Does It Make Any Difference?

Room 113 is close to the nursing station and thus there is always chatter.  Aids, CNA’s and one nurse are always discussing, complaining, joking or laughing. Patients are calling, yelling or have TV’s blaring.  James motorizes his wheelchair with his well-worn hands, calling out to all “I love you!”   And then there is the faint whisper of Christmas carols reminding all who stop to listen that this, in fact, is Christmas Eve. 

Does the noise every stop?  I’m not sure.  At least during the day, it does not stop, and according to my sister, the occupant of room 113, the chatter of the staff doesn’t stop at night either.  

But this is Christmas Eve.  My sister is snoring as she tries to take an afternoon siesta, and I, seeking to be quiet, write while gently rolling back-and-forth in her wheelchair. Christmas Eve…what difference does it make?  Does anyone who is strolling, yelling, talking, maybe even singing in the hall really care that this night is intended to have special meaning?  Does it make any difference to anyone?  Does it quiet anyone, even for a brief moment?  I don’t think so.

I well remember standing in the square before The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  Wave after wave of noisy, irreverent tourist flooded through the square with venders calling out their wares, hoping for a sale.  No quiet there, no stillness to meditate, to pray, to think.  Maybe the square near The Church of the Nativity is no different than the hallway in front of room 113.  But I still ask, “What difference does this night make?”

In this age of political warfare, in this age of dehumanizing homelessness, in this age of heartlessness in immigration policies and practices, and in this age of the greedy rape of our land, I ask the question, “What difference does Christmas make?”  Yes, I ask the question.

A few rooms down from 113 there is a man, a patient who frequently cries out “Someone help!  Someone help me, please!”  Does he actually need help?  In reality most of the time he does not need anything physically.  He does not need food.  He does not need help to go the bathroom.  He does not need medication.  What he needs is SOMEONE!  Someone who cares.   Someone who is present.  Someone who is willing to listen, to show compassion, show love. He needs SOMEONE.

That SOMEONE was born on this night nearly 2,000 years ago and is born in us today.  Christ Jesus is the difference, the meaning of this night.  Christ Jesus is the One who is always with us, no matter what we face. 

Blessed Are The Ordinary: Chapter Two

Frank and Betza: Gifts of Hospitality

 Rahab: Joshua 2

Frank and Betza are well known, that is, they are well known in their little puebla of Aputzio de Juarez.  Of course, if you travel twenty or thirty miles on the speed-bump strewn backroads of the Mexican state of Michoacan, no one will probably have ever heard of them.  Traveling a little further, maybe no one has even heard of Aputzio de Juarez.  

Frank and Betza are definitely ordinary folk, living in the hill country of Michoacan.  They are well known locally and in Frank’s home town of Zitacuarro, but they have no fame beyond those borders.  Yet, I count this simple couple as one of the most grace-filled, hospitable couples I have ever met, but before I tell you their story, let me tell you another person’s story.

The oldest occupation in the world claimed a woman named Rahab, who lived over 3,300 years ago in the lower Jordan River town of Jericho, not far from the Dead Sea.  If it had only been for her profession, Rahab would only have been known by her “clients” and by the gossiping wags of dusty Jericho, but Rehab is known, not for her profession, but for her hospitality and ultimately her ancestry.  

She received into her home two spies from the invading Israelite “nation.”  Upon receiving them and protecting them, she, in turn, received their promise of protection when Yahweh, the God of Israel.   Rahab, a prostitute who offered her home as protection to  foreigners, became part of the long line of progeny of King David of Israel and King Solomon .    Then years later Rahab was listed in the geneology of the Servant-King Jesus. Rahab is in the “Faith Hall of Fame, (Hebrews chapter eleven in the New Testament), for a faith-filled act of hospitality.

Now back to Frank and Betza.  They are both in my Faith Hall of Fame because of their lives of grace and hospitality.  Speaking very limited English, they have consistently received non-Spanish speaking folk from the North and made them feel as family members.  Having so little by American standards, they gave what they had and added to it all the love of their hearts, thus filling to the brim my sense of welcome as I too entered their home.

On one of those visits to Aputzio de Juarez and Frank and Betza’s welcoming embrace, my eldest son Andrew accompanied me and another member of the congregation of which I was a pastor in Everson, Washington.  When we left our “home away from home” I knew that Andrew had been touched by the warmth and hospitality of Frank and family, but I did not realize how deeply felt was the relationship for Andres, as he is called in Spanish.  

Later Andrew experienced a great loss in his life and he commented to me “I had never experienced loss before, except once.”  My mind raced through his life wondering when he had experienced loss.  It was when he left Aputzio, the family of welcome and love.

“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you.” (Romans 15:7)   Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35)  Rahab and Frank and Betza are models for me of such welcoming embrace, people who welcomed the stranger. 

Blessed are the Ordinary for in Them I See God

Helen Susan Taittonen Jacobson

Hannah: I Samuel 1: 28  

Among the ordinary Helen reigns supreme: quiet, unassuming and even timid.  There was nothing about her physical appearance or personality or worldly achievements that would mark her as noteworthy or recognizable.  Her eight years of public education in Northern Minnesota definitely was not significant on a resume.  Helen’s friendships were limited as she lived much of her life, after moving with husband and children to the Evergreen State of Washington, with a heart aching for her relatives in her far-away home state.  Sickness and near blindness stalked her life until the day she died on an operating table with only her husband in the waiting room.

And yet I saw and experienced the living God in her daily life and in her commitment to prayer.  Helen was my mother, and she was the one who taught me to pray and to come to Jesus on my knees as my Savior and Friend.

My mother and father, Nestor, were in their middle forties when I was conceived as “a mistake.”  A few years before she died, she told me that after I was conceived she was ashamed and hid from the public eye.  My mom felt she was too old to have a child.  She must have forgotten her pedigree in the long-line of elderly women in the Scriptures who conceived in their “golden years.”

Yet something happened.  God gave my mother a gift, a gift that subsequently has become significant to me, her son by “mistake.”  God’s word came to her.  God “spoke” to my mother in her pregnancy and she was given the assurance that this child, kicking and punching in her womb, was to be a child of God, used as a servant of God in this world.

Hannah, in some ways, is my mother’s counter-part in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Hannah’s life story was different from my mother who was a second-generation child of immigrant parents from Finland, but  their source of strength was the same Rock from which we are all made.  Hannah, according to the writer of I Samuel was barren and the object of scorn by the second, “successful” wife of her husband Elkanah.  This ordinary woman, with a heart-aching with desire to be a mother, did what women (and men also) of faith have always done: she prayed…and prayed…and prayed.  Then she too received the promise of the Lord through the priest Eli.  When Hannah delivered her first-born son, she presented him to the LORD with these simple words which convey great depth of faith and a mother’s heart of passionate desire for her child: “Therefore I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he is given to the LORD,” (I Samuel 1:28) and thus Samuel, the prophet, was placed into the hands of God by his loving, praying, faith-filled mother.  

It is an ordinary act and yet it is a mountain-moving, faith-filled act for a mother to “lend” her child to the Lord.  Mothers want to hold their darlings tight.  Cuddling and comforting, nursing and caring are all the heart actions of a loving mother, but “lending…to the LORD; as long as he lives” is an extra-ordinary act of faith.

Hannah modeled such faith and so did my mother, Helen Susan Taittonen Jacobson.  My earliest memories include those of kneeling beside my bed with my mother as we shared with the Lord our hearts and the needs of others.

Helen was not a theologian.  Though she read her well-used Bible daily, she did not have a trained, academic understanding of “Biblical criticism” or scholarship.  She never preached a sermon; she lived them.  She never thought of “giving her testimony” to anyone.  She lived that also.  Yet, I remember returning from worship one Sunday and Mom gave her critique of the sermon, something I remember her doing only this one time.  She said, “Pastor preached today but he did not use the name Jesus once!”  A sermon was to be centered in Jesus for my mother, centered in the grace and love of God in Jesus Christ.  Jesus was to be “lifted up” and a sermon without Jesus was no sermon at all for her.

Helen was my mother.  She taught me to pray as she modeled it daily with me.  She died when I was about twenty-three years old, but decades later I sat beside her gravesite on a hill over-looking the Kelso-Longview, Washington area.  I do not come from a religious tradition that believes the dead pray for us, but as I sat on the grass I “realized,” I “sensed,” I “felt” the timeless, efficacious prayers that my ordinary mother prayed decades before but in God’s sight are timeless and ever before his throne.

The ordinary often are the quiet people of faith and prayer, but I picture Jesus, with a smile brimming across his face and his arms wide open as Helen Susan Taittonen Jacobson and Hannah of the Hebrew Scriptures lean into his love and grace.

Fear or Freedom?

Sitting on our deck watching the early morning sunrise over Mt. Baker; Sitting on our deck, watching a harrier hawk swoop over the wind-blown, four-foot high grass in the six acres joining our back yard; Sitting on our deck, watching twenty-five deer peacefully graze in those same grassy fields; Sitting on our deck, watching a For Sale sign go up on that field; Sitting on our deck now visualizing a subdivision being developed in our back yard. Ugh!

It was then that I realized that I had become attached to our home, the view, the serenity of our deck. A little For Sale sign showed me that I am NOT in control of my life or even what I think is mine/ours. That little sign is more than an indicator of property for sale. It is a sign reminding me that life is much, much more than property, serene views and tranquil times sitting on our deck. A realtor’s For Sale sign was a catalyst to remind me that NOTHING in this life is really my possession, not even my life. All belongs to God.

Now to bigger issues: What I experienced on a personal level, even though insignificant in relation to world-wide dilemmas, is symbolic. I am wondering, I am pondering: is there a correlation between my thinking I am in control of my life, thinking that I am the owner of “my possessions” and what is happening on our Southern Border today? The writer of the book of James in the Bible says, “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts” (4:1-2b). We want and cannot get so we resort to violence. Greed, envy and covetousness permeate our society.

We have, we possess, we claim as our own so many rights and so many “things” which lead us to do everything in our power to protect our rights and our possessions from those whom we claim have no rights. We stand in fear of all those seeking asylum on our borders. Fear of losing what we think belongs to us motivates us to build walls, walls we think will protect us. Fear causes us to stereotype people who are running from violence and poverty and we call them drug pushers and rapists. Fear causes us to enact and enforce laws that we think will protect us from “them,” and fear causes us to ignore and be blind to laws that protect and assist the refugee. Fear is the by-product of the illusion of control, an illusion that leads to protectionism, nationalism and to violence as a means of protection.

When we yield to God our sense of “rights” and our sense of ownership of our possessions then we can be available to God to be used to meet the needs of others who have so little. When our “things,” our possessions no longer control us we have no need to act in violence toward others in the guise of protection. This type of surrender, of detachment from “things” will ultimately lead us toward FREEDOM, the freedom to love all people.

All the people who come to our borders are offering us the opportunity to experience such freedom, if we but hear their pleas as such. They offer us the opportunity to repent from being controlled by our possessions and living in fear. They offer to us the opportunity to give, to share, to love and to serve rather than to live in greed and covetousness. The women and men, the children and teenagers seeking a new life offer us the opportunity to be free from that which enslaves us, our illusion of control and the enslaving need to protect what we think belongs to us alone.

Basking in Love

According to a Pew Research Article (July 31, 2018) 55% of adults in the United States say that they pray every day, but my assertion is that most of us have a very limited understanding and experience of prayer. Many describe prayer as “Conversation with God,” and it seems as if prayer is simply asking for something for oneself or for loved ones. But is there more to prayer than asking, or even thanking and praising?

Another description of prayer was offered by St. John Damascene (c 676-c 787), “To pray is to offer one’s heart to God.” In this light prayer is being silent in God’s presence, resting in God’s love.

Each morning I spend my “quiet time” outside on our covered deck. There on the deck I am able to enjoy the Strait of Juan de Fuca, gold finch and house finch among other song birds at our numerous feeders, deer grazing in our neighbor’s pasture and the majesty of eagles. This morning I invited Jesus to sit in the lawn chair next to me and enjoy the morning’s drama and beauty. Together we watched, together we enjoyed, together we pondered the beauty he had created by the word of his mouth. That is prayer. Nothing accomplished. Nothing startling and miraculous, only Jesus and I sitting together, watching, enjoying, marveling.

In addition to petitions and intercessions, in addition to confessing sins and praising our Savior, prayer can also involve being lost in the loving presence of God. It is being still before the lover of our whole being; it is resting in the One who knows me completely and still loves me completely. This is intimacy with God in Christ. Though I do not often “feel” God’s presence and I do not experience God’s miraculous hand stretched out, the miraculous does happen, for I am basking in God’s love and love is what transforms my life.

I Had A Dream

It is still dark outside, very early in the morning. Nancy is still asleep as are the dogs, but here I am at my laptop. I woke up early, as is the case at times, but this time I woke up from a dream, a dream I at least partially remember. This dream raised questions, was instructive and so I want to share the wanderings of my mind.

In the dream I was to officiate at a memorial service or was it a funeral or was it to be a “celebration of life?” Whose memorial? I do not know. Where was the service? I do not know. This dream simply raised the question “Do we know how to grieve?” I know that this is a heavy topic, one we do not want to read about, think about, for we avoid death, deny death at every turn.

Today in many, do I even say most, congregations we have “Celebrations of Life” and not memorial services. We are long past the decades of funeral services with an open casket, and we have even evolved into remembering all the positive stories about our loved ones rather than grieving the loss of our beloved.

Is that bad? No, not exactly. We need to remember, to remember the positive impact of our loved ones upon our lives. We need to share those stories. It is important and the sharing of those stories is also a part of the grieving process, and yet….

In our “Celebrations of Life” do we want to avoid Good Friday, death? Do we want to avoid Holy Saturday, the time between death and new life, the time of uncertain waiting, of longing, of grieving, of hoping beyond hope? Do we simply want to pole vault over death and grief to the resurrection, to new life? In the Christian tradition whole denominations seem to ignore Good Friday and the crucifixion of Jesus and energetically celebrate the Resurrection on Easter. We want to deny death, sugar coat it, avoid it and so we race to “Celebration.”

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica, “…that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” (I Thessalonians 4:13b, RSV) Beth Allen Slevcove in the helpful book Broken Hallelujahs wrote, ” Grief work is culturally inappropriate behavior.”  (p. 95) But when we deny grief we deny reality and we are not prepared for the entry of resurrection newness. Again Slevcove wrote, “Our deepest places of hope and vision often correspond to our greatest places of wounding.” (ibid, p. 87)

And yet each of us grieve in our own way. Each of us grieve on our own time table. People grieve, not as I think they should or as others advise them, but let each of us grieve as we know how. May we grieve so that the reality of all our Good Friday loses are acknowledged and the questions and doubts and uncertainties of our Holy Saturdays are surfaced and then God will break open our tombs of death and even denials into the newness of the Easter Resurrection.

I had a dream and that dream left me with questions and so I leave you also with questions.

*How do you grieve the big and the little loses of your life? *Is there a place in your life to acknowledge death and to allow it to teach you the lessons that you need to learn? *How has Easter mornings brought about new life for you from the pain of Good Friday and perceived hopelessness of Holy Saturday?

“You are the most political pastor I have ever had!”

There was a knock at my office door. In marched a couple ready for battle. “You are the most political pastor we have ever had,” they began. I was completely caught off guard. It turned out that the tipping point for this couple was a comment that I had made in a sermon that I would like to sit down for coffee with Jimmy Carter or Bishop Tutu. They thought that I should have said “Martin Luther,” but to be honest, Martin Luther was not on my list of desired coffee partners, or more correctly mochas for me. The couple ended up leaving the congregation.

Many years later I used that situation in a sermon in another congregation. Shortly afterward a respected, retired member of the congregation came into my office and said, “You are the most political pastor I have ever had!” Now the statement became a teaching time for me, for it was said in love and not anger, said in support not attack, said in encouragement and not an attempt to prove a point. I learned how my “one-liners,” though never specifically talking about politics, were always from a certain political persuasion. I will forever be thankful for this “elder” of the congregation who invested in me, one of his pastors.

Now in retirement I ponder deeply the political situation of our nation and our responsibility as followers of Christ. Unfortunately feeding the hungry and taking care of the stranger, assisting the immigrant and supporting families pulled apart for political advantage are often not understood as rooted in our life of faith as Christians. It petrifies me that political leaders proclaim statements that are not based on truth, but are in fact lies, and millions of people believe such falsehood.

It greatly saddens me that so many people, even Christians, demonize opponents rather than learn from those of a different political or religious persuasion. I have heard of verbal attacks upon Muslim Congressional leaders simply because they are Muslim. What is the responsibility of the Church and of followers of Christ to confront such vilification? Can a Christian confront legal authority? Even more convicting, I ask myself, “How can I say and do nothing?”

Our President usually characterizes the people coming to our borders from the South as rapists, killers and drug peddlers while also saying in a tweet, “And some I assume are good people.” I make the opposite assumption: most are good people fleeing violence, seeking peace, and seeking life-giving employment and I assume that some are rapists, killers and drug peddlers. This is the same tension that is within me as I walk down any street in the United States. There is a tension, a quandary in which I find myself, for I assume that there are people of good repute and others with evil intentions, and I am called to be discerning while at the same time to reach out to all, to love all, and to see Christ in all.

I have recently come across the poem Easter Morning  by William Stafford.

Maybe someone comes to the door and says,
“Repent,” and you say, “Come on in,” and it’s
Jesus. That’s when all you ever did, or said,
or even thought, suddenly wakes up again and
sings out, “I’m still here,” and you know it’s true.
You just shiver alive and are left standing
there suddenly brought to account: saved.

Except, maybe that someone says, “I’ve got a deal
for you.” And you listen, because that’s how
you’re trained – they told you, “Always hear both sides.”
So then the slick voice can sell you anything, even
Hell, which is what you’re getting by listening.
Well, what should you do? I’d say always go to
the door, yes, but keep the screen locked. Then,
while you hold the Bible in one hand, lean forward
and say carefully, “Jesus?”

We are left with a tension, even a decision. As followers of Christ I cannot simply stay safely behind a locked door because it is the best for me and mine. No, I am called to open the door, perhaps with the screen locked, but I lean forward to be a servant of ALL PEOPLE, for in all people I see Christ.

And now if someone is to say, “Stan, you are being too political,” I can answer “You’re right. I am political and so were the prophets of old and so was Jesus and so were his followers as they proclaimed that they were to follow God and not what the governing authorities proclaimed.”

My position might not always be safe. Nor perhaps my assumptions and even my beliefs might not always right, but my choice is to open the door and see Jesus in the faces of people on our southern border.

Snow Days…Waiting Days

So many of us in Northwest Washington are experiencing a barrage of snow, day after day. Yesterday, as snow continued to pile up, I reflected upon some questions from Paula Mitchell, my spiritual director, who recently led “A Day of Prayer and Reflection” at First Presbyterian Church in Port Angeles. Some of the questions included the following:

  • Where does your life seem to be unfolding too slowly?
  • Where are you tempted to hurry growth?
  • Where are you impatient?
  • What might God be teaching you as you wait?

The correlation between the need to be patient during what I and others call “the slow work of God,” and the attitudes and actions needed during “snow days” is strikingly clear to me. The reality of present life dictated by snow and the working of the Spirit of God is definitely complementary. My wife Nancy and I are waiting for God to lead us in the next phase of our lives. So what have I learned?

  • There is absolute beauty during snow days, especially when one has the luxury of shelter and warmth. It is one thing to see the beauty of snow but it is so much harder to be attentive to our invisible God. So the question is “How do I observe God’s beauty when God seems to be so slow?” The answer can be found in being attentive to “what is,” not what I want or what I expect. I am slowly learning to be attentive to what is in front of me at the present time and that is a foot of snow, but how do I see God in that snow.
  • During snow days we take care of the tiny birds on our deck. Care for the birds is what is in front of me at the present time. That is what God is calling me to do right now, not something grand and glorious. Simply care for the tiny birds. I do not have to sit and wait for something else to do, but rather simply take care of God’s creatures.
  • Waiting for God, as well as waiting during snow days for roads to open up or warmer weather to come, is all out of my control. Sounds obvious, but for a person who likes to be in control, waiting and giving up control are on-going lessons to be learned.
  • Waiting in snow days, and especially waiting through the apocalyptic snows that have hit Sequim, WA (the banana belt region of Western Washington) demands that I reign in my restlessness and stay off the roads. The answer is the same in my relationship with God: I need to wait, not rush ahead, but rather enjoy each moment.
  • During this week of intermittent snow there have been “break days” when the snow has stopped, snow plows have been at work, and there is an opening to go out for a mocha and visit family and friends. In waiting for God to show us what might be the next venture in our lives, there are times we simply have to “do what is in front of us,” what is needed at the moment, such as “go out for a mocha and visit family and friends.” That might be exactly what God has in mind for us at the moment.
  • These snow days have also allowed Nancy and I the time and opportunity to invite one of our neighbors over for dinner. Waiting for God does not mean we do nothing but sit and pray. We do what we can do in the moment….such as having a meal with our neighbor.

What has God taught you during the snow days?

The Gift of Need

July 1, 2018  Immanuel Lutheran, Everson, WA  Mark 5:21-43

From April 9th to June 12th of this year I babysat my first granddaughter in Tacoma from Monday through Friday of each week.  I have pictures, of course,  if anyone is interested in seeing her!  Hazelle’s needs are both basic and complex.  She, like all of us, has the needs to know she is loved, safe, provided for.

A few hours after she was born, which was seven weeks early, we met with her doctor in the prenatal unit of St. Joseph’s Hospital of Tacoma.  We asked the doctor when she would be able to get out of the unit.  The answer was phenomenal:  the doctor said:  “I do not know.  Hazelle knows and she will tell us.  We just have to listen to Hazelle. “  Hazelle will tell us.  

Hazelle had a way of telling me when she had some of her basic needs, such as a change of diapers, a bottle of milk, or a nap, the three basics of a young life.  I had to learn how to listen to Hazelle as she told me of her needs.

We all have our needs, some of them universal needs, some of the very unique and personal needs, and I am sure that our needs are often what drive us to Jesus.  If you came into the Christian faith later in your life do you remember what it was that initially drove you, motivated you, to check out this person Jesus?  Or if you have known him all your life, what have been the needs that have driven you to go deeper in your faith?

Our gospel story tells us of the needs of two totally different people.  The first person was a Jewish man who was a leader of the local synagogue.  Such men were often Sadduccees, wealthy, respected well-known men who were used to getting their way, being in control, having people obey them.  Jairus was his name and he had a daughter, twelve years of age.

Jairus’ un-named daughter became seriously ill, nearing death.  I am sure this devoted father would have used all his resources, all is connections to seek help for his daughter, but to no avail.  He was helpless, absolutely helpless in regards to saving his daughter.  Have you ever felt such helplessness?  Such helplessness probably was what finally created the openness in his soul to seek the help of an itinerant rabbi named Jesus.

Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet pleading, begging. (Do it!)  “Jesus, Jesus, please come.  You have to come.  Please.  My daughter is dying.  You have to come.”  Crying, weeping, pleading.   I can only image the faces of all those around him.  Mouths open, faces stunned.  They had never seen this leader of people cry, plead.   They had never seen him on his knees, face to the dust,  begging, but that is what extreme need does in a person.  Need drives us to do what we have never done before.  Need drives us to do what we have never done before.

The second person in the gospel lesson was an un-named woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve long years.  Twelve years.  Interesting.  One commentator wondered out loud:  was this un-named woman the mother of the twelve year old girl?  Did she start to hemorrhage at her daughter’s birth and when it did not stop, her husband simply kicked her out?  Who knows?

What we do know is that she had been a woman of some means, for she had money to go to the Mayo Clinics of her day, but the doctors and insurance companies only took her money and gave her nothing in return.  Now she was desperate, destitute, probably an outcaste unable to ever enter into public life or religious life because she had a flow of blood and that man her religiously unclean.  The crowd knew her now only as “That Woman,” and shunned her, spoke ill of her, caste her out because she was religiously unclean. 

But her need drove her to Jesus and yet her humiliation and shame drove her to him in silence and she hoped with the absence of any public recognition.  I think that she had experienced so much degradation from the community that even healing would not have allowed her to reenter society completely.  What do you think?  Can public humiliation create such shame in a person?   Need and the boldness of faith propelled her to Jesus, but fear and shame drove her away from Jesus.  She knew she was healed by her simple touch of faith, but in her fear and shame she sought obscurity.  

Our need and our faith drives us to Jesus, but at times our fear and our shame prevent us from receiving all the gifts that are ours in Jesus.  

So, first, do you see your needs as gifts of God, gifts used by the Holy Spirit to motivate you to come to Jesus.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens…” (Mt. 11:28).  He also said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Mt 9:12)  Then the Apostle Paul wrote, “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses (my needs?)..for whenever I am weak, then I am strong (for God’s grace proved sufficient for him in weakness, in neediness).” (II For. 12: 9,10)  

It is so hard for us humans to be needy, especially for us men.  As men we are taught to be fixers, problem solvers.  It is not OK to have needs, and so often we end up covering over our needs, hiding them, ignoring them.  We seek to be our own physicians, going to the internet to solve all our problems but this is true of men and women.

Martin Luther in the Large Catechism asked the question, “Who is your god?”  Interesting question.  He defined  a god as that to which a person turns in their time of need.  Who do you turn to?  Do you try to solve all your own problems, and the problems of others also, or do you with Jairus and the un-named woman cry out to God in Jesus Christ?  Can you begin to see your needs as gifts of God and maybe even begin to say thank you for them, especially as they are the springboards for you to come to God.

And now, secondly, the un-named woman, I’ll call her Regina so she will have a name.   Regina’s need brought her to Jesus and her silent, touch of faith was enough for her to to be healed of her hemorrhage.  Healed, but not made whole.  Shame and fear now were the motivations for her to silently sneak off into obscurity, but to no avail.  

Jesus knew, sensed in his own body that healing had flowed out of him and into someone.  “Who touched me?’ he called out?  His disciples were a little snarly, “What do you mean ‘Who touched you?’ look at the crowd.  A lot of people touched you.”  Jesus could have said “Yes, there are a lot of people who touch me, who come to me and even who believe in me, but there are those who REALLY TOUCH ME.  Who touched me in a living faith that moved that person to action?”   Are we the crowd around Jesus who “touch” him, but it makes no difference in our lives?  Do we come to worship on Sunday and then from Sunday noon to the next time we are in worship live as if the touch of Jesus makes no difference?  Or are we the unnamed woman, Regina, who touched Jesus with a living faith, a living faith that changed her life completely?

Now in our story, Regina was discovered.  In Regina’s fear and shame she had desired to be healed, but to live in obscurity, but now she knew she had to face, to truly, openly, honestly face the one who had healed her.

I remember the night very well.  I was in high school and it was time for bed.  My father asked me if I had locked the back door.  In my mind I remember fully well that I had not, but I could not be honest with him.  I was afraid of my father so I said YES, when the true answer was NO.  I was caught in my lie and could have peed in my pants, I was so scared.  Regina had been discovered, caught  but she fell down in the dust before pure LOVE.  I lied to protect myself for I did not stand before pure love.

Our gospel story said that Regina “told him the whole truth (and nothing but the truth).”  Instead of hiding behind her fear and shame she was vulnerable, open, honest.  We kneel before LOVE, and love allows us, opens us up to ourselves, others and our God and to be vulnerable.  When we can be open and vulnerable with ourselves and with God and with others than true wholeness can come into our lives.  This wholeness is more than physical healing, the meeting of our felt needs.  This wholeness is the restoration of who we truly are in Christ.  It is to be made totally new, from the inside out.

If you are a person who lives in fear and shame, come to the One who is pure LOVE, come in the vulnerability that only Love can create and be made whole.

What is the need of your heart, not simply the superficial need, but the deepest needs of your life?  Are those needs driving you to Jesus?  As you come to him, do you see him as pure LOVE, not with whom you can be totally open and honest, totally vulnerable?

There is no fear and no shame that is big enough that will stop him from loving you, accepting you just as you are.  There is nothing that you can do that will make God love you more and there is nothing that you can do to make God love you less.  

Come, be healed; come, be made whole.

A Counter-Cultural Manifesto

While a pastor in South Dakota four of us adults took twelve youth canoeing in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota.  On a hot, long day of paddling our guide lead us to a life-giving spring of water.  What a wonderful joy to drink of cool, refreshing water while paddling in the hot sun.  It seems to me that today we desperately need to drink of the cool, refreshing Water of Life, for we live in a day of turbid heat and hatred, life-sucking activity and demands, and intellectual, economic, cultural and spiritual, empty promises.

Such life-giving water is counter-cultural, for it commences with DONE, not do, LOVED, not love.  In other words such a life originates in God, not in us and our machinations or accomplishments or even in our efforts to love and to serve others.  How often have I heard, even from the pulpits of Christian churches, the admonition to become better people.  Such urgings are pure garbage and belong in the rubbish heap for they lead only to more defeat or a greater sense of internal pride and arrogance and place us on the outer edge of a tree limb that is about to be sawed off, for our own efforts lead us to futility.

The springs of Life-Giving water do not flow from the words or the actions of become, do, accomplish, achieve or even love,  serve and believe.  The water we need for the deserts of life flow from the well called LOVED.  Even on that hot day in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota, the cool, refreshing water penetrated and renewed my entire being.  Such water did not simply refresh my thoughts, nor did it simply stimulate my emotions or rejuvenate only my tired muscles.  No, the water on that day somehow changed my thoughts, my emotions, and even my tired body.  It touched all of me, and so does the life-giving water of God.

Where can we see such a fountain of water?  Where can we drink of such life-renewing strength?  Since every Sunday School child knows that the answer to every question is “Jesus” so he must be the answer to my questions also, but it is a little more complicated than Sunday School level, rote answers.

We do not simply see life giving water in the healings of Jesus, in the miracles of Jesus, in the teachings of Jesus.  These are all sign posts leading us to a hill called Calvary and an empty tomb.  It is in the death of Jesus, the utter humiliation and defeat of Jesus that we see and experience the depths of God’s ferocious love for us.  How could the Almighty God become so defeated, so victimized for us, so brutalized for us?  All out of LOVE.

There is nothing like being ferociously, but tenderly loved and God does not love us when we become better people or understand all that we need to know or when we serve and love him, he loves us when we are still hiding from him in the dark closets of our lives.  He knows us as cracked pots, and he loves us into wholeness.

That is counter-cultural, opposite of all political and economic logic.  It is counter-cultural, opposite all our efforts to look good, look put together, look like we are “good” people.  This is Love, just as we are.  This is love that penetrates, captivates, motivates, transforms and empowers all that we are.  What a wonder!