How do we ask for help so that it doesn't seem like we are asking for help? That sounds like a ridiculous question but so many of us do it. Sadly, in lieu of actually asking for help we make up excuses or fabricate a story to convince another person to offer help without us having to ask. But it seems like that is deceiving the one who is offering. Do we do it so not to come off as weak and in need? If people don't know you need help, why should you expect them to offer? Perhaps if we just asked in hopes that our honesty would appeal to the honesty and kindness of others we wouldn't need help because our needs would already be known before life got out of hand. Jesus said that The Father already knows your needs before you ask, but you still have to ask. Helping others to help you is better than deceiving the one you seek help from.
Just a thought worthy of a discussion. But it could use your help to flesh it out.
Reading: Matthew 8:18-27
In 1974, the epic motion picture Godfather Part II made cinematic history by becoming the first sequel of a Best Picture winner to win best picture by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Only The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King has achieved this success since then. That is because rarely do sequels ever live up to the legend of the franchise, even if many Star Wars fans might beg to differ. Today, is kind of like a sequel to last weeks sermon in that we are continuing to follow Matthew's story of Jesus. You can judge for yourself if it merits an Academy Award or not, but if anything it should be a little more enlightening then Weekend At Bernie’s part II.
If you remember, we discussed how all healing comes from God, whether it is through the skillful hands of a medical professional or by the strength of one’s faith. The spiritual healing that God provides allows each individual person or community to live a balanced life in harmony with the world. Through confession, reconciliation and forgiveness, human relationships are healed both with God and with one another.
Matthew’s Gospel also reveals God has given all power and authority to Jesus the Messiah, who has redefined what it means to live in righteousness in the Kingdom of God. To live like Christ means we are often called to erase the lines that divide and segregate us, to care for and welcome anyone who seeks the healing love of God; including our enemies. By his words and deeds Jesus will go on to teach us how to transform the Roman cross of injustice into the very cross of peace that we carry in his name. The peace that God freely gives to us through Jesus Christ is very the peace that restores every aspect of our life, both now and in the age to come.
Today’s lesson is to illustrate what it means to follow Jesus in order to find our peace. No matter how turbulent the sea might seem for our church and the pastoral search committee, I believe we have been given a great opportunity to be a bridge of peace in the midst of our own chaos. However, to be at peace requires more than just to follow him to the water of life; like the disciples we too must get in the boat.
My question today is one we’ve been asking of ourselves for the last few months; do we have what it takes to get into the boat? I truly believe in my heart that we do. If that is true, then how do we set sail with God on a journey of peace? Turn back to your Bible on page 841, and situate yourself in the second part of Matthew’s story found in chapter 8 and lets see what the word of God reveals.
As you find the page, I would like to share with you the words of Paul Wadell who said, “We know peace not when we agree with others about everything, but when we agree about the true and the good, about what is worthwhile. Christian congregations should radiate peace because none of their members loves or desires anything more than God.”
Beginning with verse 18 Jesus gives orders to cross the sea to escape the great crowd that has been building. Having just witnessed the commanding authority of his teaching and healing, it is not surprising that a lot of people are following him. They are beginning to recognize that he is different, and desire to be a part of whatever it is he is doing. Matthew doesn’t tell us much about who they are, but I imagine they are a lot like us. Perhaps some are seeking spiritual encouragement to get them through the trials and tribulations of life, while others, like the leper, yearn to be restored back into the daily routine of their community. Whoever they are, they follow him for a reason, and yet we will see that those closest to Jesus remain somewhat clueless.
A scribe comes claiming that he is ready to follow this revolutionary rabbi wherever he goes. But Jesus replies, “Why would you want to do something as foolish as that? Foxes and birds have a place to rest their head, but the Son of Man has nowhere.” Jesus does not reject the man outright, but simply questions his motives because God only knows how hard it is to do what he is calling us to do. On one hand, the scribe understands Jesus to be a great teacher, but on the other he does not comprehend that this teacher teaches a wisdom that forces us to abandon the comfort and security of home.
Matthew does not specify what the scribe has chosen to do. Will he stay or will he go? In hindsight, we know if he continued on this journey he would eventually learn that to follow Christ is to follow the one who would establish the kingdom of God by being crucified. To set sail on a journey of peace with God will take more than good ethics and social action, it will take a great sacrifice.
In verse 21, another follower approaches Jesus asking permission to interrupt his journey in order to bury his father who has just died. According to Jewish tradition, a burial must take place on the same day of the death; this is a sacred obligation, especially if one is to honor one's parents as the law commands. Therefore one can hardly imagine a more legitimate, reasonable request. But Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their dead,” implying that nothing shall take priority over our call to discipleship, not even such a profound family obligation as this. Stanley Hauerwas is apt to point out, that “the one who would be a disciple of Jesus stands in the presence of life itself, yet he remains captured by death, wanting to bury the dead. Jesus, who will go on to die on our behalf, requires that those who would follow him not let death determine their relationship to the living.”
If we live in the fear of death then we are not embracing life as God intended for us, or living in peaceful harmony with God and with the world. Today, it is too easy for us to seek life on our own terms. In doing so, God's gift of peace is replaced with a life crippled by insecurity, allowing individuals and corporations to dictate the terms of our sickness.
How many of us fear our beloved house of worship will implode without a minister in place? How many of us want to take control to ensure that this does not happen? Recently, I had a conversation with a parishioner who feared the church was going to crumble because of the dysfunctional infighting that has become a norm for so many churches across the globe. But let us not forget that the church, in spite of any human behavior, has survived two millenniums of heresy, scandal, warfare, natural disasters, and even an argument or two. As the body of Christ, the church is eternal, no matter where or how it is gathered. I would even go as far as to argue that without church dysfunction, we would not have been blessed with Paul’s encouraging letters; empowered to ignite the Protestant Reformation; or been given the spirit to form the beautiful tradition of Congregationalism. So let the dead bury their dead. And let us continue to be the living example of God’s love and forgiveness, and to be the church that keeps Jesus' mission alive.
So do we have what it takes? Will we stand united as a family and community who follows the righteousness of a homeless man? Can we get into the boat together, and confront the cosmic powers that try to stop us? The 12 Apostles said "Yes," even though they had no idea where they were going. And so, in verse 23, those who had sacrificed their livelihood retreat into a boat and set sail across the sea.
It is not without great significance that Matthew puts the disciples on a boat, because on a boat in the middle of the sea, there is no place to escape. I was always reminded of this when I ride Space Mountain at Disneyland. I know that once I am committed to that dark, twisting, unpredictable contraption, there is no getting off, no matter how loud I screamed.
The disciples soon find themselves on a thrill ride of their own. As they travel across the sea, a horrific windstorm threatens to swamp the boat while Jesus is sound asleep. Fearing for their lives, the disciples decide to wake Jesus, faithfully believing that he is the one who can act on their behalf. But Matthew throws an unexpected twist to the story in that Jesus rebukes his disciples because these men are afraid and have little faith. But let me ask you this, isn't a little faith still better than no faith at all? You see, they are in the boat with him.
During these tough months ahead, the church’s faith will certainly be put to the test. And so, we must overcome our fears by relying on the power of God to see us through the stormy seas. Like the leper and the centurion, people have come to recognize Jesus is the one who possesses the power and authority to save them. The disciples cry out, "Lord, save us!" And Jesus comes to their rescue, calming their hearts by calming the wind and sea. The one capable of healing the sick and forgiving sinners is the same one whom possesses power over all creation. And so, as today’s reading comes to an end with the disciples wondering, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” we too must ask ourselves the same question.
To the Apostles Jesus simply said, “Follow me.” And they did, possessing just enough faith and trust to leave behind everything before they ever saw a stitch of proof of Jesus' power. As a result of such faith, as little as it was, they weathered the storms of life with Christ by their side. What will it take us to get into the boat together? Faith, courage, or an unwavering belief that this man Jesus is who he says he is.
The late Catholic theologian, Henri Nouwen once wrote, “Standing erect, holding our heads high, is the attitude of spiritually mature people in the face of the calamities of our world. The facts of everyday life are a rich source for doomsday thinking and feeling. But it is possible for us to resist this temptation and to stand with self-confidence in this world, never losing our spiritual ground, always aware that the sky and earth will fall away but the words of Jesus will never pass away. Let us be like Mary, the mother of Jesus, who stood under the cross, trusting in God’s faithfulness notwithstanding the death of his beloved child.”
In conclusion, Hauerwas reminds the church “ the church is for the world what the world cannot be for itself. And that in spite of what little faith we might have, our sanctuary is like the disciples' boat, in that the church is the ark of safety for many people who fear the storm-tossed sea of life. Our temptation is to try to row to shore to escape the storm, but in doing so we fail to witness to the one who is peace.”
As our world is towed further away from being reconciled with God, the media steps in and dictates the rules by which modern life is defined. Instead of following the power and authority of God’s healing love and peace, we chase after the false hope of an overly advertised, modernistic dream.
The cross is placed above us in the center of the sanctuary as a reminder of whom we are to serve and what that service entails. Jesus has a mission in the world. It involves and challenges each and every one of us. It may well be that our journey will be a scary, stormy passage, but rest assured we are not taking that journey alone.
Like the coming attractions before the movies, The Bible gives us a taste of what the sequel to this story is going be like. I hedge my bet that when Christ returns, it will better then winning an Oscar, or two. As you leave here today, it will be up to you to decide whether to remain safely tethered at the shoreline or to set sail with God.
Reading: Matt. 8:1-17
As the Republicans and Democrats take up the healthcare issue once again as a means to control the welfare of our country, I think it is appropriate that we address the issue of healthcare from God’s perspective. But before I do, let me tell you what’s been ailing me lately.
This past July, I went to visit an old friend of mine in Phoenix who is dying of liver cancer. She and I had rekindled our friendship a few years back around the time my father in law was diagnosed with Leukemia. Prior to her diagnosis, she had been considered a medical miracle, having been completely healed from Hepatitis C that had laid dormant in her body for nearly 10 years after she successfully completed treatment for heroin addiction. But due to the aggressive nature of her cancer and her past history, she is not eligible for an organ transplant. And so once again her family prays for another miracle.
Sitting with her as she suffered with pain, I couldn’t help but to compare her to my father in law dealing with the agony of his own chemo treatments. But thanks in part to his VA benefits and the many strings that were pulled to get into some very successful medical studies, my father was given a fighting chance. His wife of 47 years, along with his nine adult children and dozens of friends and extended family members, spent the last three years caring for him and praying for a miracle as modern medicine sought a cure for his incurable disease. In spite of the fact the doctors gave him less than three months to live, Vince Walsh was blessed with three more birthday’s and one more grandchild. He passed away in the early morning of August 28th in his home holding his wife’s hand. While his lost is great, the gift of his extended life was even greater.
But that does not make the pain any easier to bear. Even though we know it is impossible to stop the inevitable, we never stop praying for a miracle. Why? Why do we put our faith through such extraordinary pain? Why did Jesus bother to heal the leper or the slave when he knew that they too would eventually pass from this life?
Interestingly, the original Greek word for healing, sozo, has the same root word as that of salvation and wholeness. You see, the early church fathers understood the importance of spiritual healing versus the physical healing obsession that has created today’s multi-billion dollar healthcare industry. That is not to say, I do not believe God works through medical science and therapy. I just think that as God continues to use modern medicine to advance our health, we often forget the importance of spiritual healing for our wellbeing. The purpose of today's lesson is to emphasize that all healing comes from God whether through medicine or through faith.
You see, spiritual healing is God’s offering to us to live a balance life in harmony with the world; a wholeness of body, mind, spirit and relationships through confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. In Matthew’s gospel, the author reveals Jesus as the Messiah. Therefore it is imperative we look beyond the corporate, physical healing of an individual and focus on the more cosmic, spiritual realm where God works to bring about reconciliation between God and humanity, among individuals and communities, and between humanity and the rest of creation.
As the body of Christ, our church is called to participate in God’s spiritual healing. But how can we if we are the ones in need of healing? How will we be at peace if we cannot heal the wounds of our past? How will we reconcile with God, if we are not willing to reconcile with our enemies? As we ponder these questions, I invite you to open your bible back to Matthew 8 found on page 841.
The great theologian Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University claims it is no accident that Matthew begins this passage establishing the location of Jesus. Having come down from the mountain from where he has just given his inaugural Sermon on the Mount, Hauerwas sees the story of Jesus like the story of Moses. But instead of holding tablets that contain the law of God, Jesus comes down from the mountain as the law.
In this light, Matthew begins with a man suffering from leprosy to highlight the significance that such an illness held within Jewish purity laws. Physically speaking, this infectious disease was a great threat to the entire community, so much so the leper was removed from the household and pushed to the outskirts of town away from the general population. The spiritual damage however, was that this man was unable to participate in the traditions that were required by God in the Jewish law.
Regardless of the law, Jesus did not try to avoid the leper who knelt before him. Instead he reached out and touched him with his healing hand, knowing that in doing so would make him unclean in the eyes of the Temple authorities. Humbled before the Lord, the man is healed. In spite of this great miracle, Jesus still expects the man to keep the Levitical law requiring that priests examine a person before he is allowed back into the Temple.
How many people drive past this building who feel like the church has sidelined them, or no longer regard them as worthy to worship with them because of some minor disagreement or something bigger like their political ideology, sexual orientation or mental and physical stability? Jesus crosses the line of social status and self-righteousness to welcome the unclean, the marginalized and the suffering; healing and blessing all who come to him with God’s infinite love and forgiveness.
As the body of Christ, the church is called to show such great hospitality. Part of our healing process as we search to rebuild our community will be to restore the health of our church in God’s glorious love and forgiveness. We do that by opening our doors and welcoming back our brothers and sisters, as God has welcomed us. By opening our doors, we are inviting God to reconcile us with God, and us with the rest of creation.
But even I admit welcoming back a prodigal son is a whole lot easier than accepting someone who is different than us, someone who might threaten our beloved traditions. As the story progresses, we see Jesus reconciles with Israel’s greatest enemy when a Roman centurion seeks him out to heal his paralyzed servant.
Even though the centurion has pledge his allegiance to Caesar, the very ruler who has brought great pain and burden upon God’s people, Jesus welcomes the Roman officer who approaches him as if he knows something that Jesus’ own followers do not. As a man with power and authority, he is able to see Jesus as a person of power and authority. Once again, Jesus breaks from Jewish law that forbids Jews from entering into Gentile homes by offering to go and heal the servant. Hauerwas believes the centurion knows his life and profession are in direct conflict to Jesus' and therefore he refuses the offer.
But more poignantly, Matthew writes that all the Gentile had to do was to ask Jesus to merely speak the word of healing knowing it will be done. Before the great crowd, Jesus declares that nowhere in Israel has he found such faith. In return he heals the servant; transcending time and space to bring joy back into the man’s household. As we see, it takes great faith like Jesus to reconcile with our enemies. And once again, it takes a willingness to cross the line of indifference and provide the healing words of forgiveness. It is not easy for human beings to let go of the past, and so in our prayers Jesus taught us to ask God to forgive our debts and our debtors.
As the church seeks to find a new minister, we need to admit that we are a broken people in need of healing. Some of us suffer from anger and resentment. Some of us feel the pain that comes with losing a spiritual mentor and a beloved friend. Some of us suffer from the lies and betrayal of some one close. There are some of us who suffer with physical afflictions and addiction problems, from anxieties and angst. Some suffer from loneliness, while some suffer alone in bad relationships. For some the pain is new, while for others their torment is buried deep within a long, dark history.
But there is no pain too great or too small that isn’t worthy of God’s healing love. Not even something as mundane as the headache that kept Peter’s mother-in-law from participating in her daily life. In Matthew’s gospel we see the intimate depths that Jesus is willing to go to heal and restore our health, our households and our communities. And that is why he is called the Prince of Peace. To be reconciled to God and to our neighbor is what it means to be at peace. The peace that God freely offers through Jesus Christ is the healing balm that pacifies our pain and restores our health. And so every Sunday, we offer our peace to one another in the name of Christ Jesus.
Later that evening, there were many possessed by demons who are brought to Jesus. He casts out the spirits with a word and cures all who are sick as it was spoken by the prophet Isaiah who said, “the Messiah will bear our infirmities and carry our diseases.” To live in Christlikeness, we are called to reach out and heal those around us, both physically and spiritually. We have the power to do that because we allow the Messiah to bear our sins and restore our health.
We are all sinners. Therefore, we all need healing, not from physical death, which we cannot escape because of our sins, but from the brokenness that made us sick in the first place. In her book, Heal Your Body, author Louise Hay reveals the mental causes for physical illness and offers a metaphysical way to over come them. When my wife looked up the cause of leukemia, she discovered it was one’s feeling of giving up on life. My father in law embraced and celebrated life every day. Throughout his sickness, he never gave up on living life to the fullest for one second. As a reward God gave the world three more years of his wonderful stories, traditional songs, pun-filled jokes, and undying love. The greatest of these is love. If we are to heal as a church so that we can be a church that heals others, we must love one another, seek reconciliation with those we disagree with, and remember our purpose is to bring the peace of God upon earth.
Our faith must be an open door where all are welcome at the table of God’s blessing, to share in life as God has given it to us to live. It begins with turning over our sins and sickness to God. Through our prayers we ask for forgiveness and to restore our relationship with God and with our neighbors and enemies. In doing so, we proclaim the life giving, healing power of Jesus the Messiah who took upon himself the suffering of the world. To have faith in Jesus’ healing authority is to have faith that continues to give life. God’s word is the promise of a renewed and everlasting life. Even in the face of death. The disciples discovered the cross could not kill Israel’s Messiah. And now through him, we have eternal life. Therefore, we are called to pick up our cross and let the healing begin.
I have just been through a three week journey from sickness to death to funeral to life again. After a three year battle with AML, my beloved father in law Vince Walsh passed away at home surrounded by his adorning family. There is not enough space on this site, or any site for that matter, to write about this man's history and the impact he made on the world. Suffice it to say, this blog would be meaningless if it were not for his inspiration and insight on the way to live life. I have often heard my wife express that her father was too busy living life to worry about death. True. For Vince, life was about helping others, be it a stranger or a relative. He took the time to know your name, find out where you were from, and worked hard to figure out if there was a common connection between himself and you. If there was a connection, and most often there was, you were instantly treated with royal care. If not, and rarely was that the case, he would remember you if not only for the sole purpose of using you to connect himself with the next person he met.
But that was such a small part of who he was. He was a large man who in spite of losing most of his weight and muscle mass died large. He embodied the cross of Christ for others to follow. He taught all those around him the importance of life, and never once ceased to excel in his mission. Death could not stop him, for even though he is no longer physically with us he lives in the thousands of hearts and millions of stories that span the globe. All because he wanted to know who you were. When one believes the world revolves around oneself, that is to say when one's self-importance overshadows others, then their world is limited to those within that limited universe, such as a family or group of friends. But when one revolves around the universe, placing others before the self, they quickly discover their universe is limitless, both here in this present age and the age to come.
These words seem so small compared to the greatness of what this man had to offer, and what he gave to his faith and to the world. Small in comparison to all the words and wisdom he would share with anyone willing. For he took the time to see something wonderful in each person, and sought ways to help you be the same. If there is someone you have always wanted to know or talk to then by all means do so. If you are standing in line or in an elevator or getting a parking ticket, get to know the people around you. Ask them their name, and where they are from, and if you are lucky time will allow you to connect the many faces of the world together as God intended.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”