How Can a Wolf Live with a Lamb?
A Message from Pastor Dave
Well, the Rams defeated Bengals. I’m sorry about that Dan and Tristan and other Cincinnati Bengals fans. The Bengals, like our local cats, the Panthers, have not won a Super Bowl…yet. But Rams and Bengals are players with lives and stories. The faith stories that come out during Super Bowl week always fascinate me. An internet search can yield some Christian faith stories about current Rams/Bengals players (Cooper Kupp, Jalen Ramsey, Akeem Davis-Gaither, Trey Hendrickson and more) as well as past NFL players. One of the more “famous” ones: The Rams won the Super Bowl in 2000 when they were the St. Louis Rams and Kurt Warner was their QB. His life and faith movie, American Underdog, was released last year on Christmas Day. When Warner and the Rams won the big game, in his post-game interview he said: “Well, first things first, I've got to thank my Lord and Savior up above. Thank you, Jesus!”
Bengals and Rams are also animals; the former are tigers/cats and the latter, male bighorn sheep. Tigers live in isolation while rams and bighorn sheep usually stick together - up to 50 adult males hang together, like a football team; and do a lot of head butting, also like football players; while female and children bighorns stick together too as family, community. Both animals can run really fast. A Bengal tiger, if it found a ram by itself, would probably attack and eat it a during the amount of time a Super Bowl halftime show takes. Rams might attack a Bengal but, they don’t eat meat. Jesus said he is the Good Shepherd and reminded us we are like sheep – in both bad and good ways.
On Super Bowl Sunday, Pastor Vern read the gospel from Luke 6 where Jesus stated Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Is that Russia? Is that the guy in the car that just cut you off in traffic? Is that someone who did something really terrible to you? Maybe it is Linc Cash. He’s a boy that was a year older than me when we were in the same first/second grade classroom. I don’t remember much except he seemed to be a big bully, a 7-year-old picking on me and my 6-year-old friends. One day during lunch he took Mark’s chips. We were sitting at the same table. Mark was little and didn’t really even seem to care about losing his chips. I grabbed the chip bag back, or tried. Linc yanked them out of my hand and smashed them in an instant with the side of his fist coming down on them. I felt a tear in my eye – out of anger. I wanted to retaliate. But I didn’t really know how to fight. But then one day a few years later I got back at my “enemy.” At least in my mind that’s what happened. The summer after 3rd grade, maybe 4th. Little league baseball. I was shortstop and Linc, on the other team, was a runner on first base. The only thing I remember about the play was that somehow, the ball was coming toward me as I was “covering” second base. I had to jump to catch the ball and Linc came sliding in. I’m not sure if was accidental or on purpose but after I jumped up, I came down from that two inch vertical, with both my knees and all my weight landing right on my enemy, on his hip and side, and somewhere my glove with the ball in it was touching him. He was out. And, the breath was knocked out of him briefly (I think). He stayed on the ground for a moment before getting up and going back to his dugout. Why do I even remember that? Years later I think about the enmity that I had for Linc. I’m aware that I was far from innocent. I don’t really know anything my enemy’s life, but I just did another internet search and sadly, found Linc’s obituary. His birthdate is Feb. 17, this Thursday again, and the same birthday as my sister Charlotte’s, but a different year. I also read that Linc died a week before Christmas in 1987, at age 23. A week before Christmas. With both his parents, two sisters, and a brother still living. Lord, have mercy.
I don’t know if, as a 6 or 8 year-old, I could do much different. But maybe, I could. Or maybe I still can. Perhaps extend an open hand of peace. Maybe say something like “Life sucks sometimes, doesn’t it. But it gets better when we face it together.” Or even, as Jesus said, to love our enemies. I think that means I’m supposed to regard you as a neighbor. Who’s your favorite baseball player? (Or some other question to begin getting to know my neighbor, and learning their story.) I’m also reminded here of Martin Luther’s explanations to the Commandments 5-10 in the Small Catechism where, in all things, we are supposed to help and support our neighbor.
Love your enemies. Yes, there are probably multiple. Jesus loved his, even me, even Linc. And I’m reminded of Jesus’ goal of ushering in a new kingdom / kin-dom. A peaceful one. Like in Isaiah chapter 11, the place where we read about Bengal living with a Ram, kinda. (verse 6 “wolf shall live with the lamb; leopard shall lie down with the kid / goat; calf and lion together, and a little child shall lead them.”) Yes, these are animals for Isaiah, but they also represent people of nations, teams, ethnicities. Isaiah prophesied this hope for all peoples, for his people and for his enemies. Hope for a peaceful world under God’s reign. And his prophecy included that little lamb/shepherd child – Jesus – shall lead them/us/me.
After the Super Bowl, I saw former enemies on the field embracing. Bengals players and Rams players - sharing congratulations, condolences, and some even praying together.
Caught Up in Love
A Message from Pastor Vern
This past week we heard the story from Luke’s gospel of Jesus calling some of his disciples. These disciples were a very specific type of folk…they were fishermen. As someone who shares a love for fishing, I love the progression of this story. Simon (who we come to know later in the gospel story better as Peter) “preaches” to Jesus, “Look here bud, we’ve been fishing all night and all day and we’ve hardly caught anything”! It seems like all the fish seem to be the one that got away for these fishermen. They’ve had rotten luck out on the water.
And then, Jesus says to these fishermen in the boat, “Throw your nets out for one more cast…trust me”. So Simon, James and John (I would offer reluctantly) cast their nets out one more time and what happens “catches” them by complete surprise. Not only do they catch a couple fish, there are so many fish in the catch that the integrity of their nets is being strained.
Jesus shows up and nets that were practically empty all night and all day are filled to the brim with fish. I like to think of the love of God being a lot like this culmination of this fishing expedition. At the end of the day, you and me and all people are caught up in the net of God’s love. The truth is, no matter how hard we try to swim away, we can’t escape the love of God. No matter how much we try to deny God’s love (for ourselves or anyone else), we are all still caught up in the love of God. The net of God’s love is so great that it spans beyond all bounds that we can measure. In the fullness of our life, in our death, and into life in the resurrection, we are caught up, forever held in the love of God.
I think it’s also cool to think about how “caught up” we are in God’s love as we stand at the doorstep of another Valentine’s Day celebration. It’s that time of year where there are hearts, stuffed teddy bears, little cherubs named Cupid with heart-pointed arrows, sugary candies, warm-written cards, bouquets of roses and boxes of chocolate everywhere. All of these symbols are different ways that we might share with loved ones a note of love and as we convey our love for those special folks in our lives, we hear and are also reminded about the love that we are enfolded in through the symbols of fish and nets that are filled to the brim.
I pray that you hear; that you know; and that you feel how loved you are this Valentine’s Day. I hope you are reminded of how much you are loved by friends, by family and the God who created you and said, “You are wonderfully made.”
Friends, happy Valentine’s Day to you. I give thanks for you and send my love to all of you this Valentine’s season!
And most importantly, God loves you too!
What’s In a Name
A Message from Pastor Dave
Dear Saint Mark’s,
I was asked the other day why Saint Mark’s is named Saint Mark’s. Uhh, because St. Matthew’s, St. Luke’s and St. John’s names were already taken? I don’t know. St. or Saint Mark’s organized on Dec. 13, 1908 with missionary pastor Dr. Jacob Morgan (St. Morgan’s?). And St. Mark’s is one of seven “St. Mark’s” in the North Carolina Synod.
Most Bible scholars agree that St. Mark’s gospel account was the first one written. It is the only one to clearly label itself as a “gospel” or “good news” (Mark 1:1). Maybe that’s why this Mooresville church was named St. Mark’s – we wanted to be first or gospel-centered? Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Maybe our St. Mark’s ancestors in Mooresville just wanted to have shorter sermons and shorter worship services and that’s why we’re named St. Mark’s?
Mark’s repeated message is that no one understands Jesus. No one gets him. Not the disciples, not even his mother. Yet, Mark’s account was written to create and strengthen faith in Jesus, to develop true disciples of Jesus. Maybe that’s why St. Mark’s Lutheran Church was named St. Mark’s?
The gospel according to Mark focuses our attention on the cross and the suffering of Christ, a suffering servant Messiah. After the crucifixion, there isn’t a resurrection scene exactly. Mark ends suddenly, for whatever reason at chapter 16, verse 8, with other additional stuff probably added later. Women run from the empty tomb in fear after a man, perhaps Mark himself, says that Jesus has been raised!; and to go to Galilee to see him “just as he told you.” Even confronted by the message of the resurrection, the disciples don’t get it. Maybe that’s why we are called St. Mark’s – sometimes we just don’t get it and aren’t entirely supposed to.
Perhaps Matthew, Luke and John thought: “What a terrible ending, too pessimistic, too condemnatory of the early disciples and of everyday Christians.”
For many of the early Christian communities, this was just too much. Christians may be sinners but they are not total losers. Maybe they, like Hollywood screenwriters, decided to do a rewrite. Matthew emphasizes the teachings of Jesus and their importance for the life of the Christian community. This was important when Christ did not return as was expected by the early disciples. Luke stresses the compassion of Jesus and the universality of his message. This was important as more gentiles became Christians. And John stresses that Jesus is not a suffering Messiah but the very presence of God. John invites us to have life in Jesus’ name, to have a lifelong encounter with Jesus the Word made flesh, and to abide with him. Maybe we would rather be St. Matthew’s or St. Luke’s or St. John’s Lutheran Church?
But here’s this: Mark keeps us honest. Mark challenges us in our complacency. Mark reminds us that we don’t get it. We don’t understand Jesus or his message. If we think we do, we haven’t been listening. Or, if we think we got it, go serve, and be last, and even suffer and die for Christ’s sake. Of the four Gospel writers, Mark is the one you would not want to invite to dinner. But he is the one who will challenge you to listen more carefully to Jesus, and to serve Jesus more passionately. And maybe that is why this congregation is named St. Mark’s.
A Future of Promise
A Message from Pastor Vern
I talked about football in my sermon Sunday, and I’m going back to the gridiron for a Wednesday devotion. For those who are not football fans, forgive me 😊!
For a moment I have to brag on my South Carolina Gamecocks. The story of South Carolina football has been a great story to watch this past season. This team went from a two-win season a year ago, to finishing this season 7-6 and in the process, winning a bowl game in impressive fashion! Not only were there more “W’s” on the schedule this season for South Carolina, there seems to be a new feel or atmosphere surrounding Gamecock football. Players have shared repeatedly in interviews about how there is a more optimistic and inclusive identity among teammates. To quote a specific player, “Our team was competing with a ‘me’ mentality and now we compete together with a ‘we’ mentality.” In addition to changes among teammates in the locker room, there is also a new sense of excitement among the fanbase. In addition to those new dynamics, possibly one of the most exciting pieces of the puzzle is the excitement around the incoming recruiting class and transfers that have committed to play next year. All of these ingredients combined starts to build a recipe for success in the life of a football program (and I admit, I’m glad that it’s happening to that group that wears garnet and black in Columbia, S.C.).
This week I’ve had a lot of “planning ahead” conversations: planning youth events farther out into the year, a swanky “sweetheart” dinner for couples in late February (Sat. Feb. 26 to be exact), and already looking ahead to Ash Wednesday, the season of Lent, and some creative worship ideas in Lent and maybe beyond! Friends, there is a lot of promise for the future for St. Mark’s! I say that not only because of events on a calendar, or exciting conversations about worship, or opportunities to serve in the community. I offer that there is a future filled with promise because of the awesome ways that the Holy Spirit is working in and through you, and through the people here at St. Mark’s.
We’ve heard about “spiritual gifts” from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians for several weeks now. In another letter attributed to Paul, to this church in a place called Galatia, we read about the “fruits of the Spirit.” The author writes [Galatians 5:22-25], “22 the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
I’ve seen the spirit of love in the outpouring of support for the Milholland family. I’ve seen the spirit of joy in the laughter of youth playing together in the FLC. I’ve seen the spirit of kindness in folks walking up to a face they might not recognize on Sunday morning, introducing themselves and sharing a word of welcome. I’ve seen the spirit of faithfulness in an elected council learning and growing together in retreat. And I’ve seen the spirit of faithfulness in youth eager to share their faith by leading in worship (there’s more to come in that regard…mark your calendars for Youth Sunday on Feb. 27). The Spirit is working in a lot of awesome ways and when all of these fruits of the Spirit are united together in one community, it builds a recipe for fun, faith-filled and impactful ministry!
The Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control be with you all this week!
Pastor Dave Keck