Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1339
February 25, 2018 - Wholeness Service Exodus 31:12-17; James 5:13-20
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus
“A Life of Wholeness”
To Understand Wholeness
Today we are celebrating and focusing upon God’s capacity and purpose for wholeness. We might call it healing or restoration or even shalom, the Hebrew word we commonly use for peace which also encapsulates a sense of wholeness. To understand wholeness is somewhat like peace in that peace is not just the absence of conflict or war, but it is the presence of something. Wholeness is not just the absence of disease or sickness, but it is the presence of God, the presence of calm, the presence of a non-anxious demeanor. That is to say that we can be at peace even in the midst of a conflict and that we can have wholeness in our life within the pain of illness. So what we are seeking today is healing, yes, but also a particular hope and shalom within our being even if our ailment continues. We seek more than just healing, but a wholeness that goes beyond our healing.
Two stories illustrate this, the first from Luke 13:10-17
10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.
This woman had a disabling spirit, bent over, later said to be bound by Satan. Jesus heals her physical wound - “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” This is the point of healing. What Jesus does in verse 16 is bring her to a point of wholeness. “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham” In naming and reclaiming her identity as a daughter of Abraham, Jesus has made her whole again. It may be a subtle move, but it is a proclamation of wholeness, in my understanding, because it releases her from the label of “bound by Satan” as one loosed from all bondage.
Another story from Luke 10:11-19
11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Once again we have a case of healing, that is, the cleansing of an illness upon these ten lepers. But notice what happen after the one returns to give thanks, Jesus says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” He was already healed, but now something more has happened. He is made whole. In turning around to give thanks, his healing has become more, much more than cleaning up the disease, but it is also a wholeness of being outside and inside.
Today I want to invite us to consider that God may bring healing. God may bring wholeness. God may bring something we do not expect or even realize at this moment, but God will bring something. That may indeed include deliverance from an illness, or it may mean growth in our faith, it could mean something within us that needs to die in order that we might live that little bit more, or it could challenge our commitment to Jesus Christ. This is more than physical healing. Today we consider what God desires for us physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, that is, in all aspects of our being – we seek wholeness in any area of our lives where we may be broken. I do not know what wholeness will mean for each of us, but what I trust is that health in spirit, mind, and body comes when we become more aware of the wholeness made possible in Christ.
Wholeness may not mean that we will be healed from every disease or suffering in our lives. In fact, such suffering may be a way to come to understand the suffering of Christ and thus the wholeness of being what we are, a group of suffering and broken people who are totally dependent upon God to get us through another day.
The Rhythm of Wholeness
Whose got rhythm? I’ve got rhythm, you’ve got rhythm. It may not be the rhythm you first think about, but we have a sense of rhythm built into created order. One way to reclaim the wholeness God has for us is through the rhythm of Sabbath. Our wholeness and healing process is, in part, about keeping commandment. Among those commandments is the Sabbath command.
God gave us the Sabbath for our benefit. Jesus says in Mark 2: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (2:27). What does keeping the Sabbath have to do with wholeness and healing? Even God keeps Sabbath as we see in Exodus 31. God worked six days and then rested on the seventh. The amazing part of that scripture is that it concludes with the words, “and God was refreshed.” Refreshment is not something we think of God ever needing, but the Hebrew implies that God expended himself in the work of creation and on the seventh day God needed to rest and get refreshment, to get something back of God that had been expended in creation. God’s wholeness was refreshed. That is a strange thought and you might not to consider it even possible. But I’ll let you wrestle with the text itself on what God’s refreshment means. Where I think we all can agree, is that we need rest and refreshment! We need to take care of ourselves in ways that may give us needed rest and regained wholeness.
Wholeness is connected to the Sabbath because in the rhythm and balance of work and rest. We find the kind of balance in our lives that promotes wholeness. In keeping God’s command we find our center and our stability for life. Wholeness is about more than just being healed from a disease or injury, but about spiritual, emotional, physical balance in our lives. God commanded rest and refreshment in and through keeping Sabbath. It is part of God’s design for us to get rest, wholeness, health, well-being, and part of that design is in the rhythm of honoring the Sabbath.
A pace of life that excludes Sabbath diminishes the wholeness God intends for life. Sabbath frees us to stop, to reflect, to be refreshed, to cease, to rest, to embrace, and to feast. We find in the Sabbath who we are and whose we are. We find the peace of God and the God of peace. We discover order in the midst of our chaos. Sabbath reminds us that wholeness is possible because it reminds us that God is in our midst, that God loves us, cares for us, and redeems us from all that would take away our peace.
Today is a Sabbath to the Lord; it is our Sabbath, given for our well-being, our wholeness in life. The encouraging word is to keep the Sabbath so that we might position ourselves for complete wholeness as God’s new creations in Christ. We also need something of a soul rest. The soul is under attack. Modernity, the modern way of life tends to rob the soul of what it needs to flourish, and when the soul is diminished, life is increasingly difficult and splintered and, well, more painful.
The Prayer for Wholeness
The letter of James reminds us that those who are suffering should pray, those who are cheerful should sing, and those who are sick should call the elders for prayer and anointing with oil. James gives us instruction in the practice of the church for wholeness. Healing in James is tied to confession and prayer and anointing. We are encouraged to look to one another and to God for support and prayer. Are any among you suffering? Are any among you sick? These are the questions of James that seek to bring wholeness. We may suffer from depression, God seeks to give us hope. We may suffer from the pain of a broken relationship, God seeks to bring reconciliation. We may suffer the sadness of loss, God will restore us. We may be sick in our physical body, God heals. We may be sick in attitude, God may lead us to a renewal of the mind. We may be sick in our spirit, only God can renew our deepest yearning.
We may broaden our prayer for wholeness – that God would heal our land, our nation – that God would bring wholeness to the world through peace. We can lift in prayer our veterans, for their wholeness and healing from the scars of war both physical and psychological. We might pray for the economy, governments, systems and structures that are incomplete. Wholeness may come through justice or generosity or love. Our hope is that we might offer to God everything that is not whole and seek God’s healing and wholeness.
Psalm 34 is a classic prayer for restoration and healing.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all (34.17-19).
We can lift our deepest self to God and we will be heard. Part of our healing process is first in crying out to God. The first step is to offer our prayer to God. In that prayer we demonstrate trust in God’s attentiveness. In turning to God we confess that only God can help us. Part of our wholeness is gaining the freedom that allows us to give our deepest self over to God in prayer.
In that cry to God we discover the wholeness we have in God and we find that all of our pain, all of our dis-ease, all of our anxiety, any incompleteness can be poured out to God. But we tend to hold back from God. Maybe it is that we feel unworthy in our dis-ease. Maybe we fear what wholeness could mean for us. Sometimes we become comfortable in our pain willing to keep it in, thinking that we can hide it from God.
What we need to regain is a confidence in the God who is our shepherd. Restoration, another word for wholeness is a vital part of our beloved Psalm 23,
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
The first point in the Psalm is that we shall not want, that means we shall want for nothing, we shall lack nothing, including wholeness. The second point for our purposes this morning is that God restores us and in particular our souls. I believe there is a deep connection between body and soul. Oft times when the soul is in need of restoration the body is also in need of wholeness. It’s not always the case, but many times our dis-ease of the physical is directly related to our dis-ease within our souls.
I can’t leave this section on prayer without mentioning Proverbs 3.5-8,
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. Trust in God, not in ourselves. Acknowledge God in prayer and in praise. Fear the Lord. These are all ways we might find a healing of our flesh and a refreshment of our bones. Flesh and bones are the complete person, like inside and out, and I believe also a good metaphor for body and soul.
The Invitation to Wholeness
The invitation today is to receive the wholeness of God in our lives, to be refreshed in the Spirit of God’s healing power, to know that God’s love can make us whole if we will look to God in prayer and faith. The first lesson is to find wholeness by keeping commandment and to start by keeping the Sabbath. Such discipline will promote balance in our lives.
The invitation today is to receive the wholeness of God in prayer and confession, in anointing and power, the power of God’s presence. You may desire to come forward in a few moments and receive that anointing, we will pray for all who would like to come. But know also that all who remain in the pews are included in our prayers, as are all who are unable to be here today. This is a time to lift all our concerns for wholeness – healing, comfort, peace, hope, restoration, reconciliation – whatever defines wholeness for us today. God meets us where we are and seeks to renew our strength and vitality – our wholeness as those created in the image of God.
I want to add one more text to your heart today, Mark 3.1-6,
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
At least three things come up in this texts that I think speak to our service of wholeness: 1. Healing can indeed happen on the Sabbath, today! 2. Jesus got angry and grieved with those who could not answer if it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath. 3. The one who was healed was asked to stretch out his hand.
Response: 1. Healing is possible. 2. Healing is good. 3. Stretch out your life (hand).
I’m going to offer a song that I find moving for the soul and after I finish that song I want to invite you to come forward for wholeness and healing and restoration. In essence I want to invite you to stretch out you hand (life). Listen to this song and ask yourself if God is calling you to wholeness.
The invitation will be for all who choose to come forward and we will pray together. After that prayer time, I will anoint each one of you with oil and then you may return to your pew.