The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Learning from those on the margins

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Proper 25 (30)
October 29, 2006

Job 42:1-6,10-17; Psalm 126;Hebrews 7:23-28;Mark 10:46-52



Call to Worship

Blessed Be The Lord God Almighty

Blessed Be Your Name

Holy is the Lord

Give Thanks



Sermon: Learning from those on the margins





Sermon: Learning from those on the margins (with special thanks for the excellent exegesis of Lawrence at Disclosing New Worlds):


Let’s start with the Master himself.

[Ask someone to read Mark 10:46-52, others to follow along in the pew Bible.]

Seems so ordinary in terms of Jesus stories! But let’s look deeper.


Previous passage: “Give us positions of power.” “Not mine to give.”

Subsequent thing: Entry into Jerusalem.  Thus, this is the last stop before the city of death.


[Now read again, acting out:]

Mark 10:46-52

46-48They spent some time in Jericho. As Jesus was leaving town, trailed by his disciples and a parade of people, a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, was sitting alongside the road. When he heard that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by, he began to cry out, “Son of David, Jesus! Mercy, have mercy on me!” Many tried to hush him up, but he yelled all the louder, “Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!”


Rebuking him! Wait a minute – haven’t we heard of shushing before? Yep – remember the children they were keeping from him?


49-50Jesus stopped in his tracks. “Call him over.”


They called him. “It’s your lucky day! Get up! He’s calling you to come!” Throwing off his coat, he was on his feet at once and came to Jesus.


His coat – his only possession! Wait a minute – where have we heard about possessions before? Yep – remember the rich young man who couldn’t leave all he had?


51Jesus said, “What can I do for you?” [see 10:36]


Wait a minute – haven’t we heard that question before? Yep – when the disciples wanted positions of power.


The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”


52″On your way,” said Jesus. “Your faith has saved and healed you.”


In that very instant he recovered his sight and followed Jesus down the road.


But he doesn’t go “on his way” at all! He was begging for Jesus to help him – now he follows Jesus without being asked.


[on flip chart: list who gets it – who doesn’t get it in these incidents:]


9:36 the child – also shushed, yet owner of the kingdom; Jesus says he’s an example to learn from – they don’t get it

10:22 rich man – “Now there’s an example,” they figure – but the rich man goes away, clinging to his possessions. They hadn’t kept him from coming to Jesus, but he gets no strokes! Someone they approved of – they’re stunned.

10:32-34 again Jesus responds by telling them of the cross – no reaction from them – followed by

10:36: “What do you want me to do for you?” to the disciples – No way, about power, Jesus doesn’t do that kind of power


Once again, someone they call no-count, Bartimaeus [remember the warning of 10:31 – the first shall be last and the last first?]. What could they have learned from him? – and from the children (whom Jesus said owned the Kingdom) – and from the faith Syro-Phoenician woman – and the courage of the menstruating woman?


Now, let’s go to Job. Put your finger anywhere in Job, it’ll probably fall on a story of someone trying to straighten Job out. Try it. They’re so certain that Job had a spiritual problem somewhere, if only they could get him to fess up. But Job honestly doesn’t think so. His wife wants him to curse God and die – to admit God hates him.


And he questions God, and complains that it doesn’t seem fair. Finally God comes near, and, indeed, has some words of rebuke – Job 38. But here’s how it ends: 42. And Job’s friends who were setting him straight?


See, Job – the one everyone wanted to fix, ended up praying for them.


Now, how is that like what’s going on in Mark? The disciples are busy pretending to be Jesus’ handlers – the ones who really have a corner on what’s going on – while Bartimaeus is doing whatever it takes to put himself in Jesus’ hands. They could have learned from him!


So who’s my teacher?


We are learning that we are to help the poor. But I wonder if we have gone to the poor as fixers. We are the prestigious – the have-it-togethers – and in Mark, the prestigious ones are the ones who go away empty. What the disciples could have gained if they had gone to the unprestigious to learn. Not to instruct, but to serve. Truly, Jesus turns the world upside down.


This is a different way of looking at life. He says, “Inasmuch as you do it to the least of these, you do it unto me.” So, for instance, here’s a new reason not to deport the poor immigrant: I’m deporting Jesus.

And here’s how this affected me, as recording in a blog post earlier this week:

I’m a pastor.

So I was in a Board meeting, listening (not my strong suit, BTW!). Each of us told a bit about what God was doing in our lives recently. And then we began to ponder our life together as a church.

This church that I serve is smaller than it once was. And we don’t offer all the ministries that we once did. Consequently, there is a temptation to run out and do something – anything – to fulfill our own expectations of what churches ought to be doing.

Yet, as we listened to each other, we found we were mostly in a similar place. It seemed like God was saying, “Have courage. Wait. Listen.”

Now this was intriguing to me, because my sense of where the church is goes something like this: It is as if God is saying to us, “I want you, New Oaks Church, to be among the ones who figure out what church now needs to be.” And I doubt that we could do that when we were flooded with people and furiously busy.

And then I came across this thought-provoking writing of Claude Nikondeha on the Emergent Village e-mail. I wrote my friends on the Board a little intro, like so:
Today, this piece arrived from Emergent. It suggests we are not alone. Maybe it will be reassuring to you, as it was to me. . . .
We don’t know the answers. But seems like one of many confirmations that asking the questions – rather than just pressing ahead – is the call we’re experiencing.

Peace to you today!

And then I tacked on the email and sent it along. For the whole piece, click here .

Look to the Margins: Hope for Leadership amid Liminality!

According to Alan Roxburgh, the North American church in late modernity is firmly in liminal space…meaning that there is little that is firm or solid as we transition into a post-modern or post-colonial era. In truth, the North American church has been on the margins for some time now . . .
. . . we need a compass, a remnant of a map or, truth be told, the leading of the Spirit. Alert and thoughtful leaders are trying to chart a new course…but with a very vague map and an atrophied sense of direction. How can we find our way in liminal space? Who knows the terrain of the margins?
There is a hint of direction in Roxburgh’s text…look to the margins! He suggests that resources for navigating liminal space for the North American church will include reengaging Scripture and, to the current point, ‘…listening to the voices of those Christian groups that have long lived outside the center of culture.” He believes that the future direction of the church will be discovered as we engage with ‘dissenting churches’ and ‘ethnic groups.’ “They understand the position of the underling and the outsider. Liminality requires us to listen attentively to their ecclesiologies.” This is one of the most valuable insights gleaned from a reading of Roxburgh’s treatment of liminality – there are leaders who are capable of leading us and who know the terrain…because they have been operating on the margins for years.
Around the world, many denominations are struggling to survive. As regular church attendance wanes, leaders are looking for strategies to bring people back into the fold. Roxburgh would say that many of these renewal strategies and church growth seminars are attempts to return to the hay-day [sic] of modernity/colonialism which is not going to happen. [Remember our temptation to activity?] . . We don’t need a new coach to help us to start new programs (the preferred modern methodology), but we need a conversation, suggestions, personal antidotes [sic – probably “anecdotes” was meant] from churches around the world, partnerships between churches/leaders to walk together through this disorienting time. Friendships among missional churches/leaders could be the greatest gift for this season, if we can take the time to be together and listen. . . . [and he goes on to recommend the Amahoro conference in Africa as a place for us to do so]

From whom should I learn? And am I humble enough to do so?

By faith, maybe it’s time to learn from those on the margins.



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Written by Monte

October 30, 2006 at 5:27 pm

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