Saturday, December 13, 2008

Advent Devotional for Dec. 13

Saturday, December 13 Isaiah 53:1-6
Through His suffering we are healed.
This ancient prophecy has been connected with Christ since the days of the early church. Though it was written centuries before Jesus’ coming, early Christians saw in Jesus’ life and death a hint of this redemptive suffering: “…he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”
Modern Americans, even many Christians, instinctively shy away from language like this, as it sounds barbaric in a way—all the bruising, the crushing, the punishing. We wonder if it was all necessary, exactly—why did Jesus suffer? Did he have to? Did he choose to?
While there are a variety of ways that Scripture interprets the crucifixion, it is important that we recognize that there was something redemptive in Jesus’ suffering. As Jesus suffers, we see the depth of love God has for us—only one who loves suffers for another. As Jesus suffers, we see clearly the horrors of sin. What might seem to us a benign bad habit or a trivial fault takes on new weight when we see the severe love shown us in the crucifixion. As Jesus suffers, we see the audacity of the Gospel: that death is the way to new life, and that by going through the suffering that awaits anyone who dares follow this condemned criminal, we can know life everlasting.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Advent Devotional for Dec. 12

Friday, December 12 Luke 17:11-19
Human gratefulness and divine healing.
Samaritans and Jews were famous for not getting along. Elsewhere in the Bible, John tells his readers that Jews and Samaritans would not even use the same utensils. I heard a local Methodist preacher point out that this region, between Samaria and Galilee, would have been particularly rife with ethnic tension as it was right on the border between the two ethnic groups.
But there was one place that those ethnic barriers did not apply—the leper colony. Lepers were outcasts, no matter what nationality they were, and lepers did not have the luxury of drawing social lines between themselves and other lepers. Lepers needed to stick together because no one else wanted anything to do with them.
What a provocative picture of the church—the leper colony! We live in a fragmented culture but the church strives to be the kind of place where those fragmenting boundary lines do not apply—and not because we are so great, but precisely because we recognize that we are sick. We see clearly that God has saved us, and that this is not of ourselves; and because of this, we know we are in no position to elevate ourselves above anyone else. We cannot afford to pretend we are better than anyone else, because we know how fallen we are.
Jesus himself has contact with the lepers, a shocking action in his culture. He heals ten of them, but only one returns to thank him—one of the Samaritan lepers. I’ve always wondered why the others didn’t return. Was it because they didn’t care who healed them, just so long as they were healed? Was it because they were just so overcome with joy that they didn’t think to do it? Is it possible they somehow deceived themselves into thinking that this healing had come by chance, that it was God’s reward to them for their own behavior?
To be truthful, I don’t know. But the story does illustrate a deep truth about human nature, and more pointedly, the church. When something good happens to us, we are able to be remarkably ungrateful, remarkably unconcerned about the Author of our good fortune. And this is not just true of society at large, but even in the leper colony of the church. Here, where we are acquainted with our soul-sickness, we should know better, we should know that we can’t change things on our own, we should know there is One who has touched us and should be thanked. But even here, in the leper colony, we forget to thank Him.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Advent Devotional for Dec. 11

Thursday, December 11 Matthew 8:5-13
The power of Jesus’ word to heal.
The story reveals remarkable faith on the part of this Roman centurion. His servant was sick and this centurion—a Gentile and likely reviled by many of the more orthodox Jews—would have hated him. Yet he has faith like no one else. When his servant is sick, not only does he seek out the Jewish Jesus, foreign to him, but he also believes so strongly in Jesus that he simply urges him to speak a healing word, not even to bother coming to the house. Jesus is amazed at this level of belief and reminds his Jewish listeners that this foreigner gets it better than many of them do. In fact, he says, this centurion will eat with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in glory before many pious religious Jews will. And, almost as an aside, the servant is healed.
We often wonder today why we can’t see Jesus in the flesh, and we think we would gain great comfort if we could. Maybe we would be comforted in some ways. But do not underestimate the awesome power of Jesus’ word to heal, and this word is not tied to being able to see him.
We hear Jesus’ word in many ways; most obviously, we hear it in the Scripture, commonly called “the Word of God.” Scripture contains so much that points us to Jesus, helps us to see him clearly and thus be healed. We also can hear Jesus’ word in the words of our neighbors—this is part of what is meant when the church is called the body of Christ. We speak for Jesus too. It is a privilege and a boldness to preach and to think those words speak God’s truth and love to human hearts; but this is not a privilege reserved for the ordained. Christians all are able to speak the word of God to each other, to speak to each other with healing words, words that reflect God’s love and care to a person in need of these.
In what ways is Jesus trying to speak healing to you now? Are you listening? Do you want to be healed?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Advent Devotional for Dec. 10

Wednesday, December 10 Matthew 20:29-34
Jesus has compassion on all those who desire healing.
We face a similar situation in this text as we did in yesterday’s. Two blind men sit by the roadside, and as Jesus passes by, they shout, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” Though an angry crowd tried to hush them, they continued to shout, “Have mercy on us!” Jesus hears them and stops, and says, “What do you want me to do for you?”
This is similar to yesterday’s situation where Jesus wants to know what the heart situation of the sick people are. What do these men really want? Do they want Jesus to tell off the crowds who have been picking on them? Do they want Jesus to overturn the religious system that marginalizes the sick? Do they want money? The men, however, decide they want none of these things, but desire more than anything else to be healed. This request touches Jesus’ heart, and he heals the men.
Jesus is touched that healing—not revenge—is the deepest desire of their hearts. Jesus still demonstrates that deep compassion on those who desire healing today. It takes courage to desire healing today; in a therapeutic world that aims at self-acceptance, it takes courage to say, “There is something disordered about me, and I crave Jesus’ healing touch.” In a world that often values style over substance, it takes courage to confess that not everything is right within, and that we need healing more than an image makeover. Jesus respected such courage then, and respects that courage in his children now. If healing is what we desire, Jesus stands ready.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Advent Devotional for Dec. 9

Tuesday, December 9 John 5
To be healed, we must first want to be healed.
Tradition held that the waters in the pool of Beth-zatha could heal if the sick person could only touch them. Verse 4 of this chapter is omitted from many modern translations of the Bible, but gives us an insight into this tradition: “…an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was made well from whatever disease that person had.” By the pool lay a man, blind, lame and paralyzed—he had been ill for 38 long years.
Jesus’ first question to the man may seem odd: “Do you want to be healed?” We think, well, yeah, why wouldn’t he want to be healed? But 38 years is a long time to live with an illness. One begins to make one’s peace with an illness over 38 years. One might not like being blind, lame and paralyzed, but at least after 38 years, the man has no doubt re-constructed his reality to account for the infirmity, and life has gone on as planned. If healing meant going through that process all over again, having to relearn how to live as a sighted person who could walk, would that person really want to be healed after all? Or would it be easier to keep on living with the malady?
I do not presume to judge whether the man should have wanted to be healed or not. (He did, incidentally, and he was.) But this is precisely the same dilemma we face. Living as we do in an imperfect world, we make our peace with its broken realities—sometimes we make our peace too easily. We begin to expect that we, too, will reflect its values. We begin to think that a bit of conspicuous consumption here, a degree of profanity there, a wandering and lustful eye here, a bit of sloth there, that all these things are normal, just part of being a person.
It is and it isn’t. It is normal, but it is far from the abundant life God has for us. And so Jesus asks us as well—“Do you want to be healed?” Or have we fallen so in love with our sickness, with our life as it is now, that we no longer want healing, but for a divine blessing on the status quo? Do we really want healing if that means re-constructing our realities, re-thinking everything? Would we rather remain sick or take on the work it will entail to be made whole?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Audio from Sunday, Dec. 7 Sermon

Based on Acts 2:43-47. We had an extended time of sharing the peace of Christ in the middle of the sermon.

If you're looking for the Advent devotional, see the next post down...

Advent Devotional for Dec. 8

Monday, December 8 Acts 9:10-18
Healers must be brave.
Ananias must have cursed his luck. God called him to go and visit Saul of Tarsus, Christianity’s public enemy #1, because Saul had apparently seen the light and met Jesus. In fact, he had seen Jesus so clearly that he had been blinded by the glory and God would use Ananias to heal him, and help him regain his sight. This all sounded fine except when you consider that at last sighting Saul was rounding up Christians and having them put to death. So Ananias didn’t want to go visit a guy who, last he knew, wanted to kill him. Would you?
Yet Ananias goes, and lays his hands on the murderer and says, “Brother Saul (how strange that must have sounded!), the Lord Jesus has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And Paul is healed; scales fall from his eyes and he receives the Holy Spirit and was baptized (presumably by Ananias). He goes on to be a great teacher, preacher and healer himself.
As disciples of Jesus we are called on to be not only healed, but to be healers. As such, we are called to some pretty scary places. We cannot stay by ourselves, holed up in our fortress-churches, lobbing angry words at the hostile world outside. Instead, we are called on to engage with the world even at its scariest. To be an Ananias means believing that there is truly no one beyond the reclamation of God. To be an Ananias means bringing healing to people, even when common sense tells us that these people are murderers, that they hate us, that they do not deserve healing at all.
What might the story of Ananias mean for you? Well, you might start by asking yourself who it is that you are most frightened of. Who threatens you? Is it a family member? A boss? An employee? A person of another race? Whoever it is, consider the prospect that God can actually use you to bring healing to that purpose. And consider the awesome truth that God may also use that person to bring healing to you.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Advent Devotional for Dec. 7

Sunday, December 7 Mark 2:1-12
Healing proclaims God’s forgiveness.
This passage is a favorite with young children who love the image of a house so crowded that the paralytic’s friends carry him to the roof of the house, cut a hole in the roof, and lower the man so he is right in front of Jesus. Jesus’ immediate response, his first words? “Son, your sins are forgiven.” What a strange thing that would be to say in our culture! Imagine going to the doctor’s office, being examined and tested and being told, “Your sins are forgiven.” You’d think to yourself, “Time to get a real doctor” and back slowly toward the exit.
Yet Jesus’ response has a point. After he pronounces the man forgiven, the religious authorities begin to grumble and say, “Who is this guy who says he can forgive sins? Only God can forgive sin.” This is of course true, but they do not know that Jesus is God! Jesus, for his part, responds by saying, “Just so you can see I have the kind of power it takes to forgive sins, I’m going to heal this man’s paralysis as well, and the man begins to walk around. The crowd is stunned at this miracle of Jesus. The fact Jesus healed the man made his message that much more trustworthy—he really was God, and the healing proved it to people!
In the same way, our healing testifies to the world that Jesus is God. Our lives demonstrate God’s healing when we are kind, generous, peaceable (even in the midst of conflict), and open to His leading even when it means changing our lives. When Jesus’ followers live like this, the world learns to trust Jesus! Unfortunately, the flip side is that when his followers are vindictive, cruel, unforgiving and stingy, the world learns that Jesus is not the transformative agent he claims to be. When his followers are not healed, the world thinks Jesus is a liar. Let God heal you today—so that the world can see his love and power more clearly!