Thursday, August 20, 2015

Becoming faithful witnesses

When we open ourselves to come to know God in the power of Jesus, everything we once knew from a human point of view about God, ourselves, and the world is changed; transformed by the love of Christ that fills us and urges us on as witnesses of his resurrection. An important example of this is found in the story of Mary Magdalene, a story about healing, transformation, and faithful witness.

Unfortunately, aside from the Biblical record that Jesus healed her of seven demons, we don’t know much about Mary Magdalene. She is recorded as being present at Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, and all four gospels tell us that she was the first witness of the resurrection  – which led early church writers to call her the apostle to the apostles.

It was St. Gregory the Great, at the end of the 6th century, who identified Mary Magdalene with the woman caught in adultery whose stoning Jesus forestalled. “From this conflation, now rejected by scholars as well as the church, there came about the popular representation of Mary Magdalene as a… prostitute.” (Robert Ellsberg, All Saints, Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for our Time, p. 312)

For two millennia Mary Magdalene, the faithful follower of Jesus, the apostle to the apostles, has been regarded (slandered) as a prostitute.  Yet the healing Jesus began when he freed her from the grip of seven demons continues to this day, restoring Mary Magdalene’s reputation and her rightful place of honor in the Christian community.

That’s how healing works. We know from the many stories in Scripture that Jesus’ healings always restored the person to wholeness of life.  The lepers who were cleansed, for example, were able to return to their families and live in the communities from which they had been exiled due to their disease.  The blind beggar and the demoniac who were healed became evangelists who told of the mercy they had received from Jesus – and all who heard their stories were amazed. 

That’s the other thing about healing – it is for us, but not just for us.  When we have been restored in body, mind, or spirit, we come away with a new awareness of God’s powerful love and mercy, and that is what is meant to be shared.

The people we encounter living in exile today are those who have been beaten down by the demons of fear, loneliness, or depression, or those oppressed by poverty, violence, or addiction, or those forsaken by friends, family, or “the system. It is to these beloved, thirsting ones that God sends us as witnesses, because God is the God of the lowly, the helper of the oppressed, protector of the forsaken, and the savior of those without hope.(Jud 9:11)

As witnesses we carry the life-giving waters of Baptism out to those who are athirst for the living God (Ps 42:2). At Redeemer, this takes the form of food, friendship, and welcome in our worship and ministries.

Faithful witnesses trust God - and God alone - to judge.  We don’t serve those we determine are deserving. We serve those who show up.

Faithful witnesses go out and seek the “exiled” inviting them into relationship just as they are, trusting God to take them and us where we need to go.  An important sign of our faithfulness as witnesses is the change that happens in us.

Our Savior continually calls us to wholeness of life by entering into the presence of his transforming love. Then having been healed ourselves, we are sent to serve others, carrying the love of Christ to them, that they might be transformed too.

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