Tuesday, April 21, 2015

You can heal

Acts 3:11-19: 
11 While the healed man clung to Peter and John, all the people rushed toward them at Solomon’s Porch, completely amazed. 12 Seeing this, Peter addressed the people: “You Israelites, why are you amazed at this? Why are you staring at us as if we made him walk by our own power or piety? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of our ancestors—has glorified his servant Jesus. This is the one you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence, even though he had already decided to release him. 14 You rejected the holy and righteous one, and asked that a murderer be released to you instead. 15 You killed the author of life, the very one whom God raised from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 His name itself has made this man strong. That is, because of faith in Jesus’ name, God has strengthened this man whom you see and know. The faith that comes through Jesus gave him complete health right before your eyes.  17 “Brothers and sisters, I know you acted in ignorance. So did your rulers. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he foretold through all the prophets: that his Christ would suffer. 19 Change your hearts and lives! Turn back to God so that your sins may be wiped away.

As our scripture today begins, Peter and John have been called, along with the other disciples to go into the world to spread the gospel, offer forgiveness of sins and to follow in the footsteps of Christ’s ministry of healing and wholeness.  At this point in our story they have already received the Holy Spirit but what they aren’t sure of at this point is what all this really means for their lives. 
They have walked with Jesus, learned from Jesus but they aren’t sure where they go from here.  They aren’t hiding in locked rooms any more but their vision of their future is still a bit hazy.  So they go and do what they know how to do- worship.  They go to the temple like they have done all their lives- waiting in the familiar surroundings of Jewish life for their future to become clear.  As they approach the temple they notice a man sitting on his mat.  They have seen him before. 

He is there every time they come to the temple for worship.  He can’t walk so his family carries him here to the Gate Beautiful to beg.  This is an all too familiar scene among the hustle and bustle of life in Jerusalem.  But for some reason, something is different on this day.  Peter and John see this man and they have compassion for him.  They may have felt pity in the past but today the emotion is compassion.  They want to do something to help to make a difference in his life.  But they don’t have what the man is asking for.  Instead they feel compelled to offer this man a touch. 

Not many people would have been willing to touch this man who was considered dirty, unclean and worthy of only pity.  Most people would have passed by- maybe throwing him a coin or two but never really seeing him or taking the time to speak to him much less recognize him as a child of God, but Peter and John do. 
Not only do they have compassion for him they see him for who he is, a brother in Christ, and they want him to know that he is seen and acknowledged.  So they get his attention and offer him something more valuable than a few coins- the ability to walk.

This is where our scripture picks up today.  The man has been healed in the name of Jesus and he is now running around the temple like a mad man; jumping and twirling, shouting and praising God.  This gets everyone’s attention- they know this man he has been lame all his life, they pass by him every day and now he is running like he has never been sick.  This couldn’t have been an accident or a coincidence.  It had to be something divine.  But who are these people who have performed this amazing miracle? 
The crowd swarms around them wanting to know more about who they are- they want to lift them up on a pedestal and give them credit and praise for healing this man.  And maybe seek healing for themselves.

We all do this same thing.  We all need healing to some extent or another.  We seek healing from the medical profession.  We ask our friends who have undergone a medical procedure about their experience.  We want to know who the doctor was who healed them- hopeful that they can offer the same healing for us.  We listen to people like Dave Ramsey on the radio, hoping to glean some of his wisdom so we can find financial healing. 
We spend time with family and friends or go to a therapist when we need emotional healing.   When we need spiritual healing we go to church or listen to a preacher on TV.  That person just seems to always have the answers so we send them money or buy their latest book hoping that it will offer us healing. 

We all need healing.  But as Peter surveys the crowd he realizes that we by nature look in the wrong places for healing.  Instead of looking to God and the gifts of God we seek healing and intervention from other people; a person, pastor, new charity or new family that will save us.  The crowd in Jerusalem thought Peter and John would be their saviors and heal them too.  But Peter quickly redirects their attention.  He tells them- we are not the ones who healed him- God did that- not us!  They are not the healers, God is and it is this healing in the name of Jesus that will bring healing to all the world.  Peter and John are just the avenue for God’s grace and love. 
As Peter surveys the growing crowd he sees in them the same need for healing present in our world today.  Not all of them need physical healing- most don’t.  He recognizes in their excitement a desperate sense of brokenness.  People are hungry; both for food and for spiritual nourishment.  People are thirsty; both for clean water but also for living water. 

People are broken; they have broken relationships, broken promises, broken hearts and they seek to know the God of Love who will never leave them and never stop loving them.  They are lost; wondering what the purpose of life is, what direction their life should take.  Their community is broken; they are arguing, pointing fingers of blame and accusation when what they need is simply a place to belong; a place where they are loved and accepted for who they are quirkiness and all, a place where even their messiness is seen as a source of beauty.     
They are looking to Peter and John to fix all this brokenness and more but Peter realizes as his compassion for them grows that he is not the one with the solutions.  He wants them to know the truth- that is isn’t them, they aren’t miracle workers.  It wasn’t the power or skill of a person at all that offers healing but God. 

This is not always an easy word to hear.  After all, some in that very temple were the ones who had called for the crucifixion of the person they were claiming had in fact done the healing.  Their leaders had demanded the death of Jesus over the release of a convicted murderer and they still didn’t recognize Jesus as God. 
Peter’s compassion and desire for them to know the truth forces him to confront the events of the recent past.  They had all denied and rejected the one who could offer true healing.  Peter’s words may sound harsh as he spreads out the accusations against them.  His words are forceful:  you rejected!  You denied!  You killed! But part of the problem with our ability to seek healing is that sometimes we don’t even know we are broken. 

Peter knows this first hand.  The reason he can have compassion for them is because he is one of them.  His accusations are not fingers pointed in blame but a finger pointing to himself too.  He sees his own rejection of Jesus in the context of the Jewish community’s rejection of Jesus. 
As the crowd called for Jesus’ death, Peter was busy denouncing that he had ever even known Jesus.  Peter sees his own rejection of Jesus as an even greater betrayal because he knew better and did it anyway. 

We have to face those parts of our lives which we have hidden away, chosen to ignore or down played as “well everyone does it” before we can know what to ask God to heal.  We act in ignorance.  We make bad choices when we don’t have all the information and sometimes we make bad decisions anyway.

Peter is guilt ridden and lost until he faced this truth about himself.  He was not able to accept the healing from Jesus until he was willing to face his own faults and admit them to God.  Peter is trying to help the crowd see this too.  Peter’s willingness to see his own faults and failures is what makes him credible and relatable to those he is trying to convince.

The world is in desperate need of healing and we are looking in all the wrong places to find it.  Politicians, self-help books, TV evangelists and financial gurus are not the source of our healing.  True healing comes from Christ alone. 
Peter and John were not the source of healing power, they are just the mouth pieces, the worldly representatives of Christ.  And that is what the church is today.  We, as the church, are descendants of our forefathers and mothers in the faith.  We are the current representatives of Christ called to offer healing in Jesus name to the rest of the world. 

Our community, our world is desperate for the healing power of Jesus.  And God has called us to offer this healing touch by offering a word of compassion, welcoming strangers in to our lives, offering a sense of belonging and connection to those who are lonely and seeing people as more than just needy and broken; but as children of God.  But Just like Peter, in order to offer healing in Jesus name, we also need to see the brokenness in our own lives.  We need to look deep within ourselves as individuals and as a community so that we can seek healing from God for ourselves but also so that we can see and relate to the brokenness in the lives of others.  

We all make mistakes but God uses those mistakes and mess-ups to make great things happen.  As we acknowledge our own weakness, God can use that to open doors to others who feel inadequate or unworthy of God’s love.  Even the mistake of the crucifixion of Jesus is one that God can use. 
The death of Jesus was not the end.  Even though sin was powerful enough to kill the author of Life, God refused to let that be the final word.  Life has dominion over death.  Grace has power over sin.  Love is greater than contempt and hate. 

The supposed death of one would bring the opportunity for healing for all the world.  Recognizing how this has worked in our own life will be a powerful witness to the rest of the world to the truth of what the resurrection means for us and for the world. 
God is calling you and this church to be that witness to the rest of the world.  It is how we respond as faithful representatives of Christ.  We are called to be a channel for the healing and restorative power of Jesus Christ in a broken and desperate world.


Maundy Thursday... by request

Maundy Thursday

April 2, 2015

Love’s Chapel/ Webster UMC


Opening Prayer

Hymn:  What Wondrous Love is This?                                            P 292

Prayer:  Holy and Merciful God.  You humbled yourself to the form of a servant, shared meals with sinners and washed the feet of those who called you master.  Be present with us this Holy Thursday as we remember your love, your life, your death and prepare for your resurrection.  As feet are washed, wash not only our feet but cleanse those inner most parts of our hearts which we try so desperately to keep hidden.  As the holy meal is shared, nourish us; mind, body and spirit so that we may serve you more fully.  In the name of the most Holy one let us pray the prayer that Jesus taught: Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen 

Scripture reading                                                                        John 13:1-17
Hymn:  Lord Who’s Love Through Humble Service            p 581

Message                                                                                     You are loved
Jesus time had finally come.  He knew that after this moment everything would change.  Like sending a child off to college or those last precious moments you share with a loved one who is dying…. Your mind races.  What have I forgotten to tell them?  What important life lesson or wisdom have they forgotten or misunderstood?  Do they really know how much I love them?
These thoughts are probably going through the mind of Jesus as he prepares for these last moments with the disciples.  They of course don’t recognize just how important this night is.  They have celebrated Jewish festivals with Jesus before.  To them, it’s just another Passover.  Sure, Jesus has talked a lot about dying lately but he says weird things all the time, it is part of his charm- it’s Jesus. 
But, as they all begin to gather around the table, they realize quickly that this is no ordinary meal.  Jesus stands up from the table, walks over to the basin for washing feat but instead of washing his own or calling a servant of the home where they are staying to do it, he takes off his robe and ties a towel around his waist.  The disciples look around at each other with confusion.  What is he doing?  They quickly begin to protest.  No, Jesus, it isn’t right.  You are our teacher, our master, this is not the way it is done! 
Jesus is preparing to do the one thing that will allow him to not only tell them but also show them how much they are loved.   He could have just told them or written them a poem.  He could have bought them something but none of that would have measured up.  He is the gift.  He was preparing to offer himself as the ultimate gift for all of humanity so he wanted to do the same here- offer himself, his service, his humbleness, his care and his compassion.In one action, washing their feet, he conveyed all of this. 
Feet have never been considered something of beauty or something to be cherished.  They are simply a tool, a part of our bodies that thankfully serve a purpose, but it isn’t much of an honorable one.  We don’t like people to touch our feet, especially when they are dirty.  We worry that they may smell or we stress over the fact that they have become arthritic or they developed bunions, calluses, corns or toenail fungus.  We put our feet through a lot.  They carry all of our weight, we use them and abuse them in sweaty, uncomfortable shoes or walk around barefoot exposing them to the dangers of hot asphalt and sharp rocks. 
People in Jesus time were no different, in fact it was probably worse.  They ritually washed their hands on a regular basis but their feet were often neglected.  The shoes they wore didn’t protect them from the elements.  It was hot and dusty. Walking was their primary form of transportation and this exposed them not only to dust but to garbage and waste.  Their feet were dirty, they didn’t want to touch their own feet, much less allow someone else to touch them. 
But this was exactly the point.  The disciples may not have understood just how powerful this gesture was but we can.  Jesus was telling them and us not only about his role of servant leadership but of the depths and expanse of his love.  
We spend a lot of time and energy trying to hide the parts of ourselves that we don’t like from the rest of the world.  We cover it up, pretend it doesn’t exist, blame our faults on others, or dress it up trying to make others think we like it.  But all this covering up and hiding is exposed in the light of God’s love. 
Exposing our feet to someone else to wash is scary and vulnerable but Jesus is telling us that we are so loved, that event these parts that we try to hide are loved too.  They are part of who we are.  We are washed clean at our baptisms but this doesn’t mean we have been made perfect.  There are still parts of us that are dirty and foul but Jesus loves us anyway and given the opportunity, Jesus will cleanse these parts of us too. 
One of my favorite parts of the story of these last moments with Jesus is the fact that Judas was present.  Scripture tells us that all those around the table would deny Jesus and scatter when the time of Jesus fulfillment came but it specifically points out in all four gospels that Judas was there.  The one who would ultimately betray him and turn him over to be killed was present having his feet washed, sharing in the meal.  Even Judas was loved. 
There is nothing you can do that will make God love you less.  There is nothing about you that will ever make God stop loving you.  You are loved.  You are loved.  You are loved. 
Allow Jesus to see all of you, allow Jesus to cleanse all of you.  This was his parting message to his disciples and to us.  You are loved.   Accept this gift, cherish it and go and do likewise. 
Foot washing liturgy (Adapted from "A Footwashing Liturgy" by Reggie M. Kidd

Leader:  O prince of Peace, O Friend of Sinners, we praise you and give you thanks, because you laid aside your power as a garment and took upon yourself the form of a slave.
People:  You became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  You allowed yourself to be born to die in our place, you allowed your own feet to be anointed for death.  You allowed a sinner to wash your feet with her tears.  For God chose what is low and despised in the world to bring to nothing things that are.  Send the Spirit of truth to keep alive in us what Jesus taught and did, that our words may carry his good news and that our lives may bear the shape of the cross of the One who lives and reigns with You and with the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever.  Amen

Foot washing

Holy Communion

Scripture:  John 31-35

Hymn:  I want to Walk as A Child of the Light                                   p 490