Thursday, February 26, 2015

Who cares?

“Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.  Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” – Mark 1:31

            Grabbing her by the hand, Jesus lifted Peter’s mother-in-law out of bed.  Sitting upright, she felt the dangerous fever that had been keeping her down melt away.  Her body cooled, her head cleared, and immediately she rose to her feet with a smile involuntarily brightening her face.  In that instance, she passed from burdensome weariness to a lightness of being that made her want to jump, to dance, to share her newfound energy with the world and those around her.  God’s healing made her want to serve.

            It was the #1 result of our “Asset mapping” planning meeting last fall – it was the ministry with the most post-it notes on the wall and the most people voting with their feet to stand beside the project that they would most want to help with.  Caring.  This is what our church should be doing, they said.  We should be looking after each other, keeping in touch with those who are sick, visiting those in the hospital or homebound, taking meals to those who are incapacitated, providing transportation for people having trouble getting around.  Sure, that stuff happens here and there, now and then, as friends and neighbors care for the ones they know, but what about the others?  What about the people on the margins of the congregation who we haven’t seen for many Sundays and who we don’t really know how they’re doing?  What about the people who fall through the cracks?

            Jesus was just passing through Capernaum.  He wasn’t going to settle down in that city and start a hospital, though he did hold a public healing session there.  Word had spread, and the populace came and brought their sick and disturbed friends and family members, and Jesus spent the evening praying over them and curing them.  Physical maladies were healed, demons were cast out, broken lives were put back together.  But in the morning, after a high-level conference between the Son of God and his Abba, Jesus told his disciples it was time to move on. 

            Some may have felt that it was unkind of Jesus not to stay and take care of the sick who remained in Capernaum.  He could have spent years there just tending to the needs in that one city.  He could have spent a lifetime there.  But just like Peter’s mother-in-law, who wasted no time helping others after God restored her health, Jesus left behind a host of people who had received healing who were in the perfect position to help the others.  They may not have the ability to restore sight to the blind, or to make the lame walk.  They may not be able to banish a fever with a single touch the way Jesus could.  But they could sit with, tend, pray for, and care for those around them.  They could engage in caring ministry, and be extensions of Christ’s own healing presence.

            We who have known the touch of Jesus in our lives, who have been lifted up in many ways by the love of our savior, are called to caring ministry.  As Christians, we understand that all people have value and are loved by God, especially the vulnerable and weak among us.  Because of the care and well-being given us by God, we are able to share our time, prayer, knowledge, and resources in service to those in need.  We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).  We are able to care because we’ve been so well cared for ourselves.

            I’m not entirely comfortable with the word “wholistic” because it often gets applied to some flaky concepts in the non-traditional health field.  But the basic idea is sound – our body, mind, emotions, soul and spirit are all linked.  We are each one being, one whole, but at the same time none of us is entirely whole when any of those things is off balance.  Care for others, or for yourself for that matter, involves looking at the whole and finding ways to bring it together and maintain balance.  Peter’s mother-in-law was no doubt very much like many in our congregation.  I imagine she was a doer, a go-getter, used to keeping the household in order, more comfortable with taking care of others than being taken care of.  Her fever slowed her body down, made her feel miserable, and kept her from doing the things she loved to do.  And the more those things remained undone, the lower her spirits sank.  The lower her spirits sank, the less able she was to fight off that fever, and down and down she spiraled.  Until Jesus.

            This is where Caring Ministry comes in.  Even without miraculous powers, ordinary people like you and me can release the power of God’s love by standing by people who are sick and in distress.   Simply by supporting them, spending time with them, helping them with little chores and tasks, we can make a big difference.  And what price can you put on making a new friend? 

            Karen Erickson and her husband Paul, who recently joined Atonement, have been leading the newly formed Caring Team.  They have met with the team twice already, and are well on the way towards laying the groundwork for some important caring ministries.  The caring team also touches on Parish nursing ministries, Stephen’s ministry, Eucharistic ministry, and a host of other areas where we have room to grow as a church.  Parish nursing involves bringing health and wellness awareness and resources to our members.  Stephen’s ministry is an in-depth training program for people who want to work closely one-on-one with people in crisis.  Eucharistic ministers bring communion to our homebound or hospitalized members on a regular basis.

            A Christian man was traveling on an airplane.  The lady sitting next to him asked him what he did.  “I work with a world-wide, multi-national, multicultural organization,” he said.  “We have outlets in every country, and every major city.  We run hospitals and relief agencies.  We care for people – body, mind and spirit, and we specialize in personal development and self-improvement.”  “Really!?” his seatmate exclaimed with genuine wonder.  “What is it called?”  “The church,” he said.

            We are all privileged to be part of this amazing global network of servants.  We have been cared for by a God who made us and a Savior who shed his blood for us.  We are called to reach out and carry that love to all in need.  If we don’t care for them, who will?  As we contemplate how the ministry of caring will be a part of our lives, we require a wisdom and guidance that will not steer us wrong.  A high-level conference with our Abba seems in order.

Pastor Scott

Always learning

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."               --  John 8:12

            Who was your favorite teacher?  Was it a parent, or coach?  A schoolteacher who spent extra time with you?  Maybe a friend who listened and gave you advice, or an adult who took you under their wing when you were young?  I had many wonderful teachers in my formative years.  My sixth grade teacher taught me to love reading, and my eighth grade English teacher encouraged my writing.  My college instructors helped me find answers to some big questions, and my professors in seminary helped me clarify and strengthen my beliefs.  I continue to learn from colleagues and the extraordinary pastors I’ve had the privilege to know and observe. 

            But I’d have to say my favorite teacher is my father.  Not only did he influence me in many ways through the patient, loving way he treated me, but even today he is someone who is always learning and sharing what he learns.  When I was little, he’d read to me – not just children’s books, either.  As I got older, he’d sit patiently and give me little lectures on electronics and music, history and other cultures.  He tried teaching me German long before I took it in High School.  He showed me how to take pictures and develop them in a dark room.  He introduced me to spirituality, and the idea that God is bigger than any of our ideas about God.

            The most important thing I’ve learned from all these teachers is that we all have a lot to learn, both from and about the one teacher who stands apart – Jesus of Nazareth.  He was surely the most interesting man in the world, and the greatest teacher of all time.  We know he was called “rabbi” which means teacher, but what exactly did Jesus teach?  We know people were amazed at what he said, and followed him because his teachings were unlike anything they had heard before, but what did they hear that fascinated them so much?

            Fundamentally, Jesus taught that people could live a life defined not by their human birth, but by their relationship to God.  To do that, we could be “born again” and undergo a re-centering of our lives.  His contemporaries had trouble understanding this, even those he spoke with face to face (John 3).  He explained what life re-centered in God might be like in his famous Sermon on the Mount.   Going back to the Scriptures and the Laws of Moses, Jesus presents the Jewish tradition not as a set of rules, but as a fresh way to live and as attitudes which reflect the kingdom of God. 

            It was still difficult for Jesus’ listeners to grasp what a radically new proposal he was making.  People crave rules and instructions where everything is all spelled out for them.  But Jesus wanted us to break free of the constraints that go along with living under the Law and find a new freedom in faith.  So instead of “how-tos” or “dos and don’ts,” Jesus gives us parables. 

            The parables are seemingly simple stories that illustrate aspects of our relationship with God and others.  When the disciples asked Jesus why he spoke in parables, Jesus said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”  In other words, the parables communicate their wisdom only to those who are ready for it, open to it, and accepting of it.  Along with his Sermon on the Mount, the parables of Jesus contain his most profound and powerful ideas.

            This Lent, we will be exploring some of these teachings of Jesus in a series of special services called the Parables of Lent. From Ash Wednesday (February 18) through Easter Sunday (April 5), these services will focuses on a biblical parable that connects to Lenten themes.  Coming up in February, the Ash Wednesday service is based on the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. In this parable, the tax collector who repents goes home justified, while the proud Pharisee does not. The parable reminds us that we who repent are justified through Christ. Week One in the series (February 25) is based on the parable of the sower and the seed. In this parable, the seed that falls on fertile soil takes root and grows, while seeds in other soils fail.  This parable teaches that when we are open to receiving it, the Word of Christ flourishes within us.

            You’ve heard the saying, “You learn something new every day.”  Hopefully, you find that to be true.  The life in Christ is an invitation to always be learning, always growing in understanding and wonder.  Come and join us Wednesdays in the season of Lent as we hear the words of our greatest teacher, and seek ways to follow him in our world today.

Pastor Scott