Friday, June 26, 2015

Seek the help and the face of Heaven


This week’s Gospel (Mark 5:21-43) has two stories: one about a woman with an issue of hemorrhaging, the other about a little girl and the love of her father who would not let her die. The section picks up after Jesus returns from Gentile territory and the healing of the demonic on the far side of the lake (Mark 5.1-20). In his absence, the popularity of Jesus has not abated in the life of the Jewish community. Many people were seeking Jesus out, including the two people that come seeking him in the Gospel.

First there is Jairus. He has a little, beloved daughter – not quite yet a woman. She is sick and she is near death. Only help from heaven will save her from death. This is why Jairus goes looking for Jesus and when he finds Jesus, he pleads earnestly for him to heal his daughter. It is interesting that Jairus is seen and known to be a powerful man in the life of his family, his community and his nation and yet he is powerless to help his daughter. How the mighty must fall in the face of the things they cannot buy, cannot control and cannot coerce into their own worldview.

The amazing thing is that it does not take too much for Jairus to convince Jesus that he should do this for him.   Jesus is not only willing to go he is ready to go; immediately. I suspect that Jairus, being strong and powerful, was ready to do anything to get Jesus to respond to him and save his little girl. Therefore, I suspect there was some surprise at having Jesus ready to go.

Then, as they are making their way to Jairus’ house, something happens. Someone touches him and his healed - woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years. Like Jairus, she was a person of means and importance and she had been used by many who had tried to heal her. She had spent her fortune, lost her husband, family friends and her faith because she was constantly “unclean”. And because she had lost all these people, she had lost her heritage and chance at family, and she as a consequence, lost her nation. She was spent physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually. But she had this one last hope: if she could get to Jesus and touch the hem of his robe she would be healed. She reached him. She reached out for the hem of his robe and touched him, and she was healed.

It is at this point that Jesus stops and asks a question, “Who touched me?” And with what I discern as being a certain amount of sarcasm from one of the disciples because of the crowd pressing into see, hear and touch Jesus, comes the reply, “With all these people, you want to know who touched you? That’s nuts!” So Jesus asked again, “Who touched me?” and the unnamed woman comes forward, with fear and trembling and expecting wrath for touching Jesus because she was unclean. What she got was not wrath and indignation, but acknowledgement that she was cured and was being given a chance to confess her faith in Christ, her healer.

Reaching Jairus’ house, they find that the little daughter has died and the mourners had arrived to do their thing, weeping and wailing, especially wailing. Remember the boat and the commotion on the Sea of Galilee? Why do you still have no faith? (Mark 4.35-41) When Jesus questioned the uproar, I think he was challenging the disciples with him (Peter, James and John) to recognize and connect that moment and this moment and the people who come as mourners laughed at Jesus when he declared the little girl not beyond help.  But first Jesus put the mourners outside.  

And to reassure the parents and the disciples, when the little girl got up, he asked them to feed her because being dead does tend to make one hungry for the living God. It also proved that she was not a ghost and that she was indeed alive.

What matters most in all this is two things: (1) How willing are you to get people, including yourself to a place or a position where you know you are in God’s presence? (2) Have you ever noticed that the people who have been with Jesus, that his presence shows and shines in their faces? So will you be that kind of person this week, someone through whom Christ shines?


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Placing courage in our faith and our convictions

This week’s Gospel (Mark 4:35-41) has an interesting twist as I look at the choices that are before us as a congregation (in deciding how we are going to approach the future with regards to our beloved building) and the choices and decisions that are before the disciples as they row for shore in their boat. Now, let’s be clear about something. Many of those men in the boat were experienced fishermen. They knew the lake. They understood the dangers and they were accustomed to being on the lake in the dark. So it must have been a very scary situation to have been in with the water coming in over the gunnels, water spraying them in the face from every direction. And to top it off, this master is asleep in it all.

That is the twist – of a sort. Over the past few weeks I have had to ask myself over and over again – when it is just me, and things are hard, where do I go? What do I do? To whom do I turn? The natural thing, when looking at the Gospel, is to think, “Well the boys, went to Jesus ad they got told off because they didn’t have faith.” That’s not it. Those men had watch Jesus for days and days, healing the sick curing the lame, opening the ears of the deaf, loosening the tongues and driving out demons. Why didn’t one of them take a stab at trying to claim the storm themselves? Why didn’t they trust God enough to hear the plea and act on their behalf?

The different times that the disciples had to go and find Jesus because he had gone off somewhere else to pray or heard him pray something like, “I thank you Father for hearing me but I know you always hear me...” (John 11:42) Is it possible that we are so often frightened and fearful of the choices we need to make, because are not willing to trust and to pray? What I see in Jesus is the confidence he has in the Father. he is confidence enough to trust God for what is next so that he can continue to do what he needs to do is incredible. So incredible, that this kind of trust allows us to sleep and to rest when things appear to be at their worst and even when they could be deadly.

When Jesus responds to the appeal of his disciples he speaks peace to the creation and calls on the disciples to be still and witness what God can do when you trust him. We want God it make the sailing smooth. We want God to fix all our problems and to take away all the pain. That’s what we want. It is how we want life to go – nice and smooth. The difficulty is often that is not what God calls us to. He insists that we follow and walk with him through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. We are called in those moments not to be filled with fear but to take the time to recognize that God is here and we are with him. He gives the comfort we need and the strength we must possess to walk and to heal and to pray.

If I had to sum it all up, I would do so this way: Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to act in the face of it. If you need courage then be at peace. Be still. Know that God is God (Psalm 46:10). It is much better and much easier to live as a peace filled person rather than trying to control everything in the world around you, so that you can have a peaceful existence.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

His kingdom, his way, growing in us.

The parables of the seeds are the focus this week. Farming and the best practices might be a model for Church growth. Maybe. Nevertheless, there is something more important that we need to consider here than the usual. For example, Jesus talks about the “sporous” or spores that need to be planted.  We translate the word sporous as seed in the Gospel (Mark 4.26-35) but in fact, we are talking this week about some things that are the smallest things in the plant kingdom, that we they reach their fullness are, in their various ways something to behold.

For example, spores are microscopic and need to protect by other plant life. Unlike a seed, they are unicellular and they must hide on the underside of leaves and move around as the wind blows them. And unlike seeds, they are not multifaceted things, with internal resources to draw upon. But you might wonder knowing about plant life has to do with the Gospel and preaching this week. Quite a bit actually.

Parables tell us about God and his nature, who he is and what he does. The parables of the seeds shows us that God loves to take the little things, things that we discount or cannot see and make them count for something. He can cause them to grow into things that we could not have imagined and would not have planned to have happen if we could have conceived of it. So is the nature of the kingdom of God. It is here on earth and in earth (us) and the kingdom is growing. One of the things that we often miss in the Church is that the community that is the Church, like the kingdom that is to come in God’s time, is built to grow. We are not responsible for its growth. We are only expected to participate in its life. We are meant to plant seeds and water the earth to help provide the right conditions for growth but we cannot make what we plant grow. As St. Paul points out to the Corinthian Church,

What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” (1 Cor. 3:5-7 ESV).

As Christians and as Christian community, we are called to participate in the kingdom that is in the world and in our lives and bodies through putting our trust in God and live our faith in the present tense. We need to do this because the presence of the kingdom of God in this world is a direct threat to the powers and principalities, dominions and princedoms that are in this world. The presence of the living God and his kingdom is slowly but inextricably growing in such a way as to crowd out and choke out all the other powers and places that would take his people away from him.

We can participate in the growth but we need to recognize that it is God who makes things grow and who gives the harvest in its due time. We need to concern ourselves with being the tool in the hands of the living God, sharp and ready for the next task. We need to be about the business of the king. We need to choose to live lives that are dedicated and consecrated to the kingdom. This means we are given solely to the goals of the kingdom and not to another purpose while recognizing that we are giving ourselves completely to God. To recognize that we actively pray for God’s will to be done “on earth (in earth) as it is in heaven.” Being consecrated to the kingdom also means that we chose to have no happiness, no w well being and no salvation other that what is given in the kingdom through the divine community of the Church. What should make each of us happy as believers and followers is the welfare of the community of followers of the Lord Jesus.  

So there is a challenge that St. Paul offered to the Corinthians that I will offer to you: Follow me as I follow Christ. The life of a follower of the Lord Jesus is a life that is meant to be lived in community with shared gifts and shared joys – something that goes well beyond personal appetites and satisfactions. And remember it’s not about us. It is about God and his will to bring us kingdom. It is Christ’s prayer and ours too.