Sunday, October 26, 2014

Phil Kniss: Healing like Jesus

Church matters: Healing and caregiving
Isaiah 35:1-7; Psalm 146:5-10; Luke 9:1-6; Acts 3:1-16

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We are all, everyone of us today, in need of healing.
Now don’t take offense.
That is not a commentary on how any of us are feeling today.
Some of us, I expect, are in deep agony.
And some of us are full of joy, and light in spirit.
And saying we all need healing
is not a commentary on the actual condition right now
of our body or mind or spirit.
Some are indeed suffering
from physical illness, broken relationships, grief, abuse.
And some show every sign of being
healthy, fit, happy, and whole.

What I mean is that the fullness of shalom
(that biblical concept of wholistic peace & well-being)
that shalom our good Creator God intends for us,
for the world and all creation . . .
is now, and always has been, severely compromised.
Our Creator’s primary mission in this world
is to bring that shalom back—
to restore, to heal, to reconcile, to save.

But right now, where we are,
there is a fundamental brokenness in our human condition,
and it exists right alongside a fundamental goodness.
We are situated in the middle, in a dynamic tension,
living with both brokenness and health,
alienation and community,
sin and shalom.

So no matter what you and I are experiencing at this moment,
we are all in need of God’s healing work.

Even if we are personally feeling on top of the world,
we are deeply tied up together with the brokenness of the world.
Do not ever think that my next-door neighbor’s suffering,
or an unspeakable war happening on the other side of the world,
has no impact on my own well-being.
All human beings are bearers of God’s image.
So when the image of God is being suppressed,
or violated,
or destroyed in another,
a shadow is being cast on my own well-being.
Since we all share the same breath of God, the breath of life,
then the suffering of even one,
is tied in some way with own well-being,
whether I recognize it or not.

So today,
I rejoice in our God who is on a mission to heal and restore.
I rejoice that death and destruction and violence
do not have the last word.
I rejoice in the good news that today’s scripture readings proclaimed.

I hope you are also rejoicing in it.
If you are thinking this morning, even a little,
about all that’s going on in our world . . .
then today’s scriptures should be sounding
pretty sweet in your ears.

From Isaiah, a sweet, refreshing word of hope
for everyone in the world who needs it—
from Iraq to Gaza to West Africa to the US-Mexican border
to here at 1600 College Ave—
the prophet says, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom . . .
waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool.”

From the Psalmist—
“[The Lord] executes justice for the oppressed . . .
gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free . . .
opens the eyes of the blind . . .
watches over the strangers . . .
upholds the orphan and the widow . . .
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.”

When we see all the unspeakable cruelty
we humans inflict on each other . . .
we wonder,
why can’t Isaiah’s dream come true now?
when will the God of the psalmist actually show up,
and execute justice,
set the oppressed free,
and bring to ruin the way of the wicked?
When will that beautiful picture of the future
come into focus, as present reality?
We cry, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
Hosanna! Save us all!”

This is why I say we all long for, we all need,
the healing work of God today.

I know I’m not the only one who has heard more than enough
in these last weeks, months, years,
that proves how desperately broken is the human condition,
and creation itself.
The unspeakable things we humans do to each other,
in the name of God, religion, ethnicity, or national pride—
all the sick and twisted ways we make human life
cheap and disposable.

Religious extremists beheading persons
who hold the wrong beliefs.
Nation-states bombing other nation-states almost into oblivion.
Some person gone mad, with a gun, yet again,
shooting inside a school or workplace or government building.
A very sick man trolling a university campus
targeting young women, to manipulate, violate, and kill.
Our own neighbors harming neighbors—
two more murders in our county this past week.
Parents or trusted family members or church leaders
violating a vulnerable child.
Husband abusing wife, father abusing daughter,
daughter abusing mother.

And that’s just the intentional cruelty
that one human inflicts on another.
There are many more signs of the deep, systemic brokenness
that is our world today.

A deadly virus kills at least 5,000 but maybe 15,000 . . . so far.
Earthquake. Drought. Flood.

Lord, come and heal us! Have mercy on us!

Now, I’m not trying to discourage us all with this litany of suffering.
What I’m trying to do in this sermon,
as we think about the practice of healing and caregiving
for our 21st century post-Christendom church,
is to paint a larger picture,
ultimately, a picture of hope in our healing, restoring God.

When we think about healing ministry,
I think we often think too small, too narrow, too individually.
When we think of the practice of healing in the church,
we go right away to a picture of
a minister praying over a sick person.
Or we think of a group surrounding an individual,
to pray, lay on hands, anoint with oil.
And often, we stop with that picture.

I believe the healing ministry of the church includes that.
But it is a whole lot bigger.
And it should be a lot more prominent,
and practiced more frequently,
and in many different forms.
And it should be considered central and essential,
to the life of the church.

I think I know why we’ve kind of gotten stuck
on praying for the individual sick person.
It grows out of a misunderstanding of the Gospel itself.
The Christian Gospel is not
a Gospel of individual self-fulfillment.
We confuse the Gospel with the American dream.
The Christian Gospel is about Jesus, about the Kingdom of God,
about God’s mission to restore the shalom of all Creation.
It’s not primarily about me and my personal needs.

I think this misunderstanding leads to making the practice of healing
a tool to influence God’s hand,
in giving me health and wealth and everything good.

I don’t think we can say it’s God’s plan
that every single person, now,
has a life free of disease and free of pain . . .
anymore than we can say it’s God’s plan
that every single person, now,
has a life of financial prosperity.

I’ve looked around and seen with my own eyes
saints of God who have neither.
So those who preach a health and wealth Gospel
not only have poor theology,
they have poor eyesight, apparently.

But at the same time . . . let’s not make the opposite mistake.
Let’s not solve that problem by making God into 
a dispassionate, uncaring God who overlooks the individual.
No, by faith we say,
God knows and loves each person, in their uniqueness.
God has an unshakable desire for their ultimate wholeness,
but . . . only within God’s larger agenda
of restoring shalom for all things and all creation.
Healing ministry with individuals,
ought never be taken out of that larger context.

When we pray for and with those who suffer,
we don’t pray as though their suffering is the ultimate enemy,
and pain is an unmitigated evil.
We pray rather, that God’s mighty kingdom come,
that the true enemy of God might be defeated,
that God’s shalom might be reflected in their lives even now,
within the specific situation they are facing.
We honestly express our desire for healing of their cancer,
for mending of their bones,
for relief of their pain,
for easing of their grief,
for strengthening of their body.

But even more,
we pray that God’s purposes to heal and save
and make all things new,
not be thwarted, not blocked by any of us, or by the evil one.
We pray that God’s love and power and life
be made manifest in our bodies, in our minds,
in our lives here and now.
In whatever way God wills.
And we lay down our own wills, in yieldedness to God’s.

Healing has a larger context.
God has entrusted the church with a healing ministry,
not just a few select rare individuals 
with special powers to pray and heal.

Healing is an integral part of the mission of the church.
Kingdom communities are healing communities.
God’s mission is the same as it was in the Gospels,
to establish the kingdom of God on the earth,
and to invite people into kingdom communities
that proclaim and demonstrate
the full and fruitful life God intended for us at Creation.

Look at any healing story in the Gospels.
Jesus did not care for one narrow slice of their physical well-being.
He wanted them to live a full and fruitful life
as a member of God’s covenant people.
Jesus’ acts of healing
were part of something much larger God was up to.
Healing was not the end, but the means.

Matthew chapter 8.
Jesus healed a man of leprosy, but not just by saying “be cured.”
First, he broke the law by touching the man,
confronting the social and religious system
that isolated lepers from their own people.
Then he told him to go to the priest to be declared clean,
to be fully restored to his covenant community.

Luke chapter 8.
After Jesus cured the demon-possessed man
that lived outside of town in the cemetery,
the man begged to go with him and become a traveling disciple.
Jesus said, “No. Go back to your town. Tell people what happened.
Find once again the life you were created for.”

Healing in the Gospels is much more than getting rid of disease.
It nearly always means being drawn into a healing community,
finding a full and fruitful life as one of God’s people
living out God’s kingdom on earth.

And Luke 9, today’s Gospel reading.
Jesus deputizes his disciples to go and heal,
but not just to create a more efficient healing machine.
Jesus told them to “proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.”
Their method was community-building.
Jesus said,
Go without bag, bread, or supplies.
Be dependent, not self-sufficient,
so people will share with you and build community.
Find homes that welcome you, that extend peace.
Then, and only then,
share the good news of the kingdom, and heal.
Healing was located within a kingdom-oriented community.

This approach continues with the disciples, in the book of Acts.
This morning we heard the story of the crippled beggar, Acts 3.
It wasn’t the healing itself that got Peter and John into trouble.
It was the fact that Peter and John
tried to put that healing into a larger context.
They used the opportunity to point out that this healing
was a direct result of the fulfillment of covenant,
begun with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
and fulfilled in Jesus, who the people had just crucified.
And they used the chance to invite the crowd to repent,
and turn to Jesus,
and become part of the new community of the kingdom
that God was bringing forth.
And about five-thousand of them did.
That’s the real reason Peter and John
were dragged in front of the high priest and Council.
The council didn’t really care that they healed the lame man.
The problem was they connected the dots.
They drew a straight line between this healing,
and the larger story of what God was doing in Jesus.

Healing, divorced from a healing covenant community,
can never be deep healing,
because we were created by God
for a life in covenant with others.

Thus, our ministry of healing is also not limited
to individuals who are sick.
We care about the brokenness in people, and systems,
and in creation,
wherever that brokenness appears.
Even when it shows up in the church itself.
And we call on God to move,
to act in this world, and in our lives,
in ways that heal and restore shalom.

So part of the practice of healing for the church in the 21st century,
must include being the healing representatives of Christ
in the culture and world around us.
Healing must be central to what it means to be the church,
in public, and in private.
And it must include openness for God to heal our own wounds
in the church, and forgive our own sins.

Today, maybe more than ever,
our culture needs, and we need,
for the church to live out its calling
to be healing communities of the kingdom.

So we are now going to pray toward that end.

This is a time to remember, in fervent prayer and hope,
the places in our own lives,
or in the life of our family,
or in the church,
or in our community,
or in the larger world,
that are crying out for healing and restoration of shalom.

You may pray for this healing and restoration
in different ways, however you feel led.

In your bulletin, there is a small slip of paper,
with some opening words
to what may become your prayer this morning:
“My prayer, longing, hope for wholeness is . . .”
Finish it as you choose,
in whatever area, or arena of brokenness,
that is weighing on your mind and heart today.

Then, you may bring that prayer to the cross,
a symbol of the healing grace of God in Christ,
and place it in the basket at the foot of the cross.
The pastors and elders will later take those prayers, read them,
and join with you in those prayers.

Or maybe you don’t have precise words for your prayers.
So here, by the Christ candle, and on a small table at the front,
are small bowls containing some healing salve,
a symbolic balm for whatever wounds you carry today.
Dip a finger in the balm,
and prayerfully rub it into your own hands,
or take it to a friend or loved one here in the sanctuary,
and share it with them, anoint their hands with it.

Also, in several places near the front,
we pastors are available to pray with you,
and anoint you with oil if you wish,
in whatever way you are longing for healing,
for yourself, for another, for larger concerns.

This is a healing community gathered together today,
and you are invited to bring your prayers, your longings, your hope,
and offer them to God and to this healing community.

—Phil Kniss, October 25, 2014

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