Monday, December 1, 2008

What Jesus praises

What Jesus praises in humans
Preached 9/21/2008

Framing Scripture:
Mark 1:14, 35-38 (NRSV, modified by me as noted)
“Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’”
Or, to put it another way:
This is the time you’ve been waiting for: the kingdom of God is here; turn your soul around and trust in these glad tidings.

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’

We celebrate the love of God embodied in Jesus who came to tell us glad tidings, good news.

God has been looking for lost human beings ever since they turned and ran away, and God is looking for anyone reading this who feels lost. Jesus came to make clear that God’s intention is reconciliation; that God wants human beings to turn around and see the love God expressed by sending Jesus. Jesus also made it clear that it is not ok with God to prevent people from knowing that God loves them and welcomes them home.

So this is good news, glad tidings, the gospel. In fact, it is what we are supposed to share with others. Jesus said to a man he rescued from demons, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and what mercy he has shown you.” That’s what we are doing when we do evangelism, which is a fancy Greek word for telling the good news. If you’re not already in the habit of telling people what God has done for you, try doing so: share how God has shown you mercy with one person this week.

Mark is the writer preoccupied with good news; the term occurs more times in Mark than any of the other gospels. Check it out. Mark was excited about what Jesus came to tell us and do for us.

Last posting, we looked at incidents which made Jesus unhappy with people—Pharisees, his disciples, Peter specifically. This posting, we are looking at incidents where Jesus praised people. The stories are in Mark 5, Mark 7, Mark 10, Mark 12, and Mark 14. We are going to see that Jesus praises people who show that they have confidence in God’s love, a confidence that results in persistence and generosity, even when things look bleak.

Mark 5:24-34
Jesus is on his way to heal the daughter of Jairus, a synagogue leader. A large crowd presses in on him as he walks, and in that crowd is a woman who has been hemorrhaging for 12 years. “She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.” She was also ritually unclean and could not have attended synagogue or gone to temple during those 12 years. Anything or anyone she touched was unclean, too. She had heard about Jesus and she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”

Stop and consider that confidence. What was it based on? Probably some of it was desperation, and God is always available to the desperate. In fact, Jesus sensed her presence and her touch in the middle of the crowd, and he called her out. She knew what had happened to her, and she came in fear and trembling, fell down before him and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed.”

Think about your own lives. Can you recall in your life when you were without any other hope and you turned to God? A place where Jesus said to you, Daughter or son, your faith has made you well, go in peace, be healed. If you are in a place today where if you could, you would just reach out and touch Jesus’s clothing, knowing that would bring you peace and healing, you can do it here and now.

The kingdom of God is right here and right now, and you are welcome to enter it and to live in the love of God.

Mark 10:46-52
Jesus is on his way out of Jericho and a blind begger, Bartimaeus, hears that the crowd contains Jesus of Nazareth. He cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” over and over, louder and louder. People around him try to shut him up, but Jesus says, “Call him here.” They tell him, “Take heart, get up, he is calling you.” Jesus says to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus says to him, “Go, your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regains his sight and follows Jesus.

Think about your own lives. Can you recall in your life where you asked Jesus to help you see clearly, and Jesus did so? Jesus says to you, “Go, your faith, your confidence in God, has made it possible for you to see clearly again.” If you are in a place today where if you could, you would shout out to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me,” you can do that here and now, and Jesus will have mercy on you.

Notice that both these people were pushy in their efforts to get close to Jesus; one of the signs you have faith, i.e., you have confidence in God, is that you won’t let anything stand in the way of getting to God—you are persistent. Jesus said in another place, “The good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed and people are pressing into it” (Luke 16:16).

Mark 7:24-30
In this story, Jesus leaves Galilee and goes among Gentiles, or non-Jews. He doesn’t really want anyone to know he is there, but a Gentile woman with a disturbed daughter hears about him and comes to see him. She bows before him, showing him respect, and begs him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He says to her, in one of the more puzzling responses of Jesus to a needy person, “The children have to eat first; it isn’t fair to feed the children’s food to the dogs.” Think about this: he has suggested to her that the good news is limited to Jews, “the children” and she’ll have to wait to see if there is anything left over. It is shocking, really, because it is clear that Jesus came to make the truth of God’s love for human beings clear, and that this love is for all human beings. So this is a huge test for the Gentile woman. Is she just grabbing at straws in desperation, or does she have confidence that God can help her? Her reply reveals that she has that confidence, when she says, “But the dogs can always eat the crumbs when they drop from the table,” and Jesus says, according to Matthew’s gospel, “Woman, great is your faith. You may go, the demon has left your daughter.”

Think about your own lives: have you wondered whether you are eligible for God’s love and mercy? If you have been discouraged and felt hopeless, and you have still held on to confidence in the sufficiency of God’s love, Jesus says to you, great is your faith. Even today, you can say to Jesus, I’ll take the crumbs of God’s love, infinite crumbs of an infinite love, and that will be enough for me. I believe in the sufficiency of God’s love for all human beings.

The effect of believing that God’s love is sufficient and universal, as well as deeply personal and relevant to your everyday life, is to make people generous, and Jesus points that out in two additional incidents. One is in Mark 12, when Jesus praises the impoverished widow who gives all she has to God, which is a sign that she believes God will take care of her; and he praises the woman who pours perfume on him, saying “She has performed a good service for me” in her generosity. When we understand how God loves us, we understand that we can afford to be generous and pour ourselves out in gratitude to God.

So there are three characteristics that, when acted on, call forth praise from Jesus in the Gospel of Mark:

Confidence that God’s love is sufficient and universal, personal and relevant;

Persistence in seeking for God and God’s help as a sign of confidence in God;

Generosity as a sign of confidence in God.

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