Last week, I preached about politics and God. If you were here, you might remember that I talked about Jesus and the Centurion. In the context of political conflict, Jesus and Centurion recognize God’s authority—a greater authority than any human power. The Centurion honors Jesus as a holy man, and Jesus recognizes the Centurion as a man of great faith. In this place of mutual faith—Jesus heals the Centurion’s slave. The political conflict does not go away or get ignored, but healing happens because of God’s power and the faith of the enemies (Jesus and the Centurion).
This week, we have other examples of healing—Jesus heals a widow’s only son in our Gospel passage from Luke, and in our Hebrew Bible reading from the First Book of Kings we have Elijah calling upon God for the healing of a widow’s child. In both of these stories, the result of the healing is that the faith of the witnesses is affirmed and the Gospel spreads as more and more people come to know about this healing.
I wonder if there is a Spiritual progression between last week’s gospel message and this week’s. First we had healing as a result of faith and now we have faith growing as a consequence of healing. This is not just any kind of healing, in both of these stories, God restores life, healing a person who has died by giving new life.
What is the connection between death, healing, new life, and faith?
I think there is a spiral of faith. It happens in community. We grow in faith through experiences. We pray to God for new life when someone we love is suffering. The Centurion knows that his only hope is in Jesus. Elijah has compassion for the widow where he is staying. He prays to God on her behalf. God heals her child and her faith is built up. She says to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth."
When Jesus sees the widow in Nain crying at the death of her only son, he is moved and raises the son up from the bier. In that healing, Jesus’ disciples and a large crowd responded, “Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favorably on his people!" This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.”
These stories tell us something about new life here in our community. As I prayed through these passages this week, I prayed for people and situations where there is hopelessness. I prayed about situations that are “stuck”, and there appears to be no way out. I prayed for people who cannot seem to find a way through to something powerful and new.
I will share one example of a prayer that I have for a friend. My friend is in his sixties. He has always wanted to be married, but somehow has never found the right person. Now he is suffering a degenerative illness and has a daily struggle to keep up with his medications and treatments, exercise routines and doctors’ appointments. It seems less and less likely that he will find a life partner. It would be an extraordinary person who would get romantically involved today with someone who is so sick. And yet, my friend has so much to offer—he is funny and handsome, brilliant and creative. And so my prayer is that God might offer some healing. I don’t know what healing would look like for my friend. Would it be a recognition that he is complete without a romantic partner? Could he find a calling that he could fulfill in spite of his illness? I pray to God that he might know joy, know that he is loved by friends and family, know that in spite of his physical pain, his life is worth living. I pray that he might have moments of peace and satisfaction. I pray that somehow his perspective might shift from the burdens and emptiness in his life to the bounty and plenty in his life. I am praying that he might be raised from this dark place where he currently resides to a new light filled life in God.
I believe that my active prayers for my friend will be heard and answered. I don’t know how. I might never know if they have been answered. But I believe that in Jesus Christ, there is new life. I share the Gospel with the firm faith that God’s blessings, God’s grace is available to everyone. I know that God loves all people.
Our passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians reminds us that God’s Church includes not just a select few, but all people. As an aside, our Bible Study group is about to begin a new book. We’re going to read, Paul was not a Christian by Pamela Eisenbaum. Dr. Eisenbaum is a Jewish Bible scholar who has written extensively about Paul. Her thesis is that Paul was a faithful Jew who had a revelation when he met the risen Christ. The revelation was not that he should deny his Jewish identity and become a Christian, but rather that Jesus’ message about God’s healing was for all people—Jews and Gentiles. While we haven’t read the book yet, from the introduction, I gather that Dr. Eisenbaum will build the case for God’s radical inclusivity in Paul’s letters. She will show how he remained a Jew throughout his ministry, and concluded that the Church should include all people. (Join us in this Bible Study—we meet the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of the month 10:30-11:30 in the kitchen for study, reflection, fellowship and coffee.)
So I conclude today by returning to this idea of a spiral of faith. We have begun a journey with God. We seek healing for ourselves and those people we know best. As we acknowledge and recognize God’s healing work in the world, our faith deepens. In the most impossible, improbable situations, we know that God is working. With the people most unlike us—those others, even our enemies, we see God working miracles. When we see and know that God is bringing new life, our faith deepens. We may, like the disciples and the crowd who followed Jesus, be afraid. But God is working in us, and through us. We leave here today to spread this Gospel, to name God’s hope for healing for all people. We pray for that healing and new life. And together we know that God is working in our midst.
Join me today in praying for healing where it is needed most. Pray with me in thanksgiving for the healing that we have seen and felt. Know that we are all God’s people and share the Good News in every place we go.