Tuesday, September 29, 2015

12 Years a Slave

I love to try and identify with characters in the Biblical narrative.  After reading through Mark 5:21-43, I wrote the following.  One might describe it as the gospel according to Jairus and an unnamed woman whom we will affectionately call Martha.

The Gospel According to Martha
My name is Martha and I can still remember the month it happened.  It was like any other month, maybe just a bit heavier than usual, but nothing to be alarmed about.  I did what I would usually do – what I was required to do by the Law of Moses.  I kept myself separate and I made sure that I didn’t touch anyone or anything that might cause someone else to become unclean.  But at the end of the week, my period didn’t stop.  It seemed like it would get lighter, but then, it would come back heavy.  It went like this for days and days.  I began to get worried.  I was in my unclean state for weeks and so I began to see healers, physicians, anyone who could help me.  I spent all I had trying to be cured, but I never got any better, I only got worse.  I never could have imagined that this ailment, this affliction would stay with me for months, even years.  I struggled so much just to have enough energy to get through the day.  No matter how much I would eat, I always felt weak.  And isolated.  I got so lonely.  I gave up on ever trying to have a husband.  No man in his right mind would ever want to marry me.  They would be unclean, unable to live a normal life, unable to have children, or even be able to enjoy making love to their wife.  Eventually, after a few years, I learned to accept my status as an outsider, as one unclean -   unable to worship at the temple and unable to be in normal fellowship with the rest of my countrymen and women.  For 12 long years, this was my reality.  I was a slave, 12 years a slave, until…

The Gospel According to Jairus
My name is Jairus and I will never forget the day my little girl was born.  I was so proud!  She was my firstborn – my only child.  My wife and I wanted other sons and daughters, but she was the only one that God had seen fit to give us.  But, oh, did we love her.  Our nickname for her was Talitha – little girl.  Even as she grew older, we affectionately called her by this name.  She was a daddy’s girl, though she loved her momma too and wanted to be just like her.  Sometimes, I would take her with me to the Synagogue as I would prepare for our worship the day before the Sabbath.  I also remember taking her on walks along the shore at the sea.  We would walk along the rocky beaches, taking time to skip rocks or wade out into the shallows.  As she got older, I could see that she was becoming more and more like her mom.  She was beautiful.  I'll never forget the day she got sick.  It wasn’t long after her 12th birthday.  She had complained of a headache that morning and a few hours later, she collapsed in our kitchen.  We took her into the back room of our home and tried to cool her fevered body with wet rags.  Nothing seemed to work.  We tried to give her every herb and every medicinal concoction that we could find, but she only got worse.  And then it hit me.  I had heard of a miracle worker, a rabbi from Nazareth who had become famous across Galilee for his healing abilities.  In fact, once, when Talitha and I were out on one of our seaside walks, we had witnessed a crowd who had gathered to hear him teach.  The crowd was so large he had got into a boat and floated out on the water to give himself some room.  I knew that he frequently crossed the sea.  In fact, some of his disciples were fisherman, so maybe if I went down by the shore I could find him.  Maybe, just maybe he would be able to do something!

According to Martha
I saw the crowd swarming him down by the sea as he climbed out of the boat.  But then, he paused.  In the middle of this mass of humanity, a man had fallen at Jesus’ feet and seemed to be desperately begging him for something.  Jesus lifted the man up and began to follow him.  The crowd also pressed in and went with them.  I struggled to catch up and as I wedged my way in-between the people a thought crossed my mind.  “This rabbi is so godly, so righteous, so full of God’s power, that if I only touch his clothes, then God will heal me through that single touch.”  I anxiously approached, weaving my way through the herd, until finally, I was able to reach out and skim the edge of his cloak with my fingertips.  I immediately felt a feeling I hadn’t had for 12 years.  My bleeding stopped and I felt a rush of energy cascade through my body.  I was healed!  But before I could make my way out of the crowd, Jesus turned around and shouted, “Who touched my clothes?”  What was I to do?  I was so afraid.  Maybe I shouldn’t have gone about things this way?  I had hoped to make a quiet escape, to draw no attention to myself, but it was obvious that Jesus realized that power had left him.  He wanted to know who had been healed and though I was scared to death, I slowly pushed my way through the people and fell down at his feet and told him everything.  With a tear in his eye and the sound of hope in his voice he simply said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”  For 12 long years I had been a slave to my bleeding womb.  What God had designed to be an instrument of life, for me had become an instrument of death, until - until that day when I reached out to Jesus and he spoke those words of life.

According to Jairus

“Jesus, I know that if you will just come and lay your hands on my little girl, she’ll be healed, she’ll live.”  Those were the words I uttered as I fell on my face and begged Jesus to come and do something for my dying daughter.  Jesus immediately went with me, no questions asked - he just agreed and followed me.  I didn’t even notice the large crowd that was following us as we hurriedly made our way to my home, until – until Jesus all of the sudden froze.  He spun around and shouted “Who touched my clothes?”  “What’s going on?” I thought.  Why is he stopping?  Doesn’t he know my daughter will die if we don’t get there soon!  Jesus and his disciples seemed to be arguing about something and then a woman fell down at Jesus’ feet and began to timidly tell him how for 12 years she had lived in a state of uncleanness, bleeding, living in isolation, but that now, after having touched his clothes she was free from her affliction.  While Jesus responded to the woman, all I could do was think about my 12 year old daughter who laid dying in our home.  And then I saw them approaching us - some of the local professional mourners.  They had already begun to gather at our house.  That could only mean one thing.  Our little Talitha had died.  They confirmed the bad news and told us that Jesus shouldn’t be bothered any longer.  There’s nothing that could be done now.  Our girl who had emerged from the womb only 12 years prior would soon enter the cold dark womb of a tomb.  Death had stung.  Death had won. 

But Jesus turned back towards me, overhearing the mourners’ lamentation.  He grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me in my tear-filled eyes and said, “Do not fear, only believe!”  Then he motioned for me and three of his disciples to follow him.  When we arrived at the house, the professional mourners were in full flight.  They were weeping, wailing, hollering, and screaming.  What a production they were putting on!  But Jesus calmly eyed the scene and confidently said, “Why are you making such a commotion?  The child isn’t dead, she’s just asleep.”  Even professionals sometimes slip up.  They went from crying for my daughter to laughing at Jesus.  I didn’t know what to think at this point – was I to hope or was I to fear?  I feared the worst and hoped for the best as Jesus dismissed the mourners and took my wife and his disciples in to see our lifeless little girl.  Jesus gently grasped her hand and softly spoke the words, “Talitha cum – little girl, get up.”  Talitha gasped for breath, opened her eyes, and began to walk around the room.  My little girl was alive!  For 12 short years, I had raised my daughter, expecting that one day she would be married and have children of her own.  But death had come and done its worst and for a moment, my hopes and dreams were shattered.  I had lost my only daughter and the hopes of grandchildren had vanished as well.  Until…until he took her by the hand and he spoke those words of life. - Shay

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Celebrate Good Times

Everyone likes a party!  Well, maybe not everyone, but most of the people I know enjoy a good party from time to time.  Jesus certainly liked to party.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus was constantly in other people’s homes, sharing food, drinking wine, and celebrating the goodness of God’s creation.  But that’s not the only reason Jesus liked to celebrate.  He was also initiating the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom.  Through writings like those found in Isaiah, God’s people had looked forward to a time when YHWH would act decisively on behalf of Israel to bring his reign and rule to the ends of the earth.  Isaiah 25:6-9 says, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.  And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.  Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.  It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.  This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”  In his ministry, especially when he ate and drank with others, Jesus was signaling that this long awaited day had finally dawned.

God’s Kingdom has broken in on our world through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ.  And as we await the final consummation of that Kingdom, we, like Jesus, would do well to celebrate what God has already done, what he is presently doing, and what he will finally do in the future to bring all things to completion.  Like Jesus did, one of the best ways to point people to the reality of the Kingdom of God is to celebrate and have a party.  On Saturday, October 3 from 6-8 pm, the Burleson Church of Christ will welcome our friends and neighbors to celebrate God’s work in our world.  Hopefully we will point those who join us to the good life that can be found through our King Jesus! - Shay

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Reached Out and Touched Him

I'm teaching the gospel of Mark on Wednesday evenings here at our new congregation, Burleson Church of Christ.  We're beginning (fittingly) with chapter one tomorrow evening.  At the end of the chapter there's a story that's become one of my favorites in Mark's account of Jesus' life.  Here's my paraphrase of the event and some reflections.

A social and religious outcast - a leper - approached Jesus and fell on his face and cried out, "If you choose, you can heal me."  Moved with compassion, Jesus not only healed the man, but also reached out and touched him, saying, "I do choose.  You're cleansed."  At once the disease was gone and the leper lost his outsider status.  Jesus warned him not to tell anyone, but to do what the law required so that he might be welcomed back into normal life and society.  But the man couldn't keep this good news to himself and as the message spread, Jesus was increasingly forced to avoid urban areas.  But even out in the country, people traveled to see him.

We can empathize with the leper in this story.  Maybe we know what it's like to be a social outcast.  Or maybe we've suffered from a chronic condition or a serious, lingering illness.  All of us know what it's like to be separated from our God.  We've all had moments where we ask, with hesitation, for Jesus to at least consider cleansing us of our sins.  When we finally have reached the point where we realize that we'll never be able to clean ourselves up, we fall on our faces and we say those words, "if you choose...Jesus, you can make me clean."

Just as in this story, we can be sure that Jesus' response is always, "I do choose.  Be made clean!"  Our God is a God who loves the unlovable and touches the untouchable.  He's not concerned with our sin, our brokenness, our disease somehow infecting him, rather his healing and cleansing power is contagious and infectious - spreading and transforming every single fiber of our being until we've become holy, like him.  He has compassion for us and will not stop his work in us until it's brought to completion.  This is good news - good news that penetrates our hearts, and good news that's meant to be shared. - Shay