Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Way of the Wicked

The Way of the Wicked
Psalm 1; Mk. 9:30-37[1]
We may be a people who hate consequences, but we are close to fanatical about our “rights.”  We believe that our rights are “inalienable,” which means we believe the founding documents of our experiment in government constitute a foolproof guarantee.  Yet there are many people in our culture who are deprived of the basic rights we take for granted on a regular basis.  And most of us simply turn a blind eye to it.  But how would you like it if everybody over 65 had to renew their drivers license every year to make sure they can really see well enough to drive?  Or what if there were a law that mandated police to pull over young men driving a car alone near elementary schools to check their criminal background for sex offenses?  We believe it’s wrong to single out any group for special scrutiny like that.  And yet we have states that single out certain ethnic groups for special scrutiny regarding their citizenship.  If our Constitution guarantees us rights, shouldn’t those rights apply equally to everybody? 
The hard truth is that whenever we turn a blind eye to the injustice that deprives a minority of their rights, we place our own rights at risk.  Martin Niemöller, a German pastor during the Holocaust, put it this way,
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.  Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak because I was not a trade unionist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak because I was not a Jew.  Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.[2]
Or, as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it more succinctly, “Injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere.”[3]
I think the Psalmist was keenly aware of this truth.  Israel had been founded as a commonwealth with an equal distribution of wealth—in this case the land.[4]  Apparently, it didn’t take long for the unscrupulous wealthy to buy up the land from those who were struggling.  Effectively, instead of a nation founded on the justice that gave everyone a means of making a living, Israel became a nation of “haves” and “have-nots.”  Whenever the Hebrew Bible mentions the “wicked,” it typically refers to the wealthy who took every advantage of their wealth to enrich themselves further no matter what it took or whom they had to trample.[5]  And they typically trampled on those who had no means to defend themselves and no recourse.  The “wicked” the Psalmist refers to were these rich land barons who couldn’t care less about justice.  And the Psalmist says this way is one that will perish (Ps. 1:6)!
But Jesus points us to a different way.  In our gospel lesson for today, he corrects the disciples’ misguided ambition by embracing a child, and commends to them that they do the same.  We might see that as a “cute” or “warm and fuzzy” experience.  But the romantic view of childhood that is full of sweetness and happiness is a recent development.  For most of human history, children have been among the least valued people in society—in some contexts little better than slaves.  At least women and slaves in Jesus’ world were viewed as property and had some value.  But for most of human history children have been seen as having no value in society and therefore having no rights. [6]  They were simply mouths to feed and were put to work as soon as they could possibly do something that would benefit the household. 
Jesus not only said to embrace the children—who were the least and the lowest in society.  In another passage, he told his disciples they had to become like children in order to enter the Kingdom of God (Matt. 18:3).  Again, we have romanticized that by envisioning the trusting nature of a child, but I think he was saying the same thing he said to them in our gospel lesson for today.  I think he was telling them that if they wanted to follow him they had to become the last, the least, and the lowest of all.
That is about as contrary to our way of life as you can get.  We praise ambition and we honor those who are first and those who are at the top.  We like our comforts and we believe in our right to a good life.  These attitudes are woven into the very fabric of the way we live our lives—even into the very fabric of our economy, our society, and our culture.  But while we may enjoy the lifestyle afforded us by the rights we cherish, I think we must beware lest we become complacent and ignore the injustice around us.  We must beware when we disregard the welfare of the least and the last and the lowest, because as the Psalmist warns us, that is the way of the wicked, and it is a way that will perish. 
But Jesus calls us to a different way.  He calls us to a way of self-sacrifice.  He calls us to a way of taking last place instead of pushing and shoving to get into first place.  It is the path of caring for the welfare of others, all others, especially the least and the lowest among us.  It is the path of “doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.”  It is the path marked out by the Torah of God that teaches us to love God with all we are and to love others like ourselves. And the Psalmist says that when we delight in God’s truth and follow that path, we flourish like trees full of green leaves and heavy with fruit (Ps. 1:2-3).[7]  In short, when we follow that path, we find it is the way to life.

[1] © 2012 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/23/12 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] While there is some discussion about the exact wording of Niemöller’s statement, the gist is clear.  See Harold Marcuse’s page detailing his study of the quote at .
[3] Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” May 1, 1963, p. 3.  Accessed at .
[4] Cf. Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology I:299-300.
[5] Cf. Brevard S. Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context, 181-82;  Shalom M. Paul, Amos, 85-86.  Cf. esp. James Luther Mays, Psalms, 75: “It is characteristic of the wicked in the Psalms to oppose and subvert the practice of righteousness, the conduct that creates shalom”; and J. Clinton McCann, “The Book of Psalms,” in New Interpreters Bible IV:667: “Self-centered, self-directed, and self-ruled, the wicked see no need for dependence upon God or for consideration of others.”
[6]Cf. John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, 265-302;Paul J. Achtemeier, “Mark 9:30-37,” Interpretation 30 (April 1976):182; Judith M. Gundry-Volf, “Mark 9:33-37,” Interpretation 53 (Jan 1999):57-61; Pheme Perkins, “The Gospel of Mark,” New Interpreters Bible VIII:637.
[7] Cf. McCann, “Book of Psalms,” NIB IV:684-85.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Prov.1:20-33; Mk. 8:27-38[1]
We are a people with a distinct aversion to consequences. We want to be able to do whatever we please, and if we get caught doing something we shouldn’t, we want to be able to get out of the consequences.  In fact, we think we should be able to get off the hook, because people get away with things every day.  As a people, we’re not very fond of “you reap what you sow.”  And yet, the principle of reaping what you sow is one that has pervaded human culture from the beginning.  Hindus and Buddhists call it “Karma.”  More practical-minded folks say, “what goes around comes around.”  But throughout history there has been a profound awareness that our choices and our actions bring their own consequences with them.
As Christians, we may be more comfortable with concepts like forgiveness and grace than reaping what you sow.  But our lesson from Proverbs for today makes it clear that our choices make a difference.  “Wisdom” is personified as a woman crying out in the streets, offering insights, guidelines, and instructions for living, and the rewards that come from living by Wisdom’s teaching.[2]  But, in ancient times as in our day, it seems that many, perhaps even most people, prefer to go their own way and ignore Wisdom’s counsel.  For example, when will we ever learn that “a gentle word turns away wrath” (Prov. 15:1) instead of trying to overcome violence by violence?  How many of us really believe that our lives don’t consist of the abundance of our possessions (Lk. 12:15)?  Or when will we learn that when we indulge in promiscuity we’re actually harming ourselves (1 Cor. 6:18).  Or how many of us really believe and live by the principle that we are all children of one Creator (cf. esp. 1 John 4:19-5:1), and therefore what I do affects you and what you do affects me.
Some of these precepts are obvious in daily living.  Others are not, because it takes time for the consequences to show up.  This is true of our spiritual choices as well.  When we choose a path that is essentially selfish and ignores the effect of our actions on others, we may not see the consequences of that choice right away, but they will eventually make their appearance.  When we live a life that ignores justice and compassion for others in our world, we may not see the consequences immediately, but we will eventually and inevitably “eat the fruit of our way” (Prov. 1:31). [3]  When we choose to ignore the divine dimension that fills and defines all of life and simply go our own way, we will at some point become “sated with our own desires” (Prov. 1:31).[4]
Jesus didn’t have a lot to say about consequences, but he did address the issue—especially to the spiritual hypocrites of his day.  But I think our Gospel lesson for today presents us with a similar kind of choice.[5]  Like Wisdom, Jesus calls to all who would hear him, and challenges them to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him in a life of “doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.”  If we reject the path of discipleship because the price is too high, because Jesus asks too much of us when he asks us to give ourselves away for the sake of others as he did, we may hang on to some things we hold dear, but he warns that we will lose our very soul.  If, on the other hand, we choose to follow him, we may very well face losses in this life.  We may face significant losses.  But Jesus promises that if we follow him we will have gained our very souls.[6] 
I will be the first to admit that a life of giving ourselves away for the sake of others is not an easy one.  It’s one that asks for all the very best we have to give, and continues to ask for that over and over and over again.  It’s easy to burn out when you’re always giving to those around you.  That’s why it’s so important to maintain some kind of spiritual discipline—reading, prayer, meditation, something.  It’s essential to have some way to build yourself up, to maintain your own inner resources if you’re going to continue living a life of giving yourself away.
Consequences are built into the very structure of life.  We can accept that fact, or we can spend our lives in an effort to get around them, to get out of paying the price of our choices, to get off the hook for our actions.  But it will be a futile effort.  Because, in the end it is always true that we reap what we sow.  We will “eat the fruit of our ways” as Wisdom reminds us.  And as Jesus points out, this is not only true for life in general, it is also true for the spiritual life.  It is especially true for the spiritual life!  Jesus not only taught us, he showed us that the only way to truly live is to give yourself away for the sake of others.[7]  If we refuse that choice because the price of surrendering our own self-interest is too high, the consequence is that we will lose the very heart and soul of what it means to really live.  But if we have the courage to follow him, then we will find that this path of self-giving is the way to freedom, and true joy, and all the life that God wants to give us each and every day.

[1] © 2012 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/16/12 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] Cf. R. E. Murphy, Proverbs, 12, where he points out that “Wisdom” in Proverbs speaks and acts like God.  He says, “What was referred to God is now referred to her. It is she who feels rebuffed, and who threatens those who refuse to listen. She has divine authority, and she hands out reward and punishment. She does not mention the Lord; she does not urge conversion to God, but to herself!”  Cf. similiarly, Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 2.1:428-430.
[3] Cf. Raymond C. Van Leeuwen, “The Book of Proverbs,” New Interpreters Bible V:41:  “Sometimes, ‘I like myself just the way I am’ is not a healthy affirmation of self-respect, but a denial that life requires growth and correction”!
[4] Cf. Van Leeuwen, “Book of Proverbs,” NIB V:41: “Wisdom is a matter of life and death not just for individuals but for families, corporations, universities, nations, and cultures. They, too, reap what they sow.”
[5] Cf. similarly, Joel C. Marcus, “Uncommon Sense,” The Christian Century (Aug. 30, 2000): 860.
[6] Cf. H. W. Attridge and A. Y. Collins, Mark, 409 on the play on words in Greek between “life” and “soul.”
[7] Cf. Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.1:190, where he emphasizes that the call to self-denial is based on Jesus’ example, which in itself is a reflection of the Christian conception of who God is!  Cf. also Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20, 20; and Pheme Perkins, “The Gospel of Mark,” in New Interpreters Bible VIII:628.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sowing Justice

Sowing Justice
Prov. 22:8-9,22-23; Jas. 2:1-10; Mk. 7:24-37[1]
As a white male, born into a relatively comfortable middle-class family, I didn't have much experience with the systemic injustice in our culture as I was growing up.  Not personal experience at least.  I did have a run-in with a Texas Christian University Campus Cop who had quite an attitude and cornered me in my car over a parking ticket.  But otherwise, I really can’t say I suffered injustice.  In fact, I’m quite sure I benefitted from the systemic injustice of our culture indirectly at least—whether I knew it or not, I had certain advantages that others did not.  It seems to me that justice is like that—you have to have experienced injustice personally to have much concern for it. Most people like us these days don’t seem to have much interest in justice.  We are worried about our jobs, or about our kids, or about where our culture and society are headed.  Come to think of it, maybe we are interested in justice after all.
Justice is a concept that is at the heart of the Hebrew Bible.[2]  The very essence of what God expects from the people who claim to practice faith is to “do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God” (Mic 6:8).  I’m not sure we know what to do with that.  We think of justice in terms of crime and punishment.  It’s hard for us to reconcile justice with mercy, because in our minds they seem to be opposites.  But in the Hebrew Bible, nothing could be further from the truth.  The practice of justice and the practice of mercy are one and the same.  They go hand-in-hand, like faith and hope and love.  The Hebrew Bible makes it clear over and over again that justice is about ensuring well-being, or shalom, for everyone.[3]  It’s about a way of life that makes it possible to everyone to thrive, not just the privileged few.
If you look at key passages in the Hebrew Bible, you’ll find that justice is about lifting up those who have been beaten down.  It’s a way of life defined by compassion and generosity (Prov. 22:9).[4]  As we saw last week, the Bible gets very specific about this—justice means taking care of orphans and widows, who have no one else to take care of them.  It means welcoming immigrants, not hunting them down and chasing them out.  It means feeding the hungry, not blaming their bad choices for their lot in life.  It’s about supporting the sick with a compassionate presence, and comforting those who are grieving.  It is mercy in action.[5]
One reason we Christians are so unfamiliar with the concept of justice is because the New Testament doesn’t speak the same language the Hebrew Bible does.  For that reason, it’s easy to get confused and think that the Hebrew Bible is a book of Law and commandments and obedience and judgment.  We much prefer the New Testament as a book of grace and compassion.  But that kind of understanding is a vast misunderstanding.  The Hebrew Bible is just as much a book of grace and love and mercy as the New Testament, and the New Testament is just as much a book of obedience and justice.  They just use different words to talk about it.
It seems to me that the way the New Testament talks about “doing justly” is “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Jas. 2:8).  Jesus said this was the heart of God’s command.  And, in fact, in this Jesus is following the Law, the Torah, of the Hebrew Bible, because he is quoting from one of the Books of the Law, the book of Leviticus.  If we were to take the time to look at Leviticus 19, where this command comes from, we would find that loving your neighbor is defined in very down-to-earth terms.[6]  For example, loving your neighbor is about leaving the gleanings from your field for the poor (Lev. 19:9-10).  It’s about dealing honestly with others (Lev. 19: 13).  It’s about honoring the handicapped (Lev. 19:14).  It’s about not slandering others, not hating them, and not seeking revenge (Lev. 19:16-18).  Sounds like justice to me.[7]
When you look at our world, it feels like things are out of kilter.  From the workplace to the schoolhouse to the courtroom to the home, it feels like things aren’t quite the way they’re supposed to be.  It certainly doesn’t feel like we’re thriving.  Perhaps we are in this situation not in spite of all that we’re doing, but precisely because of what we’re doing.  If you take a close look at our way of life, I think it’s hard not to conclude that we as a people are sowing injustice.  We ought not be so surprised, then, when we reap the calamity that goes with injustice (Prov. 22:8).
How do we change things?  What can we do to make a difference?  What would it look like for us to sow justice in our land instead of injustice?  Well, it may sound trite, but I think we won’t go far astray if we follow Jesus’ example.  It seems to me that Jesus’ whole life was one of sowing justice—whether it meant healing a gentile woman’s daughter, even though both of them would have been despised by most of the Jewish people of their day.  Or whether it meant caring for a deaf mute, who would have been very easy to overlook and ignore.  As in the two examples from our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus’ life was dedicated to caring for those who were the least and the left out and the passed over and the shut out.  This made him not so popular with the “job creators” of his day and time, but he did it because he was following the Biblical mandate to love your neighbor as yourself.  As we follow his example, we will sow justice, and hopefully bring healing to ourselves and to those around us.

[1] © 2012 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/9/12 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] Cf. Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology I:370, where he says that there is no concept in the Hebrew Bible with so central a significance.
[3] Cf. James L. Mays, Psalms, 311, “Righteousness is the rightness that makes for life and shalom; justice is found in decisions and actions according to righteousness,” Cf. also Jürgen Moltmann,The Way of Jesus Christ, 121: “God’s justice and righteousness brings shalom to both his people and land.”  Cf. also J. Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 163-96; Hans Küng, The Christian Challenge: A Shortened Version of On Being A Christian, 293-312.
[4] Cf. R. E. Murphy, Proverbs, 167: “riches do not entitle one to establish class distinctions since God created all, both rich and poor.” Cf. also ibid., 261 where goes further: “both rich and poor were created by God, so that mockery of the poor is a blasphemy.”  Cf. also Raymond C. Van Leeuwen, “Book of Proverbs,” in New Interpreters Bible V:200.
[5] Cf. Von Rad, Old Testament Theology I:374.  Cf. Robert W. Wall, “Where Wisdom is Found,” Christian Ethics 2009, 31: “The care of poor and powerless believers is a hallmark of God’s covenant-keeping people.”  Cf. also Robert W. Wall, The Community of the Wise, 114: “God stands on the side of those the powerful of this world exploit and the people of God ignore.”
[6]Cf. similarly Luke Timothy Johnson, “The Letter of James,” New Interpreters Bible XII:195, where he says that the actions specified by Lev. 19 (and in the Letter of James) are “incompatible with love.”  Cf. also J. Milgrom, Leviticus, 226; Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.2:804.
[7]Cf. J. E. Hartley, Leviticus, 322-24, where he explains that Lev. 19 is a call to holy living, and that “Holiness finds tangible expression in loving,” especially in the ways spelled out in this chapter.  Cf. also Milgrom, Leviticus, 235-36.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Heart Service

Heart Service
Dt. 4:1-9; Mk. 7:1-23; Jas. 1:17-27[1]
As we enter the last phase of this year’s political campaign season, it seems to me that most of us have heard so much rhetoric that we have become almost immune to it all.  It wouldn’t be too hard to find sound bites where most of the politicians running for office have taken one side of a position, and then have reversed themselves completely.  Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that they have contradicted themselves.  We have been so saturated with words and promises and claims and counter-claims that none of it means much to us any more.  Most of us have already made up our minds any way.  Politics these days—especially presidential politics—are about where you take your stand in the cultural battles that divide us.  And yet, the parties will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to try to win our votes.  But in my humble opinion, most of the words we’ll be exposed to in the coming months won’t do much to change anybody’s mind. 
I suspect a lot of people view our faith the way we view politics: it’s all a lot of words that don’t mean much.  If they’re not completely jaded by religion, they may still look to see if those of us who profess faith follow up with actions that demonstrate it. But many people in our world have already given up on religion.  And it’s because we religious people have spent our time and energy arguing about things that tend to appear to the average bystander as something like debating the right way to wash your hands as a religious ritual.  Or we’ve done things that have completely contradicted our claim to faith.  Or we’ve bogged down our religion with making rules about who’s in and who’s out.
 But Jesus took a completely different approach.  Jesus demanded that his disciples do two things: love God and love their fellow human beings.  While it’s not a long list of rules, it’s still not particularly easy when you think about it.  We shouldn’t think that Jesus came to let us off the hook when it comes to obeying God’s commands.  Jesus doesn’t make it easier for us to live the life of faith, he makes it harder!  He challenges us “observe the commandments of the Lord your God diligently” (Deut. 4:5-6) by fulfilling the spirit of the commands, not just the letter.  Jesus follows the tradition of the biblical prophets when he insists that faith should include one’s whole life.  From the very beginning, that tradition has insisted that those who profess faith show that their faith truly makes a difference in the way they live.[2]   Otherwise, it’s no faith at all; as Jesus said, it’s just “lip service” (Mk. 7:6-7; quoting Isa. 29:13)!
Now it may seem strange to people raised on the gospel of grace to hear about observing the commandments.  But the simple truth is that the biblical witness has always insisted that the way you live your life demonstrates the quality of your faith.  For example, James says that “true religion” is to bridle your tongue, care for widows and orphans, and keep yourself untainted by the world (Jas. 1:27).  Like the prophets before him, James knew that putting your faith into action has to be specific—faith is a matter of how you use your words, how you treat the powerless and destitute, and how you view “holiness.”  If you think about it, these three areas of our lives are where our faith shows up—or doesn’t.  How easy it is to turn from our “Christian life” to slandering or condemning another person!  How easy it is to make ourselves feel less impotent in this world by mistreating someone who has no voice!  How easy it is to rationalize and justify our failure to “do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God” by wrapping ourselves in a mantle of false piety.
It seems to me that is precisely one of the great problems with all religions. It is all too easy for religion to become nothing more than a cultural phenomenon—it simply endorses “the way things have always been” and uses God and Scripture to reinforce that tradition.  But since God’s word challenges all societies and all cultures to recognize their profound failures, if we are going to simply go along with the way things are, then we must “abandon the commandment of God” (Mk. 7:8).[3] 
But Jesus makes it clear in his dispute with his Jewish opponents that it’s not the so-called cultural “sins” that defile us in God's sight.[4]  You know what I’m talking about here—those ways we define people who are different from us as “unclean” regardless of their true character!  For the Pharisees of Jesus’ day it was washing your hands the right way.  We have different ways of defining people as unclean, but they are just as culturally motivated.[5] Jesus says that it is what you do that defiles you. 
Jesus presents us with a choice.  The reality is that if we choose to live the life of faith, we will have to turn our back on sham religion that justifies our sin—even if it means turning our back on the cultural norms that most of us cling to for a sense of stability.[6]  The plain but challenging truth is that authentic faith has always been about God’s grace changing your heart and mind so much that it changes the way you live. It’s not a matter of lip service, but of heart service.[7]  Authentic faith is about a different way of living that flows naturally from a heart that has been changed by God’s love and mercy and grace, and therefore a heart that can do no less than seek to make all of life about loving God and loving others

[1] © 2012 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/2/12 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] Cf. Emil Brunner, The Divine Imperative, 116, speaking of God claiming us for his kingdom through his love; cf. also Paul Tillich, “Doing the Truth,” The Shaking of the Foundations, 114-117; Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity, 187-206; and Brian McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy, 249-51.  Cf. also Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 63, where he can say that only those who are obedient believe!
[3] The specific commandment involved supporting aged parents as a way of “honoring your father and mother.”  For the background, see Pheme Perkins, “The Gospel of Mark,” New Interpreters Bible VIII:606-7; H. W. Attridge and A. Y. Collins, Mark, 351-53.
[4] John Ortberg, “Pharisees Are Us,” The Christian Century (Aug 23, 2003): 20, where he points out that even though the Pharisees knew that the heart of the Torah was loving God with heart and soul and mind and strength, they focused on things like dietary laws (hand washing) as “boundary markers.”  He says, “All groups of human beings have a tendency to be exclusive; they want to know who is inside and who is out. So they adopt identity markers—visible practices of dress or vocabulary or behavior that serve to distinguish who is inside the group from who is outside.”
[5] Ortberg, “Pharisees Are Us,” 20 says, “Any time people are not experiencing authentic transformation … they will inevitably be drawn toward some kind of faith characterized by boundary markers. We will look for substitute ways of distinguishing ourselves from those on the outside. The boundary markers change from century to century, but they all reinforce a false sense of superiority, fed by the intent to exclude others.”
[6] Cf. Cynthia M. Campbell, “ID Check,” The Christian Century (Aug. 22, 2006): 16.  She says, “For many Christians, there seems to be a need to find ways to guard the borders of religious identity All sorts of issues are lifted up as identity-defining, and the stance one takes with respect to them determines whether one is a ‘real Christian.’”  Cf. similarly, Lamar Williamson, Jr., Mark, 135-36.
[7] Cf. Heidi Husted, “Matters of the Heart,” The Christian Century (Aug. 16, 2000): 828.  She says, “It’s ironic that the first-century Bible believers and the big-time Bible defenders are the ones who end up being the worst Bible breakers, because they do not realize that, as Mary Ann Tolbert says in Sowing the Gospel, ‘if the heart is God’s ground, nothing else is required; and if the heart is not God’s ground, nothing else will suffice.’”  Cf. also Perkins, “The Gospel of Mark,” NIB VIII:606; and Robert A. Guelich, Mark 1-8:26, 371.