Is This the Real Life? Is this Just Fantasy?

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The Gospel lection for this Sunday is Mark 9:2-9.

The gospel has been zooming along at a pretty major clip shooting from one Sabbath to the next when we are suddenly brought to a halt. This almost magical event happens not immediately or on the Sabbath, but six days later. Mark suddenly loads us with more details in this passage than we are used to getting from him. It happens on top of a mountain. Jesus’ clothes become whiter and brighter than the sun. Two of the Great heroes of the Hebrew Faith magically appear and start talking to Jesus. The disciples have no idea what they are seeing or hearing or experiencing. It’s almost like they are in a different realm. It’s like they have passed from this world into an other world where time has no meaning and the laws of physics cease to apply.

There have been all sorts of attempts to interpret this passage, and to make sense of it. In worship on Sunday at the Pluckemin Presbyterian Church we are going to think briefly about some of the things this passage might be pointing to. But the reality is that no matter how often we read this passage, and even if we think we have it figured out, it still defies our full understanding.

It takes us to the mountain top where we experience something completely otherworldly; something beyond our ken. It takes us to a place where we have to acknowledge that things are not what they seem to be. It forces us to look beyond the physical and to enter into a different and deeper reality where we are enthralled by our world transforming experience. Time stands still. All time exists in this one moment. We are swept up in the wonder and magic, and we never want to leave. We want to hold on to this moment. We want this moment to exist for ever.

But it’s a moment out of time. As soon as we try to hold on to it, it begins to slip away. And it must slip away. We can’t survive out of time. The air is too thin at the top of the mountain. It must slip away. We have to let it so that we can slowly trudge back down the mountain and live in the memory and power of that endless moment. And somehow bring something of that encounter back into the everyday with us.

In the presence of such a mystery we are never the same again. We have been changed, but not just for the sake of change. We have been transformed in that timeless moment, that we might begin, little by little, to change the world around us in the time that we have been given.

The image above is entitled The Transfiguration of Jesus by Armando Alemdar Ara. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.


A House of Healing

Sermon for February 4th, 2018.  The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Mark 1:29-39

A House of Healing

Does the name Rosemarie Aquilina mean anything to you?  If you have been paying attention to the news over the last few weeks, it’s a name that I’m sure is more familiar than you might realize.

Rosemarie Aquilna is the judge who presided over the sentencing phase in the case of Larry Nassar.

In an unprecedented move, she permitted close to 160 young women and girls to take the stand and share their stories of abuse and fear at the hands of this man who was in a position of implicit and explicit trust.

As she and the gathered crowd and media listened to the harrowing stories of these young women, she responded to each one with a word of comfort and encouragement.  To one, she said, “ The military has not come up with a fiber as strong as you.”  She called her a heroine, and said Mattel should make dolls of you, and little girls would all want to be just like you.”  To another who shared the story of her anguish she gave the profound encouragement, “Leave your pain here, and go out and do your magnificent things.”

Leave your pain here, and go out and do your magnificent things!

What a powerful word for anyone who has experienced pain at the hands of another.  Too often, so many of us internalize that pain, and turn it into guilt, so that somehow it becomes my own fault.  I deserved this.  And that guilt becomes like a burning fever in the very core of our being that binds us and holds us back from doing our magnificent things.

This passage from Mark’s Gospel speaks to us of a woman who was bound in a sense and in pain.

We know absolutely nothing about this particular woman, other than that she was Simon’s mother-in-law, and that she was in bed with a fever.

Mark has this story happen immediately after the exorcism in the synagogue.  So you have Jesus moving from the realm of teaching and Spiritual authority, to the realm of family and community.  And in this story, he also demonstrates his authority.  It’s more subtle, but it is there in the words that Mark chooses to use to tell the story.

So what you are seeing is this expanding portrait of the authority of Jesus.  We’ve already been told in the passage last week that Jesus’ teaching astounded the people.  They heard that he taught with a type of authority that they had never seen in their religious leaders.

We also saw last week that his authority extended to things that bound people emotionally and spiritually.  So Jesus has authority as a teacher.  He has authority over the realm of the Spirit.  And here in today’s passage we see that he has authority over not just things that hold people back spiritually and emotionally, but apparently over diseases, physical illness as well.

Now, before I go any further, I need to say this.  Although this is a story about a physical healing, the point of the story is not about Jesus healing Peter’s mother in law.  It’s about Jesus and his authority.  I think it’s possible for some folks to read this passage and say, if He healed the woman in this story, why doesn’t he heal me?  Why doesn’t he heal some of these folks that we pray for on a weekly and often daily basis?

These are hard questions, that even the greatest theologians wrestle with and have wrestled with since theologians and philosophers began wrestling with the nature of God and the justice of God.  This passage is not trying to answer any of these questions.  Nor is it setting a precedent.

The danger is that when we take this as just a healing story, we miss the point of the story itself.  The story is part of a larger whole in this section of the gospel that is painting a picture of the authority of Jesus.  And how far that authority extends and how that authority is exercised.

One of the key phrases in this passage relates to the way that Jesus heals this woman.

In the ancient world, as today there were a whole host of so called faith healers.  For most of them there are certain elaborate words or rituals that have to be performed in order for there to be even the possibility of healing.

What’s worth noticing in this passage is that when Jesus heals Simon’s mother in law there are no fancy words, or hoops to jump through.  In fact, there are no words spoken at all.

The text simply says:  He came, he took her by the hand, he lifted her up.  And then the fever left her.  No words are spoken.  Jesus simply reaches out his hand and touches her.

Now I think you all know that I have spent the last 18 months working as Chaplain at Fellowship Village.  While I was there one of the things of which I became acutely aware was the importance of touch for so many of the residents.

For many of them, particularly in skilled nursing the touch that they received was medical in nature – not that it wasn’t caring – the nurses and CNAs cared from them very much and their touch was a very loving touch.  But it was practical.  I found that if I simply put my hand out the person would take my hand, and would often hold on to it for as long as I was able to stay.  Placing my hand on someone’s shoulder.  Offering a hug by way of greeting or saying farewell became something very healing.

Jesus simply reaches out his hand and touches her.

I said that this passage was also to do with authority.  And I said it was very subtle.  Well it is and it is.

The word that Mark chooses to use hear for touch is the Greek word Krateo.  Which comes from the root word Kratos.  Kratos has to do with someone’s right, power and authority.  It’s where we get words like democratic.  The power or authority of the people.

The word krateo has the same sort of authority meaning underlying it.  It has to do with seizing someone.  Taking hold of them.  Claiming something as their own.

And this is where we seem to have a wee bit of a challenge to some of our preconceived ideas of power and authority when we read this word in this particular context.  Jesus is taking this woman and claiming her as his own in the act of taking her by the hand.

Ordinarily the image of someone seizing another would be very oppressive.  When someone exercises authority over another it’s often seen as power exerting its rights over the one who is weaker.  But here we see the one who has all the power taking this character in the story by the hand, and in an act of utter self-giving and intimacy, rather than using his power to take from her, he actually gives power to her.  It’s the opposite of what you might expect when this particular word is used.  He offers her healing, wholeness and a brand new life.

He came, he took her by the hand, he lifted her up and the fever left her.

But that’s not where the story ends.

There is one more thing that happens in this short section.  It says she began to serve them.

There are a number of ways to think about this, and you could be quite critical of this particular response from a woman in a room full of men.  But please bear in mind the cultural norms and assumptions that are in this passage.

She is given new life, and with that new life her first response is to serve.  It’s to give back.  The power that she has received, she shares with those who are willing to receive it.  Not only does she serve those who are there immediately, but she opens her home, and it becomes a house of healing to all those who have need.

As a church, Christ has reached out his hand and claimed us as his own.  How will we respond to that?

I pray that whatever wounds we may have, in the hands of Jesus, in this House of Healing, around this table.  We may leave our pain here and go out and do our magnificent things.

To listen to the Audio – follow this link:

A Fresh Start

20180202_115342.jpgI am at the end of my first week as the Pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Pluckemin.  It’s been a week filled with new things to do and new people to meet.  I’m getting ready to lead my first worship service this Sunday, which happens to be a Communion Sunday.

I think it’s significant that we begin our journey together with a meal.  In his book, Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen writes:

“A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst. Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.”

It’s my hope that as we begin this journey around the Lord’s Table we become all the we are called to be.