5 You shall then recite as follows before the Lord your God: “My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation. 6 The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. 7 We cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression.
Jewish Publication Society. (1985). Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Dt 26:5–7). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.
This is part of the Old Testament reading for Thanksgiving is a reminder of who we are and where we come from. This translation calling our father (Abraham) a fugitive Aramean is a slight change from the New Revised Standard Version which translates it rather a "wandering Aramean".
The difference is important though it looks subtle at first glance. Wandering suggests, at least in my mind, a sort of carefree traveling through the world. Fugitive, on the other hand, suggests that our heritage has more of an outlaw characteristic to it.
If we, like Abraham, are fugitive we must not only be fleeing from something but also seeking to find something.
Abraham was a fugitive for the promise of God. Land, descendants and a future that he could not imagine.
We hear that the church is in decline. We hear that the message doesn't strike the chord it once did with folks. The pews are not nearly as full as they used to be, but for those who are fugitives for the freedom of the Gospel and from the tyranny of sin (read here willful separation from God) then the Good news of God in Christ has never been more needed.
One thing the church, at its best, can do better than any other group of folks I know of is form communities of hope, healing and purpose where there was once only a wandering group of hopeless ,helpless and homeless folks.
I for one am glad to be a fugitive for the Gospel
My 6th grade teacher, Miss O’Meara, introduced me to the aphorism “so near and yet so far away”. I was a curious 12 year old and struggled to understand the meaning of this contradictory wisdom. Whatever was she talking about, I wondered. Miss O’Meara was fearful and authoritarian. Asking was not an option. I would have to figure it out for myself.
It took me decades. So near- a friend and soulmate who moved to Ohio-so far away from hugs and conversation. So near- my teenaged son showered with maternal love and spiritual embrace- so far away in rebellion and independence. And now, volunteering at Worcester Fellowship, I am having a current experience of this contradictory wisdom.
In the early weeks of Thursday Café, I went out to the sidewalks of Pleasant Street adjacent to All Saints. My purpose was to do street hospitality. I put out a simple invitation to passersby: “The church is open. Would you like to come in for a hot lunch?” Folks, most generally responded in one of two ways- either accepting the invite or saying “thank you”-what a good service to offer.
I am member of All Saints. I am a Lay Eucharistic Minister. I am on the vestry. I have an assignment on the greeter rotation. I am “known to the treasurer”. In all of these roles, I am in the church building proper. It is a place familiar and safe in ways practical and transcendent. By contrast, the sidewalk felt quite unfamiliar and not necessarily safe. Abandoned buildings, rushing traffic and many pedestrians looking both worn and worn out.
This sidewalk experience was spiritually startling. How could life inside the church feel so safe and predictable when life on the church’s sidewalk felt so rough and complex? Surely a manifestation of near and far away.
My prayer is that, in this case, the near and far away move a lot closer together.
Gail B. 02/18/2016
Matthew 4:23-25 (from Worcester Fellowship Bible study September 2011)
"Jesus went through out Galilee teaching in synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds form Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him."
I opened with this question: "Today we have many friends with mental illness, people who are deaf or "paralytic" (in that they cannot walk). We know they are people of great faith. But why this says that Jesus was "healing and very disease and sickness among the people".
What does this healing thing meant to us today?"
John was eager to reply. For him healing is about all the bad choices he has made. It is about learning that he is not a bad person, but he has made bad decisions. Healing and forgiveness are very similar. I asked a few questions and he decided that healing can be the very movement from being a person who believes "I am a bad person" and becoming a person who believes "I have made bad choices". Once you move to "I have made bad choices" then you become someone who can make different choices and thus can do better, be better, make a change. You are healed in that change.
Alison described how she has cried and cried and cried, and she has come to see that those tears that pour out of her are healing her, cleansing her, washing away the pain of her life. She sees crying as healing.
"How is that related to Jesus?" I ask.
"I don't know. Jesus is living water?" She looks at me to see if that is the answer I was looking for. I don't know what I was looking for, but her answer blew me away.
"Wow". I paused. "I think the only words I would take out of that answer is the ‘I don't know’ part. It sounds like you really know the healing of Living water".
Max is a big white guy with grey and black hair cut short, almost no neck, and a big bushy eyebrows. When you look at him he looks back with very deep dark eyes. He has told the story two or three times today, about how, this morning, at indoor church, he accepted Jesus. And how it was incredibly painful, he thought that he would have a heart attack or that his heart would explode. He had been thinking about it for several weeks, but this week he just went and did it and he was shaking from head to foot. He had been pretty sick, he tells me, just a few weeks ago, his mind was not right and his addictions were really hurting him. But he went to the hospital, and then to CHL, and his insurance was used up for physical treatment, so he had to get mental treatment instead, but that was better now, and he is working on the addictions.
Healing for him is accepting Jesus and how that hurt so much, but is going to help him to fight these addictions. How last week he stayed sober for almost a whole week, but then he drank on the weekend, but now he is sober again and he is going to keep trying, although he doesn't understand what makes it like it is just fine, he can keep it up and then all of the sudden his body wants to drink again and he can't stop and he does. But right now he is sober and working on staying sober and that his healing.
"So healing might hurt sometimes?"
"It felt like I was going to burst, that my heart would fall right out of my chest"
Sam talked about how lonely he feels when he is by himself and how he begins to think that he doesn’t have any friends and the world is against him and then he found a group of people and they don't talk to him so he doesn't feel better, in fact he feels even more like he doesn't know anyone. So he started saying "hello" to people under his breath, so it wouldn't hurt so much when they don't reply, because, you know they aren't ignoring him, it is just because they didn't hear him. And so he says hello here and there, very quietly, under his breath.
And this guy turns and says back to him "hello"
And Sam says how did you hear me?
And the guy says "you feel like no on in the world can hear you, don't you?"
And that was a miracle because Steve did feel that way, and this guy heard him and he got to know this guy.
And healing is when your friends say hello, and when you see your friends, and healing is when you make a new friend just by saying hello, really quietly, under your breath.
And the ideas continued. Sometimes you don't really get healed. Or maybe you get healed a little bit, but the hurt doesn't go away. Maybe it is because God wants you to keep working on that issue. Or maybe it is that you need to go deeper, that you haven't really found out what is wrong, or what is the underlying problem. So you are a little healed, but not completely. And then you figure out the next part and you work on that and you are a little more healed. Like it is little tiny steps to be healed, not just one big thing.