Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

FEAR OR FAITH?


Here is the Gospel for this coming Sunday. Take some time to read the passage a couple times. What words or phrases get your attention? What do you notice about this passage now that you may have not seen before?

Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea.

Last week’s Gospel reading told about the passage by sea of Jesus and his disciples to the Gentile side of the Sea of Galilee. This week Jesus and the disciples again travel back to Jewish side of the Sea. They are greeted by a large crowd.
Large crowds can be exciting and terrifying. Consider the gathering of people in the streets of Iran. To some such gatherings represent a threat against public order, while to others these demonstrations are courageous acts in the name of democracy. Whatever the reasons that motivate such crowds, there is a potential for violence breaking out.

Jesus was no stranger to large crowds. His preaching, teaching, and healing often attracted many people. Again, the motives of those who flocked to him were mixed, but the authorities probably perceived a threat in the mobs who followed Jesus. Did Jesus see a similar threat of violence in the mobs who followed him?

Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live."

This man was not a rabbi, but more like the chief administrator of the synagogue. Jesus’ reputation as a healer had moved this man to seek out Jesus on behalf of his daughter who he believed was dying. Jairus believed that the touch of Jesus’ hands on his daughter would bring her to life.

As a parent, I can completely understand Jairus’ actions. If my child were sick to the point of death, I would certainly look for a doctor who could save his or her life. There were physicians in Jesus’ day, but their knowledge and skills were limited. For many, illness was the result of sin and was only curable by spiritual means.

You might wonder how such a young child might have so completely sinned that she was being punished by illness. Jesus did not connect sin and disease. He forgave and healed, declaring sin to be forgivable and disease to be healable. This was a rather remarkable change in belief, even for moderns today. I still hear and see the old sin (wrong thinking/actions) produces disease paradigm offered among Christians (liberal and conservative), New Agers, and just about all other manner of humanity.
It is difficult to NOT feel like we are being punished when we get sick or when things do not go our way. The belief that God will get us if we trespass against his Holy Laws (of course interpreted by human institutions) is strongly held. It seems that we need to believe in the hammer of God in order to maintain proper order and conduct in society.

He went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.

She had heard about Jesus, and 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."

Mark is a wonderful story teller and here is one of his most interesting narrative devices. By placing one story inside of another, he creates a very strong message about Jesus and about faith. Notice below that a large crowd followed Jesus as he headed toward Jairus’ home. Not only did they follow him, they “pressed in on him.” In the midst of this crowd a woman who was ritually impure due to bleeding for over 12 years moved toward Jesus. Mark says that the woman had been treated by many physicians and was broke and still ill.

The message of faith is about this woman believing that Jesus somehow represented God and offered a new view of God that would accept her just as she was. She acted contrary to the common wisdom of the day that branded her an unclean sinner and went to Jesus. See how Mark builds upon the first story of Jairus’ faith that led him to seek out Jesus too.

Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

This woman’s bleeding stopped. She experienced the “shalom of God” and she was healed of her disease. Was she a notorious sinner as some might have supposed? It does not seem to have mattered whether she was or was not. She is healed by the power of Jesus’ presence without Jesus consenting to her healing or forgiving her of any particular sin. Now that was a very new thing coming into the belief system of the world.

Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, `Who touched me?'" He looked all around to see who had done it.

But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, 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 of your disease."

What healed this woman? Her faith led to healing. What was the nature of this faith? She believed that God could and would heal her without reference to her being a sinner or not. She believed in a God of compassion rather than a cultural god that demanded people be divided into good and evil, pure and impure, worthy and unworthy.
And so Jesus, confirms her faith: “Daughter, your faith has made you well (whole); go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Wellness (wholeness) precedes peace and healing and the mercy of God which this woman claimed did not fail her.

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?"

The bearers of the bad news of Jairus’ daughter truly lacked sympathy. It almost sounds as if they were criticizing Jairus for running after Jesus rather than spending time with his daughter during her last moments of life. Their message was fearful and Jesus responds not to those bearers of death, but to Jairus himself.

But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe."

Jesus’ words place fear and faith or belief as opposites. Jairus’ greatest fear, certainly mine as a parent, was that his child might die. Most parents take on tremendous guilt about what happens to their children and Jairus was no different. His fear was deeply tied to his belief that his daughter’s death was his fault. She died because of something he had either done or failed to do. How hard this news must have been for him.

Jesus commands Jairus to return to faith, to believe that his child was not the victim of his particular sins.

He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him.

In Israel, there were professional mourners who would come to the home of the deceased and mourn their loss. There was a very full ritual surrounding death that reflected a belief in the power of death over life. Jesus interrupts that ritual mourning and states that “the child is not dead, but sleeping.”

The professional mourners laughed at Jesus. They have been to many homes and seen death first hand so to hear that this little girl was only asleep made Jesus into a joke for them. In our society, I think death continues to hold sway. We have our own rituals to make it look cosmetically less threatening or real, but these rituals only make clearer how frightened we are of death and how powerful we think it is.
Like Jesus’ own resurrection, the bringing back to life of this little girl is a sign that God is about life and that the fear of death with all of its rituals is about our fears not our faith. Look at the burial office in The Book of Common Prayer. Do you see a different view of death there? Wholeness (the woman who bled for 12 years) and life (the little girl who was 12 years old) are God’s response to our fearful ways of being.

Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!"

Jesus tenderly awakens the little girl in the presence of her mother and father: “Little girl, get up!”

And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Jesus’ action causes amazement in the parents, but he orders them not to tell anyone about this moment when death was no longer believable. He asks that they instead feed their little girl.

Notice that the woman in this reading had been bleeding for 12 years and that the little girl was 12 years of age. Why do you think 12 might be a significant number to be repeated?

Come to church on Sunday with faith in your hearts.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

THE SEA JOURNEY TO GOD




THE GOD TO WHOM WE SURRENDER DEFINES OUR SENSE OF REALITY

We are told that Jesus is the Son of God. That means that we believe that Jesus is the full embodiment of the God he calls “Our Father.” To accept Jesus as the Son of God is to accept a relationship with a God who is hardly like the gods in whom we have put our trust.

By dying on a Roman cross rather than leading a military campaign to take the world back for God, Jesus is showing God to be someone rather different than most of us have imagined.

A God who places love above all other values and lives that love out in the world as non-violence is infinitely reject-able or infinitely embraceable. Our Father will not threaten or do violence against his creation in order to get us to change. If the God of Jesus took the side of the violent against their victims it would be the one action that would signal that such a god never really existed. RWC+

Monday, June 08, 2009

HOW ARE THE SEEDS GROWING?



Study this picture carefully. Do you see anything in it that might suggest whose hand is shown?






Mark 4:26-34

Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."

Elementary Sunday school classes usually include growing a plant as part of the way children learn about God as creator. Some children like me would not be content to let the plant grow up without “checking” on it by digging up the seed to see how much it had changed since I put it in the dixie cup planter. Of course, my plant had to really struggle to overcome my investigative explorations.

Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven as if it were the product of seeds cast on the ground by an anonymous seed spreader. The one who spread the seeds does not seem to be as curious about how the seeds were doing as I was with my plant. This person simply stands waiting for the harvest time to come. The Kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like that process. Seed has been scattered and gone into the grown to take root. This seed could be Jesus’ teachings; Jesus’ miracles, Jesus’ demonstration of power in his capacity to love everyone, or his own physical body which was scattered on the ground by the authorities of the world’s religion and the Roman empire.

The scattering of Jesus’ body and his disciples were not intended to produce growth in the Jesus movement, but rather to snuff it out. The seed scattering is done by the one who wishes to spread the Kingdom of God and that seed scatter would most certainly be God. The Kingdom of God is not like the other forces that we believe direct and drive human history. It is slow in its coming, but sure. Jesus’ teaching assures those who listened to him that the one who planted would also harvest when the time was right.

He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."




Jesus then offers another parable or comparison to the crowd who are hungry to hear what he had to say. This parable, however stood in sharp contrast to the first parable. The mustard plant was considered a noxious weed that no one would ever intentionally plant it in a garden. As Jesus says of the mustard seed, it is small, but grows into a large plant where birds of the air can make their nests in its shade. Jesus comparing the Kingdom of God to the mustard seed plant certainly says something about how welcome the Kingdom of God will be to most people, yet it also provides shelter for birds’ nests.

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.



Jesus taught people “as they were able to hear it.” What is so hard to understand about the Kingdom of God that he would have to resort to parables? How able are we to hear what Jesus has to say to us about the Kingdom of God? I suspect that Jesus understood us better than we understand ourselves and he knew that the Kingdom of God is so radically different from the way the world normally organizes itself politically, economically, and socially that we need to be taught in such a way that we actually come up with the meaning of the Kingdom contained in these parables.

The end of the story states that Jesus taught his disciples the meaning of the parables of the Kingdom of God privately. It may be that Jesus’ predictions of his own death was the additional teaching that Jesus offered his disciples in private. Did they really understand this clearer meaning of the parables? It seems that Jesus had to die for his disciples to fully understand how God was growing his Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Consider that Jesus tells us what we are able to hear. What prevents us from hearing more? Do we really want to know the deep meaning of the parables? What would such an understanding mean for how we live our lives?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

GOD GRANT...

Millions of recovering people sit in 12 step meetings each day praying the following prayer together:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
The courage to change the things I can.
And the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.


This prayer originally written by Reinhold Niebuhr seems to me to be much more soul deepening than I first imagined. We live in a world of considerable pain and suffering; injustice and violence; and unforgiveness. This prayer is addressed to God and asks for three gifts: Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom. Each of these gifts works together in a complementary way that allows us to live in a world of tangled relationships without becoming impossibly trapped in that system that says we can change anything we want, but stands ready to prove that all such efforts are doomed to failure. It is the boom and bust mentality that has pervaded and formed our world since the beginning of human history.


























The popularly known and used Serenity Prayer offers us a way out of this boom and bust thinking. For most people who offer this prayer of intercession for themselves, the qualities prayed for are gifts bestowed by God on those who honestly ask for them. But these things for which we pray in this prayer are more than gifts. Each of them represents the three persons of the Trinity.

God the Father is the serenity or peace of God. Rather than being a severe and demanding super parent with ambivalent swings of love and violent hatred for his children God the Father was revealed by Jesus as being accepting of all creation without any exception save our propensity for self-destruction. As the creator of all that is, the Father loves all that is created because he sees his Child in that which is created. The Father is the serenity of God who loves and accepts us without condition or demand.

Jesus came to reveal this view of God the Father to the world whose belief was and continues to be anthropomorphically constructed. That is to say, we collectively have a god of our own creation rather than accepting the God who creates us all.
God the Son is the Courage of God. The word courage is translated as one who has heart or as a passionate love that is lived out in the world and is the one who comes to save us from our own self-destructiveness. Jesus was Serenity’s only and best gift to the world and Jesus took the creative power and unconditional love of his Father and lived it in his life in such a way as to begin to create something new in our world that would free us from the bondage of sin and death, of self-destruction.

When I was a small child, I watched my Mother make a tuna sandwich and tomato soup for me one cold winter’s day. I barely came up to the counter on which she worked, but overtime, I learned how to make a tuna sandwich and tomato soup. I came to believe that I could do the very thing I saw my Mother do. I also came to believe that I learned to navigate the social, emotional, intellectual, and physical waters of life by watching both of my parents' behavior. I came to believe by watching and then by doing with their oversight and guidance, and then by actually doing it myself.

Just so, Jesus became the heart and love of God and the one given to us so that we might come to believe that we, too, could become what we witnessed Jesus be and do in the world. Jesus said that he and the Father were one and he invites us to be and do what we have witnessed him be and do in the world. Jesus, like my parents and your parents, became our teacher, the One who incarnated the deep Serenity of God the Father’s acceptance and love for us. We are all coming to believe in Jesus as we witness his life through our hearing of the Gospel. We come to believe that we really can love others as God the Father loves.

While we are watching Jesus, we are also beginning to change our behaviors. We are repenting, turning away from old ways and seeking to make Jesus’ ways our ways through imitation. This, of course, is sometimes very difficult since we have imitated the ways of the world that see God as tyrannical and violent for most of our lives. We have believed in this humanly constructed god and the world that is kept in check by this god’s powerful and violent threats. But Jesus promised his disciples and those who are coming to believe now help in the person of the Holy Spirit.

God the Holy Spirit is the Wisdom of God which takes God the Father’s peace and love as it was courageously lived and poured out by Jesus and allows us all to enter into God’s serenity and courage in the practical and daily ways we lead our lives. The Holy Spirit comes as we begin to live what we have witnessed in Jesus. As I finally was able to make tuna sandwiches and tomato soup, so will we need to try this new way of faith in our daily journeys. Jesus assures us that we will not be alone when we step out to live in this faith.

There are times when we feel love for another person, but we discover this love we wish to share is rejected. We have seen how the world dealt with Jesus’ offering of the Father’s love to the world and we have read that the Holy Spirit was with him. The Holy Spirit gives us the courage to try to express that love of God in practical ways, but also gives us the wisdom to know when our efforts need to take another course or when what we thought was God’s love simply turned out to be a version of our own personal agenda for the other person. The Holy Spirit or Wisdom allows us to discern our own motives and then empowers us to follow the path of God’s love.

The serenity of God which passes all human understanding is requested in our final blessing each week. May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. And may the blessing of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be with you and abide with you this day and always.

The blessing of God is Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom and the Holy Trinity expresses the reality of God as community without violence or exclusion. Each Sunday we come to learn about God the Father by witnessing the life of Jesus and those whom Jesus called to follow him and we are invited to come forward to receive the Person of God: Father (Serenity), Son (Courage), and Holy Spirit (Wisdom) in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. We are called to receive God in Trinity and to make God a reality in the communities in which we live. God grant me….

Here are other versions of this prayer and a bit of history behind it’s author and the prayer itself.

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,

Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.


A Note about The Serenity Prayer's Real Author

You'll find many references online to some not being sure who really wrote the above prayer, some claiming that Reinhold Niebuhr was not actually the author. Many have researched it, including trying to find out if it even goes back to 500 A.D. Despite all the research, though, it still goes back to Niebuhr being the author.

It certainly appears that Reinhold Niebuhr did indeed write The Serenity Prayer. Niebuhr himself discusses the prayer and how it came about it in his book, The Essential Reinhold Niebuhr: Selected Essays and Addresses. You can read the page yourself via amazon.com here if you wish: The Essential Reinhold Niebuhr: Selected Essays and Addresses, page 251. Niebuhr states,

”... The embarrassment, particularly, was occasioned by the incessant correspondence about a prayer I had composed years before, which the old Federal Council of Churches had used and which later was printed on small cards to give to soldiers. Subsequently Alcoholics Anonymous adopted it as its official prayer. The prayer reads: 'God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.' ...”

In addition, Niebuhr's daughter, Elisabeth Sifton, wrote an entire book about her father's prayer, The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War, that explores the circumstances around which her father wrote this prayer, the wide range of versions of this prayer, and the real essence of the prayer's meaning. She quotes The Serenity Prayer on page 277. NPR (National Public Radio) interviewed Sifton about her book, which you can listen to via NPR's website: The Serenity Prayer: Faith in Times of Peace and War.



This painting of seeks to convey that relationship between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father and the Son and the world form a trinity. Both the Father and the Son raise the right hands in the sign of blessing over the world and the Holy Spirit (depicted as a dove) also forms a trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is shown as undivided in blessing the world. Their are three distinct persons within this understanding of God, but all three are connected by the love and blessing that they show together towards the creation and the the love and blessing they show and pour out towards each other and the world. The Trinity is three persons, undivided and yet One God.