“Wow, Pastor! It felt like we were right there with Jesus!”
The conversation after the message was lively. The pastor had just invited his listeners to get to know the Jesus we meet through Mark’s inspired storytelling. His creative effort—sustained and turbo-charged by the Holy Spirit—was powerful. Together, they had just had a vibrant, transforming experience with the Lord.
They were excited. And curious!
“We always appreciate your messages, Pastor! But this was something new. What happened?”
“Well, you see, I’m taking this class….”
This story is one I heard quite unexpectedly. Our regular Thursday night online class in the Master of Theological Studies program (co-sponsored by IM, Palmer Seminary, American Baptist Home Mission Societies and several Latin American seminaries) had just gotten underway on Zoom.
I was about to launch us into a new discovery session in the Gospel of Mark when one of the students interrupted, apologized for hijacking the conversation, but explained that he simply had to say how much he was getting out of the class. Another student chimed in, excited about how much more she was seeing, through the new way of reading Scripture she was learning. Another lamented how quickly we were coming to the end of our 7-week intensive course. Another told the story of how our time in the Gospel of Mark had transformed the way he studies Scripture… and the way he preaches. His listeners could tell that something big had changed, and were eager to find out what it was.
That night, we eventually turned our attention again directly to discussing Mark’s story of Jesus. Together we discovered more of the amazing message that comes into view only when we slow down, pay attention to the clues Mark drops into his inspired storytelling and dig out the gems that a cursory reading misses. I enjoy all of it. But that night was especially rich, as my heart had been filled already, when we were still in the “preliminaries.”
It is easy to express our frustrations with online-everything. I suspect most of us simply cannot wait to get back to live, face-to-face interaction, complete with handshakes and hugs. For those of us with long histories doing workshops, classes and presentations, it is easy to wonder whether anything “real” can even happen in the online videoconference world. Is this “real” teaching? Are students really learning?
I am grateful to be able to say there is a Spanish-speaking congregation in Southern California that spontaneously gave their answer: a resounding “Yes!!” I am grateful for students who simply had to interrupt class and share their excitement.
This year’s World Mission Offering makes use of a strange story from Mark’s Gospel. In 8:22-26, Mark tells us about the most unusual way that Jesus enabled a blind man to see a little, and then to see clearly. Jesus’ procedure is very curious. And Mark uses the episode to advance his larger story in a most unexpected way… if we have eyes to see it! (Yes, the story begs to be read at more than one level.) Yet even before we readers are able, like the ex-blind man of Bethsaida, to “see everything clearly,” we discover that Jesus’ power to heal is not limited to only one way of working. The man who was blind comes to see… and clearly.
In this very strange time of the pandemic, we have had to learn to do many things in unexpected ways. I have found—and pray that you may find—that God is able to accomplish, even in this strange new world, far more than we might have guessed. May the Lord give us all, eyes to see it… and hearts to embrace it!
P.S. I continue to be deeply grateful for God’s grace working through your prayers and gifts, to guide and sustain this ministry. Thank you so much! And thanks for your support of the World Mission Offering and the work that God does through International Ministries to seek on earth, what is already true in heaven.
P.P.S. Though less frequently than in the early days and weeks of the pandemic, I continue to post (on Facebook) occasional photographic invitations to see some of what I see, as I walk through God’s world. If you do not use Facebook, you can find the same photos (and more) in my collections on Flickr and on Unsplash. Have a… look! 🙂