Lent for the World: Week 1

Post date: Mar 11, 2014 6:46:11 PM

How to use this reflection: This reflection is meant to broaden our perspective during the season of Lent. Lent is a season of turning toward God and dealing with our brokenness. We often do this through a Lenten fast in which we give up something in faithfulness and in an attempt to be more focused on God. However, all too often we only focus on our individual selves, without considering the world’s brokenness and how God is at work amidst the common struggles in the world. These reflections will draw attention to an issue, biblically review God’s response through Christ, consider what this is calling from us, and offer a prayer on behalf of those suffering. My hope is that this reflection will get you thinking, praying, and acting. Below is not the final answer, or a perfect view of the situation. Rather it is meant to stimulate your mind, discussion within the church, and hopefully move us toward faithful action. Please leave a comment- they are welcome and encouraged!

God for the Sick

The Brokenness: I don’t have to explain the issue. You know it and we all know it. People get sick. Everyone who reads this will have been affected by serious illness, either having it yourself or watching someone you love. Cancer, AIDS, stroke, mental illness… the list could go on and on. We were born into this world to have life and have it abundantly. Yet that life can be hampered, made difficult, and ultimately taken through illness. This is a big issue, full of pain and questioning. God is often referred to as the “great physician,” yet faithful people cry out to God for healing and their disease remains. Does God heal some and not others? To be honest, I feel completely inadequate in trying to talk about how God responds to our illness. Yet, I do offer a feeble response to how God responds to sickness and how we as God’s people should respond.

God’s response in Jesus’ Story: Throughout the gospels are multiple stories of Jesus healing people. To narrow our focus, let’s look to two back-to-back stories in Mark’s gospel: the healing of a leper (1:40-45) and the healing of a paralytic (2:1-12). Take a moment to read these two stories.

When Jesus encounters the leper, he doesn’t ask to be healed. He asks to me made clean. It would be safe to assume that his skin disease caused him significant physical pain and suffering. Yet, what appears to bother him most is the lack of community. Lepers were outcast and considered “unclean.” Religiously, they were excluded from the temple and living with their Jewish families. What this leper desires is to be made clean: to be restored to community and society. He wants healing for the sake of community and Jesus is willing. Jesus willingly touches the man, a courageous and risky act which would have made Jesus “unclean.” I wonder, what meant more to the leper, being healed, or the compassionate touch of another human (which he could have been without for years)?

In the next story, four guys bring their paralyzed buddy to Jesus, even going to the extreme of lowering him from a roof. Jesus doesn’t heal him initially, but chooses to pronounce that his sins are forgiven. Why would Jesus say this? One possibility might be that in that world paralysis was thought to have occurred as the result of a sin, either the sin of the individual or their parents. In other words, you were physically suffering because you or your parents messed up. Jesus doesn’t seem to buy in to such a “cause and effect” theology. Thus by pronouncing forgiveness Jesus could have been freeing the man from the shame and guilt that his religious culture had dumped on top of him (as if being paralyzed wasn’t enough of a struggle!). Then when his authority is challenged by the Pharisee’s, Jesus heals the man. Scholar Lamar Williamson notes that healings in Mark’s gospel serve to demonstrate Jesus’ power and act as a proclamation of the Kingdom of God: “Jesus’ mighty works manifest God’s merciful, mighty presence and governance, thereby proclaiming God’s Kingdom” (Interpretation: Mark, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).

A couple of guiding questions stick out to me: both the leper and the paralytic were healed once they encountered a healer. Do we make sure that all sick have access to healers (doctors, medicine, etc.)? Secondly, should the faithful always look directly to God for healing, or could God use the community of faith as means to minister to the sick? After all, it was Christians who started the first hospitals.

I would like to add one more verse of scripture. In the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, those who inherit the Kingdom are ones who the Son of Man claims “I was sick and you took care of me.” The righteous then ask “Lord… when did we see you sick.. and visit you?” The response: “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” (Matthew 25:34-40, Common English Bible).

This may not fully answer the question of why some people are healed from illness, while others are not. But what scripture, and human experience, can testify to is that God hears the cries of the suffering, draws near in presence and solidarity, and promises resurrection. Jesus experienced his own physical suffering in his crucifixion, and then was raised as the “first fruits” from the dead. The sickness is not what defines, nor has the final say on a person. God’s love will prevail.

Hearing Voices: Theologian Dwight Peterson has been ill and receiving hospice care. He made this video for the website “The Work of the People.” Very powerful and a personal testimony to what a truly Christian response to the sick should be: http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/visit-the-sick

Our very own Kay Brownyard was gracious enough to share her personal experience with cancer. Take a moment and take in her shared experience:

Reflections on Having Cancer

Sunday, when Marcus asked me to write this reflection, I don't think he knew the meaning of this week to me. March 13th of this week marks the 27 year anniversary of being diagnosed with breast cancer. I'll spare you all the gory and amazing details. Looking back, it was neither the worst day of my life, nor the best day. However, it was a life-changing day with many questions. For example; "Would I be here for our son's high school graduation?" Some of the questions have been answered, while others are still unanswered.

If I were to fight that same battle again, I'd change some events and others would remain the same. I would not change being left with this grateful heart of mine. I'm filled with gratitude to God for my family (especially Roger), church family, school family, other friends, doctors, nurses, and the children/youth in my life then and now. The Church Youth Group gave a "No More Chemo" Party for me. :-) The treatments were grueling . The Party was uplifting.

What I've learned after cancer: (1) I needed to slow-down. My life was too busy! (2) I realized my true vocational calling was that of being a School Counselor (a stressful position, filled with joys and sorrows). (3) My faith was renewed, as I worked with students, teachers, administrators, and parents. One person CAN make a difference, but only with the help and cooperation of others. (4) With God's help, I can talk with adults on a deeper level without fear of rejection. What's to fear? (5) The greatest challenges were not even thoughts in 1987, when the word "cancer" became a household word. Those challenges were yet to be faced. Without the help of God and the hope, faith, and love given through Jesus Christ, how could I (we) survive? (6) I continue to ask questions like: "Why am I still here?" This question and others are gradually being answered.

In closing, I'll try to remember (I hope you will, as well.) Roman's 12: 12-13, "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality." (NIV) May the peace of Christ be with all of us, now and always.

Our Response: Visit the sick. If there is one thing that we can control and have an impact, we can visit those who are ill and assure them that they are still a part of the community and not forgotten. As the video above testifies, visiting the sick can, as Dwight Peterson states “bring God’s presence to people who need it.” Kay also shared how much the support of others meant to her. God draws near to the sick and, believe it or not, we can be a means of that powerful presence.

So, do you know someone who is ill that could use a visit? Pray that the Spirit would give you a name and pay them a visit this week.

Prayer/Liturgy: Remember the sick in your prayers. I offer you this prayer from the Book of Common Worship:

Mighty and merciful God,

you sent Jesus Christ to heal broken lives.

We praise you that today

you send healing in doctors and nurses,

and bless us with technology in medicine.

We claim your promises of wholeness

as we pray for those who are ill in body or mind,

who long for your healing touch.

Make the weak strong,

the sick healthy,

the broken whole,

and confirm those who serve them

as agents of your love.

Then all shall be renewed in vigor

to point to the risen Christ,

who conquered death that we might live eternally. Amen.