Monday, February 16, 2009

Reflection on Mark 1:40-45

“They don’t come to visit anymore,” she said staring past me out the window. It was snowing lightly outside her home.

“Perhaps, it’s because of the weather. You know, it does get icy out. It gets so icy that they probably have a hard time walking up my drive,” she lied to me and to herself.

We both knew better. Her children had jobs that they made it to everyday. Her sidewalk could not possibly be the only one in the whole city that got ice on it.

“Maybe they are afraid of the ice…maybe,” I said back.

It has been this way since she got sick. At first when the cancer was discovered, her family came all the time. It was a daily routine of getting their mother out of bed and doing her hair and making her breakfast. But, as she started to get weaker and weaker, she started to see them less and less. We both knew the truth. They could not look at her caved in face daily. She was what the ancient’s called, “unclean.” She could not be touched anymore. So we sat and talked about the dangers of walking on ice.

That is how things go in the United States when illness arrives. In many African tribes, when death and disease starts to linger in the air, there are no veiled excuses for why people suddenly are left to suffer alone. The tribes are upfront. They cast the sick person out of the village to live alone much the same way that the sick and leprous were cast away from their families and communities in the times of Jesus. Illness is hard to be around after-all. Some illnesses transform our loved ones from the beautiful, peaceful people we knew to people who appear less than at peace. It is hard to watch someone be at war with their body; sometimes it is too hard. So, they are left alone.

“I was alone this holiday,” she said plainly. “It was icy that night also.”

“If you will, you have the power to make me clean,” was the request of the leper to Jesus. “If you will.” “If you will look past my disgusting skin and see me for who I am, you have the power to make me clean.” “If you will take the time to actually touch me, you will make me clean.” “If you will take the time to show me that I am someone worth loving, you will make me clean. And being clean I will be able to do the things that humans do like talk and fool around and dance and actually touch each other…if you will.”

I stretched forth my hand and grasped her delicate, fragile fingers as she stared out of the window.

“I will give your children a call…to see if they are all right,” I promised.

She looked at our hands, then in my eyes, and smiled a great smile. It was a simple act of touch. It was a simple act that I learned long ago in Sunday school from a powerful man.

Stretching out his hand, Jesus touched the man and said, “I will, be made clean.” And, in touching him, he was made clean. Ignoring a stern warning not to share what had happened, the man goes from Jesus dancing around town, sharing the wonderful news, touching people, enjoying the company of those around him.

I learned from a doctor, full of God’s grace and healing, that there is a difference between disease and illness. “Whether disease is healed is a conversation between us doctors and God,” she said with a slight Indian accent. But, as all doctors understand, ultimately healing disease is up to God alone.”

She shifted her eyes to look at a woman who was walking her mother down the hall. The mother was obviously in pain, but she and her daughter were smiling; laughing over a secret joke.

“Illness is different from disease. It is the condition of the soul. It causes a distance between the sick person, those they love and possibly also God. Most people who have a disease also have an illness. But, look at these two,” she said pointing at the mother and daughter. “That mother has a disease, but has no illness. The illness is cured for her,” she said smiling. “I’ve also known many people who have no disease, but are very ill.”

It was as if she had studied this story from Mark and had paid careful attention to her verbs. Maybe, she just had a good Sunday School teacher. Jesus taught me something important that day through her.

Disease is for God to heal either directly, or through the hands of skilled doctors, or not at all. What happens with disease is up to God. We cannot know if disease will be healed.

Illness is a little different. God chooses to heal illness quite regularly. Healing illness is very important to God. Healing illness is so important that Jesus has given all his disciples the ablility to heal it. Christ is able to perform the healing of illness through anyone reading this today; through the simple act of touch.

Two months after I touched her, I saw her. She was not trapped behind her windows staring at the ice and snow. She was at the wedding of a granddaughter and she was dancing. She was not dancing in the way you may think, but she was hand in hand in her wheelchair with her son, a grand smile on her face.

“God is good,” she told me later as we ate our cake. Staring at her son she repeated, “God is good.”

Almighty God, please choose to heal our every illness. Amen.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Reflection on Mark 1:29-39

My god is a great and wonderful god. My god has always been there for me. When I had no friends after moving in second grade, my god was there to keep me company and to show me a kid across the kickball field who also needed a friend. When I was sick for three weeks straight in fourth grade with a bad case of the stomach flu, my god was there to heal me. When I thought that I just could not make it through the pressure and the tests of High School, my god was there to cheer me on. My god has always been there, right beside me. My god follows me wherever I go, supporting me when I need and healing when I ask. My god is a great god and wonderful god.

My god also approves of chocolate. I bet you did not know that. My god says eat all you want. “Since I said you can eat it, it is calorie free,” my god says. My god is a great god.

My god also hates certain people. That little red sports car that crosses over the center line into my lane as he goes wildly around the blind curves on highway 220; yeah, not top on my god’s “good child” list. There is a reason he rides in a blazing red sports car; it is to remind him of his eternal destination. I pray that there is a state patrolman just down the road. I am certain that my god will listen. My god is a great god.

As you have probably already figured out, my god may be a great god, but my god is not Jesus. Oh, there are definitely similarities to Jesus, do not get me wrong. My god would have healed my mother-in-law also. And, healed from her illness, my mother-in-law would have also started waiting on my every need. “Hey mom, get me a pizza from the fridge, and a beer.” Good idea Simon Peter.

Do not get me wrong, I am not totally selfish. I would have allowed my god to heal all of those people who had gathered outside my door also. I am not cruel hearted. Just as long as my god would have followed along after me when I decided that I wanted to go somewhere. “Come on god…good god…good god!”

The problem with Jesus is that Jesus refuses to be, “my god.” Jesus refuses to be anybody's god. When hunted down by his disciples and asked to come back into town as requested by all of those healed people, Jesus answers, “Let us go into the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also.” My god would not have done that. My god would have done what I expected and come back into town with me. My god is not rebellious.

My god is not the same as Jesus.

I am not sure why this happens, but so easily God touches our lives with some sort of healing and we immediately try to grab onto God and try to keep God for ourselves. Jesus does not play along. Jesus does not belong to us, we belong to Jesus. Notice who does the action in our lives. Jesus claims us at his in our baptism. Jesus feeds us at his Holy Supper. Jesus moves on to the next town and we follow. Jesus does not belong to us, we belong to Jesus.

I think that one of the most miraculous, healing examples of this is a teacher I know. When his son, the beloved jokester of the family, was killed in an automobile accident, this teacher was left helpless and stranded. As a parent, you pour your heart, your pride, and your sense of purpose into your children. And, when in a minute when they are gone from this life, they take with them your heart, pride, and purpose.

“What do I do? Where do I go from here, this teacher could be heard sobbing in the hall of the church.”

If Jesus were this teacher’s god, he would have raised his son right out of that coffin. But, Jesus did not belong to this teacher. Rather, this teacher belonged to Jesus.

“Where do I go from here?” was the question. That question was a miracle in itself. It was not a demand on God. Instead, it was an invitation for Jesus to lead. And lead Jesus did. Jesus went into the next town to do some healing and this teacher followed. And in following Jesus, this teacher once again found his heart, his pride, and his purpose in life as he took a position in a graduate school to teach others how to deal with the pain of tragic loss. He was led into the next town, into the next part of his life, so that Jesus could do some healing there also.

Jesus also does not belong to you. Jesus is not your god. But you most certainly are God’s child. You belong to Jesus. Remember that as you follow Jesus into the next town; as you follow Jesus into the next part of your life.

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Reflection on Mark 1:21-28

I had a dream the other night. It was an amazing dream. I was sitting in a committee meeting and we were discussing once again an idea that we had been discussing for the last four years. I’m sure that doesn't occur in your meetings, but it does in mine. And the meeting within the dream went something like this:

“Yes I think we should hold a pastor’s retreat for the entire synod. What will the subject be?” Pastor A pondered.

“Well, three years ago, when you were last a member on this committee, didn’t you mention spiritual renewal as an idea for the retreat?” Pastor B yawned.

“That’s a good idea. Pastors get so tired of meetings all day. They need something refreshing. They need something to revive their ministry. They don’t need another meeting,” Pastor A yawned back.

“Will you please set up a subcommittee for next month to discuss it,” Pastor B moved.

“I guess that would be the best…”

And with that the door burst open with a large force of air, sending snow swirling around the room. Jesus stepped in, wearing his white robe and some snow boots with fake fur trim.
He looked at the pastors, who were amazingly still yawning. Somehow they were not amazed at Jesus entrance. It was as if they had spent so much time talking about the guy, that they were numb to his actual presence.

“Get up. Be refreshed. Go from here and be my people.” Jesus commanded.

Immediately, the room warmed and the yawning stopped. The pastors got up, got into Pastor A’s car, and drove to a friend’s house; a pastor whom they knew was struggling, hurt, tired, and needed some renewal himself. There was no need for a committee.

I woke up. The dream was amazing. Jesus did more than join the debate; he made it happen. His words had authority and they freed people to do something great and good.

When Jesus came to the synagogue and found the man plagued by an unclean spirit, he did more than alert the council that they better consider at their next meeting what to do about this guy who keeps disrupting worship service. He did not create a subcommittee to deal with the guy and ask him nicely to leave and not return. Instead, he spoke words that freed the man from the torment of voices speaking nonsense within.

The word of Jesus is powerful. It is more than frozen contemplation and debate. It is a word that is warm and alive. It heals the sick. It offers freedom to those who are stuck in life. It is a word that has the power to move.

Certainly, others seem to have similar words of power. The president can say one word and an entire army of people will shift from one continent to another. A jury can decide whether a man lives or dies and it happens according to the words they speak. A committee can decide whether or not to hire you. In my case as a pastor, a committee can decide whether or not you can become a pastor after eight years of post high school education. Just one word from one member of the committee, “No,” can send your eight years down the drain.

Some people’s words allow them to exert authority “over” other people. Their authority is intended to control others. Jesus' authority is quite different. Jesus’ authority is for the sake of others. Jesus’ words are for the good of those he encounters. He had no power to control armies and did not wish to control people’s careers. For example, when he spoke the words:

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the (high) council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire.

He is not trying to exert his power over us so that we will not murder. Instead, he is inviting us to free ourselves from the things that lead to the horrible end we call murder. His words seek to free us from continual anger. His words seek to free us from insults resulting from jealousy. He seeks to protect people from flippant remarks of the tongue such as “you’re stupid.” These words seem to exert no power at all but have the potential the send another person down a terrible path in life.

Jesus does not use his words to control. Jesus does use his power to free us from the trappings of our lives so that we can also, get up, walk out the door, and serve the Lord the way we were created to do. So, what are you doing? Be healed. Be freed. Get up, go in peace, and serve the Lord.

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.