Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Jesus Reaches out with Life

This Week, Kathleen Bergen, Summer student pastor at First Mennonite Church, is my guest blogger on the Lectionary Reflectionary! Thank you Kathleen for your thoughts on the Mark 5 stories.

Blog post on Mark 5:21-43

            The first thing that caught my attention while reading this story in Mark is the amount of apparent  desperation.  Jairus is desperate because his daughter is dying.  He must have felt helpless and scared and tired and vulnerable when he reaches Jesus.  And then, Jesus takes his time getting to Jairus’ daughter so by the time he does get there, she is already dead!  Jairus must have been completely heartbroken.  What if he had reached Jesus sooner?  What if he had hurried him along?
            And then there’s the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years.  She must have been desperate to see Jesus!  Because she had been bleeding, she would have been considered unclean and could not have participated in many Jewish religious acts.  She had seen doctors upon doctors, paid more money than she could afford and even still she was getting worse.  She was so desperate that she braved a packed crowd just to maybe get to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe.  I can’t even imagine the desperation that would come with isolation from your community as well as physical pain for more than a decade.   
            But.  Desperation is not where this story ends.  The next theme that I picked up is faith.  Amidst the deep pain and sorrow of these people, they show incredible faith.  They are hurting and vulnerable, but instead of shutting down or retreating into themselves, they turn to Jesus.  They make a last ditch effort to connect.  Jairus believes that all Jesus needs to do is lay his hands on Jairus’ daughter, and she will be healed and lived.  He even falls at the feet of Jesus because he is so sure that Jesus can do what he asks.  And the woman pushes through a crowd of people who were probably responsible for ostracizing her just so that she could touch Jesus’ robe.  She has so much faith in Jesus’ power to heal that she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 
            These desperate people in this desperate situations reach out to Jesus in faith.  And Jesus doesn’t just leave them hanging.  Jesus responds with healing.  Jesus makes these people well.  I have always found words and the use of words to be a fascinating study.  Sometimes the usage of words is interesting just for the sake of being interesting, but in this case, I think that a look into how words are used can help us see exactly what Jesus is doing when he says that these people have been “healed” or “made well.”  The Greek word that is translated “make well” in this passage is used throughout the New Testament.  However, in most cases, it is referring to more than physical wholeness.  In fact, it is usually translated as “saved.”  Jesus responds to acts of faith with not just healing, but with life. 
            This point is even more greatly shown by the resurrecting of Jairus’ daughter.  She is not only sick, but has indeed died.  But this does not stop Jesus from responding.  Jesus heals the dead girl, proving that he has power to bring life over death.  Power to save.  Here, Jesus is demonstrating that God’s reign will conquer death and bring shalom. 

            This text shows us that faith and saving are intertwined.  Jesus hears the cries of those who are afflicted, the cries of those who reach out in faith, and brings them life.  To me, this story seems like a call to remember to reach out for Jesus.  It can be difficult sometimes when we are facing afflictions to reach out for anything.   It can seem easier and less painful to remain within ourselves, pushing away all else.  And while that does not mean that Jesus will be forever void from those circumstances, it does make this interaction more difficult.  This text shows us that Jesus responds to those who reach out for him with life.   

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Screaming for God to Wake Up!

Readings for June 21. Job 38:1-11, Ps 107:1-3, 23-32, 2Cor. 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41

I write this blog to push myself to read scripture, and so that scripture has a chance to speak into my life, to "read" me. The Mark passage about Jesus stilling the storm is a perfect message for me right now, helping me deal with a few hard questions/stories I've heard from people and giving me something to offer to them.

The questions are about God's existence/nature. How can a loving God allow these things to happen? I heard variations on this coming from different points of view. One from someone watching a loved one suffer. One from someone who works in health care and sees apparently senseless suffering every day, and one from the point of view of despair at the state of the world. These aren't easy questions, they never go away.

"When God sleeps through the storm" is an excellent June 15 blog post by David R. Henson. It helps me to think about those hard questions of why things happen and where is God when they happen. Here is a bit of what Henson says;

"I don't really think the miracle in this story is about Jesus calming the storm and taking control. The miracle in this story is that Jesus was with the disciples in the water-logged and weather-beaten boat, experiencing the same terrible storm, the same terrible waves, the same terrible danger. And that alone should have been enough...God's power is revealed in coming alongside us, journeying with us, suffering with us, and even staying with us in the boat when the storms come...God's power is in simply getting in the boat with us, in the midst of terrible storms."

Personally, in the midst of the storms of struggle people have told me about, I understand them asking the ifs and whys and where of God. I'd be screaming for God to wake up too. Wouldn't a loving God fix it? If God cares, why is life so hard for people who don't deserve the struggle?

God isn't a "fix-it for us" deity, but a relational being, a companion in pain and a hope for eventual reconciliation. God is with us. Faith in God does not guarantee a struggle free life, but gives us a way to engage in the struggle rather than to hopelessly succumb to it. We are never alone.

But it's easy to preach from the shoreline, and quite another thing to be in the middle of the storm, trying to hold on to the boat. In the middle of crisis our natural tendency is to scream, panic, blame others, accuse... When the disciples wake him, they accuse Jesus of not caring. They should know better, but they are in crisis. When the crisis is past, that is when the clear thinking can begin. Jesus asks; "Have you still no faith?"

I wonder what they thought? I wonder how they rode out the next storm?

Another blog, this one by David Lose, asks the question: "Do you think the disciples were more frightened before the stilling of the storm or after?" At first they were afraid for their lives because of something concrete and understandable. They were scared because they thought God was absent or maybe non-existent. After, they are standing in the presence of the living God. Terrifying on a completely different scale.

What is it to be in the presence of God? I think sometimes it is in exactly those times we are out of control, where everything is wrong, that God is right there in the boat with us. What would happen if we were the ones to wake up to that awareness?

Here are the links to Henson and Lose's blog posts. Both good reads!



Thursday, 11 June 2015

Put seeds in the ground and toss some water!

Readings for June 14, 2015. Ezekiel 17:22-24, Psalm 92, 2 Cor. 5:6-17, Mark 4:26-34

My garden looks amazing right now. The green onions are huge, the tomatoes are flowering, the poppies waving their bright petals in the sun. One month ago there was nothing but dust and dandelions. 3 months ago the land was still covered in snow and ice. Now it is green, white, yellow, purple, and orange. My salad bowl sings! Sure, I put seeds in the ground and tossed water at them, but the mystery of this beautiful profusion is beyond me.

These scriptures are about the mystery of life and the celebration of the power of the Creator. The parable of the growing seed in Mark notes the mystery. The sower of seed has an important, but very limited, role. God makes things happen. This is a reminder of both the importance of our human efforts and the fact that the results are out of our hands.

Ezekiel is a powerful example of the mystery of growth. In verses 22-24, the community grows and thrives because God has planted it. The point of this, however, is lost unless you read the earlier parts of chapter 17. Here are two eagles, representing foreign emperors, with whom Israels kings are aligning. (Ezekiel is likely writing to try to change king Zedekiah's mind about his policy of aligning with Egypt.) Even though the shoots are planted in great, watered soil, they are destined for trouble and failure because they are relying on human power and not God. Verses 22-24 show the ideal, that humanity must rely on God because people fail.

This morning on CBC radio, there was talk about the firing of Evan Solomon, the host of "Power and Politics" and the "House". I am saddened by this, I liked listening to him and it's hard to hear that he may have used his connections to powerful people inappropriately. The talk this morning was about how power tends to corrupt even the best of people. The Edmonton Journal had an article that talked about the "host" culture at the CBC that protects the powerful when they misbehave or act contrary to good journalistic ethics. All of this is humbling, and should point us toward better lines of accountability for people in positions of power, fame, or authority. It should also warn each of us to consider where we place our trust. Even good people fail. We are not God and it's important to  remember that and constructively hold each other to account so we don't create situations where we protect misbehaviour and bend standards to fit what feels comfortable or expedient or makes money.

The words in 2 Corinthians 5:17 are encouraging. "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God , who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation..."

That ministry is a tall order. I wonder if humanity is up to it. I wonder if anyone I know is up to it. I wonder if I am up to it. Maybe the answer is that we are not. We are not up to it if we rely on our own limited and corruptible power. Maybe we are up to it when we rely on God and align ourselves with what God is doing. God grows amazing things. I don't have to completely understand how it works. Maybe I am capable, and it is enough, to toss a few seeds and water out there and see what God does.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Hilarious hide and seek

Passages for June 7. Gen. 3:8-15, Psalm 130, 2 Cor. 4:13-5:1, Mark 3:20-35

Playing hide and seek with toddlers is hilarious. They hide in the middle of the room, crouching and covering their eyes. "If I can't see you, you can't see me" is the operating thought system.

It's not so hilarious when adults do it, and we do, albeit in more sophisticated ways and with a side helping of denial.

Adam and Eve think they can hide from God, but like children, they have a false belief system. When asked why they are hiding, there are excuses and misdirection. When nakedness is not an excuse, Adam throws Eve under the bus-blaming her for his choices. While there is some truth in what he says, he is trying desperately to move the attention off of his own guilt. Eve does the same thing. She blames the snake, trying to distract from her own bad choices with a little bit of truth about something else. These little bits of truth distract from the main point, the root problem, which is the taking of personal responsibility.

Verse 14, "because you have done this..." is something I wonder about. I don't think the biggest issue is the eating of the forbidden fruit.  It is the lack of introspection and confession. Funny, you'd think people would eventually learn that no matter how much we complain, the only one we can really change is ourselves. (Ironically, that might also be the best way to change others around us too!)

I enjoyed reading Mark 3 in this context. "A house divided cannot stand." Again I think of children. When siblings are busy fighting and blaming each other, nothing gets resolved and the resentments build up. Sometimes these even stretch into adult relationships! And if we can't even handle our petty childish spats within a family, how can we ever do it as larger communities? What happens, when as adults, we get more sophisticated in how we fight, and less willing to let a parent, even God, step in? Jesus asks; "who are my mother and my brothers...whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." The key to healthy family here is each one taking personal responsibility to "do the will of God."

How would communities change if we all (or even a good percentage of us) dealt with ourselves, with root problems, instead of pointing at the "little truths" of others to distract from the things each of us is actually responsible for?

The other passages elaborate on the theme of needed forgiveness and responsibility. Psalm 130 gives up on the abilities of people, but acknowledges that forgiveness comes from God. 2 Corinthians asserts that the one who raised Jesus can raise us, which acknowledges where the power resides. "We do not lose heart" is a great encouragement. Ultimately, people are fallible. We all struggle with personal responsibility. We like to blame others. We need help. We need to hear the encouragement that God forgives us and our brothers and sisters. Our job is to listen to God.