Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Sunday 19 August 2012 Isaiah 55:1-13, Mark 5:21-43, Bruce

There is so much to make us afraid.  Here in our gospel reading we meet two people who are in terrible circumstances.
First, Jairus.  He is a ruler of the synagogue.  He is someone of importance.  His problem is that his 12 year old daughter is at the point of death, and he decides to approach Jesus.  A question that comes to my mind is that the little girl has been alive for as long as the diseased woman we are about to meet has been ill.  Is this a coincidence?  Is there a suggestion that the girl has been ill all these years, but now has taken a decisive turn for the worse?  Also, we know that Jesus has been in dispute with religious leaders in quite a few synagogues.  What has been the stance of Jairus up to now?  Has he been forced into a rethink and a climb down?  Is this bravery or desperation?
The good news is that he has come down to the lakeside where Jesus has just got out of the boat after travelling back across from Decapolis, and he has found his way to Jesus and humbly made his request and Jesus has agreed to come!  The not so good news is that the crowd wants to come too, and as they press through the narrow streets progress is slow as Jesus is mobbed.  Will they get there in time?  Does Jesus understand the gravity of the situation, just how ill his daughter is?
It gets worse.  Jesus stops for a chat.  And so we meet our second character.  The unnamed woman has been subject to internal bleeding for 12 years.  This is painful and debilitating, but in their culture it was also isolating.  In Deuteronomy 15 we read that any woman with a discharge of blood is ceremonially unclean for as long as it continues.  Anything she touches or sits on is ceremonially unclean.  Anyone whom she touches is unclean until nightfall.  No wonder the woman disguises herself and creeps up on Jesus, as it were.  In her desperation she clings to the possibility that Jesus can make her whole.  In the anonymity of the crowd she reaches out to touch the hem of his robe.  She knows instantly that she has been healed.  But so does Jesus.  He amazes his disciples by demanding to know who has touched him.  In the midst of this rugby scrum he is aware that a healing event has taken place.  And he stops.  We learn here that the power of God is not a mechanical thing where we say our prayers, and either an answer pops out or it doesn’t.  The woman had imagined that there would be power in merely touching Jesus, but Jesus is only interested in making a relationship with her.  It is Jesus who is important here, not the precise words we use or the actions we take.  We might even argue that the woman had a muddled and incorrect attitude, but that does not matter.  She was reaching out to Jesus, and he reached back out to her.  “Daughter, your faith has healed you.”
We can imagine that Jairus was aghast through all of this.  His own daughter is dying.  The moments are ticking away.  This woman with her terrible condition has touched the holy man Jesus and made him ceremonially unclean, so does that mean that Jesus will be disbarred from helping?  He is taking time to listen to the woman; trembling – she has fallen at Jesus’ feet and told him “the whole truth” – she’s giving him her whole medical history!
And then the worst possible outcome – messengers arrive to say that it is too late, his daughter is dead.  It is time to give up.  It has all gone horribly wrong.
Jesus overhears this.  “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”  The man’s fears had led him to put his trust in Jesus in the first place, and Jesus now invites him to redouble that trust.  Not in the reputation of Jesus, or stories he has heard about him.  Jesus is here, and says “trust me”.  This is that fruit of the Holy Spirit that we call patience, or perseverance or longsuffering.  We believe in God, at least on some level, or we would not find ourselves here.  But there are times when that faith is tested almost, it seems, to destruction.  We catch something of the flavour of that when Harry Potter is at his lowest ebb in the forest after visiting Godric’s Hollow, expressing his frustration at the clues that his mentor Dumbledore has left him to follow: “Look what he asked of me, Hermione!  Risk your life, Harry!  And again!  And again!  And don’t expect me to explain everything, just trust me blindly, trust that I know what I am doing …”  In that great morality tale, Hermione can only respond of the dead Dumbledore: “He loved you” Harry.
If you remember, the big question that Mark poses to us again and again is “Who is Jesus?”  We saw in chapter four that the despairing disciples assumed that they would all drown when their boat was caught in a storm, but Jesus was there.  The man possessed by a Legion of demons found deliverance when he encountered Jesus.  The woman in her pain, shame, fear and desperation has found an answer to her fears in Jesus.  And now, in the midst of his greatest trial, which seems to be getting worse, Jairus is being invited to find out for himself who Jesus is.
Jesus leaves the crowd behind and heads for the home of Jairus, only to find another crowd waiting.  The professional mourners are in full flow and there is a racket.  It is obvious from the other gospel accounts that she really was dead, although Jesus has used the metaphor of sleep to affirm that she will be raised.  The crowd take the metaphor literally and laugh at him.  Jesus despatches all of them, and the six of them gather around the girl’s bedside: Jesus, Peter, James, John and the two parents.    Talitha is, I understand, a word for a young lamb or goat – he quite literally calls her a kid, and perhaps there was a twinkle in his voice as he said it: “Get up, kid!”  And she does.  She does not just lie there, taking it easy, but she bounces up and starts roaming around.
Jesus makes two requests.  They are cannot expect to keep the news that she is revived secret, but they are not to talk about the details of what happened in that room.  And will they please give this hungry young girl something to eat!  Jesus was always practical.
Just as the disciples were in the boat, just as the crowds were in Decapolis after the deliverance of Legion, just as the woman was after being healed of her issue of blood, so the parents and the disciples are completely astonished.  The answer to the big question “Who is Jesus?” will always have the effect of stretching us, astonishing us, making us re-evaluate and revise all of our ideas and priorities.  God help us never to lose that ability to be surprised and elated by what God can do.  God prevent us from ever settling for the humdrum, familiar, tame excuses that our religion can offer, to insulate us from encountering God and growing in him.  At the times when circumstances seem most against us, be open for God to intervene and reveal himself in the freshest, most relevant manner.  Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.
There is much to puzzle us and frighten us in this life.  But we are not following clues left by a dead mentor (as was Harry Potter).  That same Jesus that we have been reading about is here – what do we reply to the words “The Lord is here”?  By his Spirit he is present in every believing heart, and he wants to touch us and bless us this morning.  As we gather round his word, as we join together in prayer, as we break bread and drink wine in obedience to his command, so may we be open for all the he has for us this morning.

1.     In Hebrew thought, death and disease were things that cut us off from God.  What do you find that seems to separate you from contact with God?
2.     What did the disciples learn, do you think, from these two episodes?
3.     If you could touch the Lord, as it were, what need would you bring to him right now?  Who will pray with you about this?

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Sermon for Sunday 12 August 2012 – Mark 5:1-20

We all will, from time to time experience the pain of loss grief, and even despair. Very often we put them into a secret corner of our own heart. In a sense is it a place of death, sometimes literally and more often metaphorically. It’s a place we go to when hopes go unrealized and when dreams remain unfulfilled, when reality disappoints, the loss of a loved one, loss of employment, loss of a pet, loss of a relationship, loss of dignity, loss of respect. And throughout our lives we will break ground in this corner and in this corner we sew in reminders, knotted pieces of thread that remind us of regret, betrayal, lost health and disillusionment. They make up the ‘unusual’ patterns on the patchwork quilt of our lives. In this corner holds many of our most treasured memories. And we are often tempted to live in there, but God wants us to explore the rest of our patchwork quilts, and sent Jesus to enable us to do that.

When we bury what’s lost, a vacuum is created and demons can enter in. The names of some of these demons are Cynicism, Bitterness, Unforgiveness, Anger, Apathy, and Addiction. Demons are more than psychological problems.

And if these demons take over our lives, we find ourselves living in this corner—all alone, surrounded by vestiges of life but not life itself. We are accompanied only by a “Legion” of demons. We are like the man in in the Bible passage. The demons had given him superhuman strength but had left him a human wreak: naked, isolated, self-destructive, and alone, with no income or family. The man had abandoned himself from all that life could give him.

Many of us try to liberate ourselves by binding the demons, trying to limit the control they have over us. We put our efforts into work, exercise, or hobbies. We take up a new cause or enter a new relationship. Some of us try to escape in fantasy through the internet, identifying with a sports team, or reading fiction. Some of us attempt to use positive thinking to bind the demons and gain control back of our lives.

But all of these strategies eventually fail, because the Strong Man hasn’t been bound. In Mark 3 Jesus tells a little wisdom parable. Unless the Strong Man is first bound, one can’t plunder the Strong Man’s house. One of the central messages of the Gospel of Mark is that Jesus Christ—especially in his death and resurrection—has bound the Strong Man, and has come to plunder his house. We are the reward of Jesus’ liberating mission. He came, in the words of Luke 4:18, to provide “release to captives; to let the oppressed go free.”

And so if we hope to be free from the demons in the secret corner of our patchwork quilt, Jesus himself must enter in. He is like the Sheriff in an old Western movie who says to the Outlaw, “There isn’t enough room in this town for the both of us.” This is why Legion says to Jesus, “What have you to do with us? Don’t torment us! Send us into the pigs.” In Jesus’ eyes (Gods) we are more important than animals.

There isn’t enough room in the Demoniac of Mark 5 for both Legion and Jesus, and so Jesus casts out the demons, heals the man, and thereby saves him. Jesus’ binding of the Strong Man allows him to plunder the Strong Man’s house, to set the captive free. And so Jesus fulfills another of his wisdom parables: unless a seed enters the ground and dies, it cannot bring forth life in other seeds. And unless Jesus enters our secret hidden places of our hearts, we cannot hope to move from death to life.

Bringing life out of death is costly, and Mark depicts it through the image of Legion driving 2000 pigs to their deaths. The townspeople didn’t want to pay the cost. Hearing of these events, they come to Jesus and the Liberated Man. But instead of rejoicing in his freedom, they calculate the economic consequence those 2000 pigs. They decide it’s too expensive and ask Jesus to leave. But Jesus is the shepherd who is willing to risk ninety-nine secure sheep in order to find only one who is lost. One dysfunctional, demon-possessed man was more important than a thousand animals. He’s willing to pay the price for our liberation. People are more important than animals.

Are we willing to pay the cost—individually and as the church? Are we willing to invite Jesus into our individual secret hidden corners of our hearts and let him heal us—even if it costs us letting go of demons like Cynicism and Unforgiveness? And are we willing, as a church, to pay for even one sheep to be found, one captive to be set free—even if it costs us 2000 pigs? Because at stake is not just our own freedom, but that of the entire world. In a startling departure, Mark tells us that Jesus doesn’t forbid the Liberated Man from speaking of his liberation. Rather, Jesus sends him back into his community to testify of what God has done for him. Releasing him back to be the person God wanted him to be in the first place. He was able to be reunited with his family again, able to do a work to support his family, able to speak of the love of God.

Jesus took a naked, wild man out of his mind, and healed him and now we see him sitting, fully clothed and coherent. God can do this for anyone today. We are never too far gone for God's saving power. That man didn't have to have a psychiatrist. Thank God for psychiatrists, but he didn’t need one. That man did didn't have to have a medical doctor. Thank God for medical doctors, but that man didn’t need one. He didn’t have to have Prozac. I won’t thank God for Prozac. All he had to have was Jesus. And they came out. The people saw this man, this maniac who would strip off all of his clothes and run naked through the streets. This man who no man could tame, who cried night and day, who cut himself and mutilated his own body, this man who was deranged and driven by demons, allowed Jesus to deal with him. When Jesus got through with him, the people saw this man sitting quietly at the feet of Jesus. He was clothed and in his right mind. The people did not like what they saw and hear and they asked Jesus to leave so Jesus told the man to go home and tell his folk what had happened to him. I want you to know there's nobody anywhere--there is no one who is beyond the touch of Jesus! Let’s allow Him to bind the things that impede our progress in our journey of faith. For we cannot tell what we have not experienced and when we allow Jesus to heal us – not only are we “free”, we are able to shall what God has done!


  • How are you trying to battle demons instead of letting Jesus the Plunderer liberate you?

·         Do you fully appreciate Christ's Lordship in your life? Have you fully appropriated His enabling power in your life? Do you share with others what great things He has done in your life?

·         Are there times when you doubt God's sovereign power? Is He really in control over death, disease and demons?

·         What do you do when people want to be left in their sin? When they reject the salvation that Christ has offered to them?

  • Pray Psalm 30, asking to be one who has been liberated to live beyond the secret hidden place in the patchwork quilt of your life.

Saturday, 11 August 2012


Psalm 107 : 1 – 3 & 23 – 32                               Mark 4 : 35 – 41            Robert

As we have progressed in this series on Mark’s Gospel, we have found that Jesus has demonstrated the impact of God’s Kingdom – his sovereign reign on earth – through his teaching and a series of miracles which Mark has arranged to show us that God’s kingly rule through Jesus extends into every aspect of human life. We have seen Jesus healing people who are sick from various afflictions, casting out unclean spirits, demonstrating his power over every manifestation of evil or sin, restoring the outcast and those on the margins of society to their rightful place in the community, and pronouncing the forgiveness of sins to those who come to him for help. And in all these the characteristic of Jesus that has come through perhaps most forcefully, in addition to his love, compassion and power, has been his authority. His authority manifested in his teaching; his authority manifested in his confrontations with the secular and religious authorities; his authority in his victory over Satan and all his works. We have seen how Jesus embodies the complete love and power of God, and how that results in God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

Now in this Gospel passage this morning, we find him exercising that same complete authority over the powers of nature. “Even the wind and the waves obey him.”

In the opening verses of his Gospel, Mark has let us into the secret of who Jesus is and that he has come to bring God’s kingdom on earth. But we have privileged information which is not available to the disciples or the crowds, even to his family, let alone his opponents. So they see a wonderfully powerful teacher from God. They see a man who can heal sick people, and drive out unclean spirits. Now the disciples see Jesus commanding the wind and the waves. It makes them very awestruck and indeed frightened, but so far they have not fathomed who he really is.

From our privileged position, knowing that it is God himself who is being fully revealed in Jesus, the story we have just read adds a new dimension. So far every action and miracle has concerned people – people in every kind of need. Now we see his power and authority extend into the physical world of nature. To heal a sick person is one thing. To command the wind and the waves is another.  As we read in Psalm 107, everyone familiar with the Hebrew scriptures knew very well that God is Lord of all creation. But to see that power and authority being exercised before their eyes in the person of Jesus was a revelation.

We can understand the meaning of this event in two ways, and they are both important. First, let’s consider what the story tells us (so to speak) on the ‘outside’. God has a plan to restore order, peace and salvation to the whole of creation – not just to people.

We can easily slip into thinking of the Christian faith in very individualistic terms. My life has gone wrong and I do not live in the way God truly wants me to live. So I can go to God through faith in Jesus, as an individual, and find forgiveness, restoration, new hope, new life, and a future that extends even beyond the bounds of death into heaven. And all of that is entirely true and to be embraced with all our hearts. But God’s plan is bigger than that – bigger than the individual. God’s plan is for the restoration of the whole of his wonderful creation.

In his letter to the Romans (chapter 8) Paul tells us “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time....for the creation was subjected to frustration...(but) in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

So its not only humans who need to be ‘saved’ but the whole created order, and in Jesus there is God’s plan not just for a lot of individuals, but for the earth itself to be restored and re-created according to God’s wonderful purpose. This should, in the first place, broaden our horizons and enlarge our vision. God’s whole world is precious to him and he means to restore it to order and beauty. And this should not only broaden our horizon and enlarge our vision, it should be the motivation behind our stewardship of our world. We are not simply trying to save our earth for our own selfish purposes, but to co-operate with God’s Holy Spirit in fulfilling God’s mission to his creation. Sadly, the Christian Church has been very slow to grasp this, and Christian interest in saving our planet has tended to be dragged by the coat-tails of the secular world into tending our precious world, rather than being in the lead because of our immense vision of God’s saving purposes in Jesus for the whole creation. Our vision is too small because our faith is too individualistic. In this story of a fishing boat on the sea of Galilee, we see a glimpse – a foretaste – of what God means to do in the fullness of time. “Even the wind and the waves obey him.” Calm, order, beauty and peace are to be restored. In the opening chapter of the letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes these astounding words: “God made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”

The second way in which we can look at this story, is to look beneath the surface. If we have been so far looking at this miracle event through a telescope, what happens if we take a microscope? What do we see? Although we see disciples who lack faith and find Jesus’ power intimidating, they have in fact been rescued from a deeply serious and even life-threatening situation. Jesus has brought calm to their frightened senses, and serene water to bring them safely to harbour.

If Jesus can do that to our physical environment, what can he do when our lives are hit by storms of a different kind? The sea of Galilee was well known for its sudden violent storms that seemed to come from nowhere, and there are times when our lives are hit by unforeseen storms which may not be physical but nevertheless shake us and threaten us severely with stress and potential life-changing threats.

Although he wasn’t at the helm, in effect Jesus was in control of the boat, and – yes – in answer to the disciples’ doubts and questions, he did care very much about them and whether they were going to drown in the storm. And although they begged him to help more through fear than through faith, he made sure that the boat could be steered safely to land. Hopefully we, who know better than they do, who Jesus is and what he can do for us, can do better than that. We know that he cares for us and we know that we can approach him in faith, and ask for help. It may not be that the storm suddenly disappears, but his presence in our boat (so to speak) means that he rides the storm with us, and that he has the power and authority to see us through to the other side, wherever that may be.

It may not be that every problem is instantly solved, or every closed door flung open, but rather that – as we face all that life may spring upon us – we have beside us in our boat a companion who is the Lord himself, who will not desert us or leave us cope alone, and that –on the far side of the storm – there will be new hope, a new dawn, a new future, perhaps not of the kind we can presently imagine, but Jesus has the authority to bring us eventually to a safe harbour, and in the meantime we have beside us one whom even the wind and waves obey. The disciples had many and unexpected trials and suffering to face which at this point they could not begin to imagine. But as they travelled in the company of Jesus, they were to discover that even death itself was not the final enemy, but the prelude to resurrection.

In the words of one of many people’s favourite hymns: ‘What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear....take it to the Lord in prayer.’


1. When you read this story, does it carry a particular message for you which you feel able to share with the group?

2. How far do you think the Christian Church should be specifically involved in the search  to solve the planet’s environmental problems? Should it be a priority? If so, why? How might the Church as a whole (and locally) be more involved?

3. Do you think it’s right to pray for the weather to change for a particular event/purpose? If so, how might such a prayer be framed? How do you feel if your prayer isn’t answered in the way you hoped?