Acts 9:32-35 – Healed

St. Peter heals Aeneas, 12th century mosaic in Palermo, Italy

As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon, saw him and turned to the Lord. (New International Version)

The early church was growing. Both in numbers and in faith, the new believers following the words and ways of Jesus could be found everywhere in Judea. The Apostle Peter, therefore, decided to get out of Jerusalem and visit some of these folks in the town of Lydda, on the Mediterranean coast.

Back when Peter was following Jesus around in his earthly ministry, the Lord told the disciples that they will do the works he did, and, what’s more, they will do even greater things than Jesus himself. (John 14:12-14)

Peter emulated the example of his Lord. He simply stated that Christ is the one who heals you, Aeneas, so get up, take your mat, and go on home. (Mark 2:10-12; John 5:1-8)

The act of healing the paralyzed man, Aeneas, was a sign that the merciful saving ministry of Jesus was in effect, even when Jesus isn’t bodily present. Christ made it clear that the Holy Spirit would be the continuing presence of God on this earth. (John 16:1-15)

We, too, have this same Spirit.

The work of ministry is always done to the glory of God. People hear the good news, see the miracle, and believe in Jesus.

There are some who examine today’s New Testament lesson and expect that they (and all other believers) ought to be able to do exactly what Peter did: heal another miraculously.

Then, there are others who look at the same account and relegate it to some bygone era in which only the original apostles, like Peter, could do that sort of thing – if it even happened like that, at all.

To expect a dramatic physical healing, every time, all the time, is not consistent with healing narratives in Holy Scripture. And to never expect a miraculous healing is equally inconsistent with the biblical data.

It seems to me we need to reject both extremes. That’s because healing comes in all sorts of different forms.

An event which causes the need for healing and health, or a condition which prevents good health, isn’t limited to the body. A person’s mind, emotions, and spirit can also be damaged and need healing, as well. In fact, whenever there is trauma to the physical body, it profoundly effects the person’s thinking, feeling, and praying.

We need to beware of desiring the fast solution of dramatic and miraculous healing because of not wanting to deal with our emotions.

Perhaps you, like me, have had the experience of going to work or church when experiencing a difficult time in life. There is an emotional heaviness because of a strained, broken, or lost relationship. Or maybe there is emotional pain from an unexpected or unwanted situation.

Yet, when someone asks how you are doing, the response “Oh, fine!” tumbles automatically out of your mouth. But you are anything but fine. Inside, down in your heart, or painfully present in your head, the hurt dominates your thoughts and feelings.

Healing is for people. Fixing is for things and machines. It would be weird if I said I was going to heal a tractor. It is equally strange to try and fix people. To heal is to straighten what is broken. We cannot fix our emotions because, when hurt or damaged, they need healing – a process of restoration – and it usually doesn’t happen overnight.

Our emotional healing is like walking a slow journey. Along that path, our emotions are crying out for us to pay attention to three things:

  1. Grief. Grieving is the normal emotional reaction to any significant change or loss. To grieve our painful situations, whatever they may be, is necessary to healing our emotions. Putting a lid on our grief and sucking it up in a delusional show of strength at best prolongs our healing, and, at worst, brings further damage.
  2. Grace. Grace is an act of bestowing honor or forgiveness to a person. It is not dependent upon whether one deserves it, or not. Grace is the opposite of being judgmental. It chooses not to hold something over or against another, even oneself.
  3. Gratitude. Gratitude is a deliberate act of thankfulness for a specific act. It is both an attitude and an emotion. Gratitude comes from a heart of appreciation. Habits of gratitude creates new ways of being with others. And creating new experiences is one of the best ways of helping to heal the bad experience we just went through.

Embracing those three elements of grief, grace, and gratitude sets us on a healing path. Also, there are practices which we can utilize with each of those three which promote their healing work in our lives. For me, some of those practices include humor and laughter; meditation and other spiritual practices; walking the dog; watching cartoons; and journaling.

Healing is an art. It takes time, lots of practice, and plenty of love. Healing comes from God, which is a good thing, because the Lord knows exactly the kind of healing we need.

God of all comfort and healing, our help in time of need: We humbly ask you to relieve the suffering of your sick servants everywhere. Look upon them with the eyes of your mercy; comfort them with a sense of your goodness; preserve them from the temptations of the enemy; and give them patience in their afflictions. In your good time, restore them to health, and enable them to glorify your most holy name and dwell with you forever in the land of the living, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Luke 14:12-14 – Abundance and Inclusion For All

The Great Banquet by Hyatt Moore

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (New International Version)

A lot of people live by the old adage, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” It’s a phrase referring to reciprocity. In other words, if you give me something I want, I will then respond by giving you something you want.

That old adage works fine, that is, unless you have no ability to give or give back to another. If we only operate by the principle of reciprocity, a large chunk of people automatically get left out. And this situation is untenable and unacceptable to Jesus.

Christ observed that the religious insiders of his day were keeping entire groups of people on the outside through their practice of scratching one another’s backs.

We need to get ahold of the reality that God loves us, as well as everyone else – even the people we may not give the time of day to. God so loved the world that he sent his Son. Jesus has come to feed us. 

The kingdom of God is about food. The food given by Jesus is to feed the hungry by staging a banquet. It is a feast of God’s abundance. Yet, many seem to hoard the resources they have, only thinking about their friends, family, and people just like them. They act as if there is no need to invite outsiders, consumed as they are with their own daily lives.

We have an incredible abundant feast contained in Scripture – in fact, Jesus said that his food and drink was to do the Father’s will, that Scripture was his bread. (Matthew 4:4; John 4:34) 

It’s much too easy to take our blessings of food for granted. After all, when we are well-fed, it’s easy to assume that everyone else is, too. Feeling healthy, it’s easy to forget that others are hurting. Making money, it’s easy to think there are not many poor people around. Living in a community with plenty of churches and more bibles than people, it’s natural to assume that everyone knows the gospel of Jesus – but they don’t!

Then, whenever we get around to acknowledging there are people who need Jesus, we keep devising ways to reach them without having to change or accommodate our own lives to do it.

Christ’s call to faithful discipleship requires people to change from having a narrow focus on our small circle of friends, to including those who have no means to pay us back.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is open to outcasts and failures, to problem people and to unimpressive persons. People with needs and flaws are especially dear to Jesus. It’s the people who outwardly have it all together who are being replaced wholesale with those who admit their need. 

We must not be picky about who we invite to participate in the largess of abundance we possess. We are to avoid the spiritual snobbery of looking down our noses at the needy and less fortunate, who have nothing to offer us in return.

St. John Chrysostom (348-407, C.E.) was a Bishop of Constantinople and arguably one of the greatest preachers in the history of Christianity. John always thought of both the recipient and the giver in his sermons, insisting that both need God’s mercy.

With a concern for the giver’s soul, John insisted that givers provide for all – even the lazy, the fool, and the sinner. By opening our hearts in almsgiving, we open ourselves to Christ, who is present in the least of those among us. Refusing mercy to people deemed as unworthy, givers then actually shut themselves off from the very mercy God desires for them.

There is no reward from God when there is only reward from others.

“If we are going to examine lives, we will never have mercy upon any human being; rather, hindered by this inopportune meddlesomeness, we will remain fruitless and destitute of all help ourselves.”

St. John Chrysostom, On Repentance and Almsgiving

It’s not only the poor who suffer when the rich fail to give. In judging whether or not a particular person is worthy of love and aid, the wealthy person rejects the spiritual fruit that he would have received by giving with humility.

Giving to the poor, simply to relieve our own conscience, is not real charity; it doesn’t consider the other. We attend fully to the other by observing their spiritual and holistic needs for community, purpose, respect, and dignity. Dispassionate giving from a distance, without relationship, refuses to acknowledge the whole person. It exploits the poor for the mental comfort of the rich.

We need to be involved in people’s lives, and that takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. There are too many lost people who need Jesus, and too many Christians who are the walking wounded and need the healing touch of Jesus, for us to pay scant attention to the call of Jesus to invite the needy into our lives. 

Seeing people come into God’s great banquet, and into a joyous and vital relationship with Christ, probably takes about ten times more work than what you are thinking it does right now. Yet, this is the pathway of true blessing – to having God’s stamp of approval on our lives.

Merciful God, thank you for the abundance of life, relationships, health, comfort, and wealth you have provided to so many. Thank you that, even in times of need, despair, and brokenness, you are there. Please, put your arms around children and families in  poverty and disability so that they feel your comfort and hope. Meet their needs both physically and spiritually. And guide me so I can be your hands and feet pursuing justice for the poor and upholding the cause of the needy, in the way of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Luke 12:4-12 – Dealing with Trouble

Jesus the Teacher by J. Kirk Richards

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (New International Version)

A new resurrected life is a beautiful thing. And it can be a hard thing, at the same time.

Decades ago, I once preached in a church for morning and evening worship services. As I entered the church building for the evening sermon, one of the deacons greeted me by saying, “Man, did you ever stir the pot this morning!”

It turns out, because I did not stay behind the pulpit when I preached, but freely roamed around the sanctuary, many parishioners believed I was not being under the authority of God’s Holy Word. They took my actions as subversive, even rebellious. Others defended the action. The entire church became divided over it.

What I found so interesting about the whole affair is that I was simply and genuinely being myself – and it caused trouble to the point of families dividing and imploding in on themselves.

Sometimes people lose sight of what’s really important, and the gospel of grace ends up bringing division. Jesus tended to cause trouble in his earthly ministry, just by being himself – and a lot of folks didn’t take kindly to him exercising authority like God does.

Trouble tends to follow Christian mission and service. That may seem odd. Yet, God’s kingdom is an upside-down one. The way of resurrection and new life comes through a cross and a death; the way to succeed is to fail; the one who loses their life will find it.

We ought to expect opposition and trouble from the world.

Fortunately, nobody ever accused me of being in cahoots with the devil. But that happened to Jesus, on more than one occasion. (Matthew 10:24-25)

Christians are not above their Master – they will be treated as he was. Jesus didn’t want his followers to be surprised whenever they face opposition.

We don’t need to be afraid of getting into trouble.

Fear has to do with the unknown and about what is going to happen to us. Since we know opposition and trouble is expected, we can avoid living in dread. Early on in the church, Christians actually rejoiced in their suffering because they considered it a privilege to be walking in the way of Jesus.

We are given a promise that we’ll receive special help in times of adversity. Believers possess the Holy Spirit, given to us to be our helper and advocate for such difficult situations.

God sees all things. The Lord isn’t surprised by your hardship and will eventually deal with all that is wrong in this old fallen world. The wrath of God is to be much more feared than the wrath of people.

God observes all the details of our lives. If God cares and is attentive to the least little things in my life, then how much more will the big issues in my life be handled!?

Blaspheming (saying hard things against) the Holy Spirit is nothing more nor less than attributing the work of Satan to God.

We aren’t doomed to hell if we are crushed under a heavy load of distress and pressure. God won’t strike us with lightning if we make mistakes, mess up, or fail to live as we ought. The Lord will likely be sad, but fire and brimstone will not be in the picture.

You might be wondering how I handled the hubbub with the church who fractured over my preaching apart from the pulpit. I came back in the evening and purposely caused trouble by preaching the Beatitudes of Jesus while walking up and down the aisle.

After all, when somebody is secure in Christ, why not say and do what needs to be said and done?

Gracious God, your love is sufficient for us. May your guidance and wisdom hold us tightly, along with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. Guard the hearts and minds of believers in places of hardship, war, and persecution so that your church may stand strong in faith.

Although trouble may come, neither any person nor any power on this earth can take our souls from us. We belong to you. May your church stand strong in grace and love, being assured with the reality that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.

We pray for the day when we will all be together in worship and praise at the consummation of your benevolent kingdom. Until that day, may your love flow to all our persecuted brothers and sisters. May your blessed Holy Spirit strengthen and fill them with faith, hope, and love, through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord. Amen

John 13:1-17, 31b-35 – Maundy Thursday

Jesus Washes Peter’s Feet

It was now the day before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. He had always loved those in the world who were his own, and he loved them to the very end.

Jesus and his disciples were at supper. The Devil had already put into the heart of Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, the thought of betraying Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him complete power; he knew that he had come from God and was going to God. 

So, he rose from the table, took off his outer garment, and tied a towel around his waist. Then he poured some water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. 

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Are you going to wash my feet, Lord?”

Jesus answered him, “You do not understand now what I am doing, but you will understand later.”

Peter declared, “Never at any time will you wash my feet!”

“If I do not wash your feet,” Jesus answered, “you will no longer be my disciple.”

Simon Peter answered, “Lord, do not wash only my feet, then! Wash my hands and head, too!”

Jesus said, “Those who have taken a bath are completely clean and do not have to wash themselves, except for their feet. All of you are clean—all except one.” (Jesus already knew who was going to betray him; that is why he said, “All of you, except one, are clean.”)

After Jesus had washed their feet, he put his outer garment back on and returned to his place at the table.

“Do you understand what I have just done to you?” he asked. “You call me Teacher and Lord, and it is right that you do so, because that is what I am. I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you. I am telling you the truth: no slaves are greater than their master, and no messengers are greater than the one who sent them. Now that you know this truth, how happy you will be if you put it into practice!…

Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man’s glory is revealed; now God’s glory is revealed through him. And if God’s glory is revealed through him, then God will reveal the glory of the Son of Man in himself, and he will do so at once. My children, I shall not be with you very much longer. You will look for me; but I tell you now, what I told the Jewish authorities, ‘You cannot go where I am going.’ 

“And now I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.” (Good News Translation)

We all need love. 

Without love, relationships devolve into silent standoffs and destructive triangles. The world ceases to spin on its axis. 

But with love, all things are beautiful, personal relations have meaning and joy, and all seems right and just in the world.

This wonderful love, however, comes with a great cost. 

Because we live in a broken world filled with pride and arrogance, greed and avarice, hate and envy, we are victims of loveless, faceless, and unjust systems. 

We need Love to rescue and redeem us from the muck and crud of injustice. 

It’s as if we are constantly walking knee deep through icky sludge so thick that we can barely get anywhere. 

We need saving…. We need Jesus.

Christians everywhere around the world are journeying through Holy Week, the most sacred time of the year for followers of Christ. When we consider Holy Week, many are familiar with Good Friday and certainly Easter, but Maundy Thursday? 

On this day the church remembers the last evening Jesus shared with his disciples in the upper room before his arrest and crucifixion. 

The experiences in the upper room were highly significant because this was the last teaching and modeling that Jesus gave before facing the cross. Jesus was deliberate in communicating exactly what was important to him: Love one another.

Maundy Thursday marks three important events in Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples: 

  • The washing of the disciples’ feet (the action of loving service)
  • The instituting of the Lord’s Supper (the remembrance of loving sacrifice)
  • The giving of a “new” commandment to love one another (the mandate of a loving system). 

For Jesus, the last night with his disciples was all about love, God’s love. On that fateful night, having loved his disciples for the past three years, Jesus showed them the full extent of his love by taking the posture of a servant and washing each and every one of the disciples’ feet, including Judas. 

After demonstrating for them a totally humble service, Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

Jesus Christ loves me just as I am, and not as I should be. 

Christ loves me even with my dirty stinky feet, my inconsistent half-hearted commitment to him, and my pre-meditated sin. 

Not only did Jesus wash the disciples’ feet; he also lifted the cup of wine and boldly asserted: 

“Take this and divide it among you.  For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  And he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:17-20, NIV)

Because of these words from Jesus, the church throughout the world, for the past two millennia, have practiced this communion so that we might have the redemptive events of Jesus pressed firmly into both our minds and our hearts by means of the visceral and common elements of bread and wine. 

We are to not just know about Jesus – we are to experience being united with him.

Having washed the disciples’ feet and proclaimed to them the meaning of his impending death, Jesus gave them a clear commandment: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”

Love one another, insisted Jesus, through imitation of his humble service. We represent Christ on this earth when we carefully, diligently, and persistently practice love. 

Although love was by no means a new concept for the disciples, in the form and teaching of Jesus love was shown with four distinctions: 

  1. A new model of love: Jesus
  2. A new motive of love, that Christ first loved me
  3. A new motivator to help us love, the Holy Spirit
  4. A new mission, the evangelization of the world, utilizing the power of Christ’s love to accomplish it

Maundy Thursday is a highly significant day on the Church Calendar – one which deserves to be observed. It’s an opportunity to remember the important words and actions of Jesus on our behalf.

In Christ, we allow love to characterize our life together as we proclaim God’s love in both word and deed. A watching world will only take notice and desire to be a part of our fellowship if we are deeply and profoundly centered in the love of God in Christ. This is the reality that Maundy Thursday brings to us.

God of love, you have given us a new command to love each other. Help us to show that love in our care of creation, to all nations and ethnicities, in our communities and neighborhoods, through the Church everywhere, and with the persons closet to us and their needs. In all our thoughts, words, and actions may we be your servants and reflect your love, through our Savior, Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.