The Amazing Story of Deborah Sampson

 

IMG_2548

Hunting around for something to watch on television I stumbled upon the program Mysteries at the Monuments.  I like history, so the idea of finding out of the way monuments and showing their story was appealing to me.  On this particular episode, there was a story about a bronze statue located in front of the public library in Sharon Massachusetts.  Dedicated one of its famous residents, the figure depicts a Revolutionary War hero.  What makes this sculpture unique is that it represents a woman, dressed in uniform and carrying a musket off to war. That woman was Deborah Sampson.

Deborah Sampson was born in Plympton Massachusetts in 1760.  Her mother was a descendant of William Bradford, once the Governor of Massachusetts and her father was a descendant of Myles Standish, the military leader of the Pilgrims. Patriotism was in her blood from both sides of her family.

Reading about the horrors of war, the patriotic Deborah decided that she had to try and enlist.  Enlistment of women into the army was prohibited so she cut her hair, bound her breasts with bandages, took on the name of her deceased brother, and enlisted in the military as Robert Shurtliff Sampson in 1782.  She had no trouble, she was five feet eight inches in height, unusual height for a woman in the 1780’s.  She became part of a light infantry company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment and was sent off with the regiment to fight.

On July 3, 1782, outside of Tarrytown New York, Deborah was wounded with two musket balls in her thigh and a large gash on her head.  Knowing that if she were transferred to the hospital should be discovered, she begged her comrades to let her die rather than be sent to the hospital.  They sent her anyway, and after her head was bandaged, she left the hospital.  She treated the musket ball wounds herself with a penknife and a needle and thread.  She was only able to remove one of the balls since the other ball was too deep.

After her recovery, in 1783, she was promoted and served as a waiter to General John Paterson.  During this time of service, Deborah was stricken with malignant fever and was sent back to the hospital.  Unconscious when she arrived the treated physician, Dr. Barnabas Binney.  While the doctor was examining her, he noticed the bandages around her chest.  Assuming it was from some other wound; he removed them and was taken by surprise by what the bandages were hiding.  Knowing that she would be discharged immediately, the doctor did not betray her and took her to his home where his wife and daughters nursed her.

In September of 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, and the war was over.  Dr. Binney asked Deborah to deliver a note to General Paterson, and she thought for sure that her story would get out and she would be thrown out of the Army.  This was not to be and on October 25, 1783 she was given an honorable discharge at West Point New York from General Henry Knox, given a sum of money to cover her medical costs, and sent home.  She boarded a ship from New York to Providence Rhode Island and walked the rest of the way home to Massachusetts.

Deborah Married Benjamin Sampson in 1785 and had three children.  The family fell on hard times and in June of 1792 Deborah petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature for a pension for her service in the Army.  In granting her a wounded soldiers pension the Massachusetts Legislature wrote that she, “exhibited an extraordinary instance of female heroism by discharging the duties of a faithful gallant soldier, and at the same time preserving the virtue and chastity of her sex, unsuspected and unblemished.”  She was given a pension of 34 pounds plus interest dating back to her time of discharge.

The family was still on hard financial times and in 1804 Paul Revere wrote to Congressman William Eustace asking him to petition Congress to grant Deborah a military pension writing, “I have been induced to enquire her situation, and character, since she quit the male habit, and soldiers uniform; for the more decent apparel of her own gender…humanity and justice obliges me to say, that every person with whom I have conversed with her, and it is not a few, speak of her as a woman with handsome talents, good morals, a dutiful wife, and an affectionate parent.” In 1805, Congress granted her a military pension of four dollars a month.

IMG_2554She continued her fight for the pay that was supposed to have been given her as a veteran of the war but was being withheld because she was a woman and in 1809 she petitioned Congress again asking that her pension given in 1804 would be retroactive to the date of her discharge.  The petition was initially denied in until 1816 when the Congress approved her request, and she was granted a full and complete army pension.

Deborah Died of Yellow Fever on April 29, 1827, at the age of 66.  Deborah remembers not only for her fighting, and the fact that she was wounded and treated her wounds, but the fight that she waged the war for equal treatment not only for herself but for all veterans of the war.

I am glad I stumbled across that television program and glad was I was introduced to this heroine of the American Revolution.  I took some time the other day and stopped by her final resting place to say a word of thanks and to offer a prayer.  This simple patriotic woman, defying the odds and the establishment, did what she thought was right and fought for her country.

Churches and Their History with Slavery

Historian John Fea recently pointed out an article in the New York Time about how one Rhode Island Church is coming to grips with their past history of slavery.

We cannot gloss over our past nor can we replace it but we can, and should learn from it and provide the ability for others to do the same.

Here is a little sample from the article and link to the entire piece.  It is well worth the read.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — One of the darkest chapters of Rhode Island history involved the state’s pre-eminence in the slave trade, beginning in the 1700s. More than half of the slaving voyages from the United States left from ports in Providence, Newport and Bristol — so many, and so contrary to the popular image of slavery as primarily a scourge of the South, that Rhode Island has been called “the Deep North.”

That history will soon become more prominent as the Episcopal diocese here, which was steeped in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, establishes a museum dedicated to telling that story, the first in the country to do so, according to scholars.

Many of the shipbuilders, captains and financiers of those slaving voyages were Episcopalians. The church, like many others in its day, supported slavery and profited from it even after the trans-Atlantic slave trade was outlawed and slavery had been banned in the state. Among the most notable Episcopalian slaveholders were Thomas Jefferson, who was active for some time in the church, and George Washington.

Read the Rest

Donald Trump and the Bible

trumphair

In a recent interview on the Bloomburg Networks “With All Due Respect,” GOP Presidential candidate and member of the Presbyterian Church Donald Trump was asked to identify his favorite verse from the bible.  He was asked this because he claims that after his own memoire, the bible is his favorite book.  Now I don’t really care what religion the President of the United States adheres to but I would like to suggest a verse for The Donald to consider as his favorite in the event that he is asked this question again. Actually each of the presidential hopefuls could select this as their favorite.

Although I don’t agree with, well anything, that The Donald has to say, I appreciate the fact that he, unlike so many others, is not making religion an issue in the campaign.

“You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But is shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be a slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44).

 

Mindfulness and Email

Think Before We Send

Woman stand at end of pier above lake

Woman stand at end of pier above lake

As a follow up to last week’s essay on mindfulness I thought I would share some thoughts on mindfulness in communication especially email.  Email is here to stay and there is no way to avoid it.  It can either control you or you can control it.  Blind communication, like email and social media, can be very harmful because we are not sitting across from the person and cannot read their expressions to get the full meaning of the message at hand.  If there are questions it is best to ask before assuming anything because we know what happens when you assume.

So I came across this article by Soren Gordhamer  about mindfulness and email and there are four steps to a better, more relaxed you when it comes to this form of communication.  I have been guilty of sending emails that probably should have waited a day and I am sure I will do it again, but I will try and keep these tips in mind.

  1. Attend to Objective First. One of the complaints I often hear is email, and social media for that matter, suck your time away. This is true if you let it.  So just like anything else we need to have a plan.  Answer old email first them move on to writing new email.  If you need to save email into folders that allow you go back at another time, once you have the information necessary, and then answer them.  Just another world here, ignoring them will not make them go away.
  2. Give it a Day. This is a lesson I need to learn. Giving the email a day prior to answering it will allow us to really give this some thought. Very often our gut reaction is not the best reaction.  Write the email but then save it.  The next day, after we have cooled down, go back and read it again.  If you still think it is fine then send it.  I once wrote an email to everyone in the company complaining about an issue.  It was a long and rambling email and I was upset about the issue.  I clicked send and immediately regretted sending it.  I wanted to get it back but there was no way I could.  Funny thing is, due to a fluke in the system the email actually was never sent, so in a sense I was off the hook, but I did learn a hard lesson.
  3. No Email Will Make Us Happy. I used to constantly check email. I have it on my computer and on my phone and I was constantly refreshing to see if new messages arrived. I had become a slave to email and it was controlling me.  This is not a good situation to be in.  How much time did I waste constantly checking email only to be disappointed that none had arrived.  Set a schedule and stick to it and you will be a much happier person.
  4. Email is a Tool – And Only a Tool. Email is one form of communication and is instant and easy to send but it should never replace personal, as in in person, communication. A good rule of thumb is that direct, face to face communication, will often remove any doubt about what the meaning of the conversation as about. Follow up with an email just to clarify a point, but it should not replace face to face communication.

The bottom line in all of this is that email, and social media, do not give of a license to say what we want just because the other person is not right there in front of us.  Mindfulness and political correctness, as I mentioned in the previous essay, it is a reminder that there is another person, created in the image and likeness of God, on the other end and that person, and their feelings, need to be respected.  The Gospel tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, that is not political correctness that is doing what Jesus commanded us to do..

The Great Refusal

A Sermon on Matthew 9:16-26

camel

The Gospel of Matthew 19:16-26

At that time, a young man came up to Jesus, kneeling and saying, “Good Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you call me good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

gizzmo

This story is one of the best-known and best-loved stories in the Gospels. One of the most interesting things about it is the way in which most is us unite different details from various gospels to complete the picture. It is usually called the story of the “Rich Young Ruler,” but that is not necessarily the case. All of the gospels tell that the man was rich, for their in is the point of the story. But only in the gospel of Matthew, that we read today, says he was young (Matthew 18:18). It is interesting to see how a composite picture has been created with elements taken from all three gospels (Matthew 19:16-22); Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23).

There is another interesting point about this story, Matthew alters the question put to Jesus by the man. Both Mark and Luke say that the issues were, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19). Matthew says the question was, “Why do you call me good? One there is who is good” (Matthew 19:17). Matthew’s is the latest of the three synoptic gospels and his reverence for Jesus is such that he cannot bear to show Jesus asking the question, “Why do you call me good?” That almost sounds to him as if Jesus was refusing to be called good, so he alters the intro to the question, “Why do you ask me about wat is good?” in order to avoid the seeming irreverence.

The story touches on the deepest of all lessons for it has within in the whole basis of the difference between the right and the wrong idea of what religion is.

The man who came to Jesus was seeking for what he called eternal life. He was seeking for happiness for satisfaction, for peace with God. But his very way of phrasing his questions betrays him. He asks, “What must I do?” He is thinking in terms of actions. He is like the Pharisees; thinking in terms of keeping rules and regulations. He is thinking of piling up a credit balance-sheet with God by keeping the works of the law. He apparently knows nothing of a religion of grace. So Jesus tries to lead him on to a correct view.

Jesus answers him in his terms. He tells him to keep the commandments. The young man asks what kind of commandments Jesus means. Jesus then cites five of the Ten Commandments. Now there are two important things about the commandments that Jesus chooses to cite.

First, they are all commandments from the second half of the Decalogue, the half that deals, not with our duty to God, but with our responsibility toward others. They are the commandments that govern our personal relationships, and our attitude to others.

Second, Jesus cites one of the commandments out of order. He quotes the command to honor parents last when it should have come first. It is clear that Jesus wishes to lay particular stress on that one commandment. Why?  We have to speculate on this one. Maybe the young man had grown rich and successful in his career and then forgotten his parents, who may have been very poor. He may well have risen in the world, and have been ashamed of the folks in the old home; and then he may have justified himself perfectly legally by the law that Jesus has so unsparingly condemned (Matthew 15:1-6; Mark 7:9-13).What these passages show is that the young man could have done all of that, and still have legally claimed to have obeyed the commandments. In the very commandments that he cites Jesus is asking this young man, and us, what his attitude is to his fellow man and his parent, asking him what his personal relationships were like.

The young man’s answer is that he has kept the commandments; and yet there was still something that he knew he ought to have and which he had not got. So Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give it to the poor and follow him.

The young man claimed to have kept the law. In the legal sense, this may be true; but in the spiritual sense it was not true because his attitude toward others was wrong. In the last analysis, his attitude was utterly selfish. That is why Jesus confronted him with the challenge to sell all that he had and to give to the poor. His possessions are so shackled this man that nothing less than surgical excision of them would suffice. If a person looks on their possessions as given to them for nothing but their comfort and convenience, they are a chain that must be broken; if he looks on his possessions as a means for helping others, they are his crown.

The great truth of this story lies in the way it illumines the meaning of eternal life. Eternal life is life such as God himself lives. The word used for eternal does not mean lasting forever; it means as befits God, or such as belongs to God, or such as is characteristic of God. The great characteristic of God is that he so loved, and he gave. Therefore, the essence of eternal life is not a carefully calculated keeping of the commandments and the rules and regulations; eternal life is based on an attitude of loving and sacrificial generosity to others.

If we are to find eternal life, if we would find happiness, joy, satisfaction, peace of mind and serenity of heart, it will not be by piling up a credit balance with God through keeping commandments and observing rules and regulations; it shall be through reproducing God’s attitude of love and care for others. To follow Christ and in grace and generosity to serve others for whom Christ died are one in the same thing.

In the end, the young man turned away in great distress. He refused the challenge because he had great possessions. His tragedy was that he loved things more than he loved people, and he loved himself more than he loved others. Anyone who puts things before people and self before others must turn their back on Jesus.

Mindfulness in Conversation

There was a time, not long ago, that if you disagreed with someone it was on the basis of their argument and not on their personality.  Today it seems all the rage to not only disagree with someone now it is all the rage to destroy them as a person.  I front runner for the nomination for President of the United States (I will not mention his name but I believe you know who it is) has made a sport out of saying what is on his mind.  Many have championed his kind of “speech” and it had made him very popular with a segment of the population.  Sadly, this seems to be the way of all things.

Jesus addressed this sort of; say whatever comes to your mind, in the Gospel of Mark, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” Mark 7:20-22.

Coming out of the Buddhist tradition is this sense of mindfulness.  “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.”  I would take this a step further and say that we should be mindful of how what we are saying will affect the other person.  Some might call this political correctness, but I call it being a Christian and always being conscious of how what we say will affect the other.

It seems that things like compassion and thoughtfulness have all been reduced to this sense of political correctness.  I am not sure when these virtues were corrupted by the political process and seen as weak, but it is time that we, right believing Christians take it back.  It is hard to “love your neighbor as yourself” when you try to destroy them.

How to Forgive

A Sermon on Matthew 18:23-35

forgive

Just like last week we need to back up a few verses to put this passage in the proper context.  Starting with verse 21 Peter asks Jesus how many times we are to forgive a person who has wronged us.  Peter then goes on to answer his question when he says, “Up to seven times?”  I love Peter, in fact, our daily Bible study email has been focusing on the Letters of Peter.  Peter is a great example of what God can do with someone for he took Peter and made him great.  But I digress.  Peter thought he was very generous when he suggested that we are to forgive up to seven times because the rabbinic teaching was to forgive only three times.

The Rabbinic teaching of the time was that is someone sinned against you, you were to forgive them no more than three times.  If a person commits and offense, you forgive them; if they commit an offense a second time, you forgive them; if they commit an offense a third time, you forgive them for the third time, if they commit and offense a fourth time, you do not forgive them.  This was the teaching that those listening to the exchange between Peter and Jesus would have been familiar with.

The Biblical proof of this teaching is taken from the opening chapters of the Prophet Amos, which contain a series of condemnations on the various nations for three transgressions and four. From this, we can deduce that God’s forgiveness extends to three offenses and that his punishment comes upon the sinner with the fourth.  Sort of a Divine three strikes and you’re out rule.  The teaching began along the lines that a person could not be more generous than God, so forgiveness was limited to three times.

Peter thought he was very generous, he takes the rabbinic three times, multiplies it by two for good measure adds one, and suggests, with eager satisfaction as Peter usually does when he answers his questions, that it will be enough if he forgives seven times.  I can picture Peter standing there, the look of satisfaction on his face with his well thought out the answer and then Jesus gives him his answer.  The Christian must forgive seventy times seven, in other words, there is no unreckonable limit to forgiveness!

I today’s Gospel Jesus tells the story of the servant forgiven great debt that then when out and dealt harshly, some would even say he dealt with him without mercy, a fellow servant who owed him a debt that was a fraction of he had owed.  We see that the mercilessness of the servant was utterly condemned.  From this parable come two central teachings.

The first is one that runs all through the New Testament, a person must forgive in order to be forgiven, it is just that simple. Those who do not forgive those who have wronged them has no hope that God will forgive them.  “Blessed are merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). No sooner had Jesus taught his disciples his prayer, that he went on to expand upon one of the points of that prayer: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). As James has it in his letter, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13). Divine and human forgiveness go hand in hand.

Second, why should it be that these go hand in hand, human forgiveness, and Divine forgiveness?  One of the great points of this parable is the contrast between the two debts.

The first servant owed his master 10,000 talents; a talent was the equivalent of roughly $240; therefore 10,000 talents was equal to about $2.4 million. This was, and is an incredible debt!  It was more than the total budget of the ordinary Roman Province of the day. This debt was greater than a king’s ransom, and it was forgiven.  The servant was not put on a payment plan, he was not given a reduced amount, it was completely forgiven.

The other servant was owed a much smaller amount; it was, according to the parable, 100 denarii; a denarius is worth about 4 cents, and so the total debt owed was about $5. It was approximately one five-hundred-thousandths of his debt.

Look at it this way, the 100 denarii could be carried in one pocket. The 10,000 talent debt would have to be transported by an army of about 8,600 soldiers, each carrying a sack of coins weighing about 60 lbs, and they would form, at a distance of a yard apart, line 5 miles long! The contrast between the two debts in this story is staggering. The point is that nothing another person can do to us can in any way compare with what we have done to God; and if God has forgiven us the debt we owe to him, we must forgive our fellow human the debts they owe to us. Nothing that we have to forgive can even faintly or remotely compare with what we have been forgiven.

We have been forgiven a debt that is beyond all paying – for the sin of humanity brought about the death of God’s own Son – and, if that is so, we must forgive others as God has forgiven us, or we can hope to find no mercy!

10 Things I Learned at the National Church Leadership Institute

This past week I had the great privilege to attend the National Church Leadership Institute held at Andover Newton Theological Seminary and sponsored by the Center for Progressive Renewal.  It was a wonderful three days but, as I tweeted after the conference, you cannot stay on the mountain forever you have to come down and get to work.  The conference really started me thinking and it also confirmed many of the thoughts I have already had and that is a good thing.  When we are able to start to solidify our thoughts, and start to create a plan of action, that is always a good thing.

A few random thoughts I have; the general sessions were great and the speakers were provoking just as they should be.  I am so tired of conferences where there is no challenge!  What is the point?  The entire idea of learning, no matter what the environment, is to challenge your ideas and move you outside of your comfort zone, otherwise growth will not happen.

So here is a list, more of a stream of consciousness, of what I learned.  This is not in any particular order.

  1. I’m looking for a grown up faith with a grown up God.
  2. There is still hope and faith in the Church and in the future. And people are still coming to Jesus.
  3. It’s okay to be a Progressive Christian (time for more of us to come out of the closet!)
  4. Spend more time with the people who want to be at Church and not with those who don’t.
  5. We must be deeply rooted but radically open.
  6. We need Prophetic Greif and Revolutionary Love (this is going to take more thought)
  7. As a pastor I cannot do it myself, if I try I will fail. I NEED GOD!
  8. “Where is God?” Is the wrong question.
  9. When we confess our sins in community, it puts us back into God’s great democracy.
  10. The ultimate local movement is, “God came to dwell among us.”

So thank you to those who brought this conference to Boston!

What is Progressive Christianity

NCLI-2015-Banner.png

For a few days this week I am attending the National Church Leadership Institute sponsored by the Center for Progressive Renewal.  The first observation I will make is that church people still have faith and hope in and for the future!  It is so refreshing to attend a conference that is upbeat and hopeful.

So what is Progressive Christianity?

Progressive Christianity grew out of the idea that it was okay to question tradition; the idea that it is okay to accept human diversity, there is a strong emphasis on social justice and care for the poor and oppressed, and environmental stewardship.  Progressive Christians have a profound belief in the centrality of the instruction to “love one another” (John 15:17) within the teachings of Jesus Christ.  This focus leads to a faith that promotes values such as compassion, justice, mercy, and tolerance usually through social and political activism. This type of Christianity comes from the Hebrew Prophetic tradition of the care for the downtrodden in society and a preferential option for the poor.

Some of the characteristics of Progressive Christianity are:* (this list is not meant to be complete or exhaustive)

A spiritual vitality and expressiveness, including participatory, arts-infused worship as well as a variety of spiritual disciplines and practices such as prayer or meditation.

Intellectual integrity and creativity, including openness to questioning and an insistence upon intellectual rigor.

Understanding of spirituality as a real effective and psychological or neural state

Critical interpretation of the scripture as a record of human historical & spiritual experiences and theological reflection after that instead of a composition of literal or scientific facts. Acceptance of modern historical Biblical criticism.

Acceptance (although not necessarily validation) of people who have differing understandings of the concept of “God”, such as pantheism, deism, non-theism, as a social construct, or as a community.

Understanding of Church communion as a symbol or reflection of the body of Christ

An affirmation of Christian belief with a simultaneous sincere respect for values present in other religions and belief systems

An affirmation of both human spiritual unity and social diversity

An affirmation of the universe, and more immediately the Earth, as the natural and primary context of all human spirituality.

An unyielding commitment to the Option for the poor and a steadfast solidarity with the poor as the subjects of their emancipation, rather than being the objects of charity.

Compassion for all living beings.

What I find most compelling in this system of theological and Church thought is that acceptance, but not necessarily approval, is the fundamental concept.  We need to be willing to accept that the way we are “doing church” may no longer be working.  This does not mean we have to change theology or even change the liturgical style, but we need to change the conversation.  Pope Francis has not changed one dot or title of Roman Catholic theology but he has shifted the conversation to one of more compassion than one of this is law and if you don’t like it you are going to hell.

I have always heard that we are to “love the sinner and hate the sin,” well, we have tried the hate thing long enough it is time to put the love thing into action.

*Key concepts from Wikipedia

The Essential Faith

A Sermon on Matthew 17:14-23

The Gospel of Matthew 17:14-23

At that time, a man came up to Him and kneeling before Him said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; for often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move hence to yonder place,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting.” As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.”

In the previous pericope, Jesus was up on the mountain praying, and now we see him descend back into the world of reality and he comes face to face with an earthly problem and a practical demand. A man had brought his epileptic son to his disciples while Jesus was on the mountain praying, and they were unable to heal him.  So serious was his condition that he had become a danger to himself and others.  If you listen closely to the story, you can almost hear the sigh of relief when Jesus appears on the scene.  He took control of the situation that had become entirely out of hand.  With one strong word, he drove the demon out of the boy, and he was cured.

This story has many significant things in it that it bears some looking at further.

We cannot help but be moved by the faith of the father.  Although the disciples’ of Jesus had been given the power to cast out demons such as these, they were unable to do so.  They had publically failed in their mission, and things were turning bad. But, in spite of the lack of healing from the disciples, the father never doubted the power of Jesus. It is as if he said, “Only let me get at Jesus, and my problems will be solved, and my need will be met.”

There is something striking about this, and there is something that is very universal and modern. There are many who feel that the church has failed and is powerless to deal with the ills of the human situation; and yet in the back of their minds there is the feeling: “If we could only get beyond the human followers of Jesus, if we could only get past the façade of ecclesiasticism and the failure of the Church, if we could only get at Jesus himself, we would receive the things we need.”

I have said before that the numbers of people who do not align themselves with a church, any church, are staggering.  The numbers of believers are still high, perhaps higher than it has even been, but people have lost faith in the institution of the church.  This place that is supposed to be about comfort and healing is perceived to be about judgment and condemnation.  There are more people that know what we are against than what we are for!  We as a church have abused power and abused the sacred trust that has been given to us by God. Some well-meaning church people are spending so much time fighting for the so-called “soul of America” that I fear we have lost the soul of the church and maybe even turned an entire generation of people away. We are perceived as hypocritical, judgmental, inauthentic people who only want to point at people and point out their sins all the while we go about our day so mired in sin ourselves that we cannot see the damage we are doing. It is both our condemnation and our challenge that, even yet, though people have lost faith in the church, they have never lost faith in Jesus Christ.  We have to reverse this collision course that we are on; we have to turn away from this nonsense and turn back towards people, created in the image and likeness of God. I always like to remind myself that the only people Jesus ever had harsh words for were the church, leaders.  Kind of keeps things in perspective for me.  He came down harder on the leaders of the church than he did the prostitute and the tax collector.

We also see in this passage the constant demands made upon Jesus. He comes straight down off the mountain of glory, and he comes face to face with human suffering.  He comes straight from hearing God’s voice hear the pleading of a father for his sick child. The most Christ-like person in the world is the one who never finds his fellow human a nuisance. It is so easy to feel close to God in the moment of prayer and meditation; it is easy to feel close to God when the world is shut out. But that is not religion – that is escapism. Real religion, true religion, is to rise from our knees before God to meet people and the problems of the human situation. Real religion, true religion, is to draw strength from God to give it to others. Real religion, true religion involves both meetings God in the secret places and people in the marketplace. Real religion, true religion means taking our own needs to God, not that we may have peace and quiet and undisturbed comfort, but that we may be enabled graciously, efficiently and powerfully to  meet the needs of others. It is not enough for us to pray for people and then go about our day never giving them another thought. Jesus went away for a time of prayer and refreshment, and he came back with the power of God and used that power to people, all people.  He did not judge them, he did not require them to do this or that, he did not even require them to change their lifestyle, he accepted them all and helped them, just as he helped this child in the story today.  He knew nothing about this man or his son, all he knew was that he had faith, and that was enough for Jesus.

At the center of all of this is the idea that we need faith. It was this man’s faith that pushed him to seek out Jesus even after his disciples had let him down. It is faith that allows the person, abused or shunned by the church and church people, to continue to believe in Jesus and the power of his grace. When Jesus spoke about removing mountains, he was using a phrase that would have been familiar to the ears of those listing to him. Someone who was considered a great teacher was called and uprooter or a pulverizer, of mountains. To tear up, to pulverize, to uproot mountains is a phrase the was used for removing problems and difficulties. Jesus never meant that this phrase was to be taken literally, I believe there are a lot of phrases Jesus never meant to be taken literally, I don’t know about you but I have never found a need to remove a mountain. I believe what he meant was, “If you have faith enough, even a small amount of faith like this mustard seed, all difficulties can be solved, and even the hardest task can be accomplished.” Faith in God is what enables believers to remove the hills of difficulty that blocks our path, all we need is a little of this faith, and the help and support of others in the community, and we can solve any problem.