GIVING THAT HEALS
Friends, our world is changing. Oh, I don’t mean just in the areas of medicine and technology and information sharing and the like… although those are certainly important to note. But I mean in really big ways, like just the knowledge that our neighboring planet Mars came the very closest to our planet Earth than it has ever been in all of recorded history this past month. Did you see it? The spectacular Red Planet. We’re learning so much about our universe and yet there’s so much more to learn still. It’s exciting, isn’t it?
Then there’s Yellowstone Park , the largest super volcano in the world—long overdue for a major eruption—and the National Park Service not long ago closed the northwestern section because of “strange and unpredictable activity.” I’m afraid to ask what it’s doing, although I do know that “ Old Faithful ” is no longer so faithful. You’ve probably heard other stories like these, such as the possibility of a large asteroid or meteor hitting the earth, etc., etc.
But what about the closer world that each of us lives in, the world inside these almost too amazing, practically incomprehensible, certainly mind-boggling and way too scary realities and their possibilities? We can push these “big things” out of our minds and go merrily on our way, dancing ourselves into the future can’t we?
Kids can do this more easily than grown ups, I think. Adults can do some really bizarre things, and kids just look at them differently than the rest of us. There was the incident of “some kind of lady” who went by in a convertible, stood up and waved, for the world around to see—and she was stark naked! A 5 year old in the back seat of the mother who, in shock, witnessed this, shouted “Mom! That lady isn’t wearing a seat belt!” It reminded me of the little boy who got lost at the YMCA and found himself in the women’s locker room. When he was spotted, the room burst into shrieks, with ladies grabbing towels and running for cover. The little boy watched in amazement and then asked, “What’s the matter? Haven’t you ever seen a little boy before?”
Yet those of us who have been around a while know the world of kids is a lot more bleak than what these children are seeing. We tend to teach our children the positive side of things, with which I for one would never argue. It's this kind of message: A policeman was taking a routine vandalism report at an elementary school when he was interrupted by a little girl about 6 years old. She looked up and saw his uniform and asked, “Are you a cop?” “Yes,” he answered as he continued writing his report. “My mother said if I ever needed help I should ask the police. Is that right?” “Yes, that’s right,” he told her. “Well, then,” she said as she stuck her foot out, “would you please tie my shoe?” At the end of the day, the policeman parked his van in front of the police station and gathered his equipment. His K-9 partner, Jake, was barking and he noticed another little boy staring in at him. “Is that a dog you got back there?” the boy asked. “It sure is,” the policeman replied. Puzzled, the boy looked at the man and then towards the back of the van. Finally he said, “What’d he do?”
Yet we change as we get older, don’t we? Our perspective widens, we learn more, we grow, mature… in many ways. I recently read a list of the advantages of being over 50, to which I could relate:
1. Kidnappers are not very interested in you.
2. In a hostage situation you are likely to be released first.
3. No one expects you to run into a burning building (unless maybe you’re a pastor)
4. People call at 9 p.m. and ask, “Did I wake you?” (well, maybe
again, unless you’re a pastor)
5. You have a party and the neighbors don’t even realize it.
6. You quit trying to hold your stomach in, no matter who walks
into the room… and the list goes on, ‘til
7. There is nothing left to learn the hard way.
So true! We are now in a world that has the harsh reality of the terrorism attack of Sept. 11, 2001 — and friends, that has changed everything in a very personal way! We are confronted with the vividness of that fact as we approach the fateful day’s anniversary this week. I know the impact of that World Trade Center event continues to be with each and every family member and friend who lost a loved one in those 3,000 tragic deaths… and it will for years to come. Beyond Mars and Yellowstone and meteors, it’s a situation that rippled through the world in its impact, like no other recent event. Our basically “safe” world caved in.
But such is the story of the Syrophoenician woman. We’re told from the scripture read today that the woman’s little daughter had an “unclean spirit” or a “demon,” and however we would describe her specific condition today, whether it was a mental illness or another malady—we know they didn’t have the ability to properly diagnose her at that time--it is clear she was not well. We don’t have a lot of details to know how aware the little girl was of her own problem, how much suffering she was experiencing, but there is no question the mother’s world has caved in. She is hurting because of what her daughter is experiencing—so it had to be pretty bad. Her pain is so great and her love so strong that she hears of Jesus and immediately goes to him for her daughter’s healing.
It’s the same with those who bring the deaf man with a speech impediment to Jesus. The man has suffered greatly and his empathetic friends who hurt for him care enough to bring him to Jesus for healing as soon as they hear Jesus is in the area. Jesus’ fame has spread and the need for healing is great. We have two very different situations in these accounts. They happen far apart as Jesus is traveling, and in very different kinds of areas, from Tyre north to Sidon then over to Decapolis, an area of ten towns. Even Jesus responds very differently—yet very much the same--to each, yet always with the greatest self-giving love we can imagine.
The lady happens to be a Gentile—a non-Jew--and Jesus first explains that he is only there for the Jews. That is his original vision and plan. Yet we see him then change and respond to the tremendous love that the woman has for her daughter. This with her faith that is so strong; she believes Jesus is the healer of which she has heard. And the really amazing part is that Jesus heals the girl without even touching her, at least in the way that we usually understand touch. It’s a powerful moment.
For the man with the double problem of deafness and a speech impediment, at a time when hearing aids were not available and no surgical help for a perhaps physical abnormality, Jesus did touch the man’s ears… yet with spittle on his finger, we’re told, then touched the man’s tongue to heal his speech. He did this all in private because it probably would have looked as objectionable then as we would consider it today. I mean, have you ever thought of your “spittle”—or—“spit” as I would call it--being a healing substance? I certainly haven’t, although after reading this I would recommend our research scientists explore the idea. But the message I come out with from all this is Jesus heals in every way and maybe the spittle is not the important part, although it certainly is attention getting. Three different approaches for healing were demonstrated in these two examples, centered on Jesus with faithful people involved.
Jesus teaches us in these stories that love and healing must always be extended to those beyond us, that the gospel is an equal opportunity message. We cannot confine it to only certain circumstances or conditions, for there are no limits to God’s love and healing power. These stories of healing were people who loved others so much that they came to Jesus with their requests for healing. It was not the people asking for themselves. Is this the key? We have heard other stories recently where people asked for healing for themselves, so we know Jesus responds to that, but in today’s scripture we have only relatives and friends asking for healing for those in need. Jesus responds in every way. Can we go out of our way and be as giving of ourselves as these friends and family, that others might be healed?
Let’s go back to 9/11 once again and the story of a Lutheran, Missouri Synod pastor David Benke, who was invited by the Mayor of New York City to speak and to pray for healing at a ceremony in Yankee Stadium just 12 days after the destruction of the Twin Towers. The planning for this event started just two days after the attack with the formation of a committee that understood both the magnitude of the task and the city’s and nation’s incredible need for such an event. Benke was selected for participation by John Hiemstra, the Protestant leader and Executive Director of the Council of Churches for the City of New York. Hiemstra writes, in a personal communication, “The event planned and carried out was nonreligious by design, although religious leaders were included in the service, which was intended to help the general public deal with the grief and pain that was everywhere.” It was called A Prayer for America.
Pastor Benke joined a number of well-known figures, including James Earl Jones, Oprah Winfrey, Bette Midler, Placido Domingo, the Boys and Girls Choir of Harlem, Lee Greenwood and others. He stood and sat next to Admiral Natter of the United States Navy, the Commander of the Atlantic Fleet, who spoke of our government’s support in continuing the vision of hope in the American dream. He was there with the “kid from Queens and the matron from Long Island, the social worker from Brooklyn and the socialite from Manhattan, the imam and the rabbi, the priest and the pundit, the violinist and the groundskeeper, the mayor and the governor.” Benke expressed that “A Prayer for America was a lesson in the civic ritual of healing as important as any in the recent history of the United States.” Everyone wept together, and, together in their tears they were transported by words and music from that location in lower Manhattan where the rescue workers were still in the midst of debris to the victim’s homes and neighborhoods where “terrible truth was unfolding,” to the firehouses with their flower wreaths and tributes, to the depths of pain in their souls—and to the “halls of heaven” where those cries are most vividly heard. Benke says they all lost it there together.
Dr. Calvin Butts, Pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem gave a powerful speech. With their common mourning, their common humanity, and their shared tears, they received the gift of the strength to go on. You may remember the rest of the story. Pastor Benke got in trouble with his denomination. He was brought up on charges of heresy and suspended from the clergy roster for praying in the midst of people of other religions. Yet New Yorkers did see their religious leaders gather across the boundaries of their convictions, Jew and Muslim, Christian and Hindu, with songs and prayers for healing.
While this pastor was in the midst, so was the awesome presence of the Holy Spirit. What a powerful message of stewardship was presented to a world in need. There were people of faith sharing their many gifts and talents, using their resources and giving of themselves in the ways they could, that a hurting city and indeed world around them might be healed. They were the Body of Christ living our gospel message for today to heal where healing was needed, as an amazing part of the still larger act of healing that included a tremendous outpouring of financial support, physical presence, resources--and more prayer—from many, many others, including churches, throughout our country and world.
In the midst of our church’s stewardship campaign, and the anniversary date of the 9/11 event, we are acutely aware of the ways in which both financial resources and indeed all of our gifts and talents, are needed to work together to further the Kingdom of God through this church, for friends, we too are a healing center, a healing activity. The money is simply one, but one very critical and important way in which we reach our goal of outreach and mission in this church. Our declaration of our intent to give is a vital expression of our faith, and a dynamic force of this Body of Christ in the ways it manifests itself. It is indeed up to each of us to give fully in the ways that we are able, and because we love, to accomplish the mission of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We live in a weeping world, friends, but it is changing because of Christ. Giving that not just helps but heals must be our goal.
I share the prayer of David Benke:
Oh, we’re stronger now than we were an hour ago,
And you know, my sisters and brothers, we’re not nearly
As strong as we’re going to be. And the strength
We have is the power of love. And the power of love you have
Received is from God, for God is love. So take the hand of one
Next to you now and join me in prayer on this
“Field of dreams” turned into God’s house of prayer:
O Lord our God, we’re leaning on You today.
You are our Tower of Strength, and we’re leaning on You.
You are our Mighty Fortress, our God who is a Rock:
In You do we stand. Those of us who bear the name of Christ know that
You stood so tall when You stooped down to
Send a Son through death and life to bring us back together,
And we lean on You today.
O Tower of Strength, be with those who mourn the loss of loved ones;
Bring them closer to us day by day.
O heavenly Father, we pray at this time that
You might extend Jacob’s ladder for those who ascended
The stairways to save us, as others escaped the fire and flames.
O Tower of Strength, open innocent and victimized hearts
To the sacrifice of the Innocent One; pour Your consolation
Upon the traumatized, especially our children.
O Heavenly Father, un-bind, un-fear, un-scorch, un-scar our souls;
Renew us in Your free Spirit. We’re leaning on You,
Our Tower of Strength,
We find our refuge in the shadow of Your shelter.
Lead us from this place—strong—to bring forth the
Power of Your love, wherever we are.
In the precious name of Jesus. Amen.
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