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Sermon for June 11, 2023 – Proper 5

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5029 | It Ain’t Over…
Heber Ticas

Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” in 1973, when the baseball team he managed, the New York Mets, was on the verge of being defeated in its effort to go to the World Series. The Mets were able to rally and come from behind to win the division title. As a result, the statement became a well-known rallying cry for underdogs everywhere. Yogi Berra’s simple, yet profound quote has given strength to many who faced seemingly insurmountable odds. When Berra said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” he was not making a promise or guaranteeing a victory. Yet, his statement about the possibility of success was enough to give his team hope.

I wonder if we have similar confidence in the promises of God. Do God’s words give us hope? In the Bible, God has made many promises to his children. Yet, our circumstances can often cause us to lose hope or doubt the truth of God’s word. It is understandable to lose faith in God’s promises of healing when given a challenging medical diagnosis. It can be hard to maintain hope in God as our provider when we do not have enough money to pay our bills. At one time or another, we have all been tempted to doubt God’s promises. Yet, following Christ requires us to believe in God despite our circumstances. None of us have perfect belief and we need to turn to God for his help in trusting him.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul encouraged his audience with a story illustrating the faith of Abraham, who is the spiritual ancestor of all believers. Despite his circumstances, Abraham learned to trust God when facing seemingly insurmountable challenges. In Romans 4:18-24 it says this:

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead — since he was about a hundred years old — and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness — for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
Romans 4:18-24

Like our spiritual ancestor Abraham, as we encounter God in spiritual practices like discipleship, mission, fellowship, and celebration, we come to see that he cannot and will not go back on his word. We may not always understand how he goes about fulfilling his promise, but we should not doubt his faithfulness. God may approach things in ways we may not expect. During those times we find ourselves doubting his ability to fulfill his promises, all we need to do is look to Jesus. In Christ, all of God’s promises are fulfilled. He has triumphed over sin and death. And he has assured ultimate victory over all the trials and tribulations of this life. Jesus has the power to raise the dead and make all things new, and he is the one who stands with us in our hard times.

In light of God’s faithfulness, I would like to amend Yogi Berra’s quote: “It ain’t over ’til God says it’s over.” His Word is trustworthy and true. These are words by which we should live.

Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de Vida.

Psalm 33:1-12 • Genesis 12:1-9 • Romans 4:13-25 • Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

We are in the early weeks of Ordinary Time, where our focus is on our being, behavior, and actions as disciples of Jesus Christ. As followers of Jesus, we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord, so it is important that we trust what God says. The theme for this week is the word of God is a promise. The call to worship Psalm speaks about the fidelity and rightness of God’s word. In the Genesis passage, we read how Abram acted upon the promises God made to him. In asserting the superiority of faith over legalism in our Romans passage, Paul argued that Abram received the promises of God through faith in a promise-keeping God. Finally, in Matthew, we read four times when we see Jesus administer different types of healing. We see the lengths Christ is willing to go to fulfill his promise to heal the spiritually sick and call the sinner.

Jesus Heals Completely

Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26 (NIV)

How should followers of Christ approach healing? What should be our posture? On one hand the Bible promises that by the wounds of Jesus we are healed (1 Peter 2:24). At the same time, in this present evil age, Christians get sick all the time and do not always receive physical healing. We have all likely prayed for someone with a physical ailment and seen them make a miraculous recovery. Likewise, we have all prayed fervently for someone who eventually succumbed to their sickness. Is it a matter of chance? Do our prayers even matter? How can we stand on God’s promise to heal us when it seems like people get sick and recover at random?

Trying to make sense of the relationship between God and human sickness has rocked the faith of many believers. Dealing with sickness either personally or in someone we love can cause us to question God’s goodness. As a result, many of us struggle with how to pray when someone we care about becomes ill. This discussion is especially relevant as we are in the early weeks of Ordinary Time on the Christian calendar. In this season, we give our attention to how the church participates in the life and work of Jesus Christ, especially Christ’s mission in the world. As we engage our neighbors, we will encounter sickness. We may also encounter people who want to know why God allows human suffering. It is important for those who bear witness to the reality of the kingdom to have a sufficient response.

Before we continue, I would like to make two things clear. First, no one has all the answers to the question, “Why do we suffer?” In this life, we will never know all the reasons why one person gets sick and another one does not; why one person recovers, and another person does not. There is no single answer that speaks to every situation. So, this sermon is not setting out to give a comprehensive response to the complex issues surrounding human sickness. Second, there are those who are reading (hearing) this message and the topic of sickness is personal. You or someone you love may be suffering with sickness or loss at this moment and this sermon may be reminding you about a hurtful situation. The intent of this sermon is not to harm, but to comfort. Despite the pain we experience in this life, God is a good God. We are the children of a God who cares deeply about our suffering and is continually working to make us well.

If God is continually working to make us well, why don’t we always experience wellness? Why does it sometimes seem like we cannot trust in the promise of God’s healing? Part of the reason is that we may not be looking in the right place for healing. When it comes to sickness, human beings are hyper-focused on the physical self. It seems logical – if a person has a physical ailment, we seek after physical healing. However, humans are not simply physical beings. We are spiritual, social, emotional, and intellectual as well. And, as a result of The Fall, all of these aspects of the self are diseased to some degree. I believe our eternal God prioritizes the sicknesses that most get in the way of us enjoying communion with him and other people, which is not always our physical ailments. So, God is always working to heal each of us. However, we may not experience him working on every form of sickness we carry at the same time.

God obviously has the power and the inclination to heal us at every level. And one day he will banish sickness, and we will enjoy perfect health for all eternity. Until then, we can be assured that he is continually working to heal us completely. In the ninth chapter of Matthew, we see Jesus healing people who are carrying different forms of sickness. By looking at the willingness of Jesus to make people well, we can be encouraged that we serve a God who proactively heals. In Matthew 9 we read:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13 NIV)

Jesus chose to call Matthew, a tax collector, to be a disciple. Tax collectors were reviled by most Jewish people at the time because they collected taxes on behalf of the Roman occupiers. Tax collectors were seen as collaborators with Rome who turned against their own people for money and personal security. Not only does Jesus call Matthew as a disciple, but he had dinner at Matthew’s home with other tax collectors and marginalized people. In the ancient world, table fellowship was an intimate act. A person was strongly associated with those with whom they ate. Most Jewish people, especially young rabbis like Jesus, would not eat with tax collectors. Yet, Jesus makes public his close association with the outcasts. In this way, Jesus was working to heal the socially sick because he values the tax collectors and those called “sinners.” He does not put upon us the labels we put on each other. When he looks at us, he sees children of the Most-High God. In Matthew’s case, at least, he began to see himself through Christ’s eyes, and the work Jesus did to heal the socially sick was transformative.

Jesus’ association with outcasts led to criticism from certain Pharisees. Those in this Jewish sect were held in high regard by most Jewish people. Yet, Jesus had to routinely call up their hypocrisy and false piety. These Pharisees dehumanized the tax collectors and “sinners,” and viewed them as unclean. They believed that God condoned their superior attitude, which implied that God, as they understood him, valued some of his children more than others. In this way, the Pharisees revealed their spiritual sickness because they believed something about God that was not true. Jesus patiently corrected their perspective, encouraging the Pharisees to grow in mercy.

In these few verses, we see Jesus proactively trying to heal two forms of human sickness. Later in Matthew 9, Jesus healed two other forms of sickness. In verses 18-26, we read:

While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples. Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment. When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region. (Matthew 9:18-26 NIV)

The synagogue leader – in Mark and Luke we learn his name was Jairus – had to be emotionally distraught when he found Jesus. There are few tragedies as heartbreaking as the death of a child, and I pray for the Lord to comfort those who have experienced this kind of loss. I imagine Jairus could not see a way forward in his life without his only daughter, and begged for mercy from the one person who could change his circumstances. The miracle Jesus performed was not for Jairus’ daughter. She had been freed from pain, suffering, or sickness. However, I would argue that Jesus raised her for the sake of those she left behind – for their emotional well-being. In this way, Jesus brought healing to the emotional sickness of Jairus and all others who mourned his daughter.

Finally, Jesus healed a woman afflicted with bleeding for twelve years. The beauty and power of this miracle is undeniable. Obviously, Jesus healed the woman’s ailment, making this story an example of God’s ability to heal our physical sickness. Given the woman’s circumstances, one could argue that Jesus healed her emotionally, socially, and spiritually as well. Most of us cannot imagine the emotional strain of dealing with a humiliating and debilitating malady that sapped our strength. Not only that, but the book of Mark tells us that she suffered under doctors who could not help her, spending all of her money on treatments that did not work. This went on for twelve years! The emotional strain of her condition and financial ruin must have been unbearable. Additionally, she was socially isolated and cut off from community because of her sickness. Under Jewish law, touching blood would leave one ritually unclean. Since anyone who came in contact with her would be unclean, she could be severely punished for being in close proximity with anyone. Her desperate faith caused her to risk her life to get to Jesus. Lastly, Jesus took a moment to compassionately affirm her faith, which likely brought spiritual healing. The woman had not been able to enter a synagogue for twelve years, and likely felt cut off from most faith practices. For the Messiah to be kind and recognize her faith must have been a like a balm on her spirit.

These stories that illustrate four types of healing are not templates for how to get relief from the things that ail us. We have to resist the temptation to seek a transactional relationship with God, where we say, “If I do this, God will give me that.” As much as I would like it to be otherwise, there is no formula that guarantees healing in this life. Therefore, we must learn to de-center our suffering and not judge God’s love based on whether or not he heals us in our desired timeframe. It is not for us decide for ourselves what is “good” – which is exactly what we do when we say things like, “If God were good, he would heal my friend.” That implies if he does not heal your friend, he must not be good. Instead, we must start with assuming the truth of God’s goodness, and try to make sense of our circumstances through that lens. It is hard, but this is what faith is all about: believing God to be good even in the midst of our misery.

While the stories in Matthew 9 do not show us healing formulas, they do show us the proactive mercy and love of God, revealed by Jesus Christ. These words reveal the deep desire of our God to see us made well in every way. He does not need to be convinced to be good. Rather, he proactively and persistently seeks our well-being. From our perspective, it may appear that God says “no” to our prayers for physical healing. However, the truth is that any suffering we endure in this life must be weighed against the guaranteed eternal sickness-free, pain-free life we have been freely given by Jesus. God has already been good. God has already healed. He has already said “yes” to our healing. Soon and very soon we will take off the corruptible. We will put on the incorruptible. This is good news for us and for those who do not yet know Christ. As we think about how we engage our neighbors in this season of Ordinary Time, we do have an answer for those who ask why God allows human suffering. Jesus has made, is making, and will make all things well.

In the meantime, we can still seek God for the healing of our illnesses. How do we ask God for healing in a way that is not transactional? First, we need to approach God assuming his goodness and his proactive efforts to make us well. We ask God for healing not because he needs to be convinced or he is unaware of our suffering. We ask God for healing because he cares about what we care about, and because he is the source of every good thing. He invites us to boldly make our requests known because he desires for us to participate in the story he is unfolding. Within every request we make of God, we should embed a “yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39) frame of mind. In this way, we state our desire, but we leave our hearts open to willingly accept whatever God wants to do, trusting that whatever he decides to do is best.

Next, we need to pray for our physical healing while looking for the other ways God is working to make us well. We need to assume God is working at all times to heal us because this is our reality. As we pray for healing, if possible, we should shift our focus to our social, emotional, and spiritual selves. Pain and discomfort can often consume our thoughts and emotions so this might not always be possible. However, if we are able, we should try to find ways that God is making us well. Doing so will show us that God has not abandoned us in our sickness and is always working to heal us.

I thank God that one day sermons on healing will no longer be necessary. Until that time it is good to know that Jesus, indeed, is our healer. And, he is working, even now, to heal us completely.

The Way of the Triune God w/ Myk Habets W2

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June 11 — Proper 5 of Ordinary Time
Matthew 9:9-13; 18-26, “Man, Interrupted”

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Program Transcript

The Way of the Triune God w/ Myk Habets W2

Anthony: All right, so let’s transition to our next pericope of the month. It’s Matthew 9:9-13; 18-26. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 5 in Ordinary Time, which falls on June 11. Myk, would you do the honors of reading it for us please?

Myk: Yeah, thanks.

9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax-collection station, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. 10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with Jesus and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

18 While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. 20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from a flow of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21 for she was saying to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that moment. 23 When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26 And the report of this spread through all of that district.

Anthony: Hallelujah. Praise God. It’s been said, Myk, that if Jesus didn’t eat with sinners, he would’ve always dined alone. So, what should we make of the God revealed in Jesus, that he would so openly feast with notorious crooks?

Myk: You wouldn’t write a sanitized version of the life of a great Savior or a God and have them hanging out with shady characters like this.

If you were making it up, if this was a fabrication, if this was some story that was mythological, these episodes wouldn’t be in sacred Scripture. There’d be nothing there would even remotely tarnish the reputation of the holy figure or the God that we’re talking about. And yet for us and as Christians, if these texts weren’t there, I wonder how many of us would still believe.

I certainly appreciate the fact that Jesus is a real character. He’s a real character who relates with real people in a fallen world. That historical particularity of walking through first century Israel and encountering people he loves, the Israelites, people he weeps over, but he doesn’t shun them. He reaches out to them, and in this story, he lets them reach out to him.

That’s a scandal, that an unclean woman would touch him, actually defiling him and making him unclean. And yet here the opposite happens. She reaches out the unclean one and the clean one, Jesus, heals her and sanctifies her, and sets her apart and restores her back to community. This is precisely why I like Jesus. This helps my faith.

Quite frankly, if this type of realism was not in Scripture, I think I might doubt his real existence, or he certainly wouldn’t be relatable. He wouldn’t be our sympathetic high priest. Our fellow human, homoousion, as the church says, of the same substance, as much as us as he is God.

I’m a sinner. This text tells me I’m not beyond the reach of a holy God. I’m not beyond the reach of a pure Jesus Christ. That even in my sin, even in my shame, even in my fallenness, I’m not beyond the reach of an all-holy God who has left heaven, who has descended to the earth, who took the form of a servant in order to redeem and glorify me.

And so the fact that these people entering the house of the dead, being touched by an unclean woman, dining with Pharisees and calling tax collectors as followers, asking little people who climbed trees because they were too arrogant to see him on their own terms and dining in his house with people and sinners—his is what Christ invites himself to do in our world as well. Maybe not physically, but nonetheless real.

And so, I love stories in church, I love testimonies in church, not necessarily of people’s conversions—I’m happy to hear about people’s Sunday school and childhood experiences over coffee one-on-one—but in church, what I really appreciate is those powerful stories: how I came to Christ, but more importantly, how I remain in Christ because we don’t stop sinning, sadly, once we become Christians.

And I think today, particularly with the mental health challenges we have, with the high levels of anxiety and depression because of what’s going on in the world (certainly here in New Zealand, we have really high rates of mental illness amongst young people), what they really need to hear is these types of stories. You are not beyond the reach of a holy God who will accept, redeem, heal, and restore. And so, for me, these are the stories that need to be there, as well as the mountaintop ones. If that makes sense.

Anthony: It does. Amen. If we were writing the gospel story, the narrative, we wouldn’t write it like this, would we?

This is not the kind of God we would’ve come up with, but thanks be to God, this is the God we have revealed in Jesus Christ.

Myk: We prefer the strong stuff, the powerful stuff. We’d probably paint him as a muscley, six foot six. We just buy into all the worldly tropes of power.

Jesus just demolishes all that and says, no, that’s just a social construct. Real power is the ability to stoop down low and relate to people where they’re at and then lift them up. That’s real power, and I need reminding of that every day.

Anthony: And thanks be to God that the Son of man has been lifted up and is drawing all people to himself.

And once again, in this passage, Myk, we see that our Lord is interrupted. It happens constantly. So, if you are preaching verses 18 – 26 to your congregation, what would you preach about these ongoing interruptions and the fact that Jesus, our Lord, is willing to submit to the situation?

Myk: Yeah. I’m the personality type that is very task focused. I have lists and I have to-dos, and I pride myself on getting through those and rewarding myself when things are ticked off. And when people interrupt those plans and when other stuff comes along, my first reaction, I have to confess, is how this is going to put my whole day out. This is not helping my productivity or my efficiency whatsoever.

Anthony: Yes, we should hang out a lot, Myk. We’re wired the same.

Myk: Yeah, that’s right. And Jesus has got more important work to do than I have, and yet he keeps getting interrupted, and he seems to welcome it.

He just goes with the flow, and it is incredibly intentional. And so how would I preach this? I’d start with a story of my own testimony, like I just did, saying how annoying, how frustrating! There’s a time and place for everything you get in line take a ticket wait your turn.

And yet for Jesus divine interruptions are the norm, not the exception. We should expect God to bring people and events into our lives, not to interrupt our real work, but actually this is our real work because people are not a means to an end. They are the end, and Jesus knew that, and we need to learn that. So, I’d probably talk about that.

And then second, Jesus shows his absolute sovereignty. All creation was made by him and for him. And here we see a glimpse of that reality through those healings. And I think that’s really important. I’ve preached about the woman who touches him before.

And that sermon was entitled “From Shame to Wholeness,” where I talk about people who enter into the life of Jesus, and he takes them from where they are in their shame, in their embarrassment by being unclean, by being on the margins, and through simple but powerful acts, he brings them to the center. This unclean woman was made clean. Her whole livelihood would’ve been spent on the margins, outcast. She, too, would’ve been one of those women who collected water in the heat of the day because she was avoiding people. Now she’s restored back into community.

And third, I think Jesus is not beyond being asked for things. The faith of this person to ask on behalf of his daughter was immense. He was clearly desperate, as we all would’ve been. But what faith! And Jesus has compassion, and he’s loving, and he reaches out, like the woman here. But then with the man, goes to his house, takes time out of whatever else he was doing to take a detour. But what we actually find is this is not a detour, this is the point. He was probably there at that time in that place precisely for this. And he honors the faith of the woman. He honors the faith of the man. And so, for us too, I would want to say that we too can reach out in desperation.

We too can ask in faith, we too can expect Jesus to heal, Jesus to intervene, Jesus to bring from the margins back into the center. That’s the type of God that we have.

And when we compare Jesus to many other holy figures in history and today, when we compare him to other gods, he doesn’t compare. He simply contrasts. Other gods (we won’t be too specific), but you simply serve, you simply do. Their entire faith’s based around simple allegiance. And god says, jump. And they say, how high. We too are soldiers under command. That’s true. We too are citizens of a kingdom which has a king, and we do what he says. But it’s never framed, or very rarely framed, like that.

It’s a relational king and a relational kingdom where he invites his subjects to ask, to come before him repeatedly and ask for audacious things: healing, wholeness, life for a dead person. Yeah, it’s just utterly audacious. And Jesus isn’t even mildly offended by that. There’s no rebuke, there’s no, who do you think you are? You’re not important enough for me to do that. And it’s almost, yeah, that was actually on my to-do list today. I just needed you to ask me about it.

And so I go back into the world and I would want to preach to the congregation that as we go about our doctoring and nursing, our building, our plumbing, whatever it is that God has got us doing on our daily basis, that we would also be looking out for the people that he brings into our lives and those small tidbits of information are probably the main narrative of that day. And if we’re not attuned to those, we’re going to miss opportunities that God has for your day. So “look out for the small things in life, because they’re probably the main things in life” might be the title of my sermon.

Anthony: Yeah, that’s a good word. And it never stops being astounding that this God would condescend to humanity, enter in, take on the form of a servant and die. And not just any death, death on a cross. I mean it’s just holy other, it transcends anything that we know. And how can it lead to anything but worship? Like we always say, theology should lead to doxology or we’re doing something wrong.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Why do you think it is tempting to doubt God’s promises?
  • Can you think of a time when you thought “it’s over” when God had other (better) plans?

From the sermon

  • Thinking back to your early years, how were you taught to think about God and human healing? How did that impact you?
  • Why do you think it may be hard to believe that God is actively working for our healing?
  • Can you think of ways that God has healed you physically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually?

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