From the Pastor

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

This 6th chapter of the gospel of Mark contains stories that range from surprising to gruesome:
Jesus visits his hometown and encounters a good deal of hostility.
John the Baptist is beheaded during Herod’s birthday party.
Jesus feeds 5000 people and later walks on water.
This is all, for better or worse, rather spectacular stuff.

In comparison, the two parts of our reading today are more vague and low key. Jesus and his disciples are so crowded by desperate people that they can’t get away even though they are tired and hungry. So Jesus, out of compassion, decides to teach and to heal.

Yet, these two things, teaching and healing are at the heart of what Jesus is about. We don’t know what exactly Jesus told those desperate people who were crowding him. And maybe that is a good thing, because the world changes constantly and teachings need to be adjusted to specific situations. But the basic message remains the same: to spread the love of God in word and deed.

So our challenge in our time is to express God’s love in our chaotic world. We need to figure out what we do have to teach this world and what kind of healing is needed. I think we have more to teach than a sermon can cover, but one thing that came to my mind was speech.

We find ourselves in a time in which it is okay and increasingly normal to be crass, crude, disrespectful and hateful. I read articles online and then sometimes the commentaries that follow an article. It is mindboggling how people, figuratively speaking, spit at each other. I am aware that the anonymity of the internet makes it easy to behave this way, but still, there seems to be an urge to be totally out of line.

Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook were in hot water again this week. This time it was about the question which content should be allowed or not allowed on Facebook. So far, any kind of speech, no matter how factually wrong or hateful, is allowed as long as it doesn’t result in, as he said, “real harm, real physical harm, or if you’re attacking individuals, then that content shouldn’t be on the platform.”

Consequently, regarding those who deny that the Holocaust ever happened, he said, “But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.” – That is more than debatable.

The thing is that words matter and that hateful speech does have consequences. In India there were several incidences in which people were falsely accused of child kidnapping (on Whatsapp) and so a mob set out to kill them.

Stuff like this is not unthinkable in this country either. During the presidential campaign there was a posting that Hilary Clinton runs a child pornography ring out of a pizzeria in Washington. As a consequence, someone actually showed up there with a gun to check it out. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Our teaching in this context is, that we are to “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15)
If we don’t agree with others we can say so without destroying them.
Speak the truth in love does not allow for intentionally lying.
Speak the truth in love does not allow for being crass and crude.
Speak the truth in love does not allow to just yell at others.

I pass a little league field on my running route. There is a new sign at every entrance saying:
I am just a kid.
It’s just a game.
The coach is a volunteer.
The umpire is human.
No college scholarships are given out today.
Have fun.

The fact that this sign is there says something about the culture that must have developed around those fields.

If we have to teach something to the world it is that love is the guiding force in whatever we do. One expression of this love is how we interact with and speak to others. Granted we are human, and we get angry, and there may be the urge to lash out. But there needs to be a core belief that reminds us that there are boundaries.

And this has nothing to do with being naïve or just hoping that we can all just get along and be nice to each other. It is about realizing that a) everyone without distinction deserves to be recognized and respected as a full human being and a child of God and b) that speaking our truth in love is the only way to get anything done in the long run. Lashing out, destroying others may gain a short term win, but in the end we need to figure out how to live together.

One of many things to teach in our time and our context is promoting God’s love in the way we communicate in any aspect of our lives, ranging from the bleachers of a little league field to the vastness of the internet.

According to Ephesians we are called to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. And this life is described as one in which we are humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, and making efforts toward unity, so that we are built up and become mature in faith. None of these characteristics allow for crude speech or behavior.

When we reach maturity, we will not be “spiritual infants, easily deceived, and tossed to and fro by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14)

But, “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ”. Growing in maturity, speaking truth in love are things to teach and to learn in our time. They are very much needed. And if we succeed, at least a little bit, they will also bring healing into a divided world.