Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sermon for Sept 23, 2012; Mark 9:30-37

Rev. George Miller
Mark 9:30-37
“Welcoming the Lord”
Sept 23, 2012

(This sermon is done in character)

There is a story I heard not so long ago. It goes like this: one day the local rabbi came upon Elijah the prophet and asked him “When will the Messiah come?”

Elijah responded “Why don’t you ask him yourself?” “Where is he?” the rabbi asked.

“Sitting at the gates of the city, among the sick covered in wounds and those who are struggling in their daily lives.”

The rabbi went down to the gates of the city and he asked “When is the master coming?”

To which he received this response “Today. He will come today if you welcome Him into your home and listen to His voice.” (liberally adapted from Talmund story told by Henri Nouwen in The Wounded Healer, pp81-82, 94-95)

Allow me tell you about the day the Messiah entered into the home of me and my family.

My name is Ishmael. I am a fisherman, as was my father, as was his father before him.

It is not an easy job to do. I rise before the sun to prepare the nets; I work under extreme weather conditions and I am not done until way after dark.

Sometimes the catch is plenty; sometimes we go days without anything to show for it.

Our livelihood depends on many things: the weather, the location and the market’s price.

I have had days of plenty and days of never enough.

Yet, this is what I do, it is who I am.

I have a wife, named Deborah. We were married when I was 15 and she was at the proper age of 13.

Times were much better back then. Fish were plenty and so we had a huge wedding complete with an abundance of food and wine; friends and family came all over for the 3 day celebration.

Our first year of marriage was bliss. I’d go out in the morning with my father and we’d work all day, filling our nets with plenty of fish.

I’d come home and make love to my wife and we were happy. Looking back I think of how young we truly were.

Then after the first year things began to change. People kept asking us when we were going to have a child.

We told them we did not know; and though we were content, we could feel the building judgment by the others.

See, in our village it is seen as a blessing to have children; the more you have the more you are considered to be blessed.

Yet the irony is that children themselves are looked down by society. Especially those who are our Greco-Roman neighbors.

For them children are considered to be on the lowest rung; basically property to work the land or to marry off for a dowry.

The first year people kept asking when we were going to have a child. By the second and third year people acted as if we had something wrong with us.

We visited the doctors; we sought counsel from the Temple priests. We tried every herb, potion and prayer you can think of, to no avail.

By the fourth year we heard the gossiping tones of others who assumed that we must have been horrible sinners; that we must have done something to displease our God.

Yes, their words added strain to our lives, but they never affected the affection we felt for one another.

Then, just as we had resigned ourselves to a childless life, Deborah came to me with the miraculous news: she was pregnant.

Suddenly life changed. Our neighbors were back to being hospitable with us. They came over with foods and herbs to help make the pregnancy easier.

The day came, and Deborah gave birth to a beautiful child; a baby girl that we named Elianna.

Our miracle child. And we were happy.

The sea was filled with plenty of fish. Our home was complete. Our daughter grew healthy and strong.

As was our custom, we promised her to the neighbor’s son, a good boy five years older then her. We knew that he would take good care of her when the proper time came for them to be married.

But until then, she was our daughter and we loved her.

Then things took a turn. The sea seemed to become less plentiful.

It affected the prices of things; even when we did have a big catch we would only get a percent of what we used to.

This persisted for years. I’d work longer hours to only make less then before.

Still, I loved my Deborah and we loved our little miracle, Elianna.

But soon we, like many others in our village, were faced with some difficult decisions. How were we to survive financially if the economy did not rebound?

Some of our neighbors started taking drastic steps: they began marrying off their daughters at a younger and younger age.

Instead of waiting for them to be 13, some were 12, others 11, others as young as 10.

For the hungry families it meant one less mouth to feed and a little bit more money coming in from the dowry.

We thought about Elianna. By this time she was 11. Still very much a child. We watched her play with the other girls.

How they’d laugh and sing, play run and hide or act out stories from our ancestors. How innocent, how young, how free.

How could we force her to enter into an adult world so soon?

Yet our Gentile neighbors seemed to have no problem. Some of them married off their young girls; others sold them, pawned them off, or even killed them. It was all allowable under the Greco-Roman rule.

I could never do any of those things, but marriage, especially to a boy I knew to be fine and respectable, started to seem like a possibility.

When I talked about this with Deborah she would whine and wail, saying our precious daughter was way too young.

I did not know what to do.

Then one day, we had an unexpected guest join us for dinner.

A few of my fishing companions had been hanging out with this guy. They said that his name was Jesus and he had a gift of healing, teaching and transforming lives.

Some even went so far as to claim he was the long-desired Messiah, come to set us free from life’s burdens.

I found that hard to believe as it appeared to me that they were still struggling day to day as I did.

Then one night I heard a commotion outside our dwelling. It was Peter, James and John along with about 9 other men, and they were following a guy I assumed to be this fellow Jesus.

They were arguing over something stupid, as men often do. This time it was over who was the greatest of them.

I thought “If this is what Jesus’ people talk about then he can’t be much of a Messiah.”

Here I am, debating if I should give my 11 year old child into marriage and these guys are having a testosterone fueled bull match over who is the best of them all.

I walked away from the window, but then I heard a rapping on the door. It was Peter with his padres.

“Friend!” he exclaimed. “It is good to see you. We were hoping we could stay here for the night.”

I turned to Deborah who had “that look” on her face, but we knew that in our community it was wrong to deny hospitality to anyone.

So we welcomed them in.

Peter introduced us to everyone, saving Jesus for last. When we shook hands, I noticed there was a gentleness mixed with an inner strength; the kind that comes from a confident, compassionate man.

There was something calming and reassuring about his grip and the way he looked at me, as if he had known me forever.

Deborah welcomed them with glasses of wine but apologized that there was not a lot of food in the household.

Jesus calmly stated “No need to worry, I am sure that there will be enough.”

Filled with excitement about having guests in the home, Elianna ran over to them and sat besides Jesus’ feet. She had a little doll that she offered him to hold, which Jesus did.

With a bit of a smile, he turned to his men. “So, he said, “Tell me what you all were arguing about on our way over from Galilee?”

The men were silent. A hush like I had never heard filled the household. Even the lids of Deborah’s pot were silent.

“Busted!” I thought to myself.

I waited for Jesus to reprimand them and put them in their well-deserved place. Instead, Jesus sat down beside our little miracle, taking the posture of a teacher.

In a voice clearly reserved for parents, he said to these arguing, grown men, “Come here. If you really want to be first, you have to humble yourself and be servant of all.”

He then gently picked up Elianna, stood her before all of them. Then, wrapping an arm around her, Jesus said “Do you see this precious little one? Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me. And who ever welcomes me is welcoming God.”

The men were awestruck, as was I; as was Deborah, who dropped a ladle on the floor.

Elianna just glowed and glimmered.

“Whoever welcomes one such child welcomes God.” It was as if the answer to our dilemma had come in the most unexpected of ways.

Here we were ready to marry off our daughter like a commodity, when this Jesus, this stranger comes into our home and with deep understanding reminds us of the simple truth: she is yet a child.

She is still young, innocent, wide eyed, and full of potential. And that is a gift to be celebrated, not to be rushed or discarded.

After the affect of what Jesus had said and done wore off, the conversations turned to many other things, things I don’t remember so much right now.

What I recall is what he said, how he said it, and how it made me, as Elianna’s father, feel so proud.

It felt as if indeed the Lord, the Messiah, had entered into our household and our day.

Deborah served a fine meal that day with nothing more then bread, wine, bits of fish and almond cakes, but I tell you, it was one of the best meals we ever ate.

After that day, things began to feel a bit better. For one thing, it seemed as if Deborah’s jar of oil and flour never ran out. Each day there was a bit of fish to put on the plate.

We did not have a lot, but what we had was enough.

After that day we decided that Elianna was indeed too young to be married. That the day would come when she would be given, as promised, to the neighbor’s son.

That together the two would make a good couple and good parents. But not now, not for another 2 years, not until she truly became a maiden ready to be married.

Until then, she would be a child. Our child. Free to run, free to play, free to imagine. Free to fill our home with laughter and stories and songs.

We never saw Jesus again. Next thing we heard was that he was heading towards Jerusalem. We were immediately worried about him, for we knew Jerusalem was the place known for murdering their propjets.

That no one who spoke openly of humility and acceptance would be welcome in a town overrun with corruption from both its religious and political leaders.

Sure enough, we got word about what happened to him. How Jesus was accused of treason, of speaking blasphemous words; that he spoke as one with an authority only reserved for God.

We all heard the news of how he was arrested and interrogated, how he was nailed to the cross and left to die.

That was a particularly hard weekend for our little miracle; when she heard the news, Elianna clutched to her doll tighter, as if doing so would perhaps bring him back to life.

Then we began to hear odd, strange stories; people claiming that Jesus was still alive. People on the street and in their homes were experiencing encounters with Jesus in which he broke bread and spoke with them.

People began to proclaim that Jesus was alive and that it was God who had raised him; that the innocent had been vindicated and a new time of peace had entered into the world.

At first Deborah and I were skeptical about these stories, but we began hearing them more and more; and we ourselves began recounting our very own personal experience with Jesus.

How he entered into out home; how he brought with him a word of hope; and how he pronounced that anyone who welcomed our daughter was welcoming God.

How it seemed that ever since that day we always had just what we needed; how our daughter has been able to remain with us even during these tough times.

Soon we began to gather with others who had experienced of Jesus. We met in one another’s homes.

We shared stories, we sung songs, we broke bread, we began to realize the work he had begun in us we were called to do for others.

So we all began to pool our resources together, to give to those more in need, to speak out against wrongs we saw, and to celebrate the things that were right.

And our daughter, our miracle baby, is growing into such a strong girl, soon to be a woman. Lately we notice how she and her friends like to play games in which they act out stories featuring women of faith.

Like Sarah who with Abraham leaves everything behind to follow the call of the Lord. Or they’ll take turns playing tambourines, pretending they are Miriam singing about how God has lead them across the Red Sea.

Or they’ll reenact the story of the lady at the well who met Jesus and found out he was the true living water.

Of course, Elianna’s favorite story is when she reenacts the day Jesus came into our home and taught the arguing men that the key to heavenly greatness is to welcome a child, just like her.

That’s when Elianna beams and Deborah and I are filled with so much love.

In conclusion, the ways of the world are still not easy. Money is still tight; the seas are not as generous as they once were, every month we still have pennies to pinch.

But Jesus reminded us that no child is a commodity, but a precious gift; to be honored and respected. They rejuvenate our spirit and give us hope for the future.

Because of this we have decided that for Elianna’s sake we will do whatever it takes to keep her a child as long as we can, even if its eating fish head soup every day.

Because if Jesus, the one who was crucified, and the one who was risen, could show compassion and care, if he could find value in her, then so must we.

We have discovered that a life of faith is no longer waiting for the Messiah to appear.

A life of faith is finding a way each and every day to welcome the Messiah into our lives and into our heart, and to realize that it can often happen in the most unexpected of ways.

For that we can say Hallelujah and for that we can say Amen.

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