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October 21, 2017

Loving Those Who Cannot be Fixed

Speaker: John McLarty

Audio Recording:


Sermon for Green Lake Church, Sabbath, October 21, 2017
Text: Matthew 26:36-44. This passage and others below access through blueletterbible.org.

Tuesday morning Myrtle called me and invited me to join her at her sister-in-law’s house. Her sister-in-law, Theda, was in her last hours. When I arrived there were several people in the living room, gathered in the face of the inevitable. I stepped into the bedroom. Granddaughter Christine was sitting by the bed stroking Theda’s hand. On the other side of the bed, a friend was standing, his hand on Theda’s arm. Keeping company.

We recited Psalm 23 together. We prayed. We anointed her. Not praying for healing, simply affirming our faith in God and praying for rest and ease of soul. Speaking of God together in her presence.  And then we returned to silence. To stroking her hand. To resting a hand lightly on her shoulder. Keeping company.

This is what families do when someone we love is approaching the mysterious portal called death. We keep company. We keep company with our elderly dear one. We keep company with each other. At some point in the process we let go of our petitioning, our asking for healing, and just keep company with our beloved and with each other. It is the right thing to do. The best thing to do.

Thursday afternoon, again I was reminded that we do not live forever here in this world. I led a graveside service for Bernice Wilson. She was in her nineties. She was known and loved by old-timers here at Green Lake. Her great grandson was remembered fondly by some of you. Thursday afternoon, on your behalf, I said farewell. It’s an essential part of the work of being a minister. Leading funerals. Her son-in-law, Herb, said a few words of remembrance, recalling her birth in the Midwest, her moves to California and then Seattle, her years at Boeing, her spoiling of her grandchildren.

She had lived long and well. It was time to go. So we said farewell, dreaming aloud of the better land where there will be no death, no sorrow, no pain.

This is the way life is here. No matter how many healthy practices we embrace, no matter how good our genes, no matter how skilled our physicians, there is a limit to life. There comes a time to say farewell.

Because I am a preacher, my mind ran to the Gospel and I was suddenly struck with a startling realization. In the Gospel, no sickness remains unhealed. No problem remains unsolved. When we read through the Book of Matthew there is no story of an incurable disease.

Every problem responds to the divine power of Jesus.

Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. 24 News about him spread as far as Syria, and people soon began bringing to him all who were sick. And whatever their sickness or disease, or if they were demon possessed or epileptic or paralyzed–he healed them all. Mathew 4:23-24 NLT (Accessed via Blue Letter Bible.Org)

And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. Matthew 9:35

Jesus never met a problem he couldn’t solve. Blind? No problem. Sight restored. Lame? No worries. Now you can dance and high jump. Sick? Cured. Possessed by demons? Set free. Haunted by guilt? Forgiven. Hungry? Fed.

The Gospel adds to this glorious picture of the power of Jesus this additional glory: He passed along this heavenly power onto his disciples.

Jesus called his twelve disciples together and gave them authority to cast out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and illness. … 5 Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions: “Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, 6 but only to the people of Israel–God’s lost sheep. 7 Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!  Matthew 10:1, 5-8 NLT

The Gospel is the story of divine power exercised here and now, in this world.

Which prompted me to ask myself, how do I connect the Gospel—this story of universal healing—with the world I live in.

In the Gospel no one suffers from age-related dementia. No one is on the long, slow decline that happens when we make it successfully in our eighties and nineties and hundreds.

Healing happens in our world. There is the routine healing we experience through the wonders of medicine. Decades ago my wife dragged me to the doctor who took one look at me and said to her: shall I call an ambulance or do you think you can get him across the street to the hospital. A couple of days of powerful antibiotics and my pneumonia morphed from a life-threatening infection into a very annoying interruption of my plans.  And I gave thanks for medicine.

I know many of you can tell similar stories. Dramatic hospital onsets of disease turned back by the miracles of modern medicine. Trauma effectively reversed through the skill of emergency room staff and months of physical therapy. We get new knees and hips and shoulders.

Then there are the occasional miracles. Recoveries of health with no medical explanation.

Healing happens. Yes.

But not often enough. Eventually, for everyone of us, there is a malady that is not healed.

As I meditated on this reality, I wondered, what can the gospel teach us when no miracle is available? Jesus healed everyone he met. He told his disciples to do the same. How can we be faithful to this charge?

The first step which seems obvious to me is that we do what we can. We can’t heal with a prayer, but we can get our friend to the doctor. We can’t multiply five loaves into food for five thousand but we can make donations to organizations that address problems of hunger. We can lobby for government policy that makes health care accessible. We can use our dollars to ease trouble in the lives of others.

We can do that. And it’s fun to do that. It’s fun to make a difference.

Last Sunday, Karin and I drove an hour from our house to an appointment. She dropped me off there and headed on north to another event. As I got out of the car, she suddenly realized she didn’t have her purse. No driver’s license. No phone. No credit card. I handed her my phone and I gave her some cash. Because, I said, you never know. And sure enough the people she hung out with decided they should all chip in to help with the expenses of the event. The cash I had given her was enough. I felt pretty good. I had solved a problem.

But what do we do when a problem cannot be fixed? What is the Christian response to sickness that cannot be cured, to people who cannot be fixed.

Does the Gospel offer any guidance for this?

In the Gospel there is one story of someone asking for divine help and not receiving it.

Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” 37 He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 40 Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 41 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” 42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. 44 So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. Matthew 26:36-44 NLT

Every time someone asks Jesus for help, the person receives it. Now Jesus is asking. He asks his disciples to keep him company, to share his pain, but they can’t do it. They fall asleep. Over the last two millennia, Christians have accepted the fact that God said No to Jesus as a necessary part of the story. But we have always lamented the failure of the disciples. Surely they could have kept him company. That much they could have done.

Here is the lesson for us from the Gospel when we confront pain that cannot be alleviated, illness that cannot be cured, disabilities that cannot be fixed: Let us make sure those who suffer do not suffer alone. Let us keep one another company.

This week on Facebook, I saw Liz Joseph talking with a mother who has a three year old child with special needs. As is often the case, the dad has left, so mom is left to manage life and care for her child alone. Liz has a ministry to people like this mom. She steps into their lives so they are not utterly alone. It is a beautiful ministry. It is living the message of the Gospel.

When we can fix problems, we should do so. When people can be cured, we should make certain they have access to that healing. When things can be fixed, the healing, compassionate ministry of Jesus is our model, our guide. Let’s do what Jesus did. Let’s make things better.

And when we confront hurt and wounds and disabilities and diseases that are not healed. When heaven has said no, let’s remember that in the Gospel the only person ever refused

As I meditated on this reality, I wondered, what can the gospel teach us when no miracle is available? Jesus healed everyone he met. He told his disciples to do the same. How can we be faithful to this charge?

The first step which seems obvious to me is that we do what we can. We can’t heal with a prayer, but we can get our friend to the doctor. We can’t multiply five loaves into food for five thousand but we can make donations to organizations that address problems of hunger. We can lobby for government policy that makes health care accessible. We can use our dollars to ease trouble in the lives of others.

We can do that. And it’s fun to do that. It’s fun to make a difference.

Last Sunday, Karin and I drove an hour from our house to an appointment. She dropped me off there and headed on north to another event. As I got out of the car, she suddenly realized she didn’t have her purse. No driver’s license. No phone. No credit card. I handed her my phone and I gave her some cash. Because, I said, you never know. And sure enough the people she hung out with decided they should all chip in to help with the expenses of the event. The cash I had given her was enough. I felt pretty good. I had solved a problem.

But what do we do when a problem cannot be fixed? What is the Christian response to sickness that cannot be cured, to people who cannot be fixed.

Does the Gospel offer any guidance for this?

In the Gospel there is one story of someone asking for divine help and not receiving it.

Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” 37 He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 40 Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 41 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” 42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. 44 So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. Matthew 26:36-44 NLT

Every time someone asks Jesus for help, the person receives it. Now Jesus is asking. He asks his disciples to keep him company, to share his pain, but they can’t do it. They fall asleep. Over the last two millennia, Christians have accepted the fact that God said No to Jesus as a necessary part of the story. But we have always lamented the failure of the disciples. Surely they could have kept him company. That much they could have done.

Here is the lesson for us from the Gospel when we confront pain that cannot be alleviate, illness that cannot be cured, disabilities that cannot be fixed: Let us make sure those who suffer do not suffer alone. Let us keep one another company.

This week on Facebook, I saw Liz Joseph talking with a mother who has a three year old child with special needs. As is often the case, the dad has left, so mom is left to manage life and care for her child alone. Liz has a ministry to people like this mom. She steps into their lives so they are not utterly alone. It is a beautiful ministry. It is living the message of the Gospel.

When we can fix problems, we should do so. When people can be cured, we should make certain they have access to that healing. When things can be fixed, the healing, compassionate ministry of Jesus is our model, our guide. Let’s do what Jesus did. Let’s make things better.

And when we confront hurt and wounds and disabilities and diseases that are not healed. When heaven has said no, let’s remember that in the Gospel the only person ever refused was precisely the one most favored by heaven.

Let us make up for the neglect of Jesus 2000 years ago by making sure people do not endure heaven’s no alone.  When we keep company with people who cannot be fixed, we are keeping company with Jesus. There is no higher calling.

We are surrounded by people who are carrying in their lives the “no” of heaven–the disabled and mentally ill, and those suffering from dementia and ravages of old age, and those being slowly eaten alive by ALS or cancer or some other dark and scary malady. A tiny number will experience miracles of healing. All of them—every single one of them—can be accompanied in their journey.

When we keep company with these precious ones who carry the weight of heaven’s no, we are keeping company with God.

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