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Saturday, September 5, 2015

Room for a Miracle?


Mark 7:24-37

24From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

 I haven’t always been a pastor. When I first told people that I felt called to ministry, the responses were varied. Some people just started to avoid me, others felt an invitation to a new friendship. Long-time friends who had worked many a late-night with me started apologizing for cussing in front of me. At my MBA reunion with all the talk of who was climbing the business ladder to success fastest, who had the right salaries, I could stop a conversation the fastest when I answered the question – 'What are you doing now?' with my answer - “I’ve gone back to graduate school to be a minister.” – silence, uncomfortable looks, time to refresh our drinks….

 Mark's gospel presents people as real. They aren’t sugar coated. Disciples make mistakes or just don’t get it when taught by Jesus. All people in Mark’s gospel are presented as they are. And, this includes Jesus. If we see Jesus as human among us, then to be truly like us, he wasn’t some superhuman with no mistakes and no growth. Here Jesus makes a mistake – how insulting to call a little girl a dog? The Greek words aren’t the same as girl and dog but use belittling terminology for little girl and little girl dog. Dogs would not have been beloved pets but mongrels that were in the way, scavengers, most often to be kicked out of the way at important gatherings.

 But then Jesus listens when the woman responds. Jesus grows and moves toward making space for people. How does Jesus respond to the outsider? A SyroPhoenician woman? Not only is she from a country that would have been shunned and avoided, she is also described as Greek. This would have meant she was not Jewish. And, of course, she is - a SHE which would have made her considered unimportant in that day and time.

 So much of the bible is tied to context of what was going on in that culture, but Mark makes it easier to tie to our own culture. If you look at examples in Mark, the family and disciples often don’t understand what Jesus is saying or teaching. It is time after time the downtrodden or outcast who catches on and gets it. The religious experts, rabbis, disciples and the family are not presented in the best of lights by Mark. They are not open to others. They don’t make space especially not space for those outside their immediate circles of what and who is acceptable.

 Take a look at our world today. What has dominated our news this week? The latest Donald Trump quote, football scores, VMA winners. Yet, my friend Kerrybett Dodson who flies internationally brought home a different story and newspaper for her family. I’d like to share her words with you:

 “This is the truth of what's happening, whether America knows or not. Yesterday, on the front page of nearly every European newspaper, was the most gut wrenching photograph I've ever seen. It's the body of a precious toddler, 3 years old, washed up on a beach in Turkey. His name was Aylan, and he was a refugee from Syria.”

Aylan’s story has now gone viral on the internet, but it was not news we wanted to see. Kerrybett took the UK paper home for her high school son to see. She said that they both cried but, they had to see it no matter how terrible and heartbreaking it was. Kerrybett describes this as a picture we have to see. She continues: “This is the world, and what is happening in it. It speaks volumes about the human race, politics, policies, and what we can live with. As a Christian, I look to verses like Philippians 2:4. "Don't look out only for your own interests, but take interest in others, too." We are to look out for our brothers, everyone we share this planet with. We must.”

 Since she wrote this, we have had more in our news about the tragedies impacting misplaced families, Syrian immigrants. Social media shrinks our world. In this case, it made it almost impossible to ignore. Yet, a brief scroll of our news yesterday tended to place the immigration crisis second or third in importance. News is reported by what gets attention, our responses. How do we respond? How do we not feel numb and helpless when faced with atrocities about which we feel unable to impact?

 Our Christian faith calls us to action. What are we called to in our world today? Look at the people directly in front of you. Start with them. Despite his first instinct being that the woman at his feet wasn’t in his circle, Jesus opens up and responds with a miracle. Jesus on hearing the words of the foreign outcast woman realizes that this is indeed what God is about. Such response is no less what we are called to – open up and listen to the outcast and ostracized around us.


Jesus was weary, he wanted to get away and relax. He probably was human just like you and me in the feeling of being overwhelmed. As Reverend Charlene Han Powell puts it, “Maybe Jesus was even grumpy and sarcastic at this point.” Yet Christianity is all about relationship. Our faith is strongest when it is exercised on behalf of others. In our lives and in this story today, the stranger and outsider has power over us. We can learn from them. They have perspectives that can challenge, enlighten, and move us in new and different ways.


We need to look around us – to our homes, schools, communities and even around the world. Who needs us? How do we use what is at hand to be the body of Christ in the world today? When we go about our daily routine and feel like there isn’t room to pack in any more, when we watch the fluff news or read the easy story, stop. Follow the example of Jesus who just wanted a break but couldn’t escape the crowds. Pause and realize that this is how we honor God in our midst – seeing Him in the eye of a stranger.
 
Start by making space for others in the simplest of ways and grow toward making space for those who are different in oh so many ways – rather than shutting down when we see the different, honor God by walking in the footsteps of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

 Respond with miracles. Praise God – worship God by making space for others. Do you have room for a miracle? Amen.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Season of Epiphanies

You never know where that inspiration is going to come from; you never know which random thought or action is going to send you off on a tangent for the whole day. Or, perhaps that tangent is meant to be the main path and (because we resist or don't even see it) we are nudged toward it. In this season of epiphany, surprise, revelation - discovery is the name of the game. Where do we learn astonishing things? The profound? Where do we see Jesus in our lives? Or as Karoline Lewis put it in her Epiphany Expectations article, maybe it isn't about us discovering God but about God discovering us. I think maybe that could be taken further to say God helping us discover ourselves first.

My friend Deirdre Wilson posted to Facebook this morning that the eskimos have 100 words for snow yet there is no word for missing a child. Not one. My heart aches but can come nowhere close to her pain of losing a daughter. There are no words. The Nigerians face slaughter of untold proportions, and we can't even imagine the horror of so many deaths. Yet our media is dominated by football and the horror is barely a byline. There are no words. We gasp at beheadings and terrorists and are quick to point the finger, yet reports recently tell of our own CIA tortures. We barely discuss it and quickly move on. There are no words.

We have mostly put away our Christmas decorations, and in this season, some are still hanging on working to have God being more fully in their lives this year. How do we live up to resolutions and try to be better? Are we doing this for God, or is it a fad? Are we truly looking for something deeper? If Jesus were to come along today and reach out to us to drop everything and follow Him, would we do it?

I think a sad look at our words tells us that we would not. Where are the words? Our actions speak, but our words have power. Look at the power of the French to stand up for freedom of those very words. Millions moved to protect that precious voice. But how are we using that voice in the world today?

So often we try to hide or shut down when words become too hard. God gently follows us no matter what. Jesus came to disciples through the locked doors in love. Muslem leaders lately have given voice that this terrorism is not Islam, not what their faith is meant to be, even suggesting that Mohammed would have reviled the murders of journalists more than he would the satire they had produced.

We are a confused and weak people. We can't put down our trivial to embrace and recognize our weakness. Give us courage to support one another and move this world to a place where no child dies before a parent, no community lives in fear of annihilation and words are support, not weapons.

What is God revealing to us in this season about ourselves? How do our hearts learn to speak? Maybe it's not about the profound but learning to put one foot in front of the other and living day-to-day. Reaching out a hand, being their with one another. Slowly, slowly allowing our hearts to create the words, to learn to speak our pain and vulnerability. To learn to speak in reaching out when that might hurt too. Oh God give us the words! Amen.

In memory of Nicole - whose smile embodied words straight from the heart.