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.