Category: Sermon

Come Lord Jesus! The Meaning of Advent ~ The Rt. Rev. Michael Beckett, OPI

 

Within the calendar year, there is another year:  the  great cycle of the liturgical year, revolving around the life and ministry Christ.  Each season of the liturgical year has its own particular focus, feasts, words, and colors, giving us an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the coming of Jesus, his life, and his commission to His people to be a light to the world.

Since the 900s, Advent has marked the beginning of the church year, and is a season of great anticipation, preparation, and excitement, traditionally focusing on the Nativity of the Christ Child, when Jesus came as our Savior.  During Advent, we as Christians also direct our thoughts to His second coming as judge.

The word Advent is from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming,” and is celebrated during the four weeks of preparation for Christmas. Advent always contains four Sundays, beginning on the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, (November 30) and continuing until December 24. It blends together a penitential spirit, very similar to Lent, a liturgical theme of preparation for the Second and Final Coming of the Lord, called the Parousia, and a joyful theme of getting ready for the Bethlehem event.

Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. That is a process in which we  participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. Scripture reading for Advent  reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment of sin, and the hope of eternal life.

In this double focus on past and future, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. That acknowledgment provides a basis for holy living, arising from a profound sense that we live “between the times” and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. As the church celebrates God’s Incarnation in the physical presence of Jesus Christ, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which “all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption,” it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

We celebrate with gladness the great promise of Advent, yet knowing that there is also a somber tone as the theme of final judgment is added to the theme of promise. This is reflected in some of the Scripture readings for Advent, in which there is a strong prophetic tone of accountability and judgment of sin. This is also faithful to the role of the Coming King who comes to rule, save, and judge the world.

Because of the dual themes of judgment and promise, Advent is a time of preparation that is marked by prayer. While Lent is characterized by fasting and a spirit of penitence, Advent’s prayers are prayers of humble devotion and commitment, prayers of submission, prayers for deliverance, prayers from those walking in darkness who are awaiting and anticipating a great light (Isaiah 9).

Historically, the primary color of Advent is Purple. This is the color of penitence and fasting as well as the color of royalty to welcome the Advent of the King. The purple of Advent is also the color of suffering used during Lent and Holy Week. This points to an important connection between Jesus’ birth and death. The nativity, the Incarnation, cannot be separated from the crucifixion. The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world, of the “Word made flesh” and dwelling among us, is to reveal God and His grace to the world through Jesus’ life and teaching, but also through his suffering, death, and resurrection. To reflect this emphasis, originally Advent was a time of penitence and fasting, much as the Season of Lent and so shared the color of Lent.

In the four weeks of Advent the third Sunday came to be a time of rejoicing that the fasting was almost over (in some traditions it is called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice”). The shift from the purple of the Season to pink or rose for the third Sunday Advent candles reflected this lessening emphasis on penitence as attention turned more to celebration of the season.

In recent times, however, Advent has undergone a shift in emphasis, reflected in a change of colors used in many non-Catholic churches. The penitential aspect of the Season has been almost totally replaced by an emphasis on hope and anticipation.  Many Protestant churches now use blue to distinguish the Season of Advent from Lent. Royal Blue is sometimes used as a symbol of royalty. Some churches use Bright Blue to symbolize the night sky, the anticipation of the impending announcement of the King’s coming, or to symbolize the waters of Genesis 1, the beginning of a new creation. Some churches, including some Catholic churches, use bluish violet to preserve the traditional use of purple while providing a visual distinction between the purple or red violet of Lent.  However, it must be remembered that blue is not an approved liturgical color, for Advent or any other season, and it should not be the primary color in any Catholic liturgical celebration.

This does not eliminate any sense of penitence from the Season. With the focus on the Advent or Coming of Jesus, especially in anticipating His Second Advent, there remains a need for preparation for that coming. Most liturgical churches incorporate confessional prayers into the services of Advent that relate to a sense of unworthiness as we anticipate His Coming. It is appropriate even in more traditional services of worship to incorporate confessional prayers as part of the anticipation and preparation of the Season.

Even with the shift to blue for Advent in many non-Catholic churches, the vast majority of churches retain pink or rose among the Advent colors, and use it on the last Sunday of Advent. In the four weeks of Advent the third Sunday came to be a time of rejoicing that the fasting was almost over (in some traditions it is called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice”), and it remains associated with Joy.

The Advent wreath is a popular symbol of the beginning of the Church year in many churches. It is a circular evergreen wreath with five candles, four around the wreath and one in the center. The circle of the wreath itself reminds us of God, His eternal being and endless mercy, which has no beginning or end. The green of the wreath speaks of the hope that we have in God, the hope of newness, of renewal, of eternal life.

The four outer candles represent the period of waiting during the four Sundays of Advent, which themselves symbolize the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ.

The center candle is white and is called the Christ Candle. It is traditionally lighted on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The central location of the Christ Candle reminds us that the incarnation is the heart of the season, giving light to the world.

The light of the candles becomes an important symbol of the season. The light reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world that comes into the darkness of our lives to bring newness, life, and hope. It also reminds us that we are called to be a light to the world as we reflect the light of God’s grace to others (Isa 42:6). The progression in the lighting of the candles symbolizes the various aspects of our waiting experience. As the candles are lighted over the four week period, it also symbolizes the darkness of fear and hopelessness receding and the shadows of sin falling away as more and more light is shed into the world. The flame of each new candle reminds the worshippers that something is happening, and that more is yet to come. Finally, the light that has come into the world is plainly visible as the Christ candle is lighted at Christmas, and worshippers rejoice over the fact that the promise of long ago has been realized.

 

 

 

All Hail the King!?! ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

Liturgical colour: White.

Reading 1:2 SM 5:1-3

Responsorial Psalm: PS 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5

Reading 2: COL 1:12-20

Gospel: LK 23:35-43

Today, at the end of the Liturgical year and the start of the Advent and Christmas seasons, when we focus on the coming of Our dear Lord and Saviour, we come together to celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

Whilst indeed, Our Lord Jesus Christ is the only and true King of all the Universe, there are many who still don’t tend to see him as the King he is, because they picture Earthly Kings, with all their pomp, riches, earthly powers, and with all the ceremonies that come along with the ‘Earthly King’  role.

Our Lord, Our Saviour, and Our King is truly the King of all the Universe, higher than any and all kings past, present, or future ever shall be. Yet, Our Lord and King, came not into the World with earthly Kingly riches, nor with any earthly office pomp and ceremony. Jesus never needed all the ceremonial pomp of power such as golden crowns, luxurious flowing garments, or military parades to show his Kingship. On the contrary, He came to us in the world in the most humbling of ways, born in a stable and was laid in a manger which was where the food for the oxen and cattle would be placed, and he remained humble all the way until his earthly death for us at the crucifixion.

Let us look at Today’s Holy Gospel Reading of Lk 23: 35=43=

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”  36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”  38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.  39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”  40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”  42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

In today’s Gospel reading we meet Jesus on the cross paying for the sins of the world, and the two thieves who hung on crosses at either side of him who were there to pay the penalty of their crimes. Jesus was being mocked and sneered at by the rulers and the soldiers in full view of the gathered and watching crowd.

Today we reflect on the Kingship of Christ in relation to the Three Crosses of Calvary, the Cross of Rejection, the Cross of Reception and the Cross of Redemption.

We begin with the cross of Rejection, a cross upon which hangs a man who is dying in sin. On this cross, is a thief who by his actions towards Jesus, represents those who still refuse to repent, even after having experienced the love of God. Even now, hanging from his cross, this man rejects the Divine grace of Christ our Lord and King, and joins in the brutal vocal attack on him. This thief, the soldiers and the vast majority of the watching crowds, failed to recognise Jesus the promised King, who had come down to earth amongst us to be a Shepherd and to serve rather than to be served, and who ultimately would give his life for the price of all of our sins.

Next, we have the cross of Reception which holds a man who is dying to sin. The difference with this thief to the previous one, is that he allows Divine Grace to enable him at the end to see the vast difference between good and evil. Knowing he deserved to suffer, he was moved by the quiet Majesty of our Lord and King, and completely unifies with him, trusting in his power over both life and death, and asking Jesus to remember him when he comes into his Kingdom. Jesus grants his request, telling him, “today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Finally, we come to the cross of Redemption. This cross holds our Lord and King who is dying for sin=for the sins of the world. Jesus defeated the kingdom of darkness and death through the cross of Redemption and has regained for us the chance of eternal salvation and paradise, that was lost by the sin of mankind. Our dear Jesus, suffered death in agony for us and for our salvation, whilst always showing the grace and majesty of what he truly was, is and ever shall be Our Lord and King!!

Let us pray:

Almighty, everlasting God, Who in Thy beloved Son, King of the Universe, hast willed to restore all things anew; grant in Thy Mercy that all the families of nations, rent asunder by the wound of sin, may be subjected to His most gentle rule.  Who with Thee lives and reigns world without end.  Amen.

 

The Ultimate Defender ~ The Rev Dcn Dollie Wilkinson, OPI

Luke 21:5-19

“Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.”.

I cannot remember a time when our country has been so divided over different political views, religious beliefs, and even still the color of one’s skin. Our current President is being impeached because of shady dealings with another country. Though there have been other past presidents who have been impeached, this current impeachment trial has left our nation not knowing who to trust. He is also building a wall between America and Mexico, to stop illegal immigrants from coming into our country. Now families are separated and put in detention centers, with children being the innocent victims. They are left wondering when, or if they will ever see their mom or dad again. We need to remember the words Jesus spoke to His disciples who expressed over what was going to happen. “When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened.” He further goes on to reassure them. “They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.”. But we need not be afraid of the current upheavals. As He eased the worries of His disciples, He also offers us words of comfort. “For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.”.

I had a doctor’s appointment today for a CT of my lungs. This was only one of the many tests and procedures I’ve had since January. After being diagnosed with a liver disease, there were many who thought I was dying. Even members of my own family were sure I would never make it home. But the main thing that kept me from giving up, was my unwavering faith in the great Healer. God was always right there with me. At one point they tried to stop my heart to get a better picture of what was wrong. Three times they tried, and three times my body refused the medicine. That was a clear sign that I was truly in God’s hands. Just as Jesus promised His disciples, “But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.”. I always knew that God’s got this. I will always stand firm in my faith, knowing the great Healer will never leave me.

He holds us all in His hands….

 

 

The Feast of Sts Simon and Jude ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

 

Reading 1: EPH 2:19-22

Responsorial Psalm: PS 19:2-3, 4-5

Gospel:LK 6:12-16

Liturgical colour: Red.

My dearest Brothers and sisters=in=Christ:

Today we come together as the church to celebrate the feast day of Saints Simon and Jude. Little is known about either of these saints apart from the fact that they were called by Jesus to be among his band of disciples and were later named amongst the Apostles.

Let us firstly look at Saint Simon:

Simon was a simple Galilean, a brother of Jesus, as the ancients called close relatives in those times, including such as uncles and first cousins. He was one of the Saviour’s four first cousins, together with James, Jude and Joseph. These were all sons of Mary, the wife of Alpheus, or Cleophas, both names being a derivative of the Aramaic Chalphai. According to tradition Cleophas was the brother of Saint Joseph, Jesus earthly father. All the sons of this family were raised at Nazareth, close neighbours of the Holy Family.

All were called by Our Lord to be Apostles: pillars of his Church. Saint Mark tells us that Simon was born in Cana, the place, according to Saint John, of Jesus’ first miracle. Some traditions identify Simon as the bridegroom at that wedding and suggest that he became a disciple as a direct response to witnessing that miracle, a miracle that was, after all, performed, at the request of Mary, to get the newly-weds out of a somewhat embarrassing predicament.

Saint Simon is not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament except in lists of the Apostles’ names.

Tradition has it that Saint Simon preached in Mauretania (an area which approximated to present day north-west Africa and southern Spain), in Egypt and in Libya, leaving behind him the fertile hills of Galilee, where he had been engaged in cultivation of the vineyards and olive gardens. He later rejoined his brother Jude in Persia (modern day Iran) where they laboured and died together, probably martyred, hence the change to a red altar frontal in their honour on this their feast day. At first the Persian king respected them, for they had manifested power over two ferocious tigers that had terrorised the land. With their king, sixty thousand Persians became Christians, and churches rose over the ruins of the idolatrous temples. However, when they visited other parts of the Persian kingdom unconverted, pagan hordes commanded them to offer sacrifices to the Sun god. They prayed for mercy and offered their lives to the living God but the idolaters fell on the two Apostles and massacred them, while they blessed God and prayed for their murders.

Now let us look at Saint Jude:

Saint Jude is also known by a variety of other names. He is called Lebbaeus in Matthew chapter ten and Thaddaeus in Mark chapter three.

In the end of our Bibles, we find The Epistle of Jude. It is a short work of only one chapter containing just 25 verses. Here we are warned against corrupt influences that have crept into the church.

St. Jude is often and popularly referred to as the patron saint of desperate or lost causes, the one who is asked for help when all else fails. Possibly due to prayers for intercession, to be asked of the other Apostles first. Hence, Jude has come to be called ‘the saint of last resort’, the one whom we ask only when desperate.

What, then, can we in today’s world learn from the lives of these two relatively unknown Apostles?  Firstly, they, like the rest of the twelve, ‘forsook all and followed Jesus. Can we be accused of doing that? Could we, and should we, give up some of our modern comforts and privileges and live our lives more like our Lord? Secondly, if tradition tells us, St Simon was the recipient of Jesus’ first miracle. We should be reminded that, even two thousand years later, that miracles still happen. We must always be aware that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world and he does not always do things in the way in which we would have him do them.

Thirdly, judging by his epistle, Saint Jude proved to be an avid supporter of gospel truths.

So then, are we truly passionate enough about the tenets and doctrines of our faith? Do we hold fast to the creedal affirmations of the Church?

Both Sts Simon and Jude, spent their lives preaching the gospel to a very pagan world and it is believed that they died a martyr’s death for their faith. We may not be called to be martyrs like they were (hopefully), but we shall be called to make other sacrifices. Are we ready to suffer for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?

Let us, thank God for the lives of his Apostles Saint Simon and Saint Jude.

Let us pray:

Father,

you revealed yourself to us

through the preaching of your apostles Simon and Jude.

By their prayers,

give your Church continued growth

and increase the number of those who believe in you.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judge? Jury? Justice? ~ The Rev. Shawn Gisewhite, OPI

Gospel:  Luke 18:1-8

In the Name of God; +Father, +Son, and +Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Grant me justice against my opponent.” Grant me justice. These are the words of the widow in today’s parable from Luke’s Gospel. Jesus doesn’t give us many specifics here. What was the injustice? Who was the opponent? We don’t know. The only details we get are about the judge. This judge 1) does not fear God, and 2) does not respect people. These two details may seem small, but they tell us a lot about the judge, and about the situation of the widow.

What is a judge supposed to be like? Wise, impartial, attentive, fair-minded… None of these describe the judge in our parable. Even if we consider the Biblical judges, the ones who are held up in Scripture as examples for all of us, we find names like Joshua, Deborah, Gideon, and Samuel. These judges were widely recognized for their intelligence, impartiality, and faithfulness to God. They settled legal disputes, but they were also military commanders and above all, enemies of oppression. The judge in our parable, he’s a judge in name only. There is nothing about him that merits his status. And yet, he’s still the judge in this city. The widow, who has been treated unjustly, has nowhere else to go with her complaint. So she brings her complaint, over and over again, before the unjust judge. And the judge ignores her, over and over again. This is wrong, and it shouldn’t be this way.

Today we find ourselves roughly 1 year away from another Presidential election. Although we’re voting for candidates to fill many different offices, both local and national, the Presidential race is the one that will captured our attention. Democrats and Republicans are different in a lot of ways; but they each provoke extreme amounts of anger and bile and ugliness in the other’s followers. You don’t have to be a sociologist or political historian to notice this. People from all parts of the political spectrum are being really mean to each other and it’s only going to get worse. Name-calling and crude language have become typical – and I’m not talking about the candidates, I’m talking about the rest of us, the regular citizens. It has become normal for us to insult, harass, and demean those with whom we disagree, whether online, or in person. Since the 2016 election this has happened to me more than once. At one time I had a bumper sticker on my SUV endorsing a candidate. On one occasion my wife and I came out of the grocery store to find our vehicle egged.  On another occasion I had 2 guys pull up beside me in a parking lot and start walking towards me, screaming about what they assumed my political ideologies were.   I could see the anger in their faces, and in that moment I was frightened. But I stayed calm (thanks be to God) and I’m fine (no damage done) and only one of the two threatened me with bodily harm, so that has to count for something, right?

Now, I don’t want to paint myself as some kind of innocent, virtuous person. I am guilty too. I may not accost people on the street, or yell at them, or call them name, but I have some very uncharitable thoughts from time to time. I would be ashamed if you knew some of the things that go through my head…not about policies, or positions, but about people. People whose values and experiences are different from my own. In these moments, I’m grateful that I have enough self-control to stop myself from speaking these thoughts out loud. But God still hears them. God knows all my thoughts. God knows that I have failed, over and over and over again, to respect the dignity of all human beings. I have plenty of sins to confess. We all do.

So back to the judge and the widow. The judge is a fraud, with no integrity and no moral compass, and yet the widow keeps coming. She persists in bringing her complaint. She returns to the judge again and again. And what happens? The widow is vindicated! The judge grants her justice! Not because he has a change of heart, or he puts himself in her shoes, or he carefully considers the merits of her case, but because he’s tired of dealing with her. The widow will not stop until justice is served, and so the judge serves it, begrudgingly.

St. Ephrem, a theologian and poet in the 4th century after Christ, described what happens in this parable beautifully: “Persistence transformed these bitter branches, and they bore sweet fruit that was against their nature.” In other words, Jesus is teaching us about transformation. Jesus is telling us about the trans-formative power of persistence and faithfulness. Jesus asks us to remain faithful, even when we are surrounded by faithlessness. Jesus calls us to be persistent, even in the midst of hostility. And Jesus promises us that the eventual fruits of our labors will be justice.

As we approach the 2020 election, we may feel like we’re caught up in an unholy storm of anxiety and venom and distrust. In the midst of all this indecency and contempt, what does our Lord ask of us? Jesus asks us to remain faithful, to pray, and to persevere in seeking justice regardless of the response. Fear and anxiety cannot transform the bitter branches of our world. Neither can self-righteousness and mockery.

We know this, don’t we? Even when the world seems to be imploding around us, we know that Jesus calls us to do better, to live lives worthy of him. The prophet Jeremiah tells us that God has written the law on our hearts, on my heart and on your heart. As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to live faithfully. We are called to seek justice continually, while always… ALWAYS…respecting the dignity of all persons. And during this election season, we are called to inhabit a territory of honesty and humility, decency and grace. We are called to resist wandering away into ridicule and arrogance and hatred. We are called to live out the truth that there can be no transformation and no justice without human dignity and respect.

This is how we remain faithful in a faithless world; we persist in seeking justice. We uphold the dignity of all persons. And we do not allow ourselves to fall into degradation or vulgarity or contempt. With God’s help, our persistence will transform the bitterness around us; and the Son of Man will find faith in our hearts. May it be so. Amen.

 

So You Need Healed? ~ The Rev. Deacon Scott Brown, OPI

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2 Kings 5:1-3 New International Version (NIV)

Naaman Healed of Leprosy

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.[a]

Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

2 Kings 5:7-15 New International Version (NIV)

As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”

 

People in pain want help. Whether that pain is from emotional or physical scars. Jesus encountered people in pain all the time such as the man the leprosy and the sick servant of a Centurion in Matthew 8:1-13. These people were desperate. So was an Old Testament character by the name of Naaman. He was in need of healing. And he was healed in a rather unusual way. That way and that healing changed his life forever.

Naaman was the “Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff” of his day. The military leader of one of the region’s most powerful nations, he was a definite candidate for Who’s Who in the World. He was the cream of the crop, lived among the upper crust, and caroused among the elite. The Bible says, “Naaman, commander of the army for the king of Aram, was a great man in his master’s sight and highly regarded because through him, the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man was a brave warrior . . .” (2 Kings 5:1). Did you hear those descriptive words? Don’t we all want people to use them of us? Commander. Great. Highly regarded. Victorious. Valiant. Here was a man that had power, position, and prestige. He was successful. He was a winner. He was wealthy. He was a hero. He was respected. He was admired. He was envied.

“But” – a three-letter conjunction. That small word changes everything.

Notice how first one concludes. “. . . but he had a skin disease” (2 Kings 5:1). He could think about all of his accomplishments; he could enjoy his power and position and prestige; he could admire his home and his wealth; but they all seemed to vanish as he stared into the mirror each day. Each time he looked at himself there was something looking back that defined his life. He was a leper, and nothing could change that fact.

The fact is Naaman was a leper. They were outcasts – the original untouchables. They were forced to wear torn clothing and shout, “Unclean, unclean!” anytime they encountered an uninfected person. Leprosy was the most feared disease of the day. It was extremely contagious and, in many cases, incurable. In its worst forms, leprosy led to death. Granted, Naaman’s leprosy was probably in its infant stage or a mild form. He had concealed it, but now his clothing would not cover it up. While people treated him respectfully, now nobody would touch him. The lack of touch hurt Naaman deeply. Can you imagine stumbling through life without being touched? Without someone holding your hand when you are lost? Without someone rubbing your back when it is sore? Without someone slapping you on the shoulder for a job well done? Without being embraced after being gone on a two-week business trip?

Naaman did not have to imagine. It was reality. His leprosy was his birthmark.

By the way, what is your hideous birthmark? What is your leprosy? What problem are you trying to conceal? What hurt are you trying to cover up? What prevents you from getting close to other people? Where do you need to be touched?

We, too, like Naaman have our disfigurements. We, too, have become very proficient in covering up our problems. We, too, need God’s healing touch. We, too, like the ol’ spiritual says, “It’s not my brother or my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”

o what do we do? Where do we find help? Where do we go for healing? In a word, we go down. While down is contrary to the direction we are encouraged, challenged, and even rewarded to go in our world, down is the way we must go if we are to find healing. Down is the route we must take if we are going to feel the touch of God.

Notice the contrasts in Naaman’s journey. Naaman, the commander-in-chief, finds direction through a captive servant – his wife’s slave. Naaman, the conqueror, finds help in a conquered nation – Israel. Naaman, the highly regarded man, learns of his treatment from a lowly prophet – Elisha. Naaman, the wealthy and valiant soldier, is cured in a dirty river – the Jordan.

What can we learn from this downward descent?

  1. We need people in our lives who look past our haughtiness to see our hurt.

Naaman’s wife’s servant had been taken hostage from an Aramian raid into Israel. Now she served in Naaman’s home tending to his wife’s every need. She was not intimidated by Naaman’s power, position, or prestige. She saw his pain. Called it by name. Knew of a pain reliever. And told Naaman where he could find help.

  1. We need humble people in our lives who look past us …

… who look past our job titles, our bank accounts, our cars, and our houses – and see our loneliness and our need and our hurt. We need people who will touch us at our point of need. We need people who will call our problems like they see them. We need people who see our blind spots. We need people in our lives who love us enough to not let us make stupid mistakes.

  1. We need people in our lives who will demonstrate the four C’s of loving relationships.
  1. Concern – speak the truth in love to us
  2. Commitment – walk through the pain with us
  3. Confidentiality – know the struggles are kept between us
  4. Consistency – maintain regular contact with us

In practicing these steps these trusted partners are saying, “I believe the best in you. And, I’m going to help you become the best.”

These relationships are our balcony people. Everybody has balcony people and basement people in their lives. Basement people drag you down. Balcony people lift you up. Who are the balcony people in your life? Who are the people that are pulling you up? Who are the people that believe the best about you and are helping you become your best? Who are the people that look beyond your outward appearance and see your inward hurt?

  1. We need places in our lives that will provide us with safety and security.

Israel was a conquered nation. To Naaman it was a second rate, third world country. What did it have to offer? Militarily it did not present much of a threat, but spiritually it provided refuge.

You’ve seen those homes in your neighborhoods that have a poster of a white hand on a red background that is positioned in their front windows. The sign indicates to lost and confused children that this is a place of safety. If they are in danger, the children know that if they can get to the home with the hand in the window they will find a touch of a caring adult that will protect them from harm. As an adult that safe place has become my church. Church is more than a building. It is a place to speak to God and to hear from God. And, if you are honestly seeking to feel the touch of God, you will discover it. The fact is that many people come to the right place each Sunday – the church, but speak to the wrong person. They come to impress their friends with the money they have, to astound their classmates and pew mates with the clothes they wear, to amaze the pastor with the credentials they possess, and all the while miss the main event. They talk to their friends, to their classmates, even to the pastor. Don’t misunderstand there is nothing wrong with talking with these people. It is right that we do. But, if that is all we dialogue with, we have missed talking to the right person – God. In fact, it is becoming increasingly easy in western Christianity to come to church and not pray a prayer to God, or sing a song to God, or hear a word from God. Christian worship has given away to religious theatrics. Entertainment has replaced experience. By the way, do you talk to God when you go to church? He is the one who wants to heal you. To touch you. To scoop you in his arms and hug you. To heal you! Allow God to heal you of whatever ails you, whatever disfigures you, and whatever you keep hidden from the rest of the world. Open your heart to his healing love.

 

Lord in your awesome wisdom, please heal us of our disfigurements and what we feel makes us “untouchable”. Allow your Church to be the great physician, the doctor of the body and soul. Take away our physical and emotional scars and show us your healing love. In Jesus name we pray; Amen

 

 

 

How Long, O Lord, How Long??? ~ The Rt. Rev. Michael Beckett, OPI

In today’s Old Testament Reading, we hear the prophet lament:

How long, O LORD?  I cry for help  but you do not listen!  I cry out to you, “Violence!”  but you do not intervene.   Why do you let me see ruin;   why must I look at misery?   Destruction and violence are before me;   there is strife, and clamorous discord.   Then the LORD answered me and said:   Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets,   so that one can read it readily.   For the vision still has its time,   presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;   if it delays, wait for it,   it will surely come, it will not be late.   The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.

How many times have we heard, “I’ve been through alot this past year and I’ve always wanted to believe in God.. I’ve tried.. but I don’t understand why there’s so much suffering in the world.. why do people beg and plead and pray to God to not let loved ones die.. and they die anyway? What kind of God would allow that? The horrific things people go through and see while praying to God for help.. I don’t get it and saying it’s a part of God’s plan or you just have to have faith doesn’t work for me either.. I’ve prayed about it and listened and tried to understand but I just don’t.. I’m an open-minded person and I respect everyone’s beliefs but I’m just not able to accept that a loving God would let good people suffer.”?

This question is as old as humanity.  First of all, God does not ‘give’ us the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things that happen in our lives.  Life happens.  Crap happens.  People make poor choices.  Natural disasters occur.  We get sick.  Nowhere does Holy Writ support the claim that any of these things is God’s doing.  What kind of God would we worship if he, indeed, sent us all the trials and tribulations and suffering and horror for which He is blamed?

We have to remember that, even though God is firmly in control, Satan has power and he fights against our Lord.  Ephesians 2:2 says:  “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1–2, emphasis added). In this text the apostle Paul describes Satan first as a “prince” with power, because he has authentic power in the world (1 John 5:19). This power has been given him by God (Luke 4:6). Satan has power over some illnesses (Luke 13:16; see also 2 Corinthians 12:7—it’s unknown if Paul’s “thorn” was an illness or something else). In some sense, Satan has power over death (Hebrew 2:14). The reason Satan is called a prince rather than a king is because there is only one King—Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 6:15).

Satan also has power over some people. The “sons of disobedience” referred to in Ephesians 2:2 are those who have not trusted Christ as Lord and Savior (cf. Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 13:12). The demons are also under the rule of Satan (Matthew 12:24), and one of his titles is “prince of demons” (Matthew 9:34). Satan has a kingdom (Matthew 12:26) and a throne (Revelation 2:13). Satan is called a prince because he is a ruler and possesses power to manifest evil in the world through influencing people and commanding demons.

“The air” in Ephesians 2:2 may refer to the invisible realm above the earth where Satan and his demons move and exist. This space, of course, is the location of the earth’s atmosphere or “air.” In Ephesians 6:12, Paul writes, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” This evil realm called the “air” could be an actual locality, but it could also be synonymous with the “world” of John 12:31. This whole world is Satan’s domain (Matthew 4:8–9).

Although Satan has power and authority in the current world system in which we exist, his power is limited, always under the sovereign control of God (Job 1:12), and it is temporary (Romans 16:20). God has not revealed all of the why’s and when’s concerning Satan’s rule, but He has made it clear that there is only one way to escape the power of Satan’s dominion, and that is through His Son, Jesus (Acts 26:18; Colossians 1:13–14). It is Jesus who, speaking of the impending cross, declared victory: “Now the prince of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31).

Now, when Satan has so much power, what are we left with?  The Bible DOES say that that he will, when we are suffering temptation provide a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). But never does it say that God will not give us more pain and suffering than we can handle.

Many Christians have suffered to the point of death at the hands of executioners, (consider the Holy Martyrs.) Many suffer to the point of death at their own hands. All we can say is that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). This may not solve our depression, but it does give us perspective. Even if our depression has caused us enormous doubt, this can be helpful.

When “bad” things happen to any of God’s children, God is grieved and suffers with us, and this was experienced most vividly in the hurt and suffering of Jesus Christ for all humanity. Any “bad” thing which happens is never the last word. Rather, God is the deepest and last word, and that word is love and eternal life with God.

The Bible clearly teaches that God does not cause us to suffer. For example, the Bible says that when we go through trials, it would be a mistake to say: “I am being tried by God.” Why? Because “with evil things God cannot be tried, nor does he himself try anyone.” (James 1:13) In other words, God never causes the trials we face or the suffering that follows. To do so would be wicked, but “God does not act wickedly.” (Job 34:12.)

If God does not cause us to suffer, then who or what does? Sadly, humans are often victimized by other imperfect humans. (Ecclesiastes 8:9) Additionally, we may face calamities because of “unexpected events”—that is, because of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) The Bible teaches that ultimately “the ruler of this world,” Satan the Devil, is responsible for human suffering, for “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (John 12:31; 1 John 5:19) It is Satan—not God—who causes people to suffer.

God is aware of our suffering. From the very start of human suffering, not a single teardrop has gone unnoticed by our loving Father, whose “watchful eyes” see everything. (Psalm 11:4; 56:8) For example, when his worshippers in ancient times were being oppressed, God said: “I have certainly seen the affliction of my people.” But was he only vaguely aware of their pain? No, for he added: “I well know the pains they suffer.” (Exodus 3:7) Many people have found comfort in that truth alone—the thought that God is aware of everything we suffer, even the trials that we or others may not be aware of or fully understand. (Psalm 31:7; Proverbs 14:10.)

God feels for us when we suffer. Our Heavenly Father is not only aware of human suffering but also deeply moved by it. For example, God was sincerely troubled when his ancient worshippers faced trials. “During all their distress it was distressing to him,” says the Bible. (Isaiah 63:9) Although God is vastly superior to humans, he feels empathy for those who suffer—as if their pain were in his heart! Indeed, “Our Heavenly Father is very compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:11) Additionally, Our Heavenly Father helps us to bear our suffering. (Philippians 4:12, 13.)

We must also remember that our Lord Jesus knows what it is to suffer, to mourn.  He wept at the grave of Lazarus, he wept over Jerusalem, and he suffered horrifically during His Passion.

God will end all human suffering. According to the Bible, God will bring an end to the suffering of every human on the planet. By means of His Heavenly Kingdom, God will drastically change the human condition—for the better. Regarding that time, the Bible promises that God “will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) What about those who have already died? God will bring them back to life here on earth so that they too can enjoy life free from suffering. (John 5:28, 29) Will anyone be plagued by painful memories of past suffering? No, for Our Heavenly Father promises: “The former things will not be called to mind, nor will they come up into the heart.” (Isaiah 65:17.)

Jesus could have come and healed Lazarus when he was still alive.

Instead, He waited to raise him from the dead when he was already in his grave.

God could have made David become king the day after he was anointed.

Instead, He waited 15 years to rise to the throne, many of those years spent fearing for his life, hiding out and running away from his own father-in-law.

God could have spoken to Moses in the desert about sending him to help free His people from slavery 40 days after he ran away from Egypt.

Instead, He made him wait for 40 long years.

God could have gotten Joseph out of prison one year after he was sentenced there.

Instead, he was stuck in that dungeon for 10 years before he was finally set free.

God could have given Abraham the son He promised him when he was still a young man.

Instead, He waited until he was 100 years old and because of physical reasons would have a more difficult time conceiving at that age.

God could have answered prayers and met the needs of these men of God much quicker, but He didn’t.

He made them wait instead.

And He often makes us do the same.

He makes us wait for healing to come after we’ve been praying for years and there is no sign of recovery.

He makes us wait to fulfill His call in our lives after He puts the desire and passion in our hearts to serve Him in a certain way.

He makes us wait to give us the desires of our hearts, whether it’s a baby, a spouse, or a new job.

He makes us wait for direction when we are stuck at a dead end and we don’t know where to go or what to do.

He could answer that same prayer that you’ve been praying for years every night in a millisecond.

That same prayer that has been bringing you to tears.

That same prayer that the longer that it goes unanswered, the more it makes you question whether He even hears.

He kept Moses in a desert for 40 years.

Joseph in a prison cell for 10 years.

Abraham without a child for 100 years.

David on the run for 15 years.

And maybe He is keeping you right where you’re at for the same reason He kept these men for so many years: to build your faith.

To build your faith in a dungeon cell, during the valley in your life where it’s too dark to see and too hard to believe.

To build your dependence on Him when you are barren and empty to see if He is truly all you desire and all you need.

To see how well you will trust and serve Him when you are still stuck in the background somewhere, doing seemingly nothing too significant for Him.

To build your trust in Him when the storm keeps raging, the battle keeps going and breakthrough and victory doesn’t seem near.

That we grow in faith.

That we learn to only depend on Him.

What are you waiting for today?

What longing do you have that seems so far from ever being fulfilled?

What prayer do you keep on praying that seems to never reach God’s ears?

I want to remind you that God is not deaf to your prayers.

He is not blind to your constant tears, to your desires, and to your needs.

IF He is making you wait, there is a very good reason for it.

If He is telling you “no” today, maybe it’s because He has a better “yes” waiting for you tomorrow.

If He is keeping you in the same place you’ve always been today, maybe it’s because He’s helping build your faith before you enter your Promised Land tomorrow.

If He is not healing you or bringing you victory today, maybe it’s because you will have a greater testimony when He waits to help you be an overcomer tomorrow.

Wherever you are at today know that God is right beside you and that there is a purpose for you. Even if that purpose is to wait.

Don’t give up just because you don’t see anything happening today.

Maybe there is nothing physically happening that your eyes can see but there is definitely something happening in the spiritual realm as you learn to rely on Christ.

Don’t allow your waiting period to make you hopeless about what tomorrow will bring.

Instead, let it build your faith and give you even greater hope for what God has prepared for you.

He made some of the greatest men of faith wait.

Don’t be discouraged if He makes you wait as well.

He will come through for you, just like He came through for them.
“Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” – Psalm 27:14