Posts Tagged ‘health’

Coming through….
The limitlessness of God’s love and work is revealed through Jesus. This Sunday’s scriptures remind us to reach out to God through prayer and reflection as we work to stay focused on being God’s children which means we serve the world.

Faith in Christ sustains and restores us.

The Worship of God

Passing the Peace 
Say to one another, “May the peace of Christ be with you.”
And reply, “And, also with you.”

Call to Worship

When we are stretched thin, challenged and doubting,
We walk with God.
When we are in the midst of the life-giving, the exciting and the nourishing,
We walk with God.
When we question every decision and when we are truly certain,
We walk with God.
When we walk with hesitancy or dance with enthusiasm,
We walk with God.
In the simple act of stilling minds and hearts for worship,
We walk with God.

Prayer of Adoration
Let us pray:

God of light and love,
warming February’s chill,
tempering the winds,
peppering hard ground
with early shoots of green
and hints of blossom,
we lift to you
the cold bones of winter
and hearts aflame with hope.

We praise you
for the Light
that has arrived with Jesus,
shining in the darkness,
unquenchable and true.

We praise you
for the hope of his presence,
guiding our feet,
lighting our pathway,
casting warming rays
and the glow of fulfilment.

We praise you
for the discomfort
of his searchlight beams,
concealing nothing,
truth-telling,
life-changing.

Examine us and know us, O God.
Drive out the darkness,
turn our hearts to you
and fill our souls
with the song of salvation,
with the message of your love.

Holy God, we worship you!
We sing your praise
now and forever.
Amen

Song of Praise
Praise the One who breaks the darkness
Author: Rusty Edwards
Tune: NETTLETON (anonymous)

1 Praise the One who breaks the darkness
With a liberating light.
Praise the One who frees the pris’ners,
Turning blindness into sight.
Praise the One who preached the gospel,
Healing ev’ry dread disease,
Calming storms and feeding thousands
With the very bread of peace.

2 Praise the One who blessed the children
With a strong yet gentle word.
Praise the One who drove out demons
With a piercing, two-edged sword.
Praise the one who brings cool water
To the desert’s burning sand.
From this well comes living water,
Quenching thirst in ev’ry land.

3 Praise the One true love incarnate:
Christ, who suffered in our place.
Jesus died and rose for many
That we may know God by grace.
Let us sing for joy and gladness,
Seeing what our God has done.
Praise the one redeeming glory;
Praise the One who makes us one.

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
Common English Bible

Praise the Lord!
Because it is good to sing praise to our God!
Because it is a pleasure to make beautiful praise!

The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem, gathering up Israel’s exiles.
God heals the brokenhearted
and bandages their wounds.
God counts the stars by number,
giving each one a name.
Our Lord is great and so strong!
God’s knowledge can’t be grasped!
The Lord helps the poor,
but throws the wicked down on the dirt!

Sing to the Lord with thanks;
sing praises to our God with a lyre!
God covers the skies with clouds;
God makes rain for the earth;
God makes the mountains sprout green grass.
God gives food to the animals—
even to the baby ravens when they cry out.
God doesn’t prize the strength of a horse;
God doesn’t treasure the legs of a runner.
No. The Lord treasures the people
who honor him,
the people who wait for his faithful love.

God hasn’t done that with any other nation;
those nations have no knowledge of God’s rules.

Praise the Lord!

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  Let us pray,

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,  
we give you thanks for…. 

God who comforts,  
receive those who are fearful and lonely…. 

God whose love is steadfast,  
be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them.… 

God of righteousness,  
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice to prevail  
in our community, this nation, your world…. 

God who seeks our trust, grow us and guide us in your ways
that are life-giving in your world.  Amen.

Anthem
This Little Light of Mine
Arranged by George Mabry

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
Every day, I’m gonna let my little light shine.

On Monday, he gave me the gift of love,
On Tuesday peace come from above.
On Wednesday, told me to have more faith;
On Thursday, gave me a bit more grace.
On Friday, told me to watch and pray;
On Saturday, told me what to say.
On Sunday, gave me power divine,
Just to let my little light shine.

Mark 1:29-39
Common English Bible

After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James, and John went home with Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them. That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed. The whole town gathered near the door. He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him. Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. Simon and those with him tracked him down. When they found him, they told him, “Everyone’s looking for you!” He replied, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.” He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons.

Reflection on the Gospel
Rev. Jeffrey Vickery

Let me begin with a confession. I have been avoiding some of the lectionary readings from the Gospels that have healing stories. We are, after all, still in the throes of a global pandemic where almost 500k people have died because of the coronavirus in the last 13 months. I have avoided these healing stories not because I feel a need for us to ignore what they say but because they are often misused in ways that I don’t think Jesus intended. Today I will venture into the healings in Mark 1 convinced that we need a better way to think about prayer, healing, and death given our global pandemic.  

At our Wednesday night online Bible study this past week, we were discussing James 4:4 in which James (whoever he is?) warns against friendship with the world which can lead to becoming “God’s enemy.” It is a strikingly brash statement that needs some context to understand. It seems clear that in the 1st century when the book of James was written, Christians were a small and insignificant minority of citizens in the larger Greco-Roman Empire that considered the pantheon of gods and goddesses as the “normal” understanding of religion. In that context, it is easy to imagine that James is teaching the same kind of distance from pagan gods and idols that other writers of the New Testament also required. In other words, for Christians in the first century, “friendship with the world” likely meant keeping the traditional idols of your family’s favorite goddess, or participating in the local festival to the patron god of your city, or thinking of Jesus as being like all the other sons of Greek gods as though he were somehow like Perseus who was half-human and half-god because his father was the god Zeus and his mother was a woman named Danaë.  

If that’s part of the caution James is offering Christians back then, what does it mean today for us to be warned about being a friend of the world and possibly becoming God’s enemy. Or to say it differently, how are we tempted to be friends of the world and end up embracing ideas that are counter to a Gospel-centered faith? Other people likely have some good answers to that question. I want to put forward these three things, from my perspective, that we have let our “world” define for us that are simply out of line with Jesus’ teachings. We have adopted too much of the world’s teaching on wealth, race, and health.  

To be honest, Christianity’s struggle with wealth has been a problem for millennia. But it’s also the easiest to critique. The biblical teaching is that no one is defined as more holy because they have more money. No one is cursed by God because they are poor.  Any reading of what Jesus says about the poor, his criticism of wealth, his focus on generosity and giving…these are clearly at odds with the American ideal of having mounds of money and living in luxury. The Gospel highlights generosity, the American Dream encourages greed. James thus warns us to consider that our money may be making us an enemy of God. Some money is necessary; too much desire for money makes us enemies of God. 

Likewise the Gospel is clear that one’s race, as defined by one’s country of origin, or language, or citizenship status, or family has nothing to do with God’s preference for any one group. The starting point for this conversation in the New Testament is the dividing line between Jew and Gentile. Over and over and over again the Bible denies the “racist” idea that God privileges Jews over Gentiles. From John 3:16’s “for God so loved THE WORLD…” to Peter’s clear confession “God shows no partiality…” but accepts “anyone from any nation…” (Acts 10:34-35) the Christian scriptures in no way supports any teaching that one race is more blessed, entitled, holy, or beloved of God. It should be clear to all Christians, that racism as well as race privilege are actively taught to us by our culture and will make us an enemy of God. 

But then we come to the subject of health, and here it may seem that the way is less clear. Our current pandemic and its firestorm through the US sets us on edge. It is like we have been on a year-long airplane flight. Perhaps like me you have that feeling, every time you board a plane, that it is possible that this plane will crash and we will all die. The odds are low, but it is not impossible; the fear is not debilitating but it should be acknowledged. Really faithful Christians are not immune to airplace accidents. I know this to be true in part because my first cousin was on the US Air flight that crashed while attempting to land in Charlotte in 1994. Facing the pandemic has the same effect. For the last year, every fever might be COVID, every face-to-face meeting might share a viral load that is infectious, every trip to the grocery is a possible transmission encounter. These are not irrational, in fact the exact opposite is true—they are both logical and proven as evidenced by the 27 million times it has happened in the US in the last year. Given our new context for disease and health, we are today in a new environment for understanding the relationship between faith and health, or in this case between Jesus and healing. With this in mind, let’s consider our story today from Mark 1:29-39. 

Jesus is in Capernaum with his first apostles. When he goes to Simon’s house, it turns out that Simon’s mother-in-law has a fever. No big deal, it’s just a fever, or so we used to think. Just take some Advil or Tylenol, maybe the doctor will prescribe an antibiotic, and the fever will go away. In Jesus’ day they had no medicine and physicians only treated illnesses with no real expectation that they could heal any fever. It is not difficult, then, to imagine the people in Capernaum living with the concern that a simple fever may in fact lead to death. So when Jesus enters Simon’s house and he discovers that this woman has a fever, this healing story becomes a way for Mark to tell us something about Jesus. Since Mark has no Christmas story, he identifies Jesus’ divine nature in chapter 1 this way: no one can heal a fever but God; no one can cast out a demon but God; no one can cure leprosy but God. Since Jesus healed a woman with a fever, and cast out demons, and cured a man of his leprosy, he is, therefore, divine. In other words, Mark’s healing stories here are to identify something about Jesus. What they say about our health in general is not the main part of the story.  

Look with me at what Jesus does after a few healings in Capernaum. Verses 35-39 read, “Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. Simon and those with him tracked him down. When they found him, they told him, ‘Everyone’s looking for you!’ He replied, ‘Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.’ He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons.”  

What these verses tell us is that Jesus left many people in Capernaum un-healed. In our contemporary lingo, Jesus takes some “me time” and goes into the wilderness. For Jesus this is a spiritual retreat and not just a stress-relieving hike. He goes away alone to pray. He recognizes that spiritual fitness is an exercise more important than what we find at the gym or track. I’m not going to tell you that this means God wants us to all get up before sunrise to pray and this is the preferred method for any real Christian to have a meaningful devotional life. What is important here is not Jesus’ method or time of prayer, but the intentionality of prayer and the purposeful practice of a healthy spiritual life.  

In this way, our current times have led us away from a biblical understanding of health. We are easily led to believe that physical health is more important than spiritual health. We want people to pray for us when we’re sick (and this is a good practice and something we encourage) but we don’t often admit even to ourselves when we are spiritually unhealthy. And when we do, we find little help from the world. When society takes on spiritual practices like prayer and meditation, they become defined by secular purposes and outcomes. In other words, spirituality does not have a spiritual outcome or deepen a relationship with God. Instead we tend to create a measureable productivity even for prayer. That’s a problem. To use a cultural example, it has become common to teach “mindfulness” in schools, which is an adaptation of a Zen Buddhist practice. The purpose for school students has no spiritual goal even though its only purpose in Buddhism is spiritual. For students, however, it has an educational aim. As one advocate for mindfulness states, its purpose is to help school students “flourish academically, socially, and emotionally”. Hear me clearly: I’m not opposed to teaching mindfulness in schools to children even if it comes from Buddhism. I am emphasizing, however, that spiritual practices in our Christian faith are ends to themselves. To spend time in prayer or some other spiritual practice is not necessarily assessed based upon measurable outcomes. In this way, prayer is a “waste of time” to borrow a phrase from Marva Dawn. The purpose of prayer is not to lower my blood pressure, or to help me relax. Prayer is not one of the “5 Steps to a Healthy You.” It is to encounter God personally and genuinely.  We are called to pray for the sake of praying, to have time to hear and listen to the Holy Spirit of God so that we’re not just hoping for a selfish dream. Or as the great Thomas Merton said, to intentionally “entertain silence in the heart and listen for the voice of God—to pray for your own discovery [of God],” as Thomas Merton said. If we want an outcome to prove prayer effective, that goal is immeasurable and by our world’s standard a “waste of time.”  

If we go back to the book of James chapter 4 again, he says that prayer is wasteful in a different way. He warns that prayer that seeks to fulfill our own “cravings” (in the CEB), or prayer that is from “evil intention” are wasted. This time, James calls prayer a waste because it fails to seek God but rather is used as a tool to pry something out of God for our own end. It puts our desire first, our need takes priority, our craving seeks to be satisfied at God’s action in response to our prayer. Prayer that seeks to convince God to give us what we want is not prayer but trying to bend God’s will to ours. Every prayer to win the lottery or the Superbowl is, in James’ words, a waste. That’s prayer that displays our attempt to control God when instead, genuine prayer begins with humility and a hope to participate in God’s Way rather than ours. That’s why in the Lord’s prayer Jesus tells us to pray “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” to “hallow” God’s name and not ours, to forgive because God forgave us. Prayer’s origins and hopes are to know God better long before it is ever to be healed or blessed. Prayer is meaningful, Jesus seems to be teaching us, when it comes as a result of our reliance on God, when it seeks a deepened relationship with God so as to better live God’s Way in this world. At least it is easy to infer that is why Jesus retreats to pray in Mark 1.  

We must recognize, however, that in heading out of town in the dark of the morning, Jesus left some people behind still sick. Someone in Capernaum likely died after Jesus left and went on to the other cities. It turns out that Jesus did not heal everyone. Why? Jesus certainly healed some people who were sick, but his purpose was not to come to Earth and be a physician alone. He is becoming famous in the Gospels for his healing, so much so that I think he left Capernaum so that the emphasis would not be on his healing but on his teaching about salvation. Jesus is our Savior always, but not our medicine for good health. If the only reason we become a Christian is because we think it will make us “healthy, wealthy, and wise,” then we need a course correction to our Christian journey through life. Faith is not a protection against illness. Following Jesus is not a guarantee of health. Just praying that we won’t end up with COVID is not an exercise in faith in God. It’s a reckless attempt to test God based upon a flawed understanding of faith that has been defined by the world around us rather than the Bible.  

From the very beginnings of Genesis to the book of Revelation, hundreds of examples of faithful God-serving neighbor-loving people die too soon, experience serious illness or crises, and suffer in this life. In Genesis just after the Garden story, the son of Adam and Eve who most pleased God in worship, Abel, was killed. He had more faith than his brother, and he died. Jumping to the end of the text, Revelation tells us that faithful Christians who hold their faith will likely die, but they should be faithful anyway because the emperor can kill but he cannot take away our salvation. What it says directly is this: “Don’t be afraid of what you are going to suffer… Be faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). 

People who think they can pray “a hedge of protection” around those who are sick are often  reflecting an American cultural understanding of health and not a biblical one. This kind of thinking reduces health to a faith-test or an effective prayer exercise. It teaches us that to pray and have faith is to protect us from illness. That’s not a Christian truth. It is both not biblical and likely sinful. I sigh when I read about a popular study in which the writer describes prayer as “storming the gates of heaven” in order to, as the marketing for her book says, learn the “secret to praying prayers that really ‘work.’” These are disappointing because they equate good health with good faith. They dilute prayer into its measurable result. That’s not just a waste, it’s dangerous. This kind of theology puts every Christian with a chronic illness, every parent who loses a child to disease, every family member reeling from a sudden deadly accident, every Christian and/or caregiver of someone with cancer or Alzheimer’s or MS, each of the 500k families who are grieving death by COVID… it puts them all either in the category of “God caused your illness/death” or “you don’t have the right faith” or “your prayers are not effective because you are not praying right.” No —  a thousand times, no.  

Why does Jesus not heal everyone, either in the Gospels or now? I don’t know and neither do you nor does the person who writes the books we read. Whether we remain sick or become healed, our hope is in God’s salvation rather than our physical health and longevity. We can take comfort that the fragility of health and life is not a human weakness in the eyes of God. Disease is not God’s judgment on a lack of faith or the presence of sin. Death is neither a failure of faith nor an end – it is another beginning of life with God that is unfiltered by our human limits.  Jesus understands that healing illnesses is not more important that bringing salvation. That leaves those who live with illness and caregiving and grief with a hope beyond this present suffering. The miracle of wholeness and healing is God’s salvation. If we put our hope in medical care and treatment, it will one day let us all down.   

So at the end of this story in Mark, Jesus leaves Capernaum to go to other cities — not to heal more people but to preach the good news. He leaves behind some who are sick knowing that illness is not an impediment to salvation. Disease is not a judgment against someone’s faith. Healing when it does happen does not come because that sick person had more faith, prayed the right prayers, or somehow trusted more and sinned less. Our human mortality does not offer a commentary on God’s justice or our faith. Were that the case, then those 500k people who have died from the coronoavirus would not include any “real” Christians. Try saying that, and defending it without giving up practically every dimension of Christian teaching. You can’t. 

Please keep praying for people with COVID, those in the hospital, our family who have long-term chronic diseases. Pray for their comfort. Pray for their hope. And, yes, pray for their healing. Just know this: whether healing comes or not, it is not bestowed as an act of God’s preference, nor is it a commentary on God’s love, nor does the ongoing disease in any way diminish the certainty of our salvation. Anyone, literally anyone, who tells you otherwise is speaking as one who is not God’s friend.  

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Thank you, God for constant love.
Please help our church family grow
deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith
Guide My Feet
Tune: GUIDE MY FEET
African American Traditional

1 Guide my feet while I run this race,
guide my feet while I run this race,
guide my feet while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain.

2 Hold my hand while I run this race,
hold my hand while I run this race,
hold my hand while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain!

3 I’m your child while I run this race,
I’m your child while I run this race,
I’m your child while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain!

4 Stand by me while I run this race,
Stand by me while I run this race,
Stand by me while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain!

5 Search my heart while I run this race,
Search my heart while I run this race,
Search my heart while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain!

6 Guide my feet while I run this race,
guide my feet while I run this race,
guide my feet while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain.

Sending Out
May the path that Christ walks
to bring justice upon the earth,
to bring light to those who sit in darkness,
to bring out those who live in bondage,
to bring new things to all creation:
may this path
run through our life.
May we be
the road Christ takes.

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. 
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements:

  • The image is a photo taken by Stefan S uploaded to Flickr on April 8, 2018.
  • The call to worship was written by Fiona Barker printed in Winter Liturgical Resource for November, December and January, ed. by Ruth Burgess. Wild Goose Publications, Iona Community, © 2016.
  • The opening prayer was written Louise Gough printed in Spring Liturgical Resources for February, March, and April, ed. by Ruth Burgess, Wild Goose Publications, Iona Community, © 2019.
  • The opening hymn was sung by Mindy and accompanied by Tracy on the organ.
  • The anthem was sung by Ally, Mindy, Elizabeth, Laura, and Tonya, accompanied by Tonya on the piano and Mindy on the cowbell.
  • The closing hymn was sung by Mindy accompanied by Tracy on the organ.
  • The Sending Out was written by Jan L. Richardson, and posted on The Painted Prayerbook website.

    Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.

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