Ancient Answers


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When Jesus is in the House

Jesus said: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:21-23)

In the Himalayas the intense ultraviolet rays from the sun pierce the thin mountain air and burn people’s eyes. 65-year old Teteeni is blind. From Kathmandu comes Dr. Sanduk Ruit with a pioneer surgery that he has developed, and he treats many people with eye problems. Teteeni receives the surgery and she can see again! As she walks back to her village, she thanks heaven: “May Heaven reward Dr. Ruit… My heart is filled with light.” (Teteeni’s story was featured in the “Mountains: Life in Thin Air” episode of the BBC series, Planet Earth, The Human Planet. The entire episode is available online here. The Teteeni segment begins at about the 34-minute mark.)

How beautiful, how simple. This old Buddhist woman who probably never heard of Jesus understood the meaning of light. She understood the connection of light and heart. Let’s hear those word of Jesus again: Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Today, as Christianity stagnates in Europe and North America, the most vibrant expressions of faith are to be found in Asia, Africa and Latin America.The Korean New Testament scholar Yung Suk Kim was asked what he thought was the primary work of Jesus. Here is how he replied. I love how he translates the two verses from Mark.

I believe that Jesus’ primary message is well summarized in Mark 1:14-15. “After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and God’s rule has come near; change your heart and believe in the good news.” As we see here, Jesus proclaims the good news of God; it is God’s good news. Good news is about God: God’s time and God’s rule has come in the here and now (perfect tense). For God’s time and rule to be effective, people have to accept it by changing their minds, which is what metanoia means.

Note the differences between his translation of Mark 1:14-15 from the more conventional translation in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible: Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” Note how Kim renders the words in the RSV which I have italicized.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Home is where the heart is” – so goes a popular saying, though you don’t hear it very often nowadays. We’re too sophisticated now for such tidbits of old fashioned wisdom. Right, too sophisticated, because now home is where our smartphone is.

Treasure, home, heart, light – images of God’s good news. Look at today’s miracle story (Mark 2:1-12). Let’s talk about the house where the miracle took place. You go home after a long day on the job, and you want your home to be a place of rest, of escape from all the day’s labors. But here in the Gospel was a house that was overtaken by people who came to see and hear a celebrity. And the presence of that crowd transformed that house into a church, a cathedral even. It was now a place where the Good News was seen and heard. Jesus was in the house!

So what does it mean for Jesus to be in the house? Your house? This house, this church house? Our Gospel reading tells us.

  • When Jesus is in the house, the Word is spoken. This word cuts to the core of our being, challenging us, converting us, transforming us, making us holy.
  • When Jesus is in the house, the poor, the outcasts of society, both faithful and sinners, the strong and the weak, the rich and poor, the sick and the healthy – they will all gather, until there is no more room.
  • When Jesus is in the house, drastic steps might have to be taken. The roof might have to be taken off. The roof that keeps us warm and comfortable in our usual ways, in the way things have always been done, comfortable in our dogmas, our culture, our Liturgy. Sometimes we have to blow the roof off the way things were always done and think in new ways.
  • Finally, when Jesus is in the house, forgiveness and healing will take place. They will take place! Regardless of how many cold hearts are around. Regardless of how little light there is. And that’s when you have to tear the roof – for healing and forgiveness to take place.

As with all miracle stories of Jesus, this too is a parable in action, challenging us, and questioning us: Are we really ready for Jesus to be in the house? But be advised, we might have to tear up the roof!


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Plenty of room inside

By their attitude, the scribes in today’s Gospel reading, Mark 2:1-12, are preventing God’s word from acting as a force that sets men free. The man’s stretcher makes me think of the many who are crippled because of the absence of love. Lying there and unable to rise are those who are without hope, who are imprisoned within their own loneliness, and whose hearts are dry and withered. That was the situation of the man by the pool (John 5:2-9). It is the condition of millions in our world today! Thank God the man in today’s reading had four friends who loved him, because almost everything around him was loveless. Jesus himself would find himself abandoned of love when his time of trial and crucifixion came.

Paralytic

The ancient world is not very different from our modern world. But today too there is love to be found, here and there. I saw a wonderful report yesterday on BBC World News about a new fight against cancer in a British hospital using targeted, individually tailored medicines and treatments based on a person’s DNA and immune system. Some of the patients featured died, others are still living. But what struck me is the hope that radiated in this hospital, from every doctor and nurse and on every patient’s face.

[[ You might be able to catch the program on repeat showings on the BBC World News cable channel, available in this country. Or, you can watch it on YouTube: 

The BBC website also has several articles relating to this program, for example: Defeating cancer, the ‘evil genius’ ]]

No one talks about forgiveness of sins in this hospital or in any hospital, obviously. And yet, what I saw in the faces of patients in this program is a spiritual healing that could be called a “forgiveness of sins” of sorts. I say this because every time we go against the cold, faceless world, and give hope, we are atoning for some of the world’s sins. It’s interesting that in Matthew’s version of this same miracle story, the people react with awe, and they glorified God who had given “such authority to men.” In Mark’s version today the people say, “We have never seen anything like this!” In Luke’s version they say, “We have seen strange things today.”

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Yes, it is “strange” when healing is more than simply medicinal, more than simply a matter of physical recovery. The deeper healing is in the faces of patient and doctor. Jesus looked at the face of this paralytic and the faces of his friends, and went to that deeper level of healing. Sometimes that’s all the healing that can take place.

It’s true, only God can forgive sins. But how did God choose to do it? Not through sacrifices of animals, not through imposition of self-punishment on people. God did it by becoming one of of us. Only God can forgive sins, but God becomes man in order to do it. Thus Matthew’s version is on the mark: they glorified God who had given such authority to men.

Instead of placing burdens and road blocks on each other – as the scribes and the Pharisees were doing and still do today in churches! – we are given authority to heal and to lift burdens. That is our calling. Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, as we heard last week (Hebrews 12:2). He has gone ahead of us and calls us to follow. He promised that we would do even greater things than he did (John 14:12).

One of those greater things is to make room for the unexpected. I hope our worship is not like the house in today’s reading: closed to the outside. We’re not packed with people, there’s plenty of room – unlike the house in which Jesus was preaching – and yet it could still be true that there’s no spiritual room, no opening to the outside.gregory-palamas

Are we a church where people are touched deep in their inner core? Are we a church of rules, or a church that enables people to touch God? This is why today we honor St. Gregory Palamas, who lived about 700 years ago in northern Greece. His theological insights are difficult to explain in a sermon. But the purpose of his complicated language was actually quite simple: his primary aim was to insist that human beings can experience God’s presence really and fully in their lives. And furthermore, it is possible for human beings to be filled with divine glory, the same glory that shone from Christ on the mountain.

Transfiguration Daphne

I don’t know about glory and divine light. But I do know that we can be messengers of peace and healing. Let us be such a church.

[I was a bit out of sorts this morning, but here is the audio file of this sermon:]