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I Dare You Series–Dare to Believe

This is a sermon I preached on May 7th from Mark 5:25-34.  If you would rather listen, you can go to my YouTube channel or click on this link https://youtu.be/z1NSPuzm5VU

The content of belief is important: The famous evangelist and preacher, Jonathan Whitfield, was preaching to coal miners in England. He asked one man, “What do you believe?” “Well, I believe the same as the church.” “And what does the church believe?” “Well, they believe the same as me.” Seeing he was getting nowhere, Whitfield said, “And what is it that you both believe?” “Well, I suppose the same thing.”

Believe.  No doubt each of us here in this place, if asked, “Do you believe?”  would answer, “yes, I believe.”  But much like the coal miner, we might find ourselves in a place of not knowing just what we believe, making belief a moot point.  In our ever-changing world, what we believe is often challenged.  The theological and practical applications of our faith have undergone many changes.  A hundred years ago those who sat in the pews of this congregation would have been aghast at a woman in the pulpit.  And so it goes.  Each day our beliefs are challenged, by science, sociology, by progressive theologians, and even by the courts.  What do we believe?

I guess the greater question for us today is this:  If we know what we believe, what will we do with it?  I mean, how does our belief change us?  How does what we believe affect our actions and reactions?

Adrian Rogers tells about the man who bragged that he had cut off the tail of a man-eating lion with his pocket knife. Asked why he hadn’t cut off the lion’s head, the man replied: “Someone had already done that.”

Belief, or faith, gives us courage, the courage to step forward, the courage to make a difference, the courage to trust that God will save us.  It doesn’t mean we lack doubts or fears, but rather, that in spite of those doubts and fears, our faith pushes us forward.

“Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” Eddie Rickenbacker, Bits & Pieces, April 29, 1993, p. 12.

In our reading today is a woman at the end of her rope.  A woman pushed by her faith in God and her desire to live to do something courageous, to dare to believe that Jesus would help her, in spite of her fears.

 

Jesus was on his way with Jairus.  This man came to Jesus asking him to please come and heal his daughter who was very ill.  Jesus agreed to do so, but on the way something happened.  Someone touched him, and her life was never the same again.

We believe in many things, but our beliefs don’t always move us to action.  We believe we are citizens of the United States, but we don’t always vote or write letters to our elected officials.  We believe we are members of a church, but we don’t always move in ways that express that membership into reality.  And we believe in Jesus Christ, that God loves us and wants the best for us, but in spite of that faith, we find ourselves sitting in our chairs at home, in our pews, never daring to reach out and touch God.  Maybe it is because our problems seem to be so great, to be looming over us so largely.  Oh, we have saving faith.  We have prayed the prayer of confession and have given our lives to Christ, but yet, we wait, we sit, until something so great, so drastic comes our way that we can do nothing else but move.

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”   C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed.

Let’s look at this woman for a moment.  We don’t know her name, only that she has a bleeding problem.  She has lived with this malady for 12 years.  She might have been wealthy at one time because it tells us she was under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had on treatment.  And still, she kept getting worse.  Most likely she was anemic, weak, and haggard because of the continual bleeding.

Another thing we know about her, but only by inference, is that she was most likely ostracized from society and the general populace.  We know this because she was a Jewish woman, subject to the rules concerning bleeding and open wounds.  She was labeled unclean because of this problem, and anyone who touched her would be considered unclean, as well.  Most likely she lived in her own room, or in her own home, away from the family and open interaction with others.

We see a marginalized woman, set aside, without hope and devastated by all that had happened to her body, and therefore, her life.

What does it mean to be marginalized? the Random House dictionary says:  to place in a position of marginal importance, influence, or power:  Collins English Dictionary defines this verb as:  to relegate to the fringes, out of the mainstream; make seem unimportant

She was marginalized, alone, and she was hoping Jesus could be her answer.  But how to reach Him?  You see, she was unclean.  It was wrong, both socially and according to the Law, for her to be in public, even more, to be in the press of such a crowd.  But she was desperate, and she went after Jesus, in spite of the ramifications.

When she touched his garment, she knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she was healed, but this sermon isn’t about the woman being healed from her physical malady, it really is about what came next.  You see, she was healed.  She knew it, and Jesus knew it.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

Jesus could have just continued on, knowing that someone has received healing power, but he also knew there was much more that needed to be done for this daughter of God.

Imagine being marginalized, being ostracized, for 12 years because of a physical malady, or because of financial problems, or because of an addiction, or because of some other societal issue.  Twelve long years of being outside the group.  Twelve long years of being the odd man out, the anathema, the anomaly, the crazy person.  Most likely no one would believe she had been healed, and even if they did believe it, she would still always be labeled, avoided, laughed at, ignored because of her past.

Jesus stops the entire entourage.  Our woman knew she had been found out.  Her fears, although she had been healed, were realized—Jesus was going to identify her, and everyone would know that she had touched them, that she had broken the boundaries, and she would be even further rejected.

But Jesus had another plan.  The disciples objected to Jesus’ search, but He kept looking, as if He didn’t know who it was.  Was there a method to His madness?  Of course, there always is.  Have you ever heard of body dysmorphic syndrome? This is where a person has had a drastic change in their life, but they always see themselves as they were before.  For example, many people who had been grossly obese but have worked hard and lost weight, still see themselves in the mirror as obese.  Some who have had plastic surgery to correct malformations still see themselves as broken, ugly, and unlovable.  Even those who have found deliverance from life-controlling addictions and habits or who have been bullied or attacked, still bear in their psyche the wounds of those past experiences.   We see ourselves as the past, not as we are today.  Jesus knows that, and He knew that if he did not stop this woman would still be suffering, albeit not physically.  “Who touched me?”

33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.

You see, to be healed completely, to be restored fully, it was imperative that she stand up before all those around her, in spite of the danger, in spite of the possible ramifications, and admit that she was the one who touched the Lord, that she was the one who was healed, that she was the one who had received the amazing gift.  And with courage and faith, she came and answered him, confessing that she was the one.

I can imagine the wagging tongues now.  Oh, Lord!  What is she doing here?  Unclean!  Get away, you horrible person!  Why are you here in the crowd.  She will make us unclean.  Cast her out!

But Jesus knew she was not only clean, but that she had been saved, not only from her sin and from her illness, and He determined to set her free from the psychological and societal implications, as well.

34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Not “woman.”  Not “hey, you.”  Not “unclean person.”  But Daughter, an appellation of love and acceptance.  A term of endearment.  Daughter, your faith has healed you.  All of a sudden, being declared healed and freed by the Savior, she could stand with her head held high.  Because of the physical healing she could stand tall and strong for the first time in years, and because of Jesus’ declaration, she could stand tall and strong without fear of being rejected or cast down.

When God does a work, God does a complete work.  God is not satisfied to just save our souls, even though that is why Jesus came.  God seeks to complete the work in us, as Paul said in Philippians 1:4-6:       4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy . . .6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Paul believed that God would complete the work in his disciples because God had done that same work in the woman in our story today and God had done that work in Paul.  And God will complete that work in you.

You are here today because God started a work in your life.  For some it started when you were baptized as a child, brought into a fellowship of believers who promised to raise you in faith.  For others, you found Christ in the midst of your life, maybe at a time of crisis, and started on the journey of faith.  Whichever you are, you reached out to touch Jesus, desperate for salvation, for help, for redemption.  And you stood, healed spiritually, being made a son or daughter of God.  But maybe you walked away before Jesus could stop and say, “Who touched me?”  Salvation is instantaneous and ongoing.  We are saved, completely, redeemed when we confess our sins and call on the power of God in Christ.  Nothing can change that.  But, then, we begin a journey on which God repeatedly calls our name, insists that we stand up, come forward, and, like the woman, say who we are and what God has done in us.

Perhaps you are one who, like our woman, feels ostracized, rejected, alone.  Maybe you are still carrying the emotional or mental wounds of the past.  Perhaps you continue to feel outcast and “not good enough.”  I’d like us to take a moment this morning to stop in our tracks.  To stop the crowd as Jesus did and ask:  Who has touched Jesus?  Who has received power?  Who has been made new?   Will you stand this morning in testimony of the work God has begun in your life, even if that journey began many years ago?

Perhaps God is still doing a work in you.  Maybe you carry the scars of the past and need to receive the words of Jesus today.  I say to you today, God has healed you, God is healing you, God wants to heal you, to set you free.

But that is not all God is doing among us, because, you see, sometimes we are not like the woman, we are like the crowd, those who didn’t see the woman as Jesus saw her.  Those who only saw her past, her malady, her shortcomings.  Our society has been upended with social change, and wherever you stand on the issues, there is one thing that we must know.  Jesus said, John 8:35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Dare to believe that God wants to bless you and to raise you up to glorify God.

Finally, I speak to you as a congregation.  With the changes in culture and religious movements, many congregations feel marginalized, left out.  We feel as if there is nothing we can do, that there is no hope.  Yet we continue to try, to see if there is someway to continue on, to make a difference, to be viable.  You were in that position and reached out to God, and then to me, hoping to move forward.  And here we stand.  God touched my heart and yours and brought us together, and now He asks, “Who Touched Me?”  You see, it wasn’t enough just to make a decision and then to thing everything would change.  We must make the difference.  We must stand and say, “I am here.  Even if no one thinks I am or should be, here I stand.”

The final dare, in this Dare to Believe message, is:  Do you dare to believe that God can do something in this congregation?  And if so, how will it change you?  A process of transformation isn’t easy.  It involves hard conversations, sometimes compromise, and facing the fears that challenge us and hold us back.  Are you ready to move forward?  I am.

I dare you to believe that you are enough—because God loves you and Jesus made you enough by His sacrifice.

I dare you to believe that you can stand free and clear, despite the world’s views or society’s catcalls.

I dare you to believe that when we come to God together, to do the work of transformation, God will move among us.

 

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What Do You Say? How Do You Live?

Sermon: What Do You Say? How Do You Live?”
Luke 17:11-19
November 22, 2015
Woodland Heights Presbyterian Church
Rev. Mary Kay Glunt

Scottish minister Alexander Whyte was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, “Certainly the preacher won’t think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this.” Much to his surprise, however, Whyte began by praying, “We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.” Daily Bread, August 26, 1989.

Two men were walking through a field one day when they spotted an enraged bull. Instantly they darted toward the nearest fence. The storming bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent they wouldn’t make it.
Terrified, the one shouted to the other, “Put up a prayer, John. We’re in for it!”
John answered, “I can’t. I’ve never made a public prayer in my life.”
“But you must!” implored his companion. “The bull is catching up to us.”

“All right,” panted John, “I’ll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the table: ‘O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.'”

Source Unknown.

Thanksgiving. For many it is the name of a holiday, a time to gather with family and/or friends, and a time to get ready for an insane shopping experience. Like many other holidays in our society,–Christmas, Memorial Day, Labor Day, the Fourth of July, etc., the background and meaning of the observation has been greatly lost on us.

We’ll gather together, eat our favorite foods, maybe watch football and laugh, or even argue, but in many cases, prayer and thoughts of God will be forgotten.

The first recorded thanksgiving meals on this continent were in the newly established colonies. We are all familiar with the meal the pilgrims shared with the Native Americans in 1621, when the latter helped them plant indigenous crops and so saved their lives. But even earlier, in Jamestown, the winter of 1610 had decimated their group of 409 settlers to 60. They prayed for help, and when it arrived on a ship filled with food and supplies, they had a prayer meeting to give thanks to God.

Over the years Thanksgiving has taken many forms. Each home has different traditions and different menus. But will we, this week, be like those who took time out to thank God for their blessings, or will we be like modern society, enjoying our blessings with no thought of how we received them?

In our gospel reading today, Jesus was traveling toward Jerusalem. He came upon ten men in a camp outside of the village. They were there because each of them had leprosy. These men would have had bandages and wounds because of the lack of sensation caused by the disease. They may have lost appendages, noses, ears, because of the disease. Whatever it was, they were ostracized from common society to prevent spreading it to the healthy. Today we would call them “marginalized.”

Each of us, at one time in our lives, has found ourselves in a place where we are on the outside, feeling left out, abandoned, outcast, whether by friends or family, or even by God, we felt as if we had nothing, no strength, no help, no hope. Until we heard about Jesus. Until we realized that God just might help us, and we called upon Him. Likewise, these men had heard of Jesus, and they called out to him, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (v. 13). They approach Him because it was forbidden for them to approach the healthy, but Jesus heard their call and He told them: “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” Now I can imagine these men struggled for a moment with that command, because they weren’t to go to the priest or to be in the village at all. What to do? Trust in Jesus and be healed, but take the chance that by approaching the priest they would break social conventions? In faith, they started off in obedience, and as they went, they were cleansed, healed, delivered.

How many times have you prayed for God’s help in your life? How many times has God blessed you beyond what you were able to achieve? When have you recognized God’s hand in resolving a situation you couldn’t rectify? As they walked they realized they had been healed. I can see it now. They were dragging their feet, stumbling, perhaps using crutches, hunched over and weary. They were wondering what they were doing. Then one foot was easier to pick up. An arm no longer drooped to the side. One man stood a little straighter. Another was able to drop the crutch. Soon they were all walking without impediment or pain, and they probably jumped around, rejoicing and celebrating, as they did what Jesus told them to do.

On realizing he was healed, one man disobeyed and took a detour, first coming back to thank Jesus for the miracle. This man was a Samaritan, and he was so grateful that he set aside his own gladness, his own restoration to a normal life, in order to give thanks to Jesus.

There is an old saying that there are no atheists in foxholes. But sometimes, there are no disciples in victory. Let me explain. When times are tough, we pray. When we can’t see a way out, we call on God, sometimes shouting to be sure He hears us! When we have needs, we take them to the Lord. We make commitments: Lord if you do this, I will . . . “ But sometimes, when the answer comes, we get so involved in the blessings that we forget about the One who blessed us. We forget how bad it was and how needy we were, thinking ourselves to be strong on our own once again and in no need of anyone else.

What does it mean to be thankful? Dictionary.com says it is feeling or expressing gratitude, which is defined as warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received. We are thankful, perhaps, and we shoot off a quick prayer of thanks to God and continue on our way, unchanged by the blessing, still going our own way. We forget to give God the glory He is due. I believe being thankful is more than just saying “thank you,” as if God had just opened the door for us, but being truly thankful is being changed, letting God’s mercy and grace change who we are as we go forward doing what Jesus has asked us to do.

Why did only one cleansed leper return to thank Jesus? The following are nine suggested reasons why the nine did not return:
One waited to see if the cure was real.
One waited to see if it would last.
One said he would see Jesus later.
One decided that he had never had leprosy.
One said he would have gotten well anyway.
One gave the glory to the priests.
One said, “O, well, Jesus didn’t really do anything.”
One said, “Any rabbi could have done it.”
One said, “I was already much improved.”
Charles L. Brown, Content The Newsletter, June, 1990, p. 3.

All of the men were healed. They were doing what they had been told, but one returned because the gift was so great, so amazing, that he had to give thanks to Jesus. The man who returned was not only healed physically, but upon returning he received a second blessing from Jesus, that of salvation. “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

First Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

In three of the four chapters of the book of Colossians, the Apostle Paul links being thankful with our relationship with God, how we live the Christian life.

Colossians 2:6-7–6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Colossians 3:15–Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Colossians 4:2–Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

So being thankful is so much more than a quick prayer, but it is a lifestyle that expresses gratitude to God for not just the answer to prayer, but for the mercy and grace shown to us.

And there’s more. You see, being thankful to God should flow out in our interactions with others. The Apostle Paul also modeled this when he said to the Ephesians: 15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

Some call it, “an attitude of gratitude,” a way of living that looks for the good instead of the bad, an attitude that seeks honor instead of punishment, one that lifts up instead of tearing down.
G. K. Chesterton once said, I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

According to Dictionary.com, “gratitude” comes from the word “grace,” and so living with an attitude of gratitude is living a grace-filled life, a life so full of grace that it cannot help but pour out on those around you. It isn’t indebtedness to the other. It isn’t just appreciation either. Gratitude includes a feeling of awe, of wonder, as to why God or that person did that for me. Gratitude takes our eyes off of what is wrong with our lives and fixes them on what we have received. Psychology Today says that gratitude opens us up to connect with something that is fundamentally good and reassuring and inhibits painful emotions such as anxiety, heartbreak, loneliness, regret, and envy. It changes our perspective. It changes us.

This Thanksgiving week, I challenge you to consider which of the ten lepers you are. You may be following the directions, but are you thankful? You may be healed and moving on in life, but are you being changed by the grace God has bestowed upon you? Be ye thankful, not only to God, but to one another. Let God’s grace change you.  Look for the good in those around you and affirm it, as God has affirmed you.

Link: Josh Groban, “Thankful” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5nNckK5Tmc