Today is National Awareness Day for 2014! I know there are many days on the calendar that are designated for a special purpose or cause. In fact, you can find a 2014 calendar here that shares many of these special days. There are many people who suffer with many issues. Honestly, cancer sucks, diabetes sucks, cerebral palsy sucks, and the list goes on! For this day, we turn our attention to the effects of lives of individuals and families who are affected by autism.
We are one of THOSE families!
In November of 2012, we found out that one of our beautiful sons was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, which is a high functioning form of the Autism Spectrum Disorder. Later in the next year, we received the notice that a second son was diagnosed with autism as well. It is fair to say that it was a fairly complicated year.
Do you know that 1 in every 68 children are dealing with autism, which includes 1 in every 42 boys (www.autismspeaks.org)? Children with autism are more likely to be bullied or harassed. If you are dealing with this possibility I highly recommend checking into the Autism Speaks 100 Day Kit and the Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Tool Kit. You can find information about that kit here.
One of the struggles that we face as parents is that we face the comments and concerns of other parents and “concerned” adults. Our children have emotional outbursts that they cannot always control. Some of the simplest things can send them spiraling out of control. Recently, in school, a teacher was disciplining a whole class but our son thought they meant only him. He lost it at school. Autism is hard to explain to others because our children do not experience the world the way “normal” children experience it.
I am starting to hate the word, “normal!”
What is normal anyways? What does it mean to be “normal”? Are any of us truly normal? By definition, if we truly believe that we are all unique creations of a loving Heavenly Father, we are all different. There is no normal. Actually, normal is found at the foot of the cross. There is where we are all at the same place. But, I digress…
I do not hate autism. I cannot hate autism because autism is part of my kids. It is part of my family. It is part of what makes my kids who they are. Do I wish that things were easier for them? Would I take their place in a heartbeat? Will I fight every day to make sure they get the help and consideration they need to get where they want to?
So, will you join me in remembering the individuals and families who deal with autism every day?
Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away
We cut down people in your name
but the sword was never ours to swing
Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth’s become so hard to see
The world is on their way to You but they’re tripping over me
Always looking around but never looking up I’m so double minded
A plank eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided
–Casting Crowns, “Jesus, Friend of Sinners”
Question: Are we standing in the way of others getting closer to Jesus? Are we standing in the way of other coming to know Christ?
Our story today talks about two people in a relationship or friendship. The Word tells us they are brothers, maybe not in the “flesh and blood” sense, but in the body of Christ sense. These were people who knew each other. They werenot casual acquaintances.
We are encouraged not to find fault with a brother until we deal with what we are dealing with. Jesus is trying to make a point by referring to the problem in “our own eye” as a plank while our brother has only a speck, or a flake. Is it possible that our own problem is larger because it is closer to us? Is it possible that our own problem is larger because it is also compounded, or added to, by the issue of us judging someone else? Or, is it larger because it is just larger? Who knows?
Are we standing in the way of others coming to know Christ?
There are two kinds of “judgment” referred to in the Bible. This reference means not to take God place as judge. People take this idea too far and say that we should not tell the difference between right and wrong. That is not the point here. In fact, vv. 15-23 of the same chapter talk about judging about the truth and the teaching of false disciples. We are not to put ourselves in a place of judging a person’s life. This is not my job. This is not your job. That one belongs to God. Only God can live up to a standard that only He could judge by!
Secondly, the passages referring to “judging” or “discerning” others are almost exclusively internally. How can we judge someone who does not know God by a standard that they do not know? It is like testing someone on material that you have not taught them or they do not know.
Have we forgotten where we came from?
We used to be in the same place…apart from God. If that is you this morning, then you are in good company because that is whom this church is for.
This is a real problem area for those who are on the “inside.” If we are not careful we can become more enthused, in love with, and passionate about our churches than we are about Jesus.-Doug Rea.
This explains how Jesus could eat with sinners and tax collectors and outsiders and Pharisees and disciples and… and… He was here to show them the Way, not to point out where they were always going wrong. In fact, the time when Jesus is recorded as becoming the most upset about the actions of others was inside a church!
I am personally glad that Jesus did not spend all of His time with just those who agreed with Him. If He never reached out of His inner circle, where would we be today? If Paul had never carried the word to the Gentiles, a word that in most contexts almost means outsider, where would we be today?
Sometimes it is not what we say, but how we say it.
The song we listened to today (“Jesus, Friend of Sinners” by Casting Crowns) mentioned that there is a “world at the end of our pointing fingers.” There are families… There are people… There are situations that we don’t know anything about… There are God’s creations… at the end of our pointing fingers. Why make a situation worse by how we respond to it?
Don’t misunderstand me about this… You don’t have to act like someone else to love someone else. You don’t have to agree with someone else to love someone else. You don’t have to be like someone else to love someone else.
After the darkest moment in human history, we find a short telling of a man who was faced with an opportunity to act. Joseph of Arimathea is described by scripture as a secret follower of Jesus (John 19:38) and a member of the Jewish high council (most likely the Sanhedrin). These two descriptors of Joseph would definitely have caused him some tension, especially as they related to the treatment and death of Christ. We are also told in Luke 23:50 that Joseph was a good and righteous man, but John 19:38 tells us that he feared the Jewish leaders. We see a division in the person of Joseph. He knew what to do and how to do it, but something was holding him back. His fear of the Jewish leaders was holding back his full commitment to the cause of Jesus. And maybe we can let him slide for fearing the Jewish leaders. Even though the Jewish leaders did not have the authority to put Jesus to death (John 18:31), they still managed to manipulate Pilate and Herod into doing it. If they could do that to Jesus, imagine what they could do to Joseph. At the very least, he would become a social outcast and lose his status in the community. These sorts of fears were holding him back from becoming the person that God intended him to be.
We have all seen it. There is a homeless man or woman on the street making their request for money or food. How many times have we walked around or driven past them? Have many times have we not stopped and talked with them? Let’s make it even more personal. How many times have we known that someone is going through something but we just don’t want to get involved? We rationalize it. “It’s none of my business.” “I have my own problems.” “They got themselves in this mess, they can get themselves out of it.” “What would people say if they saw me sitting with that person at lunch?” From physical to social issues, we are surrounded by people who just need a touch, a comforting reminder—some care along the road.
The power of God and the witness of Jesus Christ changed the heart and mind of Joseph of Arimathea. It is one thing to say that you are a follower of Christ. It is yet another to actually be a follower of Christ. Joseph risked everything he had and everything that he would ever be when he stepped up to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. You can almost imagine the stares of the other leaders, Roman and Jewish, as one of their own steps forward. He steps out of secrecy and into reality. He is stepping out of the shallow end of the pool into where it is deep. He is stepping out of being an acquaintance and into a relationship with Jesus.
Caring for others along the way will mean that you have to take risks. Like Joseph, you may have to risk your social standing, your popularity, some friendships, a new position, or possibly even your job. It will cost you something. Joseph of Arimathea put Jesus in his own tomb—a tomb meant for himself or one of his family members. This was a personal expense to him with no chance of reimbursement. Jesus taught us in Luke 9:24 that “if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” We must be like Joseph of Arimathea. We need to throw caution to the wind and show compassion to other travelers along the way, especially the ones that no one else will help. When faced with a crisis of faith, we must continue “doing the most good” for everyone around us.
“Everyone needs compassion, a love that never fails.”
We live in a world where there are hurting people everywhere. Failed relationships, death, the economy, and loss of self cause people, including ourselves, to feel disconnected and in pain. We have lost faith with our communities. We have lost faith in our government and the officials that run it. We have lost faith with our families and our social circles. Unfortunately, we have even lost faith with the church and our spiritual foundations. Where do we turn?
How many of us have more friends on Facebook that in real life? How many of us have phone numbers for people we don’t really know? Do we still send cards or letters to people we have not seen face-to-face in many years? Why do we text rather than call? We claim efficiency and progress. We tell ourselves that we can communicate more information to more people even more quickly. We are quickly becoming a society of digital hermits and paranoid recluses. We are scared to touch. We are scared to care. We do not choose to love beyond what we know. It is easy to love something or someone you know or that loves you back. It is harder to love what no one else loves.
Do we love enough? Are we caring enough? Are we taking the time to get to know our fellow man? Do we still know our neighbors like we used to? Or, are we more concerned about what is happening in our own world? Are we more concerned about what people might say if they saw us spending time with “those” kind of people? Look at how far, we Christians, we believers, have fallen. We used to be “those” people, but God still loved us.
We need to learn how to reconnect and re-engage with this world and it’s people. We need to spend less time determining who has what or who has more. We need to spend time figuring how to get people what they need. We need to love, need to learn, need to lead. The church, us, we, are in a unique position in today’s world to love the unlovable, to care for the “un-careable”, to befriend the friendless, to bind up the broken-hearted, and to set the captives free (Isaiah 61:1).
Our story in today’s Word for us addresses that very issue. In Mark 1:40-45, Jesus is preparing to continue traveling and ministering to people. He is packing to leave and a man comes and kneels before Him. We are told in verse 1 that he has leprosy. Leprosy then, and still today, is more than a disease. It is a social condition. At the time of this story, if someone had leprosy, they would be required to stay away from people. If someone were to get near them, they had to call out, “Unclean!” People avoided them. Families disowned them. Society did not have time for them. They did not have a place for them. They were exiled to colonies filled with other people with leprosy. They were exiled there to wait to die. There was no reacceptance, no chance of parole, no pardon. They were cut off from the world and forgotten about. This man who knelt before Jesus could have been related to one of his close followers. Everyone probably knew him and his family. But, in their eyes, he was less than human. The government could do nothing for them. Sadly, the priests of the day avoided them for fear of becoming unclean themselves. They were not necessarily concerned with contracting the disease. They were concerned that it would make them spiritually unclean. It would hurt their standing at temple. It would lower their social status. The man asked Jesus for two things that day. We make a mistake if we see them as the same thing. He asked to be healed and to be made clean. It is true that leprosy is a disease that harms the body and can cause death. But, what was different and possibly worse, the social disconnection also harmed and caused a kind of death, separation.
Jesus looks beyond all of that. Oh, how He loves! He loved beyond the physical. He was willing to help. He was willing to heal. He was willing to change the situation. Oh, how He loves! He was willing to reach out. He was willing to touch. He was willing to break through the social barriers. Oh, how He loves! He did what no priest would have ever done. He reached out and touched him. He touched his leprosy, his disease. He didn’t see the disease. He didn’t see the situation. He saw the person who needed love. He saw a person who needed to be touched. Oh, how He loves!
After the physical healing, Jesus tells the man to go to a priest and make the required offering. Although Jesus had removed the problem, the disease, he still knew that the man needed more. The man had asked Jesus for healing and he asked Him to make him clean. I am struck by an interesting thought. Couldn’t Jesus have removed the social stigma from the man? Didn’t His own authority exceed the authority of Moses? The answer is yes! He could have made the man clean. But, as He said many times, He did not come to destroy the Law. He came to uphold and validate it.
We need to follow Jesus’ example. We need to reach beyond how we feel about something or someone. We need to reach out from what we think is our comfort area. We need to go beyond what we know to find out where God really wants us to be. We should be willing to reach out and touch. We cannot stop when we see the “leprosy” around us. Today, “leprosy” can be dirt, poverty, old age, lack of education, social standing, political affiliation, race, physical attractiveness, or religious beliefs. We need to reach out beyond the four walls of our homes, our neighborhoods, and our churches. We have to go beyond only what we know!
Today, Jesus has taught us how to love others. We should love like He loves, and, oh, how He loves! What are we willing to do differently? Are we willing to love people who are friends do not love? Are we willing to befriend people who are not accepted by our friends and social circles? Are we willing to risk becoming socially disconnected ourselves for the sake of Christ? Can we love other like He did?