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Posts Tagged ‘healing’

'Hole in roof_0733' photo (c) 2007, James Emery - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

In Mark 2 we read about a small congregation of friends who were eager to bring someone into the house where Jesus was.   Getting through the barriers required an act of demolition:digging a person-sized hole through the roof. 

Something like that happened at Morton Church in 2005.  Assisted by a few professionals, the church members completely gutted the two-story wing of the building, totally reconfigured it, and added an addition with a new kitchen and wheelchair accessible restrooms.  The whole facility is now on one level.  It was a major step towards accessibility, and we are still amazed and grateful.

Here is the sermon I preached in November 2005 when we dedicated the newly-renovated facility.  An accessible building is only half the story.  We must also let God remodel us as a people.

Making A Way
A Sermon on Mark 2:1-12
Dedication of a Building and of a People

The friends in our gospel lesson today were filled with caring, and filled with hope.  Oh, if only their friend with paralysis could see Jesus’ kind eyes, and hear his gracious, forgiving voice and receive the touch of Jesus’ healing hands!  Somehow, they were going to get him to Jesus!

The man’s needs were many, spiritual as well as physical.  He knew that, at best, most people around him pitied him.  In that day almost everybody believed that disability had to be the result of somebody’s sin, whether it was the man’s own sin, or that of his family.  It is not fun to be pitied.  It is not fun to have to let people help you.  But if the man wanted to go anywhere, that’s what he had to do.  He was fortunate to have friends of faith.  He must have had faith and hope, too, at least enough to put himself into his friends’ hands, and let them give it a try and carry him to Jesus.

“Uh oh,” the friends said as they drew near the house where Jesus was speaking.  The place was packed, wall-to-wall people.  “Excuse us.  This friend of ours really needs to see Jesus.  He really needs access.  Could you all please make a way for us to get through?”

You’d think the crowd would make a way for someone in obvious need, but they didn’t.  I don’t know why.  Maybe they just didn’t think it was important. Maybe they just didn’t want to go to the trouble of rearranging themselves.   The man could wait until Jesus had finished speaking.  He could see Jesus later.  The man and his friends consulted with one another.  What should they do?  Wait?  Come back another day?

I’ll always remember our first visit to Morton in 1990, our first interview.  John and I came in the side door of the church building, and I remember thinking, “oh, how lovely this is!”  And then we went up to the fellowship hall.  It was beautiful.  I loved it!  I had never seen a knotty pine paneled fellowship hall before.  But it was upstairs.  I wondered, “What about those stairs?  How do you help people up the stairs?”

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Medieval leper bell at the museum Ribes Viking...

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What a poignant question that is.  The reality is that sometimes we don’t receive the relief and the cures that we long for and pray for.  Here is a sermon for the Sixth Sunday After Epiphany, Year B, that speaks to that question and to that reality.

The Answer Is Yes!

A Sermon on 2 Corinthians 1:18-22 and Mark 1:40-45

It is no wonder the sick man thought that Jesus’ answer might be “no.”  No was the answer he got all the time.  Leprosy, even in its mildest forms, what today we would call psoriasis, was one of those conditions that meant you were unclean: impure, unholy, unacceptable to God.  Could you live in town like normal people?  No!  Could you come into the precincts of God’s house? No!  Could you come into the fellowship of God’s people?  No!

People with leprosy had to live alone outside the town walls, wear disheveled clothes, cover their mouths and cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” whenever any normal person was near.  Work was out of the question. To survive they depended on pennies tossed at them by softhearted people.  The givers were careful not to get too close, though.  Any contact with an unclean person would render them temporarily unclean and banned from the community and the house of worship themselves.

If Jesus said “No!” to the man’s request, that would be no surprise. Jesus might be just as disgusted by the man’s condition and as wary of contamination as everyone else.  God frowned on those who were unclean—that was common knowledge.  Jesus’ answer could very well be “no!”

There are times when it’s tempting to conclude that Jesus’ answer to suffering people now is “no.”   How many times have we prayed and prayed and prayed for sick or troubled people, but we see little or no positive result?  How our hearts long for a complete cure!  How our souls beg God for help!  Yet no cure is forthcoming.  The sickness progresses, and they die.  Jesus’ answer then seems to be “No, I don’t want to heal you.  It’s not my will.”

When people develop modern equivalents of leprosy, such as HIV infection, “no” is what they often hear from the community, and even from the church.  “No, God doesn’t want to heal you,” some are quick to answer.  “Your sickness is a punishment from God.  You deserve to be sick and more.”

And then there’s the mechanical model of healing: God will say “no” to your request for healing unless you satisfy the faith requirement.  “Let’s measure your faith,” God says in this model.  “No, your faith is not quite strong enough.  The answer to your prayer is no.”

But what about people with permanent disabilities?  Is “no” the answer Jesus gives them?  It certainly is the answer humanity often gives them.  Education is just one arena where this happens.  Parents of children with severe disabilities go to the officials and plead, “Could you please provide an assistant so my child can go to school?  Could we please work out an Individualized Education Plan that will help my child learn?”

Learning is a crucial form of healing for these children and for everyone.  But consider this comment by someone in the U.S. Department of Education some years ago.  The official said that people with disabilities are inevitably morally responsible in some way for their condition.  In other words, they deserve their misfortune, and therefore it’s okay to make only a small effort to provide them an education.  That official’s comments sum up a common attitude. Some school officials and some other parents seem to wish special needs children would simply go away.  They want to say “no,” and they will say “no” if you don’t hang in there and advocate for your child.  Is God’s answer “no” too? (more…)

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John Bridges: Christ Healing the Mother of Sim...

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Here is a sermon for the fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B.  It was written a few months after Hurricane Floyd devastated our area.  Our community needed Jesus to take us by the hand and lift us up.  About two-thirds into the sermon there’s a marvelous true story about the healing of a congregation.

He Will Lift You Up

A Sermon on Isaiah 40:27-31; 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10; Mark 1:29-39

There she lay burning up with fever.  Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was too sick to go to Sabbath services at the synagogue, too sick to help with Sabbath dinner, too sick to come to the table.  The flu, or whatever the illness was, had knocked her flat and drained her strength away.  There was no aspirin or Tylenol, no antibiotics or antiviral agents, and no intravenous fluid replacement.  Bathing her with cool water was only available method for fighting the fever.  Her caring family did the best they could.

The illness was a strain on the whole household.  Several generations lived there together, and everyone’s hands were needed to keep everything going.  The mother-in-law’s hands were needed, but even more her presence was needed.  Her place was empty.  And if Peter’s mother-in-law was anything like some of the people I know, she lay there worrying about being a burden on everybody.

Her worried family brought Jesus home straightaway from the synagogue, and before he could sit down, they told him about her.  They had just witnessed the authority with which Jesus had cast an unclean spirit out of a man in the synagogue.  Surely Jesus could help their sick loved one combat this fever.

In our household of faith, we have so many people to tell Jesus about.  Look at the number of people on our prayer list, and there are many more named in our hearts!  Some are literally down in the bed.  Some are growing weaker and weaker.  Many struggle with chronic illnesses or chronic pain.  Many are so tired they can hardly go.

Just as many sick people and their loved ones gathered around Peter’s house that evening, many are gathered around and inside our household of faith.  Some have been knocked flat emotionally.  They have fallen into a pit of depression that seems to have no bottom.  Down, down, down.  Some suffer from mental and spiritual anemia.  Their strength is spent.

Exhaustion and depression can strike groups of people. That was the case for Israel in exile.  As a nation they were powerless.  Babylonian soldiers had rolled through Jerusalem, destroyed their homes and their spiritual home, the temple.  Then the Babylonians marched them hundreds of miles to Babylon.  Deportation.  Captivity.  And Israel couldn’t do one thing to stop it.  The Babylonians flattened the people’s souls as well as their homes.  Overcome with despair, they found themselves wondering whether there even was a God.  And if there was a God, where was his power?  Where was his love?  Had God forgotten them?

Our region is dotted with abandoned houses and businesses where floodwaters rolled through.  The Harbour West apartment complex still looks like a war zone.  Hurricane Floyd knocked people off their feet economically, emotionally and spiritually.  Those who are working to help them back up can witness to the toll Floyd has taken, how the trauma has provoked a variety of emotional and physical illnesses.  It is heartbreaking to see.  And that takes a toll on the recovery workers.  They are tired and sad. (more…)

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Painting by James Tissot

In God’s eyes there is no “just a” as in “we’re just a small church.”  When I hear people in small congregations use those two words “just a,” I suspect that a spirit of weakness has hold of them.  Like the bent over woman in the synagogue in Luke 13, small churches often have a hard time looking the world in the face.  Christ the healer is at work doing something about that.  Here’s a sermon I preached on Luke 13:10-21 some years ago.  Notice that the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast immediately follow the healing story. 

“Stand Up Straight!”

This story of Jesus is one of my all time favorites.  And now it is especially poignant because my father is in the same fix as the woman in the story.  He is bent over, and he feels too weak to stand up straight.

The Greek text says that a spirit of weakness had crippled this woman.  For eighteen years it had held her down, so that she couldn’t stand up straight.  Nowadays she would probably receive a diagnosis of scoliosis or osteoporosis. Think of what that means.  Pain.  Spontaneous fractures in her vertebrae.  Think of what being bent all the time did to this woman’s lungs and her other internal organs.  Think of what this woman had to do to her neck to be able to see.  She would have to bend it backwards, like this, or else turn sideways and look at the world from the side.  It took so much effort to look up and see that she spent most of the time looking at the ground.

Even worse, perhaps, than the physical suffering was the emotional suffering.  In Jesus’ day people believed that disability was caused by a demon, and that it was a punishment from God.  Just as they do now, people stared.  They avoided her.  They wondered what in the world this woman had done to deserve such an affliction.  It was a source of shame. (more…)

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