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Monday, January 23, 2017

The God Who Stops (Luke 8:43-48)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

          In the sermons, we are in the midst of seeking to see and know more of God.  God is like an ice berg; all we see of God is what is above the surface of the water.  There is immeasurably more of God that is beyond our vision just as the iceberg is bigger beneath the surface.
          So, we have set out on a quest.  We’re on a journey into the unknown – the depths of who God is.  We are invited by God to step onto this path.  To step toward God.  God calls us to seek Him and know Him.
This morning, our quest takes a different turn.  Last week with Job, we pondered the vastness of God.  However, lest we be overwhelmed, we landed at a spot where we saw that God made each of us with intention.

We are created for relationship!  We, humans, are created with a specific purpose.  We exist to be in relationship with God.  There is more to be said about each of us as individuals.  We have each our particular tastes and talents, appetites and aptitudes.  We each have our own stories.  But the link that holds us together no matter who we are, where we are from, or what our story has been is the ‘why.’  The primary reason for your existence and for my existence is relationship with God.  Everything in our lives eventually comes to an end except that relationship.  Our eternity is lived out in terms of how we relate to God, either adopted by him as we received his salvation in this life, or eternally apart from him as we rejected him as Lord in this life.  Either way, our eternal existence is defined by our relationship or lack thereof with the Almighty God.
          This morning we will try to understand this God that calls us into relationship.  There are many kinds of relationships and not all are good ones.  In the movie Shawshank Redemption, when Andy Dufresne first arrives as an inmate at Shawshank prison in the state of Maine, Warden Norton welcomes Dufresne and the other new prisoners.  The warden says, “Your soul belongs to God; your butt belongs to me.”  There is a relationship between the warden and the prisoners.  In that relationship, the warden, through his guards, abuses the prisoners violently.  The prisoners cower before the warden. The warden gives commands.  The prisoners shine the warden’s shoes, clean his office, and do whatever else he orders.  The warden is so all-powerful that even when evidence comes to light that would exonerate Andy Dufresne, the warden steps in. Through murder and lies, he keeps an innocent man in prison so that the innocent man will continue to live as his slave. 
          God, infinitely more powerful than Warden Norton, could have that kind of relationship with us.  I sometimes hear theologians insist that in order for God to be God, God must be good.  That’s a fallacy.  God could be God and be cruel.  We would have no power to resist.  What signs are there that the relationship God created us for is a good thing – good for us?  How do we know God is good?  To get at this, over the next two weeks we are going to look at Jesus, God in human flesh.  How he relates gives us an indication of the kind of relationship God created us to be in.  By looking at Jesus, we will see how God relates to us.

          The account we’ll follow is found in Luke 8:40-56.
Luke 8:40-56
40 Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. 41 Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, 42 for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.
As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. 43 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians,[a] no one could cure her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. 45 Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter[b] said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” 47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
49 While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.” 50 When Jesus heard this, he replied, “Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.” 51 When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. 52 They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, “Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.” 53 And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and called out, “Child, get up!” 55 Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened

          Assume that Jairus was a very important man within his community.  At this point in his telling of Jesus’ story, Luke has already shown us a lot.  Jesus had exalted the poor and downtrodden while casting foreboding clouds of judgment over the horizon of the rich and powerful.  He has clarified for John the Baptist that he – Jesus – is the one.  The evidence?  “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, [and] the poor have good news brought to them” (7:22).  Jesus’s next statement is “blessed are anyone who takes no offense at me.”  Then, Luke proceeds to show how those in power, even with a little power, are offended when Jesus raises up those who at the very bottom, the absolutely powerless. 
This theme never leaves in Luke.  Jesus is the one from God and on God’s side.  We know God by watching what Jesus does and hearing how Jesus speaks.  Consistently, Jesus is for the outsider, the downtrodden, the weak and the defeated.  Jesus opposes the powerful.  As a guest of a Pharisee, he commends the street woman who comes in and washes his feet with her tears and anoints his head with oil.  In doing so, he shames the host who even with his resources did not show such generosity. 
He travels outside of Jewish territory to the Garasene region where he and the disciples encounter a man who is crazed with demonic possession.  A 1000 demons have wrecked this poor soul’s life.  He is relegated to a haunted existence, living naked and wild in a graveyard.  Jesus approaches this man ritually clean Jews shun and superstitious gentile fear.  Jesus casts out the demons and gives him new life.  In the flow of these events Luke shows us how Jesus redefines life.  He tackles prejudice and fear by replacing hatred and avoidance with compassion and hope.  The dead need not stay dead.  Those in power don’t have real power – not the power of God.  Those on the outside are loved by God too.
This all leads up to the return from the country of Garasenes.  No sooner does Jesus get off the boat when the crowd welcomes him, the Pharisees fold their arms and furrow their brows, and Jairus approaches.  He probably wasn’t a Pharisee or a Sadducee.  Luke likely would have described him as such if he were either of those.  What Luke does tell us is he was a synagogue leader.  Following Luke’s narrative, we know Jesus had frequent tension with leaders.
Then the surprise.  This leader falls to the ground before Jesus and begs for a miracle.  He wants his dying daughter to be healed and believes Jesus is his only hope.  Jesus says nothing.  In fact, Luke doesn’t even say much, only the phrase “as he went.”
As Jesus and his entourage of disciples follows this distraught man rendered powerless by disease, the gawking crowd presses in.  There was paparazzi before the invention of the camera. 
A desperate woman presses into the crowd.  No one sees her because everyone is thrilled Jesus is here.  Everyone is driven to get a glimpse, maybe a touch.  In this case desperation is more powerful than drive. The woman worms her way through the crowd and steals a touch, a handful of the fringe of Jesus’ robe. 
For her sake, it is good that the crowd provides anonymity because she’s not really supposed to be in the crowd at all.  She has a blood flow that has not stopped for 12 years.  When it began, she may have been a woman of means.  Luke says she spent all she had on physicians but none could cure her (v.43).  She had money, but it was all gone.  So now, she is a bleeding woman, thus ritually unclean.  She is a social outcast.  And she is poor.  It’s a miracle she had lasted 12 years.  Somehow she’s managed to avoid starvation, but she’s been reduced to a Hell of an existence.  Hated by society, friendless, dirt poor, and in unending discomfort – that’s Hell.  And she wants to get out of Hell.  So, she sneaks through the crowd and grabs Jesus’ robe. Instantly, the blood stops.  She knows it.  She is healed.
Jesus stops in his tracks! “Who touched me?” 
Peter is flabbergasted.  “Who touched you?  People haven’t stopped touching you since we stepped off the boat.  You couldn’t even get two steps onto the shore.  Back you leeches!  Who touched you?  Everyone is touching you!  Back!”
“Peter, chill.  This is different.  I felt power go out of me.”
Now, all the while, remember a couple of things.  Jairus, a very important man whose desperation reduced him to begging is standing there waiting.  The crowds have been clawing at Jesus.  In the midst of that, Jesus stops for someone who needs him but is also afraid. 
Jesus tells Peter with the ravenous crowd listening in, “I felt the power go out of me.” It’s like when you’re listening to a speaker and the speaker into the crowd and says, “You.”  You think the speaker is just addressing the entire crowd, but then he steps toward and you realize, no, he’s talking to me specifically.  You want to turn invisible.  The reason you’re in the crowd is you don’t want to be on the stage.  You want to stay among the faces.  It’s exposing when that speaker singles you out.  There’s nowhere to hide.
The woman comes trembling before Jesus and explains the whole thing, including her healing.  He looks at this rejected, broken, poor, healed woman and says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (8:48).  Yes, he healed her, but he also redefined her.  She was untouchable.  Now, she is daughter – daughter of God.  She was alone.  She is now in a family – the eternal family.  Her life was misery.  He sends her on in peace.  And when Jesus says, “Go in peace,” it is more than just a nicety.  He defines her future.  She is one with God and is blessed.
The God who strode with a very important man on the way to heal that man’s daughter as a throng pushed in on him stopped for a woman no one else cared about.  That God made it clear that in that moment, nothing was more important to him than meeting her need, healing her hurt, restoring her humanity, and elevating her life so that she left the encounter knowing she was God’s precious child.  That is what Jesus shows us about God. 
Luke drives this home a few chapters late when in 15 he compares the Father to a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep in safety to venture into the perilous wastelands to find the one lost sheep.  That God that seeks to save the lost is seeking you.  That God that stops in the midst of an important mission in order to help one forgotten and to declare her a daughter of God knows your pain.  That God sees you and stops for you, whatever you might be struggling with today. 
Some I talked with this week recommended that I add in a bit about the importance of the fact that the woman risked everything to force her way into the crowd in order to touch Jesus.  What she did is commendable and on blog this past week, I posted a couple of messages I had given in years ago about that woman who made her way to Jesus.  But this morning, our focus is on God.  We’re doing what she did.  We’re forcing our way, reaching, trying to touch God’s robe that he might bless us.
Do we want to see more of God and know God more deeply?  Know this.  The God we seek sees us – sees you.  The God we long for loves us, stops for us, and declares us, in our brokenness healed.  And in our healing he looks and calls us “Daughter; son.”  He sends us with his peace.  That’s God.  Of course there is more, but that is enough for today.
But what about that important man, the synagogue leader?  He’s numb, panic-stricken, desperate, hoping against hope that Jesus can heal his little girl.  He’s just standing there waiting while Jesus stops.  What about him?  We’ll get to him next week.


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