Thursday, June 28, 2012

Looking for a rescue?

This week’s lesson (Mark 5.21-34) accounts two stories of two women and the power of God to rescue people from death. So allow me to retell it to you. Jesus has just returned from the far side of the Sea of Galilee and from foreign territory back to the Holy Land. He is surrounded by a multitude of people and into the multitude comes Jairus and then an unnamed woman with a blood issue. Both are desperate because they are in need of healing. Jairus comes to Jesus on behalf of his beloved little daughter because she is under the power of death and life is about to cease.

Jairus comes to Jesus and pleads in many different ways with to come to his house and rescue his daughter from the power of death. And in typical Markan fashion Jesus agrees and they immediately depart for Jarius’ house. It should be noted that only certain people were allowed to make the journey with Jesus. But even before the crowd could be left behind in the care of the remaining disciples, Jesus feels the touch of the unnamed woman and stops to address her situation with a simple question: “Who touched me?”

The unnamed woman had been suffering for a dozen years under the care of many different doctors with an issue of hemorrhaging. She was physically ill, emotionally awash and financially depleted trying to regain her health. She made up her mind that she was going to get to Jesus, risky though it was. People around her could turn on her in an instant, injure her or even kill her and that would be the end of it. On the journey to find Jesus, she kept telling herself over and over was, “if I can touch just the hem of his robe, I will be rescued.” When she found Jesus, she , made her way to him as he started out, reach out and touched him. Jesus in that moment, felt power go out from him and he turned to the crowd and asked, “Who touched me?” Someone, maybe one of the disciples, incredulously replies, “Don’t you see all the people? And you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

Jesus waited and finally from the back of the group, because it always needs to come from the back somehow, the woman again pushed her way forward in fear and trembling to tell the whole story and make clear what had been done for her. Was it because Jesus want the recognition for a miracle? More than like, he didn’t. So is it possible that he wanted to strengthen the unnamed woman? This is more likely what he was trying to do. Life was not to be the same for her after the encounter with Jesus. She told her story and then Jesus confirmed the good thing that had happened in her body and told her to go and really live and stay rescued.

In the midst of this comes the news from Jarius’ house that the girl has died and there is no need for Jesus any longer. Jairus’ servants plead with Jairus to leave Jesus alone now because there was no more life. Jesus, ignoring the servants, now pleads with Jairus and asks him to continue to believe in what is about to happen and to witness what God will do in this little one. So they went on together with the amazed disciples and grumbling servants in tow. When the group arrived at the house, there was a mighty uproar going on because the professional mourners weeping and singing because that is what one does when another person dies. It was part of the customs and the culture of the village. Jesus entered into the home and asked why there was such a commotion going on. The girl was not dead but only sleeping. He was laughed at and they called him crazy. They knew what death was all about. So Jesus chased them out of the house, into the growing darkness of the evening.

Then he took the parents and the disciples into the room to where the girl was. As the other’s watched, Jesus when over to the bed, picked up the girl’s hand and said to her, “Little Lamb, I say to you, get up.” She open her eyes, sat up and with assistance sat up. Then with continued support, she stood up and began to move around the room because she was able to do this on her own just as she did before. Jesus then charged those who witnessed this not to tell anyone else what both happened. Then she had something to eat to show that the rescue from death was both successful and complete. Since when did a ghost need lunch?

So out of this all then, let us consider an important question, “What have we said or done that has made someone else’s life better, stronger or at least different in a positive way in the past week?” and what will we say or do that will bring life to someone near and dear to us in the next seven days? Who will we try to rescue from death?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Reflecting tremendous amounts of Gratitude

What would several months of being unable to talk, do for your attitude towards God? Or more importantly, after the silence, what would be your first words. I suspect in this day and age, there would be a lot of laughter because there are many who would still be able to text and life would continue on as if nothing had changed. I know this to be true of my teenage son and his friends who will text people who are in the same building, even in the same room and sitting side by side. What would happen to a world that is so crazed by the abilities of the computer age do if all the servers in the country when down? What would the technophiles if they had to communicate either by phone (without video) or had to speak to each other face to face (without screens or any sort video)? What would they do if such people had to speak to each other face to face and actually communicate with each other, without the machines in between? Would they know how?

If I am sounding a bit like a knuckle dragging troglodyte (caveman), it is maybe because I see a need in our technological culture and society to, turn all the technology off once in a while so that God can speak to us. And it is not just the machines that we need to turn off, there are lots of things in our lives that we need to turn off or turn away from so that we can be ready to here God – a key component in being effective disciples and a productive Church. Please understand that I am a big user of modern technologies and I find them helpful. But there are times when it becomes necessary to ignore the technology and turn it off so that you can be you.
Think of Zachariah, who doing a liturgy of the incense, offering all kinds of prayers is approached by the angel Gabriel with a message that is meant to bring not only Zachariah and Elizabeth joy but is the beginning of God doing something great that will bless the entire human race. The child to be born will prepare those who will follow God, for the One who will lead them into the kingdom. But instead of rejoicing and being thankful that God was about to act, Zachariah doubted that God would use this dried up and useless old couple to bring about the advent of God’s presence on earth like it used to be... you know... back in the good ol’ days right after creation began.

Zachariah was in the middle of his prayers, in the middle of his ritual when God came to him through a messenger.  And because he could not believe and would not surrender to the good news brought to him, he had his speech turned off. It gave him time to stop and really listen everyone and everything around him; perhaps for the first time in his life. He was free to listen and to consider all that was coming to him. it allowed him to here and to see this great thing that God was going to do in his family.

And because he could not believe in the message and would not surrender to the good news brought to him, he had his speech turned off. It gave Zachariah time to stop and to listen to everyone and everything around him; perhaps for the first time in his life. He was free to listen and to consider all that was coming to him. The inability to speak allowed him to here and to see this great thing that God was going to do in his family.

When the time was right, he show is faith in the message by giving his only son the name given to him by the angel and then he could not only talk, he could not help but sing! And in doing so, Zachariah displayed an abundance of gratitude not only for the gift of his son, but also for the great things that God was going to do in and through his son for the life of the nation. Maybe this is a lesson that we all should have to learn. Growth never comes from grumbling but from praise and thanksgiving. And gratitude is perhaps the willingness to see what God is giving and from there be prepared to act in whatever we are led into, to see the kingdom come, not just to a completed end, but also for it to bear all the fruit it can.

Can you imagine then, what a little silence, to hear God speak to you can do for you, your family and your nation?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Growing the Kingdom inside out

There is a great story told about a man that maybe you have never heard of but has had an impact on the life of the Diocese of Caledonia, just for being who he was. What was  his name? Wilson Carlile. He was a priest in the Church of England and the founder of Church Army.  And therein lies the connection. Our Church Army can be traced back to him and the work that he did in England in the later half of the 19th Century. But there is something that he said in his later years, after ministry had been entrusted to others, that has remained with me. While celebrating his 90th birthday, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang said in his remarks at the party that the Chief had worked to turn the Church upside down. Immediately, the elderly gentleman retorted, “No sir! Not upside down! Inside out!”

We consider this week the only parables that are written in the Gospel of Mark (4.26-34). In a sense Jesus was working to turn people’s understanding of the kingdom inside out instead of upside down. Why the difference? Because turn the church upside down can be perceived as us trying to right the ship; fixing human structures in human strength while the other allows for God to work from the inside out, allowing God’s grace and strength to move and to make transformation happen. God’s work is often hidden and unseen, at least for a time because the life and the growth that happens within the kingdom is eventually seen and known.

And in that thought, the kingdom is essentially about 2 things: (1) the kingdom is about the rule of God in all life and (2) being in a place where God rules. Much of the Scriptures speak to us of the relationship that God has with us and how God is ruler and king. Learning to live within the rule of the King is a lifelong task that we do not finish until the day of Christ Jesus and is a task that is completed when God is finished renewing his creation (Philippians 1.6). We are learning to live into the life and the world that will exist when the kingdom is finally, totally here. We also need to recognize that throughout the Old Testament, the people of Israel had to be constantly reminded (as we need to be) that the whole world belongs to God and the he is the Lord of all creation. There is no where that we can go and nowhere that we can hide, because God is there with us. Even if we make the grave our bed or travel to the farthest parts of the sea, we remain in his presence (Psalm 139).

What God gives are not great gifts, great leadership or even amounts of gifts and greatness to people. God gives gifts and moments in which we can use and thus in the eyes of others become great and  our faith in God grows. Whether we exercise those gifts or become great people depends on how we are at offering ourselves to God that we might used of his kingdom and his purpose. As we are reminded by St. Paul, “neither he who sows nor he who waters is anything, but it is God who makes things grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:6+7) The great things of God and of the kingdom are not preceded by bold announcements and blaring trumpets. Like a seed, they begin in the darkness of the soil; the in the quiet and in the unseen but then, our time grow and spring forth into greatness and giftedness while the praise and the glory goes not the farmer, but to God.

Jesus is the sower and we are the seed he scatters. What we will be and how we will grow is not in our hands but in God’s... we are his planting and in his care. God will enable us to grow too, from the inside out.

Monday, June 4, 2012

In God's House

When you stop and think about the Gospel lesson for the coming Sunday (Mark 3.20-35), we can learn something quite remarkable: God is not satisfied with the way this are and is breaking into this life and is going to transform it into the life that he wants it to be. God in Christ and through the Church is working to transform the structures of human society so that we move into the Kingdom of God. Sounds a little bit crazy doesn’t?

That’s what the people around Jesus thought. His family and his friends thought he had, in our vernacular, “lost it.” Those who were with him (hoi par autou - Greek), when they heard what he was saying, they tried to restrain him. Suddenly he had become an embarrassment and was talking crazy talk. He had been successful and the crowds were growing exponentially so. It was attracting attention in Jerusalem, to the point where authorities went out to determine just what was going on. The crowd was going “nuts” because of the move of power, the healings, the teachings and they wanted a shepherd. The people expected Jesus was that shepherd. Those closest to Jesus though he was nuts because he had disregarded his family when they came to take him home... “those who do the will of my Father are my brothers, sisters and mothers”

Yet if you stop one can begin to piece it all together. Jesus did not come to uphold the status quo, or what I will call “our house”, but establish his Father’s kingdom on this earth... “His Father’s House.” And whether we recognize it or not, it is what we continuously pray for when we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We pray for God to come and establish his loving rule on this earth, beginning with us, pieces of earth. But ask yourself this: do I really want that? Or do I want a somewhat watered down version of God’s rule where I am the one who is wealthy, popular, powerful, etc... while everybody else is lower than me? Couldn’t I be Yurtle the Turtle and be king of my own pond?

It is the ages old battle that is finally being fought on a field that will allow for God to win, for the enemy to be subdued and judged, and for creation comes back to its Creator to be renewed, transformed. The problem for those around Jesus is that they cannot see this yet. So to his family and friends it sounds like Jesus has gone completely nuts while the religious authorities accuse Jesus of have an evil spirit because Jesus is not acting the way they think the Messiah ought to and cannot explain why Jesus can do what does. Therefore it must be evil because it cannot be good. After all this is our house, thus it must be our rules too, right?

God is building his kingdom, his house. We are invited to come and to join him in building such a house, both in the building and in the living in it, with his family, in his life.