Acts 5:12-16 – Healing For All

The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 

As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed. (New International Version)

Healing is a universal longing.

To long for healing, of course, presupposes that something or someone is broken.

Those with bodily ills and infirmities; the ones carrying diseased and disordered minds; those with deep emotional wounds; and tortured souls with broken hearts and damaged spirits are all intimately familiar with pain – not to mention their friends and loved ones who observe their suffering day after day.

How will the healing ever come? When will it ever be realized? Dare I hope for a miracle?

There is a reason the ancient apostles were able to be agents of healing. There was something happening privately which worked itself out in miraculous public healing. Within the believing community, earnest prayers were being offered:

Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:30, NIV)

Just as all were healed when brought to Jesus, so the same happened with his followers.

The natural world, along with the most modern medical practices and interventions, has its limitations. Yet, the supernatural realm is unlimited in its power and scope to bring thorough and complete healing.

Prayer discerns and understands that humanity is limited in its abilities to transform and heal. There is no magical incantation to access such power. There isn’t any specific formula to achieve results. There is only the simple prayers and faithful ministry of believing persons who know that healing can come in many forms and in various ways.

In many cases, I have witnessed my hospital patients improve without any specific medical interventions – decades of intestinal issues gone; heart and brain function restored (which, biologically, doesn’t return when lost); and even the paralyzed walking again.

A miracle isn’t finding an open spot in a busy parking lot. Miracles don’t occur by sending in $19.95 to a “faith healer” who will pray and rid you of your gout.

Bona fide miracles have no natural, medical, or biological explanation. They aren’t tied to money. They only have divine explanations.

Prayers offered daily, and for years, are still effective prayers. That’s because the miraculous occurs irrespective of time.

There shall be healing. It just might not be today. We may have to wait.

Whenever God heals, there is complete healing. The physical trauma of an accident or disease isn’t confined to the body. It also traumatizes the person mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. This is why faithful believers who come out of a major surgery may feel estranged from God. It’s not that God is absent, or that the individual did something wrong. The spirit just needs to heal along with the body.

The Lord wants to heal the whole person. Whenever a person has been emotionally abused, that abuse is experienced throughout the entirety of personhood. It is common for such persons to have a bevy of physical health issues in their lives. As the individual is healed from their damaged emotions, the body follows.

In this era of religious, church, and clergy abuse, the broken spirits left in its wake need healing. Victims may find themselves with chronic depression, anxiety, or other mental and emotional disorders. The spiritual healing which the Lord carefully provides will also effect the mind and the feelings.

The deepest need of healing is holistic – to impact the breadth and depth of a person’s life. The myriad diseases, disorders, and depressions of humanity are devastating enough, in and of themselves. Yet, they also create social separation, economic challenges, emotional distress, spiritual wondering, relational disconnection, terrible grief, and grinding loneliness.

God seeks to restore a life, and not just a malady.

Restoration to a family, a community, a workplace, a position of respect and responsibility, and to God is the Lord’s goal for all humanity.

The Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. (Deuteronomy 30:3-4, NIV)

Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens,
    you who have done great things.
    Who is like you, God?
Though you have made me see troubles,
    many and bitter,
    you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will again bring me up.
You will increase my honor
    and comfort me once more. (Psalm 71:19-21, NIV)

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:10-11, NRSV)

Our simple prayers focused on the restorative healing of a person, are what God has chosen to use to mend the broken. Prayer is not a last resort; it is always the believer’s first order of business.

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Leviticus 25:1-19 – Your Well-Being Is a Priority to God

And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the Lord. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of rest for the land. And the sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you, for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land—all its produce shall be for food.

‘And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement, you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family. That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine. For it is the Jubilee; it shall be holy to you; you shall eat its produce from the field.

‘In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession. And if you sell anything to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor’s hand, you shall not oppress one another. According to the number of years after the Jubilee you shall buy from your neighbor, and according to the number of years of crops he shall sell to you. According to the multitude of years you shall increase its price, and according to the fewer number of years you shall diminish its price; for he sells to you according to the number of the years of the crops. Therefore, you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.

‘So, you shall observe My statutes, keep My judgments, and perform them; and you will dwell in the land in safety. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell there in safety. (New King James Version)

Our continual well-being and rest are not optional; it is absolutely essential.

If a car is driven day-after-day and never gets an oil change, the engine will eventually seize and die. And if a person insists on driving their life every day with continual work, and never practices a Sabbath rest, that person will inevitably burn-out and die an early death. 

In this busy world, far too many persons are putting the pedal-to-the-metal with no thought to the consequences, and no plan for any kind of Sabbath rest. Many people throughout the modern world are slowly draining their souls, causing themselves physical harm, and are on the precipice of emotional and spiritual death.

Perhaps you raise a Mr. Spock eyebrow and wonder if I am being too dramatic. Yet, if we are to take today’s Old Testament lesson seriously, we will see that all of life is to be governed by a healthy rhythm of life which benefits both the individual and the community.

Yes, I fully understand that neither the contemporary person nor the Christian is currently living under ancient Israelite law. However, every single law in the Old Testament is grounded in the character of God. 

This means that, although we may not be obliged to hold the detailed specifics of the seven years system and a year of Jubilee, we are still beholden to observe a Sabbath rhythm of rest because God rested. And we ignore this built-in rhythm to our own peril.

Sometimes I watch the news, see all the upset people at one another and think, “Dude, you really need to sit down, relax, and have a sandwich. Just take a breath, man!” I sometimes wonder if God looks down from heaven at all the world’s conflicts and sees the people involved as a bunch of toddlers who simply need a snack and a nap.

Just as God loves, we are to love. As God is holy, so we are to be holy. And the same holds true for a Sabbath rest. Just as God rested from all the work of creating the world, so we, too, are to rest from our work. Laboring 24/7 will only give us regrets, not results.

If I haven’t been explicit enough, I will say it plainly: We are commanded by God to rest.

It is high time we begin building into our weekly planners, smartphone calendars, and long-range goals, a deliberate and purposeful inclusion of Sabbath rest. 

That means not just doing this biblical rest thing once-in-a-while, that is, if I can fit it in somewhere. A complete Sabbath rest entails making it a real actual event on a regular basis in our life, on our calendars. No excuses, no fudging of appointments, and no lame *sigh* about how busy we are. 

Set aside time today to build a Sabbath into your schedule for the rest of the year, and maybe beyond. I’m not saying this is at all easy; in fact, it is terribly hard for me to get this practice into my own life. 

Because I am a church pastor, hospital chaplain, husband, father, and grandfather, my times of scheduling meetings, events, and visits looks more like a Sudoku puzzle than a calendar. Engrafting some serious biblical rest into my life sometimes feels like hacking through a jungle, looking frenetically for some time.

But, without that rest, I am much less the person I need to be for all the people and responsibilities I care for. The people in my life deserve better than that. They don’t need my leftovers. And I suspect the people in your life want you to rest, too, because you matter to them.

Creator God, you formed the earth in six days and then rested on the seventh. Help me not to put Sabbath on some wish list of things to do someday but enable me to practice it with courage and without apology, through the name of Jesus, I live and pray. Amen.

Luke 4:14-30 – Why Is Our Ministry Important?

Jesus Unrolls the Scroll in the Synagogue, by French artist James Tissot (1836-1902)

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. (New International Version)

Jesus was the hometown boy of Nazareth, the rising star who was putting the small village on the map. He walked into the synagogue on the Sabbath with the people all watching with pride, their chests puffed with delight over one of their own making it to the big time. 

It just so happened that on that day the Old Testament reading was from the prophet Isaiah – a prophecy of grace and healing that fit the budding ministry of Jesus. Here was the hope of Israel. It was all bunnies and butterflies, until Jesus decided to say a few words to them all….

Jesus took the prophecy of Isaiah about proclaiming liberty to captives and the oppressed and then applied it, not to his fellow Jews who were present, but to, of all people, Gentiles! 

Jesus just had to open his mouth and point out that in the days of Elijah, the prophet was sent to a Gentile woman. In addition, Jesus let everyone know the prophet Elisha cleansed a Gentile. The gathered synagogue worshipers understood exactly what Jesus was doing – claiming to be the ultimate prophet, sent for those people. 

It was too much for the people gathered for worship. All hell broke loose as the “worshipers” became so angry and insolent that they drove Jesus out of town and tried to kill him. Jesus had that kind of effect throughout his earthly ministry by saying and doing the unexpected. 

The people of Nazareth seemed to have always interpreted the message of Isaiah and the prophets as being for themselves, not others. Whenever any believer or church loses sight of a biblical message and re-interprets it as being for only us, then we end up like the Nazarenes of old who did not recognize Jesus for who he really is and what he really came to do. 

Some believers and churches need a question asked of them: Are you ready to throw Jesus off a cliff?

Our faith is not merely individual; it is meant to impact the world. In the beginning the earth was created by God and it was good. Yet, it didn’t take long for things to go sideways. The fall of humanity into sin and disobedience brought death and decay to the world. Ever since, the human condition has been dominated by guilt, shame, indifference, violence, taking advantage of others, pride, and selfishness.

However, God did not leave the world to its own demise. The Lord began the process of reconciliation, culminating in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And now, Christians are a new society, the community of the redeemed, the church. As the people of God, we are called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.

Jesus came to save us from our predicament, and to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom for those oppressed by others. The kingdom of God is to extend over every square inch of this earth, every nation, every race and ethnicity, every institution and organization, and every individual. It all belongs to God’s rule and reign in Christ.

Jesus has made us, his disciples, ambassadors of reconciliation. Ever since the fall of humanity, God is reclaiming and redeeming, even now, all of creation back to himself. The Lord is seeking to bring people back into the harmony that existed in the Garden of Eden. Although this will only be fully realized when Christ returns, we presently now have the responsibility to be gracious agents of God’s kingdom, restoring all areas of this world and all people to their rightful place, at peace with God.

There is every reason to hope because a new world began emerging at the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death. As Christians, we accept struggle and hardship in this life and endure all things because, even though disease, destruction, and death claim so many lives, the love of God in Christ will never change nor die.

Because of the risen and ascended Christ, who is the light for all people everywhere, Christ’s disciples are able to respond to the great mass of human suffering with compassion.

This is important since compassion might not be our initial reaction to human suffering. Like the villagers in Christ’s hometown of Nazareth, we can chafe at the thought of compassionately reaching out to the poor, the prisoner, the blind, and the oppressed. We might either resist ministry to the “other” because we believe they caused their own poverty and adverse situation, or because we simply don’t believe we are wired for ministry to them.

If you knew me before I was a Christian, you might not recognize me. I didn’t love anybody. I had no compassion for anyone. It wasn’t until I experienced the love and compassion of Jesus Christ that my life turned upside-down. I began responding to human need with a deep concern. I sought to connect with all kinds of people. I wanted to make a difference in the world.

Back then I was (and to some degree still am) something of an agitator. Maybe that’s one reason I am so drawn to the compassion of Christ. For compassion is actually a radical form of criticism, declaring that our pains and our hurts are to be taken seriously, that they are not to be accepted as natural but abnormal and unacceptable for the human condition. It’s not supposed to be this way!

The compassion of Jesus needs to be understood as a totally subversive action against the kingdom of darkness, a bold and daring affront against all that keeps people locked into systems of oppression and poverty.

The world needs to experience the Church everywhere as a place and a people of good news – expressed in both word and deed – in which they are hospitably invited into the very life of God and experience the fullness of peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. In other words, we are not only in the personal transformation business, but we are also in the business of transforming society so that the common good of all persons is upheld.

As the church proclaims and seeks to establish the kingdom of God, it comes to see that all human need is important – whether it is spiritual, physical, mental, or emotional. We “do justice” by helping others experience the reality of God’s love in Christ and compassionately meet their holistic needs. We “love mercy” by showing hospitality and inviting folks very different from ourselves into our lives. We “walk humbly” with our God by emulating the compassionate ministry of Jesus to all people.

What is your “compassion quotient?” That is, how much compassion do you have in your life right now?

What are some tangible ways we can work on raising our level of compassion and demonstrating compassionate action to those around us and in our city?

It is questions like these that enable us to sync our lives with the heart of Jesus, who still desires to bring good news to the world.

Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself: We praise and bless you for sending your people in the power of the Spirit to preach the Gospel to all nations. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by many prayers and labors, and that your people share in your mission of restoring all people to unity with yourself and one another in Christ; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.

Jeremiah 31:7-14 – A Restored People

Now this is what the Lord says:
“Sing with joy for Israel.
    Shout for the greatest of nations!
Shout out with praise and joy:
‘Save your people, O Lord,
    the remnant of Israel!’
For I will bring them from the north
    and from the distant corners of the earth.
I will not forget the blind and lame,
    the expectant mothers and women in labor.
    A great company will return!
Tears of joy will stream down their faces,
    and I will lead them home with great care.
They will walk beside quiet streams
    and on smooth paths where they will not stumble.
For I am Israel’s father,
    and Ephraim is my oldest child.

“Listen to this message from the Lord,
    you nations of the world;
    proclaim it in distant coastlands:
The Lord, who scattered his people,
    will gather them and watch over them
    as a shepherd does his flock.
For the Lord has redeemed Israel
    from those too strong for them.
They will come home and sing songs of joy on the heights of Jerusalem.
    They will be radiant because of the Lord’s good gifts—
the abundant crops of grain, new wine, and olive oil,
    and the healthy flocks and herds.
Their life will be like a watered garden,
    and all their sorrows will be gone.
The young women will dance for joy,
    and the men—old and young—will join in the celebration.
I will turn their mourning into joy.
    I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing.
The priests will enjoy abundance,
    and my people will feast on my good gifts.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” (New Living Translation)

Experiencing restoration is a beautiful thing. Sick and suffering bodies restored to health brings rejoicing. Estranged relationships brought together again elicits singing. Spirits broken by sin made whole again through restoring grace causes shouts of joy.

God is an expert in restoration. Dilapidated communities, broken individuals, and peoples in diaspora can find fresh hope amid challenging circumstances.

Take a look at the actions of God through the verbs in today’s Old Testament lesson:

  • “I will bring.” The Lord gathers scattered people together, as well as making the disparate parts of people into a unified whole again.
  • “I will not forget.” In the gathering action of God, no one is left behind. Attention is given to the stragglers, to those unable on their own strength or ability to journey on the road back to the Lord.
  • “I will turn.” The unfortunate are turned into the fortunate. The underprivileged become privileged. Grief, lament, and mourning give way to joy and a new lease on life.
  • “I will comfort.” A great reversal occurs with God’s intervention. Sorrow is transformed into praise. Goodness is found in abundance because the Lord is a good God.

God calls the people to action, to a response of experiencing the restorative powers of grace. The Lord encourages such behavior because it helps us never forget that no one and no circumstance is ever beyond the renewing grace of God. Notice the verbs which characterize that response:

  • “Sing.” No mumbling here, my friends. No timidity about being off tune. A lonely person, fragmented group, depressed community, polarized neighborhood, or scattered nation restored by God’s merciful grace becomes an exuberant people. Singing organically arises from them.
  • “Shout.” Even the rocks will cry out if the people don’t. A last second win in the sports stadium amongst thousands of fans doesn’t even hold a candle to celebrative shouts of believers gathered and restored.
  • “Listen.” Whenever hearing God’s voice results in restoration, then the desire and motivation to listen increases exponentially.
  • “Proclaim.” Proclaiming good news is a joy and privilege. And in anticipation of Epiphany, the gospel declared to Gentiles is a gracious message of inclusion and hope.

We are helped to picture the incredible restoration of people coming together and gathered by God with two metaphors:

  1. The Good Shepherd. Like a faithful shepherd over the flock of sheep, the Lord actively seeks the lost, brings them home, and continues to stand watch over them as a compassionate guardian.
  2. The Exodus. Just as God redeemed the people out of Egyptian slavery and took them to a good land of abundance, so the Lord shall return those persons exiled from that abundant place and restore them to the peace of settled rest.

The restoring action of God gathers the scattered. The lost are found. That which is fragmented is made whole. Those previously disabled become able. The weak become strong, the sick healed, the hungry fed, and the prisoner freed.

In times of famine, pandemic, poverty, hardship, and scant resources, there is hope. The Lord knows how to restore fortunes and bring untold abundance amid the most difficult of situations.

True joy comes through hard suffering. The pains of childbirth give way to unspeakable joy.

Today is the final day in the twelve days of the Christmas season. God, entering humanity through a woman, in the flesh, began the gracious work of ransoming, redeeming, and restoring a sinful world that had exiled itself from peace and abundance. In Christ, our lives are full of blessing.

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for the spiritual blessings that Christ has brought us from heaven! (Ephesians 1:3, CEV)

“I am the gate. Those who come in by me will be saved; they will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness. I am the good shepherd, who is willing to die for the sheep.” (John 10:9-11, GNT)

May you know and experience the restorative grace of God in Christ today and every day. Amen.