Saturday, December 29, 2012
Revised manuscript for the Sabbath morning sermon for the Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists.
December 29, 2012
Text: Matthew 4:23-25
This year, the church opened its fourth and fifth medical schools in Nigeria and Peru respectively. Healing is our work. It is central to our understanding of what it means to be Adventist. It is central to what it means to be Christian. The community of Jesus is devoted to healing.
And when it comes to listing the healing professions, we can add to our historic list of healers—Doctor, Dentist, Nurse, Physical Therapist, Dietician—new titles: hardware engineers, software engineers, chip builders and screen manufacturers. And accountants. And venture capitalists. All the people who make the world that we live in work.
Our scripture reading summarizes the mission of Jesus in these words:
Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and pain.
News about him spread as far as Syria, and people soon began bringing to him all who were sick. And whatever their sickness or disease, or if they were demon possessed or epileptic or paralyzed—he healed them all. Matthew 4:23-24.
Jesus looked at the pain and trouble of the human condition and saw a calling to heal. In the gospel story, it looks so simple and uncomplicated. Jesus spoke a word or touched someone, and magically their ailments vanished.
We don't have that kind of magical power. I don't and you don't. You may have witnessed miracles, but you have never seen a hospital emptied because all of the patients were magically healed.
The Gospel of Matthew speaks repeatedly of Jesus' healing ministry. In the center of the Gospel we even read that Jesus sent out his 12 disciples to do the same kind of healing ministry. But nowhere in the book is there a formula we can follow to carry out our own healing ministry.
Since the Gospel offers no guidance for actually repeating the healing magic Jesus demonstrated, it's appropriate to ask, what is the purpose of the book? Why read it, if it doesn't give us power?
I believe the primary value of the Gospel is to shape what we see when we look at the world.
The Wise Men traveled a thousand miles on camels to come and see a baby. When they arrived they didn't see “just a baby.” They saw the King of Heaven, the symbol of the presence and favor of God. Because they were scholar-philosophers, steeped in the promise of a glorious, tranquil, peaceful future adumbrated in ancient scriptures, they saw in the child of Mary and Joseph, the father of a new age.
They saw something scarcely anyone else could see. They made the trek because they believed that in the person of this baby God was specially present among us. Their journey was a profound and public Amen to the declarations of the angels in the secret dreams of Mary and Joseph that their baby was a visitation from heaven.
The baby was born. The boy Jesus grew up. At about thirty he was baptized then launched a whirlwind ministry that lasted a brief three years.
What did that ministry look like? The Gospel of Matthew summarizes the first few weeks or months of Jesus' work this way:
Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and pain. (KJV: healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.) 4:23
Matthew repeats this idea about ten times in his gospel:
So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them all. 4:25
That evening many demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus. He cast out the evil spirits with a simple command, and he healed all the sick. Matthew 8:16
Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. Matthew 9:35
Jesus knew what they were planning. So he left that area, and many people followed him. He healed all the sick among them, Matthew 12:15
Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick Matthew 14:14
When the people recognized Jesus, the news of his arrival spread quickly throughout the whole area, and soon people were bringing all their sick to be healed. They begged him to let the sick touch at least the fringe of his robe, and all who touched him were healed. Matthew 14:35-36
A vast crowd brought to him people who were lame, blind, crippled, those who couldn't speak, and many others. They laid them before Jesus, and he healed them all. Matthew 15:30
Large crowds followed him there, and he healed their sick. Matthew 19:2
The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them. Matthew 21:14
This is a heart-warming picture of Jesus the healer. You would have loved being there. The joy and excitement would have been irresistible. People leaping and dancing for joy. No wonder crowds flocked around Jesus. Even if you were a skeptic, you'd have been drawn. It was an unstoppable contagion of happiness.
When Jesus saw someone who was blind, Jesus saw an invitation, a summons to provide healing. The same when he saw someone lame or crippled or unable to speak because of a severe hair lip.
Note that Jesus had the same response to someone who was demon possessed. Jesus did not see people who were filled with the devil as people in need of rebuke or scolding or condemnation or punishment. They needed healing.
EVERY kind of human brokenness was seen by Jesus as a call to healing. The ONLY exception to this was the brokenness of fundamentalism. Jesus hung out with conservative religious leaders of his days—the infamous Pharisees. He went to dinners in their houses. He engaged in theological debates with them. What Jesus believed was closer to their beliefs than any other system of thought. But the conservative religious leaders—the defenders of careful Sabbath-keeping and proper eating, the advocates of avoiding contamination by contact with worldliness—these are the people Jesus scolded on occasion, and even, condemned.
My belief is that the only reason Jesus so sternly condemned the Pharisees was make it clear to all the people they intimidated that the Pharisees did not speak for God.
Over the years as I have studied and restudied the gospel of Matthew, I have found my own vision altered.
If you're coming to church from the south and you exit I-5 at Ravenna Blvd. At the end of the ramp, there will be a little man with a sign waving at you.
Looking out the window, what do you see?
A moocher? A freeloader? Someone who needs a kick in the seat of the pants? Someone in need of punishment? Perhaps.
As our eyes are shaped by the Gospel of Matthew when we look out our windows at this little man, we'll see someone broken by genetics or mental illness or mental deficit or maybe even just bad luck. We will see someone in need of healing.
But this is an easy case. We know nothing about the man, so we can easily invent a story that awakens our sympathy. Let's take a much harder case: A fellow church member. A professional woman. Chronically unable to hold it together in her primary relationships. Scornful of her present husband. Neglectful of her kids. But she talks a good line when it comes to theology.
What do you see when you look at her? You know her behavior is evil. And surely someone as smart and talented and religious as she is ought to be able to do a better job in her primary relationships.
It's pretty easy to imagine that she deserves punishment.
But looking through the eyes of the Gospel, what do we see? A broken person in need of healing. This is not to minimize the evil of what she has done to her husband and her children. Her failure to care richly and consistently for the primary relationships in her life is immoral. Still, when we allow the Gospel to shape the lens through which we view this person, we will find ourselves hungering for healing not retribution. For mercy, not condemnation.
Let me push this to where it really hurts: What if this person who fails to care, this person who wounds hearts through cruel words or casual neglect is the person you are married to or is your parent or your child?
What then? You are too close to be able to invent a story for this person like the sweet fiction we can drape around the person begging on the corner. Can we learn together from the gospel to see even this person as someone who needs healing more than condemnation?
This does not mean you should volunteer to stay in a place where you are being hurt. You may have to run for your life. You may have to set iron clad boundaries and even get legal help enforcing those boundaries. Jesus taught his disciples to run from their tormentors. So let me be crystal clear: If you are being abused, do not remain silent. Get help. It is available.
Still as Matthew's Gospel shapes our souls, we can learn to hunger for healing for the people who are close to us and wound us. For people here at church who are annoying. For coworkers that drive you crazy. We can practice praying for for mercy instead of judgment. As we do this, we will discover an astonishing freedom.
When Jesus practiced his healing arts thousands of people were drawn irresistibly. I imagine that the more skillful we become in looking at people through the lens of the Kingdom of Heaven, the more attractive we will be. Our children will be drawn. Our neighbors will be drawn. Our enemies will be drawn. We ourselves will discover a sweet freedom and lightness in our lives.
As we enter deeply into the ministry of healing, we will find a special pleasure in keeping company with God.