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Friday, 25 January 2019

Mark 5:21-43 Being Aware, Being Present in the Moment

I’ve often been accused of being a day dreamer, of having my head in the clouds dreaming of what might be and what’s already happened and how it might have been different. Then one day a man I respect deeply gave me some wise advice, he told me that dreamers are important because they push us into places that we might never have thought possible, but Jesus also wants us to have our feet planted in the right now with eyes and ears wide open to recognize the opportunities to be a blessing and recognize Jesus’ presence and power in our lives.
Day dreamers can miss out on much of the beauty and wonder around them, in the people in our communities, in how Jesus is working right here, and how he can use us to be bringers of hope, peace, and grace. I’ve learnt to be more present and aware of what’s going on around me and have open eyes and ears to the Holy Spirit’s moving, allowing Jesus to use my life to bless others and help them see how the Holy Spirit is working in their lives right now. This hasn’t stopped me from day dreaming, but it has helped me to dream better in the direction that Jesus is working.
Mark shows us how Jesus practices being present in the moment even when everything around him is semi-chaotic. A synagogue ruler called Jairus comes up to Jesus in the middle of a large crowd who are following Jesus around the area. It’s already been a long day for Jesus, he cast out a legion of demons out of a man living in a graveyard, he crossed the lake to get some breathing room from the crowd, but they’ve followed Jesus around the lake anyway. Now Jairus approaches Jesus, pleading for Jesus to come with him and heal his dying daughter, and so Jesus goes with him.
As Jesus goes with Jairus, the crowd follows, pressing in close around Jesus. Today they’d all have their cellphones out trying to get a selfie with Jesus to show they were with him. It’s busy, crowded, noisy, stressful, emotional and then something insignificant happens that no one notices, but Jesus notices and responds immediately. In the crowd is a woman who’s been sick with a bleeding disease for over 12 years. Because it’s a bleeding disease, this means that if she touches someone, she will make them unclean, unacceptable to God, so it’s a pretty serious disease. She’s spent all her money on doctors, but now she’s broke and still sick and her only hope for a cure is Jesus. Her plan is to get close enough to touch Jesus’ cloak and pray that will heal her. It’s like a Hail Mary pass in football where on the last play of the game, the quarterback heaves the ball up into the air towards the goal line hoping one of his players will catch it and fall into the end-zone for a touchdown.
She comes up behind Jesus in the crowd and touches his cloak. Immediately her bleeding stops and she feels in her body that she is free from her suffering. She thought that she would make Jesus unclean with her illness, instead she discovers that Jesus takes our sin on himself, the uncleanness that we can’t wash off, and he takes it to the cross where he washes us completely clean with his death blood, healing our souls and hearts, making us holy and right in the eyes of our heavenly Father, so that we can bring glory to his name. Now the woman has done this so quietly that no one notices her and she goes to disappear back into the crowd.
But Jesus is paying attention to everything going on and he feels power slipping out of him as he goes with Jairus to heal his daughter. Jesus knows that his power has not just randomly slipped out of him, that someone with faith and intention has touched him looking for something from him that only he can provide and he wants to know the who and why. Jesus asks, “Who touched my clothes?” It seems like a crazy question with so many people there, but Jesus reaches down deep into our hearts and he felt the depth of faith and hope that drove this woman. She’s the only one touching him with a deliberate intent to be healed. Jesus is aware of everything happening around him and what has just happened.
Michelle Derusha shares her beautiful insights into this story, “Luke offers us a detail, a small but important insight into who this woman was: When the woman realized that she couldn’t remain hidden, she knelt trembling before him. In front of all the people, she blurted out her story—why she touched him and how at that same moment she was healed.” Like the bleeding woman in Luke’s gospel, we, too, try to hide our worst selves, our shadow sides, our most broken parts from God. We hide our whole selves, not only because we feel ashamed and unworthy of love, but also because we don’t trust God’s goodness. We don’t trust that God loves us enough to accept our whole flawed and broken selves. This is because we haven’t paid enough attention to the presence of Jesus in our life, we haven’t been aware of his deep love for us. Fear and distrust prevent us from answering God’s invitation into intimacy and healing.
“We are not good at recognizing illusions,” Thomas Merton wrote, “least of all the ones we have about ourselves – the ones we are born with and which feed the roots of sin.”  We refuse to face our deepest flaws and darkest sins because we’re afraid they’re unforgiveable and made us unredeemable and unlovable. We allow busyness, distraction, social media, our to-do list, and, above all, our striving to achieve, succeed, and please to shield ourselves from both our deepest sins and our deepest desires and from experiencing the presence of Jesus.
The woman reveals herself and Jesus responds, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Jesus blesses her, not only with healing for her body, but freedom from the suffering of being unclean and being unacceptable. Jesus is aware of not only her physical needs, but also of her soul and heart needs.
When we read this story of Jesus’ encounter with the sick woman and Jairus, we usually focus on Jesus’ healing power and power over death, both important revelations pointing us to who Jesus is as the Son of God and promised Messiah. Yet I also appreciate how Barbara Brown Taylor and Peter Schuurman also point us to how Jesus pays close attention to what’s happening around him, how Jesus is able to notice the sick woman’s need even while there is the pressure on him to get to Jairus’ daughter quickly because she’s so close to death, there’s the crush of the crowd and its commotion all around him, and how it’s already been a long day for Jesus and tiredness must have been beginning to set in. It would have been so easy and understandable for Jesus to completely overlook this sick woman with all that’s going on.
Jesus notices the woman because he is completely present in the moment. It’s easy to allow stress, worry, tiredness, and other distractions to keep us unaware of what’s going on around us. I notice this when I’m around children because they’re so much more aware of what’s going on around them. They ask questions and bring my attention to things and people I overlook. We become so used to seeing what we want to see that we often overlook opportunities to bless others and to be blessed. Do we see the woman walking out of the bank with tears on her cheeks, do we see the young mother or older man at the store checkout carefully counting their change with worry in their eyes, do we see the child sitting alone in the playground or park, do we see those who quickly leave each week after church and who don’t seem close to many others, what are we overlooking because of our own worry, stress, or distractions in our lives?
Barbara Brown Taylor writes, we spend so much time thinking about where we have been or where we are supposed to be going that we have a hard time recognizing where we actually are.” Because of that we miss out on experiencing the presence of Jesus. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 6:34 to “not worry about tomorrow,” because worry distracts us from living well today. The more aware we are of what’s happening in the here and now, the more aware we become of the Holy Spirit’s presence, of the Spirit’s leading us to opportunities to simply be with Jesus and to rest in him. As we focus more carefully and deeply on what’s going on around us, we become more aware of the urges of the Spirit to be aware of the people and opportunities to be blessed and to be a blessing.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Matthew 4 Following the Spirit into Uncertain Places

Happy New Year, it’s 2019 and a whole year lies ahead of us, a year that will be filled with all kinds of events, both high and low. Many of us have plans for the year, but as James tells, we make all our plans saying, “The Lord willing,” to remind us that we need to keep our eyes focused on Jesus and be willing to change our plans for the Lord’s plans. The one certainty we have as we look ahead to this new year is that Jesus will be with us through it, leading us through the Holy Spirit. Yet there is a sense of uncertainty as we enter into 2019 since we know there are changes that are going to be part of our future as we move forward as Hope Church and some of the changes are going to be large with a change in leadership likely to happen.
We don’t know exactly what the future holds; we’re following the Spirit of Jesus into uncertain places. Many people don’t like uncertain places because we don’t have control in those times and places and we need to lean into Jesus more and trust him more deeply. That’s ok because it also offers great opportunities for growth in our faith, growth for our leadership, and growth in our relationships together.
This is why we’re reflecting on the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as he follows the Holy Spirit’s leading into the wilderness instead of heading to Jerusalem, which was the center of Jewish life and thought. Jesus begins his ministry by following the Holy Spirit which God had just poured out on him at his baptism into an unexpected place, at least according to our thoughts and ways of doing things. Many of us would begin where the people are, begin by getting your name out there where people can see and hear you, where they can witness your power, but Jesus follows the Spirit’s leading into the wilderness instead, trusting the direction and place where the Spirit takes him.
Matthew is creating all kinds of echoes here for us: back to Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land, and back to Moses and Elijah and their times in the wilderness. The wilderness became the place for Israel where you meet God, where you get shaped by God into who you need to be in order to be ready to carry out God’s plans for you and God’s people. Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness before they entered the Promised Land and during these 40 years Israel changed from a ragtag band of former slaves into a unified nation shaped by God’s law, strong in faith and trust, willing to follow where God led them.
Moses spent 40 days with the Lord on Mount Sinai, Exodus 34:28 tells us that “Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.” Elijah was led into the wilderness after he defeated the prophets of Baal and was then threatened by Queen Jezebel with death. Elijah ends up under a broom tree, depressed and afraid where he falls asleep. Later, an angel wakes him up. 1 Kings 19:8 then tells us, “So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.” Here Elijah encounters God’s presence and finds strength and encouragement to carry on with God’s work. The people hearing Matthew’s story of Jesus heard these echoes and this helped them understand Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness as a time to prepare him for his ministry.
Jesus is led into the wilderness in order to be tempted, to be tested by the devil. Is Jesus going to trust God and his will, or is he going to be deceived like Adam and Eve were deceived by the devil. Is Jesus going to trust God as the road ahead is going to be hard, or is Jesus going to react in fear like Israel did when they saw how strong the people living in the Promised Land were, leading to their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness? Matthew wants us to enter into this uncertainty with Jesus in order to find out if Jesus is, as the voice at Jesus’ baptism says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Will Jesus act in faith and trust, or will he be just like Adam and Eve and the Israelites, lacking in faith and trust in God. Is Jesus going to allow Satan to deceive him into thinking of his own needs and wants like he did with Adam and Eve, is the devil going to get Jesus to take the easy road of power by receiving it from Satan instead of walking God’s path to the throne? We might think this is a strange question, but remember we’re looking back and know how Jesus reacts, but people just getting to know Jesus in Matthew’s day, and people just getting to know Jesus today, do have these questions, who is Jesus and how will Jesus react in times of uncertainty and temptation?
We’re Jesus followers, but if we’re honest, most of us didn’t sign up to follow Jesus into uncertain places, we don’t follow Jesus with a deep desire to be tested, to be pushed hard on our trust and faith in him during those times when the future is unclear. Yet it’s during these times and places of uncertainty that Jesus meets us and helps us learn a deeper trust, a stronger commitment to following him alone, to listening to him more intentionally. For Joyce and I and our family, these past few months have been a time of renewed commitment to Jesus and his timing, to a deliberate deeper trust in Jesus for our lives as we are in an uncertain place along with you.
Jesus’ responses to the devil show the importance of Scripture as a key part of our relationship with God, especially during the uncertain times, the difficult places. Knowing the stories of God and his people, learning to recognize how God is always present, always providing, always challenging us to trust him, gives us the words and strength to reject the temptation to walk the easy paths instead of the Jesus path of trust and faith in God. Jesus’ responses show a trust and faith in God even if the path ahead is difficult and uncertain from our point of view, a faith and trust that grows stronger the more we get to know God. This is why Bible reading, prayer, worshiping together on Sunday in church, Christian fellowship and friendships, and other spiritual disciplines are so important.
As Peter Schuurman writes,Faith involves following the Spirit into uncertain places… faith, by definition, is a journey into unknown territory, a pilgrimage into ministry and mystery.” These times make us more open to prayer and being transformed by Jesus. These past 6 months have driven me to my knees in prayer more often than almost every other period of ministry that God has placed me in, reminding me that I need to place my faith completely in the one who loves me so much that even though I’m a sinner, Jesus came to take my sin to the cross so that I can know I’m forgiven, that Jesus will never abandon me and that this is true for all of us. In his love for us, Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit to change us, to help us become more holy, more like Jesus.
In times and places of uncertainty we look to Jesus who followed the Spirit into uncertain places as the light dawning in the darkness. Just because the future isn’t as certain as we would like, just because our plans don’t work out the way we prayed, this doesn’t mean that we stop moving forward with confidence, obeying Jesus’ invitation to “come follow me and I will send you out to fish for people.” The disciples chose to accept the uncertainty if following Jesus over the stability and certainty that comes with the family business and staying within their home community. Following Jesus will often lead to him challenging you to leave your comfortable place in order to become more like him, to become more holy and be shaped by the Holy Spirit.
As the disciples followed Jesus into their new future, they saw what Jesus did, the changes in people’s lives, how Jesus shows us what God’s kingdom is all about: shalom and hope, health and wholeness, forgiveness and grace, power over Satan and over creation. We cannot be certain about the year ahead, we say, “Lord willing,” to all the plans we make, but in everything we can look forward with excitement to how Jesus will shape us as a church and as individuals more into his image. We trust that Jesus will use us to reveal God’s kingdom to those God places in our lives, to help make our community a better place to live, to help others come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour as God’s kingdom continues to break into our world through Hope in 2019.