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Category Archives: church
A Deserted Place, All By Ourselves
Stress is defined as the body’s reaction to events or circumstances which may; excite, frighten, endanger, thrill, be tragic or joyful etc. The body literally prepares itself to fight for, or run for, your life! “Tell us something we don’t know!” you are probably thinking. We are all too familiar with the negative effects of stress in our lives. Everyone is affected differently; different triggers, different types of reactions, different defense mechanisms.
When the apostles got back together with Jesus after their mission of healing and teaching they were wired for sound! They were so excited that they were able to actually heal some people, drive out some demons, and that people actually wanted to hear them speak! It was thrilling to suddenly be in demand, to be popular. They probably felt like they could continue on this track forever, after all, the adrenaline kick to their system was continually being fired by the people crowding around them. They had more energy, could sense the world more keenly, were stronger. What a high!
The other thing that the body does when faced with stressors, whether positive or negative, is to shut down some of the less vital body functions. With limited resources, it can hardly add the extra without taking something away. It shuts down the digestive system until you are safe again; it turns off the immune system. If you might die (what the body assumes when stressed) what difference will it make if you digested your lunch or catch a cold? When we deal with one stressor after another over a period of time our body will suffer, the heightened alert state can only go on for so long before a crash!
Jesus knew that the apostles were headed for a crash if they didn’t get a rest, some mental and physical down time, a chance to eat and digest a meal, to sleep a bit. When they were alone together he often took the chance to teach them and explain some of his parables to them more clearly. All of this would enrich their ministry and enable them to continue. He was concerned for their wellbeing even when they weren’t aware of any risk.
There is so much in this one set of bookend stories today about which I could speak. I say bookends because, as I’m sure you noticed, they are the stories immediately before and after the great stories of the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water. In fact several sources I looked at suggested ignoring the fact that the lectionary skipped that section of the story and preach about it anyway. The two things I’m going to look at this time are Jesus’ compassion (for his apostles and the crowds) and their faith in his healing power.
Busyness followed them despite their attempt to get some time to themselves. They headed off in boats to find a quiet place away from the crowd and it didn’t work because the crowd found them. The fact that Mark tells us that the crowd got to the isolated location first is used to indicate their great need and the fact that they were now with Jesus in a deserted place rather than out in the public eye where there was risk to his life. It is also important to note that it really shows that they didn’t even have a moment to get settled before being back on-the-job.
I would say that few, if any, of us have crowds of fans following us around and trying to guess where we will be in order to line up for a chance to see us. This is reserved for the Queen, teen heartthrobs and the like. What crowds do we have following us? What busyness presses in on our time apart? We have work, and family, and church, and kid’s activities etc. Our cell phones, our laptops, smart technology all allow us to be available to the world 24/7. We can have real-time online chats with people around the globe, which may well mean in the middle of the night for one of us. We may be in the middle of handling a situation and be interrupted at any moment by someone else’s crisis; one of the kids forgot gym clothes, a telemarketer wanting us to add services on our phones, a friend in trouble. Neither the original situation, nor the new one gets the focused attention we may want to give. So long as we have these items with us and turned on, they will beat us to our quiet time. We may be in a deserted place, but not alone. The world is there with us, just like the crowds who managed to found Jesus and his apostles in the deserted place.
I expect you may remember, from other posts, me mentioning my friend The Rev. Charles Deogratias, a Presbyterian chaplain with the Canadian Forces. Charles and his wife Hyasinter grew up in a refugee camp after their families had fled the genocide in Rwanda. They live in Canada now but have never lost touch with their own country, their own people. As Charles gets nearer to retirement they have started a project called The Heartprints Community Center. They have purchased a piece of land in Rwanda and are raising funds to build and operate a community center on the property. The concept is really interesting. Aware of the great potential and desire to learn and improve in Rwanda, and the wealth of knowledge and experience here in Canada which, especially after retirement, often goes untapped; the plan is to have the Rwandese government to identify the expertise they need for their projects and for the center to assist with finding the people. Volunteers would be cared for there at the center, with meals and accommodations etc. and each day they would be picked up and taken to where their help is needed. This is different from a typical mission trip where people from here try to identify a specific project or need and go into an area to carry out the short or long term work. Just as Jesus showed the apostles, one thing that Charles agrees will be very important is that at the end of the work term (3 weeks, 6 months or whatever a person is able to give) volunteers will have a break and a chance to enjoy the country, to go on a safari, to rest from the needs of others and care for their own needs.
After their unsuccessful attempt to get away on their own Jesus sent the apostles to go ahead of him to Bethsaida, a community on the North Eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The next thing today’s story tells us is that they were barely out of the boat at Ganeseret before people recognized them and were begging to touch Jesus’ cloak fringe for healing. Did you catch that? What were they doing in Ganeseret, North Western shore, when they were headed to Bethsaida? Whether due to confusion during the storm(see the story of Jesus walking on water), a lack of confidence on the part of the disciples, or coincidence they did not arrive where they had headed. They were, as it turns out, in the wrong place – at the right time!
People were begging to touch even a fringe, bringing sick from all the surrounding area for healing. In contrast to the issue of lack of miracles in his home town, due to lack of faith, here there was great faith that Jesus would heal them. One commentary I read stated that this faith in a touch of Jesus’ coat was nothing more than superstition, after-all these people had never met Jesus, never heard his message of repentance. This is an interesting point, but the people who did know him the best, at home, didn’t believe at all and the apostles, who were now even partners in the teaching and healing, still had doubts. The people in Ganeseret had needs, and they had faith that they would be met through Jesus Christ.
Do you remember the rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar? One line in the song Everything’s Alright is sung by Jesus in response to Judas’ outrage at wasting expensive oil which could have been sold and the money given to the poor,
“Surely you’re not saying
We have the resources
To save the poor from their lot?
There will be poor always
Look at the good things you’ve got!”
“There will be poor always,” is a paraphrase of the words of Jesus as recorded in the books of Matthew, Mark, and John; three of the four Gospels. Some might take this as a rather callous statement; it might seem that he is suggesting we just forget about them because we cannot solve the problem of poverty and suffering. We know, however, that it wasn’t meant that way. As the song continues Jesus indicates that they should be taking advantage of the time they have with him, to hear him teach. We are able to see, in stories like today’s, that Jesus had compassion on crowds wherever he went. Up until this set of stories his compassion had been for specific people who were sick but here this compassion is extended to include the whole crowd, a whole flock of lost sheep. He healed them and he taught them even when he had been trying to get a break. But we are not Jesus. Time apart, by ourselves, to be healed and to hear Jesus’ teaching is an important part of our ministry as Christians. There will always be people to help whether we take time to look after ourselves or not, but we will not always be able to help unless we do take that time. Amen.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with lyrics by Tim Rice.
With Easter so near we can almost taste the chocolate, many of us have gone from weeks of reflection on our relationship with God through Christ to lists of to-dos for special family meals, and to-buys for Easter baskets for our kids. Those with little girls may be out buying that perfect Easter dress and with little boys maybe getting little dress shirts and ties. As with other special days of celebration we like to make a fuss.
With our kids a little older now, we don’t really do much with baskets or egg hunts any more. We aren’t hosting a family event, so the panic clean-up is not under way. The biggest sign that we are only 3 days away from Easter morning was last night when my husband arrived home with a huge box of bacon. For years he has helped to organize the sunrise breakfast at our church and, for many of us, bacon plays a central role in the event. At this point, the decisions about worship have all been made, the anthems planned and as practised as they are going to get.
It is time to let go and let ourselves be swept away in the story and the emotional roller-coaster of this four-day period. We will rise from the Passover meal with Christ on Thursday night feeling at the same time so close to him and confused by what he has said will happen. Afraid that he will be leaving us, worried that we might deny him. We will be horrified by the treatment he takes and the cries for his crucifixion, we will feel immense guilt as we see him hanging there on the cross, an innocent man. Our sense of loss and grief will overtake us as we hear the words, “It is finished.” This will be followed by a lost day in which regular life continues but feels like it shouldn’t. And then there will be Sunday.
On Sunday morning we will rise to go back into our churches which were last seen in a moment of deep grief and pain, and be lifted up on the amazing wave of the news, “He lives!” Let yourself feel it all this Easter weekend, and remember it throughout the rest of the year, for this is why we are Christians!
Today marks the beginning of what many call Holy Week. This week contains within it the whole of the Gospel message for God’s people. Today is Palm Sunday. You know the one, people lined the already busy streets to catch a glimpse of Jesus, or at least to see what all the fuss was about. In a way it represents the height of our misunderstanding of the role and nature of Messiah.
When a Roman legion returned from a successful campaign the city of Rome held a Triumph. A triumph was basically a hero’s parade in which the legion in full regalia, and toting along any captives and slaves, rode and marched through the city streets. It was the only time that a legion was allowed to be in the city en masse. The people of Rome would be lining the streets, cheering and waving to the conquerors who had either protected them or fought to gain them new territory. There was no personal benifit for most of these people but it was a great chance to celebrate!
When Jesus entered Jerusalem the people held in their hearts and minds all the dreams of the Messiah coming leading a legion of sorts and driving the Romans out of their city and their land. To them it was a triumph, they seemed to miss or ignore that he was not riding a fine steed, but a young donkey, and he was not armed or wearing armour. Perhaps we needed to be completely blind to who was really coming into Jerusalem in order for the story to work out properly.
So, even as you wave your palm branch and sing Hosanna this morning, enjoy the party but remember that the real triumph awaits us in seven days time.
This past Friday evening I was at the annual World Day of Prayer service with the theme Let Justice Prevail. Given all the differences in circumstance around the globe, it is hard to think of everyone praying the same thing at any given time, other than the Lord’s Prayer. I thought that I would include the prayer for intercession from the service. This was written by the World Day f Prayer Committee of Malaysia.
Almighty God, we thank you that through Jesus Christ, you have opened a new and living way whereby we can come with confidence in prayer.
Lord we pray for the leaders of our countries. Grant them wisdom to know and do what is right and just. Grant them the compassion and willpower to do your will. Fill them with a love for truth and righteousness and fill them with the fear of God that they may work for the justice of all people.
God from whom all justice flows, hear our prayer.
O Lord, thank you for creating us in your image – uniquely gifted to contribute positively to home, society and church. While many of us are comfortable in our setting, there are those who are oppressed and abused, isolated and silenced. We pray for those who are voiceless victims of oppression and violence; victims of inequality and abuse; victims of unjust and biased cultural practices, victims of religious practices of law.
Jesus, who suffered injustice for us, hear our prayer.
Gracious Lord, we pray for migrant workers, the weak, the poor and the marginalized , that their cries for help and elevation from discrimination, deprivation of rights and dignity be heard and be acted upon by those in power over them.
Holy Spirit, empower us to work for justice and peace.
O God, we pray that you will strengthen your church with power and revelation that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. Let us be rooted and established in love. Grant us the boldness and wisdom to reach out to the community in a holistic manner.
God from whom all justice flows, hear our prayer.
O God, we ask a vision of your justice and for the strength of the persistent widow to work for it. You have called us to be instruments of justice in a world of strife and false justice. We pray that you will make strong our hands and make clear our voices. Give us humility with firmness and insight with passion, that we may fight not to conquer, but to release.
Jesus, who suffered injustice for us, hear our prayer. Holy Spirit, empower us to work for justice and peace. Through the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
prepared and adapted for use in Canada by the Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada
Most of us do count-downs to important dates. There is an app called Twinkle that will keep a count going for all your important dates. I have it counting down to March Break, family birthdays, Easter, and my retirement (as a sort of joke since it so far in the future). That distance in the future is what I want to address today.
I don’t imagine there is anyone who does not start counting down the days as they near vacation time. We joke that it is bad when you start counting over a month ahead, but is it? I guess for things like my retirement, which is over 2000 days away, it would appear that I am very unhappy in my job and just can’t wait to get out! That would be bad! I do actually like my job, but I have plans for later and I guess that is where the change occurs. When we count down to something exciting, like a vacation, it is usually less about getting away from something and more looking forward to the change. When we are looking at some far future plans we may be simultaneously doing our best at our current, and working toward future goals.
In the church calendar we have two long periods of waiting, or counting down, to important events in the Gospel. We count down the days of Advent ending with the celebration of a birth (40 days of Advent, 40 weeks of pregnancy…coincidence?). We count down during Lent, looking ahead to the feast of Easter.
No matter how important a countdown is, a shorter one will take temporary precedence if we don’t guard against that. So March break is in a little over 3 days and that is exciting, but there is little to do in terms of preparing, whereas Easter is 39 days away and there will probably never be enough time to truly prepare ourselves to stand by that empty tomb and accept that Jesus’ great sacrifice and triumph over death was really for us!
With 41 days to go until we celebrate Easter we may find ourselves wondering where we are supposed to be going. If Lent is the road to the cross, how are we supposed to know what road to follow? What if we go off track and end up in the wrong area?
The simple answer, of course, is that our map is to be found in the Bible. I don’t know about you, but I think I could still end up astray. Does it matter what part of the Bible we read? Maybe there are parts that will just confuse us more than we were already confused!
At my church, and I assume at many other Christian churches, members of the congregation are given a booklet with a series of devotional readings for each day of the season. Similar books often appear during Advent. If you weren’t at church for the 1st Sunday of Lent today, perhaps you could stop by a church during the week to pick up one of these booklets. I have found, over the years, that they go a long way in leading me through the maze.