Monday, March 1, 2010

Sermon for February 21, 2010

Jesus the Healer

Psalm 80:1-7

Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved. O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, how long will you be angry with our prayers? You have fed us with sorrow and made us drink tears by the bucketful. You have made us the scorn of neighboring nations. Our enemies treat us as a joke

Do real men cry? I am not talking about the tear men hide when they watch a good chick flick or Field of Dreams ... or Gladiator, or crying when their team loses the Super Bowl or tears when men cut an onion for the barbeque. I’m talking about the true gut wrenching weep of unbridled emotion? I once knew a guy who would cry at just about anything. Real tears, too. When he talked about God, he cried. When he watched a touching movie, he cried. When he heard his favorite song, or when he thought about his kids, he cried. He’d cry in public. Get him talking about his life in the grocery store checkout line, and he’d tear right up. He actually stopped going to church because he always cried. It embarrassed him. Some men can be painfully shy. To pour out their hearts before God or to be seen as not fulfilling the masculine stereotype can be hard. We have been taught that crying is a sign of weakness. Remember the last Presidential campaign, when Hillary Clinton teared up in New Hampshire. She was criticized for her vulnerability. Her tears made her ill-suited for leadership.

There are, of course, times when we feel sorrow or frustration so acutely that it must be let out. What if you are in pain? What if you feel like life is being robbed from you? What if you are at the end of your rope and there is no where else to go but down? What if you put on a nice smile for everyone on Sunday, but you really have a hollow place inside of you? Then what? There is a sacred sorrow in the Bible that we call “lament.” Lament is the kind of sorrow you have at injustice and anguish and the only thing you can turn to is God. Laments are not pretty. People in pain express themselves in some very painful ways. When we are sick, lonely, feeling the loss of someone we love, anxious, despairing or traumatized we may feel separated from God. We can feel like God abandoned us, or is at least ignoring us. Something is between God and us, casting a shadow over our hearts and hiding us from God’s sight. What a scary place this can be. Laments give voice to that fear. To lament to God is to be honest with God -- to trust God and to look for God’s promise of wholeness. By moving through lament, we voice our deepest hurts to a God who knows and cares deeply.

Listen to this prayer by Joyce Rupp – maybe you’ll find some affinity with it: “O God, I am afraid in the darkness. I pull the sheets of security about me and view all my imaginings with terror. These fears rise up in the shadows of my soul, like wild warriors ready to attack me. Though I hide from these monsters of my own making, or attempt to flee on the road of anxiety, they are always pursuing, close behind me. Help me to turn and face my fears. Do not let them have power over me. May I not succumb to the terrors of my mind which chase me relentlessly in the darkness.”

Sometimes it’s helpful to know that most fears are never realized, that we are never hidden from God’s sight. Fear is a bully. It keeps us contained and prevents us from recognizing that we can and must step out of the shadow into God’s loving light.

Luke 4:38-44

After leaving the synagogue that day, Jesus went to Simon’s home, where he found Simon’s mother-in-law very sick with a high fever. “Please heal her,” everyone begged. Standing at her bedside, he rebuked the fever, and it left her. And she got up at once and prepared a meal for them. As the sun went down that evening, people throughout the village brought sick family members to Jesus. No matter what their diseases were, the touch of his hand healed every one. Many were possessed by demons; and the demons came out at his command, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But because they knew he was the Messiah, he rebuked them and refused to let them speak. Early the next morning Jesus went out to an isolated place. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them. But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.” So he continued to travel around, preaching in synagogues throughout Judea.

A lot of Christians have trouble with these stories in the bible. Some of us say, “Those kinds of miracles don’t happen now. Why should I believe they happened then? If God can heal, why are so many sick people in our world dying? What kind of God chooses to heal some while allowing others to suffer?” Sometimes we only see these healing stories in terms of biology. Jesus changes the physical condition of the people. Once healed, they no longer have whatever physical malady they had before. Jesus heals a woman’s fever. He heals diseases. He casts out demons. These stories confuse us and fill us with as many questions as expectations.

But that’s not how the Bible talks about healing. The purpose of the healing is not just to change the individual’s physical condition. Jesus makes people human beings again. In his day, if you were demon possessed, or a sick widow, you had no status in society. You were ignored by your community. Jesus doesn’t just heal sick bodies. He restores people back to right relationships. Through Jesus Christ, God says, “I want to come to heal relationships. I want to heal broken emotions. I want to restore broken connections. I want to fix you up so that through the experience of your pain you can reach out and share compassionate healing others.”

Today, I want you to think about the ways that God might want to heal and restore us. How’s the relationship between you and God going? Is it broken? Twisted? Does it need to be healed? How are the connections between you and others? Is there a broken relationship? Sick? Need to be healed? God wants to do that. How is your relationship with the environment? Broken? Disconnected? In need of restoration? God wants to make us into a community with a shared faith that can carry compassionate healing into the world. Our church family becomes full of the energy we need to reach out to a deprived, hurting world. This is the nature of faith. This is the nature of healing.

A missionary named Howard Cameron worked for many years in what was then known as the Belgium Congo. He tells about a visit to a congregation in the middle of nowhere which is extremely poor. He visits a pastor who has not been paid for two years. Cameron writes:

“The night before our visit, the pastor’s family grew by one. Mbaya, a son, was born. No prenatal care prepared his young wife for birth. No medical workers helped Mbaya into this world and he won’t receive any post-natal care. The hospital is too far away. His wife’s feet are the only transportation available and even if she could get to the hospital, there’s no money to pay the fees. Mbaya’s survival depends totally on his mother’s ability to feed and nurture him. Serving this church, this young pastor and his wife, could never hope to accumulate anything, yet week after week he calls his congregation together and starts worship with the words, “Praise God from whom all blessing flow.” This must be sung in faith, because few blessings are visible other than a total faith in God. This family understands sacrificial service.” Cameron then writes, “Without uttering a word, a sermon is preached. We’re asked a question. In similar circumstances could we sing those same words and mean them?”

Cameron describes an agricultural project to help this community. They need the physical help and they need the physical healing. But then he goes on to say that as he moves from place to place, there is one request that’s repeated. They plead for printed literature -- especially for Bibles and hymnals. They long, even in their physical poverty, for both material relief and spiritual connection. The physical and spiritual go side by side.

If you want to heal spirits, feed the body. If you want to heal the body, feed the spirit. We offer both in the name of Jesus Christ the healer.

At some time or another, we have all experienced the shadow of despair and fear. Out of our afflictions comes understanding. We cannot see with God’s eyes, but we can allow God to work through us to comfort those in need, and to seek God’s comfort in our own lives. As we seek wholeness today, we will also seek to be a bearer of Christ’s love to one another.

Today there will be an opportunity to receive anointing and a prayer for wholeness. God’s presence is here among us. I don’t claim to be a miracle-working healer, like you might read about in a book or see on a Sunday morning TV program. We are all God’s children – equally gifted and equally pained. Here’s what I can give you – a reminder that there is a church family that I willing to be here for you, and walk life’s hard road with you, and pray for you. We can do something to remember that God brings wholeness and balance to our lives, but not without some pain and not without giving something up. God brings wholeness, but not without transformation.

God knows pain. God knows distress. God birthed us, witnessed our sins, suffered our disabilities and, in the ultimate expression of steadfast love, came embodied in Christ to suffer and die with us. We can be instruments of God to each other, both in our joy and in our pain. Let us prepare to offer ourselves to God and God’s hurting yet hopeful people.

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