Tag Archives: Ministry of Healing

The Starfish Movement

A Sermon for 18 June 2017

 

A reading from the gospel of Matthew 9:35-10:23 (NRSV).  Listen for God’s word to us.

“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.  36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.  2These are the names of the twelve apostles:  first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.  5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:  “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  7As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.  You received without payment; give without payment.  9Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.  11Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave.  12As you enter the house, greet it.  13If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  14If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.  15Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.  16See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  17Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.  19When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  21Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22and you will be hated by all because of my name.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  23When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.’”

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

 

Have you heard of the difference between a spider and a starfish?  This is not a joke.  It’s a serious question posed in the book The Starfish and the Spider:  The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations (Ori Brafman & Rod A. Beckstrom).  In describing the findings of the book, the reader is told that “if you cut off a spider’s leg, it’s crippled; if you cut off its head, it dies”  (https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B000TK5BQY/ref=tmm_aud_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1497557999&sr=8-1#audibleProductDescription_1497558171162).  Not much use left for a dead spider.  They just get swept up into the trash.  . . .  Starfish are different.  Starfish, or sea stars as scientists refer to them today, “are famous for their ability to regenerate limbs, and in some cases, entire bodies”  (www.animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/starfish/).  National Geographic explains that starfish “accomplish this by housing most or all of their vital organs in their arms.  Some require the central body to be intact to regenerate, but a few species can grow an entirely new (starfish) just from a portion of a severed limb” (Ibid.).  They’re remarkable too in that their stomachs actually can come out of their shells to envelop prey and digest it before returning back into its body.  But that’s just gross so who really wants to think about that.  Rather, the authors of The Starfish and the Spider would have us focus on their argument that “organizations fall into two categories:  “traditional ‘spiders,’ which have a rigid hierarchy and top-down leadership, and revolutionary ‘starfish,’ which rely on the power of peer relationships”  (see amazon.com reference above).  Any wonder which types do better in today’s growing culture of inter-dependence?  The Starfish and the Spider puts forth intriguing examples like how the Apaches fended off the powerful Spanish army for 200 years.  And the power of a simple circle.  The need today for catalysts with the uncanny ability to bring people together.  And even how Alcoholics Anonymous has reached millions without a top dog – just a shared ideology and those a bit further down the path of recovery reaching back to aid another along the way.  . . .  Starfish principles built upon the connection of peers, offer a whole different way to be together in the world.

Jesus obviously was a starfish man.  He knew God’s mission would be pointless if he approached it as a spider.  One slice of the head and it’ll all be over.  Instead, he went about calling people together.  Like the twelve we hear named in the gospel of Matthew:  Peter, Andrew, James and John.  Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew, James and Thaddaeus and Simon and Judas too.  Jesus called into a circle ones he encouraged to follow that God’s mission might be regenerated after the catalyst of the movement was no longer physically present.  We don’t encounter all the details of what they did until after the stories of the gospels give way to the stories of the Acts of the Apostles.  But we do learn just a third of the way into the gospel of Matthew that Jesus sent out in his name these men.  According to this portion of the gospel, Jesus passed on the healing portion of God’s mission – casting out unclean spirits and curing every disease and sickness.  He instructed his followers to go to proclaim in word and deed the good news of a kingdom come near.  They were to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons” (Mt. 10:8).  They were to rely upon the goodness of their hosts, which God indeed would provide.  It wouldn’t always be easy – the world might seem a cruel and unreceptive place.  But the Spirit of God would be with them.  And, according to the gospel of Mark’s telling of the same occurrence, Jesus gave them each a partner (Mark 6:7).  Buddied up they went out as six different pairs to spread the healing work of Jesus further than he ever could have gone on his own.  The gospel of Mark also tells of their excited return (Mark 6:30-31), when Jesus tried to sweep them away for a retreat where they could rest and swop stories of all they had seen and done.  Truly Jesus was a starfish man.

The gospel of Matthew explains the need for that kind of shared power.  Jesus was busy fulfilling the mission of God, when the crowds moved him.  Matthew records:  “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:36).  It is then that the plea arises for many laborers to be sent out into the plentiful harvest.  So Jesus calls twelve together to tell them to go out.  Brilliant.  Just brilliant to utilize starfish principles.  Enlisting in the work of God more than just himself!

It’s needed like that today.  For a long time, I think, we had it a bit confused.  That Jesus liked spiders over starfish.  Maybe a menacing hairy spider insisted it was so.  But it’s clear from his actions – his calling a whole dozen together – that his movement was going to take more than just one.  Peer-to-peer passing would be key.  And while each might have different gifts, we all get pointed in the same direction.  “Go!  Out there!” Jesus says.  “To the crowds for whom I have compassion.”  . . .  A hymn from the late 1990s says it best – and it’s from the Christians in Cuba so it has a really fun, get-your-toe-tapping, get-yourself-ready-to-get-on-out-of-your-seat beat.  The words go:  “sent out in Jesus’ name, our hands are ready now to make the earth the place in which the kingdom comes.  The angels cannot change a world of hurt and pain into a world of love, of justice and of peace.  The task is ours to do, to set it really free.  O help us to obey and carry out your will”  (“Sent Out in Jesus’ Name,” #2184 in Sing the Faith, 2003).  . . .  It’s still needed like that today.  That every one of us go forth into wherever we find ourselves each week.  We’re now the recruits in God’s healing mission.  The ones to be hope in the world.  There’s certainly enough news to remind us how desperately it is needed.  . . .  What can you do today to bring healing wherever you will go?  Can you speak a little gentler?  Listen a bit more intently?  Do you know what it feels like to hear words of encouragement when you feel like you just can’t go on?  Do you remember how sweet it feels when someone truly gives their undivided attention to the words you just have to get out of your heart?  Each one of us is capable of that kind of healing.  . . .  What about just being there when someone has a need?  “Two are better than one,” the wisdom of Ecclesiastes reminds.  “For if they fall, one will lift up the other,” the words go on.  “But woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help” (Eccles. 4:9a, 10).  How many of the people you will encounter this week are alone?  I’m not just talking about people who aren’t married or don’t have children at home.  Because how many people too are surrounded daily in families, maybe even with loving spouses; and still they feel all alone?  There’s great power in someone just being present.  Letting us know they have our back.  That even if they can’t understand exactly who we are or what’s going on with us; they will remain, at our side, patiently, for however long it takes.  Can you calm with a gentle, welcomed touch?  Last week I met a chemo nurse who makes a point to go around the clinic every now and again just to offer simple shoulder massages to those there for treatment – but most often to her co-workers with tense shoulders who are able to hook up their next patient.  That’s a profound ministry of healing in a place that can feel like a living hell.    . . .  By the time we get to the end of Matthew’s gospel, the Risen and ascending Christ will give the command to go out into all the world.  But first he commanded his followers to go to their fellow Israelites – those all around them each day.  And it wasn’t some lofty command like baptize and teach.  First it was a ministry of compassion.  Healing however they could in his name.  It doesn’t always take the miraculous, magnificent acts.  Sometimes all that’s needed is us being fully human, which means being fully present in love to the fellow human being at our side.

That’s the power of the movement built on starfish principles.  The regeneration of his Way wherever we are each day.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

. . . A Time to Heal

A Sermon for 19 June 2015 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost

A reading from the gospel of Luke 8:26-39. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” — for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.”

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

 

Amid all the disturbing news this week – not only the deaths that have occurred in this congregation, but also the tragic events in our nation and world; did you catch the clip about Phoebe? Phoebe is a dog from Fort Worth, Texas. In the past 18 months, Phoebe has logged 236 visitation hours at eight different hospitals in the Fort Worth area. Though it looks simple, her owner attests Phoebe received extensive training for a year and a half before being set loose in local hospitals. Phoebe is a golden retriever, known to be an extra sensitive dog bread. But she’s not entirely unique. It’s long been understood that dogs have incredible healing powers. Let one curl up near you for a little bit. As it settles in, possibly nudging your hand with its wet nose to ensure you will stroke its beautiful coat or pat its head right above those milky chocolate eyes, it’s likely your heart rate immediately will drop. Before you know it, any swirling anxieties within will calm. With such a beautiful creature relaxing at your side, most every human being will find their own cares melting away.

It’s the idea behind Phoebe and a dozen or so other dogs like her who are known across the country as the Comfort Dogs. A news clip shows Phoebe walking the halls of a hospital. Whether she chooses a patient to visit based on her intuitive senses, or if the nurses direct Phoebe and her owner to a particular room; before you know it the patient in the bed is smiling, laughing, and enjoying the consoling warmth of Phoebe who is surrounding the patient with her curative powers. Patient after patient attests: “You just forget about what’s wrong. It’s like your whole attention turns to them.” . . . Phoebe and others like her are trained by Lutheran Church Charities. The news clip went on to report that Phoebe and her owner were boarding a plane early the next morning to spend the week as a comfort in hospitals and counseling centers in Orlando, Florida. They’re heading to the very places that have been flooded with broken-bodied and broken-hearted people since last Sunday’s horrific mass shooting. The clip reported that Phoebe and the other Comfort Dogs have been present everywhere from Sandy Hook, to Boston after the marathon bombing, and now to Orlando. What they do is simple really, though so incredibly profound. In the midst of such intense, inexplicable pain; they show up. They calmly greet a grieving survivor. They sit as a loving presence at the person’s side for whatever pats and hugs the dogs may receive. What they offer is a calming, comforting presence in times where words will never be enough. Somehow they allow people who haven’t been able to breathe since the crisis, finally to exhale. It is as if the night terrors evaporate. The bottled-up emotions can flow. The pain – at least momentarily – disappears. Where humans have done the worst to one another, Comfort Dogs provide an oasis in the midst of heart wrenching despair. (www.wfaa.com/mb.life/phoebe-the-comfort-dog-helping-orlando-victims-243718287 and WFAA-TV, Tuesday 14 June 2016). Comfort Dogs come alongside us to help us heal.

Though I love dogs and can see how they would offer uniquely restorative powers, I find it kinda of disheartening that its dogs that end up in such places of mass destruction instead of us people. In the gospel of Luke especially, we learn of a Lord who went wherever he was needed to heal. In the story before us for today; it’s out of his homeland, Galilee. Beyond the set boundaries of his people. Off to the neighboring country of the Gerasenes he goes. There a man, hardly man-like anymore, has been left to live in the tombs. He’s out of his mind from all that has possessed him. Demons, the text reads. And we might understand such malevolent forces that can overtake us yet today. Commentators often translate ancient ideas of demonic powers as the kinds of maladies that leave us chronically ill today. Maybe the man has something akin to paranoid schizophrenia. Or could it be more like the turbulent inner turmoil in which many of us end up from living a lifetime wracked by incessant worry? Or self-hatred. Or debilitating fear. Maybe the demons that drive us today to live less human-like and more as shade-like dwellers in the land of the dead are arrogance or ignorance or greed. Whatever it is that takes us over so that we, in the language of the PCUSA’s “A Brief Statement of Faith,” “violate the image of God in others and ourselves, accept lies as truth, exploit neighbor and nature, and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care” (PCUSA Book of Confessions, 2014, p. 303, line 35-38). . . . To one who has experienced this, our Lord goes.

It’s a great comfort to know that Jesus shows up in our greatest hour of need. But it’s even more important for us to realize that he went about such ministry so that we now will. It’s all over the gospels and the rest of the New Testament too. One of Jesus’ primary ministries was that of healing. And he passed that ministry right along to his first disciples. Luke chapter nine reads: “Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal . . . They departed,” verse six continues, “and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere” (Luke 9:1-2, 6). When they return a short time later, they fall all over each other telling Jesus about all they had done. Later in the New Testament, after Christ’s resurrection, we can read about the people they healed. Everywhere they went, they found a way to restore the bodies, minds, and spirits of those in need. To cure the dis-eases people experienced in the living of their days. That’s healing – making something whole once again. It’s a ministry entrusted to us too. As we look around the world today, we might just see it’s the primary ministry God is calling us to now – in the families and neighborhoods and nation in which we live. Even to those beyond our comfort zones – those outside the boundaries we tend to set.

I know, our rational minds might right away kick in, if not to question how Jesus and his friends so long ago actually healed all sorts of people, then perhaps to wonder how in the world we’re supposed to do the same kind of healing today. I wouldn’t dare advocate something other than the miracles we can experience due to modern medicine. Like, I’m not about to go home and stop taking the pills my doctor has prescribed me to take as I continue to heal after shoulder repair surgery. I’m still going to do the necessary exercises and follow the surgeon’s advice. And I suggest you all listen to your doctors as well. . . . But I just can’t get Phoebe out of my mind. The hugs she received in Orlando this week. The people whose physical, emotional, and spiritual pain was eased as the Comfort Dogs descended upon their hospital rooms and showed up at the trauma counseling center. Remember their simple, but o so profound gift? Presence. Calm. The comfort of just sitting with another when no words ever will be enough. We can do that. Every last one of us can get out of ourselves long enough to just be with another who feels like the whole world is falling apart. We can listen to the silence or the sobs that might arise. We can wait as an oasis until one who hasn’t been able to breathe since the crisis, finally finds themself able to exhale. We can help to heal, can’t we? Offering a powerful, curative peace wherever it is needed. After all, if Phoebe and her furry friends can do it, certainly we can too. Following the lead of our Lord as he goes outside his typical territory to heal the one who meets him there. . . . As Christ’s hands and feet in the world today – a world we know to be in such deep, deep need – it’s our turn to take up our Lord’s ministry of healing. May God’s Spirit guide us as we go to the side of whoever needs it!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)