Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Healer of Jericho

The Rev. Dr. David R. Freeman

Mark 10:46-52
The passage of scripture before us today is significant for several reasons. Matthew and Luke, as well as Mark, relate this event in their gospel accounts. And both Mark and Matthew bring their portrayal of Jesus' public ministry to a conclusion as the events of Holy Week take center stage. Furthermore this act of healing by Jesus is his last. One other matter of significance involves a man named Bartimaeus whose life was radically changed as a result of this road-side, gospel event at the city limits of Jericho.

When Bartimaeus had gotten the attention of Jesus with his cries for mercy, the compassion of Jesus took charge, and he delayed his departure from Jericho in order to minister to this blind beggar. No surprise then or now in the action of Jesus. What is somewhat of a mystery is the question with which Jesus addressed Bartimaeus; "What do you want me to do for you?" (Mark 10:51). Jesus' question was not seeking information, rather he sought to establish a relationship with Bartimaeus, one that would forever change the blind man. We know, for instance, that his life would be altered in ways he had never imagined. He abandoned Jericho and followed Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. Might he have been among the crowds who shouted "Hosanna," welcoming Jesus as the "one who comes in the name of the Lord?" (11:9-10). And too, the fact that his name was remembered in the same early Christian fellowship from which Mark's gospel originated seems to indicate a continuing relationship with the early church.

Perhaps the key to understanding Jesus' question lies in the matter of faith. We know that Jesus perceived Bartimaeus to be a person of faith by which the blind man experienced healing. The question, then, may have been expressed this way, "What do you want ME to do for you?" The question is itself a call to faith, and this faith in Jesus Christ led to the healing. Maybe none of us will experience what plagued Bartimaeus, but we do have needs and do have the compassion of the Healer of Jericho. What do we want from the Healer? It is the relationship of faith that we share with Jesus and with Bartimaeus that brings us into the healing circle.

Prayer: Lord, strengthen our faith and grant us the healing we need. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

In over 50 years of ministry David Freeman has served Presbyterian congregations in Alabama, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, and Mississippi. He and his wife, Mary, currently reside in Oxford, MS where he serves as parish associate of First Presbyterian Church. They are also my parents.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Determined Walk

Mark 10:32-45
Our gospel reading for today presents a vivid scene filled with both determination and fear. "They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid" (Mark 10:32a). Picture this: Jesus and his followers are walking toward what, for the disciples anyway, is an uncertain future in the city of Jerusalem. Jesus is out in front, like the point man in a war movie. He is not hesitant but his disciples are lagging behind.

I admit that my own journey of faith sometimes resembles this scene from Mark’s gospel. There are days when I am content to allow Jesus to walk far ahead as I find excuses to dillydally. It isn’t that I don’t believe, it’s just that I’m not entirely sure that I want to go where Jesus is leading me. I lack courage, perhaps, or confidence. I am clearly not as determined as I should be. And yet, Jesus continues to lead me on and to lead others with me. Together we take hesitant, unwilling steps. Together we travel the road that Jesus has chosen. Together we go to meet the future that God holds out to us.

Why is Jesus willing to lead such a procession? I don’t know, but I thank God for the grace that Jesus displays. Even when I pause on the road of discipleship Jesus urges me on. And I know in my heart that whatever happens I will be in the company of the one whose love saves me. I may not be as determined as I should be, but by God’s grace I keep walking.

Prayer: Lord, lead us on and take us with you. Amen.

My guest blogger for tomorrow will be the Rev. Dr. David R. Freeman.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

All Together Now

Exodus 7:25-8:19
Our reading from Exodus today continues the account of the plagues laid upon Egypt by God. “Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and gnats came on humans and animals alike; all the dust of the earth turned into gnats throughout the whole land of Egypt… There were gnats on both humans and animals” (Exodus 7:17b, 18b). What isn’t mentioned in this account is that while the land of Egypt was beset by the various plagues, the Hebrew people who resided there would have been suffering right along with everyone else. Any plague, like gnats, that God sent to Egypt must have affected the people of God as well. This shouldn’t surprise us.

Remember God’s words to Abram. “I will make of you a great nation…so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2, 3b). Sometimes the greatest blessing that God’s people can offer is to stand with others as they suffer, to share in their grief and loss, to endure the frogs and the gnats and the rivers of blood.

The Apostle Paul understood hardship to be a part of his ministry. “Three times I have been shipwrecked -- and adrift on the deep night and day. I have been on the road constantly, facing dangers in the cities, dangers in the wilderness, and dangers at sea. I have endured beatings and hardship, and often lost sleep, I have endured hunger and thirst, I have been cold and exposed to the elements...”
(2 Corinthians 11:25-27). Paul did these things because he had been called as an ambassador for Christ (5:20). To be a blessing to the families of the world, then, meant making himself vulnerable to conditions that he might otherwise have avoided.

Today we are called to be a blessing to the world. In joy or sorrow, in times of light or in periods of darkness, when hope is abundant and when despair seems to overwhelm, we are the ones called to bless those around us.

Prayer: Lord God, may we be a blessing to the world, this day and all days. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Peddlers of God’s Word

2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6
Every year at this time young girls and their families fan out across neighborhoods and communities offering boxes of Girl Scout cookies for sale. It’s obviously a major fund raiser for the organization, but it is also a significant time for those who enjoy the cookies. Indeed, many people look forward to buying boxes of their favorite varieties, stocking up before the opportunity disappears for another year. I thought about the Girl Scouts and their cookie sales when I read our passage from 2 Corinthians for today. “For we are not peddlers of God's word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence” (2 Corinthians 2:17).

What would it mean to be a peddler of God’s word, and why would Paul reject this notion? For one thing, Paul was not an opportunist looking to earn his living with whatever new fad came along. His commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ was absolute and his efforts to share the good news were not motivated by profit. At the same time, the word of God is not a commodity that can be packaged and offered for sale. Despite the demands that it makes on our lives, God’s word is free to all who will accept it. And by the work of the Holy Spirit the word of God can not be controlled anyway; it goes where it will, touching lives and lifting hearts.

Paul was not offering a product to the believers of Corinth, not making a sales pitch. He and his fellow missionaries were speaking sincerely as messengers from God. This same responsibility lies with us today, not to package the faith as a brand or an investment opportunity, but to offer it freely to all who will receive it, and to encourage and invite all to join us in the life that God offers. Girl Scout cookies bring a lot of joy and generate a great deal of financial support. Taken in moderation they are a good thing. But the word of God transcends all aspects of our lives and offers us grace upon grace. It is a great thing.

Prayer: Lord God, bless us in our lives as your people, and open us to the opportunity to share your good news with others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Growing Up

1 Corinthians 14:20-33a, 39-40
Paul offers sensible advice to his readers in Corinth. “Brothers and sisters,” he writes, “do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults” (1 Corinthians 14:20). This verse resonates strongly with me. Part of thinking as an adult means to expect difficulties and challenges to arise, to know that events will not always flow smoothly, to accept that at times life will seem to “jump the tracks.” Under these circumstances it would be childish to lash out in anger, to point fingers, to sulk or pout. But it would be equally childish to lose all hope. The “adult” thing to do in such cases is to turn to God for direction and for strength. How is God working through me at this time? What is God calling me to do? Where is God leading me to go? These questions require mature consideration and prayer, not childish responses based on pride or guilt or selfishness.

Paul’s words were directed to a community of faith that was torn by dissent. He challenged them to come together in the faith and to seek the will of God as a family. This sort of unity cannot be approached childishly. It takes hard work and patience and it requires us to grow up in our relationship with God and with one another. But hope abounds.

Prayer: Lord give us the guidance we need to face life and all of its challenges. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Looking At Our Shoes

Mark 9:30-41
“Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all’” (Mark 9:33-35). Clearly Jesus realized what had been going on among the disciples. I can just imagine him giving a huge sigh, and saying “Okay, let’s go over this again…” And there were the disciples, all looking sheepish and suddenly finding something interesting about their sandals to look at.

But then I imagine myself and my own denser moments, the times when I can’t seem to get it right, when I stumble in my own faith and my own commitment. And I think about the times that I’ve studied my own footwear rather than meet God’s gaze. And I hear God saying, “Okay, Jim, let’s go over this again…” Grace is a funny thing, really, because it is wonderful beyond measure, but when we consider what it means it can also be very humbling. In Jesus Christ God has offered us the gift of hope, the gift of peace, the gift of life. The humbling part comes when we don’t accept it or otherwise neglect it. And there we are, looking at our shoes again.

May this day be filled with love and grace for all of us. May it be a day of accepted challenges and faith-filled acts of generosity and love. May it be a day of hope and peace and life. And when the evening comes may we finally notice our shoes, but only as we take them off for the night.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we fail you, and help us to live as you would have us to do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.