FIRST LESSON: Revelation 21:1-6
SECOND LESSON Luke 4:14-22a
SERMON: “Good News: Healing”
Matthew and John, two of the authors of gospel accounts of Jesus’ life were disciples of the Lord. The gospel according to Mark was probably written by the Mark who accompanied the Apostle Paul on his missionary journeys. And the Gospel of Luke, as well as the Acts of the Apostles, was written by a physician, who became a follower of Jesus. As a physician Luke knew what it meant to be with people who depended upon him for their very lives. He would have known how good it felt when the treatment he gave was successful, and how disappointing, even devastating, it could be when his kind of medicine could not save a life. Somewhere along the way, he became a follower of Jesus, and although he probably never gave up practicing medicine, Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book Gospel Medicine, suggests he came to dispense a different kind of medicine, a medicine of healing words.
When we read the gospels we hear comforting words like “do not be afraid,” “my peace I give to you,” (John 14) “your sins are forgiven (all four gospels). Dr. Luke assuredly heard stories about healing encounters people had with Jesus. And he heard accounts and parables, not only about physical healing, but about relationship healing – the prodigal son and the Good Samaritan. Luke told these stories again and again, and eventually wrote them down for generations to learn about the grace and love of God, which makes him more than a physician, more than a disciple – it makes him an evangelist.
We want to shy away from the e-word; it makes us think of people like Oral Roberts and Jim Bakker, holding tent revivals and scaring people into coming forward to be healed, or baptized or prayed over. We need to reclaim the word with its original meaning – from the Greek: eu angelion = good message/news. Luke told the stories because it was the only way for people to learn about Christ, to know him, to be healed by him. If you think about it for a moment, you know what you know about Christian life and faith because somebody told you – mom or dad, grandma/pa, a Sunday school teacher, a friend, an aunt or uncle, cousin or neighbor. And then you began to read and study the Word by reading the words in the Bible. We used to say, “God doesn’t have any grandchildren.” Each of us has to hear the stories, study the Word and then share the eu angelion with others. Billy Graham used to say that the cycle of faith is not complete until the evangelized becomes the evangelist.
The first ailment Barbara Brown Taylor treats in her book comes from Matthew’s account of Peter coming to Jesus and asking him, “‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’” (Matthew 18:21-22).
There are lots of good reasons for us to heed Jesus’ forgiveness command. Among the top ten reasons:
So much of our anger is based on this kind of misunderstanding. It's our interpretations and constructions that cause so much pain in our own gut and in the outer world where we act out our misapprehensions. Popular culture is no help, because it frames issues in ways that teach us to feel offended at our victimization over one thing and another.
Anger held tightly becomes resentment, which can be debilitating. Taylor calls it “arthritis of the Spirit.” Anger over a misunderstanding / non-issue is a waste of energy.
Luke’s account of the events on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) offers us another remedy for what ails us. Two of the disciples are walking along and Jesus comes up behind them and asks what they are talking about. The two are surprised that anyone within a hundred miles of Jerusalem wouldn’t have heard what happened to Jesus and about the empty tomb. They talk intently asking what the empty tomb means. If the Lord is risen indeed, how do we respond? Luke is the only gospel writer who tells us what happened on that road, but every one of us has walked it at one time or another. Taylor says, “you walk that road when your team has lost, your candidate has been defeated, your loved one has died – the long road back to the empty house, the piles of unopened mail, to life as usual, if life can ever be usual again.”
At first everything looks promising, but now . . . things have gone so very wrong. This isn’t what they had hoped. Taylor puts it so well:
“That is when their walking partner explodes at them. ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart!’ he says to them. Or in other words, ‘You idiots!’ If you had read your Bibles, none of this would come as a surprise to you. It is right there in black and white: the Christ is not the one who wins the power struggle; he is the one who loses it. The Christ is not the undefeated champion; he is the suffering servant, the broken one, who comes into his glory with wounds still visible. Those hurt places are the proof that he is who he says he is, because the way you recognize the Christ – and his followers – is not by their muscles but by their scars.
“Which means that they are not to despise the painful parts of their lives anymore. Which means that they are not to interpret their defeats as failures anymore. Which means that they are not to fear their enemies anymore, not even death itself. Contrary to all good common sense, they are to follow their leader into the scariest, [most] dangerous places in the world armed with nothing but a first-aid kit, because they, like him, are not fighters but physicians – wounded healers – whose credentials are their own hurt places.”
I suppose all that doesn’t mean much to if you don’t have any broken places in your life. If everything is A-OK, maybe you can just skip over this stuff. Have you ever noticed that Jesus seems to work with broken people and broken dreams. If you hand him a whole loaf of bread, he will bless and break it, because only as it is broken can it be shared with others. Think about it. This is what he did with his life – his body broken for all us wounded people, his blood shed for all for the forgiveness of sin. This is how he was known to them – in the breaking of the bread.
And this is what the church – the Body of Christ – called to do today: to be known to people in the broken places. The compassion Jesus showed for the suffering is reflected in the thousands of hospitals, clinics and dispensaries that have sprung up around the world, each with a cross as its symbol and with Christian love as its heart.
Confronting disease and despair, Christian workers have battled incredible odds, superstitions and outright opposition to offer a free, healing touch to people in the darkest corners of the world. Certainly Mother Teresa is a well-known example. But we also see Baptists, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, Lutherans, Presbyterians (Billy Graham's father-in-law, you might recall, was a Presbyterian medical missionary), the Salvation Army, the Assemblies of God - all sorts of people in all sorts of places offering hope and healing.
This is the gospel medicine, the good news: Christ is present in our broken places. By his wounds we are healed. This is the foundation of all evangelism - eu angelion – good news. Not our building, not our program, nothing more than the compassion and healing that come through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
FIRST LESSON: Revelation 5:11-14
SECOND LESSON Psalm 30
SERMON: “From Weeping to Dancing”
I used to dread going to presbytery meetings – get up early, drive for a couple of hours, search for the church, search for a parking place, search through an unfamiliar building to find the restroom, move through the crush of bodies trying to get registered, trying to pick up the meeting paperwork, trying to get a sip of coffee that I know won’t cool enough for me to drink much of it before the meeting starts. Six hours of meeting; six hours of sitting in hard pews -- six hours of reports and announcements and motions and votes. Every once in a while that part would get interesting. Every once in a while there is debate – and when it’s on the ordination standards – all that stuff about what is sin and what isn’t, well that can get interesting.
But the last several months, the leadership team has brought us fascinating speakers, and the host churches have introduced us to elders who deliver what we now call the “This I believe” statement. Some of you will remember that last December Elder Dan Stenberg from Niles, First shared his powerful statement with us.
Of a very different sort, and yet deeply moving was the statement given at last Tuesday’s meeting given by Elder Bruce Caltrider at the church in Mason. Bruce has been a very successful man, by the world’s standards. He has had a great career, done quite well financially and been fortunate to have a good marriage. He told us that at first he and his wife didn’t think they were going to have any children, but that changed with the birth of a girl, and within a little over three years they had four daughters. And yes, he said there were twins in the middle. Happy, smart, successful kids. Life was about as good as it could get, until . . . one of the twins was killed in a car accident. For Bruce and his family their world had shattered. Grief was overwhelming. The church was filled beyond capacity for the funeral. Young people, their parents and grandparents, neighbors, teachers all came to pay their respects and to mourn the loss of a beautiful girl and the potential she had for a great life.
At first Bruce could not see why or how God could bring anything good out of this tragedy, but then he began to notice that some people started coming to church who hadn’t been in any church for a very long time. They came because at Sarah’s funeral they had heard about God’s love for her, and for them. People who had little more than doubts and questions came and found love and acceptance and answers. And that scenario happened again within a couple of years – not his child, but a teen-age boy in the community lost his battle with cancer. Again the church was filled to capacity, and Bruce saw it happen again – people searching for comfort and consolation, for answers and strength came together and grew in faith.
Did God cause either of those two young people to die? No. Will the families of two young people who should have graduated together ever be the same? No. Could Bruce and his family move from dragging their feet through life with inconsolable weeping to a joyful dance? As they saw person after person, family after family come closer to each other and to God, yes.
Is this a suggested pattern for church growth. No. Just as weight loss from illness and chemotherapy does not make a recommended diet. But what it tells us is that in the midst of all the blessings in our lives, in the midst of all the times when God grants us a “yes” to our prayers, there are also many times when although God says “no” – from that “no,” if we place our lives in God’s hands, we eventually will move from weeping to dancing.
David, who is the author of this psalm, had his fair share of weeping nights and joyful mornings. He went through weeping nights when King Saul was seeking to take his life, but joyful mornings came when King Saul was killed in battle, and David occupied the throne as King. He went through weeping nights when his adultery with Bathsheba was hidden, but experienced joyful mornings once he confessed his sins to God. David experienced weeping nights when his own son Absalom chased him from his throne, but experienced joyful mornings when he returned to Jerusalem. Because of David’s joyful mornings, he was able to write this psalm of thanksgiving, and celebration of God’s deliverance.
We’re not quite sure from which experiences in life David wrote this psalm, but we do know that David had a reason to praise God.
What causes you to weep? Perhaps it’s a financial or employment problem. What causes you to weep? Maybe it’s a broken relationship you long to have healed. What causes you to weep? Maybe it’s an illness or injury, a scary diagnosis, with difficult, expensive treatment, you’re not sure you can tolerate. What causes you to weep? Perhaps it is grief that is still too fresh, or maybe it is an old wound that just doesn’t fully heal. What causes you to weep? Could it be sin that remains unconfessed and separates you from God and significant people in your life. What causes you to weep? Perhaps it is an on-going burden, a never-ending, unrelenting need for you to give care for someone and there are days when
you just don’t know how you can keep on keeping on.
David’s psalm tells us that weeping may stay for the night, but the morning brings rejoicing.
Imagine how Jesus’ disciples and all who loved and followed him must have wept at his tortuous death, and been overwhelmed with joy when they learned he had been raised from the dead. How long will it be before your weeping turns to dancing? We don’t know. The sun (s-u-n) may not have risen yet, but because the Son (S-o-n) has risen, we can have joy. Along with David we can sing the praises of the Lord, for God’s anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime – it’s eternal!
And then there are those situations and burdens that never go away – they may get better for a while and then worse again. Life is sometimes a roller coaster ride. You feel as if you could weep forever, day after day, night after night. There will be joy again. I may not be able to tell you when, but there will be joy again because even though the sun (s-u-n) in our life may not have risen yet, because the Son (S-o-n) has risen, we hold a promise of joy.
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!
Some time after my child was hospitalized – long-term – for serious mental health issues, someone gave me newsletter with the following essay:
WELCOME TO HOLLAND
By Emily Perl Kingsley
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less
flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.
The Lord our God who created the heavens and the earth created human beings that he might have fellowship with them. But we earthlings are a stubborn and stiff-necked lot. We rebel. We disobey. We break the rules and break God’s heart.
Even God didn’t get to go to Italy. He ended up in Holland instead. He sent his only Son and through him understood what it is to be human. Through him, God suffered. In Christ God tasted death through a most horrible execution. There were nights of weeping. But joy came in the morning – on that beautiful Sunday morning when the tomb was opened, Jesus was raised from the dead, profound sadness turned to joy, as death gave way to resurrection.
Because of Easter, we receive God’s unconditional, eternal
love. Look boldly at whatever distresses you, whatever causes you to weep, and be assured that God will turn your mourning into dancing. Thanks be to God, and to the lamb, forever and ever. Amen.