What Do We Believe?                                   January 5, 2020

Mark 10:13-22                                                Rev. Donald W. Hackett, D.Min.

Centre Presbyterian Church                            New Park, PA

 

Faith Conversations with Children

Today is Epiphany Sunday which celebrate important visitors to visit Jesus at his home.  What can you tell me about them?  Betsy McPherson in her daily email devotional on December 25, 2019 tackled many of the misconceptions about these visitors. Here is what she found from Matthew 2 and a book by Dwight Longenecker in his book, Mystery of the Magi: The Quest to Identify the Three Wise Men, https://www.amazon.com/Mystery-Magi-Quest-Identify-Three/dp/1621576299

Here is what she discovered:

Myth #1: There were three wise men…How many were there?

  • We have no idea how many there were. This was assumed because three gifts were given to Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  However, we don’t know the quantity of those gifts, or even if Jesus was only given one of each. There is no way to know how many.

Myth #2: They rode camels

  • This is a common misconception. Whenever you see movies from this time period, the actors are riding on camels. However, people in northern Arabia typically only rode Arabian horses. At the time of Christ’s birth camels were used as pack animals, but wealthy travelers used the more comfortable and swift horse.

Myth #3: They followed a miraculous star

  • Matthew never says that they followed a star. He says they saw a star, which history teaches is the Northern Star. The wise men were astrologers, and the star was an astronomical sign they saw that signified the prophecy of the Jewish king.  That doesn’t mean a star led them from Arabia to Jesus.

Myth #4: They were kings

  • It is unclear whether or not they were royalty, but they were not kings. You can throw out the “We Three Kings” picture completely. They had royal connections through and were trusted by King Herod.

Myth #5: They came from Persia, India, and Africa

  • This idea was added to tradition later. They likely came from Arabia, not these other countries or diverse backgrounds.

Let’s pray:  Thank you God for showing these scholars the way to your Son.  Show us today how to seek you more each day in Christ, Amen.

Introduction

The year 2019 was a tough one for many people. As I read articles this week on the year 2019 in review, it was hard to continue to read about all the tragic things that occurred. I found a special online photo review by CNN

and it was even more difficult to absorb. As I click through the pictures, here are some of the things I witnessed [https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2019/12/specials/year-in-pictures/news.html ] :

  • January – Dam collapse in Brazil, a hotel is attacked in Kenya, many are killed.
  • February – Families attacked and killed in airstrikes in Syria.
  • March – Members of a white nationalist group, burn a swastika and cross in Arkansas; Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 crashes shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 on board; and two mosques that were attacked in New Zealand, 51 killed and 40 wounded. It was the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s history.

I stopped reading, but my prayers continued. So many people have been hurt and killed, whole families destroyed.  Sometimes when our world seems to be going out of control, we may ask, “What is this all about?  What do I believe and what can I do about it?”

What we believe 

What we believe is important.  Some people think it is not important to care about what one believes. They think all beliefs are of equal value and consequence.

This is not true to reality.  Ideas are not neutral. Ideas like “some people are better than others” lead to violence.  Beliefs like “all people are created with intrinsic value and honor” lead to people serving each other with love and just treatment.

 

Our text

In our passage today, Jesus was dealing with people whose beliefs were off and so they were behaving in ways were not helpful.  Read with me the passage from Mark 10 in your bulletin.

The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it:

“Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom.

Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.

As he went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”

Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”

He said, “Teacher, I have—from my youth—kept them all!”

Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, “There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”

The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.

The Word of our Lord. Thanks be to God!

  1. What we believe about people

The disciples had flawed beliefs.  They thought adults were more important than children.  This was not new.  Children for centuries were treated as property and second-class human beings. In ancient Rome, if a child had any defects he or she was abandoned and considered to have no worth. [https://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/crips-column/2008/04/disabled-slaves-child-roman]  We do not have to look far to see that same type of belief in our world.  People and children are often valued by what they can do or produce.  This is not what Jesus taught.  When Jesus saw little children pushed aside as unimportant, he quickly steps in and says, “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom.”

I am sure the disciples were confused.  I can hear them thinking, “Jesus, we are dealing with children here.  What do they have to offer?!”  Jesus must have been reading their thoughts, for his continues, “Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.

The world God is forming in us everyone is welcome.  It not just for the educated scholar or responsible adult.   The only requirement needed is trusting God.  Children display trust in such powerful ways.  When a child is playing with a parent and is tossed up into the air, the child laughs knowing he or she will be caught.  When children are tucked in at night, they have faith their mom, dad, or guardian will protect them.  As you and I enter this new year, Jesus is inviting us to trust him.  Jesus Christ is going to go with us this year, guiding us, protecting us, and helping us grow deeper in God.  We believe all people are important. With God’s help we will discover new ways to love and serve.

  1. What we believe about God

The disciples were not the only ones that were mistaken.  The man who runs up to Jesus on the street had a faulty belief system as well.  He thought God was a checklist to get done so he could get on with his life. Like a shopping list for Christmas he figured if he got everything on the list, he would be good with God.  Jesus has compassion on this man.  He sees the real issue not to add one more thing to the list.  What this man needed to do is to get rid of list and follow God.

Jesus says, “Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”

Life with God is not about earning points. Life with God is all about loving God first before anything else.  This is not easy to understand or do.  According to our passage: This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.  In order for you and me to really live life to the fullest, we need to let go of old faulty ways and thinking and behaving.  This will not be easy.

 

2020 Preaching

This year our preaching series will be based on the book, What Christians Believe, by Anna Wierzbicka. It is a unique book that uses straight forward language so that all can understand the Story of God. The book is based on the Bible and lays out forty key faith concepts that explain what all Christians believe.

As a linguist, Professor Anna Wierzbicka has a radical approach.  She and her team employed a core English that is understood by all English speakers around the world and is easily translated into other languages. They used a type of English called Minimal English. In this telling of the Story of God and People the listener need not have any background in the Bible.  It is made clear as they hear the whole story.

 

Why do this?

Here is my hope for this year. By covering these 40 Key Faith Concepts and having this book as our resource, my goals in this series are to:

1) Make the Story of God in Christ understandable to all;

2) Equip listeners with the ways to be transformed by the Holy Spirit;

3) Enable followers of Jesus Christ share the truth and love of Jesus Christ with others in ways they can understand.

These are big goals!  Christianity has been a source of confusion for many.  We have a lot to learn.  The learning here is not just in Bible content.  The learning, the practice of faith we will engage in is a continued transformation of our thinking and living.  Jesus came for us to be like him in mind, body, and in the way we live our lives. Our beliefs will continue to transform our living.