The Church Will Never Be Perfect, But It Was Meant To Try

I didn’t grow up in church, and didn’t spend any significant amount of time with Christians until I was in high school. Before that, I didn’t have any frame of reference for how church worked or what Christians were like, so when I first began attending a church and exploring the idea of God, I had to figure everything out, like when to stand and when to sit, when to sing and when to bow my head in silence, and which cute girls were single (It’s true, I was in high school). I also didn’t really have any expectations of the people I encountered there, but when I first read the description of the church in Acts 2 I recognized that something was off, and I realized when I read it again recently that I still felt that way.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” ‭‭- Acts‬ ‭2:42-47‬ ‭NIV‬‬

That’s really sweet and all, but the church was in it’s honeymoon phase. I bet that sort of passion and generosity and joy died pretty quickly. That was my first thought when I read this passage recently. The church described in Acts was brand new, witnessing incredible miracles and ministry, and everyone was just getting to know each other. It’s no surprise that they got along so well and acted so virtuously, but did that really continue after this season of the church? Looking at today’s churches, much of our society might say no, including people who attend those churches. Our expectations of the church are lower than this description in Acts, including my own. Why?

Most of the world expects something from Christians, and usually it’s the expectation to see a life that represents a man named Jesus who loved and healed and empowered people, and claimed to give his life to save the world. But nearly all of us have had encounters with church people or have seen self-professed “Christians” on our TV screens who are woefully missing the mark, and that sets our expectations for future encounters with someone who claims to be a Christian. After these encounters our expectations are nearly always lowered.

If we get enough courage and dare to set foot in a church, it doesn’t take very long to confirm these expectations either, because the reality is, churches are filled with broken people. There are liars and cheats and thieves and adulterers and the greedy and lazy and judgmental and self-righteous within the walls of the church. And when you put that many messed up people in one room together, conflict is bound to happen. And it eventually did for the new church in Acts:

“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” – ‭‭Acts‬ ‭6:1‬ ‭NIV‬‬

As people began congregating as the church in Acts, there were some who were of the nationality of God’s people (the Hebraic Jews) and those who were not born into but had adopted the faith (Hellenistic Jews). Those who were not born into the nation that traditionally had been God’s people were being mistreated, their widows overlooked when food was distributed in the church. The church experienced discrimination from within based on nationality at the very start of it’s existence.

Ha! I was right! This is where the honeymoon phase wears off and the church began descending into the reality we see in the church today, where people fight and gossip and vie for power and nitpick about how things ought to be done and forget about the world outside the church walls! Well, not really. When faced with the inevitable disagreement and tension in the church, what did the leaders of the church do? They addressed the issue, corrected the problem, and moved on to continue the work of loving people and telling them about Jesus (6:2-7). It even says that because of how they handled the situation “the word of God spread” and “The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly” (6:7).

So the honeymoon phase continued? When did it really end? And this is where I think the greatest expectation of the church is revealed. Whether on the outside looking in or judging from inside the church walls, nearly everyone shares the same expectation of the church:

Perfection.

If you’re going to be a Christian then you better represent Jesus perfectly, avoiding the stereotypes about Christians that exist in the society around you, and simultaneously fulfilling the expectations of the family of God, perpetuating this perception of the Acts honeymoon phase of church. But the tricky thing about a human standard of perfection is that it is subjective. Everyone has different standards to be met and hoops to be jumped through in order to declare that Christians are “doing it right.” But what the new church in Acts and a freshman-in-high-school me had in common was that we had no expectations, because we had never seen church before. So all of our hopes for the church were being fulfilled because it’s people did one thing really well: They tried.

Now don’t get me wrong, Jesus definitely has expectations of his people that they would try and grow more like him. But in their trying the church in Acts was growing. Through their failures they were becoming increasingly generous and committed to loving each other, while also stoking a collective passion for people to know the God they knew, one who loved all people and desired for them to know a new and whole life in Jesus. It didn’t ultimately matter that conflicts arose and feelings were hurt, they entered into those places of pain, sought reconciliation and healing, and continued to try their best to love the world and glorify God. 

And that’s exactly what I saw when I first went to church: a bunch of imperfect people loving God and each other, welcoming anyone who walked through their doors, and working towards healthy relationships and the good of others. And at times they failed. And I failed. We all failed and continue to do so! But I think that’s an appropriate expectation of the church: to be trying. Because while Jesus was perfect in our place, he also gave us his Holy Spirit to empower our trying, and if we are legitimately trying to live lives worthy of the legacy of Jesus, then we should and will be growing daily in radical compassion, beautiful humility, passionate sacrifice, and joyful unity in the name and power of Jesus.

The church will never be perfect, but it was meant to try.


Photo by Megan Burgess

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We All Have Gold On Our Hands

When my sister and I were young our mom ran a daycare out of our home, which was great for my sister and I because we had instant friends! They even got dropped off on our doorstep in the morning and were picked up in the evening when we had had enough of them! There are more stories from that daycare than I have space for here, but I’ll share one for now.

Every day after spending time doing activities inside the house, my mom would let us loose into our backyard. It wasn’t a big space, but had plenty of room for ten kids to run around and have a good time with the big wheels, doll houses, and various sporting equipment that lived out there. One of the options we had to play with was our planter box, and since my mom knew nothing would grow in the hostile environment of a child’s exploring years, she put shovels and pails in there and let us dig. One day, when I was about 2 years old, I was digging in this planter box alongside one of the other kids in the daycare, and as I lifted a big pile of dirt onto my shovel, I had a thought. I looked at the dirt, then at the kid next to me, then at my mom who was dealing with a feud over a Barbie, and proceeded to fling the pile of dirt over my shoulder into the neighboring kid’s face. He wailed through the dirt on his face, and I had dirt on my hands.

As my mom took me inside for my dad to punish me (he happened to be home that day) I kept asking, “What? What did I do wrong?” This only proceeded to antagonize my mom and led to a more severe punishment from my dad, but the question I asked was pure; I did not understand what I had done wrong. When I looked at the dirt and then at the kid, I was truly curious as to what the outcome would be if I flung dirt in his face, and quickly found out he would cry and I would get in trouble. It is one of the only times in my life that I can remember truly not comprehending the result of my actions (though I learned them quickly and never did that again). And I can’t help but think of this story when I read about Aaron’s ordeal with the golden calf in Exodus 32.

At this point in their story, the Israelites are still wandering in the desert after their miraculous escape from Egypt, and their fearless leader, Moses, is currently on top of a mountain having a conversation with God. This is actually the conversation that results in the Ten Commandments, but we will come back to those. For now, leave Moses on the mountain and direct your focus to the Israelites, who are complaining at Aaron (Moses’ brother and primary communicator):

“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”” – Exodus‬ ‭32:1‬

Aaron knows that God has commanded them to follow Him only, but finds himself surrounded by an angry crowd and a bit outside of his wheelhouse. After all, Moses is the one who speaks with God and makes big decisions, while Aaron is merely the public speaker, parroting everything Moses tells him to say. Who knows what this crowd will do if he doesn’t give them what they want, but he has never been forced to make a decision like this! So Aaron concedes and commands them to give him their gold jewelry:

“Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”” – ‭‭Exodus‬ ‭32:2-4‬

The people are appeased and take the opportunity to sacrifice to the calf and revel in their triumph at a festival they throw the next day. But their victory is short lived, because while they were busy replacing the God who had led them out of Egypt, Moses was being told by that God about their rebellion and then sent down the mountain to call them on the carpet. And Moses knows exactly who to go to in order to get answers:

“He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?” “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”” – ‭‭Exodus‬ ‭32:21-24‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Aaron comes clean, only blaming the Israelites for a moment as he calls them evil, and appears to own what he has done. But if you’ll notice, there is a key difference between his story to Moses and the account of what actually happened from earlier in the chapter. Aaron claims to have collected their jewelry and placed it all in the fire, when all of a sudden out pops this shaped and formed calf made from the gold. Yet in the original account in verse four it says that “He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool.” What a weak attempt at avoiding guilt! Aaron clearly formed the idol that the Israelites abandoned God for, but later claims he did not, and suggests that the fire took the gold, formed a calf, and spit it back out!

If I’m honest with myself, I think I knew that throwing dirt in the kid’s face would be an unpleasant experience for him, though I did not know exactly what would happen. And I think if we were regularly honest with ourselves, we’d know that many of the decisions we make in life are not leading us closer to God, but further away. I can’t wake up early to read the Bible, I need more sleep. I could do it now, but I’ll wait to forgive my aunt once she’s come to me and apologized. I’ll pray for that person later, I’ll even add it to my TO DO list. These missed opportunities and little decisions we make take us further and further from relationship with our God, until one day we find ourselves face to face with an idol. A golden calf, or a job, or a relationship, or an addiction, or our children, or approval, or validation, or anything else we place before God. Our idols. And when we see them for what they are, we start explaining it away like Aaron, stammering like Moses because we know, deep down, that we held the tools that shaped these idols in our lives.

Idols happen. Regularly and repeatedly. They creep into our lives in conscious or subconscious ways, vying for our time and affection until we have none left for God. And because he formed us and knows us better than we know ourselves, God dealt with idols first in those Ten Commandments he was giving Moses on the mountain:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.”” – ‭‭Exodus‬ ‭20:2-3‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Our God knows our hearts, that we were made to love and give our lives to Someone greater than ourselves, yet knows that we are constantly giving them away to many somethings that aren’t worth our affection and devotion. So he tells us to keep him first, but only after he reminds us of who he is and how incredibly and unendingly devoted he is to us, the one who brought us out of all of our Egypts and enslavements. It’s as if he is saying:

I made you, and I know you. In deeper ways than you will ever know yourself. And I know that, like Aaron, you’d like to believe that you never had a tool in your hand, never fashioned an idol for yourself as your eyes drifted from me. But I see you and your idols, and I am committed to you. I always have been. So come back. I delight in you and desire to be your delight in those places in your heart that you try to stuff idols. They’ll never fill those voids, but I promise I will. Now let’s get you washed up. You have gold on your hands.


Photo by Megan Burgess

When God Lovingly Draws Us Into A Dark Night Of The Soul

‭‭I often imagine the seasons of life as hills and valleys, ups and downs, highs and lows, ascents into light and growth, descents into darkness and trial. And when thinking of the seasons of decline, with the exceptions of those that we seem to be drop-kicked into, I tend to think of myself on the edge of a cliff with two options ahead of me: I can either work on finding the staircase into the valley, or ignore the chasm until I am inevitably pushed over the edge. Either way, the valley is coming.

The descent seems to be the worst part for most of us because we are headed in a downward direction of suffering, despair, persecution, depression, or any host of other negative experiences in life. And since we know (or hope) these times to be valleys, there promises to be an upward incline on the other side of this season. But the valley floor is covered in shadow and we don’t know how far we must descend until we have truly reached our lowest low, and not knowing that becomes more tortuous than what sent us over the edge in the first place.

In his novel, Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter describes a character named Shane who is about to pitch a movie script and looking for a big break. Shane has had an extended season of downward spiraling, from losing jobs to a recent divorce, but believes this script could be the rope he’s been looking for to kickstart the climb out of his valley. When asked if he truly believes his script will be picked up, he responds:

‘Yes. I do,’ Shane says, and he does. It’s the key sub-tenet of Shane’s movie-inspired ACT-as-if faith in himself: his generation’s profound belief in secular episodic providence, the idea – honed by decades of entertainment – that after thirty or sixty or one hundred and twenty minutes of complications, things generally work out.

This theory of secular episodic providence could not be more true of myself and my generation. We have been conditioned to believe that life will be filled with miscommunications and misunderstandings that will rattle around and cause damage in comedic fashion between friends or co-workers, and a witty or sarcastic monologue is all it will take to force the guilty party to realize the error of their ways and provide the injured party with vindication. It’s why we are so obsessed with the mic drop, and while this trend shows us an incredibly unhealthy form of one-sided attack-mode communication, it also reveals a basic misunderstanding about the struggles we face: We believe we have the ability end our crises in a neat and tidy fashion in the amount of time we deem appropriate. We believe that, through our own efforts, we get to say when our seasons of darkness are over, or how long the valley floors will be, or when it is time for us to head back uphill again. But the reality is we don’t.

However, while we cannot command our seasons of struggle to end, we can make choices that will honor God and help us navigate our way down and through them. 

Choice Number One: We choose to abandon our attempts to call the shots and end our valley seasons.

Proverbs Three encourages us to “not be wise in [our] own eyes,” which is exactly what we do when we try to figure out when the darkness will end and the light will return. I do not encourage abandoning the learning process or giving up the pursuit of understanding the circumstances that got us into the pit in the first place, but we can’t cling to the hope that once we figure out what the problem is, the darkness will subside and we will find ourselves on a plateau once again. We are not promised that.

Choice Number Two: We choose to remember and believe that God is with us in the midst of our valleys. 

Richard Foster mused on seasons of difficulty and sorrow in his work Celebration of Discipline, and used St. John of the Cross’ phrase: “the dark night of the soul.” But Foster did not imagine that some people might avoid the dark night of the soul, nor did he believe that God abandoned his people to encounter it alone. He states:

When God lovingly draws [you] into a dark night of the soul… recognize the dark for what it is. Be grateful that God is lovingly drawing you away from every distraction so that you can see Him. Rather than chafing and fighting, become still and wait.

Foster sees that God, in his commitment to work for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28), lovingly brings us to the dark night, walks with us to the edge of the cliff, and invites us to go through it with him rather than in our own strength. By highlighting the care with which God takes us through the valley, Foster also unveils for us the third choice we can make in our seasons of darkness.

Choice Number Three: We choose to believe that the Lord’s delight in us remains and trust in him above ourselves.

Proverbs Three contains one of the most frequently used passages among Christian circles, and it isn’t without reason we hear these words so frequently.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 

in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight… 

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, 

because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” – Proverbs 3:5-6, 11-12

Our God is concerned with our process, the process by which we look more and more like his Son. And as we continually learn to think and behave and love and give like Jesus did, we must unlearn our selfishness, pride, envy, and hate, and that unlearning usually happens in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death. It is in those places that we are most vulnerable and exposed, attentive to the voice of God because every other sense has been suffocated in the deep darkness of our suffering. In those places, God helps us unlearn the destructive habits and character flaws that keep us distanced from and hostile to him and the people around us, and teaches us those things that make unity with God and healthy inter-dependence upon each other possible. We must learn to trust our God and, “rather than chafing and fighting, become still and wait.”

Unfortunately I cannot tell you how long to wait, though it will probably be longer thirty or sixty or one hundred and twenty minutes. I once waited through depression for two years, and I too fought my way towards the bottom, only to get so exhausted that I couldn’t help but give up and trust in God, because I had nothing else to hold on to. Once I did, he began to clear the fog and tend to my wounds, and once he helped me up we walked together the rest of the way down, across the valley floor, and up the other side. God is working for your good; I encourage you to let him.

How To Be The Face Of God To The Refugee

“Is the Lord among us or not?” – Exodus 17:7

Well, is he? The Israelites had legitimate reasons to wonder, though we tend to think of them superficially as whiners in the desert. They had been led out of Egypt, yes, and were headed towards the promised land, but they began to question that. They were hungry, tired, and probably confused as to why it was taking so long. Imagine it, you see incredible signs from God in Egypt, get your family and a fraction of your possessions ready to go, eat a hurried meal with your family, ask your neighbors for all their wealth (which they give it to you), and make a rushed exit from the land that enslaved you. After all of the miraculous things God had done for them with the finale of walking through a sea on dry ground, I’d be expecting to look up and see the promised land. Instead they saw desert.

I don’t believe this is too far from the experience that refugees are having right now in the United States. Many have escaped a dangerous homeland through a series of impossible events, whether the money for a plane ticket inconceivably came into their possession, or borders were crossed under extremely dangerous circumstances, or governments did everything they could to keep people in the dangerous lands they were meant to be governing. By the very definition of refugee a common thread runs through their stories: every one of these human beings have been driven from their countries because their dignity as human beings was under threat by war, persecution, or natural disaster. And right now they arrive in the United States only to find harsh, inhospitable desert, marked by a government attempting to keep them away and a people divided against themselves.

I too would be asking, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

This past Sunday our pastor unfolded the story of Jacob and Esau’s reunion after years apart, where Esau embraced and kissed his brother even though Jacob had stolen his blessing and birthright from him. In that story, Jacob, overcome with relief and joy, tells Esau that “To see your face is like seeing the face of God” (Gen. 33:10) And the congregation was asked, What are you the face of?

We have an incredible opportunity right now as the church to choose what we are the face of. We can remain stoic, forgetting that from the beginning God called his people to be ones who cared for the stranger and foreigner, and become the face of the desert, perpetuating the question, “Is the Lord among us?” Or we can choose to welcome those downtrodden and least of these who find themselves suddenly in our midst, and find ways to support them as they seek opportunities to live out their dreams and God-given potential. We can be advocates for them and for each other, embodying Jesus in the many ways we love and forgive one another, keeping unity in the midst of a broken and hurting nation. 

We have such a sweet opportunity to be the church right now, and can truly be the face of God to the world around us. We can be an oasis of hope, a place to find God in the midst of the desert. In order to do so, we must commit our love and our lives to each other, just as Jesus completely gave of himself so that the world might know the face of God and all that he represents. We now must re-present to the world the God who loves and cares for them, and commit to answering their question with our lives. 

“Yes, the Lord is among us.”


Note: In order to do this we must act, not simply speak. I encourage you to find organizations in your local community that benefit and aid the refugee population in your city. In San Diego I have come into contact with both Refugee Tutoring and the IRC, and would recommend both of those organizations to you (They can be found in many cities across the country). Comment below and share the best resources for refugees and community involvement that you have found in your city.


Photo by Megan Burgess

Why Christians Should Go Barefoot More Often

Exodus 3 – Holy Ground

““Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.”‭‭Exodus‬ ‭3:5-6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

When was the last time you entered a room and felt compelled to take your shoes off because the space you were in was inhabited by God? When was the last time you walked into a place and did not dare speak because you did not want to disturb the working of God that was happening there? When was the last time you sat down as gently as possible in a seat at church because you were encountering the extraordinary? 

Maybe those examples are a little too lofty. How about this: When was the last time you went to church and actually expected to meet with Jesus there? Actually anticipated encountering the Holy Spirit? Actually believed you would hear from God?

God commanded Moses to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. There was nothing special about the ground that he walked on or the sand under his feet, but rather the space gained holiness, or should be set apart from the ordinary, because God was there. In a space that God inhabits, measures should be taken to treat it as special.

This burning bush moment wasn’t the norm for Moses, I don’t believe. He spent his days in fields with sheep, working strenuously, daydreaming frequently, praying occasionally. If he regularly spoke with the living God (and that God spoke back) I believe we would hear about it more than just once in Scripture. So can this singular encounter with God be considered normative for Christians today? Probably not, but I do think it should be happening much more frequently than it currently is.

Unlike Moses, we have been gifted the very presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit, and that Holy Spirit lives in every follower of Christ, revealed especially when two or more are gathered (Matt. 18:20). That was a promise given to us by Jesus, that he would be with us. Now he did not say that every time he was with us it would be an incredible, awe-inspiring display of his power, but he did promise to be there.

So I think we’re missing moments with God more frequently than we should be, and I think that is because we are waiting for bushes to catch fire, or a booming audible voice to shake us to attention, or for the wind to howl and the building to shake and for the pastor to inform us that God is here. Then we’ll take off our shoes. But if Jesus is one who keeps his promises, then every time we gather is a moment worthy of our attention, because the presence of God is in fact already among us.

So instead of looking for the extraordinary with desperate longing, maybe we should be acknowledging the constant reality of God’s presence among us and acting accordingly. Instead of hoping one day God will sweep through our church service or Bible study or youth group, maybe we take off our shoes every week, because we know he is already there. I wonder if we would encounter our God more frequently if we acted like he is already among us. After all, he promised he would be (Matt. 28:20).

Photo by Megan Burgess

When Faith Becomes Sight

Mark‬ ‭10:46-52‬ ‭- Bartimaeus Recieves His Sight

He had been awoken this morning, much like any other morning, by the squeaking of cart wheels and the thickness of dust filling his lungs. As he sat up coughing, his ears rang with the sounds of donkeys braying and merchants greeting each other in the early morning. He pulled his cloak over himself, feeling the chill of the morning through the hole in the shoulder of the garment. Maybe today I can collect enough to have that repaired, he thought to himself. The sun began to rise, which he was informed of by the heat gradually making its way down his body. His world was still in darkness though, and had been that way for as long as he could remember.

The voices and commotion slowly increased on the road throughout the morning, and he stayed in his spot for a time, knowing that it yielded the most return for his pleading at this time of day. He held out the old chipped dish he had found two nights ago behind a home nearby, and began calling out for money. He had been at it for quite a while and his stomach began to ache, but soon a firm round object fell into his lap. “Thank you, thank you!” he called out. “You’re welcome!” called a fading voice to his left. As the crisp fruit filled his mouth with sweet juice, he thanked God for his breakfast. Once he had finished his meal he relocated himself, since this road was mostly used early in the morning by the locals, but the one through the center of town brought many travelers through it as the day progressed.

The day grew hot and his dish remained fairly empty, promising him a meager dinner at most and no hope for the repair of his cloak. He sat down next to a local merchant’s tent, scooting in just close enough to benefit from its shade. In moments like this, especially lately, he let his mind wander, but only so far, because he knew if he let it go completely he would begin to despair of his situation. It was easy for him to start growing depressed about having to feel his way through life, knowing that it would be nothing to God to heal him and change everything. He would think about how he would see all of the people who passed him every day, ready to sell them dishes and utensils that he had formed himself, having spent so many years training to work primarily with his hands. All it would take would be an opportunity, a chance to train as a worker of clay, but one that had been rejected every time he garnered the courage to pursue it. But he didn’t let himself think like that anymore, and hadn’t attempted anything so silly in a long time.

Shouting voices and footsteps running down the road to his right startled him out of his thoughts. He stood up, listening intently but not making out words, and decided to walk towards the source of the commotion. But as he turned to go he was knocked down by a group of young people with the same idea who had sprinted past him to discover what was going on. Rubbing his back where he hit the table on his way down, the man sat up on the ground and realized that the mass of people had grown so large that it was crowded in front of the spot that he sat, and he began to hear a word repeated throughout the hoard of people.

The word was a name, a name who had been the reason his mind had wandered more lately, and who had caused him to think of what a life full of light would be like. Rumors had traveled along this very road, more and more in recent days, about a man who was traveling throughout the region, upsetting the rulers of the synagogues and speaking in ways about God that hadn’t been heard ever before. But these things were not of most interest to the man, who always asked about the same thing when travelers were telling their stories: “Did you see him heal anyone?” With so many affirmative answers it was hard for the man to push away his hope, and began asking God to bring this man of God through his town. Today this man, Jesus, was there.

Before he knew what he was doing, the man was screaming. Screaming like he had wanted to all his life. Screaming as one who had never had a chance to scream before. Screaming all of the hope and all of the anger he had inside him into the world. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

He kept at it with all of the strength he could muster, unable to stand because the crowd had now engulfed him. People began rebuking him: “Be quiet!” “Stop embarrassing yourself!” “The teacher has no time for you!” But with every discouragement he screamed louder and louder and louder, until they began saying something else to him.

Several people were yelling at him, trying to make themselves heard over his hoarse cries. “Cheer up!” they cried. “On your feet!” said a voice, “He’s calling you!” But the man did not hear their words as he screamed out for the one he longed to meet. The man felt himself pulled to his feet and began struggling, determined he wouldn’t let a minor embarrassment keep him from doing everything he could to meet this man Jesus. But they kept crying “He’s calling you,” and as the words sank in he stopped. Immediately he threw his worn cloak aside and ran, tears streaming down his face and hands pushing him in the right direction. And before he knew it, he stumbled into a clearing with his hands feeling nothing in front of him. There were no more voices crying out to him, no more hands guiding the way.

He wanted to say something, but his lips would not move and the silence sat heavily on his shoulders. He knew the man stood before him, the man he had been praying to God for an opportunity to meet. The man who, if the rumors were true, could finally bring him into the world everyone around him knew. If only he could find his voice and tell him all the things he had been dreaming of, hoping for. He didn’t know how long he had been standing there when he heard footsteps coming near him. And Jesus spoke.

“What do you want me to do for you?” That was it. The man was almost offended, because wasn’t it obvious, with his hands outstretched and groping nothingness, staring in the wrong direction, unable to make eye contact with someone standing feet away from him? But he couldn’t be angry, because the voice was not what he had been expecting from a powerful and authoritative man of God. It was gentle, and certainly strong, but filled with a compassion that made the man’s heart break, because he knew Jesus truly saw him. And it might have been the first time he had ever felt seen in his whole life.

“R-R-Rabbi,” came a dry, ragged whisper from his lips, “I want to see.” Tears fell silently down his dusty face.

“Go,” said Jesus. The man’s heart dropped to his feet and his mind raced. How could this be, after all of my suffering and all of my prayers and embarrassment and shame and sorrow and rejection and hopelessness and darkness? How?!!! But before he could voice any of his fears, Jesus spoke again. “Your faith has healed you.”

Immediately he was blinded by white light, brighter than he imagined a light could ever possibly be. He closed and rubbed his eyes, but it wouldn’t go away, and he squeezed his eyelids together until more tears streaked down his face. Rubbing his eyes, he opened them. The light was gone, and instead there was a face before him, a face that looked gentle, certainly strong, but filled with compassion that made the man’s heart break, because he knew this face truly saw him.

The man immediately wrapped his arms around Jesus, crying and thanking him over and over and over again. He let go and spun around, taking in every face that surrounded him and now smiled and cheered and gasped and wept. He saw the buildings he had been feeling his way past all of his life, and the tents and the merchants therein. He would have wished he could see and know every face who had ever been kind to him to thank them, but in this moment he wanted to thank and hug everyone, even those who had looked down upon him before. But he couldn’t do any of that, he just wept and laughed there in that spot until he thought to look to Jesus again.

But Jesus had moved out of the circle, and the man could see the crowd moving along the road after him. The man immediately ran after them, intent on following Jesus wherever he would go, telling everyone he possibly could of the wonderful miracle given to him. He would look everyone he met in the eye and tell them “Jesus gave me sight! I once was blind but now I see!”

And as he followed after the crowd the man began screaming again. This time the people around him did not rebuke him or tell him to be quiet, and some even joined in. The man screamed and screamed until his voice was gone, and even then he continued to scream, determined to cry out this way for the rest of his life. “Jesus, Son of David, thank you!”

The Day Jesus Marched With Women

Mark 5 – A Woman and A Girl

On his way through a town, Jesus is confronted by a man whose daughter is dying. This man pleads with him to heal his daughter, and Jesus agrees. As he is making his way through dense crowds who are pressing in on him from all sides, a woman who has been bleeding for years finds her way through the crowd. She has been ceremonially unclean under Jewish law, separated from society because her condition, but in this moment pushes her way through the town to touch the edge of Jesus’ cloak, hoping beyond hope that healing could be hers. And her hopes are fulfilled.

Jesus notices that healing power comes out of him, seeks out the one who has touched him, and, upon hearing the woman’s explanation of the moment, blesses her, saying, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go and be freed from your suffering.” (V34)

As he turns to continue to the sick little girl, he and the girl’s father are informed that the girl has died. When he hears this he responds, “Don’t be afraid; just believe,” (V36) and continues towards the home where the girl’s body lies.

When he arrives, he shoos out the mourners, who laugh at his faith in the girl’s ability to be awoken from death. He takes the dead girl by the hand and says, “‘Talitha Koum!’ (Which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up.’)” And she immediately stands, raised to life by the encouragement of Jesus to get up.

Jesus breaks a host of societal norms in order to love these two, the woman and the girl:

1. The woman who was bleeding was ceremonially unclean, meaning that nobody wanted to be near her nor touch her, for then they too would become unclean if they made contact with her. Not only did Jesus interact with her, he allowed her to touch him and be healed by their contact, with no reaction as to what their contact would mean for his cleanliness. He cared not.

2. Jesus went in to the room where the little girl was and raised her to life. He does so by taking her hand, and touching a dead body would also make him unclean in traditional Jewish law.

3. He goes in to heal a child. Children were not valued highly in the Ancient Jewish custom, and even the disciples attempted to shoo them away from Jesus on at least one occasion (Luke 18:15-17). Sure children were loved and cared for in the home, but they became important when they started contributing the livelihood of the family through their labor.

4. This is the most important piece for our discussion today. Both the woman who touched his cloak and the little girl have something very important in common: they are women. Like children, women were not valued like men were in ancient societies and were thought to be inferior to their male counterparts, and this included Jewish culture. For Jesus to heal them both meant a major breaking of societal norms.

These two intertwined interactions show the heart of God in an incredibly important way: God is not as concerned with our societal norms or religious cleanliness as he is with our love. Jesus did not come to sit in the temple and lecture. He did not come to eat and drink with his people, Jewish people, only. He did not come to continue the norms in culture that keep people oppressed, marginalized, downtrodden, or devoid of power. He came to march directly to the places of pain and need and raise up the weak, humble the strong, and create a people who would go anywhere at anytime to love anyone.

And I mean that, anywhere, anytime, anyone. God didn’t imagine his people would avoid bars and casinos because they were filled with debaucherous people. He would never want them to avoid genuine friendship and love with another human because of their race, nationality, religion, or sexual or gender associations, fearing what those interactions might mean for their social standing. He didn’t consider that they might stay within church walls in order to avoid the sins of the world. He never intended for his people to be “us” and for the rest of the world to become “them.” And the reason he never thought this way was because he never lived this way on earth. Jesus ate and drank and lived his life with the despised, the rejected, the loathed, the lame, the poor, the confused, the self-righteous, the successful, the liars, the cheats, the lustful, the greedy, the proud, the outsiders, the oppressed, the screw ups, and everyone in between. Christ came to love EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE, and in EVERY PLACE, and to show them a God who loved and valued them all equally.

So today, as feet are marching and voices are raised around the country to speak for women and all those who need a voice, I encourage us to remember that in all of his life, not in just one vignette in the book of Mark, we see Jesus marching into every sector of society and breaking down its norms by intentionally doing what others would not, practically loving those others would not, and insodoing giving voice and power to those in greatest need. He let the impure touch him, the outcast find healing, the dead find life, the children find empowerment, and women know value from God that far surpassed any they had ever experienced from the society around them. Let us do the same.

“Go and be freed from your suffering…”