Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Telling It - Undaunted Believing

Preached on Sunday, October 25, 2015
Scripture readings: Hebrews 11:1-7, 29-40; Mark 5:21-43
I have been wanting us to learn to tell the good news in a new way. “Gospel” is a famous Bible word and Christian word, and it is so famous that we take it for granted and forget what it means. Gospel means good news.
I have wanted us to learn to tell the good news of Jesus, not just from the old stories of the Bible, but in the story of our lives. I want us to learn to help others understand the Lordship of Jesus, and the cross, and the resurrection from the way in which that Lordship, and that cross, and that resurrection take shape in our lives now. How does all of that make us new people now?
Near Desert Aire/Mattawa WA: September & October 2015
Another part of the good news is the way we receive it; the way it comes into our lives. The good news comes by means of grace, repentance, and faith.
The good news is one single story as big as heaven and earth; but even in such a big story, everything works together as one. Grace, repentance, and faith are not separate things, but interlocking pieces of the story.
Grace means that we receive the good news as a gift. It comes to us as a new life that we have not earned.
Repentance comes from grace. Repentance is a life lived in a new direction; and that new direction is possible only because of God’s grace. In Jesus, God has given us a new heart and mind that can live in that new direction. Our new heart and our new mind can lead us in that new direction because Jesus lives in them. It is their nature to carry us that new direction.
Today we come to faith. Faith is another great word that we take for granted or misunderstand. The great catchphrase, in the New Testament, is “repent and believe.” Jesus put the two words right, tight together. He said, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15)
Jesus was there, telling everyone who would listen to him that God was taking charge of the world in a new way. It was Jesus, himself, who was making this happen. Jesus was the king of the kingdom; and he was there where they could see him, and they could hear his voice.
When Jesus confronts you, when Jesus speaks to you; that is when wonderful things can happen (life-changing things). Grace is there. The beginning of a new heart and mind are there.
Life in a new direction is there: grace and repentance. What else could you want? Repent and believe. You want faith. You need faith.
I think, from the example of Jesus, that it’s pretty clear what faith needs to be. When Jesus confronts you in order to take charge, and when Jesus calls you to something, faith means sticking to Jesus and following through.
Faith and believing have other parts to them, but the English language is not very good at helping us understand faith and believing. Faith and believing include the fact that, when you have faith and believe, you know something to be true. But the truth is that you can know a lot of things that don’t make a difference in your life.
Faith and believing mean consenting to what you know. You are not against the kingdom of God being near. In fact you consent to it. You agree that it is good, and that you are on the side of the kingdom. But a lot of people will say that they agree with something and that you can count on them to be on your side, but they don’t do anything.
A deeper word for faith and believing is trust. Trust takes you further. Any trust that is worthy of the name requires you to take a real stand. When you believe and trust that someone or something is right, then you stand up for them. And you stand up against those who don’t.
In the gospel story, in Mark, the president of the synagogue (his name was Jairus) decided to trust Jesus, even though a lot of his colleagues hated Jesus. A lot of his colleagues saw Jesus as dangerous.
Mark doesn’t give us a picture of the mind of Jairus about Jesus. No one really knew who Jesus was, or what he was about, except that Jesus claimed to represent what the kingdom of God was doing.
Jairus bowed at Jesus’ feet. He took sides. Jesus could claim the faith of Jairus, and tell him not to fear, even when the heart of Jairus’ desire seemed to be lost. Jairus, when all of his motivation for seeking Jesus seemed crushed, stuck to Jesus.
This is faith. This is what it means to believe. You cannot live in a new direction without the grace of a new heart and mind. You cannot live in a new direction without faith.
But see the truth here. Faith is not an item that is in you. Faith is not one of your working spiritual parts. Faith is a living connection with Jesus and with everything that Jesus stands for.
Jairus’ family was going to carry a dark mark on them for the rest of their lives, because they would always be a sign of the truth of Jesus as the king of the kingdom of God. For the colleagues and neighbors of Jairus, his living and breathing daughter would always be an unpleasant reminder of the truth of the good news of Jesus. The sight of Jairus, bowing at Jesus’ feet would always be held against him and his family.
The woman who tried to hide in the crowd also had to stick to Jesus. She tried to be healed by simply touching the hem of his clothing, but Jesus wouldn’t let her get away with that. She had to come out into the open. She had to face her fear of her neighbors. She had to tell everything.
The woman who tried to hide in the crowd had a chronic hemorrhage. She had an unstoppable flow of blood. This made her what her people called “unclean”.
Blood was considered holy when it was part of the sacrifice of an animal on the altar in the Temple. There it stood for a life given in sacrifice to God for the forgiveness of sins. When the blood of a sacrifice was sprinkled on you, it stood for the grace and mercy of God given to you. That blood made you clean.
But, out of context, blood was too holy and it made you unclean. People who touched blood (especially when it was the blood of other people) were not supposed to touch other people. If someone who was bleeding touched you, then you were unclean and you had to isolate yourself, and wash, and bathe, and wait. It was complicated.
The woman who came to Jesus made half the town unclean that day. When she told Jesus everything, everyone knew this. Everyone was mad at her. They were mad at the inconvenience she had caused them. It was rude, insensitive, and inconsiderate. They would hold it against her.
The language of the Gospel of Mark tells us (in the Greek) that, when the woman touched Jesus, she was cured. When she came out into the open and told Jesus everything, then (in the language of the Gospel), Jesus declared that she was healed. There was a difference between being cured and being healed.
In fact, in the story of the bloody woman  and the dying girl, both of them were more than cured and revived. They were given something that was saving. It was more than being saved from long sickness. It was more than being saved from death. The kingdom of God had come to them in Jesus.
Jairus and his family, and the woman and whatever family she had, received something because they had stuck to Jesus through their risk-taking and through their facing of their fears.
Faith isn’t something that gets you what you want; because the father wanted his daughter not to die, and the bleeding woman wanted to be healed without getting caught. Jesus had something else in mind for them, and for us. Jesus wants us to have a new heart and a new mind that will stick with him in spite of shame, and anger, and reproach, and fear, and danger, and despair.
Sticking to Jesus was never easy, and it isn’t easy now. The disciples who followed Jesus on the road (as the big twelve) were always aware of the danger from the authorities. And they were mobbed by the crowds. And they were swamped in the storm. And they were given seemingly impossible tasks by Jesus.
After Jesus died on the cross, and rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, the people of Jesus could only live out the kingdom of God by sticking to Jesus through danger, and risk, and being in want. That is faith.
The Letter to the Hebrews and all the other writings of the New Testament tell us the same message. What the new life and the new heart need are to stick to Jesus.
Our reading from Hebrews says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1, New International Version) I believe the King James Version is better. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Sureness and certainty are things that we feel. Substance and evidence are things that are objective. They exist, whether we feel them or not. Faith is not a feeling. Faith is sticking to what Jesus has given you for substance and evidence, in spite of its mysterious invisibility.
The reference to the creation tells us that what God gives us in Jesus has substance and reality. It tells us that our new life in Jesus has the same reality as the world we live in, even though our new life comes to us every day from God’s invisible work. God continues to make you his new creation.
The hope that your faith holds onto is the coming of the kingdom of God, when God will make all things new. The hope is in the future, but, in your new heart and mind, the future is now. You life is a time capsule that doesn’t contain the past. Your life in Jesus is a time capsule that contains the future. Jesus puts the future in your heart and mind.
The world around us may not see the power of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus. The world may not see how the cross and the resurrection will bring a new heaven and a new earth. But you are different. You know this without seeing it. The substance of that future lives in you now.
God first began to call me to the ministry when I was twelve. The Holy Spirit spoke through the stories we were studying in Sunday school. In those stories God called people like Moses and Jeremiah to serve him and they had objections to being called. They had good reasons for why they should not be called. They tried to worm out of it.
I prayed that God would help me understand what he wanted me to do in such a way that I would be certain of it. I thought that if I was certain that I not try to worm out of it.
God answered my prayer for certainty, but I tried to worm out of it anyway. God gave me a vision. I saw a storm and darkness coming over the world. I saw people in fear, and anger, and confusion, and doubt, and despair. I was told to speak to them for God.
What I saw was very difficult and terrifying, and I haven’t forgotten it. But I stick to Jesus, even when it is difficult and terrifying. I finally surrendered to that when I was nineteen. But I couldn’t do anything else. And, from then on, my life changed. The people who knew me best knew that something had changed in me.
In that vision there was light beyond the storm, and there was the voice of God speaking. In you (in your new heart and your new mind) God has planted the substance of your hope: the evidence of things not seen. There ahead of you, hope is able to grasp what no one else can see. Your hope is able to grasp and stick to the kingdom that is ruled by the cross of Jesus and by his resurrection.

Think about how that part of the gospel story became part of your story. Think how Jairus and the bloody woman had to come out to Jesus and take that risk. Think of the fear and the despair that went through them. Think of how your own life has changed by sticking to Jesus through it all.

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