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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Forgiveness: Sunday School Notes

The healing ministry is often times seen strictly in terms of a physical miracle. This is wrong on two counts. First of all, much of healing is not "miraculous" in the sense of extraordinary and obviously inexplicable. Life is full of surprises and it is very hard to "prove" that God has healed someone. In truth, most 'healings' are a fast forward of the normal process of healing. Relief from pain is a natural occurring phenomenon and supplementation with medication can improve that. Healing prayer works as a supplement in much the same way--pain relief, fast(er) recovery, fuller recovery, and strength. Life is miraculous and all good things are blessings! A miracle---"when something which cannot happen happens"--is rarer and more difficult (because it takes more openness to the divine energy, more faith and trust in both the minister and the person in need, and/or more battle with dark spiritual forces.)

However, physical healing is not the only type, and it may not be as important as 'spiritual' healing of soul (mind, heart, will and desire). The pain of a broken body or soul both bring us to cry out "Mercy Lord! Save me I'm perishing." However, as we said, along with doubt/unbelief, fear and the demonic obstacles, there is also the power of sin. Sin is a huge obstacle to complete(r) healing and we address that today.

Jesus Himself sometimes discerned a connection between sin and a malady. Mark 2:1-12 is a detailed account of this. Jesus has begun His ministry and word is spreading that He has freed many from demons and healed many who are sick, including lepers! Jesus has to sneak into town because so many people are seeking Him. (Mk1:45) Even out in the country people track Him down. Upon His return home to Capernaum, word got out and the house was surrounded. We forget that in the ancient world medical care was abysmal by our standards. There is also a keener awareness of the spiritual dimension of life. Healing and deliverance (even exorcism) are twin ministries of Jesus. Among those coming to Jesus is a paralytic. Unable to move, he is carried by friends who refuse to be derailed in their quest. Because the crowd was too thick, they go around and climb up to the roof, dig through the mud and thatch and lower the man to Jesus. We can imagine the falling debris and the reaction of the Lord at this. Jesus saw their faith, it is a 'church' event, and says, "Son, your sins are forgiven." The ensuing reaction of offended religious leaders culminates in Jesus asking a simple question. "Is it easier to say 'your sins are forgiven' or 'get up and walk'?" Obviously, forgiving sins is an invisible process. So when Jesus makes the man stand, it is a sign of the power to forgive.

Was the man paralyzed by sin? Was it unrelated? We can only surmise in his case, perhaps this was two unrelated ministrations by the Lord. What we do know is Jesus forgave the sins and healed the man. Forgiving sins is a release from a debt. Our unpayable debt is illustrated in the parable (Mt 18:23-35) of Jesus about the servant forgiven multi-millions of dollars in debt who fails to forgive a debt of thousands. In a conclusion also echoed in the teaching on the Lord's prayer (Mt 6:14-15) Jesus warns that those who do not forgive others will not be forgiven by the Father. Forgiveness has the power to open us to God's mercy, it seems, and the refusal to forgive becomes a horrible, impenetrable barrier to the life giving mercy and forgiveness God offers us. So a disciple must practice the work of forgiving as a means to be opened to forgiveness (and by extension healing!).

The debt of sin (this economic image is easy to understand) is something we "owe" the one we have offended by our "sin" (missing the mark, failing to hit the target). However, and this is important, our debt to God is greater than just sin, it includes the debt of creation. We owe God for our existence. We owe God for our being and for every blessing. Even if sinless, our debt would remain unpayable, ever. God is satisfied with our love. It is a poor return for all we have, but we are poor and it is all we have to give. Understanding that our entire relationship with God is based on His unmerited kindness (grace), Jesus (following Torah-God's revealed instruction) makes clear that loving the neighbor is central to our relationship with God. He says, basically, treat others as God treats them, with gracious love and kindness.

This personal style of interaction (godliness-love and mercy) is institutionalized in the ministry of disciples (followers of Jesus) and apostles (the ones sent by Jesus). We are sent to carry God's love and forgiveness, to bring reconciliation between the sinner and God, and between humans with one another. These two interpenetrate in our life. I (disciple/personally) forgive and I (apostle/minister) bring God's forgiveness. I set people free from their debt to me and I declare the forgiveness of God in Jesus Name to those who are in the clutches of sin and (spiritual) death.

What to do?
We must embrace Jesus' commission; trust His forgiveness ourselves and proclaim it to others. This is a primary component of "proclaiming the Kingdom." Forgiveness invites repentance. Repent is not just "feeling bad"; in Hebrew (shuv) it means to turn around and walk in a new direction (way of life or way of death). This is illustrated in the prodigal son who walked away from his father, then returned home. [Note that in that story the Father cuts him short in his well rehearsed confession. It is the return that matters!] The Greek (metanoia) means to have a new mind, to think differently. Right thinking about God allows us to love God. Knowing and loving are correlated. Bad theology is the mother of bad spirituality... Conversion is to become what we are--a child of God, adopted in Christ. [the function of adoption in the Roman Empire is more about power. cf ]

We have full status as children/heirs; we share in God's Kingly rule. We are not simply the beneficiaries of affection, but the recipients of a "divine" status (we share in the life of God). We are one with Christ, filled with His Spirit and operating with His authority and power. 

John 20:21, 23 - Jesus says, As the Father has sent me so I have sent you... If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained. 

Matt. 9:6; Mark 2:10; Lk 5:24 - Christ forgave sins as a man on earth. Matt 9:8 - when the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.

Matt. 18:18-20 - truly I tell you, what you bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if 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.

2 Cor. 2:10 - Paul forgives in the presence of Christ the one who caused pain. Later in letter,  5:18-21 - All this is from God, Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God is making His appeal through us.; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

James 5:15-16 - Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save (sozo) the sick, and the Lord will raise (egeiro- same word used for Jesus resurrection) them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sinsto one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. (example of Elijah closing heavens in prayer)... My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinners soul from death and will cover a mul
titude of sins. 

1 John 5:14-17 - And this is the boldness we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of Him. If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one--to those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin that is mortal; I do not say that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin; but there is sin that is not mortal.

[Lev. 5:4-6; 19:21-22 - even under the Old Covenant, God used priests to forgive and atone for the sins of others. Jesus "fully-fills-up" this ministry, but all of the church is holy priesthood of God, continuing the new and improved work in Christ!]

Freedom from sin and its power is a vital aspect of salvation. God is not a magic show. Life on earth is incarnate. God saves and forgives in and through us. The ministry of reconciliation is a real missionary work inside and outside the church. Let's engage in it! 

Reflection on John 5

Today's Gospel is John 5:1-5
The first sign in Cana was the miracle of water made into wine at a wedding feast. That miracle can (and must) be read at several levels. It is a story of the Kingdom, of the Lord providing the "best wine" and shows the "fully-filled-ment" of the Jewish faith in Jesus. The water was used for purification rites, Jesus transforms it into wine. In the discussion with His mother we know His time has not yet come, yet in her faith ("do whatever He tells you") she opens the door for His ministry to begin. The "hour" now looms as Jesus "revealed His glory" (Jn 1:11) in this first sign.

There is much narrative between the Cana signs. Jesus cleanses the Temple (thematically moved to the beginning of the ministry) concluding with the statement that Jesus did not entrust Himself to the people (even the ones who 'believed because of the signs') because He knew what was in their hearts. The word "man" is a bridge. Jesus knew what was in the heart of man, chapter 3 says there was a man named Nicodemus. The dialogue with Nicodemus provides a framework for the problems Jesus will have. People do not, cannot, understand the truth. In love God sent His Son to save the world, but people love darkness and reject the light. The Jewish leaders begin to make it difficult for Jesus, so He goes home through Samaria. From Acts, we know that this was the first external mission field, and it is inhabited by "half breeds" (the descendants of Israel-the Northern Kingdom- who had been intermingled with pagans after the fall of their Kingdom in the 7th Century BC). A woman in a sinful relationship meets Jesus at Jacob's well. At the end of chapter 4, Jesus returns to Cana where He heals the son of a royal official. This is identified by Johan as the second sign in Galilee.

Chapter 5 begins "after this" (second sign) at a "feast of the Jews" (unnamed). The second verse is corrupted and the exact meaning is difficult to ascertain. There is a gate, a pool and sheep (used in sacrifices). Its name (Bethzatha, Bethesda, Bethsaida) is of unsure spelling as various ancient manuscripts also disagree here. However, archaeologists have dug up the pool on the White Father's property near St. Anne's church. It is a it bigger than a football field!

Jesus saw him and knew he had been sick a long time. Jesus begins the interrogation, (thelo, ginomai, hygeis) "is it your intent, desire, do you want" "to become, be made" "whole, sound, healthy" (also used of truth and sound doctrine)? This is important in healing, perhaps even more important in healing today in Jesus name. [Several words are used for healing in the NT, this word hygeis (hoo- ghee- ace) is used by Matthew twice, Mark once and in chapter seven in John.
Lastly in Acts 4:10 "let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, this man stands before you healthy."] 

Let us ponder this. Jesus saw. Jesus knew. The man speaks his need in response to Jesus.
Exodus 3. Moses is with his sheep in the wilderness at Mount Horeb. He sees a burning bush. God speaks to him. "I have seen the misery of my people, I heard their cry, I know their sufferings, I have come down to save them."
See. Hear. Know. God (in Jesus) has come down to save/heal/restore/rescue/make whole!

Jesus who brings salvation to the Samaritans and raises up the child now visits a hopeless invalid who longs to be healed but has no power in himself to make it happen. The promise of God is fulfilled in our midst in Jesus. He sees. He knows. He hears. He comes down among us.

As in Cana, we see a fulfillment of the Jewish Bible. There it was the water of purification, here (water is also present!) Jesus commands the man to pick up his mat and walk---on a Sabbath. The day of rest is now the day of the new creation. Jesus will spend the sabbath in the grave after His crucifixion, but on the first day (eighth day, new creation) Jesus will rise. The cross is the "the Hour" and the hour draws nearer as Jesus does the signs/works of God (the Synoptics employ 'Kingdom' language). The man is left there, healed, and Jesus walks away. "The Jews" (John's word for the leaders/people against Jesus) ask why he is carrying the mat. He replies, "the man who healed me told me to" and he cannot answer their question about His identity.

Jesus returns and finds the man. He makes a politically incorrect statement! "You are healed, do not sin any more" (same is found in Jn 8:11 the woman caught in adultery). Healing is a sign and a calling. We are made whole physically, but spiritual well being cannot be ignored. "Something worse will happen to you," Jesus warns, if you do not stop sinning. Something worse. 
God sent His Son into the world to save the world. Those who "believe" (live a life of obedient, loving trust) in Him will live, but so many love darkness. Jesus comes to heal. We must verbalize our need to Him. When He tells us we are healed, we "must do what He tells you" and pick up the mat (whatever sign of your healing is most appropriate). The man got up and did it because he believed Jesus. Yet, the healing is a sign of something deeper--discipleship, walking after Jesus, following. Jesus also warns that all is not well. Sin is death. Sin is worse. Sin no more. In the healing ministry we are called to repentance. Providentially, I teach this class today and on Sunday I will teach on sin and forgiveness (and repentance). Healing. Repentance. God sees, knows, hear, and comes among us to save!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

It's About the Kingdom

The healing ministry is important because Jesus gave this power and authority to the church. The followers (disciples) were sent out (apostles) to proclaim the Kingdom, to heal and exorcise, to forgive sins and reconcile people to God and one another, and to teach (Torah is instruction, Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah is what we teach). It is a work of salvation to all people (beginning with Israel) but includes the Gentiles and the Least, the Last and the Lost. Sick people are among those for whom Jesus is especially good news.

The goal of our Sunday school is to train people to effectively proclaim the Kingdom, forgiveness of sins, reconciliation and to declare healing of the sick and deliverance from evil spirits--with the understanding that faithful declaration will be manifest in the world. Salvation is an already present working of God among us (and the perfect completion in the future). It is literally the Kingdom of God breaking into the world of darkness.

The healing, however, is a fruit of the kingdom. As “consumers” we are at risk to reduce God to a benefit (free medical care). As God told the Hebrew slaves, “When you enter the land and are filled up with its delights do not forget your God.” The shadow side of blessings (in a Fallen World) is we forget the Giver and embrace the Gifts. Even since Jesus, let us be clear, it is a Fallen World. The body/soul of each of us are impacted by this ‘Fall.’ The world is out of balance. It means that life is a battle, spiritual warfare continues. We are never “done” but each victory is that day’s battle (big or small) and the next day is a new battle. [Jesus said, don’t worry about tomorrow, today has enough problems.]

We have power and authority, but we are also broken by sin and Flesh. We are in process of becoming but still have our own weaknesses. [doubt, fear, sins]. There is also the demonic realm with which to contend. World, flesh, devil.

The purpose of life is to “love God with all our mind, heart, body and spirit” and “our neighbor as ourselves.” This work of love is a source of joy but also a struggle. It is very hard to love others, to be loving and do loving things. Love, however, is the truest source of joy. Communion with God--that is love. To be one with God is not something we do in half measure. Our prayer life is connected to our healing prayers. Prayer-communing with God--must be the center of our life. It is not just saying prayers, i.e., creating a “to do” list for God. It is not asking for stuff. First of all, it is praise and thanks. Over and again we acknowledge God is a gracious Father. The only response to God’s goodness is thanks and praise!!! Jesus loves His Father and is united to His Father. Jesus’ prayer life is the model for our own. As we have that “Abba & son/daughter” more powerfully at work in us, we become more like Jesus. At baptism we became part of the Body of Christ. We are not 18% the Body! But what is 100% actual is not 100% actualized. We did not get a part of the Holy Spirit, we got all the Holy Spirit--but how the Spirit enters our body/soul is affected by “world, flesh and devil.” So we don’t need to ask for the Spirit. We don’t need to ask Jesus to rule us. We need to thank God for the Spirit and praise God for Jesus, and open body and soul to our own Spirit where Jesus and the Spirit have been given! We need to become what we already are: Children of God.

The spiritual disciplines are the actions which a heart set on the Father engage in. They are holy practices which make us more open. Healing is one of the disciplines. Healing matters because Jesus told us to do it, and Jesus told us to do it because He knows sickness is of the Dark not the Kingdom of Light. But I hope the re-emphasis on a relationship with God is a reminder that the center of it all is our relationship of love with God. The Trinity is our source and our goal. That is our focus; love, worship and thanksgiving. The rest of it flows out of that. As we become one with God (body/soul and spirit in sync) His life flows through us more effectively and the ministry of Jesus (including the signs and wonders) will be manifest.

The Good News (God is acting like the King among us) is more believable when people are set free from he demonic, their illnesses are healed, their relationships are reconciled and the truth is in their minds and heart. As they say, "seeing is believing" and seeing Jesus at work seems to help people believe He is at work.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve 2015

(this sermon was from the 5:30 and 9:30 services)

Octavius was called son of god, the savior and bringer of peace, and after his death, a god. Adopted by his great uncle Julius Caesar, following the famous assassination he took the name Caesar Augustus. After a brief civil war he defeated Marc Antony and became the “first citizen of the Empire” in name, but in reality the sole ruler. He ruled over forty years, dying at age 75 in 14 AD.
His reign began the period known as Pax Romana (which lasted 200 years), the internal peace, saw Rome considerably expand its boundaries, to exert control over most of Europe and parts of Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. When Luke wrote his Gospel toward the end of the first century, subsequent Caesar’s were measured against Augustus’ grand success.  

Clearly Luke intended to contrast Jesus and Augustus. The Roman Empire, for all its glory, was a harsh oppressor of the Jewish People. Its affluence and success was built on the backs of the poor of the land; simple people like Mary, Joseph and the shepherds in today’s story. The Empire squeezed such people like a sponge to quench its considerable thirst. The local leaders of Judah, in league with Rome, enjoyed the benefits of this association. In every age, the collaborators eat their own.

The birth of Jesus is an offense to the world’s power brokers. The child is laid in a borrowed feeding trough after all. Unlike the glorious Caesar, he is garbed in torn rags and suffers the indignity of having “no place” not even a guest room for wayfarers. To the human eye, this Jesus is less than nothing.

Yet angels announce His birth and the incongruity is striking. The underclass, shepherds night watchmen protecting flocks, are the unlikely recipients of the message. This is a stunning reminder that Christ has come to seek out and save the least, the last and the lost. Yet their workmen status is also symbolic. God often called Israel His flock, and the Jewish Kings were called shepherds. Moses and David both received their calls while tending their flocks. The Jewish Bible says that God Himself will shepherd the people because the human shepherds had devoured the flock for their own benefit. Jesus will tell a story of a Shepherd who searches out the lost sheep. In John’s Gospel Jesus self identifies as the Model (Good) Shepherd. Shepherding remains the preferred Christian term for church leadership, the medieval term “pastor” means to tend sheep and feed them.

Therein lies the difference. Caesar feeds off the sheep, Jesus feeds them. Caesar provides peace for the land for his own benefit and any problem is dealt with ruthlessly and efficiently--with armies and crucifixions. Jesus has no army and will be crucified. His weapons are a love which heals and reconciles, freeing people from a fallen, sinful world. That is the difference. Human eyes could not discern it at His birth, nor did they when this Gospel was written, but this Jesus, not Augustus, is the true Son of God, the actual Prince of Peace and God Incarnate. This helpless baby, miraculously conceived and born of helpless parents--He is the power that created and sustained the universe--its source and its ultimate end.
The angels announce “Glory” and “peace” to the shepherds, and through them to us.  God is speaking to the earth through His messengers. His glory and the Kingdom Shalom (peace) is silently and invisibly being established. The Kingdom Peace of Rome was provided by violence and oppression. The Christian Gospel, especially in Luke, is the promise of a new age, a new reign by a different king. A transformation which flips everything on its head, where the mighty are brought low and the lowly raised up. Jesus is The Lowly One-- a scandal and offense to our own hunger for power and prosperity. If Christmas is sweet and sentimental, its core message is also a sour disappointment. We were hoping for more when Messiah came. Perhaps trusting this child is a bad investment. Perhaps we need to give Caesar a second look? And yet, really, do we not know that the way of Rome, the way of Caesar, is not the way of true life? Are we not drawn to Jesus, even in His weakness?
This Jesus, weak and vulnerable, is the strength of God. A strength of love and creation, a strength of mercy and kindness. A strength to forgive sins by dying, not killing. He who provides for the poor and needy, not draining them of their limited resources. Look at the trough and embrace Him. This evening after the 4:00 children's service I was speaking with the mother of baby Jesus. He had been sick and crying all day and she thought they wouldn't be able to come. Plus the father had thrown out his back again. We all know if Jesus saw a sick baby He would heal the child, so I prayed for healing for the baby. The I prayed for dad's back. A young woman the came and asked me to pray for her too. When I put my hands on her and started praying I felt lots of heat and something passing through my hands. I said, "wow, did you feel that?" and she said "yes" As I continued praying she got hotter and hotter and we felt more power, and she was deeply moved emotionally. Afterwards we were all amazed at what happened. I told her that was your Christmas present from the Holy Spirit. I do not know what all God ministered to her body, soul and spirit. I do know she was powerfully affected. And that is the power of Jesus. And that is why His birth means so much. And that is why we need to fill this church with disciples who would be apostles. Going out in His Name and letting Him flow through us to save the world.