Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Death and Taxes

Sermon:  “Death and Taxes” (Scripture references follow script)
You have probably heard Benjamin Franklin’s expression “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” 

In the 12th chapter of Mark’s gospel, we find the story of some Pharisees and Herodians coming to Jesus with the intent of trapping him into betraying either Jewish law or Roman law about paying taxes.  As always, it didn’t work out well for them.  Jesus looked at their coin and asked, “Who’s image is on it?”  (Jewish currency could not have images because of the Mosaic Law prohibiting “graven images”.)  The coin, being Roman currency had Caesar’s image on it. So Jesus said, “Give back to Ceasar what is Caesar's and to God what is God’s.” Clearly Jesus believed in the inevitability of taxes.

But just as clearly, he didn’t believe in death … at least he saw death differently than most of us do.

Here are some points to consider:
·       Genesis 1:31 “And God saw everything that he had made and that it was very good..
·       Wisdom of Solomon quote: “For God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity.”
·       We were created to be eternal as God is eternal.  That is, we were created to live forever.  What we call death is simply a passage into another part of that life. 
·       When God / Jesus speaks of death it is the eternal separation from God.  That is the true death.
·       2 Peter 3:9. We are told that, “The lord is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all come to repentance.”
·       Remember, “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.”

          Here is our story:  Jesus is being followed by crowds … Again!
As a preacher, I have to say that I’m just happy when people don’t rush out the doors at the end of the sermon … or worse … during the sermon.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to have y’all follow me around everywhere I went.  Yet that was what was happening with Jesus.  He would go into the local synagogue and preach, or he would go to a market place, or a hillside, or along the edge of the sea … and people just kept coming and following.

          It was his own fault, you know.  He kept telling people to follow him … to leave whatever they were doing … to leave behind family and friends … to put him at the top of their priority list.  And they were doing just that. 

          This Jesus, this God wrapped in human flesh must have been amazing to hear!  He spoke with authority … that is … he spoke as if he REALLY knew what he was talking about.  He laid his hands on people and commanded them to see, or walk, or be free of disease.  He commanded the spirits of evil to flee and never return.  Yep! He must have been amazing. 
          And yet there were also those who didn’t believe.  There were those that didn’t follow.  To them he was just another crazy person leading deluded people around the countryside.  A large number of those doubters and disbelievers were the clergy and leaders of the day.

          And yet, here at the sea shore, Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, came to Jesus for help.  He started by falling at Jesus’ feet.  This must have amazed people who knew ol’ Jerry as a powerful man in the community, a type A, top dog kind of guy.  To see him humble himself in this way was evidence that he was a man who knew he needed help.  A man who knew that he had reached the limits of his ability to deal with the situation. 

          I’m going to let you in on a secret!  If you didn’t know this about men, men don’t like to ask for help!  We don’t like to admit that there are limits to our abilities.  And this is never more true than for a man in authority.  All politics aside, can you imagine any president falling at anyone’s feet and begging for help?  And yet here is Jairus, at the feet of Jesus, pleading for the life of his daughter.

          Sometimes when people came to Jesus, or were brought to Jesus, he would take the opportunity to teach a lesson or make a point.  Not this time.  Jesus immediately turned and went with the man.

          And then … and then something strange and wonderful happened.  Someone touched him.  Well, really she wasn’t brave enough to actually touch him.  She only touched the hem of his garment.  She, like Jairus, came to Jesus with a need.  Unlike Jairus, she had no standing in the community. 
          For twelve years she had been hemorrhaging, bleeding.  By Jewish law she was unclean and unapproachable, untouchable.  Those who knew of her problem assumed that if she hadn’t healed, it was because of her sin.  It was assumed she was being punished by God for some unconfessed wickedness.

          No, though this unnamed woman was also coming to Jesus for help, she felt unworthy of taking any of his time with her problem.  But she believed … oh did she ever believe!  She believed that if she could just get close enough to feel his clothing brush against her … she would be healed!

          And Jesus, in the midst of the crowd, the crowd that was always there, always pressing closer, always wanting more from him … in the midst of all the bumping and jostling and pushing … Jesus said, "Who touched my clothes?" 

          Really?  I mean, really?  His disciples didn’t believe it either.  What could he mean, "Who touched my clothes?"  Everybody touched his clothes.  Everybody touched everybody.  It was a crowd, a milling, constantly moving sea of humanity.  How could he be asking,  "Who touched my clothes?" 

          It didn’t make any sense.  After all, he was on a life or death mission to go save Jerry’s daughter.  Why would he be concerned that someone had touched his clothers?  I can just see Peter scratching his beard and shaking his head.  What in the world could Jesus be talking about?  Why would he stop in the middle of this mission of mercy and ask such a strange question? 
          But the woman, hearing Jesus and the disciples and knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling.  Fear and trembling … she just realized that in her attempt to remain inconspicuous, she had touched him and received a healing.  Was that stealing?  Was she in trouble?  She was unclean and had touched this most holy man!  What would they do to her?
          She fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.  He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." 
          Two things happened here.  She was healed of her aliment and Jesus calmed her fears, “Go in peace.”  Far from being angry with her, he was sympathetic to her fears.  What an amazing God, Amen?  She came to him for healing but he knew that she needed more than a physical healing.  She needed peace.  She needed a calmness in her life that had been missing for twelve years!
          But now this little interlude is interrupted by people coming to say that Jairus’s daughter has died.  Too late!  Death is final.  End of story.  Game over.  Death and taxes.  His friends embrace him and say, “Sorry, Jerry, but it’s too late.  Don’t bother Jesus anymore.”
          Imagine the pain that this poor man felt.  He had gone agaist his very nature to humble himself before Jesus and now that act of contrision seems to have been for nothing.  His child that he loved and valued more than his reputation and more than his standing in the community, was dead!  I can imagine that his heart sank and his knees buckled.  His friends grabbed him from completely collapsing and help him begin the walk home.
          The scriptures don’t mention how far he had to travel to reach his home but it had to seem to him like the longest walk of his life.  And as he approached his house the sound of the mourners could be heard.
          You need to understand this little bit of Jewish tradition.  The higher your standing in the community, the more people came to mourn with/for you.  As a matter of fact, it was a custom to hire mourners to raise your standing in the community.  Since ol’ Jerry was a leader in the temple, there would have been quite a mob of people surrounding his house and wailing, sobbing, and crying out.
          As Jesus approaches, he asks, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." 
          Now the strangest thing happens … they laughed at him.  In the middle of this tragic scene, the mourners laugh.  For some it was just an emotional overload that caused the laughter.  But clearly, for many it was a laughter of derision.  It was as if they were saying, “Who is this fool who doesn’t no the difference between death and sleep.”  They truly did not understand or believe the power that Jesus possessed. (and still does)
          Jesus, always in control even in someone else’s home, chases the crowds outside.  He then took the child's father and mother along with his chosen disciples, and went in where the child was.  He took her by the hand and said to her to get up!  And get up she did.  She immediately got up. At this they were overcome with amazement. 
          Overcome with amazement!  What an understatement!  Mother and Father would have rushed to hug and kiss their loved one.  But the others?  Can you imagine their reactions?  A flood of emotions would have washed over them: wonder, puzzlement, fear, joy, awe …!
          What would you do if you saw a dead person stand up and start to walk?  Back away with outstretched arms to fend off the zombie apocalypse?  Fall to your knees in praise to God?  Or something in between?
          Jesus was well aware that often there is pain involved in the physical death.  In anticipation of his own death he sweat blood and asked the Father is there might be another way.  He also knew the pain of those left behind.  Which is why he brought people back from death on several occations.  It wasn’t done for the benefit of those who had died but for those suffering such grief at the loss of a loved one.
          However, as children of God, we should not fear the small death because we believe in a better life on the other side.

          There is a story by an unknown author going around the internet … perhaps you’ve read it.
In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other, “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”
“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”
The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”
The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”
The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”
The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover, if there is life then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”
“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”
The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”
The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”
Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”
To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

          This little parable about life after delivery hopefully changes or reinforces your understanding of life and death  in the grander scope of God’s plan.
          Truly, Jesus does not see death as we see death.  Not even the physical death of our bodies is irreversible to God. 
          And the real death … the separation from God … has been taken care of by Jesus.  He has made a way for us to avoid the real death … the final death.  He paid our penalties for our sins which separated us from God. 
          All that is required of us is to believe in our hearts and confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord of our lives.  Once we have done that, we have no reason to fear the “little death” of our bodies, because we know that our life goes on in the presence of God.
          Though we may “walk with God” in this life.  It isn’t until the next life that it becomes perfected.  As Paul says in his first letter to the church in Corinth, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.  All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

          So, though we may still mourn the death of loved ones, we may also rejoice that they are now free from all worldly pain and problems.  The rest of their lives are filled with love and peace in full communion with their maker … as he intended from the very beginning. 

Hebrew Scriptures:  Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24
          God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.  For he created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them, and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.  For righteousness is immortal.

          For God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.

Gospel Reading: Mark 5:21-43
          When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea.  Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live."  So he went with him.
          And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.  Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.  She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.  She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.  Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned Jabout in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?"  And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, 'Who touched me?'" He looked all around to see who had done it.  But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.  He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." 
          While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?  But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe."  He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.  When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.  When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping."  And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was.  He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!  "And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement.  He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

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