Friday, February 12, 2021

The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 6:39-49

Remembering the Humanity of "The Other"

For your consideration: When, on Twitter, I posted a version of today's prayer update on a thirty-seven-year-old who has been hospitalized with COVID-19 and its effects for seventeen weeks, the first one to respond was a reporter for who covers the White House for a major news outlet.

I know her to be a faithful Christian with whom I interact fairly regularly.

I've had similar ongoing interactions for nearly two decades with one of her male colleagues who works for another major news outlet and also covers the White House. He too is a believer.

So too, is the veteran Ohio political reporter who has been praying regularly for Brian.

Christian friends and others: If we're tempted to smear everyone in "the media" the way some people smear everyone who is in "the Church," we should remember that broad generalizations do great injustice to particular people. 

Those particular people are human beings, children of God made in the image of God, and people for whom Jesus Christ died and rose. 

Just because they may report truths we don't want to believe or even if they may occasionally get particular facts wrong doesn't justify the venomous hatred I sometimes see and hear "Christians" display toward "the media."

Our call as Christians to love God and to love our neighbor also entails asking God to help us to refrain from lumping people in categories. 

People are not "the other" who we can vilify, dismiss, marginalize, or hate just because we're too lazy to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

The better course is, I think, for us to repent for the ways in which we actively or passively hate others and to ask the Holy Spirit to help us share with others the same undeserved grace and love we receive through faith in Jesus.

Monday, February 08, 2021

The Gospel of Luke, Chapters 4:31-5:11

Jesus: Still in the Healing Business

Below you'll find, first, video of yesterday's online worship from Living Water Lutheran Church, and then, the text of my message for the day. Have a good week and God bless you!

Mark 1:29-39

Some people may hear the Gospel lesson for this morning and say, “That’s nice. Jesus healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and others. Why doesn’t He heal people today?”

The answer, of course, is that He does.


In an October 25, 1999 article of The Archives of Internal Medicine,  seven physicians, a hospital chaplain, a social worker, and a scholar associated with leading hospitals from around the country, presented the findings of their research on the connection between intercessory prayer—that is, prayer offered on behalf of others--and the recovery of coronary patients. The researchers set up what’s known as a “double-blind” experiment on those recovering from heart problems. There were 990 patients in the study. Prayers were said for some of them. Prayers were not offered for the others. The doctors treating the patients didn’t know who was chosen to be prayed for and the subjects of the prayers didn’t know either. A list of first names was given to people in local churches who prayed for those on the list each day. 


And what happened? Those for whom prayers were said recovered more quickly. As the researchers put it in the conclusion of their abstract, “This result suggests that prayer may be an effective adjunct to standard medical care.” (1) 


If this were an isolated study, it wouldn’t mean much. But in recent decades, literally hundreds of objective scientific studies, conducted at major hospitals and universities, have been done looking into the connection between things like faith, prayer, and worship attendance on the one hand and healing and health on the other. The results are stunning.


One example: A 1972 study of 91,909 people in Washington County, Maryland “found that those who attended church once or more a week had significantly lower death rates from…coronary-artery disease (50 percent reduction), emphysema (56 percent reduction), cirrhosis of the liver (74 percent reduction), suicide (53 percent reduction).” I could cite more studies, but you get the picture.


Many of you listening to me today would affirm that the God we know in Jesus Christ is still in the healing business. Certainly, God uses doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals to bring His healing. But, as study after study has confirmed, their efforts are enhanced by prayer. 


In my years as a pastor, I’ve learned that many health care professionals know this. Some surgeons ask me when I will be joining the patient they’re operating on for prayer before surgery. They want to be part of the prayer team and they want me to pray for them as well.


In his book, The Faith Factor, Dr. Dale A. Matthews tells the true story of Barbara, who suffered from cancer. Barbara was in worship one Sunday at the Anglican church she attended when the priest read the Gospel of Mark’s account of the woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. You remember that in that account, the woman thought to herself that if she simply touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, she could be healed...and was.

As Barbara prepared to receive Holy Communion, she thought, “I could be like her.” She looked at her priest who was, she thought, “standing in” for Jesus as He presided over the Eucharist. “She decided that she would touch the priest’s robe when he gave her the communion wafer.” As Barbara tells it: “I touched his robe, and he couldn’t have known that I did, though he did know about my cancer. He did something in that moment that I had never seen him do before: he put down the paten with the communion wafers and came over to me; laying both hands on my head, he prayed for my healing.”

Barbara wasn’t healed instantly. But she knew then that God was healing her. As she explains it, though at that point her healing wasn’t physical, her heart was healed. “I had complete trust in God and his love, something [God] knew I needed far more than any other kind of healing at the moment.”


Of course, you and I know that not everyone for whom we pray is healed. And even more than that, Pastor Mark Dahle, a Lutheran pastor who has written and spoken about his California congregation’s healing ministry, reminds us, everybody for whom we pray will eventually die. We live in a fallen and imperfect world. Death comes, as does suffering of all kinds. Faith in Jesus is no insurance policy against the reality of living in a dying world. So, why did Jesus heal Simon’s mother-in-law and the others our Gospel lesson tells us He healed? Why does Jesus heal today?


We get at least one answer to that question from an interchange that happens between Simon and Jesus before dawn, the day after Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law, and after Jesus has spent time in prayer.


To set the scene: The previous day had been a busy Sabbath for Jesus. After worshiping and teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, where He had cast out a demon, He’d gone to the house of Simon and Andrew for dinner, healed Simon’s mother-in-law, cured many who were sick, cast out demons, and then before sun-up, rose early and prayed. While Jesus was praying, Simon and the others hunted the Lord down. They clearly wanted Jesus to go back to the scene of so much triumph and success.

Instead, Jesus tells them, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”


For Jesus, healing was never an end. It was only a means. John’s Gospel constantly refers to Jesus’ healings and other miracles as signs. Signs point to something more significant, more meaningful than themselves. The miracles of Jesus point us to the simple, powerful fact that Jesus has power over life, death, suffering, disease, sin, the devil, our sinful selves, and every other one of our enemies. 


What Jesus came to do during His time on earth was share a plain message, what we know as the gospel, the good news.

Jesus shares the gospel in Mark 1:15. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Jesus speaks this same message to us today: “Turn from sin—repent—and trust in Me to give you life forever—fuller life today and totally new, restored life forever with God.”


Jesus once asked an important question. “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” [Matthew 16:26] In today’s lesson, I think, He asks a similar question: “What good is it to have perfect health, but not have life with God?”


Jesus Christ heals.

And, by the power of His death and resurrection, the ultimate healing, the healing that matters for all eternity, is the healing of our broken relationships with God, with others, and with ourselves, the healing that kills the power of sin over our lives, the healing that cancels death and condemnation for all who believe.

The healing Christ brings to those who repent and believe in Him will be our joy for all eternity.

It can also be our comfort, our strength, and our hope even now. Amen