More Than a Wish List

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark

 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. ( Mark 6:30-34)

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Philip Yancey wrote a book, Disappointment With God, where he says that he had been searching for  hard evidence of God  – like hard proof  – rather than just relying on faith. 

Philip Yancey wanted hard unequivocal proof.

Then one day, he says, he found it, “On television, of all places, ” he said, ” While randomly flipping a dial, I came across a mass healing service being conducted by Kathryn Kuhlman.

I watched for a few minutes as she brought various people up on the stage and interviewed them. Each one told an amazing story of supernatural healing. Cancer, heart conditions, paralysis—it was like a medical encyclopedia up there.

“ As I watched Kuhlman’s program, my doubts gradually melted away. At last I had found something real and tangible. Kuhlman asked a musician to sing her favorite song, “He Touched Me”.

That’s what I needed, I thought; a touch, a personal touch from God. Kathryn Kuhlman  held out that promise, and I lunged for it.

“Three weeks later when Kathryn Kuhlman came to a neighboring state, I skipped classes and traveled half a day to attend one of her meetings.

The atmosphere was unbelievably charged—soft organ music in the background; the murmuring sound of people praying aloud, some in strange tongues; and every few minutes a happy interruption when someone would stand up and claim, “I’m healed!”

“One person especially made an impression, a man from Milwaukee who had been carried into the meeting on a stretcher. When he walked—yes, walked—onstage, we all cheered wildly. He told us he was a physician, and I was even more impressed. He had incurable lung cancer, he said, and was told he had six months to live. But now, tonight, he believed God had healed him. He was walking for the first time in months.

He felt great. Praise God! “

Yancey says “I wrote down the man’s name and practically floated out of that meeting. I had never known such certainty of faith before. My search was over; I had seen proof of a living God in those people on the stage. If he could work tangible miracles in them, then surely he had something wonderful in store for me.

I wanted contact with the man of faith I had seen at the meeting, so much so, that exactly one week later I phoned Directory Assistance in Milwaukee and got the physician’s number.

When I dialed it, a woman answered the phone.

“May I please speak to Dr. S_____,” I said. 

Long silence.

 “Who are you?” she asked at last. 

I figured she was just screening calls from patients or something. I gave my name and told her I admired Dr. S_____ and had wanted to talk to him ever since the Kathryn Kuhlman meeting. I had been very moved by his story, I said.

“Another long silence.

“Then she spoke in a flat voice, pronouncing each word slowly. “My…husband…is…dead.” And she hung up.

“I can’t tell you how that devastated me. I was wasted. I half-staggered into the next room, where my sister was sitting.

“ What’s wrong?” she asked. “Are you all right?”

“No, I was not all right. But I couldn’t talk about it. I was crying. My mother and sister tried to pry some explanation out of me. But what could I tell them?

For me, the certainty I had staked my life on had died with that phone call. A flame had flared bright for one fine, shining week and then gone dark, like a dying star.” [1]

Philip Yancey’s new found faith was shattered.

And by definition, a new found faith is not a mature faith.

Some seed fell on shallow ground and sprang up, but there was not enough soil to maintain it.

The writer’s new faith, wasn’t a faith that had been tested and tried through the years. It wasn’t a faith grounded in the Bible, or in a personal experience with Christ. It wasn’t a faith that had been nurtured by a caring church family.

So what is a mature faith?

Two researchers, Peter Benson and Carolyn Eklin wanted to know just that – the characteristics of mature faith.

So in 1990, they surveyed hundreds of people in the Protestant church, finally distilling their findings into seven characteristics.

Here they are:

The first is that a mature faith trusts in God’s saving grace and believes firmly in the humanity and divinity of Jesus.

That is, believes that Jesus is the Son of God. God as man.

Secondly, a mature faith results in a sense of personal well-being, security, and peace. 

That would make sense, wouldn’t it?  Being convinced that everything is in God’s hands, and that he is an ever-loving and caring God, would lead to deep feelings of peace.

Thirdly, a mature faith integrates faith and life. And this is a hard one.

It’s a case of seeing work, family, social relationships, and political choices as part of the religious life.

It’s called living your faith.

The fourth characteristic sees the mature Christian seeking spiritual growth through study, reflection, prayer, discussion with others.

It’s constantly wanting to grow, to know more, to get closer to God.

Fifthly, a mature Christian wants to be part of a community of believers who give witness to their faith and support and nourish one another. 

This would give the lie to those who say they don’t need to attend church to have a strong faith.  

Second to last, a person of mature faith holds life-affirming values, including commitment to racial and gender equality, affirmation of cultural diversity, and a personal sense of responsibility for the welfare of others.

That would be following the second great commandment wouldn’t it – to love your neighbour as yourself?

Finally, a mature faith seeks to serve humanity, consistently and passionately, through acts of love and justice.  

That is, seeking to bring justice where there is none, food where there is none, freedom where there is none. Hope where there is none.

To summarise those seven points: a mature faith believes in the saving grace of God;     results in a feeling of well-being and peace; lives a life in faith;      seeks spiritual growth;      is an integral part of a community of believers;     holds life-affirming values;     seeks to serve humanity.

I think most of us here would agree with that description and would feel that we see ourselves hewing mostly to those, or most of those values.

And that we don’t need unequivocal proof – we know!

Right in here ( the heart) we know!.

You will notice that nowhere in that list which describes mature faith, does it say,’  has a belief in miracles.’

If Jesus were to recount what his mission here on earth was, he might say that he wanted to attest to God’s love of His children, and a wish to have them forgiven, and be close to their God again, and that to that end he gave his life.

I don’t think he would say, “To heal people of their physical and mental diseases.“  Even though that is some of what he did.

Those miracles were evidence of his divine power.   Not necessarily why he came.

He lived as we do, suffered as we do, had victories and failures as we do. 

It is thought that  Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, died as a relatively young man, and that Jesus came late into his ministry because he was working as a carpenter, supporting his mother and brothers and sisters.

So he would know what it was to face the daily crises that beset a family, He would know the grief of losing a loved one. On a more mundane level he would know about paying the bills; making ends meet – living the ordinary life.

He was God living among us in other words.

So faith might also be described as being so close to God that we are aware of his presence in all the mundane and all the tragic, and all the joy in our lives.

Mundane. Tragic. Joyful. Present.

Yes we can ask for healing – we do this every week for those we care for, and we want healing for those we love, and sometimes we see healing, and I can attest to that.

We can ask for protection and care for those we love, those in danger, and I can attest to that

We can ask for comfort for those who are bereaved. And I have seen evidence of that.

The disciples saw evidence of Jesus’ healing power.

They were endowed with that power themselves, to a lesser degree.

But that is not what drew them to Jesus.

It is not what brought them to face untold dangers, as they traveled far and wide, spreading the word .

No!.

It was a real faith in who Jesus was. And what he stood for.

You see, real faith is more than a wish list.

It’s more than cupboard love.

It’s sharing life fully with Him.

And sharing him fully with life.     Amen.


[1] Disappointment With God, Philip Yancey, Zondervan, pp. 38-40

Unselfish Love

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” What did Moses command you?” he replied. They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’[a] 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,[b] and the two will become one flesh.’[c] So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them laying his hand upon them .(Mark 10:2-16)

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Moses Mendelssohn, the grandfather of the well-known German composer, was far from being handsome. He was rather short, and he had a grotesque hunchback. ted a merchant in Hamburg who had a lovely daughter named Frumtje. Moses fell hopelessly in love with her. But Frumtje was repulsed by his misshapen appearance.

When it came time for him to leave, Moses gathered up his courage and climbed the stairs to her room, to take one last opportunity to speak with her. He was stunned at her beauty, but saddened by her refusal to look at him.  After several attempts at conversation, Moses shyly asked, “Do you believe marriages are made in heaven?”

”Yes,” she answered, “And do you?”

“Yes, I do, “ he replied. “You see, in heaven, at the birth of each boy, the Lord announces which girl he will marry. When I was born, my future bride was pointed out to me. Then the Lord said, ‘But she will be humpbacked,’

“Right then and there I cried out, ‘Oh Lord, a humpbacked woman would be a tragedy. Please Lord, give me the hump and let her be beautiful.’”

Then Frumtje looked up into his eyes, as if stirred by some deep memory. She reached out and gave Mendelssohn her hand, and later became his devoted wife.

I wanted to bring you a warm-hearted story today, a story of love, love that sees inside a person, past superficiality, the sort of love we all hope that we have or will find, in our life partner. 

Like Moses in that story, we all have flaws in our appearance, and we hope we will meet someone who will love us for who we are, rather than for our looks.

Sometimes, we meet someone in whom we can see no flaws. They are just as beautiful as can be.  But inevitably  there may be things about our partner that we don’t know, and there are things about us that our partner won’t know. Not horrible things, although that has happened, but mostly I am thinking of the way we are;  the things that we bring to the relationship from our family of origin, or from other relationships.

We may be damaged inside in ways that affect the way we relate,  Sometimes these differences, faulty ways of relating, can be so severe an impediment to our relationship that our love gets frittered away, and we end up with a damaged relationship. 

Sometimes, with the proper attention, counseling, willingness to listen, and willingness to work things out, the relationship can be saved.

Sometimes it can’t. In fact, the ratio of divorce to marriage is one to two. Half of marriages result in divorce.

I am a parent, as many of you are. We love our children. If one of my children were in a damaged and damaging relationship, and if the couple had taken all avenues in an effort to make it work, and if my child were living in a situation where she or he could never find happiness, and they decided to end their relationship, I would find it hard to judge them. 

I want my children to live in relationships that allow them to grow and develop, to find happiness, and true partnership, and to achieve wholeness. 

I believe that our Heavenly Father wants the same for us His children. And I don’t believe that He condemns us for our failures. 

But how do we reconcile that with the words that Jesus spoke, as recorded in Mark’s Gospel?

First we have to look at the context.  And the time.

Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce. “Is it right for a man to divorce his wife?” 

The question of marriage and divorce was a hot issue at the time.  Maybe the Pharisees wanted to test Jesus. Maybe they wanted to place him in opposition to Herod, who had just divorced his wife. Maybe they really wished to know his opinion.

The Jews had an ideal of marriage. They thought that God would forgive almost any sin, except the sin of unchastity.  It was held that a Jew would die rather than commit idolatry, murder or adultery. ‘The very altar sheds tears when a man divorces the wife of his youth,’ it was said.

This was the ideal, but in actual practice, things were very different.  

The whole crux of this issue was that a woman just wasn’t  a partner in a marriage  –   she was  a thing.     A woman had no legal rights whatsoever. Her life was at the complete disposal of the male heir in the family.

A man could divorce his wife on almost any grounds, while there was precious little a woman could cite to divorce her husband.

And then again, a woman could be divorced against her will. A man could not.  

Then there were also real problems because of  various interpretations of the law, drawn from Deuteronomy 24.1. which says that a man can divorce his wife if he finds her in some ‘indecency.’

Interpretations of this ranged from saying that a woman must have committed adultery, to merely spoiling food, spinning wool in the street, talking to a strange man, and so on. One school of thought even held that if a man found a woman he thought was fairer than his wife, he could divorce her.

The upshot was that men divorced their wives for the most trivial reasons.

In this context, Jesus was condemning the use of a woman as a chattel. He was condemning the complete lack of compassion and kindness. He was condemning those who looked upon marriage as a temporary state, and one which could be gotten out of easily – if  you were a man. He was condemning the lack of  regard for the welfare of a wife, and their children.

In answering his questioners, Jesus went beyond the law, as laid down in Deuteronomy – back to Genesis in fact – for his view that marriage was a permanent bond that could never be broken by man’s laws or regulations.

But did Jesus mean that if a woman were sold by her family into a marriage where she was treated like property, dreadfully unhappy, her very personhood denied, that she should remain in that kind of bondage?

We are all flawed human beings. We are going to make mistakes. In relationships, perhaps there, is a greater potential to make mistakes than anywhere else.

As married couples we owe it to each other to try and solve problems. We owe it to each other to be understanding, and forgiving, and patient, and kind, and encouraging. But sometimes we fail. And despair is often the result.

I don’t believe that God wishes us to live in perpetual despair. 

Jesus cared for people. He was concerned at the way people used others.   He was concerned for the weakest and most vulnerable in society, and that included women.

He broke the rules of society by talking to women. He broke the rules of society by talking to those who were ostracized by the Hebrews.  You will remember he disregarded both those rules when he spoke to the Samaritan woman by the well.

Today we read about his care and compassion for children, another vulnerable group in society. It was the custom for mothers to bring their children to great rabbis, to ask for a blessing on them. Some mothers had brought their children for Jesus to bless.

The disciples, concerned for Jesus, and perhaps knowing the stress he must be under, as he was making his way to Jerusalem and the cross, tried to shoo the children away.    But Jesus, even in this time of great anxiety, and knowing what lay ahead, didn’t want anyone turned away.

Those who came seeking him would be received, and fed.

He tells his disciples to allow the children to come to him.

And he blesses them.

And he made a difference in the lives of those children.

We can do that.

I want to leave you with a story of someone who regularly makes a difference in the lives of others. 

Lee Shapiro is a retired judge. He is a genuinely loving guy. At some point in his career, Lee realised that love is the greatest power there is. He became a hugger. He was known as the hugging judge.

He created what he calls his Hugger Kit. It has in it, little red embroidered hearts, with a sticky back.  He exchanges them for hugs. He hugs at the drop of a hat.  He is often invited to conferences as the keynote speaker where  he shares his message of unconditional love.

At one of these conferences, the local news media challenged him saying, ”It’s easy to give out hugs in a conference where people know  about you. What about out in the real world?”

He took up the challenge. The cameras followed him as he went onto the streets of San Francisco. He first approached a woman walking by. He said, “Hi, I’m Lee Shapiro, the hugging judge. I’m giving out these hearts in exchange for a hug.”  “Sure,” she said.

That was too easy, so the TV commentator directed him to a lady parking attendant who was being given a hard time by a BMW owner. “You look like you could use a hug,” he said, and she accepted.

The television commentator threw down a final challenge.” Here comes the bus. San Francisco’s bus drivers are the toughest, crabbiest, meanest people in the whole town. Let’s see you hug this driver.”

As the bus pulled up, Lee said to the driver, “Hi I’m Lee Shapiro, the hugging judge. You must have one of the most challenging jobs in the world. I’m offering hugs today to lighten the load a little. Would you like one? “

The six foot two, 230 pounds driver got out of his seat, stepped down, and said…..”Why not?”

One day Lee’s  friend Nancy Johnson showed up dressed as a clown. She said, “Lee grab a handful of your hugger kits and let’s go out to the home for the disabled.”

They got there, and handed out balloons, and hats, and hugs, and little red hearts to the patients. Lee was definitely uncomfortable. He had never before hugged people who were terminally ill, severely mentally challenged,  or quadriplegic. It was quite a stretch for him. But after a while it became easier.  Lee and Nancy acquired  quite an entourage of doctors and nurses as they made their way through the wards.

Then they came to the last ward. In here were thirty-four of the worst cases Lee had ever seen. The feeling was so grim it took his heart away.

But, he and Nancy were committed to share their love and make a difference. They worked their way around the room, followed by the medical staff, all of whom were wearing little red hearts, and hats, and carrying balloons. 

Finally Lee came to the last person, Leonard. Leonard was wearing a white bib onto which he drooled. Lee looked at Leonard’s dribbling and flinched. “Let’s go Nancy,” he said, “There’s no way I can get through to that person.”

Nancy replied, “Come on Lee. He’s a fellow human being too, isn’t he?” and she placed a balloon hat on Leonard’s head.

Lee took one of his little red hearts and placed it on Leonard’s bib. He took a deep breath, leaned down and gave Leonard a hug.

Leonard suddenly began to squeal  – EEEEEEgggghhh. Some of the other patients started to bang things together. Lee turned to the staff for some sort of explanation, as Leonard continued to squeal  – EEEEEggggghhh.

He asked the head nurse, “What’s going on?”
“This is the first time in 23 years we have ever seen Leonard smile.”

It doesn’t take much to make a difference in someone’s life, does it?

Jesus affirmed the value of children when he told his disciples to allow them to come to him. And he blessed them.

He affirmed the value of women when he condemned those who divorced them for selfish and trivial reasons, treating them as commodities, instead of  beloved children of God.

In his death on the cross, Jesus showed us total and unselfish love.  He didn’t judge any of us.  He just died for us.

Amen 

The stories of Moses Mendelssohn, and Lee Shapiro, are to be found in Chicken Soup for the Soul, written and compiled by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, published by Health Communications, Florida.1993

Let Him in

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark

Jesus came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done 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.

Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered 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 to put on two tunics.

He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.( Mk. 6:1-13)

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Some time ago, I read an article about the areas in Toronto where a number of underprivileged people live.    The writer said that one of the most difficult hurdles to get over when they tried to get young men and women to stay in school,  get an education, and better themselves was that there was resistance from other people. Their neighbours!

Their peers!

People who worked hard trying to get on, were identified by their neighbours and friends, as trying to be better than they were.

And some of them succumb to the pressure and fall back.

It was the same in Jesus’ times, as we see from this week’s Gospel. He has gone to his home town, Nazareth, with his disciples, as a rabbi might, and has been asked to teach in the synagogue. He teaches with authority. He is impressive in how he explains the Biblical text to the congregation, but they reject him.

“Isn’t this the carpenter who lived down the street?” some ask. Others ask, “Isn’t this the son of Mary?”  in a little reminder of the rumors of his illegitimacy.

The fact is that because he is just a working man, they despise him.

Who did he think he was, thinking he could teach them?

Pity.

Because they missed out on being healed, and missed out on something that could have changed their lives for the better.

We are told that He could do no mighty works in his home town because they had no faith in someone who came from the same background.

How many times have people missed out on some blessing, some wisdom, because the message came in such a humble wrapping? 

I remember a man coming to St. Luke’s, Burlington with a message about an organization that sent two massive shipping containers of food to the third world every single month.

He was small. You could hardly see him over the pulpit. He dressed in a nondescript way. When  he spoke, he mumbled and you had to strain to hear him.

He told of how the people they helped, had nothing. Some of them didn’t even have a plastic bag to carry home the food they were given.

An ordinary plastic bag.

He said that women would pull up the front of their skirt in which to carry food. And that one young woman was so poor, she had no bag, and her skirt was too short and raggedy to carry anything.

Someone rooted around until they found a bag for her.

He moved many of his listeners to ask how they could join in that effort.

But if you were to judge that man by his appearance, and his lack of eloquence,  you would might miss out on a wonderfully inspiring story.

People in that synagogue missed out on the good news that Jesus brought them. Some of them missed out on being healed.

Because the messenger was a neighbour, they had no confidence in him.

And you know, it’s a fact that  people can’t change, or be healed unless they want to be.

My dad’s brother, my uncle Dave, had a stroke.  The doctors said he could have lived, and with some therapy have lived quite well, but he didn’t respond to treatment . The doctors said that he didn’t exhibit any will to live. 

His daughter Glenis, pleading with him, said, “Dad, you can live. Live for me. I love you.” He said, “I want to go to your mum.” She had died a few years earlier. And he died.

When injured or deathly sick people do recover, when their survival  has been in doubt, it is said they must have had a strong will to live.  

It is said that without the  will to live, doctors can do nothing.

Similarly, and we have seen this so often in the Middle East, among other places, that peace can’t be found if there is no will for peace. If people are determined never to see the other party’s point of view, then no resolution is possible.

People of goodwill, intermediaries,  can do nothing.

We have to be more open to those who are willing to meet with us, and to at least go half way. To try and see the other’s point of view. Whoever they are.

Jesus realised that some people have  minds so set, that they may never be open to his message. 

In fact he anticipates this when he sends out his disciples on a sort of on-the-job training.

He says, “ If in any place they will not listen to you, when you leave there, shake off the dust from the soles of your feet to bear witness that they were guilty of such conduct.”

That admonition should be good news to any of us who think we may have let Jesus down because we never convinced someone to come to church with us.. 

But we aren’t expected to turn everyone we meet into Christians like us. We don’t have that responsibility.

As we see when Jesus sent out those men.  He did send them to take the message of the gospel. They were at the very least to try and get some message across. But it  wasn’t their responsibility to get the person to listen, or to react. Just give them the message. If they receive it then fine, If they don’t then move on.

 Dust off your feet.

I wish that the self-described  ‘missionary’ who came to my door one time had read that passage and remembered it. He asked me if I knew Jesus.

 When I politely tried to tell him that I did in fact know the Lord, he persisted in lecturing me, and telling me I didn’t know about salvation.

And when I told him I did, he told me I didn’t.

And when I asked him to leave, he stood his ground and kept going on until finally I threatened to kick him off the property.  He was still condemning me to Hell as he backed away,

You can’t force your beliefs  on others. You might be wrong!

That famous picture of Jesus knocking on the door – if you look at it closely, you will see that the door has no handle.  The door can only be opened from the inside.

We are asked, symbolically, to knock on someone’s door.  By making casual invitation to one of our dinners, or to a service, or to some other church event.

I have seen visitors come with regular parishioners for a time and then fall away. It may be that we did not engage them enough to help them bond with us, but those who brought them should be proud that they tried. The fact that their visitors didn’t stay, or become regular members is no reflection on them. 

Other people have been invited to church by regular members and have themselves become regular members.

Good for them!

But it is up to God, isn’t it?

It’s not our responsibility.

What is our responsibility is to see that our own hearts remain open to Jesus and the message of a loving God. Despite the forces arrayed against us Christians today.

If he knocks on our door, will He get in?

If he calls to us, will we listen?

There is a story that gives a lesson in listening: A golfer approached the first tee. It was a hazardous hole with a green surrounded by water.

Considering the difficulty, the golfer was considering, should he use his new ball, or an old one. Yeah, the hole was too treacherous, he thought so he pulled out an old ball and placed it on the tee. He didn’t want to lose a new ball by shooting into the water. 

But  then he heard a voice from above say loudly: “USE THE NEW BALL!”

Frightened, he replaced the old ball with the new one and approached the tee again.

Now the voice from above shouted: “TAKE A PRACTICE SWING!”

So the golfer stepped backward and took a practice swing.

Feeling more confident now, he approached the tee, but the voice again rang out: “USE THE OLD BALL!”

I am not suggesting that you try and get God to give you a better golf game. I am not suggesting that you use God to help you pass exams. Or to find you a parking space when you are in a hurry.

I am suggesting that when God speaks, you listen.

I am suggesting that you do try and determine what God wants you to do with your life.

I am suggesting that when you hear God knocking at the door of your heart you let him in.

And I am suggesting that when you get the chance, you introduce him to your friends.  Amen.

Open Up To Jesus

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark.

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “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.” So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.

She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.

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, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.

When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him.

Then 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. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.  ( Mark 5:21-43 )

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At the time when getting pregnant before being married was seen as such a sin, a young woman gave birth to a baby boy. She was in a maternity home for unmarried mothers and her boy was taken away from her and given to a couple who had said they wanted to adopt a boy.

Some years later, this young woman met a young man and they fell in love and were married. In due course, they had a baby, a son, and loved him and cherished him, but all the time, the young woman thought about the son she had taken from her.

Some time went by and her son became of an age where she felt that she could tell him about his older brother. He listened to the story intently, and resolved to try and find his brother.

Unknown to his mother he began to research hospital records, and records of adoption, in the institutions that had dealt with such matters, and after many years he had a clue as to where he might find his brother.

He arranged to meet this person who might be his brother.

He had been very successful in life, had a high position in business and drove to their rendezvous in his expensive car.

They had arranged to meet outside a well known restaurant, and when he arrived, he saw a man standing there.

This man was older looking. He also was not dressed very expensively. He wasn’t as well groomed as he might have been,

As was learned later, this man had suffered an injury at work and was unemployed.

Two men with vastly different circumstances, but the moment they came close to each other they knew – just looking at each other they knew.

They were brothers!

Two people with different histories, different upbringing but with something intangible, something inherent in them, that was the same.

We have a similar circumstance presented to us in today’s Gospel.

One person Jairus, is a rich man, He held a high position in the council of the temple.

He was accustomed to being deferred to. He was an important and powerful man. He wants his daughter to be made well.

The second person is a woman, perhaps in her forties, who has an incurable illness, a persistent bleeding.

She is penniless, having spent all her money on doctors.

She is considered to be unclean because of her condition.

Women who were menstruating were considered unclean, can you believe it?

Women who had given birth were considered unclean, can you believe it?

But these two people, as different as they were had something in common.

They weren’t related as the two brothers in our earlier story  were. 

But there was something common to them both.

As a man with a seat of power in the Council, a body of men  which was in opposition to Jesus; a body of men which saw Jesus as a disturber, as someone the ordinary people were drawn to, and who could be considered a danger to the established order.

Jairus would find it difficult to come to this man Jesus in front of all the people milling around him, and humble himself to ask for healing for his daughter.

This woman, unnamed, had a condition which, because of the culture  at the time, had resulted in her being ostracized, had been impoverished, and who had to find the courage to approach Jesus in front of so many people and ask for healing.

Even then, because of the nature of her illness, she couldn’t bring herself to tell him her problem, but merely touched the hem of his robe.

Two people who could hardly be more different, but with a similar need, and a similar reticence at coming forward.

Most of us of a certain age,  here have been brought up in the church.  We are comfortable there.

But think how hard it must be for someone who feels the need to come to Christ, to come in to a church and kneel in supplication, in prayer, and in humility and approach him.

And we don’t make it easy do we?

We start filling up seats from the back row, and leave the front rows empty.

Someone new has to walk down the aisle – run the gauntlet as it were – and find a seat near the front.

That can’t be easy.

Although it is easier in a small church where the centre aisle is not too long, and because in my church you had to pass Jean, who would make you feel welcome.

That’s the practical aspect, but what about the spiritual aspect?

How does someone who has led a life that has not been good- a life that one is ashamed of, and wishes to change – how does that person come forward to meet their God?

I mentioned the way a woman who was menstruating was considered unclean.

That was in ancient times, but in fairly recent times because of the attitude of the church, women could similarly be made to feel unclean, or at least not worthy.

A woman who had given birth to a child needed to be “churched “, or “cleansed” before she could feel good enough to mix with others in worship.

Why do things have to put in the way of people wishing to be accepted?

Why do obstacles have to be put in the way of someone wanting to change their life?

And are those obstacles real or are they the obstacles we ourselves use to avoid making drastic change?

Walking down a long aisle, and perhaps going to coffee afterward, and having to meet with people, and talk to them, and explain why you are here, and who you are?

Some years ago, I was visiting in man in hospital, who was terminally ill. He literally had a few days to live, and he told me of his life, and his unhappiness, and his regrets. . And I asked him if he wished me to pray with him. He shook his head. “ Don’t pray with me, but you can pray for me if you wish “ And he meant somewhere else.

On the brink of eternity and he just could not find it in him to  reach out to Jesus.

And it’s especially tragic when as in the Gospel  story today, it doesn’t matter who you are, or what you have done, or what is wrong with you, he wants you back.

It is all the same to Him.

And aren’t we all glad about that?

He healed the daughter of a man who might be one of those who would condemn him to death.

He healed the woman who was too timid to name her condition.

Asking for help sometimes calls for bravery.

It calls for a real need to overcome any reason, no matter how big or small, and to come forward humbly and ask.

Ask.

That is all.

Ask.

You know, I went through a hard time when I came to this country. I had a wife and a daughter to support, and my first job only  paid a hundred dollars a week, and I had to buy a car if I wanted to keep the job.

The rent for our apartment was $139.00 dollars a month, plus five dollars for parking.  My take home pay was about $89.00.

I used to sweat when it came to paying  our bills. .

I used to think I would never make it .

I could have reached out to my father, back there in the UK. He wasn’t a rich man, but he could have helped me, and he would have, had I asked.

But, you see, he had warned me about coming to Canada.

So,  I wouldn’t ask.  He might think he had been right to warn me.

Too proud to ask.

Too proud to admit I needed help to make it in this new world.

I think that’s the problem of many – too proud to admit we need Christ in our lives, and too afraid to ask.

Or don’t know how.

A faithful member of a church I was serving for a short while, was the secretary of the church, a past warden, a server, and a chalice bearer.

One day she asked me, “ How do you pray?”

I asked her, “ How do you pray? “

She said, “ I just say the Lord’s Prayer.”

“ Is that all. “  I asked?

“Yes. .”

“ Come here,” I said, holding her hand, and I said, “This is how you pray.”

‘ Loving Lord Jesus, I am just a simple child of yours. I am afraid to look up to you. Fill my heart with the words I need to talk to you, to tell how I love you, and to thank you for my life, and my family. Amen.’

She said, eyes wide, ‘ Is that all?”

I wonder if we make it too difficult in  the church for people to have the courage to reach out to Jesus? 

That maybe something bad will happen to us,.

There is a story of a young Russian called Boris, who arrived at the Pearly Gates, and was welcomed by St. Peter.

Showing him around, St. Peter said, “ You can go anywhere you want with one exception. You cannot go on the pink clouds.”

“ Why not?” asked Boris.

“ Because,” answered St. Peter, “ The pink clouds are reserved for people who have done something great.”

“But I have done something great,”  said Boris. I made a speech at the Kremlin against the party officials. Then I urged people to revolt.”

“ Just when did this happen?”  asked St. Peter.

Boris looked at his watch and said,” About two minutes ago.”   

Open up to Jesus, and I guarantee you will not go wrong. 

Amen.