All posts for the month February, 2003

The 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark Church

February 23, 2003

Isaiah 43:18-22 + 2 Corinthians 1:18-22 + Mark 2:1-12

When the crowd clears and the dust settles, there is nothing left here but a hole in the roof angry scribes have slipped off soon to confront this man from Nazareth for his blasphemies. Jesus has also slipped away from the mob and goes looking for disciples. The owner of the house is probably having second thoughts about his guest while he looks for roof repair. The crowd has gone back to whatever it is they do all day, but not quite the same. And somewhere in Capernaum there’s a party going on. Five friends are celebrating an event that has changed their lives fulfilled their fondest dreams, and confirmed the bond of their friendship.

Not simply a piece of Mark’s development of the connection between healing and forgiveness, or his unfolding of the identity of Jesus, this is also the very human story of the power of faith and friendship. The paralyzed man has lost his health, but not his friends. We are left to imagine what went on between the five of them: whose idea it was, and whose faith in Christ Jesus led them onto the roof, but we are not left to imagine the consequences. These twelve verses tell us as much about the power of friendship as the do about the power of Jesus. They speak about forgiveness; the finest gift friends can share.

Jesus enters into that friendship with them, and by his presence the very love of God is made visible through the love of these friends. Jesus does not so much DO something here, as CONFIRM something that is already at work. The relationship between reconciliation and friendship has been opened as clearly as the hole in the roof. A little while later, Jesus will address those who gather around a table with him, and he will call us “friends”. This Gospel calls us to celebrate again our friendships, reminds us that they are moments of grace and power for new levels of relationship to God, and they are in fact, sacramental; bringing us what we truly need.

The network of all our human relationships springs to life from the friendship of a husband and wife. The event Mark puts before us confirms what we have discovered again and again in our own lives: The beauty of friendship is in its power to forgive, to reconcile, and provide a sense of security and well-being. It is an experience that brings us to praise God,

to look again at how we view our church, sin, and grace; and where we find the power for reconciliation and renewal that leaves us with praise in our hearts and on our tongues.

A hole in the roof……

A mat abandoned somewhere on the way to a celebration…..

little reminders of what has happened to us and what we shall become through friendship in faith and in Christ Jesus. What we proclaim this winter day is the power of human love and human relationship that Jesus Christ has come to reveal and affirm.

The 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark Church in Norman, OK

February 16, 2003

Leviticus 13:1, 2,44-46 + 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1 + Mark 1:40-45

The ancient world lived a much more integrated life than we have. The dichotomy between the natural and spiritual was not so clearly drawn. God was not shoved off to heaven. Demons were not shoved into hell. Illness was not nearly as clinical as it is now. The ancient culture in which we find Jesus experienced the body and the soul as more interdependent than we would like. Our “post modern” even “post-Christian” culture is more comfortable with a fragmented view of self. I say, “post-Christian” because I believe that this very separated, broken existence where the human and the divine are pulled apart, where the body and soul are distinct, where the sacred and the secular are clearly different is the very antithesis, the very undoing, or opposite of what the Incarnation is all about.

There is a way of seeing the work of Jesus as a work of integration, a work of confirming the wholeness of life and the unity of that life in the source of life, God. The Gospel Mark puts before us today is just such a ministry. It is a ministry of restoration, a ministry of healing. He sends the man to the priest. The deliberate connection of healing, cleansing, and faith are not incidental to this event. The details in this story have sacramental implications. The healing and cleansing of this man is a spiritual event just as much as it is a physical one. In fact, we are left to wonder if it could have been possible had one of these elements been absent.

What good would it have been to be free of this disease, if the man’s relationship to the community had not been restored by the priest he was sent to see. None of the miracles, none of the healing ministry of Jesus happened without faith and talk of salvation. The body and the soul for Jesus are always one. It strikes me as somehow very revealing when I hear people praying for the sick or praying for their own deliverance from illness who given so little thought toward their soul’s illness in sin. We are becoming a people without soul, and therefore without sin.

Moving deep into this Gospel reveals that the issue here is more than a physical malady. The “condition” is human sin in all its forms and all its consequences. Just as much as leprosy can destroy, separate, isolate, and cripple, so does sin. They saw that clearly in the ancient cultures. Yet, we don’t quite get it. In our fragmented existence, keeping the soul and the body apart, we live in denial: denial of our dis-ease with sin, and our ill health as well. Yet we spend billions a year on health-care, and we see doctor after doctor, get our shots (even at church), and see Pharmacies being built faster than banks. We want the body strong and healthy, and we want to live long and happy lives while the soul’s condition is ignored, forgotten, or just left till “later” when we have time or else have nothing better to do.

Given the lengths to which many will go to be cured of a disease such as cancer through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, it occurs to me that we might be just as challenged to make comparable efforts to be healed and forgiven of sin. The details of this gospel give us the critical outline of a miracle story: (1) the petitioner approaches Jesus requesting healing; (2) Jesus responds with a touch and a word; (3) the cure is affirmed. This is the consistent framework of healing miracles, and the consistent ritual of “Reconciliation”, a Sacrament. We fail to see and recognize this because of our fragmented lives. We fail to see sin as a malady that is destroying our lives just as much as any other illness – because we have lost our sense of wholeness affirmed by the Incarnation. This rift in our selves allows deep denial over the illness of sin. We have reduced sin to issues of sexual desires and behavior, and pretended that violence, greed, fear that holds us back from doing good, and the seductions of power and wealth are not really sins. They’re just not “nice.” Lent is coming, my friends: the time for cleansing and healing. On the very first Monday of Lent we will gather here to begin those days of healing. Every Wednesday of Lent in the evening, and every Friday of Lent at noon there will be an opportunity for you to imitate the faith of the man in this Gospel. Just as he dared to approach Jesus and declare, “If you will, to do so, you can cure me”, so should every one of us be so bold and so full of faith.

The 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St March Church in Norman, OK

February 9, 2003

Job 7:1-4, 6-7 + 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23 + Mark 1:29-39

We have someone with us today who is rarely here. He is a little restless and often on the move. I’ve known him most of my life. He is not always popular, and I think it’s because he complains too much. I suspect he sings off key, whines a whole lot, and hasn’t many friends. His name is Job. He shows up rarely in our liturgical readings, and I think it is probably due to his steady stream of complaining and laments that are not very appealing in the context of celebrations. But he and his story are important to us. Without him and the themes he raises, we would be out of balance and probably deep in denial.

Job brings us a dose of reality. Today he proposes four things that to the honest are undeniable: things are not always right and lovely they need not be this way and can be changed sometimes my situation is intolerable with God things can be better, and I really believe this to be true.

The book of the bible that bears his name explores human suffering. Job himself may or may not have actually historically existed. But his story does, and all share his experience.

Rich in the eyes of this world, he has everything anyone could want: family, friends, wealth, and property. He lost everything that he had looked upon as God’s blessings. He came down with a disease that tortured him day and night. Those around him scoffed at his fidelity to God in the face of all that. They suggested that his sin or someone else’s caused it all. In the back and forth discussions recorded in the book, the popularly held notion that suffering was a punishment for sin gets contradicted, and God’s role in misfortune is not clear. At least, God is not to blame.

We are left to think that perhaps wealth, friends, possessions, and power are not really “gifts” that God give or takes. Perhaps, suffering is not really from God either. What we are left to discover is that Faith is the gift, and that with the gift of faith, we can become creative with everything else.

Suffering is a part of the human condition. The experience of it can either lead us nearer to God or send us running from God in despair and disappointment. It is the same with wealth, friends, and possessions. They can either lead us nearer to God, or drive us deep into selfish hoarding and loneliness. The Good News we proclaim is not an escape from the pain of life as I suggested last week in the context of parenting. The Good News offers a way to transform suffering into the birth pangs of something new. In the end, the Gospel is not given to us to make us good, but to make us creative.

This is the kind of discipleship Jesus promotes among those who follow him. The Jesus of this Gospel is a creative gift. His work of healing and forgiveness is a work of creation and by his own words, this is why he has come. Suffering people in the Gospel come to Jesus. They are healed and set free. The most burdened life is the one most filled with potential and holds the promise of new creation. The disciple who joins in the work of Jesus, joins in that work, and when it happens lament is turned into praise, complaint becomes thanksgiving, and God becomes companion. When that happens within us, we will have become disciples, and will have Good News to proclaim.