Sermon transcript for July 27, 2014
Meditation for Service of Healing Prayers
July 27, 2014
Belmont UMC—Ken Edwards, preaching
Today’s service invites us to a time of healing prayer. This may be new to some of us, even though Services of Healing and Wholeness are a part of our tradition. We’ve offered services of healing prayer during Lent but not on Sunday mornings. This service came out of a period of discernment by the worship staff. And while the idea of coming forward to be anointed with oil, a sign of God’s continuing love for us, and having someone pray with you may seem new to us, prayers for healing are not new.
We are probably more familiar and comfortable with praying for others. I receive numerous prayer requests during each week. I see them in church newsletters I have served in the past, in emails from Sunday School classes and on the Tennessee Conference website. We are glad to offer prayers for others in need. Sometimes prayer for ourselves or those closest to us makes us a bit reluctant. We are always more comfortable being on the giving end than on the receiving end of prayers.
There are many needs for healing in our broken and hurting world. During Holy Week this year, as in every year, the sanctuary was surrounded by Stations of the Cross. In one station stood the cross we recess to the lawn on Good Friday. In front of it were ribbons in many colors. The colors represented different needs for healing and people were invited to tie one of the ribbons on the cross. On Good Friday, when the cross was taken to the front lawn, others tied additional ribbons to the cross. I still have those ribbons in a basket in my office. I took them to staff meeting recently as a visual reminder of the needs of our community and our church. The represent a fraction of the woundedness and brokenness that exist around us all the time.
After Jesus called the disciples and they began to share the good news with others, they became overwhelmed by the numbers of people who were coming to them—so many that they did not have time to eat. At one point Jesus invited the disciples to go away to a quiet, deserted place to rest. But the people kept coming. He said that they were like sheep without a shepherd and he had compassion on them. (Mark 6-30-34) We are often overwhelmed by the enormity of human need and our prayer list grows faster than we can keep up.
We all come here in need of healing of body, mind or spirit. Who among us has not felt a bit wounded by living in this world? Some of are in need of physical healing. Others are in need of emotional healing or healing from painful memories. Some of us know people who suffer the wounds of Post Traumatic Stress. There are broken relationships in need of healing. There are those among us who are struggling under the heavy weight of grief. There are some who suffer from dark bouts of depression.
This past week I read Parker Palmer’s description of the deep depression he experienced in his forties. He wrote of his healing this way. “I felt at home in my own skin, and at home on the face of the earth for the first time.”
What are the areas of your life that are in need of God’s healing touch?
At one church I served we held monthly services of healing prayer. We gathered on Sunday nights. The services were simple and open ended. We read scripture, sang hymns and shared together in Holy Communion. After people took Communion they were invited to kneel for anointing and prayer. The size of the crowd varied depending what was happening in the life of the congregation.
One Sunday morning an older woman named Dot came to me at the end of the worship service and told me that she had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer. The doctors told her that the cancer was treatable but not curable. She was a dear, sweet lady who rarely asked for anything for herself. She was not comfortable telling me about her illness but she asked to be on the prayer list.
Dot came to our Service of Healing and Wholeness the next Sunday and brought her daughter and her two sisters with her. I recall worrying that the service might giver her unrealistic expectations regarding her diagnosis.
After receiving the bread and cup of the Eucharist, Dot made her way to one of the stations where she could be anointed and prayed for. I watched her and said my own prayers for her.
Weeks and months passed and Dot’s health steadily declined. Finally, she entered hospice care at her daughter’s home. The associate pastor and I took turns visiting with her and praying with her. Each week Dot would greet me in a very weak voice, but she would say, “I have some things on my heart that God wants me to tell you.” Each week this quiet and introverted lady would tell me something incredibly profound and prophetic. It was obvious that she and God were communing closely during these last days of her life.
One day she said, “God wants me to tell you to quit worrying so much about you children’s behavior in church. Spend more time playing with them and less time disciplining them and things will go just fine.” I wondered if my family had put her up to that, but I never forgot it.
One day she said, “I never told you about my healing, did I?” I was perplexed. She proceeded, “It happened that night at church when those kind people put oil on my forehead and prayed for me. I was so anxious and afraid of facing this journey with cancer and I needed God to give me peace and reassurance. When they prayed for me, peace flooded me and has not left me since. God gave me what I needed and I am so blessed.”
What areas of your life need healing?
God meet us here at the place of our deepest need. We need to come with a posture of openness and a level of vulnerability that we are not accustomed to having.
Parker Palmer said that for years he lived in denial about his depression but it kept following him around shouting at his back, throwing rocks and hitting him until he hurt. One day he turned around and said, “What do you want from me?” In acknowledging this deep need, he began to find wholeness.
At the basic level of why we pray is that we believe in the God who loves us. God meets us here as we come with open hearts.
Sermon transcript for July 20, 2014
“The Lord is in this Place”
Belmont UMC—July 20, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching
The Lectionary readings for several weeks have us visiting with a man named Jacob. These passages contain rich stories about this rather flawed Biblical character,
Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebekkah and fraternal twin of Esau (first born). Jacob is favored by his mother but because of being second in birth, he is not in line for his father’s blessing. His name means “heel grabber” because he is born clutching his brother’s foot. And throughout his life, this man who would become the patriarch of a nation, uses dishonest scheming and deceit to grab everything he can, including his brother’s birthright . He cheats his own father and cheats his equally deceitful father-in-law through some unexplained and clever animal husbandry.
As one writer said, “Jacob was never satisfied. He wanted the moon, and if he’d ever managed to bilk Heaven out of that, he would have been back the next morning for the stars to go with it.” (Peculiar Treasures, Frederick Buechner, p. 57)
The Bible gives us many characters in their true colors. We see their imperfections and flaws: Noah and his indiscretions, Abraham in his lack of faith, Sarah in her jealousy of Hagar, Isaac in his naïveté, Moses in his self-doubting, David in his infidelity, Elijah at the point of giving up, Simon Peter in his impulsiveness and Judas in his betrayal. Today these leaders would have a front team, handlers, speech writers and spinners to help them present a better self.
Barbara Brown Taylor described her relationship with the Bible as a marriage, not a romance, “one I’m willing to work on in all the usual ways.” She writes, “What the Bible isn’t is a collection of stories about admirable men and women who loved and served their Lord. It is an encyclopedia of human life on earth, with a few saints and far more scoundrels who lied and cheated their way into the annals of sacred history. Hearing their stories, I listen for family resemblances. . . But throughout all their stories, which are also my stories, I hear God’s story, and that is something else altogether.” (The Preaching Life, “Bible,” pp. 51-62)
Do we see ourselves in these stories? Do we see ourselves in their everyday struggles with life and faith that may mirror our own experiences?
There are two parallel and comparable stories of Jacob’s encounters with God. The first story is the one we read today. Jacob’s mother has encouraged him to go to her family’s home in Haran to find a wife. She is worried that Esau will kill him and she’s sending him away. He’s running away, running from the consequence of his actions, running from the past, running for his life, and hopefully, running toward a fresh start and a brighter future.
So Jacob runs to a place of rest and he takes a stone to use as a pillow and he dreams. He dreams of a ladder extending into heaven and the angels of God are ascending and descending. And the Lord stood beside him and made a covenant with him. He takes the stone used as a pillow and makes a marker out of it and he names the place Bethel, which means ‘house of God.”
Jacob says, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” He ran away but he ran into the very presence of God.
The story causes us to ask ourselves if we can run away from God. And we can certainly try. We run from our mistakes, our painful memories, we run from our disappointments, our failures and our struggles.
But the Biblical image of God is a pursuing God. God pursues us to reveal God’s love to us and to be in relationship with us. We run away and often find ourselves running into the very presence of this pursuing God of grace.
I recently reread sections of Ann Lamott’s book, Traveling Mercies, in which she describes her spiritual journey. As an adult she found herself living near San Francisco, writing some to pay her bills, but mostly drinking to escape, to run from her past, her fears and insecurities.
On Sunday mornings, still dizzy and hung over, she would find herself wandering around a flea market near her home. One day she was drawn toward a little Presbyterian Church near the market. The sweet sounds of music appealed to her in her weariness. The sounds of hymns sung by older women floated through open windows and the sounds of music drew her in.
One day she entered the church and stood in the back and listened to the singing. She repeated this on many Sundays, always careful to leave before the sermon. She would sing along with the hymns, writing, “I could sing better there than any where else.” The people did not push her. They loved her and gave her room to find her way. Through their love Lamott found healing and transformation. Ann Lamott continues to be a part of this congregation to this day.
I often wonder who may enter this place, like Ann Lamott, on a Sunday morning, needing to hear the music of God’s grace, needing to find their way, and needing our love and gentle encouragement to find healing. In this place, that may be a running away place, may we come to discover God’s presence and say, “Surely the Lord was in this place and we did not know it.”
The second story comes on the eve of Jacob meeting with his brother, Esau. He’s afraid and he goes to place by himself to be alone. There is a man there, a mysterious representative of God and the two of them wrestle all night long. At the end of the night the man blesses Jacob with a limp and a new name, Israel, which means “one who strives with God.” Jacob names this place Peniel or “the face of God.”
Jacob wrestles with the man, but he also wrestles with the truth about himself. He is wrestling with his faith in God. We must do the same spiritual work as we become honest about who we are. This can be painful and difficult work.
Years ago I saw a cartoon of 2 little boys who were looking through an anatomy book and seeing drawings of internal organs. One little boy says, “It’s not very pretty but it’s who we are on the inside.” We try to put up a good front. We avoid being vulnerable. We are afraid of what people will think of us. But to encounter God, we must be honest and confessional.
We wrestle with our faith, where there are no pat answers to the difficult questions of life. We work through our faith with fear and trembling, but God is there to help us. This is a good place to wrestle with our faith and find people who will love us and walk alongside of us and give us room to question and learn and grow.
These Jacob stories are about places, but they are not merely geographical places or places where Jacob has run to hide, but they are places where Jacob is surprised by the presence of God. They are sacred places where God turns the ordinary into something holy.
They are the places where Jacob is able to move forward in this covenant with God. Each encounter changes him and moves him forward in his faith and prepares him to be the leader of a nation. The stories invite us to remember and revisit those places, those moments, those turning points, which moved us closer to God.
There is a lot of grace in these Jacob stories. If we had met Jacob at his running away places, we would have given him a good tongue lashing, but God meets him there and gives him a blessing and a promise and a beautiful vision of ascending and descending angels.
Grace always surprises us! Maybe we came here this morning expecting judgment and condemnation. Maybe we felt we deserved that. But we were surprised to find God in this place and our God meets us here with love, grace and forgiveness. It is in God’s extravagant grace that we find healing and transformation.
Maybe we came here as ones who are running away and were surprised to run right into the very arms of God.
Maybe we came here wrestling with some truth about ourselves or we are wrestling with issues of faith (or doubt). We found a safe and grace filled place to be honest and vulnerable. We found blessing and hope for new way forward. We found God and said with Jacob, “Surely the Lord is in this place!”