So what do I notice in this miracle story? The crowd, as usual was pressing in on Jesus. He could have done some grand-stand preaching event, but instead, he stops, and takes time to notice and attend to 3 unlikely characters, two of these were considered the world’s weakest and least powerful, a child and a woman, and the child’s father, Jarius, a synagogue leader; how unusual it was that he would recognize Jesus’ authority.
We rarely get to hear the Aramaic that was the common language at the time (the bible, of course was written in Greek for Greek readers), but in this story we hear “Talitha Cum”, the spoken language of Jesus which the writers must have considered important to include. Talitha is a word of endearment related to another Aramaic word that means lamb, or little dear one. “Talitha cum: Little one, get up!”
I notice that Jesus was not put off by the wagging fingers, the jeering laughter, or even the weeping mourners. he took the little girl’s hand, and gently raised her. I notice that the woman felt healing in her whole body, and that she spoke her whole truth to Jesus; maybe it was about more than her illness.
And finally, I notice here and in most all of the healing miracle stories that Jesus heals by invitation: the woman touches the hem of his cloak, and Jarius cries out to Jesus in desperation.
The Pandemic has increased my affinity for checking for invitation in my personal interactions. Now that we are in a kind of grey zone regarding mask wearing, I am careful to check to see what makes the people around me comfortable, even if I am ok with being mask-less.
I also have a new feeling about personal space. I don’t like the term social distancing; I much prefer one I recently heard: social spaciousness. Intimacy is very important in life, but it should be by invitation only. I’ve come to see the space around a person as more sacred than it used to be. I will try to always practice social spaciousness.
The word Parable comes from a Greek word meaning “something cast alongside something else”. They are short stories that convey a truth or religious principle, usually by comparison or analogy. For Jesus these were teaching aids, an earthly story with a heavenly message.
A miracle, of course, is an event that is said to have actually happened that we cannot explain, and we know that miracles do happen; the medical kind, in which a person makes an unexpected recovery in spite of a poor prognosis, or the miracle that happens when an earthquake victim is rescued after many days buried under rubble.
Kate Braestrup, an author and a Unitarian Universalist chaplain to Game Wardens in the forests of Maine, ministers to families and law enforcement officials in the wild. She is often called in on search and rescue missions responding to danger and disaster, a lost child, a snowmobile accident.
She says that she doesn’t look for God’s work in either the miracle or the horrible bad things that happen. These are both mostly unexplainable events in which so many things line up a certain way. Instead, she looks for God in how people love each other through it all; it’s not the disaster or the rescue that’s the work of God, it’s the love and care of the helpers involved.
When I sit with a friend who is dying and I wonder where God is in this, I see God in the gentle manner and the shining eyes of the nursing assistant who came in to give morning care. There was a special light in her eyes and face, even above the mask. I see God in the cooks and servers working up a sweat making soup and supper for our Sunday and Monday Community meals, and I saw God in the gentle touch and manner of the veterinarian who ministered to our beloved dog Rosie on her final earthly day.
Where is God in Mark’s miracle story? God is reaching out to the vulnerable, the ceremoniously unclean and the most exalted alike. Jesus is working up a sweat and remaining calm in the midst of chaos and pandemonium. God is in the confession that tells the “whole truth”; much like our prayers for understanding and healing regarding racism, violence and injustice. And God is in the power of resurrection; Get up, God says,
As we consider what I call the “summer questions” which Heather and Molly have asked us to ponder: we ask ourselves how we might recognize the many ways we’ve grown and changed over the last 16 months, as a parish and as individuals. I am challenging myself to look closely for God in the events of the last year; I grieve the tragedies and marvel at the miracles, but my focus will be on the details of the everyday: the special friendship that blossoms when you get to spend every day with a special 3 year old boy, the heroes who helped along the way, the discovery of new ways to stay connected, and the opportunities to spread God’s love way beyond 8 Church St.
I will conclude by quoting the ending of former presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori‘s sermon on this passage from Mark’s Gospel. She delivered this sermon to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2015. She gives good advice, and it is especially relevant today as we discern what it will mean to be a vibrant member of the Jesus Movement in the future.
She says: “Pay no attention to the finger-wagging. Turn around and look for the hem of Jesus’ robe. Go searching in new territory. Reach out and touch what is clothing the image of God. Give your heart to that search and you will not only find healing but become healing. Share what you find and you will discover the abundant life for which all God’s children have been created. And indeed the Lord will turn weeping into dancing. “Talitha Cum”, get up girl and boy and woman and man, get up! Amen.
As we move from one season to another (seasons of the earth and seasons of the church) we can look back, gather our thoughts and memories and then look forward with clearer eyes We don’t have to split the past from the present or the future. We can integrate and celebrate what we have learned and try to make sense of this rapidly changing world. (We have an opportunity to take stock of our experiences of the past year today at 11:30 using the coffee hour link)
On this 2nd Sunday of Easter, the readings bring forth a couple of themes that resonate with my experience this past year.
The first is the a deeper understanding of the themes of scarcity and abundance. Psalm 133 is full of symbolism which describes a people of abundance: the choicest oils, a city green and vibrant, and a people living in unity. From our Canticle today we hear of a holy people, freed from their oppressors, and speaking with tongues of new-born Easter people. Luke tells us, in the Acts of the Apostles, that there is plenty enough of everything if everything is distributed fairly. Anna Woofenden has written a lovely book about establishing a “Garden Church” in southern California. The book is called “This is God’s Table: Finding Church beyond the walls. Anna says that a feeling of scarcity is what separates us. That the worry that there might not be enough can actually tear us apart in community. Luke says that to be of one heart and soul (or to be united in the Beloved Community), we must reorient our lives towards justice and generosity, and away from scarcity.
Early in the Pandemic we saw what it means to have a mentality of scarcity, and I sometimes felt overwhelmed by it myself. We saw what happens when we view life as an 8” pie. If one person takes a big piece, that leaves less for everyone else. A scarcity mentality sees limitations in all things. A mindset of abundance sees a pie amazingly, infinitely huge, sort of like how I imagine the size of God!
In our James and Andrew Good News Garden Group, we learned from native American culture about “The Honorable Harvest” This is a covenant of sorts, a promise of reciprocity between humans and the land, a way of living that ensure everlasting abundance. Here are the ideas in this covenant:
When I’m feeling a bit of ministry burn-out, and my glass feels half empty, wise counselors remind me to reach out and tap into the abundance of resources that are out there in the world. This year I found a group of Faith Community Nurses from Northern California. They have become important “virtual colleagues” and their creativity and support has given me energy when I needed it most. I recently reached out to friends who are passionate about food justice issues and they have connected me to several groups of folks who have organized distribution of surplus fruit and vegetables in the Town of Montague. Seems there is an abundance of ministry partners as well.
So, how can we develop a spirit of abundance? Can we try to focus on what we have, to hang out with folks whose glass is half full, not half-empty, to believe in both/and not either/or, and to develop daily gratitude practices, to take a few moments each day to thank God for this abundant life.
The 2nd theme that speaks to me comes from John’s Gospel about faith. I will no longer refer to Thomas as doubting Thomas. Instead, he will be Honest Thomas. Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus made his post-resurrection appearance to them, and apparently the disciples did not do a good job of convincing Thomas. I’m a pretty scientifically minded person (although I do have a firm belief in things that cannot be proven!). Nurses, you see, like to see, hear, touch and even (sorry) smell the evidence before making a nursing diagnosis. Like Thomas, “Show me” is our mantra also. We measure, compare, and evaluate endlessly. I love that Jesus doesn’t chastise Thomas. He understands that belief is difficult, and he gives Thomas the proof he needs. I believe Jesus is telling all of us whose faith has wavered from time to time…. “remain steadfast, you will come to believe.” Keep looking, keep searching. One Forward Day by Day writer said that doubt is not the opposite of faith, it is the companion of faith.
I find myself thinking back to the spirit of abundance again. I think that Jesus is telling Honest Thomas, that he is enough, just as he is, in his unbelief and his belief. That he and we are wonderfully made, and we are made new in abundance at Easter. Consider your own abundant life this Easter season.
In the world that God hopes for, there is enough, and we- are -enough.
By Kathryn Aubry-McAvoy
Today, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is tested again, and Jesus, like a good rabbi, answers the test question with another question, and then he often tells a parable to shine a light on God’s truth. It’s as if he’s saying, “this is how the kingdom of God on earth should be”.
These last few Sunday gospels have been dramatic… the story a couple of weeks ago of a King who gives a wedding banquet, where guests behave badly and the King banishes a poor fellow for wearing the wrong outfit. Jesus explains the difference between a dress code and radical, welcoming hospitality. Two sons, one who says yes to his father’s request for work and then skips out, the other says no, but turns round right and gets to work, Jesus says the sorriest among you who say yes to God will be the first in heaven; (actions speak louder than words), and builders who don’t recognize the strongest sturdiest cornerstone, which just might be Jesus himself?
My imagination seems to be blossoming during this pandemic. Spending everyday with a 3 year old who has the best ever make-believe ideas has been helpful. We had a great “phone” conversation the other day with two bananas! Also contributing is my addiction to Netfliz crime dramas (I like the ones set in Norway or Finland: they are cold and dark and there is a brooding, lead character who says little but speaks wisely.
These gospels, and the parables that Jesus tells, are tales that are meant to confound, confuse and ultimately amaze us. If you read them over a few times, it’s easy to imagine yourself in the action; you could be a main character or an onlooker in the crowd.
Try putting yourself in different roles. The more you read it, the more the drama builds.
I imagine I’m an onlooker; (I’d like to be more comfortable with conflict, I’m working on it!) I imagine I’m off to the side of the crowd, taking it all in, sitting in a market stall, weaving purple cloth.
And so the play begins today in the Temple. Two groups have gathered, Pharisees (pius Jews, very concerned with obedience to Jewish law), and Herodians, (likely followers of Herod, Jews also, but more interested in the governments’ finances). They intend to confront and confound Jesus with a question that puts him between a rock and a hard place. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” they ask. One answer breaks Jewish law, the other angers the government. (Jesus and his band of scruffy followers do not have a penny (or rather a denarius) in their pockets.)
The Pharisees and Herodians flatter Jesus, telling him that he is sincere and a good teacher. I love that Jesus doesn’t let them get away with this; he calls them out…hypocrites, he says, flattery from one side, trickery from the other. They bully him: “You’re so smart, is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
Jesus does not allow himself to be tricked, and his answer is short and amazing. He says “Yes, the emperor’s head and title are on the coin, it is his. Give him his due, and also, give to God what is God’s.
We know we must “pay the tax’ also. We need roads and good schools and we must contribute to the cost of managing and preserving this wonderful world, but what would it be like if we remembered that all of it belongs to God, that all these worldly things are God’s, not Caesars, and not ours. What if we chose God’s way of love, liberation and justice as we support our institutions, our government and our personal lives? //
After all, we believe that everything we have is only on loan to us from God. We believe that at God’s command all things came to be, from the primal elements God brought all things forth. As we sing in the Venite: “the sea is his for he made it, and his hand has molded the dry land. We are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. //
The kingdom of God on earth is Gods. Everything. Every soul, every flower, and every dollar.
What would it be like if we applied the principals of God’s kingdom (not Caesars) to every decision we made. We have been given reason and choice. Could we align our choices and decisions with the description of God’s “kingdom on earth” that Jesus teaches us in these parables? Does that decision, that vote or that dollar spent, honor God as the Mother and Father of everyone and everything, and does it lead us further into a world of love, liberation and justice?
It’s amazing to think it could be so! Amen
By Kathryn Aubry-McAvoy
View the worship and sermon here.
During this time of Pandemic, we pray in our weekly litany “for those who are ill and those who are frightened, for medical personnel caring for the sick and workers who provide support to us everyday in their communities, for scientists seeking treatments and prevention, and for those officials who bear the weight of decision-making for the common good.” If we look back in history we see many examples of similar heroic service, those who followed Jesus’ call on the beach that night, to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and raise up the dead.
Today I’d like to draw your attention to the Martyrs of Memphis. In August of 1878, yellow fever invaded the city of Memphis Tennessee for the 3rd time in 10 years. This was a time in the practice of medicine when germ theory was still a controversial idea. It would be another 25 years before it was discovered that a mosquito carried the disease. Living conditions and working conditions in large industrial cities were typically dirty, overpopulated and unsanitary, forcing residents to battle life-threatening diseases.
After a month, quarantine was ordered. 30,000 people had fled in terror, and 20,000 remained to face the pestilence.
Jeannette Keith has written a fascinating book about this time in history called “Fever Season, The Story of a Terrifying Epidemic and the People who saved a City.”
As Keith wryly points out, these saviors weren’t exactly who you might expect. …“Neither heroism nor villainy could be predicted by public standing, gender or race. Upstanding citizens abandoned their families, and prostitutes and sporting men stepped up to care for the sick. White elected officials deserted their posts, but black militiamen stood fast as guardians of the city.”
The cast of characters who rose to the crisis were an unexpected crew united by a single impulse: like Jesus feeding all those folks on the beach that night, they could not turn a deaf ear to those in need. Among them were the editor of the city paper, the Memphis Daily Appeal; a nurse and teacher who had already lost most of her family in Texas to the disease as a child; a wealthy merchant and veteran of the Union Calvary, who “risked his life to help people he had fought against only a few years previously”; the only white Baptist minister to remain in the city; a madam who transformed her bordello into an infirmary; and, in the aftermath of the epidemic, a former slave who became the richest African America in Memphis and would lay the foundations for Memphis’ reputation as the home of the blues. His name was Robert Church. Also notable among them, was Constance, Superior to the Sisters of St Mary, six of her fellow sisters, three physicians, two of whom were Episcopal priests, two matrons and several volunteer nurses from New York.
In the Episcopal Church we dedicate September 9th to Constance and her Companions. The Cathedral buildings were located in the most infected region of Memphis. Here, these men and women gave relief to the sick, comfort to the dying, and homes to the many orphaned children. Only two of these workers escaped the fever. Among those who died were Constance, Thecla, Ruth and Frances, the Reverend Charles Parsons and the Reverend Louis Schuyler.
Let us pray:
“We give you thanks and praise, O God of Compassion, for the heroic witness of Constance and her companions, who, in a time of plague and pestilence, were steadfast in their care for the sick and dying, and loved not their own lives, even unto death: Inspire in us a like love and commitment to those in need, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, then, now and forever. Amen"
Excerpt from Holy Women, Holy Men
“Fever Season: The Story of a terrifying Epidemic and the People who Saved a City"
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