Why Did He Do It?

5th Sunday Ordinary time,  2-4-18

Job7:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 147: 1-6, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, is credited as one of the main points of emergence for the feminist movement.  She encouraged many other women to enter professional jobs and employment in business, industry and government.

It was a seismic shift for the American culture which produced a broad range of response. Some screamed that a mother taking young children to day care was an evil rejection of nature and responsibility.  Some demanded that all women must be employed to find their dignity and purpose.   Women had to find a balance between the extremes of being limited in their options or trying to lead both the life of a corporate leader and the mom who did everything.

So today we hear the story of Simon/ Peter’s mother-in-law. It tells us that Peter is not the simple fisherman.  He has a wife.  There is no mention of children, but the idea of Peter, Jr., drifts thru our minds.  Is this a peaceful house or is the mother-in-law having some kind of stress reaction to Peter’s coming into the house with a bunch of hungry men?  We could construct lots of different scenarios, but this is a reading from the Gospel of Mark, and Mark tells his stories in a straightforward way.  We will not be graced with more details.

However, we do know that Jesus is “immediately” told that Mrs. Peter’s mother is sick with a fever. Here we meet the first problem with culture.  We shrug, and say, “So?”  Put her in the car, take her down to the Minute clinic, get her some antibiotics and she’ll be fine by tomorrow, right?  Wrong, of course.  This is 30 AD.  No car, no urgent care, no diagnosis, no pharmaceuticals.  Just fear of what might be wrong, fear of long term disabling decline.

And Jesus “grasped her hand and helped her up”. The fever was gone and “she waited on them”.  Under our liberated breath, we mutter, “Couldn’t they have just gone to the store or drive thru and gotten something to eat?  Did he heal her just so she could fix them dinner?”

Well, as harsh as it sounds, it is a reasonable question. Why did Jesus heal this woman? And knowing that a horde of people who were physically and psychologically sick were about to gather outside the house, why would Jesus submit this woman to having “the whole town gathered at her door”?  To find the answer, we must put on the brakes, back up, and reset the clock.  One of the least productive things we can do to a good Bible story is to interpret it in the light of today instead of understanding what was happening in that day, in time past.  That is how to understanding what Jesus’ intent was with the Mother-in-law, and with us.

In that day, a woman worked from sun up to sun set to feed and clothe the family. From growing the food to preparing it to keeping the fire going to hauling water, to raising sheep for wool, weaving cloth, sewing clothing, washing  – you get the idea, sort of.  I doubt if any of us have ever had to create food, clothing, and shelter, everything, from scratch.  It is over-whelming to a 21st century suburban middle class American when you think about it.

The point is that women then had no other options available to them. And did you miss the fact that Peter’s mother-in-law would be a widow, or she would not be living in his house?  She was totally dependent on her family, and without them she would die, quite literally, of starvation or lack of shelter.  In exchange for life itself, she is more than eager to take on the tasks of the household and take pride in using all those skills she learned through the years.

But she was sick, and suddenly not an asset but a burden. She was terrified.  Was Jesus restoring her to health for his convenience?  No! Not at all. He restored her to her place in society, a place where her dignity was secure and she could be admired for her skills.  She was freed to be able to provide hospitality to her guests and the community; she was eager to share this with the whole village.  She, an older woman, was the center of a miracle, the first sick person to be healed by Jesus, the example that everyone would remember.  She was no longer just a widow whose prime had passed; now, she was someone.

Jesus continued to cure, to heal, to restore the sick to their places of wholeness.  That is an idea that transcends culture and time.  In our day, being productive in a job offers people independence and a boost to self-image.  When someone is released to go back to work after an injury or illness, once again enjoy their place in society and feel they are “part of life”.

The same is true for spiritual healing. In fact, we could talk about Jesus’ time on earth by thinking about redemption and restoration.  His death on the cross was a “one-time forever victory” which redeemed everyone. He “saved” us and opened a way to God’s love and forgiveness.  His teaching and actions restored us to how God created us to be, and he commanded us to continue that restoration with others.

It is the first responsibility of the Church to share the message of the Good News of Easter with people.  Discipleship begins when people discover the freeing power of redemption, by being re-connected with God’s forgiveness.  Worship and prayer are not an obligation; instead, worship & prayer are the natural language of those who are redeemed.

The second responsibility of the Church, that is us, is the work of restoring the sick, the addicted, the poor, the marginalized, the lost, to wholeness. We call that outreach, or mission.  Restoration is also called the “coming of the kingdom”.  If “saving the world” is redemption, then “changing the world” is restoration.  Deep love and dynamic caring are not a social norm; instead they are the natural behavior of the restored.

Those are big ideas, but crucial ideas to the growth and success of Holy Trinity and any Christian community. I will be sharing concrete and practical information about them with you in the weeks ahead. So, remember what Jesus did after he healed this widow – he prayed.  Please pray for our church that it may be a place of redemption and restoration.

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Do We Hear God’s Voice?

4th Sunday in Ordinary time

Deut 18:15-20; Psalm: 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28

Our 1st reading today starts with a reminder of when Moses brought down the 10 commandments from the mountain (Exodus 20: 10).  There was thunder and lightening.  The earth trembled, the clouds were thick, and there was a sound like trumpets blasting.  It was scary; the people were afraid.  They believed that they could die from getting too close to God.  They never again wanted to hear the voice of God.

We believe God loves us, “and we long to see his face.” But have you ever wondered why God does not speak to us directly?  Have you ever said, “I wish God would just tell me the answer to my problems”? We complain that God does not communicate with us clearly, making it hard to know the right thing to do.

In Moses day, there was an answer to the problem – people were called to be “prophets”. A prophet does not foretell the future; a prophet just relates a message clearly and accurately from God to a person or a group of people.  Of course, that was no guarantee that anyone would do what the prophet said.  The Old Testament is filled with the stories of people who found God’s message too difficult, or found the advice of other people more appealing, which always lead to humiliations and hardships.

Our Psalm mentions one of the occasions when this happened. While traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land, God gave Moses and the Israelites manna and quail to eat.  But when they camped at a place which had no water, the people quarreled and rebelled against Moses’ leadership.  They still failed to trust when Moses told them that God would provide for them, even after they had eaten the manna and seen God’s strength lead them out of slavery in Egypt!  They rebelled against both God’s message and the prophet who brought the message.  That is why the place was named Massah (quarrel) and Meribah (rebel).  Once again, their fear had stopped them from hearing God.  The Psalm is a prayer that we might to be able to hear God without a messenger.

Finally, our reading from Mark follows immediately after Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John from their fishing to follow him. It is the first time Jesus teaches in a local synagogue and does a healing miracle.  They know Jesus only as the son of Joseph, a carpenter.  The amazement of the people is somewhat skeptical.  How is Jesus able to speak and teach with more understanding and knowledge than even the scribes, who are educated, who read and write with ease?  Why is Jesus so sure of himself and teaches as one with vast experience and understanding? He is like a prophet who confidently announces words which come from God, and heals, too!

The unclean spirit in the man recognizes Jesus’ authority. The spirit cries out, literally shrieks in fear of Jesus, as Moses’ people had feared God.  The spirit is unable to disobey and leaves the man. The people debate among themselves, trying to understand what they have witnessed.  But they cannot deny what they have seen, and the news spreads rapidly.  The fame of Jesus builds as the people recognize, even if they do not name the source of it, his authority and his power.

If only Mark had recorded the teaching! We do not know what he said, only the stunning impact he created on the people.  It is hard not to wish we had been there to experience what amazed the people so. We also wish we had the clarity of Jesus’ teaching and his presence among us.

But we do! We have 4 Gospels, 4 different and fascinating records of the life, teaching, and miracles of Jesus.  We also have all the letters by Paul and others that have been saved. We have some 2000 years of church history and Tradition.  Many wise and faithful Christians have left their legacies, their lives, their writings, their studies for us.  It is an incredible and vast collection to help us grow in the faith.  We no longer have to wonder who Jesus was.  Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit; we have the Spirit indwelling in our hearts to guide us.

But what if we fail to read or study the teaching of Jesus? We are like people who read only the first paragraph of each chapter of a book and think they are ready to attend a book club discussion. We would be like students who don’t read the assigned text book, expecting a couple of important bulletin points to be emailed to them by the professor.  Hearing just short passages on Sunday robs us of the crucial settings and background of why, for example, Jesus told a particular parable.  Jesus often refers to Moses and Abraham – how can we understand those references unless we know those characters and their stories.

Have you ever been pressed to explain or defend baptism or the Eucharist, and had difficulty? Do we take the Traditions of the church seriously? Do we learn all we can about why we pray as we do, why we have the sacraments and the depth of their meaning? No wonder we are so hesitant to tell other people about our faith and what it means to us.  For our message to be attractive to others, it must include our knowledgeable and personal experience with God as Father, Brother, and Friend.

Perhaps we think God is silent because we are silent about God. Perhaps we have stopped listening to God and focused on all the “thunder and lightening” of our culture instead.  Perhaps we still fear God, because we do not yet know God.  Oh, that today we would hear God’s voice!

 

Homily January 28, 2018-the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

4sun 1I want to take a look at what St Paul’s letter said this morning. It seems that in many ways he seems to criticize everybody. He says being single means that a person is free to be concerned about things of the Lord. Married people, he says, are concerned about their spouse and things of the world. Yet in the very beginning of Genesis, we see God say 4sun 2it is not good for a person to be alone. In fact, Christ made marriage a Sacrament because it is the very normal and spiritual way that most are called to follow Christ to salvation. It is a partnership of love centered in Christ. Certainly married couples have troubles and all the problems of the world, but you know single people have problems too. Being single does give more time, but being alone, childless is not always the gift he makes it seem. Further he seems to imply that married people are less spiritual than single people. It is just not true, as there are multitudes of holy and 4sun 3spiritual married people. For some reason, the church through the centuries has focused on the single people, the religious, the clerics. But let’s be honest, the church is made up of all the baptized. Sanctity and sainthood comes for all who live their lives in the faith and love of Jesus Christ.

So, to sum up, I would say we should realize that the married person, and the single person(whether lay, religious or clergy) reflect God’s love in different ways and different paths. Yet, truly, God has made each of us individually and calls us each individually, except those who are married, he has said that then two have become one flesh.

Homily, January 21, 2018 -The 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

1102014625_univ_lsr_xlToday’s gospel from Mark gives a slightly different account of Jesus’ call of his disciples. First we see that John the Baptist has been arrested, and also that Jesus has started his ministry. This means that the disciples had an awareness of him and possibly that is why they answered his invitation so readily. God’s call did not always come easy in Israel’s history. Many of the prophets only reluctantly answered God’s call. A prime example was Jonah in our first reading. But we see that in the end God got his way even with the 3 adventreluctant. Jesus was preaching that it was time to repent and believe the good news. He had a message and it was new. But first a person must repent, turn around, change and hear the good news. Hearing the good news means attaching oneself to Jesus. That was the ultimate turn around, made first by Jesus’ disciples and passed on even to us today. Jesus’ call was to a way of life, to a lifestyle, to living together in a community he came to call a church. It entails a whole new way of cross_square_cut_400x400life and worship, that Jesus began by fulfilling God’s plan that included even his dieing and his resurrection. The good question today is can we with all the interruptions and daily problems still commit ourselves fully to Christ as the First disciples, who left their Father and their boats and followed Jesus. Surely sometimes it is easy, but at other time it is difficult and challenging. But we must remember always we have Jesus and the Strength of his Cross to get us through whatever we face.

Choosing Who Sits Next to Me

 3rd Sunday of  Ordinary  time, January 21, 2018

Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm: 25:4-9; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

So let’s start with 2 questions this morning. Who here has ever suffered through a homily that claimed Jonah was a true story?  Given that our Gospel is about Jesus calling apostles, who has been taught the primary topic of our 1st reading is about the call of Jonah as a prophet and how important it is to be obedient to God’s call?

Jonah is a kind of fable; it is like Aesop’s fables in the way it uses fish and cattle to add some humor to it. It’s also like Jesus’ parables, since it is a short story that has a twist in it that we might not see coming. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria (not to be confused with Syria), the most ruthless and feared nation in the Middle East at the time.  The Assyrians destroyed Israel in 721 BC.  They conquered through particularly brutal military tactics, including wholesale slaughter, and are remembered as the first people to attempt to rule the entire world.  That sheds some light on why Jonah was particularly unwilling for this mission.  He likely figured his probability of being tortured and killed upon entering Ninevah about 110%.  Besides, the Assyrians were deeply hated mortal enemies of the Israelites, not people he wanted to sit next to.   God wants to save their souls?  Jonah can’t possibly see this mission as worth his life.

So when God called him, he understandably ran to find the first boat sailing in the opposite direction. Even the sailors, who worshiped idols and nature-type gods, understood Jonah’s God better than Jonah did. It is telling that in his prayer for God’s help, he says, “Those who worship vain idols forsake their source of mercy, but I, with resounding praise, will sacrifice to you, Lord.”   In fact, the sailors found mercy by throwing Jonah into the sea, while vain Jonah neither praised God nor was willing to sacrifice much of anything. The mood is set when the whale “spews Jonah up the shore;” even the whale wants nothing to do with him.

So God tells Jonah, for a 2nd time, to announce the message that God will give him.  God has to give Jonah a script of the message of repentance to read, since Jonah has clearly no desire to save the Assyrians, no interest in sharing the Word of God with them, and no love for them as neighbors. But, wonder of wonders, they repent.  And God forgave them, and decided not to destroy the city.  Jonah was livid with anger and told God off.  “Isn’t this what I told you,” Jonah screamed, “I ran away because I knew you would forgive these scumbags.  Take my life, I can’t endure this.”  He simply couldn’t accept that the Assyrians had destroyed his homeland and killed so many innocent people without a thought, yet God would forgive them because they repented.

There is still more history behind this hatred. Israel had lapsed into worshiping idols again before the Assyrians overran their county.  The prophet Amos had warned the Israelites that unless they repented, God would not protect them and they would be taken captive.  Amos had a very personal way of explaining it to them: God can’t dwell with you any more than a man can maintain a true marriage with his wife who commits adultery.  Still, the Israelites reasoned, weren’t the Israelites God’s Chosen People?  Didn’t God love only them?  Didn’t God at least have to protect them because they had the Temple, the priesthood, the Ark?

So, after Ninevah prayed for mercy and did acts of penance – the King, all the people, even the cattle and the sheep wore sackcloth to express their grief – Jonah still sat and waited for God to come to his senses and destroy the city of Nineveh.  At first, God had a large plant grow up around Jonah to protect him from the sun.  The next day, as an object lesson, God had a worm destroy the plant, and Jonah became faint from the heat, and he told God he was so angry about the plant dying that he was angry enough to die.  God’s response is this: “You pity the plant, although you did nothing to grow it and only had it for one day. Then should I not pity a great city of 120,000 people, and their cattle, which didn’t know any better?”  One part of the lesson is: God’s mercy and love are not only for all people, but all of his creation.

.Jonah was so absorbed in his self-righteousness and pity, he was not longer rational. How did Jonah get so confused?  That is the other and primary point of this story.  Not quite 100 years after the Assyrian invasion of Israel, the Babylonians invaded, and leveled the country, again, taking most of the people captive, again, for some 40 years.  The people left behind were the poor and marginalized, who then intermarried with other tribes in the area.  These became the people called the “Samaritans.”  (Note: the Babylonians also leveled Nineveh.)

When the Israelites were released to return from captivity, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, a strong and narrow-minded Jewish nationalism developed. People were required to prove by lineage that they were “pure” Jews, and those with mixed lineage, like the Samaritans, were barred from participating in government or religious life.  Prior to this, a person could become an Israelite by marriage or coming to live and participate in the community.  But by the 4th Century BC, Israel had closed in on itself, no longer sharing their faith.  This story is a call for Israel to repent, and to preach and practice God’s mercy and forgiveness.  By putting a mirror up in front of the people, the writer hopes to show them the folly of their faults and bring them to repentance for their sins of exclusivity and hatred.

Jonah is a 4th Century BC teaching story with lots of implications for today’s world.  It is the story of love and gentleness as the one successful response to hatred.   It is a lesson of the faithfulness of God and how faithfulness is required from us to be able to walk with God in right relationship.  It is about when nationalism goes far beyond civic pride and falls into unwarranted presumption of privilege, particularly privilege which degrades others.

Every day is “the time of fulfillment, the Kingdom of God is at hand”, Jesus told us.  We also need to stop and repent of those sins we only recognize when we see them in others.   One of the reasons Jesus was surrounded by disciples was to give us people to relate to.  We can better hear Jesus’ teachings by identifying with the disciples mistakes.

And that means we all need to become increasingly aware of not only what we do but what we do not do.   I see pictures of refugee camps and starving children daily, yet I live very comfortably.  What I do not do speaks very loudly to me.  Do I think I am more valuable than a child dying of starvation and cholera in Yemen?  Does God find people in one nation innately more loveable than elsewhere?  Being God’s chosen people brings greater responsibility, not greater privilege.  Just a few blocks from us, around Coates Elementary School, live a lot of people who God chooses, too.  Perhaps they should be here, sitting next to us?