Fully Present

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

A sermon presented in Spanish at El Shadai church in Manassas, Virginia, August 2, 2018.

Prelude

Good evening. Thank you for coming.

This evening we begin a study of Christian service. Because we are created in the image of God, we want to do all the things that we see in God. Therefore, just as God is always present in our lives, we need to be fully present in the lives of those around us.

Prayer

Let’s pray.

Merciful God,

We praise you for creating us in your image and loving us as your children. Be especially present with us at this time and in this place. In the power of your Holy Spirit, bless our praise and give us the strength to be fully present in the lives of our families and the other persons around us. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen.

Scripture

The scripture for today comes from the Book of Mark 10:46-52. Hear the word of the Lord:

And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52 ESV)

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Introduction

What does it mean to be fully present in someone’s life? (2X)

One answer is to listen actively to the stories of a person, something quite rare in our postmodern, too active, and narcissistic life.

One Saturday, when I was a Chaplain in Providence Hospital in Northeast Washington, there was a lot of noise in the emergency department. There were people in every room and every gurney. The staff was running in every direction and patients were screaming and crying. In the middle of this chaos, there was one man who was especially noisy and bothering the other patients.

As I came to see what was going on, a nurse came and asked him for a urine sample. In the middle of the room, he unzipped his pants and gave her a urine sample on the spot. Immediately afterwards, he returned to his

gurney and began again to cry loudly. He had an athletic build, a hint of a mustache, and was about forty years old. It was obvious that he was drunk.

“Good afternoon,” I said. “I am from pastoral care. Do you have a minute to talk?”

“Sure.”

“How come you are so sad this afternoon?”

“My brother died at the age of forty of alcohol abuse, just like my father.”

“When did your brother die?”

 ¨Five years ago.¨ (2X) ¨So, now you are forty and you think that you also are going to die?¨ I asked speculating.

¨Yes. Today is my birthday.¨

After the revelation of this emotional anniversary, we hugged and began to identify alternatives for dealing with his addiction to alcohol. I remember this visit not only because of all the drama, but because another chaplain before me had could not establish a connection with this patient and failed to have a serious discussion. The connection in this case began when I realized that this patient was experiencing a type of story known as an emotional anniversary.

Today’s scripture

What does it mean to be fully present in someone’s life? (2X)

The story of Jesus and the bind man, Bartimaeus, includes at least two surprising elements.

The first surprise is that Jesus stopped and talked to Bartimaeus.What celebrity stops to talk to a random person? Jesus did. (2X) The first step in being fully present in the life of anyone is to stop and talk to them. Do you talk to the invisible people in this life who no one else notices? (2X)

The second surprise is that Jesus asks Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” Note that Jesus does not assume that he knows the answer to this question. He offers Bartimaeus respect as an adult and does not view him through his disability as a blind man. (2X)

Bartimaeus’ answer is also interesting. His request to receive healing from his blindness indicates that he has faith. By contrast, “a man lamb from birth” in Acts 3 asked the Apostles Peter and John only for alms (Acts 3:2-3). I believe that the Bible records Bartimaeus’ name because his faith surprised Peter and the other disciples. For us, Bartimaeus’ request seems perhaps obvious because Jesus and this story are just too familiar.

What do we learn from these verses? We need to stop and talk to the invisible people around us and listen carefully to what they say. (2X)

More Discussion

What does it mean to be fully present in someone’s life? (2X)

In my pastoral training to be fully present meant for the most part to listen to someone actively. Look directly into their eyes and let them tell their story. Only ask questions of clarification occasionally.

If these directions seem easy, they are not. The objective of active listen is to understand the emotional content of the story. (2X)

Author, John Savage, recommends to listen especially for the type of story being told. This story within the story reveals the emotional content that is being communicated.

In the story of the patient in the hospital, the story within the story was an anniversary—in his family the men died at the age of forty due to alcoholism. An anniversary is a story connected to a date on the calendar. Perhaps someone important died or had an serious accident on a particular date. In the story of the patient, the date was a birthday. The most famous date at the time of Jesus was the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt which they celebrated as Passover each year.

Savage (1996, 95) indicates four other types of stories.

1.    A “I know a man who” story. In this case, the person under discussin is normally the person speaking because the subject matter is too sensitive. In the Bible, we read:

“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.”(2 Cor 12:2)2.

2. A transition story has three parts—the past, the present, and the future. A hospital visit is normally a transition story. University studies are also a transition with three parts.

A transition obvious in the Bible is the story of the Exodus when the people of Israel left the land of Egypt, went into the desert for forty years, and afterwards entered the Promised Land (Bridge 2003, 43). It is interesting that the people of Israel learned to depend on God during their time in the desert.

3.    A story from the past with current meaning. This is the typical story from the Bible, but this type of story gets special mention in the context of the Lord’s Supper where we read:

“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”(Luke 22:19)

4.    A reinvestment story. This is a story like economist becomes pastor. That was then; this is now. In the Bible we see this type of story in the conversion of Paul from a persecutor of the church into an evangelist for Christ.

Finally, after we hear one of the five types of stories being described, the next step is to ask a question to clarify. In my story from the hospital, I asked:

“Okay, now you turned forty years old and think that you are going to die too?” I asked speculating.

The answer to this question will indicate if you have been listening sufficiently well.

Summary

What does it mean to be fully present in someone’s life?

Every one of us can stop and listen more closely to those around us following the example of Jesus with Bartimaeus

Prayer

Let’s pray.

Holy Father,

Thank you for your forgiveness and presence in our daily lives. In the power of your Holy Spirit, give us strength to listen more closely each day to the people around us. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen

Reference

Bridge, William. 2003.  Managing Transitions:  Making the Most of Change.  Cambridge:  Da Capo Press.

Savage, John.  1996.  Listening & Caring Skills:  A Guide for Groups and Leaders.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press.

Also see:

Blackaby Expects Answers to Prayer 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to connect:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Sabath_2018

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Presencia Completa

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Un  sermon presentó a la iglesia El Shadai en Manassas, Virginia, 2 de Agosto, 2018 (English).

Preludio

Buenos noches. Gracias por venir.

Esta noche empezamos un estudio del servicio Cristiano. Porque somos creado en la imagen de Dios, querremos hacer todas las cosas que vemos en Dios. Entonces, como Dios es siempre presente en nuestras vidas, necesitamos estar completamente presente en las vidas de las personas acera de nosotros.

Oración

Vamos a orar.

Padre Misericordia,

Alabamos que creaste nos en tu imagen y ama nos como tus niños. Sea especialmente presente con nosotros en este tiempo y este lugar. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, bendice nuestra alabanza y damos el fuerzo a estar completamente presente en las vidas de nuestras familias y las otras personas acerca de nosotros. En el precioso nombre de Jesucristo, Amen.

Escritura

El texto de hoy viene del libro del Marcos 10:46-52. Escuchen a la palabra de Dios.

Después llegaron a Jericó. Más tarde, salió Jesús de la ciudad acompañado de sus discípulos y de una gran multitud. Un mendigo ciego llamado Bartimeo (el hijo de Timeo) estaba sentado junto al camino.Al oír que el que venía era Jesús de Nazaret, se puso a gritar: —¡Jesús, Hijo de David, ten compasión de mí! Muchos lo reprendían para que se callara, pero él se puso a gritar aún más: —¡Hijo de David, ten compasión de mí! Jesús se detuvo y dijo: —Llámenlo. Así que llamaron al ciego. —¡Ánimo! —le dijeron—. ¡Levántate! Te llama. Él, arrojando la capa, dio un salto y se acercó a Jesús. —¿Qué quieres que haga por ti? —le preguntó. —Rabí, quiero ver —respondió el ciego. —Puedes irte —le dijo Jesús—; tu fe te ha sanado. Al momento recobró la vista y empezó a seguir a Jesús por el camino.

La palabra del Señor. Gracias a Dios.

Introducción

¿Que significa a estar completamente presente en la vida de alguien? (2X)

Una respuesta es que escuchar intensivamente a las historias de una persona, algo muy raro en nuestra postmoderna, demasiada-activa, y narcisista vida.

Un sábado, cuando fui un capellán en el hospital Providence en la noreste parte de Washington, hubo mucho ruido en la sala de emergencia. Hubo personas en cada sala y por cada cama. Personal fue corriendo en cada dirección y pacientes fueron gritando y llorando. En medio de este caos, hubo un hombre especialmente ruidoso y molestando a los otros pacientes. Cuando me acerqué para ver qué estaba pasando, una enfermera vinó y le pidió una muestra de orina. En el medio de esta sala, se bajó la cremallera de los pantalones y le dió una muestra de orina en el acto. Inmediatamente después, regresó a su cama y empezó otra vez a llorando muy ruidoso. Le aparece muy atlético, tenía un toque de bigote, y tuvó más o menos cuarenta años de edad. Fue obvio que estaba borracho.

¨Buenos días,¨ dije. ¨Vengo de cuidado pastoral. ¿Quiere un momento de conversación?¨

 ¨Si.¨

 ¨¿Porque estas tan triste esta tarde?¨

¨Mi hermano murió a la edad de cuarenta años del alcoholismo al igual que mi padre.¨ 

¨¿Cuando murió tu hermano? ¨ 

¨Antes de cinco años.¨ (2X) 

¨¿Entonces, ahora usted tenia cuarenta años y piense que va a morir también?¨ Yo pidé especulando.

¨Si. Hoy día esta mi cumpleaños.”

Después de la revelación de este aniversario emocional, nos abrazamos y comenzamos a identificar formas de lidiar con su adicción del alcohol. Recuerdo esta visita no solamente por toda la drama, sino también porque una otra capellana ante de mí no pudo establecer esta conexión y se fue sin tener un encuentro serio. Esta conexión empezó cuando realicé que este paciente fue experimentando un tipo de historia conocido como un aniversario emocional.

Escritura de Hoy

¿Que significa a estar completamente presente en la vida de alguien? (2X)

La historia de Jesús y el ciego, Bartimeo, tiene al menos de dos elementos sorprendo.

El primero sorprendo es que Jesús detuvo y hablar con Bartimeo. ¿Qué celebridad se detiene para hablar con la gente común? Jesús hicó. (2X) La primera paso en siendo completamente presente en la vida de cualquiera persona esta a detenerse y hablar a ellos. ¿Hablas tú a las invisibles personas en la vida, las que nadie reconocimiento? (2X) 

El secundo sorprendo es que Jesús preguntó a Bartimeo: ¨—¿Qué quieres que haga por ti?¨ (Marcos 10:51) Nota que Jesús no asumo que el supó la repuesta de esta pregunta. El ofrezcó a Bartimeo respeto como un adulto y no veó a el por media de su discapacidad como ciego. (2X) 

La repuesta de Bartimeo es también interesante. Su petición de receiver curación de su ceguera indica que el tiene fe. Por contrasto, un hombre lisiado de nacimiento” en Hechos 3 pidió a los Apóstolos Pedro y Juan solamente por limosna (Hechos 3:2-3). Creo que la biblia registró el nombre de Bartimeo porque su fe sorprendó a Pedro y los otros discípulos. Para nosotros, la repuesta de Bartimeo es tal vez obvio porque Jesús y esta historia están demasiado familiar.

¿Que aprendimos de estés versículos? Necesitamos a detenerse y hablar a las personas invisibles alrededor nos y escuchar cuidosamente a cuáles que deciren. (2X)

Más Discusión

¿Que significa a estar completamente presente en la vida de alguien? (2X)

En mi formación pastoral a estar completamente presente significa por la mayor parte a escuchar a alguien activamente. Mira directamente en los ojos de una persona y permítalos a decir su historia. Sólo plantear las preguntas para aclaración ocasionalmente.  Si esta dirección parece fácil, no es. El objetivo de escuchar activamente es a entender el contento emocional de la historia. (2X)

El autor, John Savage, recomendó a escuchar especialmente para el tipo de historia que se cuenta. Esta historia en la historia revela el emocional contento que esta seriando comunicado.

En la historia del paciente en el hospital, la historia en la historia fue un aniversario—en su familia los hombres muerta por edad de cuarenta años de alcoholismo. Un aniversario es una historia conectado con un dato del calendario. Tal vez alguien importante murió o tuvó un accidenté grave por un día particular. En esta historia del paciente fue un cumpleaños. El dato más famoso por el tiempo de Jesús fue el Éxodo de la gente de israel de Egipto cual se celebra como Pascua cada año.

Savage (1996, 95) indica cuarto otros tipos de historias:

1.    Una “yo conozco a un hombre quien” historia. En este caso el hombre subido discusión es normalmente la persona que habla porque el tema es demasiado sensitivo. En la bíblica, leamos:

¨Conozco a un seguidor de Cristo que hace catorce años fue llevado al tercer cielo (no sé si en el cuerpo o fuera del cuerpo; Dios lo sabe.¨ (2 Cor. 12:2).

2.    Una transición historia tiene tres partes—el pasado, el presente, y la futura. Una vista del hospital es normalmente una transición historia. También los estudios en la universidad son una transición con tres partes. Una transición obvia en la biblia es la historia del Éxodo cuando la gente de Israel salió de la tierra de Egipto, ir en el desierto durante cuarenta años, y luego entró en la tierra prometida (Bridge 2003, 43). Interesante es que el pueblo israel aprendí de depende por Dios durante su tiempo en el desierto. 3.

3.   Una historia del pasado con significado para el presente. Eso es su típica historia de la biblia pero se menciona específicamente en el contexto de la Cena del Señor donde leamos:

¨También tomó pan y, después de dar gracias, lo partió, se lo dio a ellos y dijo: —Este pan es mi cuerpo, entregado por ustedes; hagan esto en memoria de mí.¨ (Lucas 22:19)

4.    Una reinversión historia. Eso es una historia como economista sea pastor. Eso era entonces; esto es ahora. En la biblia vemos este tipo de historia en la conversión de Pablo de un persecutor de la iglesia a una evangelista de cristo.

Finalmente, cuando nosotros oímos un de los cincos tipos de historias seriando describir, el paso próximo es a plantear una pregunta de clarificación. En mi historia del hospital, yo pregunté:  ¨¿Entonces, ahora usted tenia cuarenta anos y piense que va a morir también?¨ La repuesta de su pregunta indicara si tú has escuchada suficiente bien.

Resumen
¿Que significa a estar completamente presente en la vida de alguien?
Cada uno de nosotros puede detenerse y escuchar con más atención a quienes nos rodean siguiendo el ejemplo de Jesús con Bartimeo.

Oración

Oramos.

Padre Santo,

Gracias por tu perdón y por tu presencia en nuestras vidas cotidiarias. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, darnos el fuerzo para escuchar más intensivo a las personas alrededor nos cada día. En el preciso nombre de Jesucristo. Amen.

Referencias

Bridge, William. 2003.  Managing Transitions:  Making the Most of Change.  Cambridge:  Da Capo Press.

Savage, John.  1996.  Listening & Caring Skills:  A Guide for Groups and Leaders.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press.

Presencia Completa

Also see:

Blackaby Expects Answers to Prayer 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to connect:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Sabath_2018

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Stanley and Jones Preach Communication

Stanley_and_Lane_review_08312016Andy Stanley and Lane Jones. 2006. Communicating for a Change. Colorado Springs: Multinomah Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In my last year at Iowa State, out of obligation I took a speech class. At the time, it seemed like a wildly irrelevant class—why does an economist need to learn how to give a speech?  By the time I reached seminary, preaching was not only on my mind, I credited my preaching experience as an elder with helping me to understand my call as a pastor. In a world so desperate to know the love and salvation of Christ, where else can you get 20-40 minutes of people’s undivided attention—especially knowing that your own kids could be sitting in the front row?

In their book, Communicating for a Change, Andy Stanley and Lane Jones focus on seven points needed to communicate effectively. In the first part of the book, they outline the seven points in a truck driving analogy. In the second part of the book, they drive down into the seven points in more detail. The seven points are:

  1. Determine your goal—what do you hope to communicate? (33)
  1. Focus on a single point—if you provide too much information, your audience will not remember anything (39).
  1. Make a map that helps you travel from information to relationship (44). Stanley talks about ME-WE-GOD-YOU-WE as the map or outline of how to structure a sermon.

This ME-WE-GOD-YOU-WE map requires some unpacking.  The ME section explains who you are. The WE section moves from what I am thinking and feeling to what we are thinking and feeling. The GOD section introduces biblical truth into the discussion. The YOU section is about application—what are you going to do about this biblical truth? The final WE section casts a common vision (48-49).

  1. Internalize the message—“until you can deliver it with no notes, from memory, then it’s not your message” (52).
  1. Engage your audience emotionally—“You have to connect with your audience around a real need in their lives. Something they feel.” This involves reminding the audience of “tension that they already feel” (58-60). You look for memorable points and go slow on the transition points to keep people engaged (63-64).
  1. Find you voice. Stanley and Jones observe: “You are not talking to people. You are talking at people.” Your voice is the authentic you—present, vulnerable, the real you. The goal of finding your voice is to be able to take people on a journey, rather than give them a sermon (70-72).
  1. Find your traction. Delivering a sermon on time every week is hard if you get stuck in the preparation. Stanley and Jones suggest a checklist of questions: 1. What do they need to know? 2. Why do they need to know it? 3. What do they need to do? And 4. Why do they need to do it? (80)

In parsing the first point, Stanley and Jones observe that pastors have really three primary approaches in preaching:

  1. Teaching the Bible to people;
  2. Teaching people the Bible;
  3. Teach “people how to live a life that reflects the values, principles, and truths of the Bible.” (94-95)

Expert multiple choice test takers always go for the longest answer—Stanley and Jones clearly favor the third approach. Their incentive is captured in this brief statement:

“How would you communicate this message if your eighteen-year old son had made up his mind to walk away from everything you have taught him, morally, ethically, and theologically, unless he had a compelling reason not to? What would you say this morning if you knew that was at stake?” (98-99)

Stanley and Jones’ point is compelling and one of the points of the book that I remember most vividly.

Andy Stanley[1] is the founder of North Point Ministries in the Atlanta area, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, and he author of numerous books. Lane Jones[2] is also of North Point Ministries and a graduate of  Dallas Theological Seminary and a Christian author.

Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones is a book recommended to me by my pastor when I started entered seminary and began preaching for myself. The book is engaging, easy to read, and proved to be a great help in preaching.

[1] http://www.AndyStanley.com.

[2] Getting to know Lane Jones (https://vimeo.com/24570550).

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Gibson: Preach God’s Word in Season and Out

Gibson_review_08232016Scott M. Gibson. 2001. Preaching for Special Services. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the more perplexing challenges that pastors face is always being on call. Recently, the pastor on duty at a luncheon I attend got caught up in traffic; I found myself presented with an unexpected mic. For a plodder, someone who always works from a 5-year plan, these special occasions can be especially challenging.

In his book, Preaching for Special Services, Scott Gibson writes:

“A pastor must be able to step with ease into a number of different speaking venues. In addition to a regular preaching schedule, you as a pastor face an endless parade of special occasions at which you are asked to speak.” (Back cover)

He goes on to cite the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:2 ESV) The purpose of such preaching, he says, “is to give a clear, listener-sensitive, biblically based word to men and women who are sometimes eager and often desperate to hear it.” (18)

In this short book, Gibson focuses on 4 special occasions that make up the core of his  6 chapters:

  1. Preaching for Special Services
  2. Wedding Services
  3. Funeral Services
  4. Baptism and Infant Presentation Sermons
  5. Preaching at the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper
  6. Speaking on Other Occasions

The foreword was written by Haddon W. Robinson who taught preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for many years and is famous for “big idea” preaching.

The idea in “big idea” preaching is to identify the subject of a particular passage of scripture, usually a pericope,[1] and its complement. The subject is what the author is talking about and the complement is what is said about the subject (19). In special occasion preaching, Gibson emphasizes the need for brevity and clarity where the preacher must be clear about the biblical text, clear about the audience, clear about the occasion, and clear in what they say (21). Tall order on occasions where the circumstances may limit the time available for preparation.

Why preach on special occasions? Outside of the obvious response—because you are asked—Gibson offers this response:

“Preaching at these times allows the preacher to speak the word of God to those gathered, to round out the worship, to bring focus to the occasion.” (17)

When I am asked, I refer to these special occasions as difficult transitions in life where God is especially present to those who call on him. Of course, preaching helps us reflect on God’s presence and his special presence.

If you are like me, this is the sort of book that gets bought and remains on the bookshelf until a special occasion arises when a good reference comes in handy. In my case, I am working on a wedding so let me review Gibson’s comments about weddings.

In each of his presentations on special occasions, he reviews the history of the church’s customs with respect the particular occasion. Gibson notes that in pre-Christian Rome and Greece, weddings were celebrated with an epithalamium, which is a poem celebrating the wedding—kind of like Song of Songs in the Old Testament. Gibson’s comments about weddings in medieval Europe are interesting:

“Preaching took place at the synagogue or at the wedding feast.  The preacher was the groom, the father of the groom, or the father of the bride.” (27)

In my case, I am both a volunteer pastor and father of the bride.

Gibson sees the wedding sermon as: “a window to understanding God’s design for marriage.” (30). In particular, the marriage is not simply a covenant,[2] but a covenant before God, having both his oversight and blessing. Gibson furthermore sees the wedding service having both theological and practical objectives, celebrating the mystery of marriage (32). The wedding sermon should use concrete language, be brief, clear, personal, and have central idea (35-37).

Scott M. Gibson’s Preaching for Special Services is a helpful reference for pastors and aspiring pastors. Others who speak occasionally may also find it interesting. Although I had a wedding in mind in reading, other chapters helped me prepare sermon notes in advance of writing.

References

Robinson, Haddon W. 2001. Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

[1] A periscope is a unit of scripture with one unified thought, usually a story or parable, which is often no more than 10-20 verses.

[2] Here a covenant is more than a business partnership, but, taking the business analogy, it is more of a merger where compatible corporate cultures often determine the long-term viability of the merger.

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Lowry Preaches Plot; Reveals Gospel

Plot_12122013Eugene L. Lowry. 2001. The Homiletical Plot: The Sermon as Narrative Art Form (Orig pub 1980). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In Greek, John’s Gospel begins: Εν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος (John 1:1 BNT). The English translation reads: in the beginning was the word. By contrast, Spanish follows the Vulgate and translates λόγος, not as a noun, but as a verb: in the beginning was the verb. This translation is generally interesting because Hebrew is a verb-based language which makes it easier to tell a story.  It is specifically interesting because Jerome observes John’s choice of Εν ἀρχῇ mirrors Genesis 1:1 reminding his reader of the creation account.  Creative work requires creative words–action verbs, not passive nouns.

In The Homiletical Plot, Eugene Lowry likewise sees a sermon as a narrative event rather than as a content transmittal (12, 90-91). The narrative event discovers content and meaning rather than merely reporting it. Lowry explains: the sermon is a bridging event in time, moving from itch to scratch, from issue to answer, from conflict to resolution, from ambiguity to closure born of the gospel (118).  Motion, not information, drives the sermon.

For Lowry, the sermon does not so much tell a story as adopt a narrative structure. He outlines this structure in five moves: (1) upsetting the equilibrium, (2) analyzing the discrepancy, (3) disclosing the clue to resolution, (4) experiencing the gospel, and (5) anticipating the consequences (26). Lowry’s craft is displayed in how well he unpacks these five moves.

In the first move of the sermon, for example, the preacher upsets the equilibrium by introducing dramatic tension, conflict, or ambiguity. Lowry’s illustrates this move with the dilemma presented in the film High Noon (1952). In the film, tension arises as the marshal has promised his pacifist fiancée to retire only to discover that a band of desperados just released from prison have vowed to take revenge on his town.  Here is the dilemma:  if the marshal retires with his fiancée, he is a coward; if he stays, he breaks his promise (57).  The backstory on the film is that only a decade earlier a pacifist America had sat on the sidelines in the early stages of World War II.  Just like the film helped Americans relive their dilemma, Lowry’s sermon strives to help the congregation feel the tension.

Eugene Lowry is the William K. McEvaney Emeritus Professor of Preaching at Saint Paul School of Theology of Kansas City. This printing commemorates the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Homiletical Plot. The forward is written by Fred Craddock, another well-known homiletics professor and author. The book itself divides into three sections—the sermon as narrative, the stages of the homiletical plot, and other considerations. These sections are preceded by an introduction and followed by an afterword which reflects on how things might have changed over preceding 20 years.

Lowry’s The Homiletical Plot is a short book and a good read. Why is an average Christian interested in reading a preaching (homiletics) text?  Because the Word of God is meant to be read out loud, the gospel itself lies within the ambiguity and tension of the narrative event.  That makes homiletics a key to biblical interpretation. Consequently, Lowry’s book is more than just another preaching text and is worthy of careful reading.

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The Problem of Pain, Psalm 51:10

Slave Ship, Art in Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC
Art in Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC

The Problem of Pain, Psalm 51:10

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Centreville Presbyterian Church, Centreville, VA,  August 24, 2003

Greeting

Good morning!

A key point when we face pain and suffering is that God remains with us.  We are not alone.

The prime example of this principle comes in the story of Daniel[1].

Now after Daniel survived a night in the lion’s den, King Darius was astonished that Daniel was still alive.  So, he summoned Daniel into his throne room and asked Daniel why the lions had not eaten him.

“It was easy, your Excellency,” Daniel said. “I went around and whispered in each lion’s ear — ‘After dinner, one of our elders will say a few words.'”

Scripture

Create in me a pure heart O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. Amen

 Psalm 51:10-12 RSV

Illustration

Let’s start this morning with a little mind experiment.  Think of someone that you respect.  What is special about this person?  Are they strong? Are they good looking?  What led you to respect them?  Chances are that many of the people you have in mind have suffered serious pain in their lives.

Larry’s Funeral

In July I attended a funeral of a colleague, Larry.  Larry was special.  No one was a stranger around Larry.  Larry had the glow.

At the funeral people talked about Larry’s lust for life and his joy.  Larry was known for his singing.  He was known in the office because he remembered co-workers’ children and asked about them.  About third of the church was filled with colleagues of Larry from other parts of town.

At the funeral, people talked about Larry’s strength.  He was a father and a grandfather.  He could throw a football an entire city block—twice the distance of his own brother.  What really stuck out at this funeral was the long list of testimonials—Larry clearly touched many lives.

Why do I mention this?

Larry was black and confined to a wheelchair for the time that I knew him.  Underprivileged, handicapped, and killed at age of 48 by the disease that crippled him, Larry was no stranger to hardship.  In spite of everything, he persevered in winning the golden crown award in the fellowship of saints.

Challenges Grow Us

We respect people that overcome difficult challenges.  In his book, Where is God When It Hurts, Philip Yancey reports that leaders, such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, George Washington, and Queen Victoria, were all either orphaned at an early age or experienced severe childhood deprivation[2].

Why God?

The problem of pain sums up with the question:  If God is all powerful and all loving, why does he allow such pain and suffering? In shining light on this question, I will divide my comments into three parts.  First, I will look at the nature of pain.  Second, I will review Biblical views on pain and suffering.  Finally, I will conclude with a few words of wisdom.

What is Pain?

Pain communicates.  When we put a hand on a hot stove, our hand seems to shout:  get me out of here[4].  When we do something stupid and suffer ridicule from our friends, we experience a different kind of pain.  In the physical world or a social context, pain demands immediate attention.  It teaches us what to do and what not to do.

In discussing the spiritual side of pain, it is helpful to distinguish avoidable from unavoidable pain.

Avoidable Pain

Avoidable pain challenges our intelligence more than our faith.  When we drive without a seat belt and have an accident, God is not normally blamed.  Instead, the wisdom of wearing a seat-belt becomes painfully obvious.  Not all avoidable pains in this life, however, are equally obvious.

Sin.

The relationship between sin and pain is well understood.  Sin occurs when we do something that we should not do.  The obvious case is murder.  The immediate consequence of murder is the pain of imprisonment or death.

Iniquity.

Iniquity is more insidious than sin.  Iniquity occurs when we fail to do something that we should have done (Proverbs 3:27).  Iniquity can not only produce pain, but also a consuming guilt and shame.

When I think about iniquity, I remember a puppy that we had when I was in high school.  This puppy was very enthusiastic and slipped out of the house one morning as I was walking to school.  That morning I was late and the puppy did not catch up to me until I was quite a distance from home.  Upset with him, I sent him home.  Obediently, the dog immediately ran across the road and was struck dead by a passing car in front of my eyes.  I had done nothing wrong, but what I failed to do cost that innocent puppy his life.

More than sin, iniquity challenges modern society.   Consider, for example, the effect of technology on our ability to work 24-7.  As work fills our lives with good things, we have less time to raise our children, care for our elderly parents, and commit time to God.  The workaholic has no special proclivity to sin, but finds iniquity a constant challenge.

The Learning Process.

In the example of the workaholic, it is ironic that something good (like work) should lead to something bad (like iniquity).  This problem arises because the normal learning process breaks down.

Psychologists describe learning as responses to positive and negative stimuli.  We are attracted to positive stimuli and we avoid negative stimuli.  In other words, if it feels good, do it!  Or, as my doctor always tells me, if it is hurts, don’t do it!

The learning process breaks down when a positive stimulus is associated in the short run with pleasure and in the long run with pain.  Such phenomena are described as social traps.  Smoking, alcohol or drug addiction, cheating on our spouses and compulsive attention to work are all social traps.  In each case, the immediate gratification of our desires leads us where we would not normally choose to go.  Because the learning process breaks down, social traps require spiritual instruction.

Unavoidable Pain

Because God gives us the freedom to make decisions, bad decisions can generate avoidable pain.  The problem is that we cannot always avoid pain caused by other people’s decisions and the natural world has rules that all of us must respect.  Accidents happen.  Unavoidable pain is accordingly a consequence of free will and life in the natural world (Lewis, p. 34).  Still, the tendency to blame God for our pains has been with us since the time of Job.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis (p. 90) describes suffering as: any experience, whether physical or mental, which the patient dislikes.  Like Lewis, I use the terms pain and suffering interchangeably because of personal experience.  When my wife, Maryam, began her battle with breast cancer eight years ago, her surgery and physical recovery were completed within weeks.  The immediate pain went away.  The scars on her soul and mine, however, never completely healed.

Perceptions of Pain

During World War II, anesthesiologist Henry K. Beecher noted that only about one in three soldiers injured on the battlefield requested morphine while about four out of five civilians with similar injuries made this request.  This led him to conclude that physical injuries and the perceived pain are not directly linked (Yancey, p. 177).

Beecher’s conclusion makes sense because morphine calms a patient’s anxiety.  We can infer from Beecher’s observations that soldiers and civilians differ in their morphine use primarily because their sources of fear differ.  For the soldier, a trip to the hospital meant that he would likely survive the war.  For the civilian, the trip to the hospital meant pain and potential disabilities.  In effect, the soldiers’ joy in leaving the battlefield came associated with physical injuries that would terrorize a civilian.

Because fear magnifies our pain and suffering, pain management and a full recovery require that we deal with the spiritual side of healing.

Biblical Views of Pain and Suffering

God works to grow our faith and relationship with Him.  Sin thwarts this objective but God typically does not immediately punish us.  The point of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was to redeem us from God’s judgment and to bring the hope of eternal life—the Good News of the Gospel.   The Biblical view of God’s relationship with His creation can accordingly be interpreted as an antidote to the pain and suffering of the natural world.

The Beatitudes

To understand how Christ’s earthly ministry could end with the cross and the resurrection, it is helpful to begin with the Beatitudes—the happy attitudes.  In Mathew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins with:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
”Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted
(Mathew 5:3-4 NIV).

Notice that Jesus starts his sermon with suffering[7].  What could be more ironic than: happy are those who suffer?

Billy Grahm on Pain

In his book, The Secret of Happiness, Billy Graham describes the mourners in the second Beatitude as those who mourn of their own spiritual inadequacy before God[8].  This is not a spirit of self-pity.  Rather, it is someone who has sensed the presence of a Holy God and found the comparison with self unbearable.  Mourning of spiritual inadequacy is accordingly followed by mourning for repentance (P. 20-21).  More to the point, we are all born under sentence of death, mourn under pain of death, and need the comfort of redemption.  Suffering accordingly plays a key role in our understanding of Christ’s redemptive ministry.

Pain And Suffering As A Wakeup Call

The Beatitudes give us hope that redemption, not suffering, is at journey’s end.  It is accordingly not surprising that the Bible disputes the common notion that God uses pain to draw attention to our sins.

The clearest example of this principle is found in chapter 9 of the book of John.  When Christ heals the man born blind, he answers the question of sin directly: who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind? Jesus answered:  Neither this man nor his parents sinned, …but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life (John 9:1-3 NIV)[9]As in Christ’s ministry to the blind man, the point of our pain and suffering is not to draw attention to sin but for God to build a stronger relationship with us (Yancey, p. x).

Spiritual Warfare

In the Bible, great pain accompanies great joy.  In Mathew’s account of Christ’s birth, Mary and Joseph flee in the middle of the night to Egypt to avoid King Herod’s attempt to murder the Christ child[10].  Although we love to celebrate the joy of Christmas, the original Christmas story was marred by genocide and the stench of death.  Great pain accompanies great joy[11].

Ludwig Van Beethoven

Consider the life of Ludwig Van Beethoven.  During the period when he was losing his hearing, Beethoven wrote his ninth symphony, the Choral Symphony, taking the text from Friedrich von Schiller’s poem, Ode to Joy.  On its opening night in 1824 Beethoven conducted the orchestra. The music was so beautiful that some of the musicians cried.  Yet, Beethoven heard none of it.  He was so deaf that when the symphony ended a member of the orchestra had to get up and draw Beethoven’s attention to the audience who had already begun to applaud.  Had Beethoven given into depression in his deafness rather than looked to God for inspiration, the world would have been robbed of one of its greatest musical treasures.

Beyond Pain

Just like we must look beyond the pain of crucifixion to see the joy of the resurrection, we must look beyond the suffering in our own lives to see the perfect future that is in Christ.  Just as James writes:

Consider it pure joy, my friends, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-5 NIV).

This Biblical view of pain accordingly turns the stimulus-response world of human psychology upside down.  Normal learning is disrupted because a positive response (that is, joy) follows a negative stimulus (that is, suffering).  In Christian psychology, the cross we bear always precedes the crown we wear.  This is why Paul writes: but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Words of Wisdom

In confronting pain and suffering, we are not alone.  We are not alone!  As the Apostle Paul writes:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 35-39 NIV)

Like Daniel in the lions den (Daniel 6:10-24), we testify to our faith by how we cope with pain and suffering.

Why Me?

The temptation in time of great adversity, of course, is to turn inward[13] and ask:  Why me?  The consequence of turning inward is that we end up blaming God for our problems and we become slaves to fear.

Stressful Year

During about a 12 month period in 1992-93, I lost my job, my son was born with a kidney defect, and my wife went through her first battle with breast cancer.  This was the hardest year of my life and I reacted by retreating into my work.  Out of deep seated fear, I worked every waking hour to learn new skills and to advance my career.

Initially, this approach worked.  I found a better position and was later promoted.  As time passed, however, the office situation changed.  Technical skills became less important and I found myself less able to adjust—I lacked self-confidence and fear prompted me to turn ever more inward.  It took me almost a decade before I was able to trust God enough to pull out of my shell.  While these years were not exactly wasted, I vowed before God that I would never again let myself become a slave to fear.

Where is God Leading Me?

Instead of asking why me, a better question to ask is:  where is God leading me?  Focusing on God’s plan for our lives is not only better theology; it diverts our attention away from our suffering and directly reduces our pain.  The change in attitude is also critical.  We are no longer victims of our own fears, but servants of an almighty God who are both willing and able to cope with the adversity.

An important byproduct of our own suffering is an increased capacity to minister to those suffering around us.  As the Apostle Paul wrote:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV).

The strength that we gather from a life at the foot of the cross therefore allows us to be available to those who suffer around us.  Can you listen?  Can you empathize?   In the words of Paul: Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi [14]

Lord, grant that I may seek rather

To comfort than to be comforted,

To understand than to be understood,

To love than to be loved;

For it is by giving that one receives,

It is by self-forgetting that one finds,

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven,

It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life. Amen

Benediction

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Amen.

(Romans 15:13 RSV).

 Footnotes


[1] See chapter 6 of the Book of Daniel.

[2] See chapter 6 of the Book of Daniel. Zondervan:  Grand   Rapids, Michigan.  P. 141.

[4]God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains:  it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.  Lewis.  P. 93.

[7] It is interesting that in the much shorter version of the Sermon on the Mount found in Luke 6, Luke also highlights these two among the four Beatitudes he lists.  Mathew lists nine Beatitudes.

[9] Likewise, Job learns to depend on God in adversity (McGee, pp. 188-89; Job 42:1-3 NIV).  Similarly, Paul write:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV).

[10] Mathew 2:16-18. Exodus 1:15-22.

[11] Similarly, in speaking of the second coming in Romans 8:22, Paul describes it as the pain of childbirth which is immediately sweep away by the joy of holding a newborn baby.

[13]If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!  Ecclesiastes 4:10.  Also, Cloud and Townsend, p. 216.

[14] Graham. p. 24.

References

Cloud, Henry and John Townsend.  1992. Boundaries.  Zondervan:  Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Cross, John G. and Melvin J. Guyer. 1980. Social Traps.  University of Michigan Press:  Ann Arbor. 1980.

Graham, Billy 1955. The Secret of Happiness, Garden City, NY:  Doubleday & Company, Inc.

Lewis, C.S. The Problem of Pain.  MacMillan Publishing Company:  New York.

McGee, J. Vernon.  1991. Job.  Thomas Nelson Publishers:  Nashville, TN.

Skinner, B.F. 1971. Beyond Freedom and Dignity.  New   York:  Bantam Books, Inc.

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Walking in the Wilderness, Luke 15:11-24

By Stephen W. Hiemstradesert_sign

Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, VA

Invocation

Father Almighty. Make your presence known to us here this morning. Grant us wisdom, grant us consolation. In the power of his Holy Spirit, inspire the words that are spoken and illuminate the words heard, in the precious name of Jesus, amen.

Introduction

Who here enjoys risks and uncertainty? (2X)

Unless you have a gambling habit you probably prefer stability, not risk or uncertainty. Unfortunately, life is often marked by many stressful changes.

Over the past year, I worked at Providence Hospital in Washington DC as a chaplain intern. In working with patients in the emergency department, I started seeing hospital visits as a special type of change called a transition.

A transition has three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Initially, patients come to the hospital with a problem and focus on the things that used to be. In the middle, patients receive their treatment and worry about how things will work out. In the end, almost all patients return to their old lives. At this point, the question is: what comes after the hospital?

This last question is inherently spiritual. For patients who came to the hospital because of a poor lifestyle choice, a better question is:  what will be different when you leave the hospital? (2X)

In life there are many transitions. During periods of uncertainty my prayer typically is:

Why did God bring me to this time and this place? (2X)

Scripture

The book of Exodus tells of a great transition in the history of the nation of Israel, the departure from Egypt and entry into the wilderness, and, then, the departure out of the desert and the entry into the Promised Land.

Listen to what Moses said to Pharaoh:  “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness” (Exodus 7:16 ESV) (2X). Where does Moses see the people who serve God? Ironically, it is not in Egypt, nor in the Promised Land. Rather, it is in the desert where we more often encounter God. This is because in the desert we are more likely to look for God and depend on him, exactly during these stressful periods of risk and uncertainty. It is in the middle of a transition.

Why did God bring me to this time and this place? (2X)

Jesus tells the story of a man who had two sons. The younger son came to him one day and asked for his inheritance in cash. He then left town with the money and began living with style. This reckless lifestyle did not last long and soon the young man had to get a job. Not being one to plan ahead, he was forced to accept a degrading job for Jews – feeding pigs. As the son’s mind began to wander, he began to reflect on how good things had been with his parents and he decided to return home. When his father found out he was coming, he went out to meet him and wrapped his arms around him. As the son began to apologize for his horrible behavior, his father would hear none of it. He took his son, cleaned him up, brought him some new clothes and threw him a party (Luke 15:11-24 NIV).

We all often behave like the younger son. Things must be really bad in the desert before we arrive at our senses and recognize that we need our Heavenly Father. The good news is that our Father is waiting for us, will forgive us, and will take us back into the family. Amen.

Prayer

Heavenly Father. We thank you for your care during transitions of life, but especially in times of uncertainty. In the power of your Holy Spirit, give us strength for the day and hope for the future. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

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Becoming a Spiritual Lifeguard, Mark 4:35-5:20

Photo of Stephen W. Hiemstra
Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Centreville Presbyterian Church, Centreville, VA

Invocation

Heavenly Father; God of all seasons and all times; Lord of places familiar and places unfamiliar; God of our emotions and our thinking.   In the power of your Holy Spirit silence any voice in our ears but yours.  Make your presence known to us today in the words spoken and the words heard.  In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Story of Reluctant Swimmers

In thinking about this afternoon’s message, I kept coming back to my experience in high school as a swimming instructor at Goshen Scout camps. At one point I was asked to teach a troop of special needs scouts how to swim. Talk about scary moments. The image of a lake full of drowning scouts still comes to mind.

By the end of the week, however, two of these scouts, Elmer and Freddie, had passed their swim test. Both had the swim routine down before I met them, but both also faced certain obstacles to finishing the course.

Elmer

Elmer swam the American crawl perfectly, but only in shallow water where his fingers touched the bottom. He loved to show off his great form, but in his heart of hearts he thought swimming was a scam.  He became visibly upset when I prodded him to venture into deeper water.

Freddie

Freddie swam just fine, but thought it was more fun to be rescued by the lifeguard. He would begin his swim test and swim a lap or two. Then, a great big smile would come across Freddie’s face and he would pretend to drown. I can still see the horror on the faces of those watching me as I got mad at this drowning scout—that is, until they saw Freddie stop drowning and finish his swim test.

Isn’t that so like us when hear God’s call? (2X)

Stop focusing on myself and finish the race?  Who me, Lord?

Swim into deeper waters and trust you to support me? Who me, Lord?

The moment we get over our pretensions and really appreciate how much Christ has done for us, we want to tell the whole world.  When we do, we become spiritual lifeguards.

Scriptural Background

Our scripture lesson is taken from the book of Mark who recorded what is believed to be the witness of the Apostle Peter.  The story of the healing of a man with an unclean spirit appears in the three synoptic Gospels and in each case follows the account of the storm on the Galilee [1].  Mark’s version is the longest and offers details of obvious interest to a modern reader.  The length of Mark’s account is particularly striking because Mark wrote the shortest Gospel.  Why does Mark spend twice as much time on this particular story as does Matthew or Luke? [2]  (2X)

Uniqueness of Mark’s Account

Only in Mark, for example, do we learn that the crossing of the Galilee involved multiple boats and took place in the evening (Mark 4:35-36).  The storm on the Galilee inspired fear, in part, because it happened after dark.  Nightfall might also explain why Jesus was sleeping [3].

The Man with the Unclean Spirit

Two details suggest that Mark expressed great sympathy for the man with the unclean spirit [4].

The first detail is his use of the term, unclean spirit (ἄνθρωπος ἐν πνεύματι ἀκαθάρτω (Mark 5:2 BNT)).  By contrast, Matthew starts by saying the man is demonized (δαιμονιζόμενοι (Matt 8:28 BNT)) while Luke reports that he has a demon (ἀνήρ…ἔχων δαιμόνια (Luke 8:27 BNT)) [5].  The term, unclean spirit, is less judgmental and evokes the image of ritual impurity rather than demonic manipulation.

The second detail is also unique to Mark.  Only Mark tells us that this man cuts himself with stones (κατακόπτων ἑαυτὸν λίθοις (Mark 5:5 BNT)).  In other words, he was a cutter.

What is a Cutter?

In case you have never known a cutter, a cutter is someone, usually a young person, whose emotional pain is so deep that self-induced physical pain comes as a relief.  Cutters feel abandoned by their friends and family.  Cutters are not normally suicidal although they may accidentally kill themselves.  Mark gives us a picture of a young person in unbelievable anguish which is in sharp contrast with Matthew’s image of a raging, fearsome maniac (Matt 8:28) [6].

Can you feel the pain being communicated here?  (2X) If you could heal this kid, would you take the risk to step into his messy life and do it?

Moral Ambiguity

Other details in this passage evoke less pathos but focus more on moral ambiguity.  The synoptic Gospels, for example, differ on the location of this pericope but all place the location in Gentile territory known as the Decapolis, region of ten cities.  Mark and Luke locate this story in the Gerasene while Matthew cites the area of Gadara [7]. Scholars place the location at Gergesa, a relatively unknown location on the Sea of Galilee with a steep slope. The Gerasene and Gadara locations, while better known, are not on the Sea of Galilee [8].

In summary, the location, the man’s lack of clothing, his presence in a graveyard, the presence of demons, and the local raising of pigs (Lightfoot 1979, 254) all reinforce the image of the man as ritually unclean and probably a gentile.  The idea that this man was a gentile makes sense because Apostle Peter led the church in accepting gentile ministry (Acts 10).  Peter’s leadership in accepting gentiles into the church may also explain Mark’s special interest in this story.

Jesus’ Pathos

Jesus’ pathos for the pain of this young man is obvious.  There is a sense here that the man with the unclean spirit is the personification of unrepentant sinner undergoing a difficult conversion (Garland 1996, 212).  As the Apostle Paul put it:  If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17 ESV).  Through the story of this young man, Mark has painted a picture for us of both the old self and the new self in Christ (Eph 4:20-24).

Salvation Message

What does God’s salvation look like to you?  (2X)

The Apostle Paul described salvation in these words: if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved (Romans 10:9-10 ESV).

Exodus as Salvation

For me, salvation evokes memory of the Exodus story when God rescued the people of Israel and brought them out from the land of Egypt.  Remembering the Exodus, the Prophet Isaiah writes:  But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you (Isaiah 43:1-2 ESV).

Downing as a Metaphor

Have you ever felt in over your head?  Do the waters of life leave you grasping for life-preservers that are nowhere to be found?  Do you feel like Jonah trying to run away from God and end up being thrown overboard?   Here in Mark we find the disciples in a raging storm in the middle of the night on the Galilee.

As the Psalmist  writes:  Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.  Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven (Psalm 107:28-30 ESV).

The Lifeguard

Do you see the lifeguard at work?  (2X)

Jesus simply says:  “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm (Mark 4:39 ESV).  What’s the big excitement?  Where is your faith? Jesus asks.

But what if the storm in our lives is more personal?  (2X)

Postmodern Haunting

What if we find ourselves in a strange land, surrounded by strange people, confronting death or, worse, confronting people living hollow, haunted lives?

Jesus, why are you still here?  Jesus, why do you torment me?

But our lifeguard is still on duty.  Jesus asks:  what is your name?

Name?  We have many names!  What name would you like?  Anger? Depression?  Fear? Guilt? Grief?  Humiliation? Shame?

Our lifeguard simply says—you have my permission to give them up.

Anger…(snap) gone.  Depression…(snap) gone.  Fear…(snap) gone.  Grief…(snap) gone.  Guilt…(snap) gone.  Humiliation… (snap) gone.  Shame…(snap) gone.  Gone…gone…gone…(Snap 3 X)

But what happens when the storm is over?  Jesus says:  Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you (Mark 5:19 ESV).  We are called to be witnesses of our own healing and lifeguards for those around us.

Closing Story

Let me close with another story.

A woman by the name of Debra used to live outside my office when I worked downtown in Washington.  Debra lived on the sidewalk there outside my building for seven years—longer than I had worked there.  When I was feeling all full of myself and generous, I would visit with Debra and give her lunch money.  When I was mad at the world and feeling sorry for myself, I sneak out the building so as to avoid her.  I felt the judgment of God in her presence because I was rich, warm, and well-fed while she was poor, cold, and hungry.  For this reason, I prayed that God would cure her of her mental illness and cure me of my moral cowardice [9].

Confronted with someone in pain in a morally ambiguous situation, what do you do?  (2X)

Confronted with a young man in great emotional pain, Jesus set aside his own agenda and healed him.

Prayer

Almighty God.  Father of all compassion.  Beloved son.  Holy Spirit. Thank you for your presence in our lives.  Calm the storms that plague us.  Heal us of the names that haunt us.  Make us whole people created in your image.  Help us to model your love to the people around us.  In Jesus’ mighty name, amen.

Footnotes


[1]Mark 4:35-5:20, Matthew 8:18, 23-34, and Luke 8:22-39.  Note also the allusion in Revelations Rev 21:2. In each account the man with the unclean spirit declares Jesus to be the Son of God (Matt 8:29; Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28).

[2]The word count in Greek is approximately:  Mark (472), Luke (407), and Matthew (236).  This is shocking because the Book of Mark (12, 015) is the shortest compared with Luke (20,683) and Matthew (19,474) (BNT, BibleWorks).  This implies that almost 4 percent of the Mark text is devoted to this story while less than 2 percent is devoted in either Luke or Matthew.

[3]An episode of near drowning in a boat on the Galilee evokes a dramatic image of the exodus from Egypt—a communal baptism.  Because baptism is frequently thought of as a symbolic death and resurrection (Rom 6:4) which is similar to the allusion evoked in mental illness (Foucault 1988, 16), the storm on the Galilee is thematically related to story of the demoniacs that follows.  Both are also miracle stories and display Jesus’ authority (France 2007, 333).  By contrast, Saint Jerome (1977, 163) saw an allusion to the prophet Jonah (Garland 1996, 193).  Taken together, the literary argument is implicitly from the greater to the smaller, if Jesus can command the wind and waves, he can surely cast out demons in a possessed gentile.

[4]The OT provides at least two examples of demonic possession (Judges 9:23 and 1 Sam 16:14-16), but no exorcisms. Casting out demons is a NT innovation.  ἐκβάλλω (exorcise) is frequently used in this sense in the NT, but the LXX uses this word primarily in a military sense of driving one’s enemies out.  The allusion most likely in mind for a first-century Jewish audience is:  then the LORD will drive out [ἐκβαλεῖ] all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you (Deut 11:23 NIV).  ἐκβάλλω (BDAG 2328) . The only hint of a spiritual use of the word in the LXX arises in 2 Samuel 7:23 (driving out nations and their gods), Isa 2:20 (cast away his idols), and Jeremiah 23:31 (against the prophets).

[5]Even authors that question Jesus’ divinity acknowledge that he performed exorcisms (Sanders 1993, 149-154).   Porterfield (2005, 36-37) cites John Meier writing:  What made Jesus unusual, if no unique, was not simply his role as an exorcist but rather his integration of the roles of exorcist, moral teacher, gatherer of disciples, and eschatological prophet all into one person.  She also notes that in Mark, the first even in Jesus’ public life was the healing of a possessed man (Mark 1:23-27).   The early church routinely performed exorcisms as part of the baptism ritual and exorcist was a church office, much like elder or deacon.  For example, see (Hippolytus AD 215, 21:10; Cyprian AD 250).

[6]Because Mark is thought to be recording the experiences of the Apostle Peter, is this sympathetic view of this man a reflection of the heart of the Apostle Peter for the mentally ill?

[7]France (2007, 340) reconciles this discrepancy citing Josephus (Life, 42) who places Gerasene within the jurisdiction of Gadara—a Roman stronghold .  This is more subtle way to make a political inference than naming the demons:  Legion (the name of a Roman military unit).  Later manuscript variants explicitly substitute the Gerasene for Gadara in the Matthew account suggesting that the inference may have been too subtle for a gentile audience to pick up.

[8]Schnabel (2004, 255-256) writes:  Gergesa is identified with ancient Chorsia and located near ruins of modern Tel el-Kurst (Kersa) situated on Wadi Sermakh on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, an area that belonged to the Decapolis.  Near Tel el-Kursi there is a steep slope toward to the lake….A localization in Gergesa, a small and insignificant settlement, could well have been changed by a copyist in West to the well-known city “Gerasa,”  which copyists in the East would have “corrected” to “Gadara.”

[9] Foucault (1988, 26) sees mental illness as a metaphor for death (p. 16) and as a mirror on society.

References

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Ed. Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. <BibleWorks. v.8.>.

BibleWorks. Norfolk: BibleWorks, LLC., 2011. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Cyprian.  Epistle XVI. Translated By Ernest Wallis.  Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. ANF5.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.  In BibleWorks, V.8. AD 250.

Foucault, Michel.  1988.  Madness and Civilization:  A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York:  Vintage Books.

France, R.T.  2002. The Gospel of Mark.  New International Greek Testament Commentary.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

France, R.T.  2007. The Gospel of Matthew.  New International Commentary on the New Testament.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Garland, David E.  1996.  The NIV Application Commentary:  Mark.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Hippolytus.  The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome. Translated by Kevin P. Edgecomb.  Cited:  31 March 2010.  Online:  http://www.bombaxo.com/hippolytus.html, AD 215.

Jerome.  Commentaire Sur S. Matthieu (398).  Translated from Latin into French by Emile Bonnard.  Paris:  École Normale Supérieure, 1977.

Josephus.  Life of Flavius Josephus.  1:42. In BibleWorks, V.8.

Lightfoot, John.  1979. A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica Matthew – I Corinthians (1859).  Vol. 1.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House.

Porterfield, Amanda.  2005. Healing in the History of Christianity.  New York:  Oxford University Press.

Sanders, E.P.  1993.  The Historical Figure of Jesus.  New York: Penguin Books.

Schnabel, Eckhard J.  2004.  Early Christian Mission.  Downers Grove:  InterVarsity Press.

Becoming a Spiritual Lifeguard,

Mark 4:35-5:20

Also see:

Prayer for Shalom 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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