Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Making a Pitch?



THE GOSPEL of Saint Mark contains our reading for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost. Within this text, we hear that the works of Jesus and his disciples were affected by faith positions within those persons who were receiving the gospel message. Thus rejection or acceptance of the good news of the kingdom of God varied according to the Holy Spirit’s prompting. We read…

He (Jesus) went away from there and came to his own country; and his disciples followed him. And on the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue; and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”
 And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.

And he went about among the villages teaching. And he called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.
 And he said to them, “Where you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. And if any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.”
 So they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them. 
                                                                                           (Mark 6:1-13)

Contempt and Rejection…
Our gospel writer related that out in the world, Jesus had already accomplished great works of mercy. In sequence within Mark, our Lord had demonstrated mastery over natural forces to calm both sea and the disciples, cured prolonged illnesses… and even cast away the power of death. However, within the realm of human interactions it seems that successful appropriation and understanding of those miraculous events, depended on the presence of faith within the persons who were healed or the ones they loved. Thus this lesson, told in Mark’s day, seemed quite anti-climactic as we read of events in his home town. The scene described shows that because Jesus had returned to his home village where he was raised… he could do little proclamation and healing there. Familiarity spawned rejection. He struck out and his ability to do wondrous deeds was thwarted because faith in his Messianic role was sparse. Very little miraculous ministry was manifested.
 We must note as side mark here that Mark described our Lord as the “son of Mary”, and not as the “son of Joseph”. Mark deliberately portrayed Jesus as the human man, born of Mary. Indeed, this scene endorsed his identity as the “Son of Man”, for we see proof of his earthly family heritage.
 I believe this heritage emphasis to be deliberately planned in the gospel writing. You see, in the time of taking pen to scroll, the text tended to cast away heretical thoughts. There had been speculation offered in the writer’s day, that Jesus was simply a god who came down from heaven just to bait people… only to go back up into the cloudy realms after the fishing was over. Contrary to that fantasy, Mark thus stated that Jesus was fully human!
 However, we also have noted that Mark did not mention the presence of Joseph. Historically, this may be attributed to the fact that Joseph had probably died.  Yet, consider this as well. For Mark’s community in 65 A.D., it was made clear that the omission of Joseph gave high emphasis on Jesus' divine Messianic claim. Thus from that writing, by the Spirit’s power, we who read begin to get the message. The writer indicated to the early church that Jesus, as the son of Man, was and still is to be known as the only begotten Son of God.

Overcoming Unbelief!
In response to the lack of persons accepting him at home, Mark revealed that Jesus went out proclaiming to other villages. He sent out his twelve disciples. Our Lord commissioned those followers to attempt mighty works in his name (see also Matthew 10:1, 9-11 and 14 and Luke 9:1-6).
 Sent by our Lord, the apostles went into surrounding towns. They were go in pairs without great preparation. By doing so, they were very much dependent on the Father’s ability to provide for their needs. The men were to preach, asking for sorrowful repentance, and then heal persons who were hurting. We remember here that this apostolic ministry mirrored what Jesus had previously accomplished on the other side of the Galilean sea. We also note from the other later gospel accounts that the mission of these disciples met with great success. They came back rejoicing!
 We thus may ask ourselves at this point, “What does this mean for those of us today who walk as yet in the path of the disciples?” In answer, I offer that we first must consider that many persons find this sort of mission as challenging. We find it difficult to open up our deepest faith expression to strangers. However, we who now are the sent ones... are also asked to step forward in faith to do the task. We who are sinful, shy and resistant are called to prayerfully work in the same way the early church empowered by the Spirit of God worked. We are similar to those early finite and sinful believers who were empowered by the Spirit. They went out in the face of persecution to both witness about God's love and demand repentance.

 Collectively we of the modern, yet ancient church must realize that we are also sent ones of God. Through such action on our part, though rejected by many… some persons be truly healed. Therefore know that we are called to join in mission with those who have gone before us. As they ministered at first to Israel, and then through the Word of God spoken and written to the Mediterranean world... we too are called to do the same today in our own time and place. As the Church formed by the Holy Spirit, we are to grasp no staff for protection from the beasts encountered on the road. Though high Church liturgical expressions have their place in worship, we need no grand articles of clothing aside from our baptismal cloak… to stand faithfully preaching in the public square.
 Indeed, we are called to proclaim the gospel clearly in the everyday, working and striving world. If in this modern age of cell phones and computer communities, our witness is rejected… we are instructed not to linger and argue. We are called to move on, continuously witnessing to those whom God places before us and join with them in having a receiving heart. This is the primary task of the Church. We inherit this gift from the very first sending of the apostles. So let us prayerfully get on with it.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Arise Woman and Child...



FOR THE Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, we hear a story of two healings, sequentially told from the Gospel According to Saint Mark. Constructed as a heavenly gospel sandwich offered, the  settings reveal the healing power of our Lord. We read…

And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him; and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and seeing him, he fell at his feet, and besought him, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” And he went with him.
 And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.” And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear.., only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. When they came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, he saw a tumult, and people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi”; which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.   (Mark 5:21-43)

Separate, but Together
Related to us from the earliest gospel comes this testimony concerning Jesus’ ability to heal. The richness of the written witness is profoundly provided in several ways. The first comes to us as the man named Jairus, a high official likely in the synagogue in Capernaum, approached our Lord. Added to the official’s witness were those in the crowd, who followed to see the importance of what would happen. They likely would also tell of the tumult caused and could relate concerning the occurrence for years afterward. Additional witness was provided by Peter, James and John. Each of them were disciples who could attest to the occasion. Lastly, the woman and the child who benefited from the miraculous events could speak out clearly concerning the healing power of Jesus Christ our Lord.
 We previously read in Mark’s gospel that Jesus had demonstrated his power over the natural order. Our Lord had calmed the robust and dangerous waves of the sea that threatened the early church. Here... continuing his witness, the writer of the gospel now gives a double-barrel shot over the unbelieving reader’s head. He supplied the witnesses needed to authenticate the text for the reader, lining up a myriad of persons. I suggest this as the theme, because this is the first gospel writer to identify the synagogue leader by name. We see in the later gospels, in Matthew 9:12-26 and Luke 8:40-56, only in Luke was his name mentioned. Was this name initially written Mark and later echoed by Luke so that the personal remembrance of him could be recovered by the reader? Was this because he was a man who was widely known, highly respected and a credible witness? I think that this is quite possible. Certainly more so, the crowd saw the woman was healed even though she was previously unnoticed. She was disregarded before that time, shunned as it were because of her malady. Also, though the crowd was asked to remain outside when the child was healed, I feel certain that they also told others of the occurrence afterward. Although the privileged few were instructed to stay quiet about the healing, outside of the residence the Word did get out! The people who had thought the child was dead, miraculously saw that she was alive after Jesus arrived. Surely, we see that God knows our penchant for gossip. The Word got out! Additionally a feature that leaps to us from the page as we read, is that Jesus refers to both the woman and the little girl as a father would address children. After the woman, who having been afflicted some twelve years with her illness, revealed that she was the one who touched him, he addressed her as “daughter”. This statement of paternalism cannot be ignored, especially since the woman had to be at least as old as our Lord, or older. Was Jesus being portrayed by the author then as being the same as her eternal “heavenly” Father? The Ancient of Days? We should consider this carefully.
 In the same way, our Lord’s command to "arise" was given to the young child. She was notably said to be twelve years of age (the same as the number of years the woman was afflicted). The number stands as commonality between the two, linking them in completeness of need. The woman was considered “untouchable”; whereas, the child was deemed incurable. Though called daughter by her earthly father, when the child was instructed to rise she was called by the term “little girl”. Is this a hint by the author provided by the power of the Holy Spirit, that was given to all readers? Is this a healing message being given both to elder synagogue communities... and the newly organized churches that sprang up miraculously from that historic group? We note to one our Lord said, "go in peace, and be healed"; whereas, to the other he said "arise".
 In asking these questions, I say that we dare look between the lines of gospel writing that blessed has Mark laid down. Guided by the Holy Spirit, we might see a marvelous message. I consider that Mark, ministered through this writing to both hurting synagogues and persecuted church communities. They were each gathered a dozen years or so after the gospel message first rolled forth upon them. Thus the people portrayed may have been receiving the good news of healing certainty, and the communities beheld a graceful message. Surely the severe trials upon them all seemed to go on forever. Synagogues, house churches and individuals easily were regarded as being hurting “daughters” and “children”, to healed by our heavenly Father.

Linked by Faith
 In this respect as well, any of our modern churches of today who have been “bleeding” membership for years... or those which lay helplessly feeling ill upon a bed... trapped by erroneous historical moorings... need to pay close attention to this lesson. If we recognize our part in the message, we may find that because of the eternal power of our Lord Jesus, by the love of the Father we too shall be healed.
 In like manner, we need remember that the miracle of God's grace shall not be done because of our religious traditions nor heritage, assumed by such as the synagogue leader who was asking for the healing of his daughter. Nor will it occur just because we have long awaited relief… like the woman who was ill for what may have seemed like an eternity. Instead, divine healing relief shall come to the church of Jesus Christ and its members because of the faith that was first given freely to us by God. Remember! It was indeed faith that was first given through the Spirit that caused Jairus even to seek Jesus. It was also faith manifested in hope that first provided impetus for the hemorrhagic woman to seek our Lord. 
 Note carefully the sequence of events for the healed woman. In faith she sought our Lord and tried successfully to approach him. When questioned about her touching the approachable Son of God, in faith she confessed and was healed. Is this not our accepted pattern yet for the remission of sins? And after the child’s healing, in sequence our Lord told the parents of the child to keep (secure or hold onto) the “messianic secret”. Then they were to feed the child. The parents were told to feed the healed young woman to demonstrate that she was made well. She was proven as cured in the same way that the staff of a modern hospital will not discharge a person until the patient eats. Eat first; then you go home! So too, we are not proven to be well and able to go ahead to our eternal home until we eat of the fare which God has given. We are told to receive the gift of bread and wine containing the body and blood of our Lord in, with and under the elements of the holy meal. Through this gift of forgiveness and the meal prepared from the beginning of time, we are to know for sure that we are certainly healed.
 This I consider to be the message of our gospel lesson. Through the gospel graciously written by blessed Mark, our Lord is thus revealed as God our healer… who came into our midst… and we are healed by his very presence. So it was, is, and always shall be.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

An Exercise of Authority



The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost brings us to hear from the Gospel According to Saint Mark once again. In this reading for the day, our Lord Jesus was and yet is revealed as exercising sovereignty over the natural elements of the world... and more. We read…

On that day, when evening had come, he (Jesus) said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”
 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?”
 And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
 And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)

Sleeping God?
The telling of this story brings us to consider Mark’s purposes in relating the miraculous events to his readers. In the 6th decade of the first century, the society surrounding the infant church had become even more turbulent. Christians were being assailed by Jewish and Roman authorities. Therefore the story Mark passed along to them rang out like a boatman tolling the night watch bell across the water. The message told the church when the way got rough, which was already occurring...all would yet be secure. They as the Church recognized the voice as from God, for the theme had been uttered to their forbears...  the people of Israel... in days of old. We read…

O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty as thou art,
O Lord, with thy faithfulness round about thee?
Thou dost rule the raging of the sea;
when its waves rise, thou stillest them.
Thou didst crush Rahab like a carcass,
thou didst scatter thy enemies with thy mighty arm.
The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine;
the world and all that is in it, thou hast founded them.
                                       (Psalm 89:8-11)

 Therefore by claiming the same authority for Jesus as demonstrated by this miracle story, the author of this gospel reminded the Church about the character of God. This was a part of an uplifting word picture that was painted artistically by Mark. The portrait was provided by word picture as the Holy Spirit nurtured the beleaguered early church. Historically, the community of Mark had recently suffered the loss of apostolic guidance with the death of Peter. Found as leaderless, they needed to be affirmed in the eternal power of Jesus, who is the Christ.
 You see, I consider that the Christians of this early era to whom Mark wrote, were considering themselves as caught in the middle of great turbulence. They were casting about, separated from the known shores of synagogues and culture. Second generation leaders felt not quite safe on the “other side” of the religious sea. Therefore, Mark’s stories of Jesus were cathartic. This miracle’s inclusion in the gospel subsequently refocused immediate apostolic guidance back upon the One who may have seemed distant in the chaos, the One who they felt had “fallen asleep” in the nave of the boat.
 At least thirty five years had passed since the occasion of the stilling of the storm miracle. While some modern scholars scoff and say that the event was not done in reality, but is only symbolic… I must protest. Stating first that this enduring and authentic story in written form likely caused the early church to hope, I offer that they would need such remembrance to endure the persistent days during persecutions. This was an authentic occurrence cited by Mark to address a very real threat.
 Follow the high points! In the story told we see that experienced fisherman manned the boats crossing the Galilean sea. like the experienced leaders in Mark’s audience. All of the apostles encountered rough waves and turmoil, yet Jesus slept soundly. The squall, as prophetically described by the psalmist, was hard upon them. They were being swamped. Jesus, portrayed as likely tired from previous days of praying and teaching, still slept. To me, this described the test of apostolic faith that was unfolding in the latter decades of the first century. More so, the scene describes our own lot.
 Finally observe that Jesus was awakened to action by cries of alarm. It was then, by the power of his Word spoken, that Jesus Christ… who from the beginning created all things… calmed the wind and the waves. 

The Questioning God…
 Jesus then marveled at their unbelief. He chastised them concerning their lack of faith. Thus from this telling we are presented with an echoing question. Elsewhere in Mark, our Lord had asked “Who do you say that I am?” The inquiry was posed not only to the disciples, but to Mark’s churches... and our own today. “Who then is this?” the disciples questioned among themselves, not yet knowing our Lord’s divine identity. In Mark’s communities, the Spirit thus made the connection. In this telling we consequently wash from their apostolic experience to the disciple’s remembrance in Mark’s day.
 You see, through this writing we are brought together with the early Church to hear of the saving acts of Jesus, the Christ. The persons for whom Mark wrote were reminded that Jesus was and yet is the only begotten Son of God.
 Although it may be considered as improper by some, further connections were made. This story reverberates across those stormy seas as the apostles questioned our Lord about his caring. The men rowing hard asked if God cared. The answer was “Yes indeed!”
 God cared enough to send prophets to tell of his sovereign power, and also enough to send Jesus into the world to proclaim the good news. The kingdom of God was at hand. All sinful peoples need to act upon is change our ways of thinking, and move the rudder. We need to turn from our unbelieving and grasp the faith that is freely given.
 “Where do we get this faith?” we might ask. “How and when was it given?” The answer bubbles repeatedly to us amid the froth of the evil world. The revelation comes before us as we watch what our Lord does to the wind and the waves. Natural elements that may bring seasickness, demonic terror, and death suddenly were calmed. We see instead those things which quench physical and spiritual thirst. They occur as two sacred powers, namely the Holy Spirit and the waters of baptism... come to us as conjoined in a combined force that would at first seem to overwhelm and drown us… smothering the very breath from our bodies. But instead, Holy Baptism brings us not death but eternal life. Abundant life is echoed from the first waves of the deep when God spoke and created all things, and when Moses led the people of Israel across the Jordan. Life is restored in spite of sin by the Father through his Son, Jesus Christ.
 This was assuredly the message given out in the turbulent and social times in which Mark’s gospel was written. Our blessed author, immersed in the Spirit, told his communities and we ourselves to remember. We are the baptized.
 You see, sisters and brothers in Christ, it is through baptism that we are given faith. As we gather together and hear this reading, our Lord yet asks where we have put this special gift. What have we done with our faith as we row stormy seas that would seem to drown the true Church in this modern world? I say to you that we as Christians need to recall that we are the baptized. It is we who are saved by Almighty God, through Christ, and no power upon earth can drown us out.
 As the church of Christ Jesus now given this gift poured out, we possess the stability provided to endure all sorts of troubled times. The Christian church endured the persecutions of the first century wherein  Mark wrote this text. Therefore, we shall also endure the present storms as well. By the power of the Holy Spirit, this certainly is the message of Mark. We need hear this.., and echo to one another and to all, “Where is your faith?”

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