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Archive for February, 2012

At the end of Sunday’s sermon, the one about Jesus cleansing a leper, I referred to my tenth grade yearbook picture. Several people have asked to see it, and although it pains me to post it (I’ve saved it under the file name “Yikes!”) here it is, along with the last few paragraphs of the sermon. Be gentle.

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Last week some of my old classmates from Sherman High School in Seth, West Virginia, caught up with me on Facebook.  They were happy to find me.  They didn’t know what had happened to me.  And they have been very, very kind.  But as I looked through some of the yearbook pictures they had posted on that site I began to realize why they hadn’t heard from me: those two years at Sherman were some of the most painful in my memory. 

My dad, as I’ve told you, was a kind of missionary to the desperately poor in that county and I felt like a missionary kid.  We lived in a house with no running water and no indoor plumbing, which meant that I went to school most days looking kind of rumpled and smelling sort of…unwashed.  And I was a little kid!  I went to high school a year early and didn’t get my growth spurt until two years later.  I was about five feet two with teeth that seemed way too big for my mouth and the worst haircut I’ve ever had in my life.  When I looked through those yearbook pictures I remembered those tall, handsome, confident boys, and those pretty, outgoing, giggly girls, and suddenly there I was, looking like a scared rabbit, trying to hide my face under my crooked bangs when the photographer took the picture.     

When I look closely I can almost see the pain in those eyes. 

But I would guess that I’m not the only one in this room who had that kind of experience in high school.  In fact, there may be a third of you who don’t have your yearbook picture hanging on the wall at home.  Those are such vulnerable years, and we feel so tender; one unkind word can cut us to the quick.  “If you want to you can make me clean,” the leper says to Jesus, and maybe all he really means is, “If you want to you can save me from being a social outcast, you can bring me into the community, you can help me find a place.”  And Jesus says, “I want to,” and then he reaches out and touches the leper.  Who knows how long it had been since anyone offered to do that?  But in that moment, in that action, his leprosy is cured.  He is made clean.  Jesus told him not to say anything about it but he couldn’t help himself. 

It was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

Think about those people, not only in high school but in every church, who have trouble fitting in, who are almost terrified to visit a Sunday school class where everybody already knows everybody, and where there aren’t any available seats.  Think about how hard it is for some people to walk up the front steps of this church for the first time, not knowing if they will be made to feel welcome or turned away at the door.  Think about those people who have failed at life, who have lost a job, who have been divorced; people who are struggling hard and who need a home; people who have been pushed to the fringes of society because in one way or another they have become “unclean.” In this first chapter of his Gospel I think Mark is being very deliberate in showing us three different things that have no place in God’s kingdom: 1) evil, 2) illness, and 3) exclusion.  Jesus takes his stand against all of these.  He drives out the unclean spirits (vss. 21-28), he cures those who are sick (vss. 29-39), and he welcomes the outcasts (vss. 40-45).  And when he does those things God’s kingdom comes, and God’s will is done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

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Originally posted on CNN Belief Blog:

Editor’s Note: Kerry Egan is a hospice chaplain in Massachusetts and the author of “Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief, and Spiritual Renewal on the Camino de Santiago.”

By Kerry Egan, Special to CNN

As a divinity school student, I had just started working as a student chaplain at a cancer hospital when my professor asked me about my work.  I was 26 years old and still learning what a chaplain did.

“I talk to the patients,” I told him.

“You talk to patients?  And tell me, what do people who are sick and dying talk to the student chaplain about?” he asked.

I had never considered the question before.  “Well,” I responded slowly, “Mostly we talk about their families.”

“Do you talk about God?

“Umm, not usually.”

View original 1,042 more words

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I have one of those big study Bibles that includes the Apocrypha, although we Baptists don’t read that part of the Bible very often.  It’s more of a Catholic thing, since Catholics include those books in the canon of Holy Scripture.  Us?  If we look at them at all it’s often only to marvel at the strange things you can find in there (not that there aren’t a lot of strange things in the 66 books we include in our canon.  Just take a look at Ezekiel sometime).  But since I probably bought the big study Bible to impress people, and since it looks more impressive with the added bulk of the Apocrypha, well…there it is.

But this morning when I was finishing up my devotional reading I thumbed through that part of the book, and stumbled on this interesting wedding night prayer.  It’s from the Book of Tobit, chapter 8, verses 4b-7, and it’s offered in unusual circumstances. Tobias wants to marry this girl named Sarah, see?  She is “sensible, brave, and very beautiful.”  There’s only one problem: she has married seven men and each of them died in the bridal chamber.  Things don’t look good for Tobit.  But he asks for her hand anyway, brave lad that he is, and when he goes into the bridal chamber he puts the heart and liver of a fish on the glowing embers of the incense in the room.  It gives off such a stink that it drives the evil spirit (the one that was killing all of Sarah’s husbands) to the remotest parts of Egypt, but Tobias’ guardian angel–Raphael–follows and binds the demon hand and foot, just so it won’t do any more mischief.

Now, you would think that this would be the end of it, but Tobias isn’t taking any chances.  Before he gets into bed with his new bride, Sarah, he invites her to join him in prayer.  I’ve printed the prayer below, and I think it’s one of those things every couple could pray on their wedding night, and maybe should, just to keep the evil spirits away (wink). 

Tobias began by saying:
‘Blessed are you, O God of our ancestors,
   and blessed is your name in all generations for ever.
Let the heavens and the whole creation bless you for ever.
You made Adam, and for him you made his wife Eve
   as a helper and support.
   From the two of them the human race has sprung.
You said, “It is not good that the man should be alone;
   let us make a helper for him like himself.”
I now am taking this kinswoman of mine,
   not because of lust,
   but with sincerity.
Grant that she and I may find mercy
   and that we may grow old together.’
And they both said, ‘Amen, Amen.’
Then they went to sleep for the night.

And when they woke up the next morning, they were both still alive.  How’s that for the power of prayer?

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Years ago I read a book by Ferrol Sams called Run with the Horsemen, in which he describes this scene from a small-town barbershop:  “Once Mr. Sam Percy was waiting his turn on a Saturday morning for a haircut and shave.  He was making detailed anatomical comments about each and every female who walked down the street or across the courthouse square.  Finally one young girl hove into view, and Mr. Sam was silent.  Mr. Lum Thornton loudly remarked, ‘Now there’s a fine one!’ [and went on to describe the finer points of her anatomy in graphic detail].  “‘Dammit, Lum,’ complained Mr. Sam Percy, ‘Watch your mouth.  That’s my daughter.’  Mr. Isaac Harte flipped his brush around the neck of the current customer, creating a cloud of talcum powder.  ‘Sam,’ he said softly, ‘ever one of them girls was somebody’s daughter.’” 

That’s just the truth, isn’t it?  Every woman is somebody’s daughter, somebody’s mother, somebody’s wife, and if you can remember that it will help you think of her in a different way.  When you lust after anyone—male or female—you turn that person into a thing, into an object of lust.  Which reminds me of the way some people practice evangelism.  Instead of seeing non-Christians as precious children of God they see them as “souls to be saved.”   Is that any different from looking at a woman and seeing only a body—looking at a person and seeing only a soul? 

I was talking about this to someone who was getting ready to go to a Muslim country as a missionary.  I said, “Please just love those people like God loves them.  Get to know them.  Chop vegetables with them in their kitchens, notice how they put their children to bed, watch the way they move when the music is good, learn the sound of their laughter.  If you form real relationships with them, simply because you want to get to know them and not because you’re trying to convert them, there will be plenty of opportunities to share your faith.  But don’t “use” your friendship to convert them to Christianity.  Just be a Christian friend.”

Now, that may not sound very “strategic” to you, but to me it sounds more like love and less like lust.  It sounds like a way of seeing people as people, and not only as souls.  You see, I don’t think God gave his only begotten son begotten because he loves souls; I think he gave his only begotten son because he loves people.

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