MVP: Most Valuable Physician


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God offers us infinite healing so that we may live out our purpose in this world. How might you be transformed by God’s healing? What is your purpose on earth? This Sunday, we celebrate Calvary’s open communion table, and Rev. Victor wonders: Are you ready for a miracle?

Sermon Video

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

Isaiah 40:21-31

Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Mark 1:29-34

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

 

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Full Text of Sermon

Three Aspects of Healing

Mark packs a lot into a few words. This sermon will focus on the personal healing Jesus offers, in particular, a close reading[1] of the first half of verse 31: “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.”[2] There it is; the way Jesus heals. Jesus comes, Jesus takes us by the hand, and Jesus lifts us up. This story from Simon’s house, says Cuban theologian, Ofelia Ortega, foreshadows the resurrection of the dead.[3] Don’t worry if you don’t understand it; Ortega argues that not even the disciples will understand it either—not until Easter. Jesus comes, Jesus takes us by the hand, and Jesus lifts us up. Rev. Dr. Ortega[4] was the first woman ordained in the Cuban Presbyterian-Reformed church, so I have a feeling that she knows something about being lifted up, transformation and new life in Christ.

He came: Jesus meets us where we are.

I take these beautiful stained-glass windows[5] for granted. I get used to them. Sometimes, I make time to intentionally come in here, sit down and stare at them. Many questions come up in contemplative prayer. Recently, I’ve been wondering why Jesus didn’t go to church more often. Take a look. Where do you see him in church, in the temple?

There he is, up there (Fillmore St. balcony) at Martha and Mary’s house — my favorite window. Why? Because there’s a dog sitting at his feet while Mary goes all googly-eyed, and Martha resentfully mixes cocktails in the kitchen.

Here (front, Jackson St. side) is Jesus ascending in clouds of glory, something that, according to the laws of physics, is very unlikely to have happened in a literal sense. Being a big fan of science, I love to look at this and wonder what the ascension really means. To where would Jesus physically ascend anyway? Jesus told us time and again that the kingdom of heaven is already at hand. He has just said it in Mark 1. Is Jesus that close already—at hand?

These that point us toward a bigger truth, which is this: Jesus shows up out in the world. He knocks. He walks with us. In the opening of today’s lesson from Mark, Jesus moves “leaves the synagogue” and “enters the house” of his friends. He goes where he is needed, even on the Sabbath. He came to her. Jesus meets us where we are.

Jesus takes us by the hand.

And he took her by the hand.

I learned a lot about faith as I watched my father final years. Like many men of his generation, he did a good job at keeping his faith private, close to the vest. But, at the end of his life, my father began to pray out loud, he raised his hands at the table, he took time for God and showed his family who he was and whose he was.

He did not rekindle his faith as a form of hell insurance.[6] Instead, my father, Donald Floyd, went back to church to say thank you, to pray for those he would leave behind. He showed me what it looks like when Jesus takes us by the hand.

His doctors, who knew neither of the love of his family nor the healing of his Jesus, gave my father a few months to live. He died over five years later. We had time to live out some of his bucket list including flying in an airplane and visiting Washington, D.C.

Empirically-based science is solid and tells us the rules of the cosmos, but predictive science, like a medical prognosis, is rarely accurate. It’s not meant to be. Usually the doctor feels compelled to give us the worse case scenario, but Jesus the healer always offers his outstretched hand. Jesus will find us, perhaps through your deacon, your family, your coworkers, a stranger on the street, a former enemy—or in a dream—will we accept his help?

Jesus lifts us up.

Like my father, the people with whom we worshiped were conservative or reserved in their worship style, relatively speaking. In our small rural community, the Baptist churches sang more, the Holiness church cried dependable tears for Jesus, and the AME church worshiped out loud and all day. As a child, when I asked my mother about it, she replied with that very deep Southern saying: There’s more than one way to skin a cat.[7] This statement has nothing to do with the (un)ethical treatment of animals. It means “there’s no accounting for tastes” or something like that. What my mother was saying was true. There’s more than one way to be lifted up by Jesus. And who’s to say that our way is better than anybody else’s?

Recently, I sat down with our Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry, because I wanted to meet them, to say hello. I also wanted to know that they supported my ministry at Calvary, which they do. I knew only one member of the committee, the other six strangers. They had previously asked for my pedigree and credentials, which I had supplied readily. When I met with them in person, though, they didn’t want to talk about those details. They wanted to know who I am, and I shared with them some of my life story. At the end of the meeting, a man who had been silent asked me, “Who is Jesus for you, today?”

How would you answer that question? Who takes you by the hand and lifts you up? Who makes you ready to serve the world? What inspires you? Here’s how I remember answering.

For me right now, Jesus is a woman who began worshiping at Calvary about a year ago. She says amen when no one else says amen. She has shared her faith with me, and she says that she cannot stay silent because God has done too much for her, God has brought her through too many trials to sit still about it. She prays for the people around her. She struggles with family issues, like everybody else, but she, like the disciples in Luke 19, is given to ‘praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that [she has] seen.’ But also, as in Luke 19, there are those who ask me to, ‘Ask her to stop.’ But if she were silent, these very stones would cry out.[8] [9]

Are amens really a new thing in this congregation? You could regard amens as disruptive. I understand why people who have not been around a verbally responsive congregation could find amens surprising, but I am left with a real theological dilemma when people ask me to ask her to stop.

When Martha asked Jesus to ask Mary to get with the program, he responded “You are distracted by many things. Mary has chosen the better part which will not be taken away from her.”[10]

Although I supposed that we can claim to be a private property legally, churches are public buildings theologically. We fling wide the doors praying that not only the public but “all of creation” will come to Jesus Christ through this church — because that is the commissioning Jesus gives us.[11]

Scripture tells us that there is more than one way to skin this cat, many ways to worship God. Scripture says for us to raise our hands[12], clap our hands[13], shout[14], make joyful noises[15], to dance[16], to praise God with all we are and do. Ms. Tosca Lee skins her cat in a different way, that’s all. She worships God, in the congregation, the gathering of all who will come. The committee on ministry found my answer to be quite amusing. “That’s really

a problem up there at Calvary? Most churches in this city are praying for an amen lady.”

Maybe the problem is that we’re looking only for our personal healing and not affirming the healing, the journeys of the people around us, the world we’re called to love and, ultimately, to fix.

These windows depict a Jesus that disrupts—knocking on doors, healing on the Sabbath. He takes on the identity of those around us, especially the ones we find disruptive. Body of Christ, let Jesu meet us where we are.  Be honored that he still takes by the hand. Warning: I promise you that he’ll lead us into something uncomfortable and require a change we feel unready to make. That’s how it works. If you refuse the rule-breaking rabbi’s hand, you refuse healing.

Healed for Ministry, Healed for Service

“He came, he took her by the hand, and he lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve.” The Greek here reads more accurately: she began to minister to them (diakoneo[17]). Ortega calls Simon’s mother-in-law the a proto-deacon.

Her diaconal work is the beginning and announcement of the gospel. Simon and the other disciples won’t understand it until Easter. They will not want to become servants of each other (9:35; 10:43). They did not perceive that the Son of God came to serve and to give his life for all (10:45). She, on the other hand, knows it. She has overcome all the selfishness and restrictive teachings and has been close to Jesus; deep down she is already Christian, diakonisa, a servant”[18]

 

— one who is healed so that she may minister for the kingdom of God. Amen.

[1] Close Reading, accessed online at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Close_reading> (February 2, 2018)

[2] In the Greek, the words read more like: He approaches, he rouses, he holds her hand. <http://scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/mar1.pdf> (February 1, 2018)

[3] Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration (Feasting on the Word: Year B volume) (Kindle Locations 11962-11966). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[4] Bio of Rev. Dr. Ofelia Ortega accessed online at https://charterforcompassion.org/ofelia-ortega-suarez (February 1, 2018)

[5] Some information on our “recent” conservation project: https://www.argcs.com/portfolio-item/calvary-presbyterian-church-stained-glass/ (February 1, 2018)

[6] Salvation is about the here and now, loving God, loving neighbor as we love ourselves, doing justice, walking humbly and practicing mercy when mercy seems irrational.

[7] Etymology: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/32123/origin-of-the-phrase-theres-more-than-one-way-to-skin-a-cat

[8] Luke 19:37-40. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

[9] Of course, I have fleshed out my recollection of my response to the COM, replete with scriptural annotations, because that’s what preachers do.

[10] Luke 10:38-42. 38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.[l] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

[11] Matthew 28:16-20.  Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

[12] 21 Bible Verses on Lifting Hands, accessed online at <https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Lifting-Hands>

[13] Psalm 47:1 “Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.”

[14] Ibid.

[15] 100 Bible Verses About Make a Joyful Noise, accessed online at <https://www.openbible.info/topics/make_a_joyful_noise

[16] Bible Verses About Dance, accessed online at <https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-about-dancing/

[17] Diakoneo <http://biblehub.com/greek/1247.htm>

[18] Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration (Feasting on the Word: Year B volume) (Kindle Locations 11962-11966). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

 

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