Guns, Church, and the Command of Love

Recently, some of us attended a seminar on how to prepare for a mass shooter event. Our St Martin’s takeaway from this session is the realization that we must develop a clear protocol of steps, documented on cards publically displayed, that instruct our vergers and others in leadership on the steps to follow in the event of such an emergency.

On Thursday, I met clergy colleagues from the Central Deanery at our monthly lunch and I learned that in some parishes the takeaway from this seminar was a reinforced belief that parishioners must now come to church armed. All the priests around the table were of a common mind concerning carrying guns in church. We all believed and continue to believe that unless you are a member of the police, i.e. those charged with an official duty of care to protect the public, the bearing of arms in church begs significant theological questions. We also recognized that the protection of gun free spaces continues the age-old understanding of the church as a sanctuary space – a place of safety free from the creeping paramilitarization of our civic life.

The current gun debate and the more controversial discussion about guns in schools and churches seems only to further generate copious heat but little light. The failure to make sensible traction in this debate is a failure to confront the enemy within that confounds all sides in an attempted conversation, namely fear. Fear, as in a state of pervasive fear-fullness has extended an icy grip upon our hearts. Fearful hearts feed a culture of communal paranoia in which everyone becomes afraid. But the question never asked is – Of what are we afraid? What lies at the source of our fear?

Guns in church


Issues of major civic controversy have contested histories.

 “The earliest mandatory gun carrying law is a 1619 Virginia statute that required everyone to attend church on the Sabbath, “and all suche as beare armes shall bring their pieces, swords, pouder and shotte.” Those failing to bring their guns were subject to a three shilling fine.lxi This law was restated in 1632 as: “All men that are fittinge to beare arms, shall bring their pieces to the church….”lxii While the original motivation in colonies both North and South for bringing guns to church was fear of Indian attack, by the eighteenth century, the Southern colonies concerns appear to have shifted to fear of slave rebellion. Virginias 1619 and 1632 statutes were somewhat vague as whether all white men were required to come armed to church or not, because of the qualification “fittinge to beare arms.” The requirement was more clearly restated in a November 1738 statute that required all militiamen to come to church armed, if requested by the countys militia commander. Other language in the statute suggests that protection of the white inhabitants from possible slave uprising was now the principal concern.lxiii 

Rhode Islands 1639 law ordered that, “none shall come to any public Meeting without his weapon.” There was a fine of five shillings for failing to be armed at public meetings.liv Maryland did likewise in 1642: “Noe man able to bear arms to goe to church or Chappell… without fixed gunn and 1 Charge at least of powder and Shott.”lv The Rhode Island town of Portsmouth passed a similar requirement in 1643,lvi as did New Haven Colony in 1644.lvii 

In 1637 Massachusetts, Anne Hutchinsons Antinomian heresy threatened the social order. Hutchinsons beliefs had spread rapidly through Puritan society, and “some persons being so hot headed for maintaining of these sinfull opinions, that they feared breach of peace, even among the Members of the superiour Court… those in place of government caused certain persons to be disarmed in the severall Townes, as in the Towne of Boston, to the number of 58, in the Towne of Salem 6, in the Towne of Newbery 3, in the Towne of Roxbury 5, in the Towne of Ipswitch 2, and Charles Towne 2.”civ”. From  Colonial Firearm Regulation  by Clayton E. Cramer

It seems that there were exceptions to arms bearing in the 13 Colonies. External enemies: Indian’s, and slaves were prohibited where possible from carrying arms. But so too were those deemed internal enemies also prohibited: heretics, and Catholics. In fact, for the privilege of being barred from the Colonial militias, Catholics were given the privilege of being taxed twice over. Following the Boston Tea Party, the British government proceeded to confiscate guns held by the local militias in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and to impose law and order by use if the standing army. This move only further fanned the flames of revolutionary zeal.

Following the successful outcome of the Revolution, continual anxiety concerning the possibility of potential British reinvasion, together with a continued communal anxiety about Indian attack and slave revolt led Congress to enact the Second Amendment giving constitutional protection to the right of the citizenry to bear arms in self-defense and defense of the community and the state.

Changing context

The right to bear arms is understandable within the colonial and post-revolutionary historical context. However, the argument that the context that pertained in colonial and post-revolutionary American can be in any realistic manner a blueprint for America in the 21st- century remains a highly contested and contentious one.

Fast forward 300 years and we find that anxiety concerning a communally feared ‘other’ against whom an armed civilian populace was seen as a necessity -no longer reflects our context. Modern-day Americans have no need to protect themselves against Indian attack, slave revolt, the undermining of civic order by heretics, not to mention Catholics or the threat of invasion by a foreign power. Communal and national anxieties of this variety have been replaced by something much more frightening -a fear of one another.

Today the Second Amendment is defended as a necessity in order that we might defend ourselves against our neighbor. In some quarters the right the bear arms is viewed as a necessary protection against even our own government. There is a common saying that the best defense against a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun. Yet, in our society, beyond a clear threat from armed, unstable individuals and criminal elements, who is it we define as a bad man?

Mutual mistrust now leads us to view our very neighbors, especially those we can identify as somehow different from ourselves, as the objects of fear. A paranoid mindset has taken hold of our imaginations so that our neighbors become viewed as potentially dangerous and unpredictable.

Because we can’t know what anyone might do, coupled with the realization that anyone might be carrying a gun, everyone becomes an object of our fear.

Gospel guidance

In Friday’s text from Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John, our Lent 2018 program, we read: 

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, [the doors being locked for fear of the Jews] Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’. After he said this he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

In his reflection on this text Brother Geoffrey posed the question: Where are the locked places in your life?

The first disciples were afraid. They had locked themselves away for fear of the world on the other side of the door. For John and his community of Christian Jews, their fear and anger focused on their Jewish neighbors as the community of the synagogue that had recently expelled them. Writing some 60 years later, in the period following the fall of the Temple and the expulsion of the Christian Jews from the synagogues, John uses the experience of the first disciples as a metaphor for his own community’s struggle with fear of neighbor. What is John’s answer to that fear? It is Love. To be more exact it is being loved. But as I explored last week in To Resist Being Loved being loved requires something of us!

In the section of Mark’s Gospel read for the second Sunday in Lent Jesus speaks plainly about the need to rebuke the pervasive state of fear-fulness that grips our hearts and imaginations. To paraphrase his words he seems to be saying:

if anyone who wants to follow me they must first confront their fear, bear their own and one another’s pain and do as I am doing.

In the words get behind me Satan, Jesus rebukes Peter’s unconscious state of fear-fullness, provoked by the foretelling of his arrest and death. His reference to Satan clearly suggests that Jesus sees this state of fear-fullness as misalignment with God, and a state that exposes us to a realignment with the values of this world – values that pose self-defense and aggression, flight or fight, as the only available options.

Now here’s the ultimate question:

is the preservation of one’s own life a principle that takes priority over every other principle and value in life?

If we look to the gospel message for an answer, it’s clear that Jesus does not think so.

Instead, Jesus poses the question:

For what will it profit someone to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

We forfeit our lives when we live from a place of unexamined fear-fulness. We forfeit our lives when we fail to see God’s love of ourselves reflected in the face of our neighbor. I forfeit my life when I believe that my self-defense has a higher value than the possibility that I may be called upon to give my life to save another. In the face of a confrontation with someone with a gun intent on killing me, my being unarmed may result in my death. Although in that moment courage my may desert me, until then, I intend to live as best I can – knowing that living is a risky business.

The invitation heard in all the great religions is to transcend the limitations of our animal instincts. As John witnesses and we can all attest, the antidote to fear-fullness is love. But the commandment to love and be loved requires something of us, a particular kind of surrender of ourselves to God.

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and the sake of the gospel, will save it.

No one has said that accompanying Jesus on the road to Jerusalem will be easy.

To Resist Being Loved



Verse 9 of Mark’s first chapter opens with these words:

In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “ You are my beloved Son, with you, I am well pleased.”

It ‘s so good to get back to Mark’s gospel in the Lectionary’s three-year cycle of gospel readings. Mark’s narrative is spare and uncluttered with extraneous detail. As we can see in the passage above, Mark does not describe events from the safety of the past tense. He writes in the continuous present. Using the ing verb ending, Mark ushers us into the action as it happens, e.g. and just as he was coming up out of the water he saw the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

Mark’s language is also personal and direct. God speaks directly to Jesus: “You are my son, the Beloved, with you, I am well pleased”. It’s interesting to compare Mark with Matthew’s version of this same story where God says: “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased”.

So who does Matthew think God is addressing? Certainly not Jesus! Perhaps the reason for the difference is that Matthew has already identified who Jesus is in his birth narrative. In Matthew and Luke Jesus is born as God’s son. Jesus already knows who he is and so God’s speaking at his baptism seems to be for someone other than Jesus’ benefit. But in Mark, there is no doubt that God is speaking directly to Jesus.

The question that intrigues me is this: is Mark suggesting that God is telling Jesus something he does not already know? Does Jesus know he is the Son of God before God identifies him as such at this moment of baptism?

Because Mark gives us no backstory on Jesus birth or origin, his appearing before John to be baptized is his first arrival on the scene. What really excites me is that in Mark, God does not talk about Jesus in the third person as reported in Matthew and Luke, but names Jesus, to his face, as the Beloved with a capital B. This is not a beloved, but THE BELOVED. And it appears from Mark’s construction of the story that the process by which Jesus comes to be the Beloved is not by birth, but adoption. We are also children of God, not by birth, but through adoption. And our adoption, like that of Jesus’, is through baptism, a baptism at which God names us also as beloved – although with a small b.


This leads me to ask what is our experience of being be-loved by God?

We are coming to the end of the first week of our participation in the Lent Program from SSJE and The Virginia Seminary – Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John. The theme of this week has been the love of God. Each day we have been invited to respond to a short Scriptural passage and journal our responses and associations as the text as it works it’s way into us. I have found that what really works well for me is not to journal at a single sitting, but to carry the journal around with me throughout the day. In those moments of trying to remember to pause by creating a space between the ending of one activity and the beginning of the next, I read the text again and jot down some more associations and responses.

The real challenge for me has been to take seriously John’s message that God loves me. I am beloved, not because of anything in myself that is particularly lovable. I am God’s beloved, because God has first and foremost, loved me.

I have been curious to note my emotional response to being addressed as beloved. Theologically and intellectually I understand myself to be the recipient of God’s love. Yet, emotionally, I shy away from this for I feel and know myself to be both unworthy and ungrateful.

George Herbert’ poem Love Bade Me Welcome exactly describes my shying away. When God tells me I am beloved my natural reaction perfectly echoes Herbert’s words:

….I, the unkind the ungrateful? Ah, my dear, I cannot look on thee. 

It’s as if I want to tell God: thank you, but no thank you! To be beloved of God is too intrusive and potentially demanding, too intimate a suggestion. It’s too much for me to accept because the reality of God’s love for me takes me way out of my comfort zone.

The human existential reality is that it’s hard to be loved. It is so much easier to the lover. The lover has all the control. Between us, and God, there is a continual negotiation going on around this issue of loving and being loved. As the lover, God pursues us and has no intention of respecting our intimacy comfort zones.

The Rev. Mr. Herbert says it best when he puts God’s negotiation and pursuit of us in this way:

….I, the unkind the ungrateful? Ah, my dear, I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand and smiling did reply, ‘Who made the eyes but I?’

Truth Lord, but I have marred them, let my shame go where it doth deserve. 

Because Herbert lived and wrote in a time when Anglican theology was strongly influenced by a Calvinist emphasis on Jesus’ sacrifice, he naturally continues: 

And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame? 

Ah, My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat,

So I did sit and eat. 

Finally, comes the human capitulation in the face of God’s relentless pursuit. 

If I was more spiritual I might say that my experience of God’s love for me is humbling. In reality, I shy away from it because I find it humiliating. I know that heaven is not about earning and deserving, but believing and receiving, yet, so much of my identity is predicated on being worthy as one deserving of God’s love only to the extent of having somehow, earned it – a ridiculous notion I know, but it’s buried deep in me and seems impervious to theological reason.

The truth is I am loved. We are all beloved because God’s love is gifted to us. Our response should be to open and receive this gift; letting our humiliation – our shame go where it doth deserve.


Notice how Mark simply tells us that the Spirit drove Jesus out, in effect expelling him into the 40-day wilderness experience, being tempted by Satan? Again, note Mark’s preference for strong and active verbs; compare: immediately drove out – with Matthew’s more passive: was led out. 

Also, note how Mark provides no details as to the nature of the confrontation between Jesus and Satan. The detailed series of temptations come from Matthew and Luke, not th-1from Mark.

I like Mark’s version better, not only for the stark beauty of its sparseness but because it allows us to populate Jesus’ time in the wilderness with our own imaginings.

Might Mark’s lack of prescriptive detail provide space to populate Jesus’ experience in the wilderness from within our own imaginations so that the 40-days become a more intimate struggle with our own demons?

As we move into Lent, let us look more deeply into our own experience of temptation and struggle. In particular, let us look head-on at the greatest temptation of all – to shy away from receiving our true identity as beloved of God

Mark ends this section with Jesus returning from his time of preparation in the wilderness to find John has been arrested. The time he says has come, the Kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe the good news! For us also, there’s no time to lose!

Listen here to Ralph Vaughan Williams setting of Herbert’s poem.



Ash Wednesday Message

There is no text to accompany this extemporaneous message. In the message, beginning with the Tagore quote linking service with joy  I suggest that keeping Lent focuses on our service to God. Using Benedict’s approach to the regulation of the day, I translate his approach into the contemporary concepts of mindfulness and intentionality. Being mindful and intentional guided by Benedict’s injunction that all activity has a beginning and an end and between the ending of one activity and the beginning of another lies a period for prayerful pausing, taking stock, quietly breathing. The Book of Common Prayer invites us to practice traditional disciplines of fasting, prayer, repentance, self-denial, and almsgiving. I offer interpretations of what these traditional practices of service to God and others might look like in our contemporary context. I end with a warning about expectations.

On The Loss of Transcendence


Margaret Wheatley writes about joy as an experience of connection, communion, presence, and grace within the ordinariness of our daily experience. She notes how it’s possible to have joy in moments of great suffering. Noting that it is in pursuit of happiness that we estrange ourselves from joy, she speaks of joy being the same as sadness for both states embrace us with an energy that is beyond physical – laughing or crying – it doesn’t matter.

Perhaps this seems so paradoxical as to not be true until we realize that joy and sadness are both states of self-transcendence. When we lose connection to the transcendent we are left to the tyranny of self – a state of profound disenchantment.

Faced with a birth, a wedding, an anniversary – we are captivated by joy. In the face of a death, a disaster, a tragedy of personal or epic proportions, sorrow and sadness capture us as we suffer with, console, and love one another.

The joy we so long for may not be found on mountaintops but it must be found somewhere. It’s not distance that separates us from a life-enhancing encounter with the living God, but a preoccupation with self that makes self-transcendence impossible.


The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor is to my mind one of the towering figures in contemporary philosophy. Joshua Rothman in an op-ed in the New York Times last year wrote that Taylor:

has explored the secret histories of our individual, religious, and political ideals, and mapped the inner tensions that cause those ideals to blossom or to break apart.

images-1Taylor’s massive opus A Secular Age explores the historical, religious, and political developments leading to our arrival in the current secular age. He contrasts the year 1500 when it was impossible not to believe in God with the impossibility of such belief for many today. He charts the route of travel as the culture of the West moved from the impossibility of unbelief to the impossibility of belief.

In the long 400-year emergence of our current secular Western mindset, Taylor notes the gradual transition from the age of enchantment to the age of disenchantment, Disenchantment denotes our loss of a connection to the transcendent.

When our connection to the transcendent is lost, all we are left with is ourselves – now occupying center stage. This is a place of great loneliness and disenchantment.


Drawing on Taylor’s distinction between enchantment and disenchantment helps us to view the Biblical narratives as the product of an enchantment mindset. To the enchantment imagination, God is often frighteningly present in the physical structures of the material world. Divine power not only inhabits objects and places, it fills and disturbs the relational spaces that separate one person from another. God is made uncomfortably known in the sweep of great events through the unfolding epic that is the story of history.

The enchanted mindset understands God’s presence in spatial terms of up and down, in imgresand out. Thus God inhabits sacred mountaintops, sacred spaces. The encounter between the divine and human takes place only after a laborious journey up to the mountaintop where God dwells in a self-revelation in blinding light.

Yet at the same time, the mountaintop is a place concealed in thick cloud. What comes to be known there cannot be spoken about. On the mountaintop Peter, James, and John experience an epiphany of Jesus clothed in his divinity as the Christ. This is a fleeting experience, no sooner glimpsed than it is gone – forever eluding their desire to capture and contain it. Then the disciples must negotiate the even more perilous path down the mountain carrying the experience. They must carry the remembrance of what they have seen and yet, at the same time, practice a kind of forgetting.

Events on the mount of the Transfiguration are only at a midpoint in a long process towards the dénouement or the final act in Jesus’ ministry. It seems that in the spiritual life peak experience is only a means to, and not an end in itself.

As they were coming down the mountain Jesus ordered them, “tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead”.


Today we do not look for God in material space-time. The acceptance by past generations, whose enchantment shaped expectations of encountering God in material objects and places is now firmly rejected by most of us as superstition. Nevertheless, the question is not does a separate spiritual dimension still exist for the modern imagination, but where and how does it exist for the modern disenchantment mind?

Spatial references to up and down don’t work in the same way for us. For us, God no longer inhabits the mountaintop. Heaven is no longer imagined as up there, or hell being down there. Yet, the metaphors of in and out still work for us. For a modern imagination, the spiritual realm is best conceived of as a parallel dimension that interpenetrates with space-time.

When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said he’d been to the mountaintop, no one assumed he had actually climbed a mountain.

The mountaintop now becomes the metaphor for the possibility of a different order of experience, one that challenges our acceptance of the absence of the spiritual in lives given over to a preoccupation with our small self. We may no longer find God in the through the material world in quite the same way as our Biblical and generational ancestors did, yet, despite this God remains emotionally and experientially available to us.

The paradox is that while we reject enchantment as superstition, no generations crave with a greater intensity a desire of self-transcendence than we do. Magical realism, heroic superhuman sagas abound in Hollywood’s works. Opioids, marketed as a solution for physical pain establish a hold on society as a solution to the increasing levels of our spiritual pain.


Margaret Wheatley speaks of joy as an example of a transcendent experience because joy is able to encompass both delight and sadness. Joy is not happiness, which is a very one-sided experience. Happiness is easily destroyed because it is the product of self-preoccupation. Joy radiates outwards, opening new pathways for interconnection and relief from self-preoccupation.

So here is the clue. For us today, transcendence is found in the web of interconnectedness with one another. We transcend the limited confines of self not into the emptiness of bliss, but into the joy of being fully present for one another. Wheatley quotes from the great 19th-century Bengali poet and spiritual teacher, Rabindranath Tagore:

I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.


The Transfiguration story is a halfway point in Mark’s account of the life and times of Jesus. It marks the transition point from preaching and teaching in the Galilean countryside to his final and eventful journey to Jerusalem.

The Visit of the Magi and the Transfiguration bookend the Christmas-Epiphany season. From here on, we move into a different section of the spiritual journey. The landscape becomes rocky and desert-like as we journey down the mountain into the season of Lent.

Is there no better time than in Lent than for us to renew our engagement with the debilitating experience of our preoccupied and disenchantment self?

It’s About Time

A sermon from the Rev Linda Mackie Griggs for Epiphany 5

He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

It has been said that a preacher should preach about two things: About the Gospel, and about 10-15 minutes. That old quip came to mind because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about time. Maybe it’s the turning of the new year. Maybe it’s the imminence of Lent so quickly on the heels of Christmas, leaving us with no breathing space. Maybe it’s the fact that Malcolm and I updated our wills this past week. Regardless, time has been a thing lately.

Salvador Dali Melting ClocksIt’s not a major revelation that time’s passage is puzzling. It purports to be steady and measured; marked in precise intervals by atomic clocks—and on our cell phones. But anyone who has lain awake at 3:39 in the morning and contemplated the endless sleepless and usually worry-filled hours ahead, and then compared that to the fleeting seconds of cozy sleep that pass so quickly after you hit the snooze button— anyone who has had that experience knows that time is fickle. It even varies from person to person; I read recently that the past year has gone by either painfully slowly or relatively quickly depending upon how we respond to current events.

As Einstein demonstrated, and as we all know, time has subjective qualities that render it at once measured, steady and relentless, yet also ebbing, flowing, and mysterious.

I wonder if that’s because time is so tightly entangled with mortality. How much time do we have left? How much time for our friends and loved ones? And not just on a personal level—a few weeks ago the entire state of Hawaii thought it had twenty minutes left on earth. Monday’s Providence Journal had a front page article

about preparedness for nuclear attack. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists clock,

that measures how close the world is coming to nuclear war, moved thirty seconds closer to midnight. Things haven’t been this tense in decades. And it’s bound to affect our outlook on the future. How do we look toward tomorrow if we don’t know if there will be tomorrow?

Well, that’s depressing.

I know, but it’s a serious conversation that I was having just a few days ago.

There’s a country song that’s called “Live Like You Were Dying” that posits what we would do if we knew we had just a little time left, and the idea would be to cram all the fun and excitement and love into a short span, and not waste a minute on ‘the small stuff’. But to live like you’re dying also risks a mentality of the heck with responsibility, do what you want because it just doesn’t matter anymore.

So what’s the alternative?

Perhaps rather than living as though there’s no tomorrow, it would be better to live—and plan—in hope and faith that there will be tomorrow because really, even if everything were calm and perfect in the world we still don’t know how much time we have on earth. We have as much as we have; that’s the case now, just as it has always been. The question is not how much time we have left, but what will we do with what we have?

And that is what gently weaves its way through our scripture lessons today, including Isaiah. “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” This gorgeous passage from Second Isaiah is a reassurance and reminder to the people not to despair;

that their time will come, and that the unsearchable God of Creation who has numbered and named the stars has every creature in God’s hand, and they are called to wait faithfully for deliverance that will come.

Eventually. In time.

For Israel it was seventy years.

And during that time they would establish themselves and become a community in exile—living in faith and hope for a tomorrow that they might not see, but the generation after them would. Isaiah was calling them to wait, not in despair of time running out for themselves, but in anticipation of—and preparation for—the future for the next generations.

In Paul’s letter to the people of Corinth you see him encouraging the Corinthians to come out of their identity silos and walk a bit in the shoes of others, which indicates that the concept of empathy was apparently a challenge for the young developing church. But what does this have to do with time?

When Paul wrote this letter, late in the first century, he felt the pressure of time in a different way from the people of Israel in Isaiah’s time; rather than feeling that time was stretching endlessly ahead, Paul felt that time was coming to a close—that the Second Coming was imminent, and that the community—a diverse, cosmopolitan and fractious bunch, needed to get it together quickly. The example that he was setting was of a person who so deeply felt God’s call that he was willing to make a free gift of his ministry, not asking for reward.

“To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews…to the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak…” The way to preach the Gospel, in other words,

is to live the Gospel; to respond with empathy, truly listening to one another from a place of vulnerability and humility. Don’t waste precious time quarreling.

Paul’s mission was to form a beloved community in preparation for the Reign of God—a time that was at once quickly approaching and yet already here. Time was short; who knew if there would be a tomorrow? The call to the people of God was to live in whatever time they had with a Kingdom mindset, not in fear but in fulfillment of, and anticipation of, abundant life.

So to Paul time was at once precious and meaningless—something to be savored and used well, and not dwelt upon as a commodity for its own sake;

In a way this helps to express the concept of God’s time—Kairos. God is in all of time

and therefore not ruled by it. To be mindful of God’s time is to be open to its fluidity and mystery; to understand the Incarnation of Christ as God entering into time

in the person of Jesus, who embodies the intersection of time and eternity.

In the Gospel today we see time moving quickly, and distinctively. More than in the other Gospels Mark expresses urgency. Like Paul, he was writing very early after the Resurrection and felt the pressure of time—the awareness that Christ’s return was imminent. And his narrative shows this urgency. Things move quickly—the word, ‘immediately’ is used over 40 times in this Gospel. And today we see Jesus moving from pillar to post, dogged by Simon Peter as though he was some kind of a handler with a clipboard and an itinerary—“…after the synagogue, Jesus, you have a healing appointment at my house, followed by teaching, healing and deeds of power in the evening, and we have an early start tomorrow for spreading the Good News, so you’ll want to rest up…” When Jesus escapes long enough to pray—he has to wait until everyone is asleep to manage it—the disciples hunt him down. It’s exhausting.

So Mark has squeezed a lot into a relatively short amount of time, but what does this tell us? What is the invitation of this story in our pondering of time’s mystery?

It lies in resurrection.

In returning to time—getting it back. Jesus came to Peter’s mother-in-law, sick with a fever, took her by the hand and lifted her—in other translations, raised her up. “Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” For years I saw this passage as an excuse for getting snarky about patriarchy, or mothers-in-law, but no; this is actually a pivotal expression of Christian identity by Mark, who had an almost Pauline understanding of what a kingdom life should look like for someone living in the now-and-not-yet.

The Greek term for “lifted up” or “raised” is the same one Mark uses for Jesus’ resurrection. And he uses it in six healing stories in his Gospel—six instances of people being restored to their families, to wholeness, and in a way to time itself—

lifted up from the suspension of time that can mark pain or illness and returned to the flow of daily life. From Mark’s perspective the healing grace of Jesus is a form of resurrection.

And the response of the healed is what?

To serve.

“…and she began to serve them.”

The word he uses is a form of the Greek for deacon—one who serves. So this story is not one of patriarchy as usual. Rather, it’s telling us that in response to Christ’s healing grace and renewal we are called to serve. That is how God calls us to spend our time—no matter how much or how little we have.

What would you do if time were offered back to you?

Sandy Buffy knows the answer to that question. In 1997 she was diagnosed with a life-threatening pancreatic tumor. Faced with the decision of whether to undergo extremely risky surgery to remove it, she was given a two percent—Two. Percent.—

chance of surviving the surgery. As a mother to three small children, twin boys and a girl, she wanted to see them grow up, so she chose the surgery. Her husband and family were advised to say their goodbyes, which they did. Can you imagine how wrenching that must have been?

And she survived.

Two Percent.

And since then she has lived a life of daily gratitude. Sandy is an artistic person, and after her recovery her creativity went into overdrive. Beginning working from her home in Charlotte, she now has a studio and gallery in downtown Cleveland, creating and teaching and having a wonderful time. And she has given 100% of her profits to charity.

One Hundred Percent.

“And she began to serve them.”

Sandy embraced her resurrection by throwing herself into a life of gratitude, beautifully symbolized by the fact that she works with materials that have been used before—bottle caps, dryer lint, random bits of chain, roofing copper, what have you. She serves by giving things new life, and then gives again of the rewards from her creations.

More than anyone I know Sandy has taught me about the precious meaningless of time—how to live joyfully and compassionately in each moment while holding very lightly the fact that the number of moments allotted to us is a mystery, and there is no point in fretting about our inability to control it.

Chances are we won’t experience such a dramatic moment as Sandy’s in our own lives, so how can we participate in the precious meaningless of time?

Jesus experienced it when he withdrew in the dark hours of the morning to pray. Like Jesus himself, prayer is the intersection of time and eternity; a way of allowing ourselves, within the framework of our lives, to rest in the timelessness—the eternal present/past/future –of God. Or consider the Eucharist: When we partake in Christ’s mysterious and real presence, we participate in a sacrament in which the events of the past and the promise of the future meet in the present moment. That is God’s time.

(And that is why some priests take off their watches before every service.)

In prayer and sacrament we are offered sacred time; precious time rendered mysterious and meaningless in the presence of God. We are offered healing grace and are lifted up in renewed wholeness every time, and every time called to get up, to go out, serve the Lord, and be the Good News.






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