Tag Archives: Prayer

How Healing Happens

A Sermon for 1 July 2018

 

A reading from the gospel of Mark 5:21-43.  Listen for God’s word to us as we continue our way through the gospel of Mark’s version of the life and ministry of Jesus, the Christ.  Listen.

“When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea.  22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death.  Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him.  And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.  25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.  26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.  27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”  29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.  30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”  31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’”  32 He looked all around to see who had done it.  33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.  34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”  35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the teacher any further?”  36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”  37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.  38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.  39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep?  The child is not dead but sleeping.”  40 And they laughed at him.  Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was.  41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!”  42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age).  At this they were overcome with amazement.  43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.”

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

 

This week, Jesus is back in the boat.  Returning from deliberately crossing to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  If we remember that the boat has been a symbol of the Church since the earliest days of Christianity, then our ears perk as we hear Mark’s record that Jesus is back in the boat.  Take note:  what’s about to take place is what happens when Christ is amid the Church.  No sooner does the bow of the boat touch shore, than an important leader of the synagogue throws himself at Jesus’ feet.  His little girl is dying.  Jairus is desperate.

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of people like Jairus – even felt myself what he certainly must have been experiencing to fling himself unashamedly at the feet of one in his land who had become known as an incredibly gifted healer.  Frantic in despair.  Totally afraid.  Overcome with grief over the pain in his family – the worry of Jairus’ wife, the wasting body of his pre-teen daughter.  Hopes and dreams being dashed with each labored breath as Jairus and his family watch their young girl’s seemingly helpless struggle.  I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone in this room as one who has been in – or who has watched a love one endure excruciating physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual pain.  From parents grieving the loss of their still born baby, to middle-aged adults falling out of love on their way to a bitter divorce, to young people telling how they can’t have anything more to do with their childhood church’s oppressive belief system of hate disguised in the name of love, to those who have joined their lives for decades having to let go as their spouse slowly slips away.  Human pain has the potential to break us open so that we cry out in desperation:  “O LORD, make us well!”

With so much pain around us in the world.  So many ways we are inflicting physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual dis-ease on one another today, the stories from Mark’s gospel about a healing story within a healing story come at just the right time.  Not only must we remember that healing happens, but it’s also a good time to remember how healing takes place today.

Likely you know that healing is a complex thing.  It doesn’t happen according to our expectations.  We tend to be quite focused on fixes.  Thinking God is more like a skilled surgeon who can cut out what we don’t want before sewing things up good as new.  One commentator of Mark’s fifth chapter writes:  “I have a friend, a man of deep faith, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was still in his fifties.  He and his wife prayed that he might be healed.  Twenty years later, he is in the last debilitating stages of the disease.”  The commentator goes on to write:  “Nevertheless, (my friend) once told me that his prayers had been answered.  He said in all sincerity, ‘I have been healed, not of Parkinson’s disease, but I have been healed of my fear of Parkinson’s disease’” (Michael L. Lindvall, Feasting on the Word, Year B. Vol. 3; pp. 188, 190).  What a wonderful reminder that healing does happen.  Just not always as we might expect!

Healing doesn’t happen on our time schedule either.  While it’s true that healing can happen instantly as it did for the hemorrhaging woman when she stole a touch of the Master Healer’s cloak.  Full healing can take a very long time.  After all, it was 12 years that the woman who was hemorrhaging sought healing before the miraculous moment with Jesus finally took place.  Healing can feel elusive all a life long.  Recently a friend told me that in prayer a few weeks ago, she heard the voice of her father.  She gave me permission to share her experience today.  I knew my friend’s father had died several years ago, so it was quite a shock to hear her explain how she unexpectedly heard him say:  “I’m sorry for everything I’ve done.”  My 70-year-old friend has been trying for about the past fifty years to heal from the deep wound caused by her father’s molestation of her during her childhood.  As she told me of the freedom she finally felt after his words came to her out of nowhere during those moments of prayer, I noted the date it happened was Fathers’ Day, just a few weeks ago.  It’s a sure reminder that healing comes in many forms.  And just when you think it’ll never happen, a voice in a prayer might be all it’ll take.  Indeed, healing is incredibly inexplicable!

It’s important for us to remember too that healing happens through us.  On Tuesday this week, I was surprised to be so inspired at a called Presbytery meeting.  A young woman of Northern Ireland who is being ordained by us as a chaplain for a local women’s addiction recovery center was asked what wisdom she could bring to our land from her experience of being raised in a country where Roman Catholics and Protestants long had been in a bitter, violent divide.  Eloquently she told the story of her father, who is a police officer and life-long Presbyterian.  She explained that she didn’t know that checking under your car before getting in it wasn’t something every other child in the world grew up doing.  But because her father was a police officer and the militant IRA often used to target crimes against police and their families, it was a regular part of her childhood.  She told that she didn’t know all the solutions to ancient divides between people because of religion, race, or any other reason we are encouraged by power to keep ourselves separated from those we perceive to be different.  What she did know was the devoted friendship of her father’s police partner:  a Catholic man who served alongside him most all of his adult life.  As a child she watched her Presbyterian Protestant father and her father’s Catholic police force partner daily have each other’s back.  Getting to know one another’s fears, hopes, and heartbreaks as they spent hours together on patrol.  Building a relationship of trust despite the outer pressures of their land that sought to tear them apart.  Connection like that with another – especially those we perceive to be different than ourselves was the wisdom she shared with us this week.  For that’s how healing happens.  Bringing us back together in the bonds of common humanity no matter what other labels we might wear.

I’ve heard of healing happening when at last one speaks their truth.  Sometimes received immediately with grace.  Sometimes forcing another finally to face their buried pain.  I’ve heard of healing happening when the insular bubble in which one has been living at last is broken.  New options visible.  Fresh vistas unfolding like a magic road appearing below one’s feet.  I’ve seen long-held family difficulties carried differently so that others’ pain is tenderly acknowledged too.  I’ve seen people learn to live from the disease of cancer – a dear friend beating the odds after surgical removal by seeking natural alternatives to follow up treatments.   She’s now the most vibrant, health-conscious person I’ve ever met.  I know of people who seem to heal a little bit at a time – like layers being peeled from an onion.  Some days better than others.  And just when they thought it was finished, a little bit more is released.  I’ve seen people healed not just in body, but in mind and spirit too after near fatal accidents.  Sometimes thanks to modern medicine and sometimes from treatments as old as the earth itself.  I’ve seen people have no idea how they will get through until day after day, carefully putting one foot in front of the other, wincing every so often when the wound again aches; until at last they find a new stride – one of deeper wisdom and greater grace for others.  Healing happens.  Mysteriously in ways we can’t ever anticipate.  And I think about Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter.  Can you image the life she went on to lead after that day when her father begged Jesus to help?  It’s been written that “this little girl was raised from death to become a woman.  It was not yet the final victory.  She was raised to die again.  But she could live as one that knew death would not have the last word” (Allen Verhey, Feasting on the Gospels:  Mark, p. 156).  Healed, she became God’s vessel of hope for a deeply wounded world.  After all, that’s how healing happens.  One person after another.  In ways we’d rarely expect.  No matter how long it takes.  Until at last all peoples are free.  All divisions at their end.  Every tear wiped away as mourning gives way to dancing.  Today, tomorrow, and forever.  May it ever be.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

“When You Pray”

A Sermon for 24 July 2016

A reading from the gospel of Luke 11:1-13. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirt to those who ask him!”  (N.R.S.V.)

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

 

How many times in your lifetime have you prayed? I’m not just talking about the times you rotely raced through The Lord’s Prayer, or did you best to stay awake in corporate worship during the pastor’s impassioned but a bit too long Prayers of the People. From the time you were birthed into this world, through your growing years, until today: how often have you prayed?

If we were going to begin to figure out how to compute that equation, then we might first want to know what counts. What defines prayer? Do we have to be on our knees pouring out our hearts to God? What about the sudden thought that comes to us when we’re sitting in traffic or are in the bathroom taking a shower: You know, those times we may even out loud say: “O! I really hope so and so is doing ok. I know they’ve been having a tough time since their mother died.” What about the elation that arises from a phone call delivering very good news: a beloved friend is flying into town. Your son’s okay even though his car was totaled. The test came back negative. Does it count as prayer to be in the silence of the forest walking instep to the beat of your own heart as every cell inside seems at one with it all? . . . I’m not sure which amazing saint said it, but a wise pastor told it to me many years ago when I was struggling with prayer. She said: “If the only prayer you every say is thank you; that would be enough.” Standing on the side of a mountain, or at the shore of the ocean, if thank you arises in your soul; it is the most honesty, most authentic, most appreciated prayer of thanksgiving to the great Creator of the universe. Author and sage Anne Lamott even has a down-to-earth book on prayer entitled: Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. Think about it: “Help, God! Thank you! And oh wow! That was amazing!” What more really needs to be said as we walk through the days of our lives?

Prayer was the foundation of Jesus’ life. The gospel of Luke records that he’s off again, praying in a certain place. After he finishes, a follower asks, “Lord, will you teach us too?” They knew that John the Baptist instructed his own. So Jesus’ followers want to know how he would have them pray. The question’s nothing new. Rabbis frequently tutored pupils in prayer. Ancient Judaism included model petitions. Parts of everyday were set aside for the repetition of the prayers one’s rabbi taught. In some ways, it was known that those who prayed thus belonged to rabbi x. And those saying this obviously sat with rabbi y. Kinda like diplomas today telling us something of one’s educational background, thereby possible intellectual insights. While we’re not privy to the lessons with which John the Baptist or any other rabbi responded, the gospel of Luke gladly gives us Prayer 101 according to Jesus who is called the Messiah.

“When you pray,” orders Jesus, “Say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial” (Luke 11:2-4). Short. Sweet. To the point. We repeat nearly the same each Sunday – whether or not we’re attuned to what we say. We can mindlessly race right through it; but Jesus didn’t want us just to say the words. He wanted those belonging to him to use his words to know the One to whom we pray; and to know how to act according to God’s very will. He wanted the words – the meaning of what we’re praying – to shape us. To show we are his disciples. Students of this rabbi.

It’s clear from his prayer it’s an intimate connection of care with the God he here calls Abba, Daddy – though most translations use the more formal word Father. If you’re going to pray like Jesus – if we’re going to follow the lessons of this rabbi – then we have to know how deeply God cherishes us. Jesus says: “what father among you would ignore the pleas of his child in need?” If you’ve raised children, you’ve been there. It’s the middle of the night and the house sits all in silence. You’re fast asleep until a little yelp escapes somewhere near your face. Your eyes pop open to see your child with that quivering lip and cheeks wet with big, round, streaming tears. Whether it was a nightmare, a thunder clap, or an ache or pain somewhere. Are you really going to turn over on the other shoulder and tell them to get lost? God never would! Jesus wants us to know that even in the darkest night of our lives, our Loving Parent will listen. Will wrap us in arms of tender care and hold us until we can see the light of day again. “Abba, Daddy!” he teaches. Hallowed is your name!”

Praise, honor, glory goes unto the God to whom we pray. So incredible, so holy is this Supreme Being. . . . When first Jesus tells us to turn to petition God, it is God’s kingdom for which we are to pray. One of Jesus’ greatest teaching is that in him, it’s begun. He is the embodiment of God’s kingdom – the way of love and joy and peace, of kindness and generosity and unity. Justice – just enough for us all; which means getting and giving. Some letting go so others can gain. Those are the words Jesus taught us to pray so that all might know his followers live and die for the full expression of that kind of kingdom.

He goes on to teach us to ask for daily bread. I wonder if we remember when we race through The Lord’s Prayer that this petition for our daily bread grounds us in two ancient truths about God. First, the petition is plural. So that it might be better to pray: “Give us – O God, ALL of us – our daily bread.” The way of God is not some sort of individual path. Our own needs are not more important to God than the needs of every other creature in the human family. Jesus teaches us to ask not for ourselves alone but for us all – give us our daily bread, O God! Second, with this petition, Jesus grounds us in the great providence shown by God to our faith ancestors. Daily bread is nothing new. Forty years God’s people were provided manna daily in the wilderness. Everybody got a share. None was saved up for tomorrow because it’d only rot. When no other food could be found around, God made the miracle each morning. Communicating loud and clear to them and to all who remember that a good, loving God not only cares, but also acts for us all. In our plea for our daily bread, we call upon a loving God to make a way for us all to have enough.

Admittedly, a whole lot of us have been a bit tripped up on what he commands next. “Forgive us our sins,” Jesus teaches us to pray, “for we ourselves forgive those indebted to us.” Now, it might be helpful to know the system under which Jesus’ first followers lived. Society set up a sort of enslavement. If one did another a favor, the other was expected to repay. So if, as a courtesy, you milked your neighbor’s cow one day; then he would owe you at least one favor in return. The whole structure was: I do for them because they will do for me. Jesus attempts to break that cycle. Through his prayer, he teaches forgiveness of such debts. He’s talking about living a different kind of life where one freely gives whatever: forgiveness, favors, food – freely, no strings attached. No expectations earned. And these words of the prayer are present, active tense: we ourselves are forgiving. In other words, we are praying that we are living counter to the system by simply doing for doing’s sake. We trust God to be as well. We cannot work to get God’s forgiveness. No one can. “So please God,” we pray, “forgive without restraint; for each day we seek to be likewise.”

Finally, at least according to the gospel of Luke, Jesus teaches: “And do not bring us to the time of trial.” We know life overflows with testing. Everywhere we turn we have the choice to walk in God’s ways. To live faithful to who we are as God’s children – or not. Once again we can look to the great trials of our ancestors in the faith. Abraham was called to sacrifice his only son. When the Israelites finally settled in Promised Land, it would be a daily test to see if prosperity would pervert them. Job was told to take the easier path: to curse God and die. Even Jesus. After forty days of fasting, he was tempted in the wilderness; then again one agonizing evening in Gethsemane. We beg to be spared if not from – then at least through those terrible moments when you and I might go astray; wandering from the ways of God.

The gospel of Luke’s record of The Lord’s Prayer is not long. But it’s loaded. Loaded with words to shape our love of God and our lives in this world. It’s the lesson on prayer taught by Rabbi Jesus, who wants his followers to be in deep communion with the God who loves more than we ever can know. . . . The next time you say it, don’t just put your mind on cruise control to thoughtlessly race right through. Ponder the prayer our Lord taught. Know its meaning. Let it shape your living each day.

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

 

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)