Stories that Nurtured Jesus: Ruth 3

Stories that Nurtured Jesus: Ruth 3

Luke 6:37-38Ruth 3      Audio Version Here

I’m assuming you just read Ruth 3 (if  not, this may not make much sense).

I was listening to a podcast which asked the question: what is meant by masculinity?  The answer given was that it is a series of stories we hear that tell us what little boys should do or not do, and what they should like and not like.  Big boys don’t cry.  Boys play with trucks, not dolls.  Boys like sports, not dressing up.  Boys like blue, not pink.  And femininity is similarly a set of stories that tell us what little girls are to do and not do, what to like and not like. 

The stories we receive shape our worlds.  They tend to present a binary picture of the world of black and white, all or nothing, without ambiguity. 

We cannot help hearing stories that shape us as children.  But as adults, we learn to question the adequacy of some of those stories, or even the truthfulness of them.  We learn that there are alternative narratives that deserve a hearing.  We learn that binary categories of all or nothing, do not adequately account for the world as it really is. In fact, these stories end up marginalizing people who do not fit into the strict binary categories.  The stories become oppressive.

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Ruth 2 – The Stories that Nurtured Jesus

Sermon onRuth 2 and Matthew 22:36-39 for August 5, 2018, Pentecost +11B

Ruth 2 (Please read this first)

Matthew 22:36-39

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”   He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  38 This is the greatest and first commandment.   And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Screen Shot 2018-08-04 at 2.18.55 PMIn the days of danger and chaos, when “there was no king in Israel and every one “did what was right in his own eyes” there was a famine in the land.  So a family of Israelites, from Bethlehem (which means “house of bread”) went to live in Moab, to find bread. 

The father, Elimelech had two sons who married Moabite women.  The father and the two sons all died, and the mother, Naomi, whose name means “pleasant”, heard that there was food back home, so she returned to Bethlehem at the time of the barley harvest. 

One of her daughters in law, Orpah, turned her back on Naomi, but the other, Ruth, whose name means “friend, or companion,” stayed with her, leaving behind her home, her relatives, and the gods of the Moabites to become an immigrant to Israel. 

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Ruth 1 – The Stories that Nurtured Jesus

Ruth 1 – The Stories that Nurtured Jesus

Sermon for July 29, 2018,  on Ruth 1:1-22 and Luke 6:32-36    Audio Version Here

In the next few weeks, we will look closely at the book of Ruth.  Please pause here and read Ruth chapter 1.  This charming and apparently simple story is actually far from simple.  The issues it deals with are profound issues for us.  We will look at the setting of the story today, and learn that the book of Ruth, though set in times far different from our own, nevertheless brings us face to face with problems that are as relevant as today’s’ newspaper and ones own daily journal entry. 

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The Miracle of Compassion

The Miracle of Compassion

Sermon on Mark 6:30–56, for Pentecost +9B, July 22, 2018  Audio Version Here

Mark 6:30–56 (I chose to read the whole story, not just the parts the Lectionary suggested, so, it’s a bit long.  So instead of including the whole text here, you can get it here at

The Miracle of Compassion

Some people have told me that they have had to simply stop listening to or watching the news; it is so disturbing.  I sympathize with them.  At the end of a week filled with news that left most Americans in both parties upset, frustrated and angry, Friday it became even harder.  We saw a video of a boat on a lake in Branson, Missouri, fighting to get back to shore in a sudden intense storm, and finally going down. There 31 people on board.  People on shore watched in disbelief.  You could hear a woman saying “Those dear people.” 

Quite often it amazes me how the scripture texts suggested by the common lectionary line up with current events.  Today’s text includes a storm on a lake and a boat full of people in danger.   Mark’s version of the Jesus story includes several storms at sea.  Mark also has two miracles of feeding the multitudes and multiple healings.  Why?  What is he trying to do? 

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The Jesus Mission We are Called To

The Jesus Mission We are Called To

Sermon on Mark 6:1-13 for July 8, 2018, Pentecost +7B    Audio Version Here

Mark 6:1-13

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 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.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

I like practicing Yoga for several reasons.  The health and fitness benefits are obvious to everyone.  But there is more.  No one I know grew up in a yoga-practicing family.    People here in America typically start practicing yoga because they want to become better people.  Some of them have been alienated by traditional religion, but they have not abandoned spirituality, and they often talk about practices and ways of thinking that will help them become more grounded and compassionate. 

So, why do people come to church? 

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Dealing with it all

Dealing with it all

So, I don’t know what you do to deal with all the pain, the bad news, the bleakness that bombards us every day – I hope you have ways of coping.   One of the ways I deal with it, is, at the end of a day, I put on Youtube and find music that, for me, helps put the soul back into a good space.  So, I’ve followed this choir  – I was in a choir as a boy and have a permanent love for choral music.  It’s not for everyone, but it does something for me.  So, here is the Nordic Choir doing “Before Sleep”  by Susan LaBarr.  The music, to me, is beautiful, but so are the lyrics that seem to speak to the present moment:

Each one of us has walked through storm
and fled the wolves along the road;
but here the hearth is wide and warm.
but here the hearth is wide and warm.
And for this shelter and this light
Accept, O Lord, our thanks tonight.

Click here for the music.

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The Jesus Touch: Healing the Nation

The Jesus Touch: Healing the Nation

Sermon on Mark 5:21-43 for July 1, 2018, Pentecost 6 B    Audio Version

Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “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.”

So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?'” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

I was listening to a podcast in which the speaker kept making references to Dostoyevski’s book, The Brothers Karamazov.   I had always felt bad that I had not read it, so I downloaded it as an audiobook and started listening to it when I run.  It is like other Russian novels – there are way too many pages spent on drawing room conversations, too much blushing and flushing and hand kissing – it can get tedious, for my tastes.   

But then you come to those scenes in which the most intense conversations happen, and it makes it worth all the drawing room pages. 

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Probably the most famous scene is the one about the Grand Inquisitor.  It is a story told by Ivan to his brother Alexi, which you may be familiar with.  But the reason I bring it up is what Ivan says just before the Grand Inquisitor story. 

Ivan says he has made it a personal past-time to collect stories of human cruelty.   He tells a number of them in horrible detail, like, for example, stories of what the Turkish soldiers do to civilians when they capture a village.   It’s too ghastly to repeat here.  (Book V, chapter 4 “Rebellion”)

Ivan makes several observations.  He says that people call this kind of evil behavior animalistic, but that no animal is cruel for the sheer pleasure of causing maximum suffering the way humans are.  It is an insult to animals. He also observes that enjoying the suffering of other people is completely mysterious.  It makes no rational sense, and yet the stories of it are abundant. 

The question about why bad things happen is always troubling, but the question of why humans cause unnecessary suffering is just as perplexing.  Even if there are reasons given, they are never sufficient.  Why does someone kill 5 people who work for a newspaper?  Even if he has a reason to hold a grudge, still, that is nowhere near an adequate explanation for what he did. 

Our Alternative World

We gather here to imagine and to speak of, and to proclaim an alternative to a world of violence and gratuitous suffering.  So, we tell Jesus-stories, and our quest is to connect those stories to our world.  That is what we are going to try to do today.

We read the text from the Gospel according to Mark about two events that happen in one day.  It is like a sandwich.  It begins and ends with a story about a prominent man named Jairus with a sick daughter whom he asks Jesus to visit and hopefully heal.  In between Jesus’ response and arrival at Jairus’ home, something unexpected happens.  A woman in the crowd around Jesus touches the edge of his robe in her quest for healing, and Jesus notices her touch.

You have heard me say that Mark embeds his stories with many symbols.  He does that here too.  First, he tells us that Jesus and his crew have crossed to the other side.  Last week we noticed that  Jesus’s sea crossings are always about going from Jewish to Gentile space or back, which is why they are always so stormy.  Well, he has been on the Gentile side, so this return brings him back to Jewish space where the concerns are Jewish concerns, which we will see.

There are several parallels between the woman who touched Jesus’ robe and the sick girl.  Both are called “daughters.”  The Hebrew Bible calls Jerusalem “daughter Zion” – the city standing for the nation. 

So are we to understand these two daughters as emblematic of the nation?  Maybe so.  The number 12 comes up for both of them.  The woman has been sick for 12 years.  The girl is 12 years old.  So what?  Israel has twelve tribes.  The symbolism seems clear.  So, is the nation sick?  Is the sickness deadly, at least potentially?  What would the disease be?  Can Jesus do anything about it?

Touch is involved in both stories.  The sick woman touches Jesus.  Jesus touches the little girl’s hand. 

The woman is sick with a blood disorder.  Blood makes you impure, and impure people have to be isolated from others or their impurity is spread; not to trivialize it, but it’s like we used to think of cooties when we were children.   When the woman touches Jesus she makes him impure. 

The fact that he stops and draws attention to that touch makes his impurity a public fact.  But he completely ignores it.  Touching Jesus heals the woman instantly. 

“He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Faith comes up in both stories too.  Jesus credits the woman’s healing to her faith.  When he gets to Jairus’ house and finds his daughter dead, Jesus says to Jairus,

“Do not fear, only believe.” 

Faith” is the noun.  To believe” is the verb.   Both mean, essentially, “trust.” 

Some have called this Jesus’ shortest sermon.  We are not told if anyone does believe, but the healing works.  Jesus takes the girl’s hand, tells her to rise, and she does. 

So how does having trust in Jesus lead to healing and even to restored life? 

One of the big ways that the nation of Israel, the “daughter Zion” was sick to death was their emphasis on purity.  Impure people were excluded.  This was a problem for Jewish people themselves, especially rural people whose lives put them in constant exposure to animals, from birth to slaughter, making them perpetually impure.  But how much more were Gentiles impure. 

But Jesus intentionally crossed the sea to the Gentile side, and when he returned, he completely ignored the purity taboos in the interest of bringing healing.  In fact, it was his unwillingness to respect those exclusionary taboos that brought healing.  Nobody was a touch-me-not to Jesus; Jewish or Gentile, sick, dead, contaminated or Synagogue big shot.  Jesus’ interest was in bringing healing. 

Are We Sick?

Let us bring this into our world.  Is there any sickness we need to be cured of?  Most of us, just like most faith leaders, including our Presbyterian leaders, and people in both political parties have been horrified by the practice of separating children from their parents.  So we are all thankful that the policy of separation has been reversed, but we are all concerned for the children who have already been separated and how and when they will be reunited. 

But where does this policy that caused so much unnecessary suffering come from?  There are a set of rationals that have been offered.  We are told there is an immigration crisis, that large numbers of immigrants are coming into our nation, that they are criminals, that they are taking American jobs, driving down wages, that they are straining resources, taking benefits without paying taxes, hurting our economy, and making all of us unsafe. 

None of those claims are true.  Even conservative sources like the Cato Institute say that crime statistics, in every category, are much lower for immigrants than for us natives.  The number of migrants is near record lows and has been since 2010, so there is no crisis in numbers. 

According to the George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors, as well as plenty of more recent studies,  immigrants are a benefit to our economy.  They do not receive more services than the taxes they pay.  In fact, they benefit many sectors of our economy, some of which, like agriculture, would be severely jeopardized if they were not doing those jobs that most natives do not want anyway.   Additionally, their children assimilate to our language, our culture, and our way of living.  They serve in our armed forces and fight in our wars. 

The people making policy in Washington know these facts.  They are readily available, and, to emphasize it, they can be found in conservative sources.

So if the reasons given for an anti-immigration policy are not real reasons, what other reasons remain?  

Could it be that there is a sickness in our nation that can only be described as a kind of nativism that looks at non-natives as somehow impure as if they had cooties?  It is hard to find an alternative motivation.  If immigrants actually help us instead of harming us, why else do we want to keep them out?   Why are we willing to cause such unnecessary suffering for families? 

One thing is clear.  Following Jesus means seeking ways to show compassion.  It means crossing boundaries to include the other.  It means seeking healing.  It means doing the things that promote life. 

And it means trusting that Jesus’ way is the right way.  That kind of faith, the willingness to risk openness to others, the trust that God will be there for us when we do what is right and good, will be our healing, and the healing of our nation.