Search This Blog

Thursday, July 15, 2021

God, in Jesus, Loves You This Much

 Mark 6:30-34, 53-56               God, in Jesus, Loves You This Much

            Years ago, I watched the Robert Duvall movie, The Apostle, about a Texas preacher who finds himself in Louisiana – taking on a new identity, but unable to escape his true self (sinner) and his calling (servant of the Lord).

As events unfold in the movie, Duvall’s character begins preaching on the radio in his new home-town, and ultimately finds people flocking to him for healing of all sorts in large revival-style prayer meetings. Large outdoor tents are filled with the masses of people desperate to be healed of all manner of disease and disability. Watching the movie, I found it amazing to see how many people came out to see him, seeking satisfaction of their hope for healing.

            Other movies about healing include The Secret Garden, Patch Adams, and Dead Man Walking, but really, there are so many you can probably name scores more.

Maybe you’ve seen one or more of these movies or read the books associated with them, or you have know other stories that illustrate for you the overwhelming need for healing that exists in our world. But you don’t need these stories to know the truth: in a world that is broken and struggling, in lives that are vulnerable to so many dangers, we know the truth. We are desperate. We seek to be healed and “fixed” from all that is broken.

In many of these stories, you will see people going to great lengths to be healed. The lure of possibly receiving healing of some sort attracts large numbers and varieties of people to someone who just might hold the power to change their lives for the better – or to give them their life back from the circumstances that threaten or diminish them. Advertising for everything from real estate to personal health and wellness to cosmetic assistance to relationship building banks on the vulnerability we experience to be healed from that which we perceive or experience as lacking or broken.

Often, when we watch these movies or see the stories unfold on the pages of a book, we identify in some way with people who need all sorts of healing – from illness, from grief, broken relationships, or from sin itself – individuals like us, who will go to great lengths to receive it.

            As we read through Mark’s gospel about the large crowds Jesus attracts, and the lengths they’ll go through to seek healing from Jesus, we can therefore identify with them. We might even wish that we could, with our own eyes and touch, see the Jesus in this story for ourselves.

            We are gratified by the many examples of healing that Jesus performs, because these stories and these examples give us the basis for hope – hope for our own healing; hope for our nation and for the world; hope for our children; hope for our friends.

So great are the needs for healing in the world in Jesus’ time, that what we see again and again in the scriptures are situations where Jesus and his disciples must steal away – literally “stealing” time – in order to obtain the all-important rest they need from all the demands on them from the desperate, hungry people who surround them – so that they can better serve them.

Equally hungry, desperate, hurting, ill, and isolated people continue to fill the world – and we can characterize the people in today’s gospel as “such as these”.

            What we see in many of the movies I mentioned earlier and from the stories about Jesus’ healing miracles, as well as the healing performed by the disciples sent far and wide by Jesus, is that the desperation people feel brings them flocking in vast numbers, from great distances, and from disparate backgrounds – for among the crowds are Jews, Gentiles, believers and the curious, rich and poor, powerful and powerless.

            And Jesus heals them all – if they are willing – and sometimes, even when they are not.

And when Jesus heals, he takes advantage of the wonder and gratitude elicited by the miracle or the healing, to point to the power of God. He points to the real healing, which is often not of the body, but the spirit; Jesus redefines the status of broken or marginalized people, and their relationship with God the Father.  

             Today’s gospel shows just how large Jesus’ following had become.  Not only was the mission of Jesus and his disciples expanding—as the work of the disciples had shown—but many people regularly attempted to track down Jesus.  In this passage, Mark describes them as running faster on foot than those traveling by boat. 

These hungry, desperate people were intent on locating Jesus.  And when Jesus saw them, he viewed them as “sheep without a shepherd.”  First, Jesus describes them in their vulnerability. Next, Jesus responds – as he always does – with compassion.

            Throughout the gospels, and this is especially true of the gospel of Mark, we see large gatherings of people following Jesus, seeking him out, keeping him from moving freely, and placing demands on his time, energy, and powers to heal.

The repetition in so many places of the large gatherings of people, of people seeking Jesus out, and of Jesus’ compassionate and responsive acknowledgement of them, are key features throughout the gospel. Like the stories of healing that come from literature, movies, and simple storytelling, we see that people have always needed to be saved from a myriad of ailments – physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual. In our gospels we see that healing comes from one common source – Jesus, the embodiment of God’s love and mercy.

            Today we read the beautiful psalm that, for so many of us, gives us the primary picture of Jesus the Good Shepherd, the one who cares for and about us. In our gospel, Jesus’ care and compassion are piqued by the image of so many vulnerable, needful sheep – the people who are equally vulnerable, whether we know it or not.

This shepherding Jesus is the Jesus we adore. This is the Jesus depicted in so much Christian artwork – the who comes to heal us again and again, and through whose ultimate healing, we are saved.

            In the final verse of our gospel this morning, the desire to have close, personal contact with Jesus, even if only through the act of touching his garments, is lifted up. For those of us who are believers, isn’t this the shepherd the way we often view Jesus? Staff in hand, a savior who is ready in a moment’s time to reach out and pluck us from mortal and spiritual danger and death?

            We are gathered here today to worship, praise, and glorify this shepherd, this savior, this God who loves us so much that he will lay down his life for us. The God we worship and adore is the God who, through raising Jesus from the dead, assures us that nothing will ever strip us of the love and adoption that we have through Jesus.

            As we celebrate another “Thanksgiving at Zion” Sunday, and as we look forward to celebrating the coming of God with and among us in Jesus Christ our Savior, I invite you to think for a few moments about this Savior and what he has already done and is doing in your life and in our world.

Where do you see, feel, know his presence?

How has he saved, changed, restored, or graced your life?

Where have you seen his mercy pouring out on you or someone you know?

God is ever present, ever powerful, ever loving, ever caring, ever reaching, ever revealing, ever touching, ever strengthening, ever healing.

            Our hearts are full of gratitude and thanksgiving for all that Jesus has done for us, much of which, truth be told, we cannot see nor appreciate.

The healing we experience and witness we give testify to yet small bits of what God through Jesus is doing.

            I invite you on this Thanksgiving Sunday at Zion, to think about Jesus. Think about what you know of him. Think about what you have seen. How has Jesus revealed God’s love for you?

Think about where you have been amazed. What have you seen or experienced that has made you think, “Wow! Our God is great!”

Think about how Jesus has humbled you with his grace and mercy poured out for and experienced by you. When my kids were young, I would tell them that I love them “this much” and I would hold my hands as far from one another as I could, indicating the “vast” space between them. Can you even comprehend a smidgen of how much you are loved by the Holy One?

            Finally, let’s thank him. In your bulletin this morning, you should have found a thank you card that you can fill out to thank God for the love and mercy that has amazed, touched, and changed you. If you filled out a thank you card last week, I challenge you to write a different blessing this week and return it. Take a moment to explore your heart and ponder the words you will offer up to God.

 And may God, the giver of every good gift and healer of the aching soul, keep your heart and your mind focused on Jesus this day and forever, in deep awareness and unending gratitude for his love and blessing. Amen.

Thank You God, for Everything

 Ephesians 1:3-14        Thank You, God, for Everything

I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude. – BrenĂ© Brown

As part of our holiday celebrations at Zion this July, we are focusing this week and next on our response to the awesome workings and gifts of God. Therefore, today and next Sunday are “Thanksgiving at Zion” Sundays. In a little while we will participate in an activity designed to help us tap into our sense of gratitude and focus on the goodness of God experienced throughout our lives - in the past year or more, in the past few weeks – or whatever comes into focus for you.

We each hold in our hands the keys to naming which treasures we wish to name before God in thanksgiving.

Thank you notes are important tools for both their author and their receiver. Those who commonly write thank you notes find that the act itself raises in your deep awareness your giftedness and warm, affirming and even affectionate feelings evoked by the generosity behind them – especially those unexpected gifts you receive, or the ones you know you really didn’t “deserve.”

On the other hand, when you receive thanks for a gift, an act, or even the emotional support you have given someone, other warm, positive feelings rise within you. If you’ve ever received a thank you note from someone, especially a note not at all expected, then you know how gratifying and even humbling reading the words of heartfelt thanks on paper may be.

Thank you notes are important to both the giver and the receiver; though, they are arguably more important to the writer of the note thanks, as the simple task of writing a thank you note, of articulating the meaning of having received the gift in the first place can raise the intensity of your appreciation for it. In fact, that physical act of putting thoughtful, thankful words on paper is so powerful, that journaling your thanks is also a powerful and popular activity to raise one’s sense of joy, gratitude, and wonder in life.

Dr. BrenĂ© Brown is a licensed social worker, research professor, lecturer, author and podcast host, whose areas of expertise include the human experiences of vulnerability, courage, gratitude, shame, empathy, and what she terms, ‘wholeheartedness.’ Here is what she has to say about the connection between gratitude and joy: (This is a YouTube link) https://youtu.be/2IjSHUc7TXM

            Ephesians 3:3-14, which forms our second reading today, is a letter from Paul to the church at Ephesus in which he invites our celebration and thanksgiving that in Jesus Christ, all God’s plans and purposes are made known and come to fruition through him. Thank you, God, that in Jesus, heaven and earth are united. Thank you, God, that in Jesus, we have been chosen as God’s children. Thank you, God, that in Jesus, we are promised eternal salvation. Thank you, God, that in Jesus, God’s glorious grace and forgiveness are known, and in him, our glorious destiny stands assured.

            In Jesus, the truth of God’s love and promise become known; in him, we receive the gospel of salvation. Thanksgiving, praise, and unending gratitude are due the God who loves all created beings so much, that he demonstrates his will for their good life through the sending of the Son and delivery of the eternal promise for all who believe in him.

            We live in an us-versus-them world. Nowhere, perhaps, is this more evident than in our history of cycles of enslavement and war, the ongoing scourge of poverty and starvation which co-exist with obscene excesses in our world of plenty. We have seen and continue, in many places, to see the effects of the in-dwelling nature of sin in a pandemic world, in a world suffering the devastating effects of global warming, in nations and religions in conflict with each other even to the point of death.

            Amid that reality, Paul’s writing comes to us as a celebration of God’s love which rises above the chaos in which we dwell and reveals God’s ultimate plan of adoption and salvation for a world mired in sin.

Through the words of this letter, written a couple of millennium ago, Paul invites us to offer up our thanksgiving in a song that centers our focus on the God of all creation and mercy.

            To drive his point home, Paul emphasizes the words “chosen, redeemed, and sealed,” indicating that our existence is not the result of some cosmic accident or behavior, as some would suggest. Rather, God, in God’s great wisdom, creativity and love, brought all that is, into being; in and through Jesus the Christ, this same God brings us all to a world of salvation, for all eternity. In his divine will and agency, God claims us for his purposes and loves us unconditionally, together with all of humanity. Rather than singling out some and rejecting others as some creeds would profess, God’s love and mercy are inclusive. God does not exclude any but embraces all creation, including this imperfect, struggling human family in his eternal plans.

            Through Jesus Christ himself, God has made it possible for all created beings to experience God’s love and mercy. This very same love makes it possible for us to know the grace and faithful relationship of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is love which inspires our sense of gratitude; and that gratitude leads us to joy.

            All that being said, what more could we desire but to praise, honor, love, and worship God in abundant gratitude and unending thanksgiving? What joy do we receive as we focus on the good gifts of God? How do we prepare ourselves to be the vessels of God’s love and grace for those who don’t yet know him? Don’t yet accept him as Lord?

            This week and next, we have placed in your hands a tool – a thank you card to God. It is up to you to use it, to offer God thanks for a way that you have seen God present in your life or in the world.

You might wish to offer thanks for an opportunity, a person, or a particular situation in which you saw God’s activity or appreciated God’s holy touch, providential care, or guiding light. 

Please write one specific thing for which you are grateful to God. We will post these on our Thanksgiving tree and will add to the tree another set of gratitude statements for our tree next week.

            During the pandemic year and longer, there have been many things that have arisen that have been disturbing, alarming, or grieving. But God has been so good to us throughout this time and has never let us go. Nor will God ever let us go.

We are God’s children. We are the sheep of his pasture. We are his beloved, for whom he sent his Son and gave his life. For all these things, we give God all our thanks and praise! Amen.

             


 

        


Changing Lanes With Jesus

 



Mark 6:1-13    Changing Lanes With Jesus

            Mind your own business! Those words: they carry weight. They carry judgement. If you have ever had those words hurled at you, you know their power. These words are applied to situations where your behavior – or words – challenge preconceived notions or situations in which there is little or no room for flexibility, redirection, or correction.

            I attended an all-girl Catholic high school. In the mornings, prayers were led over the intercom by one of the Sisters, or by a class president. At the end of the day, closing prayers were led by members of the Student Council and other leaders of the student body.

            As a Student Council member it was not unusual for me to lead those day-ending prayers in which we included particular prayer needs, much as we do in our Intercessory Prayers here each week.

            One Friday, I included in those day-ending prayer concerns two names; one was Robin, the sister of one of our students who was battling cancer. The other was Donna, Whose last day at the school it was.. After finishing up the announcements and prayers, I left the school office only to be called back again, through the PA system..

            I wasn’t sure why I was needed back there – perhaps I had left something behind –since I was not the kind of student to get in trouble, I wasn’t worried – until I entered the office to see the very red face of our principal, Sister Mary Felicitas. For the first time, there in my junior year, I could see, I was in trouble. Whatever could my offense be?

            Well, the problem was the nature of the difficulties of the people for whom I had prayed. Donna was leaving because at the age of 15, she was pregnant. And although I had not mentioned her situation, the fact that I had dared pray for a sinner and a victim in the same prayer, in such a public venue brought great offense and shame to the community in the view of this very proper nun. I had not minded my own business. I had stepped out of my lane.

            A couple of years ago, doctors who face the traumatic, heart-breaking and horrifying human carnage created by the epidemic of intentional and accidental shootings in this country every single day, made public service announcements seeking common-sense gun legislation. They were attempting to save lives before these bloodied, senselessly broken bodies entered their emergency and operating rooms. These hard-working front-line healers were seeking to put an end to the bloody carnage, seeking to save one family after another the heartache of burying a child of any age and whatever circumstance. These medical professions were trying to stem the flow of blood across our nation.

The response was rapid and strong. In no uncertain terms, the National Rifle Association and other groups fought back. They coined the phrase, “stay in your lane.” In other words, “mind your own business”. Naming the human costs of the shooting epidemic, and frankly describing the heart-rending reality of the bloodied bodies pouring into hospitals, the doctors had brought great offense and shame to those seeking to control the narrative regarding America’s relationship with gun ownership. “Stay in your lane.” “Mind your own business.”

My prayer and the doctors’ statements offended those who identified as part of a particular community. They received reactions not unlike what Jesus’ words and actions brought in the synagogue of his hometown on the day described in the Gospel today.

As he taught about God’s love, Jesus unpacked the Scriptures; but he emphasized this love not for select people, rather, for all people.

Jesus offended those in his beloved community by seeking an expansion of their hearts. He spoke truth to those who were not yet ready or willing to hear it. He stepped out of the lane where they wanted him to stay, the lane where his words only comforted and did not challenge, where his actions brought healing but not correction.

They did not care for the rabbi who spoke hard truths with challenging words that perhaps required them to look a little too closely at their hearts where they might find the hardness against which he spoke, and their behaviors that failed to line up with God’s will.

On the one hand, Jesus brought reassurance, good news, and healing to many. In his divinity he demonstrated his power and grace. In his attention to the marginalized, he assured every person a welcome at the table. But that was too much for some because, on the other hand, Jesus failed to “stay in his own lane.”

In raising the question regarding Jesus’ birth (ah, we know who his mother is, but can we ever be sure of paternity?) some who were angered at Jesus insistence on inclusion and compassion for the marginalized struck out, aiming to discredit him. In angry tones they sent the message for Jesus to “stay in his own lane.”

The thing is, Jesus made them uncomfortable when he pointed out injustice. He perplexed them when he insisted on mercy for all God’s children, and pointed out the inequalities they perpetuated; he challenged their sense of entitlement when he raised awareness of God’s judgment on those who do not love as God desires; his insistence on meeting the need of each person without  exception, and his acceptance and relationship with sinners.

The uncomfortable fact is, the love, mercy, compassion and inclusivity within which Jesus operates and teaches is offensive to many. If all you desire is a gospel that comforts and affirms, then you will find Jesus to be offensive and his words and actions appalling.

 But then, if the Jesus we worship never offends us, then perhaps it’s not really Jesus we’re worshipping.  Many a pastor has been silenced into preaching a diluted, weak, or even misguided version of the gospel in order to keep the peace, avoid offense, and keep the sheep from turning against him or her.

Jesus challenges us all to hear the gospel as both blessing and challenge and to step out of the lane, to mind the business of all who are in need of hearing the life-altering good news of God in Jesus Christ.

For God’s gospel truth to permeate our lives, it needs to challenge, disrupt, and cause us to question our actions and motivations. As disciples in Christ, we are called to measure our words and actions against the Jesus presented to us in his fullness in the gospels.

Pastors who honestly and faithfully preach gospel are often accused of being too political. In most cases, it’s not because they are campaigning for individuals or ideologies that are culturally influenced or support particular secular power structures – that would be ‘political’. The simple truth is that preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ will create accusation of politicization in much the same way as Jesus’ teaching and demonstrating his divine power created accusations that sought to undermine his authority by discrediting him.

Ouch. 

Jesus’s words are designed to challenge and to change lives. When was the last time Jesus made you angry? When was the last time he touched whatever it is you call holy — and asked you to look beyond it to find him?

 

The thing is, that it is for our benefit and for the good of God’s kingdom that Jesus changes us when he challenges our certitude, and calls us into a new kind of relationship with one another and with the world around us. The call of the Gospel is not a call to stand still, but to choose movement and change and growth. 

As we celebrate Independence Day today, we seek God’s guidance in our interpretation of what independence means.  Is independence interpreted as permission to “do whatever I like, in my own best interest?”

Challenging such an interpretation of independence is daunting, but such an interpretation is utterly damaging to community.

In Galatians 5:13, Paul writes, It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. This verse is sometimes used to support an ideology that is entirely individualistic. However, Paul continues, But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.

True independence for the Christian may be described as “faithful interdependence” as we acknowledge that, as American poet Emma Lazarus once wrote, “until we are all free, we are none of us, free.” What does freedom mean to the Christian? What does it mean to you?

The scandal of Jesus’ birth isn’t in his parentage, but in the fact that in his divinity, Jesus doesn’t stay in his lane. He doesn’t mind his own business. Instead, through Jesus

God loves unapologetically,

God embraces without placing limitations based on a person’s background, history, or demographic;

God exceeds in generosity,

God abounds in mercy,

God abundantly reaches out with blessing,

God transgresses human wisdom, and

transcends worldly imagination.

As the Gospel tells us, the lowly carpenter reveals himself as Lord. 

The guy with the tainted birth story offers us salvation. 

The hometown prophet tells us truths we’d rather not hear. 

We might be scandalized by his lane-crossing, but he’s not. 

We might put limits on his deeds of power, but those limits won’t confine him for long.

Jesus is on the loose in the world, loving unconditionally, unendingly moving out of his lane, and driving us to do the same. This is the beautiful truth of freedom in Christ – changing lanes is not only accepted, it is expected and embraced, all to the glory of God.

Amen.

 

Healing Beyond Touch

 Mark 5:21-43

Healing Beyond Touch

            What is the most desperate you have ever felt? I am not talking about the kind of desperation or anxiety driven by the need to pass a test, be approved for a loan, or realize a personal dream.

I’m thinking about the feelings you might experience in a life and death situation, your own or even more strongly - a situation involving a loved one – particularly a child.

Today we have such a story of desperation – two stories really, that are intertwined in the telling.

One of them is the story a young girl, the daughter of Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. While we don’t know the nature of her illness, we do know that she is near death - and her father is desperate in that breathless, heart-stopping way that verges on hysteria and hopelessness and feels like a death in and of itself.

            On the banks of the Sea of Galilee, as Jesus and the disciples struggle to move about freely for the crowds hemming them in, eager to receive some of that Good News Jesus has been talking about, Jairus runs up to him, throws himself at Jesus’ feet, and begs Jesus over and over again to come, to touch his young daughter, who is desperately ill to the point of death, and to heal her; to keep her from leaving him; to keep her from dying.

            I imagine that most of us can empathize with the man’s desperate pleas. We can all probably appreciate the fear, the absolute terror, and the need that drive him. And so, he begs, he pleads, he falls to his knees – he will do anything for his daughter to live. Won’t Jesus come and save her?

But, as Jesus turns to go with Jairus, in the midst of a hundred desperate, grabbing, reaching, open hands, there is one hand that touches the hem – just the hem of his robe, extracting the power she needs to become whole.

She is a woman perhaps in middle age. Unlike the younger girl, she seems to be alone, with no one to plead for her or help her. She will do anything to be healed.

The illness that afflicts her has taken its toll in more than a decade of suffering; she has endured long years of seeking the help of physicians, magicians, or anyone else who might be able to restore her to health.

Her chronic hemorrhage has rendered her ritually unclean, an outcast by her synagogue and her community even as she becomes sicker and sicker. This illness has drained her life from her; seeking a cure has drained everything else, leaving her alone, destitute, and nearly hopeless. She would have been valued by no one, accepted by no one, befriended by no one.

Standing between this desperate, fear-driven father of a daughter whose life seems to be over after just twelve years of living, growing, twelve years of developing into this girl who is now on the cusp of promise and plenty, and the impoverished, ailing, isolated twelve-years bleeding woman, stands Jesus.

He is a healer. He is the one who denies death its power; he is the one who restores life. Jesus is the one who goes beyond what is sensible or ‘acceptable’ to deliver God’s love, mercy, compassion, and healing on those who stand in the margins.

A leader in the synagogue, Jairus has power and wealth. His daughter, of course, benefits from these, and while Jairus fears losing her, he has every expectation that Jesus will come, along with whatever power he possesses, to heal his daughter.

The woman in our story engages in an act of civil disobedience just by being present in the crowd where Jesus is passing; (her condition makes her “unclean” and unable to mix with people, to touch or be touched by anyone).

The woman, by rights, can have no expectation of anything – kindness, compassion, or healing. Shamed into silence by the prejudice, judgment, and bad religion of the day, she should make her request and hold her hope in private.

But, as she reaches out to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe… his power turns her expectations into a prize larger than life itself – larger than the life she was reaching for when she dared to try to touch his robe.

Just then, a messenger comes with the worst nightmare one can imagine – announcing the death of the young girl. Yet, as we read on, we see the power of Jesus manifest in life restored to her.

A twelve-year marginalized woman, and a twelve-year old girl: Each one of them is precious in God’s sight: each of them with a beautiful story of healing to be told. Each receives the gift of healing – it is the power of Jesus alone to heal.

The two daughters and their mutual twelve years bring each to a place where physical barriers and religious taboos must be broken in order to reach Jesus – and Jesus shows that he is not bound by any laws to keep him away.

The number 12 is common to both stories; It stands as a sign that there is abundant life in Jesus. This interwoven story clues us in that Jesus is on the loose in the world with divine power to restore life — abundant life for everyone.

At the end, those who doubted and those who laughed are left in speechless amazement.

For those who suffer, wait, are isolated in their suffering, are stripped of life through disease or disaster, or sit with the intense longing that only those who have suffered deep loss can know, this text brings hope.

Jesus is and always will be present, available, compassionate, and death-defying. Jesus reorders who is “in” and who is “out” in the economy of God that insists on abundance, and denies the powers that choose sides or diminish God’s beloved children as anything less than deserving of grace by God’s own judgment.

This story seems particularly timely right now, as we are coming away from a time of pandemic and the restrictions it placed – and still places – upon us. One of the conditions this pandemic imposed upon us is one of isolation. Like the woman with the hemorrhage, many of us have endured a time of intense isolation.

What happens when such isolation becomes the norm, as it did throughout most of the past year? What happens when social alienation takes shape and becomes commonplace, even expected?

Given our experience of this year, we might have a better understanding and compassion on those who, like the woman in our text, suffer from the isolation of judgment or not being able to “measure up” to being worthy of God’s healing grace.

The key to understanding this text is located in this word, “abundance.” God grants us his mercy, grace, forgiveness and love unconditionally and extravagantly. In God’s presence we receive an abundance of his healing, miraculous love.

I hope that when Jairus embraces his resurrected daughter, he also embraces a new vision of who God is, and what God values.  In Jairus’s story, Jesus demands that we not see death where he sees life.  In the bleeding woman’s story, he demands that legalism and judgment give way to love every single time. 

In each story, Jesus restores a lost child of God to community and intimacy.  In each story, Jesus embraces what is "impure" (the menstruating woman, the dead body) in order to practice mercy.  ach story, a previously hopeless daughter “goes in peace” because Jesus isn’t a pronouncer of death; he is a giver of new life.

This is wonderful Good News to share today, on a day when we welcome a new member into the life of community at each service. At the early service we will welcome one who may have difficulty being physically present and we will pray for her healing. At the late service, we will welcome one through the Sacrament of Baptism. In both cases, God’s abundant love and compassion will be prayed for them and for this congregation as we are made more full through their welcome and presence.


Mark awakens us to the abundant healing grace of God in Jesus. In Jesus, there is hope, life and community for all.

When we experience the abundance of God’s grace, we can’t help but take Jesus seriously. In Jesus, God has a way of transforming our doubt and dismissive laugher into tears of joy, our skepticism into speechless amazement and wonder. May it be so, each and every day. Amen.

           

Calming Cosmic Chaos and Existential Fear




Mark 4:35-41

Jesus’ calming of the storm on the sea reveals his power over evil, since the sea represents evil and chaos. The boat on the sea is a symbol of the church and invites us to trust God amid life’s turbulence.

35When evening had come, [Jesus said to the disciples,] “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

 

 

          We all have things we fear, and there are surveys and studies that identify some of the greatest fears humans hold and what they mean. So, let me ask you: Of what are you most afraid?         

          While most of the time, our fears don’t have an impact on our daily lives, phobias are something else: in fact, in psychological terms, a phobia is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. The top ten phobias include things like:

·       Arachnophobia: The fear of spiders.

·       Ophidiophobia: The fear of snakes.

·       Acrophobia: The fear of heights.

·       Agoraphobia: The fear of situations in which escape is difficult. This may include crowded areas, open spaces, or situations that are likely to trigger a panic attack. People will begin avoiding these trigger events, sometimes to the point that they cease leaving their home.

·       Cynophobia: The fear of dogs. This phobia is often associated with specific personal experiences, such as being bitten by a dog during childhood.

·       Astraphobia: The fear of thunder and lightning.

·       Trypanophobia: The fear of injections.

·       Social Phobias: The fear of social situations. In many cases, these phobias can become so severe that people avoid events, places, and people that are likely to trigger an anxiety attack.

·       Pteromerhanophobia: The fear of flying.

·       Mysophobia: The fear of germs or dirt.

          Most of us dislike the various things in this list, but our “fear” doesn’t rise to the level of being an actual phobia.

But, of the second and less-paralyzing categories of fears, many of us would add these, which may or may not have much impact on our decision-making or activity on any given day:

·       Change.

·       Loneliness

·       Failure

·       Rejection

·       Uncertainty

·       Something Bad Happening

·       Getting Hurt

·       Being Judged

·       Inadequacy

·       Loss of Freedom

Additionally, many people self-report that

·       public speaking,

·       ghosts,

·       darkness, and, especially in recent years,

·       zombies,

·       and clowns,

-        round out these lists.

Many times, our fear comes from things that we have experienced before, whether they have actually hurt us or not. When we look at why we fear something, can we articulate what that fear means to us? Oftentimes, we cannot.

Whether our fear rises to the level of phobia (paralyzing us, fundamentally changing how we function) or not, we recognize that fear does have a way of altering our view of the world or of certain experiences in life, and oftentimes, they control us, rather than the other way around.

The past year and a half we have seen fear driving the polarization of humankind, driving our action and inaction, driving our view of “the other” in exaggerated and devastating ways, and controlling many of our choices, for good or ill.

As is unfortunately too often the case, we have also seen bad actors manipulating us by using our fear to control large segments of the population, or to create chaos and uncertainty, often through devious and exploitative means, like spreading misinformation and outright lies connected to areas in which our fears reside.

In our text, Jesus says, “Peace! Be still!”

We can certainly understand the fear of the disciples. But Jesus invites them – and us – to trust in his power to overcome the storm.  

The disciples are out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee when a huge and unexpected storm descends upon them. That would be scary for any of them.

The former fishermen among them have run into their share of disastrous and deadly storms before and have likely known people who have lost their lives in such storms.

Even those who had formerly lived and worked in non-nautical areas of life have probably heard about those lost at sea, and as I indicated before, darkness and storm make the lists of both phobias and peoples’ most common non-crippling fears.

As we read this story, it may be confusing to us that Jesus was so stern with these disciples over their fear of the storm around them. He even questioned why they were afraid! Really, Jesus?

But then, Jesus simply scans the chaotic winds and waters around him, rebukes them, “Peace! Be still!” And they quiet.

But here is the thing: it is after Jesus stills the storm that the text tells us the disciples were filled with great fear. (The word used in the Greek is usually translated as “fear,” and not “awe.”

The quieting of the storm reveals the power of God; it is a power that is greater than any storm. Throughout the Scriptures, storms and sea both represent chaos in the world and the very nature of evil – both powerful, each uncontrollable; they are chaotic and disruptive of the natural order of things.

By his stilling of the storm, Jesus exhibits the fact that his power is greater than any evil and more powerful than any storm or chaotic element in the universe.

This Jesus, whom the disciples call “teacher,” whom they have seen heal an assortment of diseases and maladies and who has driven out evil spirits from possessed individuals in their presence, rebukes the storm and stills the chaos. He controls the elements – they obey his word.

While the storm had unsettled them and had sent them to their knees and to the sleeping cushion of Jesus, it is this action – this stilling - that actually produces the greater fear; after Jesus’ stilled the storm, the Greek says literally, that they “feared a great fear,” causing them to question, “Who is this?” “Who has such power that even the wind and the sea obey him?” It is witnessing Jesus’ power over the chaos and storm that undoes them.

These poor disciples were as slow as we ourselves can be.

Despite the teachings they have received from Jesus, which have revealed great knowledge, wisdom and insight, and the miracles they have witnessed, they are still shocked and amazed at the level of power he possesses – it is absolute.

What is God doing here? What is God revealing to the disciples? And why should they feel such great fear at the revelation of Jesus and his power?

Let’s fast-forward and say it’s 2021 – or something like that.

We live in an era more than 2000 years after the death of Jesus. We are Christians, which means we believe in Jesus. He is the Son of God, the Messiah. We believe in his power. We trust in him with our whole hearts and minds—don’t we?

Jesus says to the storm and the sea, “Peace! Be still!” and they obey. Yet there are times when we question or doubt, and there are certainly times when we are lured into trusting earthly powers or our own strongly, only to find that they are not enough. How can we not believe in the power of his name?

As Christians, we believe that the trinitarian God has come into the world to save the world not only in a single snapshot of time, but remains in the world to strengthen, sanctify, and restore God’s good creation.

Yet, we draw lines, we struggle to understand or believe, and as the disciples did, we ask too often of God, “don’t you care?” And we allow our fear to change us, to change our view of God and our commitment to follow Jesus. Our fear keeps us from living, from loving, and from fully believing.

Yet still, God comes to us again and again to still the storms and redirect our trust and faith in him. And God calls on us to share the truth of his power and the revelation of Jesus’ divinity with the world.

The disciples were traumatized by this frightful storm, and they forgot – or never understood – the eternal and divine power of the person they called Jesus.

When we are buffeted in cosmic storms as they were, storms that scare us, that eclipse our faith, and send us doubting and wondering if indeed, let us be reminded of Jesus’ rebuke to the stormy and angry seas, “Peace! Be still!”

I am reminded of Psalm 46:10, one of my favorite bible verses which reads, “Be still and know that I am God.” God is active and working in our world, holding back the chaos, healing the broken-hearted, calling us to trust him and to reveal our faith and trust with others.

God is the great keeper of the cosmos, healer of the broken-hearted, broken-spirited, and broken-bodied. God’s power is made perfect in weakness and made most evident in the calming of the storms, the chaos, and the pain of the world. Contemplating his great power, let us not be fearful, but joyful. Embracing his mercy and peace, let us, like the winds and sea, be calm. Let us, as the psalmist writes and Jesus quotes, “Be still and know that I am God.” Amen.