“Our Inspiration from Storytelling”


Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – September 9, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 124; Mark 7:24-37

 

    When I was a child, a woman named Mrs. Eckert was my primary babysitter.  To this day, I can remember sitting next to her on our living room couch while she read bedtime stories to me of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, the Little Engine That Could, Little Toot, The Happy Harbor Tug, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, and many others. 

    Always I was whisked away by these fantasies. There was nothing factual about any of these stories but they sure did stimulate the growth of my imagination.  What was interesting about these stories is that they all had a life-lesson as part of their drama, just like Jesus' teachings were always connected to visual images.

    In our lesson today, Mark was the storyteller about the effect that Jesus had on people.  Was Mark actually present to witness the two healings found in our lesson?  No, he was not.  Are we reading these episodes as though we are being given the information by a news reporter about what was said and done in each healing?

    Tradition and Scholarship reveals that Mark's Gospel was the first of the four Gospels to be written.  Further, tradition tells us that Mark was an early believer who was present to listen to the sermons of Simon Peter.  He was eager to hear as much as he could from a man who actually experienced Jesus' resurrection. 

     He took notes on what he heard from Peter and those notes eventually became Mark's Gospel.  He never gave it a thought that his notes might be used by others.  Thus, Mark's Gospel is brief and disjointed in what it reveals.

     Mark's notes became a source that Matthew and Luke used to write their Gospels.  Mark noted in his writings numerous illustrations Peter used during his preaching.  This morning we are going to consider what Peter may have been illustrating by using two examples of Jesus healing people.

     Before we do that, I want you to consider how much you remember about a service when you leave Centenary on Sunday mornings.  Many of you may not be able to remember anything that was said during a sermon or thoughts that were included in the prayers you read together or heard.  For many worshippers, most of the content of a worship service is gone by lunch-time.  However, if you remember anything, it might be one of the sermon's illustrations.

     The same process was affecting the listening skills of Mark as he was taking notes on Peter's sermons. Jesus often used illustrations to which he attached the points he was making.

     He described that living in Kingdom of God was like finding a treasure buried in a field or like finding a very valuable pearl.  In both cases, the spirits of people were transformed by what they had found.   They sold everything that they had and purchased the field or bought the priceless pearl.

     Jesus once dealt with the deep-seated racial prejudice that the Jews had for all Gentiles.  He addressed that issue in the well-known Parable of the Good Samaritan. Did this event actually happen or was Jesus illustrating a point that Samaritans are good and decent people? People who insist that such stories were actual events run the risk of missing the point that Jesus was illustrating. 

     When I was a student in a primary Sunday school class in my home church, I frequently asked questions about our lessons. We had been discussing this parable.  Since a man had been beaten, robbed, and was near death, I asked my teacher:

Who was the person who saw the priest and a Levite walk by the dying man and then later witnessed the Samaritan who stopped to render assistance? Why didn't he help the poor man before the Samaritan arrived?

     She did not know how to answer.  Jesus was illustrating a point of "love your neighbor" in spite of their ethnicity.

     When we turn to our lesson this morning, we learn that Jesus performed two healings.  The first story was a Greek woman who wanted Jesus to heal her daughter. Our lesson tells us that she lived in a Samaritan community in Syria.  Jesus tested her by pushing back on her request because of her ethnicity. Jesus said, "I have been sent to God's chosen people. It is not right for me to take what is reserved for them and throw it to the dogs." (Mark 7:27f)

     On hearing this from Jesus, the woman pushed back and exclaimed , "Look, even dogs like me can eat the food that you Jews have thrown on the floor."  Jesus had to burst into laughter at her candor.  He told her that she had answered correctly and that her daughter's health would be better when she got home.  The woman went home and found her daughter recovering from her illness.

     Was this just another episode of Jesus' healing ministry?  While preaching, suppose that Peter was teaching his listeners about how universal Jesus' message is for all humanity?  Perhaps during his note taking, Mark only remembered the healing and did not supply the context of the message that Peter was illustrating. 

     Jesus' recipe for living spiritually mature lives was to remain compassionate to every man, woman, and child regardless of their religion, heritage, or ethnicity. If compassion for others is one of the foundations of our spiritual energy, we have found a life-lesson that will stand forever in every generation.  This story of Jesus' healing becomes far more significant.  The healing was used to illustrate a message that Mark did not record.

     The second healing may be illustrating another truth that was even more insightful.  Friends brought a person to Jesus who could not hear and he could not speak.  Jesus took the man to a secluded area where he was able to heal his inability to hear and speak.  If Jesus took the man to a secluded area who else must have been there to watch and listen to every detail described in this healing?  

     This particular healing has all the earmarks of being an illustration rather than an actual event.  What was the message that Peter was illustrating by describing Jesus' healing in such detail?  

     We have all known people who were spiritually deaf because they were totally self-absorbed.  The same person could also be callous and mean-spirited to the point where nothing compassionate ever comes out of their mouth. Last week we considered Jesus' teaching that it is what comes out of people that makes them very challenging to love.  (Mark 7:15)

     Charles Dickens detailed such a personality in his story Christmas Carol through the character of Ebenezer Scrooge.  The family of Bob Cratchit struggled to love Mr. Scrooge but he could not hear or see that love. When invited to their Christmas dinner, all he could say was, "Christmas!  Bah Humbug." He was preoccupied by his appetite for making money.  Scrooge said to his nephew, Bob Cratchit:

If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart! Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.

    This healing could have easily been an illustration of what happened to Zacchaeus when Jesus invited himself to lunch at the tax collector's home. Zacchaeus, who was the chief of many tax collectors, had lunch with Jesus.  Before the meal ended Zacchaeus' entire orientation toward life had changed.  Rather than to remain a hoarder of more financial assets, Zacchaeus found himself able to hear Jesus' message and nonverbally speak about it by giving much of his wealth away.  What literally happened to Zacchaeus during their lunch together?

     Amazing Grace is one of the most beloved hymns of the Church. Some of the words of that hymn echo this theme: "I once was lost but now I'm found, was blind but now I see."  This hymn has nothing to do with physical blindness.  It is about blindness of the mind and spirit.

     This message is universal and one everybody can use to enhance the quality of their lives.  Such blindness can happen to everyone on a routine basis when an issue comes up for them that they deeply personalized and one in which they have an emotional investment in the outcome.

     People do not receive much spiritual nourishment by reading about one more account of Jesus' healing someone.  However, seen in a context of what Peter may have been illustrating in his sermon, we hear an illustration of someone who was spiritually dead becoming transformed by flooding his mind with thoughts of loving energy.  Being healed, the man became fully alive perhaps for the first time in his life.

     When our spirits become energized by compassion for everyone we literally graduate from our animal-instincts to those of kindness.  This lesson works in our lives.  Such a transformation brings our former dead-ends into thoroughfares.  Our former attachments to the things of this world are discarded.  We become fully energized and are alive.

     Our tolerance and forgiveness free us from being controlled by people who have values that are different from our own.  When we respond this way to everyone, we are reflecting the nature of God's unconditional love.  

     Just because a message of compassion may not be received by others, like Ebenezer Scrooge, does not mean that our message is unworthy of being sent. We are called to be God's presence in our world regardless of how others respond to us. 

     The life-lessons that Jesus taught can heal everyone.  Words touch us just as his hands did on sick people thousands of years ago. Healing comes in spite of the vehicle of its delivery.

 

CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER

We are grateful, O God, that you never sleep.  Each time a sparrow falls, you know.  Each time someone expresses his or her pain or gratitude, you hear.  Each time someone feels alone and forsaken, you are present.  How many times have unexpected events turned our lives upside down?  How many times have our worries chased smiles from our faces, inviting fear to take up residence in our minds?  Help us to remember that it is our choices that dilute the strength of our peace.  Only we can allow doubt to cloud our remembrance that you walk beside us.  Thank you for helping us to remember that we belong to you and not to this world.  Amen.

 

PASTORAL PRAYER

The mental, physical stress and tensions that so many members of our congregation have experienced recently has far exceeded our normal routines.  With Tony and Charlie transitioning to life-eternal, truly everyone needs a place to be still and know that you are God.  We need a time and a place where our consciousness can become renewed by our remembrance that the essential elements of life are those that remain invisible to our physical senses.    We thank you for equipping us with the capacity to draw on those inner resources any time we wish.  We thank you that from our faith will spring forth generosity, patience, forgiveness, compassion, and courage.   

We know that this Tuesday is the anniversary where terrorists took from the world the World Trade Center Twin Towers.  The populations of the world lived through those moments victoriously.  Help us to ponder the wisdom of, "this too shall pass."  Help us to remember the resiliency of which we are made.  Help us to remember that we have been called to make your presence visible in our world.  There are so many things that we would not do, think or say if we could remember this one fact -- that we are your sons and daughters.  Our calling is critical to everything that we encounter in spite of the quality of our experiences.  

As we face the future, help us to remember that the loving energy and attitudes we bring to each other is what makes us a church-family. Heal us from having passions that do not lead to making your presence known.  We pray these things through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray …