Sunday, November 17, 2013

Barbara Moyer Lehman: Ministries of Health and Communities of Healing

Holistic Stewardship: Health
II Corinthians 4:7-18; Mark 10:46-52

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    Many of us grew up hearing the verse quoted to us from I Corinthians 6:19, that says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
    It might have been said to us by a parent, coach, teacher, friend, when we were thinking about or tempted to do something harmful, destructive, inappropriate.  Or maybe when we were being neglectful of our health.  It is not a bad verse to quote and it might have worked to deter us from doing something we would have regretted.
    We are to care for, honor and respect our bodies. (We can ask, “so what does that mean?”)  The Psalmist says our bodies are vessels created by God in our mother’s womb, on loan to us, even though we refer to them as ‘our bodies’.  We are created in the image of God, a reflection of God. (Is that important to us?)  We have a responsibility to be a good steward of our bodies and take care of our health.  The challenge is always before us to do just that.  We seem to sway from one extreme to the other.  We are either obsessed with doing everything we can to be beautiful and buff, trying to achieve the ‘perfect’ body, and spending much time and money on sometimes unimportant, unnecessary things. Or we care too little about our health, neglecting regular exercise, overeating the wrong kinds of food, failing to get checkups or ignoring warning signs that could save us heartache and maybe our lives.  Our culture and all of the ads we see daily, that bombard us and our families constantly make it difficult to find a healthy balance.

    Listen to one version of the creation story - author unknown- that makes this point:
“In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth and populated the Earth with broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, green and yellow and red vegetables of all kinds, so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.
Then using God’s great gifts, Satan created Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and Krispy Kreme donuts.  And Satan said, ‘You want chocolate with that?’ And Man said, ‘Yes’ and Woman said, ‘As long as you’re at it, add some sprinkles.’  They gained 10 pounds.  And Satan smiled.
And God created the healthful food yogurt for Man and Woman to enjoy.  And Satan brought forth white flour from the wheat and sugar from the cane and combined them.  And Woman and Man—they both grew.
So God said, ‘Try my fresh green salad.’  And Satan presented 1000 Island Dressing, buttery croutons and garlic toast on the side.  And Man and Woman unfastened their belts.
God then said, ‘I have sent you heart healthy vegetables and olive oil in which to cook them.’  And Satan brought forth deep-fried fish and chicken fried steak so big it needed its own platter.  And Man gained more weight, and his cholesterol went through the roof.
God then created a light, fluffy white cake, named it Angel Food Cake and said, “It is good.’  Satan then created chocolate cake and named it Devil’s Food.
God then brought forth the potato, naturally low in fat and brimming with nutrition.  And Satan peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy center into strips and deep fried them.  And Man gained pounds.
God then gave lean beef so that Man might consume fewer calories and still satisfy his appetite.  And Satan created McDonald’s and its 99cent double cheeseburger.  Then said, ‘You want fries with that?’  And Man replied, ‘Yes!  And super size them!”  And Satan said, “ It is good” And Man went into cardiac arrest.  God sighed and created quadruple bypass surgery.’

(Sometimes a bit of humor makes an important point.)

    Several years ago, Ingrid Friesen Moser wrote a book in the Everence Stewardship series titled, “Body Talk: Speaking the Words of Health.”  In it she mentions that health can mean different things to different people, but for the purposes of her book she defines health, “not so much the absence of disease, but rather living fully in the body we do have in spite of disease.  Not the body we wish we had, or the body we hope to have, but the body we have right now.”  And that is where stewardship of health starts.  Being in touch with what we have been given ‘right now’.
(As you sit, take two of your fingers and lightly place them on your wrist to find your pulse.  Be aware of your breathing, and notice the life giving blood flowing through you as you feel the pulse of your heartbeat.  If you can’t find your
 pulse, you may want to ask you neighbor to dial 911!)
    Each day we live, we are given the gift of health. We are aware of how fragile and precious life is in this world.  We are not promised a perfect body, nor a life free from suffering, pain and disease.  But we are given the opportunity to live as fully as possible in the physical body we have right now.  We are also given the opportunity to participate in a larger body, that is the body of believers, the body of Christ made available to us in the communities where we live, work and worship.  These can be significant communities of healing.  They, too, are not perfect bodies, but are made up of all of us who know suffering, pain, disappointment, failure, illness, brokenness.
    God’s gift of health is a promise that we are loved and will be cared for and that God will never leave us nor forsake us.

What does it mean to be good stewards of health?

    1.)..Being a good steward of health means starting with what you have right now, your own personal body, and vow to honor, respect and care for your body. 
    2.)  Being a good steward of health also means listening to what the Spirit is calling you to do in response to the gift of health that you have been given.
        -that is on a personal, individual level–it might mean taking some large and significant steps or making small steps and incremental lifestyle changes, relating to diet, exercise, sleep, work and study habits, dealing with addictions.
        -at a community level, as part of the body of believers and the body of Christ.  What kinds of ministries of health can be encouraged and what might you be involved in so that our congregations are truly communities of healing?

Listening to the Spirit and discerning what God is calling us to will look different for each of us!  It will be unique and special for us.

    3.)  Being a good steward of health means finding the right rhythm in our lives, the correct alignment of all of the various parts.  We are a complex creation of interconnected parts all miraculously held together in this collection of organs, muscles and fluids. Each part influences the others.  What should be amazing to us is that most of the time it works pretty well!
    The biblical story tells us our bodies are created good and that God longs to redeem and bless our bodies, but sometimes the language we use to describe our bodies and how we treat our bodies does not reflect this sacred view of the body.
    Sometimes because what is happening to us we also feel very dis-connected from our bodies and fail to see or appreciate the mind, body, soul connection.  Because of pain, loss of senses, mobility issues, medications, overwork, stress,  we are out of balance, hence out of rhythm and feel dis-connect with reality.  The great challenge for many of us is to find a healthy balance between:
    - work and play
    -laughter and contemplation
    -time alone and socializing with others
In a July-August 2013 issue of The Marketplace periodical, an article called, “Work that Kills” referred to a book by Dr. David Posen, titiled,” Is Work Killing You?  A Doctor’s Prescription for Treating Workplace Stress.”  In the book he points out the huge toll that stress is taking on people in our society. “ 70-90% of the problems for which people see primary care physicians are stress related in one way or another.”  He points out that people are not taking vacations, not taking time to ‘recover and reboot’, even computers need that.  Dr. Posen believes that the optimal work week should be 40-50 hours and recommends employers institute ‘recovery rituals and routines’ such as timeouts.  He adds, “anyone who consistently works long hours is either trying to do too much, has been given too much to do, or is working inefficiently.”
    What is the healthy balance going to be in your life and how do you work at maintaining that when there is huge pressure to do otherwise?  And it often is coming from the top down in our organizations, institutions, businesses and, yes, even the church.
    4.)  Being a good steward of health includes living with a biblical awareness of what shalom is all about.  Recognizing the deep interconnectedness that exists in life.  That God desires health and well being for all of us and God’s creation.  It doesn’t mean that there will be no more sickness, no more catastrophes, no more sorrowing, pain and grief on this side of heaven, but it does mean that God desires a healing of the nations, a mending and restoring of God’s creation, a renewing of body, mind and spirit for those living in brokeness.  We need to embrace God’s shalom in our lives.
    We need to remind ourselves that when we read and study the biblical story, we see God as Healer.  We read of Jesus as Healer in the gospels, as the story of Bartimaeus reveals.  We see the Holy Spirit as healer.  We live in a broken world. All of us are vulnerable to illness, disease, and physical trial as a result, and we all need healing.  Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus walking by, and Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’  He replied, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
    We too may have cried out to Jesus at some vulnerable time in our life, “Lord, I want to hear or see again.  I want to be free of my pain or addictions, or depression.  Lord, I want to live a little longer to see my grandchild.  I want to walk or talk again or be able to run again.”  We know that just because we ask for healing it doesn’t mean we will receive it the way we think, or the way we wish.  God answers prayer in God’s way.  We may not always understand it and often find it difficult to accept.
    As the apostle Paul states in II Corinthians, we live in these bodies, mere jars of clay, yet there is a treasure inside of us, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our body.  Thought outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes NOT on what is seen, but on what is unseen since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

    Being stewards of health gives us opportunities to embrace, support and encourage ministries of health in our congregations, so that we can be communities of healing.  We are already providing many ways and settings for health and healing to happen..
    -times of anointing, sometimes within worship services, or by request from individuals with small groups or family/friends
    -Taize services, times of prayers, silence
    -blood pressure checks
    -Yoga classes
    -spiritual direction offered by several members and in the larger community
    -persons offering services for counseling, nutrition
    -morning prayers as staff, invitation open to others
    -support groups for persons who have lost spouses
    -waling partners
    -prayer friends
    -prayer room available
    -in the past - parish nurse
    -groups formed with health concerns
    -concern and policies about allergies of members
    -members involved in healing music - harp
    -persons involved in all of the environmental issues, products we use, safety issues
    -caring friends
    -end of life issues - SS classes
More could be listed..
What is the Spirit saying to you about how you can be a better steward of your health?
What is the Spirit saying to us as a congregation that would help us become a better, more faithful community of healing?

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