Prayer, what, who, where, when, and why should I? The five W’s of problem solving. Let’s take them one at a time. What is prayer for? We pray all the time, for strength, for money, for health and travel mercies. We pray for dogs and cats, for cows and calves. We pray for life and we occasionally pray for death. We get upset when our prayers go unanswered and we forget to say thank you when they are. Anyone who has ever prayed for the life of a loved one and still buried them has asked this question of God, “What good is it if I don’t get what I ask for?” The question first gets whispered in the back of our minds, a lonely little whisper “what good is it”, what good is it, and the more we think about it the angrier we get until we shout out to God in our pain and confusion, WHAT GOOD IS IT? It doesn’t work…and still we pray for enlightenment. The problem with our question is in direct relation to the value we place on prayer as it relates to God. Because we have been raised in a fast food society and capitalism is the system that we are taught from day one, we place prayer in a transactional relation to God instead of a communicative relation. We use prayer as a form of heavenly currency, I’m praying to you God, I believe in you God, now give me what I asked for God, and please don’t take too long God, I’m a busy person after all, things to do and places to go, so make it snappy if you please. Well as we all find out sooner or later, that just doesn’t work out very well for us. It never has for me, I keep buying lottery tickets and praying that I’ll hit the jackpot…but I never do, and I used to get mad because I would pray and pray for the Lord to “give” me a better whatever, fill in the blank. I still do, I just don’t blame God anymore for my own stupidity and impatience. I have learned that prayer is about relationship, that the purpose of prayer is to come into relation with God, to be able to know God. Prayer is not a transaction, it’s an exchange. An exchange so vital that our lives depend upon it, yet we seldom give it a second thought. We forget who we are praying to, just a reminder, we are praying to God not to Walmart. Where and when we pray is less important than the fact that we pray. Lying in bed at night or kneeling before the cross on Sunday morning the important thing is that you are in relationship with God.
The where and when while not very important, the actual manner that we pray has greater meaning, while prayer is most commonly done standing up, I do much of my praying in an upright position either with my head bowed or lifted to heaven. In the morning I pray lying in bed, for me that is my most intimate time with God it is the time I am most unguarded and most likely to hear God because there is less distraction. Today though just as it was in Paul’s time, to kneel before God was to signify your complete submission to His will and I still get down on my knees to give thanks for His gifts to me and the world and for the grace I don’t deserve but have never the less been given anyways. That it was His life that paid for my sins and not my own. 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. Prayer is how we get to know our Father, how we experience His love, His mercy, these are the riches of His glory, and 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. To abide in Jesus is to be anchored in Christ, to be grounded in God’s love. The only way to experience that love is through prayer and that’s why we need to pray. Martin Luther said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Prayer is the very life blood of a Christian, why should we pray? Ask yourself why you should keep breathing, the answer is the same? John Wesley had this to say about prayer, “God’s command to “pray without ceasing” is founded on the necessity we have of his grace to preserve the life of God in the soul, which can no more subsist one moment without it, than the body can without air. Whether we think of; or speak to, God, whether we act or suffer for him, all is prayer, when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing him. All that a Christian does, even in eating and sleeping, is prayer, when it is done in simplicity, according to the order of God, without either adding to or diminishing from it by his own choice. Prayer continues in the desire of the heart, though the understanding be employed on outward things. In souls filled with love, the desire to please God is a continual prayer.
As the furious hate which the devil bears us is termed the roaring of a lion, so our vehement love may be termed crying after God. God only requires of his adult children, that their hearts be truly purified, and that they offer him continually the wishes and vows that naturally spring from perfect love. For these desires, being the genuine fruits of love, are the most perfect prayers that can spring from it.” 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Prayer is not about fixing your flat tire or getting a raise at work. Our prayers are so seldom answered because at the heart of it all, they are selfish instead of selfless. We ask ourselves why God doesn’t act the way we want Him to and that’s so wrong on so many levels and still we ask why? Abraham Lincoln said “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” We pray because we are not sufficient for the task, it is through God’s wisdom that we are remade for the tasks that can only be accomplished through God and prayer. 20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. I think John Wesley said it best when he said, “Prayer is where the action is.” Praise God!
“O LORD God Almighty, Father of angels and men, we praise and bless your holy name for all your goodness and loving kindness to humanity. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and for your unceasing generosity to us throughout our lives; But above all, we bless you for your great love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ. We bless you for bringing us safe to the beginning of a new day. Grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger. Keep us, we pray, from all things hurtful to body or soul, and grant us your pardon and peace, so that, being cleansed from all our sins, we might serve you with quiet hearts and minds, and continue in the same until our life’s end, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. Amen.” John Wesley
We often find ourselves in over our heads. Life has a way of crowding in on us. And it can take a huge toll on our personal health as well as our spiritual wellbeing. Both are necessary if we are to disciple others, we need to live the life of Christ before we can preach it. That’s not an easy thing to do, the disciples found that out and while it’s no easy thing the rewards can be tremendous and like anything that is worthy of God it carries a great responsibility as well. Now you may be thinking “why would I” get into this and “how do I get out”? Relax, Jesus isn’t asking you to do it alone. There’s a reason that the great commission is two by two and why the disciples rarely traveled alone, even Paul was usually accompanied by another disciple or a local who followed the Way. If you listen closely to the scripture you can see that Jesus first concern is not the people that are following Him but rather His disciples, 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Because Jesus recognizes the fact that we need time to decompress, kingdom work is hard work and often dangerous. As disciples we need to take time off to be with the Lord. We need to recharge our spiritual batteries so to speak, as well as our physical ones, sleep is just as vital to our ministry as prayer is. God took a day off, Jesus frequently went off alone to pray and to be by himself. We are no different in our need for alone time, we need to rest. We also need to share our Joys and our frustrations with Jesus. It’s important to take not just your problems to the cross but also your joys. We need to repent for redemption, but life is not an endless series of forgive me God for my sins. We need to be thankful for our blessings as well. To rejoice “Praise God” in what it means to be children of the most high. The disciples knew this and despite being weary their excitement and joy because they were once again with their master is abundantly clear as we read the scripture. 30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. When I read this, I imagine them all talking at once and excited to be back, to tell Jesus about how many people they healed, and demons cast out, how people repented and called on God. I can just imagine them like children coming home from camp, excited about all the things they saw and did and the friends they made, eager to share it all with those that they love. The joys and the heartaches the laughter and the tears, because make no mistake as many as were healed and sought God there are as many more who were not healed and who will not seek the kingdom of Heaven. Today though we are going to focus on the Joys of ministry, 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. [Mark6:30-34] This is what discipleship is all about, compassion and what is compassion? It’s defined as sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. To me the simplest definition is Love, because you must have love to feel compassion and it was compassion that led to our redemption, it was God’s compassion for us that led Him to sacrifice His Son, it was compassion that led Jesus to the cross and ultimately, it’s compassion that leads us to Him. The desire to love and to be loved, to be understood, to be wanted, to know who we are in Christ. We crave that sense of being anchored. We need to have stability in our lives and so too did the disciples. 53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. There is a sense of finality in this sentence. Jesus is done traveling back and forth across the sea of Galilee, he is about to begin His main ministry. The constant back and forth has served its purpose. Jesus is well known throughout the land and beyond, there is no longer any need for Him to continue to travel by boat. Indeed, I don’t think that Jesus set foot in another boat again once He docked at Gennesaret. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. Now you might wonder why Jesus picked Gennesaret to do the bulk of His ministry instead of the major cities like Jerusalem, Caesarea, Tyre, or Joppa, well this region was known as lower Galilee and According to Josephus their soil is universally rich and fruitful, and full of the plantations of trees of all sorts, insomuch that it invites the most slothful to take pains in its cultivation by its fruitfulness: accordingly, it is all cultivated by its inhabitants, and no part of it lies idle. Moreover, the cities lie here very thick; and the very many villages there are here, are everywhere so full of people, by the richness of their soil, that the very least of them contain above fifteen thousand inhabitants.  The very least of the cities in this area had as many people as Silver City or Deming. Sure, you could get a million people into Jerusalem during Passover, but the bulk of the people lived in villages and small town, most people were no different than today. In fact, minus the technology everyone probably wanted the same things that you want right now. A roof over their heads and food on the table, they wanted their kids to grow up and be doctors and lawyers or the equivalent. They wanted to make good money and provide for their families, they wanted easier ways to do things, so they could spend more time with their families. Above all though they wanted to be healthy, remember limited technology translates to limited effective health care. Healing was a big thing, something we tend to brush aside but issues we consider minor or easily correctable now were debilitating and often deadly in Jesus time. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. [Mark 6:53-56] The keywords in this passage are “all who touched it were healed.” This is where we want to be anchored, we want to be anchored in Jesus’ compassion. All who touched it were healed, none were denied, Jew or gentile, local or Foreigner, none were excluded. It is Jesus’ compassion that provides the anchor for His disciples to weather the storm and that same compassion provides us with an immovable anchor as well. No matter how great the storm, we are always anchored in Jesus’ compassion. It provides us with stability, it keeps us from being left adrift in life’s swift currents. That compassion scares me, when I think about Jesus walking on water, feeding 5000 or healing the sick with just His presence, I cannot imagine it, it exceeds my ability to comprehend it. In my head I can see it but, in my heart, I cannot encompass it. I can only thank God that He Has compassion for me and that He relieves my fears and fills me with His peace, Amen. I thank God that I can rest in His presence and be anchored in His compassion, that I don’t have to understand it to take part in it. I only have to accept that it’s God’s will and to follow where He leads. No matter the task, no matter the cost, Jesus will provide us rest in our work and a compassionate anchor to resist the storms of life.
There are two questions that we spend our lives trying to answer, and no they are not… Is there a God and will I live forever? The answer to both those questions are Yes and it depends. No, the question we first seek to answer is…Who am I? Those three words are possibly the most sought-after question of all time. From the moment of our creation, in the instant that we become self-aware, we pursue this question. It concerns us from our first hour until our last, it concerns us more than what we will eat or drink, whether we will marry or how much money we make. It’s more important to us than our family and friends. It defines us…Who am I? We constantly seek out our place in the world…we study, and we attempt different things. We sample the many different vintages that a lifetime offers our palettes…only to find that what was once sweet has turned bitter, so we continually reinvent ourselves because either we’re not happy with who we are, or we grow beyond what we were. After all familiarity breeds contempt, even Jesus was susceptible to this most human of malady’s. Throughout this lifetime process of trying to figure out who we are the other question that concerns us almost as much as the first…right behind it, so very close behind this question is the other most important question we want to know…do others know whom I am? Does the world recognize my importance? We want to know that we are important, that what we say and do has meaning and that others recognize that in us. This need for recognition is what tends to get us in so much trouble and don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to want others to understand us, as humans we have a fundamental need to be understood, by our loved ones most especially but also by society in general. It’s important to know where we stand in our community. Are we important to the community, will we be missed if we leave, what would happen if I got sick, or went to jail? Would anyone care and what does this have to do with John the Baptist and Jesus? When we read todays scripture there are several questions that we need to ask but the most important ones are Who was John the Baptist to Jesus; and how was Jesus known to the community? When we start the scripture it’s right after Jesus sends out the disciples and He is continuing His ministry around Galilee and even though He is unsuccessful in his hometown Jesus has become very well known in the surrounding areas. In fact, He has become so well known that even the Tetrarch of Galilee has come to know the name of Jesus. Tetrarch simply means ruler of a quarter and Herod Antipater or Antipas as he was known, was the ruler of a quarter of what was left of Israel and fancied himself a king and wanted that recognition, and this desire for recognition would eventually cost him all that he had. Still, Jesus had made a name for himself and 14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason, these powers are at work in him.” This sounds kind of funny coming from a devout Jew, but two things are important here and the first is, at this time there were many different beliefs about the soul among the Hebrew people and reincarnation or transmigration of the soul was fairly common which is why others said, “It is Elijah.” And still others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” The second thing to remember is that Herod was not a good Jew, he was not devout. Herod played at piety and followed the laws only in so far as they benefited him and his wife. Still like any politician, he survives by the will of the people and John the Baptist was liked and respected as a prophet among the people just as Jesus is becoming liked and respected and that is why Herod is concerned and mistakes Jesus for John. 16 But Jesus when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” Notice that Herod is convicted by his deeds. Herod is terrified that his earlier rash decision has literally come back to haunt him. Herod is having an Identity crisis only it’s not…who am I, it’s who is Jesus? Is He John or Elijah? Is He priest, prophet, mystic, or con artist. Fortunately for us it’s none of the above. Although I think that we sometimes have difficulty answering that question too. We tend to pray to Jesus as if He was an App on our phone. Well people it’s time to update your App because it’s not about us. It’s about the kingdom of God and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Only in Jesus can we find redemption, only by repentance can we find Jesus and only through Jesus can we be reconciled to God. John new this and Herod suspected. Our problem is not with…Who Am I? Our problem is with… Who… God… Is and our own desire for recognition? You see we envy God and His power and glory and majesty in heaven, so we try to copy it here on earth. Naturally, we fail. We fail to repent of our sins because so often we fail to recognize them as sins. Often, we don’t realize it until someone or something forces us to recognize our failure for what it is. That’s what happened to Herod and why Herodias became enraged at John because he dared to point to the mud on her sandals forcing Herod to face his own sins. Herod knew the law and that it was a sin to marry your sister in law, it was considered incest, and we won’t even get into the obviously unhealthy relationship he has with his stepdaughter Salome. All these things conspire to force John’s arrest For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. I feel just a little bit for old Herod because I can sympathize with him, we go to church on Sunday and hear a good sermon and get to feeling good and holy and we repent, Hallelujah Lord, Amen Brother. We get the fire of the holy spirit going and then we get home and there’s our cross waiting for us. Our Herodias spurring us on, telling us to kill the Baptist because he dares to point out our sins. There’s our Salome, beguiling us, tempting us, appealing to our baser nature, enflaming our desires and inviting us to make a rash decision. Together their siren song, seduces us away from God and that’s when we start letting our human nature take over, the same nature that got us kicked out of paradise in the first place. The sad thing is that we seek out those opportunities, “an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. Wow! Talk about beware what you ask for, beware what you promise. Sometimes all we see is the opportunity and we fail to comprehend the final cost. We are so focused on who we are, that we fail to envision what we will become if we pursue our live apart from God. John the Baptist understood these things. He like Jesus preached repentance, repentance for our sins. John said “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” [Matthew 3:2] John primed the people to hear the message and Jesus would continue that simple message that would eventually change our world. It was John who said “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. [Matthew 3:11] And it was John that understood the most important lesson about who he was…who I am? The most important lesson from this scripture is that Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” [John 3:30] Today I want you walk away with a few questions and a challenge. The questions…What do I do when the sins of envy, hatred, and jealousy are seeking to take control? How am I known? What does it mean to be known as a follower of Jesus Christ? How does repentance look in my daily faith journey? And are there blind spots that cause me to operate as if I were King Herod? Finally, I want you to pray about your identity and your reputation. What are you known for in our community, and how are you sustaining and growing your faith?
Mark’s gospel has moved us from faith to its opposite. The opposite of faith is doubt, denial, rejection. Many times, our lack of faith can expose us to doubt. In turn our doubt becomes nihilism, we become skeptics and pessimists. It’s terrible when this happens because it has a life of its own. It grows and as it grows it feeds on our confidence, it kills certainty and weakens our convictions. Even our Lord had to accept this… as Jesus came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. [Mark 6:1-4] Their problem wasn’t really with Jesus but with His power, His knowledge. They had known Him all their lives and known Him as child and a young man. He was the village carpenter. That doesn’t mean what we think it does today. Jesus would have been able to make plows, yokes for oxen, furniture, doors, windows and just about anything you needed, and it was not confined just to wood, it included metal and masonry. Jesus could have built you a house outfitted with most of what you would need to live in it comfortably. Jesus was a blue-collar guy, he was technical, a laborer. Not a scholar, not a Pharisee and these people would have known that. There was a reason the Pharisee were rich, because only the wealthy could afford not to work, only the wealthy could afford to study the law instead of making a living. That’s why Jesus was rejected in His own home town. You see the real problem with doubt is that it tends to be self-realizing and all encompassing.
We don’t expect it to be, but nevertheless it has that effect and it’s no different for those that knew Jesus than it is for us. When we are confronted by that which we know well, we tend to be dismissive of it, to declare it safe, we reduce it to the mundane; we hold tightly to our fiction that we know it all, control it all and we discard everything that does not fit neatly into our expectations and Jesus is no exception…our faith is no exception. Let me tell you a story, there was this mountain climber, who after years of preparation was finally ready to climb mount Everest. But he wanted the glory for himself, so he decided to climb the mountain all alone. He started climbing and as he climbed he lost track of time and it got later, and later. The later it got the closer he was to the summit, so rather than camp like he had planned, he kept going. Of course, very soon it got dark. And as the darkness descended everything became black, he couldn’t see anything, visibility was zero. There was no light, the clouds covered the stars and the moon, it was pitch black and still he kept climbing because he knew that he was very close to the top of the mountain and even though he couldn’t see it he kept going, up, ever onward. Until finally, he slipped and fell…and fell…and he kept falling. As he fell all he could see was darkness as he tumbled down the mountain he started to remember all the things that he had done in his life, all the good and all the bad, everything…his life flashed before his eyes as the saying goes, because he knew he was going to die. But he didn’t, he felt this incredible pain in his waist and his breath was knocked out of him, as he was jerked to a sudden stop, because this wasn’t his first rodeo and he had prepared for this. He knew that he could fall so he did what any good mountain climber would have done. He tied himself off with a long rope around his waist. Smart guy right. Well now he’s dangling in the air, it’s still dark and he can’t see anything, he’s helpless and in that moment suspended in time, suspended in the air this awesome mountain climber shouts, “HELP ME GOD. HELP ME!” and then the mountain climber hears this deep voice from heaven… “What do you want me to do?” “SAVE ME.” “Do you REALLY think that I can save you?” “OF COURSE, MY GOD.” “Then cut the rope that is holding you up.” The man thought about it but instead he held on tighter to the rope. The next day a rescue team went out and found the man, frozen like a popsicle, stilling holding onto the rope…a foot off the ground. Doubt can be deadly. Doubt can keep you holding onto that rope when salvation is just a step away. You see all the faith in the world can’t get you off the mountain if you won’t let go of the rope. Most of Jesus’ own people refused Him and because they refused to let go of the rope they did not benefit from his wisdom, neither did they receive His healing power.
They held on tightly to that rope. They continued to doubt Him, and Jesus never returned and only a few were healed. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching. [Mark 6:4-6] He was hurt, the people He had grown up with, people that he knew intimately, and no doubt loved fiercely had rejected Him and refused His gifts. This had to hurt tremendously and as amazed as they were at His fame, His wisdom and the miracle’s that He had done. The only question that concerned them was where He got this authority and because they refused to look beyond what they KNEW, they never received His gifts. Thankfully…I see that look again, what do you mean thankfully, because I believe that that rejection led Jesus to send out the twelve. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. [Mark 6:7-13] All things work to the good of God. Amen. Even the refusal of the Son is turned into a great work of evangelism. Jesus didn’t hang His head and give up just because His hometown rejected Him. No, He went out and continued to proclaim the kingdom of God. To teach, and He sent his disciples out and empowered them to do the same. That same power is ours, but not if we reject it, if we have no faith then we will have no reward. If we doubt our God we will be just like the Pharisee, doomed to be self-serving legalists, soulless hypocritical braggarts in love with our own piety. Harsh word I know, but true. Only in Jesus can we find redemption, only by repentance can we find Jesus and only through Jesus can we be reconciled to God. Amen.
Today I am going to wrap up my series on faith. Specifically, the spoken word and its connection to practical faith, the faith that Jesus asks of His disciples and us. Let’s take a moment to unpack the woman with the hemorrhage problem. To put things into context, it says that she “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. [Mark 5:25-26] Tell me can you feel her pain, I know I can. How many of us are in the same boat when it comes to our doctors, our health? Lot’s of pain and money and no cure in sight, just a bunch of excuses and high dollar pills that don’t seem to work or they make you feel worse than the whatever their trying to cure. So, we tend to lose faith in them, you know what I mean. We become jaded, but we keep going back to them because there’s nothing else right? Well this woman had faith, practical faith. She didn’t think it word work… she knew that it would. If only she could just touch the hem of His robe. Her faith did not require acknowledgement. No one had to say look at her, look how strong her faith is? No, in fact she would have preferred that no one knew about it. This is where we must do some unpacking, the bible does not really specify what type of hemorrhaging the woman was experiencing, so we speculate. No one knows for sure but the most obvious is that she had a very unusual menstrual cycle, probably heavy and frequent. Today it’s known as menorrhagia and women have options, a much better understanding of their bodies and OBGYN’s. 2000 years ago, not so much you see according to Mosaic law a woman was considered unclean during this time, forgive me but to really understand what I am getting at to really unpack her situation we need to know what it was like for her, so please listen this is [Leviticus 15:19-34] “19 When a woman has a discharge of blood that is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. 20 Everything upon which she lies during her impurity shall be unclean; everything also upon which she sits shall be unclean. 21 Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening. 22 Whoever touches anything upon which she sits shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening; 23 whether it is the bed or anything upon which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening.” Notice the dynamics of this law, anything she touches becomes unclean but the person who is defiled is not the women but the man. Whoever touches anything upon which she sits shall wash his clothes, can you imagine, who in their right minds would want to deal with this. Women had their own area where they could go, and others would not have to go to extravagant lengths to live. This made it difficult to care for their husbands and children, it’s also one of the reasons for having extended families living together. So, women were set apart during this time. 24 If any man lies with her, and her impurity falls on him, he shall be unclean seven days; and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean. So, now the man must be set apart as well, if he should desire to keep his wife with him, it was a huge risk. No man could afford to be considered unclean for seven days. How would he provide for the rest of his family? 25 If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness; as in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. 26 Every bed on which she lies during all the days of her discharge shall be treated as the bed of her impurity; and everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her impurity. 27 Whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening. So, for twelve years this woman has been put apart from everyone, forbidden contact with anyone except other women in the same situation. Then to top it off, 28 If she is cleansed of her discharge, she shall count seven days, and after that she shall be clean. 29 On the eighth day she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons and bring them to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 30 The priest shall offer one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf before the Lord for her unclean discharge.” Now, you must wait seven days to prove your clean and then pay for forgiveness for having your period. So just to break it down to something manageable. If you had your period, you were unclean for seven days and anything you touched or that touched you was unclean until it had been washed and night had fallen, You, were ostracized for seven days, under the best of conditions, and had to wait another seven days to be sure and then pay essentially a sin tax and this was just life for the average Jewish woman. This woman would never have been able to marry, what man would want to deal with it, no one would want to be around her, because of the risk. She would have had great difficulties supporting herself she may not have been able to afford the sin offerings, regardless. Her family wouldn’t want her around for the same reasons. It would have been impossible for her to care for a family. I can only imagine, but this woman’s life must have been a constant hell for twelve years. She would have been treated just like a leper. She was desperate and had nothing to lose, the bible says she was terrified. But she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. [Mark 5:28-29] Now that is practical faith. Practical faith requires us to be practical and part of that practicality is our confession, we need to acknowledge our faith and God’s grace. This is how we glorify Him. Not by sneaking around mumbling under your breath, about how you wished you could win the lottery. God knows when we are in need. He feels our need, it pulls at Him constantly. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” I always thought this was a bit funny, the disciples are all, seriously, there’s a thousand people around you and you want to find one person, really? Really, God knows your name, He knows when you are in need, but you still must speak up or you get lost in the crowd. Now we know without a doubt that Jesus could have taken back His power and obviously so does the woman. 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. [Mark 5:32-33] You see it’s not enough that we desire God’s grace within ourselves, we need to… we must bring it to the cross. It’s necessary that we acknowledge God’s sovereign power over our lives. The spoken word is powerful, it’s also binding, you know what I mean. When you speak something out loud there is a sense of commitment. There’s a sense of solidity, there is substance in the spoken word. Throughout the bible the spoken word is powerful. The greatest example being Genesis 1:1-31 and God spoke… creating the universe and everything in it. “Let there be light” … Something a little less lofty perhaps, how about Isaiah 55:11 “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” That purpose, that substance, that sense of conviction, is lacking, it’s powerless, when you just think to yourself, when you keep it inside. Of course, she wanted to bury her shame and pain inside (we all do) but instead she confessed it all to Him. Laid it all on the line and Jesus gave her what she really needed, 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” [Mark 5:34] He gave her peace, absolution. The sure knowledge that all was now well with her. He gave her back her life. Just like he did with some of us. Just like He will with all who ask, with all who have faith in Him. Amen.
I have spent the last couple of weeks talking about faith. We believe and so we speak our faith, we walk by that faith and not by sight, but what is our faith for? It sounds great doesn’t it, to tell people that by faith you can overcome giant’s. Tell me more about how faith will clothe me and feed me, says the homeless person. Faith is awesome, but tell me how it will cure my cancer? Faith is a practical application, “Just Have Faith” is a tired cliché that you do not want to hear when your life has suddenly turned to crap. Am I right? So how do we take on faith as a practical solution. How do we use our faith to achieve the promises of God? The great theologian Charles Spurgeon said “Faith is not a piece of confectionery to be put upon drawing-room tables, or a garment to be worn on Sundays; it is a working principle, to be used in the barn and in the field, in the shop and on the exchange; it is a grace for the housewife and the servant; it is for the House of Commons and for the poorest workshop. I would have the believing cobbler mend shoes religiously, and the tailor make garments by faith, and I would have every Christian buy and sell by faith. Whatever your trade may be, faith is to be taken into your daily calling, and that is alone the true living faith which will bear the practical test. You are not to stop at the shop door and take off your coat and say, “Farewell to Christianity till I put up the shutters again.” That is hypocrisy; but the genuine life of the Christian is the life which we live in the flesh by faith of the Son of God.” Our faith in Jesus is who we are in the world and that faith is often not what we project to the world, the outer and the inner workings of our faith they sometimes do not match. Look at the disciples in the boat after Jesus calms the sea, what do they say? 41 And ⌊they were terribly frightened⌋ and began to say to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” [Mark 4:41 LEB] The disciples faith is in this world, it’s not really a practical faith rather it’s the outward reflection of their expectations of Jesus. We see this all the time in connection with Jesus. The disciples, the Pharisee and others that interact with Him, they want a rerun of King David, they are not expecting God and it terrifies them every time they come up against it. Their outward faith is in an earthly kingdom and their expectations of Jesus are the same. My question to you is do we expect that?
We know that the kingdom is not earthly, we know that Jesus is sovereign Lord over us, but our faith is still a reflection of our earthly expectations. We know better and still we do not have a practical faith. We have no excuses for our expectations. The Lord has told us over and over in plain English what his expectations are. I feel sorry for the disciples because at that time Jesus spoke to everyone in parables and had to decipher them for the disciples, so I imagine that it must have been very difficult for those men. However, I also get the feeling that Jesus was just as frustrated with the them in their bewilderment, because 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” [Mark 4:40] I cannot understand the disciples or maybe I do, and I don’t want to admit it. Because that would me that I still don’t get it. They have been with Jesus for some time now and they have watched him turn water to wine. They have witnessed Him healing paralytics and the disabled, he’s cleansed people with demons and leprosy; in the next chapter He will revive the dead, feed more than 9000 with just a few crumbs and walk on water, while continuing to heal all who come to Him. The disciples were witness to Jesus’ greatest miracles and still they lacked a practical faith. Outwardly they praised Him as the Messiah, Jesus asks Peter, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” [Mark 8:29] But when He does something miraculous they stand in fear and awe, questioning His identity. Their outward faith is not a true reflection of their inner faith, for they have none. It reminds me of Luke chapter 7 when Jesus is talking to the Pharisee about John the Baptist and their refusal of both the messenger and the message. 31 “To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’ 33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; 34 the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” [Luke 7:31-35] In the end your faith will either vindicate you or convict you, one or the other. As a Christian though you must be very careful because it’s not just your life that can be affected through your faith. 35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. [Mark 4:35-36] Others will follow where you lead, and your faith can have a profound effect on those others that follow you.
We tend to forget that we are not little islands surrounded by vast empty oceans of space. As Christians we are observed, constantly. Everyone looks to see if you walk the walk or if it’s all bullpucky. Especially now where everyone has instant access to everything, everything is recorded and shared on YouTube or Instagram and what’s worse the enemy is lying in wait for us, just waiting for that next big scandal that he can use to discredit the faithful and sometimes I think we make it too easy for him. There’s a reason that millennials consider Christians to be dishonest and hypocritical. It’s because too often our inner faith does not match our outer expressions and much of that has to do with our society and its expectations and truly there is little that we can do about that if humanity is to retain its free will. We must pick our battles. We’re like the poor disciples in the boat as 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. [Mark 4:37] life is like that, constantly beating on our faith, a great storm that relentlessly pounds us down and we become tired and fatigue sets in along with frustration that’s when we go to God. Listen, 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” [Mark 4:37] I read this passage and I hear the condemnation of the disciples, the fear, the lack of faith, the accusation. I see it plainly and somewhat sympathize, remember all these men grew up around the sea, some were fishermen. When we think of storms we think of thunderstorms but on the sea of Galilee it’s not thunderstorms its windstorms that come in suddenly. Think of one of our windstorms minus the dust, with 60 mile an hour winds and you’re in a little sail boat in the middle of the sea of galilee and your terrified because you know that every year people die out there, people just like you, in just the same kind of boat and in just the same circumstances. This isn’t something that happens rarely it’s a common way to die during this time and it’s your turn. Their faith was overcome by fear, they let that fear dictate their expectations. I can only imagine the resignation and pain that this statement would cause Jesus. Had they not already seen his power over nature and still they doubted Him. None the less 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. There was a dead calm, this to me is the miracle. If you’ve ever been out on the water after a storm, even after the wind dies down the water remains choppy and the waves continue to be dangerous for some time after. For the wind and the sea to become still this more than anything shows Jesus power over the natural world, shows His power as the creator of this world.
Practical faith requires us to be committed to God and the word of God, it requires obedience to that word and it requires us to follow where he leads, to give up this world for the next. Peace, be still! So, in faith I leave the final words to God, a promise and a question for you to answer. I am reading from the Contemporary English Version of [Luke 18:7-8 CEV] First the promise, 7 Won’t God protect his chosen ones who pray to him day and night? Won’t he be concerned for them? 8 He will surely hurry and help them. Now the question, but when the Son of Man comes, will he find on this earth anyone with faith?
For we walk by faith, not by sight. [2 Corinthians 9:22] Faith is knowing. Faith is knowing that you will wake up in the morning. Faith is coming to church and knowing you will be welcome. You have faith because you know in your heart, that it will happen. Everything that we do requires faith. You’re probably thinking, that faith is not knowing, because if you know something is going to happen then it’s not taking it on faith, right. When you walk out the door how do you know your vehicle will be in the driveway? How do you know that someone didn’t steal it in the night? The answer is that you don’t, rather you have faith that it will be there in the morning. Why is it that I can have faith that my cat will still be there in the morning but not have faith that God will feed me, clothe me, use me to do His will. Why? I have faith that if I cheat the IRS I will go to jail, but not that I will be healed if I get sick. Instead we worry, worry, worry, and there is absolutely nothing that worrying can accomplish. Just ask John Wesley and his cow, now you’re probably wondering what John Wesley and a cow have to do with faith? Well, let me tell you a story. One day John Wesley was walking with a troubled man who expressed his doubt as to the goodness of God. He said, “I do not know what I shall do with all this worry and trouble.” At the same moment Wesley saw a cow looking over a stone wall. “Do you know,” asked Wesley, “why that cow is looking over the wall?” “No,” said the man who was worried. Wesley said, “The cow is looking over the wall because she cannot see through it. That is what you must do with your wall of trouble—look over it and avoid it.” Faith enables us to look past our circumstances and focus on Christ.
Jesus said “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed, your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. [Matthew 6:25-34]
Dale Carnegie said this about worry … “Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” Let that sink in for a minute. I’ll repeat it even, “today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” We never stop do we, we borrow trouble from the future and bring it into our lives today. How many times have you worried yourself sick over something only to find out it was never a problem in the first place, or worse you made a nothing issue into a real problem. You turned something that had no life on its own into a mess that you couldn’t get rid of because you wouldn’t leave it alone. There is truly nothing that you can do to change the past or the future, only the present, so why worry about something you can’t change. Often, we think we can change it or correct it but what we really do is create another problem entirely. We manufacture an issue, so we have something to worry about. We are never satisfied with what we have, we lack faith in the Lord. I think it’s the curse of humanity, that we brought out of the garden with us. This inability to be satisfied with what we have, to be unable to have faith in God that He will provide us with what we need. Not necessarily what we want but what we need. We have this amazing ability to convince ourselves that we are the most intelligent, powerful, beautiful, and yet humble and benevolent of all God’s creation. Even when we are confronted with the opposite, we deny it. Because we put our faith in our own abilities to provide rather than Gods. Even when we clearly don’t know what’s going on.
Jesus 26 … said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” [Mark 4:26–32] Faith is like the seed that is scattered, we do not truly understand the miracle that is the seed. Oh, science has explained to us how seeds grow, but do you truly understand it. We can explain the mechanism that is the life cycle of a seed, but we do not understand what it is that happens when we plant that seed. Because, it doesn’t always work does it. You plant the seed and you water it and feed it and do everything you’re supposed to and still nothing happens. Why? Why don’t all the seeds sprout and produce fruit all the time. Was it because you didn’t have any faith? Was it because it was a bad seed? Who knows, we can’t explain it … no one can because, we don’t know why. We accept it on faith. The kingdom is like that, Jesus 30 … said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” [Mark 4:30–32] Our faith does not have to be colossal, it doesn’t have to explain the universe and everything in existence. We are as nothing compared to the universe and how we can have such absolute ego, such pride to think that we can change anything through our will is simply amazing to me. Still Jesus tells us that our faith in the kingdom is like that mustard seed, even though it is small infinitesimal compared to the rest of nature, it will grow. Not only will it grow larger it will grow to astonishing levels, it will become so significant that others will take shelter in it. We can make a difference if we forget our worries and put our faith in the kingdom of God. We don’t need to understand the universe or explain how it works, we don’t need to worry about the how and the why or the what if, … God already has it figured out and all we need to know is that all things are possible through God. 26 Jesus … said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” [Matthew 19:26] A small amount of faith planted in a willing heart, grows, as it grows, so grows the kingdom of God, until it has surpassed all other things. It surpasses worry and doubt, it conquers fear and loathing, it lifts us up and strengthens us beyond what we thought possible. And all that Jesus asks of us is faith, just a tiny bit of faith. Faith that God cannot forsake us because He said He would not. For we walk by faith, not by sight. [2 Corinthians 9:22] Amen.
 Knight’s Master Book of New Illustrations, Walter B. Knight