Saturday, October 9, 2010


2 Kings 5:1-3. 7-15; Luke 17:11-19

Today’s Old and New Testament Scripture readings are about miraculous healings. I think it is unfair to call people by their diseases, even though the Bible does. After all, we don’t refer to people with cancer as “cancerites.” Such terms single people out. So, we’ll talk and think today about people with leprosy, not “lepers.” It’s a matter of perception.

The disease for today is leprosy, which refers to a variety of skin diseases. Some diseases were not contagious, but had about them an “ick factor,” red, pussy, oozing, scaly, lacking color, and so forth, which are not normal conditions of the skin. Such diseases rendered the sufferers unclean, and under severe punishment by God.

In a time without today’s medical knowledge, such isolations were the only sure way to avoid the spreading of contagious diseases. It also prevented the spread of uncleanness. Those who had been cast out of their communities were dependent on the mercy of families and passers-by to give them food to eat, extra clothing, news, and so forth.

In the Old Testament reading, Naaman the Aramean general had a high opinion of himself, and a skin disease. Apparently, his disease did not cause him to be isolated; or maybe it was his high ranking. The text doesn’t say. No one in the kingdom could heal him. An Israelite girl had heard of the prophet Elisha, who had healed a few people and suggested that Naaman go to him.

He did, but was surprised at the way he was treated. As important a person as he was, he expected to be treated with some pomp and circumstance, but Elisha chose to speak through a messenger instead of face to face. “Go and wash in the Jordan River.” Naaman spoke with disdain about the Jordan River, a shallow, muddy stream at that time of year, and not nearly as magnificent as the rivers at home in Aram. It was a matter of perception.

But, eventually, he obeyed, and received the gift of healing. In response, he recognized the power of Elisha’s God, and vowed to worship only that God from that time on. Naaman knew he had received a gift, and was grateful for it. His perception changed radically, based on the God-given gift of healing.

… As we turn to the Gospel story, you remember that Jews and Samarians hated each other, and would avoid each other if at all possible. The region between Galilee and Samaria was a sort-of no-man’s-land. In this land, there lived some rejects, some people with skin diseases who had been banished from their respective communities.

Cultural enemies, these people with leprosy formed their own community; they probably prayed, ate, slept, and wept together. Their perception of each other was shaped by their common disease, and of being outcasts together.

Jesus approached this region and heard the cries for mercy. His perception of the people was different from most Jews and Samaritans. He saw them as folks in need of healing. In response to their cries for mercy, he said “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” As they walk, they are healed.

Here’s what I think happened. The perception of the Jews with leprosy was to obey the rabbi and go to the priests. There, they would be declared healed and able to return to their families. Their response was automatic. Perhaps their perception was that they had done enough prayers and requests for mercy, and God now owed them healing. Getting to the priests as quickly as possible was all they could think about. Their perception was to obey God by obeying the rules of their faith.

At first, the Samaritan went with them, until he realized he was no longer forced by circumstances to associate with the Jews. His thought process was interrupted. He turned to head in the direction of his own priest, and it was that turning that called to mind the idea of giving thanks. When he turned, then, he had a new perception of Jesus as having access to God’s healing powers.

… We are all human, and our perceptions are shaped by the realities of our lives, and by what the church has taught us is appropriate.

In the past, perceptions included the rightness of slavery, because people with darker skin were not fully human. Perceptions included the rightness of the banishment of pregnant teenage girls, who went to live with distant relatives until the baby was born and they could return home. Perceptions included the rightness of keeping women barefoot and pregnant, with no right to vote, much less serve as elected officials or corporation CEOs.

You probably remember the reactions to the discovery of AIDS. Even if we knew someone who suffered from it, many of us wanted the victims to stay far away from us. We didn’t want to catch it.

Then, as we learned more about AIDS, we began to have sympathy for those who acquired AIDS by transfusion, but not for those who got it by inappropriate sexual activity or illegal drug use. By now, we are appalled at the number of innocent victims, especially in Africa where ½ the population has been affected by this disease – either as victims or as orphans. Our perception of the disease certainly has changed. As our perceptions changed, we have been able to pressure the drug companies into making the medications available at prices even people in the poorest parts of Africa can afford.

We are beginning to recognize that isolating people because of a disease or condition is not just, for them or for us. We have much to learn about God’s perceptions, but if we keep an eye on Jesus, we can learn a lot. The people “proper” society rejected are just those who were there at his birth. The people “proper” society rejected are just those whom Jesus loved and healed and ate with and welcomed into the band of disciples following him. The people “proper” society rejected are just those who shared the story of Jesus with other social rejects.

Our personal perceptions affect how we see those around us, and if we even notice those around us. It is easy to judge the Pharisees and others in Scripture who rejected some members of their society. But we must be careful that we are not doing the same thing.

Your challenge this week is to pay attention to those around you. How do you perceive them? How do you see the cashiers and baggers at the grocery store? How do you see all the workers in the doctors’ office? How do you see the elderly man with the walker in Walgreens, blocking the aisle? How do you see the mom with several children trying to get the best deal on ground beef for her family? How do you see the woman in the liquor store, with a cart full of beverages? How do you see the business man talking on his cell phone at the restaurant? Do you perceive them with love, as Jesus would? Do you greet them and share a smile and a kind word with them?

Please pray with me. Jesus, there are so many people in the world around us. Help us to see with your eyes and to feel with your heart, and to reach out to them with your love. Amen

Friday, October 8, 2010

Be not afraid

Luke 12:32-40

The encouraging words, “Be not afraid,” “Have no fear,” and “Don’t worry” occur regularly in Scripture. Unfortunately for the wimpy among us, these words always challenge us to go beyond our limits, beyond whatever we thought we could or wanted to do.
They are said as the Israelites face battles, as prophets face angry kings, and as God’s people are called to follow where God leads them. In Luke, these words are said by angels to Zechariah and to Mary, and in Matthew, an angel says them to Joseph. “Don’t be afraid. God has something for you to do, and will not leave you alone. This is going to be really good!”
In today’s gospel text, Jesus begins by telling the disciples, “Have no fear… It is God’s delight to give you the kingdom, so you experience God’s reign in your lives.” Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t be afraid. I’m in charge, so go get some rest.” Instead, Jesus means, “Don’t be afraid. Come follow me and we’ll work together to bring God’s reign into all of creation.”
We are not sent to fix the whole world. It’s our job only to do what God calls us to do in our little corner of the world. And we do not do our job alone. God works with us and through us to make more than we dreamed possible happen.
About 4000 years ago, God called Abram & Sarai – later called Abraham and Sarah – to leave home. God promised them land and offspring, but didn’t give them any details about how that would happen. God simply said, “Go. When you get where I want you to be, I’ll let you know. And I’ll give you lots of children.” So, they left home and traveled west. At some point, God said, this is the land I promised you.”
But, years and years went by, and there were still no children. Abram and Sarai were old when they left home, they were even older once they reached the promised land, and still childless. They complain to God, and God answers, “Don’t be afraid. Wait a little more. My promise is still good, and I haven’t forgotten you. You will have more descendents than there are stars in the sky.” After waiting 25 years for the children God promised, they finally had a child, Isaac, who had 2 sons Esau and Jacob, and each of those boys had many children. “Do not be afraid; it is God’s delight to give you the kingdom.”
… In the gospel text for today, these two statements: “Do not be afraid; it is God’s delight to give you the kingdom.” And “Sell all you have, and give it away,” sure seem like contradictions. We wonder, “How can giving away everything we have bring us joy? Don’t we need what we have to live, to enjoy life?” 
But Jesus knows that when we focus our attention and time on getting and maintaining possessions and money, it draws us away from focusing our attention on God. It also encourages us to be less reliant on God’s provide-ance of those things we really need. We begin to believe we got it ourselves, and didn’t need God’s help to get it. If we have less stuff, we won’t be afraid that someone will take it away.
“Do not be afraid; it is God’s delight to give you the kingdom.” People who are really poor hear these words very differently than those of us with plenty do. They hear words of promise that they and their children will have enough to eat, clothes and shoes to wear, school supplies, and a home to live in. If we give away much of what we have, we give it to those who have less than we do, and through us, God provides for them.
… There’s a new show on TV, called Breakthrough with Tony Robbins. Robbins is a motivational speaker, whose reality show takes people who are struggling and helps them find a new outlook on life and success. This past week the story was about Ron & Marie Stegner. Ron’s business was failing, they were on the brink of foreclosure on their home, and their marriage was a disaster.
As TV cameras rolled, we watched as Ron, in his own state of despair, failed to respect Marie, and ridiculed the income she thought she could bring in as a tiny percentage of his, and so she might as well not bother.
Tony’s work with the couple begins with the idea that when you face up to your fears, life’s challenges are not as hard as they seem. Tony’s team develops new, tougher challenges to help put the regular challenges in perspective.
The main fear Ron and Marie had to face was being homeless, so they were sent to live for a week in a homeless shelter. There was an additional hitch: if they didn’t learn what they were sent there to learn, they would have to spend another week in the shelter. Marie started the week with a flat refusal to participate. “I’m not going. I won’t do this!”
Suddenly, Ron became her protector instead of her critic, and he encouraged her to go with him, and found ways for them to be involved in the homeless community. Homeless folks in the shelter adopted them, and showed them how to survive.
Ron and Marie began to rediscover their love and respect for each other and came out of the experience with a stronger relationship. Even if they end up losing their home, they have learned that life is not about how much you have, but about the relationships you have with others and with each other. In terms of family, they have been given the kingdom.
… What, do you suppose, God has for us to learn? In how many ways is God saying to us, “Do not be afraid; it is God’s delight to give you the kingdom.” Here’s what I see. As a congregation, God is calling us to communicate better with each other. As a congregation, God is calling us to do ministry with and for the people in our community. As a congregation, God is calling us to not be afraid, but to go where we are sent, and trust that we do not go alone.
Signs of that call and God’s promise can be found in the spirit of a congregation. I don’t know about you, but I sense a healthier atmosphere at Hope lately. We have proved we can do VBS on a shoestring, when we work together. People are coming to visit during worship, and some are coming to join. A couple of families in real need have asked for help, and received it through the generosity of our members. Folks are participating in social programs, and volunteering to take leadership roles. Ted and Diane have enrolled in the Deacon training program, to be more intentionally involved in the ministries of Hope. And two financial bequests, one from Bea Rossi and another from Irma Reichenbaugh, will help us through financially tough times. The money they have left us will be used for non-budgeted expenses.
How is God calling you as individuals? Is God calling you to teach Sunday School? Is God calling you to serve on the congregation council, or lead a committee? Is God calling you to dig deeper into your pockets than you thought was possible? Is God calling you to visit the homebound and hospitalized members? Is God calling you to share your faith with someone? Is God calling you to invite a particular person to an event at Hope? How is God calling you to use your God-given gifts?
Whatever God is saying to you, God says it with this promise: “Do not be afraid; it is my delight to give you the kingdom.” We are not called to follow and left to our own devices. God goes with us wherever we go, and whatever we are doing.
Please pray with me. (This prayer is traditional, and taken from the service of morning prayer.) O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Thankful, healed bodies and hearts

I enjoyed last weekend on vacation. Here is the message for the healing service Wed. Oct 6. 

Luke 17:11-19

There are many healing stories in the gospels, and this is one of the more famous ones.

I think it’s unfair to talk about people as if they are their diseases. For example, we don’t talk about the cancerites, we talk about – and pray for – people with cancer. So, lepers are people suffering from a disease.

People in the Bible with leprosy had contagious skin diseases, which may or may not have included what we now call Hansen’s Disease. They were other diseases, also grouped under the title of leprosy. Many of these diseases had an “ick factor” to them, like pus and oozing and redness.

At that time, the best way to protect the rest of the community from contagious diseases was to isolate them from other people, including their families. They would have depended on their families and the others in the community to feed them and care for them.  

Jesus and the disciples, as they went from Galilee to Jerusalem, walked through a border area, near Samaria. They encountered a group of people, both Jews and Samaritans, suffering from skin diseases, living on the fringe of their communities, enemies joined together by their common illness.

They must have heard about Jesus, because they knew his name, and that he had healing powers. They called out, asking for mercy. Usually, mercy included gifts of food. Their hope was that mercy from Jesus meant healing. This group of sick people got their wish; Jesus did heal them.

Only one of them thought to say thanks. I think the rest were more focused on obeying Jesus' words – “Go, show yourselves to the priests. They can declare you clean and send you home to your families.” The Samaritan – maybe he was the only Samaritan in the group – would have gone to a different priest, and that may have caused him to think more about the source of the healing. He turned around to say “thank you” to Jesus.

During his time on earth, Jesus healed many, but by no means all people. Today, when we pray for healing, I’m not sure we really expect it to happen. And, so, we spiritualize it – healing is maybe not for our bodies but more (or only) for our spirits.

Especially as our bodies get older, we have more aches and pains and body parts that don’t work well, and we know our bodies will die – and we are getting closer and closer to that day all the time. Our bodies tell us that!

Certainly, healing of our bodies doesn’t always happen; but sometimes it does. Medical miracles as simple as an epidural shot in the back, or a shot in the eye for macular degeneration, or a replacement knee give us renewed energy, and more years of service in Jesus’ name than we thought possible.

For this kind of healing, we can and should give our repeated thanks not just to the doctors but to the Lord who makes healing possible.

There comes a time, however, when our bodies can no longer be healed, and we need to turn our focus to the next life – the life when we assume we will have our old, healthy body back, our youthful energy restored, and all the time in the world to give thanks to God who loves us enough to bring us into eternal life.

Let us not forget to give thanks along the way, whether we are being healed in body or not. We know that our spirits have already been healed by the Lord who came to give us life, abundant life in his name. They continue to be healed as we turn to God with thankful hearts each day. Amen