Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Matter of Faith

This week's scriptures are Mark 6:1-13 and Mark 9:14-29.

Both of these passages are interesting because they put situations that look like 'failure' side by side with times of impressive 'success.'

In Mark 5, Jesus has cast out a boat load of demons, healed a woman who just touched him, and raised a child from the dead for one of the leaders of the synagogue. But in Mark 6 he is rejected in his hometown and we're told that Jesus 'could do no deed of power there' ('except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them' gotta wonder about Mark's sense of humor here) due to their lack of faith-a lack of faith that has Jesus 'amazed at their unbelief'. Apparently, these folks, who have known Jesus since boyhood, can't get past their familiarity and their cultural belief that Jesus, as the son of Joseph and Mary, is locked into a social role that is inescapable.

Before we pass too much judgement on the people of Nazareth, we might want to remember the times in our own lives when we have been defined by some part of our youth or our past; or when we have seen it happen to another. I remember a guy who, in his senior year of high school, recovered a fumble and ran 90 yards for a touchdown against a major rival. Over 10 years later, his wife told me, "you know, that's what everybody remembers." His accomplishments since...his education...his marriage? Nope...that 90 yard run. And he was lucky. Suppose the thing people had remembered wasn't so flattering.

They (the people of Nazareth) 'took offense' at Jesus. In that culture's view for one person to be lifted up, another had to lose. So they did a 1st century version of "Who do you think you are? Aren't you getting a little big for your britches?"
And the repercussion was that they were blocked from what might have happened. Mark seems to indicate that had they been able to break out of this stance, some great "deed of power" might have been done there. How sad that they were not able to suspend their world view for just a moment. And (this is important, I think) the ones who were able to....the sick people he cured....were the ones desperate enough to risk the possibility of a new way of seeing.

Now we move on to Mark 9. Jesus comes down from the mountain where he has been transfigured in front of Peter, James, and John to join the other disciples. Jesus finds them arguing with some scribes and surrounded by a crowd. An man has brought them his epileptic son and they can't heal him.

Jesus explodes, "You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you?" and commands that the boy be brought to him. Now we'll be looking at the rest of this story on Sunday....but for the moment I want to make a couple of observations. The first is that I think that the comment Jesus makes is aimed at his disciples and at the scribes.

The disciples have already been sent out on a healing mission before. They've know the experience of God working through them in Jesus name. Yet here they are, arguing with the scribes while this boy is writhing on the ground. And probably arguing about some 'law' that might be broken if the healing was done...or whether they had the authority to do the healing. No wonder they couldn't heal this boy. They had let their energy get caught up in the argument and focused there rather than on the important task at hand. And I think that Jesus' comment that such healings take "prayer and fasting" is a comment on where the focus needs to be: on an emptying of themselves (ourselves) and a strengthening of their (our) connection with the one in whose name we act.

These stories have a great deal to say to you and me on a bunch of levels. But for now, I would focus on this: For God to work through us in the world; and in us in our lives, we need to be....we have to be....willing to risk stepping out of our old ways of seeing. To lay aside our old ways of doing. If just for a moment, we need to say, 'what if' and risk the possibility.

A NOTE OF REQUEST: I know that many folks who read the blog are new to this kind of thing. But your thoughts and reactions to the ideas here are a part of a conversation that-hopefully-results in Sunday's sermon. It's a chance for me to hear the kinds of questions that are stirred up by the scriptures and where I'm going with them. So please, if you have time, share your thoughts. I'd love to hear would others who read the blog.

Thanks and I hope to see you Sunday.


Jeremy said...

"And I think that Jesus' comment that such healings take "prayer and fasting" is a comment on where the focus needs to be: on an emptying of themselves (ourselves) and a strengthening of their (our) connection with the one in whose name we act."

Ah, another take on the "deny oneself" = recentering your perceptions/self?

Jeremy said...

Sadly, I left the recorder at home for this one, and my backup recording device produced a recording that was quite horrible (no, it wasn't the subject, it was the equipment).

Anyway, apologies!

Jeremy said...

It would appear that we are also missing March 8th sermon. Not sure what the trouble was there.

No more mistakes (for awhile)! I promise!