A “Wild God” and the disruptive presence of the Spirit

Sometimes a wild god comes to the table.
He is awkward and does not know the ways
Of porcelain, of fork and mustard and silver.
His voice makes vinegar from wine.

When the wild god arrives at the door,
You will probably fear him.
He reminds you of something dark
That you might have dreamt,
Or the secret you do not wish to be shared.

– Excerpt from Sometimes A Wild God by Tom Hirons

This particular poem reminds me so much of Rumi’s The Guest House, which I love.

When trying to describe the disruptive nature of the Holy Spirit, I think Hirons has caught a particular intensity that we don’t often see. The Spirit is still small voice but it is also the thing driving Jesus into the desert to encounter depths of himself he hadn’t yet explored (Mark 1:12).

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So, too, the Spirit invites us to delve into ourselves to do the hard work of healing, encountering the bitter and tasting parts of ourselves. We, too, are wild things, created by a wild God who imparted that sacred image to us. Hiron honours the unpleasant, creepy crawly parts of the world in his work, but also shows God as the unkept wild thing. It is less a poem about overcoming the ugly parts of ourselves and more about the maturing act of encountering that part of ourselves. It is a call to cast off denial and avoidance, and instead to sit at table with a God who is not shy around the messy parts of ourselves.

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Stories of hope and expectancy

Prepared for Wesley United Church’s Sunday Service of Oct. 28, 2018 (Year B, Proper 23, Mark 10:46-52).

Imagine a man, sitting on the side of a busy dirt road, people coming and going. Then, a large crowd begins to pass by. Can he hear the crowd talking? Or, does someone lean down and whisper in his ear, It’s him, the teacher they’ve been talking about!

When he learns it’s Jesus, Bartimaeus cries out demanding to be heard: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”[i]

The crowd grumbles: Don’t bother the Teacher… You’re not worth his time… Be quiet, you’re making a fool of yourself.

But, Jesus stands still.

Like the Woman with the Issue of Blood, the one who reached out to grab his cloak,[ii]Jesus stops for the people no one else wants to see.

Stopping for Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, our story today reminds us that Jesus stops for the people no one else wants to hear.

Who are the people in our community we don’t want to see?

Who are the people in our community we don’t want to hear?

***

“Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

“Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

How we long to hear these words. To be picked out of the crowd, to be seen, and asked: “What do you want me to do for you?”

“My teacher, let me see again.”

The past three Sundays we’ve heard stories of men asking Jesus for something: The rich young man wanted eternal life.[iii]James and John wanted glory.[iv]Bartimaeus wanted mercy.

Who made the wiser request?

***

A theme in Mark’s Gospels is the connection between faith and healing.

The man with leprosy is healed when he comes and begs Jesus, saying “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”[v]

The paralytic man is healed when his friends go out on a limb and lower him through the roof to reach Jesus in the crowded house.[vi]

Jesus heals the woman who reaches for his cloak, knowing he has what she needs.[vii]

And here, he heals Bartimaeus who refuses to let him pass by, knowing that this Jesus is capable of giving him the mercy he is so desperate for.

These healings take two: both Jesus who meets the seeker intimately, and the one who believes enough to come seeking in the first place.

***

The problem with these stories is that is so easy to think that this is about how “hard” we believe

Have you heard someone say before: You just didn’t pray enough? You just didn’t have enough faith?

Or, have you stop believing altogether that the Living God moves in our world? That God desires to transform us?

Jesus says, “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”[viii]But, when we hear those words we may begin to ask ourselves…

Why didn’t it turn out the way I wanted? Why haven’t I received what I asked for?

But, Jesus isn’t pointing us to a “vending machine God” we can demand miracles from…

Jesus makes a direct connection between our belief or trust, that God can change things and real change in our lives. These are stories about hope and expectancy.

These people who received healing came to Jesus with the hope that he could offer them something no one else could. And it is hope that makes space in our lives for transformation.

When we come to God expectant that she lives and moves in our world, we open ourselves up to her wonderful mysterious ways. When we are open, transformation becomes possible.

But, that means letting go of our preconceptions of what transformation looks like.

***

I’m reminded of the children’s story “The Velveteen Rabbit”. The stuffed toy wants so desperately to become a real rabbit and is frustrated when it seems impossible. But, through the love of the boy who owns and cherishes him, the velveteen rabbit becomes real to the child. That’s what leads to the rabbit’s transformation: both love, and an acceptance that what we desire most doesn’t always take the form we expect.

And I wonder, do youcome to Christ believing that transformation is possible?

***

One of the greatest lies the world tells us is that we’re stuck, that nothing can change. When we’re paralyzed by hopelessness that can feel so true; it can feel like every effort to do and be different is totally useless. We’re swimming against the current.

The world starts to fill our heads with a chorus of: Don’t even bother trying… You’re not worth it… Be quiet.

If that’s the place you’re in today, then I’m sorry. That is a hard to place to be in. It’s an even harder place to escape from.

But, we believe in a God that sets captives free, gives sight to the blind, and justice to the oppressed.[ix]We believe in a merciful God, whose stories of goodness were captured by our ancestors in the faith, to remind us when we begin to forget—to forget that something else is possible for us.

We need those reminders, just as Bartimaeus needed someone to tell him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

Throwing off his cloak and stepping forward, Bartimaeus reached out, in vulnerability and courage, for what he wanted. But, he didn’t stop there.

After Jesus heals him and releases him to go back to his community, back to the life he must have been dreaming of—Bartimaeus refuses. Instead, he does what the rich young man could not, and he gives up everything he has (though it is so little) to follow Jesus.

Our transformation will come in unexpected ways, riding the coattails of hope, but it is not without consequences. When God moves in our lives, we can’t expect to go back to the ways things were before, with small alterations. Transformational change is an irreversible life-altering thing, that tells us we must live differently now.

Do you have a memory of learning something or experiencing something that led you to say, I’m not the same now.

*****

Friends, the Living God offers mercy and transformation to all of us, but it is rarely how we’ll expect it to be. With courage and hopefulness, we can invite her to stir us, to stir our lives with newness. She offers only good gifts to her children.[x]

But, I caution you: As Bartimaeus shows us, we cannot expect to live as we did afterwards.

Amen.


[i]All quotes from Mark 10:46-52 are from the NRSV, denoted by use of “”.

[ii]Mark 5:25-34

[iii]Mark 10:17-31

[iv]Mark 10:34-45

[v]Mark 1:40-45, NRSV

[vi]Mark 2:1-12

[vii]Mark 5:25-34

[viii]Mark 11:24

[ix]Luke 4:18

[x]Luke 11:13

God’s steadfast compassion

Sermon prepared for Wesley United Montreal’s Sunday morning service on July 1, 2018 (Year B, Proper 8, Mark 5:21-43 and Lamentations 3:22-33).

Have you ever stood in a crowd of people and thought to yourself, I feel invisible?

That’s how I imagine the woman, in the Gospel story from today, felt. Surrounded by a huge crowd, she walked along behind Jesus as he spoke with one of the synagogue leaders.

There were so many people—more important than her.

I imagine that she didn’t just feel invisible, that she also felt no one in the world understood her. Her pain. Her desperation.

Mark tells us that this unnamed woman had been suffering for twelve years. Twelve years of chronic pain.

Mark tells us she had exhausted all her resources by consulting physician after physician and nothing could relieve her pain. Instead, it got worse.

She was destitute, a burden in a society with no social safety net. And, she was only a shadow of a woman, in a world that focused so heavily on childbearing.

She had no dignity because she couldn’t fulfil the expectations society had for her, and she was suffering in an unspeakable way. Her sickness was more than physical—she was suffering from broken relationships, and social isolation.

I wonder… did she get lost in the crowd, or did she hide there? Because carrying shame makes us wish we were really invisible.

***

When she reaches out she is reaching for her own healing—and what a wonderful image of our God this is because Mark tells us how that reaching is honoured.

She takes a risk and reaches out, and suddenly she feels a shift in her body. Something is changing.

Yes, by touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak she is healed physically, but he offers her so much more when Jesus turns back towards her.

“Who touched me?”

Trembling, but brave, she owns up. Can you imagine how hard that must be? Did everything in her scream:

Why did you do that? You took what you didn’t deserve! You never should have bothered. He’ll be angry with you! Know your place!

Trembling, but brave, she falls down and confesses to him.

Now, Jesus doesn’t just allow her to take her healing; he also turns to her and recognizes her as a “daughter”. He invites her into relationship; he honours her and holds her up in a crowd jostling for his attention.

He says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Now, everyone will know the change she felt inside herself.

Jesus stops on his way to the house of an elite member of the community, a spiritual and political leader, and says (despite Jairus’ protests) that this daughter is worthy of his time and attention.

She takes her physical healing for herself, but he offers her so much more—he offers her restoration.

***

Jairus’ daughter, the second one to be healed in this section, is twelve years old. She was filled with life which was abruptly lost. The older woman has been lifeless for twelve years and is now filled with life.

These parallel healing stories tell us that Jesus is reversing the world around him—the Gospel shows him as having power over the forces of life and death.

In the section immediately before this one, we see demons calling out to him by name: Jesus, Son of the Most High God. Mark presents us with a series of stories about a powerful man who commands spirits, heals illnesses by mere touch, and commands the dead to awake.

Yet, these acts of power are always personal—they are always based in the restoration of relationship—and the reinstating of the sufferer in the wider community.

Healing is so much more than just caring for the body.

Even when a cure is not possible, healing always is. Jesus shows us new balms for wounded souls.

***

Lamentations, too, offers us this assurance. That, God, is steadfast in loving-kindness; God’s mercies are daily, renewed over and over again. It speaks of seasons of suffering and joy, and that grief is always accompanied by compassion.

For, God “he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.”

This is not a promise that you will not face difficulties in your life. By now we know, so much of the human condition is spent in discomfort.

Yet, there is a voice in our spiritual tradition that says: God is the giver of every good and perfect gift; a parent doesn’t give their child a snake when they ask for bread.

***

Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and psychologist, wrote in his seminal work Man’s Search for Meaning that:

“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

The Book of Lamentations, which our assurance comes from, is the texts of a community on a desperate search for meaning in a senseless world of violence. It is written by Ancient Jewish peoples in Babylon following a devastating experience of war and exile. This poetry is their attempt to understand the “why”.

Yet, even in that pursuit, they write of God’s goodness, God’s compassion, and mercy.

This text is their mourning and healing—a process of coming to terms with their communal pain.

It echoes the story of the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak by saying: Even when a reversal of fortunes is not possible, healing always is.

***

God wants to meet each of us in our suffering—God sees us and hears us.

God extends an invitation to restoration, inviting us into the kinship of God.

It is an invitation to find meaning in our life stories and to receive healing.

But, God doesn’t just come to us—it is an invitation we have to accept. Because, Jesus didn’t look around for people to heal, instead he responded those who cry out to him; follow him and his disciples around causing a disruption; people who cut holes in roofs to get into see him; or slip through crowds to grab onto his cloak.

God wants us to reach out for our own healing as active participants—knowing we are worthy of it. We reach out in trust and expectation, that transformation awaits us—though it often takes place in the ways we least expect it.

***

I wonder if there is something you’ve been carrying for twelve proverbial years, that you need healing for. During our Prayers of the People we’ll be focusing on prayers of healing and restoration, so I invite you to consider whether it’s time for you to reach out for your own experience of restoration.

Be emboldened, knowing that God’s steadfast compassion is offered to us each day—an unfailing testament to God’s love for us.