Sunday, June 28, 2015

Do not fear, only believe

Mark 5:21-43
Touch. It’s really such a simple thing to reach out to another human being. Or at least it should be. We as a congregation have greeted each other today with hugs, handshakes, pats on the back, these touches of friendship, comradery, of connection.
As a parent of three young children, touch is something that can overwhelm me at times. There are moments when I feel like my body is not my own because little hands are always touching, pulling, holding.
I also know that there are those among us that would love to have that problem. For you touch is a rarity, a treasure, something longed for and not often received.
All of these things come into play as we look at the Gospel reading from Mark this morning. This strangely intimate text all about healing touch.
Mark tells us that Jesus has just returned from his trip across the Sea of Galilee, from his trip to Gentile country. He has come back to offer God’s hope, healing and restoration once more to the people of Israel.
As soon as Jesus steps off the boat his is once again surrounded. People have flocked to him waiting to hear his teaching, to receive his blessing, to be healed of what ails them. There seems to be no end to the crushing throng around him.
As the crowd pushes and pulls a man of stature reaches the front and falls at Jesus’ feet asking for his help. Jarius was a leader in the synagogue, a man of reputation, and here he is begging Jesus to help him. And while that in and of itself is a bit odd, the subject of his request is even more staggering. He is not asking for himself, nor his wife, but for his daughter.
For his daughter! Now to us that seems normal, even appropriate. What parent doesn’t want healing for their child? What parent wouldn’t go to the ends of the earth to find the opportunity to have their child restored to health? In our current context this plea sounds normal. But in other parts of our world the plea would be shocking. There are still areas where female children are killed at birth, because they are female. There are still places where girls are treated as somehow less than human.
In Jarius’ day and time girls, well women in general, were not seen as much more than property. While people loved their daughters, there was not the same regard for them as for male children who could continue the family line.  Some have even proposed that Jarius’ motivation might have been that his daughter was promised to someone as a bride and that if she didn’t get better he might lose the bride price he had negotiated for her!
Whatever Jarius’ motivation, Jesus deems his cries worth hearing and agrees to accompany him to his home so that the little girl might be healed. All is well and good until Jesus suddenly stops and cries out, “Who touched me?”
Jarius and the disciples are amazed, perhaps even perturbed at such a question. There is a great crowd around jostling them every step of the journey. “Who touched me?” perhaps an easier question to answer might have been “who hasn’t touched me?”
Jarius is in a hurry to get Jesus back to his house to heal his daughter. This man of the synagogue is of high rank and not used to having to wait on others. But Jesus stops what he is doing and waits for someone to fess up.
It wasn’t a question that Jesus needed answered personally. I’m pretty sure he knew who had touched him, what they had been healed from and why they had been so secretive about the whole thing. It wasn’t that Jesus needed confirmation of anything. So why call attention to it?
Because for healing to be complete their must be restoration to community.
Jesus knew who had touched him, but he knew also that her healing needed to be recognized so that she could join in with the family of God once more.
 Imagine being this woman, for just a moment. She has been hemorrhaging for twelve years! And I know that’s not something we openly talk about in our society, but bleeding for twelve years is a really big deal! She had been to see physicians, she had tried every well-known and not so well known treatment and still she continued to bleed.
Most of you know I had surgery in November to treat a “female medical issue.” At the risk of sharing too much, I had been hemorrhaging for two years and had reached a point of desperation, depression and hopelessness.
But even while that was going on I lived my daily life. I went out into the stores as I needed. I took care of my children. I visited the sick, the dying. I not only worshiped, but I led worship!
This poor woman had been unclean that whole time! Unclean meaning ritually unclean. She had not been allowed to touch others, because by her touch they would have been unclean. Everything she touched was unclean for at least 24 hours even after it had been “purified” by ritual washing. And forget leading worship, she hadn’t even been allowed into worship with the community of God for 12 years!
That means not sacrifices made on her behalf, not absolution of sin, not place with the people of God. She was completely isolated in a world where the synagogue was the center of life.
She had somehow heard about Jesus and had made her way into the crowd hoping against hope that she could find healing in the simplest of touch. She reaches out, grabs the hem of his cloak and instantly is healed. She knows it! And as she turns to go she hears him ask “Who touched me?”
Mark tells us she turns to him and tells him the whole story. She doesn’t leave anything out because of the crowd or the company. She lays herself bare before him and the crowd knowing that she has just made him unclean by the standards of the law. Knowing that she might have just sentenced herself to humiliation at the least. And Jesus responds “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
That one word, daughter does two things. One it brings her back into the community as a full member of the family of God once more. It restores her position in society, in her faith community, it reminds her she is a beloved child of God.
But it also reminds us of another daughter, the one Jesus was supposed to be healing before this woman came on the scene and distracted him.
At that moment people come from Jarius’ house to tell him that the girl has died and that there is no more need to take the time of this important man any longer. Jarius’ heart brakes. He is scared of the news. But Jesus responds “Do not fear, only believe.”
Jesus goes to the house and brings the little girl, who is by the way, 12 years old back to life. He touches her, a healing touch, a life giving touch. He tells them to feed her and then to say nothing to anyone about what has happened. She is restored to life, restored to her family, restored to her father. Then Jesus and his disciples go on their way.
Do not fear, only believe. What amazing words, the words that I need to hear daily. In the past two weeks they are words I’ve needed almost hourly. With so much fear, distrust, anger and sorrow pouring over our country fear has found its way into the mix. Fear of change, fear of reprisal, fear for our freedoms, fear for our children, fear for our neighbors and so many other fears that it seems impossible to name them.
Yet Jesus’ said “Do not fear, only believe.”
He says this to a father who is desperate to have his child restored, a man who no doubt is upset that the journey was interrupted by someone less than, someone not as important, someone unclean. Jesus names his emotions as fear, those same emotions that we might call anger, frustration, doubt, Jesus calls fear.
Jesus had a plan, he was on his way to heal a little girl, but he was interrupted by another in need. Instead of hurrying on his way, he stopped so that her healing might be recognized.
Too often we have a strong dislike for interruptions. We are far too busy to take time out of our schedule for others. There is just far too much to be doing in a day. However, when we take time for human contact, healing touch can and does occur even today.
Let me tell you of one such event this week. Marcella is one of the women who cleans our church. She has a 10 year old grandson who has some pretty concerning heal issues and has been on our prayer list for quite a while. Quintavius has high blood pressure and for two weeks at least has been unable to keep any food down. Marcella and her daughter have been doing all they can do for him. He’s been given a strict diet, he’s been put on medication, and still he has gotten worse.
This week Marcella was on her way into the health food store to get things for her grandson when she was stopped, by a man she did not know.
(Tell the story)

We don’t know what will become of the information given to Marcella. I hope and pray it leads to a diagnoses and healing for her grandson. But I also know that it has already brought about a healing in that family. A reminder do not fear, only believe.
If this man had not let the spirit of God interrupt him from his daily life, this new hope might not have ever been placed before this family.
If Marcella had ignored him as some strange old man in a white coat she might not have ever heard this news. She might have given up hope, but it has been renewed. Let us continue to keep them lifted up before Jesus, the miracle worker!
Friends, as we go out from this place into a world where people are still invisible, like this woman and this little girl, where people are sometimes seen as less than human because of their skin color, gender, age or orientation, let us not be too proud to be interrupted. May we open our hearts, our eyes, our whole selves to the hurting around us so that we can offer them the healing that only comes from Christ. And may we offer of ourselves as Jesus did, not afraid to reach out with a healing touch to those who need to receive one.

May we go out into this world of trembling and trepidation calling out “Do not fear! Only believe.” 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Mark 4 Cries from the Boat

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that most of us have heard this particular Bible passage before. If we haven’t heard it preached on, perhaps we have studied it in Sunday school or Vacation Bible School. The story seems to be a simple one of travel, chaos, and resolution by God. The messages I have heard on this passage almost always include the phrase “God can calm all the storms in your life,” or “You are not alone in the midst of the storm.” Both comforting sayings, but I’m not sure they really get at the heart of today’s text.
The passage starts with Jesus and his disciples getting into a boat and going “across to the other side.” This same boat played a role in Jesus’ teaching earlier that day when he stood in it to preach to the great crowd that had gathered. So, under Jesus’ direction, the disciples point this boat towards the other side of the great lake that is the Sea of Galilee.
But, before we think of this as a simple pleasure cruise let me tell you about the other side. The other side is where the gentiles lived. It’s where the Decapolis (or 10 cities) is found. These good God fearing Jewish men are crossing over into heathen territory. I imagine there was a little trepidation among the group even before the boat began to rock.
Jesus, exhausted from his long preaching engagement, took this opportunity to lay down on some cushions at the back of the boat to rest. He fell fast asleep.
Meanwhile the disciples were busying themselves. Some were rehashing the events of the day in hushed tones. Some were watching the water and sky as good fishermen know to do. Some might have even tried to get a cat nap of their own. I can almost see them huddled in their little groups inside the boat, each one caught up in the day’s events. Then, suddenly the trip takes an unexpected turn.
A massive storm drops right down on them. The term for this great wind is actually the same word found in Job to describe the Whirlwind. This Whirlwind caused chaos of the sea which was feared by all sailors. They didn’t have storm trackers or Doppler radar. They had no way of knowing when a storm might get better or worse. So they jumped into survival mode. Quickly they each began working trying to keep afloat. Some began bailing the water out of the boat. Others did all they could to keep the boat on the right course. They knew what to do, they had been in this boat before, and many were experienced fishermen. This was a bad storm and they needed all hands on deck. But as they went about their rescue mission someone realized that Jesus was still asleep in the back of the boat.
I wonder if the disciples nudged one another and pointed out that Jesus was asleep. I wonder who it was that finally had enough of it and called out “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” Translation “We are working our tails off not to go under; Could you give us a hand?” Jesus rises from his sleep and calls out “Stop! Quiet!” to the sea, and the wind and waves immediately cease. Some translations say “Peace, be still” or “XXXXX” but the words Mark puts in Christ’s mouth are the same words used to exorcize demons.  “Stop!  Quiet!” and everything was still.
After Jesus calmed the storm he turned to his disciples and asked “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
You see, the disciples were not afraid of the storm. They felt a great fear AFTER Jesus calmed the chaos of the waters. AFTER he showed his power over nature. AFTER he proved he was one with God; for only God has powers over the waters as shown in Genesis and Job. The disciples had seen the power of God and they feared it. They knew that only God could do what had just been done, and still they asked one another “Who is this, that even the winds and waves obey him?”
I have a friend who recently led a children’s camp for kids in 4th and 5th grade. The camp focus was on peace and reconciliation.  They did your typical camp things, played games, had camp fires, sang songs. Toward the end of the week they had a communion service. The man who spoke talked about what it means to have peace and to be reconciled to your neighbor. He spoke the words of institution over the elements and they had communion. At the end of the service he stood up and said “If anyone wants to talk or pray, your counselors are standing around the room. You can feel free to talk to any of them.” And in this small camp of 30 kids there was no one left in their seats. Every child got up and asked a counselor to pray for them or with them. Seven children made professions of faith that night. They were talking about Jesus’ sacrifice, Jesus’ love and forgiveness, things that the camp had not emphasized. And when my friend told me this story the next words out of her mouth were “I was so scared.” She had never seen the Holy Spirit move in such an obvious way. She had never seen a group of 4th and 5th graders reduced to tears at the realization of the gift Christ gives us. She was terrified.
I ask you today, is the church universal any different from the disciples? Are we any different from the camp counselor who felt so fearful in the presence of God’s spirit? We go about our work of doing good things, things that we have been asked to do, and suddenly we hit a bump and cry out for God to do His share, as if forgetting God was in the boat with us the whole time. When things get rocky we want God to show up and get his hands dirty. But, when we realize God has shown up, we are filled with fear.
When someone tells us they have had an extraordinary experience with God, we would rather dismiss it, as my friend did, as low blood sugar or too much sugar. We cannot handle the thought that we are not in control, but at the mercy of the God who spoke this world into being.  This almighty powerful God chose humbly to walk among us as Jesus Christ. This God worked many miracles and led so many people down the path of restoration. We can handle all of that as long as it stays within the pages of this book.
But I tell you today, we cannot keep God within the pages of any book, even the Holy Scriptures.  The Holy Spirit, the same one that was poured out on Pentecost, is running wild in the world right now. There is a need unlike any I’ve ever seen for the grace of God, the love of God, the hope of God.
We’ve seen it this week in the aftermath of the horrific shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. So many people are hurting, angry, and rightfully so! But there is a deep need for us as Christians to gather around them and offer our love and support.
But even when there is not a tragedy of this scale, there are always people in need of God’s hope.
 You’ve seen it in the eyes of that young couple who are about to welcome a new child into their lives This miracle they are looking forward to will bring them closer to God than they have ever been, and they are scared by that closeness.
It’s in the eyes of those young people behind the football bleachers trying drugs and alcohol to reach a state of peace, not knowing that the peace that passes all understanding is seeking them out.
It’s in the eyes of the elderly man who sits in his room all day long not talking to anyone, but is crying out to be touched and loved, to be treated as a real human being.
The Holy Spirit is so many places in our hurting world. And now is the time that the Holy Spirit is pushing us to share that love; that grace; that hope with all around us.
It’s not a tame thing, it’s a burning fire, it’s a wild lion and it’s frightening. We are scared by the presence of God. Not by a sign of God, like the Bible, or a cross, but by God’s living breathing presence. It is this living breathing faith that we are called to proclaim. We are to share the living God, the wild and untamed God with the world. This was the mission of the church from the beginning. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church came into being from the fruits of the Second Great Awakening. And now the God of the harvest is calling us out into the fields again. The Holy Spirit is coaxing us out of our hiding places. The question is will we step out and take the risk of God showing up?
I took a risk this week, right after I heard of the shootings, and prayed and cried and lamented, I contacted the Reverend Doctor Mitchell Walker, pastor of the historic downtown Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America, an African-American congregation. I asked how we, Christ church could support them, walk along side them as we figure out together what it really looks like to be the body of Christ in unity in times such as this. He thanked me for reaching out, told me that was a good first step. After more conversation we felt the need to gather our leaders together to meet. Our session will meet with Church Street CPCA’s session. We may do nothing more than listen to them and pray together. But those things are kingdom building!
As our two denominations struggle with unification, sometimes feeling overwhelmed by the storms that rage around us and at times within us, let us remember that we do not serve a distant God. God is here in the boat with us.

Ps 16:6 says “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.”
Let us also prepare ourselves to be amazed by the way God handles the storms in our lives. When the God of the whirlwind shows up miracles occur. Let us not be fearful of the Holy Spirit moving among us!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Friday Five: Hither and Yon

Today's Friday Five is brought to us by 3dogmom
"After traveling through 13 states to arrive at 6 distinct destinations over the last five weeks, I am road-weary, and ready to be home for a good, long stretch. Weariness notwithstanding, they were all good trips that included wonderful scenery, with introductions and reconnections with people and places. Ahhh. The sojourning inspires today’s Friday Five."
Share with us:
1) a favorite city, and what makes it so.
Lubbock, TX is my home town and favorite city. My parents just moved back there for a year at least so hopefully we will make it there for the post-Christmas get together this year. I'm not sure why I like it so much, after all I grew up thinking Lubbock was 5 hours from anything good! It is a town that is large enough to have what you need and small enough to not need massive roads. I graduated from Texas Tech University and have a fondness for the university that I've passed on to my kids. It might not be the best place to vacation, but I would LOVE to live there!!
2) a favorite getaway spot, far from the maddening crowd (far being a relative term).
I thoroughly enjoy Orange Beach, Alabama  as a place to go and get away from the maddening crowd. We have vacationed here three times and it is by far the families favorite place to go. My favorite spot is on a blue chair, under an umbrella with a good book.
3) a great local eatery that you stumbled upon while passing through from one place to another.
There is this little town in west Texas called Andrews. There is not a lot there, but growing up when we drove through we always stopped at Buddy's for the steak-fingers. They were amazing!!!
4) a landscape that inspires or nourishes you.
There is something so inspiring to me about the desert. The way that life clings on determined to survive even in the most difficult of situations, the beauty that comes from unexpected places, the hope of blooming plants where you expect total barrenness.
5) a place you long to visit.
So many places! Here are just a few to start!

I've always been fascinated by Australia and would LOVE to visit

Alaska easily makes the top of my list for places to go.

Of course I want to go to the UK, who doesn't?

The Cumberland Presbyterian Church has two thriving presbyteries in Colombia South America. This summer our General Assembly is meeting in Colombia for it's annual meeting. I wish I could go! But I look forward to seeing things through social media and webcams!