Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Healing the Named and the Unnamed

The Mission of Healing lasted one week.  In the end, more than 1000 people received love, prayer, touch and healing.  On Sunday, we gathered for worship in our sister church community, to give honor to God and to the history of the Mission which began there twelve years ago.

The assigned texts for the day involved leprosy and healing.  From the Old Testament (2 Kings 5) we heard the story of Naaman, a Syrian general, a man of power and wealth and stature, a man who had helped to conquer and enslave the people of Israel, and whose wife was served by an Israelite girl who was enslaved.  Naaman suffered from leprosy.  The girl remembered the miracles of the Prophet Elisha, and after a demand from Naaman's king and an invitation from Elisha, Naaman traveled to Israel to meet Elisha.  Elisha sent a message to Naaman that he should bathe in the Jordan River.  Naaman was insulted not to be received in person as a fine man, but in the end, he bathed and he was healed.

Our sister pastor asked a few questions of the congregation, gathering from them the reminders that although Naaman was powerful and wealthy, he suffered; that an unnamed girl shared her faith and knowledge of a path toward healing; that the poor, the humble, the enslaved are gifted by God to reach out, to share, to heal.

A leper went to Jesus, he knelt before Jesus, and he said, "if it is your will to heal me, you can heal me."  Jesus healed the leper.  Our sister pastor asked more questions, guiding the congregation to think about the stories...

+  Naaman's name is known.  Why?  He was a man of power and means.  
+  What was the name of the man who sought healing in the Gospel story?  He is unnamed.  He is called "the leper."
+  Why do we know Naaman's name but we know the other man only as "the leper"?  How were lepers treated in the time of Jesus?  Lepers were outcasts, forced to live outside of the community.  There are so many who suffer in our own communities, in our own countries, in our world.  We know the names of the famous ones, the powerful ones, even they suffer just a little.  But the media, the news, the gossip chains do not share the names of the poor and the marginalized who suffer.  We have to open our eyes and our ears to recognize those who are suffering in our communities.
+  What are the leprosis of today?  Cancer, gang membership, HIV, other religions, poverty...
+  What did Naaman do to be healed?  He wanted to be healed.  He humbled himself, to listen to a poor girl who was a slave, he had to abandon his proud attitude toward Elisha and go bathe in the river.
+  What did the leper do to be healed?  He sought Jesus out, he knelt, he asked.  He was humble and faithful.
+  What did Jesus do?  He touched and he healed.

We are all lepers.  We all need healing.  We need to seek Jesus out, to kneel before him, to ask in faith to be healed.  Jesus will heal us.

We are all slave girls.  Jesus uses us to heal each other.  We need to look and to listen for those who are hurting, for the lepers in our communities.  We need to touch and Jesus will heal through us.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

I Love to Tell the Story

It has been quite some time since my last blog post...the past month has included a Salvadoran journey which kept me quite busy, and a few times I opted for sleep in place of writing.  Thanks for your patience.  And now for a story...

It was time for announcements.  Like most churches, our sister church in El Salvador has a time at the conclusion of worship during which anyone from the congregation who has something important to share may step to the front for a few moments and a few words.  And, in like in many churches, there is that special person who gets up frequently to share more than just a few words.  In our sister church, that person is David.  David really likes to talk, and he is quite eloquent and quite passionate; he has a bit of a gift for public speaking.  Yet, congregational patience is sometimes tested, and if people wore wrist-watches in El Salvador, one could imagine that folks would be glancing at them when David gets up to speak his piece.

Not this week.  Time was irrelevant.  Although worship was long and it was followed by additional singing, and sharing of gifts among sister churches, and short speeches back and forth as recognition and honor were given to the founders and sustainers of 12 years of holistic healing missions we have shared together, time was irrelevant.  When the final call went out to the crowd for any other words to share, David rose up and strode to the front of the church, turned around and faced the congregation.  "I have to speak," he said.  The intense look on his face, and the emotion in his voice grabbed the attention of the crowd...

"Today I, with my wife (he reached over and brought her to the front near to him) have served as godparents to these two young girls.  (He gestured to two newly baptized and confirmed teens who were seated in the front row.)  This is the first time for us to do this.  This is the first time.  We are new to the church.  Just one year ago, we were baptized; our sons were baptized.  When we were asked by this family to be godparents, how could we say 'no'?  God commands us to go out and baptize.  God commands us to go out in service.  Of course, we said, 'yes.'  This is a great joy for us, as a family, for our children - a great honor for us.  When God calls us to serve, we cannot say 'no'."

David was on fire.  We could see it in him.  The congregation applauded, and David sat down.

This is a story worth telling in and of itself, but there is more.  One year ago we were together to celebrate the baptisms in David's family.  Six months ago, we were invited into David's home, and we heard the rest of the story.

David's family consists of himself, his wife and five children.  David was injured during the war and has a prosthetic leg, although you would not know it.  His wife is very soft-spoken, and the children have a humble and quietness about them.  Their home is very simple, with most of their resources going into the family business which operates at the front of the home.  The second oldest daughter is majoring in business administration and attends the Lutheran college with a scholarship.  She hopes to be a hospital administrator or to run her own business.  The oldest boy, Rafael, is in high school.  The story begins with Rafael.

One day, maybe three or four years ago, Rafael was talking with a friend at school.  The friend told him that there was a youth group at the Lutheran Church in the nearby community.  The friend was pretty convincing, so Rafael thought he would like to go.  He asked his parents for permission, and he started going to the youth group.  One of the youth group "rules" was that participants should attend worship on Sundays.  So, Rafael tried that also.  He learned that parents should be accompanying their children to church, so he invited his parents to come.  As David tells it, "Normally the parents drag their children to church by the hand.  In our case, it was different.  The son grabbed the hand of the parents and brought them to church with him."

David is very clear on this point:  it was God at work, through the invitation of the friend and the insistence of the son, which brought him and his wife to church.  They had no experience of church.  They did not own a Bible.  Their son is responsible for leading them to faith in Jesus.

Six months ago, as we sat in their home, a barely-standing table stood along the wall near the center of the room.  "Now," said David, "we have a Bible.  Look, there it is on the table in the center of the room.  Once a week we have a family meeting.  We read from the Bible and we talk about the Word of God.  We never studied the Word of God before, and now we do.  We talk about where we are as a family, about our goals and how we can work together."

David has become a leader in the men's ministry group.  His wife is a leader for one of the women's groups and coordinates the cleaning of the church.  The family works together to run their business, taking turns to cover Sunday mornings so that everyone gets the chance to go to church.

David was on fire.  We could see it in him.  How could he say "no" to serving?  He could not.

How can we keep from telling this story?  We cannot.