Friday, March 24, 2017

Do You Want to be Made Well?

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. John 5:1-9

Jesus asks a man who was at a pool of healing and who had been ill for 38 years: "do you want to be made well?" This seems like a strange question doesn't it? Who wouldn't want to be made well? Why else would he be there? Yet Jesus' question moves beyond the obvious level of an ill person becoming well. Jesus' question goes to the heart of what it means to be healed. It takes not only a healing element, but also a desire to be healed and the belief that healing is possible.

When Jesus asks the man if he wants to be healed he doesn't actually receive an answer. Instead the man shares why he hasn't been healed. He shares his frustration that despite many efforts he has been unable to been made well. To be made well in mind, body, and spirit frees people to live transformed lives. Once healed, we are compelled to live differently and are given a calling and responsibility to serve and love others. This man, after 38 years, may have wanted to be healed but also may have been anxious about what a healed life would look like. Perhaps he couldn't answer the question because he become so consumed by his illness he could no longer imagine life without it.

People find themselves in all sorts of unhealthy situations, whether personal health conditions or unhealthy relationships. They may know life is unhealthy but they remain stuck. We all know addictions like smoking are bad for us yet people are almost powerless to change. Others may be stuck in abusive relationships because the imagined alternatives could be even worse. As human beings we cling to what we know even if it hurts us. We resist the very change that could transform our lives into so much more. Jesus asks: do you want to be made well? Do you want the abundant life (John 10:10) that Jesus promised or the life you know?

Part of the healing Jesus provides for us is the vision of a transformed world. We are not simply destined to suffer and die. Christ came to give us abundant and eternal life. When we trust this promise and respond in faith, we can experience true healing. This may take the form of cured illness, but even more important is an enlivened and healthy spirit. True healing is spiritual. When we believe we are a child of God, created for a purpose, and loved by the creator, we will no longer settle for an unhealthy and unfulfilling life. Jesus came to make us well and offers us the gift of grace and love. Do you want to be made well?

Prayer: Lord, heal my spirit so I may know your presence. Cure the pain of my soul so that I may experience abundant life here and now, and trust the promise of eternal life with you. In Jesus' name, AMEN.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spiritual Blindness

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” John 9:13-17

When Jesus healed the blind man (John 9:1-12) he didn't stop to ask what day it was first. He saw a man who was blind and gave him sight. It was an act of compassion and love. The man who was born blind not only had the power sight, but his whole life was transformed.

This was unacceptable to the Pharisees who believed that no person who followed God's law would ever heal on the Sabbath. In fact, for them Sabbath healing made it clear that Jesus was not from God in any way. The narrowness of their thinking limited their understanding of what God can do. They became so convinced of their religious categories and customs they sought to punish Jesus for healing. They would rather the man remain blind than have any work done on the Sabbath.

When religion prioritizes legalistic rule following over compassion for people, it is no longer from God. Jesus calls this mentality spiritual blindness (9:41) because the Pharisees are unable to see what God is doing in front of them. They were so insistent that Jesus was wrong they spoke with the man's parents to verify he was born blind (9:18-23) and questioned the man a second time (9:24-34). Even after these conversations they could not accept Jesus. They dismissed the formerly blind man by saying: “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” Rather than open their eyes to see the truth they dismissed the blind man out of fear and ignorance.

When we think we know it all, we are spiritually blind. When we think we know what God can and cannot do, we are spiritually blind. When we dismiss the powerful stories of God shared by others, we are spiritually blind. When we are no longer open to the new ways God is working in the world, we are spiritually blind. The man Jesus healed was open to God working in his life. He refused to believe the lie about sin causing his blindness and was ready to believe in Jesus. His physical limitation was no limitation at all because of his faith. May we all be so blind that we might see God in our lives.

Prayer: Lord, open the eyes of my heart to see you working in my life. Help me to remain open to your love and presence and to understand that through you all things are possible, in Jesus' name, AMEN.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Who Sinned?

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. John 9:1-7

Healing was central to the ministry of Jesus. The act of physical healing is not disconnected to spiritual healing that often accompanies it. Jesus heals mind, body, and spirit illustrating not only his concern for eternal salvation, but deep compassion for people's lives. In this case, Jesus heals a man blind from birth, giving him the sight he had not had before. But Jesus also addressed the underlying assumption of his disciples and the crowd about the spiritual cause of blindness.

When Jesus is asked "who sinned?" to make the man blind he refutes the link between physical affliction and human sin. God does not punish us with blindness for sin, nor are any other physical or mental limitations to be seen as a sign of punishment for sin. There is no connection between human suffering and punishment from God. While we naturally seek to understand why something has happened or what God's role might be, Jesus makes clear it is not a matter of divine punishment. In fact, Jesus said the man was born blind so "God's works might be revealed in him." This suggests not that he was born blind as a punishment, rather his healing allows himself and others to see God's glory. The healing of the man's sight allows him to see again, but also reveals Jesus as the light of the world.

Jesus healing the sight of the man must have made an immediate and profound impact on his life. For him to see for the first time the beauty and wonder of God's creation must have been overwhelming. Just as significant was the assurance that his previous blindness was not a punishment from God. If the blind man had the same assumption the disciples had about his blindness being a punishment from God it would be difficult to overstate the spiritual pain this must have caused. I cannot imagine going through life feeling way and how relieved and liberating it must have been to hear Jesus' words. His healing addressed his physical limitation of lack of sight but also addressed the spiritual and emotional pain of being punished by God. The transformation was so complete that some who had known him could no longer recognize him as the same person (9:9). His story reminds us Jesus is concerned for the healing of our whole self and has deep compassion for who suffer in any way.

Prayer: Lord, heal my mind, body, and spirit so that I may be made whole through your love. Help me to have compassion and love for all who suffer in any way, in Jesus' name, AMEN.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Handling Conflict

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times." Matthew 18:15-22

This side of heaven, conflict between people is unavoidable. People do not always agree, feelings get hurt, wrongs are committed. How we handle conflict is the key. Most people hate conflict and seek to avoid it. When we deny there is a conflict resentment builds up and relationships suffer. Other times, people will respond passive aggressively by sending subtle and indirect signals, while harboring judgment and angst. Conflict can of course be destructive, but there are many times that dealing with conflict allows for open conversation and new solutions. The cost of not dealing with conflict is high, leading to strained relationships, resentment, and emotional baggage.

Jesus understands the human condition completely and offers a blueprint for dealing with conflict in Matthew 18. The first, and most important, step in dealing with conflict is having a 1-1 conversation. If you have been hurt or someone has "sinned against you" we are to go directly to the person and share our concern. This insight cannot be underestimated. Too often, when we are hurt we tell others but not the person directly. We share our story and seek to win others to our point of view. In families or churches, this leads to rumors, factions, and division. It is a toxic behavior to not discuss concerns directly with the person. Yet, this is often exactly what people do. We tend to avoid directly speaking with a person who has hurt us because it is hard to do. It forces us to name our feelings and share them directly. Another way to interpret Jesus' insight is if you cannot or will not share your concerns directly with the person then you should not involve anyone else. Jesus offers two choices: share your concerns directly or let them go. Complaining about others cannot be the first step. Jesus instructs us to only go to others after directly confronting the offender and having no results.

Following the wisdom of Jesus in regards to interpersonal conflict would generate far less negativity in our lives. This is a great insight for relationships, but is not a complete remedy. The other instruction Jesus offers for conflict is forgiveness. Jesus tells Peter that if another member of the church sins against him he must forgive "seventy-seven" times. This number may seem extreme but it underscores the need not only to confront offenders directly, but to forgive them. Confronting people directly allows us to share our feelings and work toward a shared solution. But we must also let go of our hurt and anger. Forgiveness allows us to move past our pain and heal. Forgiving others is not about letting people off the hook, as much as it is releasing anger, resentment, and pain from our lives. When we refuse to forgive we allow the offense to re-victimize us. Forgiving others allows us to heal and makes space for reconciliation.

Jesus tells us to forgive repeatedly and confront people directly because he understands the emotional damage of mishandling conflict in our relationships does. God created us for relationship with God and one another. In our relationships there will inevitably be times when we hurt each other. How we handle our pain and hurt goes a long way toward the quality of our life and our capacity to love. Handling conflict in mature and healthy ways allows to grow into the person God is calling us to be. This is true for us as individuals and as a church. We are called to do God's work in the world. Getting stuck in petty squabbles and holding grudges does not allow us to become the person God created us to be. Jesus' insights about human conflict are powerful and offer us a concrete process that will reduce negativity in our lives and free us to share God's love. Let us take heed!

Prayer: Lord, help me to share my hurt and pain directly with those who are responsible. Help me to actively address situations of conflict and address them in mature and Spirit filled ways. Help me to forgive those who have hurt me as you have so freely forgiven me, in Jesus' name, AMEN.

Monday, March 20, 2017

From the Heart

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” Matthew 15:1-3;10-14;17-20
The question about clean or unclean was of utmost importance to the Jewish faith. Any behavior or practice that was considered unclean would defile a person which required steps to make someone ritually clean again. In this story, the Pharisees take offense when Jesus' disciples are not following the handwashing practices of the elders before eating. Now while it is true that washing one's hands before eating is a good idea, Jesus challenges the legalistic and narrow minded interpretations of the law. Jesus is much more concerned with what comes out of the mouth than what goes into the mouth. The words we speak reveal our heart which is of far higher importance than person hygiene practices.

The real issue Jesus seeks to address in this story is hypocrisy. He calls the Pharisees as "blind guides" because they cannot see the truth for what it is, but instead lead people away from God. The Pharisees elevated their own traditions and interpretation of the letter of the law above what was originally intended by the Spirit. The laws of the bible were not created in a vacuum, but were given for particular reasons for a particular time. Washing your hands before you eat is good practical advice to avoid illness, but is not on the same level as not murdering or stealing.

Jesus continually challenges the Pharisees because they focus on small things and miss the big picture, and because they are respected leaders, they lead others astray in the process. Jesus' approach is to examine the heart of a person and to address what is inside of them. He is not focused on behavior modification or adherence to rules and customs. Rather, he is focused on the transformation
of lives. It is not enough to blindly follow religious customs or traditions. In fact, following rules and customs can create the illusion of righteousness before God, when in reality God cares so much more about what is within us. Jesus wants our whole hearts and nothing less. When we humbly seek to follow the way of Jesus and give our whole heart to God, we will be transformed by God's grace and love. The way of Jesus is so much more than rule following but open for us a beautiful and life-giving path for our lives.

Prayer: Lord, help me to focus on you and following your ways. Keep me humble and open to the ways you are working in my life, in Jesus' name, AMEN.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Healed and Made Whole

When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” Matthew 8:1-4

People with leprosy were untouchable. The disease was thought to be so highly contagious that those who contracted it were often forced to leave their communities and relationships behind and form colonies. It is also a painful and disfiguring disease which historically has been most prevalent among people of poverty. In Jewish custom, those with leprosy were considered permanently "unclean" and ineligible to worship. Anyone who touches a leper would also become unclean, so they were avoided. It was also widely believed that a person with leprosy must have done something to deserve it. Thus, when Jesus chooses to heal the man by touching him it would have caused the crowds to gasp in amazement.

The man with leprosy asks Jesus to heal him, believing he could make him well again. Jesus heals the man by touching his hand and declaring "be made clean!" The man is immediately healed of his affliction and sent to see the priest so he can worship in the Temple. Jesus attends to his physical healing and his social and spiritual healing as well. Because of Jesus' compassion, he can now be included in community and no longer suffer the pain of the disease and the accompanying social marginalization.

As powerful as the healing of the man was, it must have had an even deeper impact on the crowds who were gathered. Jesus took the time to heal a leper, a man everyone else had given up on. He heals him, not just by speaking a powerful word (which could have done the job) but by touching him. Jesus becomes untouchable for a leper. He takes on the mantle of being unclean for the sake of an invisible and despised person. And so it is with us. We are all lepers in our own way. We all fall short and are sinful and broken people. Yet, Jesus looks upon us, diseased though we are, with compassion and love. "Be made clean" are Jesus' words to us. Jesus came to include all people in God's family and no one is beyond redemption or restoration. This is the promise of gospel and is true for you and all people.

Prayer: Lord, cleanse me from all my sin and brokenness. Heal my physical, social and spiritual pain so I might live the life you call me into. Allow me to see all people as beloved children of God, in Jesus' name, AMEN.