The Farthest Shore

A Sermon for the Locust Grove United Church of Christ, Locust Grove, PA

by Rev. James Eaton, Interim Pastor © 2024

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost/B • June 23, 2024

Mark 4:35-41

“Let us go across to the other side.” That’s how this story begins. Remember where we are: Jesus’ home territory, Galilee, up in the north, next to the Sea of Galilee. Remember where we were last week with him: the crowds pressing so tight, he and his disciples couldn’t even eat. “Let’s get out of here,” he seems to be saying—and also—he’s always pressing onward, forward. Peter and Andrew have a boat, James and John are sailors too, so the easiest way out is to get in the boat, sail off. 

Remember how I keep saying that everything in Mark happens immediately? It’s the same here. You know, when I go somewhere, I have to get my phone, maybe pack up my computer and a couple cords and chargers, find my keys, get my hat, find where I parked the car. If May and Jacquelyn are coming along, I need to wait for them to change outfits, get a purse, fix their hair, get a treat for the dog to distract her while we go out the door. It’s a process; is it that way for you? One of the commentators I read this week said the line that says, “They took him just as he was” is a mystery. It isn’t to me; it means, they didn’t wait to fix up, find keys, get phones, they just piled in the boat and left.

It’s an open boat. A few years ago, someone found a Galilee fishing boat from the same period, so we think we know what it might have been like. It would have been stinky: it’s a fishing boat, after all, and fishing boats have a certain aroma. It would have been a little leaky; wooden work boats tend to let a bit of water in through the seams, so there’s always a puddle in the bottom. These boats were rowed so, you can imagine the disciples shifting out the oars; some know what to do, some don’t. They had a short mast they could rig up and a sail, so perhaps they did that. Not all of them are sailors, so I’m guessing some were nervous. Some were in their element. They cast off and set out for the far shore.

It’s about seven miles across the Sea of Galilee, maybe two hours or just a little more. They’re setting out at evening, which is often calm. Jesus is exhausted, and who knows? Maybe a little seasick? The first thing that happens when you get seasick is being drowsy. In any event, he falls asleep. Have you got this pictured? A little open sailboat, raggedy sail catching the wind, bunch of guys sitting around, Jesus asleep, someone steering, someone keeping watch in the bow. That’s when the storm hits. 

I wince every time I read this story because I know just what that feels like. One moment you’re sailing along peacefully, the sails trimmed, the boat burbling along, the pressure on the tiller just enough to hold it steady. Suddenly there’s a bang, suddenly the boat tips, suddenly someone’s shouting to get the sail down, suddenly there’s water coming over the side. Now, my boat is a keel boat, which means it’s going to come back up. My boat has a cabin and a deck, and the water will run off. But this boat, this Galilee fishing boat, is an open boat: no deck, no cabin, no keel. It’s a bit crowded, not everyone there is a sailor, and they must have been bailing furiously, and yelling, and finally they wake up Jesus.

Now, when I thought of this sermon originally, I thought this is the place where I’d describe some time I was sailing and got hit by a squall and got scared. But I think Gordon Lightfoot said it better than I could. In his song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, he describes the storm that took down that big Great Lakes freighter, asking “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?” That’s what’s happening here. Whether on a boat or in life, haven’t we all felt this, haven’t we all been hit by a squall? Maybe it’s the death of someone loved, maybe it’s a dread diagnosis, maybe it’s some other event that threatens to overturn your boat like this boat is threatened.

The story says Jesus wakes up, looks around, tells the sea and the wind to knock it off. Just like that, everything is calm, just like that, it’s ok. Wouldn’t that be great when we hit a storm in life? Wake Jesus up, have him say Stop! to whatever is threatening us and just go on? Is that what’s happening here? 

I think what’s actually going on is something deeper, something more profound. Jesus’ healings, Jesus’ exorcisms, the things we call miracles are actually meant to be signs, signals to show us what we can hardly understand, that in Jesus we are meant to encounter not just a miracle worker but the very presence of God. There’s one other place in scripture where the roiling, restless seas are calmed: at creation 

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:1

God is acting here: God is stilling the waters. 

The disciples get it. English translations usually say something like, “…they were filled with great awe.” What the original text actually says is, “They feared a great fear.” It’s interesting that in this story, when they think they are perishing, we’re not told they were afraid. It’s only when Jesus stills the storm that they get scared. And it makes them ask the question that’s going to occupy the rest of this gospel: “who is this?”

We’d like to be able to wake Jesus up whenever there’s a storm, whenever we feel like we might be overwhelmed. There’s an old song that says, “I want Jesus to walk with me.” It’s a great song, bad theology because the point is not for Jesus to walk with me, it’s for me to walk with Jesus. What the gospel shows us is that if I want to walk with Jesus, I’m going to have to go places where it feels stormy, I’m going to have to cross to other shores, I’m going to have to change in ways that feel uncomfortable. He says, “Let us go across to the other side,” and the truth is, I’m comfortable right here—he wants me to go to another shore, a new place, a new way, a new creation. 

“Who is this?” The disciples ask: we should ask too. When we figure it out, then indeed, like those disciples much later, we can cross with him. And our destination will be the farthest shore. And we’ll find that as long as we are with him, we are home.


Homeward Bound

A Sermon for the Locust Grove United Church of Christ of Locust Grove, PA

by Rev. James Eaton, Interim Pastor © 2024

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost/Year B • June 16, 2024

Mark 3:20-35

Every journey has a moment when it turns back toward home. If the journey is fun and exciting, it may be a moment of disappointment; if the journey has been difficult and included missed loved ones, it can be hopeful and inspiring. There’s a Simon and Garfunkel song called home-ward bound that describes this feeling. And I wonder if that’s how Jesus felt at the beginning of the story we read today in Mark. As I said last week, one of the most important words for Mark is “Immediately!” That’s how the first few chapters run. Jesus is baptized, goes out into the wilderness, John his arrested and Jesus comes back to Galilee, preaching “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.” He calls some disciples; others also follow him. He heals, he casts out demons, and he does something shocking for the time: he eats with sinners. Sinners is a big class: it includes Gentiles and people who don’t follow Torah and women. His practice of an open, forgiving, healing community shocks some; already he’s attracting opposition as well as people who believe in him and his message. 

“Then he went home, and the crowd came together again, so they could not even eat.” That’s how today’s text begins. Jesus has come home and the whole passage takes place right there, in the place where he started. It’s a small place: some estimates put the population of Nazareth at about 400 people. Have you ever lived in a small town? Everyone knows everyone; everyone watches everyone else’s kids grow up. So they all knew Jesus, knew him from when he was just a little guy. He’s been out preaching and healing and exorcising, but now he’s come home and I wonder what they thought. I used to live in a small town in northwestern Michigan, About 800 people lived there but in the summer there was an art festival that drew thousands. So when it says that the crowd was so big they couldn’t eat, I know just what that means. That’s the setting for this story: Jesus at home, crowds of people, lots of strangers, all in this little village.

Mark tells this story in a way that can be hard to understand. The beginning and end are about Jesus’ family, but in the middle there’s a different story about the scribes from Jerusalem. I want to talk about the scribes first, but it’s important to remember that this whole story is set off by Jesus’ family coming to restrain him because they think he’s acting crazy. So: crazy Jesus and the Jerusalem scribes.

Now, one thing I know about small towns is that they tend to be suspicious of the bit city. Big city people dress differently, they talk differently. I imagine everyone knows the scribes are in town. The scribes have already discovered there’s no decent inn and the food isn’t what they’re used to and on the whole they’d just like to get back to their comfortable villas in Jerusalem. But they’re apparently on a mission. These guys are religious authorities, not clergy exactly but lawyers whose job it is to find out and determine what’s going on out there in Galilee. We read a story two weeks ago where already some people were grumbling that Jesus violated some of the religious rules. But he’s attracting crowds. The scribes have done some investigating, heard about the healings and the exorcisms, and they’ve formed an opinion. They don’t discount the miracles, but they explain them by saying, “He’s doing black magic by the power of Satan.” That’s another name for Beelzebub. Some call this figure the devil, there are lots of names but in essence what they mean is personified evil. 

It’s a reasonable argument. We know that many people, especially elderly people, are victimized today by scams. Those scams always start with, “Let me help you.” In effect, the Jerusalem scribes are saying, “Look, this Jesus is doing things for an evil purpose.” But Jesus’ reply is simple: if I was doing things for an evil purpose, the power of evil would be divided. But what I’m doing frees people, brings them home to God. The image of restraining a strong man—remember we started with Jesus’ family wanting to restrain him?—is especially striking. Jesus is breaking the power of evil so those excluded can come home to God. What he says about his ministry is that it’s the turning point: the kingdom is near, respond appropriately. 

Every great struggle has a turning point. Just a few days ago, we remembered the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the enormous battle when the Allies from all over the world gathered together and fought onto the beaches of Normandy. At the end of those June days, the battle against fascism and the Nazis wasn’t over, it wouldn’t be over for almost a year. Yet clear eyed observers could see: the victory was a matter of time. It was being won. Jesus’ earthly ministry is a decisive time in making a new way to come home to God. The war isn’t over on this day in Nazareth, but his ministry, his life, is the decisive battle. The language of the time calls being at home with God a kingdom. That’s language people in the first century understood. But many are now calling it instead a kin-dom, an understanding we are all children of God. Remember what we heard Paul say last week?— he no longer regards anyone from an earthly point of view. 

God is acting in Jesus, acting just as the prophet Jeremiah said, to create a new covenant, a new opening, a new way home to God. In the middle of this, Jesus says that all sins will be forgiven, except blaspheming the Holy Spirit. That verse has sparked all kinds of guilt and judgement. What is blaspheming? Another translation is ‘insulting”. What is insulting the Holy Spirit? The Spirit is the name for God acting in the world, so what Jesus seems to be saying is, if you don’t accept and believe in forgiveness, you can’t be forgiven.

The story doesn’t say what happened to the Jerusalem scribes. But it does bring us back to Jesus’ family: they’re standing outside the circle. Remember them? They came to restrain him for acting crazy. When he’s asked about them, he says simply, “Look, we are all family here.”

 Here are my mother and my brothers!
Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

Apparently, his family does come to understand this. All the disciples desert him at the cross, but his mother is there, and his brother James becomes the leader of the Jerusalem church, the first congregation of his followers.

Jesus means to bring us to the kin-dom of God. Everyone is invited. Later, Paul will say, 

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [Galatians 3:23]

So we know who is speaking the truth of Christ, those who bring all of us together. 

We haven’t always known this. Our history shows we’ve often given in to the world’s divisions. Jacquelyn can remember seeing water fountains marked “Colored” and “White” growing up in Texas. We all remember. Many in Congregational and UCC churches started preaching the full inclusion of gay and lesbian and transgender people and nine years ago our legal system caught up and allowed them to marry, something we celebrate during Pride Month. For years, we were told about all the awful things that would happen if gay folks married. Recently, a 20-year study of gay marriage found what many suspected all along: nothing bad has happened, it’s simply that many more people are now in loving, committed marriages.

Today is Father’s Day, an especially poignant day in our family. I don’t have any biological children. I always thought that meant I wasn’t a father. But along the way, I raised three children, my daughter Amy, my son Jason, my daughter May. It wasn’t always easy—on them or me! But we managed. They are legally what people call stepchildren. But long ago we all dropped the step part because it didn’t describe how we loved each other. In our own little way, without thinking it through, just doing what seemed right, prompted by the Holy Spirit, we learned to love each other. We stopped making decisions. In effect, we said, “Who are my parents? Who are my children? Who is my family?”—all of us who love each other. We learned to make a family; we learned it’s love that makes a family.

Jesus came proclaiming the kin-dom of God. Some couldn’t understand and thought he was crazy; some were inspired. Some insisted on all the usual divisions, gender, politics, class, race.
But Jesus came proclaiming the kin-dom of God: that all are God’s children. He’s still proclaiming it. All he asks is that we see each other as God sees us: as children of God. 


Ohh! Woo! Wow!

A Sermon for the Locust Grove United Church of Christ of Locust Grove, PA

by Rev. James Eaton, Interim Pastor @ 2024

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost/Year B • June 9, 2024

Mark 4:26-34

“A man went out to sow.” It’s simple, isn’t it? Up in Galilee, where Jesus is speaking, most of the people are farmers. I imagine, just like us, they all have their morning ritual. What’s yours? Three mornings a week my version of going to sow is to get up early, take my daughter to a coffee place called Lil Amps. I buy her a latte, or whatever she wants; I get black coffee. We sit and talk for five minute and then announces, “Well, it’s time.” I wish her a good day, remind her I love her, and she walks off to her office in downtown Harrisburg. I take my coffee and go home, read the news, read my email and look at the scripture for the week. Jesus asks us to imagine a farmer, a regular guy, starting out his day: “A man goes out to sow.” Nothing special, nothing momentous, nothing out of the ordinary. But remember what he says first: this is an image, a parable, of the most momentous thing of all, the kingdom of God. Want to see God present? Look here, watch: a man goes out to sow.

My dad grew up on a farm, so we always had a garden. Each person grew their own crop. My job was sweet corn, and he taught me to make a little mound of dirt, put some fertilizer in the middle, then poke five holes around the edges; each one got a kernel of corn. Maybe you have a garden, and you have your own way of sowing, so let’s be clear what happens when a man in Galilee goes out to sow. He doesn’t carefully put down each seed; he doesn’t plow first and sow in the furrows. Grain was sown by walking through the field with a bag on your hip, reaching in, taking a handful and scattering it over the field In another parable, Jesus describes this. It’s what we should imagine here. A man goes out to sow, scattering the precious grain this way and that. Maybe he’s a poor man, and he’s calculated just how much he can afford to take away from the family as seed; maybe he’s worried about the harvest, maybe he’s hopeful it will be a good year. This is the kingdom, and it begins with seeds that hold a secret.

Not knowing is hard for us, I think. I had a class in biology in high school. One of the projects was to grow beans. Beans are usually pretty easy to grow but in my case, I was assigned to grow them in what was a new way, called hydroponics. Hydroponics is growing in water with nutrients dissolved. So I set it all up in a long half-tube, seeds and water and nutrients. And I waited. I waited about two days. Then I got impatient; the people who had been given little cups of dirt were seeing tiny sprouts, but I wasn’t. So I pulled the seeds up just to check. No sprouts. A couple of days later, I did the same thing. I kept pulling them out and I never saw a single sprout. At the end of the project, everyone else had little bean plants; I had seeds that had gotten stinky and molded. The teacher asked if I had any idea what happened. I told him how I’d pulled them up every day and I still remember how his eyes got wide, and he said, “Jim, you can’t force it, you have to wait.” I flunked. That’s one reason I’m here today instead of doing biology.

A man goes out to sow, and then he does—nothing. This is the part that always gets me in trouble with gardeners. “What? What about weeding? What about fertilizing? What about all the hard work?” Sorry, I don’t know. I just know what Jesus said: he sleeps and rises, night and day; he waits. He just waits. He doesn’t pull up the plants like I did; he waits. And Jesus points this out: “The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” There is a process, there is a creative, God given process and the best the sower can do is wait. Waiting is hard, isn’t it? I’ve been to hundreds of church conferences over the years, times when clergy gather along with active lay people and talk about their year in the church. There are stories of successful stewardship campaigns, programs that turned out great, and things to try. I have never been to a single conference in almost 50 years when someone said, “Oh, we slept and rose, slept and rose; we waited.” 

Mark’s gospel is the closest of all the gospels to Jesus, and it alternates between two times. One is “Immediately!” When Jesus is baptized, immediately, the spirit drives him into the wilderness. When he calls his disciples, immediately they respond. When he heals, immediately the person is whole. ‘Immediately’ occurs 28 times in this short gospel, more than in Matthew and Luke put together. The other time that happens over and over again is that Jesus tells his disciples not to talk about the amazing things they see, the healings, the time on the mountain when he shines with a heavenly glow. It isn’t time to tell these things. Just like the man who went out to sow, they have to wait; they have to sleep and rise and let the unseen work of the Spirit go on, trust that God is working. 

Of course, the parable tells us, eventually the harvest comes. No sleeping then! I’ve lived in a couple of rural communities, and harvest is a time when nothing else matters. You rush and work as late as there’s light because once the crop is ripe, you only have so much time to get it in. Then, like Jesus in Mark’s gospel, everything is “Immediately!” What does the man who went out to sow do when it’s harvest time? He puts in the sickle, in other words, he uses everything he has to harvest the crop that was sown. 

What is the kingdom like? It’s a harvest, but it’s also these other times: sowing and waiting as well.  And one of the most important questions to ask in a church is: what time is it? It’s a question our consistory ought to be asking, it’s a question for the search committee, it’s a question for all of us: what time is it here? Is it time for sowing? Is it time for waiting? Is it time for harvest? Because if we wait when it’s time for sowing, we’ll never get anywhere; if we try to harvest when it’s time for waiting, we just end up with moldy beans.

Perhaps this is what Paul is trying to teach the Corinthian Christians. He says, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” That sounds like someone who understands the Spirit’s work is not always visible, like the sower who sleeps and rises while the earth produces of itself. And finally, he comes to the harvest moment.

5:16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
[ 2 Corinthians 5:16-17]

Wow! God isn’t just improving things, God is making a whole new creation!

Jesus doesn’t want us to miss that wow. So we have this other parable about a mustard seed. I used to think of this as a story about gradual growth, from little to big, but I’ve become convinced that it’s not about growth at all. It’s about wow. You know the wow moment? In a couple of weeks we’re going to celebrate the fourth of July and most places will have fireworks. We have a boat in a slip in Baltimore that’s just across a little water from Fort McHenry, where the “rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air” actually happened almost 210 years ago. Every year there’s the same conversation. A colored rocket shoots up giving off sparks and someone says “oooh!!!” And then another, sometimes bigger and there’s a “woooo” and finally at the end when all the rockets shoot off, someone will always say “wow!” 

Christ invites us to the same “oooh! Wooo! Wow!” With the story of the mustard seed. All over Galilee, mustard was a plant that grew wild in the ditches and along roads. Left alone, it spreads and grows up in the summer to big bushes. But this growth isn’t the point: the point is that looking at tiny mustard seeds, you’d never expect a big shrub. Look at Jesus: you’d never expect a resurrection. Look at us: you’d never expect a new creation. But there he is; here we are. The last part about the birds making nests isn’t just artistic license; it’s actually a reference to a story in the book of Daniel. The nesting birds are a symbol of God’s New Creation. They’re meant to make us go, “Wow!”

What does the kingdom of God look like? It looks like someone sowing, someone waiting, someone harvesting, each at the right time. What time is it here? 

What does the kingdom of God feel like? It feels like the unbelievable surprise of something tiny becoming the means of a whole new creation. Something small: like you, like me. 



Through the Looking Glass

A Sermon for the Locust Grove United Church of Christ,
Locust Grove, PA
by Rev. James Eaton, Interim Pastor © 2024
Second Sunday After Pentecost/Year B • June 2, 2024
2 Corinthians 4:5-12, Mark 2:23-3:6

What’s right, what’s wrong? We all make these decisions every single day; how do we make them? How do we know what’s right, what’s wrong? Most of us come with menu choices: we’ve been taught what’s right, what’s wrong. But sometimes we don’t see that our ideas aren’t the whole picture. You came in here this morning, to this beautiful space, with pews, and you knew what to do. You sat down, probably where you always sit. You know how to use a church pew. But two thirds of the world doesn’t sit on chairs; they wouldn’t know what to do with a pew. If we went to their home, there wouldn’t be a chair, there would be cushions and if you’re like me, you’d face a dilemma: if I get down there, will I be able to get up? What’s right, what’s wrong? This story asks us to watch as Jesus handles just this question. Let’s see what we can learn.

Jesus has been teaching and healing, and he’s attracted a group of followers. Some of them are the ones we call the disciples, but we should always remember there was a larger group that followed Jesus: men, women, possibly children. As they walked through a field of grain on the way to worship, some of them did the most natural thing in the world: they stripped off the grain on the stalks. Mark doesn’t say they were eating it, but that’s how I imagine it. It’s like going to the grocery store when they have free samples. When they get to the synagogue, some Pharisees yell at Jesus: “Hey! How come your guys are violating the Sabbath?” There are a lot of rules about the sabbath, mostly trying to make sure God’s command to rest is observed. Some of them are obscure. Women, for example, aren’t allowed to look in a mirror because if they do, they might see a gray hair and pluck it out and picking is reaping and reaping is work. You see how this works: someone has taken God’s command and made up rules. The Pharisees are all about the rules. They aren’t bad guys; the rules are what they’re used to, how they make sense of the world. Sabbath is their identity, and they think Jesus is challenging it. 

On the face of it, this seems to be a story about Sabbath observance. Sabbath observance could be complex in Israel. There are over 600 rules in the Talmud interpreting the command to keep the sabbath holy. Those commandments had been amplified by countless specifics. The story itself is murky. It doesn’t explicitly say, for example, that the disciples were eating, so it’s not clear what the sabbath violation is here. And why were the Pharisees out there watching? Pharisees weren’t common in Galilee in this time. Were they following Jesus too? 

When Jesus replies, he misquotes a story about David but focuses on the real issue here. He says that the sabbath was made for people, not people for the sabbath. What’s important isn’t the details of being right; what’s important is the sabbath as an expression of God’s love for us.  Delmar Chilton is one of my favorite preachers, and he puts it this way.

…this text appears to be about Sabbath observance, but it’s really not. It’s about God’s love for humanity, about humanity’s habit of turning gifts into obligations, and about our oftentimes narrow-minded hardness of heart when it comes to loving others with the same kind of unconditional love with which God has loved us,

Delmar Chilton, Podcast for June 2, 2024

The Pharisees are busy catching rule breakers; God is busy breaking through the rules to love.

That’s not easy for us. Truth is, we like what we’re used to; we like the rules. I come from Congregational Churches; we’re not big on change. In one of my churches where we started to develop and had to change to serve new people, one of the long time members used to say angrily at Council meetings, “That’s just change for the sake of change,” as if this was the worst sin imaginable. But wherever Jesus goes, he brings God’s love and changes things. I like the story of Alice in Wonderland, do you know it? A girl named Alice goes through a looking glass and finds a world where everything is reversed. It’s a mirror image of our world and a reminder to me that what I think is normal is just what I’m used to, not necessarily the best way or even God’s way.

How do we let go of the rules and let God in to change things? We start by remembering what Paul says to the Corinthian Christians. They’ve been fighting over the rules, and he reminds them that they are not the source.

For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

[2 Cor 4:5f] 

We are not the light: God’s love is the light. We’re meant to be the lamps from which that light shines.

This church has been here a long time. Many of you have been here as part of it a long time. Now it’s time for a new time; now it’s time for a transition to a future none of us can quite see yet. I’m excited to be along with you for this time, this journey. It’s like moving: the dust gets stirred up, there are things you like that have to be left behind, you have to buy a new couch and meet new neighbors. But I am convinced that if we remember that our rules, our familiar way of doing things are just ours, and that the real purpose here is to shine out the light of God’s love, and we pursue that purpose, God will, as God always does, do things we haven’t even imagined.

At the end of this story, Jesus is in the synagogue. There’s a man with a withered hand. It doesn’t say if he had been ill or injured, but I imagine him having dealt with this for a long time. He’s gone through life for a while without that hand. I imagine he’s learned to live with it. He doesn’t know Jesus, and he must have seen and heard the angry confrontation with the Pharisees. Still, he finds the courage to present himself to Jesus. Healing on the sabbath is tricky, sometimes prohibited, in some cases not. The text says the Pharisees were watching, just waiting for Jesus to make a mistake, waiting to see if he’d heal this man. 

But he doesn’t. Did you notice that? Jesus doesn’t heal the man; we’re simply told that he is healed. The man stretches out his hand. Think how hard that must have been. Imagine how he had for years concealed that hand, kept it tucked away. Now Jesus tells him to come forward, now Jesus tells him to put out the hand that’s been so much trouble. And he is healed. In other places, Jesus says that someone’s faith has made them well or healed them. Perhaps that’s what happens here: that act of faith, that willingness to change, leaves him healed.

The poet T. S. Eliot says in one place, 

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

[T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding, 1943.]

If we are ready to explore, at the end we will come back to the center, which is the presence of God known in Jesus Christ. If we are willing to let go of the rules and stretch out our souls like the man in the synagogue stretched out his hand, in faith, in hope, in love, there’s just no telling what God may do with us.