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Archive for June, 2012

Faith in Hot Water

“[Jesus] said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”  Mark 5:35

Jesus was on his way to Jairus’ house.  Jairus was a leader in the local synagogue whose daughter was very sick, and he begged Jesus to go and heal her.  This was pretty unusual because the synagogue leaders felt so threatened by Jesus and often questioned, tested, and tried to entrap him.  But Jesus didn’t pay attention to class or status except when there was abuse and exploitation, so he started toward the man’s house.

This is where the story is interrupted by another story – what many of us like to call “sandwich stories” which is a story in the middle of another one.  A woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years followed the crowd, and she reasoned that, if she could touch the hem of his garment, she would be healed.  Keep in mind that Jesus didn’t travel alone.  He had all his disciples, and the crowds surrounded him because, by this time, he was a pretty big celebrity by first century standards (even without the media hype!).

When the woman managed to touch his garment, she could tell right away that she had been healed, and then the unthinkable happened:  Jesus stopped and asked who had touched him!  His disciples were incredulous and told him that “everyone” was touching him because they were surrounded by a big crowd.  That didn’t stop Jesus because he apparently knew there was more to this than just touching the hem of his garment, so he stopped and, of course, everything around him stopped, too.

Just imagine the silence that descended on that dusty, hot road following Jesus question:  “Who touched me?”  They would have waited for someone to “fess” up, and then imagine the terror the woman must have felt when she realized that he was looking for her.  I think it’s helpful to remember that women were second-class citizens (maybe even third or fourth class) and were not allowed to touch or even talk with a man in public.  This woman had the extra problem of being considered “unclean” because she had the issue of blood and that put her in the “untouchable” category, ostracized from family, friends, and from being in public without hollering “unclean, unclean” as she walked along.  It was demeaning.  Who could blame her for desperately wanting to be healed?

As she knelt before Jesus to confess that she had touched him, she might have expected to be stoned to death right then and there, but instead she received love, kindness, affirmation, and healing.  Jesus affirmed her place as a “daughter” of Abraham (wouldn’t THAT make the synagogue leaders pay attention!), and he blessed her, affirming that she was healed because of her great faith.  What a double blessing and gift he gave her!

There is an interesting illustration about eggs, carrots, and tea bags.  What happens when they are placed in hot water?  The egg becomes hard-boiled, the carrots get all mushy, but the tea bag  becomes stronger.  This woman’s faith was strong even though she was in hot water!  How do we respond in faith when the going gets tough?  Are we able to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment and trust that we will find a way out?  Will our faith become hard-boiled and immobile?  Or will it become mushy and fall apart?  Or will we see the difficulties of our lives as opportunities to reach out and hold onto the one who walks with us, who blesses us, who loves us, who claims us, who restores us to life?

May your faith grow stronger every day, and may you come to know Jesus the healer, teacher, lover, friend, and savior of your life.  God bless!

p.s.  Jesus also healed Jairus’ daughter – to read the entire story, check out Mark 5:21-43

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When the Storms Rage

“Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  Mark 4:40

     Jesus asked this question of his disciples when they were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee.  Storms on that lake come up very quickly, and the winds can be dangerous, causing large waves that would threaten to tip their boat over.  Yet, Jesus slept in the boat while they were trying to keep it steady, and finally in frustration, they woke him with the rebuke:  “Don’t you care?”

     When Jesus stood and calmed the storm and the waves, they were amazed, and then he asked them the questions in verse 40 above.  That question always bothers me.  I consider myself a person with strong faith, and yet, there are times when I doubt and wonder.  There are times when I go through difficulties and feel abandoned and alone, in spite of all the times I preach about God being in the midst of the storms of our lives.  Does that mean that I never am afraid of what happens i nlife?  Does that mean I don’t have faith?   I suspect that many people have heard those questions in that way.

     The readers of Mark would have understood what it was like to go through the storms of life.  They were living about 70 years after Jesus died and were experiencing tremendous persecution even to the point of being put to death if they declared that they were a follower of Jesus.  They would understand fear and questioning whether or not it was worth following someone who had died years earlier.  They might doubt whether this was really true.  The writer of Mark was trying to get across the point that the power of Jesus’ Spirit was never gone and was always with them.  In spite of the trials and tribulations, in spite of the dangers and worries, they had a strength and power in Christ that helped them to get through.  Obviously many believed that because we wouldn’t have a church today if it hadn’t been for those who endured such hardships and trials.

     What about us?  How do we respond when the storms of life surround us and rage around us?  I remember when I took a leave of absence and went to California with my best friend.  We thought we were going to the land of golden opportunities, and we were sure this was the right move for us.  Yet, when we arrived, we discovered that finding a job often depended on whom you knew and what kind of connections you had.  The cost of living was much higher, and we ended up selling my piano one month to pay the rent on the apartment we had, and then we sold her washer and dryer to pay the other month.  After that, we decided it was time to move back to New England where we had better connections and where we were known and loved.

     During that difficult summer, I felt lonely and abandoned by God.  I was angry that things didn’t turn out the way I thought they should, and I thought God had ignored my prayers.  In hindsight, I can see that the trip to California had many good and positive learning experiences.  For one thing, I discovered that New England was home.  More than that, I discovered that God must have chuckled at my plans when God already knew that there was a better place for me here in the state of Maine.  Eventually, I met and married a wonderful man, and I have had congregations who have been such a blessing. 

     Even though I’m sure there would have been congregations in California who would have been a blessing, the road to finding a way into the United Methodist system there would have been long and challenging.  I realize that much of the decision to move to California was an attempt to fulfill MY dream, a romantic notion that I had carried all my life, and a lack of listening to God’s guidance in my life.  Fortunately, I have grown from that experience and I think I handle the difficulties of life much better than I used to. 

     The best friend who went with me died four years after we returned from lung cancer, and tomorrow (June 21) would have been her 64th birthday.  Her death affected my life in powerful ways, but through that whole experience – through that storm of life – I felt the love and support of my congregation, my family and friends, and I felt the presence of God sustaining me.

     I still become afraid in the storms, but now I’m learning to turn to the peaceful center and trust that my Companion – the Spirit – is with me through it and will get me through to the other side.  That is when I feel the calming of the wind and waves and recognize my Savior standing in my boat.  Thanks be to God!

About Fathers

“Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”  Exodus 20:12

This is part of the ten commandments.  It’s not a suggestion but a commandment.  Today we see many instances of people not honoring their parents.  On the other hand, we also see many instances of parents not honoring their children.  Every day children are abused, placed as a “prize” between divorcing parents, treated as a possession, sold into slavery, beaten, discarded as trash, forced into sexual abuse, and a variety of other demeaning and devastating situations.  They have no voice and they have no power.  It is the responsibility – a God-given responsibility – of the parents to care for them.

So, how do we reconcile the command to honor our father and mother when they don’t do the same for us?  Our social workers try to find ways for the abused child to be placed in a different home, but the ultimate responsibility is with those who have become parents.  I have known a number of people who have experienced abuse at their parents’ hand, many of them took it from their fathers.

I had a best friend who experienced abandonment and rejection from every father figure in her life.  She could have chosen to be bitter and angry.  She could have chosen to reject God when she thought of God as a father, but her attitude was that God was the only “father” who hadn’t left her.  God was the only “father” who stuck with her, loved her unconditionally, and was the steady presence in her life.  What a great attitude!  What a great way to view her situation and to bring the positive into it by not blaming God for what had happened or transferring her anger and sadness toward her earthly “fathers” to God.

Many of us have someone who has been a father or father-figure in our lives.  Many of us have had someone who has set a good example for us, who has planted seeds of faith and helped us move forward in our faith journeys.  My own dad (and grandfathers) demonstrated Christian living to all of us in my family of origin.  His witness to me wasn’t so much in what he said but what he DID to live out his faith.  Oh sure, he was highly involved in the church to the point of ridiculous at times because he had meetings night after night at church.  But it was even more than that.  It is how he treated others:  with kindness and respect.  It is how he forgave those who had wronged him even when most of us would have held onto that hurt and pain.  It is how he raised us with a strong knowledge of right and wrong and with moral values that we all eventually returned to in adulthood.

Good fathers set a good example, admit when they are wrong, ask for forgiveness and forgive others.  They try to help where they can, and they support their children with love and encouragement to the best of their ability.  Although there are varying degrees of this, a good father will try to set a good example.

On this Father’s Day, I’m grateful for the man who has been given to me as my father, and I’m grateful for those men who have been like fathers to me throughout my life.  There have been some bad examples, but today I celebrate the good examples!  Thanks be to God for those fathers who have inspired us!

Jesus and Children

“Let the children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”  Mark 10:14

Jesus treated everyone with respect and honored who they were as human beings.  It didn’t matter if they were men, women, children, elderly, sick, temple leaders, disciples, or whatever.  In his culture, women, children, and other outcasts of society were ignored and considered property or useless.  When Jesus showed his love for them and acceptance of them, he went against the accepted social standard as well as the culture of his day.

This coming Sunday is children’s Sunday for many of us, and we will celebrate our Sunday schools, our graduates, and our teachers.  We will lift up our ministry to children in the manner of Jesus who blessed them and gave them worth.  In our society today, many children are treated with value and love, but there are still those who are abused, beaten, and seen as useless.  There are women who are seen as things to possess rather than as persons with something to offer, and there are elderly and sick folks who are ignored, abandoned, and considered a nusance.

As we celebrate our children, as we see the face of Christ on them, as we lift up our hope in them and our hope FOR them, may we also not bury our heads in the sand.  May we see others who need to have a blessing, who need to know they are loved, who need to find hope, and whom we don’t ignore or turn away because they don’t “fit.”  May we, like Jesus, stand firm in the face of public opinion to be willing to touch, help, and speak up for our disenfranchised population.  Amen.

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