This is one of those weeks that upon first reading, the Gospel can scare us away…not a very inviting image of being Jesus’ follower. I would hate to be a 1st time listener and try to make sense of this today. It really doesn’t give us a good feeling of hope does it?

When we pause, and reflect that Mark wrote this particular Gospel shortly after Jesus’ death, we can understand that Mark was scared…he felt that time was running out and that Jesus was coming back really any day now. He wanted to ensure that everyone was ready…so he didn’t take time for the niceties…Either you understood Jesus’ mandate, acted on it and were saved or you didn’t and you missed the boat! Mark did not think there would be time for second chances.

We can easily imagine John running to Jesus ‘tattling’ on the ‘other’. We might say, he even presents as a bit whiny… ‘Jesus, Jesus look…’ like a young school child. Maybe, John is also feeling an emotion that ALL, yes I mean ALL, humans feel at one time or another…jealousy.

His action shows some real fear in John; he is worried that this ‘other’ is copying and doing things that only Jesus’ tried and true followers are allowed to do…what authority does this ‘other’ have?

How do we create unity if others do things that are not like the way ‘we’ do it?? And…isn’t it doing it one way the best way?? Poor John, Jesus did not give him the response he was expecting; instead he got what sounds like a ‘tongue lashing’…John still had some learning to do… don’t we all!

Why, look at our world today…all we have to do is read the newspaper, turn on the radio, look out our window…there are reasons galore to feel shame at how we’re acting and behaving…it’s tempting to feel hopeless.

But DON’T, don’t succumb to that temptation…every day, if we take time to look for them, there are sparks of hope to keep us going. They help us along the way to be better at this Jesus following thing we’re supposed to be doing.

This week there have been several sparks of hope that I offer up today for you, for me, for all of us to consider when we’re feeling hopeless in our efforts to be REAL followers of Jesus.

Two well known congress persons…one on each side of the political platform…both equally committed to Justice…from their own view. They talked to each other and with each other and decided that they could work together to crack open a door to justice…a justice that they could both live with…it wasn’t easy and it came at the end of a long, painful week…and…whatever happens because of this odd cooperation; at least we have a spark of hope for change in how we address grave concerns, we have  a spark of hope that it could happen again…and maybe, just maybe even again…what would happen then…could change and justice actually occur…a step made by 2 people deciding to cross an invisible line…that is Jesus calling…that is evidence that Jesus’ admonitions in today’s gospel reading might have been heard.

Anne Lamott, well known, national author and speaker shared on her face book page this week several stories about not giving up however ugly life appears…however difficult it may be to see God in our world…don’t forget, she says, that Grace bats last….Wow

As a baseball lover and avid fan of the Minnesota Twins…I really appreciated this bit of allegory….in Congress this week…Grace batted last…not a home run…not even a double…maybe not even a single…just a walk…opening the door a crack…that is how Grace is commonly received, how it is present in our world…in small ways that can lead to changing how a world thinks.

Here’s another spark of hope…we have all felt inconvenienced by the depth of road construction in the metro area this year. Frustration at time delays, bumper to bumper rides, angry responses to a particularly inept driver…we’ve complained all summer about this…but this road construction is so beyond mere inconvenience for hundreds of unnamed people…it’s been devastating for them and it’s created an unusual response by them in the form of a tent community…now we truly have to SEE just how many persons in MN face homelessness daily…and these aren’t even inclusive of the ones who are able to get a one-night slot in the shelters around the cities.

The tent community has gotten a bit of notoriety and in response has been able to receive much support this summer in the way of refuse stations, outdoor toilets, sleeping bags, social services supports etc…however, the weather is getting brisk!! Even chillier than typical…where do all these persons go from here…a spark of hope…several locations were found by the city council that could be built up for temporary housing…however…schools raised concerns…what about the children we are trying to teach…is it wise to have children playing and learning amidst the chaos of these people?  Most of us would say no…we don’t want our children to see the ugliness of despair day in and day out. Then brother stepped up to help brother and now there is a location…broken infrastructure will be razed…and temporary housing will be created for those persons… I realize that it is not and should not be considered a lasting solution for a most difficult dilemma; yet it is a spark of hope. The spark is where we start from. This is grace batting last! It’s in the midst of the most difficult times. Maybe, we humans have heard Jesus’s admonitions from today’s gospel reading.

I have shared with you just 2 sparks that I have noticed despite the typical selfish human behavior that has taken place this week…I am holding them up to all, for us to decide…do we want to blow those sparks out and call those who have stepped out of their comfort zone ‘pollyanna’s…do gooders…non-realists?’

Or, do we want to hold the sparks safe…add to them to create a bigger spark that encourages us all to be the ministers of justice that Jesus has compelled us to be?