Monday, July 16, 2018

Life's Most Embarrassing Moments

Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA   
July 15, 2018
Pastor Robert McCarty

Preaching Texts: Mark 6:  14-29

Herod liked to listen to John. Sometimes (often typically) you benefit by listening to people who will share with you opinions different from your own. That once stood as a mark of friendship: the willingness to listen to that which you did not want to hear. Herod liked to listen to John, the prophet from God Almighty. Herod goes and listens to John. Maybe we should give him credit. T-- M--- and I went to the afternoon listening session on Tuesday about the school name change. We went to listen. (I will just say this.) Everyone gave respect to whoever was speaking that afternoon and allowed their voice to be heard. "Please lord, don’t let us be like Charlottesville." I think that was our common prayer. 

Now, Herod went and listened to John, he would sit there and listen. Still, that reality aside, I do not want to be like Herod. I do not want to be like Herod in that I do not want my most embarrassing moment, my most shameful moment, to be global news for the world to hear and recorded for all time. For Herod, son of Herod, we would have to expect that this would be one of many shameful moments, one of many sinful moments, but this moment makes him notorious. Immediately, he senses the awkwardness of what his wife’s daughter asks him to do. He faces a damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t moment. And he chooses the worse of the alternatives. Herod needed someone besides John to listen to.

Perhaps I should be interested in the sin of Herod’s activities and deride his wonton disregard for human life. Few of us can relate to that level of depravity. Embarrassment and public embarrassment is something most of us have been through. Maybe not to this scale. (Hopefully, not to this scale.)

I heard this embarrassing moment on radio. Thankfully, for the person involved, the Associated Press report omitted his name. A homeowner in Helsinki Finland mowing his lawn saw a snake in his yard. Not liking snakes, he doused it in gasoline to burn it. As this homeowner doused the snake, he splattered gasoline on his lawnmower that was still hot from recent use. So the gasoline ignited on the lawn mower and caught the side of his house on fire. By the time the fire trucks arrived, fire had worked its way up to the roof and attic. Seventeen thousand dollars worth of damage to the exterior of the house. No word in the news report on whether or not the snake survived.  Fortunately no one hurt, and the fire never cracked into the interior of the house, but the story made global news. I am glad I am not that person.
This happened end of last month 4,400 miles away. This is what we do not want happening, we do not want something stupid that we do going from bad to worse and people laughing about it or moaning about it 4,000 miles away. And we certainly don’t want video of it posted onto Facebook. 

So why my high school classmate did that to one of his neighbors last week, I have no idea. At least he didn’t post the name of the neighbor on Facebook. Every summer at my high school alma mater, they host a community days festival. Different churches and not-for-profits set up food booths to raise funds, or sponsor carnival games. Fire companies walk around with boots for donations. Carnival rides spend the week. Musical groups and local dance classes perform on stage. A community worship is held. Then on the closing night, Saturday, they host what is typically the biggest firework display in the county.

On July 4th they don’t have fireworks, but, of course, people set off their own fireworks, including C---’s neighbor. Some of you have done this. Or your husbands or sons or fathers have launched their own fireworks. So this neighbor launched his own firework and it landed on his own roof and set the roof on fire. And the emergency dispatch goes out and all of the fire companies that were at Community Days Festival have a make shift parade up to the cul-de-sac to put out the roof fire. 

We have all had these moments, where we want to hide under a stone and disappear for twenty-four, forty-eight hours. One of our youth at St. Paul’s in rural NW Pennsylvania, I won’t mention his name, his friend just got his drivers license, so they tied a rope onto the back of the car, found one of those old back rural roads that people rarely use, brought out their skateboards. Car, ropes, skateboards, where do you think this is going? And the friend with the newly minted drivers license pulled his friends on their skateboards down the road—water skiing on macadam with wheels. You can think of a hundred ways this could go bad. No one would have ever guessed that the local officer would drive down that same road and see them. The officer wrote up citations to both the driver and the skier, the skateboarder. The skateboarder was our youth member at St Paul’s. 
Ten days later here comes that youth with his father to our Saturday morning men’s prayer breakfast. R--, a man my age also with a teen-age son, welcomes the youth with words similar to these, “Hey M—, cops caught me doing the same thing when I was your age. Rather than a ticket, he took me home to my Dad, and he smacked my butt.” He said it with a chuckle in good humor. He put what none of us would have said on the table. He spoke the elephant in the room in such a way that we were laughing at R-- and the youth together.

Been there, done that. You are not alone. There but the grace of God go I. It makes a difference. Unless you have done something stupid like Herod, whatever you have done, odds are someone else has done it as well. Someone probably that you know. You are not alone.

Perhaps handling these embarrassing moments would be easier, if we all lived out our most embarrassing moment of the year on the same day—a day like April Fool’s day. Then we could all get together April 2nd and commiserate. 
"What did you do?" 
"Set my roof on fire with a firework." 
"Really, I set my garage on fire with a turkey fryer."  
"What did you do?" 
"I got a tattoo that I already have doubts about." 
"I put buck shot in the back side of my good friend."
Remember when Vice President Dick Cheney did that 12 years ago. It was easier to make jokes about that on late night TV because no one actually died. That’s not always the case. What other things might people confess on that hypothetical April 2nd, the day after. Life’s most embarrassing moments, arrested for DUI, caught involved with insider trading. "I am pregnant and my husband is away"— that was Bathsheba’s moment with King David. Or remember Enron Energy Corporation, how that company just melted away with thousands of retirement accounts lost.

Even typical moments feel huge when you think you go through them alone: failed a test, wrecked the car, received divorce papers, got caught sleeping on the job, fired from a job, got caught shoplifting, wrecked the car. Sometimes you wreck the car because you ran through the stop sign. Sometimes you wreck the car because Herod drove through a stop sign. Sometimes our most embarrassing moments are full of sin, but not always. Sometimes it is just stupidity, and sometimes it is just the unlucky stupid way in which a bad moment gets worse and becomes legendary.
Poured gasoline on a snake and set the house on fire.  
Shot a firework into the air and the wind blew it on on my roof. 
Had a party where my step daughter danced, then made her a promise that I know now I should have broken. 
We all go through embarrassing moments and sinful moments; I cannot shield you from that. Maybe it would be easier if we went through them all at the same time. Then the healing would (could) come quicker. And maybe if we all went though these moments at the same time, we would be less likely to judge others and with quicker intentionality move to forgive. 

That is what we do just about every week during confession; we put our most embarrassing, our most regrettable, even our most sinful moment out for God to see, knowing that we are not alone. And we confess knowing that God will not laugh at us the way our good friends might. God might frown, maybe swallow a chuckle, but you know God will wipe that sin away, reassure you and tell you, “be better this week.”

I do not know whether or not Herod’s sin was forgiven. I know he showed willingness to listen. I would imagine if Jesus was there to listen to, things might have turned out differently for John and for Herod. It is not that your sin is as great as Herod’s. But small sins can get out of hand and have great levels of embarrassment connected to them. Small sins can give way to moments where your embarrassment feels as great as Herod’s shame should feel.

Ephesians Chapter 1 Verse 7 and a bit of 8: 
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.”
You heard that text this morning in our second lesson: the lavishness of God’s grace and mercy. Because St. Paul knows (Jesus knows, God knows) that painful embarrassment or sin can only be offset by a powerful amount of grace and life. And that lavish amount of grace and life comes to you today, because you are willing to come (here) hear and listen to Jesus, listen to Holy Words. These divine words (that you know and trust) free you from your sin and lift you up into an overflowing life. Thank you for your willingness to listen. Grace is spoken to you in the name of Jesus Christ.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Who Are You In The Gospel of Jairus and the Woman?

Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA   
July 1, 2018
Pastor Robert McCarty

Preaching Texts: Mark 5:  21-43

You may have heard in the news about televangelists Pastor Jesse Duplantis request to his members for a Falcon 7x corporate jet—54 million dollars give or take. That hit the news a month ago and Christians and non-Christians alike groaned in disappointment. That said, he will probably get the jet, because he knows to ask. 

In our gospel, Jairus knows to ask as well, though I have a lot more respect for what he asks, for Jesus to come with him and heal his daughter. I have a lot more respect for how he asks, on his knees pleading, begging.

You would recognize Jairus quickly if he lived today. You would recognize him by his car, Mercedes, Lexus, something not necessarily flashy, but sleek and regal, and a vanity plate that says Jar’s Car, because he does not really come across as the creative type, not really the think outside the box type. He sits on the board of his place of worship. He has servants or employees and a large house with an extra room where his daughter can be cared for.  Jairus knows how to get things done. And of course he would have health insurance, the golden platinum type that reassures the hospitals as well as the insured family not to worry. Bills will be paid; family will get better. Back then he had what amounted for health insurance in that he could pay upfront when people asked.

Of course, what good is health insurance when it does not cover pre-existing conditions. That reality plagues our unnamed woman. Everyone knows Jairus by name. This woman, maybe they knew her name as well, (maybe they knew her name a long time ago) but now the Christian world knows her more so for her disease, she’s the one with hemorrhage. Probably back then, you would have talked about her in whispers, even though everyone knows. She use to have money. She spent all that she had on physicians, multiple physicians, some traditional, some alternative. You can just picture all the forms and reams of paperwork she would have to fill out if she lived today, that would be suffering enough. First she suffered, then she endured all the doctor’s offices and bizarre treatments they tried on her, clinical trials, experimental treatments, dietitians with theories. Always she has the hope, this will get better, and then she got worse. Twelve years, spent all her money, only to feel worse. Maybe she use to drive a Mercedes, maybe she use to have his wealth, now she just walks quietly and lets people whisper about her.

These two stories, these two people, collide with Jesus and the crowd that follows him. You hear (you have) these two stories of wealth and woe, of sickness and healing, of public piety and quiet faith. What happens today matters, not just to the people surrounding Jesus and listening to Mark when he first wrote this down. This story matters today, to you and to others not here, because just about everyone wants to be Jairus. Jairus has power and wealth and people. Who would not want that?

I will grant the bit about the Mercedes, I included that to get your attention. Jairus might not have been the first practitioner of the prosperity gospel. But how does that song go, “Oh Lord Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz? my friends all have Porsches, I must make amends. Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends, So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” Be reassured, Florence has not added Janis Joplin as a choir anthem for the fall.

Janis Joplin’s song has too much truth in it. We would rather by Jairus than the woman, because we know Jesus will heal his daughter. And most of our prayers sound (something more) like what Jairus prays for, and when it is one of our children or our grandchildren and they are desperate, then we too fall to our knees at Jesus' feet and plead.

Jairus knows how to ask. Jairus knows how to get on his knees and beg. “Please, help me, come with me, save my daughter. I have no one but you.” Jairus knows not to send his people to ask, not to offer money, just to plead out of sincere desperation for the one whom he loves. You know how to do that. You have prayed for those you love. You have got on your knees, folded hands together, closed eyes, shut the door of your room and called out “Are you there God, it’s me… (Margaret, Rob).” You have prayed for the one you have loved. And you hope that if you show this humility, if you pray with your whole being, God will respond and respond quickly.  Like he does for Jairus.

And that is why we want to be Jairus. It is not about his money. It is not about his people or his home. Many of you would rather not have his position in our place of worship. What you deeply want is to know that if or when you get down on your knees and beg Jesus come with you, come with you to the one you love more than life itself, you want that confidence that Jesus will come and cast out whatever ails him or her whom you love.

And truth be told, I suspect Mark wants us all to listen with Jairus’ ears even if we do not have Jairus’ bank account, or power or people or home. Mark wants you to listen with Jairus’ ears because Jesus has something to teach Jairus and to teach you, us. What does Jesus have to teach? This is not a story about healing, this is a story, this is a story about faith that has sustained this woman for 12 miserable years.

Mark does not say anything, but I can only imagine that it tried Jairus’ patience when Jesus stops the crowd to find out who touched him. Smart man, probably thought Jesus was testing him and stayed quiet. “Who touched me?” The disciples spoke what Jairus had to be thinking. “Look at this crowd, how can you say who touched me.” 

With fear and trembling, the markers of divine awe, the woman comes forward and tells Jesus the whole truth. How long do you think that took? For the woman to tell Jesus the whole truth? How long was Jairus there looking at his watch, scared and worried about his daughter. Mark does not tell us. How much detail did the woman give about her disease? How many doctor’s did she describe? What all of this cost her? Does she describe her life before and her life after? How long did Jesus listen to her and love her?

Jesus calls her daughter, which implies Daughter of Abraham. Like Jairus and his daughter the woman before Jesus is of the Jewish faith, who probably over the course of 12 years has offered her own prayers and fallen on her own knees and humbled herself before God and before other priests and rabbis and begged for help. And despite no answer to her efforts over 12 years and no response to her prayers over 12 years, she knows to reach out and touch the chosen one of God. She knows even if I just touch the fringe of his cloak, I will be made well. Even after 12 years of waiting she still consistently turns to God. 

This is what faith looks like. Jesus isn’t testing Jairus, he is teaching. You got it easy all your life and now I am going to go with you and heal your daughter. First Jairus watch and learn, this woman displays what true faith looks like. You can probably count by the fingers of your hand how many times Jairus has asked for something and not gotten it. And so Jesus shows him what faith looks like after 12 years, 12 frustrating years. That is lesson number one. This is not a story about two miraculous healings.  This is a story about one woman’s miraculous faith and we wonder whether or not Jairus gets it. 

That is Jesus' first lesson. You have a second lesson as well. Because Jesus does not call her “daughter of Abraham,” he simply calls the woman “daughter.” Jairus has a daughter, whom we can only imagine he loves more than life itself. Jesus in this story identifies one daughter he has that he loves more than life itself. A daughter for whom Jesus is willing to humble himself, first by acknowledging her touch (a big deal when everyone knows that she is sick). Jesus even for her sake humbles himself to the point of death, even death on the cross. This is one of my children, whom I love more than life itself. She has nothing. I will make her well and grant her peace. Underneath this lesson lies the question, what will you do Jairus for my daughter, for the one who I love? 

You start this story of good news focused on the man of wealth and power and desperation, wanting the blessings that God has given him and wanting the confidence that when you ask, Jesus will go with you. If you listen closely, you end up longing to be the woman, the daughter or the son of Jesus. Your heart felt desire has Jesus pleading for you, take away what ails me, the sickness of sin. Your heart felt desire wants to know that you are the one for whom Jesus dies. Jesus dies for you. Jesus pleads to God that your sin be stricken from you. Jesus gives you his very life. We want to be reassured that Jesus will find some reason to praise our faith and to look on us with love.

None of us have jets. None of us will find a Falcon 7x in our Christmas stocking. You have merely come this day to touch the fringe of Jesus’ garment, a mere whisp of his bodily presence, and that touch and Jesus’ words have made you well and granted you peace.