Sunday, July 25, 2021

Comfy or Costly Christianity?



Acclaimimages.com, https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1GCEV_enUS858US858&sxsrf=ALeKk003Fdlv_e2Trdp5yCLovSzrPxoyQ:1626968790745&source=univ&tbm=isch&q=google+image+of+cartoon+character+in+reclining+chair+watching+television&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiFnNSGg_fxAhUPnOAKHS2GAEoQ7Al6BAgDEBU&biw=1020&bih=454#imgrc=MjVlzERdQBpSvM

This is a recovery time when some appear more concerned to have a comfortable faith rather than one that costs any challenges. Listening to a service on Zoom was a great way to connect with Christians in far away places, but it was also so convenient and comfortable! We could do some emails Sunday morning, set up the computer for the service, and, at the end, after briefly chatting with a few people, begin cooking lunch right away. No coats to wear, car trips to take, late lunches, or special clothes to wear. Some people even froze their faces for the service and stayed in their pajamas! Yet, something was missing—that face-to-face contact and those asides that people say that imply a need for which we should pray, as well as creative conversations about ways to reach out to the local community.[1]

Pew Research Center conducted a survey March 1-7, 2021, among 12,055 U.S. adults on the Center’s online, nationally representative American Trends Panel. They found that:

“while in-person religious attendance has begun to rebound, it still is far from normal. Most people who say they generally attend religious services at least once or twice a month (58%) say they have not attended during the past month. And just four-in-ten U.S. Christians (39%) plan to go in person to church services this Easter Sunday, which is sharply lower than the 62% who say they typically go to church on Easter….Overall, half of evangelicals who typically attend religious services at least monthly say they have attended church in person during the past month.”[2]

        It is now July, and some of those people have still not returned.

        What does Jesus have to say about comfortable followers?

        Jesus begins in Luke 9:18-26 asking a general question of his disciples: “Who do the crowds say that I am?”

Then he moves to asking a specific question: “But you yourselves, who do you say that I am?”

Then he follows the great confession by Peter that he is indeed God’s Messiah, with disappointing news: God’s Messiah is not going to set up a free state of Israel, rather he is going to be rejected by all the religious leaders (the elders and chief priests and scribes) and even be put to death. And not only that, his students or disciples will have to follow him daily in this depressing state of carrying a cross or dying every day! Who wants to do that?

But, to find oneself and to save one’s life, one has to lose oneself! What a paradox! What a puzzling passage!

Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to be put to death and then be raised to life (Luke 9:22).

The apostle Paul explained in Galatians 1:3-4: Jesus Christ “gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age” in order to justify us (1:4; 2:16, 20-21). When Jesus the Messiah died for our sins, that was a perfect act.

Have we all indeed sinned?

For example, I never realized that I was brought to the heavenly court for breaking the Ten Commandments. But when I look at the Ten Commandments through the teachings of Jesus, and I am honest, then I see how God sees me.

For instance, “Honor your father and mother”—

When I was a teenager, at one point, I thought my parents were the devil incarnate. Now, I realize how much they taught me. They loved me and taught me to work hard and enjoy travel!

“You shall not murder”—

I’ve been angry at times at some people that I thought had mistreated me and I hoped they would disappear!

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house”—

Today, down the street where we live, they are building these huge houses and, I think, why couldn’t we have a big house like that? We’d have so much room! But, we don’t have the money and we really don’t have the need. I remember all the time my parents spent maintaining their big house in New Jersey. Instead, I wanted a small garden and just enough rooms for our small family, and I have that! Now, I am so thankful we even have a house in these times of housing shortage.

So why do I desire something I don’t even want? Maybe because there are no bragging rights for our little house. What do I mean? Once when I was in elementary school in the Dominican Republic, I was brought home by parents with a group of kids one of whom was a popular boy who never paid me any attention. But when they dropped me off and he looked up the long driveway, flanked by Flamboyan trees to my spacious Spanish colonial house in the distance, he exclaimed, “Wow!” in awe. And I felt so smug. I said to myself, “And he thought I was nobody!”

Well, I’ve been brought to the heavenly court and God has forgiven me in Jesus’s name so that I can live by faith through the Holy Spirit. 

Why then do we too have to take up our own cross to follow Jesus? Isn’t Jesus’s sacrificial death enough?

And, how can we die daily?

Paul says he was crucified with Christ and he no longer lives, but it is Christ who lives in him (Gal 2:19-20).

In other words, WE HAVE TO IDENTIFY WITH JESUS IN ORDER THAT HIS DEATH FOR US BECOMES LIVING /activated/operative/animated/transforming!

Our faith is like leaven. Leaven is a substance as yeast or baking powder that causes fermentation and expansion of the dough or batter. Jesus’s death is the dough—perfectly prepared for us-- our faith is the leaven or yeast that causes the dough to rise or expand and come alive in our lives. When we identify with Jesus, we follow him, and as a result we too become crucified. So, eventually, we will rise as he did!

How then do we follow Jesus daily?

I think that v. 26 can help us: “for whoever might be ashamed of me and my words, this one the Son of Humanity will be ashamed of, whenever he might come in his glory and [the glory] of the Father and [the glory] of the holy angels.”

In other words, we need to be proud of Jesus and of Jesus’s words too.

Are we proud of Jesus?

Are we proud of Jesus’s words?

Or, do we have a comfy or convenient Christianity, instead of a costly one?

The opposite of Jesus being ashamed of us is Jesus being proud of us and commending us and glorifying us!

For example, Jesus asked us to pray: “Give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3). Are we willing to thank God for our daily food in public?

Jesus asked us to pray: “hallowed be your name” (Luke 11:2). Are we willing always to set apart God’s name as holy?

Jesus asked us to pray: “forgive us our sins for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” Are we willing always to ask for forgiveness to those whom we sin against and to encourage others to forgive sins? Plus, are we willing to call “sin”—“sin,” or are we embarrassed to do so in public? Or, do we redefine “sin” so we can do whatever we want when we want?

Do we do what is convenient or comfortable even when it may not follow Jesus’s teachings?

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

To follow Jesus is to be willing to die to ourself and our own glory because of our greater love for Jesus and the glory he will give us. Jesus loves us more than anyone else does!

How do we start?

1.     Of course, we need to make a commitment to Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, and ask him to forgive us our sins and guide us as we live in our new faith.

2.     How do we live in our new faith? Read & study regularly the Bible to discover what Jesus teaches. Don’t guess!

Meet with other believers who can encourage us in our walk (and we can encourage them with our spiritual gifts).

3.     Take up our cross “daily” so that Jesus’s model affects us every day, not just on special days or in special places.

Our goal should not be to have a comfy or convenient Christianity, but one that is costly.

Is our goal in life to become the richest Christian or the most powerful Christian or the most influential Christian? –no!

As a church, as well, our goal should not be to become the richest church or the most powerful church or the most influential church, but the church that models Jesus.

How does this affect my life?

        We use our finances to support God’s kingdom.

Bill and I practice a graduated tithe. We begin, not end, at 10%, and increase the percentage depending on our income.

        We speak on behalf of Jesus’s kingdom.

When I teach about the fully reliable Bible, some more liberal scholars have considered me to be ignorant. I may get upset at their criticism, but I don’t change my approach.

        For example, years ago I was invited to New York City for a panel discussion on the Bible. I was surprised and disappointed to hear that the other panelists, scholars in their areas, all doubted the authority and reliability of the Bible and did not even believe Jesus was the Son of God. But they monopolized the conversation, and, as they did so, I became more and more scared to speak up.

However, I decided that I would speak up so that God would approve me, even if the panelists made fun of me. So, finally, I raised my hand to speak.

        What do you say to educated people who have just said that we should approve all religions and not one of them is right??

I said, what if the God of the universe became incarnate at one point in time? Then, Jesus would be unique and to speak on his behalf is not a question of my belief or yours.

        No one said anything, instead they seemed to respect me for sharing my view.

And, to my surprise, when the panel discussion was over, some of the audience thanked me so much for what I said and were glad that I was there to share my view (and their view). I had never thought that the audience’s faith might be affected if I had not spoken.

        When we are with our family or work colleagues, are we willing to defend Christ’s teachings, not in an obnoxious manner, but in a loving way, even if we might be ridiculed?

We never know who might be listening! And, usually I find that people receive gracious explanations with respect, not ridicule.

The irony is this: even though we give away our life to Christ, our life in Christ makes our own identity blossom forth!

        Sometimes not being ashamed of Jesus and Jesus’s words can affect our very lives adversely,[3] but not always.

        When we decide whether to worship God in public of course we must take into consideration safety and distance, but we should not decide simply on the basis of convenience and comfort.

Aída



[1] This blog is an adapted version of a sermon given at Pilgrim Church in Beverly, MA 7/25/21.

[2] “Life in U.S. Religious Congregations Slowly Edges Back Toward Normal” https://www.pewforum.org/2021/03/22/life-in-u-s-religious-congregations-slowly-edges-back-toward-normal, accessed 22 July 2021.

[3] E.g., read the powerful account of Polycarp, whose pure life helped him be courageous in the face of death in AD 156 in Eusebius’ Church History 4.15. 

Friday, June 25, 2021

Resuming Daily Life God’s Way


  Medpage Today https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1GCEV_enUS858US858&source=univ&tbm=isch&q=image+throwing+face+masks+away&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi4k_XYprHxAhVjFVkFHUpxCzwQ7Al6BAgPEEE&biw=1019&bih=425#imgrc=xtu87NsmWIX4lM

Everyone who has ever driven down a secluded country road on a peaceful night has risked the sudden shock of a bug or bird smacking your windshield, a squirrel tearing across the road, then pivoting and racing back and forth between your left and right headlights, the proverbial deer leaping out in front of you, stopping stock still, staring mesmerized into those same headlights, or the even more commanding obstacle of an Elk bounding into the road, then charging your car,[1] any one of these instant obstructions leaving you shocked out of journey somnambulance, screeching to a halt.

The analogy could be made to many, if not most, of us as we emerge blinking into the light of the cessation of the Covid-19 onslaught. We can easily identify with the same plight of these creatures. Numerous options suddenly seem to confront us, leaving us wondering: “How do I decide what will pass for normal life for me in this new post-plague world?” Everywhere there are different rules in play. For instance, while the post office demands face masks remain on customers who want service, an increasing number of restaurants, stores and businesses have made masks optional. An underside of choice faces a number of potential workers confronted with the reality they can make more money on unemployment than they can working, leaving many puzzling should they rejoin the job market or not?[2] And, with reports of new Coronavirus strains mutating as we speak, we wonder if we’re really safe to get together with those friends and neighbors who for one reason or another have received no Covid-19 vaccination (which does protect us from some other strains, but, perhaps not all), even if we ourselves have had both shots.[3]

At the same time, that we are negotiating a “new normal,” a shocking number of malcontents are forging a new abnormal, as Insider.com reports: “225 shootings in the US in 2021 as of May 28. More than 17,000 people in the US have died so far in 2021 from gun-related violence. The US is on track to have more shootings in 2021 than any recent year on record.”[4] While this bizarre development is taking place, good citizens are seeking some kind of healthy, regularly recognizable routine, considering what can be salvaged from life before Covid and what needs to be constructed on new rules. So, we are left to wonder: What kind of comeback should we be making: cautious as the post office, or bold as those who want business-as-usual?

Such “What to do?” and “How to live?” questions are hardly new – especially in times of stress and disaster, as our earth has just experienced with 179,157, 837 cases of Coronavirus, causing 3, 882, 228 deaths worldwide among its residents up to today.[5] Serious situations have always called for serious life-changing decisions.

The prophet Micah of Israel’s southern kingdom, Judah, confronted a great crisis in his own day, not due to plague but to the rise of a great, malevolent power, Assyria, preparing a siege to conquer Samaria and dominate Israel, its northern sister, a threat that would rebound on Jerusalem and Judah and put both nations into exile and enslavement.

Groping for a way to face such cataclysmic events, people were asking how to live in this crisis situation. Wisely, they were seeking God’s answer and God revealed it to Micah. Not payoffs or sacrificing one’s children’s wellbeing (see Micah 6:6-8), but simply building one’s life, literally, on God’s standards for human behavior: “to accomplish right (or law or rule, mišpât) and to love (or to desire) mercy (or kindness, benevolence, love, grace (hesed) and be humble[6] (or attentive, haṣnē‘) to your God (’elȏhim).”

Enduring a crisis and picking up the pieces afterward to start anew in a changed environment demands a three-fold response:

1)    First, to create a just society. To anyone considered normal, slaughtering innocent passersby unknown to the assailant is obviously insane. That’s clear enough. But some of the roots that feed into mind-altering violence are not so clear. Ethnic and class and even religious prejudice (as influenced the Boston Marathon murderers among others[7]) have precipitated a number of recent incidences that have ended lives and instigated sometimes violently-expressed outrage. When an entire nation is being enslaved, as was the fate of Israel and then Judah, or plunged into civil violence, everyone needs to pull together and create a united community or lose their joint identity entirely to its conqueror. Before a nation creates its own civil war and its resulting heartache and possible demise, God calls it to become a just place for all its citizens to flourish and thrive.

2)    Second, healthy families look out for one another. A nation is like a family. Paul informed the Athenian thinkers that God created all humans from a single progenitor , determined them to divide into nations, and share the land, understanding we are all God’s “offspring” (or family, or nation, or race, or descendants, or people, see Acts 17: 24-31, especially verse 29) and, therefore, God wants us to be merciful to each person as if she or he was a member of our own nuclear family.

3)    Finally, third, any attitude that ignores the good requirements of God, our creator, that have been set down for our benefit, reveals that rejector to be like a selfish child who enjoys shelter under his or her loving parents’ roof, eating the food they provide, and taking the care they give, but ending with nothing but a false sense of importance and entitlement. When the parents withdraw all the benefits because of death or disgust, misery is the result.

What then does God’s wisdom outline for the way we should build a healthy new 

way of life for rebuilding our futures together? In these times of confusion, fear, and rage, we need to build a routine based on our Creator’s guidelines, by focusing on justice, mercy, and humility before God. To put it simply: to give each other a fair shake (to accomplish a just way of living for all), to treat each other with the graciousness with which we want ourselves to be treated (to be merciful with one another), and to acknowledge daily with gratitude God who sustains us in the beautiful world God provided us for all the days we live in it (to be humbly attentive to the way God wants us to live).

Bill



[1] Fox 46, Charlotte, Blue Ridge Parkway warns drivers of 700-pound elk; saying they’re charging at cars,” https://www.fox46.com/news/blue-ridge-parkway-warns-drivers-of-700-pound-elk-saying-theyre-charging-at-cars/, posted Oct 7, 2019, updated: Oct 7, 2019, accessed June 22, 2021.

[2] This dilemma has created a surprising shortage in staffing. Just this morning (June 22, 2021). a supervisor told me his business was suffering from that shortage and then described the effects of such a fallout on a blighted restaurant experience he and his wife had had this past weekend. Despite a reservation for dinner, they had to wait 45 minutes to be seated, then were served a cold meal. Complaining to the manager, all this poor employer was able to do was apologize that he couldn’t find anybody qualified who wanted to work and, as a result, everything seemed to be going wrong.

[3] According to Our World in Data, in its updated “Statistics and Research: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccinations,” only “22.2% of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine,” with India having less than 20% of its population with one dose, Mexico just over 20%, the United States over 50% but less than 60%, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom exceeding 60% of people having received one dose by June 22, 2021, https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations, accessed June 23, 2021.

[4]Skye Gould , Madison Hall , and Joanna Lin Su, “The US has had 225 mass shootings in 2021 so far. Here's the full list.” Insider, https://www.insider.com/number-of-mass-shootings-in-america-this-year-2021-3, posted May 28, 2021, 10:39 AM, accessed June 23, 2021.

[5] KFF, “COVID-19 Coronavirus Tracker – Updated as of June 23,” The data is drawn from 

“the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Coronavirus Resource Center’s COVID-19 Map and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Coronavirus Disease (COVID-2019) situation reports,” Published: June 23, 2021. Accessed June 23, 2021.

[6] Noted as the traditional meaning in A. Philip Brown II and Bryan W. Smith, A Reader’s Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 1051. I consulted Karl Feyerabend, Langenscheidt Pocket Hebrew Dictionary to the Old Testament (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969).

[7] See our other recent blogs related to the pandemic: “The Key to Surviving Physically and Spiritually Today” (Nov. 6, 2020), “Are People Listening Anymore?” (Aug. 31, 2020), “Responding to Floyd” (June 8, 2020), “Being Loving in Lockdown” (April 29, 2020) and my article “The Pagan Roots of the Charleston Shooting” in Africanus Journal 7:2 (Nov. 2015): 21-28.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

What My Mom’s Hesitation Taught Me About Women Leading

 

Bill's Mom & Dad as newlyweds, 1940

On a clear and sunny day, my dad, a painting contractor, was three stories up on a wooden ladder, painting the top of a sidewall of a house. Suddenly, the rung he was holding snapped and he plummeted down all three stories onto a macadam driveway. He was all smashed up. Unconscious, he was rushed to the hospital. The surgeon told my mother he wanted to remove my father’s left leg and left arm. They were too destroyed to be of use if he recovered. Through her tears, my mom said, “No. He will never forgive me. And he will use them again.” She knew my dad had an indomitable will.

For many months he was in the hospital, as the surgeons slowly pieced together his hand and leg the best they could in a series of operations. Then followed several years of physical therapy before he could use them to go back to work and rebuild his business.

I remember my mom and I standing on the porch before a friend’s door as she cried about what to do. I also remember they did not invite us into their home. Maybe they thought catastrophe was contagious

My mother broke my dad’s heart when she told him she was going back to work. They were fundamentalists and women were not supposed to work. But what could she do?  The year was 1956. If there were any kind of governmental support system, she was unaware of it. I was 8 years old, the only remaining child (my older sister having drowned two years earlier on a playground trip to a pool and the rest of what would have been my siblings were stillborns).

My mother had worked in retail before she married and she found a job in a nearby city at Bamberger’s department store (eventually added to the Macy’s chain). She excelled and was named “an ambassador,” the store’s highest award for success in sales. Rejoicing with my mom, I said, “Now you can get a big raise!” That was the moment she explained to me that men were the wage earners and women always earned less as a result.

I was shocked. I already had an incipient logic and a child’s clear sense of justice, so I blurted, “But that’s not fair! You work harder than anyone and do the best job selling!”

My mom just repeated that men were the wage earners and my plea, “But you’re the wage earner now!” didn’t permeate the perspective she’d been taught. That was the day my consciousness began to raise and I first glimpsed the pervasive inequality I would learn besets this fallen world.

Over six decades have passed since that perspective-changing conversation with my mother. Since then, I have been told of countless instances of women stymied by artificial limitations placed on their self-image and on their capabilities.

It’s bad enough to learn about inequity and the disenfranchisement of women in the fallen world. But it is doubly reprehensible when we hear about it happening in the church of Jesus Christ.

This incident of manifest contradiction of my mother’s refusal to admit the implications of her own excellence in the face of the limitation inculcated into her consciousness by fellow Christians came back to me quite recently when I heard from a mainland Chinese friend that a wave of young Christians, trained in a conservative seminary in the USA, have been invading Chinese house churches, confronting the women who planted them and who pastored them for many years. These young zealots are insisting that the Bible demands these women must relinquish leadership and men must lead in their places.

How contradictory such a present action is from the honor given at the same time today to the trailblazing Chinese Bible Women who served so diligently as “teachers, interpreters, Bible readers, and evangelists.” Ruth A. Tucker and Walter Liefeld record that Bible Women were “employed by organizations to carry out evangelistic work. The British and Foreign Bible Society, for example, in 1913, had in its employ thirty-six Bible women hired specifically to distribute Bibles and literature.”[1] Missionaries who often worked closely with them are exemplified by the renowned Southern Baptist missionary Charlotte “Lottie” Moon, whose impact on Chinese society and on the status of women and children was matched by her advocacy to promote the status of women missionaries. Lottie Moon fearlessly preached to Chinese women, children, men and boys. An inspiration in the organizing of the Southern Baptist’s Women’s Missionary Union, she “was an egalitarian when it came to women’s service in Baptist life,” and, despite opposition in her time, overwhelming support has preserved her memory both in fact and legend.[2]

Janette Hassey in her excellent historical study No Time for Silence, Evangelical Women in Public Ministry Around the Turn of the Century points out that Dwight L. Moody recruited famed temperance leader Frances Willard to tackle Boston for the gospel with him. Dr. Hassey notes, “When asked to preach by Moody one Sunday afternoon, Willard wondered if that might hinder the work among conservatives. Moody retorted ‘it was just what they needed.”[3] As one result, Moody Bible Institute’s Moody Monthly “listed Lottie Osborn Sheidler as the first woman to graduate from the Pastor’s Course, in August of 1929.”[4] For a called and gifted woman to pastor was obvious. Even before that, in 1889, Louisa Woosley was ordained by Nolin Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC). Opposition halted her reception, but faithful service and persistence saw her received as a minister by the CPC in 1911, making her the first Presbyterian woman ordained.[5]

In 1894, responding to the removal of “a young lady missionary [who] had been appointed to give an account of her work” from the speaking roster of a convention, due to the “strong” “scruples of certain of the delegates against a woman’s addressing a mixed assembly,” so that “further public participation in the conference [was] confined to its male constituency,” A. J. Gordon published in The Missionary Review of the World his classic defense for “The Ministry of Women,” wherein he explained, “the purpose of this article is…to justify and vindicate both its propriety and authority by a critical examination of Scripture.”[6] This he not only accomplished, but practiced his convictions since he and his wife, Maria Hale Gordon, had already partnered with other couples to found the Boston Missionary Institute, the foundation of today’s Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary,[7] where both Aída and I are privileged to teach. Clearly, both Arminian and Calvinist evangelicals have recognized the prior gifting and calling of women by God and responded by ordaining them long before today, following the example of the ministering women Paul extols in Romans 16.

That there are eager young voices today whose mission seems to have been deflected into interrupting the gifting and calling of others by God is absolutely heart-rending to me. I’ve read incessantly many arguments for and against the ministry of women and we and our colleagues  have responded with our own biblically-based explanations of how God intends women and men to partner together in ministry in our House of Prisca and Aquila book series with Wipf and Stock, Publishers with such books as Christian Egalitarian Leadership: Empowering the Whole Church according to the Scripture, which is our latest book at this writing, as well as Global Voices on Biblical Equality: Women and Men Serving Together in the Church. Both of these books contain thoughtful, well-researched chapters by scholarly women and men addressing these issues with evangelical Christian perspectives from a variety of cultures. One of my favorite books on mutual ministry is KeumJu Jewel Hyun and Cynthia Davis Lathrop’s Some Men Are Our Heroes: Stories by Women about the Men Who Have Greatly Influenced Their Lives, a very positive book.

In short, someday, each of us are going to have to stand before our Lord God and account for how we used our time on earth. When it’s my turn, I want to bow down humbled to the ground before the Lord and whisper, “Lord, I tried as hard as I could to empower 100% of the church to use the gifts you gave to assist you as you reconciled the world to yourself.” I don’t think I would be able to report, “Lord, I did everything in my power to make sure that 60% of the church were never allowed in leadership over any males over the age of ten. And, Lord, when I didn’t have anybody who could do a job but a woman, I made certain she didn’t get any title or credit for it.”

Bill

 



[1] Ruth A. Tucker and Walter Liefeld, Daughters of the Church: Women and Ministry from New Testament Times to the Present ( Grand Rapids, MI: Academie/Zondervan, 1987), 340.

i.Regina D. Sullivan, Lottie Moon:  A Southern Baptist Missionary To China in History and Legend (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press , 2011), “Southern Biography Series,” ed. Andrew Burstein. For a helpful review, see Chuck Warnock’s “The Real Lottie Moon” at https://chuckwarnockblog.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/the-real-lottie-moon-story/. When my wife was earning her doctorate in New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, between 1978-1982, I remember visiting a room in the SBTS ibrary where Lottie Moon was honored among other evangelical leaders.

[3] Janette Hassey, No Time for Silence, Evangelical Women in Public Ministry Around the Turn of the Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie/Zondervan, 1986), 33.

4.Ibid., 31.

[5] See Tim Lee’s article, “Louisa Woosley: Trailblazer in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, in Priscilla Papers, vol. 28, no. 2 (Spring, 2014), 16.

[6] A. J. Gordon, “The Ministry of Women,” Africanus Journal, vol. 8, no. 1 (April 2016), 50.

[7] Aída Besançon Spencer, “Your Daughters Shall Prophesy? How Institutionalization Affected Women at Gordon,” Africanus Journal, vol. 8, no. 1 (April 2016), 74.


Friday, March 26, 2021

The Talitha’s Tale: Jairus’ Daughter Reflects on Being Raised from Death

 

        A devotional monologue for Palm Sunday, Passover, and Easter based on Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56; 19:29-44; Matthew 9:18-26[1]

image is stained glass window of Lincoln cathedral, Lincolnshire, UK. Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images. gettyimages-480279037-2048x2048.jpg; https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/jesus-raises-the-daughter-of-jairus-gospel-story-stained-news-photo/480279037?adppopup=true

Just before a mother is about to give birth, she has a feeling of excitement – of something momentous about to happen – an arrival that will change her life forever.  She knows instinctively she will never be the same again. She will never be alone again – her life will now be shared.  So, she’s filled with anticipation, but she’s worried too:

·                What about the pain of the birthing?  

·                What if the baby doesn’t come?

·                What if it’s stillborn?

And so she wonders: What if I endure all this and still end up alone – and my hope for a new life remains unfulfilled?   What then?

Well, that was the feeling that all of us had that fateful Passover week.     So - yes - expectancy - that was part of it.  

Everyone was asking everyone else about it: “What do you think? That he isn’t even going to come to the festival?”  That we’ll be here alone? You didn’t have to ask who “he” was - because everyone was thinking about the same person, Jesus of Nazareth.   Everybody seemed to be watching and waiting.  But mere expectancy wasn’t all of it. 

No, another sensation was in the atmosphere.  It was one I haven’t felt among our people for a long time since.  It was hope.  And it was exhilarating.  Everyone was asking, “Is he the One?   Do you think he’s the Chosen One?  Is this finally the deliverer for whom we’ve all been waiting?  Is he really going to throw off all our servitude at last and make us a mighty nation again?  To make that happen, I would fight beside him – yes, I would!”     

And the love!  The love for him was almost tangible.  My heart was filled with it.   Of course, it would be.  He was so kind and gentle with me – as you all know!  How could I feel any other way, but love him?

 But it wasn’t just me.  Love for him was everywhere among the people.  He had helped so many of us.  Not just me.  And not just in the capital Jerusalem, where all the prophets end up sooner or later.   He’d helped people across the length and breadth of the land – in the small towns, the villages, the back alleys, on country roads, in the fields, among the tombs where the blind and the poor and the diseased and the other outcasts scurry away and cower like so many mice in a storeroom corner, quivering in fear that they’ll be struck, or trampled, or kicked aside – or worse yet, because they are people – ignored, dismissed, or even chased away.  

 So, what you have to understand is that he was loved – and deeply - by so many of us.  You see, he noticed us - all of us unimportant, taken for granted, disenfranchised people. 

  And he cared for us.  Those of us disappointed in our lives, unfulfilled in our expectations, compromised and burdened down by shame and poverty and the horrors that expediency sometimes brings.  But he was watching out for us.  He could spot a tax-collector in a tree!  And end up getting a free meal for himself and his disciples and a huge donation for the poor!  He could make people see who had never been able to behold the loving faces of their own parents.  He could heal a leper and return her to a family that had given her up for dead!  He could even raise the dead!  I know!  I was dead!

Do I remember?  Yes, but mostly in impressions. You have to understand, it’s all misty in my mind - full of dreams and emotions and visions and sensations.      

I remember falling deathly ill.  My father Jairus was important.  He was one of the rulers of our local synagogue in our hometown of Capernaum.  He was the one in charge of appointing readers and preachers in public worship.[2]  And he’d invited Jesus to speak. Our town had become a special place.  See, we all loved Jesus there.  In fact, he’d left Nazareth, where he’d been reared, and made Capernaum his new home base.[3]

All the families of his earliest disciples?  I knew them.  Simon – we called him Simon – these days you all call him Peter.  But, yes, I knew him before he met Jesus.  He was loud and bold and rash as a young man, but he was loveable too.  Everybody loved Simon – and you knew when he was around!  You could hear it.   And, on the opposite side, slipped Andrew, his quiet brother.  It seemed all the brashness and noise of the family was poured into Simon, leaving Andrew so quiet, but very gentle, very sweet, a shy kind of person. 

And Zebedee’s household was there too, so I knew James, who was cut off so young - murdered so shamefully by that horrible King Herod and not even legally executed – but stabbed by one of his death squads, just like all those innocent babies killed by his namesake, the former Herod.   For shame!  For shame!   But I knew poor James long before this happened to him, when he was young and so was his brother John, who has become so famous now as the overseer of the gatherings of Christians in the Gentile territories around Ephesus.

    All of them, of course, were older than I was.  See, I was 12 and they were 8 or 10 years older than I was.  Boisterous and excited like young men are when they’re on a mission.  All of them, shining with reflected glory, striding around with the controversial prophet himself!

    And Jesus teaching on the mountainsides and preaching off a boat pushed out in the sea, because of the throngs filling up the seashore and even out on the beach, waist-deep in the waters to hear him, and Jesus even teaching in the synagogue, my father having invited him to do so, as I mentioned, and, of course, Jesus healing so many.  And that’s how I really came to know him:  When he healed me.

   Well, as I also said, I’d been sick and then I guess I failed.  And my parents were frantic.  My father rushed off to find Jesus.  He knew him, as I said several times, from the synagogue and, my mother told me, Papa pushed his way through a large crowd yelling and pleading and fell at Jesus’ feet and cried out, “My little daughter is dying, come and lay hands on her and save her that she might live!” 

  But the crowd was so thick and needy that it pressed around Jesus and a woman touched him and got healed.  And, while he was talking to her, some men arrived who had apparently been looking for my father after he rushed out of the house.  They thought it was his duty to come back and comfort my mother and they told him, with a touch of embarrassment and even a little impatience, as they admitted later (for what they perceived to be my father’s weakness in refusing to accept the inevitable), “Your daughter has died.  Why annoy the teacher anymore?”

     But Jesus just looked at my father steadily and said to him gently but with that penetrating, focused gaze of his in which lay all hope and all reassurance, “Don’t be afraid, only believe, and she will be saved.”

     And my papa fought back his tears and nodded.

     Me?  All I remember is the feeling of sinking.  I had become peaceful.  The pain had faded away and I had visions of the nearby Sea of Galilee flowing so calmly and I was on a boat, moving so gently, floating, and there was a man near me and he was gentle with me and smiling and I wanted to run into his arms and embrace him forever and then he was calling me, saying in my language, “Talitha kaum,” “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”[4] But it was from behind me and I was reaching back and he was holding my hand and helping me stand up and I was walking and my parents were crying.  And I looked into the smiling faces of the young guys I knew - Peter and James and John.  All smiling at me and the man from the boat was Jesus smiling at me so kindly, and my parents were hugging me, and I felt so wonderful.  And I was so hungry!

Well, Jesus used to ask after me whenever he was back home in Capernaum and my father would always smile and nod, “Good, good, and how could she not be so with what you did for her, my friend?”

 And then Jesus’ journeys became longer and longer, and we saw him less and less, but we heard of all the marvelous things he did, and all the things he said and also all the opposition that was mounting against him: the arguing, the accusations, the scathing criticism.  And then it all seemed to converge some three years later at the annual Passover feast in Jerusalem - and these events I remember very well. 

I was now 15 years old.  Again, what occurred was inexplicable to me, but this time difficult to understand or accept because I was so young and idealistic. 

  In a way, much of what happened is still inexplicable to me today, but at least I understand the trajectory of the disaster.  How it came about, what caused the loss of hope, the great disappointment, and the fury that followed, I understand how that happened – but what I don’t understand is how hearts can change so radically that love can die.  I guess I never will.

So, I say all this, so you can understand.  What was happening was more than simple controversy.  Powerful forces had allied to destroy Jesus.  And the people were easily confused and manipulated.        

Of course, Jesus had his defenders.  Some, like my father, argued loudly with everyone, “Look what he does!  Look what he says!  What more do you want?”

Others prevaricated: “Yes, yes, but why doesn’t the Chief Priest welcome him, then?  Tell me that!  Why does he bait the scribes and harass the Pharisees?  How can he be the Messiah?  He doesn’t bring us together!”

  “But he will, he will, if they’d just let him,” my Father would cry out, exasperated. 

   But they were never going to let him.

  Many of the most important people were outspokenly hostile.   “Who are you?” they demanded of Papa, when he tried to defend Jesus in Jerusalem.  “Some synagogue nobody from nowhere! Only you be careful – and you better tell us quick enough if this miscreant dares show his face in our city again.  You understand?  He’s wrecked the Temple once and it’s not going to happen a second time!” (Although, just between us, it did…)

So, there was intrigue too.  The temple authorities and their civilian henchmen had the whole city staked out.  They were shouldering their way through the milling crowd, accosting travelers from the north - their guards searching every caravan and ordering everyone to report any sighting of Jesus immediately to the authorities so they could arrest him.

And then, all this came together – the hope, the hostility, the heart-stopping suspense of it all. What was Jesus going to do?  We all wondered.

 Well, what he did was astounding. It was heralded by a roar that went up from the road to Bethany.

  Jesus had been close by all the time on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, just a mile and 5/8 outside of Jerusalem.

  Someone told my father that he’d heard from a family member who’d learned it from someone he knew on the Sanhedrin (which is our ruling body of religious and lay leaders), that the priests had secretly known all along where Jesus was.  They were monitoring his movements and – the rumor was - plotting to kill him and another person he’d raised from the dead, a young man named Lazarus, because a great throng had come to Bethany to see them both.  Had I not been so young and innocent, it might have occurred to me to worry about my own life.  But, being a girl, I suppose, I was considered inconsequential by those in power.  As well, they were not monsters like the Herods were, but it was not safe for the men.

Anyway, my father rousted us all out of the relatives’ house where we were staying in Jerusalem and we all rushed outside the city, down along the road and into the valley where we could see the people thronging.

We had to race along the perimeter of the crowd to find an opening we could squeeze through, and when we saw it, I pushed in and my mother and father followed and there I saw the most beautiful sight I think I will ever see until death takes me once again across the waters to a homeland where there is no pain and no suffering and no regret and nothing but love and beauty.

 For, there he was, humble and yet at the same time resplendent, with the sun dazzling on this stately man on a fresh and young and prancing colt, laden with colorful cloaks on which he sat.

 The people were screaming out, “Hosanna,” which is an expression of praise, literally meaning, “Save me, I pray!” in the language that we use out in the countryside.  They call it Aramaic, it’s a mixture of our native Hebrew and Chaldean and what-all from all the tribes who’ve invaded our land.  What that told me was that we may have all been in Jerusalem, but these were people from home, from up in Galilee.  

 In fact, believers had come in from all over the nation to celebrate Passover here in the capital.  But none of us guessed that this gentle teacher whose arrival was being celebrated so joyously had come to be our great Paschal Lamb, the final atoning sacrifice for our sins.

  No, to us, this regal healer and teacher was obviously being revealed as the Chosen One, God’s Anointed, the Messiah, come to free us from Rome, and people were yelling, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” and “Blessing on the one coming in the name of the lord, the King of Israel!” And still others were shouting, “Blessed is the one who comes, the King in the name of the Lord!”[5] and adding words like those the angels sang at his birth over those fields a few miles to the south near Bethlehem: “In heaven peace and glory in the highest!”

 I saw many people running to and fro and throwing their cloaks down on the ground, so the king would ride over them.  Some of these were even newer cloaks but being laid down respectfully to be trod on just the same.  I wondered if maybe some of these folks wanted him to touch their garments, hoping, if they then touched them, they would be healed from some illness they had, as we’d all heard people who’d touched Jesus’ cloak had been healed, and as I had been healed.  I don’t know. But then, I thought, no, because other people who were poor and were ashamed of what they wore cut palm fronds from the trees and spread these out, so that the colt’s hooves would not touch the ground but would ride upon the gifts and the praise of the people.

  I myself called out to him at the top of my lungs so he would not miss me in a shrill little cry that was almost lost in the tumult.  I screamed the countryside Aramaic words he had used to raise me back up from the dead: “Here I am!  Look at me! The talitha[6] that you gave life.  Praise you!  Oh, praise you.” And he smiled and nodded; he seemed to see everybody.

   And my father’s eyes filled with tears as he whispered the words we had heard so many times in the synagogue, sacred words of hope and fulfillment that began with the same comfort Jesus had given to him three years earlier when I, his only daughter lay dead: “Do not be afraid…” Yes, here they were again, but in a new life-giving context: “Do not be afraid, Daughter of Zion, behold your king comes, sitting on the colt of a donkey.”[7]

   We were pushed along with the crowd and keeping up since the colt was going slowly and the crowd that had begun in Bethany had been swelling up until the whole valley around us was thronged.  I thought wildly, if we hadn’t pushed in when we did, we would never have gotten in now.

   And then at the milestone a whole group of Pharisees were waiting.  These were richly arrayed in beautiful cloaks of purple and blue and the sartorial splendor of family tribal colors.  But they weren’t cheering.  When he came into earshot, they all began shouting out over the noise of the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”  They didn’t seem to like all this praise.

   I was astounded.  I wondered, as a child would: Didn’t they know this was the One who had raised me from the dead?

   But Jesus kept riding and fixed them with a steady gaze and called back to them in a firm voice, “I tell you, if these kept silent, the very stones would cry out!”

   I caught my breath!  The Pharisees were so enraged, I thought they were going to run out in the road and pull him from the colt, except for the adulation of the huge crowd who would certainly have attacked them, and, as well, their own sense of decorum and dignity of place.  But they were seething, and I saw them plotting and heard them muttering, “Look the whole world is going after him!”

     And then, to our astonishment – in the center of all this adulation and affirmation and celebration going on around him and because of him and for him - Jesus began to cry.

     I thought at first it might have been because the harsh words of the Pharisees had hurt him.  I know how badly I felt when my friends said something cruel to me, but, when I heard him mourn, I realized he wasn’t crying for himself!  He was crying for Jerusalem!  He was crying for us!  For the people!

   He lamented that the Pharisees and soon the throngs who would switch their allegiance to follow them would turn all this adulation to accusation.  They would be overpowered by their own political aspirations and machinations that all this “David’s kingdom” screaming was trying to precipitate. Clearly, the crowds were demanding he lead them in a war against Rome that was going to plunge the city into a horrendous siege that would destroy it.

Instead of peace, Jesus cried out to us, siege-works were going to hem us in – we people would be hurled to the ground and our children slaughtered and our buildings razed and all because we didn’t take care to understand correctly the time when God came to us.

Suddenly, my father and mother began to cry, because they believed every word Jesus said, since he had given me life.

And I cried too.

And, after that, he entered the city and we lost him.   The throngs swelled even greater in the narrow streets and we could not push through the blocking bodies.

Those who hadn’t come out on the Bethany road to see him were now hanging out of their windows, running from the doorways, calling to the crowd, asking everyone, “Who is this?”  and being told, “This is the prophet Jesus from out of Nazareth in Galilee.” And they thrust themselves into the crowd like city folk do and jostled us against the buildings so we could not go on.  We were being crushed.  My parents grabbed my hands and pulled me back into a narrow side alley for safety and we worked our way back to our relatives’ home.

Later on, a cousin who had been at the Temple told us that it had filled up with blind and lame people who had come to be healed and Jesus healed them all.

But the scribes and the chief priests ignored all his wonderful works and screamed at him because the children were still shouting in the Temple area, “Hosanna to the son of David!” though the adults had quieted down for fear of the priests and the temple guard.

But Jesus simply quoted one of David’s psalms to them about the lips of the children giving praise to God, and they hated him all the more for it.[8]

Then, Jesus, so bold, had the audacity to tour the Temple and look it all over, while some of the merchants, seeing him coming, got up warily from their stools and gathered up their money or stood before the doors or snapped locks on the cages of their animals.  

  But he did nothing then but look and so they relaxed and figured he’d made his point and they were safe to carry on business as usual.     

  Then I’m told he went back to Bethany.

  He had entered Jerusalem in triumph and left in safety. And everyone was talking about him and speculating and marveling and those healed were scurrying about to start their new lives and nobody understood at all what he was trying to tell us.

  And what was that?  What was it all about – this kingly visit, this triumphant procession? 

  Well, it wasn’t about pitting himself and his followers against the Romans like some leaders rising up among the people have done in disastrous attempts at rebellion that have left all of them wounded or dead on the field of battle. 

  And it wasn’t about challenging Herod and taking his place as the serf of the Romans – plotting and scheming and finally being struck down by God in disgust.

  No, it was about something so profoundly different that even his closest followers, the ones I knew, Simon Peter and James and Andrew and John, could not figure it out until after he was all done with his mission, crucified, resurrected, and glorified.

  What it was all about he had told us so clearly that day of his adulation as he cried over Jerusalem, if we had had ears to hear him.  He told us plainly:  God had come to us and we did not recognize him.[9]    

………………………………..                    

  Well, myself, I have lived out my life in Capernaum.  My children and grandchildren have grown here and thrived.  But, the sad news of the slaughter and the destruction of Jerusalem, just as Jesus prophesied, has left Israel a different nation.   We are a scattered people now with no Temple and, therefore, for so many of my people, no spiritual center – no lodestar – no compass point home.

But for those of us who have embraced the Messiah, we have our homeland in another world, in another realm.  This land is not our home any longer.  Our promised land is where our Lord of life has gone.  And he waits for us there, even as we work for him here.

I often wake up in the night and think about the day I woke up in my room and saw all those smiling disciples and my mother and father crying in astonished joy and the Lord of life holding my hand and raising me back up again. 

  I have no fear of death now.   It was peaceful and it took me beyond my pain.   Whether I am on this side of it or the other, my hand is reaching out once more to the Lord of life.

So, instead of sharing the despair around me, I live each day with a sense of something momentous about to happen, an expectation, a new hope, for my people and for my nation.  It is a hope that began with a birth, transcended death, and renewed with a resurrection, and, as I myself can testify - and in my experience most graphically – a hope that in various ways gives us a temporal taste of new life in anticipation of eternal life from the generous hand of the Great Giver of Life.

 Maranatha, I say, again in the countryside language of my people.  Even now, come for me, Lord Jesus, God-Among-Us, my healer, my Savior, and my friend.                                            

                                            Amen          

Bill



[1] This first-person narrative was written in the week of April 3, 2009 and first presented on Palm Sunday, 2009 at Pilgrim Church in Beverly, Massachusetts.

[2] Mark 5:22, Ezra P. Gould citing S. Schϋrer’s reading of archisunagōgos, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Mark, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1969), 95. 

[3] Matt 4:13.      

[4] Mark 5:41.

[5] Mark 11:10; John 12:1; Luke 19:38, Mark 11:9, citing Psalm 118:26.

[6] Little girl in Aramaic.

[7] John 12:15, citing Zech 9:9.   

[8] Psalm 8.

[9] Luke 19:44.