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.

Acts 5:17-26 – How to Handle Jealousy

Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”

At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.

When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So, they went back and reported, “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to.

Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them. (New International Version)

Celebration and success have their own challenges. Whenever things are going well, there are inevitably others who become jealous. And when jealousy takes root in a person or a group of people, it can result in harming and hurting others.

Indeed, persecution broke out against the apostles. Their ministry was flourishing. Thousands of people were being added to the Church. Miraculous healings abounded. And, standing in the shadows, were a group of jealous religious leaders. Since their power was diminishing, the ruling council had the apostles arrested – seeking to contain their influence and stop the spread of the Church.

Jealousy is one of the places we go whenever we play the comparison game with others. Whereas envy is wanting something that someone else has, jealousy is a deep-seated fear of losing someone or a group of people.

The reason jealousy can be so damaging and insidious is because of the anger and sadness behind it. In the case of the religious leaders, they saw the success of the apostles, the popularity of the burgeoning church, and the attention being diverted from themselves onto the apostles – and they were angry. The loss of religious power was just too much for them, so they became jealous.

Jealousy, much like anger, is neither good nor bad. It is an emotion. It’s what we do with the feeling that matters. In our anger we might turn it inward on ourselves, direct it onto another with verbal or even physical violence, or just get downright snarky and passive-aggressive. Also, with jealousy, it too often gets worked out on others by attacking them in some way.

God feels both anger and jealousy. Yet, those divine emotions are used to bring justice, establish what is right, and help the disadvantaged. God as a jealous God means that the Lord is saddened and hurt by people trying to find satisfaction in all the wrong places through idolatry.

Israel soon became fat and unruly;
    the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed!
Then they abandoned the God who had made them;
    they made light of the Rock of their salvation.
They stirred up his jealousy by worshiping foreign gods;
    they provoked his fury with detestable deeds.
They offered sacrifices to demons, which are not God,
    to gods they had not known before,
to new gods only recently arrived,
    to gods their ancestors had never feared. (Deuteronomy 32:15-17, NLT)

God desires that people discover healthy ways of coping and acknowledge their jealous feelings. The Apostle Paul did just that:

I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:1-3, NIV)

The feeling of jealousy is meant to tell us something. Instead of pushing it aside, listen to what it has to say. Perhaps it is leading us to acknowledge our grief and lament our loss. It could be alerting us to our great loneliness or deep sadness.

For whatever reason the jealousy arises, stuffing it or pushing it aside may cause harm to ourselves or others. A profound lack of self-awareness will always come back to bite us in the behind.

So, how do I handle those feelings of jealousy when they come?

  • Seek to understand. Trace the feeling back to its true source. Whether the jealousy stems from insecurity, fear, or past relationship patterns, knowing more about the causes can help us figure out how to confront it and deal with it.

An understanding heart seeks knowledge; but fools feed on folly. (Proverbs 15:14, CEB)

  • Talk to someone. Give voice to your concern. Discuss the feelings of jealousy with a trusted friend, family member, or faith leader.

Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2, NET)

  • Express your grief. With jealousy there is a loss or a worry of losing someone or something. Prayer is a good idea when we are losing someone.

God, listen! Listen to my prayer, listen to the pain in my cries. (Psalm 102:1, MSG)

  • View another perspective. Try and take a big picture approach and consider other angles to the situation which is producing the jealousy.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. (Isaiah 55:8, NLT)

  • Practice gratitude. Be thankful for the people, circumstances, and things you have in your life right now. Thankfulness is often a powerful antidote to strong feelings of jealousy.

Tell the Lord how thankful you are, because he is kind and always merciful. (Psalm 118:29, CEV)

  • Explore underlying issues. Sometimes jealousy has to do with insecurity or low self-worth. Addressing your value as a person and the unique contribution to others you bring to the world has the effect of kicking jealousy to the curb.

God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them. (Genesis 1:27, CEB)

  • Be patient. Give it time. Most people don’t get over their jealous feelings overnight. It’s a process. So be kind to yourself and stick with acknowledging and discovering what jealousy has to teach you.

Be patient when you have troubles. (Romans 12:12, ERV)

May you find satisfaction, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 – Jesus Is the Cornerstone

Jesus the Cornerstone by Gloria Ssali

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever….”

The Lord is my strength and my might;
    he has become my salvation.

There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
    the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
    the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.”
I shall not die, but I shall live,
    and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely,
    but he did not give me over to death.

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it. (New Revised Standard Version)

God is the expert on turning our song of lament into a song of victory.

From the Christian perspective of the Lord’s resurrection from death, it is a great song of celebration. The horrid torture and death of Christ on Friday turned to wonderful rejoicing on Sunday with a risen Lord. Life is now different with an empty tomb. The stone the builders rejected is now the head cornerstone.

Our worship is transformed. Instead of offering the blood of bulls and goats, like the select group of the Old Testament priests did, we are now all priests who now offer spiritual sacrifices because Jesus took care of the sin issue once for all. 

Christians continually offer to God their worship of Christ and live a holy life in grateful response to Christ’s death and resurrection.

Jesus is our cornerstone, the center of life and worship. Priority for the Christian faithful is allowing God to build us into a community of faith that worships Jesus with lives dedicated to knowing him and making him known.

Christian worship is the expression of a relationship in which God the Father reveals himself and his love in Christ, and by his Holy Spirit gives grace, to which we respond in faith, gratitude, and obedience. 

That means all of life (and not just a Sunday morning worship service) is to be a daily rhythm of God’s revelation to us, and our response to God in faith, thanksgiving, and an obedient life.

People, at their core, exists for worship. For the Christian, worship is grounded in the triune God and centered in Christ. Worship is the heart and life response to the revelation of God in Christ. Encounters and experiences of God’s revelation to humanity, and our response, form us into faithful disciples.

Author and Pastor Emeritus, Stuart Briscoe, once told the following story: 

“Many years ago, during the Cold War, I traveled to Poland for several weeks of itinerant ministry. One winter day my sponsors drove me in the dead of night to the middle of nowhere. I walked into a dilapidated building crammed with one hundred young people. I realized it was a unique opportunity. Through an interpreter I preached on maintaining Christ as the center of our lives as Christians.

Ten minutes into my message, the lights went out. Pitch black. My interpreter urged me to keep talking. Unable to see my notes or read my Bible, I continued. After I had preached in the dark for twenty minutes, the lights suddenly blinked on, and what I saw startled me: Everyone was on their knees, and they remained there for the rest of my message. The next day I commented on this to one man, and he said, ‘After you left, we stayed on our knees most of the night. We wanted to make sure we were remaining in Christ and centering our lives in him.’”

Since Jesus is the cornerstone, the center of our devotion, worship does not center in a style or an outcome. We may too often evaluate worship on whether or not it works, or if it emotionally moves us because of a particular musical or liturgical style. Whenever worship is designed for our tastes and preferences, Jesus Christ, as the center of worship, can easily be lost. 

With Christ as the chief cornerstone, the true object of worship, all kinds of differing styles can be pleasing to God. Worship itself is to be evaluated not by the satisfaction of personal preference, but by its acceptance by God.

Firmly built on Christ the cornerstone, worship becomes less about gaining truth, and more about letting truth gain us and capture us. The more we pay attention to the presence of Jesus Christ through song, prayer, Scripture, and sacrament, the more we will experience the centrality and power of God. True worship captures God’s heart and passion for the world. Jesus becomes very precious to us when we align ourselves to him as the cornerstone of our faith and worship.

So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service.

Romans 12:1, CEB

We build our lives on Jesus, the cornerstone of our faith, every day. Pleasing worship is both the responsibility and the privilege of every believer. We are embodied beings; we speak through vocal chords; we move with our legs; we act with our arms; we cannot communicate nor do the will of God apart from our bodies. 

Jesus, as the cornerstone upon which all is supported, means that acceptable worship can happen anywhere. Everywhere can become a sanctuary and a sacred space – home, neighborhood, and marketplace – as well as church. In all these locations, Christian discipleship will prove itself.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Ephesians 2:19-22, NRSV

Several years ago, a man named Matt had an aunt who had struggled for years to make ends meet. When her health started to decline, she was forced to sell her fifty acres of property to pay for health care. As an act of kindness, Matt traveled to Massachusetts and bought the land from his aunt for the appraised value of $50,000. While exploring the land to see about building a house, he discovered outcroppings of stone ledges.

Matt contracted a geologist, who surveyed the land and informed him the stone was actually Goshen stone, a type of mica used for sidewalks, patios, and landscapes. At the time, it sold for $100 a ton – and Matt had about 24 million tons on the land. The appraised value on the surface was $50,000, but some experts estimated that the land was possibly worth up to $2 billion.

Jesus is the precious cornerstone. He is much too valuable to be left in a church building. And there is so much more to him than surface appearances. Let God drill deep into your life and show you the infinite worth of Jesus Christ. Explore him. Worship him. Offer your very life to him. Shape yourself around him. Center all things completely in and around Jesus. Discover just how precious he is. Let your love be long for Christ.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, Son of Humanity, have mercy upon us.

Psalm 105:1-42 – Getting Rid of the “Meh”

Praise the Lord
    and pray in his name!
    Tell everyone
    what he has done.
Sing praises to the Lord!
    Tell about his miracles.
Celebrate and worship
his holy name
    with all your heart.

Trust the Lord
    and his mighty power.
Remember his miracles
and all his wonders
    and his fair decisions.
You belong to the family
    of Abraham, his servant;
    you are his chosen ones,
    the descendants of Jacob.

The Lord is our God,
    bringing justice
    everywhere on earth.
He will never forget
his agreement or his promises,
    not in thousands of years.
God made an eternal promise
    to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
    when he said, “I’ll give you
    the land of Canaan.”

At the time there were
only a few of us,
    and we were homeless.
We wandered from nation
to nation,
    from one country
    to another.
God did not let anyone
    mistreat our people.
Instead he protected us
    by punishing rulers
    and telling them,
“Don’t touch my chosen leaders
    or harm my prophets!”

God kept crops from growing
    until food was scarce
    everywhere in the land.
But he had already sent Joseph,
    sold as a slave into Egypt,
    with chains of iron
    around his legs and neck.

Joseph remained a slave
until his own words
    had come true,
    and the Lord had finished
    testing him.
Then the king of Egypt
    set Joseph free
    and put him in charge
    of everything he owned.
Joseph was in command
    of the officials,
    and he taught the leaders
    how to use wisdom.

Jacob and his family
came
    and settled in Egypt
    as foreigners.
They were the Lord’s people,
    so he let them grow stronger
    than their enemies.
They served the Lord,
and he made the Egyptians plan
    hateful things against them.
God sent his servant Moses.
He also chose and sent Aaron
    to his people in Egypt,
    and they worked miracles
    and wonders there.
Moses and Aaron obeyed God,
    and he sent darkness
    to cover Egypt.
God turned their rivers
into streams of blood,
    and the fish all died.
Frogs were everywhere,
    even in the royal palace.
When God gave the command,
    flies and gnats
    swarmed all around.

In place of rain,
God sent hailstones
    and flashes of lightning.
He destroyed their grapevines
    and their fig trees,
    and he made splinters
    of all the other trees.
God gave the command,
and more grasshoppers came
    than could be counted.
They ate every green plant
    and all the crops that grew
    in the land of Egypt.
Then God took the life
    of every first-born son.

When God led Israel from Egypt,
    they took silver and gold,
    and no one was left behind.
The Egyptians were afraid
    and gladly let them go.
God hid them under a cloud
    and guided them by fire
    during the night.

When they asked for food,
    he sent more birds
    than they could eat.
God even split open a rock,
    and streams of water
    gushed into the desert.
God never forgot
his sacred promise
    to his servant Abraham. (Contemporary English Version)

This morning, did you get up on the wrong side of the bed? Or did you awake feeling refreshed and ready to seize the day?

Maybe it was neither. Seems like, most days, we are neither energized nor grumpy. We are somewhere in the middle, feeling something like “meh.” 

Just as the importance of a decent breakfast is necessary to get a good start on the day, so beginning the day with some good spiritual food is a must to fortify our lives and set them on a solid trajectory for personal happiness and blessing the world. 

We cannot simply rely on feeding upon God when we feel like it, for then we will succumb to all the vicissitudes and variegations of life, becoming a slave to the almighty “meh.” 

As we get out of bed and orient ourselves from sleep to work, we need to tend to our spiritual selves and prepare for the day, just as we need to daily clean up our bodies and begin focusing our minds on our future tasks.

One way of taking charge of our spiritual lives is beginning the day with some vitamin-packed whole grain goodness of the biblical psalms. 

Today’s psalm calls on us to:

  • Give thanks to God
  • Call upon the name of the Lord
  • Make known the mighty deeds of God
  • Sing to the Lord
  • Glory in God’s name
  • Seek the Lord
  • Remember God’s wondrous works 

Feeding upon the psalms will help shoo the “meh” away.

God faithfully keeps all divine promises. As we recall and remember those promises, realizing that God remembers us, praise, singing, and thanksgiving arise along with our bodies. The Lord never has a “meh” response to us.

Perhaps before even getting out of bed in the morning, we can reach over, grab our Bible, tablet, or smartphone and read these words of Psalm 105 so that our day is formed around the positive promises of God and not the negative thoughts of our minds. 

And at night, the same ritual could be done before falling asleep so that our day is bookended with remembering God’s works. For the Bible is not simply some old book to adore from afar, but a living word from God to shape our minds and form our hearts.

The “meh” comes when there is a famine of God’s Word. Whenever we find ourselves saying things like, “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” or “I’m sleeping until I feel better,” then its time to cozy up to the psalmist and have a heart-to-heart.

You’ll be glad you did.

God almighty, you have remembered your people throughout the millennia with wondrous works and powerful deeds. Today I give thanks to you for giving your Son, the Lord Jesus, and accomplishing the mightiest work of all: securing my deliverance from sin, death, and hell. May the Name of Jesus be praised! Amen.