Friday, November 27, 2015
In James 5:15, James speaks to the elders of the church. They should gather around the sick and “anoint that one with oil in the name of the Lord and the prayer of faith will save the sick man and the Lord will raise him up.” In our Presbyterian denomination, the elders of the various churches do this. Often there has been healing. What about those times, though, where healing has not come? When this happens we tend to assume there was something wrong with us or our prayer. This assumption is wrong. First, remember the Syro-Phoenician woman to whom God said “no.” (Mark 7:24-30) What did she do then? She pressed on. Her patience, her perseverance, this was her faith. Consider a second case, without a doubt Jesus is faithful and yet remember how even he had to persevere to heal the blind man. (Mark 8:22)
The question might arise, “why must we sometimes persevere in prayer?” The answer comes when we recall how God trains his people up. Look at Judges 3:2, “When Israel came into the promised land, God left certain enemies in the land in order to teach the people to war, to train them up,” that is, to teach them to fight the good fight, to teach them to be patient and to fight despair. The word “faith” can also mean our “establishment” from God. God may be establishing us by calling us to patience. We may be showing “faith” or “establishment” through patience and perseverance. Finally though, let’s cast a glance at the larger picture: Certainly faith raises people up from sickness and even from the grave. (Acts 13:34b-35) This faith however is not necessarily our own! God is faithful even when we are not. (2 Tim. 2:13) It was HIS faith that raised Jesus up from the grave. Moreover, it was (to coin a word) Jesus’ “enfaithment” by his Father that “justifies many.” Romans 3:22, Isaiah 53:11) We see then that whichever way you look at it, faith is powerful; faith is healing. Faith makes the dead live. And one last thing, remember that when we fail, his glory shines all the brighter. Think of Peter sinking beneath the waves-- but what did the Lord do? “Immediately he reached out his hand” (Mt. 14:31) and saved Peter. James commands the elders of the church to gather round the sick to anoint with oil in the name of the Lord and reminds them that the prayer of faith will save. The Lord saves but he shares his power to save with us; all that he has he gives to us because he love us. He has promised to do so (Isaiah 55:3) and he keeps his promises, not a word of his, falls to the ground empty. (55:11) We are granted to work beside him in the vineyard, for “we were created in Christ Jesus to do good things that God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
Friday, July 17, 2015
In my churches, as we go chapter by chapter through the Old and New Testaments, we recently read Luke, chapter four. There we see that those possessed by demons are not exactly welcoming to Jesus; they recoil from him, “Ah, what have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”( 34a) This rejection, however, is nothing new, and is certainly not confined to demoniacs. Jesus is not asked into most of the regions where he teaches and heals. Jerusalem is especially hostile to Jesus. Yet, Jesus goes to places where he is not asked. He saves and heals those who never asked him to come into their lives. As God puts it in Isaiah, “I was found by those who did not seek me.” How can he do this? The answer is simple. Jesus goes to those places and people that reject him because those places and those people belong to him. They are his. Through him all things were created, as the letter to the Ephesians reminds us. Do you remember how Jesus calls upon the Father in the garden of Gethsemane? In the original language, it’s plain as day; Jesus calls his Father, “O Despot.” The word means one of power, a “Strong Arm” as we might put it colloquially. Now, granted, this “Despot,” this “Strong Arm,” is not the one of our imaginations. God is a perfect gentleman, the Lord God has more compassion and faith in him than we could possibly imagine. The Lord weeps over our violence and wickedness both in the Old and New Testaments. There are vast differences between our Lord and even the great Don Corleone of Mario Puzo’s novel, “The Godfather.” Let us not forget, however, that God is, in fact, the Don. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel is the one and only “Don”; Lord of not just some segments of New Jersey and Illinois, but Lord of all creation. We belong to him, in life and in death, we and all creation are his. He goes where he wants because it is all his.
Friday, May 08, 2015
God grieves. We see it in Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Now, this is not to say that the cross is not the joy of the Lord, his good pleasure. Of course it is. Were we ever to come to God with the lament, “Oh, Lord we were such trouble to you. You had to give up to death your only begotten son on the cross in order to take away our sin.” He would reply, “My beloved son, it was my pleasure!” (Isaiah 53:10) Jesus too is happy to suffer for our sakes, “he shall be satisfied by his knowledge” (vs. 11). Yet, God grieves, not just in the Garden of Gethsemane but in various places throughout the Bible. In Jeremiah 9:10 for instance, the Lord says, “I will weep and wail for the mountains...desolate and untraveled..the birds of the air have fled and the animals have gone.” Yes, God weeps and wails! It was noticed many years ago by a theologian that at the Nuremberg trials, the Nazi leaders were stoic as they heard their sentences; contrast this with the Lord Jesus who was “deeply distressed, unto death.” (Mark 14:34) The question becomes, Who shall we learn from and emulate? Goering and Rosenberg? Or Jesus? Are we quite sure that keeping a “stiff upper lip” is the thing to do? Do we want to be like the Nazi leaders or like our Father in heaven?
Sometimes too when we are suffering, we believe ourselves to be all alone. We are startled by the depth of our grief and begin to think that suffering like ours must be rare or even unique; we fall into despair believing ourselves to be set apart. The Bible corrects this terrible error. In Gethsemane we see that extreme suffering, even to the point of death is part of the human condition, because THE human, Jesus suffers so deeply. What you are going through right now is part of the human condition.
Notice with me one thing more about Gethsemane. Jesus calls for his disciples to gather round him. In other words, Jesus reaches out for help. So often, we want to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. “I ought to be able to handle this myself.” Here’s my reply, “Who says?” Not the Bible, not the example of Jesus! We were created by the Lord, in order to be there for one another. At Gethsemane, it’s true, Jesus’ disciples failed him. Sometimes some of our friends may fail us, perhaps by being distracted or by saying the wrong thing. Nevertheless, Jesus was not alone. He was saved in the garden. (Hebrews 5:7) He most certainly did not “pull himself up by his own bootstraps!” Preposterous! Because there was one friend who never deserted him--his heavenly Father. The idea that we should “go it alone” is a lie. Never be afraid to grieve, to weep, to wail and never hesitate to reach out for help, that is what your neighbors and friends, and pastors and acquaintances are there for! And know, that even if all these fail you, you have one friend who will never forsake you; your heavenly Father will lift you up, as on eagle’s wings. "And if it delay, wait for it!" (Habakkuk 2:4)
Friday, February 27, 2015
“May the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” This is the blessing that we often hear at the close of worship service. We can easily understand the first two parts. The “grace of Jesus” is the grace that the Lord Jesus showers upon us (“he loved his own and he loved them to the end” --John 13), it is also the grace his Father lavishes upon him, Jesus, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”
In the same way, the phrase the “love of God” is straightforward. Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with news of the love of God, “you are honored and precious in my sight,” God says, “and I love you, I give man in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.” (Isaiah 43)
What, however, is the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit?” I learn that the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” could be said to be the true friendship and friendliness of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we forget what a friend the Holy Spirit really is. He is with us all the way. His spirit is with our spirit, right alongside us. (Romans 8:16) He is there with us when all have forgotten and abandoned us. He lifts us up from the deepest pit and revives us again. (8:10-11) He intercedes for us with “sighs too deep for words.” The Spirit makes common cause with us. So you see, when the blessing is given that the people may have the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit,” we are being blessed so that we too might have this same friendship and common cause with one another. Many years ago I read of a church where many people had debts on their credit cards. It was a terrible problem. But then one day, the minister realized that something wonderful could be done. A big glass jar was placed on the communion table. One family was chosen by lot to come and put their credit card in the glass jar. Then when the offering time came around, the people came forward and put money in the bowl, as much as they could. Every Sunday they did that, until there was enough money to pay off the family’s entire debt. Then it all started all over again with another family chosen at random; and one wonderful Sunday, the entire congregation was free from debt. Sometimes we forget that love and friendship in the Bible is not only the feeling we have in our hearts; it is action too. The people in that church made true common cause with one another, opening their wallets and sharing what they had. Sometimes where we spend money shows where our hearts really are. The heart of the Holy Spirit is with us all the way. He is with us even when we make bed in Sheol (Psalm 139). He raises us up on eagle’s wings. He never fails or forsakes us. But it doesn’t end there. Just as the Holy Spirit is our friend, we are empowered by the Lord to be friends with one another.
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
In the Presbyterian denomination we have two disciplines for reading scripture. The first, “lectio divina” as we call it, is probably the most familiar to people. Readings are assigned based on the church year. Our second discipline is “lectio continua” or “continuous reading.” Continuous reading means exactly that, reading chapter by chapter through the Old and New Testaments. In our congregations at Ellsworth and Hager City we have progressed from Genesis to First Chronicles in the Old Testament and have gone once through the entire New Testament. We started over in Matthew and are now reading Mark. I have a noticed many things as the Bible is read aloud in the Sunday assembly that I never could have learned from private study; one recent and simple discovery is that Jesus really is the “Great Physician.” He is a doctor; he looks at people intently, he listens to them, he questions them, he touches the ear that is deaf, the eyes that cannot see. Recently I went to my doctor because of a problem (it turned out that I had sprained my big toe!) but sadly, my doctor, though he tried his best, was not able to question me, to listen me, to look at me. As I sat there explaining my symptoms, he had to type into a computer, noting down the things I said on some kind of form. I could tell that he would much rather not have had this chore to do. Later I happened to look at my record and noticed that he had gotten a lot wrong. He desperately needed a secretary! Even worse, he seemed to be under a time constraint. He wanted to understand my trouble but he also seemed worried about the time that was passing. In the end he did not dare to make a diagnosis but sent me to a specialist. Two specialists and a physical therapist later, I found out what the problem was. It was the physical therapist that finally got it right. Not surprisingly she was the only one to really look at my foot, the only one to manipulate the muscles, listen to my symptoms and thoroughly question me. She reaped the reward that comes from being a doctor like Jesus; she discovered the problem and was able to set me on a course to healing. I tell this story because it is so sad and frightening. My grandparents were both doctors and they wanted to help people. They would have been devastated by limitations that are imposed in our day on the medical community. There is too big a difference between our doctors and the Great Doctor, the Lord Jesus. This leads me to a question: Have we as a society done right by our doctors and nurses? Have we created a space where they can be free to take to time, to look, listen, touch, question? I make bold to say, I do not think so. How can we fix this problem? I leave this question open, because, frankly I do not know if we as a society have the will to make things better for our doctors and our nurses. However, I do know this, Jesus was and is and will be the Great Physician, he will continue to look at each one of us, to touch us, with compassion, with open ears, sharp questioning. As the Bible says, even when we are faithless, God is faithful for he cannot deny himself. Let’s pray that we can do better by one another and by our doctors, nurses and aides and that one day they can be free to be instruments of the Lord’s peace that they were meant to be.