A Time to Listen, A Time to Speak

Mark 8:27-9:8 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
27 Jesus and his disciples went to the villages near the town of Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, “What do people say about me?”
28 The disciples answered, “Some say you are John the Baptist or maybe Elijah. Others say you are one of the prophets.”
29 Then Jesus asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
“You are the Messiah!” Peter replied.
30 Jesus warned the disciples not to tell anyone about him.
31 Jesus began telling his disciples what would happen to him. He said, “The nation’s leaders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law of Moses will make the Son of Man suffer terribly. He will be rejected and killed, but three days later he will rise to life.” 32 Then Jesus explained clearly what he meant.
Peter took Jesus aside and told him to stop talking like that. 33 But when Jesus turned and saw the disciples, he corrected Peter. He said to him, “Satan, get away from me! You are thinking like everyone else and not like God.”
34 Jesus then told the crowd and the disciples to come closer, and he said:
If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me. 35 If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me and for the good news, you will save it. 36 What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? 37 What could you give to get back your soul?
38 Don’t be ashamed of me and my message among these unfaithful and sinful people! If you are, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
9 I can assure you that some of the people standing here will not die before they see God’s kingdom come with power.
2 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him. They went up on a high mountain, where they could be alone. There in front of the disciples, Jesus was completely changed. 3 And his clothes became much whiter than any bleach on earth could make them. 4 Then Moses and Elijah were there talking with Jesus.
5 Peter said to Jesus, “Teacher, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 But Peter and the others were terribly frightened, and he did not know what he was talking about.
7 The shadow of a cloud passed over and covered them. From the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, and I love him. Listen to what he says!” 8 At once the disciples looked around, but they saw only Jesus.
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When we look to the Bibile for information, we turn to Genesis and Exodus, to the prophets, to the Gospels. When we want theology, we turn to the Epistles. When we look to the Bible for advice, we turn to the Ten Commandments, we turn to Proverbs. When we want comfort, we turn to the Palms. But there are times when I want the Bible to confirm what I suspect: that the order commanded by God in Genesis is an illusion and the whole creation is reverting to its original chaos. When I am feeling pessimistic about the integrity of the human race, I turn to Ecclesiastes:
3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;a time to break down, and a time to build up;4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;a time to mourn, and a time to dance;5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;a time to keep, and a time to throw away;7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;8 a time to love, and a time to hate;a time for war, and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes doesn’t tell us when to plant, when to weep, when to laugh. We have to figure that out for ourselves, which is why God gave us the Ten Commandments. But it’s good to know that we have choices, that what is appropriate depends on the circumstances.
We have such a situation in today’s gospel. Today’s reading gives us a great overview of the relationship between Peter and Jesus. Peter is my hero, not because he is perfect, but because he is imperfect. Of all the disciples, he is, according to the writers of the Gospels, the most unpredictable, the most spontaneous, the most devoted. Jesus both praises and humiliates him. A time to praise, a time to humble.
In this passage, we watch the multi-dimensional interaction between him and Jesus.
First, we see that Peter has amazing insight into the person of Jesus.
29 Then Jesus asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
“You are the Messiah!” Peter replied.
That is pretty remarkable for a man educated mostly by experience to make such a statement. Yet, Peter knows that a Messiah is expected, so he is not ignorant of his Jewish heritage and the promises that come with that heritage. Peter says it straight out: “You are the Messiah!”
There is Peter, bold and knowledgeable.
31 Jesus began telling his disciples what would happen to him. He said, “The nation’s leaders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law of Moses will make the Son of Man suffer terribly. He will be rejected and killed, but three days later he will rise to life.” 32 Then Jesus explained clearly what he meant.
Peter took Jesus aside and told him to stop talking like that. 33 But when Jesus turned and saw the disciples, he corrected Peter. He said to him, “Satan, get away from me! You are thinking like everyone else and not like God.”
Peter is never afraid to say what he is thinking. His great love for Jesus puts him in protective mode. He does not want to hear about this great man, his greatest friend, suffering. Jesus corrects him, not gently, but harshly. Imagine Jesus calling you “Satan.” This is Peter, humbled and silenced.
2 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him. They went up on a high mountain, where they could be alone. There in front of the disciples, Jesus was completely changed. 3 And his clothes became much whiter than any bleach on earth could make them. 4 Then Moses and Elijah were there talking with Jesus.
5 Peter said to Jesus, “Teacher, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 But Peter and the others were terribly frightened, and he did not know what he was talking about.
7 The shadow of a cloud passed over and covered them. From the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, and I love him. Listen to what he says!” 8 At once the disciples looked around, but they saw only Jesus.
Again, Peter has something to say. This time he speaks out of fear and confusion. Peter, the man of action, can’t just stand there in the presence of three such great persons; he wants to prove that he understands the glory of this moment. Peter, the man of action, wants to show his respect by doing something. This time, the rebuke comes from God. “Listen to what he says!”
Listen.
And that brings us back to Ecclesiastes: a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
Peter continued, through his time with Jesus, to speak at the wrong time, keep silent at the wrong time, but Jesus declared him to be the rock, the foundation of this new Way of living and worshipping.
What does Jesus have to say to us about keeping silent and speaking?
If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me. 35 If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me and for the good news, you will save it. 36 What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? 37 What could you give to get back your soul?
38 Don’t be ashamed of me and my message among these unfaithful and sinful people! If you are, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
Don’t be ashamed. Every so often, we ask each other, how can we encourage more people to come to church? Perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Maybe the question is, “How can I share the good news of Jesus Christ?” How can I talk to people about Jesus? The question is not “How can I talk about church?” The question is “How can I talk about Jesus?” This church is just another building. This congregation is just another group of people. What makes us special? Jesus.
Frederick Buechner sent this message, via email, today. It arrived at 6:01 a.m. I think I’m supposed to share it with you.
SOME THINK A CHRISTIAN is one who necessarily believes certain things. That Jesus was the son of God, say. Or that Mary was a virgin. Or that the pope is infallible. Or that all other religions are all wrong.
Some think a Christian is one who necessarily does certain things. Such as going to church. Getting baptized. Giving up liquor and tobacco. Reading the Bible. Doing a good deed a day.
Some think a Christian is just a nice person.
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). He didn’t say that any particular ethic, doctrine, or religion was the way, the truth, and the life. He said that he was. He didn’t say that it was by believing or doing anything in particular that you could “come to the Father.” He said that it was only by him—by living, participating in, being caught up by the way of life that he embodied, that was his way.
Thus it is possible to be on Christ’s way and with his mark upon you without ever having heard of Christ, and for that reason to be on your way to God though maybe you don’t even believe in God.
A Christian is one who is on the way, though not necessarily very far along it, and who has at least some dim and half-baked idea of whom to thank.
A Christian isn’t necessarily any nicer than anybody else. Just better informed.
-Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words
My point is that we pew-sitters don’t have the corner on being the hands and feet of Jesus. We aren’t the only ones reaching out to the hurting and the hungry. The point is that we have the words.
What keeps us from talking about Jesus? Do we not like what Jesus says? Do the words of Jesus conflict with how we live our lives? Are we so convinced that we are good people that we feel free to ignore the injustice around us? Will sharing Jesus’ teachings with others reveal our own hypocrisy?
The author of Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time to listen and a time to speak. We are here because we are ready to listen. May God give us the opportunity and the inspiration to be ready to speak. Amen.

Dangerous Dance

Mark 6:1-29 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
6 Jesus left and returned to his hometown with his disciples. 2 The next Sabbath he taught in the Jewish meeting place. Many of the people who heard him were amazed and asked, “How can he do all this? Where did he get such wisdom and the power to work these miracles? 3 Isn’t he the carpenter, the son of Mary? Aren’t James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon his brothers? Don’t his sisters still live here in our town?” The people were very unhappy because of what he was doing.
4 But Jesus said, “Prophets are honored by everyone, except the people of their hometown and their relatives and their own family.” 5 Jesus could not work any miracles there, except to heal a few sick people by placing his hands on them. 6 He was surprised that the people did not have any faith.
Jesus taught in all the neighboring villages. 7 Then he called together his twelve apostles and sent them out two by two with power over evil spirits. 8 He told them, “You may take along a walking stick. But don’t carry food or a traveling bag or any money. 9 It’s all right to wear sandals, but don’t take along a change of clothes. 10 When you are welcomed into a home, stay there until you leave that town. 11 If any place won’t welcome you or listen to your message, leave and shake the dust from your feet as a warning to them.”
12 The apostles left and started telling everyone to turn to God. 13 They forced out many demons and healed a lot of sick people by putting olive oil on them.
14 Jesus became so well-known that Herod the ruler heard about him. Some people thought he was John the Baptist, who had come back to life with the power to work miracles. 15 Others thought he was Elijah or some other prophet who had lived long ago. 16 But when Herod heard about Jesus, he said, “This must be John! I had his head cut off, and now he has come back to life.”
17-18 Herod had earlier married Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. But John had told him, “It isn’t right for you to take your brother’s wife!” So, in order to please Herodias, Herod arrested John and put him in prison.
19 Herodias had a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she could not do it 20 because Herod was afraid of John and protected him. He knew that John was a good and holy man. Even though Herod was confused by what John said, he was glad to listen to him. And he often did.
21 Finally, Herodias got her chance when Herod gave a great birthday celebration for himself and invited his officials, his army officers, and the leaders of Galilee. 22 The daughter of Herodias came in and danced for Herod and his guests. She pleased them so much that Herod said, “Ask for anything, and it’s yours! 23 I swear that I will give you as much as half of my kingdom, if you want it.”
24 The girl left and asked her mother, “What do you think I should ask for?”
Her mother answered, “The head of John the Baptist!”
25 The girl hurried back and told Herod, “Right now on a platter I want the head of John the Baptist!”
26 The king was very sorry for what he had said. But he did not want to break the promise he had made in front of his guests. 27 At once he ordered a guard to cut off John’s head there in prison. 28 The guard put the head on a platter and took it to the girl. Then she gave it to her mother.
29 When John’s followers learned that he had been killed, they took his body and put it in a tomb.

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I have always loved to read. I can still name my favorite books from childhood—-Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham, The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and all the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
One of my favorite authors these days is Frederich Buechner. Everyday I receive in my email an excerpt from one of his books. I like him so much because he has a delightful sense of humor and is not afraid to exaggerate or to use his imagination.
So, today, I’m going to share with you his piece about Herod Antipas and Salome. You’ve heard the Biblical version; here is Buechner’s version:
ONE OF THE LESS OFFENSIVE ACTS of Herod Antipas was to walk off with his brother’s wife, Herodias—at least there may have been something like love in it—but it was against the law, and since John the Baptist was a stickler for legalities, he gave Herod a hard time over it. Needless to say, this didn’t endear him to Herodias, who urged her husband to make short work of him. Herod said he’d be only too pleased to oblige her, but unfortunately John was a strong man with a strong following, and it might lead to unpleasantness.
Then one day he threw himself a birthday party, possibly because he couldn’t locate anybody who felt like throwing it for him, and one of the guests was Herodias’s daughter from her former marriage. Her name was Salome, and she was both Herod’s step-daughter and his niece. As it happened, she was also a whiz at dancing. Sometime during the evening she ripped off a little number that so tickled Herod that, carried away by the general hilarity of the occasion as he was, he told her he’d give her anything she wanted up to and including half of his kingdom. Since she already had everything a girl could want and was apparently not eager for all the headaches that taking over half the kingdom would undoubtedly involve, she went out and told her mother, Herodias, to advise her what she ought to ask for.
It didn’t take Herodias twenty seconds to tell her. “The head of John,” she snapped out, so that’s what Salome went back and told Herod, adding only that she would prefer to have it served on a platter. No sooner was it brought to her than she got rid of it like a hot potato by handing it over to her mother. It’s not hard to see why.
Salome disappears from history at that point, and you can only hope that she took the platter with her to remind her that she should be careful where she danced that particular dance in the future, and that she should never ask her mother’s advice again about anything, and that even when you cut a saint’s head off, that doesn’t mean you’ve heard the last of him by a long shot.
Mark 6:17-22
-Originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words
We know from other scriptures that John was quite popular in the area, but he was not popular with Herod and Herodias. Herodias demanded that Herod get rid of John. According to Buechner’s version, Herod “said he’d be only too pleased to oblige her, but unfortunately John was a strong man with a strong following, and it might lead to unpleasantness.”
This is a story of courage and fear. John has the courage to call out the sins of Herod. Herod fears John’s words. Who wins? John ends up dead. Herod ends up with a vindicated wife. John ends up silent; Herod ends up doing whatever he pleases.
The television networks have been obsessed with courage and fear. They do not call it by those names, but that is what they have been watching. The battle between courage and fear is often based on truth. Who is afraid of the truth? Who is not afraid of the truth? Who is afraid of the consequences of telling the truth? Who will do anything to suppress the truth?
People who have great power are under tremendous pressure from every side. Even their own security is threatened. Like us, they are subject to personal pride, and the need to excel. Likewise they are pressured by peers, by the very people who support them and by the ambition of their colleagues. It is hard to resist when one’s own reputation and livelihood are at stake.
Herod had a reputation to protect. John punctured that reputation. It is easy for us to applaud John for calling out Herod. However, John was calling out everyone. Herod was not the only one who needed to repent.
The purpose of our confession every Sunday morning is to call us out. That petition in the Lord’s prayer, Forgive us our sins is not just a random guess but a calling out of our own sinfulness.
How do we handle the challenges placed before us? How do we handle the opportunity to tell the truth when it means we will be threatened, that our family will be mocked, when it causes us to lose some of our power or protection?
A few years later, Herod was only too happy to execute John’s cousin, Jesus. Again, the truth hurt. The truth threatened. Herod joined forces with Pilate to destroy Jesus. And it helped Herod’s shaky reputation immensely; he became one of Pilate’s favorite flunkies.
John the Baptist gave meaning to the word courage in his unswerving commitment to his mission of truth and promise. Herod Antipas gave meaning to the word fear in his commitment to self-preservation.
So, all we have to do is confess our sins and be forgiven, right? Not necessarily. According to one commentary I read, the Good News is threaded with bad news. Dr. Emerson B. Powery reminds us that “one thing is certain: agents of God who challenge those in power usually suffer significant consequences.”
Martin Luther. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Martin Luther King, Jr. Exiled. Imprisoned. Persecuted. Executed. Adam Schiff. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. Marie Yovanovitch. Gordon Sondland. Draw your own conclusions.
This is the only story in Mark that doesn’t include Jesus. It is a dance between, ultimately, John and Herod. But we also have to dance that dance: the steps so confusing and so hard to remember that we often end up in the arms of the wrong partner.
The easy part: we can skip going to the dance. Or we can tell ourselves we’ll switch partners later, when it’s safe. I like to think that no matter who I’m loyal to on earth, Jesus is always loyal to me and will forgive my selfishness and fear and welcome me with open arms. But is that how Jesus expects me to follow him? In his arms, bravely executing the intricate steps of love and compassion and courage, or do I just save him for the last dance, hoping he’ll be the one to take me home? Amen.

  1. Huffpost, Amy Erickson, Contributor Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Iliff School of Theology Mark 6:14-29: The Downfall of Giving Into Fear
    07/11/2012 07:58 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017
  2. Ibid.
  3. Working Preacher, Emerson Powery Professor of Biblical Studies Messiah College Grantham, PA July 15, 2012.
  4. Ibid.

Cooties!

Mark 5:21-43 New International Version (NIV)
21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
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Each Gospel writer records the thoughts and actions of Jesus in a different literary style. Mark is known for his “sandwich” style. He starts a story, then interrupts it with another story, then finishes the first story. Today, he starts with the story of a sick little girl, but interrupts it with the story about a hemorrhaging woman.After the woman is cured, Mark resumes the story of the little girl.
Comparing the woman and the girl and their different situations and context is fascinating, but that is better for a Bible study than for a sermon.
I’m not going to preach on literary style today; therefore, I should choose one story or the other. I could choose both and try to come up with a coherent theses that would include both stories, but that seems rather contrived. So, I’m choosing the story of the hemorrhaging woman, because many oof you can identify with that woman. Men, I won’t preach about how lucky you are to have your specific kind of plumbing. I know you have your own problems, but they are nothing compared to bleeding unpredictably.
This woman in our story lives with constant bleeding. She has no control over it. It’s not like a scratch that scabs over. It never stops.
To be her is to be embarrassed all the time. We women have been taught to be embarrassed about our bleeding, even though it is normal, natural and necessary.
I’ve told you before that the Israelites had more than the ten commandments, just as we have more than ten laws we follow. Like our laws, the Israelite laws were created to protect people. Some of the laws had to do with cleanliness and health. Others were created to keep people in their place, to control people so that they didn’t have too much power.
To be able to worship in the temple, or the synagogue, required cleanliness. If you were sick, you were not allowed into the synagogue until you were well Remember the lepers that Jesus cured. They were banned from the synagogue. It may have been because they were contagious or it may have been because they were unpleasant to look at.
Women were not allowed to worship when they were bleeding. After their periods, they had to go through ritual bathing. That meant for at least one Sabbath a month, women were not allowed to participate in worship.
This woman, following Jesus, had probably not worshipped for twelve years. Remember when you were a kid and avoided certain kids. Perhaps you accused each other of having cooties. You teased each other by trying to touch each other and give each other cooties. No one was supposed to touch this woman, because she had some kind of supposed “cooties.” So, no place where crowds gathered.
Considering the limited knowledge about disease at the time, these rules were genius. Consider the corona virus right now—people are being isolated because it can be transmitted through touch, even through proximity. Same was true for the people in Jesus’ time. They didn’t know what germs were, but they knew what germs could do.
This woman, this bleeding woman, has been going to doctors for twelve years. I don’t even want to imagine what kind of treatments she had been through, but Mark tells us “she had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors.” Add one more humiliation to her life experience.
Doctors require money, so after twelve years, she was not only sicker: she was poorer. She was ostracized—people crossed to the other side of the street when they saw her coming. She probably didn’t get any invitations to come over for some wine and figs. She was probably weak from the constant loss of blood. She was lonely and worn out.
The woman avoided groups of people. To join in the crowds surrounding Jesus required a great deal of bravery. She shouldn’t have been so close to so many people, but she took a chance. In the excitement of seeing Jesus, people were pushing and shoving to get closer to Jesus. How many touched her as they maneuvered to be next to Jesus?
She was desperate. She broke rules to get to Jesus. She was afraid to speak to him directly. After all, she had been effectively silenced following the laws of her time. Now was her chance. She moved steadily through the crowd, squeezing past one person at a time. Closer. Closer. Then she was right behind him. The moment had come. But she could not bring herself to call out to him. That would have attracted attention to her. Somebody would have seen her and yelled, “Cooties!” So she stealthily reached out her hand to simply touch Jesus’ clothing. One little touch, one little squeeze of the linen or wool of his robe, one moment of contact—and like electricity coursing through wires at the touch of switch, healing coursed through the woman. She was good to go; now to make her getaway. But she was caught! Jesus felt that surge of electricity, that surge of power, of healing leave him as it moved into the woman. He stopped. Why? Why did he bother? And why did he feel this touch, when he must have been touched by dozens of people in the press of the crowd?
This touch was energized by faith. There is no metaphor to apply it to us. We’re never going to touch that ancient fabric. So, nice story, let’s move on, as the woman did, as Jesus did.
Here’s the thing. We have the power of that exchange. Every time you reach out to touch another person, through a hug, through a hand shake, through a donation of a box of corn flakes to a food bank., through a prayer for healing, through a word of comfort, you carry within that action the power of Jesus.
Matthew 25: 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
When you touch the one who is rejected at the border, when you touch the one who has committed sins that are beyond your range of experience, when you touch someone who stands outside the circle waiting for someone to notice—you are allowing Jesus to touch that person.
Think about the power you have. You have the power to vanquish cooties!!! By your words, by your actions, you have that same power that Jesus had. You may not stop anyone from bleeding or puking; you many not cure the flu or obliterate a cancer, but you are touching the person that needs a touch of healing, a touch of acceptance, a touch of equality. You have the power of Jesus to change a life. You have the power of Jesus to welcome someone into the group, to welcome someone into social interaction, to welcome someone into a safe space.
Here’s the thing: you won’t feel someone tugging on your sleeve. You’ll need to use your Christians skills of loving God and loving your neighbor to perceive where to use your power. You will have to talk to people who disgust you, who frighten you, who annoy you. You will have to ignore the lines that sin has drawn between and among us.
In our culture, we have drawn so many lines that it’s like looking at rabbit tracks across the snow. We have to ignore the lines. We have to take off those protective goggles that how people as red and blue, as black and white, as gay and straight, as energetic and lazy, as sick and well. We have to throw those goggles aside and see every person for what they are: children of God, creations of God, made in God’s image. Those lines that we draw, that we see, that we use to navigate the world, are imaginary. The images we see, are, in some respects, imaginary. When we say we are created in the image of God, are we talking about physical attributes? I think not. We are talking about everything that is NOT physical about us. The problem arises when we see only the physical image of a person, while neglecting to find the image of God within the person. We let our physical reaction determine our perception of the person.
I had a couple thousand students over years of teaching. Do they all remember me the same? Absolutely not! Some hated my guts, some still adore me. Why is that? I was always the same person in the front of the room. But perceptions are not predictable or logical. My teaching took a turn for the better when I finally remembered that each of my students was made in the image of God. It made all the difference.
As you go about your work and play, look for God in the people you meet. Look for God in the people that anger you, that disgust you, that push your buttons. Also, you don’t have to understand WHY people act a certain way before you can help them. You don’t have to understand WHY someone is sick to help them. You don’t have to understand WHY someone wants to have the same rights as you to help them. You don’t have to understand WHY someone can’t hold down a job to help them. I think the only person Jesus ever criticized for asking for help was the Canaanite woman asking for help; when he refused, she put him in his place.
Tomorrow, we citizens will divide ourselves with a variety of perspectives. There will be shouting, anger, fear, disappointment. That is how we sort out how to control the people we share space with. But if each of us sees God at work in each person—-will we find ourselves acting differently? There’s a reason that Democrats and Republicans caucus in different rooms, in different ways. There are reasons, good reasons, to avoid the caucuses. But let us look for where God is in each person, regardless. And let us show the God with in us.
Separating God and politics is a good idea for the law of the land, but do not EVER let your politics be separate from the faith you follow. Jesus walked into the middle of the crowd, constantly surrounded by temple authorities and Jewish soldiers. The Gospels give us examples of Jesus being approached not only by sick old women, but by temple authorities—-Jairus—and soldiers—the Centurion (Matthew 8). In the end, Jesus was killed, not for theological reasons, but for political reasons. That’s how sinful and divided the people of the world can be.
We cannot be everywhere. Jesus, during his lifetime on earth was not everywhere. He stayed within a radius of less than a hundred miles. The miracle of Jesus is that he is God. God is everywhere, omniscient, omnipresent. Much of God’s presence depends on us. So, your challenge this week: touch someone who has cooties. Amen.