Archive for July, 2012

Miracle Interrupted

Rev. Mike Woods

Campbell Stone Sandy Springs Vespers Service

July 1, 2012

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 5:21-43

Those of you who have worked in the health care field in any capacity know what happens in the event of an emergency – or if you have been in the military, or the police department, or fire department. The alarm sounds and you become focused! Anything going on around you, you just don’t notice, it’s as if you had blinders on. That’s part of the way that God created the human mind – in the event of a life or death situation, the mind goes into crisis mode and is capable of putting all of its attention on what it needs to do in order to get that situation under control and hopefully avert the crisis.

Normally, in day-to-day living, the human mind is free to wander, to move its attention from one thing to another and then another. But in crisis mode, our minds focus with sharp precision, almost to the point of total exclusion of whatever else may be going on around.

We can be thankful that God gave our minds this capacity; it comes in pretty handy in emergencies and can help us save our own lives or the lives of others. But in modern times, this blessing is also a curse. You see, the human mind evolved in a much different environment than the one we live in today. Tens of thousands of years ago, our ancestors were hunter-gatherers. They lived on the African savannah, or in the caves of Europe, or in the mountains and rainforests of Asia. In those environments, things were a little quieter … the pace of life was much slower. Sudden and loud noises and a hurried pace of living meant danger to our ancestors. (These usually meant you were about to be eaten!)

In modern times, however, loud noises and a fast pace of life are a part of our everyday existence. Sirens of emergency vehicles … construction noises … the sounds of cars and buses driving by … the roar of jet engines that we hear constantly living next to the world’s busiest airport. And even though a lot of those noises don’t represent any immediate danger to us, our bodies still react to those stimuli in the same way as did the bodies of our ancestors millions of years ago. Adrenalin rushes into every part of our body … our hearts begin to race … our breathing becomes faster … our muscles tense … and the pupils of our eyes dilate. And the hurried pace we live at today can cause cause the same reaction.

When my wife and I lived in Decatur while I was going to seminary, our apartment in Decatur must have sat underneath one of the major flight paths for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Twenty-four hours a day, every two to three minutes, a jet would fly directly overhead, sometimes so low you could see the logo on the side and tell which airline it came from.

Modern life is full of sudden unexpected noise: noise that commands your attention, noise that shouts at you and says, “Danger!”

And we live at such a hurried pace, too! The human body wasn’t created to exist in such an environment. Many of you can remember a time in your lives – a time that really wasn’t all that long ago, when you stop to think about it – when life was nowhere near the speed that we pursue it with. The pace that we live our lives today is a pace that our bodies only use in times of danger, in times of crisis. No wonder there is so much stress associated with modern living – the environment we live in is constantly trying to tell us that we are in immediate, life-threatening danger.

So, how do you guess the human body deals with all this? How do our minds try to cope with a constant barrage of information, coming at us from so many different directions telling us “Danger, Danger!” and commanding our immediate attention and exclusive focus?

Well, neurologists tell us that to protect our bodies from undue stress, our minds eventually learn how to filter out a lot of the sensory input that isn’t needed. In other words, it just simply learns to start ignoring a lot of things … we learn how to overlook things that don’t seem to be important or an immediate threat to us.

I stopped noticing the planes that flew over my apartment after a very short period of time. My brain finally learned to just ignore them. It wasn’t even a conscious effort on my part, it just happened. Even though after we first moved there I couldn’t get to sleep at night – plane would fly overhead and wake me out of a dead sleep – after a while, I just never noticed them anymore.

So, I think that we can appreciate that Jesus is fully human in the first part of the scripture reading this morning. Jairus, the leader of the local synagogue and a very important individual – the type of individual whose very presence commands immediate and unwavering attention – comes to Jesus and proclaims an emergency, “Jesus, my daughter is at the very point of death. Will you come and lay your hands on her so that she can be healed?”

Jesus immediately goes into crises mode: This is an emergency, someone’s life is at stake!

So, he doesn’t waste any time and immediately begins to follow Jairus to his home. Now, a large crowd had formed around Jesus, and they hear Jairus’ announcement. Suddenly the crowd begins to follow Jesus and a large procession is formed. People are jostling with each other and everybody is reaching out to lay their hands on Jesus, because they’re hoping that he is the Messiah. You can feel the excitement in the air, and the people in the crowd start to speak to each other asking what’s going on, and the sound of people walking gets faster and faster, and the sound of people talking to each other gets louder and louder

Until suddenly, Jesus stops! And the crowd lurches to a halt. Everybody asks: “What happened?” but eventually, everything goes quiet and Jesus asks a simple but stunning question: “Who touch my clothes?”

The disciples probably want to laugh out loud. “Master,” they say, “in this crowd, with everybody reaching out to grab a hold of you, how could you even notice such a thing? Who touched your clothes? Who hasn’t touched your clothes?”

Very timidly, a woman comes forward and raises her hand. “It was I, sir.” A woman in the crowd that nobody else noticed was even there. She was not a rich person, like Jairus, so she didn’t command the kind of attention that Jairus could … a woman who says that she has been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years and had seen all kinds of doctors, but they couldn’t help her and only made her condition worse. And because they couldn’t help her, they had started to ignore her. And because her constant bleeding made her ritually unclean, the people in the crowd saw her as untouchable, unclean. She was a woman whose suffering went unnoticed.

So, here we see that not only is Jesus fully human, but he is also fully divine. Those in our world who go unnoticed by society, by the medical establishment, and whose sufferings are filtered out by our over stimulated, human brains do not go unnoticed by God. Jesus, because he is the son of God, pauses in his hurried pace to take notice of one woman who might otherwise go unnoticed. Jesus, because he is the Word of God come onto this earth, silences the other voices in his mind clamoring for his attention and the droning noise of this world in order to hear the words from one woman’s voice, whom no one else would deign to even listen to.

And by noticing her, he calls us to notice her and others like her. By calling her “daughter,” he welcomes her into community – he makes her part of the same family to which we belong – the family of God. And if we are to be his disciples, then we too are called to take notice of the unnoticeable, to touch the untouchable, and to embrace the unloved and the unwelcomed.

Jesus calls us, in this one little episode of an interrupted miracle, to see the world as God sees it: through the eyes of the poor, the suffering, the oppressed, the discarded, and the overlooked. May we always see as God sees! In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit! Amen.

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Do We Really Know What We’re Getting Into?

Rev. Michael Woods

CSB Vespers Service

June 3, 2012

Trinity Sunday

Isaiah 6:1-8

When you read the call story of Isaiah, you have to wonder if the guy knew what he was getting into. I notice he doesn’t bother to ask God exactly what it is God wants him to do. God appears in the Temple of Jerusalem one day during the 8th Century BC – a lot of smoke, a lot of six winged seraphim … it all looks like something out of Lord of the Rings – and says in essence: “I have a very tough assignment that needs to be done – I wonder if there are any volunteers?” And Isaiah’s hand immediately shoots up!

Now, if Isaiah had known what lied ahead for him – that he would have to bear a message that was counter-intuitive and politically unpopular to King Ahaz of Judah … if he had known that his own people would call him a traitor to the nation … if had any inkling that God would ask him to do some pretty crazy things like walk around in the middle of the city completely naked … if he had known ahead of time that he would endure physical abuse, slander, and rejection – I wonder if he would have still gone through with it?

It’s kind of the same question we preachers are faced with on Trinity Sunday. Do we really know what we’re getting into when we agree to preach on this day? It’s a Sunday where at a lot of larger churches the senior pastor decides to take some vacation time and let one of his or her associates preach instead. And then to compound the situation, Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary gives us this text from Isaiah to preach on. Somehow, we’re supposed to find evidence of the Trinity in this passage … some clues that point to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A lot of biblical scholars have tried to do just that. John Calvin once pointed out that the song of the seraphim, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” may point to one holy God in three divine persons. Our opening hymn follows in that tradition. Reginald Heber, the Anglican clergyman who wrote the lyrics for this hymn, wrote it specifically to be sung on Trinity Sunday; and since that time in the early 1800’s many churches have opened their services on Trinity Sunday with it. Many of you probably sang it this morning at your own churches.

But even Calvin thought, overall, this passage from Isaiah made a rather weak case for the Trinity. He felt there were other passages in the Bible that could make a better case. Certainly, the opening verses of Genesis hint at the existence of the Trinity much more strongly – we have God the Creator present at the beginning, and the scriptures tell us that the Holy Spirit of God was there, as well, hovering over the waters, and when God creates, God does so by speaking the divine Word: “Let there be light, and there was light.” The divine Word, we learn later in the Gospel of John, is another way of describing Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And speaking of the Gospel of John, does not that Gospel make an even stronger claim to the existence of the Trinity when Christ prays on the night of the Last Supper when he gives thanks to the Father that he and the Father are one, and then says to his disciples that he is sending an Advocate to them, the Holy Spirit? And finally in the Book of Revelation, we see God once again upon a heavenly throne in the middle of another scene that also looks like something out of Lord of the Rings, with the heavenly host singing once again: Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.

And that is kind of the way the whole Bible tells us about the concept of the Trinity. It doesn’t come right out and say: “God exists as “one in essence, distinguished in three persons,” which is the way the ancient church in the 4th Century at the Council of Nicea tried to describe the Trinity. The scriptures just drop little hints for us here and there. They talk about God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer … they speak of God who was and is and is to come … they tell us of a God who is like a father who has been scorned by his youngest child, but rejoices when that same child returns … they tell us of a God who is like a mother hen, who longs to gather all her chicks beneath her wings … they tell us of a God who is like a very eager bridegroom who can’t wait for his wedding night, and forever embrace all of humanity!

In short, the scriptures give us a picture of a God who created us, who loved us so much that God became one of us, and who can live within us, so that we can love God and each other. The Bible doesn’t come right out and say that in so many words – but that seems to be the evidence it leaves, as best as we can tell … there’s a lot we have to accept on faith. We have to be a lot like Isaiah – willing to commit ourselves to something without entirely understanding what we’re committing ourselves to … we have to be willing to be comfortable with some uncertainty … that’s what faith is.

But to commit yourself to the existence of a God who creates, redeems, and sustains is not to just accept a particular intellectual concept. To believe in the Triune God is to believe in a God who is going to stare us straight in the eyes and ask us a rhetorical question: “I have a very tough assignment that needs to be done. Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Will we raise our hands? Will we commit ourselves to the God who creates, redeems, and sustains?

That is the invitation given to us at the Lord’s Table – to break bread with one another and share in the cup of our Lord’s suffering. And to go forth from here, nourished and fed, walking with the Holy Spirit, joining in God’s work of re-creation.

Thanks be to God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

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