Tag Archives: Healing

What Jesus Sees

A Sermon for 4 February 2018

A reading from the gospel of Mark 1:29-39.  Listen for God’s word to us as we continue to hear of the first day of Jesus’ public ministry, as told by the gospel of Mark.  Listen:

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.  31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.  Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.  32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  33 And the whole city was gathered around the door.  34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.  35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”  39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

 

Do you wonder what Jesus saw?  As he walked the few feet on the Sabbath from the synagogue in Capernaum to Simon Peter’s prominent house next door, what did his eyes behold?  . . .  I’ve been to the remains of Capernaum –along the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  I’ve walked through the gate of what once was considered the city at the crossroads of the world – with routes in Jesus’ day leading from Capernaum to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and beyond.  There, in a once thriving, wealthy Jewish city; it is believed those of many faiths at least were encountered, if not found living side-by-side industriously beside the sea.  It also is believed that Jesus made Peter’s house in Capernaum his home-base during much of his public ministry.  Located right between the synagogue and the seashore – just a stone’s throw from each; when needed, Jesus took up residence there with Peter and the others.  Whether he already knew the family before calling Simon and Andrew to follow; Jesus is welcomed to make their home his own.  Which might explain why Jesus did many miraculous things in Capernaum – more than most anywhere else in the land.  The gospels record that in Capernaum Jesus “healed Peter’s wife’s mother of a fever, brought a child back to life, cured a leper, healed the centurion’s servant, ‘cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick’ (Mt. 8:16) [The Holy Land:  the Land of Jesus, Palphot-Printed in Israel, pp. 37-38].

On that first Sabbath day according to the gospel of Mark, after teaching with astounding authority in the synagogue, then casting a destructive spirit from a man; Peter takes Jesus and the gang back home for Sabbath brunch.  What they find as they enter is of distress.  Instead of pre-prepared Sabbath preparations, the woman of the house is ill.  Likely the eldest female of the family – with defined Sabbath roles to fulfill, Peter’s mother-in-law lies fevered in the bed.  The gospel records that at once, they told Jesus about her.  He must have seen the deep concern on their faces.  The helpless glimmer in their eyes.  That pleading catch in their voices – perhaps a hint of heighted anticipation; for the One who just has entered their home proved his gifts minutes before at the synagogue.

We don’t know much about the woman in the bed.  Connected through marriage with the celebrated Apostle Peter, history never tells her name.  As if just a mother-in-law no one really sees.  Her story nearly is lost between the other events of that day.  . . .  Perhaps it would be of benefit to imagine what Jesus saw.  When they took him to her bed, surely, he beheld a wonderful, wizened woman.  An elder saintly Granma, who scooped children up on her knee telling tales of the ancestors of old.  This was the woman who had prepared her daughter to be Simon Peter’ wife.  The one who assisted when time came for motherhood.  She knew how to work the little plot of land on the family compound and kept the fires tended for preparing the family’s meals.  Even taught the wee ones the prayers their families had been saying for years.  Here was the woman – a gritty Jewish grandmother, who was not about to let herself get pushed around.  I suspect Jesus stood at the bed of a woman who was a mighty contender – one who would not have it for a little fever to take her down.

You might think the description stems from an overly active imagination.  But we know that’s just not so.  The Greek of the gospel gives the clue.  For when Jesus took her well-worn hand, he lifted her up.  With the very same word the gospel will use 15 chapters later when three other women go to visit a tomb, only to find the crucified one had been lifted up.  Foreshadowing the day when Jesus will do likewise, Peter’s mother-in-law is raised by Christ himself to new, restored life.  . . .  What’s more, this foretaste of the resurrection takes place on the Sabbath.  The day set aside by the ancient commands for God’s people to follow God’s lead.  To complete the work of six days by resting to look with joy on it all.  To stop in order to consider the goodness of it all and delight in the abundant diversity of what grew.  Thus, God blessed the seventh day, making it holy, setting it apart.  . . .  It was clear:  service was NOT to take place on Sabbath.  Rituals of gratitude, restoration, thanks.  All that is a part of Sabbath.  Anything akin to work is not.  Lest one forgot their place alongside the whole creation.  Another marvelous making of the Sovereign of the Universe – beloved of, but NOT God.

Nonetheless, with one little word, we learn that the wise ole’ momma Jesus lifts up, gets up.  And, without hesitation, she begins to serve.  Clue number two and three:  on the SABBATH, Peter’s mother-in-law immediately takes on a ministry the Twelve later will fight not to embrace when they quarrel about which one of them is the greatest (Mark 9:35).  The restored woman becomes Christ’s first deacon – at least according to the Greek used in the text.  “A servant of the church gathered in her son-in-law’s house” (Ofelia Ortega, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 1, p. 334).  As one commentator writes, “Service is a key topic in the call and pursuit of Jesus.  This woman gets up and turns the Sabbath into a paschal day of service to others.  Jesus does not command her.  She is the one that assumes the initiative and awaits the consequences, discovering the value of mutual service above the sacredness of the Sabbath.  . . .  This woman is Jesus’ first servant and joins him in the radical announcement, in action, of the kingdom of God” (Ibid.).  Wow!  What a woman – returned to wholeness, she is ready to give of herself like Christ, in service to those gathered round.

That’s what Jesus sees.  Likely why he lifted her up in the first place.  For when he looks at us, he sees us restored.  Whole again.  Able to be in service for the kingdom he has announced in our midst.

It’s the point of salvation – Christ’s work of healing in our lives.  Many of us have been steeped in the paradigm of punishment for sin.  It’s been drilled into our heads that we’ve done something wrong as individuals, and as a collective; and for that we deserve to be punished.  We neglect other views of Christianity found throughout scripture around Jesus’ ministry of healing.  His work to restore wholeness.  . . .  Since the time of Job’s friends, who did everything in their power to convince Job that God’s punishment for sin was the source of all that ailed him, the people of God long have wondered what to do with illness.  Jesus takes up a ministry of healing as a way to return wholeness.  He sees the brokenness that comes in body, mind, and spirit from daily life in this world.  But that’s not all he sees.  As the hands and feet of God on earth, Christ sees us lifted up.  He reclaims the health in us that somehow gets broken.  Embracing his vision of us as whole – here and now, and in full some day after death – we too can step into new life.  We can nurture the Life Force in us with care and sensitivity and vigilance so that the spirit of God within can animate us for service in Christ’s name.  We can look in the mirror to see what Jesus sees:  citizens of the kingdom in which joy and peace and love reign.  Whole again, we can get up.  And without hesitation, we can serve in Christ’s name.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018 (All rights reserved.)

The Gratitude of One

A Sermon for 9 October 2016 

A reading from the gospel of Luke 17:11-19. Listen for God’s word to us.

“On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.””

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

How many things do you do each week without even thinking about them? In whole day most of us brush our teeth, make our coffee (or tea), turn on cars or TVs or computers or Ipads, without thinking one bit about what we are doing. Whether to brush side-to-side or up-n-down. Whether to add two lumps or one. Where to put in the key – or if you have a newer model, whether to press the brake before pushing the button. Our days are filled with so many things we just do so that we really don’t have to engage our brains to think about how to do it – unless something suddenly goes wrong. Then we’re on high alert to trouble shoot. Just getting out of bed to get ready for our day involves so many rote actions so that it’s difficult to tabulate how many similar thought-less things we do each week.

I’m pretty sure I know one thing most all of us do each week without a whole lot of thought at all – at least if we’re in worship on Sundays and have been for any length of time in our lives. “The Doxology.” I’m guessing Amy even can breeze through it without a thought. Often it seems more like a seventh inning stretch or a throw away transition to get the offering plates up to the front before getting on with the final hymn and charge for the week.

Praise. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise God, all creatures here below; Praise God above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen!” (The Presbyterian Hymnal, 1990; No. 592). I’ve served churches who routinely used No. 591 and messed me up each week with the words: “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise Christ, all people here below; Praise Holy Spirit evermore; Praise Triune God, whom we adore.” I never did get it right – because each week the ushers handed me the offering plates to put up in the chancel area and if I didn’t have the bulletin to remind me of the words, I’d end up just singing, “Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon” – a hymn trick a retired old pastor once taught me when I stood next to him to lead worship each week!

“The Doxology.” If you stop to think about it, it’s kinda radical. I mean where else in our world today would people willingly open their wallets to kiss their money goodbye without the exchange of a tangible product placed in their hands to take with them. And then get up to joyfully sing: “Praise! Praise God from whom all blessings flow???!!!” . . . Maybe we’ve been through seasons in our lives when “The Doxology” brings tears to our eyes. If, say, you’ve just lost your job and the bills keep coming in – but somehow the money to pay them turns up too. Maybe then you joyfully jump up to sing “Praise! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!” Maybe if you’ve been through some sort of prolonged, life-threatening illness, or are going through one right now, but find yourself still standing; maybe then thankfully singing: “Praise! Praise God from whom all blessings flow” moves your spirit deeply. Maybe if the difficulty is passing, we feel a little bit like we can breathe again after the loss, or the crisis, or the intense season of life that has taken its toll. Maybe then we truly mean it when the words tumble out of out of mouths: “Praise! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!” Or maybe we are the kind of people who have matured enough in life to know that all good things do flow from the loving heart of a gracious Creator. We’ve lived long enough to be a people of gratitude because we can look back and see the sustaining tracings of God’s finger all over the messiness of our lives. And so we joyfully praise! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!!!

Gratitude changes us, doesn’t it? If you’ve ever heard of Louise Hay, perhaps you already know. The gratitude guru of today, yesterday Ms. Hay turned 90 years old – though I swear to you she doesn’t look a day over 55! Launching what would become a multi-million dollar writing career in her mid-forties, Louise reports that “at 55 I ventured into the world of computers . . . At 60, I had my first garden (and) enrolled in a children’s art class (to begin) to paint. At 70 and 80,” she writes, “I was more creative and (nearing 90) my life continues to get richer and fuller” (Louise Hay newsletter email, 5 October 2016). Her message is pretty simple: live grateful! Affirm the miracle of our bodies. Celebrate this incredible world in which we live. Rejoice with each passing year! I would add: know the One to thank and do so every day! Gratitude literally keeps our bodies healthier. It makes our spirits lighter. It allows our minds to be at peace. It makes us people others enjoy being around. After all, who wants to sit next to the sour puss? Who wants to let the arteries of our own hearts clog up from begrudged living? Who wants to craft a life around the belief that everything is solely up to us – instead of knowing our lives are wonderfully inter-dependent with the amazing gift of grace? Gratitude is just the better way to live.

Jesus should have said it that bluntly. Though we probably wouldn’t understand without the beauty of a real-life illustration. . . . Ten desperate ones whose bodies are wrecked with disease – whose spirits likely are languishing as laws kept them isolated away from healthy people, even the loved ones of their own families. Ten people, who probably have been treated much more like eye-sores than human beings with feelings and hopes and dreams; ten seek out Jesus to beg for mercy. This is one of those instances in which I wish Jesus would have gotten closer. I wish he would have stopped in his tracks, walk right up to the group, laid his hands upon them to declare them instantly healed. For whatever reason he doesn’t – at least not according to the story as it is recorded in the gospel of Luke. Perhaps he wanted to give them a role in their own healing – invite them to trust what he asks them to do. So that all he does in this healing is see them. See their pains, then speaks: “Go show yourselves to the priests,” (Luke 17:14). It’s recorded that they all went, even though it’s kinda hard to believe. I mean, Jesus just sent them to see the ones that represented the system that called them unclean and kept them away from others. Do they really all sprint off in the direction of the holy men? It must have been so because Jesus later says, “were not ten made clean?” (Luke 17:17). Ten supposedly trusted that something significant would happen to them if they followed the instructions of this incredible teacher. Something would change – if not in the healing of their bodies, then maybe they anticipated healing some other way. Ten head off. Only one returns. I wonder if he sang: Praise! Praise God from whom all blessings flow! He falls to the dust at Jesus’ feet and simply, profoundly, passionately from the bottom of his heart says: “Thank you!” Thank you! Thank you! . . . Jesus declares that it is his faith – his willingness to trust the instruction given him – that makes him well. And it is the gratitude in his heart that will keep him well – no matter if the leprosy comes back, or if his family all is gone when he heads home, or if the community won’t welcome his restoration. Gratitude will change the trajectory of his life. The way he frames the story of the rest of his days. The prayers he makes as he lays his head down on a pillow somewhere at night. The peace that will remain in him as he remembers his past and looks forward to a different kind of future. Gratitude will carry him through, all the way to his end and beyond.

We could take a good lesson from the gratitude of one. His life could show us how NOT to take our moments for granted. How NOT to thought-lessly go through the motions each week. Maybe even to find a way to joyfully jump up after we give back to God a portion of what God already has given unto us, singing: “Praise! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!” Let gratitude go forth not only from one, but from all!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen!

 

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)

Healed by Christ

A sermon for 19 April 2015 – 3rd Sunday of Easter

Acts 3:1-20a  (NRSV scripture included below).

Before I jump into our next scripture reading, a few words. . . . Monday morning this week, a shot was fired at the West End Synagogue in Nashville. To my knowledge, it hasn’t yet been discovered who did this or why. But what we know is that the shooting happened a few hours before the Jewish community of Nashville was gathering at the State Capitol for Tennessee’s ceremony in memory of the Holocaust. It happened at the time marchers were gathering in Overland Park, Kansas in commemoration of the 2014 shooting on 13 April of three people at a Jewish Community Center and Jewish assisted living center there. (al.com, by Kay Campbell, 13 April 2015). It happened just a few hours after Christians across the world had gathered on the second Sunday of the season of Easter to celebrate the resurrection of our crucified yet risen Lord – Jesus of Nazareth, who was both one of us: a simple Jewish man, and the Holy One in full, God’s anointed Messiah, the Christ. . . . This week more than any other, we need a reminder – especially before delving into a text like this one from Acts that records a debate, if you will – a fierce one to be sure – but a debate nonetheless among Jewish people who weren’t so sure what to make of one of their own, being handed over for death by their own to their Roman occupiers. We’re going to be hearing about it all throughout Eastertide as we hear the stories of the first disciples as recorded in Acts of the Apostles. . . . It was an insiders fight, if you will. Like if HPC’s session would make a decision regarding one of you, for instance, to have you arrested, jailed, and sent off for sentencing for some reason. Certainly we’d have a fight on our hands in here – a taking up of sides regarding the fate of the HPC member we handed over to the authorities for punishment. . . . Remember as we listen for a word from God in this text and all the Acts texts we’ll hear throughout this season of Easter; for they are from the earliest days of the Jewish Christ’s Jewish followers in reference to their fellow Jewish brothers and sisters. He was of a particular time and place as we all are – not for the descendants of that particular time and place to be chastised forever for events we remember but can’t quite fathom. But for us all – Jew and Gentile alike – to know the deep, deep love of the One who first covenanted with this whole creation through our Jewish ancestor Abraham.

With all this in mind, listen for the word of God in a reading of Acts 3:1-20a.

“One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished. When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what God had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”

This is the word of God, for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

I heard a disturbing story this week – one other than the shooting at the West End Synagogue. And it reminds me of this story from Acts – which happened, by the way, right after Pentecost. The story I heard was a woman telling about her brother. She didn’t go into all the details, but it was clear from what she did say that over the years, her brother had been quite a handful for their family. He really had struggled with some things that deeply impacted them all. A few of you might have lived through such situations – as the sibling or the parents or maybe as the struggling person yourself. In fact, some of you might be going through such stuff right now. . . . I mean no disrespect to the woman telling the story, but even as she told it, she kinda was contradicting herself. She said her family had prayed for him for years. And she also said it was all of a sudden that his whole life got turned around. One song he heard on the radio hit him deeply and from that song on, he was a totally different person. Healed. For that she gave great thanks.

Now I realize it feels like that sometimes. All of a sudden something inside shifts and we’re freed from whatever has been haunting us for o so very many years. In an instant, something changes for the better and life is different from that point on. Maybe we too hear something – a song, a sentence, the one word we’ve needed all our lives in order to know our own worth – and presto! Everything inside is all better. One touch, like the touch we hear of from Peter, and legs that never had worked, instantaneously are strong. For all of our sakes, I want it to be like that. It’s just that, in the lives of so many of us, that’s not often how the healing takes place. In fact, I would point out to the sister telling the tale, that it wasn’t all of a sudden that her brother instantly was healed. She said it herself: she and her parents had been praying for him for years. All of their care, all of their concern, all the positive energy of their love had been sent daily to him through the fervent words of their prayers. Certainly that had some part to play in the healing the brother finally came to know. Like dirt being given all that is needed to ready it to be fertile soil. Then and only then does the sprout shoot forth from the ground. Primed and ready to produce in abundance. It might feel like all of a sudden. But so much has been happening with and in that dirt to change it into fertile soil.

We might want it to be as all of a sudden as it was for the lamed man who met Peter and John that day on their way to prayer in the Temple, but don’t we more often see the long hard road of healing? . . . I still can’t get over a few of you who just a year or so ago had backs that didn’t allow you to stand up straight and left you in pain each day. Not to single you all out or anything, but the journey through your surgeries and recoveries wasn’t one touch one day from one person. It was step after step after step and what a blessing to see you mobile and smiling and ready to keep on keeping on. That’s the healing you experienced by Christ. . . . A little over fifteen years ago, I met a young woman at about the time nighttime had turned to nightmares for her. I’ve never known a person with so much fear to sleep and such an inability to make it through each day because when she laid her head down on her pillow, memories of what her father came into her room to do to her when she was a young child haunted her. She was terrified and broken and really an entire mess. Every little thing was triggering all those horrible years. And then I saw her last year for the first time in a long time and she looked well. She looked rested and happy and at peace in work that seemed to have been created just for her to fulfill. She had found a special someone with whom to share her life and they were like kids in a candy shop together. So very deeply in love. It was beautiful to see! It didn’t happen overnight but step after slow, painful step until this woman was healed – if not entirely, at least enough to cherish herself and her life. Years of therapy, journals full of poetry, person after person on her journey treating her differently than she’d been treated as a child at home – until today, she’s a miracle to behold! That’s the healing she experienced by Christ. . . . I’ll never forget the day a woman came to me early in my years as a pastor. She just had found out that her husband had had an affair. It was over – a short lapse – and she was coming to me for someone to listen to how absolutely crushed she was. We talked a few times before she decided to seek out a professional counselor. She had lots of difficult conversations with her husband before they both began to see they each had become something they didn’t really want to be. They still deeply cared for each other, but both of them had failed to love and cherish and be who they once had promised to be for each other. It wasn’t easy and I can’t imagine how they learned how to trust each other again, but after several years of trying and talking and counseling together, they sought me out in my next ministry setting. Five years to the day their world fell apart from that affair, they wanted me to lead them through a renewal of their marriage vows. They finally were healed enough – individually and together – to re-commit themselves to one another and to the journey of growth they wanted to continue alongside each other. All three of us cried through the entire ceremony that day five years after. It was holy ground as we celebrated the healing they had experienced by Christ.

All of a sudden, after step after step after step so many of us experience incredible healing by Christ. Moments when the shame we’ve carried for years loses its tight grip on us. Times when the loss that has defined our lives releases a bit. The mistakes we have made no longer are held against us by others or by ourselves. Whatever it might be. If we sat down to tell our stories, certainly some of us would be able to testify to remarkable healing we’ve experienced all of a sudden after step after step after step. We’d tell of the person who listened. The parent who prayed. The friend who understood in ways nobody else did. The doctor or nurse whose hands skillfully healed. . . . What a powerful role we’ve been called to play in each other’s lives. In the journey of healing so many people are on. . . . Peter said it that day when he reached out his hand to touch: “what I have, I give you” (Acts 3:6). What he had to give was the very same love, the very same presence, the very same Spirit of God living through him. What he had to give is the very same thing we too have to give. To be those who pray each day, if it takes that long. To love unconditionally with full acceptance of the person standing in need before us. To listen to the pains of another with compassion. Maybe even to be a touch that heals instead of hurts. The word of hope another needs to hear. These are the ways Christ still heals . . . through us each day. In that process of all of a sudden after step after step after step, what is it you have to give to those longing at last to be healed by Christ? . . . Freely, in the very same love of Christ, give that healing gift!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)