Friday, May 20, 2016

Year C, Proper 4, Second Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 7:1-10: "Such Faith"

"As I stood there at the foot of his hospital bed, there was a part of me that desperately wanted to reach out and touch him, even his toe, and declare with complete confidence, 'Be healed!'"

"Such faith" I believe is largely lost among us.

More on that, but first, an observation:  In spite of nearly 500 years of evangelical preaching in the tradition of the reformation, and for that matter, nearly 2000 years of hearing the Gospel, we still cannot get over our obsession with sin, morality, and the works we do.  Works righteousness is alive and well among us.  "He is worthy. . ."  Even as we proclaim the "Gospel" we do so within the context of behaviors that are right or wrong.  Our focus is almost exclusively on what we do, and forgiveness is proclaimed as the remedy for our sinful actions.

And yet as we read through the scripture, those grace filled moments that define the Gospel often have nothing whatsoever to do with our "works", but often with our "situation in life".  Healing is central to the Gospel Jesus lived.  How much of his time was spent devoted to this?  What if instead of "Confession and Forgiveness" being the standard rite for the beginning of worship, we considered focusing on healing?  The "Gospel" for one who has Stage 4 cancer does not focus on their "works", but on their need for healing.  But we are more confident in God's willingness and ability to forgive, than we are in his willingness and ability to heal.

"Go." and he goes.  "Come." and he comes.  "Do this."  and he does this.  Such faith.  Dare we to believe any more that Jesus does indeed have the power, not only to forgive, but to heal?

Do we dare believe that reconciliation is possible with those from whom we are estranged?  Dare we believe that the lonely and isolated in this world might, through the Gospel, find love and community?  That wars might cease?  That liberation is the work of God's hand.  That the goodness of all creation might be restored?  Dare we believe that Jesus has the authority to say "Go.",  "Come.", and "Do this."  Do we have such faith as to lay hands on the sick and heal them in the name of Christ Jesus?

My head is not right.  Bipolar they call it.  When I sit down for worship in the fits of depression, the last thing I want to hear about is 'my sin'.  In those moments I'm much more focused on the 'wrongs' God has done to me, than the wrongs I have done.  And how quick I am to believe that this is an incurable life long malady, and how little hope I have that full healing can occur.  It can be managed, perhaps, but healed, no.  "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."

A charismatic Christian that I am quite fond of took me aside one day and shared that she had discerned in me the gift of healing.  And that I needed to use that God given gift for the sake of my parishioners.  "No you don't, your not putting that onus on me." was the response deep in my heart.

You see, I am much more comfortable telling people that we cannot pray ourselves out of our own mortality, than I am saying, "Rise, take up your mat and walk, for your faith has made you well."  Oh, I have stood at the foot of many a hospital bed, like the seminary professor that I quoted above, and wished, just wished, that I could lay my hands on them and heal them.  Would that Jesus had given me that authority.  It is the fear of failure, or perhaps better put, a lack of hope, that prevents me from even trying.  The focus is admittedly on my own inabilities.  But it carries over to a lack of faith in what Jesus can do.

When a couple in my parish had not one, but two children born with spinal muscular atrophy, desperately I wished that I could call upon the name of Jesus and heal those children.  But they died according to the timeline of that disease's progression.  All very predictably.

"Such Faith".  Does it exist anymore?

There is part of me that would like to conclude this meditation with a wonderful story of healing and hope, and the promise that this is possible for all of us, if we but believe.

But instead, perhaps because of my own struggles for healing, I'm simply left with a question.  Can we still believe that the God who commanded light to come out of darkness, who breathed life into the dust of the earth, can say "Be healed", and we will be healed?


  1. In the Maundy Thursday liturgy, during the laying on of hands, the pastor declares "In obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins." Dare we make a similar statement regarding healing?

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    3. Hi David, I'm your cousin (2nd I think? 3rd? Not sure) David. I'm a Lutheran Pastor too.

      I understand the desire you have to do this, and it's a good desire. But isn't the difference between the forgiving of sins and the healing that God promised us we could do the one (forgive sins) and never the other (heal)? Of course Jesus has the power to do both. But faith can only be in a promise from God. God commanded us to preach the word in law and gospel and to forgive sins. He didn't command us to heal did he?

      And yet...One author I love (Mark Paustian) described the miracles of Jesus as little bits of heaven come down to earth. He said that when we here with our earthly maladies see those miracles, they are promises that we will be healed. Maybe in this life, and so we can pray to God, the great healer who is able to heal us now, but certainly and completely in the life to come.

      Now is the time of the cross. "In this world you will have tribulation, but take heart I have overcome the world!" Isn't this the whole point of the gospel? That He has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son? This life comes to us in the forgiveness of our sins. Sin is, after all, the reason why our world is corrupt. It's the reason there is sickness and trouble (not that specific sins are the reasons for our troubles but sin in general). And God's answer to this is the cross. Christ went through suffering to glory in order to forgive us, now those who believe are joined to Him! We follow Him. That means...suffering now, but glory later!

      In Christ
      David Ude

  2. David, Thank you for your comments. Nice thing about communications these days is that I'm getting to reconnect (in some cases connect) with cousins.

    Much truth in what you say.

    Perhaps the most we can say about healing is that it is a promise for now, but not yet. We certainly experience a lot of healing in this life, but not always. I am struck by some things about the Gospel and healing. Sometimes Jesus says, "Your sins are forgiven." and is clearly meaning "You are healed."

    And yes, all healing comes from God, and forgiveness as well (our ability to forgive is a gift from God, not something we do on our own).

    What I am struck by, though, is how little emphasis has been placed on the centrality of healing to the Gospel proclamation. That said, more and more congregations are using such rites as the "Service of the Word for Healing" in their congregational life.

    What I do find interesting is that Jesus' declaration of healing was not a source of controversy during his day, it was when he said "Your sins are forgiven" that the religious leaders objected and accused him of blasphemy. Today, we can routinely declare the forgiveness of sins, and nobody objects, but if we as pastors were to declare to our congregations a similar statement about healing, "Go, your faith has made you well," many eyebrows would be raised.