Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Easter Earthquake - Healing Scars

This is a sermon that was preached at United Presbyterian Church in Sterling, KS on Sunday, March 11, 2018.  Listen to the audio here.

Read Isaiah 53, Luke 24:35-49 here

Do you like scary movies?  Intense movies?  I must confess that I don’t.  When there are scary scenes or graphic violence, I usually don’t watch.  I put my hand over my eyes.  Sometimes I’ll watch through the crack between my fingers if I can watch at all.  Sometimes I even have to cover my ears now, because TV shows and movies have gotten so good at giving us the sounds that go with the sights. 

For instance, there’s a very good show about an autistic doctor, The Good Doctor[1], but this doctor is a gifted surgeon and when he goes into surgery, the camera goes right into the wounds and I have to cover my eyes.  And all the gooey sounds come through as well, so I tend to talk during those scenes so I don’t hear those sounds, because I don’t have enough hands to cover my eyes AND my ears.

Most of us don’t like to watch pain, and we don’t like to experience pain.  Understandable.

But in the passages we read this morning, what Isaiah is describing is pain.  He’s doing it artfully, poetically.  We read from the King James (NKJV) because I wanted us to appreciate that beautiful poetry.  But let’s be perfectly clear.  When Isaiah says:
By his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
… I have to point out what that sentence is NOT saying. It is NOT saying this:
    or this:  

The stripes to which Isaiah is referring are these:

Those are hard stripes to look at. Those are the stripes that come from scourging, being whipped.  Pilate ordered that Jesus be whipped before he was crucified.  This was not unusual punishment during that time.  Today we call this cruel and unusual, and it is. 

In the very graphic movie about Jesus that came out almost fifteen years ago, The Passion of the Christ[2], this was one of the scenes I watched through my fingers.  But I have friends who, though it was hard, made themselves watch because they didn’t want to turn away from the stark reality of what Jesus endured for each one of us.  He bore that punishment for us. He knew this was coming, he knew that coming back to Jerusalem meant facing this, but he came anyway.[3]  He told us this himself in John 10:18: "No one takes my life from me (he said), but I lay it down of my own accord."

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).

Because Jesus, God in the flesh, took on our sins and our suffering, through our faith and through letting him touch us, we find healing and forgiveness.  Through his resurrection, we too are resurrected.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53:4)  Jesus knows our pain and sinfulness because he experienced it for us on the cross.

Jesus is explaining all this to his disciples in the passage we read today in Luke 24.  There is a lot happening in this chapter!

·      It begins with the woman coming to the tomb early in the morning and finding that the stone has been rolled away and Jesus has been resurrected.  They run off to tell the disciples. 
·      Meanwhile, two men who had been following Jesus are on their way back to Galilee, sad that he has died. Jesus walks with them explaining the scriptures to them, but they don’t recognize him.  Then when they sit down to eat together, as they break bread together, their eyes are opened, and they see that this is Jesus.  So they run back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples. 
·      As they arrive and begin telling their story, Jesus appears among them.  Not surprisingly, they are afraid and confused.  Jesus was dead.  They still don’t quite understand what resurrection means. 

Is he a ghost?  There’s not a ghost of a chance that he is a ghost, and to demonstrate that he isn’t, he shows them his scars and eats some fish.  Then Jesus explains to them again what the scriptures say about the messiah. 

Jesus probably includes Isaiah 53, the scripture we read today, in that explanation. It’s one of many prophecies in the Old Testament that help us understand that Jesus is the Messiah, and that what happened on the cross was part of God’s plan for the salvation of us all.

This is God in the flesh, who knows our suffering and suffers with us.  We can sometimes forget this because we talk about each person of the trinity in such different ways.  We talk about God in heaven, Jesus the man who walked the earth, the Holy Spirit who lives in us.  They are all different and yet they are all the same God. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are inseparably one God.[4]     
God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. (2 Cor 5:19)
And because of this, Jesus’ touch is healing.  Even just touching his robe heals a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years.[5]  Throughout the gospels we see Jesus healing people.  Matthew ties that right back to Isaiah 53 for us: 
That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” (Matthew 8:16-17)
Though it is hard to imagine someone enduring so much pain for us, it is a vivid demonstration of the redeeming power of sacrificial love.

This is what we see in the movie Frozen (2013).  The movie came out five years ago, but our kids are still enthralled with this movie, still in love with the main characters, the lovable snowman Olaf and the two sisters, Anna and Elsa.  The sisters have had a difficult relationship, with Elsa mostly isolated from Anna out of fear of accidentally freezing her because Elsa has something like the Midas’ touch.  Everything she touches freezes.  Despite Elsa continually pushing her away, Anna doesn’t give up on Elsa, and at the very end, when Elsa is about to be killed by a man with a sword, Anna steps in front of the sword.  At that same moment, she also touches Elsa and instantly becomes a block of solid ice…and when the sword comes down, it hits the ice and breaks into pieces.  Nobody is killed by the sword!  Elsa has been saved.  Anna has sacrificed herself for Elsa.

Sacrificial love is healing love.  This is also demonstrated in one of the stories that was recently told on the show The Voice.  As contestants prepare to come sing for the judges, we get to hear their stories, and one contestant, Kaleb Lee,[6] tells about the pain he felt as a child when he was abandoned by his father.  He found healing through becoming an adoptive father.  He and his wife adopted a little boy from Nicaragua.

Sometimes something we think we have dealt with comes back and surprises usThe movie Forrest Gump has a heart-wrenching scene in which the young Forrest is with his 5-year-old friend Jenny.  They run into a cornfield to hide from her drunken father, and Jenny prays, “Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far away from here.”  The next day her father, who had been abusing her, is arrested and she goes to live with someone else. God answers her prayer and improves her situation, but the painful memories of the abuse remain.  Years later she comes back to the small town.  She and Forrest, now in their thirties, are walking near the abandoned shack where Jenny once lived with her father. Jenny is suddenly overcome by the hurtful memories of that place, and in anger she throws her shoes at the shack, and then starts picking up rocks and throwing them at it.  Eventually she breaks down in tears.  Forrest comments, “Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.”[7]

As Jenny faces her pain, Forrest, her faithful friend, stays with her in those difficult moments, like Jesus stays with us. When we come to Jesus and reflect on the pain he endured on the cross, we find that we too can reflect on our own wounds and pain in the light of his.[8]

We talk about bringing our sins and sorrows to Jesus and being healed, and we give the impression that it’s quick and easy, bring it to Jesus once and you’re done.  In reality, often we have to keep bringing the same thing to Jesus over and over.  I think this is because our hurts are usually built up over time, and each time we bring that same hurt to Jesus, a layer of hurt gets healed, but there may still be more underneath.

This has been my experience.  I keep having to come back to the cross and let Jesus do more work in me. 

The marvel of Jesus working in us over time is something that Carla Davison[9] [who was at that very moment running the projection for worship] has also experienced.  Carla was struggling with anger at her mother, anger that had built up over the years.  Her healing from that anger also took time.  The Holy Spirit prompted Carla to begin working on getting rid of her anger as she began to see how it was getting in the way of her relationship with Jesus. She says: “it started with writing down “I forgive” statements, i.e. “I forgive my mom for _______” ...even though I didn’t feel any of it at the time.  I trusted that He might get me there - I wanted to love her…I just couldn’t get past the anger.  I had a laundry list of things [to forgive] and I read them every morning. Then . . . one Saturday [when I went to mom’s apartment] I looked up at her from where I was sitting and realized in that moment that the anger was completely gone, and I was immediately filled with such a tender love for her.  I felt like it was God showing me how He loved her. He removed all the anger. [Carla says] I am so grateful because after that, I was able to share some very special times with her in her last years.” 

At the church Carla was attending at that time, they invited people to give their testimonies in a very simple and graphic way using pieces of cardboard.  Carla’s transformation is described in two statements:

 and then… 

And maybe the most beautiful demonstration of the change, is that her mother was there with her in that second picture.

Healing and forgiving intertwined.  Our relationship with God is healed through his forgiving us.  Carla’s relationship with her mom is healed through her finding the ability to forgive her mother.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:14-15: For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but [here’s the hard part] if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

We are called to be witnesses to Jesus’ powerful healing love and comfort and peace and forgiveness. We are more effective witnesses the more we have seen and experienced Jesus’ work of transformation ourselves, as Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NIV):
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
Jesus’ touch is healing and transforming, and a wonderful testimony to share with the world …if we are willing to trust him, and let him in.  We have a hard time doing that because we are ashamed, or because we don’t want to deal with the pain, so we keep all that stuff locked away, hiding it from the world, maybe even hiding it from ourselves, and in the process we are also hiding it from Jesus. 

But we can trust Jesus with our sin and our sorrow because he knows our pain, and because he is God and has demonstrated through his death and resurrection that God’s power is greater than our sin, greater than our shame.  God can redeem all of it.

·      Sometimes it takes more time than we would like.
·      Some things are not healed in the way we want them to be.
·      The first step is to let Jesus in, to offer all that is troubling us to Jesus. 

So now take a moment to consider....

What do you need to surrender to Jesus today?

In worship that day, we wrote our answers down and brought them forward to lay on the worship table near a cross that the children had made during the children's message.  I encourage you to do something similar - write it down, crumple it up and throw it away, trusting that Jesus is taking it from you.

Let’s now bring Jesus all that is not how we would like it to be
and trust him to redeem it.
Jesus is calling.  

[3] He predicted in Luke 18:31f., "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon; they will scourge him and kill him."
[4] Guthrie, S. C. (1996). Human Suffering, Human Liberation, and the Sovereignty of God. Theology Today, 53(1), 22-34.
[5] Matthew 9:20-22 And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.
[7] Forrest Gump (1994) as told by Stephen Seamands in Wounds that Heal: Bringing our Hurts to the Cross (IVP Books, 2003), 10.  Actual scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anz91PPMPw8
[8] Seamands, 10.
[9] Carla Davison is a member of United Presbyterian Church in Sterling, KS.  She gave me permission to use her story in this sermon.

No comments:

Post a Comment