Saturday, June 27, 2015

THE REVEREND RICARDO FROHMADER: ¨Do not fear, only believe¨ (updated to include homilies for 4th and 5th Sunday after Pentecost)

The Reverend Ricardo Frohmader,  St. Alban Mission,   Antigua, Guatemala
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27;     Psalm 130;    2 Corinthians 8:7-15;         Mark 5: 21-43
“Do not fear, only believe” Jesus says in this morning’s Gospel proclamation.
We spoke last week of fear and of its pervasiveness. We spoke of how it can cripple us, cut us off from what should be our community and leave us isolated. Isolation opens the door to depression, and depression in turn opens out onto the desolate landscape of despair. This is no way to live. Faith overcomes fear. Jesus invites us to put our fears away and let faith guide us. If we trust in God, fear recedes.
Today’s readings from the Scriptures, as they delve into the realities of human sorrow, of loss of loved ones, of the death of children, of the suffering and isolation that comes with chronic disease, of hunger and famine as a reality then and now,  speak to us of aspects of our human condition that are the hardest to bear.
Our Old Testament Reading describes the grief felt by David at the death of Saul and his son Jonathan. Jonathan and David have had a very close relationship: “I am so distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” David has lost the person he loved most in the world, and he is devastated. What comfort can there be? The Psalmist this morning waits for the Lord “for with the Lord there is mercy”. His soul waits for him, for “in his word is my hope”. And indeed in situations like this we need to wait for the Lord, to wait for his illumination and guidance.
The Epistle reading from 2 Corinthians is about a fund-raising drive that Paul is leading for the relief of believers in Jerusalem, where there is a famine. He urges the Corinthians to give because it is a question of “a fair balance between your present abundance and their need”. Paul suggests that there will be reciprocity if ever the Corinthians are in need and those in Jerusalem are enjoying abundance. You and I know that in giving we receive, and that God blesses us when we are generous.
We should be willing to share our abundance says Paul, with the hungry. You have noticed perhaps that the weather here has been dry, that Saharan dust is blowing over the Caribbean and Central America, suppressing rainfall. The many subsistence farmers of these regions who rely on rain for the success of their crops are at risk of famine. The situation that Paul is grappling with in Corinth nearly two thousand years ago is happening today, very close to home. How should we respond? Are we prepared to respond?
Our Gospel this morning relates two healings by Jesus which happened in quick succession.  One of the leaders of the synagogue comes to him and, prostrate on the ground, begs Jesus to lay his hands on his gravely ill daughter that she might live. Jesus agrees to do so. There is a large crowd around Jesus, and in this crowd is a woman who has suffered from continuous hemorrhages for twelve years, endured much under many physicians, and spent all she had. “If I but touch his clothes I will be made well” she says to herself as she comes up behind Jesus and touches his cloak. So it is-her hemorrhage ceases immediately.
Jesus is aware that power has gone forth from him when the woman touched his clothes, and he wants to know into whom it has gone. The disciples think Jesus is being ridiculous. How can you ask a question like this when there is a throng of people around you, but the woman knows what has happened, and she comes forward and falls down before him in fear and trembling, and tells him why she has touched his clothes. Jesus says to her “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease”.
This episode is all the more dramatic when we understand the Jewish context of this narrative. In Jewish purity code law, blood contaminates-it is unclean. A woman’s menstrual blood contaminates even more. A woman who is menstruating is unclean for the four days of her flow, and for eight days thereafter. This woman has had unremitting blood flows for twelve years. She is unclean and cut off from her society. She appears to have been wealthy once, and to have spent much money and to have endured much under the physicians of her time. Now she is poor, and an outcast. If she once had a husband or other family she almost certainly has been rejected by them. Who could endure a woman who is unclean on a continuing basis, day after day, month after month, year after year?
If Jesus were a Pharisee he would have felt contaminated by the woman’s touching his cloak. That is perhaps why the woman identifies herself in fear and trembling. Jesus is neither a Pharisee nor does he feel defiled by the woman’s touch. He knows that some of the power that fills him has gone forth into another person, and he wants to know why, and into whom. She is just one exemplar of the healing work Jesus carries out on behalf of the outcast, the rejected, the oppressed and the ill.
While Jesus is still speaking to the woman who has been healed, people from the synagogue leader’s house come to say that his little girl has died. “Why trouble the teacher any further?” they tell the father. Jesus tells the father of the little girl: “Do not fear, only believe”. He goes to the house, letting only the father and Peter, James and John follow him. When they arrive, mourning has already begun. When Jesus tells the mourners she is only sleeping, those present laugh at him. Jesus makes everyone leave save the father and mother and the three disciples he has allowed to come with him. They enter the room where the child lies. “Talitha cum”, “little girl arise”, says Jesus. She arises and begins to walk about. He asks the persons present to not say anything, and to feed her.
Why would Jesus not want everyone to know the girl lived? Scholars call this the “messianic secret”. Jesus does not want to raise expectations that he is a messiah come to save Israel from the Romans, and to restore the kingdom of Israel. That is what people expect and want almost desperately, but that is not his mission. The Gospel of John recounts how Jesus had to flee into the wilderness because people were looking for him to crown him king. Jesus has come to proclaim the approach of the Kingdom of God and to spread healing and love to all of the unloved and rejected of Israel. He has come for our sake too. Like the little girl, we will be fed. We will be fed at his table. Let us not fear, then, but only believe!
Together let us say Prayer 58, for Guidance, found on page 832 of our prayer books:

O God, by whom the meek are guide in judgement, and light rises up in darkness for the godly: Grant us in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

(Fr. Ricardo had been on vacation and the following homily was just sent to add to our inspirational materials)

1 Samuel 17:32-49; Psalm 9: 9-20; 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13; Mark 4:35-41
Thursday morning, a little before five I was looking out an airplane window towards the East. Beautiful horizontal streaks in red, orange and gold were developing and filling an ever larger swath of the horizon. Above these glorious colors the sky was a pale and beautiful blue color. I was awed by the beauty of God’s creation, but also filled with thankfulness for having been created able to see and appreciate the glories of the coming day. Across the aisle, the window showed a Western sky still in the clutches of night, and a long line of raging thunderstorms where the flashes of lightning illuminated the gigantic thunderheads that rose up to the other side of our airplane. I felt awe , but also fear. I dread turbulence. Would our plane have to cut through this line of storms in order to land? Some days our journey takes us through a line of thunderstorms and we feel the might of the forces of nature. Thanks be to God the airplane did not have to do this last Thursday. We left the line of storms behind. The sun rose showing Guatemala verdant, emerald green, sparkling in the new born day. We landed safely.
Some days we might feel just like the disciples in the boat crossing with Jesus to the other side. Forces beyond our control may have disturbed what we wish were a pleasant journey through life, and now we feel like we are caught in a windstorm. That small boat on which we travel with friends and relatives is taking on water. Maybe that boat is like this congregation. We feel we are in danger of being swamped. And where is Jesus in all this? Why isn’t he doing his job?
In today’s Gospel Jesus is asleep in the stern of the boat, resting on a cushion. The wind is howling, waves are breaking and water is sloshing into the boat. What is going on? “Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?” the disciples say after they awaken him. Of course Jesus cares. Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves, saying “Peace! Be still!” “Then the wind ceased and there was a dead calm”. The disciples called upon Jesus in their fear and distress and he stilled the wind and the waves.
The gospel does not end here: there is another rebuke, from Jesus to the disciples: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” We can ask ourselves this question: “Why am I afraid?” If I believe in Jesus, don’t the words of Psalm 23 apply? “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”
I think if we turn to Jesus when the turbulence of life howls around us, and we are feeling swamped, then there will be calm, and the turmoil we experience will cease. Our external circumstances may not change much, realities will be realities. Nevertheless, getting in touch with Jesus will help us deal with the storms that sometimes rage within and around us. I believe that Jesus is with us always. We may let our relationship with him slumber, but he travels with us through life-he is our rock, he is our guide, he is our salvation. If he appears to be sleeping, it is because we have not kept in touch. We are the ones who are sleeping, or sleep walking through life. Jesus is there when we call on him.
As individuals, as families, as a congregation we encounter situations that are difficult, sometimes terrible. Loved ones die. Loved ones are taken ill and fail to recover. We fall ill, we experience pain. Our houses or our cars are robbed, maybe at gunpoint. Sometimes we are swamped with debt. Our income is small. We do not know how to make ends meet. Debts pile up. I know a person who does not come to Church on Sundays because she fears that one of the 3 buses she has to take between home and the Church might be held-up. She is in the grip of fear. Another parishioner does come by bus-she may fear, but her faith overrides the fear she might feel. Is faith, or the lack of faith maybe the key to these different approaches to riding a city bus?
Those situations and moments are when we need to get our relationship with Jesus going again, when we need to strengthen it through prayer and contemplation, when we need to put our fears aside and have faith that Jesus will see us through. This also means that we need to take stock of our own situation and ask ourselves “What does Jesus expect me to do in this situation?” “How can Jesus help me face this hour?” Jesus walks with you and me. Jesus guides you and me. Still it is our responsibility to get the decisions we make right. Jesus isn´t going to do the deciding for you or me.  He will guide, he will counsel but the decision is ours to make. He will be there to protect and try to guide, but the choices are ours. We can help ourselves by putting fear aside.
Let me put some of our dilemmas and situations in another light: This week a twelve year old boy in Guatemala City refused to kill a bus driver when ordered to by a gang. The gang then sentenced the boy to die, but let him choose between being dismembered or thrown off a trestle bridge that is 495 feet above a river bottom. The boy chose the bridge. He survived the fall. Whether he survives the lack of medical care and medicines at the national hospital is another matter. Jesus was with him when he made his choices, and when he fell, don’t you think? And we think the choices we face are terrible!
In South Carolina this past Wednesday a young white man with a 45 caliber pistol went to Bible Study at an African Methodist Episcopal Church. This is a traditionally black denomination. He was welcomed. At a certain point he pulled out his gun and began shooting. He killed nine people. He told the arresting officers that he almost didn’t commit the murders, because folks were so nice and welcoming to him. In the middle of the shootings, a survivor pleaded with him, asking him to stop and not kill any more people. He couldn’t stop he said- he had to do what he had to do, and he killed the man who pleaded with him. His aim was to start a race war. But you see, even at the last moment Jesus spoke in that young man’s mind, and almost dissuaded him from the murders.
The young man chose evil, but the choice was his to make. Some of the relatives of the victims have forgiven him, and asked that God have mercy on his soul. At least one brave man, in the middle of the killings was able to ask him to stop. That the killer did not was again a choice he made. So in this light, how do our problems and sorrows look now? And how should we in faith and with faith respond to the storms and tempests that we face?
Will you turn with me please to page 473 of your Prayer Books and let us say together Psalm 121.  This is the traditional version of the psalm and not found elsewhere in our book of common prayer
And yes,
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil, yea it is even he that shall keep they soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in, from this time forth for evermore.
A MESSAGE FROM OUR SENIOR WARDEN:  Greetings! Fr. Ricardo  is back at St. Alban for the service this Sunday, June 28th. 

I look forward to hearing from you to confirm your assistance to make preparations in the hope you may join us.

St. Alban Episcopal Mission, Antigua, Guatemala
The Episcopal Dioces of Guatemala
We will also be welcoming Fr. Smith at our service on July 5th with a transition service date to be announced by the Bishop. I look forward to your comments as to how best welcome our new priest!

Elizabeth Bell, Senior Warden
I am in the process of collecting signatures for the formal request to establish a St. Alban Mission that we are presenting to the Bishop. I look forward to seeing you to sign, if you have not done so already.

Very best,
Elizabeth Bell
Senior Warden, St. Alban

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