Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
After reading the passage from John the first question is what do we focus on? In our modern-day culture, we would be tempted to focus on the helpless man who is totally depressed and discouraged. We would be wondering what legislation would best help this poor man. How would the American Disability Act come to his rescue. It is an interesting note that in Europe where everything is supposedly better from health care to roads, we do not find such an overwhelming care for those with disabilities. Certainly, the aged are given some help and fill the hospital wards but when it comes to getting around the streets or walking up the road there is less real care for looking after those in wheelchairs and the blind. For once America seems ahead in caring for the disable to have a degree of independent living. But is that the right focus for this story? What should be the focus?
It's tempting to read between the lines or to become an armchair psychologist when reading the story of the man by the pool. Jesus' question, "Do you want to be made well?", requires a simple answer. "Yes," or "No." The man blubbers out his life story. One can picture him lying by the pool day after day, having a pity-party, whining to whomever will listen. Perhaps he needs an attitude adjustment before his body can be healed. Perhaps he is depressed and discouraged and has long since given up hope of ever being well. He seems to want to play helpless and blame others for not helping him into the pool. In today's world he might file a lawsuit against the Bethzatha Community Pool for neglecting to install a wheelchair ramp.
John tells us very little about the man. The account is so terse that it leaves us with questions. We'd like to know the details. How did this man get to the pool every morning? How long has he been coming there? How did he arrange for meals? How is it that Jesus picked him out of the crowd of people lying about? Why didn't he ask Jesus to heal him?
It's almost as if John doesn't care much about the man or his condition. He simply sets the scene, tells of the brief encounter between Jesus and the man, and that's that. The man is healed. It's like a story from the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus does everything "immediately."
Someone in the second century or so-perhaps a scribe-must have also thought the story lacked sufficient detail when an explanation about the stirring of the waters was added. Though we know the words to be a textual addition, they do serve to tell us something about the popular theology of the day. Bethzatha, or Bethesda, was a shrine, a place where people believed that the waters were holy, and that the waters healed when "an angel came down to stir them." The pool was a place of hope for the invalids of that day.
John's purpose in including this story was not to give us details or to explain the man's human experience and suffering. He used the story as the beginning episode in the Gospel's ongoing conflict between belief and unbelief. Jesus performs a sign, or miracle, to elicit belief. To John, the spotlight here is on Jesus. Look at what Jesus can do! Look what Jesus can do for each of us not only in terms of our individual suffering but also in terms of our spiritual suffering. John wants us to focus on Jesus.
John is interested in proclaiming that Jesus can do the impossible. This man has been ill or paralyzed for 38 years. He's a hopeless case, a permanent invalid. The man's "life-story" response to Jesus' question is meant to tell John's readers that even the man himself does not believe that he can be healed. The holy waters of popular theology won't help someone who can't make it to the pool on time-but Jesus' words triumph over the impossible. John wants to show that Jesus-God has the power to heal even when it's hopeless.
Read in the light of the Resurrection this sixth Sunday of Easter, the story proclaims that Jesus, who was raised from death by the power of God, certainly has the power to heal people today. Even as we think these thoughts, or speak the words, however, we need to ask what healing means. We've all known people who tell a story about being healed. A tumor disappears by prayer rather than surgery. A miracle of modern medicine results in the gift of hearing for who has been someone born deaf. We've all known, also, the person in our congregation whose prayers for healing seem to go unanswered. We've all heard the popular theology of our day that suggests more faith is needed-yet we observe that in this very story of healing, faith is not mentioned. On the other hand, some of us have known a person who lives life from a wheelchair and lives it so fully and wholly that we understand that person to be a modern-day witness to the healing power of God.
Taken together with the passage from Revelation, this story of the healing of one invalid points toward an even greater impossibility-that the healing power of God is not limited to one person, or one people.
In the face of all the exclusive theologies human minds hold dear-the Evangelist John has a vision of a new heaven, a new earth, and a New Jerusalem. John here uses Old Testament imagery-from Ezekiel, Isaiah, Zephaniah and Zechariah-to describe what he sees. There is no shrine here-for where God and the Lamb are, no holy place is necessary. There are holy waters, though, in abundance. The river of life runs splashing and sparkling down the middle of the street. People from the nations come bringing their glory to God. The leaves on the tree of life are meant for the healing of the nations. Now we need to ask, "Who can be healed?" The new city of John's vision is inclusive. The God who revealed God self to the patriarchs as the God of one people, now reveals that God is God of all peoples. The Easter dream of God is not limited to new life given to those whom we expect-the believers who believe as we do. We ourselves will be healed of our exclusiveness. The river of life, holy waters, flows not just through the church, but also through all creation. God's dream of Resurrection is a recreation of all the cosmos, a making new again of anyone and everyone who will accept the invitation and come to the throne, bringing their glory. It is God's dream from before all time, God's dream of Easter-yet-to-be. In God's kingdom, fully realized, the nations will be healed. We who live by war and hatred will live by peace and love, in the presence of God and the Lamb. Wholly healed. Fully alive.
When it comes to understanding God, we often have to radically change our focus. The Gospel of John wishes us to focus on Jesus and what our belief in Jesus means. Changing focus means we need to stop looking for material answers and slowly look around us for spiritual answers. We need to change our focus in our modern life, we need to take our eyes off the various screens in our lives from smart phone to smart monitor to smart television and look towards Jesus.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life.
In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) was signed into law and became effective on January 1, 2009. The ADAAA made a number of significant changes to the definition of “disability.” The changes in the definition of disability in the ADAAA apply to all titles of the ADA, including Title I (employment practices of private employers with 15 or more employees, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor unions, agents of the employer and joint management labor committees); Title II (programs and activities of state and local government entities); and Title III (private entities that are considered places of public accommodation). (https://adata.org/learn-about-ada)
In some of my workshops, I run a short activity which provides the audience members with an immediate and practical example of how and where we focus our attention and energy – and the potential consequences. It’s a pretty simple process used by plenty of facilitators.
How it works:
I ask my audience to spend sixty seconds looking around the room and to take note of everything that’s red. Any shade of red will do. Crimson. Fire-engine red. Burgundy. Maroon (are they the same?). If I’m feeling generous, I’ll even allow hot pink. I then tell them to commit as many red things to memory as possible. I tell them not to over-think the process, not to try to figure out the point of the exercise (and thereby miss out on the benefit), not to talk to anyone else, not to write anything down and to use whatever memory or recall method they feel will give them the best result. That is, optimal retention.
For sixty seconds there is total silence. An intense silence – if that’s possible. I can almost hear the cogs turning and the competitive juices flowing as each person scans the room frantically trying to absorb and remember as much (relevant) information as possible. Talk about focus – sometimes it’s as though they’re looking into the face of a loved one for the last time.
At the end of the allocated time I ask the group to keep their eyes closed. I then ask them a whole bunch of irrelevant and (seemingly) pointless questions for about two minutes. At this stage, the quantity and quality of their responses (to my questions) is pretty underwhelming as (1) their eyes are still closed and (2) they are desperately trying to retain the required information (the red stuff in the room) and to dispense with my stupid and annoying questions without being too distracted from their mental list.
But You Said….
Just when they’re about to storm the stage and punch me in the head, I ask them if they’re ready to share their memorized list with me. I place myself in front of a whiteboard with a marker in hand and say, “okay, keep your eyes closed and give me a list of everything in this room that’s… brown.”
At this point, I can literally sense the frustration in the room.
“But you said red?”
“I know, but now I want the brown list – keep your eyes closed.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Life’s like that.”
Over the course of a few minutes, with all eyes still closed, the group begins to shift its focus and to review the room (in their mind’s eye) in a different way. Typically, most people will recall less than a quarter of the brown things in the room while being able to recall almost one hundred percent of the red.
“But you all studied the room before you closed your eyes”, I tell them.
“Yeah, but we were looking for red, not brown.”
A New Perspective
After a few frustrating minutes, I allow them to open their eyes and to instantly see what they hadn’t before: all things brown. It’s amazing what becomes apparent when we look at the same thing (room, relationship, career, business, opportunity, person, health) with a totally different focus. What was once invisible, becomes immediately apparent. Obvious even. When we shift our attention, we can find gold. We find ourselves with a different level of consciousness and a new appreciation for, and awareness of, what has always been there. In some ways, it’s like we’re opening our eyes for the first time.
This brief activity (looking for red) is a simple, yet effective, one – we find what we’re searching for. When we have a narrow focus (which we often do), we don’t see the entirety of what’s there. The potential. The gifts. The joy. The fun. The good. The opportunity. When we look for bad, we’ll find it. When we expect rejection, we’ll find that too. If we’re constantly searching for problems, we’ll never see the solutions.
Our focus becomes our reality and we wind up creating the very thing (situation, outcome) that we desperately want to avoid.
Sometimes we’re so obsessed with, and fearful of, the bad, we miss out on the considerable good in our world. Sometimes we’re so preoccupied with finding the red things in the room that we don’t notice (enjoy, celebrate, appreciate) any of the other amazing colors. Today I’m encouraging you to consciously take a look at your world through the eyes of optimism, gratitude and greater awareness.
Consciously find the good. It’s there. (https://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/change-your-focus-for-better-results.html)
Seen on a bumper sticker: "I've given up hope, and now I feel much better."
Spiritual attention shifts our focus from…
Our way of thinking to God’s way of thinking.
Our purposes to God’s purposes.
Our way of doing to God’s ways.
Our weakness to God’s strength.
Our preferences to God’s priorities.
Our lack to God’s provision.
Our self-oriented desires to the mind of Christ.
Intimacy with God.
Intimacy with God grows as we come to know His heart and cherish His presence in all the comings and goings of our days. Listening to God transforms us—bringing us to willing obedience and forward motion. (http://www.plantingroots.net/7-ways-to-increase-spiritual-attention/)
Question: "How can I stay focused on Christ?"
Answer: In our fast-paced, attention-grabbing world, it is easy to get caught up in the daily grind, get distracted, and lose sight of our true purpose in life—the worship and love of God (see Matthew 22:37). Yet we are told to run our race with our eyes focused on Christ: “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1–2). How can we resist the allure of the world and keep our focus where it belongs, on Christ?
To focus is to direct one’s attention or concentrate on something. If we are focused on Christ, then He has our attention; we are concentrating on Him and His word; He occupies the forefront of our minds. Such a focus is only fitting, because Jesus “is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (Colossians 1:18). By rights, He should be our focus.
Colossians 3:1–4 contains much that can help us stay focused on Christ: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” We are to focus on “things above,” remembering that Christ is seated in the place of glory and power (verse 1). The reason for the command is also given: because we have been raised to new life with Christ. To focus on the things above, we must consciously remove our focus from “earthly things” (verse 2), and the reason is given: we have died to self, and Christ is our very life (verse 3). Helping us stay focused on Christ is the reminder that Jesus is coming again, and when we see Him we will know glory (verse 4).
Hebrews 2 lists some of the things that Christ has done or is doing for us: He shared our humanity (verse 14), He breaks the power of the devil (verse 14), He frees us (verse 15), He is our “merciful and faithful high priest” (verse 17), He suffered for us (verse 18), and He helps those who are tempted in this world (verse 18). Because of all this, Hebrews 3:1, says, “Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.”
Commit to reading the Bible. It is impossible for a believer to be consistently in the Word without having his attention drawn again and again to Christ: “The Scriptures point to me!” Jesus said (John 5:39, NLT; see also Luke 24:44 and Hebrews 10:7). To focus on the Word of God is to have the Son of God brought more into focus.
Develop your prayer life. If you want to know how to pray, read Jesus’ instructions to His disciples in Luke 11:1–13. As you speak to the Lord throughout your day, you will naturally be more focused on Him. Little things, big things—we can come to the Lord with any and all of our cares. The command is to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), to always be in an attitude and atmosphere of instant prayer.
Trust the Lord as your only protector: “My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare” (Psalm 25:15). Once we understand the spiritual dangers we face on a daily basis, we will focus more on Christ, our one and only Savior, who alone has the power of deliverance.
Recognize your need and the Lord as the source of all good things: “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us” (Psalm 123:2, ESV). The world offers various means of obtaining love, joy, and peace, but they are destined to disappoint. The believer understands that love, joy, and peace (and a myriad other fine gifts) are the direct result of his relationship with Christ (see Galatians 5:22–23).
See the world for what it is: a sin-filled place of desperate need. The darker the world is to us, the more clearly the light of Christ will stand out. It’s not hard to focus on a light in a darkened room. “We . . . have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). Those who stay focused on Christ will find their perspective on worldly things changing. As Helen Lemmel says in her hymn, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, / Look full in His wonderful face, / And the things of earth will grow strangely dim / In the light of His glory and grace.”
In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian and Faithful go through Vanity Fair, where they are offered “all sorts of vanity.” Christian’s and Faithful’s response is instructive for us: “These pilgrims set very light by all their wares—they cared not so much as to look upon them; and if they called upon them to buy, they would put their fingers in their ears, and cry, ‘Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity,’ and look upwards, signifying that their trade and traffic was in heaven” (Part I, p. 86). May we, like the pilgrims in Vanity Town, practice the heavenward-look and keep our eyes focused on Christ, His glory, and His love. (https://www.gotquestions.org/focused-on-Christ.html)
Several years ago a friend of mine took his wife and kids to the ocean for a week of R&R. While they were there, they purchased a small, inflatable boat for recreational use on the beach. One day the wife jumped in the boat and launched out into the water to just lie back and soak in some sunshine. After what seemed like a short span of time, she opened her eyes and realized that she was several hundred yards away from the shore. In a panic, she screamed for help.
Only one person on the shore seemed to hear her call, and that was her husband. When he realized her predicament, he immediately attempted to swim out to rescue her. That did not turn out well, because he was soon in need of being rescued as well!
Fortunately, the lifeguard was doing his job well that day, and he was successful in rescuing the husband and the wife. By the time he was able to get to the wife in the raft, they were nearly a half mile from the shore.
As I have thought about that experience over the years, it has often made me think about how Christians often drift away from the Lord spiritually. It really doesn’t take much time at all to drift so far from the shore spiritually that one can scarcely even see the land anymore.
As a pastor for the past couple decades, I have noted several key things that tend to cause Christians to drift away from God. Here are five of them:
1) An Out-of-Control Schedule.
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
One of Satan’s greatest weapons against our generation seems to be his ability to make good people busier than ever before. We so often sacrifice the best things in life by spending time doing things that are just “pretty good.”
If you desire to walk closely with God, you will absolutely, necessarily have to begin by taking a close look at your calendar. It is likely that you are currently doing too much. And it is also likely that your overly hectic schedule is affecting your relationship with God. So take out your pruning shears and begin to cut out any activities you can that will allow you to focus more time on your relationship with your Creator.
2) Misplaced Affections
1 John 2:15
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
Be careful not to set your heart on things that really don’t matter. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen good people lured away from church life because they have fallen in love with things or activities that have no eternal merit. For example, children’s sports can certainly be a thrilling activity for your kids to pursue. But if those sports begin to adversely affect the spiritual involvement and development of your family, then pull the plug immediately.
During the past couple decades that I have served as a pastor, I have often watched Satan using his weapon of discouragement to drag people away from spiritual activities. I have seen it many more times than I can number.
When the trials of life cause a person to become discouraged, he often begins focusing on those problems and takes his eyes off of Christ. It reminds me of when Peter walked on the water. He did great until he took his eyes off of Jesus and began looking at the waves beneath him and the clouds above him.
It is important for you to know that when life’s clouds grow dark and your trials become fierce, that is the time to run TO Jesus and not FROM Him.
1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
We Americans are so fat with our own prosperity that we often make wealth our god and not the true King of heaven. This has also been a recurring theme throughout the entire Bible. People struggle, God blesses them, they become prosperous, and then they depart from God. Ironic, isn’t it?
The chances are great that you probably do not feel like you are prosperous. But the reality is that nearly all Americans are extremely blessed and have more abundance than the vast majority of the population of the planet. If you are an American, you are most likely already a “One-Percenter” (wealthier than 99% of the world’s population).
People of abundance often choose recreation over worship. Why go to church if you could be out golfing, boating, camping, or going to movies or sporting events?
Satan wants us to be prosperous, because our prosperity and abundance often lure us away from our Creator.
5) Parasitic Sins
Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
Many people begin to drift away from God, because they have sins in their lives that cause them to feel guilt when they show up at church. And they feel reluctant to pray or read their Bible when they know they have these issues in their lives.
Recently, I stumbled upon the most revolting video I’ve ever seen (through my Facebook news feed). The video showed an eye surgeon removing a parasite from a human eye. I won’t go into detail. That brief description alone is enough to send chills down the spines of many. All I can say is that the video was even worse than what you’re thinking right now!
When I watched that video, it dawned on me that many people have sins in their lives that are damaging them just like parasites in one’s body. And those sins will almost certainly affect your spiritual vision.
The solution here is not to run/drift from God. The key is to confess your sin to God who will restore you and make you whole again (1 John 1:9)!
How have you done in your journey with God over the past year or the past few months? Have you drifted? Now is the time to return. Call out to God before you are so far from the shore than you lose all sense of spiritual direction. (https://www.biblestudytools.com/blogs/chris-russell/5-things-that-cause-us-to-drift-spiritually.html)
The wonderful old movie Awakenings is based on a true story. A young doctor is hired as a neurologist for a hospital where they put people who are never expected to get well. The diagnosis on every chart says: "Hopeless case. No changes or therapy recommended."
Doctor Sayer, played by Robin Williams, is a bit of a loner. He does not believe himself to be a "people person,"-his previous position was working with earthworms. He's never taken care of people before, except to take temperatures and blood pressure in medical school. The hospital for the hopeless is desperate, however. So, Doctor Sayer begins work with his patients, people who are catatonic.
Plagued by the question, "What is it like to be them?" Dr. Sayer begins to work more closely with these people. What he learns is surprising: People who are catatonic, seemingly totally unresponsive to any stimulus, have little "awakenings," given various stimuli. Leonard's brain waves change when his name is spoken. Lucy responds to the pattern on the floor, and walks across the room. Some respond to classical music, or to jazz.
Then Dr. Sayer hears about the discovery for a medication for Parkinson's disease, L-dopa. When he is convinced that L-dopa just might be the answer for these people, he is up against brick walls. The head of staff and the entire board of the hospital think he is crazy to believe that he can help hopeless people. They are beyond hope. Dr. Sayer stands firm: "What I believe, what I know," he says, "Is that these people are alive inside."
With the drug, L-dopa, Dr. Sayer is able to bring back first Leonard, and then the whole ward. Not permanently, but for a whole summer, the summer of 1969, these people experienced an awakening, and became very normal. At the time the movie was made, Dr. Sayer still worked in a hospital in the Bronx, trying to heal people the world calls hopeless.
In the province of Quebec, Canada, near Quebec City, stands a modern day shrine, Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre. Just as the church located by the ruins of the site believed to be the pools of Bethesda or Bethzatha, was named for the grandmother of Jesus, so this shrine has been named St. Anne. It has been a place for pilgrims since the first church was built in 1658. During the construction of that first church, Louis Guimond was the first of many to be healed. The present basilica was built in 1923 and consecrated on July 4, 1976. Millions of pilgrims come to the site every year. That the hopeless have been healed here is made obvious by the many, many crutches that have been abandoned by those healed. The crutches are fastened to the columns at the entrance of the basilica. The brochure invites people to gather for prayer, promising all who will open their hearts a spiritual healing for the pilgrimage of life.
Because it is here that Heaven meets Earth.
Because it is a place of hope and prayer.
Because it is through the prayers of Saint Anne, the grandmother of Jesus, that God multiplies [God's] marvels: 'One can see the paralytic walk.'" (Marie de l'Incarnation, 1665) (Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre English Guide, 2003. More information available at www.ssadb.qc.ca)
A medical "shrine" for healing began in a small one-room laboratory in the year 1887. This laboratory was established by the Marine Hospital Service that was established to meet the health needs of merchant seamen. Officials of the MHS established the lab and hired Dr. Joseph J. Kinyoun as its single employee. Kinyoun soon discovered that cholera was caused by a bacillus. Later the laboratory began a training program, and congress authorized the construction of a new building that would house research programs for infectious diseases. In 1902, the program was expanded to include divisions for chemistry and pharmacology. The first antitoxin was produced for diphtheria, and the center was authorized to set standards for purity of vaccines and antitoxins.
Over the years of growth and several changes of names, came cures and solutions to diseases like pellagra and anthrax. In the 1940's, the center was renamed the National Institutes of Health, and a research hospital was built in Bethesda, Maryland. It was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Research began on hazardous substances, and the yellow fever and typhus vaccines were developed. Departments, or institutes, were established for mental health, dentistry, and heart disease. In the 1970's work was stepped up on research on cancer and heart disease. The AIDS epidemic resulted in work toward understanding immunology. The Institutes began research on DNA, and later on the Human Genome Project. More recent research has focused on arthritis and osteoporosis, as the healing goes on. Scientists and doctors at the Institutes have won more than 80 Nobel prizes, and the Institutes has become a shrine for the healing of the nations-sharing information with the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization. (Victoria A. Harden, Ph.D, NIH Historian, A Short History of the National Institutes of Health [http://history.nih.gov/exhibits/history/full-test.html])
After the San Diego wildfires, people asked the experts what to do about scorched trees and shrubs. The natural instinct is to prune the plants and trees back to where they were still alive-or, to dig them out and replant. People were counseled to wait. Even shrubs and trees that appear to be dead may surprise us with new life. The burned and dead parts of the branches actually serve the purpose of protecting the bark from sunburn. Painting the top branches and the south side of the trunk of a tree will also help prevent sunburn. Lessen the amount of water given to prevent root rot. After new growth comes, the bushes and trees may be pruned. (Vincent Lazaneo, Nature and nurture will be the keys [The San Diego Union-Tribune, November 16, 2003], pp. I-11 and I-18)
"There are 6,000 deaths from contaminated water every day, according to the U.N., and safe water is one of the world's more urgent problems."
Dean Kamen believes he has a solution that will cure this problem. The inventor of the Segway scooter that was a bit of a flop-Kamen made a generator that would supply electricity to undeveloped areas. A "side-effect" of the generator is that it produces quite a lot of wasted heat. Kamen found a way to trap this heat and recycle it, and thus invented a machine that will purify water.
Nobody believes it will work. Kamen says he has no credibility. So he is off to Africa to prove that it will work, and that it will save a lot of lives. (Lev Grossman, Water Purifier [TIME, November 17, 2003], p. unknown)
"…kisses and handholding work better than any medications," says Nancy Fairhurst. She speaks of her 80-something parents, who recently celebrated their 63rd anniversary. Both in walkers, and both needing some physical assistance, the couple share a room in a local care center. After all these years, they still enjoy one another's company. They sit in their matching chairs and watch TV together. Nancy says that "one reaches for the other come sunset and come sunrise." (Marsha Kay Seff, "Sometimes holding hands if the best medicine" [The San Diego Union-Tribune, October 4, 2003], p. E-8.
There was a contest to find the most caring child, and Leo Buscaglia was to decide the winner:
"A four-year-old boy whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman's yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there.
When his mother asked him what he said to the neighbor, the little boy said, "Nothing, I just helped him cry."(Author unknown. Circulating on the Internet)
At Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital, "Jews save Arabs and Arabs save Jews."
Most of the employees and doctors are Jewish-but 10 doctors, along with about 10% of the staff, are Palestinian. One woman physician attended medical school in Baghdad. She was urged to work at Hadassah because there was a shortage of doctors. Now she lives in a one room apartment, works in the emergency room, and visits her parents in Nablus regularly. It takes her a whole day to get through the Israeli checkpoints to her home. She continues to be criticized by her parents and her neighbors. She also continues to care for the Israeli victims of Arab violence, because she knows what it would be like to be in their position.
Dr. Arieh Eldad, the head of plastic surgery, recently left the hospital to take a leave of absence. Until then, he worked side-by-side with a Palestinian doctor, Khaled Abu Ajamia. "Outside they are big enemies, but in here they are forced to touch," says hospital director Shlomo Mor-Yosef.
Healing happens in this hospital in many ways. Children who would never see each other play together in the pediatrics oncology department. The life of a Palestinian terrorist is saved because he is treated in the same way as an Israeli would be treated. He is home now, but he continues to need medical treatment every two weeks. When he tried to cross the border checkpoint to return to Jerusalem, soldiers turned him back. An emergency room doctor vows to help him get a permit to cross the border for treatment. (Matt Rees, Amid the Killing, E.R. Is An Oasis [TIME, June 23, 2003], pp. 36-38)
John Koenig writes that Christians understand the concept of healing differently than does the medical establishment. "The central image for us is not cure but wholeness." (Practicing our Faith, Dorothy Bass, editor [San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997], p. 149.
Some people major in complaining and dependence. They wait for others, or whine and complain about how bad it is. Some even become attached to their problems like old friends. Jesus questioned whether the man really wanted to be made well. Then Jesus challenged him to act on his faith. In fact, in this story, faith isn't even mentioned. God's gift of healing is pure grace. But still the man must act on it, take up his mat and walk Grace given is not always grace enjoyed.
The healing of our battered planet should be of concern to all Christians. When we read in that famous verse, John 3:16, that "...God so loved the world," it can be pointed out that the Greek word underlying "world" is "cosmos." God so loved all that God created that the Son was sent, to bring redemption to all creation, not just humans. Environmental degradation degrades life for the whole planet, of which we are an inextricable part. While environmental protection should not be our only concern, it is an essential concern for Christians.
Two great films conclude with their chief characters by the seaside, suggesting the healing powers of water, the baptism of forgiveness and renewal. Both are foreign films starring Anthony Quinn in his two greatest roles-the strong man in La Strada and an itinerant worker in Zorba the Greek.
In Federico Fellini's La Strada Zampano ekes out a living as a traveling strong man, entertaining village audiences by his ability to break a chain around his chest. He has bought from an impoverished farm family their simple-minded daughter Gelsomina. He trains her to play musical instruments while he goes about his acts of breaking chains, swallowing a sword, and "eating" fire. He treats her shamefully, using her body to satisfy his lusts, but then leaving her as he parties with other women. When she tries to run away, he chases her down and beats her. During one interlude while traveling with a circus, Zampano grows jealous when Il Matto (The Fool), the tightrope walker is kind to the wretched girl. He doesn't know that Il Matto has told her that she should stay with her cruel master, that perhaps her calling is to love him despite his cruelty. In an argument Zampano kills Il Matto, and so must leave hurriedly with Gelsomina. More misadventures follow, and one night Zampano rides off, leaving the girl behind. Much later he learns that she has died brokenhearted. Now aware of how much she had meant to him, Zampano goes down to the beach and falls on his knees. For the first time since he was a child there are tears in his eyes. Beside the breaking waters the man pours out his remorse and grief, the scene leaving us with us the slight hope that he has rejoined the human race.
In Michael Cocoyannis' film Zorba attaches himself to Englishman Basil, a writer bound for Crete where he has inherited a lignite mine. The exuberant Greek, who has never met a woman he wouldn't woo, a bottle he wouldn't open, slowly brings the inhibited Englishman out of his shell or a tune he wouldn't dance to. After a series of adventures in trying to get timber from the mountainside down to the mine entrance near the sea shore, plus a love affair for each of them that ends in death, everything falls apart, and the two men are left alone by the crowd that had come to watch the ceremony celebrating the arrival of the timber and the opening of the mine. Basil is now broke and will be returning to England, but he will go back a changed
Fred R. Anderson's adaptation of Psalm 46, "God Our Help and Constant Refuge," makes use of the Psalm's verse 6, "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God." The second verse of the hymn states that there is healing flowing in God's streams which provides strength amidst the crises of war. Like the psalm, the hymn reassures us that God is with us, and then the last two stanzas become prayers for peace and hope, making this a hymn very suitable for our present time of terror and international conflict.
"Knowledge is Power!" reads the banner over a close-up picture of Cokie Roberts. The caption imposed on her smart blue suit reads, "For Cokie Roberts, information is key to coping with cancer." It is an advertising section sponsored by several major drug companies. But the proclamation along the bottom of the pages is nevertheless true: "Take Action Now." Having adequate information about any disease allows us to find the appropriate place to seek healing. But without taking action on the information, our life will be defined by our disease. The man by the pool had enough information about his disease. What he lacked was what Jesus provided him: the word of healing to "Take Action Now!" (Newsweek, June 2, 2003)
When is healing miraculous and when is it not? In the Roman Catholic tradition, a particular group of doctors is given the task of making that determination. In order for someone to be named a saint, the person must be known for having lived a holy life and there needs to be evidence of the prospective saint having interceded to bring about a miracle. Under the guidelines established by Pope John Paul II, martyrs can be beatified without any evidence of a miracle, and they can be elevated to sainthood on the evidence of one miracle. Others require two miracles-one to be beatified and one to be canonized. The Los Angeles Times (10/14/03) reports that around the 1950s the Vatican established a medical board, the Consulta Medica, consisting of about 100 prestigious doctors who are asked to examine cures and to render their opinion as to whether they are miraculous or not. Dr. Raffaello Cortesini, a heart-transplant specialist, served as president of the board for two decades until he retired in 2002. He said that of the 500 cases that he was asked to review, about half of them qualified as being miracles. Among the miraculous things he has seen are tumors that have vanished, cerebral lobes that have regenerated, cervical cancer that became cured overnight, and expired hearts and brains that suddenly came back to life. The doctors, however, do not use the word "miracle" in their reports. They leave that term to the theologians. Rather they are asked to opine as to whether a cure is complete, and whether it has been brought about in such a way that there is no scientific explanation. Pope John Paul II has created more saints than all of his predecessors in the last four centuries combined. As of October 5 of this past year, the pontiff has elevated 476 people to sainthood. In addition, he has beatified more than 1,300 others.
Scientists are looking into a "polypill" that could ward off health problems in many older adults. According to the Washington Post (6/27/03), medical researchers are considering combining five widely used drugs into a single pill that doctors could administer to everyone over the age of 54, potentially protecting millions of people from heart attacks and strokes. The new pill would be a combination of aspirin, folic acid, and medications that are known to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels. So far more than 750 studies have been conducted involving over 400,000 people. The studies suggest that the polypill could cut the risk of heart attacks by 88% and the risk of strokes by 80%. The president of the American Heart Association, however, was not overjoyed at the hype surrounding the new medication. President Robert O. Bonow said, "This is exactly the wrong message to be sending. To suggest that you can continue to gain weight and smoke and not exercise and do that because now we have a magic pill-that is exactly the wrong message." Advocates of the polypill point out that many people end up taking components of that new pill anyway. By starting them on the medication 20 or so years earlier, supporters of the medicine believe that the diseases can be stopped before they occur. In the United States, heart disease is the number one leading cause of death, and strokes are the third leading cause, in total taking the lives of about 875,000 Americans per year. Researchers are confident that about a third of those who take the pill would get some benefit, adding an average of 11 years to their lifespan.
In The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, Philip Jenkins observes that while many Christians in the northern hemisphere tend to read the biblical miracle stories and interpret them as interesting information about what God did for certain people long ago, Christians in the southern hemisphere tend to focus on the contemporary relevance of those miracle stories. In particular, they understand the biblical miracles to be illustrations of the same kind of miracles that can be hoped for and expected in our world today. Northern Christians, Jenkins notes, generally are hesitant to put too much emphasis on miracles, influenced by Rudolf Bultmann's efforts to "demythologize" them. Yet while northern Christians remain skeptical, the church in the southern hemisphere is booming, with reports of miraculous healings being fairly commonplace.
After waiting so long to be healed, the man sitting by that pool might have found it hard to maintain a positive outlook. But according to the BBC (9/1/03), negative thoughts can worsen your health. They cite a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that links negative brain activity with a weakened immune system. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison examined people with high levels of brain activity in a region that is linked to negative thinking. Those people responded worse to a flu vaccine. The study involved 52 people between the ages of 57 and 60.
After sitting next to that pool for so many years without any end to his suffering, it is quite possible that that fellow had learned to become helpless. Back during the 1960s a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania by the name of Martin Seligman identified the phenomenon which has become known as "learned helplessness." In an experiment, he took a group of dogs and gave them slight electric shocks. No matter what the dogs did, they would keep getting shocked. For the next phase of the experiment, Seligman placed another set of dogs into an area where it was possible for the dogs to learn how to avoid the shocks. The area where the dogs were placed had a small, low wall in the middle of it. If the dogs jumped over that wall, the shocks stopped. Within a few minutes those new dogs learned what to do to stop the shocks. But when that first set of dogs, which had been shocked at random, were placed in with those other dogs, those dogs did not even attempt to jump over the wall. Even when they saw the other dogs jumping over the wall, and even when they saw that the shocks were stopping for those other dogs, that first group of dogs did not even attempt to follow suit. Apparently their past experience had taught them to become helpless. They had learned that they were powerless to bring an end to their suffering no matter what they might do. Therefore, they didn't even try.
Newsweek (11/10/03) reported on how many Americans are open to having their faith play a role in their healing. The article cited a survey in which 72% of Americans said they would welcome an opportunity to talk with their physician about their faith. The same percentage indicated that they believe that praying to God can cure someone, even if the scientific evidence suggests that the person does not have a chance. Furthermore, 84% of Americans think that praying for a sick person increases their chances for recovery. Only 28% think that religion and medicine should be kept separate. A growing number of studies are documenting how faith plays a tangible role in good health. For instance, the more often you go to church, the longer you live on average. Those who never go to worship live an average of 75 years, whereas those who go occasionally live 80 years, and those who attend each week live 82 years. In a similar study, those attend worship weekly are 131% likely to be less depressed than the average person.
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: May God be gracious to us and bless us.
People: And make God's face to shine upon us.
Leader: That your way may be known upon earth,
People: Your saving power among all nations.
Leader: Let the peoples praise you, O God,
People: Let all the peoples praise you.
Leader: The earth has yielded its increase;
People: God, our God, has blessed us.
O God of love, we confess that we do not keep your commandments. We do not love as you have commanded us. We forget your words of life and condemn and exploit others made in your image. Have mercy on us and empower us. Forgive us, as we forgive others. Drive the troubles and worries from our hearts, that we may be motivated by gratitude, and empowered by your Spirit, who stands with us to help us. We pray this in the name and power of Christ. Amen.
O God, you have promised new heavens and a new earth. We know that change happens because of you. Take these gifts and use them to advance your rule of love and justice. As we received them from you, now we return them in gratitude to your service. Put them to use in your kingdom, that your kingdom may come, on earth as it is in heaven. May these gifts be used to drive out fear, to dry tears, and to bring new life. Bring the living water of Christ to thirsty hearts, and healing to weary and hurting souls. We dedicate these gifts in the Spirit of Christ. Amen.
O God give us a vision for mission, as you gave to Paul and his co-workers. May we dream of the needs of others, and how your Church can help them. Heal us of divisions and strife. If there is conflict, make it creative tension rather than divisive argument and fruitless pettiness. Make us aware of those whose hearts are open to the leading of your Spirit. Move us to meet them, listen to their yearnings, and respond to their hopes and dreams. May we not be so rigid that our ears are closed to new ideas and opportunities.
If our hearts are troubled or afraid, fill us with courage and vision, so that we may move forward in faith, instead of being paralyzed in fear. Let the invigorating power of your Spirit shake us up, re-form and renew us, so that we may be about the adventure of living for you, enjoying you, loving one another, and caring for your people and your earth. Thank you, God, for being you. Thank you for making us as you have. Thank you for giving us your Spirit. Thank you for sending your Son to be our Savior and Lord, Master and brother, teacher and friend. Amen.