Saturday, March 05, 2016

“Something New” January 10, 2016; MCC Windsor

Psalm 103:6-14
God works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.
God made known the divine ways to Moses,
s deeds to the people of Israel:
The Holy One is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
God will not always accuse,
    nor will God harbour anger forever;
The Holy One does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is God
s love for those who stand in awe of God;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has God removed our transgressions from us.
As a parent has compassion on their children,
    so the Eternal One has compassion on those who are in awe of God;
for the Holy One knows how we are formed,
    and remembers that we are dust.

Mark 2:1-22
When Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home.  They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves,“Why does this fellow talk like that? Hes blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk? But I want you to know that the Human One has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collectors booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
While Jesus was having dinner at Levis house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Now Johns disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that Johns disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”
Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.  And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”


Will you pray with and for me? Wise God, may what we speak and hear in this hour be a true reflection of your grace. In all your names, amen.

Our readings for the next few weeks move into the healing miracles of Jesus in the first part of his ministry. These can be difficult for modern Christians to understand--we are skeptical of miracles these days. We tend to want to explain them--the paralyzed man wasn't really paralyzed, it was psychosomatic, and when Jesus told him he was forgiven, that removed the psychological block, and he was able to walk. Or, in another case, the man didn't have leprosy, but some other skin disease, which Jesus was able to cure. And so on.

What we are missing when we explain away the miracles is the sense of wonder people felt around Jesus--a wonder so great, he is still talked about and venerated 2000 years later. It is that sense of wonder and awe that led the Gospel writers to include these miracles in their writings. Notice that none of the four Gospels--Matthew, Mark, Luke and John--include exactly the same miracles--or, indeed, tell exactly the same story. Luke is the only account of the wise ones, for example, and Mark and John mostly ignore Jesus' birth.

The point is not the specific miracles themselves, or how they might have happened, but that the people began to believe in what Jesus said, and to acknowledge his power. The fact that he told the paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven before he healed him was really what bothered the authorities. God was the one who forgave, not humans--who was Jesus claiming to be? They could accept the miracles--their history was full of them, from the parting of the Red Sea to the sun standing still for Joshua to David slaying Goliath, Elijah raising the widow's son from death...and on and on. It might be unusual, but not unheard of.  The prophets had, for centuries, reminded the people of their faults and shortcomings. But Jesus told them they were forgiven. That is the new thing, the bit they could not understand or accept--that sin, or error, is not a bar to God's love and mercy.
Yes, there is sin in the world--I define sin as whatever keeps us from God--but sin doesn't define the world, or us. That word,"sin," is so loaded with implied meaning and the echoes from so many theologians. Most seem to be obsessed with sin--humans are drowning in sin, are naturally drawn to it, and held captive to it. But Jesus never saw it that way. He offered a new way of life, in which people tried to do good to each other, instead of trying not to do bad things in the sight of God. Do not mistake me here--I am most definitely NOT saying that Judaism, the Jewish faith, is only about the letter of the law. The most powerful pronouncements against greed, mercilessness, false piety and arrogance are found in the prophets of the Hebrew Bible--"oh mortal, what does God require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?" Or "Let mercy flow down like a river, justice like an ever flowing stream."

This is what Jesus was about--reminding the people that God is far more interested in what we are doing for our fellow human beings than what we are refraining from doing.

It's a change in focus, and we all know how difficult change is. That is why Jesus uses the metaphor of wine skins and patching cloth. It is very difficult to join the new to the old and have it work. New cloth will shrink, and the patch will be useless. New wine, which is still fermenting, will burst the old--the dried out--wine skin. It can be very difficult to change things--habits, customs, ways of thinking.

Here in this new year opening before us, can we choose one thing, one habit, one mindset of ours that we want to change? What do we need to forgive in ourselves? Where have we shamed ourselves and told ourselves we are not good enough--whatever that means to us. For this year, can we each choose one habit, one way of thinking that keeps us from closeness to God?

I'm not asking anyone to share what that is for them; you don't have to write it on a slip of paper, and offer it to God. If you keep a journal, that might be a good place to write it down and reflect on it. But the important thing is to name it, to acknowledge what it is in you that you want to change. Since none of us are perfect, I know there is something to be changed in each of us.

This week, as you go about your life, keep that in mind--what do I need to let go of? What needs to be made new in me? What is keeping me from being all that I am created to be? Let that be your guide for this year.

In all God's names, amen.

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