Pentecost 12 B
August 12, 2018
Grace to you and peace from Jesus, the Bread of Life.

1 Kings 19:4-8
John 6:35, 41-51

Just What We Need
In John’s gospel, on the night when Jesus is betrayed, we are told that “during supper” Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and gave them a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you. Later, at the table, Jesus dipped some bread into a dish that was part of this meal, and he gave it to Judas, identifying him as the one who would betray him. But that’s all we hear in John’s gospel about the supper Jesus and his disciples shared on that last night when they were together.

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Pentecost 12 B / Proper 14 August 12, 2018

1 Kings 19:4-8 Pastor Susan Henry

John 6:35, 41-51 House of Prayer Lutheran Church

Hingham MA

Grace to you and peace from Jesus, the Bread of Life.

Just What We Need

In John’s gospel, on the night when Jesus is betrayed, we are told that “during supper” Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and gave them a new commandment:  Love one another as I have loved you.  Later, at the table, Jesus dipped some bread into a dish that was part of this meal, and he gave it to Judas, identifying him as the one who would betray him.  But that’s all we hear in John’s gospel about the supper Jesus and his disciples shared on that last night when they were together.

In John, there’s no “This my body.”  No “This is my blood.”  No familiar words about that last supper.  It seems more than a little odd, doesn’t it, that the writer of John leaves all that out, given our sacramental understanding of that supper?  Gathering, Word, Meal, Sending – that’s the pattern for our worship every week.  This meal matters!  In it, Jesus feeds us again and again and again.  We come hungry, and we are fed by Jesus who is himself the Bread of Life.

John may not include a last supper narrative like the other three gospels, but the writer of this gospel spends most of the 71 verses in chapter 6 unpacking the meaning of a meal story, a feeding story, a remarkable supper where Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave bread that satisfied the hunger of 5000 people.  This story is, in a way, John’s telling of what we call the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion. 

And in case we don’t meditate upon this mystery often enough, every three years in the summer, the lectionary gives us five Sundays of readings about the bread of life from John chapter 6.  Five in a row.  There, Jesus identifies himself as the bread of life, as the bread that has come down from heaven, as living bread.  Jesus himself is life-giving food for us, bread that satisfies our hunger for God. 

Perhaps in Jesus’ time – as well as in ours – people weren’t particularly adept at identifying their hunger for God.  The crowd knows their stomachs are growling, and they know from experience that a good meal will stop that rumbling within them.  Jesus gives them bread, and their hunger is satisfied.  They seek him out the next day looking for more because of course their hunger returns, and Jesus confronts, confuses, and confounds them with his claim to be “the bread that came down from heaven.”

What?  They know that “bread from heaven” is manna, the food God provided to sustain God’s people during forty years of wilderness wandering.  Bread from heaven is what quieted their ancestors’ rumbling stomachs.  Bread from heaven doesn’t walk, talk, take, bless, break, give.  How could someone be bread?  And how could Jesus – whose parents they know – have “come down from heaven”?  Now the rumbling becomes grumbling.

They think that what drew them to Jesus was that miraculous meal that filled their stomachs.  Jesus knows that what drew them to him is really God at work in them.  They had trouble knowing what they were really hungry for, confusing physical hunger with their deeper hunger for the fullness of life, for meaning, for belonging.

We’re susceptible to the same kind of confusion.  We recognize the rumblings in our stomachs as physical hunger that ordinary bread will satisfy, but we may not realize what other rumblings within us signify.  Do we recognize our hunger for acceptance, for hope, for forgiveness?  Do we realize we’re hungry for a sense of purpose, that we hunger to give or receive love?  If we can tell one hunger from another, we’re more likely to recognize what will satisfy our real hungers, our deepest desires, and our need for God. 

It takes some inner work to discern this sort of thing and, to be honest, many of us neglect that work.  The world is more than happy to surround us with unsatisfying fare to feed our hungers.  We scroll through carefully curated posts on social media that might create a little envy, and we find unsolicited suggestions from Amazon about what else we might like.  We’re bombarded by ads expressly meant to cultivate desire for things we can effortlessly have delivered to our doorstep in a cardboard box the very next day.  And we’re immersed in a culture that overvalues success and power, wealth and status, air-brushed beauty and the endless acquisition of things.  You know, “Wayfair, you’ve got just what I need.”                  

On this first anniversary of Charlottesville, I can’t help wondering what those who carried torches and chanted hateful slogans were really hungry for.  Their stomachs might not have been rumbling, but their collective grumbling and growling testified to an emptiness they sought to fill with something other than the bread of life.

I pray that God will draw people like them away from anger and hatred toward joy and love and the kind of life we have come to know as Jesus’ friends and followers.

Wayfair doesn’t have what they need, but Jesus does.

          Wayfair doesn’t have what we need, either, but Jesus does – and we trust that God has been drawing us closer to Jesus, hauling us in like fish in a net, bringing us together so that we may receive Jesus, the bread of life, and then become bread for others.

Amen

Pentecost 8
July 15, 2018
Creation/Forest

For maybe twenty-five years, I’ve mulled over a theological question that makes me feel a little foolish. I never raised it in a seminary class or talked about it with a professor, and when I’ve tentatively mentioned it to a colleague or two, they’ve looked at me like, “What???” But this question keeps coming up for me, and that kind of insistence in my life is sometimes God’s way of nudging me to stick with something that matters. So, even though you’ll probably laugh or give me the “What?” look, I’m going to share my theological question with you: “Who is Jesus for chipmunks?”

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Creation/Forest July 15, 2018

Psalm 148:1a,3-4,7-13 Pastor Susan Henry

Isaiah 5:8, 24:4-5 House of Prayer Lutheran Church

John 3:16-17

Grace to you and peace from God who creates, redeems, and sustains all life.

Who Is Jesus for Chipmunks?

For maybe twenty-five years, I’ve mulled over a theological question that makes me feel a little foolish.  I never raised it in a seminary class or talked about it with a professor, and when I’ve tentatively mentioned it to a colleague or two, they’ve looked at me like, “What???”  But this question keeps coming up for me, and that kind of insistence in my life is sometimes God’s way of nudging me to stick with something that matters.  So, even though you’ll probably laugh or give me the “What?” look, I’m going to share my theological question with you:  “Who is Jesus for chipmunks?”

Stated more broadly, I guess this is a question about Jesus’ relationship with life other than human life – with chipmunks and vultures, worms and whales, Easter lilies and Queen Ann’s lace, cornfields and baobab trees.  Who is Jesus for the rest of God’s created world?  Does other-than-human life need Jesus, just as we do?

Martin Luther taught that “God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”1  Luther must have thought that something important about being saved, about being made whole, is written right on creation itself.  And Luther perceived God as “entirely and personally present in the wilderness, in the garden, in the field.”2  Imagine that!  In suggesting that the gospel is not only proclaimed in Jesus but also revealed somehow in creation itself, maybe Luther too had been wondering about who Jesus is for chipmunks.

I don’t have a definitive theological conviction about this chipmunk thing yet, but over the past couple years I’ve felt something shifting in me that makes me way more attentive to all of life, not just human life, and to God’s relationship with life itself on the planet we all call home.  Where I’ve been, who I’ve met – especially Phoebe, and what I’ve read has given me new and helpful vocabulary about “the web of life” and about “other-than-human life” and about how everything belongs, everything is connected, every kind of life matters.

Throughout my ministry, I’ve talked about the Bible as the long story of God’s loving way with God’s people, and although that’s true, it doesn’t seem quite sufficient anymore.  I see how I’ve skipped over the part of the Flood story where the rainbow is a sign of the covenant God makes not only with humankind, but also with all the creatures of the earth.3  God saves life.  People matter, but we’re not all that matters to God.

When I was on sabbatical a couple years ago, I invited you all to “notice and note” the created world around you with the hope that you (and I) would really see more, would care more about what we noticed, and would be moved to care for God’s creation more faithfully and intentionally.  While you were here noticing the world around you, I was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan noticing and noting the national forest in which I could drive at least ten miles in every direction and maybe only cross one road.  It was amazing, dense, dark, humbling.  I was fascinated by all the life around me at Carrie’s cabin – the jackpines with cones that only open under intense heat so that new life can begin after a forest fire, the trees with straight rows of woodpecker holes in them – like corncobs, the eagles that dove for fish in the lake in front of the cabin and took their catch home to the eaglets in their massive nests.  I saw more, I learned more, I cared more.  I felt more connected to creation and to all life.

For days, I tried to identify some other huge birds that I knew weren’t eagles and didn’t seem like osprey or hawks, either.  Finally, I saw one – then another, and then a third -- land in a couple dead trees fairly nearby.  I grabbed the binoculars, zeroed in on those birds, and discovered that they were huge, ugly, disgusting, bare-headed, hunched-over vultures.  Ha!  I laughed out loud because I was expecting beauty and grandeur but I got these less-than-lovely scavengers who nevertheless are a really important part of the web of life.  We need those vultures!

In the UP, I saw the startling, bare, ruined earth where land was being clear-cut for the sake of more and more new construction, for joining house to house to house, despite its cost to the life of the forest community.  I learned a little about woodlot management where mules or horses are used to haul out what is selectively cut, instead of using massive machinery that makes it necessary to cut more in order to sell more in order to pay back the massive loans on that incredibly expensive logging equipment.  It’s a pretty vicious cycle and a pretty grim story.

Right alongside all this, I was reading Earth-Honoring Faith,4  Lutheran ethicist Larry Rasmussen’s urgent call to sing faith’s song in a new key – an unfamiliar key that no longer treats the earth only as something to be used, even exploited, by humankind, but in ways that foster the well-being of all creation, ways that “sing to the Lord a new song.”  Spirituality and ecology become allies in this transformation, for the sake of the world God created and loves.

Back in 1971, Dr. Seuss wrote The Lorax, and it’s still a call for voices that will speak for the trees and for people who will act for the sake of nature’s well-being.  In a way, it’s even a call to what Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann names as “a new ecological perspective in which the earth and all of the creatures of the Earth are treated like covenant partners who are entitled to dignity and viability.  Every acre,” he says, “every squirrel, every radish, every whale, every cornstalk is entitled to viability and respect.”5

The Lorax calls us to speak for the trees and act for the sake of creation, but scripture, creation itself, theologians, and ethicists call us to do so because we are people of faith, because we know Jesus, because we love the world that God loves.  “God so loved the world – the cosmos, the planet, the people, the trees, the oceans, the creatures, even the chipmunks – that God came and lived among us on this beautiful blue marble that is life’s home.  And not just for our lives, but for all the life we know.

When our fallenness, our sin, our very human unwillingness to let God be God in our lives compromises other life and maybe the life of the planet, God’s saving work in Jesus matters, and our faithful response to God’s grace matters, too.  Never before has human life had so large an effect on our planet, and that just might call for an enlarged understanding of what it means to live faithfully.  Our assumption that human life matters most to God might be challenged by the gospel written in trees and flowers and clouds and stars; in beauty, wonder, well-being, fullness of life, and harmonious relationship with God and all creation; in life together that’s more like life in the kingdom Jesus came preaching.

It may be quite a shift for you to take that “new ecological perspective” Brueggemann describes “in which the earth and all of the creatures of the Earth are treated like covenant partners who are entitled to dignity and viability.”  I’m still in the midst of that shift myself.  You might wonder about, be drawn to, challenge, or even resist such a new perspective, but perhaps we can’t sing in a new and unfamiliar key without a new perspective.  It won’t be easy, but it might be necessary for us as people of faith.  If Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly, such abundance surely includes respect for the life of, as Brueggeman puts it, “every acre, every squirrel, every radish, every whale, every cornstalk.”

Every chipmunk, too.

Amen          

  Notes:
  1. Attributed to Luther, cited in Awakening to God’s Call to Earthkeeping, elca.org

  2. LW 37:61, ibid.

  3. Genesis 9:9

  4. Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key, Larry L. Rasmussen, Oxford University Press, 2013

  5. Walter Brueggemann, “Jesus Acted Out the Alternative to Empire,” posted June 22, 2018, sojo.net

Pentecost 7
July 8, 2018
On a Mission

My old friend Mr. Yahweh loves people, loves to do things with and for them, and loves their joy in what he creates – things like the kite he flew last summer out on the Common. He has a little workshop in his basement, and it’s always cluttered with projects that are works in progress. An invention here, a gadget there, some little artistic endeavor taking shape. Something unexpected, something to make life easier, or something to just make you smile.

On the shelves over his workbench are baby food jars full of nuts and bolts, screws and tacks and nails. In a box or a drawer, you can find electrician’s tape, masking tape, duct tape, strapping tape, florists’ tape, double-sided tape, adhesive tape, packing tape – you name it, he’s got it. And he’s got just as many varieties of glue. He can mend anything, and he knows how to bind together what you never thought could be made whole again.

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Pentecost 7 B / Proper 9 July 8, 2018

Ezekiel 2:1-5 Pastor Susan Henry

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 House of Prayer Lutheran Church

Mark 6:1-13 Hingham MA

Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

On a Mission

Rodney Smith Jr. is a man with a mission.  He’s a young black guy from Huntsville, Alabama, who has decided to mow lawns in all fifty states.  For free.  And not just any lawns, but the lawns of “the elderly, people who are disabled, veterans, and single mothers.”  He’s inviting kids to join him and do the same thing in their own communities.  He says, “I’m just trying to encourage kids to get out there and make a difference.  Too many kids are inside playing video games.”

Although Smith’s 50-state lawn-mowing project has garnered some media coverage and a lot of followers on Facebook, it’s not really about him.  He says, “[W]hat I’m doing, I believe it’s my purpose.  I remember a few years ago, I had a one-on-one conversation with God, and I asked him to use me as his vessel.  He didn’t give me an answer that day, not a week later, not even a month later.  It happened a few years later in 2015, when I came across an elderly man outside mowing his lawn, and it looked like he was struggling, so I pulled over and I helped him out.  At the time I was getting my bachelor’s in computer science, so I thought I could mow 40 lawns by the end of winter.  But I mowed 40 lawns so quick that I upped my goal to 100, and a month and a half later I reached my 100th lawn, and that’s when I came up with the idea of raising my lawn care service.”

Rodney Smith has mowed lawns in 26 states so far, three or four lawns a day, but sometimes more.  His nonprofit recruits kids – boys and girls – to do in their communities what he’s doing in all 50 states.  Kids make a 50-lawn commitment by making a sign that says, “I accept the 50 Yard Challenge,” and then Smith sends them a Raising Men Lawn Care Service white t-shirt, along with safety goggles and ear protection.  Of about 180 kids so far taking part in this challenge, a dozen have reached their goal.  Every ten lawns got them a different color t-shirt with the same logo, and when they reached 50 lawns, Smith says, “we fly to them, we do lawns with them and we also give them brand new lawnmowers.”

Smith knows he’s also giving them the opportunity to see that they can have a positive impact in their community.  People are often shocked – and really grateful – that their lawns are being cut for free, and Smith says kids can see – and feel -- how what they do makes a difference.  Mowing lawns for free makes a small but significant difference.  Helping people who are elderly, disabled, veterans, and single mothers connects kids with people they might not otherwise come to know.  Helping others contributes to their becoming men and women who care for their neighbors and who know they can affect their communities in positive ways.  I’m pretty sure Rodney Smith sees mowing lawns for free and recruiting kids to do that, too, as the way he’s loving God and loving his neighbors in 26 states so far.  He has a God-given sense of purpose, and he’s a pretty amazing guy.  I wonder if the people who knew him as a kid would ever have thought he’d turn out to be a man on such a mission.

Our story from Mark’s gospel today is about people on a mission, too – Jesus himself and the disciples he will send out two by two.  The last couple weeks’ gospel readings have revealed Jesus as a powerful, charismatic rabbi whom people have experienced as doing amazing things – stilling a storm, casting out demonic forces, healing a debilitating illness, and even raising a girl from death.  No wonder he attracts a crowd wherever he goes!

In this week’s story, he has gone back to Nazareth, his hometown.  It’s a village where everybody knows everybody.  When he teaches in the synagogue on the sabbath, many of the people who hear him are astounded.  “Wow,” they say, “where did he get all this knowledge? And how can he be so wise and do so many powerful things?  This is pretty amazing.”

The Nazareth Daily News headline would surely have been “Local Boy Makes Good,” and maybe there would be a story about how “we knew him when . . . .”  Except before that story made it into print, people would also be saying, “Wait a minute.  Isn’t he the carpenter we always hire through Angie’s List?  His mother lives a couple streets over from the synagogue, and we know his brothers and sisters, too.  What makes him so special?  And who does he think he is?”  The writer of Mark says, “[T]hey took offense at him.”

It’s not really clear why they went from being astounded to being offended, though, is it?  Maybe some people had a hard time imagining that a kid that their kids had played with was now a rock star of sorts while their kids were living the grow up/get married/have kids kind of life that everybody in Nazareth lived.  Maybe others couldn’t make the mental leap from what they expected of Jesus to how they actually experienced him.  Maybe some people didn’t think a guy from Nazareth ought to be way across the lake helping out people who weren’t even Jewish like him – or them.  And maybe what he said in the synagogue was not what they wanted to hear.  The Nazareth Daily News headline was now more likely to be “Local Boy Challenges Hometown Residents and Traditions” or “Local Boy Doesn’t Leave Well Enough Alone.”

People were drawn to Jesus – and they resisted him.  Many were curious about him – and many rejected him.  Some were astounded by him – and they were reluctant to be changed by their encounter with him.  Taking offense at what he said and did might have been easier than owning their unwillingness to be transformed by whatever power had sent him on his mission, even if that was God’s power.

My guess is that we’re not immune to any of those hometown responses.  Jesus, we’re astounded by you.  Jesus, we can barely comprehend your wisdom and power.  Jesus, we’ve known you since you were a sweet baby in a manger.  Jesus, we really admire you.  Okay, Jesus, we want to follow you – but not too far out of our comfort zone.  And definitely not wherever you lead or whatever you ask.  How about if we just squeeze “loving God and loving our neighbors” into the busy, comfortable, familiar patterns of our lives?  Not what you have in mind for us?  Maybe, Jesus, you’re expecting way too much.  Who do you think you are?

Now, if that leaves some of us squirming, we might remember that, especially in the gospel of Mark, the disciples themselves aren’t known for their understanding of Jesus’ mission or for being stand-up guys in the crunch.  And yet, that’s who Jesus sends out two by two.  They may not totally get it, but they’re traveling with Jesus and they’re apparently willing to be used by Jesus.  When the hometown folks sapped Jesus’ power, except for his healing of a few people, he wasn’t deterred in his mission (although he was amazed by their lack of faith in him).  He went out and about, teaching in the nearby villages, and he entrusted a share of his own ministry to those less-than-stellar followers we know as his disciples.  Ready or not, there they went.  Jesus gave them authority, and they too called people to repentance and rid many people of their demons and healed many of those who were sick.  They went two by two where Jesus himself went – to those on the margins of society and to those most in need of hope and of God’s help.  We don’t know if they went to any of their hometowns or what reception they got, but when they came back, they told Jesus about all that they had done and taught.  They were willing to be God’s vessels, willing to go where Jesus sent them.  Flawed and often clueless though they were, God still used them.  They were no doubt way out of their comfort zones, but they had each other for support and encouragement and to ward off fear.  And they had Jesus who had commissioned them, drawing them in as co-workers for the sake of God’s own mission of healing, saving, loving, and making whole what is broken.

The disciples must have constantly been challenged to get past their comfortable, familiar assumptions about how the world worked and about how and where God’s presence and power might be at work in the world.  Jesus’ presence challenged the people of Nazareth, too, but they apparently preferred things as they were to how they could be.  After all, nobody there had expected God to show up in a boy they’d known all his life as Mary’s kid.  The disciples hadn’t expected it either, but there they were, following him and catching sight of God’s presence and power in Jesus and through Jesus and through them when he commissioned them.  They would meet resistance, too.  Challenging assumptions about family life or village life or church life or economic life or ecological life is almost guaranteed to meet resistance, especially if it’s clear that examining assumptions might reveal what people – we -- don’t wish to see.  Seeing in a new way might call for changes people -- we --don’t wish to make, especially if they rock too many boats in our lives or our culture. 

No wonder Jesus’ hometown found his presence in their midst both astounding and offensive.  Sometimes the disciples did, too.  And, truth be told, sometimes we do, as well.  Prophetic voices can be hard to listen to, but individuals and churches that are willing to become vessels for the sake of God’s purposes discover joy and blessing when resistance is acknowledged, wisdom is sought, courage is gathered, and we go where the Spirit leads.

For all that, we have the example of Jesus, of those first disciples, of our many mothers and fathers in the faith, and of ordinary, amazing people of faith like Rodney Smith Jr.  He asked God to use him as God’s vessel, and he found God’s answer to that desire in mowing lawns for free for those who need it and in enlisting kids in the work of loving their neighbors and making a difference in the world God loves.

Let us pray that, individually and as a congregation, we too may be God’s vessels and that we may listen for, recognize, and not resist God’s answers to this, our prayer.

Amen 

     

1. wbur.org/hereandnow/2018/07/05/mow-lawns-50-states

2. Ibid. 3. wbur.org/hereandnow/2018/07/05/mow-lawns-50-states 4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Mark 6:39

Pentecost 6
July 1, 2018

Compassion and Power

In last week’s gospel, Jesus and the disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, crossing from Jewish territory into Gentile territory. When a sudden fierce storm terrified his disciples, Jesus rebuked the wind and calmed the waves. They were stunned by Jesus’ power over even the forces of nature, and they asked each other, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” After arriving safely on the other side, there, in the country of the Gerasenes, Jesus had cast out demonic forces from a non-Jewish man, giving him back his life. In today’s gospel, Jesus has come back again “to the other side,” to Jewish territory.

Jesus comes and goes, crosses borders and boundaries, and saves people who are often desperate. The disciples had been sure they were going to perish in the storm. The Gerasene man had wandered desperately among the tombs alone, howling and harming himself. In today’s gospel, Jairus is also desperate, as is a woman who has been suffering for many years. Jesus responds to all of these desperate, vulnerable people with compassion. Clearly, it is not only the death of Jesus that saves people, but also his life.

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Pentecost 6 B Proper 8 July 1, 2018

Lamentations 3:22-33 Pastor Susan Henry

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 House of Prayer Lutheran Church

Mark 5:21-43 Hingham MA

Grace to you and peace from our compassionate Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Compassion and Power

In last week’s gospel, Jesus and the disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, crossing from Jewish territory into Gentile territory.  When a sudden fierce storm terrified his disciples, Jesus rebuked the wind and calmed the waves.  They were stunned by Jesus’ power over even the forces of nature, and they asked each other, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  After arriving safely on the other side, there, in the country of the Gerasenes, Jesus had cast out demonic forces from a non-Jewish man, giving him back his life.  In today’s gospel, Jesus has come back again “to the other side,” to Jewish territory.

Jesus comes and goes, crosses borders and boundaries, and saves people who are often desperate.  The disciples had been sure they were going to perish in the storm.  The Gerasene man had wandered desperately among the tombs alone, howling and harming himself.  In today’s gospel, Jairus is also desperate, as is a woman who has been suffering for many years.  Jesus responds to all of these desperate, vulnerable people with compassion.  Clearly, it is not only the death of Jesus that saves people, but also his life.  The disciples don’t perish in the storm.  The Gerasene man is found “clothed and in his right mind.”  The father’s child is not separated from him by death.  The unnamed women is both healed of her disease and made well.  All are saved.  All are made whole.  All belong.  All experience the saving power of Jesus in the lives they are now free to live in community with others.

We most often speak of the saving power of Jesus as though it only has to do with our going to heaven when we die, but the saving power of Jesus is at work in us as we live, too!  Baptism marks our entrance into new life here and now, not just someday in the future.  We are saved.  We are being made whole.  We belong.  We are set free to respond with the compassion we ourselves have received from God.  What might that look like?

Maybe it looks like walking alongside people like Jairus, like the woman who sought healing, and like the child who needed an advocate to seek help on her behalf.  Had we been in the crowd who gathered around Jesus that day, we’d have seen someone with power and prestige approach him in a remarkably vulnerable way, falling at Jesus’ feet and begging him – begging him – for help for his daughter.  “Come and lay your hands on her.  Come and save her.”

In response to this father’s plea, what does Jesus do?  He doesn’t ask what’s wrong with her or see if he can fit this into his busy day or roll his eyes because now one more person wants something from him.  Jesus just goes with Jairus to his home and to his daughter.  Jesus has compassion for this father who is desperate, who loves his child, who does not want to be separated from her.  While they’re on their way, another desperate person interrupts their journey, and we’ll come back to her in a minute.  I do wonder, though, how Jairus felt about this intrusion that slowed everything down.  Did he think, “Come on, come on, Jesus”?  And then, when he was told that his daughter had died, did he resent Jesus’ compassion for someone else?  Did he lose hope -- or almost lose hope?

However he felt, he hears Jesus say, “Don’t be afraid.  Keep believing.”  Perhaps Jairus could do that, but we don’t know.  We do know that the mourners laughed at Jesus, but he seemed unconcerned with their response.  He took Peter, James and John along with the child’s father and mother, and he went to their daughter.  He touched her – “took her by the hand” – and said, “Little girl, get up!”  And she arose.  They were “overcome with amazement” and, no doubt, with joy and gratitude and relief.  This mother and father have their daughter back with them again.  What had threatened to separate these parents from their child has been overcome, thanks to Jesus’ compassion and his power.  He “strictly ordered them that no one should know this” – which I’m pretty sure nobody listened to – and then he gave her back into her parents’ care.  “Give her something to eat.  Feed this child!” he says.

In a way, Jesus has crossed to “the other side” in raising this child to new life.  By Jewish law, touching someone who had died made you ritually unclean.  Jesus seems unconcerned with that, because he not only touches the girl but takes her by the hand.  It wasn’t that the law doesn’t matter, but that giving life matters more.  Out of compassion, Jesus crosses borders and boundaries again and again for the sake of those who are vulnerable, those who are desperate, those who seek healing or wholeness or freedom or life itself.     

What interrupts Jesus on his way to Jairus’ home also  reveals Jesus’ compassion and power.  In Jesus’ time, women did not seek out men in public, which is what the unnamed woman in our story does -- but she is desperate.  She has suffered from hemorrhages for years, spent much time and all her money on doctors and procedures and medicines that have made things worse for her, not better.  But she has “heard about Jesus,’ and she believes that, if she so much as touches the clothes that he is wearing, she will be healed.  Moving within the crowd that presses all around Jesus, she touches his cloak, and that’s all it takes for her to know in her body that she has been made well.

“Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him,” Jesus turns and wants to know who touched his clothes.  The disciples are dumbfounded by his question, given the crush of people around him.  The woman, despite her fear, comes to Jesus, falls down at his feet, and tells him “the whole truth.”  He affirms her faith in his power to make her well, says “be healed of your disease,” and tells her to go in peace.  Being well and being healed are not exactly the same thing, but together they make her life whole again.  And it’s no small thing to have been called “daughter” by Jesus, either.  That too is part of being made whole, being saved by Jesus.  Maybe she had only been known as “that woman with the hemorrhages”-- defined by her illness -- but she now knows herself to be a “daughter,” a part of the family of Jesus.  She belongs.  She has been made whole.  Again Jesus has crossed a border, crossed the cultural boundary that separated men from women in public and the religious boundary that said contact with her would make Jesus ritually unclean.  Compassion moves Jesus across borders and boundaries for the sake of people’s healing and the overcoming of their separation from family and community and life all around them.

Now, not by our own power, but trusting in the power of Jesus to work through us and beyond us, how might we accompany and act on behalf of people who are suffering in our time?  Who are the parents who, like Jairus, fear for the future of their children or are experiencing separation from them?  Who are the people who, like the woman in our gospel, are too often defined by their illnesses or isolated by their situations?  Who are the children who need not only compassion but also people’s commitment to use their power for the sake of those children’s well-being?

Fred Rogers, the Presbyterian pastor many of us know simply as Mr. Rogers, famously said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.”  As people of faith, we can be among the helpers.

As people of compassion, we can cross borders that would otherwise separate us from those who are literally crying for a compassionate response to their needs.  We can go to “the other side,” to unfamiliar territory.  As followers of Jesus, we can embody Jesus’ own compassion by advocating for those who are vulnerable and desperate.  We can support those who are working to bring comfort, to alleviate harm, and to insist on justice.  As believers in Jesus’ power. we can offer ourselves as channels through whom God may overcome separation and isolation and bring wholeness and healing.  In the long story of God’s way with God’s people, caring for and helping those who are the most vulnerable is a defining characteristic of faithful living.  As people of faith, let us be some of the helpers that those who find life scary can count on, so that their fear may in time become trust.

May Jesus’ compassion and his power be revealed in our response to those who are desperate for healing, wholeness, the overcoming of separation, and the abundant life Jesus desires for all.

Amen    

Pentecost 4 B
June 24, 2018
Awestruck

Years ago, I spent four summers working at Camp Calumet in the office down by the lake. Every now and then on a bright afternoon, storm clouds would begin to gather and the sky would darken -- and then keep getting darker and darker and darker. The wind would pick up, and we’d start to hear distant rumbles. If lightning flashed and thunder boomed, campers got sent scurrying back to their cabins. DGuy, the camp director, would ride around on his bike, and once he knew everybody was where they were supposed to be, he’d pull up a chair, sit right in the doorway, and watch as the wind whipped up waves and as sheets of rain moved across Lake Ossipee toward camp. As long as everybody was safe, the storm was a source of wonder with its rush of wind, its flashes of lightning, its roars of thunder, its relentless movement toward us, and then its sudden, drenching downpour.

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Pentecost 4 B Proper 7 June 24, 2018

Job 38:1-11 Pastor Susan Henry

2 Corinthians 6:1-13 House of Prayer Lutheran Church

Mark 4:35-41 Hingham MA

Grace to you and peace from the One who rebukes the wind and calms the sea,

our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Awestruck

Years ago, I spent four summers working at Camp Calumet in the office down by the lake.  Every now and then on a bright afternoon, storm clouds would begin to gather and the sky would darken -- and then keep getting darker and darker and darker.  The wind would pick up, and we’d start to hear distant rumbles.  If lightning flashed and thunder boomed, campers got sent scurrying back to their cabins.  DGuy, the camp director, would ride around on his bike, and once he knew everybody was where they were supposed to be, he’d pull up a chair, sit right in the doorway, and watch as the wind whipped up waves and as sheets of rain moved across Lake Ossipee toward camp.  As long as everybody was safe, the storm was a source of wonder with its rush of wind, its flashes of lightning, its roars of thunder, its relentless movement toward us, and then its sudden, drenching downpour.

We all found it pretty awesome.  That’s “awesome,” as in “amazing.”  And “awesome,” as in “slightly terrifying.”  Nobody had any control over those storms.  We could only watch them gather, come toward us, strike, blow through, and then disappear.  The sun would come out again and begin to dry up the gigantic puddles that storms like these always left.  Somebody would check to see if any limbs or trees came down or if the storm did any other damage.  Campers would emerge from their cabins and go back to whatever activities the storm had interrupted.  Camp life would go back to normal, and kids would have a good story to tell their parents and friends later.

I don’t know what your experience of watching or being caught in a storm has been, but the writer of Mark tells us about what happened to the disciples one evening when they were out in a boat with Jesus.  He has been teaching near the water, perhaps standing in that boat so the crowd can hear and so he won’t get crushed by those who’ve come seeking cures or wanting to be close to him.  Now it’s evening, and he says, “Let’s go over to the other side of the lake.” 

I’m guessing that the disciples were surprised at that, since “the other side of the lake” was Gentile territory.  Why would Jesus want to go there?  And why go at night rather than the next morning?  Whatever they might have thought of Jesus’ idea, Mark says, “they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.”  Simon, Andrew, James and John had left their nets to follow Jesus not that long ago, so they and the others are still getting to know who Jesus is.  But if he wants to go to the other side, they’ll take him.  They’ve fished at night, so being out on the water in the darkness isn’t new to them.  Storms on the lake aren’t new to them, either.  Winds funnel through a pass in the mountains west of this huge but fairly shallow body of water, and sudden storms are common.  They come and they go.

But on this night, “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.”  Well, that sounds pretty terrifying.  It’s one thing to watch a storm from the doorway when you’re on the shore and quite another to be caught in that storm when you’re in a boat out on the water.  Even the fishermen among the disciples must have found this storm particularly fierce because when they go to wake Jesus up, the disciples are consumed by fear and convinced that they’re going to die.  How Jesus has been sleeping through this so far is a mystery to me, but they wake him and they say, “Don’t you care that we’re going to drown?  Doesn’t it matter to you that we’re about to die?”

Apparently it does matter, because Jesus arose “and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace!  Be still!’”  At his word, the wind ceased and the sea calmed.  Now, imagine yourself in that boat for a minute.  Ask yourself, “Whoa -- what just happened here?”  Maybe you’ll feel something shift inside you like the disciples did.  But Jesus interrupts that from-one-fear-to-another moment with two hard questions:  “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”

Nobody answers those questions.  Nobody says, “Hey, we were sure the boat was going down and we were all going down with it.”  Nobody says, “We were afraid because there was good reason for fear.”  Nobody says, “No faith? Even though we left everything to follow you?  Ouch.”  Nobody says, “Why are you so mad at us?”

We don’t get to hear Jesus’ tone of voice, but his questions are pretty sobering.  Now and then, a scholar will suggest that Jesus was gently teasing the disciples about being toddlers as far as their faith goes, but that doesn’t ring true to me.  I think Jesus really wants to know why they panicked and assumed Jesus didn’t care whether they lived or died.  Really, they woke him up to accuse him, saying, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  Scholar and pastor David Lose thinks Jesus wants to know why they didn’t wake him up and say, “Teacher, we need your help.”1

Jesus, help us.  They were no doubt trying to manage on their own in the storm, bailing out the water that threatened to swamp the boat.  The more chaotic things felt, the more they wanted to be in control of what was happening.  Consumed by their fear, I wonder whether it just didn’t dawn on them to ask Jesus for help.

I wonder about that because it has happened to me – and maybe to you.  I get caught up in fear, and I try to fix whatever’s threatening to swamp my life.  The greater the storm, the more tempting it is to try to manage it by myself, to attempt to get the situation under my control.  Sometimes it takes a while for it to dawn on me that I could ask Jesus for help.  And, honestly, just remembering that starts to still the storm in me.  The mess I’m in might not disappear, but at least I know I’m not in the boat alone.  Asking Jesus for help often opens up new possibilities I hadn’t seen when I was just in a panic.  Sometimes the help I get is courage and strength to see me through that storm.  I’m pretty sure you’ve got stories to tell about the power and the presence of Jesus in the midst of the chaos and storms in your lives, too.  I’m also pretty sure we would stand in collective awe if we shared some of those stories with one another.

The disciples didn’t simply move from fear to faith as a result of Jesus’ rebuking the wind and calming the sea.  They found themselves awestruck by what had just happened.  In truth, they were terrified.  “Who then is this,” they asked each other, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  They’ve left their nets to follow Jesus, and they’ve heard him teach and seen him heal people and cast demonic forces out of them.  But it has raised the hair on the back of their necks to experience his power over even the forces of nature, over even the wind and the sea. 

Last week in worship, we considered our place in the great, vast, ongoing creative work of God that we call the universe, and we couldn’t help but be humbled by that.  The Creator “of all that is, seen and unseen,” cares so deeply about us that in order for us to flourish and not to perish, he chooses to be in the same boat we are.  When, as individuals or as a congregation, we’re heading into unfamiliar territory or when we feel threatened by storms that come up, let’s not allow fear to consume us.  Instead, let’s remember to ask Jesus for help.  And let’s remember that, despite the disciples’ fear that they would perish and their accusation that Jesus must not really care about them and their failure to ask him for help, he still rebuked the wind, calmed the sea, and revealed his power to save.

May the Holy Spirit deepen our faith and trust in Jesus, move us to ask him for help when we need it, and keep us in awe of his gracious, saving power.

Amen     

  

     

                       

Notes: 1 David Lose, “Faith and Fear,” posted June 17, 2012 at workingpreacher.org