Posts Tagged heal

An Apostolic Care Act – Bill Leonard* – Baptist News Global

Bill LeonardFirst a confession: As a result of recent healthcare debates, Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress got me to listen to Jesus in a way I’ve not listened before. And apparently I’m not alone.

On June 9, representatives of some 34 diverse religious groups signed onto a letter urging senators not to cut Medicaid as a lifeline to those with health needs. (Medicaid funds 64 percent of nursing care patients and 54 percent of childbirths in the U.S.)  The document declares: “Access to affordable, quality health care should not and cannot be a privilege; it is a requirement rooted in faith to protect the life and dignity of every person.” Signers include NETWORK, a Catholic justice lobby; the Islamic Society of North America; the Union of Reformed Judaism; and denominations such as the Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Presbyterian Church USA and the National Council of Churches. (No Baptist communions are listed.)

I’ve long been haunted by the 10th chapters of Matthew and Luke, passages in which Jesus sends out his first apostolic reps, the Twelve (Matthew) and the Seventy (Luke). They are lessons in gospel minimalism, the first inkling of how Jesus understood and enacted his witness in the world, trusting those folks to help take the Story on the road. Teaching new generations of seminarians compelled me to consider the calling Jesus extended, the message he instructed them (and us) to declare, and the messengers’ inevitable vulnerability.

In classes and ordination services, I’ve warned would-be ministers that the “sent ones” are vulnerable from the start. Jesus advises: “Don’t take purse, shoes, a change of clothes, or an ATM card [postmodern update]. Depend on God’s Beloved Community to sustain you.” He even throws in: “And when you are arrested.” Not if, but when. That alone should scare a bit of the persistent hell out of us. I even got the part about their message: “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven [God’s New Day] has come near.’”

But after years of making a big deal out of Matthew/Luke 10, I mostly missed the depth of the passage, the first element of Jesus’ commissioning. “He gave them authority,” Matthew writes, “over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and cure every disease and every sickness.” Going out, they are to “cure the sick, raise the dead [?], cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” Jesus demands that they confront human suffering as readily as they declare God’s good news!

Holy Obamacare! Two thousand years later, our nation confronts questions over caring for those who need healing from “preexisting conditions,” require cleansing from years of chronic pain — physical, mental, spiritual — and those whose demons of alcohol, opioids, or arrogance need to be cast out. No, we can’t raise the dead, but can we keep folks from dying too soon, or get them to hospice so they can die with dignity?

We still don’t know what our government will do about the Affordable Care Act, but we do know that from the very beginning Jesus mandated an Apostolic Care Act of all who would follow him, who would work for and with people who are suffering, overlooked, and underserved. Whatever else, the Jesus Story has both physical and spiritual implications.

National health care conversations and controversies force us to reexamine our own churchly mission and ministry. What if health care legislation becomes so draconian and human need so great that churches have to initiate or expand community clinics, not because Obamacare is repealed, but because Jesus requires it? Even that won’t be enough. A friend reports being in a meeting where someone declared that if churches would only do their duty, health insurance wouldn’t be necessary. To which my friend responded: “When you start doing surgery in the fellowship hall, call me.”

Some Christian communities are responding with their own initiatives. Medi-share is a Christian based program that asks participants to select the monthly amount they wish to contribute, and, if they do not need it themselves, to contribute it toward the care of others persons in the system. The needs of participants are published online and contributions to their health care are funded to them directly from Medi-share. I don’t know how effective this is, but it illustrates a faith-based alternative.

My own hesitancy to claim Jesus’ first-century healing admonitions inured me to the depth of his concern for persons’ physical well-being and its continuing imperative. He won’t let any of us off the hook. At the end of Matthew 10 Jesus sweeps us up with a minimal mandate for all disciples: We may be unable to hit the road for the kingdom, heal the sick, cleanse lepers, cast out demons, or get arrested for the gospel’s sake. But we can all give “a cup of cold water to one of these little ones” in the church and the world.

Indeed, in behalf of the “little ones,” we may even need to get prophetic. In Prophecy without Contempt, Cathleen Kaveny says that prophets provide a “kind of moral chemotherapy … a brutal but necessary response to aggressive forms of moral malignancy.” Should legislators link healthcare cuts with tax breaks for the rich, some prophet might remind them that Original Sin is a preexisting condition.

*Dr. Bill Leonard spoke at the Hamrick Lectures at First Baptist Church of Charleston. He speaks with a clear voice.

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Resurrection, for us and the planet: Just add water – Rev. Susan Sparks

This sermon in recognition of Earth Day was preached on Easter Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. April 21, 2017 Baptist News Global

It was in the wee hours of Easter morning 1971 that I crawled out of bed in my Road Runner pajamas and tip-toed into the living room to see what treasures the Easter bunny might have left. I could see the basket from the hallway; there was the usual chocolate rabbit, some plastic eggs, a few marshmallow peeps and … could it be? Yes, nestled among the rabbit and the eggs was a box complete with a tiny aquarium, food, magic powder, and ready to hatch Sea-Monkeys.

Anyone who lived through the 1970s knows this ridiculous toy. It was almost as dumb as the Pet Rock, but not quite, since it actually did something. Sea-Monkeys were marketed as pets, but were in reality freeze-dried brine shrimp that would miraculously come to life if you would, as the package said, “Just add water.”

Ecstatic, I ran into the kitchen, took my little packet of magic powder, poured it into some water, and in a few minutes, the water began to transform. The little dried specs got bigger and bigger, and then finally started swimming around. It was literally resurrection. Just add water!

Goofy as the 1970s Sea-Monkeys were, I decided that image was appropriate for Easter, especially Easter 2017, because our resurrection — creation’s resurrection — turns on whether we just add water.

This idea first came to me in March when I attended a multi-day conference at Trinity Episcopal Church on Wall Street where they talked about the existential crisis we faced on this planet over water. But it fully solidified while I was preparing for Good Friday and I was reading the passion story from the Gospel of John.

As you probably remember in the story, Jesus utters two phrases before he dies on the cross. The last one we all know: “It is finished.” But the one before that is one we don’t always focus on and it’s only told in the Gospel of John. The moment before Jesus gives up his spirit, he says these three words: “I am thirsty” (John 19:28).

The obvious assumption is that this was a request to quench a burning physical thirst as Jesus had been on the cross for hours. However, I believe there was a deeper meaning. For in that moment, Jesus thirsted not only for literal water, but for living water — for God. Jesus’ story is our story, too.

Like Christ, we are thirsty. Some of us are thirsty for literal water, but all of us are thirsty for living water. And our survival — our resurrection — depends on quenching that thirst.

Sadly, some of that thirst is literal. Most of us have no idea what it truly means to say, “I am thirsty,” in a literal sense, but over 700 million brothers and sisters on this planet sure do. On this planet, over 700 million people lack access to safe water and more than two billion do not have adequate sanitation, including 210 million citizens in the United States.

And it’s not only the lack of clean water, it’s the lack of water in general. In two generations, scientists are predicting that most of the then nine billion people on Earth will live with severe pressure on fresh water.

And for anyone listening who thinks global warming is “fake news,” let me share this. Within the last year, NASA satellites have been able to use gravitational measurements to calculate that more than half of Earth’s 37 largest aquifers, our underground water supply, is being depleted.

Those aquifers, which take thousands of years to fill, supply 35 percent of the water used by humans worldwide. The satellites showed that 21 of the world’s largest aquifers from India and China to France and the United States have passed their sustainability tipping points, meaning more water is being taken out than replaced — tapped for everything from mining to gas exploration to — irrigation. As one of the senior NASA scientists put it, “We’re running out of water.”

Yet, even with these terrifying scientific findings, none of us seems to really care, especially here in our privileged Western world. Oh, sure, we’ll read about it, maybe even watch a water documentary on Nat Geo, all the while sipping our Evian water, our dishwashers humming happily in the background.

America is one of the worst abusers of water, from our giant waterparks and carwashes, to the precious water being guzzled by our perfectly manicured lawns, to our desert oases where we drain the life blood from our water tables so that things like the Fountains of Bellagio can continue.

We would be wise to remember the words of Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town: “We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”

If we would stop for one moment and listen, we would hear our brothers and sisters crying, “I am thirsty.”

If we would stop for one moment and listen, we would hear our Earth crying, “I am thirsty.”

And then, and only then, might we realize that our resurrection — our survival — depends on quenching that thirst.

But as I said earlier, there are two kinds of thirst. Some of us thirst for literal water, but all of us thirst — emotionally, psychologically, spiritually — for living water. And that thirst comes in many forms.

Some of us thirst for meaning and direction because our dreams have dried up.

Some of us thirst for mercy, a place of forgiveness, a second chance.

Some of us thirst for love.

Some of us are thirsty for health, for an end to chronic pain or disease.

Some of us are thirsty for justice, for an end to hatred and bigotry, for righteousness to roll down like a mighty stream.

Many thirst for confidence in our government leaders.

Most of us are thirsty for peace, for a world where we once again feel safe, a world where we don’t wonder, every time we get on the subway, if our neighbor with the large backpack is carrying a bomb.

We are all thirsty. All of creation. Some thirst for literal water, and all of us for living water. And the message this Easter 2017 is that resurrection is possible. We just add water.

But what does that mean in real terms?

There is a sign over the doorway of the chapel run by Mother Teresa, and that sign has four words: “I thirst, I quench.” It was her belief that when we offer a cup of water to those in need, we are also offering water to Jesus on that cross. We are quenching his thirst.

Remember Jesus’ own words in Matthew: “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. What you did for least of these, you did for me” (Matthew 25:35, 40).

In quenching Jesus’ thirst, we quench our own. It is in serving him that we are healed. It is in following him to the tomb that we are brought to life by the angels.

Jesus says in John, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. … Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). When we quench Jesus’ thirst, we heal ourselves because we are connecting with the living water of God.

We are facing existential threats to our planet. We are witnesses to life and death issues with our global brothers and sisters. And we face a crisis of meaning and hope in our own lives.

And that is exactly where Jesus was on Good Friday: an existential crisis, a life and death moment, a crisis of meaning and hope. But that was not the end of his story, nor is it the end of ours. For on Easter, his thirst was quenched, and the living waters rushed back in. And so it can be for us as well.

We have the power to resurrect this planet.

We have the power to heal the suffering and resurrect the lives of many of our global brothers and sisters.

We have the power to resurrect our own hearts.

And here’s how we’re going to do it.

Starting tomorrow morning, when you wake up, I want you to do two things:

First, drink a glass of water. Why? Because we must start our day by quenching our thirst for literal water and for living water.

We all know that literal water hydrates our bodies, bringing us strength and stamina and health.

But that glass of water is also a connection to living water. As in Genesis, the spirit of God still hovers over the waters. Water is the source of life; it was God’s first creation; 65 percent of the human body is water, 72 percent of the Earth’s surface is water, and in its image is the face of the Holy. Drinking a glass of water is the ultimate prayer, for by doing so, we are taking in literal and living water.

Then, the second item for the day: find a way to quench someone else’s thirst.

If you see someone thirsty for literal water, give them a drink. Donate or work with an organization that fights to provide access to clean water. Strive to cut down your own use of water to help quench the thirst of the Earth.

Or if you find someone is thirsty for living water, then quench their thirst as Christ would — quench it with love, with mercy, with compassion, with justice and hospitality, patience, fairness, forgiveness, and humility.

As the old saying goes, “We are healed to help others. We are blessed to be a blessing. And we are saved in order to serve.”

A few weeks ago, a bit of rain fell in Death Valley — one of the hottest, driest places on Earth, water being a rarity. But sure enough, a bit of rain came and fell on the dry, lifeless valley of death. And suddenly that desert exploded in wildflowers with brilliant colors and blossoms of all imaginable types. It was life exploding out of death.

As followers of a risen Christ, we too have that gift of a second chance, we too have the power to heal, to mend, to pour life back into a lifeless planet, to pour love back into a loveless world, and to quench our deep thirst for living water. Through Christ, we have the power of resurrection. All we have to do … is just add water.

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Consider How Your Words Can Heal or Hurt – James Gordon – Ethics Daily

Consider How Your Words Can Heal or Hurt | James Gordon, Speech, Civility, Lent

I am persuaded that an ethic of language, a care for the words we speak and for the words we hear, is a crucial aspect of Christian witness, Gordon says. (Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The first clause of the theological masterpiece, which is the Gospel of John, proclaims “In the beginning was the Word.”

The first words of God at the beginning of all things, according to that equally remarkable meteor of theology, the creation story in Genesis, are “And God said, ‘Let there be light.'”

For Christians, those two moments of divine articulation should be enough to teach us respect, indeed reverence, for words.

Whether written or spoken, words have performative power. They make things happen, they have an impact, they influence for good or ill, persuade of truth or lie, affirm or diminish, enlighten or deceive, liberate or oppress, heal or hurt.

As a Christian, I have a responsibility to give an account of my words. Indeed, Jesus warned that the day would come when we will give an account of every word we have spoken (Matthew 12:36).

Now there’s a warning for the biblical literalist self-righteously ramming their words of truth down other people’s throats.

Elsewhere in the gospels, there’s a quite different scenario – a Roman centurion, a man of few words and most of them were orders to other people (Matthew 8:5-13).

His personal servant is about to die, but he has heard Jesus is a healer, someone who speaks with authority. So he uses his networks and his influence, he sends Jewish elders to bring Jesus.

To cut a short story shorter, the centurion gets a message to Jesus, “Say the word and my servant will be healed.”

Now there’s a man who knows what words are for, who understands the power of the spoken word, someone used to seeing the performative power of words.

We live in a culture buried under words and blinded by an endless supply of new or familiar flickering images.

We hear so much, we are losing our hearing; we see so much our sight is blurring from image overload.

But staying with words for the present, Marilyn Chandler McIntyre, in her book, “Caring for Words in a World of Lies,” states with prophetic frankness, “Like any other life-sustaining resource, language can be depleted, polluted, contaminated, eroded and filled with artificial stimulants.”

I am persuaded that an ethic of language, a care for the words we speak and for the words we hear, is a crucial aspect of Christian witness.

From the praise songs we sing to the texts we send; from our conversations at work to the confidences we hold in trust for others; from the jokes we tell and laugh at to the lies we refuse to tell; from the clever put downs of those we dislike to the caring affirmations of other people’s worth; language carries with it obligations to which the follower of Jesus has to attend.

That’s why this Lent we should consider the nature of language – what it is that we do when we speak words to each other, how to endow words with sacramental significance so that speech becomes a means of grace, a strengthening of the soul in ourselves and others, and an influence for good, compassion, truthfulness and conciliation in our society.

I’m tired of cliché and spin, of the conspiracy, not of silence, but of unworthy words spoken in half-truth – evasive rather than clarifying, cruel rather than compassionate, empty of human communion rather than full of attentive human presence.

At a time when the Western world near absolutizes freedom of speech and expression, it’s time to examine much more closely the proper constraints on speech and expression.

It is time, too, to recognize the power of language to dehumanize and diminish other human beings in the interests of our own agendas, prejudices and unacknowledged as well as confessed enmities.

James Gordon is part-time minister of Montrose Baptist Church in Angus, Scotland, and the former principal of the Scottish Baptist College. He is on the advisory board of the Centre for Ministry Studies, University of Aberdeen, and continues as an occasional lecturer on practical theology and areas of ministry. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Living Wittily, and is used with permission.

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Words Are Powerful

Words are powerful weapons. Words are lethal. Words can kill. On those many occasions when I displeased my parents as I was growing up, a paddling was short-lived, but those tongue-lashings were designed to rip my heart out. “How could you worry your mother like that?  What were you thinking about? Don’t you have any pride?”

Many issues have grown so complex in our society that we try to manage them by reducing them to a single word or phrase. We then attempt to pigeonhole people by putting one of those preconceived labels on them. We know that this is wrong and that we are committing an injustice against that person, but that doesn’t seem to stop us.

All of us know that words are continuously coming in or falling out of favor. People who must face the public regularly live in constant dread of using the inappropriate word. Today words must be politically correct. Words are powerful. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” “I have a dream.”

Who among us has not been trapped or embarrassed by our own words? Remember the dramatic impact of those words, “Mission accomplished,” when they were first uttered?  Those words were not used by President Obama when he addressed the nation to announce the end of American troops fighting in Iraq. Those two words became devastating words to the former administration.

We were driving home from church one Sunday when our children were still in elementary school. “Daddy,” Michael began, “Let’s eat out.”

“Michael,” I began. “We just ate out yesterday. We can’t eat out every day.”

“We can if we try,” he exclaimed. I heard my own words coming back at me. Not a comfortable feeling. “But you said,” is always a powerful and difficult statement to defend against.

In spite of all the problems inherit in choosing just the right word or perhaps more accurately avoiding the taboo word, words are wonderful things. Words delight the soul, warm the heart and fire the imagination.  Think about how much time and care we put into choosing just the right names for our children. We want the names to be exactly right. The results are worth the efforts we make. We will reap great dividends if we take the same care in choosing the words we use in our conversations and public appearances.

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