Monday, January 5, 2009

Healing and Freedom

Preached 11/16/2008

Framing Scripture:
Isaiah 42: 5-7; 49:9-10 Thus says God, the Lord who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it. I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness, saying to the prisoners, “Come out,” to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.” They shall feed along the ways, they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.
The church is to be about prayer, and every Christian is a “house of prayer” inhabited by God’s Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus promised us. The church is also like fishers using all types of bait and equipment and learning where fish hang out in order to haul them in, leaving it to God to sort out the good from the bad. The church is also like sowers of seed—preaching the good news Jesus came to tell us about God and the good news Jesus showed us about God, planting the good news like grass seed. The church is also a healing, freeing force for good in the world, and Jesus made that clear by both word and deed, over and over.

In Matthew 11, a message came from John the Baptist in prison: are you the promised Messiah? 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.” In Matthew 8:14, When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “he took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” In Luke 4:18-20, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Then for disciples:
In Matthew 9:35, 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. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for the, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Then Jesus summoned the twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. . . . “as you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven is right here.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.” In Luke 9:1-2, Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.

So Jesus set people free from disease as well as sin, and his disciples were also empowered to do these things. And then there is this incident, recorded in 3 gospels:

“Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer [and fasting]” (Mark 9:14-29). “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them “because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matt. 17:18-20). In Luke 9:37-43, no explanation is given.

And here’s where we are today, wondering about how we are involved in the healing and freeing ministry of Jesus Christ when sometimes the results aren’t what we expect.

First: this kind can come out only through prayer [and fasting]. Remember that prayer is both talking and listening, and the point of listening is to hear the will of God in the matter. Fasting is also a way of disciplining the mind and body to be open to hearing the will of God. So it is absolutely essential to be in prayer and for part of prayer to be listening. At the very most basic, prayer is one of the most important ways we bear each other’s burdens.

Second: Because of your little faith. Faith, remember, is obeying what we hear from God. It isn’t believing things about God. It requires listening and then doing what we hear, trusting that God is good and loving and generous. I can imagine that the disciples had begun to trust in their ability to work miracles, rather than in God. I can imagine the father thinking only the head magician could do this miracle. Moving mountains by faith requires first that God wants the mountain moved and has enlisted us to move it. When we are doing what we know God wants, God gives us permission, freedom, authority to act as Jesus did, the agent of God on earth.

Third: No explanation. God is not a vending machine. It isn’t about getting the right words in the right order, or beating God about the head and shoulders with promises from scripture, or making sure no one in the crowd has any doubts about God’s ability to heal. God is God. God points this out occasionally throughout scripture. The fact that the power to heal comes from God is made absolutely clear when it is not “on tap.” These are the disciples Jesus himself empowered and gave authority to; even they had experiences that challenged their faith in God.

So when we come into situations where there are people who need healing, how do we proceed? My thoughts: pray, listen to God, trust God, do what you can that is not miraculous but is clearly taught in scripture.

“Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from before the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. . . . just as you did it to one of the least of these members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25: 31-46). And the most beautiful picture of healing love is in Luke 10:1-20 in the story of the Good Samaritan. Love your neighbor as yourself.

When you hear from God, be obedient.

Recognize that healing may have to start way deeper than physical symptoms of disease. Forgiveness, restoration, redemption—these may be the real needs. Jesus forgave the sins of the paralyzed man before he told him to stand up and walk. And Jesus told his followers that it was better to get into the kingdom than to be physically whole, if they had to choose between the two.

Recognize that God’s priorities are that we and others allow the kingdom of God to take root, that we allow God to pull us through the needle’s eye, that we allow God to do whatever it takes to make us after the pattern of Jesus Christ, who always did the will of God.

Recognize also that miracles do not make people into disciples, neither doing them, nor seeing them done. “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name? Then I will declare to them, I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers” (Matthew 7:21).

Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Who is my mother and my brothers and sisters? Those who do the will of my Father in heaven—those are my mother, my brothers and my sister. Obedience is first, and everything else is God’s.

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