An ELCA pastor shares his thoughts about the Bible, spirituality, the world, and LGBT issues.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Sunday Sermon: Jesus, Send Us a Sign!

PROPER 13B  John 6:24-35
8/02/15  David Eck


     Have you ever asked God to send you a sign? By this I mean some kind of signal that you were headed in the right direction; a beacon of light that pointed the way forward. You may have asked for a sign while you were trying to make a difficult decision that was potentially life-changing. You may have asked for a sign when confusion surrounded you and you had no earthly idea how to move forward. You may have asked for a sign when you felt overwhelmed by all the demands that were being placed upon you, and knew you had to let go of something.
     Have you ever asked God to send you a sign? I'm pretty certain all of us have done this more than once in our lives. Some of us save signs for big things like new jobs or finding the love of our life. Others ask for signs all the time: "God, help me find a parking space in this crowded shopping mall.  Amen." You might laugh but I'll bet you've uttered that prayer at least once in your life, or at least spoke it in your heart!
     Signs play an important role in our lives. Not surprisingly, they play an important role in the Bible as well. Let me give you a few examples. God sent Noah a sign after the flood in the form of a rainbow.  It was a sign of God's promise to never flood the earth again. [Gen 9:12]
     God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush that was not consumed. The reason for this is that people believed no one could encounter God directly. Therefore God sent signs of the Divine Presence because that is all human beings could handle.  [Ex 3] Then God continued to send more signs, in the form of the ten plagues. each was meant to convey a message to let God's people go from their captivity as slave labor in Egypt.
     Isaiah received a big, glowing sign that left no doubt he was called by God to be a prophet. It was a vision of the hem of God's robe filling the temple, seraphim flying around, temple pillars shaking, and God's house being filled with smoke.  [Is 6] Remind me not to ask for that kind of sign any time in the near future!
     When we reach the gospels, signs of the kingdom begin popping up everywhere. Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons. He calmed a storm with three words "Peace, be still." He walked on water and raised Lazarus from the dead.
     Each of the four gospels has many signs contained within them. Each of these signs was performed to teach those who had observed them about who Jesus is and how God's kingdom operates in our world. The gospel of John is particularly filled with signs. He uses this specific word "sign" all throughout his gospel as he talks about Jesus. For John, a sign is "something that points beyond itself." In every instance the signs John describes point to Jesus' true identity and source of power.
     Last week we read about one of the biggest signs of them all; the feeding of the 5,000. This week we read about the crowd who completely misunderstood what this sign meant. As our story ended last week, the disciples had gathered up twelve baskets full of leftovers, after 5,000 people had feasted well.
     During the course of the night, the disciples set sail for Capernaum where Peter's house was located. While they were in the middle of the lake a strong wind arose which is pretty common on Lake Galilee. Then Jesus, who had initially stayed behind, performed a pretty spectacular sign. He walked 3 to 4 miles across the water and got into the boat in the middle of Lake Galilee.
     Then next morning the crowd in Bethsaida realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, so many of them went to Capernaum since they knew this was Jesus' home base for his ministry. When the crowd began to gather, Jesus said something very interesting to them: “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw SIGNS, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life."
     It was quite clear to Jesus that the crowd has misunderstood the sign of the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes. It had reminded them of a story about their ancestors who were fed by God on a daily basis with manna, quail and water as they made their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. Since they were well fed yesterday, they were here today, expecting the same thing…free food! Somehow they got the impression that Jesus was exactly like Moses. He was God's emissary who was being used by God to feed the people. They had witnessed a miracle, a sign. But they misunderstood what the sign meant.
     Friends in Christ, the same thing can happen to us as well when we ask Jesus to send us a sign. Signs can be misunderstood, because they need to be interpreted. Since a sign is "something that points beyond itself," it also contains the possibility that we will miss the direction its pointing toward.
     Let me give you an example.  I can count on both hands the number of times in my life when God's direction came in the form of what I call a neon sign: My decision to go to seminary. Accepting the call to be pastor of Abiding Savior. Finding the love of my life. Adopting Jason and Michael Dawn as our children.
     "Neon signs" are rare in our world. They are moments of divine clarity that scream at us "This way, dummy!" We are left with no doubt regarding the path we're supposed to travel. For whatever reason, God doesn't choose to operate this way very often. Most of the time, it's the Holy Spirit, the still, small voice of God, who sends us signs. She gently pokes and nudges us until we get the message. This can be frustrating when we have important decisions to make.
     But our gospel lesson makes it very clear that even neon signs can be misinterpreted. The crowd was looking for free food, another miracle, but Jesus had something different in mind. This is crystal clear when the crowd asks Jesus, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?"
     Jesus, shaking his head in frustration, says "Truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I AM the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to ME will never be hungry, and whoever believes in ME will never be thirsty." [NRSV]
     It's very clear that Jesus is telling them They misinterpreted the sign of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. It was NOT supposed to point to more free food. It was supposed to point to the One who offered something far greater than the physical nourishment the loaves and fishes provided.
     I AM the bread of life. All the signs I have performed are supposed to point to me! I AM the direction you're supposed to go. I AM the way you're meant to follow. I AM the food you need to live life in all of its abundance.
     The purpose of the sign was NOT to point people toward another miracle. The purpose of the sign was to point to the greatest gift God was giving the world: Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life.
     John states this purpose so clearly and beautifully in the introduction to his gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth."
     Friends in Christ, it's clear from our gospel lesson that the crowd was content to settle for far less than they should have. I believe they would have been happy with an endless All-You-Can-Eat  loaves and fishes buffet. But Jesus had something else in mind that was far greater than they could have ever imagined. He was offering himself as a miraculous supply of loaves and fishes. He was offering himself as daily manna that would feed us all with love, grace, and forgiveness until we have our fill with leftovers to spare.
     As we come to the end of our story we don't know if the crowd ever understood what Jesus was trying to tell them. but, hopefully, we understand it now. When we ask God to send us a sign, we should really be asking God to send us Jesus. It's a lot better than a parking space at the mall or even a road map of where were supposed to travel next.
     The truth of the matter is, signs are not supposed to do anything but point us to Jesus. Because when we have Jesus, we have everything. he is the right direction we need to travel. He is the beacon of light who illumines our path. He is the Bread of Life who feeds us better than a truckload of love and fishes. We should settle for nothing less!
     I'd like you to sing a simple song with me that sums up what our gospel lesson is all about. The next time we have a difficult, life-changing decision to make; the next time we are confused and have no earthly idea how to move forward; the next time we feel overwhelmed by all the demands that are being place upon us; I hope we ask for one thing, and one thing only: I hope we ask for Jesus, who is the only sign any of us could ever hope or wish for:
In the morning when I rise, in the morning when I rise
In the morning when I rise give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus, give me Jesus.
You can have all the rest, give me Jesus.

And when I need a sign, and when I need a sign
And when I need a sign, give me Jesus
Give me Jesus, give me Jesus.
You can have all the rest, give me Jesus.  AMEN

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday Sermon: Feeding the 5,000

LECTIONARY 17B    John 6:15
7/29/12  David Eck


     Sometimes Jesus is a little bit sneaky, and I hate it when he does that! Sometimes he asks what appears to be an innocent question, but there's a lot going on underneath the surface: "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus asked. A sneaky question, indeed!
     John thought it was sneaky. He says Jesus asked this question to "test" the disciples. Jesus wanted them to squirm like a worm on a griddle for just a little while…and that's sneaky! Jesus knew EXACTLY what he was going to do as he stood in front of a crowd of 5,000 people. Yet he wanted the disciples to feel the full weight of the situation before he acted.  Sneaky, indeed!
     The setting of the gospel lesson is the fertile plains which surround the city of Bethsaida. The reason why I think this is the case is that John says "Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee." "The other side" is code language for crossing from the Jewish side of the lake to the Gentile side. Since Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem before our story takes place, it makes sense that they would travel to Bethsaida, which is on "the other side" of Lake Galilee. It is also the home of Peter and Andrew's fishing business. Therefore, it would be a good place for them to restock their supplies and get a little bit of R&R.
     A second reason why I think this is the setting is that John says "there was a great deal of grass in the place." After having walked much of this territory back in January, the fertile plains of Bethsaida fits this description better than any other location.
     So, as our gospel story begins, we imagine a boat docking on the shore of a vibrant city. It's filled with people who are buying, selling and trading. Smells and noises fill the air as Jesus and his disciples stop by Peter's fishing business to restock their supplies. When they are ready to depart, they set up camp at the base of a mountain, not too far from the city.
     Then, little by little, people started showing up. Some came to hear what wisdom Jesus had to offer. Others were hoping Jesus would perform a miracle and cure them of their ailments and infirmities. As the day went on, they kept coming, and coming…and coming, until there were 5,000 people trying to squeeze in close so they could catch a glimpse of this man everyone was talking about.
     This is the setting for Jesus' sneaky question: “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” I'm sure a few of the disciples laughed out loud. Philip is the first to speak up, "Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." He was merely stating the obvious! In Mark's version of the story, the disciples say to Jesus, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat."  [Mk 6:35-36]
     Jesus' sneaky question was met with a less than enthusiastic response. But can we really criticize the disciples for the way they reacted? We may not have stood on the fertile plains of Bethsaida, but everyone in this room has been in a situation where we felt like 5,000 people were clamoring for our attention. Everyone of them wanted something from us, and we felt totally incapable of meeting their needs.
     Life can sometimes be overwhelming. We look at what we possess in terms of time, abilities and financial resources. Then we look at the needs of our families, the demands of our jobs, the challenges of being the church in 2015, and the suffering that exists in our world, we feel completely overwhelmed. You know it's the truth!
     But the error in this kind of thinking is that we aren't hearing Jesus' question correctly. Jesus asks the disciples, as well as us, “Where are WE to buy bread for these people to eat?” But what all we hear is "Where are YOU to buy bread for these people to eat?" We assume it's our personal responsibility to meet the needs of everyone around us. This is a recipe for burnout and feeling overwhelmed in life.
     But this is not what Jesus is asking us to do. Jesus is asking us to work with him. It's not a solo effort, it's a partnership! Let that sink in for a moment! Then try to recall a moment in your life when you were wrapped up in your own personal whine-fest. When I use the term whine-fest, I'm not referring to fermented grape juice. I'm referring to an endless litany of woes where all we talk about is how tired we feel, how overwhelmed we are, and how we simply cannot meet all the demands people are placing on our mental, emotional and physical selves.
     When we find ourselves wrapped up in one of these whine-fests, chances are we've left Jesus out of the equation. We've convinced ourselves that it's up to us to personally save the world and feed the crowd. Well, Friends in Christ, that's not our job description. Instead, Jesus is asking us to work with him. It's not supposed to be a solo effort, it's a partnership! The disciples failed to understand this. We often fail to understand this as well.
     But, thanks be to God, there is one person in the crowd who understands Jesus' sneaky question. He isn't a religious scholar or a savvy business person. He is simply a "boy, a youngster, who pulls out of his sack two fish and five small barley loaves. Then this young man shows them to Andrew, who is just as clueless as Phillip. Andrew looks at this meager offering. Then he looks at the crowd of 5,000 people and he states the obvious: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 
     Again, we see that the disciples don't understand Jesus' sneaky question. They still think the "we" is them personally, or this obviously clueless and idealistic boy. Yet this boy in the crowd is doing EXACTLY what Jesus is hoping the disciples would do: Offer whatever meager resources they had and trust that, somehow, Jesus would take care of the rest.
     We know how the rest of the story goes. Jesus tells the crowd to sit down. He then goes over to the boy who hands Jesus his offering of two fish and five barley loaves. Jesus blesses the loaves and fishes and distributes them to the crowd. 

     The brilliance of the way John tells the story is that the disciples do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! In other gospels, they are the ones who distribute the loaves and fishes to the crowd. But in John's version Jesus is the only one who hands them to the crowd while the disciples sit there and watch the miracle unfold. I'm sure the disciples have a few loaves and fishes tucked away in their bags, but they aren't going to share them with anyone. They are saving them for themselves. Therefore, they miss an opportunity to become a part of something that is SO much bigger than themselves.
      The one who helps Jesus, and participates in the miracle, is a boy whom the disciples would not have given the time of day. When all is said and done, 5000 people are fed and twelve baskets of leftovers are collected. It is a sign of the generosity of Jesus which always comes to us in overflowing abundance. But this abundance may not have been possible if it wasn't for the faith of a boy in the crowd who offered what he had and trusted Jesus to do the rest.
     Friends in Christ, St. Paul said "Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise;  God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are."  [1 Cor 1:26-28]
     "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus asks us this morning. When we look at what we possess in terms of time, abilities and financial resources. Then we look at the needs of our families, the demands of our jobs, the challenges of being the church in 2015, and the suffering that exists in our world, we feel completely overwhelmed. However, the good news of our gospel lesson is that it's not our job to feed the hungry crowd all by ourselves. It's not a solo effort, it's a partnership. Jesus will gladly take whatever we have to offer and multiply the gift until it overflows in abundance. Let us give generously from all the blessings God has given us. It might seem foolish to some, but to Jesus is is the wisest decision we will ever make! AMEN

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sunday Sermon - Compassion

6 PENT B   Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
7/19/15  David Eck

     In order to appreciate our gospel lesson, we need to look at the series of events which led up to it. At the beginning of chapter six Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth where he began teaching in the synagogue. However, the hometown crowd remembered Jesus, not as a miracle worker and master storyteller, but as Mary & Joseph’s boy, the carpenter’s kid. Because of this, Jesus was unsuccessful in his mission there, except for healing a few sick people. Mark says “He was amazed at their unbelief.” Then Jesus left Nazareth and began teaching in other villages.
     Meanwhile, he sent out his twelve disciples to do their ministry. Mark says “they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” As the chapter continues, Jesus received the devastating news that his cousin John the Baptist. was beheaded by King Herod.
     This is where our gospel lesson comes in. The disciples returned from their ministry. They were both excited and exhausted. Yet whatever excitement they had was surely crushed when they heard about John's execution. It is at this point in the story that Jesus made an excellent suggestion: "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves, and rest a while." What a great idea! A little get-away, a mountain retreat, was exactly what the disciples needed.
     We all need periods of rest. We all need time to get away from it all; time to rest our brains and recharge our spirits. This is not only true of us, it is also true of Jesus. After experiencing rejection in his hometown, after teaching and healing, after receiving the news that John was murdered, Jesus knew it was time for a retreat. He sensed his disciples needed it as well.
     And so they got into a boat and tried to find a spot away from the crowd where no one could find them. Unfortunately, word got out where they were headed. When they reached their intended destination they discovered, NOT a deserted place, NOT a restful retreat, but a shoreline that was standing room only. As they docked their boat the people swarmed around them like paparazzi stalking a celebrity.
     Now, we might think that Jesus would have been be pretty exasperated when he saw the crowd. We might think that he would have ordered his disciples to turn the boat around and head to another destination.  Instead Mark says Jesus "had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd." He taught them and healed them and fed the crowd of over 5,000 people.
     Have you ever had a week similar to this one? Except for feeding 5,000, of course! Have you ever had a week when the demands of work or school felt overwhelming? A week when there were bills to pay, house cleaning and washing to be done, meals to be prepared, kids to raise, dogs to walk, meetings and social activities to attend, a sick friend to visit, bad news from a relative; one demand on top of another?
     Then in the midst of this frenzy of activity you discover a free day on your calendar.  So you circle it in red and set it aside as a day for rest and relaxation. You look forward to it, and pray for it. When that day finally comes you suddenly remember that you are in charge of the neighborhood block party and 40 guests show up at your doorstep waiting to be fed and entertained. OR you get that phone call that turns your world upside down and your day of rest and relaxation is quickly put aside and replaced by more activity and more demands on your time and emotional energy.
     In moments like these COMPASSION is not the feeling that comes to mind. You want to scream. You want to rant and rave. You want to jump in your car, drive to an undisclosed location and hide for a while.  Have you ever had a week like this? I’m sure you have!
     COMPASSION IS NEVER EASY. There is always, always a cost to it. And what I’m trying to do this morning is put us in Jesus shoes so we understand how hard it is sometimes to have compassion for those in need. We tend to read these words in our gospel lesson and think nothing of them: "Jesus had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd and he began to teach them many things." However, when we place ourselves in the situation of our Gospel lesson; when we’ve had the kind of week Jesus had; we begin to understand that his compassion for the crowd is a very remarkable thing indeed.
     It’s true, Jesus was the Son of God, with all the power this entails. But he was also fully human with all of the feelings, weaknesses and temptations we experience in this life.  And I cannot imagine that Jesus would not have been at least a little bit frazzled when he tried to take his disciples on a quiet retreat and found over five thousand people waiting to be taught, healed and fed. I find it hard to believe that Jesus would not have been tempted to turn the boat around and head for an undisclosed location. However, Jesus and his disciples go ashore. He sets aside his time of rest and relaxation and has compassion for those in need. Compassion is a very powerful gift to others. It is never easy and it always comes at a cost. 
     The American Heritage Dictionary defines compassion as ”A deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it. “ Compassion is more than feeling sorry for someone. It is something much deeper. It is something that enables us to push through our fatigue and burnout and set aside our time of rest and relaxation. We do this because the needs of others are so great and deeply felt that we cannot do otherwise. Compassion enables us to do things we would not normally be able to do in order to help others who are in need.
     In New Testament Greek there are two words that can be  translated into English as “compassion.” The first is ELEEO. This word is used by the sick and suffering who appeal to Jesus for relief of their pain. It is most commonly translated as  "have pity on me," but it also means "have compassion on me." The second word for compassion is SPLANCHNIZOMAI. This word is always used when describing Jesus. It literally means “to be moved in one’s bowels.”  
     This is the kind of compassion Jesus had for the crowd. He was not simply feeling sorry for them. If this were the case, he might have been tempted to turn the boat around and head for an undisclosed location. Instead he was moved in his bowels, he profoundly felt the needs of the crowd, and he simply could not turn them away in spite of his need for rest and relaxation. This is the kind of compassion Jesus had for the gathering crowd. It is a remarkable and powerful gift that should not be underestimated nor underappreciated. Compassion is a rare quality in this world. But it is one that I believe we are called to exhibit as followers of Jesus.
     How many of you in this room have ever seen the movie POWDER? If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend it It is a profoundly moving film about how the gifts of some people are seen as a threat by others. The lead character POWDER is very much a Christlike figure so it’s a particularly interesting film for people of faith. The reason why I mention POWDER this morning is that the film talks a lot about compassion; both those who have it and those who don’t.
     One of my favorite scenes in the movie is one that illustrates the quality of compassion perfectly. POWDER is on a camping trip with other boys from the group home where we lives. The leader of the home shoots a deer and is proud of his accomplishment. However, the deer is not dead yet and the leader tells the boys that it’s O.K.  The deer doesn’t feel anything
     Well, Powder is visibly upset by the scene. He kneels down and places a hand on the deer’s side as tears roll down his cheek. Then he grabs the hand of the leader of the boys home. And, all of a sudden, the leader feels what the deer is feeling and it’s a traumatic experience for him. It is so traumatic, in fact, that he vows he will never hunt again. As he describes the experience afterward, the leader tells people it was as if he and the deer were one. He experienced every emotion the deer was going through as it lay there dying. This is an excellent illustration of what compassion is like. It is, as the Greek word indicates, to be moved in ones bowels, to feel deeply the pain and suffering of another, to walk in someone else's’ shoes.
     Frederick Buechner once wrote that  ”Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live in somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy for you, too”
     I believe that we, as Christians, are called to be people of compassion. In the midst of our stressed out frazzled lives we are called to do a difficult and life-changing thing. We, like Jesus, are called to set aside our own cares and worries for a while and enter into the pain and suffering of others. This is a very difficult thing to do. But it is the work we are called to do as followers of the One who had compassion on the crowd because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
     Luke 6:36 tells us "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." This text can also be translated "Be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate." Perhaps this is the lesson we learn from our gospel lesson for today. It’s true we all need times of rest and relaxation. We need a quiet space away from the busyness and stress of life. However, our first priority is to be people of compassion; to be shepherds to the sheep, guides to those who are lost, healers to those who are suffering the ills of body, mind or spirit. This work is hard, and it often shows up on our shores at the worst possible moments of our lives. However, it is the work we are called to do as followers of the One who has compassion on us, and was willing to give his life for our sake. Therefore, go into the world this week as compassionate people. May we transform the world with God’s love, healing, justice and mercy

AMEN

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sunday Sermon: What is Our Plumb Line?

6 PENT B   Amos 7:7-15, Mark 6:14-29
7/12/15  David Eck


     Today's gospel lesson sounds more like a storyline from Game of Thrones than it does the good news of Jesus! It begins with a discussion between King Herod and his cronies regarding the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. The Herod in our story is Herod Antipas, the son of King Herod the Great. Antipas was the first century ruler of Galilee and Perea where Jesus did much of his ministry. This is the same Herod we read about in the events of Holy Week.
     Mark tells us that "Jesus' name had become known." Therefore, it's not surprising that Jesus was the hot topic of discussion at Herod's palace in Tiberius. Who is this man that so many people are talking about? Is he simply a religious fanatic or is he a threat to the Roman empire? Enquiring minds want to know!
     Several theories were discussed. Some thought Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. Others thought he was the great prophet Elijah raised from the dead. Those with a little less imagination said Jesus was "a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." 
     Finally, Herod gave his opinion. "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” Now, it's impossible to read any vocal inflection into this statement but I'd venture a guess that Herod was feeling like his past had come back to haunt him. The reason why I believe this is so has to do with the flashback that follows.
     It begins with Herod's first bad decision: He married his sister-in-law, Herodias, who was also his niece. If that doesn't sound like Game of Thrones, I don't know what does! Herodias' first husband was Beothus. Most scholars believe he is the Philip mentioned in our gospel lesson. Together, they had a daughter named Salome. With me so far?
     We don't know how Herodias' second marriage came about. I can only assume it was the byproduct of a hot, torrid love affair. That's my story and I'm sticking with it! Whatever the case may be, John the Baptist publicly criticized Herod for marrying Herodias.
     This marriage was a violation of the Holiness Code which states in Leviticus 18:16 "You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness." This is a polite way of saying what you think it says! And again in Leviticus 20:21, we read "If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity; he has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless."
     John's public criticism of their marriage did not sit well with the happy couple. Herodias became vengeful and wanted him dead. Herod wasn't sure what to do. He liked John's message and knew John was a righteous and holy man. However, in order to appease his wife, and silence John's shaming of his marriage, he had the prophet thrown in jail.
     All of this leads to Herod's second bad decision: His lust for women got the best of him. Apparently, Herodias was not satisfied with John being thrown in prison. She wanted him dead. Therefore she devised a plan that took advantage of her husband's lustful nature. It was Herod's birthday and she threw a big party for him at their palace in Tiberias.
     Mark is incorrect in the next part of the story because Herodias was not the one doing the dancing. Matthew makes it clear it was Salome, Antipas' niece, who was shaking her booty. This actually makes the story even more scandalous, if that's even possible!
     Herod was smitten and said to Salome “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” After conferring with her mother, Herodias, she asked for John the Baptist's head on a platter! Herod, had no choice!  His lust had gotten the best of him. He gave the order for John to be beheaded, and had one of his guards present it to Salome who gave it to her mother! As the flashback comes to an end, the body of John the Baptist is given to his disciples for burial, but Mark does not mention whatever happened to his head!
     So, can you see why Herod thought his past had come back to haunt him? He was hardly a paragon of virtue. If you know Game of Thrones well, he would feel right at home with the Lannister family! The reason why I spent so much time with Herod's sordid story is because it's a cautionary tale regarding what happens if we don't have a moral and spiritual plumb line in our lives.
     In our first lesson, the same thing happened to the nation of Israel. The prophet Amos said, "This is what God showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD said to me, "Amos, what do you see?" And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel;  I will never again pass them by."
     Both of these readings remind us that everyone needs a plumb line to ensure their life is in balance. Everyone needs a plumb line  to keep their spiritual house  from looking like Herod's! 
     If you have no earthly idea what Amos is referring to, let me clarify things a bit. A plumb line is a cord to which is attached to a weight of metal, stone, or clay, called a plummet. This simple device was used in the construction of walls to ensure that they were perfectly vertical and not out of line.
     A secondary use for plumb lines was on sailing ships. These plumb lines were knotted cords with weights attached to them. A sailor lowered this cord into the water until the weight hit the ocean floor. By counting the number of knots the sailor could tell how deep the water was and thus avoid the ship getting stuck in shallow water. This is how a plumb line was used back in Amos' day.
     As we place these two readings side by side, they call us to ask ourselves an important question: "What is our plumb line? What keeps our life in balance and prevents our spiritual house from looking like that of King Herod?" Followers of Jesus have a number of wonderful plumb lines to keep our lives in balance.
     The first one that comes to mind are the dual commandments: "You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." And "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
     A second is the Ten Commandments.
     A third is what is often called the "Golden Rule" "Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you."
     Some would also add the words of the prophet Micah: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God."  [Micah 6:8]
     Some would cite the Beatitudes [Mt 5] or Jesus' Parable of the Sheep and Goats: "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."  [Mt 25:40]
     All of these are wonderful plumb lines that provide a moral and spiritual framework to help us to make good decisions in life. I'm certain there are others as well as we immerse ourselves in God's word and discover those passage that speak strongly to our hearts.
     Not surprisingly, Abiding Savior has a few plumb lines as well. The most obvious ones are our Welcome Statement and our Mission Statement. Our Welcome Statement is our new logo which is accompanied by the words "United in Christ. Welcoming All." The colored dots around the cross remind us of what "all" means.
     Our Mission Statement reads "We are a diverse church united by a deep love of Jesus and a heart for service in the community.   We are dedicated to being a sanctuary (safe-haven) for all of God's people."
     A less obvious plumb line is our church's constitution and By-Laws. They outline the basic beliefs of the ELCA and how we operate as an institution. 
     Another plumb line is our Church Council which acts on behalf of the congregation and guides our life together.
     A final church plumb line is your pastor, who is the spiritual leader and servant of Abiding Savior. It's my responsibility to stay healthy so that our church is healthy as well.
     Speaking of which, you might be curious as to what my personal plumb lines include. They include all those mentioned so far, and a few others that might be plumb lines for you as well.
     Family is an important plumb line for me. Gary has always been a great sounding board and a source of wisdom for me. He knows me better than anyone else on this planet. He is both an encourager and a challenger, depending upon which I need at any given moment. I am a better person and a better pastor because he is a part of my life.
     My Mom and our kids are also an important part of my family plumb line. Our granddaughter Mallory is one of the best gifts God ever gave to us. She keeps me fighting for what is just and right and true in our world, because this is the world I want her to grow up in!
     Another essential plumb line for me is my meditation and prayer life. I must confess I've not always been good at this, but right now my personal devotional life is strong and vibrant. I spend time in meditation and prayer twice a day, more if needed. I use that time to ground and center myself. I also pray for those who need healing, discernment or protection. Every time I feel worried, anxious or unsure of what direction I need to go, meditation is my place of holy calm when life gets turbulent. I could not do what I do without it, both at church and at Mission hospital.
     A final personal plumb line is one that you gift to me. As a pastor I get the wonderful opportunity to spend a generous amount of time studying the Bible as I prepare for sermons and Sunday School. Indeed, God's Word is a lamp to my feet, and a light unto my path. I try to share what I learn each week with all of you. I hope it will become a plumb line to you as well.
     In closing, the most obvious piece of advice I can offer is DON'T be like Herod or Herodias! Because, sooner or later, someone's head is going to end up on a platter! Instead, let us allow God to establish a plumb line in our lives so we may walk in ways that are pleasing in God's sight.  AMEN

Friday, July 10, 2015

Amos' Plumb Line

"This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD said to me, 'Amos, what do you see?' And I said, 'A plumb line.' Then the Lord said, 'See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel.'" [Amos 7:7-8 NRSV]

     A plumb line is something that keeps us from getting out of line, from traveling a crooked path. A plumb line helps us to avoid being stranded in shallow water and ensures that we will travel on safe seas. Moral and spiritual plumb lines are a necessity in life. Without some type of guidance, philosophy or creed, we are more likely to get ourselves into trouble and travel down a path that is nonproductive at best or dangerous at worst.
     What is your plumb line? What keeps you grounded? I have a number of plumb lines myself. Theologically speaking, the commandments to love God and love neighbor are my anchor. I always try to evaluate what I do by asking if my words and actions are drawing me closer to God/others or are they having the opposite effect?
     Relationally speaking, my husband is definitely a plumb line, along with my closest friends and family.  I count on all of these people to be my sounding board. I also know they will challenge me when they think I'm headed in the wrong direction.
     We all need plumb lines in life. Without it we're just flying blind without a compass. Lately, we've been watching plenty of politicians and celebrities crash and burn because they didn't have a strong enough plumb line. Think about the significant relationships in your life and make sure those people are not "enablers" but will help you to grow in healthy and life-affirming directions.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Sunday Sermon - Hospitality

ORDINARY 14 B  Mark 6:1-13 
7/05/15     David Eck
 

     I looked up the definition of "hospitality" in the dictionary this week and this is what I found: "The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers." There are several things about this definition I find quite interesting, especially as it applies to churches.
     "Friendly" is a no-brainer. There is not a church out there who doesn't want to be known as a friendly church. But I'd like to argue that being "friendly" is relatively easy. All it takes is a smile or a handshake of welcome. It involves having someone hand out bulletins as people enter the door of the church. It involves people sharing the peace of Christ in an enthusiastic manner. There are lots of "friendly" churches out there. They even print in their bulletins "All Are Welcome."
     But if you hang around long enough you'll discover that "all" means "everyone who looks and thinks like us." "Friendly" has invisible "exceptions clauses" such as all are welcome except those who don't believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God" or those who are gay or lesbian or those whose skin color is the same as ours. If you hang around long enough, you'll discover what these exceptions clauses include. Once they discover that YOU are one of these exceptions, their friendliness toward you will disappear rapidly.
     So "friendly" is relatively easy. But the definition of hospitality also includes the word "generous." Generosity means we go out of our way. We make an extra special effort in being hospitable. "Generous" means we stop talking to our friends in church and spend time getting to know the visitor who just walked through the door. "Generous" means noticing someone came in late and doesn't have a bulletin, so we hand them ours and go get a new one.
     It can also mean helping them to navigate the Lutheran worship service, including where to find that hymn with ELW#425 next to it OR how in the world you get to and from your seat during communion. "Generous" means anticipating their need before they know they have one!
     Moving further along the definition, we discover that hospitality is extended to "guests, visitors, or strangers." "Guests" are those we know are coming. They are the "regulars," the faces we see week after week. They are the people we call our "church family." We know them pretty well. It's easy to be hospitable to them.
     Next come "visitors" who are  people attending for the first time. Or maybe they are attending for second time but they're new to us because we missed their first visit. I've already outlined the ways we can be more hospitable to these new friends. It takes a little more effort on our part to get to know them.
     Finally, we have a category that makes us shake in our boots a bit: "strangers." Somewhere in the back of our minds we hear the voices of our Mamas who told us not to talk to strangers. The stranger is the person who shows up after worship is finished and asks for money or to speak to the pastor. The stranger is the person who just doesn't look like they're going to be "our kind of people." This is a judgment call on our part, usually based on their outward appearance, but this happens in churches all the time. Yet hospitality calls us to be both friendly and generous to the guest, visitor and stranger alike! I guess hospitality may be a little more challenging than we first thought it was going to be.
     I have some bad news for you because when it comes Jesus' understanding of hospitality the challenge is even greater. Our first stop on the journey is our gospel lesson, here Jesus is sending the twelve disciples to be the living Church out in the world. He is calling them to embody the love, grace, and hospitable welcome they had received from him.
     From his "to-do" list I think we learn several things about the nature of hospitality:

A. First of all, we're not only called to be hospitable IN Church, we're called to be hospitable OUT in the world as well. Mark tells us that Jesus "called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority." What this tells us is that everyone is called to be the Church out in the world. He gave them the authority to be his emissaries, his ambassadors of good will. They were even told to interact with "unclean spirits," which in modern language means the crazies we usually cross the street in order to avoid!

     Notice, Jesus didn't say "I'm only sending out eleven of the twelve of you, because Judas is already our volunteer treasurer and he does enough work in the Church already." Notice, Jesus didn't say "Hey Peter, don't we have a Hospitality Committee or an Outreach Committee to do that?"
     Jesus sent out all twelve, which, of course,
—Means he sends out all of us as well,
—Including your pastor!

No one is exempt from being the Living Church out in the world. No one is exempt from embodying the love, grace, and hospitable welcome we have received from Jesus.

B. The second thing we learn from Jesus "to-do" list is that we're supposed to travel lightly. Jesus told them, "Take nothing for your journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in your belts; but wear your sandals and don't put on two tunics."

     Now Jesus travel tips are a bit outdated  for today's modern Christian. I've only worn a tunic once in my life while vacationing in Egypt. I suspect most of you have never worn a tunic at all!
     The gist of what Jesus is saying is that we really don't need much to be the Living Church out in the world. We don't need an evangelism plan that was approved by our Church Council. We don't need clever gimmicks or "hip" marketing strategies. We simply need to embody LOVE and HAVE THE FAITH that Jesus will take care of the rest.
     This is really hard for us to do. Most Christians are afraid to share their faith except for the crazy conservative ones we hear from them ALL THE TIME. But we need to trust that we have something to offer that people need to hear. We, who have received  Christ's love, grace, and hospitable welcome, simply need to share this same love, grace, and hospitable welcome with others. It's that simple.  It's that profound!

C. Finally, Jesus has a word of advice on his "to-do" list for the situations when our love, grace and hospitality, are neither appreciated nor accepted. “If any place will not welcome you, and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” To quote an old 70's song from Kenny Rogers: "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run!"

     Being the Living Church out in the world is not always easy. Sometimes we will be received warmly. Other times we will encounter hostility. But even when this happens, we are not supposed to return hate for hate. We are call to walk way knowing that we tried to embody Christ's love, grace and hospitality to the best of our abilities. The hope we have is that a mustard seed of that love, grace and hospitality was left behind. Maybe, some day, it will find good soil and will grow into a mighty tree. These are some of the things I think Jesus is trying to tell us about the nature of hospitality in our gospel lesson for today.
     Friends in Christ, these past few weeks have been an emotional time in the life of our nation. We saw a church, Emmanuel AME Zion in Charleston, offer hospitality to a young white man who, after Bible study, killed nine of their members. If that doesn't make us feel afraid, and less willing to extend hospitality to others, I don't know what will.
  

     We also saw at least six African American churches set on fire in Knoxville, TN, Macon GA, Charlotte, NC, Warrenville SC, Tallahassee, FL and Greenleyville, SC. Some of these fires may be due to natural causes such as lightning strikes and faulty wiring but at least three of them are being investigated as arson. While we shouldn't jump to conclusions yet, even if one of those churches was set on fire out of hatred, it only magnifies our fear.
     Furthermore, the hate speech against the LGBT community after the Supreme Court ruling on marriage gives us pause for concern as well. I am certain this hate speech will lead to some individuals putting it into action. Again, this gives us pause for concern as well. It makes us feel like circling the wagons and protecting ourselves. It makes us feel like being less than hospitable.
     Yet, in spite of things that cause us to be fearful, Jesus still calls us to be the living Church out in the world. He calls us to embody the love, grace, and hospitable welcome we have received from him.
     If we still doubt this is true I offer you the parable of the Good Samaritan from the gospel of Luke. A man was traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. I was in that geographical location while in Israel. It is quite barren and hostile with plenty of hills where thieve could hide. This man was attacked by robbers "Who striped him, beat him, and went away leaving him half dead."
     A priest came walking by and didn't want to get involved. He passed by on the other side of the road. A Levite, who is an assistant to the priests in the temple, also came walking by and didn't want to get involved. He, too, passed by on the other side of the road. It put it in modern terms the "church going folks" didn't want to get involved in the situation. Their hospitality to the stranger was non-existent.
     Finally, a Samaritan came walking by. According to John Shelby Spong in his book "Jesus For the Non-Religious," Samaritans were "the unclean, rejectable scum of the first century Jewish world. They were half-breeds whose blood lines had been corrupted by their Jewish ancestor's marrying Gentiles. They were also largely viewed by the religious establishment as heretics since the true worship of God had been compromised by the Gentile side of their ancestry."
     This Samaritan, who would have been seen as unworthy of God's love, grace and hospitable welcome, embodies the true definition of hospitality. He was not only friendly to this stranger. He was extravagantly generous to him. The Samaritan bandaged the injured man's wounds. He poured oil and wine on them which was their version of Neosporin and antibiotics! The Samaritan took him to the nearest inn and made sure he was cared for until he was well.
     "Which one of these," Jesus asked, "Do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" In other words "Which one of these embodied the love, grace and hospitable welcome of God?" The one whose question prompted the telling of this story responded, "The one who showed mercy." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise!"
     Friends in Christ, our calling is clear. We are called to be the Living Church out in the world. We are called to embody the love, grace and hospitable welcome we have received from Jesus. This is not always easy work. But it may be the most life-changing and transformational work we will ever do as followers of Jesus.  AMEN.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Sermon: Jairus' Daughter (Time for the Church of Jesus Christ to Rise)

ORDINARY 13B  Mark 5:21-43  David Eck
6/28/15

     During my sophomore year in seminary at Gettysburg, PA I learned a lesson about racism I will never forget. The story begins at the start of my freshman year as I moved into my dorm room. I decided to decorate it in true Gettysburg style: I purchased a 3 ft. X 5 ft. Confederate flag and hung it on the wall in my room.
     Growing up in Pennsylvania, this particular flag was always referred to as the "rebel flag." Therefore, it was the perfect choice for me as a proclamation of my somewhat rebellious nature. This flag stayed on my wall for the entire school year. No one ever said a thing about it.
     However, this changed when a new student moved into the dorm my sophomore year. His name was Kerry and he would eventually become my best friend at seminary. Kerry had a rebellious spirit just like me. So like attracted like and the two of us hit it off right away. Neither of us fit the mold of a typical seminarian, many of whom were religious studies majors. I was a Chemistry major who played rock guitar and skateboarded around campus. Kerry was either a Journalism/English or History major. He also happened to be one of two African American students on campus.
     But before we became best friends, a conversation needed to happen. During the "get to know you better" phase of our friendship, Kerry sat me down one day and we had a conversation about the flag that hung in my room. Kerry told me that when we first met he didn't think he'd like me very much. He saw my Confederate flag and was a little concerned to say the least.  I had displayed it as a symbol of rebellion, but he understood it as a symbol of slavery and oppression. Little did I know that by displaying this flag I was being "unintentionally racist" but racist nonetheless.
     Needless to say, I took the flag down immediately and threw it into the trash. This would be one of may lessons I would learn from Kerry about the differences between growing up white in suburban Pittsburgh and growing up black in suburban Baltimore.  I naively assumed our experiences were the same but I would learn that, in some ways, they were quite different.
     The reason why I share this story with you has more to do with what happened this week at Emmanuel AME Zion Church in Charleston yhan it does with the flag that is flying over the State House in Columbia. There is something about the murder of a pastor and eight of his congregants at the hand of a hate-filled gunman that has shaken me to the core.
     My experience with Kerry and the Confederate flag taught me that if we are really going to begin to heal the racial divide that exists in our nation, we white folk are going to have to listen carefully to our African American brothers and sisters as they describe the hatred, violence and prejudice they experience on a daily basis. We're going to have to let those stories shine a light on the ways we are both unintentionally and intentionally racist. Then, we need to do something about it.
     Prayer vigils and passionate speeches are great. We've heard many of them over the past year. But if these vigils and speeches do not inspire us to action, they mean very little.  I'm not sure yet, what I'm personally going to do to help heal the racial divide in our country. But I know that as a community leader I cannot remain on the sidelines any longer. I must be a part of the solution instead of passively being a part of the problem. Healing and transformation do not happen in our world by candlelight vigils and stirring speeches alone. It takes a lot of hard work, both in our souls, and in our community to make it happen.
     Believe it or not, this brings us to our gospel lesson for today. While it may not be immediately apparent what this text has to do with the issue of confronting racism, stick with me and you'll see the method to my madness!
     What we have in this reading is what some scholars nickname a "Markan sandwich," where Mark places one story inside of another. The point of this narrative technique is that the two stories should be read as one. They comment on one another and should be interpreted side by side.
     The first story is the healing of Jairus' daughter. Jairus was one of the leaders of the local synagogue. People would have seen him as an upstanding citizen, a pillar of the community, a holy man. But this holy man is being completely ignored by Jesus. Mark tells us that Jairus "begged Jesus repeatedly," saying, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”
     What's up with that?  It seems so un-Jesus-like! Why was Jesus ignoring this man's desperate request? Please don't tell me Jesus was waiting for this man's daughter to die so he could perform a miracle. I've heard this explanation before and I'm not buying it. This would make Jesus both sadistic and cruel. and if there's anything I know about Jesus, he was NOT sadistic or cruel.
     As we hear this first portion of the story I'm fairly certain all of us can recall a time when we asked Jesus for help, and asked Jesus for help, and asked Jesus for help, but our pleas seemed to fall on deaf ears.
     Those in the African American community know this frustration well. They've been asking for help to put an end to violence and racism for years, and we, the body of Christ, have pretty much ignored their pleas.
     Sure, we posted "Our prayers are with you" on Facebook or attended a prayer vigil for slain victims, but then we got distracted by something else. We ignored their communal cry: "Our sons and daughters are at the point of death. Help us, stand with us, so we may be made well, and live."
     Thankfully, as the story continues Jesus finally hears Jairus' plea and responds to it. The bad news is that it appeared as if it was too late to do anything to help. A few of his friends approached Jairus and Jesus and said "Jairus, your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any longer?"
     This is the saddest verse in our reading because it paints a picture of people who had no hope. "Your daughter is dead. There is nothing we can really do. No good can come out of this. Just come home with us and let Jesus go about his business."
     This past week nine families in Charleston received similar news: "Your daughter is dead.  You son is dead." What good can possibly come out of this?"
     We've all been in that dark place where bad news surrounds us like a raging storm and threatens to engulf us. We, too, have lived as a people without hope and believed it was impossible for anything good to come out of our suffering.
     Thanks be to God, this is not the end of the story! Jesus ignored the bearers of bad news and went to be bedside of Jairus' daughter. "Do not fear, only believe." Jesus said to Jairus. Then Jesus spoke those beautiful Aramaic words: “Talitha cum.  Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about. New life came from death. Hope for a future was born out of the dead end of grief and despair.
     We know this part of the story, too. We've been in that place where everything seemed hopeless; where darkness and dead ends surrounded us; and then, a light began to shine.Hope was reborn,  A way forward was made known.
     I believe this happened in Charleston this week.  It happened when a nationwide discussion erupted regarding the Confederate flag that hangs over the State House in Columbia, SC.  It happened when the families of those who were murdered offered words of forgiveness to the perpetrator of the crime. It happened when President Obama delivered one of the most powerful eulogies I have ever heard: "The killer," he said, "surely sensed the meaning of his violent act.  An act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation's original sin.
     Oh, but God's grace works in mysterious ways, God has different ideas.  He didn't know he was being used by God. Instead of dividing people, the killer's actions brought about a "thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life. Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Rev. Pinckney so well understood:  The power of God's grace."
     If you didn't hear Obama's eulogy I highly recommend you look it up online and listen to it. God used our President in a mighty way to speak the words of Jesus: “Talitha cum. People of faith, get up, arise!"
     If we learn anything from this first gospel story it is that Jesus has the power to bring hope, healing and new life to the most dire and impossible of situations.  It is also a call to action for all people of faith. We, too, must speak those words to everyone who has lost hope. “Do not fear.  Only believe. Talitha cum. Get up, arise!"
     Now is the time for the Church of Jesus Christ to shine like it's never shined before. Now is the time for all of us to stand in solidarity with our African American brothers and sisters. It's time for us to roll up our sleeves, get to work, and become vessels of Christ's hope and healing in our world.
     But we're not finished yet. There is a second story. The power of this story is that the healing offered to Jairus' daughter after he begged and pleaded for help, was also offered to a woman who simply reached out and claimed it for herself.
     The woman in question had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. TWELVE YEARS! It's hard to imagine how difficult her life must have been surrounded by bandages and blood year after year after year.  She went to every doctor she could find,  he exhausted her life's savings. But no one could find a cure. In fact, her condition only got worse.
   But this woman also suffered spiritually as well. Because of her condition she would have been labeled as "unclean" according to Jewish law. Religious leaders, such as Jairus, would have banned her from entering  the synagogue. They would have seen her ailment as a punishment from God because of the sins she or her parents or her grandparents committed.
     I know this kind of thinking may sound ridiculous to some. But I cannot tell you how many times I've heard people at Mission hospital ask me "Why is God going this to me, or to my family?" Sometimes we still link physical ailments with God's judgment.
     But if you pay attention to the story this doesn't happen at all. This tells us something about who Jesus is and how he operates in our world. This bleeding woman had the faith, and the audacity, to touch Jesus. "If I but touch his clothes" she thought to herself, "I will be made well.” You know the rest of the story. She touched Jesus' robe and she was healed.
     Jesus immediately sensed something had happened. “Who touched my clothes?” he inquired. His disciples rolled their eyes because everyone in the crowd was trying to touch Jesus. They completely missed the fact that a miraculous healing had occurred. The only one who seemed to notice this had occurred was Jesus.
     The woman reluctantly and fearfully came forward, expecting words of condemnation from Jesus. She confessed the whole story to him and expected the worst. The act of touching Jesus the rabbi would have made him ritually unclean and unable to enter the synagogue. Surely this woman was aware of the significance of her actions. This was the source of her fear and trembling.
     However, instead of words of condemnation she received words of grace,"Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."
     This is such a powerful and moving story. It's tie to what I've been talking about this morning should be abundantly clear. Our African American brothers and sisters have been suffering for more than 12 years. They have been suffering ever since they were brought to our country as slaves. Along the way, there has been some healing, there has been some movement forward, but lately it seems like the bleeding is only getting worse, just like the woman in our gospel story.
     The only question which remains is "What are we, as the Body of Christ, going to do about it?" Will we tell our African American brothers and sisters that they have brought their suffering on themselves? [Unfortunately, there are crazy people out there who believe this is true.] OR Will be get out of the comfort of our pews and out among the crowd to embody the grace and healing power of our Savior and Lord?
     This has been one of the hardest sermons I've written in a long while.My words are far from perfect, but I hope you hear my heart speaking to you this morning. We, as the Church of Jesus Christ, cannot ignore the violence and suffering any longer. We must be a part of the solution instead of passively being a part of the problem.
     The first step for me is to sit down with several African American spiritual leaders  I know in this community and ask two questions: "How can I personally help?" and "How can my church help?"
     Pray with me.  Discern with me what Jesus would have us do to be a source of hope and healing to those who have suffered for far too long.  AMEN.