I grieve this morning for what is happening in Ferguson.

I grieve because what is happening there is very similar to what was happening in Belfast and Northern Ireland in the year or two before my departure from there.  And that was literally heart breaking as I lived in the midst of it and saw a country attempting to “return to Egypt” so to speak

I have no comment of any value to make on the happenings in Ferguson.  It seems very simple to me: on one side, a group of people feel that an injustice has taken place, and on the other side there is a group of people who disagree that an injustice has taken place.  The major problem is that both sides want to be right and claim, passionately that they are right.  Both sides will stick to their guns (literally) and fight to the death (literally) in order to “win,” and thus have their sense of “right” prevail.

The problem is that there can be no winner.

There is still a grieving family.

There is still a police officer who has had his life and career marked forevermore by what took place at the start of all this.

There is still a community that perceives itself to be oppressed by powers and authorities.

There is still a community that feels that the other community is not oppressed.

There is still the decision of a Grand Jury which has observed due process, and made all its papers available for scrutiny in the interests of accountability and transparency.

There are still two sides who want to be the winner over and above everything else.

Whatever happens in Ferguson over the coming days, all of these things will remain true.

So is there a better way?

Of course there is.  But it takes a complete laying down of self and all that is important to self and even that which has so far defined self.

It is the way of Christ.

As part of our church’s life of prayer, each week we choose a book of the Bible to read in-between prayer gatherings.  We read it, seek encouragement in doing so, and then hope to encourage each other as we communicate what we sense God has been saying to us in our reading.  It is a very simple act of devotion and encouragement.

This week we are in Mark’s gospel and today i started by reading Mark chapters 1 and 2.  Mark is a no nonsense kind of writer.  In choosing to write about Jesus, he is not like Matthew and Luke.  He does not waste any time on genealogies or birth stories as the start point of Christ’s story of grace and Holy Spirit power.  No, Mark goes right to the heart of Christ’s message from the very start.  He refers to Christ’s call to preach the good news of the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom in the world, the ministry of healing and the power and activity of the Spirit.  Mark writes about disciples being called and choosing to follow, and about Jesus’s choice to eat and socialize with “tax-collectors and sinners.”  Then, towards the end of chapter two, Mark tells the story of how Jesus was once questioned about fasting.  In responding to the question, Jesus used two very short parables about new cloth being attached to old cloth and new wine being poured into old wineskins.

I have always found this text to be tough to make sense of in preaching and teaching.  Any time I looked at it, I was happy to place it solely in the context of the question around fasting.  However,  today I am seeing it more in the context of the whole first two chapters – where Mark has made this no-nonsense, explosive account of Jesus’ burst onto the human scene.  Mark has shown Jesus to be teaching a new way; calling disciples to leave their old lives and start new ones with him; casting out old demons and releasing people into a new life.  In this context, Mark 2:21-22 makes new reading for me because it helps me to understand that Mark is showing that Jesus is not just calling stale and staid religious people to reject their old ways in order to live His new way.  No, Mark is announcing the in-breaking of the kingdom in the world and as such, he has Jesus calling people to complete surrender to him.  Jesus is calling men to leave their nets and their tax collection tables.  He is calling religious people to rethink their ideas on fasting and the sabbath.  He is calling humans to let go of their treasured, precious golden calfs in order receive the treasure of new life and freedom in him.  I think Mark was trying to get the point across, that in order to allow the in-breaking of the kingdom to take place we must let go of the golden calves; throw off the things that have defined us and that we hold to be “true” and are literally willing to kill and die for.  We must empty ourselves of all that defines and made up the “old wineskin” and become completely new and completely teachable in order for the new wine to be poured in and ultimately be enjoyed.

How did I connect this to Ferguson?

Good question.

The answer is very simple:  Jesus still calls us to leave behind our treasured, precious golden calves and follow him.  He still calls us to leave behind all that has defined us and all that we hold to be dear and true and important.  He calls us to become new wineskins so that his new wine of freedom and new life may be poured in, remain and be enjoyed.  In the context of Ferguson, or Belfast, or Jerusalem or anywhere else in the world where people are fighting for what they hold to be dear; fighting for the things that represent the very material that makes up their “old wineskin,” Jesus calls us to lay it all down and surrender completely to his way.  We are called to lay down our hunger to be the winner.  We are called to lay down our perception of injustice.  We are called to lay down our racism, our prejudice, our contentment with inequality.  We are called to lay down the notion that we are right and the other group are wrong.  We are called to lay ourselves down, in total surrender, so that the new wine of Christ and the new way of the Kingdom of God, which has broken in and become established on the earth, may become our way.  The way of the gospel is the way of heart change, but how can we have changed hearts when in our hearts we hold so dearly to these precious golden calves?

The only way for progress to be made in Ferguson today (or any other area/society where this type of conflict/division is taking place) is for the leaders of a divided community and nation to let go of the need to be the winner; to let go of the need to be right; to let go of the longing for the good old days when everything was better and people knew their place…and to surrender to the way of Christ which calls humans to humble themselves before each other; to sacrifice themselves for the needs of their neighbor; to embody reconciliation and forgiveness; and to commit to finding a way to stand together with “the other,” for the good of a whole community so that every person is treated equally and with dignity.

We can only rid ourselves of these things when we come down of our high horse and realize that our idols, regardless of how right we think they are, are nonetheless idols.  They might be the idols of perceived injustice, or idols or power, or idols of perceived national ideals such as life, liberty and justice for all.  Whatever they are, they are idols and until we surrender them and have our hearts made new, we are and will remain unable to contain the new wine of Christ.