Healing and Curing
2009-02-04 by Paul Janssen

It's somewhat of a commonplace to comment on the difference between healing and curing.  I'll just add my few cents into the mix, in hopes that perhaps these reflections might stimulate some fellow preacher's thought in a useful direction.

Jesus is a healer, not a curer.  Curing is an individualistic art, and, while Jesus did heal individuals, they were people related to others -- a mother-in-law, people who were BROUGHT, etc., and crowds gathered.  The healing is all rather thoroughly based in a social setting. 

Imagine what might have happened if, when Jesus was told of the fever of Simon's mother-in-law, he had said "What insurance carrier does she have?"  This illustrates many things, not least of which is the way we treat individuals for single, highly specialized issues.  (A physician in our day might say, "I recognize that gallbladder."   Jesus might rather say, "I know your family.")

We pastors live in this reality.  A member has been laid up for months with a bad leg.  What does she see as the chief issue?  Not that her leg is ailing (though that is of course immensely important), but that she is unable to get out and be among friends, to feel human. 

The Bantu concept of "ubuntu" says that a person is a person to another person.  So, when I am ill, I find that I am less able to be a person to you, and my illness diminishes you.  In addition, when I am ill, I am less able to receive you as a person, so I too am diminished. 

So let's think of "healing" rather than "curing" and we'll be on a good trajectory.

Second, healing for Jesus is a sign of something bigger.  It makes all the difference to a demoniac or a woman with a fever (etc.) if they are healed, of course.  But healing is a sign of the reign of God.  It says that we were not made for our bodies to be ailing.  We were made for wellness.  We were made to have the capacity to stand for justice, to make peace, to give and receive joy.  Wellness arising from illness is a sign that God is alive and at work and powerful in this world. 

So our prayers for healing are subsumed in the Lord's prayer:  "Thy kingdom come."  Yes, not in any abstract, almost gnostic way, but in a concrete, bodily, incarnate way.  I want to be healed, not only because it's good for me, but because it will give glory to God.  But here's the thing -- I can be healed, despite not being cured, right?  I can be socially restored, to some extent, even though my body is not all that I might hope.  Hence, my healing bears witness to God's reign.

Finally, when healing becomes a matter of social rather than individual conception, we can all recognize our need for healing.  We all have some sort of broken relationships strewn along our pathway.  We may know of them directly -- people we've hurt or who have hurt us.  They may be written on a larger scale - irreconciliation between races, or between rich and poor, fundamentalist and modernist, male and female, gay and straight, etc.  We are all in need of healing; we all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. 

Thus we are privileged to be part of God's ministry of healing, but as wounded healers.  We don't heal from our strengths, but from our wounds.  We open our ears to hear the echoes of our own brokenness in others, and make space for them to experience shalom.  We open our eyes to detect what we see when we look in the mirror, and we make a covenant of compassion.  We take on the mind of Christ, and empty ourselves, as we are, wounds and all, and so give glory to God. 


Paul's Honesty and Integrity
2009-02-04 by David von Schlichten

Thank you to Rick Brand for taking us by the hand through his sermon-preparation process. We look forward to his contributions for the rest of the week here in the tub.

I am considering 1 Corinthians. Paul sounds like he is being phony in his willingness to be all things to all people. However, we see elsewhere in Paul that he is not an anything goes, it's-all-good, deceptive kind of guy. After all, elsewhere in this same letter (and in other letters, such as Galatians) he is pretty firm.

The key is that Paul is willing to adapt "for the sake of the gospel." Paul is not a slave to his own biases, habits or prejudices. He leaves those behind in the name of winning people to Christ.

Further, he is openly acknowledging that he is doing this. So Paul is actually showing great honesty and integrity here.

Perhaps he is also saying to the Corinthians, "Go and do likewise. Quit bickering, ranking, and competing. Focus instead on becoming all things to each other for the sake of the gospel."

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

2009-02-04 by Rick Brand

Wednesday would begin with a review of what I have done on Monday and Tuesday. What are the questions and what are the points I have learned from the commentaries. The hope is that I will find the central thrust of the sermon for Sunday and perhaps find the outline for the message.

Certainly for Feb. 8th severral of the texts gather around the great affirmation of the sovereignty of God. The theme is constant in Isaiah and in the Pslam. God the Creator of the universe. God the Lord over History. God the Sustainer of Life. God the Giver of Hope. God the Keeper of Promises. To those in exile, depressed and grief stricken, the message is "How can you forget the power and greatness of God?" 

But there is also the message in the passages and in Mark that God who protects, sustains and restores creation does not give blessings that are luxurious.  Wings to fly, power to run, strength to walk, healing to return to service, the broken made whole but not made super powerful.

If there were a message selected for the current mood of our country, this one seems to be tailor made.  We are frightened, frustrated, disappointed, angry, and desperate.  We need a strong dose of reminder that we live in a world where God has provided for all creation, where God is sustainer of life and creation, that our hope for the future is in "the mighty power of God that made the moutains rise." But there is also in these stories the note that God is not the one who protects the riches and the luxuries of life. God's sustaining power is the more basic and essential. Jesus' miracles of healing do not dramatically change the quality of life those who were sick had before they became sick or injured.

The sermon thought I have for Sunday sounds like what the angels are always saying, "Fear not!"  Have you forgotten the greatness of the God who rules creation? God is still in charge and God still provides enough in creation for our daily bread. But God does not promise like Madoff great riches.

Now the work moves toward getting the outline and the hope that stories, illustrations, examples, material to fill out the sermon will gather.

Book Work
2009-02-03 by Rick Brand

In this morning's newspaper there was a Beetle Bailey cartoon strip that has Beetle sitting under a tree. Zero comes and asks Beetle what he is doing. Beetle says he is "watching the clouds, listening to the birds, smeeling the fresh ari, seeing little animals and flowers..." Zero sits down next to Beetle and says "Wow, I didn't know so much was going on." 

That is right out of Psalm 147 and I put that in my folder as a possible piece for the sermon. But I was alert to it because of the preparation I had done on Monday.

Tuesday is commentary work. Isaiah, the Psalm and Mark seem to me to be moving in one direction together so I will work on them and leave out I Corinthians. 

There  is a great story about the great mission champion John McKay who was touring with a group of Evangelical leaders. They went into the home of a local and the host in great humility offered the traditional gift of a glass of "home brew." The Evangelicals refused. McKay took a glass and praised the host for its great quality. The host, wanting to offer something to the Evangelicals, brought out his smoking pipe. Again the Evangelicals refused and McKay took a puff.  The host brought them to his table, but the food was all local and the Evangelicals did not respond well to it. McKay took some of all of it and ate it with a smile. When the group left the Evangelical leaders jumped all over McKay. How could you drink, smoke and eat that stuff? McKay just said, "Somebody in there had to act like a Christian." Paul says something along those lines as well. But I do not think that passage fits in with the other passages about the Greatness of God and God gift to us of the ability to hang on (walk and not faint, to get up and go about our business)

We all have our favorite commentaries and some have more than others as resources.  Some of the comments quoted from the ones I used:

Isaiah affirms "the promise that God sustains, supports, carries, upholds us in times of danger, distress, and oppression." "Isaiah argues for the great incomparable power of God."  "God's power is visible" in every place we turn our eyes" "God always has the power to deliver us, and we must be patient in trust and not question why God is slow."  "The prophet gives a reproof to the people of God for their fears and despondence in capitivity. He silences their fears that God lacks the power, intent, or concern for them.  In all conditions God will provide enough for hope.Those who wait in Babylon and believe God does not care, is not working, does not have the power to sustain them are reminded of the God who has the power of creation, the power to act in history before, and is still the one who is able to give all levels of need.

Psalm 147 is another hymn of praise to God for his universal power and providential care. The Psalm provides evidences of God's care.

The Mark passage gives us the miracle stories of healing and power, but seems to down play their significance. In the commentaries we are reminded that the healing of the Mother-in-law is on the Sabbath which is always a problem. That Jesus touches the woman which is a problem, and she gets up and prepares supper for them which might have been a problem.  But it is typical that Jesus healings and miracles consistently restore people to their before problem life. Seldom does a miracle from Jesus result in a lottery winning type experience. Peter's Mother-in-law is healed and she is restored to her previous role in life. Those healed that night are returned to their "average, normal, life."

At the end of the day there appears to me to be a word of reminder to people of the greatness of God to be able to keep us going, to sustains us in the hard places.

From the Beginning
2009-02-01 by Rick Brand

     My Sermon preparation always began on Monday. I always felt desperate and out of control if I missed work on Monday.  Other clergy may take Monday as a day off, but I found that I needed to start the process of sermon preparation on Monday. 

     Monday was used “to break up the soil.”  It would be the first exposure to the texts for the coming Sunday.  Monday was the time to sit at the desk and to make a journey through all of the texts.  With pencil in hand, I would read the lessons and make notes of the questions, impressions, random thoughts that would come to mind. 

  1. Isaiah 40:21-31
    1. “Do you not know, have you not heard, were you not told long ago, have you not perceived ever since the world began, that God sits throned on the vaulted roof of the earth….”

                                  a.  Sounds like frustration to me. Like the parent who tells the child, “how many times do I have to tell you?”   There sounds to me like a voice of one who is disgusted with his people.  You have been told this from the beginning. Why have you forgotten this?  How many things do we know that when time gets rough we forget? Those things that are bedrock get ignored in a time of crisis.  Do I have to keep telling you over and over again that God is Lord over creation and history? 

b.      “Vaulted roof of the earth” – old creation image

c. “Throned”- image of King which offends our democratic ideals,

but which reminds us that the Kingdom of God is not a democracy. There are no individual freedoms to do what you want in the Kingdom of God.

    1. “like a curtain”  “like a tent”  “reduces the great to nothing”  … There is a whole section in here that speaks about the insignificance of creation.  Creation is temporary, transportable like a tent, God reduces greatness to nothing, “earth princess to nothing.”  The Ozymandias poem about the emptiness of political power is affirmed here, but primarily because God is sovereign over that power.  History and those who have great power are really puny, insignificant, come and go affairs. Those matters are in God’s power.
    2. vs. 25-27 Isaiah wants us to compare God with whatever else we might want to call God. “To whom then will you liken me?”  If we don’t believe in God whom will we believe in?  Bob Dylan has a song about everybody serves somebody?   Everybody has some center of judgment.  Who do you trust? State? Wall Street? Fame? Wealth? Physical power?  Everybody has faith in something. We either believe what others tell us or we make ourselves our own God and only believe what we tell ourselves.
    3. vs. 27-29  Reminds us of the God who is on duty 24/7. Who does not grow weary, does not become exhausted, does not forget, does not abandon. G.K. Chesterton has a great section in one of his essay about how humans find activities like “tossing our children up in the air” and our children scream do it again, do it again, and as parents we do it again until we get so tired we cannot lift our arms, and God brings the sun up and we cheer and say do it again, and God does it again, day in and day out, and does not get tired. 
    4. vs. 30-31 Talks about the gifts that God gives. Wings, power to run, and the ability to keep stay standing and moving.  Are the gifts given to each of us at different times in our lives? Are they gifts to different people and some of us never soar, but can run?  Are they maybe chronological gifts, youth, middle age, and old age?   How does these gifts relate to the prosperity gospel?  Is soaring financial abundance?  Is walking and not fainting the same as endurance through economic depressions?
  1. Psalm 147:1-11,20 (another example of “the scandal of the particular again”)
    1. Why is it good to sing praises to God?
    2. “How pleasant” – is that different from “being happy?”  Is pleasant something different from being successful?  What does pleasant mean?
    3. The songs of praise are being done by a rebuilt Jerusalem and the gathered in of the scattered sons.   How do we get included in that group?
    4. vs. 3-7  tells us of the things that God is doing: heals the broken in spirit, binds up the wounds, numbers the stars, names the stars, gives a new heart to the humble (what kind of new heart – proud heart? Why should the humble get a new heart, isn’t a humble heart supposed to be desired by God?), and brings evildoers down to the dust.
    5. vs. 7-11 recounts the things that God has done that warrant the singing of a song of thanksgiving:  puts clouds in the sky, sends rain, puts grass on the hills, gives cattle their food. Lets the birds gather all they want.  Is it not part of our ecological crisis that we have become so detached from creation that these things suggested here would hardly be a reason most of our congregations would be interested in singing songs of praise to God.
    6. vs. 20 is that “scandal of particular” of that God has not done these things in this Psalm for any other nation.  But in fact, God sends rain, puts clouds, and covers the hills with grass in all other nations.  What do you do with that contradiction?   Limit it to the teaching of his decrees only to Jerusalem?
  1. I Corinthians 9:16-23
    1. How do you wrestle with this very difficult tension between “choice” and “compulsion?”  Paul clearly wants to establish that he has a right to be paid. A cherished passage for ordained clergy.  A preacher deserves to be paid for devoting her time to the task of spiritual nourishment.  But at what level?  Poverty for Catholic priest?  Ken Copeland rich?
    2. Paul talks about that compulsion to preach and yet his own choice to do it.
    3. But then Paul spends most of his time talking about how proud and pleased he is to be able to refuse his “just compensation.”  What a bad example for the rest of us.
    4. Where is that great contradiction experienced in our own world?  Paul says that he could do anything he wanted to do, and yet because of his great love for gospel he is eager to preach?  “The satisfaction of preaching the Gospel without expense to anyone: in other words, of waiving the rights which my preaching gives me.”  Is this something akin to pride?
    5. vs. 19-23  really raise this whole question of integrity.  Isn’t Paul being a bit hypocritical?  Wouldn’t we call him two or three faced?  Can you imagine what would happen in our culture with sound bites?  Don’t we attack politicians who say one thing in one city and another thing in another place? Didn’t Paul get upset in Galatia when some of the people eat with Gentiles when Paul was there, but refused to eat with Gentiles when Jewish Christians were present?   How do you retain your own integrity in that kind of “contextual preaching?”
  1. Mark 1: 29-39
    1. The first thing the healed mother-in-law has to do is prepare supper. Not a great example of male sensitivity.  Feminist theologians have commented that such was the male dominance that no sooner was she well than she had to get up and serve dinner.  Why did she have to wait on them?  Maybe she did it out of gratitude for her recovery? 
    2. I have never been convinced that the people in the times of Jesus were less intelligent than we are. Less educated in some ways perhaps, less information, but they knew when somebody was sick and when that person got well. They knew when somebody was dead and when that somebody got healed.  The explanation of miracles because “we are so much smarter” than the people in Jesus’ time is just an easy way to avoid the mystery that is at the center of the ministry of Jesus.
    3. Jesus heals all these people. Those stories confront us with the mystery of Jesus.  And yet Jesus himself says that these are not the central feature or purpose of his ministry.  “I have come to proclaim my message there also; that is what I came out to do.”
    4. What is the message that he came to proclaim?  Was Jesus the message or did he have a message about the Kingdom of God being present among us by God’s grace?  This is great text to force again to that central issue: is Jesus’ the person the message or is the message we have the message Jesus taught in terms of the Kingdom of God.

At the end of Monday, I have these questions in my mind. I have read the text.  On Tuesday I will have found myself attracted to one or two of the texts more than others and will do commentary work on those texts.

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