Sunday, September 30, 2012

Show and Tell Prayer

James 5:13-20

You remember 'Show and Tell'?
 Describe; you picked your favorite thing and took it to school. You not only told about it, you showed it. Often your friends got to touch it too. 

Show and tell prayer sounds like a practice you'd find during a big tent revival.
The preacher, with her big black revival Bible...talks about all the healing we had seen this week, reads stories about how Jesus commanded the man to "pick up your at and walk"- Which he did, and walked away!

Then someone would walk down aisle and tell how they hadn’t walked a step in 5years ...until YESTERDAY...but now were healed. Perhaps others would come forward with an ailment to be touched and healed. THAT sounds like show and tell prayer.

But what I have in mind today is the ways we can SEE prayer. 
What are the many ways prayer is made visible?

James is talking about visible prayer. 
He says it is found in community. He has a lot to say about community and the way people act, the way people treat each other. The verses prior to this in chapter 4 and 5, “address the dangers of wealth and the tendency of the rich to oppress the poor.”
 It’s funny that the lectionary skips over it. One commentator, Elizabeth Johnson, suggests that perhaps it hits too close to home for most of No. America and much of Europe. At any rate, it is not unrelated to today’s passage about prayer. 
James makes the case that the mostly poor, who made up the Christian community in his day, must rely solely on prayer because of the behavior of those who oppress them.

Being careful to realize we live close to that line of oppressor or oppressed - especially in the eyes of much of the world, WE can look at his words about prayer and see if they fit OUR experience.

Show and Tell Prayer has to involve the senses;
Seeing, Hearing, Tasting, Touching, Smelling

Hearing; fits our typical spoken prayer....
Pastoral prayer = usually consists of my words
Prayer of God’s People = is my words echoed with your words
Sometimes a spoken prayer can involve more senses if the leader invite you to use your imagination, slow your breathing, or other physical aspects.
  Back in the day,brethren would turn and  kneel into the pew for prayer. (Must have left more room between those old benches.)

Last week we used another form of spoken prayer, 
A Song of Prayer = (sing a chorus) O Lord, Hear our prayer... Get someone who will start this. Tell Andy. We used this kind of prayer several times at the Women’s Retreat this weekend.

Seeing; We have also used visual prayer in our worship. Where I invite you to watch the images on the screen as we pray.
You likely use visuals for prayer when you are out in nature. Often this kind of prayer evokes our thoughts and feeling of praise and thankfulness to God, without us forming any words.

A less familiar form of visual prayer involves an

Altho the icons have been mis-understood as if someone was praying TO them, they are actually used as a ‘window’ into prayer. A way to focus the eyes, therefore center the mind while it opens to the presence of God. It is much like meditation, but instead of just emptying, the visual picture fills you and displaces all distraction.

          Some may use this dove, a symbol of God's HOLY spirit and of peace as a focus for prayer.

Smelling; Incense, is not part of our tradition in CoB, but it is not completely unfamiliar to us.  Churches of ‘smells and bells’ we said at Lutheran Seminary, typically indicate a ‘high’ form worship or more formal and elaborate traditions. 

Other smells that bring prayer to mind may come from memory. If you attended a church that was surrounded by active farm fields, you might smell fresh manure and think of prayer. (It may sound unusual in Arlington, but out in Midland, I guarantee there are days when fresh spread manure is the primary aroma.)
While others of us may smell fresh flowers  and think of prayer, especially those days when the sanctuary is filled with flowers like Easter, or when we have walked elaborate gardens singing, “I come to the garden alone...”

Tasting; prayer may seem unusual, but is as familiar as this (bring one) covered dish. Any time you’ve carried a casserole to someone and offered your assistance, you gave a ‘taste’ of prayer. . . In these cases, whether or not you added your WORDS of prayer, your ACTIONS let someone know they were ‘held in prayer’. 

Of course Communion, which we will observe next week, along with all the other Christians in the world, is a combination of taste, memory, words, and prayer that bring us closer to God is ways hard to describe..Next week is World Communion Sunday.

Touching: Touching Prayer brings us most directly to the message from James’ for today. Anointing...

The Jewish tradition of anointing showed that one was chosen by God. Samuel anointed Saul King, then David. Jesus was called God's anointed, which is the meaning of the Hebrew word Messiah also translated into Greek as the Christ.
Believed to have been practiced from earliest days of Christianity. Certainly by the time book of James' was written. 

Oil was associated with healing because it soften the skin to help it heal after the injury was washed. We have replaced oil and ointments with greaseless lotions and sprays filled with antibiotic. The OIL didn’t have antibiotic properties, but while it softened the skin, it also created a moment of caring touch.

Anointing is one of the Brethren ordinances. (We don't have sacraments, only ordinances or those things ordered or instructed by God.)

The Brethren understanding about healing is sometimes miraculous and unexplainable things happen. Altho, Generally, God uses human skill and wisdom to effect wholeness and healing. Medical and mental health professionals aid in the healing process and their skill can be regarded as a direct gift from God.

Anointing Does not guarantee healing; we do not control God's actions. It is God who invites us to become a community of prayer through the service of anointing. (p. 101)

Healing, when understood as forgiveness, shalom, and wholeness - is the response of God in every instance of faithful petition. Healing is most effective when it becomes a gateway into a richer quality of life." (P. 101-02)

When we think of how sick a body can be and all the things that cause sickness, we begin to understand the importance of caring touch. We, as a community of faith can do MORE than pour antibiotics on someone. We can touch, pray, speak, look eye to eye, LISTEN, and share compassion in ways that heal beyond any medical process. 

This is what anointing offers us.

 There is Traditional language for an individual service of healing and it would be something like this; "I anoint you
 for the forgiveness of your sins
 for the strengthening of your faith
 for healing and wholeness according to God's grace and wisdom.

An INDIVIDUAL service of healing involves several steps, a minister, deacons, family and possibly close friends from the faith community.

There is no doubt some amount of power in the ritual because it makes visual God's promise in the tactile action of the community, led by the pastor or deacon. Yet the REAL power is in the praying community. (Again notice, it’s not just the prayers, but the PRAYING COMMUNITY that effects healing.) 
Seldom do we agree to pray for someone and leave it at that. Usually those prayers are accompanied by wonderful and constant thoughts, cards or phone calls, and often a visit. Community does not take the place of God's actions. Still there is a role for us to play in support of however God works. It is this partnership and recognition of our servanthood to each other, that helps to form us and offer healing far beyond the physical alone. (Even when that is what we most desire.) 
I believe this wonderful partnership with God creates more than we can imagine as we participate in Divine Healing with God.

Today: I want you to have the opportunity to experience Show and Tell Prayer. You are Invited to visit a deacon station in one of the corners of the sanctuary during the last hymn which we will soon sing. 
Thanks to choir members, the verses will be sung for us, allowing us to focus on the easy words and sounds of the chorus...‘and I will RAISE you up..” 
  • I suggest your 1st fix in your mind a sense of what you seek in the way of healing, wholeness and/or strength. 
The deacon who touches your for head with oil will say, 
"you are anointed for strength and wholeness in body and spirit

You may answer with 'amen' or say nothing at all, What every you choose is fine. WE are a simple folk when it comes to ritual. 
But I want to stress that these rituals are important because they fix in our minds and the memories of body action, what our heads and hearts already know. 
God wishes our wholeness and God blesses us.. Thru the community of faith. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Jesus was a Young Adult

Jesus was a Young Adult.
According to Luke’s gospel he was just 30 when he began his ministry. Some dating sources say he may have been younger.

Today we are being given the gift of a taste of the Young Adult Conference. Jonathan and Suzanne from our congregation, attended conference. We are blessed to have Nathan and Jenn with us from Washington who were two of the presenters at the conference.

During that week in Tennessee the presenters and attendees concentrated their reflection on the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps the most important scripture for all Christians. Certainly Brethren have always thought so.

I’m sure you will agree that getting a ‘taste’ (as Jonathan likes to call it) of the conference is important. The reason it is the center of our worship today comes straight from Jesus’ words in Matthew 7. 
“Go in through the narrow gate.” he says, “The gate that leads to destruction is broad and the road wide, so many people enter through it. But the gate that leads to LIFE is narrow and the road difficult, so few people find it.”  (CEB)

What could be more important at any age, than finding the ‘Gate that leads to LIFE’?

If you are older than 35 or 40, (COB YA’s up to 40) think back to your 1st job, that 1st paycheck that you had to figure out how to divide up.
I’m sure your church contribution came first in your budget...
Rent, car payment, school loans, insurance, utilities, other bills, and food. Not to mention clothes for that new job and hopefully SOME recreation.
How to use your income  - is addressed in the Sermon on the Mount.
What was your first job? The occupation you choose and How you act at work and among friends, the choices your priorities create.. are the concern  - of the Sermon on the Mount.

Where you choose to live, who becomes your best friend or life mate, how you relate to your family and those around you. . all the decisions of Young Adult life are dealt with - in the Sermon on the Mount...
And those concerns don’t end when we grow older.
Just as the words of Jesus’ sermon NEVER stop being our guide.

What CAN happen as we age, is we become more acclimated to the world around us.
The decisions we make as Young Adults along with the decisions we choose NOT to make, begin to form who we are.  For some people, these choices make it harder and harder to reflect on the REALLY IMPORTANT parts of life.

Today we get to hear ‘fresh’ wisdom. 
No doubt there is value to the wisdom of the ages.. Those attending the Senior Adult Retreat on October 4 will offer each other some of that ‘shared wisdom’ of age. But if those of us with a few years will think back, we may remember a time when we were more idealistic, less colored by the world. . making it very important to remember - that Jesus was a Young Adult.

Don Kraybill called the ‘Kingdom’ that Jesus inaugurated the ‘Upside-Down Kingdom’ in his 1978 book. 

He compares Jesus’ wisdom to that of Jesus’ day and that of 1970s... a time when many of us were young adults. 
Kraybill reminds the Christian church that when ‘we’ are faithful to our mission to be in the world, but not of it, the church is a prophetic minority or (perhaps) a deviant subculture. 
He says, “Jesus had no illusions of a Christian society. .instead he often described the spirit of His age with the words, “THIS Generation” - not said in a pleasant way!.

He described the larger society as the ‘broad way’ which leads to destruction, saying His followers were to walk the narrow way which leads to life.”

“But the narrow way is not separated physically from the broad one. The narrow way is in the world. As salt, light, penetrate the people who are in the world.”
 We will hear more about those elements in a moment.

Jesus points us to the narrow way, even today. What Christians MUST remember is, once you commit to the narrow pass, you need to hang out with ALL the other people who also have committed to the narrow way. 
We are those people. ALL OF US - people of every age.

Perhaps Young Adulthood is a time when the choice of narrow or wide is clearer. But it never stops being a choice.
And young adult leaders, are not the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today. Here to help us ALL traverse the narrow way.

I trust that today is a day when our ears will once again be like Jesus’ ears, young adult ears - regardless if you are older or younger. I am sure that today, if we will wait and listen, we will once again, hear the Lord. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Glory in the Cross; or why Jesus wants me to have an iPhone 5

Mark 8:27-38

It's not typical for me to begin a sermon with the point, but today, my point comes first because I want us to focus on a question;
What does it mean to be a Christian?  
(or stating it more personally)
What does Jesus really want from us?

AND - Just to keep us current with weekly events, I’ll explain, “Why Jesus wants me to have an iPhone5.” . . but we’ll come back to that a bit later.

You may approach the question of what Jesus wants from us (other than for me to have an iPhone 5) from one of two perspectives.
  • One is ‘Jesus wants my heart’. This means the primary decision for any soul/individual is the moment of commitment when he/she gives her heart to Jesus. Thus securing a place with him for eternity.
  • The other perspective, not necessarily opposed to ‘Jesus wants my heart’ is ‘Jesus wants my life’. Briefly, it means the ‘moment’ of commitment is not as important as a lifetime of commitment.  The priority is not on being saved for the next life, but on being liberated to follow Jesus in THIS life. 

Either approach to Christianity requires answering my first question;
What does it mean to be a Christian?  
. . .
Any approach to Christianity requires that we do some living beyond the moment of commitment. (For us in the CoB, that commitment is our baptism.)We seek guidance in the New Testament  for living. Paul’s letters tell us how to act in certain situations of life. James’ book tells us other specifics.
Brethren accept ALL the New Testament, but we like to focus on what Jesus said.

So to explore, ‘What Jesus really wants from us’ Mark’s story of Jesus’ interrogation of his disciples is the perfect place to begin.

As always, it is important to note the context of our scripture:
            In Mark’s gospel, --which is a very quick-moving tale, you dare not blink (or miss a Sunday) or you will lose a key episode- Jesus’ questioning of his disciples in chapter eight about identity ‘introduces a season of transition and challenge.’
            Scholar Matt Skinner tell us, “Up to this point, Jesus’ ministry has consisted of tremendous displays of power and authority. there has been new and astonishing teachings, liberation from oppression, and restoration to wholeness.” Matthew Skinner Denying Self, Bearing a Cross and Following Jesus: Unpacking the Imperatives of Mark 8:34 Word and world vol 23, No. 3 summer 2003

             The disciples may have enjoyed the conversation sharing their poll results about who people thought Jesus was, but when Jesus turns the conversation to the future they had to be shocked as his predictions! Suffering was NOT what THEY thought Jesus wanted from them.

In truth, we are right there with Peter, saying 

‘No way, Jesus! You are not going to Jerusalem to die!’ Life is good, people are loving us. Your healing and exorcisms have us way up in the polls. What are you talking about... an execution? a cross? are you serious?’
How much Jesus ‘sees’ into his future differs from gospel to gospel, but he certainly knows that his proclaiming a Kingship for himself and his followers - other than the state’s ruler; the Emperor of Rome, will cause a serious disruption in the status quo. . .and that means trouble!

Rome and the Jewish leadership had a deal that insured mutual peace. Jews were allowed to worship their God, just like others were allowed certain religious practices, but the Emperor was the supreme ruler and recognized Deity. 

The leadership in Jerusalem had to help keep the peace.  Trouble makers were not allowed. 
            If you asked the Religious Leaders of his day, “Who do you say Jesus is?” they would name him a rising...problem.
The crowds around him were growing larger and larger and he was known for challenging authority in the temple. Trouble could not be far away. Even he saw that there was a cross on the horizon.
            Our problem, when WE consider what it means to be a Christian today, is our 21st century view of that cross.

             For most of us, ‘bear the cross’ means lifting up a necklace and putting the chain over our head.
            We are so used to seeing crosses worn, that ‘glorifying the cross’ sounds like a jewelry sale at Macy’s. 

We are more accustomed to seeing ‘glorious’ images. . .like this..

            A cross painted to be really lovely that we marvel at.

What we Do NOT see, is an instrument of execution.

Like the electric chair.

. . .
It’s hard to look at, isn’t it? It’s stark. the straps convey imprisonment. Images of horrible deaths, and burning flesh come to mind. EVEN if the person being executed, committed horrible crimes and took someone’s life, unlike Jesus, and regardless of how you feel about capital punishment, it’s hard to look at this chair.

We can’t glory in THIS  instrument of execution, even if we place it in a lovely sunset the first cross image I had up.

 You can see that.. No amount of colorization improves our perception.
IMAGE - multi chair image

It takes a reminder of what a cross really was
            . .for us to understand Peter’s horror when he heard Jesus’ talk of the suffering that lay ahead.

When we hear Jesus invite US to the cross, we need to remember a few “Major points about HIS story.
Jesus did not die, he was killed!
not by hoodlums in a Jerusalem alley, but he was officially executed by the government
With the help of some major religious leaders who collaborated with Rome. . .
In the process of his arrest and execution, his disciples betrayed, denied, and abandoned him. Boring and Craddock People’s NT Commentary (Louisville:WJK, 2004) 164-5

An innocent man, executed.
(But as one attorney general of Virginia said, ‘Proof of innocence is irrelevant” when it comes to a capital execution. Mary Sue Terry) The cross doesn’t represent the best in life, but all the worst elements of anyone’s tragic end.

It is only what GOD does next that makes the view of Crucifixion event begin to change.
. . .
Over the years and centuries that followed Jesus’ resurrection appearances, people began to make meaning out of both Jesus’ tragic execution and his life. (Ibid Boring & Craddock)

It is only through years of contemplating the communion ritual that developed, retelling the stories, group discussion about the scriptures after they were written down, and the insightful blessing of those we now call ‘saints’ that together gave us several, actually MANY explanations for what the DEATH of Jesus meant.

 Yet Everyone understood the resurrection appearances as God’s vindication and affirmation of WHO Jesus really was. (and expressing further theology we might say who Jesus was, is and is to come..)

            When we view the cross the way the disciples did, my golden cross necklace seems as inappropriate as this picture of my next iphone...

            Yes, I do mean for you to laugh, but only because we need to laugh at ourselves...maybe so we don’t cry at what Jesus is asking of us.  

            How far have we removed ‘bearing the cross’ from the reality Jesus’ endured? . . .

            When Jesus tells his closest friends,
            “IF ANYONE wants to become my follower, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

He wasn’t talking about denying ourselves some desired possession, (even if it is a new iPhone) He put the emphasis on IF and ANYONE, because it wasn’t a casual request. It still isn’t.
            IF, you will follow
                        IF, anyone is left after they see the cross. . .
It’s not an invitation everyone will accept.

            If we take these verses out of Mark’s whole story, then bearing a cross, could dissolve into some mere form of Lenten dietary restriction, or occasional delayed gratification.
            We might even moralize what bearing-a-cross means into some ‘personal fortitude or modesty’ and certainly many have. I suspect we have all thrown the phrase around at some point.

            Taking up a cross has to be part of a full equation where we totally embrace Jesus as the only one we follow.
NOTHING else can claim us! . . .
            Prof. Skinner says, “Instead of choosing or plotting their next steps on their own, Jesus’ followers are to be led there by someone else.”--Jesus, himself!            It is WITH JESUS that we enter life, by embracing death..and only then we “discover our future on the road of self-denial.” Matthew Skinner Denying Self, Bearing a Cross and Following Jesus: Unpacking the Imperatives of Mark 8:34 Word and world vol 23, No. 3 summer 200
            What does it really mean? 
            Jesus doesn’t say with words, but he lives his meaning in the weeks to follow.

Obviously, for us it involves the ‘relinquishment of our autonomy’ which runs counter to human habits of self-preservation or personal advancement.
            Jesus says living life with him means losing one’s life -  - for him and the gospel. (ibid Skinner)

All these Cross-bearing words may sound familiar to anyone who attends much church, but the life Jesus calls us to is far from familiar. It’s unlike anything else you’ve ever done. He’s not like anyone you’ve ever followed.
. . .

The only way to really see the cross as beautiful, to really ‘glory in the cross’ as we are about to sing, is to give yourself to Jesus - completely.

            It costs so much more than forgoing a desired possession.
            because it costs our whole lives = literally.

That’s what Jesus REALLY wants.
. . .
Until Jesus’ “Gospel claims every aspect of our life and being” (Skinner)
 we won’t have carried our cross.
            and we won’t understand its meaning or its glory.

What Jesus wants is..everything. .
            and when we have lost it all,
                        we will know who Jesus is.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Gone To The Dogs

Mark 7:24-37 “Gone to the Dogs”  
What don’t you like about church? ...I’m sure if I brought the mic out I’d get a full list - even if you each shared only ONE thing. 

Many of us don’t like that our Christian ‘church’ traditions keep us apart from each other. (20 in this church, 50 here, 100 there) . .Yet, how hard it would be for YOU to welcome the different styles, customs, and even theologies of neighboring congregations? 

We usually admit we are more comfortable, returning to the same place and familiar customs every week. And, when you are new to this (or any congregation) you go thru an unsettled time where you try to get to know people, you are still learning the customs and basically you want to know, ‘Am I welcome, REALLY welcome here?”

Back in the early days of Christianity, (the “Jesus’ Way”) very few NON-Jews were welcomed in Christian gatherings. Almost all Christians were Jews. Not all Jews were Christians, but almost all Christians were Jews. (If you do visit other churches, you might want to be careful where you share the fact that Jesus was a Jew!) 
The fact that the earliest Christians were all Jewish is something we tend to forget when we read the Bible thru the lens of years and years of church history. Similarly, we forget there was a time when all Brethren were German.

How hard it must have been to accept the first English people into the Brethren fold. In the same way, the early church struggled with welcoming outsiders, people who were labeled “unclean” by sacred scripture. 
The questions were typical, Was scripture wrong? Did God change God’s mind? Who is right? Who is welcome? Many questions about identity made it hard to accept the first non-Jewish followers of Jesus!

Layers of difficulty were added because people of other nations behaved differently too. They didn’t obey scripture! Diet, washing, even circumcision all were issues hotly debated. We have to wonder How they ever integrated a diversity of people & nations into the ‘Body of Christ’? .... Life in the early Christian community was one big turmoil where a lot of people asked, “Am I really welcome here?”
We get a glimpse into the controversy with today’s dialogue between a woman of another nation and Jesus.
We know that Jesus opened himself to criticism (by fellow Jews) when he responded to and healed non-Jews. “Gentiles” they were called, which merely means people of other nations.  (We’d might call them, ‘immigrants’.)

It is clear when we look at the synoptic gospels that Jesus’ mission was to the Jews. Even when he reached, ‘across the aisle’ and touched someone from another nation, he never forgot that his priority was to Abraham’s descendants, who were God’s chosen people.

This is Jesus’ perspective when he blurts out the harsh language we just heard. As hard as it is for many of us to hear, there is no getting around the fact that Jesus’ called this woman and her daughter ‘dogs’

And even tho WE may have nice little dogs as pets today, and even tho some dogs can be found with diamond- studded collars and sweet smelling fur-doos, there is no doubt that the word Jesus used was derogatory...regardless of what word you use for a female dog...

IF you can stand to hear more, some commentators point out Jesus has already healed a man of another nation. It was the man so “possessed” that he lived in the graveyard and when asked his name said, “my name is Legion, for we are many”.  Jesus healed him without question and his focus remained on his own Jewish chosen people. In this case, his compassion extended beyond Jews to this suffering man. . . . So, why not to this woman and her daughter?....It’s hard to hear his lack of welcome for her.

When we ignore a hard-to-hear story like this, it becomes one of the things people don’t like about church. To be honest we need do more than gloss over difficult stories. If we strip away the years and open our EARS we can do better than merely say, “...he must have been testing her faith.”

Some scholars point out that it was likely her gender that made the difference. Women just didn’t come up and speak to strange men back then. You ALWAYS had the man you ‘belonged to’ (husband or father, or other male elder) run interference for you; Man to Man! 
And to complicate the story even more, this area where Jesus traveled was full of of wealthy individuals from other nations, not peasants. So some commentators as if there was some reverse economic discrimination going on here - ALONG with the male-female problem and the ‘whole other nation’ issue.
This story is a difficult mess of details from different perspectives, none of which I want to hear! 
I prefer my Jesus to be politically correct, pure, compassionate, and welcoming to people of all nations AND genders AND economic levels. But in biblical stories, I don’t always get what I want, at least not when I read honestly.

I asked you to strip away centuries to return to Mark’s generation so we could hear this story and ponder it’s difficulty, even if it IS HARD to hear. 
We need to recognize that Jesus was “bluntly confronting this woman with the priority of the Jews in the divine economy, a point consistently affirmed thru-out the NT.”
 Scholar Charles Cousar reminds us. And the reality of Jesus’ day carried over to the writing of this gospel in Mark’s day.
We need to accept that it was hard, very HARD for non-Jews to be welcomed into the early church. 
We need to recall that male-female equality didn’t exist then, that women were restricted to some pretty specific roles then, and only under certain circumstances were any exceptions allowed.
Jesus was a man of his day. He was part of a culture where men held all the power, he was an observant Jew, who followed the LAW all of its intent, and who accepted that God chose Jews over other people. 
We need to hear the gospel this way, with 1st century ears in order to really understand its meaning for OUR time.

Whether Rich, or poor, this PUSHY woman had TWO traits that made her stand out above other woman, of ANY nation, She had guts and she was a MOTHER!  
A Mother will do things for her daughter than she won’t do for herself. A mother will cross social boundaries, risk being shamed and is willing to stand up to name-calling and rebuke. -all for the sake of her daughter. . .
Her boldness and her wit created a moment like no other in Jesus’ history.

What happened next, is a matter of record in Mark’s story and in Matthew’s too. 
Jesus gets bested in clever dialogue by a woman, a pushy non-Jewish woman, and he - changes his mind. . . I don’t know how else to read this. One person even called it a moment of conversion for Jesus! ..(Ashton, Feasting on the Word p 46) How hard is THAT to hear?

Jesus’ commends her gutsy attitude, her bold crossing of boundaries between men and women, between Jew and non-Jew, between rich and poor. He affirms this mother’s passionate reach for a cure and grants healing, sight unseen. . .and notice, it’s not for her ‘faith’ altho that seems implied, but b/c of her WORDS that Jesus  HEARD. ‘for saying this..’ he says. . . .This is one gutsy woman! And because of her, we can begin to HEAR God’s message for us.

Still I have to admit that along with my not wanting to hear that Jesus called such an admirable woman, a dog, there are plenty of other stories that are hard to hear.  I
t’s hard to hear that Jesus struggled with his calling, that he asked God for a way out. “Remove this cup from me..”
It is hard to hear that Jesus suffered, really suffered, not theoretically, not spiritually, but physically. 
It’s even hard to hear that he died.
And for centuries Christians found it so hard to hear the open-ended conclusion in Mark that ends with an empty tomb and women running away scared, that an alternate ending was written! . Something a bit easier to hear, that explains some of the mysterious details. (We have both in our Bibles. You can check later.)
Mark's alternate ending

Perhaps what we really don’t like to hear is that Christianity doesn’t have nice answers to everything. OR that following Jesus is likely to involve more problems than solutions.
Perhaps over generations and centuries so many hard to hear stories have been interpreted for us, by priests, bishops, all manner of clergy - like me - until all these ‘set’ interpretations replaced the heart of the stories. - & until all the holy MYSTERY was stripped away... And we forgot how to listen for God in our everyday lives.

Perhaps our ears need to be open to a human Jesus; one who struggled with religious rules and interpretations in his day, who learned gradually to listen to God’s bottom-line rather than human understanding. 
Perhaps we need to strip away the years and years of religious tradition that tells us what we HAVE to believe and listen for God the way Jesus did. Whether it concerns rules from ancient times, boundaries for healing non-Jews and women, or welcoming those who are different.  Perhaps the perspective we need is demonstrated best by the other story of healing we heard today. 

The very next thing Jesus’ does, after really HEARING the pushy woman, is to reach out and open someone else’s closed ears
Isn’t that something? 
. . a deaf man is healed by Jesus, the man who has just learned how to really listen. . .

NOTE for another great take on this text, go to

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Jesus; political not politician

Perhaps that old radio character, The Shadow, was paraphrasing Jesus when he said, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of man?” . . .

After hearing Jesus’ words of rebuke in Mark chapter 7 (v. 1-15) it doesn’t sound like Jesus would ever have made it as a politician. He never seemed to care about offending the ‘right’ people or saying the ‘right’ things. He certainly didn’t use politically correct language - as we will hear again next week when we read further in Mark.

It is just too tempting to try and imagine Jesus as a politician after a week of one convention and another coming tomorrow.
 But, the truth is, I have trouble imagining him on the campaign circuit. He just doesn’t fit the mold. Even if you remove the prescribed ‘suit and red tie’ and imagine Jesus in rolled up shirt sleeves, it is difficult to hear his very political speech in today’s political context. 

I’ll admit there are a few similarities; 
    • Jesus DOES like to poke fun at the current administration. Whether it is the Romans and their ‘folly’ of Military Power or the religious leaders who cooperated with Rome in order to secure some semblance of their own power, Jesus misses few opportunities to bring the powerful down to a very earthy level.
    • He also doesn’t waste (precious) time defending himself. Like many of today’s politicians, when his actions are questioned, rather than go defensive, he jumps to the offense, quickly turning the tables on the accusers.
    •   and he is quick to appeal to the crowd’s concerns rather than stick to the ‘insider’ debate. When challenged by the orthodox sect of Pharisees, he turns around and speaks to the crowd of commoners which does not follow the strict rules normally applied only to priests.  

Jesus knows his audience. He knows where his appeal lies and yet he doesn’t exploit the masses. He doesn’t just say what they want to hear, he lives it, walking among them healing, exorcising demons, and teaching.

Unlike today’s politicians, Jesus wastes no time on distracting issues, even if they are popular ones. Instead, he cuts to the hearts ‘of men’ (and women) by pointing out how easy it is to overlook one’s own faults when you are out there accusing someone else.  

His piercing gaze sees the “evil lurking in the heart” so he quotes Isaiah from the LXX or Greek translation of the Holy Books.

This people honors me [God] with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me.7 Their worship of me is empty since they teach instructions that are human words. 

Jesus has the ability to boil complex codes of instruction and centuries of case law down to the simple equation of 
‘God loves you’ and God requires your love in return. 
Your love of God is BEST shown, not just by rituals of washing away, of turning from the world to thanking God, but also by  
loving actions towards your neighbor...and oh by the way, 
EVERYONE is your neighbor. ...(no exceptions allowed for color, sex, ethnicity, gender preference, or political affiliation..)

We could almost laugh at his stark portrayal of the human digestive system. It’s almost as if he chose his words to be a sound bite for the 11 o’clock news.

 “’s the  ummthings’ that come out of a person that defile...”  he says...

Yet Jesus won’t ever be caught in ‘mis-speak’ and he won’t be apologizing for the truth he utters. Even the fact checkers will be surprised when they are forced to give him flying colors in the truth department.

But we also know that He will be accused of blasphemy. All because Jesus really does know what lies in the heart....  ....the heart...of God.