“A Sense of History” Mark 5:21-43

Some days you have a sense of history.

Having just come back from vacation, part and parcel of visiting any new place is to get a sense of its history, what are the forces that have made this place the way it is?

So you cannot visit Halifax, Nova Scotia without understanding that it was “New Scotland.”  It was a place shaped by the sea, and proud military tradition, its history of being a waystation for military forces, from the early days of the Revolutionary War to the pivotal roll it played in WW1 and WW2 for the Atlantic convoys.

You also can’t understand the culture there without learning about the “Explosion of Halifax” in 1917, the largest explosion in the history of humankind up until the development of the atomic bomb, and the devastation wrought.

You have a sense of history, this is what shaped this place, and you wonder what life must have been like for those people who had to live through those events of the past.

In the gospel for this day, we are given a glimpse into a moment in time, a sense of history.  This is a carefully constructed and tightly balanced story meant to give us a feel for that time.

The events revolve around two women, one with an infirmity that has excluded her from community for 12 years.

Another, who is just about to enter the community, nearing puberty, also 12 years, but who may not ever get there because of her illness.

And thrown into this mix are the details of Jesus now coming back from gentile territory, back amongst his own people, surrounded by crowds, sought out by a synagogue leader because of the controversial healing he had done there earlier.

We get this “slice of the moment” of that day.

We can sense the desperation of a parent wanting to save his daughter.

We can experience through this woman with the blood flow both the desperation to be healed, for she’s  spent everything on doctors who have only made her worse; and the sense of despair of her knowing that there is no way she can simply come to Jesus, as Jairus has done, and just ask, given her unclean condition.

We get the details of a crowd that is confused about what to make of this. We have disciples who think Jesus is crazy for stopping.  We get a “moment of truth” face down between Jesus and the woman when she comes clean and confesses, and wonder what Jesus’ response will be?

We get the grief and agony of things poorly timed.  The news, “Your daughter is dead, why trouble the teacher any further?”

We get the disbelief and dismissiveness of mourners who laugh at Jesus when he says “she’s only sleeping.”

We get the shock of our lives when the unbelievable happens, and Jesus calls the little girl back to life, and then does the equivalent of saying, “give her a cookie” at the end.  Life goes on, make sure the poor girl has something to eat.

This is a moment in time, a slice of history, and we are given the opportunity to enter into it through Mark’s Gospel, where we can turn it over and look at it from various sides, making sense of it as best we can.

We know that at the center of this story is Jesus.

Jesus is moving.

Jesus is acting and directing things.

But, we also recognize that Jesus is also being acted upon.  He finds himself having to respond, and really, make up a few things as he goes along here.   His intention to help Jairus is interrupted by the woman in need.

For me, that is the gospel, the “good news” in all of this.

I could spend all day analyzing what I think each of the characters in this story might have been thinking, feeling, experiencing.   There is value in that for it lets you enter the story.

But in the end, what I really get is a sense of this moment in time; and an assurance that Jesus is sometimes mysteriously and sometimes clearly in the middle of it all as it unfolds.

That is good news for me this week, because my friends, it has been quite a past couple of weeks!   Some days you have an opportunity to live into history, and to experience it as it unfolds, and to ponder what this moment will mean for you.  Just look at the slice of history into which we are privileged to experience together, to “live into.”

We have mourned the loss of our own in the events of Charleston, where an ELCA Lutheran entered Mother Emmanuel AME and shot and killed nine people, one of whom was a pastor who had been trained at our ELCA Southern seminary. They were shot in the middle of a bible study.

We ask, “How could this be?”

We look at the pictures of Dylan Roof holding that confederate flag, and think to ourselves of the other pictures that must be out there.  There must be pictures of him at bible camp.  There must be pictures of him at the annual Christmas program, VBS, and at his confirmation.

Pictures of one who attended our sister church, and who attended Sunday school using our curriculum, and who had heard the story of Jesus and yet still somehow succumbed to another message than that of the Gospel.

We feel in these events the weight of the truth of John’s Gospel, where Jesus commented to Nicodemus, “And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.”

We wonder aloud what could have been done, and then in the midst of that wonder what it is that we need to do right now ourselves?

We have watched how in the wake of this event how the old sin of racism raised its ugly head and revealed itself to us, and through us.  We are living into a time when old symbols are being rejected, or battled over, or poo-pooed by those who currently enjoy stations of privilege in our society.  We are made poignantly aware of the truth that we regularly proclaim here in worship.  We are indeed “in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”

We have watched as healing words were spoken, and challenges were made, and we marveled at a community that could open its arms to our Bishop to be there to mourn and grieve with them, recognizing we all need to come together.

We have been eye-witness to two Supreme Court decisions that have changed the landscape of the nation.

Health care really is a fundamental right, and not just a privilege for those who can afford to pay.

Marriage equality under the law is now the law of the land, so that those who lived under the tyranny of being second class status and the uncertainty that it brought with it can now breathe free, at least on the note of legal recognition.

We are, in short, living into history, and like the events of the Gospel, it is a bit uncomfortable.

For some there is great rejoicing at what has taken place.

For others, there is disappointment and confusion and difficulty.

Still others are bewildered at how any of this really changes anything.  How it affects them, or how to respond to it all.

I would really like a world where things are clear.

I would really like a world where injustice was easy spot, easy to address, and where my own complacency, collusion in it, or culpability could be dismissed or absolved.

Make it easy for me, would you Jesus?

But in this slice of history that we have from the Gospel of Mark, it is clear that the presence of Jesus does not bring suddenly clarity.

If anything, it brings more confusion.

How can the dead be raised to life?

How can the one who has no right to touch his clothing be rewarded and restored, while the disciples are left out of the conversation?

How could Jesus assent to the privileged, go with Jairus without question, given the reception he’d had at the synagogue earlier?   Wouldn’t Jesus have been entitled to a little rubbing of the nose?  We surely would have wanted our pound of flesh before doing any favors for a synagogue leader we know is plotting to kill us!

These are the mysteries of what it is to have Jesus walking with you.

No one is in lock-step in these stories, all have to figure out what to do with the events, the actions, and the reactions of God to the events as they unfold.

Everyone is trying to figure out as best they can what this grace of God that now walks amongst us is all about, and how it works.  Where it calls us to partner with it in action, and where we have only to accept it and let it flow over us.

This is the good news when you are living into history, or living in historic times.

There comes to us in this Gospel story the assurance that somehow Jesus is striding with us on the road, and into the house, and across the sea, urging us always just a little bit further than we are comfortable, and meeting us in our need, pressing us with questions, and surprising us with resurrection.

It’s been quite a couple of weeks, and Jesus has been in them.

Sometimes we see him plainly.

Other times, I’m still trying to figure out what he’s doing, as I’m constantly surprised by his actions and really have to wonder at what he is thinking.

This week I’m just content to trust that Jesus is walking with us.

This week, I’m curiously comforted by that, and also with that last little promise and directive.  “Give her something to eat.”

Life goes on, for all of us, and we all have miles to go.

So, “Go have a donut.”  Make sure you’ve got something to eat, the journey ahead as we walk with Jesus together will be long, and full of surprises, and resurrections, and challenges

Holy Trinity John 3:1-17

We start today with a quote from Martin Luther.  “To try to deny the Trinity, endangers your salvation, to try to comprehend the Trinity endangers your sanity.”

That being said, we still have to do something with Holy Trinity Sunday that rolls around every year after Pentecost.  Preaching on this day presents something of a quandary.

Do I take this opportunity to examine the Trinity, and risk, as Luther points out, driving us all crazy?   Lord knows I’ve gotten lost in a whole pile of illustrations that try to explain the Trinity and how it functions, what it is like.  We try to make comparisons with things that are at the same time different and yet the same, water, steam, ice; a Father, who can also be a Grandfather and at the same time a Grandson.   All those three in one images, I’m not sure I want to contribute to the confusion!

On the other hand, I can’t just dismiss this day, deny the gift of the “Three In One” and move on without acknowledging something about it.

What to do?

Fortunately the Gospel lesson today gives us a key for tuning in to the gift of the Trinity, although it’s not found in what you might think.

This text does lend itself to talking about God as a parent, Spirit, and Son, but that’s not where I want to go. I want you to pay attention to the conversation.

Jesus and Nicodemus are talking to each other.   Pay attention, not so much to what is said, as to how often the two seem to be struggling to be understood.   Much of the time they seem to be speaking past each other!

Nicodemus comes prepared to ask Jesus some questions.  He has an agenda with the one that he knows is “from God.”

I can resonate with that.  There are times in my life when I have some hard questions I would like to pose to God.  Why this?   What was that about?    We never find out what Nicodemus’ questions are, because Jesus takes the initiative by starting to talk about the Kingdom and how one sees it, or perhaps more appropriately, what keeps one from seeing it!  “No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.”

The rest of the conversation then revolves around Nicodemus being befuddled.

“How can these things be?”   He asks.

Nicodemus seems to be lost in this swirl of Jesus, the Son; God the one who gives the ability to be born from above; and the Spirit that blows where it wills.    Nicodemus keeps trying to grab hold of some shred of understanding drawn from his experience in this world.    “Can one enter the womb a second time?”

Jesus, on the other hand, is trying his best to deliver a word of revelation to this teacher of Israel.   “We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen…”

Here Nicodemus, listen, I’ve been above, and I’m trying to tell you straight out that you have to attend to a relationship!  You must be born from above!  You must receive the Son wh has been sent from God.

“If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you of heavenly things?”

Here is the clue to what we need to be reminded of on Holy Trinity Sunday.

We won’t figure this Trinity thing out.

Jesus doesn’t even try to explain it, and even if we did figure it out, it wouldn’t really help us to be any closer to God.

The gift of the Trinity is about relationship.

The Holy Trinity isn’t so much something to be explained, as it is something to be experienced.

It isn’t so much a technical way of looking at God, as it is a practical observation of the way it is that God comes to us.

This is what Jesus is pushing toward as he talks to Nicodemus.  He is talking about an experience.  “You must be born from above.”    You must re-arrange your thinking about who and whose you are.

In Jesus and Nicodemus day, one’s life was determined by the familial lines into which one was born.  Family lines were everything.

Born a Levite, and you will be destined to serve in the temple one day.

Born a descendant of David, and you might be the one through whom the

Royal Line will be restored.

Born to a pauper, a pauper you will remain.

Born a shepherd, and your lot will be with the sheep and the goats.

Birth determined everything, and so what Jesus is proposing here is something radical.  Your earthly birth is not what determines your life.

“You must be born form above.”   It is your relationship with God that forms, shapes and transforms you!

Sometimes Jesus words here are crudely translated “you must be born again”, and that phrase has gotten a bad rap with Lutherans because it seems to imply that it is an experience that we initiate.  We hear people talk about their “born again” experiences, and in other faith traditions there are re-baptisms to signify the new life starting.   What those traditions get right is the experience side of things.

But self-determination is not what Jesus has in mind as he speaks.  He is talking about the activity of God toward humankind.  We are no more able to initiate being born from above than we were able to initiate our physical birth on our own from our mother’s womb.  We were acted upon, we were pushed and shoved and emerged finally a new, living being.

So it is here, with God’s work in the Spirit, we are being acted upon.  We are being pushed and shoved by God until we emerge as the living beings God desires us to be!

We have been born from above because God has become active in this world and in our lives.  We are the fruit of God’s labor, and it is God who determines who and whose we are!

This was a radical idea in Jesus’ day.  Into a world that ordered itself based on birth, Jesus was saying the earthly birth stuff doesn’t matter anymore.  It is another  birth – the one that God does to you, that makes you who you are and who you will be!   “You must be born from above!”

The question then is “How do we experience this new birth?”  The same question Nicodemus has, and this is where the “dance of the trinity” begins to make sense.

Sometime that sense of a new life comes to you in the powerful sense of God the Father who cares and watches over you.  You might feel most connected to the God of majesty, power and might.   The God of power is awfully good to have around when you need courage, bolstering, and the authority to act.   This God of limitless power is the one you want to lean upon in troubled times, or when you are in danger, or when the world seems to conspire against you.

At other times, such an understanding of a God of limitless power terrifies!  Who are you that a God of power and might should even notice you?

At times like those it is a comfort to see the face of God in Jesus, the Son.  This is the one who knows us, who comes as one of us, who lives as one of us and who calls us “brother” or “sister.”  Here you are able to experience that familial connection to God.  You might need to hear the words of Jesus that call us back into relationship, and that can offer guidance and connection.

Still again, it might be that what you need to feel is the power and presence of your connection to the God in the gentle whisper of the Spirit.

In the way a song moves you to tears or to joy…,

In the righteous indignation that drives you to act or to speak….

In the opened heart that prompts you to care and to give…,

God the Spirit moves, and moves you.  You have a sense that the things you are doing, or are able to do, is not really just you at all, but God at work in you.  You do this because you belong to God, and you know this in your very bones.

This is what the gift of the Trinity is all about.

It is God coming to you, in the way you need God to come right now, so that you will understand, experience God’s love and claim upon you, and become the child of God that God has in mind for you to be.

Trinity is not so much something to be understood from the outside, or to be explained.

It is rather something to be experienced.

You belong to God, and because you belong to God, you have been born for God’s own Kingdom.  You live and work and do the things that are in keeping with God’s intent for God’s Kingdom at work in this world.

You are not so much lost in the swirl of these three personages of God, as wrapped up in them.

You can feel their immediacy.

You can sense God coming to you in the way you need God at right this particular moment to remind you of who and whose you are.

This is the mystery of the Trinity.  It has to do with what God the Father, and the Son in Christ Jesus and by the power of the Spirit has already done in you.

God has made you his own dear child in Baptism, you have been born from above. You know HH who you are, and whose you are.

Nicodemus comes with his questions, and so do we from time to time.   But rather than bringing our questions, it may be time to simply attend to our relationship.   We may better understand this mystery of the trinity if we asked fewer questions trying to figuring it all out, and instead simply began living into being the child of God and heir of the Kingdom that God has already made of us.