I grew up in an era before video, Veggie Tales or Bible-based computer games. I was raised, at least in terms of religious education, on the flannelgraph. To this day, although I know that the scriptures are peopled with characters of texture and nuance, I think of Bible people and see pastel paper figures pressed on a felt board.
Thou shalt not be ridiculous. Paul says, "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil." When Paul wrote that wonderful sentence he probably was sitting in an upper room in Athens. It was late at night, quiet, and all the fools were asleep.
Jesus called the Twelve together and put the question to them with unsettling directness: Do you also wish to go away? I wonder sometimes how I would have responded to the question. Because at times the truth is I do wish to go away.
God has become clear in the person of Jesus. God approves us, gently draws us to Christ and teaches us. God has taken full initiative to provide sustenance sufficient for this life and the next. He does not even fret about how much we eat. He simply invites us to his well-stocked table of abundant blessing. As it was for those early listeners, so it is for us.
As Christians, we are joined together, responsible for one another’s Christian walk and well-being. Paul talks about “one body and one spirit,” so when someone we know is in trouble—some metaphorical fuse is burning in his or her life—we’re there for that person, praying, talking, listening and helping. We “bear with one another in love,” with “humility, gentleness and patience.” Of course, it's easier to describe that kind of fellowship with good religious words than to actually pull it off.
We employ human terms to communicate who God is to one another. But God uses not only words, pictures and images, but Jesus, the Word become flesh and dwelling among us. We look for ways to express who God is, and here God is among us in Jesus Christ, feeding, forgiving, healing and reconciling.
Mark's account of the beheading of John the Baptist is a sordid tale of anger and revenge, resentment and death. Jesus is never even mentioned. The key to understanding why this sorry saga shows up where it does in Mark's Gospel is its relation both to the growing fame of Jesus and the success of his disciples. John's death foreshadows Jesus' death and the deaths of many of the early followers.
Even with Paul's wish to serve, even with his good motives, the Lord did not answer his prayer as he had asked or expected.: "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." If you are called, God's grace will be sufficient for you.
"The past is not over,” said Odessa Woolfolk of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Speaking to my divinity school class, Woolfolk spoke of systems that continue to oppress and seriously limit access to resources that are basic to any human being. With slavery a thing of the past, with segregation banned, with the right to vote for everyone, what is the problem? It is access.