Monday, August 22, 2016

Rescuing the Dumb Ox!

OUR READING for this Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost comes from the Gospel According to Saint Luke. Herein our Lord taught us about healing and forming our priorities as Christians.
One Sabbath, when he (Jesus) went to dine at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, they were watching him. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?" 
 But they were silent. Then he took him and healed him, and let him go. 
 And he said to them, "Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?" 
 And they could not reply to this. 
 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he marked how they chose the places of honor.., saying to them, "When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give place to this man,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 
 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, 'Friend, go up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." 
 He said also to the man who had invited him, "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just." (Luke 14:1-14)
Who? Where? When? What?
Our lesson this week follows along the same lines of healing that we studied for last week. It has parallels in Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-11, and 13:10-17. However, in somewhat different fashion, the healing described here took place not in a synagogue as the others revealed, but happened as many persons gathered in the house of a ruler. The guest gathered to see and to hear.., and presumably meet Jesus.
 Jesus, who was the guest of honor, did something in the home which was over against the host’s tradition. He willed to heal a man who had dropsy, and he did this act on the Sabbath. Therefore from the text, we who now read this account may deduce that for Jesus, the where or when of healing was not at issue. The issue was demonstratively more that the healing took place. Sinful man’s priorities often get askew. As he stated… “Sabbath was made for man, mot man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)
 Since the person he healed is similarly not named, as in other texts, but just his walking illness was described.., we may say that his quality of faith at the time was not at issue. All we can surmise is that he was likely influential and a Pharisee. More so, we may assume that God saw the man kindly as one of his own. We may conclude then from this writing in Luke that it pleased God to heal the subject’s gait… irregardless of the man’s wealth, position or faith expression. Today, we might rightly ask of the Spirit whether the man and his healing was beheld at center stage primarily as an entry figure for the parable told afterward. The parable that follows the healing was told in comment about the familiar social climbing of the guests. For Jesus, the seating at prominent human events sinfully seems always at issue. This is so even today. One who does not think so, simply has to sit in someone else’s pew in church.
 As Jesus relates in the story, however, seating arrangements come from an assumptive human nature that is denounced in the Hebrew scriptures… and he promoted taking a lowly position. In the telling of this story, we see that the Pharisaic ruler’s attitude is directly addressed.  Though a ruler and Pharisee, Jesus was told that the person who is of high station is thus invited…and given the opportunity… to minister to the lowly. Jesus said that a person who assumes a lowly nature may more easily care for those who are afflicted. The act, however, is not to be done for earthly reward… for the lowly cannot repay. Jesus stated clearly that payment for this goodness shall be forthcoming at the resurrection.
 It was this last, very prophetic statement of our text that rubbed the hardest upon our Lord’s audience. The telling likely caused the most tumult amid the hearers… for you see.., the Pharisees did not believe being lowly in riches was a merit, and also did not envision resurrection. Therefore in one gathering, by the healing of an unknown man without inquiring of the subject’s station… and then telling a parable about the occasion... Jesus turned the traditions in the world of the haughty upside down. All that they had invested in to be seated prominently that evening was challenged. The lowly had been cared for, the high were being brought low, and true reward was said to be beyond their reach.
Why Love Poured Out?
 Thus within revealing this lesson in his gospel, Luke taught the readers of his own day and we who read this record, that God challenges us concerning our financial and social positions. God does not use worldly scales when measuring us. In doing mercy, God simply does miraculously what God will do.
 We ask then as Sabbath rolls into the modern work week... the same question that the infant churches within Lukan days may have rightly asked, “What shall we who are the chosen and forgiven, do in lowly response?”
 Surely we who have been spared the penalty of our sinfulness, and working from that renewed holy place of existence, are called to respond. I offer that we are to praise Him and recognize that we are sent by our Lord out into the world to both feed and heal others. We are not to stand high and mighty, separate and above those others for whom God cares. We are to do as our Lord has done and empower them from alongside.
 As well, we need to remember here that according to scripture, Jesus was participating in a feast on that Sabbath, which in the days to come would be considered as a divine dinner likened to a marriage feast held for the Bridegroom of the Church. We today in the church then can hold to the thought that we are subsequently gathered at the same dinner in our own congregations. Indeed, Jesus comes to be with us as well.
 You see, Jesus teaches us humility while we are participating in the Sacrament. The Feast transforms us through God’s love. A great healing takes place for us. The festive and holy occasion properly observed should affect us so much that any random un-named someone can walk out of the dinner healed, standing straight and upright before God.
 Similar to those Lukan communities then, we today may look back on this instance of healing knowing surely that this is why our God became lowly. As spoken of the prophet, we find that this is why he lovingly took stripes of the whip for our healing. For it was foretold…
For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.  (Isaiah 57:15)
 Certainly our Father’s divine and abundant love is the reason why Jesus invited the apostles to the Great Feast. Within that treasure in time he gave and yet gives us His saving and eternal life. His precious body and blood is provided to us in, with, and under the bread and wine. We are yet today invited to this same table!
 Finally, when knowing that the Lord of Lords who became lowly to be with us… is the same Son of God who sinful persons lifted up upon the cross unto death for our salvation, and who surely rose again..., do we really now have the impertinence to ask where in his assembly the Master shall have us sit… and where He shall have us go in thanksgiving? I think not. We are indeed blessed even to be present.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Healing Larger Than Life!

THE GOSPEL for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost speaks to us of healing. We read about the gracious deeds of Jesus, the Word of God according to Saint Luke…

Now he (Jesus) was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And there was a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, "Woman, you are freed from your infirmity." And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God. 
 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, said to the people, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day." 
 Then the Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?" 
 As he said this, all his adversaries were put to shame; and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. (Luke 13:10-17)

No Side Job!
 Instead of what seems to be a simple story about Jesus’ healing power, we find a dramatic prophecy. Without request, one day while teaching in a synagogue and on the way to the cross in Jerusalem, Jesus stopped for a moment to heal a long-suffered illness. He graciously reached out and healed even one who society had long deemed as having little value.
 You see, our Lord graciously healed a woman who was considered by many in that religious gathering to be a second class citizen. She was a woman who society deemed as devalued “property”. Being ill for eighteen years, she likely suffered a much, much lowered “property value”… lower than any of the other women traditionally told to sit in the back of the worship space. Because of her persistent illness, she was likely banned completely from Jewish religious gatherings.
 Nearly distracting from this healing miracle, however, was that Jesus did his healing work on the Sabbath. To the leader of the synagogue, his act seemed to override the traditional mandate toward that restful interval clearly recorded in scripture,

“Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates…” (Exodus 20:9-10)

 We know that healing was regularly done by Jesus. Those who are familiar with scripture know that the gospels record multiple witnesses about healings done by our Lord. Some occurred on the Sabbath, (see examples of Matthew 12:11-12, Luke 6:6-11). Indeed, Jesus offered many traditional examples from Hebraic Torah in his ministry to justify his actions. These stated exceptions to the Law, and thus firmly established ground for such necessary acts of grace to be accomplished by him even during the Sabbath.
As we of the church consider this particular event, however, we might allude to the claim that this woman’s malady and delayed treatment could have been rightly blamed on her own collusion with the power of Satan and evil. We might claim along with others that she or her forbears, and more like her... must be possessed of demons. We may point out that she may have been accused of participating in persistent evil. Some of us might say that since evil and its power do not cease assailing, we are called to cite the modern maxim, “What goes around comes around!”. Subsequently, we raise that some persons just deserve their woe-filled station in life. But consider that by thinking these things, we are sinfully convicted of judging. We wrongly condone the withholding of graceful healing in the same way as the ruler of the synagogue. We delay the application of love.
 Subsequently, I hold up this example of scripture before you and claim that God  makes wholistic healing of body, mind and spirit immediately available through Christ Jesus. Condemnations fall upon us, therefore, for our unbelief. Sadly, we too restrict the application of healing prayers that are to be made for needful persons on any day… or at any time.

Singled Out?
If we dare venture that this example was offered for good reason by Luke to his churches, we find it had a precise meaning and purpose for those within his community. The text opened a prophetic witness for our Lord’s people back then… and thus comes to us as well by power of the Holy Spirit.
 Consider this thought! If the ailing and unnamed Hebrew woman represented more than her own personage to Luke, and his readers, the text also carries a pertinent message across the centuries to us. I offer this opinion with foundation, in that we are called to note that the woman being healed was exampled in scripture… without being named! Yet the number of years in her suffering was precisely published. I thus believe that this difference was deliberately scored. The vagueness of the one attribute, makes the number eighteen literally jump out to us from the Word! She represents more than herself to the church.
 The reason I think is clear. If we estimate as many scholars do, that this text was written about. 85AD, we find that the years of her illness correspond backward in time to the heavy footfall of Roman rule upon the rebellious Jewish people of Israel. Looking back, we today thus study the historical record describing the encircling and fall of that Jewish peoples... in Jerusalem and at Masada.
 Based upon this dating and history, let me offer to you that the woman then represents the early church, emerging from the wounds of several decades of both Roman and Jewish persecution, The question raised here is therefore… “Does the woman who was bent from long afflictions, a victim both to internally distorted religious law and external worldly powers.., represent more than herself in Luke? I do think so.
 Additionally we might ponder, “Does she represent the illness in faith of the Israelites during the period after the fall of Jerusalem and Masada? Is she representative of those Jewish Christians who needed to receive a healing from our Lord… a healing that exists beyond human understanding? If so, I further ask, “Could this occasion noted represent a healing given to the people of God in Christ Jesus, one that reaches past them, far across time and place… to reach far beyond the eighteen years that the woman suffered… so that we ourselves may be wonderfully healed similar to the wondrous occurrence on that gracious day?” Again.., I believe so.
 Consider with me that given this outlook.., we today may take from this lesson an occasion of great healing available for our own churches and lives. Surely, we hear how this healed “daughter of Abraham”, described by Luke, became accepted and renewed into the community of faith. The text subsequently relates that we then, as represented by her... are now accepted as the adopted of Abraham. We exist faithfully in like station to the woman who was ill for so long and shutout.
 We read therefore that Jesus may yet call to us amid any year, month, week, or day and heal us. He most certainly is said to arrive during our religious attendance on Sabbath… so that we may be healed by God and restored to the kingdom. Surely through the power of the Holy Spirit, God does a great healing work at that particular time through his Son.
 You see, during our worship we do receive healing forgiveness. As well, we of the church are sustained through weariness, being fed gracefully at the holy table. Therefore as we gather on any Sabbath to do the right work (liturgia) of the people of God, is it not true that we truly overcome our illness in faith… but not by our religious works… but rather by that which is freely given to us by our healing Lord?
 You see, our Lord shall not pass by without healing us. Have we not been traditionally fed the body and blood of the same Lord Jesus who gave of himself so that we may be made whole? This is the empowering message of Luke that was written to a church that lived in a time of illness of great illness. The message was declared when persecutions and sicknesses of the world heavily burdened their proclamation. The message came to those churches at a time when Christians were considered as impure, and were shunned from the parent synagogue communities. I contend, therefore, that just as their path was spurned at the turn of the first century, so it is even for us!
 Amid societal rejections caused by our faith and its expression in a world and culture that worships many competing gods, let us simply arise on any day... including Sunday... and say “Come Lord Jesus!” Let us pray that we may be called before Him to become witnesses of His love.  “Lord… just say the Word and we shall be healed!”

Monday, August 8, 2016

Bring The Heat!

ACCORDING TO LUKE, our reading for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost comes to us as a warning from Jesus. His words spoken back then concerned the schismatic effects surrounding his mission. These would call his disciples, and we ourselves who walk in their footsteps… out as a separate entity from the world.

"I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?
 No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." 
 He also said to the multitudes, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, 'A shower is coming'; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, 'There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. 
 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky; but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? (Luke 12:49-56)

Embers Flare!
The disciples followed Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. They thought he would become the king of Israel and his power would drive the Romans out of the holy land. The words that Jesus had previously spoken, however, had not really penetrated into their beings. Their human nature was so corrupted, that God’s children apparently brought our Lord to the point of exasperation. Thus he clearly stated to them the Father’s purpose for him… in that he came to cast the fire of the Good News upon the earth. At that time he wanted the fire of the Spirit already kindled. The holy fire had sparked by the Law given through Moses, and it now was intended by God to separate iron scum from purified gold.
 Within the context of the road to Jerusalem that was traveled by them on that day, we see that this conversation represented God’s judgment placed upon all humanity. Those who had received the Law were not convicted, and many simply followed Jesus for their own selfish reasons. Some however, the disciples chosen… were by God’s grace to be those who were to be immersed in the Holy Spirit’s power. In their case, in spite of their sin, they to be forged as pardoned and sent to give hope to those facing the fires of hell.
 Though love was and yet is… surely at the heart of our Lord’s driving force, Jesus was frustrated not just by misunderstanding and sinful unbelief. We see that he thus stated ample warning. Our Lord said that in future days, sharp divisions were to result for each of them… even unto the very foundations of their Hebrew faith and families. This warning, given in love… was not out of character for our Lord. You see, earlier in both Luke and Matthew, in delivering the "Sermon on the Mount," our Lord used similar language. At that earlier time, however, Jesus had pressed the disciples about the importance of being reconciled with an adversary, even to the point of agreeing to disagree.
 Clearly here in this text our Lord began to teach a similar, but slightly different lesson. The change came forth in view of the billowing evils of the day heating up against him. In the future, as well… those disciples who followed by the power of the Holy Spirit were seen not to back down from the fires of persecution.

Prophetic Warning!
 In the time of the writing of Luke’s gospel, the Holy Spirit had already begun to forge the Christian church amid a very heated turbulence. Cast out from their parent synagogue communities because of their beliefs, the infant house churches of Luke were being caught up in a cauldron of religious and political unrest. History records that the Good News expressed by these faithful had begun to forge a separate, new entity within the Roman Empire.
 You see, the emerging Christian church had begun to exert a telling influence in the society and economy of the diaspora Hebrew communities. In the midst of familial, social and political upheavals caused by their Christian witness, any followers blessed with expressing prophetic vision from our Lord were being singled out by opponents. Many of the established considered these disciples as harmful, hot coals injurious to the traditions of a faithful synagogue. Indeed, according to several powerful rabbinical persons, the Christians were also causing unwanted attention to be focused upon the Jews, simply because the Christians challenged the peace of the Roman Empire. This resulted in that the Christians had stated emphatically and repeatedly that only Jesus Christ was the Son of God… and not Caesar!

Feel the Burn…
As we in the church today examine this text, therefore, let us be warned away from complacency. Prophetically speaking, let me say that we are not to expect peace and cooperation from the modern world around us. Though experiencing resistance, however, please know that we dare not give ground in expressing our Savior’s particularity in the work of salvation. We cannot accommodate the present, pluralistic watering down of our Christian witness, commonly used for the sake of keeping the glowing embers of our true faith subdued.
 As the church, we are not to allow our witness to be quenched for the sake of courting liberal congregational populations and maintaining full church collection plates. To do so is harmful to the singular, pronounced evangelical mission for which we have been called.
 For example of this resistance in recent example of societal leanings, note that a portion of the agenda for a particular American political party is to make Christians abandon long-hardened, scripturally-based positions. These positions are to be refined within our church life to accommodate their own progressive, political agendas.
 Thus we are to stand firm in light of these progressivist fires. As Christians, expect unpopularity and pronounced divisions. Let us in answer chart a controlled burn… a proper course in the expression of both the Law of God and the saving power of Jesus Christ. We who are blessed to be in the modern Christian church need to maintain the scandal of our Lord’s particularity. There is no salvation… except for saving faith in the redemptive death of Jesus Christ upon the cross, and His subsequent Resurrection and Ascension.
 Know that our message comes to a society and world immersed in worldly pride and lusts. Indeed, this gospel message slices like a two-edged sword amid demonic powers who contest even the existence of God, or even when they admit His presence… reject His precepts, rewriting scripture in order to retain their hold on those who are enslaved.
 Consequently, as we contend with these powers in the world, I say for you to look to the cross. Bonfires have been stirred up to consume us and are even stoked in a person's own household. Surely these may warm our foes temporarily, but by the enduring power of the Holy Spirit we shall scorch and strain society… finding sinners that will be brought to the quenching waters of baptism.