Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, July 25, 2021

YEAR B 2021 pentecost 9

Pentecost 9, 2021
2 Kings 4:42-44
Psalm 14
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In our first reading today, from the book of Second Kings, we heard a story that sounds very much like our Gospel reading today, the feeding of the 5,000.  The people we hungry; the people were fed; there was food leftover.  But I want to say two things about that reading from 2nd Kings.  Although as Christians we might think of this as foreshadowing, that’s not the purpose of this event.  By which I mean, things in the Hebrew scriptures stand on their own, and we Christians might borrow them or refer to them, but the events don’t exist solely to predict Jesus.

And the second thing I want to say is to put this reading in context.  What we don’t get from this short reading is what was going on at them time.  There was a great famine in the land.  People were starving.  Elisha, as the man of God, would have every right to take this food offered and keep it for himself.  In fact, he would have been expected to do so.  But instead he says, give the food to the people.  He could have hoarded it in the midst of scarcity, but instead he gives it away, and everyone is fed.  I kind of feel like I could end the sermon right there.  But let’s move on . . .

Jesus and the disciples are standing in a field with 5,000 people who are hungry and far from home.  They are there because they want to see something spectacular.  We heard the reason, right?  “A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.”  They’re chasing after Jesus the Rockstar who casts out demons and heals the sick.  They’re standing in that field because they want to see a show.

And Jesus sees them standing there.  And he turns to the disciples and asks, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”  Notice that Jesus is asking where; he’s not asking how.  But Philip responds with a financial statement:  "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."  You see how Philip is not answering the question?  Jesus asks where they could buy bread for the people to eat . . . And even if they had a million dollars, the correct answer is “nowhere.”  There is nowhere in the middle of nowhere to buy bread to feed anyone, let alone 5,000 anyones.

The answer to the question of how the people will be fed is “Jesus.”  But then Andrew, the brother of Simon, says "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.”  And he can’t stop himself from adding, “But what are they among so many people?"  He’s got a hint of a possible solution, but he can’t move beyond the reality of what he knows in his daily life.  Philip goes to money; Andrew goes to scarcity.  Nobody goes to Jesus, see?

So Jesus steps in and says, “Make the people sit down.”  And then see if this sounds familiar . . . Jesus took the bread, and after giving thanks, he gave it to them . . . You almost expect him to say, “This is my body,” right?  Follow that connection in this story:  How will the people be fed?  Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and gave it to them.  In the presence of Jesus, the people are fed with the bread of life.  And then after the bread, as we heard, “So also the fish, as much as they wanted.”  Everyone had their fill.  And then comes my favorite part of this story.

When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost."  Some translations use the word “remnant” here, which is even better.  But the idea is that the leftover, the fragments, the stuff nobody wanted would be gathered up, so that none may be lost.  Jesus does not want anything to go to waste.  But, notice how those leftovers mean that Jesus values it all; Jesus wants to reclaim it all; Jesus does not want any to be lost.  "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost."

So, let’s review . . . The crowds have come to see Jesus because he has done signs and wonders, and they want to see a show.  Jesus asks his disciples where they can buy food to feed them all.  (The correct answer is, “nowhere.”)  Jesus feeds the people using what is already there, in a scene that sounds a lot like a Eucharistic moment.  And then Jesus tells the disciples to gather up the cast-aways so that none will be lost.  Quite an amazing little parallel to what being the Church is all about, when you think about it.

But then the Gospel reading totally shifts gears.  Suddenly the disciples are in a boat.  Without Jesus, by the way.  They’ve left him behind, for whatever reason, and they’re out in the sea where, of course, a big storm comes.  (Whenever the disciples get into a boat, you can usually expect a big storm or a big catch of fish.  Make of that what you will.)

So they’re out in the boat in the stormy sea, fearing for their lives, when Jesus shows up walking on the water.  And they are afraid.  Why?  Because they are sensible men, that’s why!  Of course they’re afraid!  And what does Jesus say?  He tells them, "It is I; do not be afraid."  They are afraid of the storm, but they are also afraid of . . . this person, right?  And the first thing he says is, “It is I.  Knowing that it is Jesus brings some kind of comfort.  

And then that little story has that bizarre ending, “Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.”  Strange, but interesting.  They want Jesus to be in their boat, and instead, they suddenly arrive at their destination.  It’s like Jesus is walking beside them, calming their fears, and suddenly they end up where they were meant to be.

And now, we put this altogether in light of our own experience here in Massillon . . .
We gather together because we have heard of the miracles of Jesus.  We come here as a small crowd hoping that some of the signs of Jesus will be made real in our lives.  We ask how we will survive.  And some voice inside us goes to our limited resources.  Some part of us says we cannot afford to keep the doors open and the lights on.  We don’t have enough!  But Jesus says sit down.  Calm down.  He takes bread, blesses it, gives thanks, and offers it to us.  As much as we need.  Then Jesus tells us to gather up the outcasts, so that none may be lost.  Gather in all the ones who are unwanted, cast off, cut off, tossed aside.  None will be lost or forgotten.

And, then, after we have been fed, we leave this place.  We leave Jesus behind, and we head for our destination, across some stormy sea.  The winds of life pick up; the storms of life press in upon us.  We panic, because we have left the safety of the shore without Jesus in our boat!  The sea becomes rough and a strong wind is blowing.  We are afraid, and someone is coming toward us.  Perhaps we fear judgment then; perhaps we fear the one coming at us is there to do us harm.  To drown us for some bad deed, or evil thought, or not living up to our potential.  We fear the one who can walk on water!

And then we hear, “It is I; do not be afraid.”  And our fear turns to joy as we try to grab Jesus and drag him into our boat.  We want Jesus in our boat, and we’re certain that if we just had him in the ship with us, then all would be well!  And, before we know it, we have reached the land toward which we are headed.  

This mysterious Jesus is walking beside us right now, ushering us to the land toward which we are headed.  After Jesus feeds us, and gathers the remnant, he walks beside us, and calms our fears.  All the while, we are certain that we are perishing, and we are convinced that the one who is coming to save us is really coming to do us harm.  But Jesus says, “No, people of St. Timothy’s.  It is I; fear not.”  Jesus is walking beside us through the uncertain days ahead.  And Jesus has been with us all along.  And before we know it, our boat reaches the land toward which we are heading.  

And so, this morning, we back up in the story and revisit Jesus’ question to Philip:  Where are we to buy bread for all these people to eat?  And Jesus tells us to sit down; he blesses what we have, and we have more than enough, knowing that Jesus walks with us, as we approach the unknown land toward which we are heading.


Sunday, July 18, 2021

YEAR B 2021 pentecost 8

Pentecost 8, 2021
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Well, last week’s gospel was . . . troubling, with the beheading of John the Baptizer by Herod’s soldiers.  This week, there’s a lot more good news in the gospel.  And, as you probably noticed, there’s a lot of talk about shepherds in our readings today.  It’s a reassuring change from last week.  

In the first reading, from Jeremiah, God speaks through the prophet to warn the bad shepherds, the leaders of God’s people.  Though they have scattered the flock, and driven them away, God promises to gather the flock back together, so they will prosper.  God will raise up new shepherds, and the people will have no fear.  And none will be missing.  None.

And then, we read Psalm 23 together.  The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.  All that wonderful, pastoral imagery of green pastures and still waters.  Plenty of food and protection, and the goodness and mercy of God chasing us down, all the days of our life.  You want to to know how life is with a good shepherd, just read Psalm 23.  It is many people’s favorite part of the entire Bible, for good reason, because it shows us what life is like when God is our shepherd.

And in today’s gospel reading, from Mark’s gospel, we see what the good shepherd does in human form.  We see how it is when God walks among us, and actually does these things in the flesh.  But that can be a distracting thing about this story.  Because when someone tells us a story, we sort of imagine ourselves as that person.  And, I don’t know about you, but when I first read today’s gospel, I imagined it from Jesus’ point of view, and how I would react to the crowd pressing in on me.  Which, as I say, is not helpful.  Because—in case you haven’t noticed—I’m not Jesus.

So let’s look at it from the perspective of the other people in this story, starting with the disciples.  A couple weeks ago, Jesus sent out the disciples two by two, and “they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”  As today’s gospel opens, they have just returned from their journey, and they’re telling Jesus all that happened while they were away.  And there is a lot of commotion with people coming and going.  And I’m guessing they are exhausted, because Jesus says to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”  

Rest a while.  We have a hard time with that, don’t we?  We’ve all been taught from the moment we were teachable that resting is for losers.  Sleeping is for the lazy.  Or maybe that God wasn’t serious about the sanctity of the Sabbath.  Early birds getting worms and all that.  As Matt Haig has written, Rest is an essential part of survival.  An essential part of us. . . . Just as we need pauses between notes for music to sound good, and just as we need punctuation in a sentence for it to be coherent, we should see rest and reflection and passivity—even sitting on a sofa—as an intrinsic and essential part of life that is needed for the whole to make sense.  God planned for us to rest.  We need rest.

So that’s the resting part.  But Jesus says, “Come away to a deserted place and rest a while.”  I don’t know how you feel about deserted places, but I’m not a fan, to put it lightly.  And if Jesus told me to go away to a deserted place, I’d probably say, “Um, no thanks, Jesus.  I’m good”  But notice, Jesus says come away.  Because Jesus is going with them.  I think this is important.  Jesus wants them to rest and reflect, but Jesus will be there with them.  But while they’re out in the boat together, the crowd recognizes them, and starts running around the lake, so that when they land in the deserted place, well, it’s no longer a deserted place, right?

And then Jesus goes ashore—not the resting disciples—and he sees the people.  And as we heard, “he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd;”  Which is a very wimpy translation.  The fantastic Greek word here is splagchnizomai, and it means much more than compassion.  It is more like a twisting in your bowels.  A better word might be gut-wrenching.  It is not pity or fondness, it is splagchnizomai.  Jesus is unable to walk away from this crowd of people because he finds their condition gut-wrenching.

And why?  Well, as we heard, because they are like sheep without a shepherd.  That is what has moved Jesus so deeply.  The shepherd connection.  That they are like sheep without a shepherd.  And so what does Jesus do?  Three things:  He teaches, feeds, and heals them.  We only hear about two of those things today though, because the text jumps over the feeding of the 5,000, which I’ll get to in a minute.

So first, Jesus “began to teach them many things.”  This description could hardly be more vague, right?  What many things?  If this is his response to the gut-wrenching sight of all these people, we’d like to know what these “many things” are.  But we don’t know.  My guess is that he is telling them parables, since Mark says Jesus only ever taught in parables.  

So maybe they’re getting lessons about the kingdom of God, and how it is breaking through everywhere, all around them.  Maybe they’re hearing about mustard seeds, and how those tiny seed ends up providing a place for birds to build their nests.  But no matter what “many things” Jesus is telling them, I imagine part of it is about how Jesus is the Good Shepherd, because that’s what sparked his compassion:  That they are like sheep without a shepherd, and here he is:  the Good Shepherd.

So, Jesus teaches them many things.  Then what?  Well, if you look at the gospel reading in your bulletin insert, you’ll see that we jumped from verse 34 to verse 53.  And part of what we skipped over is called “The feeding of the 5,000.”  Remember, a large crowd has followed them to a deserted place, and after Jesus has taught them many things, the disciples say Jesus should send them away to get some food.  And, well, we’ll hear that whole story next week.  But I just want you to see the order of things here:  Jesus has compassion on the crowd, That gut-wrenching splagchnizomai, and then those three things: He teaches, feeds, and heals them.

Which leads us to the third thing.  They get back in the boat, and they cross over to Gennesaret and tie up the boat.  And then, the people recognize him, and “they rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.”  Again, put yourself in the people’s place here.  Imagine rushing home to get your sick relatives and friends and carrying them out to wherever Jesus goes.  In villages, cities, farms, marketplaces.  Everywhere Jesus goes, people are healed.

In the first reading this morning, God promised new shepherds, good shepherds.  And in Psalm 23, we heard what it is like when God is our shepherd.  And in today’s gospel, we see what it is like when the Good Shepherd walks among us.  He teaches us, feeds us, and heals us.  The Good Shepherd has come, for you, for me, for everyone.  And when the Good Shepherd is here, we learn about the kingdom of God, we feed on the bread of heaven, and we are healed of brokenness and sins are forgiven . . . and not one among us will be lost.

The Good Shepherd has come to us, to teach and feed and heal, the things we all need in this life.  You are loved by this God who feels a gut-wrenching compassion for your needs.  Who cannot turn away.  Who knows you need a shepherd, and has sent to us the Good Shepherd—Jesus Christ, our Lord.  God leads us beside still waters, and together we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


Sunday, July 11, 2021

YEAR B 2021 pentecost 7

Pentecost 7, 2021
Amos 7:7-15
Psalm 85:8-13
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Well.  That was quite a gospel reading we just heard, wasn’t it?  It’s a stellar reminder that the priest does not get to choose the readings we hear each week.  And also a good reminder that I’m grateful we always have more than one reading from scripture each Sunday.

Let’s review what we just heard . . . Herod—who is sort of the local governor of the Jews—hears about Jesus and his disciples, and the amazing things they are doing, and everybody’s got a different opinion about what is going on.  Some say that John the Baptizer is giving Jesus the power, and others are saying Jesus is really Elijah the prophet coming back to usher in the kingdom of God.  But Herod . . . Herod has a totally different idea.  Because Herod has a very guilty conscience, that’s why.  And a king with a guilty conscience makes for a great story.

Edgar Allen Poe could call this The Tell-Tale Baptist.  Or, as Shakespeare’s Lady MacBeth might say: “Out damned John the Baptizer!”  It’s easy to find examples like this.  If you’re Poe or Shakespeare, you just look around and talk to people, and before long you could have a big list of guilty consciences to work with.  We have a very hard time letting go of the things we have done in the past, even if everyone else has forgotten them.  That’s why we confess our sins every week—in the hope that one day we might actually believe in God’s forgiveness.  

So, in this gospel text, we hear Herod say, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised."  People hearing this story for the first time would be asking, “Wait.  Hang on.  When did Herod have John the Baptizer beheaded?”  And then Mark says, “Thanks for asking,” and we flash back to a party at Herod’s house in order to answer that question.

Herod was living in sin with his brother’s wife—whatever that means exactly.  And John the Baptizer has called him out on it.  Told him that it was wrong to live that way.  Herod has John thrown in prison, but does not have him killed because, “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.”

I find this fascinating.  Almost like Herod knows John is sent by God.  He fears him, but he is intrigued by him.  He likes to listen to him, even though John is telling him things he does not wish to hear.  Almost like, by keeping John locked up in his prison, Herod has his own private spiritual advisor or something. 

And then, Herod throws this party.  His daughter, Herodias (same name as her mother, Herodias) impresses the guests with her dancing—like how you make your kids show off when you have guests—and then Herod is so proud and boastful that he promises her anything.  Herodias goes to Herodias and asks what to ask for.  The mom, who hates John the Baptizer, tells her to ask for John’s head, and . . . Well, you know what happens then.  Horrible story right? 

It’s a story that begs for a superhero, doesn’t it?  A case where we want John’s disciples to show up and bust him out of prison right before the guards come to behead him.  Some nick-of-time example that evil will not win out over good.  We want the lesson to be that Herod’s stupid ego and hate-filled Herodias will not win the day, because that’s the way stories are supposed to end, right?  John speaking truth to power is supposed to make him loved and respected, not headless in a dungeon.

Which raises the question that I really want to ask.  The elephant that is not in the room, in this case . . .
Where is Jesus in this story?   

And the silence that follows that question tells us all the answer.  If I say, “Tell me a story that isn’t about Jesus,” today’s gospel could be one of them, right?  Jesus is not in this story.  And it’s then tempting for us to say, See?  This is what happens to you without Jesus in your story.  And that is a very dangerous thing to think, because it then sets you up to start thinking that if you do have Jesus in your life, then bad things won’t happen to you.  

Everyone in this room has Jesus in their life.  So, has anything bad ever happened to you?  Exactly.  Then, if Jesus had been there at the party with Herod, would he have stopped John from being beheaded?  We can’t tell for certain, but I’m thinking the answer is probably no.  Even if Jesus were sitting in the house, for whatever reason, Herod still would have had John killed because of his boastful promise.

So now what?  What’s the point of Jesus if he can’t save you from dying?  What good is Jesus if he can’t help you when you are most in need of being helped?  Why follow a Savior who seems unable to save?

Maybe the best way to answer my own question is to say this:  Jesus is saving up his saving for the big leagues.  Even though God is intensely interested in every aspect of your life, Jesus does not save you a parking spot in front of the store.  Even though Jesus came that we might have life and have life abundantly, we are each still going to face death at some point.  Jesus does not save us from death.

Jesus saves us IN death.  The truth is that each of us is going to die.  But the greater truth is that each of us will be raised to new life.  God is in the resurrection business, is what it comes down to.  Jesus brings life out of death.  Hope to the hopeless, joy to the sorrowful, life to those who are dead in sin.  Jesus does not save us from suffering; but Jesus does save us in our suffering.  Even though we didn’t hear about Jesus in this story, Jesus was very much a part of John the Baptist’s story.  And that is what makes all the difference.

Now let me turn to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which we heard part of right before this Gospel reading.  That reading is 12 verses long, but is actually one sentence in Greek.  Longest sentence in the New Testament.  210 words in one sentence.  Which is probably why it’s a little confusing to hear it read aloud.  But the part I want to focus on in this:   

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will . . . as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

God’s will is to gather up everything, in heaven and on earth.  Everything.  Not God’s reluctant compromise.  Not just some things.  No, God will gather up everything and everyone, because God wants to.  You, and me, and the people we don’t even like.  As I said earlier, Jesus is saving up his saving for the big leagues.  

We all know that bad stuff happens in life.  This is not a new thought for you, I’m sure.  And I don’t need to spend time reminding you of the suffering in the world around us; you’ve seen the headlines.  Living can be a painful business.  And if you come to Jesus looking to avoid problems, or for protection against crazy kings who may have you killed because some little girl asks, well . . . I’m afraid Jesus isn’t going to be much help to you in that moment.  At least in getting us out of the trouble we face.

BUT, if you come to Jesus looking for comfort in the midst of life’s tragedies, and the assurance that you are loved beyond measure, and to remind you that it is God’s will to gather you up into the arms of Jesus . . . Well, then Jesus is the one you’re looking for.  God is with you every moment of every day, and that is what makes things different.  

You will be gathered up because it is God’s will to gather you up.  You have been baptized into the death of Jesus, and you will be raised to new life in the resurrection of Jesus.  And along the way, in the midst of the struggles of life, you can come to this Altar and receive the reassurance of forgiveness, in the body of Christ, the bread of heaven.


Sunday, July 4, 2021

YEAR B 2021 pentecost 6

Pentecost 6, 2021
Ezekiel 2:1-5
Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, the first thing we have to do is define the word “prophet,” because it comes up in two of today’s readings.  We tend to think of a prophet as someone who knows the future, who can predict what is going to happen.  But a prophet is a person who speaks on behalf of God.  A prophet receives messages from God and passes them on to other people.  So then, a prophecy might foretell the future—like the birth of the Messiah—but usually a prophecy is simply a message from God.

In the first reading, from Ezekiel, God fills Ezekiel with the Spirit and tells him to speak to the people, saying, “Thus says the Lord God,” so that “they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.”  So Ezekiel speaks on God’s behalf.  That one fits right in with our definition of what a prophet is:  One who speaks on behalf of God.

And in the reading from Mark, Jesus is also delivering a message from God, when he is teaching in the synagogue.  Before this, Jesus has been out, healing the sick, raising the dead, and so forth, and eventually comes around the lake to his own hometown: Nazareth.  He is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and is interrupted by the grumbling of the crowd.  They start asking one another, isn’t this the carpenter?  Mary’s son?  The brother of these young people we know?  How can it be that he is speaking with authority, with wisdom?  We know him.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying, “familiarity breeds contempt.”  Jesus’ response is a first-century Palestine version of that saying, sort of borrowed from the Greeks.  “Prophets [or philosophers], are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”  Jesus seems to expect this response from the hometown crowd.  It is human nature to refuse to have faith in what is familiar.  Bring in some traveling charlatan selling a snake-oil miracle cure and people line up with cash in hand.  Tell people that wearing a simple piece of fabric over their face can actually save lives and people say, “Oh please!  That’s impossible.”

We do it in our pop culture too.  Think of the 60’s and 70’s when the exotic Transcendental Meditation movement swept eastward from California.  Or how the British Invasion of rock music spread across the country.  What is foreign is exotic; what is local is suspect, or inferior.  Give me this new group from across the ocean rather than the local bar band down the block—who might actually be better musicians!

And, most curiously, we do this in the Church as well.  The charismatic preacher comes to town and starts a mega-church, and attracts thousands of worshipers.  While the local denominational pastor who preaches the gospel, visits the sick, and administers the sacraments finds his or her congregation dwindling away over time.  Flashy lights and outsiders tend to outweigh weekly sustenance.  After all, isn’t the local pastor or priest the person we know?  Isn’t she the one who baptized little Sarah?  Isn’t he the one who disagreed with me over what color to paint the church basement?  And isn’t this the leaky stone building I have spent a lifetime of Sundays in?  How could anything miraculous happen here?  How could this week-in and week-out message really change my life?  It’s all so . . . familiar.

Ah, the week in and week out.  That is what is interesting to me.  Because we Episcopalians actually specialize in the familiar, the tangible, the day-to-day stuff.  We do it sacramentally, with bread and wine, and water and words.  In the sacraments, we use the stuff of daily life; and we believe that God uses them too.  And in that moment, a connection is made that is made nowhere else.  God comes to meet us in bread and wine at this Altar.  God comes to meet us, when water is poured over our heads at that font.  We might well ask, “Isn’t this the bread from those little cellophane wrappers in the cupboard?  Isn’t this the wine that the Altar Guild poured out of the bottle on Thursday morning?  Isn’t that pitcher of water for the baptism just from the faucet in the sacristy?”  Yes.  There are.  And there’s the beauty of it.

We use the familiar around St. Timothy's all through the year.  In the branches we carry on Palm Sunday.  In the ashes we don on Ash Wednesday.  In the pages of those prayer books in the pew racks.  Familiar stuff, being put to extraordinary use.  And think of the ordinary people serving God and our neighbors, from vacuumers to choir members, from readers to gardeners.  Or, think of the ECW rummage sale.  What could be more familiar than regular stuff that gets donated and resold?  And what could be more miraculous than using the money received to support the ministry that happens here?

The contemptuously familiar castoffs of our daily lives get transformed into something that changes the lives of our neighbors.  We might ask, “isn’t that the set of dishes we used to eat dinner on every night?”  And, “isn’t that the dress I wore two Easters ago?”  We know them!  Though we doubt the power of the ordinary, God ‘s presence in them makes the difference.  A perfect metaphor for today’s gospel, in some ways.

And this takes us back to a crucial little segment of this Gospel reading.  After Jesus gives the townspeople the smackdown of the hometown prophet not being welcome, we are told “he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  And he was amazed at their unbelief.” 

Okay, two things.  The phrase, “no deed of power” does not usually go with “except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”  Even when we are feeling at the peak of our personal power, I doubt any of us have laid hands on a few doubting sick people and cured them.

And, secondly, well, this takes a bit of setup.  Throughout Mark’s gospel, leading up to today’s reading, faith is connected to healing.  Just last week with the bleeding woman, and the dying daughter, we heard that faith was the key to healing.  And, in the case of Jairus’s daughter, it was faith of the father.  But in Jesus’ hometown, we see something new.

Jesus is amazed at their unbelief.  And, remember, Jesus has seen some amazing things!  He is amazed at their lack of faith, their unbelief.  And yet, he lays his hands on sick people and cures them.  Even in the midst of this unbelief that amazes Jesus, the healing power of God is at work.  Faith is not always necessary for healing.

Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, we often hear of faith as being the thing that empowers us to move mountains, to cast out demons, to heal the sick, feed the poor, and usher in the kingdom.  But what is honestly more important to me is this question: what does Jesus do without belief?  What does God do for those who have no faith, or have lost their faith?  In short, is God active in the world in the absence of faith?

And in today’s gospel, we have the answer.  In the absence of faith, Jesus lays his hands on people and heals them.  When we are filled with contempt at the familiarity of Jesus, he heals us.  When we are absolutely certain that it is regular old bread and wine on that Altar, Jesus is somehow still present.  God meets us in the ordinary things of life, like food and drink.  But God also meets us in the ordinary people in our lives, like friends, family, and neighbors.  

And, most important of all, God comes to us in the absence of belief.  Jesus lays his hands on us, and heals us, even though we have questions. 

Is this not Mary’s son?  
Oh yes, he is.
And, it turns out, that’s just what we need him to be.