  Where did scribes work?  At the temple.  Who did scribes work with?  Priests!  He’s beginning to see that salvation doesn’t come in what happens in the temple.  Salvation comes when someone meets God in Jesus and responds in faith.  It can be a beggar or the most powerful of lawyers; a wealthy merchant, or a blue collar worker struggling to pay his bills.  Mark shows that in Christ we each come with the same need for grace, love, and forgiveness. 
Jesus did not bat this inquiring scribe away as he had the Herodians and Sadducees in the previous episodes.  Instead, in this instance, Jesus wins.  His victories are marked by the conversion of our hearts to God’s way of life.  God’s way of life is love.  “You are not far from the kingdom of God,” Jesus told that scribe.   He absolutely had to turn away from the temple and turn to Jesus.  And he did that. 
Then Mark writes, “After that, no one dared ask any [more] questions.”  Mark glanced around at the faces of the house-church members huddled in Ephesus.  He had made his point.  Those late first century Christ-followers needed to love the Legionnaires who intimidated them and the local constables who harassed them, and the synagogue leader who rejected and expelled them.  When they looked to Jesus and loved God, they could all agree on that.
We can too.  So many issues cause us to argue with each other, even our brothers and sisters in church; we argue, then we demonize the other side; then we divide the world into “us” and “them.”  This hateful bipolar way of seeing is one philosophy trying to win the day – this Election Day and in this moment in history.  Some arguments are fun: Pepsi or Coke?  Cats or dogs?  Apple or PC?  Tar Heels or Blue Devils?  Some arguments are more deeply divisive.  Do we welcome refugees or secure our borders with the military?  Can gay people get married in the church?  Can we own guns and defend ourselves or are we supposed to turn the other cheek? 
The demonic monster of political corruption wants us to turn on each other by forcing us to divide into camps based on these and other issues.  Mark promises we don’t have to fall for that.  We can be united in Christ.  Our starting point, and this is absolute, is loving God and loving each other.  This is something we can all agree on.  My neighbor is the person God puts in my path and I am called to love him as much as God showed love for me in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Mark’s audience understood that the love of God revealed in Jesus is the remedy for the ills that divide people in society.  They would take that Gospel he wrote and left with them.  Centuries before the printing press, they would preserve it, by hand copy it, translate it, and live by it.  Why?  They knew this writing was Spirit-inspired.  This was word of God.  This was life. 
I think we know it too.  We reproduce Mark’s Gospel when we respond to the corruption and fearmongering around us with a commitment to love and Godly hospitality.  As Election Day approaches, may we do that this week.  May we go out in love, determined to love people in such a way that they see their own deep need for Jesus.