DESPERATE TIMES (Mark 5:21-43 – Part 1)

When he saw Jesus, he fell to his knees, beside himself as he begged, “My dear daughter is at death’s door. Come and lay hands on her so she will get well and live.” [Mark 5:23 (MSG)]

mottled duclJairus, the leader of the local synagogue, fell at Jesus’ feet. Telling Jesus his daughter was dying, Jairus begged Him to lay hands on her so she could be healed. Jesus went with him but, when He stopped to heal the woman with a blood disorder, news arrived that the girl was dead. Telling the distraught father not to be afraid and to keep believing, Jesus and Jairus continued on their way. Jairus had believed Jesus could heal his daughter; did he also believe Jesus could do something about her death?

A noisy crowd of friends and professional mourners had already gathered at Jairus’ home by the time the men arrived. When Jesus told them the child was sleeping and not dead, they scornfully laughed at Him. After clearing the room of all but her parents and three disciples, Jesus took the child’s hand in His and restored her to life. Astonishing everyone, the girl immediately rose and walked around!

As the synagogue leader, Jairus was one of the most powerful men in the community. Although a layman, he was responsible for the upkeep of the synagogue, ran the school, determined who would lead prayers and read Scripture in services, and probably had close ties to the Pharisees. Almost certainly, he was at the synagogue when Jesus restored a man’s hand on the Sabbath. Had he been one of those planning to accuse Jesus of working on the Sabbath? Until his daughter became ill, was he among those plotting against Jesus? It’s said that “desperate times call for desperate measures,” and Jairus was desperate.

Sickness disrupts life in a way little else can; it can make us desperate. It made the woman with the blood disorder spend every shekel she had in search of a cure and then break Jewish law by touching Jesus’ robe. It made four men so determined they carried their paralyzed friend to be healed by Jesus. When they couldn’t get in the door, they carted him up to the roof, dug through the tiles and ceiling, and lowered him down to into the house. That a respected and powerful upper class Jew would risk his reputation by falling to his knees before an itinerant rabbi who challenged the Pharisees and threatened the status quo, tells us how desperate Jairus was.

In a letter to a friend, C.S. Lewis wrote of “the necessity…which God is under of allowing us to be afflicted [because] so few of us will really rest all on Him if He leaves us any other support.” Ours is not a “fair-weather” God, only there in good times, but often we seem to be “foul-weather” followers who only call on Him in stormy ones. God is with us in sunshine and thunderstorms and we should be desperate for Him in both.

Even though Jesus told Jairus not to tell anyone what had happened, didn’t he want to shout it from the rooftops? Perhaps not, since that would put him at odds with the Pharisees and other religious leaders. Did Jairus become a faithful follower of Christ or, once he’d gotten what he wanted from Jesus, did his belief turn to skepticism? Did Jairus join with the Pharisees in plotting against the very one who saved his daughter? I’d like to think that having seeing Jesus resurrect his daughter, he believed Jesus was the Messiah and was one of the 120 believers mentioned in Acts 1. Since we never read of Jairus again, we can only wonder.

What about us? Are we desperate for a momentary rescue or a long-term relationship? Do we seek a miracle or a Messiah? Do we want to feed our stomachs or our souls?

Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free. [John 6:26 (MSG)]

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WHAT VALUE A LIFE?

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. [Matthew 10:28-31 (ESV)]

sparrowAs the economy tanks and COVID-19 spreads, we hear economists and politicians speak of making a cost-benefit analysis to determine the cost of a prolonged shutdown of business and industry with millions out of work versus the cost of hundreds of thousands (or millions) of people dying. How do we put a price tag on life, especially if the life is ours or that of someone we know and love?

By reducing the human body into its basic elements, DataGenetics concluded that the grand total of materials in a typical human body is a meager $160. I suppose that means the larger the body, the more valuable it is. FinanceDegreeCenter found that all our body’s organs (hair, blood, bone marrow, heart, liver, kidneys, etc.) could be worth up to $45 million when sold on the black market. That value, however, would depend on our nationality, health, blood type, age, and the purchaser’s urgency of need. According to the New York Times, the Environmental Protection Agency values a life at $9.5 million, which is their benchmark for determining whether to clean up a toxic waste site.

Does our value change with age? Is a baby’s life more worthy of saving than that of a seventy-year-old? During the George W. Bush administration, the lives of people over 70 were valued at 67% that of younger people when calculating the cost-benefit of regulating soot emissions from power plants. Although AARP’s backlash put an end to that model, could appraising all ages equally devalue the lives of young people? Along with considering the deceased’s age, juries in wrongful death law suits consider things like income, quality of life, and earning potential. Their valuations can range from several hundred thousand dollars to several million.

How can any society assess the trade-off between economic well-being and anyone’s life? What is the value of one person? What is an acceptable number of fatalities? Yet, when we look at the dire economic consequences of a total shut-down, we find economists warning that making people poorer (with the resulting loss of food, shelter, essential services, mental health, medical care, opportunities, and sanitation) also has severe health consequences for the entire nation.

I’m neither economist nor politician and I can’t imagine doing a cost-benefit analysis between lives lost and a tanked economy. I’m thankful that the tough choices they are facing are not mine to make. Let us continue to lift in prayer our nation’s leaders and policy makers so that they will be guided by God’s wisdom in making the difficult decisions necessary in the days ahead. Although we hope that medical research and decisive government action will quickly put an end to this crisis, our ultimate hope lies in God.

As for any person’s value—all I know is that, from conception to death, the life of each and every person is cherished by God. He doesn’t value us by size, health, race, nationality, age, works, sex, income, potential, or even religion. Having formed us and breathed His life into us, God values each one of us as if we were His only child. We are so precious to Him that Jesus suffered and died for us—not for our economy but for our salvation! Every life is worthy of the salvation offered by Jesus—even that of a repentant thief who had but a few hours left to live as he hung on a cross beside Jesus.

Because of God’s enormous love for us, let us face today, tomorrow, and all of the days to follow with faith, hope, and love!

What is your only hope in life and death?
That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him. [Heidelberg Catechism]

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [John 3:16 (ESV)]

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COFFEE WITH GOD

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. [Mark 1:35-36 (NLT)]

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.”… But many people recognized them and saw them leaving, and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and got there ahead of them. [Mark 6:31,33 (NLT)]

brown pelicanWhen my “Weekly Wisdom” email reminded me that time is the price we must pay for intimacy with God, I thought of Cindy. A recent widow struggling to make sense of her new normal, Cindy wanted a closer relationship with God, but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. Rather than reciting the same prayers over and over again, she wanted to sit down and talk to Him, as she would with a good friend.

When a friend mentioned that she’d stocked a cozy corner with devotionals, Bible, encouraging books, and inspirational verses and dedicated it as a special place to read Scripture, reflect and pray, Cindy decided to do the same. In spite of preparing a peaceful spot in her house, however, her life was so chaotic and disorganized that she never found the time to use it!

No matter how well stocked it is with Bibles, devotionals, candles, or framed Bible verses, a dedicated space is pointless if it’s never used! For this to work, Cindy found she had to link her God time with something she did every day; for her, that was her morning cup of coffee while reading the newspaper. Thus began Cindy’s “Coffee with God!”

While continuing the requisite coffee, Cindy replaced the newspaper with devotions, Scripture, and prayers. Within a few days’ time, she and God were on regular speaking terms. She admits those conversations over coffee seemed rather one-sided but added that God’s responses came throughout the day. By approaching Him regularly and humbly, Cindy has become more attuned to His voice and presence in all things all day long. As for the newspaper, she knows that there’s time enough for that after she’s enjoyed her morning coffee with God and His Word.

If I neglected doing something I’d promised to do, my mother would remind me that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Expanding on that, Aldous Huxley said, “Hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions; it’s walled and roofed with them. …and furnished too.” As Christians, we are filled with good intentions, but being flawed people, we often fail to act on them. Like Cindy, until I set aside both place and time for Scripture, meditation and prayer, my relationship with God was pretty hit or miss.

Jesus wanted the disciples to understand the importance of a close relationship with the Lord: God first, everything else second. Even so, He had trouble finding quiet time with His Father. Sometimes, Jesus was interrupted and, other times, the crowds followed him. If God’s Son had difficulty finding time to pray, it’s understandable that we do, too. On the other hand, Jesus was busy doing His Father’s business while the busyness that keeps us from God is ours alone!

While yesterday’s message linked praying for peace with brushing our teeth, it’s pretty hard to build a relationship with God like that. As Christians, we won’t mature without deliberately spending time in God’s presence—reading Scripture, meditating on His word and talking with Him in prayer. Our quiet time with God needs to be a non-negotiable item on our calendars rather than an afterthought. As with any relationship, you’ve got to put in the time if you want it to grow! Tomorrow morning, why not enjoy your morning coffee with God!

Hear me as I pray, O Lord. Be merciful and answer me! My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” [Psalm 27:7-8 (NLT)]

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PRAY FOR PEACE

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. [1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT)]

Saying your prayers is like brushing your teeth.
It’s a habit you form—a commitment you keep.
You should brush your teeth, both morning and night;
The same with your prayers, if you’re saying them right.
To not let your spirit or teeth decay
Be sure to pray and brush every day! [Anonymous]

water lilyAlthough I’ve prayed while folding laundry and washing dishes, it seemed almost sacrilegious to combine prayer with an electric toothbrush and Crest! Nevertheless, after asking, “What would happen if we all pray twice a day for peace?” my next “Abundance” assignment was to pray for peace while brushing my teeth!

The lack of a declared war certainly doesn’t define peace. According to the Global Peace Index, last year the United States ranked 128th out of 163 nations rated for their peacefulness (with Iceland maintaining first place as the most peaceful and Afghanistan replacing Syria as the least). The U.S. Peace Index ranked my state of Florida at 47th out of 50 (with Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire as the three most peaceful states.) Considering the political tensions both here and abroad, tribal conflicts and civil wars, terrorist attacks, conflicts and division within the church, divorce and custody battles, road rage, and the violence on our streets, in our homes and even at our schools, praying for peace seems like a good idea.

Since being peacemakers and praying for peace is God directed, I wonder why we’re not more diligent about praying for an end to the strife in our world. Living in a world that is fractured along political, ideological, socio-economic, ethnic, and even religious lines, we probably should pray for peace more than two times a day. We wouldn’t have to do it while brushing our teeth but, since we may be more conscientious about our dental hygiene than prayer, at least we’d remember to do it!

While we can cast blame for the lack of peace on things like politics, injustice, prejudice, corruption, economics, or this pandemic, the fault also lies within each one of us. While brushing and praying, I remembered the words to a song I often sang in Sunday school: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Peace must begin with us. As we pray while brushing, rinsing and spitting, perhaps we should consider what comes out of our mouths. Do we allow words of anger, frustration, criticism, and blame to spill out rather than ones of love, compassion, encouragement, or forgiveness? Our prayers for peace are empty and meaningless unless that peace begins with us!

What could happen if all of Christ’s followers really did pray for peace twice a day?

Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father, Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother In perfect harmony.
With ev’ry step I take, Let this be my solemn vow:
To take each moment and live Each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me.
[Jill Jackson-Miller and Sy Miller]

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. [Romans 12:18 (NLT)]

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THE WORDS OF OTHERS

Numbers 6:24-26By accident, this morning’s devotion was published yesterday afternoon. Rather than post another this morning, I thought I’d share words written by others. The first is a request by Bishop Jeff Clements of the Northern Illinois Synod of the ELCA calling his flock to pray together at noon each day until May 13 about this global pandemic. We certainly don’t need to be Lutherans to join in his prayer. Whether you do it right now, at noon, or tonight, please stop and take a moment to pray (and continue to pray daily), not only for your own church family and denomination, but also for our sisters and brothers throughout this troubled world.

Pray for your members. Pray for yourself. Pray for the ill, the frightened, the vulnerable, and the poor. Pray for the dying. Pray for world leaders and our own elected leaders. Pray for our healthcare workers. Pray for researchers. Pray for the unemployed, underemployed and laid off. Pray for all students from college to kindergarten who have been forced away from school. Pray for your pastor or whomever leads your congregation. [Bishop Jeff Clements]

This next is a poem that has gone viral—the good kind of viral. Its author is Laura Kelly Fanucci who writes a syndicated column, Faith at Home, published in Catholic newspapers nationwide.

When this is over,
may we never again
take for granted
A handshake with a stranger
Full shelves at the store
Conversations with neighbors
A crowded theater
Friday night out
The taste of communion
A routine checkup
The school rush each morning
Coffee with a friend
The stadium roaring
Each deep breath
A boring Tuesday
Life itself.
When this ends may we find
that we have become
more like the people
we wanted to be
we were called to be
we hoped to be
and may we stay
that way — better
for each other
because of the worst.
[Laura Kelly Fanucci]

While this is a time of social distancing, it is not a time of social disengagement. Let us continue to find ways to love one another so we become more like the people God wants us to be. God’s peace and joy to you all, j

 

 

THE LORICA – St. Patrick’s Day

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. [Psalm 5:11 (NIV)]

Castle of SpiezA Latin word, lorica originally meant armor or breastplate. Because of an ancient practice of inscribing a prayer on the armor or shields of knights who then recited the prayer before combat, lorica came to mean a prayer of protection.

Although there are many such prayers, the most famous is the Lorica of St. Patrick (also known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate). Legend has it that around 433 AD, St. Patrick wrote this prayer for protection. As the story goes, on Easter morning, Patrick led his fellow missionaries in a procession to the court of King Laoghhaire. Suspecting that they would be ambushed by the pagans on their journey, Patrick took his men through the woods while chanting this lorica. Rather than seeing the missionaries amid the trees, their enemies saw a mother deer followed by twenty fawns and let them pass. Having been brought safely through the ambush by God, Patrick and his companions marched into the king’s presence while chanting: “Let them that will, trust in chariots and horses, but we walk in the name of the Lord.”

Whether the story is fact, legend or, as I suspect, somewhere in-between, this beautiful hymn (also known as The Deer’s Cry) appears to be the first one ever written in Gaelic and quite likely by the beloved Patrick. In 1889, Cecil Alexander produced a metrical version of the prayer from an earlier English translation and the resulting hymn was set to traditional Irish tunes. Called “I Bind Unto Myself Today,” this beautiful old lorica can be found in the hymnals of many denominations.

Prayers for protection and deliverance are found throughout Scripture. Moses, David, Ezra, and Nehemiah all prayed for protection for themselves and others and Jesus prayed for the protection of His followers. We may not be facing Druids in the woods, but we enter into battle against evil every day. While we don’t wear armor or carry shields, we can proceed as did Patrick and his men: by wearing the armor of God, binding ourselves to Him in prayer, and walking in the name of the Lord.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. [Ephesians 6:13-15 (NIV)]

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three. …
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard. …
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
[St. Patrick’s Breastplate (Attributed to St. Patrick)]  

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