During our worship this Sunday, we will have a Service of Healing and Wholeness. Increasingly, services of this type are being offered in Presbyterian Congregations. In a powerful way, they seem to bridge a gap that too often exists between what we do in worship and our yearning for healing and wholeness in our day-to-day lives. As Christians, we believe that shalom (healing, wholeness, and peace) is God's intention for us in the world.
God's ways of healing and providing for God's beloved children are laid out clearly in Psalm 107. From the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, God's redemption is writ large. In this liturgy of thanksgiving, four different dangers or distresses are described. Whether in the desert wasteland, the darkness of prison, in self-induced affliction, or at the depths of the sea, God's steadfast love endures. What a wonderful message of hope the psalmist provides.
However, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus paints a different picture, a picture of darkness and hopelessness. But make no mistake, the hopelessness is not caused by God. The hopelessness is created by none other than the scribes and the Pharisees who teach what they do not practice. Their own agendas and a desire for praise and honor have become their guiding light. And though they hold the keys of Light in their hand, it is not light that results. It is darkness. Moreover, if we include verse 13 in our reading, we find that these religious leaders have exalted themselves at the expense of God's message of love for all of humanity, and in so doing, they have locked people out of the kingdom of heaven.
Consider the following:
- Why do the scribes and Pharisees behave like hypocrites? Why do they not practice what they teach?
- Could fear be a factor? Could they be afraid their own inadequacies might be discovered?
- Complete the following: I don't practice what I teach when I ____________.
- On a sheet of paper, draw three circles that interconnect. In each circle, put one of the following headings: Who I Am at Home, Who I Am at Church, Who I am at Work (you might substitute another heading here, like "school," for example). Then in each circle, honestly describe yourself.
- From this exercise, what did you learn about yourself as a person of faith?
- In what ways might you change in order to live your life as God's humble servant in all things?
Healing and wholeness! We yearn for God's love to be woven throughout our being. We yearn to be God's faithful children in all that we say and do. This is our fervent hope. Still, too often we live as if healing and wholeness are not possible. We live as if the intertwining "circles" of our lives cannot be united and we have no chance of being whole.
During our time together this Sunday, an opportunity will be provided to pray for ourselves and others, to reflect on the components of healing and wholeness, to be anointed with oil, and to experience God's steadfast love which endures forever.
As you journey toward Sunday, consider the following prayer written by Richard Foster:
Lord Jesus Christ, when I read the gospel stories I am touched by your healing power. You healed sick bodies to be sure, but you did so much more. You healed the spirit, and the deep, inner mind. Most of all I am touched by your actions of acceptance that spoke healing into those who lived on the margins of life, shoved aside by the strong and powerful. Speak your healing into me, Lord, body and mind and soul. Most of all, heal my sense of worthlessness. My head tells me that I am of infinite value to you but my heart cannot believe it. Heal my heart, Jesus, heal my heart. Amen.
May the Lord bless you and the people you love this week. I look forward to seeing you in worship.