God's Gift To Us
Text: Mark 1:29-39
There is a certain church in the former Soviet Union. It was built in the town of Kerajestan in the 15th century. That was a time when many people in that region were suffering from serious diseases and illnesses. So that church was built with gently sloping ramps outside that led to especially wide doors, so that, if needed, the sick could be carried into the church on stretchers. And what is more, when that church building was finished, they left a hole in the ceiling, that they just covered with a tarp. You see, that hole was left there to remind them always of that story in the Bible about the man who was sick, and when his friends tried to bring him to Jesus, they could not get to him because of the crowds. So they took the sick man up onto the roof over where Jesus was, dug a hole in the roof, and lowered the sick man down so that Jesus would heal him.
I believe that church has a lot to teach us. So often we figure that when we come to church, we are supposed to leave all of our hurts and pains outside the church door. We figure that we have no business bringing our problems to God, since God must already have enough on his mind with all the other troubles in the world. But that church reminds us that God is always ready to help us, especially in our times of suffering.
When we read through the Gospels, one of the first things that becomes obvious is that healing was a central part of what Jesus did. In this particular passage in Mark, we are told that not just some of the sick people of the area were brought to Jesus—they were all brought to him.
And we need to remember that that gift of healing did not end with Jesus. For example, there is the story in the Acts of the Apostles where one day Peter and John were going into the temple in Jerusalem. And sitting there at the gate begging was a man who had been lame since birth. So as the apostles went by him, the beggar called out to them for some money. But Peter stopped and said to him: “I have no silver or gold, but what I do have I will give you; in the name of Jesus Christ, stand up and walk." And then taking him by the hand, Peter helped him up, and immediately the man's legs and feet were made strong. And that man began to leap about and praise God. And all who were there were filled with amazement at the power of God.
But somewhere along the line, we have shied away from that ministry. Maybe it's partly because of the phony faith-healers who have been exposed over the years. But for whatever reason, we shy away from talking about God's power to heal, because if we talk that way, we are afraid of what people might think of us. So instead we try to make ourselves and our churches more respectable in the eyes of other people. But there is a price that we pay for doing that.
Many of you are probably familiar with the name of Saint Francis of Assisi. He is especially remembered for his love of nature, and for his concern for the poor. And, of course, he was the founder of the Franciscan order. It seems that when he went to Rome to see Pope Innocent III to get permission to start this new order, the pope showed him around the Vatican, and let him see all of the valuable treasures that were there. With pride, the pope said to Francis: “You see, no longer can we say what Peter did, when he said 'I have no silver or gold.'" But Francis replied: “Yes. But neither can we say, 'Rise, take up your bed, and walk.'"
What Francis was trying to get at was how the church had allowed itself to be seduced by the world—how the church had allowed itself to focus on buildings and money. And how in the process, the church had forgotten the mission that it was supposed to be about. And what was a problem back in the time of Francis of Assisi can also be a problem for us.
I believe that it is fair to say that people are far more likely to look for God when something bad happens in their life. For example, rarely does someone say: “I just got a promotion at work. I better run over to the church and pray about that." Nor do people usually say: “I'm feeling really great today. I think I better call the minister up and let her know."
No, instead when my phone rings at 2 a.m., I know that it is not to share some good news with me. Instead the call is probably to tell me about a death or about a serious illness or accident. Because it is at a time of crisis like that that we realize how much we really do need God. When we realize how weak we are, then we see how strong God is.
When I was four years old, I developed a cancerous tumor on one of my kidneys. When that happened back in the 1960's, that was a condition where the prospect for survival was only about 50/50. The doctors, though, were able to eliminate the cancer, but doing so meant that they had to remove the one kidney, and then follow-up with a series of chemotherapy.
So did God cure me of that disease? To that question, I would say No. Because God did not simply cause the cancer cells to disappear. Instead, that disease left me with a permanent weakness in my body, in that now I have just one kidney, and I have to live out my life knowing that there are certain physical restrictions on what I can and cannot do.
But did God heal me? To that question, I would answer Yes. Because in my mind, I have come to accept the way things are, and I realize that despite my physical limitations, God has a purpose for my life. I know that I have suffered. But at the same time, I know that in my weakness, I am still loved by God. And I believe that is what healing and wholeness are all about.
What we should look for from God is not just a cure for a particular problem that we have right now, because a cure is just temporary. When we ask God to cure just a piece of our life, we fail to recognize that our real need is much deeper.
What we really need from God is to be healed, to be made whole. But being made whole requires more than just giving God our wish list, telling God how we wish things would be different. What we need to realize is that the problems in our lives are more than we can solve by ourselves, yet we trust God to do what is needed. And when we trust in God that way, that is when we are truly healed.
Rev. Dr. C. Edward Bowen Trinity United Presbyterian Church
Vandergrift, PA Slickville Presbyterian Church Slickville, PA