July 7 and 8, 2018 Promoting Abundant Health
Romans 8: 18-28
There’s a story told about a man stranded on the side of the road after his car broke down. He tried everything he could think of to get the car running, but nothing worked. After struggling for some time, a limousine approached and a well-dressed man stepped out and offered to help. He looked at the engine, tinkered for a few moments, and to the owner’s surprise, started up his broken down care. “How much do I owe you?” asked the owner. “Nothing,” said the man. “My name is Henry Ford. I created that care, and I can’t stand to see something I’ve created not do what it was meant to do.” Well today we’re continuing to explore five areas of focus that can change the world. My colleagues have led well the past few weeks, helping us explore the ideas of Ministry With the Poor and Leadership Development. Today we’re launching into our third focus- Promoting Abundant Health, which is really about God’s desire to see creation do what creation was meant to do. I invite you to read with me…
If you’re on Facebook, or maybe you’ve heard through other avenues, you might’ve noticed that I requested prayer for three young missionaries who are currently detained in the Philippines. Now most of the time when we think of missionaries, we tend to think of the work that Dave Peightal and I did in Puerto Rico, rebuilding homes after hurricane devastations. It was good work, and certainly qualifies as “mission.” Or you might think of translating Bibles in little known languages to people groups in foreign countries. But these three young missionaries were sent on a very different kind of mission- they were sent on a fact-finding journey to uncover some of the human rights violations occurring in the Philippines. Essentially, they were there to do the dirty work of bring light to some dangerous and dark practices. And they must’ve found something officials were hoping would not be seen, because since February, they’ve had their passports confiscated, they’ve not been allowed to leave the country, and one of them has been thrown in jail. (UPDATE: Two have recently been released. PTL!)
Now why am I telling you this? And why does any of this matter? Well, it matters because the church is called to care for other people. I want you to hear that loud and clear. The church is called to care for people. When we stop caring for others, we’ve ceased to be the church. The church is a place where God is to be worshipped and disciples are to be made, but the church is also a place where we called to actively love our neighbor. When Jesus is asked about the definition of a neighbor in the parable of the Good Samaritan (you know the story well), he paints a vivid picture our neighbor is defined by the person in need, regardless of where that person lives or what his or her particular need looks or sounds like. And if we’re careful to look at the life and ministry of Jesus, we see that he cares about the entire person- the spiritual side, the physical side, the mental side, and every other side that constitutes abundant life. Jesus doesn’t separate us and compartmentalize us, as if God only cares about the inside and NOT the outside. God cares about it all.
It’s interesting to note that in the first recorded sermon by Jesus in the Gospels, we’re invited into God’s big and spacious heart for people. Led by the Spirit, Jesus’ inaugural address was a bold proclamation that his work, and by virtue of our association with Jesus, our work, is about proclaiming good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, giving sight to the blind, setting the oppressed free, and reminding the world filled with all these nobodies and forgotten ones and broken ones that God’s favor is upon them. And then he goes and does everything he said. Jesus could preach a good sermon; he could lead an insightful Bible study. But then he went out and did what he taught.. To some, like blind Bartimaeus, he provided physical healing. To others, like the woman caught in adultery, he offered forgiveness of sins. To others, like Zacchaeus, he became a friend to those nobody else liked. And to others he welcomed them into his presence, and it was as if they received new life. The Good Physician, caring deeply for his patients, keeping them alive, but also leading them to abundance.
Even though Jesus doesn’t actually use the word, there is a word for all of this, and it’s one of my all time favorites: shalom. Go ahead and turn to somebody and speak that word: shalom. Doesn’t that sound good? That’s because it is good. Shalom is often defined as peace, but the better rendering is wholeness or wellbeing. Shalom is experienced when body, mind and spirit are firing on all cylinders, the very building block of a person that make up what we call life, but also the basic pieces of our identity that are prone to despair and decay in our fallen world. Who amongst us doesn’t know the struggle of a body that doesn’t quite work the way it once did? They tell me not to grow older because the body just doesn’t rebound like it used to. Or how about the mind? We all probably know at least one person battling with depression, dementia or suicidal tendencies. The mind is often under brutal attack in our world. And of course, the spirit, the life-giving, inward depths of a person that is meant to reflect the joy and presence of God. It’s often struck down by a world that has lost it’s way. And God cares about all of it, every single inch of what it means to be human, which is why abundant health is one our five areas of focus.
John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist branch of faith, was known for his deep desire to see the Gospel heal in all shapes and forms. He often visited prisoner to encourage the inmates. He was an advocated for education, doing everything he could to ensure children had the opportunity to shape their minds. He even wrote a book called “The Primitive Physick,” in which he sought to offer practical medical advice to those who couldn’t afford a doctor. Isn’t that awesome? That’s our theological DNA! In a letter written to another theologian, Wesley encouraged him to be cognizant of both the spiritual and physical needs of the world. Wesley writes, ““It will be a double blessing if you give yourself up to the Great Physician, that He may heal soul and body together. And unquestionably this is His design. He wants to give you … both inward and outward health.” Dave Peightal and I had the chance to give ourselves over to the Great Physician last week in Puerto Rico. And we discovered that a hurricane can cause both inward and outward devastation. From the outside, our work looked like rebuilding homes and tearing down walls, but as we got to know the people we worked with, we learned that our rebuilding efforts were about so much more. There was a man who was living in his cemented bathroom, because that was the only remaining structure he had left. We weren’t able to build a home for him last week, but we were able to help him take the first steps out of his painful reality. There was the family that had to leave the job site because they couldn’t bear to see all their flood-ravaged possessions be tossed into a dumpster…but they were grateful to have someone else do the gut-wrenching work of tossing away bits and pieces of the only life they’ve ever known. There was the pastor who ended up telling her story around the dinner table, a prayerful hope that she needed to share, even though she was there to serve others. And there was the Bishop of Puerto Rico, simply offering his gratitude for the fact that someone, anyone, had listened to the cries of the people and decided to show up.
To put a fine point on it, that’s what Abundant Health is really all about. It’s about hearing the cries of creation and showing up. The Apostle Paul calls these cries “groans.” And I think that’s good imagery. Even though Romans 8 is all about life, you can’t experience the fullness of life until you enter into the groans. Paul says all of creation groans for the redemption of God. And let me tell you, if the trees could personify after a hurricane, you would see their tears and hear their pain. Those of you who walk and pick up trash from the roads know a thing or two about the groaning of creation. I wonder how creation groans for that glorious, eternal day, and how you might be able to respond right now? Paul says that we also have inward groans, those prayers we lift up, those days when we have nothing left, when we long for that moment when there will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain. Get to know someone’s vulnerability, someone’s story, and you’ll hear the depths of their groaning. I wonder what groans are happening in the person beside you, and how you might be able to respond today? Paul also says there’s a third type of groaning, the one I find to be most interesting: God’s groaning. God groans for creation to be the way He always meant it to be, and God’s heart yearns to make all well again. What does the Lord groan for? For justice, mercy and kindness; to cover this world in the fullness of His love.
Friends, our world cries out for hope and healing. And as one teacher reminds, we have to listen to the groans in the world. And then we need to enter into them. That’s how we promote abundant health. Groans sound painful, and most of the time, they are. But groans are where we find the surprising activity of God’s good and holy Kingdom. In fact, I think we’ll miss out on some really amazing moments with Jesus if we run away from the groans, instead of toward them. Sometimes that looks like a conversation around a table; sometimes it looks like building of a new home. Sometimes that looks like mucking out mud from a basement; sometimes it looks like a fact-finding mission to uncover humanity’s darkest secrets. Sometimes it looks like planting and rooting yourself in a community that needs the best of you, and sometimes it looks like an inconvenient detour when you see a stranger left for dead on the road and you stop to offer whatever you have. That’s the work of the Kingdom. That’s a vision of God’s heart. That’s what we’ve signed up for when we’ve taken upon ourselves the mantle of Christ. Where do you see brokenness in the world today? Where do you see wrongs that need to be right? Where do you see pain or opportunity? That’s where you’ll find the Kingdom of God. Amen.