On Sickness
October 18, 2020

On Sickness

Preacher:
Passage: Matthew 25:36, Luke 8:40-56, Romans 8:1-39

On Sickness
Parable of the Sheep and Goats
October 18, 2020
Rev. Fritz Nelson

Text: Matthew 25:36; Luke 8:40-56; Romans 8

For the last several weeks we’ve been taking a slow journey through Matthew 25:31-46, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.  In the parable, Jesus returns to judge the nations, dividing them into sheep - those who have cared for the “least of these” - and goats – those who have not cared.  In the last weeks we’ve talked about caring for those in poverty and receiving the blessing of strangers.  Today we get to the phrase: “I was sick and you cared for me.”

As we read today’s lesson from Luke 8:40-56 and in the time following consider a moment when you’ve been sick and felt cared for.  And a time when you may have felt abandoned.

READ LUKE 8:40-56

MUSICAL INTERLUDE

As of this morning, Mahoning County is red.  Columbiana County is orange.  Beaver County is also red.  Over 2,000 of our neighbors in Columbiana County have contracted Coronavirus.  Eighty-seven have died.  Most of those who have died have been over 70-year-old and living in nursing homes.  Nationally over 200,000 of our neighbors have died and over eight million have gotten sick.  Internationally over 1 million have died, over 40 million have gotten sick.  The virus seems to move around like a game of Whack-a-mole.  First it was New York.  Then Florida.  Now its Wisconsin.  Something we figured would be a minor inconvenience, a little life hiccup over by Easter, will likely drag on into the new year.

I was sick, Jesus told the sheep, and you cared for me.

In the early days of the pandemic, many Christians rediscovered Martin Luther, the 15th century religious reformer.  Plagues and pandemics were common in his day.  His response: a mixture of fierce defiant faith and medical pragmatism.  Wear your mask, obey quarantine orders, take care not to spread the disease.  Don’t flee the city, care for the sick, support your neighbor.  Not surprisingly, in the world of social media, Luther’s comments got divided.  Some found inspiration in his calls to defiance.  Others in his calls for pragmatism.  Similarly some faith communities, such as my cousin’s Unitarian fellowship, shut down early and plan to stay completely closed until spring 2021 at the earliest.  Others, such as Elisabeth’s aunt’s Methodist church, never shut down, discourages masks and refuses to “cower in fear.”

I was sick, Jesus told the sheep, and you cared for me.

In Jesus’ time he was known first and foremost as a healer.  Yes he taught, yes he turned water into wine, yes he could feed the thousands with so little, but the thousands had come to be healed.  The lame, the blind, the deaf, the mentally ill, the chronically diseased flocked to him, hungry for a word, a touch, a cure.  Jairus, a religious leader himself, waits for Jesus to return from a trip so that Jesus might heal his dying daughter.  The hemorrhaging woman pushes through the crowd to touch Jesus’ cloak.  She’d been bleeding for twelve years.  Her bleeding had made her socially outcast.  Trying to treat the bleeding had left her broke.  Both the women and Jairus had run out of options.  All they had was a mustard seed of faith, a mere filament of hope.  If only they can get to Jesus in time.

In this pandemic time we wait.  We wait with eager longing for restoration, for resurrection.

We know, the apostle Paul writes, all of creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves – who have the first fruits of the Spirit – groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope – for who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

Groaning, sighing, hope.  Jesus sees the crowds seeking healing and has compassion on them.  His friend Lazarus dies and Jesus weeps with Lazarus’ sisters.  Creation groans, we groan, the spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  Creation groans, we groan, and God responds with hope.

I was sick, Jesus told the sheep, and you cared for me.

To care is to groan with our neighbors for whom this pandemic has brought deep suffering.  To cry with those who have lost loved ones without the chance for a funeral, who have lost jobs due to public health regulations, who have lingering health issues from contracting the disease.

To care is to honor as worthy the lives of those in prisons and nursing homes and minority communities who have been disproportionally affected by the disease.

To care is to not forget neighbors who have become isolated out of fear, to stand up for the weak and the vulnerable, to be willing to sacrifice some personal comfort and liberty for the safety of the community.

To care is to support those charged with keeping us safe – from the person at Walmart who reminds us about our masks to the public health professionals making hard decisions.

To care is to hold onto the mustard seed of faith, the filament of hope.  Creation groans, we groan and the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Because of the Spirit’s interceding we can have confidence in the working together for good for all who love God, who are called according to divine purpose.  We are more than conquerors through him who loves us.

For I am convinced neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I was sick, Jesus told the sheep, and you cared for me.

Last Monday, the Columbiana session wrestled with how to respond to the rising pandemic numbers.  What might trigger another suspension of worship, we asked?  What constituted best care for our congregation.  On Tuesday the East Palestine session will wrestle with similar questions.  In Columbiana we didn’t have any answers.  We don’t know how long pandemic time will last.  We continue to hurt. We continue to groan.  But like Jairus, like the hemorrhaging woman, we have a mustard seed of faith, a filament of hope.  Like Luther we will be prudent but steadfast, loving our neighbors, caring for ourselves.  The Spirit groans with us, God hears our prayers.  We pace along the beach.  We reach for the hem of Jesus’ cloak.  We will be healed.

Amen

 

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