Blessed Assurance

18th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20, Year B)

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Mark 9:30-37

 

Jesus and his disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

 

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

 

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors: Willie and Raven

Although Willie and Raven have both been interviewers with Faith from the Margins before, this was the first time they sat down together.  Willie read the Gospel lesson, and Raven began their sharing by asking what stood out for Willie.

“Well, um…Jesus seems to be saying something really simple” began Willie, “he’s telling them ‘this is what is going to happen to me’ but that information must have been too powerful because the disciples didn’t even try to make anything out of it.  They just didn’t want to have anything to do with it. And then, when the went to Capurnum, they had some sort of dissension among the disciples. And Jesus, he set them all straight with a little child! “Whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.  And there they are, his disciples, arguing among themselves about who is greater and Jesus has to interrupt them to say, “um, you know, there’s someone greater than all of you and that is God!”

“I really love the way Jesus humbles the disciples throughout” said Raven. “It’s really beautiful the way we are shown just how human the disciples were, that they weren’t some saint-like, ordained by God perfect people.  I mean, these were young guys, 20’s and maybe 30’s for the older ones. But like, if you were to picture them it would be like I see walking around campus: those guys are like the disciples ages. And so, it’s always so interesting and beautiful that we can see this play out between them, like they were brothers and just people of that age fighting over who’s the best and “no, Jesus loves ME more.”  The way I grew up, the faith I was taught is that we are all disciples now. We are all supposed to go out and talk, to spread the Good News. So, it’s reassuring to know even the original disciples were human, and had flaws, and that Jesus got mad at them sometimes, too. It’s sobering and real!”

“That’s true, that’s true” said Willie.  “I always wondered about that, you know, even the number twelve.  Well, I hope I’m not getting too far off the rails here, but I think sometimes that according to what we read in the bible it was like they were twelve intentionally different people, like our personality types or something.  I mean, sometimes you hear Thomas and he’s automatically the one that takes the other side, the one first to say, ‘oh no, I’ve got another opinion…’ and of course, you know, I’m still learning. I just have to grab me the patience to stay with it, you know, turn everything else off and then I can read and I start to really get in deep with the stories and the characters.  And you know…this is embarrassing…but that’s why I think my favorite reading room is the bathroom!”

They both laughed, and Raven agreed, “That makes sense to me!”

Willie continued on, “You know, it’s like we were talking about earlier.  There really isn’t a wrong answer to interpreting the bible. It speaks to us in different ways.  You know, I wouldn’t have thought of it the way that you did but I got so much out of that. It’s what you see every day and it made that stand out to me.  That’s the thing about it, the Word always finds its way to speak.”

“You know” explained Raven,  “I think about those disciples more when I’m on campus, trying to work on things and even fewer of us…we can’t agree on anything…and here are Jesus and his disciples: 13 people all trying to move together and get things done.  It makes me appreciate what that must have been like, and I think it’s probably a pretty good description of Christians in all of our different walks, too: Baptists or Catholics or Pentecostals and yet we are all followers of Christ.”

“Well, let me tell you something” said Willie, “I’ve been thinking about that phrase that keeps being used, ‘the Advocate’ which I know came up in the sermon today, that we all need an advocate for us, for all the things we are going through.  I have this health situation, you see, I’m a renal patient and I am going to have to have a real big surgical procedure and I will need an advocate. I really want to have something that I can touch, someone who can speak for me on my behalf. Some people say they will be there, but I definitely need to know that someone IS there.  In the hospital, if they don’t see someone there to advocate with you, people get gruff. Their whole way of talking will change, because they don’t see that you have an advocate. So, when Jesus talks about being an Advocate, I talk about that for real!

“Whoever welcomes such a child in my name welcomes not me, but the one who sent me” said Willie.  “If you are a true Christian, it will be those fruits of the spirit: the love, the joy, the peace that are what we are all supposed to be.  As Jesus says, live into these and you will know me…and you know who can teach you that? A child.”

“I think you hit the nail on the head” said Raven.  “I think that is something other people need to hear.  Life isn’t all ‘what’s in it for me?” or how can I make more money, or how can I advance my reputation.  LIfe shouldn’t be able self-service, life should be about service to others. We get so caught up in thinking about what life is like for us, if we have everything we need that we stop thinking about others.  Humans are social creatures; we are meant to be in community with others. Once we stop doing that…once we take our eyes off of God and stop thinking about loving others and serving others, that’s when we start looking only at ourselves.  And, once we start only looking at our own selves, what we can do, what are our own limitations, that’s when you start to have all the fear and all the anxiety. You’re no longer looking at the solutions; all you’re seeing is the problems. The way I was always taught to get out of a bad day, or a bad mood, was to take my eyes off of me and just do something for someone else.

“That’s true, that’s true” said Willie, “You know, well, I’ve been doing that.  You know, I’m a renal patient and I go to the center three days a week. And that is a different battlefield all together.  The newbies, they come in there and some of them try to put this brave face on, but some of them you can just see it on their face, how scared they are.  And I’ve seen them turn around and run away! The environment in these centers not on the hospital grounds, they sometimes look at you like you are a dollar and not a person.  It’s money going in their pockets, and it’s the way that they look at you. Maybe one or two people care, but most of ‘em are just in their to get their paycheck and when you don’t come in, they lose out.  It turns into a business sort of thing. So, I try to be someone who can care. But, I also need an advocate who can stand up for me.”

“It seems like the health care system is getting more and more that way, and you DO need an advocate” said Raven.

Willie’s own need for an advocate was real and palpable; at the same time, his faith in God gave him a sense of God’s advocacy with him.

“You know, I also play music for my Church” said Willie, “And ever since this has been happening, I’ve had a song in my mind: Blessed Assurance.  No matter what we are doing, it is a Blessed Assurance to have people who can advocate and use their skills for the knowledge and skills of someone else.

Raven echoed this “You know, we should have our own TV show!  We could fix the world!!”

They closed by reading the Collect again together, with the words ringing a truth about the Blessed Assurance that comes when, in spite of all the changes and chances of this life, we know that God is near.

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Stories we must share

16th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18, Year B)

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Mark 7:24-37

 

Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

 

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors: Davis and Harry

Let me be perfectly honest: sometimes I do a lot of behind-the-scenes organizing to prepare for these Faith from the Margins to the Web interviews and sometimes the best I can do is just show up. On the day of this particular interview, Davis was going to meet me at a noontime lunch program where he volunteers, and where I know many people who regularly attend. “Surely,” I thought, “someone I know will be there and want to participate!” But, when I arrived a half hour early there was no one in sight that I had met before. I walked around the building several times, where groups of people lingered in patches of shade in the hot August summertime. Several times, I walked by a bench where an older gentleman was deeply engaged in reading a book. I felt the urge to talk with him, but also hated to disturb him. Finally, I asked if I could sit down beside him and he agreed, moving aside his belongings and introducing himself as Harry. He and I conversed for a few minutes about the weather, our connections with the church we were seated near, and I decided to bring up Faith from the Margins to the Web and see if he was interested. Harry smiled and said, “Well, I love the Bible but honestly you had me when you said we could go in the air conditioning!” We both laughed as we walked inside, where I introduced David and Harry to each other in the coolness of the parish hall library. When they emerged from their conversation nearly an hour later, they were like dear friends who had shared a lifetime of experience.

Like Harry, I became aware that this day was not an aimless moment in time, but the working of the Holy Spirit who intervenes in our lives with sighs too deep for words.

This is a longer-than-usual interview, but worth the read.    –Sarah

Harry and Davis took turns reading the Gospel lesson.

“The part that stands out to me,” said Harry, “is that Jesus wanted to come and enter the house but he didn’t want anyone to know he was there. Now, I’m sure there was a reason for that. I mean, maybe he didn’t want a whole, big crowd of people coming and everyone would want to, you know, have him lay hands on them and heal them. You know, maybe he wanted a little privacy!”

Davis chuckled. “Then and now, word gets around!” added Harry.

“Sometimes things take a while to sink in, too” said Harry. “I was baptized in 1960 when my Momma decided that I needed to go to revival. And I remember pastor P.H. West: Patrick Henry West, you know, he asked me if I believed in Jesus Christ and was willing to go the way of the Lord. Here I was 10 years old, and I saw my Momma looking at me and pastor looking at me so I opened my mouth and said, “Yes, Sir!” And there I was, claimed by God, and baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. I didn’t really know what I was doing, though. But God did.”

Davis asked, “I can imagine you were sincere at least in your wanting to do right by them, but was there also a time when that baptism started to feel real to you?”

Harry said, “You know what, there is a story there. I worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 21 years. I remember this day, when we were all just working and I was standing at this computer, keying in the zip codes on the line. And I felt something. I felt it. And this woman, my co-worker, she looked at me and said, “Harry! You’re crying!” And sure enough, tears were just coming down my face. And she said, “What happened, Harry? Did someone say something bad, did someone hurt you?” And I said, “No, oh no, Barbara…something is happening, something is going through me. I feel like the Holy Spirit is upon me.” And she looked at me and I thought she must think I was crazy but she could tell I was so sincere. It was like: the Holy Spirit is here. I knew it, and she knew it. I mean, they talk about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and I just knew: the Holy Spirit was in me. I experienced so many things that I knew I didn’t know how to do on my own.”

“Let me tell you some more of what happened that day. I mean there I was, sorting mail. And our family’s physician…he was actually German…and now, I didn’t speak any such thing as German…but I saw this post card come through for him and it was from his niece. And I could read every word on that card, even though it was in German. She was letting him know when she was visiting and I could read that. I felt like I was floating. People would look at me, and they would know something was different, and I would let them know it’s the Holy Spirit.”

“Read that second paragraph again” said Davis, “I keep thinking about your story and thinking about how maybe God had put something over your ears to open them, and then you could really hear or over your eyes so you could really see.”

“Yes, right!” said Harry, “At 10, I went through the motions but that Father, Son and Holy Spirit were with me, and stayed with me until I was ready to feel their presence in my life.  Then my eyes and my ears and my heart were opened.”

“Let me share with you a situation that happened to me after that. I was visiting my sister, who lived in the housing projects. I smoked then, and I had run out. It was like, 2:00 in the morning and we were up talking. I wanted to go out to the corner store for cigarettes, and she said, “no Harry, wait…you can’t just walk out there. Once I get in here, I just stay locked in my apartment and don’t go out until it’s time for work.” So, anyhow, this is a long story but I decided that I needed to go to the store. When I got there, there were these two guys there who were younger. I asked them if they would walk back toward my sister’s street with me. When we turned down the street, I heard this car, creeping up. I tried to ignore it. I started to pray, and I felt God had my back. The car slowed down, the window went down. The guy had an automatic rifle, and he just laid in. I felt the first bullet in my back and I turned and pulled down that young boy. That bullet scraped his face but didn’t go through his head. We were both in the hospital, but neither of us died. This was a gang-related, drive-by shooting and the guy who did it, he had us confused with someone else. When I was lying on the ground, I was praying, “please don’t let me die like this” and I prayed for those young boys walking with me, too. But, I always felt God with me. Now, those bullets did damage us. But we didn’t die.”

“In these two stories” asked Davis, “Is there something from these events in your own life that connects that helps other people understand and know more about these lessons we read?”

“Well, it’s what’s happened since then. I’ve talked for a few different churches” said Harry. “I tell them that I have a story to share, and that is the story that I tell. It has become a way that Jesus becomes known, because I have to tell my story. Until that time in my life, I was just that guy, going through the motions of life. But the Holy Spirit began to work on me, to let me know that there was something I needed to do. I had that faith to hold onto even at the darkest times. Jesus said “tell no one” in that lesson but people did anyhow, and I think he knew they would. I have something to tell people through my story. It has helped people change. See, for one thing, that young boy who shot me: he was only 14 years old. Fourteen. And so, it has become my goal to reach out to these kids, to have them see a person who was at the end of that shooting, to work for better laws and to help them know there is another way. But I also tell them my truth: God never left me. And God gives me strength. And God is there for them, too.”

In closing their interview, Harry and Davis prayed together from their hearts:

Harry began: “Thank you for this day. Thank you for waking me up. You woke me up in your strength, with my health and in my mind. That is all that I can ask of you. I want you to touch these young people, and make them understand that you are real. A lot of them aren’t going to church, they don’t hear about you, they think that you aren’t real. But you have all the power, all the love to touch these kids and let them know your presence. Help them to stop shooting, to stop fighting. Help them know that they are the future. You can touch them just as you touch me and make me know that you are God. It’s not for me, it’s for the children of the world. I give my prayers to you, and put them in your hands.”

Davis continued. “Father, I can add no more. Hear his words and continue to walk with him. We ask this in Christ’s name.”

Amen.