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6-27-21 — Jesus the Healer — Psalm 130, Mark 5:35-43 — The Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Psalm 130

Mark 5:35-43

Jesus the Healer

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

 

How do you respond when you get interrupted? Can you reorient yourself quickly or do you get frazzled? Do you get frustrated and impatient?  Do you ignore the interruption? Has an interruption changed the course of your day or maybe even your plans for the next few months?  When Vicki and were first married we bought a 100-year-old brick twin. It was great; we were a few years out of college, the house needed work but it was a house we could afford. We started doing all sorts of projects. After about four years we had redone most of the house, laying new floors, insulating large portions of it, repairing plaster, adding closets to some of the bedrooms, and doing all sorts of projects. One day Vicki asked me to look at the ceiling fan in the kitchen. We hadn’t done any projects in the kitchen yet. She had noticed that if you turned on the ceiling fan it wobbled.  There was a drop ceiling, which should have been a massive red flag, but I told her I could take care of the problem, got my ladder and lifted a tile. It was that moment that I discovered the ceiling fan wasn’t connected to anything — just a 2×4 simply placed on top of the drop ceiling. We also discovered why the kitchen was always hot or cold, the plaster above was full of holes and in spots you could see the underside of the roof. This quick fix was suddenly interrupted and needless to say, we ended up grilling for the next four months as we gutted the kitchen.

The writers of the gospel of Mark has a habit of connecting two stories together. Scholars refer to this “intercalation,” the connecting or sandwiching of two seemingly unrelated stories together so that reader or hearer is forced to compare and connect these stories. The story we read this morning is an example of that. The story of Jarius’ daughter actually begins in verse 21, with Jesus crossing to the other side of the sea. The leaders of the synagogue approach Jesus. Jairus falls on his knees to tell Jesus that his daughter is dying. Jarius proceeds to ask Jesus to come to his home and lay hands on her so that she may be well.

Mark interrupts this Jarius narrative to begin a new narrative. While Jesus is walking to his home, a crowd forms around Jesus. A woman who has been experiencing hemorrhages for 12 years joins the crowd. The text describes her as enduring much under many physicians and she had spent all that she had seeking a cure. She reaches out and touches Jesus robe and is healed. Jesus, realizing that she has been healed, stops the crowd, wondering what has happened.  The woman falls before Jesus and tells him the whole truth. Jesus calls her a daughter and tells her to go in peace.

The narrative is then interrupted again. While Jesus is still speaking to the unnamed woman, some people arrive to tell Jesus that the daughter has died. These men encourage Jarius “not to bother the teacher.” Jesus overhears this and responds by telling them to not fear, but believe. Peter, James, John, and Jesus all travel to the home. People have already begun weeping outside the home; there is a great commotion. Jesus enters the home. He speaks in Aramaic “Talitha cum, ‘wake up little girl’.” The twelve-year-old girl gets up and begins walking around. Jesus gives them a strict order not to tell anyone what has happened.

In two seemingly unrelated stories that connect, we learn Jairus’s name but never the name of the woman suffering from chronic hemorrhaging.  Jarius would have been a man of some status and influence in his own community, but the woman lost all her money, and likely any status she would have had. She may have been an object of scorn or pity from neighbors and family. Jarius falls at Jesus’ feet, whereas the woman tries to touch Jesus in secret. Jesus not only heals the woman, he declares relationship with her, calling her a daughter. The stories end with healing, Jesus calls the woman’s desperation, faith, and he urges Jarius to continue to have faith. Faith in these examples seems to mean removing any barriers that may keep them from getting to Jesus. Faith is a radical trust in Jesus. This trust is born out of one’s need and the conviction that Jesus can help. Both of our characters longed to connect to Jesus. Jarius specifically asks for Jesus to lay hands on his daughter. The woman grabs a hold of Jesus with purpose.

I think one of the strangest things about this last year of the pandemic, has been the lack of touch we have experienced and the isolation. For many of us we went for months, if not a year, without embracing extended family or without shaking a stranger’s hand. In church we have gone over a year without passing the peace. For some of us this pandemic has been an interruption. For others it has been devasting, a hospital stay, perhaps prolonged symptoms, and for some the death of a loved one. One of the questions I also wrestle with when I hear these recorded miracle stories is who else did Jesus pass by? Was there someone else who didn’t get healed, another child that wasn’t awakened?

A study for the National Institutes of Health from 2019 indicated that 1 out of every 5 adults live with some form of mental illness[1] and I would suspect in this last year that number has grown. Even with the prevalence of these disorders, for many there is still a stigma about asking for help; only about half seek treatment. Among teens, one out of six experience some form of mental illness, with depression being the most common.[2] The Gospel of Mark points out the only way to find some form of healing is to “trouble the teacher”, to ask for help.  Victoria Maxwell, author and mental health advocate, writes about her experience with a mood disorder. “When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar and psychosis, my parents’ acceptance, love, and boundary-setting was pivotal. Even when I lacked the ability to accept my mood disorder, I knew in the back of my mind, my parents were a soft place to fall. When I did eventually recognize that I needed help, I knew I could turn to them. And I did.”[3] Victoria troubled the teachers in her own life, asking for help, asking for healing.

This story is an invitation to live into whatever interruption we face in this world, an invitation for us to name and wrestle with the limits of our life, to acknowledge the difficulties we face.  An invitation that Joni Sancken calls a “reasonable Hope,” a hope that leaves room for doubt and despair and at the same time holds out hope for incremental steps toward a future. This is an invitation to trouble the teacher with the burdens that are too great for us to bear and an invitation to ask for help.

[1] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness

[2] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health

[3] https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/helping-a-loved-one-cope-with-a-mental-illness

6-27-21 Bulletin

6-27-21 bulletin

6-20-21 Bulletin

6-27-21 bulletin
6-20-21 bulletin

July Pew Points

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6-13-21 Bulletin

6-13-21 bulletin

6-6-21 Bulletin

6-6-21 bulletin

5-30-21 Bulletin

5-30-21 bulletin

6-6-21 — Undivided Kingdom — Genesis 3:8-13, Mark 3:20-29 — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Genesis 3:8-13

Mark 3:20-29

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Undivided Kingdom

 

In 1997 the American artist Dennis Oppenheim caused controversy with his sculpture “Device to Root Out Evil.”  If you have never seen this piece it looks like a partially finished New England church. But instead of the steeple pointed to the sky it is embedded in the earth and the church almost grows out of the steeple. The 24-foot-tall church is completely upside down. The roof and the walls are unfinished, and it as if people managed to enter the structure they would fall out. The artist maintained until his death that it wasn’t anti-religion. In fact, in one interview he was asked “What a religious person might think about it?” He confessed that while he was not a religious person he has thought about this a lot. “I didn’t think it was the least bit blasphemous. Quite the opposite. I feel it strengthens the belief in the church as having a vital function — by penetrating the ground, by turning it into a rigorous tool. Instead of the spire passively addressing the heavens, it’s aggressively pointing downward, as if it were on a mission.” Controversy followed the installation as it has been moved at least five times.[1]

Our Genesis text is a familiar story. It is part of the second creation account in the book of Genesis. This account of creation stands in stark contrast to other creation accounts the Hebrew people would have heard from their neighbors. Creation accounts from other cultures of the time often emphasized some sort of cosmic struggle or warfare between the gods. Humanity was often some sort of ‘side show’ to the cosmic war of the Gods.  Many often feature humanity being created to be enslaved to serve of the gods.  But in the Genesis account the central focus is humanity and God’s relationship with humanity. We see this in Genesis 3.  God has placed humanity in a wonderfully favorable situation. Yet humanity rejects God’s act of compassion and love and tries to follow its own path. This leads to a sense of shame and a distrust in their relationship. Our characters are hiding in the garden when they hear God. Adam blames Eve and she in turn blames the serpent. The cycle of blame has begun.  Adam and Eve are “equal in responsibility and in judgment, in shame and in guilt, and in redemption and in grace,” the punishment that follows is not a curse or a prescription, but a description of the consequences of a shared disobedience.[2]

Our text from Mark offers a strange little scene. Rumors have begun to spread about Jesus and his healings. Some of his actions have begun to upset religious leaders. At the beginning of the chapter Jesus heals the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath and the religious leaders have begun to plot to destroy Jesus. As the chapter goes on, Jesus begins collecting followers, and he appoints the twelve apostles. After appointing them he leads them all to his home. Crowds have begun to follow him and the crowd follows him to his home. The text says the size of the crowd even prevented them from sharing a meal.  The family sounds exasperated; they go out to confront Jesus and restrain him. Jesus is being accused of being out of his mind.

While this accusation is still hanging in the air, the scribes come down from Jerusalem and accuse him of being evil. The phrase that they use is that he has Beelzebul. This is a modification of a Hebrew word and one of the best understandings is kind of prince of demons. Basically, the scribes are saying Jesus has such an intimate relationship with evil and he can order evil around and it will listen.  For the scribes a lot is at stake in this moment. They are trying to explain these miracles. For them Jesus is an insignificant person, without any proper credentials. How in the world could he do these things? Their only answer is he has made a pact with evil.

Jesus reduces their argument and asks them “How can Satan cast our Satan?” In this moment he is trying to show the absurdity of their argument. A kingdom divided will not last long. Jesus reframes their arguments and shifts to a new argument. “No one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder it without first tying up the strong man.” This is an interesting analogy –at times evil in this world can seem like an intractable problem, a true strongman. But if Jesus has tied up the strongman how could evil be shaken up on this earth. Jesus is begging them to ask the question who is stronger than evil?[3] But the scribes are more interested in blaming Jesus for the good he was doing more interested in rooting out evil.

The historian Heather Cox Richardson writes the following: “Seventy-seven years ago, on June 5, 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was preparing to send Allied troops across the English Channel to France. There, he hoped, they would push the German troops back, securing a foothold for the Allies. More than 5,000 ships waited to transport more than 150,000 soldiers to France before daybreak the following morning. The fighting to take Normandy would not be easy. The beaches the men would assault were tangled in barbed wire, booby trapped, and defended by German soldiers in concrete bunkers.

On the afternoon of June 5, as the Allied soldiers, their faces darkened with soot and cocoa, milled around waiting to board the ships, Eisenhower went to see the men he was almost certainly sending to their deaths. He joked with the troops, as apparently upbeat as his orders to them had been when he told them Operation Overlord had launched. “The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!” But after cheering his men on, he went back to his headquarters and wrote another letter. Designed to blame himself alone if Operation Overlord failed, it read:

“Our landings have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.” The letter was, of course, never delivered. Operation Overlord was a success, launching the final assault in which western democracy, defended by ordinary men and women, would destroy European fascism.[4]” Those men that day did the impossible, they understood their mission, and they routed an evil in this world.

Jesus has called the church to be firmly planted in its mission, to understand its role in this world, not to be a device to root out evil, but to stand with Jesus in his life-giving work to share the love and grace of God in this world.

 

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/arts/design/god-and-man-at-stanford.html?searchResultPosition=2

[2] Connections: Year B, Volume 3 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (p. 58). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-10-2/commentary-on-mark-320-35-4

[4] https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/june-5-2021

5-30-21 — Living In The Light — Isaiah 6:1-8, John 3:16-17 — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Isaiah 6:1-8

John 3:16-17

Living in the Light

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

 

In the podcast the Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian, the hero Finn Caspian and his friends of the explorers’ troop 301 sneak into a room to find Finn’s birthday gift. A gift that every child on the Marlowe 280 Interplanetary, Exploratory, Space Station is given on their eighth birthday. The gift of a Robot helper.  The Child is asked to program that robot by placing a book inside of it. The robot develops their personality from the book. You put in Treasure Island and you get a robot that speaks and acts like a Pirate.  You put in Alice in Wonderland, hopefully you won’t get the Queen of Hearts. As Finn receives his robot and is trying to decide what book to place in the robot, the Marlowe 280 Interplanetary, Exploratory, Space Station is suddenly attacked. This becomes a pivot point in the narrative. A point in which the narrative begins to change, a threat is recognized, or a future is discovered. Sometimes it is something like a Giant saying “Harry, you are a wizard.” Or two droids showing up in the desert planet of Tatooine.

In Isaiah chapter 6 we read the call narrative of the prophet Isaiah. The placement of this call is a little surprising you would expect a prophetic call in the first chapter. Isaiah is living in the midst of a period when the leadership of Judah is not following God and they are deeply concerned about a threat from the Assyrians. The leadership of Judah is allowing systemic injustice and unrighteousness to flourish in the nation. In the midst of all of this unfaithfulness, God calls out to Isaiah.  His calling follows a typical pattern — a divine voice speaks, the prophet responds. There are obviously a few things that are unique about this call; the location for one.  We are transported to a heavenly throne room. The author trying to extract this kingly narrative, reminding us of the earthly king telling the reader that this vision took place during year of King Uzziah’s death, before the narrative transitions to the vision of heavenly throne room. This statement is more than just a marker of time, it is a pivot point. A transition from a period of stability under King Uzziah to a period with multiple looming crisis. Isaiah steps into these crises.

Another unique aspect of this call is that Isaiah does not offer an excuse. Frequently prophets make an excuse on why they can’t fulfill their calling. Moses most notably argued that he could not speak clearly; he was not able to stand before Pharaoh. Jeremiah objects because of his age and inexperience. Jonah’s entire prophetic career is one excuse.  Instead Isaiah just reminds God that he is a man of unclean lips and lives among a people of unclean lips. But even with this statement he enthusiastically accepts the mission.

His acceptance sets up what will take place further in the chapter. God says to Isaiah, that I will send you but the people will not listen. They will hear your words but not comprehend. How is that for a calling, you will speak but the people will ignore you…   This is a hard idea to wrestle with. Why would God call if the people are unwilling to listen? I think this points to a couple of realities. At times a prophetic call produces resistance. Prophets are called to speak into the face of power; the reality is that this produces opposition. We see this all the time in our world today, people are resistant to prophetic movements.  We often think of prophets seeking to convert people, and while there is a grain of truth to this, what most frequently prophets are doing is decrying systemic injustice. That the way in which God measures a society; how well we treat the poor, the outcast, the widow, the least among us. When a prophet points this out, that is when people get upset.  Isaiah is called by God and marks the pivot point in the narrative.

I believe Eastminster is also at a pivot point in its narrative, not because of a looming Assyrian invasion.  But because God has placed a calling on this church, a calling to care for the community around it and share God’s love, a calling this church has worked to fulfill over the last 64 years. Over the next few weeks some of you might be receiving a different call; a call to join a group of people that will be spearheading the visioning process we will enter in the fall. This group will work closely with Bill Wilson from Center for Healthy Churches to think deeply about what we want the next decade to look like at Eastminster. This group will be responsible for putting together three congregational gatherings as we look at the history of the church, at the trends in our church and the trends in our community, and then discuss the future and discern the future God is calling us too. Following these congregational gatherings, the visioning team will draft a working document that will develop clear actionable steps that will help us move into the future. That document will then be refined by the congregation.

As part of our discernment process in selecting a consultant, I called about six congregations that worked directly with Bill Wilson and CHC. The pastors were not expecting my call, but each responded with enthusiasm and joy about their work with CHC. I noticed two things as I listened to these pastors. In each case this process was driven by the congregation and reflected that individual congregation. The second thing I noticed was that each congregation’s practical response was very different. Their response took into account their own resources, the trends and needs of their neighborhood, and their own history.

One congregation used this opportunity to discern succession planning and a future staffing model after the retirement of a pastor who had served for 30 years. A very rural congregation, after surveying the trends within their own community and the trends within their congregation, discovered a need they could fulfill; they converted a portion of their church property into Senior Activity Day Center. Still another congregation felt inspired to do a capital campaign to upgrade their building and bring on a staff member focused on Children and Youth. Still another congregation after meeting with a local school principal realized that every school district in the area was cutting music education.  They also knew within their own congregation they had at least four retired music teachers, so they converted part of their building into practice studios and began after school music education program.

God is calling us to a future. A future that God will bless and a future that will be the right future for Eastminster. It won’t look like the past, but it will be the future God is calling us to. I would ask you to do a couple things. Pray for this process, pray for this group, pray for God’s discernment. Consider joining a group to read Canoeing the Mountains as we prepare for our fall visioning process. The session will be reading this book over the next several months.  Finally, if you do happen to receive a call to join the eight or so members on the visioning team, please prayerfully discern your response, listen to what God is saying to you in that moment.  I trust that God is calling us to a future of abundance and life. Let us pray.