Breaking Free

This summer we took our family to the charming town of Manteo to a place called “Island Farm.” It is a recreation of an 1840’s era family farm, utilizing the land and some of the original buildings from that time. We saw a blacksmith make iron nails, explored the family home with its primitive furnishings, and enjoyed a wonderful storyteller who made the entire experience come to life. We even got to feed a very loud rooster, who snuck up behind me and tried to sample my shoe, much to the delight of the children.

I had been to the farm two years earlier, when the gracious owner allowed my colleague and I to film our Christmas Eve service on the property. We were not able to meet in person due to the pandemic, and so we staged various scenes to bring our service to life. I was filmed reading the children’s message while sitting in the middle of a sheep field, and my partner read the nativity passage standing in front of an open sheep stall as three sheep listened intently.

The stalls by the field were larger, and as we began to film my portion, the keeper opened the stall door. Suddenly I was besieged by an entire flock of sheep, lured to come into the camera range by the placement of sheep food that had been strategically strewn around my feet. I was almost knocked over by their enthusiasm! Lesson learned … don’t get in the way of hungry sheep! Or roosters!

In today’s passage, Eugene Peterson cleverly compares a miraculous healing to being led from a stall in which Satan had bound a woman in for eighteen years:

Luke 13 (The Message)

10-13 He was teaching in one of the meeting places on the Sabbath. There was a woman present, so twisted and bent over with arthritis that she couldn’t even look up. She had been afflicted with this for eighteen years. When Jesus saw her, he called her over. “Woman, you’re free!” He laid hands on her and suddenly she was standing straight and tall, giving glory to God.

14 The meeting-place president, furious because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the congregation, “Six days have been defined as workdays. Come on one of the six if you want to be healed, but not on the seventh, the Sabbath.”

15-16 But Jesus shot back, “You frauds! Each Sabbath every one of you regularly unties your cow or donkey from its stall, leads it out for water, and thinks nothing of it. So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?”

As usual, the Pharisees were locked in a stall of their narrow understanding of the Law and their extreme piety, unable to see or accept the freedom that God authorized Christ to bring to his people. They would rather see the woman suffer than to have her healed on the Sabbath. But Christ is greater than the Law of small-mindedness, and he set the woman free.

Are you tied up in a stall, locked in by Satan himself? Have abuse, addiction, anger, revenge, jealousy, envy, adultery, or some other sin got you so entangled you can’t open the door to get free?

Take heart. Jesus has the key to the stall door. If you pursue him, he will let you out. All you have to do is ask.

17 When he put it that way, his critics were left looking quite silly and red-faced. The congregation was delighted and cheered him on.

Freedom by Becca Ziegler

Anointing

I remember my first healing service like it was yesterday. I was a very young pastor, fresh out of seminary, and the prayer ministry had asked the pastoral leadership to do a healing service for the church. There is a service in our United Methodist Book of Worship that involves prayer, the laying on of hands, and the anointing with oil.

I had never experienced a healing service growing up in the Methodist church as a child, and I was very curious about what would happen and how we would proceed. Visions of dramatic and overblown ”healings” from pentecostal television filled my imagination, and I tried to reconcile those images with how we methodical/Anglican-based Methodists would do such a service.

The service began, and after a homily, people were invited to come forward to kneel at the altar and be anointed with simple olive oil from a bowl. The pastors made a sign of the cross on the foreheads of those who came, and offered a prayer for each. As I laid hands on the people who were directed to me by the ushers, I felt the power of God in the words and the anointing as they knelt and received. There are very few moments in a worship setting that can be as powerful as a healing service.

James 5 (Common English Bible)

13 If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing. 14 If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 

This is where churches receive authority to offer healing services. James lays it right out: Call out the leaders. Pray. Anoint. Do it in God’s name.

15 Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve. 

So here was my conundrum. If we all gathered and prayed from our collaborative faith for healing, surely the Lord will restore the person to health. That’s what it says, right? So what happens if healing doesn’t happen after a healing service?

My thoughts were immediately put to the test as a woman in her final days of terminal cancer was brought over to my side. Her husband pushed her wheelchair to the altar, and as I leaned over to anoint her and lay hands on her head, I realized she was wearing a wig. Of course she was. Chemo had stolen her hair many months before that. But that detail has remained in my memory for decades. I can still feel the surprise of that false hair under my fingers and palms.

Two days after the healing service, she died.

So what did that mean? Why wasn’t she healed? What happened to her anointing? Did our prayers not work?

A few days later, her husband sent us a note to thank us for the healing service. He said it was the first time his wife had been out of the house in over a year, and her first time back in the sanctuary since her diagnosis. He went on to thank us for allowing her to receive healing that night. When she got home that evening, she was filled with joy, peace, and hope in ways that she hadn’t felt in years. Her appetite was back and they shared a late night supper. She had confessed her sins at the altar, and knew exactly where she was going the minute the oil touched her forehead. Right before she passed two days later, she told her husband that she was finally healed.

Prayer had healed her. Hope had healed her. Jesus had healed her. Death had healed her.

17 Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. 18 He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

I am glad that this happened early in my ministry, as it taught me to never be afraid to boldly ask for healing in the name of Jesus from that point on. It also taught me that Jesus will ALWAYS heal….and it may not look anything like what you were expecting.

What aspect of your life needs healing? Remember that the prayer of the righteous person is POWERFUL.

Just Pray by Michelle Robertson

Cornerstone

The definition of the word “cornerstone” offers two meanings. A cornerstone is a stone uniting two masonry walls in the construction of a building. It also describes something that is essential, indispensable, or basic. So you can attend a ceremony where the cornerstone of a new federal building is being laid while recognizing that democracy is the cornerstone of a free society.

I like the fact that cornerstones unite walls. Think about that in a figurative way…people often put up walls around them as they draw lines around their political, religious, racial, and societal preferences. Living in community with people of opposite preferences requires that common cornerstones be used to hold things together.

Jesus is such a cornerstone. Salvation can be found in no other place, regardless of one’s thoughts or leanings. He is the uniting factor that brings disparate entities together.

Our passage in Acts today follows a healing miracle that Peter and John performed in Jesus’ name. They are immediately questioned by the leaders, elders, and legal experts:

Acts 4 (Common English Bible)

The next day the leaders, elders, and legal experts gathered in Jerusalem, along with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and others from the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and asked, “By what power or in what name did you do this?”

One would think that the healing of a fellow citizen would bring unity to the commUNITY and be met with joy and appreciation. One would be wrong. It only brought division.

Then Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, answered, “Leaders of the people and elders, are we being examined today because something good was done for a sick person, a good deed that healed him? 10 If so, then you and all the people of Israel need to know that this man stands healthy before you because of the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. 

Peter is clear that it is only through the power of Jesus’ name that the man was healed. He was also clear that God had raised Jesus from the dead.

11 This Jesus is the stone you builders rejected; he has become the cornerstone! 12 Salvation can be found in no one else. Throughout the whole world, no other name has been given among humans through which we must be saved.”

The message of salvation is a cornerstone of our hope, our belief, and our faith. It is an essential and indispensable teaching of our faith, one that we can build upon.

Whether we allow it to unite our walls or divide us is up to us. Jesus came to save the whole world and salvation can be found in no one else. Let this be the cornerstone of your witness as you proclaim the good news of the one raised from the dead.

A Cornerstone of Faith