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. 
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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. 

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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)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Get up, pick up your bed, and go home! Part 1 (1/3)

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. 

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On one occasion Jesus was in a house teaching.
In the midst of his teaching
some men arrived carrying another man on a stretcher.
He was on a stretcher because he couldn’t walk; he was paralyzed.

They couldn’t get through the crowd that surrounded Jesus,
so they went up the outside stairway that every home had
and let the man down through the opening in the roof.
At the end of a sentence, or in the middle of one,
there was a paralyzed man lying before Jesus.

If you didn’t know the story, I wonder what you would say might have been the first word Jesus spoke to the man.

I should be willing to venture the guess that almost no onewould come up with the words that he actually did say.

What he said was, “My friend, your sins are forgiven.”
What sins? 
We don’t know. 
We know nothing else about the man
and it’s presumable that Jesus had never seen him before.

Jesus didn’t know what the man’s sins were,
but he did know that he was a sinner
because he was a human being.
He knew that it’s the tendency of all human beings
to turn inward upon themselves, rather than outward,
and that as they turn inward, they turn away from God
and do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do.

He also knew that sin and sickness
sometimes work together in close partnership.

Especially was it so understood by the Jews
at that particular time.
They had been taught, that suffering of any kind,
whether it be bodily sickness,
or failure in business,
or exile in an alien land,
was a sign of God’s displeasure.
Jesus knew that in the minds of the people
sin and sickness/ were closely associated.
They don’t always go together, for sure,
but, even today
they sometimes walk hand in hand with each other,
the sickness the outward sign of the inner sin,
the sin the consequence of the physical limitation.

We call these disorders psychosomatic,
and we probably understand this
even more clearly than Jesus did,
but I’m perfectly sure
that he knew more about it
than many people now give him credit.

He knew that the man was suffering
from paralysis of the body,
but he also knew that the man’s body might be stiff -
might, I say – because his conscience was stricken with guilt.
At any rate, whatever his sins may have been,
Jesus forgave them.

The conservative leaders who were present were shocked.
They said, “Who can forgive sins but God? 
This man is guilty of blasphemy.”

While they were arguing back and forth
as to the degree of his blasphemy
and about what he had done,
Jesus turned to the man and said, 
“Get up, pick up your bed, and go home.” 
And the man did!

The record says that when it was all over
the people said, “We’ve seen incredible things today.”

Before we stop to look
at the light that this throws upon Jesus,
and it throws an enormous amount of light on him,
let us look for a moment at ourselves.
First of all, let’s admit that we don’t like the idea of sin.
I’m using “we” in the sense of a corporate society,
we as good Christian people, don’t like the idea of sin.
It suggests to many people repression,
and repression is anathema.

It suggests also an unnatural suppression
of so many things we so clearly like to do.
It implies a limitation of our freedom as human beings
and an unfair restriction of our right
to make the most of the few brief years we have on earth
and to go our own way, and to have our own way.

It brings to our minds
a thin-lipped self-righteous person
sitting in harsh judgment on someone who has made a mistake.

It also brings to mind
the picture of a God that sees everything we do
and thinks that most of the things we do are wrong,
especially something that gives us pleasure.
So, by and large, we don’t like the idea of sin at all.

We like even less to say that we’ve sinned.
We admit, that we make mistakes from time to time.
This is our own responsibility, our own fault,
natural and to be expected in human beings,
and may not involve anyone else.  

But sin is a different thing because sin implies
that we’re responsible to Something beyond ourselves.
It’s not only a mistake that we’ve made in our checkbook;
or a mistake in judgment/ about our child.
It’s something that breaks the relationship
with Someone infinitely higher than we are.
It implies that in the long run
we’ll be called to answer to that responsibility,
that these things will not simply be forgotten and swept aside,
but that they’ll be a part of us and that we’ll be called to answer
in ways and at a time which we don’t know now.


END PART ONE (1/3)