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Living as a Believer: Healing From the Inside Out

peterandthebeggarActs 3: 1-16
Introduction to the reading
In our reading for this morning, we encounter the disciple Peter once again.  You may remember that Peter is the brash, impetuous one who dared to declare about Jesus, “You are the Messiah!”; and the one who dared also to get out of the boat and walk on water – at least briefly; and the one who avowed to Jesus, “I will not desert you, I will not deny you.”

But, of course, he did do that.  The memory of it - sitting around in the courtyard, warming himself over a fire while Jesus was being interrogated - must have been terribly painful.

The post-resurrection Peter is a changed man.  As if to atone for his sorry cowardly behavior, Peter becomes the great orator of the emerging church as Paul would later become its theologian.  Today, at a gate of the temple, he takes the opportunity to preach … and to heal.

Sermon
Many of you have come to Peapack Reformed Church out of a Roman Catholic tradition and upbringing.  As elder Barbara D. often says at our new member classes, “I was born Catholic.”

For one reason or another, people leave the Catholic Church and find other places to worship, as many of you have: becoming unacceptable because of divorce; growing disagreements with church pronouncements or prohibitions; discomfort with authoritarianism; or, as with so many churches of any denomination, a disaffection with religion and church-going itself.

But how you were raised and what you have learned about church, religion and faith remains with you forever.  That is why it is so important not to neglect our children’s spiritual education and the practice of our faith – for our children’s and grandchildren’s sake and their future sustenance - as much as for our own.

I’ve told the story before of the man I met at Somerset Medical Center when I took the Clinical Pastoral Education course during seminary.  I forget his name now, but I remember that he was Roman Catholic, and a priest did come to see him regularly.  This man was elderly and he was dying.  He could not speak; he could barely move.  On my visit to his room – visiting patients on One East was part of my student practice - I prayed, beginning to end our brief time together with the Lord’s Prayer.  Out of the depths of his memory and being, he prayed with me, and in a strong voice, too.  I was amazed and moved.  The prayer was a healing experience for him, not for his body, for that was far gone.  But obviously, continuous healing for his soul, his spirit; the Lord’s Prayer had carried him through life until the end.

As my thoughts have meandered around Catholicism, the phrase, “just say the word and my soul will be healed”, said before partaking of the Eucharist, came to mind.  It comes from Matthew 8, Verses 5 to 13, where a centurion appeals to Jesus to ask for healing for his paralyzed servant.  Jesus offers to come to the centurion’s home, but he replies, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word and my servant will be healed.” The words express the faith by which we, who are in need of healing, approach Jesus, the divine Physician.

Scripture gives us many occasions where Jesus healed physically: the centurion’s servant, the leper made clean, two blind men, the man with the withered hand, the sick, the maimed, the blind, the deaf – he cured them all.

After the resurrection, the power to heal the sick in the name of Jesus was given over to the apostles.  We read in Acts, Chapter 5, that many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles... they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by.  Just cast a shadow, just give a look, just say the word...

It was just a few days before that Peter had healed the crippled beggar, the story that you heard.  The people who saw this man, who had been lame, now walking and leaping and praising God, were amazed at what had happened.  And so Peter became like an idol to them.

But Peter seizes the opportunity to preach what was really happening.  Because Peter knows – and Scripture is trying to teach us - that physical healing is always also spiritual healing.  He says:

You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by your own power or piety we had made him walk?  The God of Abraham … the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant. … And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong … the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

Physical healing and spiritual healing go hand in hand, just as Jesus is the perfect intersection between the physical and the spiritual.

The passage from the Gospel of Luke, which was read earlier, illustrates.  Over the three years of Jesus’ ministry, the disciples had tried to understand the miracles, the preaching and teaching, the explanations of who he was, but they often had trouble putting it all together.  They knew Jesus as a man, who walked with them and talked with them.  Then they had seen his body hung on the cross; they saw him dead.  But then… the tomb was empty and that question from the man in white:  why do you look for the living among the dead?

Now he was here…  They must be seeing a ghost.  But no… they touch his body; they hand him a piece of broiled fish and he eats it, right in front of them.  

What is the point here?  That our God, in the person of Jesus, is not simply a disembodied ghost being, not merely a philosophical concept or an intellectual argument or a metaphor.  God in the person of Jesus is real, the perfect intersection of the physical and the spiritual.

And it is in the book known as the Acts of the Apostles that we are seeing the power of understanding that.

As disciples and apostles of Jesus in the 21st century, we do not have the ability to heal anyone physically by just saying a word, the word.  But living as believers in Jesus the Christ, we do have the power to begin or reinforce spiritual healing, healing from the inside out, even when someone’s physical life may be ebbing away.

Spiritual healing comes with the simple presence of one with another, perhaps a prayer, a meal, a word of understanding, the holding of hands, a poem or story read, a song sung together.  Spiritual healing enables a person to cope with what is devastating; to help lift depression; to relieve loneliness; to talk about trouble.  Spiritual healing is God’s compassion, mercy and grace.  Living as believers in Jesus the Christ, this is what you can do for others.  Many of you already do…

As a result of the survey this congregation undertook last spring, Consistory has posted on the hallway bulletin board a number of ideas - with sign-up cards – that you suggested for involving and engaging with one another in fellowship and service.   One of these – the Pasta Dinner on April 28 – is underway.  The other two most popular suggestions were a buddy system and group lunch for our senior members and visiting homebound or ill church members.  Who will organize these?  Who will begin?  Consistory hopes that one of you disciples will come forward…  

And there’s no need to wait… for a new pastor to start, for the summer, for the fall, no need to put anything off.  Healing begins from inside the body – and now you are the body of Christ.

And now to the One who is able to accomplish abundantly far more than anything we can ask or imagine, to God be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
April 15, 2018

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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