Hearts of Flesh

Empathy

This week, we have explored the ways in which empathy informs and shapes our call as Christians to love one another.  We’ve learned how empathy is sitting with and understanding another’s perspective.  We’ve looked at how empathy allows us to love others in ways that uniquely speak to their circumstances.  We’ve even seen how we have a high priest in Christ who’s empathy has brought us salvation.

 

Today, I would like to end our time together by encouraging each one of us to live our lives more empathetically in light of our readings.  In a society that often seems more and more connected, we can increasingly find ourselves alone.  At its very root, empathy stands against such isolation by opening our own hearts to those around us.

 

This is hard.  This is dangerous.  It’s a path that has even led to the cross.  But when we refuse or close our eyes to the full humanity of those around us, we begin to break the very ties that make us human.  Because out of everything that God has made, only loneliness was not good.

 

To be human – the way that humanity is meant to be – is to be in community, relationship, and connection with all those around us.  Who is our neighbor? Everyone.  Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes.  Who should I love? Even my enemies.

 

The work of God, from the emancipation of the Israelites to the salvation of the resurrection, is a story of an ever widening circle of people that are called to love and care for one another in the glory of God.  That cause has not changed even today.

 

We are called to love and care and expand the boundaries of our own comfort so that the unlovable will be cared for and the lonely will no longer be alone.

 

Empathy is the tool that protects our hearts from becoming stone.

 

As we part ways today, my prayer for each of us is that we are transformed and empowered to carry hearts of flesh that can love beyond human comprehension.

-Graysen Pack

Pasta! And Empathy

Friday

Luke 6-31

When talking about empathy in Bible, this one verse probably comes to mind before all others.

Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If empathy is about being able to see and understand the world from another’s perspective, then a deep understanding and practice of empathy should be a prerequisite for enacting this command.

 

There are two ways that we can approach this Christian calling.  The first and easier of the two requires only that we understand what we want and then providing that for others.  For instance, I love pasta.  All kinds of pasta.  So, I will pasta unto others as I would want others to pasta unto me.  But there’s a catch.  My wife can’t have gluten.  So, if I just pasta unto her all the pastas I love, then she will quickly not love them or me at all.

 

This kind of action only requires us to reflect upon ourselves.  What is it that we want?  How do I understand what is good and pleasurable and worth sharing?  At its heart, this is still a self-centered approach to loving others because my interests are the center of my actions.

 

The second kind of approach requires us to reflect on both what we appreciate and the context in which we find ourselves (an awareness of those around us).  In this situation, I know that I love pasta when I’m hungry.  I see that my wife is hungry and I want to provide her with the same satisfaction I get when someone gives me pasta.  But since she can’t have gluten, I know that I need to give her something that will be as delicious and comforting as pasta would be for me.

 

In this version of the story, I have taken my own desires out of my focus and instead placed her at the center.  Now I want to create the same type of joy in her that I experience, but in a way that is specific to her life and preferences.

 

OK – pasta may be a silly example, so let’s take it up a notch.  What about when someone approaches you and asks for some spare change.  What do you do?  If I simply place myself into their shoes and imagine what it would be like to be in such a dire situation that I would ask strangers for money, then I may reach into my pocket.  But what have I done in that moment?  I haven’t actually engaged in an act of empathy, but rather in an act of pity.

 

Empathy requires that we first acknowledge and open ourselves up to another.  We have to take the time to learn what it means for another to live in their shoes.  It means engaging with them as an equal and full person.  Pity minimizes another’s humanity.  Empathy embraces and supports it.

 

Doing unto them as I would want done unto me may mean that they still get my change in the end.  But it would only be after I had engaged with them as a full person.  That may mean I find out who they are, where they’ve been, what their life is like, and how I can be an encouragement/help to them today.  It may mean sitting down for a meal on the curb or even being honest about giving money.  In any situation, it means engaging with them on a personal level – like you would with a friend in the hall who you haven’t seen in a while.

 

This is the tricky part of empathy.   It always requires a unique action for each unique situation.  But it always demands that we interact and engage with others in the fullness of their humanity.

Today, may your fullness be recognized and may you encourage the fullness of life in others.

-Graysen Pack

Ultimate Act of Empathy

Thursday

Hebrews 4-15

Hebrews 4:15-16 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

If empathy can be summed up as “feeling with people,” as Brene Brown put it on Monday, then Christ and his life represent the ultimate act of empathy.

In each of our lives, we have all fallen short.  It’s an unfortunate fact of existence.  We are all going to mess it up and be messed up.  And it’s not just us – all of life and creation feels the effects of the broken world we live in.

Yet the world and life is still good and we give God praise for each day.  Why?

It is because we have an intercessor who knows – not just intellectually – deep down in his bones what it means to suffer under the weight of human tragedy.  We have a high priest who has walked through the deepest shadows of despair and born the burden of bodily pain in his own flesh.  And because of him, there is hope.

Hope that there can be life on the other side of horror.  There is joy beyond the pain.  There is calm beyond the storm.

And it isn’t just a pie-in-the-sky kind of hope either.  It isn’t a hope that only awaits us on some future ethereal plane.  It is a hope that is born out and brought into the midst of this life through the continued work of Christ in the community of faith.  It is hope that is birthed in the acts of empathy that we continue to pursue each and every day.

We can approach not just the throne of grace with confidence, but the altars of pain and brokenness with healing because we can extend the grace that has already been extended to us.

Today, may you receive the grace you need and may you pass along the love that overflows from the heart of Christ.

-Graysen Pack
Hebrews 4 16

Between Me and You

Wednesday:

1 corinthians 12 25,26

During one of my favorite college courses, my professor asked the class, “Where do you end and another person begin?”  It was a pastoral care course and she was genuinely asking for us to point out the specific spot where we draw the border between “me” and “you.”

It seems like a silly question that should have a pretty simple answer.  I end…the end of me can be found…I mean, you just know, you know?  This is me and this isn’t me…

Here are a few questions that may help us see this better.  Have you ever been driving and just barely bumped into something and said “ow!”?  Maybe it was pushing a grocery cart that got caught on the corner of the aisle, or a book that ran into a door knob.  Did it really hurt you?  Probably not, but we still say “ow” instinctively.

How about in your relationship with your best friend, where do you draw the line between what is yours in the relationship and what is theirs?  That inside joke you share, is that part of you or part of them?

The weird thing about this question is that the more we try to make a clear line between “me” and “you,” the harder it becomes to find one.  This is the point.  And, I believe it is also the point that Scripture tries to make from beginning to end.  We are connected.

At our deepest and truest level, none of us is truly separate from all of those around us.  Instead of being islands in a sea, we are clusters in a giant web.  We might be able to say it this way; we are all part of one body, or we are our brother’s/sister’s keeper.

Empathy is the key to discovering this reality and recognizing it as central to what it means to be human.  Our ability to feel, comprehend, and share the experiences of others is one of the most humane things about us.  Our empathy draws us to a more Christ-like position of action and belief because it reveals the interconnectedness of our lives.

My hope for you today is that you see the fibers that connect us, one to another, and act in love to honor the truth of who we (all) are.

-Graysen Pack

1 Corinthians 12:25-26 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

For Others

Tuesday

I Corinthians 10-24

1 Corinthians 10:24 Try to do what is good for others, not just what is good for yourselves.

One of the hardest parts of relationships for me is not trying to just fix things.  It’s a pretty stereotypical “guy” thing, but it’s something that I think everyone deals with at some point or another.


Yesterday, one of the things we said about empathy is that it isn’t about trying to fix things.  Putting a silver lining around something or just trying to get to a solution isn’t empathy at all.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4EDhdAHrOg (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4EDhdAHrOg).

So, what’s the problem trying to be solved in this video? The title pretty much gives it away – it’s not about the nail (really!).  See, removing the nail might make her head feel better, but it does nothing to solve the deeper problem – her partner isn’t connecting with her experience.  He’s distant and disconnected from what’s going on in her life.  Together they may be able to address the nail, but that only comes after they’ve built an empathic connection for each other’s situation.

That moment towards the end where he says that her situation must be really hard.  That’s a bit of empathy shining through.  And what happens?  They strengthen their relationship and she feels understood and accepted.

There are some things in life that we can change (like pulling a nail out of our heads), but there are just as many that we have no control over whatsoever.  Empathy gives us a way to find healing and love even when our nails can’t be removed.

Just as Paul urged us yesterday, again he urges the Corinthians (and us) to act in love with empathy; seeking to do what is good for others.  Being able to step forward in empathy to share in another’s burdens allows us to address the deepest concerns of life by showing others that they are not alone.

Today, may you feel the presence of all those who bear your burdens with you, and may you extend that grace to others as well.

 -Graysen Pack
 

Feeling With People

Monday

Romans 12-15

Romans 12:15  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

What is empathy?  For me, empathy used to be one of those words that made sense in conversation, but if someone asked me to define it then I’d be hard pressed to give a good definition.  But over the last two years I’ve had the chance to explore empathy in a variety of ways.

One of the best looks at empathy I’ve found comes from a Social Work professor, Brene Brown.  Check out this really amazing and brief video on empathy (https://youtu.be/1Evwgu369Jw).

Brown describes empathy as “feeling with people.”  It’s the ability to understand, reflect, and share someone else’s situation.  Here’s the thing; I believe that empathy sits at the center of the Christian life.  From the life of Jesus to the letters of Paul and the history of the Hebrews, empathy lies at the core of our calling to follow God and live a holy life.

In Romans 12:15, Paul says, “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.”  If this is anything, it is a call to empathy and empathic action.  And what’s the sub-title for the section this verse comes from?  In the NIV, it is “Love in Action.”

This is what it means to put love into our deeds.  It isn’t to fix things, but to share in life with others.

I hope that today and this week, we can begin to see how acting and living empathically will help us bring the love of Christ into the world.

-Graysen Pack

A Vibrant Conversation with the Living God

Jeremiah 29-13

Closing (Saturday)

 

It’s been another fun week of digging through scripture to hear the word that God is speaking to us today. When we dive into the Word and start investigating the trail of inspiration and hope that it has left throughout the years, we are engaging in a vibrant conversation with the living God. We are engaging the One who is alive and active still. This week, our look at Mark 9-16 has brought out a number of themes that I’d like to just tie together quickly for us.

First, the gospels are texts that were written to be heard and to be engaged with as a whole – much like a novel. Like any good author, Mark is weaving together numerous strands of thought and repeating patterns for us to pick up on as we engage with the story of Jesus’s life. Knowing this, we can bring together the various things that Mark is trying to teach us.

In Mark 9, we are encouraged to acknowledge and embrace the places where we question and have doubt. It’s a part of the life of faith. We are pushed to not just accept our unbelief, but to express it and call out for a grace that will see us through it. In Mark 10, the request for help is answered. With the end of the messianic secret, Jesus restores sight and illuminates the darkness (the darkness of unbelief). In Mark 11 & 12, Jesus starts turning over tables. He challenges injustice and urges us to do the same. We are called to use our new sight to break the cycles of brokenness in the world and give all that we have to aid those who are in need. In Mark 13 & 14, we are urged to be on the alert. To remain vigilant in our new sight and be prepared for the suffering that will come our way. In Mark 16, Mark urges us to new life beyond suffering and tells us to go out into the world to find where Jesus has already gone and is currently waiting.

Mark’s gospel lays out a call to life that is tangible, realistic, and filled with hope for believers. My hope for you is that your life is filled with as much grace and love as this gospel commands.

-Graysen Pack

Searching for Jesus

Mark 16:1-8 (Friday)

Mark 16-6

On the Sunday after Jesus was crucified, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James & Salome went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body.  They went first thing, right as the sun was rising (as early as they could and still respect the Sabbath).  When they reach the tomb, they find the stone rolled away and a young man in white telling them Jesus was raised from the dead and was no longer here.  He tells them go and tell Jesus’s disciples and Peter that “He is going ahead of you to Galilee to meet you there.”  So the two women fled from the tomb in astonishment and trembling, saying nothing.

And that is how the oldest versions of Mark end.  That’s it.  All the rest of chapter 16 (verses 9 – 20) were added afterwards.  No appearances of the risen Jesus.  No commission to the world.  No ascending up to heaven.  Just an empty tomb and silence.

What in the world is Mark doing?!  If this were a movie, it would easily be one of the worst movie endings of all time.  And that includes some pretty unsatisfying movie endings (Inception, X-Men 3, Matrix Reloaded…).  BUT, as we’ve seen, Mark isn’t a crummy writer.  Remember his artful use of “stay alert” and his plot timings in the Temple?  Mark knew how to craft a remarkable story and to tell it with purpose.  I believe that Mark was up to something here that makes me like this older ending more than the extended one (it’s like the original vs the extended edition).  Here’s my take on Mark’s original ending.

First, we – as the reader/audience – are in the know.  From the very beginning we know that Jesus has been raised and that the church emerged as his followers continued his work.  So we know what happened.  Because we know that the church exists and that the disciples continued the work, we know that Mary & Mary weren’t silent forever.  The word spread and the gospel message grew.  I think that Mark is using our knowledge of this as a way to emphasize the irony of this moment and as a challenge for the audience to do what they know wasn’t done: DON’T BE SILENT!  Spread the good news!  From the first verses, Mark is preparing us to speak out; to be the voice in the wilderness shouting out.  We are meant to take the message forth to take up the responsibility we know we have but that is left unfulfilled in the text.

Second, the audience is meant to experience the suffering and despair of the crucifixion – not just for Jesus but for his followers as well.  Mark leaves us unsatisfied as a tool for helping us step into the shoes of those who were living this out in real time.  We experience the uncertainty and trepidation that comes with uncertainty.  BUT we still must move in light of that uncertainty.  Which then becomes faith.  Faith is belief in things unseen.  In Mark’s gospel, that faith is put into the text literally with the absence of the risen Christ.  If Mark wasn’t written until the disciples and witnesses of Jesus were all dying, then it was for an audience that would have never seen Jesus face to face.  Their faith isn’t based on some encounter with a man but an encounter with his love in the community he started.  Mark’s original ending helps us feel the void of uncertainty (what happens in our lives all the time) but also move us to a faith that is open to uncertainty and still demands that we act anyways.

Finally, I think that Mark is leaving the story in our hands.  The man in the tomb says, “Jesus is going ahead of you; there you will see him.”  Jesus isn’t in heaven in this story.  Jesus is out there – in the world.  Waiting for us.  We have to go find him.  We have to search for him.  We have to take this story and find Jesus in the love and grace and truth of a community that is searching together in the world.  This is my favorite idea in Mark; that this ending calls us to go forth and live a life for Christ so that we might find him.  But where can we find Christ?  We’ll find him in the orphan we adopt, the prisoner we visit, the poor we protect, the immigrant we give refuge, the sick we heal, the hungry we feed, and the oppressed we redeem.  I know that Jesus is in heaven now, and I can’t see heaven.  But I can see the Kingdom of God – the good news he came to spread – break into this world bit by bit when I live out the life I was created to live.  Jesus is out there, waiting for us to come and serve and find him.

Now Mark says, what are you going to do?  Will you remain here, quiet?  Or will you go and be a part of the work God is doing?

-Graysen Pack

Be on the Alert!

Mark 13 & 14 (Thursday)

Mark 13 33

The thirteenth chapter of Mark finds Jesus teaching his disciples on the Mount of Olives outside of Jerusalem.  Jesus is teaching his disciples about the tribulations that are to come and his second coming.  He ends with this admonition in 13:35-37…

“Therefore, be on the alert – for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning – in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep.  What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’”

Jesus begins and ends his command with “be on the alert.”  In fact, Jesus says “be on the alert” in verses 33, 34, 35, and 37.  For Mark’s audience, this is like shining the spotlight on the words while fading everything else to black.  Like we covered earlier this week, the gospel was meant to be heard and hearing the same phrase back to back like this is a sign that it should be held onto.

Now, let’s jump just ahead a bit to Mark 14:32.  We’ve been through the Last Supper and Jesus has taken his disciples to Gethsemane.  He picks his three favorites (Peter, James, & John) and takes them a bit further than the rest.  He says to them, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.”

You ready for this?  Jesus is using the exact same word as he did back in chapter 13.  It’s even in the same tense!  The word is gregoreo by the way (like gregarious).  It’s a command directed directly at his listener.  Jesus was asking his disciples to do something much more than just stay awake.  He was pointing them back to what they had heard the night before: to be alert because the end is approaching.

In fact, when Jesus returns to find his disciples sleeping the first and second time, he repeats this same command to them, gregoreo!  Stay alert!  But upon his third visit he says it is enough, the time is now here.  In Mark 13, Jesus commands his disciples to be alert so that they may be prepared for the (ultimate) end, but in Mark 14, when the (immediate) end comes, they are asleep at their post and ultimately all leave him and flee (14:50).

This is not just a word by Jesus for his disciples but a word for us today as well.  Like the chorus in a Greek play, Mark’s words in 13:37, “What I say to you I say to all…” is a clear calling out to us here today.  Be on the alert for the end is coming and we must be prepared.  We must be prepared to face our own crucifixion – to die each day as a living sacrifice – as our own immediate ends in service, love, and sacrifice for others.  It is the cup we are called to bear as followers of the one who showed us the way.

OK – tomorrow is the big finale!  Mark’s last words to the earliest followers of Christ.  It’s a shocking, amazing, inspiring vision of Jesus’ ministry.

-Graysen Pack

A Den of Robbers

Mark 11 & 12 (Wednesday)

Mark 11 17

Once Jesus enters Jerusalem, the timeline for Mark slows down significantly.  While the first half of the book takes place over almost a year, the second half occurs in about a week.  Mark is letting us know that this is what his gospel and Jesus have been preparing for.  Mark 11 and 12 takes a closer look at the first 3 days Jesus is in Jerusalem.

While there’s a lot that we could cover here, I’d like to focus on Jesus’s experience in the Temple and how we can better understand a well known story that we may misinterpret.

On Jesus’s first day in Jerusalem, after the triumphal entry, he enters the Temple and “looks around at everything.” (11:11).  He leaves for Bethany outside of Jerusalem – using it as a kind of safe spot – instead of staying the nights in the city.  On the second day, he goes back to the city with his disciples and enters the Temple again.  However, instead of just observing, he begins to cause a scene.  Mark tells us that he starts “to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and over-turned tables of the money changers and the seats of those selling doves; and he would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple.”

Whoa.  That’s a pretty radical departure from the Jesus who didn’t want anyone to talk about the miracles he was performing.  It’s as if the shy kid from the back of the class suddenly started burning textbooks in the auditorium screaming “You won’t do any more homework while I’m around! Ha ha ha!”  It’s a little weird.  And, the principals would be rightly concerned about what was going on (like the chief priests and scribes).

So, what is going on?  First, let’s clear up some misconceptions about what the Temple looked like.  We may think that Jesus was clearing out the Temple area because the vendors were causing problems for the act of worship.  That doesn’t really fit with what we know about the Temple.  First, the area where Jesus is clearing house is HUGE.  I mean really big.  It’s approximately the size of 11 soccer fields.  That’s massive (about 704,000 square feet).  There weren’t enough vendors in all of Israel to fill that space.

Another idea is that Jesus was fed up with the temple system completely and was overturning the model that the temple existed on.  This tends to emerge when we think that Jesus is somehow trying to move beyond Judaism and create his own new thing.  Well, Jesus isn’t.  He was and is a Jew.  Mark’s gospel itself undermines this idea in chapter 12.  On the third day, Jesus returns to the Temple (where he wrecked it the day before) and sits across from the treasury.  A widow comes and puts in her 2 pennies.  Notice, Jesus doesn’t say that she is being scammed out of her pennies, that she should do something better with her money, that it isn’t right for her to give to the current system, or that she’s being robbed by the temple.  No – he says that what she’s done is more than everyone else AND it seems to be a great thing!  Even today, this widow is meant to be a role model for us.

So, what is Jesus trying to do?   Let’s look at the text.  After he drives out the merchants, he says that the temple had “become a robber’s den.” (11:17)  Was the temple robbing people?  No – a robber’s den isn’t where robbers actually rob people.  It’s a place where robbers can go and be safe.  It’s a hideout where they don’t have to worry about the law coming after them.  I don’t think that Jesus was calling out the merchants or the temple system, but rather the leadership in the Temple for their willful blindness to injustice and sheltering those who do injustice in their midst.  His criticism of the Temple isn’t for how it works or what it does, but rather for what it isn’t doing.  I think that Jesus is taking up the call of Isaiah, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isa. 1:17)

This is where I think we can find a message for our lives and churches today.  Would Jesus level the same criticism against us today?  Not that we have vendors in the church, but that we allow ourselves to become a den for those who rob others?  Jesus’s problem with the temple wasn’t directed at the merchants or vendors but at those who were complacent in the face of wrong-doing, injustice, and evil.  Standing against injustice – especially when we find it in our own house, community, and ideals can be scary and seem life-threatening.  But, I think, like the widow, we are called to give what we have – “all that [we] have to live on” – to offer hope and justice to those starving for it.

-Graysen Pack