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Posts Tagged ‘Healing’

Raised Up Like the Serpent

March 15, 2015 Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA “For God so loved the world…”  John 3:16.  This verse is probably one that most everyone knows.   It’s probably one that most everyone as heard or seen.  And if you have ever watched even a dozen or more athletic events through the years, especially golf and have seen the signs raised up with this notation on them, you may even gloss over it as fast as it enters your mind.  I’ve always been amused with that aspect of this one sentence; that so many or our Christian brothers and sisters use it to get attention.  Because while on one hand there are believers in Jesus who use it as their mantra to explain how anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus as their lord and savior is condemned to hell; others hold it in their hearts that this is too hard to believe.  That if God not just loved the world, but is Love and the one true light – as we are also taught by John (among others) – how could not believing or not even knowing this gospel separate someone from God?  In other words, does the passage from Paul we read today really mean what John Calvin believed?  That there is an elect group of people who God has chosen to receive salvation and no one else gets in, defying the forgiving virtues of grace that we know so well?

This is such a difficult teaching, not only to comprehend without throwing our human thinking out the door, but to break down theologically as well.  And it leaves many preachers leaving it tucked into the gospel reading and heading toward the other lessons.  As I will do… for a moment… then we’ll return.  Because leading us into this creed of believing is a reference to the Book of Numbers that was given to us for this day.  Jesus said “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of man be lifted up…”  Now Jesus very often uses scripture to show the relationship between himself and what the prophets were speaking of.  (It always fascinates me how people who had so few books could remember so much written material.  This is just a side bar on the subject but it shows how far too much information we have on our minds these days.  I have a very hard time just remembering names, a few passages and psalms here and there, and a tenth of the grocery list I left at home.  This is proof of how much we really do need the bible in our daily lives and not just on Sundays… keeping the scriptures alive as so many did before us.)  But; let’s look at what the serpents or snakes represent.  This is one of the times the people are grumbling and complaining about what they don’t have.  Keep in mind they are now free from bondage.  They are on their own, traveling around the wilderness searching for a new home.  There is no food or water… and here comes one of those lines that completely befuddles you, how can there be no food or water and have the food be so miserable?  It really does represent extreme dissatisfaction when you detest the things you don’t have!  So God thinks, “Well, they are once again placing troubles over freedom.  I guess it’s time for another lesson.”  So snakes are sent, fatally poisonous ones at that, and as more Israelites are bitten the more they die, until at last the people look at it as punishment for their groaning and complaining.  And as Moses usually does, he talks to God to try and intercede for them and we have the bronze serpent mounted on a pole that heals those who are bitten.

One word we can throw out with this: Idol.  We can be led to think this is a form of idolatry but keep in mind they are not giving praise and bowing down to the statue.  They are using it as a representation of their problems and a means of coming to terms with those things that are killing them.  Well into the future, where 500 years later this same snake is in the temple in Jerusalem, people had made it into an idol, and came to revere it so much they gave it the name Nehushtan.  King Hezekiah then had it destroyed to put an end to it.  For as much as many people hate them, snakes and serpents are used throughout cultures as representations of one aspect of life or another, in many ways as a good thing.  For instance we are aware that the emblem worn by people with the American Medical Association is that of a snake entwined on a staff.  That symbol comes from the Greek god of healing.  We are told back in Genesis how wise the serpent was.  And other cultures depict it as symbols of fertility.

But for the Israelites the snakes sent by God meant one thing:  sin.  It was for their sins that the snakes were sent and it was by looking up at a snake that they repented.  There’s a saying that goes along with this that says ‘that which kills, heals’ or if you’re into the pop singer Kelly Clarkson one of her songs has a line; ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ For many poisons and diseases it’s the very thing that causes you pain that is used for the serum.  We build up immune systems and create vaccines from the very viruses that give us the flu and other communicable diseases.  The venom from snakes and spiders is milked to make a serum that will reverse the effects of their bites.  The snakes can also be thought of as the things in life that become our downfall.  We may first think of it as our diseases or our illnesses, but are those things mostly our faults?  Perhaps we can think of the serpents as our faults, our grumbling, our moaning, our inequities, yes – our sins, all of these and more are what keep us from living a healthy and spirit-filled life.  These are the things that spread some of the true sicknesses throughout the world; the sickness of hate, of greed, of indifference, of intolerance, of exclusion.  I don’t know if they are dangerous or deadly until they come back to bite me.  And then they show how bad they really are.  In fact in some interpretations of this the Hebrew word used is the same as fiery!  Another says flying!  Flying, fiery serpents!  Were they really fire breathing dragons or perhaps was the sting of the venom so bad it felt as if you were on fire?  I like to think that the realization of what keeps us back and truly is a sin against God and our neighbor can be enough to cause you to feel a little sick, and perhaps if it’s bad enough maybe even some fiery heart burn.

But how will this same item bring you relief?  How can our sins bring us grace and forgiveness – new life?  The revelation here is that once we’ve identified what ails us, once we come to grips with our faults; we hold them up in front of us and examine them for what they’re worth.  Just as the Israelites looked up at the bronze serpent on the pole to be healed of their wounds, we hold up our wrongdoings and reflect on them.  And once we admit the shortcomings and change our way of thinking (or repent), we are healed and forgiven, and the grace of God carries us on.

So it’s no coincidence that these passages are used in Lent.  We are in a season of repentance.  More and more people are using Lent as a time for an inner journey, finding the things in their lives that do them or others no good, and making the necessary changes to move on.  We are creating the same story for ourselves as the Israelites did who held up the bronze serpent.  It is nearing the time in Lent where we will look up at the son of man being raised up on a cross.  Jesus spoke the words.  He was raised up.  Except not just raised up on a cross for our viewing.  Not just raised up in atonement.  Not just raised up to cure us of our ills.  But raised up in his own pain and suffering – for us to see and feel the healing power of Christ – in our personal lives, the healing power of Christ in our family and neighbor’s lives, and the healing power of Christ in the life of the church.  Yes, God so loved the world… that He gave his only begotten son… and we are left with the mystery of how it all works… a mystery of which the more you believe, the deeper the mystery becomes… until nothing matters because the only thing you see is the light.  Amen.         Deacon Pete

citations:  RCL; Year B, 4th Sunday in Lent

Breaking the Law; Healing the Sick

February 14, 2015 Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStepping up in a crowd to take action can move us out of our comfort zone, but at the same time it stretches you and builds your confidence for even greater things than these. This idea of stretching ourselves is woven through the scriptures and especially what Mark is telling us in the Gospel. Paul gives us more than just a hint about the need to change things up in today’s Epistle. But of course it all begins with Moses telling us that one day there will be Prophet raised up by God to show us the way.
Moses makes the promise, Mark gives proof that the promise has been fulfilled, and Paul demonstrates a way in which we respond. Now to get us into the main storyline of Jesus’s actions in the synagogue performing this exorcism, let’s reflect on what we know about Mark. We know the text attributed to him was the first gospel ever recorded. We know it is not a text on morals or ethics such as can be said of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The fact that he omits what some consider the core of Jesus’s message: the sermons on the mount and the plain; shows us that we’re hearing about what Jesus does more than what he says. It is a story that includes as much history as it does theology. It is a story that sets out to tell us that Jesus was not someone who reverently sat in the pews during service. He was someone that grabbed our attention when we least expected. And He was someone who would rather break a rule for the sake of saving a leper than to blindly obey laws that had long lost their true value.
Mark is personally one who knew Peter and Paul and had not only the firsthand knowledge of Jesus’s authority on earth through their teachings, but also witnessed that authority through the healing miracles performed by those two Saints. We can see through Mark what Jesus did during his time with them, and so he sets the tone of Jesus’s ministry by beginning with an exorcism. These are some very tricky versus for our time and place – where a watered-down Christianity wants to make everything more comfortable for us by maybe trying to replace the word ‘demon’ with ‘illness’; or even by saying that these readings are all metaphors. But if we try to explain away the images and written words that appear here as some Grimm Fairy Tale, we will completely lose what Mark is trying to tell us.
Mark wants to show us that Jesus is not just another teacher, another rabbi in the community. He is one who has authority. He doesn’t just walk into a place all calm and collective, read a few scrolls, say what’s on his mind, and sit down without raising even the slightest eyebrow. Because Jesus has what has never been seen before; the authority of God, the meeting just got a little more exciting. Let’s compare images of how things might have gone before and after His arrival. The scribes are in the synagogue reading the scrolls, then maybe go off on some long, boring sermon about what they think it means. Or maybe they’ve already had their discussion beforehand in the form of Midrash and are giving the people their findings. Everyone shakes their head and nods, exchange some handshakes, sit down and break bread and drink some wine and go home to feed the cattle and tend the sheep.
Jesus walks in and it’s his turn to read. He stands up, takes a scroll, reads and then begins to teach a new teaching. He starts interpreting the words in ways which they hadn’t heard before and now are finally making sense. Instead of people nodding to be nice and mumbling in unison, they’re applauding the words and gasping at the fresh air. Mark uses the word ‘immediately’ throughout his book. In most translations where modern writers frown on using the same word over and over again they wind up replacing this with other words that may just lose some of the intensity such as ‘at that time’, or ‘then’. There is a reason for Mark’s selection of adverbs and this one is to set a rhythm and tone to the events as they unfold. He wants to show the impact Jesus has on people. And impact them he does, for two other words he uses over and over are ‘astounded’ and ‘amazed’. They are always astounded and amazed at what Jesus has done.
What we can draw from this so far is that first, we are to be sure that Jesus teaches with authority, unlike the scribes. He came not to read, but to teach! And his teachings were alive and fresh… think about that… what it would be like to sit down in church and have someone preaching for hours and you are so rapt up in this person’s ideas and presentation that you completely forget about your Sunday pot roast simmering in the oven. (Remember those days?) The pot roast – not the sermons. Secondly, we can see that his authority stretches out beyond the confines of a stone building, beyond the words he speaks, beyond our wildest dreams because he has complete command and control over evil… something that up to this point only God had control over.
But what about Paul’s letter? How might that tie into the idea of being in control of instead of being controlled? Paul’s lesson is one that deals with the moral and ethical problem of doing something that is legal and okay with us, yet might cause another harm. For example, I know of a few alcoholics and drug addicts. Exchange meat for alcohol in Paul’s letter and you can see what he’s saying. I would not invite an alcoholic to a party where wine, beer and liquor was being consumed by everyone else without letting him know that up front. To have him show up unaware could be more temptation than he could handle and I could be liable for sending him back into rehab. Another example of this is a real life case that just happened in Paris with the Charlie newspaper. Do we have freedom to print what we want? Here in the western world, yes. But before we make something public, perhaps we might want to consider what the consequences will be if people radically disagree with our thoughts. Just because something is legal to do doesn’t mean it should always be done. Paul tells us it’s our responsibility to look out for the greater good in all we do.
Which is another vein of thought we get from the gospel. We can easily infer that people who were possessed with demons (or were ill, sick, dying, hungry, homeless, etc.), these people had previously sat around on the perimeter of the crowd and yet had been ignored by the rest of society. Nobody turned to them when they cried out. Nobody asked how they could help. Nobody ventured into that safe space between themselves and the ones in need because most everyone has a fear of the unknown. This is more of the wilderness we spoke of last week. The wilderness that Jesus walked into after being baptized. It’s were we all need to go. And nobody dared to go there then and few dare these days. They – we – just sit pretending to be comfortable and not take notice. Everyone except for Jesus.
Yes, they sat back and ignored everything around them. When we sit back ignoring what’s wrong in the world and allow evil to be evil we give it power. Jesus refused to allow evil to have power over him and with him in our lives we can be sure it has no power over us. But if we don’t stand up to what is wrong and turn it away, if we sit back and say “nope, that’s none of my business, let someone else take care of it” we are just like the scribes who told the same old story time after time after time. To do nothing about a situation allows the problem to persist and more than likely get worse.
Jesus knew the needs of others then as he knows the needs of others now. Through Mark, he shows us that not only is he a talented teacher of morals and ethics, but he shows us that he also has the authority to make all things right. Do we have the courage and strength to do what is necessary to stand up to evil in the world, no matter how it presents itself? Do we know and trust that as Christ’s own, we have his authority at our beck and call whenever we need it? It continues to be one of those call and response situations we encounter during this time after Epiphany, and that we talked about last week. However in this case, it just might be that we are the ones who are calling to Jesus for His response and authority in a time we may need it most. So will we call and be amazed and astounded at the result? Or will we sit around nodding our heads and mumbling with the crowd? Let’s hope we can tell everyone how amazed we were at the power and authority of Jesus! Amen.       Peace!  Deacon Pete

Citation:  RCL; Year B, 4th Sunday after Epiphany (Deut 18:15-20, Cor 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28)

Simon Peter’s Mother-in-law (or: Jesus’s First Deacon?)

February 14, 2015 Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The last few weeks we’ve hit upon one of the themes woven into Epiphany – that being how we hear the call, each in our own way – and are expected to respond to this call. Last week we even ventured into how we call upon Jesus and how he responds in kind to our requests. The same words keep coming up over and over; call and response. But not just a response of “okay, I hear you, Lord”; but a response that moves us in a manner that we change our behavior and start in a new direction, begin a new way of seeing and hearing. And most often it’s a response that calls us to serve. And that is where today’s gospel begins.

For Mark, two things stood out in Jesus’s ministry. He heals the sick and feeds the hungry. In Matthew he preaches and teaches a lot. But here it’s what Jesus does that is supposed to get our attention. In a few lines of verse there is a call, a response, and we head in another direction. A condensed version would be; Simon calls to Jesus to tell him about his mother-in-law and he responds without question. The word get out to the entire town and when those people are healed Jesus restores himself through prayer and they head out in a new direction to spread this ministry of healing to all who ask. Tucked in there is another response that some may have been taking the wrong way. And that is the response to serve after receiving a gift. Some have interpreted the act of serving that Simon’s mother-in-law jumps into as a menial task of serving lazy men. After all, she has been in bed with a fever, and in those times a fever was no small ailment. Many died because remedies were not well known and recovery times were often long and dangerous. So when we read of how she immediately jumped up and started serving we can be misled into the thoughts of a patristic and misogynistic society where male domination meant everything, even to the point of disregarding someone’s health.

Allow me to present another rendition. Jesus was just beginning his ministry. He had left the synagogue where his authority was revealed through his new teaching and the healing of a man possessed by demons. He arrives at the home of Simon Peter and without question, without words, without ceremony or ritual, touches a woman and she is healed. At once – or ‘immediately’ as Mark so often says – she gets up and serves him. … How often do we respond immediately to the healing moments in our lives? The ones that come out of the blue without any notice; without being requested? When all we might do is mention to someone that a friend is sick and we find out that person is on the prayer chain and begins calling people to pray together. Or we sit anxiously awaiting the news of a loved one who is hospitalized, only to have a stranger sit next to you who begins humming an old forgotten hymn that at once comforts and soothes you. What is our reaction to those moments? Do we sit quietly, absorbing it all for ourselves? Or do we accept the gift of peace and love and mark it in our hearts to do the same for another when given the opportunity?

I truly believe that in this case, the un-named woman realizes the gift of Jesus’s healing power and acts in the only way she knows of to give thanks; she takes on the role of being the first servant to him. She has a servant’s heart and she is now serving the one who came to serve, the Messiah. It will be a long time until these lazy men understand the concept of what Jesus is preaching. For many of them it won’t be until after he’s gone from this world that they fully understand what servant-hood means and what their response to a new calling will be. But for a moment, long before Peter and John and James and the rest of the apostles select seven of the disciples to serve the needy while they continue spreading the gospel; long before these seven were selected to be the first deacons in the new church; Simon’s mother-in-law demonstrates what true diaconal ministry is by leaving her old ways behind and serving Christ, Himself. She is the first of his servants and therefore arguably the first deacon to serve in his ministry.

Now if you’re saying, all well and good, but Jesus isn’t here, we already serve him in his church, I have to say, yes that’s true… but… If you’ll humor me a bit here, let me take you to another situation in another time and place. The year is around 1200 ce. We’re in Italy were a monk named Francis is walking around the countryside. He hears the clanging of cans approaching, the cans tied to the legs of lepers who wear them to warn others that they are in the area. But for some reason Francis doesn’t run. He doesn’t hide. He immediately feels overcome with compassion and runs over to great the leper, hugging him, and kissing his sores.  When Francis looks up, instead of the leper, he sees it is Christ himself who has been welcomed and loved! And this humble saint realizes that to serve others is to serve Christ. From that moment on he saw each and every person he met as a means of serving his master while serving all of his brothers and sisters on earth; yes, even seeing earth as it is in heaven.

There is no difference between us and that first woman who served Jesus. We have been blessed with having the history, the stories, the theology, and the mystical experiences handed down to us from those who were the first to be called, the first to respond, and the first to make that change that called them from within; that knowing that can’t be turned away from. They may be the first who saw and the first who believed, but as I said, it doesn’t mean that just because the physical being of Jesus is no longer with us, that we don’t still have that call. The call is there – one way or another – for each of us who have discovered Christ in our lives. Will we, or should I say, “how” will we choose to respond and serve him in today’s world? Perhaps Christ will show up in the most unexpected person or place when we let go of ourselves and open up our compassion and become the servants we were called to be.

Citations: RCL; Year B, 5th Sunday after Epiphany (Mark 1:29-39)

A Community of Healing

August 25, 2013 Leave a comment

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There is a much bigger picture to today’s Gospel than the obvious question and answer to “why did you work on the Sabbath?”  We’ve read this piece of scripture and others like it numerous times and here we find it facing us once again.  So while we know how the story ends, let’s go back to the beginning.  Sometimes if we place ourselves as characters in the reading we can gather some other information.

Imagine a world where while you were traveling on foot, the only things you ever saw were on the ground right below you.  The sky is forever out of your view.  Perhaps you may catch a glimpse of the sun or the moon on the horizon from time to time, but in the mountain country that would be rare, as would be seeing the constellations and the night sky lit up with a billion stars.  You can hear the sounds of animals and you feel the wind, cold, and heat upon you. There is no scenic vista to look out over.  The dirt, grasses, and entire landscape is limited to whatever is directly in front of your eyes that are aimed just slightly ahead of your feet.  You have no idea how high it is to the tops of the trees, nor have you understood and experienced the awe of watching an eagle soar in the blue skies of the heavens.  The only home you know is under your feet.  But you know it well.  Perhaps like someone who cannot see at all, your other senses are finely tuned to help identify your surroundings.

Such is the life that is led by the unnamed woman in today’s Gospel.  For eighteen years most of the world she was familiar with was the one I just described.  Bent over, looking down, and probably relying on a staff of some sort that would provide enough stability to keep her from falling over.  Luke doesn’t tell us much about how she came to be this way, other than a generalized explanation of “a spirit”.  Some bible translations use the word “Satan” instead of “spirit.”  Doing so takes my memory back to the book of Job where Satan was the accuser and accomplice with God.  It seems the lack of further comment in the passage makes the reason less important.   Regardless of whether he means some sort of demon, or simply an illness that caused it, the focus shifts to the act of healing.

This is a rare moment in the Gospels where Jesus is not asked to heal.   The woman is present, and in the midst of the crowd in the Synagogue on the Sabbath to pray.  Nobody points her out as needing a cure.  Nobody carries her in on a stretcher or lowers her through the thatch roof to Jesus as we’ve read in other chapters of the Gospels.  She doesn’t fight 3through the crowd to touch his garment or climb up a fig tree hoping for a simple glimpse of him.  She is simply there like all the others, doing what she needs to be doing.  Her affliction is noticeable to everyone but she has done her best to avoid making a scene of herself.  After all, she is in a house of worship.  But through her entering and exiting week after week, it becomes evident that she is one of those ignored by society.  Those who pass her by on the streets ignore her bent body because most likely she won’t be seeing the faces that step from side to side and around her.  This is an ugly reaction, pretending not to notice someone in trouble.  The woman is probably numb to it after eighteen years; her emotions are callused from a silent ostracizing by the community.  Some of us have been in her shoes, but I’m guessing at least a few of us have been the observer of a situation like this at least once in our lives.

How many homeless people have we passed by on the sidewalks of our large cities, or even our local cities and towns and ignored their presence?  We pass by them, but with our heads turned aside so we don’t encounter that uneasy moment of eye to eye contact.  I would hope we at least offer up a silent prayer for them.  Better yet, to offer a warm smile and hello.  Jesus was fully aware of his surroundings in every way, particularly with those he referred to as “the least of these.”  Can you imagine him standing in the synagogue, preaching or reading to the crowd, stop in mid verse and say, “Woman, yes, you, come over here with me.” And then when she finally makes her way over to him he says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”  What does it take to move you into action such as he does?  Could we break away from our agendas and schedules long enough to at least acknowledge that there is someone hurting along our paths almost everywhere we go?  Can we be confident enough in our prayers to know how much they would help the situation?  Will we make a gesture that tells them they are somebody, a part of humanity, not just a body in the way of our stroll down the sidewalk? Jesus takes that chance and he does so completely aware that he is standing in the middle of a Sabbath service in a synagogue.  There’s a saying I think comes from the Franciscan order (correct me if I’m wrong) that says; “You must never break a rule unless you know the reason the rule was made in the first place.  Once you understand the ‘why’ you can break as many as you need.”  Jesus understands the why.  He understands that we need a day of the week for rest and re-creation.  He also knows that there is more right than wrong in breaking this law.  The church leaders, callus in their own schooling and self-righteousness, call it a sin; Jesus tells the leader that not taking action and not healing was the real sin.   In Mark’s Gospel we hear him say “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” What seems to be a radical disregard for authority and legalism is in truth, an act of common sense and necessity.

There is one more part to this healing process that cannot go unnoticed.  Before she is completely healed and can stand upright he lays his hands on her.  There are other healings such as the Centurion’s servant who was healed without even seeing Jesus.  He even raised Lazarus from the dead without walking into the tomb.  It’s important to make note of this because the healing takes place not in private and not by request, but in a public arena without prior intent.  They are in a crowd and the unnamed woman has been singled out.  He tells her she is healed, but she does not respond until he lays his hands on her.  The touch that Jesus uses not only anoints and heals, but symbolically welcomes her as a member of this community.  It is the touch of inclusion.  It says “You are not a loner, but one like the rest of us, come and join us, you are fully capable of enjoying all that is offered here.”

Some of us have reason to look for healing in this community.  There are people who feel they’ve been wronged and there are those who feel others have been wronged.  Some steps have been made toward this healing, but as a community we’ve acknowledged there is more that we need to do in order to bring us up to a healthier parish than we’ve been in recent times.  I can assure you, your leaders are taking appropriate action to move forward in a direction that addresses all of our issues.  But as we see in today’s Gospel, we can talk amongst ourselves and with each other forever; but all of the words in the world may not be enough to complete the process.  We’ll need to put that symbolic act of a healing touch into action.  Let us begin this next phase of transition today.  As we share God’s Peace with each other from now on and forward, I ask you to share your healing touch with those around you.  Can we do this?  As we respond in our baptismal convenient, we will “with God’s help.”  Amen.

Scripture Reference:  RCL, Year C, Proper 16, Luke 13:10-17