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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In scripture, there is a prescription for healing. In the book of Proverbs 17:22 we read that, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” This can only lead to humorous anecdotes. On day Jesus walked into a coffee shop, where he approached three sad-faced gentlemen at a table. He greeted the first one. “What’s troubling you, brother?” The man answered, “My eyes. I keep getting stronger and stronger glasses, and I still can’t see.” Jesus touched the man, who ran outside to tell the world about his now 20-20 vision. The next gentleman couldn’t hear Jesus’ questions, so the Lord just touched his ears, restoring his hearing to perfection. This man, too, ran out the door, probably on his way to the audiologist to get a hearing-aid refund. The third man, an auto-worker, leapt from his chair and backed up against the wall, even before Jesus could greet him. “Don’t you come near me, man! Don’t touch me!” he screamed, “I’m on sick leave! And I prefer to keep it that way.”
Or there is the story of Jesus making a quick return to earth for a visit. He came upon a lame man. He had compassion on him, and healed his leg. Further down the road, Jesus came upon a man who could not speak. He, had compassion on him, and healed him, and the man went off praising God. A little further down the road, Jesus came upon a man sitting on the curb sobbing his heart out. Jesus asked him what was wrong. The man cried out in agony, “I’m a pastor!” Jesus sat down beside him, put his arm around him… and cried too.
Yes, the Bible often portrays Jesus as a miracle worker, but you and I know personally, that not all of our prayers for healing are answered. We offer petitions of intercession for those we love, for those wandering in the no man’s land of sickness, and sometimes for ourselves. Yes, we trust that miracles occur- and that people do rise again, and give thanks for God’s mercy. But we also know the discouragement, frustration and loss many people feel instead. And so we wonder: How do people remain faithful to God, when their prayers have left them empty? It is common experience, even among God’s, trusting people- even among his most devoted disciples.
Last Sunday, we began reading the 2nd Letter to Timothy. It is one of the three pastoral letters or epistles attributed St. Paul and directed to the early Christian leaders shepherding this fledgling church. It is traditionally regarded as the apostle’s last will and testament to his devoted, and beloved disciple Timothy. In the face of his suffering and imminent death, St. Paul encouraged him to stand firm in faith for the sake of his ministry. He challenged him to be good courage and to not lose hope.
My friends, this morning let us to turn our thoughts as well to this counsel to Timothy that gives light and hope in the midst of despair and illness, so that we too may give thanks.
According to tradition, St. Paul was in prison in Rome, preparing for his execution, when he wrote his second letter to Timothy. He could have been just as poignantly been facing a great a hurdle of faith such as illness or unanswered prayers. He knew that it was work to cling to the promise of faith, to embrace it tightly with all your power and strength. And so he lifted up before Timothy, example of men and women who had remained faithful in spite of their circumstances. St. Paul commended Timothy to reflect on the faith of his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice for their steadfast faith in Jesus Christ. These were living and personal witnesses of the hope of the Christian faith. They lived a s persecuted minority in the dominant Greek society, these two women had led to Timothy to know Christ. They studied and meditated on the promises of scripture, and they taught Timothy to know God through his Word.
Now why was scripture so important, you may be wondering? Too often we teach the faith to our children as a series of morality tales. We want them to learn how to live well and be good We draw from the scripture stories of people who did the right thing and those who did the wrong thing. We hope our children grasp the idea that God is good, leading to success, and that Satan is bad, leading to failure. Yes, we tell our children plenty of good Bible stories, but do we tell them the whole story? Do we tell them that God is present even in their suffering and illness?
Our children cannot trust in the old, old story of Jesus and his love without knowing the whole tale of his life with sorrows and suffering. And neither can you or I. Lois and Eunice knew that, and from an early age, they shared with Timothy the story of God’s life with his people in the past and his promises for the future. My friends, you will not grow in faith by merely meditating on the pleasant stories and parables.
St. Paul then lifted up his own life of trials, imprisonment, and of enduring all things. Even though he suffered for the sake of the gospel, St. Paul would not give in – or give up. “Join with me in suffering for the gospel.”
It’s a favorite story of mine by Paolo Coehlo, “A man spent hours watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. It managed to make a small hole, but its body was too large to get through it. After a long struggle, it appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still. The man decided to help the butterfly and, with a pair of scissors, he cut open the cocoon, thus releasing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s body was very small and wrinkled and its wings were all crumpled. The man continued to watch, hoping that, at any moment, the butterfly would open its wings and fly away. Nothing happened; in fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its brief life dragging around its shrunken body and shrivelled wings, incapable of flight. What the man – out of kindness and his eagerness to help – had failed to understand was that the tight cocoon and the efforts that the butterfly had to make in order to squeeze out of that tiny hole were Nature’s way of training the butterfly and of strengthening its wings. It’s what St. Paul understood about suffering. It shouldn’t be avoided or denied. Sometimes, a little extra effort is precisely what prepares us for the next obstacle to be faced. Anyone who refuses to make that effort, or gets the wrong sort of help, is left unprepared to fight the next battle and never manages to fly off to their destiny.”
And if this was not encouragement enough to keep up the good fight, St. Paul directed Timothy to the source of strength and promise that would always be a part of his life and stand against every obstacle. For Jesus Christ, he wrote, had already abolished death and had brought immortality to life. “So remember, Jesus Christ, raised from the dead. That is my gospel”
It might seem a rather strange that St. Paul would need to remind Timothy of the most fundamental truth of the Christian faith. Indeed, it might seem strange that you and I need to be reminded of this as well. But for Timothy, there was a very real threat of persecution, there were divisions within the Christian community; there were differences in matters of faith and practice. Timothy, himself, might have felt just a little over-whelmed by it all. He needed to be reminded, that God had not given him a spirit of cowardice, but that he had given him a power and love and self-control. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead. That is my gospel.” God has done the same for you. You see, as Christians, we do not commemorate a dead hero, but we celebrate a living Lord. But sometimes, in the midst of loss and illness, we can lose sight of that bigger picture.
We often expect wisdom and insight from those preparing to die, and we remember those who have faced illness and death with a sense of integrity and purpose with great respect. In the face of death, Apple founder Steve Jobs wrote, “No one want to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it.” Although English author and theologian C. S. Lewis struggled with the death of American wife, Joy Davidman, after only 4 years of marriage, he could write, “Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.” And I remember my brother courageously fighting against cancer to the very last day, and only then did he say “whispering” that t was time for Plan B. Grief comes to all of us. But what a Plan B we have been given. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised form the dead. That is my gospel.”
For St. Paul, it wasn’t simply the assurance of being with Jesus that he could endure such suffering and sorrow. But it was also the assurance of a great day of being restored to those we have love which Jesus Christ won through his resurrection. “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him….We who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them….And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” They will be a day, when your pain and sorrow will cease. That my friends, will be a true day of healing. So remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.
Regretfully, your prayers for healing may not be answered- in this life. Suffering may be a part of your journey- in this this life. Illness may be a part of the journey of your love one- in this life. But my friends, that is not the whole story. There will come a day, when healing will restore your life- and when your loved one will be restored to you. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.” His life, will be your life. His joy, will be your joy, and his healing, will be your healing. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.