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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

THE MYSTERY OF TOUCH Part Two (2/2)

The FSAOF membership includes many former officers who've moved into ministry roles in other denominations, and where they've made meaningful and notable contributions.
One such person is Dr John Sullivan who has pastored large congregations in the Church of Canada for more than 5 decades. John has been a regular and much appreciated contributor to the FSAOF blog. 
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Someone will say, before this happens you must make the first move.
We do have to make a move and it frequently seems like the first move.
But it isn’t; the first move has already been made.
Christ may touch us, move toward us, either in a church service,
or from the pages of the New Testament,
or in some person in whom his spirit now dwells.
Our move is simply to respond to him, to trust him, to let him touch us.
If we do, he’ll liberate us from that terrible isolation.

This story speaks to us first, then, about our own isolation,
then about the isolation of other people
and our responsibility to them.
There are thousands living in isolation now,
some necessarily and some unnecessarily.
They feel cut off, and somehow left out, quarantined.

Some feel left out socially.

Other people are quarantined racially.

Others are isolated intellectually.

Some are isolated because they have no education.

Some because they have so much education.

Some are isolated morally, and people have cut them off.
These are the people
who live in isolation of one kind or another.
Our natural tendency, by and large,
is to turn away from them.
    
This tendency to turn away
is partly instinctive
and partly a subtle form of snobbishness.
To turn away from a person
whose appearance we do not like is snobbishness.

No one would deny
that we’ve a right to choose our companions
and those we associate with/ intimately every day of our lives.
Jesus chose his; he chose the twelve,
and from those
he chose three others to be his most intimate friends.
He chose those who were most susceptible to his training
most responsive to his mission, and to him as a person.

But we have no right
to turn away from people who need us.
You may say, as I would if I were listening to this message,
but how do I do it?
How do I overcome that natural, instinctive revulsion
at the sight of anything loathsome or horrible?

That’s a difficult question.
When we ask, ‘how’,
the question is harder to answer
than when we ask ‘what’.

Recently I read a story,
which may point the way to the answer.

A man was watching a nun dressing the wounds of a leper.
The wounds were horrible, loathsome to look at.
As he watched her, he said,
“I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.”
She looked up at him and said, “I wouldn’t either!”
She wasn’t doing it for a million dollars;
she couldn’t.
She was doing it for Someone else
who had touched her
and drawn her into the circle of those
who are always reaching out to bring others in.

Let him touch us now,
break through our isolation,
and lead us out into a world
where we can and will touch other people
and save them from their loneliness.

Let us always keep in mind
that most moving picture of Jesus.
See him as he’s confronted by a man
with the most loathsome disease in the world.
The man is convinced that he can make him well.
Before he says a word to the man
he stretches out his hand and touches him.

The mystery and wonder of human touch:
no wonder that D. H. Lawrence,
completely outside the Christian fold,
said in one of his last poems:
“The future of religion
lies in the mystery of touch”.


Let us pray:

May Christ come to us in our isolation,
draw us to himself and touch us
that we may be set free from our separation.
We want to be saved from making the mistake
of thinking that our problems are unique,
so that we can go out into the world
and touch other people
and draw them out of their circles
of isolation and loneliness

and enter the ranks of freedom.  Amen

Sunday, August 31, 2014

THE MYSTERY OF TOUCH Part One (1/2)

The FSAOF membership includes many former officers who've moved into ministry roles in other denominations, and where they've made meaningful and notable contributions.
One such person is Dr John Sullivan who has pastored large congregations in the Church of Canada for more than 5 decades. John has been a regular and much appreciated contributor to the FSAOF blog. 
________________________________

In the early part of his ministry Jesus met a man who was a leper.
Leprosy was then a common disease with a wide variety of symptoms
and with varying degrees of seriousness,
all the way from minor infections of the skin
to the gradual rotting away of the living body.
The disease was contagious, but not quickly communicable,
and it was often curable.

The worst of it was, at least from a well person’s point of view,
was that it made the victim repulsive, loathsome to look at.

For the safety and protection of the community
a leper was forbidden by the Mosaic Law to mingle with other people.
Once a person was pronounced a leper he or she was untouchable,
partly because he was a danger to the health of other people,
and partly because he was an offensive sight to a normally healthy person.

He wasn’t confined to a colony or a hospital, as he is now.
He was free to be at large, but he was at all costs to be avoided.
He was required by law to wear torn clothes,
to let his hair hang loose and to cover his upper lip.

I’ve often wondered what covering his upper lip could possibly mean?
It refers to a man with a mustache
and, if he had one, he must cover it.
And wherever he went he must cry, Unclean!  Unclean!
And he must dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp.
You’ll find these laws, in Leviticus chapters 13 & 14.

When this particular leper saw Jesus,
he forgot/ all about the Law, which forbade him
to come anywhere near a person who didn’t have leprosy,
and he threw himself at the foot of Jesus.
He said, “if you will, you can make me clean.”
He had no doubt whatever that he could;
the only thing he doubted was that he would.

Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.
Then he said, “I will, be clean.”
And immediately the leprosy left him. 
Then Jesus spoke to him sternly.

Here‘s one of those strange combinations
of compassion at one moment, and severity the next.
They don’t seem to go together, but we find them often in people
and we dare not try to analyze the situation in too great detail
nor do we dare to say why it was or how it was
that these came in such close proximity to Jesus.
All we know is that the original Greek
is more severe than the English translations,
and that in its mildest form Jesus spoke to him sternly.

He told him to do two things:

First, to keep still about what had happened to him.

Second he was to go to the priest and let him certify his cure.

An interesting side-light of the ministry of Jesus
is the fact that at this time he was still working
within the ecclesiastical framework of his day.

Whether the man deliberately disobeyed his instruction to keep still
we do not know; but we do know, that it wasn’t long
before the news of his cure had spread like wildfire.

It may have been
because when he went to the priest to get his certificate
he had to tell him how it happened.
At any rate, if this had happened to you or me
we couldn’t have kept still about it.
We would want to tell the whole world
that once we were a segregated, loathed human being
and that we were now free to mingle with people.

As a result, Jesus was so besieged with sick people
that he had to withdraw into the wilderness.

That’s the end of this brief story
about Jesus and a nameless leper.
What is the high point in the story?
To the early Christians
there’s no doubt about the high point in the story.
It was the cure. 
It was one of the many stories told by the early Church
that indicated that Jesus had power,
and this power was a sign, if not a proof, of his divine authority.

Without minimizing the cure, the high point for us,
is the fact that Jesus touched the man.

In spite of the law which forbade it,
   he stretched out his hand  and touched him.
   His concern for people took precedence
   over his obedience to the ceremonial law.

And he touched him
   in spite of the natural human instinct of horror
   at the sight of the leper.

And when he touched him, he healed him;
   and he healed him because he reached him.
   He broke through the isolation to which the man was condemned.

This is the point at which the story begins to speak to us.

First, it speaks about our own isolation:

We’re not lepers, but we often feel completely isolated.

We have problems, and no one understands them.

We have questions, and no one can answer them.

We have physical liabilities that no one knows anything about.

We live with difficulties that no one would ever dream of.

We sometimes live under circumstances that no one can change,

and we make mistakes that we hardly dare even mention.

In our own way we’re quarantined, at least we seem to be.
Then we see someone who arouses our confidence:
A person who has a power that draws us;
we go to the person and pour it all out. 
The person listens; and understands what we’re talking about.
Though he or she may not approve of what we’ve done,
he or she doesn’t condemn us. 
The person/ may not touch us physically at all; but he or she reaches us.
We were “out of touch”; now we’re “in touch”.

The person says to us, You aren’t unique in your problem.
You belong to a fellowship of people,
who share the suffering of humanity.
Through him or her our condition may not be changed,
but we are changed, we’re no longer alone,
no longer left out, we’re in touch with life.


END PART ONE (1/2)

Get up, pick up your bed, and go home! Part 3 (3/3)

The FSAOF membership includes many former officers who've moved into ministry roles in other denominations, and where they've made meaningful and notable contributions.
One such person is Dr John Sullivan who has pastored large congregations in the Church of Canada for more than 5 decades. John has been a regular and much appreciated contributor to the FSAOF blog. 

The other side of the paradox is that while he fought the sin
he forgave the sinner with understanding and love.

There are several instances of this in the gospels.
concluding with the climax
when Jesus forgave the people who killed him.
“Forgive them”, he said, “for they know not what they do.”
In this, people ever since have felt the forgiveness of God.

In no one of the instances
could Jesus undo the wrong that had been done.
Once it was done, it was done; he couldn’t undo it.
He couldn’t spare the person
the consequences of what he or she had done,
but he could do something for the person who did it.

He could accept the person,

he could take away the person’s guilt,

he could restore the person’s self-respect,

he could give the person a new lease on life,

he could give a new incentive to live a better life.

It goes without saying that he couldn’t do it
unless the person was willing.
He couldn’t do it for Pilate or for the Pharisees
because they weren’t ready for it.
But he was always willing, always ready.

In this strange dilemma in which we as human beings live
in which we do things that we know are wrong,
and people do things to us that are wrong,
we find Jesus most God-like in the way he resisted sin
and yet received sinners like ourselves into his presence.

What I should like us to do now is to be still,
think about ourselves in the light of it,
and then silently say: “Lord be merciful to me a sinner.”
 
If we do that, we may hear him say something like this,
“My friend, your sins are forgiven.”

Let us pray:
O God, we are prone to think of forgiveness in negative terms –
as being let off for our failures and misdeeds,
but now we see that it has a positive side also,
it helps to create life and health. 
Enable us to rejoice in it and experience it
as a sign of the Kingdom’s presence in our lives. 

Through Jesus who has the power to forgive and heal.  
Amen

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Get up, pick up your bed, and go home! Part 2 (2/3)

The FSAOF membership includes many former officers who've moved into ministry roles in other denominations, and where they've made meaningful and notable contributions.
One such person is Dr John Sullivan who has pastored large congregations in the Church of Canada for more than 5 decades. John has been a regular and much appreciated contributor to the FSAOF blog. 

_____________________________________

Many people who go to liturgical churches
don’t like the prayer of confession,
and when they have to say it in unison,
they do so only to conform to the pattern of public worship;
they don’t feel what they say.
So we have dropped the word sin from our vocabulary,
and from our way of thinking.

I say that we’ve dropped the idea,
but the strange thing is that we can’t.
No matter how many people there are,
who will help us find reasons
for dropping the idea of sin, we can’t really do it.

The only way, I can see that we can do it,
is to put our conscience to sleep,
so that we don’t have any sense of right and wrong.
It’s as though we demagnetized the needle of a compass
so that it no longer pointed to the pole star.

Some people have done it rather well.
They’ve reached the point
where they can do almost anything,
either in private or in public, and not be troubled by it.

People who appear respectable
can steal the public’s money without giving it a passing thought,
or tell a lie about another person and never think of it afterward.
But most of us can’t, because our conscience is there,
and even though we let it slumber, it wakes up at inconvenient times
and boldly points us toward the pole star.

No, we can’t get rid of the idea of sin that way.
We are too dipped and dyed in the idea that God is righteous,
and that when we worship God we reject evil,
and that when we sin we commit evil.
So we’re left with our sins. 
We can’t get rid of them.
We can’t even get rid of the idea of them,
even among the smartest of us.
We turn to Jesus. 

He spent most of his short life fighting sin,
not the sins that the morality squads go out to fight,
but the invisible sins of good people:

the sin of thinking that one is better than other people;

the sin of trying to get the best seat wherever one is.

the sin of getting one’s own way by force.

the sin of putting all one’s trust in material things.

the sin of sitting in judgment upon other people.

the sin of satisfying one’s desires at the expense of someone else;

the sin of making the House of Prayer a place of business.

I could go on and on.

In the few brief months of his public ministry,
Jesus spent a large part of the time fighting sin
in the sense that he tried to show people what it was and give them both the power and the incentive to overcome it.


End Part Two (2/3)