God’s Response to Sickness (16)

Matthew 12:14-16

14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. 15 Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. 16 He warned them not to tell others about him.

This follows Jesus’ healing of the man with the withered hand —- on the Sabbath. The Pharisees now have what they need to go after Jesus and they begin to plot to kill him. And what does Jesus do? Does he boldly strike out to make a public stand against them? No. Does he take them on in the market square, daring them to try and limit his ministry? No. Does he rally the crowds, calling for faith and courage in the face of opposition and threat? No. What does Jesus do? He withdraws. He pulls back. And though he keeps meeting the needs of those who come to him (he healed all who were ill), he asks the people to keep quiet about it. 

Seems to me friends, that in these Covid-19 days, the Church could learn a lot from Jesus’ choice to withdraw and do his work in less public ways. When Jesus learned about the plots of his enemies, he determined that the best action was to step back. He withdrew. He did NOT stop being the Messiah. He did NOT stop doing his work of preaching, teaching and healing. He did NOT close down the ministry. BUT he did withdraw. He did that ministry in a less public way. Sometimes that’s the right choice. 

I believe the Church has been following in the footsteps of Jesus in these days of Covid-19. As the enemy plots to kill and destroy, the Church has withdrawn and is doing its work in different ways. The Church did NOT close. (only the campuses closed) The Church did NOT stop doing the work of ministry. But the Church did withdraw — like Jesus — for a season. Sometimes that’s the right choice. 

Prayer: God of wisdom, we pray that all Church leaders might have the wisdom of Jesus, knowing when to withdraw and when to step forward. As decisions are made about in person gatherings on church campuses, we pray for those making those decisions. May they act in ways that are in keeping with your will and purpose for your people. Amen

Thought for the Day: Stepping back and stepping up can both be faithful responses.  

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God’s Response to Sickness (15)

Matthew 12: 9-14

He left that place and entered their synagogue; 10 a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

As I read this passage today, a connection came to my mind that I could never have imagined in the past. Many will disagree with me and that’s okay. Seems to me that Jesus is not only healing the man with the withered hand. Jesus is attempting to heal what we now call pharisaism — the structural hypocrisy of the religious institution. Be sure you understand why the Pharisees objected to the healing — it was done on the Sabbath. The rules did not allow for that behavior. The Pharisees had so much pride that they had come to believe that their rules were God’s rules. That my friends, is dangerous indeed. Recently the Church has been forced to take a hard look at our rules today. Covid-19 forced us to do so. In our United Methodist Church, that included the question of celebrating Holy Communion when we could not gather together. Our Bishops determined that the need of the people for the healing and hope that comes with The Lord’s Supper was more important than our human-made rules, no matter how long they had been part of our ecclesiastical (church) structure. I believe our Bishops were following in the footsteps of Jesus who determined that the need of the man with the withered hand, for healing and hope, was more important than a “religious rule.” Many will disagree with me. But I am thankful for both choices. And as is so often true when we invite God into a situation, God is somehow using it for good. Many people are reporting that sharing in Holy Communion from their homes has brought new power and meaning to the experience. In other words — the healing and the hope comes through.  

Prayer: Good and gracious God. Forgive my pride. Forgive me for the times when I attempt to put you into a box of my own making. Thank you for constantly seeking to bring hope and health to your people. And I pray for your Church that we might be what YOU call us to be in these unprecedented days. Amen.

Thought for the Day: God always seeks health and hope.

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God’s Response to Sickness (14)

Matthew 11:28-30

28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I’ve never really thought of this as a passage on healing but life during Covid-19 brings with it a different set of lenses. I see now that this is very much about healing — emotional healing. The Greek word that is translated “weary” could just as easily be translated as discouraged, exhausted, in danger of giving up. I think many people are struggling with such feelings right now. We are all weary — weary of isolation, restriction, cancelation, working from home, teaching from home. And that’s the most fortunate among us. Those on the frontlines are weary too. Medical workers are weary of death, politicians are weary of never being able to please everyone, truckers are weary of scarcity of supplies, the unemployed are weary of worrying about providing for their families. We are all weary. We need rest — emotional rest. That’s what Jesus offers. But how? Does Jesus take away the burdens? No. Jesus helps us carry them — and that makes all the difference. When we “take” Jesus’ yoke we come along side Jesus, walk with him, work with him and learn from him. How do we do that? I only know of one way — we do what we are doing right now. We read and reflect upon the Gospel. There is no substitute for that simple act of commitment. That’s the only way to know Jesus, to walk with Jesus and to learn from Jesus. Thank you for doing that with me. May God bless our reading and our reflection.

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for walking with me and sharing my burdens. Amen

Thought for the day: The load is lighter when Jesus shares the yoke.

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God’s Response to Sickness 13

Matthew 11:2-6

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

This is not actually a healing event. However, I think it offers an important insight about Jesus and his attitude toward healing. John’s in prison and it seems he may be having some doubts about his kinsman Jesus. So, he sends his disciples to Jesus and they ask a very direct question. Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? In other words — Are you really the Messiah? Jesus does not answer so directly. Instead he tells them to look for the evidence. And what is that evidence? — Healing and the proclamation of good news. There’s a lesson there for us — the Church. We can’t just say we are the body of Christ — there must be evidence — healing and the proclamation of good news. We can’t just say we are the hope for the world today — there must be evidence — healing and the proclamation of good news. So, is there? Is there evidence in the ministry of your local church? Is there evidence in your personal ministry? Is there evidence in mine?

Prayer: Oh Jesus, I want my ministry to reflect your ministry. Help me to do the work of healing and to live in ways that declare your good news. Amen

Thought for the Day: Actions speak louder than words.

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God’s Response to Sickness (12)

Matthew 10: 1 

Then Jesus[a] summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.

Matthew 10: 7-8

As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’[c] Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers,[d] cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

Gospel writers tell us that when Jesus launched his public ministry, he did three things — He preached, he taught and he healed. Now Matthew tells us that Jesus put a team of folks together. He sends them out to share the Good News and they too are empowered with the ministry of healing. 

God’s people are called to be part of God’s healing work.  But how? I began my ministry in Bristol England. I was 28. I had not been there very long when a few leaders in the church asked me to come to the home of a shut-in member and hold a healing service. I was completely thrown by the request. Now, keep in mind, this was 30 years ago. We did not yet have the “new” hymnal here in the U.S. There was no formal liturgy for a healing service in our church materials. I’d never attended one and never heard of a United Methodist minister holding one. I responded to the request as honestly as possible. “I don’t know how to do that.” So, the lay leaders, more patient with this young, inexperienced American than I even realized at the time, said: “No problem. We will show you how.” And they did. It was the first of many healing services I have shared in these 30 years. When I returned to the United States, the “new” hymn book had just come out. In that hymnal is a wonderful order of worship for a healing and prayer service. But very few churches were using it. I remember when I held the first healing and prayer service in my little mountain church, one of the teenagers asked her mother — Does Pastor Jan really think she can heal someone? I was thankful for the question because it gave me the chance to clarify this important truth. We do not heal. God heals. And sometimes that healing is miraculous. No one can explain it. Far more often though, God heals through treatment, medicine, therapy, time, the resources of the human body and resurrection. When we gather for a prayer and healing service or when we pray for the sick, we are not trying to heal people through our own power. We are simply being obedient. We are joining our hopes and desires with the hopes and desires of our God — for health and wholeness. We are doing our part to create the faithful space in which God might choose to heal.

In this time of pandemic, we are thankful for all those health care workers including the researchers who I believe are joining with God in working for health and wholeness. I’m thankful that they have the capacity and commitment to be part of God’s healing ministry. You and I can be part of that ministry too, through our faithful prayers. Let’s do it —let’s Be the Church.

Prayer: God of healing, I pray today for all frontline medical workers and their families. I pray for the researchers and all the support staff who enable these workers. And I add my prayers for healing to their efforts. Lord, have mercy. Amen

Thought for the Day: God’s people are called to be part of God’s healing ministry.

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God’s Response to Sickness (11)

Matthew 9:32-38

32 After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. 33 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.” 34 But the Pharisees said, “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.” 35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

There are several insights to be found in this encounter between Jesus and man who could not speak. I’ve read this story countless times but this time a difference phrase jumped off the page. Never has anything like this been seen in Israel. And here we are — in the exactly same place. Never has anything like this been seen in our country and our world. This pandemic is unlike anything we’ve encountered. But here’s the point …. Jesus was equal to the need. That was what amazed the people. They had never seen anyone who could do what Jesus could do in the face of great need. However at least one person was not so surprised. Who was that? The one that brought the mute to Jesus. How great was the faith of that person! That’s who I want to be in this story – the one who believes Jesus can meet every need and thus brings those in need to the Lord. We can all do that. And right now, in this time of Holy Distancing, we do it best through prayer.

Prayer: Today, dear Lord, I bring these people who are in need to you, trusting in your love and your power. (name them) Amen.

Thought for the Day: Everyone can bring a person in need to Jesus.

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God’s Response to sickness (10)

Matthew 9:27-31

27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” 28 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.” 29 Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you.” 30 And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, “See that no one knows of this.” 31 But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district.

In a recent sermon, I highlighted this simple prayer — Lord, have mercy. It occurs multiple times in the Gospel of Matthew and of course many other places in scripture. Most of the time it comes to the lips of those who need a physical healing. Seems to me this is the exact prayer that the faithful need to be praying right now for our land and our world. Lord, have mercy. As we hear about the needs of frontline medical workers. Lord, have mercy. As we see the numbers of cases and deaths rise. Lord, have mercy. As we struggle with the call to stay home and feel the weight of isolation. Lord, have mercy. As news reports highlight the damage being done to the economy. Lord, have mercy. As educators and parents and children come to terms with a whole new way of doing education. Lord, have mercy. As we reflect upon the impact of this illness in a third world nation where hospitals are rare and ventilators essentially non-existent. Lord, have mercy.  As we begin to hear news of people we actually know succumbing to the virus. Lord, have mercy.  As we feel sadness and fear well up within us. Lord, have mercy.

Seems to me this is the prayer for just such a time as this. Let’s use it Church! Lord, have mercy.

Prayer:  Lord, have mercy. Amen

Thought for the day: There is power in the prayer, Lord, have mercy.

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God’s Response to Sickness (9)

Matthew 9:18-26

18 While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. 20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23 When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26 And the report of this spread throughout that district.

This is our second look at this passage. In the last entry we focused on the healing of the woman who had been bleeding for so many years. She is quite a contrast to the second person who comes for healing — a leader of the synagogue. I love the contrasts. They are a continual reminder that God sees all people as equal, all loved, all precious, and all in need of his help. So today we focus on the father. Now, as the writer says — he is a leader. He is used to being in charge, taking control, getting things done, having authority over others. None of that matters. Why? His daughter is dead and he cannot fix that. Sickness and death are great equalizers in our world. They can drive us to our knees AND cause even the most confident or even conceited among us to humble ourselves and reach out for help. (In this pandemic, we are seeing that more clearly than ever before.) That’s one of the first things we can learn from this passage. We all need God. You know statistics show that most people in our country do pray. Now they might not pray regularly or formally but they pray. When? Well, just like this Father, they pray when someone or something they care about is threatened. They pray when the problem is just too big for them to handle. Well friends, that’s where we all find ourselves today.  No doubt about it — We need God. It’s time to pray. But there’s something else here that I think is important. This leader of the synagogue believes that Jesus has the power needed to bring his daughter back to life. Most of the time, the religious authorities are at odds with Jesus, threatened by him and threatening him. But this religious leader, reaches out to Jesus, honors him with his faith — even while those around him (his parishioners?) scoff. Makes me wonder — do I have that kind of faith? And, that kind of humility? Do you? I hope so because in our life time, those things were never needed more.

Prayer: O God, this disease is way beyond our ability to control and conquer on our own. We come to you. Lay your hand upon us, that we might live. Amen

Thought for the day: Humility and faith should go hand in hand.

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God’s Response to Sickness (8)

Matthew 9:18-26

18 While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. 20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23 When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26 And the report of this spread throughout that district.

I never realized how many healings there are in the Gospels. No wonder Jesus was called the Great Physician. This event has a healing in the midst of another healing so we will explore its teaching in two parts. First, the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. Keep in mind that this woman was breaking the law simply by being in the crowd. A bleeding woman was supposed to remove herself from public. But … of course, as time passed and her bleeding continued, that became impossible. So, she lived a life of shame and fear, trying to hide her malady. No wonder she tried to simply touch his cloak, to go unnoticed and hopefully unimpeded. She wanted no attention but she was desperate for healing so — she came to Jesus. And somehow, Jesus knew. It makes me think that healing takes something out of the healer. My great grandmother was one of those people who could “talk the fire out”. No matter how you feel about such folk healers, the story is memorable. In that day people had open fires and wood stoves in their home for heating and cooking. Her gift was well known in the community so people regularly came to her door to be served. Daddy says he could remember going to her home as a boy and seeing her soaking her hands in cold water. You see, she didn’t just talk the fire out, she took the fire out. The heat, though much reduced in severity, came into her. The Healing takes something out the Healer. I think that’s important to remember when we are asking so much of our healers. The work they are doing, is taking so much from them and their families. They need and they deserve our prayers and our support. We are counting on them. Can they count on us?

Prayer: Today I am lifting the healers in prayer. I’m praying specifically for these healers that I know personally __________________________. And I’m praying for the healers whom I do not know. Lord, have mercy. Amen

Thought for the Day: Healing takes something out of the healer. 

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God’s Response to Sickness (7)

Matthew 9:1-8

And after getting into a boat he crossed the sea and came to his own town. And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And he stood up and went to his home. When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.

Can you believe that? I mean really. There is a man who is so badly paralyzed that others have to carry him on a mat. Jesus heals him and instead of rejoicing with the one who is healed, the scribes actually criticize Jesus.  Can you believe it? No doubt about it, those scribes were focusing on the wrong things. Makes me wonder how often I might do that too. Maybe not quite as blatantly as this but still missing the good things because I am focused on something that disturbs me. I think this could be especially true right now. There are some good things to be found in this “stay at home” order. Top of the list, of course, is that it’s something almost all of us can do to “love one another”(God bless the essential workers who have to keep working on the front lines.) It is giving many families time to be together in a more relaxed setting. We are gaining a greater appreciation of people/things we take for granted — from teachers to toilet paper. For me, I have time to call and catch up with old friends. I’m getting a few jobs done around the house. I have even learned a few new skills. Of course, there are plenty of bad things too, things I don’t like, authorities I don’t agree with, attitudes I don’t appreciate. And I certainly do not like the news of rising numbers. But, the choice is mine. I determine my focus. And today, I choose to focus on the good things and the God things that are all around me. 

Prayer: Dear God, forgive me when I miss the good things You are doing because I’m so focused on things I do not like. Help me to see the good and celebrate. Amen

Thought for the day: We determine our own focus — on the bad or on the good.

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