Matthew 9:18-34 – Faith

Jesus healing the blind
Jesus Healing the Blind by Johann Heinrich Stöver, 1861

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you.” And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, “See that no one knows of this.” But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district.

After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.” (NRSV)

In these days of staring into the face of pandemic, I often find myself uttering the ancient prayer of the Church: “Lord have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Lord have mercy and grant us your peace.”  For me, the COVID-19 virus is getting real, real fast.  I feel the heaviness of hospital staff, and of families experiencing the weight of concern for loved ones with the virus.

It is in such topsy-turvy times as these that I come back again and again to deep spiritual convictions which inform what I do each day.  One of those underlying creeds is this:

Jesus is trustworthy, no matter whether my faith or the faith of others is small or great.

In our Gospel lesson for today, two blind men were healed according to their faith in Jesus.  The diverse healing accounts of Jesus in the New Testament, whether the faith was large or small in those healed, leads me to the conclusion that:

It isn’t faith itself that heals, saves, or transforms – it is Jesus.

What the healing accounts have in common in the Gospels is that they are directed to Jesus as the object of faith.  It isn’t about the level of faith, but about where the faith is placed.  For the Christian, faith itself doesn’t mean much if it isn’t in Jesus.  If I place a large and sincere faith in an inanimate object such as money; in a position of power; or, even in my own independence, my faith isn’t worth much.  If I have a huge faith in a doctor or a psychiatrist to heal my body or my mind, I will quickly discover there are limits to their abilities.  If I have a confident faith that my family will meet all my needs, my faith will eventually run into failure when they let me down.  That’s because the ultimate object of my faith is Jesus.  If all my faith eggs are in the church basket, my faith will eventually face a crisis because it is a misplaced faith.  Furthermore, the answer I provide for others is not simply getting them to attend church or to adopt my moral code. I believe Jesus heals, transforms, and delivers people from sickness, sin, trouble, and overwhelming circumstances in his own good time.

Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  (Hebrews 13:8)

We know with certainty that circumstances change, as everyday seems to bring new levels and permutations of unprecedented alterations to our lives – and through it all, Jesus remains as the ever-present Savior, seated at the right hand of God ceaselessly interceding on behalf of those who offer even the slightest mustard seed of faith.

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep me both outwardly in my body and inwardly in my soul, that I may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.

Psalm 22:23-31 – Full of Suffering

“Let all those who are suffering eat and be full!
Let all who seek the Lord praise him!” (Common English Bible)

cry of dereliction

“Suffering” is a word we’d like to avoid.  Simply saying or reading the word can make us cringe.  Suffering? No thanks.  I’ll pass on that.  Yet, something inside of us instinctively knows we cannot get around it.  Everyone suffers in some way.  It is endemic to the human condition that at times we will suffer physically, financially, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

That’s why I believe there is such talk within Christian circles of miracles.  It’s more than understandable.  A chronic pain sufferer wants relief; she prays for a miracle of health.  A small business owner is bleeding financially; he looks to God for an immediate miracle of wealthy clients.  A beloved senior saint knows that she is afflicted with something, and she’s told it’s Alzheimer’s; she prays for the miracle of deliverance, even to be taken home to be with the Lord.  A young adult finds himself in the throes of depression and has tried everything to cope and get out of it; he petitions God for a miracle out of the deep black hole.  The believer in Jesus keeps experiencing a besetting sin and just can’t get over it; she looks to God for the miracle of not struggling any more with it.

These and a thousand other maladies afflict people everywhere.  There are stories out there.  Folks who have experienced a miracle tell of their wonderful deliverance.  But what about the rest?  Those without the miracle?  Do they have a lack of faith?  Has God forgotten them?

christ-in-gethsemane

Oh, my, no.  God sees, and God knows.  God understands suffering.  Jesus knows it first-hand.  Remember, it was Jesus who said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Even Jesus cried out in his suffering.  But there was no deliverance coming for him.  There was, instead, deliverance coming for us.

Sometimes the greatest miracle and deliverance of all is to be freed from the need for a miracle.  The reason God doesn’t just offer immediate relief from everyone’s suffering and bring a miracle is that he is doing something else: Walking with us through our suffering.  God oftentimes has plans and purposes for us well beyond our understanding.  We simply are not privy to everything in his mind.

We may not get the miracle we desire.  But what we will get without fail is God’s provision and steadfast love all the way through the suffering.  Where is God in your suffering?  Jesus is suffering with you.  You are not crying alone; Christ weeps with you.

Let, then, those who suffer, eat and be full.  Let them be satisfied with the portion God has given them.  What’s more, let them offer praise to the God who is right beside them in every affliction and trouble.

God Almighty, you are the One who knows suffering and affliction better than anyone.  I admit I don’t often understand what in the world you are doing or not doing in my life and in the lives of those I love.  Yet, I admit that I have found in you the comfort, encouragement, and strength to live another day in my trouble.  For this, I praise you; in the Name of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Matthew 8:28-9:1

            At some point all people, including you and me, must deal with Jesus.  Why? Because he is a force to be reckoned with.
            Eventually, we know that a storm will come.  It may be sunny today, and the forecast might predict more sun or partly sunny for a while.  But we know the weather will change.  Here in Wisconsin we’ve had an unusually dry winter so far.  Not very much snow.  It’s coming, though.  There will be a snow storm.  It won’t be here today or tomorrow.  But it will come.
            Jesus will come.  A person might not have to contend with him today, maybe not tomorrow.  But, eventually, there will be a whopper of a storm and you will have to deal with it.  In today’s Gospel lesson, two men described as being severely influenced by demons approached Jesus.  Inside of them was such a terrible inner storm that they shouted at Jesus.
            Jesus, however, has authority over storms.  He commands them as he wills.  As fierce as the men were (the demons were so many that they were exorcised into a herd of pigs), Jesus had the authority to deal with the situation.  The storm within the men subsided.
            Yet, the storm picked up with the townsfolk.  It seems they had been living their merry lives with no thought to Jesus.  But he showed up.  They had to contend with the authority right there in front of them.  They chose poorly.  We are meant to see a connection in the story between the demons who begged Jesus, and the people of the town who begged Jesus.  They didn’t humbly beg to follow him; they begged him to get away from him, to leave them alone.
            Jesus is an authoritative force to be reckoned with… and he’s coming to your town.  Maybe not today, perhaps not tomorrow.  But things will not always be the way they are right now.  People will have to face Jesus.

 

Jesus Christ, Son of God, you are Lord over the wind, the waves, and the weather.  You also command the unseen, and they obey.  You are God with us.  Oh, that all people would beg to follow you and not beg you to leave!  I am grateful for your power and authority over all things.  Amen.

Matthew 8:14-17, 28-34

            When I was a kid, every evening after the news I watched a show called To Tell the Truth.  The show featured a panel of four celebrities attempting to correctly identify a described contestant who has an unusual occupation or experience.  This central character is accompanied by two imposters who pretend to be the real character.  The celebrity panelists question the three contestants.  The imposters are allowed to lie but the central character is sworn “to tell the truth.”  After questioning, the panel attempts to identify which of the three challengers is telling the truth and is thus the central character.  The host would then say, “Will the real _____  please stand up!”
 
            The four panelists would often miss the real person, mainly because they had certain expectations of what the real person’s occupation or experience would be like.  And their expectations just didn’t match reality.  The people of Christ’s day often missed who Jesus really was because their expectations chiefly centered in a Messiah who would beat up the pagan Romans and establish a strong political kingdom that benefited them economically.  And that is why they missed the real deal because Jesus did not fit their preconceived notions of Messiah.  The real Jesus is compassionate, cares about people, and brings transformation to people’s lives, irrespective of whether it can turn a buck for somebody.
 
            The real Jesus puts people before pigs.  That might sound like a no-brainer, but, believe me, in Iowa I knew of more than one farmer who treated his pigs better than his family.  Jesus continually put people first before anything else.  He delivered two men from a terrible demonic bondage with the result that an entire herd of pigs was lost.  However, the town didn’t rejoice over the transformation of the men.  They just begged Jesus to go away before he messed up their economy even more.
 
            Jesus did not come to boost the local economy and make sure the political system was all warm and fuzzy toward the local merchants.  He changed people’s lives brought deliverance from emptiness.  The irony in the story is that the farmers and farming community had their hearts revealed as the ones who were truly empty.  Will the real empty hearted people please stand up!  What do you expect from Jesus? 
 

 

            Jesus, you are the rightful King of this universe.  May I participate with you in your agenda for this world so that I might exhibit the same care, compassion, and concern for people that you did.  Amen.

Matthew 20:29-34

            The word “irony” is a term used to describe an outcome of an event that is different from expectation.  For example, my family doctor’s name when I was growing up was “Dr. Fail.”  In today’s Gospel lesson, two blind men are healed by Jesus and can see.
 
            Please take a little time and read the short account over a few times and ponder these three ironic observations from the story:
 
·     —A large crowd followed Jesus, but only two persons are his actual followers.
·     — Out the large crowd, it is two blind men that actually see Jesus for who he is.
·     —The crowd following Jesus was actually trying to keep the two needy blind men from Jesus.
 
Although Jesus was surrounded by lots of people, he was attentive to two non-descript men.  He was listening for them.  He responded to them.  He touched them.  Listening, responding, and touching were the ways Jesus blessed people.  We, also, need to have our spiritual eyes wide open to see the great need of lost people around us who need our listening ear, our responsive selves, and our caring touch.  May it be so to the praise of Jesus.
 

 

Gracious Lord Jesus, you heal those who cry out to you.  Help me to be like you and be aware of those around me who need your healing touch so that they might know the wonder of following you.  Amen.

Luke 5:17-26

            Jesus came to this earth to forgive sin and transform sinners.  Today’s Gospel story has a paralyzed man brought to Jesus in an unorthodox way.  His two friends carried the man on a mat, but could not get close enough to Jesus to be noticed.  This was not about to stop the two friends.  They just took him to the roof, created a hole in it, and lowered the man right in front of Jesus!  Our Lord was impressed with their faith, healed the man, and said “My friend, your sins are forgiven.”
 
            There is a very important observation about this story that we need to notice:  the man was healed because of the faith of his friends.  Yes, that’s right.  Read the story again.  It was the faith of the two men in bringing their friend to Jesus that led to the healing and transformation.
 
            If this does not inspire, impel, and inform you to pray diligently by bringing your friends to Jesus in prayer I’m not sure what would move you.  Sometimes great miracles are not brought about by a lone person praying for his/her personal change but by believing people who do not give up in bringing their friend to Jesus.  Think of one person right now for whom God has laid him/her on your heart.  Pray today and every day until there is a breakthrough.  In the metaphorical sense, create a hole in the roof and place your friend in front of Jesus and watch what kind of healing and renovation of life he can affect.
 

 

            Healing God, I thank you for doing your good work of forgiving sins and transforming sinners in Jesus’ name.  I pray you will deliver my grandson from the scourge of epilepsy and give him a new life full of spiritual power through Jesus.  Amen.

Faith in Jesus Changes Everything

 
 
Having done my share of weddings, I can tell you that something always goes awry and not according to plan.  Sometimes it is a big thing, sometimes a small thing.  I have had best men forget rings, bridesmaids faint, sound systems go out, and, both grooms and brides either laugh or cry so much that they can’t say their vows.  And then there is the reception.  I have been at receptions where we had to wait two hours for the food to be ready, places where different food had to be served than planned, and situations where there was no alcohol and circumstances where there was probably too much alcohol.
 
            Back in Christ’s day, a wedding ceremony lasted a full week with a feast at the groom’s home.  Running out of wine constituted a real social crisis.  Sometimes we forget that Jesus attended weddings and participated in gladness, celebration, and joy (John 2:1-11).  God is not always some dour upset divine Being who has no place for a party.  When a person places his/her faith in Christ, it does not necessarily mean taking vows of chastity, poverty, and going without the enjoyable things of this created world.  In fact, it makes complete sense that Christians above all other people would be people of deep faith and lots of celebration.
 
            Since Christians have been liberated from the fear of death; since they have meaning and purpose to life; since they are forgiven and made right by Christ, justified by him, there really ought to be a preoccupation with parties, banquets, feasts, and general merriment.  Christians ought to attract people to the church quite literally by the fun there is in being a Christian.
 
            If that piques your interest, and you are finding that your church experience is not always an enjoyable one, then pay attention to three important observations about faith in Jesus from the miracle of the wedding at Cana.
 
1.      Nobody looked for Jesus until the wine was gone.
 
            Old wine is still wine, and it was enough to keep the guests from seeking Jesus.  Many people do not pursue faith in Jesus until the old something runs out.  Those old attitudes, actions, habits, hurts, insecurities, and information are what we rely on and return to when things are rough.  But those old things can get in the way of faith in Jesus.  Sometimes the old just has to completely dry up and go away until we are truly open to Jesus.
 
            There are times when God allows all the old friends, old reliance, and old habits to run out so that there is no possible way of going back to it.  In order to embrace a new and living faith in Jesus Christ, the past trust in certain ways of doing things must go away.  This is why people most often come to faith in Christ in a time of crisis or trouble.  The rug has been pulled out from underneath them and they have no one and nowhere to look.  Sometimes, until the old is stripped away we cannot see the new possibilities of a fresh faith in Jesus.
 
2.      Obedience has to be mixed with faith.
 
            If we want Jesus to move in our churches, then we must do what he says.  Jesus commanded the servants at the wedding in Cana to fill the jars with water.  Fill them with water.  Without knowing the end of the story, this makes no sense at all.  But obeying Jesus was important because without it there is no miracle.  We really need to quit looking at what we have lost and no longer possess, and look to Jesus, giving him what we do have.  Jesus can do something with whatever we give him.  If it is only water, then he can turn water into wine.
 
            It is easy to become discouraged.  But sometimes only a few people who do what Jesus says, is enough.  They might not have much, but they bring what they have, and they end up seeing God’s glory.  We can trust Jesus by doing something simple:  give him what you have instead of wishing you had something more or different.
 
            Jesus did not explain himself.  He did not lay out his goals and strategy to the people.  Jesus just told the servants to fill the jars with water.  If you are a person of simple prayer, offer your prayers to Jesus and watch what he can do with them.  If you are a simple servant, give your service to Jesus and let him transform it into the miraculous. 
 
 
 
3.      The response of the disciples is that they believed.
 
            The disciples put their faith in Jesus.  Here is thought to think about:  maybe faith is kindled through parties and food more than it is through abstaining from stuff.  Perhaps the kingdom of God is marked predominantly by radical hospitality because it may illicit faith in people more than anything else.  Maybe the party-planning fun-loving playful otters in the church are the ones to take the lead in showing us the way to faith in Jesus.  Maybe eating and drinking with people is the avenue of showing Jesus to others.
 
            Faith is not a static one-time event.  Rather, faith is a process of getting to know Jesus, like having an easy conversation with him across the table.  Like an ever-deepening friendship, being in the company of Jesus can bring us great joy and gladness.
 

 

            Church ministry is meant to be enjoyable and liberating; it is not meant to be overly austere and difficult.  We are to delight in the good gifts that God has provided.  The miraculous sign of the wedding feast points to God’s grace.  Jesus is the source of every good thing; faith in him changes everything.  Since Jesus is here, God is with us.  Because God is present, let the party begin!