All posts for the month June, 2015

Wisdom 1, 13-15 & 2, 23-24 + Psalm 30 + 2 Corinthians 8, 7-9, 13-15 + Mark 5, 21-43

Two women without names both called “daughter” and two examples of faith is what Mark puts before us today. Then there is a man who has a name, Jarius. He not only has a name, he has faith. Tradition suggests that because he is named, he was a known disciple of Jesus as time went on. But these verses are not really about him. They are about the two women and what happens to them. Notice that the number twelve comes up twice in these verses, a number that always suggests completeness or fullness. The young woman is twelve years old. She is just at the age when she can give life. She is the daughter of what must have been a prosperous and significant leader in the community. The older woman has suffered for twelve years and is completely ruined, hopeless, and penniless, and because of her twelve year affliction is unable to give life. The story builds around these themes.

As much as a reflection on Jarius might be fruitful for a sermon on prayer, he is not the center of the story even though his faith, patience, and trust are tested by the slow moving Jesus who, surrounded by a big crowd, stops moving toward his home to ask what seems to everyone a silly question: “Who touched me?” The question however, highlights what the church puts before us today: touch. First the older woman touches Jesus, then Jesus touches the young girl. In both actions there is a serious violation of the law that says you do not touch women who are bleeding, and you do not touch corpses. In her condition, the older woman is as good as dead. She has nothing left. She has been cast out with no hope of being healed and restored to the life of the community. The twelve year old seems to be dead too at the very threshold of life she is being mourned. Then comes the touch that changes everything.

In a sense, Jesus trades places with them. Two who are untouchable and unclean are restored by one who is willing to risk sharing their condition to show them the mercy and love of God. One who has and is life trades places with them to give them a life. He will suffer for this violation of the law persecuted and accused by the law enforcers who are always in the way of God’s mercy and love.

The story of both of these women is a story of what happens when death comes into contact with the living Christ. Whatever God touches springs to life. The woman in the crowd believes so deeply in Jesus that, even without his attention or permission, she is able to tap into the life force that comes from him. When he touches the child’s hand, life leaps through him into her, her heart begins to beat again and she opens her eyes, and she not only rises up, she begins to walk around. And then, Mark puts this right into focus by telling us that Jesus said: “Give her something to eat.” Suddenly this story pulls us into the Eucharist.

In a few moments we shall all be touched by God. We shall come into intimate physical contact through Holy Communion with the life-giving God who has come to us in Christ Jesus. These miracles preview the new creation Christ has come to proclaim. Life comes again into this world because of Jesus. Today we celebrate a miracle, but not simply one from the past. We celebrate a miracle that happens today, because when we receive Jesus Christ in Communion, his breath, body and blood flow into us. We become Christ’s body in the world.

Both the miracles of Mark’s Gospel and the miracle of today highlight the importance of faith. Without it, we are unable to participate in the powerful life flowing from Jesus into his church. Faith means staying in touch with Jesus, even if we must push through unbelieving crowds who discount religion and our faith. If we falter in faith, Jesus says to us what he said to Jarius: “Do not be afraid.” We are a people touched by God. Think of that as you come in procession to this altar to touch again and consume the life-giving Body and Blood of Christ. Remember what Mark tells about what happens to people touched by God. Live! Regardless of the obstacles this world can throw up in our face, live and let the mercy and the love of God flow through you.

MS Amsterdam

Job 38, 1, 8-11 + Psalm 107 + 2 Corinthians 5, 14-17 + Mark 4, 35-41

Last week’s gospel about faith the size of a mustard seed has set us up now to go deeper into an understanding of faith and how faith works in our relationship with God. The boat and the storm are like scenery on a stage for a play. In a really good play it is the script that matters not the scenery. So these verses of Mark’s Gospel are not about storms and boats. This incident is about faith. The whole of Mark’s Gospel chronicles the development and growth of disciple faith. This is only chapter 4, so it is early, and clearly these disciples are a little short of what Jesus is looking for. They are impressed, awe struck, wondering who this is in the boat with them, but they are afraid. The measure of fear is always in relation to the measure of faith. Little faith, great fear. Great faith, little fear.

The disciples at this stage of their growth in faith look up on Jesus as their “safety net.” He is there to help them, and they are upset when the help is slow in coming. He’s sleeping for heaven’s sake when they are scared to death! The assumption with this kind of faith is that God’s duty is to take care of and provide for anyone deserves it. This kind of thinking, this idea of “faith” is very handy for the fortunate in this world. It proves their worthiness and gets them off the hook of responsibility for the masses of people who suffer. “Why doesn’t God do something about this?” is the thinking that manifests this kind of “faith” which is more like an insurance policy than the kind of faith Jesus is looking for.

People who only go to God in their need are stuck at the level of the apostles in the storm tossed boat. Self-concern is really what is expressed in their prayer, while the presence of God in others who are suffering finds no place in their consciousness and prayer. A greater faith looks at the poor, at refugees, at the lost, or the sick and they see God suffering, and their prayer rises up for a spirit of wisdom or courage to relieve that suffering, ease that pain, and share that burden. This is the kind of faith that Jesus is looking for. In another place in the Gospels, Jesus wonders aloud if he will find any faith on this earth when he returns. What he wants, what he expects, what he is looking for is far more than people crying out when they are scared or hurt. He wants to see faithful people taking care of one another just as he has done among us.

Paul in writing to the Corinthians today is utterly convinced that Christ’s life in us changes everything so much that Christ’s love actually “impels us” to live no longer for ourselves but for Christ. Paul is trying to point out that because we are one with Christ, death can harm us no more than it can harm Christ. He never says we will not suffer and eventually die. A life without suffering is hardly a life lived, and it certainly does not indicate that one is favored by God while those who suffer are not favored by God. The faith Jesus hoped to find in his disciples as they went through the storm is an “interior certainty, a conviction that God can act in every situation. Faith means believing in God who truly loves us, does not abandon us, and always brings good out of evil by his power and his infinite creativity. The readings we proclaim today invite us to evaluate our faith, asking not what it promises us, but what we can become because of it.

MS Amsterdam

Ezekiel 17, 22-24 + Psalm 92 + 2 Corinthians 5, 6-10 + Mark 4, 26-34

There is something about this world that scorns and despises whatever is small. The rule of this world is that bigger is better. Having lived a good part of my life on top of Texas, I know this kind of thinking.  “Everything is bigger in Texas. Maybe. Traffic jams are. Anyone who has ever tried to get through Dallas would nod with a smile. I am not sure where the root of this thinking lies, but having the biggest house or car, the tallest building or simply having the biggest muscles and power is an idea that weaves its way through our culture and society which lives by sight not by faith. Even building and having the biggest cruise ship is somehow thought to be special and indicate some prominence. Some of my confreres think that being pastor of the “biggest” parish makes one the best. Perhaps all of this springs from some lack of self-esteem or basic insecurity rooted in one’s childhood. Sometimes it might simply be a manifestation of sinfulness rooted in pride or greed. Whatever it is about, the parable we proclaim and reflect upon today flies in the face of thinking that bigger is better. This is living by sight.

The kingdom we are striving to build on earth at the command of Jesus is one that actually embraces and even seeks what is small. We must never forget that it all began in a little place, a tiny village, scorned by everyone called Nazareth; and then in an equally little place called, Bethlehem a tiny light began to shine in the darkness. A carpenter’s son who told stories of seeds, trees, and birds shunned the big, mighty, and powerful to move among those who were small in the eyes of the world: outcasts, powerless, sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, and children. This parable speaks to what is small and tiny with a vision of hope that can confound the powerful and everything that is big.

The kingdom we are striving to build on earth at the command of Jesus understands humble beginnings, meagerness, and simplicity. It prospers in these conditions faithful to the one whose simplicity and humble beginnings first proclaimed this kingdom among us. That small band of powerless and insignificant people who heard that carpenter sprang to life with the little seed of faith he planted in their hearts. It was faith that moved them, not sight. What this world would judge to be unlikely, improbable, or even impossible can and has become something monumental. What grows from faith is a place of possibility and hope, a life of joy with the promise of peace.

With time, trust, and faith, this world can change because we have. Following in the footsteps of Christ, obedient to his Word and the Will of the Father, we are the mustard seed planted in this world. We are the ones who can shelter and protect what is small and weak. Those who need protection, shelter and shade, mercy and love must find in us what birds find in the branches of great trees. The Gospel we proclaim today is about us; about what we can become and what we called to be when we live by faith and not by sight.

MS Amsterdam

Exodus 24, 3-8 + Psalm 116 + Hebrews 9, 11-15 + Mark 14, 12-16, 22-26

This feast is about hunger before it is about food. Knowing the hungers of the human heart opens the way to understand what the gift of the Eucharist provides. Several weeks ago when I began to prepare for the cruise we are beginning the reality of these hungers struck me powerfully as I thought about what goes on all day and nearly all night in the Lido and in the La Fontaine dining room. It’s hard to think about hunger with all this feasting, but today the Church thinks about hunger and then about food.

Deeper than physical hunger and more powerful there is a hunger for life, a hunger for love, a hunger for companionship, acceptance, understanding, and always a hunger for merciful forgiveness. Sadly, not recognizing or acknowledging these hungers leads to all kinds of abuse, not the least of which might be gluttony or any other addictive behaviors that somehow never satisfy nor quiet these deep and very real human hungers. All around us we are fed with foods that do not satisfy. Power, Pride, Vanity, Money, Privilege, Success, and many others never quite satisfy our deepest hungers, and the most convincing sign that this is true is the fact that there is never enough. The hungry fed on these things always want more and more.

At the beginning Jesus Christ came to eat with us and share our hungers. We should remember that the first temptation he faced in the desert concerned bread and using food for power. The first of the great signs he worked in John’s Gospel was at a wedding feast. In all the days of his earthly ministry, he continually confronted the hungers of humankind, and finally having shown us and told what to do in front of thousands who followed him into the wilderness hungry for his word, he fed us with the only food that will end our hungers on the night before he died.

The food that Jesus offers is not much when compared to what is available on this ship and in our homes. It is not particularly tasty, and the little bite we receive doesn’t seem like much. So we sometimes dream of other foods like the Jews in the desert who complained about the manna and longed for the meat and fruits they had in Egypt. They forgot that they had these things at the table of slavery. They did not remember well what God had done for them because a slave’s memory is not free.

“Do this in memory of me.” Jesus says to us. Remembering is what we do here at this table. Here, and only here will we satisfy the hungry heart. Here we need not worry about whether or not there is enough. There always will be. Here those who hunger to be included always have a place. Here all who hunger for mercy and forgiveness are fed, and those hungry for life find love, because without love there is no life. Here those who are lonely find companions who share our common hope for joy and for peace. So, on this day when the whole church celebrates the gift of the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, we remember the one who has set us free, and we feast again on the food that can satisfy our deepest hungers. We do it together as church as family, as hungry people who know the table of mercy.