Tag Archives: healing

To Follow Jesus

(Click here to listen.)

Before I get started, I want to make an important disclaimer. There is no way the fullness of Jesus work that we celebrate today can be contained in one sermon or one book. The writer of today’s text ended his gospel with the words “25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” John 21:25 So my words today are about one small yet significant piece of what we celebrate.

Today we declare with joy the resurrection from the dead of our savior. Jesus is risen! Those three words are packed with the hope of our lives, the promise of transformation, and freedom from the power of sin and death. I want to share with you an understanding of what we have been saved from and what we have been saved for. We often tend to focus our energies on one or the other, but I would like us to consider that we serve a God who operates by a different priority structure than the systems of control and domination that characterize human interaction. We are saved from sin in two ways: we are saved from the personal darkness within that drives us away from God and neighbor and we are saved from the systemic sins based on personal sin that govern the priorities of the world around us. What we celebrate today is our freedom from the power of death, freedom from the systems of death, and the resurrection which brings that freedom to us. When preparing his disciples for this freedom, and how things were to work under the authority structure of God, Jesus did something absolutely shocking.

3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13:3-17

Jesus is amazing at showing us ways to be extraordinary in the mundane. Foot washing was a normal part of life in a dusty land with little to no sanitation where everyone wore sandals. When you went to someone’s house the first thing that would normally happen on entry is washing feet. In a poorer household, the host would have water available and you would wash your own feet. In a household with slaves the owner would ask a slave to wash the feet of his guests. And yes, “ask” is the right word. This task was so lowly that it was very bad etiquette to order a slave to wash your guests’ feet. John’s introduction of this act juxtaposes Jesus’ power and authority with his actions in a way that calls into question everything we think we know about the way God’s authority works. Before Jesus gave us his example it would be easy to interpret God as the stern, dictatorial, judge handing down laws based on his own whims and impossible to entirely please or appease. In Jesus we find a different perspective on what it means to be God and how God chooses to exercise authority, justice and mercy.

John tells us that Jesus’ actions on the night before he was killed were undertaken with the full understanding of having received power over everything. What would I do if I knew God had given me power over everything? Set myself up as absolute ruler of the world, gather the riches of the world to myself, appropriately “deal with” those people that tick me off, and change everything I don’t like about the way the world works. This is just off the top of my head, I am sure you could add to the list as well. Jesus, however, was operating from a different understanding of how Godly power functions. Godly power finds its expression in humble service, not grandiose self-promotion. Knowing this, Jesus, the Christ, the prophesied Messiah, the Son of God and Son of Man, the King of Kings, Emanuel, the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God noticed that no one had washed their feet or volunteered to wash the feet of others. Seeing this sad state of affairs he stripped off his outer garments, got a basin of water, wrapped a drying cloth around his waist, got down on his knees and began to wash the increasingly horrified disciples’ feet.

When Jesus finally got to Peter and began to wipe his feet Peter went into a full freak out. I am sure that he wasn’t the only one, but Peter wasn’t known for keeping things bottled up and in some ways I am sure Jesus knew what was coming, and was probably counting on it in order to drive the lesson home. Peter had struggled with this teaching of Jesus on the use of authority in the past, and I think that in this interchange we are witnessing just how hard this teaching is to accept. We have been trained that power exists to be served from a very young age. It is the way the world works, and we are told that of course powerful people should be served. It is what power is for. Anything else is crazy and would fall apart almost immediately, at least for the powerful. Peter still thought that he was on the Messiah gravy train and soon enough he would get to be served as one of the disciples of the Messiah. He was going to be rich and powerful and “what the…ahem…on earth are you doing? You can’t wash my feet! Are you crazy?!”

Jesus reply was basically, “No, Peter. I am not crazy, and if you want to have a part of the only sanity left in this world you will submit to my service.” Of course we know that Jesus was the one sent to restore sanity, to overturn the crazy rules of domination that held people bound to their sin. Of course Peter swung the pendulum too far in the other direction in his reply to Jesus, saying well wash all of me then that I might be even more a part of your work. In Jesus’ reply to Peter’s overcorrection we learn that Jesus serves in the way we need, not necessarily in the way we desire. The disciples were already on the right path, they just needed the dirt of what they had walked through to get to the path removed. Sometimes when we see the spots of dirt on us we overreact and try to get God to give us the full cleansing again since we must be horrible people if we got a bit of dirt on us again, after we have travelled all this way. That’s the way I have tended to react and it crippled me from allowing God to clean up my little messes. Let me tell you that no one judged me as hard as I judged myself over my weight. All I saw was an addiction to food and patterns of eating that were destroying me, and like some kind of idiot I couldn’t even stop myself. I knew in my heart of hearts that I was an unrepentant glutton and wondered how I could ever believe that I could be any kind of pastor with that kind of sin in my life. The world taught me that I had to be self-sufficient and deal with my messes without help, that I should be the one to wash my own feet. Jesus replies “If I don’t wash your feet you have no part of me, besides the rest of you is clean let me take care of your feet.” Jesus not only knows that in coming to him we were made clean, but he also knows that some of the voices we have been listening to are betrayals of the hope we have in him. We have walked through the muck and need our feet washed.

This passage foreshadows the cleansing service of the cross, in which Jesus took on the deadly, sin based, systems of domination and showed the victory that comes from humble service in the resurrection we celebrate today. On this day we can declare that the work of making us clean has been accomplished and, yes we need to wash our feet regularly because the roads we walk down take us through the muck and mire as we journey towards our Lord.  Do you know, really know, what Jesus has done for us? Can you accept the lowerarchy of Jesus way? The way of the suffering servant prophesied in Isaiah? Jesus reminds us that if he is our teacher and we name him as our Lord we must be prepared to serve, to lay aside our agendas and desires, instead serving others and accepting the helps we need to grow more Christlike. We must know that Jesus freely chose to die for us rather than operate according to the world’s priority systems; that his blood was shed according to his will so that we could be freed from the need to be self-serving and from that self-centered state set up systems of domination and judgment over others and ourselves. When Jesus stepped out of that tomb the lie of self-serving power was defeated. Now that he has done this work of ultimate self-sacrifice of pride and position it is on us to follow his example.

It is in coming together to serve each other that we can step away from the self-serving patterns of domination and be transformed into the blessed community of resurrection. It is here that we rebuild our connection to God and neighbor through humble service. In order for me to have gotten to this point in my faith I have needed my brothers and sisters to serve me, and be served by me. I must say that after 36 years of trying, failing, getting my feet washed and trying again I couldn’t be more blessed, and it is all because the community of faith has been around me to give and receive the grace Jesus has given us. In our time of open worship I invite you to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit, to welcome the Spirit in and allow God to speak to and direct you on his path of humble service, into his way of being and doing what is right. After I share a song there will be a time of silence for five minutes then one of our youth will stand with the microphone. If God speaks to you with a message for the rest of the gathering weigh those words and then stand and wait for the microphone to be brought to you.

Will you let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I might have the grace to
Let you be my servant too

We are pilgrims on a journey
We are travelers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load

I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the night time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the peace you long to hear

I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh I’ll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through

When we sing to God in heaven
We shall find such harmony
Born of all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony

Brother sister let me serve you
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace to
Let you be my servant too[i]

<Open Worship>

As we prepare to leave this place of celebration to rejoice with our families let us sing in joyful reminder of Jesus’ self-sacrifice in service to us.

[i] CCLI Song # 72673
The Servant Song
Richard Gillard
© Words: 1977 Scripture In Song (Admin. by Maranatha! Music (Capitol CMG))
Music: 1977 Scripture In Song (Admin. by Maranatha! Music (Capitol CMG))
For use solely with the SongSelect Terms of Use. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com
CCLI License # 378755


Let Us Pray

(Click here to listen.)

In the summer of 2002 I was the kitchen manager for a kid’s camp in the Poconos. On the first night of one week a counselor approached after we had finished cleaning the kitchen at the end of the day. He hesitantly told me that he thought he had a bladder infection because he had to use the bathroom every 5 minutes. This would undermine his ability to build respect from the campers and would mean he had to take time off from counseling. I had watched him leave the fireside chat repeatedly that evening with a deeper look of embarrassment each time and had wondered what was going on. He asked me if I would pray for him. I said I would, and that I wanted to get the chaplain, a Mennonite pastor named Charlie Ness, to join me in praying for him. The counselor said OK and I told him to wait for me in the kitchen. I found Charlie and asked him “Do you believe in laying on hands in prayer and anointing with oil to heal the sick?” When Charlie answered: “Yes! Of course!” I brought him back to the kitchen where the young man waited for us. I got some oil out of our gallon jug, put it in a cup and brought the young man and the pastor into the serving area which was private. We anointed the young man with oil and prayed that God would relieve him of the ailment. As we prayed and laid hands on that young man something happened. The next day the young man came to me with a look of astonishment saying that from the moment we began praying he had felt better. At the end of the week the young man had not had any kind of problem or relapse. God had healed him.

When I asked Charlie the question, it was partly because I had been around some traditions that believed God no longer worked this way, that prayer for healing was presuming on God, that prayer for healing was an attempt to control God, or that prayer for concrete things was too risky. The main reason was that I needed someone else to bolster my faith in God’s willingness to heal because two years before this I had been praying that my Dad would be cured of cancer, and had laid hands on him and anointed him with oil in a large gathering of ministers with a “No” answer that broke my heart. This was the first time since my father’s death that I had prayed for healing for anyone. I knew all too well about risky. But I also knew about the importance of obedience and still had some trust in God even though it was hard. James’ encouragement in today’s scripture was in my heart that night.

13Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.          James 5:13-18

When we look at a text like this, we need to be careful in our application to make sure that we do not believe that we can make formulas to control God. This text is not about how to get God to heal people! It is about our relationships. One of things you might have noticed is the relational theme that runs through James’ writing. He is deeply concerned with the quality of relationship that his readers have with God, each other, and the world around us. James begins this section with the call to live in relationship with God in all circumstances. Having a conversation with God constantly going on in your head is one of our main goals as followers of Jesus. Every preacher I know has mentioned this as important, and now it is my turn. For a more practical guide to beginning this practice I recommend reading The Practice of the Presence of God by the 17th century Carmelite monk Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. Brother Lawrence writes about the necessity of this practice of prayer we have seen throughout James’ epistle saying:

The most holy and necessary practice in our spiritual life is the presence of God. That means finding constant pleasure in His divine company, speaking humbly and lovingly with Him in all seasons, at every moment without limiting the conversation in any way. This is especially important in times of temptation, sorrow, separation from God, and even in times of unfaithfulness and sin.[i]

Prayer is more than we understand. I don’t think any of us can grasp what it means to live in the presence of the living God, listening for his voice and speaking with Him. In my sorrow, when I am broken and discouraged, I can enter into God’s presence and not be rejected. In my joy I can sing praises and God will dance with gladness as I sing. We are encouraged to come into God’s presence in all circumstances and as His followers are welcomed no matter how broken we might have become. We deeply underestimate how much God desires to be with us, even to the point of patiently enduring our pain and brokenness. Living in prayer restores us and creates the space for God to work more effectively in our lives.

Sometimes our brokenness comes in the form of a physical illness and let me say that a majority of the time these kinds of ailments have absolutely nothing to do with any kind of bad moral decision making. As most of you parents know just having kids in school is enough to get the whole house sick. Amy’s time in petri –ahem- pre-school brought that lesson home to us in more than one way. That being said, we are called to support each other through our trials, illnesses, and the bumpy parts in the road of life.

We live in a culture that idolizes independence and creates co-dependence. The myth of independence says that we each must be strong and stand on our own two feet with nothing to help us. The myth of independence sets up codependence because the message that comes through in terms of helping others is that only when we are strong and standing on our own can we then help one of those poor slobs that hasn’t “gotten it all together” yet. This sets up one person as the exclusively strong giver and the other as the exclusively weak receiver. This kind of relationship is mutually destructive in that it creates pride on the part of the giver which leads to judgment and despair on the part of the receiver that they can ever overcome others’ judgment or their weakness; or that God would ever desire to help someone as reviled by others as they are.

James calls us to a different way of being in the world here, that when we are sick to ask for the prayer we need. That when we are falling down to rely on our brothers and sisters to hold us up. God has gifted each person here with something that this body needs in order to function well. That means we must learn to depend on each other to accomplish God’s call on us personally and us as a community. So when you are sick, call the elders to come and anoint you with oil and pray over you, in our mutual support and prayer we can confront the brokenness that lies within us, and the brokenness the exists in the world around us. Whatever the source of the problem, coming together in the presence of God will bring the health we most need, even if it is the mental and spiritual health needed to face death well. The other necessary component of interdependence is sharing with each other what our weaknesses are. Each of us has at least one area in our lives in which we consistently fall short of the mark. Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to face those challenges alone?  Thankfully we don’t have to. This room is filled with people who fail just like you do. Their difficulties may lie in other areas like addiction to pornography, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or food. Your difficulty might be pride, judgment, fear of the future, lack of trust, or greed. Sometimes it feels like there are as many ways to completely mess up as there are people, but when we are open with each other about where we fail, we haul those things that have been growing in the dark places we hide into the light and they lose their power over us. A little over a week ago I began inputting everything I eat into an app called My Fitness Pal. I share that food log with two friends who look at what I eat, and this has had an effect on me. I am dragging everything out into the light, and that is making a difference. On Wednesday I was struck with a deep hunger and found myself in the Safeway candy aisle. I knew I would have to input whatever I ate, and after 5 excruciating minutes walked away empty handed. I overcame because I was intentionally bringing my self harming eating habits into the light, and my sin against myself could not thrive under scrutiny. I will still mess up again, but because I am being open with some trusted friends I have their strength to help overcome my weakness. In their loan of strength, they are not judging me; we are all weak and are being the strength for each other that we don’t have on our own. We all fail, but together we can fail forward, picking each other up a little closer to the mark we are aiming for. Our prayers for each other are most effective when we can be pillars of mutual support.

The final prayer interaction we have is with the world around us. Our prayers can, like Elijah’s, open up means by which the world around us can be drawn in to relationship with God. We can pray to dry up the things that give life to the independently codependent structures of our society and we can pray for God to nourish the things in our society that lead to mutual dependence on each other and our true dependence on God. Prayer is the means by which we align ourselves with the purposes of God. That alignment means we can see exactly what God seeks to challenge in the culture around us, and in ourselves. Truthfully, being aligned with God’s purposes will make us about as popular as Elijah was as we challenge the structures in our society that go against the love God has called us to have for all of His image bearers. There are a lot of image bearers that are going to benefit from having health care next month and there are a lot of image bearers that will suffer greatly if we attack Syria. There are a lot of image bearers that die, are imprisoned, or are treated like waste every day right here and there are a lot of image bearers who get the chance to participate in restorative justice programs, who find homes and who through some grace are given a new life. Through prayer we will find ourselves on the side of life, abundant life that has meaning beyond stuff, abundant life that sees the value of all who bear the image of God, from the child in the womb to the inmate on death row. When we pray, things can change, the world can be transformed. Ordinary people living ordinary lives become agents of God’s transformation in the world simply because we engage the presence of God and acknowledge our need.

Friends, we need each other. In order for me to minster well, I need your gifts and talents to support me and in order for you to minister well you need my gifts and talents to support you. It is when we come together in prayer that we can begin to let go of the lies of independence and codependence and hear the truth of God’s gifting in each of our lives. When we come together in prayer we can also hear the truth of our weakness and gain the strength to accept other’s gifts. Our Open Worship time is a place in which we can practice this communion with God and others, and hopefully the time of Open Worship will expand for us beyond the boundaries of this service to encompass our whole life. Let us pray.

[i] Brother Lawrence. The Practice of the Presence of God. Whitaker House, New Kensington, PA 1982. p.61