Monthly Archives: June, 2013

Living and Sharing the Good News

jesus is lord

Luke 8:26-39

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Heals the Gerasene Demoniac

26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

In today’s world, we use the word “crazy” to describe lots of things that fall outside the ordinary expections:  crazy weather, crazy ending to a ballgame, crazy drivers on the highway, etc.  But the man in this story more likely meets the legal definition of “crazy.”  I think we all know folks who are mentally ill to the point of debilitating them in their life activities, so to make light of the pain that someone has who has no control over their behaviors or to their family and friends would be unwise and we may want to rethink the way we throw that word “crazy” around.  Just my two cents…

But aren’t we all “possessed” by something?  Are you focused on your money, your stuff, your weight, your clothes, your toys, gossip?  Each of these things are just that…THINGS.  These things drive the way we spend our time, talent and treasure for whatever simple reason.  Either they bring us pleasure to have them or we think that we will have all we need once we get them.  But they are never enough…we keep collecting the stuff or ideas and use them to fill our holes in ourselves.  The man that Jesus heals in this story is certainly suffering from mental illness/demon possession or whatever.  Jesus is able to remove the problem and the man is left at peace and healed from suffering with the words and touch from Jesus.  He is a powerful witness to the healing of Jesus and I’m sure was a very effective evangelist in his day!

We all have our demons that get in the way of our true and deep relationship with God.  What I love about the healed man in this story is that he stepped forward to Jesus.  This was a man who lived his life away from society and in restraints because of his demons and he took the very brave step to walk up to Jesus and believe.  We don’t live our lives physically restrained necessarily, but our own sins and distractors from our relationship with Jesus stand in our way of the greatest relationship opportunity of all. We just need to trust that Jesus can lead us closer to him with just a request from us.

What Jesus said after the demons were cast out of the man when he begged to go with Jesus is the advice we should all be following if we truly claim our gift of grace – go out and tell everyone what God has done for us.  Why should we keep his love for us a secret?  And dare I say that you and I may have more credibility in our communities than someone previously living in a cemetery who was the town outcast?

So make a decision to put aside the things standing in our way of our true relationship with God.  Ask for help from the Father when you need it and tell the world the Good News.  It’s the least we can do.

Forgiving and healing Lord, we intentionally accept your invitation to follow You and tell the world about your grace and mercy.  Help us to put aside those things which stand in our way and to walk with You every day in every way.  In Christ Jesus we pray.  AMEN.

Right Place and Right Time

Nain_widow's_son_is_resurrected_by_Christ

Luke 7:11-17

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Raises the Widow’s Son at Nain

11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

Talk about being at the right place at the right time! Jesus has just left Capernaum where he healed the Centurion’s servant (https://paigehanks.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/not-worthy-just-faithful/) and he walks in the gates of the town of Nain.  He runs smack dab into a funeral procession, led by a grieving mother who has lost her husband and now her only son.  I can only imagine her grief spilling out of her as she begins to accept this unwanted reality.  I love verse 13 in particular; “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.'”  I love it because it is just so simple.  God then brings her son back from the dead with a simple touch.

In the presence of God, why should we weep?  I cannot begin to imagine this mother’s sadness and loss.  As a mother, I feel like my heart is constantly walking around outside my body every day, even more so as our daughter is approaching the time to set off on her grown up life of college and long distance from my “controlling” ways as a mom.  I know several friends who have lost a child and the pain is simply inexplicable and can cover up every other emotion; paralyzing grief I am sure.

But God’s promise for the world is that there is life eternal.  I simply don’t understand what that means in any tangible sense and I spend very little time and energy trying to figure it out.  I just know that it brings great comfort in times of challenge and overwhelming sadness.  But come on; who wouldn’t want to have our loved one come back from the dead?  That is one of the great pitfalls in this story of a great miracle.

God has a plan and we are given the greatest gift of love possible – to live life eternal with our Father in heaven.  Grief is for the living and as humans, is part of our human condition.  I lost my Mom last year after a swift and ferocious diagnosis of multiple primary cancers.  Mom was young, professional and worldly and it didn’t make sense for this to happen to a person at the top of her game of life.  We all reacted differently to the shock and pain, but for me, it gave me a challenge that was like a river of faith.  I don’t know why and it certainly didn’t match other family members’ responses to the situation.  And boy do I wish she was still here to talk to and guide me as a mom and our daughter as her beloved Kiki.

She wasn’t raised from the dead to come back to be with us, nor did I expect that to happen.  I even got my feathers ruffled a few times when folks said to me, trying to be helpful I am sure, that they were praying for a miracle and that she could beat this disease.  We knew better…the situation was grave right from the start.  So instead of spending time hoping for Jesus to walk right up to us and heal her, I thought a better way to approach this was to embrace life eternal and that precious gift of perfect healing. loving mom and providing peace and compassion as she lived through dying.

We can’t pray hard enough, do enough good in the world or do just the right thing to invoke the miracles.  They come when God’s plan matches our desires.  And although I would give just about anything for a few minutes with my healthy Mom, I was so very grateful that her incredibly debilitating pain ended much more quickly than anyone thought or believed.  Her healing didn’t bring her back to the human life but brought her into the presence of our Savior.

So we wept for our loss of her presence, just as the mother who met Jesus was doing.  This is normal for folks who love and all of us experience loss of this sort.  Jesus feels sorry for us too, but now that he gave his life for us, he can call upon us to look forward in anticipation to the great gift of our resurrection.  Maybe that is the miracle that is enough…we know what this grieving Mother did not know, that we have life eternal as our promise of perfect healing now.  I want to ready at the right place and the right time for that.

Saving Father, we are so very grateful for the gift of your Son, sent to save us from our sins and give us the promise of life eternal.  Comfort us as we grieve and teach us to trust your saving love for us.  Help us walk in faith and to accept your gift of mercy.  We thank you for loving us and protecting us.  In your Holy Name we pray.  AMEN.

Really Forgiven and Loved

woman alabaster jar

Luke 7:36-8:3

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

A Sinful Woman Forgiven

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Some Women Accompany Jesus

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

I was at the hair salon yesterday.  This was one of those LONG appointments where I had several steps of service followed by periods of waiting for the next step.  This always means that my hairdresser is serving several clients at once, sometimes with interesting conversations!  Yesterday, there was a gal there who is on the same “schedule” as I am and our paths have crossed before.  She was reading the newest edition of “People” magazine as she waited for her turn and the cover story was about some of the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing.  I only briefly glanced at the cover as she waved it to show our hairdresser – it showed a picture of three beautiful women who had all lost limbs in that terrible tragedy.  This other client was incensed and she began a rant about immigration, terrorists and punishment, while sadly noting the ruin of these three ladies’ lives.

When I read today’s Gospel reading in preparation for this blog, I immediately felt the peace that comes from forgiveness.  Hear me….I am not a believer in forgetting the crimes that have happened to absolutely innocent victims in our country and around the world.  But I am working very hard on forgiveness as a personal choice.  As I listened to the conversation in the hair salon yesterday, my internal dialogue (because I learned a long time ago that the hair salon is a dangerous place to engage with strangers who differ from you in beliefs) went in a completely different direction.  This client stated that we should strap a bomb to the surviving accused man and set it off, letting him suffer without any medical treatment.  That should be his “punishment,” she said.

I couldn’t believe the venom and the malice, but I understand feeling helpless in the face of tragedy.  It doesn’t always bring out the best in us, as I saw yesterday and we see every day in our interactions with others.  Luke’s Gospel story for today addresses forgiveness in two different ways.  One of the ways Jesus shows and teaches about forgiveness is to give grace and mercy to the woman who serves him with the ointment on his feet and using her hair, weeping at the presence of Jesus.  Undeserving the Pharisees – yes.  The good news is we don’t have to do anything to DESERVE forgiveness.  We just get this free gift because of our relationship with Christ.

The second way Jesus teaches about forgiveness is in his conversation with Simon.  His message is about forgiving all sins, no matter the debt – no matter the seriousness.  This really speaks to me and has, ever since I heard a sermon while visiting a church on our last vacation.  Forgiveness isn’t incremental to the sin – it just is forgiveness.  I have no idea if the “Boston Bomber” as he is called has sought forgiveness or has any understanding of Christ’s love for each of us.  But what I know that I have to do a better job with is forgiving others…no matter what.  Not conditional in any way and man, that is HARD to do.  I need to do it even when it is not asked of me.  I need to do it even when I am hurt, sad or mad. This is not a pansy way of just letting folks walk all over me, but really about bravely approaching my call to follow the Great Commission:

Matthew 28:18-20

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We are called to go out in the world and teach others to do what God has commanded.  If forgiveness is what is expected of us as we are forgiven (John 13:34 – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”) by God, then love needs to be the lens we use to examine our world and all that we do and is done to us.  Wishing pain and misery on our enemies just feels bad, and bad thoughts beget bad thoughts and even bad actions.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is “Be the change you want to see in the world,” by Ghandi.  I can’t sit in my comfy house and wish that everyone was kinder and nice to one another, more forgiving and merciful and more full of love for all mankind.  I have to go out and fulfill the Great Commission myself, hopefully living out the change I want to see in the world.  God forgives us our most grievous sins and our smallest missteps.  We should be striving to do the same – even when it’s hard.

Forgiving Father, we come to you not worthy of your grace and mercy.  We humbly ask your forgiveness for all our wrongdoing and ask you to send your Holy Spirit to guide us in our work in the world.  Send us out to do the work you have given us to do and help us to love one another as you have loved us, unconditionally.  We ask all things through our mighty Savior, Jesus Christ.  AMEN.

Not Worthy…just Faithful

faith

Luke 7:1-10

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant

After Jesushad finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

For many of us Christians, we find ourselves measuring our faith against others.  I know a woman who positively glows – she has an outwardly obvious faith and we have discussed many a serious theological issue together, proving to me that my impression of her faith is an accurate one.  And when I look in the mirror, I am a bit envious of the ease with which she seems to navigate the challenges of life through the lens of her faith.  Instinctively, I want to be more like that person and be able to live out my life so to represent that level of faith.  Somehow, it makes me seem more “worthy” in my relationship with Christ.

Silly me…and maybe even silly you if you’ve ever had a similar experience!  First of all, this isn’t a contest.  The one with the most faith or who is the most worthy wins no additional grace from God.  Secondly, we don’t have to be worthy in any way – our Lord loves us for us, without condition and without compromise.  What a beautiful gift – God’s grace and mercy.

In Luke’s Gospel reading for today, Jesus illustrates this in a powerful story.  A Roman military leader calls for Jesus to come heal his slave.  This is an interesting twist on Jesus’ healing ministry, as this Centurion is not a believer of Jesus as savior.  He just believes in his power to heal.  In the face of it, that seems to defy any logic applied – who does he think he is demanding Jesus come and heal when the soldier doesn’t even believe or understand Jesus in relationship to God?  It just wasn’t necessary to be “worthy” in this story; all that was needed was faith.  Jesus didn’t even have to get close to the slave to heal him – he shared with his followers that the faith of this man was the most faith he had seen.  The faith of the soldier must have been an unusual occurrence, even as it compared to the Jews who were gifted with Jesus’ presence for him to make such a statement as he does about all he has met in Israel.

Don’t be confused by this…this isn’t a story about someone deserving to be healed.  Rather this is a tale of believing in Jesus for no other reason than that he makes the impossible seem possible.  Those of us with faithful hearts can use a lesson or two from this Centurion.  For me, my faith is foundational to who I am as a person.  Yet still, I struggle with life’s challenges and have been known to question a thing or two that I thought God might have missed!  And I reflect on my sinful self and can find myself believing that I’m not worthy of any blessing or gift too.  But Jesus’ interaction with the Centurion and his request is a reminder to keep the faith.  Focus less on our worthiness and more on our belief that in God we are well blessed.  We can expect him to heal the parts of us in need and lead us down the path of following his will.  It just takes the faith of one who BELIEVES in him.

Lord of healing and strength, we thank you for your grace and mercy that we do not do anything to deserve.  Help us to believe in your power and will for us and to count on you with unwavering faith.  We can do all things through you, Jesus Christ.  Your grace is enough.  AMEN.