Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

Barnabas

Barnabas


One of my favorite stories is the story of Pollyanna. This was a short book written in the early 1900s by Eleanor Porter about a young orphan named Pollyanna who comes and lives with her very stern and quite unhappy Aunt Polly in a small town that has truly lost its spirit. Pollyanna brought a whole new outlook to this small town through a marvelous sense of optimism and the ability to look for the good in everyone. She went about the town, never meeting a stranger, and introducing people to her ‘Glad Game’. This game consisted of looking for the good in every situation regardless how hopeless it may seem to be. The story was made popular by a 1960s movie staring Haley Mills. In fact the book and movie became so popular that the term ‘pollyanna’ became synonymous with anyone who shares that great optimistic, look at the bright side attitude. Even though at times it is used as a derogatory term - “Oh you are just being a pollyanna”. But this is the character of the man we read about in the book of Acts that we know as Barnabas. He was able to always see the good in people and was a great defender of those whom others wanted to write off.
No discussion of Barnabas, however, can begin without first talking about the Apostle Paul. Paul is the chief evangelist for this new thing called Christianity shortly after the ascension of Jesus. But it didn’t happen that easily. Before he was a champion of Christ, Paul was a Pharisee. Remember the Pharisees were the group of Jewish religious leaders that Jesus kept criticizing for putting the following of the law above the true worship of God. The Pharisees had simply just gotten off track in believing that it was through following the law that one became part of the people of God instead of what Jesus was trying to teach - that it was through simply putting your faith in trust in God that made all the difference. But the Pharisees held fast that it was the Law that was the most important. So when Jesus ascends and the followers of Jesus begin to teach Jesus’ message of faith over law, Paul saw this as a direct violation of his beloved Judaism and knew he had to do something about it. So Paul starts a campaign to arrest and sometimes kill those Jews who were becoming followers of Jesus. It got to the point where the name ‘Saul’ as he was known to the Jews struct fear in those who were living as Christians.
One day as Paul was headed out to Damascus to arrest Jesus’ followers there, he was confronted in a sand storm by the risen Jesus who talked with Paul and eventually converted him to be a disciple of Christ rather than a persecutor of those who followed Jesus. That was all well and good, but if you are one of those who were following Jesus and had been afraid of Paul, or who had been persecuted by Paul or who had had family members tormented by Paul, how easy was it going to be for you to really believe that Paul had changed? Or was this just some kind of trick where Paul sucked you in by making you think he had changed and then would go after you? Paul was going to have a tough challenge ahead of him convincing those that he had been persecuting that he was now one of them.
After his conversion, Paul decided he needed to go to Jerusalem and talk to the leaders of the church, to let them know of his new mission and also so that he can talk to the disciples. He knew that as a new convert there was much he needed to learn and why not go straight to the source and talk to the ones who had spent so much time with Jesus. But when Paul arrives in Jerusalem, the Jesus followers there were understandably reluctant to welcome him. They thought his story was a trick to capture them. Paul, however, ran into Barnabas in Jerusalem. They had known one another - conjecture is that they went to school together and studied together under the great Jewish teacher Gamaliel. Barnabas, who was a Levite and well known around town agreed that he would help Paul integrate himself into the society of Christians in Jerusalem. This was not an easy task, but it was because of Barnabas’ reputation as someone of integrity, that people began to reluctantly accept Paul as a true follower of Christ. Paul’s acceptance into the Christian community was due to Barnabas’
support and Barnabas’ willingness to stay positive when so many around were unwilling to trust in what God can do.

Contrast that to the story we read from the Old Testament book of Numbers which is a story which reminds us what a difference a bad attitude can make. The story starts out with the Hebrew people along with Moses standing on the bank of the Jordan River ready to cross over into the promised land. God says to get the land all they have to do is cross over the river. But the people are afraid and so they decide to send over 12 spies to check out the land and let them know whether the land is safe or not. before they commit to cross over So the spies go and when they come back 2 of them, Joshua and Caleb, talk about how great the land is, how much food is there - it will be a great place to live! But the other 10 spies, while they admit it is a great land, full of food and great land for raising their sheep and their crops , they tell the people there are some overwhelming obstacles - it is full of giants and those giants will just stomp them so they recommended that the Hebrews not go into the promised land. Here these Hebrews had spent 40 years traveling to this place and now they don’t think they should take that last step. Joshua and Caleb argued that God got them this far, surely he would be with them in this new land. God would help them and look at the great benefit they would get! But the negative attitude and the fear of the other 10 spies spread throughout the camp - to the point that the people said they preferred going back to Egypt into slavery rather than taking the risk of going into this new land - even though they admitted it sounded like a great place. The people allowed this negative attitude, this fear, to hold them back from this great blessing God offered them. So God sends the people back into the desert to wonder around and lead a difficult life until they have all died - and then he would bring back the next generation and try once again to offer them this promised land.
But Barnabas shows us the other side of the coin. It would have been very easy and very politically prudent for Barnabas to jump onto the ‘don’t trust Paul’ bandwagon. Barnabas, however, continued to champion Paul and convinced at least the former disciples Peter and James to talk to him. They did but Paul really wasn’t brought in as part of the fellowship and so Paul left Jerusalem and went back to his home in Tarsus. But Barnabas didn’t give up on Paul. He followed Paul to Tarsus and convinced Paul that he was called by God and that he did have a viable ministry and why didn’t they head out together and begin to preach the good news to the Gentiles. It was Barnabas’ coaxing that motivated Paul to go with Barnabas to Antioch and there they began to preach and teach and they established a large Christian church comprised of Gentiles. Because of Barnabas’ encouragement, Paul’s ministry began and Paul became the largest influence on the spread of the gospel other than Jesus himself! What a difference a positive, encouraging attitude can make.
It was Barnabas as well who began the career of Mark - the writer of the second Gospel. Barnabas saw great potential with Mark and invited Mark to come and share missionary duties with Paul and himself. Now, Mark was young and Paul and Barnabas were experiencing persecution in their attempt to teach the message of Jesus Christ. Mark had joined them and was doing a good job, but things at one point became so difficult that Mark ‘chickened out’ and went home to Jerusalem. This infuriated Paul who had experience much more difficult persecution and thought Mark was giving up way to early and Paul just didn’t have any use for Mark any longer. Barnabas came to bat for Mark and said, “He’s just young, he needs some encouragement. Have some patience and understanding.” Paul was unrelenting and so Barnabas decided Mark needed him more than Paul did and Barnabas went to help Mark. Through Barnabas’ patient, positive, reinforcing nature, Mark joined Barnabas and went back out on the mission trip, teaching and preaching the message of Jesus Christ.
By the way, Paul and Mark eventually made up and Mark then helped Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome and then became Peter’s right hand man when Peter began to work with the churches in Rome - and then Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark. Without Barnabas’ help, Mark very easily could have run back to Jerusalem with his tail between his legs, given up on his calling to spread the gospel and then would not have become the voice for Jesus that he did.
Tradition holds that Barnabas was martyred like all the other early missionaries by being stoned to death in Cyprus where he was serving as the Bishop of a group of churches there.
Barnabas is a wonderful example to help us remember the value of an encouraging word, a willingness to build up and support and have that ‘pollyanna’ attitude when things might not seem all that bright and positive. But a good attitude, as Barnabas shows us, can quickly turn around situations that might even seem hopeless.

Amen!

Rahab

RAHAB

I don't understand this idea of God using me for something. What does that mean? I'm not anyone special; I don't have any special abilities - at least not any real valuable ones. I can't sing or play an instrument; I'm not good at meetings. I'm just a regular person. What could God possibly do with me? Or. God doesn't want me for anything. I've done way too much wrong in my life. I haven't been a very good person. In fact I've done some really rotten things. I'm just not God material. Or. God can't possibly think I can do anything for him. I don't know enough. I don't understand that Bible at all - and every time I try to read it it just doesn't make any sense to me. So forget me when the God responsibilities are announced.
These are all arguments that we've all heard - and ones that perhaps we have all used at one time or another. But this is precisely why we learn about these people in the Bible. Because I guarantee you that we have never thought of an excuse of why we can't do something for God that someone in scripture has not used before. And there is nothing so bad that we have ever done that God can still not use us. And sometimes, God uses us for his purpose and we don't even know that we are being used to carry out a part of God's plan. Sometimes he just uses what we doing in our ordinary day to help carry out his plan. Today we are looking at the person of Rahab, a character from the Old Testament who represents for us many of these doubts we have about whether we are worthy or able to work for God - or whether we may even realize that God is using us to do his work.
As usual we need a little background. This story, like so many, begins at that time in the history of the Hebrews when they are traveling through the wildness on their way to the promised land. Their journey across the wilderness is over and the next phase begins. Remember the whole purpose of the journey through the deserts of Sinai is to reach the promised land. The promised land was to be a place where the people of God, who had lived in captivity in Egypt for 400 years, would have their own country, all their own. So, now, here they are at the banks of the Jordan. Moses has died and they are now being led by Joshua, who is a a military leader. God has given them the bad news - he is not just going to give them the promised land. They are going to have to earn it by militarily conquering the land.
So Joshua is on the banks of the Jordan, working on his strategy to begin the invasion of the land of Canaan - the land we would call Israel today. The first major city he is going to have to conquer is the city of Jericho. Remember the song many of us learned as a child in Sunday School - "Joshua fought the battle of Jericho....." But in our story today, Joshua is trying to develop his strategy for that battle of Jericho and he decides the first course of action is to send a couple spies into the city to check it out - find out the layout and where it might be vulnerable. Like most cities in this region it was a walled city. The walls of these cities would go completely around the city and normally there would only be one entrance into the city. Inside the city walls, homes and businesses used this outside wall as the back walls of their home or business and they would put windows in the outside wall on the second or third story so that there was still an element of invulnerability to the city.
So the spies Joshua sent, go into the city of Jericho, do their spying work, and then visit the business of Rahab who was a prostitute. Her establishment provided a place to stay overnight as well as to take advantage of her services. It would have been a logical place for the spies to go because they would have just blended in with the other customers at Rahabs place.
Keep in mind that by some means, what the Israelites were about to do in coming to invade and occupy the territory, had become common knowledge in these border towns, so the people were a little on edge about what might happen. The word had gotten to the King of Jericho that there were Israelite spies in the city and he takes a small contingent of soldiers and heads out through the city to see if he can find the spies and kill them. And in the course of searching for the Hebrews, he ends up


at Rahabs house.
In the meantime, Rahab told the spies that she knew they were Hebrews and she knew what they were up to. But she said she had heard the stories of their God - how their God had parted the Red Sea, and how God had led them to win some great military battles. And she told them frankly that she and the rest of the people of Jericho were afraid of the Hebrew's God.
I think we need to stop for just a second and consider this. Here we are in a time of history when there is no mass communication; no CNN, or Fox News, or NBC, or newspapers or radio, no Internet. These events that Rahab mentions are things that happened out in the middle of nowhere and quite a distance from where Rahab lived. Yet somehow, God has gotten the word out that he truly is a mighty and powerful God and something to be feared and respected and that he would be with and his people and this struck fear in the people who truly considered what this God had been able to accomplish. This included Rahab and the King of Jericho and all the citizens of Jericho.
So Rahab hears the King is out looking for the Israelite spies and she gets them and takes them to the roof of her house and hides them in a pile of flax she has on the roof. Flax is a textle used to make cloth and was also used to make wicks for candles. So the spies are hidden and the King is pounding on her front door wanting the spies because the king had heard that the spies had been there. Rahab goes out to the king and assures him that yes, the spies had been there but had left just a few minutes ago and if the king hurried, he could probably catch up with them. So the king and his men head out of the city gates after the spies and they shut the gates behind them so that no one else could go in or out. They headed towards the Jordan.
Rahab goes and gets the spies and now barters with them. Essentially she says, "Look, I know that you guys are going to invade, and I know that with your God with you, you will conquer the city. So, since I saved your life, now I want you to save my life and the life of my family." And the spies said they were very grateful for what Rahab had done for them. Again we need to keep in mind that had Rahab been caught hiding these spies and lying to the King, she would have been killed on the spot. She put her own life on the line for these Hebrew spies, these foreigners, because she respected their God.
The spies told her that if she would hang a red cord outside her window, when the armies attacked, anyone in her house would be spared. So if she would round up her family members from around the city, and have them in her house, she and they would be spared.
The spies spend another night at Rahabs and the next day she helps them escape by lowering them out her window, which remember is part of the city wall. And again, she is risking her life should she be caught. She told them when they got to the ground to go to the mountains because the King and his army had gone towards the river.
When the Israelites invade the city of Jericho and Rahab and her family were spared and actually were assimilated into the Hebrew people and they became part of the people of God.
Rahab is mentioned several places in the New Testament as an example of faith. Here was someone who hadn't experienced the miracles of God, but yet believed in God's power and sovereignty simply from the stories she had heard. She was not a Hebrew, and yet still believed in the Hebrew God. She exhibited great faith helping the spies and trusting that they would save her and her family. And she, a Gentile prostitute, is mentioned in Matthew as a part of the lineage of Christ.
So whenever you think that you aren't able to help God, or you aren't worthy to help God, or you have done too many bad things to help God, remember Rahab who God holds before us as an example of how God uses whom he chooses, regardless of who they or what they may have done!

Amen!

Learn From Me

“Learn From Me”

Services like this one sort of put us off our game. There is a different rhythm, a different movement than we are familiar with, normal elements of worship are rushed a little, the sermon turns into a homily - which is just a word that means a short sermon. We do things we don’t normally do. But there is a reason for this difference; a reason for these added elements and the main reason is to remind us that God is an important part of everything we do. We recognize God’s work in every aspect of our lives as we live as people of God.
Because that is who we are - we are people of God. In our Baptism we say that we are signed and sealed as God’s forever. So if we belong to him, that means that every part of our lives is important to God and God is involved in every aspect of our lives and therefore we need to stop occasionally and do things within our worship to remember how much God values not only our worship but also our work in and outside of the church.
You know you are a child of God - but Jesus also reminds you that you are a disciple. The word disciple means - One Who Learns. You are a disciple of whatever it is you study and learn about. Whether it be fishing or golf or archery or sewing or the Church. That is why those 12 young men who followed Jesus were called disciples because their job following Jesus around was to learn. They called Jesus Rabbi which means teacher. That was the type of relationship they had - this student/teacher relationship. And when Jesus left them for the last time his charge to them was to go out in to the world and ‘teach’ people what they learned from Jesus.
Teaching, education, is a paramount principle all through scripture. It is the purpose of scripture. We have all this information for the sole purpose of learning about God and who God is and how much God loves us and cares for us and what God expects from us.
While ‘teach your children’ is not one of the 10 commandments, immediately after the 10 commandments come these passages from Deuteronomy:

These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.

If you type in to a Bible search “Learning” or “Teaching”, you find out there are 407 references to teaching in the Bible - which I think very clearly tells us how important the concept is to God. So that is why we have special days like this to remind ourselves of the educational ministry of the church because it is a vital aspect of who we are as the children of God; as Disciples of Christ and we ‘worship’ or honor God be recognizing the things that are important to him.
This call to education also challenges us to remember the importance of learning all we can about God, about Jesus, about the stories of the Bible so that we can better be those disciples God calls us to be.

Amen!

The Boy Who Provided Loaves and Fishes

The Boy Who Provided the Loaves and Fishes

I know you have heard the phrase, “Good things come in small packages”. Often used when at Christmas one child has received a present in a great big box and another child has received a present in a very small box and the second child somehow feels like their gift is much less important than the bigger gift. Often the small gift costs much more than the larger one but there is just this perception that the bigger something is the better.
Often people of smaller stature feel the same way - they aren’t as good as those people who are taller. But you know just because you may be a shorter person and you can’t play basketball, shorter people make much better soccer players. We could think of whole bunches of examples of short things or small things or things of lesser number which are far better than their larger counterparts. And when you read the Bible, it is pretty common that the smaller, shorter, less than, younger ones are the ones who are the Superheroes in a given situation.
We continue to look at superheroes of the Bible - and we are concentrating now on those superheroes who remind us that being small, or young, or less than, doesn’t mean that you can’t do great great superhero feats for God!
Today we are going to talk about the little boy who brought his loaves and fishes to Jesus who then took what the boy had offered and was able to feed well over 5000 people. This little boy is one of the superheroes our VBS will be looking at to help show our children that children can be great contributors to the work of God regardless of their age or their size.
But before we talk about the boy and his lunch, I want us to think about another little boy who did a great work. David was a young boy between 12 and 15 when his father asked him to take food to his brothers who were serving in the army. Kind of made me think about our soldier care packages! David went to where his brothers were stationed and delivered the package of goodies from his father.
While he was there, he learned about Goliath. Seemed that the soldiers had been stationed on top of a mountain and perched on the other mountain was the army of the Philistines. Now the Philistines had challenged the army of Israel to a one on one contest. One soldier from each army would meet on the plain between the two armies and would fight it out and the one who survived would be the winning army. The two armies agreed and the Philistine army sent out their one soldier who happened to be the 9 ft tall and very mean Goliath.
When the Israeli army saw Goliath, they could not find any soldier who was willing to go and fight Goliath even though they were the army of God and God had guaranteed he would help whoever when to fight the giant. So every day Goliath would come out onto the plain and taunt the army of God and wait for someone to come and fight him and no one would. That is until David shows up to deliver food to his brothers.
Now, not only was David very young, but David was also small in stature. He was truly a little boy. He’s up there on the mountain when Goliath comes out for his daily challenge and David is amazed that no one will go fight. So he says to the King, if none of these grown men, professional soldiers, are willing to go fight this giant, I will. Of course everyone thought he was joking or crazy or both, but he was serious and David follows up on his offer even though everyone thought he was being suicidal. He prayed, he got 5 small stones and he went out and killed Goliath. This little boy, the small one that no one thought could do

anything, accomplished what the older and bigger and more skilled people were not able to do.
Let’s jump up several thousand years. Jesus is traveling around Galilee teaching and preaching and healing. Great huge crowds are following him as he goes from place to place. Traveling with Jesus are his disciples. A group of young men whom Jesus is trying to train to take over for him when he ascends to heaven. He has shown them great miracles and told them over and over again that they were capable of doing great things. In fact at one point Jesus sent them out on their own to teach and heal and they came back all excited because they were able to do what Jesus knew they could do. They had great success in teaching the things of Jesus and even being able to heal people.
As today’s story opens, we have Jesus and his disciples - who remember know what they are capable of doing - being followed by a large crowd of people when Jesus goes to a hillside and begins to teach and the people are so enthralled by what Jesus is saying they don’t realize how late it has become and Jesus and his disciples know that these people have been here all day and they need to eat. Jesus looks at the disciples and says, “You feed them”. And the disciples get hysterical. How can we feed all these people, we have no money, there are no stores nearby, we can’t do it Jesus. Lets just send them home! Jesus is pretty disappointed in his disciples because Jesus knows what they are capable of and the disciples never even consider the idea of God helping them provide for these people.
Meanwhile the disciple Andrew is wandering around the crowds perhaps asking if anyone has any food to share when a small young boy offers his food. I don’t know any of the particulars, but what I do know is that this young boy is willing to give this small pittance to Jesus with the confidence that Jesus will be able to do something with these small loaves and fish. Now historians agree that since it was the food of a small boy we are talking small loaves like the size of a dinner roll and fish about the size of anchovies. Everything about this story is small - the boy is small, the food is small, and the disciples faith is small. Jesus takes this small offering, blesses it and begins to break off pieces of the bread and the fish and give it to the disciples who distributed it to the crowds who all ate their fill and then when the disciples went back to clean up there were 12 basketfuls of bread and fish left over.
Good things come in small packages and in these stories it is good things come in the form of small children. There is David, a small child who was willing to do what grown, professional men were not willing to do. There is the boy with the loaves and fishes who was willing to trust that Jesus could do something with this food when the older, more experienced, supposedly trained by Jesus men didn’t even think of trying anything.
We have to remember that everyone is valuable to God. It doesn’t matter the age or the size. As an older person - you are capable of doing much more than you think you can. Young ones, you are capable of doing much more than you think you can. And to the rest of us, we can’t ever assume that someone is not capable of doing something because of their age or their size.
In Acts we read: “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young will see visions, your old will dream dreams. In other words, God’s work will be done by old and young alike and all will be a useful, helpful, important part of the Kingdom of God.
We need to remember in God’s eyes, it is not the size or the age or even the ability, it is the willingness to step out in faith and do what God is calling us to do. Amen!

Mary, Mother of Jesus

Mary, Mother of Jesus

The story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is pretty familiar to us. At least the story of Mary before Jesus’ birth is familiar. We know that Mary is a young girl living in her city of Nazareth where she is preparing to be married to a man named Joseph. However before she is married, an angel comes to her and declares she is going to get pregnant by the Holy Spirit and the father of this child will be God. Her son, the angel tells her, will be the Messiah, the savior of the world. Mary is concerned by this news because it is going to bring her hardship and hard decisions but she agrees to do what God asks of her.
She gets pregnant as foretold which puts Joseph in an awkward position but an angel visits him as well and tells him what is going on and he decides to do the right thing and marry the pregnant Mary.
At some point in her pregnancy Mary goes to see her cousin Elizabeth who is also carrying a miracle baby because Elizabeth is past child bearing age. Elizabeth’s baby is to be the one who announces to the world that Jesus is going to be the coming Messiah. When the two women meet, Elizabeth cries out:
 “In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” Luke 1:42
This is the passage I want you to think about today -
Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed are you among women. I bet when you think of someone being ‘blessed’ you think about a soft, easy life where all is good and there are no problems. We use that phrase a lot when we think of the good things that happen to someone and your response is “You are blessed.” But when we think about the life of Mary, we would not think of her as living a blessed life because after she says ‘yes’ to God, her life is never easy or calm or peaceful.
As we continue our summer with Superheroes. Mary the Mother of Jesus wasn’t on any of your lists! When we are asked to think of superheroes, pictures of meek and mild Mary just doesn’t come to mind. But how much more of a superhero can you be than agreeing to carry the child of God in the midst of the oncoming trials and tribulations that come along with this task. Mary will be one of the superheroes our children will be studying during Bible School to show that you don’t have to be a big bombastic larger than life person in order to be a real superhero.
Mary as we know travels to Bethlehem with Joseph when she is almost due to deliver Jesus. One of several difficult journeys she is going to have to make. She delivers Jesus in a barn with no one to help her except Joseph before the days when we could google ‘how to deliver a baby’. A couple years later in the middle of the night Joseph wakes her up and says ‘God has told me to get out of Bethlehem and to travel to Egypt” and so rapidly she packs up and begins another difficult journey to a country she knows nothing; about to live with people she doesn’t know who speak a language she doesn’t understand; to learn a new way of doing things in a culture she is unfamiliar with.
And then after being there for a while, Joseph once again tells Mary to get packed and they begin the long journey back to Nazareth. Mary and Joseph had left so quickly from Nazareth that Mary was probably a little unsure of the reception she would get when she returned home.
We don’t know much about that time period between the return to Nazareth and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. We assume it was a pretty normal time but we do know that Joseph died sometime during these years.
Then Jesus leaves on his ministry but returns to Nazareth a couple times to see his family and to preach and teach and heal as he did around other parts of Galilee. It is a disturbing story when we read in the Gospel of Mark that his mother Mary and Jesus’ brothers were embarrassed by Jesus’ behavior; by his claim that he had the power to heal; that he was the one who fulfilled scripture.



What that shows us is that Mary may have been a superhero in her obedience to God, but she was human and filled with all those human frailties of wanting everything to fall into the right boxes and Jesus certainly did not do that.
But this is the picture I really want you to think about. The next time we see Mary, it is at the foot of the cross. We talk a lot about the suffering of Jesus, but through all the hardships Mary has been through, there can be none harder for her than this.
In the movie The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson does a very clever thing in showing these flashbacks about Mary and Jesus. You see Jesus as a toddler running and falling down and Mary running to pick him up and soothing his tears. You see in another flashback Jesus and his mother just having a friendly conversation. They were a typical mother and son.
So now, picture the tragedy of Mary as she sits at the foot of the cross and watches the mutilated body of her son hang on that cross in agony. Imagine how Mary felt as she heard her son cry out the words of Psalm 22
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.” The same Mary who was called blessed by God, the same Mary who picked up her toddler and kissed away his skinned knee, is now watching her son cry out in anguish hanging on a cross and there isn’t a thing she can do.
Think about the suffering this mother is going through at this moment. Can we even imagine what this moment is like for her? And what about Jesus’ father, God, how much he is suffering as well over the pain and torment of his son?
Suffering is a subject we talk about a lot. Why do we have to suffer? Shouldn’t being obedient to God give us some kind of insurance policy against the hurt and pain of this life? What is the point of giving our lives to God if we can’t even get relieve from suffering out of it?
So God teaches us several things about suffering as we learn about the lives of the people he records for us in the Bible. First thing we learn is that there is no insurance policy from terrible things happening in our lives. Mary, and many others, teach us that. Mary, the mother of God, suffers horribly. Yet she is blessed of all women. It doesn’t make sense; it doesn’t seem fair.
But then we hear from the cross Jesus’ words to his disciple John who is also present. “John, take care of my mother.” In his own agony, Jesus makes sure his mother is taken care of. In her suffering, Jesus sends her help and comfort.
While we may not understand suffering or why it affects some and not others or how come we as God’s children are afflicted with suffering just as much as those who aren’t part of God’s family.
One thing we do know - that in our suffering Jesus is right there suffering with us; that in our suffering he really does understand our pain and agony. It must have added to Jesus’ pain on the cross knowing that his mother was having to watch what was happening. Yet Jesus’ was concerned about his mother; Jesus made sure she was taken care of. We are told that John the disciple took Mary home with him and he cared for her.
Don’t make your suffering worse by trying to rationalize why you are suffering. God doesn’t produce suffering because of something you did. Suffering is not the result of God punishing you. Don’t agonize over why because it just makes the suffering harder. If we learn anything from the stories of the people in the bible, it is that suffering happens. Bad things happen. There is no rhyme or reason, there is no pat “why” answer, life is what it is and things happen. That is all the explanation there is.
But what we do know; what we are assured of is that in the midst of this suffering God is with us. God will provide us help. What kind of help? We don’t know - but it will come. Sometimes it is that supernatural feeling of God’s peace just washing over you. Sometimes it is a person God sends to bring his love and care for you - but it doesn’t come. God will never forsake you or leave you….
Mary is one of our best examples of a superhero because she was obedient to God and because through the awful suffering of her son, she never lost relationship with God.
Hall Mary, mother of grace, blessed are you among women. And you are all blessed of God.
Amen.